Encouragment

THIS IS POWERFUL!

5 year old Levi has Down’s Syndrome. And that is the easiest of his physical difficulties. His adversities include four open heart surgeries (and counting).

This testimony by his dad, a student at Bethlehem Seminary, is powerful, perspective correcting, and encouraging!

“Drinking Deeply of the Tenderness of Christ” from Bethlehem College & Seminary on Vimeo.

WHY DID I CRY?

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While reading CJ Mahaney’s tribute to Jerry Bridges I came upon CJ’s statement “I’m glad he’s in heaven”. Just reading those words made my eyes well up with tears. Why would that be so?

I am not a friend of Jerry Bridges. And this was not my first news of Jerry Bridge’s death. I had read several other tributes of his death. In fact, I had written a brief blog in recognition of his life and influence.

I was surprised myself that reading the simple words, “I’m glad he’s in heaven” affected me emotionally.

What was the reason?

Heaven is a real place, and God gives us a heart that longs to be there.

We are now in union with Christ, and we rejoice over this wondrous relationship that has its culmination waiting ahead of us.

I don’t have to know Jerry Bridges to be thankful that he is joyfully in heaven. And I can personally appreciate that CJ although grieved, also rejoices that his friend is with Christ.

Our emotions don’t prove that we are true believers, but being a true believer will cause the realities of Christ to reach deep into our hearts.

I find it easy to see (and be discouraged) by the ways I don’t show my love for God. So it is good to take encouragement from each manifestation that reminds me that I do love God!

In CJ Mahaney’s tribute to Jerry Bridges, he includes this excerpt from Jerry’s book, The Gospel for Real Life. CJ commented, “As I read it, I cried. I think you will too”.

Our Homecoming

“What will it be like when we enter the presence of the Lord? Sometimes when I focus too much on my own shortcomings, of how often I have sinned against grace and against knowledge, of how little I have availed myself of all the blessings of God and opportunities that have come my way, I think I would like to somehow ‘just slip in the side door’ of heaven, unnoticed and consequently unwelcome. But that is because I do focus too much on myself and try to anticipate my welcome on the basis of my performance.

The apostle Peter, however, gives us an entirely different perspective in 2 Peter 1:10-11: ‘Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’” (pp.164–5).

OH, WHAT GRACE!

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Think about grace.

It is such a sweet word.

Oh, what implications exist in the proclamation of grace.

Particularly God’s grace!

Grace is the name of the treasure box in which all the gospel’s goodness is held.

“In (Christ) we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us” Ephesians 1:7-8

“When we were dead in our trespasses, (God) made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” Ephesians 2:5

Believer, in Christ you are never without grace – lavish and rich grace.

Grace sets us free from all the guilt and eternal consequences of sin

Grace brings us into an unblocked relationship with God

Grace keeps us in that relationship – forever

Grace completes us so we can fully enjoy that relationship

Take a moment and bring to mind the weaknesses or limitations that tend to discourage you.

God’s grace is in those weaknesses or limitations, so they no longer need to be discouraging. God tells us:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

What are the circumstances that burden you? God’s grace is with you to find rest; for you are his and all his wondrous intention and promise remain true for you. It is a theological impossibility for anything to enter your life (even what is sorrowful, hurtful and evil) without God ensuring that his grace is attached to it.

“For those who love God all things work together for good” Romans 8:28

We have grace upon grace

God’s grace doesn’t drizzle on us – we have been immersed in it as fully as we are by the air around us. Grace shapes our destiny even more than our skin shapes our bodies.

John 1:16 tells us that “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace”

2 Corinthians 9:14 speaks of the “surpassing grace” upon us

“Surpassing grace” means that grace surpasses everything else that we know, that we can imagine, and that touches us!

Grace so Full – deserves careful attention in our minds. It should dominate all our thought processes.

Grace so Real – deserves to direct the actions of our lives, however big and however ordinary.

Grace so Wondrous – deserves to bring praise from our lips with the same constancy with which it pours forth from God’s heart to us.

