Thursday, February 8, 2018

A Letter to Naomi

My dear sister Naomi,

It’s been much too long since I’ve seen your face and I miss you fiercely. My heart yearns for you. I will dispense with the pleasantries of asking if you are well because I know the last decade has been a difficult one. Even the word 'difficulty' pales in comparison to the great heartache you have faced. The loss of your husband, and most recently your two boys is a suffering that I cannot feel as fully and deeply as you do but please know my heart grieves with you.

The 'what might have beens' can make us go crazy, but there is nothing that you or I can do about what lies now in the past. There is no benefit in trying to relive what got you to where you are now as there’s no way to fix what has now been permanently broken in the loss of your family. I know that if you were given the opportunity you’d choose differently but at the same time I firmly believe that even in these most difficult of moments Yahweh has a plan for His people. Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, but even then the Lord was using it to save His people. Oh, how His steadfast love endures forever! He is a gracious God, full of compassion, and willingness to forgive.

Therefore, my beloved Naomi, I am writing to you with an appeal to action. The Lord has once again visited His people here in Bethlehem! He has given us bread. The wickedness of our culture pains me but in the midst of these turbulent times, God has not forgotten His promises. Leave Moab, my sister. Turn your back on it! Turn to Bethlehem and trust the God of our fathers. Don’t pretend you love Him while living your own way and doing your own thing. Come to Him. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings, you will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler.

Oh, Naomi! I know your pain seems unbearable but I write to remind you that my God is king! Don’t dwell in Moab any longer. There is no hope there. How often the grass seems greener the in the fields of sin, but we learn that it only leaves us hollow. I don't mean to pile on your grief, so hear me in live, but did you find what you were looking for in Moab? Of course not! The famine you found in Moab is far worse than the physical famine we briefly experienced here in the Promised Land. But I hold forth hope to you. Our hope is Yahweh Himself! He remembered Noah, sought out Abraham, never abandoned Joseph, revealed Himself to Moses from the burning bush, and strengthened Joshua. And despite the wickedness of our leaders and our people, I know that He will send us a Deliverer! I wait for Him to free us from our wretched condition and to fulfill all the promises that God has given. What we are experiencing now in this city is a foretaste of what is to come. Come to us, dear sister. Come and see what the Lord has done.

Yahweh has visited His people Naomi! He has given us bread to eat! What will you do? Out of your sorrow, bondage, and night come to Bethlehem. Out of your shameful failure and loss, come to Bethlehem. Let not pride, stubbornness, or any other sin stand in the way. Leave Moab now. Turn away from there and come and see God’s work here. Come rest in Him. He is still a gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Come and see for yourself!

I don’t know God’s specific purposes for you but I know this: while you breathe there is hope for you. What glorious purposes God might still have for Naomi! I know it seems like all is lost, but what might Yahweh do with you if you humbled yourself and sought Him? And even if your life did not end like Job's, would it not be worth it simply to find delight in the Lord Himself? Isn't He that worthy? Isn't our praise due Him? But please do not delay. I cannot bear to hear of another one whom I love so dearly being buried in Moab. In the Bread Yahweh has given us, there is life. Come and dine.

May God answer my prayer for you,



You can read Ruth 1:1-7 to help set the background to this imaginative letter. You can listen to our current sermon series through the book of Ruth here. Eliana means 'My God Answers'.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

How to Obey God

True believers are actually being made holy by the power of God. The work of Christ didn’t just purchase a legal declaration but also a practical application of holiness. This is another blessing the Believer possesses in Christ. J.C. Ryle elaborates:
“The Lord Jesus has undertaken everything that His people’s souls require: not only to deliver them from the guilt of their sins by His atoning death, but from the dominion of their sins, by placing in their hearts the Holy Spirit; not only to justify them, but also to sanctify them.”[1]
Christ’s work on the cross actually sets captives free so that we can die to sin and live to
righteousness.[2] Grace doesn’t cause us to desire to continue in sin, but to live our lives for the glory of God.[3] His sheep hear His voice and follow Him.[4] Choosing righteousness as a Christian isn’t being a Pharisee. It is being a Christian.[5] This reminds me of the Geico© commercials currently airing: “If you’re a cat, you ignore people. It’s what you do.”[6] Well, if you’re a Christian, you love to follow Jesus, it’s what you do. The Bible knows of no Christianity that says “Oh, how I love Jesus” while simultaneously refusing to do what He says for us to do. The awesome reality of justification doesn’t create Believers who care nothing about holiness. Instead, it produces Christians who strive after it.[7] (All the above is an excerpt from my new book From Death to Life: How Salvation Works).

But how do we actually obey God? I've been reading Lou Priolo's books The Complete Husband recently and he gives some great encouragement. He writes: "God never asks a Christian to obey Him without providing three powerful resources" 
  1. God promises to give you the wisdom to obey Him (James 1:15)
  2. God promises to give you the ability to change (Philippians 2:13)
  3. God promises to give you the desire to change (Philippians 2:13)
"All three of these promises are made only to Christians, who in dependence on His Spirit and in conjunction with HIs Word, receive and implement them (page 27)." 

