Not Hardening Our Hearts Against the Hard-Hearted: A Pastoral Meditation on Hebrews 3:12–14

heart12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
— Hebrews 3:12–14 —

Until the day when Christ returns, churches will be faced with the mystery of iniquity. And more, we will be faced with the challenge of responding to erring church members with grace and truth.

Hebrews 3:12–14 gives us a number of things to consider when a Christian acts upon their hardness of heart. What follows is a five-fold meditation on how to address the hard-hearted without hardening our own hearts.

1. We must read Hebrews as speaking to Christians.

The threat of Christians being led astray by sin, the devil, and the world is very real. Verse 12 crushes any notion that salvation makes Christians impervious to sin. The author addresses “brothers,” meaning his words are for Christians, not some other spiritually-mixed community.

Accordingly, we learn the new birth doesn’t—in this age—make us sin-free, even as it frees us to fight sin. Even so, there are times when sin deceives us, ensnares us, and we need the help of the church to free us. Conversely, the church needs to patiently endure the words and actions of its members. It must preach the gospel to them and bear with them as God’s truth brings change. Continue reading

Finding Life “According to Your Word”: What Psalm 119 Says to Tired, Doubting Souls

lifePsalm 119 is a elongated exaltation of the truth, beauty, and goodness of God’s Word. In twenty-two stanzas it leads the reader to consider all the ways in which God’s Word intersects our lives. There are dozens of themes to consider, but one that stands out is the way in which the Word mediates and regulates our relationship with God.

While most systematic theologies present the doctrine of God’s Word in categories of inspiration, authority, sufficiency, clarity, and inerrancy, Psalm 119 speaks of the Word in purely existential terms. He commends us to pick and read—Tolle Lege!—because of what the Word has promised and produced in his own life. Psalm 119 is devotional theology of the highest quality, and for those struggling to get into the Word of God, it’s praise for God’s Word may be the very thing a tired and doubting soul needs to (re)turn to the Word. Continue reading

What Makes a Divorce ‘Biblical’?

sufficiencyEarlier this week laid out a gospel-centered approach to understanding what Scripture says about divorce. Yesterday, I also listed eight points that the Bible makes about divorce. But today, I want to ask a practical question: What makes a divorce biblical?

That is to ask, if Jesus and Paul permit divorce in the cases of ongoing sexual immorality and/or abandonment, what should take place in the life of a believer and a church, if they come to the heart-breaking point of considering a divorce?

As a point of clarification, biblical does not mean the same thing as good or ideal. As with all relational strife, divorce is not good in itself. However, Scripture does give us commands, principles, and guidance on how to faithfully handle a divorce, so it is right to speak of divorce as “biblical” if it is in keeping with God’s Word. Likewise, a divorce pursued contrary to God’s Word makes it “unbiblical.”

Believing that Scripture has given us everything we need for understanding and pursuing a godly life, we should know what comprises a biblical divorce. Here is my attempt to begin to outline the steps of a “biblical” divorce. Continue reading

Five Things You Need to Know to Battle Conflict

Ever walk plan on making a home repair in less than an hour, only to find that four hours into it, the problem has only gotten worse?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all the time.

Faced with the thorns and thistles of our fallen world, we groan under the weight of problems and predicaments that are more difficult than we expect. The same is true with inter-personal relationships.

In marriages, schools, and businesses all over the world, people sin against one another. The result? Conflict! Continue reading

Gospel Logic in Psalm 42-43

Gospel Logic Replaces Personal Sorrow with Heavenly Promises.  

Nowhere is this method of mental and emotional exchange more evident than in Psalm 42-43. Following the train of thought begun with the gospel logic of Abraham and Moses, today we will turn from descriptive prose to two enumerated lists to unpack the plight experienced by the sons of Korah, as well as the promises that these descendents of Levite looked to in order to find hope.

Six Causes for Spiritual Depression

In his exposition on Psalm 42, James M. Boice designates six causes of spiritual depression.  This is not an exhaustive list in these Psalms or in life, but they are real and prevalent among Christians striving for godliness.  According to Boice, the Psalmist is in the depth of despair as a result of . . .

  1. Forced absence from the temple of God, where God was worshiped (42:1-2).
  2. The taunts of unbelievers (42:3, 10).
  3. Memories of better days (42:4).
  4. The overwhelming trials of life (42:7).
  5. Failure of God to act quickly on our behalf (42:9).
  6. Attacks from ungodly, deceitful, and wicked persons (43:1).
Add to this list any personal maladies, physical pains, relational strife, and just the stuff of life, and you will find that the concoction in Psalm 42-43 is enough to plunge anyone into the depths of despair.  Yet, Psalm 42-43 is not just an example of how a Christian complains.  It is an example of how a hurting Christian hopes!  Like Abraham and Moses, he reasons from the gospel an exchanges deadly thoughts for thoughts of life and light.

Four Spirit-Powered Acts of Faith

Godly living depends entirely on the grace of God to reach us and sustain us.  Unless God takes the first step, we would remain spiritual dead and buried by the avalanche of our own despair.  However, for those who have received the light of life and the power of the Holy Spirit who “causes us to walk in God’s statutes,” there is an invitation and indeed an expectation that children of God who have the spirit of adoption prompting them to pray would take ahold of God’s and draw near to the father by faith in order to find grace (cf. 2 Cor 4:6; Ezek 36:26-27; Rom 8:16-17; James 4:8; Heb 4:14-16).

This is exactly what we find in Psalm 42-43.  For sake of space and time, we will only focus on Psalm 42:5-11.

