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Remember your leaders,

those who spoke to you the word of God.

Consider the outcome of their way of life,

and imitate their faith.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:7-8

The Scriptures inform us of the importance of the past and the people that God has used in previous generations to proclaim his never-changing Word. No one in history, except the Lord himself, is perfect. Every single figure has flaws and thus can only be justified by faith. But we are told to remember with reverence those who got the gospel of justification by faith right and passed it on to us. I am particularly grateful for the life and teaching of the now late J.I. Packer (b. July 22, 1926 – d. July 17, 2020) who had an indelible impact on me.

Packer was the commencement speaker at my college graduation. His message to us then was to stand on the shoulders of the spiritual giants who came before us. Specifically he pointed to the English Puritans, the major influence on his life. Yet Packer’s wise words now certainly apply also to himself. J.I. Packer was a monumental theologian of the latter half of the 20th century. And we need the view from his shoulders.

One of the characteristics I most appreciated about Packer was that he was not flashy. His popularity didn’t come from his larger-than-life personality, but rather his steady, principled, careful, faithful teaching of God’s Word. He was completely unassuming, constantly writing introductions and endorsements for other people’s books. A true servant.

I saw Packer in person a few times. He wasn’t impressive in physical stature. To be honest, he was a bit odd looking. I distinctly recall walking past him while he was sitting and talking to a student on campus on one of his visits, a baggy tan suit draped over a hunched skeleton. Since then his body became progressively even more frail (watch this trailer for his book on weakness) and he eventually lost his eyesight in his last years. Yet his mind saw clearly the glory of Christ. And Packer’s pen helped us to see such beauty too.

A better writer than a speaker, in my estimation, Packer could pack a sentence tight with perspicuous profundity (“Packer by name, packer by nature” he would say). Looking through my stack of his books, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for his careful thinking and mastery of the English language in service of our knowledge of God.

Knowing God (1973) was probably the first book of his that I read and his most influential. I cannot overstate the way this book fundamentally shaped me. The distinction between knowing about God and actually knowing God has stuck with me. It was meaty, coherent, non-fluff, yet personal, experiential, and devotional. He showed that “there can be no spiritual health without doctrinal knowledge,” while maintaining that “it is equally true that there can be no spiritual health with it, if it is sought for the wrong purpose.”

When I was wrestling with the nature and place of the Bible in the Christian life and confused by the untethered subjectivism I was raised in, I wrote to a professor with my questions. He told me to read Packer’s “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God (1958). I did. It cleared everything up! I still use this book every year with GOSPEL for Chicago apprentices because there is no better treatment of the authority of Scripture out there. It was cogent and potent. As Packer wrote there, “the antidote for bad reasoning is not no reasoning, but better reasoning.” He employed such reasoning to utterly dismantle all alternatives to Scriptural authority, showing convincingly that “anything short of unconditional submission to Scripture… is a kind of impenitence.”

I devoured other Packer books in my formative years. God Has Spoken (1965) continued to solidify my understanding and confidence in Scripture as special revelation – God’s voice. “In other words, Holy Scripture should be thought of as God preaching – God preaching to me every time I read or hear any part of it – God the Father preaching God the Son in the power of God the Holy Spirit. God the Father is the giver of Holy Scripture; God the Son is the theme of Holy Scripture; and God the Spirit, as the Father’s appointed agent in witnessing to the Son, is the author, authenticator, and interpreter, of Holy Scripture.”

I read Knowing Christianity (1995) and Truth & Power (1996) over a Spring Break in college. Keep in Step with the Spirit (1984) I read after I was a pastor. It was characteristic Packer clarity and charity applied to the Charismatic movement. His explanation of the “floodlight ministry” of the Holy Spirit was… illuminating. Concise Theology (1993) is still my go-to for short explanations of doctrines (except for his chapter on baptism, ha!). As always, Packer wrote with the notion that “theology is for doxology and devotion – that is, the praise of God and the practice of godliness.”

Confession: I never actually read Packer’s probably second best known book – Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God (1961), but I’ve heard it’s good. And I never finished Praying (2006), but probably should (the book, that is; not the practice).

His introduction to J.C. Ryle (Faithfulness and Holiness, 2002) invited us to listen to a great teacher of the past. Again, Packer’s words about Ryle could now be applied to himself – “Ryle has guided many along [the true path of wisdom and of life]; he has been a guide to me; may he now lead you. And to God be all the glory.”

