Saturday, November 18, 2017

For Married Men With Children

To my Christian brothers: if you are in a bad mood because of work, leave it there. Do not bring your sour mood into your house. Show your wife and children that you are delighted to see them. Tell your wife she's beautiful. Kiss and hug her often. Love on your little ones. Do things they like. Turn your gadgets off. Get down on the floor and let your little ones wrestle with you. Forget the stresses of the day. Trust in Christ for all of that stuff you can't control. How will you be remembered by your wife, that woman who put her heart into your hands all those years ago? Does she still shine like she did when you first pursued her? Are you still good at listening to her? Ya know, you had to be good at that at one time... Or she never would have married you. Guys, does your wife arise each day knowing that her man delights in her, that he loves her, that she is his whole world? If she doesn't, she used to. Do your kids know that their father thinks the world of them, or do you only notice what they do wrong? A wife who still glows like she did when you proposed and she said yes, and children who reflect that their hearts are full of love from their father.... These are the true measure of a man. So, what kind of men are we? 1 John 4:7-8 says, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." If God has given you a wife and children, they are the ones you will fulfill the truths of these verses to. When people look into the eyes and faces of your wife and children, is it clear to them that you are "born of God" and "know God?" If not, what good are we guys? I couldn't care less how many talents you have, how smart you are, or how much you know. Biblical manhood is measured by true love and self-giving to God and neighbor. And if these do not characterize your life, then it really doesn't matter what you are in the eyes of the world. You may be a man's man to the world. You may be able to bench 315lbs. You may be moving up in the corporate world. But to God you're just an immature child. Kids are cute when they're 3, not 33, or 43, or 53. So, what do you want? God's approval or men's. What kind of men are we? Let us make our greatest talent, the thing we excel at the most in this life the following: Loving our wife and loving our children.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Loss of a Dear Elderly Sister in Christ

Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His saints.

The following is the manuscript of the brief message I preached last night at the funeral of a dear elderly saint from the church I pastor, Bridwell Heights Presbyterian Church. Lena was a dear woman of God. She was the youngest of 13 children and had just turned 95 years old. She was preceded in death by her husband a short time ago who served as an elder here at the church since long before I was born! Their loss is big to our church family, but they've taken their place in glory with their Lord now and in that we rejoice. Here's the manuscript of last evening's funeral message:

Let us pray please. Almighty and merciful heavenly Father, we come to you now during this time of loss to praise You for Your grace and the blessed hope You give Your people that the souls of those who die in faith are at the moment of their death made perfect in holiness and do immediately pass into glory. We know that there is most certainly a conscious afterlife when we die. But for those who know the saving graces of repentance unto life and faith in Jesus Christ, that conscious afterlife is one of unspeakable joy, peace, rest, and comfort. All who knew our departed sister, Lena, even us who knew her only in the twilight of her life, were blessed by her faithfulness, by her smile, by her kind and encouraging words, and by her devotion to the lord Jesus and to His church. We know that Your Word teaches us that it is better to be in the house of mourning than in the house of feasting, for that is the end of all men and the living will take it to heart. Let all of us who yet live recognize that we too will surely die. You have testified by Your own authority to all men that it is appointed to man to die once and then to face judgment. You have also testified that all men have sinned and fall short of your glory and your standard. The only way in which sinners can be justified before your judgment is by the shed blood and righteousness of your dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Those who know Christ enjoy the blessedness of knowing that our sins are forgiven and that our status before Your judgment has been changed from condemned to justified. We see in the loss of Lena both a cause to grieve and to rejoice. We grieve the loss of a friend, a mother in the Lord, a mentor, and a great example of piety and godliness. But we rejoice in that she has now entered into the presence of Christ free from the effects of sin and free from disease and sickness. There is but one church Christ’s followers are part of. But it is divided into the church militant still on earth fighting for the cause of truth and righteousness and the church triumphant reigning with Christ in glory even now. We are happy for Lena that she’s run her race in the church militant and has taken her place in the choir of the church triumphant. May your grace sustain each and every one of us here who know Christ as our only Savior and our only hope so that by running a faithful race we, like Lena, might inspire and encourage others to run strong as she did to the very end – faithfully clinging to Christ, faithfully loving our church, and faithfully modeling Christian joy and blessedness even as our health too might one day begin to fail. We bless and praise you Lord our God for sharing Lena, and Bob before her with our church family for so many years. Let us never forget who they were, how you carried them through their trials, and how you kept them by Your almighty power through faith for the salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. As Your Apostle Peter wrote:

1 Peter 1:6-9 In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, [7] so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; [8] and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, [9] obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.

