Monday, March 28, 2011

Death from a Different Perspective

On Wednesday, March 23, 2011, a bomb went off at a bus station in Jerusalem.  Among the victims was a British woman named Mary Gardner.  What you may not know about Ms. Gardner is that she was a Wycliffe Bible Translator who had lived in Togo, West Africa for the last 20 years translating the New Testament into the local Ife language.  See this link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/24/jerusalem-victim-british-bible-translator By Divine providence she was in Jerusalem for six months learning Hebrew so she could start on the Old Testament translation; and, yes, by Divine providence she was also at the bus station in Jerusalem when the bomb went off. 

When something like this happens to others, Christian or non, it is too easy for us to quote Psalm 139:16"...And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them."  Although Mary was never married and had no children, she did have family and friends that were left to mourn her loss; and death for both the Christian family and the non-Christian family is a tragedy.  Death itself is the enemy of man and we have been dealing with its awful consequences since Adam and Eve.  Death plays no favorites.  It brings its suffering to us all. 

However, those of us who are Christians can look at death from a different perspective, God's perspective; and gain insight and comfort from how He views it, and how He works it for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  I would like to give three ways for a Christian to look at death.

Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones (His saints). Italics mine.
The word for precious in the Hebrew is yaqar, and it means precious because of its value or its worth.  As saints our death is precious to God because of the price He paid for us in the death of His Son (I Peter 1:18-19).  You always know the value or preciousness of an object by what a person is willing to pay for it.  God has rescued us from death, through His Son, so that we can spend eternity with Him and He with us (Ephesians 2:4-8, Revelation 21:3-4).  Also, our death is precious and valuable to God, because we will be with Him from that moment on throughout eternity. We are no longer separated from Him, but are with Him forever, and our fellowship with Him is completely restored and will be forever unbroken.

Philippians 1:21,23 "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.  II Corinthians 5:6,8 Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord...we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord."  For the Christian death is the door that opens into the arms of Christ; and for those who belong to Him He is waiting to receive them to Himself.  First of all, what joy it must be for Him to receive into His arms those for whom He died, to receive unto Himself those whom had been given to Him by the Father in eternity past; and to be with them and to recieve their joy at their being with Him face to face.  Secondly, for the saint, what a joy it will be to be face to face with the One whom we have loved, the One who gave His life for us to ransom us from the dominion of sin and death, and to finally see His face and hear His voice and experience Him fully; for then we shall know fully, just as we have been fully known (I Corinthians 13:12)

Isaiah 57:1-2 "The righteous man perishes, and no man takes it to heart; and devout men are taken away, while no one understands. For the righteous man is taken away from evil, He enters into peace; they rest in their beds, each one who walked in his upright way."  When I read this verse, the verse about Lot's righteous soul being tormented day after day by the sin around him comes to mind.  For the believer, death takes us away from all evil into the peace of righteousness; it takes us from being surrounded by evil on every side to the very presence of righteousness incarnate; it takes us out of this body of flesh, in which sin, filthiness, and wickedness remain, to a state of awaiting our glorified bodies; it takes us from a state of torment because of the overwhelming presence and dominion of sin in this world to a state of bliss and blessedness because of the ubiquitous and all encompassing presence of righteousness.  For the saint God turns the horrors of death into a blessing, and it is His way of taking us away from evil to experience it no more.  It is the rest from the weariness of fighting against the sin that is in our own lives and the world around us.  It liberates us from the oppressive presence of sin, and transports us into the freedom of righteousness.

Well done, Mary Gardner, faithful to the end.  You have entered into the joy of your Master, you have been received into the bosom of Your Savior.  You have entered into the rest from your striving against sin, both yours and the world's.  You have entered into the eternal peace of righteousness.  Rest well precious saint.

Father, we come to you with a sober joy and a full heart.  There are so many times when what we have in our heart and our spirit is unspeakable, and we are thankful that not only do You know all things, but You send Your Spirit to intercede for us with utterings and groanings too deep for words. Thank you for redeeming death for us through the death and resurrection of Your Son, and therefore denying  sin and death their victory.  Thank You for laying claim on us.  Only You could do this, only You would do this. 
O how great a love you have bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God.  Bless Your name forever and ever.  Amen.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Uniqueness of the Word of God

The very same word of God will convict of sin, lead to repentance, and assure of forgiveness.
The very same word of God that wounds also heals.
The very same word of God that breaks also mends.
The very same word of God that chastises also comforts.
The very same word of God that saves also sustains and sanctifies.

The word of God feeds the hungry, slakes the thirsty, and stimulates both appetites for more.

The word of God confronts sin, prevents sin, and cures sin.

