Return to Me…

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;  and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. (Joel 2:12–13)

Last week I shared from the prophet Hosea what is often considered the Gospel of the Old Testament – Hosea chapter three.  It is the story of Hosea redeeming his wife, Gomer, from a life of infidelity and adultery, as an illustration of the way in which God has redeemed His people from their sins and idolatry through His love in Jesus Christ.

Turning this week to the prophet Joel, we hear again the heart of God calling us to repentance for our sins.  The word of the Lord comes to Joel as a message of judgment and destruction in the Day of the Lord. The punishment is extreme, as locusts destroying the harvest, or deep famine reaching across the land.  The Day of he Lord is a day of wrath for the sins of the nations.

Yet in the midst of the destruction there is a call from the Lord, “Return to me with all your heart…”  This is a call to repentance, given to the elders down to the nursing infants.  All are called to repent, that they may escape the coming judgment.

In the two verses given above (2:12-13), I see three keys to genuine repentance:

  1. Repentance is always a response to the call of the Lord.  Notice in Joel that it is the Lord who calls the people to repentance, to return to the Lord.  This isn’t Joel’s pleading with the people, but the Lord Himself calling His people back home.
    This is essential. No one may come to Christ unless the Father calls them (John 6:44), no one seeks the Lord unless He first draws them unto Him. Apart from God’s gracious call, no one would return to Him.  Our repentance always follows the gracious call of the Lord, the effectual call of His Holy Spirit.
  2. Repentance must be genuine.  In the Scriptures tearing your clothes was a universal sign of anguish and repentance, mourning over calamity and distress.  But it was simply that, a sign.  It signified something happening within, a sign of the heartfelt sorrow and grief over sin or trouble. The sign of torn cloths meant little, what was essential was the contrition of the heart.
    How many times is our “repenting” merely a sign, never really reaching to our hearts?  We confess sins, generally, but never bring ourselves to utter those sins that have their hooks in our hearts.  We’re comfortable keeping our repentance on the surface, “God I am a sinner,” but rarely will we get real in rending our hearts, “God, I am an idolator, I am a fraud, I murder with my thoughts and words.
    God calls His people to repent, and that repentance must be genuine and sincere.
  3. Repentance turns us to the grace and mercy of God. We must never forget that our repentance is a turning from sin and a turning to God. A repentance that dwells in the valley of the shadow of death, mourning sin but never getting past it, is only a partial repentance.  God calls His people to return to Him, for “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” Too often we miss out on the joy of salvation repentance brings because we don’t really believe that God will be gracious.  We allow our repentance to make us dour, sour Christians, which is no Christian at all.
    The promise of Joel 3:1 is for all who are in Christ, all who, having heard His call to repent, having turned from their sins, look to the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father.  The promise is that God will restore their fortunes, He will establish them.  As Psalm 126 says, “He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

SDG

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We are Gomer

The following is an excerpt from James Montgomery Boice’s commentary on the Minor Prophets.  I’m beginning this year by reading through the minor prophets first, and was immediately reminded of Boice’s love for this chapter as I read through it today. First, read through Hosea 3, then read Boice’s commentary on the chapter. Enjoy!

Hosea 3 (ESV)

And the Lord said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the Lord loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.” For the children of Israel shall dwell many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or pillar, without ephod or household gods. Afterward the children of Israel shall return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and they shall come in fear to the Lord and to his goodness in the latter days.

The Greastest Chapter in the Bible – James Boice

The third chapter of Hosea is, in my judgment, the greatest chapter in the Bible, because it portrays the greatest story in the Bible – the death of the Lord Jesus Christ for his people – in the most concise and poignant form to be found anywhere. Our study of Hosea’s story has already shown that it is a pageant of the love of God for Israel, indeed, for his people in every place and age. But when we ask, “Where in the whole of human history is that love most clearly seen?” the answer is obviously, “At the cross of Christ.” It is that cross and the work accomplished on that cross that is portrayed in this chapter. Hosea 3 shows us God’s work of redemption – the work by which the Lord Jesus Christ delivered us from sin’s bondage at the cost of his own life – portrayed in Hosea’s purchase of his fallen wife from slavery.

Hosea owned his wife. She was his property. He could do anything he wished with her. If he had wanted to kill her out of spite, he could have done it. People might have called him a fool to waste his money on a worthless woman. She might have suffered far more as a slave to some beautiful woman where she wold have been obliged to fetch and serve and carry and watch and never enter into the kind of pleasures that brought her to her state in her first place. Still Hosea could have killed Gomer if he had wanted to. Yet he did not, because at this point Hosea’s love, which is an illustration of God’s love for us, burned brightest. Instead of seeking vengeance, he put Gomer’s clothes on her, led her away into the anonymity of the crowd, and claimed that love from her that was now his right. Moreover, as he did so, he promised no less from himself.

