February 1

Learning Humility from the Apostle Peter

Two of the greatest Christian thinkers God has given the Church were Augustine Aurelius and John Calvin.  Both emphasized humility as the chief virtue of the Christian life.  Calvin wrote:

 

I have always been exceedingly delighted with the words of Chrysostom, “The foundation of our philosophy is humility;” and still more with those of Augustine, “As the orator, when asked, What is the first precept in eloquence? answered, Delivery: What is the second? Delivery: What the third? Delivery: so, if you ask me in regard to the precepts of the Christian Religion, I will answer, first, second, and third, Humility.” By humility he means not when a man, with a consciousness of some virtue, refrains from pride, but when he truly feels that he has no refuge but in humility.  (Institutes, II, ii, 11)

 

Humility is a hard thing to define.  How do you know when you are acquiring it?  It is hard to claim that you have it, because when you do, you have immediately lost it.  The Apostle Peter helps us greatly here in 1 Peter 5:5-6.  Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.  Notice three keys to acquiring the virtue of humility.

 

Humility is primarily seen in how we treat others.  Humility is “toward one another.”  Philippians 2:3-4 may be the best definition of this aspect of humility found in Scripture:  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

 

What does it mean to count others more significant than yourselves?  It carries the idea of treating others as worthy of preferential treatment ahead of oneself.  So here, humility is recognizing the worth of others and treating them accordingly.  We could think of many examples, couldn’t we?  Letting them speak first before us.  Giving up the prime seat for a lower one.  Passing up the closer parking spot for them to get it.  Taking time to listen even when we know we must tell them they are wrong at some point.  Being patient when wronged rather than reacting in haste and fury.  All these things show true humility in our treatment of others.

 

Humility is seen in submitting to those God has placed over us.  Notice how Peter connects submission to authority (in this case the authority of church elders, v. 5), with being humble.  Proud people do not want to submit because they are wiser, smarter, or better in some way than the ones over them.  Why should we listen to others when we know best? says the proud.  But true humility recognizes God-ordained authority, and respects that authority, even submitting when we would rather not.  A good question is, Is there anyone God has placed over me whom I am resisting & giving a hard time (parents, husband, employer, church leaders, police, etc.)?

 

Humility is revealed in service to believers God has placed around us.  Clothe yourselves, v. 5, refers to a servant putting on an apron.  We all know what servants put aprons on to do.  When given opportunities to serve my fellow-believers, what do I do with those opportunities?  The answer tells us if we are humble, doesn’t it?  

 

Your friend, trying to learn from Peter, Pastor Brian (:-}).

January 1

Grow. Connect. Serve. Tell. In 2018

Today Elder Lynn Miller led our Men’s Bible Study at the Coachlight on 1 Peter 2:4-12.  Fifteen men were present for this wonderful study in God’s Word that Lynn took us through.  As I reflected on our study, I was reminded that this passage is the basis for our church mission statement.  As we enter New Years, and think about what we are called to in 2018, now is a good time to be reminded of what our purpose as the church of Jesus Christ in Marquette is. Remember, Jesus’ Great Commission is to make disciples, which we have defined as becoming Christ-followers.  That’s the over-arching goal.  Becoming and following are actions.  As Peter defines for us what that entails, he emphasizes four actions.  They involve engaging in a process that makes us more and more like Jesus.  Are we engaged in this process?

Grow.  Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good, 1 Peter 2:2-3.  Notice Peter’s priority is for us to grow up into salvation.  This matches his very last words to the church:  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 2 Peter 3:18.  Growing in grace and knowledge are the keys to a maturing faith.  The Lord uses those keys to make us like Him which then leads naturally to the next actions.  When our salvation is growing, we naturally want to do the things that Jesus has for us.

