Saturday, December 27, 2008

Unbelievers and Christmas

As another Christmas has come and gone, it came to my thoughts today that it is really impossible for an unbeliever to legitimately celebrate Christmas. Unbelievers may celebrate the idol of family during Christmas or the joy of giving (mostly receiving) gifts. But it seems that all unbelievers in reality treat and believe in God just like they sing about and speak of Santa Claus whether they realize it or are willing to admit it. With respect to receiving God's mercy, unbelievers approach Him as they would Santa Claus. Santa Claus only gives gifts to those who have been good for goodness sake. If you are bad he will give you coal and switches. If we have a God like that, then we are beyond hope. Why? Because we are all sinners and we sin every single day - we can't tell God we have been good for we are not. And if God is like Santa Claus, then we will never receive any good gifts from Him with respect to salvation from His holy wrath. That is not good news.

But Christian believers can have true hope and truly celebrate Christmas. They know they are sinners and deserve the wrath of a Holy and Righteous God who gives the greatest gift to those who are wretched to the core of their being. That is what Christmas is - God sent a substitute who would live a perfect life and die in place of all those who would put their trust in Him. Jesus came to save His people from their sins. He did not come to give salvation to the well, but to those who are sick. That is good news.

Each year I enjoy to watching the many versions of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. Deep down I hope that Scrooge was truly converted, but most adaptations of this story present his change and hope as rooted in his own ability. If he would change his ways, then his future would be different. The Bible is clear that we really can't change ourselves. Our hope is only in the God who can regenerate our hearts to see the reality of our need and then effectually bring us to Himself in faith and repentance.

So while unbelievers will continue to "celebrate" Christmas each year, it is mere sentimentality and illegitimate. Their hearts are apart from the reason and purpose for Christmas. They are still selfish and seeking to gain a salvation by their own merits and goodness so that the Santa Claus god will give them good things based on their performance. Thank God - Christians have a God who in Christmas gave us our only hope - the God-Man - as our substitute. Our hope is not in our righteousness, but the righteousness and atonement of Jesus Christ alone. There is indeed no hope without it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Small Hinges of Life

Romans 8:28 is a favorite verse of many Christians and with good reasons. It reads:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (ESV)

While this is a verse filled with infinite hope for every believer (only those who love God and are called according to his purpose can claim this promise), the questions often should be asked if we really believe this. How do we react when the small things, or big things, of life often jump up and interrupt our intended purposes and desires. Do we become angry and irritated or do we respond with faith based on the promise of this verse. Stuart Olyott has some great comments concerning this verse.

But why did he call? It is because he purposed to; all the reasons lie with him and none of them with me. And the same purpose is working itself out in every event. every circumstance, every joy, every setback and every detail of our lives. Big doors swing on small hinges, and even those small hinges are put in place by God's invisible hand. Everything is included - red traffic lights, unwelcome delays, bitter disappointments, family quarrels, terminal illnesses, unspeakable joys, and golden moments. Nothing is left out. I think that Romans 8:28 is one of the most comforting verses in the whole Bible. I don't know where I would be, or where you would be, if somebody took it out.

Indeed, every event down to a single atom is controlled by God according to His purposes. And for believers he promises that every event is for our good. Do we believe this? The next time things don't or perhaps they do work our the way you desire, remember that our Sovereign God still rules and reigns and He is purposing this event for our absolute best.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Real Education

The more I read of the life and work of J. Gresham Machen, the more I find a kindred spirit in his thoughts and life. Not only was Machen a first class theologian and teacher, he also expressed concern for the future of general education in America. He appeared before the House and Senate in 1926 to voice his concern against the proposal to form the Department of Education. Up until then, there had only been a bureau of education. Why did Machen oppose this proposal? Looking back we can see he is almost prophetic in his reasons. The source of this information is from Stephen Nichols book about the life of Machen.

  1. As a libertarian, Machen opposed this formation on principle. He preferred individual liberty and state's rights over centralized federal control of the education system. He wanted the states to have control over public education and for private and parochial schools to operate unencumbered by federal regulations.

  2. He felt that this move would standardize education. While some may see this as good, Machen sums it up by likening this standardization to Henry Ford's car company in that students (and teachers) are not cars - they are individuals with idiosyncrasies.

  3. He also felt that this move would lead to bureaucracy with slow grinding wheels.

But even more than these, I appreciate his concern for what this change would do and has done to the very nature and process of education. He felt that this change would move education into a more pragmatic nature with a focus strictly on the preparation of one for their life's work. This put Machen in agreement with a W. E. B DuBois who wrote at the turn of the 20th century that "education is not simply job or even life training; it has to do with cultivating one's character and with gaining an exposure to and appreciation of the grand heritage, in the case of Americans, of Western culture."

Machen wrote, "to tell the student that there is no royal road to learning, that short-cuts lead to disaster, and that underneath all true research lies a broad foundation of general culture." Machen stresses content, while the establishment wanted to stress methods. Do we not see the fruits against which Machen argued against today? We tell our children to seek education solely for the reason of job/life training - so that they can make a lot of money or have prestige. I have seen my share of students in my lifetime, even those who I attended seminary classes with, whose sole goal was to simply get through the class doing the least amount of work possible so that they could move on to the "work of the ministry". They did not want to dig into the content of the course and see the glory of God in the subject matter. Education for them was simply a stepping stone to jump over quickly and hopefully without too much work or effort. This attitude is the results of our educational system. We should teach our children to be self and lifelong learners. Let us not grow lazy in our learning. Every day offers us more opportunities. One's time is never wasted in spending time with those teachers, past and present, who would give us more knowledge and understanding of this world that God has gifted to us.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Groans of the Spirit

In Romans 8:26-27, we read the following from Paul,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Now listen to words of Stuart Olyott concerning these two verses:

For years I have been mystified by all those hymns that start with 'O'. These are seventy-six of them in the latest edition of Christian Hymns. Why do some many hymns begin with 'O', as well as so many individual verses and choruses? It is because there is something going on inside us which cannot be expressed. It comes to the surface as a groan. But it is not our groan, says the apostle; it is the groan of the Spirit. . . . Here we are in this world, with Spirit-given aches and groans inside us. We long for the redemption of our bodies, the resurrection, and the new heavens and earth. We long to be out of this world and away from its filth. We long to be where there is perfect purity and holiness, and therefore perfect happiness. The very fact that we have these groans inside us is God's proof to us that we will have the destination that we want. This inward Spirit-voices speech is a further guarantee that the present order will not go on forever and that, despite our present sufferings, we are on our way to glory

Do you understand what Olyott is talking about? Do you see it in these hymns of saints written by saints of the past. Does the Spirit intercede for you with these groans which are too deep for human words spoken in prayer. All true believers experience this, but perhaps they experience it more on those occasion when they have come to the end of their strength. As these verses show, it is in our weakness that the Spirit works these deep groanings within us. And as they also teach, these groanings are according to the perfect will of God. God knows what is for our absolute best and good, which is what Paul goes on to show in the following verses in Romans 8, and He sends His Spirit to intercede within us prayers that are according to His will. The next time you see a hymn which starts or includes the word 'O' think of these verses.

