Monday, May 7, 2018

Preparing a Place


"I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly,
(2 Samuel 7:10)

"In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.(John 14:2-3)

God’s covenant and promise to David reaches far beyond the life of David and his son Solomon. David’s dynasty was to be an eternal reign: I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever 7:13). The ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant came through David’s greatest son, Messiah Jesus. The Apostle Paul affirmed this fulfillment on his first missionary journey to Antioch in Pisidia:

And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus, as also it is written in the second Psalm, "'You are my Son, today I have begotten you.' And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he has spoken in this way, "'I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David.'
(Acts 13:32-34)

The Apostle James also confirmed this connection when he declared at the council in Jerusalem:

 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,  says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.(Acts 15:15-18)

And Jesus Himself affirmed his Messiahship with this challenge to the Pharisees:

"What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?" They said to him, "The son of David." He said to them, "How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, "'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet"'? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?" (Matthew 22:42-45)

God promised David that He would appoint a place for His people Israel where they would be safe from all harm and nourished by the Lord Himself. The physical Promised Land was not the ultimate fulfillment of that promise. The writer to the Hebrews, commenting on Psalm 95:7-11 referring to the Promised Land as God’s “rest,” says this:
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:8-10)

That “Sabbath rest” is salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and it will ultimately culminate in the New Heaven and New Earth where there is perfect peace and righteousness.

When you read God’s promise to David, “I will appoint a place for My people,” can you not hear also the words of the Savior: “I go to prepare a place for you . . . that where I am you may be also”?

Friday, March 2, 2018

KEN HAM AND JOHN LENNOX: WHAT THEY HAVE IN COMMON


Those who follow the creation vs. evolution debate know that Ken Ham, founder and director of Answers in Genesis, and John Lennox, Oxford professor and Christian lecturer, take markedly different views of the creation days recorded in Genesis 1. What they have in common, though, is their view of Christian apologetics, their approach to defending the faith.

Both men seem concerned that science, particularly evolutionary theory, has caused people to think of the Bible as irrelevant, a collection of myths. They also seem to be concerned that the faith of Christians may be shaken by the claims of evolutionary scientists. Yet the ways in which they counter these fears are diametrically opposed.

Ken Ham and his staff of eminently qualified scientists seek to demonstrate that the creation days were normal 24-hour days and that the earth is very young, about 6,000 years old. John Lennox, in his book Seven Days that Divide the World, expresses the concern that Christians might paint themselves into a corner by adopting a too literal interpretation of the creation days that might prove to be scientifically untenable and thereby undermine the faith.

What Ken Ham and John Lennox have in common is their approach to the defense of the faith: Evidential Apologetics. Their view is that if enough evidence is amassed in favor of the truth of the Bible, more people will take the Bible seriously and become Christians. Furthermore, Christians will have more confidence to trust and share the teachings of Scripture. Ham and his associates focus on the scientific side, asserting that the observable evidence is not in conflict with the young-earth view; Lennox approaches the matter from the interpretation of Scripture, proposing that the creation account can be interpreted in various ways that harmonize with scientific data regarding the origin of the universe.

Both are practicing Evidential Apologetics, though popular, is misguided.

The more scriptural approach to defending the faith and presenting the gospel is known as Presuppositional Apologetics. The major proponent of this view was Cornelius Van Til, Dutch Reformed theologian and philosopher. Presuppositional Apologetics affirms what Romans 1:18-23 clearly teaches:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.

The truth is, God has revealed himself to mankind in creation and conscience, and so “they are without excuse.” The unbeliever knows the truth, but he “suppresses” it in favor of his sins. To try and convince an unbeliever that it’s okay to believe the Bible because it is not, after all, at odds with science is a useless endeavor! He doesn’t want to believe. The Christian’s job is to proclaim the truth, and let God’s Spirit “convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8), and open hearts to the gospel (Acts 16:1).

Please understand, I think the educational work these men do in presenting alternative views, particularly on college campuses, is useful in challenging the prevailing evolutionary view. Education should be about the pursuit of truth (though it seldom is on secular campuses!). But we shouldn't suppose that any evidence we might produce is going to change sinful hearts.

Our message, then, is the spiritual truth of the Bible: God’s plan of redemption of fallen mankind. That’s the message of the whole Bible, and the major points are (1) God, (2) Man, (3) Sin, and (4) Salvation.

The question whether the six days of God’s creation were literal days as we know them or fiats of creative activity or long periods of time must never eclipse the central message we need to proclaim: We have sinned against a holy, omniscient, omnipotent God who will hold us accountable, and that same God has provided salvation for all who believe through the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.


