Wednesday, March 31

Why Believing in the Sovereignty of God Matters

This is so good that I am including it verbatim from the DGM online site.   

By John Piper September 16, 2009

What we mean by the sovereignty of God is captured in paragraph 3.2 of The Bethlehem Baptist Church Elder Affirmation of Faith. The dozens of biblical passages used to support this paragraph are found in the online version.

3.2 We believe that God upholds and governs all things—from galaxies to subatomic particles, from the forces of nature to the movements of nations, and from the public plans of politicians to the secret acts of solitary persons—all in accord with His eternal, all-wise purposes to glorify Himself, yet in such a way that He never sins, nor ever condemns a person unjustly; but that His ordaining and governing all things is compatible with the moral accountability of all persons created in His image.

Why does it matter whether we believe this? Ten reasons.

1. The good news of God’s substituting his Son for us on the cross depends on it.

“Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27­-28)

2. The perseverance of the saints in the fear of God depends on it.

“I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” (Jeremiah 32:40)

3. Progress in holiness now, and the final perfecting of the saints in the end, depends on it.

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13)

“But you have come to Mount Zion . . . and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:22-23)

4. The assurance of God’s final triumph over all natural and supernatural evil depends on it.

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.’” (Isaiah 46:9­-10)

5. The comfort that there is a wise and loving purpose in all our calamities and losses, and that God will work all things together for our good, depends on it.

“Though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love. . . . Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” (Lamentations 3:32-38)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)

6. The hope that God will give life to the spiritually dead depends on it.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

7. Well-grounded expectation of answered prayer depends on it.

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1)

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. . . . For the promise is for . . . everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

8. Boldness in the face of seeming hopeless defeat depends on it.

“Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” (2 Samuel 10:12)

“Do not be afraid or dismayed before the king of Assyria and all the horde that is with him, for there are more with us than with him.” (2 Chronicles 32:7)

9. Seeing and savoring the revelation of the fullness of God’s glory depends on it.

“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ . . . What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power . . . [acted] in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy?” (Romans 9:20-23)

10. Praise that matches the fullness of God’s power, wisdom, and grace depends on it.

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases. . . . We will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.” (Psalm 115:3, 18)

“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.” (Psalm 96:4)

The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is an anchor for the troubled soul, a hope for the praying heart, a stability for fragile faith, a confidence in pursuing the lost, a guarantee of Christ’s atonement, a high mystery to keep us humble, and a solid ground for all praise. And oh so much more. O Lord, turn this truth for the triumph of your saving and sanctifying grace.

Confident and comforted with you,
Pastor John

Tuesday, March 30

Why Decadence Drives Out Faith

“Take care lest you forget the LORD your God . . ." (Deut. 8:11)

Much of the following is found in Christianity Today by Philip Yancey, in an article, "Forgetting God: Why decadence drives out discipline." Yancey asked Europeans what they thought of when he said the words "United States?" Invariably, he says, he received these three responses, wealth, military power, and decadence. But, he avers:
European nations, with their Christian roots, tend to manifest similar characteristics, which run counter to the teachings and example of Jesus, whose life was marked by poverty, self-sacrifice, and purity. No wonder followers of other religions, such as Islam, puzzle over Christianity, a powerful faith that nonetheless produces the opposite of its ideals in society at large [emphasis mine].  
What accounts for this strange development?
Yancey cites Gordon Cosby, founding pastor of Church of the Savior in Washington, D. C. "He noted that high-commitment Christian communities begin with a strong sense of devotion, which expresses itself in a life of discipline. Groups organized around devotion and discipline tend to produce abundance, but ultimately that very success breaks down discipline and leads to decadence."

How timely is this for us to hear today? John Wesley warned about this himself:
I do not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.
Yancey continues: 
Americans who go on short-term mission trips to third-world countries often return with glowing reports about the fervency they found among believers. Eager faith in the midst of poverty and oppression contrasts sharply with the complacency and self-centeredness in our land of plenty.
Is it any wonder that Jesus warned about too much attention to money, and declared great blessings on the poor, urging all Christians to be "poor in spirit." We certainly cannot serve two masters, though I think many in the church try. Who among us does not hear the siren call luring us after mammon every day?

The words from Deuteronomy that began this post summarize it well:
11 When you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, . . . 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth. 

19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God (Deut. 8).

Monday, March 29

Battle-Borne, Not Battle-Worn

Never underestimate the value afforded those who battle the enemy of the faith. The depth of a man's character is in direct proportion to the length of years he's borne the conflict. . . and endured. So, the apostle, John refers to his mature believers as "fathers" who have "known him who is from the beginning" (1 John 2:13, 14). They've walked with God for years. As we are wont to say, "they had a track record" with regard to their life with God. Not easily diverted from their pilgrimage, they have established themselves as those who have "bounced back" after a fall (or many), having borne the heat of the battle, and having therefore, gained immense experience in the process. And there is something to be said for experience! After all, Moses was 40 years old before being ousted to the back side of the desert! Then, another 40 years would pass before God would call to him from the burning bush (Exodus 3) to lead Israel out of Egyptian bondage. Eighty years of training--failing & "faithing"! In fact, Hebrews 11:27 says that Moses "endured as seeing him who is invisible." In the face of the very visible Pharaoh, Moses moved forward seeing the face of God as immensely superior. That did not happen over night. Eighty years of preparation DOES count for something. 

