August 21, 2017

'Thine eclipse'

In his excellent biographical message on John Newton, John Piper quotes the following marvelous words from Newton's pen, on the occasion of an eclipse (albeit, of a different sort than today's):
Tonight I attended an eclipse of the moon. How great, O Lord, are thy works! With what punctuality do the heavenly bodies fulfill their courses. . . . I thought, my Lord, of Thine eclipse. The horrible darkness which overwhelmed Thy mind when Thou saidst, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Ah, sin was the cause — my sins — yet I do not hate sin or loathe myself as I ought” (Richard Cecil, The Life of John Newton, edited by Marylynn Rousse, p. 134).
As you view the eclipse today, think on Christ , "the Light of the world", entering into the darkness of death and judgment on behalf of us sinners.  And thank God for His eclipse.

August 18, 2017

"His spirit was being provoked"

So we are told about the apostle Paul on his visit to the city of Athens: “His spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols” (Acts 16:16). And, if we read on in the chapter, we find that he was provoked, not to disgust or isolation … but to gospel action! “His spirit was being provoked within him … So [because of the provocation of his spirit] he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present” (vv.16-17, italicized emphasis and words in [brackets] are mine).

Now, Paul’s provocation at the idolatry in Athens surely wasn’t the only reason Paul preached Christ to the Athenians! Paul was already on a preaching trip! But the word “so” tucked between Paul’s provocation and his preaching lets us know that the stirring of his spirit over the Athenians’ idols did motivate him to preach Christ! And his actions in Athens beg a few application questions concerning our own lives:

First, are we provoked by our city full of idols, and full of unbelief? Modern Americans don’t worship Zeus and Aphrodite, but there are still idols on the thrones of American hearts. And there is a great dearth of real faith in the one true God. Does that bother us? Are we sad when we see people mowing their lawns, or out for a jog, on Sunday morning … instead of heading to meet with God and His people? Are we troubled by our-co-workers’ man-centered worldviews? Are we bothered by the immodesty and immorality that are constantly paraded before our nation on television?

And then, second … if we are provoked in our spirits over the idolatry and unbelief around us, is it a provocation of disgust, or of concern? Do we badmouth our neighbors, or ache for them?

And, thirdly … if we are concerned, and if we do grieve, do that concern and grief move us, like Paul, to gospel action? Are we reasoning with people, like Paul did, in our own city? Are we sharing Christ with co-workers? Are we speaking of the cross to neighbors? Are we presenting the gospel to family members? Are we magnifying Jesus on our Facebook pages? We may not be full-time missionaries like Paul, but we all have our own particular niches where the gospel can go forward from our lips and fingertips!

May it be, in our city, that we would be provoked to concern … and to gospel action … over the idolatry and unbelief around us!

August 7, 2017

"Sawn in two"

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy).” Hebrews 11:37-38a

These and other sufferings (vv.35-38) were the excruciating fates of some of our forefathers in the faith. Great opposition and persecution are sometimes the lot of God’s faithful people. And among the most shocking forms of persecution listed in Hebrews 11 (or anywhere else, for that matter) is the torment of being “sawn in two”. Read it again, soberly: “Sawn in two”. That’s not a grisly scene from a fictional horror movie. It actually happened, says the author of Hebrews. Indeed, there is a tradition that states that it happened to that great and eloquent prophet of God, Isaiah. And all these other great pains and trials actually happened, too – to real people! And some of them still do! The people of God didn’t just suffer in biblical times, but they have suffered greatly at various points since (read, for instance, about the Covenanters or the Huguenots); and they are suffering still (see The Voice of the Martyrs). And thinking about the severe suffering of our fathers and brothers in the faith (and perhaps our own severe trials, still to come) should come with at least four upshots, it seems to me:

1. Let us not murmur about our current, light sufferings. Do we sometimes experience opposition or discrimination for our faith? Yes. Have we been stoned or sawn in two? No. And so, while we rightly recognize, and pray about, and groan under whatever pushback we may receive for our faith … let us not make it out as though we are some great martyrs. And certainly, let us not murmur (Philippians 2:14).

2. Let us pray and act on behalf of the sufferers. “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). Don’t forget the people who are suffering, even today, after the manner of Hebrews 11:35-38! Remember them in your prayers, and in your generosity, too. The Voice of the Martyrs is a good organization to help you do both.

3. Let us be serious about our faith. If our forefathers (and many of our contemporaries, too) have been committed enough to the Lord to have ended up stoned, sawn in two, and persecuted in many other ways … then this Christianity thing is serious business! And if the devil is so opposed to Christ that he incites people to carry out such torture of Christ’s followers, then this Christianity thing is serious business! Let us be sure we treat it that way in every area of our lives … whether it results in us being respected, rejected, or rent in two. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us [in Hebrews ch.11, that is], let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2a).

