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Let’s Not Miss Solomon’s Point These Days…

8 Apr

Engraving by Gustave Dore (1832-1883)

No photo description available.

Let’s not miss Solomon’s sober discovery these days:

Ecclesiastes 2:1 “I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. 2 “Laughter,” I said, “is madness. And what does pleasure accomplish?” 3 I tried cheering myself with wine, and embracing folly—my mind still guiding me with wisdom. I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives.

4 I undertook great projects: I built houses for myself and planted vineyards. 5 I made gardens and parks and planted all kinds of fruit trees in them. 6 I made reservoirs to water groves of flourishing trees. 7 I bought male and female slaves and had other slaves who were born in my house. I also owned more herds and flocks than anyone in Jerusalem before me. 8 I amassed silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and provinces. I acquired male and female singers, and a harem as well—the delights of a man’s heart. 9 I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me.

10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labor,
and this was the reward for all my toil.
11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
nothing was gained under the sun.”

It is becoming clearer to me, thanks in part to this virus, how looking for satisfaction in a life focused totally on that which is “under the sun” is pointless. It’s time to focus on what is beyond the sun instead, for “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but lose his soul?” (Mark 8:36). Best to store up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:19-21) where moth and thief (and viruses) can not destroy or rob us of that “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46). Augustine got where Solomon was coming from when he wrote in his Confessions, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Time is fleeting in this mortal life; better to believe, realize and experience what the true “chief end of man” is now rather than later (or never). Beats chasing after the wind.

 

“Lord, take their children and smash their heads against the rocks.” Ps. 137; praying against the violent and wicked

31 Mar

From his grace (Cranmer blog):

Psalm 137: “God, I wish you’d take the children of my enemies and smash their heads against the rocks”

There is perhaps no greater empathy aroused in times of war and strife than when we see the intolerable suffering of children; the desperate eyes of the innocent; the tears of orphaned babies, frightened, hungry, sapped of all hope and devoid of love. Their little mangled bodies lie on crimson sheets, spliced by shrapnel, traumatised by nightmares, soaked in the stench of their own urine. These images leave a wound far deeper than any weapon of mass destruction.

The newly-installed Bishop of Leeds the Rt Rev’d Nick Bains delivered yesterday’s ‘Thought For The Day’ on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. He tells us on his blog – Musings of a Restless Bishop – that it was “written in the face of the horrors of Gaza, Syria, Ukraine and all the other bloody conflicts filling the news screens, and with a strict word limit”. His subject was Psalm 137 – the well-known lament which begins “By the Rivers of Babylon”. He takes us from Boney M’s jaunty disco dance hit to the psalm’s final line, which is a disturbing imprecation. He writes:

Now, Psalm 137 is not a comfortable song; nor is it a song for the comfortable. It ends with a shrill cry of pain and hatred: “God, I wish you’d take the children of my enemies and smash their heads against the rocks.” But, it isn’t there to justify an ethic. It isn’t there to suggest it is right to think such awful things of other people’s children. It is there for two reasons: first, to confront us with the reality of how deep our own human hatred can go, and, secondly, to tell us not to lie to God (thinking he can’t handle that reality or the depths of human despair).

Christians tend to focus on the messianic blessings and sing about the glories of Zion: we love the psalms of thanksgiving, kingship and confidence, and meditate on those of remembrance and wisdom. About a third of the Old Testament quotations in the New Testament are drawn from the Psalms, which highlights their theological significance and liturgical importance to the Early Church.

But the Psalter is also full of bitter imprecations which offend modern sensibilities. Curses against enemies abound, often in otherwise sublime settings of supreme sacrifice, humility and brokenness. The Christian will naturally feel that that the spirit of anger and hatred reflected in these sections falls well below Jesus’ teaching and moral standards: it’s hardly an expression of love for one’s enemies to pray that God would take their children and smash their heads against the rocks.

But the intense suffering of the Jews in exile naturally aroused the desire for such horror: we want to hate our enemies, and rather enjoy wishing upon them all manner of suffering and strife. The parents of Gaza are teaching their children that Jews are lower than pigs; the Jews of Israel are teaching their children that Palestinians are all terrorists; the Sunni ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq are beheading the cultic Shia and slaughtering infidel Christians; the Shia are fighting back where they can. The dismembered Christians might be forgiven as they pray in their bombed-out churches for their enemies to die and rot in hell.

But we must bear in mind the fact that for most of the psalmists there was no meaningful afterlife, and so no vindication of the righteous or judgment of the wicked. Rather like today, when notions of heaven and hell are routinely dismissed with the goblins and fairies of Neverland, we prefer judgment to be seen to be done in this world. The final lines of Psalm 137 cannot really be understood without considering that the psalmist was passionate about and impatient for justice:

Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom
in the day of Jerusalem;
who said, Rase it, rase it,
even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth
thy little ones against the stones.

Such laments take us to the depths of helplessness and forsakenness. They are cries of distress when there is nowhere to turn: God has abandoned us and our enemies mock and scorn – or terrorise, persecute and murder. Impulsively but genuinely we want their children to be fatherless and their wives to become widows (Psalm 109:8f). And we hope to God that their bastard offspring don’t grow up to be another generation of murderous devils.

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven (Mt 19:14).

Those who are taught resentment and loathing will not easily find Jesus or enter the kingdom. Violence breeds violence and hate engenders hate. The way of Christ is peace. In our secularpolis this may seem like sheer folly. But it is a choice we make in the hope and anticipation that God’s love will finally prevail through the way of the cross, despite our inability to see how this may be possible when warring hearts are filled with grievances and pain.

There is nothing at all to be gained from smashing the heads of babies against the rocks. No, that way lies a world wracked by revenge and ever more violence.

A story of redemption from homosexuality; review of the Dennis Jernigan documentary, Sing Over Me

16 Oct

From Professor Amber Stamper:

sing-piano1

Here’s a not-so-very-pleasant place to start: I have nine gay friends, and every single one of them has been hurt by the Church.

And by “the Church” — lest we overlook ourselves in the term’s abstraction — I mean they have been hurt by individual Christians.

Having spent the last decade of my life in academia’s liberal and affirming circles, I have, of course, met dozens more than these nine professors, staff, and students — and quite a few of them have shared with me tales of some not-so-First Corinthians 13 encounters with Christians. But those nine are ones I’d call real friends.

“Sing Over Me opens up a safe space for homosexuals who feel — as Jernigan did — in need of rescue.”One — after agonizing for years over coming out to her family — was asked by her grandfather, a pastor, to never set foot in his house again. Another overheard his Christian roommate (half-)joking about him on the phone, saying he needed to “turn or burn.” Another was asked to stop participating in the church choir until he had gotten his sinful nature “under control.” Several others were just slowly “phased out” of their Christian friendships after coming out: texts went unanswered, calls went unreturned, profiles on Facebook were suddenly “limited,” and pretty soon they were being excluded from important life events like marriages and births with no uncertainty as to the reason why.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, this really isn’t such a hot track record. And I seriously doubt my friends’ experiences are unique.

What got me thinking about this in the first place was the documentary Sing Over Me, the testimony of popular Christian singer/songwriter Dennis Jernigan. I’d never heard of Jernigan, but some Google searches revealed that I’ve heard many of his songs. When I saw that his testimony centered on redemption from a life of homosexuality, though, I got nervous. I began anticipating all the possible ways a film like this could be trouble: preachy, judgmental, simplistic, aggressive, presumptuous — there were any number of land mines it could step on. Also, I was concerned about the medium. As a student of media and rhetoric, I know that the trouble with a format like film is that it’s not reciprocal. The audience sits and watches, the final credits roll, and viewers are left to think about what they’ve learned. There’s no conversation or chance for questions or clarification. This is fine for some subjects, but for others, lines of communication need to be open. I feared this was one of those subjects.

 So I was, to be quite honest, really surprised when, ninety minutes after suspiciously clicking “Play,” I found myself sitting calmly and thoughtfully in front of my computer screen feeling simultaneously motivated and meditative, provoked and inspired, challenged and hopeful.

Read the rest

On the life and spiritual virtues of boredom

22 Jul

From Geoff Thomas:

We no longer expect children to endure boredom for a second. In our infancy we bounced balls, fed the rabbits, made a model with Mechano and watched the ascent and descent of a yo-yo. We also read books. Our meals were pretty predictable, and a visit to the local park was an event. Today visits to the zoo, bouncy castles, jumping on a trampoline are routine necessities. Daily playgroups and day-nurseries fill every vacant minute with watching videos, learning how to play with computers and bouncing on the soft-play. Everything is wound up to a pitch of noisy razzmatazz. The toys children play with are made of garish plastic of primary colours. The child who would cheerfully have eaten mashed potatoes and vegetables every day is now encouraged to stimulate its palate and develop a taste for chillies, aubergines, vindaloo curry or garlic.

A.N. Wilson has written, “Pascal said that all human trouble stemmed from our inability to sit quietly in one room. If he was right, then we have serious trouble ahead, with an extraordinarily restless, vacuous generation of human individuals waiting to take over the world.

Full article (good one here)

When tornadoes come, there is only one pair of arms than can hold you perfectly

30 Apr

Today, we remember the Tittle family, and others going through the same misery.  But the Tittles “do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13).  In the wake of the devastating killer tornadoes, it is worth remembering that there is only one pair of arms than can hold you perfectly.

The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms. (Deut. 33:27)

From Family Life:

The Lord Gives, the Lord Takes Away

After the recent tornado in central Arkansas, this is a time of extreme emotions here at FamilyLife.

He died as he lived … protecting his family.

The Tittle FamilyRob Tittle, a FamilyLife staff member and kindred spirit warrior for the family, died last night in the tornado that crushed parts of central Arkansas.  Two of his daughters—Tori, age 20, and Rebekah, 14—were among the 15 killed in the storm.

Rob, 48, and his wife, Kerry, had watched the sky grow dark and ominous and were shepherding their nine children under a stairwell when the tornado disintegrated their home.  Rob was doing what a man does—putting his family first and trying to get two of his daughters to safety—when the twister hit.

All that is left is a grim grey slab of concrete.The Tittle Home

The Tittles’ 19-year-old daughter posted this on Facebook from a friend’s house: “… my mom, and my six brothers/sisters are alright.  We have lost three of our family … Dad, Tori and Rebekah, prayers would be appreciated.  The house is gone stripped from the foundation.  The Lord Gives and the Lord Takes away, Blessed be the Name of the Lord.”

Minutes later and less than 10 miles away, Barbara and I peeked out from under the stairs as the storm passed in front of our home.  It tends to get your attention when the TV weatherman says the tornado is bearing down on your street!  We could see the wall cloud crossing a lake, less than two miles away.

Thankfully the twister missed our home, but it did chew through the property of another staff couple, Dan and Nancy Butkowski.  Their house suffered roof and window damage and the tornado scattered more than 100 trees like matchsticks.

Unfortunately that wasn’t the end for our staff.  The tornado swept across the Arkansas River and smashed into the small community of Mayflower (population 2,312) where another staff couple, Dan and Kristin, lost their home and their two cars

Dan saw the twister coming across the river and hurriedly moved his wife, six children, two dogs, a bunny rabbit, and a lizard into the master bedroom closet, which was designed as a storm shelter.

He closed the door.  And as the seconds ticked by, Dan said to his children, “This is the day of salvation!  If you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, NOW IS THE TIME TO DO IT!”

A moment later, the tornado tore into their home, sucking the vent plate out of the top of the shelter.  Dan said, “The pressure in that shelter was 10 times that of any airplane ride I’ve ever taken!”The Gaffney home

The twister was gone and with it their home.

They looked out of the vent and all they could see was a landscape marked by massive devastation.  They couldn’t get out of the shelter, so they called 9-1-1.  Neighbors arrived and it took them 30 minutes to get the family out.  They were stunned to find a car leaning against the shelter.

The family could smell gas leaking, so they walked more than two miles, some barefoot and others wearing adult shoes.  They met a friend who took them out to get a pizza and some cookies.

Riding in a van, one of the children said, “This is the worst day of my life!”  To which their 10-year-old daughter, who has prosthetic legs, replied, “That may be, but we need to talk about the good things!”  The rest of the ride was spent celebrating the “good things.”Debris found in Heber Springs, Arkansas

Tornadoes are full of tragedy, but also have threads of irony.  A photo was posted on Facebook by a local weatherman who asked, “Anyone recognize the name?”  It showed Emily and Noah Tittle’s name on a UPS package and an old photo of Kerry when she was a toddler.  The items were found in Heber Springs, Arkansas—80 miles from the Tittle home.

This is a time of extreme emotions here at FamilyLife.  We mourn the loss of a good man and coworker and his two daughters, and at the same time we celebrating the survival of so many children and family members.  The news could have been much worse. We are “giving thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:20).

One last post from the Tittles’ 19-year-old daughter: “Dear friends, Do one thing for me.  Hug your dad.  Hold him tight and don’t let go, that man is the greatest gift God gave to you.  Tell him you love him, tell him you will always Love him.”

Pray for these families in their journey with Christ.

If you would like to help the Tittle family, please click here to find out how. And click here to help the other family mentioned in this article.

You can also listen to a special FamilyLife Today© broadcast where Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine discuss how we can respond in faith when tragedy occurs.

Copyright © 2014 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

 

The history and meaning if the resurrection

20 Apr

From JC RYLE:

MATTHEW 28:1-10

Now after the Sabbath, as it began to dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. Behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from the sky, and came and rolled away the stone from the door, and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him, the guards shook, and became like dead men. The angel answered the women, “Don’t be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus, who has been crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, just like he said. Come, see the place where the Lord was lying. Go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has risen from the dead, and behold, he goes before you into Galilee; there you will see him.’ Behold, I have told you.”

They departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word. As they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, “Rejoice!”

They came and took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Go tell my brothers that they should go into Galilee, and there they will see me.”

The principal subject of these verses is the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. It is one of those truths which lie at the very foundation of Christianity, and has therefore received special attention in the four Gospels. All four evangelists describe minutely how our Lord was crucified. All four relate with no less clearness, that He rose again.

We need not wonder that so much importance is attached to our Lord’s resurrection. It is the seal and headstone of the great work of redemption, which He came to do. It is the crowning proof that He has paid the debt which He undertook to pay on our behalf, won the battle which He fought to deliver us from hell, and is accepted as our Surety and our Substitute by our Father in heaven. Had He never come forth from the prison of the grave, how could we ever have been sure that our ransom had been fully paid? (1 Cor. 15:17.) Had He never risen from His conflict with the last enemy, how could we have felt confident, that He has overcome death, and him that had the power of death, that is the devil? (Heb. 2:14.) But thanks be unto God, we are not left in doubt. The Lord Jesus really “rose again for our justification.” True Christians are “begotten again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” They may boldly say with Paul, “Who is he that condemns–it is Christ that died, yes rather that is risen again.” (Rom. 8:34. Rom. 4:25. 1 Peter 1:3.)