SERMON LEFTOVERS 3.14.16

“Nothing compares to Christ”

 

Philippians 3:1-11

Paul makes three comparisons between true religion and the world

 

#1  Human Religion vs. True Worshipers (vs 2-3)

Paul comes in swinging against human religion; he has the Judiazers in mind, who taught you had to keep the Law to be saved

Paul uses a series of rapid-fire accusations (v2)

(1) They are “dogs” – i.e. feral dogs, which were dangerous and unclean predators

(2) They are “evildoers” – in contrast to the godliness they claim

(3) They are ‘mutilators’ – they emphasized outward appearances that had no spiritual benefit

True religion is then described in 3 contrasting statements (v3)

(1) It is Spirit-led

(2) It is Christ-exalting

(3) It takes no confidence in ourselves

Why, does Paul warn believers to “look out” for false religion?

Even trace amounts of human religion distort our thinking

Legalism affects how we think God looks at us: since we regularly fail, it leads to regularly feeling God is angry at us 

Human religion promotes self-determination: God becomes someone we go to when we think we need him, rather than recognizing we need him in everything!

To guard against distortion, we need to actively pursue true worship

v3 implies that true worshipers are seeking the Holy Spirit, exalting Christ and exposing self-centeredness

 

#2  What We Accomplish vs. What Christ Has Done (vs 4-8)

Paul approaches this comparison from a personal perspective

Human accomplishment impresses us and Paul boldly places himself as a prime example of this fact (vs 4-5)

There is nothing wrong with human achievement or being inspired by it

The problem is when we fail to see our accomplishments from a God-centered perspective

Human accomplishment encourages and inspires, but it cannot save or sustain us

All Paul accomplished became empty before the “surpassing worth” of Christ

Jesus is not impressive, he is transcendent!

In the light of Jesus’ glory, Paul counted his accomplishments as “loss” – i.e. as a liabilities

They had distracted Paul from his spiritual poverty

They were pride-inducing

They were false comforts of righteousness

 

#3  Christ vs. Everything Else (vs 8-11)

Paul takes the comparisons already made even further

To “gain” Christ, he will gladly lose “all things” and view them as “rubbish”

These are not empty words – Paul endured loss, persecution and much suffering

His point is not that we have to do without to become or be a good Christian

It is a serious question about Christ’s place against everything else

Unless we believe Christ’s “worth” is more than everything, we will hesitate to leave everything in his hands

If you have Christ, Paul tells what comes with that relationship

(1) We are “found in” Christ

We have a union with Christ that connects us with all that is glorious about him

There is no pursuit in life that can match a single gleam of his glories

(2) We can “know” Christ

This is more than know about – it’s relational depth

We can be like giddy school girls to meet a celebrity; then yawn about the open door to spend time with Jesus

(3) We are “becoming like” Christ

We are being transformed completely into his character

Does this inspire your heart?

LET’S TALK

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It may seem awkward at first.

How do you bring it up?

God that is. In conversation. With other believers.

We should also be bringing up God in conversation with unbelievers, but that’s a different article.

When we are with fellow believers, our conversation should never be far from God.

This might include a question we had while reading the Bible, a conviction that encouraged us in small group, something that struck us in a recent sermon, an attitude we struggle with at work, or what we felt while singing worship songs in the car this afternoon.

We will bring up some subject matter, is there anything more worthy or helpful to discuss with brothers and sisters in Christ? Developing this habit will help us to fulfill many of the “one another” passages that are so vital for biblical community:

“Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Ephesians 5:19)

“Teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16)

“Encourage one another and build one another up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:130

“Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24)

 

There are many benefits when we frequently talk about God

It will help us cultivate biblical thinking

Our actions will become increasing influenced by what we believe

It will help the truths that we are reading and hearing about God to take root in our mind

Other believers will be influenced to be more God-centric in their thinking

Our children will learn that God really is the biggest person in our life

It replaces wasteful and self-centered conversation

Sin will find it harder to find a resting place in our minds

Our faith is built up as we remember our God stories, and hear them from others

Gospel conversation with people who don’t know Christ might become more natural

God will be pleased

I must confess, I am writing this out of need rather than out of strength. There have been many times when I have realized after a conversation that I wasted an opportunity to be engaged in meaningful God talk with someone.

 

This is a habit worth cultivating.

Let’s help each other improve at it.

We can start by simply asking one another, “What thoughts have you had about God this week?”

This is a habit that has to benefit us. How wonderful will be the affects.

SERMON LEFTOVERS 1.11.16

‘Life is about what Christ is doing’

 

Philippians 1:12-18

When we are in a place of hardship, limitations or uncertainty, our impulse is that we NEED to get out, because nothing good can happen here. However, when we serve what Christ is doing, every situation becomes fruitful

 

Paul Describes His Imprisonment (vs 12-14)

We can imagine the concern and interest of the Philippian Church

Yet, the only details Paul is interested in sharing are about gospel mission

The central issues for Paul are how he is serving the gospel, and how the gospel is “advancing”

Paul’s tone is not just positive, it’s victorious

We are not to have a ‘success model’ that is separate from Christ’s kingdom: our success and his kingdom success should be the same concern and joy for us

“But what if my life is in a bad place?” How are you defining ‘bad’?

  • A bad place is when we are in sin and pushing God away
  • We may be in unpleasant place, but can still be a Christ advancing place

In Paul’s hardship, limitations and uncertainty, gospel mission is advancing in two ways

(1) The gospel was advancing to unbelievers

The Imperial Guard was an elite force, and Paul was a mere prisoner, yet he has gotten the attention of this “whole” group

From 4:22 we know the gospel had advanced into Caesar’s household

(2) The gospel mission was advancing in believers (v14)

The church could have slunk back in fear, but Paul’s example led them in the opposite of “boldness”

Paul was limited, but the Holy Spirit was not, because God is all powerful, ever active and fully sovereign

Until the “day of Christ” arrives, the gospel will not stop advancing, because God has people to save

The gospel was not advancing despite hardship, it was advancing through it!

The Philippians may have wondered if their continuing support was being wasted

In v12 Paul lets them know that that the opposite is happening

No effort for Christ and his kingdom is wasted because He reigns

 

Sadder Than Paul’s Chains, Were the Actions of Some Believers (vs 15-18)

First, we need to piece together what is taking place

  • They are among the “the brothers” mentioned in v14
  • They are not false teachers, because Paul always confronts and condemns them
  • These are believers preaching out of envy (v15) and selfish ambition (v17)

It seems that they are Christians who want to be known for having bigger ministries than the famous Paul

Once again, for Paul this situation is seen through the eyes of gospel mission

He didn’t approve of the heart in these believers, but he approves of the gospel being declared

There are churches we may not want to attend, because we disagree with their approach to ministry

But if they are clear with the gospel, we should take joy in that reality (v18)

Last week, we saw Paul’s joy was rooted in the progress of the gospel rather than circumstances

We never lose our reason for joy, when our reason is the reign of Christ

If your reason for joy is in other things, then your joy will come and GO

 

Paul Wants the Church to Be Encouraged

His circumstances included chains, but his words include “advance, confident, bold, without fear and rejoice”

This is because the key phrase in Paul’s heart is “for Christ”(v13)

In vs 1-18, Paul refers to Christ twelve times, God four times, and the gospel four times

As Christians, we need to grasp that everything is meant to be about Christ!

v21 “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain”

  • He is worthy of this being true for us
  • It is wise and good when this is true for us
  • God is serious about this being true for us

As a Church family, we want to show grace toward one another as we struggle to grow, but we also want to be zealous to grow

None of us live for Christ in everything and at all times.

But we all can be moving in that direction

1. Live by God’s word; it incessantly points us to Christ

2. Pour your life into gospel mission “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21)

3. Be a worshipper! Your love for Christ and your interest in his kingdom will increase

FAITHFUL TO THE END

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George Petrillo entered eternity on August 23rd of this year.

He leaves a legacy of love for his family and a wonderful example of abiding trust in Jesus Christ to all who know him.

Over the years George attended Greentree Church, I would often receive a card or letter from him. These were always encouraging. It might be a simple note of thanks for our church, or a comment on how a recent sermon affected his soul.

More recently his notes would contain updates on the serious health issues faced by him and his wife Joan. George had fibrosis of the lungs which meant they were hardening. Doctors informed him that nothing could be done to stop this condition from gradually worsening and resulting before long in his death.

On top of this, George’s beloved Joan, suffers from Alzheimer’s. For George, care for Joan far outweighed concern for himself.

Despite carrying what we would all agree are heavy burdens, George remained an encourager to his family and those who knew him.

George’s notes continued right up to his final days on this earth. My last card from him arrived the day after he passed away. Knowing his time was short; George filled out one last card and insisted that his daughter deliver it to the post office that day.