Friday, October 10, 2008

No Hope Without It

I enjoy reading the biographies of Christian leaders of the past. But each October, I make it a point to read a biography leading up to Reformation Day. This year I am reading about the life and work of J. Gresham Machen in Stephen Nichols book J. Gresham Machen, A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought. Below is a telegram sent by Machen, on his deathbed, to John Murray. Machen died on January 1, 1937.

I am so thankful for [the] active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.

What a glorious statement to make upon ones deathbed. Even at the end, Machen, a stalwart defender of orthodox faith among the liberal uprising of his day, put his hope in the truth of doctrine - the doctrine of Christ substitutionary work for him. He declared that without this truth of Christ active obedience, he had no hope. May all of us who call ourselves Christians breath our last breath with this truth upon our lips. Without Christ's work, there is no hope. When we come to this time of our lives, and yes we will come to it, may we be both thankful and hopeful. Yes, may we live well, but may we also die well. May the song on our hearts be that of the hymn "Solid Rock" by Edward Mote:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

I tend to think this was the song on Machen's heart when he sent that telegram to his friend. He knew he would soon cross the river of death. What a magnificent joy and anticipation he had realizing that the one he had walked with on this earth in spiritual communion, he would soon see face to face in all of His glory. Indeed, there is no hope without Christ.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Four Soils or Four Seeds?

I recently heard a good comment from Alistair Begg about the Parable of the Sower and the Soils which the below comments are based. Here is the parable from Mark 4:1-20:

He began to teach again by the sea. And such a very large crowd gathered to Him that He got into a boat in the sea and sat down; and the whole crowd was by the sea on the land. And He was teaching them many things in parables, and was saying to them in His teaching, “Listen to this! Behold, the sower went out to sow; as he was sowing, some seed fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate it up. “Other seed fell on the rocky ground where it did not have much soil; and immediately it sprang up because it had no depth of soil. “And after the sun had risen, it was scorched; and because it had no root, it withered away. “Other seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. “Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” And He was saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

As soon as He was alone, His followers, along with the twelve, began asking Him about the parables. And He was saying to them, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.”

And He said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? How will you understand all the parables? “The sower sows the word. “These are the ones who are beside the road where the word is sown; and when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word which has been sown in them. “In a similar way these are the ones on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy; and they have no firm root in themselves, but are only temporary; then, when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately they fall away. “And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. “And those are the ones on whom seed was sown on the good soil; and they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” (NASB)

Isn't it interesting today that many by their actions seem to believe that this parable should actually be about the 4 types of seed rather than the 4 types of soil. The word or seed in the parable today is often changed to make it more receptive to the hearers or soils. But notice in the parable that the seed is the same. It does not matter what type of soil is being sown, the seed is the same that the sower sows. The parable points to the fact that the success of the seed bearing fruit is determined by the soil representing the hearers of the word. The receptivity of the word is according to Scripture determined by God. He must change the heart of a hearer to receive the word properly. This is the act of regeneration or being born again. If He does not change the heart, it will become like one of the 3 unfruitful soils in the parable.

The point is that the seed should always be the same. We should never water down the gospel based on the type of hearer. The gospel alone, by the Spirit, is the power of God to salvation for everyone that believes (Romans 1:16). We can't control the receptivity of the hearer, but we can control the word being sown. Let us be faithful to sow the gospel seed and trust God to prepare the soil to receive the seed and bear fruit. And let us also throw the seed far and wide knowing that God's Word will never return empty, but will always accomplish His purpose (Isaiah 55:11). To God alone be the glory for the salvation of every soul!

Friday, August 29, 2008

American Moralism

While many evangelical Christians seek to make the founding fathers of America Christian, a simple reading of what they said and what they did will show that some of the more famous ones were Deist and in fact disagreed with many foundation truths of Christianity. In fact, the only reason that some of these men held to "religion" was that they thought it was needed to help the people of the country live moral lives, which was necessary for the American experiment to succeed. Stephen Nichols brings this out in Chapter 2 of his book, Jesus Made in America. Read some of the quotes and actions of two of our leading founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Benjamin Franklin, as a young adult, wrote the following words in a letter to his parents who were worried about some of his theological views. He wrote concerning the doctrines a person holds to by saying that if these doctrines do not

tend to make him less Virtuous, he holds none that is dangerous. . . . My Mother grieves that one of her Sons is an Arian, another an Arminian. What an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well know; the Truth is, I make such Distinctions very little to my Study; I think vital Religion has always suffered when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue.

Later on in his life, five weeks before his death, Franklin wrote the following to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale and grandson of Jonathan Edwards, who wanted to know that truth of Franklin's faith. Franklin wrote:

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of who you particularly desire, I think the system of morals, and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England some doubts to his divinity.

So in these two quotations, we seen Franklin admit that he thinks virtue is more important than the orthodox truth of the gospel and we see him deny the divinity of Christ. Franklin has denied the very hope of the Christian religion. If he really believed this, according to Scripture, we must ask if Franklin was truly a Christian.

On the other hand, the liberals of the 20th century have nothing on Thomas Jefferson. During his time as president and again later in life, Jefferson cut and pasted his own version of the New Testament. Since he denied that God acts in the world today, he removed all miracles from the Jefferson Version. His New Testament ended as such:

There they laid Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed. Finis

Jefferson ends his "gospel" with Jesus forever in the grave. It is really no gospel at all and offers no hope than any other religion. The apostle Paul even tells us that if Christ is not raised, we are fools and of all men, the most to be pitied. But Jefferson denies the resurrection and in essence the Christian faith. Jefferson also writes:

To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.

Nichols writes, "Jefferson's self-claim to being a Christian, which often gets quoted by evangelicals, comes in the very sentence he denies the deity of Christ. In fact, Jefferson goes so far as to claim that being a Christian demands that one see Jesus as Jesus sees himself, which, according to Jefferson, was as human, never claiming divinity." Again, we see a founding father denying the very claims of Christ Himself as divine and still claiming to be Christian.

Why would Jefferson hold to Christianity while denying the foundational truths that makes it what it is? Again Nichols gives us the answer. "What he (Jefferson) liked best about Unitarianism, however, was not its doctrine, but that it presented a simple and clear morality. What mattered most to Jefferson, especially for the new republic, was that Jesus was a virtuous man." Like Franklin, Jefferson clinged to Christianity for its morals.

