Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Faithful Welsh pastor preaches a difficult funeral-- An example of true and loving pastoral gospel ministry

(all pastors should learn from this)

This past Friday, June 25, I had the responsibility and privilege of taking the funeral service of 28 year old Alex Philips at our church. His sister Gina comes to us on Sunday mornings and has been accompanied by their mother over the last six months. Their mother Karen is a retired anaesthetist at the local hospital. It was a self-inflicted overdose of cocaine that caused his death. What grief. He was born and raised in our community, played soccer for local teams. He has a son Matthew aged 10 who lives with his mother in London, but Alex lived here with his Polish girl friend.

Gina had gone to university in Nottingham and through the Christian Union had come to a knowledge of and faith in Christ. She says she was pretty wild before that. She went on to be a Christian Union Relay worker in Lancaster and then applied to go to Guatamala with Latin Link where she was when she heard about her brother’s condition. She flew straight home, as did her mother from her holiday in Peru.

As one of our elders wrote of the funeral, “Almost every available seat upstairs and downstairs was taken. I have seen it almost as full for other funerals, but never with the majority being young men in their 20s and 30s, and not quite as many, but still a lot, of young women of similar age; all dressed for a funeral. They were team mates and school mates. None of them was used to church services. They only attend for the rare wedding and funeral. The only singers of the hymns were the few of us from the church and a few older people. The only hymn they knew was Abide with Me.”

When the family entered the church and the congregation stood, I had a lump in my throat to see ten year old Matthew walking behind his father’s coffin with his hand on it, pushing it down with a number of other young men from the family including Alex’s brother Ben. One wreath on top of the coffin was of a football.

I preached on 2 Samuel 18:33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!" I spoke of the three sources of David’s grief:

1] One was the wonderful love that a parent has for its son. The parent has brought the son into the world, nurtured and cared for the child, dried its tears when the child was hurt, and what grief it knows at the loss of a child. That he should die before his parents . . . it is unthinkable. David’s loss of a son was a loss of part of himself; his emptiness was an aching void. Absalom his son was no longer there to fill it.

2] Another source of grief was the pain of dashed hopes. Absalom was a son with such promise. He was one of the best soldiers in Israel, a natural leader. His stature, strength and sheer physical presence was the envy of many. He had political wit; he had it all, and so much of Israel really liked him. He was the popular prince. David had dreams about the boy who was destined to follow him - a glorious son, a warrior in his footsteps, a king of glory and renown. David’s desire was to bless him in every way with all the riches at his disposal. But now none of that would happen. Absalom was dead and so were all of David’s hopes as he cried "Absalom, my son, my son."

3] David's pain was also the pain of regret. For those estranged from their children they have enough struggles with self doubt. All of us could always have done everything better. “If only I’d done this or that differently,” even though we know that young people are responsible and make their own decisions based on a whole variety of factors, most of which have little or nothing to do with us as parents. But for David it was a feeling that he’d been soft on Absalom. Had David himself as a parent helped to create this rebel? David recognised that his own behaviour had some part in what had happened, and that is part of his anguish; "Absalom, my son, my son.”
I said, “The God who made all things, and made us, the God in whom we live and move and have our being is not a silent God. He speaks through Moses and the prophets, but he has spoken most clearly by his Son Jesus Christ. If we want to know what God is like, his name is Jesus, and he is the embodiment and incarnation of God. Today the living resurrected Jesus is one who has total recall of terrible pain; not only when they drove nails through his hands and feet, but throughout his life; he lost his father as a young man and so he can sympathize with a little boy whose Daddy has died. He had friends who died and he wept with them. He died slowly on a cross. So the God of David, the God who was in David and helped him weep, the God who was David’s good Shepherd and the Shepherd of all his sheep, understands our pain today. He understands the grief of losing children to disease, of losing children to accidents, of losing children to indifference and unbelief; he understands the pain of losing children to death, even eternal death. With your groans he groans, with your tears he understands, your sleepless nights have equally been his who never slumbers nor sleeps.”

