Links for the Weekend (3/1/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

When God Says ‘No’

Melissa Kruger helps us think about why God seems not to hear us, or why he seems not to care, when he doesn’t answer our prayers the way we want.

I’ve seen the Lord teach me these very lessons by withholding the things I wanted so much. And, yet, when a new “no” is given, I stumble around in the darkness of my understanding, wondering again what the Lord is doing and why he withholds the yes I believe I so desperately need. It’s tempting to believe the lie that a yes from God confirms his blessing, while a no is a form of punishment or heavenly disapproval. Or perhaps, we wonder, does God even hear our desperate cries?

Is Your Smartphone Making You Unhappy?

At The Good Book Company’s blog, Emily Robertson writes about contentment and the comparisons we tend to make when using (and over-using) our phones. An article like this could read like a ten-minute scold, but Robertson points us to Christ and leaves us with hope instead. I appreciate that!

Comparison is not a modern phenomenon. (The phrase, “all comparisons are odious” was recorded as early as the 15th century. And you don’t have to read very far into the Bible to see the destructive outworkings of envy.) But, arguably, this age-old struggle has been intensified in the 21st century by the rise of personal technology and social media.

Your Fight Against Sin Is Normal

Brian Hedges offers hope for saints who are weary in their fight against sin: the conflict is normal, the battle is winnable, and the war is coming to an end.

Athletes speak of hitting the wall when they experience extreme exhaustion due to depleted reserves of glycogen in the liver and muscles. Many believers feel similar spiritually. If you find yourself in an ongoing cycle of three steps forward, two steps back; if your prayers, resolutions, and frustrated attempts at mortification still leave you struggling with the same old sins; if you are weary in the race set before you and feel ready to quit, you’ve hit the wall.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published Sarah Wisniewski’s article, God Is in the Fish. Check it out!

Thanks to Maggie A for helping me round up articles this week!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

God Is in the Fish

WNSM_HS

Yesterday I cried at a kids’ song. We were in the car going to visit my parents, and somewhere along Route 519, this song that I’ve heard a dozen times overwhelmed me.

The song was “Nothing Much in Tarshish” from the album Why Not Sea Monsters?: Songs from the Hebrew Scriptures by Justin Roberts, a collection of charming and inventive, if not always strictly accurate, musical retellings of Bible stories. This one recounts the story of Jonah, the Israelite prophet, who “on the way to Tarshish, got swallowed by a large fish.” Roberts sings that

God is in the fish
It all comes down to this
It’s so dark, dark, dark
It’s so cold, cold, cold
But there’s more love, love, love
Than you can hold, hold, hold, hold

There’s so much biblical truth compressed into these lines. Jonah was indeed in the dark and cold. When Jonah prayed from the belly of the fish, he described the waves closing over him like bars and (particularly revolting to me) seaweed wrapping around his head (Jonah 2:5). Beyond this literal darkness, Jonah was in the darkness of his own sin and outright rebellion against God. God had sent Jonah to prophesy to Nineveh, but Jonah instead took a ship to Tarshish. He intended to flee “away from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3). For those like me without a strong grasp on ancient geography, here’s a useful map. Tarshish is in Spain, much further away from Jonah’s home than Nineveh, in the opposite direction, across the entire Mediterranean Sea. Had Jonah followed God’s command, he wouldn’t even have been on the sea, but now due to his sin he was trapped beneath it.

It is out of this drowning darkness that God rescued Jonah into the belly of the fish. Jonah prayed, “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (Jonah 2:7-8). Jonah recognized that he had not successfully fled God’s presence; God was at work in the storm, in the sea, and in the fish. God pursued Jonah through his rebellion. Jonah described this relentless pursuit as “steadfast love.” This is God’s covenant love at work!

Now, the fish, arguably, was still dark. We’re told Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights before he prayed (Jonah 1:17). Like Jonah, we can be stubborn, stiff-necked people. We may suffer under God’s discipline for a time, but as the song says, “God is in the fish!” His purpose is always to pursue his people with covenant love, to bring us to repentance, and to show us that he is our only salvation. It took three days in the dark, but Jonah learned: “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).

