Here you will find brief writings of theological and general
interest written by Pastor Hartley. These are also archived via the links below.
Friday, January 27, 2012
What Are You After?
11:12 pm est
Two events this Lord's Day will make us all sense the weight and breadth of Christ's work among us in
ways we often don't. First, we will receive four new members during the
worship service and second, we will have a fellowship meal followed by the Annual Congregational Meeting. This divine conspiracy
of feeling the fuller of weight of Christ's Church seems to offer the opportunity for some fresh reflection.
Consider these two
questions, one inward and one outward: (1) "What am I after by participating in Christ's church?" (2)
"If I could lead this brother or that sister to one thing in Christ's church, what would that be?"
At the risk of being too reductionist, I think both questions are sufficiently
answered in scripture by one phrase located in one verse. The apostle Peter in his first letter says, "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord" (3:15a). "What am I after by participating in Christ's church?" To set apart Christ as Lord
in my own heart. "What do I want more than anything for my brother in Christ, my sister in Christ?" That they would
set apart Christ as Lord in their heart.
What does it mean to
set apart in our hearts that Christ is Lord? It means that by faith and through the Holy Spirit we let Jesus have dominion
over every quest of the human heart. In short, we let Jesus always be the answer to our soul's incessant questioning: Is
all well? Is all well? Yes, because of my crucified and risen Savior, all is indeed well. You set
your heart on this solid foundation by believing again and again, day after day, that Jesus' covenantal faithfulness
through his blood is the answer to your heart's every quest. When your heart is fresh in the truth that Christ is ruling over
all life's eventualities with the same love and power that saved you in the first place then He is set as Lord in
The raw truth is we too often set something else apart
in our hearts as lord. We pursue something other than Christ to tell our soul that all is well. And that something
slowly and dangerously becomes the answer to those two earlier questions. This is how in all our churchliness we can still
become idolaters, worshipers of a god that is not God.
In their book, Helping
People Change, Paul Tripp and
Tim Lane help us face the truth about church sanctioned idols - idols that live in our hearts undisturbed because they seem
so admirable and useful in the church. Below are Tripp's and Lane's list of seven counterfeit gospels (heart-idols, pseudo-saviors). Read through them
carefully and take it by faith that you - and certainly I too - have some of these counterfeit gospels in greater or lesser strength vying for our affections and our allegiance, leading us from glorying and resting
in Christ alone:
Formalism. “I participate in the regular meetings
and ministries of the church, so I feel like my life is under control. I’m always in church, but it really has little
impact on my heart or on how I live. I may become judgmental and impatient with those who do not have the same commitment
as I do.”
Legalism. “I live by the rules—rules I create for myself and rules I create
for others. I feel good if I can keep my own rules, and I become arrogant and full of contempt when others don’t meet
the standards I set for them. There is no joy in my life because there is no grace to be celebrated.”
Mysticism. “I am engaged in the incessant pursuit of an emotional experience with God. I live for the moments when
I feel close to him, and I often struggle with discouragement when I don’t feel that way. I may change churches often,
too, looking for one that will give me what I’m looking for.”
Activism. “I recognize
the missional nature of Christianity and am passionately involved in fixing this broken world. But at the end of the day,
my life is more of a defense of what’s right than a joyful pursuit of Christ.”
know my Bible inside and out, but I do not let it master me. I have reduced the gospel to a mastery of biblical content and
theology, so I am intolerant and critical of those with lesser knowledge.”
talk a lot about the hurting people in our congregation, and how Christ is the only answer for their hurt. Yet even without
realizing it, I have made Christ more Therapist than Savior. I view hurt as a greater problem than sin—and I subtly
shift my greatest need from my moral failure to my unmet needs.”
Social-ism. “The deep fellowship
and friendships I find at church have become their own idol. The body of Christ has replaced Christ himself, and the gospel
is reduced to a network of fulfilling Christian relationships.”
