March 27, 2020

“Nothing is too difficult for You”

“Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You”. Jeremiah 32:17

God had issued to Jeremiah a command which verse 25 shows would have seemed, to many, quite strange. Jeremiah was to buy real estate in the promised land even though Jerusalem, its capital, was about to be overrun by Nebuchadnezzar’s army. And the point of the purchase was to provide a testimony that, “although” God “[was] about to give this city into the hand of the king of Babylon,” yet “houses and fields and vineyards [would] again be bought in this land.”

And, as Jeremiah pondered that promise (and after he had obeyed the command!), he spoke to God in those marvelous words: “Nothing is too difficult for You”! And the fact that Jeremiah said that is evidence that, without the eyes of faith, the promise of God would have sounded “too difficult” indeed! But Jeremiah recalls that God “made the heavens and the earth”, and therefore understands and believes that “nothing is too difficult for” the Lord!

Marvelous! And true!

Do you believe it? And can you pray it, like Jeremiah?
“Ah Lord God! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You”. 
“Nothing” – neither steering us through a global pandemic; nor the provision of “our daily bread” amidst it; nor managing the trials of loved ones who may be suffering from it; nor caring for health care workers as they work in the middle of it – “is too difficult for You”. 
“Nothing” – neither the repair of broken relationships; nor the healing of our griefs; nor the protection of at-risk children; nor the rearing of difficult children; nor the loneliness of widowhood or singleness; nor the trials of disability or chronic illness – “is too difficult for You”. 
“Nothing” – neither the salvation of our loved ones; nor the revival of the church in the West; nor the spread of the gospel to “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” – “is too difficult for You.” 
“Nothing” – neither “the resurrection of the dead”; nor the “rescu[ing of Your saints] from the wrath to come”; nor the “making [of] all things new” – “is too difficult for You”.
Oh, brothers and sisters! Let us – both in this current situation, and in every other as well – believe and pray like Jeremiah!

February 3, 2020

"The Lord opened her heart"

“And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled. A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.” Acts 16:13-14

“The Lord opened her heart”. It’s a beautiful phrase that Luke uses in describing Lydia’s conversion to Christ, is it not? And what he describes, with that phrase, is how all conversions to Christ happen. Everyone who has ever rightly “respond[ed] to the things spoken” in the gospel – everyone, in other words, who has ever savingly believed on Christ – has responded in that way because “the Lord opened [his or] her heart to” do so! What Paul wrote to the Philippians is true of all Christians: “to you it has been granted^ for Christ’s sake … to believe in Him” (Philippians 1:29). And this reality – that it is God who “open[s] … heart[s] to respond to the” gospel; that it is God who grants belief in Christ – should have the following effects on us:

1. Prayer. We cannot, by all our sound, clear, and winsome sharing of the good news, actually cause anyone to believe it. We should, of course, be as sound, clear, and winsome as we can with the gospel! But we cannot open hearts! Only God can do that. And while, yes, He is gracious to use our quoting, explaining, and applying of His word to do so … it is not us, but He (by the power of His word and His Spirit), who does the opening; it is not us, but He, who grants belief to our hearers. And so we ought not only to speak to people about Jesus, but also to speak to God about these people! We ought to do what we are called to do … and pray (before, during, and after) that God will do what only He can do!

2. Humility. Since it is God who opens hearts to the gospel; since it is God who grants belief in Christ, let us be sure that we do not take credit for ourselves that actually belongs to Him. Yes, He graciously uses us in His accomplishing of His work (and He commends us for our faithfulness!) … but it is, at the end of the day, His work, is it not? When we have shared the gospel and seen someone converted to Christ through our witness, the reality is always that “the Lord^ opened [his or] her heart to respond to the things spoken by” us. So let us praise Him, and never ourselves, when people come to Christ through our witness.

