August 29, 2017

Paul's Letters

The apostle Paul (also known as Saul) is famous for his letters – to Christians in Rome, Corinth, Galatia, and so on. But, before Paul wrote any of these famous letters, we are told that he “asked for letters” (emphasis added) of a very different sort:
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2
These were very different letters, indeed, which Paul had tucked into his satchel as he made his way down the road to Damascus! These were letters meant, not to instruct, encourage, and correct the churches … but to destroy them. These letters, unlike those for which he later became famous, had their inspiration in hell rather than in heaven! But praise God that, before Paul was able to execute the permission these letters granted, heaven intervened … not only on behalf of the Christians in Damascus, but on behalf of Saul himself!

Saul met Jesus on that trip to Damascus, and was forever changed! Now, instead of Saul “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” … now, through Paul’s letters, the Lord Himself would breathe out His very own words … “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Saul went from carrying letters for the devil, to writing letters for the Lord!

And isn’t God’s mercy rich? Isn’t His grace great? And isn’t “Jesus Christ … the same yesterday and today and forever”? He is! And that means that He is still saving souls … and even Sauls! So pray for them! Pray for the seeming ‘tough nuts to crack’ in your life – the people who, though not hateful or militant like Saul, still seem (to our weak faith) like they are among the least likely people who would ever turn to Christ, and to begin serving His kingdom. For, if Christ saved Saul, He can save the seemingly ‘unlikely candidates’ in our lives, too!

And He can save the militants, as well! So pray for the conversion, even, of people who hate the church, and wish to see her destroyed. “Is anything too difficult for the LORD?” Are members of ISIS, or the persecutors in North Korea, too difficult for the Lord to save? Absolutely not! So pray for them! Pray that they might be saved, and that they might be useful to God’s kingdom! They won’t, of course, write inspired letters, like the apostle did. But they might begin to preach from them!  They can go from handling the devil’s business, to delivering the Lord’s gospel mail!  Pray that it might be so!

August 25, 2017

"We shall always be with the Lord"

There are multiple reasons to be excited about your wedding day. One is, perhaps, just the sheer relief of having the weight of all the preparations and stresses finally coming to an end. Another, of course, is the joy of having the people you love most (and who love you most) all together in one place. And then there is simple delight in the beauty of it all … the dresses, the flowers, the table cloths and candles, the culinary fare. But most of all (as I have lately been reminded by listening to a recently married couple!) … most of all, the bride and groom long for and look forward to that day because, finally, they will get to be together! Finally they will wake up, every morning, to each other’s faces! Finally they will live together in the same dwelling!

And we can speak similarly about “the marriage of the Lamb” – about the coming of Christ to receive His bride. There are multiple reasons to long for and look forward to that day! In that day, the weights and stresses of this life will finally, mercifully have come to an end! In that day, there will be a family reunion of family reunions! And the beauty of that banquet? Well, let us just say that the beauty of our earthly weddings is only a foretaste of the beauty on which our eyes will feast in the new earth! And not only these things, but (unlike in our earthly marriages!) sin will have been forever abolished from the earth – “a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.”

But, as with earthly brides, what Christ's bride longs for the most (it is to be hoped) is the pleasure of finally getting to be with her bridegroom; finally sharing a dwelling together; finally living together ‘happily ever after!’

“The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, emphasis added).

Oh, let us look forward to that day – all the stresses of this life ended, all the family of God gathered together in one place, all the beauty we can imagine (and more), all our sins forever banished, and all of eternity to live in the presence of our Bridegroom, our Redeemer, our King, our Friend!  Praise God, in that day, “we shall always be with the Lord”!

August 21, 2017

'Thine eclipse'

In his excellent biographical message on John Newton, John Piper quotes the following marvelous words from Newton's pen, on the occasion of an eclipse (albeit, of a different sort than today's):
Tonight I attended an eclipse of the moon. How great, O Lord, are thy works! With what punctuality do the heavenly bodies fulfill their courses. . . . I thought, my Lord, of Thine eclipse. The horrible darkness which overwhelmed Thy mind when Thou saidst, “Why hast thou forsaken me?” Ah, sin was the cause — my sins — yet I do not hate sin or loathe myself as I ought” (Richard Cecil, The Life of John Newton, edited by Marylynn Rousse, p. 134).
As you view the eclipse today, think on Christ , "the Light of the world", entering into the darkness of death and judgment on behalf of us sinners.  And thank God for His eclipse.

