Steve Richardson

The Shield of Faith, Part 1

From the beginning Satan has come to God’s people suggesting that He cannot be trusted. He wants you to think that you need to take matters into your own hands if you’re going to get anything out of this life.  He wants you to believe the doctrine of God’s providence is a miserable thing instead of a blessing – that instead of casting yourself upon Him, relying upon Him and believing Him through trials that you would, instead, murmur and doubt and worry. How do we answer him?  We take up our shield of faith.

We are in a fight against principalities and powers who are bent on our spiritual ruin.  And much of the damage Satan does is by means of these darts that he hurls at the people of God.  He comes – as Joel Beeke put it – making suggestions, inserting evil thoughts in the the mind swaying the understanding with arguments and promises.
Our defense is the shield of faith.  We see that when Jesus was tempted He used the shield of faith. Satan came tempting Him, and Jesus responded with Scripture. In doing so He was using the shield of faith.  He had a choice as we do: believe Satan or believe the Bible.  Jesus believed the Bible and so he never succumbed to the temptation.
This will be our best defence.  God has given a complete set of armour, but above all else we need to take the shield of faith to quench these fiery darts.
In this series I would like to name 8 of the darts Satan uses and then comment briefly on how we can use the shield of faith to quench those darts.
First, Satan tries to get us to distrust God’s providence.   This was the first tactic he used with Jesus in the wilderness.  Jesus was hungry and Satan suggested that Jesus should take matters into His own hands and turn stones into bread.  Jesus had come to offer Himself as the bread of life, to show His people their need for spiritual food and to teach them to rely on their Heavenly Father. So Satan comes trying to cause Jesus to stumble on that very point.
Satan does the same with us.  Winslow asks, “Are we in affliction and sorrow?  He tempts us to question God’s goodness and love.  Are we prostrate on a sick and suffering couch?  He tempts us to doubt the wisdom and kindness of our Father…”
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He is Good

We badly mistake Him when we think there is any unwillingness on His side. No – the unwillingness is only ever on our side.  He invites you to come, entreats you to come, offers you incentive to come and assures you that He will not cast you out.  This is the Saviour who sympathizes with sinners in their weakness, who set His face like flint to go to Calvary, who for the joy that was set before Him went to the cross and drank the full cup of the Father’s wrath not to condemn but to save.  And why did He do all this?  He did because He loves His sheep and wants them to be with Him in glory.   

The one single thing Jesus cannot do is sin.  He can do all things. He can do the impossible. But He cannot be other than He is – and He is good.  Everything He does is right.  He never left anything undone that should have been done.  He never did anything, said anything or thought anything He shouldn’t.  Our powerful Saviour is not only mighty to save, He is also holy.  He is a good God.
When we say that Jesus is good we also mean that He is kind.  He is never mean.  He is never vindictive.  He is never thoughtless.  When we say that He is good we also mean that He is merciful and compassionate.  He is a Saviour who is most willing to save.  This is never something He does begrudgingly.  He is that Father that watches for the prodigal’s return. At the first sight of the sinner’s return He rushes to take the sinner into his arms.  He is like that widow who upon finding the lost coin was so glad she called her neighbours to celebrate.   He is that Shepherd who leaves the 99 to find the one lost sheep.
As I have searched the Scriptures on these things I have found that the Bible uses a number of words to communicate the same truth.  We are told that God is merciful, gracious, longsuffering, pitiful, and slow to anger. But as if that were not enough – not enough to say that He is these things – we are told that He is not just pitiful but very pitiful. He is not just gracious but very gracious.  But then the Bible not only uses those words in their singular. Its not just mercy.
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He is Worthy

When things are dark and bleak and hard will you turn your back on Him?  Impossible. You know that He deserves more.  Its still true that if the whole realm of nature were yours that would be an offering far too small. Christian reader, He deserves you.  He has a been a Friend to you, and He deserves your loyalty.  He has bled for you, and He deserves that you would magnify Him whether it be by life or death.

