A Pattern for Church Ministry (Part Five)

Acts 14:21-23

Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church… (14:23a NIV).

It has been said that it is easier to criticize what is in place than to replace it with what is better. I agree! The Biblical way is to transform our ideas, attitudes, and actions according to the scriptures. How can a local assembly of believers transform their view of church structure and leadership?

First, we must transform our thinking about the church itself. It is not an organization but an organism. The church is the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, its members the branches of Christ the Vine, the brotherhood (brothers and sisters) of Christ, and so it is the living building of Christ. For easy recall, we can call these the “Five Bs of the Church” (Ephesians 5:23-24; 1 Corinthians 15:12-13; John 15:1-8; 1 Thessalonians 1:4; 1 Peter 2:4-5; etc.) Each of these metaphors speak of the church as a living organism. They are all Christ-formed and draw their life from Christ, (which is the reason I repeated “of Christ” in the above list.) Christ is the head of this living organism. He is also the head of the body, the church (Colossians 1:18 CSB). Observe very clearly that Christ is the head of the church, not a group of elders, bishops, or a pastor. Christ is the Chief Shepherd; elders merely shepherd God’s flock under Christ’s direction (1 Peter 5:1-4). A local church and its leadership must maintain this view of being a living body, vitally connected with Christ that apart from Christ can do nothing. The current organizational view of churches suppresses a proper focus of life with Christ. The sense of fellowship with the Ascended Lord Jesus (Colossians 3:1) should saturate all the meetings of local churches.

Second, we must be willing to listen to what the New Testament Scriptures actually say about church leadership. Here is an example. When it was made, the Authorized or King James Version was the best translation of the Bible that had appeared in English. It served English speaking churches well from the early 1600s to the 1950s. However, like any human product, the KJV had weaknesses. The one that concerns us now is that it was a political translation in places. King James I required that certain passages dealing with “church government” be translated to conform with his views of the church (hence, the translation “church” for the Scottish “kirk”, when the Greek is better translated as assembly or something similar.) For example, consider Philippians 1:1. Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons (AKJV, my emphasis). Compare to a better translation of this verse. Paul and Timothy, slaves of Christ Jesus, to all the holy ones in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and ministers (NABRE, my emphasis). While most modern English translations have cast off “bishops” of the AKJV, they wrongly continue to use the transliteration (letter by letter) “deacons”. The subject of ministers is not the point in this post. But the continued use of a transliteration still hinders clear views of church leadership, and that is the point. It masks what the Spirit has breathed out in the Word. Strongly held church traditions dating back to at least the early 1600s make people refuse to discuss the actual meanings of elder and “deacon” and their interrelated functions in the local assembly. This must change.

Why is this important? It becomes important in the relationship between “pastor” and “elder”. I think that many would hold them to be equivalent based on Acts 20:17, 28. From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church… Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God… (NIV, my emphasis). Then what happens in contemporary North American churches is “interesting” (in the negative sense of that word).

  • The elders and members of a church want a (usually) seminary trained man to be “the pastor” to handle the preaching of the word and other “pastoral and administrative” duties. They want a “senior pastor” or “lead pastor” who will be “the face of the church”. They may hire other “pastors” to handle other aspects of pastoral work, such as youth pastor, counseling pastor, visitation pastor, small group pastor, women’s ministries pastor, etc., if the church is large. While the lead pastor and the elders are theoretically equals, the senior pastor is the man everyone looks to for vision, leadership, and the Sunday morning preaching.
  • Depending on the doctrinal beliefs, spiritual gifts, skills, personalities, and spiritual maturity of the pastors and the elders, they can have a more or less harmonious relationship. If the church is “successful” (an increasing number of “nickels and noses”), it is in everyone’s best interests to make it work. “Success” can mask the wrong underlying ideas, attitudes, and actions until a crisis comes.
  • When something does go wrong, the blame game starts. In a larger church, it is easy to blame the staff and dismiss the assistant pastors, since they are not the face of the church. If there is a moral failure of the senior pastor or a power struggle between him and the elders, a church has very serious problems. It is rare to resolve such power struggles in a godly manner. Either the senior pastor or the elders must leave the church. Which happens is a matter of personalities, their popularity in the church, and their ability to manipulate people.