August 18, 2017

"His spirit was being provoked"

So we are told about the apostle Paul on his visit to the city of Athens: “His spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols” (Acts 16:16). And, if we read on in the chapter, we find that he was provoked, not to disgust or isolation … but to gospel action! “His spirit was being provoked within him … So [because of the provocation of his spirit] he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present” (vv.16-17, italicized emphasis and words in [brackets] are mine).

Now, Paul’s provocation at the idolatry in Athens surely wasn’t the only reason Paul preached Christ to the Athenians! Paul was already on a preaching trip! But the word “so” tucked between Paul’s provocation and his preaching lets us know that the stirring of his spirit over the Athenians’ idols did motivate him to preach Christ! And his actions in Athens beg a few application questions concerning our own lives:

First, are we provoked by our city full of idols, and full of unbelief? Modern Americans don’t worship Zeus and Aphrodite, but there are still idols on the thrones of American hearts. And there is a great dearth of real faith in the one true God. Does that bother us? Are we sad when we see people mowing their lawns, or out for a jog, on Sunday morning … instead of heading to meet with God and His people? Are we troubled by our-co-workers’ man-centered worldviews? Are we bothered by the immodesty and immorality that are constantly paraded before our nation on television?

And then, second … if we are provoked in our spirits over the idolatry and unbelief around us, is it a provocation of disgust, or of concern? Do we badmouth our neighbors, or ache for them?

And, thirdly … if we are concerned, and if we do grieve, do that concern and grief move us, like Paul, to gospel action? Are we reasoning with people, like Paul did, in our own city? Are we sharing Christ with co-workers? Are we speaking of the cross to neighbors? Are we presenting the gospel to family members? Are we magnifying Jesus on our Facebook pages? We may not be full-time missionaries like Paul, but we all have our own particular niches where the gospel can go forward from our lips and fingertips!

May it be, in our city, that we would be provoked to concern … and to gospel action … over the idolatry and unbelief around us!

August 7, 2017

"Sawn in two"

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy).” Hebrews 11:37-38a

These and other sufferings (vv.35-38) were the excruciating fates of some of our forefathers in the faith. Great opposition and persecution are sometimes the lot of God’s faithful people. And among the most shocking forms of persecution listed in Hebrews 11 (or anywhere else, for that matter) is the torment of being “sawn in two”. Read it again, soberly: “Sawn in two”. That’s not a grisly scene from a fictional horror movie. It actually happened, says the author of Hebrews. Indeed, there is a tradition that states that it happened to that great and eloquent prophet of God, Isaiah. And all these other great pains and trials actually happened, too – to real people! And some of them still do! The people of God didn’t just suffer in biblical times, but they have suffered greatly at various points since (read, for instance, about the Covenanters or the Huguenots); and they are suffering still (see The Voice of the Martyrs). And thinking about the severe suffering of our fathers and brothers in the faith (and perhaps our own severe trials, still to come) should come with at least four upshots, it seems to me:

1. Let us not murmur about our current, light sufferings. Do we sometimes experience opposition or discrimination for our faith? Yes. Have we been stoned or sawn in two? No. And so, while we rightly recognize, and pray about, and groan under whatever pushback we may receive for our faith … let us not make it out as though we are some great martyrs. And certainly, let us not murmur (Philippians 2:14).

2. Let us pray and act on behalf of the sufferers. “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (Hebrews 13:3). Don’t forget the people who are suffering, even today, after the manner of Hebrews 11:35-38! Remember them in your prayers, and in your generosity, too. The Voice of the Martyrs is a good organization to help you do both.

3. Let us be serious about our faith. If our forefathers (and many of our contemporaries, too) have been committed enough to the Lord to have ended up stoned, sawn in two, and persecuted in many other ways … then this Christianity thing is serious business! And if the devil is so opposed to Christ that he incites people to carry out such torture of Christ’s followers, then this Christianity thing is serious business! Let us be sure we treat it that way in every area of our lives … whether it results in us being respected, rejected, or rent in two. “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us [in Hebrews ch.11, that is], let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2a).

4. Let us hope in eternity. “Here we do not have a lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14). And, indeed, sometimes we have, in this life, a hostile city, or nation, or culture. Perhaps we are just on the cusp, in this culture, of finding that out, first-hand. But this life is not all there is; this city is not the lasting one! And “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). And so, while I do not say that we should not groan under our trials, yet we must not fixate on our trials … but on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2), and on “the glory that is to be revealed to us” when all these difficulties will be ended forever. Let us fix our minds on “the city which is to come” (Hebrews 13:14), where “they will hammer their swords into plowshares” (Isaiah 2:4) … and their saws, too! “Here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”