We need to encourage the saints of God to pursue their Christian lives with endurance. Stay in there. Let nothing throw you off course. "Keep on keeping on." And does it get tiring? Yes! But, and this is vitally important, there is a great difference between being tired IN the battle and being tired OF the battle. We do not want to grow tired OF the battle itself, for it is the greatest fight in which a person will ever engage, the battle for truth, the conflict of the ages, the warfare of Christ and for the gospel! Yes, we may grow tired IN the battle, but as we often say after a long day of good, hard, work . . . it's a good kind of tired.

What we need is men of God--both male and female! Yes. "Be watchful. Stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong" (1 Cor. 16:13). That's it! By God's infinite grace, and through faith. Anything is possible, indeed, everything. Stand strong! Endure. And find Him faithful as has every Christian soldier through the ages.


Saturday, March 27

"Know Thy [Sinful] Self"

Among the many things that stir in our hearts at Easter, one of the most pernicious is our own sinfulness. It's one thing to know that sin sent Jesus to the cross; it's quite another for me to feel each pang of Jesus-denying vice that rises in my heart. The first can be relegated to the objective, to a subject to be studied, and even one with which we may readily agree. The other (MY Jesus-denying iniquity) is something I must face subjectively. In other words, this is no theory; this is a fact and in MY LIFE! I sin! And to claim otherwise is absurd! Paul admitted, "If I want to do right, evil lies close at hand" (Romans 7:21). Spurgeon warns that this very issue blew away the disciples that night in the garden of Gethsemane.
He never deserted them, but they in cowardly fear of their lives, fled from him in the very beginning of his sufferings. This is but one instructive instance of the frailty of all believers if left to themselves; they are but sheep at the best, and they flee when the wolf cometh. They had all been warned of the danger, and had promised to die rather than leave their Master; and yet they were seized with sudden panic, and took to their heels. It may be, that I, at the opening of this day, have braced up my mind to bear a trial for the Lord’s sake, and I imagine myself to be certain to exhibit perfect fidelity; but let me be very jealous of myself, lest having the same evil heart of unbelief, I should depart from my Lord as the apostles did. It is one thing to promise, and quite another to perform. (Morning & Evening Devotions, March 27)
Resurrection conquers sin, but does not release us from sin's effects upon us. My point here is that WE MUST REALIZE THIS IF WE ARE TO BE RIGHTLY PREPARED. Not do be prepared is to invite failure. Again Paul warned the Corinthian church, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). I would be the last to denigrate the awesome work of God in the sinner's life, conquering sin in full. But by the same token, I would not teach contrary to Scripture that the believer is therefore free from all sin. Be prepared. Know your own frailty. And throw the full weight of your dependence on the Lord . . . ALWAYS!


Friday, March 26

The Wonder of Prayer!

William Jay of Bath, England lived from 1769-1853, a marvelously productive period in the history of the Church. He preached from the age of 16 to 84, and saw both Wesley and Spurgeon! Of him, Spurgeon exclaimed, "O for more Jays. we would give some two or three dozen of the general run of doctors of divinity for one such a Master in Israel as William Jay of Bath." Please read the following which shows Jays' heart and his gift of exhortation. . . 
Prayer is the breathing of the desire towards God. Words are not essential to the performance of it. As words may be used without prayer, so prayer may be used without words. He that searcheth the heart 'knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit,' and when we cannot command language like some of our fellow-christians, it is well to be able to say, 'Lord, all my desire is before Thee, and my groaning is not hid from Thee.'

The expediency, the necessity of prayer, results from our indigent [impoverished] and dependent state. We have enemies to overcome--and how are we to conquer them? We have trials to endure--and how are we to bear them? We have duties to accomplish--and how are we to perform them? We need mercy and grace to help us --and how are we to obtain them? God has determined and revealed the method in which He will communicate the blessing He has promised. "For all these things will I be inquired of by the house of Israel. Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you. Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find." And, as He is a Sovereign, and under no obligation to favor us at all, He has surely a right to appoint the way in which He will be gracious; but, in this appointment, His wisdom appears as conspicuous as His sovereignty; and His goodness as clearly as His wisdom. Nothing can be so beneficial to us as prayer is, not only by the relief it obtains, but by the influence it exerts; not only by its answers, but by its energy. Beyond everything else that is instrumental in religion, it improves our characters, it strengthens our graces, it softens  and refines our tempers, it contributes to our spirituality, and promotes our holiness. The more we have to do with God, the more we shall resemble Him. "It is therefore good for us to draw near to Him."
From: The Christian's Present For All Seasons, ed. by D.A. Harsha, published by Solid Ground Christian Books. 

Thursday, March 25

Unique Connection to God-A Personal Confession

A believer is never as original in his pursuit of God as he is when he is in prayer. No second-hand faith, prayer brings one into immediate relationship with Jesus Christ. He need not "borrow" from men's thoughts or live vicariously through others (even good men) who delves into the innermost recesses of the Spirit by watchful waiting on Him. 

I say this as a minister of the gospel, a pastor whose privilege it is to plumb the depths of God's Word as my calling! And, Oh, what a sweet calling it is! Still, my tendency is to daily read the Bible, confer with authors in my library, and scour the internet for the latest on the subject at hand. These are good, and perhaps necessary--in their place. But their place cannot--may I say it--take the place of prayer. Prayer accomplishes something which all the study in the world cannot. It connects us to the Creator directly, opening up the Spirit-pipeline of his grace. The life-giving blood of Jesus Christ flows through the vein of prayer. 

