1. Our Shepherd Restores

    May 9, 2024 by David Mataya

    Our Shepherd Restores

    “He restores my soul. . .” – Psalm 23:3a

    I often ask people this—what does the unbeliever need most? Some of you are already saying…Jesus. Always a good answer, right? Yes, but I often answer…the Gospel. They need the actions of Jesus to save. His intentional action at the cross, the grave, and beyond. But what about the believer? What do we need most? I would still say the very same thing…the Gospel. Certainly not for repeating our salvation, but for restoring and building us up in our salvation, and to always remind us of what Christ has accomplished on our behalf.

    The Gospel should be the fuel for our souls, and the motivation to love Him because of what He has done for us! As the very centerpiece of this beloved Psalm, and our series on shepherding, is this jewel of grace… “He restores my soul” (Ps 23:3). Our Shepherd leads us here, feeds us for this purpose, and guards this work. And He does this for both His once-forever saving work, and His continued changing work.

    The word soul in verse 3 is nephesh in Hebrew. It can infer the qualities and “aliveness” of our physical life, not just spiritual. But with the context of David’s language, here, it likely is both spiritual and physical. On the one hand, David is talking about physical things, using the picture of shepherd and sheep to physically represent reality. But David certainly isn’t saying, “thank you Lord for taking care of my body, that’s all I’m really looking for here!” No, as we can see throughout the Psalms, the greater context in the entire book is spiritual and eternal. In identifying Himself as Shepherd, Jesus would later refer to the spiritual and eternal in John 10:27–28, saying, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” These sheep were indeed born of the Spirit, not just the flesh (John 3:5–6).

    Our Great Restoration

    The word the Psalmist uses for restore is a redemptive word. It’s the word shuv in the Hebrew, and it means to turn back, to rescue, or to return. And remember our context. Who is doing this work of restoration? It is sovereignly and wonderfully our Good Shepherd, our Lord. In our salvation, in the work of our great restoration, there is both divine accomplishment and human responsibility. But which trumps the other? Who here is the author of the restoration? Throughout Scripture, we see this clearly as being the work of our shepherding Lord. He is the one turning us back, rescuing and returning us to Himself.

    Jesus certainly calls on us to repent, an act we are responsible to obey. In Mark 1:15, immediately as He begins His earthly ministry, Jesus sets the foundation of saving faith and commands us to repent and believe. But scripture is clear—no one seeks after God. We are dead in our sin, unable to respond (Eph 2:1–3). But God… “but God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us… made us alive together with Christ” (Eph 2:4–5). Ephesians 2:1–10 is a wonderful place to revive your amazement of the Gospel!

    In John chapter 14, Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” This is the heart of the Gospel… that in love, God sent His Son to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. John 3:16 says that because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.” In 1 John 4:10, we see this was an act of supreme love, that “in this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation [perfectly satisfying payment] for our sins.”

    Yes, we have sin in our lives. Not simply sins on the surface, but sin that is part of our very nature. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And remember Ephesians 2:1–3, that we are all dead in our sin and transgressions against an infinitely holy God. But this is when we remember the good news, the Gospel. That being God Himself, holy and blameless, Jesus alone could live the life we could never live, and pay a price in His death that we could never pay. This is the great restoration—great in value, great in cost.

    Our Continuing Restoration

    The restoration that God works in our lives also has a continuing component. For the believer, His sheep, this is what we call sanctification. Sanctification is that work of God in using “all things together for good,” to the end that we are “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom 8:28–29). Simply put, it is God’s work to set us apart for His glory. This happens immediately in saving us, but then our good and gracious Father begins to mature us, change us, and conform us. This too is restoration and is a progressive process in our lives as He truly is the potter, and we are the clay (Is 64:8).

    We see this played out in Hebrews 12:2, where we see that Jesus is the founder, or author, of our faith. But not only that, we see He is the perfecter of our faith as well. This speaks of Jesus’ ability to provide for our faith, to preserve and protect our faith, but also to mature, mold, and shape our faith. And as our Good Shepherd—thinking of restoration—He restores our faith. Whether in sin or suffering, faith is tested (Jas 1:2–3). In these trials and testing, what a comfort to know that we are shepherded by a perfect Shepherd, who is also a perfecting Shepherd.

    In all things, He sovereignly reigns with love over His sheep. And love is the greatest command, for God and for one another (Matt 22:37–39). In this series, I’ve given you much more about His love and shepherding of you. But the love that He has poured into us should be pouring out to the world around us. Starting in your homes, your families, your church, and seeping into every other avenue He gives. Growing in our love for others is therefore a product, an outworking, of the love of our redeeming and restoring Shepherd. May we be growing faithfully in reflecting Him throughout our lives.

  2. Our Shepherd is Near

    March 19, 2024 by David Mataya

    Our Shepherd is Near

    “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4).

    Our Guardian Shepherd

    Our Lord’s role as Shepherd starts and finishes with his sovereignty, authority, wisdom, and care for his sheep. He alone is perfect and full of each.

    Think about this…you are sheep. Lord willing, you are sheep!  And although I may have the role of a pastor or shepherd, fundamentally I too am simply a sheep in need of a greater Shepherd.

