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Archive for October, 2008

There was a recent announcment from Grace to You that as of November 5, 2008, they will be opening up the entire archive of John MacArthur’s sermons for free download at their home page.  Dr. John MacArthur has been a faithful expositor of the Word of God for over four decades.  His sermons are always thorougly biblical and edifying.  So make sure you check out the Grace to You web page beginning next week (you can find it at http://www.gty.org/ ) and be blessed through the ministry of one of the most solid expositors of our age.

Thank you, Dr. MacArthur!  And thank you Grace to You!

Most of all… thanks be to God for all the blessings He has provided for His people through Dr. MacArthur’s ministry.

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I recently came across an article by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson on seeking the will of God.  Being on the cusp of some major decisions in my life, I found this article surprising simple… but thoroughly encouraging.  In it, he reminds us of a pithy statement from the old Puritan writer John Flavel, “The providence of God is like Hebrew words – it can be read only backwards.”  Anyone who has struggled to learn Hebrew will fully appreciate how amusing this statement is.  (Also, as someone who struggles with reading Hebrew, it is not always entire clear, even when read backwards.)  Dr. Ferguson goes on to explain in very simple terms how this is true in four areas:

1)       The big decisions of life. (Be obedient to God’s will… even if it is hard.)

2)        The tests of life.  (Often these prepare us for greater tests later.)

3)       The tragedies of life.  (Often God purpose in tragedy is completely obscured from us in this life.)

4)       The whole of life.  (Sometimes we can’t see the purposes until the story… i.e. someone’s life… is over.)

He closes by citing the words of Jesus in John 13:9… “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward, you will understand.”

How true this is in regards to the providence of God!  So often we think we know what God is doing… only to be proven completely wrong at a later date.  Ultimately, we must simply rest by faith in the promise that “…for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:28-30.)

God has promised that all things… good, bad and otherwise… will ultimately culminate in our glorification.  One day we will be like Jesus!

You can read the whole article by Dr. Ferguson here http://www.alliancenet.org/partner/Article_Display_Page/0,,PTID307086%7CCHID560462%7CCIID1947778,00.html

 

 

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Life is hard.  We all experience difficulties in this life.  Contrary to what many “health, wealth and prosperity” teachers will tell us… Scripture teaches that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (II Tim 3:12.)  Paul says that we must enter the kingdom “through many tribulations” (Acts 14:22.)   Jesus warned His disciples on the night of His betrayal that “In the world you will have tribulation…”  Then He adds a note of hope, “…But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16:33.)

Hardship is the experience of all God’s people of all time.  One needs only to casually read the Psalms to see how often hardship and opposition are the experience of God’s people.

How is the Christian to face this hardship?  What are we to do?  Where do we look for help?  The answer is… of course… to look to God, but this is often harder to do than we like to admit.  How do we confidently cast all our cares upon God?  How should we pray?  How can we nurture our faith in the future provision of God as we go through times of darkness and despair? 

Psalm 59 provides us with some helpful insight into how David faced incredible hardship by throwing himself upon the steadfast love of God.

Psalm 59 (ESV)1  To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David, when Saul sent men to watch his house in order to kill him. Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me; 2  deliver me from those who work evil, and save me from bloodthirsty men. 3  For behold, they lie in wait for my life; fierce men stir up strife against me. For no transgression or sin of mine, O LORD, 4  for no fault of mine, they run and make ready. Awake, come to meet me, and see! 5  You, LORD God of hosts, are God of Israel. Rouse yourself to punish all the nations; spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah 6  Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. 7  There they are, bellowing with their mouths with swords in their lips– for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?” 8  But you, O LORD, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision. 9  O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. 10  My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. 11  Kill them not, lest my people forget; make them totter by your power and bring them down, O Lord, our shield! 12  For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter, 13  consume them in wrath; consume them till they are no more, that they may know that God rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth. Selah 14  Each evening they come back, howling like dogs and prowling about the city. 15  They wander about for food and growl if they do not get their fill. 16  But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. 17  O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.

The setting of this Psalm is found in I Samuel 19:9-17.  King Saul, as a result of the judgment of God (i.e. he is afflicted by a “harmful spirit from the LORD”), is irrationally jealous of his son-in-law, David, and is seeking to kill him.  David is holed up in his house with no one but his wife to help him and Saul’s cronies seeking his life.  Things look pretty grim.  Though David was no slouch in terms of his skill in combat, the odds against him are incredible.  Not only do his enemies outnumber him, but they are wicked and vicious in their opposition.  In Psalm 59, David pictures his oppressors as evil and bloodthirsty (v. 2.)  They are likened to wild animals, prowling about, seeking an opportunity to spring upon their prey (v. 3, 6, 14 and 15.)  They are ungodly men (notice how the Psalmist calls them “the nations” in v. 5, implying that they live and behave as pagans) who do not think that anyone or anything can stand in their way (v. 7.)  At the heart of their wickedness is a lack of understanding (or a rejection of the right understanding?) of who God is, for they do not know “that God rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth” (v. 13.)

Let’s pause here for a moment and compare David’s situation with our own experiences today as God’s people.  Unlike David, most of us today (at least those in the United States) do not have people actively seeking to kill us.  Praise God for the religious freedom which we enjoy in this country!  But we do experience hostility and opposition on a continual basis.  Scripture teaches that our primary enemies in the Christian life are the world (which hates us – Jn 15:18-20), our own sinful flesh (which wars against the Holy Spirit within us – Gal 5:17– and will ultimately lead us to death if we yield to it – Rom 8:6), and the devil (who prowls around… not unlike David’s enemies… like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour – I Pet 5:8.)  In addition to this, we face all manner of hardship and opposition simply by virtue of the fact that we live in a fallen, sin-cursed world.  We face tribulation and distress and persecution and famine and nakedness and danger and sword (Rom 8:35.)  We endure sickness and strife and weakness and, of course, death.  Even though many of these may not be flesh-and-blood enemies… are they any less our enemies?  Do they not surround us?  Do they not seek to overwhelm us?  Do they not lie in wait for us?  Are we really any different than David?  Don’t we all have enemies which surround us in the Christian life… enemies which we have no means of overcoming in our own strength?

How did David cope with the overwhelming opposition set before him?  He turned to God in faith and prayer.  David’s hope was not ultimately grounded in himself.  His hope was in God.  Despite the strength and wickedness of his enemies, he is confident in the strength of God to deliver him.  David knows God… not just intellectually, but experientially.  He had a keen sense of who His God is.  He recognizes here that God is sovereign over all the earth (v. 13) and those who oppose Him and His people are the subjects of His scorn (v. 8.)  He is the LORD God of hosts… the great and all-powerful Warrior God who fights the battles of His people (v. 5.)  God has been David’s fortress and refuge in times past and he confidently expects God to act on his behalf again in the future (v. 16-17.) 

It is this confidence in God which leads him to prayer.  David cries out expectantly to God to “deliver” him (נצל literally “to snatch him away”) (v. 1.)  He prays that God will protect him (שׂגב– literally “set on high”, i.e. lift him up above the reach of his enemies) (v. 1.)  He prays that God will save him from his bloodthirsty enemies (v. 2.)  He calls upon God to “awake, come to meet me and see!” (v. 4.)  In the midst of his trials, David pours out his soul before God and it is as if he says, “Arouse Yourself, Almighty God, and draw near to me!  See my trials!  See my enemies and take action to save me!  Snatch me up out of their midst and whisk me away to safety!

This prayer of David’s is not simply a collection of empty words.  He fully expects God to hear and deliver Him. 

Psalm 59:9-10 (ESV)9  O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. 10  My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.

Notice how the Psalmist is actively “keeping watch” (שׁמר) for God.  He expects God to show up!  His faith is strong that God will draw near to Him.  He is confident that God will cause him to look upon his enemies in their defeat.

How does David cultivate this confidence in God?  By looking back upon the past grace which God has poured out upon him.

Psalm 59:16-17 (ESV)16  But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. 17  O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love.

David looks forward expectantly to a future time when he will “sing of (God’s) strength… (and) steadfast love in the morning” (i.e. after the time of darkness has passed by.)  He is confident of this future deliverance because “you have been to me a fortress and refuge in the day of my distress.”  He is confident in the future experience of God’s steadfast love and salvation because of the past experience of God’s steadfast love and salvation.  In other words, by looking to the past, he is strengthened in his faith for the future.

O how quick we are to forget the past experience of God’s steadfast love.  If we will only remember what God has done for us, then how can we not be confident in the future grace of God?  The Apostle Paul sums this up better than probably anyone in Romans 8:32

Romans 8:32 (ESV)32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Since God has willingly… graciously… lovingly… sacrificed His only Son for us… then how can we ever doubt that He will graciously and lovingly provide for us in the days to come?

David understands the undying nature of God’s steadfast love better than most.  He remembers how God has been gracious to him in the past and, therefore, he confidently brings his request for deliverance before God… fully expecting that God will answer him.

Is this how we respond to our “enemies”?  Whether they are flesh-and-blood enemies or circumstances brought about by living in a sinful world… do we approach our God boldly in prayer with a confidence grounded in the past actions of His grace?

Some might argue that this was appropriate for David, but not for us today.  After all, David was God’s anointed king.  Surely he had rights which we cannot claim today?  Although there is some truth to this (David is a unique figure in redemptive history), notice that in verse 11 David calls the LORD “our Shield.”  Don’t miss this!  The LORD is not simply David’s Shield.  No!  He is the Shield of all His people.  If you are a Christian… then He is your Shield and mine as well.  By giving His only Son, Jesus, for us, God has demonstrated His steadfast love for us.  He has been our Shield against His own wrath and has ultimately delivered us from all our enemies… whoever or whatever they might be.  We… just like David… can boldly approach the throne of grace and cry out for mercy to help in time of need (Heb 4:16.)  This should be our response to our “enemies.”   Life is hard.  In fact, the Christian life is impossible in our own strength.  Our enemies are great, but our God is greater.  Whatever trials we face in life, may this prayer be upon our lips in faith…

Deliver me from my enemies, O my God.  Protect me from those who rise up against me.  Deliver me from those who work evil and save me from bloodthirsty men.  Arouse Yourself, O God, and take notice of my need.  Come to meet me and see my distress.  You are the LORD God of Hosts.  You are my Defender and Fortress, my Strength and Refuge and Shield.  Strengthen my faith in Your future deliverance!  Remind me of Your steadfast love!  Never let me forget the greatness of Your love and strength on my behalf!  Carry me through the time of darkness so that I might sing aloud Your praises in the morning.  Amen.

 

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9 Marks has posted their November/December e-journal.  The topic is “Counseling in the Church.”  I haven’t read it yet, but their e-journals are always edifying.  You can find it here http://www.9marks.org/ 

9 Marks has also posted a new audio interview with David Powlison.  I listened to it yesterday and it was quite interesting and informative. You can download it here http://resources.christianity.com/details/mrki/20081023/31efac6f-82fa-469f-8a78-2340ebc12d62.aspx

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For various reasons (most importantly my understanding of regeneration), I do not give an altar call at the end of worship services where I am presiding as pastor / preacher.  I often invite people to speak with me after the service if they have questions regarding anything in the sermon… not simply issues of salvation… but I do not call people forward at the end of the service to “do business with God” (as I have often heard it described.)  Coming from a Baptist tradition, this has often been challenged by well-meaning and godly Christians who are concerned about how people will come to Christ apart from an invitation to “come forward.”  Without being oppositional, I typically try to summarize my reformed understanding of the gospel and response to the gospel and explain why I feel it is dangerous (and confusing) to unbelievers to have an “altar call.”  However, my explanations have never been as clear as those of given by Ryan Kelly at Desert Springs Church in Albuquerque.  Thank you to Zach Nielsen over at the “Take Your Vitamin Z” blog for posting Mr. Kelly’s thoughtful responses to why they do not give an altar call at their church.  Even if you do not agree with Mr. Kelly, his article provides a well-written explanation for why some of us choose not to have an altar call in church and, therefore, it is worth reading.  You can find the article here http://takeyourvitaminz.blogspot.com/2007/11/10-reasons-we-dont-do-alter-calls.html

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I have always struggled with preaching short sermons.  I do not deny this.  I find it incredibly difficult to say anything meaningful from the Word of God in a short period of time.

One of the great joys of preaching is soaking in the Word of God.  I know preachers who are far more organized than me and they are able to prepare their sermons in advance, but that simply doesn’t work well for me.  I must dwell in the passage for an extended period of time immediately prior to preaching.  It is hard to explain to those who have never preached, but this is a long, hard process.  It requires reading and re-reading the text of Scripture over and over again (in several English translations and the original languages if possible.)  Then there are the extended periods of meditation. What does this passage teach us about God?  What does it teach us about humanity?  Most importantly… what does this teach us about Jesus?  How does this passage fit into the whole of Scripture?  How should my life and the life of the congregation be impacted by this passage of Scripture?  Although this is physically easy… it is some of the most draining work I have ever done!  But it is always worth it.  The fruit of this has almost always been personal growth.  It is simply not possible to spend extended time in the God-breathed Scriptures and not come out changed on the other side!

Then comes the most challenging part of preaching for me… the sermon preparation.  How do you take everything you have learned and present it to God’s people?  What should you emphasize?  Obviously Jesus and the gospel must be of first importance… but what else?  How much culture background is necessary?  Cross-references?  Sometimes these things can open up the text of Scripture and give a more complete view of the entirety of Scripture and the great and glorious plan of God.  However, these things take time.  Often they take too much time.  And when the sermon gets too long… the preacher will hear complaints…

I was encouraged by a couple of recent posts from Thabiti Anyabwile and Colin Adams regarding the pressure upon preachers to preach shorter and shorter sermons.  You can read Thabiti’s post here http://purechurch.blogspot.com/2008/10/pressure-on-sermon-is-always-downward.html#links and Colin’s here http://unashamedworkman.wordpress.com/2008/10/15/surprising-spurgeon-2-duration/  .

Is your pastor a faithful expositor of the Word of God?  Then encourage him!  Thank him for the hard work of study on your behalf!  Even if the sermon is a little longer than you would like…

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Dr. Gene Veith recently posted some interesting facts about growth among the Amish (they have grown 84% since 1992.)  The majority of this growth is the result of high birthrates (on average, each Amish family has 5 children with 85% of these children remaining Amish.)  The thrust of his post is the weakness among evangelicals when it comes to evangelizing their own children.  Sobering stuff here.  You can read it for yourself at http://www.geneveith.com/church-growth-amish-style/_992/

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