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Wednesday, November 16, 2011


I’m an activist at heart.  I feel my blood boil when I think of the powerful exploiting the weak, the many taking advantage of the few, or the privileged oppressing the less privileged.   This does not always result in godliness in me.  It can lead me to speaking too quickly (selfishly wanting to "unload" and not lovingly and prayerfully discerning timing--which is important even when speaking what is true) and not resting in God's timing and plan (sinfully trying to control, being impatient, not trusting in God, and becoming judgmental of my brother).    And too often, my frustration with injustice can sinfully lead me to bitterness or misplaced hope.  This inevitably results when I allow my anger and brokenhearted-ness to be divorced from the perspective of eternal gospel hope in Christ. Accordingly, I have to acknowledge, guard against, and fight against these propensities toward sin in myself.  The best way for me to do this to be rooted in the gospel—the reality that:
1)      I, along with my fellow human beings, have betrayed the only good, perfect, almighty, all-loving, all wise, creator God;

2)      the just penalty of this betrayal and subsequent defilement is death and separation from a Perfect God;

3)      our God is so good and loves us so much that He sacrificed Himself for us, paying the just penalty of our sin so that we could be with Him forever if we believe in Him and follow Him in faith;

4)      He gives us access to Him, not just in the future in heaven, but also right now through His Word and His Spirit and through prayer; 

5)      He is changing us from the inside out, giving us faith, new desires, and power to follow Him;

6)      God is working all things in this world for His glory and the good of His people, in such a way that our character will be in line with His, what is wrong will be righted, and the pain of this life will seem like a “light and momentary affliction” when compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that He is bringing about through the things of this life.

When I am rooted in this gospel (which means “good news”), I can seek the Lord’s counsel and wait on Him, trusting His sovereignty, wisdom, goodness, and power despite the horrors I see in my heart and in this world.  When I am rooted in the gospel, I can trust that He is at work in my heart and the hearts of my brothers and sisters, even when I do not understand or even when I can see blatant sin.  When I am rooted in the gospel, I can acknowledge the afflictions of life and yet not be consumed by them because I already have the all surpassing joy of knowing Jesus and I have great hope in what He is doing that my eye cannot see.  When I am rooted in the gospel, I can have love, compassion, forgiveness, hope and peace for those who sin against and harm me or others. 
Obviously, none of us are purely activists all the time or purely those who wait all the time, but most of us have a tendency towards one of these directions.  And one propensity is not better than the other.  What about you, where do you fall?  Are you an activist too, or do your tendencies swing in the other direction?  The godly side of not having an activist tendency can be mercifulness, forbearance, patience, faith, peacefulness, and gentleness.  These are godly, honorable, and precious qualities that we all should seek to cultivate!  However, some of the propensities towards sin for those who do not have activist personalities can be apathy, selfishness, laziness, partiality, fear of man and other things, and lack of faith and love that is unwilling to speak truth or to do hard things or to stand up for others until our own well-being is on the line.  Again, the answer to the propensity towards sin here is still the gospel.  The gospel gives us power to love as Christ loves.  When we apathetically or fearfully fail to stand up for or reach out to our brother, we fail to love our brother—this same person who was lovingly made in the image and likeness of God and for whom Jesus gave His precious life!! This is no small sin!  Yet, Christ demonstrates to us a different way! When we were without hope in our sin, Christ, out of His great love, stood up and did something for us!  God spoke out to us and for us!  He reached out to us. He loved us at great cost to Himself.  Christ did the hard things of faith and love-- forsaking His reputation, comfort, privilege, etc. to rescue those who betrayed Him.  Christ did not follow the powerful or popular or winsome.  He invested in and even stood up for the “nobodies” of this world—those who were obviously imperfect and despised or rejected or not even noticed by the “somebodies” of His time.   Christ did not throw away or abandon the sinful and imperfect.  Christ allowed His reputation to be maligned and slandered by spiteful and/or ignorant lies for the sake of rescuing the lost.  Christ endured great persecution so that He could win our salvation.  Christ spoke the truth, even though He knew He would suffer for it. His example in the gospel compels us to love in this way.  From the Old Testament to the New, the Scriptures repeatedly and explicitly direct us to love in this way!

My dear friend, Wendy, wrote an excellent blog that talks more about the phenomenon “when good men do nothing”.  It can be found here:

I have also posted her full blog article, “When Good Men Do Nothing” below. 

Here is a blogpost of mine that speaks a little to this theme as well:

Heavenly Father, Thank you for the gospel!!  Thank you that it is the answer for us, no matter who we are and no matter what strengths or weaknesses and sin we possess.  Father, give us humble hearts to soberly assess ourselves and our character.  Speak into our lives with your truth.  Speak to us about ways that our heart and life are not in line with your gospel.  Show us specific situations in our life where you are calling us to repentance.  Show us what repentance looks like and give us the strength to obey where you lead, even if it comes at great cost to ourselves.  Fill our hearts with gospel love for those around us.  Protect us from sinning against our brother and displaying a lack of love through bitterness, judgmental-ness, or a lack of gospel faith and hope.  Protect us from sinning against our brother and displaying a lack of love by failing to act, failing to stand up against injustice, failing to reach out to those who are suffering, and by simply being apathetic.  Help us to be rooted and established in gospel love.  As you teach us about yourself and mature us, may your work be demonstrated in us through ever increasing love for you, for our family and friends, for our neighbors, for strangers, and even for those who have harmed us.  Give us this radical love.  Awaken your church and forgive your church for our apathy and rebellion.  Fill us with courage and faith and power.  Help us to live in the hope and freedom of the gospel!!  In Jesus Name, Amen

From Wendy’s blog:

When Good Men Do Nothing

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." Edmund Burke

It's been painful to watch the fallout of the Penn State sexual abuse scandal. The subject has inspired numerous Christian blog posts. One of the best I have read is from a Penn State Campus Crusade for Christ staffer. You can read it here. Probably enough has been said, yet unraveling the answer to the question of what causes good men and women to do nothing at times in the face of evil seems important to me.

I love football and have respected Joe Paterno as a coach over the years. It saddens me to see his incredible career end in such a way. What saddens me most is that I think, in terms of character, Joe Paterno is a respectable man. Yet, this respectable man allowed a very bad thing to go on under his nose. And not just him – there's a whole slew of men who should have known better who allowed the worst kind of abuse of a minor to happen on their watch. They closed their ears and turned away. How did that happen?!

Some have expressed concern about how Paterno and others have been treated in the wake of the allegations. I think this stems in part from the disturbing idea for many of us that we might have reacted exactly the same way. We too might have wrestled for days over what to report to higher ups and how to paint what we did report. We too might have let it go after doing the bare minimum needed to ease our conscience. I could easily see myself at certain stages of my life numbing my conscience on the issue with words like “Well, I reported it to my authority. I did what was required of me. I can't help it if they don't do more. I've done my responsibility.”