    I grew up in southern Oregon, surrounded by beautiful country, and many, many… sheep.  Some of my friends’ families raised sheep. We’d go out riding our bikes all around our small valley, and no matter what direction you went… somewhere, sooner or later, you’d find sheep.

    You may already know where I’m going with this, but sheep in general are dirty, more than a little slow, and unless you were in 4H and spent hours cleaning your sheep, they stink. And did I mention that sheep can die if they fall over? Sheep have such a flat back that they can get stuck upside down and need a shepherd, or a kid passing by on a bike, to roll them over. It actually happens, especially when their wool is wet and heavy. There’s a picture there, right? Perhaps not a Hobby Lobby picture we’d hang in our living room, but a picture of the predicament we can find ourselves in when broken and heavy laden.

    The point is this… there is a tender picture in the Lord calling us his sheep. It’s not because sheep are so deserving, strong, and pure, but rather, because he is so full of grace and love. And being our Good Shepherd, he knows we need guarding and protecting, just like real sheep.

    Think for a moment about some of the comforts he gives with this protection. Security, hope, freedom? Rest, peace, joy? Think slowly on each one as they aren’t simple words or ideas, but they are massive benefits for being his sheep.

    In Psalm 23, we see our Shepherd giving these very benefits, and David exclaiming it through a picture of being in the “shadow of death”, which can be translated “death-shadow”, or the “darkness of death or distress”. He mentions enemies in verse 5, which for David were often mortal enemies, enemies that would torture and kill.

    If you want to work through a great passage on shepherding… the worst of false shepherds, and the best of our perfect Shepherd, note Ezekiel 34:1–16. This passage provides a picture of shepherding at its worst, and at its best. What happens here to the sheep when they fall under the reins of sinful and false shepherds? What are key characteristics of Christ’s shepherding?

    The Nearness of Christ

    The nearness and availability of God is profound in scripture. From the garden when he walked with Adam and Eve, to the patriarchs, to the people of Israel. The Comforter to the psalmists, and the Voice to the prophets. And that’s just the Old Testament.

    Then Jesus. A Savior who took on flesh to dwell among us. The incarnation of God in flesh.

    In John 10, when Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd, asserting both his deity and his role as a near and intimate Shepherd, he says this, beginning at verse 27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” This is why Paul, in Philippians 4:6, can say, “Be anxious for nothing.” Because of what comes right before it in verse 5—“the Lord is near.”

    It’s imperative to highlight this truth as we look at a variety of benefits of our Lord’s shepherding… no attribute of Christlike shepherding works without nearness and availability. How do we think of this in our own lives, as we model Christ to others? Am I a distracted father? An apathetic husband? Do I show any pursuit of others in my life? Are we near and available to those around us, even the church for which he died?

    Again, Psalm 23 shows the nearness and engagement of this Shepherd. As our Shepherd makes us lie down—or leads us to quiet water, or in paths of righteousness—these things, by some mechanism, take intentional interaction. David even goes further, looking at verse 4 again, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” He sees the Lord as being near, actually present, in times of trouble. And so he is.

    The proactive and intentional engagement of our Shepherd can’t be missed throughout this Psalm. He is making me lie down and is leading me in verse 2. He is restoring and guiding me in verse 3. He is with me, again in verse 4. In verse 5 we see him preparing and anointing. Then in verse 6, it is his goodness and mercy that follow me all the days of my life. What amazing attention this Shepherd gives us!

    And this is the same Shepherd who gives us gospel nearness. As Jesus took on flesh, he was coming near to embrace the cross, in order to embrace us. Snatching us from the fire, drawing us to himself. This rescue and restoration becomes the centerpiece of our Shepherd’s work in Psalm 23 and will be the focus of my final article in this series.

  3. Our Shepherd Feeds Us

    February 27, 2024 by David Mataya

    Our Shepherd Feeds Us

    Continuing to look at the goodness of Christ as Shepherd, let’s focus now on how he feeds and nourishes the sheep; how he teaches us. We could rightly look at the provision of food and basic needs that he provides. Shepherds know that sheep need food (green pastures) and water (quiet or still waters), which we see in Psalm 23. But Christlike shepherds know the goal is to restore the soul. That treasure, found in verse 3, is the crowning benefit of all else found in the chapter. We’ll look at this restoration more deeply in a future article.

    Biblical Feeding

    Biblical and Christlike teaching is the mechanism to feed and nourish both mind and soul. It transfers truth in the form of knowledge, wisdom, and always in love. This is a work fully dependent on God; a work of the Holy Spirit. A human teacher can speak truth and a human listener can hear truth, but the actual imprinting of truth onto the heart cannot occur without divine accomplishment. Consider the following:

    “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).

    “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Cor 2:12–13).

    Biblical teaching, then, is both the human responsibility of those who teach (Rom 10:14) and an act of divine accomplishment (Eph 2:10; 2 Tim 3:16). It is never separated from the word of God or the action of God, and has the goal “to love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). This teaching fosters faith (Rom 10:17), trust (Ps 119:42–43), understanding (Luke 24:45), spiritual growth (Col 2:6–7), obedience (2 Tim 4:2), purity (Ps 119:9), encouragement, thanksgiving (1 Thess 5:11), strength (Ps 1:1–3), and so much more.

