Sunday, November 29, 2009

Love that is Stronger than Death

There, by faith, O mourners in Zion, may you see your Saviour hanging with arms stretched out, and hear him, as it were, thus speaking to your souls:

“Behold how I have loved you! Behold my hands and my feet! Look, look into my wounded side, and see a heart flaming with love: love stronger than death. Come into my arms, O sinners, come wash your spotted souls in my heart's blood. See here is a fountain opened for all sin and all uncleanness! See, O guilty souls, how the wrath of God is now abiding upon you: come, haste away, and hide yourselves in the clefts of my wounds; for I am wounded for your transgressions; I am dying that you may live for evermore. Behold, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so am I here lifted up on a tree. See how I am become a curse for you: the chastisement of your peace is upon me. I am thus scourged, wounded, crucified, that you by my stripes may be healed. O look unto me, all ye trembling sinners, even to the ends of the earth! Look unto me by faith, and you shall be saved: for I came thus to be obedient even unto death, that I might save that which was lost."

- George Whitefield

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Seeing Resistance in Your Heart Against Truth

This week I began reading again through the gospel of Matthew. Coming to Matthew 5, as I began the beatitudes, I was struck with a sense of personally needing more of the realities mentioned in the beatitudes. So I began to pray each one, wanting more poverty of spirit, needing and asking for more of a spirit of mourning over the things that ought be mourned over, asking for more meekness and spiritual hunger and thirst, desiring more mercy in my heart toward people and situations, and asking the Holy Spirit for continual increase of purity of heart in all areas, and to make me more and more of a peacemaker.

I was praying with confidence, because I know that whatever is in the Word is clearly God's will for me to have in my own life. I was drawn out by the Lord's grace to ask for more and more of these things, and then suddenly, I was stopped in my tracks as I came to verses 10-11. I found my heart hesitant and even resistant: I did not want to pray for myself about being 'Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake' . . . vs 11 'blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.'

I sensed my heart not wanting to ask for more persecution, or to be reviled or spoke evil about; I did not want to pray this; I immediately saw that I wanted some of the things Christ promised but not all; I wanted more spiritual desire, purity, meekness, etc, but I did not want persecution. I was faced with the fact that I wanted part of kingdom reality, but not this part of the beatitudes which would bring hardship.

I was enabled by the Holy Spirit to face the truth and, surrendering on the point, I bowed my heart, asking the Lord Jesus to make vss. 10-11 more real in my heart and life. I then felt freedom, peace, and grace to help me; I dozed off to sleep with, at least, a heart that was not resisting His truth.

- Mack Tomlinson

A Little History for You

"The memory of the just is blessed." - Prov. 10:7

Max Jukes, the 18th century atheist, lived a godless life. He married an ungodly girl, and from this union there were 310 who died as paupers, 150 were criminals, 7 murderers, 100 drunkards, and more than half of the women were prostitutes. His 540 descendants cost the state over 1 million dollars.

Then there is the record of another American couple, Jonathan and Sarah Edwards, who lived at the same time as Mr. Jukes. An investigation was made of 1,394 known descendants of the Edwards. 13 became college presidents, 65 college professors, 3 United States senators, 30 judges, 100 lawyers, 60 doctors, 75 army and navy officers, 100 preachers and missionaries, 60 prominent authors, 1 U. S. vice-president, 80 public officials in other capacities, and 295 college graduates, among whom were state governors and ministers to foreign countries. The descendants of the Edwards did not cost the state a single penny.

Indeed, the memory of the just is blessed.

Those Whose Portion is in This Life

" . . . men of the world, whose portion is in this life." - Psalm 17:14

The Christian is not of this world and his portion is not in this life. The follower of Jesus Christ has been rescued from the darkness of this unredeemed world and no longer has his or her portion primarily in this earthly existence at all.

This was not always the case. All of us at one time were people who could only be described as "men [a person] of the world", that is, a life completely controlled by and characterized by the things of this passing world. All the worldling wants is this world. All the believer wants [or should want] is not of this world.

How can we know if someone has their portion in this life? It is evident in their priorities, their life emphasis, their focus, desires, affections, and their investment of time, energy, and finances. By their fruit you shall know them.

This life- this earthly, brief, passing life. How very sad to be one whose portion is only in this life. The Christian has another portion, a larger, more abiding portion, an eternal portion, that shall not pass away. The Christian is not of this world. We are pilgrims, sojourners, travelers, on our way out of this earth, journeying toward a heavenly portion that will be unchanging and glorious. Where is your portion? Is is earthly or heavenly?

The person I truly pity is not the homeless person or the prison inmate. They often see their need and become a candidate for grace. Instead, the ones to be more pitied is the nice family who are living the normal American life style all around us. They are members of First Church in town and are respected neighbors and citizens; they go to church when their schedule allows, in between soccer and baseball seasons, trips to the lake house, or weekend get-aways to Vegas or Aspen. They have everything they need and are pursuing the rest of the stuff they want. Indeed, they have their portion in this life; they are people of the world. They are utterly and totally clueless that they are lost, without God and without hope. If you were to even hint that they had any spiritual need, they would be highly offended. If anyone talked to them about their need for the Saviour, they would get very angry. They see no need in their lives, have no place for Christ in reality, and have all their portion in this earthly life.

The good old American family. The hard-working, busy, very active American family. This describes those men of the world, whose portion is in this life.

What is the Christian's portion? It is not houses, land, possessions, position, popularity, bank account, attainments, or educational achievements. The believers' portion is Christ, heaven, an eternal kingdom, the Word of God, the church, heavenly investments, and an eternal inheritance that will never pass away.

If non-believers are described as 'men of the world, whose portion is in this life', then the believer can be described as 'men of another world, whose portion is in the future'.

What the lost man wants is all seen, temporal, here and now, and will all pass away. But what the Christian wants is all unseen, eternal, and never to be lost

'Whose portion is in this life'-- may those words never describe us.

- Mack Tomlinson

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Ten Pound Christians

"So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten pounds. 'Put this money to work,' he said, 'until I come back.'" Luke 19:13

We are doing business in this world for Christ. Each one of us has something He has given us--a pound which He has entrusted to us--to trade with as His agent. Our life itself, with all its powers, its endowments, opportunities, privileges, provision, blessings, and possibilities--is 'our pound'.

Our life is not our own. We are not in this world merely to have a good time for a few years. Life is a trust. We are not done with it either, when we have lived it through to its last day. We must render an account of it to Him who gave it to us. Our business is to gather gains, through our trading with our Lord's money. We are required to make the most that is possible of our life!

"The first came forward and said, 'Master, your pound has earned ten more pounds'!" Luke 19:16

We always find a few of these ten-pound Christians among the followers of Christ. They are those Christians who, from the very beginning, through divine grace, strive to reach the best things attainable in life. They are not content with being merely saved from sin's guilt, with being mere members of the church. They make their consecration to Christ complete, keeping nothing back. They set their ideal of obedience to their Lord at the mark of perfectness, and are not slack in their striving, until they reach the mark in heaven. They seek to follow Christ entirely, fully, with their whole heart. They accept every duty without regard to its cost. They seek to be like Christ, imitating Him in all the elements of His character. They give their whole energy to the work and service of Christ. They lie, like John, on the Master's bosom, and their souls are struck through with their Master's loving spirit.

These ten-pound Christians grow at last into a Christ-likeness, a spiritual beauty, and a power of usefulness and influence, by which they are set apart among Christians, shining with brighter luster than other stars in the galaxy of the church. Their one pound has made ten more pounds! Their high spiritual attainment has been won by their diligent and wise use of the one pound with which they began.