In one of his recent notes, George once more graciously shared his love for our church. He emphasized the impact of both the preaching of God’s Word and the consistent care they received from their church family.

In typical fashion, George closed with these words:

“I am always aware of God’s may, many blessings to (us), and I am also aware – so vividly of the hurts and heartaches of so many people.

The hope we have in Christ Jesus is so wonderful and so liberating! For in this HOPE we are saved.”

I hope George’s legacy can extend further to influence each of us to see God’s faithfulness in all circumstances. And along the way, may we follow his example of frequently sharing expressions of love, faith and thankfulness to one another!

SPEND MORE TIME DAYDREAMING

 

I enjoy planning and thinking about trips.

The anticipation and the preparation are part of the fun.

Time spent daydreaming about an upcoming vacation or a quick getaway, not only builds excitement – it brings some of the joy of this trip into life now

I think about . .

Places we will visit

Restaurants where we will eat

The company of friends we will enjoy

The churches where we will worship

The books I will read

Sleeping in – staying up

And the lack of deadlines to meet

Why not take a similar approach to our impending entrance into eternity?

As Christians, we believe we will be with Christ in heaven, but it does not seem real – so we give very little thought to this great reality.

There is much to think about and to be excited over:

Seeing Jesus!

The feel of his arms around us

Listening to the Heavenly host – and singing with them

Being perfected

Knowing that we actually do love God with ALL our heart, mind, soul and strength

Reuniting with loved ones

Conversation and a meal with Moses, David, Mary, Paul, Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards or any other believer you admire

If anything is worth daydreaming over, it is eternal life with our Savior in the new heaven and the new earth.

Add some anticipation to your worship and to your life – the plans that God has made for you are worth it!

 

BOLD PRAYERS

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Every Christian wonders at times about the worthiness and effectiveness of their prayers.

Perhaps you may wonder if they are being given much attention. Certainly it can often seem as though our earnest prayers are not being answered

I cannot answer or solve all those prayer concerns in this blog, but I can give you three prayers which every Christian can pray with absolute confidence.

As we offer these prayers, we can know that God not only gladly receives them, they will be answered beyond our expectations!

1. Pray for our sanctification and that of other believers

The Bible tells us that God will complete his perfect work in us (Philippians 1:6) and that everyone who has been justified, will be glorified (Romans 8:29-30).

So pray boldly for your growing holiness and love for God

2. Pray that more people will be saved

If Christ has not yet returned, it is because there are more people He is committed to saving

So pray boldly for God to save many

3. Pray for the glory of Christ’s Kingdom

Our Lord is and will always be “King of kings and Lord of Lords”. Nothing will ever diminish him, his
kingdom or his plans

So pray boldly for our Lord’s kingdom to be glorified

A RESPONSE TO THIS DISTURBING WORLD

Do you ever get discouraged after reading the paper, listening to the news or just watching the world from your front door?

Only if you are human

The changes in our culture or perhaps the situations close to home in your life can easily wear down our heart. This is not surprising, because our world is in disarray and mayhem.

I wonder what will happen in the days ahead. Even more alarming to me – what will the world be like when my grandchildren have to navigate it?

In these moments (or longer) of discouragement, I consider what will always be true.

The unchanging goodness and sovereignty of our Lord is the medicine that has been settling disturbed hearts – ever since sin began to create havoc in our world.

Here are some ‘What will always be true’ thoughts for every Christian:

Our Lord Jesus Christ will always be “King of kings and Lord of lords”

Jesus will always be the victor over sin, Satan and death

The gospel will always be “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”

We will always have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us

The Word of God will always be true, sufficient and fruitful

Our life in this world will always be the temporary portion and Heaven will always be forever

Our life in Christ’s eternal kingdom will always be wondrously perfect

We will always be “children” and “heirs of God”

We will always be loved by our Heavenly Father as fully as he loves Jesus

Jesus will always love us, as fully as he loves his Heavenly Father

There will always be an eternal “rest” waiting for those who love God

Our destiny will always be glorification

Our Defender will always be greater than

Our Lord will always be better than

Our King will always be wiser than

Our God will always know what to do and when to do it

We will always be in the center of God’s attention and in the palm of his hand

Our hope will always shine more gloriously than the sun

We will always have a response to the disturbances of life

If you have other examples of what will always be true for us as Christians, please share them in Comments.