When Life Seems Overwhelming (Isaiah 43:1-3a)

Isaiah 43:1-3a
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
 
I have been thinking about these verses a lot lately. As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I’ve felt that it is always beneficial to have several promises from the Lord memorized that I can fall back onto. Life can be crazy. In the words of a famous teenager from the 1980’s, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” There is so much going on in our lives that it can be easy to forget that nothing happens by accident and that God is totally in control of our lives. There is not a single atom in all creation that God is not completely sovereign over. R.C. Sproul once wrote, “If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.” Sometimes it feels like God is totally in control of the universe but it feels like He is missing in our lives. We struggle with the idea that God really does love us as much as He says He does and there is never a moment where we fail to be in His arms. Isaiah 43:1-3 is proof of that. Notice how the Lord says to Israel, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” These are not the words of some far off, distant, cold, unloving God that has just left the world to its own devices. These are the words of a close, loving, merciful, caring Savior. He tells his people that they have no reason to fear because He has acted for their salvation. He has called them by name (evidence of a close, personal relationship that He has with them) and He is the one who holds onto them. They belong to Him. Then in verse 2 He says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” God never promises us that life will be easy but He does promise to be with us every step of the way. We might still need to go through the raging rivers and the blazing fire, but we are not alone. The Lord Himself goes with us and because He goes with us, we know that we can and will endure. Sometimes we like to think that because we are in Christ, we are immune to the difficulties of this world. We still live in a fallen world. Bones will still break, aging will continue to happen, our mental and emotional health may suffer, we will see loved ones pass, and we will see sin all around us. We are still impacted by the fall and the whole world is waiting for the day of its redemption. But God is still on the throne. The waters may rage and the fire may fall but God is with us every step of the way. He is the Lord our God, the Holy One of Israel, our Savior. I have found great comfort in these verses. The trials that I may face are not evidence that God is against me, they are a reminder that even in my hardest times, God will never leave me and He is walking alongside me. If I can trust God to be with me when things are going well, I know that I can continue to trust Him when things are bleak. Charles Spurgeon says it best, “The godly have the best company in the worst places in which their lot is cast. God’s presence is all that we need even in the deepest floods of tribulation; this he has promised to us. He does not say what he will do for us, but he does tell us that he will be with us, and that is more than enough to meet all our necessities.”
 
-Brady


After Easter

Romans 5:9-10
Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
 
I’ve always wondered why a church can be packed on Easter Sunday and then half full the following week. Easter serves as our reminder that Christ has overcome the grave and this gives us a great reason to rejoice. But why do we place so much excitement on just one day? Is Christ’s death and resurrection only worth rejoicing in one day a year? Definitely not! Christ’s resurrection is something that we should only grow in appreciation of. We can’t let it be something that we focus on once on Easter morning and then immediately toss that aside after Easter dinner. The glory that Christ received at His resurrection, He continues to receive. Generations of Christians have looked at the cross and the empty grave and have seen it as the ultimate source of joy in their lives. So, how can we rejoice in the miracle of the Resurrection throughout the year? What has been of great help to me is the reminder that Christ continues to save me even now. The salvation that He secured for me on Calvary’s hill, He secures it even now. Christ has not saved you once, He continues to save you even now. What comfort we can have in our salvation! The God of the universe not only saved you once, He will continue to save you! Notice what Paul says in Romans 5:9-10. He says that we have been justified by His blood. This means that our justification is a past event. The moment that we come to Christ in faith, we are completely and fully justified in God’s sight. He no longer sees our wickedness when He looks at us, He sees Christ’s righteousness given to us. Paul knows that justification is something that happens once and for all in the life of a Christian but then at the end of verse 9, he says that we shall be saved. Now Paul is saying that salvation is a future event. Not only is it a future event, it is something that is in the Lord’s hands. Paul says that it is by HIM that we will be saved from the wrath to come. Again in verse 10, we see past, present, and future salvation. Paul points to our past when we were enemies of God and we see that we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Even before the cross, God had set forth His plan for salvation. As we come to faith in Christ, we know that we have been reconciled to God the Father, through the work of Christ the Son. Because of that reconciliation, we know that we will continue to be saved by His life. So, salvation is rooted in the past, pursued in the present, and guaranteed in the future. Why should we rejoice in the miracle of the Resurrection on that first Easter Sunday? Because it changed history in such a tremendous way, that we cannot limit its importance to one day. Christ’s resurrection is our reminder that He has made us into a new creation. Watchman Nee said, “our old history ends at the cross; our new history begins with the resurrection.” If you are in Christ, remember that Christ has saved you, He is saving you, and He will continue to save you in the future. I think that is something worth remembering and rejoicing in past Easter Sunday.
 
