The first five years of NAC remind me of my mom‘s favorite verse, Ephesians 3:20. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” That is what God has done! His power has often been shown through our weaknesses, and His grace has been and will continually be sufficient. The Heidelberg Catechism describes God’s Providence as, “The almighty and everywhere present power of God; whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, and all things come, not by chance, but by his fatherly hand.” This is a brief summary of God’s providential work before we even thought about planting a church and His orchestration of how it came about.
It all started before the beginning of time when the God of Heaven chose Mark McAndrew to be His own. Even Papa can’t remember that, so let’s fast forward to 1987. God gifted Bob and Phylis McAndrew with the little bundle of joy and energy on July 21. God had already providentially provided older brothers Chris and Scott to toughen him up and provide the needed character Mark would need to bring our Lord the most glory. Mark was blessed from birth with parents who loved the Word and taught it well to all three boys God entrusted to them. In Mark’s own words, many gospel stones were thrown on that frozen lake until God melted that icy heart, gave him a love for Jesus and allowed those stones to sink deeply.
As a new Bible teacher at Westminster, I met Mark in the Fall of 2001. He was a fun-loving, mischievous Freshman full of both laughter and shenanigans. In the Fall of 2003, when Mark came back to school, he was a remarkable brand new creation in Christ. It was obvious that the former things had passed away and all things were now new. He was still an enjoyable sixteen year old boy, but his affections and disposition were night and day different than the years before. Even though his attitude had been transformed, my brother Mike, Mark’s weightlifting teacher, sensed that he was still no Josh Cronic and weightlifting was not his forte. Bible class was, however, and Mark exited weightlifting with Mike’s prodding and started investing an extra period of each day bathing in the Word.
The first inkling of Mark’s tremendous giftedness to teach the Word came late in his Junior year. He and another student had the opportunity to teach passages from Romans 8. One taught on Romans 8:28 and the other on 8:32. I was not expecting the explosion of passion and insight that flowed out of Mark for that four or five minutes. I was intrigued to say the least. His desire for the Word has grown even stronger than his ability to teach it. After graduation, Mark chose to take his college classes in the evening and hang out in the Bible classroom all day. Needless to say, I was able to teach less and less and enjoy listening and learning from Mark more and more. My students were thrilled, too!
A very productive nine-month stint as interim youth pastor at Colbert Baptist confirmed what was quickly becoming increasingly obvious. Our Lord created Mark McAndrew to teach the Bible. Three providentially challenging but sanctifying years at Toccoa Falls followed before Mark relocated in Athens while looking for opportunities to teach and preach. At this point, Mark had had numerous opportunities to teach at the Black Mountain Men’s retreat each year in North Carolina. One year, we sat by a man at supper who told us of his ministry to high school students teaching the Bible through The Christian Learning Center of Gwinnett County. We began to brainstorm concerning the possibilities of Mark teaching a similar class in Madison County. God opened the door and Mark started with ten boys and a girl in the 2010-2011 school year.
The years of teaching the Bible class in Madison County proved fruitful. In fact, NAC current staff members, Ian Webster and Josh Crouse, were taught by Mark in some of the earliest classes. In 2014, God’s hand was again clearly at work as Mark’s high school alma mater, Westminster Christian Academy. Overlooking his first decade of craziness, Westminster hired him to teach and mentor high school students. Although greatly disappointing at the time, several seemingly promising opportunities to pastor a church in the area never came to fruition. Our Lord had better plans!
By this time, knowing of his unique giftedness, Vic Doss and our own Papa Fred of Watkinsville First Baptist, had installed the full court press of discipleship focused on Mark. 2010-2015 were years of tremendous sanctification and maturity as Mark joyfully served on the teaching team. Vic and Papa invested the priceless gifts of time and energy that it takes to disciple young leaders. Fight Club was the tool our Lord used to encourage Mark to fight sin by rejecting passivity, accepting responsibility, leading courageously and investing eternally. These were invaluable lessons for his upcoming roles as a husband, father and elder.
As much as WFBC was used by our Lord to train Mark to be an elder, He had even bigger purposes in mind. Kelly Smith, a fairly new believer on fire for Christ, caught Mark’s eye and soon his attention. Not surprisingly, one couldn’t have drawn up a better helpmate for Mark. Kelly’s love for the Lord, His Word, and His people made her both like-minded and thoroughly equipped for the rigors of ministry that they were called to. Her tremendous giftedness was also, not surprisingly, a perfect compliment to Mark’s own blend of gifts. As is always the case, the process of courtship and engagement was orchestrated by our Lord to sanctify both Mark and Kelly and confirm their commitment to each other. In November, 2014, the two became one in order to represent Christ, His church and the Gospel.
With two teaching jobs and ministry at WFBC, Mark had countless opportunities to learn, grow and pour into others. Folks at WCA and Black Mountain began to comment on how much they grew from Mark’s teaching hoping he could one day teach every week in a church. For the last half decade, I had often thought of how much I and my own family could grow under that kind of teaching. As Mark and I began to talk more seriously about planting a church, he seemed to be more and more open to the idea.
Early in 2015, several things began slowly piecing together. Vic gave his blessing for us to “steal” Mark from WFBC. Allen McCannon and Scott McAndrew agreed to serve as elders. More and more people showed interest in attending a church plant based on sound Bible teaching and a deep love of God’s sovereignty and grace.
We had unsuccessfully driven up and down Highway 29 between the Loop and the new Kroger hunting for a building in which to meet. A local pastor suggested we stop by and ask if Central Baptist might be interested in sharing their church building. The upcoming events were beyond convincing and almost dripping with providence. July 6, 2015 brought about what had to be a humorous sight! If we only had video footage! An old guy in a wheelchair and a young guy in a Jurassic Park t-shirt pulled into the Central Baptist Church parking lot thinking there was nothing to lose. We prayed and awkwardly rang the doorbell by the side door. Pastor Ric Veal, who had just been the pastor of Central for a year or two, opened the door and invited us to his office. No one even mentioned Covid-19 while Mark waited for me to finish the small talk and get to the question at hand. Pastor Ric was somehow instantly sold and exploded with excitement when he heard what we had deemed a wild idea with a slim chance of success. Mark and I both commented that after that twenty five minute conversation, Pastor Rick might have been more jazzed about the church plant than either of us!
