Monday, April 27, 2015

looking forward to eternal world

"These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.  If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."  (Hebrews 11:13-16 ESV)

"A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished the slave trade, all left their mark on earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth 'thrown in:' aim at earth and you will get neither." (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

Quoted by Jim Krouscas in last Sunday's sermon.  Stream or download from SermonAudio.   The painting at top is "Pilgrims in Sight of Celestial City" by Henry Dawson. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

a sign of perishing

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16 ESV)

In his 1966 sermon series on the new birth Lloyd-Jones describes one sign of "a perishing condition"...

"The only life they know is the life that belongs to the body. That is their realm, their sphere, and of course they are always talking about it and getting excited about it, spending their money and their time. I need not waste your time telling you in detail what I mean. We are all perfectly familiar with it. You simply need to read a newspaper or listen to the radio. Now I am not criticizing these things as such, but I am saying that it is rather odd or strange that people are prepared to give such time and money and enthusiasm to things that belong only to their animal and bodily and physical part and none at all to the highest part. That is what it means to be perishing. Not to be alive to and alert to the highest and the noblest and the most wonderful things, but to get so excited about the other. Surely that is a sign of death, a sign that we are in a perishing condition."

-- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Experiencing the New Birth (Crossway Books, 2015)

it does not matter

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."  (John 3:16 ESV)

"It does not matter what you have been; it does not matter what you have done. 'Ah,' people have said to me, 'if you but knew the life I’ve lived, if you knew the sins I’ve committed . . .'  I always reply, 'I’m not at all interested in your sins. I don’t care what you’ve done or what you’ve been. We’re all sinners.' 

"I do not care how old you are. I will let you into the secret of the essential difference between the life as a doctor and the life of a preacher and evangelist. When the doctor is handling people, he wants to know their past history, about the father and the mother, what they died of and so on. He must have the patient’s history. He cannot do anything without it. I am not interested in histories. I am not interested in testimonies of people describing the sins they have committed, and so on. It is a waste of time because everybody is a sinner and everybody needs the same salvation. The particular sins you have committed do not matter at all, and it does not matter what you were. You are a soul; you are a human being. No one case is any more wonderful than another. Each one is a miracle, and it is God alone who could do it. You may be an octogenarian, trembling at the brink of your grave. Or you may be only eight years old. It doesn’t matter. ...The only thing that matters is, do you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?"

-- Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Experiencing the New Birth (Crossway Books, 2015)

The painting above is Jesus and Nicodemus by Henry O. Tanner. 

belief is immediate

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 

But Paul cried with a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." 

And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas.  Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"  

And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."  And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 

(Acts 16:25-33 ESV)

"There is an immediacy about belief. That comes out in the story about the Philippian jailer... You do not say, 'I’m going to.' What’s the point of saying that? Why not do it now? ...

"If you see it, there is no point in delaying. You say at once, 'I can trust him now as well as tomorrow or in a thousand years time. I believe now.' You will never be any better or any more qualified than you are now. Belief is immediate.

"Believing on the Lord Jesus Christ is accepting his testimony, setting your seal to it that the word is true, saying, 'If I do not believe it I am making him a liar. I do not understand, but I have believed.'"

--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Experiencing the New Birth (Crossway Books, 2015)

Saturday, April 18, 2015

reading highlights on the new birth

I am continuing to receive much benefit from Martyn Lloyd-Jones' sermons on the Christian's new life, as published in Experiencing the New Birth (Crossway, 2015).  The following highlights are from the sermons about knowing the Triune God, and about the joy that comes from the assurance of salvation...

What is Christianity? Christianity is that which brings a man or woman to a knowledge of God. Take our Lord’s own definition of eternal life: “This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” That is Christianity—knowing God, not just believing a few things about God and living a nice little life. That is not Christianity. That is often nothing but morality or mere religion. The essence of this is entering into this realm into which you begin to know and have communion with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The best way to thank him for what he did and what he suffered on your behalf is to enjoy these things that he has given you.