Penn State's football program is legendary. Joe Paterno ran a tight ship. The men in charge of that program--Athletic Director, Coach, Offensive Coordinator, Defensive Coordinator, and so forth--were respected and revered. They were obeyed. It was not unlike authoritarian church and ministry structures with which I have been involved over the years. In those systems, the good guys are the ones who respect authority. They buck it up and contribute even when they dislike an order. Respect, cooperation, and obedience to your superiors are fundamental to the entire system. I have empathy for the young graduate assistant who first witnessed his boss raping a minor in the locker room. I'm sure he was shocked and horrified. What do you do when your authority in this authoritarian system is the one doing this act? The GA didn't intervene. And I fear that when I was his age, I may not have intervened either. At least not immediately. Now 41 years old and the mother of children myself, no one could stop me if I witnessed that today. But back then, I valued respect of authority so much that I fear I would have been paralyzed in the moment, to my life long regret.

The graduate assistant finally told his dad, and his dad helped him tell Coach Paterno. Both seemed to meet their minimum legal requirement. Yet neither stopped the cycle of abuse that continued for several more years. Why? The Campus Crusade pastor points out in his article the deficiency of love for the victim. That is the fundamental, root issue. But a secondary issue is that they all thought they had more to lose by standing up strongly for the victims than they did by protecting the program. Obviously, they were very, very wrong and have lost much more by covering it up. The urge to stand up for a little guy none of them knew faded in the shadow of the behemoth that was the Penn State football program.

Good men do nothing a lot. Good women too. We do nothing sometimes out of self protection. But more often, I think we do nothing because we value protecting authoritarian systems more than we do standing up for the victim. I've experienced this before in various Christian ministries—a leader with authority does wrong. But the reputation of the institution and those associated with it seems more important than seeking justice for the one abused or oppressed. I could write out a long list of names of good men and women I know personally, men and women of proven character and good reputation, who did not stand up for victims and instead protected a program or ministry. I've done it myself at times. Rocking the boat didn't seem a Christian virtue in that moment.

Though good church people often value submission to authority over advocacy for the oppressed, God is clear on what we need to do with abusive authority.

Isaiah 1:17
17learn to do good;
seek justice,
correct oppression;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.

Psalm 82:3
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.

Psalm 10:18
to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

Proverbs 31:9
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

God calls us to step up for the poor and defenseless. Be aware of our propensity to turn away and hear clearly God's command to engage. And if you have been silent or turned away, humble yourself and make it right. If the gospel is truly our foundation in Christian ministry, we have hope for redemption and transformation when we choose humble responses that seek to correct our mistakes. Humble repentance, not defensiveness, is the absolute key to dealing with past failures, and meditation on God's strong admonition to do justice for the oppressed is key for the future.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Gospel Life

Here are some notes from Kristian’s sermon last Sunday.  It will be available online soon here:

This was the text:

 1 John 2:7-11 ESV

 “Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”

Basically, Kristian’s point was that true “Gospel Life” is marked by love and change from the heart.  Gospel love is not like worldly love—it is scandalous, sacrificial, pursuing, sincere, and steadfast because it mirrors God’s love is for us.  God demonstrates His love for us through this time of love and calls us to do likewise.  Ephesians 5:1-2 tells us, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  Every act of obedience has its proper context only in this kind of love—in love for God and love for people (see 1 Cor 13 and Galatians 5:6 and John 15).  Any act of morality or mere behavior modification apart from this love is meaningless because love is the point of obedience.  And we cannot love like this on our own, but God changes our hearts—as we seek His face, He puts this love in our hearts, even for our enemies and those who hurt and betrayed us.  Experiencing God’s love changes us from the inside out.  Saving faith is proven genuine by its fruit, namely sincere love that results in affection coupled with action.  In John 13:35, Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 I also appreciated Kristian’s definitions of walking in the light and walking in darkness:


To unrepentantly walk in a way which neither loves and honors God nor loves and honors His people by denying our own sinfulness, refusing to live in fellowship with God’s people and lacking completely in love for God and His people as evidenced by our treatment of each other and our lack of obedience to God’s commandments which are summed up in love.


To live a life of daily confession and repentance of sin in fellowship with God’s people having a heart of love for God and His people as evidenced by our treatment of each other and our obedience to God’s commandments which are summed up in love."

                                                                                    -----Kristian Ellefsen

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Receiving Counsel Carefully

I had a conversation with a friend this week that made me think of this post I wrote back in 2008. It was a reminder to me that we have to be prayerfully discerning when considering the advice and feedback of others, particularly when it comes to something as weighty as a calling that God has given us and confirmed to us through other believers. Please do not read this as an endorsement of simply disregarding counsel when we don't like it and then selectively and deliberately searching out the counsel we want to hear. This is not at all what I am saying.  We absolutely need to be humble and submissive in inviting and receiving accountablity, advice and feedback.  This is a vial part of being walking as a Christian.  However, we also must be discerning and wise by considering the source of the accountability, advice, and feedback that we entertain, recognizing that not all advice and feedback is equal. This is particularly important regarding areas of conviction and calling that have been entrusted to us by God that have been tested in our lives through a community of believers who are submitted to God, to His Word and who are committed to living out gospel love. 

James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

In addition to the re-post below, follow this link for some other related posts regarding discernment:

Friday, August 1, 2008


Do you ever find yourself on the receiving end of conflicting advice, even from Christians? With all the voices vying for our attention, how do we know what is from God? In considering this question prayerfully through the Scriptures, I was led to the following points:

1) Consult and obey the Word.
2) Seek God’s power through prayer.
3) Recognize that there are two kinds of “wisdom”- one is worldly and one is godly.
4) Recognize the deceitfulness of our hearts and sin and humbly seek counsel.
5) Distinguish godly verses worldly wisdom by its fruit.
6) Christ is our perfect example in wise living.

1) Consult and obey the Word.

God’s Word is the standard by which everything must be tested. God’s Word is able to make us wise:

2 Timothy 3:14-17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 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 competent, equipped for every good work.

Psalm 119:9-11 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

2) Seek God’s power through prayer.

As I am in God’s Word, I pray:

Psalm 119:34-37 “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”

The Psalmist’s example tells me to seek God with my whole heart, to pray to Him for understanding of His Word, and to ask Him to keep me from wandering away from it. The Psalmist also asks God to incline his heart toward God’s testimonies (God’s Word) and away from selfish gain.

3) Recognize that there are two kinds of “wisdom”- one is worldly and one is godly.

In Psalm 119:34-37, God’s “testimonies” is related to giving life, and is contrasted against “selfish gain” and “worthless things”. Romans 12 further carries this contrast between God’s will, which is good and acceptable and perfect, and the pattern of the world:

Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Clearly, there are competing interests here. On the one hand, we have the interests of selfish gain, worthless things, and the world. On the other hand, we have the interests of life in God’s ways and God’s will, which is good and acceptable and perfect. James 3 explicitly tells us that there are two types of “wisdom”, one that is earthly, unspiritual, and demonic, and another that is from above:

James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

4) Recognize the deceitfulness of our hearts and sin and humbly seek counsel

Scripture tells us that worldly “wisdom”, which is really no wisdom at all, can appear to be like the real thing so we must guard ourselves.

Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."

How do I examine my motives when determining whether my desires are coming from godly wisdom or of worldly “wisdom”? In examining our own motives, we must keep in mind that our hearts are deceitful:

Jeremiah 17: 9-10 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? "I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds."

To discern my motives, I must go to the Lord because my heart is deceitful and He is the only one who understands it. With the Psalmist, I must ask God to show me my heart and any wickedness there, and then to route (or re-route) me in the way everlasting:

Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!”

In addition to going to God in prayer, because of the deceitfulness of our hearts, God directs us to seek and heed the exhortation of godly counselors around us- our brothers and sisters who are walking in godly wisdom. This requires honesty, openness, and humility.

Hebrews 13:12-13 “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 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.”

Proverbs 11:14 “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.”

It is important also to remember we must test the wisdom of our counselors against the Word, recognizing that not all counsel is godly counsel even if it is coming from our brothers and sisters in Christ (see Job’s friends for example). For this reason it is helpful to seek counsel from multiple godly counselors.

5) Distinguish godly versus worldly wisdom by its fruit.

While Scripture contains all the wisdom I need for life, Scripture does not give me direct answers for each specific decision I face. It does not explicitly tell me what job to accept, whom to marry, or where to live. In making these decisions, we are called to discernment based on Scriptural truths. We are called to take Scriptural principles and discern our methods and applications from them within the context of seeking God’s face through spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting (which is a topic I hope to address in another post). So, how do we discern what is worldly “wisdom” and what is Godly wisdom in our decision making? Going back to James 3 is useful in determining this:

James 3:13-18 “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

From these two types of “wisdom” we see a difference in fruit or the results that follow. Worldly “wisdom” is accompanied by things like “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition”. Godly wisdom is “peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, and sincere”. Worldly “wisdom” yields “disorder and every vile practice”. Godly wisdom yields “good fruits” and “a harvest of righteousness”.

Here are more Scriptures that further point us to what are the fruit of righteousness or fruit of the Spirit verses what are the fruit of wickedness and folly:

Galatians 5:16-26 “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Ephesians 5:1-21 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Phil 1:9-11 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Col 1:3-14 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit. And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

From these Scriptures we see that some of the fruit of wickedness and folly include: rivalry, conceit, sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, provoking one another, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk, crude joking, and debauchery.

In contrast to this bad fruit, we see the following as examples of the fruit of righteousness: love, humility, obedience, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, filling with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, and enduring. The one fruit that is mentioned repeatedly and seems to sum up the rest is love:

1 Corinthians 13:13 “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

Colossians 3:12-14 “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Galatians 5:5-7 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”

6) Christ is our perfect example in wise living

Godly wisdom is modeled perfectly for us in Christ!

Colossians 2:8 “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ."

The life of Jesus is our perfect example of good fruit that proceeds from godly wisdom. The gospels are a great place to study the example of Christ. Here is another snapshot of Christ-like wisdom:

Phil 2:1-8 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in man form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

This kind of wisdom is counterintuitive to me, as it is not the kind of wisdom I see modeled in the world!


To summarize our journey through Scripture, how can I discern which promptings are from God? Firstly, the Word of God is our gauge by which we test everything. We pray to God to illuminate Scripture for us and to enable us to glean wisdom and obedience from it. We recognize that there are competing “wisdoms” out there, and that one is godly wisdom that aligns with Scripture, is rooted in godly motives and yields good fruit, and the other is worldly or fleshly wisdom that contradicts Scripture has bad motives and results in bad fruit. We recognize the deceitfulness of our hearts and sin, and we ask God to search our hearts and reveal them to us, while we are humble and open before our brothers and sisters, seeking godly counsel that we test against the Word. Finally, we look to Jesus as our perfect model of how to live in godly wisdom.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

He is faithful

I just got back from an awesome women's Bible study.  I'll probably post more about it later when I am not so tired.  But I did want to record my gratitude and awe at how kind God is.  Yesterday I read Psalm 1 and was reminded how much being in the Word is like having my thirst quenched.  Without God's Word, I feel aimless and dry.  Psalm 1 describes being in God's Word as being like a tree planted by streams of water that yields fruit in its season and whose leaf does not wither.  That was so powerful for me.  I have not been in the Word like I used to be, and I have felt dry and lifeless and fruitless.  I have been more susceptible to believing lies and not being able to see the truth.  I have been depressed and isolated.  I have been cynical.  I have been discouraged by what my eye can see because I have forgotten the unseen hope that I life for.  It is interesting because I have had times in my life where circumstantially I was going through difficult things and yet God seemed more real and bigger to me-- I could see powerful glimpses of His glory.  In those times, I feasted on His Word and I was pouring my heart out in prayer.  Despite the fact that I have neglected the Word and prayer in this season of life, God is so faithful to me.  He was faithful to speak to me when I started reading Psalm 1, reminding me that these ancient and familiar words were as relevant to my life as ever.  He was faithful to speak to me tonight at Bible Study about truth and lies and bondage and freedom.  He was faithful to allow me to feel His presence--the warmth and supernatural power of His Spirit.  He has been faithful to me to provide a few people who have been there for me and spoken truth to me.  He has been faithful to bless me with an amazing trip to Italy with my husband and all the sweet memories of those days in the sun with My Love.  He has been faithful to empower me to do a 9 day juice fast that left me feeling energized and encouraged.  He is faithful to me to seek me out like the wandering sheep that I am.  I need Him to pursue me and He does!  His faithfulness brings me deep joy and contentment and wonder and praise and hope!!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Found the dose of encouragement below from the Girl Talk blog:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness." James 1:2-3
To "count it all joy" doesn't mean we will always feel happy in the midst of trials; but regardless of how we feel, it is a command we can and should obey. Martyn Lloyd Jones explains:
“There is all the difference in the world between rejoicing and feeling happy. The Scripture tells us that we should always rejoice [Phil. 4:4]....To rejoice is a command, yes, but there is all the difference in the world between rejoicing and being happy. You cannot make yourself happy, but you can make yourself rejoice, in the sense that you will always rejoice in the Lord. Happiness is something within ourselves, rejoicing is ‘in the Lord.’ Take the fourth chapter of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians. There you will find that the great Apostle puts it all very plainly and clearly in that series of extraordinary contrasts which he makes: ‘We are troubled on every side (I don’t think he felt very happy at the moment) yet not distressed’, ‘we are perplexed (he wasn’t feeling happy at all at that point) but not in despair’, ‘persecuted but not forsaken’, ‘cast down, but not destroyed’--and so on. In other words the Apostle does not suggest a kind of happy person in a carnal sense, but he was still rejoicing."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Church Building

Kristian and I have been blessed to be on a trip of a lifetime in Italy.  Even as I type this, stunning scenes of Italian countryside flash by us on the train that we are riding to Northern Italy. One of our favorite places so far has been Rome.  I have been to Rome before, but this was Kristian’s first time.  I had as much fun watching him experience it all for the first time, as I did experiencing the sights for myself again.  But no matter how many times you have seen St. Peter’s Basilica, it is breathtaking every time….the massive size, the intricate details, the skill of its craftsmanship, the lavish materials, the beauty of the artwork, the thought of all of the years it has seen, the thought of all the worshippers it has contained….What an amazing feat it must have been to construct such a masterpiece, especially in a day that was void of the technology we now enjoy.   

