The Strength, Encouragement & Power of God’s Word

Isaiah 40:6-31 is an amazing passage of Scripture that is so encouraging, comforting, challenging and uplifting. Verses 6-8 remind us of the frailty of mankind in this life (compared to grass and flowers) and in contrast the eternity and the power of the Word of God. 

Verses 9-11 reveals that although our Sovereign God is all powerful (Omnipotence) and He rules justly, He also takes care of us like a shepherd tends and gathers His lambs.  He gently holds us in His arms, close to His heart. In addition, He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek and obey Him (Vs. 10b & Hebrews 11:6).

The word “who” is repeated 6x’s in three verses (12-14) asking the question “who did all these things”, referring to all of creation.  The text goes even further to reveal that our great God had no counselor or advisor as He created everything that exists, and that He, as the Sovereign ruler of all, has never needed nor will ever need any assistance in sustaining or ruling over His creation. Our amazing God is omniscient (He knows everything) and therefore is fully capable of ruling and reigning over all things.

Lest we think that God’s Omniscience and Omnipotence are limited, verses 15-17 make it clear they are not, but rather are over all nations. The nations are but a “drop in the bucket” to our great and awesome God (vs. 15). Hebrews 4:13 makes it clear that nothing is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account. This reveals God’s omnipresence (God everywhere at the same time).  Mind blowing, right?

As a result, it is a ridiculous thought then to reduce God to mere images and objects of worship (verses 18-20.  It is a horrible attempt to reduce God to what our small minds can conceive God as. Isaiah blasts this blasphemous thought and idea by proclaiming in even more vivid detail truth about who God is and what He has done (verses 21-25).  We, like grass and flowers before, are now compared to grasshoppers (vs. 22).  There is no one greater than our God, not kings, rulers or princes. He simply blows on them and like the grass, flowers and grasshoppers, they perish like, when a whirlwind sweeps away chaff (vs. 23-24).

In verse 26 we are called to look to all creation (general revelation) for evidence of who God is and what He has done (Psalm 19:1-6; Romans 1:18-20). God does indeed speak through all that He has created! Yes, we are without excuse based on God’s self-revelation in all of creation.

Verse 27 reveals that our ways are not hidden from the Lord.  Our lives and the paths that we are on are not out of God’s sight. God has not forgotten us. He knows our joys and sorrows and has bottled up our tears and knows our wanderings (Psalm 56:8).  He knows that we are but dust (Psalm 103:14).

Then the finale and summary truth about God comes in verses 28-31.  Read it and glory in who God is and what He has done and continues to do today:

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary they will walk and not be faint.

The Word of God can bring perspective, insight, wisdom, discernment, strength, comfort and peace to us if we will but believe and trust in it (Psalm 119; Proverbs 1-9).  God has revealed Himself in the general revelation of creation for sure, but He has specifically revealed Himself in the Scriptures! In this passage of Scripture, God has given us insight into who He is and what He has done on our behalf.  This is why we need all of Scripture, both the Old and New Testaments.  Look at all of life through the lens and filter of God’s Word and more of life will make sense. We won’t have all the answers this side of heaven (Deuteronomy 29:29), but we can live life very differently if we will take Him at His Word.

A Work of Healing

Have you experienced the death of someone very near and dear to you, whether recently or in months or years ago and the grief seems still as strong as the day they died? Or do you seem to be in a prison of grief that you can’t seem to get out of? For some though there is guilt due to a lack of grief for the loss of a loved one. We all grieve differently and that is normal and ok. We all experience and respond to death in varied ways with varied results and consequences. Some have very delayed experiences of grief. One thing is for sure. We all grieve. And there are consequences due to the way(s) we handle and attempt to deal with our grief. Those consequences can be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  Usually we experience a combination of problems and issues in these areas and not just one.

2014 & 2018 were very difficult years as I lost not only three very close companions in ministry but two of my closest and dearest friends Rob Black and Dave Annan. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I came to realize (as my sweet wife knows only too well) that I’m a “stuffer” when it comes to grief.  I want to help others and comfort and assist. But my own grief? It’s so easy to ignore the need to grieve while you are in the midst of comforting others. And so, I went on in the following months and even years not realizing I needed to grieve and do some work in my own life and soul, deep down. But God was gracious, kind and merciful.

Knowing that many in our congregation had experienced much of their own loss as well in the death of loved ones, the Lord put the ministry of GriefShare in my midst. It really resonated with me that this could be a help to many in our congregation who had lost loved ones and were struggling in their grief journey. So, in the fall of 2018 we launched our first GriefShare ministry and the 12 or so of us who were in that first group went down a road together that we’ll never forget. God met us in our grief, new friendships were forged, and God began a real work of healing in each and everyone of us. We cried, we laughed, we learned, we grew, we listened to each other’s stories and we began to heal. We are still healing and many of those in that first group will be there for this next group to continue healing and to be a blessing to others who are where they’ve been. Me included.