Does God love like that? Yes, God loves like that! God steps into the marketplace of sin and buys us out of sin’s bondage by the death of Christ. We read in our Bibles, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…” (John 3:16). We ask, “What does so mean?” The answer is in Hosea’s story. When we see Hosea standing in the marketplace under orders from God to purchase his wife, who had become an adulteress and a slave, we recognize that this is the measure of God’s love.

We are Gomer. We are the slave sold on the auction block of sin. The world bids for us. The world bids fame, wealth, prestige, influence, power – all those things that are the world’s currency. But when all seemed lost, God sent the Lord Jesus Christ, His Son, into the marketplace to buy us at the cost of his life.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets: Vol 1 An Expositional Commentary Hosea-Jonah. (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker Books, 1983) pg. 31-36.
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Planning for Growth in 2019

Back in college I had a professor who always liked to say, “if you plan for nothing, that is exactly what you’ll get.”  And I think it was from watching the A-Team that this theme was ingrained into my life:

plan

What’s your plan for Spiritual Growth in the coming year? We plan for a lot of things, financial security, academic progress, athletic development; we even make long term plans for vacations. But how much time do we give in planning out time with the Lord? Is it “just what I can fit in” among the other million things that scream for our attention? Or do you have a plan to guide and shape your time with the Lord?

Do you wish you could have a better understanding of the Bible? Then make a plan to read the Scriptures regularly and meaningfully.

Do you struggle with deep questions of faith, wanting to know more about what we believe and why we believe it? Then identify those areas where you want to learn, and find book, conferences, even podcasts that will help you grow in knowledge and understanding. Pick up one of the Catechisms of the Church, or the Westminster Confession of Faith, and study it with your Bible open.

Is your prayer life anemic and frustrating? Then pray, and pray until you are really praying, and study the Scriptures, reading how others have prayed and how Jesus teaches us to pray.

I’m not suggeting that having a plan will garuantee success, but if you plan for nothing, that is exactly what you’ll get.

As you consider your plan for the coming year, here are some suggested devotions and reading plans that you might look into.

TableTalk Magazine

Tabletalk‘s daily Bible studies offer structure for your devotional life. Bringing the best in biblical scholarship together with down-to-earth writing, Tabletalk helps you understand the Bible and apply it to daily living. Each issue also contains challenging, stimulating articles on a wide variety of issues related to theology and Christian living, written by eminently trustworthy authors—names like Sinclair Ferguson, John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul.

Free copies are available in the Church Narthex each month, and personal subscriptions are only $23 per year.

Our Daily Bread

Our Daily Bread is another daily a devotional calendar-style booklet.  The booklet is one of the most widely read Christian devotionals in circulation today.  The contents include a Bible passage, and a relevant article for each day of the year. It is written by a different author each day, and also features additional Bible passages for people following Our Daily Bread’s “Bible In One Year” reading program.

Our Daily Bread is available for free each month in the Church Narthex, and you may also subscribe for an printed, emailed, and mobile version online.

Bible Reading Plans

5x5x5 Plan This plan guides you through the New Testament with a 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week reading plan. Its great for those who havn’t had a regular devotion/reading practice and would like to get started.

5 Day Plan This Bible reading system allows you to read the entire Bible (or just the New Testament) in one year while only reading five times a week. Five readings a week gives room to catch up or take a needed day off, and makes daily Bible reading practical and do-able.

Daily Plan This plan has 4 readings a day, and will get you through then entire Bible in one year.

Email Devotionals

If you’re tired of all the junk email and would like to get something positive each day, try one of these:

Truth for Life Daily – The devotional material is taken from “Morning and Evening,” written by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg. The subscription is free, and you will recieve a daily email devotion.

My Utmost for His Highest – The classic devotional from Oswald Chambers can be sent to you daily for free, and can also be downloaded to your smartphone and tablet.

 

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My Favorite (Obscure) Christmas Carols

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been playing the Christmas Playlist since doing the dishes on Thanksgiving Day.  I’ve really enjoyed putting a playlist together on Spotify, and if you’d like to listen, click here. Trust me, you won’t find anything like “Last Christmas,” or “Santa Baby,” or (worst song ever) Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Instead, you will find a good assortment of traditional carols, religious hymns, and familiar Christmas songs from Bing Crosby to Pentatonix.