I write not to criticize these two men. I believed that if they believed what they wrote, they were not Christians from a Biblical standpoint. But the main purpose of this writing it to warn you that the thoughts of these two men are still rampant today. It is moralism. The belief that man can be saved and made right with God by his morality or good works. A belief that Scripture denies (Isaiah 64:6), but one that will continue until the end of time. We are conceived in sin and our works can never justify us before God. But God sent Jesus Christ. Unlike Franklin and Jefferson, the Jesus of the Bible is the God-Man who never sinned, yet died a sinner's death as a substitute for all those who would put their trust in Him. Our ONLY HOPE is to trust in His work. If we do, God credits the wrath our sins deserve on Christ, and the perfect righteousness of Christ to us. We therefore stand forgiven and are declared to be righteousness in Christ. Do not be deceived, your morality will not save you, only Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, the only way to God (John 14:6), can save you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Meditations on Law, Judgement, and Grace

Are you a sinner deserving the wrath of God? I would think that many would say no to this question. But, I believe they are being inconsistent with their response if you consider two concepts in our society that these same people would agree with.

  1. Law - The fact that nations have laws indicates that they believe there are actions that are right and actions that are wrong. Some governing body has legislated the law and it holds the citizens responsible to obey them. It really does not matter whether you agree with the rightness of a law, as a citizen of a country, you are required to obey that law. In the same way, God, the Creator and Sovereign of all that is, has also given us His law in the Bible. It does not matter whether we think it is a good law or not, we as a created being under His sovereignty are responsible to obey His law. Now the Bible goes into a lot of detail about the law, even holding every human being, even those who have never read the Bible, accountable to God and without excuse if they break His law (Romans 1-3). Just as in any country, if we disobey the law, we are law breakers. We are, therefore, what God calls us in His word - sinners.

  2. Judgement - If one breaks the law in a country, they must face the consequences of that action by being judged as guilty and suffer the punishment prescribed. As your watch the news, or perhaps have been a victim of law breakers before, the cry of justice is often heard. This simply means that the law demands that a law breaker suffer the due wrath of the state for the unlawful deed. Again, in the same way, God, the law giver, has declared that all those who break His law, will be judged and face His wrath and punishment for their lawlessness. God is holy and requires perfect obedience to His law to escape the judgement of God. The book of Romans tell us that in fact all of us are sinners or law breakers(Romans 3-5). We are guilty through the imputed sin of our first father, Adam, and this inherited nature produces in us acts of disobedience. We break God's law (we sin) because we are sinners to the very core of our being. So, once again, in the same way that governing bodies punish law breakers, God also will punish law breakers. He will judge them guilty and punish them appropriately. To sin against an infinite and holy God, requires an infinite punishment.

While the comparison is there, what we see in the governments of men is subject to the weaknesses and frailties of men. Is the justice of men really blind? Can men really know and punish every law breaker? But God is by nature just. He defines what justice is. And God sees every thought and intention of the heart, hears every word spoken, and sees every act committed. If one is honest and consistent, one can not really say that they do not believe they are not sinners and do not deserve the eternal wrath of God. It is a hopeless situation for one to be under that wrath of God. No amount of good works will ever make one right with the law giver. The sin must be punished. If God does not punish it, he is not just. But many today rest on the thought that their good works will make them right with God - a fact that overlooks the vileness of sin and the holiness of God. Others rest on the thought that God will just forgive and forget their sin just because - a fact that overlooks the complete justice of God. Face it, you are a law breaker deserving the full judgement and punishment for your sins, an eternal punishment of never ending suffering and wrath poured out on sinners in pure justice. There will be no excuses for God know and sees all. Is there any hope?

"But God" - a glorious phrase found often in the Bible. "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" Romans 5:8. Yes there is only one hope. God must and will punish every act of sin. But, He has provided a substitute, Jesus Christ, His Son, who live a perfect life and did not deserve the punishment of sinners which is death. But Christ did die a sinner's death. And the Bible tells us He did it in the place of all those who would abandon any hope in themselves and put their full hope, trust and faith in Christ alone. For those who do, God credits the wrath they deserve upon His innocent Son and He credits the perfect righteousness of His Son to them. Through this legal exchange, they, therefore, can stand right with and be declared justified before God with this foreign righteousness that is not of themselves. My plea is that you stop trying to earn or gain any favor with God. You can't do it. It breaks my heart to see those caught up in the hell bound doctrine and lie of works righteousness. Flee to the only one who can help. Abandon yourself to Christ. His promises are true. He will forgive the law breaker if you will trust in His substitutionary work alone. It is not faith and works. It is faith alone. For a better summary of this good news, read this site.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jesus - Made in America

I started reading a book today titled Jesus Made in America - A Cultural History From the Puritans to "The Passion of the Christ" by Stephen Nichols. It looks like a great book that examines how culture from the beginning of this country has defined who Jesus has become in America. If you want to know how certain views and practices of so called evangelicals in America today have come to be, read this book. I am greatly looking forward to it. Here are a few quotes from the Introduction.
The history of the American evangelical Jesus reveals the such complexities as the two natures of Christ have often been brushed aside, either on purpose or out of expediency. Too often his deity has been eclipsed by his humanity, and occasionally the reverse is true. Too often American evangelicals have settled for a Christology that can be reduced to a bumper sticker. Too often devotion to Jesus has eclipsed theologizing about Jesus. Today's American evangelicals may be quick to speak of their love for Jesus, even wearing their devotion on their sleeve, literally in the case of the WWJD bracelets. But they may not be so quick to articulate an orthodox view of the object of their devotion. Their devotion is commendable, but the lack of a rigorous theology behind it means that a generation of contemporary evangelicals is living off of borrowed capital. This quest for the historical Jesus of America evangelicalism is not just a story of the past; it perhaps will help us understand the present, and it might even be a parable for the future

Take up and read. But be prepared to laugh, probably cry and most likely repent.

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Source of True Joy and Satisfaction

In unexpected times;
In times of caution;
In times of quiet;
And yes, even in times of prayer.
They come to me with mighty promises;
Promises of joy and pleasure;
Promises of satisfaction and delight;
Promises that call me to experience the happiness for which my heart desires and longs.
Like Paul, I find myself crying out "I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15).

But You, O Lord, the One who is Truth (John 14:6)
have given me Your Word which is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path (Psalm 119:105).
And your Word tells me that:
The promises of temptations are deceitful lies (Ephesians 4:22)
that never deliver what they guarantee.
That in Your presence alone is fullness of joy
and at Your right hand are pleasures forever (Psalm 16:11).
That only the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8).
That You will never withold any good thing from me (Psalm 84:11).
And that You are faithful and powerful enought to keep Your promises
and bring them to pass (1 Thessalonians 4:24).