Learned In the Fires of Failure
How do I know this? Because of my frequent failure in regard to prayer! What happened? Over time, though successful in delving into the truth of Scripture or hearing the wisdom of others, I am guilty of not stopping and listening to the original tones from the mouth of God, tones meant for my ears only, tones which are guaranteed to lead me into that place known only by myself. I'm just sharing my heart experience. But if I were to locate them in a Scripture, perhaps a good one would be Psalm 25:14. "The friendship [or, "secret counsel"] of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant." In other words, God talks personally to the one who isolates himself apart from all other occupations turning his sights to God alone.

Does this make sense to you? Have you experienced something similar? I say to you what I must often say to myself, put down that book, turn off the computer, sit down, be still, and listen. Really LISTEN. 

Amazing . . . the voice of God.

Saturday, March 20

Using Time Wisely

In his helpful book on Jonathan Edwards, Pursuing Holiness in the LORD, T. M. Moore (editor) draws our attention to one of Edwards' "timely" sermons entitled, "The Preciousness of Time." Ephesians 5:16 says, "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." It's a most engaging sermon to read and can be found HERE. But shy of that, here is a brief outline showing his most salient points:

Eternity depends on it. A happy or miserable eternity depends on the good or ill improvement of it.

Time is very short. Since time is short, it is therefore to be considered precious.

Time is uncertain. None of us knows how much time remains, whether a month or a year, or perhaps, only a day!

Time cannot be recovered when it is past. There's no regaining time when once it has been used up. There's no going back.

"How little is the preciousness of time considered, and how little sense of it do the greater part of mankind seem to have! And to how little good purpose do many spend their time! There is nothing more precious, and yet nothing of which men are more prodigal." Which sort of persons should be reproved for their misuse of time? 

Those who are idle. These spend much time doing "nothing of any account, either for the good of their souls or their bodies; nothing either for their own benefit, or for the benefit of their neighbor, either of the family or of the body politic to which they belong."

Those who are wicked. These are worse than the above in that they not only do not use their time to good purpose, but actually abuse it by spending their time in wicked pursuits. "Such do not only lose their time, but they do worse; with it they hurt themselves and others."

Those who indulge only in worldly pursuits. These spend their time only in worldly pursuits, neglecting their souls. Such men lose their time, let them be ever so diligent in their worldly business, and thought they may be careful not to let any of it pass so, but that it shall some way or other to worldly profit. They that improve time only for their benefit in time, lose it; because time was not given for itself, but for that everlasting duration which succeeds it."

Therefore, "Redeem the time!"

Friday, March 19

Preachers who don’t believe: The scandal of apostate pastors

In early America, the Tennants and George Whitefield preached sermons against unregenerated ministers. I suppose we shouldn't be too surprised that today the same is needed again! Read the following which comes from a man who has his ear to the religious track in our nation. 

Q: What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination? Do clergy have a moral obligation not to challenge the sincere faith of their parishioners? If this requires them to dissemble from the pulpit, doesn’t this create systematic hypocrisy at the center of religion? What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith. 

Are there clergy who don’t believe in God? That is the question posed by a new report that is certain to receive considerable attention—and rightly so. Few church members are likely to be disinterested in whether their pastor believes in God. 

The study was conducted by the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, under the direction of Daniel C. Dennett and Linda LaScola. Dennett, of course, is one of the primary figures in the “New Atheism”—the newly aggressive and influential atheist movement that has gained a considerable hearing among the intellectual elites and the media. 

Dennett is a cognitive scientist whose book, “Breaking the Spell,” suggests that belief in God must have at one point served an important evolutionary purpose, granting an evolutionary advantage to those who had some belief in an afterlife as compared to humans without such a belief. The reality of death, Dennett surmises, might well have been the precipitating factor. In order to make life meaningful in the face of death (and thus encourage reproduction), Dennett suggests that primitive humans invented the idea of God and the afterlife. Now, he argues, we have no more need of such primitive beliefs. 

Interestingly, Dennett also proposes a new interpretation of theological liberalism. Noting that many modern people claim to be Christians while holding to virtually no specific theological content, Dennett suggests that their mode of faith should not be described as “belief,” but rather as “believing in belief.”

Given Dennett’s own atheistic agenda, we can rightly assume that he would be thrilled to see Christian ministers and believers abandon the faith. Indeed, the New Atheists have made this a stated aim. Thus, this new research report, “Preachers Who Are Not Believers,” should be read within that framework. Nevertheless, it must be read. This report demands the attention of anyone concerned with the integrity of the Christian church and the Christian faith. 

Dennett and LaScola undertook their project with the goal of looking for unbelieving pastors and ministers who continue to serve their churches in “secret disbelief.” Their “small and self-selected” sample of ministers represents a microcosm of the theological collapse at the heart of many churches and denominations. 

In their report, Dennett and LaScola present case studies of five unbelieving ministers, three from liberal denominations (“the liberals”) and two from conservative denominations (“the literals”). 

Wes, a Methodist, lost his confidence in the Bible while attending a liberal Christian college and seminary. “I went to college thinking Adam and Eve were real people,” he explained. Now, he no longer believes that God exists. In his rendering, God is a word that “can be used very expressively in some of my more meditative modes” and “a kind of poetry that is written by human beings.” 

His church members do not know that he is an atheist, but he explains that they are somewhat liberal themselves. His ministerial colleagues are even more liberal: “They’ve been de-mythologized, I’ll say that. They don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead literally. They don’t believe Jesus was born of a virgin. They don’t believe all those things that would cause a big stir in their churches.” 

