Links for the Weekend (2024-02-23)

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

Even Believers Need to Be Warned:
How Hell Motivates Holiness

Though we might wince at the thought of hell and using it to motivate Christian obedience, this article does a good job showing how Paul often did just this in his epistles. This article is sobering but really helpful.

When we turn to Paul’s letters, we actually notice something even more startling than the notecard over my friend’s sink. Regularly throughout his writings, the apostle not only reminds the churches of their formerly hopeless state; he also warns them of their ongoing danger should they drift from Christ. He says not only, “You deserve hell,” but also, “Make sure you don’t end up there.”

Life is More than Mountaintop Experiences

Aaron Armstrong has written a wise article about the highs and lows of the Christian life and how God’s presence is with us in everything.

But when we start chasing after spiritual highs, we also start to define our faith by them. When we get that high, life is good. We feel as though we are gaining greater insights from Scripture. Our prayers are more focused (and possibly ornate). We’re ready to do big things for God and share the gospel with that friend who doesn’t know Jesus. But when the high starts to fade, our sense of intimacy and our resolve go with it.

Lenten Sonnet | March 17, 2017

The poem of the week is a Lenten sonnet by Andrew Peterson. It’s full of Narnian goodness!

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called The Default Posture of Love. 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. 

Links for the Weekend (2022-07-22)

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

Why You Should Study Theology

Theology often gets a bad reputation as dry and confusing. (That’s just poorly communicated theology!) Scott Slayton gives us three reasons why we should commit ourselves to studying theology.

When we read and study theology, we come to a better grasp of God’s personal attributes and how he interacts with the world. We see how God revealed himself in the past through encounters with men and women in Scripture. For example, when he passed by Moses in Exodus 34, he proclaimed about himself, “The Lord, gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” You cannot learn that about God by looking at a sunset. Also, think about his interactions with Job in the closing chapters of the book that bears his name. There, we learn that God is all powerful, has no competitors, yet is gracious and restores those who have been broken.

Why Christian Teens Have an Identity Crisis

Sara Barratt looks at the constant questioning of identity in today’s young people and traces that back to a lack of the knowledge of God.

Lists of “who you are” statements are filled with deep truth but often little substance. You are loved . . . but those words hardly make a dent in love-hungry hearts if they don’t understand who loves them. You are chosen . . . but chosen by whom? Why were we chosen? You are redeemed . . . but those words mean nothing if we don’t deeply comprehend what we’re redeemed from and the greatness of our Redeemer’s heart. Far too often, we open with the “you are,” “we are,” “I am,” story instead of the “he is” story. 

What Is Promised to the Two or Three Who Are Gathered in Jesus’ Name?

We’ve all heard (and quoted) the promise about Jesus being present when two or three people are gathered in his name. Amy K. Hall takes a close look at the context of that promise, as well as the Old Testament background, and explains that we’ve likely been using this incorrectly!

Jesus goes on to explain that church discipline, if done in this manner, will have the weight of God behind it (i.e., whatever they bind or loose on earth shall have been bound or loosed in heaven). Then he says, “Again”—note that the “again” indicates he’s not changing the subject here but referring back to the two or three witnesses previously mentioned—“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask [in context, regarding church discipline], it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.”

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

Praying “God, Be With Us”

It is a recurring request at every prayer meeting I’ve attended. God, be with her. Lord, please be with him.

I internalized this prayer early in my Christian life and adopted it just like those around me. But as I grew in my experience and knowledge about God, I got bored with this prayer. I looked down on those who prayed this way. It sounded so generic and unimaginative. Can’t we do better? Can’t we ask God for deeper things than this? In my misguided pride, I thought those who prayed this way didn’t care enough to think of more specific ways to intercede for their friends.

Praying for God’s Presence

What I once considered ashes in my mouth has now become honey. I thought I could pray better, holier prayers, but now I realize there’s nothing more essential to our well-being. At our deepest, most elemental level, we desperately need God’s presence, because we need God himself.

We need God to be with us.

We were made in God’s image and designed to be with him—near him—forever. (This is the whole story of the Bible!) But as a result of rebellion, God drove Adam and Eve away from him, out of his presence. The story of redemption is the story of a journey back into the presence of God. We needed Jesus—Immanuel, God with us—to suffer and die in our place, that he might bring us to God.

God’s presence is the believer’s destiny (Revelation 21:3). It is our present reality. And it should be our longing and our comfort and our strength.

Lament and the Absence of God

Our longing for God’s presence is good and holy, and this helps us understand the raw outrage we see expressed in Scripture when God seems absent.

