January 29, 2008

"All things"

Most of my thoughts this week have hovered around the themes of suffering and loss…and God’s faithfulness in the midst. It occurs to me that three of the green pastures I have fled to (and pointed others to) most often, have contained the same set of two words: “all things”.  God works "all things" for good (Romans 8.28); "Will He not ... freely give us all things?" (Romans 8.32); Jesus "upholds all things by the word of His power" (Hebrews 1.3). It got me thinking: ‘What a wonderful pair of words…so broad in their description of God’s mercy and power. I wonder how often they are found together like this in the whole Bible.’ Well, what I found is that my NASB contains 141 instances of that phrase “all things”…most all of them teaching powerful theology. Here are a few of them (scriptural quotes in italics)…and how they have encouraged me this week:

The person and power of Jesus
· All things came into being through Him (John 1.3).
· The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand (John 3.35)…and this past week, the Father delicately delivered our friend Amber forever into the Son’s hand.
· When that One comes, He will declare all things to us (John 4.25)…Yes, there is an answer for why we suffer, and Jesus will someday make it plain.
· Through Him to reconcile all things to Himself (Colossians 1.20)…Here is the great hope in death: Jesus has granted us reconciliation with God!
· Christ upholds all things by the word of His power (Hebrews 1.3)…Jesus is actively upholding Anthony, his children, their financial stability, the Donovan family, and the future of Pastor’s Training Institute just as powerfully as when He spoke the universe into being.
· Therefore He had to be made like His brethren in all things (Hebrews 2.17)…Wow! Though most of us really have no clue, the Lord Jesus knows exactly what our friends (and all other grieving hearts) are enduring. He sympathizes with our weakness.
· Behold, I make all things new (Revelation 21.5)…including, one day, lifeless bodies.

The power and mercy of God the Father
· With God all things are possible (Matthew 19.26).
· God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God (Romans 8.28)…even the hardest things. Events may not themselves be good (and last week’s weren’t) but God designs even the horrific for the final good of His lambs. The cross proves that, and Amber knows it better than us all today. Her family is learning it, too, though much more slowly.
· He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8.32)…If God would give His very Son (His Son!) to Anthony, Ellie, Isaac, Laura, Mitch, April, and Nathan , why would He withhold anything else that they need? And why would He withhold anything that you need?
· Who works all things after the counsel of His own will (Ephesians 1.11)…No matter what the news reports as happening on Hwy 51, there are no accidents. God’s blood-bought children are far too precious to Him to leave their lives and deaths to fate (see Ps 116.15).

The response and hope of the believer

· All things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive (Matthew 21.22)…Would you make sure you are praying for the Mathenias? God loves to answer believing prayer!
· All those who had believed were together and had all things in common (Acts 2.44)…O, that this apostolic generosity and love would be manifest today as believers encourage and liberally support the Mathenia family and others like them!
· Giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus (Ephesians 5.20)…It is possible, even in this. Do it! By God’s grace, do it!
· I can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Philippians 4.13)…Normally we use this verse tritely. It is not about scoring more touchdowns. But it is worth its weight in gold in the darkest hour. Cling to Jesus and see if He is not true.

One more verse to sum up. Seeing the mass of truth and hope and encouragement assembled around the phrase “all things”, I want to be able to say…and I want you to be able to say…and I pray my friend will continue to say of this Jesus (as he did so wonderfully this past weekend): Even in the darkest hour, He does all things well (Mark 7.37).

January 24, 2008

All that we Need in Every Situation

I have been sitting here this Wednesday afternoon, trying to make sense out of the loss of our dear friend, Amber Mathenia. I do not know what to say, except that this, even this, is included in the “all things” of Romans 8.28. God works all things, even horrible things, for the good of His people. I know that because the horrific death of God’s own Son proves it. Beyond that, there aren’t words.