On August 2nd, we received word that the deacons wanted to meet about the idea. On August 9th we laid out the vision and they seemed intrigued. On September 20, Central voted 30-8 to let us use the sanctuary every Sunday afternoon for $200 a week! On October 15, we received our first donation (it was from out-of-state) for $500. In December, another individual from out of town donated $2400 and a church gave us $3000. Comer Baptist became our sponsoring church on December 13. The ball was now rolling quickly!
By then, the gifted and still unmarried Ian Webster had agreed to be our worship leader which further confirmed to the elders that our Lord was graciously taking care of our every need. On January 10, (I think) we had a service that was unadvertised and unofficial, but brought glory to our Lord through a fantastic time of worship through music and preaching. The rest is five years of history as we joyfully met together for the first time on January 31, 2016. Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.” I’m thankful that NAC was ordained and planted for his pleasure!
Lord willing, tonight at 7:33 CST, I will have experienced thirty-seven years of God’s incredible, all-sufficient grace as a quadriplegic. There is nothing like it (the grave). It would take me thirty-seven decades to describe it and nobody wants to read all that. I do, however, want to share twenty Bible passages that have been invaluable in the sanctification process and a reason or two that they are on this list. God’s providence, although often a bit mysterious, floods my heart with comfort, peace and joy!
I am also thankful for you who are experiencing that same grace, and living in a manner worthy of the Gospel. I would love to read and enjoy your list of sanctifying verses as well. Here’s the list in chronological order according to the time period of greatest influence.
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
This was the verse I spoke about in my testimony before I was baptized about age twelve or thirteen. To help remember it, my students use the acronym “TOMS”. Talk, obey, and meditate on God’s Word for spiritual success. Dad loved the Word and had devotions with our family until around the time of my baptism. I loved my dad so I grew to love the Word like he did. Mom challenged (forced) me to memorize scripture and, man oh man, I am thankful she did, because you cannot really meditate on what you do not know. We learned a verse a week for Sunday School (usually while Lawrence Welk was on TV), a short memory passage each quarter and then sometimes something else (I remember 1 John in particular) in my own in my bed with a flashlight. I could have (should have) memorized ten times more. For instance, I spent hours of time figuring and refiguring George Brett’s batting average while on the mower instead of investing that time memorizing and meditating on Scripture. For the first few months after breaking my neck, I could not physically grab a Bible and was thankful to be able to meditate on the verses I had memorized. Once again, God was looking out for my well-being in countless ways and I was, all the while, unaware.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Talk about providence! I have hung onto this verse possibly more than any other. I am 90% sure that I’ve quoted it more than I have quoted any other verse as well. I really cannot get enough of it! To say it is all encompassing would be a huge understatement. The verse starts with “And we know”. Now that we have no reason to doubt it, I vote we enjoy it! In his commentary on Romans, John MacArthur reminds us that the Greek word for “works together” is where we get the English word “synergy” (the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects). That dictionary definition is a bit verbose. I find this illustration more helpful. If one eats sodium by itself, one dies. If one eats chloride by itself, one also dies. If one one intentionally puts them together, however, they become salt, something our body needs to survive. Then, you eat it and die years later from high blood pressure! The point is this: our Lord providentially ordains “poisonous” events in our lives and then “synergistically” works them together for our good and His glory. This does not just happen. God providentially does the synergizing. Certainly our knack of living by sight rather than faith is likely the biggest reason trials often do not look “good” in the Romans 8:28 sense. It could also be that we have the wrong definition of good. Good, in the context of Romans 8:29-30, is “to be confirmed into the image of Christ.” Do we really want to be comfortable or Christlike? I have found this verse much easier to teach than to live out!
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.
At last count, from what I remember, our Lord has done more than I could have asked or imagined just over 1.6 million times (one time for each person in Nebraska)! And those are only the times I know about! This was my Mom’s favorite verse. I loved my Mom, and she loved this verse, so I love this verse. And, needless to say, Mom was right! Over and over God has done abundantly more than I could have ever asked or thought, and because the Holy Spirit continually prays and intercedes for believers, He has often worked without me even asking or thinking at all!
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:17-18
I imagine this is the passage I have quoted out load and in my mind more often than any other outside of Romans. It connects two truths that I became passionate about while in Bible College. First, our joy is not based on our circumstances, but instead on the substitutionary work of the Lord Jesus. Secondly, verse 18 reminds us to think and operate out of an eternal perspective. To not focus our eyes on what is seen and what is tangible is a tricky proposal. The following chapter challenges us to live by faith not by sight. That is a challenge indeed! I have used this passage in some capacity in the majority of speaking engagements God has ordained for me in the last 37 years.
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.
Sometime around 2010, we began to use this verse repeatedly in class to remember that God is sovereign. A student in each class (including all three Guthrie girls) is assigned to quote it probably 50-100 a year. I think it’s foundational! It is short and simple but also profoundly and crazily comforting. God is doing what He pleases. It would logically follow that we should also do what pleases Him! This really is the beginning and the end of most theological discussions.
Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
This became one of my favorites when I was in my twenties, probably because it is short but packs a good punch. Along with Philippians 4:6-7, it became my “go to” verse on our need to pray instead of worry. Unfortunately, I am afraid that I obeyed this verse better and more consistently in the twentieth century than I have in the twenty-first.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Ever since experiencing the flood of peace that “surpasses all understanding” on the football field after breaking my neck, this tough-to-obey command followed by a too-good-to-be-true promise has intrigued the stew out of me. It seems that if we are going to be good at praying, we will be bad at worrying. If we are going to be good at worrying, we are going to be bad at praying. The two do not and cannot coexist! God’s promises to guard our hearts and minds in an obviously supernatural way. It begs the question, why don’t we pray more and worry less?