“And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:4). Full! Why did our Lord die for us? Was it to make us miserable? Some people give the impression that the main effect of their being Christians is that they are miserable.

Religion is always a task, a burden, a knowledge of God that makes one fear; religion always depresses, always makes us unhappy. That is why we must be careful lest we be led back into some organized, institutional religion that keeps people priest-ridden and depressed and in the fear of God in the wrong sense, a craven fear. When Martin Luther understood in a flash the doctrine of justification by faith, he began to sing; he was filled with a sense of joy. This is New Testament Christianity.

This is a valuable test: knowing that when everything has gone against you, you still have a spirit of rejoicing within you.

This joy is in Christ, of course. It is not vague and general. The test of whether we are true Christians or not is this: we “worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3).

What is a Christian? Well, Christians are men and women who know that they are what they are by the grace of God. Their sins are forgiven. Why? Is it because of their good life or because of their religious duties? Is it because of the gifts they give to others? No, that is religion. Christians know that they owe everything to the grace of God in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They have received it all as a free gift. They know they are what they are—they have forgiveness, new life, everything—because the Son of God gave himself for them on the cross on Calvary’s hill and endured the shame, the suffering, and the agony of it all in order that they might be forgiven and become children of God. Now if you can believe a thing like that and not feel grateful and thankful, then I do not understand you. It is impossible.

“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life.” My friends, we are meant to know it. We are meant to enjoy it while we are still in this world. Anything short of that is really the spirit of bondage.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

faith rests on the pure Word of God alone

"I trust in your word." (Psalm 119:42 NIV) 

"The strength of our faith is in direct proportion to our level of belief that God will do exactly what He has promised. Faith has nothing to do with feelings, 
impressions, outward appearances, nor the probability or improbability of an event. If we try to couple these things with faith, we are no longer resting on the Word of God, because faith is not dependent on them. Faith rests on the pure Word of God alone. And when we take Him at His Word, our hearts are at peace.  

"God delights in causing us to exercise faith.  He does so to bless us individually, to bless the church at large, and as a witness to unbelievers. Yet we tend to retreat from the exercising of our faith instead of welcoming it. When trials come, our response should be, 'My Heavenly Father has placed this cup into my hands so I may later have something pleasant.' 

"Trials are the food of faith. Oh, may we leave ourselves in the hands of our Heavenly Father! It is the joy of His heart to do good to all His children."  

—George Mueller, quoted in Streams In The Desert, by L. B. Cowman, edited by Jim Reimann (Zondervan, 1997).  From the April 15 reading.

Thank you, Molly D, for sharing this quote with me!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

notes on Hebrews 11:1-7

“If I could have seen land, I might have made it.”  (Florence Chadwick, long distance swimmer to a reporter after being taken out of the water a mile from shore in thick fog in her swim from Catalina Island to the California coast in 1952.)

Faith is a way of seeing the unseen, seeing that which is invisible but nonetheless real.  It is believing what God has said, reckoning it (and him) as true, and laying hold of his promises and of hope.  Faith pleases God

What biblical faith is not:  Not a leap into the dark; it is based upon something God has revealed.  Not a mystical feeling, or a feeling of dependence on someone (or anyone). It is trust in the God Who Is and what he has revealed. It’s not faith in faith.  (As in, “I have faith.”)  Biblical faith is not sincerity in believing something, though sincerity in faith is important. It is more than a mere list of beliefs. What we believe has content, but it is more than information. Biblical faith is not merely a personal preference or a private comforting belief.  It is personal trust. It is personal, but it is not private. Biblical faith always has a way of working out publicly in real life.  

Ray Stedman once said, “Faith simply means believing that God’s view of a matter is true no matter what ‘everybody else’ says.  This is faith, believing that God’s view is true no matter what the currently acceptable explanation may be.” 

Three examples of faith...

Abel (Gen 4)  Abel’s faith looks back and approaches God on the basis of the costly sacrifice of life.  This foreshadows the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. 