    How can I say so much more? Consider 2 Peter 1:2–4: The Apostle Peter writes that “all things that pertain to life and godliness” come to us “through the knowledge of him who called us.” This is unambiguous. Anything we can imagine in our spiritual life, or any pursuit of godliness, all comes through the knowledge of Christ. It comes through his “divine power” alone, and “has been granted” as a gift. We see that the gift-giving continues as he gives us his “precious and very great promises,” in order that we would be “partakers of his divine nature.” And all this comes through a centerpiece of the “knowledge of him who called us.” His teaching here is a divine act and a gift of grace, amen?

    In this, we remember that useful teaching involves application, and the application of God’s word is truly a gift. It involves the right handling of God’s word (2 Tim 2:15) and doing so in love (1 Cor 13:1–7, Eph 4:15). It also carries with it the weight of speaking “the oracles (or utterances) of God” (1 Pet 4:11). That should overwhelm us all! We are correct to pray at every turn for the Spirit to guide and protect our words whenever offering his word to others (John 14:26). This is true for the pastor, but it is also true for all Christians, as we shepherd those around us in some context. Consider again all the relationships and roles you have in this life. Where are you called to teach rightly and faithfully?

    A Generous Shepherd

    In ancient times, shepherds were the lifeline for sheep, and it remains so today. Sheep remain dependent on someone to bring them to food, or to bring food to them. Sheep haven’t evolved past some point where they no longer need a shepherd. And neither do we! Even as God graciously sanctifies and matures us, we never grow apart from our need of shepherding. Certainly not from our Good Shepherd, right?

    Just consider what happens when you aren’t spiritually fed, either in your own lack of devotion or the absence of others speaking truth. Have you been there? Are you there now? This is where we turn to the Lord, for he is sweetly good in his shepherding toward us. It is the Lord who will feed us on good and rich pastures (Ezek 34:14).

    In Deuteronomy 8:3, we see God’s nature to feed us his revelation, in that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” In John 4:34, Jesus equated his own food as being “to do the will of him who sent me.” Jesus’ food was doing his Father’s will, so we see that both receiving God’s word is nourishing, as is doing his will. And Jesus was always feeding, always teaching, and he did so in every context of life. In synagogues, on hilltops, in boats, over meals… from the manger to the cross and beyond, he teaches in word and deed.

    When we teach, and in whatever context, our desire is to reflect our nourishing Shepherd. We teach in order to offer truth and hope. We teach to encourage others to love the Lord with all their heart, soul, and strength. We teach obedience. We teach others to abide and dwell in him. Certainly, to repent and believe. But ultimately, we decide “to know nothing… except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2), and then we simply teach that; Jesus Christ and him crucified. This is the hallmark of the Gospel; the person and work of Christ. As we are being taught, let us consider that this is a generous work of the Good Shepherd who feeds us in rich pastures of truth, and deep waters of grace.

    Beyond this article, take some time to go back and read the entire first chapter of 2 Peter. Look for the workings of God in and through his truth, knowledge, and teaching. The interweaving of teaching and knowledge point again and again to the amazing power of God’s word and to his glory.

  4. Our Shepherd Leads

    January 16, 2024 by David Mataya

    Our Shepherd Leads

    He makes me lie down in green pastures.

    He leads me beside still waters.

    He restores my soul.

    He leads me in paths of righteousness

        for his name’s sake (Ps 23:2–3).

    His Sacrificial Leadership

    Jesus lived an exemplary life. There had never been, nor will ever be, a life more exemplary that his. He is altogether beautiful, altogether lovely, and we are not. His choice to engage us, to take on flesh, is sacrificial enough. For holiness to dwell with unholiness, this should astound us to the core, causing a humility that says… thank you, Lord!

    As we continue to look at Christ as our Good Shepherd from my last article, it is right to see the greater sacrifice—the sacrifice of God’s love in sending his son to be a perfect propitiation, and a completely satisfying payment, for our sins on the cross (1 John 4:10). But Psalm 23 also shows a Shepherd who is expending himself, practically, in caring for the sheep. Our Lord did not simply do the work of death and resurrection; he did the work of living in love. And he leads us toward that goal.

    His Loving, Serving, and Equipping

    The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 is given to the care of the sheep through love. We just contemplated that in his sacrifice to shepherd. And consider—in the culture of the time, shepherds were among the lowest of the low in society, culture, status. The mere fact that the Psalmist begins by saying YHWH (the Lord) is a shepherd, this should highlight the radical imbalance readers then and now should see. His very title here points to a sacrificial love, something articulated by Christ in John 10:11 saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

    Our Good Shepherd loves with the attributes of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. Consider Jesus as he was given to patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, forgiveness, righteousness, hope, and endurance throughout his earthly ministry.

