Posted on April 30, 2015
John Fawcett was converted as a 16-year-old in 1755 under the ministry of George Whitefield. He became the pastor of Wainsgate Baptist Church in Yorkshire in 1764. In 1772, he initially accepted the invitation to succeed the formidable John Gill at London’s Carter’s Lane Baptist Church and that at a substantially higher salary. This was no small honor for Fawcett who once wrote prior to 1764, To be brief, my dear friends, you may say what you will, I’ll ne’er be confined to read nothing but Gill.”
He preached his farewell sermon with packed wagon outside. But in the end he could not leave his beloved Wainsgate congregation. He immediately declined the invitation and served them until he died in 1817. This would inspire his most famous hymn Blest Be the Tie That Binds that many a Baptist have held hands and sung at the end of their services.
In 1782, Fawcett published Hymns Adapted to the Circumstances of Public Worship and Private Devotion. He prefaced the book humbly: “I blush to think of these plain verses falling into the hands of persons of an elevated genius, and refined taste. To such, I know, they will appear flat, dull and unentertaining . . . If it may be conducive, under divine blessing to warm the heart or assist the devotion of any humble Christian in the closet, the family or the house of God, I shall therein sincerely rejoice, whatever censure I may incur from the polite world.”
Fawcett remains a faithful example to ladder-climbing preachers and performance-driven worship pastors. He refused a celebrity pulpit and its compensation to eke out a living in relative anonymity. He wrote “plain” hymns that might be “unentertaining” to the musical elite (and modern K-Love audience) but would serve “any humble Christian.” They still do.
Fawcett died July 25, 1817, and was appropriately buried in the graveyard of the church he served over fifty years. He lived and died with his congregation.
May one of his “plain verses” warm your heart and assist your devotion as it has mine:
Afflicted saint, to Christ draw near—
Thy Savior’s gracious promise hear,
His faithful Word declares to thee,
That as thy days thy strength shall be.
Let not thy heart despond and say
“How shall I stand the trying day?”
He has engaged by firm decree,
That as thy days thy strength shall be.
Thy faith is weak, thy foes are strong,
And if the conflict should be long,
The Lord will make the tempter flee,
For as thy days thy strength shall be.
Should persecution rage and flame,
Still trust in thy Redeemer’s Name;
In fiery trials thou shalt see,
That as thy days thy strength shall be.
When called to bear thy weighty cross,
Or sore affliction, pain, or loss,
Or deep distress or poverty,
Still as thy days thy strength shall be.
Posted on April 27, 2015
“If anyone thinks he is religious, but instead of bridling his tongue deceives his heart, this one’s religion is worthless” (Jas 1.26).
You know that guy who always has an answer for every question, explanation for every situation, provocation for every dispute, and/or recollection for every story? Whatever the setting, this guy always has something to say and assumes it’s everyone’s privilege to hear it. His answer always better. His explanation always more astute. His experience always more dramatic. He’s impatient when others are talking but expects undivided attention when waxing eloquent on the topic at hand. You know that guy. I am that guy trying to be was that guy.
Due to our sinful rebellion against God we lost peace on all fronts. We lost peace with God, peace with each other and peace within ourselves. James 1.26 puts the latter on display. What we think doesn’t often jive with what we are, which doesn’t always jive with what we say. Our minds, hearts and tongues are at odds with each other such that we can convince others with our tongues what is not true of our hearts. We can even deceive our hearts into feeling what our mind manipulates through our mouths. Unlike God, what we say is not always consistent with who we are.
One hellish fallout of our inner war is how we use our tongues to appear religious without actually having to be religious. And by “religion” James always assumed Christianity. Therefore, to think oneself “religious” is to consider oneself godly, i.e. Christian. We might not so much lie about our religion but genuinely think we are religious because we can talk a sophisticated religious game. We sincerely substitute religious tongue-wagging for “pure and undefiled religion” (v27).
James was a consummate pastor with a keen sense of what it means to actually apply the gospel. He made several truths quite clear:
- Our Christianity (“religion”) can be gauged by how we use words and tones (cf. Jas 3.1-12). Jesus taught the substance of our regular conversations reveals what most thrills or fills our hearts (Mt 12.34). We may smooth-talk now but eventually the heart will talk. Despite what we may think about ourselves, or what we hope to convince others about ourselves, we reveal who we are by what regularly rolls off the tongue.