And Packer’s entryway into the Puritan vision of the Christian life – A Quest for Godliness (1990) – rocked my world, particularly (pun intended) chapter 8, which was a reprint of his introduction to the reprint of John Owen’s Death of Death in the Death of Christ. There you will find Packer at his feistiest, showing up the pathetic ‘gospel’ of Arminianism. About the Puritans, Packer wrote – “[They] have taught me to see and feel the transitoriness of this life, to think of it, with all its richness, as essentially the gymnasium and dressing-room where we are prepared for heaven, and to regard readiness to die as the first step in learning to live.”

J.I. Packer has finished his training and passed through death. I was blessed to have met him once in this life and tell him how much Knowing God was helpful to me. He signed my copy:

It’s mind-boggling to think about how he is currently experiencing in a deeper way the realities that he so wonderfully wrote of while he was here. May we follow his example and join him there around our Lord too someday.

For through him

we both have access

in one Spirit

to the Father.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,

but you are fellow citizens

with the saints and members of the household of God.

Ephesians 2:18-19

Community is difficult to maintain because it takes sacrifice, love, and commitment.

Most of IBC, if not all of us, desire to experience community, but we are not always willing to sacrifice, love, and commit to one another. Most of us, if not all of us, at some point have a dating relationship with IBC, even the longshoremen and leaders. At the core of why we don’t value community (IBC in our case) is not because of busyness, consumerism, or/and having other priorities over the community. At the core of why we don’t value community is that we don’t truly understand what community/church is.

According to this text, a gospel-community has access in one Spirit to the Father. We are fellow citizens and members of the household of God. I know that this text doesn’t specifically use the word ‘community’, but I am going to apply it to community. Paul is telling the Ephesians (Jews and Gentiles) of what their identity is. The Ephesians are united in one Spirit to the Father, fellow citizens, and members of the household of God. Likewise, we share one Spirit who brings us to the Father. We are fellow citizens and members of the household of God.

One Spirit, to the Father

Paul is exhorting the Ephesians to be “one.” I know that it is extremely hard to be “one” amidst a pandemic. COVID-19 seems to present another barrier to gospel-community. Our church has had to do much of our church life virtually, such as Small Groups and Prayer Meeting. It’s not easy to be “one” when many of us don’t live in the city of Chicago right now and are elsewhere in the country.

The list of barriers to gospel-community goes on and on. However, those are just excuses. If we, IBC, truly believe that we are “one,” then we are willing to make the sacrifice, love, and commitment. I know that it is hard. I never said that this is going to be easy, but at the end of the day, it’s worth it.

Why? Because we have access in “one Spirit to the Father.” We are not “one” because of our hobbies or life-stage, but one because we are all brought through the same Spirit to the Father. We are united in the same Holy Spirit. Wow!!! Isn’t that amazing?

It’s the Holy Spirit that maintains gospel-community for us and through us as we, IBC, intentionally build up this community of faith. The Holy Spirit is with us and helps us adorn this community into the most beautiful bride that the world has ever known, which is the local church (in our case, IBC). Don’t you want to be part of building up the most beautiful bride of Jesus Christ? This is eternal. We can build up our careers, our barns (so to speak), but will they last for eternity?

Think about it: in light of eternity, are you going to spend your time building up your careers/barns/etc… or are you going to spend your time building up the church that’s going to last for eternity? Ultimately, when we build the church (IBC in our case), we are building by the Spirit of God, and not by ourselves.

The most amazing thing is that it’s “one Spirit to the Father.” The whole point of the Spirit building the church (IBC in our case) is so that we enjoy our Father. We are building up the community by the Spirit so that we can enjoy our Father more, so we can love our Father more, so we can know our Father more intimately.

Do you want to enjoy the Father more? Do you want to love the Father more? Do you want to know the Father more intimately? If you do, then invest in, love, and serve IBC in any ways that you can.

Fellow Citizens

Not only are we brought by one Spirit to the Father, but we are also fellow citizens. We are not just U.S. citizens or citizens from elsewhere. As a U.S. citizen, I do get a lot of benefits such as healthcare, Social Security (when I get old), and other benefits that the government offers. However, we, IBC, are called to live out our citizenship as one. We are not just individuals, but collective fellow citizens.

