April 26, 2016

The Dead Are Raised!

In the early 1800’s, in the district of Ferintosh, in the far north of Scotland, a woman whose church membership lie in the local Ferintosh Church found herself, on many a Lord’s Day, walking several miles to the neighboring villages of Killearnan and Resolis, to attend services in other churches and to hear other ministers not her own. When the elders in Ferintosh noticed her frequent absences, they asked for a meeting with her to determine what might be the matter. Why did she absent herself from her own congregation and minister, and attend worship in these other places? “Well,” she said humbly, “at Killearnan, the sheep are fed. And at Resolis the lambs are provided with the sincere milk of the word.” “And what happens here [at Ferintosh]?” came the unsettled reply. “Here,” she said, “the dead are raised!”*

What the woman was saying, of course, was that her own pastor was, more than anything else, an evangelist! John MacDonald preached, not so much to feed the lambs who had already come into Christ’s fold, but to raise the dead; to bring men and women out of the kingdom of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light! And evidently God gave him success – because, at Ferintosh, as the woman admitted, the dead were indeed raised, in their hundreds! And MacDonald’s evangelistic preaching all across the north of Scotland was blessed to such an extent that he became known as ‘The Apostle of the North.’

Well, not every pastor is a John MacDonald! And, indeed, the story above does remind us that the sheep really do need to be fed, which is the local pastor’s greatest task. And yet didn’t the apostle Paul urge his young protégé, who was engaged in local pastoral ministry, to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5)? Which means that our preaching ought indeed to aim, not only at feeding the lambs but at raising the dead! We cannot do it ourselves, of course. But the pastor ought to make it his aim to preach the sorts of texts and truths that the Spirit will take into His mighty hand, and use to open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, and cause the spiritually dead to rise from their doldrums and turn to the Lord Jesus for redemption!

Would you pray that for your pastor … and for all the witness that goes forth from our church family Sunday by Sunday, and all through the week? We have seen the dead raised in our local setting – in ones and twos, scattered here and there across the last 13+ years of my observation and preaching. But, oh, how many there are perishing all around us! And so would you pray for our church, too – that it might become something of a Ferintosh in the lost and spiritually languishing city of ours?

May the sheep be fed! And may the dead be raised!

*I heard this story in an interview with Iain Murray entitled “Inspiring Lives with Iain Murray” – part of the 9Marks Leadership Interview Series.  The quotations are from a fuller description of the event, recorded in the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland’s The Young People’s Magazine, February, 2004, pages 27-30.

April 21, 2016

"Show me Your glory" - Sermons on Exodus 33-34

Listen in as we try and cultivate the lofty view of God that is presented to us in Exodus 33-34:

Part 1: "Show me Your glory" - mp3
Part 2: "No man can see Me and live" - mp3
Part 3: "The cleft of the rock" - mp3
Part 4: "Moses made haste to bow low" - mp3

Sermons from Nahum

Listen in to our recent series from the book of Nahum:

Nahum 1:1-8 - The LORD! - mp3
Nahum 1:8-3:19 - "Woe to the bloody city" - mp3
Nahum 1:15, 2:2 - "Good news" - mp3

Sermons from Psalms 111-120

Here is another batch of sermons from the book of Psalms:

Psalm 111 - Praise the Lord! - mp3
Psalm 112 - Fear the Lord! - mp3
Psalm 113 - Praise the Lord! (Reprise) - mp3
Psalm 114 - God in the Wilderness - mp3
Psalm 115 - " Not to us" - mp3
Psalm 116 - "The LORD has dealt bountifully with you" - mp3
Psalm 117 - "Laud Him, all peoples" - mp3
Psalm 118 - Victory Song - mp3
Psalm 119 - "O how I love Your law" - mp3
Psalm 120 - Among pagans - mp3

April 14, 2016

God was no longer a 'foreigner'