- J. R. Miller

Returning to Give Thanks

"And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice, glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving thanks." Luke 17:15-16

Here's a healed leper, who in response to the Lord's mercy in his healing, did that which man's conscience, experience, reason, morality, emotion, common sense, and the good example of others all teach us is the only proper response in his situation--he returned back to give thanks.

The event in Jesus' ministry is well-known. Ten lepers approached him, not crying out, as the law would require, "Unclean! Unclean!", but rather crying out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!"

His response to their request is unlike anything most of us would say: "Go show yourself to the priests!" This command of the Lord was so that they would fulfill the Old Testament law of being declared ceremonially clean after they arrived there, since Jesus was going to heal them enroute to the temple.

All ten were healed instantly as they went in obedience to the command of Jesus. If you and I had been among the ten, and realizing we were healed, do you not think we would all turn back, being overwhelmed at what Christ had done for us? But only one did. How could the other nine go on without returning back to the source of their miracle? But only one returned to give thanks. After the Lord Jesus healed the ten, only one returned, worshipping Him and giving thanks.

What a failure of the nine and what an example of the one who returned. It is important to follow this example. Do we do the same? We certainly ought to go to the Lord to express gratitude to Him, every time we are conscious of anything He does for us. How often do we return to give thanks? There ought to be many times daily. Only 10% of the lepers returned; what percentage do we fall into?

What does this event teach us?

The Lord notices ingratitude. Jesus' first words to the one leper were, "Were there not ten? Where are the other nine?" When we are not thankful enough to turn back and give thanks after God's mercies come to us, something is wrong; how could anyone be so ungrateful for grace received? He sees and knows when we don't return back to give thanks; the Lord notices our ingratitude. Jesus said, "Where are the nine?" He was looking for them, and they were not grateful enough to return. He notices ingratitude.

Does a heart of ingratitude cause temporary amnesia? How can we forget? Because we don't have a thankful heart all the time. I wonder--when the Lord has mercy on us in situations and we don't return back to give thanks, does He say of us, 'Where are they? Look what I just did for them and they did not even stop to really give thanks?" He notices our forgetfulness regarding thankfulness.

The Lord notices gratitude. When we return to give thanks, the Lord notes it, and it blesses Him; it is a ministry to Him; that is why the Bible calls it a sacrifice: "I will render thank offerings to You." (Ps. 56:12) Hebrews also speaks of our offering the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. Giving thanks is not just feeling thankful--it is opening our lips and speaking it, voicing it; GIVING thanks to God.

The Lord blesses gratitude. The Lord said to him, "Go your way--your faith has made you whole." He rewards, in different ways, those who return in gratitude to Him; John Blanchard says, "I give this as my testimony, that there is marvelous therapy in thanksgiving." He is right; it is therapeutic in every way. It not only ministers to the Lord when we return to be thankful, but it does good things to and for us. Dietrich Bonhoffer said, " It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich." I believe he was right.

David was thankful

"Sing praises to the Lord, O you His saints, and give thanks to His holy name."

"Give thanks unto the Lord, for His mercies endure forever."

Paul was thankful

"I give thanks to God always . . ." - 1 Cor. 1

"I do not cease to give thanks . . ." - Eph. 1

"Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father . . . " - Eph. 5

Do we return automatically with thanks to Him for what He does for us?

Gratitude springs from genuine faith; if we believe God and are trusting Him, we will be returning to thank Him continually. The faithless are ungrateful and the ungrateful are faithless, while the believing soul is thankful and the thankful soul is the trusting soul.

Every time you sense or recognize His mercies toward you, just return and give thanks. It will make your day and His as well.

- Mack Tomlinson

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Our Faithfulness

"Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master's happiness!" Mew 25:21

No higher praise can be given to any life than to say it has been faithful. No one could ask for a nobler epitaph than the simple words, "He was faithful." This will be the commendation given in the great account, to those who have made the most of their talents: "You have been faithful with a few things!" Faithfulness should therefore be the aim in all our living.

It is not great things that God expects or requires of us--unless He has given us great gifts and opportunities. All that He requires of us, is faithfulness. He gives us certain talents, puts us in certain relations, assigns to us certain duties and then asks us to be faithful--nothing more. The man with the plain gifts and the small opportunities is not expected to do the great things which are required of the man with the brilliant talents and the large opportunities. We should get this truth fixed deeply in our mind, that God asks of us simple faithfulness.

Faithfulness is not the same in any two people. In the man who has five talents, there must be a great deal more outcome to measure up to the standard of faithfulness, than in the man who has but two talents.

Faithfulness is simply being true to God and making the most of one's life. Of those who have received little--only little is required; where much has been received--much is required. Never does God expect anything impossible or unreasonable from anyone. If we are simply faithful, we shall please God.

Jesus said of Mary, after her act of love, when men murmured at her, "She has done what she could!" Mark 14:7. What had she done? Very little, we would say. She loved Jesus truly and deeply. Then she brought a flask of precious ointment and broke the flask, pouring the sacred nard upon her Lord's tired feet--those feet which soon were to be nailed to the cross.

What good did it do? We know it wonderfully comforted the Savior's sorrowful heart. In the midst of almost universal hatred and maddening enmity, here was one who sincerely loved Him. While other hands were weaving a crown of thorns for His brow, and others still were forging cruel nails to drive through His feet--Mary's hands were pouring ointment on His head, and bathing His feet with the nard. Who will say that Mary's act did no good? It seemed a little thing, but we cannot fathom how her sweet, pure, loyal love became blessing to our suffering Savior in His bitter anguish.

- J. R. Miller

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Life Mission of the Christian

"If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind!" Romans 12:2

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness." 2 Corinthians 3:18

The character of every true believer is being transformed. If Christ dwells in you, He will produce in you the same kind of life which He himself lived when He was on the earth. This change does not come in its completeness or instantaneously the moment one believes in Christ. But it does begin then.

Life is large. Life's lessons are many and hard to learn! Paul was an old man when he said, "I have learned, in whatever state I am, therein to be content." It had taken him many years to learn this lesson of contentment.

Likewise, it takes us years to get life's lessons learned. But nothing is clearer than the truth that a believer's life mission is to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus Christ. There is to be a transformation of character. Holiness must become the daily dress of the Christian. We are called to be saints, even in this sinful world.

"So that you may become blameless and pure children of God, without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe!" Philippians 2:15

- J. R. Miller

The School of Pain

Everyone has sorrow. Being a Christian does not exempt anyone from grief. But faith in Christ brings a transformation to sorrow. Not only are we taught to endure the sorrows that come to us patiently and submissively, but we are assured that there is a blessing in them for us, if we accept them with love and trust.

One of the deepest truths taught in the Bible is that earthly sorrow has a mission in the life of the Christian-- it is the sanctifying of life. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness." Hebrews 12:10-11

We dread pain! And yet the person who has not experienced pain has not yet touched the deepest and most precious meanings of life. There are things we never can learn except by being in the school of pain! There are heights of life we never can attain except in the bitterness of sorrow. There are joys we never can have until we have walked in the dark ways of sorrow. Not to have sorrow, in some form, is to miss one of life's holiest opportunities. We get our best things out of affliction!

"I have refined you in the furnace of suffering!" Isaiah 48:10

- J. R. Miller

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Toward a Happier Christian Life

One of the secrets of a happy life is to live one day at a time. We really never have anything to do any day except God's will for that day. If we do that well, we have absolutely nothing else to do.