Why is our answer – like Peter’s – to whom shall we go?  Ultimately our reason is that He is worthy.  When others are turning and their back on Him (and you are tempted to do the same), when following Jesus seems to hold only hardship and suffering and the other way seems easy, why go on with Him? Why stay the course? Why then – in the darkest season of your life – would you say with Peter “to whom shall we go?”  The answer is simple yet profound in its significance: Jesus deserves you.  He is worthy.
Believer, haven’t you found in Jesus that treasure hidden in the field?  Here is that One whom the Bible calls the pearl of great price! Isn’t it true that when you made that discovery you were willing to part with the whole world to buy the field and get the treasure?  And having sold everything to get the field and get the treasure what did you lose?  Nothing!  What did you gain?  Everything!  So what now?  When things are dark and bleak and hard will you turn your back on Him?  Impossible. You know that He deserves more.  Its still true that if the whole realm of nature were yours that would be an offering far too small.
Christian reader, He deserves you.  He has a been a Friend to you, and He deserves your loyalty.  He has bled for you, and He deserves that you would magnify Him whether it be by life or death.  He has loved you, and He deserves that you should love Him.
Consider again the cross.  There Jesus bled and died for us.
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There you shall be kissed by your beloved Saviour.  You shall be allowed to put your arms around Him as you tell Him you love Him. There it won’t be as if loving Him from a distance. There you will be with Him and He will be with you; and He who has loved you with an everlasting love will go on loving you. He who has borne with you through all your sin and failure and faithlessness will still love you when in heaven you are no more faithless and sinful.

The Bible teaches us that before the return of Christ there is a bliss that our souls will enjoy in the presence of Jesus, but that bliss is not the full glory to come when God makes a new heaven and a new earth.
What will it be like?  I want to name 5 things that will characterize the heaven to come.
First, there will be an end to everything that is evil.

No more aches and pains,
no more weakness and tiredness,
no more disease,
no more brokenness or disability,
no more confusion or memory loss,
no more wicked perversions,
no more haters of God,
no more idol worship,
no more heresy,
no more blaspheming the precious name of Jesus,
no more weariness in worship,
no more hard heartedness in praying,
no more rebellion,
no more dishonesty and stealing,
no more anger or disappointment or misunderstandings or broken relationships.
no more covetousness, but only contentment.
no more sadness and tears, but only joy.

Second, perfection.  What I have already described may sound like perfection, but in heaven there will be something more than the absence of all that is wrong.  Our bodies and our souls shall be made perfect. Right now “eye hath not seen or ear heard the things which God had prepared for them that love him.” Our eyes can’t see, but then we will be able to see.
Think for a moment about what it will mean to have glorified bodies. A blind man can be told about the beauties of God’s creation.  You can tell him, for example, about a sunrise, and about the beauty of spring. Similarly you can tell him about mountain ranges, prairies, flowing rivers and waterfalls; but you can’t make him see. So what if one day he could see? Then he would understand in a way he could never before.
Or think about the deaf man who can’t understand the beauty of music, and so with sign language you try to help him understand. But he can’t understand unless you can make him hear.
In heaven there are things we will see with eyes that can see. There we will hear with ears that can hear. Such a change will come over us that it will be like a blind man given sight and like a deaf man able to hear. We shall hear perfect heavenly music with perfect ears.  We shall see heavenly sights with perfect eyes. It won’t merely be that heaven shall be many thousand times more glorious than this world, but there our bodies will have the capacity to take it in and enjoy it.
Third, knowledge.  When you have found something that interests you you love to learn.  The process of discovery and accumulating knowledge is wonderful. But all of it pales beside the knowledge of Christ!  You take up your Bible, and its wonderful how it leads you into a great knowledge of your beloved. In those moments perhaps you say to yourself, “O His mouth is sweet.” Sometimes as you have meditated on the truths of Scripture, and as you have turned your eyes and thoughts toward heaven
you have caught a glimpse of Christ.   And seeing Him by faith you were overcome by joy.
Richard Baxter asks, “Christian when after long gazing heavenward, thou hast got a glimpse of Christ, dost thou not sometimes seem to have been with Paul in the third heaven… and to have seen what is unutterable?  Art thou not with Peter ready to say Master it is I good to be here… Didst thou never look so long upon the Sun of righteousness till thine eyes were dazzled with his astonishing glory?  Did not the splendour of it make all things below seem black and dark to thee?” He then added, “But, This knowledge which have given you such heights of joy and wonder  is as nothing to what you shall know; it scare in comparison of that deserves to be called knowledge…”
In heaven you will know things you can’t now imagine. Here you have been scratching the surface of the riches and the majesty of Christ, and you have called it excellent. But then you shall learn what knowledge is.
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The Lord is My Shepherd

As sinners we stand in need of grace and mercy more than anything else; and David is saying that’s one thing that I shall always have. God will never cease to deal with me in mercy: and He will always be good to me. The Bible admits that there are times when He seems to hide His face as He chastises those He loves, but He never forgets His promises, and He never ceases to be good to His sheep.