    Our Good Shepherd is a servant leader as well. In fact, we know that he came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45), and he served in life and in death. Jesus is the perfect example of servant leadership, the manifestation of all wisdom and humility. This leadership is encouraging and strengthening, providing relational clarity of just how much he loves and cares for us. He serves by leading and leads by serving. What a Shepherd he is!

    Highlight this…Christlike leaders build up, not tear down, their people. Our Good Shepherd shows this, as he equips and builds us, his church. In Psalm 23, we get to see this in several ways:

    • Provision—Nourishment, rest, shelter.
    • Protection—Closeness with authority, guarding, defending.
    • Restoration—Restoring the soul itself; another example of building up and not tearing down.
    • Sanctification—Being led toward righteousness.
    • Goodness—Applying the goodness of God himself for the benefit of the sheep.
    • Lovingkindness (or Mercy)—Gifting the sheep with an intentional love that follows and seeks out.

    These are personal benefits for individual sheep, and benefits to the entire flock. Dwell on this list for a moment and consider, how can I be thankful and prayerful for each? How can I ask for my trust to increase in this Good Shepherd? Do I see this in the eternal sense, but struggle to believe it in the present sense? And as we will explore next, how am I emulating this as I lead others in my own life?

    He Leads, We Lead

    Christians are all called to lead and guide in some capacity. We are careful to rightly understand leadership roles when it comes to marriage, family, and the church. But we sometimes forget that we are all called to lead as light (Matt 5:14–16), a light that illumines, guides, and directs. We are living testimonies and evidences of Christ! It is, as one author notes, the most important leadership function that we be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet 1:3).[1]

    The call to lead comes with both joy and burden. The Apostle Paul often experienced this, as he expresses in Philippians 4:1, to those he had ministered to and led that they were his beloved brethren, his “joy and crown.” But in 2 Corinthians 11:28, after a lengthy exposition of his hardships in ministry, Paul says that “there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety [or concern] for all the churches.” When we lead, we are called to persevere toward Christ in all things, including hardship.

    In persevering toward Christ, remember his exemplary life we explored earlier. In our being disciples, are we truly following in his very footsteps, the very dust of his path? Or are we just watching his steps from afar? Again, we must remember, that to be a Christian is a call to reflect Christ. Are we emulating and imitating him? This call should rightly overwhelm us! And yet, Paul tells us in both Romans 13:14 and Galatians 3:27 to “put on Christ.” And we see an even clearer picture of action by John, in 1 John 2:5–6 ,when he writes, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”

    A Course Toward Christ

    Consider the opportunities in your life for leading, and for pointing, to Christ. Are you a father, mother, or friend? A sibling, employer, or student? Is your platform at home, school, work, or on social media? Is it in caring for a neighbor, a grandchild, or a parent? What about church? What about the one anothers? Maintaining our course toward Christ carries a heavier burden when we lead and guide. Don’t miss this…people see our course and direction toward Christ, so we better be pointed in the right direction!

    In Hebrews 12:1–3, we are given an imperative to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” We are reminded that he is “the author and perfecter of faith,” and that we should consider him “so that (we) will not grow weary and lose heart.” This is a twofold grace for us in leading. First, we are given a clear direction, to fix our focus on Christ. His ways are not hidden to us, but rather revealed in Scripture. Maintain that focus. Maintain that course.

    But second, we see that he carries the ultimate weight of authority. He alone is the author and perfecter of, not just our faith, but the faith of those we lead. This is praiseworthy for any humble leader, that Christ alone does this work, not us. Frankly, I could not exist as a pastor if this wasn’t true! Knowing he alone is sovereign and good in all things, this refreshes us for the work of leading, no matter the circumstances or role. Remembering that he is the Greater Shepherd, the very One we are to point towards, this will bring you peace in your leading. Leading others to a Shepherd who sets the greatest example of sacrificial leadership mankind will ever know.

    [1] Timothy Witmer, The Shepherd Leader (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010), 160.

  5. Trusting Christ as Shepherd

    December 19, 2023 by David Mataya

    Trusting Christ as Shepherd

    The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want (Ps 23:1).

    From Manger to Throne

    As I write, we are all being carried along through another Christmas season. There is a bittersweetness to it as we remember our Savior; our Lord, being born humbly because of the Father’s love for us. Born into flesh from above. But this incarnation was the first stretch of the temple curtain—the first movement in God’s divine concert that would soon violently tear that curtain in two, as Christ himself was torn on the tree—all in love, and all to bring us into a right standing before a holy God. That too is Christmas, the bittersweetness of the cross. In fact, the joy of Christmas, the sufferings of the cross, and the hope of Easter are all wrapped together in that manger; something we cannot forget. And so too is this infant our Good Shepherd, taking on flesh to dwell among us for all those purposes.

    And what did God do with this babe? This Son? This Shepherd? He “highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9–11).

    Let’s now turn our attention to trusting Christ in one of his most powerful, yet humble, roles…that of our Good Shepherd. This will begin a series of articles exploring the attributes of Christlike shepherding and how we can model him to the world around us.

    Oh, to be His Sheep!