 

Connect.  As you come to Him…you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, 1 Peter 2:4-5.  Peter says when we come to Jesus, the living stone, He incorporates us into His Church as living stones in His house.  Following Jesus is not a private matter only, but it includes being connected to other believers in deep fellowship in a local church.  When a brick house is built, leftover bricks are left lying around.  They are useless not attaining their purpose in making a house.  That is what an unconnected believer is – not only useless, but not attaining Jesus’ purpose for which He saved us.  He intends us to be committed to connection.

 

Serve.  To be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God thru Jesus Christ, 1 Peter 2:5.  The Levites and priests alone served God at the Temple with physical sacrifices.  Now that is open to every believer in the great truth called the Priesthood of All Believers.  We are to discover our gifts and use them in serving the other believer-priests in Christ’s Church.  Each believer has a task, a place, and is needed.  In this way the body grows and is built up.

 

Tell.  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light, 1 Peter 2:9.  Peter tells us we have a task to the outside world – that you may proclaim.  Christianity is a telling religion.  All it takes is for one generation to stop telling the good news and the Great Commission ends.  Jesus won’t let that happen, for He said, I will build my church, emphasis on will.  He will not fail, but we have a role to play.  And it is a happy role, despite that some are offended by our message, 1 Peter 2:7-8.  For others believe and join us as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  No wonder it’s called marvelous.

 

Your friend, growing, connecting, serving, telling, Pastor Brian (:-}).

December 1

The Implications of Our Belief in Original Sin, part 2

When I was a student in Junior College I took a class in Political Science.  Early on the professor said in class something like this: “In order to govern people properly we have to understand the nature of humans.  How many of you think people are born basically good?  How many of you think people are born neutral, neither good nor bad?  How many of you think people are born evil?”  The professor’s view was the neutral one, that we become good or bad by our actions.

Clearly my professor did not believe in original sin.  It was an open secret that he was living in an immoral relationship with his boyfriend.  He was also a very opinionated, outspoken political activist.  He had ample evidence in his own life of the doctrine of original sin.  It couldn’t have been any clearer had it jumped up and hit him in the face.  As the old song goes, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  But one thing my professor did get right is that how we view human nature has enormous implications.  In our last article we saw two implications of original sin.  (see November 1, 2017 article at http://pastorsthoughts.bethelmarquette.com/)  Here are three more implications:

 

  • We should not be discouraged when even believers fail us, for we all have remaining corruption in us until death and can sin grievously.  Professor D.A. Carson, in his daily devotional For the Love of God, wrote, “Most of the best in Scripture betray flaws of one sort or another—Abraham, Moses, Peter, Thomas, and (not least) David…Even the finest of our Christian leaders commonly display faults that their closest peers and friends can spot (whether or not the leaders themselves can see them!). This should not surprise us. In this fallen world, it is the way things are…We should therefore not be disillusioned when leaders prove flawed. We should support them wherever we can, seek to correct the faults where possible, & leave the rest to God—all the while recognizing the terrible potential for failures and faults in our own lives.”

 

2) We must be careful about elevating people to positions of leadership or ministry until we see evidence of the new birth and desire for ongoing spiritual maturity.  The Bible contains this warning about leadership in the church:  He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil (1 Timothy 3:6).  This clearly is founded upon the doctrine of remaining corruption in every believer from original sin.  Without proper growth and time to mature in the Lord, it is too easy to act in the flesh.  Clearly pride and conceit are the devil’s trading tools, and he has done much damage to churches and lives thru the unconverted or the immature.  We must apply the tests of the new birth, time for growth, and the desire for ongoing growth to those who would lead.

 

3) We must not set aside spiritual methods for secular methods thinking we can attract seekers to the Lord by appealing to their fleshly minds and desires.  2 Corinthians 10:2-6 warn us against waging war according to the flesh.  1 Corinthians 2:14-16 warn us that people without the mind of Christ will never understand or accept spiritual ministry.  Bible teacher John Hoeldtke once advised me, “Whatever we attract people with is what we have to keep giving them to keep them.”  And Charles Spurgeon warned us that we are called “to feed the sheep, not amuse the goats.”  Spiritual work countering original sin can only be done by spiritual methods.

 

Your friend, learning about the danger within, Pastor Brian (:-}).

November 1

The Implications of Our Belief in Original Sin

As I drove across town, I saw a church sign that announced, “The Blessing of the Pets.”  I thought, Where does the Bible teach us to pray for animals?  I suppose it is not wrong to pray for an ailing pet, but we don’t see an example in the Bible that I know of.  And where are we taught to have a service where people bring their pets to receive a special blessing by the pastor?  Pets are great, and I love mine, but I would never dream to think that my church would have a service for pets.  

 

Why would a church do something like this that as far as I know is unique in the history of Christianity?  It is because our beliefs and values have become so confused that many no longer know what the church is supposed to be.  And having lost sight of the mission of the church, some now will do anything to attract a crowd by appealing to their human interests.  When our doctrine has gone to the dogs, we shouldn’t be surprised that our church does too.

 

What does this have to do with our belief in original sin that we discussed in last month’s article?

Just this.  It is one of the implications of our belief in original sin.  In this article I want to begin to sketch out a few of the immensely important implications of original sin.

 

Our view of original sin should make us meek and humble in how we treat others.  Many years ago, I heard renowned preacher, Dr. Lehman Strauss, say we all have too much pride.  No one could argue with him.  Pride was the chief sin of Satan, and it is the chief sin of ours.  That is directly related to our view of original sin.  Read what Jonathan Edwards so astutely wrote:

 

If it be truly so, that we all come sinful into the world, then our heartily acknowledging it, tends to promote humility: but our disowning that sin and guilt which truly belongs to us, and endeavoring to persuade ourselves that we are vastly better than in truth we are, tends to a foolish self-exaltation and pride. The works of Jonathan Edwards (Vol.1, p.230).

 

One sign we have truly been humbled by this doctrine is that we are as conscious and vigilant about our own sins as we are the sins of others.  One of the great reasons we need to preach the gospel of grace to ourselves every day is that the closer we get to God, the more we become aware of our sins and failings.  The guilt can crush us if we are not secure in the grace of our salvation.  Conversely, where there is backbiting, fault-finding and finger-pointing, we can be sure that we have not only stopped growing close to God, but have also lost sight of our original condition as helpless in original sin.  The truly growing Christian sees his own sins most clearly.  Read Edwards again:

 

This doctrine teaches us to think no worse of others, than of ourselves: it teaches us, that we are all, as we are by nature, companions in a miserable helpless condition; which under a revelation of the divine mercy, tends to promote mutual compassion.  The works of Jonathan Edwards (Vol.1, p.230).

 

There are several more implications which we will pick up in article three next month.  But for now, what we believe has a huge impact on how we behave.  Doctrine is immensely practical.

 

Your friend, refreshing our beliefs, Pastor Brian (:-}).

October 1

The Great Importance of Our Belief in Original Sin

Recently I read The Christian Doctrine of Original Sin by Jonathan Edwards, one of the leading pastors in The Great Awakening which occurred in America prior to the Revolutionary War.  Edwards wrote the book because he saw a weakening of the doctrine of Total Depravity in New England churches where he ministered.  If sinners are not radically corrupt, then a radical remedy is not really needed in the gospel of the grace of God.  

 

This concern of Edwards proved true as many of the churches of New England turned to liberal theology and eventually lost the gospel entirely, like the Unitarians.  What do they believe?

 

Unitarians believe in the goodness of human nature, criticize doctrines of the Fall, the Atonement, and eternal damnation, and require only openness to divine inspiration.  (The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, p. 995)

 

I once attended a Unitarian church service where the entire message was about saving the environment with no hint about saving mankind from the ruin of sin.  If you don’t believe that mankind is ruined in sin, why not focus on some other ruin that needs saving?  If people are fine, then let’s try to harness their energies to improve some aspect of life that needs improving.  After the service, we were invited to go on a nature walk rather than go and make disciples.  (By the way, we do have a creation mandate to care responsibly for the earth God has created, but that is a far cry from replacing God with the worship of the earth itself.  That is the inevitable result of denying Original Sin.  We will see no need to be reconciled to the God we have strayed from.)

