April 28, 2015

Nepal: Pray and Give

April 27, 2015

Two Different Sorts of Letters

In our recent beginning to a series of sermons in 1 Timothy, I made much of the fact that that particular book of the Bible is actually a letter – a piece of personally crafted communication from the apostle Paul to his beloved protégé. And, of course, all of Paul’s writings come to us in the form of letters – some more personal, and others more tract-like. But Paul was the great letter writer! And maybe there is a hint for us there, as to one way that we, too, might build up fellow believers across the miles!

But when I think of the apostle Paul, and of letters … my mind is also drawn back to the time, before Paul’s conversion, when he (known as Saul) was making use of letters of a very different kind. Do you remember the occasion in Acts 9? Saul hated the church of Jesus Christ and was, in fact, “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” And, more than just making threats, Saul was making efforts to follow through on them in the city of Damascus – having obtained the sanction of the high priest that any Christians found in the synagogues of that city might be arrested and brought back to Jerusalem, presumably to face charges and imprisonment.

And what did Saul take with him to Damascus, as proof of his permission, granted by the high priest, to make such arrests? Letters, we are told in Acts 9:2!

What an irony! Here was this angry young Pharisee, carrying in his satchel a handful of letters, written for the purpose of binding the followers of Jesus, and making their lives miserable! But on the road to Damascus, he met with something (or Someone, rather) he did not expect! Jesus stopped him in his tracks, and brought him to his knees, and set him on a whole new course … so that this man, carrying such hateful letters in his knapsack, would eventually begin to write the most helpful and oft-read letters in all the history of human writing – letters meant not to bind Christ’s followers, but to point out to us the freedom that we have in Christ; letters meant, not to discomfort, but to comfort the disciples of Jesus!

And it just reminds me that God can still do the same today! He can take a dealer of illicit and deadly narcotics, and make him into one who dispenses the healing balm of the gospel! He can take a tongue that once spread slander, gossip, and rumors … and loose it to begin spreading the truth of Jesus Christ. He can take an impatient and sharp-tongued man, and make him an encourager of struggling saints; a loose woman, and make her a Titus 2 wife and mother; a whiny child and make him or her a future leader of praise!

Here is the power of the gospel! Here is the power of Jesus to remake any heart; to take what was once wasteful, hateful, harmful, and ugly … and to make it useful, loving, healing, and beautiful for God! Pray that He will do just that in the lives of the Saul’s all around you, and in your own life as well! He is “able” (Eph.3:20) “to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.”

April 20, 2015

Not in Word Only

I recently received my DVD copy of the excellent new documentary, Logic on Fire – a look at the life of Martyn Lloyd-Jones (or ‘the Doctor,’ as he was often called) – who is widely regarded as the greatest preacher of the 20th century. Already I’ve watched the main feature twice over, as well as many of the outtakes that the producers generously chose to include in the package as well! And I’d encourage you to have a look for yourself. You can purchase the film at logiconfire.org (or borrow my copy if you’re local to Cincinnati!).

Also, if you’ve never heard ‘the Doctor’ preach … well then you simply must carve out some time to do so – today! Many of his sermons are available at mljtrust.org (I recommend and “But God …” and “Not in Word Only” for starters?). And don’t tune him out too quickly. As a couple of men say in the documentary, his sermons take a while to taxi down the runway … but when the plane takes off, the preacher will carry you with him to great heights!

So there you have a couple of ways in which you can begin to dip into what was a remarkable ministry, spanning the middle decades of the 20th century. But, in the space that I have left, let me give you just one very valuable insight that I have learned from Dr. Lloyd-Jones – the need for the power of the Holy Spirit in the preaching of the gospel. Here is one of the great takeaways that I have gleaned from my own listening to Lloyd-Jones’ preaching, from watching Logic on Fire, and from reading and listening to the Doctor’s biographer, Iain Murray. The greatness of Dr. Lloyd-Jones’ ministry lay, not merely in his ability to expound the text of scripture (though he was expert at doing so). Nor was his great fruitfulness bound up simply in his oratorical skills (though he had them in abundance). More than these things, those who listened to him would say that, like his Master, the Doctor spoke “as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Mark 1:22). There was, in other words, an anointing on His preaching; a sense that he really was bringing, not just a nice little study of one or other passage from the Bible, but (from that passage) a message and a burden from the Almighty Himself! Listen to a few sermons, and I trust you will sense it … even across the decades, and through your earbuds.

