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Engraved on the Palms of His Hands

March 25, 2020


 

Dear friends,

There are times when God reminds us of how little control we have, and at the same time he wants us to be assured of his sovereign control over all things.

There appear to be a lot of dangers right now in our situation, dangers that are both real or at least possible, and some that are perhaps only imagined. Histrionics is a good word that refers to the overly dramatic, panicky fretting that appears to be tempting a lot of people in the media right now. Some people are saying that the West is finished, while others are saying we’re going to pop out of this slump in no time flat. It’s like having two children riding in the back seat of your car, one who is screaming “we’re all going to diiieee,” while the other sings happily to himself “everything’s gonna be alright.”

I don’t want to try to argue one way or the other. How can I know if it’s going to be disaster or a bed of roses? I simply want to say that it isn’t our job to predict the future, but it is our job to rest in the sovereign, nail-pierced hand of our savior. We don’t know the future. We don’t know how things will turn out in this present situation. We do know that our savior can be trusted. We do know his great and precious promises like…

Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (Isa. 49:15-16).

In this time of uncertainty, sure, read the news. But dig into Scripture far more. In a previous letter to you, I wrote: “God wants us to be enthralled with the Lord and to be constantly happy at biblical thoughts about him! A way to do this: Choose a psalm or an epistle and isolate all the individual statements about the Lord in it; reflect on each one and respond in prayer and praise.” That’s how we should be spending our time!

In the spirit of giving you an example of putting this into practice, consider Psalm 46:1–2, where the psalmist speaks of God’s help when earth-shattering things are happening. The psalmist says “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Let’s isolate a statement about God from this: he is an ever-present help in trouble. Reflect on this for one moment and you won’t be able to keep from feasting your soul on the massive comfort and stabilizing influence to be found in recognizing God’s nearness and tender shepherding us. He’s not on a vacation, he’s not abandoned us, he is not sluggish toward us. Quite the opposite, he is tenderly caring for believers. I once read an author who translated this statement as “he is an abundantly available help in time of trouble.” I love that: abundantly available! I love viewing God that way. Every time you turn to him he is there, a compassionate savior who sits on a throne of grace and provides grace and help in time of need. In Christ, God carefully tends his lambs, and that means me and you, if we believe. Praise God for his nearness and his compassionate care! I wish we could open our hymn-book right now and sing a song of praise together. Lord willing soon…

I pray you’ll spend a lot of time bringing peace and joy to your soul and that you’ll experience the peace that passes all understanding during this time.

Warmly,

Pastor Tom

PS: as an update on our current meeting situation: in the last couple of days the governor of Washington has asked for two more weeks of quarantine, and in that request he specifically referred to religious meetings. We will go on for two more weeks without services; please pray to the Lord that we will be able to meet once again very soon. In the meantime, I will be writing two pastoral emails every week and posting a video sermon on YouTube and on our website. Also, every day I’m making efforts to reach out through text and email to you, and I hope to contact all of you in time. I hope you are all connecting in some way through electronic means. “Build yourselves up in your most holy faith” (Jude 1:20).

“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.

(Isaiah 49:15–16 ESV)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

(Psalm 46:1–2 ESV)

But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,

(Jude 20 ESV)

TILL THE STORMS PASS

March 21, 2020


Dear friends,

Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me,
for in you my soul takes refuge;
in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
till the storms of destruction pass by (Psa. 57:1).

When David wrote this psalm, he was overwhelmed by dangers and fears. He said “my soul is in the midst of lions,” and he spoke of enemies whose “teeth are spears and arrows,” and he described them as “fiery beasts” (4).

Sounds pretty bad, and it makes you wonder what the situation was, doesn’t it?

The psalm’s heading provides a clue to what David is talking about. He wrote this psalm when he was inside, hiding from danger outside. Sounds a bit familiar! In David’s case, he was hiding in a cave hoping to avoid Saul who was hunting him down and wanting to murder him. There’s the “fiery beast” he speaks of.

But the story doesn’t end with David in a cave, afraid. Saul entered the cave in which David was hiding; he rested and then left the cave not knowing David was right there and could have killed him but didn’t. See 1 Samuel 24 for the full story.

Psalm 57 lets us in on David’s state of mind in this episode; he wanted “the storms of destruction” to pass him by. We might be able to identify with that sentiment right about now. In this time of the Coronavirus and its uncertain economic effects, we too may want a danger, a “storm of destruction,” to pass us by. I want to point us to David’s good example here. He takes refuge in the shadow of God’s wings. He says “I cry out to God Most High, who fulfills his purpose for me” (2).

David was hiding out in a cave, but he was clinging to the promises of God. He trusted that God had purposes for him and that God was faithfully carrying them out, despite appearances to the contrary. David thought of God as near, involved in his life, and totally committed to him personally. David was in a cave with danger outside. You are in your home, waiting to see how bad this present situation will be outside. My prayer for you as you wait is that you too will cling to God’s promises, that you will reflect on God’s past goodness to you, his assurances about your future as a believer, and his nearness to you. As you are in your own “cave,” may you be able to say with David “He will send from heaven and save me … God will send out his steadfast love and his faithfulness” (3).