We have reason to be very thankful, that this wonderful truth of our religion is so clearly and fully proved. It is a striking circumstance, that of all the facts of out Lord’s earthly ministry, none are so incontrovertibly established as the fact that He rose again. The wisdom of God, who knows the unbelief of human nature, has provided a great cloud of witnesses on the subject. Never was there a fact which the friends of God were so slow to believe, as the resurrection of Christ. Never was there a fact which the enemies of God were so anxious to disprove. And yet, in spite of the unbelief of professed friends, and the enmity of foes, the fact was thoroughly established. Its evidences will always appear to a fair and impartial mind unanswerable. It would be impossible to prove anything in the world, if we refuse to believe that Jesus rose again.

Let us notice in these verses, the glory and majesty with which Christ rose from the dead. We are told that “there was a great earthquake.” We are told that “the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door of the sepulcher, and sat upon it.” We need not suppose that our blessed Lord needed the help of any angel, when He came forth from the grave. We need not for a moment doubt that He rose again by His own power. But it pleased God, that His resurrection should be accompanied and followed by signs and wonders. It seemed good that the earth should shake, and a glorious angel appear, when the Son of God arose from the dead as a conqueror.

Let us not fail to see in the manner of our Lord’s resurrection, a type and pledge of the resurrection of His believing people. The grave could not hold Him beyond the appointed time, and it shall not be able to hold them. A glorious angel was a witness of His rising, and glorious angels shall be the messengers who shall gather believers when they rise again. He rose with a renewed body, and yet a body, real, true, and material, and so also shall His people have a glorious body, and be like their Head. “When we see Him we shall be like Him.” (1 John 3:2.)

Let us take comfort in this thought. Trial, sorrow, and persecution are often the portion of God’s people. Sickness, weakness, and pain often hurt and wear their poor earthly body. But their good time is yet to come. Let them wait patiently, and they shall have a glorious resurrection. When we die, and where we are buried, and what kind of a funeral we have, matters little. The great question to be asked is this, “How shall we rise again?”

Let us notice in the next place, the terror which Christ’s enemies felt at the period of His resurrection. We are told that at the sight of the angel, “the guards shook and became as dead men.” Those hardy Roman soldiers, though not unused to dreadful sights, saw a sight which made them quail. Their courage melted at once at the appearance of one angel of God.

Let us again see in this fact, a type and emblem of things yet to come. What will the ungodly and the wicked do at the last day, when the trumpet shall sound, and Christ shall come in glory to judge the world? What will they do, when they see all the dead, both small and great, coming forth from their graves, and all the angels of God assembled round the great white throne? What fears and terrors will possess their souls, when they find they can no longer avoid God’s presence, and must at length meet Him face to face? Oh! that men were wise, and would consider their latter end! Oh! that they would remember that there is a resurrection and a judgment, and that there is such a thing as the wrath of the Lamb!

Let us notice in the next place, the words of comfort which the angel addressed to the friends of Christ. We read that he said, “Fear not–for I know that you seek Jesus, who was crucified.”

These words were spoken with a deep meaning. They were meant to cheer the hearts of believers in every age, in the prospect of the resurrection. They were intended to remind us, that true Christians have no cause for alarm, whatever may come on the world. The Lord shall appear in the clouds of heaven, and the earth be burned up. The graves shall give up the dead that are in them, and the last day come. The judgment shall be set, and the books shall be opened. The angels shall sift the wheat from the chaff, and divide between the good fish and the bad. But in all this there is nothing that need make believers afraid. Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, they shall be found without spot and blameless. Safe in the one true ark, they shall not be hurt when the flood of God’s wrath breaks on the earth. Then shall the words of the Lord receive their complete fulfillment–“when these things begin to come to pass, lift up your heads, for your redemption draws near.” Then shall the wicked and unbelieving see how true was that word, “blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 33:12.)

Let us notice, finally, the gracious message which the Lord sent to the disciples after His resurrection. He appeared in person to the women who had come to do honor to His body. Last at the cross and first at the tomb, they were the first privileged to see Him after He rose. And to them He gives commission to carry tidings to His disciples. His first thought is for His little scattered flock. “Go, tell my brethren.”

There is something deeply touching in those simple words, “my brethren.” They deserve a thousand thoughts. Weak, frail, erring as the disciples were, Jesus still calls them His “brethren.” He comforts them, as Joseph did his brethren who had sold him, saying, “I am your brother Joseph.” Much as they had come short of their profession–sadly as they had yielded to the fear of man, they are still His “brethren.” Glorious as He was in Himself–a conqueror over death, and hell, and the grave, the Son of God is still “meek and lowly of heart.” He calls His disciples “brethren.”

Let us turn from the passage with comfortable thoughts, if we know anything of true religion. Let us see in these words of Christ, an encouragement to trust and not be afraid. Our Savior is one who never forgets His people. He pities their infirmities. He does not despise them. He knows their weakness, and yet does not cast them away. Our great High Priest is also our elder brother.

“My God, My God, Why have You forsaken Me?”

18 Apr

From J.C. Ryle (Matthew 27:45-56):

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. About the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lima sabachthani?” That is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Some of them who stood there, when they heard it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him a drink. The rest said, “Let him be. Let’s see whether Elijah comes to save him.”

Jesus cried again with a loud voice, and yielded up his spirit. Behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth quaked and the rocks were split. The tombs were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection, they entered into the holy city and appeared to many. Now the centurion, and those who were with him watching Jesus, when they saw the earthquake, and the things that were done, feared exceedingly, saying, “Truly this was the Son of God.”

Many women were there watching from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, serving him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

In these verses we read the conclusion of our Lord Jesus Christ’s passion. After six hours of agonizing suffering, He became obedient even unto death, and “yielded up the spirit.” Three points in the narrative demand a special notice. To them let us confine our attention.

Let us observe, in the first place, the remarkable words which Jesus uttered shortly before His death, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

There is a deep mystery in these words, which no mortal man can fathom. No doubt they were not wrung from our Lord by mere bodily pain. Such an explanation His utterly unsatisfactory, and dishonorable to our blessed Savior. They were meant to express the real pressure on His soul of the enormous burden of a world’s sins. They were meant to show how truly and literally He was our substitute, was made sin, and a curse for us, and endured God’s righteous anger against a world’s sin in His own person. At that dreadful moment, the iniquity of us all was laid upon Him to the uttermost. It pleased the Lord to bruise Him, and put Him to grief. (Isaiah 53:10.) He bore our sins. He carried our transgressions. Heavy must have been that burden, real and literal must have been our Lord’s substitution for us, when He, the eternal Son of God, could speak of Himself as for a time “forsaken.”

Let the expression sink down into our hearts, and not be forgotten. We can have no stronger proof of the sinfulness of sin, or of the vicarious nature of Christ’s sufferings, than His cry, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” It is a cry that should stir us up to hate sin, and encourage us to trust in Christ.

Let us observe, in the second place, how much is contained in the words which describe our Lord’s end. We are simply told, “He yielded up His spirit.”

There never was a last breath drawn, of such deep import as this. There never was an event on which so much depended. The Roman soldiers, and the gaping crowd around the cross, saw nothing remarkable. They only saw a person dying as others die, with all the usual agony and suffering, which attend a crucifixion. But they knew nothing of the eternal interests which were involved in the whole transaction.

That death discharged in full the mighty debt which sinners owe to God, and threw open the door of life to every believer. That death satisfied the righteous claims of God’s holy law, and enabled God to be just, and yet the justifier of the ungodly. That death was no mere example of self-sacrifice, but a complete atonement and propitiation for man’s sin, affecting the condition and prospects of all mankind. That death solved the hard problem, how God could be perfectly holy, and yet perfectly merciful. It opened to the world a fountain for all sin and uncleanness. It was a complete victory over Satan, and spoiled him openly. It finished the transgression, made reconciliation for iniquity, and brought in everlasting righteousness. It proved the sinfulness of sin, when it needed such a sacrifice to atone for it. It proved the love of God to sinners, when He sent His own Son to make the atonement. Never, in fact, was there, or could there be again, such a death. No wonder that the earth quaked, when Jesus died, in our stead, on the accursed tree. The solid frame of the world might well tremble and be amazed, when the soul of Christ was made an offering for sin. (Isaiah 53:10.)

Let us observe, in the last place, what a remarkable miracle occurred at the hour of our Lord’s death, in the very midst of the Jewish temple. We are told that “the veil of the temple was rent in two.” The curtain which separated the holy of holies from the rest of the temple, and through which the high priest alone might pass, was split from top to bottom.

Of all the wonderful signs which accompanied our Lord’s death, none was more significant than this. The mid-day darkness for three hours, must have been a startling event. The earthquake, which rent the rocks, must have been a tremendous shock. But there was a meaning in the sudden rending of the veil from top to bottom, which must have pierced the heart of any intelligent Jew. The conscience of Caiaphas, the high priest, must have been hard indeed, if the tidings of that rent veil did not fill him with dismay.

The rending of the veil proclaimed the termination and passing away of the ceremonial law. It was a sign that the old dispensation of sacrifices and ordinances was no longer needed. Its work was done. Its occupation was gone, from the moment that Christ died. There was no more need of an earthly high priest, and a mercy seat, and a sprinkling of blood, and an offering up of incense, and a day of atonement. The true High Priest had at length appeared. The true Lamb of God had been slain. The true mercy seat was at length revealed. The figures and shadows were no longer needed. May we all remember this! To set up an altar, and a sacrifice, and a priesthood now, is to light a candle at noon-day.

That rending of the veil proclaimed the opening of the way of salvation to all mankind. The way into the presence of God was unknown to the Gentile, and only seen dimly by the Jew, until Christ died. But Christ having now offered up a perfect sacrifice, and obtained eternal redemption, the darkness and mystery were to pass away. All were to be invited now to draw near to God with boldness, and approach Him with confidence, by faith in Jesus. A door was thrown open, and a way of life set before the whole world. May we all remember this! From the time that Jesus died, the way of peace was never meant to be shrouded in mystery. There was to be no reserve. The Gospel was the revelation of a mystery, which had been hidden from ages and generations. To clothe religion now with mystery, is to mistake the grand characteristic of Christianity.

Let us turn from the story of the crucifixion, every time we read it, with hearts full of praise. Let us praise God for the confidence it gives us, as to the ground of our hope of pardon. Our sins may be many and great, but the payment made by our Great Substitute far outweighs them all. Let us praise God for the view it given us of the love of our Father in heaven. He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, will surely with Him give us all things. Not least, let us praise God for the view it gives us of the sympathy of Jesus with all His believing people. He can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities. He knows what suffering is. Jesus is just the Savior that an infirm body, with a weak heart, in an evil world, requires.

 

Internet use and secularization (new study). But might it really be just porn?

8 Apr

I agree with this article, but will add that I do think internet consumption itself (the insatiable desire to be connected at all times) contributes to secularization.  Bible meditation, prayer, I think are both impacted by what we once called “internet addiction.”  That word is hardly used today since we are connected everywhere we go.  The ability to concentrate, to read at length, follow a logical argument through, as well as dwell on unseen realities via prayer and biblical meditation, are surely eclipsed more and more as we feel the tug to “check” this or that website or social network or email or blog response, etc.

However, as any Christian knows, the impact of sin, particularly enslavement to sexual sin, is most devastating to one’s sense God’s personal presence in one’s life.  The estrangement that a believer feels from God increases the more they indulge in sexual immorality.

How internet porn explains the decline of American faith

Since the early 1990s, there has been a significant uptick in Americans abandoning their faith. After crunching the numbers, one researcher says contributing factors such as upbringing and education only explain part of the increase. What about the rest?

After controlling for variables like income, environment, and so on, computer scientist Allen Downey of Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts found 25 percent of the decline can be correlated with Internet access. More Web, less faith.

Why? Here’s Downey’s stab at an answer: “For people living in homogeneous communities, the Internet provides opportunities to find information about people of other religions (and none), and to interact with them personally.” So increased exposure leads to doubt, disagreement, disenchantment, and ultimately to discarding your faith.

Maybe, but I don’t buy it. Downey’s answer plays off the modernist prejudice that equates religion and ignorance. That’s false on its face. But once we consider the Internet as a factor at all, there’s a far more obvious answer than wider horizons: porn.

Porn has been part of the Web from day one. And the stats for online consumption are staggering, even among Christians.

Disaffiliation should come as no surprise. We’ve already seen that porn makes prayer and beneficial contemplation impossible. Given the Christian understanding of the spiritual life, we’re not capable of simultaneously pursuing our lusts and sanctification. Such a pursuit causes internal dissonance, and the only resolution involves eventually conceding to the pull of one or the other. (I’ve talked about that before here.)

Personal testimony adds to the picture. In his book Samson and the Pirate Monks, Nate Larkin discusses his battle with sexual sin and its effect on his state of belief. The deeper he got the further away he felt from God.

I often screamed at God, banging on the steering wheel and begging him to relieve me of this terrible wickedness, to take the urge away, but the heavens were silent. After a while, I started wondering whether God was listening, whether he cared about me anymore, or whether he even existed at all.

On the flip side, as Larkin turned from lust, his faith returned. “I came to believe the gospel a little more,” he says. “The most powerful proof of God’s existence was the transformation that was taking place in my character.”

Faith is obedience, and obedience is faith.

If the rise of the internet has anything to do with a loss of faith — and it’s an interesting thought — the role of ideas is likely minimal. Arguments don’t cool many hearts, but sin surely does.

The church of Jesus Christ is in full retreat. Don’t you believe it.

7 Apr

Matthew 27: 62-67
Now on the next day [after the burial of Jesus], which was the day after the Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees were gathered together to Pilate, saying, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver said while he was still alive–‘After three days I will rise again.’ Command therefore that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest perhaps his disciples come at night and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He is risen from the dead;’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”

J.C. Ryle comments:

Let us learn from these verses, that God can make the devices of wicked men work to His own glory.

We are taught that lesson in a striking manner, by the conduct of the priests and Pharisees, after our Lord was buried. The restless enmity of these unhappy men could not sleep, even when the body of Jesus was in the grave. They called to mind the words, which they remembered he had said, about “rising again.” They resolved, as they thought, to make His rising again impossible. They went to Pilate. They obtained from him a guard of Roman soldiers. They set a watch over the tomb of our Lord. They placed a seal upon the stone. In short, they did all they could to “make the sepulcher sure.”

They little thought what they were doing. They little thought that unwittingly they were providing the most complete evidence of the truth of Christ’s coming resurrection. They were actually making it impossible to prove that there was any deception or imposition. Their seal, their guard, their precautions, were all to become witnesses, in a few hours, that Christ had risen. They might as well have tried to stop the tides of the sea, or to prevent the sun rising, as to prevent Jesus coming forth from the tomb. They were taken in their own craftiness. (1 Cor. 3:19.) Their own devices became instruments to show forth God’s glory.

