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...Like a tree (Psalm 1:3) Online Newsletter

Brother

Will you sit with me in the ashes?

Can you wait it out; be silent,
As I wonder what comes next?

Will you hold my hand and squeeze it,
Fearless of the tears that come?
Will you hold me up and ceaseless pray
Until this day is done?

Will you dress my wounds with Scripture,
Doing all you do in love;
Taking my hand gently to help me stand back up?

Will you sit with me in the ashes?
And proclaim God’s character to me;
Remind me of His endless grace
And boundless love for me?

Will you stand firm beside me, and not grow weary or lose heart;
Encourage and point me to the One, who knows my walk is hard?

Will you sit with me in the ashes?
Until this day is through,
And my God has brought me through this,
Using all that you did do?

Svea Goertzen

Amidst trial, I sought solace in the book of Job. I ultimately landed on these verses in Job 2. . .

11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

. . . and I ultimately landed at the same campground that Job found himself when his friends showed up to comfort him. I was struck by the fact that Job’s friends were just that—friends. They cared about him; came to comfort him; wept for him; and, finally sat down with him on the ground silently, “for they saw that his suffering was very great.” Then, each, in turn, opened his mouth and put his foot right in. It occurred to me that, like the Israelites, they can become easy targets—it’s easy to point a finger and judge these men who ultimately failed their friend with their words, but, just as quickly, I find myself doing the same thing. I guess what drives this home is just the sort of trial where a longsuffering friend sits down beside me in the ashes.

So, I set about to prepare a litmus test (for me too), of what a suffering brother or sister in Christ needs from me—according to what I saw in the verses above. The words I wrote above are a pleading for that kind of friend; an exhortation to be that kind of friend; and, finally, a grateful heart—for there are brothers and sisters in Christ who are uniquely qualified to be that kind of friend—and they are a dear provision from God.

 

Svea Goertzen is a member of FCC and works for Faith Christian Academy. She and her husband, Steve, have two daughters.

Posted in: Poetry

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“A Slave-Trader Who Wrote Christian Lyrics” from The Story of Our Hymns

By Ernest Edwin Ryden – Public Domain

The Name above All Names, John Newton, 1779

How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.

It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
‘Tis Manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary Rest.

Dear Name! the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding-place;
My never-failing Treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace.

By Thee my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled:
Satan accuses me in vain,
And I am owned a child.

Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.

Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath;
And may the music of Thy Name
Refresh my soul in death.

~

In one of England’s famous old churches there is a tablet marking the last resting-place of one of its rectors, and on the tablet this epitaph:

“John Newton, clerk, once an Infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa,
was, by the rich Mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, preserved, restored,
pardoned, and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy.”

This inscription, written by Newton himself before his death, tells the strange story of the life of the man who wrote “How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds,” and scores of other beautiful hymns.

Newton was born in London, July 24, 1725. His father was a sea captain.His mother, a deeply pious woman, though frail in health, found her greatest joy in teaching her boy Scripture passages and hymns. When he was only four years old he was able to read the Catechism.

The faithful mother often expressed the hope to her son that he might become a minister. However, when the lad was only seven years of age, the mother died, and he was left to shift largely for himself. On his 11th birthday he joined his father at sea, and made five voyages to the Mediterranean. Through the influence of evil companions and the reading of infidel literature, he began to live a godless and abandoned life.

Being pressed into the navy when a war seemed imminent, young Newton deserted. He was captured, however, and flogged at the mast, after which he was degraded.

At this point his life teems with reckless adventures and strange escapes. Falling into the hands of an unscrupulous slave-dealer in Africa, he himself was reduced practically to the abject condition of a slave. In his misery he gave himself up to nameless sins. The memory of his mother, however, and the religious truths which she had implanted in his soul as a child gave his conscience no peace.

The reading of “The Imitation of Christ,” by Thomas à Kempis, also exerted a profound influence over him, and a terrifying experience in a storm at sea, together with his deliverance from a malignant fever in Africa, served to bring the prodigal as a penitent to the throne of mercy.

