Stubborn Love: Reflecting the Gospel By Keeping Your Marriage Covenant

This post originally appeared at The Master’s Seminary Blog and was then featured at Challies.com.

It happened again just the other day. My wife and I were shocked to hear of yet another Christian couple we knew and loved who were getting divorced. I felt sick for several minutes, thinking about the aftermath for years and decades to come.

It’s almost as if Christians are getting used to our marriages mimicking marriages in the world. We think of divorce like a car crash: unpleasant, destructive, but something that just invariably happens now and then. However, the effects of divorce on the couple, their children, and their families are worse than any car wreck. Divorce not only affects the family, but it is devastating to our commission to reflect the gospel to the world.

On the flip side, a couple who keeps their wedding vows “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part…” can have a huge impact for Christ.

I recently officiated a memorial service for a woman who had been fighting Alzheimer’s. The last years of her life were extremely difficult and she rarely recognized her husband. Yet week after week he faithfully drove four hours just to see her. On his last visit, she cradled his face in her hands and told him, “I love you.” At the memorial service, the impact their marriage of 58 years had for the gospel was tangible—including their stubborn love for each other through thick and thin.

There are two biblical truths that can help us to understand why God calls us to reflect the gospel by keeping our marriage covenant: 1) Satan hates your marriage. 2) Jesus will never leave his bride.

SATAN HATES YOUR MARRIAGE

If we understand that we have an enemy, and that enemy is not our spouse, it can make all the difference in the world. Satan has hated marriage from the beginning, just as he hates all of God’s good creation.

When God created Eve and then ushered her as the first bride to Adam, the Scriptures say this: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” (Gen 2:24-25)

But Satan wasted no time in tempting them to sin, ultimately creating a rift between them so giant that only Jesus could heal it. Right after God created marital bliss, we are introduced to the great enemy of marriage. “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” (Gen 3:1) In the following verses, we see the immediate results of Satan’s temptation. Eve tempts her husband to sin. And Adam blames both God and his wife for his sin, rather than taking responsibility for it.

Satan continues to hate marriage because it was created by God to reflect the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. (Eph 5:31-32) When we give up on our marriages, when we are unfaithful to our covenants through infidelity or pornography, when we stop fighting for our marriages with a holy stubbornness that says, “No matter what, I will not let you go,” we are allowing Satan to win. More than that, we are reflecting his evil desires for our marriage rather than reflecting the love of the One who came to destroy the work of the devil.

JESUS WILL NEVER LEAVE HIS BRIDE

Although Satan hates your marriage, the glorious truth is that Jesus will never leave His bride. Sally Lloyd-Jones described God’s covenant love as His “never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love.” When Jesus came to earth as God in the flesh, He put skin on this kind of unconditional love. He showed us in action what love looks like. When we display Jesus’ love for us in the New Covenant of the gospel by keeping our marriage covenant, we show His love to the world and reflect the gospel.

Jesus will never leave His bride. Followers of Jesus shouldn’t either.

Yet, Jesus does more than provide a supreme example of stubborn love for His bride. Part of the good news of the gospel is that believers are given the power to act righteously. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we can lean into Jesus today to give us the strength to follow Him in giving His kind of covenant love to our spouse.

I remember hearing the testimony of a young couple who had been on the brink of divorce. The husband had struggled with anger their whole marriage and the wife had committed adultery. After he and his wife had separated, the husband repented and turned back to the Lord. In an attempt to reconcile, he looked at her one day and said, “Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and rose from the dead?”

“Yes,” his wife replied, “I do believe that.”

He responded, “And do you really believe that God could raise a dead man back to life and not breathe new life back into our marriage?” They began going to church together and then biblical counseling soon after, and were restored.

If Satan seems to have the upper hand in your marriage right now, and if you are weary of trying to love your spouse in your own strength, the gospel has a better word for you.

Sing this prayer to Jesus today as you seek to reflect His faithful love to your spouse:
O love that will not let me go, 
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow, 
May richer, fuller be
.”

Hold On to the God Who Holds You: How He Comforts Us with Election

This article first appeared on DesiringGod.org.