The history of the Church of Christ is full of examples of a similar kind. The very things that have seemed most unfavorable to God’s people, have often turned out to be for their good. What harm did the “persecution which arose about Stephen” do to the Church of Christ? Those who were scattered went every where, preaching the word. (Acts 8:4.) What harm did imprisonment do Paul? It gave him time to write many of those Epistles, which are now read all over the world. What real harm did the persecution of bloody Mary do to the cause of the English Reformation? The blood of the martyrs became the seed of the Church. What harm does persecution do the people of God at this very day? It only drives them nearer to Christ. It only makes them cling more closely to the throne of grace, the Bible, and prayer.

Let all true Christians lay these things to heart, and take courage. We live in a world where all things are ordered by a hand of perfect wisdom, and where all things are working together continually for the good of the body of Christ. The powers of this world are only tools in the hand of God. He is ever using them for His own purposes, however little they may be aware of it. They are the instruments by which He is ever squaring and polishing the living stones of His spiritual temple, and all their schemes and plans will only turn to His praise. Let us be patient in the days of trouble and darkness, and look forward. The very things which now seem against us, are all working together for God’s glory. We see but half now. Yet in a little while, we shall see all. And we shall then discover that all the persecution we now endure was, like the seal and the guard, tending to God’s glory. God can make the “wrath of man praise him.” (Psalm 76:10.)

 

A sex slave story (pray, give, go)

5 Mar

Investik8

Investigative Journalist

Eden: a sex slave’s story

with 469 comments

Image

Wearing just their underwear, the girls line up with their backs to the wall, arms by their side, heads down, frozen to the spot. They dare not move.

Their captors walk up and down the line – picking them seemingly at random and tapping them on the shoulder – ‘You, you, you and you… come with me’.

In the back of a warehouse truck, they are driven for miles across the scorching Nevada desert until they reach a hotel. There, they are forced to have sex with up to 25 men one after the other.

This was life for Korean-born American Chong Kim who, at 19 years old, was sold as a domestic sex slave in 1994 to Russian gangsters and held captive for more than two years.

“The clients never came to the warehouse,” she recalled “That was just where we slept. There was nothing there but bed mats on the floor and we would just lay there.

“They would give us colouring books with fat crayons and we would colour. But then we would hear the knock outside the storage unit doors and have to all line up.

“If you were chosen, we would get in the truck and there would be a gallon of water between us. You could tell it was hot outside because it was made out of metal aluminium and it was too hot to touch.

“We were sweating when we got to the room and we’d get a make up bag and toiletries and they’d say ‘you have ten minutes to take a shower’. They would have lingerie laying on the bed.

“I remember sitting in the shower because it felt so good to be in water that I just cried. When I was done I had to basically lay in bed naked waiting for the customer to come in.”

About half of her clients were American and others were Russian but some had accents she wasn’t familiar with – they could have been British, Australian or European, she couldn’t tell.

“They all had one hour to spend time with us but most of the time they didn’t spend the whole hour, they just came in, raped us and then they would leave. And then we had to shower for the next client. That was pretty much our day.”

The traffickers would take up to 15 girls to ‘service’ hundreds of men in one day.

“One time, I could hear the screaming on the other side of the hotel room and I could tell another girl was being raped and she was screaming and it was really, really hard for me to concentrate.

“And when we got done throughout the day we would get so sore that I remember asking for a bag of ice and had to put it between my legs because it hurt so much.”

Sometimes the girls were returned to the warehouse, sometimes they didn’t. Any attempts at fighting back or escaping were met with brutal beatings and torture.

“I tried to escape numerous times,” says Chong, now 38. “I remember one time the warehouse truck stopped somewhere and we had to get out to get changed and use the bathroom and that’s when I started running.

“We were in the middle of the desert and I didn’t know where I was. The next thing I knew, I had what I think was a crowbar hit me in the back of the head. When I woke up, I was tortured. I was on a meat hook and beaten like a piñata. Other times they would bust both my knee caps or they would put me in a tub of ice naked.”

Read the rest here

Repentance that’s too late and the tale of the backslider

3 Mar

From JC Ryle:

Matthew 27:

Now when morning had come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death–and they bound him, and led him away, and delivered him up to Pontius Pilate, the governor. Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, felt remorse, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.”

But they said, “What is that to us? You see to it.”

He threw down the pieces of silver in the sanctuary, and departed. He went away and hanged himself.

We see, in the end of Judas, that there is such a thing as repentance which is too late. We are told plainly that “Judas was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and other leaders.” We are even told that he went to the priests, and said, “I have sinned.” And yet it is clear that he did not repent unto salvation.

This is a point which deserves special attention. It is a common saying, “that it is never too late to repent.” The saying, no doubt, is true, if repentance be true; but unhappily late repentance is often not genuine. It is possible for a man to feel his sins, and be sorry for them–to be under strong convictions of guilt, and express deep remorse–to be pierced in conscience, and exhibit much distress of mind–and yet, for all this, not repent with his heart. Present danger, or the fear of death, may account for all his feelings, and the Holy Spirit may have done no work whatever in his soul.

Let us beware of trusting to a late repentance. “Now is the accepted time. Today is the day of salvation.” ONE penitent thief was saved in the hour of death, that no man might despair, but ONLY ONE, that no man might presume. Let us put off nothing that concerns our souls, and above all not put off repentance, under the vain idea that it is a thing in our own power. The words of Solomon on this subject are very fearful. “I will not answer when they cry for help. Even though they anxiously search for me, they will not find me.” (Prov. 1:28.)

]Also], let us see in the case of Judas, to what a miserable end a man may come, if he has great privileges, and does not use them rightly. We are told that this unhappy man “departed and went and hanged himself.” What an dreadful death to die! An apostle of Christ, a former preacher of the Gospel, a companion of Peter and John, commits suicide, and rushes into God’s presence unprepared and unforgiven.

Let us never forget that no sinners are so sinful as sinners against light and knowledge. None are so provoking to God. None, if we look at Scripture, have been so often removed from this world by sudden and fearful visitations. Let us remember Lot’s wife, Pharaoh, Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, and Saul king of Israel. They are all cases in point. It is a solemn saying of Bunyan, “that none fall so deep into the pit, as those who fall backward.” It is written in Proverbs, “he that being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” (Prov. 29:1.) May we all strive to live up to our light. There is such a thing as sin against the Holy Spirit. Clear knowledge of truth in the head, combined with deliberate love of sin in the heart, go a long way towards it.

And now what is the state of our hearts? Are we ever tempted to rest on our knowledge and profession of religion? Let us remember Judas and beware. Are we disposed to cling to the world, and give money a prominent place in our minds? Again, let us remember Judas, and beware. Are we trifling with any one sin, and flattering ourselves we may repent by and bye? Once more, let us remember Judas and beware. He is set up before us as a beacon. Let us look well at him, and not make shipwreck.

Men fall in private long before they fall in public

21 Feb

From JC Ryle:

Now Peter was sitting outside in the court, and a maid came to him, saying, “You were also with Jesus, the Galilean!”

But he denied it before them all, saying, “I don’t know what you are talking about.”

When he had gone out onto the porch, someone else saw him, and said to those who were there, “This man also was with Jesus of Nazareth.”

Again he denied it with an oath, “I don’t know the man.”

After a little while those who stood by came and said to Peter, “Surely you are also one of them, for your speech makes you known.”

Then he began to curse and to swear, “I don’t know the man!”

Immediately the rooster crowed. Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” He went out and wept bitterly.

If the Gospel had been a mere invention of man, we would never have been told that one of its principal preachers was once so weak and erring, as to deny his Master.

The first thing that demands our notice, is the full nature of the sin of which Peter was guilty.

It was a great sin. We see a man, who had followed Christ for three years, and been forward in professing faith and love towards Him–a man who had received boundless mercies, and loving-kindness, and been treated by Christ as a familiar friend–we see this man denying three times that he knows Jesus! This was bad. It was sin committed under circumstances of great aggravation. Peter had been warned plainly of his danger, and had heard the warning. He had just been receiving the bread and wine at our Lord’s hand, and declaring loudly that though he died with Him, he would not deny Him! This also was bad. It was a sin committed under apparently small provocation. Two weak women make the remark that he was with Jesus. Those who stood by say, “Surely you are one of them.” No threat seems to have been used. No violence seems to have been done. But it was enough to overthrow Peter’s faith. He denies before all. He denies with an oath. He curses and swears. Truly it is a humbling picture!

Let us mark this history, and store it up in our minds. It teaches us plainly that the best of saints are only men, and men encompassed with many infirmities. A man may be converted to God, have faith, and hope, and love towards Christ, and yet be overtaken in a fault, and have dreadful falls. It shows us the necessity of humility. So long as we are in the body we are in danger. The flesh is weak, and the devil is active. We must never think, “I cannot fall.” It points out to us the duty of charity towards erring saints. We must not set down men as graceless reprobates, because they occasionally stumble and err. We must remember Peter, and “restore them in the spirit of meekness.” (Gal. 6:1.)

The second thing that demands our notice, is the series of steps by which Peter was led to deny his Lord.

These steps are mercifully recorded for our learning. The Spirit of God has taken care to have them written down for the perpetual benefit of the Church of Christ. Let us trace them out one by one.

The first step to Peter’s fall was SELF-CONFIDENCE. He said, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.” The second step was INDOLENCE. His Master told him to watch and pray. Instead of doing so, he slept. The third step was cowardly COMPROMISING. Instead of keeping close to his Master, he first forsook him, and then “followed him afar off.” The last step was NEEDLESS VENTURING INTO EVIL COMPANY. He went into the priest’s palace, and “sat with the servants,” like one of themselves. And then came the final fall, the cursing, the swearing, and the three-fold DENIAL. Startling as it appears, his heart had been preparing for it. It was the fruit of seeds which he himself had sown. “He ate the fruit of his own ways.”

Let us remember this part of Peter’s history. It is deeply instructive to all who profess and call themselves Christians. Great illnesses seldom attack the body, without a previous train of premonitory symptoms. Great falls seldom happen to a saint, without a previous course of secret backsliding. The church and the world are sometimes shocked by the sudden misconduct of some great professor of religion. Believers are discouraged and stumbled by it. The enemies of God rejoice and blaspheme. But if the truth could be known, the explanation of such cases would generally be found to have been private departure from God. Men fall in private, long before they fall in public. The tree falls with a great crash, but the secret decay which accounts for it, is often not discovered until it is down on the ground.

The last thing that demands our notice, is the sorrow which Peter’s sin brought upon him. We read at the end of the chapter, “He went out and wept bitterly.”

These words deserve more attention than they generally receive. Thousands have read the history of Peter’s sin, who have thought little of Peter’s tears, and Peter’s repentance. May we have an eye to see, and a heart to understand.

We see in Peter’s tears, the close connection between unhappiness and departure from God. It is a merciful arrangement of God, that in one sense holiness shall always be its own reward. A heavy heart, and an uneasy conscience, a clouded hope, and an abundant crop of doubts, will always be the consequence of backsliding and inconsistency. The words of Solomon describe the experience of many an inconsistent child of God, “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.” (Prov. 14:14.) Let it be a settled principle in our religion, that if we love inward peace, we must walk closely with God.

We see in Peter’s bitter tears, the grand mark of difference between the hypocrite and the true believer. When the hypocrite is overtaken by sin, he generally falls to rise no more. He has no principle of life within him to raise him up. When the child of God is overtaken, he rises again by true repentance, and by the grace of God amends his life. Let no man flatter himself that he may sin with impunity, because David committed adultery, and because Peter denied his Lord. No doubt these holy men sinned greatly. But they did not continue in their sin. They repented greatly. They mourned over their falls. They loathed and abhorred their own wickedness. Well would it be for many, if they would imitate them in their repentance, as well as in their sins. Too many are acquainted with their fall, but not with their recovery. Like David and Peter, they have sinned, but they have not, like David and Peter, repented.

The whole passage is full of lessons that ought never to be forgotten. Do we profess to have a hope in Christ? Let us mark the weakness of a believer, and the steps that lead to a fall. Have we unhappily backslidden, and left our first love? Let us remember that the Savior of Peter still lives. There is mercy for us as well as for him. But we must repent, and seek that mercy, if we would find it. Let us turn unto God, and He will turn to us. His compassions fail not. (Lam. 3:22.)

It was suitable that the high priest declare sin to be upon the head of Jesus

7 Feb

From JC Ryle:

MATTHEW 57-68

Those who had taken Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together. But Peter followed him from a distance, to the court of the high priest, and entered in and sat with the officers, to see the end. Now the chief priests, the elders, and the whole council sought false testimony against Jesus, that they might put him to death; and they found none. Even though many false witnesses came forward, they found none. But at last two false witnesses came forward, and said, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.'”

The high priest stood up, and said to him, “Have you no answer? What is this that these testify against you?” But Jesus held his peace. The high priest answered him, “I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

Jesus said to him, “You have said it. Nevertheless, I tell you, after this you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of the sky.”

Then the high priest tore his clothing, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Behold, now you have heard his blasphemy. What do you think?”

They answered, “He is worthy of death!”

Then they spit in his face and beat him with their fists, and some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who hit you?”

We read in these verses how our Lord Jesus Christ was brought before Caiaphas the high priest, and solemnly pronounced guilty. It was fitting that it should be so. The great day of atonement was come. The wondrous type of the scapegoat was about to be completely fulfilled. It was only suitable that the Jewish high priest should do his part, and declare sin to be upon the head of the victim, before he was led forth to be crucified. May we ponder these things and understand them. There was a deep meaning in every step of our Lord’s passion.

Let us observe in these verses, that the chief priests were the principal agents in bringing about our Lord’s death. It was not so much the Jewish people, we must remember, who pushed forward this wicked deed, as Caiaphas and his companions, the chief priests.

This is an instructive fact, and deserves notice. It is a clear proof that high ecclesiastical office exempts no man from gross errors in doctrine, and tremendous sins in practice. The Jewish priests could trace up their pedigree to Aaron, and were his lineal successors. Their office was one of peculiar sanctity, and entailed peculiar responsibilities. And yet these very men were the murderers of Christ!

Let us beware of regarding any minister of religion as infallible. His orders, however regularly conferred, are no guarantee that he may not lead us astray, and even ruin our souls. The teaching and conduct of all ministers must be tried by the Word of God. They are to be followed so long as they follow the Bible, but no longer. The maxim laid down in Isaiah must be our guide “To the law and the testimony–if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah. 8:20.)

Let us observe, in the second place, how fully our Lord declared to the Jewish council His own Messiahship, and His future coming in glory.

The unconverted Jew can never tell us at the present day, that his forefathers were left in ignorance that Jesus was the Messiah. Our Lord’s answer to the solemn adjuration of the high priest is a sufficient reply. He tells the council plainly that He is “the Christ, the Son of God.” He goes on to warn them that though He had not yet appeared in glory, as they expected Messiah would have done, a day would come when he would do so. “Hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” They would yet see that very Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had arraigned at their bar, appear in all majesty as King of kings. (Rev. 1:7.)