Next time, I want to talk more about pastors and elders and the biblical idea of leadership. However, I don’t want this post to end on a negative note. I am very glad that the Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church! As one who served for thirty-five years as a pastor, I rejoice in what the Lord does for the good of his people through the Holy Spirit and the Bible. He loves his church dearly, and he wants the churches to welcome him back as their functional Lord (Revelation 2-3). This will require transformation of the structure of local churches. Healthy organisms require healthy structures. We need better ideas of church leadership than the contemporary board room model, which produces power struggles. The transformation can happen as leaders and members understand what the Lord has actually set up for the leadership of his people.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 70 (Part Two)

But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who long for your saving help always say, “The Lord is great!” (70:4 NIV)

We continue our study in Psalm Seventy. David next prays against his enemies three times. There was nothing wrong in David doing this, since he was asking for justice. The apostle Paul makes a similar statement in 2 Timothy 4:14. However, there is a different perspective that we learn in the new covenant. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV). The Lord Jesus wants us to be merciful people.

Verses two through four do show the character of the ungodly, especially in their attitude to the people of God. They want to kill and to ruin and to abuse those who love the Lord. See Romans 1:29-31. They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, senseless, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful (CSB; cf. Romans 3:13-16).

David provides an insight about their end. Yes, they appear to be winning now, and they think that they are! But their end will be shame and confusion and disgrace. For all eternity they will be disgraced while God’s now disgraced people will be exalted (1 Corinthians 1:26-31). The ungodly may rejoice now and say, “Aha! Aha!” But their glory will be turned into shame. They settle for far too little.

David turns the psalm in another direction and offers two requests for the godly. First, let us notice two characteristics of the godly.

  • They seek the Lord. Notice the contrast with the malicious quest of the wicked (70:2). All God’s people know the Lord—all know the Shepherd’s voice and come boldly and personally to the Holy One as Father. But it is also true that we are on a lifelong spiritual adventure of knowing Him who is gloriously infinite. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Philippians 3:10 NIV).
  • They love God’s salvation. There are three senses in which this is true. They love it in the sense of delighting in it. The wicked do not share this delight. They love the way of salvation—that it is a way of grace, not works. They love the Savior (Isaiah 62:11; Luke 2:25-32; 1 Peter 1:10-11).

In David’s requests for the godly we can see the essence of a true relationship with God. It is to exalt God’s name. It is to rejoice and be glad in the Lord (Philippians 3:1; 4:4; Romans 14:17-18). Why do we rejoice in the Lord? We do because he is the greatest good. To know him is to know true happiness.

  • God is the universal A person may have a number of excellent qualities, but God has all excellent qualities.
  • God is unmixed Every earthly pleasure has some gall mixed with the honey, but God is perfect.
  • God is satisfying Fresh joys come from him constantly (John 7:37f).
  • God is delicious “There is a certain sweetness about God’s person which delights, nay, rather, ravishes the soul.” 1 Pt 1:8
  • God is superlative There is none like him. Is 40:18,25
  • God is eternal He lasts forever with no change.

David speaks of the saint’s lack of merit as a reason that God should answer. “Poverty and necessity are very good pleas in prayer to a God of infinite mercy…” (Henry). We should remember that when we are weak, they we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Here is the proper perspective of Romans 8:37. Yes, we are “more than conquerors”, but it is “through him”.

Compare the first and the last verses with Psalm 139:1, 23-24, where the perspectives are reversed. Prayer in both places is based on what we know of God’s character, whether as Omniscient or as Helper.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 70 (Part One)

Hasten, O God, to save me; come quickly, Lord, to help me (70:1 NIV).

This psalm is very similar to 40:13-17. There are just a few minor alterations. Compare the similarity between Psalms 14 and 53. Both Psalms 40 and 70 are ascribed to David, who probably took the last section of Psalm 40, modified it, and set it forth to God’s people as a brief prayer for help (cf. Mt 13:52). There is a time to repeat truth. In addition, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a safeguard for you (Philippians 3:1 CSB). In fact, there are times to highlight a part of former teaching and use it for a particular purpose.