3. Rest. Since it is God who opens hearts; since it is God who grants belief in Christ, we can rest in the knowledge that the salvation of our family, and our friends, and our neighbors, and the nations is not ultimately up to us … but is in the capable hands of God! Now, make no mistake – we must be engaged in sharing Christ with them! The fact that it is God who opens hearts does not exempt us from our responsibility to proclaim the good news! For “how will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). And so the idea is not that, since it is God who opens hearts, we can therefore rest from sharing of the gospel. The idea is rather that, since it is God who opens hearts, we can be at rest regarding the outcome of our sharing the gospel; we can share the good news of Jesus restfully – taking upon ourselves only the weight of faithfulness, and able to leave the weight of outcomes with the only One who can open hearts!

4. Hope. Why did Lydia believe on Christ that day so long ago? Was it because she had the great apostle Paul sharing the gospel with her? No! “The Lord^ opened her heart”, remember? So she believed, not because she had Paul sharing the gospel with her … but because she simply had someone sharing the gospel with her, and because God was at work through the gospel to open her heart to the gospel! And so it could have been Luke or Timothy sharing Christ that day; or it could have been someone as pedestrian as you or me … and, so long as that person proclaimed the word (through which God opens hearts), and so long as God saw fit to perform that work of opening on Lydia’s her heart, she would have been converted to Christ just the same as she was through the evangelism of Paul! For it was “the Lord”, not Paul, who “opened her heart”! And that gives hope to us all these centuries later, doesn’t it? We don’t have to be great or gifted in order for to God save people through our sharing of the gospel ... precisely because it is God who does the saving; because it is the Lord who opens hearts!

^Italicized emphasis in scripture quotations has been added.

January 20, 2020

"Refreshed through you"

“I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” Philemon 7

Philemon, by "[his] love", had provided heart-refreshing for his fellow believers. "[His love]" had given breaths of fresh air to God’s people; swigs of cool water to their hearts. And, given that Paul had just called Philemon a “fellow worker” (v.1), and that he’d just mentioned (v.2) that it was “in [Philemon’s] house” that his church family held their gatherings, we are probably to understand these two bits of information as at least part of what Paul had in mind when he wrote of Philemon’s refreshing love. We are probably to understand Philemon’s Christian work and hospitality as at least part of the refreshing love for which Paul commended him in Philemon 7 (and thus as at least two ways in which we might love and refresh the saints, as well).

But whatever Paul had in mind re: Philemon’s love – whether Christian work, Christian hospitality, and/or other aspects of Christian love – Paul commended him for it, and encouraged him with the fact that his love had provided refreshing for his fellow believers. “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you”^ said Paul!

And let me now say that Paul's words are also true of you, loving Christian. And so I echo them to you, now. I say to you: “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you^; through “your love”^! And I echo Paul not only because what he says is true of you, loving Christian; but I do it also, in imitation of Paul, as commendation and encouragement – that “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you”^; through “your love^! Your service in the church nursery has allowed moms to lap up just a little more of the refreshment that comes from the Sunday lesson or sermon. The knowledge that you are praying for them has heartened your fellow believers. Your encouraging text or card has put a little wind in the sails of your brother or sister’s day. The meals you dropped off, and the benevolence you placed in their hands, have been encouraging reminders that God and His people care. Your visits in the hospital and the nursing home have been the same, and the scriptures you have shared in those moments have breathed fresh air into the soul of the sufferer. Your hospitality, like Philemon’s, has not only refreshed the bodies, but “the hearts of the saints”^, as well. And your Bible teaching has been refreshment, too.

Oh, my Christian friend! If you have loved like Philemon loved, then you can be sure that God has used you to refresh like Philemon refreshed! So be encouraged, you who have done so! And praise God (v.4) for using you in this way! And keep at it (vv.8-22, notice especially v.20)! “Let us not lose heart in doing good”. “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you”^ who love … and they will continue to be refreshed if you will keep on loving!

^Italicized emphasis in scripture quotations has been added.

January 13, 2020

"Child, arise!"

