Thursday, December 06, 2012

THE COMFORT OF GOD'S PRESENCE

Life has a way of separating us from people we know-- people we consider friends, associates, and even loved ones.  Sometimes it is no one’s particular fault; we just get busy with our own affairs and a slow separation occurs. Other times, the separation can be traced to a particular circumstance or set of circumstances.  The latter was the case with the apostle Paul, who was imprisoned in Rome and awaiting his execution at the hands of the wicked Emperor Nero.  During the last months of his life, he wrote a letter to a young man named Timothy, whom he longed to see for the last time.  It is not known if that desire to see his son in the faith was ever realized. More than likely, it was not.  One thing we do know is that Paul didn’t have many friends to comfort or encourage him. Only Luke was with him (2 Timothy 4:11).  Better one than none. But at his first defense before the Roman officials he was all alone. He writes,At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge” (2 Timothy 4:16). Where was the Church of Rome, to which Paul had penned a letter years earlier?  Of all the people which comprised its membership throughout the city, not one stood by his side. Certainly they knew the troubles which had come upon him, because Paul asked God to forgive them.

It is sad, but not surprising, that no one came to his defense. Out of fear for their own lives, they chose the easy path, not the noble one, and abandoned Paul in his time of need.  Remarkably, Paul responded with grace toward them; he did not become bitter. How could this be?  Paul does not leave us guessing.  The truth is that he never was completely alone; Jesus was with him. In Paul’s own words, we read, Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion” (2 Timothy 4:17).  Jesus was true to His promise: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5b).  The hardships we face in life may be small compared with those Paul experienced; nevertheless, the Lord’s presence is just as certain and just as real.  He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother and will strengthen us when our strength is gone. He will cheer us up when we are down, and He will guide us when we don’t know what to do.  God will never abandon his children.  The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).   Knowing that God cannot lie, I rest in the thought that His word to Israel is just as true for everyone who has put his faith in Him: Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: And even to your old age I am he; and even to your gray hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you” (Isaiah 46:3,4).

Thank you Lord Jesus!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

ARE YOU SERMON PROOF?


“There is nothing that moves them!” This common expression is often used of people who are stoic in their attitude or emotions. Sadly, it is also true of people who sit under the preaching of God’s Word week after week and are unmoved by its truth. They may even seem to enjoy going to church or entering into discussions about spiritual matters, but there is no sorrow over their sin; there is no repentance.  It was said of King Herod that he enjoyed hearing John: For Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things, and heard him gladly” (Mark 6:20). Such was also the case in the days of the prophet Ezekiel, who ministered to the Israelites in the Babylonian captivity. After the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., Ezekiel received word of what had occurred back in his homeland. He had been deported prior to the fall of Jerusalem.  Although he had preached hard against the sins which led to God’s judgment, those who remained in the land were still in rebellion to God. Was it any different with those taken to Babylon?  The answer is no!  Ezekiel had a congregation who loved to hear him preach, and they offered their pious praise, but that’s as far as it went: And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not” (Ezekiel 33:31, 32). This is exactly what James warned against in his New Testament epistle: “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass:  For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was” (James 1:22-24).
 
Hearing but not doing is the mark of men and women who trifle with God’s Word. They may be entertained by it, but they refuse to change their ways. This is a dangerous condition for anyone to be in. Jesus uttered woes (divine judgments) upon some of the cities of Galilee because they had witnessed the power of God in miracles and heard the words of wisdom of spoken by Jesus but remained unconverted: “Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee” (Matthew 11:21-24).
 
What will it take for godly repentance to happen in response to the hearing of God’s Word?  It will take surrender to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said, “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7, 8).  Pride, however, is a great obstacle to genuine conversion. Indifference is another. For a spiritual awakening to occur there must be a humble admission of the grievous nature of sin in light of the holiness of God and the judgment of sin which fell upon Christ. “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 NKJV).
 
My prayer for those who hear the preaching of God’s Word and the gospel of grace is that they will not remain “sermon proof.”  Hardness of heart is like a spiritual Kevlar (bullet proof) vest that resists the truth. But the truth is what sets a man free from the clutches of Satan and the bondage of self-deception (John 8:32).
 
If you are like the crowd in Ezekiel’s day which heard but did not obey, you must turn to the Lord for forgiveness.  It may be that you are not saved and need to be born again. Look to Jesus who died for your sins, and He will give you the gift of eternal life (John 3:16).  Don’t remain “sermon proof”!
 
Pastor Tom

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

THE MEASURELESS LOVE OF GOD


One of my favorite stanzas in the collection of hymns which is the treasure of the people of God is the third stanza of Frederick Lehman’s, “The Love of God”:

Could we with ink the ocean fill,

And were the skies of parchment made,

Were every stalk on earth a quill,

And every man a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above,

Would drain the ocean dry.

Nor could the scroll contain the whole,

Though stretched from sky to sky.

And the chorus states:

O love of God, how rich and pure!

How measureless and strong!

It shall forevermore endure

The saints’ and angels’ song.

The apostle John, who walked with Jesus for nearly three years, wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). This is a simple statement of fact pertaining to the very nature of God which consists of His attributes or qualities that set Him apart from human beings. Man can love, but man is not love. Only God is love, and His love is measureless. To say that something is measureless is to say that is incalculable, it has no observable limits, it is infinite. No book (scroll) could contain the whole of God’s love. It is beyond our comprehension but most reassuring: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The world mentioned by John is not the planet we live on, but the people who inhabit it. A careful study of John’s Gospel and his epistles does not allow for any limitation of the word kosmos (world) in John 3:16. This presents a difficulty for those who affirm that Jesus died only for those He chose in eternity past and not for all mankind. In Romans 5:8 we learn that God loved men even in their state of rebellion: But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” A good example of this truth is seen in the dialogue Jesus had with a man who came to Him seeking to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17). Rejecting the admonition Jesus gave him to sell his goods and take up his cross and follow Him, the man went away sad. This man’s wealth was the very thing keeping him from Christ. However, what is significant about this encounter, relative to the love of God, is seen in verse 21. Right before Jesus told him to dispense with his earthly possessions so that he might possess heavenly riches (Jesus himself), the Scripture says, “Then Jesus beholding him loved him.” In his rejection of Jesus, the blessed Savior loved him, and there is no record of this man’s repentance. What love is this? It is the love of God for lost sinners--without distinction. It is the measureless love of God that led Jesus to Calvary to suffer and die for the sins of mankind, and the Gospel invitation goes out to the whole world as the clearest expression of that deep, deep love of God.

Herein lies the heart of the matter: How can a Christian tell a lost sinner that God loves him and has provided the means whereby his sins can be forgiven if Christ’s death was in behalf of some, but not all, men? The answer is that he can’t tell him God loves him, at least not with a love that called for the death of His only begotten Son. David Allen cites the following example: “In his book, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism, Mark Dever suggested three motives for evangelism: obedience to Scripture, a love for the lost, and a love for God.” Allen goes on to say: “I agree completely but, Dever fails to mention two other critical motives: Christ’s death for all men, and God’s universal saving will. Unless I have missed it, his book never mentions these two as motives for evangelism. Of course, Dever cannot affirm Christ’s death for all men because he holds to limited atonement. His theology prohibits it.”

The Bible, however, does not prohibit the affirmation that Christ died for all men:

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

“The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." (John 1:29).

“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life”(Romans 5:18).

“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men “(Titus 2:11).

“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6).

“For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).

"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9).

“And he [Jesus] is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

"And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world" (1 John 4:14).

I realize that many devout and faithful Christians who limit the atonement of Christ have answers to all these verses, but I don’t believe their answers disannul what the verses clearly teach: Christ died for all! It is best to take them at face value and praise God for His immeasurable, unlimited, undeserved love--the just dying for the unjust that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). Otherwise, how could a holy, righteous, and loving God justly condemn people for rejecting the manifestation of his love if it was not intended for them? Jesus said, “If ye do not believe that I am he [the Messiah] ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). Were those whom Jesus addressed prohibited from believing by Divine decree? Or did they willfully reject Christ? Jesus said in John 5:39, 40, “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.”

The question must be asked: Did Jesus desire all men to come unto Him? Certainly, for He issued the invitation, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28, 29). The stubborn refusal of sinners to come to Jesus is the very essence of unbelief; and pride is the root of this unbelief. In contrast to the proud of heart, Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). This is not a matter of free will, but whosoever will: If any man is willing he will be taught of God. Those who were willing comprised the remnant in Israel who humbly admitted their sin and came to Jesus for eternal life. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:11, 12).They were not made alive before they believed; they believed unto eternal life: “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:30, 31). I might also add that coming to Jesus is not saving one’s self, because no one would come to Jesus were it not for the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). Salvation is a gift of God made possible by the work of God in the heart of man. But salvation also requires the willingness of the hopeless sinner to bow the knee and receive the free gift: “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5).

So if you believe that Christ died for the sins of the whole world (all mankind), don’t be ashamed of it or be intimidated by someone charging you with ignorance of Scripture or weakness in doctrine. Cling to the simple but wonderful truth of God’s immeasurable love, and go tell the good news. Preach it far and wide, rejoicing that God is able to save the worst of sinners. Let your love for the lost, as Dever said, be a motivation for personal evangelism, but don’t deny that God’s love for mankind is far greater than your love could ever be, for God is love! If Jesus commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44), should we think that it is not so with Him? John MacArthur writes, “His [God’s] pleading with the lost, His offers of mercy to the reprobate, and the call of the gospel to all who hear are all sincere expressions of the heart of a loving God. Remember, He tenderly calls sinners to turn from their evil ways and live. He freely offers the water of life to all” (Isaiah 55:1). But how sincere is it to offer the water of life to someone, knowing that he has no power or ability to drink it? McArthur admits that he struggles with the question of how God can really love those he does not choose to save. He writes, “Yet if I seem to dwell on this issue, it is because I want to acknowledge that it poses a perplexing difficulty for other aspects of God’s revealed truth. Let us honestly admit that on the face of it, the universal love of God is hard to reconcile with the doctrine of election.” Personally, I don’t think it is hard to reconcile the love of God for all mankind with God choosing only some for salvation-- I think it is impossible.

Dear friend, if you have not already done so, you can know the love of Christ in a personal way by calling upon Him to forgive you of all your sins. The Bible says that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

May you find joy and peace in believing upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Tom

1 Allen, David and Lemke Steve, A Biblical-Theological Review of Five-Point Calvinism, WHOSOEVER WILL (B&H Academic, 2010) 97

2 Mac Arthur, John, The Love of God (Word Publishing), 1996), 17.

Ibid p.110







Wednesday, March 28, 2012

THE FALLEN AND THE FAITHFUL

“We have come to a turning point in the road. If we turn to the right perhaps our children and our children's children will go that way; but if we turn to the left, generations yet unborn will curse our names for having been unfaithful to God and to His Word.” I read this quote of Charles Spurgeon after studying about three men mentioned in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. Their names are Phygellus, Hermogenes, and Onesiphorus. They may not be biblical characters you are familiar with, but they deserve your attention because they represent two categories of men and women who exist under the wide umbrella of Christianity: The Fallen and the Faithful.

Phygellus and Hermogenes were among those in Asia Minor who deserted the apostle Paul when he was taken prisoner for preaching the gospel. In his time of great need, they were nowhere to be found. We know nothing more about them than what is recorded in verse 15 of 2 Timothy 1: “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes.” At a turning point in the road, they turned left, and their names are recorded in God’s Word as a testimony of those who were unfaithful.

On the other hand was Onesiphorus. The Scripture says, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well” (2 Timothy 1:16-18). When many were turning left on the road, Onesiphorus kept to the right. He was not a silent supporter of Paul, but one who, at great risk for his own safety, sought him out in one of Rome’s darker prisons where they kept those condemned to die. He went to his aid, and in the words of Paul, “he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain.” The word for refreshed means “to make cool,” like the feeling of a cool breeze on a hot summer day. In practical terms, he ministered to Paul’s physical needs and provided wonderful spiritual encouragement as Paul counted down the final days of his life.

Onesiphorus was a faithful Christian friend and brother in Christ to Paul, and his name will always be remembered for his courage and good deeds. His actions, however, did not result from a spur-of-the-moment decision. When Paul was in Ephesus, Onesiphorus often ministered to him. In other words, his faithfulness in a time of great trial was the outcome of a pattern of faithfulness in his life. The Christian life is a life; it’s not a one-hundred-yard dash. If you are going to be faithful in the end, you must start by being faithful every single day. If you are going to be faithful with much, you must first be faithful with little (Luke 16:10). May God raise up men and women like Onesiphorus in our generation, who will always choose to do good and noble things, as stewards of the manifold grace of God. “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6).

May the Lord find you faithful,

Pastor Tom

Monday, March 05, 2012

GOD GIVE US MEN

I read this poem today and thought it might be a blessing to those who read my blog. We surely need men and women who will stand for God's truth in this day of apostasy. 
- Pastor Tom

God Give Us Men
God give us men endued with power,
To meet the challenge of the hour,
With apostolic zeal inspired,
With apostolic fervor fired.

God give us men of single eye,
To live for Christ, for Christ to die,
Who press to meet the battle's strife,
And love the gospel more than life.

God give us men as true as steel,
To stand for truth they know and feel,
Who scorn to compromise or bend,
For frown or smile of foe or friend.

God give us men who fast and pray,
In supplications night and day,
Who toil, and labor, and travail,
Who watch and wrestle and prevail.

God give us men with weeping eyes,
Who preach and pray with tears and sighs,
Who plead, and yearn, and plead again,
And move the hearts of God and men.

God give us men of courage strong,
To face the persecuting throng,
The raging storm, the lonely jail,
And never flinch, and never quail.

God give us men to preach, to pray,
To fill the gap, to lead the way,
To light revival fires again,
To work, to weep, God give us men.

by Glenn Conjurske (1947-2001)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

FACING LIFE'S TRIALS

The apostle Peter began his first epistle with some wonderful news about the “living hope” that is the possession of every child of God: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). This hope looks to a future described as “an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (verse 4). That may sound too good to be true, but it isn't, and the best part of this inheritance is the knowledge that it never ends and contains promises which no one can presently comprehend: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). While this presents a picture of a glorious time that awaits all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the present day in which we live is not so glorious. We do not live in a world that is incorruptible or undefiled. It is in fact "wasting away" with each passing moment and will eventually face a cataclysmic end (2 Peter 3:10). I recently finished reading the book, Be Still My Soul, which contains classic and contemporary readings on the problem of pain. One of the contributors was Tim Keller, who cited 2 Corinthians 4:16, 17: “...we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (NIV). In commenting on the word for “wasting away” in verse 16, Keller states: “Greek scholars will tell you Paul was not just talking about the body as wasting away, but about all of life in this visible world. He was saying that everything in this world is wearing away. Everything is steadily, irreversibly falling apart. Our bodies are wearing away. Our hearts are like wind-up clocks with a finite number of clicks that are clicking away. Our physical appearance and attractiveness are wearing away, and we can't stop it. Our relationships are wearing away. Get a group of friends around you, and time and circumstance will eventually pull you apart. Our families are wearing away, dying off one at a time. Our skills are wearing away. You can't stay on top of your game forever. Everything is like a wave on the sand. You can't pin it down; it starts to recede from you.”

Keller is undeniably correct. We know this to be true, and Peter, who lived at the time of Christ, would wholeheartedly agree. Yet he told those whom he called pilgrims of the dispersion to greatly rejoice even though they were experiencing grief through many different kinds of trials (1 Peter 1:6). How could this be? Because heaven is for real, and Paul was correct when he said that our earthly troubles are just for a brief period of time—momentary-- in the light of eternity and will be immediately forgotten when the Christian enters into the glory of God's presence. This is indeed a living hope that can fill our hearts with a sense of peace and joy even in life’s darkest hours. Verse 18 of 2 Corinthians 4 puts it into the proper perspective, telling us that we must “fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (NIV). Personally speaking, I can face all of life's trials knowing that they will eventually come to an end and give way to something beautiful and majestic which will make those trials appear as nothing. Suppose you suffered for the whole of your earthly life: What would that amount to in comparison with endless joy afterwards? It wouldn’t amount to a speck of sand on the shore or a speck of ash emitted from a volcanic eruption. We have all seen pictures of such an eruption. Just think of your present suffering or trial of faith as one of those specks of ash ascending upward into the sky, eventually to be dispersed by the wind, never to be seen again. I know that is hard to do in the midst of the trial when the weight of it seems unbearable, but don’t give in to despair. The future may not be ours to see with human eyes, but we can see it with the eyes of faith, trusting that Jesus has prepared a special place for us according to His promise: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).

So, weary pilgrims, let us run the race of life bravely, setting our sights on the finish line, not the obstacles before us. As we seek the Lord day by day, He will give us the strength and perseverance to press on: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6).

May the Lord give you His perfect peace,

Pastor Tom

[1] Be Still My Soul, (Inter-Varsity Press, 2010) 15,16