Then I said to them “David displayed God’s love in his own love for his son. God had taught him to love like that. But there was one request that he could not fulfil “Absalom! Would to God I had died for you.” But it was too late for Absalom. Death is an event not a process, and it was also impossible for David to do that. But men and women! There is a love that is greater than the love of parents. This is the love of God in Christ Jesus. And as we are still in the land of the living, and have the privilege of living in the day of grace let us not end at the grief of David. His grief was eventually absolved in the blood of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. David’s sins, also in relation to his son Absalom, were forgiven. David received the comforting news of this already in his lifetime. Nathan the prophet of God could tell him … “The Lord also has put away your sin.”

“David, in a good old age was taken to be with his Lord and Saviour and he was reunited with all those who had slept in the Lord. And there God will wipe away our tears of grief. He will put his thumb on our cheeks and wipe away our tears.

“David once cried, ‘Would to God I had died for thee!’ And in that cry David became a signpost or a pointer to Jesus Christ. ‘Would to God I had died for thee!’ No, it wasn’t possible. David couldn’t die a substitutionary death. He could not die as a sacrifice in the stead and place of another. He had to carry his own guilt. But great David’s greater Son, Jesus, the holy child of God could; and Father and Son would have it this way. We are told, “God, who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). The Son of God died willingly because he loved people like us.

“His death was in the place of rebels like Absalom; in the place of those who deserved to die. His death came in the place of those who have discovered, by Word and Holy Spirit, that they are naturally selfish and proud of heart. To sum it up . . . His death came in the place of people who mess up their lives, people who are anxious to know the answer to “Would this God have died because he loved me?” . . .

“Would He? Would He . . . go to the cross of Calvary to save me? It was there that the greater than David died as the Lamb of God He takes away the sin of the world, that is, in the place of men and women, boys and girls, who are by nature no better than Absalom.

“Listen to what God the Father Himself says about him … “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” This is the message we need, as parents and children – young and old. God did not spare his Son from the cruel death of the cross in order that both parents and children, husbands and wives, sons and daughters who believe in him might be spared - ransomed, healed, restored forgiven, as long as we go, just as we are away, from our sinning and entrust ourselves to this great Saviour who says, “Come unto me and I will give you rest.”

“Jesus Christ! Hear Him! Believe on Him! Follow Him in this life. He is able to do what David could not do, and when, by the grace of God you learn the lesson of this message, and you do turn in faith to Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, it will be well with you. It will be well in life; it will be well in death; it will be well in eternity. He lives who once said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me.” He lives and stands in our midst today who once said, “I am the resurrection and the life,” who on the third day rose from the dead. The one who said to his people, “Because I live, you shall live also.”

So the service ended with ‘Abide with Me’ and then onto the street outside the congregation gathered and sympathized with the family who stood by the hearse. The traffic all waited fifteen minutes for them to break up. On to the crematorium we went for the brief service of committal. I went with the family and friends, a hundred of them, to the Golf Club. There the atmosphere was very different. They played his favourite rock music on the public address system. I was welcomed to sit with his mother’s uncles and aunts and appreciated meeting them. One couple were earnest Christians. They thanked me for the love and compassion with which I had led the service. I am glad that that came through.

On Sunday Gina was in the service but left in the last hymn and she was accompanied by a friend who had come to the funeral service and so on that occasion had entered our church for the first time. What a challenge to reach that generation of young people, so secularized; so anti-Christian; so estranged from any kind of Christian attitude to marriage and self-control let alone to a redeeming God-man. We prayed that one of them would be touched by the event, and by the service and sermon. May our prayers be answered. May Karen, Gina and Ben find hope and comfort in the grace of God.