I thought, instead of my words, it might be appropriate to let Amber speak to us from the grave. The following lines are from her journal, the day after the Baptist denomination in Ethiopia (God really) had dropped Pastor’s Training Institute into the Mathenia’s laps. It reminds me that Amber was a human…in need of greater faith…but also that there was in her a depth of commitment to the Lord Jesus that we can all learn from. Her closing sentences, in particular, speak to the events of the last week:

I was ashamed this morning as I thought about all this (the opportunities for ministry the Lord had provided) and how it is really more than I ever expected and sooner than I ever expected. I want to think that this was more of doubting self and not God, but I don't know. I imagined Anthony training a few ministers in the city and maybe seeing some reform in a few of them. That was my hope. This is far more than I could have ever dreamed up. It seems so serious and weighty to me. Now I am only asking that God will make this goal the burning passion in my heart and all would be poured out in prayers to Him…That I would love His glory and long for the spread of His kingdom across this land…That my desire for these things would be in no way connected to self, but that I would long for this no matter who God was using. This is just like the Lord, isn't it? To exceed our expectations in every way. I do not doubt that this work will bring trials and difficulties, but is our God not sufficient for these things as well? Lately I have found myself holding back from boasting in Him, for fear that He will not do what I have hoped. I want these fears to be taken away that I may boast confidently in my Lord and fully believe that He will be all that we need in every situation.”

Yes, Amber, there will indeed be “trials and difficulties”. And yes, our God is “sufficient for these things.” Now we pray that He will use the trials and difficulties to, in some way, advance “the spread of His kingdom across” Ethiopia, and Mississippi, and Memphis, and Cincinnati. And we pray that your dear husband, Anthony, and your precious children, Ellie and Isaac, would be able to boast in the Lord, and say that He truly has been “all that we need in every situation.”

January 21, 2008

MLK Day and the Gospel

Today is Martin Luther King Day. I was thinking about this column and looking through some old papers when I ran across a letter I had written on January 16, 2003. I had received several enquiries from a university professor wanting to survey me, in light of the 2002 riots in Over-the-Rhine, about race relations in our church…and what we do (mainly socio-politically) to promote racial reconciliation. Here is an excerpt of my reply, with a few supplements that reflect, I hope, four more years of wisdom:

Dear Dr. _______,

I have completed the survey but feel it necessary to write you concerning my views on this issue.

I feel your survey is perhaps missing the point a little bit. You see,
[genuine, heart-level] racial reconciliation has no lasting correlation with politics, governments, speeches, marches, etc. None of these things can change a person's heart one ounce. Only the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ can change the hearts of people and rid their lives of racism. "If any man is in Christ, He is a new creature. The old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is the Bible that [first of all] teaches that all men are created equal, not U.S. governmental documents (See Genesis 1:26-27). So I submit to you that all [I would now rather say “most of”] the political maneuvering done by ministers in the name of racial reconciliation is a lot of "sound and fury, signifying nothing." Only Jesus can change the stubborn hearts of men.

Having said all this, I want you to know that our church
is quite diverse, in my mind. On a normal Sunday, 12-15% of our congregation will be black—both African-American and African. Why is that? Not because we are better or more astute than other churches. Not because we make a big issue out of race relations. Not because I preach on the issue often or encourage people to get involved politically. The reason we are more racially diverse than most churches in our area is because we preach the full, unbiased gospel of Jesus Christ who died and was raised to redeem all manner of people from a life of slavery to all manner of sin—including racism. People who have been forgiven and reborn in Christ are free from racism. “If the Son makes you free, you are free indeed." And it is this freedom that motivates us to want to minister to all types of people and to create an environment where, indeed, all are treated as equals. By the grace of God that is happening here.

I hope and pray that we will see it happen on a grand scale for the glory of God. And I pray that the Son may indeed set you free as well.

So while we celebrate (and we should!) the political gains that have been made...let us remember that there is much work to do - most of it in the heart, and by the gospel.

January 16, 2008


Thomas Boston on Matthew 25.21 - "Enter thou into the joy of the Lord":

Joy sometimes enters into us now, but has much to do to get access, while we are encompassed with sorrows: but then [at the last day] joy shall not only enter us, but we shall enter into it, and swim for ever in an ocean of joy, where we shall see nothing but joy wherever we turn our eyes.

From Human Nature in its Fourfold State.