Time is given to us in days. It was so from the beginning. This breaking up of time into little daily portions means a great deal more than we are accustomed to think. For one thing, it illustrates the gentleness and goodness of God. It would have made life intolerably burdensome if a year, instead of a day--had been the unit of division. It would have been hard to carry a heavy load, to endure a great sorrow, or to keep on at a hard duty--for such a long stretch of time. How dreary our common task-work would be--if there were no breaks in it, if we had to keep our hand to the plough for a whole year! We never could go on with our struggles, our battles, our suffering--if night did not mercifully settle down with its darkness, and bid us rest and renew our strength.

We do not understand how great a mercy there is for us in the briefness of our short days. If they were even twice as long as they are, life would be intolerable! Many a time when the sun goes down--we feel that we could scarcely have gone another step. We would have fainted in defeat if the summons to rest had not come just when it did.

We see the graciousness of the divine thoughtfulness in giving us time in periods of little days, which we can get through with, and not in great years, in which we would faint and fall by the way. It makes it possible for us to go on through all the long years and not to be overwrought, for we never have given to us at any one time more than we can do between the morning and the evening.

If we learn well the lesson of living just one day at a time, without anxiety for either yesterday or tomorrow, we shall have found one of the great secrets of Christian peace. That is the way God teaches us to live. That is the lesson both of the Bible and of nature. If we learn it, it will cure us of all anxiety; it will save us from all feverish haste and will enable us to live sweetly in any experience.

"Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:34

- J. R. Miller

Preachers-- Clowns or Prophets?

"The preacher is not to entertain, motivate or inspire to emotional, psychological, or professional well being. But He is to inform people of Biblical knowledge, and then bring people face to face with the Holy One of Israel, the One who is a consuming fire, the One who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, the One with whom we all have to do." - Al Baker

Paul, in his last epistle, written shortly before his martyrdom in Rome, gives several exhortations to his son in the faith, Timothy; and this one in particular needs our attention. Paul’s exhortation to be sober is a present imperative, not referring to freedom from drunkenness, but it denotes clarity of mind and sound judgment, not being carried away with folly. This is something Timothy was to do continually without fail. In the next three exhortations, Paul is commanding Timothy to begin and continue to do these for the rest of his life. He is constantly to endure hardship, constantly to do the work of an evangelist (even if he does not have gifts of evangelism), and he is constantly to carry out his ministry, leaving nothing undone, lacking nothing in his service. The last three imperatives flow from the first one - be sober in all things.

Preaching is such a profound and mysterious exercise that it ought to evoke awe each time we hear it. Romans 10:13ff makes clear that a true preacher, when preaching from the Bible, no matter the level of his expertise or experience, though weak, sinful, and frail in himself, nonetheless speaks the Word of God. Paul says, '"Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved." How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?'

Paul is equating the Word of God with the words of a preacher. As the Word comes from the preacher’s mouth, his words are a savour of life to some and a savour of death to others. Some embrace it to their soul’s everlasting joy, and some reject it to their everlasting misery. Those who hear the preached Word of God are saved, built up in the faith, strengthened to endure the hardships of this world, equipped to do the work of the ministry, and prepared to meet Jesus at their deaths. Those who reject the Word, at their deaths are plunged into the lake of fire forever. No wonder Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:5, 'Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.'

However, in light of what we commonly see in many churches today, I wonder if preachers really believe the essence of what they do. If preachers are a savour of life unto life and death unto death and if true preaching always yields one of these two responses, then how can we take our task so lightly? How can we spend so little time in preparation, so little time in prayer, so little time asking the hard questions of our own lives, which come from the text under our consideration? How can our church members take preaching so casually, give so little attention to it, pray so little for their pastors, and so easily miss the preaching of God’s Word? If this is such a vital task, then how can pastors spend so much of their time in relatively trivial issues? How can they approach their task with casualness, and sometimes even frivolity?

Surely you know of preachers who are more like clowns than prophets. A clown’s job is to entertain, to make the crowd feel good for a while, to help them forget their problems and needs. A prophet, on the other hand, is to bring people face to face with God, to show them their spiritual bankruptcy, to make known their spiritual nakedness, to reveal to them that though they think they are rich and have need of nothing, they actually are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. He then is to exalt Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of sinners, the One who died and was raised again for their justification. He is to call people to repentance and faith in Jesus. He is not to entertain, motivate or inspire to emotional, psychological, or professional well being. He is not merely to inform people of Biblical knowledge. He is to bring people face to face with the Holy One of Israel, the One who is a consuming fire, the One who will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, the One with whom we all have to do, the One with the two-edged sword who treads the winepress of the fierce wrath of God the Almighty.

Frivolity and triviality are exceedingly poor mediums for such a message. Life and death issues are not communicated well by clowns. The present worship service in some churches where the preacher enters the pulpit on a motorcycle, in a wheelbarrow, or descending from a high wire, denies the sober message of the prophet. Reducing the sermon to ten or twenty minutes devoid of Biblical exposition, failing to use the S (sin) word or the H (hell) word, failing to speak clearly about the glory of Christ and His person and work, coming across as a motivational speaker or clown, is to impugn the name of Christ and the office of preaching.

The Medium is Essential to the Message

For example, let’s say your spouse has been diagnosed with cancer and has six months to live. How would you feel if the doctor delivered the message to you in drama, in song and dance, or in a stand-up comedy routine? Surely you would be insulted? Would you not consider the doctor to be incredibly insensitive, making light of a serious and painful issue? The medium is essential to the message. Doesn’t the sober nature of the message of life and death, heaven and hell, demand a similar form of communication? Words are what the preacher has at his disposal, words under the ministry of the Holy Spirit, words made active by the Spirit who works in both the preacher and congregation. Words will do. We don’t need drama. We don’t need song and dance. We don’t need comedy. We need straightforward words, cutting like a knife into the hearts of the hearers, opening them up to the folly of their own devices, drawing them back to Jesus who alone has the power to save and keep them until that great day.

Would you pray for your pastors and elders, asking God to give a Holy Spirit anointing in their preparation and delivery of sermons? Would you not begrudge them the time they need in prayer and study, allowing God to deal with their own soul and heart? Would you release them from attempting to be something they are not? A pastor is not a clown; instead he is to be a prophet, called by God to preach the unfathomable riches of Christ for the salvation of souls and sanctification of His blood-bought people. Will you turn him loose, expecting God to speak powerfully and redemptively through him to all who hear his voice?

- Al Baker

Friday, November 13, 2009

The World in the Power of Devil

Not until recently had I ever felt the weight of the fact that those outside Christ have no defense against the devil. God can restrain the devil from doing his maximum worst. But the world cannot. They are helpless before Satan’s supernatural power. They are utterly in his sway, except for God’s restraining providence.

This should make us tremble for the hopelessness of the world and marvel at the magnitude of God’s power and grace to keep the world from being ten thousand times more violent and miserable than it is. Consider these passages to show the plight of the world:
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following . . . the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 2:1 -2)
The World in the Providence of God
Nevertheless, the world is not nearly as vicious and wretched as it could be. Millions of unbelievers are civil and courteous and honest and kind. How can this be, if they are defenseless against the supernatural power of the most wicked being in the universe? The answer is that God restrains the evil one and uses many natural means to prompt unbelievers toward outward conformity to his laws. Here are some biblical examples.

When Abraham told king Abimelech that Sarah was his sister and not his wife, Abimelech took her into his harem, but against ordinary expectations, did not have sexual relations with her. Then he found out Sarah was Abraham’s wife and was frightened before God. But God said to him, “It was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her” (Genesis 20:6). That is a picture of God’s restraint on sin in the world.