Desiring God water pic

As a pastor, I had visited church members in the psych ward before, but this time the church member was our dear friend Sarah (her name has been changed for privacy). She had no family nearby, but lived just a few miles from us. When Sarah was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, my wife began to bring her meals. We would visit her whenever we could. One of the treatments had taken a horrible turn. Dark side effects landed Sarah in the psych ward.

She looked at me that afternoon from her hospital bed, almost without recognition, with deep pain in her eyes. I reminded her of the care of her church family and the love of Christ for her. A tear rolled down her cheek and she whispered, “Guilty.”

I knew that Sarah needed bedrock gospel truth under her feet, so I turned to Romans 8 and began to read to her, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Her eyes flashed with recognition. I continued to read until I got to verse 30, and then an amazing thing happened. Sarah was crying out the words of Romans 8:30 with me, like a drowning woman holding on to a life preserver.

We both exclaimed those precious promises out loud in the stark and sterile room, tears streaming down our faces: “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:30). At that moment, neither of us was arguing for the doctrine of God’s absolute sovereignty over salvation. We were exulting in our election. Sarah could not hold on to God in her darkest hour, but she knew that he was still holding on to her.

Comfort of God’s Choice

“God didn’t give us insight into the great mysteries of his sovereign grace to confuse us, but to comfort us.”

I used to experience election merely as theoretical. Too often I saw the doctrine through the lens of debate rather than through the lens of worship and trust. Sarah changed that for me. Seeing election anchor Sarah in the psych ward gave me a fresh perspective on why God has revealed to us that we were chosen by him before he formed the world. God didn’t give us insight into the great mysteries of his sovereign grace to confuse us, but to comfort us with his unstoppable, eternal love for us.

Being reminded of God’s choice to love her in eternity past was a comfort for Sarah on that bleak afternoon. She knew that nothing could separate her from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

Our salvation did not start with us, is not sustained by us, and will not be completed by our strength. The domino effects leading to our salvation did not begin at birth, or even at Christ’s birth, but in eternity past when God foreknew us. Unconditional election knocks the wind out of our pride, but it also buoys us up when we feel like we’re drowning.

When the clouds seem to be blocking our Father’s face, when all of our relationships are being dragged through a valley, when we hear of a relative diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, we need the security of electing grace. And when the sun is shining, our spouse loves us, our kids are well-behaved, and work is going better than we ever expected, God’s electing love reminds us that every gift is a gift of grace.

Holding On, Being Held

When I visited Sarah a few days later, she was doing better. The medications were being balanced and the side effects had diminished, although she was still being kept and monitored. As we sang “In Christ Alone” together, our voices rose loudest when we sang, “From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny. No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand.”

There is something profoundly stabilizing about knowing that the most powerful One in the universe holds you (John 10:28–29). He knew everything about our frailties and even our sins, but he chose us, came for us, and redeemed us anyway.

“Unconditional election knocks the wind out of our pride, but it also buoys us up when we feel like we’re drowning.”

That stay in the psych ward was not the end of the story for my sister in Christ. Just as God makes each of us more than conquerors, he empowered Sarah to conquer. She is not a conqueror because she overcame her depression immediately, or because the cancer stopped spreading. In fact, she died a couple of years later. Sarah is more than a conqueror because the God who predestined her also promised that she would be glorified.

That was the promise she was holding on to the last time I saw her, and it is the promise that she will be praising Christ for the next time I see her.

“Is My Baby In Heaven?” Why I Believe God’s Word Assures Us We Can Say, “Yes.”

TMS baby picThis post first appeared on The Master’s Seminary blog.

When my wife first showed me the positive pregnancy test, we were overjoyed. Ecstatic. It was hard to believe that in 7 1/2 short months we would be holding our baby. A little person who looked like both of us, who would soon be calling us “Mama” and “Dada.”

Since I was a pastor several states away from family, we wanted to make this announcement really special for them. That Friday, we bought the books What Grandparents Do Best and What Aunts and Uncles Do Best to send in the mail. We planned to write notes to accompany the books over the weekend so they would be ready to mail on Monday. But Saturday morning, we were in the E.R. We were having a miscarriage.

