Joy heard far away

And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.
Nehemiah 12:43 ESV

I used to live in an apartment whose back windows faced the back door of a storefront church. In the spring and summer, I would often open my windows and on Sunday mornings the church would open their back door, and I could hear them singing God’s praises. Because it was a predominantly African immigrant church, they often sang in words I didn’t understand, but there was no mistaking their joy in the Lord.

When God brought the Jews back from captivity and allowed them to rebuild Jerusalem, many wondered if the job would ever be finished. They faced opposition from without and despair from within, but in the end they rebuilt the miles-long wall around Jerusalem. With their physical defenses restored, the people turned back to their spiritual defense and rededicated their lives to the Lord God of Israel.

In Nehemiah chapters 8 through 12, we read about how the Word of God was read to the people of Jerusalem, how they swore to the covenant with God again, and how the priests and Levites led the people in worship. It would be decades before the Temple itself was rebuilt, but on the day of the dedication of the rebuilt wall around Jerusalem, the people turned their hearts to the Lord and rejoiced.

There are two things to note about Nehemiah 12:43:
• God had made them rejoice with great joy.
• The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.
They rejoiced because God’s deeds gave them great cause to rejoice. God gave them not only the reason to rejoice but also the heart to rejoice.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
Psalms 126:1‭-‬6 ESV

And they did come home with shouts of joy! In fact, their joy was heard far away! Like the church out my back window, the joy of the returned exiles was so great, it was heard not just in their city, not kept privately among them, not heard only by God. The joy which they got from the Lord was heard far away, heard by people who didn’t know the Lord, by people who likely were their enemies.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Psalms 23:5 ESV

Does your cup of blessings and joy overflow? Is your joy in the Lord so great that it is heard far away? We are not just talking here about singing louder in church. We are talking about living a life so full of gratefulness and joy that others see it and are amazed. As the Psalmist said in Psalm 126, do people around you see your life and say “The Lord has done great things for them”? Do you spend the day grumbling about loss and trouble, or do you rejoice that Jesus came to die and live again for you? Do you share your worries with the world, so all they see is uncertainty, or do you take them to God, allowing Him to deal with your difficulties, and share your joy in the Lord with the world?

Jesus is our strong tower, our ever-present help in times of trouble. As the Levites assured the people when they wept at the reading of God’s Word, “And do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Since the joy of the Lord is our strength, let us use that strength to rejoice so loudly that our joy is heard far away.

Heavenly Father, You have given us great cause to rejoice. You sent Your Son to live and die and live again for us. And Your Holy Spirit dwells within us, guiding us, assuring us, and giving us a heart to rejoice. Thank You, Lord, for being our joy. May our rejoicing in You be heard far away so that others may know You and be drawn to You. Amen.

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One Hour

Matthew 26:36-46

36  Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.”

37  And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled.

38  Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”

39  And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

40  And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

42  Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

43  And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

44  So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again.

45  Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.

46  “Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”

When I was newly minted in Christ, I have to admit I never knew just how difficult it would be to struggle against my sin. It’s not that I thought I would suddenly be set free from addictions and anger and depression and a myriad of besetting sins that plagued my life. And it’s not as if I wept and prayed every moment of every day to be set free from those things, either. No, the difficulty lay in studying the Bible and realizing I had a long way to go. And every now and then, it was just easier to take a break from it all, to stop struggling and be idle in my pursuit of holiness. I didn’t press on, as Paul put it in Philippians 3:14, nor did I run with endurance as the writer of Hebrews said. I took a break, I slept, I allowed my flesh to take over.

Look at how Jesus put it to his disciples: “remain here, and watch with me” (v.38). In the Greek, it says, “μείνατε ὧδε καὶ γρηγορεῖτε μετʼ ἐμοῦ.” The word translated as “watch” could be translated “be awake and alert.” It’s the same word used in Luke 12:35-40, where Jesus exhorts his disciples to be on the watch for the return of their Master:

Luke 12:37

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them.