- Bridling the tongue is a mark of Christian (“religious”) maturity (cf. Jas 3.2). By “bridling,” of course, James employed an equestrian metaphor and is used only here and in 3.2 in all the NT. As a bit in a horse’s mouth controls his direction and behavior, so the tongue controls our direction and behavior (cf. Jas 3.3). Bridling the tongue doesn’t necessarily mean restraining it (although it often might), but controlling it. We bridle the tongue when we refuse to use it (Jas 1.19) and when we use it carefully and gracefully (Eph 4.29).
- Not bridling the tongue is to deceive one’s heart. What’s the connection between an unbridled tongue and a deceived heart? When I’m merely spouting off how religious I think I am I’m convincing my heart that I’m far more religious than I really am. James contrasted religion-in-word-only with “pure and undefiled religion” in 1.27. The more I talk a good religious (or Christian maturity) game the less inclined I am to actually serve the cause of Christianity in mercy and holiness. My Christianity is shaped mainly by reputation than actual devotion.
Those of us who enjoyed Happy Days during childhood remember we never saw The Fonz actually fight anyone. Yet, everyone was afraid to fight him. He talked a mean enough game that no one challenged him to any actual fisticuffs.
Likewise, I can convince you I’m religious without having to actually get my hands dirty with widows, orphans or practical holiness. In so doing I deceive my heart into feeling religious without any substantial evidence that I really am. And James teaches that anyone like that observes a worthless Christianity. Zion knows no Christian-in-word-only. Foghorn Leghorn summarized James quite well: “You’re doing a lot of choppin’, but no chips are flyin’.”
Consider a few applications that weigh heavy on my own heart:
- Don’t just talk about forgiveness. Forgive. Don’t go on about forgiveness to make people think you’re a forgiving person in order to avoid being held accountable to actually forgiving your enemy. Our mouths can deceive our hearts into thinking we’ve forgiven when we really haven’t. Go and actually forgive your enemy so they can tell the world how forgiving you are.
- Don’t just talk about prayer. Pray. Don’t talk a good game about prayer to make people think you’re a praying person in order to avoid being held accountable to actually praying. Develop a reputation for prayer by the mouths of others, not by your own.
- Don’t just talk about evangelism. Evangelize. Don’t talk about a love for the lost such that people think you’re a faithful evangelist when you’re really not.
- Don’t just talk about grace and mercy. Extend grace and mercy. Don’t talk about God’s grace and mercy such that people think you’re a gracious and merciful person without having to actually confront the grudge(s) you’re nursing.
- Don’t just talk about love. Love. Don’t talk about how much we need to love each other because of how much God has loved us so that people then think you’re a loving person and then don’t confront any hatred germinating in your heart. Many times we can hijack (or profane) God’s love to throw others off the scent of our our own anger and bitterness.
- Don’t just talk about encouragement. Encourage. Don’t boast about the value of encouragement so that people think you’re an encouraging person without being held accountable to actually making a phone call or writing a note.
- Don’t just talk about the Bible. Talk Bible. Don’t throw around words like inerrancy, infallibility, authority so that people think you’re a Bible person without actually considering how much Bible you love, know and apply.
James called Christians “doers” of the word, not mere “hearers” (or talkers) (Jas 1.22). Let’s the keep the hell away from our tongues, I say, I say.
Posted on April 14, 2015
God’s providence is a fundamental necessity to Christian orthodoxy.
“We believe that this good God, after creating all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without God’s orderly arrangement. Yet God is not the author of, and cannot be charged with, the sin that occurs. For God’s power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that God arranges and does his works very well and justly even when the devils and the wicked act unjustly.
“We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what God does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ’s disciples, so as to learn only what God shows us in the Word, without going beyond those limits.
“This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father, who watches over us with fatherly care, sustaining all creatures under his lordship, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father” (The Belgic Confession, Art. 13).
The doctrine of God’s providence does not merely confess “God is in control” but that he is in control of all things to a certain end. God is not playing eternal checkers with himself, moving humankind infinitely around the same old board. He is accomplishing something. He is accomplishing everything.