It is a striking fact which we should not fail to notice, that almost the last word spoken by our Lord to the Jews, was a warning prediction about His own second advent. He tells them plainly that they would yet see Him in glory. No doubt he referred to the seventh chapter of Daniel, in the language that he used. But He spoke to deaf ears. Unbelief, prejudice, self-righteousness covered them like a thick cloud. Never was there such an instance of spiritual blindness. Well may the Church of England litany contain the prayer, “From all blindness–and from hardness of heart, good Lord deliver us.”

Let us observe, in the last place, how much our Lord endured before the council, from false witness and mockery.

Falsehood and ridicule are old and favorite weapons of the devil. “He is a liar, and the father of it.” (John 8:44.) All through our Lord’s earthly ministry we see these weapons continually employed against Him. He was called a glutton, a wine-bibber, and a friend of publicans and sinners. He was held up to contempt as a Samaritan. The closing scene of His life was only in keeping with all the past tenor of it. Satan stirred up his enemies to add insult to injury. No sooner was He pronounced guilty, than every sort of mean indignity was heaped upon Him. “They spit in his face, and buffeted him.” “They smote him with the palms of their hands.” They said, mockingly, “Prophesy unto us, you Christ, who is he that smote you?”

How wonderful and strange it all sounds! How wonderful that the Holy Son of God should have voluntarily submitted to such indignities, to redeem such miserable sinners as we are! How wonderful, not least, that every tittle of these insults was foretold seven hundred years before they were inflicted! Seven hundred years before, Isaiah had written down the words, “I hid not my face from shame and spitting.” (Isaiah. 50:6.)

Let us draw from the passage one practical conclusion. Let it never surprise us, if we have to endure mockery, and ridicule, and false reports, because we belong to Christ. The disciple is not greater than His Master, nor the servant than His Lord. If lies and insults were heaped upon our Savior, we need not wonder if the same weapons are constantly used against His people. It is one of Satan’s great devices to blacken the characters of godly men, and bring them into contempt. The lives of Luther, Cranmer, Calvin, and Wesley supply abundant examples of this. If we are ever called upon to suffer in this way, let us bear it patiently. We drink the same cup that was drunk by our beloved Lord. But there is one great difference. At the worst, we only drink a few bitter drops. He drank the cup to the very dregs.

The Transracial Implications of the Gospel

21 Jan

The Transracial Implications of the Gospel.

Good post by Dr. Dan Wallace

The true measure of a Christian

8 Jan

[Matt. 26:39 Jesus anticipating his crucifixion] He went forward a little, fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from me; nevertheless, not what I desire, but what you desire.”

From J.C. Ryle:

Entire submission of will to the will of God should be one of our chief aims in this world. The words of our Lord are a beautiful example of the spirit that we should follow after in this matter. He says, “Not as I will, but as You will.” He says again, “may Your will be done.”

A will unsanctified and uncontrolled, is one great cause of unhappiness in life. It may be seen in little infants. It is born with us. We all like our own way. We wish and want many things, and forget that we are entirely ignorant what is for our good, and unfit to choose for ourselves. Happy is he who has learned to have no wishes, and in every state to be content. It is a lesson which we are slow to learn, and like Paul, we must learn it not in the school of mortal man, but of Christ. (Phil. 4:11.)

Would we know whether we are born again, and growing in grace? Let us see how it is with us in the matter of our wills. Can we bear disappointment? Can we put up patiently with unexpected trials and vexations? Can we see our pet plans, and darling schemes crossed without murmuring and complaint? Can we sit still, and suffer calmly, as well as go up and down and work actively? These are the things that prove whether we have the mind of Christ. It ought never to be forgotten, that warm feelings and joyful frames are not the truest evidences of grace. A mortified will is a far more valuable possession. Even our Lord Himself did not always rejoice; but He could always say, “may Your will be done.”

A word from John Chrysostom (347-407 A.D.) about the birth of Jesus

26 Dec

Shared from Trevin Wax:

How shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment.

The Ancient of days has become an infant.

He who sits upon the sublime and heavenly throne
now lies in a manger.

And He who cannot be touched, who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal,
now lies subject to the hands of men.

He who has broken the bonds of sinners,
is now bound by an infant’s bands.

But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor,
infamy be clothed with glory,
and total humiliation the measure of His goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word;
taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit;
and so He bestowing and I receiving,
He prepares for me the treasure of Life.
He takes my flesh, to sanctify me;
He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity!

For this day the ancient slavery is ended,
the devil confounded,
the demons take to flight,
the power of death is broken,
paradise is unlocked,
the curse is taken away,
sin is removed from us,
error driven out,
truth has been brought back…

– John Chrysostom, 347-407 A.D.

 

Bonhoeffer’s Christmas in a Cold Nazi Prison

24 Dec

From Denny Burk:

Permalink

Dietrich Bonhoeffer awoke December 25, 1943 on a hard wooden bed. It was the first of two Christmases he would spend sequestered in a Nazi prison.

This first Christmas would be celebrated in a lonely prison cell in a place called Tegel. He had been there for nine months, and he would be there for nine more until he was transferred to his final home, a Nazi concentration camp.

Bonhoeffer had hoped to be released for the holiday, but that was contingent on his personal lawyer who proved unreliable. His hope of spending Christmas with his family quickly evaporated into the cold silence, and his only connection with his parents would come through letters.

Inside Tegel

In the Tegel prison, Bonhoeffer and his 700 fellow inmates were treated as criminals irrespective of trials and verdicts. The men were underfed and verbally harassed, and frequently the warden refused to turn the lights on, adding to the dark and depressive spirit of the place. Bonhoeffer was assigned to a cell surrounded by prisoners awaiting execution. He writes about often being kept awake at night by the clanking chains of the cots as the unsettled, condemned men tossed and turned.1

But it was within this suffocating suffering that Christmas seemed to take a deeper meaning for the 37-year-old pastor-scholar. “A prison cell like this is a good analogy for Advent,” he wrote to a friend. “One waits, hopes, does this or that — ultimately negligible things — the door is locked and can only be opened from the outside.”2

Two Sides to Christmas

For Bonhoeffer, there are two sides to Christmas. There is a hopeless precursor side to Advent. Until God arrives, we have no hope for release from this imprisonment of our own sin. We are stuck and condemned, and the door is locked from the outside. We depend completely on Someone from the outside to free us.

And yet on the other side of Christmas, on the other side of the birth of Christ the King, we find suffering remains. We find freedom and hope, but the suffering is not washed away. As Martin Luther says, “God can be found only in suffering and the cross.”3 It is in the suffering of the Son of God that we find God.

From his birth in a despised manger, to his death on the cross, the Son of God suffered. Christ was acquainted with pain (Isaiah 53:3). And because Christ was familiar with it, we too are made familiar with suffering (2 Corinthians 1:5, 1 Peter 4:13).

The wisdom of God in the suffering of his Son baffles us. Christ became weak and vulnerable in order to suffer for us in his full payment of our sin (Philippians 3:9). What this means is that the child of God suffers, but not because God has withdrawn from him, but because God has drawn close. We are united to Christ and we share in his sufferings (Philippians 3:10).

Read the rest

Why evangelical churches desperately need the doctrine of divine impassability

19 Dec

In my Sunday School class at church, we are going through 1 Samuel.  In 1 Samuel 15, the Lord expresses sorrow or regret for having made Saul King.  (Saul as King disobeyed the direct command of God).  Clearly, the Lord’s emotions were stirred.  Wait, does God have emotions?  If so, doesn’t that make Him like us (emotion driven)?

The Westminster Confession of Faith says this about God (WCF 4:2):

There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long- suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.

So God is not like us.  He is “without… passions.”  This is the doctrine of impassability.  Think of a toddler and an adult.  The way a toddler experiences and expresses and reacts to frustration, anger, joy, sorrow, and so on is very different than an adult.  Now, tTake that analogy and throw it away, since we are talking about not merely two levels of maturity within one species or being but two different species, beings, natures, entirely (divine and human).  God does not have emotions that are equivalent to ours.  It may mean other things too, but it at least means that however God experiences emotions (and clearly He does in scripture), His emotions are not involuntary impulses.  His emotional experiences and the thoughts/actions related to them are not impulsive, knee-jerk, controlling, etc.  That describes human emotions, but not divine emotions.  Rather, the emotions of God are experienced within the context of His nature, which is fundamentally different than ours.  They are experienced within the context of His Holiness (his anger, for instance, is righteous), His omniscience (he knows all things both in the present circumstance as well as past and future while experiencing, for example, sorrow or joy), his omnipotence (his emotions are not controlling or out of control but are ever subordinated to His power).

Now, the doctrine of divine impassibility is critical for proper worship of God.  And ignorance of it (or failure to be advised by it) results in poor worship or even idolatry.  How?  Without the fundamental distinction made between God’s emotional nature and our own, we will inevitably reduce God’s emotional nature TO our own.  That will affect the way we pray to Him, speak of Him.  We will soon craft an emotional god into our own image, divorcing aspects of His character, attributes, nature from what is revealed of Him and forging a new god according to our own personalities.  Without being regulated by the doctrine of impassibility, our worship will be transformed as well.  We’d like to manufacture worship around the things that stir our emotions, satisfy us emotionally, conform to our emotive properties.  Without the doctrine of impassibility, this we will do and do with justification (God has emotions like us, after all, so if this pleases us and we are doing it with joy and sincerity, it must be pleasing to God too).  With this flawed understanding, we will sit God down beside us in the pew as simply one member of the audience (if He’s lucky) assuming He’s like us, emotionally.  But the doctrine of impassibility rightly appreciated will produce different effects.  Rather than tuning in to what we like, what stirs us, we will tune in to what God likes, what stirs Him, knowing that we are different.  What worship items would be trivial to us in terms of importance, we know may be fundamental and essential to God, since His emotions are not like our own.  With this doctrine forefront in our minds, we will recognize that we are driven by our finite flawed emotions, sinfully leading us to exclude some items important to God (but not to our felt wants) and include others of little importance to God (but satisfying to our felt needs).

Simply put, if God’s emotions are not like ours, if there is a major Creator – creature distinction, our worship will different, in that it will be obsessed with God, His nature, and what pleases Him emotionally, and not us, our nature, and what pleases us emotionally.  And thus, we will be further guarded against violating the first and second commandment (making a god into an image, our own, and worshiping it).

“Christians are finished here” in Iraq and Syria?

18 Dec

Dictators somewhat protected them.  Now what?

From Iraq:

As the last remaining Christian priest in the Baghdad suburb of Doura, Archdeacon Temathius Esha no longer just puts his trust in God’s all-seeing eye. Built into the wall of his vestry, amid pictures of Catholic saints, is a 16-screen CCTV monitor, keeping watch on every corner of his church in case of possible attack.

Along with the armed guard outside and concrete anti-blast walls, it makes St Shmoni’s feel more like a fortress than a house of worship. And after a decade in which Doura’s Iraqi Christian community has been robbed, kidnapped and murdered by Islamist extremists, it finds itself offering sanctuary to an ever-dwindling flock.

“Doura was once one of the biggest Christian communities in Iraq, with 30,000 families,” said Mr Esha, as he prepared for an afternoon congregation that barely filled two of the 22 rows of pews. “Now there are only 2,000 left. They feel they are strangers in their own land, and that makes them want to leave. The bleeding from migration is continuous.”

Today, St Shmoni is one of just two of Doura’s original seven churches still open, casualties of a period in which the area become one of the most notorious al-Qaeda strongholds in Baghdad. In the years that followed the US-led invasion of 2003, two churches were car bombed, while the others closed due to lack of numbers and the kidnapping for ransom of four of Mr Esha’s fellow priests, which has left just him and a local monk remaining.

Over the years, his own church has had an improvised explosive device and two car bombs planted outside it. All were fortunately discovered before they were detonated.

Read the rest here

And a BBC report from Syria

“The Lord says… kill them all…their children and infants.” My unusual reaction to 1 Samuel 15

11 Dec

Warning: If you are an Christian, reared on Veggie Tales, who understands God’s character to be pretty much the same as Santa Claus, read no further.  1 Samuel 15 will disturb you.  Alright, you’ve been warned.

Prophet Samuel rebuking King Saul for failing to kill all of the Amalekites, including their women, children, and infants.

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the passage or the troubling parts of it.  The history of the Jews up until this point has been replete with violent persecution from pagan nations (read Judges).  But God has secured a home for Israel and installed a king to rule over them (at their request), named Saul.  Israel’s prophet, Samuel, however is given a troubling revelation from God.

And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

Don’t miss it.  Don’t rush past it.  “Thus says the Lord of hosts… go and strike Amalek…kill both…child and infant.”  To be sure, the Amalekites were not saints.  They did evil unspeakable wicked barbarian things to Israel (and others).  But this was hundreds of years in the past and now children and infants too are to be slaughtered at the command of God for the sake of vengeance.  And for you Christian Trinitarians out there (that should be all of you), that would mean that sweet Jesus Himself was part of the divine counsel that gave the order.

We are next told that Saul chose not to obey the command in full but to spare some folks, like the Kenites and Amalekite king Agag, as well as some choice farm animals.  So Saul was merciful to some extent.  How does God react to Saul’s act of disobedience (I said kill them all!)?  He says, “I regret that I have made Saul King” (v11).  Samuel then chastises Saul for disobediently showing mercy to some (God is merciful, is He not?).  Samuel fully explains the extent of Saul’s disobedience, that the Lord is far more interested in faithful and obedient servants than the spoils of war (Saul said he would use the captured animals for sacrifices to God).  After Samuel’s lecture, Saul doesn’t duck the blame or guilt, but instead confesses rather fully.  He cries, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. 25 Now therefore, please pardon my sin and return with me that I may bow before the Lord.”  Saul assumes, as we all do in light of scripture many places elsewhere, that God will show mercy to him, a sinner, upon his repentance.  But instead Samuel, God’s prophet, tells him “I will not return with you. For you have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you from being king over Israel.” Samuel attempts to set things right, assuage the anger of the Lord, by “hacking Agag to pieces” (33).  But still, the only word we get directly from the LORD is a reiteration that He “regrets having made Saul king” (35).  

I think the trouble with this passage speaks for itself.  How can a good and loving God order the death of children and infants for evil done by their parents or grandparents?

The regret expressed by God is another troubling statement (made twice) since Samuel says of God in this very chapter that “the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret” (29). So we are left asking, did God have regret or not?  Is God capable of regret or not?  

I am not calling your attention to these passages to unsettle your faith or score points for biblical errantists or to befriend bible skeptics.  I firmly accept the inerrancy and consistency of scripture.  I’m also not going to “answer” these questions at present (to the extent that they can be answered).  I only call your attention to these passages to highlight a difference in the way I once would approach them versus now.