Note the blessing here in Luke: those whom Jesus finds awake and watchful, Jesus will serve and allow them to rest. The implication is that those who do not remain watchful will not be allowed to rest later, nor will he serve them.

Now look at the account of the disciples in Gethsemane. Jesus asks them to be watchful along with him. He is watchful, and he wants them to be watchful, too. What are they watching for? They are watching lest sin come and corrupt their lives. They came to Gethsemane to pray, and he pulled aside his closest circle to remain with him while he prayed. But those close few fell asleep. His initial rebuke to Peter is particularly stinging:

“So, could you not watch with me one hour?”

Jesus wasn’t asking much of them that night. After all, it was Jesus himself who would be arrested soon, and Jesus himself who would face the tribunals and carry the cross. It was Jesus who would bear the shame and guilt of their sins—even the sins of that night when they couldn’t obey the simple command to be watchful against temptation. All Jesus asked was for them to be watchful for a short time until He should return, to do their bit while he went aside and did his bit.

That is all Jesus asks of us, to be watchful against temptation and sin, to strengthen ourselves with prayer as we await his return. All he asks is that we are wary of those things that seek to destroy our lives, and that we light the lamp and stay ready for his return (Luke 12:35-36). It is not for us to defeat sin and death. We should well know that is Jesus’ role. Our part is to simply abide in him so that he may abide in us (John 15:4), and then his power and his grace will defeat the sin that follows after temptation (James 1:14-15). Therefore, let us remain with him in this “one hour” that is our lives, watching out for sin and praying lest we enter into temptation. Let us bear this small burden of being wakeful and watching with him, so that we may one day truly rest in him.

Heavenly Father, give me the strength and wisdom to be watchful and to pray with your Son, my Lord Jesus Christ. Teach me how to abide in him so that he will abide in me, that I may not rest but instead be fruitful for your kingdom. Amen.

©2017 Glenn A. Pettit


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Abide in My love

John 15:9-10

9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.

10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

I think it’s safe to say that most of us have had one: the middle-school crush. One day we’re getting on the school bus or hanging out with friends at lunch and suddenly there he or she is. She’s beautiful in a way that other girls aren’t. He’s handsome in a grown-up, perhaps even a bad-boy sort of way. We start courting as best we can. I used to talk with her friends to find out if she likes someone else, and to know what it is she does like. After a while I’d get up the courage to pass her a note: “You’re pretty” or something like that. And then came the fateful day—usually just a week or so before a school dance or friend’s big party—when we finally write that all-important note that demands a response:

“I really like you. Do you like me? YES NO (Circle one)”

We’d pass the note early in the day, hoping for a response by lunch time—you know, so we could sit with our newly beloved one. We’d watch the minutes pass slowly by in class, and keep an eye out for the object of our affection in the hallway between classes. Time would pass, and then…perhaps just as lunch is ending…perhaps just as we are getting on the bus…the note is returned to us. The verdict is YES!

And then we crumble up the note and throw it away, and go on with our lives like nothing ever happened, right?

Of course not! We don’t ignore the note! We find a way to sit with our beloved on the bus or at lunch. We arrange trysts (although today it would just be “hanging out”), and we call or text each other. Today we might change our status on online social networks to say we are “in a relationship.” Woohoo! We start learning what he or she likes, and we share our likes, our dreams, our hopes and fears. We meet our beloved’s family. (I still joke that I get along famously with kids, pets, and mothers-in-law.) In short, our life changes.

Well, it changes for as long as the crush lasts. The teenage heart is fickle, and before too long our beloved has decided he or she likes someone else better. Or, perhaps we are the one who moves on. We don’t stay in love like that for very long, despite the notes and bad poetry that say otherwise.

Now imagine if you had written that same note to Jesus:

“Do You love me? YES NO (Circle one)”

Needless to say, His answer will always be an emphatic YES.