Genesis is about the beginnings of things. The beginning of time, matter, people. The beginning of all that’s right and all that’s wrong. But it’s about far more. Things that are begun by a powerful and benevolent God necessarily infer purpose. And purpose, according to Christianity, infers God’s providence. God did not merely begin all things. He started all things in order to finish all things. Genesis not a mere story of creation but the outworking of God’s divine and loving providence.
Genesis offers details that surely confuse me and force important and unanswerable questions. But one thing remains constant: God has ordained every detail of history to serve his appointed ends; namely, the eternal display of his grace to his people through Jesus Christ (Eph 1.3-14).
Either God has gotten lucky for ten thousand years (or ten gazillion, which only strengthens my point), reacting perfectly to all human behavior so that Jesus happened on the scene in the nick of time and the church holds on by the skin of her teeth. Or, God has orchestrated all of human history — favoring one person rather than another, allowing this event and not that one, preserving one life and not the ten next to it — to prove he alone is God and will get all glory for the salvation of any one man.
God’s providence is on full display in Genesis 11 where we read eight times in vv10-25, “and he had other sons and daughters.” The same phrase was used nine times in 5.4-30, most importantly of Noah who had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. But Genesis 11.10-30 concerns itself only with Shem’s lineage beginning with his son Arpachshad on its way to Abram. But if Shem “had other sons and daughters” why is Arpachshad singled out? Why not any one of Shem’s other sons?
Arpachshad and I have something in common. We both welcomed children at 35. He had Shelah at 35 but over the next 403 (!) years “he had other sons and daughters.” They, however, are lost to history and only Shelah is immortalized in the biblical witness. Shem’s line gets more and more specific until the spotlight shines on one man: Shem’s great-whatever grandson Abram. All along the way, though, everyone was having “other sons and daughters.”
In a stroke of literary brilliance, the author (Moses?) stopped us dead in our tracks. He’s rhythmically ended each generational iteration with “and he had other sons and daughters.” He gets to Terah and mentioned his three (not one) sons: Abram, Nahor Jr., and Haran (v26). Haran died (v27) thus ending that line and leaving Abram and Nahor to continue whatever God started with Shem and Arpachshad. Abram married Sarai and Nahor married Milcah (v29).
Verse 29 leaves us hanging in suspense. Which son will enjoy being “begat” and which one swept into the “other sons and daughters” category? Who will be the “one” and who the “other”? In v30 we’re startled to read, “Sarai was barren; she had no child.” Barren? No child? In a chapter carried along by the rhythm of fertility, each stanza refrained “and he had other sons and daughters,” the song ends abruptly with this crescendo of barrenness. If Shem was a movie, it was a short one.
But that settles it, right? There’s only one son left to keep the line moving. We should then expect v31 to begin “So Nahor became the father of Uz” but we don’t hear that until Genesis 22.20. No, whatever God is doing through the line of Shem will go through Abram, husband of Barren Sarah, not Nahor, husband of fertile Milcah. Nahor fades from the scene and the next twelve chapters are, as we say, history.
Did God get lucky that Shem had a son, and every son thereafter had a son until Abram went and married that barren woman? If God were merely reacting to history then he should’ve chosen Nahor, who did have a fertile wife and did bear a son. Like a coloring book maze, God hit a wall and should back up to a more promising line. Why insist on “interfering” with the seeming natural order of things by risking history on an impossible situation? How many details must “fall into place” so that an Arpachshad could be born, much less an Isaac?
It must be that God has sovereignly ordained the most minute details of history — even which son will inherit his favor — to serve his good and wise purposes. Otherwise, every generation was a roll of the cosmic dice. Why favor Seth and not Cain? Why Shem and not Japheth? Why Abram and not Nahor? Why Isaac and not Ishmael? Why Jacob (the liar) and not Esau? Why Joseph and not one of his 11 other better-suited brothers? Why little David and not one of his strapping brothers? There were always other sons and daughters to use who were just as, if not more, fit for God’s purposes.
And on and on until we read of a teenage virgin who is pregnant. And we thought a post-menopausal Barren Sarah becoming pregnant was something!