 

What Jonathan Edwards saw in his Bible is that we are sinners in three ways:  1) We are guilty of Adam’s sin because he was head of the whole human race which God constituted as one.  Romans 5:12 says that when Adam sinned, we all sinned.  Notice the past tense.  It does not say that we sin (present tense), but that we sinned in the past when Adam sinned.  The name Adam is the same Hebrew word for mankind.  Adam represented the whole human race so that his sin was also our sin.  2)  We inherit a depraved nature from Adam with a total bent towards sin and hostility towards God.  Romans 8:7-8 says we are hostile to God, do not submit to God, cannot submit to God, and cannot please God.  Matthew 9:36 says we are helpless, unable to remedy our sinful situation.   3)  We commit personal sin (and can only sin before salvation because our good works are corrupted by wrong motives).  Isaiah 64:6 says that the righteous deeds of the nonbeliever are as filthy rags.  Coming from a polluted source, God sees them as polluted works.

 

Original sin is proven from experience in several ways, even if the Bible did not teach us so.  We begin sinning immediately as soon as we can make our own choices.  The self-centeredness in the youngest child is so self-evident that parents must spend enormous amounts of time counteracting it thru discipline and instruction.  We sin continuously throughout our entire life.  Even the best people get impatient, complain or lose their temper.  Almost no one ever throughout the longest life claims to be perfect.  Finally, we sin progressively worse (unless we are saved and born anew by God’s grace).  The child left to itself becomes progressively worse, not better.  What are the implications of this as Christians for life and ministry?  There are many, so stay tuned for next month’s article when we will explore them.

Your friend, thinking with you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

September 1

Life in the Spirit from Romans 8

Someone has said that if stranded on a deserted island and only one chapter from a Bible washed up on shore, Romans 8 would be the chapter of wish.  It is hard to argue with that choice.  Romans 8 covers in succinct form everything Christians need to know about how the Christian life works.  It covers salvation, sanctification, glorification, the role of all three persons of the godhead in salvation, the place of suffering in the Christian life, the place of good works, how prayer works, and our future assurance of resurrection.  A special focus on our security occurs as verse one assures us of no condemnation and the last verse (v. 39) assures us of no separation.

 

It is instructive that the Holy Spirit is mentioned only five times in Romans chapters 1-7 and only eight times in Romans chapters 9-16 for a total of thirteen mentions in fifteen chapters, but twenty-one times is the Holy Spirit mentioned in Romans 8 alone.  Truly Romans 8 is about life in the Spirit.  Verses 5-11 are about the changes the Holy Spirit makes in believers’ lives so we can live the Christian life.  This is such a contrast with every other religion on the face of the earth.  Verse 3 says, For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  Every other religion is about what people DO for God to earn His favor.  Christianity is about what God has DONE for us to give us His favor in Christ, and then what His Holy Spirit DOES in us to live the Christian life.  Truly, every other religion is spelled DO, but Christianity is spelled DONE.  And then it is spelled DOES because of the work of the Spirit in us.  John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress, put it in such an excellent couplet:

 

Run, John run, the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands.

Better news the gospel brings; it bids me fly and gives me wings.

 

The Holy Spirit’s changes are like being given spiritual wings so we may please God.  

 

  1. 5 – a new mind set (those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit)
  2. 6 – a new life in fellowship with God (to set the mind on the Spirit is life)

Vv. 6-8 – a new submission to God (the mind set on the Spirit is…peace [toward God])

Vv. 9-11 – a new assurance of eternal life that includes future resurrection of the body

 

All this prepares for, and leads to, the only commands found in Romans 8:  So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.  For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live, vv. 12-13.