Not only does he restrain evil, he also prompts good. For example, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia . . . the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation . . . :‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord . . . has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem.’” (Ezra 1:1-2). Later the people rejoice that “the Lord had . . . turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God” (Ezra 6:22). And again: “Blessed be the Lord . . . who put such a thing as this into the heart of the king” (Ezra 7:27).

So the Old Testament makes sweeping summary statements like, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Proverbs 21:1), and, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples” (Psalms 33:10).

So in the providence of God, the world does not sink into as much wickedness and misery as it would if it were given over entirely to the power of the evil one. The world does not have any power in itself to resist the devil, but God in great patience restrains the evil one and prompts much good behavior.
The Christian in the Person of Christ
The Decisive Triumph

The reason that union with Christ makes a great difference for the believer is that Christ achieved a decisive triumph over the devil at Calvary. He did not remove Satan from the world, but he disarmed him to the extent that the weapon of damnation was stripped from his hand. He cannot accuse believers of unforgiven sin. And therefore, he cannot bring them to utter ruin. He can hurt them physically and emotionally, even kill them. He can tempt them and incite others against them. But he cannot destroy them. Here is what happened at the cross:
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15)
This decisive triumph is owing to “the record of debt that stood against us” being nailed to the cross. The devil made that record his chief accusation against us. Now he has no accusation that holds. He is helpless to do the one thing he wants most to do—damn us. He can’t. Christ bore our damnation. The devil is disarmed.
Another way to say it is in Hebrews 2:14-15: “[Christ became human] that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” Death is still our enemy. But it is defanged. The sting is gone. The sting of death was sin. And the damning power of sin was in the demand of the law. But thanks be to Christ who satisfied the law’s demand (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:56-57).

The Consequent Promise

“Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).

The Triumphant Conflict

The conflict with the devil that results from being in Christ is brutal, but the outcome is certain. He may kill us, but he cannot conquer us in the end. We rise and live forever in joy with Christ, while he is finally cast into the lake of fire. Consider two texts that show we can be killed but not utterly ruined.
They have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11)
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation.Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)
In this battle with the devil, therefore, we are to resist him by faith and put on the armor of God. “Submit yourselves therefore to God.Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:7-8). “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (1 Peter 5:8-9). “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).

In conclusion, weep for the helplessness of the world the way Jesus wept over Jerusalem’s blindness: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). Rejoice that the providence of God is so massively active in restraining evil and prompting so much external conformity to righteousness. Trust in the triumph of Christ at Calvary. Resist the devil in faith that the one in you is greater than he. Risk your life to spread the liberating news as far as you can.

- John Piper

Preaching with Power- Pt. 2

What is necessary for powerful preaching and what elements produce it?

1. Sermons will not be marked by authority and power unless they are marked by truth that the Holy Spirit can honor.

The Word of God is to be exegeted and explained. That has to be the heart of the sermon. There is a real danger that we become over concerned about such things as delivery, while the New Testament is insistent on the content: "let him speak as the oracles of God." The authority of the preaching comes from the text of Scripture. It is God-given power which honors his own word.

Dr Lloyd-Jones grew up in a vague sentimental era with churches fascinated with the personalities and quirks of famous men. MLJ as a man was absorbed with the glory and the greatness of the truth. A preacher lives in the truth. He expected the preacher to go through the whole Bible in his personal devotions once each year. He expected him to continue to read theology as long as he lived. The more he read, the better. Preaching is theology coming through a man who is on fire.

In the latter part of his ministry, there was a change in emphasis. In the first 30 years there was a stress on the importance of the historic faith, and then in the last decades a new emphasis emerged, not on the recovery of truth, but with the accompanying need of power to proclaim it.

2. The man himself is a part of the message.

He can read all the best books and give out a well-rounded exegesis of the text, but somehow the man himself has not become a part of the truth. The less we say of ourselves in preaching the better, but the Holy Spirit does not work in preaching except through the man, and so, inevitably, not only does the message compel attention, but the man himself. The man becomes a part of the message. What does that mean?

A] The preacher must know the power of the message he is bringing to others. When MLJ was 25 and at the cross-roads of his life, he became engaged to Bethan Philips, and she became conscious that her future husband was considering becoming a preacher. She was very concerned because she had never heard him preach. At that point a letter came from a missionary society inviting them to become medical missionaries in India. She was challenged by this invitation, but MLJ had no interest at all. Bethan said to him, "But how do you know that you can preach?" "I know I can preach to myself", he replied. He knew the power of the truth in his own heart.

When he was preaching on Ephesians 2 on fulfilling the lusts of the flesh and the mind, he raised the question about what they were? He interjected that "as I was preparing this sermon, it filled me with a loathing and hatred of myself. I look back and I think of the hours I have wasted in mere talk and argumentation. And it was with one end only--simply to gain my point and to show how clever I was" ("God's Why of Reconciliation", p.65). So MLJ was preaching to himself before he spoke to others.

B] The Holy Spirit must produce the feelings in the preacher's heart that must be in harmony with what the Spirit has breathed out. Paul writes, "Knowing the terror of the Lord we persuade men." Again he speaks of some "with tears" that they are enemies of the cross. One finds phrases like, "I tell you weeping ...I am glad and rejoice with you all." There was something in the way these preachers spoke who were used by God- "I preached what I smartingly did feel," said Bunyan. A most important part of preaching is exhortation. In preaching we move people to do what they are listening to, and to this end there has to be a felt consciousness in the preacher of the truth of what he is saying. We have to bring our feelings into harmony with the stupendous nature of what we are saying. The men most used of God in their pulpits are those who know they had fallen far short of the wonder that should characterise the preaching.

C] The more he becomes part of his message then the more he forgets himself. What is the main feeling in the preacher? It should be love - to God and to man. It is the very opposite of self-centredness. Love seeks not her own. The needs of the people spoken to take over. We forget ourselves. A baptism of Holy Spirit love gives us a love for people.

Preaching Under the Influence of the Holy Spirit

There is a total insufficiency in ourselves or in anyone else in the world, so that we cannot preach without the Holy Spirit. I Cor 2:3 - is the key text, "And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." God makes us weak and so enables us to become true preachers. Real authority always comes out of felt weakens, and then God uses us. The preacher is the last person to be praised. To be clapped when he had finished would have horrified him.

Bethan Lloyd-Jones once listed to some men speaking about her husband and she interjected, "No one will understand my husband who does not realise that he was first an evangelist and a man of prayer." MLJ loved the hymn of Oswald Allen, "Today thy mercy calls us..." especially these final lines:

When all things seem against us,
To drive us to despair,
We know one gate is open,
One ear will hear our prayer.

That is what he believed. His public pastoral prayer lifted many burdens long before the preaching began. He rested ultimately on the Holy Spirit being given to them that ask him. The real preacher is a mere voice sounding in the wilderness. MLJ was criticised for being too dogmatic and authoritarian. If we are preaching from God then that has to be delivered with faith and confidence that we knows what God is saying. You have to believe definite truths in order to be saved. Men have to know that they are condemned before they can be saved. There is the utter certainty of a preacher in what he is preaching. Paul says, "We have the same spirit of faith ... we also believe and we speak." That is the fundamental thing. We are going against all that the natural man believes.