In the end we must ask ourselves, “Why me and not him? Why him and not her?” Dear sister, why do you love Christ and not your younger brother who grew up in the same house? Dear brother, why do you believe the gospel and not your older sister who sat beside you in the same pew every Sunday? Dear friend, why would God use you in his kingdom and not your neighbor who gives twice as much to charity? Among all the better people in the world, who have done seemingly far less to offend God, why would God favor you and not them? Why did God adopt you rather than the hundred other spiritual orphans next door? Why should my salvation possibly happen?
From Genesis 1.1 on we cannot help but say, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom 9.16).
All the genealogies of Scripture are of a piece of one lineage: Our Heavenly Father’s only begotten Son. And this Son has many brothers and sisters “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1.13). This Son’s Bride is not barren, but fertile, to beget God’s many sons and daughters into his kingdom through the gospel (Mt 16.18).
With the gospel’s aroma wafting through heaven we will spend eternity confessing, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2.8-9). Dead sinners can take no more credit for their eternal life than post-menopausal barren women and teenage virgins can for their pregnancies. And so goes the rhythm of sovereign grace.
Posted on April 13, 2015
“For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so. The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. . . . I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all I command him” (Dt 18.14-15, 18).
A dominant characteristic separated old covenant Israel from every other nation on the planet. They were Yahweh’s people and their God actually spoke to them. No other nation had such a revealing and accommodating god.
Other nations had gods, to be sure, and they looked lifelike. They had hands and feet, eyes and mouths. But those gods “have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see” (Pss 115.5; 135.16). Therefore, the pagan nations had to employ a variety of spiritists and diviners to interpret the will of their wax-nosed gods. As we would expect, there was lucrative market for those interested in interpreting the will of the gods. God-whisperers manipulated people for their own purposes. Their “ministry” twisted their marionette-gods to man’s will. For a fee, of course.
Can you take seriously a god that can be milled in high school woodshop or molded by the local potter?
The mammoth stone and wooden gods looked strong. Crystal balls, palm-readers and tarot cards looked impressive. They lent themselves to immediate results masquerading as a word from the gods.
But, Israel was to resist at all costs. They served and were cared for by the One, True and Living God. And He speaks. There would be no need to conjure him up with smoke, mirrors and sleight-of-hand. He needed no bribe because he already owned the universe (Ps 50.7-15). Even if his tummy grumbled, he could make his own meal! Yahweh was always present, always revealing.
Israel needed no medium because God himself would provide his prophet. This prophet would hear from God and communicate to the people. No spooky incantations or two-bit psychics. No elicit sex acts or midnight cookies.
God sent many preparatory prophets who anticipated the Prophet to come. The Prophet would be “like God” (Dt 18.15) and “like you” (Dt 18.18). He would be the God-Man to speak God’s word to God’s people. From the earliest days, God was using Israel to prepare the world for The Prophet — the One to embody God’s Word before us, the Living Word who dwells among us (Jn 1.1-5, 14).
Once, Jesus gave the Three Musketeers (Peter, James and John) a sneak peek at the future of all things (Mt 17.1-8). In a scene of Sinaitic proportions God thundered from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” (v5). The prophet to whom God’s covenant people were to listen (Dt 18.15) has come. He speaks for God and as God for the salvation of his people. They have no reason to consult any other means for their salvation.
We have a far greater need than to know if we should take this or that flight, love this or that person, spend tonight here or there, or even hear from the dead. We need to hear from God about our sin. We need to hear there is hope for sinners who live rather confused and hypocritical and contradictory lives. We need to hear that there is a remedy for the mess we’ve made of this world and our lives.
Besides, even if someone did speak to us from the “great beyond” would still not be convinced of our greatest need (Lk 16.31). If we will not listen to the voice of the Creator of the Universe then in what universe do we think we’ll listen to a ghost or stargazer?
All the words of God are contained in the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb 1.1). He teaches us the will of God and supplies the means by which that will is accomplished. He unveiled our future when he rose from the dead (Rom 8.11). He doesn’t align the stars. He created them.
Any desire to divine God’s will by any other means is to seek a treasure far too small. If you are impressed by a daily horoscope, consider that the Eternal God has ordained every one of your days so you might enjoy Jesus (Ps 139.16). We have no need to rub anyone’s belly, massage anyone’s hand or read anyone’s horoscope. We don’t need a “reading,” but to be reading! We open our Bibles in the community of faith wherein God speaks through Christ for our everlasting joy (Jn 15.11).