-Brady


Delight Despite Persecution (Psalm 119:22-24)

Psalm 119:22-24
“Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies. 23 Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes. 24 Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.”
 
The second century pastor Tertullian once wrote, “The blood of Christians is seed.” Throughout the centuries, Jesus Christ has built His church through the pains of suffering and martyrdom. He may have had this in mind when He said in John 12:24, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Not many of us can say that we have experience with persecution. It is something that is foreign to us as American Christians. It is because of this that many Christians are shocked the moment that persecution comes to them. As soon as they start going through a trial, they feel as if God had left them or that they believed in vain. But what if persecution was a good thing? What if it were possible to grow closer to the Lord despite the opposition? That seems to be what the writer of this Psalm is getting at in these verses. It is something that all of the Apostles, many of the early church fathers, reformers, and Puritans would agree with. Notice what David says in verse 23. “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” That’s deep! David says that despite their plotting, despite their hatred of him, despite their indifference towards his God, despite the bashing of David’s name, he will meditate on the Lord’s Word. Their hatred of him doesn’t discourage him from trusting in the Lord, it pushes him powerfully towards Him! Now we know that this wasn’t easy so how did David get through this? The answer is in verse 24. “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.” If the Lord is what we delight in the most, nothing will be able to take that joy away from us. Persecution, disease, and death, while they may sting, will ultimately not take our eternal joy from us. I am one of the many who would say that Romans 8 is the greatest chapter in the Bible. Paul’s words have been such a great comfort to my soul for years. Verses 31-39 are worth reading in full. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died- more than that, who was raised- who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” NO, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen! If God is for us, who or what could possibly be against us? If we are killed, if we are slandered, if we are persecuted to parts unknown, if families and friends leave us, what does it matter? For we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us! Even with all of the chaos that might surround us, God gives us the strength to meditate on His Word. It might shock you to learn that God can build you up through your trials and through persecution. I have always been amazed at Paul’s response to persecution and opposition. Check out Philippians 1 if you want to see his attitude towards it. At the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, he says, “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.” Notice Paul doesn’t say that a wide door for effective work has opened to him BUT there are many adversaries. He says the door is open AND there are many adversaries! Paul sees the opportunity for Gospel advancement as so a great a thing that he is not phased by those that are against his message. Martin Luther was no stranger to persecution. When you have the entire Roman Catholic church against you, chances are you need to be confident in the strength that only the Lord could provide. Despite the persecution, He saw how God was turning it for his greater good. He once said of his own persecutions, “For I myself . . . owe my papists many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they have turned me into a fairly good theologian, driving me to a goal I should never have reached.” Could Luther had been the pastor and great reformer that he was if he did not have to go through persecution? Absolutely not! He certainly didn’t think so. God uses persecution for the advancement of His kingdom. What man intends for evil, God intends for good. Even though princes may sit plotting against us, we can confidently meditate on God’s Words and His promises. Let His testimonies be our delight, for He is our Great Counselor.
 
-Brady


Guarding the Spirit (Proverbs 4:23-26)

Proverbs 4:23-26
23 Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. 24 Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you. 25 Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. 26 Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure.
 
In our middle & high school Sunday school class, we have been going through the book of Malachi. At the end of chapter 2, the phrase “guard yourselves in the spirit” is repeated twice. As I was preparing for this study, I found myself drawn to those words and what they mean. Clearly the Lord intended for this phrase to jump out to us due to it being repeated. So, what does it mean to guard ourselves in the spirit? I think what it means is for us is that our hearts and actions need to be directed towards the things of God. If we no longer fight for spiritual purity (check out our devotional on fighting for spiritual purity for additional information) we will not be able to guard our hearts or our spirit. I came across Proverbs 4:23-26 and found 7 questions that we should ask ourselves in order for us to guard our spirits.
 