Friday, February 9, 2018

DOES YOUR CHURCH GIVE A SWEET AROMA?

Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight . . . with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the LORD. . (Exodus 29:38-39, 41)

“Something sure smells good!” We all know the pleasant aroma of savory food in the oven. God spoke to Moses about sacrifices that emitted “a pleasing aroma” to Him. In the Tabernacle in the wilderness, Aaron and his sons were to offer burnt offerings of two one-year-old lambs, one in the morning and one in the evening. Each lamb was to be offered with what amounted to two cups of fine flour mixed with one quart of olive oil and a quart of wine poured over the whole sacrifice. The combination of these ingredients would certainly produce a distinctive aroma that spread throughout the camp of the Israelites. Whether that would be a pleasant aroma to any particular individual would be a matter of taste. But it certainly became a characteristic aroma in the camps of Israel. Most importantly, the aroma of those sacrifices was pleasing to God because of what they represented.

The pleasantness of the aroma to God was, without a doubt, the symbolic representation of the sacrifice of His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The whole burnt offering pictures Christ’s complete surrender to the Father’s will, his total dedication, expressed in His prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, “. . . not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)

Another pleasant aroma that permeated the Tabernacle and undoubtedly seeped through the curtains to the surrounding camps was the daily incense that was to be offered on the golden altar in the holy place, just outside the Holy of Holies where the Ark of Testimony (or Covenant) was housed. That incense was a special formula to be used only in the Tabernacle. Israelites were forbidden to use that formula for common use, and the priests were forbidden to offer any “strange incense” on that altar. The incense represents the sacrifice of intercessory prayer. (Revelation 5:8; 8:3, 4). The prayers of God’s people, those cleansed by the blood of the Lamb and surrendered to Him in humble service are also a pleasant aroma to God.

So how does all this apply to our churches? As we have noted, the aroma of the sacrifices and the incense spread to the surrounding area. Those living in the vicinity of the Tabernacle could not miss it. The faithful would find it pleasant, as God did. The aroma of sacrifice would be a reminder every morning and evening of their covenant relationship with God. It was their spiritual atmosphere. But, from the history of Israel we know that there were others who despised the law and the worship of the Lord God. They wanted to run their own lives and they resented any restrictions. These individuals most likely hated the “smell” of those sacrifices and wished they could get away from it. Some probably did.

The Apostle Paul wrote of his ministry and that of his associates in terms of those Old Testament sacrifices:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17 ESV Emphasis added)

Notice that Paul says the offering of his ministry was to God, not to people. Yet the fragrance of that ministry spreads all around! To some, those whose heart is yearning for salvation, it is a “fragrance of life,” but to those who are obstinate and rebellious, it is a “fragrance of death.” In either case, the aroma of a church should be pleasing to God. When it is, that church will attract those who love that aroma.


Does your church emit the savor of Christ’s sacrifice? Is it a pleasing aroma the God?

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

REFLECTED GLORY IN MINISTRY

Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses talked with them. Afterward all the people of Israel came near, and he commanded them all that the LORD had spoken with him in Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. Whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him. (Exodus 34:30-35)

Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. (2 Corinthians 3:12-13)

Moses' authority as spiritual leader derived from his intimate relationship and communication with God, which resulted in the divine glow on his face. This reflected glory did not last, but faded until Moses's next encounter with the LORD. Hence, the Apostle Paul noted to the Corinthian church that Moses "used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away" (2 Corinthians 3:13 NASB). In the context of Exodus we may infer that the only glory the people were to see was the reflected glory of God, not any human glory in Moses himself. And the only authority Moses had was derived from his communion with God.
           
By way of application, every minister of Christ today should ask himself, "Do people catch a glimpse of the glory of the Lord when I stand in the pulpit and expound His Word?" If not, what is lacking in my on communion with God?  Years ago, I heard of a church that had an inscription on the inside of the pulpit: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:21).  A good reminder for every preacher!
           
In the Apostle Paul's analogy, however, Moses is representative of the Old Covenant. The glory of the Old Covenant, which Paul calls "the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones" (2 Cor. 3:7) was a fading glory. It was glorious because it reflected God's holiness and righteousness; it was fading because of Israel's disobedience. God's purpose in forming a holy people of His own would be fulfilled in the New Covenant through the sacrifice of His Son and the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of believers. That glory, "the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6), will not fade away.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

MAYBE WE SHOULD CONSULT THE BIBLE

This year marks 42 years that I have been an ordained minister. I have ministered in more churches than I can count, as a missionary on both sides of the Atlantic, as a pastor, as interim pastor, and as pulpit supply. To my recollection, only one church I know of actually followed biblical standards in calling a pastor. (But it was so many years ago that I’m not sure if it really happened or if I just dreamed it!)