Jonah was not the only one in the dark in this story. Roberts sings about “lonely Nineveh.” “Lonely” is not the word Jonah would have used to describe the thriving capital city of the brutal Assyrian empire. He might have used “wicked” or “godless” or “irredeemable.” God described them differently. “And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?” (Jonah 4:11). The city was utterly ignorant of God—true darkness indeed. Jonah hated them for their wickedness, but God pitied them. God had no covenant relationship with Nineveh, no reason to offer them repentance. Sin doesn’t deserve a second chance; God could have rained brimstone on Nineveh and remained just. But in his infinite mercy, he sent Jonah, and, after the least inspiring sermon ever, “the people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3:5), and God relented.

The book of Jonah foretells the vast scope of Christ’s work on the cross. It reaches the ignorant and pitiable, the backsliding and hypocritical, the rebellious and hateful. It reaches those that God has no business saving.

This is why I cried as the fence posts passed by on Route 519. God loved Jonah in his sin with relentless, pursuing covenant love. God loved Nineveh in their utterly lost state with mercy even for those who were not yet his people. If God can love Jonah, and God can love Nineveh, God can certainly love me and you.

What a beautiful truth to sing to our children and to our own hearts—that we will sin, and run away from God, and God will discipline us, but God is in the fish. His steadfast love pursues us through the dark.

Photo credit: Justin Roberts

Links for the Weekend (2/22/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Don’t Waste Your Weaknesses

I don’t know about you, but I am reluctant to dwell too much on my weaknesses. But, in this post by John Piper, I’m reminded that my weaknesses are not an accident or a surprise to God! Piper encourages us to consider how to glorify God in our weaknesses, and he uses one of his own weaknesses as an example.

We can sum up the purpose of Paul’s weakness like this: securing Paul’s humility and showing Christ’s power. That’s why God made sure Paul had weaknesses: to keep him “from becoming conceited” and to give him a more obvious experience of the power of Christ resting on him.

How to Be a Friend at All Times (Even When You Don’t Have Time)

Winfree Brisley writes for The Gospel Coalition about being a good friend. I appreciate this article because she acknowledges how hard this is with a busy life, but she gives practical suggestions.

In this season of having three kids between the ages of 5 months and 5 years, so many wonderful things get pushed aside for the tyranny of the urgent. It’s tempting to hunker down at home and pretend that outside relationships and responsibilities don’t exist. If I’m honest, friendships with other women can seem like those magazine cover photos—a beautiful idea that I don’t have the capacity to realize amid the demands of my chaotic life.

How to Soak the Next Generation in God’s Word

After encouraging moms to cherish their own Bibles and share it with their children, Jani Ortlund writes about the benefits of passing along God’s word. It’s a great vision to catch and spread!

How do we help children revere and feast on the most influential book of all time? No book has sold more copies, in more languages—ever. No book has affected the world more deeply. How can we raise Bible soaked and saturated children, teenagers, and young adults?


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2/15/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Encouragement for Regular Bible Reading

Over at For The Church, Trevin Wax addresses this important question: “What keeps so many Christians from regularly studying the Bible?” His video answer is filled with wisdom and encouragement to think about the long term benefit of our Bible reading and Bible study disciplines.

7 Tips for Keeping Your Cool When Your Kids Misbehave

I wish I didn’t need this advice, but I do. At the Crossway blog, Sam Crabtree offers some advice for avoiding an explosion of anger when children misbehave.

So, you’ve blown your stack. You admit it. You confess your wrongness to all involved parties. You apologize, asking forgiveness. And you resolve to not be that way again, to not do it again. But there’s the problem. The resolve of our own nature will fail. We need supernatural enablement for change. Overcoming anger requires something humanly impossible, something supernatural. The good news is that Jesus came to make it possible for all kinds of people—including angry parents—to be changed into people who yield their expectations to God in service to others, specifically their children.