If you received a call from a grieving husband like me, what would you say to the question: “Is my baby in heaven?” Too many Christians, and even some theologians, believe we need to be agnostics when it comes to this question.

In other words, it may be true that God saves babies. They say the attributes of God point us in that direction, but they believe Scripture is silent on the issue. Many parents are left to wonder where their baby is—not believing they can know for sure until they enter heaven themselves.

God does not want us to be agnostics on the eternal destiny of babies. Shouldn’t we expect that He would give us an answer to something that affects so many? I believe that God is clear in Scripture that He welcomes into heaven each baby who dies, born or unborn (Ps 139). And this extends to young children and the mentally disabled who die before they are able to understand salvation. God is not silent on this question.

When our miscarriage happened during our first pregnancy, I dove into the Scriptures to find comfort for my wife. But I had already found biblical answers for my mind years earlier. When I was a young associate pastor, while the senior pastor was on vacation, a new couple in our church went into the hospital to deliver conjoined twins. The babies died in their mother’s arms within a minute. When I went into the hospital room to pray with the parents and saw those tiny faces, I knew I needed to be more biblically sure of the destination of those babies’ souls.

That night I went home and read an entire book that I received at a Shepherd’s Conference, John MacArthur’s Safe In The Arms of God. It confirmed what I already knew from Scripture, but also gave me great confidence in the eternal destiny of infants, young children, and the mentally disabled who are unable to understand salvation.

Why do I agree with what Calvin stated in his Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, “It would be too cruel to exclude that age from the grace of redemption”? What Scripture passages can give you this kind of confidence?

GOD’S VIEW OF CHILDREN

God has special care for all babies, even the babies of unbelieving idol worshipers. As MacArthur explains, “God considers all babies to be His.” God condemns sinful child-sacrificing Israel in Ezekiel 16:21, “You slaughtered My children and offered them up to idols by causing them to pass through the fire.”

Some may object that this only applies to children who are part of God’s covenant people. However, Jonah 4:11 explains God’s mercy even on the children of a pagan nation: “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand…”

This would include both children and the mentally disabled who were unable to understand facts such as this. God takes ownership of these “innocents” (Jer 19:4), those who do not yet “know enough to refuse evil and choose good” (Isa 7:15-16).

JESUS’ LOVE FOR CHILDREN

If you want to see God’s heart for children, you need to look no further than Jesus, who is God incarnate. In Mark 10:13-16Luke 18:15-17, and Matthew 19:13-15 we see Jesus hugging little children (and even infants!). But these passages teach more than Christ’s tenderness or the fact that He wanted children to be cared for within the church and trained in His ways.

It would be inconsistent if little children who die before they can understand law and grace and sin and salvation go to hell. There is no other instance in Scripture of Jesus specifically blessing those who are destined for hell. William Hendriksen, in his Gospel of Mark commentary, writes that it is significant that Christ did not view them as “little heathen,” but rather saw them as being in the kingdom.

DAVID’S BELIEF

When David’s infant son dies, his servants are surprised that David gets up from his fasting and weeping once the child is dead. David answers, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” (2 Sam 12:22-23)

Some have said that David simply meant he would join his son in the grave. But that is no comfort! He was not just shrugging off the fact that his child had died, ready to move on. He was encouraged enough to want to worship, clean up, and eat! David knew that he would be in heaven forever after death (Ps 23:6). David also knew that this was the eternal destiny of his baby.

THEOLOGICAL REASONS

One major theological argument in favor of heaven as the eternal home of infants is that we are saved by grace, but damned by works. Whenever Scripture describes those who will inhabit hell, the emphasis is on their willful sin and rebellion against God (1 Cor 6:9-10Eph 5:5, etc.). Listen to the account of the Great White Throne Judgment: “And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books…And they were judged, each one according to his works.” (Rev 20:12-13) Infants, young children, and the mentally handicapped who have the capacity of children do not fully understand the difference between right and wrong, between God’s law and God’s grace, so they do not have willful sin.