 

When I was converted as a teenager, I didn’t understand all of this.  These Romans 8 changes the Holy Spirit had made were undefined to me.  I just knew that I was different.  This new lifestyle had begun exactly as described in vv. 12-13 (which do not exclude ongoing isolated failures and sins which still occur this side of heaven).  What a joy it is to understand the Spirit’s work more and more and live with the wings He has provided.  DONE & DOES, then DO.  In that order.

Your friend, rejoicing in Romans 8, Pastor Brian (:-}).

August 1

Discerning the Essence vs. the Expression of Worship

One of the problems we sometimes have in church life is discerning between the essence of something versus its expression.  In some ways, the King James Bible controversy falls into this category.  The KJV is one expression of the essence of God’s Word in Bible translation.  When people make it the only one they are confusing the essence of God’s Word (found in other faithful translations) with the expression of it (in the KJV).  Another area of church life that we often make that mistake is in worship.  We can easily confuse the essence of worship with the expression of worship.

When Reggie White was still living he gave a famous speech to the Wisconsin State Legislature.  In the speech, he extolled various ethnic/racial groups for having certain strengths that add to our collective enrichment.  He said that African-Americans are particularly good at worship because of the exuberant, expressive style of black worship.  The speech was not well-received partly because of errors like this that confused the essence of something with its expression.  

I have run into this over the years in conversations with people.  One friend told me about visiting a church where he found the sermon to be particularly moving.  But he was disappointed in the response of the congregation.  He said to me (and I quote), They should have been on their feet clapping.  But we all know that clapping can become a substitute for actually changing.  Which is better, to clap or to change?  Clearly clapping cannot be the essence of what it means to respond to a powerful sermon.  It may be appropriate at times (or maybe not), but one cannot judge a congregation by the absence of clapping.

This is really quite important because we all tend to elevate what we prefer over the essence of what something really is.  Once we do that we may miss out entirely on what we should be doing in favor of a focus on externals.  Those insisting on the KJV are so caught up by it that it makes their lives and churches unhealthy.  They are so judgmental they fail to obey the very Bible they are jealously attempting to protect.

So, what is the essence of worship?  The great Protestant Reformer John Calvin wrote, Lawful worship consists in obedience alone.  A more modern-day statement comes from Prof. D. A. Carson:  Our generation desperately needs to connect praise with righteousness, worship with obedience, and the Lord’s response with a clean heart.  What these gifted teachers are saying is what the Bible says itself.

And Samuel said [to King Saul], Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.

Saul’s fundamental error was that he thought he could offer God the expression of worship rather than the essence of worship.  We can fall into that trap too.  Various styles of worship are acceptable to God.  Most of us will gravitate toward either the quiet or the more exuberant.  Either is okay.  What is not okay is worshiping without obedience – substituting the expression of worship for its essence.  In the end, that is not to worship at all.  

Your friend, learning about worship, Pastor Brian (:-}).

July 1

Lessons in Lamenting from the Weeping Prophet, Jeremiah

One of the forms of Hebrew poetry found in the Psalms is lament.  A lament is a complaint where the Psalmist pours out his case to God about the treatment being experienced with the request that God intervene and bring the painful situation to an end.  There is an entire book in the Bible called Lamentations where Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, pours out his heart to God as he watched the Babylonian Captivity unfold upon Judah with all its horror and destruction.

 

In chapter 3, Jeremiah pours out his feelings about God’s treatment of him personally during this horrifying time.  He was confused, vv. 2-3, miserable, v. 4, in tribulation, v. 5, trapped, vv. 6-7, without answers, v. 8, feeling pursued by God, v. 10, torn up, v. 11, persecuted, v. 12, humiliated, v. 14, without peace or happiness, v. 17, and unable to hold on, v. 18.  