4. Let us hope in eternity. “Here we do not have a lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14). And, indeed, sometimes we have, in this life, a hostile city, or nation, or culture. Perhaps we are just on the cusp, in this culture, of finding that out, first-hand. But this life is not all there is; this city is not the lasting one! And “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). And so, while I do not say that we should not groan under our trials, yet we must not fixate on our trials … but on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), and on “the glory that is to be revealed to us” when all these difficulties will be ended forever. Let us fix our minds on “the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14), where “they will hammer their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4) … and their saws, too! “Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”

July 31, 2017

"Through what has been made"

Off my son went, out the front door, on an errand to check the mail. When, after a minute or two, he hadn’t returned … I made my way over to the front door myself, wondering what had happened to him. And through the doorway I saw him, standing stock still in the grass, staring up into the trees. He’d sighted a woodpecker, and the mail mission had been put on hold while he watched and wondered!

A few days earlier, spotting a tiny little moth (maybe the size of my pinkie nail), I had pointed it out to some of the children. And this same son then drew near to this little creature, and came back with a report that unfolded something like this: ‘Dad, that whitish, bluish, grayish moth had a black stripe down the edge of each wing, and a yellow stripe across the end of each wing, and his antennas were folded back.’

And I think this is a picture of health – not the health of the moth, I mean … but of the boy observing it! And not only health for a young lad, with his boyish interest in nature … but his wonder is a portrait of what would be healthy for us all! For does not the Scripture tell us, concerning our God, that “since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20)? One way we understand God is by observing “what has been made” by Him – woodpeckers, moths, foxes, cumulonimbus clouds, magnolia trees, oceans, streams, human beings, and so on! And the closer we look – at the stripes on a moth’s wings, or the habits of a woodpecker, or the intricacies of a honeysuckle blossom – the more of God’s glory, wisdom, and creativity we will be able to admire!

And so maybe take this as a challenge for the next week (or longer)! Try, each day, to notice – and to really spend a few minutes observing – something that God has made. Maybe it will be the bark on a tree, or perhaps the details on a mushroom, or even the pattern of your own fingerprint. Take the time to observe such things … and to consider what they teach you about the One who made them! And, if you know (or can find) some science that explains in more detail what you’re looking at, and why it has been crafted as it has, then you’ll be able to marvel at the Maker all the more!

And make sure you do marvel at Him! Don’t just say to yourself: ‘Isn’t this peach amazing? Isn’t that butterfly marvelous?’ … but, ‘Isn’t the Maker of these things amazing? Isn’t God marvelous, and grand, and creative, and wise, and powerful, and good to have created such a marvelous thing?’

“Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made”. Let us be sure that we see … and that we praise!

July 24, 2017

Coming in August and September

PRBC family … I thought it might be good to fill you in on the teaching and preaching plans for the next couple of months, and then to give you some practical suggestions for how you might participate in and benefit from what is to come. So, Lord willing, here are the plans for August and September:
  • Adult Sunday School: Ephesians. Brad and Tobey began, this past Sunday, leading the coed and ladies classes (respectively) through a study of the book of Ephesians.
  • Sunday Sermons: Matthew. I hope to begin a series through the book of Matthew beginning August 6. This will take a good bit longer than just the next two months … but we’ll try and make a start!
  • Wednesday Sermons: The Fruit of the Spirit. My hope is to look at one piece of the fruit– “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – each Wednesday night in August and September.
Now, with all that said, here are a few ways you can participate in and benefit from these studies: 
  • Pray. As you pray through the week, ask the Lord’s blessing on Brad, Tobey, and myself as we prepare and present week-by-week. And ask the Lord to give you, and all of us, “ears to hear”.
  • Come. If you haven’t been to Sunday School or Wednesday night in a while (or at all), consider joining us for the studies in Ephesians and The Fruit of the Spirit. You will be blessed.
  • Prepare. Here I’m thinking, particularly, about Sunday School. Grab one of the study guides on Ephesians (from the adult Sunday School classrooms), work through the lesson each week, and come on Sundays at 10, ready to chip in to the discussion!
  • Read ahead. Perhaps use your family worship on Saturday night, or your quiet time on Sunday morning, to read the passage in Matthew that will (Lord willing) be preached on Sunday. If you’d like to read ahead, while my plans are always subject to change (and please forgive me if they do!), right now I’m planning on the following dates and passages in Matthew:
        o 8/6 – Matthew 1
        o 8/13 – Matthew 2
        o 8/20 – Matthew 3
        o 8/27 – Matthew 4:1-11
        o 9/3 – Matthew 4:12-25
        o 9/10 – Matthew 5:1-12
        o 9/17 – Matthew 5:13-16
        o 9/24 – Matthew 5:17-48
May “the LORD make His face shine on [us]” as we open His word together, and on our own, in the weeks ahead!