Posted on April 7, 2015
Gripped by this selection from Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves:
“. . . we naturally gravitate, it seems, toward anything but Jesus–and Christians almost as much as anyone–whether it’s ‘the Christian worldview,’ ‘grace,’ ‘the Bible’ or ‘the gospel,’ as if they were things in themselves that could save us. Even ‘the cross’ can get abstracted from Jesus, as if the wood had some power of its own. Other things, wonderful things, vital concepts, beautiful discoveries so easily edge Jesus aside. Precious theological concepts meant to describe him and his work get treated as things in their own right. He becomes just another brick in the wall. But the center, the cornerstone, the jewel in the crown of Christianity is not an idea, a system or a thing; it is not even ‘the gospel’ as such. It is Jesus Christ.
“He is not a mere topic, a subject we can pick out from a menu of options. Without him, our gospel or our system– however coherent, ‘grace-filled or ‘Bible-based’–simply is not Christian. It will only be Christian to the extent that it is about him, and then what we make of him will govern what we mean by the word gospel. I’m going to dare to say, in fact, that most of our Christian problems and errors of thought come about precisely through forgetting or marginalizing Christ. That is, that despite all our apparent Christianness, we fail to build our lives and thoughts upon the Rock.
“I can’t put it any better than the Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who wrote to a friend with this advice: ‘Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief. Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in his beams. Fell His all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in His almighty arms . . . Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.'” (pp10-11)
Let’s be careful that, in seeing the gospel, we don’t miss Jesus.
Posted on March 27, 2015
Dad has recently settled into an assisted living facility. None of us is particularly glad about it but we’re seeing some benefits. Within three years he’s gone from 2,500 square feet to 700 to 120. It’s metaphorical, really. As we get older our world gets smaller and more temporary, more lonely. Dad has yet to call it “home” and I’m not sure he should. At best, he calls it where he “stays” or his “place.” And that’s what it is: a place, not home.
He’s stronger some days than others but he still inches toward the midnight hour. John 11 escorts me out when we leave Dad in his chair in his room. And I take tearful comfort that Jesus has been there, too.
The apostle John put Jesus on peculiar display in John 11. It’s only one of two occasions the Gospel writers refer to Jesus crying (cf. Lk 19.41). The fullness of God and the fullness of man swirling heavenward to stir up faith in the Bethany township. The Son of God who raises the dead is also the Son of Man who weeps in graveyards.
Because he is the Son of Man, fully human, Jesus had a beloved friend on his deathbed (v3). Because he is the Son of God, fully divine, Jesus had already written the end of the story (v4). Or more appropriately, the beginning of the story.
The Son of Man went to a funeral as good friends do (vv15, 17). The Son of God would end the funeral.
The Son of Man consoled a grieving and theologically astute sister (vv23-27). As the Son of God Jesus eased her pain, not with platitudes, but by drawing her to himself.
The Son of Man was “deeply moved in spirit and was troubled” that his friends suffered (v33). The Son of God Jesus could actually do something about it: “Where have you laid him?” (v34).
The Son of Man wept as he stood before his beloved friend’s newly-sealed tomb (vv35, 38). The Son of God broke the seal and solved the dilemma of death by commanding life back into his friend (vv33-34). “Remove the stone” (v39).
And somehow the man “bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face…wrapped around with a cloth” “came forth” (v44). Maybe he shuffled. Maybe he floated. Maybe he just appeared. But when Jesus spoke a living soul returned to a reeking corpse, oxygen filled Lazarus’ lungs, decomposition reversed course, strength returned to his legs. As if speaking to death itself Jesus commanded, “Unbind him, and let him go” (v44).
As John’s famous seventh sign, the raising of Lazarus echoed the seventh day of creation: God’s salvific rest. John’s Gospel would slow down to the last week of Jesus’ mortal life as chapter 12 begins “six days before the Passover.” It would be The Passover to end all Passovers. John covered eternity past to AD 33 in eleven chapters. John would took the next ten chapters to cover a few days. Raising Lazarus was the literary equivalent of an emergency brake on a locomotive. With Lazarus’s resurrection, the preface to John’s Gospel was finally complete and he could get on with the story.
