Links for the Weekend (2022-03-25)

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

Don’t Expect Instant Gratification from Your ‘Quiet Time’

Jen Wilkin has some great reflections on our expectations for devotional time. Read the article to catch her memorable analogy of a debit-account approach versus a savings-account approach to devotions.

If you have ever walked through the valley of trial, you know what it is like to find years of faithful deposits bearing dividends. A patient, long-term approach is key. The Book of Ezekiel may not fix your day, but it may just sustain you in a lengthy trial if you give it your quiet times. The formational profit of spending time in the Word is more likely to emerge over 15 years than 15 minutes. 

Excellent Parenting is Remarkably Ordinary

Parenting advice is no magic potion, and yet we can learn wisdom from those who have gone before us. In this article, Brad Hambrick shares three simple parenting encouragements that we all probably need.

Yet, when you talk with an adult who is fond of their parents and grateful for their upbringing, their stories don’t sound exceptional. Their parents of these well-adjusted young adults don’t come across as Jedi masters who daily dispensed profound life-changing proverbs. Their weekends were not filled with epic family vacations. The “moments” we want to create as parents are not usually the focal point of what these young adults appreciate most.

To Ben on World Down Syndrome Day

Andrea Sanborn wrote this tender celebration of her son Ben for World Down Syndrome Day. She included some great pictures, too!

You changed our understanding of worship, of prayer. Of faith. Yes, and of the goodness of God who loves the weak, the wounded and the marginalized.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Turning Thanks to Praise. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Thanks to Maggie A for her help in rounding up links 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. 

Turning Thanks to Praise

Among the many elements of Christian worship, praise and thanksgiving are perhaps the most common. Though these aspects of worship are related, they are not the same.

Traditionally, praise has more to do with who God is—his character and his attributes. Thanksgiving concerns God’s actions in time, some of which we observe and experience. Because thanksgiving has more to do with our senses, many people (and churches) gravitate more to thanking God than praising him.

But the Scriptures point us to praise through thanksgiving. The actions of God reveal his character. We see this in the opening chapters of the book of Ezra.

The Book of Ezra

After the Israelites had been in exile in Babylon for several decades, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, the king of Persia (Ezra 1:1). Cyrus issued a decree sending Jewish people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple of God that had been destroyed (Ezra 1:3–4). He sent back the tools and utensils which the Babylonians had taken from the original temple, and he made sure that this construction project was funded (Ezra 1:5–11).

The rebuilding begins in Ezra 3. The people built the altar of God first (Ezra 3:2) and immediately resumed burnt offerings, feasts, and sacrifices (Ezra 3:3–6). Of chief importance, the altar was built before the foundation of the temple had been laid.

Completing the foundation was a huge step forward and an occasion for praising the Lord (Ezra 3:10–13). The priests and Levites made music and everyone “sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord” (Ezra 3:11). The biblical author gives us a glimpse of their song.

For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel. (Ezra 3:11)

This was a significant worship time, so this quotation is likely just a summary of their song. But it is instructive.

God is Good

The people gathered to worship God “because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid” (Ezra 3:11). The occasion of worship was thanksgiving. Yet the Israelites used this moment of thanks to declare God’s goodness—not just the good things God had done, but the fact that he himself is good.

When we confess that God is good, we are not only declaring that he is upright, consistent, and free from every bit of evil. To say that God is good means that he is the very definition of what is good. He is so fundamental to the creation and to our notion of morality that we understand what is good by understanding him.

As always, the historical context is important. Israel had spent decades scattered in an unfriendly land, driven from the promised place they loved and, because they were unable to worship the Lord, they were in danger of losing their very identity as a people. These are the people who sang about the goodness of God!

His Steadfast Love

This song was not only about God’s character. The people also recognized his posture toward them.

“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). A version of this description of God shows up repeatedly in the Bible and it is a consistent confession of God’s people. God’s steadfast love is related to his mercy and grace, to the way he pledges himself to a people who are frequently disloyal.

When the Israelites sang this in Ezra 3:11, they confessed God’s mercy toward them. He relented of his anger; he made a way for them to return to Jerusalem; he provided this reconstruction of the temple. Though God had every right to wipe out the nation because of their rebellion, he preserved a remnant and stayed true to his word.

God’s steadfast love was set upon Israel—not because Israel earned his love, but because God is gracious.

His Love Toward Israel Forever

The last phrase in this worship summary is stunning. God’s people celebrated his love toward them forever.

In singing like this, the Israelites highlighted the promises of God and how deeply they shape our hearts and hopes. If God loved us now but his love tomorrow were uncertain, that would be of little comfort. But God has made promises to his people, and God does not break his promises.

If God’s steadfast love toward Israel endured forever, they could count on it. They could move into the future knowing that whatever happened around them, God’s love would endure. This brings a deep security to God’s people, both then and now.