Man is capable of many amazing feats because of the gifts God has given.  The work of man can be flashy, impressive, massive, loud, exciting, fun, and crowd-producing.  St Peter’s Basilica is a testament to the fact that man can build truly magnificent church buildings.  In some of the business meetings I have been able to attend with Kristian, we have heard stories of great entrepreneurship—where, out of nothing, talented and winsome men have built impressive multi-million dollar international companies, providing livelihoods for hundreds of families.  And I need only flip on the television in our hotel room to see how people who once were “nobodys” in this world have now acquired great fame and following for themselves.

For some reason, all of these things got me thinking about growing a church.  Maybe it is because we had our church retreat right before we left for Italy.  In the middle of the whirlwind of our trip, I sat down and opened my Bible to Ephesians 4.  I was struck by how God, by His Spirit, builds a church. 

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” 

There is no talent, no strategy, no act of man apart from God’s Spirit that can build a church like this!  Church “growth” here is attaining unity of faith and knowledge of Jesus, maturing to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, growing up into our head who is Christ, and being built up in love.  
There is no mention here of church attendance, or giving amounts, which are usually the measures of growth used in churches today.  There is no mention of innovative church programs, charismatic speakers, a particular type of music, or strategic locations.  The image here is a unified Body where every part is stewarding his or her gifts and lovingly speaking the truth of the gospel in such a way as the Body grows in maturity that is marked by love.  This kind of growth may or may not be in impressive numbers in any particular church, but this is kingdom growth—the kind that will truly transform hearts at home and in the world.

This reminded me that, although man can do so many marvelous things, the truly lasting fruit of this world is only Holy Spirit-wrought.  The Bible tells us that much of what we see will fade like the grass.  The work of God’s Spirit remains.  The work of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self control.  Spirit work is humble, peace-loving, full of grace that bears with one another in love, and committed to unity in the Spirit.  If God’s Spirit is the driving force in a movement or in a work, no matter how massive or tiny, it will look like this.  There are many works of men cloaked in pious words...history has shown us that men have  done many horrific things in “God’s name” and for “ministry”, all the while mistreating each other, stepping on one another, sacrificing one another, turning a blind eye to injustice, boasting, pursuing selfish gain, ignoring correction, and harming others.  But the hallmark fruit of the Spirit is gospel love—love that is pure, enduring, humble, and sacrificial.

If any of these thoughts have stirred your heart too, let me encourage you towards these Scriptures as you process and pray: Ephesians 4; 1 Cor 12-12; Galatians 5.

Oh, Lord, build these kind of churches among us!  May we seek to participate in these types of churches—where growth is measured in terms of maturing in you, in the truth of your gospel, and in scandalous gospel love amongst one another!!  Where our hearts are motivated by other things, correct us and bring us to repentance.  Open our eyes!!! Father, we confess our shortsightedness and arrogance and the harm it has caused to our brother.  We confess being dazzled and distracted by the things of this world and all the while missing the marvelous way you have wanted to show us.  Help us to seek peace and unity and the good of one another.  Where we have used one another, failed to stand up for one another, failed to seek each other out, failed to act justly with one another, or failed to do the hard things of love, please forgive us and help us to seek out those against whom we have sinned.  Where we have been damaged, help us to forgive.  Help us be healed and restored and help us to be a hand of healing and restoration of others, even when it costs us.  Create in us a new heart.  Create in us new clean motives.  Fill us with your measure of fruitfulness and let us not get distracted by our flesh and by what we see around us.  Fill us with your love, the kind of love that will change our lives and this world!  Help us to remain steadfast in your truth and love.  In Jesus Name, Amen

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Joy of the Lord is My Strength--Spurgeon sermon

A Sermon
(No. 1027)
Delivered on Lord's Day Morning, December 31st, 1871, by
At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

"The joy of the Lord is your strength."—Nehemiah 8:10.

"And the singers sang aloud, with Jezrahiah their overseer. Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off."—Nehemiah 12:42-43.

AST Sabbath day in the morning I spoke of the birth of our Saviour as being full of joy to the people of God, and, indeed, to all nations. We then looked at the joy from a distance; we will now in contemplation draw nearer to it, and perhaps as we consider it, and remark the multiplied reasons for its existence, some of those reasons may operate upon our own hearts, and we may go out of this house of prayer ourselves partakers of the exceeding great joy. We shall count it to have been a successful morning if the people of God are made to rejoice in the Lord, and especially if those who have been bowed down and burdened in soul shall receive the oil of joy for mourning. It is no mean thing to comfort the Lord's mourners; it is a work specially dear to the Spirit of God, and, therefore, not to be lightly esteemed. Holy sorrow is precious before God, and is no bar to godly joy. Let it be carefully noted in connection with our first text that abounding mourning is no reason why there should not speedily be seen an equally abundant joy, for the very people who were bidden by Nehemiah and Ezra to rejoice were even then melted with penitential grief, "for all the people wept when they heard the words of the law." The vast congregation before the watergate, under the teaching of Ezra, were awakened and cut to the heart; they felt the edge of the law of God like a sword opening up their hearts, tearing, cutting, and killing, and well might they lament: then was the time to let them feel the gospel's balm and hear the gospel's music, and, therefore, the former sons of thunder changed their note, and became sons of consolation, saying to them, "This day is holy unto the Lord your God; mourn not, nor weep. Go your way eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the Lord is your strength." Now that they were penitent, and sincerely turned to their God, they were bidden to rejoice. As certain fabrics need to be damped before they will take the glowing colours with which they are to be adorned, so our spirits need the bedewing of repentance before they can receive the radiant colouring of delight. The glad news of the gospel can only be printed on wet paper. Have you ever seen clearer shining than that which follows a shower? Then the sun transforms the rain-drops into gems, the flowers look up with fresher smiles and faces glittering from their refreshing bath, and the birds from among the dripping branches sing with notes more rapturous, because they have paused awhile. So, when the soul has been saturated with the rain of penitence, the clear shining of forgiving love makes the flowers of gladness blossom all around. The steps by which we ascend to the palace of delight are usually moist with tears. Grief for sin is the porch of the House Beautiful, where the guests are full of "The joy of the Lord." I hope, then, that the mourners, to whom this discourse shall come, will discover and enjoy the meaning of that divine benediction in the sermon on the mount, "Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted."