Do you see how these fake gospels become counterfeits? They promise to be the good
news to us. They become the only tree in the garden. They become the tree of life to us. They become the one place to which
we bring others to feed. And in this our hearts lose Christ and often, under our tutelage, so does our brother. Why not today
take the most dominant false gospel that you use to quiet your soul, take it in prayer to the only Savior. Name it, confess
it, ask for grace to fight it off with the matchless worth of Christ. Why not? Would you be better just reading this? Let's
Praise be to God that our gracious Lord Jesus Christ
still stands in the midst of his church, even where He is dishonored in our hearts, and speaks to the restless hearts of the
redeemed, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." Such grace, such mercy, such long-suffering love. Oh, how He wins our hearts again!
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The Counter-Intuitive Ministry of the Word
9:34 pm est
If someone were to write a children's book based on Jeremiah 38, it might be called (with all due respect to Judith Viorst): Jeremiah
and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
In Jeremiah 38 we find Jeremiah being lowered by ropes into an empty cistern, empty of all but soft mud. This is no
spa treatment. Jeremiah is put in the cistern because he is being silenced. He is God's prophet and what he has been saying
is, well, unpopular to say the least. He has been calling the people of Jerusalem
- God's people, Jeremiah's people - to surrender to their enemy.
The Babylonians are encamped around the city readying themselves for mayhem. Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, is a
blunt instrument in the Lord's hand, sent by God to discipline God's own people for their rebellion and idolatry. Jeremiah,
God's prophet inside the city, is bringing God's word to his own: "Thus
says the LORD: He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out to the
Chaldeans shall live. He shall have his life as a prize of war, and live" (Jeremiah 38:2).
The counselors and officials of King Zedekiah, ruler of Judah, find
the Lord's message utter foolishness. They approach Zedekiah in no uncertain terms: "Then the officials said to
the king, 'Let this man be put to death, for he is weakening the hands of the soldiers who are left in this city, and the
hands of all the people, by speaking such words to them. For this man is not seeking the welfare of this people, but their
harm.'" Zedekiah, so weak and easily ruled by his officials, caves. He gives them Jeremiah to do as they wish. And they
wish him to be embalmed in mud at the bottom of cistern.
There are three important lessons we can take from Jeremiah and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad
Word of God confounds the wisdom of man. Zedekiah's counselors and officials seem, in many ways, first rate guys.
They are nationalists. They love their country. They love their people. They want to win. So they find Jeremiah a threat.
He sounds to them like a fool. He sounds like a traitor. He sounds more pro-Babylonian than pro-Israel. But the truth is Zedekiah's
officials are not first rate guys. They are deaf to the Word of the Lord. Their ears are closed. They trust their own words
more than God's. They are the fools. They are the traitors. Their dullness and deafness to God's counter-intuitive, other-worldly,
discomforting and humbling Word is the very treachery that has brought the nation to the brink. In their pride they believe
God prefers their blind nationalism to their humble obedience to his Word. "This is the one to whom I will look: he who
is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2).
(2) The Word of God comes to bring life. What the Lord spoke through
Jeremiah was spoken for life not death. Like a brilliant light God's Word shined in Jerusalem's darkest hour to show his people
the way to avoid destruction. Humble yourself and surrender to the Lord's discipline and you will live - that was the message.
But isn't this the same thing Zedekiah's officials desired? They too wanted the people to live, to survive and thrive in Jerusalem.