The word of God:
       gives life to the dead soul.
       brings warmth to the cold soul.
       brings light to the dark soul.
       gives sight to the blind soul.
       gives cheer to the sad soul.
       lifts up the heavy soul.
       comforts the bereaved soul.
       shores up the unstable soul.
       puts balm on the wounded soul.
       corrects the erring soul.
       protects the tender soul.

The word of God reveals the mind of God, the heart of God, the will of God, the plan of God, the purposes of God; and therefore gives us the perspective of God.

The world of God gives us the knowledge of God and the knowledge of self.

The word of God prayed puts us in the will of God and under the promises of God.

The word of God, believed and lived, makes us right with God and pleasing to God.

The word of God is how God speaks to us, guides us, directs us, and matures us.

The word of God:
       love it.
       treasure it.
       know it.
       believe it.
       read it.
       study it.
       meditate upon it.
       sit under its teaching and proclamation.

The word of God.  You really cannot live your spiritual life without it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Different Take on Love Wins-Part II

In Part I we saw how God has a particular and specific love for His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and that He loves us with the same love with which He loves His Son. This is a familial love, a love that a father has for his own son. This love is not for those who are of the world, those who have not been adopted into the family of God, those who have not believed on Christ, His person and His finished work on our behalf. So let's see what else we can glean about this wondrous love of God.

His Particular Love is an Eternal Love

Remember when we were looking at the love of the Father for the Son and we saw that He loved both the Son and His own before the foundation of the world (John 17:24, Ephesians 1:4). This means that before time began God already loved us. God's love for us is from eternity past, so in the eternal mind of God there has never been a time when He did not love us. This fact should give all of us who belong to Him a security in our relationship with Him. It also highlights His unmerited grace in bringing us to Himself. Before we were born, and could do anything good or bad He already loved us with an everlasting love. His love for us has always been, it will always be, and everything connected with His purpose for us revolves around this eternal love with which He loves us. Why can we never be separated from His love, as was stated in Romans 8:32? Because His love for us will never cease! We see a picture of this in Jeremiah 31:3 The Lord appeared to him from afar, saying, "I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness." The Lord is talking to Israel in this passage, but in it we see pictured His eternal love for those who are His own. Think about what it means that God has always loved you with the same love with which He has always loved His Son. Because God loves us with the same love with which He loves His Son, He would no sooner let us go than He would His own Son. What a humbling truth! At a minimum it should fill your heart with thanksgiving and humble your soul.

His Particular Love is an Electing Love

I commented earlier that to be beloved is to be the object of a particular love or the particular object of someone's love. We are the beloved of God, and therefore we are the particular object of His love (those on whom He bestows His love), and the object of His particular love (the same love with which He loves the Son, a familial love). But there is also something that goes along with being His beloved. Let's look at some Scriptures together to see what that is.

Ephesians 1:4b-5a In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.
Colossians 3:12a So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved....
II Thessalonians 2:13-14 But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth. It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I Thessalonians 1:4 knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you;
Jude 1:1 Jude, a slave of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ:

Did you notice that God has only called beloved His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and those whom He has chosen beforehand for salvation. He calls no one else beloved.  Did you also notice the connection between love and predestination; being beloved and being chosen, called, and kept. Because we are the particular objects of His particular love (His beloved), He chose us out of the world unto Himself, and has given us to His Son. This particular love is a love of choice, not compulsion. He chose to set His affection upon us, and the result of this is His drawing of us to Himself. He loves whom He chooses and He chooses whom He loves, and if you are not loved with this particular love you are not predestined for salvation, chosen, called, or kept. We see that He only saves those on whom He has set His particular love, the same love with which He loves His Son, upon from all eternity.  This is all done in accordance with the kind intention of His will to accomplish His eternal purpose, which God carried out in Christ.

When we start contemplating this we soon bump the ceiling of our understanding. And that is okay. This causes many questions to come up, the foremost of which is, "Why did God choose to love me, and therefore save me, and not person X?" One day we will know fully as we have been fully known, but until that time we can be in rapt wonder of the greatness of the mind of God, and how incomprehensible His ways are. This truth is transcendent, one that is above and beyond us and our rational capabilities. Suffice it to say that there is enough here to cause us to bow low before Him in holy reverence and awe. It is truths like this that set God apart as God, and let us know that He is truly a God who is deserving of all worship.

His Particular Love is a Saving Love

Because we are loved with a particular love, God has chosen us, and because He has chosen us we are saved. To be loved with this particular love is to be chosen, selected out of the mass of humanity headed for hell, for salvation. The outcome of this love is our salvation, our deliverance from the penalty, power, and ultimately, the presence of sin. The wages of sin is death, and the consequence of sin is the just judgement of a holy God. Ephesians 2:2-7 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Apart from the love of God we would not know salvation. In His choosing to love us our salvation was guaranteed and our eternal state was fixed. I am reminded of a statement by A. W. Pink to the effect that the crucifixion of Christ did not make our salvation possible, it made it certain.