I’ve noticed, however, that there are some songs that I love to sing at Christmas that aren’t too familiar to those around me.  I thought I’d share here a list of some of what are probably the more obscure carols that are favorites of mine.  I’ll try to give a brief explanation of the carol, and a link to youtube so you can listen in. Enjoy!

The Coventry Carol – Lully Lullay

The “Coventry Carol” is a traditional English carol dating from the 16th century. While its origins are uncertain, it is presumed that the carol was a part of a mystery play called The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, which depicted the Christmas story from Matthew 2. The carol itself refers to the Massacre of the Innocents, in which Herod ordered all male infants under the age of two in Bethlehem to be killed, and takes the form of a lullaby sung by mothers of the doomed children.

Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella

“Bring a Torch” is a Christmas carol from the Provence region of France in the 17th century. The song tells of two female farmhands who have found the baby and his mother in a stable. Excited by this discovery, they run to a nearby village to tell the inhabitants, who rush to see the new arrivals. Visitors to the stable are urged to keep their voices quiet, so the newborn can enjoy his dreams.

Wexford Carol

The Wexford Carol is a traditional religious Irish Christmas carol sometimes known by its first verse “Good people all this Christmas time.” It is one of the oldest extant Christmas carols, dating possibly to the 12th century.

Sussex Carol

Sometimes referred to by its first line “On Christmas night all Christians sing,” the Sussex Carol dates from the 17th century, and sings of the good news of great joy that comes with the brith of the One who would save us from our sins.

Lo How A Rose E`er Blooming

Wikipedia reports: “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (lit., “A rose has sprung up”), is a Christmas carol and Marian Hymn of German origin. It is most commonly translated in. The rose in the text is a symbolic reference to the Virgin Mary, and the hymn makes reference to the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah which in Christian interpretation foretell the Incarnation of Christ, and to the Tree of Jesse, a traditional symbol of the lineage of Jesus. The hymn first appeared in print in 1599.

Children Go Where I Send Thee

“Children, Go Where I Send Thee” is a traditional African-American spiritual song, as well as a cumulative song, in which each verse adds to the verse before. This song is also known as “The Holy Baby” or “Born in Bethlehem.” There are many variations of this song, each giving a Biblical meaning to the numbers mentioned.

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The Gift Must Be Received and Cultivated

The Christmas gifts are wrapped and under the tree. Anticipation grows for that day when loved ones will gather together to give and receive gifts. We srimp and save, plan and pursue those things we hope to bring joy to others, and we can hardly wait to see their reaction.

But what would happen if the gifts stayed under the tree, unwrapped, unused, undiscovered? Would they give the joy they were intended to bring? Would the love and kindness of the giver ever be known if the gift is left untouched. How do we show our gratitude if we never receive and take the gift as our own?

While it is unimaginable that our Christmas presents would go unopened, how often do we treat the gifts of God’s grace like that? We hear the promise of the Gospel proclaimed and we tell ourselves, “Well that’s good to know. If I ever need a savior, I’ll know where to turn.”  We treat God’s grace like something that can be shelved and stored for later, and we never really take it in and apply it to our lives.

A. W. Tozer, in his book, The Pursuit of God, writes that God’s gift of saving grace in Jesus Christ must be received and cultivated in our lives.  While never waivering from the teaching on the sovereign grace of God in our salvation, Tozer does warn that it often leads to a “sterile passivity.” Written in 1948, Tozer seems timeless in his analysis of the contemporary stagnation of the Church and it’s remedy.


The idea of cultivation and exercise, so dear to the saints of old, has now no place in our total religious picture. It is too slow, too common. We now demand glamour and fast-growing dramatic action. A generation of Christians reared among push buttons and automatic machines is impatient of slower and less direct methods of reaching their goals. We have been trying to apply machine-age methods to our relations with God. We read our chapter, have our short devotions and rush away, hoping to make up for our deep inward bankruptcy by attending another gospel meeting or listening to another thrilling story told by a religious adventurer lately returned from afar. (My emphasis. Doesn’t this describe much of what we call “devotion time”? Will the “smartphone” age swipe right for God?!?)

The tragic results of this spirit are all [around] us: shallow lives, hollow religious philosophies, the preponderance of the element of fun in gospel meetings, the glorification of men, trust in religious externalities, quasireligious fellowships, salesmanship methods, the mistaking of dynamic personality for the power of the Spirit. These and such as these are the symptoms of an evil disease, a deep and serious malady of the soul.