Enoch (Gen 5) manifested faith by walking with God day after day.  In the Bible "walking together" pictures being in agreement, with things shared in common, enjoying friendship.  Manifested in lifestyle, character... fellowship with God, lived out during the time of increasing lawlessness upon the earth.

Noah (Gen 6ff) manifested faith by working in preparation of the future, in view of the coming judgment of God.  

Past, present, future.  We come to God through Christ to be justified and made right with God, but God intends faith to characterize all of our life, past, present, and future.  

Biblical faith is not an isolated decision.  Though we may come to faith at a moment in time and are justified and accepted by God once and forever.  It is never alone.  We learn from Abel that faith looks back to the past, from Enoch it shapes our present lifestyle, and from Noah, it looks to the future and acts upon it.  Faith is more than a one-time event.  It begins that way, and justifies us before God, but goes on to trust and obey God... It’s a lifetime of faith. 

There's no evidence that these three men, by believing, made any great difference on the generation that observed them.  Their lives did not result in "blessing" as many of us think of blessing.  Their faith did not change the outward circumstances in their lives.  The world didn’t change when they got up day by day...  Abel was killed in the first occasion of family violence. Enoch walked with God for many long years and there was no indication of change in the world, Noah had to get up day by day for many days to build something that did not really seem very reasonable.  Enoch (Jude 14) was a prophet and Noah (2 Pet 2:5) a preacher of righteousness, but there is no record of any converts or cultural change

Our faith is tested by time.  It’s take time for the promises of God to ripen.  It is his will not only for us to begin in faith (new birth, justified) but to continue and grow in faith in order to receive what was promised.  Ongoing faith begins to look a lot like faithfulness.  We come by faith, and we continue by faith. 

"And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6)  

"He exists"... that is, He is the God Who Is, the Lord, as he is presented in the Bible. We not only believe in the promises of God, but we trust the God of the promises.  Faith is personal trust in a personal God.  The Puritan theologian William Ames wrote, “Faith is the resting of the heart on God..." (The Marrow of Theology

He is a rewarder: "For the Scripture says, 'Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.' For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'" (Romans 10:11-13 ESV)

And not just at the first moment of salvation, but this is ongoing. "Ask [keep asking], and it will be given to you; seek [keep seeking], and you will find; knock [keep knocking], and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8 ESV)

What will get us through this life?  Not our self-confidence and abilities, not our intellect and education, not our strong will and determination, not even our sincerity and earnestness, or niceness. It will be our confidence in God and in what he has revealed in his word. 

Over time, faith begins to look a lot like faithfulness.  Being a man or woman of faith may mean doing a great work for God, but it often means being faithful to him over the long haul.  

Take the story of Ruth.  Ruth never set out to create a Cinderella story for herself. She gave up the culture and the gods of her native Moab and said to Naomi, "Your people shall be my people, and your God my God." (Ruth 1:16) She placed her trust in Israel's God, the Lord, and took "refuge in the shelter of his wings." (2:12) Then she committed herself to show kindness to her mother-in-law, by caring for her and working hard to provide for their needs.  It is God who expanded her story-line.  And it's not only a Cinderella ending, (getting married to nice, wealthy Jewish man) but she would be included in the lineage of King David (she was his great grandmother!) and more significantly, included in the genealogy of the great Son of David, Jesus Christ. (4:17). It was no accident that this story was played out in the small town of Bethlehem!

by faith we understand

"By faith we understand..." (Heb 11:3)

Everybody begins with faith in something.  We trust our own reason and observation and that usually stands us in good stead.  But we can only see clearly and reason clearly when we reason and see from God’s point of view. Adam and Eve were presented with two ways of seeing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They yielded to what looked good and made sense to them... 

