While walking the church basement halls last Sunday with a loud little boy who wasn’t able to attend nursery due to sickness, I ran into another mom doing the same with her (not so loud) little girl. We chatted for a minute, laughing about the challenges of Sunday mornings with little ones and the many missed sermons and times of worship. Then she marveled at the day and age we live in—that the very sermon we were missing would only be a click away on our computer the next morning. I was reminded afresh of the wealth of biblical resources at our fingertips.
Over the past couple of years, as I have found it more challenging to find long stretches of time to read (for 3 little sweet obvious reasons), so I have begun to incorporate sermon listening into my daily routine. The options are endless. For starters just check out the Sovereign Grace store, Gospel Coalition, and Desiring God websites and you will find hundreds of sermons just waiting for your mp3 player.
This morning, while attacking my bedroom floor with the vacuum and mop, I listened to Kevin DeYoung’s sermon from T4G entitled “Spirit-Powered, Gospel-Driven, Faith-Feuled Effort.” It was the perfect message for the job, since my floor was greatly in need of some effort driven by the Spirit’s power. Me (and my floor) were greatly blessed and challenged by his message and I’m so grateful that technology allows me to bring T4G right into my home—and I didn’t even have to get out of my pjs!
So consider adding sermon listening to your daily routine and begin with Kevin’s message. Your floor will thank you.
My favorite preacher recently spoke at Solid Rock Church from Luke 18 (the very familiar passage of the Pharisee and tax collector). Like me, you might be well acquainted with this Bible story, yet surprised to discover who you most resemble in this story. We are all standing in line: either after the tax collector or behind the Pharisee. There is no third line. So, listen and learn which man you most resemble, which line you are standing in.
Each year we make New Year’s resolutions for things we want to change, but we also have New Year’s hopes for things we can’t change, but wish we could. We long to receive certain desires of our heart that seem elusively out of reach. And maybe, just maybe, we will see those hopes fulfilled this year.
When I was single, I hoped for a husband. Maybe this year, he will come. I imagined myself married by the following New Year, or at least engaged. Maybe the New Year was holding my future husband in the wings. God eventually gave me an amazing husband, but new hopes still sprang up with each New Year’s Day. When we lived in a teeny apartment, I wanted to move to a bigger place. When I experienced secondary infertility, I wanted to have another child. Maybe this year.
I’m sure you have hopes for this year. They are probably whatever you are thinking about right now.
But in her book, Keep A Quiet Heart, Elisabeth Elliot encourages us to focus on the most important of New Year’s hopes:
“Will the young woman find a mate? Will the couple have a child? Maybe this year will be the year of desire fulfilled. Perhaps, on the other hand, it will be the year of desire radically transformed, the year of finding, as we have perhaps not yet truly found, Christ to be the All-Sufficient One, Christ the ‘deep sweet well of Love’” (page 49, emphasis mine).
This year, let us ask God to dissolve all our hopes (however good they may be!) into a single hope: to know Christ and to be found in Him. May this be a year of desire radically transformed, a deeper, truer, knowing of Christ as our All-Sufficient One.
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7-8a).
A few January’s ago we asked the question: Is it possible to make a New Year’s resolution and truly keep it?
The answer is Yes! And we did a little three part series to explain how.
Keeping Right Resolutions
Keeping One Resolution
Help Keeping Resolutions
“In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Take one step at a time, every step under Divine warrant and direction. Ever plan for yourself in simple dependence on God. It is nothing less than self-idolatry to conceive that we can carry on even the ordinary matters of the day without his counsel. He loves to be consulted…Consider no circumstances too clear to need his direction. In all thy ways, small as well as great; in all thy concerns, personal or relative, temporal or eternal, let him be supreme. Who of us has not found the unspeakable ‘peace’ of bringing to God matters too minute or individual to be entrusted to the most confidential ear?... If in true poverty of spirit we go every morning to our Lord, as knowing not how to guide ourselves for this day; our eye constantly looking upward for direction, the light will come down. He shall direct thy paths…. Let the will be kept in a quiet, subdued, cheerful, readiness, to move, stay, retreat, turn to the right hand or to the left, at the Lord’s bidding; always remembering that is best which is least our own doing, and that a pliable spirit ever secures the needful guidance…. No step well prayed over will bring ultimate regret.” ~Charles Bridges
Over the summer our family visited the Sovereign Grace Church in Knoxville, TN—Cornerstone Church of Knoxville. That morning, a young woman named Shannon shared her story of leaving a Christian home to attend college, and the crisis of faith that followed. Her testimony was so powerful that we wanted to share it with you, and Shannon graciously gave us permission. So whether you are in college, just sent a child off to college, or are home with small children today (and feeling far away from your college days or theirs!) may you encouraged by how God used the members of one church to display the beauty and truth of His Word to one wayward college student. I was blessed to be raised in a Christian family with strong involvement in an evangelical church. Because I was a “good kid,” I was confident in my ability to do the Christian walk right. It was with this ill-placed confidence that I left home and enrolled at a Christian college. All freshmen at my college were required to take Bible classes, and the religion professors there taught that parts of Scripture were not true. Though my friends