 

Jeremiah sounds like someone who is about ready to abandon his faith in God.  He sounds like the woman who once lamented to me, I’ve been a good girl all my life; where has it gotten me.  That lament became the beginning of a departure from God that led to a hardened heart.  Several years later her sister-in-law said to me that she had become a hardened woman.  

 

This is where laments from people of faith take a different turn.  The lamenter is honest about what is being felt, but rather than turning from God in resentment and disbelief, the lamenter turns to God in trust and submission.  Jeremiah does this starting in v. 21.  Many lessons can be learned from Jeremiah at this point about how to respond in lamenting situations.  

 

The Lord is still good, v. 25.  After everything poured out (in paragraph two above), Jeremiah still says, The Lord is good.  In fact, vv. 25, 26, 27 all begin with the word good.  This is so very important to believe, but also to affirm.  For believers, even on the darkest days there are still blessings to count, and those blessings come from the hand of a good God who is still working.  

 

We must wait for the Lord’s timing, vv. 25-26.  God told Jeremiah the nation Judah would suffer captivity for 70 years, Jeremiah 25:11.  That is a long time to wait.  Jeremiah would be dead before Judah’s fortunes would be restored.  Yet Jeremiah said, It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.  God works in His timing, not ours.  Some lessons require lots of time before they are fully internalized.  We must learn to quietly wait.  

 

Let the affliction humble us, vv. 28-30.  Speaking about the yoke of affliction Jeremiah wrote, Let him sit alone in silence when [the yoke] is laid on him; let him put his mouth in the dust—there may yet be hope; let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults.  When we are forced to eat dust, essentially says Jeremiah, eat it.  When we must grovel in the dust, don’t reject it, but accept the slap in the face the Lord is letting us have.  The reason God permits affliction is to break our pride.  Only when pride is broken can we learn.  So instead of resisting it, be humbled by it.

 

Instead of complaining, test and examine our ways, vv. 39-42.  Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!  There is the difference.  The person of faith learns and grows turning back to God rather than away.  When that happens, affliction has succeeded.

 

Your friend, learning from the weeping prophet, Pastor Brian (:-}).

June 1

Apologetics Has Two Sides. We Should All Be Experts in One, if Not Both.

Most Christians know that Apologetics is the technical term for defending the Christian faith.  The concept comes from 1 Peter 3:15:  But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.  “Defense” comes from the Greek word apologia.  Clearly this text is saying that when people ask questions about why we have set our hope in Christ, we are to be prepared with ready answers.  That is one aspect of Apologetics, being prepared to answer questions like:  why I believe the Bible is true; why I believe Jesus rose from the dead; why I believe there is only one way to heaven?  Some Christians are real experts at this.  Dr. Norman Geisler, a former professor of mine, is a world-renowned authority in Apologetics.  Few can match his skill in this area.  His books are very helpful.

 

But there is another side to Apologetics, that those less skillful with verbal arguments, can still be experts at in defending the faith.  In fact, this form of Apologetics must precede and be the basis for the first form.  We can call this a “life-apologetic” in addition to an “answer-apologetic.”  It is interesting that before Peter gets to the important and necessary “answer-apologetic,” he emphasizes the “life-apologetic” in 1 Peter 3:8-12.  Look at just verses 8-9.

 

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil of reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.

 

Peter is clearly in v. 9 reflecting on Jesus’ teaching about how to respond to those who persecute us – bless and curse not, said Jesus.  So, we are justified in seeing v. 8 as referring to our relationships primarily with believers, while v. 9 likely refers to our relationships with more hostile unbelievers (as vv. 13-17 go on to explain).  Seeing this, Peter is certainly teaching that God wants us to live lives that are attractive so that people see the gospel at work in us.  In fact, we can see two lessons emerging from verses 8-9 that are developed by Peter in the entire section of verses 8-17:

 

  • Among believers, create a community that models all the virtues of relationships at their best so that people will be attracted to it (v. 8).
  • Among nonbelievers, react in ways so unexpected that they will be surprised and attracted as to why we are so different when mistreated (v. 9 = the Golden Rule).