This is why we are called to be involved with one another’s lives. We are called to serve one another, love one another, rebuke one another in a loving way, pray for one another, and all the one another commands in the Bible. How are you doing in the one another commands with your fellow citizens in the church? Is there one or a couple of fellow citizens that you can pray for, love, and serve?

Furthermore, as fellow citizens of the kingdom of God, we are saved by God’s grace and given an inheritance (Ephesians 1:11). You do not earn your way to becoming fellow citizens. It’s all of grace, given by our King to underserving and ungrateful enemies who are now made citizens. Are you living out your citizenship from God? Are you living out your citizenship in light of our community, IBC?

Members of the Household of God

Not only are we brought by one Spirit to the Father and made fellow citizens, but we are ultimately members of the household of God. Gospel-community ultimately is about a family. In this case, a spiritual family but also an intimate family.

I know that some of you may not have the best earthly family. On the other hand, some of us do have an awesome earthly family. Whether we do not have a great earthly family or do have a great earthly family, we, IBC, are called to BE members of the household of God.

In other words, it’s all about grace. Paul is exhorting the Ephesians to live out who they are as Christians. In this case, we are members of the household of God. We don’t earn this. God has saved us, IBC, so that we can become part of the family of God. Are you living out this awesome privilege of being a child of God? Even in the midst of this sinful-pandemic-injustice-quarantine world, we should live out this privilege of what it means to be a child of God. We are not just members of the greatest household, but we are members of the household of God.

I know that it’s extremely difficult to stay connected with our local church, IBC, during this COVD-19 season. However, if you are really a member of our church, then, you will actively do what members are called to do, not for the sake of just loving one another, but for sake of strengthening the family of God. Our spiritual church family should maybe be even more intimate than your earthly family. Are your relationships at IBC spiritual and intimate? That is what it means to be members of the household of God.

As you invest more of your time, resources, money, and your life into our church, then you’ll realize that it’s an honor and privilege to do that because you are building up the community, IBC, by the Spirit, as fellow citizens and members of the household of God. All this is made possible through the blood of Jesus Christ.

Your brother,


“I have said these things to you,

that in me you may have peace.

In the world you will have tribulation.

But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

These words mark the conclusion of Christ’s final sermon to his disciples. John records for us one final high priestly prayer, then Christ turns himself in to be betrayed, arrested, and crucified. Let us consider three things we can hold onto in light of this passage.

The Presence of Christ

Of the many things Jesus taught his disciples in this final sermon, he taught them about his departure. “I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer” (Jn. 16:10). The One who demonstrated his power over the forces of nature and death, who taught them with words of wisdom and authority, who loved them so much, was going away. How could they bear it?

Understandably, they were troubled and sorrowful.

And yet Jesus promised his presence in spite of his physical absence. He goes in order to send the Holy Spirit, who will glorify Christ. In these troubled and sorrowful times, let us remember that Christ is with us, his people. He has not left us alone to face the tribulations of this world, but instead walks with us through the valley.

The Peace of Christ

Where will we have tribulation? “In the world.”

There is no abiding peace to be found in the world. The world is buried with turmoil in the present and uncertainty about what lies ahead. How can it provide solid peace for our weary souls? It can’t. Let’s not try and find it there. Indeed, the world is at enmity with God. As believers, we should expect nothing less than trouble and persecution.

Where may we find peace? “In me.”

True, spiritual peace is found in Christ. Not in our own strivings, our own strength, or even our own religious obedience, but in Christ. His perfect life and his atoning death secures us pardon for sin and everlasting peace with God. His work, not ours. So no matter how much the tribulation of the world may torment us, our peace remains secure. It is a peace that the world can neither give nor take away. As the nations rage and peoples plot, let us take refuge under the shadow of the Cross, knowing that we have an abiding peace in the midst of swirling chaos.

The Power of Christ

Christ has overcome the world. He resisted greater temptation than any of us will face, so that the allurements of the world should no longer entice us. He bore scorn and ridicule as the Man of Sorrows, so that the evils of the world should no longer discourage us. Christ triumphed over the world so that it stands before us as a defeated enemy. What power does a charmer have without her charms? What can a conquered foe do to harm you? Nothing – Christ has disarmed the world. Does the world seek to draw you away with its promises of happiness, prosperity, ‘the good life’? Does it try and trouble you by marginalizing the church and mocking the values it stands for? We don’t have to give in. Take heart, for Christ has overcome the world.

~ Enoch

“It is written…”

Matthew 4:4, 7, 10

What a privilege it is to have a book from God to explain the world to us.