This brief overview has given us just some of the main reasons to believe that a baby who dies goes to Heaven. The flip side of the debate—that babies who die go to hell—has very few people willing to explain their position and little if any biblical support. Spurgeon explained this in his sermon Expositions of the Doctrines of Grace in a way that only Spurgeon can…

There may have existed somewhere in some corner of the earth a miscreant who would dare to say that there were infants in hell, but I have never met with him, nor have I met with a man who ever saw such a person…we hold that all infants [who die] are elect of God and are therefore saved, and we look to this as being the means by which Christ shall see of the travail of His soul to a great degree, and we do sometimes hope that thus the multitude of the saved shall be made to exceed the multitude of the lost…I believe that the Lord Jesus, who said ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven,’ doth daily and constantly receive into His loving arms those tender ones who are only shown and then snatched away to heaven.

A week after I prayed with the parents of the conjoined twins, I received a phone call from their father who was preparing for their funeral. He asked, “Can you show me the verse that says that babies who die go to heaven?” I brought him to 2 Samuel and we talked about David’s hope of seeing his son in heaven. I brought him to Revelation 20 and we talked about how we are saved by grace but condemned by our sinful works. We talked about the fact that his babies had never done neither good nor evil but were saved by Christ’s great and quiet grace, because of His blood.

But I mostly talked with him about Jesus’ love for children and that He said that the Kingdom of God belongs to them. That is what he spoke about a few days later as he stood next to their tiny coffin: that he and his wife knew they would see their twins again because they knew that Jesus loved their babies. They were and are in Christ’s Kingdom.

If you are reading this because your arms are empty today, remember that Jesus loves the little children. If you trust in Jesus, part of the glory you will experience on the day you enter heaven will be meeting your little one again.

Oh, praise our Savior, because “little ones to Him belong!” Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves my baby. The Bible tells me so.

White As Snow, Though My Sins Were as Scarlet!

This post was originally published at The Cripplegate and later at For The Church.
Image result for snow field

Have you ever looked at a blanket of freshly fallen snow and thought, “That looks good enough to eat?” Ask any kid, and they will tell you that it is. Ask any Vermonter, and they will give you a recipe. The ingredients are simple: freshly fallen snow, and pure Vermont maple syrup. It even has a name: “Sugar on snow.” As a Vermont pastor, I can tell you that we don’t scoop up snow like Ben and Jerry’s with every snowfall. Sugar on snow is especially popular during sugaring, when there is fresh maple syrup from the trees and snow still on the ground. This unique treat proves that snow can not only look good enough to eat, it can also be clean enough to eat!

Vermont is famous for its snowscapes, but when most people think of the land of Israel, snow does not come to mind. While not an every year occurrence in Jerusalem, snow is common enough in Israel that it is mentioned 24 times by the biblical writers. But there is one breath-taking word picture involving snow that comes from the lips of Yahweh himself.   Continue reading “White As Snow, Though My Sins Were as Scarlet!”

4 Reasons Every Church Needs Senior Saints

This post originally appeared at 9Marks, then at For The Church, The Gospel Coalition Canadaand Church LeadersThe piece also was featured on Challies.com and The Gospel Coalition U.S. #rightnow links.

A couple of days ago, I received an email from a church member in his eighties, letting me know that he’s moving. We have known for some time that it’s best for him to move closer to his family due to his health and housing situation. But the news that the move was finally happening hit me unexpectedly, as if I’d lost a dear friend. I felt it in the pit of my stomach and the tears in my eyes.

Then I realized that is exactly why I felt that way: I was losing a dear friend, and a grandfather in the faith. And our church is losing him, too.

Sometimes senior saints question their usefulness in the church as they age. That’s unfortunate because they’re an essential part of the body of Christ. Although we trust in our sovereign and wise God to add and take away from his local body as he sees fit, church life is different without them. As pastors, therefore, we need to remind our elderly members that they’re not only loved by their Good Shepherd and Savior—they’re also loved and needed by his people.

Here are four reasons every local church needs senior saints.

1. We need your prayers.

My 80-something friend often leads our congregation in prayer on Sunday mornings. Visitors and members regularly comment on how his prayers are a blessing to them. We need older members to pray out loud during worship services, Bible studies, and prayer meetings. We also need their private prayers.

Sometimes, I’ll see God work in a way that can only be explained by a work of his Spirit in somebody’s life or in salvation. When this happens, I think, “God has answered the prayers of one of my sisters in Christ,” because I know there are several elderly ladies who pray for our church, our community, and my pastoral ministry regularly. Even if you’re reading this on your tablet from a nursing home—I visited an elderly lady doing just that the other day—we as the church need your prayers.

2. We need your practical, biblical wisdom.

My grandpa taught an adult Sunday School class until Parkinson’s robbed him of his voice. I’ll never forget a seminary professor who taught class using a special microphone because health complications made it difficult for him to speak. I’m so thankful that these men continued to pass on their biblical knowledge and life experience until they literally could not anymore. Whether through teaching a class or sharing a comment during a Bible study or encouraging a young mom during fellowship, every church members needs the wisdom that comes from decades of studying the Word mixed with decades of life experience.

Senior saints, please continue to speak into the lives of younger believers with love and truth and grace. The church needs your wisdom not simply because you’re older, but because you bring the practical, biblical wisdom that only comes from marinating in the Word and walking with Christ in both life’s joys and sorrows.

3. We need your encouragement.

My friend recently raised his hand at a business meeting as I was almost done explaining a new initiative, and simply said that he saw God’s hand in this and that the congregation should be supportive of where God was leading me with this initiative. We could have just stopped the explanation right then and gone straight to the vote. As a senior saint, your words of encouragement matter.

I’ve seen young, sleep-deprived parents light up when an older person in the church tells them, “Your kids are a joy.” I’ve seen discouraged empty-nesters, struggling with change, rediscover hope as they remember God’s faithfulness in your marriages of over 50 years

As the Psalmist exclaims, “One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (Psalm 145:4). Don’t hesitate to share your stories of provision and grace and forgiveness, and to remind us of God’s goodness and faithfulness. Senior saint, we need your encouragement.

4. We need your presence.

We know it takes a lot of work for older folks to get to church. We know that there will come a day that we need to come to you, rather than you coming to us. But until that day, we need your presence.

There’s something particularly special about the redeemed people of God coming together for worship and seeing a spectrum of ages. There’s something about coming together to worship with people who are different than us—even generationally—that points to the beauty of the gospel and the glory of God. There’s something about knowing fellow saints who can speak of God never abandoning them through decades that powerfully reminds us of the faithfulness of God.

We don’t call you “senior saint” because you’re perfect or because you don’t have struggles like the rest of us. We call you “senior saint” because your faith in Christ in your senior years points to the fact that the same God who saves is the same God who sustains. Lift your heads, dear senior saints.

You’re needed. Please don’t stop serving.

Only God Can Write a Story that Starts Out Perfect and Ends Better

Note from Pastor Tim: for privacy reasons, the names have been changed.

Words of Comfort from God’s Word at a Memorial Service in our Community

This afternoon, as I have the opportunity to bring you a message of hope from God’s Word, I want us to think about the basic message of the entire Bible in less than 10 minutes as we look at 4 movements in the Bible, just like a symphony has different parts or movements. Immediately as humans when we are faced with a tragedy like this, when it is forced on us that someone who we saw at the park a few days ago took his own life 2 days later, we want answers. I have heard many try to figure out answers over the last few days. What we do know though is that we will never have a final answer, except to accept that this is a choice that Sam made, and to not take responsibility ourselves. The immediate thought is, “If I had only known ______________.  Or if I had only done __________________.”

But the Bible gives answers for how things like this can happen. The Bible, as a message from God, faces reality. It does not gloss over the fact that we live in a broken world.

But this brokenness is not how it all began. The Bible begins with God, and God making a perfect creation. God created man and woman, and He created Adam and Eve in His own image. God set humankind apart because He simply spoke when He created everything else…but when He created man and woman, God touched them. He formed them with His own hands out of dust and the Bible says in Genesis that God breathed into them to give them their breath. This means that humans are different than any other part of God’s creation. We are made in God’s image. This means that every one of us in this room, whether elderly or disabled or healthy or in our 20s or in our 70s has meaning and a purpose in life. And that purpose, that identity is given to you by God Himself when you come to know God as your Savior through Jesus Christ.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The 1st movement in the Bible is Creation, and when God finished His work of creation He looked at it and said that it was, “Very good.”