We who yet live in this world have not seen Jesus, but our departed sister has now. Keep us Lord from stumbling in our walk with you. And if there be those here now who know not Jesus Christ, would you powerfully call them this evening to yourself? Turn them from the worthlessness of sin and idolatry and all of the foolish and harmful lusts which destroy and ruin men in this world – turn them from sin to Christ that they might have the life that is truly life – that they might be forgiven and justified before you and adopted into your family. These things we ask in Jesus’s name, Amen.

I was privileged to serve with Lena’s late husband, Bob, on the session for the first few years I was at Bridwell Heights Presbyterian Church before he went on to glory. Lena was with us as long as she could be until her health began to fail. But while she was still in church, every single Sunday in my memory Lena would shake my hand after the morning service, smile, and point her finger right at me and say: “You’re a good man and a good preacher. And you have beautiful children.” Coming from her, that always meant a lot to me. I don’t know that I ever saw a woman her age whose countenance lit up as much as hers did anytime she sat behind a baby or a small child. Even if the baby was fussing, there would still be just the warmest smile of motherly affection you can imagine. It was always heartwarming to watch. I was informed Lena had not been able to have children but always wanted them so very badly. But it has also become known to me that contrary to what she thought, she had more children than perhaps anyone else in the church in that she was a spiritual mother to everyone there.

What defined Bob and Lena both was the gospel. Why were they so faithful to Christ and to their local church? Because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. That glorious “good news” is was beat in both of their hearts. They loved Christ’s people in Christ’s church because they loved Christ’s gospel. And for those who are reconciled to God through Christ, the gospel is always good news and it never gets old. That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again from the dead according to the Scriptures – and that by faith alone in Christ alone we have all our sins forgiven and are accepted as righteous in God’s sight on account of Christ alone – that wonderful message and blessed hope is what sustains us against the hardships of life and gives us hope in the face of our sin. Jesus of Nazareth was conceived and born of a Virgin mother, lived a sinlessly perfect life as the Second Adam – the new head of a redeemed race of mankind. Everywhere He went He gave hope to lost people, healing to sick people, and a place to belong with outcasts. It was Jesus who taught the world that whoever commits sin is the slave of sin and that only He was able to set men free from sin – from slavery to sin and from its dreadful and terrible consequences in hell. He made these wonderful statements:

John 5:24-25 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. [25] Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

John 3:14-20 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, [15] that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. [16] For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. [17] For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. [18] He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. [19] And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. [20] For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

Jesus’s heart goes out to all the world: Turn from your life of miserable servitude to sin and embrace life in Me. Stop trying to save yourself by deceiving yourself into thinking you just may be “good enough” to go to heaven. Stop trying to please God by empty religious ritualism and harsh treatment of yourself. You who recognize your spiritual poverty and know that nothing you’ve ever done, are doing, or could do will earn you a place in heaven – Jesus came for you. You who recognize how sinful and wretched you truly you – Jesus came for you. You who live in fear of the Day of Judgment knowing that God is all-knowing and sees as plain as day every secret in your heart, every private fantasy, every person you hate, and all your sinful thoughts – Jesus came to deliver you from that fear. You see, upon the cross, the fullness of Divine wrath fell hard and heavy upon Jesus. In anticipation of that wrath against human sin, the Lord Jesus fell to the ground and cried out in agony, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” From the cross He cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” In those moments, God the Father laid the judicial penalty of His people’s sins upon the body and soul of His own Beloved Son. The Scripture teaches:

Romans 5:8-10 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [9] Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. [10] For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

Why are we so certain that our departed sister, Lena, is with Jesus? Because the Savior she trusted in is a perfect Savior of lost sinners. Those who renounce their own works as useless before God and put their faith only in the shed blood and imputed righteousness of Christ can have absolute assurance that when they die, their sins have already been forgiven and removed from them as far as the east is from the west, and that they are accepted on the grounds of Christ’s righteousness. Jesus came not to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved. That’s the good news. Death is a sad thing. It leaves us who are left behind in this world bereft of our dearest friends and closest loved ones. But for those who die in Christ and who know Christ, it is always only “goodbye” for a little while. Jesus came into the world to destroy death, and that’s exactly what He did by dying and then rising again. Just as surely as Jesus is alive right now, our sister, Lena, will rise again. And all who know Christ as Savior will rise again in glory. I’ll close with one of the most wonderful promises of the Word of God:


Colossians 3:1-4 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. [2] Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. [3] For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. [4] When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Presence of Absence

Psalm 46:1-2 God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;

The fall of man into sin was a radical change. It changed everything except God. The entire created cosmos and everything in it now "groans" according to Scripture:

Romans 8:21-22 "because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body."

The most profound change humanity has endured because of sin is the loss of communion with God. For both the redeemed and the unredeemed, the place we occupy is a strange place "between worlds." Waiting. We are always waiting. The Triune God is working out His plan of self-glorification in this world continuing to plunder the strongholds of Satan by rescuing His elect throughout the world. But the grand climax has yet to happen. We are waiting. Even unbelievers can feel it coming. There is something huge that is on the horizon inching ever closer with every passing moment of time. The last day of history before the glorified eschatological age in which righteousness will dwell after the final judgment of mankind by Jesus Christ. When the Lord Jesus returns to earth, the creation itself and all of God's children will be fully redeemed and rid of every last vestigial remaining effect of sin. Gone forever will be the aches and pains of life, the constant degeneration and breaking down of our bodies. Gone will be tears, sadness, heartache, difficulties, stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Perhaps one of the most beautiful images the Scripture uses to describe the eternal state is "rest." Think of it. Rest. Rest sounds good after enduring the piercing arrows of the plague of our own sinful hearts. What a comfort it will be to hear the Lord of glory say to all His sheep: "enter into your rest." When Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to the island of St. Helena, his first despairing thought was that he might go to sleep and not wake up for a year or two. While it was despair that caused that thought to escape his lips, it doesn't sound too bad to be honest. Wearisome and full of trouble are our days in this world. The god-haters and slaves of lust make sure that those who do know peace with God through Christ will not rest for long even in this world. The Psalmist lamented as much:

Psalm 120:7 I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war.

But when we first arrive in heaven, a one to two year long nap sounds wonderful. Of course, I've wondered if sleep will even be part of our existence in that place.

In this strange time "between worlds" in which we are always waiting, God, Psalm 46:1-2 says, "is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." When someone we love dies, we experience "the presence of absence." What is present where that person once sat, once stood, once worshiped? Absence. When man lost communion with God, he came to experience the perpetual "presence of absence" when it came to God. What a perfectly terrible thing this has always been. We stand in this world having lost the One grand Being we were made for fellowship and love with. We look into the beautiful distance, look down at our hands, hear the birds singing, look at the stars, moon, and sun, marvel at the grandeur of it all, and then wonder why we are here. Why do we wonder this? Because of the presence of absence. Having died spiritually but continuing to live as the walking dead, God is absent to mankind. But Psalm 46 is a reminder to all who know God through Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and man, that He is a very present help in trouble. That is His promise to His children. And therefore we need not fear anything. Living in this time between worlds is hard because the old man in us who is not yet fully killed off still feels the presence of absence of God. And this is why we must look to what He says to us in His word in order that the presence of His absence does not consume us. The tendency is still to be in constant fear, constant anxiety, constant turmoil. But the promise of our God is that although the old man continues to experience the presence of absence, He is always very present. Amen.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Adopted by God

Romans 8:15-16 For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God,

1 John 3:1 See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.

What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life? They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, together with the several benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from them.

So reads the Westminster Shorter Catechism. The Reformation placed a great emphasis on getting the first and the third items in the list of benefits from this question and answer biblically correct. Justification and sanctification are fatally combined in Roman Catholic teaching to the complete destruction of both doctrines. The Reformation returned to the biblical teaching that justification is a once for all declarative act made by God as judge whereby He pronounces the believing sinner to be declared righteous before God's law on account of the cross-work of Christ in behalf of their sins and the righteousness of Christ imputed to their legal account. It's a one time, instantaneous act on God's part as Judge regarding the sinner's status. Their legal status is permanently changed from "condemned" to "justified" before God's law. Sanctification is the ongoing work of God whereby the sinner is renewed after the image of God and is enabled more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. Justification cannot be increased or changed and is identical in all true Christians. Sanctification is different among all who truly know Christ. Some Christians are more sanctified than others.

The other great item right in the middle of those two is also an act (not an ongoing work). It is the blessed act of adoption. What is adoption? Adoption is an act of God's free grace whereby we are received into the number and have a right to all the privileges of the sons of God. Adoption is, like justification, a purely legal transaction which shows a change in our status and in our ownership. God takes us who were once legally orphans and adopts us into His family. The biblical descriptions of this are glorious to behold. Who could forget this wonderful scene:

Luke 15:20-22 "So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. [21] "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' [22] "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet;

Paul speaks of the end-result of the very incarnation and cross-work of Christ itself being this very thing: that we could be adopted into God's very own family:

Galatians 4:4-7 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, [5] so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. [6] Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" [7] Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law in order to justify us legally before God, so that we could enjoy being a child of God here and for all eternity. Reflect on what a wonderful joy this is for the Christian. The children of God will spend eternity in heaven as joint-heirs of the entire universe with the Lord Jesus Christ. God is a perfect Father unlike any human father. Evolution would have us believe that life is merely about survival and passing on our genes. But the truth is that human beings long to be loved and to have their love accepted. There will always be those who make concerted efforts to close their hearts and harden them to such feelings. But the picture God painted us to be cannot be erased by anything we do. The longing for love, to love, and to belong is always there. God created it Himself and has stamped every human made in His image with it. When God gives us a true knowledge that He has fully forgiven and accepted us as righteous in His sight solely on account of the work of His Son, that longing for love is satisfied in that we are adopted into God's family. The blessed truth of adoption is a wonderful salve to weary souls. Our status as children of God is an anchor no storm can move us from.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ

The great Aurelius Augustine was converted to Jesus Christ at the age of 32 in the years 386 after reading this text of God's Word:

Romans 13:13b-14 ... not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.

His recollection of this event is memorable in his Confessions:
I flung myself down under a fig tree--how I know not--and gave free course to my tears. The streams of my eyes gushed out an acceptable sacrifice to thee. And, not indeed in these words, but to this effect, I cried to thee: "And thou, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord? Wilt thou be angry forever? Oh, remember not against us our former iniquities." For I felt that I was still enthralled by them. I sent up these sorrowful cries: "How long, how long? Tomorrow and tomorrow? Why not now? Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?" I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when suddenly I heard the voice of a boy or a girl I know not which--coming from the neighboring house, chanting over and over again, "Take up and read; take up and read." Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, stopping the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell: "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof." I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.
Augustine was a man whose life was characterized by debauchery. His attachment to and love for sin was firm and unbreakable by any natural powers in this realm. But God reached down from outside of nature and did a miracle upon his stony heart through the power of His holy gospel. Becoming a Christian is a turning away from servitude to sin and placing one's entire hope of eternal life upon Jesus Christ alone. When God converts a man to Himself by His almighty and irresistible divine grace, the gloom of doubt vanishes away. Augustine felt the piercing sorrow of conviction of sin right as God did this miracle upon him. What amazes me about this quotation from Augustine is that he was almost crying out to God to save him while he was still as yet unsaved. He cried out to God, "Why not this very hour make an end to my uncleanness?" God had to act for this man to be saved. And act He did. God spoke to Augustine directly through His Word here in Romans 13:13b-14. You see, revely and drunknesness, lewdness and lust, strife and envy were Augustine's masters. He served them wholly and passionately. But to hear them all rebuked and negated directly from the mouth of God to Augustine's sick and sin-weary heart was what God used to break up the fallow ground and plant the gospel seed. God directed His rebuke right to the very face of that which was drowning this poor man in perdition and misery - those despicable sins which had mastered his life. God signals an absolute negation of them all, "Not... not... not." Having stripped away Augustine's former master, he then clothes him with His new Master: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts." When the heart of the dead sinner is at last changed by the almighty power of Christ's gospel, new desires for holiness will rule where sin once did. God, through the gospel, reconciles the sinner to Himself and grants peace between Himself and that sinner where there was once war. But that peace with God starts a new war: A war with remaining, indwelling sin. And hence, the great exhortation comes to the newly resurrected believer, "... and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lust."

The list of sins there in verse 13 covers almost everything people can be enslaved to when it comes to vices. But whatever our vices were that we used to hug close to our hearts, we are to remember our Holy Savior-God's emphatic negation: "Not!" And then at the beginning of verse 14 he adds the "but, rather." The Greek particle is: alla which really means, "on the contrary." Instead of all those horrific sins which really leave the believer more nauseated than satisfied now anyway, we are, on the contrary, to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the sinful natures we still possess even in our regenerated condition. And so the question must be asked of all Christians: What provisions are you still making for your sinful nature to fulfill its lusts?

In his penitential Psalm he wrote after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had numerous innocent soldiers including Uriah the Hittite needlessly killed, David wrote a phrase we all would do well to meditate upon when it comes to repentance and the new life we have in the grace of Christ:

Psalm 51:6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

People are easy to trick and fake out. But we are at a constant disadvantage when it comes to God. He knows we are often insincere and how we play games with sin. He knows if we are still making provisions for our sinful lusts. He knows the sins that we still struggle with and often nurture, protect, and make provisions for. We know it too. And if we know it, we can be assured God knows it even more fully! God's desire is truth in our inward parts. This is the most convicting part of the Christian life. Even if every person I know thinks the world of me and thinks of me as a godly man and a good and upright Christian, God always sees right through me. He knows every motive and every motion within me. God's desire is truth in the inward parts. Is love for Christ and holiness burning bright within us? All of us mourn that it doesn't burn brighter and hotter. We are far too easily content with just a little communion with Christ, a little pursuit of personal holiness, a little devotion to our family and neighbors. The entirety of the Christian life can be summarized by Romans 13b-14. Not our sins, but on the contrary put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh. We want the Spirit of God to be constantly working through our study of the Word of God to sanctify us, to kill off more sin, and to cause Christ-likeness to increase more and more. We want more and more of our old man to die with Christ and more and more of Christ to live in us. Paul even wrote the remarkable statement summarizing himself as a person:

Philip. 1:21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

In the Greek, it just says: "For to me, to live Christ, to die gain."

What an amazing thing it is for this to be how we look at life and death. What is it to be alive for the Christian? "Christ." What does the believer think of himself/herself? Death. We died with Christ and we are no longer alive. 

Colossians 3:3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

That old person is dead and good riddance. Our life is now: Christ. Not in our sins, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ. For us, to be alive: Christ! To die: Gain! Let us make every effort to be sanctified more and more by the Word of God that Christ would live in us and be seen by more and more of the world around us!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Sadness

Psalm 6:6 I am weary with my groaning; All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with my tears.
 
Psalm 39:12 Hear my prayer, O Lord, And give ear to my cry; Do not be silent at my tears; For I am a stranger with You, A sojourner, as all my fathers were.

Psalm 42:3 My tears have been my food day and night, While they continually say to me, "Where is your God?"

