This past Sunday during my sermon on Matthew 8:1–17, the main point I sought to bring out was: Since Jesus came not only to redeem a people but to renew creation, he demonstrates his Messianic authority by healing the sick and liberating the oppressed. Simply put, he gives us a foretaste of the kingdom in the age to come.
Whether in the prophets, the gospels, or Revelation, God in his kindness pulls back the curtain and gives us a glimpse of what awaits us.
But not only do we find this in the inspired writers of Scripture, we also find the church’s poets, philosophers, and theologians doing this. One such philosopher/theologian was Peter Abelard (1079–1142). His poem “O What Their Joy and Their Glory Must Be,” captures the unbridled joy of the church triumphant. See if it doesn’t prompt you to praise or move you to meditate on the glory that awaits us:
O what their joy and their glory must be,
Those endless Sabbaths the blesséd ones see;
Crown for the valiant, to weary ones rest:
God shall be all, and in all ever blest.
What are the Monarch, his court and his throne?
What are the peace and the joy that they own?
O that the blesséd ones, who in it have share,
All that they feel could as fully declare!
Truly, “Jerusalem” name we that shore,
City of peace that brings joy evermore;
Wish and fulfillment are not severed there,
Nor do things prayed for come short of the prayer.
There, where no troubles distraction can bring,
We the sweet anthems of Zion shall sing;
While for thy grace, Lord, their voices of praise
Thy blesséd people eternally raise.
Now, in the meantime, with hearts raised on high,
We for that country must yearn and must sigh,
Seeking Jerusalem, dear native land,
Through our long exile on Babylon’s strand.
Low before him with our praises we fall,
Of whom and in whom and through whom are all;
Of whom, the Father; and in whom the Son;
And through whom, the Spirit, with them ever one.
Thumbing through my book of Jane Kenyon poems
there it was.
I see it nearly every day, but this morning
the words on the old prayer card–written who knows when–
waltzed off the 3X5 and pierced my heart
suffusing it with serenity.
He never fails.
Scripture’s sublime majesty satisfies the longing soul,
restoring wonder, banishing fear, and making alive.
“Unless YHWH builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless YHWH watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1).
God always meets us in our hour of need, addressing us with a timely word designed to instruct and heal. As we assume the posture of a servant-student, inner stillness surges forth as a consequence of being undone and made whole by our handsome King.
I write as a witness to this truth. He met me this morning in Isaiah 31:1–32:20.
Note the context: Judah is in the midst of a serious, life and death, national crisis (sound familiar? Could this possibly be more relevant?). The Assyrians, Medo-Persians, and Babylonians are the major world powers of the era. To whom will Judah turn for help? Will they repent and turn back to God? To Isaiah’s dismay, Judah is looking to Egypt for rescue.
Times of personal or national crisis reveal where our hope truly lies. Since the story of the Old Testament saints is the story of us all, we learn that our natural propensity is to rely on something or someone other than God. Through the prophet Isaiah, however, God calls us to look to him, to trust in him, to rely on him, and to hope in him. Turning away from the God who is life itself always leads to death and disappointment.
Who or what are you ultimately trusting in? Trust in the God who reigns.
In the midst of these uncertain times, God reigns: “Never panicking, never at a loss of what to do, calmly in charge, perfect in wisdom, precise in action” (Alec Motyer). God’s fatherly reign evokes heartfelt trust, resilience, and unity. We must unite (even from a distance) to pray together, serve one another, and open our eyes to the needs around us. Call your brothers and sisters in Christ. Check in with your neighbors. Express gratitude to those working long hours, stocking shelves, and delivering groceries.
Finally, in spite of the current social disruption, continue to let new world impulses govern your life. Lay up treasure in heaven, invest in eternity (Matt. 6:19–21), fix your eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:2). We are not orphans, he will return (John 14:18), and we will see him face-to-face: “Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17).
What are you going to do with all your free time? How about read some books!!!
I put together a list of books, sermons, and articles you might want to read:
In general, I’d say you can’t go wrong with anything by Sinclair Ferguson or Stephen Wellum. But if you’d like to get started, check out Ferguson’s The Whole Christ or Wellum’s God the Son Incarnate.
For something both theological and practical, you might try Thomas Watson’s (1620–1686) A Body of Divinity. Don’t let the fact that it was published in seventeenth century deter you. Watson writes simply, beautifully, and practically. I recently finished his Doctrine of Repentance, and it solidified my sense that Watson may be one of my favorite writers.