  1. Gospel Logic speaks to your soul; it does not listen (v. 5). The Psalms beckon us to talk to ourselves.  Often when we see people talking to themselves, we can think that they are a little crazy.  However, Psalms like this one and others (cf. Ps 103) teach us that the crazy ones are those who simply listening to the nagging, complaining, angry voices that ricochet in their heart.  God’s word gives us soothing, healing, liberating truths that free us from sin and enable us to run to Christ.  Like the Gerasene demoniac, when we listen to God’s words we will find a peace that we previously did not know (Mark 4).  Therefore, continue to give ear to God’s word.  Learn how to preach the promises–not the law–to yourself!  Talk to others who have learned the art of speaking the gospel to themselves, and then go do likewise.
  2. Gospel Logic inquires of the heart, but is not ensnared by the heart (v. 6). Gospel logic does not tell you “to fake it until you make it.”  Rather, it calls us to assess the condition of my heart, but not to be mastered by my heart and the polluted feelings that emit from it.  God has given us feelings as a thermometer for the spiritual condition of our inner self.  But notice, while the heart takes the temperature of our spiritual condition, it should not set the temperature.  God’s word and the Holy Spirit should.  Our heart is desperately sick and incapable of giving me a good reading on how I am doing.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4 that even if “I am not aware of anything against myself, . . .  I am not thereby acquitted.”  Likewise, John insinuates that at times his heart condemns him, but that God is greater than his heart (1 Jn 3:19-20).  Do you see what Paul, John, and the Korahites are saying? Inquire of your heart, but do not become ensnared by it.  Look to God’s gospel, and live your life in its liberating light.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free!” (Gal 5:1; cf. John 8:32).
  3. Gospel Logic dwells on God’s whereabouts, not yours (v. 6-10).  Too often, we let external circumstances determine our demeanor, our decisions, and the level of our despair.  Psalm 42-43 does the opposite.  In a land far from God’s dwelling place, it remembers the goodness of the Lord in the dwelling of his temple, and it hopes again that a day of return is coming.  While the devil and his minions taunt us, our hope is not found in our conditions, but in our Christ.  And as Romans 8:32 promises, there is nothing that God will not give to those for whom Christ died.  Take heart. Look to back to the cross. Look ahead to the new creation.  Stop looking around to judge your feelings.  Look up (Ps 121)! Look ahead. Those who endure with Christ, will be received in Christ!
  4. Gospel Logic repeats the promises of God until truth conquers fear (v. 11). We are always tempted to quit.  We read God’s word for a day or maybe two and we can expect immediate change.  However, it doesn’t usually work that way.  God’s word often works in slower, more imperceptible ways.  It works the way a healthy diet cleanses the blood and strengthens the heart.  It renews the mind over time, rarely does the onset of Bible reading function like a blood transfusion or a heart transplant.  Thus, keep reading!  Keep memorizing!  Keep listening to sermons!  Don’t give up.  God never abandons his word and he never abandons those who seek him in the regular reading of his word.

Let these encouragements press you back to the Bible, and from the Bible back to the Lord.  Too many times I encounter “good Christians” whose lives are in shambles because they are wallowing in the mire, instead of lifting their Bibles and trusting the words God has given them.  They know the key, but they fail to apply it to the lockers of their heart.  Yet, I believe if they would only take up God’s word and read they would find the solace and strength that they so desire.

Friend, let us plunge ourselves into the living water of God’s word and find how satisfying his word truly is.  As Psalm 119:25 urges, “My soul clings to dust; give me life according to your word!”

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Pre-Engagement: 5 Questions to Ask Yourselves (RCL Booklet 1)

What could be more delightful than answering questions with and about the one that you love?  To the young couple dreaming about a life together, few things would make them happier than to answer questions about their love.

Yet too often, too many couples go into engagement and marriage unprepared because they did not know the right questions to ask.  Sadly, many marriages have suffered and others have broken because of unforeseen challenges that could have been avoided or softened by a thoughtful season of question-and-answers prior to engagement and marriage.

To help facilitate this inquisitive discussion, pastor-counselors David Powlison and John Yenchko have provided couples looking to marriage with an insightful diagnostic in their 36-page booklet, “Pre-Engagement: 5 Questions to Ask Yourselves.”  In “Pre-Engagement,” they lay out five questions, and give young lovers much to think over as they make plans to enter into a covenant legitimately broken only by death.

Here are the five questions.

  1. Are You Both Christians?
  2. Do You Have a Track Record of Solving Problems Biblically?
  3. Are You Heading in the Same Direction in Life?
  4. What Do Those Who Know You Well Think of Your Relationship?
  5. Do You Want to Marry This Person? Are You Willing to Accept Each Other Just as You Are?

Of course, these questions don’t get to everything, but with the follow-up questions that supplement these main questions, Powlison and Yenchko do a superb job getting to the heart of each couple.  Moving their readers to consider more than their personal love for one another, they challenge couples to consider marriage in its larger framework (see Ephesians 5:22-33; Luke 14:26).

So, if you are getting married, doing marriage counseling, or anticipating a phone call from a child or grand-child saying “He asked…I said yes,” let me encourage you to pick up, read, and pass along this little book with 5 Questions.  For yourself or for someone you care about, this set of diagnostic questions could save years heartache and ensure a well-informed, biblical process of answering the question, “Is he (or she) the one?”

May the Lord bless those who are getting married this summer, and may God use this book to help others discern the wisdom of popping the question or answering in the affirmative.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss