Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Final End of Saul and Solomon

I received the following from a dear friend after he read the Daily Thoughts this week on Solomon and I sent him the following reply.

[Hey Mack,

The thoughts you put forth on Solomon commanded my attention. From the once-saved-always-saved sect I came from, this truth is real. It is emphasized that we are "Kept by the power of God", yet we must persevere; a mystery indeed, yet like sovereignty and responsibility, it is all still very true.
So Solomon's end seems similiar to King Saul; were they saved for heaven? I am asked occasionally. I tend to answer "take heed brethren lest by unbelieving heart you fall." Indeed press on in the faith.

love you much, Mack ]

My Reply

Good morning, brother;

Insightful thoughts here from you on this issue of Saul and Solomon.

We always want to know definitely, don't we, the end about some of these things and people in the Bible; I am not sure the Bible answers it always dogmatically for us. One key, I believe, is to view the person in the final light of the way the Bible pictures them; what kind of picture does it paint of one's end? In other words, how does Scripture seem to want us to view the person's state at the end of their life? Regarding men like Judas and Demas, the Bible does not leave their end as a positive thing in our minds; it (the Bible) wants us to see them in a final negative light.

Saul seems clearly to be this way; at first, he was given a new heart, not in a regenerational way that made him truly know and loved God savingly, but a heart to rule and govern Israel as a temporal leader. But his final end is abrupt and worsens as the end comes- God gives him a demon, etc, and he dies violently in a context of judgment, not mercy. He does not die the death of the righteous, but of the wicked. We are never led by Scripture to view Saul in a redemptive way.

Solomon, on the other hand, though he had this great mess-up and stumbled, it seems that Ecclesiastes was his final legacy, where he shows all the vanity he gave himself to for a period of times, and then gives evidence through his writing that he returned to God and viewed it all properly.

But a more definitive word about Saul and Solomon is a lynch-pin that, I believe, nails it for us. In 2 Samuel 7:15, the Lord directly speaks to David about both Saul and Solomon and tells us the difference between them.

Speaking of Solomon, God says to David, "But my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you." (2 Sam. 7:15)

This seems to clarify it for us with finality. God loved Solomon in a saving, redemptive, and permanent (if we can use that word) way that He clearly did not have for Saul. If words have meaning, God's own testimony is that He removed or took away His love or positive mercies toward Saul.

This does not eliminate all the mystery, but I feel it clarifies the final end of both men. And you are right in your final analysis. Whether we understand it all or not, our response must be, "Press on to know the Lord regardless of what anyone else does." This reminds me of Luke 13:23-24, when someone asked Jesus, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" Most Christians today would give a definitive reply, "Yes or no, I don't think so. " But Jesus' reply is completely different. His simple answer is, "Strive to enter through the narrow door." If someone asked us, "How many people do you think will be in heaven?" would we say to them, "Just make sure you strive to enter into that narrow door."

Hope this helps somewhat. Great is the mystery of godliness, and great still is the mystery of much of the Bible.

Love you too, brother.

Your brother and friend,


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Lesson from Solomon's Life

It is amazing that Solomon could lay out all the principles and commandments for living as he did in Proverbs and other writings. He was not only the King of Israel, but also the King of "principles" by which to live, one-liner precepts such as:

- Watch what you do in this kind of situation

- Watch out for this kind of person and avoid them

- Listen to this kind of wise person

- Do this in these circumstances

- Behave in this way

- Avoid this kind of situation

- Be careful with this and watch out for that

Good counsel? Absolutely; the way of life? Absolutely!

Solomon was the king of the one-liners, as far as counsel and principles to live by; no one ever exceeded him in earthly, relationship wisdom.

YET we see the end of this man, who knew every truth and every principle to live by.

"Now King Solomon loved many foreign women . . . . from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, 'You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn your heart after their gods. Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God. . . . so Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord . . . then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab and for Molech the abomination of the Ammorites on the mountain east of Jerusalem. So he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrified to their gods." (1 King 11: 1-8)

Solomon had almost as many relationships with women as Bayer has aspirin. [ So much for the modern interpretation of the Song of Solomon that popular Bible teachers are touting, which teaches that the book is not about Christ and the church, but rather is a book of sacred romance between one man and one woman- Solomon, the perfect lover of one woman- are you kidding me? Its about Christ and his bride- don't ever believe anything different. ]

This reality does not remove the exceptional gifting God put in his life nor does it negate the wisdom of Proverbs and Ecclesiates. But it does tell us that even the greatest or most knowledgeable person is still susceptible to tragic destruction if they do not keep walking with a heart of obedience to God daily. Knowledge or past experience does not preserve a person in the future. The strongest man, Samson, was captured by sin; the great-heart David was captured by sin; the wisest man who ever lived--Solomon--was captured by sin. If sin brings down the best, can it not easily get the rest?

Here's this man with all the knowledge ever needed, who also had personal, direct, and audible revelations of God Himself on more than one occasion. But Solomon's wisdom in earthly matters, even all the practical principles for life and relationships, did not keep him. Why?

Because this man, who could lay out all the commandments and teach principles in a way far beyond anyone who ever lived--his heart was far from God. So much for trusting in your knowledge or theology.

What's the lesson for us from Solomon?

What we know cannot preserve us ultimately. It is God Himself, Christ Himself, that is the Preserver of our lives. Our hearts must be His daily or we too can be gradually given over to the creeping and snaring consequences of subtle sin.

What you know cannot keep you; It's Who you know. Solomon would write another book on that if he could.

- Mack Tomlinson

Monday, September 27, 2010

People-Pleasing Preachers Won't Please God

In all generations, useful preachers of the gospel have been objected to by part of their community. Mere chips in the porridge may escape censure and mildly win the tolerance of indifference. But decided worth will be surrounded with warm friends and red-hot foes. He who hopes to preach, so as to please everybody must be brand new in the ministry. The one who aims at such an object would do well speedily to leave the ministry.

- C. H. Spurgeon

Saturday, September 25, 2010

For the Fame of His Name

I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love (vs. 7). For he said, 'Surely they are my people, children who will not deal falsely.' And he became their Saviour (vs. 8). In all their affliction, he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them; in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old (vs. 9) . . . . . like livestock that go down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord gave them rest. So you led your people, to make for yourself a glorious name (vs. 14). - Isaiah 63:7-9, 14

Some passages yield more pure gold than others when memorized and meditated upon. Isaiah 63 is one of those gold mines of Scripture. If you dig in, you will come out with some precious gems.

Here Isaiah "recounts" God acts of love, kindness and mercy. He remembers all the Lord has granted to Israel in his great goodness that comes from the sheer compassion of Jehovah. What kind of recounts does the prophet do?

1. God making and naming unworthy people as "His people"- (vs. 7)

2. He became their Saviour (vs. 8)

3. In all their affliction, he is also afflicted (vs. 9)

4. The angel of his presence saved them (vs. 9)

5. He redeemed them ( vs. 9)

6. He lifted them up (vs. 9)

7. He carried them all their days (vs. 9)

8. He gave them rest (vs14)

9. He led them (vs. 14)

A good count, when you think about it. Isaiah recounts all these acts of God specifically. The questions arises: Why would God be so good and loving to a bad people? There's none good, no not one. Israel was not. What motivates God to pour out gracious acts which have to be numbered and recounted, so as to be able even to recognize them?

We have all heard silly songs that say, "What did I ever do to deserve even one of the blessings You've shown?" "Why would God love me?" "What did He see in me?"

Those who write such songs or ask such questions simply don't get it. Here's the answer. God did not see anything in us. Nothing, nada, zip, zero, absolutely nothing. The only thing that would have been there to see was sin. He saw nothing but sin and filth and pollution.

So what's the answer? Or is there an answer? Some say, "No, there is not an answer as to why God loved us and has acted so graciously. It cannot be known."

Wrong answer-- Isaiah tells us why in vs. 14-- "to make for yourself a glorious name."

He does it all--for the fame of His name. Reason enough. That's why God does all that He does.

God did it first for his glory, for the fame of his name, and not for us. He always does. He does all things for his glory, sometimes showing mercy on the most unworthy of people and sometimes executing judgment on people that deserve judgment as much as the people who receive mercy. Those who receive mercy deserve judgment just as much as those who receive judgment. Judgment is deserved by all and mercy is deserved by none. Whether showing mercy or judgment, God is glorified.

When have you and I last recounted God's mercies? That's a good math problem to work on. We will never solve it. Numbers don't go high enough for us to be able to solve the problem. Far too many mercies.

But we can join Isaiah in saying, "I will recount the steadfast love of the Lord, the praises of the Lord, according to all that the Lord has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love." That's you and me. Christ has done all He has done for us for the fame of his name. So let us recount those mercies regularly.

- Mack Tomlinson

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"Accepted in the Beloved." - Ephesians 1:16

What a state of privilege! It includes our justification before God. But the term "acceptance" in the Greek means more than that. It signifies that we are the objects of divine complacence, nay, even of divine delight. How marvellous that we worms, mortals, sinners, should be the objects of divine love! But it is only "in the beloved." Some Christians seem to be accepted in their own experience, at least, that is their apprehension. When their spirit is lively and their hopes bright, they think God accepts them, for they feel so high, so heavenly minded, so drawn above the earth! But when their souls cleave to the dust, they are the victims of the fear that they are no longer accepted.

If they could but see that all their high joys do not exalt them, and all their low despondencies do not really depress them in their Father’s sight, but that they stand accepted in One who never changes, in One who is always the beloved of God, always perfect, always without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing. How much happier they would be, and how much more they would honour the Saviour! Rejoice then, believer, in this: thou art accepted "in the beloved.

You look within, and say, "There is nothing acceptable here!" But look at Christ, and see if there is not everything acceptable there. Thy sins trouble thee; but God has cast thy sins behind his back, and thou art accepted in the Righteous One. You fight with corruption, and wrestle with temptation, but you are already accepted in him who has overcome the powers of evil. The devil tempts you; be of good cheer, he cannot destroy you, for you are accepted in him who has broken Satan’s head. Know by full assurance thy glorious standing. Even glorified souls are not more accepted than you are. They are only accepted in heaven "in the beloved", and thou art even now accepted in Christ after the same manner.

- C. H. Spurgeon

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

God Rejoices over his People

"I will rejoice over them to do them good." - Jeremiah 32:41

How heart-cheering to the believer is the delight which God has in his saints!

How heart-cheering to the believer is the delight which God has in his saints! We cannot see any reason in ourselves why the Lord should take pleasure in us; we cannot take delight in ourselves, for we often have to groan, being burdened; conscious of our sinfulness, and deploring our unfaithfulness; and we fear that God’s people cannot take much delight in us, for they must perceive so much of our imperfections and our follies, that they may rather lament our infirmities than admire our graces. But we love to dwell upon this transcendent truth, this glorious mystery: that as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so does the Lord rejoice over us.

We do not read anywhere that God delighted in the cloud-capped mountains, or the sparkling stars, but we do read that he delights in the habitable parts of the earth, and that his delights are with the sons of men. We do not find it written that even angels give his soul delight; nor doth he say, concerning cherubim and seraphim, “Thou shalt be called Hephzibah, for the Lord delighteth in thee”; but he does say all that to poor fallen creatures like ourselves, debased and depraved by sin, but saved, exalted, and glorified by his grace. In what strong language he expresses his delight in his people!

Who could have conceived of the eternal One as bursting forth into a song? Yet it is written, “He will rejoice over thee with joy, he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.” As he looked upon the world he had made, he said, “It is very good”; but when he beheld those who are the purchase of Jesus’ blood, his own chosen ones, it seemed as if the great heart of the Infinite could restrain itself no longer, but overflowed in divine exclamations of joy. Should not we utter our grateful response to such a marvellous declaration of his love, and sing, “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation?”

- C. H. Spurgeon

Monday, September 20, 2010

Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture- Part 2

The Preacher's Message

The third argument for serious preaching is the preacher’s message. There is no more serious message in the world than the face that we are sinners on the way to divine judgment and eternal damnation in hell.

Is there not good news, though? Yes, but even the divine remedy to our desperate plight demands awe and reverence. We preach Christ crucified, the power and wisdom of God. But who can stand in the shadow of that God-forsaken, cursed tree and tell a joke? Even hardened soldiers changed their tune there (Matt. 27:54).

Is there not joy in believing? Yes, but it is joy in believing, not joy in jokes. It is spiritual joy, not carnal. And even when we believe, and rejoice, it is always tempered by the new perspective we have on those who are still perishing. Richard Baxter said: 'Let the awful and important thoughts of souls being saved by my preaching, or left to perish and be condemned to hell by my negligence, I say, let this awful and tremendous thought dwell ever upon your spirit.' In the light of this, should we not join with Solomon who 'said of laughter, It is mad: and of mirth, What doeth it?' (Eccl. 2:2).

The Preacher’s Fruit

Fourth, consider the preacher’s fruit. What was the effect of New Testament sermons? The first post-resurrection sermon had this effect: 'And fear came upon every soul' (Acts 2:43). Paul describes the impact the Word of God should have on a visitor to our church services upon hearing God’s Word: '. . . he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth' (1 Cor. 14:24-25). Though we don’t see much of that today, it was certainly present in times of revival through church history

"But if I stop making people laugh, people will stop coming to church." Yes, some will stop. But what is more important, having more people in our churches, or doing more good? Here is wise Solomon’s answer:

"It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth. It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity" (Eccl. 7:2-6).
The Preacher’s World
Fifth, there is the preacher’s world. On the one hand we are living in a world full of suffering, sorrow and pain. Is comedy appropriate when there are deeply wounded and hurting souls in our congregation? On the other hand, we are living in a world full of vanity, frivolity, and superficiality. Is more comedy really what’s needed to make people think more deeply and carefully? James says the way to truly heal and help people is to aim at conviction and repentance:

"Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up" (James 4:8-10).

Paul also says that in the light of sin, inappropriate foolish talking and jesting should be replaced with giving of thanks (Eph. 5:3-4).

Conrad Murrell used to lace his sermons with comedy. However, God convicted him that in the light of the world we live in, it was completely out of place. He writes:

"Evil is upon us. We are under sentence of death. Our children are being lost to drugs, immorality, drunkenness, despair, lawlessness and suicide. Our parents grow older and are slipping into hell. Our brothers and sisters carelessly let their lives slip by oblivious to their eternal destruction. Churches decay. False prophets deceive the people. Lies prevail. Truth is trodden under foot. The saints cry for bread. Add to this all the physical suffering, torment, starvation, political and social oppression in this world. What is funny? Where is the humour in all this reality? Is there anything any more incongruous than dying humanity hee-hawing itself to hell? How much laughter do you hear in a funeral parlor where a child lies after being run down by a drunk driver? How many comedians perform on death row in a prison house? If the world may laugh while it goes to hell, certainly Christians may not. They may be blind, but we are not. Distress may drive a fool to jesting, but it drives a Christian to his knees."

John Angell James wrote a book arguing for a more 'earnest' ministry. He holds up a high standard:

"It is hard to conceive how earnestness and spirituality can be maintained by those whose tables are covered, and whose leisure time is consumed, by the bewitching inspirations of the god of laughter. There is little hope of our arresting the evil except we make it our great business to raise up a ministry who shall not themselves be carried away with the torrent; who shall be grave, without being gloomy; serious, without being melancholy; and who, on the other hand, shall be cheerful without being frivolous, and whose chastened mirthfulness shall check, or at any rate reprove, the excesses of their companions. What a demand does this state of things prefer for the most intense earnestness in our Sabbath day exercises, both our prayers and our sermons! In this modern taste we have a new obstacle to our usefulness of a most formidable kind, which can be subdued only by God's blessing upon our fidelity and zeal."

It might also help us to remember the suffering parts of the body of Christ. I spent some time with the church in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s. The Hungarian and Romanian churches were just emerging from decades of persecution. I don’t recall one joke in any of these sober gatherings. Though our part of Christ’s body presently enjoys times of unprecedented prosperity and comfort, let’s remember that other parts of the same body, North Korean parts, Chinese parts, Sudanese parts are being attacked, wounded, tortured, and even 'amputated.'

The Preacher’s Bible

My sixth argument against comedy in preaching is the preacher’s Bible. The Bible never uses 'laughter' in the sense of comedy. Yes, there is some irony, satire, ridicule, and derision. There are a few word-plays and puns. But, of the 33 times 'laugh' and 'laughter' occur in the Old Testament, they are used in a good and positive sense only four times, and then to describe joy rather than laughter. The other 29 times usually speak of scorn or unbelieving derision. They are never used to describe anything funny. In the New Testament we find 'laugh' and 'laughter' only five times, only one of which is in a positive sense (Luke 6:2). Three of these times, the laughter is in scorning Christ. The nearest we find to 'joke, fun, funny, humour or amuse' in the Bible is 'foolish talking, jesting, fool, foolishness, merry or merriment.' Only the last two of these are ever used in any good and positive sense, and that is in reference to joy and rejoicing in the blessings of the Lord.

The Preacher’s God

Seventh, and last, think about the preacher’s God. The third commandment requires that we use anything associated with God carefully and reverently. The Westminster Larger Catechism puts it like this:

"The third commandment requires that the name of God, his titles, attributes, ordinances, the Word, sacraments, prayer, oaths, vows, lots, his works, and whatsoever else there is whereby he makes himself known, be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing . . ."

And no wonder! Consider the reactions of Job, Isaiah, and Daniel when they came 'face-to-face' with God (Job 42:5-6, Isa. 6:5, Dan. 10:17). And even Christ’s most intimate friend almost died when he met the glorified Christ on Patmos (Rev. 1:17).

Perhaps none of these arguments taken apart are convincing. But taken together the cumulative effect surely persuades us to more serious preaching in our comedy culture.

- David Murray

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Serious Preaching in a Comedy Culture- Part 1

Since coming to North America, I’ve preached in a number of different churches. A few times I’ve been taken aback by laughter in response to something I’ve said in my sermon. The first time it happened, I froze on the spot. I could hardly go on. I was stunned. In Scotland, I never cracked a joke in the pulpit. It would not even cross my mind to try to make people laugh. That was just not done in most Reformed churches. Yet, now, the same words, said in the same way, create laughter!

A few months ago I heard a well-known preacher give an address on a very serious subject to a large conference. He started by speaking of his own sinful inadequacy. But as he confessed his sinfulness, laughter erupted. The speaker was startled. He tried again. The result was the same. He eventually said that he could not understand the reaction, abandoned his introduction, and just got started on his address.

In some ways, none of this should surprise us. We live in a comedy-saturated culture. Evening television pumps out a steady diet of comedy programming night after night. Sit-coms dominate the ratings. The big TV names are comedians like Jay Leno, David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, who take the daily news and turn it into a series of jokes.

But we don’t need to go to the 'world' to find a comedy culture. I’m afraid this culture has influenced the church. If we tune into some of the most popular preachers, even Reformed preachers, we find their sermons peppered with jokes. Many preachers now seem to think that they cannot begin to preach without 'softening up' their hearers with a little bit of stand-up comedy. So, in many ways, we cannot blame just the hearers. Preachers mix the most solemn of subjects with silly asides, so that people do not know whether to laugh or cry. I heard one famous preacher asking for prayer about a particular weakness in his life. He then said a couple of funny things about this weakness. Eventually, no one knew if he was seriously asking for prayer, or just making a joke.

A Plea for Serious Preaching

So this is a plea for serious preaching in this comedy culture. Notice that I am talking about serious preaching, not life in general. Laughter is a gift of God and is good for us. There is 'a time to laugh' (Eccl. 3:4). There are known health benefits of having a good laugh. It reduces stress and blood pressure, helps the digestive system, etc. But I am speaking here about preaching, not life in general. The appropriate subjects and degrees of laughter in everyday life is another topic.

I’m also going to exclude theological lectures and seminars from this address. These are grey areas and deserve separate treatment. I want to keep our focus on preaching: the public, authoritative declaration of God’s Word to needy sinners.

Notice also that this is a plea for serious preaching. This is not an argument for dull, boring, predictable, unimaginative or lethargic preaching. Preaching should be energetic, lively, interesting, creative and joyful. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said that 'a dull preacher is a contradiction in terms; if he is dull he is not a preacher. He may stand in a pulpit and talk, but he is certainly not a preacher.'

I will support my plea for serious preaching with seven arguments. Then I will briefly consider four arguments that are often made in support of humour in preaching.