Lord, my hope is indeed in You alone.
You are my treasure and my valuable pearl (Matthew 13:44-46).
Your steadfast love is my satisfaction leading to great joy (Psalm 90:14).
And it is by Your magnificent and precious promises
that enable me to escape the corruption of the world and its lies
and allow me to become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Lord, I believe;
Help me in my unbelief (Mark 9:24).
Let me draw near You with a sincere heart in the full assurance of faith;remembering that You who promise are faithful (Hebrews 10:22-23).
And also remembering that without faith, it is impossible to please You; for those who come to You must believe that You are and that You are a rewarder of those who seek You by faith (Hebrews 11:6).
For it was this reward that Moses looked to as he considered the sufferings and reproach of Christ to be greater riches than the treasures of Egypt and the fleeting pleasures of sin (Hebrews 11:24-26).

And like Abraham, help me to look, by faith, to the city, whose foundation has God as its architect and builder (Hebrews 11:10),
Let me desire the better and heavenly country;with a city prepared by God (Hebrews 11:16).
Help me to remember that I have in You a better and lasting possession (Hebrews 10:34);
and that I shall behold Your face in righteousness; and I will be satisfied with Your likeness (Psalm 17:15).

When I consider all of these promises and that the One who makes them is able and willing to keep them; May I see the false promises of temptations for what they are;
And pray always that you will satisfy me with your steadfast love;
so that I may rejoice and be glad all of my days;
And may I like the deer pants for water (Psalm 42:1);
thirst for you as in a dry and weary land that has no water (Psalm 63:1);
For you are indeed the living water that alone
can quench and satisty this thrist forever (John 4:13).
And then again as before, like Paul, thought I cry out, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" I will also cry "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Thoughts of Heaven, Sinlessness, and a Mediator

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4, NASB)

John is telling you to think of a world with no sin, no tears, no betrayal, no disappointment, no failure, no rebellion, and no death, and that is what heaven is going to be like. As you begin to meditate on these beautiful truths, you will continually come back and say to the Lord, "Lord, I cannot imagine being eternally free from sin, because I have never even known a moment of such blessedness." Although we cannot experientially relate to such perfection and blessedness, Scripture reminds us to believe and hope in it, because we are going to one day know a world that contains no sin whatsoever. We are going to know a world where there is no suffering, no sorrow, and no death. The Bible continually asks us to think about our life now lived for God, but with all the forms of pain, evil, conflict, and distress of this life removed.

Although we have already spoken about the horrors of hell, there is perhaps one more thing we need to say. It is a surprising thing to note, because so often we speak of hell as a place where God is not. Let me, however, say something provocative. Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a mediator. Hell is eternity in the presence of God, being fully conscious of the just, holy, righteous, good, kind, and loving Father's disapproval of your rebellion and wickedness. Heaven, on the other hand, is dwelling in the conscious awareness of your holy and righteous Father, but doing so through a mediator who died in your place, the One who absorbed the fullness of the penalty of your sin. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with the One who totally eradicated sin from your life, the Lord Jesus Christ. Hell is eternity in the presence of God without a mediator. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God with a mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

-----Ligon Duncan in Fear Not - Death and the Afterlife from a Christian Perspective

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What is Better than Life?

David writes in Psalm 63:3 the following:

Because Your lovingkindness is better than life,
My lips will praise You. (NASB)

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you. (ESV)

How many commercials do you see every week on television from investment/financial planning companies telling you how good your life can be if you will only use their company in planning for retirement. You will have the "good life." After all, isn't that what life is all about - preparing for your retirement, retiring early, enjoying the fruit of you labors - the good things in life? Well, David gives us a different perspective of life.

While it can be said that David struggled with many things in life, it could also be said that he had a good life. He was the king of a nation and probably did not lack any good thing with respect to the physical aspects of life. But, David tells us here something that is better than the good things of life, in fact, it is better than life. It is the steadfast love of God. John Piper often points out that today some Christians value the gifts of God more than they do God Himself. We see it in our American Culture today where entire theologies are built on the ideas of health, wealth, and prosperity. These things are used to move people to God. Do we treasure God more than His good gifts? Do we treasure God more than life itself?

I think of all the Christians down through the ages who actually had to make a decision between their physical life and the promises of God in his steadfast love. I have a book, published in 2001, that details the deaths of Christian martyrs beginning with Old Testament prophets up to the present. It is 956 pages long and without a doubt not complete. But the point is that many of our brothers and sisters down through the ages have actually had to decide if the steadfast love of God was better than life. Those mentioned in this book said yes it is.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 13:45-46 the following:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field."
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." (NASB)

You must ask yourself if God is your treasure worth more than all you have? Is He your pearl worth more than all you have? Is His steadfast love and precious and magnificent promises (2 Peter 1:4) better than your physical life on this earth? Many Christians down through the ages have answered yes to this question. Many Christians today say yes. What is your answer?
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21 (NASB)

Martin Luther also thought of this question and he gives us his answer in his hymn, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

How to Sleep In Peace

Here are the words of Psalm 4:8 from the ESV:

In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

This verse is one I come back to over and over again. Some see Psalm 4 as being written by David during his time of fleeing Absalom, his son. It was not a time of peace for David. Yet, we see David exclaiming that he has peace. Why or How is David able to have peace when his own son is after his throne? A few observations:
  1. David says that he is able to both lie down and sleep in peace. Often times, during periods of anxiousness or fear, we may lie down, but sleep does not come easy. Our minds race through contingencies or possibilities that many times never take place. But David proclaims that not only does he lie down, but he is able to sleep. And this is not a light, turning and twisting sleep, but one of peace.
  2. How can David do this? Because he believes that it is the LORD, alone, who is able to make him dwell in safety. David has a firm belief in the sovereignty of God over every event in his life. It is God and only God, that can keep him in safety. That is why he can rest peacefully because he knows he is completely in the Father's hand (Psalm 31:15), the one who never sleeps or slumbers (Psalm 121:4) and only does good for His children (Psalm 84:11). I love to read quotes by persons who also had this firm faith and confidence in God believing that they were indeed immortal until God's work for them was finished. From the perspective of the world, they would be called courageous, but their courage was in their God, not themselves. They did not trust in their strength or the strength of anyone else.
I pray that God give me this kind of fearless faith. A faith that can sleep in sweet peace no matter what circumstance of life I face (Matthew 6:25-34). A faith that does not fear man or death (Matthew 10:28). A faith that trusts and hopes in God, though He slay me (Job 13:15).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Good Sermons

Here are two good sermons I heard this morning. One by RC Sproul on the promises of God and another by Art Broadwick on being prepared for death. Both contain the gospel.

