Public Health and Public Worship

For all those keeping track of public health measures in Michigan, the last week has been action-packed. Last Friday, we learned that the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that Governor Whitmer’s emergency powers have operated on an unconstitutional basis since April 30th. This decision immediately began to have an impact on how local businesses and organizations operate. Then, earlier this week, we learned that orders concerning masks and gatherings were now being enforced under the pandemic powers of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. If this has left you feeling uncertain, then please hear the following: nothing has changed concerning our practice of public worship. Christians gather for worship; this is simply what we do. Sometimes, we make adjustments and take precautions. There are always exceptional cases. Nonetheless, we remain a worshiping people. With that in mind, let me remind you of a few things concerning our current practice.

  1. We are still doing things a little differently – no choir, no food, no passing the plates, no greeters, no hand-holding. So far, these measures seem to be effective.
  2. We are still broadcasting services on the CCTV – the parlor and anniversary room are set up for remote worshipers every Sunday morning.
  3. We are still cleaning things up after service – our long-suffering and hard-working deacons still wipe down rails and doorknobs. Congregants are still encouraged to clean up their areas as they leave service.
  4. We are still anticipating live-streaming services – things are running differently than we anticipated but the day will eventually arrive. Stay tuned for information on how to access these services when the time comes.
  5. We are still operating with wisdom and love – no mask-mandate, no guilt. Nonetheless, please be considerate of others. Give each other space. Consider wearing a mask if you are able to do so. Sing a little quieter than you normally would.

In all things, live with faith, hope, and love. Faith helps us to know that God can be trusted in every season of life. Hope helps us to know that God’s good purposes for each of us will be fulfilled. Love keeps us secure as we reach out to those around us in a Christ-like manner. The world around us offers us a host of narratives to give meaning to our lives. But we reject them all in the name of Jesus. For the only story that defines us is the story of his life, death, resurrection, reign, and return.

In Christ,

Pastor Scott

Respectable Sins 9: Discontentment

Are there circumstances in your life which provide many opportunities for grumbling, complaining, bitterness, or anger? If so, then Bridges’ focus on the sin of discontentment may be helpful to you. He begins by suggesting that there is a place in the Christian life for “legitimate discontentment.” This type of discontentment might be directed at needed areas of personal growth or at prevailing sources of injustice and evil in society. I think that it is important to make this distinction. The Christian belief in the sovereignty of God over all things does not require God’s people to passively accept whatever happens. I would argue the opposite. Because we believe that Jesus is Lord, then we should work for positive change in our personal lives and in the culture around us. There remains, however, a variety of discontent with our circumstances which “negatively affects our relationship with God.”

Think about our present situation concerning COVID-19. There are plenty of reasons for Christians to be active at this time. We all need to take precautions to protect the health of ourselves and others. There are people in unique seasons of need, and we should be prepared to help them and speak to them about Jesus. If we conclude that acts of injustice are being performed, then it is right for us to identify and speak out against these acts. And yet, we need to do these things with balance and care. God is in control. He has purposes and plans which he is working out in the midst of this season. He has blessings for his people that exist because of this virus. If we believe in and rely upon God’s providence, then we should be seeking what the Lord has for us in this time and refusing to live with sinful discontentment and related anger and bitterness.

Bridges helps us to see that we so commonly live with discontentment, complaining about various things in our lives, that it is difficult to even think of this as sin. As he does in the case of anxiety, Bridges asks us to turn our attention to Psalm 139. “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (v. 16 ESV). Or again: “For you formed by inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (v. 13 ESV). From these verses, we see that God attends to both our days and our bodies. And if God is doing this, shouldn’t we consider the possibility that God has special blessing for us in whatever circumstances we are facing?

In what ways – either personal or societal – do you experience legitimate discontentment? When considering discontent as a sin, when do you find yourself most likely to grumble or complain? Ask a friend or a family member to help you identify things that lead you to discontentment. Ask God to help you see that he is sovereign over even these things.

Good Friday 2020

Follow the following order of service to aid you in your personal worship:

Pray this prayer.

Father, we know that you work all things together for good for those who love you, for those who have been called according to your purpose. On that dark Friday two thousand years ago, everything seemed out of control. The greatest tragedy in human history was occurring. Jesus was dying. But, Father, we know that you were in control, that you were working out your good purposes. We believe that Jesus was ruling even from the cross. Father, we are now perplexed and confused. Help us to know that you are still sovereign, still working out your good purposes. Through your Holy Spirit, help us to know that Jesus is risen and ruling from your right hand. We praise you as the Everlasting God, loving, holy, wise, strong, and good. We praise you, Holy Trinity, and ask that you would guide our steps this day for your glory. In Jesus’s name. Amen.

