Gospel

...now browsing by tag

 
 

Hope, Real & Imagined

Tuesday, October 3rd, 2017

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12[i]

And He said to them, ‘What are these words that you are exchanging with one another as you are walking?’ And they stood still, looking sad. One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?’ And He said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to Him, ‘The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning, and did not find His body, they came, saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just exactly as the women also had said; but Him they did not see.’” Luke 24:17-24, NAS

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:19-20

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 6:19-20

“Before we get to today’s interview, I want to say how profoundly saddened I am by the series of catastrophes, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, and now the mass shooting in Las Vegas. To everyone who is suffering, to everyone who has lost a loved one, or been injured, or lost their home, or their job, to everyone who is still in shock from being a witness, we are thinking of you, and hope you find whatever it is you need to carry on.” Terry Gross[ii]

________________________________________________________________________

Ms Gross’ compassionate words express the shared unspoken longings currently of multitudes on our planet. In the face of ongoing wars, famines, natural disasters, and the steady ongoing march toward eternity of humans great and small – of every race, class, and socio-demographic – our hearts cry out for something or someone to give us hope. The only suitable response to this cri de coeur is found in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Hope In The Face Of Hopelessness

On the third day after His death, Christ’s disciples were perplexed and demoralized. In their minds, Messiah was both a political and spiritual Deliverer. How could He die as a cursed outcast on an ignominiously cruel Roman cross? Where now were their hopes and dreams of salvation? Life seemed at once hopeless and incomprehensible. In that moment of painful confusion, the Lord Himself drew near to remind them of all that the Scriptures prophesied concerning this mighty victor. In His words: “Ought not the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:26.) In the wake of seeming tragedy, He pointed them to what Paul later called “the hope and resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6.) Hope for believers is not a vague wish that is hopeful of finding “whatever it is you need to carry on,” as Ms Gross phrases it (and many others in the world would agree with that amorphous sentiment.) The Christian hope is not merely for this world: it connects us with eternal life that emanates from beyond this sorrowful scene of pain and death. As Paul points out: “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable” (1 Cor. 15:19.) To suffer for Christ in this world, and then have no resurrection or life after death would be a false hope of immense magnitude! But the next verse promises that through His resurrection Christ triumphed over death, and is the first in what will be a long line of physically and spiritually raised ones; the Captain of their salvation is bringing many sons to glory (Heb. 2:10.)

Comfort From Beyond The Grave

  [iii]

The believer’s hope is focused on a person: The risen Christ! Our trust in Him is pictured as a “sure and steadfast” anchor, which is secured in the presence of the triune God Himself (Heb. 6:19.) As David Gooding eloquently writes: “What a hope Christians have! They have cast their anchor not in their fluctuating moods or feelings, or in their varying circumstances, or in anything else in this changing world. Christ himself as their precursor has taken their anchor right through into heaven itself and embedded it in the immovable ground of the presence and throne and character of God (6:19–20).”[iv]

We Have An Anchor That Keeps The Soul 

One of my friends from the crew of the Sea Gem (pictured above) told me of the importance of a good anchor. He told me that formerly the ship had the wring anchor; consequently, they would wake up in the middle of the night drifting – a dangerous situation for a seagoing craft! Imagine if one tried to use an anchor from a much smaller boat (like the Boston Whaler pictured below) on a crawfishing ship like the Sea Gem. What would happen?

 [v]

Clearly the smaller boat’s anchor would not do anything for the much larger vessel. Likewise, the rough seas of human life require a large anchor.

Only the hope provided by Christ, who died, rose from the grave, and ascended to glory can provide the unwavering assurance that is linked to God’s trustworthiness, justice, and holy love (Heb. 6:20.) Because the believer’s Forerunner, the Lord Jesus Christ has entered into the Father’s glorious presence, they shall certainly be there as well. As He said: “‘A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also’” (John 14:19.) Later He prayed: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24.) This is a sure and steadfast hope by which to live!

_______________________________________________________________________

[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version of the Holy Bible (NKJV.) Words in boldface and italics are my emphases.

[ii] Terry Gross, Introductory remarks to the broadcast, “Tom Petty to ‘Fresh Air’: ‘The Songs Meant a Lot to People, and it Means a Lot to Me’,” 10/3/17, Fresh Air with Terry Gross; electronic ed. accessed on the same date here: http://www.npr.org/2017/10/03/555302003/tom-petty-to-fresh-air-the-songs-mean-a-lot-to-people-and-it-means-a-lot-to-me [Emphasis mine.]

[iii] Photo by K.R. Keyser, 10/1/17, Spanish Wells, Bahamas; all rights reserved. Special thanks to the crew of the Sea Gem.

[iv] David W. Gooding, An Unshakeable Kingdom: The Letter to the Hebrews for Today, Myrtlefield Expositions. (Coleraine, Northern Ireland: Myrtlefield House, 2013), 141. [Boldface mine.]

[v] Photo by K.R. Keyser, 10/1/17, Spanish Wells, Bahamas; all rights reserved.