Sharing Your Faith at Work

Here’s a short article brimming with wisdom. Greg Forster first counsels us to “earn the right to be heard.” He then shares three practical tips. Here’s the second one.

Be patient. Earning the right to be heard takes time. You should not expect evangelistic opportunities quickly. Trust that as you labor faithfully, God will use your track record of excellent performance and humane treatment of people to awaken the hearts of those around you. I have a relative who came to Christ after her retirement; she became convinced Christ was alive after reflecting on decades of seeing Christians do their daily work so differently.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published Pastor Don Waltermyer’s article about killing sin. Check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Is “Killing Sin” on Your To-Do List Today?

cemetary

Well, it ought to be. And, it needs to be.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” These are the words of seventeenth-century English theologian and pastor John Owen. Recently, on my study leave, I was reading a book he authored, The Mortification of Sin, which I highly recommend. (Ed. note: This work is available for purchase at places like Amazon, but it is also available for free in digital and audio formats.)

This is an aspect of the Christian life that I think (at age 62!) I’m just getting to understand. It’s a matter of life and death. Mortifying (putting to death) sin is not the same as repentance. Repentance takes place after we’ve sinned. Mortification is dealing with our sin before it deals with us.

A key verse is Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

Probably the best way I can get across what Owen says is to share a few quotes with you here.

Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work.

Indwelling sin always abides while we are in this world; therefore it is always to be mortified.

So, believers need to be aware that “sin is crouching at the door” and that “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” And, by the help of God’s Spirit, we must be making a fight for our lives.

Two encouraging thoughts as I conclude.

  1. This is a work of God’s Spirit in you (see Romans 8:13 above). Don’t do this in your own strength. Read, meditate, and look to the Scriptures. Ask God for help, talk and share with (and ask for prayer from) other believers.
  2. Your new natural tendency (if you know Jesus Christ) in the Holy Spirit is “to be acting against the flesh” (Owen). In other words, this is a battle, but we’ve been equipped fully to fight it!

So, is killing sin on your (and my) to-do list today? It needs to be. Jesus has set us free. We are going to make it home by his grace. But on the journey, lean on him and make it your daily work to kill sin—preemptively. Romans 8:13 promises that, as you do, you will really live!

Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2018 WPCA newsletter.

Photo Credit

Links for the Weekend (2/8/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

How Evangelism Is Kind of Like Fishing

Tim Challies draws out the comparisons between fishing and evangelism. This is a surprisingly powerful article.

Just think about this: Jesus gets on a fishing boat with a fisher man to do a fish miracle all leading toward a fishing metaphor. He clearly wanted Simon to think about this word picture, and to live it out. He wants us to think about it. So let’s draw a few comparisons that, I trust, are legitimate without being trite. In what ways is evangelism kind of like fishing?

Moms, It Is Our Privilege

Not just for mothers, but for fathers, grandparents, or any caregiver of any type. Kristen Wetherell writes about some sweet lessons she’s learned about Jesus’s love as she cares for her child.

Yes, motherhood is a form of suffering. But in the middle of its trials, when we’re exhausted and weary, we can quickly forget what a privilege it is––often at the same time as when it’s hardest.

5 Myths About Abortion

Published at the Crossway blog, Scott Klusendorf writes helpfully about the abortion conversation. These are not actually myths about abortion itself, but about the dialog surrounding abortion. It’s slightly more academic than the other articles here, but it will give you confidence about the church’s place (as well as individual Christians’ places) to advocate for the unborn. From the discussion of the first myth (“Christian pro-lifers impose religious arguments on a pluralistic society and thus violate the separation of church and state”):

Indeed, it is no more religious to claim a human embryo has value than to claim it doesn’t. Both claims answer the same exact question: What makes humans valuable in the first place? That is an inherently religious question with no neutral ground. Either you believe that each and every human being has an equal right to life or you don’t.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2/1/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

3 Methods to Keep You Praying

Trevin Wax has struggled to pray regularly, and he shares a few practices that have helped him grow in this discipline.

