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Kept By God Through Fire & Water

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Bless our God, O peoples;
    let the sound of His praise be heard,
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ho has kept our soul among the living
    and has not let our feet slip.
 For You, O God, have tested us;
    You have tried us as silver is tried.
 You brought us into the net;
    you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
You let men ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and through water;
yet You have brought us out to a place of abundance. || Psalm 66.8-12

The Psalmist calls the people of Israel to bless the LORD and give voice to His praises in this remarkable portion of Scripture. The people of God are enjoined here to remember His faithfulness, and at the root of their praise is a sweet surrender to His keeping and sanctifying power. They are to bless Him for His faithfulness in preserving them, and for His Covenantal commitment to make them holy.

The God of Israel had “kept” their “soul among the living” and had “not let” their “feet slip.” He had been revealed as the Covenant-keeping-God, by Whose protecting and preserving hand they had been loosed from Egyptian incarceration and bondage. There is an intimate acknowledgement here of His presence in their deliverance.

Every drop of water which moved to part the Sea; every step that each Israelite took upon the dry-bed; every heart-beat and breath along the way; every passing of man, woman, and child from the land of bondage to the Land of promise—- every portion came from the hand of the One Who had kept their souls in His own “kind intention.” Few things speak so clearly and tenderly of this truth like the Lord’s description of Himself as the “Shepherd of Israel.” 

His keeping power is a precious reality, one which ought to evoke the highest praises from His people, for like the nation Israel, we are powerless to save ourselves, and powerless to finish our course without Him.

Along with the excellencies of God’s keeping and delivering power, the Psalmist calls attention not only to Israel’s deliverance, but to the purpose of their entire pilgrimage, that they [and we] might bless Him rightly.

It wasn’t only their preservation and deliverance from Egypt which was effected by God, but their testing and crushing as well. This is an oft-neglected truth among present day believers.

“For You, O God, have tested us; You have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; You laid a crushing burden on our backs; You let men ride over our heads…”

This is the theology of sanctification, perceived by the Psalmist in the history of Israel, and it ought to land upon the Church with a most powerful conviction and hope.

There is no being brought into the “joy of our Master,” no arrival at the “place of abundance,” without passing through the trial, the “crushing burden,” the sifting of Divinely orchestrated testing. This comes to us not by the hand of an aloof Dictator, but by the hand of an infinitely wise and trustworthy Father who “disciplines the ones He loves.”

It was not merely the Egyptians who tested and crushed the people of God. They were merely instruments in the hand of the Potter. It was “You,” God Himself, Who was the Author of their “testing” and “trial”, for “You laid a crushing burden on our backs.”

Have we made peace with the revelation of God as the One who chastens, breaks, and refines His people? Have we a humanistic residue in the soul, a “not Your will but mine be done” disposition; one which is willing to bless God for provisions and deliverances, but not for His dealings with us in sanctification?

The God of “steadfast love” laid the “crushing burden” upon Israel, and He likewise lays it upon us. It is not a burden meant to crush His children, but rather a burden meant to crush that which remains in our hearts of a “boasting in the flesh”; that which blurs and impedes our view of Him. It is the fire of testing, which is predestined by the Lord to bring us forth as silver.

One day that crushing will find its consummation in the people of Israel, in the glorious Day of their promised redemption. Our experience in the faith will bear the same kind of character. The dealings of God with Israel are a statement and prototype of His dealings with the children of God in this age, and it is crucial that we should see this.

One of the ways by which He keeps us is by testing us, trying us in the fires of real life, and He means in this to crush every idea and impulse which rises up in our hearts “against the knowledge of God.” He will bring us into the net of trial on many occasions throughout our sojourn— He will lay crushing burdens on our backs, and even permit men to “ride over our heads,” that we might be “tried as silver” and “brought to a place of abundance” in Him.

Do not be quick too attribute every hardship and difficulty to the enemy. There are times- perhaps daily, even hourly- when Satan is tempting and accusing, and we need simply to “resist” him that he might “flee.” This we should do, not giving any “foothold” to his lies.

But do not be mistaken, testings and trials are also determined by God for our own sanctification- that we should be holy as He is holy. There are crises which the enemy means for evil and men mean for harm, but which God means for our good. This is a clear thread of truth which runs through the whole of the Biblical testimony. It was true for Israel, and it is true for us also.

God means to “shake everything that can be shaken” in us, that “only His unshakable Kingdom may remain.” There are bewilderments, disillusionments, disappointments, tragedies, collapsed ministries, inexplicable seasons of pressing and breaking which come from the hand of the Father, and these give evidence not to His having forsaken us, but rather to His unswerving commitment to our conformity into the image of His Son. He is committed to our joy.

He will bring us “into the net” of situations in which we find ourselves entangled beyond human explanation, pressed to cry out to Him for wisdom and grace. He will lay “crushing burdens on our backs,” things too difficult for us to resolve on the basis of our own strength, that we might seek the “better way” of His love, that we might lay down our lives and surrender again and again to His perfect will.

He will even “let men ride over our heads”; that is to say, to wrong us, offend us, speak ill of us, betray us, and misunderstand us, for His aim is the establishment our “everlasting joy,” and this can only be known to us when we “cease striving,” “lean not on our own understanding,” and “look unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.” 

This sifting is one of the means by which God keeps “our soul among the living,” and the child of God, when he or she is seeing rightly, will welcome this blessed cross. By it, “the world is crucified” to us, and we are “crucified to the world.” By this crushing of our own self-sufficiency and pride, this ongoing mortification of our Adamic propensities, we are brought “through fire and through water” to the “place of abundance”— that place in which the “likeness of Christ” is being formed in us, and He has become our chief desire and treasure.

This must become a conviction for us, and there is hope and meaning to be found here that addresses the deepest questions, uncertainties, and pains which otherwise blanket the history of men with chaos and purposelessness.

Trials are full of meaning for the children of God. They are not to be denied or circumvented, but to be discerned with the help of the Holy Spirit and embraced as one of the means by which the Kingdom of God comes and the will of God is done in the earth— indeed, in our very hearts.

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2.10)

May it never be. Seeing Him as He is, bowing low before Him, learning to trust Him amidst the “all things” which “work together” for our “good”, blessing Him and letting the “sound of His praise be heard”, even in the trial— Herein is the wisdom which belongs to the sons and daughters of God Almighty.

The Church which knows its God in this way will be fitted to proclaim His worth to a world that is languishing in the prison of sin, dampened, darkened and isolated from the free and clear “place of abundance,” incapable of reversing and enjoying the One who is “full of grace and truth.”

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. || Acts 16.25-26

To know His keeping power, to know His siftings, and to bless Him in the midst of them is to “be” His Church— that witness-People through whom His “manifold wisdom” is “put on display.” This is at the heart of the apostolic faith. It is the ballast in the vessel of our so great Great Commission.

We would be wise to reflect upon these things, and to learn the art of “Blessing our God” in light of them. He is the one who tests and tries us. He is the One who keeps us. He is the One Who brings us to the place of “life more abundantly.” This is to be our experience in Jesus Christ, and by it He becomes our portion. There is no sweeter treasure, no greater reward than Him.

‘Tis my happiness below
Not to live without the cross,
But the Saviour’s power to know,
Sanctifying every loss;
Trials must and will befall;
But with humble faith to see
Love inscribed upon them all,
This is happiness to me.

God in Israel sows the seeds
Of affliction, pain, and toil;
These spring up and choke the weeds
Which would else o’erspread the soil:
Trials make the promise sweet,
Trials give new life to prayer;
Trials bring me to His feet,
Lay me low, and keep me there.

