Links for the Weekend (1/28/2022)

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

3 Things God Will Never Do with Your Sin

This post from the Crossway blog highlights some differences between the ways God handles our sin and the ways we handle our sin (or the sin of others).

The point of the psalmist is that this is precisely what God will never do. In responding to us this way, God is not ignoring our faults and failures. He is not winking at sin or pretending that it never happened. And it certainly isn’t because he is more loving than just. As we’ll see shortly, his guarantee that he will never “deal” with us according to our sins is rooted in something so profound and glorious that we often find it more than a little difficult to believe.

What Does It Mean To Trust God in Our Trials?

Sometimes faith comes easily, and sometimes it takes a significant force of our will. Tim Challies explains that trusting God might look different on different days and in different seasons of our lives.

Trusting God, we learn, is not just a matter of recalling knowledge in a moment of need, but applying the whole heart, soul, strength, and mind to accept and believe it—even when the heart is broken and the soul weary, even when strength is sapped and the mind bewildered. Faith is complicated, not simple, and difficult, not easy. Like so much else in life, faith takes practice and rewards diligence. Faith brings us far beyond the end of ourselves and leaves us utterly dependent upon the goodness and mercy of a loving God.

Should or Can in 2022?

Wow, what a terrible headline for an otherwise great article. Ray Ortlund wrote this near the end of 2021, and while it is addressed to pastors, it has wide relevance to all who love the church and want the kingdom of Jesus to advance. The title of the post refers to the difference between exhortations (“you should…”) and assurances of what God offers to needy people (“we can…”). This is an insightful look at what the grace of the gospel can accomplish.

If, by the end of 2022, nothing at your church improves, you can always go back. But for just one year, rather than tell people to obey God’s holy law, why not help them obey God’s holy law and live for Christ and walk in the Spirit, as you trust in the power of God’s all-sufficient grace?

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called The Nearness of God is Not Always Good News. If you haven’t already seen it, 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. 

The Nearness of God is Not Always Good News

A good portion of modern Christian praise songs emphasize nearness to God. They echo (or, sometimes, quote) Psalm 27:

One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4)

But we don’t often examine what we’re singing—I know I don’t. In particular, when we read the Bible, we find that in many places being close to God was the exact opposite of a good thing.

The Garden

The first two chapters of Genesis show how familiar Adam and Eve were with being close to God. God made Adam by breathing “into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen 2:7). It’s hard to get much closer than that! The Lord “took the man and put him in the garden of Eden” (Gen 2:15). He brought the beasts and birds to Adam to see if any would be a suitable partner (Gen 2:19). God even performed a delicate surgery on Adam to create Eve (Gen 2:21–22).

But after Adam and Eve fell into sin, everything changed. When Adam and Eve heard God approaching, they “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God” (Gen 3:8). They could no longer be exposed so close to the holy God. This is a jarring contrast to the life they lived up to this point.

While this is not the end of the story, a chasm opened at the Fall. God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden and stationed angels to guard the way back in (Gen 3:23–24). The message was as bright as the angels’ flaming swords: Closeness to God will no longer be easy or automatic.

Passover and Sinai

In many ways, the rest of the Bible is the story of a return to God’s presence. Before the situation is resolved, we see several indicators that God’s presence is not always welcoming.

The Passover was an epic occasion of death in Egypt. The firstborn of every house and every beast was killed in one night. The Israelites were spared if they put lamb’s blood on their doorposts.

I’ve always been struck by the Lord’s role in the slaughter. He says:

For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. (Ex 12:12)

God passed over his people, but God was also the one who struck down his enemies. Moses warned the elders of Israel that no one should go outside in the night “for the Lord will pass through to strike the Egyptians” (Ex 12:22–23). As God executed his judgment, he also provided a way for his people to escape.

