Dealing with Difficult People

I was horrified.  The text of the morning’s message was Titus 3:9-11: “But avoid foolish controversies…as for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…”

Neatly removing these verses from their context, the speaker in the pulpit moved on to apply  them to persons who refuse to let go of difficult issues and so affect the unity of our churches and seminaries.

Who are these ‘difficult people’ with ‘bad attitudes’ that ‘stand up for the Word of God’ while displaying ‘spiritual immaturity’ by their intolerance of sin in the church?
–People like me, evidently.

What’s to be done with the likes of these?
–“We need to move them out of our communities because they affect unity.”

Ok… slow down.  What are these ‘difficult issues’ again?  We’re not talking ‘food sacrificed to idols’ or whether or not a Christian should be circumcised.  We’re not talking arbitrary peripherals that aren’t clearly defined in the Word of God.  And no, I don’t believe Paul would have agreed with the speaker and called these non-essentials of the faith—since after all ‘we all love God’.

The issues she spoke of are ‘hot button’ issues because they run counter to culture.  They affect people we know and love.  Our compassion-ometers want to make exceptions and decide right and wrong on a person- by-person basis depending on how things seem to be working out for the individuals concerned.  The way that ‘seems right to a man’ is hard to deny without getting labeled ‘intolerant’.

The talk from the pulpit proceeded with an uncanny repetition of the word ‘conversations’:  We need to be having them—‘authentic conversations’, ‘genuine’ conversations, but not ‘fierce conversations’…We need to show empathy, to care unconditionally, to enter deeply into another’s understanding, and to seek ‘new insights on Scripture’ so we can learn to see things differently and ultimately ‘make space’ for those of differing opinions and lifestyles.

It was all about reaching consensus and exhibiting ‘caring community’.  It all sounded so warm and wonderful, except that though the talk began with reference to Scripture it was soon revolving around man’s opinions rather than God’s: If we truly understand where people are coming from we will be more inclusive, more welcoming, less ‘judgmental’, more ‘loving’…we will stop majoring on ‘minor issues’.  We will stop being ‘difficult people’ who can’t let go of ‘difficult issues’.

But really there was no warm and wonderful in it.  The issues at stake are not minor issues. They are destroying the North American church! True, our churches are scrambling to de-classify them from major to minor status, (anything to make our churches more relevant, less offensive) Church boards meet. Denominations re-write statements of doctrine. And the folks in the pew are led like sheep down the slippery slide which ends in  ‘the love of many growing cold’.

First it was divorce and remarriage, then women in leadership, next up are the ‘gender identity’ issues that have resulted from the hosts of broken homes that have engendered them! We can pretend these are minor issues that disrupt ‘unity’. After all, everyone claims to love God, surely we should get along,  but God says the one who loves Him will find the keeping of His commands a delight. (I Jn.5:3) And these issues we are divided on are issues God has spoken clearly on. He describes them with words like: ‘abomination’, unnatural, debased, and  ‘worthy of death’. The morning’s speaker, who incidentally (or not?) was a woman, steered us from such considerations by suggesting we just need ‘fresh insight’, a new way of reading those Words, and a more agreeable outlook…Then we will have caring unified communities.

There is a great longing for close-knit community in the church at large.  Most believers I know feel the want of it.  We long to be of one mind and one heart with other believers, to enjoy deep and meaningful fellowship, not just Sunday morning services.  And we long to have an effect on our communities, to help the hurting and welcome the fallen.  These desires set us up for great deception if we waffle in our commitment to God’s revealed truth in order to fulfill them.

We cannot merely turn a blind eye to bad doctrine and blatant sin in order to enhance unity. We fail to truly love when we fail to address sin with the loving intent of restoring the sinner to God’s intended design for him/her. After all, the unity we share as believers is the unity created by the HOLY Spirit. Ours is a holy calling. To stop short of this calling in our interactions with others is not love at all.  It is a short-sighted sort of compassion, a sort of warmed petri dish of lamb’s blood bound to incubate sin rather than treat it. And that sin is what kills fellowship. When we walk in the light, fellowship is restored. When we truly love, truth is not left out of our conversations. Yes, we need authentic conversations but they cannot end with our own thoughts and opinions on issues of importance.  They must be grounded in what God has to say in His eternal Word.