Missionary Material (A Retro-post by C.H. Spurgeon)

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

“The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.” Acts 10:36-43

“To crown all, our blessed Lord was one who knew how to die! Oh, when shall we have men and women sent among us who are prepared to die, in order to accomplish their life-work? I have shuddered, and all the more so because I might do no better myself, when I have heard excuses for avoiding risks of life, and reasons for escaping hardships in foreign lands. It has been even questioned in some quarters, whether a man would be right in exposing himself to danger of life in order to preach the gospel. I could say much, but would be sparing of censure. Only this I must say, until grace shall restore to us the ancient apostolic self-sacrifice, we may not expect to see the gospel conquering to any high degree. Zeal for God’s house must eat us up; love of life must yield to love of souls; trials must be counted as nothing for Christ’s sake, and death must be defied, or we shall never capture the world for Jesus. They who wear soft raiment will never win Ireland, or Africa, or India, for Christ. The man who considers himself, and makes provision for the flesh, will do little or nothing. Christ revealed the great secret when it was said of him, ‘He saved others, himself he cannot save.’ In proportion as a man saves himself he cannot save others, and only in proportion as he is carried away with self-sacrifice, willing to renounce luxuries, comforts, necessities, and even life itself, only in that proportion will he succeed. I trust that no missionary’s life may be lost, but I trust that if the church can only bring the world to Christ by the deaths of her ministers, all our lives may be sacrificed: for what are we, my brethren, what is any one of us, compared with the accomplishment of our Redeemer’s work? Our sires went to the stake with songs upon their lips. Our ancestors were confessors who dared the barbarous cruelties of Northern hordes, and the refined persecutions of Southern superstition; men who could die, but could not refrain from witnessing for the Lord. We must quit ourselves like men for Christ, and though we may not all be called to make the extreme sacrifice, we must be ready for it, and if we shrink from it we are not the men for such a time as this.

We want men who can toil, men who can pray, men who can weep, men who can die. In fact, we need for Christ’s work men all ablaze with consecrated fervour, men under a divine impulse, like arrows shot from the bow of the Almighty flashing straight to the target; men like thunderbolts launched by the Eternal to go crashing through every difficulty with irresistible energy of aim. We want a divine enthusiasm to fire us, an almighty impetus to urge us on. Only men thus filled with the Holy Ghost shall accomplish largely the work of God.” C. H. Spurgeon, “The Model Home Mission and the Model Home Missionary,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 16. Originally preached on April 14, 1870.  (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1870), 262. [Italics original.]

When Darkness Falls

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Today the United States is seized by eclipse-mania, as millions of people across the nation don odd-looking spectacles to observe a rarely glimpsed solar eclipse. Many are traveling large distances to get the best vantage point for the complete – or in some cases near complete – obscuration of the sun. Yet the most dramatic historical darkening of the skies was global, and concealed the central event of human history: Christ’s vicarious, sacrificial death. As the Gospel records it:

Now it was about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. Then the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And when Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, He said, ‘Father, “into Your hands I commit My spirit.”’  Having said this, He breathed His last.” Luke 23:44-46 [Boldface mine.]

Degrees Of Torment

When thinking of the Lord’s historical death, modern people tend to concentrate on His physical sufferings. The awful scourging, psychological torment, and beatings that He endured prior to the cross, as well as the nails through His extremities and the physical pain that accompanied crucifixion. This attention to His physiological sufferings likely stems from our own human understanding of sorrow. We can identify with bodily pain; sooner or later, we all endure sickness and corporeal affliction. Accordingly, we can picture Jesus’ physical sufferings.

Without minimizing the physical pain that Christ endured, His spiritual sufferings were the worst part of the cross. As 2 Corinthians 5:21 describes it: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” During the three dark hours the Lamb of God sacrificially took away the sin of the world by becoming a propitiation where the righteous judge condemned and punished sin but spared and justified believers in Jesus (John 1:29; 1 John 2:1-2; Rom. 3:23-26.) During that supernatural darkness on the cross, “the Lord . . . laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6.) It was a sight too terrible and too holy for fallen human eyes to behold. As George West Frazer poetically expresses it:

“‘Twas on that night of deepest woe, when darkness round did thicken,
When through deep waters Thou didst go, and for our sins wast stricken;
Thou, Lord, didst seek that we should be with grateful hearts remembering Thee.

How deep the sorrow, who can tell, which was for us endured?
O love divine, that broke the spell which had our hearts allured!
With heart and conscience now set free, it is our joy to think of Thee
.”[i]

The great hymnist and preacher, John Newton adds:

How bitter that cup no heart can conceive,
Which Jesus drank up, that sinners might live!
His way was much rougher and darker than mine:
Did Jesus thus suffer, and shall I repine
?”[ii]

From Darkness To Light

Thankfully, the Lord’s redemptive sufferings are over. He never needs to repeat His perfect sacrifice (Heb. 10:10-18.) The One who endured the deepest darkness, now inhabits unimaginably brilliant light – in keeping with His identity as “the Light” (John 1:4-5; 1 John 1:6-7; 1 Tim. 6:16; Acts 26:13.) After the darkness of the cross and the tomb, He arose from the dead and later ascended back to heaven’s glory (Rom.1:4; Acts 1:2-11.) For those who repent and believe on Christ for salvation, trusting in Him to save them through His finished sacrifice and resurrection, He promises eternal life in His kingdom which knows no darkness (Rom. 10:9; Rev. 21:23.) To ignore or disbelieve His offer of gracious salvation by faith is to remain spiritually lost, under God’s righteous sentence of condemnation (John 3:16-21, 36.) If one leaves this world in that state, they will endure eternal punishment in “outer darkness” (Matt. 25:30.)

Solar eclipses are temporary, lasting only a matter of hours across a continent like North America. By contrast, suffering God’s wrath in the lake of fire lasts forever for those who have not trusted the Lord Jesus. Since Christ died for guilty sinners like you and me, there is absolutely no need to eternally perish in this way. As He says: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life” (John 5:24.)