Resolved in Christ

The returning exiles sang about the character of God, the grace of God, and the promises of God. These are excellent foundations for our worship too.

But consider how much deeper and clearer our song can be now that Christ has come! He has shown us the character of God in the flesh (Hebrews 1:3). God’s grace was demonstrated through the sacrificial work of Jesus (Hebrews 2:9). The many promises of God find their fulfillment in the Son of God, sent to rescue sinners (2 Corinthians 1:20).

So, let’s continue to thank God for all he is doing and all he has done. But let’s also spot God’s character in his actions—and praise him!

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Links for the Weekend (2022-03-18)

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

Chasing Sunsets

I’ve been on a sunset kick recently, so I was intrigued to see this article from Glenna Marshall. It did not disappoint! She describes watching a recent sunset with her son and ponders why God gave us sunsets.

Why did God give us sunsets? He could have made the shift from light to dark an instantaneous change. One moment it’s day, the next it’s night. One moment you can see, the next you can’t. But written into creation is a gradual movement in colors that hurts our eyes with brilliance and bends our brains with wonder every single day that we care to pause and notice. Sunsets aren’t hard for Him, and maybe they weren’t even necessary to the created order. But He gave them to us anyway. 

How Do I Know I’m Really Repentant?

Jared Wilson writes about indicators of a genuinely repentant heart.

While I don’t think it’s normally a great idea to be going around “measuring” other’s repentance, sometimes this kind of discernment is indeed necessary. And it’s always necessary in evaluating our own efforts of daily taking up our cross and following Jesus in our participating in the Spirit’s work of sanctification in us. Paul tells Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself (1 Timothy 4:16), so a grace-driven examination of our own souls is not out of spiritual bounds.

Seeing Dignity Instead of Misery Among the Poor

Amy Straub and her husband are missionaries in Zambia, and she has written a great article about honoring the poor as fellow image-bearers of God.

Poverty does not equal misery or failure any more than wealth equals contentment or success. Rich and poor alike are marked by the image of God, and it is this imago dei that endows each person with intrinsic and sacred value. This is what shines through when joy and laughter are found among those in poverty. They are not oblivious to their suffering; they are putting it in its proper place. It is momentary and fleeting, and it will someday be overshadowed by a weight of glory. Not having treasure on earth, they have the opportunity to see the eternal with unclouded eyes.

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 (2022-03-11)

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

My Head And The Headlines

Seth Lewis wrote about the danger of becoming consumed with news headlines and missing what’s going on nearby.

If I’m not careful, I could become an expert on the intricate details of global developments while simultaneously losing touch with the realities of what is going on in the lives of the people who live right in front of me. I could be praying about the needs of communities across the world (which is good), and at the same time forgetting or ignoring the needs of the community I physically live in. I could give towards the relief of strangers in real need (which I have) and never even notice the real (though less dramatic) needs of my own friends and neighbours. I could keep my head in the headlines and not even see the people beside me. 

5 Questions for Young Christians About Their Media Choices

Part of helping our young people grow and mature is talking with them about the media they consume. Here are some questions for such a discussion.

This is why it’s crucial that Christian parents, pastors, and youth workers are engaging this part of students’ lives. Where are young Christians spending their time? What are they watching, listening to, reading? And how do they make these decisions? What grid do Christian young people have for evaluating, with biblical wisdom, whether a piece of media will be nourishing or poisonous for their soul?

Podcast Recommendations

Maggie Amaismeier gave me a great list of podcast recommendations this week. (Thanks, Maggie!) These are all primarily aimed at women, but everyone could benefit from them. These three podcasts all warrant a mention either because they have released new seasons recently or because we don’t want you to forget they exist: Risen Motherhood, Encourage Podcast (PCA), and Let’s Talk. We’ve recommended all three of these podcasts before.

A new recommendation is the GraceLaced Podcast with Ruth Chou Simons. From Maggie:

This podcast is approximately 20 minutes long and very conversational in nature including a practical recap at the end with an application. Just wrapped up the first season with eight episodes to enjoy!

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article written by Erica Goehring called The Perfect Antidote. 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 Perfect Antidote

I am an optimistic person. I go through life assuming that things will generally work out. Yet somehow, I remain a worrier. In my mind, I run through all the imaginable scenarios. I experiment with what my emotions would be in all of the varied possibilities. I explore likely outcomes, and ideally, I see that most of them have solutions. Not a bad thing, right? 

Occasionally, however, I will latch on to one scenario, and it will play in my mind on repeat. Perhaps you have also had the feeling of trying to fall asleep while the dreadful what-ifs dance across your mind as if projected on a movie screen. Worry is rumination on unknown future events, and I easily get stuck in the cycle. 

Let Go and Let God?