In the past, I would have read this text, felt the unsettling in my stomach, and immediately put on the defense attorney’s suit.  That is, I would place God in the dock and function not as His prosecutor but defense attorney.  I would convince myself (the jury) that there is a perfectly rational and reasonable explanation for these texts.  They make sense, properly understood, I’m sure of it.  I’d quickly set aside the bible (no time for meditation!) and consult the doctors of the church (read: apologists) on how best to deal with them.  I’d read this passage and think that the most pressing need I have at the moment is intellectual harmony, not spiritual balm.  In other words, passages like this (and there are others) would drive me to philosophy, not devotion.  

Maybe it’s simply old age or hopefully sanctification, but my reaction this morning (surprisingly) was very different.  I felt the same unsettling in the stomach (who doesn’t?), but rather than seek out a cogent rational response, I felt my heart drift towards the fact that I’m God’s simple creature and long to be His humble servant.  I’ve been endowed by my Creator with reason, but not omniscience.  That’s not a cop out.  I’m not simply chalking it up to mystery (an abused word in Christian circles if there ever was one).  Rather I found comfort not in dismissing what I don’t know or understand, but standing on what I do know and understand.  I know and understand, from God because He has told me, that His ways and thoughts are not our ways and thoughts (Is. 55:8-9), that the Lord will always do what is right (Gen. 18:25), that man only sees the outside but God sees the heart (1 Sam. 16:7), that God orders all things according to the counsel of His Holy will (Eph. 1:11), that no one knows the mind of God or can be His counselor (Rom. 11:34), that who am I that I should question God (Rom. 9), that God judges nations as well as men (Joel 3), that I wasn’t there when the Lord made heaven and earth, so who am I? (Job 38), that what is man that God is mindful of Him (Ps. 8:4), that man’s frame is tiny, he is but dust (Ps. 103:14), that God decrees both good and evil outcomes according for His own righteous purposes (Is. 45:7) , that the Lord gives  and takes away (Job 1:21), that the Lord gives both life and death (1 Sam. 2:6).

Bless His Holy Name.

Basically, I remembered that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us” (Duet. 29:29).  I took comfort in what I knew and trusted God in what I didn’t.  I repented for assuming the role of God’s defender, as if He needs one, instead of humbly acknowledging that “God is His own interpreter” and that He needs nothing from man.

This is not meant to suggest that a reasoned defense of these passages isn’t appropriate.  Christians (and skeptics) have legitimate questions about these issues and we must give an answer to every man for the hope that lies within us (1 Peter 3:15).  But I realized today that if my first response is not wonder, awe, humility — if these texts do not lead me to meditation or devotion but rather to apologetics, if they lead me to defend God rather than trust Him, then I’m committing the same kind of idolatry that the skeptic does when he uses these verses to denounce God.  I’m exalting finite human reason above divine wisdom.  I’m saying, sit back God, I can make better sense of your character than your Word does.  I’m going out before God instead of allowing Him to go out before me, which is exactly the stuff of pagan idolatry.  You see, the pagan gods needed humans, for everything, for food, for entertainment, for transportation.  Pagan gods are carried along by human effort.  But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is a different God.  He isn’t carried or sustained by us, but he carries and sustains us (Is. 46:4).  We don’t go out before Him.  Rather, he says to His people, “It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deut. 31:8).

The Greatest Story Ever Told, set to rap

11 Dec

Take a hip hop trip through the bible with the very talented and theologically sound Shai Linne.

Jesus judges me, this I know, for the bible tells me so

25 Nov

From J.C. Ryle on Matthew 25:31-46

 

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’

 

“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’

 

“The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

 

“Then they will also answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’

 

“Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

In these verses our Lord Jesus Christ describes the judgment-day, and some of its leading circumstances. There are few passages in the whole Bible more solemn and heart-searching than this. May we read it with the deep and serious attention which it deserves.

 

Let us mark in the first place, who will be the JUDGE in the last day. We read that it will be “the Son of Man,” Jesus Christ Himself.

 

That same Jesus who was born in the manger of Bethlehem, and took upon Him the form of a servant–who was despised and rejected of men, and often had not where to lay His head–who was condemned by the princes of this world, beaten, scourged, and nailed to the cross–that same Jesus shall Himself judge the world, when He comes in His glory. To Him the Father has committed all judgment. (John 5:22.) To Him at last every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that He is Lord. (Philip. 2:10, 11.)

 

Let believers think of this, and take comfort. He that sits upon the throne in that great and dreadful day will be their Savior, their Shepherd, their High Priest, their elder Brother, their Friend. When they see Him, they will have no cause to be alarmed.

 

Let unconverted people think of this, and be afraid. Their judge will be that very Christ, whose Gospel they now despise, and whose gracious invitations they refuse to hear. How great will be their confusion at last, if they go on in unbelief and die in their sins! To be condemned in the day of judgment by any one would be dreadful. But to be condemned by Him who would have saved them will be dreadful indeed. Well may the Psalmist say, “Kiss the Son lest he be angry.” (Psalm 2:12.)

 

Let us mark, in the second place, who will be JUDGED in the last day. We read that before Christ “shall be gathered all nations.”

 

All that have ever lived shall one day give account of themselves at the bar of Christ. All must obey the summons of the great King, and come forward to receive their sentence. Those who would not come to worship Christ on earth, will find they must come to His great assize, when He returns to judge the world.

 

All that are judged will be divided into two great classes. There will no longer be any distinction between kings and subjects, or masters and servants, or dissenters and churchmen. There will be no mention of ranks and denominations, for the former things will have passed away. Grace, or no grace, conversion or unconversion, faith or no faith, will be the only distinctions at the last day. All that are found in Christ will be placed among the sheep at His right hand. All that are not found in Christ will be placed among the goats at His left. Well says Sherlock, “Our separations will avail us nothing, unless we take care to be found in the number of Christ’s sheep, when He comes to judgment.”

 

Let us mark, in the third place, in what manner the JUDGMENT will be conducted in the last day. We read of several striking particulars on this point. Let us see what they are.

 

The last judgment will be a judgment according to evidence. The works of men are the witnesses which will be brought forward, and above all their works of charity. The question to be ascertained will not merely be what we said, but what we did–not merely what we professed, but what we practiced. Our works unquestionably will not justify us. We are justified by faith without the deeds of the law. But the truth of our faith will be tested by our lives. Faith which has not works is dead, being alone. (James 2:20.)

 

The last judgment will be a judgment that will bring joy to all true believers. They will hear those precious words, “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom.” They will be owned and confessed by their Master before His Father and the holy angels. They shall find that the wages He gives to His faithful servants are nothing less than “a kingdom.” The least, and lowest, and poorest, of the family of God, shall have a crown of glory, and be a king.

 

The last judgment will be a judgment that will bring confusion on all unconverted people. They will hear those dreadful words, “Depart, you cursed, into everlasting fire.” They will be disowned by the great Head of the Church before the assembled world. They will find that as they would sow to the flesh, so of the flesh they must reap corruption. They would not hear Christ, when He said “Come unto me, and I will give you rest,” and now they must hear Him say, “Depart, into everlasting fire.” They would not carry his cross, and so they can have no place in his kingdom.

 

The last judgment will be a judgment that will strikingly bring out the characters both of the lost and saved. They on the right hand, who are Christ’s sheep, will still be “clothed with humility.” They will marvel to hear any work of theirs brought forward and commended. They on the left hand, who are not Christ’s, will still be blind and self-righteous. They will not be sensible of any neglect of Christ. “Lord,” they say, “when did we see you–and not come to you?” Let this thought sink down into our hearts. Our characters on earth will prove an everlasting possession in the world to come. With the same heart that men die, with that heart they will rise again.

 

Let us mark, in the last place, what will be the FINAL RESULTS of the judgment day. We are told this in words that ought never to be forgotten, the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

 

The state of things after the judgment is changeless and without end. The misery of the lost, and the blessedness of the saved, are both alike forever. Let no man deceive us on this point. It is clearly revealed in Scripture. The eternity of God, and heaven, and hell, all stand on the same foundation. As surely as God is eternal, so surely is heaven an endless day without night, and hell an endless night without day.

 

Who shall describe THE BLESSEDNESS OF ETERNAL LIFE? It passes the power of man to conceive. It can only be measured by contrast and comparison. An eternal rest, after warfare and conflict–the eternal company of saints, after buffeting with an evil world–an eternally glorious and painless body, after struggling with weakness and infirmity–an eternal sight of Jesus face to face, after only hearing and believing–all this is blessedness indeed. And yet the half of it remains untold.

 

Who shall describe THE MISERY OF ETERNAL PUNISHMENT? It is something utterly indescribable and inconceivable. The eternal pain of body–the eternal sting of an accusing conscience–the eternal society of none but the wicked, the devil and his angels–the eternal remembrance of opportunities neglected and Christ despised–the eternal prospect of a weary, hopeless future–all this is misery indeed. It is enough to make our ears tingle, and our blood run cold. And yet this picture is nothing, compared to the reality.

 

Let us close these verses with serious self-inquiry. Let us ask ourselves on which side of Christ we are likely to be at the last day. Shall we be on the right hand, or shall we be on the left? Happy is he who never rests until he can give a satisfactory answer to this question.

 

They shot him in the face. They thought he was dead.

21 Nov

From Mollie Hemingway:

Late in the evening of November 28 last year, Habila Adamu was at home with his wife and kids in the Yobe state of Northern Nigeria when visitors stopped by. He opened the door, shocked to find gunmen wearing robes and masks.

They demanded he step outside and they peppered him with questions. What was his name? Habila Adamu. Was he a member of the Nigerian police? No. Was he a soldier? No. Was he a member of the state security service? No. He told them he was a businessman.

“OK, are you a Christian?” they asked.

“I am a Christian,” Habila said.

Initially fearful, Habila came to terms with the realization that it was the day of his death. He began praying for strength, forgiveness and salvation.

The gunmen wanted to know why he was not Muslim and told him they’d spare his life if he renounced his faith. His wife begged him to do what he needed to do to live. But he told them he was ready to die as a Christian. Before he could even get the statement out a second time, they shot him in the face.

Everyone thought he was dead. The gunmen began shouting Allah Akbar. His wife began sobbing. Even Habila was waiting for an angel to come and take him to heaven. Somehow he survived — the sole survivor of a Boko Haram attack on all the Christian men in his village.

Habila shares his story — as he did before a Congressional subcommittee on Tuesday and at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday — so that he can tell people that “To live in this world is to live for Christ, to die is gain.” That and, “Do everything that you can to end this ruthless religious persecution in Northern Nigeria.”

Read the rest

“I asked the Lord that I might grow”

29 Oct

By John Newton, 1779 (who also gave us Amazing Grace):

When there is no king: God’s good gift of government

21 Oct

The first verse in the book of Judges chapter 19 begins like this: “In those days Israel had no king.”  The last verse in the book of Judges (the last chapter is 21) ends like this: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

Sandwiched in between is a story of truly base depravity and utter debauchery.  A Levite man welcomes a visitor and his concubine into his home for the night; drunken “worthless” men bang on the door in the middle of the night demanding that he, the visitor, be sent out for a violent gang rape; the homeowner says no (excellent host!) but offers his virgin daughter or the visitor’s traveling concubine instead; the concubine is sent out, gang raped all night; in the morning, the visitor finds his concubine on the doorstep (she’s dead but he doesn’t know it); he cooly tells her to get up and get going; he discovers that she’s dead, cuts her into 12 pieces and mails each part to each tribe of Israel.  That’s scene one.  In scene two, one tribe of Israel, the Benjamites, which counted among their ranks the Levite host and visitor from scene one,  are made the objects of revenge by the other Israelis.  Indeed, all but 600 Benjamite men were wiped out in moral outrage by the other Israelis (all Benjamite women and children were slaughtered).  Anger subsides and suddenly, the Israelis feel sorry for their fellow countrymen and realize that the Benjamtes will not last long with all men (600) and no women.  Having sworn in outrage before never to allow their own daughters to marry any Benjamite men, they now look for wives for them elsewhere (vile, but men of their word I guess).  But how can they secure wives for the Benjamites without offering their own daughters?  Their plan?  They would take wives from Jabesh-Gilead, the one tribe that failed to show up for assembly one day.  They didn’t just seize virgins from Jabesh-Gilead, but killed everyone in the tribe except for the virgin women, about 400.  Well 400 of the 600 Benjamites are happy, but what about the other 200?  Plan II, snatch women from a place called Shiloh during one of the Lord’s festivals there!  Of course!  Not willing to get their own hands dirty (dirtier), they send the remaining 200 wifeless Benjamite men to Shiloh to hide in the the vineyards, observing the dancing women.  Suddenly, the Benjamites are to snatch the dancing girls for themselves.  If their husbands and fathers complain, they must tell them to get over it, they need these wives, and not to worry about breaking their oath because they never actually offered their daughters to Benjamite men (they were stolen instead, which makes it all ok).  That’s what they did; each man watched the dancing women, caught one, and carried her off.  Why?  “In those days, there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what is right in his own eyes.”

The story and the bookend statements about the absence of a king in Israel leads us to see the necessity of two things.  First, the need for God’s people to have a perfect King whose kingdom will never end (Saul is made a king, only to be replaced by David, a man after God’s own heart, who receives a promise that his Kingdom would never end, occupied as it shall be by an heir from the House of David, a shoot from Jesse’s stump, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the eternal King of Israel).  But there is a second necessity we may observe.  Human government is a gift from God functioning as a constraint on human depravity, so that men are not as evil as they could possibly be.  Bad government is bad, but it isn’t worse than no government at all.  Because in the absence of an coercive authoritative agency of God to restrain evil instincts, men will do what is right in their own eyes.  Men are not angels after all (Madison).  It is not that the Israelis, the Levite man, the cold hearted visitor, did not have access to or knowledge of God’s abiding and enduring moral law.  That law, written on the heart of every image-bearer, is accessible and known to all men everywhere (Romans 1).  That known moral law may be used to punish them but not pardon them for their guilt before a Holy God.  Grace wrought faith in Jesus is needed for that.  But the story illustrates that access to and knowledge of the moral law of God is insufficient to ensure moral order and prevent moral declension in a society peopled by fallen men, sinners.  That is why God gives, as he did with Israel, government and its civil law to nations.

Paul understood this well when he wrote to Roman Christians exhorting them to be subject to governing authorities, even pagan hostile governing authorities.  He wrote (Romans 13):

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”

Christians, often political conservatives, have developed a warped view of human government.  A view that stems more from political ideology and political partisanship than biblical theology.  We are instructed to pray for our leaders and be subject to them because they are ordained by God for our good.  Rather than showing honor and respect to human governments in thought, word, and deed, we harbor or express hate and rage.  Yet, and this is the reason why I retell this story, the bible says that without human government constraining human depravity, we would all be facing life in the wild west of kingless Israel.

Oh, and if you don’t like being subject to human governments, you won’t like heaven’s Monarchy.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul?

14 Oct

What Wondrous Love Is This?