A Future So Bright

The believer’s bright destiny is well-expressed in a classic hymn:

The glory shines before me, I cannot linger here;
Though clouds may darken o’er me, my Father’s house is near:
If through this barren desert a little while I roam,
The glory shines before me, I am not far from home.

Beyond the storms I’m going, beyond this vale of tears,
Beyond the floods o’erflowing, beyond the changing years:
I’m going to the better land, by faith long since possessed:
The glory shines before me, for this is not my rest.

The Lamb is there the glory! The Lamb is there the light!
Affliction’s grasp but tore me from phantoms of the night:
The voice of Jesus calls me, my race will soon be run;
The glory shines before me, the prize will soon be won.

The glory shines before me, I know that all is well;
My Father’s care is o’er me, his praises I would tell:
The love of Christ constrains me, his blood hath washed me white;
Where Jesus is in glory, ‘Tis home, and love, and light.
[iii]

___________________________________________________________________

[i] G.W. Frazer, “‘Twas on that night of deepest woe,” electronic ed. accessed on 8/21/17 here: http://www.stempublishing.com/hymns/ss/188

[ii] John Newton, “I will trust and not be afraid,” electronic ed. accessed on 8/21/17 here: http://ehymnbook.org/CMMS/hymnSong.php?folder=p01&id=pd01601

[iii] Hannah K. Burlingham, “The glory shines before me, I cannot linger here” electronic ed. accessed on 8/21/17 here: http://ehymnbook.org/CMMS/hymnSong.php?id=pd16544

Danse Macabre

Wednesday, July 19th, 2017

The timeworn, cynically homespun adage has it that there is nothing certain except for “death and taxes.” Nevertheless, modern science continues its relentlessly optimistic quest to abolish death, with tech entrepreneurs funding ever more ambitious schemes to live forever.[1] End-of-life medical care and the funeral industry – multibillion dollar businesses in North America alone – seek to dull the pain and obscure the ubiquity of death, veiling its grotesqueness under a cosmetically constructed façade of simulated sleep. A more recent concept in mitigating the horror of death came to my attention earlier in the week, appropriately enough in an obituary.

Sunbury, GA Cemetary (Photo by KRK)

The English Approach: Let’s Talk About Death

The late Mr. Jon Underwood of London was a pioneering proponent of the “Death Café” movement. The idea is to gather over tea and cake and discuss one’s own mortality. On the one hand, this is a commendable effort to face reality: death comes to all human beings and it behooves them to face that fact.[2] The only problem is that it does not go far enough in thinking about the matter. This is shown by Mr. Underwood’s comment when asked about his own demise: “It’s not ‘that I’m not scared of dying — I am! . . . But doing this work has given me confidence that whatever happens I will respond with openness and resilience. I know I will cope. That’s really useful!’”[3] Sadly, his Buddhism[4] offers no certainty for what comes after death; of course, that is the momentous issue. What comes after this life determines whether or not one can “cope” with death and its aftermath.

After Death, Eternal Existence, But Where?

The best place to learn about death is to the words of the Creator of life, who vanquished death through resurrection – The Lord Jesus Christ. He has been to the afterlife and returned to tell the tale (1 Cor. 15:3-8.) Death exists in our world because of mankind’s historical and ongoing sin (Romans 5:12; 6:23.) The Lord Jesus came to earth to destroy sin and the Devil who exploits it to human beings’ cost (1 John 3:8.) Not only did Christ physically die, He also suffered and died under the wrath of God for our sin (1 Pet. 3:18.) Thus, He knows what lies beyond this world and has dealt with sin which separates us from our Maker. Those who are trusting Christ for salvation need not fear death, for it is a vanquished foe.[5]

Christ’s words to Martha are revelatory: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” (John 11:25-26.) He can promise life after death because He has defeated death, as Hebrews 2 explains: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:14-15; boldface mine.)

Elsewhere the Lord Jesus described the fruitfulness of His death and resurrection, saying: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24.) Commenting on His future harvest, one preacher remarked:

“The extent of this fruit-bearing we do not yet see. It is only one here, and another there, whom we see quickened from the death of sin by the all-vivifying power of him who, as the last Adam, is made a quickening spirit (1 Cor. 15:45). But, in the day of his glorious re-appearing; when he comes with the ten thousand of his saints, those who have slept in him, and those who shall be alive at his return; when he comes to smite Antichrist, to bind Satan, to deliver creation from its groans, to bless Israel, to be a light to the Gentiles, to set up his righteous kingdom, and to make all things new; it shall be seen what he has done by dying. In that day, when he presents to himself the Church of the first-born, the redeemed from among men, without spot or wrinkle, a great multitude that no man can number, we shall learn the extent and excellency of that fruitfulness which he acquired by dying. Heaven and earth, men and angels, shall then see why it was that this corn of wheat fell into the ground and died.”[6]

Christ For Us, With Us, And in Us

To those who receive Christ as their Lord and Savior, they are promised His presence through His indwelling Holy Spirit (John 14:16-23; Col. 1:27.) He lives in them and empowers them for service (John 15:5); even if they should die physically, they are not separated from Him for an instant (2 Cor. 5:1-8.) Their soul and spirit – the incorporeal part of humans – are instantly in glory with Christ (Luke 23:43.) At His coming, their bodies will be raised, transformed into glorified form, and caught up to be with the Lord (Phil. 3:20-21; Psa. 17:15; 1 John 3:1-2.)