At the beginning of every year, we peruse the various plans for reading the Bible, but rarely do we find plans about developing the discipline of daily prayer. It’s not that we mean to avoid it. We know we need to pray. We know we’re called to it. We know that our lack of prayerfulness is a sign that we are unconscious of just how dependent we are upon God and that we are comfortable operating in our own strength. But still, how do we make it a regular practice?

Don’t Just Meet Someone’s Needs

Michael Kelley writes about the way Jesus healed the leper in Luke 5 and helps us think about loving our neighbors. He challenges us to give of ourselves as we help others.

This is the lesson for us who want to do good, but don’t want to get our hands dirty. For those of us who want to see people helped, but don’t want to emotionally invest in the people being helped. For those of us who enjoy programs we can serve in, but avoid organic ministry that costs us time and energy. It’s a lesson for people like me and maybe people like you, too.

The Art of Dying

Perhaps it’s because we think so much of heaven, but Christians spend a decent amount of time talking about death. Dan Doriani writes about the death of his friend Gerry and draws out two principles for dying well.

Gerry was always an encourager; now he needed encouragement and he readily asked for it. I saw him hours after he got his diagnosis – kidney cancer, stage four. Very few survived it and six months was a typical time frame. After thirty minutes, he asked, “Will you visit me every week?” It was a big request and he knew it. I paused momentarily as I considered my demanding schedule. But I knew the answer, “Yes, every week, as long as I am in town.” And so it was.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

I wrote for the blog this week about how singing is an act of faith. Check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Singing Is An Act of Faith

Singing is a big part of the Christian life. We sing several times each Sunday, and we read of singing throughout the Bible. Christians are musical people.

When viewed from outside the church, however, all this singing is weird. There’s no other part of life—except, perhaps, birthday parties—that involves as much singing as Christianity.

I notice this whenever we have an official ceremony at Washington & Jefferson College, where I teach. Most of these ceremonies end with the alma mater, a song written to express one’s undying loyalty to and affection for the school. (Most colleges have such a song.) The music begins and everyone stares at the program. If not for the student singers up front, there wouldn’t be much to hear. For those who don’t sing outside the shower, it is a strange moment. I’m supposed to sing these words? To a tune? With my mouth? It’s no wonder most students (and faculty) end up mouthing the words or standing in disinterested silence.

Why We Don’t Sing

For Christians, singing is simply part of the deal.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! (Psalm 100:1–2)

Paul commands the church to sing as well—see Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18–20. He connects this command to thankfulness, being filled with the Spirit, and “making melody to the Lord with your heart.” Singing is part of the way we glorify God as his body.

But, let’s face it. Not many of us are born singers. We are grateful for the word “noise” in the phrase “joyful noise.” We naturally make comparisons, and we feel awkward singing when our skills fall so far short of the worship leaders or soloists in church.

And beyond the lack of talent, singing exposes us. We put ourselves at risk when we sing; there’s nowhere to hide. Those near us hear our wrong notes, missed beats, and bad pronunciation. To avoid embarrassment, we sometimes decide to make a joyful noise internally.

Why We Sing

However, our obedience to God’s command to sing doesn’t depend on our ability. God doesn’t only want singing from the choir.

Think of an analogy. We wouldn’t leave giving, praying, Bible reading, caring for orphans and widows, or loving neighbors only to those who were naturally gifted. If a friend confronted us with the Biblical command not to gossip, we wouldn’t respond, “Oh, it’s okay—I’m just not very good at not gossiping!”

We’re not called to sing because we’re great singers. We sing because God is great and greatly to be praised! And, by God’s design, one of the chief ways we praise him is through song. He is worthy of our song, so we sing!

And as we sing, especially for those not naturally gifted, we exercise faith.

As we open our mouths to sing, we must believe the truth that God is pleased with us. We trust that because of Jesus’s work for us, our Father loves us and wants to hear our voices. Because he is good and tender and faithful, he won’t turn away if we can’t carry a tune.

In a world where we rely on our senses and instincts, this will take some adjustment. We must believe the Bible over our impulse to hide. We need to trust God that our relationship with him does not depend on our performance.