Many evangelicals are accustomed to freestyle prayer, but we must remember that it is not superior to praying a set form of words. When I was young, I was taught that to repeat prayers was wrong, that it was something done only by people that called themselves Christians but weren’t. Many arguments were used for this that aren’t worth repeating. The attitude of the heart and faith is far more important than whether or not we are original. Jesus himself prayed the same words over again, and on at least two occasions gave the words of the Lord’s Prayer.

This psalm is characterized by a sense of urgency (70:1, 5). God knows that though he is eternal, we are bound by constraints of time. Here the Holy Spirit inspires words that plead for a quick answer from the Lord. Here the children urge God the Father to hurry! However, we should balance this by some other thoughts.

  • We may need to wait humbly before God in order to gain understanding. Consider the experience of Daniel the prophet. In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three full weeks. I didn’t eat any rich food, no meat or wine entered my mouth, and I didn’t put any oil on my body until the three weeks were over… “Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me after I had been left there with the kings of Persia” (Daniel 10:2-3, 12-13 CSB). Sometimes the laborious wait is God’s route to blessing.
  • We may need to wait because God has other plans he is working out before he can bring about our desired answer. Think of Jesus delay when he heard that his friend Lazarus was sick. Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:5-6 ESV). Why did Jesus wait? He knew God’s plan to do a greater miraculous sign for the glory of God—the raising of Lazarus from the dead. God may not be doing something as dramatic in our lives, but we ought to trust his timing. I had someone complain to me a few times (yes, this happened more than once) that God always seemed to answer her prayers at “one minute to midnight”, and she didn’t like his way of doing that. We ought to rejoice whenever God answers! We are often unwise, impatient, even demanding children. Perhaps God simply sees the need to teach us patience and humility.
  • We may wait expectantly because God can do his work swiftly. Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you… Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. The least one shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it (Isaiah 60:1, 20-22 ESV).

David knew that he needed God to be involved in his life, so he asked God to save and to help. His example of faith shows us to abandon self-reliance. Quit trying to be the problem-solver in your life! Believers know that we need the Lord to lift us up and do what we are unable to do. Since the saint is alive to God, he understands that God is able to act in history and to carry out a rescue operation. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16 NIV).

Grace and peace, David

A Pattern for Church Ministry (Part Four)

Acts 14:21-23

In this passage, the Holy Spirit records a pattern of ministry for building up local churches (gatherings of followers of Christ). If we are wise disciples (learners of Christ), we will listen to and think carefully about what he has made known for our benefit. Next, we come to the appointment of elders in the local assemblies. This might seem to be simple and obvious. “Every church needs leadership.” Agreed. But our contemporary situation is complex and difficult. Let me point out some matters that make the question of elders rather problematic in North American churches in our time. Another time, we’ll consider what the Bible says on this subject.

Most churches choose leaders that conform with corporate business models and strategies, rather than the New Testament Scriptures. This attitude is not stated, but drives the ways that churches are “governed”. By the way, the concept of “church government” derives from the nations, not the Lord. Listen to what the Lord Jesus said. But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave” (Matthew 20:25-27 NLT). Many churches wrongly believe in “elder rule” based on a mistranslation (KJV, NKJV, NASB, ESV) of 1 Timothy 5:17. Compare the better translation of the CSB: The elders who are good leaders…. Elders are not to mimic worldly practices, where corporate executives sit around a board room table and make decisions for the organization. Instead, the church is a spiritual body and the Lord Christ is her head (Colossians 1:18; 2:19).

People are content to be passive in churches. “Let someone else handle the business stuff. We just want to attend to fulfill our religious obligation.”

It is impossible to have a proper idea of elders, unless you have a Biblical idea of the local church and how it is to be led. Too many church leaders look at the congregation as a motley collection of immature or wayward or reluctant or obstinate sheep that must be ruled with a firm hand. Some leaders even view some in the church as “dragons”. Do they actually suppose that they are on a higher spiritual level because they are elders or deacons… or pastors? Until elders have a biblical view and respect for their brothers and sisters in Christ, they will be unable to lead and care for them. This requires commitment to biblical teaching about every believer’s identity in Christ.