Listen to this song.

Read John 19:28-30.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Watch this video devotional.

Spend some time in prayer.

The Office of the General Assembly has asked that we join together in a special time of prayer and fasting. If you are physically able to do so, consider skipping your noontime meal in order to focus on prayer. You may use the following prayer guide:

Respectable Sins 8: Anxiety and Frustration

Anxiety and frustration are certainly two key elements of our contemporary season. But we also experience such things in more mundane ways. Medical bills induce anxiety. A broken bicycle produces frustration. Slick roads make us anxious. Paper cuts are frustrating. How do we handle anxiety and frustration as Christians? With this chapter, I find myself for the first time in some disagreement with Jerry Bridges. He deals with anxiety and frustration as respectable sins. We should learn from him on these matters. At the same time, we should recognize that anxiety and frustration are a part of life in a fallen world and are sometimes outside of the category of moral brokenness. Anxiety can have psychological and physiological causes. Frustration is as old as the curse of Genesis 3. In a world which doesn’t function as it was created to do, we will find all things unsatisfactory and incomplete to some extent.

A key text concerning anxiety comes from Jesus in Matthew 6: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Have faith. The birds of the air and the lillies of the field do not worry, and we are far more valuable to God than such things. For Bridges, anxiety is sin because it is the opposite of the kind of deep trust in God which should mark the Christian life. To engage in anxiety about situations in our lives is to disbelieve that God is providentially in control of our lives: “…we tend to focus on the immediate causes of anxiety rather than remembering that those immediate causes are under the sovereign control of God.”

Frustration varies from anxiety because it “usually involves being upset or even angry at whatever or whoever is blocking our plans.” To battle this sin, Bridges turns to Psalm 139:16: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” To say that our days are ordained is also to say that none of the occurrences of our days is a surprise to God; he is working out his purposes for our lives through all of the things we experience on a day-to-day basis. Living with faith means, in part, asking God “if there is something I need to learn, or if there is something I need to be attentive to. Sometimes God uses events that tempt us toward frustration to get our attention, or even to push us further in an area we need to grow in.”

I think that we need to exhibit balance in this teaching. On the one hand, we should be vigilant against sinful varieties of anxiety and frustration. If these things lead us to anger towards God or a failure of love towards neighbor, then we know that we have crossed the boundary. On the other hand, anxiety and frustration will follow us all to some extent through life in a fallen world. And for this kind of anxiety, the answer is not so much forgiveness from God as it is healing from God. The good news is that God can bring this healing into our lives, even as he can forgive us for our sinful anxiety and frustration.

Does it challenge you personally to conceive of anxiety and frustration as sin? Why or why not? Have you clearly experienced sinful forms of these common things? What helpful tips have you developed to help you when you are experiencing anxiety?

Respectable Sins 7: Ungodliness

The events of the last two weeks have made it more challenging to regularly post on my interactions with Jerry Bridges’s fine book Respectable Sins. But I will continue to do so, even as we move out of the Lenten season. In fact, we are just getting to the most practical chapters!

Is there a sin that lies at the root of all other sins? One of the classic answers to that question is pride. But Bridges wants us to consider another option: ungodliness. And what exactly is ungodliness? Bridges kicks things off with two important claims. First, all Christians are ungodly to some extent. Second, ungodliness is different than wickedness. Perfectly respectable people who do not engage in obviously vile things can still be ungodly in some ways. If this is true, then how is this ungodliness (present in all of us) manifested in our lives?

The first mark of ungodliness is to “live our daily lives with little or no thought of God.” We can wake up and have a “quiet time”, go to church on Sunday mornings, and tick a box that says we are practicing Christians and still basically move throughout life without thinking about God’s will or God’s glory. We do our jobs and raise our families and worry about our money in the exact same way as everyone else, with little specific thought about how our faith changes every element of our lives. The second mark of ungodliness is a “meager desire to develop an intimate relationship with God.” One cannot read the Psalms or the letters of Paul without a sense that the authors are passionate about being on intimate terms with God. Again, it is perfectly possible to live our Christian lives with little of the longing exhibited by someone like David: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:1-2).