The 2nd movement in the Bible is the Fall, and this is where sin and evil and suffering and brokenness enters God’s perfect creation. When Satan came to tempt Adam and Eve they had a choice to either obey God and to be His representatives on earth as they were made in His image, or to try to be King themselves and do things their own way. This rebellion against their Creator is when separation from God and suffering first began to happen, and it is the reason that we live in a world in which there is so much pain and hurt and tears.

From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible explains how they no longer had a close relationship with a holy God and death even entered the world. Their own son Cain even killed his own brother Abel, and Adam now had to work hard to put food on the table and Eve now had pain in childbirth. Creation began to unravel. The rest of the Bible, from the moment of the Fall or sin entering the world in Genesis 3 to Matthew chapter 1 when Jesus comes on the scene, is a picture of what happens when people try to be King rather than letting God be King.

Then we have the 3rd movement of the Bible. First we saw Creation, then the Fall which answers why there is so much pain in the world today, then the 3rd movement is the Cross. Mark 1:1 explains it like this, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Do you know what “gospel” means? It is good news! It is not just any good news, it is an announcement of something that has been done for you.

Religion tells you that you have to do “x” “y” and “z” to be able to work your way back to God, but the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ—tells you that Jesus has already done “x” “y” and “z” for you. The diagnosis for you and I is worse than we ever imagined. We are more wicked and evil than we ever imagined, but the good news is that we are more loved and important than we ever imagined. Jesus came to give us life, to give us forgiveness, to bring us to God. So Jesus lived for 33 years exactly like you would expect a man who is also fully God to live—healing, loving, caring for and teaching those who were the most rejected by the rest of society like the lepers and the sick as we read in the Gospels—doing miracles because He was fully God and the wind and the waves knew His voice. And then Jesus died on a cross to pay the punishment for your sins, the punishment you could never pay, and then He rose from the dead, to show that the price for your sins had been paid in full—and so that all who trust in Him alone for their salvation can become children of God.

Jesus brings us back to God! Jesus explained how He came to reverse the work of the devil in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” You see, we saw the Fall earlier. Satan comes to destroy, but Jesus comes to give life!

But it doesn’t end there. This is where the 4th movement of the Bible comes in, the New Creation. The Bible started out in a Garden, and at the end of the Bible there is a Garden in the capital city of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. Only God can write a story that starts out perfect and ends better.

Here is God’s promise for all who will trust in Jesus alone for their salvation, and accept that the good news of the gospel is that the work has already been done by Jesus: we just have to accept salvation and confess that we have sinned, and that we want Jesus to be our King and Savior, and ask Him to save us and help us to follow Him.

Here is what God promises for all who will do that, in Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will be with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.” Do you notice how at the beginning of the Bible humans were made to be with God, but then sin separated us from God, Jesus came to bring us back to God, and then in the end we can be with God if we have trusted in Jesus?

God goes on in Revelation 21: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”  God will make everything sad come untrue.

Today, we wipe away our tears with Kleenex, but on that day God Himself will wipe our tears away. Will you be there? Have you asked Jesus to save you? It’s ok to shed those tears now. When Jesus was faced with his friend Lazarus’ death, Jesus wept even though He would raise him from the dead just a few minutes later.

One of the things that I will miss most about Sam is seeing him at the park. My family loves going to the Manchester Rec Park and in fact that is the last time that I saw Sam just over a week ago—we waved and smiled at each other. About 1 year ago, I was with my 2 youngest who loved seeing “Mr. Keene” at the park, and Sam stopped me and said, “Pastor Tim—I need to show you some things on my phone. Why do I keep seeing crosses everywhere?” And he showed me picture after picture of shadows of a cross that he would see in nature or somewhere. I told Sam that day what I beg you to believe today so that you can be part of this New Creation that God will create for those who believe in Jesus, “Sam, the cross reminds us of God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 explains, “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”

Do you know God’s love? God wants to comfort you today, but you need to come to Him and trust in Jesus only.