So, if you are a Believer, you desire to obey God. It's what you do. You can act on those desires by trusting God's supply of grace in granting to us wisdom to obey, ability to change, and desire to change. Understanding the mechanism for how this works isn't all that difficult. It's the carrying it out that is the challenge. But know this: If you are a Christian you have a God who is for you in Christ. He is not scowling at you waiting for your next failure. Trust Jesus, look to Him, and obey. Be in the word regularly, seeking God to show you areas where you need to grow in obedience. Ask God to give you the power to change (which He has promised) and the ability to change (which He has also promised), and then carry out His working in you. 

Will you stumble sometimes? Yup. And maybe even often at times, like a young child learning to walk. But God is for you in Christ. And He will finish in you what He began (Philippians 1:6). His grace is sufficient for sanctification too, so keep it holy. 

[1] Ryle, J.C. Holiness (Faverdale, England 1979), 16.
[2] 1 Peter 2:24
[3] Romans 6:1-2
[4] John 10:27
[5] 1 John 3:10
[7] Hebrews 12:14

Monday, January 22, 2018

Full Stomachs, Empty Hearts

Close-up of cracks in dry dirt

This week, we continue our study in the book of Ruth by focusing on Elimelech’s decision to move his family to Moab. You can listen to the sermon here.

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. (Ruth 1:1-2)

In moving to Moab, Elimelech failed to:

1. Discern the Purposes of God 

The author doesn’t tell us why this famine took place, but just that it did take place. Most readers have never experienced a famine, but put yourself back 3,000 years ago and a famine was a big deal. Because of the context, we know that the famine was localized. Moab isn’t that far from Bethlehem, but they had food and Bethlehem didn’t.

We also know that the famine occurred during a great time of disobedience because it was ‘in the days of the Judges.’ Read Leviticus 26:3-20 if you want to know the relationship between disobedience and famine.

My point here is Elimelech failed to discern God’s purposes. He didn’t understand that this famine was likely in connection with God’s warnings about His people’s disobedience. And what you do when you discern that you’ve been disobedient to God is not run off to Moab. It is to repent. But often our pride or our foolishness keeps us from doing so.

Sin blinds. Sin hardens. Sin is the ultimate irrationality.

2ndly, Elimelech failed to:

2. Delight in the Precepts of God 
Elimelech has a beautiful name. It means ‘My God is King.’ Who wouldn’t want to name their child that? ‘El’ is the Hebrew word for God and carries the connotation of mighty one. Several important men of the Old Testament had ‘El’ their name. Take for example ‘Elijah’, meaning ‘My God is YHWH.’ So, Elimelech had a great name. Perhaps his parents were true Old Testament Believers and named their son this name in hopes that he too would follow God as king.

But it appears that Elimelech completely forsook his name. He did not delight in God’s rules or God’s kingship but instead ‘did what was right in his own eyes’ (See Judges 21:25).

His name means ‘My God is king’ but he lived as though he were king. He failed to discern the purposes of God in the famine and instead of repenting and encouraging his community to repent, he makes the choice to leave Bethlehem and go to Moab.

Why is this significant? Bethlehem is in the Promised Land. To leave the Promised Land and go settle somewhere else is a major step in the wrong direction. The grass looked greener in Moab, so Elimelech is out.

Hey, at least his name is still ‘My God is King’ though, right? Actually, it’s meaningless isn’t it?
It is flat out denial of God’s kingship to live in disobedience to His revealed will.

God was King in Elimelech life in name only, but it had no real benefit on daily decision making it seems. We might draw a parallel here… When we do what seems right in our own eyes even though it is against God’s revealed will in the Scriptures, we are denying Christ’s kingship in our lives. We may call ourselves Christians, but practically, it is in that moment only a name. It doesn’t have practical bearing in the way we live.

Elimelech should not have gone to Moab, no matter what his rationale was because he was in the land of promise. So too, Believers have no business to use sin as an answer to any situation. Whether you want to sin to avoid a situation, or you want to sin to experience some new situation, that’s not who we are.

If Christ is truly our King, then we must follow Him. No matter what. Obedience to Christ is always the right choice, no matter who else is doing it. Obedience to Christ is always the right choice no matter the earthly consequences. Spurgeon said “Better poverty with the ppl of God than plenty outside the covenanted land.”

Elimelech failed to discern the purposes of God, delight in the precepts of God, thirdly he failed to:

3. Dwell in the Presence of God 

The text makes something plain to us 2x in these verses: They went into the country of Moab. So, not only is this a disregard for God’s precepts, but it’s also a failure to dwell in God’s presence. Yes, God is omnipresent – He is everywhere. The Universe cannot contain Him. But, He manifests His presence in special ways in special places.

Elimelech decided he’d take his chances with his family in a place that God had not promised His presences or His blessings. You can’t expect God to bless when you live against his revealed will.