Throughout my life, well-meaning friends and family members have reminded me that worry is sin. The Bible exhorts us multiple times to avoid worry or anxious thoughts. Proverbs 12:25 reads, “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” I need to recognize and respect God’s control over my situation, not rely on my own abilities. People in my life encouraged me to “let go and let God.” While this pithy phrase seems wise and is thrown around often, it left me confused and dissatisfied. First, I cannot give God permission to do anything, and implying that I can “let” him do something is, at best, irreverent. Secondly, the idea of letting go of something as ephemeral as worry is far from concrete. What does that look like? 

When I tried to enact this common advice, my version of letting go and letting God do his work looked like stuffing emotions down deep and ignoring them as best as I could. I swallowed hard and muscled through, trying to push aside the urge to examine and problem-solve. You may recall Scarlett O’Hara’s line in Gone with the Wind when she says, “I can’t think about that right now. I’ll go crazy if I do. I’ll think about it tomorrow.” When I tried to “let go and let God,” I was good at pulling a Scarlett O’Hara. I could set aside a problem and refuse to look at it again. But is that the same as relying upon God?

Some struggles do seem to disappear when we focus our attention elsewhere. That parenting issue that appeared to be crucial to a healthy future gradually fizzled out. The second opinion from a new doctor brought a more positive diagnosis than we anticipated, or the car repair did not cost as much as we feared. Time can be a powerful tool. However, burying concerns or always trying to wait them out are not the same as relying on God. 

Praying for Wisdom

I have puzzled over the idea of submitting my concerns to God for years, and I have recently come to one conclusion. The most concrete action I can take to surrender my anxious thoughts to God is to pray for wisdom. When I find myself in a state of worry, I tend to pray only for deliverance. I want the bad news to be erased. I want the illness to be healed or the conflict to be resolved. I want the anticipated struggle to be eliminated fully and quickly. God invites us to ask for specific things when we come to him in prayer, but when we pray with a list of solutions, we are still trying to do the problem-solving for God. We bring the answers that seem most appropriate to us. As I contemplate how to really surrender to the Lord, I am beginning to understand that when we pray for God’s wisdom, we are aligning ourselves with our heavenly Father. Praying for his wisdom is full surrender to his will. 

James 1:5 reads, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” When anxiety and fear take over, we are essentially falling victim to a lack of wisdom. We simply do not know the future, and we do not know God’s intentions in our present circumstances. When we pray for wisdom, we please God because he is delighted when we come to him and surrender to his ways. We fall in alignment with his work and will. 

God Can Be Trusted

The idea of walking in line with our creator and resting in his wisdom sounds lovely, but how can we feel at ease while relinquishing control? I can attest that lack of control is a primary component of the worry cycle. How, then, can surrender be a step toward peace? The answer lies in the nature of God himself. If he is trustworthy and his ways are good, we can surrender without fear (Psalm 100:5). If we believe he loves us and is working for our well-being, we can unclench our fists and take hold of his promises (Romans 8:28). As modern day Christians, we have the privilege of looking back upon God’s ancient promises—as early as the garden of Eden—and seeing their progression toward the death of Christ on the cross. We can recognize God’s work there on Calvary and see the fulfillment of his covenant in the tomb where only a piece of cloth remained. We see stunning evidence of God’s reliability and truthfulness when the depths of his love were on display that morning.

In Proverbs 2:6, we read, “For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” As human beings, we will not gain full insight that belongs only to God. However, the Lord lovingly answers our prayers for wisdom by granting the perfect dose he desires for us. His wisdom is the antidote to worries that threaten our peace and erode the faith upon which we rely. We are safe to cling to him.

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Links for the Weekend (2022-03-04)

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

The Blissful and Trivial Life

Marshall Segal wrote about the media we consume and the effects that can have on our soul.

The medium is not the enemy — television and YouTube and Instagram are not the enemy. But if Postman was right, the medium can be wielded by our world, our flesh, and our enemy when we soak up entertainment and ignore the consequences. What, if any, of your entertainment habits need to be curbed or redirected for the sake of your soul? What are ways you are seeking to cultivate the spiritual gift of your mind — slower Bible study or memorization, reading substantive books, meaningful conversation with friends, more time in unhurried reflection and meditation? 

What’s in Your Mind, Believer?

The role of the Law in the life of a Christian has been a difficult issue for centuries. In this article, Sinclair Ferguson helps us answer this question by looking at the role of the Law in the Bible as a whole.

The anonymous author of Hebrews was fascinated by the relationship between the Law and the gospel. He explained how the Mosaic administration was like a shadow cast backwards into the old covenant period by the work of Christ in the new covenant (Heb. 8:5). Now that the new covenant has been forged in the blood of Christ, the old is revealed for what it always was, shadow rather than reality. Now it is “obsolete” (8:13).

Christ Will Be My Hideaway

This song is one of my favorites that I’ve discovered in the past year. Christ Will Be My Hideaway is a song based on Psalm 91, written by Sovereign Grace Music.

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