1. Can God be glorified in what I am doing?
One of the most important questions that we need to ask is if God will be glorified in what we are doing. If we struggle to answer yes, chances are our goal is not to bring God glory in what we are doing. Step back and ask yourself, “is this something that God wants me to be exposed to? Is this something that God could be glorified through? If Christ were in my shoes, would He do this? If we cannot say yes to those questions, chances are we probably should not do it. This leads us into our next question.
2. Is my heart set towards the things of God and not towards the things of man?
What are the things that catch our attention? What are the things that we gravitate towards? Like Paul, can we say that we would lose all things and consider them rubbish, in order that we may gain Christ? If you do not see God as the ultimate reward, the only thing of everlasting importance, you will struggle to guard your spirit. Sin has this way of making our temporary, earthly desires look greater than our eternal and almighty Heavenly Father.
3. Will what I say bring glory to God?
When we look at Proverbs 4:24, we see the importance of our words. Do the things that we say bring glory to God? Solomon says that we are to put away crooked speech and to put away devious talk. James is quite right when he says that the tongue is a deadly poison. “With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9). Be careful with what you say. More damage can be done to your spiritual life and the spiritual lives of others by one hateful word than you might realize. If it was something that you wouldn’t say in the presence of the King, should you actually say it? Speak kindly and point to God’s goodness in all that you say. 
4. Is God the center of my attention?
Solomon tells us to let our eyes look directly forward. We can read this as, “are my eyes looking for what is really important? Am I seeking the things that will build me in Christ, and not tear me down?” Is God the center of your attention? This is a pretty heavy question. In a world filled with distractions that are fighting for your attention, can we sing, “the cross before me, the world behind me, no turning back”? My prayer is that you would see God as the most important thing in all the universe. He is the fountain of all blessings, the greatest reward that we could ever possess. In all my years of following Christ, I know that there have been days where He has been at the center and there have been days where I have pushed Him off to the side so that I could focus on myself. I am forever grateful for every time that He has re-prioritized my life so that I would see Him as the only One that my eyes would be set towards.
5. Will God be glorified by what I am seeing?
We are exposed to so much these days. We see so much violence, sex, and disturbing images that we don’t even think twice about it. Go ahead and read verse 25 again. Doesn’t it seem like the things that we expose ourselves to is important? God cares deeply about the things that we are viewing. Does all the Netflix that we watch, all the articles that we read, all the videos that we share on Facebook bring glory to God? Are our spiritual palates so unrefined that we need to constantly look for something to entertain us? One question that I have asked my students is how long they can go without checking their phone before they start feeling anxious? You probably wouldn’t be surprised with how they answered. Are the things that you are viewing bringing glory to God? John Piper once said, “one of the great uses of twitter and Facebook will be to prove at the last day that prayerlessness was not from lack of time.” Do the things that we see get in the way of much needed time that we could be spending with the Lord? What do you think your quiet time with the Lord would look like if you put away the phone, turned off the TV, and spent the hour that you would be watching Netflix, in deep communion and prayer with the Lord? Try it out and let me know how it goes. I think you’ll be surprised at what the Lord reveals to you.
6. Did I think this through?
Sometimes the most simple question can be the one that we forget to ask. Before you do something, did you take the time to think it through? Did you think of how it will impact your life, the lives of the other people involved, and did you think if it was what the Lord wants you to do? Now obviously this does not apply to everything in life. I don’t think you need to go through these questions when you are in the drive thru and you aren’t sure if you want a chicken sandwich or chicken nuggets. (Chik-Fil-A is God’s chosen restaurant after all!) If you are making a major decision or if something comes into your life that you aren’t quite sure about, take the time to think and pray about it. Let other Godly men and women come alongside you and talk to them about it. Before you start building, be sure to count up the cost!
7. Am I actively pursuing the Lord so that I can keep my path straight?
Verses 25-26 are what connect our 6th and 7th questions together. We know that the Bible is God’s Word to us on how we can pursue the Lord. It is His way of revealing deep truths about Himself to us. Are we practicing what it teaches? Are we actively pursuing Him because we know that He is the only way to righteousness. As we continue to pursue after the Lord, we know that He will continue to shape and mold us into the image of His Son. If you have a dead faith, your path won’t be straight! Rend Collective has a song called True North that goes, “I will not let the darkness steal the joy within my soul. I will not let my circumstance become my compass, no I will not let the fears of life and sorrows of this world dictate to me how I should feel. For You are my true north.” Is the Lord our only guiding light?
 