If one rejects Christ’s offer to save and transform one into His glorious image, there is nothing left but to suffer a lost eternity of conscious punishment in the Lake of Fire – what people commonly call “hell” (Mark 9:42-48; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 20:11-15.) The only way to “cope” with life, dying, death and what comes after is to have a living relationship with the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 17:3.)

Ford Maddox Brown, Convalescent, (Portrait of Emma Maddox Brown); https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Convalescent_-_Portrait_of_Emma_Madox_Brown.jpg, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/89/Ford_Madox_Brown_-_Convalescent_-_Portrait_of_Emma_Madox_Brown.jpg

Here are afflictions and trials severe,
Here is no rest—is no rest;
Here I must part
with the friends I hold dear,
Yet I am blest—I am blest.
Sweet is the promise
I read in Thy Word:
Blessed are they
who have died in the Lord;
They have been called
to receive their reward;
‘There, there is rest—there is rest.’

This world of care is
a wilderness state,
Here is no rest—is no rest;
But I must bear from
the world all its hate,
Yet I am blest—I am blest.
Soon shall I be
from the wicked released;
Soon shall the weary forever be blest;
Soon shall I lean upon Jesus’ breast;
‘There, there is rest—there is rest.’
[7]

♰        ♰         ♰        ♰         ♰         ♰

Death and the curse were in our cup:
O Christ, ’twas full for Thee;
But Thou hast drained the last dark drop,
’Tis empty now for me.
That bitter cup, love drank it up;
Now blessing’s draught for me.

Jehovah lifted up His rod;
O Christ, it fell on Thee!
Thou wast sore stricken of Thy God;
There’s not one stroke for me.
Thy tears, Thy blood, beneath it flowed;
Thy bruising healeth me.

The tempest’s awful voice was heard,
O Christ, it broke on Thee!
Thy open bosom was my ward,
It braved the storm for me.
Thy form was scarred, Thy visage marred;
Now cloudless peace for me.
 

Jehovah bade His sword awake;
O Christ, it woke ’gainst Thee!
Thy blood the flaming blade must slake;
Thine heart its sheath must be;
All for my sake, my peace to make;
Now sleeps that sword for me.

For me, Lord Jesus, Thou hast died,
And I have died in Thee!
Thou’rt ris’n—my hands are all untied,
And now Thou liv’st in me.
When purified, made white and tried,
Thy glory then for me![8]

______________________________________________________________________

[1] Time, 9/30/13, Cover story: http://time.com/574/google-vs-death/

[2] Heb. 9:27. Of course, Christ promised the notable exception of those believers who are alive when He returns “in the air” to collect His church, 1 Thes. 4:13-18. Even if a believer dies before this event, he will: 1. Not taste of death in the sense that he will never be separated from God’s love in Christ, John 11:25-26; Rom. 8:37-39; Heb. 2:9-13. 2. Be raised to meet the Lord in the sky, 1 Thes. 4:14-16; 1 Cor. 15:20-23.

[3] Quoted in his obituary: Iliana Magra, “Jon Underwood, Founder of Death Café Movement, Dies At 44,” New York Times, 7/11/17, electronic ed. accessed here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/international-home/jon-underwood-dead-death-cafe-movement.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fobituaries&action=click&contentCollection=obituaries&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0 [Boldface mine.]

[4] “As a Buddhist, Mr. Underwood had already contemplated the philosophical questions of dying.” Ibid.; His website also indicates that he was a student at “Jamyang Buddhist Centre,” Accessed here: http://deathcafe.com/profile/2/

[5] As a Puritan writer explained it: “Death to a holy man is nothing but the changing of his grace into glory, his faith into vision, his hope into fruition, and his love into perfect comprehension.” Thomas Brooks, “The Crown & Glory of Christianity,” in The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart, Vol. 4. (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1867), 179.

[6] Horatius Bonar, “Sermon XXIII: Life & Fruitfulness Through Death,” in Family Sermons. (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 180. In another sermon, he said: “The first Adam died; so also died the second Adam, who is the Lord from heaven. But there is a difference. The first Adam died, and, therefore, we die. The second Adam died, and therefore, we live; for the last Adam was made a quickening spirit; and this is the pledge of final victory over death and the tomb. Thus, the grave is the cradle of life; night is the womb of day; and sunset has become sunrise to our shaded and sorrowful earth. Yet, this is not yet realized. We are still under the reign of death, and this is the hour and the power of darkness. The day of the destruction of death, and the unlocking of sepulchers is not yet. It will come in due time. Meanwhile we have to look on death; for our dwelling is in a world of death,—a land of graves. If, then, we would get beyond death’s circle and shadow, we must look above. Death is here, but life is yonder! Corruption is here, incorruption is yonder. The fading is here, the blooming is yonder. We must take the wings of the morning and fly away to the region of the unsorrowing and the undying; where ‘that which is sown in weakness shall be raised in power, and death be swallowed up in victory.’” H. Bonar, “Sermon XLIII: The Mortal & The Immortal,” in Family Sermons, 418-419.

[7] Anon., Believer’s Hymnbook, #72.

[8] Anne Ross Cousin, “O Christ What Burdens Bowed Thy Head,”; electronic ed. accessed on 7/19/17 here: http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/o/c/ocwbubth.htm

An Effective Ministry, A Guest-post by Randal Amos

Saturday, May 13th, 2017

Paul’s ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2

2:1 – Paul taught his entrance among the Thessalonians was a positive thing.

What qualified the ministry to be counted as positive?

13-16“Ye received it [the word preached] not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God”.  Therefore the Word effectually changed their hearts.  They became followers, not of Jewish religion and its legal practices, but of the other churches of God in Christ Jesus.  And they suffered for this culturally and religiously but kept going on.

