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By Aaron Armstrong
During our public school days, Emily and I always felt overwhelmed. There were always so many rules for us to follow—about holidays, clothes, and even lunches. And the lunch rules were the worst. The expectation was that lunch be garbage free, healthy, and absolutely free of any nut products of any kind. (We later learned from a friend that it’s actually gotten worse—now the schools find it easier to send a list of what’s permitted rather than what’s not, because the approved list is shorter.)
Trying to keep in step with these requirements was a giant pain. In fact, we kept running out of ideas of what to even send with Abigail. We like peanut butter. We don’t have a nut-free environment. And pre-packaged snack foods which are nut free generally aren’t all that healthy. We found ways to meet the requirements (at least two out of three), but it didn’t make us happy people, nor did it help Abigail enjoy eating lunch in general.
Now, obviously there are some valid reasons for rules like these—if a kid has a severe nut allergy, we don’t want them to go into shock. But often, our obsession with rules goes beyond trying to protect individuals from harm and into trying to make us certain kinds of people. The problem, though, is it doesn’t work, because that’s not what rules are meant to do.
Christians should know this, but we’re prone to forgetting. The rules trap—legalism—is just too easy (because it’s easy, in theory if not in fact). We have rules about kissing dating goodbye. About what music to not listen to. Movies to not watch. Books to not read. Beverages to not consume…
And while the reasons behind the don’ts might be good and right and true, if all we have is don’t, what are we trying to accomplish? At best, the rules, and our attempts to keep them, make us try harder; we white knuckle our way through the things we know we’re supposed to do (including avoiding the things we aren’t supposed to). More often, though, they make us want to give up. Despite our intentions, we don’t become more holy, joyful people—people who increasingly find sin unattractive because Jesus is ever-increasingly attractive to us. Instead, we’re just people who are happy they’re not in trouble.
This is why we should thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit, as Ray Ortlund reminds us in Supernatural Living for Natural People. He writes:
What generates real holiness is not fear of punishment but fullness of heart. When you sin, when I sin, there is always a reason. We sin because we believe that it is simply the price we have to pay for a taste of happiness. But sin is deceiving us. It does not deliver on its promise. It leaves only the bitter after-taste of death. God promises us life. The Spirit moves in our hearts to trust God enough to fight for life and happiness and all we desire not in sin but in the ways of God. The Spirit arouses our thirst for Jesus, so that we come to him and drink, until rivers of living water flow from our inmost beings (John 7:37-39). The Spirit shows us how wide and long and high and deep is the love of God. He helps us to know this love that surpasses knowledge, so that we are filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3:14-19). And when we live in that holy atmosphere, sin is a lot less attractive. (Kindle location 436)
What makes sin less attractive is not more rules, but new desires—and this is what the Spirit creates in us. He gives us a new affection for Christ, a greater desire to know him and be like him. And because of that, we can see that sin and legalism always over-promise and under-deliver. But the good news is, God’s Spirit never will. Real holiness comes from a fullness of heart. And this is what the Spirit gives us.
Source: BLOGGING THEOLOGICALLY
Thoughts on “The Lord is My Shepherd”
By John Newton
He must intimately know every individual of the flock. His eye must be upon them every one, and His ear open to their prayers, and His arm stretched out for their relief, in all places and in all ages. Every thought of every heart must be open to His view, and His wisdom must penetrate, and His arm control and overrule all the hidden and complicated machinations of the powers of darkness. He must have the administration of universal Providence over all the nations, families, and persons upon the earth, or He could not effectually manage for those who put their trust in Him in that immense variety of cases and circumstances in which they are found. Reason, as well as Scripture, may convince us that He who gathereth the outcasts of Israel, who healeth the broken in heart, who upholdeth all that fall, raiseth up all that are bowed down, and upon whom the eyes of all wait for their support, can be no other than He who telleth the number of stars and calleth them by all their names, who is great in power and whose understanding is infinite. To this purpose likewise the prophet Isaiah describes this mighty Shepherd (40:9-17) both as to His person and office.
Such a one is our Shepherd. This is He of whom we, through grace, are enabled to say, “We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.” We are His by every tie and right; He made us, He redeemed us, He reclaimed us from the hand of our enemies, and we are His by our own voluntary surrender of ourselves; for though we once slighted, despised, and opposed Him, He made us willing in the day of His power: He knocked at the door of our hearts; but we (at least I) barred and fastened it against Him as much and as long as possible. But when He revealed His love, we could stand out no longer. Like sheep, we are weak, destitute, defenseless, prone to wander, unable to return, and always surrounded with wolves. But all is made up in the fullness, ability, wisdom, compassion, care and faithfulness of our great Shepherd. He guides, protects, feeds, heals, and restores, and will be our Guide and our God even until death. Then He will meet us, receive us, and present us unto Himself, and we shall be near Him, and like Him, and with Him forever.
Dear friend, if both your circumstances and your spirit sink, all will be well if you lean on God alone. Never fear that you will become weary to Him, and never ask as little as possible. He says, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10). Never trust Him just a little. Never give Him only a part of your cares. Never rest just a portion of your trials on Him. Lean on Him with all your weight. Bring all the tons, pounds, and ounces and throw them all on God. Do no carry an extra ounce yourself. God loves His children to place their entire confidence in Him.
The utter uniqueness of the Christian message — the heart of the gospel — is found in the three words of Christ from the cross, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). The message of every other religious system, without exception, is predicated on some variation of another three words, which stand starkly opposed to the gospel’s three words. Religion’s three words are: ‘Get to work.’ And this is the heart of the bad news behind every approach to spirituality, enlightenment, or salvation that is not Christian.
Jared C. Wilson, from Gospel Wakefulness
Continuing our series in Colossians, we’ve made it to Chapter 2! While chapter 1 focused on declaring the sufficiency of Christ, now we are seeing the specific outworking in a believer’s life who sees this truth. In this sermon, we’ll see first what you may have in Christ, then what you must do (walk in him), and finally what to watch out for.