The Shepherd of whom the psalm speaks of is Jesus.  It was Jesus Himself who would later say, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” So, when we say “the LORD is my shepherd” we are talking about the Lord of glory.  This is Emmanuel: God with us.  He is the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature” and the One by whom “all things were created.”
So we have here a very capable Shepherd.   He is wise, He is strong, and with Him the Bible says there is nothing impossible.   But what comforts David isn’t only His strength or sovereignty or wisdom.  It is His character. We see repeatedly in Israel’s history that they had shepherds (pastors and leaders) who utterly failed them.  But the promise of Ezekiel is that where men failed them the Lord Jesus wouldn’t. Men may not love them but God loved them; and being the Good Shepherd He had said that He would search them out and find them. He had said that He would bind them up, He would feed them, he would protect them, and He would be their shield and their exceeding great reward.
 And, of course, He came as He promised. This, then, is the kind of Shepherd that we have: One altogether unlike these miserable shepherds who fed only themselves.  Jesus actually lay down His life for the sheep. He was (and is) so committed to them, so full of love and compassion for them that He would lay down His life for theirs. When you say “the Lord is my Shepherd” you are talking about a good Shepherd. He is not only a competent Shepherd and a diligent Shepherd and a faithful Shepherd. He is also a loving Shepherd. He loves His sheep. And so He seeks out the scattered and the lost and brings them back to Himself. He binds up the wounded, He feeds His people, and He leads them beside the still waters. He is with them and He comforts them.
There are three things that I would like to highlight in this psalm.
First, David does not say the Lord is a Shepherd or the Lord is the Shepherd.  He says the Lord is my Shepherd. What a marvellous thing to be able to say!  “He is my Shepherd.”  It’s so personal.  Do you know that is just what He says about us.  “You are mine”.   He is a shepherd and we are sheep – but we can actually say, by faith, that we are His sheep and He is our shepherd. When a wolf comes a hireling flees. He’s afraid. And these aren’t his sheep anyway, so he doesn’t have a vested interest in them.  He’s a hireling, and he runs. He doesn’t care for the sheep, but the Good Shepherd does.  That’s why He – unlike the hireling – doesn’t run, that’s why He doesn’t forsake us, and that’s why the Good Shepherd gives His life for His sheep… because He loves them.  And He loves with a love that God says passes knowledge.
Let the wonder of those words to sink in: the Lord is my Shepherd.  The God of heaven and earth, the Creator of the ends of the earth, the One who takes up the isles as a little thing and counts the nation as a drop in a bucket, this great Redeemer who is mighty to save and unapproachable in the brightness of His majesty, this holy King who is good and faithful and kind is mine, and I am his.  This is why David says “I shall not want.”
Isn’t that what we hope for our children, that they shall want for nothing?  The question isn’t whether we are willing to provide for them and care for them. The question is whether we can. Here there is no question… Knowing nothing about the particulars of the coming days David can still say, “I shall not want.” Its as if he is asking a rhetorical question: “How can I want when I have Him?  How can I truly lack anything when I have God?”   David knows that with a Shepherd like the Lord Jesus he shall be very well cared for.  Do you remember how Paul put it?  If God would give His Son for us how will He not with Him give us all things?  In other words, if He wouldn’t spare His own Son, surely He will not withhold anything truly good for us.   But David is also saying “having Him I have all. I have God for my Shepherd so I already have everything.”
That is the great reality that explains the rest of this Psalm. Over and over again we read here about what the LORD will do. He makes me lie down, He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul, and He leads me in the paths of righteousness.  None of that should come as a surprise because He is our Shepherd and we are His sheep.
Do you know what it is about Him that allows the psalmist to speak in this way?  Again, I am not talking about His sovereignty, His providence, or His ability to look after you and protect you. I am talking about Him: the Shepherd himself – the beloved. Its because I have Him that I can say “I shall not want.” Other things can be taken from me, but not Him.  And what the psalmist is saying in these words is simply this: He is enough. When the bride (in the Song of Solomon) was asked what it was about Him that was “more” than other beloveds she didn’t back down and apologize for exaggerating. She had an answer. She said, “My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.” She went on and then ended with these words: “His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
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Cedo Nulli: The Minister and His Master

True ministers yield to none because they answer to One. Like Paul they can say “do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ…(Galatians 1:10). True ministers are men who count it a very small thing to be judged of men for “he that judgeth me is the Lord (1 Corinthians 4:4).”

The first business of the Minister of the gospel is to honour his Master.  After all, the minister has been appointed by God.  He is an under shepherd.  The Master is Jesus.  The Lord of the house is Jesus.  The church, then, is His house not the minister’s house.  There is One King; and so the servant—or pastor—who has been given charge over the church must concern himself first and foremost with honouring his Master.
When the preacher is sorting out what to preach or write you don’t want him consulting man.  You don’t want him taking polls from the congregation, or consulting with the lusts of his own flesh. You want him alone in the place of prayer—Bible open—consulting God.
Everything He does is first for the Lord Jesus.  Everything is to honour Him.  He preaches to get glory and praise for Christ.  He rules and governs and labours and serves to bring glory to God.  Popularity, the praise of man, and the favour of the world, are all as nothing to him… he courts the praise of but One.
He lives for an audience of but One.  He answers to One.
There is something about Moses coming down from the mount to speak to the people that should be found in every minister—we are to be men who come from the mount of communion with God to speak to men.  We are messengers…our whole reason for being as ministers is to labour for the honour of Jesus Christ. And so while it may not be considered diplomatic or politically correct or even prudent to speak (or write) of this thing or the other thing, we will speak it anyway. We will preach the whole counsel of God and hold nothing back.
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On Matthew 18, Broken Relationships, and Reconciliation

We need to admit with a measure of shame that there is a great difference between the Saviour’s dealings with us and the way we often deal with each other. And it need not be! We have a process given us so that wounds may be healed, relationships mended and sins forgiven. We have all been hurt. We have all found ourselves on the receiving end of someone else’s sin. But we have just two options. We forbear—which is to say that we forgive them and treat them as if it never happened—or we bring it privately to them.

*[Author’s] Note: As I write about sin and reconciliation, I am not referring to sins of the Church or churches (collectively or in general). I am referring, rather, to the private or public sins of individual people within the Church. While letters/blogs/posts are worthy of public reply, if the ‘offence’ caused by the writer has brought about a breach in the relationship Matthew 18 should be followed.
We have a hard time dealing with sin and offence in the Church. This difficulty can be explained both by pride and an inadequate understanding of grace. But it can also be explained by a simple failure to follow the process outlined in Matthew 18.
In Matthew 18:15 Jesus tells us the first step that is to be taken: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee thou hast gained thy brother.” Here I want to over that first step.
It is worth observing that Jesus is not speaking about what to do when you know that you have wounded someone else. It is assumed that knowing what you have done wrong you will ask their forgiveness. Here Jesus is describing what must happen when you believe someone has sinned against you or at very least has caused you offence.
Still, before you even get to this stage—before you decide to go to that person—you need to make a decision. You don’t always have to go to them and tell them everything they have done wrong. You can choose to forbear.
What does that mean?
For many forbearing means saying nothing because they don’t want to seem petty. So, they don’t say anything to the person who has offended them, but they either hold on to the grudge or they tell someone else. Forbearance is something else entirely. It is the deliberate choice to set the sin (or offence) aside as though it never happened. In tender-heartedness we forgive and behave toward the person as though we were never offended.
Here, then, is the choice that is set before you. You can take offense at what has been done and begin then to deal with it according to the rules laid out in Matthew 18 or you hold your peace. But if you’re going to hold your peace that means dismissing it as though it never happened. It doesn’t get spoken of to your close friends, it doesn’t remain a grudge you nourish, and it doesn’t become a barrier to the relationship.  In other words, its done and over with. You have put it behind you in the same spirit that Jesus took your sins and buried them in the deepest sea. Again, as far as you are concerned it didn’t happen.
I want you to see that there is a sense in which God has hemmed us in. We have just two options. Either we forbear and forgive or we go directly to the person who has sinned against us. There is no third option.
If I had to pin (unnecessary) division in the church on just one thing it would easily be this: It would be the failure so common in the Church to follow this simple first step of going to those who have hurt us and telling them and telling them alone.
Sadly, we often refuse either one of these options. We do not tell them, but neither do we forbear.  Instead, while skipping Matthew 18 entirely, we tell someone else. But what is gained when that is done? Paul says that we are to minister grace with our words. We are to speak in order to edify. When we speak to wound and not to heal, when we bypass Matthew 18 and instead spread the news of what has happened to others how have edified the fallen brother? How have we ministered grace?
When someone has come to me with news of someone’s else sin I have learned on principle to send them away. They must first go privately to the person who has offended them. In the same way I am learning, on principle, that when others think ill of me I can do nothing until they follow the steps outlined in Matthew 18. Consider your own reaction to news that rumours (about you) abound. How do you respond to slander? How do you react when you learn that someone else is offended by you?  You may sometimes find yourself in a situation where you get the ‘sense’ that something is wrong, though you cannot pinpoint the issue. You may have observed that a relationship has changed for the worse though you don’t know why. You may have heard from another source that someone is offended with you. We have all experienced this kind of thing, and it is frustrating. But until that person comes to us there is nothing we can do except pray. The responsibility at this point is theirs. It behooves them to come to us privately—and come with something specific.
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Divine Images, Part 9: Mountains

