Thursday, December 28, 2017

Good News: Jesus Will Judge the Living and the Dead! (Acts 10:39-43)

And we are witnesses of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day, and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to witnesses chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.”Acts 10:39-43
Jesus' role as judge is fundamental to the message of the gospel. This is true, of course, because it is a reminder of why we must flee to Him to receive remission of sins. Until those are canceled from our account, we are in no condition to appear before the Judge!

But it is also important because it reminds us that God is just. The days of evil and sorrow are numbered, and all sin will most certainly be judged. Truly, it is the view of the world of those who do not believe in Christ that cannot stand up to the "problem of evil." For, they know that evil is evil, and they know that this is a problem, but they have no solution for how it can be resolved.

For us, however, the real problem is not that evil is not dealt with in others. For surely it will be, and since that judgment is eternal, what difference does it make if it begins a couple thousand years sooner or a couple thousand years later?

The real "problem" in the equation, then, is the reasoning behind this deferred judgment. The answer? The Judge has undergone His own judgment, and extends full clemency to all who believe in Him during this period of deferment. He is patiently bringing to faith in Himself every last one for whom He died, and refuses to bring the judgment even a moment before this is fully accomplished (cf. 2Pet 3:3-9).

On that day, then, when we who have believed in Him stand before Him, we will do so with clean accounts. All sin remitted. All penalty already satisfied at His cross.
Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for usRomans 8:33-34
It is appointed for you to die once, and after that judgment. If you were to die today, and were to stand before the Judge, would you be standing before the One for whom you have rejected all other views of reality? Would you be standing before the One who is your only hope, your only purpose, your only Master, your only ultimate joy and desire?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Have I Established Myself as a Friend?

At lunchtime family worship today, we were back at the beginning of Proverbs 27 (It's Dec 27), and we worked through the first nine verses.

There's much here about our need for counsel--even, in context, the teaching in v7 that we should foster in ourselves hunger for counsel so that we will always benefit from it... no matter how poorly given.

But in making application with my children, the Lord opened my eyes to see something in v6 that I'm not quite sure I had ever noticed was in the Scripture here:
"Faithful are the wounds of a friend" (Prov 27:6)
So, I was pointing out that when a friend wounds you, even if they have timed their critique badly, even if they have worded it poorly, and used an unkind tone in the moment, that they are still a friend. And that it is still friendship to help you grow: that we should be willing to overlook everything else in there, assume the kindest intent, and not only receive it as a blessing from God but even decide to view it as a faithfulness from a friend.

Then it occurred to me: how do people know that I am a friend? I had used myself as an example to my children. For literally each one of their entire lives, there has been rejoicing with them in their joy, grieving with them in their pain, and words of affection, looks of affection, tokens of affection.

I am glad to be able to say that there is no doubt in my mind that my children know me to be not just their father but also their friend. How sad that precious few fathers can say that. And it is something that must be maintained... if there has been some lag in this maintenance, and then the wound comes in the midst of the lag, could I really fault them for wondering if I am still a friend?

But then what about members in my congregation? What about neighbors? What about people with whom I have some regular interaction and may need to be useful to them some day in the way of critique? If I had to wound them today, do I have good reason to think from our relationship as a whole, and especially our recent interactions, that they know that I am a friend?

What a blessed thing it is to foster and maintain Christian friendship! And, if we hope to be able to give wounds that are counted as faithful, what a most necessary thing it is as well!

Government Needs God's Word, Not Just Our Prayers (from Ezra 7-8)

"Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, who has put such a thing as this in the king’s heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem, and has extended mercy to me before the king and his counselors, and before all the king’s mighty princes. So I was encouraged, as the hand of the LORD my God was upon me; and I gathered leading men of Israel to go up with me." Ezra 7:27-28
We live in a day when, more and more, believers are seeing the need to cry out to God that He would give us favor in the eyes of the civil government. What a blessing it would be to see real-life, government action that can only be explained by the fact that the Lord our God had put this into their hearts!

But there is a component in this section of Ezra that could otherwise have easily escaped out notice: his ministry of the Word to the civil authorities.
Ezra "prepared his heart to seek the Law of Yahweh, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel" (Ezra 7:10). 
From cover to cover, the Bible teaches a religion of the heart, even when it comes to the Law of God. Those who set "relationship" and "religion" opposite one another make a grave error, just as those who set "heart" and "Law" opposite one another.
Later, we read Artaxerxes saying, "Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it diligently be done for the house of the God of heaven. For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?" (7:23). 
Where did Artaxerxes get this idea? Well, he called Ezra,
"a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven" (7:12)
and Ezra himself says in the next chapter,
"we had spoken to the king, saying, 'The hand of our God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him.'" (8:22)
Almost certainly, Ezra had prayed for the king's response, just as he prayed for safety on the road (8:23). And as we saw above, we know with certainty that he attributed the king's response to the miraculous work of God. But Ezra's waiting upon God for a miracle was not a passive inactivity. He had also been telling Artaxerxes the truth about the God of heaven.