The ‘difficult issues’ will only be made more difficult when we prioritize making people feel comfortable over honoring God’s heart on our ‘hot button’ issues.  When  compassions and convictions clash the authority of  God’s Word must rule the day.  We don’t need to re-write the Words of God to fit the times we live in. We don’t need a new lens created in the upper echelons of academia to help us sort out relevant truth. We need to read the Word of God in humble dependence on the Spirit of God to illumine truth and shed light on our confusions.

The Word that sets up such stumbling blocks to our modern mindset of tolerance, is the very Word that will give us traction on the black ice of sin’s deceitfulness.

Ironically, the book of Titus which was cited in the message that day was actually written not to silence ‘difficult people’ but for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life.” (Titus 1:1,2)  Sadly, that was the very knowledge left out of the conversation!

Let’s not let it be left out of ours.

If you get a chance, have a look at Titus this week and consider the context  for those instructions about contentious people.  What would you say is the theme of Titus?

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you. Titus 2:11-15 ESV

“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach…he must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus1:9)

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.  But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”
(II Tim.2:15)

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (II Tim.3:17)

“…preach the word…for the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (II Tim.4:2-4)

We’re alive!

“I shall not die, but I shall live–
and recount the deeds of the LORD” Ps.117:17

The text message history tells all:

Nov.20, 4:43 PM
”We crashed”

…with many exchanges to follow with each of our five children and especially the one nearest at hand:

“Hello Joshua?!  We crashed.”

Darkness had fallen earlier than we’d hoped.  Lightly falling rain that was no problem at first had fallen on an already chilled road bed just over the crest of a hill…

And suddenly we were skating at 100km. an hour, with no steering, on a highway of sheer black ice.  The rest was inevitable; no guard rail, no shoulder to speak of, just a long descent to the snowy fir wood below.  We were airborne for a long breathless moment.  Long enough to feel the weightlessness, to reach for Jim’s arm so as to end this thing together, to think: “Is my seatbelt even fastened? I can’t feel it” and to wonder, how does one best brace for the inevitable impact when this long suspended animation is over and reality crashes in?

Then all was still with a momentary jolt and we were nestled in a soundless snowy wood, in the black of night, 12 feet below the glassy highway.

“We’re alive!  It’s OK, we’re alive!” was all I could think to blurt out reassuringly to my shaken driver.

We were to have arrived Prince George in just another hour and a half, to visit our son and his wife in their first very own home.  This detour was not on the trip plan. We had hoped to help them get settled in.  Now they would be rescuing us.

I will spare you the details.  There were many mercies seen and unseen. There was the long wait but the mercy of a truck driver’s warm cab and company.  He along with all the rest of the travellers on this road were halted to wait for the ice to be conquered.  All travel in either direction for miles was suspended by a thin sheet of glass.   Eventually the sand truck passed and the salt truck, several times.  And oddly the temperature seemed to rise a couple of degrees… (not so oddly, this was our prayer) Then the truck driver donned his trucks’ ‘jewelry’ (chains) while  we hauled our basic essentials and valuables from the car, up the snowy slope to the highway and to his waiting semi and then we were carried down out of the icy hills to meet Joshua and his wife for the ride home…

That was last night.  I woke early today in my son’s house as the sun was just beginning to brighten the world, feeling rested and restless to declare God’s praise.  Before I’d left my cozy bed these words were singing through my head:

“Praise to the Lord, the ALMIGHTY, the King of Creation.
O my soul praise Him for He is Thy health and salvation.
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near,
Join me in glad adoration.”

There will be many details today. The car must be lifted to the road and assessed, and towed, and what then (?!) remains to be seen.  But for now we are alive, and whole and thankful.  (There is only the smallest little tender bruise on the side of my head where it bumped the window to tell us what happened in the night.)

The mercies of the Lord last night were many.  Upon clambering out of our warm car into the snow the world smelled of Christmas.  All the little fir saplings that had cushioned our fall, lay snapped and crushed, yielding up their scent in the startling wake of our near disaster. I think now how this is so like Jesus—he cushioned our fall by the sacrifice of Himself, his life for ours, to save us from sure destruction.  Though we are not guaranteed length of life in this world, for now we’ve been spared to proclaim His glory!

Praise Him with us, won’t you?