American folk hymn

 

Don’t waste your car line

12 Sep

A few weeks ago, I realized that the time I spent driving my son to school and sitting in car line (10 minutes) was being wasted.  I began looking for something that would be edifying for both of us.  I found Kids4Truth, a daily podcast/devotional (3 minutes) with sound theology and relevant kid-level application.  Most kid devotionals are basically about being good and pleasant, and rarely teach the child much about their great Creator and Redeemer.  That is, there is much moralizing but little Christ-centered biblical gospel teaching.  I’m happy to recommend this to you parents.  You can subscribe as a podcast on your smartphone or iPhone and it automatically downloads each day.  Just follow this link and look on the left-hand side to subscribe.  Great way to start the morning.  They also have a church history podcast for kids too (check out their “dynamations” page as well).

http://kids4truth.com/Devos/Home.aspx

 

Here’s today’s podcast as a sample:

Jesus I am Resting in the Joy of what Thou Art

3 Sep

Jean S. Pig­ott, 1876, Ireland.

In worship, knowing trumps feeling

21 Aug

From Pastor Alistair Begg:

 

Dear Christian, they mock you, falsely accuse you, fine, jail, beat, and kill you. Fear not, your God says…

6 Aug

From Isaiah 51:

Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
    look at the earth beneath;
the heavens will vanish like smoke,
    the earth will wear out like a garment
    and its inhabitants die like flies.
But my salvation will last forever,
    my righteousness will never fail.

“Hear me, you who know what is right,
    you people who have taken my instruction to heart:
Do not fear the reproach of mere mortals
    or be terrified by their insults.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment;
    the worm will devour them like wool.
But my righteousness will last forever,
    my salvation through all generations.”

Awake, awake, arm of the Lord,
    clothe yourself with strength!
Awake, as in days gone by,
    as in generations of old.
Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces,
    who pierced that monster through?
10 Was it not you who dried up the sea,
    the waters of the great deep,
who made a road in the depths of the sea
    so that the redeemed might cross over?
11 Those the Lord has rescued will return.
    They will enter Zion with singing;
    everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
    and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

12 “I, even I, am he who comforts you.
    Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
    human beings who are but grass,
13 that you forget the Lord your Maker,
    who stretches out the heavens
    and who lays the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
    because of the wrath of the oppressor,
    who is bent on destruction?
For where is the wrath of the oppressor?
14     The cowering prisoners will soon be set free;
they will not die in their dungeon,
    nor will they lack bread.
15 For I am the Lord your God,
    who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
    the Lord Almighty is his name.
16 I have put my words in your mouth
    and covered you with the shadow of my hand—
I who set the heavens in place,
    who laid the foundations of the earth,
    and who say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”

How sweet and awful is the place

5 Aug

“Why was I made to hear thy voice and enter while there’s room?”

They persecuted me, they will persecute you

30 Jul

Just a daily brief from Voice of the Martyrs today.  Add to your prayer list:

From Pakistan:

Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman who has been imprisoned for four years under that country’s blasphemy laws, has been moved to a prison that is much farther from her family, VOM has learned.

The transfer came a few days after Asia’s husband, Ashiq Masih, visited her in Sheikhupura jail, where she had been receiving treatment from the jail doctor. Asia, 41, has been sick, complaining of intense pain in her legs, shoulders and arms.

The transfer to Multan jail means that in order for her family to visit her, they will have to travel around five hours instead of only one hour. The extra travel raises security concerns for the family, as well as making it more difficult for them to monitor her health situation. Ashiq reports that their two young daughters are discouraged by the news of their mother’s transfer.

Asia was arrested June 19, 2009, after Muslim co-workers, began pressuring Asia to renounce Christianity and convert to Islam. Asia responded by telling her co-workers about her faith in Christ. Asia told the Muslim women that Christ had died on the cross for sins, then asked them what Mohammad had done for them, according to VOM sources.

Asia told the women that Jesus is alive, but Mohammad is dead. “Our Christ is the true prophet of God,” she told them.

Upon hearing this, the Muslim women became angry and began to beat her. Then some men came and locked her in a room. Police took her into custody and later charged her with blasphemy against the prophet Mohammad. Seventeen months later she was convicted and sentenced to death.

To date, no Christian in Pakistan has been executed under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, but in several cases, extremists have murdered Christians after their release from prison.

Asia’s conviction and death sentence have brought international attention to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. Christians have called for Asia’s release and repeal of the laws, while extremists in Pakistan continue to demand that she be executed.

Prior to her transfer, Asia had told her husband that she is regularly praying in jail for her release and asked VOM readers to pray with her.

Ashiq told his wife what their two little girls are praying for. “They said, ‘We are praying for those people who are helping us and who are trying to release our Mama,’” Ashiq told Asia.

Please pray for Asia Bibi. Pray for healing of her body, encouragement to her spirit and for her release from prison. Please pray also for Ashiq and their two daughters.

You can write letters of encouragement to Asia through www.PrisonerAlert.com. The site has been updated with her new prison address. Invite your friends to sign a petition to the Pakistani government on her behalf at www.CallForMercy.com.

Posted: June 28, 2013

From Iran:

Church members expecting to attend a church-wide meeting on the future of their Assemblies of God (AOG) church in Tehran, Iran, on May 26 encountered instead a note on the front door saying the church was closed. On May 19, church leaders announced to the congregation that they were under government pressure to close the church if they did not cease Farsi-language services. They told the church that the leadership would discuss a course of action and invited the congregation back on May 26 to hear the final decision.

But apparently government intervention forced their hand more quickly than expected. On Tuesday, May 21, Pastor Asserian, one of the AOG pastors, was arrested while conducting a prayer meeting at the church. According to VOM contacts, the next day Senior Pastor Soorik placed a note on the church door. The note read: “This church is closed due to major repairs. Please do not return!”

Door

VOM contacts report that authorities made their intentions clear to the church, stating, “Farsi services have to stop. We cannot allow this to go on. It is best if you close [the church] yourselves, so you can keep the building and continue to serve the Armenian congregation. It is only then that we can consider the release of your pastors.” (Four other AOG leaders from Ahwaz, Iran, were arrested May 1.)

The central AOG church is the largest official church in Tehran that still offers church services in Farsi. In 2009, the Tehran AOG was ordered to terminate their Farsi services and limit their church services to the Armenian language, a language spoken by less than two percent of the population. Church leaders refused. Farsi is Iran’s official language and is spoken by at least 53 percent of the people.

“It was clear to most of us that an end to all manifestations of Christian worship in Farsi was the outcome Iranian authorities were pursuing all along,” said a VOM contact.

Sources: VOM Contacts, Article 18

Posted: June 4, 2013

Good theology, good music: The Sands of Time

29 Jul

Starting today, on Mondays, I’ll post what I consider good theology (usually classic hymns), set to good music (often contemporary versions).  I find that good faithful biblically rich, Christ-centered hymns are among the best way to permanently learn and recall true life giving doctrine.  I challenged you listen and read, think about, meditate on, the deep truths these great hymnologists have captured lyrically.  Here’s the first (music by Indelible Grace; lyrics by Ann Cousin 1857):

1. The sands of time are sinking,
The dawn of heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for –
The fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark had been the midnight
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

 

2. The king there in His beauty,
Without a veil is seen:
It were a well-spent journey,
Though seven deaths lay between:
The Lamb with His fair army,
Doth on Mount Zion stand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land

 

3. O Christ, He is the fountain,
The deep, sweet well of love!
The streams on earth I’ve tasted
More deep I’ll drink above:
There to an ocean fullness
His mercy doth expand,
And glory, glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land.

 

4. The bride eyes not her garment,
But her dear Bridegroom’s face;
I will not gaze at glory
But on my King of grace.
Not at the crown He giveth
But on His pierced hand;
The Lamb is all the glory
Of Emmanuel’s land.

5. O I am my Beloved’s
And my Beloved is mine!
He brings a poor vile sinner
Into His house of wine
I stand upon His merit –
I know no other stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth
In Emmanuel’s land

 

“…on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth”

5 Jul

From J.C. Ryle Expository Thoughts on Matthew:

“Therefore, behold, I send to you prophets, wise men, and scribes. Some of them you will kill and crucify; and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city; that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zachariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the sanctuary and the altar. Most certainly I tell you, all these things will come upon this generation.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me from now on, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'”

These verses form the conclusion of our Lord Jesus Christ’s address, on the subject of the Scribes and Pharisees. They are the last words which He ever spoke, as a public teacher, in the hearing of the people. The characteristic tenderness and compassion of our Lord, shine forth in a striking manner at the close of His ministry. Though He left His enemies in unbelief, He shows that He loved and pitied them to the last.

We learn, in the first place, from these verses, that God often takes great pains with ungodly men. He sent the Jews “prophets and wise men and scribes.” He gave them repeated warnings. He sent them message after message. He did not allow them to go on sinning without rebuke. They could never say that they were not told when they did wrong.

This is the way in which God generally deals with the unconverted. He does not cut them off in their sins without a call to repentance. He knocks at the door of their hearts by sicknesses and afflictions. He assails their consciences by sermons, or by the advice of friends. He summons them to consider their ways by opening the grave under their eyes, and taking away from them their idols. They often know not what it all means. They are often blind and deaf to all His gracious messages. But they will see His hand at last, though perhaps too late. They will find that “God spoke once, yes twice, though man paid no attention.” (Job 33:14) They will discover that they too, like the Jews, had prophets, and wise men, and Scribes sent to them. There was a voice in every providence, “Turn, turn, why will you die?” (Ezek 33:11.)

We learn, in the second place, from these verses, that God takes notice of the treatment which His messengers and ministers receive, and will one day reckon for it. The Jews, as a nation, had often given the servants of God most shameful usage. They had often dealt with them as enemies, because they told them the truth. Some they had persecuted, and some they had scourged, and some they had even killed. They thought perhaps that no account would be required of their conduct. But our Lord tells them they were mistaken. There was an eye that saw all their doings. There was a hand that registered all the innocent blood they shed, in books of everlasting remembrance. The dying words of Zacharias, who was “slain between the temple and the altar,” would be found after eight hundred and fifty years, not to have fallen to the ground. He said, as he died, “the Lord look upon it and require it.” (2 Chron. 24:22.)

Yet a few years, and there would be such an inquisition for blood at Jerusalem as the world had never seen. The holy city would be destroyed. The nation which had murdered so many prophets would itself be wasted by famine, pestilence, and the sword. And even those that escaped would be scattered to the four winds, and become, like Cain the murderer, “fugitives and vagabonds upon earth.” We all know how literally these sayings were fulfilled. Well might our Lord say, “Most certainly all these things will come upon this generation.”

It is good for us all to mark this lesson well. We are too apt to think that “bygones are bygones,” and that things which to us are past, and done, and old, will never be raked up again. But we forget that with God “one day is as a thousand years” and that the events of a thousand years ago are as fresh in His sight, as the events of this very hour. God “requires that which is past,” and above all, God will require an account of the treatment of His saints. The blood of the primitive Christians shed by the Roman Emperors–the blood of the Vallenses and Albigenses, and the sufferers at the massacre of Bartholomew–the blood of the martyrs who were burned at the time of the Reformation, and of those who have been put to death by the Inquisition–all, all will yet be accounted for. It is an old saying, that “the mill-stones of God’s justice grind slowly, but they grind very fine.” The world will yet see that “there is a God who judges the earth.” (Psalm 58:11.)

Let those who persecute God’s people in the present day take heed what they are doing. Let them know that all who injure, or ridicule, or mock, or slander others on account of their religion, commit a great sin. Let them know that Christ takes notice of every one who persecutes his neighbor because he is better than himself, or because he prays, reads his Bible, and thinks about his soul. He lives who said, “he that touches you, touches the apple of my eye.” (Zech 2:8.) The judgment day will prove that the King of kings will reckon with all who insult His servants.

We learn, in the last place, from these verses, that those who are lost forever, are lost through their own fault.

The words of our Lord Jesus Christ are very remarkable. He says, “I would have gathered your children together–and YOU would not.”

There is something peculiarly deserving of notice in this expression. It throws light on a mysterious subject, and one which is often darkened by human explanations. It shows that Christ has feelings of pity and mercy for many who are not saved, and that the grand secret of man’s ruin is his lack of will. Impotent as man is by nature–unable to think a good thought of himself–without power to turn himself to faith and calling upon God, he still appears to have a mighty ability to ruin his own soul. Powerless as he is to good, he is still powerful to evil. We say rightly that a man can do nothing of himself, but we must always remember that the seat of impotence is his WILL. A will to repent and believe no man can give himself, but a will to reject Christ and have his own way, every man possesses by nature, and if not saved at last, that will shall prove to have been his destruction. “You will not come to me,” says Christ, “that you might have life.” (John 5:40.)

Let us leave the subject with the comfortable reflection, that with Christ nothing is impossible. The hardest heart can be made willing in the day of His power. Beyond doubt, Grace is irresistible. But never let us forget, that the Bible speaks of man as a responsible being, and that it says of some, “you always resist the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 7:51.) Let us understand that the ruin of those who are lost, is not because Christ was not willing to save them–nor yet because they wanted to be saved, but could not–but because they would not come to Christ. Let the ground we take up be always that of the passage we are now considering–Christ would gather men, but they will not to be gathered; Christ would save men, but they will not to be saved. Let it be a settled principle in our religion, that men’s salvation, if saved, is wholly of God; and that man’s ruin, if lost, is wholly of himself. The evil that is in us is all our own. The good, if we have any, is all of God. The saved in the next world will give God all the glory. The lost in the next world will find that they have destroyed themselves. (Hosea 13:9.)

On Christian teachers who teach that getting stuff from God is not mysterious but scientific

27 Jun

Recently, a friend asked me to comment on the teachings of a Christian speaker.  The speaker insisted that figuring out how to succeed in one human endevour after another is pretty simple.  We need only follow a few biblically-derived steps or formulas.  Just do X in the Christian life and you’ll get Y.  Here’s my response:

When we confront the “property gospel” and its next of kin, we do so for the following reasons:

1.  We object to any contamination of the gospel that mixes justification with obedience (except, of course, the perfect obedience of Christ).

2.  We object to the notion or insinuation that the primary purpose behind our salvation is the accumulation of earthly goods (health, wealth, fame, success).  Rather, the purpose behind our salvation is righteousness and holiness, and to glorify God and enjoy him forever (Eph. 4).

3.  We object to any alleged biblical axiom which stipulates that all trouble, suffering, pain, sickness, poverty, persecution, in this earthly life on this side of the New Earth is due to unfaithfulness or disobedience in the Christian’s life.  The providence of God over the lives of believers can not be reduced to a mathematical formula.