 

Charles Spurgeon once told his congregation that the best sermons are preached during the week by the people who came to hear him preach.  He said that in the shops, in the offices, in the homes, etc., the most powerful sermons are preached every day to a watching world that cannot deny the power of the eternal gospel on display in Christians’ lives.  Spurgeon was referring to the “life-apologetic.”  Most Christians can trace their conversion to a trusted friend or relative whose respected testimony made the gospel believable.  One of the believers who impacted me the most so respected his quiet, unassuming Christian uncle, that when his nephew heard the gospel it had credibility because of his uncle.  That uncle was living the “life-apologetic,” and we should all be experts at it.  The gospel is both seen and heard, and it takes both to win the lost.

 

Your friend, wanting to BE an apologetic, Pastor Brian (: -}).

May 1

Three Verses in Psalm 119 on How God Uses Affliction

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible with 176 verses.  It has for a theme the exalting of God’s Word in the life of believers.  Almost every single verse speaks of the Word of God in one of eight different ways:  law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgments, word and ordinances.  Vv. 1-2 pronounce blessing on those who receive the Bible’s work in their lives.

 

Little more than one third of the way into the Psalm, the Psalmist brings up the issue of afflictions in three separate verses, vv. 67, 71, 75.  Apparently, the Psalmist had been slandered by shameless enemies who wanted to smear his reputation, vv. 69-70.  I remember hearing Pastor John MacArthur once say that people-pain can be the worst form of pain.  Physical pain sometimes pales in comparison to the pain people can inflict upon us with false accusations and vindictiveness.  As the Psalmist reflected upon this, he strung together three, almost consecutive lessons on God’s purposes in afflictions of any type we may bear.

 

God uses affliction to bring about correction.  Verse 67 says, Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.  The term for astray means to “sin ignorantly.”  It suggests straying off the path by being deceived or led astray.  Clearly the Psalmist was a man of God, but he knew that with a fallen nature he was vulnerable to self-deception that would lead to unintentional sin.  Unintentional sin is still sin, but it goes undetected so that we can continue in it for a long time.  God uses affliction to get our attention, block our path, or make us see ourselves as we really are.  Then His corrective Word can do its work on us.  I recall a time of self-denial when I rationalized sin in my life.  A broken relationship brought me to my knees in repentance and confession.  I have been careful about the particular error I fell into ever since.

 

God uses affliction as a good teacher.  Verse 71 affirms, It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.  The Psalmist moves the lesson one step further.  Once affliction has corrected we can now learn the positive truth that we recognize is good.  This reminds us of 2 Timothy 3:16, All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.  I have sat visiting in jail cells with people whose incarceration corrected their selfish ways.  They saw the right way and vowed never to return to the wrong way.  Affliction was hard, but ended up being a good teacher.  Charles Spurgeon said the book of suffering was the best volume in his library.  He learned more from it than any other.

 

God uses affliction because He is faithful to His children.  Verse 75 teaches, I know, O Lord, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.  Faithfulness carries the idea of fidelity or loyalty.  It means that God can be counted on to do what is in the best interest of those He loves.  Since affliction is painful we assume the God administering it is not good.  We may become disillusioned.  Haddon Robinson is often called the dean of homiletics professors.  His father became ill and prayed for healing.  When it didn’t happen, in his simplistic faith he became disillusioned with God.  But when advancing age put Mr. Robinson in a nursing home near his son, Haddon visited his dad for lunch every day until he died.  Imagine how many people would love to spend one hour every day with Haddon Robinson.  That would be worth almost any illness.  Mr. Robinson had a faithful God who gave him a great treasure at the end of his life in the daily visits of his son.  Only a loyal God would do that.

 

Your friend, learning thru affliction, Pastor Brian (:-}).