The Trust of a Man - Part 2

On the Brevity of Life

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thoughts of Heaven

In Ligon Duncan's Book Fear Not - Death and the Afterlife from a Christian Perspective, he has several good quotes about the Christian and Heaven. Here are a few:

As a believer's life is very different from an unbeliever's life, so also a believer's death is very different from an unbeliever's death. The unbeliever prefers Heaven over Hell; the believer prefers Heaven over this earth. The unbeliever prefers Heaven only over Hell because he cannot imagine anything more blessed than this life. The believer prefers Heaven over earth, because the believer cannot imagine anything more blessed than life with God. - Unknown Source

There is a great deal of difference between the desires of Heaven in a sanctified man and in an unsanctified one. The believer prizes Heaven above earth, and had rather be with God than here, though death stands in the way and may possibly have harder thoughts from him. But for the ungodly, there is nothing that seems more desirable than this world, and therefore he only chooses Heaven over Hell, but not over earth; and therefore shall not have it upon such a choice - Richard Baxter

Baxter is saying that nobody in his right mind would choose Hell. If they are asked, then they'll always say, "Oh, yes, heaven over hell, please!" In contrast, the mark of a Christian approaching death is a desire for heaven over earth, heaven over this life. The Christian desires Jesus over the things that are most precious in this world, and not simply an existence that is more attractive than the torments of an eternity in Hell. - Ligon Duncan

All men must die, but as men's lives are very different, so their account in death is, also. To an ungodly man, death is loss, the greatest loss; but to a believer, it is gain, the greatest gain. - Thomas Boston

I am so in love with His love that if He(Christ) were not in Heaven, I would not want to go there. - Samuel Rutherford

The same thought from different men. Do you treasure Christ like this?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

What does the Father Seek?

In Terry Johnson's Book, Reformed Worship, he quotes two individuals concerning worship. This first quote deals with comments about John 4:23:
“But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers." NASB

Listen to how Johnson deals with this verse:

Thus does Jesus sum up the saving activity of the Father. What is the Father doing through the gospel? What is He doing through his Son? What is the point of the incarnation, the atonement, and the whole of redemption? The Father is seeking worshipers! What an unusual and unanticipated way of speaking of such things. Yet there it is. Robert G. Rayburn points out that, "Nowhere in all the Scriptures do we read of God's seeking anything else from the child of God." The Bible does not tell us that God seeks witnesses, servants, or contributors. What He seeks is worshipers. Rayburn continues, "it is not without real significance that the only time in the Scriptures when the word 'seek' is used of God's activity is in connection with seeking true worshipers.' There is a true sense in which worship is what the Christian gospel is all about.

When you think about it, isn't that the main complaint God had against the nation of Israel. God sought right worship from the people, but they kept falling into false worship and false gods. Even in John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that the Samaritans are not worshiping rightly. God is seeking true worshipers.

Secondly, Johnson quotes John Piper concerning the relationship of worship and missions. He writes:
This is what Christian mission, the Christian life, and Christian worship are all about. John Piper summarizes our point well, 'Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exist because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.' Worship is our ultimate priority.

So when someone tries to convince us that worship is secondary to things like evangelism, missions, or discipleship, we indeed should remember that worship matters. It is eternal. And it is worshipers that alone the Father seeks. Let us worship God rightly according to His word.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Don't Be Afraid - Be Very Afraid!

In Mark 4:35-41, we read the story of how Jesus calms the wind and sea during a trip across the Sea of Galilee after a day of teaching. Here it is in the NASB:

On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

A few things to notice.
  1. There were other boats around him, not just the one he and the disciples were in. So there were more witnesses to this event that we don't normally hear about when this story is told.
  2. Also notice Jesus' comments to the disciples after He calms the wind and the sea, "Why are you afraid?" Jesus tells the disciples that they should not be fearful, but have faith that He has everything under control.
  3. Notice the response of the disciples after this comment by Jesus to them, "They became very much afraid." The words of Jesus did not remove their fear, but his actions and words made them more afraid. Why? Because they had never seen a man who was able to command the wind and the sea. This was more to be feared than the storm.
This theme is throughout the Bible. Proverbs contains 14 verses dealing with the fear of the Lord such as Proverbs 9:10, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." And Luke 12:5 tells us this, "But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!" The fear of God is a healthy thing. One commentator puts it like this:

The fear of God may well include a recognition of the futility of human opposition to the divine, especially for those who are God's enemies, but for those who follow God, fear grows from the respect and honour of which God is worthy as God.

We all should come to the point of seeing the futility of opposing our Sovereign Creator God who sustains and directs all things by the power of His word. For the unbeliever this should be one of terror and dread once they catch a vision of the reality of their position (just read some Puritan sermons such as Jonathan Edwards). However, for the believer, this fear becomes one of reverence, awe, respect, honor and worship to the one who has saved us from His wrath through the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ. He is worthy, He is Holy, and He alone should be feared by the Christian. Let us listen once again to the words of our Lord to the apostle John on the Island of Patmos:

When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. (Revelation 1:17-18)

For the Christian, to fear Christ is everlasting joy and hope beyond our wildest imagination. So, do not be afraid - be very afraid.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Expressions of Saving Faith

In James Durham's collection of sermons on Isaiah 53, he has one sermon in which he discusses the expressions of saving faith which the Bible uses. I thought these were of interest and worth meditating upon. They are as follows:
  1. Believing Christ (Acts 16:31)
  2. Coming to Christ (Matthew 11:28; John 6:35)
  3. Receiving Christ (John 1:12)
  4. Apprehending or taking hold of Christ (Philippians 3:12; Hebrews 6:16; Isaiah 56:3)
  5. Casting yourself or resting on Christ (Psalm 55:22; Psalm 37:5,7)
  6. Submitting to Christ (Romans 10:2)
  7. Hiding in Christ (Proverbs 8:10; Philippians 3:9; Isaiah 23:26)
  8. Yielding to Christ (2 Chronicles 30:8)
  9. Opening the heart to Christ (Acts 16:14)
  10. Marrying Christ ( Ephesians 5:22-33)
  11. Buying (Isaiah 55:1)
  12. Cleaving or inclining to Christ (John 23:8; Acts 11:23; Isaiah 55:2-3)
  13. Committing to Christ (Psalm 37:5; 2 Timothy 1:12)
This is quite a list and is definitely not exhaustive. I wonder if there is a book somewhere that explores these expressions of saving faith in more detail? If you happen to find one, let me know.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Apostasy in a Generation

In the transfer of the nation of Israel from Egypt to the promise land, we count only 3 generations. The first generation that came out of Egypt died out during the wilderness wandering because of their unbelief in taking the land the first time. The second generation died out after taking the land. Then we have the third generation which came to be after the people had taken the land and now controlled it. Of this third generation, we read in Judges 2:10, the following:

All that generation also were gathered to their fathers; and there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel (NASB).

It really is amazing what this verse says. The previous two generations were exposed to the awesome works of God in delivering them from Egypt, providing for their every need, and going before them to defeat peoples who were more powerful than them in taking the land. Without a doubt, these first two generations had many failures, yet God continued to work in and through them to keep His promises to them. Yet, just one generation after entering the land, we read that these did not know the Lord. And further, they did not know the works that the Lord had done for Israel. I must ask, how did that happen?