Did I meet no trials here,
No chastisement by the way,
Might I not with reason fear
I should prove a castaway?
Bastards may escape the rod,
Sunk in earthly vain delight;
But the true-born child of God
Must not — would not, if he might.

-William Cowper, “Welcome Cross”, 1855

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. || 1 Pet. 4.12-14

Satisfied In Goodness & Holiness

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When iniquities prevail against me,
    you atone for our transgressions.
Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
    to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
    the holiness of your temple! || Psalm 65.3-4

David knows poignantly the plight of the human soul- the plight of our iniquities. He speaks of the iniquities which “prevail” against him, and in this context he is not singing of the sins of others that have inflicted pain in his life. He is locked in on the dark reality of his own iniquity. He is not thinking as the self-justifying Pharisee in Luke 18, but rather, as the tax-collector who cried unto God, “Be merciful to me, a sinner.”

He does not rest upon his reputation, his earthly power as King of Judah, nor even the positive portions of his history of devotion to God. He acknowledges that there are yet “iniquities” which “prevail against” him— his own iniquities.

However, he knows also the only remedy for his sin. “You atone for our transgressions.” David was a man who had tasted the remarkable sweetness and power of the Gospel, centuries before the mystery of its light had been revealed and articulated in Christ (Rom. 16.25-26).  He had only one direction in which to turn for the answer to his plight— to the One Who atones for the transgressions of those Whom He loves. And in that acknowledgement, he was made ineffably happy.

Blessed is the one You choose and bring near,
    to dwell in Your courts!

It was better for David to dwell for one day in the courts of the God Who atones, than to spend a thousand life-times in the presence of earthly potentates and all the pleasures that accompany such company.

“Blessed is the one…” To be “blessed” is not a cheap religious cliche, it is to be happy beyond measure; “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” (Ps. 32.1) Happy beyond measure because the iniquity which he could not purify nor scrub out by any means within himself had been atoned for; “forgiven” and “covered” by the very One against whom the offenses had been committed.

He recognized that it was God’s own choice to “bring” him “near”, that he might “dwell” in the very “courts” of the Lord Himself. The ineffable happiness flowed then from two realizations: First, that his iniquities had been washed away. Second, that this God of holiness had ever-so-kindly led him to repentance and faith, for He had chosen to bring the otherwise iniquity-laden and disqualified Psalmist near to Himself.

Through the atonement, through God’s choice of the sinner on the basis of His own infinite mercies, there is a blessedness, an unparalleled happiness which ensues. The Psalmist desired to remember it morning by morning with palpable faith, for surely the sense of his iniquities would continue to hound him without it. There could only be one answer to his ongoing malady, his daily battle against the pride of life and the lusts of the flesh, only one way to remain in the happy state of vibrant faith and holy fear: “I must remember the One Who makes atonement, the One Who has chosen to bring me near!”

All the treasures of this world could not produce in the ancient King what this truth established in him— a holy satisfaction in the goodness and holiness of God, which was to be known, treasured, and enjoyed by David’s experience of “dwelling” in His courts; that is, finding his own place in the very house of God, that house which, apart from God’s mercy, he could not even think to enter, much less to dwell. Thus he would be satisfied, and in this way only.

He knew that it was not his own doing. It was the work of the God who atones, the One who chooses to bring us near to Himself.

This, then, is how you ought to bring your broken frame to God, morning by morning, evening by evening. The one who says he has no sin makes God out to be a liar, says the apostle of old (1 Jn. 1.10). But when we come before the Throne acknowledging our very present iniquities, even those which we cannot perceive, we come upon the ground of truth. When we look to him with the faith of a child, we see Him as the One Who atones for our transgressions; the One who has chosen to bring us near, to satisfy us with the “goodness” of His house and the “holiness” of His temple— to satisfy us with Himself.

In this faith is our adoption, our justification, our sanctification, our glorification, and the “everlasting joy” which can only be discovered in the One Who hung upon the tree to “bring us near.” In the final analysis, the purpose of the Atonement is not only that we should be made clean, but that we should be “reconciled to God,” and experience the glories of eternal life. And “this is eternal life, that they might know You, the One true God, and Jesus the Messiah Whom You have sent.” (Jn. 17.3)

“He answers the need of your soul. You are all guilt; He is a fountain to wash you. You are all naked; He has a wedding garment to cover you. You are dead; He is the Life. You are all wounds and bruises; He is the Balm of Gilead.” || Robert Murray McCheyne

He is the One who calls to us now, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.”

“I will satisfy you” in the goodness and holiness of My House.

So do we find our place in Your house, O God. So do we dwell in that precious place. Teach us to abide in Your Son, the Atonement Lamb, that our joy would be full in your “goodness” and “holiness.” Conform us to the image of Christ upon that foundation, and cause Your Light to shine through us to a world which yet lies under the power of the evil one. Bring many sons to glory through a people who know what it means to be satisfied in You. Amen.

The Superior Pleasure and Priority of Prayer

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For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
….Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. || Ps. 62.5, 11-12a

There is no substitute for the hope that comes to the child of God in the secret place of prayer, and yet hope seems thin in the lives of many saints, even many who have been grounded in a clear hearing of the Gospel.

Little is more trying to the busy-headed disposition of modern culture than the call to “wait in silence” “for God alone”, and our schedules all-too-often attest to this. Distractions have always militated against a life of prayer, and we may likely have more objects of distraction than any generation before us. We are at war against distractions like never before, whether we realize it or not.

“There is no command in the whole Bible so difficult to obey and so penetrating in power as the command to be still.” || Amy Carmichael

Being still before God does not come naturally— this idea of going to the inner-room and meeting with our Father in secret. Therefore, the Scriptures call us out of our God-evading cycles and habits and command us to go to quiet places as our Lord did before us, that we might “be still and know” that He is God.

In the case of Psalm 62, David conjoins himself with the command of God and tells his own soul what to do: “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence…” 

This is what is most often required for the attainment of that hope which has already been purchased for us in Christ. We’ve got to say, whether in morning devotionals, throughout the daily affairs of life, or in the midst of trial, “Bless the Lord, O my soul…”, or, “O my soul, wait in silence…” It is an act of faith in God to take our eyes off of ourselves, off of our phones, off of everything that pulls and beckons for our attention, to look “unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” 

Waiting upon God “alone” with increasing consistency is a crucial attribute in the life of a disciple. It is an evidence of the sanctifying work of God in our lives. If we are not growing in an intimate communion with God through prayer, if we are going days and months without substantial time at His feet, this ought to be a matter of serious concern.

So, how do we grow in the grace of waiting upon God? It is not by convincing God or man that we are devoted by some heroic display. We enter in one way only. We enter boldly into the place of prayer on the basis of the Atonement. Our feelings, our failures, our doubts, our misplaced affections are real, but they are irrelevant to our ascending of the mount. We go up because Christ has torn the veil and provided the only way to true hope. We go up “in His Name,” for “no man comes to the Father but by Me.”

The more time we spend before Him, the greater the frequency of our coming to Him, the more we see of His glory in prayer and in the Scriptures, the more we desire to return to Him; the more we learn to abide in Him.

In the place of prayer, our most refined theological categories become more than accurate theology. The Spirit’s fire descends upon truth, quickens faith, and vitalizes our knowledge of God. We see the source and aim of the faith when we behold Him. The truths of Scripture are enlivened in our souls by faith, and our eyes are opened to behold wondrous things from His Word. We discover again and again a most vital conviction in that place, “that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.” Our idols are exposed, our afflictions can be seen as lighter and more momentary, and the “light of His glory and grace” warms our souls. 