The Preacher’s Examples

My first argument for serious preaching in a comedy culture is the preacher’s examples. What words come to mind when you think of Old Testament preachers like Enoch, Noah, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, and Jeremiah? 'Funny?' 'Light-hearted?' 'Humourous?' Or, 'Sober . . . solemn . . . grave?' What about the New Testament apostles? Are there any jokes in the apostolic sermons of the Acts of the Apostles? At one point Paul was accused of being mad. His reply? 'I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness' (Acts 26:25). What was Paul’s description of his ministry? 'And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power' (1 Cor. 2:3-4).

And what about the Lord Jesus himself? Can you imagine the Sermon on the Mount producing the kind of uproarious laughter we find in some churches today? If we took our models of preaching from the Bible, we would have more sober pulpits.

The Preacher’s Office

Second, serious preaching is demanded by the preacher’s office. The preacher is an ambassador of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20), speaking to sinners in his name and in his place. Our message and manner should be such that Christ can say of us: 'He that heareth you, heareth me' (Luke 10:16). When we speak in Christ’s name we are not just saying, 'This is what Christ says,' we are saying, 'This is what Christ is like.' And let’s take our ambassadorial model from Christ’s day, not ours. Unlike today’s ambassadors, who are often men of high society, wit and repartee, the ambassador of Paul’s day was usually on a life or death mission. Upon his words hung the fate of thousands. How much more serious is our mission, upon which hangs heaven or hell. William Perkins wrote:

"Filled with a reverent sense of the majesty of God, we will speak soberly and with moderation. The minister must also be worthy of respect for his constancy, integrity, seriousness and truthfulness."

- David P. Murray

Friday, September 17, 2010

Christ of the Upward Way

Christ of the upward way, my guide divine,
Where thou has set thy feet, may I place mine;
And move and march wherever thou hast trod,
Keeping face forward up the hill of God.

Give me a heart to hear thy voice and will,
That without fault or fear I may fulfill
thy purpose with a glad and holy zest,
Like one who would not bring less than his best.

Give me eyes to see each chance to serve,
Then send me strength to rise with steady nerve;
And leap at once with kind and helpful deed,
To the sure succor of a soul in need.

Give me the good stout arm to shield the right,
And wield thy sword of truth with all my might,
That in the warfare I must wage for thee,
More than a victor I may ever be.

Christ of the upward way, my guide divine,
Where Thou hast set Thy feet, may I place mine;
And when Thy last call comes, serene and clear,
Calm may my answer be, "Lord, I am here."

- Walter Mathams

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What Missionaries Often Face- Part 2

This is a follow up report from Sean Reece in Africa from earlier in the week.

I write this email with a certain degree of sadness. I was so confident this morning that I would be writing tonight to tell you how our God triumphed mightily over the enemy's resistance. I will still write that email someday, but not today. We have been deeply touched by the outpouring of emails reassuring us of your prayers, and the encouraging news that our needs have been posted on websites, prayer chains, and even daily devotionals. Shannon had a fitting description of the battle this morning: we may be the Marines actually assaulting the beach, but we won't go far without artillery and air support. As we drove to Mwandi this morning, we truly felt that we were not riding into battle alone. Thank you!

I'll get the unpleasant news out of the way. The enemy switched tactics again. No open attacks through our chief or the Kuta; just simple old delay tactics. We must be in Lusaka tomorrow to pick up the Glass brothers from HeartCry. Therefore, we could not come to the Kuta from the bush camp and transport our chief and headman ourselves. We had to come from Livingstone and meet the village leaders in Mwandi. Our dear friend Gavin Johnson offered his vehicle and driver to transport them. However, the driver was confused, missed picking up one of them, and had to backtrack. Thus they were 2 hours late to the Kuta, and arrived at 11 a.m., 1 hour before their 2 hour lunch break.

The next hour was wasted trying to find our missing documents (again), because everyone on the Kuta thought that someone else had them. Our documents were finally located just as the lunch bell sounded. Two hours later, we returned to a very casual session with the Kuta. At last, a messenger was sent into the "royal palace" to see if we could meet the "king" (the final step in approving our land). It was merely a formal gesture. Everyone knows that the "king" doesn't see people in the afternoon - it's too hot and he's too tired (from doing what?). Our 4th trip back in January was slowly replayed - "No, the "king" can't see you. Can you come back tomorrow?" (How many times have we heard that?) "No, we must be in Lusaka tomorrow." "Oh, sorry." We may have another shot on Monday, but if not, the whole process stops until November, after the visit from HeartCry and our trip to South Africa.

I am disappointed, and battle-weary, but at peace. We did see proof today that God is fighting on our behalf, and I feel that the battle has turned. I think that soon you will hear the victory shout in this particular battle. Here are some of the miracles we saw today in answer to your prayers:

1. Transport for our chief and headman. Gavin (and his vehicle) were supposed to be gone. At the last minute his plans changed and he was able to offer his vehicle.

2. Our regional chief was totally different from Friday. He was cheerful, friendly, and helpful. At one point today, he was given the perfect opportunity to criticize us to the Kuta. Instead, he said we were good and honest men.

3. The Kuta was also totally different from last visit. No hostility, only clarifying questions.

4. The cruel judge who sat in the chief judge's seat last visit was not in charge today. Another elderly judge, who treated us favorably back in January, was back in the chief judge's seat.