Jesus, the Perfect Singer

If we’re commanded to sing, and if Jesus has perfectly obeyed every command for us, then Jesus is a singer. In fact, he’s the best singer ever.

Think of your favorite hymn or praise song. Or think of the Psalms, most of which were written to be sung in worship by the people of Israel. Jesus has sung and continues to sing these songs of praise to God! His praise to God is perfect, and that obedient praise is credited to us. This is the good news of the gospel!

So when you stand to sing at church this week, don’t hesitate. Don’t worry about your skill. Open your mouth and make your melody, trusting that God loves and accepts you on the basis of his perfect son.

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:1–2)

Photo Credit

Links for the Weekend (1/25/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

I Lost My Mom, but I’ll Never Lose the Church

At The Gospel Coalition, Ronnie Kurtz writes about the way the church was there for him when his mother died. It’s a great reminder of the importance of a local church family.

It’s not hard to find articles pointing out the church’s shortcomings. Our reading streams are inundated with digital fingers pointing out her stains and failures. And yes, the church is frail and frequently falls short of her calling. Yet in all her missteps and imperfections, she met me in my sorrow, and she was exactly what I needed.

Teach Your Teen How to Read Their Bible

We often think that teenagers need age-specific material in order to engage with the Bible. Jen Wilkin argues that what teenagers really need is “basic tools to help them read and learn the Bible on their own.” Check out this excellent advice over at the website for The Village Church.

By guiding them in some basic study methods, you can position them to use devotional and topical material with far better discernment and far greater benefit, as those types of resources assume a first-hand knowledge of the Bible that many teens have not yet developed.

How a Church Can Care for Former Prisoners

As a former prisoner, Mark Casson writes with first-hand experience about how churches can welcome and care for those who have been incarcerated. Ex-prisoners can feel fearful about joining a local church. And the church can have a powerful impact in extending love to these brothers and sisters. Check out the article at Table Talk Magazine.

Finally, in loving the returning citizen, I would encourage you to treat him differently than the world treats them. The world says: “You can’t live here. You can’t work here. You are not welcome here. You cannot vote here.” If we are honest, discrimination against felons is acceptable in the world. Brothers and sisters, it cannot be acceptable in the church. If we believe that the blood of Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness, then this includes felonious unrighteousness.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (1/18/2019)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Accepting “No” as God’s Will

This article is an excerpt from a book by the late R.C. Sproul. He looks at Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and helps us think about the way God answers our prayers.

The prayer of faith is not a demand that we place on God. It is not a presumption of a granted request. The authentic prayer of faith is one that models Jesus’ prayer. It is always uttered in a spirit of subordination. In all our prayers, we must let God be God.

A Bible Reading Plan for Children

How do we help our children develop a pattern of regular Bible reading? Joe Carter describes one simple way over at The Gospel Coalition. I like that this plan is realistic and emphasizes grace (even while we want to urge children strongly to read the Bible!).

The key to success is flexibility. If the child misses a day, just have them move on to the next section. If it takes longer than a year, don’t sweat it—there’s no rush. Be persistent but easy-going, encouraging rather than demanding. The goal is develop in your child the habit of wanting to read the Bible. Even if the child isn’t able to complete the entire reading program in a year (or two), if they follow the plan regularly they’ll have read large sections of Scripture and laid a solid foundation for future engagement with God’s Word.

52 Ideas for Inviting Someone to Church

When we try to point our friends and neighbors toward Jesus, sometimes we feel inadequate. But we don’t need to have all the answers. Sometimes the best thing we could do is invite someone to church. Here’s a great list of 52 ideas for inviting someone to church. Not all of them will apply to everyone, but I’m sure there’s something here that could be helpful.

As God puts people in your life, will you intentionally invite them? Jesus commands His followers to bring lost people to know Him. You have a unique circle of influence, and your personal invitation can influence them toward Jesus. Invite!

On the WPCA Blog This Week

Debbie Burtoft wrote for the blog this week: Rejoice at How God Builds His Church. If you haven’t read it already, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.