Church members have wrong views of leadership, such as being content to allow a small group of (usually) men to conduct the “business” of the local church. This might be because of their personal history, in which church “business meetings” were quite contentious and they “just want to go to church” from now on. Others might have attended a church with a “congregational” form of government, in which the leadership was a pastor and deacons. When problems arose because of abuses of power by either the pastor or the deacons or both, they listened to arguments for a plurality of elders and consequent elder rule. Those arguments seemed persuasive because nearly all of the numerous references in the New Testament Scriptures to elders are in the plural. They took the bait without further examination of the teaching from the Bible.

People believe there is a single, mandatory system of church government set out in the New Testament Scriptures. And it is the one that their church teaches. Period. To borrow an illustration, they assume that they have found the black cat on a totally dark, moonless night, in a basement, when the electricity is out, and their eyes are shut while they are blindfolded. People will discuss and debate election and predestination, prophetic schemes, counseling methods, and so on. But to study out from the Scriptures what is actually written about church leadership is taboo. It is far easier to simply accept what they’ve been told or to read books by the experts on “the biblical form of church government as taught by our group.” I should say, it is easier until they are spiritually hurt and wounded by abuses of power in the church.

And then they wonder, “Why did this happen?”

Grace and peace, David

Better by Far! (Part Two)

Philippians 1:23

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far… (NIV).

What kind of desire did Paul have?

He had a desire that was eminently spiritual. An old catechism question asked, “What is the chief end of man?” With some input from John Piper’s writings, I’ve modified the traditional answer to say, “The first goal of mankind is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. This includes everything we do in life, including the outlook we ought to have. The New Testament Scriptures direct us to be watching for Christ’s return in power and great glory. When Christ comes, all his people will be with him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Then we will fully be able to fulfill God’s purpose for us.

True Christianity is personal. It involves a personal relationship with God in Christ. It is fellowship with the Lord! A Christian has the zeal of love to know his or her Lord! Since this is so, I think it is proper to consider the following questions. Are you really a Christian? Do you love the Lord? Do you really want to be with him forever? If you do, then why do we see so little zeal for the Lord from you right now? Do you think you will really like heaven? To be in heaven means that you will be with the Holy God forever! Does this really interest you?

He had a desire that grew from his present experience. Paul already considered the knowledge of Jesus Christ to surpass everything else. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith (Philippians 3:8-9 CSB). He had already evaluated all things in the light of Christ’s surpassing excellence. Yet he wanted to know more of Christ. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:10-11 NIV). Could it be that a reason for a lack of heavenly-mindedness among professing Christians is a present lack of the knowledge of Christ? Should we seek to know him better? Are you seeking to know Christ better?

He had a desire that affected his whole life. He longed to bring every thought captive to Christ. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5 ESV).   He lived in order to gain an imperishable crown (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). How is the knowledge of Christ remaking your life? What is different today in you today compared with three months or one year ago?

How can we have the same godly desire that Paul had? Let us set our hearts on things above.  If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1 ESV). God has so ordered all things that people can only put treasure in one place at a time. See Matthew 6:19-24, 33. “There is no man’s soul comes into heaven, but his mind is there first” (Sibbes).

Let us cut our affections loose from the world. A soul that is crucified with Christ and raised with Christ should be living for the one who loves it. This is a core idea of our new life in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:1-7:6).

Let us seek assurance of our salvation. Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election, because if you do these things you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you (2 Peter 1:10-11 CSB).

Grace and peace, David

Better by Far! (Part One)

Philippians 1:23

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far… (NIV).

The church at Philippi was a good church, though like every other gathering of believers, it was not perfect. Wherever you have people, you will find problems, since we all sin. In this blog, I write of God’s grace for sinners and strive to help people that struggle with sin. But I openly confess that I, like the Philippians, am far from perfect. Writing from prison, the apostle Paul sent the Philippian church this letter, because he was troubled about a weakness in their fellowship. They needed to work together in joyful love for the spread of the gospel, but they were pulled apart by strife between people.