Beholding Him there, seeing Him as He is, we are changed— and the course of our day, the lens through which we see, the aim of our lives is adjusted to His purposes, from glory to glory. The Spirit teaches us how we ought to pray as we wait upon God, and we are given a “taste of the powers of the age to come.” No man ever regretted spending time at Jesus’ feet. Every believing man has regretted his neglect of prayer.

“A true prayer is the echo of the eternal purpose. The Spirit of God leads us to desire exactly what God has decreed.” -Charles Spurgeon

It is a pitiful practice, neglecting such a richly rewarded waiting. It is a cursed striving which seeks to uphold life and play at godliness devoid of the appropriate hope and reverence which comes to us from His felt power and steadfast love. Yet so many who profess the faith would seek to get along without waiting on God alone. So often, we all do.

We may be willing to wait upon a restaurant meal, wait for another episode of our favorite show, wait for all that we anticipate seeing and sharing on smart phones, but to what degree can we be found waiting on God alone? In the deathly cycle of prayerlessness, we hope for hope and do not find it. We reach and consume and grasp for satisfaction in a million different places and find only wind. We make ourselves rich in a world of distractions, and are left empty.

Yet there is real, substantial, life-altering hope for those who are willing to lay the axe to the root of schedule and priorities to wait upon “God alone.” This is an axe that we must daily grasp; one we must swing with earnest intent both day and night. Only that kind of aggressive prioritization will clear the way for prayer.

Are you enjoying this reality, dear saint? It has been purchased for you by the One to Whom “power” and “steadfast love” belong. He has “loved you with an everlasting love,” but you will not abide in that love until your life becomes one which is characterized by this kind of waiting upon Him. “Choose you this day,” yes, every day, whom and what you will treasure; whom and what you will wait upon. Only that son or daughter who chooses by faith to look unto Jesus will abide consciously in the power of His steadfast love. He has both promised to keep us, and charged us to “keep” ourselves “in the love of God.” Prayer is one of the chief means of grace for doing just that.

Take whatever actions you need to take then, children of God. Go to bed earlier that you might rise earlier. Circumcise your usage of the smart phone. Stop worshipping food and entertainment. Abandon the pull to always be the first person hearing news, or the desire to be the life of every party. Silence the multi-faceted clamor and noise of this age, and quiet your soul before Him.

Every purported pleasure which keeps us from prayer will be revealed as a shabby thing at the end of our lives, in comparison with the rock-solid joy, hope, and enlargement of heart that comes from waiting upon Him, beholding Him, being still and knowing that He is God… indeed, that He is your God. Christ has purchased our acceptance with God, but only in prayer do we become acquainted with the “power” of the Good News, and learn to abide in the sweetness of it.

Don’t wait for some ambiguous trigger-situation to beef up your devotional life. It alone is not likely to establish you, anyhow. The Scriptures have given us the clarion call, a firm command, a glorious invitation. “Hope,” “power,” and “steadfast love” will be the portion enjoyed by the child of God who waits upon “God alone.”

“If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy. Cut something out…

We do not drift into spiritual life or disciplined prayer. We will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray.” || D.A. Carson

Commended By God Himself

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Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. || 2 Cor. 3.1-2

Paul begins this chapter with a few rhetorical questions which might not be taken as rhetorical within the realm of current ministry trends. Self-promotion in ministry, and clinical, un-relational commendations abound in our day as they did among the false apostles of the first century. But in light of the character of true apostles, and in light of the intensity of Paul’s relationship to the Corinthian saints, these opening questions carry a note of bewilderment, even a kind of sanctified sarcasm. The saints are questioning Paul’s apostleship and teaching, and he is being pressed to speak “as one foolish” to deliver his point.

It is telling to consider the nature of Paul’s questions. For a true apostle, one who had become their “father in the gospel”, it seemed a shocking thing that he should be expected to commend himself to them. His apostleship, his “sent-ness,” had already been demonstrated to them through much labor, much fellowship, much service, as the Holy Spirit had borne witness to his life and ministry in Corinth. The dullness of the Corinthian saints had driven him to give a defense of his apostleship, not for his sake but for their’s, even though the fruit of Paul’s character had already been more than well-established.

The self-promoting characteristics of many a modern ministry could not be discovered in Paul. He didn’t need to promote himself, for he had been shaped and sent by God Himself. In truth, he didn’t need a letter of recommendation to the Corinthians- to prove his character to their hearts- nor a letter of recommendation from them, as if he needed their approval to speak into their lives. His very life and teaching had already been displayed to them. Indeed, through the apostle, Christ had been displayed to them.

You cannot improve upon what God has wrought in a man with adornments of self-promotion or commendations of the kind that organizations and worldly businesses often utilize. The only reason we think these kinds of things to be necessary in modern ministry is that we haven’t got the kind of character in the nit and grit of life and faith that was central to ministries of men like Paul. We feel the need to dress up the image of our ministries with “bells and whistles” because we do not have the power, substance, and wisdom of Christ in the real-time obediences of our daily lives.

This was not true of Paul. He was a man who knew what it was to “die daily”, to “suffer all things for the sake of the elect”, to continually carry about in his body “the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus might be manifested” among those to whom he was sent.

So then, what was the hallmark of his ministry, that which commended him to the saints? He gives the answer in v. 2:

You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all.

Paul mercifully answers his own rhetorical questions; questions which he didn’t need to answer. “You yourselves” commend my ministry. Not your verbal affirmation and acceptance. “You yourselves.” People. Not my name. Not any external thing that I might use as an adornment. Not a professionally drafted letter of recommendation from a super-apostle. “You yourselves.”

“My sufficiency comes from God Himself,” Paul would say, “and the proof is in the pudding of your own faith in Christ— your reception of that which I have proclaimed and given witness to in your midst. You were previously godless idolaters; now you are sons and daughters of God. You were once in darkness, and now you are walking in the light, however congested your faith might be under the influence of the false apostles who have trampled the house of God in my absence.”

God commends His ministers on the basis of what He has wrought through them in the lives of real people. When a minister is a minister indeed, one who walks with God, one who draws wisdom and grace from God in prayer, one who is submitted to the Scriptures, one who is rightly related to the Church, one who is growing in grace and holiness, the fruit of his labors will be a people- however large or small- growing up into Christ. Therefore, it has been wisely declared:

The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness….
In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. || Robert Murray McCheyne

True ministers are shaped by God Himself, and by the grace that has been given, by that which God has wrought in their personal history, they can say, “Follow me, as I follow Christ.” 

In essence, Paul is saying, “You are our letter of recommendation, for the Gospel has found its lodging in your hearts- you have passed from darkness to light. Through our life and labor, you have come to revere and treasure Christ. Our only credential is this: ‘Christ liveth in me,’ and now He lives in you. Because He is at work in and through us, you have been redeemed, and with all of your weaknesses, all of your seeing in part, all of your remaining sin, He is yet at work in you. Therefore, do not forsake that which has been delivered to you through our witness. Unlike the false apostles who do not know you by the Spirit, you are most precious to us because of Jesus. They would use you for sordid gain. They would draw you after themselves. They would misuse your gifts to advance their self-seeking ministries. We, on the other hand, became brothers to you in true fellowship, and fathers to you in the Gospel. Return to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ, and forsake the mixture of man-centered ministry, worldly distortions of doctrine, and a clinical view of the faith. Remember how you heard of Christ and saw Him demonstrated by the manner of our living amongst you. Our Gospel, our King has apprehended you. It is you, not any earthly adornment, which proves the reality of our service to Christ.”