Scripture explains reality. It is not above reality. It contains harrowing accounts of murder, incest, and injustice. It has stories of war and triumph. Love songs. Lamentations. Confusing parables. Epistolary correspondence. Revelations of the future. Prophecies. Courage and cowardice. These are the words of God himself to us.

Why did God give us this book? It helps us interpret reality.

Satan, the father of lies and deceit, on the other hand, wants to hide reality. He wants us to be overwhelmed with the lies that bombard us from every angle. Christ wants us to be free with the Truth that he has reconciled us to himself through his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. It is the goal of Satan to get us to believe lies and to use those lies to create fear and distrust of God. It is God’s goal with Scripture to confront us with the Truth in order that we might embrace and trust him.

What lies are you believing? What truths are you ignoring?

I am discouraged. I am discouraged because I believe the lie that who I am is determined by what I do and the titles I hold rather than in Christ.

Lie: You are only as important and loved as you are professionally polished, or published, or to the extent of your social notoriety.

Truth: “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

Lie: If you were more disciplined and more socially engaged during the quarantine, you would have been a lot happier. You didn’t, so you are a failure.

Truth: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:23). “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Ph. 1:6).

Lie: What would God possibly want with someone who can’t even keep up with the IBC Bible Reading Plan? I am just an undisciplined and useless person.

Truth: “But he said, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then am I strong” (2Cor. 12:9-10).

During the trial of Jesus in the desert, what did Jesus quote? Deuteronomy. Jesus – God’s Truth to humanity – used the truth of Deuteronomy to answer Satan’s lies. Instead of pondering and distrusting God, as Adam and Eve had (followed by fear), Jesus declares, with full throat, the truth.

Again, what lies are you believing? What truth does Jesus declare in his word about these lies?

In need of reminders of reality,


Do all things

without grumbling

or disputing.

Philippians 2:14

*grumble, grumble, grumble* Why do I have to wear this blasted mask?

*humph, humph, humph* I just hate Zoom calls!

*grr, grr, grr* I can’t believe the National League is going to have the Designated Hitter

We’ve been reading through the book of Philippians lately in our Bible Reading Plan. It is SO timely, isn’t it?

For example, the command in 2:14 to do everything without grumbling is deeply convicting. In this season so much seems so hard. Just going grocery shopping is a massive inconvenience. We’ve had to give up so many plans. The temptation is strong to gripe and complain, to turn critical and cynical. But 2:14 confronts that attitude.

And Paul’s admonition fits right into the larger context. Paul has been calling on Christians of all people to be radically selfless. Grumbling reveals deep-seated selfishness. We grumble when our own preferences, desires, or needs are not being met. But in Philippians, Paul is saying that we should think of others’ needs above our own.

When we have that posture of humility and servanthood, it reduces the impulse to complain. Unity becomes more important than my individual comfort. The glory of Christ becomes my aim more than having things done my way. Serving others becomes a joy instead of a hassle. I don’t have to assert my will; I can adapt, even submit, to others’ wills.

As we re-convene meeting together a lot is going to be asked of each of us. There will be decisions made that you don’t like or disagree with or would have done differently. You’ll have new opportunities to sacrifice your time and ease and schedule to prioritize community. You may remember that the people you had a break from for a while can annoy you.

But our desire should be to have a heart that says, “Whatever it takes, I’ll do it! Count me in! How can I help? Whatever God asks, I’ll trust him to help me obey. In what ways can I give up my desires to serve someone else?” We should gladly do things we don’t like because it’s for someone we love.

This is going to be a great chance to lay aside our own preferences and bend over backwards to accommodate others’. We are going to have ample opportunity to extend a lot of grace to each other.

Why would we want to do this? It’s easier to grumble and disengage. We do it, quite simply, because Jesus did it for us. Have you experienced his grace – Christ’s utter humility displayed in leaving the comfort and ease of heaven to be infinitely inconvenienced for you? He didn’t have a chip on his shoulder as he bore the Cross for you. Doesn’t that make you want to stop whining about little things and live for others?

“I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8). I can’t wait to see you!

Seeking to selflessly serve you,

And needing your selfless grace,

Pastor Nathan

But you,

why do you judge your brother?

Or you again,

why do you regard your brother with contempt?

For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.

Romans 14:10

In the past few months, we as a church have lived through a variety of diverse challenges and heartbreaks which have stretched us in ways we never could have imagined at the beginning of this new year.