And if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
This is a close relative to 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 and summarizes Paul’s Romans 8 discussion on the glorious doctrine of adoption. This verse climbs the list of my favorites each year when we study chapter 8 in Romans class. The students get to teach on their favorite promise in Romans eight, and I think verse 18 is traditionally their most loved verse in the whole chapter. As they have expressed their love for this verse, my love for it has soared as well. I threw in verse 17 for context. To buy the health, wealth and prosperity gospel (which is no Gospel at all) preachers have to skip this passage (and most of the Bible) altogether. It seems clear that suffering and being a believer are a package deal. Mark McAndrew would say “Grandma never cross-stitches the suffering part of this verse to put over her bed!” All of us who are on the pathway to glorification (the last link of the golden chain) will suffer. This suffering is real but certainly of no comparison to the glory that will be revealed in us!
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
Currently, if I headed to Siberia, and could pick only one verse to study and enjoy the rest of my life, it would be this one. The context is as glorious and fascinating as the verse itself. There are several things about this verse that intrigue me. First, the logic is impeccable! If God gave us his Son whom he had a perfect love relationship with for all of eternity past, how will he not take care of everything else necessary for our sanctification? He crushed His Son for those who were formerly enemies and hostile to Him! The “all things” in Romans 8:32, I believe, are the same “all things” seen earlier in Romans 8:28. This would include everything that God uses to conform us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). Again, the all-encompassing nature of Romans 8:28-32 never gets old! He has given us the most he can give in His beloved Son! Everything he does for us, after that, is both smaller and more probable in nature.
For while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:8
In 1991, after almost eight years of rather intense physical therapy, I believe God used this verse to shift my focus from the physical (temporary) to the spiritual (eternal). He used five months at the Walker (seems like a play on words) Institute, where I had hoped to relearn how to walk, to show me how valuable and eternal the pursuit of godliness is. Even if the offer was to run in the 2024 Olympics, I would rather continue the current trial and know my Lord even just one percent better! The first is temporary while the second is eternal. What we see is temporary but what’s unseen is eternal. This verse helped me lose the burning desire I had to walk and gave me a deeper desire for godliness!
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
While in Bible college, I begin to develop a huge burden for folks to think with an eternal perspective. Much of that was due to the thought of going to heaven at a young age. I was sure it would happen, but the young ages are long over and I am still kicking (figuratively). Once again, these verses are easier to teach on than live out. Union with Christ is definitely stressed in these four precious verses, but probably what has gripped me even more than that, is the emphasis on focusing our hearts and minds on eternal things. The NIV version challenges us to set both our minds and our hearts on things above. This would include our thinking and our affections! The phrase “Christ who is your life” (Colossians 3:4) reminds me that for believers the T-shirts might be wrong after all. Football is not life nor is teaching, Chinese checkers, or the good ol’ USA. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I worked hard to memorize Colossians 3 for a seminary class and failed miserably. Trying to recite it in front of all those guys is certainly one of my most embarrassing moments. Embarrassing moments aside, there are not five people out of the 7,800,000,000 roaming around today that are more blessed than I am. These three verses all refer to being thankful. I have a beef with myself and my baditude (Mags made it one word) when I complain and gripe instead of being grateful. I think one of the Puritans said, in effect, that humble people are always amazed that they don’t have less while proud people always believe they deserve more. Thankfulness is a great barometer of humility. I also love the emphasis on the word of Christ, the peace of Christ and doing all for the glory of Christ. It’s been a huge joy to preach on these three verses maybe a dozen times in the last fifteen years.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
This might have made the top 20 either way, but it has grown on me because of the huge influence of my good friend, Allen McCannon. Paul had the phenomenal humility, insights, and ability to be content and even delight in his weaknesses, knowing that this magnified the power of our Savior. God’s grace has been sufficient times 1000 every day of my life. It is safe to say that any of us would be better off suffering and experiencing God’s all-sufficient grace than never suffering in the first place. This verse has also come to my rescue often when my alphabetical listing of weaknesses are starting to or continuing to drive me crazy.
As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good,
not even one.
Read it again in your own brain. The depravity of man could not be much more clear although Romans 8:7-8 might almost do it. Again, you will not find these verses on coffee cups sold at your local Christian bookstore, but the bad news is crucially important. Hannie Lanclos, one of my former students at school, is often quoted as saying “The ‘badder’ the bad news, the ‘gooder’ the good news!” This certainly summarizes the bad news about our sin and makes us long for the Good News of the Gospel! Another former student, Seth Marbut, decided this passage would be perfect for a Christmas card. His logic makes some sense. If we are not reminded of our own sin and depravity, how can we really enjoy the incarnation of our Savior as we ought? The guy helping him print the Christmas cards at Walmart asked him if he was sure he had the right passage. This passage sums up Romans 1:18-3:20 and ushers in the most thorough six consecutive verses on the Gospel (Romans 3:21-26)! Anyone who denies the depravity of man needs to read Scripture or even just turn on the TV for a minute.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Jesus’ command to store up treasures in heaven is inspiring, convicting, thrilling, intriguing and a little bit surprising to me. In one way, it seems like if treasures in Heaven are our motivation, we may be doing things selfishly or to toot our own eternal horn instead of for the Glory of God. Since both are commands in Scripture, somehow we must be able to both “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” and do “all for the glory of a God.”
Because it’s so easy to live by sight rather than faith, it’s good, in fact, vital to check our heart often and see where our treasures really are. The stock market recently lost 30% of its value because of COVID-19. In reality, stock in earthly things is plummeting and will be worthless when we breathe our last. Stock in heaven, on the other hand, contrary to popular opinion, is skyrocketing. It is a fair question. Where’s our treasure?