May it be so in our day, that our ministers would be ministers indeed— Brothers with the saints, grounded in Gospel-imbued fellowship. Soldiers, who bear the fruit of the Spirit, who aren’t playing games with sin, and who can be found at the front of the battle line for the harvest of souls and the building up of the “Church which is His Body.” Fathers, full of wisdom, sobriety, and a joy-filled sense of privileged responsibility as they “shepherd the flock of God, among whom the Holy Spirit” has made them to be “overseers.”

O, to not seek or need adornments and worldly recommendations! O, to be true men of God by the grace that He so generously gives to those who ask, and who are willing daily to take up their crosses! O, for God to be so wonderfully preached and demonstrated, as He was through Paul, even in us! O, for Christ to be “all in all” to His people! O, to bear that most precious of fruits, that we would be able to boast, not in ourselves, but in the Lord, as we look with gratitude upon real people who have been redeemed and are being conformed to His own image through our labors. May it be so, Father, for the glory of Your Son.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. || 1 Cor. 15.58

 

The Fragrance of God-Riveted Servanthood

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…thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. || 2 Cor. 2.14-17

True apostles are men “commissioned by God” Himself, and their witness to Christ constitutes His very “aroma” among men. Upon the basis of flesh, none can be “sufficient” for the realities of apostolic faith, but as men who have by the grace of sanctification been shaped to bear the very aroma of God, the very “sincerity” of Christ, apostles speak “in the sight of God.” The “grace and apostleship” which has been given to them produces a quality of character which Paul describes as a “triumphal procession”— that is, a joy-filled perseverance in the presence of great resistance and suffering, and a manner of living and serving which “spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.” 

The ministry of reconciliation is no light thing. It is a precious privilege, one which requires painstaking attention both to orthodoxy and to orthopraxy. Where ministry is approached in a professional way, where it is perceived and performed according to the wisdom of men, abuses and distortions will abound.

Evidently, in Paul’s day there were “so many” who functioned as mere “peddlers of God’s word.” The number of that “so many” is likely greater in our day, and it behooves us to pray that we would not be found in such a warped condition of heart when the Chief Shepherd appears. Therefore, “Watch closely your life and doctrine.”

It is within the possibilities of grace to serve with the same kind of power and wisdom that the early apostles possessed. Regarding those who were mishandling God’s word and ministering according to the flesh, “we are not like” them.

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake. || 2 Cor. 4.5

The fragrance of God is the fragrance of God-riveted servanthood, the kind of life which is poured out as a drink offering for the sake of His Name, and for the sake of others. There is little room left for self-seeking in the life of a man who has been brought to this glorious place.

We are in profound need of servant-leaders in the Church who have been so wrung out, so emptied, and so filled with the wisdom and power of Christ, that this would be the fragrance of our lives and ministries.

May the Lord have for Himself a company of such servants, in both domestic and pioneer fields, that “this gospel of the kingdom” would “be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.”

Thoughts Upon Broken Ministry Relationships

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If an enemy were insulting me,

I could endure it;

…But it is you, a man like myself,

my companion, my close friend,

with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship

at the house of God,

as we walked about

among the worshipers. || Psalm 55.12-14

It is not the wounds of an enemy that bruise deepest and burn the longest, but rather the wounds that come from those who had been “companions”, “close friends”, and with whom we “once enjoyed sweet fellowship.”

The Psalmist here gives vent to this most trying fact of life, and as it will be the experience of every believer at some point in their lives, it is fitting for us to reflect upon it.

There are seasons of the pilgrimage for every child of God when those with whom we once walked closely are turned against us, and these seasons are filled with perplexities and vexations of soul which have the propensity to dislodge our bearings in the profoundest of ways.

This may occur within the family context, within the context of fellowship, and even within the context of ministry, with those that you’ve sought to build the house of God with. All of these are painful, but the latter can be particularly vexing, as fractured relationships and razed vision give way to unwise, damaging, even sinful ways of handling the aftermath of such collapses.

The Psalmist feels as if he cannot “endure it”, and this may be the case in like experiences through which we are required to pass.

Broken ministry relationships can have stinging reverberations which come back in waves for many years. When we are required by God to hold the line on an issue of Biblical conviction, one which leads to a fallout with another leader who sees things differently, or is perhaps even compromising clear Biblical truth, even the fact that we’ve clung to Godly convictions does not immediately give solace or dissolve the pain of that fractured friendship.

It can be baffling to see how leaders- even Godly men, on many accounts- handle the aftermath of a moral collapse, or how they seek to keep the ministry-house standing, though its foundations be filled with cracks. The accuser of the brethren is always speaking, distance with former companions gives way to suspicions and unfounded assumptions, and confusion, depression, and disillusionment can ebb and flow unexpectedly at any given time, often inexplicably.

Add to that the perpetual question of your own sins and shortcomings, the question of how you may have fallen short in the process, and you have a recipe for the kinds of fatalistic emotions the Psalmist was dealing with at the front-end of this Psalm. A man in this kind of whirlwind is often brought to the same thought, “I cannot endure it.”

Then there is the one who had previously been counted a “close friend.” There is no guarantee that he or she will be brought to repentance and a reconciliation effected. There may be a messy conglomeration of lies, misunderstandings, manipulation, and harsh words included in the package, and the mess of it may not be so clear to others. You may be required to bear knowledge of things about this friend without giving vent to that which you feel would justify your name in the situation.

We must find rest in the Sovereignty of God, knowing that all these things are working for our humbling and sanctification, and that if indeed our former companion belongs to Him, He will see to the discipline and restoration of those that He loves.

In these kinds of situations, the cycle of temptation will be one of self-righteousness, defensiveness, anger, defensiveness, gossip, and unforgiveness. This may be inflamed further when you see the way in which your former companion goes on with his or her life, continuing to function upon the very faulty foundation with which you had such serious concerns from the beginning.


…His talk is smooth as butter,

yet war is in his heart;

his words are more soothing than oil,

yet they are drawn swords.

Cast your cares on the Lord

and he will sustain you;

he will never let

the righteous be shaken. || Psalm 55.21-22

The manipulative man may have speech which is “smooth as butter,” but “war is in his heart.” He may have “soothing” speech to those who do not know his true condition, but his words are “drawn swords” that stab and slice those who stand in the way of his self-driven vision. One of the most tragic things about his deception is that even for him, the destructive dagger may be cloaked in noble aspirations. This makes our fractured relationships to be filled with subtleties, and thus more prone to confusion.

We should not be surprised by this, though we often are. The human heart is deceitful, and we cannot know the depth of our own sinfulness. Our self-life is a jagged thing, and all of its doings leave abrasions and lacerations on the souls of others, and indeed, on our own souls also.

The “war” in a man’s heart is not always so obvious to him. It may not be externally vindictive, his persona may be “smooth as butter”, but don’t be mistaken, there is a war on. He has no hope— we have no hope— except in “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.”

We ought to have mercy upon the one with whom we’ve had a fallout, for in a very poignant sense we are all at war inwardly. The war in the former-companion’s soul is not explained by the Hollywood scenario of “good guy” verses “bad guy.” It is more complex, for the war has to do with sin. Men draw swords to protect their petty kingdoms in ministry because they are not operating upon the sure foundation that only the Father of Lights, the Prince of Peace, and the Spirit of Truth can establish within us.

Wars rage in men’s hearts because they are not living on the basis of Gospel-sonship— they are not free to submit to the Word and to a local body of believers because they are not free indeed. They have something in keeping with their own name yet to prove. Thus they go about responding to the itch for significance, and however soothing their persona might be, they are likely to butcher the clear requirements of Scripture and to sink their swords into anyone who would love them enough to raise a question about the fragmented foundation they’re seeking to build upon.