Paul sought to bring his friends to greater unity by various means. Our text is taken from a section in which he did not hesitate to use himself as an example. What he urged them to do was not merely some fine theory. Instead, it conformed to how he was living at that time. He told them that he lived to advance the gospel. That was very important, but he was torn between two alternatives. He wanted to live on to preach the gospel, though he suffered, yet he also wanted to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. He used his desire to be with the Lord to motivate them to change the way they currently lived. Today, we ask the first of three questions about this desire.

The first question is, why is it better to depart and to be with Christ? By the way, notice that Paul clearly believed that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord. The Bible nowhere teaches soul sleep or purgatory.

To be with Christ is to be freed from suffering and trials. The apostle knew a great deal about these hard events of life. It was not pleasant to be in a first century prison. Consider also his other sufferings for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Let us not pretend to be more spiritual than we are. No one likes suffering. The apostles rejoiced that they suffered for the sake of Christ’s name. We can rejoice in the blessed fruit that suffering brings. But suffering itself is not joyous.

After Christ’s servants die, this world can do nothing more to harass (Revelation 7:15-17; 14:13; 21:3-4). Certainly this is better by far!

To be with Christ is to be freed from sin. During our time on this old world, sinful desires wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). This war lasts our entire Christian life. We sometimes ask, “When will this war be over?” But then we will be like Christ in purity and holiness. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27 CSB; cf. 1 John 3:2-3; Hebrews 12:23). Certainly this is better by far! Is your hope to be like Jesus Christ? It is one of the signs of having new life.

To be with Christ is to be where God is always praised. Now we must live among a people that revel in their own perversity (Romans 1:28-32). They take pleasure in violence and moral degradation. They mock what is pure and good and right. But when we are with the Lord, we will only hear the voices of those who magnify the Lord with us (Revelation 5:9-14; 15:3-4; 19:5-8). Certainly this is better by far!

To be with Christ is to be with one who has overflowing joy. Even now we should rejoice, since we are in Christ (Philippians 3:1; 4:4). Too often, our joy is mixed with sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10). To be with the Lord will be the experience of eternal joy. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11 ESV; cf. Matthew 25:21, 23). Certainly this is better by far!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Eleven)

Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced (63:9-11 NIV).

Though in soul-refreshing, heart-encouraging experience of personal fellowship with the living God, David in fact was still in a dry and weary land (63:1 NIV). This is life in this fallen world. Our God has plans he acts toward, and they involve keeping and sustaining his dearly loved people in unpleasant situations. Yet David confidently expected God to act in his dangerous state. On the run from his enemies, he did not abandon his hope. Since he is able to draw near to God, he is confident. This is the benefit of knowing God according to his revelation of himself in the Scriptures. Outward circumstances may not improve, they may even get worse. But believers in God are certain of the ultimate triumph of God, his truth, and that they will share in that victory.

On the one hand, David was certain of the defeat of his enemies. If this refers to the revolt of Absalom, his enemies had a decided military superiority. The plot had been well-laid. David and his men had been taken by surprise. But Absalom’s advantage would disappear, and David’s enemies would be defeated. Observe that David envisioned a battle: given over to the sword. He did not expect to escape without a fight. Confidence in God should never promote a lazy, careless attitude. God’s sovereignty does not eliminate human responsibility. Jackals “are the final scavengers, consuming the remains of the kill rejected by larger beasts. The wicked are, in other words, the very leavings of mankind” (Kidner). No one cares about their graves.

Notice the justice of God. David’s enemies plotted to throw off their lawful king, the one anointed by God as their leader. So then, God threw them aside for everlasting contempt. Unlike Absalom and his fellow rebels, many evil people escape justice in this world. But they cannot escape the final Judgment Day. God chose to make David’s enemies an example of what will surely happen to his enemies.

On the other hand, David was confident of his victory and of all who know the Lord. He looked forward to being able to rejoice in God, along with all those who were faithful to the Lord. Notice that David called himself the king. While this provides us information about the time of this psalm, it does more than that. David expected victory because he knew that God is always faithful to his covenant promises. God had said that he would build a house for David (2 Samuel 7:1-17; 1 Chronicles 17:1-15; cf. Psalm 89:1-2; Isaiah 55:3-4). Much in God’s plan depended on David’s safety, so David could be confident.