January 14, 2008

Do not Sit Back, Do not Relax, and Do not Enjoy the Show

This Sunday is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday at PRBC. That means that we, along with churches all across the country, are setting aside time to think hard, to think painfully, to think biblically about human personhood issues (abortion, euthanasia, racism, etc.) Specifically, I want us to think hard, painful, biblical thoughts about abortion. More than that, I want us to think hopeful thoughts about our part in the solution! And I want to invite you who read this blog to join is in doing so. Embedded below are a video and a link to help you get started. I hope you will watch and then serious-mindedly browse. Four reasons why you should...

1. Every year, 1.3 million babies are sucked, intentionally, from their mother’s wombs in this country. That’s 25,000 a week, 4000 every day, over 40 million since 1973…5 during the time it will take you to watch the video. The aftermath? Untold millions of women live with the silent pain and regret of what they were told was just a simple “choice.” The devastation alone should motivate us to action!

2. God has called His people to make a difference. While our culture quietly snuffs out life at these alarming rates, God has reminded us that He loves, shapes, and has a plan for unborn children (Psalm 139). While 82% of abortions are performed in unmarried women, and roughly half of them site the emotional and financial strain of single parenting as a contributing factor to choosing abortion, the Lord commands His people to defend the fatherless (Psalm 82.3). Jesus commands us to let the little children come to Him (Mark 10.14). And to obey, we must first fight to keep them alive! If we do not defend the children, and let them come to Jesus, who in this culture of death will?

3. It is not enough to simply gripe about the problem; we are called to action. Anyone can bemoan the sad state of affairs in our country. But are you willing to do something about them? Are you willing to make the defense of life a non-negotiable in your voting this November? Are you willing to consider adoption, or generously support someone who is? Are you willing to volunteer time, or give money, to your local crisis pregnancy center? Are you willing to have the awkward but life-saving conversation with a friend or loved one who is considering abortion? Are you really?

4. The proof of your salvation depends, partially, upon how you care for ‘the least of these.’ “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me” (Matthew 5.45).

So, with those things in mind, don't sit back; don't relax; and don't enjoy the show:

Continue to Abort73.com.

January 8, 2008

"For the LORD God is a sun and shield"

Water, ice, steam – three forms, all H2O. Shell, white, yoke – three parts, all egg. The shamrock – three leaves, all clover. These are various ways (and somewhat helpful ways) that we finite human beings have found to describe the truth of Trinity – one true God revealing Himself in three distinct persons. But, as I have been meditating on Hebrews 1.3 lately, it occurs to me that, perhaps, the intended biblical metaphor for the Trinity is the sun. Here Jesus is referred to as “the radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature.” Clearly, this passage is teaching the deity of Christ. There is the imprint metaphor (“the exact representation of His nature” – like Lincoln’s likeness on the penny). And there is also the radiance metaphor. Jesus is the sunlight that emanates from the Father. Think it out…

The sun, essentially, is a great ball of white hot gases, burning (thankfully) millions of miles from the earth. If we were even slightly closer, there would be no survival. The sun’s intensity would consume the earth like a newspaper set too close to the edge of the fireplace. The sun, like our God, is “a consuming fire” (Hebrew 12.29). And our God, like the sun, “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6.16). But this inapproachable, consuming fire kind of God is also the giver of life to all the earth – “in him we live and breathe and exist” (Acts 17.28) – much like the sun. Dangerous and deadly as the sun can be, it is also the giver of life to all the earth. Without sun, there is no life. So it is with our Father in heaven.

But how does the sun give life? Well, it sends forth its “radiance” to the earth in the form of sunbeams. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of them directly and powerfully (walking through a thick wood when the rays of the sun suddenly burst through the trees in a shaft of beautiful light). So it is with Jesus, “the radiance of [God’s] glory.” Jesus appeared like a sunbeam - startlingly, beautifully, and visibly - to man’s sight some two thousand years ago. And so also He often shines – bright, powerful, almost visibly perceptible – from the pages of Holy Scripture, into the conscience and mind’s eye of the believer. Jesus, like the rays of the sun, is the visible manifestation of God that we can see and approach without being consumed (“the radiance of His glory”). And, like the radiance of the sun, He is always present and pervasive, even when not in a dazzling beam. Even on a cloudy day, we walk in the radiance of the sun, though we don’t often think it true. We are able to see trees and birds and human faces because the sun is always radiating its light upon the earth. And so it is with our Jesus. He doesn’t always manifest Himself in stark, bold ways – but He is always there.