From our text we shall draw several themes of thought, and shall remark: first, there is a joy of divine origin,— "The joy of the Lord;" and, secondly, that joy is to all who partake of it a source of strength— "The joy of the Lord is your strength." Then we shall go on to show that such strength always reveals itself practically—our second text will help us there: and we shall close by noticing, in the fourth place, that this joy, and, consequently, this strength, are within our reach today.

I. THERE IS A JOY OF DIVINE ORIGIN—"The joy of the Lord." Springing from the Lord as its source, it will necessarily be of a very elevated character. Since man fell in the garden, he has too often sought for his enjoyments where the serpent finds his. It is written, "upon thy belly shalt thou go and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life," this was the serpent's doom; and man, with infatuated ambition, has tried to find his delight in his sensual appetites, and to content his soul with earth's poor dust. But the joys of time cannot satisfy an undying nature, and when a soul is once quickened by the eternal Spirit, it can no more fill itself with worldly mirth, or even with the common enjoyments of life than can a man snuff up wind and feed thereon. But, beloved, we are not left to search for joy; it is brought to our doors by the love of God our Father; joy refined and satisfying, befitting immortal spirits. God has not left us to wander among those unsatisfactory things which mock the chase which they invite; he has given us appetites which carnal things cannot content, and he has provided suitable satisfaction for those appetites; he has stored up at his right hand pleasures for evermore, which even now he reveals by his Spirit to those chosen ones whom he has taught to long for them.

Let us endeavour to analyze that special and peculiar pleasure which is here called "The joy of the Lord." It springs from God, and has God for its object. The believer who is in a spiritually healthy state rejoices mainly in God himself; he is happy because there is a God, and because God is in his person and character what he is. All the attributes of God become well-springs of joy to the thoughtful, contemplative believer; for such a man says within his soul, "All these attributes of my God are mine: his power, my protection; his wisdom, my guidance; his faithfulness, my foundation; his grace, my salvation." He is a God who cannot lie, faithful and true to his promise; he is all love, and at the same time infinitely just, supremely holy. Why, the contemplation of God to one who knows that this God is his God for ever and ever, is enough to make the eyes overflow with tears, because of the deep, mysterious, unutterable bliss which fills the heart. There was nothing in the character of Jupiter, or any of the pretended gods of the heathen, to make glad a pure and holy spirit, but there is everything in the character of Jehovah both to purify the heart and to make it thrill with delight. How sweet is it to think over all the Lord has done; how he has revealed himself of old, and especially how he has displayed his glory in the covenant of grace, and in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. How charming is the thought that he has revealed himself to me personally, and made me to see in him my Father, my friend, my helper, my God. Oh, if there be one word out of heaven that cannot be excelled, even by the brightness of heaven itself, it is this word, "My God, my Father," and that sweet promise, "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." There is no richer consolation to be found: even the Spirit of God can bring nothing home to the heart of the Christian more fraught with delight than that blessed consideration. When the child of God, after admiring the character and wondering at the acts of God, can all the while feel "he is my God; I have taken him to be mine; he has taken me to be his; he has grasped me with the hand of his powerful love; having loved me with an everlasting love, with the bands of lovingkindness has he drawn me to himself; my beloved is mine and I am his;" why, then, his soul would fain dance like David before the ark of the Lord, rejoicing in the Lord with all its might.

A further source of joy is found by the Christian, who is living near to God, in a deep sense of reconciliation to God, of acceptance with God, and yet, beyond that, of adoption and close relationship to God. Does it not make a man glad to know that though once his sins had provoked the Lord they are all blotted out, not one of them remaineth; though once he was estranged from God, and far off from him by wicked works, yet he is made nigh by the blood of Christ. The Lord is no longer an angry judge pursuing us with a drawn sword, but a loving Father into whose bosom we pour our sorrows, and find ease for every pang of heart. Oh, to know, beloved, that God actually loves us! I have often told you I cannot preach upon that theme, for it is a subject to muse upon in silence, a matter to sit by the hour together and meditate upon. The infinite to love an insignificant creature, an ephemera of an hour, a shadow that declineth! Is not this a marvel? For God to pity me I can understand, for God to condescend to have mercy upon me I can comprehend; but for him to love me, for the pure to love a sinner, for the infinitely great to love a worm, is matchless, a miracle of miracles! Such thoughts must comfort the soul. And then, add to this, that the divine love has brought us believers into actual relationship with God, so that we are his sons and daughters, this again is a river of sacred pleasure. "Unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son." No minister of flame, though perfect in obedience, has received the honour of adoption; to us, even to us frail creatures of the dust, is given a boon denied to Gabriel, for through Jesus Christ the firstborn, we are members of the family of God. Oh! The abyss of joy which lies in sonship with God, and joint heirship with Christ! Words are vain here. Moreover, the joy springing from the spirit of adoption is another portion of the believer's bliss. He cannot be an unhappy man who can cry, "Abba, Father." The spirit of adoption is always attended by love, joy, and peace, which are fruits of the Spirit; for we have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but we have received the spirit of liberty and joy in Christ Jesus. "My God, my Father." Oh how sweet the sound. But all men of God do not enjoy this, say you. Alas! we grant it, but we also add that it is their own fault. It is the right and portion of every believer to live in the assurance that he is reconciled to God, that God loves him, and that he is God's child, and if he doth not so live he has himself only to blame. If there be any starving at God's table, it is because the guest stints himself, for the feast is superabundant. If however, a man comes, and I pray you all may, to live habitually under a sense of pardon through the sprinkling of the precious blood, and in a delightful sense of perfect reconciliation with the great God, he is the possessor of a joy unspeakable and full of glory.

But, beloved, this is not all. The joy of the Lord in the spirit springs also from an assurance that all the future, whatever it may be, is guaranteed by divine goodness, that being children of God, the love of God towards us is not of a mutable character, but abides and remains unchangeable. The believer feels an entire satisfaction in leaving himself in the hands of eternal and immutable love. However happy I may be today, if I am in doubt concerning tomorrow, there is a worm at the root of my peace; although the past may now be sweet in retrospect, and the present fair in enjoyment, yet if the future be grim with fear, my joy is but shallow. If my salvation be still a matter of hazard and jeopardy, unmingled joy is not mine, and deep peace is still out of my reach. But when I know that he whom I have rested in hath power and grace enough to complete that which he hath begun in me, and for me; when I see the work of Christ to be no half-way redemption, but a complete and eternal salvation; when I perceive that the promises are established upon an unchangeable basis, and are yea and amen in Christ Jesus, ratified by oath and sealed by blood, then my soul hath perfect contentment. It is true, that looking forward there may be seen long avenues of tribulation, but the glory is at the end of them; battles may be foreseen, and woe unto the man who does not expect them, but the eye of faith perceives the crown of victory. Deep waters are mapped upon our journey, but faith can see Jehovah fording these rivers with us, and she anticipates the day when we shall ascend the banks of the hither shore and enter into Jehovah's rest. When we have received these priceless truths into our souls we are satisfied with favour and full of the goodness of the Lord. There is a theology which denies to believers this consolation, we will not enter into controversy with it, but sorrowfully hint that a heavy chastisement for the errors of that system of doctrine, lies in the loss of the comfort which the truth would have brought into the soul. For my part, I value the gospel not only for what it has done for me in the past, but for the guarantees which it affords me of eternal salvation. "I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand."