My reading this morning fell in Ps.116-118…

“I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice, and my pleas for mercy… Gracious is the LORD and righteous, our God is merciful…”Return, oh my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you…For you have delivered my soul from death.  I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living.”

Praise the LORD—extol him all peoples!  For great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever!

Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous; the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!

I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the LORD.

Seeing rightly—ourselves and our God

–Who alone is worthy?–

The morning sun came streaming in at the sliding glass doors today. It doesn’t do this too often at this time of year but we’re having a cold snap complete with frosty nights and cloudless blue daytime skies, and this brilliance of sunshine. And suddenly these windows of mine don’t seem quite so clean as I thought them. It wasn’t all that long ago that I washed them was it? Yet the evidence is irrefutable. An accumulation of dust and wind-blown dirt has collected there. They need cleaning. The morning sun has made it clear.

Funny how we can hum along just fine under cloudy skies, thinking everything is spic and span. Then the light comes streaming and we see…

I guess that’s what this blog is about, the ‘seeing’ what has been hidden from my eyes. I am so grateful for the Word of God and for the Spirit of God who continually brings truth to bear on my life in ways that arrest my attention and give me pause to think and to write.

I have been considering this whole topic of ‘nearness to God’ and the corresponding fear of God. Perhaps never in church history (I don’t know; I’ve lived only such a short bit of it!) has there been such a lot of talk about ‘intimacy with God’ and at the same time so little evidence of it.

Are we deluded that we know God better than in fact we do?

Are we living under such a pall of cloudy skies that we are not able to rightly see ourselves and our sinfulness for want of the light of God’s holiness?

I can hum along quite fine for whole stretches of time assuming ‘it’s all good’ with my soul, content with my current level of practical sanctification. In my secret heart of hearts I may even entertain moments of delusion that I am sin-free (This happens best in isolation from people who ‘push my buttons’, and when my body is free from pain or discomfort, and in moments when endorphins are running high and life’s circumstances are comfy cozy). I can live deluded and unaware of my sinfulness so long as the sun doesn’t shine brightly through my windows.

But then comes the light of the Word shining. Then comes the fellowshipping with the saints (these down-to-earth God-seekers I walk with and talk with). Then comes the whisper of the Spirit, bringing the Word to bear on my heart. He doesn’t miss a beat. If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. If we walk in the light we see our sins. And confession restores fellowship and a walking in the light that keeps our windows clean.

But it all starts with a fear of God that trembles at His Word.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. All those who practice it have a good understanding.” Ps.111:10

Where we lack the fear of the Lord, we will lack a right understanding of ourselves and of our God. I see this in myself. It’s evident in the flippant God-talk that abounds in our day. Seeing dimly through our dirty windows we begin to think more highly of ourselves and more lowly of God than we ought to think! Somewhere in the fog of self-flattering words, sin becomes a non-issue. Affirming our own identities, our own worthiness, becomes far more significant than extolling the worth of the One who alone is worthy to be praised. There are many voices out there, not all of them have a good understanding. Not all of them are seeing in the light of a holy fear of God.

Consider these diverse ways of seeing–

“Let no man think more highly of himself than he ought to think”–Paul (Rom.12:3)

For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord… He will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God. –Paul (I Cor. 4:4-5)

“For once a person believes he is an ‘unworthy sinner,’ it is doubtful if he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.” –Schuller

“You rock because He rocks, so get over it. You were born to carry His glory. You are His finest creation…the only creature actually made in the exact image of the Creator. You look like your Daddy!” –Vallotton

‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.’ –the Pharisee (Lk.18:11)

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. –Jesus (Rev 3:17-19)

‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ –the tax collector (Lk.18:11)

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. –John (I Jn.1:8,9)

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.

For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” –Paul (I Tim 1:15; I Cor.15:9; Eph.3:8)

And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. –John (Mk. 1:7)

And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals? And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, “Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” –John (Rev 5:2-5)

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” —the four living creatures and the 24 elders (Rev. 5:9-10)

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” —myriads of angels (Rev 5:12)


I am thinking on these things this week because I don’t want to be deluded into thinking I know God rightly when in fact I am living under a delusion of knowing God just because I know His words in my head and carry them on my lips. The Bible calls this ‘lip-service’. It is worthless. God sees the heart.