5. Usually there is a crowd waiting to see the Kuta. No one else was there today. We had the Kuta all to ouselves for the whole day, so at least they couldn't ignore us or rush to push us aside for another case.

6. They actually found our papers this time.

We know that Jesus rules over all earthly and spiritual powers for the good of His church, but He has ordained prayer as the channel for His power. Please do not grow weary in praying.

With heartfelt thanks,

- Sean

Rich Life Verses from James

Testing of faith- My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience." - James 1:2,3

The Christian's real position- "Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation . . ." - James 1:9

Enduring divine testing- "Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him." - James 1:12

Regeneration- "Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures."
- James 1:18

Receiving the Word of God- "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only . . ." - James1:21,22

Doers of truth- "But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does." - James 1:25

True Christianity: Compassion & Holiness- "If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue, but deceives his own heart, this one's religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." - James 1:26,27

Fleshly conduct- "Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? You lust and do not have." - James 4:1,2

Friendship with the world or with God- "You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?" - James 4:3,4

Monday, September 13, 2010

What Missionaries Often Face

[The following is a brief report from Sean Reece, who along others in his team, is a missionary with Heartcry Missionary Society among the Lozi tribe in Africa. The daily reality of relating to the people and the evil among them is always a cause for prayer and the great need of God's grace. Please pray this week for this. - MT]

From Sean Reece

"I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. . .
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. . .
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore."
-- Psalm 121

Dear family and friends,

In my last update, I listed 8 strikes against us in our dealings with the Lozi Royal Council (Kuta). I did not know about the ninth - the moon. The moon? Yes, the moon. When we arrived for our scheduled appointment at the Kuta on Friday, we found the court empty. The guard informed us that meeting on that day was "taboo," because of the moon phase. The moon had appeared for the first time this month on Thursday night. To meet on the day after the moon first appears is to risk terrible disaster. So, our sixth trip to the Kuta was a total waste of time, effort, and money, at least from a human perspective. But God has his own mysterious plan.

In addition to the moon, I'll add a tenth element now opposing us in the land issue. Our regional chief is now being openly negative toward us. As this Kuta process drags on, and his "help" is proving to be totally useless, we are not showering him with the gifts and money that he expects. He realizes that he has nothing more to gain from us and, therefore, has little motive to continue "helping" us. If his opposition becomes stronger, it could be very damaging to us. As opposition mounts on every side, the Lord's deliverance will be that much more glorious.

In addition to the "moon thing," we received another sobering glimpse into the superstition that enslaves the Lozi people. On the way to the Kuta, we had to pick up our chief at the local witchdoctor's village. We parked near his "place of business" as we waited for the chief to cross the river. Inside a nearby hut, we could hear a sorcerer and his client chanting, summoning the spirit of a relative who recently died. That relative was then asked to reveal who was responsible for their death. Once the guilty party is revealed, the client will then purchase either protective or retaliatory witchcraft, or both. This is the never-ending, ugly cycle of fear, suspicion, and revenge in the village.

Please join us in praying that Jesus Christ, Lord of heaven and earth, will deliver the Lozi from slavery to fear - fear of witchcraft, evil spirits, and phases of the moon. And please pray for us as tomorrow we attempt our seventh visit to the Kuta.

Hoping in Christ,

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Singing in Church - Just Trust and Obey, Rare Back and Sing

Growing up, I never really could sing well and did not like it. I was not really musically inclined, except playing the coronet in the junior high band, which ended my musical career. Sometimes I could carry a tune, but hitting the notes on paper was always fairly impossible for me. Then I became a Christian at the age of 19 and something changed.

As soon as I was saved, I loved to sing. No one had to tell me. I began singing the hymns and praise songs. But for some reason, I liked the hymns better. I felt that the praise songs had some life, but the hymns also had depth, content, and life. I began to see there was a depth in the hymns that the "7-11" songs did not have. You know what 7-11 singing is? Someone said its 7 words repeated 11 times.

The truth is, repeating "Oh, You're so good!" thirty times to a monotonous tune won't take you deeper in the longer scheme of things. Those four words really are true, but much more than that is needed in singing for the long haul in the Christian life.

I saw early on that the hymns just were better, so much better. So I was singing from the time I was first saved and have loved the hymns now for 37 years. Since then, it has been onward and upward, singing as I go.

This past year, I was in a conference, where the pastor of the church knew I loved hymns. Without asking me, he spontaneously called me to the pulpit with him and when I walked up, he announced that he and I would sing a hymn together for the church. My heart said, "Oh, no! What has he done? How could he do that to me? What will I do? This is bad, really bad."

I had a choice to make. I could either make a scene by declining and embarrassing him or I could trust God. So I chose to trust God, even when life was hurting. He even picked the hymn. I had previously thought this brother was a wise man. Now I knew better. I was on the spot, with the choice to try to please Christ and not be a distraction. So he and I sang. We did not miss any notes (any music teacher present might disagree). We got through it and it became a blessing to my heart, even if to no one else. But I believe it was also a blessing to Christ.

In the end, it wasn't not about me. It was only about Christ. The pastor and I sang about Christ. We were not trying to perform or sound impressive (certainly an impossibility). We were not trying to entertain anyone. We were worshipping. And perhaps someone there worshipped during those 3 minutes. It was only about God, not us.