The Beloved Son would die, be sealed in a tomb behind a stone, and his friends would mourn. But God would remove the stone (Jn 20.1) and the Beloved One would come forth. Only this One would leave his burial clothes in the tomb (v5). Unlike Lazarus, Jesus would never need them again.
Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead long before Lazarus ever died: “This sickness is not to end in death” (vv4, 11). Yet, Jesus he was moved by the sorrow (v33). Jesus knew he would raise Lazarus after a short prayer (v42) and yet he still wept before he prayed (v35).
Scholars debate why Jesus cried at Lazarus’ tomb. Maybe he was mad. Maybe he was frustrated. Maybe he was disappointed in Martha. Maybe he was put out with naysayers (v37).
Or maybe he was human.
Jesus entered into the fullness of human suffering (Heb 2.14; 4.15). As the Son of Man Jesus would take on and endure the curse we welcomed into his world. Therefore, the Creator and Goal of all things (Col 1.16) – who created a good and perfect world, who is Life and Light (Jn 1.1-5) – chose to stand before the lifeless, lightless cave of a beloved friend. Knowing he would ransack death, Jesus stood in the middle of wailing mourners before a stonewalled tomb and cried as if to say, “This is what my world has come to! Look how far we’ve fallen!”
When God said “Let there be” he didn’t create any tombs. Jesus didn’t create caves to hide rotting bodies. He created flowers to stretch upward in praise, not to wilt over graves. He created the morning, not mourning.
But there he was. Engulfed in the tidal wave of human depravity. Satan’s playground. The one who created the Tree of Life tasted the bitter fruit of death. And he wept.
It was this very death he would undergo for his beloved friends: the children God gave him (Jn 6.37-40). For them he will be the resurrection and the life. He will endure their death and then some so that they will have his life. There was a we-ness about Lazarus’ tomb.
It is a John 11 moment when we visit Dad at his “place.” We know Jesus has been raised and will raise us on the last day (Rom 8.11). But until then we stand with and before broken people crying “This ought not be!” Look at what this world, the world we wanted, has come to. It’s broken. Really broken. There are folks far worse off than Dad but there is a we-ness about things at the place.
Image-bearers of God should not lose their minds or their legs or their sight or their continence. We should not be so disgraced. God’s people should not need wheelchairs or eat through straws or drool or wear diapers. They should not live on chemicals and in isolation. They should not stink (v39). Satan should not make sport of us. Humans should not be so dehumanized. A Living God should not have a dying people. We are rightly compelled to provide as much dignity as possible in such situations because dignity is becoming of the imago Dei.
In our attempt to become gods ourselves we became rather sub-human (Gen 3.2-3), ruled by those things we should’ve ruled over. In the most ironic consequence of sin, we actually now live in a world where we consider death to be an act of mercy. God’s world is so upside down that we actually pray for death as an answer to misery. What we want for our loved ones often opposes what is necessary for them. This ought not be.
It was that sort of day in Bethany. So Jesus wept just like every other human would and should. Jesus would say to us what he said to Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (vv25-26). The one who dies will never die. Only the Son of God could reconcile that antimony. Jesus, our Jesus, entered into our suffering with both feet. Better yet, he was baptized into it.
In the meantime, we live in the proverbial “two days” in which Jesus is staying where he is (v6) until he returns with his word of Life (Jn 5.28-29; 14.2-3). We live by tear-stained faith in the Risen-and-Returning One. Until then we mourn and cry and pray and hope behind the stone with a small shaft of Light at the edge. While we mourn here Jesus prays for us there that we will keep believing (Jn 11.42; Heb 7.25).
I saw Jesus at the “place.” And he wept.
Posted on March 13, 2015
My favorite hymn is O Christ, Our Hope, Our Heart’s Desire. John Chandler translated the 8th-century Latin hymn into English in 1837. There are two different tunes, one arranged by Handel in 1751 (Bradford) and another by George Greatorex in 1851 (Manoah). I’m familiar with the latter because it’s far easier to sing (and I need all the help I can get!). Robust theology jam-packed into a simple, childlike tune makes a great combination for congregational and family worship.