When the Israelites arrived at Mt. Sinai, Moses went up the mountain to talk to God. With God at the top of the mountain, the people were not to get too close—anyone who touched the mountain would die (Ex 19:12). The mountain was “wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire” (Ex 19:18). The Israelites were convinced that they could not even hear from God or they would die (Ex 20:19).

God’s burning holiness was again on display here; getting close meant trouble. But there is another glimpse of redemption in this story. “The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Ex 20:21). The people could not go close, but one person went near God for them as a substitute.

Sending Jesus Away

The impulse to stay away from a holy God is not limited to the Old Testament. One of Jesus’s closest friends, in fact, knew he should be far away from the Lord.

After he taught a crowd on the shore from Peter’s boat, Jesus told Peter to put down his nets for a catch. Peter protested, having just finished an unproductive night of fishing. When he relented, his nets nearly burst with fish (Luke 5:1–6).

Peter realized he had doubted Jesus. He fell down at Jesus’s feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). Peter’s reaction to his sin wasn’t to seek forgiveness—it was to get away from Jesus. Before he followed Jesus as a disciple, Peter knew that his sin disqualified him from being in the company of this man of God.

Brought Near to God

We cannot get too close to fire without being burned, and (left to ourselves) we cannot get near God without suffering his judgment. We deserve this judgment, as we’ve broken his commandments again and again and again.

So why is it that worship songs can exult in being close to God?

It’s Jesus, of course! On our own, we’d have no hope. But we do not go to God on our own—Jesus takes us (1 Peter 3:18). We no longer have sin with us that God must judge, for he took care of that at the cross. And we are not just a blank slate—this wouldn’t be enough to get close to God. Because we have the righteousness of Jesus, because we are adopted as God’s children, we are joyfully welcomed into God’s presence. This is the work of our Savior, to deal with our guilt and to make us worthy of going close to God.

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Links for the Weekend (1/21/2022)

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

If You Want to Be Content, Stop Looking Back

This article about contentment emphasizes the difference between focusing on the blessings we have instead of on the blessings we had. That was a helpful distinction for me!

But the truth is, there’s always something missing, and there always will be until we’re home in glory. If we don’t accept this reality, we’re likely to keep reaching to have it all—because, we reason, if we don’t have it all, we haven’t yet found where God wants us to be. So we leave one place—a home, a church, a relationship—for yet another in hope of something just a little bit better, more fulfilling, more tailored to who we’ve become at this point in our lives.

Never Underestimate the Value of Ordinary, Brief, Christian Conversations

This writer points out how we underemphasize the importance of everyday interactions as Christians. We don’t need an hour to have a significant impact on others for Jesus!

Such interactions function as tiny course corrections as you drive down a long, straight highway. Many of them don’t even register on your consciousness. But thank goodness you make them. Individually, they don’t count for much. But cumulatively, they keep you on the straight and narrow.

Caring for the Chronically Ill

This article is full of loving, practical advice for caring for those with chronic health problems.

Faithful friends weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). They acknowledge how difficult their situation is. They let their sick friends vent for a time, and then encourage them to put their hope in the Lord Jesus. They assure them that God will never leave them, and reassure them that their suffering will not be wasted. They remind them of the glory that awaits in heaven, where there will be no more pain or tears.

On Fasting

I appreciated this article about the Christian practice of fasting. T.M. Suffield writes about some of the reasons Christians fast and what fasting can accomplish.

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 (1/14/2022)

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

3 Reasons to Use Better Bible Study Resources than Strong’s

For Christians of a certain age, the best resource to reach for during a Bible study was Strong’s Concordance. This article explains some of the misconceptions about and misuses of Strong’s. Mark Ward, the author, also points to some better options.

3 Ways to Use Social Media More Wisely in 2022

Most Christians who use social media would probably admit they could use some advice on using social media. Chris Martin comes to the rescue in this article. He admits his own temptations and weaknesses with regard to social media and gives some basic principles to follow.