As a missionary, I ministered in many churches across the country, raising support, reporting on our ministry, and participating in conferences. After our missionary service, I pastored two churches and preached in churches of various denominations. What I have learned – and it’s a painful lesson – is that while churches I’ve known staunchly professed their faith in the Bible as the Word of God and pastors preached from that Bible, they instinctively turned to other resources when problems arose or major decisions had to be made.

For instance, I have ministered in several churches who were seeking a pastor, and I have shared the Bible’s standards for pastoral ministry, even providing a checklist system for evaluating a candidate based on those standards. Yet time after time churches ignored the biblical standards in favor of psychological profiles and church consultants. Their major concern, hardly concealed, is “compatibility” of the prospective pastor with the congregation. The result of such an approach is often unsatisfactory, and sometimes disastrous. Other times, in spite of the congregation’s worldly, superficial approach, the pastor turns out to be what the Bible says he should be. God is gracious!

Why would a church that claims to believe the Bible neglect to meditate every day on First Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, First Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:28-35, and other pertinent passages before considering any candidate for the pastorate? Or nominating an elder or deacon?

Then there are those problems that inevitably arise in churches, because they are made up of people. There are interpersonal conflicts. There are differing views of ministry. There are differing priorities in many areas. Personal tastes and preferences become sources of conflict.  Time to call a “church consultant,” right? Why not first see if the Holy Spirit would reveal the root problem through prayerful reading of God's Word?

The root of every conflict is not hard to discern: it’s sin. Ministry involves challenges and decisions, but they do not have to result in conflict. It’s sin that spoils great opportunities for glorifying God and turns them into conflicts that do just the opposite!

So why don’t church members and pastors turn to Bible study and prayer when problems[i] threaten the peace of the church? Why don’t we follow our Lord’s instructions for conflict resolution as given in Matthew 18:15-17?

First, it is time-consuming and requires a great deal of effort. Agonizing in prayerful study of God’s word is not as attractive as getting a quick solution from another source. But if we’re not willing to quiet ourselves before God and listen for His “still, small voice,” we will inevitably lean on our own understanding, an act of pride.

Another reason, I’m convinced, is a lack of confidence that the Bible really has the solution to our problems, that the biblical directives will really work out best when followed. Christians – yes, even pastors – don’t really trust the Holy Spirit to guide the church by means of His Word to a godly resolution of every problem and challenge the church may face.

Admittedly, the Bible is not a problem-solution manual, but the Bible deals with our most fundamental problem – sin – in all its manifestations. Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit it guides us to repentance and restoration. We need not look for specific passages that deal with specific problems. Every book of the Bible gives insight into our nature and how we can deepen our relationship with God and others.

David James-Morse, a missionary to Peru whom I met many years ago, told of a personal crisis during his first term on the field, a crisis that nearly led to his quitting and going home. He decided instead to shut himself up in a small shack on the compound and give himself to Bible reading and prayer until God gave him guidance. And God did give James-Morse guidance. The result was a revival that resulted in several churches being established in the jungles of Peru. Well, how did he go about reading the Bible? He said he started with Genesis and just kept reading and praying until God gave him direction.

We are far too concerned about problem-solving, and far too little concerned about humbling ourselves before God. Yet in the presence of the power and wisdom of God, problems turn to praise and trials turn to triumph. The problems of every church come down to the main problem in every individual who makes up that church – sin. And at the heart of sin is pride.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7 NKJV)

The Apostle Paul told the Colossian church how to have peace with one another:

And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:15-17 NKJV emphasis added)




[i] The word “issue” has become more popular than “problem” in recent decades. The preference for “issue” actually grew out of lawsuits, particularly in the auto industry. If company documents contained the word “problem,” that was used as an admission of guilt! An “issue,” on the other hand, could be anything from a real problem to what color the upholstery should be! Now we all have issues!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

YOU SHALL BE WITNESSES

After decades of ministry, I am more convinced than ever that it is not what we do as Christians but what we are that has the greatest impact for Christ. It is not the number of people with whom we have shared the gospel, how many conversions we can number, how many churches we have planted, or the average attendance at our services, that matters for eternity. It is the quality of our ministry that makes a lasting change in lives.