The Holy Spirit, then, might be compared to the heat that radiates from the sun. Unlike the light of the sun, its heat cannot be seen – but it is no less pervasive than the light, and no less vital to our existence. So it is with the Spirit. We never have, and never will, see the Holy Spirit. But we know that He is there. We sense His presence. And we cannot live without Him.

So there is the biblical metaphor: the white hot ball of gas, the sunbeams that radiate from it, and the heat that it produces on the earth – three different manifestations, but all equally sun. When we see those shafts of brilliant light breaking through the clouds, we say to ourselves: ‘Look at the sun.’ And on a warm spring day, after the gray and gloom of winter, we say to our companions, let’s take a walk out in the warm sun.’ We know, by instinct, that the light and heat that emanate from that ball of gas are just as much sun as the ball of gas. And, if we know God truly, we know, by spiritual instinct (and by Scripture), that the visible light and felt heat that radiate from God are just as much God as the “consuming fire” that is now so distant from us.

January 3, 2008

Why Hebrews?

The following is a letter addressed to the congregation at Pleasant Ridge Baptist Church (and anyone else who may be listening in to our upcoming series in the book of Hebrews). For the rest of you, I hope it gives a little glimpse into a preacher's heart and mind; encourages you to pray for your particular pastor, congregation, and ongoing sermon series; and, perhaps, piques your interest to study Hebrews on your own (or with us):

This week we begin what I estimate will be six months worth of studies from the book of Hebrews. Why Hebrews? Well, I debated with myself about whether or not to tackle this book. It is awfully difficult sledding in some places. But, during the month of December, I really felt as if God were saying: ‘Study this book! It is worth the effort that will be required of you and the congregation.’

Now that ‘voice’ wasn’t an audible one. Rather, I felt that the Spirit was guiding us to winter our vessels in the harbor of Hebrews for a few reasons. One is simply because I have, personally, wanted to better understand this book for some time. Last Christmas, I was considering spending a few months’ quiet times meditating on Hebrews in the New Year. That didn’t happen. Now, by God’s grace, it will.

A second reason for studying Hebrews (I know this sounds silly) is because I found a really, really top-shelf commentary on sale for about 60% off! It’s AW Pink’s
An Exposition of Hebrews, in case you wondered. If you want to study along on your own, I’d recommend Hywel Jones’s Let’s Study Hebrews.

The third—and, by far, most important—reason for studying Hebrews is its content matter. I’ve entitled our series Jesus, Best of All because that is exactly the theme of this great letter! Just in today’s first message, we’ll see that Jesus is better than the prophets and better than the angels. And it seemed to me that we—and especially I—needed this message right now. How easy it is to “drift away” (Hebrews 2.1) from those things which are most important (those things which are best of all) – to let good things, but not the best things (busy-ness, hobbies, work, even religious activity) slowly push us out of the safe harbor where Jesus is, and out into the open sea where we float, often aimlessly, for days and weeks at a time without realizing we’re losing sight of land.

Hebrews warns us of the dangers of drifting. And Hebrews turns the tide of our affections and brings us back. Hebrews tethers us to the moorings of the cross and the person of Jesus. And we all need that, don’t we?

So let’s study Hebrews, shall we? And do me a favor – don’t forget to pray for me! I sense God’s stirrings as I prepare to begin this series. I can’t help but hope that, perhaps, a great breakthrough awaits. Would you join me in praying for that? Could you pick a time during the week, perhaps Saturday evening or Sunday morning to read through
the upcoming passage, praying for preacher and congregation as you go (see 1 Thessalonians 1.5-6)? Who knows but that God may do exceedingly abundantly more than we ask or imagine!