They may never come to a willingness to hear true correction from loving brethren, and you cannot cater to that unwillingness or give false affirmation to their ministry, or else you cease to love truth and cease to love them. You cannot compromise the Scriptures, you must hold the line, and this includes both holding fast to Biblical convictions, and doing all that you do “in love,” with a heart of mercy. This is a supernatural task.

We are a broken people, indeed. In every kind of ministry expression- foreign missions, local churches, para-church works- there are men and women operating in unqualified ways. They may give heed to certain Scriptures which feed their ministry visions and identities, but they do not give ample heed to Scriptures which pertain to Gospel foundations, nor to the nature of what God requires of His workers.

We are all subject to deception in these ways, and it is only through much prayer, painstaking attention to the Scriptures, keeping in step with the Holy Spirit, and vulnerable, accountable fellowship with the saints that we find clarity and help to build the house of God aright. The neglect of these ancient paths has produced many a bruised reed and many an aborted ministry (even if the shell of that ministry endures), in the pursuit even of noble endeavors.

We are not qualified for ministry by any talent or attribute of the flesh, we are qualified only by God, in accordance with the faith which has been articulated in the Divinely-breathed wisdom of Holy Scripture.

The ramifications of fractured relationships are grave unless grace intervenes. There is only one remedy here for the Psalmist, and for us.

Cast your cares on the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.

Taking up our cross means daily relinquishing our rights for a turbulence-free life; daily relinquishing any ties we would maintain for revenge, and instead offering up perpetual forgiveness; daily offering up secret intercessions for those who may have wronged us; daily relinquishing any thought that were we in the shoes of our offender, we would have been any wiser or acted any better, apart from the grace of God.

Casting our cares upon the LORD means entrusting our past, present, and future to the hands of the Potter, and leaving our former companions to His dealings, the One who is faithful and true, and who is coming soon to give reward and recompense, according to what each of us has done. There is a Day coming when all of our thoughts, words, and ministry endeavors will be tried by the fire of God. He will reward His people for all that has been given of Him, built in accordance with His way. All else will be reduced to ashes.

It behooves us to examine ourselves, to see to it that we be found in faith, and that we ourselves are building the church in the manner and spirit that God would have us to, knowing that “we shall all stand before the Judgment seat of Christ.” This truth provides hope for our pilgrimage, and that amazing grace which teaches our hearts to fear rightly.

We can be sure that as we are made righteous through the Gospel, as we seek rest only in Christ, He will sustain us. The righteous are not righteous of their own accord. They are those who have been justified by Christ and who are thus continuing in faith and repentance. They are those who are continually being reformed by the Scriptures and refined by the Spirit. They will never be shaken.

It is in that one hope that the war in our hearts may be silenced. It is in that one hope that the war in the hearts of our former friends may be brought into the self-same peace- a happy surrender to the King and His Kingdom. Let us pray for that sweet reality to be brought to bear in our own lives, in the lives of our enemies, and in the lives of our former companions.

May it be so for the sake of Your Name, You Who are both Faithful and True, the One who has purposed to “reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.” Be so merciful to us, that we would be found in that privileged company of friends, that we would grow up into Christ and be made whole together in Him, even with former-companions restored to us as brethren, tasting together the goodness of God, entering together into the joy of His everlasting Kingdom. We ask these things in good faith that it would be pleasing to Your heart, O God. Amen.

Yahweh Was Pleased to Crush Him

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“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned- every one- to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
…it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.” || Isaiah 53.6, 10

This eschatological acknowledgment and prayer of the remnant of Israel is charged with Gospel-revelation, and proves meat indeed to the child of God. I haven’t the time nor space here to exposit the whole of Isaiah 53, but let us gather a few stones from this pristine brook for our battle against our daily Goliath of “the world, the flesh, and the devil.”

Let it first be remembered that “all we like sheep have gone astray.” We have turned to our “own way” by nature. The wisdom of a ruptured age has been our worldview, and unless the “light of the knowledge of the Glory of God” had “shone in our hearts” through the “face” of the suffering Servant, we would be as sheep without a shepherd, wandering in the wastelands of sin.

We cannot overestimate the significance of the Atonement and the Divine revelation which issues from it, and it alone. “The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” The Father has laid upon the Son the sins of His people, and the wrath which was our due portion was borne by the one Mediator. This is a truth worth living and dying for.

J. Alec Motyer translates v. 10a,

“Yahweh was Himself pleased to crush Him.” (From Heaven He Came and Sought Her, Crossway, 2013)

This does not define the Father as one Who takes delight in crucifixion or violence, but rather as One Whose passion for His glory, and the subsequent joy which results for His people, makes the once and for all sacrifice of His Son to be a gloriously necessary event for the demonstration of His “manifold wisdom.” He “so loved the world that He gave” His Beloved Son up to an utterly final death, a sacrifice so perfect that it could not but eventuate in resurrection. There is unparalleled beauty here, though the slain Lamb “was despised and rejected by men… esteemed… not.” 

The Father delighted in this crushing sacrifice, for by it His “will” would “prosper”, the “many” would “be accounted righteous,” and out of the “anguish of His soul” He would “see and be satisfied.” The Triune God delighted unanimously in the Cross. It was not an alternative plan, but was rather the Father’s “kind intention,” a plan to which the Son submitted “for the joy set before Him,” (Heb. 12.12) and it was “through the eternal Spirit” (Heb. 9.14) that He offered Himself up until the work was “finished.” (Jn. 19.30) Behold, the New and Everlasting Covenant of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

To behold the pleasure of God in the Cross, through sin-mangled hearts apprehended by faith in the One Who has purchased our souls— this is at the root of our everlasting joy. We who had “gone astray” were brought by His pleasure to the place by which we were deemed “accepted in the Beloved,” that is, accepted by God through the “offering for guilt” which the Son has accomplished, “because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors…”

The Holy One, the Suffering Servant, the One Mediator, the holy vessel of Creation and Restoration, the coming King of Israel, the Eternal Son of God, was numbered… with us! And because of what He has accomplished and applied, “He is not ashamed to call us His brethren.”

“…even as He (the Father) chose us in Him (the Son) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has made us to be accepted in the Beloved.” || Eph. 1.4-6

O, child of God, when did you last settle your soul in the unshakable truth of your acceptance in the Beloved One? In his masterful commentary on Isaiah, Motyer sheds further light for our help:

The Servant who died for the salvation of sinners lives to administer the salvation He accomplished. The true meaning (of v. 12) is, ‘I will give Him the many as His portion’- ‘the many’ being the whole company for whom the Savior died. || The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary, Intervarsity Press, 1993

He goes on to translate v. 10b, “in His hand Yahweh’s pleasure will flourish.” In the hand of the Divine-Messiah-Servant, the pleasure of the Father would “sprinkle many nations” and permeate the cosmos. Many nations have been sprinkled, shall be sprinkled yet more, and when His Day has come, the pleasure of God in His Son will cause every stagnant and murky stream of thought and existence to be purified, and to teem with newness of life.

“The Church which is His Body” has received the down payment of this reality. We who had gone astray, we who had counted the suffering Servant as unworthy of affection, are now enjoying that precious permeation, and the future nation of Israel shall know that refreshing as well, when the Servant is revealed from heaven as the slain and risen King of her redemption.

This glorious truth is the ballast for the storm, children.

Thus are our trials transfigured, for-

“we are the trees whom shaking fastens more.” (G. Herbert)

Thus are our sins spiked to the tree, and their accusing remembrances silenced.

Thus our Adamic fallenness is bleeding out and will one day breathe its last.

Thus are we being conformed to the image of the Suffering Servant.

Thus will the whole of this ruptured world be cleansed with fire, mended by the Potter, and renewed irrevocably with Gospel sweetness.