had no trouble believing the Bible anyway, my mind was filled with doubt. I had been taught all my life that Scripture was as accurate as any textbook, but my professors suggested that my parents and Sunday School teachers were deceiving me, trying to keep me sheltered from the real truth. In the end, I believed my professors instead of God’s Word. I began by just questioning certain parts of Scripture, but the doubt quickly spread to other areas. Eventually, I wasn’t sure if God existed at all—and if He did exist, I wasn’t sure I liked Him. By the end of my second year in college, the doubt had progressed so far that I refused to read my Bible, and if I prayed, I only did so to challenge God to prove that He was real. More than once, I sat on my bed with my arms crossed and glared at my Bible with hatred. Though I didn’t believe in the Bible, I also realized that if the Bible wasn’t true, then life was meaningless. This realization made me continually angry, cynical, and depressed. Still, I demanded answers to my questions—and I had many questions—before I would accept God as Lord of my life again. I was in the worst phase of this hostile doubt when my brother and sister-in-law first began attending Cornerstone Church of Knoxville. My brother tried to persuade me to visit, and even though I initially refused, he just wouldn’t ever stop talking about the church. Finally, I agreed to go, knowing that visiting once was the only way he would leave me alone. The Sunday I first came to Cornerstone, I avoided the greeters at the door, and I didn’t raise my hand to identify myself as a guest. But I was struck by a pre-teen boy sitting in front of me who was singing passionately during the music. I had never seen any pre-teen that excited about praising God before. As I looked around the church, I saw that this boy was no special case: other people exhibited the same delight in worship. Watching them sing, I knew these people had joy, which was something I missed—so I started to attend Cornerstone to see if I could have it, too. Coming to Cornerstone helped me desire faith again. The pastors exhibited a firm belief in the truth and the power of Scripture, and instead of being offended at how countercultural the teaching was, I found it refreshing and challenging. I began to grow spiritually again, but I was still often crippled with fears that the Bible was a lie made by men and that I was wasting my time and life by believing what it said. On top of that, my classes at college still bombarded me with falsehoods, making it difficult for me to hold to my faltering faith. This pattern continued for about a year, until I attended a class offered at Cornerstone on the doctrine of Scripture. I believe that God ordained this specific class, at this specific time, for my good. One day, as we were talking through one of the homework readings, I realized that if the Bible was true, then my doubt and accusations against a Holy God, along with the skepticism that had been so encouraged at my college, were atrocities in His sight. But if the Bible was true, then that also meant that God, though He had just reason to crush me for despising His Word, had mercifully provided His Son to absorb the full wrath for all the animosity I had shown toward Him. And even as I raged against Him, He had patiently and gently brought me to a church where I could see the height of my folly and the depths of his grace, where He had been planning all along to restore me to Himself. Hallelujah! That morning, as I sat in the Scripture class quietly, nobody there knew that a drastic change was taking place in my soul. God was restoring my trust in Scripture and in Him. I was amazed as I tried to recall the questions I had long demanded answers to—and found that my doubts were unconvincing, powerless against the rush of joyful assurance that God had given me. The changes in my soul were sweeping; faith and joy replaced my cynicism and misery. I began a read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, and every morning I eagerly picked up the same Bible I had often glared at angrily just a year before. I read the warnings in Scripture about false teachers and being wise in my own sight, and I was amazed that God’s Word predicted the exact lies I had fallen for at college. And I treasured the mercy of God that would give me the gift of faith even though I had shaken my fist at Him and at His Word in hostility. I still have the sinful tendency to struggle with doubt, but through Cornerstone Church, God has consistently, graciously provided me with support for the fight of faith. Through my four years here, other college students have challenged me, pastors have prayed for me, and people in my small group have lovingly walked with me through my hard questions. My husband, whom I met at Cornerstone, daily leads me to apply Scripture to every situation, and I can see its powerful effects in my life. I now know experientially that Scripture’s promises are true, and I praise God for the power of His living Word and for bringing me to a church where His truth is prized.
For many of you reading this blog, “Back to School” is where you are going in the next few weeks. Whether a private or public school, high school, college or university, you may find yourself surrounded by those who do not believe in or love the Savior.
You may be tempted to join the party scene (rebelliously indulge your sinful desires, James 1:14-15), to downplay your faith (hide it under a basket, Matt. 5:14-16), to keep an open mind (question the only eternal truth, 1 John 1:1-4), or to chase your dreams (pursue selfish ambitions, James 3:13-18) instead of running after God’s commands.
As you consider these potential temptations, you may feel weak, unable to stand, desperate for God’s help. Good. If so, may the words of the Lord to Joshua encourage you today: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
—from the archives
God’s sovereignty directs every moment of my life, for my good and His glory. It’s true. I know it. But oh, how quickly I forget it. I need to hear it again. I need to be reminded of it every day. Sometimes I need to speak this truth to myself many times a day!
So, here is another reminder—for me, and maybe you too!