After six years as the captain of a slaveship, during which time Newton passed through many severe struggles in trying to find peace with God through the observance of a strict moral life, he met on his last voyage a pious captain who helped to bring him to a truer and deeper faith in Christ.

For nine years at Liverpool he was closely associated with Whitefield and the Wesleys, studying the Scriptures in Hebrew and Greek, and occasionally preaching at religious gatherings of the dissenters. In 1764 he was ordained as curate of Olney, where he formed the famous friendship with the poet William Cowper that gave to the world so many beautiful hymns.

It was at Newton’s suggestion that the two undertook to write a hymn-book. The famous collection known as “The Olney Hymns,” was the result of this endeavor. Of the 349 hymns in this book, Cowper is credited with sixty-six, while Newton wrote the remainder. “How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds” appeared for the first time in this collection. It is a hymn of surpassing tenderness, and ranks among the finest in the English language.

Other notable hymns, by Newton are: “Come, my soul, thy suit prepare,” “Approach, my soul, the mercy-seat,” “While with ceaseless course the sun,” “One there is above all others,” “For a season called to part,” “Safely through another week,” “On what has now been sown,” “May the grace of Christ our Saviour,” “Though troubles assail us, and dangers affright,” “Day of judgment, day of wonders,” and “Glorious things of thee are spoken.”

Newton’s life came to a close in London in 1807, after he had served for twenty-eight years as rector of St. Mary Woolnoth. Among his converts were numbered Claudius Buchanan, missionary to the East Indies, and Thomas Scott, the Bible commentator. In 1805, when his eyesight began to fail and he could no longer read his text, his friends advised him to cease preaching. His answer was: “What! shall the old African blasphemer stop while he can speak?”

When he was nearly eighty years old it was necessary for a helper to stand in the pulpit to help him read his manuscript sermons. One Sunday Newton had twice read the words, “Jesus Christ is precious.” “You have already said that twice,” whispered his helper; “go on.” “John,” said Newton, turning to his assistant in the pulpit, “I said that twice, and I am going to say it again.” Then the rafters rang as the old preacher shouted, “Jesus Christ is precious!”

Newton’s whole life may be said to be summed up in the words of one of his appealing hymns:

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found–
Was blind, but now I see.

Posted in: Biography

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Orchestrated Ironing

An Original Poem

Who is the one with loving care,
that watches o’er us everywhere?

The one with understanding eyes
that lifts our burdens to the skies.

Whose hands create our very lives
and ears can hear our fervent cries.

For peace on earth and peace of mind,
for open hearts and eyes not blind.

Who is this body hung up by nails,
where at his feet a woman wails.

The one that’s mocked and crucified
by those He loves, for whom He dies.

Who is this man so plain, so pure,
He is the Son of God, I’m sure

– Autumn, 1964

Several weeks prior to writing the verses above, I had come home from a long day at work and was eager to get changed into comfortable clothes and relax.

As I reached into the closet for my favorite snuggly sweater, I noticed a small basket of laundry still needing to be ironed. I thought to myself, “I am just too tired to tackle this tonight.” However, as I was closing the closet door, I noticed one of the items in the basket was a blouse I had intended to wear to work the next day. I paused for a moment, gave a sigh and then decided if I could find an interesting TV program to watch, surely I could endure ironing my blouse and a few other items.

I turned on the television, set up my ironing board and went to the kitchen. When I returned, the program being televised featured a choir singing beautiful hymns. I felt refreshed by the music and the ironing was no longer a task.

After the choir finished singing, a very young Billy Graham stepped up to the podium to pray before delivering his message for the evening. His opening statement said he would be preaching on the blood of Christ. He proceeded to explain why it was necessary for Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, to shed his innocent blood as an atonement for man’s sin: without the shedding blood, there could be no atonement.

Never before had I heard a message on the necessity of Christ’s blood being shed in order for man’s sin’s to be forgiven. This was a pivotal point in my life and a prelude to my salvation.