The point being, God has promised what we call means of grace, like preaching, Bible intake, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, to manifest His presence with His people in a special way. God had promised His people in the OT that He would dwell with them in the Promised Land and be their God. Elimelech chose to forsake that.

Please don’t go his way. Moab is not the answer. Dwell in God’s presence.

4. Depend on the Promises of God 

So, perhaps you’re feeling a little bad for Elimelech. I feel that too. There is a famine in the land and you look at your starving wife and children and you decide, I’m going to fix this. I can’t stand it any longer.

I get that. And I think we would be heartless not to empathize there. Perhaps you look around at your own situation and you think “I just cannot take it anymore” and you’re tempted to find a supposed solution in your own power and strength.

And you hear me saying in this sermon “don’t go to Moab!” And you say, “Fine. But what then am I supposed to do with my pain? What am I supposed to do with this problem? How can I fix this current situation?”

I don’t have neat and tidy answers for you, but I can exhort you to this: Depend on God’s promises! (Proverbs 3:5)

Lean hard upon Jesus. And it’s ok to say to Him: “I don’t know what to do, or where to go, or how to move on, help me trust You!” He is a good and faithful Shepherd. The answer is not to run away from Him, but to run to Him. He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He is the unchanging One.

Elimelech was a man of Bethlehem. That was his town. He knew the people of the town. He knew the backroads. He knew the inside jokes. And he knew what the name of the town meant too. In Hebrew, Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread.’ The very name of the town reminds us of some of God’s glorious promises.

On Israel’s journey from Egypt God had provided them with bread from heaven. God had continually shown His people that He was their provider. That He promised to be their God, to show them, steadfast love, to dwell with them. But during the time of the Judges God’s people rejected Him.

The name of Elimelech’s town served as a reminder that God is a faithful God and the famine served as a reminder that God doesn’t shirk His warnings either. That all of God’s promises can be trusted. He is trustworthy. But Elimelech didn’t depend on God’s promises. He took matters into his own hands and sought first his own kingdom.

I don’t mean to suggest that waiting on God is easy. I don’t mean to suggest that we aren’t tempted to get results now. But I do mean to point out that waiting on God, and trusting God, and resting in God’s promises are always what God calls us to do, even if it’s difficult. In fact, sometimes difficult matters arise because God is teaching us to depend on Him all the more. And it is His love & grace toward us that cause Him to do that.

And what I want us to see on this side of the New Testament is that Bethlehem carries even more significance for us doesn’t it? The House of Bread is the very place the Bread of Life was housed at His birth.

God, robed in human flesh, came to give us life. To redeem us from our lawlessness and to clothe us in His righteous robes. To show us that all that we are looking for isn’t found in Moab. It’s in Him. The Bread of Life is the only thing that can end our hunger forever.

I don’t know your situation. And I don’t know all that God has for you in it. But I do know this: God calls us to seek Him. To trust His promises. To rest in Christ. Stake your life upon the promises of God which all find their yes in Christ Jesus.

Don’t go looking for bread in Moab. It may fill your stomach, but it will empty your heart.

Elimelech failed to discern the purposes of God, delight in the precepts of God, dwell in the presence of God, depend on the promises of God and:

5. Discover the Pleasures of God

When we disregard the precepts of God, and dwell outside the presence of God, and fail to depend on the promises of God, we will never discover the pleasures of God.

Elimelech, like all mankind, was made to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Did you catch that? Enjoy Him forever. But you can’t enjoy God if you’re living in Moab. If you’re dwelling outside of where God would have you to be.

Many people sort of think they give God a trial run where they go through the motions of Christianity for a while but never really find rest for their souls, and then they move on. Or other people try to make up the joy of the Lord and they think it’s found in a certain music style of worship or whatever. Still, others think they are delighting in God but really it’s only themselves.

But here’s what David says in Psalm 16:11

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
God made us to enjoy Him. When we disregard the precepts of God, and dwell outside the presence of God, and fail to depend on the promises of God, we will never discover the pleasures of God we were made for.

You won’t find fullness in you. And you won’t find fullness in your well-laid plans. You won’t find fullness in God and something: A full stomach, a content baby, a clean house, a well-paying job, a Moabite Mansion, etc.

If you are outside of where God wants you to be, you won’t find the contentment promised in Christ. I’m not saying contentment is easy. It’s cultivated. Oh but the rivers of grace are flowing today from Christ’s throne! Come and drink!

If you are a Christian but outside of where God wants you to be today, if you’ve forsaken holiness for a full belly, I implore you to repent. Repent and turn back to Christ. Moab only leads to death (Ruth 1:3-5).

Look to Jesus! Fix your thoughts and eyes on Him and His work. A deep grasp of the gospel is important for Believers of all ages because we can continually dwell upon it and its benefits for us - Christ's curse bearing, no more condemnation, the riches of our inheritance, God's favor upon us, the blessings of adoption, justification, sanctification, etc.

