Monday, June 29

Satan's M.O.

In this very rare book, which even C. H. Spurgeon could not put his hands on, the illustrative Puritan, Thomas Watson teaches how we may overcome the snare of the devil by the fear of God.
If Satan cannot take a Christian away from duty, he will put him too far in duty. Humiliation is a duty, but Satan suggests that the soul is not humble enough: and indeed he never thinks it humbled enough till it despairs. Satan comes thus to a man: "Your sins have been great, and your sorrow should be proportionable." But is it so? Can you say you have been as great a mourner as you have been a sinner? What is a drop of sorrow to a sea of sin? This is laid only as a snare--the subtle enemy would have a Christian weep himself blind, and in a desperate humour throw away the anchor of hope. And if Satan has such fallacies, and as a decoy draws away so many millions into his snares, is there not cause of jealous fear lest we should be trapped? The fear of God will make us fear hell's stratagems. Satan's snares are worse than his darts.
If "fear" is defined here with reference to God then it bespeaks a healthy respect to God's person, his power, and his purity. The "fear of God" next, leads us in our trials, in our decisions to determine how we shall act based on God. We start with God and "work outward" to applications that apply to us. Too often, even "Christians" begin with themselves and try to "add" God to their solutions, instead of figuring out how their issues fit into the plans of God. The "fear of God" thankfully, sets this right!

Sunday, June 28

What Kind of Death Did They Die?

Three Well-Known Deaths

This past week, three celebrities died—Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, & Michael Jackson. They grabbed the headlines which is to be expected. As far as ability goes, each added to his own industry in unique ways which will never be forgotten by this generation . . . or beyond, I suspect. The tragedy multiplies infinitely IF they did not know Jesus Christ as their Savior. There seems no evidence that they professed such faith in Christ. So, again this is the real tragedy, not that a musician died, or that a ‘70's icon pass on or that an octogenarian late night side kick finally breathed his last. Oh, folks will make much of their accomplishments, gifts & talents and contributions to the glitz industry and to humor. They may even point to some redeeming quality about each which is (it seems) supposed to offset a completely God-denying life, but which nonetheless qualifies them for heaven!? This is a very common practice among those without hope, desperate to declare it for another. After all, "what is to become of us," they say, "when we die?" Understandable. Yet, salvation through Jesus is possible for them as well, but not via peer declaration. Question is: was that ever in their sights? I hope that it was. I fear that it was not.

One Unknown

Here in upstate New York, near the NY thruway on route 19 another man died this past week, an 84 year old retired minister. He, contrary to the previous three, is not well known. He earned a pastor’s salary commensurate with a rural community, and did not even have a retirement fund to carry him into his last years. Back in those days, that wasn’t uncommon. Rather he had to work to keep up his subsistence laboring in the field of electricity, and pastoring a small body of believers in the town of Stafford, NY. He died probably from a diabetes reaction which caused him to swerve into oncoming traffic, killing both himself and a 62 year old gentleman. He wasn’t that well known except around here. But he WAS well known to God. Ray Sissel was a lovely man, gentle, an avid hunter and fisherman, affable in every way. We mourn his home going, but not his entrance into glory!! Oh, no. THAT we celebrate, as does he! But be sure of this, Ray did not enter into glory because he was a pastor; he pastored because that glory was too dear to keep to himself! God, through Christ, saves those who cry out to him. He further transforms them and puts his Holy Spirit into their hearts filling them with comfort and strength and joy! Truly, “Precious in his sight is the death of one of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Precious indeed. We look forward to the day when we shall see Ray Sissel again. But more importantly, we anticipate walking with Jesus. Ah, that will be glory!

It is not how MANY mourn your loss, but WHO WELCOMES YOUR DEATH! Ray is looking at Jesus NOW. I'll take that! Praise God, all who cry out to God may have such hope. "For the Son of Man [Jesus] has come to seek and to save those who are lost" (Luke 19:10).

Thursday, June 25

Integrity Destroys Corruption

Think about it, much corruption issues from those who can be "bought" for a price. Their standards--such as they are--can be set aside IF money is to be gained. Remove that and on what could tyrants depend? Spurgeon eloquently points this out in this afternoon's Morning & Evening Devotions:
Lose all rather than lose your integrity, and when all else is gone, still hold fast a clear conscience as the rarest jewel which can adorn the bosom of a mortal. Be not guided by the will-o’-the-wisp of policy, but by the pole-star of divine authority. Follow the right at all hazards. When you see no present advantage, walk by faith and not by sight. Do God the honour to trust him when it comes to matters of loss for the sake of principle. See whether he will be your debtor! See if he doth not even in this life prove his word that “Godliness, with contentment, is great gain,” and that they who “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, shall have all these things added unto them.” Should it happen that, in the providence of God, you are a loser by conscience, you shall find that if the Lord pays you not back in the silver of earthly prosperity, he will discharge his promise in the gold of spiritual joy.
Here is a serious word for our day of convenience & compromise!