Since then, my own church has not asked me to sing any special music. They are very smart. I am not a good singer. But when it comes to the corporate time of singing together as a body, I have realized over the years that its not a personal, individual, optional thing. It's a God-thing. It is a divine command of Scripture and a corporate responsibility upon the body of believers to sing together to the Lord.

God takes very seriously every Christian's responsibility to sing or the Bible would not speak so much about it.

In my Christian journey, I have observed something very interesting. Men, more than women, are especially hesitant to sing. Hesitant may not be the right word. Some men will not sing in church. Instead, they sit or stand there and are silent. They look down and won't look up. Looks like they are either reading or are far off in a dream somewhere. They just won't sing. They come to church and seem to fellowship with others well and benefit from the messages. They love the brethren and love the preaching. But when it comes to singing, they won't do it. Why?

Its a personal carnal thing. They are afraid. Its a bondage of fear. Some of us men know we couldn't carry a tune in a bucket the size of Texas. So we are afraid, embarrassed, and bound up in ourselves. Slaves to our own inhibitions about singing. Some men are so afraid about singing out loud in public, they feel sick inside when faced with doing it. So they won't. They remain in bondage about it and self-defeated. Its a self-centered choice to put themselves before God. The unwillingness to sing in church is self-centeredness, which must be faced and overcome by God's grace and help.

A man might say, "Well, I'm not called to preach and I'm not called to sing either." Wrong. He may not be called to preach, but if he's a Christian, he is already called to sing. Every Christian is called by God to sing. The entire Bible gives that call.

I have seen people text-messaging during sermons and during singing. They ought to be brought up for church discipline, as far as I'm concerned. Turn it off and sing. If you are that self-centered rather than being God-centered, then there is much heart searching to be done.

Every Christian is called to sing. No excuses. It is wrong to sit there in church and remain silent while others are singing. It is wrong to sit there and read your Bible while the saints are singing the praises of God. There is a time for all things. When its time to pray, then pray; when its time to read the Bible, then read; when its time to hear the message, then give attention. And when its time to sing, it's not time to pray, read, or listen to something else. It's time to sing.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones was big on this subject. He preached about the Christian's responsibility and privilege to sing in worship.

In a sermon he said:

"But how can I make melody in my heart?", someone asks, "I don't feel like sining." My friend, consider Him until you do! Ask the Spirit to so reveal Him until you cannot keep silent. This is what you must do, says the apostle, "Be filled with the Spirit." And as you are led by Him, you will look at the Son and you will not be able to contain yourself. You will burst forth in praise.

"Let those refuse to sing
That never knew our God;
But children of the heavenly King
May speak their joys abroad."
- Isaac Watts

Do you sing or do you say, "Why are you spending time telling us these things we already know? Why don't you deal with the present international situation? The world is in a terrible state." I will tell you why. It is because we don't sing about those things! I sometimes wonder whether I should not go on just repeating this Sunday by Sunday until we are all singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord.

There is not greater insult to the person of Christ than to forget him because you are so interested in the state of the world and so on. It comes near being blasphemy. Let us be not among those who, in their ignorance, refuse to sing. Rather, we want to say:

Brightness of the Father's glory,
Break, my tongue, such guilty silence,
Sing the Lord, who came to die!
- Robert Robinson

-- D. M. Lloyd-Jones (taken from his book Singing to the Lord)

God wants you to sing and make melody in your heart. You are the only one who can offer Him your own praise. It is sinful and shameful to hold back and not sing. The tragedy in not singing is that you withhold praise and glory from Him, and you withhold blessing, growth, and peace from yourself.

So here's the question pure and simple. In church, do you sing or are you silent? Your answer determines if you are pleasing God in worship or not. You and I are either singing with the saints or sinning with the singing saints by our silence. When our brethren around us are singing and we are silent, we are in sin. And the reason is self-centeredness-- just too proud and self-centered to open our mouth. It's wrong, and the main reason it is wrong is because it is grieving the Holy Spirit.

So, this Sunday, look at those songs, look at the words and open thy mouth! it doesn't matter how it sounds--just sing. Rare back, put to death your comfort zone and just sing. You are not singing for others-- its for Him and for yourself. Start singing this Sunday and never stop. Singing with the saints is not an option for the Christian who wants to grow and please Christ.

There's a hymn called "Trust and Obey"- that is exactly what those who don't like to sing need to do. Trust God for the grace to begin singing and just obey- just be a man, shake off thy guilty fears, rare back, and begin to obey God. Sing. Just sing. It won't hurt, I promise.

What a joy it becomes to sing the songs of Zion-- it's a fragrance to God in worship and a liberating sanctification to the singer. So begin to sing, then sing on, and never stop.

- Mack Tomlinson

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lights in this World

"In the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world." - Philippians 2:15

We use lights to make manifest. A Christian man should so shine in his life, that a person could not live with him a week without knowing the gospel. His conversation should be such that all who are about him should clearly perceive whose he is, and whom he serves; and should see the image of Jesus reflected in his daily actions. Lights are intended for guidance. We are to help those around us who are in the dark. We are to hold forth to them the Word of life. We are to point sinners to the Saviour, and the weary to a divine resting-place.