It seems to me that this latter one is probably the point of conflict for most.  Certainly, as a general rule (and many proverbial passages indicate it), obedience tends to lend itself to greater ease of mind and life than rank persistent blatant disobedience to God.  These principles he refers to usually are found in the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament.  It wouldn’t be wise to blatantly and persistently disregard the commands of God.  That normally won’t result in our good generally (however defined), especially ultimately.  But these are proverbs, not axioms.  We read of the prosperity of the wicked as a great puzzle to the faithful, for instance (Jer. 12:1).  Take the verse which says that if we train a child up in the way he should go when he is older he will not stray from it (Prov. 22:6).  Is that a biblical proverb indicating a general rule or is that a biblical axiom indicating a necessary result?  Clearly it is the former (if it were the latter, we would be reduced to robots whose choices are entirely determined by external programming; such a view of human nature hardly squares with the biblical truth that humans are free moral agents made in the image of God).  The problem with prosperity theology is that it turns proverbs into axioms and since God can’t lie, they must blame a contrary result (straying child or impoverished Christian) on the Christian.  It must be, they reason, that the person lacks faith or is living in disobedience, and of course all of this leads to painful introspection and an inability to rest in the sovereign providence of God no matter life’s circumstances.  If suffering or earthly failure necessarily meant disobedience, then Peter (for instance) would have said that we should not be surprised by suffering in this life because of our disobedience.  But that’s not what he says.  He says we should not be surprised by suffering DESPITE OUR FAITHFULNESS precisely because suffering is a normal part of the Christian life/experience (1 Peter 4:12).  It doesn’t occur despite our Christianity but because of it.  Jesus himself said that we would be persecuted and even killed (now that’s quite the opposite of prosperity in my book!) not because of disobedience or failing to dial up the right biblical formula for earthly success (7 step program) but simply because we are followers of our Master Jesus and the servant is not greater than the Master (John 15:20).  I’d simply ask, were Jesus and the Apostles greater or lesser in their obedience and holiness to God than us?  And what did that obedience yield them, earthly success or failure (tradition has it that only John was not executed; he was only exiled to live out life in destitution)?  In prosperity theology, human failure and pain (sickness, poverty, persecution, calamity) MUST be due to spiritual failure and CAN’T be due to divine discipline, pruning, chastening, etc., but scripture teaches otherwise (Luke 13:1-5 and especially John 9:1-3).  We should of course check to see if our bad circumstances are due to divine judgement for unrepentant sin, but judgment isn’t the only biblical reason we have troubles (suffering builds endurance and character, we are told; Roms 5:3-5).  Rather, we know that “in this life, we are going to have trouble” (John 16:33). Moreover, our concern ought not to be focused as much on success in this life but in the life to come.  Heaven, and not earth, is to be where our heart and treasure is placed.  “Christian” teachings which encourage folks to focus on God as the path to worldly success are getting things just exactly backwards from scripture.  Christianity is not a financial or medical method to quality living.  Instead, we are not to worry about what we wear, food or drink, but we are to fixate on the Kingdom of God first.  Everything else, the Lord said, is secondary, the Father knows we need them, and perhaps He will add these things unto us as we follow Him (Matt. 6), which He often does because the Father loves to give good gifts to His children (Matt. 7).

So this teacher… where are his teachings focused?  Is he presenting God as a means to our earthly ends?  Or is he presenting God as the end for which man was made?  Is he presenting God as a means to our ends or is he presenting our lives as a means to God’s ends?

There is a passage I remember from Packer’s Knowing God that comes to mind that might be helpful here.  It’s from his chapter on God’s Wisdom and ours:

What does God do when he bestows wisdom to men?  Some… “suppose that the gift of wisdom consists in a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why God has done what he has done in a particular case, and what he is going to do next.  [the instructor seems to think he has the actions of God in anyone’s life figured out with mathematical precision].  People feel that if they are really walking close to God, so that he could impart wisdom to them freely, then they would, so to speak, find themselves in the signal-box [of a train station; directing trains]; they would discern the real purpose of everything that happened to them, and it would be clear to them every moment how God was making all things work together for good.  Such people spend much time poring over the book of providence, wondering why God should have allowed this or that to take place, whether they should take it as a sign to stop doing one thing and start doing another, or what they should deduce from it.  If they end up baffled, they put it down to their own lack of spirituality.
Christians suffering from depression, physical, mental, or spiritual may drive themselves almost crazy with this kind of futile inquiry.  For it is futile: make no mistake about that.”

So I find it dangerous, spiritually suicidal even, when Christian teachers start laying down principles as axioms about how to get God moving on our worldly behalf (the Prayer of Jabez book comes to mind).  Just do these steps, they tell us, and God will perform for you.  It assumes too much access to the divine and providential counsels of the Triune God.  It confuses biblical literature (proverbs are not divine decrees).  It causes Christians to focus on worldly concerns, earthly goods, rather than God and His kingdom; on gifts rather than the Giver.  It presents holiness as a means of getting what we want from God rather than the reason he called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (we are to obey because it pleases our Heavenly Father, not because it unlocks heaven’s treasure chest of material blessings, which may or may not happen anyways).  It causes them to obsessively and unhealthily expect to understand the ultimate cause of every event providentially occurring in their lives, and to control them given some spiritual formula.  It especially causes them to assume that prosperity (or the like) is always due to divine blessing and poverty (or the like) is always due to divine cursing, which is just blatantly un-biblical.

Hope this helps!

Westminster Larger Catechism Questions 187-196

19 Jun

Q. 187. How is the Lord’s Prayer to be used?

A. The Lord’s Prayer is not only for direction, as a pattern, according to which we are to make other prayers; but may also be used as a prayer, so that it be done with understanding, faith, reverence, and other graces necessary to the right performance of the duty of prayer.[1200]

Q. 188. Of how many parts doth the Lord’s Prayer consist?

A. The Lord’s Prayer consists of three parts; a preface, petitions, and a conclusion.

Q. 189. What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?

A. The preface of the Lord’s Prayer (contained in these words, Our Father which art in heaven,[1201]) teacheth us, when we pray, to draw near to God with confidence of his fatherly goodness, and our interest therein;[1202] with reverence, and all other childlike dispositions,[1203] heavenly affections,[1204] and due apprehensions of his sovereign power, majesty, and gracious condescension:[1205] as also, to pray with and for others.[1206]

Q. 190. What do we pray for in the first petition?

A. In the first petition, (which is, Hallowed by thy name,[1207]) acknowledging the utter inability and indisposition that is in ourselves and all men to honor God aright,[1208] we pray, that God would by his grace enable and incline us and others to know, to acknowledge, and highly to esteem him,[1209] his titles,[1210] attributes,[1211] ordinances, Word,[1212] works, and whatsoever he is pleased to make himself known by;[1213] and to glorify him in thought, word,[1214] and deed:[1215] that he would prevent and remove atheism,[1216] ignorance,[1217] idolatry,[1218] profaneness,[1219] and whatsoever is dishonorable to him;[1220] and, by his over-ruling providence, direct and dispose of all things to his own glory.[1221]

Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition?

A. In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come,[1222]) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan,[1223] we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed,[1224] the gospel propagated throughout the world,[1225] the Jews called,[1226] the fullness of the Gentiles brought in;[1227] the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances,[1228] purged from corruption,[1229] countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate:[1230] that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted:[1231] that Christ would rule in our hearts here,[1232] and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever:[1233] and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.[1234]

Q. 192. What do we pray for in the third petition?

A. In the third petition, (which is, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,[1235]) acknowledging, that by nature we and all men are not only utterly unable and unwilling to know and do the will of God,[1236] but prone to rebel against his Word,[1237] to repine and murmur against his providence,[1238] and wholly inclined to do the will of the flesh, and of the devil:[1239] we pray, that God would by his Spirit take away from ourselves and others all blindness,[1240] weakness,[1241] indisposedness,[1242] and perverseness of heart;[1243] and by his grace make us able and willing to know, do, and submit to his will in all things,[1244] with the like humility,[1245] cheerfulness,[1246] faithfulness,[1247] diligence,[1248] zeal,[1249] sincerity,[1250] and constancy,[1251] as the angels do in heaven.[1252]

Q. 193. What do we pray for in the fourth petition?

A. In the fourth petition,(which is, Give us this day our daily bread,[1253]) acknowledging, that in Adam, and by our own sin, we have forfeited our right to all the outward blessings of this life, and deserve to be wholly deprived of them by God, and to have them cursed to us in the use of them;[1254] and that neither they of themselves are able to sustain us,[1255] nor we to merit,[1256] or by our own industry to procure them;[1257] but prone to desire,[1258] get,[1259] and use them unlawfully:[1260] we pray for ourselves and others, that both they and we, waiting upon the providence of God from day to day in the use of lawful means, may, of his free gift, and as to his fatherly wisdom shall seem best, enjoy a competent portion of them;[1261] and have the same continued and blessed unto us in our holy and comfortable use of them,[1262] and contentment in them;[1263] and be kept from all things that are contrary to our temporal support and comfort.[1264]

Q. 194. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?

A. In the fifth petition, (which is, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,[1265]) acknowledging, that we and all others are guilty both of original and actual sin, and thereby become debtors to the justice of God; and that neither we, nor any other creature, can make the least satisfaction for that debt:[1266] we pray for ourselves and others, that God of his free grace would, through the obedience and satisfaction of Christ, apprehended and applied by faith, acquit us both from the guilt and punishment of sin,[1267] accept us in his Beloved;[1268] continue his favour and grace to us,[1269] pardon our daily failings,[1270] and fill us with peace and joy, in giving us daily more and more assurance of forgiveness;[1271] which we are the rather emboldened to ask, and encouraged to expect, when we have this testimony in ourselves, that we from the heart forgive others their offenses.[1272]

Q. 195. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?

A. In the sixth petition, (which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,[1273]) acknowledging, that the most wise, righteous, and gracious God, for divers holy and just ends, may so order things, that we may be assaulted, foiled, and for a time led captive by temptations;[1274] that Satan,[1275] the world,[1276] and the flesh, are ready powerfully to draw us aside, and ensnare us;[1277] and that we, even after the pardon of our sins, by reason of our corruption,[1278] weakness, and want of watchfulness,[1279] are not only subject to be tempted, and forward to expose ourselves unto temptations,[1280] but also of ourselves unable and unwilling to resist them, to recover out of them, and to improve them;[1281] and worthy to be left under the power of them:[1282] we pray, that God would so overrule the world and all in it,[1283] subdue the flesh,[1284] and restrain Satan,[1285] order all things,[1286] bestow and bless all means of grace,[1287] and quicken us to watchfulness in the use of them, that we and all his people may by his providence be kept from being tempted to sin;[1288] or, if tempted, that by his Spirit we may be powerfully supported and enabled to stand in the hour of temptation;[1289] or when fallen, raised again and recovered out of it,[1290] and have a sanctified use and improvement thereof:[1291] that our sanctification and salvation may be perfected,[1292] Satan trodden under our feet,[1293] and we fully freed from sin, temptation, and all evil, forever.[1294]

Q. 196. What doth the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?

A. The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, (which is, For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.[1295]) teacheth us to enforce our petitions with arguments,[1296] which are to be taken, not from any worthiness in ourselves, or in any other creature, but from God;[1297] and with our prayers to join praises,[1298] ascribing to God alone eternal sovereignty, omnipotency, and glorious excellency;[1299] in regard whereof, as he is able and willing to help us,[1300] so we by faith are emboldened to plead with him that he would,[1301] and quietly to rely upon him, that he will fulfil our requests.[1302] And, to testify this our desire and assurance, we say, Amen.[1303]

Westminster Larger Catechism Questions 178-186

10 Jun

Q. 178. What is prayer?

A. Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God,[1147] in the name of Christ,[1148] by the help of his Spirit;[1149] with confession of our sins,[1150] and thankful acknowledgment of his mercies.[1151]

Q. 179. Are we to pray unto God only?

A. God only being able to search the hearts,[1152] hear the requests,[1153] pardon the sins,[1154] and fulfill the desires of all;[1155] and only to be believed in,[1156]and worshipped with religious worship;[1157] prayer, which is a special part thereof,[1158] is to be made by all to him alone,[1159] and to none other.[1160]

Q. 180. What is it to pray in the name of Christ?

A. To pray in the name of Christ is, in obedience to his command, and in confidence on his promises, to ask mercy for his sake;[1161] not by bare mentioning of his name,[1162] but by drawing our encouragement to pray, and our boldness, strength, and hope of acceptance in prayer, from Christ and his mediation.[1163]

Q. 181. Why are we to pray in the name of Christ?

A. The sinfulness of man, and his distance from God by reason thereof, being so great, as that we can have no access into his presence without a mediator;[1164] and there being none in heaven or earth appointed to, or fit for, that glorious work but Christ alone,[1165] we are to pray in no other name but his only.[1166]

Q. 182. How doth the Spirit help us to pray?

A. We not knowing what to pray for as we ought, the Spirit helpeth our infirmities, by enabling us to understand both for whom, and what, and how prayer is to be made; and by working and quickening in our hearts (although not in all persons, nor at all times, in the same measure) those apprehensions, affections, and graces which are requisite for the right performance of that duty.[1167]

Q. 183. For whom are we to pray?

A. We are to pray for the whole church of Christ upon earth;[1168] for magistrates,[1169] and ministers;[1170] for ourselves,[1171] our brethren,[1172] yea, our enemies;[1173] and for all sorts of men living,[1174] or that shall live hereafter;[1175] but not for the dead,[1176] nor for those that are known to have sinned the sin unto death.[1177]

Q. 184. For what things are we to pray?

A. We are to pray for all things tending to the glory of God,[1178] the welfare of the church,[1179] our own[1180] or others, good;[1181] but not for anything that is unlawful.[1182]

Q. 185. How are we to pray?

A. We are to pray with an awful apprehension of the majesty of God,[1183] and deep sense of our own unworthiness,[1184] necessities,[1185] and sins;[1186] with penitent,[1187] thankful,[1188] and enlarged hearts;[1189] with understanding,[1190] faith,[1191] sincerity,[1192] fervency,[1193] love,[1194] and perseverance,[1195]waiting upon him,[1196] with humble submission to his will.[1197]

Q. 186. What rule hath God given for our direction in the duty of prayer?

A. The whole Word of God is of use to direct us in the duty of prayer;[1198] but the special rule of direction is that form of prayer which our Savior Christ taught his disciples, commonly called The Lord’s Prayer.[1199]

Minority Status: How are Christians to respond to their developing cultural displacement?

10 May

From a lesson I taught at my church on living in a religious minority status as God’s people in the aftermath of their cultural displacement.

Introduction: what scripture and the early church teach us about how to live as a religious and cultural minority in an increasingly unchristian society.

We must remember that we are not entitled to dominant or majority status, to be a major social force, in this world or age.  There is no kingdom in this world over which God has granted rule to Christians or His Church.  Rather, our kingdom is that of Christ, which is not of this world.  St. Augustine describes this truth in his classic The City of God, responding to the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman “Christian” empire.  Christians in his day were befuddled, disgruntled, bewildered.  How could the glorious Christian empire lose its status?  But Augustine explained that they had misidentified a City of Man (temporal) with the City of God (eternal).  The Kingdom of God is principally the eternal church of King Jesus and will endure forever.  Earthly kingdoms will come and go; Christians will find themselves sometimes in positions of prominence and sometimes in positions of obscurity or even persecution.  So we can respond to our cultural displacement with despair or with bitterness, but that stems from a wrong understanding of the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God and the role of the Church in battling against not flesh and blood but evil spiritual forces that operate in this present darkness.