Do you value the blessing of possessing the Bible in your own heart language?  And do you value the task of getting it to other people in theirs?  Listen to this true story, passed on to me by my friend Allen (*original sources below):
Sebastian was 55 - quite elderly for his small Mexican community - when he began translating the Scriptures into his Tezoatlan Mixtec language. He had no training, only a second grade education, no help, not even an alphabet beyond the Spanish one he’d learned in school, but he saw a need. He bought a notebook and set out to translate the resurrection story in Luke 24. It was hard to spell Mixtec words using only Spanish letters. It was even harder to understand the biblical concepts and express them in his own language. He took his beloved notebook to every Bible study, but he didn’t read from it out of fear that he might have mistranslated the precious Word of God.

Then one night with trembling hands, he opened his notebook and began to read. Several people gasped as they realized that he was reading in Mixtec, their heart language. Then the room grew quiet. Sebastian read on for a long time, and when he stopped, he knew that no one present would ever be the same again. God was no longer a “foreigner.” God spoke Mixtec, and the words went straight to Mixtec hearts. 
Four years after Sebastian began translating, Wycliffe member John Williams came to Sebastian’s village. As Sebastian and John worked together, Sebastian eagerly contributed to every aspect of the translation and literacy work. Thirteen years later, with joy and thankfulness, Sebastian held in his hands a draft of the whole New Testament in Tezoatlan Mixtec.*
I hope that makes you thankful for your own Bible, and desirous to pray and give so that others might have it, too.  If so, let me plug to you Wycliffe Bible Translators, with whose work this story intersects ... along with some friends who minister through Wycliffe in various ways: Allen and Rebecca, Hasso Pape, and Colin and Dianne Lord.

*This story was has been previously told in the Wycliffe magazine In Other Words, and by John Williams, the missionary mentioned above.  It was then summarized by Bob Creson, President of Wycliffe (see the previous link or Creson's book, The Finish Linepp.61-64). The above quotation is a shortened version of Creson's summary.  

April 11, 2016

Finish Well!

Two of the more famous characters in the Bible share the same name – the son of Kish, and the famous missionary; the first Israelite king, and the great Christian theologian. Both of them named Saul; both of them called to monumental tasks by the Lord; both of them, at their low points, breathing murderous threats against God’s people; but both of them very different men in one very important respect.

One of them, the ancient Israelite king, began quite well, and finished incredibly poorly. The other, the church’s greatest missionary, began quite dreadfully, but finished with a marvelous flourish!

Saul, the son of Kish, did indeed begin quite well. When Samuel first met him and announced God’s plan for his life, he was humbled by the whole thing (1 Samuel 9:21). And, soon after, God worked marvelously in him so that his heart was made new, and so that his mouth began to proclaim the word of God (1 Samuel 10). And it wasn’t long before he was leading his countrymen to great victory in battle against their enemies (1 Samuel 11). But read on and you will find Saul disobeying God’s clear commandments, and seeking to murder his godly servant David, and eventually consulting a kind of Old Testament palm reader because God was no longer answering the wandering king’s pleas for direction. And finally Saul died, alongside his sons, at the battle of Gilboa – falling on his own sword after being wounded by Philistine archers. He began so well, but finished so poorly.

But the story of the other Saul is just the inverse! He began by persecuting the godly, and pursuing them from town to town, just like old Saul with David. But this Saul, having begun so poorly, actually finished quite well. For He met Christ, and was converted, and began preaching God’s Son, rather than persecuting God’s saints, from city to city! And this Saul died able to say that he’d finished his race, and fought a good fight for the Lord. And he died with many souls prepared to follow him heavenward because of the way in which he’d spent the last decades of his life.

And so the two Saul’s – and their inverted life stories – pose for us a simple question: How will you finish? Praise God that some of us have begun much better than New Testament Saul. Some of us have been taught to know and love Christ and His people from childhood. Others of us began to walk in His ways from early adulthood so that, praise God, we don’t have nearly as much to look back on and regret as we might have. But how will we finish? Like the old Saul or the new?