Thus Jesus spoke to the daughter of Jairus as she lay dead in her father’s house. And thus the girl did! “He … took her by the hand and called, saying, ‘Child, arise!’ And her spirit returned, and she got up immediately” (Luke 8:54-55).

Jairus, you may recall, beseeched the Lord on behalf of his daughter while the girl (at least as far as Jairus knew) was still alive – on her deathbed, but not yet expired (vv.41-42). But Jesus’ touch and voice did not come to her until after she had died. No matter, though! Death did not mean that she was beyond Jesus' reach! No! Even though she was dead, “He … took her by the hand and called, saying, ‘Child, arise!’ And ... she" did so!

What marvelous power!

And, oh, let me remind you (Ephesians 2:1-6) that the Lord has the power to raise those who are spiritually dead, too; to grant life to those who are “dead in [their] trespasses and sins”. And so, as He raised Jairus’s daughter from physical death, Jesus has the power to raise your child or children (or grandchildren) from spiritual death; from their deadness to God!

Maybe your child is yet very young, but already you see selfishness of various sorts – evidence of his or her deadness to God (the condition in which we are all conceived). Or maybe your boy or girl is older now – possibly even grown – and still dead to God; still unsaved. And perhaps you recognize the fact that, but for the miraculous intervention of God, there is no hope. But Jesus’ raising of Jairus’s daughter reminds us that God does miraculously intervene; that He does intervene with the power to raise the dead! And if Jesus “t[akes your child] by the hand and call[s], saying, ‘Child, arise’” ... your son or daughter will surely do so!

So won’t you, like Jairus (v.42), “implore Him” concerning your child? And won’t you do so without giving up? The Lord is powerful and compassionate to answer prayer and to raise the dead!

July 8, 2019

"Our hearts burning within us"

Two men are making their way “to a village named Emmaus”, discussing a recently crucified prophet named Jesus. They are dejected that perhaps He was not the Messiah after all, and they are not altogether buying in to the recent report of His resurrection. Somewhere along the way, though, the prophet Himself joins their party (unrecognized), begins conversing with them and, upon their voicing of their lack of faith, He rebukes them and gives them a conversational sermon, from all throughout the Scriptures, showing that Jesus is indeed the Messiah.
He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Luke 24:25-27)
They would later comment on His words like this: “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road, while He was explaining the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).

“Our hearts burning within us”! What an experience!

And it prompts me to ask: When was the last time you experienced such burning under the preaching, teaching, studying, or reading of the word?

Surely it is something we should experience. For, while it is true that the sermon in Acts 24 was delivered by none other than the Son of God Himself, yet it is also true that the biblical material that He preached is still available to us today (along with the New Testament, now, also!); and that the subject matter is still as wonderful as ever; and that Christ’s Spirit is still alive and well today, and more than capable of speaking through mere men (or working through simple Bible reading or personal Bible study) with such power that the effect will be the same as it was for those two blessed men in Luke 24! And so surely we ought, at times, to find “our hearts burning within us” under the word of God about the Son of God!

Pray that it might be so!

Pray that preachers and teachers will do precisely that which Jesus did, and which resulted in “hearts burning”: Pray that we will diligently open the treasure of the word of God, and faithfully bring out “the things concerning [the Son of God] in all the Scriptures”! And pray for yourself, that you will be diligent to read and study the Scriptures, and to look for Jesus there!

Pray, too, that those who preach and teach God’s word about God’s Son would do so “by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Peter 1:12); pray for the power of the Spirit upon the proclamation and teaching of God’s word! Pray also for His anointing upon “the public reading of Scripture” – that we might experience “hearts burning” as the Bible is read aloud! And beg the Spirit’s anointing of your own study and reading of the word as well, that you might be deeply moved by what you see of Jesus there!

Plead with God that we would know – and know regularly – what it is to have “our hearts burning within us” under the Word of God about the Son of God!