Wednesday, June 24

A Needed "Call To Arms" From the Hymnbook!

In a day when so many battles center around the causes of a weak & ineffective church, our hymnbook is a clear reminder that it was not always so. Many selections grew out of the realization that our battles in this world are NOT theoretical. Oh, that our eyes would be opened today. The pressures are growing, and unless and until the Church catches on, we will fail to enlist the greatest power in the universe--God via prayer!

Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things;
give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings.

Rise up, O men of God! His kingdom tarries long;
bring in the day of brotherhood and end the night of wrong.

Rise up, O men of God! The Church for you doth wait,
her strength unequal to her task; rise up, and make her great!

Lift hight the cross of Christ! Tread where his feet have trod;
as brothers of the Son of Man, rise up, O men of God.

--William P. Merrill, 1911

Monday, June 22

Experiemental Piety

"The test of real character is to be sought in each man's experience. He who has never exercised faith, repentance, love, humility, hope, and joy, cannot be profited by his theories and speculations on these subjects. All knowledge which is unfelt and inoperative puffs up the mind and hardens the heart. It is better to have the workings of gracious affections than to be able to define them,or to speak ever so learnedly respecting them. The great use of a large part of divine truth is rightly to affect our minds and hearts, and so to control our practice."
These are the opening words to Vital Godliness: A Treatise on Experimental and Practical Piety, by William S. Plumer, published in 1864, and republished through Sprinkle Publications (1993).

Thursday, June 18

What the Preached Word CAN Do

Tuesday and Wednesday, Dan Zerbe, one of our Elders and I attended the fifth annual Conference on Ministry at Northeastern Seminary, near Rochester, NY. The title of this year's conference was "Rethinking Conversion and Transformation: Ancient Wisdom and New Perspectives for Contemporary Congregations." Whew!! That's a mouthful.

More to the point, in one of our workshops, "The Call to Preach," Dr. Timothy Dwyer clearly led the class to the conclusion that there is great power in the written Word of God and that when we preach it, we must be very careful that it is the Word of God that the people hear. When it is, the Holy Spirit will abundantly do His inner work. I was struck by a closing quotation from John Calvin where he accentuates the effectual power which emanates from the Word:
Here, then, is the sovereign power with which the pastors of the church, by whatever name they be called, ought to be endowed. That is that they may dare boldly to do all things by God's Word; may compel all worldly power, glory, wisdom, and exaltation to yield to and obey his majesty; supported by his power, may command all from the highest even to the last; may build up Christ's household and cast down Satan's; may feed the sheep and drive away the wolves; may instruct and exhort the teachable; may accuse, rebuke, and subdue the rebellious and stubborn: may bind and loose; finally, if need be, may launch thunderbolts and lightenings; but do all things in God's Word. (Calvin's Institutes, Book IV, Ch. VIII. 9)
Now that's powerful!! Lord, evermore give us this authority.

Friday, June 12

A Witness, Not An Advocate

There is an apparent disparity between a professed faith and possessed faith. No doubt Jesus taught this when he said that in the day of judgment, many would CALL him Lord, even performing miracles, but whom he labeled "workers of lawlessness" (Matthew 7:23). And this was something of what Paul also taught when he told Timothy that there would be professors who'd be known for "having a form of godliness but denying it's power" (2 Tim. 3:5).

Holy Spirit Authority

In his wonderfully helpful little book, Authority, Martyn Lloyd-Jones stresses the necessity of the Spirit in the work of evangelism. He cites a political article in which the author makes reference to two speakers he had recently heard, differentiating them only by the fact that the first one spoke "brilliantly as an advocate," whereas the second had spoken as a "witness." So, Lloyd-Jones asks which are we? Then he shows why one is better than the other . . .