“…this people draw near with their mouth
and honor me with their lips,
while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” Is.29:13

What will be the evidence that we are coming to know ourselves and our God rightly? How will we view sin? How will we view each other? How will we view God?

What I’ve concluded from Scripture (so far) is that the closer we are to a true vision of who God is and who we are in comparison, the greater will be our awareness of our own unworthiness and of His SO WORTHY-ness. This will be seen in our reverential fear of this awesome and holy God who is likened to a consuming fire. But it won’t end here. Fear is the beginning of wisdom. It is the beginning of knowing God rightly.

We can’t skip this step. The Gospel is for sinners, not for those who think themselves pretty good and just in need of a life insurance plan or a quick fix from the painful symptoms of sin. Nor do we outgrow the fear of God. If we refuse to live in the fear of God we will fail to see ourselves rightly. And the deceitfulness of sin will quickly turn our hearts to grandiose thoughts of ourselves, rather than profound and humbled gratitude and worship of God who alone is worthy of praise.

We may worship Him with our lips but even our ‘worship’ will have become an opportunity to feel good about ourselves. “Worship” is often reduce in our present church culture to mean an exuberant and necessarily emotional singing of ‘worship songs’ designed to lead us into ‘worship’. The deception lies in that this state can be entered into on a purely physical and emotional level without our hearts truly worshiping God at all.

Those who worship God will worship in spirit and in truth, Jesus said.This isn’t dependent on the setting and won’t necessarily yield a physical ‘feel-good fix’. Worship isn’t about carefully orchestrated music. Being in God’s presence isn’t about feeling good. We will know we have drawn near to God when our hearts are made aware of the natural gulf between us. Consider these men’s responses when they encountered God’s holiness:

“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” –Peter (Lk.5:8)

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” —Isaiah (Is.6:5)

“When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” —John (Rev.1:17)

It is not in the exuberant and/or reflective singing of ‘worship music’ that we reveal our knowledge of God but in the deep heart-felt wonder that though unworthy in myself to approach God, He provided the Lamb to be my substitute, to bear my sins in His own body on the Cross so that I might become the Righteousness of God in Him. Does this then make me feel good about myself? Does it not rather allow me to forget about myself in my Awe of Him who first loved me so that I might come to know Him as He is?

How well we are coming to know our God will be seen in how aware we are becoming of our own sinfulness. If we have come to know God in any measure we will have begun to see sin as He sees it, not something to be brushed off as irrelevant, or inconsequential, not something we’re ‘over’ since we’ve come to believe. We’ll see it as the rotten core of our natures.

Granted, when we come to believe in Christ’s death on the Cross on our behalf, once we’ve confessed our sins and been given a new heart with a new allegiance and a new nature, we are no longer ruled by the old ‘us’. But while we live in these bodies, it will be there vying for attention, struggling to take dominion, needing to be denied its wishes. Only to our peril do we live as though we had no such rotten core. Even the loveliest apple will not long be edible if the worm at its core goes undetected.

Who then is worthy? If we are focused anywhere but our Lord Jesus Christ, we have misunderstood the Gospel.

And that’s the other thing about sun shining in. When it hits you full in the face it is blinding. As I sit here typing the sun is glinting in through the willow branches at an angle I am unaccustomed to. As it hits me square in the eye I am blinded to all else. Its glory expels all competing images and thoughts. My fingers are silenced on the keys as I gather my thoughts. Is this not what it is to perceive the glory of God who lives in ‘unapproachable light’, whom no man can see and live? I cannot go on business- as- usual without averting my gaze and cowering so that my eyes can evade the sun’s piercing brilliance. When we are given a glimpse of the holiness of God, all other considerations will seem trifling. When we walk in the light of it there will be no  exalting of ourselves or despising of others, but only awe of Him!

This is where I want my ponderings and my life to center.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.


God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” 1Co 1:28-31

If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
(I Cor.8:2,3)

“…He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords,  who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.”  (I Tim. 6:15-16)

Where is a sinner to run?

Sin is deceitful. It hardens our hearts. It dulls our hearing and would damn our souls, but for Jesus, our great high priest.