- Geoff Thomas

Monday, June 28, 2010

Preaching Today

Is there a place in your church's preaching for strong language? . . . In brief, in Scripture such language is designed to elicit from the hearer or reader an emotional reaction -- laughter, revulsion, terror, etc. -- which corresponds to the spiritual nature of the thing being described . . . Such language is used for its shock value. God does not want us to intellectualize sin . . . In the contemporary world, however, a different idea rules. 'Nice' is better than holy. 'Comfortable' is better than dedicated and devoted. Churches have become places for 'support' and flattery, not truth. To be shocked at church is virtually the unpardonable sin.

- Roger Wagner

Most books on preaching stress the need for preparation, for programs and working to a clearly defined timetable. A random reading of modern contributions confirms the point. If reference is made to unction and dependence on the Spirit in the act of preaching, it tends to be incidental, a secondary feature for consideration. Martyn Lloyd-Jones would criticize such a grave omission. This is the reason many of the books on preaching fail to help preachers. They do not deal with this vital phenomenon.

- Tony Sargent

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Marks of a Genuine Work of God

Jonathan Edwards reminds us that when the Holy Spirit moves in His power and brings a reviving work of grace upon the earth, such a work will always be characterized by certain realities. Any genuine work of God, though varied in its expression, will always have these marks:

1. It exalts Jesus Christ and not a man.

2. It attacks the kingdom of darkness and is not passive.

3. It honors Scripture and not man's ideas.

4. It promotes sound doctrine and error is refuted.

5. It involves an outpouring of God's love. Divisions are healed and lost people are sought for Christ.

Let us continue to pray for such a move of God's grace wherever we live. Oh, for mercy drops to begin to fall in various places, bringing a new and true work of God the Holy Spirit among us.

- Mack Tomlinson

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Grace of Humility

Truly humble people are so amazed that grace came to them in their unworthiness, that they feel even more lowly, but still receive the gift.
Joy increases – not self-importance. Grace is not intended to replace lowliness with pride. It’s intended to replace sorrow with joy!

- John Piper

True Saving Faith

It is not the amount of faith that saves a person. One drop of water is as much true water as the whole ocean. So a little faith is just as much true faith as the greatest faith. A child eight days old is just as much a person as a sixty year; one spark of fire is as just as much true fire as a great flame; a sick man is as much alive as a well man.

So it is not the measure of your faith that saves you; it is the blood of Christ that any true faith clings to that saves you. As the weak hand of a child that leads the spoon to the mouth will feed as well as the strongest arm of a man, for it is not the hand that feeds you, but rather the food that is carried into the stomach that feeds you.

So if you can grip Christ ever so weakly, He will not let you perish. All that looked to the brazen serpent, no matter how far away they were- they were healed of the sting of the fiery serpent; yet all saw not alike clearly, for some were near at hand, and some were far off. Those that were near might see more clearly than those that were far off; nevertheless, those that were far off were just as healed of the sting when they looked to the serpent as those that were nearer to it. It was not their look that made them whole, but the One that the serpent represented.

So if you can look to Christ ever so dimly, He can take away the sting of your conscience if you believe. The weakest hand can take a gift as well as the strongest. Now Christ is the gift, and weak faith may grip Him, just as strong faith can grip Him. Christ is as truly yours when you have weak faith, as when you have triumphant joy through strong faith.

- John Welsh

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Desiring His Presence

“My Beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies. Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my Beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.” - Song of Solomon 2:16-17

Surely if there be a happy verse in the Bible it is this—“My Beloved is mine, and I am his.” So peaceful, so full of assurance, so overrunning with happiness and contentment is it, that it might well have been written by the same hand which penned the twenty-third Psalm. Yet though the prospect is exceeding fair and lovely—earth cannot show its superior—it is not entirely a sunlit landscape. There is a cloud in the sky which casts a shadow over the scene. Listen, “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away.”

There is a word, too, about the “mountains of Bether,” or, “the mountains of division,” and to our love, anything like division is bitterness. Beloved, this may be your present state of mind; you do not doubt your salvation; you know that Christ is yours, but you are not feasting with him. You understand your vital interest in him, so that you have no shadow of a doubt of your being his, and of his being yours, but still his left hand is not under your head, nor doth his right hand embrace you. A shade of sadness is cast over your heart, perhaps by affliction, certainly by the temporary absence of your Lord, so even while exclaiming, “I am his,” you are forced to take to your knees, and to pray, “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my Beloved.”