Why were the results effective?  Following are 8 things that characterized his ministry. 

#1.   2:2The Right Mentality  (mental toughness)

Paul was jailed and shamed in Philippi.  Yet he and the others did not quit.  They then went on to Thessalonica and “were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention”.  They had the heart of a lamb but the hide of a rhinoceros.

Negative happenings did not change their faithfulness.   

#2.   2:3-4The Right Message

Their message was not religious law, political reform, financial prosperity, a better health-diet or a self-help program but “the gospel of God”.  Their “exhortation was not of deceit” with twisted error or trickery.  It was a message that did not try to please men but only God.  He opened God’s Scriptures and proved the gospel – that Christ suffered fully for our sins to save from our due judgment.  And that this Jesus rose from the dead showing He is that Christ (God’s anointed Lord and Savior), Acts 17:1-3.

Many speakers dynamically motivate but with the wrong message.

#3.   2:5-6The Right Motive

Paul did not wear a “cloke of covetousness”, i.e. pretending on the outside to care and represent God which would mask from them his real reason – being after their money through guilt, greed and gimmicks.  He did not make “merchandise of you” (2Pet. 2:3).

Neither did he flatter their egos to make them feel ok and special the way they were so they would like him.  “Nor of men sought we glory” that would make him a spiritual hero to them thus making it easy for him to take advantage of them.  They, as saved souls, in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ were his only glory and joy, 2:19, 20.

He was not in it for self but for God – Who tries the heart, and is a witness of it.  

#4.   2:7, 11The Right Match  (balance)

When Paul was among them he was neither a tyrant nor a wimp.  He had both father and mother qualities to him.  He was “gentle among you” (not harsh) as a nursing mother is with her dear children.  But he also “exhorted and comforted and charged every one of you, as a father” does his to children.   He was kind but firm in the things of God.

He had grace and truth like his Lord. 

#5.   2:8, 17-20The Right Moving  (what moved his heart was love, not self)

He had heart affection for the people themselves.  He just didn’t give them the gospel and ‘hit and run’. “Ye were dear unto us”. With desire he tried to return – then wrote them.

He loved the Lord and His people also.  He knew a head has a body – both are cherished.

#6.   2:9The Right Method

It was more than just bringing the saving gospel word to them but he used methods that were strategically meant to reveal God’s character and ways – thus aiding their knowledge of God.  Because they needed the example to work for a living, he, rather than depend on them for financial help (which was his due, 1 Cor. 9), “labouring night and day” with his own hands in hardship to help meet his needs. (Acts 18:3, 20:34).  Thus they would learn not to covet.  Later he could compellingly and un-hypocritically charge from God to the idle busy bodies; “if any would not work, neither should he eat”, (2 Thess. 3:10).

The method in telling the message of God should compliment the God of the message, (1 Cor. 2:1-5).

#7.   2:10The Right Manner of Life

Paul not only told them what was right, he lived what was right.  “How holily, and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe.”  Holy is piety toward God.  Justly is righteous fairness toward man.  Blameless is public reputation.  Paul was a living example of his message – written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God.

Paul not only talked the walk but he also walked the talk. 

#8.   2:12The Right Mark  (aim of ministry to hit – goal)

Paul was not after money or fame.  He was not after stunning numbers but after their walk“That ye would walk worthy of God, who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory”.  As he would further write in 4:1; “ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more”.

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth”, 3John: 4.

May we seek these 8 qualities by His grace in our ministries for the Lord Jesus.

Book review: The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior’s Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption

Monday, March 28th, 2016

[Note: I received a complimentary review copy of the book in kindle format from the publisher.]

Vern Poythress, The Miracles of Jesus: How the Savior’s Mighty Acts Serve as Signs of Redemption. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016.

  Given brother Poythress’ occupation and credentials – he teaches at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA and possesses doctorates in mathematics and theology respectively – I expected this book to be somewhat highbrow. I could not have been more wrong! He writes in a lucid, everyday style that avoids technical jargon and sticks to analogies that any reader can understand. I also anticipated a philosophical discussion of miracles, somewhat on the order of a more modern version of C.S. Lewis’ classic Miracles. Once again I was mistaken. Brother Poythress focuses on direct exegesis of the text of the Bible, paying particular attention to the Lord’s miracles in the Gospels of John and Matthew. Along the way he gives a practical tutorial in using Edmund Clowney’s chart of interpreting miracles in their context, as well as looking at greater things pertaining to the gospel that are typologically shadowed in the different types of signs that Christ performed.

  Of course, I don’t subscribe to every bit of interpretation that brother Poythress puts forth. As one would expect from a brother of Presbyterian affiliation, his soteriology and eschatology are thoroughly Reformed (I’m premillennial, dispensational, so some of our future chronology differs, as well as our approach to Israel and the Church!) Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading this book and recommend it as a good primer for studying the gospel miracles in their context. As always, be good Bereans (Acts 17:11) and prayerfully compare everything with the Scriptures themselves!