Nothing draws our souls to deep prayer that penetrates farther into the heart and presence of Christ than great sadness. Nothing makes the child of God long for heaven where there is fullness of blessedness and joy and the absence of heartache more than great sadness. We who affirm and believe in the biblical teaching that all that comes to pass is ordained of God for His own glory find great peace in this blessed "decree of God." The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks in question #7: "What are the decrees of God?" The answer is: "The decrees of God are His eternal purpose, according to the counsel of His own will, whereby, for His own glory He hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass." This is a rather easy teaching to embrace when all is well. But when the terrible, unexpected, humiliating, and painful happens, one's theology is put to the test. You find our what your beliefs are really made of in the crucible of suffering.

There's always an image we hope others have of us as people and as Christians. We act differently around friends than we do around family. Family sees the good and the bad while friends tend to see only the good. Do Christians experience the darkness of true despair and doubt? Yes. Read Psalm 88. How would one preach through such a Psalm? I guess all we can say about it is to point out that the writer does at least refer to God as the "God of my salvation." And when things in our life are truly that dark, when all is turned against us and even our friends have implanted blades between our shoulders, and when all is truly hopeless and our dreams are simply no more, God is still the God of our salvation. I'm beginning to understand why God puts people who mean so much, are so dear, and whose well being is so connected to our own into our lives. It is for the purpose of bringing us at times to the deepest place of loss and sadness. But why would God, if He is so loving, want to do this to the children He loves? And make no mistake about it, God's love for His own is the deepest, fullest, and most determined force in the entire universe. The eternal happiness of His children is how the great Creator is going to glorify His graciousness. He is zealous that His grace would be seen and known and bring Him fame and a great name. So why the sadness? Why is the pain of searing loss so often a part of the lives of those who are the special objects of the love of God? Because God loves us.

1 Peter 1:3-8 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [4] to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, [5] who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [6] In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, [7] that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, [8] whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,

The great Puritan writer, Thomas Brooks, said long ago that a trouble-free life is a bad life. When Job got married and found out his wife was pregnant with their first, there can be no doubt that he offered praises to God for that child, sought God's favor for that child, and had his heart filled with hope and joy when it was born. And there can be no doubt that the same things happened and the same feelings followed all 9 of his other children when they were conceived and born. There are few things sweeter to a married couple than to look upon the sleeping face of their own child together and then look into each other's eyes and experience the fullness of heart God gives in that moment. We treasure those times. They are gifts of God to us. They make the precarious lives we live in this world slightly more tolerable. But for holy Job, those precious children and that wife were treasured but they were not his truest treasure. He knew that God can give and take away. Job lost not only all 10 of his precious children whose souls he took great pains to care for in offering sacrifices to God in their behalf because it just might have been the case that "perhaps one of them has cursed God in their hearts," but his wife as well. And he lost her in the worst way a man could lose a wife. She not only left him never to return, but encouraged him to abandon God on her way out. Did God decree Job's inconsolable tears? Did God decree the insensitive and cruel remarks from his stupid and ungodly "friends?" Did God decree that Job's reputation would be unjustly ruined by the assumptions people made that he must have committed some terrible wickedness that brought about these unspeakable losses? Did God decree every boil that covered him from the top of his head to the souls of his feet? Yes. All of it. For His own glory. And how is God glorified to this day in all of those tears, all of that unspeakable sadness, all of Jobs mental and physical agony? In that God, even in the throes of Job's sadness, was sufficient for Job. Job, by the singular grace of His God, as our Lord said long ago about Lazarus's sister, Mary, "has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her."

Why do we feel the piercing grief of sadness? Because God would have us to know here and now in this life that Christ, above all earthly things, is alone "the good part which will not be taken from" us. God would have us know in the here and now the joy that can come from knowing that Christ alone is our treasure, our portion, and our every earthly and heavenly happiness. He never changes. His promises never change. All that He is, means, and accomplished for us at the cross is an everlasting possession, incorruptible, undefiled, and which shall never pass away. What sort of an entrance would we have to the realms of glory if our hearts remained so attached to this world? We are grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of our faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ. That day of "the revelation of Jesus Christ" will be the day in which He at last brings His own into heavenly glory. He is the good part that shall never be taken away from us. And being with Him where He is now and seeing His glory is His great desire for the children He came to save. He decrees our sadness in order that we would long even more for the place He has gone to prepare for us, and that we would see ourselves as pilgrims in a strange place longing to at last be home.
 