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
The God of peace is the only one that can give us peace with God. This key passage, in the middle of Paul’s discussion on justification, is chock-full of great and precious promises. When we think of our track record, our deceitful hearts, and our hostility toward our Maker, this amazing truth becomes almost overwhelming! Because of the objective peace we have with God (no more hostility ever) and His white-hot love for those He has chosen, we can rejoice, rejoice even in our sufferings. Not that the sufferings are good in themselves, but because of the endurance, the character, and the hope that become, by God’s grace, a byproduct of that suffering.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
With a different author but inspired by the same Holy Spirit, this passage seems to fit hand-in-hand with Romans 5:3-5. Pure joy, are you kidding me? Joy is not often our response to trials of various kinds. Once again, however, who of us does not want steadfastness, to be perfect and complete, and to lack nothing? Almost everybody that knows me well has made fun of my overuse of the phrase “five-for-one deal.” I love thinking of these two passages in those terms. For every trial and testing of our faith, we get endurance, character, hope and become mature and complete in Christ. When God brings about the testing periods, let us lean heavily on these two promises and choose to be joyful. Our joy need not and should not be based on our circumstances.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
If under-appreciating God’s Word is a crime, and it is, then we are all criminals that deserve the death penalty. If all Scripture is breathed out by God, it is not our place to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we believe. Thomas Jefferson already tried that. Through His Word and His Son we have all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We have nothing else that is alive and active like God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12) and we need nothing else. If and when we feel ill-equipped, we know where to run. I imagine all of Psalm 119 could be called a commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16-17.
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
One hundred pages of writing (makes me think of Matthew Henry) would not even begin to cover this explanation of the Gospel. I cling to every word of this passage but need to one hundred times more than I do. “But now” turns the tide from the bad news of Romans 1:18-3:20 to the answer of every man’s deepest problem, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ! How is one declared righteous? Paul dissects the Gospel using rich, meaty language that convinces us that the Gospel is both multifaceted and worthy of endless study and thinking! Words that we do not enjoy or study as we ought like righteousness, faith, glory, justified, grace, redemption, and propitiation- especially propitiation- lace the passage. These six verses introduce and usher in Paul’s fascinating discussion of justification (4-5), sanctification (6-8), sovereignty (9-11) and application (12-16).
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
2 Corinthians 5:21
In the last ten years, this verse has moved from my favorite hundred, to the top fifty and now ranks #20 on the list. Mark and Scott McAndrew, and their continual emphasis on the Gospel, This might be the most comprehensive one verse explanation of the Gospel in Scripture. It certainly gives us tremendous joy and motivation to consider the “Great Exchange” (as opposed to the “grim exchanges” unbelievers make three different ways in Romans 1:21-27). Isaiah 53, sometimes referred to as “the Gospel in the Old Testament”, could be summarized by this verse. First, this is for our sake. He came to serve, to give His life as a ransom for His people (Mark 10:45). Secondly, our Heavenly Father planned our salvation. He crushed His Son. This truth undoubtedly stirs every believer, and if it does not, race to the Cross immediately! Thirdly, Jesus had no sin, and because of that, was uniquely qualified to bear our sin on the Cross. By doing that, He became sin but not a sinner. Fourth, righteousness from God only and always comes through Jesus. To be declared righteousness means we have a right standing with God. That’s the trade. Jesus took our sin, condemnation and death. In return we get righteousness, justification and an abundant and eternal life!
These verses, in no order, might have made it had we had a favorite thirty:
I wrote recently the first post of what I am planning to be a short series of blog posts on the discipline of trials. I am drawing heavily from chapter 9 of Tony Reinke’s fantastic book on John Newton. In that chapter Reinke points us to various benefits of trials that John Newton gives to us. In the first post we saw that “trials drive Christians to pray.” In this post we will look at three more benefits of trials.
Trials Humble Proud Hearts
Reinke says that: “Trials are intended to humble us and launch a frontal assault on our pride.” Newton in one of his letters to another minister said: “It requires much discipline to keep pride down in us,…” It does indeed, because all of us as Christians are prone to be proud. Think about the apostle Paul and his thorn in the flesh in 2nd Corinthians chapter 12. Why did God give him this thorn in the flesh? Paul tells us in 2nd Corinthians 12:7: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” One author said: “How dangerous must self-exaltation be, when even the apostle required so much restraint.” God though in His goodness will send trials our way to humble us. As Reinke says, trials will set: “us free from the shackles of our own self-righteousness and self-importance.”
Trials Kill Worldliness
Reinke writes on this benefit of trials when he tells us:
“When rust and moth and robbers eliminate our securities, when cancer arrives, or when we find ourselves speechless in the company of a suffering friend, in this place we feel deep in our bones that this world cannot be the eternal rest our hearts long for. Trials remind us of the vanity of life, and the vanity reminds us that this world is fallen, and the fallenness reminds us that it is a deeply unsatisfying world…trials make us uneasy and set our hearts on things above, where Christ is (Col. 3:1-4).”
So, God in His goodness will sometimes bring trials into our lives to: “make us uneasy and set our hearts on things above,…” When this happens to us, we should see the goodness of God in these trials. Newton said: “Let us adore the grace that seeks to draw our hearts above!”
I remember a few years ago when Rachel Bowen almost died during one of our church services, but God miraculously saved her life. I remember that people in our church were greatly impacted by that serious trial that Rachel and Ben walked through and really our whole church walked through. Members in our church were thinking about eternity and the shortness of life. I know I was regularly thinking about death and eternity during those weeks after that happened.
Trials are Ice Water on Sleepy Souls
Reinke tells us that: “The Christian life is one of sobriety and wakefulness (1 Thess. 5:6). Drawing from Bunyan’s allegory The Pilgrim’s Progress, Newton believed we walk this life in danger of spiritual laziness.” My guess is that all of us as Christians know about this danger of spiritual laziness in our lives. I am sure we have all faced the temptation to coast in the Christian life and to go on auto-pilot, or to simply be lazy spiritually. When we begin to be careless spiritually, we will find that we will begin to dry up spiritually. As Mark reminded us in a recent sermon that spiritual dryness is a common problem. When we are growing spiritually dry and beginning to take a spiritual nap, God in His goodness will sometimes send trials our way. Those trials will be like ice water to our sleepy souls, to snap us back awake.
Reinke reminds us that: “Trials are medicines measured out with care and prescribed by our wise and gracious Physician. He proportions the frequency and the weight of each dose exactly to what the case requires.”
