November 23, 2015

"Faith comes from hearing" (part 2)

Last week we thought about the irreplaceable value of God’s word in the birth and blossoming of our faith. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And I said, in that column, that this hearing includes both reading and listening. But then I also said that there is a special place for listening – for hearing the word audibly – whether when it is read aloud, or faithfully preached. Some of my best experiences in the word – and perhaps some of yours as well – have been listening to it proclaimed by a man of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

And so our first duty; the greatest thing we can do for the spiritual health of ourselves and our families, says Terry Johnson, is to commit to the regular Sunday services of our local church; to be with God’s people, on God’s day, listening to God’s man proclaiming God’s word. That is priority number one in terms of our spiritual growth.

But then it is also a blessing if we find ourselves asking if there is more where that came from; if there are other pulpits (to which we have electronic access) from whom we might receive the bread of life all week long. And I promised, last time, that I’d give a small catalog in this week’s column. So here it is – some faithful men from whom you might learn and grow as you drive to work in the workings, or as you settle into your armchair at night, and in a dozen other places in between.

The Obvious:
Alistair Begg, Greater Cleveland
John Piper, Minneapolis
John MacArthur, Greater Los Angeles

The Men of Old:
James M. Boice, Philadelphia

The Scotsmen:
Sinclair Ferguson, Dundee, formerly of Columbia, SC
Kenneth Stewart, Glasgow

These men are all just men … but godly ones, and faithful expositors of the Bible who will do good to your soul. So listen in, and find your faith blossoming more and more and you take in the word by means of “hearing”!

November 17, 2015

"Faith comes from hearing"

So says the apostle Paul in Romans 10:17. “Faith comes” – not from seeing, as in the icons of Eastern Orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism – but “from hearing, and hearing by the word.”  And so faith is born, and blossoms, by means of God’s word, not the church’s artwork. A good reminder for churches today who are over-reliant upon visual aesthetics, artwork, video, and so on. But also a good reminder to those of us who are died-in-the-wool, Bible-believing Protestants as well – the life of our faith really does flow from God’s words, and from our hearing of them.

And I don’t think it stretches the meaning of the text to say that biblical “hearing” also includes the listening that we do, inside our own heads, when we read the word of God silently ourselves. Reading, in other words, is a kind of hearing, too … because faith is still being placed in the word, not in a series of religious sights and rites.

But I also think that there is something special about the actual, audible listening to the scriptures – whether as they are read, or faithfully preached. Some of my best times in the word seem to come when I hear it faithfully, spiritually, and powerfully proclaimed from a pulpit. And so I do myself a favor when I make use of every opportunity for hearing the word in that way. And so do you!

Now, of course, your first priority must always be a commitment to regularly hearing the word preached in your own congregation, from your own shepherd, in your own local setting. Nothing can replace that! And, of course, it is very much true that, if you’ll only avail yourself of every opportunity of hearing the word from your own local pulpit (and if that pulpit is a faithful one), then you will have enough. And so I cannot stress that strongly enough to you. Terry Johnson, in his book Family Worship, rightly points out that our attendance on the normal Sunday services of our local church is the single most important thing we can do to promote our own and our family's spiritual health. And I echo his thinking as loudly as I can on this point! Do not miss the opportunity to be fed by your own local shepherd(s) at every possible occasion!

But then, even after we have done this most vital thing, some of us (happily!) still long for more! The word on Sundays and mid-week is so good that we want to know where we can find more such preaching, more such exposition of Christ and His word. And (again, happily!) we have access to biblical preaching like no generation has ever had. The internet, smartphones, mp3 players, and podcasts have put the world of preaching (both good and bad) at our fingertips. And I heartily rejoice, as I have occasion to do recently, when someone comes and asks me “where the good way is”; where they may glean among “the finest of the wheat”; where, in short, they may find more of the spiritual food that good preaching provides for us.