Rick, a campus minister for the United Church of Christ, perhaps the most liberal Protestant denomination, was an agnostic in college and seems to have lost all belief by the time he graduated from seminary. He chose ordination in the UCC because it required “no forced doctrine.” Even as he graduated from seminary, he knew, “I’m not going to make it in a conventional church.” He knew he could not go into a church and teach his own theological views, based on Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann. He did not believe in the doctrinal content of the Christian faith from the beginning of his ministry. “I did not believe the traditional things even then.” 

He does not believe “all this creedal stuff” about the incarnation of Christ or the need for salvation, but he remained in the ministry because, “These are my people, this is the context in which I work, these are the people that I know.” In the pulpit, his mode is to talk as if he does believe, because “as long as ... you are talking about God and Jesus and the Bible, that’s what they want to hear. You’re just phrasing it in a way that makes sense to [them] ... but language is ambiguous and can be heard in different ways.” 

He doesn’t like to call himself an atheist, but: “If not believing in a supernatural, theistic god is what distinguishes an atheist, then I am one too.” 

Darryl is a Presbyterian who sees himself as a “progressive-minded” pastor who wants to see his kind of non-doctrinal Christianity “given validity in some way.” He acknowledges that he is more a pantheist than a theist, and thinks that many of the more educated members of his church hold to the same liberal beliefs as his own. And those beliefs (or unbeliefs) are stated clearly: “I reject the virgin birth. I reject substitutionary atonement. I reject the divinity of Jesus. I reject heaven and hell in the traditional sense, and I am not alone.” 

Amazingly, Darryl is candid about the fact that he remains in the ministry largely for financial reasons. It is how he provides for his family. If he openly espoused his beliefs, “I may be burning bridges in terms of my ability to earn a living this way.” 

Adam ministers in the Church of Christ, a conservative denomination. After years in the ministry, he began to lose all theological confidence. After reading a series of books, he became convinced that the atheists have better arguments than believers. He has moved fully into an atheist mode, yet he continues to lead his church in worship. How? “Here’s how I’m handling my job on Sunday mornings: I see it as play acting. I see myself as taking on the role of a believer in a worship service, and performing.” 

This “atheistic agnostic” stays in the ministry because he likes the people and, “I need the job still.” If he had an alternative source of income, he would take it. He feels hypocritical, but no longer believes that hypocrisy is wrong. 

Jack is identified as a Southern Baptist minister who has primarily served as a worship leader. He was attracted to Christianity as a religion of love, but his pursuit of Christianity “brought me to the point of not believing in God.” As he explains, “I didn’t plan to become an atheist. I didn’t even want to become an atheist. It’s just I had no choice. If I’m being honest with myself.” 

He is clearly not being honest with his church members. He rejects all belief in God and all Christian truth claims out of hand. He is a determined atheist. Once again, this unbelieving minister admits that he stays in the ministry because of finances. Amazingly, this minister even names his price: “If someone said, ‘Here’s $200,000,’ I’d be turning my notice in this week, saying, ‘A month from now is my last Sunday.’ Because then I can pay off everything.” 

Early in their report, Dennett and LaScola point to a problem of definition. Many churches and denominations have adopted such fluid and doctrineless identities that determining who is a believer and who is an unbeliever has become difficult. Their statement deserves a close reading: 
The ambiguity about who is a believer and who is an unbeliever follows inexorably from the pluralism that has been assiduously fostered by many religious leaders for a century and more: God is many different things to different people, and since we can’t know if one of these conceptions is the right one, we should honor them all. This counsel of tolerance creates a gentle fog that shrouds the question of belief in God in so much indeterminacy that if asked whether they believed in God, many people could sincerely say that they don’t know what they are being asked. 
In other words, some theologians and denominations have embraced a theology so fluid and indeterminate that even an atheist cannot tell the believers and unbelievers apart. 

“Preachers Who Are Not Believers” is a stunning and revealing report that lays bare a level of heresy, apostasy, and hypocrisy that staggers the mind. In 1739, Gilbert Tennett preached his famous sermon, “On the Danger of an Unconverted Ministry.” In that sermon, Tennett described unbelieving pastors as a curse upon the church. They prey upon the faith and the faithful. “These caterpillars labor to devour every green thing.”

If they will not remove themselves from the ministry, they must be removed. If they lack the integrity to resign their pulpits, the churches must muster the integrity to eject them. If they will not “out” themselves, it is the duty of faithful Christians to “out” them. The caterpillars are hard at work. Will it take a report from an atheist to awaken the church to the danger?

Thursday, March 18

All Sins Are a Denial of Jesus!

Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, (1) “Woman, I do not know him.”  . . . (2) “Man, I am not.”  And . . . (3) “Man, I do not know what you are talking about” (Luke 22:56-59).

Solomon was right when he wrote, “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty” (Prov. 18:12). Spurgeon tells us, “It is an old and common saying, that ‘coming events cast their shadows before them;’ the wise man teaches us that a haughty heart is the prophetic prelude of evil. Pride is as safely the sign of destruction as the change of mercury in the [barometer] is the sign of rain; and far more [predictably] than that. When men have ridden the high horse, destruction has always overtaken them. . . . God hates high looks, and never fails to bring them down. All the arrows of God are aimed at proud hearts.

In Peter’s denial, we see the process of one who falls into sin and then the sad results that follow. But why have this story in Scripture? And why would all four of the Gospel writers include it? Here is Peter who became the foremost of the apostles, denying that he even knew his Lord and Master! We can understand the Judas story, his betrayal of Jesus was necessary for Christ to suffer and be crucified. But what purpose did Peter’s sin serve? 