On the one hand, the viral pandemic placed all of us in a precarious position of attempting to continue our bonds of fellowship while quarantining ourselves for the sake of the health of our spiritual family and physical neighbors.

One the other, the recent string of criminal police activities has forced us to reckon with the bitter realities of the present injustices still at work within our own homes and communities. Given the time and place the Lord has put us in, it is inevitable that over the next few months we will have to have a series of very difficult and controversial conversations within our own body and amidst our spheres of influence as to how we are to best understand these issues and how we can move forward in confronting these matters in a Christ-like manner.

With these thoughts in mind, I wanted to do a brief overview of the doctrine of Christian liberty in order to help give us a framework in which we can have these conversations together in a productive and loving manner. Please note, I am not claiming to have all of the answers to these difficult questions. In a lot of ways, I am still learning and growing in how I can best love others during these dark days. But one thing the Bible is very clear on is that even in the midst of sharp controversy Christ’s body is still one. And I hope that in this brief survey of Romans 14 we understand that as we engage with one another (which we should), we remember that we are speaking with brothers and sisters in Christ.

The context of Romans 14 is simple enough to grasp. After Paul has spent the majority of his letter clarifying the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Paul makes a shift from the theological to the practical in Romans 12. Following along that vein of thought, Romans 14 answers the specific question – How does the doctrine of justification by faith alone affect the way Christians engage one another in controversial matters? What is the bond of unity which holds us all together, and how do we gauge when we ought to confront one another and when we ought to accept our differences?

I don’t have the time or space to survey the entire chapter. Instead, I am going to pull out a few keys which I think are useful for us in framing this conversation.

First, the aim of our unity is the glory of Christ. Paul is confronting a mixed community of Jewish and Gentile believers, all of whom come into the house of God with different expectations and convictions. Often these different convictions with respect to the observance of Jewish holidays or dietary restrictions tended to lead to incredibly divisive church splits. But for Paul, none of these matters were meant to be the key uniting factor in bringing together the community of God. For Paul, the decisive aim of Christian community is summed up in vv. 7-9 – “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and the living.”

For Paul, the unifying factor of the Christian church is the singular desire to make much of Jesus Christ. This means in his case, while he personally did not mind eating and drinking things which were condemned in traditional Judaism, he did not view those who refrained from partaking as lesser Christians (I would argue the reference to the weak and the strong Christian at the beginning of the chapter is a bit ambiguous). Rather he commended them as equal brothers and sisters in Christ who alongside himself desired to make much of Jesus Christ in all manners of life. In so far as their aims were true to that end, Paul perceives those who hold such diverse perspectives as members of the Body of Christ.

Second, the ground of our Christian unity is not necessarily our actions, but the finished work of Christ on behalf of his people. This can be clearly seen in verse 20 – “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food.” The logic of this passage takes a little bit to unpack. If you think about what Paul has been arguing for the past few chapters – justification by faith alone – you can better understand what Paul means here when he speaks of Christian’s tearing down what God had built up. Namely, if justification is by faith alone, and our acceptance before God is solely based upon the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ to sinners, then who are we as justified sinners to reject one another on the basis of their imperfections or errors? God is the one who judges, and God is the one who justifies.

More importantly, God is the one who brought this community of justified sinners together to make much of his Son Jesus. And if God brought about this work, who are we then to say that God made a mistake in letting this or that person in because clearly a “good Christian” wouldn’t be so shallow or hold to such inappropriate behaviors or beliefs?

Please hear me very carefully here. This does not mean that there are no beliefs or behaviors which are categorically antithetical to the Christian faith. A number of times throughout his writings, Paul lists various beliefs and practices which mark a member of the community as liable to expulsion. There are absolutes which Christians are demanded to believe and to live by. But that being said, not everything that is set before us on a day-to-day basis belongs in the category of excommunication.

I would argue then that the question we must all ask when we are confronting one of our fellow members on a particularly controversial topic is whether or not we can still call this person a Christian even if he or she happens to disagree with us on this issue. If we cannot, our conversations must be more polemical, for in those instances we are fighting for their very souls. However, if we can still call them Christians, then we need change the nature of our conversation and make it less about changing minds and more on seeking how to push and edify one another to best glorify the Lord together, sometimes even with assumptions or practices we disagree with (Rom. 14:19). At the same time we need to work on reigning in our own personal liberties so that we do not present a stumbling block to others in their own attempts to make much of Christ (14:13).