Now, beloved, I have not yet taken you into the great deeps of joy, though these streams are certainly by no means shallow. There is an abyss of delight for every Christian when he comes into actual fellowship with God. I spoke of the truth that God loved us, and the fact that we are related to him by ties most near and dear; but, oh, when these doctrines become experiences, then are we indeed anointed with the oil of gladness. When we enter into the love of God, and it enters into us; when we walk with God habitually, then our joy is like Jordan at harvest time, when it overfloweth all its banks. Do you know what it means—to walk with God—Enoch's joy; to sit at Jesus' feet—Mary's joy; to lean your head upon Jesus' bosom—John's familiar joy? Oh yes, communion with the Lord is no mere talk with some of us. We have known it in the chamber of affliction; we have known it in the solitude of many a night of broken rest; we have known it beneath discouragements and under sorrows and defamations, and all sorts of ills; and we reckon that one dram of fellowship with Christ is enough to sweeten an ocean full of tribulation, and that only to know that he is near us, and to see the gleaming of his dear eye, would transform even hell itself into heaven, if it were possible for us to enjoy his presence there. Alas! Ye do not and cannot know this bliss, ye who quaff. Your foaming bowls, listening to the sound of stringed instruments, ye do not know what this bliss means—ye have not dreamed of it, nor could ye compass it though a man should tell it unto you. As the beast in the meadow knows not the far-reaching thoughts of him who reads the stars and threads the spheres, so neither can the carnal man make so much as a guess of what are the joys which God hath prepared for them that love him, which any day and every day, when our hearts seek it, he revealeth unto us by his Spirit. This is "the joy of the Lord," fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Beloved, if we reach this point, we must labour to maintain our standing, for our Lord saith to us "abide in me." The habit of communion is the life of happiness.

Another form of "the joy of the Lord" will visit us practically every day in the honour of being allowed to serve him. It is a joy worth worlds to be allowed to do good. To teach a little child his letters for Christ, will give a true heart some taste of the joy of the Lord, if it be consciously done for the Lord's sake alone. To bear the portion to those for whom nothing is prepared, to visit the sick, to comfort the mourner, to aid the poor, to instruct the ignorant, any, and all of such Christian works, if done in Jesus' name, will in their measure array us in Jehovah's joy. And happy are we, brethren, if when we cannot work we are enabled to lie still and suffer, for acquiescence is another silver pipe through which "the joy of the Lord" will come to us. It is sweet to smart beneath God's rod, and feel that if God would have us suffer it is happiness to do so, to fall back with the faintness of nature, but at the same time with the strength of grace, and say, "Thy will be done." It is joy, when between the millstones crushed like an olive, to yield nothing but the oil of thankfulness; when bruised beneath the flail of tribulation, still to lose nothing but the chaff, and to yield to God the precious grain of entire submissiveness. Why, this is a little heaven upon earth. To glory in tribulations also, this is a high degree of up-climbing towards the likeness of our Lord. Perhaps, the usual communions which we have with our Beloved, though exceeding precious, will never equal those which we enjoy when we have to break through thorns and briars to be at him; when we follow him into the wilderness then we feel the love of our espousals to be doubly sweet. It is a joyous thing when in the midst of mournful circumstances, we yet feel that we cannot mourn because The Bridegroom is with us. Blessed is that man, who in the most terrible storm is driven—not from his God, but even rides upon the crest of the lofty billows nearer towards heaven. Such happiness is the Christian's lot. I do not say that every Christian possesses it, but I am sure that every Christian ought to do so. There is a highway to heaven, and all in it are safe; but in the middle of that road there is a special way, an inner path, and all who walk therein are happy as well as safe. Many professors are only just within the hedge, they walk in the ditch by the road side, and because they are safe there, they are content to put up with all the inconveniences of their walk; but he who takes the crown of the causeway, and walks in the very centre of the road that God has cast up, shall find that no lion shall be there, neither shall any ravenous beast go up thereon, for there the Lord himself shall be his companion, and will manifest himself to him. You shallow Christians who do but believe in Christ, and barely that, whose bibles are unread, whose closets are unfrequented, whose communion with God is a thing of spasms, you have not the joy of the Lord, neither are you strong. I beseech you, rest not as you are, but let your conscious feebleness provoke you to seek the means of strength: and that means of strength is to be found in a pleasant medicine, sweet as it is profitable—the delicious and effectual medicine of "the joy of the Lord."

II. But time would fail me to prolong our remarks upon this very fruitful subject, and we shall turn to our second head, which is this: that THIS JOY IS A SOURCE OF GREAT STRENGTH.

Very rapidly let us consider this thought. It is so because this joy arises from considerations which always strengthen the soul. Very much of the depth of our piety will depend upon our thoughtfulness. Many persons, after having received a doctrine, put it by on the shelf; they are orthodox, they have received the truth, and they are content to keep that truth on hand as dead stock. Sirs, of what account can this be to you, to store your garners with wheat if you never grind the corn for bread, or sow it in the furrows of your fields? He is the joyful Christian who uses the doctrines of the gospel for spiritual meat, as they were meant to be used. Why, some men might as well have a heterodox creed as an orthodox one for all the difference it makes to them. Having the notion that they know, and imagining that to know sufficeth them, they do not consider, contemplate, or regard the truths which they profess to believe, and, consequently, they derive no benefit from them. Now, to contemplate the great truths of divine election, of eternal love, of covenant engagements, of justification by faith through the blood of Christ, and the indwelling and perpetual abiding of the Holy Ghost in his people, to turn over these things is to extract joy from them; and this also is strengthening to the mind. To press the heavenly grapes by meditation, and make the red wine flow forth in torrents, is an exercise as strengthening as it is exhilarating. Joy comes from the same truths which support our strength, and comes by the process of meditation.

