Taste and See that the Lord is Good!

August 25, 2017

[This devotion is the sermon from last Saturday’s marriage ceremony of Joel Pinckney and Louise Goodfellow in Chapel Hill.]

Joel, you have heard many wedding sermons from me, including four at your siblings’ marriage ceremonies. We’ve spoken on many other occasions of marriage as a picture of Jesus and His Church, and the unity, love, headship/submission, and perfection that God intends in marriage.

In addition to the joys of marriage, we’ve spoken of its challenges and trials – and thus the necessity of commitment and the constant need for dependence on Christ.

You know I came near to destroying my marriage 35 years ago, and God worked through those problems to show us His grace, His love – indeed, to show us what marriage truly is.

You’ve heard of the necessity of forgiveness, of keeping short accounts, of the centrality of forbearance.

You know of the need for marriage’s compost pile, where you can take the tough parts of your relationship and leave them, so they become fertilizer for later growth.

You’ve seen the complicated portrayals of marriage in Scripture, as well as in the novels of Wendell Berry, Leo Tolstoy, and other authors.

But this afternoon, for you and Louise, I want to emphasize a different point – a point found in Psalm 34 from which we read.

I’ll highlight two verses in this psalm of David, say a few words about the circumstances in which he wrote it, and then draw out some implications for your marriage.

First, Psalm 34:1: “I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

Notice David’s emphasis: He doesn’t just say, “I will bless the LORD; His praise shall be in my mouth.” Rather, he underlines that he will do this at all times, continually. There will never be a moment when he will not be praising the Lord.

And out of that praise in his heart, in Psalm 34:8 he exhorts his listeners, including us: “O taste and see that the LORD is good!”

That is, for us today:  Don’t just acknowledge the fact that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is good; don’t just check a theological box that says, “Oh, yes, Jesus died on the cross for my sins.” Taste that truth. See that truth:

  • When the hummingbird hovers outside your window,
  • When the clouds turn yellow then orange then deep red
  • When the moon moves in front of the sun near midday on Monday
  • When a rabbit hops across your path on an early morning walk
  • When a friend counsels you and encourages you and stands beside you
  • And, yes, when in a few moments you commit the rest of your life to the one you love:

See that these are all good gifts, tokens of love from the One who loves you with a love that surpasses knowledge; taste His goodness in each of these experiences, and thereby fulfill verse 1: Bless the Lord at all times. Continually have His praise on your lips.

Here today, in this lovely setting, with these beloved friends and family, standing together with your one true love, I’m sure you do taste and see God’s goodness.

But now, let’s turn to the circumstances in which David wrote this psalm. He had just come out of a very severe danger, during which he seemed to have lost all earthly hope, all earthly expectation of success. Furthermore, he continued to be in a weak position as he wrote, with only a handful of men around him,             under potential attack both by the armies of his own country and by suspicious leaders of a foreign nation. So his future looked bleak and uncertain.

In addition, in the midst of such danger, in the absence of earthly hope, he knows his life is brief, like a mist. Indeed, as he will write later in Psalm 39:4-5: “Let me know how fleeting I am. . . . Surely all mankindstands as a mere breath!”

Therefore, realize: It is in tough circumstances that David says, “I will bless the Lord at all times.” That is when David commands us: “O taste and see that the LORD is good.”

So then some implications for your marriage.

Joel and Louise, this is your responsibility and your joy everyday, whether all seems to be going well or you’re under great stress: To wake up each morning and to pray:

“We will bless You, O Lord, this day. We will go to Your Word today and taste and see your goodness, reminding ourselves that as rebels against you, apart from Jesus we have no hope but only a fearful expectation of judgment. But because of His sacrifice, because of Your sovereign work of granting us eyes to see Jesus for Who He is, we are loved with an everlasting love this day and all the days of our life. What amazing goodness!