This doesn’t answer all of the specifics, but hopefully this gives us a goal for which we are all aiming for, and some general categories to differentiate what kind of disagreement we are having while we are all attempting to reach that end. People are fallible, and the Lord is still at work in all of our lives honing and shaping us more and more into the image of Christ. And since God is patient with us, it is important for us to be patient with one another, knowing that we are all sinners who were mercifully saved by the Lord.

~ Pastor Theo

A man without self-control

is like a city broken into

and left without walls.

Proverbs 25:28

I’ve noticed that many of us are struggling to be disciplined lately, myself included. Maybe we never really were, but it’s become obvious now that our routines have been disrupted.

Working from home is new for many, bringing new temptations towards sloth and/or overwork. It might be that your sleep schedule has become erratic now that you don’t have to get up and go out. Perhaps your diet and exercise and personal hygiene regimens are not great. Circumstances and social media have been taking many of us on a wild ride of emotions lately. I won’t ask how your Bible reading and prayer routines are going (wait, I guess I just did).

The issue of discipline is really a matter of self-control. Are you in control of yourself, or are you being jerked around by your passions? Are you guided by a renewed mind steeped in God’s revelation, or is peer pressure telling you what to think? Have you learned to tame your tongue, or are you saying (or typing) whatever is the first thing to pop into your head? Do you set the agenda for your day in submission to God, or are you dictated to by the immediate, the urgent, or the whims of the moment? Can you wait, or do you unreflectively grab what you desire right away? Can you do things that you don’t necessarily want to do, or are you an addict – unable to stop or say No to a substance or activity or thought?

Are you self-controlled? To paraphrase the proverb, a person without self-control is like a Jewel with bashed in windows. There are no proper boundaries. You are susceptible to anyone coming in at any time and taking from you. You’re not functioning properly. You’re a mess.

A person without any self-control has no defense against the world, the flesh, and the devil coming right in and telling you what to do. You’re at their mercy… and they are not merciful.

But God is!!! Praise him that he’s not grading you on your level of discipline to make the cut for his kingdom. You don’t (you can’t) earn your salvation through your self-control. You know you can be addicted to working out, eating right, religious duties, etc. too, right? Biblical self-control is not self-salvation. It’s a result of salvation.

Self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Gal. 5:23). Struggling believer: you are struggling because the Spirit of God dwells in you and has given you a desire to please him and be pleased with him. You are united to Christ. You are a new creation. You are no longer in bondage to sin. You have the freedom and the power to fight for new habits. “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal. 5:24).

Now “walk by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16), “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25), “sow… to the Spirit” (Gal. 6:8), “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18). This is our new purpose, together. “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” (Tit. 2:11-14).

Your fellow struggler,

Pastor Nathan

Seek the welfare of the city

where I have sent you into exile,

and pray to the LORD on its behalf.

Jeremiah 29:7

This week showed us the lack of shalom in Chicago. It’s a good time to revisit this passage that is foundational to our church’s vision.

In light of recent events, many will find reasons to disdain the city and seek to get out of it. It was the same in the 6th century B.C. with the city of Babylon. It was pagan. It was oppressive. And many Jews living there couldn’t wait to evacuate. Yet Jeremiah wrote them this letter saying that God wanted them to stay for another seventy years. They weren’t supposed to see the city as a place to leave, but rather a place to love. They were to…

Seek – hope for, work for, invest their time/energy/ heart in increasing the…

Welfare – the well-being, the peace, the shalom, the right ordering, the healthy flourishing of the…

City – that dense, diverse conglomeration of bodies and buildings that amplify human potential for good and for evil where the LORD had sent them into…

Exile – a less-than-ideal, often hard, home-away-from-home. And they were to…

Pray– constantly ask the LORD to bless the systems, structures, and inhabitants around them.

Similarly, the people of God today are called exiles (1Pe. 1:1). Our true home is the heavenly Jerusalem and we long to be there (see Ph. 3:20), but God has sovereignly determined that we live for now in Chicago (see Acts 17:26). He may call you elsewhere at some point, but always remember that there is really no ‘greener grass’ anywhere east of Eden. And for now God has us here to serve our city.

Do you ache with the pain of Chicago? And do you desire its security and prosperity? That will require more than just slogans and well-wishes. For those who marched peacefully yesterday, standing side-by-side with other city-dwellers for the basic dignity of every person made in the image of God, you heard the two African-American men on the sideline thanking the crowd for this demonstration, but admonishing that it’s going to take ‘more than this.’ That is so true.

Jeremiah 29 fills out for us more of what it will take. He reminds us that it’s going to take time, like generations. Many parts of our great city that went up in flames in the riots of 1968 are still recovering. We impatiently think in terms of quick bursts of activism and those can be part of the strategy. However, it’s been demonstrated that most deep, sustained effects require faithful presence. Please pray for longshoremen and longevity. We have some big challenges ahead in our city that was already facing a budget crisis (our kids’ school has had a budget cut every year the last 8 years that we’ve been there), and now a lagging economy, a stretched healthcare system, and the fallout of civic unrest. Chicago needs citizens committed to helping for the long-haul.

Jeremiah also shows us that a lot of what we’re supposed to do for the common good of the city is unglamorous. Buy a house and fix its broken windows. Plant a garden and weed it. Get married and raise kids. It’s all very ordinary, un-sexy stuff that won’t make the news or maybe even Instagram. But all those ordinary things: shoveling sidewalks, talking to neighbors, volunteering at school, going to work, paying taxes… adds up to a city that functions.

At the end of the movie that we watched together last Friday there was one of my favorite quotes of all time:

The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts, and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs. – George Eliot

I thought that quote was somewhat misapplied. After all, Franz Jägerstätter has a Wikipedia page and was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church. I think it’s more about people who will never be noticed doing things that seem utterly mundane – giving a cup of cold water (Mt. 10:42) and sounding no trumpet (Mt. 6:2). That’s what God mostly uses to sustain the world.

The gospel gives us an unparalleled ability to do such un-acclaimed acts of love since we don’t need the approbation of anyone – we have it all in Christ.

And just having a functioning city is not our ultimate goal; it is sharing the gospel. Jeremiah told the OT exiles that in Babylon’s welfare they would find their welfare. Paul tells Timothy to pray for civic leaders that “we may lead a peaceful and quiet life” (1Tim. 2:2). The point is not truly selfish. It’s so that we can have an arena in which to preach the gospel and grow the church.

Someday this city will melt. “Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14), “that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Until then, let’s love our city in every way we can, including inviting all its residents to join us there in the eternal city through repentance and faith in Jesus.

~ Pastor Nathan

Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes;

and I will keep it to the end.

Give me understanding,

that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.

Psalm 119:33-34

Why is the Bible so important?

In the midst of our busy lives, it’s pretty easy for me to be consumed with the various needs and concerns we see present in various parts of our world. People are destitute and in need. Corruption around the world can be seen exploiting the most vulnerable under their care for their own greed and power. The economy is going crazy.

There are so many things in the world to be concerned about and so many voices vying for our attention that I often find myself overwhelmed. I’m ashamed to admit it, but when I find myself in this kind of mood, I kind of feel like the Bible is the last thing I really want to study. Compared to everything that is going wrong, a book that was written so long ago often doesn’t really feel relevant to my own times and concerns.

Psalm 119 is a convicting Psalm for me to read. When I am so distracted by life and the concerns of this world, verses like these remind me of the fact that the people of God throughout history have prioritized the study and understanding of God’s Word even in the worst circumstances. It’s striking to me that even during times of exile under oppressive regimes, God’s people were people still reading this Psalm and still trying to hear and obey what the Lord had to say to them. And it often makes me wonder: what did they see in Scripture that I’m missing?

There is a lot we can talk about with this Psalm, but for the sake of this study I want to just highlight three things the Psalmist has been reminding me of when he writes about God’s Word.

First, the Word of God is the only way we can know whether or not we are living our lives rightly before God.

Psalm 119:9 states, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” This is something I tend to forget. Often, I feel like there are so many things that I need to do. I need to be well-informed about what’s going on around me. I need to work hard and strive to create a successful career for myself and for the sake of my family. I need to be responsible with my time and resources so that I can live independently and not be a burden upon anyone else.

I’m sure that others can come up with a thousand other things they feel like they need to do or be, and to be sure all these things are important. But when I look at the Bible, I realize that I could be doing all of these things, working hard, staying relevant, and taking care of my responsibilities, and still not be a good person. What does it matter if I do all this, but forget to do the things the Lord tells me to do? What’s the point of being a useful member of society, when I still don’t really love the Lord the way I should and I definitely don’t love other people as much as I ought to? When we take the time to read the law of the Lord, it reminds us of what the Lord actually wants from us. And often what the Lord actually wants from us isn’t what we think he wants.