And then we crumble up the note and throw it away, and go on with our lives like nothing ever happened, right?

Unfortunately, most people do just that. When some people have come to Jesus, they hear that He loves them just as they are—broken, scarred, sinful—and they bask in that warm, fuzzy feeling of love and acceptance. And then they go right back to where they were and being who they were before. They don’t seek out their new Beloved One, they don’t make time for Him, and they don’t try to change their lives to match His. Like a middle-school crush, they “love” Him for a while and then move on.

But despite our fickle hearts, Jesus never stops loving us.

In today’s passage, Jesus gives us an interesting way to think about His love and our love for Him. He says we are to “abide” in His love. That word in Greek is μεινατε (“meinate”), which is a command from the verb μένω (“menō”) which means to stay, to continue, to abide. It’s where we get our modern-day words “remain” and “mansion.” Jesus is telling us that when we come into the sphere of His love—i.e. when we accept His love by repentance and belief in Him as Savior—then we are to STAY THERE. It’s not a place we are ever meant to leave…and yet so many do.

Jesus even tells us HOW to remain in His love, how to dwell there, how to abide there:

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”

We stay in Jesus’ love by keeping His commandments—and, by extension, the commandments of the Father, which Jesus Himself kept. Jesus told us that all the law and the prophets hang (depend) on two commandments: love God with all our heart and mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) If we truly love God, then His law becomes our law, what offends Him offends us, and whom He loves we love–which is to say, everyone. God’s love is so great that when we were His enemies, He still sent His Son to die for us. (Romans 5:8-10) As Jesus goes on to say after the verses above:

John 15:12-14

“This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”

How DID Jesus love us? He circled YES on our note with His blood when He gave His life to take away our sins! He took our imperfections, our iniquities, our rebellion, our SIN upon Himself, and He nailed it to the cross forever more. And now that He has done that, He expects us to stay, remain, abide where His love has gotten us! Just as He selflessly and sinlessly followed the Father’s commandments and even died for us, so, too, are we to adhere to God’s commandments and also selflessly love one another and be willing to die for each other. We are to change our lives forever, not just for a fortnight or until some whim of our hearts leads us astray.

Romans 12:1-2

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Jesus is not some middle-school crush. He is the greatest love of our lives. This is not meant to be some fleeting romance but a lifelong commitment to a changed life. Be renewed, be transformed, my friends! Now that Jesus has responded to us with a resounding YES, let us not return nor remain where we once were, but let us follow God’s commandments and abide in His love forever.

Precious Lord, dearest Father, help us always to remain in Your love. Guide us in the way everlasting, that we might always be Your sons and daughters. Amen.

© 2014 Glenn A. Pettit

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The bond of perfection

Colossians 3:12-15

12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.

14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.

On a day like today—which happens to be the anniversary of my marriage—it’s easy to focus on love. Pretty much all I could think about from the moment my wife’s alarm went off this morning was how much I love her and how special was that day four years ago when we met face-to-face at the Bible study I was leading. We had actually spoken a few times on the phone in the few days before, having been introduced to each other by a mutual friend. But that morning when she followed through on my invitation to come to the study—well, that was the clincher. That morning, she showed she loved Christ as well as being interested in me, and that made me even more interested in her. The fact that she is beautiful was just icing on the cake, so to speak.

So, for the two of us, love is the theme of the day today. But as I meditate on love, I cannot help but think about how love isn’t supposed to be a once-a-year thing. In our lives, my beloved wife and I don’t make a big deal of Valentine’s Day, because for us every day is a day to show our love. Love is a full-on, everyday, natural thing. It is, as Paul says in today’s passage, the “bond of perfection.”

But look at how Paul sets up that description. Echoing his passage on the fruit of the Spirit in his letter to the Galatians, Paul says we are to “put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another.” And we are to do this not just because it is a good idea and makes for a more civil society. We are to do this because in so doing we imitate Christ who forgave us.

