God Wants His Children to Have Rest

Do you ever wish you could just stop the world for a day?

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from His works as God did from His.”  (Hebrews 4:9-10)

“Workin’ for the Weekend” is the joyful chorus of an old song.  “Thank God it’s Friday” goes a popular saying.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve definitely said that a few times.

I’m realizing more and more that woven into the fabric of the human soul is the desire for rest – not just sleep, but a time of stepping back and letting go of the pressures and pressing demands of everyday work and life.

We are all wired for Sabbath.

Yet, have you ever noticed how difficult it can be sometimes to find rest, or even to take it when it’s offered to us?  Somehow, getting off the proverbial treadmill is harder than it looks.  Why is that?

Maybe it’s the fact that there is a nagging and persistent idea lodged into the fabric of the human heart: “If I don’t take care of myself, no one will.”  It comes from all sorts of places, but it seems like it’s a constant in almost all of us.  We doubt that things will work out without our efforts, so we drive ourselves constantly and refuse to answer the call to simply rest and trust God.  Even in the life of a Christian, if we’re not careful, that doubt can drive us to places we don’t want to go.

Maybe you’re felt or said things like these before…

“I’d better go to church so God is happy with me.”
“I really should read my Bible more.”
“I need to be doing more for God.”

Sound familiar?  These are ideas that rattle around in the souls of so many believers, yet even when we do all the right things, how often do we still feel it’s just not enough?

If you know that feeling, then I have good news.  God wants your life to be better than this…

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “For we who have believed enter that rest.” (Hebrews 4:3)  What rest is it that we enter?  “Whoever has entered into God’s rest has also rested from His works as God did from His.” (4:10)

The invitation to Sabbath is not another duty to be performed, but a delight to be enjoyed!  God calls to His children, “Trust me.  Believe in my love and care for you.  Trust Jesus to take care of your life like He said He would, and just rest.

God isn’t demanding good works from us to remain in His favor, but describing a life where we simply choose to rest in His love and believe in His ability to be God so we don’t have to try so hard.

The funny thing is that it’s often much easier to keep working than to stop and trust Jesus to handle things without our involvement.  That’s why the passage continues by saying, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…” (Hebrews 4:11a)  This is not a contradiction in terms.  It is a reminder that to trust is to fight that little doubt in our mind that says we must handle things ourselves or risk losing everything.

To trust is to let God be God and admit that we are not, and to forcibly push aside our anxiety about tomorrow and simply trust God for today.  It’s not an easy task, but when we silence the voice of relentless self-sufficient worry, we will at last hear the restful sound of the music our souls long to hear:

The sound of Sabbath.

Do you struggle with taking “Sabbath” time to rest?  What helps you do it?

And Justice for All (pt2)

How do we “reconcile” justice and mercy for those who hurt us?

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:16-19

Years ago I owned a small business, and experienced first hand the long labor of constantly having to reconcile accounts. Looking at cash receipts and register tape, accounting software reports and bank statements, it was a process that demanded focus and patience, and there was a right way to reconcile the books and plenty of wrong ways, as well.

God is also in the reconciling business. We read this passage and typically think about individual relationships. We see “reconciliation” as the process by which two people are brought into harmony with one another as they should have been all along, and that is totally correct.

But there is another facet of “reconciliation” in God’s economy.

The Bible is clear that the blood of Christ is offered to all, freely, graciously, without respect to personal history or nationality. It says in this passage that “in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them,” and we see that those who accept His offer are then “in Christ,” made new and made right with God. Their trespasses are not counted against them and they who were once in opposition to His holiness and justice are brought into harmony with it through the cross.

Those who refuse to be “in Christ” are also included in God’s reconciliation, but in a different way. They are in opposition to His holiness and justice, and must be brought in line with it. If the offer of Christ’s blood is refused, then God will reconcile them to His holiness through their own.

A desire for revenge and personal satisfaction has no place in the heart of a follower of Jesus. May we not lose sight, though, of the demand for justice from a holy God, and the privilege and right for His established authorities to be the ones to carry it out.

(Note: this post is part two of two. Read part one here.)

Affections Unrestricted

 What sorts of “affections” does Jesus call us to?

“You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections.  In return (I speak as to children) widen your hearts also.” -2 Corinthians 6:12-13

The spirit of religion is all about restriction.  “Don’t do this.”  “Avoid them.”  “Stay away from that.”  In the name of holiness, religion more often produces segregation.

The biggest danger in this is that it suddenly becomes very natural to also restrict our love and compassion, giving it only to those who are “like us” and who have passed some test of moral orthodoxy.

This is nothing more than self-imposed slavery and nothing less than an affront to the Gospel.

Religion says, “We look after our own.”  The Gospel says, “We look after all of our neighbors that we can.”

Religion says, “We love the family of God.”  The Gospel says, “We love the family of humanity that God made in His image and loved through the blood of His Son.”

Religion says, “We take care of the needs of our church members only.”  The Gospel says, “We take care of our church first, but then spread as wide as we can to meet the needs of as many as possible, in Jesus’ name.”

True joy and holiness does not come from restraining evil deeds, but in the holy overflow of an unrestrained heart whose affections are unrestricted, both towards God and our fellow man.

Be free today!

Stillness Brings You Clarity

Stillness Brings You Clarity

The backwater lake shimmered in the light of the mid-morning sun.

Ripples danced through the water like figure skaters on ice, making chaotic patterns interspersed with brief moments of circular perfection where the fish poked up for a bite to eat.

Across the water was a stand of cypress trees, their ghost-white forms stretching high into a cobalt and cotton-ball sky, with only their thick layers of spanish moss weighing them down.

It was a place of peace.

As I sat there in the quiet, a thought occurred to me.  Looking at the rippling lake, it was very easy to distinguish between the reality of the trees and their reflection in the water.  While the water echoed the image, it was imperfect, incomplete and unstable.  To see what the trees were really like, I would have to stop looking down at the reflection and look up at the reality.

The same is true about the way we see our lives.

The Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that “we see through a glass darkly,” and that as much as we’d like to, we can never truly see things with total clarity on this side of heaven.  As much as we would like to look up and see the world as it really is, we can’t.

So what can we do?

Looking back at the lake it occurred to me how much more clearly I would be able to see the reflection of the trees if the water were still.  Without the restless surface activity, it would be simply to see with greater clarity.

So it is with life.

There will likely never be a time when there isn’t a ready supply of responsibilities and diversions to keep us occupied.  Our whole culture is built on the idea that busyness is a good thing, and that the more you DO the more successful you ARE.  Yet, without regular moments to rest and reflect, it’s doubtful we’ll ever be able to see as clearly as we would if we made the time to simply stop and be still.

As you look at your life, take the time to plan in moments of quiet.

Have the courage to get off the treadmill of life and just sit for a while.

When you do, you may find that whole new worlds open up to you, because stillness brings you clarity.

-Pastor Phillip

Grace is Your Antidote to Bitterness

Have you discovered how subtly bitterness can sneak in to your soul?

“Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”  -Hebrews 12:14-15

Peace, holiness, grace and bitterness.  Four words; four massive ideas.

Peace-making may lead some to flirt with moral compromise in the name of “tolerance” or “not offending.”  Yet, God does not cease to be holy so others can have peace with Him.  Therefore, neither should we.

We must learn to still pursue a righteous life and admonish others to do the same, and the way this is possible is through the grace of God.

We must first receive His grace, “obtain” it, as the Word says.  Only after we have understood and acted on our own need for the grace of God will we be able to share it with others.

Receiving His grace protects and insulates us both from feelings of failure when we don’t measure up to God’s holiness, and feelings of pride when we do.  If we are not walking in His grace, then we will be a slave to our own moral performance, and will inevitably seek to put others under the same sentence.

This will almost always lead to bitterness, a deep seething resentment either towards God because we can’t live up to His standards, or to others because they can’t live up to ours.  From there it spreads and “many become defiled.”

O, may we learn to obtain that sweet and sure antidote and share it with as many as we can.

Let us walk in grace.

 

What Christmas Means to Me

I have no presents to open today.

Don’t take that the wrong way.  Our family exchanged gifts a few nights ago when my brothers and sisters-in-law were in town, so it’s not like I lost my ticket for the goodie train this year.  But, since the gift-giving is done, this morning will bring no fantastic trove of presents, no festive tearing of paper, no scrambling for batteries or saving of bows for next year.

What Christmas Means to MeThis morning I will work out with my friend Steve, carrying on our regular Tuesday/Thursday routine.

This morning I will visit my parents for some breakfast and chit-chat about the weekend and our plans for the new year.

This morning I will check Facebook a time or two, do a little reading , and ponder the significance of words I read this morning about what this day is supposed to mean.

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
-Luke 2:10b-12

A newborn baby: The littlest thing turns out to be the greatest gift of all.

Two poor first-time parents: The most unlikely people in the most unlikely place turn out to be the ones God chooses to steward His greatest treasure.

An unkempt, ragtag group of shepherds: The most unqualified ears turn out to be the ones that first hear the news of the Savior’s birth.

This Christmas, no matter what things are or aren’t under the tree, no matter who is or isn’t nearby for the celebration or whether or not there is a celebration at all, may you remember this simple truth.  God loves to take the small things and turn them into big blessings, for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.

May you be blessed to be a blessing, both on this special day and in the days to come.

Merry Christmas,
-Pastor Phillip

 

Jesus is Calling You Forward to Freedom

Do you ever feel “the darkness” trying to drag you back?

“For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.” -Hebrews 10:36-39

There is a dark destruction that yearns to swallow the children of God.  It follows close behind, nipping at our heels and calling to our minds, “Turn back!  The Way is hard.  The road is long.  The cause is hopeless and you are not qualified for it, anyway.

Oh my friend, do not listen to it!

Those who listen to the darkness will be consumed by it.  Those who shrink back from the call of Christ will find themselves sucked in to the darkness because of their unbelief.

The Way of Jesus is forward, always forward.

We must trust Him not only with our minds and not only with our hearts, but with our steps.  When we do this, we are assured a great salvation that will make every step of hardship seem like nothing in comparison.

Walk on.

Hold fast.

Stay strong.

Don’t look or shrink back, and watch as God does wonders in your life for His glory and your joy.

Remember, the wondrous life is not found along the path of the past, but on the road ahead.

Why Hope and Truth Must Always Coexist

Truth without hope is like light without heat.

It may show you the way, but it will not provide the strength to walk in it.

Hope without truth is like a cloud without rain.

It may look promising for a while, but it will never provide the nourishment you need.

Churches and sermons and Christians in conversation must be faithful to do what God’s Word does: provide both truth AND hope.

Every time.

How are you doing?

 

How to Not be Overwhelmed at Christmas

Do you ever feel overwhelmed during the Christmas season?

Do you find yourself frustrated by the commercialism, by the long lines and busy schedules, by the financial burden and the family hassles?  Here is your solution.

Selah.

Who is this Jesus?

In Scripture, to “selah” means to stop and consider, to step back and ponder something of great importance.  Naturally, then, we must have something of great importance to consider.

A couple of years ago I was part of a home-based Bible study community.  One night around Christmas time, a friend of mine shared this piece, and it was such a beautiful way to draw our focus to Jesus that I wanted to share it here.

Read it slowly.  Read it deliberately.  Don’t rush through it, but take the time to ponder the significance of what is said.

If you would seek to not be overwhelmed AT Christmas, join me in being overwhelmed BY the Christ whose birth we celebrate.  Indeed, as we ponder, He will be faithful to send His peace.

He always is.

—Pastor Phillip

 


The Mystery of the Incarnation: A Scriptural Tapestry of Jesus as Man and God by Gregory of Nazianzus

“He was baptized (Matt. 3:13) as man, but he destroyed sins (Matt. 9:6) as God; he himself was not in need of purifying rites, but [he was baptized/he came] that he might sanctify the waters.

He was tempted (Matt. 4:1) as man, but he conquered as God; not only this but he even encouraged [us] to be courageous, since he had conquered the world (John 16:33).

He was hungry, but he fed thousands (John 6:10); not only this but he is indeed life-giving and heavenly bread (John 6:51).  He was thirsty (John 4:7; 19:28), but he shouted, “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37); not only this but he also promised that those who believe would gush forth [with water] (John 7:38).

He was tired (John 4:6), but for those who are tired and heavy laden he is rest (Matt. 11:28).  He was heavy with sleep (Matt. 8:24), but he is light upon the sea; not only this but he even rebukes winds; not only this but he even makes Peter light when he is sinking (Matt. 14:25, 29; Matt. 8:26).

He pays tax, but [he does so] from a fish (Matt. 17:24-27); not only this but he is even king of those demanding [the tax].

He hears himself called a Samaritan and demon-possessed (John 8:48), but he saves the one who went down from Jerusalem and fell among robbers (Luke 10:30); not only this but he is even recognized by demons (Mark 1:24; Luke 4:34) and drives out demons (Matt. 8:16), and he sinks a legion of spirits (Luke 8:33) and sees the ruler of demons falling like lightning (Luke 10:18).

He is stoned, but he is not caught (John 8:59).

He prays (Matt. 14:23; 26:36; Heb. 5:7), but he hears [prayers] (Acts 7:59).

He weeps (John 11:35), but he causes tears to cease.

He asks where Lazarus [is laid] (John 11:34), for he was man, but he raises Lazarus (John 11:43), for he was God.

He is sold, and very cheaply, for [it was] for thirty silver coins (Matt. 26:15), but he buys back the world, and [it was] for a great price, for [it was] with his own blood (1 Pet 1:18-19).

He was led as a sheep to slaughter (Isa 53:7), but he shepherds Israel, and now, indeed, the whole inhabited world (John 10:11).  [He is] silent like a lamb (Isa 53:7; Matt. 26:63), but he is the Word (John 1:1), being proclaimed by a voice of one shouting in the desert (John 1:23).

He has been weakened, wounded, but he heals every disease and every infirmity (Isa. 53:5).  He is lifted up upon the tree (John 12:32), he is fixed [to it] (Acts 2:23), but he restores by the tree of life (John 6:51); not only this but he saves even a robber crucified with [him] (Luke 23:43); not only this but he darkens everything that is seen (Luke 23:44).

He is given cheap wine to drink (Luke 23:36), he is fed bile (Matt. 27:34).  Who?  The one who changed the water into wine (John 2:1-11), the destroyer of the bitter taste (Heb. 2:9), the [one who is] sweetness and all desire (Song 5:16).

He hands over his life, but he has authority to take it again (John 10:18); not only this but the curtain is torn apart (Matt. 27:51); for the things above are exhibited (Cf. Rev. 11:19; 15:5) not only this but rocks are split; not only this but dead are raised beforehand (Matt. 27:51-52).  He dies, but he makes alive, and by death he destroys death.

He is buried, but he rises. He goes down into Hades (1 Peter 3:18-19), but he brings up souls; not only this but he goes up into heaven; not only this but he will come to judge the living and the dead . . . ”

(Gregory of Nazianzus Oration 29.20, translation by Rodney A. Whitacre)

The Silver Thread

When I was a boy, I once let go of a helium balloon, just to see what would happen.

There it went, floating up, up, slowly and silently, gently making its way skyward until it disappeared in the cobalt blue of an open Texas sky.

It was beautiful.

I could not explain what happened, because I was only a small child.

I could not understand what carried the balloon away or where it might go, because such things were to much for me to know as merely a child.

Instead of finding answers, all I could do was look to the sky and trust that someday I might know, but for the moment I must simply let the wonder be enough.

Today a tragedy occurred in our nation.

Children and parents, brothers and sisters and mothers and more were gunned down senselessly at a Connecticut elementary school.

It was terrible.

I cannot explain what happened, because I am only an observer from a thousand empty miles away.

I cannot understand what carried the killer to such a dark place, what brittle supports must have collapsed in his soul to propel him to do such a thing.  Such things are too deep for me to know as merely a man.

Instead of finding answers, all I can do is look to the sky and trust that someday I might know, but for now I must simply let these words be enough…

“In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?”  -Psalm 56:11

“How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”  -Psalm 36:7

But words don’t stop bullets.

Even worse, if all we have is this life, then even these words from the Psalms truly have no meaning, because today brought a graphic example of “what man can do to me.

Yet, if there is more to our existence than a few tired years under a fading sun, if there is indeed a hope for us beyond the grave, then words like these do have power after all.

They can stop our souls from decaying into bitterness.

They can stop our minds from sinking into despair.

They can stop the bleeding of our hearts, even as they help the tears flow on for healing.

If there is a God whose Word is true, then I can find strength in these, His assurances.

And so can you.

I often imagine there is a silver thread that ties our souls to our bodies.

I see it as a shining thing, like a spiderweb dripping with fresh morning dew, an unseen link that links the temporal to the eternal.

Today, many of those threads were cut.

Yet, the God I know loves children.  The Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas was One who welcomed children into His arms and said this:

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)

Today, many silver threads were severed, precious souls cut loose from lifeless bodies, but the Christ I know did not let them slip away.

He was as He always is, true to His Word, and with all my heart I believe that those children were indeed given eternal refuge in the shadow of Almighty God.

May their families find comfort both on this day and in the days to come, and may we all find such refuge in Christ, both now, and when our own silver threads finally become as those children are now…

Free.

The Silver Thread

 

 

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