What Is An Advocate?
You can be an advocate of Christianity without being a Christian. You can be an advocate of these things without experiencing them. If you have intelligence, if you have been rightly trained, you can understand the Scriptures in a sense, and you can lay them out before others. You can present all the arguments, you can put the case for a kind of Christian philosophy. And it may sound wonderful. But you may be standing outside the true experience of it the whole time. You may be talking about something which you do not really know, about Someone you have never met. You are an advocate, perhaps even a brilliant advocate. But note what the Lord said to the apostles: "You shall be my witnesses."
Now, What Is A Witness?

"What the Holy Spirit does with His authority is to make us witnesses." . . . "You shall be my witnesses . . ." (Acts 1:8). . . . Lloyd-Jones demonstrates how intimately these disciples already knew the Lord having been with him from his baptism, throughout his daily teachings, and many miracles. They had witnessed his death upon the cross, and found the tomb empty three days later. They had seen the risen Savior on several occasions. If there were anyone who'd qualify as witnesses, it is these men! Yet, Jesus does not send them out as witnesses until something else occurs. What is that? They had to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit had come upon them (Acts 1:8 again). His point? "Knowledge of the facts is not enough. Before you can witness effectively there must be this power of the Holy Spirit."

For all the "air time" Christian institutions give to this doctrine, you might imagine that we'd have it down much better than we do. But I am afraid that we have fallen prey to many distracting, if not well-meaning, temptations. Many preachers work hard, use the hottest technologies and incorporate the latest fad in Church growth technique. Still, we do not seem to be producing God-lovers, but institution operators. We can run the machine, but grow weary when someone suggests that we rely on the Spirit for blessing. Why is this?

Misplaced Faith

It is a faithless thing to turn away from the sure power of the Spirit and to put one's trust in oneself or in lesser methodologies. Let us hear the Lord's words again, "Stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). And, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . ."

OK. So, here's the question: Are you an advocate or a witness?

Thursday, June 11

Twitter, Knowledge, & Hyperseeing

Granting that technology provides us with improved ways to communicate, there is pause (at least) to consider the down side. In an article by Jill Carattini of Ravi Zacharias Ministries, entitled, "Hyperseeing and the Tower of Babel," a case is made that we can easily become so mesmerized by the acquisition of knowledge that we totally miss the significance of it! Have Google and Facebook changed the way we relate?
There are clearly advantages to having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information, inasmuch as this hyper-access to people, news, and facts assuredly has far-reaching effects on cognition, as well as the way we see, or don’t see, the world. Speaking decades before the debates over Twitter or the wonders of Google, Malcolm Muggeridge seemed to foresee the possibilities of too much information. “Accumulating knowledge is a form of avarice and lends itself to another version of the Midas story,” he wrote. “Man is so avid for knowledge that everything he touches turns to facts; his faith becomes theology, his love becomes lechery, his wisdom becomes science. Pursuing meaning, he ignores truth.” In other words, Muggeridge saw that it was possible to see so many news clips that we are no longer seeing, to hear so many sound-bites that we are no longer hearing, to seek so many “exclusives” that we are no longer understanding.
This has far-reaching implications when we consider that the same problem exists with regard to knowing God and understanding faith in Christ. It is so easy for us to grow complacent in our acquisition of biblical truth, that we miss the point of that truth. No wonder Jesus so often drew our attention to the "doing" not just the hearing of God's Word. In fact, he closed out the Sermon on the Mount with precisely such a warning when he gave the illustration of the wise and foolish men. What made the wise man wise and the foolish man foolish? It was not that the wise man built his house on Jesus Christ the Rock (though that is a perfectly valid analogy elsewhere). No, his house stood up under the storms of faith attacks because he heard the word of God and did it! Learning more is not necessarily better for us, but learning with the intent of doing that word most certainly IS!

So, Twitter away, Google the facts, but hear the Psalmist's word as gospel for today, "Be still and know that I am God" (46:10).

Wednesday, June 10

Formula For Success!

Subjective Truth Better Than Objective ONLY

Not all truth that we learn can be said to have been written on our hearts, nor should it. But God's Word thrives in the region of the soul where it affects the ruling center of our lives. Most truth starts in our heads. It takes another and greater act of grace for truth to travel from our minds into our souls. That's where we must start in the ongoing pursuit of "success" God's way. Let's learn what God in his wisdom says in Proverbs 3:3-4, 
Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.  4 So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.
The "Stuff" of Success

Solomon cites "steadfast love and faithfulness" as indispensable twin virtues, which if written indelibly on one's heart will render them favorable and a good success in God's sight. The question is what is the significance of "steadfast love and faithfulness?" Variously translated, "mercy or kindness and truth," according to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Harris, Archer, & Waltke), most combine these two terms as a hendiadys ("one noun serves to describe the other"). The first term, hesed, seems more encompassing than mercy or love alone. In fact, it seems to require more "teeth" than that, with acts of mercy necessarily issuing from a strength of love. The second term "faithfulness" is more at truth. So, these combined form the basis of a successful man, namely that he acts truly upon lovingkindness. There is no deception or hidden agenda in his actions. And he is not content to merely think upon goodness, but must do something about it. The essence of such virtue is that this person must act, not content to be a mere spectator. Why? His heart overflows with love and cannot be contained. 