In Song of Solomon the sin of the bride is like great mountains or hills that separates her from her beloved Groom.  Sin separates us from God.  Here is One Altogether Lovely.  And yet we cannot come near Him.   We have no right of access, no privilege of communion.  We are by nature condemned and separated from the only One who is good.  But our Groom, the Lord Jesus, came for us. 

When I began this series I wrote: “God has not only furnished us with a world that speaks of His power and majesty, but a world also which is full of what Jonathan Edwards called “divine images”.   Because of the Bible, these things which God has created bear witness of Him.  With a Bible in our hands the world is – in a sense – transformed, so that everywhere we go we cannot help but think of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.” 
When you look at the mountains, what are you meant to think of?  They are beautiful of course, and they are a testament to the creative might of God.  But they are more than evidence of a great Creator.  We know that because God has said more than that.
When you see the mountains or perhaps large hills remember the following:
First, remember that God’s righteousness is like great mountains.  In other words, as Spurgeon explains, His righteousness is “firm and unmoved, lofty and sublime.”  God is immovable, and as He is immovable so is His righteousness.  He cannot be anything but righteous.  He cannot act in unrighteousness because He is righteous.  Even as the great mountains cannot be moved, nothing can ever move Him to be otherwise.  Like the great mountains His righteousness is high and awesome.  It is a righteousness that is beyond our comprehension.  It is also a righteousness that – to the eye of His believing children – is glorious to behold.  His is a righteousness that is very great.  Unlike our shallow weak and shakeable righteousness, His is a towering, wonderful and unshakeable righteousness.  The psalmist says, “Thy righteousness is like the great mountains; thy judgments are a great deep (Psalm 36:6).”  
Second, remember His great power.  Though the mountains are very great, the Bible says that God moves them.  He overturns them as if grabbing them by their roots.  Think for a moment of the power needed to grab a medium sized tree and pull it up by the roots.  How great and mighty is God?  As if pulling weeds from a garden He overturns the mountains by the roots (Job 28:9).  Job 9:5 says, He “removeth the mountains, and they know not: which overturneth them in his anger.”  Psalm 65:6 says, Why by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girdeth with power.”  It is by their strength that the great mountains rest where they do.  He created them out of nothing, He holds them fast, and He removes them at His pleasure.
Third, remember God’s wonderful protection of His people.  Psalm 125 says, “As the mountains are round about Jerusalem so the LORD is round about his people from henceforth even for ever.”  Ponder those glorious words for a moment.  There is nothing like the strategic advantage that mountains provide.  In olden days cities surrounded by mountains were close to impenetrable.
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