After his resurrection, just before ascending to heaven, Jesus commissioned his disciples with these words:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Certainly there is a commission to do something. The disciples’ ministry was to extend “to the end of the earth.” (Compare Matthew 28:19-20; Luke 24:47). But the emphasis in this last statement of Jesus’ commission was on being. “You will be my witnesses.” The power of the disciples’ words would be evident from their life. When Peter and John were called before the Jewish council for preaching gospel of Jesus and his resurrection, the council noted:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

I’m convinced that every Christian, especially those in full-time ministry, need to give more time and attention to being what God wants us to be. That means backing off from frenetic activity in the Lord’s name at the cost of neglecting  a deepening fellowship with the Lord Himself.

An example of quality over quantity comes to mind. I know a missionary whose ministry for many years was in a support capacity. He rarely preached in Sunday services, but he always made sure he got to know every individual and couple who attended. One Sunday, a couple visited from a distant town because they had heard about the church through a radio ministry, a ministry that “support” missionary had helped set up and run. That humble missionary and his wife invited the visitors to their home for dinner, and they spent the entire afternoon listening to them pour out their sorrows. The couple shared they had come to the point of divorce, but they agreed to visit this church as the last hope for their marriage. What they found was new life in Christ. Not long afterwards that couple was baptized and became the nucleus for a new ministry in their town. It was the quality of life of that missionary, his being, that made the crucial difference.

The story repeats itself across history. I think of the Scottish pastor whose humble ministry had not produced many converts, yet one of them was a boy named Robert Moffatt, the great missionary who opened the interior of Africa to the gospel. We probably will not know until heaven just how many lives we have touched for Christ just by being faithful and by deepening our communion with Christ.

Among the people who came to Jerusalem for the Passover the week Jesus was crucified were some Greeks. They came to Phillip with this simple request: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  That’s exactly what people need today! They need to see Jesus in the lives of his brethren, those born of the Spirit God. People need to take note, as did the Jewish council, that we have been with Jesus.



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A DEADLY FAMINE

In an effort to understand what hunger feels like some folks have committed themselves to fasting for twenty-four hours. That this is a major challenge in our affluent culture says a lot in itself! Nevertheless, we can commend the effort to try and understand “what hunger feels like,” even though the uncomfortable feeling we get from missing a couple of meals is not really hunger.

There is a much more serious famine in our land, one with much greater consequences, deadly consequences, eternal consequences. That’s the famine the Prophet Amos spoke about:

"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord GOD, "when I will send a famine on the land— not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12)

Throughout the history of Israel and Judah, there were long periods of silence from God. Some of those periods of silence occurred during times of prosperity, as in the reign of King Uzziah of Judah. The people didn’t seem to care. They were prosperous, things were going well. As the two kingdoms sank deeper into idolatry and its consequent evil behavior, God sent prophets to call them to repentance. But time was running out for both Israel and Judah. After Amos, only one prophet, Hosea, would speak for God to the northern tribes. Then in 722 B.C. Shalmanezer, King of Assyria, would carry them away into exile. As for Judah, after the prophecy of Malachi, the people would languish over 400 years in spiritual famine until God sent John the Baptist to prepare the way for the promised Messiah.

Now we Christians live in the light of the New Covenant, with the full revelation of God in the Person of His Son (Hebrews 1:2) and the guidance of His Holy Spirit through His completed Word. So is there a famine of the Word of God today? Apparently there is. And as in ages past, it is self-induced. As the ancient Israelites rejected or carelessly neglected God’s Word, even so professing Christians today are neglecting the completed Bible.

Recent surveys have revealed that even regular church attenders spend very little time, if any, each week reading God’s Word. A small minority have actually read through the entire Bible even once. As for pastors, while most say they refer to the Bible in their sermons and include Bible reading in the worship service, it is evident that very few expound the Bible clearly in context and make practical application to their congregations. Alistair Begg gave several reasons for the decline in expository preaching:

I.                   A lack of confidence in the Bible.
II.                Fighting the wrong battles
III.             Using the wrong role models: e.g. business, psychology.
(From “What Happened to Expository Preaching?” The Pastor’s Study, Vol. II)

While few would admit it, many pastors lack faith in the Holy Spirit to change lives through God's Word. Expository preaching lets the Word of God speak for itself by drawing attention to the timeless principles God revealed and applied to His people down through the ages. The Holy Spirit uses “the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17) to work where only God can work – in the heart!

F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) saw the same lack of expository preaching in his day, and he urged pastors to preach expositorily. His book Expository Preaching Plans and Methods is still well worth reading today, and it’s available in print or on Kindle.

One major reason the average Christian doesn’t read the Bible is because he or she has no idea of the richness of its progressive revelation and the practical wisdom revealed there. Creating a hunger for the Word is a large part of the pastor’s job.

 There certainly is a famine of hearing the words of the LORD today. And the effects of this famine are evident in the weakness of spiritually emaciated Christians in our churches.