Of one thing we can each be sure, none of us is very far from what Peter did that fateful day! In fact, who does not have the seeds of denial right now in his heart? We learn from this sad account that it is altogether too near to our own failures to ignore. How very easily do we fall? In a sense, not to oversimplify, all sins we commit are a type of denial of Jesus Christ. 

Self-pity denies Jesus’ ability to rightly order our lives, assuming we know better than God. Stealing denies his provision; griping denies his wise choice to give or hold back whatever He chooses; adultery denies his order for society and his choice of mate--or to have none at all. Gossip denies God’s image in the other person and exalts oneself. Anxiety denies God’s loving watchcare over us and his ability to meet all our needs. All sins deny our Lord his rightful place in creation and in our own lives. For this, and in order to save man from such an overwhelming addiction, Christ must die and rise again to save us! In Peter’s denial we all find ourselves. In Christ's victory over sin and death we find our solution!


Wednesday, March 17

LEAD, Don't "Push" the Church

17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” 18 And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”(Nehemiah 2:17-20).

Taken in order of occurrence, these verses give us God’s way of going about leading people to do the work of the Lord. In principle they seem to outline the process. So, in order to get the people to do the work of God:
  1. Get Them to “See” the Need. “You see the trouble we are in” (v. 17a).
  2. Invite Them to Do Something About the Problem. “Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, . . .” (v. 17b).
  3. Support Your Decision With Testimony of God’s Empowerment. “And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good” (v. 18a).
  4. Mention Too When Earthly Powers Have Been Marshalled for Good. “ . . . and also of the words the king had spoken to me” (v. 18b).
  5. Let the People Get Behind the Project. “They said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” (v. 18c)
  6. Be Prepared For Nay-sayers to Detract From the Work.But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” (v. 19). Notice the three measures brought to bear against God’s work: 1) Outright verbal attack-“they jeered at us and despised us,” 2) Questioning motives: “What is this you are doing?” And, 3) Assuming the worst, “Are you rebelling against the king?”
  7. Ground Your Success in God’s Sovereignty. “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” (v. 20). He is responding, “God has spoken, His servants are working, and you have no say-so in it. Period!
If the work is the Lord's, doing it His way leads to the above success. But beware of opposition. If you move you're bound to create friction. God will bless!


Tuesday, March 16

Gradual Steps Lead to a Great Fall

"Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. –Luke 22:54-55

Whenever we hear of a brother or sister in the Lord “falling” into sin, we can be fairly well assured that it wasn’t a sudden fall. Great sins like the one we read with Peter’s denial do not happen on a sudden, but are fed by a gradual series of downward steps. So, what steps marked Peter’s backsliding condition? Thanks to J. C. Ryle for the wording of some of these categories.

First, he exhibited a proud self-confidence. He had said (v. 33) that if all else were to leave him, he would follow Jesus to prison and to death! "Though all else may deny you, I certainly will not!" Paul warned, "Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).

Second. The second step to outright denial was a sluggish neglect of prayer. Remember how Jesus had warned all three disciples to “Watch and pray that they may not enter into temptation?” Instead, three times Jesus returned to find his disciples sleeping instead of praying. Whatever the reason, whether sleepiness, sorrow, or both, they neglected the only practice which would have aided them in the trial of their lives!

Third. The third step was fickle indecision. In other words, he turned first one way then the other. When the enemies of Christ came into the garden, Peter fought with his sword, then he ran, then turned again and followed from a distance. Sin leaves us "in a cloud." I have often told the church that every sin comes prepackaged with a cloud of doubt. The more sin, and the fewer confessed and forsaken, the more dull we are and incapable of seeing clearly how to move.

Fourth. The fourth step was that Peter mingled with bad company. He entered the High Priest’s house and sat among the servants by the fire, trying to sort of “blend in.” The other Gospels tell us that all the disciples abandoned Christ. Only John, it seems, was allowed to enter the courtyard. It's not so much the "company" he kept, but his response to that company. Let us be careful too, that we mix with the lost but mostly in order to be a light to them of God's rich grace.

Fifth. The fifth and last step is the natural result of the previous four. He was overwhelmed with fear when he was charged with being a disciple. He had welcomed each step that led to his eventual denial. His triple denial did not happen in a moment but was the result of the previous four steps. Each sin paved the way for this final result, denying his beloved Master!

1) Let us beware of any signs of backsliding, no matter how small those beginnings may seem. We do not know how far astray we may end up when once we’ve chosen to take the first step! Be careful then, professing Christian, of saying of any sin, “It is just a little one.” As soon as you’ve done that, you open yourself up for disaster!

2) Learn the importance of prayer! Of these five steps, only one—prayer—could change things! If Peter had prayed instead of sleeping, that could have staved off his pride, given him a decisive faith and courage to handle what was coming. Let us never underrate the place and necessity of prayer to avert such dangers every day. I fear this greatest of tools is left in our box unused because we simply do not believe it really works. What a dreadful shame it is, that such a clear and consistent command of our Lord is left unheeded. Need we wonder at all why the things of God seem to roll off our backs? Pray first. Pray often. And we’ll find a wonderful alteration in our character!