For this sickness that is upon us no one person is responsible and no Christian is wholly free from blame. We have all contributed directly or indirectly, to this sad state of affairs. We have been too blind to see, or too timid to speak out, or too self-satisfied to desire anything better than the poor, average diet with which others appear satisfied. To put it differently, we have accepted one another’s notions, copied one another’s lives and made one another’s experiences the model for our own. And for a generation the trend has been downward. Now we have reached a low place of sand and burnt wire grass and, worst of all, we have made the Word of Truth conform to our experience and accepted this low plane as the very pasture of the blessed.

It will require a determined heart and more than a little courage to wrench ourselves loose from the grip of our times and return to biblical ways. But it can be done… What God in His sovereignty may yet do on a world scale I do not claim to know. But what He will do for the plain man or woman who seeks His face I believe I do know and can tell others. Let any man turn to God in earnest, let him begin to exercise himself unto godliness, let him seek to develop his powers of spiritual receptivity by trust and obedience and humility, and the results will exceed anything he may have hoped in his leaner and weaker days.

Any man who by repentance and a sincere return to God will break himself out of the mold in which he has been held, and will go to the Bible itself for his spiritual standards, will be delighted with what he finds there.

Tozer, A.W. The Pursuit of God. (Moody Pub.; Chicago, Ill. 2006) pgs 75-77.

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No Christmas without the Cross

fullsizeoutput_11a3The Christmas Tree is up at the Sayler house and we are preparing our home and hearts for the celebration of Christ’s birth. We’ve always been very careful about how we decorate, avoiding the commercial and worldly images and themes of Christmas, and instead focusing on themes from Scripture – and this is especially noticeable on our tree.  Not quite a Chrismon Tree, all of our ornaments fall into 4 categories, Angels, Stars, Nativity Scenes, and Crosses.  Now the first three of those are readily seen in the story of Christ’s birth, but unless we keep the Cross in the story, the birth loses its meaning and purpose.  Indeed, there can be no Christmas without the Cross.

I’ve shared before from James Boice’s book The Christ of Christmas,* but I thought today I’d share just a bit from the opening chapter, The Christmas Story According to Jesus Christ. Boice finds the Christmas story according to Jesus in Hebrews 10:5-7, which is a direct quote from Psalm 40:6-8:

When Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’
Hebrews 10:5–7


What is it that our Lord emphasizes in these verses? First, that He came into the world for a purpose. That is important, for it is uniquely true of Him. It cannot be said of any other person that he or she came into the world to do something. It is often true that there are purposes parents have for their children. They hope that the child lying in a crib will grow up to do something significant in this world. If the parents are Christians, they want their child to be kept from sin and be able to serve Jesus Christ. Parents have those and other aspirations. But the child does not have them. The child has to acquire them. That is why, from a Christian perspective, the child must be taught its destiny from the pages of the Word of God.

But Jesus was different. Our Lord says that He came (and was conscious of coming) for a specific purpose. Moreover, He spells that purpose out: “I have come to do your will, O God.”

What was that will? God willed Christ to be our Savior.

I do not know why it is, be we often lose a sense of that purpose in telling the Christmas story. We focus so much on the birth of the baby and on the sentiment that goes with that story – and there is a certain amount of legitimate sentimentality that goes with it – that we miss the most important things. Actually, the story is treated quite simply in Scripture, and the emphasis is always on the fact that Jesus came to die. The Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, took a human body in oder that He might die for our salvation.  When our Lord speaks of His coming it is therefore highly understandable that He is thinking along those lines.

In the tenth chapter of Hebrews the author contrasts the sacrifices that took place in Israel before the coming of Christ – the sin offerings and burnt offerings, by which believers testified of their faith that God would accept them on the basis of the death of an innocent substitute – with Christ’s great and perfect sacrifice. It is in the context of that contrast, between the former things and that which has now come, between the shadow and the reality, that he brings in the quotations from Psalm 40. The Lord Jesus Christ came into the world with a purpose, and that purpose was to do God’s will: to be our Savior. We miss the most important thing about Christmas if we fail to see that.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Christ of Christmas (Moody Press; Chicago, Ill. 1983)pg 14.

 

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A Thanksgiving Proclamation

Last year, in honor of our celebration of Thanksgiving, I posted George Washington’s “Thanksgiving Proclamation.”  From the earliest years of our nation, each year a day was set aside to give thanks to God for the blessings He has graciously provided to our land and our people.  But it wasn’t until President Lincoln, in 1863, during the height of the Civil War, established a national day of Thanksgiving. I thought I’d share His letter of proclamation, which was actually written by William Seward, serving as Secretary of State. Enjoy, and may we give thanks to God for all His many blessings, not just tomorrow, but every day.

Washington, D.C.
October 3, 1863

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore.

Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the United States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

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