    We start by turning our attention to perhaps the most well-known chapter in all of Scripture, Psalm 23. As Spurgeon would call it, “the pearl of Psalms.”[1] It is here that we can capture the essential attributes of Christ as Shepherd. In verse one, David writes, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” On these words, Spurgeon would say, “Give me a spiritual hold on the divine assurance [of Psalm 23:1], and I am set for life. I cannot go broke with this stock in my hand. I can never be bankrupt with this security.”[2]

    So true that is. As Christians, we have that assurance, that security. The Lord of Psalm 23 is YHWH, which literally means “I am who I say I am,” which we see in Exodus 3, as God communicates to Moses. This is Jehovah, or “the existing One.” The fullness of God, the fullness of the Trinity. The attributes of shepherding are found throughout the Godhead. But taking on flesh, we see Christ Jesus manifesting these attributes in profoundly remarkable ways, and frankly, Jesus owns the identity again and again.

    In John 10:11, Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” And again, in verses 14–15, that “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” The writer of Hebrews identifies Christ as “the great shepherd of the sheep” (Heb 13:20), a moniker that continues into Revelation as we see the beauty of our Shepherd reigning—”For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:17).

    Oh, to be his sheep! Psalm 100:3 tells us that “we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” As believers, we are fundamentally his sheep. In that, we should be a portrait of humility and submission…something our cultural leaders don’t understand. Today, as in Old and New Testament times, the culture diminishes and even destroys attributes of humility and submission. You don’t have to look far to see this is true! This should humble us, reminding us of our dependance on him alone to lead, feed, guard, heal, and be near. Keep this in mind…all earthly shepherds have a greater Shepherd, a truth we’ll explore in the future as we look at these attributes.

    Weak Trust in a Strong Shepherd

    H.A. Ironside once recounted someone saying, “I believe Psalm 23 is the most loved Psalm of them all, and yet it is the one least believed.”[3] Is this us? Can we see Christ as Shepherd and yet not believe such promises of his character? Sadly, yes. It can be us. It is us!

    As we move through Psalm 23, we are going to see the attributes of a strong Shepherd, but we must humbly admit, with each step, that we are weak in our trust. As this Shepherd leads, do we trust him with where he takes us, or asks us to go? As he feeds us (or teaches us his Word), do we trust the power and truth of his Word? Under his protection, are we comforted in seeing him as sovereign and trustworthy, even in hardship? And perhaps, as a centerpiece question, do we really consider him able to restore and rescue our very soul (Ps 23:3)?

    The truth is that we all fall short of perfect trust. Our weakness here is profound! We can all cry out with the man in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!” This is not a point of confusion; it is a reality that we can believe, we can know, but still see the weakness and frailty of that belief. And humbly, we should.

    Brother or sister, be quick to confess unbelief and the ever-present weakness of your belief. Abiding in Christ. Dwelling in Christ. This is the foundation for strengthening your trust in a Shepherd who knows you and loves you. Engage with the Word of God (Deut 6:4–9, Ps 1:1–3, Heb 4:12). Commune with God in prayer (Rom 8:26–27, Eph 6:18, James 5:16, 1 Jn 1:9). Participate in the body of Christ (Rom 12:4–5, Heb 10:24–25). Pursuing an obedience to be in the Word, in prayer, and with God’s people. These are the means of grace we are afforded, to grow in sanctification and trust. Believer, echoing the words of the Apostle Paul, this is my prayer for you this Christmas: “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—” (Eph 3:16–17).

    [1] Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Vol 1a: Psalm 1-26 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1968), 353.

    [2] Charles Spurgeon, Beside Still Waters (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1999), 60.

    [3] H.A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1952), 148.

  6. Trusting God with My Unsaved Child

    October 31, 2023 by David Mataya

    “I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit—that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom 9:1–3).

    The Anguish

    It’s been rightly said that there is no pain that goes so deep as the loss of a child. I would go further to say that there is little that shows the brokenness of this world, the most scarring impacts of the Fall, than that of losing children. There really is something twisted and backwards when a parent must bury their own precious child.

    But for the Christian parent, there is also the ever-present weight of our living children’s spiritual condition. The anguish and heartache that Paul expresses in Romans 9:1–3 is a deep reality for those of us, as Christian parents, with unsaved children. It’s not a stretch or misapplication to see the link between Paul’s heart for his “kinsmen according to the flesh” and that of our own children.

    Paul emphasizes the reality of what he is saying, so emphatically, that he includes the Holy Spirit as a witness to his anguish, and says that this anguish is paired with great sorrow. And note that Paul’s sorrow caused his heart to exceed, in a sense, his knowledge. Remember the context here, as he had just written in Romans 8 that nothing could separate us, or him, from the love of God. He knew his salvation was secure, and yet his heart was so broken for the lostness of his physical brethren, that he would forfeit his own place with Christ for their sake. Such can be the emotional cry for the parent of a lost child. The anguish is real, isn’t it?