Right? Yes, but they wanted the people to live a worldly life: breathing and eating without loving and obeying
God. God wants no such life for his people. Such a God-empty life is really death in disguise. God wants his people to live
the life that comes through divine discipline: life gladly surrendered through repentance and renewed trust producing fresh
zeal to hear and do his Word. This is as true today as then. The Word of God to us is a Word of life. The message of the gospel
is throw all in with Jesus, lose your life in this world for him and you will live free of divine condemnation, free of hardhearted
ignorance, free of death. Jesus comes to you, the despised and bruised Prophet of
prophets, to bring you this message of life: "For
I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope"
Word of God triumphs over the schemes of man. In not too many months Zedekiah watches with his own eyes as the Word
the Lord spoke through his prophet triumphs over his plans. Babylon captures the city and summarily slaughters those who failed
to surrender. Zedekiah himself watches as his own sons and his own officials are slaughtered before him. Then Zedekiah's eyes
are removed from their sockets, he is shackled and thrown into a Babylonia prison to rot until death. The Word the Lord speaks
creates the world it reveals. This means those who trust themselves against the Lord - regardless of their sincerity and intelligence
and power - will not succeed. This also means that all the good the Lord has promised those who trust him, they will see it!
Father, we praise you for shedding the light of your Word upon
our darkness. We thank you for the Word made flesh, Jesus, revealing your grace and truth to us and triumphing over our sin
and our enemy. Lord, please give us more grace to believe all that you have spoken. Save us from the confidence we recklessly
place in our own thoughts. In Jesus name, Amen.
Friday, January 6, 2012
Kind Beyond All Measure
5:08 pm est
A small but spiritually enormous event occurred in our family the Wednesday after Christmas. We had
all piled into the van for a road trip to see family down in Waukesha. We visited one grandma, three uncles, two aunts, three
cousins and three second cousins. To pull it off we had to stop at three different homes and consume much more sugar than
prudent. But before all that happened we visited the Milwaukee County Zoo where, contrary to popular opinion, we have no relatives.
We were excited to visit the zoo this time for two reasons.
First, we now have a family zoo pass, a Christmas gift from grandma Jody (good for even parking!). Second, Reuben had never
been to a zoo. We were very interested to see if he would be terrified or delighted that Walt Disney's imagination was tethered
Well during our visit
at the zoo it happened.
A small thing really but not so small after all: Jen lost a brand new earring just gifted this Christmas by her mother. The
panic that ensued was commensurate to the newness of the gift and the preciousness of the giver. This was no Walgreens earring
bought last second at checkout because of a sale. It was a finely chosen gift from one greatly loved.
The first thing we did was search. In the spirit of Dr. Seuss, "Jen
looked here. Jen looked there. Jen looked everywhere." I looked on Jen. In her hood. In the folds of her coat. In the
turn of her turtle neck sweater. It was a frisking worthy of a police training video. But alas we could not find the earring.
Then I said, "Let's pray." We stopped, looked sheepishly
down at the ground with more embarrassment than we're proud of and said: "Lord, you know where this earring is. Would
you please return it to us. In Jesus' name. Amen." For all we knew, it could have already been causing indigestion in
a king penguin.
After prayer we continued with
our brisk zoo tour. On our way out Jen stopped in at lost-and-found. After describing her earring to the attendant, he said,
"Is this it?" And there it was, dangling from his finger. Someone had found it and turned it in. Surprise.
Laughter. Report. As the six of us loitered by the exit, Jen approached pregnant with the joy of the blessed. "Guess
what?" she said.
thrilling thing made us recall the Lord's parable: "What woman, having
ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And
when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that
I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
But there is more. Most importantly, most poignantly, most personally
we were reminded of the Lord's kindness. Kindness. To know the Lord, to know that he can be bothered by such small details
of life, to know he does not laugh in derision at our little needs - oh how he woos us to repose on
his kindness! "The LORD is righteous in all his
ways and kind in all his works" (Psalm 145:17).
How freshly emboldened we now are to cast more of our cares upon him.
How freshly emboldened we now are to trust him when he withholds. In both his giving and his taking he is being kind.
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father's wise bestowment,
I've no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with
peace and rest.
- Karolina W. Sandell-Berg
Apple Valley Church - OPC, 1750 Olde Buggy Drive, Neenah,WI 54956 (920) 969-1650