Jerry Ediger asked me to post some of the tremendous wisdom that is found in the above book on John Newton that was written by Tony Reinke. Many people at North Avenue have already read through this book, but if you haven’t you can purchase it here. Jerry, Mark, Fred, and I were discussing Hebrews 12:1-17 recently on a Zoom call that Lord willing will be posted at some point in the future. During our discussion I mentioned chapter 9 of Tony Reinke’s book on John Newton called the discipline of trials. I pointed out how impactful that chapter has been in my life. Basically Newton gives us various benefits of trials, and he is helping us see the goodness of God during trials. So, on this post let me start by mentioning just one, and Lord willing in the future I will try and write some more post on other benefits of trials that Newton gives us. The first one I will mention is that: “Trials drive Christians to pray.”
Tony Reinke writes that: “Normally our prayer lives are unimpressive. Sin degenerates the beauty of prayer into a painful chore. The glorious privilege of prayer becomes for us a “mere task” we ignore at the slightest excuse…Instead of enjoying the blessed communion with the Almighty, we are dragged before God like a slave and we run away from prayer like a thief. Or we fall into the trap of mindless praying. We slip into rote prayers when life becomes comfortable.”
I think most of us know exactly what Reinke is describing in terms of our prayer lives somewhat drying up when life is comfortable. However, when God in His goodness brings various trials into our lives, our prayer lives tend to drastically change. Reinke says: “Mindless and habitual prayers are never less suited than when the circumstances of our lives crumble around us. Trials breathe new desperation–new life–into our prayers.” Then Reinke quotes John Newton who wrote: “Experience testifies, that a long course of ease and prosperity, without painful changes, has an unhappy tendency to make us cold and formal in our secret worship.” Then Newton gives us these powerful words: “Trials give new life to prayer, Trials lay us at his feet, Lay us low and keep us there.”
I love that last sentence from Newton. My guess is that all Christians who have walked through suffering would verify the validity of that Newton quote. As soon as we begin to walk through a trial the RPM gauge of our prayer lives revs up big time. I will just mentioned a few examples of this. Probably about a year ago a Christian coworker of mine got a call one morning while at work that his father had a stroke. He came over to my desk and told me the news and then asked me if I would go out in the hallway and pray for his dad. We walked into the hallway and I had the privilege to pray for the situation. It didn’t take long for this trial to begin to breathe new life into prayer.
I think my wife and I could both talk about praying for our son Michael during his suffering that he has walked through. On various occasions Michael has awakened crying and has been hard to console. Some of the sweetest moments with my son have been singing and praying with him when he has been crying in the night. God in His goodness has brought in these trials with my son that have breathed new life into my wife and my prayers.
The next story I will mention is a powerful story from the life of Charles Spurgeon, who went through a lot of suffering in his life. This story is from 1871 when he was enduring severe pain. Spurgeon writes: “When I was racked some months ago with pain, to an extreme degree, so that I could no longer bear it without crying out, I asked all to go from the room, and leave me alone; and then I had nothing I could say to God but this, ‘Thou are my Father, and I am thy child; and thou, as a Father art tender and full of mercy. I could not bear to see my child suffer as thou makest me suffer, and if I saw him tormented as I am now, I would do what I could to help him, and put my arms under him to sustain him. Wilt thou hide thy face from me, my Father? Wilt thou still lay on a heavy hand, and not give me a smile from thy countenance?’
So, Spurgeon walked through this severe pain, and this trial laid Spurgeon low, and it breathed new life into his prayers as he poured out his heart to his heavenly Father. Spurgeon then concludes by saying: “I bless God that ease came and the racking pain never returned.” Which John Newton tells us that: “Trouble excites prayer, prayer brings deliverance, deliverance produces praise,…” So, trials drive us to pray, and then so often God is gracious and brings deliverance after we pray, and that then produces praise and thanksgiving in us.
The last story I will mention is one that Mark mentioned in one of his recent sermons. This comes from missionary John Paton. This has to be one of my favorite stories from his life. Paton who took the gospel to cannibals on the New Hebrides Islands, faced all kinds of opposition and his life was in danger many times. This particular story Paton was once again in a perilous situation. 100’s of angry natives were trying to find him to kill him. He went and hid in a chestnut tree. Here are Paton’s powerful words describing that night:
“I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship. If thus thrown back upon your own soul, alone, all alone, in the midnight, in the bush, in the very embrace of death itself, have you a Friend that will not fail you then?”
So, when God brings trials into our lives, let us be sure to remember that God in His goodness so often brings those trials to us, to drive us to pray. As John Newton wrote: “Trials give new life to prayer, Trials lay us at his feet, Lay us low and keep us there.”
1) David asks the Lord to bring the judgment. He does not take this into his own hands.
2) David held a position we don’t have. He was the anointed king of Israel. He was the king of the Jews. He was God’s anointed one. He was a type of Christ. So David is speaking from that vantage point not from the vantage point of personal, petty vindictiveness. He is writing in the vein of Psalm 2.
3) David lived in the Old Covenant era, where none of us live. The OT often emphasizes temporal judgments. The NT often emphasizes eternal judgments.
4) However, the New Testament is not only unembarrassed by these words but actually quotes from the judgment section of Psalm 69 not once but twice. Once regarding Judas Iscariot in Acts 1:20 and once regarding Israel generally in Romans 11:9-10. Additionally, the New Testament has plenty of its own imprecations. For a partial list, see here.
5) These words of David are what all of us deserve because of our sins against Jesus, the true Son of David.
6) The judgments mentioned in this song are “A reliable expression of what happens to the adversaries of God’s Anointed” (quote from John Piper).
7) It is common in the OT for a word of judgment or warning to be conditional on the repentance of the listener. In the case of Jonah we see this in regards to Nineveh in Jonah 3 and Jeremiah 18:7-8. For a NT example of a radical conversion of a persecutor of God’s anointed King see Paul’s own words about himself.
8) Romans 9, 10, 11, 12, & 15 wonderfully show us how Paul applied the imprecations of Psalm 69 to his New Testament context.
I thought it might be helpful to write a blog post for those interested in the kind of resources that are used in private before a sermon is given. So below is a complete list (I think!) of resources I’ve had the privilege to use for my sermons on the Psalms. I also would like to briefly note how they influenced the messages on Psalm 22, Psalm 34, Psalm 69 (Part 1) and Psalm 69 (Part 2).