Recycling Rubbish Into A Masterpiece

Thursday, January 28th, 2016
"Strange Fruit" by Thornton Dial (Public Domain - https://www.flickr.com/photos/cwphobia/8476343758)

“Strange Fruit” by Thornton Dial (Public Domain – https://www.flickr.com/photos/cwphobia/8476343758)

The New York Times recently printed an obituary for the artist Thornton Dial. He became an artist in midlife and employed a variety of innovative materials such as bones, scrap metal, and other discarded items to create sculptures and paintings that are featured in the collections of the Whitney, the Smithsonian, and other prominent museums of contemporary art. Mr. Dial’s propensity for turning discarded items into works of beauty is in fact a time-honored tactic of the greatest artist of all: God Himself.  As the Scriptures say: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Reclaiming The Worst

It is astonishing to think of the sin-wrecked, perverted, and defiled people that the Lord completely transforms into works of art. As another verse expresses it: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10, emphasis mine.) People who were previously dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1) are now recreated after a perfect template: the very image of the glorified Son of God Himself. Although the work is not yet finished, the Bible affirms that “. . . He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6.) At His coming, believers will be perfectly conformed to Christ’s glorious image (1 John 3:1-3; Phil. 3:21.) Romans 8:28-30 concisely pictures the saints’ transformation into glorious masterpieces:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

Transformed Into A Multitude Of Masterpieces

God’s saving work will culminate in believers’ glorification with the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet someone might say: “Oh no, I’m too bad to be glorified. My life is so messed up, God can never make anything of me.” The Bible flatly contradicts this line of thinking. Truly, we must be born again through faith in Christ (John 3:1-21.) I will give a veteran preacher from a previous generation the last word on this matter:

Furthermore, you will say to me, ‘I desire to lead a new life.’ To do this you must be new yourself; for as the man is, so his life will be. If you leave the fountain foul the streams cannot be pure. Renewal must begin with the heart. Dear friend, the Lord Jesus Christ is able to make your life entirely new. We have seen many transformed into new parents and new children. Friends have said in wonder, ‘What a change in John! What an alteration in Ellen!’ We have seen men become new husbands, and women become new wives. They are the same persons, and yet not the same. Grace works a very deep, striking, and lasting change. Ask those that have had to live with converted people whether the transformation has not been marvellous. Christ makes new servants, new masters, new friends, new brothers, new sisters. The Lord can so change us that we shall scarcely know ourselves: I mean he can thus change you who now despair of yourselves. O dear hearts, there is no absolute necessity that you should always go downward in evil till you descend to hell. There is a hand that can give you a gravitation in the opposite direction. It would be a wonderful thing if Niagara when it is in its full descent should be made to leap upwards, and the St. Lawrence and the sea should begin to climb backward to the lakes. Yet God could do even that; and so he can reverse the course of your fallen nature, and make you act as a new man. He can stay the tide of your raging passion; he can make you, who were like a devil, become as an angel of God; for thus he speaks from the throne of his eternal majesty, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ Come and lay yourself down at his feet, and ask him to make you new. I beseech you, do this at once![1]

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, “Sermon for New Year’s Day,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 31. Originally preached on January 1, 1885. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1885), 8–9. [Italics original.]

The Desperate Need For “Heart Control”

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015
Photo by KRK

Photo by KRK

 

The San Bernardino mass shooting touched off the usual debates about gun control, law enforcement, intelligence-gathering, and so on; nonetheless, the real issue lies unmentioned: something must be done about the wicked human heart. “Heart control” is more essential than gun control. No legislation, education, or other societal means of influence can cleanse man’s inner being from the lusts and hatred that afflict all of us to one degree or another. While it is true that few people become murderers, all of us repeatedly demonstrate unrighteous thought-lives and frequent manifestations of sinful words and actions. As the Lord Jesus Christ said: “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.[1]

Spiritual Cardiology

Only the Lord Jesus can heal such a dreadful heart condition. His word diagnoses us all with the same condition, declaring: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”[2] We must be legally justified from God’s righteous sentence of judgment against us, as well as liberated from the tyranny of sin at work within us. By His sacrificial death and resurrection, Christ provides justification – the declaration of one’s righteous standing before God – and sanctification – a new holy position and lifestyle that separates us from this world, empowering us to love what God loves and hate what He hates.[3]

C.H. Spurgeon, one of the most eloquent Bible teachers of the nineteenth century, described it this way:

The saved may well adore their Lord for his conquests in them, since the arrows of their natural hatred are snapped, and the weapons of their rebellion broken. What victories has grace won in our evil hearts! How glorious is Jesus when the will is subdued, and sin dethroned! As for our remaining corruptions, they shall sustain an equally sure defeat, and every temptation, and doubt, and fear, shall be utterly destroyed. In the Salem of our peaceful hearts, the name of Jesus is great beyond compare: he has won our love, and he shall wear it.[4]

A Fresh Start For The Heart

The Lord Jesus taught a fundamental lesson to one of the most notable first-century Israelite theologians when He said: “You must be born again.”[5] Years of religious observance could not wash Nicodemus’ heart – or that of anyone else for that matter. Only by experiencing spiritual new birth through faith in the Son of God may one be cleansed from their sin. People do not need minor adjustments or incremental improvements. Only a complete reboot resulting in a new spiritual condition can solve the dilemma of our evil hearts. He makes this new start a reality, but it is only available to those who turn from their old lives of wickedness and receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.[6]

Short of this, sins large and small will continue to proliferate in the world and dominate the headlines, and individuals will be slaves to personal and public sins.[7] Someday it will end, of course. The Lord has fixed a day when He will return to put down evil and physically establish His kingdom on earth.[8] So the choice is clear for every one of us: receive Christ by faith and reign with Him; or reject His offer of the free gift of salvation and suffer the eternal punishment that our sins deserve in the Lake of Fire.[9]

 

[1] Mark 7:20-23.

[2] Romans 3:23.