Did the previous generation fail to tell them of the wonders and works of God in redeeming them? God had commanded the earlier generations over and over again to make sure that coming generations were to be instructed in who God was and what He had done for this people. This is clear in the words of the Shema:

“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9, NASB)

This second generation appears to have failed in this task as evident in verse 10. We also see this by the cyclic turning from God throughout the book of Judges. Should we be shocked at this? How long do we think it takes for a new generation to turn away from the truth of God and His ways? I often think of the state of England where only 200 years ago they may have been called the leading fortress of Christianity in terms of faith, practice and missions. Yet today some are saying that Christianity is dead in Britain. We must take this to heart. If we do not teach the truths of God's word to this generation, then it may not be long before they forget the Lord and the work He has done for His people. It will not happen by osmosis. It will only happen when we obey God and teach them. Concerning this, D. A. Carson writes:
Here is a sober lesson. Even after times of spectacular revival, reformation, or covenantal renewal, the people of God are never more than a generation or two from infidelity, unbelief, massive idolatry, disobedience, and wrath. God help us.

I too agree. May God help us in this task.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

God's Promises

In Joshua 21:43-45, we read this:

So the LORD gave Israel all the land which He had sworn to give to their fathers, and they possessed it and lived in it. And the LORD gave them rest on every side, according to all that He had sworn to their fathers, and no one of all their enemies stood before them; the LORD gave all their enemies into their hand. Not one of the good promises which the LORD had made to the house of Israel failed; all came to pass. (NASB)

God had kept His promise to the patriarchs, the children of Abraham now possessed and lived in all the land that God had promised. God had kept His word. Not only did God give the land to the people, this passage tells us that not one of the promises he made to Israel failed, but all of them had come to pass. Every promise he made came true.

How hard it should be for any human to make a promise. The reason being that we can't control all events around us to make sure the promise we make will come to pass. In fact, we can't control our next breath or the next beat of our heart. But God can make promises to His people because He controls all things. My pastor said in his sermon this Sunday about taking what Paul refers to as a "trustworthy statement" "to the bank." Why can we guarantee the promises of the Bible? Why are the promises of the Bible, trustworthy statements? We can truly trust every promise of God that He makes for He alone has the power to make sure it happens. If He promises it, you can bet on it. It will happen. Charles Spurgeon has a wonderful quote on the control or sovereignty that God has over every atom in the universe:

I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes—that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit as well as the sun in the heavens—that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphis over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence—the fall of sere leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche. He that believes in a God must believe this truth. There is no standing-point between this and atheism. There is no half way between a mighty God that worketh all things by the sovereign counsel of his will and no God at all. A God that cannot do as he pleases—a God whose will is frustrated, is not a God, and cannot be a God. I could not believe in such a God as that.

God controls every atom, so every promise will come true. Read your Bible and see the hundreds of promises God makes to His people. If you are a believer, they are sure because He has the power to see it through. Think for example of all the promises in Romans 8. I really like the verse Romans 8:32, "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things" Paul tells us that if God has given His own Son for us, he will most certainly give us all things. What an amazing statement.

What is also amazing is that God's faithfulness to His promises is secure outside of our ability to be faithful to Him. Though we have been regenerated by the Spirit of God, we are still sinners, and we still fail. Is our hope in our ability to obey? Thank God it is not! Our hope is in the promises of God that all who put their trust in the work of Jesus Christ as their substitute will be forgiven of sin and have eternal peace with God. Our hope is outside of ourselves - it is in the hands and promise of another. Will we trust him to keep His word? Do we believe that He is faithful and able to keep His word? Let us not be like the first generation of freed Israelites who did not enter the promised land because they "were not able to enter because of unbelief" Hebrews 3:19. Let us hope in Christ alone. That is our only assurance because only "He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" Hebrews 7:25.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

God's Appointments for Spurgeon and Owen

One of the greatest Christian preachers of all time and one of the greatest Christian theologians of all time have similar conversion experiences. Read below about these two men. First, let us read of Charles Spurgeon from his autobiography:
I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache. The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was,—


He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus—”My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ “Then the good man followed up his text in this way:—”Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I as-cend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!” When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death,—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,—I did not take much notice of it,—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and at that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him.

Now read of what some consider the conversion, or at least the time he came to assurance, of John Owen as told by John Piper:

Owen was a convinced Calvinist with large doctrinal knowledge, but he lacked the sense of the reality of his own salvation. That sense of personal reality in all that he wrote was going to make all the difference in the world for Owen in the years to come. So what happened one Sunday in 1642 is very important.

When Owen was 26 years old he went with his cousin to hear the famous Presbyterian, Edmund Calamy at St. Mary's Church Aldermanbury. But it turned out Calamy could not preach and a country preacher took his place. Owen's cousin wanted to leave. But something held Owen to his seat. The simple preacher took as his text Matthew 8:26, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" It was God's appointed word and appointed time for Owen's awakening. His doubts and fears and worries as to whether he was truly born anew by the Holy Spirit were gone. He felt himself liberated and adopted as a Son of God. When you read the penetrating practical works of Owen on the work of the Spirit and the nature of true communion with God it is hard to doubt the reality of what God did on this Sunday in 1642.

Indeed, two remarkable and similar stories of the conversions/assurance of these men who went on to do much for the Gospel and the Kingdom of God. Two interesting points can be made:

  1. Notice the sovereignty of God in both of these lives. Both were seeking another person's sermon, but God had other plans. For both men, as Piper says above, "it was God's appointed word and appointed time" for each one. Salvation is of the Lord. He will grant it in His time, place, and according to the preaching of His appointed Word. He had planned the weather and even the appointments of other men to put Spurgeon and Owen in the right place to hear his appointed Word.

  2. Next, we notice that both men were brought to this salvation through the preaching of men whose names we do not know today. Spurgeon says that all the preacher could do was continue repeating the his text and even called his stupid. The preacher to Owen was called a "simple" preacher and a "country" preacher. God choose the instrument on that appointed day and hour. It was perhaps not one they would have guested, but the one who had the appointed word for them.
What are we to make of this? God is sovereign. He will bring His people to Himself again in His time and place according to His Word. He will also use those which the world may call foolish (1 Corinthians 1:27). Our times are in His hand, whether we believe it or not. We should also realize that even when we feel we have blown it in witnessing to others, God can take that faithfulness and save sinners. This does not give us an excuse for not giving the Gospel rightly, but in our failures and weaknesses in sharing at times, it shows once again that salvation is of the Lord. May we even be called stupid if God will use us in the salvation of sinners. If you are a believer, think about all the things God did in your entire before-Christian life to put you in that appointed time and place under the appointed preaching of His Word where He saved you and give thanks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Counsel of the Lord

In Joshua 9, we read the account of the deception of Israel by the Gibeonites. Since they feared the Israelites, they sought to deceive them by dressing in worn out clothes and sandals, riding on worn out donkeys and carrying worn out wine skins and dry bread in order to show Joshua and the others that they had come from a far land. They did this in order to trick Joshua into a covenant with them to become the servants of Israel therefore sparing their lives (Joshua 9:3-6).