“Where is he?” asks the soul. And the answer comes, “He feedeth among the lilies.” If we would find Christ, we must get into communion with his people, we must come to the ordinances with his saints. Oh, for a daily glimpse of him! Oh, to sup with him today!

- C. H. Spurgeon

A Correct View of Your Life

Leonard Ravenhill lived with a correct view of this earthly life. He once said: "I have a candle on my desk and a candlestick. People say, "Can I get you a new candle?"

"No thank you, that candle is my life; I have about 3 inches left on it. Things being normal, I don't have far to go."

This is how each of us ought to view life-- it is brief, it is burning away, and we must shine while we still have any life left.

- Mack Tomlinson

Sunday, June 20, 2010

All for Good

"I will surely do you GOOD!" Genesis 32:12

Though this promise was given to Jacob, it was not confined to him, but is intended for all his spiritual seed. It is thus that God speaks to us this morning. How gracious!

We know not what this day may bring forth, but we do know that our God, who superintends every event, will do us good.

We may mistake as to what will be for our good but He is infinite in wisdom and goodness, and therefore cannot mistake. We may look at afflictions, losses, and crosses, and cry out, "All these things are against me!" But read the history of David. What a train of troubles attended him! Hear his acknowledgment: "It is GOOD for me that I have been afflicted!"

Your God will do you good, therefore He will try you, sift you, humble you, and prove you. He will give you needed bitter medicine--as well as food. He will consider nothing too expensive, or too painful--if necessary for your soul's welfare.

Look at your trials, and say, "This also shall turn to my good!"

Look on the past, and acknowledge, "Surely goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life."

Look to the future, and rejoice, "The Lord will surely give me that which is GOOD."

Look in every direction, and say, "Surely the Lord will do me good--I will trust, and not be afraid."

- James Smith

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Life of Prayer

Jesus, Thou sovereign Lord of all,
The same through one eternal day;
Attend Thy feeblest follower's call,
And Oh, instruct us how to pray!
Pour out the supplicating grace,
And stir us up to seek Thy face.

We cannot think a gracious thought,
We cannot feel a good desire,
Till Thou, who called a world from nought,
The power into our hearts inspire;
And then we, in Thy Spirit, groan,
And then we give Thee back Thine own.

Jesus, regard the joint complaint,
Of all Thy tempted followers here;
And now supply the common need,
And send us down the Comforter,
The Spirit of ceaseless prayer impart,
And fix Thy Agent in our hearts.

To help our soul's infirmity,
To heal Thy sin-sick people's care,
To urge our God-commanding plea,
And make our hearts a house of prayer,
The promised Intercessor give,
And let us now Thyself receive.

Come in Thy pleading, Spirit, down,
To us who for Thy coming stay;
Of all Thy gifts we ask but one,
We ask the constant power to pray,
Indulge us, Lord, in this request,
Thou canst not then deny the rest.

- Charles Wesley

Thursday, June 10, 2010

As For God, His Ways are Perfect

It was a perfect cure. "And his hand was restored whole as the other." Whole as the other! Christ's cures are not half cures. Perfection traces all that He does, whether He paints a lily or rears a mountain, heals the body or redeems the soul.

Like Himself, all His ways and works are perfect. When God justifies the sinner, it is a perfect justification- he is "justified from all things." When He adopts the soul, He fully and inalienably adopts- "Now are we the sons of God." When He pardons the guilty, He entirely and forever pardons- "having forgiven you all trespasses." The Lord has left nothing in our salvation for us to supply, nothing in the gospel plan for man to supplement. It is on the basis of a finished work that the believer stands- his Lord and Surety having done all, suffered all, given all that law and justice demanded for the present redemption and the future glory of His Church. "When we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." "Without strength." When the arm was paralyzed and withered, Jesus then undertook the cure; and, undertaking, He perfected it, Nothing has He left for us to add- not a tear of repentance to His tears of grief; not a groan of sorrow to His groans of agony; not a drop of blood to His vital stream; not an atom of merit to His infinite and all-sufficient worthiness.