Again, "the joy of the Lord" within us is always the sign and symbol of strong spiritual life. Holy vivacity betokens spiritual vigour. I said that he who had spiritual joy gained it by communion with God, but communion with God is the surest fosterer of strength. You cannot be with a strong God without getting strength yourself, for God is always a transforming God; regarding and looking upon him our likeness changes till we become in our measure like our God. The warmth of the South of France, of which you often hear so much, does not spring from soft balmy winds, but from the sun; at sunset the temperature falls. You shall be on one side of the street in Italy and think it May, cross the street into the shade and it is cold as January. The sun does it all. A man who walks in the sunlight of God's countenance, for that very reason is warm and strong. The sunlight of joy usually goes with the warmth of spiritual life. As the light of joy varies so does the warmth of holy strength; he who dwells in the light of God is both happy and strong. He who goes into the shade and loses the joy of the Lord becomes weak at the same time. So the joy of the Lord becomes our strength, as being an indicator of its rise or fall. When a soul is really vigorous and active, it is like the torrent which dashes down the mountain side, which scorns in winter to own the bonds of frost: in a few hours the stagnant pools and slowly moving streams are enchained in ice; but the snow king must bring forth all his strength ere he can manacle the rushing torrent. So when a soul dashes on with the sacred force of faith, it is hard to freeze it into misery, its vigour secures its joy.

Furthermore, the man who possesses "the joy of the Lord," finds it his strength in another respect, that it fortifies him against temptation. What is there that he can be tempted with? He has more already than the world can offer him as a reward for treachery. He is already rich; who shall ensnare him with the wages of unrighteousness? He is already satisfied; who is he that can seduce him with pleasing baits? "Shall such a man as I flee?" The rejoicing Christian is equally proof against persecution. They may well afford to be laughed at who win at such a rate as he does. "You may scoff," saith he, "but I know what true religion is within my soul, and your scoffing will not make me relinquish the pearl of great price." Such a man is, moreover, made strong to bear affliction; for all the sufferings put upon him are but a few drops of bitterness cast into his cup of bliss, to give a deeper tone to the sweetness which absorbs them.

Such a man becomes strong for service, too. What can he not do who is happy in his God? By his God he leaps over a wall, or breaks through a troop. Strong is he, too, for any kind of self-sacrifice. To the God who gives him all, and remains to him as his perpetual portion, such a man gives up all that he hath, and thinks it no surrender. It is but laying up his treasure in his own peculiar treasure house, even in the God of his salvation.

A joyous man, such I have now in my mind's eye, is to all intents and purposes a strong man. He is strong in a calm restful manner. Whatever happens he is not ruffled or disturbed. He is not afraid of evil tidings, his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. The ruffled man is ever weak. He is in a hurry, and doth things ill. The man full of joy within is quiet, he bides his time and croucheth in the fulness of his strength. Such a man, though he is humble, is firm and steadfast; he is not carried away with every wind, or bowed by every breeze, he knows what he knows, and holds what he holds, and the golden anchor of his hope entereth within the veil, and holds him fast. His strength is not pretentious but real. The happiness arising from communion with God breeds in him no boastfulness; he does not talk of what he can do, but he does it; he does not say what he could bear, but he bears all that comes. He does not himself always know what he could do; his weakness is the more apparent to himself because of the strength which the Holy Ghost puts upon him; but when the time comes, his weakness only illustrates the divine might, while the man goes calmly on, conquering and to conquer. His inner light makes him independent of the outward sun; his secret granaries make him independent of the outer harvest; his inward fountains place him beyond dread though the brook Cherith may dry Up; he is independent of men and angels, and fearless of devils; all creatures may turn against him if they please, but since God himself is his exceeding joy, he will not miss their love or mourn their hate. He standeth where others fall, he sings where others weep, he wins where others fly, he glorifies his God where others bring dishonour on themselves and on the sacred name. God grant us the inward joy which arises from real strength and is so linked with it as to be in part its cause.

III. But now I must hasten on to notice in the third place that THIS STRENGTH LEADS TO PRACTICAL RESULTS. I am sure I shall have your earnest attention to this, because in many of you I have seen the results follow of which I now speak. I would not flatter any one, but my heart has been full of thanksgiving to the God of all grace when I have seen many of you rejoicing in the Lord under painful circumstances and producing the fruits of a gracious strength. Turn then to our second text, and there you shall observe some of the fruits of holy joy and pious strength.

First, it leads to great praise. "The singers sang aloud," their ministrelsy was hearty and enthusiastic. Sacred song is not a minor matter. Quaint George Herbert has said—

"Praying's the end of preaching."

Might he not have gone further and have said, praising's the end of praying? After all, preaching and praying are not the chief end of man, but the glorifying of God, of which praising God vocally is one form. Preaching is sowing, prayer is watering, but praise is the harvest. God aims at his own glory so should we; and "whoso offereth praise glorifieth me saith the Lord." Be ye diligent then to sing his praises with understanding. We have put away harps and trumpets and organs, let us mind that we really rise above the need of them. I think we do well to dispense with these helps of the typical dispensation; they are all inferior even in music to the human voice, there is assuredly no melody or harmony like those created by living tongues; but let us mind that we do not put away an atom of the joy. Let us be glad when in the congregation we unite in psalmody. It is a wretched thing to hear the praises of God rendered professionally, as if the mere music were everything. It is horrible to have a dozen people in the table-pew singing for you, as if they were proxies for the whole assembly. It is shocking to me to be present in places of worship where not a tenth of the people ever venture to sing at all, and these do it through their teeth so very softly, that one had need to have a mircroscope invented for his ears, to enable him to hear the dying strain. Out upon such mumbling and murdering of the praises of God; if men's hearts were joyous and strong, they would scorn such miserable worship. In this house we all try to sing, but might we not have more praise services? We have had a praise meeting every now and then. Ought we not to hold a praise meeting every week? Should not the prayer meeting be more than ever cheered by praise. The singing of God's people should be, and if they were more full of divine strength would be, more constant and universal. How sinners chant the praise of Baechus in the streets! You can hardly rest in the middle of the night, but what unseemly sounds of revelry startle you. Shall the votaries of wine sing so lustily, and shall we be silent? We are not often guilty of disturbing the world with our music; the days in which Christian zeal interfered with the wicked seem to have gone by; we have settled down into more orderliness, and I am afraid also into more lukewarmness. Oh for the old Methodistic shout. Brethren, wake up your singing again. May the Lord give us again a singing-time, and make us all praise him with heart, and with voice, till even the adversaries shall say, "The Lord hath done great things for them;" and we shall reply, "Ay, ye speak the truth; he hath done great things for us, whereof we are glad." Perhaps there has not been so large a blessing upon the churches of England, because they have not rendered due thanksgiving. In all the time in which we are in trouble we are anxious and prayerful; when a prince is sick bulletins are issued every hour or so; but ah, when the mercy comes but few bulletins are put out, calling upon us to bless and praise the name of God for his mercies. Let us praise the Lord from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, for great is the Lord, and greatly is he to be praised.