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:2)

Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:1–2)

If you were a friend of these poets, what would you have prayed for them? Lord, be with them! Lord, let them know your presence with them!

God Has Promised

Not only is this prayer in harmony with the teaching of the Bible, God has promised to do this very thing for us. When he says “I will never leave you or forsake you,” we can count on it (Hebrews 13:5).

You might be wondering why we should pray for something God has promised to do. That’s a good question! However, we could easily turn that question around. How could we possibly pray for anything that God has not promised? As we reach toward the Lord with one hand, we should cling to the Bible with the other, pointing. You have promised; make it happen!

My Greatest Need

I cringe now when I think how arrogantly I judged those dear saints years ago. I wish I could go back to them and ask them to pray that God would be with me! This is what I need most of all. More than health or wisdom, more than safety or provisions—I need God to be with me, as he’s promised.

Post credit | Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (2022-05-06)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out. (Note: Just two links this week!)

Inviting God into the Hard Places

Here is a helpful and provocative article. What if, instead of delivering us from hard circumstances, God wants us to get used to walking through the hard places with him? How might it change us to ask God to meet us in the difficulty?

But what if God wants something different? What if—rather than deliverance from the hard—he wants you to invite him into it? What if he wants you to seek his presence in the hard, more than his protection from the hard? His provision in the midst of life’s hardships, rather than relief from them?

Reepicheep’s Purity of Heart

Within the last year, the folks at Mere Orthodoxy put out a call for essays arguing for each of the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia as the best. Had I written an essay, I would have argued for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, my favorite of the books. Here’s the essay that made the case for that book and its valiant mouse, Reepicheep.

Sure, a lot of things happen in Voyage that also give it the claim to being the best novel, the discussion of science and modernism versus tradition and religion (although religion and science aren’t actually at loggerheads), Eustace’s Pauline conversion, the growth of Lucy, Edmund, and Caspian, and of course the quest to find the seven lost Narnian lords, which gives the entire book its shape. All of these things add up to a tightly plotted and fast moving adventure. But I think that the reason it’s the best isn’t just Reepicheep, but what he and the other characters go through in the novel, which is growing up and becoming adult Christians.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Obeying the Good Law of Our Good God. 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. 

Links for the Weekend (2022-04-01)

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

Prayer Requests for a Critical Heart

Gulp. This one strikes a little too close for my liking! As someone who is often critical in spirit, I appreciated these suggestions of ways to pray for those who need to fight this temptation.

A heart that rejoices in finding fault in others may align with contemporary culture’s values, but it falls short of the character of Christ. As followers of Jesus, we must fight our sinful critical flesh and renew our minds to be transformed into the image of our Savior. This change can happen because we are already new creatures in Him; the old has gone, and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). Not only that, but we’ve been indwelt with the Holy Spirit, so we do not fight alone. But fight we must.

FAQ: Does Predestination Mean God Is the Author of Sin?

If you haven’t wrestled with this question yet, you probably will! Does predestination mean God is the author of sin?

God is never the author of sin. God is the author of weaving even our sin into a tapestry that displays his glory and mercy. The Bible doesn’t say that all things are good because God predestines them. It says that God works all things together for good for those who love him, who are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Spiritual Lessons from My Dumb Phone

Dru Johnson bought himself a “dumb phone,” in part because he didn’t like what his smart phone was doing to him. In this article he describes some of his experience and what he learned.

Making myself still, mentally or physically, has always been hard for me. I often have many irons in the fire. But maintaining the discipline of stillness requires a certain level of security with oneself and with God. My smartphone, on the other hand, offered an all-too-easy way to focus my constant motion, without truly slowing me down.

“I, Myself, Will Go Down With You.”

This article is a meditation on God’s promise to be with Jacob. I love thinking about God’s presence, and I’m grateful to have come across this helpful example.

The primary promise that Jacob receives is the promise of presence. I myself will go down with you. Jacob gets a guarantee that the God of his father will be with him. He also receives a secondary promise of presence: the guarantee that his long-lost son will be with him at the time of his death. Joseph’s hands will lower Jacob’s eyelids over his vacant gaze.

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.

Photo credit

The Gift of Presence during Advent

Advent is a time for reflection and preparation. Christians meditate on themes of hope, love, joy, and preparation to commemorate the birth of Jesus when celebrating Christmas Day. It is a comfort that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, and His commission is that comfort is proclaimed to all the world (Matthew 28:16–20). The season of Advent provides the followers of Jesus the opportunity to live out the themes of hope, love, joy, and preparation. The season can leave those believers and unbelievers with physical, emotional, and spiritual pain isolated when the presence of God and his people could benefit them the most. This Advent, we can give the present of presence to someone in need of God’s love.