Lift up your heart, then, depressed child of God- rejoice in the Lord greatly. He has perfected the cure of your soul. All your salvation is in Christ, and God has pardoned and accepted you without a single work of your own. "He rests in His love, and rejoices over you with singing."

- Octavius Winslow

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Have You Heard the Good News?

You and I are dying sinners. We cannot live always. Before long, we shall be lying in our graves. These are serious matters that ought to make you feel grave. But there is good news. Have you heard the good news?

That good news is that God has provided a glorious Saviour for us. His dear Son, Jesus Christ, died upon the cross for sinners. By His death, he made atonement for sin and purchased a full forgivness for the ungodly. In a word, Christ has done all, paid all, and suffered all that was needed to reconcile us to God. He has provided a garment of righteousness to clothe us. He has opened a fountain of living waters to cleanse us. He has removed every barrier between us and God the Father, taken every obstacle out of the way, and made a road by which the vilest may return -- all things are now ready on God's part. A complete salvation has been provided.

But what is it that God asks for on the part of man? How are the privileges of this great salvation to be made the sinner's own? What is the means by which you and I are to obtain an interest in Jesus Christ?

The answer to all these questions is short and simple -- "believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." There is but one thing needful on our part to our justification, and that one thing is faith.

Faith, simple faith in the only thing required, in order than you and I may be forgiven. God asks us to come to Jesus as sinners, with our sins, to trust in Him, rest on Him, lean on Him, confide in Him, commit our souls to Him, and forsaking all other hope, cleave only to Him. This is all and everything that God asks. Let a man do this and he shall be saved. All his iniquities shall be completely pardoned, and his transgressions entirely taken away. This IS the good news.

- John Newton

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

John Bunyan Gems

He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find him the rest of the day.

If you have sinned, do not lie down without repentance; for the lack of repentance after one has sinned makes the heart yet harder and harder.

When you pray, rather let your heart be without words than your words without heart.

Pray often; for prayer is a shield to the soul, a sacrifice to God, and a scourge for Satan.

Prayer will make a man cease from sin, or sin will entice a man to cease from prayer.

You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.

One leak will sink a ship: and one sin will destroy a sinner.

Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them.

Words easy to be understood do often hit the mark; when high and learned ones do only pierce the air.

- John Bunyan

Life and Death are in the Tongue

The tongue is a mighty instrument for good or for evil. Solomon reminds us that "life and death are in the power of the tongue."

There is life in it when it speaks a word in season to him who is weary, when it drops into the ear an accent of kindness, when it speaks of Jesus' love and compassion to a sad and mournful heart, when it quotes a promise of God to a dejected, disconsolate mind, and when it gives utterance to thoughts that elevate, to counsels that guide, to the breathings of encouragement and sympathy. Oh, what life is there in the faculty of speech when, holy, wise, and gentle, it is employed for the good of our fellows and for the glory of God!

There is death too in the power of the tongue when it is employed as an instrument of evil by the whisperer, the backbiter, the slanderer, the tale-bearer, the untruthful- death to reputation, death to character, death to usefulness, death to happiness. The poison of asps may be under the tongue, and death to some injured one may be the consequence! This thought finds a yet more awful illustration in his case who, as a professed minister of Christ's gospel, gives utterance to doctrines fatal in their tendency and effect to the well-being of souls.

God holds us responsible for the use of this faculty, for He writes, "By your words shall you be justified, and by your words shall you be condemned." Oh, see that your speech is seasoned with grace, administering instruction and edification to the hearer. Let no corrupt thing, no false doctrine, no untruthful statement, no harsh, unkind, unsympathizing, heart-wounding word flow from your lips. Speak for God, for Christ, and for souls.

- Octavius Winslow