The next result is great sacrifice. "That day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced." What day is that in which the church of God now makes great sacrifices? I have not seen it in the calendar of late; and, alas! If men make any sacrifice they very often do so in a mode which indicates that they would escape the inflection if they could. Few make great sacrifices and rejoice. You can persuade a man to give a considerable sum; a great many arguments at last overcome him, and he does it because he would have been ashamed not to do it, but in his heart he wishes you had not come that way, and had gone to some other donor. That is the most acceptable gift to God which is given rejoicingly. It is well to feel that whatever good your gift may do to the church, or the poor, or the sick, it is twice as much benefit to you to give it. It is well to give, because you love to give; as the flower which pours forth its perfume because it never dreamed of doing otherwise; or like the bird which quivers with song, because it is a bird and finds a pleasure in its notes; or like the sun which shines, not by constraint, but because, being a sun, it must shine; or like the waves of the sea which flash back the brilliance of the sun, because it is their nature to reflect and not to hoard the light. Oh, to have such grace in our hearts that we shall joyfully make sacrifices unto our God. The Lord grant that we may have much of this; for the bringing of the tithes into the storehouse is the way to the blessing; as saith the Scripture: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in thine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."

Next to that, there are sure to follow other expressions of joy. They "rejoiced, for God had made them to rejoice with great joy." It was not all singing and giving. When the wheels of the machine are well oiled the whole machine goes easily; and when the man has the oil of joy, then in his business, and in his family, the wheels of his nature glide along sweetly and harmoniously, because he is a glad and a happy man. There are some professors who imagine the sorrow of the Lord to be their strength; they glory in the spirit of bondage and in an unbelieving experience, having great acquaintance with the corruption of their hearts, sometimes of a rather too practical character. They make the deformities of the saints to be their beauty-spots, and their faults to be their evidences. Such men denounce all who rejoice in the Lord, and only tolerate the unbelieving. Their strength lies in being able to take you through all the catacombs of nature's darkness, and to show you the rottenness of their evil hearts. Well, such strength as that let those have who will, but we are persuaded that our text is nearer to wisdom: "The joy of the Lord is your strength." While we know something of our corruption, and mourn it, know something of the world's troubles, and sometimes lament as we bear them; yet there is a joy in the perfect work of Christ, and a joy in our union to him which uplifts us far above all other considerations. God becomes to us such a strength that we cannot help showing our joy in our ordinary life.

But then the text tells us that holy joy leads to family happiness. "The wives also and the children rejoiced." It is so in this church. I have lately seen several children from households which God has blessed, and I have rejoiced to see that father and mother know the Lord, and that even the last of the family has been brought to Jesus. O happy households where the joy is not confined to one, but where all partake of it. I dislike much that Christianity which makes a man feel, "If I go to heaven it is all I care for." Why, you are like a German stove which I found in the room of an hotel the other day—a kind of stove which required all the wood they could bring up merely to warm itself, and then all the heat went up the chimney. We sat around it to make it warm, but scarce a particle of heat came forth from it to us. Too many need all the religion they can get to cheer their own hearts, and their poor families and neighbours sit shivering in the cold of ungodliness. Be like those well constructed stoves of our own houses, which send out all the heat into the room. Send out the heat of piety into your house, and let all the neighbours participate in the blessing, for so the text finishes, "The joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off." The joy of the Lord should be observed throughout our neighbourhood, and many who might otherwise have been careless of true religion will then enquire, "What makes these people glad, and creates such happy households?" Your joy shall thus be God's missionary.

IV. And now I have to close. THIS JOY, THIS STRENGTH, ARE BOTH WITHIN OUR REACH! "For the Lord had made them glad with great joy." God alone can give us this great joy. Then it is within the reach of any, for God can give it to one as well as to another. If it depended upon our good works or our natural abilities, some of us could never reach it; but if God is the source and giver of it he may give it to me as well as to thee, my brother, and to thee as well as to another. What was the way in which God gave this joy? Well first, he gave it to these people by their being attentive hearers. They were not only hearers, but they heard with their ears, their ears were into the word; it was read to them and they sucked it in, receiving it into their souls. An attentive hearer is on the way to being a joyous receiver. Having heard it they felt the power of it, and they wept. Did that seem the way to joy? It was. They received the threatenings of the law with all their terrors into their soul, they allowed the hammer of the word to break them in pieces, they submitted themselves to the word of reproof. Oh! That God would incline you all to do the same, for this, again, is the way in which God gives joy. The word is heard, the word is felt. Then after this, when they had felt the power of the word, we see that they worshipped God devoutly. They bowed the head. Their postures indicated what they felt within. Worshippers who with penitent hearts really adore God, will never complain of weary Sabbaths; adoration helps us into joy. He who can bow low enough before the throne shall be lifted as high before that throne as his heart can desire.

We read also that these hearers and worshippers understood clearly what they heard. Never be content with hearing a sermon unless you can understand it, and if there be a truth that is above you, strain after it, strive to know it. Bible-reader, do not be content with going through the words of the chapter: pray the Holy Ghost to tell you the meaning, and use proper means for finding out that meaning; ask those who know, and use your own enlightened judgment to discover the sense. When shall we have done with formalism of worship and come into living adoration? Sometimes, for all the true singing that there is, the song might as well be in Latin or in Greek. Oh! To know what you are singing, to know what you are saying in prayer, to know what you are reading, to get at it, to come right into it, to understand it—this is the way to holy joy.

And one other point. These people when they had understood what they had devoutly heard, were eager to obey. They obeyed not only the common points of the law in which Israel of old had furnished them with examples, but they found out an old institution which had been buried and forgotten. What was that to them; God had commanded it, and they celebrated it, and in so doing this peculiar joy came upon them. Oh, for the time when all believers shall search the word of God, when they shall not be content with saying, "I have joined myself with a certain body of Christians, and they do so; therefore I do so." May no man say to himself any longer, "Such is the rule of my church;" but may each say, "I am God's servant and not the servant of man, not the servant of thirty-nine articles, of the Prayer-book, or the Catechism; I stand to my own Master, and the only law book I acknowledge is the book of his word, inspired by his Spirit." Oh, blessed day, when every man shall say, "I want to know wherein I am wrong; I desire to know what I am to do; I am anxious to follow the Lord fully." Well, then, if your joy in God leads you to practical obedience, you may rest assured it has made you strong in the very best manner.

Beloved brethren and sisters, we had, before I went away for needed rest, a true spirit of prayer among us. I set out for the continent joyfully, because I left with you the names of some eighty persons proposed for church-membership. My beloved officers, with great diligence, have visited these and others, and next Lord's-day we hope to receive more than a hundred, perhaps a hundred and twenty fresh members into the church. Blessed be God for this. I should not have felt easy in going away if you had been in a barren, cold, dead state; but there was a real fire blazing on God's altar, and souls were being saved. Now, I desire that this gracious zeal should continue, and be renewed. It has not gone out in my absence, I believe, but I desire now a fresh blast from God's Spirit to blow the flame very vehemently. Let us meet for prayer tomorrow, and let the prayer be very earnest, and let those wrestlers who have been moved to agonizing supplication renew the ardour and fervency of their desires, and may we be a strong people, and consequently a joyous people in the strength and joy of the Lord. May sinners in great numbers look unto Jesus and be saved. Amen, and Amen.