“This, then, is of faith, that everything, the very least, or what seems to us great, every change of the seasons, everything which touches us in mind, body, or estate, whether brought about through this outward senseless nature, or by the will of man, good or bad, is overruled to each of us by the all-holy and all-loving will of God. Whatever befalls us, however it befalls us, we must receive as the will of God. If it befalls us through man’s negligence, or ill-will, or anger, still it is, in even the least circumstance, to us the will of God. For if the least thing could happen to us without God’s permission, it would be something out of God’s control. God’s providence or His love would not be what they are. Almighty God Himself would not be the same God; not the God whom we believe, adore, and love.” (E.B. Pusey, 1800-1882)
(HT: Elisabeth Elliot via Janis Shank)
When CJ leaves for work at the end of the day, he tells Tony, his assistant, and Nora, his secretary: “We’ll try again tomorrow,”
That’s short for: “Well friends, we worked hard today, but once again we failed to accomplish everything we hoped. Maybe we even made mistakes, used poor judgment, or experienced setbacks. We are frail and finite creatures. Only God gets His to-do list done. And only God does it perfectly, every day. So, let’s humbly acknowledge our weakness and insufficiency in contrast to His strength and sovereignty. But let’s not give up in despair. If God wills, let’s come back tomorrow and by His grace, do our best to serve Him faithfully, for His glory!”
Let’s try again tomorrow.
I think CJ’s little phrase can help us in the New Year.
Are you discouraged by unfulfilled resolutions from years past? Maybe you’ve already failed to keep your resolutions for 2010.
I can easily get discouraged when I consider this past year: My recipes remain half-organized on my computer. My reading list is only two-thirds completed. Certain relationships I wanted to invest in remain untended. My unbelief still dogs me.
But I read more books this year than if I’d never resolved to read at all. I’ve taken more initiative with people, even if not as much as I would have liked. And the recipes are half way-organized instead of one big mess! By God’s grace, I think I’ve even grown in faith, however slow my progress.
I may not have completed my to-do list for 2009. But I’ve done more than if I never tried at all.
So, I’m going to try again this year. I’m going to make new resolutions to glorify God. I’m going to seek to make them humbly—recognizing my weakness and inability to complete them all perfectly.
But in the words of Paul: “one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14). I want to press on to be more like Jesus and be with Him more often in 2010.
As we bid goodbye to 2009, I say to you: “Let’s try again this year.”
My friend Rita sent me this letter from John Newton to his wife, Mary. The author of Amazing Grace was sixty years old when he wrote these words. He and his wife—whom he loved very much—had been married for thirty-five years. She would pass away five years later and he would live for another seventeen years after that.
CJ and I have been married for thirty-four years, so I feel I can relate to much of what John Newton writes about this season of life. His beautiful letter is long, I know, but it is worth taking a few moments to read.
Let pastor, husband, author, and Christian John Newton instruct all of us in the joys of marital fidelity and love, the peace of trusting in the faithfulness of God, and the hope of future grace for the journey.
August 6, 1785
My dear wife,
I long to hear that you had a comfortable journey to Southampton, and that you are now with our dear friends. Nothing has taken place among us that can be properly called new; which is a great mercy. For, though you have been gone but one day, a single day, or a single hour—may produce painful alterations in a family. The Lord has preserved us through a long course of years, and in different situations, from various calamities which have overtaken others. Our obligations to thankfulness are singular and numerous.
When the carriage drove past the corner, my heart seemed to go away with it. It contained what was of more value to me than the cargoes of a whole East India fleet. Tell our niece Eliza that I love her very dearly. She would soon be well—if I could make her so. But she is in better hands than mine! I have a comfortable hope that her illness has been, and will be, sanctified to an end far more desirable than health or life itself. Therefore I leave her to the wise and merciful direction of the Lord, who loves her better than I can.
I cannot write a long letter tonight. What could I, indeed, say, if I had more time, that I have not said a thousand times over? Yet there still is, and will be, something unsaid in my heart, which I have not words to express. May the Lord bless this little separation to quicken us to mutual prayer, and to lead us to a thankful review of the mercy and goodness which have followed us through the many years we have been united.
How many changes have we seen! Under how many trials have we been supported! How many deliverances have we known! How many comforts have we enjoyed! Especially, what great advantages have we possessed, in knowing those things which pertain to our everlasting peace!
The years we have passed together—will return no more. The afflictions are gone, the pleasures likewise are gone, forever. The longer we live, such pleasures as this world can afford, will, more and more, lose their power of pleasing. Only our love, I trust, will exist and flourish to the end of life—yes, beyond it! It will always be a truth, that the Lord, in giving you to me—gave me the best temporal desire of my heart. But the shadows of the evening advance. Old age is creeping in upon us, and the days are approaching when we shall have no pleasure—but what we can derive from the good Word of God, and the consolations of his Holy Spirit. These, if we are favored with them, will sufficiently compensate for the abatement, or the loss, of all the rest. The streams may run dry—but the fountain of living waters will always flow! May His presence be near our hearts—and then all will be well.
I am too fully employed to feel time hang heavy upon my hands in your absence; and, if I am permitted to come to you, the thoughts of the journey’s end will make the journey pleasant.