Notice the progression of Christ’s glory: creation, cross, enthronement, our sanctification in him, the goal of salvation and eternal praise to our Trinitarian God. All of redemptive-history in six stanzas. It’s like stained-glass for your soul.
Although in The Baptist Hymnal (#414), I’ve never sung it in church except when I sneaked it a time or two in Texas. Perhaps you might listen and nudge your church’s music leader(s) to sneak it in, too. As usual, there are more original stanzas than often included in our hymnals.
O Christ, our Hope, our heart’s Desire,
Redemption’s only Spring!
Creator of the world art Thou,
Its Savior and its King.
How vast the mercy and the love
Which laid our sins on Thee,
And led Thee to a cruel death,
To set Thy people free.
But now the bands of death are burst,
The ransom has been paid,
And Thou art on Thy Father’s throne,
In glorious robes arrayed.
O may Thy mighty love prevail
Our sinful souls to spare;
O may we come before Thy throne,
And find acceptance there!
O Christ, be Thou our lasting Joy,
Our ever great Reward!
Our only glory may be it be
To glory in the Lord.
All praise to Thee, ascended Lord;
All glory ever be
To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Through all eternity.
Posted on March 7, 2015
…and he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household (Acts 11.14).
While in Joppa (the same port city Jonah put on the map), Peter raised Tabitha-Dorcas from the dead like he’d seen Jesus do for Talitha (Acts 9.36-43; cf. 5.40-41). Expectedly, Joppa became fertile ground for the gospel so Peter bunked at Simon the Tanner’s house while the iron was hot. Unexpectedly, God was busy arranging Peter’s next stop up the Mediterranean coast.
The Holy Spirit is master of the redirect. Luke just reported that “many believed in the Lord” in Joppa; therefore, “Peter stayed many days there” (Acts 9.42-43). We would expect then to read about even more stories of gospel’s success in this prolonged Joppa revival. But Luke followed up with “Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius” (Acts 10.1). Caesarea? That’s thirty miles north up the coast. Cornelius? He’s a Gentile Italian. What does the revival among Joppa Jews have to do with Cornelius in Caesarea?
Well, everything. In Acts 10-11, we hear this story told and then retold twice. It must be important.
Cornelius was a good man by Southern standards. He feared. He gave. He prayed. He was a friend of Israel (10.22). But he wasn’t a Christian and that made all the difference in the world.
As any good Southerner does, Cornelius was sipping his sweet tea one afternoon when a Lord-like angel showed up in some sort of vision. God had taken notice of Cornelius’ humility and generosity. God would now make his Gentile move through this Italian soldier.
The angel told Cornelius to send some interns to Joppa. They were to bring back this man called Peter. He will have a message for Cornelius and his household. So, Cornelius dispatched his interns to Joppa.
As any good Jew does, Peter went on the roof for his lunchtime prayers. Little did he know this was only a day after the angel appeared to Cornelius. As Peter’s stomach grumbled, God played out a scenario before Peter. Because of Jesus, he could now eat anything he wanted. Peter was appalled. Hungry as he was, he’d never eaten anything unclean and wasn’t about to start. God replayed the scene two more times before leaving Peter to contemplate the vision.
We find out this wasn’t really about food at all.
As a perplexed Peter tried to make sense of the vision he heard a knock at the door. It was Gentile Cornelius’s interns (i.e. unclean). The Spirit commanded Peter to go with them without hesitation or discrimination (10.20). Not only would Peter eat “unclean” food, he was to extend and receive the hospitality of “unclean” people (10.28). Without hesitation. Like Jesus.
What happens next is the Gentile Pentecost (10.34-48). What the Holy Spirit did for Jews in Acts 2 he was now doing for the Gentiles. One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all (Eph 4.4-6).
Word quickly got back to Jerusalem that Gentiles “also had received the word of God” (Acts 11.1). This did not sit well with “those who were circumcised” (i.e. the Fundamentalists) (11.2). Gentiles? Peter actually and knowingly ate with unclean people? Had he lost his mind? Or worse, his faith?
Peter explained the whole situation (11.4-17). Once they heard the story there was nothing to do but quiet down and glorify God (v18). God was saving Gentiles, too, just like Jesus said.
As he retold the stories about angels and visions, Peter inserted an interesting detail. The angel had told Cornelius to send for Peter in Joppa so “he will speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household” (11.14).