But where did such unction – such power – come from? Well, I’ve heard Lloyd-Jones himself preaching about it from 1 Thessalonians 1:5 – “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Did you hear those words of the apostle Paul? Read them again, and be bowled over! Paul says to the Thessalonians that it wasn’t simply accurate gospel words that won the day in Thessalonica. Now words are vital, Lloyd-Jones says (and so does Paul in Romans 10). We must preach the right words; the gospel words; the words of scripture! But, when Paul preached in Thessalonica, there was more being poured forth than simply accurate words! “Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” Not just words, but – in and through and behind those words – the power of the Holy Spirit, taking up the words, and pouring them out of the mouth and body and personality and personal holiness of the preacher; and pouring them into the minds and hearts of the congregation in such a way that people do leave the service saying: ‘That was a nice sermon’ (much less do they leave and forget the sermon altogether!). No! Under this sort of preaching – preaching (and a holy preacher) mightily empowered by the Spirit – there can be no mere appreciation of a well-constructed speech, and a few good nuggets that I can write down and mull over at a convenient time. Under this sort of preaching – preaching with unction – people are overpowered with conviction, and joy, and love for Christ, and desires for holiness and service to His name! And sometimes, as those interviewed for the film attest, such preaching simply leaves people dumbstruck … and a great hush falls over the congregation as they disburse in absolute awe of the God just proclaimed to them.

These are the sorts of things that Lloyd-Jones’ hearers testify to as they look back on those days of the Holy Spirit’s blessing. And this same power in preaching has been present in other men, and at other times, as well. And we must pray for it again! So would you? Would you pray for your pastor, that – in his personal holiness, and in his study, and on his knees in private prayer, and in the pulpit on the Lord’s Day – the Holy Spirit would anoint him with the sort of power and authority and conviction that characterized the ministry of Paul in Thessalonica, and Lloyd-Jones in London? Would you plead with the Lord for days of power once again?

Words cannot really describe what it is like to sit under such preaching – and to know that you have been touched by heaven. But those of you who have experienced it, even if only on occasion, will know what I mean. Pray that the Lord will do it again, and in your local church. Pray for those of us who stand behind the pulpit week by week, that we would be able to say with the apostle, and with the doctor, that “our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.”

Sermons from Psalms 101-110

We've just completed another installment of sermons from the Psalms - this time from Psalms 101-110.  Listen in, be encouraged, and enjoy the Lord!

Psalm 101 - Fit for a King - mp3
Psalm 102 - "A Prayer of the Afflicted" - mp3
Psalm 104 - God's Glory in Creation and Providence - mp3
Psalm 105 - "He has remembered His covenant" - mp3
Psalm 106 - "Save us, O LORD our God" - mp3
Psalm 107 - Redeemed - mp3
Psalm 108 - A Medley for the Journey home - mp3
Psalm 109 - A Prayer for David, for Ourselves, and for Jesus - mp3
Psalm 110 - Our Priest and King - mp3

Note: Psalm 103 is omitted above because it was preached on a prior occasion, and not included in this latest go-round.

April 15, 2015

Logic On Fire

Just got my pre-ordered copy of the  #LOGICONFIRE film ... the documentary of the late, great Martyn Lloyd-Jones.  Check it out for yourself at www.logiconfire.org.  Great job, Matthew Robinson and friends!

April 6, 2015

Becoming by Beholding: Some Thoughts on Growth in Christlikeness

One of God’s guaranteed purposes in the lives of His children is that they will become like Jesus. “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son” (Romans 8:29). What a promise that is! If I belong to the Lord, well then – gradually in this life, and completely in the next – I will become like Jesus in His perfect, sinless humanity (though, of course, I will never be like Him in many aspects of His deity).

Oh, to be more like Jesus! Surely that is the heartbeat of every true child of God. And God says that it is guaranteed! He Himself will make sure of it! “He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

And yet at the same time, there are things that we can (and must) do to work out this sanctifying portion of our salvation – confessing sin, cutting off the hands that cause it, seeking accountability, associating with the lowly, opening our hands to the poor, and so on. All these (and many more) practical efforts will come into play is we seek to be more like our Savior.

But it seems to me that there is one thing that we must do most of all; one practical effort at Christ-likeness that really lies at the root of all these other things. Namely, in order to become like Jesus, we must be constantly gazing at Jesus! Read it again: We become like Jesus by fixing our eyes on Jesus! Becoming by beholding! Transformation by fixation! Here is the key to our sanctification:

“We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

Is it that simple? In some ways, yes! Because it is as we behold, admire, and gaze upon Jesus we begin to understand, and to love, and even to appropriately fear Him. And, as that happens, our desires begin to change, and our heart begins to be more and more warmed, and all of those practical activities listed above become more and more desirable to us – and even natural!

Now much of this transformation surely takes place secretly and mysteriously ... as the Holy Spirit works in ways that we cannot easily trace or analyze.  We behold Jesus; and we become more like Jesus.  And we can't always connect every single dot in between.  But there are at least some dots we probably can connect.  There are some ways in which we can perhaps predict how the Spirit will likely be at work in those who continually behold Jesus in faith.

For instance, look at Jesus’ example of kindness, and gentleness, and patience … and you will long for those qualities in yourself, and find them growing up under the sunbeams of His face! Look at the cruel death He died on the cross … and you will hate to keep committing the sins that put Him there! Look at Him risen and glorious … and gain confidence that “[you] too might walk in newness of life.” Look at Him interceding for you at the Father’s right hand … and know that, with His prayers lie wind at your back, you “will do valiantly.” Look at Him in His promised return … and you will be loath to be found in the midst of your sin when He comes again!

Look at Jesus – daily, consistently, carefully, and with faith – and you will become more and more like Him! For “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image”