So what is to be the posture of a culturally displaced church in this age?  We are to be people of…

1) Hope – Our hope is in the promises of God; faith is the substance of things hoped for and evidence of things not seen; we are to walk by faith and not by sight; though we are hard pressed on every side, we are not crushed; we may be perplexed, but we do not despair; We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed, because we know in Whom we have believed, that he is faithful; that he is the Great I Am, that there is none like Him, Declaring the End From the Beginning, and From Ancient Times the Things That Are Not Yet Done.  All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus our Lord.  So whom shall we fear?  If God be for us who can be against us?  We are not disheartened when we are deprived of position, for we know that we will judge angels; that we shall receive an inheritance, treasures in heaven, making this world grow strangely dim.  Even if we were given all kinds of authority, to subdue demons and kings, it is not in this that we rejoice, but that our names are written down in heaven.  In short, our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness, not our status in this world.  So when the world watches us, they marvel at our resilience, hope, faith, determination, steadfastness.

Introduction: what scripture and the early church teach us about how to live as a religious and cultural minority in an increasingly unchristian society.

We must remember that we are not entitled to dominant or majority status, a major social force, in this world or age.  There is no kingdom in this world over which God has granted rule to Christians or His Church.  Rather, our kingdom is not of this world.  St. Augustine describes this truth in his classic The City of God, responding to the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman “Christian” empire.  Christians in his day were befuddled, disgruntled, bewildered.  How could the glorious Christian empire lose its status?  But Augustine explained that they had misidentified a City of Man (temporal) with the City of God (eternal).  The Kingdom of God is principally the eternal church of King Jesus and will endure forever.  Earthly kingdoms will come and go; Christians will find themselves sometimes in positions of prominence and sometimes in positions of obscurity or even persecuted.  So we can respond to our cultural displacement with despair or with bitterness, but that stems from a wrong understanding of the spiritual nature of the Kingdom of God and the role of the Church in battling against not flesh and blood but evil spiritual forces that operate in this present darkness.

2) Truth – We are to be people of the truth, because our father is not the father of lies but the God of all truth, who never lies.

  • In our message – we remind people of their great Creator, His majesty, His moral law, written beneath layers of corruption upon their own hearts.  We are proclaim unto them the gospel, that the Lord Jesus Christ came to save sinners, that he lived, was crucified and buried, and was raised, cleansing us from all unrighteousness, He became sin for us so that we might become the children of God; seek him while he may be found for today is the day of salvation; we are heralds of the gospel, mission minded, longing to hear the name of the Lord exalted, lifting up th name of Jesus drawing all men unto him; we pray, we go, we send, first in Jerusalem and then the uttermost parts of the earth.  We are always ready to give a reason for the hope that lies within us.  Proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes.
  • In our churches – we are keep that deposit of the faith, the faith once for all delivered to the saints, passing it down through to each generation, teaching it to our children, proclaiming it from our pulpits, no matter what the culture or church growth strategists demand of our message.  To them, we say let God be true, and every man be a liar.  We do not abandon or change the word of God to fit the wants of our culture, friends, or other churches, who now find it obsolete or irrelevant for our changing times.  We are to be committed to purity of doctrine.  The early church faced a far more hostile culture than we do today.  Their ideas were not simply unpopular but also illegal.  Yet, they did not use that as an excuse to set aside doctrinal concerns, catechesis, the work of church councils or presbyteries, addressing false or problematic teaching, etc.  They did not let the enticements of social relevance and acceptance cause them to abandon their duty to guard the truth entrusted to their care.  We should also remember out history; it is precisely those periods of time when the Church held the greatest degree of institutionalized dominance that she wandered from the truth and became corrupted from within.  In proclaiming the truth, perhaps a better position for the Church to occupy is one that is exactly outside the social system to which it has been called as a herald.
  • In our dealings with others; our handshake should be our bond; our yeas should be yeas and nays nays; whatever else people may say of us, let them say “You can trust him; he’s a Christian.”

3) Holiness – though we are surrounded by gentiles, we do not do as the gentiles do; we are rather a Holy people; we do not intermarry, unequally yoking ourselves with unbelievers; we would not be troublemakers but peacemakers, making it our ambition to live quiet and peaceful lives, walking properly before outsiders and to be dependent on no one; we educate and disciple our own children, not expecting or allowing the world to do that in our stead; we do not simply call the Lord Lord, but we do as he commands; we flee from sexual immorality, but rather we will be marked by decency, goodness, integrity, honesty, we do not call evil good or good evil; we do not laugh with those who do evil; we aim to be holy even as our God is Holy.

4) Grace – we do not think of ourselves more highly than we ought, knowing that it is by grace through faith that we have been saved; gifts from God; we do not stand on the corner for all to see, judging others, thanking God that we are not like other men, but instead we humbly bow down crying out, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”  It is not for the well that Christ came, but the sick, and among them, we count ourselves; so we are not haughty, self-righteous; rather we know that there but for the grace of God we would go; We know there is no reason to boast since what we have has been given to us a free gift of God and to as many as the Lord our God may call.  We also acknowledge and affirm all truth that is God’s truth and the many wonderful ways that our God has graciously revealed Himself generally to mankind in His World, including through the creative, charitable, innovative, marvelous acts of men who testify to the glory of God.  Though they do not acknowledge Him as God, even suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness, we rejoice in the wonderful works of even unbelieving men and affirm all in them that is of divine origin and redeeming value.

Mercy – though we are persecuted, ostracized, mocked, we will not repay evil with evil; we forgive our debtors, turn the other cheek, love our enemies, and forgive those who hurt us.  When they steal our shirts, we are not surprised, knowing that they persecuted our master and we are not great than he; rather, we hand them our coats too.  All for His name’s sake.  We care.  We love our neighbor as ourselves, doing good to those who sojourn among us.  We are compassionate for the vulnerable, the neglected, the weak, the poor, the sick, the unloved, the unwanted, the orphan, the widow.   When others will not speak up for the weak or help them in their distress, we are the Good Samaritans.  We do good to all kinds of men; clothing, visiting, healing, helping, knowing that when we do good, especially among the least of these, we do it unto Jesus our Savior.  Others may see our good works and glorify our Father in Heaven.

Brotherly love – we love one another, for love is of God, and we are His people; people will know that we are disciples of Christ, because of our love for one another; we do good to all men, but especially the household of faith; we submit to one another in love; sharing each other’s burdens; giving one to another; we do not assert our rights, but love the brethren, putting them before ourselves; for the sake of the weaker brother and edification of the church; in society, glitz and glamor will win you favor, but in our churches, there is neither slave nor free, rich nor poor, male nor female, Greek or Gentile.

Sobriety – we are ever watchful ever waiting for the return of Christ, who will come as a thief in the night; though we know not the time when he will return, we will not be ignorant of the signs of the times, resisting the Anti-Christ who is to come and who is already among us; we will watch standing fast in the faith, with minds that are alert and fully sober, we set our hope on the glory to be brought to us when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.

In conclusion, let the world be drawn, if the Lord wills, to a church that embodies much of what St. Cyprian saw in his day (early 4th century).

“This is a cheerful world as I see it from my fair garden, under the shadow of my vines. But if I could ascend some high mountain, and look out over the wide lands, you know very well what I should see: brigands on the highways, pirates on the seas, armies fighting, cities burning, in the amphitheatres men murdered to please applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians – and I am one of them.”

– St. Cyprian

“Nothing offends God so much as neglect of privileges.”

10 May

From J.C. Ryle on Matthew 21:33-46:

“Hear another parable. There was a man who was a master of a household, who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a winepress in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and went into another country. When the season for the fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the farmers, to receive his fruit. The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again, he sent other servants more than the first–and they treated them the same way. But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and seize his inheritance.’ So they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. When therefore the master of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those farmers?”

They told him, “He will miserably destroy those miserable men, and will lease out the vineyard to other farmers, who will give him the fruit in its season.”

Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner. This was from the Lord. It is marvelous in our eyes?’ “Therefore I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and will be given to a nation bringing forth its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but on whoever it will fall, it will scatter him as dust.”

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he spoke about them. When they sought to seize him, they feared the multitudes, because they considered him to be a prophet.

The parable contained in these verses was spoken with special reference to the Jews. They are the husbandmen here described. Their sins are set before us here as in a picture. Of this there can be no doubt. It is written, that “He spoke about them.”

But we must not flatter ourselves that this parable contains nothing for the Gentiles. There are lessons laid down for us, as well as for the Jew. Let us see what they are.

We see, in the first place, what distinguishing privileges God is pleased to bestow on some nations.

He chose Israel to be a peculiar people to Himself. He separated them from the other nations of the earth, and bestowed on them countless blessings. He gave them revelations of Himself, while all the rest of the earth was in darkness. He gave them the law, and the covenants, and the oracles of God, while all the world beside was let alone. In short, God dealt with the Jews as a man deals with a piece of land which he fences out and cultivates, while all the fields around are left untilled and waste. The vineyard of the Lord was the house of Israel. (Isaiah. 5:7.)

And have we no privileges? Beyond doubt we have many. We have the Bible, and liberty for every one to read it. We have the Gospel, and permission to every one to hear it. We have spiritual mercies in abundance, of which five hundred millions of our fellow men know nothing at all. How thankful we ought to be! The poorest man in England may say every morning, “There are five hundred million immortal souls worse off than I am. Who am I, that I should differ? Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

We see, in the next place, what a bad use nations sometimes make of their privileges.

When the Lord separated the Jews from other people, He had a right to expect that they would serve Him, and obey His laws. When a man has taken pains with a vineyard, he has a right to expect fruit. But Israel rendered not a due return for all God’s mercies. They mingled with the heathen, and learned their ways. They hardened themselves in sin and unbelief. They turned aside after idols. They kept not God’s ordinances. They despised God’s temple. They refused to listen to His prophets. They abused those whom he sent to call them to repentance. And finally they brought their wickedness to a height, by killing the Son of God Himself, even Christ the Lord.

And what are we doing ourselves with our privileges? Truly that is a serious question, and one that ought to make us think. It may well be feared, that we are not, as a nation, living up to our light, or walking worthy of our many mercies. Must we not confess with shame, that millions among us seem utterly without God in the world? Must we not acknowledge, that in many a town, and in many a village, Christ seems hardly to have any disciple, and the Bible seems hardly to be believed? It is vain to shut our eyes to these facts. The fruit that the Lord receives from His vineyard in Great Britain, compared with what it ought to be, is disgracefully small. It may well be doubted whether we are not as provoking to Him as the Jews.

We see, in the next place, what an dreadful reckoning God sometimes has with nations and churches, which make a bad use of their privileges.

A time came when the patience of God towards the Jews had an end. Forty years after our Lord’s death, the cup of their iniquity was at length full, and they received a heavy chastisement for their many sins. Their holy city, Jerusalem, was destroyed. Their temple was burned. They themselves were scattered over the face of the earth. “The kingdom of God was taken from them, and given to a nation bringing forth its fruits.”

And will the same thing ever happen to us? Will the judgments of God ever come down on this nation of England, because of her unfruitfulness under so many mercies? Who can tell? We may well cry with the prophet, “Lord God, you alone know.” We only know that judgments have come on many a church and nation in the last 1800 years. The kingdom of God has been taken from the African churches. The Mohammedan power has overwhelmed most of the churches of the East. At all events it becomes all believers to intercede much on behalf of our country. Nothing offends God so much as neglect of privileges. Much has been given to us, and much will be required.

We see, in the last place, the power of conscience even in wicked men.

The chief priests and elders at last discovered that our Lord’s parable was specially meant for themselves. The point of its closing words was too sharp to be escaped. “They knew that he spoke about them.”

There are many hearers of the Gospel in every congregation, who are exactly in the condition of these unhappy men. They know that what they hear Sunday after Sunday is all true. They know that they are wrong themselves, and that every sermon condemns them. But they have neither will nor courage to acknowledge this. They are too proud and too fond of the world to confess their past mistakes, and to take up the cross and follow Christ. Let us all beware of this dreadful state of mind. The last day will prove that there was more going on in the consciences of hearers than was at all known to preachers. Thousands and ten thousands will be found, like the chief priests, to have been convicted by their own conscience, and yet to have died unconverted.

You do not know what you ask

26 Apr

The American evangelical church is moving into a time where open faithful biblical Christianity will be seen and treated as not simply silly but threatening and intolerable in society.  Professing Christians who want Christianity to yield them glory, honor, respect, and success will be sorely disappointed, perhaps falling away as the heat rises.  What did Jesus say to such as these?

From J.C. Ryle’s expository thoughts on Matthew 20: 20-23

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, kneeling and asking a certain thing of him. He said to her, “What do you want?”

She said to him, “Command that these, my two sons, may sit, one on your right hand, and one on your left hand, in your Kingdom.”

But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

They said to him, “We are able.”

He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it is for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

[One] thing that we should notice in these verses, is the solemn reproof which our Lord gives to the ignorant request of the mother of Zebedee’s children and her two sons. He says to them, “You don’t know what you are asking.” They had asked to share in their Master’s reward, but they had not considered that they must first be partakers in their Master’s sufferings. (1 Pet 4:13.) They had forgotten that those who would stand with Christ in glory, must drink of His cup of suffering, and be baptized with His baptism. They did not see that those who carry the cross, and those alone, shall receive the crown. Well might our Lord say, “You don’t know what you are asking.”

But do we never commit the same mistake that the sons of Zebedee committed? Do we never fall into their error, and make thoughtless, inconsiderate requests? Do we not often say things in prayer without “counting the cost,” and ask for things to be granted to us, without reflecting how much our supplications involve? These are heart-searching questions. It may well be feared that many of us cannot give them a satisfactory answer.

We ask that our souls may be saved and go to heaven, when we die. It is a good request indeed. But are we prepared to take up the cross, and follow Christ? Are we willing to give up the world for His sake? Are we ready to put off the old man, and put on the new–to fight, to labor, and to run so as to obtain? Are we ready to withstand a taunting world, and endure hardships for Christ’s sake? What shall we say? If we are not so ready, our Lord might say to us also, “You don’t know what you are asking.”

We ask that God would make us holy. It is a good request indeed. But are we prepared to be sanctified by any process that God in His wisdom may call on us to pass through? Are we ready to be purified by affliction, weaned from the world by bereavements, drawn nearer to God by losses, sicknesses, and sorrow? Alas! these are hard questions. But if we are not, our Lord might well say to us, “You don’t know what you are asking.”

Let us leave these verses with a solemn resolution to consider well what we are about, when we draw near to God in prayer. Let us beware of thoughtless, inconsiderate and rash petitions. Well might Solomon say, “Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter anything before God.” (Eccles. 5:2.)

 

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