Follow the Divine Example

God best exemplifies the care of others through presence as stated in the Psalms. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 34:1). Consider how the presence of God in these examples and our lives can inspire us to minister to the needs of others.

Yahweh — (1 Kings 19:1–15) When the prophet Elijah was overcome by exhaustion after a dramatic confrontation with the prophets of Baal, the Lord made his presence known. He provided physical nourishment and assurance to Elijah that he was not alone.

Jesus — (Luke 19:1–10) Jesus demonstrated the transformative power of his presence in the account of Zacchaeus, the tax collector. Jesus’s outreach, despite the stigma of associating with a tax collector, resulted in the repentance of Zacchaeus and restitution to all whom he had defrauded.

The Holy Spirit — (John 16:1–15) The Spirit is the comforter promised to the followers of Jesus after he ascended into Heaven. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would be a guide and support through persecution and the mission to preach the Good News of salvation to the world. The Spirit is an ever-present help (John 14:16).

The Ministry of Presence

In his article, The Ministry of Presence, Dr. Stephen Davey describes every Christian as qualified for the ministry of presence. “You do not have to be anything but available to be a wonderful tool in the hand of God.”

To participate in the ministry of presence, we need to be mindful and prayerful of family members, church members, fellow students, colleagues, and others we know who require support. Make an invitation tailored to the individual’s specific circumstances on your heart. For example, one person with a medical condition may benefit from transportation to an appointment or a visitation in the home. In contrast, one with a contagious illness may be ministered to by a telephone or video call. No matter how a person is suffering—the death of a loved one, loss of employment, or a traumatic diagnosis—the ministry of presence is appropriate.

Davey quotes author Joseph Bayly to explain how mere presence is often more valuable than words.

I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly; he said things I [already] knew were true. I was unmoved, except I wished he’d go away. He finally did. Another came and sat beside me for an hour and more; listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply and left. I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.

Davey warns against the well-intentioned impulse to quote the Bible and offer platitudes to those we serve. A genuinely applicable verse or nugget of wisdom can be perceived as trite and dismissive to a person in pain if it is made with an inappropriate tone or timing. Instead, we can focus on being present, not profound.

The ministry of presence is risky, and we can take that risk because we’ve experienced the loving presence of God ourselves. Because God has sought us out and made his dwelling with us through Jesus, we can extend ourselves when the task is unpleasant or when we may not be appreciated. God has much to offer both believer and unbeliever through our presence: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14)

‘Tis The Season To Serve

Advent allows the Christian to reflect on the present and presence that define Christmas and Christianity: Christ Jesus. The present God gave the world he so loved (John 3:16) modeled a ministry of presence for all of us to follow (John 13:34–35). Jesus was intentionally present with the lost, hurt, sick, and poor of society. The joy that Advent heralds transcends our circumstances. Still, life circumstances can steal that joy from the people around us afflicted by physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. Therefore, as recipients of God’s gracious presence, let us minister to those who need a loving presence this Advent and in the year to come.

Photo credit

Links for the Weekend (6/11/2021)

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

Rich and Miserable — How Can It Be?

It is so, so easy to believe the lie that happiness increases proportionally with the number in our bank account. But it’s just not true! Scott Sauls describes several successful, wealthy people who were far from happy. He ends with a needed call for our imaginations to be “shaped by God’s vision for work.”

So how can we explain the apparent contradiction between the words and lifestyle of Jesus and the apostles, and the Old Testament prosperity passages? Can God’s people today lay claim to those Old Testament promises of prosperity? The answers to these questions lie in the fundamental differences between the Old and New Covenants.

Chasing Rest

Here’s a great reflection on sleep and rest by Kristin Couch. It is humbling to think that one of the ways we best acknowledge that God is God and we are not is by closing our eyes at night.

The soul of gentle waters trusts God moment-by-moment in contentment, and remains calm through absolute submission to God, who is wisdom and authority and perfect power. Nothing startles the Lord, and unflappable tranquility is the result of a heart set upon him.

God Has Not Forgotten You

Vaneetha Risner reflects on the promises of God which have sustained her in the hardest times. The promise that God will not forget us is powerful indeed.

But somehow, knowing that God had not forgotten me stirred me to press into him with renewed hope. Those simple words turned my mind and helped me focus on the truths that I needed to remember. That the Lord was with me and would sustain me through this trial. That God was using my suffering to accomplish something far greater than I could see or understand. And that my pain wouldn’t last any longer than was absolutely necessary.

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