Well, the trick worked and Israel and Joshua made peace with them not realizing that the Gibeonites were really their neighbors living in the land God had promised to the Israelites (Joshua 9:15-16). Why and how did Joshua and the people fall for this deception. Joshua 9:14 gives us the quick and to the point answer:
So the men of Israel took some of their provisions, and did not ask for the counsel of the LORD. (NASB)
The people had failed to ask the Lord for counsel. That is why they were deceived by the lies and flattery of the Gibeonites. Isn't that the way it is today with respect to the truth of God's Word. Those who would seek to deceive us do not usually come straight out and say "I am trying to deceive you." Instead, they deceive us by slight modifications of the truth so much that it looks harmless to us. But we let it happen in the same way that the Israelites did; we do not seek the counsel of the Lord which is now given to us in His Word. When we fail to make use of God's Word by reading it, studying it, learning it, memorizing it, knowing it, and living it, we leave ourselves open to this type of deception. And when I say God's Word, I mean all of it, every book, not just the verses we like. We must judge everything through the glasses of Scripture or we too will be deceived.

Why did this people think that they did not need to seek the counsel of the Lord especially after their many failures to that point? D. A. Carson writes concerning this question:

The problem is deeper; there is an unseemly negligence that betrays an overconfidence that does not think it needs God in this case. Many a Christian leader has made disastrous mistakes when he or she has not taken time to seek God's perspective, probing Scripture and asking him for the wisdom he has promised to give (James 1:5).

So how should we react when confronted when those outside and even those in our own midst seek to draw us away to following their new interpretation, perspective or activity (Acts 20:28-30)? We should seek the counsel of the Lord, just as the Bereans did in Acts 17:11 by "examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (NASB). God has promised to generously give wisdom to those who will ask (James 1:5). Let us seek His counsel, let us ask for wisdom and let us treat His Word as more precious than gold in our pursing the truth from God Himself found in it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Oh - Deliver Me From This Muck-Rake!

After a while, because Supper was not ready, the Interpreter took them into his significant Rooms, and showed them what Christian, Christiana's Husband, had seen some time before. Here therefore they saw the Man in the Cage, the Man and his Dream, the Man that cut his way through his Enemies, and the picture of the greatest of them all, together with the rest of those things that were then so profitable to Christian.

This done, after these things had been somewhat digested by Christiana and her company, the Interpreter takes them apart again, and has them first into a room where was a Man that could look no way but downwards, with a muck-rake in his hand. There stood also one over his head with a Celestial Crown in his hand, and proffered him that Crown for his Muck-rake; but the man did neither look up, nor regard, but raked to himself the straws, the small sticks, and dust of the floor.

Then said Christiana, I persuade myself that I know somewhat the meaning of this; for this is a figure of a Man of this World, is it not, good Sir?

INTER. Thou hast said the right, said he, and his Muck-rake doth show his carnal mind. And whereas thou seest him rather give heed to rake up straws and sticks and the dust of the floor, than to what he says that calls to him from above with the Celestial Crown in his hand, it is to show that Heaven is but as a fable to some, and that things here are counted the only things substantial. Now whereas it was also showed thee, that the man could look no way but downwards, it is to let thee know that earthly things, when they are with power upon men's minds, quite carry their hearts away from God.

Then said Christiana, Oh, deliver me from this Muck-rake!

That prayer, said the Interpreter, has lain by till it is almost rusty. "Give me not Riches," is scarce the prayer of one of ten thousand. Straws and sticks and dust, with most are the great things now looked after.

With that Mercy and Christiana wept, and said, It is alas! too true.

Friday, July 4, 2008

His Love Endures Forever

In Psalm 136, this phrase is repeated in every verse, which is a total of 26 times:

For His lovingkindness is everlasting. (NASB)

for his steadfast love endures forever (ESV)

Have you ever seen in movies, or worse, have you ever known anyone personally who comes to a point where they tell their spouse that they don't love them anymore? What is it that makes one's love for another fade? Perhaps some of these don't even have in mind the right definition of love. They have given other emotional or physical feelings the title of love. Whatever the reason, we humans are sinners and this act of "falling out of love" occurs often.

But look at this phrase found in every verse of this Psalm. God's love endures forever, it is everlasting, it has no end! No matter how we fail Him in our sin, if we are true believers, His love for us continues. We can do nothing that would cause Him to cease loving us. That is a glorious promise and truth of the Bible. This is not a licence to sin, but a great comfort during those times when we truly have blown it and acted in unbelief and disobedience. We are secure in God's love.

Luther in a letter to Melanchthon wrote the following:

If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but
the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. We, however, says Peter (2 Peter 3:13) are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth where justice will reign. It suffices that through God's glory we have recognized the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day. Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.

Luther's comments about "let your sins be strong" has given some difficulty in this letter. I thing Luther is just saying that Melanchthon should be strong to confess his sin before the Lord. Many play games with words and are not bold in calling sin what it is. Only those who quit relying on their righteousness and trust in Christ's righteousness and substitutionary death can know that they are secure in God's mercy and love. A love that is everlasting. So be bold in admitting your sin so that your trust in Christ's work for you will be strong. No sin can separate us from His love. Even as the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:38-39:

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NASB)

Monday, June 30, 2008

I Will Not Fail You

In Joshua 1:5, we read the following as God talks to Joshua as he is about to lead the people into the promised land:

“No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you" (Emphasis Added).

Have you ever been awakened in the middle of a night by a fear that grasped your soul whether it was a circumstance you were facing or a situation in which you absolutely had no control over at all. We humans really control very little with respect to the events of our lives. Sure, we try to control what we can with respect to ourselves, but controlling other things is beyond us. Joshua is about to lead the people into Israel. Remember, he was there 40 years ago, when the people had failed to believe and were sent to wander in the desert for 40 years until the older unbelieving generation had died off. Joshua is now leader for Moses has died. He is now with a new group of people. But, the task remained the same - take the land of promise.

Joshua had believed 40 years ago, yet God still in Joshua 1 continues to tell him over and over not to fear, but to have courage (Joshua 1:6-9). And here in Joshua 1:5, we see why Joshua should not fear.
  1. God would be with him just as He was with Moses.
  2. God would not fail him.
  3. God would not forsake him.
Joshua had seen the great wonders of the LORD over the last 40 plus years. He knew God could accomplish what He asked him to do. But I bet these words of encouragement were a key to strengthening Joshua's faith. Just as with Joshua, God will always be with us, He will never fail us, and He will never forsake us. What great comfort that should give us. What great courage it should give us to be faithful in the task God has given us to do. The next time you do wake up with that fear in your heart, remember this verse or the many others, such as Hebrews 13:5, that remind us once again that God, unlike us, has in Himself the ability to control everything in our lives. We indeed should never fear. He is sovereign. And I am glad He is.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Does God Himself Satisfy Us?