"So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise..."  (Genesis 3:6 ESV) 

Ever since that day our minds have been darkened, and we have been very muddled in our thinking, especially about God, and right and wrong, and things unseen by our physical sight and senses

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD."  (Isaiah 55:8 ESV)  

Paul describes it in Ephesians 4 and Romans 1... that humankind walks "in the futility of their minds... darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart." (Ephesians 4:17-18; see Romans 1:18-22)
So people look at creation and could (if they would) see evidence of God, but they suppress the knowledge of God.  A change must take place inside of us to trust again God’s authoritative revelation.  Jesus said,

"If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority."  (John 7:17 ESV)

God is the One who must break in!  He gives evidence of himself in creation and history, but human reason and observation is never sufficient to put it all together.  Apart from God our reasoning is fruitless and vain, but His Spirit testifies to the Truth.  So faith begins with seeing from God’s point of view as he has revealed it in his word. 

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17 ESV)

Everybody has faith in something before they understand, even if it’s faith in themselves to figure stuff out.  To believe that all that we see around us must have a purely natural explanation is a kind of faith

If we think that everything absolutely must have a natural cause, then we are forced to believe that a random, non-living, unconscious, impersonal, non-communicating, amoral universe without meaning and purpose gave rise to creatures who think, communicate, love, have purpose, and find meaning and value, and long for moral rightness. As long as people grip that assumption they will not find the truth.  

Anselm said a better approach is, “Faith seeking understanding.”   A biblical faith and submission goes hand in hand with discovering and seeing clearly the truth from God's point of view.  

We need not be intimidated by experts, popular speakers, and talk-show guests who try to debunk belief in God and his word, making pronouncements about things they do not know. G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “Without education, we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

Without revelation from God "we are afloat on the raft of our knowledge upon the sea of our ignorance."

God says, "Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?" (Isaiah 2:22 NIV)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

making the gospel small

Here's the Doctor on "Heavenly Things" (John 3:8) in chapter 12 of Experiencing the New Birth:  

"What is your view and mine of the Christian life? Far too often it is just this: 'Oh yes, I believed in Jesus Christ at conversion. I made a decision and accepted him.' You have relied upon that. You have stopped doing certain things, and you begin to do others, and you have it all nice and complete. You do your duties, and you may be active in work, and there you are. You are self-content, and you think that is Christianity. But, my dear friends, is it? Have we received his fullness and grace, ever expanding until we know something of the fullness of God himself? I feel this has been one of the great troubles perhaps in the present century—and I am talking to evangelical people in particular. I feel we have made the gospel something small, sometimes even something glib, something that we can handle, so that we are afraid of yielding ourselves to the possibilities that are put before us in the New Testament Scriptures. Now this is something that is quite fatal, this limiting of the gospel to the level of our understanding and comprehension. There is a danger that many today are even interpreting the Scriptures in terms of their little experience instead of judging their experience by the teaching of the Scriptures." 

--Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Experiencing the New Birth (Crossway, 2015)

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

safe at sea, safer in the storm

"And so was Noah safe when the flood came; and was the great type and instance too of the verification of this proposition. He was put into a strange condition, perpetually wandering, shut up in a prison of wood, living upon faith, having never had the experience of being safe in floods. 

"And so have l often seen young and unskilled persons sitting in a little boat, when every little wave sporting about the sides of the vessel, and every motion and dancing of the barge seemed a danger, and made them cling fast upon their fellows; and yet all the while they were as safe as if they sat under a tree, while a gentle wind shook the leaves into a refreshment and a cooling shade. And the unskilled, inexperienced Christian shrieks out whenever his vessel shakes, thinking it always a danger, that the watery pavement is not stable and resident like a rock; and yet all his danger is in himself, none at all from without

"For he is indeed moving upon the waters, but fastened to a rock: faith is his foundation, and hope is his anchor, and death is his harbor, and Christ is his pilot, and heaven is his country; and all the evils of poverty, or affronts of tribunals and evil judges, of fears and sad apprehensions, are but like the loud wind blowing from the right point, they make a noise, and drive faster to the harbor: 

"And if we do not leave the ship, and leap into the sea; quit the interests of religion, and run to the securities of the world; cut our cables, and dissolve our hopes; grow impatient, and hug a wave, and die in its embraces; we are as safe at sea, safer in the storm which God sends us, than in a calm when we are befriended with the world."