Sing to Jesus, Lord of our shame, Lord of our sinful hearts…Our great Redeemer

Have you read Leviticus lately? Forgiveness is costly.  Sin is deadly.  Without blood there is no remission of sins.  These truths are inescapably linked to the bloody details of the sacrificial system.  But God appointed priests to offer sacrifices to God for the people’s sins.  Herein lies His mercy.  Without a priest there would be no having God dwell among them.  Without a priest there would be only wrath and judgment.  But now they could be God’s holy people, preserved from the evils that befell the nations around them, so long as they kept God’s commandments and kept offering sacrifices… so long as God dwelled among them.

The nearness of God was their good.  But it was also high risk.  Without holiness, no man could draw near.  God’s standards were exacting for those who were nearest to Him. Aaron knew this well.

 “Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the LORD has said: “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'” And Aaron held his peace.” [Lev 10:3 ESV]

But his two sons were dead.  They had taken liberties and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord.

Years later David would come to terms with this same reality.  It seemed a good thing to bring the ark of God back to town.  It was a festive occasion!  Problem was, David hadn’t done his homework.  Every king was to have a hand-written copy of the laws of God with him to read from daily so that he would learn to fear the Lord by keeping all His laws. (Deut. 17:18)  David was remiss.  He ordered the ark brought in an ox-cart, rather than carried by the Levites.  And poor Uzzah bore the brunt of his sin.  The cart rocked. Uzzah reached out to steady the ark.  And he was killed instantly!

And David was afraid of God that day, and he said, ‘How can I bring the ark of God home to me?’” So the ark stopped in its tracks and settled with Obed-edom the lucky Gittite, until David had a better plan of action!  Meanwhile God blessed Obed-edom’s household and all he possessed. The nearness of God was his good.

When the ark was finally transported to Jerusalem it came not only with great rejoicing but with great preparation and care, carried on the Levites shoulders. They were so grateful for God’s protection that they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams!  There was no taking for granted the mercy of the Lord this time (I Chr.15:26). It was for this occasion that David appointed thanksgiving to be sung for the first time by Asaph and his brothers.  It was David’s psalm (96)—Notice his focus:

“Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name;…Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!  Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually…He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth…For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and he is to be held in awe above all gods…Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his place….Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him!  Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth…”

David understood God’s goodness and His holiness. He knew the joy of seeking God’s presence as well as the fear of having Him near. Do we?  Or is it all lost on us because we’ve distanced ourselves from ‘the God of the Old Testament’.   This is to our misfortune.  Without the fear of God there is no genuine drawing near to God.  Without drawing near to God there is no being made holy.  It is God’s ways that make His people shine in a depraved generation. When His people have no regard for His ways, they lose their distinctiveness, their holiness, and the blessings of living by God’s design.

Remember Asaph? He and his brothers were the singers appointed by David.  It is his psalm that brings out this point.  Psalm 73 begins with Asaph’s envy of the wicked.  They appear to prosper and to get away with so much. Meanwhile  Asaph struggles to keep his hands clean and his heart pure and for what use?  He’s suffering and being rebuked still.

But then he had a heart change.  What happened?  He went into the sanctuary of God; his perspective of eternity was restored.  He realized God was all He truly wanted. “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  And all He truly needed:  “My flesh and my heart may fail but Go d is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (73:26) And he concluded  ‘But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.”  It was worth keeping his heart right with God, so worth it.

The ‘pleasures of sin for a season’ just can’t compare with this.

I’ve been continuing to read John Owen’s old writings on Overcoming Sin and Temptation.  His point this week was that if you really want to overcome sin it will start with getting a solid grasp on the GUILT of it, the DANGER of continuing in it, and the present EVIL results of it in your life.  I’ve elaborated on these elsewhere if you’re interested, but what I realized when all was read and studied is that we are so indebted to Jesus our High Priest to deal with our sins.  We can’t even see them, let alone grasp how deadly they are to us apart from His work in our hearts.

But the crazy impulse sin creates in us is to run away from nearness to God, like Adam and Eve cowering in the garden when they could be walking with their loving Creator.  Meanwhile the God who  calls us into fellowship with His Son with intent to dress us in His righteousness, invites us to walk with Him in the light and so be made clean.  He no longer dwells in man-made sanctuaries of stone but by His Spirit in the bodies of those who believe on His Son’s work on the Cross on their behalf (I Cor.3:16). He has given us His Word and, through the Spirit, life-giving understanding of it, so that we can know His ways and walk humbly before Him.  Truly the nearness of God is our good.