This morning I heard a great sermon from Mark Dever about the first few chapters of Job. He made some interesting points. After Satan comes before God, God tells Satan about Job. He describes him as such, "The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil”(Job 1:8). It is interesting that God starts this conversation about Job. Satan's reply is such, "Then Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for nothing? “Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. “But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face” (Job 1:9-11).

Do you realize what Satan is saying? He is actually attacking God by saying that Job only fears God because of the gifts that God gives him. Satan is in effect telling God that He in Himself is not enough to satisfy the soul of Job. Job would curse God if He allowed these gifts to be removed. Well, God gives permission to Satan, but disallows him to touch his body, "Then the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.” So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD" (Job 1:12). You get the impression that God is setting Satan up for a fall.

We read on how Job basically loses everything he has including all of his children and all at the same time. He is experiencing suffering to the extreme. What is his response? "Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said,“Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God" (Job 1:20-22). Amazing. Job does not curse God when he loses all of the good gifts that God had given him. But instead, he finds his delight in the Lord. He worships God. And this passage tells us specifically that he does not sin or blame God in doing wrong to him.

We go on to see in chapter 2 how Satan again approaches God saying this time that Job only serves God because of his health (Job 2:1-6). Again, God grants permission for Satan to attack his body, but not his life (Job 2:7-8). Again Job, even after his wife tells him to curse God, "does not sin with his lips" (Job 2:9-10). At this point Job has lost everything, even his health. Yet in the mist of this great suffering, He does not sin against God.

More could be said, but I feel that Job here is testifying against the lies of Satan and confessing that God Himself is the satisfaction of the soul of Job. Job knew that this was from God and was ultimately for his good. We must ask ourselves if we would respond in the same way if great suffering was put on us. Do we delight in God merely for His gifts to us, or do we delight in God Himself trusting His sovereignty in doing what is for our good in every situation and circumstance of life. I am reminded of two passages:

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you. (Psalm 63:3)

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

God is our treasure. We should not love anything more than Him. We should not allow the sufferings He gives us to drag us into the pride of self pity. But instead like Job and like Paul we should see these as "slight momentary afflictions" that God is using to prepare us for an "eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison." That is our hope in the midst of suffering. If we believe that God is sovereign, then we must remember that all our circumstances are allowed by Him. If we believe that He only wants our best (as the Bible teaches), then we will remember that these trials are for our absolute best.

I encourage you to listen to the entire sermon. It is well worth it.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Our Suffering Servant

This morning I read Isaiah 53 in my morning study. I was amazed at the depth of material found in this one chapter about the Suffering Servant, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I thought for a moment that to get the most out of this chapter, it would take a great deal of time and wondered when and how I could do this. A few hours later, I remembered that I had purchased a book some time ago that deals specifically with Isaiah 53.

James Durham was a Scottish Puritan Divine who died in 1658 at the age of 35. He had served as pastor for only eleven years, yet he was a prolific writer during his life. One of his books is titled Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53. I guess that Durham had the same thought as I did when he read this wonderful chapter of Scripture. He considered it important enough to spend 72 sermons on it (which is still amazing to me how the Puritans could take passages of Scripture, sometimes even short ones, and preach many sermons on them). In Joel Beeke and Randall Pederson's must have book Meet the Puritans, the following is mentioned about this particular book:

First published in 1683, then in 1686, this collection of sermons was reprinted six times in the eighteenth century. The present reprint is carefully and beautifully done; it uses the 1702 edition as the base text but also takes the other editions into account. . . . This is an excellent book for believers who yearn for a more intimate fellowship with Christ in His sufferings. John Duncan said to a friend who wanted to draw closer to Christ, "Read Durham on the fifty-third of Isaiah at my request. He has much repetition and you may be disgusted with that. But it's repetition of a very fine thing, the eating of Christ's flesh and the drinking of His blood. Well, That's what we must be repeating, in fact, all our life long." The Marrow of the Gospel is one of the best commentaries ever written on Christ's person and work in redemption. Charles Spurgeon highly recommended this book, saying, "This is marrow indeed. We need say no more; Durham is a prince among spiritual expositors." Others have said this work equals if not excels all of Durham's other publications

Another good review of this book is found at The Shepherd's Scrapbook blog. Here is the Table of Contents with the sermons in outline form. The publisher also makes available online the life of the author as well as his Sermon 68 on Isaiah 53:12. Well, my answer on how to dive deeper into this chapter has been answered. I hope to read through one sermon a week to understand Isaiah 53 better and to keep my mind on the sufferings of Christ in my place.

The Delight of the Sabbath

In Isaiah, we read:

“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the LORD,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Isaiah 58:13-14

I have been meditating on these verses for a few weeks. It tells us that we are to resist the temptations to go after what we take pleasure in and desist from our own ways and words on the Sabbath - the holy day of the Lord. Instead of these things, if we call the Sabbath a delight as He commands us, then the Lord says we will receive an inheritance of joy and delight in the Lord. With relationship to corporate worship on the Lord's Day, I have often asked myself if there is any other place I would rather be, people I would rather be with, or activity I would rather be doing. We all must ask ourselves that question.

The culture and world gives us multitudes of places, people and activities with which we can occupy our Sundays. I have even seen many Christians immediately jump at these opportunities over the regular stated corporate worship of their church. These opportunities take the shape of sporting events, hunting and fishing season, or just needing some time away. Do we really believe that God wants our absolute best and instructs us accordingly? If so, why do Christians jump so quickly at these excuses to miss corporate worship? No matter what your view of Sabbath day observance, you surely must agree that God has revealed in Scripture the need for gathering with our brothers and sisters on His day to worship Him. Or then again, maybe you don't agree and maybe you don't see.

In relationship to this, I am often reminded of the quote by C. S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory. Lewis writes:

Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

This is true. We pursue those things which we think will make us happy while missing the greatest joy available to us. I believe this happens with many Christians and the Sabbath. I do not speak with pride, but I speak as one who at one time in my life would have more easily been drawn from corporate worship on the Sabbath by these things. I speak as one who is still learning how to best observe the Sabbath. I speak as one who fails often in this. But, I also speak as one who wants the most infinite joy and delight in the Lord that is possible on this earth. And the Lord tells me here that if I delight in the Sabbath, I will delight in the Lord. Christians, let us believe God wants our absolute best and that He prescribes in His word how we can pursue it. If we believe so, we must believe what He tells us about His Holy Sabbath.