    God’s Work, God’s Nature

    Good news is worth repeating, and in the last few articles, we’ve been looking at the beautiful trustworthiness of our Lord. Who he is makes all the difference, as does his action in all things. When we consider the unsaved, our confidence in the nature of God is profoundly important. The reality that God is a saving God is fundamental to our hope for the unsaved. Trusting that he indeed “saved us” (Titus 3:5), and “made us alive” (Eph 2:5), that his very appetite is to save.

    In 2 Peter 3:9, we see the nature of God in “not wishing any to perish”. While the context here leans toward the believer, teaching us that God will accomplish salvation for his elect (see also Matt 18:14), we can also see this heart for the unbeliever and rebel. In Luke 13:34 as Jesus laments, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Jesus too felt a love toward the rich young ruler (Mark 10:21), even though the young man would turn and walk away.

    But there is a reality to confront here: our God is a holy God. Regardless of his disposition toward the unsaved, there is a responsibility that they repent and believe. Without that, there is the grief of eternal loss. Yet, what a comfort to meditate on God’s nature as we pray and lament over an unsaved child. What hope there is to understand our heavenly Father’s disposition even toward those perishing! By abiding and meditating on this, we are presented with a wealth of comfort.

    Our Story, Our Hope

    Who God is, and what he can do, are key elements of hope for you, my friend. As a parent of one who is rejecting Christ, there is deep empathy for the struggle and the fear. With Paul we can easily say we have great sorrow and unceasing anguish!

    But God. In Ephesians chapter two we see a great picture of our own story. We too, as Paul states, were “dead in our sins and transgressions”, walking in, living in, and pursuing this hopeless death (Eph 2:1-3). But then grace and the fervency of God’s love made us alive (v. 4-5)! Obviously, there is a great reminder here for us, for what God accomplished on our behalf. But can’t we also say–if God so saved us, he too can save our children? It is good to remember that we needed him then no differently than our children need him now. Their present deadness reflects our past deadness. Thus, the remembrance of his grace and faithfulness in drawing us, gives us the hope that it might someday be applied in the same course for our kids. In short, if God can save me, he can save them!

    Prayerful Trust

    Our hope and trust in God is finally and fully placed in his promises. Repeatedly, we are given an invitation to approach our Father in prayer. To seek after him by communicating our needs. Consider David in Psalm 6. This deepest of laments, these cries that would cause his bed to swim, his couch to dissolve with tears—all was with an active trust that God heard. David says, in verses 8–9, that the Lord hears, and accepts, David’s prayer. And this lamenting prayer was communicated to a God of steadfast love (v. 4). Being heard by this Father, this King, this Comforter, all should remind us of hope in the midst of what seems like unbearable fear and loss.

    But we must pray according to his will, and according to his promises. It is, as Jesus would say in the Garden of Gethsemane, “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). While Scripture gives us specific prophecies concerning Christ’s position in heaven, we have no such prophecy for our children. So, we make our pleas with humility and mystery, seeking for him to seek and save those precious to us. Remember, Christ’s nature cries for the lost. In this, we can model him. And because of his grace and plan, he continues to make alive that which was dead.

    A Benediction of Hope

    Finally this… many parents don’t live to see their children’s salvation. Yet, I hear the testimonies of lives changed, and new hearts given, after the death of believing parents. And it can happen in a moment. A thief-on-the-cross moment for our children. Pray for that, share the Gospel, and love them with grace and patience. In that, you honor Christ.

    Oh Lord, for your glory, due to your goodness, may many of our little ones be drawn to you.

  7. Trusting God with My Worries

    October 17, 2023 by David Mataya

    Trusting God with My Worries

    “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Is 46:9b–10)

    In my last article, we walked through the nature of biblical trust, looking at how trust is the continued outworking of belief in our lives. It is, in essence, the activity of faith. To be sure, there are a myriad of outcomes to faith itself. For example, the good works that God has prepared beforehand that we would walk in them (Eph 2:10), and the very activities of a fruitful Spirit indwelling us (Gal 5:22–23). But trust itself has action to it, something we can operate in and pursue.

    Set alongside this is the active distrust of our sin nature. That darkened call to distrust a holy and righteous God. Understanding these two realities, trust and distrust, is key to tackling the temptation of worry for the Christian.

    Is All Worry a Sin?

    As we are quick to point out, definitions matter, and so does context. Certainly, Jesus made clear his command to not worry or be anxious, in Matthew 6, when he states, “do not be anxious about your life” (v. 6), or as the NASB translates, “do not be worried…” (v. 25). Paul, to the church at Philippi, wrote clearly, “Be anxious for nothing” (Phil 4:6). These and other texts seem to be clear, so doesn’t this lead us to an easy answer? Wouldn’t all worry then be sinful?

    This word for worry or anxiety (Gr. μεριμνάω) conveys the idea of expending energy in the preoccupation of concern. Allowing concerns to overtake our trust is where sin enters the picture. Earlier in his letter to the Philippians, Paul says that he had no one like Timothy, “who would be genuinely concerned (Gr. μεριμνάω) for your welfare” (Phil 2:20). Uh oh. We have the same word here! But the context certainly shows that this concern was a loving service to the church at Philippi, and that this attribute was part of Timothy’s ministry “in the Gospel” with Paul (v. 22).