The amazing thing about this psalm is it’s backstory. Saul, the “fiery beast,” didn’t harm David. In fact, almost as a token of his favor to David, God let his enemy fall into his hands. David didn’t slay him, but he could have. Can you imagine how David must have marveled at God’s goodness at this moment? It was as if the frightening “fiery beast” had come cringing to him and licked his hand! It was as if the “storm of destruction” had turned into a gentle breeze! When God says that all things work together for good to those who love him (Rom. 8:28), we can be assured that whatever illness or economic effect may come from this Coronavirus situation, they will never work against the good of God’s people, and that means you, if you are a believer in Christ. The storm of destruction may bring difficulty (David’s storm had him hiding in a cave!) but God will turn it into a gentle breeze. We still don’t know how extensive the effect of our current situation will be, but even if it means more difficulty for us than a few weeks stuck at home, we can take refuge in God, as David does in Psalm 57, and we can know that he is our God.

May our time at home be a time of spiritual refreshing! And may we see each other again soon when it is safe. Missing you all,

Pastor Tom

P.S. The Puritan John Flavel gives an excellent sermon on Psalm 57:2 in the first few pages of his book “The Mystery of Providence,” which you can find online for free or cheap. The sermon is a model of good Puritan preaching. In it Flavel said the following about God’s sovereign providence over all our lives:

Providence neither can nor does do any thing that is really against the true interest and good of the saints. For what are the works of Providence but the execution of God’s decree and the fulfilling of his Word? … There is nothing but good to the saints in God’s purposes and promises.

Time of Trial

March 18, 2020


Dear friends,

To whom you flee in time of trial, that is your God.

When disturbances come, when fears arise, when “pestilence stalks in darkness,” (Psa. 91:6), we are tested as to whom we are truly attached. Who does your heart flee to for comfort, for relief, for encouragement, for inner strength and fortitude?

In our day of social media and immediate access to endless numbers of websites, it is easy to lose oneself in the deluge of thoughts that are on the internet. There is of course nothing wrong with using the many resources available in the internet, yet with every advance in technology come fresh temptations to the human soul. One temptation might be to dilute your emotional life by constant fluttering about among the words of people. It reminds me of Puritan Thomas Watson’s warning about people whose spirits are light and feathery and who merely skim over the tops of things. Another temptation might be to take comfort in the crowd of voices and to let God’s Voice dwindle to a distant echo. Who do you listen to? Who has your ear? Who gets the bulk of your attention? Who has your heart? Whose voice calms and settles you?

“We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1). Our choice as to which thoughts we will bend our mind upon, mingle our own thoughts with, says so much about us. It shows the state of our hearts and of our spiritual lives.

I want to encourage you to use this time of isolation to “draw near to God” (James 4:8). Rather than increase your time on social media, or whatever else you may fill up your time with, increase your time in the Scripture and in prayer for your world, your country, your city, your church, your family. I want to encourage you to read good spiritual books. Perhaps you can choose from the list that Mark and I put together and placed on the Resources page of our website. A great book of short one-page devotional readings is Spurgeon’s Faith’s Checkbook. You can also listen to sermons on our church website. Or listen to sermons preached by the greatest preacher of the last century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Have warm family devotions and be sure your speech is edifying (Eph. 4:29). Of course, keep connected with each other in Christian fellowship through whatever means is safe in this current situation.

I’m often reminded of Paul’s comment in Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). I probably think of this statement nearly every day, because it tells us not merely what to think about but its effect on our emotions. God wants us to be enthralled with the Lord and to be constantly happy at biblical thoughts about him! A way to do this: Choose a psalm or an epistle and isolate all the individual statements about the Lord in it; reflect on each one and respond in prayer and praise. I will pray that you all will experience the joy of the Lord as your strength during this odd time where we are isolated from each other and might be tempted to slip into depression. Flee to the Lord for comfort and joy.

As far as the immediate future goes, at this point I plan periodically to send out some pastoral emails like this one and to record a sermon like I did for last Sunday. There may be more ways to minister at this time, and Mark and I are currently discussing options.

May this time of difficulty and isolation end up being for you a God-blessed spiritual oasis! And may we be able to meet again soon.

Pastor Tom

You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. (Psalm 91:5–6 ESV)

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1 ESV)

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

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4 ESV)

PASTORAL LETTERS

COVID-19

March 13, 2020


 

Dear Church family,

The City just informed me that they are cancelling all use of the senior activity center until the end of April. This is a reversal of course from what they told me yesterday, but they are responding to recommendations made by the Skagit County Health Department.

This is a unique time in the history of our church, and we hope it will pass soon, so that we can once again devote ourselves to fellowship together around the Word (Acts 2:42). In the meantime, we all should be praying for our church, City, county, and nation. And the Lord wants us to recognize that these sorts of disturbances are in the plan of God, and we should “not be troubled” by them (Matt. 24:6-8). God greatly desires our joyful trust in his Fatherly care, and I will be praying that His Spirit will work that trust into the fiber of our souls. Nothing is more important than that we have faith, and faith is tested in trials (James 1:2-4).

In the interests of maintaining ministry during this time, I hope to record a video of a sermon this Saturday and email you all a link so that you can watch and comment. The email should arrive to you on Sunday morning. If it becomes necessary, I can do this again in the coming weeks. Please keep on the lookout for any emails about further developments. Stay safe.

In Christ,

Pastor Tom

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. (Matthew 24:6–8 ESV)

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4 ESV)