[3] Romans 1:18-5:11 emphasizes the truth of justification from God’s just judgment; while Romans chapters 6-8 detail the believer’s positional and practical sanctification, as well as his eventual glorification with Christ (Rom. 8:17-39.)

[4] C.H. Spurgeon, “Dec. 3 p.m.,” in Morning and Evening: Daily Readings. New modern edition. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006.) [Italics original.]

[5] John 3:7.

[6] Read John 3 and Romans 3. These passages in The Bible may be read online here & here.

[7] John 8:34.

[8] Acts 17:30-31.

[9] Revelation 20:11-15.

Guest-post by R.P. Amos: Inclusive Diversity Or Exclusive Singularity – Which is of God?

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

The Bible answer would be both. But it depends on the setting. For example, most are inclusive of a diversity of food from potatoes to potluck but they are exclusive of eating garbage. Most include a variety of friends for their children but would exclude criminals.

There are three major areas in which God operates: the world of nations, the church of Christians and the kingdom of heaven (to come). Let’s consider the strategy of all three.

1 The World “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”

God’s agenda to the world is salvation and His tool is the gospel of Christ. The gospel (good news) of forgiveness, pardon from judgment and acceptance with God through the Lord Jesus Christ is open to all nations. Salvation is inclusive of all continents, classes, cultures, conduct and color. One’s religious upbringing, politics, gender, morality, finances, or sin does not exclude them from repenting and trusting the Lord Jesus. When saved they are equally forgiven, given the Spirit of God, and have His everlasting life.

The Corinthian church was taught about fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners, and told, “such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” Yes, the gospel invitation is the most inclusive, pluralistic and diverse offer in the world.

 2 The Church “the church of God at Corinth … for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are”

God’s agenda with the church is edification in holiness. His tool is the Holy Spirit. The Lord’s goal in salvation is to have a separated people for Him. The saved church, unlike the condemned world, is to be an exclusive place from sin and error so God alone is glorified. While believers can befriend the world and aren’t to punish it (God will), yet in the church there is to be discipline of those practicing sin to maintain holiness unto God.

All believers are given the Holy Spirit. A transforming work begins to conform them alone into the image (likeness) of His only Son, Jesus Christ. The church has a single head – the Lord Jesus. It has a single power – the Holy Spirit. It has a single body of truth – one faith. It has a single authority on morals and truth – the Holy Scriptures. It is to have unanimity of mind, message and judgment under one Lord – Jesus Christ. It has one God and Father. And it has one hope for the future – the coming kingdom of heaven. Rather than staying a pluralistic diversity the church is to become a singular similarity.

3 The Kingdom the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD

God’s agenda with the kingdom is peace on earth with justice for all. His tool is the return of Jesus as King. Only the righteous inherit the kingdom (God’s church is to be a microcosm of this coming kingdom). It’s where Christ alone will be the world king. It’s where all nations shall come to the Lord Jesus alone for teaching and worship. The unrepentant, the unbeliever and the unrighteous are excluded from it. And it is because of this exclusion that there will be peace at last and glory unto God as the whole earth will be at rest. Like having peace in a marriage, all other wooers must be excluded.

{Some Scriptures: #1. The World. Mark 16:15 / Gal. 3:28 / Col. 3:11 / Rev. 5:9 / 1Cor. 6:9-11.

#2. The Church. 1Cor. 1:2, 3:17 / Acts 15:14 / Eph. 3:21 / 1Cor. 5:9-13 / Gal. 4:6 / Rom. 8:29 / Eph. 1:22, 23, 4:3-6,13 / 1Cor. 1:10.   #3. The Kingdom. Zech. 14:9 / Rev. 19:11-21 / Isa. 2:1-4, 11:1-9 / Gal. 5:19-21 / Eph. 5:5-6.}

 Practical Application From Above: Same Sex Marriage

 This is the teaching of Scripture concerning the sins of the Gentiles (nations).  Their depraved sins are a result of God in wrath giving them up to a depraved mind. This is because they intentionally pushed God from their minds. Their impaired mind will cause them to self-destruct morally, physically, and spiritually without knowing it. (Romans 1)

Therefore, God has a day that He will judge the world. (Rom. 2:5 / Acts 17:31).  But until that day the church is to take them the merciful gospel of salvation.  We are not to punish the world or disassociate from them – yet we are not to be partakers of their sin. For if they repent and believe on the Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, they too are called out of this world for His Name, Acts 15:14. They will be forgiven, saved from wrath and given a new mind. We must not be sidetracked in fighting for political issues of social change. A straight married couple without Christ will go to the same hell as a same sex married couple. The answer is the gospel conveyed by our good works and word, Philp. 2:15, 16. The solution is not a better world now but the coming kingdom tomorrow, Rev. 11:15.

However, in the church we are called to judge within.  We must obey God rather than man, Acts 5:29.  If the church is commanded to perform sinful marriages, or allow such in fellowship, or if we must personally marry the same sex, or change the truth of His Word – then we must be prepared to suffer persecution by His grace.  The church is the pillar and ground of the truth as God’s holy house, 1Tim. 3:15.  The 7 churches were exhorted by our Lord not to judge the corrupt world they were in but to judge themselves and repent of certain things so that they might please Him as His house and lamp stand.

1Cor. 5:9-13 puts it concisely:

:9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

:10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

:11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

:12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

:13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

In the world we are to be a pacifist but in God’s holy church we are to be an activist. In the church, Titus was told to exhort and rebuke with all authority. But in the world he was told not to fight or speak evil of men but be gentle unto all – for we used to live in sin too, and are only what we are because the Lord’s kindness came to us, Titus 2:15, 3:1-8.