Where Empowering Truth Germinates

". . . Bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart." When truth resides here, they render the holder of them successful. "Location, location, location!" That's what makes the difference in the price of houses and land in the world of real estate. So the location of truth is also all-important! Not content to keep truth and love "at arm's distance," this "successful" person owns the truth and wears it openly and readily.

The Lure of Success

So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. This phrase is immediately attractive if for no other reason than that it sports the word "success." But we must not miss the fact either that God motivates us using favor and success as rewards for internalizing the virtues of love and faithfulness. So, we promote steadfast love and enjoy the greater security of God's faithfulness. And then we benefit again from God's favor and our good success! We are doubly blessed! But that's just like God isn't it? 

Saturday, June 6

The Sovereignty of God in Salvation

An encouragement to Gospel proclamation from C. H. Spurgeon:

Children of God, whatever you have not got, you have a God in whom you may greatly glory. Having God you have more than all things, for all things come of him; and if all things were blotted out, he could restore all things simply by his will. He speaketh, and it is done; he commandeth, and it stands fast. Blessed is the man that hath the God of Jacob for his trust, and whose hope Jehovah is. In the Lord Jehovah we have righteousness and strength; let us trust in him for ever. Let the times roll on, they cannot affect our God.

"A Sermon for the Time Present," The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 33 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1887), 605-6. The sermon was preached 30 October 1887.

Friday, June 5

INDIFFERENT TO TRUTH?! You've Got to Read This!!

One of the most debilitating issues facing any person, especially the Christian today, is our unwitting indifference to truth. Follow me. We learn many truths in God's word in such a way that we can repeat them verbatim. But that's where it slogs down. So pervasive is this pattern that we can miss the gargantuan mountain in front of us--a mountain of biblical virtues that bear no resemblance in real life--but SHOULD! It's one thing to learn something, quite another to LIVE it out! Stay with me. It's crucial for us to persistently test our belief system by asking, "Do I really believe this?" When we ask this question (which may sound innocuous at first) we must relentlessly persist by giving ourselves no "wiggle room" to worm our way out of a bone fide life-changing response. 

Scripture actually recognizes this "tendency," this Spirit-hindering trend to pass over truth willingly yet ineffectively. This is futile and if persisted in will lead one to disallow Scripture from having any honest effect upon their life! Please hang in there with me! Deuteronomy nails this point home. Listen:


"Now this is the commandment that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them . . ." (6:1). Note, he did not say he taught them so that they might KNOW them but DO them! THERE IS A DIFFERENCE, a difference which has been devastating to the church! We can attend church and think that we have done our "duty" when we hear and learn what the preacher is saying. That's good, . . . well, . . . sort of. It's NOT good unless we internalize the truth, own the truth, LOVE the truth as if it were ours! There's more . . .


When you have entered the promised land and have received all the great blessings which YOU did NOT earn (cities, houses, and vineyards, and food), "THEN TAKE CARE LEST YOU FORGET THE LORD . . ." (vv. 11-12). Forget? What does it mean "forget?" Oh, WE know what the word "forget" means. "Not remembering"--right? It's more than that. What kind of forgetting is this? The Dictionary of Biblical Languages (Swanson) explains the Hebrew to mean, "to overlook, or disregard; to lose sight of the significance of," or, "to have an improper response to the thing being considered." Here is the kind of forgetting that treats God as a side-line item, a nice truth, even an important truth, but non-essential, perhaps even (dare I say it) irrelevant?! Really? God, irrelevant? He may as well be, for the little "air-time" he ever gets in many "Christian's" lives. They know his name, but not his heart. And that is NOT to know him. 

Point? Please! Let us not accept the hearing of truth in such a way that it does not at the same time MOVE us, AFFECT us, PERSUADE us, or DELIGHT us! "Take care lest you 'treat as insignificant' either God or his Word." Turn objective facts into unending treasures.