Family Devotions Are Not New

John Newton, one of my heroes of the faith, wrote the hymn Amazing Grace in 1779.  He also wrote many personal letters that we can learn from, including one answering a question about “Family Worship.”  Family Devotions, time set aside as a family to read the Bible and pray together (and sometimes maybe even sing), is nothing new because the call to raise our families in the Lord is not new.family devotions

Parents were seen as the primary disciplers of their children before Deuteronomy 6:7 was given to the people of Israel, and before the Apostle Paul instructed parents to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” in Ephesians 6:4.  Newton explains:

I am afraid I shall not answer your expectations with regard to the particulars of your inquiry, concerning the most proper method of conducting family worship. The circumstances of families are so various, that no determinate rules can be laid down: nor has the word of God prescribed any; because, being of universal obligation, it is wisely and graciously accommodated to suit the different situations of his people. You must, therefore, as to circumstantials, judge for yourself. You will do well to pursue such a method as you shall find most convenient to yourself and family, without scrupulously binding yourself, when the Scripture has left you free…

…He requires us to acknowledge him in our families, for our own sakes; not because he has need of our poor services, but because we have need of his blessing, and without the influence of his grace (which is promised to all who seek it) are sure to be unhappy in ourselves…

…For it being every believer’s duty to worship God in his family, his promise may be depended upon, to give them a sufficiency in all things, for those services which he requires of them.

Happy is that family where the worship of God is constantly and conscientiously maintained. Such houses are temples in which the Lord dwells, and castles garrisoned by a Divine power. I do not say, that, by honouring God in your house, you will wholly escape a share in the trials incident to the present uncertain state of things. A measure of such trials will be necessary for the exercise and manifestation of your graces, to give you a more convincing proof of the truth and sweetness of the promises made to a time of affliction, to mortify the body of sin, and to wean you more effectually from the world. But this I will confidently say, that the Lord will both honour and comfort those who thus honour him.

I especially appreciate how Newton points out that no matter how inadequate you feel to lead Family Devotions, God has already given you what you need.  Also, there is no one set method–and it will change in your own family over time.  But the basics of being reminded of something from the Bible together as a family in your home, and praying together, is timeless.  If you don’t already have a pattern, why don’t you start with one night a week after dinner–tonight!

Source: Newton, J., Richard Cecil. (1824). The works of the Rev. John Newton (Vol. 1, p. 153). London: Hamilton, Adams & Co.

Do You See Election as an Act of God’s Eternal Love?

Believer, you may have had times of great struggle or confusion in your theological understanding of election.  Even those of us who have long held to a reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation will often admit that although we think there is great clarity in God’s Word regarding election, there is also great mystery in this doctrine.

diff-lighthouse-waveBut brother or sister in Christ, I hope that there are times in your pursuit of the Lord and your understanding of Him and His Word that you throw out all of your objections and cling to this doctrine as a beloved anchor for your soul.  I am not suggesting that you should not continue to study and think hard about great sections of Scripture like Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

What I am saying, though, is that Scripture does not present election as a great conundrum but rather as a great comfort.

When you feel as if the earth has given way under your feet, you no longer question God’s ways but you cling to Him and His promises with all that you have.  This is strongly implied in Romans 8:28-31.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t answer, “What then shall we say to these things?” by questioning God’s unconditional decrees and purposes.  Rather, Paul sees God’s sovereign election mixed right in with God’s sovereign goodness:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35)  The answer is a resounding “nothing” (Romans 8:39)!

He who chose those He would save in eternity past is intimately involved in every detail of their lives today, and will continue to be until He brings His bride to glory.  When I read, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4b-5), my heart no longer questions my Lord and my God.  But my heart rejoices in my Savior’s eternal love, a love that loved me long before I loved Him.  That is security.

Jesus Wept with Gospel Hope

The last ten days have found me thinking about mourning more than I ever have. Just last week a dear young wife and mother in our church family, the fathers of two different church members, and a young jungle pastor many in our church know all passed from this earth into Glory.  The grief was palpable in our church last Sunday, even as we worshiped and rejoiced.  There were many tears and there will be tears in the weeks to come.

Jesus’ words in front of Lazarus’ tomb, found in John 11, are one way to describe why we are sorrowful yet rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).  I often turn to John 11 when I think about death, partly because of Jesus’ riveting proclamation: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)

Rather than comforting words, you could see Jesus’ words to Martha as a riddle, spoken in her time of grief.  Why would he talk in what seems like a paradox?  What does he mean in one breath that those believers who die yet live, but in the next breath that those who believe will never die?  Wasn’t Lazarus already in the tomb?

Jesus so often amazes me.  We should expect to be amazed by God in the flesh, but sometimes we are surprised by His words of life.  Only One who can call Himself “Resurrection” and “Life” can talk this way.

Jesus lovingly acknowledged the fact that people–like Lazarus–die.  There is a finality felt by those who lose a loved one.  While we know that our believing friends and relatives who have died are experiencing nothing but gain (Phil. 1:21), we know that we are experiencing loss.  Do you hear His words?  “Whoever believes in me, though he die…”  Christians die.  And Jesus wept as He stood in front of that tomb with Lazarus’ grieving friends and relatives.  Jesus didn’t tell them to stop the funeral and have a celebration of life service; He entered into their suffering.

We cry.  Jesus cried.  But oh, how we love and cling to Jesus’ next words:  “…yet shall he live…”  Christians never die.  This is the “gospel paradox.”  Death is real, yet eternal life is oh so real.  Christians die, yet Christians never die.  Jesus said both truths in the same sentence.

It’s ok to call it a funeral (Ecc. 7:2).  It’s ok to say that death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26).  It is Christ-like to weep (Jn 11:35).

Raising_of_Lazarus.

But our weeping is temporary, just as Jesus’ weeping was.  Because we know that for those who are in Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  We know that for the Christian, what is mortal is “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).  We know that the same Lord who wept is the same Lord who will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4).  And we know that the same Lord who commanded Lazarus to come forth from the dead will joyfully command the dead in Christ to rise first (1 Thess. 4:16).  It is true–praise God that it is true–that because of Jesus, “it is not death to die.”

Our Resurrection, Eternal Life, and Union with Christ

Romans 8 has long Kilimanjaro_Sunrisebeen one of my favorite passages of Scripture, both in happy and hard times.  As I read the incredible truths all throughout Romans 8 in happy times, it only adds to my happiness and praise of what God has done and is doing for me and those He loves–and in hard times it adds to my joy in and worship of our good and sovereign God, even if that joy is not a feeling at the moment.

I remember my wife and I reading Romans 8:31-35 with a high school girl in our youthgroup years ago who was struggling with depression over an abortion she had had before she was a believer:  “…If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  The answer, of course, was that since she was now in Christ, even in the face of great regret, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1)

Romans 8 has been the solid rock that the Holy Spirit has been using in my heart this week as our church goes through a time of great mourning.  The same chapter that comforts the repentant sinner also comforts the bereaved.  Romans 8:10-11 teaches that our resurrection and the hope of our eternal life is just as sure as the resurrection of Christ, because of the work of the Holy Spirit.  For those who are in Christ, for those who have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), we have this blessed assurance: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11)

When God saves you, He gives you His Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9-10a).  We usually think of the Holy Spirit as being the agent of our regeneration and sanctification.  In other words, He is the member of the Trinity that gives us a new heart at salvation and brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life (Rom. 8:2).  The Holy Spirit continually works in the lives of those He has saved to transform them more and more in practice into who they are spiritually–children of God (Romans 8:29; 8:16-17).  But don’t forget, brothers and sisters in Christ, that the Holy Spirit does not leave us when we die.  The Holy Spirit who actually resides in you not only is with you to the brink of eternity, He continues the spiritual life He had begun in you (2 Cor. 5:4-5) and ushers you right into Heaven!  Those who had God dwelling in them on earth will then dwell with God in His home (Rev. 21:3)–through the power of the Holy Spirit.  God will never forsake His own, just as He would not and cannot forsake Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

Your resurrection–and the resurrection of those brothers and sisters in Christ whom we love–is just as sure as Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  The Spirit of Christ has united us to Jesus so closely that we cannot fully comprehend it this side of Glory: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Rom. 6:5)  What a joy that brings, even through tears.