Let’s run to Him, with our sins, with our failings, with our doubts and temptations. He has given us Jesus as our great High Priest by whom we may draw near the throne of grace for mercy and grace when we most need  them.(Heb.4:14-16)  At the heart of holy living is not great will power (or ‘won’t power’), not great disciplines for a stringent lifestyle, but a humble heart drawing near go God by faith, confessing sin, admitting weakness and continuous need of Him, willing to say ‘yes’ to His ways, and ‘no’ to our own notions of what seems best.  And as we walk with Him by faith we will begin to love the things He loves and hate the things He hates.  The nearness of God will be our good.  Run to Jesus!


This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.  If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 1Jn. 1:5-7

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Jas. 4:8

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Heb. 11:6

“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” I Cor.1:9

I could not choose between the following songs.  All of them have been a balm to my soul tonight.  I pass them on for your meditation…


Jesus, Lover of my Soul, let me to thy bosom fly…
I dare not stand on my righteousness…
Hallelujah! All I have is Christ.

…and lastly this, in honor of Reformation Day…and the great truths brought to light at that time.

My life is hid with Christ on high, with Christ my Savior and my God…

“I shall be safe” (?)

Last week I talked about holiness, and particularly what it is not. We can think ourselves holy by external comparisons with others when we base our perceived ‘holiness’ on what we do or don’t do rather than what’s in our hearts. We can deceive ourselves especially well if we maintain a little distance (and deafness) from God and assure ourselves that He is love and all is mercy and grace and He really doesn’t mind how we act. We’re covered.

I was arrested by a description of this thinking in Deuteronomy. The Law had just been explained to them. God’s covenant with them had been carefully laid out. I am your God. Keep my commandments and you will live. Don’t and you will die. And then these words: Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.” Deut.29:19

Notice that he’s not necessarily saying this aloud. It’s a heart thing.

If you’ve been a Christian for long you may recognize this kind of thinking. We can get comfortable with the idea that we are ‘saved’ and on our way to Heaven, and grow careless in the journey. We can grow lazy, discouraged, or cynical and imperceptibly we can begin to let distance come between us and God. Sin begins to feel at home in our hearts and we may not even notice it.

I’ve been challenged by my reading in Hebrews of late. This book is rife with warnings and encouragement about the deceitfulness of sin and the dangers of drifting, about the potential for our hearts to become hard and crusty and the imperative that we listen for God’s voice today and encourage each other today, lest any be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Take care, brothers lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 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. Heb.3: 12, 13

While I was exercising this week I listened to some excellent messages based on the opening chapters of Hebrews, messages with titles like Heed These Warnings, The Danger of Drifting, and Holding Firmly to the End.* It’s impossible to read Hebrews and come away thinking you can just continue ambling along to Heaven with no particular care over how you walk, just so you prayed the ‘salvation prayer’ sometime in the past.

Sin is deceitful. It hardens our hearts. Hard hearts grow hard of hearing. Unless we hear God’s voice how can we walk before Him in the obedience of faith?  I especially appreciated this list of warning signs taken from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.  It shows the trajectory that takes us away from the living God into the consequences of sin’s deception:

#1 As our commitment begins to wane there will be a forgetfulness of God and a forgetfulness that one day we’re going to meet Him “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” Heb.10:31

#2 There will follow a gradual loss of private holiness, private prayer, the curbing of our lusts and genuine sorrow for our sins

#3 We will begin to avoid the company of ‘lively’ Christians.
(People who love Jesus will seem like fanatics to us.)

#4 There will be a disinterest in public worship.
(Though you may still attend, your heart will not be in it.)

#5 Finding fault in others will blind us to our own sins.
‘There’ll all a bunch of hypocrites!’
(When our eyes are fixed on Jesus we will be busy first with the planks in our own eyes!)

#6 We will prefer the company of the godless. (Ps.1)
(Our interests will be drawn to what the godless have to say and we may pursue old faithless associations we left behind.)

#7 We will be involved in fleshly lusts in secret.
(Secret sins will begin to hold us in their grip–Eph.5:12)

#8 We will begin to play with sin openly, losing our sense shame.
(We won’t care what people think, but will be brazen in making our sin public.)