Monday, March 15

Holy Work Is Heart Work

“He did it with all his heart and prospered.”
— 2 Chronicles 31:21

This is no unusual occurrence; it is the general rule of the moral universe that those men prosper who do their work with all their hearts, while those are almost certain to fail who go to their labour leaving half their hearts behind them. God does not give harvests to idle men except harvests of thistles, nor is he pleased to send wealth to those who will not dig in the field to find its hid treasure. It is universally confessed that if a man would prosper, he must be diligent in business. It is the same in religion as it is in other things. If you would prosper in your work for Jesus, let it be heart work, and let it be done with all your heart. Put as much force, energy, heartiness, and earnestness into religion as ever you do into business, for it deserves far more. The Holy Spirit helps our infirmities, but he does not encourage our idleness; he loves active believers. 

Who are the most useful men in the Christian church? The men who do what they undertake for God with all their hearts. Who are the most successful Sabbath-school teachers? The most talented? No; the most zealous; the men whose hearts are on fire, those are the men who see their Lord riding forth prosperously in the majesty of his salvation. Whole-heartedness shows itself in perseverance; there may be failure at first, but the earnest worker will say, “It is the Lord’s work, and it must be done; my Lord has bidden me do it, and in his strength I will accomplish it.” 

Christian, art thou thus “with all thine heart” serving thy Master? Remember the earnestness of Jesus! Think what heart-work was his! He could say, “The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up.” When he sweat great drops of blood, it was no light burden he had to carry upon those blessed shoulders; and when he poured out his heart, it was no weak effort he was making for the salvation of his people. Was Jesus in earnest, and are we lukewarm?
Spurgeon, C. H., Morning and Evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Our Lord's Infinite Mercy When We Fall

And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.”

This truth is brought out most powerfully by a fact that is only recorded in Luke. When we are told that Peter denied the Lord for the third time and the rooster crowed, we read that, “the Lord turned and looked at Peter.” Oh, the awful realization that must have flooded over poor Peter at that moment. I would not want to have been in his shoes right then (though in a sense I, yes, all of us were). How very deeply moving is this scene, though extremely brief. It is compounded by the extremity of the situation. Here is the perfect, spotless, loving Lamb facing every enemy man would naturally fear if he were the least bit aware! The most sinister of these being the evil one himself! Bloodthirsty, insulting, and outrageous, this unjust trial leads to a most painful death. And in spite of such atrocities being perpetrated against the precious Lord Jesus himself, he has the presence of mind and the love of heart to turn and to look away from his own troubles upon that poor fumbling, spare-no-words spokesman for the disciples—Peter! Sorrowfully, not angrily, no doubt, Jesus “turned and looked at Peter” (v. 61). “Looked” here means to “direct one’s gaze in a specified direction.” In other words, Jesus intended to look directly at Peter. There was a sermon in that look. Oh, listen beloved. Anger would have been a better alternative than that plaintive gaze that seemed to burn a hole right through Peter’s already thinned out soul. This was a look Peter was to never forget.

My dear friends, 2,000 years has not blunted the edge with which that look cut right through the heart of Peter, and now cuts through every saint who has ever known the guilt of a similar betrayal. Know then, that the love of Christ, as J. C. Ryle says, is a “deep well which has no bottom. Let us never measure it by comparison with any other kind of love of man or woman. It exceeds all other loves, as far as the sun exceeds the rushlight [ a candle made by dipping the pith of a rush in animal fat ].”

Let us not be afraid to trust that love, when we first feel our sins. Oh, do not let the wicked devil convince you to sin and then compound that sin by telling you God will never forgive you. Oh, no! Let Jesus’ LOOK upon Peter remind you to come right away. Sorrow is certain, and unavoidable. Yes. But forgiveness can be yours as well. Never hesitate when forgiveness waits in the wings. Fly to Christ immediately. Do not wait. Let it claim no hold over you one split-second longer! No man need despair, however far he may have fallen, if he will only repent and turn to Christ. As Ryle says again, “If the heart of Jesus was so gracious when he was a prisoner in the judgment hall, we surely need not think he is less gracious  when he sits in the glory at the right hand of God.” 

Friday, March 12

The Nature of Spiritual Freedom

Abandonment = Leaving All
Then Peter began to say unto Him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed Thee.… Mark 10:28. Oswald Chambers writes:
Our Lord replies, in effect, that abandonment is for Himself, and not for what the disciples themselves will get from it. Beware of an abandonment which has the commercial spirit in it—‘I am going to give myself to God because I want to be delivered from sin, because I want to be made holy.’ All that is the result of being right with God, but that spirit is not of the essential nature of Christianity. 
Abandonment Doesn't Mean We LOSE!
Jesus corrects the disciples later, "You think you're losing by leaving all? Let me tell you something. You gain far more--100 times as much--by abandoning this world than you lose--not only in heaven, but NOW" (Mark 10:29-30).
Abandonment is not for anything at all. We have got so commercialized that we only go to God for something from Him, and not for Himself. It is like saying—‘No, Lord, I don’t want Thee, I want myself; but I want myself clean and filled with the Holy Ghost; I want to be put in Thy showroom and be able to say—“This is what God has done for me.” ‘If we only give up something to God because we want more back, there is nothing of the Holy Spirit in our abandonment; it is miserable commercial self-interest [emphasis mine]. That we gain heaven, that we are delivered from sin, that we are made useful to God—these things never enter as considerations into real abandonment, which is a personal sovereign preference for Jesus Christ Himself.
Odd That We Accept Family As Roadblocks!
When we come up against the barriers of natural relationship, where is Jesus Christ? Most of us desert Him—‘Yes, Lord, I did hear Thy call; but my mother is in the road, my wife, my self-interest, and I can go no further.’ ‘Then,’ Jesus says, ‘you cannot be My disciple.’
The test of abandonment is always over the neck of natural devotion. Go over it, and God’s own abandonment will embrace all those you had to hurt in abandoning. Beware of stopping short of abandonment to God. Most of us know abandonment in vision only.