Probably the best historical book I’ve read in the past few years was Harry Stout’s The New England Soul: Preaching and Religious Culture in Colonial New England. Don’t let the title intimidate you. Stout is a masterful writer and is engaging throughout.
Although I don’t share his theological convictions, I appreciated Barry Hankins’s book Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America.
Additionally, one that I think American evangelicals should read carefully is Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity. I don’t think you can understand American evangelicalism unless you work through this volume. Also, since most American evangelicals have a limited (and often skewed) understanding of church history, you might want to use all this extra time to carefully peruse D. H. Williams’s Retrieving the Tradition & Renewing Evangelicalism: A Primer for Suspicious Protestants. Note: More people should read Williams’s books.
Admittedly this is a bit dated now (it was published in 2016), but if you haven’t read Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic, you might enjoy it. (If you’d like my brief summary of the book, contact me personally and I can email it to you.)
With respect to ethics, you might want to check out Denny Burk’s What Is the Meaning of Sex?
For cultural issues, see Tim Keller’s Making Sense of God.
Two of my favorite are John Flavel’s The Mystery of Providence and Richard Sibbes’s The Bruised Reed. Maybe challenge yourself and work through Augustine’s Confessions. (Make sure you get this translation.) If none of those tickle your fancy, perhaps consider reading these sermons by Jonathan Edwards. If you don’t want to spend the money (or Amazon can’t get to your house fast enough), I would recommend reading the following sermons by Edwards: “The Excellency of Christ,” “God the Best Portion of the Christian,” or “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth.”
But you also can’t go wrong reading Spurgeon’s sermons as well, in particular, “Sweet Stimulants for the Fainting Soul,” or “Israel’s God and God’s Israel.” One of his most moving sermons (which he preached after a local disaster) is “The Wailing of Risca.”
If you’d like to work on your prayer life, I always recommend that people start with Paul Miller’s A Praying Life.
If you want to identify personal weaknesses and cultivate virtues, read Rebecca DeYoung’s Glittiering Vices.
Lastly, since the Coronavirus is doing a superb job of reminding us of our mortality, you might want to check out David Gibson’s Living Life Backwards.
George Weigel, “A Better Concept of Freedom”
Scott R. Swain, “That Your Joy May Be Full: A Theology of Happiness”
Jane Kenyon, Otherwise: New and Selected Poems.
Mary Oliver, Devotions.
Leland Ryken, ed. The Soul in Paraphrase: A Treasury of Classic Devotional Poems.
As you know, I like books. I like reading books and I like talking about books. Given this reality, a number of people from my church (Crossroads) have asked me various questions about my reading habits. Putting them in my own words, the main three are: 1) Have you always been a reader? 2) If not, when did you become a reader? 3) Do you do any recreational reading?
Since these questions were swirling around in my mind as I drove to the church this morning, I thought I’d write it down. Here’s what I came up with.
Have you always been a reader?
No, I have not. Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and the bulk of my teenage years I despised reading. My interests revolved around sports and carousing with my friends. I was headed nowhere fast.
When did you become a reader?
As soon as I became a Christian—literally. Since I wanted to know more about the God who changed my life, I immediately began reading the Bible. Like most people, I thought I would start from the book of Genesis and read through to Revelation. As you might expect, I arrived at Leviticus and didn’t know what to do. One of my pastors told me to start with the gospels and read through the New Testament. I’ve been hooked ever since. And I eventually began to understand Leviticus!
But there’s more to the story. Once I became a Christian, my interests spread into other areas as well. All of a sudden I wanted to pay attention in class in order to see how all things hold together in him (Col. 1:17).
Whereas prior to my conversion I hated math and history, following my conversion, I became interested in these subjects. Additionally, once my pastors informed me that I was to do all things for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17), I all of a sudden wanted to apply myself in school and respect my teachers.
So, I guess you could say God made me a reader.
Do you do any recreational reading?
The question is usually, “Do you read more than theology?” Yes, but it usually still involves reading up on ethics, politics, and cultural issues. But given that I’m pressed for time, I don’t devote a lot of it to recreational reading. I’ve tried novels, but can’t seem to bring myself to finish one. It’s very sad!
My recreational reading is spent enjoying poems in the morning. I take pleasure in seeing how poets pay attention to the world around them, soaking in the present moment, and then beautifully expressing it in words.
My favorite poets are George Herbert, Robert Frost, Jane Kenyon, and Mary Oliver.