It is with this understanding that Bridges builds his case that ungodliness is the sin before other sins. “To use a tree as an illustration, we can think of all our sins, big and small, growing out of the trunk of pride. But that which sustains the life of the tree is the root system, in this case the root of ungodliness. It is ungodliness that ultimately gives life to our more visible sins.”

How do we battle this sin? First, we must intentionally train ourselves to take it on (in the power of the Holy Spirit, of course). Second, “…it will help to identify specific areas of life where [we] tend to live without regard to God.” Finally, we must fill our minds up with Scripture verses which teaches us about godliness. For example, we could meditate on Colossians 3:23 (“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”) or Psalm 27:4 (“One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple”). Such texts ground us in the abiding presence of God and in the intimate pursuit of God.

What areas in your life demonstrate this basic sin of ungodliness? In what situations do you repeatedly fail to consider the Lord’s presence or will? Are you comfortable with the language of intimacy with God? Why or why not?

Respectable Sins 6: Directions for Dealing with Sins

God, in his all-wise providence and love, has given us what is certainly an unforgettable Lenten season. The ideas and actions of wilderness, hunger, prayer, repentance, and longing have been brought into sharp focus. In our journey through Jerry Bridges’ Respectable Sins we have come to a very practical chapter laying out a general plan for dealing with all instances of sin in our lives. I will simply reproduce Bridges’ list with minimal commentary.

1. Address your sin in the context of the gospel. “As we struggle to put to death our subtle sins, we must keep in mind this twofold truth: Our sins are forgiven and we are accepted as righteous by God because of both the sinless life and sin-bearing death of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no greater motivation for dealing with sin in our lives than the realization of these two glorious truths of the gospel.”

2. Learn to rely on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. The promise of the New Testament is that the Spirit is working within his people. So we must constantly seek to rely on him, even if we don’t always understand the way that the Spirit is working.

3. Recognize responsibility to take practical steps. To fight sin you must be prepared to engage in practical actions, while you trust in the power of the Spirit to change you.

4. Identify specific areas of “acceptable” sin. Humbly ask God to show you patterns and triggers.

5. Memorize verses of Scripture that address your specific sins. Memorizing the Bible is like storing up resources for an emergency.

6. Cultivate the practice of prayer over the sins you tolerate. Pray both in a disciplined and in a spontaneous manner.

7. Involve other, trusted people in your struggle. “We need the mutual vulnerability with and accountability to one another, as well as the praying for one another and encouraging one another, if we want to make progress in dealing with sin.”

What kinds of teaching have you received in the past concerning your battle with sin? Did you find it helpful? Do you believe that it is possible to grow in these areas of “respectable” sin? Why or why not?

Respectable Sins 5: The Power of the Holy Spirit

The last few days have been stressful. So much seems to have changed. Yet from a different perspective, nothing has changed. It is still the Lenten season. God is still God. You and I still need God’s grace. We believe the Bible, so we have always believed that suffering and struggle are part of the package in a post-Genesis 3 world. We fight battles without. We fight battles within.

And because we fight these battles within, we turn again to the guidance of Jerry Bridges. In our last study, we saw how Jesus dealt with the guilt of our sins through his atoning death. In chapter five, the focus turns toward the work of the Holy Spirit to free us from the power of sin in our lives. In this progressive process, there is work that we must do in cooperation with the Spirit – “I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). We also find, however, that the Holy Spirit works in us monergistically (or apart from our contributing energies) – “…work out your own salvation…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13).

Bridges sums up this dynamic of our cooperation and God’s monergistic work with the phrase dependent responsibility: “There is a fundamental principle of the Christian life that I call the principle of dependent responsibility; that is, we are responsible before God to obey His Word, to put to death the sins in our lives, both the so-called acceptable sins and the obviously not acceptable ones. At the same time, we do not have the ability within ourselves to carry out this responsibility. We are in fact totally dependent upon the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. In this sense, we are both responsible and dependent.”

Bridges teaches us that there is mystery to how the Holy Spirit works within us. Nonetheless, we believe that he does because the Bible tells us that he does. And trusting in his power at work in us, we set about the process of recognizing and mortifying the respectable sins with which we struggle.

What do you find harder to accept: your dependency on the Holy Spirit or your responsibility to cooperate with him? Can you recall a time in your life when it was evident that the Spirit was helping you to put away some particular sin? When trying to change things “on your own,” have you been successful?