Even if Artaxerxes was not genuinely converted, he did respond well enough out of fear for the protection and prospering of the church. Might not the Lord do the same or better for us today? Surely, we too should be praying that the civil authoirities would be a blessing to the church in our day.

But, in addition, let us keep aware of legislation that impacts the church, and request such wise laws as would protect and prosper true churches. And let us give to our authorities the plain Word of God without shame, for the good of the land over which they rule depends upon the very God to whom we pray!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Preaching Is Miraculous Help from God! (Ezra 5-6)

"Thus the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem ceased, and it was discontinued until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. Then the prophet Haggai and Zechariah the son of Iddo, prophets, prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem, in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. So Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak rose up and began to build the house of God which is in Jerusalem; and the prophets of God were with them, helping them." Ezra 4:24–5:2
"So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia." Ezra 6:14
For years, the Jews made no progress. Then, when the Lord determined to strengthen them, He sent... preachers!

And in between these two passages above, the Lord worked in several different ways to establish the faithfulness of His people, their favor in the eyes of superiors, etc... including the glorious reversal of Tattenai's letter onto his own head--causing him to stumble into the trap of asking about Cyrus's decree, and ending with him having to give up his own local resources to fund the work that he opposed!

But then, 6:14 says that it was through the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah that the Jews prospered in building.

Often, we seek from God the kind of providence that occurs in between. But let us learn from this passage to value properly when God sends us His men with His Word. That, by itself, is already a display that He is with us, helping us. Let us love the preaching of His Word!

Monday, December 25, 2017

2017.12.25 Ministry Monday - An Able and Faithful Ministry (Garretson), pp24-32

Today being Ministry Monday, we continue in Samuel Garretson's An Able and Faithful Ministry: Samuel Miller and the Pastoral Office.

Chapter 2
"O Lord, accept of my dedication! Fill me with thy love; prepare me for thy service; help me to be more and more like Christ, and more and more to glorify Christ! [...] Oh, the unutterable importance of having the care of precious, immortal souls committed to my hands! Father, give me knowledge--give me wisdom--give me strength, to perform my duties aright. Blessed Saviour, whom I trust I have chosen as the hope of my own soul, may I be strong in thee and in the power of thy might! Oh, help me to live, and study, and preach and act, like one habitually and deeply sensible that he must give account!"
--Samuel Miller, quoted in An Able and Faithful Ministry, p24

This chapter covers Miller's pastoral ministry in New York City from 1793 to 1803. It highlights how involved he was in the local and broader community.

Garretson includes an excerpt from a paper Miller gave on the necessity of a gradual plan for manumission of slaves that would include giving them intellectual and moral training so that they could function as honest citizens and truly be freemen (p27).

In 1798, an outbreak of yellow fever brought great suffering to the city, and though many fled, Miller stayed precisely to minister in the midst of it. What troubled him the most, however was that the people were not spiritually moved by the calamity and that he did not know of a single conversion that had come by means of it (p30). It alarmed him that he grew accustomed to this, and he worried that the providence that he observed to harden others might harden himself (p31).

As a member of a literary club, he wrote a two-volume history of the eighteenth century, for which he was awarded two honorary doctorates and membership in the Philological Society of Manchester, England (p32).

Finally, on a personal note, Miller finally married on October 24, 1801. 49 years of marriage to Sarah would produce ten children, four of whom would precede him in death (p33).

This chapter reminds of how ministry takes place in real-life circumstances, and of how ministers' souls and lives are subject to all of the same ills, afflictions, and joys as the people whom they shepherd. Surely, this is a wise and helpful design of God. It enables them to understand and attend to their flock better, and it causes their labors for the flock to be available to the minister for the care of his own soul.

The paper on manumission was interesting. 60+ years before the war of Union v.s. States, before the issue was being pressed for political and financial purposes, here was a northern minister publishing a much wiser approach to manumission than was eventually foisted upon the nation. One wonders how different the nation would be today if such wisdom had been followed.

Fearless Faithfulness Is Built upon the Sovereignty of God (Acts 4:27-29)

“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,
Acts 4:27-29

It is certain that the wicked can only end up accomplishing whatever good God's hand and God's purpose has determined before to be done.

Believing this ought to spare us from pragmatism, so that rather than worry about what might come to us, we would instead boldly do whatever the Lord has commanded. Therefore the apostles are committed to speak God's Word as servants.

However, even when we believe, we are still weak. And so they pray for the boldness that they ought to have.

Let us believe in the sovereignty of God. Let us be committed, therefore, to do without fear whatever He has assigned to us. And let us pray to Him for that fearless faithfulness.