  • “Today and every day we will go to each other and taste and see Your goodness.
  • “Today and every day we will go to the world around us and taste and see your goodness: Weeping with those who weep, crying out for the pains of the world, rejoicing with those who rejoice, and rejoicing in your daily gifts of breath and vigor and . . . coffee.
  • “We will praise You continually as we rejoice in sustenance and love and family and friends,
  • “We will delight in Jesus above all the world has to offer
  • “By the power of the Holy Spirit we will live and love as Jesus in this world.
  • “Knowing that our life is a mere breath, we will breath in deeply, love fully, and live in light of eternity.
  • “We will taste Your goodness, O Lord; we will notice those tokens of love You drop in our path.
  • “You have placed us in this world to show – individually and as a couple – who You are and what You are worth, how You love, how You forgive.
  • “We may live a long life together, we may not;
  • “One of us or both of us may have successful and lucrative careers, we may not;
  • “We may have good health for decades, we may not:
  • “But whatever happens, whatever our circumstances, we will praise you continually with our mouths; we will taste and see that You are good.”

Joel and Louise, I know you already do this; I encourage you: Do it all the more, for this is the message of Psalm 34 for you: For you to treat this wedding day and every future day as a gift from God’s goodness – indeed, a picture, a foreshadowing of the final great day, the wedding banquet of Christ and His church. So that our tasting and seeing that He is good each day prepares us for that deepest, most satisfying joy, that final state that marriage points to: When Jesus Himself rejoices over His Bride, His Church, His people, redeemed by His blood and perfected by His love.

Live this out in your marriage; and so help prepare both yourselves and us all for the perfect marriage yet to come.

Whoever Loves God Must Also Love Whom?

August 15, 2017

Many have condemned both the violence and racial hatred evident in Charlottesville last weekend. Praise God. Russell Moore’s op-ed piece in the Washington Post is an especially strong and biblical example of such condemnations.

Yet I am always concerned when Christians together condemn others for sinning in a way that does not tempt them.


Because I know my own heart. I know that if I am in a group in which all think the same way, our joint condemnation of others subtly tempts me to glow inwardly, thinking: “We’re not like them!” We very easily slip into such pharisaical, self-righteous attitudes – and self-righteousness is a deadly sin.

Furthermore, such self-righteousness has increasingly infected our political realm. Instead of political dialogue, arguing with evidence and studies about what type of policy can best serve the American people, so much of our politics today – on both the left and the right – is taken up with self-righteous condemnation of those who differ with us.

How should we then live within the church to combat these attitudes?

In this regard, consider what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 15:5-6:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul is writing about differences in the church on disputable matters of doctrine and practice, as well as the ethnic differences between Jews and non-Jews. In these verses, he says that when, despite our differences, we live in supernatural harmony with each other, we glorify God. That is: overcoming our natural inclinations to despise and reject those who are different from us and instead truly loving each other glorifies God.

Now, this is the purpose of the church: To glorify God. Therefore, harmony across our many differences is a key way that we fulfill the purpose of the church. Being diversity-loving, aiming to express love across our differences, is thus not optional for a biblical church; it is a necessity.

Paul continues: “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7).

This is pivotal: Paul says that since such harmony is key to fulfilling the purpose of the church, we must welcome one another as Christ welcomed us.

My friends, how did Jesus welcome you?

  • Because you were like Him?
  • Because you shared some common interests?
  • Because you were in the same life situation?
  • Because you had something to offer him?

No! You were repugnant to Him. You could not have been more different. You had absolutely nothing to offer Him. But He loved you with a love that surpasses knowledge. He accepted you as you were, on the basis of His death on the cross – not on the basis of anything in you.

That, then, is the way you are to welcome other believers – especially those who disagree with you on disputable matters and those from different ethnicities.

This passage has clear implications for racial harmony; there is absolutely no place for racial hatred or discrimination in the church of Jesus Christ.

But the importance of welcoming one another extends well beyond race to every area of difference. We are to live in great harmony with everyone in the church of Christ.