[The following list of names is a not an unqualified endorsement of the totality of each person’s writings.]
Derek Kidner’s two volume commentary on the Psalms has been a great help. I’ve read and reread his comments before each message and they’ve influenced aspects of each sermon. He is the master of saying so much in so few words. His comments helped me see that all of Psalm 22 is Messianic, not just the parts concerning the sufferings. To mention one specific thing amongst many, he helped me with my comments that since the Garden of Eden we have been tempted to think that fearing God leads to misery rather than joy.
Alec Motyer‘s commentary in the New Bible Commentary is both helpful and concise. I greatly enjoyed his commentary on Exodus this past year and have found his comments on the Psalms worthy of reading more than once. Among other things, he influenced my comment on Psalm 34:7 that the “angel of the Lord” is an indication of “diversity within the unity of the Godhead” and that David’s testimony in that chapter is valuable because it rests on the unchanging character of God.
Spurgeon‘s massive multi-volume commentary on the Psalms called The Treasury of David has been a huge help (and is all free online). I read just about all of his commentary on Psalm 22, most on 34, and much on 69. As one example among many, Spurgeon’s comments on “I am a worm” (Psalm 22:6) helped contribute to my comments on that phrase. He gives explanatory notes on virtually every verse, sermon ideas, and quotes from others theologians.
James Boice has a wonderful three volume commentary on the Psalms that I have found very helpful for getting sermon ideas. He is great at giving lists, such as the one on Psalm 69:1-18: “1) Enemies, 2) Brothers, 3) A Proverb, 4) Rulers, 5) Drunkards.” Boice influenced my comments that Christians today will be called “bywords” like “anti-science,” “anti-progress,” etc. However, Boice used the phrases “religious nuts,” “radical right,” and the “God squad” instead.
Don Carson‘s commentary on The Gospel According to John (which Scott and I used constantly during the John series) helped inform my comments on Jesus saying, “I thirst” (John 19:28-29 which fulfilled Psalm 69:21).
Carson’s comments on Psalm 69 in his devotional book called For the Love of Godhelped clarify some of my opening remarks about how the Psalm is about Jesus typologically. He also gave the most exhaustive list of places Psalm 69 is both quoted and possibly alluded to in the New Testament, including John 7:5.
Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament is one of my favorite books. I use it constantly whenever the NT quotes an OT passage. I used it for Psalm 22, 34, & 69. In that book, Carson’s comments were especially helpful in understanding how 1 Peter makes use of Psalm 34. In the same book, Andreas Kostenberger was helpful regarding how John uses Psalm 69 in his gospel (especially in John 2:17; 15:25; & 19:28-29).
I listened to Richard Phillips‘ two sermons on Psalm 69, which were solid as usual. I listened to his first sermon on verses 1-18 repeatedly. It especially inspired my thinking about how the world hates Jesus and His followers and how we should respond. The fact that he preached the chapter in two messages split at the end of verse 18 influenced me to preach it that way. I was originally going to preach Psalm 69 as one sermon, but changed my mind because I couldn’t figure out how to fit all of it into one message.
Christopher Ash, Joe Morecraft, and Joe Carter all had helpful messages on Psalm 69 (see here, here, and here for audio). I listened to most of a Psalm 69 sermon from Mark Dever’s church preached by Zach Schlegel which helped me see how to preach this Psalm in a Jesus-centered way. What I mean is that he helped make it personal, emphasizing Christ’s sympathy and intercession for us.
John Piper‘s message on Psalm 69 called Pour Out Your Indignation Upon Them was superb. If you have time to listen to only one other sermon on this passage, I recommend this one. As you listen you’ll likely hear aspects of his sermon that impacted my own. He influenced me both to include Romans 12:19-20 in my message and my comments on that passage. I used part of the following quote from this message as well: “In other words, the way Paul interprets the words of David is not as sinful personal vengeance but as a reliable expression of what happens to the adversaries of God’s anointed.“
Tim Keller has a devotional I have found useful called The Songs of Jesus. The idea to mention Jeremiah 9:23-24 (“boasting in the Lord”) while covering Psalm 34:2 came from that book (p. 64). Keller also helped me understand how Romans 12:19-20’s teaching on God’s future judgment frees us (perhaps surprisingly) to love others.
I listened to Doug Wilson‘s message on Psalm 69 and found it helpful, especially regarding the typological aspect of the Psalm, even though the latter half of the sermon seemed to wander a bit off the main topic. Wilson, among others, helped me see that verse 5 is obviously not about Jesus, but that much (all?) of the rest of the Psalm is about David and Jesus.
I found Sinclair Ferguson helpful as always on both Psalm 22 and Psalm 34. Sinclair often stirs my affections although I have a hard time bringing ideas from his messages into my own. I listened to Dick Lucas, who I always enjoy, on one or more of the Psalms but don’t remember the messages well.
I received clarity and help for the verse divisions for my Psalm 22 outline from James Boice, but the idea to preach it out of order came to me while talking to Scott on the phone on that Saturday night because I was stuck and did not know how to order the message in a way that was easy to follow. I received help in titling my outline for Psalm 34 from the MacArthur Study Bibleand help for my outline and some sermon ideas on Psalm 69:1-18 from David Guzik. I got a helpful Spurgeon quote from him about our throats being parched more often by talking about frivolous rather than significant things. I also got the idea to mention that Jesus was mocked by the High Priest and the thief on the cross who represented the elites and dregs of society, respectively.
Matthew Henry‘s whole Bible commentary is always good, especially in obscure parts of the Old Testament. He was helpful for me in confirming the David/Christ typology in his introductory remarks about Psalm 69.
These study Bibles just listed are superb. If a person had only five books they could own to better understand all of Scripture, these are hard to beat. It’s great to have them all so you can see where they agree/disagree and better weigh the evidence.