I am overwhelmed by God’s immense love, patience and great mercy. God is omnipotent, having ultimate power and influence. That fall evening in 1964, I believe the Lord orchestrated “an evening of ironing” for me. It was the exact right time and place for me to hear one of God’s servant messengers enlighten the eyes of my understanding: man’s sin could only be atoned for by Christ’s blood being shed on the cross.

I am so very thankful for all the individuals, family members and various ministries throughout the years who have invested in my life and prayed for me.

My prayer for myself, my family and others is this: may we learn to align our will with God’s and live our lives in His priorities.

Lord God – I am most thankful to you for shedding your precious Blood for me, forgiving my sins and saving my soul.

Sharon Feiser is a member of FCC.

Posted in: Christian Living

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The Face of Faith

Years ago, while on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic, I noticed something that I have often thought about since.  How is it that we communicate so much non-verbally?  Most have heard that non-verbal communication plays a large part in the way humans communicate, the face being of primary importance. While in a country that speaks a different language, this becomes evident.

My two friends, one after the other, were sharing their testimonies of God’s work in their lives at a church service.  There was a translator that would repeat each phrase in Spanish after my friends each would say a phrase in English.  What struck me was the look on each of their faces as they were sharing.  The glow of the Holy Spirit shone through as they were speaking and waiting for translation.  I remember thinking that the testimony of their faces was so convincing of changed lives from darkness to light and that the words being interpreted were just to give the details.  The look on their faces needed no interpretation!

I have mentioned that to others as we go on mission trips around the world. The look on our faces will communicate volumes to those we meet and interact with.

As we look at scripture related to this, I see a couple of things. First, there is a look on a face that communicates evil.  Regarding the wicked kings of Israel, Isaiah 3:9 says: “The expression of their faces bears witness against them, and they display their sin like Sodom; They do not even conceal it.”  Other emotions can come across on your face as well, including fear, anger, irritation, disinterestedness, surprise, and many others.  The second look on a face in the Bible that catches my attention and reminds me of my friends on the mission trip, is the look on Stephen’s face as he was being stoned for his faith.  Acts 6:15 says, they “saw his face like the face of an angel.”  This glowing face reminds us of Moses as he would come down the mountain after being in the presence of God.  Now in the new covenant, having the Spirit of God living in us, as believers, our faces are affected – or at least should be!

There is a transformation that occurs as we behold the glory of the Lord, and we are being changed or sanctified as we live this life in Christ.  1Cor 4:6 says that “God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of glory of God in the face of Christ.”

May the Lord’s face shine through us as we interact with one another and with a lost world – with faces of faith!

 

Dr. Brent Evers is an Elder at FCC. He and his wife, Cari, have three children.

Posted in: Christian Living

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Three “No, but…” answers to our “Are we there, yet?” Questions

Now approaching his 97th birthday, my grandfather reminisces a lot. Many years ago, he built a lake house with his own hands. Lately, he’s been reminiscing about all the summertime trips he made with my sister and I. I think only God could keep track of the number of times we made that drive. As a kid, the dreadful length of the trip weighted on me every time. My sister and I alternated our pesky questions on an infinite loop: “Are we there yet?” “How much longer?” “Are we there yet?” …. (I will spare you. You get the picture.)

I recently found myself in the driver’s seat hearing those indicators of anxious impatience from someone else for the first time. My nephew piped up on a ten-hour drive: “This is why I hate driving to Michigan. It takes forever! Why can’t we fly?” As he said this, each word got longer than one before it. He intuitively used every vocal resource he had to indicate how the trip seemed to keep stretching on and on. He’s four.