Thursday, March 11

A Call to "Feel" Worship, to Engage Truth, to Really "Know" God

One of the greatest weaknesses among true Christians is their seeming inability, or perhaps unwillingness to "hear the music" within our expressions of Christianity (Church, devotions, Bible study, etc.). What do I mean? I mean that it is one thing to be present when worship is going on, quite another to worship. Example? I shared with our Wednesday Bible Study last night that this hit me while listening to a Beethoven Piano Trio, in this case, the famous number 7, "Archduke." As Vladimir Ashkenazy's fingers were running effortlessly and beautifully up and down the keyboard, I wondered, "How many would see him and marvel (perhaps) at his technical ability, but fail to "hear" and enjoy the beauty in this wonderful piece?" That is so sad, I think. Now, you don't need to love classical music to understand my point, though you may be the lesser for it! ;)

Christianity, however, is not a choice to the believer, but enjoying it--apparently--IS! The following quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer accentuates this problem from a different though related perspective:
To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom. ("Ethics As Formation," Ethics)
Do you see what I mean? We have massive amounts of knowledge at our fingertips, but sorting through it and making "heads or tails" of it is another matter entirely. Better to read less, to see less IF by doing so we learn and apply those truths wisely. 

I see this as a huge issue in our day of information overload. Seek to marry "inspiration" to information. "Feel" the music, if you will. Enjoy God in worship. Please let's not get hung up on forms and styles and music selections, as important as they may be, and in the process miss Jesus when He walks by--IF HE CAN--given our dullness to his real presence!

(Above--an old picture of Ashkenazy and his son. He's getting into it!)

Wednesday, March 10

Praising God With Other Believers

"Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for my soul." -Psalm 66:16 

This verse falls into the category of, "I know I've read this a thousand times, but . . ." I love God's Word for this if for no other reason! (There are numerous other reasons!!) But another hindrance to "seeing" this verse is that it sits near the well-known verse 18, "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened." OK, so what about verse 16?

Several features jump out in the psalmist's experience as revealed in these words: 

First--See that it is by INVITATION that David acquires an audience, "Come and hear." He is saying, "I have something to say, but I want you to hear it first-hand. It's good for us to take in what God has done for other believers, to hear it with our own ears. That affirms the truth being shared. How often in our growing up years did we validate another's comments to a skeptical third party by using the words, "But I was there; I heard it with my own ears!" But this goes even beyond that. We are to HEAR as well. It's one thing to be in ear-shot of a word from God, it's quite another to truly listen closely . . . to hear with interest, to hear with desire, to hear with the heart. "Come and hear." Do both. Show up, yes. But do more than that. LISTEN. Really listen.

Second, notice the QUALIFICATION he states in order to narrow down his listener base, viz., "all you who fear God." Other Scriptures give no such qualification; they aim to let the world in on God's marvelous deeds. "May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth . . ." (Psalm 67:1-2a). But there are times when it is appropriate not to include the outside world, when only those with Holy Spirit unction have the heart to take in our testimonies of grace. "The humble will hear of it and be glad" (Psalm 34:2). "Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice" (Psalm 119:74). Our friends want to know the good God has done, and how we have reacted and grown through it. I have often told the church that I love to hear what God has done in the lives of his saints! And it doesn't have to be the stuff of which novels are made to qualify! Oh, no! God most certainly does marvelous things and often in small ways. I know he is great. But it's wonderful to hear God's people laud the Lord in word. Do you enjoy how God has blessed others? Does it excite your heart to experience the workings of grace accomplished in other people's lives?

Third, There is the SUBSTANCE of David's exultant heart, "what [God] has done for my soul." This goes beyond what we normally share with one another doesn't it? We often share health blessings-how the doctor has given us a "clean bill of health," or how the meds are working better, or how we were spared in an accident? And who doesn't want to join with a brother or sister who's recently found a good job, or paid off a pesky debt, or who's child was accepted into college? These and numerous other blessings are ours to have and to share, and that with gusto! Yes! But the Psalmist is here extending an invitation to get closer than that, namely, to hear what "God has done for my SOUL." How do we do this? The physical world is tangible. We see a newborn cooing, and can celebrate that. We are happy for those who got a newer car after the other one died! We see these things, things we can touch. But what of the soul? Anyone share these things with you lately? How the Word of God has come to life in their reading in wonderful ways? How God has been prompting them to prayer and they have been enjoying God's presence in that quiet place? How material possessions just don't seem to have the attraction to them that they used to? How they love being in Bible study, or worshiping in church, or coming and enjoying the family of God in church prayer meeting? Soul-sharing delights when the Spirit brings victory over besetting sins, and gives light where there had been a muddy sort of dullness. These I say are "soul" issues. Oh, those who fear God love to hear that others are finding Christ more delightful due to recent afflictions. This glorifies our Lord Jesus Christ. And this is the goal of the one sharing, not their own pride! They are humbled by God's gifts, and are anxious to share them with others!

When was the last time you did this? Could you be part of the inner group of friends drawn in to hear what God has done for someone else's soul? Be that person and while you're at it, from time to time be the one doing the inviting. Right?

Tuesday, March 9

The Glass Is Half Full!