Spend regular time in God's Word. Christ's face is all over Scripture. And so we should drink regularly and plentifully from its grace abounding streams.

Look to Christ and turn away from Moab.

If you’ve never truly trusted Christ, come to Him. You’re a Moabite dwelling under wrath. But guess what? The book of Ruth shows us God saves Moabites. Do not refuse Him. I plead with you to repent and believe the gospel of Christ. Trust His work. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore. Forsake all else and trust Him.

(If you want to listen to this sermon in its entirety, click here)

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Days of the Judges

Our current sermon series is through the book of Ruth. Here is a post form our introductory message. You can keep up with the sermons here.

The Book of Ruth is a beautiful story – in fact, I put it up against any Nicholas Spark’s book or Lifetime move – but, it’s much more than that. It’s a true story. But really, it’s even more than that. The Book of Ruth is Scripture. It’s a historical account of something that happened that God wants us to know about. It’s living and active and purposeful and beneficial for us.

Before one can fully grasp how beautiful this book is, we need to set it in its historical context. After all, it’s God who tells us through the human author that this happened in the days of the Judges

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. (Ruth 1:1)
The days of the judges was a period from 1375 – 1055 BC of generally great apostasy, idolatry, and sin with few bright spots sprinkled over the centuries. In Genesis 12 God called Abraham and promised Him a blessing which included his descendants inheriting the land. Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, had 12 sons who wound up in Egypt. They multiplied there and eventually became enslaved to Pharaoh. God called Moses to lead His people out of Egypt and to the land promised to Abraham centuries before.

Moses gets them to the precipice of the land and God’s people grumble and want to head back. They are then punished by having to wander 40 years in the wilderness. When that 40 years is up, Moses dies having handed the reigns of leadership to Joshua. The people of Israel have been divided into 12 tribes according to their lineage to the 12 sons of Jacob. As they begin to conquer the land things go wrong. Then Joshua dies.

To really sum up Judges all we have to do is read its very last verse: (21:25)

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

So, this post is written as a summary of the book of Judges as we prepare to think about what God is doing in the book of Ruth. So, what's going on during the days of the Judges?

(Note: The bible verses are linked so all you have to do is click on them to see the reference)

1. A Compromise with the CanaanitesJudges 1:28

God made it clear through Moses that Israel was to devote the people to destruction and drive them out of the land completely. But what we see in the book of Judges is compromise after compromise. When the people of God attempt compromise with the world, the result is always catastrophic to God’s people and a tarnishing of God’s Name.

2. A Complacency in CatechismJudges 2:10

How could it be that one generation who knew God reared a generation that didn’t know God?

They were complacent in passing on any sort of faith legacy.

Catechism just means asking our children questions about the faith. It’s what we do on Sunday mornings with our kiddos to try and instill the building blocks of truth in their minds so that one day they will repent about believe the gospel.

You see, our children won’t own faith through osmosis. They must be taught.
God has entrusted parents with teaching their children the faith: 

4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy 6:-7)
The Israelites would have heard this right before entering the Promised Land but what happened? They grew complacent. They didn’t teach their children.

Let’s make two quick applications for us:

a.) Parents, have your children in church.

"But I don’t want to force them to go to church or anything." You don’t use that argument with school do you? Bring them to church. Even if they don’t want to come.

b.) Train them at home. Between Sunday and Wednesday teach them. Ask them questions. Read the Bible with them. Pray.
3. A Corruption of CultureJudges 2:11

When the people of God compromise with the world and when they fail to train their children in the faith, what can we expect? 

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. -Judges 17:6

When you take God out of morality you are left with only wickedness. When culture begins to define what’s right apart from God’s truth, what do you get? A mess. A sinful and wicked mess.

We see murder, sexual immorality, homosexuality, corrupt leaders, idol worship, and a plethora of other sins in the book of Judges. It’s a complete societal and cultural breakdown and if not for grace, they would have ceased to exist at all.

4. A Capitulation to Worldly CravingsJudges 2:12-13

The Israelites completely surrendered to the lusts of the world. God’s people rejected Him. 

God is faithful. Patient. Longsuffering. And God is good. Paul says in Romans that His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance. But what does man do? Tramples on God’s goodness - Rejects His promises for the allurements of the world.

They rejected God covenant. Sure, in the LORD’s presence is fullness of joy. But what do I want? I want joy somewhere else. I want pleasure in earthly things. In Scripture is wisdom. But I want wisdom from Facebook.

5. A Consistency in Crying Judges 3:7-9, 12-15

There is a consistent pattern of Israel sinning against God, being punished, crying out to God, God rescuing them, and then the pattern repeating. J. Sidlow Baxter articulates the pattern like this: Sin, suffering, supplication, salvation.

So, Israel would break God’s Law, then God would punish them, then they would cry out to God, then he would bring salvation in the form of a judge We see this pattern continually repeating itself during this time period. It is a consistent downward spiral away from God and His goodness.