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Everlasting Love of God for His People

Jeremiah 31:3
        The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying,
        "I have loved you with an everlasting love;
        Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

At the age of 42, I have learned that life gets proportionately bitter as it becomes sweeter. When I was a child living in a stable Christian home, I longed for the future because my assumption was it would be better. In some ways it has been. In others it has not. The increase of cares, worries, and sorrows has at times overwhelmed me. Living in a stable Christian home, I was able to look at most of the crises in my life and simply think, "this isn't that big of a deal." Everything from bad grades to failed relationships could be brushed aside with the simple notion that "this will pass, just give it time." But as an adult, everything has become a big deal. My children often do not see things that way. But I now know why my parents were so distressed that I looked at nearly everything as "no big deal." As it turns out, they were right and I was wrong. The youth of the world do not understand as they ought to. What they believed was no big deal in their younger years will end up following them all their days. The sins of my youth which were at that time nothing more than little saplings which could have been plucked up and removed with little sweat have grown into giant oaks with very deep and strong roots. Why does God entrust this hugely consequential thing called life to those who are too immature, reckless, and stupid to recognize that everything actually is "a big deal?" For my part, it has been to leave me in a condition of perpetual brokenness about my sin. It is a difficult thing to live all of life in an almost unbroken condition of disgust with self. And yet, I see that sense of personal wretchedness as one of God's most precious gifts to me. Without it, I would not see the need I have to be justified before God by faith alone in Christ alone. Without my sense of personal wretchedness, I might not cling to the shed blood and imputed righteousness of Christ every moment of every day. That glorious gospel message of good news - that God would love even someone as miserable as myself - it is on my mind morning, noon, and night. And the weight of my sin, my past sins as well as my present sins, keeps me focused on Jesus.

This text from Jeremiah 31:3 is precious to all who know the brokenness of sin on a deeply personal level. I see my selfishness, ill motives, and wickedness so clearly. I thank God for that. My hope is in Christ alone and nothing else - not my works at all. If God is God and truly knows all things including my thoughts and motives, then my life makes me worthy of hell and nothing else. Life gets proportionately bitter as it becomes sweeter. The closer I grow to Christ, the more disgusted I become at the sin that is still in me, and the more I long at last to be freed from it. I can see the progress God has made in my life in overcoming a whole host of sins that used to dominate and consume me. I see the footprints of His faithfulness and grace. I see the fruits of the presence of His Holy Spirit within me. But in proportion to this growing sweetness of fellowship with Christ has come this growing bitterness towards myself. The greater the sweetness, the more bitter the bitterness. But in the end, the final result of all of this has been: I am starting to understand the greatness of God's love as I never have before. Why would He bypass millions and save me from my sins, grant me repentance, grant me saving faith, irresistibly draw me to His Son, wash me clean in His precious blood, and dress me in the robe of His imputed righteousness? Because the love with which God freely chose to love me began before time itself:

2 Tim. 1:8-10 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, [9] who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, [10] but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,

The love of God is an everlasting love. It began in the heart of God before I was even formed in my dear mother's womb. It has extended across all the ages of time. And manifested itself that day in my 18th year in the dorm room reading the book of Hebrews when by His almighty and irresistible effectual grace He lit the fire of repentance from sin and faith alone in Christ alone in my heart. The words of the Creator have called out to me: "I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness." For this reason, life has grown more and more bitter as it has grown more sweet. Is it worth it to be so unsettled like this? Yes, because God's promise is that the bitter will one day be defeated entirely by the sweet. And nothing but the sweet will reign for the rest of eternity, world without end. Amen.