So think: Who in the church do you have problems getting along with? What type of person would you least like to sit down with for a long conversation, or have over to your place for a meal? Are you willing to welcome this person as Jesus Christ welcomed you?

My friends, not to welcome this person as Jesus welcomed you is to fail to love your neighbor as yourself. It’s thus a sin. It makes God look less glorious than He really is.

Consider what the Apostle John says:

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:20-21)

Whoever loves God must also love whom? Every brother or sister in Christ!

  • Your brother who is black, your brother who is white,
  • your brother who is fat, your brother who is skin and bones,
  • your brother who is poor, your brother who is rich,
  • your brother who is socially awkward, your brother who is smooth and debonair,
  • your brother who is highly educated, your brother who never finished elementary school,
  • your brother who doesn’t listen to music less than 200 years old, your brother who doesn’t listen to music more than 6 months old,
  • your brother who is a great athlete, your brother who can’t throw a ball 10 yards,
  • your brother who is politically liberal, your brother who is politically conservative,
  • your brother who is a genius, your brother who is unable to learn to read.

Whoever loves God must also love his brother – whoever that brother might be. If we are to be diversity-loving, if we are to be a biblical church, you must love those who are hard for you to love. For some of us the hardest person to love is someone of another race. For others, the hardest person to love will be different in another way. But: when God’s glory is overarching everything, when God’s Word is permeating and saturating everything, when prayer is supporting everything, when joy in Christ is motivating everything, then we will not only tolerate but we will also pursue diversity. We will love across the barriers that naturally divide us.

And such love is completely inconsistent with self-righteousness.

So, yes, by all means, we together condemn racial hatred and violence. But may such public sins lead us to search our own hearts to see how we are failing to love those different from us. Ask yourself: What people are hardest for me to love?

Answer the question. Then step out and do a practical act of love for them – for the glory of God.

[Part of this devotion is taken from the sermon, “How Can the Church Fulfill Its Purpose?” preached January 8, 2006. Text and audio are available.)


Look Away from Me!

August 11, 2017

Have you ever felt as if you wished God would look away from you? Like God was disciplining you, and His discipline was so painful you just wanted it to end?

As we saw in Sunday’s sermon, both Job and David felt that way:

Are not my days few? Then cease, and leave me alone, that I may find a little cheer before I go –and I shall not return – to the land of darkness and deep shadow (Job 10:20-21).

Look away from me, that I may smile again, before I depart and am no more! (Psalm 39:13)

How should we respond when we feel this way?

One right response is to remember a central truth of the Gospel: God loves us in spite of ourselves, in spite of who we are and what we do. His love is not a response to our inherent goodness or our pleasing actions. Rather, His love changes and conforms us to the image of His Son. As Martin Luther states:

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. . . . This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person (Heidelberg Disputation #28).

So if you are in Christ, if you have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved, your status before God does not depend on your behavior; it does not depend on your obedience. When you sin, you may well experience the logical consequences of that sin, and you likely will come under God’s discipline – but neither those consequences nor the discipline are punitive; neither are retribution for what you have done. God loves you because of Christ. And like a loving parent, God orchestrates these events to bring about His good and wise purposes in your life (Hebrews 12:3-13).

So that’s one right response.

A second, related response is to consider our Savior on the cross.

As we saw above, in Psalm 39:13 David asks that God might look away from him. He thinks of God as the punisher. Though he knows he deserves such punishment (Psalm 38:18), he highlights how much he has already suffered, and asks God mercifully to end it.

But consider David’s descendant, Jesus. On the cross, He suffered, though he personally was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). And this punishment was indeed punitive and retributive; the Lord had laid on Him the iniquity of all of His people (Isaiah 53:6). Despite Jesus’ innocence, God inflicted on Him the punishment we deserve.

So, think: David asks God to look away from His guilt though He deserves the pain; God does look away from the innocence of Jesus so that He might punish our sin in Him. David is guilty, yet has his discipline lightened as God looks away; Jesus is innocent, yet bears the complete punishment, as God looks away. God looks away from David’s guilt (and my guilt) – and He looks away from Jesus’ innocence.