Men sometimes read their Bibles and fail to understand them. We should be ready, like Philip, to instruct the inquirer in the meaning of God’s Word, the way of salvation, and the life of godliness. Lights are also used for warning. On our rocks and shoals a light-house is sure to be erected. Christian men should know that there are many false lights shown everywhere in the world, and therefore the right light is needed.

The wreckers of Satan are always abroad, tempting the ungodly to sin under the name of pleasure; they hoist the wrong light. It is ours to put up the true light upon every dangerous rock, to point out every sin, and tell what it leads to, that so we may be clear of the blood of all men, shining as lights in the world.

Lights also have a very cheering influence, and so have Christians. A Christian ought to be a comforter, with kind words on his lips and sympathy in his heart. He should carry sunshine wherever he goes and diffuse happiness around him.

- Charles Spurgeon

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Free from Severe Tribulation

If you are free from severe tribulation, then never ask for it; that would be a great folly. I did meet with a brother a little while ago who said that he was much perplexed because he had no troubles. I said, "Do not worry about that ; but be happy while you may."

Only a weird child would beg to be flogged. Certain sweet and shining saints are of such a gentle spirit that the Lord does not expose them to the same treatment as he metes out to others: they do not need it, and they could not bear it; why should they wish for it?

- Charles Spurgeon

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Reason for Chastisement-- Love

"For whom the Lord loves --He chastens." Hebrews 12:6

What? God loves me when He is discharging His quiver upon me, when He is emptying me from vessel to vessel--when He is causing the sun of my earthly joys to set in clouds? Yes! O afflicted, tempest-tossed one, He chastens you because He loves you! This trial comes from His own tender, loving hand--from His own tender, unchanging heart!

Are you laid on a sickbed with sorrowful months and wearisome nights appointed unto you? Let this be the pillow on which your aching head reclines: It is because He loves me!

Is it bereavement which has swept your heart and desolated your dwelling? He appointed that chamber of death because He loves you! As it is the suffering child of the family which claims a mother's deepest affections and most tender solicitude, so have you at this moment embarked on your side, the most tender love and solicitude of your heavenly Father. He loved you into this sorrow and will love you through it. There is nothing capricious in His dealings. LOVE is the reason for all that He does. There is not one drop of wrath in that bitter cup you are called to drink!

Says one, "He has purchased these afflictions for us, as well as everything else. Blessed be His name, it is part of His covenant to visit us with the rod ." What does our adorable Lord Himself say? The words were spoken, not when He was on earth, a sojourner in a sorrowing world, but when enthroned amid the glories of Heaven. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten." Believer! rejoice in the thought that the rod , the chastening rod, is in the hands of the living, loving Savior who died for you!

Tribulation is the King's Highway --and yet that highway is paved with love . As some flowers require crushing before shedding their fragrance, so does your God think it suitable to bruise you. As some birds are said to sing their sweetest notes when the thorn pierces their bosom, so does He appoint affliction to lacerate, that you may be driven to the wing, singing in your upward soaring, "My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed!"

Be it ours to say, "Lord, I will love You not only despite Your rod, but because of Your rod! I will rush into the very arms that are chastening me!"

- John MacDuff

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Affliction Brings True Prosperity

"Let the Lord be exalted, who delights in the prosperity of his servant." Psalm 35:27

What is prosperity? Is it threads of life weaved into a bright outcome? a full cup? ample riches? worldly applause? an unbroken circle? No! these are often a snare; received without gratitude; dimming the soul to its nobler destinies.

Often spiritually, it rather means God taking us by the hand into the lowly valleys of humiliation; leading us as He did His servant Job of old; out of his sheep, oxen, camels, health, wealth, children; in order that we may be brought before Him in the dust and say, "Blessed be His holy name!"

Yes! The very reverse of what is generally known in the world as prosperity forms the background on which the rainbow of promise is seen. God smiles on us through these rainbows and teardrops of sorrows! He loves us too well. He has too great an interest in our spiritual welfare to permit us to live on in what is misnamed "prosperity." When He sees duties languidly performed or coldly neglected, the heart deadened, and love to Himself congealed by the absorbing power of the present world, he then puts a thorn in our nest to drive us to the wing and prevent our being grovelers forever!

I may not be able now to understand the mystery of these dealings. I may be asking through the tears, "Why this unkind arrest on my earthly happiness? Why so premature a lopping of my boughs of promise? Why such a speedy withering of my most cherished gourd?" The answer is plain. It is your soul's prosperity which He has in view. Believe it--your true Ebenezers will yet be raised close by your Zarephaths (the place of furnace).

His afflictions are not arbitrary appointments. There is righteous necessity in all that He does. As He lays His chastening hand upon you and leads you by ways you know not and which you never would have chosen, He whispers the gentle accents in your ear, "Beloved I wish above all things that you would prosper, even as your soul prospers."

Rest in the quiet consciousness that all is well. Murmur at nothing which brings you nearer to His own loving Presence. Be thankful for your very cares, because you can confidently cast them all upon Him. He has both your temporal and eternal "prosperity" too much at heart to appoint one superfluous pang, one needless stroke. Commit therefore, all that concerns you to His safe keeping, and leave it there!

- John MacDuff