MLJ's faith came out in what he preached, that man was under the wrath of God, depraved and lost. He preached this with absolute conviction, and he followed it up with the cross, week by week. That authority was given by the Holy Spirit. It influenced MLJ's whole way of looking at things. He was a man who stood alone for most of his life; one reason was that he was conscious that the problem with man was far deeper than people in the church were prepared to acknowledge They were thinking of 'communication to the modern man' etc. Lloyd-Jones believed that what we faced was not the problem of modern communication, but what was wrong in the church itself. One of the reasons that he did not take part in the big crusades was because there was something wrong in the churches themselves. He quietly stood aside, God having kept him in the way he did, and he preached evangelistically each Sunday.

The test of the presence of the Holy Spirit's work is the presence of Christ himself in the assembly and known by the congregation. A maid worked in a church manse, where there was great anticipation for the coming visit of a powerful preacher, Mr Cook. One maid was not enthusiastic, and she told the butcher she was fed up: "With all this fuss, you would think Jesus Christ himself was coming." Mr Cook did preach and as she heard him, something happened in her life. The butcher said to her with a grin on the following Tuesday, "Did Jesus Christ come?" "Yes, he did come," she said seriously.

William Williams of Pantycelyn said, "Love is the greatest thing in religion, and without it religion is nothing." MLJ often quoted those words. Love has to lead the way. He thought the people were not ready to hear extended series of systematic expository sermons for the first 20 years he was in the ministry. The needs of the people were paramount because love is in our hearts.

- Iain Murray

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Preaching with Power- Part 1

During the Second World War, a Scotsman who was in the service and was visiting London, went to Westminster Chapel. But the Chapel was closed, damaged by bombing, but on a piece of paper posted as a note, visitors were directed to a nearby hall. The visitor described a 'thin man' wearing a tie calling the people to worship. He thought the man was a church officer, and he appreciated his prayer, but then the man began to preach, beginning quietly enough. "This must be Martyn Lloyd-Jones," he thought. But for the next 40 minutes, he was unconscious of anything else in the world, hearing only this man's words. He had been caught up in the mystery of preaching. This man later became a well-known Church of Scotland minister named Tom Allen.

When he left that service, Tom Allen was taken up with the message, not the preacher. Lloyd-Jones (MLJ) would have thought little of conference addresses like this one about himself. He thought messages about contemporary men had done great injury, especially during the Victorian period. With man-centredness being the terrible bane of today's church, there is a danger in drawing attention to personalities. MLJ would quote the words of God, "My servant Moses is dead so arise and go over Jordan." He prevented several would-be biographers from writing anything, and reluctantly consented to an official biography, if only something could be written which would encourage those who were entering the gospel ministry.

MLJ believed that God was the God of tomorrow who would raise up servants who would enjoy blessings that he himself had not known. Frequently when he prayed it was particularly for a recovery of authority and power in preaching.

One must add another observation, that preaching was not MLJ's exclusive concern. He was concerned with the church fellowship, prayer meetings, and the promotion of foreign missionaries, but he was convinced that the spiritual health of the church depended on the state of the pulpit. On behalf of Christ, the true preacher speaks and the Lord himself is building his church in his sovereign way. So MLJ was conscious of what he spoke of as the romance of preaching. The preacher is but an instrument in the Lord's hands: the preacher is not in control. Preaching is the highest and most glorious calling to which anyone could be called.

So when we come to the subject of authority in preaching, there are a number of ways this could be addressed. The New Testament terminology on this theme should be studied, e.g. that 'Jesus spoke with authority', the phrase 'the word came with power', and the word 'boldness' which is surprisingly frequent in the NT.

The characteristics of preaching with power:

1. It always is attended by a consciousness of the presence of God.

Though a worshipper may be meeting in the midst of a large congregation of people, when the preaching is with authority, the individual forgets the person he has come with and the building they are sitting in, and even the one who is preaching. He is conscious that he is being spoken to by the living God. Thus it was in Acts 2. A remarkable illustration of this is the spiritualist woman in Sandfields in Wales, drawn to hear MLJ and was conscious that she was surrounded by 'clean' power. For the first time she was conscious she was in the presence of God. Thomas Hooker had such a sense of God about him that it was said that he could have put a king in his pocket.

2. There is no problem of holding the attention of the people.

It is a problem to keep people's attention. The preacher has his chain of thought, and all the people also may have theirs which are all very different so that they are taking in very little from the preaching. But authoritative preaching gets inside people because it speaks to the heart, conscience and will. Skillful oratory cannot come anywhere near to that preaching. True preaching made a moral and emotional earthquake in those who heard the word at Thessalonica. The well-remembered ship builder who built ships in his mind during Sundays' sermon could not lay the first plank when he was listening to George Whitefield preach. Conviction of sin and the reality of the living God became far more important to him than his business.

One Friday night in his series of lectures on theology, MLJ was preaching from Revelation on the final judgment on Babylon. Anyone listening to that exultant message would have found it impossible to have been occupied with any other subject; the great reality was such that awareness of anything else disappeared. The very date of that occasion was accurately quoted, easily memorable to the speaker because the next day he was getting married, but all thoughts of that were gone as he saw the overthrow of great Babylon.

3. Even children can understand it.

There is a mistake in thinking that preaching is chiefly to address the intellect, and thus the will. Rather preaching is to address the heart and soul of men and women. Preaching which accomplishes that can arrest a child as easily as a grown-up. Children did listen to MLJ because of the character of the preaching and the sense of God about it.

4. It is preaching that results in a change in those who listen.

It may be repentance; it may be restoration, or reconciliation; it may be strength given for those in the midst of trials, but powerful preaching always brings some real change. Sometimes they went away indignant and some of them were later converted. You cannot be apathetic under true preaching. Felix trembled. There was no certainty of conversions, but there was a degree of certainty that there will be power in that preaching. In Mrs. Bethan Lloyd-Jones' book on Sandfields, there is a reference to a professor of law at Liverpool who said that there were two men who kept the country from communism - Aneurin Bevan and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. His preaching affected communities. On November 15, 1967, he was preaching in Aberfan a year after a local disaster. His text was Romans 8:18: "the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory to be revealed in us." It had a great impact on the perplexed little religious community in the Taff valley.

to be continued

- Iain Murray

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Should Christians Say Their Aim is to Convert Others to Faith in Christ?

First of all, why am I asking this question? Three reasons:
1. Because in our delicate and dangerous setting of global religious pluralism, how we speak about our aims can get us kicked out of a country or worse.
2. Because we want to follow Paul’s pattern of honesty: "But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2).
3. Because we need biblical clarity about our role in converting others to Christ, lest we shrink back from the aim of conversion for mistaken reasons.
Let’s begin with a definition.

Christian conversion is the act or process of being changed (without coercion but through our own volition) into a person who believes and treasures Jesus Christ, his saving work, and his promises above everything else, including all that we were believing or treasuring before conversion.
Given that definition, my answer to the question is Yes, all Christians should aim to convert people to faith in Jesus Christ. This is one of our aims in all we say and do. We hope and pray that everything we say and do will have this effect. In other words, our aim is not to say things and do things that are ineffectual. We desire—we hope, we yearn, we pray—that what we say and do will have this effect: that people will treasure Christ above all. Not to want this is either unbelief or lovelessness.

But to say that Christian conversion is our aim does not yet define what our role is in bringing conversion about. That’s what needs clarifying from the Bible.

And here I only want to bring one clarification: The fact that God is the ultimate and decisive cause in conversion does not mean we are not causal agents in conversion. We are. And as God’s agents in conversion we aim at it—we choose what we do and say in the hope that it will be used by God to bring about conversion.