II Timothy :8b-9 ...according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity. The love of God is most manifest in the person of Christ, and it is through the person and work of Christ that He has brought salvation to those whom He has set His great love upon. God's love for you is in accordance with His eternal purpose which has been carried out in Christ.

Christian friends, rejoice and be glad, be thankful and worshipful, that God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation. Marvel at the wondrous love with which you are loved by the Father. Give thanks to God for loving you so, for loving you with the same love with which He loved the Son, and for placing this love upon you.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Different Take on Love Wins-Part I

Today and tomorrow I am reposting this two part series on the love of God as a biblical response to the book "Love Wins" by Rob Bell.  Yes, love does win, but it is the love of God described and delineated in the Scriptures, not the love that Rob Bell has made up.

Today I want to talk about the love of God, which, I believe, is the grandest theme in the Scriptures. The love of God is what has prompted Him to do all that He has done on our behalf. Yes, I know that ultimately all things are for His glory, but it is through His love that His glory is most vibrantly and visibly expressed. In I John 4:8 & 16 we see that God is love. He doesn't possess love, but He is love; and that love is manifested in, an oh so tangible way, in and through the person of Christ. So let's press on to know more fully this love which is part and parcel of the very nature of God. It is part of who He is and cannot be separated from Him.

The general love of God

First, there is the general love of God for mankind. I know that there are those among our hyper-reformed brothers that will say that God does not love mankind, but only the elect, and that He is angry with the wicked every day. While it is true that God is angry with the wicked every day, it does not, and has not, kept Him from loving mankind. Let's look at some examples from Scripture.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Again, there are those who will say that this verse only applies to the elect, and if this verse were the only verse like it in the Scriptures, which it is not, then that argument might have some weight. However, the word for world here is kosmos. It is used 151 times in the NT and always means this created world, its order, or the people who inhabit it. Also, in this verse we see the word whosoever. It does not say for God so loved the elect, that they would believe in Jesus (even though that is true, and we shall see more on that later), but that God so loved the world that whosoever believes in Christ shall be saved. Whosoever is very clear in its meaning and it means anyone who will. A synonomous verse to John 3:16 is II Corinthians 5:19...God was in Christ reconciling the world (kosmos) to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (Compare this little section with Acts 17:30), and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. God has made reconciliation with Himself available to the world (unredeemed humanity). Why? Because God has a general love for mankind. It is also interesting to note here that the word for love used in John 3:16 is agapao, which is the word for love used in I John 4:8 & 16. God can not deny Himself, or be other than He is, so we see this love of God revealed in His love for this world, and the people who inhabit it.

Additionally, let's look at Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us... The phrase, love for mankind, is one word in the Greek and that word is philanthropia, from which we get our word philanthropy. It is composed of two Greek words, phileo--which means brotherly love; and anthropos--which means mankind. This is a very specific word to denote God's charitable, benevolent love and kindly disposition for all of mankind. It is used only one other time in the NT and that is in Acts 28:2.

But, let's don't stop there, let's look at Matthew 5:43-48, the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as you heavenly Father is perfect." Notice that Jesus is saying here that we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, and to do that we must love not only those who love us, because even the most despised (tax collectors) do that; but also those who hate us and persecute us; and what is implied here is that God loves those who are His enemies (which He would automatically since He is love). So God does love the wicked, even those who are his enemies, which we all are until He saves us (Romans 5:10).

Finally, let's look at the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22. We all know the story about how he turned away from Christ because he did not want to give up his possessions. But what is interesting here is the attitude of Jesus towards this young man. Let's pick this story up in 10:21 Looking at him Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, "One thing you lack; go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." Here we see the heart of God, revealed through Christ, and His love (agape) for this one person, and how this love prompted Christ to reveal to this young man what was between him and heaven, even though He knew the young man would reject Him and walk away; and it is interesting to note here that even though Jesus felt a love for this young man, He let him walk away from Him and spurn His offer of salvation.

Because of God's love for this world, mankind, all those who are his enemies, and, yes, even individuals, He has made salvation available to all, by giving His Son, that whosoever believes in His Son will have life eternal. God is love, and He cannot be other than who He is, and we see His love for mankind revealed in these verses.

The particular love of God for His Son

However, there is another dimension to the love of God, and to understand that we need to look back into eternity past to see it. God gives us a glimpse of it in John 17:24 in the prayer of Christ, "Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given me, be with Me where I am so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world." We see here that the Father has loved the Son, God the Father has loved Jesus the Son, since before time began. So for all eternity there has been the love of the Father for the Son. A father's particular love for his own son has always existed between God and Christ. Now we also see here that Jesus wants this love to be known by those whom God has given Him (the elect) as they will see it manifested in the glory bestowed on the Son by the Father when they are with Him.