“Light and momentary afflictions” find their value and meaning here. Our missionary task finds its foundation here. The One true God is known, treasured, and glorified here.

Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world. || John 1.29

“It is finished,” “upon this Rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” 

Bask in this Light today, saints. Let it warm and enliven your weary frame, and let it shine before men, that they may too cherish Him, and praise the One Who was pleased to crush His Son for the sake of all who would, through faith, become recipients of His endless delight.

 

Eschatological Reflections Upon the 46th Psalm

Jerusalem“‘Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!’ The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” -Ps. 46.10-11

I want here to peer into the eschatological character of the 46th Psalm.

It ought to be noted that the Korahitic Psalms in chapters 46-48 find historical bearings in the narrative of 2 Chronicles 20-22. This is worthy of our consideration, to be sure, but I am convinced that the fullest meaning of these songs cannot be grasped or appreciated unless it is seen through the lens of an eschatological recovery of Davidic dynasty, with Messiah Jesus set in place as the King and Redeemer of Israel. These are eschatological Psalms, charged with the powers of prophetic grace, and the 46th is not the least of them.

Hans-Joachim Kraus tells us:

“Psalm 46 radiates trust and certainty.” [H. J. Kraus, A Contintental Commentary: Psalms 1-59, Fortress Press, 1993]

I believe that the ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm, permeated as it is with the certitude of apocalyptic salvation, will not be discovered until the Day of the Lord, when the “survivors of the wilderness”, the “remnant of My people” shall return to Jerusalem with brokenness, gratitude, and “everlasting joy upon their heads”. This will be one of the many songs that will issue spontaneously from the newly redeemed nation, and it will be “marvelous in our eyes.”

There is a clear connection between this Psalm and the prophetic hope of the Scriptures. F. Delitzsch, in his classic work on the Psalms, writes:

“Isaiah and this Psalm are remarkably linked together. Just as Ps. 2 is, as it were, the quintessence of the book of Immanuel, Isa. ch. 7-12, so is Ps. 46 of Isa. ch. 33, that concluding discourse to Isa. ch. 28-32, which is moulded in a lyric form, and was uttered before the deliverance of Jerusalem at a time of the direst distress.” [Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, 2006]

There is a remarkable linkage between this Psalm and the book of Isaiah. Indeed, it seems to feed into the prophetic testimony of Scripture on a larger scale, impregnating the prophetic anticipation with the theology of a God who is Himself a covenantal refuge for His people; the One who alone will soon quiet the tumult of the nations, and heal once-and-for-all the deep-seated malady of Israel’s historic sins. In that day, they shall sing:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” [v. 1]

It is no accident that the Lord is described as ‘a very present help in trouble’. Martin Luther translated this portion thusly: “…a very present help in the great distresses which have come upon us.” This is perhaps not the best translation, but it does communicate something of the magnitude of trouble that the Lord was addressing through the prophetic singers.

I believe this transcends the historical account of 2 Chronicles, and calls our attention to that time which lies ahead- the time of penultimate distress and judgment, and the ultimate redemption which will follow. It is called “the time of Jacob’s distress” in Jeremiah 30.6-7, “a time of trouble, such as never has been since there was a nation till that time”in Daniel 12.1. Our Lord Himself used the same language in Matthew 24.21, and Isaiah described it in this way:

“Wail, for the day of the Lord is near; as destruction from the Almighty it will come!
Therefore all hands will be feeble, and every human heart will melt.
They will be dismayed: pangs and agony will seize them; they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at one another; their faces will be aflame.
Behold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.” [Isaiah 13.6-9]

This “time of distress” will be a horrific and unparalleled time of Anti-Semitism throughout the Middle East, and out into every land. The ill-boding winds of this storm have already begun to blow in the nations, and we are not far off from the time when the final tumultuous things- which lead to the final redemption- will be set into motion. There must needs be a Church in the nations which understands and is prepared to function as vessels of mercy toward the Jew, though they be pursued by enemies on every side.

The cutthroat vehemence of Islam, the swell of Anti-Semitism throughout the nations, the popularity of “replacement/fulfillment theology” in academic and missions endeavors, these ought all to concern us prophetically, pastorally, and missionally. We must be a people which trembles before God’s word, lest we grow “wise in our own conceit”, and find that we are neglecting or fighting against His own grand purpose. We as the Church have a call to the people Israel; it is missional, just as is our call to all nations, but it bears a specificity that has long been neglected. It is the “ministry of reconciliation”, and it applies to us both now, and in the events immediately leading up to the Lord’s return.

We who have been “grafted in”, and who “now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree”, are fastened to the people Israel in the “bond” of the Gospel covenant. We need to pray and labor for the salvation of many in our day, situated as they are throughout many cities in the earth, and to be fitted to “feed” them in the coming wilderness; the time of trouble which is yet to come. We must necessarily see the people Israel as beloved of God, though they are largely a people still bound in the hardness of their own sin, and this will be especially costly as the nations increasingly “rage” against them. We are to bear a wisdom contrary to that of the world- it is the wisdom of the Cross, the wisdom of mercy, the wisdom which silences the proud boast of man, and magnifies the righteousness and kindness of God. Nothing lesser will fit us to be to them what God is calling us to be. Mere interest in things Jewish, much less any kind of supercessionism, will not be sufficient to make of us a witness-mercy-people to Jacob. Sentimentality cannot pierce the hardening. Only the Gospel, preached and demonstrated in power, can penetrate that veil, and indeed it must. Indeed, it will.

We’ve got to see by the eye of the Spirit, a seeing which is founded upon His precious Word. We have a prophetic call as a people, to “declare to My people their transgressions and to the house of Jacob their sins”;  to live as “broken bread and poured out wine” [Chambers] on their behalf; to point them to the Atonement Lamb, their own Messiah, Who was “despised and rejected by men”, “pierced through” for their “transgressions”, “crushed” for their “iniquities”, and by Whose wounds they will one day be “healed” as a nation.

Already we hear the early rumblings of that diabolical “rage against the holy covenant”, and its tremors can be felt throughout the Middle East, through much of Europe, and it is peppered out through all nations.

Jewish history bears the long, painful story of the spasms of certain triumphs and colossal sufferings, showers of mercy and seasons of national chastening, and that painful story has not yet reached the close of its final chapter.

Who shall weep and pray for the Jew? Who shall befriend him sacrificially? Who shall tell him of Christ’s “once-and-for-all” sacrifice and of His soon coming to deliver His people and establish the Kingdom upon the holy hill of Zion? Not Islam! Not western media! Not supercessionist scholarship! Not nominal Christian religionists! No! It is our responsibility. It behooves the the Church in our day- She who finds herself in a continuum with the prophets and apostles of old, She who is made up mostly of Gentiles- it behooves Her to take up this“yoke” and “burden” for the salvation and everlasting joy of the Jewish Nation. It is a burden which belongs to the King of Israel. To carry it with Him until the day of His appearing is the profoundest of privileges; to neglect it is to make of the church and its mission a sub-apostolic, sub-Pauline distortion.

This issue of Israel is no trinket of eschatology, saints. The “man of sin” is no cartoon villain. Biblical apocalyptic expectations are no mere genre of literature, subject to the sizing-up of scholars and historians. It is the Word of God Himself, and we stand before its majesty. It is not subject to us. We are subject to it, so long as we are seeing rightly. Much that has been prophesied in Scripture is already afoot in the earth, and we must learn to live as a Danielic people, clinging to the Word, devoting our lives to prayer, and living as incarnational witnesses in the midst of a Babylonian age.