The fact that Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (John 6:65), does not mean we are not instruments in bringing people to Christ. “The Spirit and the Bride [the church] say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come’” (Revelation 22:17).
The Bible does not infer from God’s causing people to come that we should not say, “Come.” Our aim and effort is that they come. And God is decisive in whether they come. To say that we are not aiming that they come contradicts the command of Jesus (Luke 14:23), contradicts the human instrumentality of the gospel (Romans 10:13-15), and contradicts love.

Consider five other ways that the Bible talks about our role in the conversion of others.

1. Christian conversion involves spiritually blind people being able to see the glory of Christ. Though God opens the eyes of the spiritually blind (2 Corinthians 4:6), Jesus sends Paul to open their eyes.
I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins. (Acts 26:17-18)
For Paul to say that his aim is not to open their eyes would be disobedience to the mission Jesus gave him.

2. Christian conversion involves winning people from treasuring anything above Christ to full devotion to Christ. Though God is decisive in changing people’s affections (Jeremiah 24:7), Paul says his aim is to win people.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. (1 Corinthians 9:22)
For Paul to say that his aim is not to win people to Christ would contradict his mission.

3. Christian conversion involves bringing people back from the path of sin and destruction. Though God is the one who decisively brings us back to himself (Jeremiah 31:18; Isaiah 57:18), the Bible speaks of us bringing people back from sin and death.
Whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:20)
To say that we do not aim to bring people back from sin and death would put us out of step with this text and imply we don’t care about the death of unbelievers.

4. Christian conversion involves turning the heart toward the true God away from wrong ideas about God and wrong affections for what is not God. Though God is decisive in turning the human heart to himself (2 Thessalonians 3:5), John the Baptist was commissioned to turn the hearts of Israel to God.
He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.” (Luke 1:16-17)
For John the Baptist to say that he does not aim to turn the hearts of the people to God would make him disobedient to his calling.

5. Christian conversion involves being born again. Though the Spirit of God is the sovereign cause of the new birth, blowing where he wills (John 3:8), nevertheless, Peter explains that this happens through the preaching of the gospel by human beings.
You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)
For the preacher of the gospel to say that he is not aiming at the new birth in his preaching would put him out of step with the Spirit and contradict the design of God in how people are born again.

Therefore, I conclude that it is unbiblical to say that we are not aiming at conversion because God is the decisive, ultimate cause of conversion. He is. But we are his agents, and he calls us to join him in this goal. Not to aim at it is to put ourselves out of step with his command and his Spirit.

- John Piper

Monday, November 9, 2009

What Muslims Think of America

A Saudi-raised Pastor offers an insider's perspective

At 4.55 am, the minaret loudspeaker blared outside my window. I was in Damascus, visiting relatives, and hundreds of mosques all over the city were calling Muslims to the first of five daily prayers. Faithful Muslims weave these into their everyday lives. If they forget their duties in the midst of the details of life, muezzins from minarets throughout the Muslim world cry "Allahu akbar" ("God is great") at the appointed times to bring them back to this most basic of religious tasks.

Throughout the Middle East and in much of North Africa and lower Asia, Islam dominates the religious, cultural, and political landscape. While Islam is not monolithic, many in the Muslim world, particularly in the Mideast, see the U.S. as the stronghold of the "infidels," who refuse to bow to Allah (the God whom Muslims believe rules over all creation), and who therefore must be opposed or even destroyed.

Where does this intense antipathy come from? Radical Muslims in Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, Iran, Indonesia, and elsewhere regularly chant, "Death to America! Death to the Great Satan!" Some of this is posturing for CNN, but the fact that such chanting can take place indicates the brewing of a storm for which America is the tallest lightning rod. Why?

1. First, devout Muslims see the US as exporting immorality. The international marketing of our movies and TV programs paints a lurid picture of American life for the Third World. Viewers get their ideas of American life from The Dukes of Hazzard, Dallas and Baywatch, so they assume that illicit sex, fast cars, guns, and intrigue are the norm here.

2. Second, Muslims see the United States' foreign policy as a political puppet of Israel and American Jews. They see in our government's positions over the past 50 years a blind support of a nation that most Muslims view as the cause of untold suffering among Arabs throughout the Middle East. A Syrian cousin of mine pointed to all the "Jewish-sounding" names in Cabinet-level and Congressional positions and declared, "The United States is in the pocket of the Jews"

3. Third, the American heart seems to Arabs to have an anti-Arab bias in both foreign policy and human rights issues. Muslims point to the cries of the Palestinians, not just over their displacement from their homeland, but over the ongoing oppression and violence they see them suffer under the rule of Israeli authorities. It is American planes, they say, that bomb their villages, and American helicopters that fire missiles into their apartment buildings, and American bulldozers that knock down their settlements, and American bullets that shatter their children's skulls. One of my Syrian cousins declared to me with undeniable passion, "If I could go to occupied Palestine [Israel] and fight against the oppressors and give my life to help liberate Palestine, I would count it a privilege. I would count it an honor!"

4. Fourth, Muslims (especially non-Western ones) view the USA as a Christian nation, and so a powerful rival to their faith; Though we know there is no such thing as a Christian nation since God has not called us to a kingdom of this world, the Muslim mind cannot conceive of religion apart from political realities. For Islam the kingdom of Allah must in the end become the unrivaled kingdom of this world.

In many quarters of the world, there is a sense of jealousy among Muslims as they look at the military strength of America across the globe, the standard of living and technological advantages of our society - the freedoms and pioneering spirit - that characterize our way of life. American influence in the world translates for some Muslims into Christian advances into Muslim territory, which cannot be tolerated. Even worse is American military presence in Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam and home of its holiest shrines.

5. Finally Islam is committed to the complete subjugation of the entire world to Allah. Though there is not consensus among Muslims concerning the use of force to advance Islam, there is unanimity concerning three fundamental principles: Islam is the one true religion, meant to be accepted universally; its ultimate goal is the establishment of a one-world theocracy where the laws of Islam (Sharia) become the laws of all societies; and all human beings will one day be either converted to Islam, subjugated under Muslim rule, or eliminated by the sword.

The term jihad, often translated "holy war" leads Americans to ask, "Is such violence sanctioned by Islam?" There is an intense debate in the Muslim world over how Islam's enemies are to be conquered. Moderates claim terrorism has no place in Islam and point to a verse in the Quran that says, "There is no compulsion in religion." But fundamentalists point to numerous texts in the Quran where Muhammad as Allah's spokesman commands his followers to fight and subdue all who resist Islam, if necessary by killing them.

What leads Muslim men to volunteer for death, even young men with all their lives before them? Islam offers no certain hope of heaven to any of its adherents, with one exception. Those who die while fighting in a jihad are promised immediate access to Paradise, the highest level of heaven with the greatest sensual delights imaginable.

For those trapped in a religious system where you can never be sure you have done enough good to please God eternally, and whose lives amid poverty, oppression, and despair do not guarantee much of an earthly future, the assurance of a reward of eternal hedonism is undeniably attractive. Add to this the high tribute in the minds of the faithful left behind and the thought of being an underdog who in the name of Allah does grave damage to the Great Satan, and you have a recipe for conflagration.

How should Christians respond? Confidence and Love are the first two words that come to mind. Paul reminds us in 2 Tim 1:7, "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." Jesus said that to live by the sword is to die by the sword. His followers are to love enemies and pray for those who engage in persecution.

Since our futures are secure in God's hand because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, we are not to fear those who threaten us, nor seek to destroy them. Rather, we are to approach them with the same love by which Jesus first approached and won us to Himself.