    This is where we can benefit from a quick look at how Jesus faced concern, or even distress. In John 13:21, after washing the disciples’ feet and telling of his soon-coming departure, John tells us that Jesus was “troubled in his spirit.” This came just before telling them that one of them would betray him. Here, Jesus’ humanity is shown, yet without sin. This word for troubled (Gr. ταράσσω) can also speak of anxiety, in addition to being fearful, unsettled, or agitated. It paints a picture of Jesus experiencing deep burden and misery. Yet it also shows us the One who is trusting his Father perfectly even in anguish.

    This leads us, then, to ask some important questions: have we allowed even rightful concerns to strip away God’s authority? Have we diminished his power with our fears? This active distrust does indeed equal a sinful worry. But Scripture would seem to indicate a place for godly concerns. Concerns that don’t cause us to question God’s goodness, but rather give us an agenda for prayer. To cast our burdens on him, the one who will sustain us (Ps 55:22; 1 Peter 5:7).

    And just like with the Greek language, context matters in the English language as well. A parent who says, “I’m worried about my child, for their health and salvation,” isn’t necessarily expressing an active disbelief, or an active distrust. They may in fact see God’s hand and plan with great hope and praise, but they are expressing the concern, which God has given them, in the deep responsibility of parenting. However, we will all be tempted to forget his goodness, to pursue drama and fear, and to forget who God is.

    Who is God?

    Remembering is the opposite of forgetting. So, let’s remember who God is. And before you look for pages and pages to follow, I’ll state the obvious. A lifetime plus infinity could not give us the full compass of God. His is a magnificence that transcends all. And yet, he condescends, coming near. As I shared in the previous article, he is lovingly sovereign. Let’s explore that a bit, with just these two attributes, amid the backdrop of trust and distrust.

    First, our God is sovereign. This reality of God is made up of three activities. He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient. To understand omnipotence, or being all powerful, we can look to Job 38. This my friend should be the undoing of any natural man! To see God’s power and authority spoken by word, covering all areas of knowledge, nature, life, and death…it is humbling. And what of our opening text? Isaiah writes God’s very words, which state that he alone “is God, and there is no other,” that he “declares” things that haven’t even been done, saying “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” (Is 46:10b).

    And what about his omnipresence and omniscience? These speak of the expanse of his being (no place hidden from him) and the immeasurable vastness of his knowledge (all knowing). These two truths of God work together in special ways, and theologians have tackled the difference and indifference depending on context.[1] Suffice it to say, the fullness of God includes nothing hidden from his sight and a knowledge that surpasses understanding (Ps 139; 147:5).

    Second, our God is loving. This reality of God is made up of three activities, among many others. He is gracious, purposeful, and eternal in his love. And let’s not miss this—God is love (1 Jn 4:16). J.I. Packer states that “the statement ‘God is love’ means that his love finds expression in everything that he says and does. The knowledge that this is so for us personally is the supreme comfort for Christians.”[2]

    To see God’s sovereignty and love more deeply, I recommend J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, and Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God. These two excellent resources will reward you with reminders of who God is.

    Tools for Worry

    Remembering who God is should be our first tool when confronting distrust, but also to grow and fuel our God-honoring trust. Both who he is and what he has done. That he knows your state, and your frailty, with compassion. That Jesus knows a distressed soul, yet sinlessly and with perfect trust.

    For those moments of sin, and of active distrust, we have a mechanism in the cross to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, which is to confess our sins in repentance to a faithful God (1 Jn 1:9).

    And lastly, there is thanksgiving. How often I’ve counseled those who truly struggle with the sin of anger. They wrestle with it, seeking to escape. I’ve walked in those shoes myself. An antidote to anger is genuine thanksgiving. It’s hard to be angry and genuinely thankful at the same time! To give thanks in all things (1 Thess 5:18), to build habits in our actions and thinking toward that goal. And guess what? This antidote to anger does wonders with sinful worry as well. Seeking to be thankful in all circumstances, and to see God’s eternal blessings trumping all earthly woes, this is an area to pursue, dear friend. And as you grow in your heart for this, pray for mine as well. You are not alone in this great need.

    [1] Stephane Simonnin, “The Omnipresence of God.” Tabletalk, February 14, 2023. https://tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/the-omnipresence-of-god-2020-08/.

    [2] J.I. Packer, Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973, 122.

  8. Of Trust And Distrust

    October 3, 2023 by David Mataya

    I’ve often argued that the greatest attribute of spiritual maturity is this—a growing trust in God. Certainly, the work of sanctification, or being set apart by God toward holiness, is the backdrop of this. But trust itself is the mark of continued belief. Trusting him is a gauge of belief, and belief, along with repentance, a true gauge of our very salvation (Mark 1:15).

    In my next several articles, I hope to shed light on the activity of both trust and distrust in our lives. Today we’ll look at how to initially define and understand trust, along with a quick look at broken trust and the hope of trust restored. In the future, we’ll explore the workings of trust in other facets of life as well.