6. A Continual Forsaking of God’s CompanyJudges 8:34
They didn’t merely reject God’s promises, but also His person. They did not remember the LORD who had saved them.

You see, we often try to find a way to receive God’s promises, like heaven, without having to deal with God’s person.So basically, give me heaven, but stay out of my life. But the truth is, you will find that it’s a dual package. If you reject one, you reject the other.

The people of Israel broke the covenant of God and rejected the God of the covenant. If you want the promises, you must seek the person.

7. A Confusion about the Lord’s CustomsJudges 13:22-23

The people rejected God’s covenant, and God Himself, so its not surprising that they really didn’t understand God’s ways.When He appeared to them they weren’t sure who He was or how they should really think about it.

Compromise, complacency, corruption, and then the people don’t even realize what revival looks like.The people had invented, and borrowed, and compromised with so many wrong ways of worship that God’s ways were foreign to them.

Do we not see a parallel in our day?

8. A Conjecturing about God’s CommitmentsJudges 16:20

Samson gives us a picture of the nation as a whole. He thought he could live like he wanted and compromise like he wanted and that God would still be committed to him.

But here’s the truth: God is most committed to God. God will never compromise His holiness, His Godness, or His righteous character. The people of God thought they “Hey, God has to be with us no matter what.”

I think churches think that sometimes.

  • “Hey, we have church in our name so God must be for us”
  • “Hey, we are here on Sunday right? So God is obligated to show up.”

But the book of Judges shows us that God will not dwell with a stiff-necked and rebellious people.

God is holy, holy, holy. If he were to compromise His holiness, He would cease to be God. God will not give sin a pass. Don’t conjecture that God is for you, if you consistently desire and choose to reject Him and to do things your way.

9. A Cluelessness of ConsequencesJudges 20:34

Again, we have the tribe of Benjamin serve as a type of the Israelites as a whole. The Benjamites had done a wicked deed but had no concern for the consequences. (Maybe Judges 19 is not the best place for you to begin reading in your first attempt at family worship!) The Benjaminites were clueless as to what was about to happen. They did not know disaster was close upon them. How terrifying! How sobering.

Sin has consequences. - You will not live a life of rejecting God and not answer for it. Even Christians cannot choose to sin without facing consequences.Reject the church, reject Scripture, reject prayer – you’ll see consequences in your life. Not that God is making you face His wrath. That’s taken care of on the cross! But He disciplines His children for our good.

So, these 9 things are what’s happening during the book of Ruth. We don’t exactly know under which Judge this book takes place but we do know it’s in the time period of the Judges.

Right in the middle of Compromising with the Canaanites, complacency with children, corruption of the culture, capitulating to worldly cravings, a consistent crying, a continual forsaking of God’s company, a confusion about the LORD’s customs, conjecturing about God’s commitments, and a cluelessness of consequences, you have the story of Ruth.

And it is in the beautiful story of Ruth that we will see God’s real solution to all the problems of His people and that is, He is going continue the gospel plan. He is going to continue to line of the promised seed.

But more on that later. For today, I want to walk away with 7 quick takeaways in all of this.

Why does the historical context of the book of Judges matter? Why spend a whole sermon making sure we understand the time period in which Ruth takes place? I’m glad you asked! Here are 7 things:

1. Doing what is right in our own eyes is dumb

If you know yourself at all, you know you’re imperfect. You know you’re sinful. You know that you make bad decisions sometimes.What would we expect by creating a culture of just doing what we think is right, or what feels best?

Just follow your heart is terrible advice. We are sinful and broken people. Our hearts are deceitful. Why would we think doing right in our own eyes would work? Stop treating Christianity like a mystic religion. It’s not. It’s based on revealed truth.

Oprah Winfrey said on Sunday (1/7/18): “What I know for sure is speaking ‘your truth’ is the most powerful tool we have.”

No its not. Because there is no such thing as ‘your truth.’ There is truth, period. And that’s what we should seek. And that’s what we should do. Not what’s right in our own eyes.

2. We are wicked and foolish if we abandon Scripture –

It grows old to hear prominent church leaders say things like ‘God told me to say…’ Particularly it seems an alarming trend with women’s ministry leaders. Here’s the deal: God speaks to us in Scripture. We must be people of the Book. 

The Israelites abandoned the teachings of Moses during the time period of the Judges and what happened? Complete chaos and moral degradation. Why would we expect a different result in our lives and churches if we abandon Scripture?

3. Leadership matters
In our churches, in our nation, in our homes: Godly leadership matters. It’s not about being successful in the world’s eyes. We need men to lead our homes, nation, and churches that are seeking God and pursuing holiness.

4. Compromise always breeds worse compromise

When we compromise a little, we always increase that compromise over time, just like Israel spiraled down during the history of the judges. We want to push all the way to the line and then tiptoe over it thinking all will be well. Before we know it, we've fallen headlong into sin and we are stuck.

Don’t play with sin. Don’t entertain sin. Don’t capitulate. Don’t compromise the truth in the least. Stand firm.