We see this attitude of the Father towards the Son manifested in Matthew 3:17 For this is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. To be the beloved of someone is to be the particular object of their love, or the object of someone's particular love. We see this stated in a more distinct way in Colossians 1:13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (literally, the Son of His love). The Son has always been the particular object of the love of the Father, so we can safely say that the Father has a particular love for the Son, and can understand that because we see it paralleled in this world by the particular love each father has for his own son. We see a manifestation of this love of the Father for the Son in John 3:35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. So the Father loves the Son in different way than the Father loves the world as the Son is the particular object of His love, and this love has always existed between the Father and the Son.

The particular love of God for those who are His own

How does God love us, those who belong to Him? We know He loves the world, he loves mankind, but how does He love us, those whom He has called out of the world. To understand this let's go back to John 17:23-24 & 26. Again this is Jesus praying, "I in them and You in Me, that they maybe perfected in unity, so the the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with me where I am so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world...and I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them. It is important to note here that in verse 23 Jesus states that the purpose behind the unity of those who believe in Him would be that the world, the same kosmos that God loves with a general love, would know that not only that the Father sent the Son, but that the Father loves those who believe in the Son with the same love with which He loves the Son. The truth given here, that God loves those who believe in His Son with the same love with which He loves the Son is a staggering truth, one that is almost incomprehensible, and is surely inexplicable. It always causes me to pause and catch my spiritual breath. But, while contemplating this great and wonderful truth, we must also not miss the fact that God does not love the world with the same love with which He loves the Son, this love is only for those who place their faith in Christ Jesus.

The Familial love of God

As we have already seen in John 17 God loves us with the same love with which He loves the Son. Tie this in with Romans 8:29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. We see that God's plan from before the foundation of the world was for those of us who name the name of Christ as our Savior to be the brethren of His Son, and that Christ was to have the place of preeminence as the firstborn of the sons of God. It is not those of the world who are the brethren of Christ, but only those whom God has predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Therefore the love of God for the Son is only for those who are among the family of God.

This is said a little differently, but just as succinctly in I John 3:1. Notice how beautifully John expresses the richness of this truth. See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called the children of God, for such we are. The love of the family is reserved for those who are members of the family, and the familial love we see here upon the earth is a dim and imperfect expression of the familial love of God as we have been created in His image, and this image has been marred by sin. This familial love of God is lavishly and graciously bestowed only upon those who are His children and we never see in Scripture those of the world being called the children of the living God. It is only those whom God has called out of the world and place their faith in Christ who become His children.

This is said much more strongly and forcefully in Ephesians 1:4-5a just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world....In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself. This verse brings together all the other verses concerning our status as children of God and tells us how God went about making us His children and the brethren of Christ. We have been adopted. Even better, we see that the reason behind our adoption is the love of God. We know from John 17:24 that the Father loved the Son before the foundation of the world, and from this verse in Ephesians we see that we were also loved before the foundation of the world. What does this mean? It means that God loved us with the same love He had for the Son, that familial love, before the foundation of the world, and because of that love and out of that love He predestined us for adoption as his children. What a wonderful and deep truth to dwell upon, that from eternity past God loves us with the same eternal love with which He loves Jesus and the outworking of that love is our admittance into the family of God; and now we can get insight into why Paul could boldly cry out in Romans 8:38-39 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It reminds me of Psalm 36:7-8 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings. They drink their fill of the abundance of your house; and You give them to drink of the river of your delights. Oh, the wonder and magnificence of it all!

To be continued

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Praying the Scriptures

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8


Read this verse over and over, meditate upon it; and pray it for yourself for the next month.  Watch how the Lord answers this prayer.  How do we know He will answer it?  Because it is His will for us and we know that if we ask for anything according to His will He hears us, and if He hears us we know we have the requests for which we have asked.  What could be better than being in His will!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Old Word for the Current Day

Nothing is more needed in our common life
to-day than recovery by the ordinary Christian
of the spiritual values of the Word of God. 
It is at once our Chart, our Lamp, our Food,
our Sword.  And in all these ways it may be known
by the humblest believer who yields himself to the
illumination of the Divine Spirit--its Author.
It was not given originally in order to make men
scholars, but rather that they should by its means
become sons and saints, servants and soldiers of
the Most High.  It is the glory of the Bible that
while its heights and depths are so great that no
human learning can scale or sound them unaided,
its Treasure-house is yet unlocked to the simplest
believer by the golden key of obedience.

J Stuart Holden
The Holy Gospels Opened
Page vi-vii
Circa 1900