Thus perfect mercy and perfect justice meet each other at the cross.

So, fellow sinner, fellow rebel worthy of execution by your rightful King: You don’t have to perform any great deed, you don’t have to make yourself righteous to put yourself in the King’s favor. Indeed, there is nothing you could do that would accomplish that. But His Son accomplished on the cross what you never could.  His love will create in you what is pleasing to Him. Submit to Him. Trust Him. Follow Him. And so, by His grace, receive His love and become like Him.

[Thanks to Tim Cain of Kaleo Church for pointing me to the Luther quote.]


Silence in Afflictions

August 2, 2017

[In pain because of God’s discipline for his sin, David prays, “I am mute; I do not open my mouth, for it is you who have done it” (Psalm 39:9). While we will consider this verse in the context of the entire psalm on Sunday, the English Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks wrote an entire book based on David’s statement, The Mute Christian Under the Smarting Rod (1659). Here are some excerpts and the first part of his outline in updated language for your consideration and meditation. You can read the entire book via this link. To distinguish between my words and Brooks’, my paraphrases are in italics – Coty]

Christians, it is mercy, it is rich mercy, that every affliction is not an execution, that every correction is not a damnation.

There is a PRUDENT silence, a HOLY, a GRACIOUS silence; a silence that springs from prudent principles, from holy principles, and from gracious causes and considerations; and this is the silence here meant.

I: What does this silence include?

It includes and takes in these eight things:

First, acknowledging that God is the author of all our afflictions

There is no sickness so little—but God has a finger in it; though it be but the aching of the little finger.

Such as can see the ordering hand of God in all their afflictions, will, with David, lay their hands upon their mouths, when the rod of God is upon their backs, 2 Sam. 16:11, 12. If God’s hand be not seen in the affliction, the heart will do nothing but fret and rage under affliction.

Secondly, acknowledging God’s majesty, sovereignty, might, and authority over us.

A man never comes to humble himself, nor to be silent under the hand of God, until he comes to see the hand of God to be a mighty hand. . . . When men look upon the hand of God as a weak hand, a feeble hand, a low hand, a mean hand—their hearts rise against his hand.

Thirdly, this silence springs from a quiet and calm mind and spirit

Aaron, Eli, and Job. . . saw that it was a Father that put those bitter cups in their hands, and love that laid those heavy crosses upon their shoulders, and grace that put those yokes about their necks; and this caused much quietness and calmness in their spirits.

Some men . . . hide and conceal their grief and trouble; but could you but look into their hearts, you will find all in an uproar, all out of order, all in a flame; and however they may seem to be cold without, yet they are all in a hot burning fever within. Such a feverish fit David was once in, Psalm 39:3. But certainly a holy silence allays all tumults in the mind, and makes a man ‘in patience to possess his own soul.’

Fourthly, this silence springs from acquitting God of all blame or injustice in bringing the affliction on us.

God’s afflictions are always just; he never afflicts but in faithfulness. His will is the rule of justice; and therefore a gracious soul dares not cavil nor question his proceedings. The afflicted soul knows that a righteous God can do nothing but that which is righteous; it knows that God is uncontrollable, and therefore the afflicted man puts his mouth in the dust, and keeps silence before him.

Fifthly, this silence springs from five conclusions about the eventual impact of the afflictions on us.

Five conclusions based on Lamentations 3:27-33

a) The afflictions shall work for their good

Surely these afflictions are but the Lord’s pruning-knives, by which he will bleed my sins, and prune my heart, and make it more fertile and fruitful; they are but the Lord’s potion, by which he will clear me, and rid me of those spiritual diseases and maladies, which are most deadly and dangerous to my soul!

b) Afflictions shall keep them humble and low

c) The rod shall not always lie upon the back of the righteous.

d) God will he have compassion, according to the multitude of his mercies

The life of a Christian is filled up with interchanges of sickness and health, weakness and strength, want and wealth, disgrace and honor, crosses and comforts, miseries and mercies, joys and sorrows, mirth and mourning. All honey would harm us; all wormwood would undo us—a composition of both is the best way in the world to keep our souls in a healthy constitution. It is best and most for the health of the soul that the warm south wind of mercy, and the cold north wind of adversity—do both blow upon it.

e) God’s heart was not in their afflictions, though his hand was.