Others of us have begun quite poorly (maybe we’re still in the process of beginning poorly, even as we read these words). But New Testament Saul gives us hope that, with Jesus, all of that can change, and we can end our days saying with the apostle:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7
You really can finish in just that way, if you finish with Jesus! Or you can finish despairing and defeated, like the Saul of old, if you walk away from Christ. And so I urge you, however much time you may have left, finish well! Finish with Jesus!

April 7, 2016

Calling God in as Backup?

The Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield. When the people came into the camp, the elders of Israel said, “Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines? Let us take to ourselves from Shiloh the ark of the covenant of the LORD, that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies.” So the people sent to Shiloh, and from there they carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts who sits above the cherubim; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent; and the slaughter was very great, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died. 1 Samuel 4:2-4, 10-11

God’s people had been overrun. Four thousand of them lay slain on the field of battle. And they were asking why. So would we. But it doesn’t appear, from the text above, like they waited for God’s answer. They had already conjured up a solution. ‘Let’s bring the ark out with us next time, and the ark will grant us the victory.’

Perhaps this was a case of gross superstition – relying on the presence of the ark more than on the God who was enthroned above it. Or perhaps the Israelites believed that if they took the ark into battle, God would surely come with them. And if God went with them, He would surely be on their side. After all, they were His people!

But, as I say, it does not appear that they ever paused to wait on God’s answer to their original question: ‘Why did God allow us to be defeated in the first place?’ I suspect that if they’d waited on the answer, they’d have discovered that God had left them on their own against the Philistines because they had long since forgotten Him in ways far more significant than a request that He follow them onto the battlefield. That’s the picture that we get in the book of Judges (just prior to 1 Samuel). It’s also the picture we get if we read about Israel’s priests in the first three chapters of 1 Samuel. Israel was a people adrift from their God. And, though the author of our text doesn’t make it explicit, I suspect that this is why they had been defeated in battle.

But they didn’t take time to ponder that. They just thought to themselves: ‘Well, if the Philistines defeated us last time, we’re going to have to bring in the really big guns this time. Someone send for the ark of the covenant.’

And they remind me of a large section professing Christian church in America, adrift from God for so many years: more concerned for numbers than for true conversions; obsessed with being entertained; doctrinally shallow; lacking discipline; pandering to goats rather than feeding sheep; so much like the world in choices of entertainment, in financial decisions, in child-rearing, in integrity, in their marriages, and so on.

And now these ‘evangelicals’ are being overrun by the Philistines. Marriage has been redefined. Gender is a matter of feeling rather than fact. Our children and grandchildren will be told (as advertised on a billboard here in town) that it’s normal for boys to dress like girls (and vice versa). So should evangelicals now begin to bring in ‘the big guns’? Should we now begin to petition God to overthrow the Philistine view of marriage, and gender, and childhood? Many corners of evangelicalism have spent the last half-century watering down the biblical teachings about marriage and family, and allowing their children to be raised by these very Philistines. So will God answer if they now ask him to overthrow the ungodly people whom they have spent a lifetime imitating? Will it work to parade the name of God, like the ark of the covenant, into these national debates? God is merciful, and so He may yet answer in spite of the poor track record of the American church. But He may leave us to our own devices, and to the might of the Philistines. Because it is not enough to haul God out of the holy of holies when the going gets tough. It is not sufficient to call Him in as backup when we’ve run out of our own solutions. He is Lord of all, not a superhero to be called in when Gotham has run out of solutions; not a talisman pulled out of our pocket to add a little magic to our formula.

Here was the problem in Israel. And here is the problem for so many professing Christians in our own day. We run to God when the going gets tough. But do we walk with Him; do we give Him thanks; do we honor His word on all the other days, and in all the ‘little things’? Let us begin there. Let us truly be the people of God. And, if we are, we’ll never have need to worry whether God will show up to fight our battles.