And so, next week, I hope to provide a brief catalog of some of the fields in which we may glean the good wheat – a few of the preachers and pulpits which, coming into our hearing, might increase our faith. But for now let me just commend to you the goodness of the word preached by faithful men – whether in the flesh in your own pulpit, or across the airwaves by means of the worldwide web. “Faith comes from hearing.” So make sure that you find your seat in places of good, gospel acoustics.

November 12, 2015

Moses' Disobedience

"Speak to the rock."  That is how God instructed Moses in Numbers chapter 20. The situation was another episode of Israelite grumbling in the wilderness. “There was no water for the congregation, and they assembled themselves” … to beseech the Lord for rainfall? To fast and pray for the Lord’s direction to an oasis? No! “They assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron” (v.2). They assembled themselves to lodge their complaint … as if Moses and Aaron were in charge of the weather or the geographical formations of the Ancient Near East!

And yet God was merciful.

Instead of commanding Moses to speak His judgments against the people, the Lord told him to speak to a nearby rock. And He ensured that, when Moses opened his mouth, the rock would open its mouth, too … and water would gush forth in abundance.

Isn’t God merciful … to the Israelites, as well as to bellyaching Christians today! Among the sins for which Christ shed His precious blood was our murmuring and complaining when things don’t go our way! So that, instead of judgment for our murmuring, God has poured fourth mercy upon us from the rock that is Christ! Let us not receive it unthankfully!

But there is something else to see in Numbers chapter 20. And the editors of the chronological Bible summary, The Story, describe it when they summarize the unfolding of events as follows:

“Moses struck the rock rather than obeying God’s instructions to speak to it” (emphasis added).

And God’s response was to call Moses to account for his unbelief, and failure to honor His God before the people.

Disobedience. That was the fundamental breakdown in Numbers 20. God had said “speak”, and Moses disobeyed. He struck rather than speaking. The Story suggests that Moses did what he did in anger – that he struck the rock “in his rage” over the continued obstinacy of the people. And that is perhaps correct, especially when we read Moses words in v.10 (“Listen now, you rebels”). It’s also possible, I suppose, that Moses struck the rock rather than speaking because that was one way God had worked His wonders in the past. The Nile had turned to blood, and the Egyptian dust to gnats, when Moses struck them with his staff. And so maybe there was something in Moses that had become almost superstitious about that piece of wood in his hand.

But in either case, the fact remains the same. God told Moses to do one thing. But Moses did, patently, something else. And there was discipline for it – not eternal perdition (for Moses' sins were covered by the blood, and he is surely with God today); and not the thwarting of Moses’ ministry, either (for the rock still gave forth water, even though Moses approached it in the wrong way). But, because of His disobedience, Moses did suffer the loss of earthly blessing. He forfeited, that day in Numbers 20, his opportunity to live in the earthly land of promise (see v.12) … and later died, having only seen it from a vista point, and at a distance.

And that should be a warning to us! Just because something we are doing ‘works’ doesn’t mean that we are doing it God’s way. The people still had water even though Moses went about it all wrong. And so ‘success’ is no true sign that we are doing right by God. And very often, by God’s grace, some other form of discipline will remind us that He cared deeply about our obedience.

So listen to God. Do things His way. Familiarize yourself with the teachings of the Bible, and hold to them unswervingly. And don’t think that immediate success means that God necessarily approves of your behavior. His approval is measured by the yardstick of His word, not your success! And you should measure yourself by the biblical yardstick, not because your obedience is what redeems you or purchases your standing before God – that was accomplished by Christ alone! – but because you want to honor the Lord in all the details of your life, and not miss out on earthly promises that could have been yours if you’d only obeyed.

November 6, 2015

The Feasibility of the Resurretion

"Can men make ... [eye]glasses out of ashes ... And cannot the great Creator, who made all things of nothing, raise man's body, after it is reduced into the dust?"

Thomas Boston
Human Nature in Its Fourfold State