Social media is at the center of our lives in more ways than we often realize, so I think it would be wise for us to examine the role of social media in our days and do what we can to use it more wisely. How might we do that? I could list a dozen ways, but here are just three, and they all revolve around one principle: intentionality.

Discipled by Algorithms

This article is related to the previous one, but with a different angle. If we use technology, we are obviously influenced by technology. But how often do we acknowledge the extent to which we are shaped by technology? What does it mean to practice wisdom in this area?

Whether we realize it or not, algorithms are discipling each of us in very particular ways — by curating the news we see, the things we purchase, the entertainment we enjoy, at times functioning in ways that seem almost human — all feeding the sense that this world is ultimately all about you. While AI may seem innocuous at first, it can also have devastating effects on our relationship with God, our spouse, roommates, those in our local church, and our broader communities as we opt for efficiency over wisdom and the virtual over the embodied.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called The Grief of Finite Joy. If you haven’t already seen it, 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. 

The Grief of Finite Joy

Somehow my oldest child is a freshman in high school. As I’ve experienced those where-did-the-time-go emotions that come with such minor milestones, I’ve started to feel a deep, preemptive loss.

I have loved being a parent. It has been one of the best callings in my life. My sadness at (possibly) having less than four years left with my daughter at home is not mere nostalgia for familiar or picturesque days. In the midst of a happy season, I can see its end on the horizon.

I’m not alone in this, and these feelings are not reserved for parents. I’ve felt this same grief in the middle of a family vacation as the lightness of the first few days becomes weighted with regret as I feel the end approaching.

This grief creeps into small things too, like stretching out the end of a good book to avoid snapping the cover closed for the last time. Or savoring a delicious coffee so long that it turns cold and sour.

This is a narrow, specific kind of grief, but it can be stifling. At times I feel myself pulling away from gatherings or experiences because I dread their endings. An honest person has to see how powerless the world’s pleasures are to give true, lasting satisfaction.

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 10, “Hope”)

God has put eternity into our hearts, and we long not just for joy but for joy unending. Every happy experience we have on earth will end. That prick of incompleteness, of a premature finale, is an indication of the capacity of our souls. It points to a new land.

In the midst of a much-debated passage about the second coming of Christ, we read this from the apostle Paul.

Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:17)

Perhaps it is too well-known to warrant our attention, but the word “always” jumped out at me recently in this verse. Once we are with the Lord, we will never be away from him. I don’t know if this will be full-time, ecstatic joy, but the absence of the curse, along with unmediated fellowship with God, will give us a settled, fulfilled happiness that won’t ever be cut off. (See Revelation 21:3-4.)

Our joy will stretch out like a long road before us. We will no longer flinch when considering the end of a great happiness, for our happiness will have no end.

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Links for the Weekend (1/7/2022)

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

The Neglected Ministry of Specific Encouragement

I’ve never heard of anyone who has been encouraged too much. Here’s a short, practical article on how to give and receive encouragement.

Herein lies the primary difference between worldly compliments and biblical encouragement. Worldly compliments exalt self; biblical encouragement exalts God. When someone receives biblical encouragement, she walks away praising and thanking God—not praising and inflating self.

Say Hi to the Old Lady on the Porch

Here’s a delightful story about an unlikely friendship in Memphis between two women who didn’t have many other people in their lives.

So I waved back, because if a cute old lady waves at you and you don’t wave back, you might be the biggest jerk ever to exist. But day after day, wave after wave, it began to feel weird to not stop and say hello. How many times can you wave and not actually speak without it getting awkward? And I was curious about her. Who was this old woman who sat on this porch in her rocking chair, her hands folded nicely over her stomach as she rocked, waved, rocked, waved? So one day, I stopped my bike and said hello.

A Sonnet for Epiphany

Epiphany is January 6 on the church calendar, and Christian poet Malcolm Guite wrote a poem for the occasion. In the winter it feels like we all could use a little more poetry in our lives.

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