Our whole goal as believers is not to be ourselves anymore but to become more like Jesus Christ, our sinless Lord who died for our sins. Jesus died for us because He loves us, and that is the ultimate expression of love. How then can we who claim to love God and follow Him do any less? How can we be allow “fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5) to remain in our lives and still claim to be in Christ? How can we let “anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language” (Col 3:8) be part of our everyday behavior when we know that Christ went to the Cross for us?

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus spoke the simplest treatise on godliness: Love God first, and love your neighbor as yourself. What He said next is the part that people often forget: “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:40) What he was saying to the Jewish lawyer was that for all your searching through Scripture for the most important laws—i.e. the ones to which you must most closely obey—you will be lost if you don’t love God and others, because all the laws that God has laid down for us depend on our love for Him. Without loving God, it is impossible to obey God and fulfill the law.

Which brings us back to Paul’s letter to the Colossians…

Paul’s concern was that the Colossians were being led astray by someone preaching something other than the gospel Paul himself had originally preached. Someone was telling them they needed to adhere to Jewish laws and customs—that certain foods were forbidden, that certain people were not worthy of their fellowship, that their way to God was through works rather than the blood of Christ. So Paul wrote to them that it is ALL about Christ and what He has already done for us. We are to lay aside the backbiting and prejudices of our past life and instead focus on the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. And so his letter leads up to this beautiful passage before us today, where Paul reminds them that love for God is what makes them complete. In God’s eyes, there is “neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Col 3:11) Knowing that Christ is all that we believers should concern ourselves with, and that He is in us if we believe, how then ought we to live?

“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.”

Paul speaks not of erotic love (Greek eros) nor even of brotherly love (Greek philos), but of Godly love (Greek agape). It is love for God that is the “bond of perfection”, the bond of completeness. It is love for God that brings people together and that gives them that Christlike ability to forgive, to have mercy, to show grace, to be humble, kind, and meek. And it is love for God that must be the center of our love for one another. The apostle John agreed with Paul:

1 John 4:19-21

19 We love Him because He first loved us.

20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?

21 And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

And so today, as I reflect upon the love I have for my beautiful wife Teresa, I remember that it was and is our love for God that binds us together so perfectly. It was our love for God that our friend saw in us before she introduced us. It was our love for God that we discussed in several long phone calls before we ever laid eyes on one another. It was our love for God that drew us to the same place four years ago today. And it is our love for God that keeps us loving each other. Yes, we have our ups and downs like any couple, but through it all we know we must be merciful and forgiving, just as Christ was with us. Bound together in love for God, the peace of God (generally) rules in our hearts. Together, we are being perfected into the image of His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen and amen.

Heavenly Father, I cannot thank you enough for my beloved wife and the life we share. Through trials and storms, through joys and celebration, You are the center and peace of our lives. We rejoice in Your mercy, Lord, and humbly ask that You continue to guide us and perfect us. Help us, Lord God, to serve and obey You better all the days of our lives. Amen.

© 2014 Glenn A. Pettit

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As I ought to speak

Ephesians 6:17-20
17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; 18 praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—19 and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.

I sometimes wonder about the prayers people offer up or ask for themselves. I am reminded of all the furor several years ago around a book that touted the “prayer of Jabez” as the key to personal prosperity and generally getting what we want from God. This is exactly ALL that we know about Jabez:

1 Chronicles 4:9-10
9 Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.”
10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

Seriously, that’s all we know about Jabez: he was more honorable than his brothers, and he asked the Lord to bless him, enlarge his territory, and keep him from evil—in his prayer, apparently that meant not hurting others. Nice prayer, but not much to go on. That’s not to say we shouldn’t pray for similar things—you know, to be blessed and not sin. But is that really all we want from this life? How about doing more for others, not just avoiding hurting them? How about glorifying God in all we do? How about…? I could go on and on, but I think you see that while I am glad Jabez got what he requested, it seems to me he aimed a little low.