This time of trouble will mean the final discipline of Yahweh’s beloved covenant people Israel, and an elect remnant “shall be saved out of it.” The tribulation will be “like no other”,but the prophets testify of it’s brevity, and we have the sure word that the vehement hatred of the nations will be immediately halted when the Lord returns to raise the righteous dead, to destroy the “one who makes desolate”, to judge the nations, and to rescue and redeem the remnant of His people.

In that day, when the Gospel is “writ large through the experience of the remnant” (as one of my mentors used to say), that is, on a national scale, Israel shall declare for the first time with a united, God-intoxicated, nation-voice: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The apostle reminds us that “God is able to graft them in again”, and so He shall. When He does, their joy will be full; their faith, on a national scale, will never fail again. The fulfillment of the “everlasting covenant” [Jer. 32.37-42], that is, the eschatological salvation of Israel and Her final return to the Land, will irrevocably put the Gospel of God’s “glorious grace” on display; and this, in a most breathtaking manner.

“Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” [Ez. 37.28]

Marvel, child of God. You have a role in the unfolding of this “eternal purpose”.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. [vv. 2-3]

The magnitude and power of God’s judgments and mercies will brand the future remnant- and indeed, the whole of created order- with a kind of priestly fearlessness. What they will have witnessed with their own eyes, in terms of the sweep and scope of God’s judgments, as well as the copious power of His goodness in  the eschatological redemption, will fashion them as a people who “live, move, and have their being” “by the power of an indestructible life”. They will go on into the Millennial time bearing that life and witness unto the nations.

They will never fear Islamic rage or the predicament of their own unrighteousness again. The wrath of God, and the ancient veil of hardness, will have been irrevocable lifted from them. The Ancient of Days will “hide His face from them no more.”

Though apocalyptic cataclysms and cosmic shakings have occurred, though their long history has been so blighted with national apostasies, they will finally be at rest in the righteousness and presence of their Messiah-Saviour, and this will settle them, both inwardly and externally, as they have never before been settled- in the “bond of the covenant”, “with none to make them afraid”. They will no longer trust in military power. They will no longer seek after a righteousness of their own through a Christ-less Judaism. They will no longer self-medicate on New Age festivals, orgies, drunkenness, narcotics, or the pursuit of enlightenment on pilgrimages to India and Nepal. “Messiah shall be all in all.”

God alone is our all in all. All other refuges are refuges of lies, all other strength is weakness, for power belongeth unto God… God is all-Sufficient… He is more present than friend or relative can be, yea, more nearly present than even the trouble itself. [Charles H. Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Vol. 2, Funk and Wagnalls, 1886]

They will have been saved from Satan’s rage “against the holy covenant”, saved from the age-old pressure of prejudice from Anti-Semitic peoples, saved from their own sin, and saved from the wrath of God. This realization will crash in upon them at the Day of the Lord, like a mighty waterfall upon the cracked desert floor, when they shall “look upon Me whom they have pierced”. When they are permitted to “look full in His wonderful face”, “even the trouble itself” will diminish in their minds, “in the light of His glory and grace.”

“When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, We were like those who dream.” [Ps. 126.1]

In that day, they shall declare, “God alone is our all in all,” and “the nations will know” by that national witness, that Jesus- the King of Israel- is also the Lord of heaven and of earth.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. [vv. 4-7]

This strophe gives description to a “river whose streams make glad the city of God”,  Jerusalem, which will become in striking manifest manner, “the holy habitation of the Most High”. He has already staked His claim on the city. It is a Divinely elected Land, and His election of that Land is calculated to stumble and offend the pride of the nations. For those who have an “ear to hear what the Spirit says”, this is an immeasurably sweet thing. For our humbling is His exaltation, and His exaltation is our eternal joy and perpetual good.

“For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: ‘This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.’” [Ps. 132.13-14]

The eschatological river will make Jerusalem “glad” in a watershed way when the Lord returns, but it must be noted that the gladness of that river has become the portion of the saints in this age. Our Lord declared: “He who believes in Me, out from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” The Church is to be a pilgrim people, tasting the “powers of the age to come”, treasuring the King of Israel, who has become our King and Redeemer, and to set forth a witness of His grace by the force of that same river, which is the life and virtue of the Spirit of holiness Himself. Hear Delitzsch again:

“What is intended is the river of grace, which is also likened to a river of paradise…”

It is the grace and life of God, on the basis of the New Covenant, which makes of us a glad people; a people stilled and contented, in the Jesus Himself. Kraus describes the future city thusly:

“Delighted by streams, like a paradisiacal place, the ‘city of God’ appears in v. 4. Pictures of an archetypal tradition illumine the sanctuary.”

Oh, how brightly Jerusalem will one day be illumined! And how glorious are the prospects for the Church in this age- that people which has received the palpable down payment of the full-orbed resurrection glory to come. Are we living in a manner that gives witness to the paradise to come? Are the “righteousness, peace and joy” which characterize the Kingdom of God finding expression through us? Are we “delighted by streams” of grace, and is the “sanctuary” that we are as the people of God illumined by the “river whose streams make glad” the whole of His house? We need to be experimentally cognizant of the fact that on the basis of the Atonement, “the LORD of hosts is with us”, and it is only on this basis that we shall have the power and grace to invite “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, and indeed, the nations themselves, to “look unto Jesus”. To see and treasure Him, whether by the eye of faith or face to face in the Resurrection, this is the glory of the Gospel. Are we seeing Him? Are we treasuring Him? To do so is to drink of the gladdening stream, and this alone will make us His witnesses.

“Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how He has wrought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; 

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the chariots with fire.
‘Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!’
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.” [vv. 8-11]

The final strophe invites us to behold the “works of the LORD.” This refers to the “desolations” that He will bring upon the earth in the “Day of His power”, the “Day of His appearing”, the “Day of the LORD”. This speaks not only of the trouble that will come to Jacob, and the subsequent outpouring of eschatological mercy, but also of the devastation that God will bring upon ungodly nations; those nations who did not “know God” and who obeyed “not the Gospel”; those nations who took delight in their ill-treatment of Israel, the LORD’s “firstborn son”. Just as the Lord used Assyria and Babylon to discipline the nation Israel, then turned to judge the same nations for their pride, idolatry, bloodlust, and prejudices, so shall He do at the turn of this age. The soil of the earth will be compressed with the weight of war and tumult, the image of God in mankind will be smeared and devalued by the ravages of combat, and the Lord will return “in flaming fire” to purge the nations, silence the storm, and to quiet His people in the warmth of His shepherding, redeeming love. Hear Delitzsch again:

“The prospect of the end of war reminds us of the familiar prediction of Is. 2, closely resembling Micah 4, of eternal peace… The mind of Isaiah and that of Jeremiah have, each in its own peculiar way, taken germs of thought [lit., become impregnated] from this Psalm.”

It is only in this context that we will be able say, in the fullest Biblical sense, that the Kingdom of God has been established. This recovery and establishment of the Davidic throne will take place in Jerusalem, that city which until His appearing will have been the center of the controversy and tumult. In that glorious Day, the prophet tells us:

“Many nations will come and say, ‘Come and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD And to the house of the God of Jacob, That He may teach us about His ways And that we may walk in His paths.’ For from Zion will go forth the law, Even the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” -Micah 4.2

So Hans Joachim-Kraus writes:

“From the city of God YHWH is able to give evidence of His power ‘to the ends of the earth.’ The area of influence is universal; the center of the world is the hill of God [Is. 2.2].”

Artur Weiss tells us that in this strophe “the psalm now reaches its climax”.

The Divine command, “Be still and know that I am God”, is two-fold.