5. Repentance is always in season

In the book of Judges, every time the people of God repented, there was an amazing reality they noticed: God was gracious!

So, this doesn’t mean presume on God’s kindness, but does mean repent today. Psalm 9:10 says you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. Seek Him! Repent and go to Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Change your ways. Cleanse your hands. Real forgiveness, real change, real hope is available in Jesus.

6. God is gloriously patient and holy

You are reading this because God is patient. I’m so glad He is aren’t you? God was patient with the Israelites and was committed to continuing the line of Christ. That’s why we have the book of Ruth! And He is Holy. Don’t presume upon His patience if you are outside of Christ. Judgment is coming. Come to Him today.

7. Jesus is our only hope –

The book of Judges shows us that we have no hope in and of ourselves. It also shows us that left to ourselves society will only spiral downward. But the book of Ruth shows us that God’s big plan for the salvation of the nations is continuing right on through the line of Abraham, Judah, and David.

God is doing a work that is unfathomable to the human brain. God has made a way to uphold His holiness and extend mercy. But this is only in Christ. It’s not what’s right in our own eyes. It’s not in conservative values. It’s not found anywhere or in anyone else except Christ alone.

Jesus is the bread we need to rescue us from our famine. Jesus is the greater Boaz. Jesus leaps off the pages of the story of Ruth.

God punished Jesus in the place of sinners and raised Him the 3rd day in accordance with Scripture so that all who place their faith in Him may be justified – meaning, forgiven of all sins and declared righteous. That’s the biggest message of Ruth: Jesus is our only suitable and all-sufficient Savior. All this over 1,000 years before He even walked the earth as a man. 

The Bible is wonderful.

You can listen to this sermon in its entirety here

Monday, January 15, 2018

How to Change Your Spouse

Just-married bride and groom hold hands on a hill at sunset

I participated in a Q&A recently where a woman anonymously submitted this question: The Word instructs wives to submit to their husband's and RESPECT them. How can I respect a man who is not respectable in my eyes?

First, my big picture advice was this: Be willing to go to your pastor or a godly couple in the church to talk these things through. The local church is designed to help us walk through life issues just like this. Marriage is not easy. It's not float off into the sunset on a Nicholas Sparks's sailboat. Sometimes marriage takes hard work. However, it is good, and it is a sacred bond between a man and a woman that is worth fighting for. I didn't say fighting each other! I mean it is worth making the intentional effort to preserve, no matter what.

Also, sin issues can arise in a marriage that need to be dealt with in a biblical manner in the local church. They need to be lovingly confronted just like any other sin. There may be patterns of behavior that a spouse is exhibiting that others are noticing whereby people in the church are loving enough to confront the sin issue.

More often than not, however, there is something else that can be done. How do we really go about changing our spouse? If the husband isn’t leading well enough or if the wife isn’t submitting well enough, what do we do to fix it? Should the husband just go vent to his guy friends? Does the wife just need a girl's night out to complain a little? Should we call someone else in to prove us right and our spouse wrong?

Here is, in my opinion, some inestimable, biblical, and extremely practical advice:

Take the focus off the other person for a moment. (Maybe a long moment!)

Again, I’m not saying there aren’t serious issues that arise in a marriage that need to be dealt with by going to counseling or even confronting particular sin issues. But here’s what I’m saying for you today: focus on your sanctification for a season. Consider what needs to change in you.

You see, marriage is a beautiful covenant between two broken people. The only marriage ever to occur that was between two non-sinners happened at the end of Genesis 2. And it took less than a whole chapter for that to mess up. Marriage is messy sometimes because people are sinners.

Paul exhorts husbands and wives in Ephesians 5:22,25 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord…Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”

It's interesting, isn't it, that Paul doesn't say "Wives, work on your husbands" or "Husbands, fix your wives". He addresses the wives to submit, and the husbands to love. Sufficient for the respective spouse is the weight of each command without adding the pressure of carrying the other's failures too. 

Often times in marriage disagreements I hear the wife say something like “I would follow you if you would lead better” or the husband says “I would lead better if you’d submit better.” Yet, here is another important reality of Ephesians 5: There are no exception clauses. Paul doesn’t say only love perfect wives, or only submit to perfect husbands, for if he did, these exhortations would be completely meaningless! It’s not the lovely wives that are to be loved or the respectable husbands that are to be respected. That's not what Paul says. He says Wives, submit to your own husbands and husbands, love your wives. We can’t weasel out of these commands by claiming our spouse is imperfect. 

In fact, in other places in Scripture, all Christians are told to submit to governmental leaders (1 Peter 2:13ff) and we know that the leaders of the New Testament era were certainly not Christians. The point being, instead of waiting around on your spouse to do what they are supposed to do, first focus on doing what you are supposed to do, as plainly revealed in the Bible. You don't have to pray about God's will for how He wants you to act in your marriage - He's already shown you!