God began an amazing work in my own life in that first GriefShare group.  We’d like to invite any of you who are struggling, alone perhaps, to take a step of faith and courage, and join us on Thursday, September 12th @ 6:30pm in room C200 to be part of GriefShare. I promise you won’t regret it. I know the first step is hard but once you take that first step, I don’t think you’ll regret you did.

If you’d like more information on GriefShare click here to learn more and register. We do need you to register so we can make sure and have your personal workbook for you. You can also call me at 336-841-1104 and I’ll be glad to tell you more. I look forward to walking the journey with many of you.

Does Gathering Together for Worship Really Matter?

On those days that you just don’t feel like rolling out of bed on a Sunday morning, and I’ve been there many times myself, let me assure you, it’s worth it! I’ll also confess gladly, that there has rarely, if ever, been a time where I regretted afterwards that I pushed through and came.  This is not a push to guilt anyone into coming to church.  Please understand! In the same way that God desires that we give and serve from a glad and joyful heart, I believe He desires that we come together with glad hearts.  We may not start from a place of gladness, but hopefully, prayerfully and expectantly we’ll get there!! It does start, often, from an attitude of obedience.  But obedience leads to joy most often.  In our Western culture of over emphasis on only doing what makes us feel good at the time, we in the church often fall prey to that thinking.  Thoughts like, “Oh, I just don’t feel like going today” or “I don’t really need to go” or “The series we are in right now doesn’t really appeal to me”, etc. all point to the self-centered approach we often take towards the regular gathering together of  God’s people for prayer, worship, taking communion, experiencing someone’s baptism, encouragement and edification in the Word (both of others and us). So why is gathering together regularly so important?

First, Jesus modeled it.  We see this in His own relationship within the Trinity: Father, Son & Holy Spirit. From eternity past, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dwelt in perfect unity, harmony and fellowship. There was unity in oneness. There was unbroken fellowship and joy within the godhead.  And as John Piper says in Desiring God, “the eternal happiness of the triune God spilled over in the work of creation and redemption”.  Jesus also modeled this in His earthly life as He gathered for worship in the synagogue regularly (Matthew 4:23, 9:35).  Jesus was with people, engaging people, listening to and conversing with people generally, but also at set times.  It was His habit to gather regularly with people in the temple courts, the synagogues and in homes. Second to His love of being with His Father, was His being with us! Jesus came to be with us (Emmanuel, God with us!) 

Second, the people of God modeled it. We see this clearly in the early church in the book of Acts (2:42-47).  They lived together in community.  They hung out together. They shared their stuff together.  They worshipped together. They took meals together.  They listened to the teaching of God’s Word together. They served together. They took communion together, and all of these things done regularly but together.  They, like God, experienced great and deep abiding joy as they lived life together.  There was an amazing joy of being together in worship and doing life together. They also suffered through the trials of life together.

Third, the Scriptures model and call us to this. Hebrews 10:24-25 calls us to come together regularly and to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together as is the habit of some. Oh, the deep joy, peace, contentment and power we often miss when we refuse to gather together regularly.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together says, “The physical presence of other believers is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.  How else can we stir one another to love and good deeds unless we meet together? And when we meet, it should not be for glib conversation but for godly consecration, centered around the Word of God and prayer to God. And all the more as we see the Day of His return drawing nigh!”

So, brothers and sisters, I encourage you to continue to come together regularly! It is for God’s glory and your good. I highly recommend Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s short but powerful book, Life Together.

Growing & Changing

You can teach an old dog new tricks.

You are never too old to grow and change.

I’m so glad those sayings are indeed true! The question before us today is are we growing and changing more and more into the likeness of our Savior, Jesus Christ? If you examine the Scriptures, you see quickly that there were those who were committed to staying exactly the way they were and those who were seeking to be conformed more and more to what God had called them to be in Christ. Some examples of the first group would be the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. . . the Sadducees and the Pharisees. They knew it all, or at least they thought they did, and were rock solidly cemented and committed to not changing. Unfortunately, though, they were committed zealously to a wrong understanding of the Scriptures.

But God has called us, as His sons and daughters to become more and more like His Son Jesus. We are to be conformed to His image. To walk in His ways. . . His heart. . . His thoughts and desires as opposed to ours.  In effect, Jesus has called us to a lifestyle of surrender.  Jesus said in Luke 9:23-24, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it”.  For the Christian, this is called the process of progressive sanctification and it is hard work.  The words process and progressive imply that this new life is ongoing.  There should be growth, development and change. It is a process and it is progressive. Just as a seed grows from underneath the ground and begins to break through the soil a change takes place. There is a seed, then a sprig, then a sprout, and on and on until we have a fully developed plant producing a flower or a fruit. 

Similarly, we’ve all heard about the process a butterfly goes through. It must work at and labor to get out of the cocoon.  The work of struggling to get out of the cocoon is actually what finishes the growth process for a butterfly.  I recently heard a story of a man who saw a butterfly struggling to get out of a cocoon and “helped” it get free.  The problem was, the butterfly couldn’t fly because his process was intercepted by the “help” being offered.  His wings were not fully developed and eventually died.  Sometimes the pain and agony of walking with Christ is what helps us grow and develop our spiritual muscles.  Our culture today, and I include in that our church culture at large, doesn’t think that way, but too often thinks of the fast food model.  I want it now.  Instant gratification.  Instant spirituality.  Instant growth. That’s not the way of Jesus or the Bible.

In contrast, Paul uses language like. . .  “pressing on” . . .  “straining forward” (Philippians 3:12-14) or “run” . . . “strict training” . . . “beat my body and make it my slave” . . . (I Corinthians 9:24-27). 

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.

God gives grace in abundance for the living of the Christian life.  Even though we are to put forth effort in the process of sanctification, it is never to be done so in an attitude of independence, as if we can accomplish anything on our own.  It is only as we act and move in dependence on the Holy Spirit, that we can ever grow personally or be effective in ministering to others.

So, in complete dependence on the Holy Spirit, strive to grow and walk with the Lord in faithfulness and obedience. His grace is sufficient for such a task! If you are wondering, “Ok, JE, that all sounds great, but just exactly how do I grow and change?”.  If that’s you, give me a call! I’d love to get with you and talk about that more in depth.

Jon Eric Woodward

Pastor for Congregational Care & Worship Arts

Wonderful Counselor

There is a story in I Kings 12 about Rehoboam, son of Solomon, who was about to become King of Israel.  He sought the wise counsel of the elders that had served his father Solomon and they responded with good, sound, godly counsel.  But according to verse 8, “he forsook the counsel of the elders which they had given him and consulted with the young men who grew up with him and served him.” Rehoboam didn’t like what he heard from the older, wiser counselors so he looked to his younger friends, his contemporaries, for counsel.  The results were disastrous for him and the people he led. The fallout from that error in judgement led to a divided kingdom and war.  Much pain and agony came to him and the people he led.

What’s the moral of the story? Get good and godly counsel in all you do! Surround yourself with people who will give you biblically rooted, gospel anchored and Christ centered counsel. Don’t trust your own heart exclusively. That’s what Rehoboam did, and it cost him everything.  There are hints in the text that indicate that Rehoboam really had already made his mind up.  He wanted to treat the people he led harshly so he leaned into the counsel of his contemporaries who thought like he did. He rejected the counsel of the older, wiser men in his life. He sought counsel that agreed with and confirmed his own thinking. That was a catastrophic fail that led to a domino effect of disaster.

We need to learn more and more to lean into the Lord for wisdom and discernment. We often times lean into our flesh instead of the Spirit and we pursue advisors and counselors who will tell us what we want to hear. Listen to God’s instructions about getting wise counsel in the following passages:

Job 12:13With God are wisdom and might; he has counsel and understanding.

Psalm 1:1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

Psalm 32:8I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

Psalm 33:11The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.

Psalm 73:24You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.

Psalm 81:12So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels.

Psalm 119:24Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.

Proverbs 8:14I have counsel and sound wisdom; I have insight; I have strength.

Proverbs 11:14Where there is no guidance, a people fall, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 12:15The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 15:22Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 19:20Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.

Proverbs 27:9Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.

Jeremiah 7:24But they did not obey or incline their ear but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts and went backward and not forward.

2 Timothy 4:3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 

Dear friends, the Word of God will guide you and give you wisdom in all that you do if you will but seek Him with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.  Seek the Lord first and He will grant wisdom and discernment. Avoid foolish, unwise counsel.  Don’t listen to the counsel of those who would counsel you contrary to the Word of God.  You will surely pay the consequences if you do.  Jesus, the Word, is called the Wonderful Counselor for a reason.  In Christ rests all wisdom, knowledge, power and authority! Go to Him first and foremost before seeking other counsel. May God grant you wisdom and blessings as you wisely seek and follow Him.

For more information about our Biblical Counseling Ministry, Turning Point contact Susan Wagner, susan.wagner@cbchurch.org or Jon Eric Woodward @ joneric.woodward@cbchurch.org