If you are struggling with guarding your heart and setting your eyes towards Christ, let us know how we can pray for you and if there is anything that we can do to help. We want you to see Christ for all that He is, as the greatest reward that you could ever receive.
-Brady
 


This Momentary Home (Psalm 119:17-20)

Psalm 119:17-20

17 Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word. 18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. 19 I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me! 20 My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.

 
I have a confession to make. I can’t stand country music. I know in the South it is a punishable offense to not like country music but 98% of country music I can’t stand. I love Johnny Cash, but then again, is there anyone that could actually dislike the Man in Black? The only other country singer that I really enjoy is a guy named Chris Stapleton. Stapleton has a song called Traveler and this is how the chorus goes, “I’m just a traveler on this earth sure as my heart’s behind the pocket of my shirt. I’ll just keep rolling till I’m in the dirt. ‘Cause I’m a traveler, oh, I’m a traveler. I couldn’t tell you honey, I don’t know, where I’m going but I’ve got to go. ‘Cause every turn reveals some other road and I’m a traveler, oh, I’m a traveler.” Hopefully you were able to see the connection between Psalm 119:19-20 and what Stapleton is singing. In the song, we see a man that realizes that life is only temporary. We’re here one day and gone tomorrow. If life is only temporary, if this is all that there is in life, then what hope do we have for the future? It would be so discouraging to live 80 years with uncertainty. To say, “I’m a traveler on this earth, but after this, I don’t know what’s next” is a disappointing thing. Stapleton doesn’t seem to have the same hope for the future that the Christian has. As the Psalmist acknowledges that he is a sojourner (or a traveler) on the Earth, he seems to not be in despair over that knowledge. But why would he feel this way? Where does his hope come from? It comes from the One who deals bountifully in verse 17. The Psalmist is so dependent on God’s grace for life. He knows where his hope comes from. The Psalmist would agree with what Paul says in 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me.” The Psalmist knows that his Earthly life is temporary. He sees that he is traveling between this world and the next. He has his hope set not on the security of this present world, or the existence of another world, but in the goodness of the One who holds both worlds in the palm of His hands. I think that it can be easy for Christians to lose the hope that they have in God’s future grace. We sometimes think that this world is the only home that we have. We forget that Christ has returned to the Father to make a place for us. In Hebrews 11, the author recounts the faith of many Old Testament saints. Like us, they spent their years traveling from one place to the next. Many never fully received the promises that the Lord made to them in the course of their lives. Abraham never saw his descendants become a mighty nation, Jacob died in Egypt, Moses never made it to the promised land. Does this mean that God is unfaithful in His promises? Absolutely not! What God had prepared for them was substantially better than they could imagine. Hebrews 11:13-16 is an encouraging reminder for our time on this planet. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared for them a city.” It’s easy to be impressed by a candle if you’ve never seen the sun. These men of faith had their eyes set on the sun, on a promise that was far greater than they imagined. Dear Christian, do you know where your home is? Do you know that you have a city prepared for you by the Father? It’s hard to be excited for an eternity in Heaven, if we think that it’s going to be just like our lives are now. We have very few details on what to expect when we get to Heaven, but we know that it is beyond what the human language can describe. Only 4 people in all of Scripture get a glimpse of Heaven, and they give very few details of all that they saw (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and John.” But even with the few details that they provide, we know it will be incredible. We will be changed and we will be in the presence of Christ Almighty. That sounds greater to me than all the pleasures that this world could offer. We can rejoice in knowing that we are just passing through, on our way to the Promised Land.
 
-Brady


Fighting for Spiritual Purity (Psalm 119:9-11)

Psalm 119:9-11
How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word. 10 With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! 11 I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
 
In Psalm 119:9, we get our first question from the Psalmist and it is quite the question. “How can a young man keep his way pure?” Way to start with a hard one! When we think of purity, I think that we immediately associate it with sexuality. How to stay away from pornography? How do we stay away from premarital relationships? How can we make sure that our children are not exposed to all the dangers that can be found online? Now these are all good questions (we may have a separate post in the future to help answer these questions if there is enough interest) but those aren’t necessarily the questions that the Psalmist is asking. His question includes many of those specific questions, but it is a broader question. The Psalmist doesn’t ask, “How can a young man keep his way sexually pure?” He asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” I think that we need to rephrase the question to make it a little easier to understand. The Psalmist seems to be asking, “How can a young man be holy?” How is this accomplished? By guarding it according to the Word of God. If one desires to be holy, there needs to be a desire for God and His word. You won’t find instructions for holiness anywhere outside of God’s word. The pursuit of holiness is a battle. Notice the author says that we are to guide our ways. This means that when sin comes into our lives, we need to go to war with it. If you aren’t guarding yourself from sin, you will only allow it to have its way with you. This leads us over to verse 11. The Psalmist says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Many translations will change the word stored to the word treasured. By treasuring God’s word in our heart, we have a desire to do what is pure and holy. How much of God’s Word do we treasure? Do we value it so much that we cannot function? If it were to disappear from our lives, would we feel that we have lost a great treasure? You fight for the things that you treasure. One of my spiritual heroes is Jonathan Edwards. When Edwards was about 20 years old (maybe as young as 18) he wrote his famous resolutions. What these were, was a list of things that he promised to do in order to give glory to God, live his life in the pursuit of holiness, and to serve as a reminder if he were to ever backslide. One of the resolutions says this: “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” Here was Edwards, a young man that was just barely out of his teen years saying, “Even if I might fail to totally destroy my sin, let me never give up in my battle of it. Even if it beats me to the ground, give me the strength to get back up and continue the fight.” Here was a man that treasured God’s Word. I wish I could be half the man that Edwards was! If we want to pursue spiritual purity, we are going to have to fight for holiness. Holiness is not something that we can obtain at one moment. It is something that we keep running after, keep pursuing, keep treasuring. In 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, Paul says, “So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Paul does not say that he ran aimlessly or he disciplined his body. He uses the present tense of the words. Paul was still running! He was still disciplining himself! The greatest preacher in history knew that holiness was an ongoing battle!  Paul did not stop pursuing purity, he never once stopped pursuing holiness. Jerry Bridges has an excellent book called, The Pursuit of Holiness, and he writes these words: “The pursuit of holiness is a joint venture between God and the Christian. No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life, but just as surely no one will attain it without effort on his own part.” If we want to be holy, we need to work for it. God is always faithful on His part in our pursuit of holiness. If we pursue it, we will find it, but no one ever finds anything if they aren’t actively looking for it. Do you want to be pure? Do you want to be holy? Guard the treasure of God’s word with your whole heart. That is an excellent place to start.
 
Brady
 
(Let us know in the comments if you are interested in a blog post or a video on pursuing sexual purity.)
 
Additional Resources:
If you are interested in reading all of the resolutions that Jonathan Edwards made as a young man, the following link is provided. The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards- https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-resolutions-of-jonathan-edwards
 
The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges- https://www.amazon.com/Pursuit-Holiness-Jerry-Bridges/dp/1631466399


Crying Out for Spiritual Change (Psalm 119:4-8)

Psalm 119:4-8
4 You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. 5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! 6 Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me!
 
 
What a heart for the Lord that the author had! He knows what the Lord has asked him to do, and his desire would be that he would be able to do all that was asked of him. He knows that the Lord has given us His Law and that we are responsible for doing what is right. The author realizes that as much as he may want to follow God, it won’t always be easy. He knows that he is a sinner and that he will continue to make mistakes. You can almost hear the heartfelt cry in verse 5. “OH that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” He is saying, “O Lord, my greatest desire is that I would be like you and walk in your ways but I know that I am no example of perfect obedience!” Charles Spurgeon says of verse 5, “This verse is a sigh of regret because the Psalmist feels that he has not kept the precepts diligently, it is a cry of weakness appealing for help to one who can aid, it is a request of bewilderment from one who has lost his way and would fain be directed in it, and it is a petition of faith from one who loves God and trusts in him for grace.” I know that I am no example of perfect obedience to the Lord. I know that time and time again, I have fallen short of who He has called me to be. On my own, I will never be able to walk steadfast in His ways. None of us can! However, a heart that desires nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, will always long for something greater than the passions of this world. That is the heart that the Psalmist has. While he knows his imperfections, He is well aware of God’s perfections. While the Psalmist struggles with faith, he knows that God is faithful. In verse 7, the Psalmist says, “I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.” We see the Psalmist go from a prayer of desperation in verse 5 to a shout of praise in verse 7. He is saying, “Lord, as you give me strength and understanding, I will learn to praise you.” Who can make one’s heart upright? Only God can. The only way that we can praise with an upright heart is if the Lord takes away our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. As we continue on in the faith, God will be faithful and give us understanding so that we may praise Him as we should. Verse 8 ends on almost a somber note. The Psalmist says, “I will keep your statues; do not utterly forsake me!” What is he saying here? He is saying that he is only able to keep the Lord’s statutes if He promises that He will be there with him. On his own, the author is still aware of his utter inability to faithfully carry out God’s law in his own life. He seems aware that salvation cannot be secured by works and that salvation is by faith alone. He is saying, “God if you are to leave me, don’t leave me entirely. If you are to forsake me, don’t give me the full wrath that I deserve because I won’t be able to take it.” The author is right. If the Lord were to utterly forsake us, we would never be able to handle it. As long as we are in Christ, we never have to worry about being utterly forsaken. Remember Christ’s words on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Do you ever feel forsaken? At the cross, Jesus was utterly forsaken! That perfect love that He had experienced with His Father was taken away. As the nails tore through His flesh, the greater pain was being torn out of the presence of His Father. Christ was utterly forsaken on the cross, so that we would never have to be. He took on our sin, so that we wouldn’t have to feel the great weight of it. Our sin is given to Him, and His sinlessness is given to us. Our unrighteousness was given to Him, so that we could put on His righteousness. Do you ever feel like the Lord has left you? Do you ever feel like you can’t handle what life is throwing at you? Know that He is faithful and true. He loves you more than you could possibly imagine. Christ was willing to be utterly forsaken, struck down on the cross, so that you would never have to be. With all that in mind, we can say with the Psalmist, “I will praise you with an upright heart!”
 
-Brady


The Blessings of Knowing Scripture (Psalm 119:1-3)

Psalm 119:1-3 “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! 2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 3 who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways!”
Have you ever thought of how easy it is for us to take the Scriptures for granted? Here we are in possession of the very words of God Almighty! Out of His goodness, He has preserved His word for us. Not only are we blessed to be in possession of Scripture, we are blessed through knowing Scripture. Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the Bible and at its heart, is a love for God’s Word. As the Psalmist wrote these words, he (possibly King David) had a desire to know the Word beyond just an introductory level. He was not content with just knowing the basics of Scripture, He wanted to know the God who inspired Scripture. He knew that he was not only blessed with having the Word of God, he was blessed by knowing the Word of God. If we follow what the Psalmist says in these first 3 verses, we see that those who practice and know the Scriptures are blessed. In order for us to be blameless, we need to walk in the law of the Lord. If we seek Him with our whole heart and keep His testimonies, we will be blessed. Who are the ones that do no wrong? The ones that walk in His ways. There is a double blessedness that we see in these verses. To know and to practice what God reveals to us in Scripture blesses our lives beyond understanding. It is one thing to just read the Scriptures, it is another thing entirely to know them and to practice them. In verse 2, we are told that we are blessed if we seek him with our whole heart. This means that if we truly want to feel the blessings of knowing God’s Word, our devotion to His Word needs to extend beyond just skin level. It is all too easy to read the Bible like a Pharisee. To read the word and know the word but not apply it to our heart and to our lives is a soul killer. When you read the Bible and have your time alone with God, do you read it to know it? Or do you read it to live it out and to better love the One who inspired it? So, what is your quiet time like? If you had to tell us what it meant to truly love the Word of God, what would you tell us? Would you be able to say like the Psalmist that you seek Him with your whole heart? Do you walk in His ways and not just talk in His ways? How can we make sure that we are walking and seeking with our whole hearts? I’ll give you 3 ways, although, there are many more that could be listed.
 
1. Read the Bible supernaturally.
In your hands are a book that is unlike anything ever written. There is no other book in all of history that is like the Word of God. You are holding perfection in your hands, the very words of God. I believe it was Steven Lawson who once said, “if you want to hear the audible voice of God, read your Bible out loud.” Have you ever thought of it that way? The Sovereign King over ALL is speaking to you through this book! Go to the Bible expecting to hear God speak and you will never be disappointed. John Piper has an excellent book called Reading the Bible Supernaturally that does a much better job detailing this if you were interested in learning more about what it means to read the Bible differently.
 
2. Put into Action what You Read
All too often we can pick up a book, read it, learn from it, and then carry on with our lives as if we never picked it up to begin with. This cannot be the case with the Bible. Notice that the Psalmist uses the verbs walk and seek when it comes to those that are blessed. If we want to experience the full blessings of knowing God through His word, we need to put some action behind that desire. John Wesley once wrote, “it cannot be that people should grow in grace unless they give themselves to reading. A reading people will always be a knowing people.” The more you read  and act on the Word, the more you will know the One who inspired it all. As you read your Bible, write down some things that stick out to you and try to implement those things into your daily life. Maybe it’s something as simple as finding a quiet place to pray alone or memorizing Scripture. Maybe it’s something more like explaining the Gospel to a friend or a coworker. We can never grow spiritually if we aren’t acting towards growth. It might look like baby steps but we serve a God that is faithful and will help us to grow. The only thing we can’t do is nothing.
 
3. Pray the Word
When you read the Bible, pray that God would reveal Himself to you. Don’t go to the Bible and expect to understand it on your own power. Pray some of the promises of Scripture such as Jeremiah 29:13, where the Lord says that those who seek Him will find Him or pray James 4:8 which says that when we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. Pray for understanding before, during, and after reading Scripture. Meditate on those Words as you go throughout your day. If you are struggling with a passage, don’t be afraid to ask God to reveal information to you. Finally, remember to thank the Lord that He has revealed Himself to you through His Word, through His divine nature, and through the world around us.
 
Brady
 
If you would like more help on reading your Bible, I would recommend John Piper’s A.P.T.A.T (Admit, Pray, Trust, Act, Thank)  approach. It is something that I (Brady) have been practicing over the last year or so and I can definitely feel a difference in the way that I read the Bible and prepare things for my ministry. Attached is a link that better explains A.P.T.A.T
 
https://www.desiringgod.org/a-p-t-a-t
 


The Conflict of Christmas

When one thinks about Christmas, chances are a million different things pop into your head. Everything from Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men, and a baby in a manger. You also have Santa Claus, Christmas trees, Christmas lights, Christmas TV programs, before and after Christmas sales, and of course Chik-Fil-A Peppermint milkshakes (if you have never had one, let’s just say that they are further proof that God is good and gives good gifts to His people.) When you think of Christmas, chances are you don’t think of darkness. You think of light! You think of joy! You think of togetherness! However, Luke 2:22-35 gives us a different idea of what we traditionally think Christmas to be. Luke 2:22-35 comes almost immediately after the shepherds leave and the Angels return to Heaven. Anywhere between 8 and 40 days after the birth of Christ, Mary and Joseph go up to the temple in Jerusalem to present Jesus to the Lord (in accordance with the Law of Moses). While they are their, we read about a man named Simeon who has been eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah. Through the Holy Spirit, Simeon was informed that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Being guided by the Spirit, Simeon runs into Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus at the temple and says these words: “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Many will stop at the end of verse 32 and think, “Yes! That is the Christmas message that I am familiar with! Right there is the joy of Christmas!” And in a sense, they are correct. Indeed a great light has come down and God’s glory has been revealed through the birth of Christ. Churches over the centuries have used these words from Simeon, known as the Nunc dimittis, in their worship services, but Simeon doesn’t stop speaking in verse 32. Notice what Simeon says to Mary in verses 33 and 34. “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” It kind of makes sense that churches wouldn’t want to add that part to their liturgies. There are 2 things that I want us to focus on briefly in these verses and they both involve some form of conflict. When Christ was born, a great light came into the world. The reason that light was needed was because there was such great darkness. When we think of Christmas, we think of light, yet when Christ came, there was only darkness. So, how is the darkness defeated? Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All too often when we think about Christmas, we forget about what Christ came down to accomplish. As Christ was born on Christmas morning, He was born in the shadow of the cross. Notice that Simeon tells Mary that her child was appointed to be a sign that was opposed. In saying these words, he is reminding Mary of the suffering servant that Isaiah speaks of in Isaiah 52-53. The baby that she held in her hands would one day be abandoned, beaten, and killed for the falling and rise of many. We cannot think about Christmas without thinking of what Christ came to accomplish. The second conflict that we read of involves Mary and extends to us today. Simeon tells Mary that “a sword will pierce your own soul also.” What Simeon means by this is that one day, Mary will feel the cost of what her Son came to accomplish. She would be hurt deeply as she saw her child beaten, blasphemed, rejected, and crucified. No parent ever wants to outlive their child. Mary would feel the hurt pierce through her soul, like a sword piercing through her heart. When Simeon told Mary this, he was speaking to us as well. Every Christian will in some way, feel the sword pierce their soul. It doesn’t take an experienced Christian to realize that this is true. Christianity was never promised to be easy. To follow Christ is to carry His cross and die in His place. Tim Keller said, “If you love Jesus and have Him in your life, a sword will pass through your heart as well. There will be inner conflict, sometimes confusion, sometimes great pain. You will get things wrong. You may fight with Him. And you may fight with yourself.” Why is this? Because our spirit is at war with our flesh. The life that we now live for the Son of God is different (or should be different) than the life that we were living before we came to faith. In Romans 6-8, Paul talks about the inner warfare between the Christian’s old self and the Christian’s new self. In Romans 7:15, Paul himself says, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Here Paul is talking about the sword that has pierced his soul! He is talking about the conflict between his faith and his flesh. If a man like Paul felt the pain of the sword, what makes us think that we won’t? But thanks be to God that the sword that pierces our soul is not a mortal wound. The conflict of our soul is a reminder of the “sword” that came down on Christ. The pain wasn’t lessened, no relief was given, the agony was fully endured. Jesus faced the ultimate sword on our behalf. We can face the conflict with full confidence that Jesus has already won. There will be days when Christianity will be hard, days where we are carrying our cross uphill, with the sun scorching down on us, but we can endure knowing that this struggle is only temporary. We know the reward that is waiting for us. John Newton once wrote to a friend to encourage him in his walk with Christ by saying, “to view Him by faith, as living, dying, reigning, interceding, and governing for us, will furnish us with such views, prospects, motives, and encouragements, as will enable us to endure any cross, to overcome all opposition, to withstand temptation, and to run in the way of His commandments with an enlarged heart.” So, why am I writing about Christmas the day after Christmas? Because from the very beginning, the birth of Christ was never meant to be celebrated for just one day. The story of Christmas extends well beyond the manger and the shepherds. The story of Christmas reminds us that a great light has come to put an end to the darkness. By following Him, a sword will pierce our soul, but we can be encouraged because of the nails that pierced His hands. There will be conflict and confusion but Christ has already secured the victory, and like Newton said, we can endure any cross because of what He has already accomplished.
 
-Brady


Scripture Alone

“Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly, and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive, myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.” The great pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards said those words when he was only 20 years old. I’m 22 right now and how I wish I had the drive that Edwards did at the age of 20. Do we long to grow in knowledge of the Scriptures? I do not feel comfortable approaching a crowd on a Sunday morning or a Wednesday night if I have not been in the Word. What right do I have to preach the Word if I am not actively in the Word? We are blessed to have the living, breathing Word of God in our possession. There should never be a time when we open this holy book and say that what we are reading is not as powerful as some other chapter or some other book. If I am not preaching the Word of God, I have no right to call myself a pastor. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:16, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel!” Woe is man if we do not preach the Gospel. How I wish we all had the heart of Paul and felt the burning desire to preach the Gospel and to preach the Word of God! If we neglect this book, if we fail to preach the Word of God, people will have a distorted view of God and of the Gospel and that falls on us, the pastors of the Body of Christ. I cannot stress the importance of needing to dive head first into the Bible and to soak in all that it says. I cannot confidently stand before my listeners if I am failing to give them the Word of God. Pastors and all who proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ: Make the stand today to devote your lives to the study of His Word so that we can better declare the glory of His name to a world that desperately needs it. Read the Word! Be in the Word! Live out the Word!
-Brady