Anyway, I still wonder about the things people pray for themselves. Do we seek honor or prosperity for ourselves? Do we seek to keep from hurting others? Do we seek peace in our family? Do we seek healing for ourselves or others?

I love intercessory prayers, but the kind of prayer Paul asks from the Ephesians for himself is a bit different that our typical intercession. And this is not the only place he asks for such prayers.

Colossians 4:2-4
2 Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; 3 meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, 4 that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

Same prayer, different day. And what is that prayer? That God would embolden him and open doors for him to speak the gospel boldly, “as I ought to speak.”

Think about that for a moment. As Paul reminds both the Ephesians and the Colossians, he is in chains already for being so bold as to speak the gospel, and yet Paul wants MORE boldness! Really?!? Why would Paul ask that?

Because, for all he had already done, Paul knew there was still much to do. For all that he had accomplished for the kingdom of God, in his heart of hearts he still burned to do more for his Lord and Savior. It’s not that Paul felt like he HAD to do more, that all his work would somehow buy him some special place in heaven. It’s just that he knew the Great Commission could not be fulfilled without one key thing: the power of God enabling the apostles and evangelists going into the world.

Matthew 28:18-20
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.
19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

All authority had been given to Jesus, and He passed on to the apostles the authority to make disciples in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Without that authority, without the power given by the presence of the Holy Spirit, there would be no adding to the kingdom of God.

So Paul asks people not for good health or wealth or fame. He doesn’t ask for a closer relationship with his Lord, nor even for spiritual insight. Interestingly, he doesn’t ask that any particular group of people suddenly accept the Lord. He simply asks for the courage and opportunity to make Jesus known to the world.

Note that Paul asks for the boldness to speak “as I ought to speak” and for the opportunity to speak “as I ought to speak.” In some translations, Paul asks to speak as he is required to speak. Paul feels like he hasn’t been bold enough up to now, that he hasn’t had all the opportunities to make the gospel manifest to everyone. He knows that the job isn’t yet finished. The Lord had chosen Paul specifically “to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) So Paul had a long way to go yet, and he knew that only the Lord could enable him to finish the work set before him.

In short, Paul asks that the Lord grant him to be all that the Lord has asked Him to be already, the apostle to the Gentiles and far-flung Jews of the world. Paul asked for others to lift him and his fellow workers up in prayer so that they could keep doing what they had been doing all along, preaching the gospel to all creatures.

Is that our own prayer for ourselves? In the midst of our intercession for friends and family, as we pray for our nation and our leaders, as we lift up our communities and our jobs, do we pray that God would use us to bring the gospel to the world?

I don’t know about you, but as I read these verses today, I was convicted. I realized I wasn’t using my voice as effectively as I might for Christ—certainly not in the way He has called me to do. Certainly, God does not call all of us to be apostles like Paul or Peter, nor does He call all of us to be great evangelists, but He does call us to this:

1 Peter 2:11-12
11 Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, 12 having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Will people see the gospel in you and the things you say, so that when Jesus returns they will glorify God? Will you speak as you ought to speak—i.e. sharing the gospel in word and deed?

As disciples of Christ, it is incumbent upon us to speak boldly for Jesus, to make Him known to this fallen world. Let us never be satisfied that we have done enough, but let us always seek more for Him. Let that be our prayer now and always, that the Lord will provide us with more boldness and more opportunities to speak His gospel as we ought to speak, and through the gospel to bring more to salvation.

Heavenly Father, I thank You that You have given us Your Word to speak. Like Moses, so often I feel like I cannot speak clearly enough to glorify You and accomplish Your will, and yet time and again I find Your Word upon my lips. Lord God, embolden me every day, open doors for me always, so that I may make the name of Jesus known to any and all. May Your Spirit help me to speak the gospel as I ought to speak, forever to Your glory and praise. Amen.


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