A few moments of impatience notwithstanding, my nephew handled our trip very well. (So well, in fact, he’s decided I should play chauffeur on the next long family adventure!) But he reminded me how hard waiting on the Lord in our sojourning can be, especially when: 1) We know the Lord could move faster if He wanted to and 2) We don’t know how long or how hard (or how good, for that matter!) the journey will be. If the hardest part about waiting is waiting without answers we know the Lord could give, then the second hardest part about waiting must be receiving a different answer than the one we were hoping for. This was familiar ground for Christ’s disciples just before His ascension in Acts 1:6-9:

6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

I can almost hear my nephew’s tone (even my own!) in the disciples’ voices when they ask Jesus, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” What did the disciples want to know? Quite simply, “Are we there now? Are You ready yet? Will you restore the Kingdom now, Lord?” I love Christ’s answer. At first blush, it seems he says something like, “No, and it’s none of your business…” But Jesus didn’t say, “No.” He told them the details of the timing were not for them to know, but then He answered a question they weren’t asking. He told them how He would restore the Kingdom. But first they would have to…. (You guessed it!)… wait on the Holy Spirit. They would be waiting for the Spirit to give them power to bring about the very thing they want to see accomplished, albeit at a much different pace and without a violent overthrow to Caesar’s government. Their view of the restoration was simply incomplete and short-sighted. God’s plan was far more glorious. By God’s design, the restoration would essentially happen one gospel conversation at a time.

Taking this as my first cue, here are three hope-filled “No, but…” answers we can glean from Scripture that speak to our spiritual “Are we there yet?” questions.

  1. No, but we have a commission while we wait (Matthew 28:16-20). I don’t know about you, but often my desire for the Lord to act more quickly is based on selfish desires that seem to multiply anytime I take my eyes off Him. When we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, the Great Commission is ever before us, ever occupying our minds and even our hands. This doesn’t mean we never plead with the Lord to quickly answer us in our need. It does mean that we are, by His grace, able to be found faithful when He does grant that long-awaited answer. “It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready…” (Luke 12:35-48).
  2. No, but God hears our “Are we there yet,” prayers as a gracious and patient Heavenly Father. Although grumbling and complaining is something we need to repent of, the Lord has flung His door wide open to receive earnest prayer along the lines of “How long, O Lord?” He’s flung it so wide, in fact, that we have prayers in the Psalms we can pray when the wait is too much for us. See Psalm 13 for just one example.
  3. No, but we can worship while we wait. See one example of an eager wait turning to worship here in  Psalm 130:5-7. Even when we face the bleakest of circumstances, the greatness of our God is not diminished (Habakkuk 3:16-19). His nature is not tarnished. His goodness has not run out. What would happen if we fought our temptations to mumble in impatience with worship? Here’s a small sample worship resources available to help get us started worshipping the God of perfect timing in our waiting seasons:

 

I pray the Lord will answer you quickly when you call to Him. But if, in His providence, you find yourself lingering in the middle of a long, hard, wait, I pray He’ll bring to your mind scriptural truths that strengthen and comfort you. May we wait on the Lord “more than watchmen for the morning,” and more than four-year-olds who are ready to go swimming on vacation!

 

  BJ Rathbun works as an analyst. Her liberal arts education has given her an eclectic work background and a multitude of stories. She most enjoys spending time with her family, church family, and friends.

Posted in: Christian Living

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God Can Change How We Hear

Does this scenario sound familiar? You get out of bed. You shuffle over to the kitchen and make a bee-line for the coffee maker. Once you have your coffee, you head to the couch or kitchen table, and you pick up your Bible. You do this, because it’s what you do every morning. In your early morning stupor, you manage to mutter a few words in prayer, then you open up you Bible, because it’s what you do every morning. You take a few sips of coffee to wake yourself up a bit, and you start to read. Again, you do this every morning. But this morning, the words on the page seem to have the same effect on you as words on a billboard, or one of those inspirational posters. Nothing much more than, “That’s interesting. Time to go on with my day.” Or maybe it isn’t even interesting to you. It’s just nothing.

But maybe you don’t read your Bible in the morning, or your schedule doesn’t allow for a daily devotional time. Fair enough. Consider this scenario then: It’s a Sunday morning, and as you do every Sunday morning, you pile your family into the car and drive to church. You manage to find enough empty chairs to seat your family together. The music starts to play, you read the words on the screen, and you start to sing them, like you do every Sunday morning. You open your Bible to the passage being preached on. Pastor Tim is preaching his heart out. You hear his voice rise with intensity at the glorious truth that he is proclaiming. But the message simply doesn’t stir you nearly as much as he is being stirred. You know you probably should feel something, but you can’t feel anything.