Second, God’s Word reminds us of what is true.

Psalm 119:73 states, “Your hands have made and fashioned me; give me understanding that I may learn your commandments.” There’s something very profound in the way these two thoughts are linked together. In our own times, we like to think of ourselves as independent. We are who we are because we choose to be who we are, and no one has the right to question what we’ve decided. With hard work and determination, we can be whatever we want to be.

But the Psalmist corrects this notion. We didn’t decide who or what we are going to be. God made us. God decided what kind of hair we were going to have, who our parents would be, and what kind of culture we would grow up in. And because God made us, he absolutely has the right to correct us and tell us who we are and are not. He’s got every right to redirect our lives to whatever ends he feels are best. That’s just what it means for God to be God. So rather than try to build our own lives or force things to go the way we want them to, the Psalmist simply turns his attention to what the Lord says is true and lives his life according to that. And he’s better off for it.

Finally, God’s Word reminds us of how much God loves us.

Psalm 119:41-41, “Let your steadfast love come to me, O LORD, your salvation according to your promise; then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me.” For the Psalmist, God’s Word isn’t merely a list of things we ought and ought not do; it is also a clear presentation of the promises God has given to his people. Promises to be their God forever and to forgive their sins and deliver them from the evils of this world. In God’s Word we find clear evidence of God’s intent for our lives. That he will be the God over his people and they will dwell in his presence within his kingdom free from the malice and sorrows which have afflicted us for so long.

And it is these great promises within the Bible which stabilize us even in the midst of disaster. They give us an answer to those who ridicule our faith, for we can say even in the midst of calamity that our God is one who is for us. Even in our suffering he is at work on our behalf bringing us home to be with him.

It is foolish of us to assume that we live in times which are more turbulent than those in past years. However, when we survey the history of God’s people throughout such times, we can clearly see that God’s people have always prioritized the study of his Word. Even when the world around them was falling apart, they took the time to meditate on the precepts of the Lord because for them the Bible wasn’t merely a book. Rather, it was God’s own voice announcing what it right, true, and good for the benefit of his people. And we need to hear these things all the more in scary times like ours.

~ Pastor Theo

We walk by faith,

not by sight.

2 Corinthians 5:7

The coronavirus is invisible to the naked eye, yet we all know it’s out there – spreading, infecting, impacting our world.

Similarly, the Bible tells us of an unseen realm, no less real. Do you believe in it?

Even though you cannot view his crown under a microscope, do you know that Jesus is reigning at the right hand of the Father right now? Hebrews 2:8-9 says – “We do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death.”

Do you trust that the Holy Spirit is mysteriously moving: convicting, converting, comforting, conforming people to the image of Christ, even if his activity seems imperceptible at times? John 3:8 says – “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Do you have the perspective that knows that there is an immaterial, immortal aspect to you that is more important than your current physical shape? Matthew 10:28 says – “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”

Do you understand that the greatest enemies of our souls operate within an invisible network of malicious powers and personalities? Ephesians 6:12 – “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Do you have confidence knowing that God and his innumerable angel armies are on our side no matter how formidable and obvious the opponents and obstacles seem? 2 Kings 6:15-17 says – “When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’ He said, ‘Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.’ So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

Do you focus on the promised future world more than this present, passing one all around us? 2 Corinthians 4:18 says – “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Can you fathom the potential of the local church to make these realities visible? 1 John 4:12 says – “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”

Do you have faith? Hebrews 11:1 says – “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

But remember: there is coming a day when faith shall be sight. Revelation 1:7 says – “Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him.”

Until then may you, like Moses, have the eyes of your hearts enlightened (see Eph. 1:18) so that you can see the unseen, for Hebrews 11:27 says – “He endured as seeing him who is invisible.”

Brothers and sisters, I long to see you and confirm that your faith and love are abounding (see e.g. 1Thess. 3:6), but for now I have to trust that God is working in you during this time even though I might not be able to see it. I pray that, as 1 Peter 1:8-9 says – “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

I can’t wait to see you all again and sing together “to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, [to whom belongs all] honor and glory forever and ever. Amen” (1Tim. 1:17).

~ Pastor Nathan

From @immanuelchicago on Twitter