I read the following to my wife as we closed out the evening last night. I have sort of "re-discovered" Spurgeon's Morning and Evening devotions. They have been a staple in my spiritual diet throughout my Christian life. Every now and then, it's good to revisit their pages. I love the following which describes the difference between a faithful and a defeatist attitude. 
“She called his name Benoni (son of sorrow), but his father called him Benjamin (son of my right hand).” — Genesis 35:18

To every matter there is a bright as well as a dark side. Rachel was overwhelmed with the sorrow of her own travail and death; Jacob, though weeping the mother’s loss, could see the mercy of the child’s birth. It is well for us if, while the flesh mourns over trials, our faith triumphs in divine faithfulness. Samson’s lion yielded honey, and so will our adversities, if rightly considered. The stormy sea feeds multitudes with its fishes; the wild wood blooms with beauteous florets; the stormy wind sweeps away the pestilence, and the biting frost loosens the soil. Dark clouds distill bright drops, and black earth grows gay flowers. A vein of good is to be found in every mine of evil.
Sad hearts have peculiar skill in discovering the most disadvantageous point of view from which to gaze upon a trial; if there were only one [marsh] in the world, they would soon be up to their necks in it, and if there were only one lion in the desert they would hear it roar. About us all there is a tinge of this wretched folly, and we are apt, at times, like Jacob, to cry, “All these things are against me.” Faith’s way of walking is to cast all care upon the Lord, and then to anticipate good results from the worst calamities. Like Gideon’s men, she does not fret over the broken pitcher, but rejoices that the lamp blazes forth the more. Out of the rough oyster-shell of difficulty she extracts the rare pearl of honour, and from the deep ocean-caves of distress she uplifts the priceless coral of experience. When her flood of prosperity ebbs, she finds treasures hid in the sands; and when her sun of delight goes down, she turns her telescope of hope to the starry promises of heaven. When death itself appears, faith points to the light of resurrection beyond the grave, thus making our dying Benoni to be our living Benjamin.

Friday, March 5

Where Do Our Loyalties Lie?

"The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe"(Prov. 29:25). A snare is a trap. When we pay heed to the words of man over the wisdom of God, we set ourselves up for a fall; we make ourselves the bait in a trap. It is only a matter of time before such trust will turn against us and betray us. "Trusting in the LORD" means loving His will, doing what the LORD says to do in the way the LORD says to do it. It means respecting the LORD'S desires more than our own, more than our wife's or husband's opinion, more than any loved one's opinions. 

And it means that preserving the Body of Christ is uppermost in our hearts. But such preservation does not mean protecting the church as if she were a club. Oh, no! She breathes the air of the Spirit, and strolls the pathway called Christ! It's not just the believers whom we are to love, but the believer's Savior! Oswald Chambers puts it so well:
Fearless devotion to Jesus Christ ought to mark the saint today, but more often it is devotion to our set that marks us. We are more concerned about being in agreement with Christians than about being in agreement with God. (Run Today's Race)
Oh, let us make sure our loyalties lie with God on all matters. Let us pastors be careful of the pride of place or position, but let us in love serve one another. Let the church also be adamant in our Spirit-service to Jesus Christ, not wanting anything to interpose itself between us and our dear Lord. Let us never become diverted from the "truth as it is in Jesus" (Eph. 4:21). 


Thursday, March 4

Scripture: Our Only Authority

I was struck by these words from the LORD to Moses when initiating the first plague, turning water to blood. There is an awesome and powerful simplicity in what God says: 
Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water. Stand on the bank of the Nile to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent. And you shall say to him, The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, "Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness. But so far you have not obeyed."
1. "Go to Pharaoh in the morning." You go to him; don't wait for him to call on you! Get to him first thing at day's beginning. This shows my seriousness of intent and the power with which I send you.

2. "Stand on the bank of the Nile." This is where the Egyptians placed so much store for their livelihood, yea the place of their worship. Henry calls it their "idol." STAND THERE! Precisely on the spot where confrontation should take place, between gods, that is, Jehovah (Yahweh). Right here at the very source of their lives is where God would attack them, showing them to be nothing other than idolaters, worshiping a false god, or demons.

3. "Take in your hand the staff that turned into a serpent." This is what I really wanted to draw our attention to, viz., the authority by which God works. The LORD says, in effect, "I am not just sending you and Aaron; I am sending you WITH the staff that has already been used to demonstrate who I am." Granted, the sorcerers imitated the same thing with their magic (v. 11), but I am going to overthrow their wrong-headed notions of superior strength." 

Can I apply this "staff" to God's Word? God has spoken. He takes his own Word very seriously. Countermand it at your own peril! And they did go against God . . . to their own tremendous peril. Men still do this today. But, and here is my point, do we, like Moses wield the power of God's Word with the same confidence that it is indeed the authority of God? "For the word of God is alive and powerful" (Heb. 4:12. And, Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29) Again, may I emphasize this with everything within me? We still have the same Word today. We must show confidence in it by speaking and quoting copiously from Scripture. The Word of God "breaks" and NOT because men respect it! It breaks and wounds and heals and repairs because that what God has ordained that it do. Let us cease putting our hope in programs or cool dress codes and music. Nothing "discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb. 4:12) like God's Word! NOTHING.

Exodus 7:17 gives us the ultimate purpose for Moses' confrontation:  Thus says the LORD, "By this you shall know that I am the LORD." This is what is at stake. But this is also what ministers of the gospel stand to gain--Jehovah supremely reigning and drawing men (who've heard the truth) unto himself. Let us insure that we stand with God's word in our hands, "the staff that turned into a serpent," and we shall enjoy the same victory!