Those are scary seasons. They are scary because the Bible warns about this. I have been reading in Luke about the effect the Gospel message has on its hearers. In chapter 8, Luke describes Jesus traveling with the accompaniment of his apostles and some women, and he is preaching about the kingdom of God everywhere he goes (Luke 8:1-4). Then Luke describes a parable that Jesus tells to a crowd of people, the familiar parable of the sower. The parable should be referred to as the parable of the soils. The seed gets scattered everywhere, but depending on the soil on which it lands, it yields different results (Luke 8:4-8). Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that the parable itself is intended to either impart revelation or harden the hearts of the hearers (Luke 8:9-10). And the content of the parable describes four different kinds of people who hear God’s word. The first kind doesn’t really “hear” anything, because the devil prevents them from hearing it. The second kind craves emotional experiences and get excited about the word of God at first, but then stop believing it when they realize that it brings unexpected trials into their lives. The third kind hear the Word, but it has no effect on them because their hearts are set on other things. And the fourth kind hear the Word, and it has a transformative effect on their lives, wherein they love God’s glory more, they love people more, and become more instrumental in the kingdom of God (Luke 8:11-15).

Jesus then tells them about the purpose of a lamp. No one lights a lamp just to hide it away. It’s put out in the open so that the whole house is illuminated (Luke 8:16-17). Many people use that illustration to encourage Christians to be more involved in evangelism and representing Christ. While that is a valid application of that text, I think that the primary purpose is to illustrate what God is doing. God’s message, His revelation to the world, is not something He is keeping hidden. His intention is to make the good news of the kingdom publicly known. That’s why Jesus says, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away” (Luke 8:18). God has given direct revelation of himself in a very public way. So in light of having received that revelation, we are to be cognizant of how we “hear,” because we will be held accountable to how we respond to the truth we have received. The person who “has,” that is, who has a receptive, open-hearted, submissive attitude to God’s word, and an eagerness to hear it and respond to it… That person will bear fruit for God and experience an increasing amount of joy in Him. But the person who has a dead, cold, stubborn attitude towards the Word will become harder and harder the more they hear His Word.

Luke next describes the attempts of Jesus’ earthly family to get to him while he is teaching. And Jesus gives this response: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). The sign of having the closest, deepest, most intimate relationship with Jesus is in submitting to God’s word and allowing it to change you.

The way we hear the word of God is of utmost importance. If you can relate to the scenarios described at the beginning of this blog post, know that you are not alone. Some of the godliest people I know have experienced that at some point in their life. But also realize that you can’t afford to sit in this and “wait it out.” This isn’t “just a season.” It is up to you to make an intentional effort to get out of that state of mind. Your soul depends on it.

But you might be wondering, what can I do? How can I get myself out of this? And the short answer is that you can’t do anything. But God can. Once you have recognized the danger of your situation, and you’ve been shaken to the realization that you need help, start by asking God to reveal any unknown sin in your life. The Psalmist cries out, “See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:24) For example, there is a good chance that you have unknowingly elevated someone or something into a place of worship in your heart, where an idol has taken the place of God as the thing you look to for satisfaction and joy. Ask God to cleanse your heart from idolatry.

The Psalmist also cries out, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things in your law” (Psalm 119:18). If you can’t see wonderful things in the word of God, then this is what you need to ask God for. Ask that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of your heart to the Word of God. Ask Him to bring your heart a fresh sense of awe and amazement in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

And most importantly, be grateful for what God has done for you in Christ. Jesus died on the cross for your unbelief and idolatry. Jesus has set you free from the penalty of sin, but remember, he has also set you free from present enslavement to that sin. Lift your eyes to Him and live, love, and rejoice as someone who is free! And the next time you open your Bible in the morning, or come to church on Sunday, remember what it cost God to redeem you. Remember the love He chose to set on you before you were born. Remember who you are. And hopefully, maybe, there will be something, even if it’s just a flicker, when God’s Word is delivered to you.