In the end, it is not a question of what Muslims think of America, or of Christians. It is much more a matter of what Christians think of Muslims. Will we extend them Christ's love, the only real hope for peace and transformation, or will we turn away in fear or anger? The future is not in the hands either of Muslim terrorists or of Muslim moderates. It is in the hands of Jesus Christ, and He still calls the church to meet the world with grace and love. The next months and years will show whether we are listening.


One Standard of Character

"Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did." 1 John 2:6

Nothing is more striking to a close observer of human life than the almost infinite variety of character which exists among those who profess to be Christians. No two are alike. Even those who are revered for their saintliness, who alike seem to wear the image of their Lord, whose lives are alike attractive in their beauty--show the widest diversity in individual traits and in the cast and mold of their character. Yet all are sitting before the same model; all are striving after the same ideal; all are imitators of the same blessed life.

There is only one standard of true Christian character--likeness to Christ. It is into His image that we are to be transformed; and it is toward His holy beauty that we are always to strive. We are to live as He lived. We are to copy His features into our lives. Wherever, in all the world, true disciples of Christ are found, they are all trying to reproduce the likeness of their Master in themselves.

One reason for the diversity among Christians is because even the best and holiest saints realize but a little of the image of Christ and have only one little fraction and fragment of His likeness in their souls. In one of His followers, there is some one feature of Christ's blessed life which appears; in another, there is another feature; in a third, still a different feature. One seeks to copy Christ's gentleness, another His patience, another His sympathy, another His meekness.

Therefore, a thousand believers may all, in a certain sense, be like Christ and yet no two of them have, or consciously strive after, just the same features of Christ in their souls. The reason is that the character of Christ is so great, so majestic and so glorious that it is impossible to copy all of it into any one little human life; each human character is so imperfect and limited that it cannot reach out in all directions after the boundless and infinite character of Christ.

- J. R. Miller

Consider This

The men that will change and affect any colleges and seminaries are the men that spend the most time alone with God…It takes time for the fires to burn. It takes time for God to draw near and for us to know that He is there. It takes time to assimilate His truth. You ask me, How much time? I do not know. I know it means time enough to forget time. - John Mott

The one concern of the devil is to keep Christians from praying. He fears nothing from prayerless studies, prayerless work, and prayerless religion. He laughs at our toil, mocks at our wisdom, but trembles when we pray. - Samuel Chadwick

It is because of hasty and superficial conversation with God that the sense of sin is so weak and that no motives have power to help you to hate and flee from sin as you should.

- A.W. Tozer

Friday, November 6, 2009

Denying Self

"If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." Luke 9:23-24

Only as we learn to die to self do we become like Christ.

Human nature seeks all for self and nothing for Christ. Becoming a Christian is the taking of Christ into the life, in the place of self. Then all is changed. Life has a new center and a new aim. Christ comes first. His plan for our lives is accepted, instead of our own. It is no more what we would like to do, but "What does the Master want us to do?" It is no longer the pressing of our own will, but instead "May Your will, not mine, be done."

This is the foundation of all Christian living--the dying of self and the growing of Christ in the heart. So long as there remains any self-will, any unsubmission, any spirit of disobedience, any unconquered self, and the asserting its authority against the will of Christ, then our consecration incomplete.

This law of the dying of self and the magnifying of Christ is the only way to true usefulness. Not until self has been renounced, is anyone ready for true Christian service. While we are thinking how this or that will affect us, whether it will pay us to make this sacrifice or that self-denial; while we are consulting our own ease, our own comfort, our own interest or advantage in any form--we have not yet learned fully what the love of Christ means.

This law of the dying of self and the magnifying of Christ is the secret of Christian peace. When Christ is small and self is large, then life cannot be deeply restful. Everything annoys us. We grow impatient of whatever breaks our comfort. We grieve over little trials. We find causes for discontent in merest trifles. We resent whatever would hinder or oppose us. There is no blue sky in the picture when self is the center!

But when self decreases and Christ increases, then the life of friction and worry is changed into quietness and peace. When the glory of Christ streams over this little, cramped, fretted, broken life of ours, then peace comes, and the love of Christ brightens every spot and sweetens all bitterness. Trials are easy to bear, when self is small and Christ is large.

This lesson has its very practical bearing on all our common, every-day life. Naturally, we want to have our own way. We like to carry outour own plans and ambitions. We are apt to feel, too, that we have failed in life, when we cannot realize these hopes. But this is the world's standard! The successful worldling is the one who is able to master all life's circumstances, and make them serve him.

But the greatest thing possible in any life is to have the divine plan for it fulfilled, even though it thwarts every human hope and dashes away every earthly dream. It is not easy for us to learn the lesson that God's ways are always better for us than our own!

We make our little plans and begin to carry them out. We think we have all things arranged for our greatest happiness and our best good. Then God's plan breaks in upon ours and we look down through our tears upon the shattered fragments of our fine plans! All seems wreck, loss, and disaster! But no--it is only God's larger, wiser, better plan, displacing our little, imperfect, shortsighted one!

It is true, that God really thinks about our lives and has a purpose of His own for them, a place He would have us fill, a work He would have us do. It seems when we think of it, that this is scarcely possible that each one of the lives of His countless children should be personally and individually thought about by the Father. Yet we know that this is true of the least and lowliest of believers. Surely if God cares enough for us to make a plan for our life, a heavenly plan--it must be better than any plan of ours could be! It is a high honor, therefore, for His plan to take the place of ours, whatever the cost and the pain may be to us!

- J. R. Miller

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What Is the Glory of God?

The glory of God is the holiness of God put on display. That is, it is the infinite worth of God made manifest. Notice how Isaiah shifts from “holy” to “glory”: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). When the holiness of God fills the earth for people to see, it is called glory.

The basic meaning of holy is “separated” from the common. Thus, when you carry that definition all the way to the infinite “separation” of God from all that is common, the effect is to make him the infinite “one of a kind”—like the rarest and most perfect diamond in the world. Only there are no other diamond-gods. God’s uniqueness as the only God—his God-ness—makes him infinitely valuable, that is, holy.

The most common meaning for God’s glory in the Bible assumes that this infinite value has entered created experience. It has, as it were, shined. God’s glory is the radiance of his holiness. It is the out-streaming of his infinite value. And when it streams out, it is seen as beautiful and great. It has both infinite quality and infinite magnitude. So we may define the glory of God as the beauty and greatness of God’s manifold perfections.
I say “manifold perfections” because specific aspects of God’s being are said to have glory. For example: “the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6) and “the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). God himself is glorious because he is the perfect unity of all his manifold and glorious perfections.

But this definition must be qualified. The Bible also speaks of God’s glory before it is revealed in creation. For example, Jesus prays, “Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:5). So I would suggest a definition something like this: God’s glory is the outward radiance of the intrinsic beauty and greatness of his manifold perfections.

I am aware that words are poor pointers here. I have replaced one inadequate word with two others: glory with beauty and greatness. But we must try. God has revealed himself to us in words like “the glory of God.” And he does not want them to be meaningless.

We must constantly remind ourselves that we are speaking of a glory that is ultimately beyond created comparison. “The glory of God” is the way you designate the infinite beauty and the infinite greatness of the Person who was there before anything else was there. In other words, it is the beauty and the greatness that exists without origin, without comparison, without analogy, without being judged or assessed by any external criterion. It is the all-defining absolute original of greatness and beauty. All created greatness and beauty comes from it, and points to it, but does not comprehensively or adequately reproduce it.