    The Nature of Biblical Trust

    As an action, trust is so profound that I believe we would experience sin-free living if we had fully perfected trust. Consider—with perfect trust there would be no sliver of rebellion against God’s good commands. No path to “my way” instead of his way. And yet my friend, you and I are still called repeatedly in Scripture to trust God. As we’ll see, it isn’t merely an option.

    Simply put, trust is the continued outworking of belief in our life. In fact, trust itself could be seen as synonymous with faith. No small importance! As Pastor Jon once said, “Faith is not commanding God to do your will. Faith is trusting God when he does his will.” In fact, I think we could rightly understand trust as the activity of faith. The two are inseparable. The great Puritan, Stephen Charnock, said that, “We must first believe that he is, and that he is what he declares himself to be, before we can seek him, adore him, and devote our affections to him.” Charnock seems to tie our entire ability to love God to our belief, or trust, in him. This is no small thing when we consider the greatest command (Matt 22:37–38)!

    The Sin of Active Distrust

    But with sin comes distrust. The two go hand in hand from the very beginning. You may recall Eve being tempted to distrust God and to put her trust in the serpent’s words (Gen 3:1). Don’t we all exhibit this nature still, in our flesh, being born of Adam? The fact that sinlessness is not ours until our glorification, is a testament to our constant state of distrust in this life, bringing with it the temptation to question God’s sovereign hand and plan. I call this an “active” distrust. A sin that is active in our lives and even actively pursued. This distrust is an ever-present stumbling block to our peace with God and with others. As Christians, we should ask ourselves: Are we continuing to believe, to trust, after our salvation?

    The Reality of Broken Trust

    We don’t have to look far, usually as close as the nearest mirror, to see how distrustful mankind can be. We have all experienced the pain and suffering of being lied to, manipulated, and falsely accused. And as the mirror suggests, we too have seen flavors of these sins in our own lives. This is our life outside the church, and sadly, it can be found within the church as well. Conflict exists, testing occurs, and expectations are broken. And did I mention pride and self-centered dispositions? The truth of Romans 3:23 is true for the believer as well as the unbeliever, that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” a truth that applies to the most faithful, longstanding leader and the first-time visitor.

    The Apostle Paul confronted this more than once. To the church at Galatia, he gives the warning that, “…if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Gal 5:15). Paul gives us clarity that sinful actions and attitudes have destructive outcomes. In fact, the Greek for devour (κατεσθίω) and consume (ἀναλίσκω) speak of consuming in a destroying manner. Paul is warning here not to take a relationship, break it down to waste, and then eliminate it.

    Sinful offenses have likely impacted us all somewhere within the body of Christ. Direct attacks, manipulation, not believing the best in one another, and many more examples. And it’s good to remember that even if you truly were the victim of someone else’s sinful actions, you will be tempted to filter that suffering back through your own sin nature. Sometimes magnifying it in the process!

    The reality is this: broken trust exists everywhere in this life, including the church. God’s church is made up of his yet-to-be-sinless kids. When we encounter situations where trust in people is testing us within the church, we are wise to remember that this is simply a product of a greater problem—trusting God, with people, is hard! And this impacts all of life, right? Marriage, family, work, school, even entire nations. And lest you run the popular route of seeing sin in others but not yourself, remember the wicked servant of Matthew 18:23–35, to remember the grace we have received. To humbly cry with Paul, “Wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death” (Rom 7:24)?

    The Hope of Restored Trust

    So, with this backdrop of broken trust all around, how then do we find hope? We find it in our first love, our Savior, Jesus Christ. The glories of Christ are without end. He’s a restoring Shepherd (Ps 23:3), a humble Servant (Mark 10:45), and a sovereign Lord (Matt 28:18). God is perfectly and forever trustworthy, so it’s not a necessary function to restore his trustworthiness. Rather, our trust is restored when we fix our gaze on him and turn from areas of distrust. Our active distrust requires a turn toward an active trust in a sovereign Lord.

    Consider the church specifically. Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18 that he, Jesus, would be the builder of the church, that even the powers of hell would not prevail against it. We see this great Husband of Ephesians 5, who loved his church sacrificially, and promises to “sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:26–27).

    As I like to share often, God is infinitely sovereign, and his affections are for us. Toward us, his adopted children, he is lovingly sovereign. God is the Creator who spoke existence into existence (Gen 1:1; Job 38:1–4). God is the only God and will accomplish all his purposes (Is 46:9–11). He is the one who causes all things to work together for true good, the work of conforming us into the image of Christ (Rom 8:28–29). And specifically calling us by name, this is the work of him who loved us and laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).

    Brother, sister… are these the things you hold true still today? Was trust, was faith, once placed and then forgotten? Jesus rightly says that in this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33). That tribulation is real and can cause us to focus more on the impact of sin and suffering in our relationships than to focus on our Savior. Be encouraged to repent of any areas of distrust in your life. To run back to the loving sovereignty of Christ in all things. Yes, we are all called to be trustworthy, and yet we can only really place our full trust in Christ, not man. And remember that beautiful picture of being washed, to be made clean because of his cleanliness? That cleansing is ours as we confess, in agreement, that we have actively distrusted, and we turn, instead, to actively trust our trustworthy God.