Guest post from R.P. Amos: “The Tyranny of Choice”

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

America is known as the land of the free with liberty for all. Its very government was built on choice to escape religious oppression and political tyranny. There was the choice to pick one’s leaders, not a royal dynasty. There was the choice to own property, as you were able. There was the choice to choose your education or profession. And as it grew richer the opportunity was there to fulfill that dream of choice. There was the choice to choose your religion (or no religion). There was freedom of speech to express oneself religiously or politically. And government had no power to suppress that personal choice.

Governmentally speaking, Choice was a delightful baby in a world of oppression. It allowed for mutual respect of all citizens and coexistence in peace. It provided the incentive to be all that you could be. And in the free market system America became the richest and most powerful country in the world. The gospel and the church flourished here because of this very freedom and became a beacon of light to darker nations.

Choice, however, did not have a birth certificate (its legal documents) stamped with the gospel of Christ (His cleansing blood) or the Word of God. Choice was birthed in the womb of assumption that its citizens would be grounded in morality and virtue.

 “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”     John Adams

 “Unless virtue guide us our choice must be wrong.”     William Penn

 “America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”      An old adage

 “Righteousness exalteth a nation.”    Proverbs 14:34

  Now Choice has grown up and has become a king not a servant. Choice gives a woman the permission to have legal freedom to kill a baby in her womb. Choice grants one the freedom, without being judged, to choose their sexual lifestyle when and with whomever they choose. Choice permits one the liberty to marry the same sex. Choice gives one the right to be a witch or wizard and worship Satan or a plate of spaghetti.

Choice is not a preacher. It does not instruct in absolute morals, ethics or virtue. Choice is conscienceless and sterile. Choice is non judgmental. Choice is not biased. Choice is tolerant. Choice is accepting of all. Choice is kind. Choice is fun. Choice is love.

And now Choice as a master is tyrannical. Choice demands that it be submitted to as the only way and truth. To criticize another’s choice as sin is sin against Choice. To claim there is only ‘one way’ is to deny Choice’s one way – blasphemy. To choose to refuse another’s choice (no matter how void of morals or truth) in your business or school or even a church’s legal functions such as marriage is becoming a criminal act and could be called a felony – worthy of punishment. To not make your restrooms open to Choice is discrimination. To not grant Choice every area of your life and government is looked at as insubjection and insurrection. Choice now wields the sword – bow or be punished. Choice judges those who judge her.

Choice decrees the judging of evil is more wrong than the doing of evil. Choice will not tolerate what doesn’t tolerate her.   Choice will not accept what doesn’t accept her. Choice will absolutely censure what absolutely claims absolutes. Choice will not be kind to those who are not kind to her. Choice will not love those who don’t love her. Choice will not let others choose who don’t choose her. Choice denies only “one God” – but her. Choice is now god. Therefore, Choice will wage war against her atheists. Choice will choose what you’re free to say. Choice has chosen to enslave her subjects.

The Gospel and the Church.

1 Peter 2:4 says of the Lord Jesus, He is disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God”.

The gospel of God in His Son Jesus Christ the Lord is offered equally to all sinners. It doesn’t consider color, sexual gender, age, class, country, lifestyle or religious pedigree. Any sinner who repents of his or her sin (wrong choices) and confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (who fully bore our sins in death and rose again as eternal Priest) is equally blessed. They are saved from sin, self, and Satan (deceptions via choice). They will never see hell-judgment but have eternal life being equally in the body of Christ.

A sinner is not forced to do this. He has a choice. But if he chooses to freely come to Jesus as Lord, then Christ and not Choice will be his Lord. “Not my will, but thine, be done”, like his Savior, will be his new thinking. This is because he is born again of the Spirit with a new heart that now desires and is able to understand God’s choices. The gospel teaches and provides that true virtue and morality must come from within. The believer is to show he agrees with God’s choice that Jesus is Lord by public baptism.

But beware of Master Choice trying to regain control of the mind and God’s church. Choice will tell you that “grace” still allows you to choose. Choice will tell you that choosing to obey the Lord Jesus’ commands is legalism, not love. Choice will tell you that your choices are more logical than God’s choices. Choice won’t tell you that God’s choices free you from sin to be all that you can be for His glory. Choice won’t tell you that in being a slave to God you will be free from master sin that frees you from true joy and spiritual heart satisfaction.

Choice will tell you to go to the church of your choice. Choice will let you choose what you like: your style of “worship”, music or church government. Choice will promise you liberty. And in time, Choice will liberate you and your children – from the wisdom of God and a spirituality that emits from the church functioning by the Lord’s choices. (A plurality of gifted men involved in a church meeting, the man’s headship over the woman, the centrality of the Lord’s Supper in keeping us focused on Christ, and holiness by the purging of sin and bad doctrine that can spread like yeast in the Christian church).

Choice will free you – from God’s growth, joy and rewards. Christ will bless you.

{Some Scriptures for The Gospel and the Church section. 1. Paragraph #2 – Acts 17:30, 31 / Romans 5:9, 10 & 10:9-13 / Gal. 3:28. 2. Paragraph #3 – Rev. 22:17 / Luke 22:42 / Rom. 8:4 / Acts 10:48 / John 3:3-7. 3. Paragraph #4 – Rom. 6 / John 14:15 4. Paragraph #5 – 1Cor. 5 & 11-14   5. Paragraph #6 – Rev. 3:10 / Eph. 1:3 / Psalm 1.}