He takes no delight to afflict his children; it goes against his heart. It is a grief to him to be grievous to them, a pain to him to be punishing of them, a sorrow to him to be striking them.

Sixthly, this silence springs from a conviction from our own conscience to be quiet and still before God

I charge you, O my soul—not to mutter, nor to murmur; I command you, O my soul, to be dumb and silent under the afflicting hand of God.

Peace, O my soul! be still, leave your muttering, leave your murmuring, leave your complaining, leave your chafing, and vexing—and lay your hand upon your mouth, and be silent.

Seventhly, this silence includes a surrendering of ourselves to God while being afflicted.

The silent soul gives himself up to God. The secret language of the soul is this—’Lord, here am I; do with me what you please, write upon me as you please—I give up myself to be at your disposal.’

Eighthly and lastly, this silence comes from a hopeful patience while waiting upon the Lord to work His deliverance.

II: What does this patient silence NOT EXCLUDE

Eight things:

First, this silence does not exclude our feeling the pain of our afflictions

Psalm 39:10-11: [David] is sensible of his pain as well as of his sin; and having prayed off his sin in the former verses, he labors here to pray off his pain.

God allows his people to groan, though not to grumble.

Secondly, this silence does not exclude praying for the end of our afflictions

Thirdly, this silence does not exclude sorrow for our sin that led to the affliction, as well as efforts to crush that sin.

A holy, a prudent silence does not exclude men’s being kindly affected and afflicted with their sins, as the meritorious cause of all their sorrows and sufferings,

In all our sorrows we should read our sins! When God’s hand is upon our backs, our hands should be upon our sins.

Fourthly, such a silence does not exclude teaching others the lessons from our afflictions.

Fifthly, such a silence does not exclude some mourning and weeping

Sixthly, such a silence does not even exclude sighing and groaning

A man may sigh, and groan and roar under the hand of God, and yet be silent. It is not sighing—but muttering; it is not groaning—but grumbling; it is not roaring—but murmuring—which is opposite to a holy silence.

Sometimes the sighs and groans of a saint do in some manner, tell that which his tongue can in no manner utter.

Seventhly, such a silence does not exclude the use of means to end the affliction

We may neglect God as well by neglecting of means, as by trusting in means. It is best to use them, and in the use of them, to live above them.

Eighthly, and lastly, such a silence does not exclude speaking against those humans who have been the earthly cause of our afflictions.

III:  Why must Christians exercise this kind of silence under even the greatest afflictions and trials?

Eight Reasons:

Reason 1. That they may the better hear and understand the voice of the rod.

Reason 2. That they may . . . distinguish themselves from the men of the world, who usually fret and fling, mutter or murmur, curse and swagger, when they are under the afflicting hand of God.

Reason 3, that they may be conformable to Christ their head, who was dumb and silent under his sorest trials.

Reason 4. it is ten thousand times a greater judgment and affliction, to be given to a fretful spirit, a froward spirit, a muttering spirit under an affliction, then it is to be afflicted.

Reason 5: a holy, a prudent silence under afflictions, under miseries, doth best . . . fit the afflicted for the receipt of mercies.

Reason 6: it is fruitless . . . to strive, to contest or contend with God.

Reason 7: [these afflictions] shall cross and frustrate Satan’s great design and expectation.

Reason 8: That we may be like our forefathers in the faith who were patient and silent under such afflictions.

Last sentence in the book:

Thy life is but short, therefore thy troubles cannot be long; hold up and hold out quietly and patiently a little longer, and heaven shall make amends for all.