We should also claim God’s covenant promises (Hebrews 8:8-13). Events might look bleak; any outward confidences might disappear, but God’s promises cannot fail!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Ten)

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me (63:7-8).

The fifth vital experience of those who believe in the living God is the experience of trust. It is the starting point and the zenith of the other experiences, only to start them again. Apart from it, we cannot meditate, be satisfied, praise, or glorify God. Trust in the Lord is essential to our walk with God. He calls us to do tasks that cannot be done apart from faith. Belief in our sovereign God enables us to act bravely, going into truly scary places to seek the lost. It helps us to encourage those failing in health as they walk with the Lord into the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). It reenergizes us in the mundane and even utterly boring tasks in which it may be our lot to glorify the Lord. It helps us sense the strength of Christ as we stoop to serve the lowly and neglected. It clarifies our vision when we realize that we will have to go through difficult and thankless events, that if everyone is honest, all will confess they dislike experiencing, in order to build up the body of Christ. When we know the glory of the living God, the spiritual response is to rest in his love and concern for us, in all the above mentioned.

David certainly knew that God was his help. This caused him to do something. He sang! Those who know that God is their helper may have such sweet joy and confidence that we sing even in desert places while pursued by our enemies.

The psalmist David provides a beautiful picture, one probably learned from his great grandparents. Boaz said to Ruth, “May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge (Ruth 2:12 CSB).  And as is written in another place, The one who lives under the protection of the Most High dwells in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1 CSB). David had found a beautiful place of safety in the desert. He rested, more, he relaxed under the shadow of God’s wings. He was like a little chick that the mother hen protects with her wings. Let his enemies come! They will never be able to pass the wings of omnipotence that protect him!

Next, David changed the imagery slightly. He declared his intense, personal trust in the Lord. His soul was clinging to God, as a little child might cling to the legs of her mother or to the neck of his father when in a frightening situation. Here is a blessed picture. The living God, ruler of the universe, allows us to cling to him! Here is amazing love! A sinner clings to the Holy One! Ah yes, we may draw near to God. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. (James 4:8a NASB).

Not only is the preceding true, but David said we can be more confident. It is also true that God’s right hand, the hand of power, upholds his dearly loved people. What security this provides! The Almighty Lord wills to carry his people in his strong right hand. We can rest in this place of safety; a fortress of sovereign strength protects us. This reminds me of a chorus that I learned as a young child. “Safe am I; safe am I, in the hollow of his hand.”

Believer, the Spirit of God reassures us by these word-pictures that God wants us to be confident in him, to move forward in his strength. When I take walks with my little granddaughter, I often sing to her, “My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow… Strength for today is mine always, and all that I need for tomorrow! My Lord knows the way through the wilderness, all I have to do is follow.” And as I follow, I learn as his disciple that he upholds me in his right hand. Trust is a vital experience.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Nine)

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night (63:6 NIV).

The fourth vital experience of the believer is meditation. Notice carefully the particular kind of meditation. It is not seeking an emptiness of the mind, the contemplation of peaceful scenes, or a visualization of success. David remembered and thought about God himself. Surely we ought to meditate on God’s word (Joshua 1:8; Psalms 1:2; 37:31; 119:11, 15, 23, 48, 78, 97, 99, 148) and on God’s works (Psalm 77:12; 111:2; 119:27; 143:5; 145:5). But here the emphasis is meditation on God himself. It would be strange to want to read texts and emails from a person we love, to think about what he or she does, and yet neglect to think about the person who communicates and acts.

Part of our problem is our concept of God. The living God is not an advice columnist, a therapist, a doctor, a deliveryman, or a repairman. God is personal. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He wants us to approach personally, and not acting like we’re ordering something off a website on our cellphone. We ought to think on the awesome God as the One who loves us and gave himself for us (Galatians 2:20).

How can we begin to meditate on God himself?

  • Think of him as he is, a personal being, and not some supernatural force. God speaks, interacts, feels, and desires us to talk to him.
  • Think of how God reveals himself as Father for us (Matthew 7:11; etc.) You may need to correct your thoughts about fatherhood to conform with the goodness of our Father in heaven.
  • Think of the way God encourages us to draw near to him boldly (Hebrews 4:16; 10:22). When we meditate on God, it must always include faith in him.
  • Set your desire on him. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night (Psalm 73:25 CSB).
  • Refresh your heart with thoughts of God’s unfailing love for you. God’s love for his chosen people is like the sun shining in its strength. O that our hearts were like the full moon, reflecting his love! People “are afraid to have good thoughts of God. They think it a boldness to eye God as good, gracious, tender, loving: I speak of saints…”! (Owen, Works, Vol. 2, p. 35)
  • Set apart time to meditate upon God. You can’t talk to someone unless you invest time to talk with them! That should be obvious, but we need to unclutter our hearts and lives of unnecessary activities and thoughts, to make room for God. If we can invest time in our families, friends, and other people, shouldn’t we make time to meditate on the living and true God a priority?

You see, the uncomfortable truth is do we desire God? Everything in our life, words, and actions, including the use of our time, comes from our hearts, the core of our beings. God wants our hearts.

Grace and peace, David

A Pattern for Church Ministry (Part Three)

Acts 14:21-23

Strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (14:22 CSB).

The book of Acts records what the Lord Jesus continued to do to build his church through the ministry of the apostles by the Holy Spirit. As we read this record, we discover a pattern of ministry that can guide us in the work that the Lord of the church has called us to do. Previously, we have seen these aspects of this pattern:

  • Real life ministry
  • Preaching
  • The gospel (good news)
  • Make disciples
  • Strengthen disciples

This brings us to the next part of this pattern of ministry. We are to encourage disciples (learners of Jesus Christ). This is an important but often overlooked part of the gatherings of believers. I think this is because the emphasis in most Bible believing churches has been “don’t do these naughty things” and “do your duty by serving the Lord”, which is often reduced to such matters as hand out bulletins, work in the nursery, and help out at the building on work days. On the other hand, a contemporary alternative is “you can feel happy or be successful or prosperous (in your marriage, parenting, job, or finances) by doing these steps”. All this stuff has nothing to do with Biblical Christianity! The average person leaves a meeting rather frustrated or depressed or ready to drop the whole church routine.

Encouragement is a goal of Christian ministry. After the so-called “council of Jerusalem”, the church at Jerusalem sent out men to encourage the church at Antioch, after some had caused a disturbance in Antioch (Acts 15:30-32). When a church has been upset, its members need encouragement! After the apostle Paul had to set right some matters in Corinth, he made certain that he directed them to be encouraged. Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you (2 Corinthians 13:11 NIV). Paul sent Tychicus to the Ephesian believers to encourage them (Ephesians 6:22). He sent Timothy to the Thessalonians on the same mission (1 Thessalonians 3:11). To encourage is an essential part of preaching God’s word. Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV; cf. also 1 Corinthians 14:31; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).

The world and the forces of evil press hard against the people of God, and so we need encouragement to remain faithful. When he [Barnabas] arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts (Acts 11:23 CSB). Barnabas himself was a model of encouragement (Acts 4:36). Like him, some have encouragement as a spiritual gift (Romans 12:8), but we all are to encourage one another, especially with the truth of our Lord’s second coming (1 Thessalonians 4:18).

Encouragement is a need of those who are suffering. This is what God our Father does for us: who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (2 Corinthians 1:4 ESV). As the children of such a loving and comforting Father, we ought to be known for our concern and skill in encouraging each other.

Encouragement is necessary to prevent spiritual decline. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Corinthians 2:7 NIV). But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception (Hebrews 3:13 CSB). Clearly, this is our mutual responsibility in our gatherings: not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hebrews 10:25 ESV).

So then, I plead with everyone to make our local churches gatherings for encouragement. This is my prayer for Christ’s followers in every place. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal encouragement and good hope by grace, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good work and word (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17 CSB).

Grace and peace, David