 

Zach Ilten is a member of Faith Community Church. He is working on his M. Div. at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the grateful husband to Becca and dad to Lucy and Micah.

Posted in: Christian Living, Church life

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Old and New

If you were asked to compile a list of things that are old, what would be on your list?  Perhaps an old friend, an old book, or an old memory come to mind.  On the flipside, what if your list needed to have things that are new upon it?  A new job, a crisp new dollar bill, or a new baby?  (Clearly, these are not in any order of importance!)

It is safe to say to that things that are old can be precious, and things that are new can be precious.  A couple that has grown old together throughout the years is a wonder.  A fresh new start can be exciting and adventurous.  Both “old” and “new” in a variety of contexts can be appreciated for their uniqueness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 states, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  These verses struck me with the thought that God’s “new mercies” are evidence of His “old faithfulness.”

Each and every day God pours new mercies into my life.  Sometimes those mercies look like a well-timed encouraging email or text from a friend or the unexpected kindness and generosity of a stranger; other times those mercies can be painful, like removing something from our lives that we are very certain we truly need.  Years ago, I was in a situation where I found it hard to believe that God had taken something away from me.  When I would share even small slices of the story with others, the overwhelming counsel that I received time and time again was that I had “dodged a bullet.”  Dodging that bullet was not in my plans and was not something I considered mercy at the time.  Rather, I felt like God was giving me the opposite of mercy.  However (to use a hospital analogy) in the operating room sometimes the most merciful action a surgeon can take is to cut away the illness or disease, and so it was in my case.  God’s mercies are purposeful even when they are painful.

God is good at being merciful to us.  Sometimes his mercies come in unexpected packages; sometimes we want the same mercies from yesterday to be His mercies for today.  Today, as you go throughout your day, try to look for those “new mercies” in your life.  And then tomorrow, when you wake up, do the same thing.  And the day after that, do the same thing.   May we be encouraged that His ever-changing new mercies in our lives are ever present evidence of His old faithfulness.

 

Meagan Cargill is an educator for surgical and anesthesia staff at a local hospital in Kansas City. She previously worked as a nurse in the Neurosurgical ICU.

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WHILE IT IS CALLED TODAY

If you are reading this, you are in a little 24-hour-period we call “today.” I know, today is not as glorious as yesterday, or last year, or whenever you were the popularity king/queen in school. Today also is not as promising as tomorrow, or next week, or whenever you will “arrive” in life by getting that dream job, marrying that perfect person, or finally making enough money to get beyond the hand-to-mouth existence that you are currently stuck in. But let’s talk about today, because today is all we have, and we may not have even that.

Every day I encounter someone who seems intent on alternating between nostalgia for the past and expectancy for the future. That someone is me. Yet I rarely travel this path alone. Together with family, friends, and coworkers, I reminisce about good times gone by and laugh over stories of that “most embarrassing moment.” From there, we pivot seamlessly to our weekend plans to career goals to retirement options. Oh sure, sometimes today gets special attention because of some momentous event like a job interview, marriage, or a birth of a child. Of course, the many life activities that fill up our todays—work projects, homework, meals—all receive their due attention in the moment. Yet rarely does the eternal significance of today sink in and change our hearts and our conduct. This is a mistake, and potentially one with tragic and eternally significant consequences.

There are two important things to remember about this little 24-hour period that we are living in: (1) A person’s life is the sum of his or her todays, and (2) there is no guarantee that tomorrow will become today for any of us. Hebrews 3:13 touches on both of these facts when it tells Christians to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of [us] may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” The hardening effect of sin occurs when we permit its leavening influence to remain in our lives by our day-to-day toleration of the same. Today, if we do not root out sin through confession, repentance, and gospel exhortation, we leave ourselves exposed to its corrosive deceptiveness.

Sin is not just a mistake in our past or a dark cloud on the horizon of our future. The reason that Christians are called to exhort one another “every day” is because sin is daily crouching at the door of our hearts. Sin’s presence in the believer’s life is a sad reality (I John 1:8), and it must be recognized and dealt with as the serious soul-danger that it is. The porn viewer becomes an addict by failing to address today the strengthening chains of lust. The foodie becomes a glutton because tomorrow is when the idolatry of food will be addressed. The busybody becomes a gossip because the days of sharing “one more juicy little story” stack up until character is formed, integrity is lost, and sinful hardness settles into the soul. But no worries; tomorrow is wide open for repentance . . . right?

The writer of Hebrews calls for confrontation of sin “while it is called ‘today.’” Not tomorrow, not next week, but now. Why? Is it because you might die in a car wreck later today as evangelists like to portend? Perhaps. After all, none of us knows what a day will bring forth (Prov. 27:1). The Scripture also speaks of Christ’s return coming with unexpected suddenness, “like a thief in the night” (I Thess. 5:2). Yet for the writer of Hebrews, the threat in Chapter 3 seems to be not so much the loss of life or Christ’s return, but rather sin’s deceptive hardening of the heart to the point that repentance becomes effectively impossible. Here is Hebrews 3:13 in its surrounding context:

12 Take care, brothers and sisters, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

As believers, we should not smugly presume that WE would never fall away from our profession of faith or forsake our original confidence in Christ. Jesus’s Parable of the Sower should shatter any illusion that a promising start ensures a race run well to the end. In the Scripture, we indeed read of God’s sovereign, unconditional grace in salvation and of his preservation of believers until the Day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). But we also read words of woe and warning to those who would live in unchecked sin (I Cor. 6:9-10), and each one of us is called to take an active role in putting to death the sin that would have mastery over us (Col. 3:5).

If we believe that we can thoughtlessly entertain sin before repenting at our leisure, then we grossly overestimate our hearts’ own willingness and ability to turn from sin. Such presumption also ignores the gracious and necessary prompting of the Holy Spirit that calls us back to repentance. For this reason, the writer of Hebrews urges each of us as believers to exhort and be exhorted in the gospel today, while the Spirit still calls to us, so that sin does not take us to the perilous point of no return. If perhaps you are struggling with sin, be encouraged by the struggle. Your striving against sin is a testament to your pursuit of the truth. Be encouraged and be exhorted to press on in Christ’s power in this struggle. Find that brother or sister in whom you can confide, recognizing that it is through fellow believers’ exhortation that all of us are encouraged to carry on in the fight against the deceitfulness of our own besetting sin.

 

Stephen Freeland is a member of FCC. He and his wife, Kate, have three young children.

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For the Purpose of Godliness

This is the phrase that is included in each chapter title of Donald Whitney’s book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  I can almost hear mouse clicks all over the city as readers of this blog attempt to exit out after reading the word “discipline” – the “D word.” For some reason, we Reformed believers can mistakenly equate discipline with legalism. In his book, Whitney shows how the spiritual disciplines are far from being legalistic, restrictive or binding, but rather the means to unparalleled spiritual liberty. If you will think about the excitement of achieving a difficult goal, whether becoming proficient on a musical instrument, losing weight, running a marathon, or – you fill in the blank – you know that it took discipline to achieve that goal.

If you are a new believer seeking guidance in your new walk with Christ, or a seasoned saint feeling a little stale in your pilgrimage,  Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life can be a means of grace in your life to give you direction and refreshment in your journey with your Lord and Savior.

Donald Whitney’s key verse for Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life is 1 Timothy 4:7, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” This verse is the theme of the entire book. In other words, the spiritual disciplines are means, not ends. The end – that is, the purpose of practicing the disciplines – is godliness. Whitney defines godliness as both closeness to Christ and conformity to Christ, a conformity that is both inward and outward, a growing conformity to both the heart of Christ and the life of Christ.