-- Jeremy Taylor (1613-1667) Discourses, Vol 2, Sermon 11.

Monday, April 6, 2015

frame on creation

Here are some of my highlights from John Frame's Systematic Theology on the topic of creation...

"Christians would do well to meditate on creation. To trust God’s salvation is like believing in creation: By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Heb. 11:3)"

"The point of comparison seems to be that in both cases, faith is directed to the invisible. Faith trusts God in the absence of sight (cf. 2 Cor. 5:7)."

"We can trust his Word, his promise, therefore, even when we do not see any visible evidence of the fulfillment."

"What scientists may learn from Genesis is that these methods do not work for objects specially created."

"My point is simply that any view of origins at all implies apparent age. If there is an origin, the things at that origin will appear to be older than the origin."

"...according to Scripture, all these actions are the result of thought. We saw that God performs miracles with distinct purposes in mind, and he governs the course of nature and history with a goal in view."

-- John Frame, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief.

Above: optical image of the barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365.

the christian and the world

"For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4-5 ESV)

I am working my way through Martyn Lloyd-Jones', Experiencing the New Birth, a new release (2015) from Crossway Books.  I am so enriched by Lloyd-Jones' sermons (these were preached in London in 1966) that it is a delight to read them.  In many ways this is a modern version of the Religious Affections, whereby the Doctor gives us signs and evidences of the new birth.  

The new Christian will have a new view of "the world".  Here are some highlights...

"This new life differentiates us, and everybody is aware of it, not only us but others also.

"Worldliness means thinking of yourself and your life in this world, and the whole of life in the world, without God. 

"The Devil will make people good if he can keep them from Christ.

"Those who are born again begin to see the world for what it is; they see it with new eyes.

"We are all by nature overcome by the world. We are born into it, we are taught, we inherit traditions, and it is all of this world. We become victims of it, slaves of it. We are not allowed to think freely; the Devil sees to that. And the mind of the world with all its books and literature and all these things will keep us in captivity. We are overcome by the world, we are slaves, we are under the dominion of Satan, and we are not aware of it. But the moment we are born again, our eyes are opened to this. And this is one of the most subtle tests as to whether we are born again or not. Those who are born again begin to see the world for what it is; they see it with new eyes. ...

"It can be very attractive, it can be very beautiful, but it is 'Vanity Fair.' Why? Because it is opposed to God. It has nothing solid and real and lasting to give to us. It appears to be wonderful, but when you examine it and when you need it most of all, you find it is tinsel; there is nothing there. It is all show, it is all appearance, it comes to nothing. ...

"When men and women are born again, they cannot help being aware of this; they must be aware of it. They know that whereas they were entirely dominated by the world and its mind and its outlook and its influence, they are no longer in that position; they do not belong to it anymore. They are in the same world, they are mixing with the same people, but there is a difference. They do not belong, and they know they do not belong. They have been separated. They have been translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. They belong to a different realm. They are aware of it deep down, in the very vitals of their being. They may have to do business and so on or work in a profession in that same atmosphere, but they know they do not belong to it. They were in it before, that was everything, that was life—they were gripped and ruled by it. But no longer! They have been set apart..."

Saturday, April 4, 2015

God walked again in the garden

“They took the body down from the cross and one of the few rich men among the first Christians obtained permission to bury it in a rock tomb in his garden; the Romans setting a military guard lest there should be some riot and attempt to recover the body.  There was once more a natural symbolism in these natural proceedings; it was well that the tomb should be sealed with all the secrecy of ancient eastern sepulcher and guarded by the authority of the Caesars. For in that second cavern the whole of that great and glorious humanity which we call antiquity was gathered up and covered over; and in that place it was buried. It was the end of a very great thing called human history; the history that was merely human. The mythologies and the philosophies were buried there, the gods and the heroes and the sages. In the great Roman phrase, they had lived. But as they could only live, so they could only die; and they were dead. On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn.”

-- G. K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man