Let the fullness of Christ in you spill over into your marriage relationship. Focus on being the spouse God has called you to be first, in your particular role. No, you can’t be perfect, but there are areas we can all grow in. Wives, follow your husband’s leadership even if it is imperfect. This doesn’t mean you have to be a ‘slave’ or do something that Christ forbids, but it does mean that you can follow in areas your husband is leading even if you don’t always agree. Honor him. Encourage him. Don't make his obedience to Christ, or lack thereof, your joy, or lack thereof. Cultivate joy in Christ above all else.

Husbands, love your wives even if they are contentious (My friend Jim Elliff recently wrote an excellent article about the sad story of James Fraser) Does not Christ continually love the church even though she is imperfect? Is He not full of grace toward Her? Did He not give up His life for Her? Strive to love your wife that way, even if she balks sometimes. You keep doing what God has called you to do. Encourage her. Buy her small gifts unexpectedly. Send her thoughtful text messages.

None of this is to imply that the other person doesn’t need work too. In fact, I may not know your spouse personally, but I already know this one truth: he or she does need work. Why? Your wife, or your husband, is a fallen human being! If he or she is a Christian though, I am certain that your joy in Christ will eventually rub off  (of course, marriage counseling might be a tremendous help too. And there is no shame in wanting to work on your marriage through biblical counseling!). Let your fullness in Christ spill over. Let your meditations on Scripture, and prayer, and love for the local church pour over in your life so that your husband or wife sees your joy and love for Christ. May your witness show them that obedience to Christ brings delight. If they are not a Christian, your fullness in Christ might just win them to the Lord (see 1 Peter 3:1).

Now, don't try this for two weeks and then say "Well, I tried to change you by changing me and not even that worked!" First and foremost do this for the glory of God. Wives, submit to your husbands for the glory of God. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church for the glory of God. Commit yourself to being the godliest spouse you can be for the glory of God. And as you strive to do what Scripture teaches regarding your specific role in marriage, pray for your spouse. Pray that they would understand the role God has for them as well. Pray that the gospel would continually work in their hearts. Pray that you would love and cherish them as the gift they really are to you. Pray that they would seek to live for God's glory too.

Finally, let me appeal to you that you need help outside of your marriage. Even the best and godliest marriages need the consistent encouragement, exhortations, and examples of other marriages within the local church. They need regular fellowship with other godly couples, and men need time with men, and women with women, to grow in godliness in the context of our respective marriage roles and life in Christ in general. Additionally, the regular intake of Scripture in the context of the corporate gathering of the local church is vital to any marriage. Furthermore, there are seasons where godly counseling, a marriage retreat, or an intentional date night/getaway is needed. Be willing to be humble enough to invest in your marriage in all of these areas. It's that important. If your spouse isn't willing to commit to these things, you must not walk away. You keep pursuing Christ. And thank the Lord for giving you such an instrument of sanctfiication in your life!

Marriage is hard work sometimes. But sometimes the hardest work might be overcoming your own pride and seeking the Lord to work in your life before you worry about what your spouse needs to fix. In all of this, however, it is worth it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

From Death to Life: How Salvation Works - A Book Update

This post has been updated and moved to:

(Photo Credit: Stephen J. Melniszyn

How to Recover from Declining Grace

Decorated sword in the grass field at John U. Lloyd Beach State Park

Yesterday, we examined William Gurnall's symptoms of declining grace. If we find ourselves in a situation whereby we aren't where we want to be (or once were) in our walk with the Lord, how do we recover.?

Gurnall answers, but first, he reminds us how our armor becomes impaired in the first place:

"The Christian's armor becomes damaged in two ways. The first is by violent assault - when you are overcome by temptation to sin. The second is by neglect - when you fail to perform those duties which, like oil, keep your armor polished and shining."

I. How to Recover when Sin is the Cause:

1. Renew Your Repentance:
"Here is Christ's counsel to the church at Ephesus: 'Repent, and do the first works' (Rev. 2:5). Go and search your heart as diligently as you would your house if you suspected a murderer was hiding, waiting to cut your throat in the night. When you have found the sin that has done the mischief, fill your heart with shame for it and indignation against it. Cast it before the Lord in a heartbreaking confession."

No doubt the Puritans are sometimes criticized for an overemphasis on introspection. I think those criticisms are occasionally warranted. But I also think there is a Biblical precedent and prescription for asking the Lord to search our hearts and show us sin so that we may kill it (see Psalm 139:23, and Romans 8:13).

Don't continue in sin. Repent. The glory of the gospel is that Christians are forgiven in Christ. His blood is wholly sufficient and we have already been declared righteous in Him by faith. So, why would you stay in sin? Seek and destroy. Kill it in repentance.

2. Reaffirm Your Faith:

"When you have renewed your repentance, then renew your faith in God's promise to pardon (1 John 1:9)." As mentioned above, we can recover from declining grace by clinging to the gospel. This is why we need daily reminders of God's work in Christ. We need a daily reminder of our position in Christ and what God has done for us through Him. Paul wants the Ephesians to "know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Ephesians 1:18). Set your heart and mind there.

3. Renounce Your Lusts:
"Having repented and claimed God's promise of forgiveness, back up your actions by rooting out sin wherever it threatens to crop up. Where weeds thrive, flowers die."  As mentioned yesterday, we too often think of the Christian life as one that is passive. We think we will grow in sanctification simply by virtue of our aging physically. This is perhaps why some older Christians are not as mature in the faith as they are in age. Scripture calls us to actively fight sin. Yes, we rest in the gospel, but this resting is also one that requires a sharp sword and resolute heart.

II. How to Recover when Neglect is the Cause:

"When the armor of God which girds your soul is rusty from disuse, rather than tarnished by wilful sin, follow God's instructions for the strengthening of grace. If a fire goes out for lack of wood, the only solution is to lay on more wood. Likewise with grace; if neglect of your Christian duties causes its decline, you must restore those duties which kindled a fire under your grace in the first place. I refer you to four principal duties:"

1. Read Your Bible
Were you expecting something more profound? "Perhaps you say, 'Oh but I do read God's Word.' Then read it more! The Word shows your graces a perfect picture of the object of their affections - Christ."

Sure, it's the Sunday School answer, but it's still the right answer. Scripture is necessary and sufficient for our Christian growth. God speaks to us in Scripture. Too many Believers are spiritually famished because that are looking for God to speak in ways outside of the Bible. They are reading this or that book, or trying this or that practice, or just praying that He would audibly talk to them. Yet, He's already spoken and still speaks in His Word. Take up and read. (We recently podcasted about this here.)

When we read the Bible we see that it gives us a clear picture of both Christ, and ourselves. This is exactly what we need for growth in the Lord. "Just as a young man's heart leaps at the sight of his beloved, so your graces come to life when they behold the Christ who loved you and gave Himself for you. At the same time, when you see what your sins cost CHrist, it should produce in you a godly sorrow and a hatred for sin."

2. Meditate
"Meditation is to grace as bellows are to a fire. It revives the languishing soul with fresh thoughts of God. As you ponder over them, a holy fire will burn and your heart will grow warm within you."

Biblical meditation isn't emptying our mind. It is filling it with truth. Don't just read the Bible, think over it deeply. Turn its words over and over in your mind. Commit them to memory. Reflect upon the gospel truths revealed in Scripture and accordingly, reflect upon "your own behavior" and "what it has been toward God and toward man during the day".  First, think about what a passage means then think about how it applies to you. Don't rush too quickly into making the text about you. Think about what it says about God, or what it says about man in general, or what it shows us about the work of Christ. Chew on that, and then consider how it must apply to your own heart and walk with God. Rightly understand God's promises, and set your hope on them.

3. Pray
Yup. Sunday School answers. Read your Bible and pray. Sometimes we just think we are 'missing' something about the Christian life when its right there in front of us the whole time. If you have declined in your walk with God, don't expect that to be remedied apart from God's grace working through Bible intake and prayer.

This is why Gurnall emphasized mediation. "A soul in meditation is on its way to prayer." Scripture is actually fuel for our prayer. There are no better prayers out there than the ones fueled by the inspired Word.  Prayer doesn't always come easy. In fact, it's often hard work. Sometimes we expect that once we start praying we will change immediately. This is not always the case. "How often in the Psalms (eg., Psalm 56) do we see a dark cloud upon David's spirit at the beginning of his prayer. But before he has finished talking with the Father, his spirit has soared to new heights of faith and high acclamations of praise!" It might not necessarily be like this for you when you pray, but what is the answer? Keep on praying. Keep seeking God's face. Remind yourself of this truth: "you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you" (Psalm 9:10)

4. Fellowship with Other Christians
I'm so grateful Gurnall included this because it is spot on. Many Believers think that their walk with the Lord is merely a 'personal' one. Don't get me wrong, we must have a personal faith in Christ, but in no way is the Christian life about a 'personal' relationship only.

"If you keep your distance from the saints, Satan can more easily sabotage you.,,When you forsake the communion of saints, you take a dangerous step toward apostasy."

The local church is not an optional part of the Christian life. If you are not regularly in fellowship and deeply committed to a local body of Believers, you are in grave danger. Find a faithful local church as soon as possible. You were not meant to do Christianity alone. Not only do you need the local church, but the local church needs you. Fellowship with other Christians strengthens both your soul and theirs.

So, we've now seen Gurnall's take on symptoms of a Christian's decline, but also how we may recover. One big takeaway I hope you see is that the Christian life is not a ride off into the sunset. We have a real enemy and there are real consequences to neglecting this truth. Sin continues to linger in us and we take a perilous risk to let it simmer unattended. The gospel needs to be consistently applied to our hearts. We need to be ever ready to do battle with our own lusts. We need to keep a loving, watchful eye over our fellow Believers to help them in this battle just like we need their eyes over us. We need to be students of the Word and to daily drink from its fountains of grace. We need to regularly commune with God in secret prayer. We need to be Christians in complete armor.