Whitney assures us that we stand before God only in the righteousness that has been bought by another: Jesus Christ. All who come to God trusting in the Person and work of Jesus Christ to make them right with God are given the Holy Spirit. The presence of the Holy Spirit causes all those in whom He resides to have new, holy hungers they never had before. They hunger, for example, for the Word of God, which before salvation may have seemed boring or irrelevant. Perhaps for that reason, Bible Intake is the first of the spiritual disciplines exposited by Dr. Whitney in his book.

Whitney limits himself to those disciplines that are Biblical, that is, to practices taught or modeled in the Bible. He skillfully unpacks ten spiritual disciplines, where they can be found in the Scriptures, and how they can be practiced experientially for the purpose of godliness.

I will confess that I am currently NOT practicing all ten of the disciplines as outlined by Donald Whitney, but I found the book very helpful in reminding me of the benefits of spiritual disciplines and redirecting my focus to my purpose in life until He comes or I go home.

My prayer for myself and for my brothers and sisters at Faith Community Church is that we will discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness for HIS glory and HIS alone. Amen.

 

Tina Bush

Posted in: Bible study, Book Review, Christian Living

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God’s Will: Our Sanctification

by Reese Hammond

After hearing Pastor Tim preach at the Jesus Church International building on God’s will and trusting God as our Good Shepherd, I couldn’t help but begin to think about my family’s current situation. Last year was a major year in our lives. In May I graduated from seminary, in July we had our son Malachi, in August I started a new job, and at the end of December I began looking for full-time ministry work. Overall, our year has been fast and furious. Now that we’re almost finished with March I can’t help but feel the weight of some of our pending life decisions. We haven’t found any ministry work despite praying and searching diligently. Our lease is soon to be up and we need to make a decision on whether to re-sign or not. We’re currently contemplating a possible career in the military and my current job is needing an answer to whether or not I’m coming back at the end of May. It can feel a little overwhelming at times.

Now, the blessing of being reminded that God is truly a Good Shepherd naturally confronts us with two things: First, that God is truly the Sovereign leader. As a shepherd leads his sheep, God lovingly and sovereignly leads His people. As Tim said, “God doesn’t consult the sheep.” God leads them where they are to go and He does so in perfect, sovereign power. Scripture affirms this in the 32nd Psalm when God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” He is truly our Good, Sovereign Shepherd and we must remember that.

Secondly, and much more important to the purpose of this article, is that because God is the Good Shepherd, I MUST trust Him in His leading. This is the hardest part in the Christian life, especially when God’s plans don’t seem to be meshing with ours. This is where faith truly works itself out. I MUST trust Him. I work and strive and pursue trusting God with my whole heart as Proverbs 3:5 tells me. Trust is not an optional thing in the Scriptures. Trust, in God’s eyes, is of primary concern.

Scripture constantly reminds us that our trust in God is of major importance. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” This verse is most powerful because God is telling us that it is IMPOSSIBLE to please Him without faith. That is because trusting God has everything to do with what we believe about Him. As Christians, it is sin NOT to trust God. Not trusting God reveals that we truly don’t believe what He has told us about Himself in His Word. This is a hard saying but I want the truth about the character and person of God to refresh us and help us trust Him more fully. When we don’t trust God, we are inherently saying to ourselves and to others that God isn’t good and that He isn’t trustworthy or powerful enough to trust. This does not, and cannot, please God. When we are afraid things won’t work out, doubt that God can provide, or despise our circumstances, we are stealing from ourselves the peace of God that can only be found in trusting Him and His character.

Now, as I say these things, I am also compelled to give comfort to all of us after the cut from God’s Word. As we strive to trust God for our future, whether at home or at FCC, we must be reminded and comforted that it is because of what Christ has done for us in the gospel that we can even trust God in the first place. He has given us a new heart and mind that is now able to seek Him. He has forgiven all our sins so that we can now come to God boldly through Christ’s shed bled. He has justified us, is sanctifying us, and will glorify us. And as we go through this life striving to grow in trust, be reminded that He is constantly working in us to accomplish this very thing. As Paul says in 1st Thessalonians, “…this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

Reese Hammond is a member of Faith Community Church and a recent graduate of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to the beautiful Lisa Hammond and is the proud father of Malachi. 

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