#9 We will become hardened eventually, revealing to all the sorry condition of our lives (I Tim. 4:1,2)


Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
(I Cor.10:12)

I don’t want to make headway down this path while I  convince myself that “I am safe” though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.  I don’t want to miss knowing the heart of God who is the essence of holiness. I don’t want to stand before Him and hear Him say: “I never knew you”, or even to stand before His consuming fire and have all the deeds of my life burned up as loss (I Cor.3:15).

It’s too easy for me to pat myself on the back and delude myself into thinking I’m some sort of “holy” based on things I don’t do, or addictions I do not struggle with, and miss the rotten core at the center of my own nature.

So I’ve been asking God lately to reveal to me my sinfulness, not so I can grovel in shame but so that I will not be lulled by sin’s deceitfulness into a false assurance of well-being (“It’s all good!”) while cultivating a stubborn heart that can no longer hear God’s voice.

And God is answering that prayer, in the most unexpected of places.

There I was standing in line at Shopper’s Drug Mart, impatient to pay for my jug of milk and get home… This was to be a quick stop. I’d intentionally avoided heading into the grocery store, too many steps to the dairy section, too many distractions enroute. I thought for sure here I’d be in and out in a flash! So I’d grab my jug of 2% and couldn’t help seeing eggs on sale so picked up two dozen of those as well. And there was butter at a good price. Oh, and a pint of discounted cream. So I added these to my armload and hustled to the check-out only to step behind a gal with her shopping cart full to overflowing with Halloween candy. Not only that but in front of her was an elderly couple obviously in no rush…

What did my heart say? Rats! Wish this gal would let me go ahead of her. This milk’s heavy, and cold… If she were nice she would let me go first…I bet she feels guilty standing there being so selfish…I would let me go first if I were her…

What did the Spirit say? No problem. You’re not really in a hurry. And your hurry is no more important than hers. Why should you go first anyway? Who are you? Must the world revolve around you?

OK, so, that’s right. New strategy. I’ll be nice. I’ll show her how nice I am. I’ll show her I don’t resent her standing there avoiding eye contact so she can pretend she doesn’t know I’m here heavy-laden with my milk. I’ll smile and chat it up with her. I’ll be nice.

That strategy worked so well that we were quickly both at ease, her explaining that she works for a company that gives out candy on Halloween. Me affirming this nice idea and jokingly wondering how I could get in on the free candy. Fine. I was nice.

Enter sin. Oh how nice I am. She must think I’m so patient. The cashier must be grateful I am so patient…My oh my how nice I am… Not content to ‘put on the new man’, the old man must make a show of it, take credit for it, boast in it… Yes, Lord. That’s wrong!

But then suddenly a new line opened up and the ‘next in line’ was invited to come over. By this time there were two or three people behind me diving for first place in the new line up. The gal with the cart of candy prompted me to take my rightful place there. I shrugged it off, said I was in no rush, and alluded to not wanting to be trampled by the ‘herd’. Ah yes, gracious me. Sacrificing my rightful opportunity. Letting others go first. Waiting like a saint. Still smiling. No hurry here. Just look at me.

The action was right; I seemed to be putting others before myself. But the heart? To be honest, I wanted that place. I was in a hurry. I resented those folks for taking my place. The only reason I didn’t try to claim my rightful place was fear of looking like a selfish fool! But I demeaned them in my mind, while I smiled a placid smile. (No rush here) and gloated over my external graciousness all the while…

Oh, Lord, have mercy on me. My heart is deceitfully wicked. Thank-you for the grace to respond rightly on the outside but I see my heart is not holy….

If Jesus were in my shoes, His actions may have looked similar but they would have flowed from a holy heart, a heart of love rather than self-interest, a heart not consumed with thoughts of self-importance (Phil.2).

I eventually paid for my things and went out to my car, not in shame but grateful and in awe that the Spirit is faithful in this process of sanctifying our hearts. He is faithful in very practical ways in very down-to-earth places. And I had heard His voice and not hardened my heart… This too is a mercy of God. I have seen a glimpse of my sinful heart and been awed by my Saviour, in the checkout line at the drug store.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,  for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil.2:12,13


If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:8,9

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. Heb.12:15-16


If you have not listened to Alistair Begg, you are in for a treat.  Listen to his series of messages on Hebrews here: