Let Goods and Kindred Go

Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. (Hebrews 10:32–35)

The Christians in Hebrews 10:32–35 have earned the right to teach us about costly love.

The situation appears to be this: In the early days of their conversion, some of them were imprisoned for their faith. The others were confronted with a difficult choice: Shall we go underground and stay “safe,” or shall we visit our brothers and sisters in prison and risk our lives and property? They chose the way of love and accepted the cost.

“For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property.”

But were they losers? No. They lost property and gained joy! They joyfullyaccepted the loss.

In one sense, they denied themselves. It was real and costly. But in another sense, they did not. They chose the way of joy. Evidently, these Christians were motivated for prison ministry the same way the Macedonians (of 2 Corinthians 8:1–9) were motivated to relieve the poor. Their joy in God overflowed in love for others.

They looked at their own lives and said, “The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life” (see Psalm 63:3).

They looked at all their possessions and said, “We have a possession in heaven that is better and lasts longer than any of this” (see Hebrews 10:34).

Then they looked at each other and said — perhaps sang — something like Martin Luther’s great hymn:

Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God’s truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever

– John Piper
http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/let-goods-and-kindred-go

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In Your Delay, Remember God’s Faithfulness

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
– Psalm 103:1-5

When our dream is delayed, it causes us to forget many things. We tend to forget our dream. We forget what God has done in our lives and his goodness to us in the past. We forget that God is with us. We forget God’s power.

The Israelites made this same mistake in the wilderness: “They forgot the many times [God] showed them his love, and they rebelled against the Almighty at the Red Sea. But he saved them, as he had promised, in order to show his great power. . . . But they quickly forgot what he had done and acted without waiting for his advice” (Psalm 106:7b-8, 13 GNT).

It’s unbelievable how short their memory was! In Egypt, God sent 10 plagues on the Egyptians just to rescue his people, and the children of Israel forgot it just days later when they were at the Red Sea saying, “We’re all going to die!” They forgot what God had done. Then God did a miracle and opened the Red Sea. They walked through to the other side and immediately forgot that miracle and cried, “We’re going to die of thirst!” God miraculously provided water. The Israelites forgot that and complained, “We’re going to die because we have no food!” They were always forgetting.

But we shouldn’t be too quick to judge them, because we do the exact same thing. When a delay occurs in our lives, we start acting like God’s never done anything for us. Has God done things for you in the past? Sure he has. And you can count on him to do it again tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

Instead of forgetting, you need to remember God’s promises. There are more than 7,000 of them in the Bible. Whenever you have a problem, find a promise like 2 Timothy 2:13: “Even when we are too weak to have any faith left, he remains faithful to us and will help us . . . and he will always carry out his promises to us” (TLB). The promises are always greater than the problems you’re facing!

God may not have fulfilled the promise in your life because he’s waiting on you. He’s waiting on you to learn to not fear, not fret, not faint, not forget. He wants you to learn that before he delivers you.

God can do things immediately, but he’s working on a larger agenda. The delays that come in your life do not destroy God’s purpose. They fulfill God’s purpose in your life.
“I will bless the Lord and not forget the glorious things he does for me” (Psalm 103:2 TLB).

Talk It Over

What has God done for you that proves his faithfulness?
How has God been refining you in the delay of your dream?
What can you change about your attitude as you spend time in God’s waiting room?

He shall not be afraid of evil tidings

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in his commandments!
2 His offspring will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
3 Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 Light dawns in the darkness for the upright;
he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends;
who conducts his affairs with justice.
6 For the righteous will never be moved;
he will be remembered forever.
7 He is not afraid of bad news;
his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid,
until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever;
his horn is exalted in honor.
10 The wicked man sees it and is angry;
he gnashes his teeth and melts away;
the desire of the wicked will perish!
– Psalm 112

Christian, you ought not to dread the arrival of evil tidings; because if you are distressed by them, what do you more than other men? Other men have not your God to fly to; they have never proved his faithfulness as you have done, and it is no wonder if they are bowed down with alarm and cowed with fear: but you profess to be of another spirit; you have been begotten again unto a lively hope, and your heart lives in heaven and not on earthly things; now, if you are seen to be distracted as other men, what is the value of that grace which you profess to have received? Where is the dignity of that new nature which you claim to possess?

Again, if you should be filled with alarm, as others are, you would, doubtless, be led into the sins so common to others under trying circumstances. The ungodly, when they are overtaken by evil tidings, rebel against God; they murmur, and think that God deals hardly with them. Will you fall into that same sin? Will you provoke the Lord as they do?

Moreover, unconverted men often run to wrong means in order to escape from difficulties, and you will be sure to do the same if your mind yields to the present pressure. Trust in the Lord, and wait patiently for him. Your wisest course is to do as Moses did at the Red Sea, “Stand still and see the salvation of God.” For if you give way to fear when you hear of evil tidings, you will be unable to meet the trouble with that calm composure which nerves for duty, and sustains under adversity. How can you glorify God if you play the coward? Saints have often sung God’s high praises in the fires, but will your doubting and desponding, as if you had none to help you, magnify the Most High? Then take courage, and relying in sure confidence upon the faithfulness of your covenant God, “let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

  • Charles Spurgeon
    Morning and Evening

An Instrument of Evil

And I saw a beast rising out of the sea, with ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns and blasphemous names on its heads. 2 And the beast that I saw was like a leopard; its feet were like a bear’s, and its mouth was like a lion’s mouth. And to it the dragon gave his power and his throne and great authority. 3 One of its heads seemed to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed, and the whole earth marveled as they followed the beast. 4 And they worshiped the dragon, for he had given his authority to the beast, and they worshiped the beast, saying, “Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?”

5 And the beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. 6 It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. 7 Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, 8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:

10 If anyone is to be taken captive,
to captivity he goes;
if anyone is to be slain with the sword,
with the sword must he be slain.
Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.

  • Revelation 13:1-10

Separation of church and state within the context of the founding documents of the United States of America is a principle that has been grossly misunderstood for many decades. Judicial decisions and legislative actions have both looked to the so-called “wall of separation” in order to prohibit any reference to God in a public setting and to deny the church any kind of meaningful voice in society.

Yet the Founding Fathers of the United States did not desire a state devoid of theism altogether. These men only wanted the government to have no established church, and we can see why this is the case if we consider the example of the Church of England, the established church of Great Britain. Historically speaking, the Church of England has enjoyed favors not given to other denominations in Great Britain, and secular politicians have had an undue say in church affairs. This confusion of church and state can cause significant problems, and in the past made it difficult for anyone who would not toe the Anglican line. Many early Americans fled England to escape persecution from the established church, which inflicted suffering on these “puritans” because they failed to conform to all the church’s dictates. These facts are forgotten today; God and state are separated under the rubric of church-state separation even though the Founders of the United States did not banish religion from the public arena.

Separation of God and state is deplorable, but the right separation of church and state — when the state favors no one denomination above others but defends religious freedom — is good for the Christian churches. Historically speaking, the state has at times become a force for evil, and, consequently, the witness of established churches has often been compromised. Consider Hitler’s Germany, for example, where the state church lended its support to the Third Reich.

Though our Creator has ordained the state to fulfill a specific purpose, there are times when the state can become an instrument of evil. No matter how one interprets Revelation, today’s passage indicates that evil powers can turn a ruling group or individual into a “beast” that preys on God’s people (13:1–10). Christians must realize that any government can be perverted to this end.

Coram deo: Living before the face of God
Believers must be ever wary of mixing church and state under the guise of patriotism. Though there is a right and proper way to be proud of one’s country, no Christian is ever permitted to do wrong, even if in the guise of service to the government. Let us all pray that our respective governments do not become altogether beastly, and let us be vigilant lest we bow the knee to ungodly mandates of the state in lieu of falling down at the foot of the cross.

Serious Sins

Every sin is serious, even the ones that look respectable.

But that doesn’t mean some sins don’t deserve more attention than others.

In fact, when the Bible rattles off a series of sins, it tends to mention many of the same ones. And while we don’t want to do ethics by list making, it is instructive to note what sins are mentioned, how often, and in what place.

Here are the eight vice lists in the New Testament:

Mark 7:21-22 “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness . . .”

Romans 1:28-32 “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

Romans 13:13 “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Galatians 5:19-21 “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as a warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Colossians 3:5-9 “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another . . .”

1 Timothy 1:9-10 “. . . the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine . . .”

Revelation 21:8 “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

So what can we learn from these vice lists? Actually, quite a lot.

1. The New Testament denounces a wide variety of sins. There are dozens of evil practices mentioned just in these eight passages–plenty of examples to offend and convict us all. Within this long list of sins, several main categories of vice emerge. There are sins in relationship to the body (e.g., sexual immorality, orgies, sensuality, drunkenness), sins in relationship to one another (e.g., strife, lying, murder, slander), sins in relationship to God (e.g., idolatry, sorcery, lawlessness, disobedience), and sins in relationship to the heart (e.g. covetousness, jealousy, anger, pride). Every category is common. Every category matters. And every category is offensive to God.

2. The Ten Commandments still loom large over New Testament ethics. You could make a case that all these passages are shaped by the Decalogue, but clearly the lists in Mark 7 (content), 1 Corinthians 6(content), Colossians 3 (content), and 1 Timothy 1 (content and order), reflect Ten Commandment language and priorities.

3. It’s hard to find a sin more frequently, more uniformly, and more strenuously condemned than sexual sin. If we include the discussion of “exchang[ing] natural relations for those contrary to nature” in Romans 1:26-27, all eight lists mention sexual immorality. Moreover, in seven of the eight lists there are multiple references to sexual immorality (in general terms or in specific examples), and more often than not sexual immorality heads the list (Rom. 131 Cor. 6Gal. 5Col. 3; Mark 7; and Rom. 1 depending on where you start each list). Sexual sin is never considered a matter of indifference or an agree-to-disagree issue.

4. Sin is always serious. Of course, when each list is taken in context, we understand that there is forgiveness and hope for those who repent and turn from these sins. Let’s not forget that the bad news of sin always shows up in letters and stories filled with lots of good news of grace. Nevertheless, we must not undersell the Bible’s warnings about sin. The vices mentioned in these eight lists are the sort of things that keep you from the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6Gal. 5) and send you to the lake of fire (Rev. 21). We coddle these sins–in ourselves or in others–at great peril.

Which means: if we as Christian laypeople, Christian pastors, and Christian churches never talk about sexual sin, only talk about sexual sin, ignore what the Ten Commandments say about sin, or refuse to warn people of the dire consequences of sin, we are doing something wrong.

His Eye Is On the Sasquatch

“Can you find out the deep things of God?
    Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?
It is higher than heaven—what can you do?
    Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?
Its measure is longer than the earth
    and broader than the sea.
10 If he passes through and imprisons
    and summons the court, who can turn him back?
11 For he knows worthless men;
    when he sees iniquity, will he not consider it?
– Job 11:7-11

I’ll tell you why I hope Bigfoot exists –and why, in a way, I hope he is never discovered. Because it excites me to think that there are creatures out there God has made for his own enjoyment and to enhance the wonder of life on the earth.

I like to think about those creepy fanged fishies deep in the Mariana Trench, swimming around in the murky darkness of the oceanic fathoms, their dangling bioluminescence their only lantern into the future. Most of them we will never see–at least, not on this side of the new earth, where we don’t have the lung capacity or the mechanical capacity to withstand the pressure of such depths. There are species down there we have zero clue about. I think of exotic fish in clear pools of water in the darkness of undiscovered caves deep in the jungles that human feet will never enter. In the thickest centers of the wildest forests, there are species of insects and birds yet undetected.

And maybe there are Bigfoots in the North American woods. I mean, we didn’t know about the mountain gorilla until 1902! Can you believe that? An actual large primate we didn’t know anything about until the 20th century?

I believe that God made all things for his own glory. Anything that was made, he made and made for ultimately for that end–to reflect the wondrous creativity and power and love and God-ness of himself. And this is why there are some things we just don’t know about. If we could know everything, we’d be God. So I think God keeps a lot of things to himself. The answers to a lot of our “why” questions, for instance. And maybe, just maybe, giant frolicking sea monsters and fields of space flowers on some unreachable planet and big upright primates only detectable by the blurriest of camera lenses.

God has bathed this world in wonder in such a way that mere examination can’t do it justice. Noted atheist scientist and TV personality Neil deGrasse Tyson recently tweeted, “I wonder who was the first person to see a bird soaring high above & think it a good idea to capture it and lock it in a cage.” Some wiseacre replied, “A scientist.”

Science can help us see the wonder, but it can’t quite figure out how to help us wonder at the wonder. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.”

And this is why I hope we never catch Bigfoot: If we did, the fun would be gone. The mystery would vanish–poof, with a whimper. We’d lose the wonder. He’d be skinned, flayed, vivisected. We’d have his brain in a jar at the Smithsonian. And we’d lose another increment in that feeling that there’s another world just around the corner. It’s better, for now, not to know.

I like that God keeps some things just to himself. It reminds me that he’s God and I’m not. It reminds me that this world he’s created is revealing his glory, not mine. This is part of the reason, I suppose, that when God responds to Job’s inquiries with an epic journey up the dizzying heights of divine sovereignty, he includes some stuff about sea monsters.

I like that God teases us with these mysteries. So long as the mystery of Christ has been revealed (Eph. 3), and we have all that we need to be saved and to work out that salvation, I am totally cool with these little misty visions haunting the created order, always one step ahead of us, peeking around trees, leaving mushy footprints, stray hairs, sketchy images. They help me delight in God’s delight. They help me remember this world is wondrous, and it belongs to the God who spoke the cosmos into being without breaking a sweat.

His eye is on the Sasquatch, you know. Even if ours are not.

When Feeling a Bit Tired, Emotionally Exhausted, and Vulnerable

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isa. 40:28-31 (ESV)

Heavenly Father, it’s been an emotionally exhausting stretch of late–the floods in the Southwest US and yesterday’s Monsoon in India, heated culture wars and mounting racial tensions, friends facing more surgery and pastors under great stress.

So, this Scripture comforts us on many levels. First of all, we’re glad to be reminded that even youths get faint and weary, and young men get exhausted. Sometimes we assume if we really loved you, things wouldn’t bother us as much as they do. Thanks for the freedom to accept our limitations and humanity–a freedom we need to acknowledge and accept more regularly.

But more importantly, Father, I’m thankful for what this passage reminds us about you. You are tireless in your care, everlasting in your mercies, and generous with your grace. You anticipate our weakness and meet us right there.

When we get worn-out, emotionally spent, and are spiritually “less than conquerors,” you don’t show us disgust; you show us more of Jesus. You don’t give us pep talks; rather, you call us your beloved children. You call us to yourself. You promise, and give us, more grace.

Father, thanks for calling us to wait on you, to linger in your presence, and to be still and know you are God. We have no need to sprout wings today and soar like eagles; just make it very clear that you are near, in control, and at work for good. So very Amen we pray, in Jesus’ kind and powerful name.