With today’s sermon I had a large imprecatory section (Psalm 69:22-28). I listened to Piper’s sermon on this repeatedly and found it quite helpful. I have read and reread Derek Kidner’s section on this kind of Psalm in his introduction to volume one (p. 25-32). While I doubt I agree with every sentence, much of what he said was very helpful. I’ve read the brief but helpful introductory section on imprecatory Psalms in the Reformation Study Bible. I also found a great extended study note in the NIV Zondervan Study Bible (now republished as the Biblical Theology Study Bible). It helped shape the eight points I gave regarding imprecatory Psalms.
I watched two brief youtube clips about imprecatory Psalms. One was by John Piper and one byRobert Godfrey & Al Mohler (this one was especially good and encouraged me in the relevance of imprecatory Psalms for today and how the New Testament has its own form of imprecations). I also read part of an older sermon by John MacArthur on the topic as well.
I also planned (but forgot) to use C.S. Lewis as a bad example of how to deal with imprecatory Psalms. Chapters 3 and 10 in his very flawed book Reflections on the Psalms are frankly two of the worst chapters I’ve ever read from Lewis. He actually goes so far as to say that the imprecations in these Psalms are “sin” and even “devilish.”
[This reminds us that we must use discernment even while reading someone as well loved as C.S. Lewis. Even he gets it wrong (very wrong!) in significant ways sometimes. His view of Scripture (which he expresses in chapter 10) is sadly and simply unbiblical and harmful.]
Ok, thanks to anybody who read this far! You are both great people!
I happily admit that I have few original ideas. Most of what I say (and perhaps this is true of all of us) comes from standing on the shoulders of others much wiser and more knowledgeable than myself. If I’m counting correctly, last Sunday’s sermon alone was influenced and shaped by about 23 different resources. Usually the closest I get to referencing them are when I say something like, “commentators point out [blank]” or “most commentators agree/disagree about [blank].” Well, it’s a blessing that we have all these resources and occasionally even get to cite them in detail!
Thanks for reading!
[One last comment: When you read and listen to a lot of different commentators and pastors you often begin to see a great similarity between their approaches to the passage, but you also get to see the differences; sometimes quite significant ones.
So, for instance, the fact that the 1 Chronicles’ account of David’s preparation of the temple may be the background to Psalm 69 was referenced repeatedly in most sources I looked at. That Jesus’ brothers rejected Him in John and Mark, as mentioned in Psalm 69:8, was mentioned by many of the commentaries as well. That “those who sit in the gate” refer to the social elites and “the drunkards” to the societal dregs (69:12) was common among the commentators also.
About half the sources I used last Sunday said that David’s own “folly” (in Psalm 69:5) was the occasion of his mockery by others. The other half said David’s folly had nothing to do with the mockery. I took the second position and did not get into the debate in that message. But it was due to being exposed to multiple sources that I was able to see that there even was a debate, who took what side and why, and finally come to my own conclusion.]
Using an enormous understatement, we are living in amazing and extraordinary days. A week ago, only our Lord knew how the following week would unfold and the unprecedented trials and opportunities that would go with it.
Let me throw out three reminders from Romans as we consider our God-given roles in this ever-changing world. Romans 1:14-16 stresses the urgency of the Gospel. It says, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
In light of the perilous days we live in, let’s remember our obligation and be eager and unashamed to share the Gospel continually with our family and those we have the chance to influence.
Secondly, Romans 5:3-5 reminds us of the tremendous benefits of trials. It says, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We all want and need more endurance, character and hope. Suffering puts us on the fast track to receive those attributes. Many of you can give countless example of how our Lord has used trials to sanctify you.
Finally, nothing beats the unshakeable promises of Romans 8 when walking through times of uncertainty. Consider these verses as you think of the current circumstances which have been perfectly ordained by our Lord for His glory.
“and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Use these and your other favorite promises as an arsenal against the sins of fear, worry and complaining!
Thanks again for bringing our Lord glory through the ministries to your family and others he has entrusted to you!
If you grew up in church and have since grown weary of ‘religion’ and the whole Christianity thing…I want to suggest something.
It’s actually so simple it may seem pointless.
Maybe you are sick of hypocritical church-going people who claim to follow Jesus. Maybe you are just confused or bored or offended by the teaching of Scripture. Maybe it just all seems too unreal and part of your childhood at this point that you could never ‘go back’ to those odd beliefs.
Whatever it is that’s made you drift away (and we’ve all been there to varying degrees), here is a suggestion.
Find an old Bible somewhere and sit down alone in your room. Open to the Gospel of John. Then close your eyes and pray from your heart, “God, I don’t even know if You’re real any more or if You are good or if You care, but I am committing to read through the Gospel of John over the next few days. If You are really out there and if this Book really is Your Word, please reveal Yourself to me as I read these old familiar pages.”
Pray earnestly. Read. Focus on Jesus. Watch Him. Listen. And see if He is worthy of your trust.
We’ve made it half way through the year! Due to the busyness of our schedules, this will be the last regular, weekly blog following the Bible reading schedule. We hope you’ve enjoyed exploring some of the less frequently read parts of Scripture!
Philippians 1-2 | Sunday: Philippians 2 shows us that the commands for unity, humility, service are root in the humble servant Jesus became in the gospel.
Leviticus 7-9 | Monday: For more on Leviticus, see here.
I Kings 19-22 | Tuesday: For an overview of 1-2 Kings, see here.
Psalms 75-77 | Wednesday: D.A. Carson gives us a reflection on Psalm 75:
“One of the important functions of corporate worship is recital, that is, a “retelling” of the wonderful things that God has done. Hence Psalm 78:2-4: “I will utter hidden things, things from of old—what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.” Similarly, if more briefly, Psalm 75:1: “We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds.”…God’s “name” is part of his gracious self-disclosure. It is a revelation of who he is (Ex. 3:14; 34:5-7, 14). God’s “name,” then, is brought very near us in the story of his wonderful deeds: that is, who God is is disclosed in the accounts of what he has done.
Thus the recital of what God has done is a means of grace to bring God near to his people. Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether they are alone and reading their Bibles or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near.
The emphasis this psalm makes regarding God is that he is the sovereign disposer, the “disposer supreme” (as one commentator puts it). It is wonderfully stabilizing to us to rest in such a God. He declares, “I choose the appointed time; it is I who judge uprightly” (75:2). It is hard to imagine a category more suggestive of God’s firm control than “the appointed time.” Yet mere control without justice would be fatalism. This God, however, not only sets the appointed times, but judges uprightly (75:2). Further, in this broken world there are cataclysmic events that seem to threaten the entire social order. Elsewhere David ponders, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (11:3). But here we are reassured, for God himself declares, “When the earth and all its people quake, it is I who hold its pillars firm” (75:3). So the arrogant who may think themselves to be the pillars of society are duly warned: “Boast no more” (75:4). To the wicked, God says, “Do not lift your horns against heaven [like a ram tossing its head about in bold confidence]; do not speak with outstretched neck” (75:5).
Retell God’s wonderful deeds and bring near his name.”
Proverbs 7 | Thursday: Jon Bloom gives us a warning about flattery and he ties it in to a portion of Proverbs 7:
“But we are not only tempted to be manipulative flatterers; we also are pathetically vulnerable to being manipulated by flattery. This is due to the gargantuan pride in our sinful nature.
Our sin nature wants to be flattered because it loves to be admired. Sometimes it doesn’t even matter if we know the flattery is disingenuous, as long as it enhances our image in the eyes of others or simply gives us a buzz from the fact that someone thinks us important enough to flatter.
This, in fact, is the snare of much sexual sin. The real seductive power in much sexual lust is high-octane pride mixing with the sexual drive, fueling the intoxicating experience of being desired, even if it’s just fantasy. Flattery is what the adulterous in Proverbs 7 used to snare the young man and lead him away “as an ox goes to the slaughter” (Proverbs 7:21–22). The adulteress seduced him, but the man was “lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14).
This is the way flattery works on us. It seduces us, but only because our pride finds it enticing. And if we take the bait, it wreaks destruction.”
Ezekiel 13-18 | Friday: For an overview of Ezekiel, see here.
Luke 15-16 | Saturday: There is a previous in depth blog post on Luke 15 that can be found here: Prodigal Grace
“begins with a provocative pair of lines: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” Does the parallelism hint that the people of Israel are the pure in heart? Scarcely; that accords neither with history nor with this psalm. The second line, then, must be a restriction on the first. Should those who are not pure in heart be equated with the wicked so richly described in this psalm? Well, perhaps, but what is striking is that the next lines depict not the evil of the wicked but the sin of Asaph’s own heart. His own heart was not pure as he contemplated “the prosperity of the wicked” (73:3). He envied them. Apparently this envy ate at him until he was in danger of losing his entire moral and religious balance: his “feet had almost slipped” (73:2).
What attracted Asaph to the wicked was the way so many of them seem to be the very picture of serenity, good health, and happiness (73:4-12). Even their arrogance has its attractions: it seems to place them above others. Their wealth and power make them popular. At their worst, they ignore God with apparent total immunity from fear. They seem “always carefree, they increase in wealth” (73:12).
So perhaps righteousness doesn’t pay: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence” (73:13). Asaph could not quite bring himself to this step: he recognized that it would have meant a terrible betrayal of “your children” (73:15)—apparently the people of God to whom Asaph felt loyalty and for whom, as a leader, he sensed a burden of responsibility. But all his reflections were “oppressive” to him (73:16), until three profound realizations dawned on him.
First, on the long haul the wicked will be swept away. As Asaph entered the sanctuary, he reflected on the “final destiny” (73:17-19, 27) of those he had begun to envy, and he envied them no more.
Second, Asaph himself, in concert with all who truly know God and walk in submission to him, possesses so much more than the wicked—both in this life and in the life to come. “I am always with you,” Asaph exults; “you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory” (73:23-24).
Third, Asaph now sees his bitterness for the ugly sin it is (73:21-22), andresolves instead to draw near to God and to make known all God’s deeds (73:28).”
Proverbs 5-6 | Thursday: D.A. Carson reminds us that: “All of Proverbs 5 is a warning,in wisdom categories, against succumbing to an adulteress—a warning that keeps returning in the opening chapters of this book (e.g., 6:20-35; 7:1-27).”
Carson ends his reflection on Proverbs 5 with these words:
“Adultery itself is wrong, or foolish, or sinful, or short-term, or undisciplined—whatever the category Proverbs deploys—and not just the adulteress. The chapter not only articulates warnings, but offers an alternative: a marriage that is cherished, developed, nurtured, not least in the sexual arena (5:18-19). But beyond all the immediate and cultural reasons for sexual fidelity in marriage is one of transcendent importance: “For a man’s ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths” (5:21).
There are, of course, several similar verses in Scripture—e.g., “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13).
But in the context of Wisdom Literature, there is an additional overtone. Not only does God see everything, including any sexual misconduct, but it is the part of wisdom, the wisdom of living out life in God’s universe in God’s way, to please our Maker.”
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.
R.C. Sproul comments on this passage and shows us that:
Jesus dismisses the idea that the murdered Galileans were worse sinners than any others, but he takes the opportunity to say, ‘but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’ And then he continues ‘Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish‘ (13:4-5)….
What he said shocks us. ‘But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’ With this abrupt and difficult answer, Jesus is telling the people that they are asking the wrong question. The question is not why did that tower fall on those eighteen innocent people, but, ‘Why didn’t it fall on my head?’ They have located their astonishment at the wrong point.
Sproul continues by reminding us that:
If we think that God is obliged to be kind to us, that he owes us mercy, then we are confusing mercy and justice. There is an obligatory sense to justice. Justice describes what ought to be done to reward those who have been righteous and to punish those who have been wicked. But mercy, by definition, is never an obligation to God…If grace is owed it is not grace, it is debt.
Every human being walks in this world under the sentence of death. Every human being has violated God and his holiness. The very fact that we are allowed to live from moment to moment is because of his grace. But God’s grace and mercy and patience are designed to lead us to repentance…We lose our capacity to be surprised by him. So, when a tragedy befalls us, we turn in anger to the Lord of glory, who fills our lives with grace and mercy every day. Jesus detected that kind of hardness of heart to those asking this question, and found it necessary to give a severe warning: ‘But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.’