Firstly, to the nations, it is a word of apocalyptic woe, so as to say, “Your manner of government and life, your whole center of motive and being, I am now revealing as an idolatrous affront against My glory. In living according to your own vain imaginings, in your mistreatment of my elect People and Land, you have heaped up sin and treasured it above Me and My Word. You have not loved humility and truth. You have relished in a manner of living and thinking that is totally opposed to the beauty and glory of My Kingdom. My Son will now appear to call to an end your bloodlust, your arrogance, your child-trafficking, your pornographic empires, your self-righteousness, your greed, your man-centered nationalism, your lust for power, your abuse of the widow and the orphan, and the various kinds of religion and anti-religion which constitute an accumulation of thousands of years and multiplied billions of boastings against My Name and My throne. You have not acknowledged My Son, and you’ve been lapping at the spilled water from broken cisterns instead. You have done this in all of your wars and in all of your playing. It will not go on any longer. Be still and know that I am God! My Day has come. In My mercy and long-suffering I have waited until this appointed time, and it is now come. I will be exalted, and it will be for Me, and for My people, the entry into a Sabbath age in which My righteousness, peace and joy will permeate and govern the earth. The nations will study war no more, and My Son will rule with ‘universal sway’ from Zion.”

Secondly, it is a word to the remnant of Israel, passing into the Millennial time in natural bodies, newly redeemed and filled with the Holy Spirit as an entire nation. It is a word so as to say, “Be still. Though you had also been drinking from broken cisterns; though you sought to establish a righteousness of your own; though you were concerned with prosperity and affluence instead of My Name; though you had rejected my Son, your Atonement Lamb and your Messiah-King; though you trusted in man-centered government, military power, and all kinds religions that do not glorify My Son; though you were instigators against Me, and were engaged in all kinds of immoralities even within the Land that I have elected; though you had been reduced to cowering by the surrounding nations, I am mighty to save you from it all. Though ‘your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow’; though you had been ‘broken off’ as a nation, I am able to graft you in again, and indeed, I have great and ineffable delight in doing so. It is for the magnification of My righteousness and grace, and it is upon the basis of My covenantal love for you. I will ‘rejoice over you with gladness’, I will ‘quiet you by My love’. Be still and know that I am God– even your God- and I will be exalted in the nations of the earth.”

“The reason why the presumptuous sinner fears so little, and the despairing soul so much, is for want of knowing God as great; therefore, to cure them both, the serious consideration of God, under this notion, is propounded: ‘Be still, and know that I am God;’ as if He had said, ‘Know, O ye wicked, that I am God, who can avenge Myself when I please upon you, and cease to provoke Me by your sins to your own confusion; and again, know, ye trembling souls, that I am God; and therefore able to pardon the greatest sins, and cease to dishonor Me by your unbelieving thoughts of Me.’” [William Gurnall, quoted in Spurgeons ‘Treasury of David’]

In that Day, the presumptuous and sinful nations who had abused their power and feared so little, will be reduced to ashes. And the remnant of Israel, whose “power” had been brought to an end during the final “time of distress”, and who had no other hope remaining, will be crowned with lovingkindness at the appearance of Her long-awaited Messiah-Redeemer. Her heart, riddled with fear and hopelessness and disillusionment up to the last moment, will experience the tidal rush of Gospel redemption on a national scale. Her sin, anxiety, fear, confusion, bewilderment, pride, and unbelief will be swept beneath the waves of covenantal mercy, and She will once and for all be stilled in the presence of redeeming love. She will know that the Lamb Who was slain, the Father Who sent Him, the Spirit Who will then rest upon Her, is God indeed.

She will glory as no other nation has gloried, not in the exaltation of Herself, but in deepest worship of Her God, through the sure Mediator, Her suffering Servant-King, Her Atoning Lamb, Her Greater David, Her Faithful and True Friend, Her Lord and Her God. “None shall make her afraid” again, and we, enjoying the wonder of Resurrection realities, shall share joyfully in the earthly establishment of the selfsame Kingdom. Together, with the remnant we shall declare:

“The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” [v. 11]

“Everlasting joy” will be upon our incorruptible heads. Let us now live in the light of that which is to come. May our life together and our mission to our cities, to the Jewish people, and to unreached regions of the earth in these dark days be themselves a palpable, tangible demonstration of the power and grace that will rest upon Israel in the coming golden age.

“The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of prayer. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, for love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies- in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” To Him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Peter 4.7-11]

15 Pauline Passions That Burn Too Dimly in the Modern Church

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1. A Passion for God’s Glory.

“…our God and Father, to Whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.” ||Gal. 1.4b-5

“…do all for the glory of God.” || 1 Cor. 10.31b

2. A Passion to Know Jesus Christ.

“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” || Phil. 3.8

3. A Passion for the Gospel.

“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel…” || Rom. 1.16a

4. A Passion for Preaching.

“So I am eager to preach the gospel…” || Rom. 1.15a

“…we preach Christ crucified…” || 1 Cor. 1.23a

“…I was appointed a preacher…” || 1 Tim. 2.7a

5. A Passion for Prayer.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer…” || Col. 4.2a

6. A Passion for the Familial Character of the Church.

“For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” || 1 Cor. 4.15

“Let brotherly love continue.” || Heb. 13.1

7. A Passion for Elder-led Churches.

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you…” || Titus 1.5

“And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” || Acts 14.23

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” || Acts 20.28

8. A Passion for Domestic Mission.

“…always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” || 2 Tim. 4.5

9. A Passion for Character and Sound Doctrine.

“Keep a close watch on yourself and on your teaching.” || 1 Tim. 4.16a

“…teach what accords with sound doctrine.” || Titus 2.1

10. A Passion for the Unreached/Unengaged Peoples of the Earth.

“…I make it my ambition to preach the Gospel, not where Christ has already been named…” || Rom. 15.20a

“…our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence along you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the Gospel in lands beyond you…” || 2 Cor. 10.15-16a

11. A Passion for the Mystery of Israel and Her Salvation.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” || Rom. 10.1

“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers… all Israel shall be saved…” || Rom. 11.25-26

12. A Passion for Spirit-Endued Community and Mission.

“Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.” || 1 Cor. 14.1

“Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored…” || 2 Thess. 3.1a

13. A Passion for Kingdom Priorities in All of Life.

“…let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see to it that she respects her husband.” || Eph. 5.33

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord… Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” || Eph. 6.1, 4

“…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands… so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” || 1 Thess. 4.11-12

“Owe no one anything…” || Rom. 13.8a

“Be generous and ready to share…” || 1 Tim. 6.18

14. A Passion for the “Poured-Out” Life.

“I will most gladly spend and be spend for your souls.” || 2 Cor. 12.15

“…we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves…” || 1 Thess. 2.8

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering…” || 2 Tim. 4.6a

15. A Passion for the Resurrection, the Day of the Lord, and the Return of Jesus Christ.

“…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” || Phil. 3.10-11

“…we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” || Rom. 8.23

“…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” || Titus 2.13

10 Sure-Fire Ways to Do Sub-Apostolic Missions

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1. Devalue prayer (Eph. 6.18-20)

2. Diminish Theology (Titus 2.1)

3. Build para-church ministries rather than making disciples and planting churches (Mt. 28.19/Titus 1.5)

4. Cheapen the importance of nurturing churches of the Acts 2.42-47 kind (2 Cor. 11.28)

5. Seek to avoid suffering (Col. 1.24-26)

6. Labor organizationally without the vitality of true and loving fellowship (1 Jn. 1.5-9)

7. Own paradigms that cater to cowardice (Acts 21.13)

8. Fail to earnestly desire the gifts and work of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 14.1)

9. Preach fads rather than the Cross (1 Cor. 2.2)

10. Redefine the Biblical view of Israel, and thus fail to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom (Rom. 11.25-27)