“The glory of God” is a way of saying that there is objective, absolute reality to which all human admiration, wonder, awe, veneration, praise, honor, acclaim, and worship is pointing. We were made to find our deepest pleasure in admiring what is infinitely admirable, that is, the glory of God. The glory of God is not the psychological projection of human longing onto reality. On the contrary, inconsolable human longing is the evidence that we were made for God’s glory.
How Central Is the Glory of God in the Bible?
The glory of God is the goal of all things. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). All things were created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:6-7).

The great mission of the church is to declare God’s glory among the nations. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalms 96:1-3; Ezekiel 39:21; Isaiah 66:18-19).
What Is Our Hope? Seeing the Glory of God
Seeing the glory of God is our ultimate hope. “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). God will “present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy” (Jude 24). He will “make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:23). “He calls you into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12). “Our blessed hope [is] the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13).

Jesus, in all his person and work, is the incarnation and ultimate revelation of the glory of God. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3). “Father, I desire that they . . . may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24).
What Is Our Hope? Sharing in the Glory of God
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1). “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory” (1 Corinthians 2:7).“This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). “Those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30).
Seeing and sharing in God’s glory is our ultimate hope through the gospel of Christ. Hope that is really known and treasured has a huge and decisive effect on our present values and choices and actions. Get to know the glory of God. Study the glory of God, the glory of Christ, the glory of the world that reveals the glory of God, the glory of the gospel that reveals the glory of Christ. Treasure the glory of God above all things.

Study your soul. Know the glory you are seduced by, and know why you treasure glories that are not God’s glory. Study your own soul to know how to make the glories of the world collapse like Dagon (1 Samuel 5:4) into pitiful pieces on the floor of the world’s temples.

- John Piper

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Blood of Jesus: Divine or Human?

For centuries, there has been a view of Christ's blood that has been taught and preached which goes something like this:

Jesus' physical blood was not human, but was only divine, derived directly from God the Father and not from Mary, his mother. The main verse that is used for this teaching is Acts 20:28: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which HE obtained with his own blood."

The final two phrases are the issue here--"to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood." Those who espouse the view that Christ's blood was purely divine and not human, say that it was God's blood, which, they argue, this verse proves. It was the blood of the Father, the blood of God, and thus, was not human blood at all.

According to this view, Christ did not derive his blood from Mary through the physical developmental process in the womb. He did not get his blood from Mary, because, it is argued, that would mean it would have been corrupted; so they argue that God the Father gave the Son divine and pure blood which was not human.

Such preaching goes something like this: "The blood of Jesus!- it was holy and pure because it was God's blood-- God's blood-- it wasn't human in origin-- it was God's blood-- God the Father put special, newly created divine blood in His Son which was only of divine origin, so he would be pure and holy--it wasn't from Mary--it was from the Father-- God's holy blood!"

Such preaching excites the undiscerning and causes them to think that the deity of Jesus and his holiness is being honored by this view. Such a view is still around and is often expressed by conservative and fundamentalist preachers who think they are protecting the purity of Christ. It has amazed me for a long time to hear professing evangelical preachers put forth this idea about Christ's blood. But the fact is, to put it in simple terms, this teaching is heresy at its worst. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The physical blood of Jesus Christ was fully and truly human, derived from Mary, his mother. If not, then we have no salvation.

A couple of main thoughts:

1. The phrase in Acts 20:28 'the church of God' is just as easily translated 'the church of the Lord'; the word 'Lord' is proper here, equally as much as the word 'God'. But even if one says that it is the church of 'God', that in no way means that it is referring to the God the Father particularly.

2. To say that the blood of Christ was divine and not human is to deny the true humanity of Christ. Jesus had to be fully human in every way, which means his physical body and blood, and his human nature in totality, was received from Mary. Everything about him physically and humanly, body and soul, were derived from Mary. In every way, he was made like us in all things (sin excepted).

The wrong view says that his blood could not have been derived from Mary or it would have been corrupt, fallen, impure, etc; but blood is purely physical and not moral. The logic is very weak, at best. If his blood would have been impure if it came from Mary's body, then anything else he derived from her would have been as well, which includes his true physical body and his human nature. Thus you would not have a human Jesus at all. In other words, if one part of Jesus' humanity (his blood) was not fully derived from Mary, then none of his humanity could have been and he would fail to be truly human in every way.

If Jesus could not have derived his physical blood from Mary because he would have received corruption from a human parent, then we must also say that none of his human nature and physical body could be derived from Mary. But if his physical body and human soul came from Mary and the entire process was overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (see below), then there is no problem about his blood coming from his mother. If you deny one aspect of Christ's humanity as being human, then you are denying and rejecting the true humanity of our Lord. And if you do not have a fully human Jesus, in every way like us, then you do not have the Christ of the New Testament.

Obviously, his blood was pure and perfect, but not because it was the blood of God, but because of the work of the Holy Spirit in His overshadowing work in the conception of the Saviour. We must remember that the Holy Spirit "overshadowed" the conception and birth of the baby Jesus. This divine and miraculous work would have protected and kept anything sinful or fallen of Mary's nature from being imparted to the baby Jesus. If we believe in the supernatural nature of Christianity, it is no problem at all that the Holy Spirit created the human person of Jesus, body and soul, from Mary's body and person, and then preserved his human person from all impurity and kept any effects of original sin from being passed down to Jesus.

The truth is, Jesus Christ the divine Son, eternally one with the Father as God, became a true human being-- physical body, physical blood and human soul, receiving all this from his mother's body and her human nature. He was fully God and fully man without limitations. His rue humanity, in its totality, came fully from Mary's body and her DNA. His blood was true human blood just like ours, made of a woman. To deny this is to evidence a clear lack of understanding of the full humanity of our Lord.

So if you ever hear anyone say that Jesus' blood was divine and was the blood of God, don't believe it and don't be fooled. Quickly say to yourself, "Whoa--error! that is not accurate and not biblical." Be discerning. Such a view changes the biblical person of Christ and it thus changes even our redemption. To be our faithful and merciful High Priest, he must qualify for that office. And to qualify to be the High Priest in the redemption of all His people, He has to be one of us fully, made like us in all things, in order to redeem man. Only a true and fully human Man can redeem human sinners.

The true and full humanity of the man Jesus is so wonderful, so glorious, and so essential, that you do not have a true gospel without it and you do not have true salvation without it.

"Behold the Man!"-- Jesus, our kinsman Redeemer

- Mack Tomlinson

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Cost of Resisting Sin

"How can I do this great wickedness--and sin against God!" Genesis 39:9

"After hearing his wife's story, Potiphar was furious! He took Joseph and threw him into the prison!" Genesis 39:19-20

Sometimes it costs very dearly to be true to God. Joseph lay now in a dungeon. But his loss through doing right, was nothing in comparison with what he would have lost, had he done the wickedness to which he was tempted. His prison gloom, deep as it was, was as noonday, compared with what would have been the darkness of his soul under the blight of evil and the bitterness of remorse. The chains that hung upon him in his dungeon were but like feathers, in comparison with the heavy chains which would have bound his soul, had he yielded to the temptation. Though in a prison, his feet hurt by the fetters, he was a free man because his conscience was free and his heart was pure!

No fear of consequences should ever drive us to do a wrong thing.

It is better to suffer any loss, any cost, any sacrifice than be eaten up by remorse!

Better be hurled down from a high place for doing right than win worldly honor by doing wrong.

Better lose our right hand than lose our purity of soul.

Better to rot in prison than to sin against God!

It was the prayer of a young queen, which she wrote with a diamond point on her castle window, "Keep me pure; make others great." That is the lesson of Joseph's victory over temptation-- dishonor, loss, dungeon, death--anything before sin!

- J. R. Miller