This begs the question. Why didn’t the angel himself simply tell Cornelius those words? Why not save Cornelius then and there before the sweet tea warmed? If Cornelius was that important then why risk so much? What if the interns were killed on the way? What if Peter had already decided to go back home to Jerusalem? So much was riding on every detail. Why not use the angel to speak the saving words to Cornelius and his household?
Simple. Because God “has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that he may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God” (1 Cor 1.27-29). God sovereignly saves those he loves. He sees to it the right people get to the right places with the right message.
It didn’t matter how many angels Cornelius saw or believed. Or how many Jews he helped or prayers he prayed. He had to hear and believe the saving words if he was to be a Christian. And God would see to that.
Jesus demonstrates his power and populates his kingdom, not by mobilizing angels, but by the most unlikely of means. Rather than preach through angels, Jesus preaches through fallible, former deserters. His gospel spreads by hands, feet and mouths, not wings (Is 52.7).
Sure, God could’ve bum rushed Cornelius with angels. And it would’ve been impressive in all the ways the world defines impressive. But our God is different. He would cause Peter to love those he would’ve never been caught dead around. God creates his people through and unites them around The Loving Truth, not visions and personal angelic experiences.
We need not pray for or wait for angels to show up in dreams and visions. Jesus hasn’t sent them to speak the saving words. He awakens us to love and sends us to our enemies. We open our door and then open our mouths in love. Without hesitation.
In the meantime, pour yourself a glass of sweet tea and keep an ear out for the interns.
Posted on March 6, 2015
Mom’s favorite hymn, At Calvary, was published in 1895 by William Reed Newell. Newell was a Presbyterian pastor, assistant superintendent of Moody Bible Institute under the famous R.A. Torrey, and well-renowned Bible expositor. His only hymn was forty years old when Mom would’ve started singing it in Itta Bena, MS.
The song meant little-to-nothing to me until five years after she died. But the song itself anticipates that very situation. doesn’t it? After years spent in vanity and pride, God brought me to the Calvary she so richly loved. I would love to sing it with her again. In God’s providence, the first time we sing it together will be for all eternity.
Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
Over 21 years, to be exact.
Mercy there was great, and grace was free;
Pardon there was multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
The eternal refrain of the gospel: mercy, grace, pardon, liberty.
By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
No mystical experience. Just God exposing my guilt through the simple, clear preaching of Scripture. Trembling, repented to Calvary.
Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Jesus is the King who makes us sing.
Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
Calvary: the convergence of God’s love and grace for sinners.
Posted on February 28, 2015
Listen, O daughter, give attention and incline your ear: Forget your people and your father’s house; then the King will desire your beauty. Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him (Ps 45:10-11).
Psalm 45 was a song written for the king’s wedding. Israel’s handsome, valiant and humble king was joined to a radiant woman who “is all glorious within” (v13). In vv10-11, the the bride’s father gave her away to her new husband. He didn’t mean for her to forget her family as if the never existed. He meant the King-Groom was crazy about her. Any thought of homesickness would pale in comparison to how much he desired her. She need not fear if she’ll be taken good care of or provided for. Her new husband desired her and what was best for her.
Hebrews 1.8-9 quoted Psalm 45.6. The psalm finds its ultimate glory displayed ultimately in Jesus Christ and his union with his bride, the church. Jesus is the fair King with grace-drenched lips (v2). Jesus is the Mighty One who is splendorous and majestic (v3). Jesus earns his victory with meekness and righteousness (v4). Jesus is God enthroned (v6) and praised forever (v17). He loves his Bride, who leaves the world in which she was born to live forever in the loving care of Israel’s King.
There’s no more fitting text to honor my wife, my Queen, on her birthday. She is indeed “all glorious within” and Jesus is her King.
When Idelette died in 1549, John Calvin wrote of his wife: “During her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her I never experienced the slightest hindrance. She was never troublesome to me throughout the entire course of her illness; she was more anxious about her children than about herself.” I am no Calvin, but I’m as proud to say the same of and to my wife. I can know Jesus loves me because she loves me.
She is my Queen. Jesus is her King. And I am a pauper who feasts on the crumbs at the King’s wedding reception.
I love you, my Queen. Happy Birthday.