Better by Far! (Part One)

Philippians 1:23

I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far… (NIV).

The church at Philippi was a good church, though like every other gathering of believers, it was not perfect. Wherever you have people, you will find problems, since we all sin. In this blog, I write of God’s grace for sinners and strive to help people that struggle with sin. But I openly confess that I, like the Philippians, am far from perfect. Writing from prison, the apostle Paul sent the Philippian church this letter, because he was troubled about a weakness in their fellowship. They needed to work together in joyful love for the spread of the gospel, but they were pulled apart by strife between people.

Paul sought to bring his friends to greater unity by various means. Our text is taken from a section in which he did not hesitate to use himself as an example. What he urged them to do was not merely some fine theory. Instead, it conformed to how he was living at that time. He told them that he lived to advance the gospel. That was very important, but he was torn between two alternatives. He wanted to live on to preach the gospel, though he suffered, yet he also wanted to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. He used his desire to be with the Lord to motivate them to change the way they currently lived. Today, we ask the first of three questions about this desire.

The first question is, why is it better to depart and to be with Christ? By the way, notice that Paul clearly believed that to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord. The Bible nowhere teaches soul sleep or purgatory.

To be with Christ is to be freed from suffering and trials. The apostle knew a great deal about these hard events of life. It was not pleasant to be in a first century prison. Consider also his other sufferings for Christ (2 Corinthians 11:23-33). Let us not pretend to be more spiritual than we are. No one likes suffering. The apostles rejoiced that they suffered for the sake of Christ’s name. We can rejoice in the blessed fruit that suffering brings. But suffering itself is not joyous.

After Christ’s servants die, this world can do nothing more to harass (Revelation 7:15-17; 14:13; 21:3-4). Certainly this is better by far!

To be with Christ is to be freed from sin. During our time on this old world, sinful desires wage war against the soul (1 Peter 2:11). This war lasts our entire Christian life. We sometimes ask, “When will this war be over?” But then we will be like Christ in purity and holiness. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27 CSB; cf. 1 John 3:2-3; Hebrews 12:23). Certainly this is better by far! Is your hope to be like Jesus Christ? It is one of the signs of having new life.

To be with Christ is to be where God is always praised. Now we must live among a people that revel in their own perversity (Romans 1:28-32). They take pleasure in violence and moral degradation. They mock what is pure and good and right. But when we are with the Lord, we will only hear the voices of those who magnify the Lord with us (Revelation 5:9-14; 15:3-4; 19:5-8). Certainly this is better by far!

To be with Christ is to be with one who has overflowing joy. Even now we should rejoice, since we are in Christ (Philippians 3:1; 4:4). Too often, our joy is mixed with sorrow (2 Corinthians 6:10). To be with the Lord will be the experience of eternal joy. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11 ESV; cf. Matthew 25:21, 23). Certainly this is better by far!

Grace and peace, David

Psalm 63 (Part Eleven)

Those who want to kill me will be destroyed; they will go down to the depths of the earth. They will be given over to the sword and become food for jackals. But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God will glory in him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced (63:9-11 NIV).

Though in soul-refreshing, heart-encouraging experience of personal fellowship with the living God, David in fact was still in a dry and weary land (63:1 NIV). This is life in this fallen world. Our God has plans he acts toward, and they involve keeping and sustaining his dearly loved people in unpleasant situations. Yet David confidently expected God to act in his dangerous state. On the run from his enemies, he did not abandon his hope. Since he is able to draw near to God, he is confident. This is the benefit of knowing God according to his revelation of himself in the Scriptures. Outward circumstances may not improve, they may even get worse. But believers in God are certain of the ultimate triumph of God, his truth, and that they will share in that victory.

On the one hand, David was certain of the defeat of his enemies. If this refers to the revolt of Absalom, his enemies had a decided military superiority. The plot had been well-laid. David and his men had been taken by surprise. But Absalom’s advantage would disappear, and David’s enemies would be defeated. Observe that David envisioned a battle: given over to the sword. He did not expect to escape without a fight. Confidence in God should never promote a lazy, careless attitude. God’s sovereignty does not eliminate human responsibility. Jackals “are the final scavengers, consuming the remains of the kill rejected by larger beasts. The wicked are, in other words, the very leavings of mankind” (Kidner). No one cares about their graves.

Notice the justice of God. David’s enemies plotted to throw off their lawful king, the one anointed by God as their leader. So then, God threw them aside for everlasting contempt. Unlike Absalom and his fellow rebels, many evil people escape justice in this world. But they cannot escape the final Judgment Day. God chose to make David’s enemies an example of what will surely happen to his enemies.

On the other hand, David was confident of his victory and of all who know the Lord. He looked forward to being able to rejoice in God, along with all those who were faithful to the Lord. Notice that David called himself the king. While this provides us information about the time of this psalm, it does more than that. David expected victory because he knew that God is always faithful to his covenant promises. God had said that he would build a house for David (2 Samuel 7:1-17; 1 Chronicles 17:1-15; cf. Psalm 89:1-2; Isaiah 55:3-4). Much in God’s plan depended on David’s safety, so David could be confident.

We should also claim God’s covenant promises (Hebrews 8:8-13). Events might look bleak; any outward confidences might disappear, but God’s promises cannot fail!

Grace and peace, David

God and His People (Part Two)

Psalm 30:1-3

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit (ESV).

We all need God to rescue us. Some of these might be very dramatic. Others might be like a parent acting quickly to intercept their child before they get into dangerous situations. We daily require the help of the merciful God (30:1b-3).

In his mercy (cf. 30:10), God answered David’s prayer for help. We act very wickedly and foolishly when we leave God out of our problems, including our physical problems. We ought to pray before we visit the doctor. Think about King Asa of Judah and what happened to him (2 Chronicles 16:12). “As the writer reflects on his experience, the one thing he seems to recall most vividly is how earnestly he fell back upon prayer in his extremity, and how effective prayer proved on this occasion. The entire experience may be said to be summarized in this one verse” (Leupold).

What help did God give David? He gave David physical healing (30:2b-3). David had been in danger of dying, but the Lord restored him to health. He gave David victory over his enemies. They wanted to gloat over his ruin, but God did not permit that to happen. We still have spiritual enemies who would gloat over our destruction, fall or disgrace. But remember the happy truth of 1 John 4:4. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (CSB).

God lifted David up (30:1b). There is a great and mighty army of people whom God has lifted up, though their problems seemed beyond hope.

  • God lifted up Noah, when the whole race faced destruction
  • God lifted up Jacob, when he was a penniless refugee
  • God lifted up Joseph, when he was sold into slavery
  • God lifted up Gideon, when he hid in fear
  • God lifted up Ruth and Naomi, when they were poverty-stricken widows
  • God lifted up Elijah, when he was a downcast prophet
  • God lifted up Jeremiah, when his enemies had placed him in a well
  • God lifted up the woman at the well, when all despised her
  • God lifted up Peter, when he was a weeping apostle
  • God lifted up Paul, when he was a violent persecutor

How great is the grace of our God! As an old song says, “It is no secret, what God can do! What he’s done for others, he’ll do for you. With arms wide open, he’ll pardon you. It is no secret what God can do!” (Stuart Hamblen)

The God of grace has lifted us up as well! He has lifted us from the pit of hell, from the sewer of sin, from the swamp of depression, and from the slavery of doubts and fears. O brothers and sisters, will you glorify the Lord with me? Come; let us exalt his name forever (Psalm 34:3).

Grace and peace, David

By Faith Joseph (Part Two)

Genesis 50:22-26

In our previous post, we saw how Joseph completed his earthly pilgrimage with joy. We conclude this series on his life with this: By faith Joseph spoke about the future. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones (Hebrews 11:22 NASV).

For their immediate future, he encouraged them to rely on the Lord. He comforted them with the same comfort that he had received from his father (48:21). This is a pattern for our lives. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV). They who believe God’s promises are desirous of persuading others to believe also. That which had sustained him for over ninety years, he now leaves as a heritage of faith to his family.

Joseph had been the means of God’s support and protection for the family. Now that the means was passing away, what would become of the family? He directed them to the actual source of their security: The God who had made covenant promises to his people (50:24). “God’s gracious visits will serve to make up the loss of our best friends. They die; but we may live, and live comfortably, if we have the favor and presence of God with us” (Henry).

For the more distant future, he encouraged them to hope in God. God’s people must journey through this world with their hope (confident expectation) on what God has promised. We don’t look for satisfaction in this present world but in the world to come. Joseph’s family, which would become God’s covenant nation at Sinai, was not to look for satisfaction in Egypt. God had a better place for them, a place where they could flourish as his people. But they would not reach that land for many years. Until then, by faith Joseph spoke two messages of hope.

First, Joseph told them that God would come to their aid. Their way would eventually turn out to be bitter slavery. The people themselves would even turn to idols (Joshua 24:14). But God’s grace is greater than his people’s sins and sorrows. Hear the word of the Lord, “But God will surely come to your aid.”

Second, Joseph prophesied that God will surely take them to the land of promise. Egypt was not to be their home, and as a testimony to them, Joseph ordered that they take his bones out with them in the Exodus. Famous men often want to build monuments to their own honor in this world. Joseph was of a different spirit. Let Egypt do as it wished for the present; he had his sights set on a better country.

God’s people in all ages must keep their eyes on God’s promised rest for them. Let us remember where our home is. We are only strangers and pilgrims here. All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth (Hebrews 11:13 NIV). We are looking for a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:13).

Let’s focus on some lessons we can learn from Joseph’s life.

  • What made Joseph tick? He had surely seen God do great things for him and through him! But was his experience his consolation in the end? No, it was the word of God. His hope was in what God had “promised on oath” (50:24). Two unchangeable things sustained him at the end, God’s promise and oath (cf. Hebrews 6:18). We will do well to pay attention to the word of the prophets made more certain, for it is the word of God (2 Peter 1:19-21).
  • Let us not be weary of repetition. Joseph repeated that God would surely come to their aid. Weak minds continually lust after new, exotic, spicy spiritual and intellectual dishes. Strong minds are content to feed on meat and potatoes. Make God’s word your delight and rely on it; beware the opinions of people.
  • Joseph endured thirteen years of suffering, but he also enjoyed eighty years of honor. Let us not lose heart concerning any present suffering for Christ. He can abundantly reward us. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (2 Corinthians 4:17 NIV).
  • A godly man may die in the Egypts of this world. That matters not. All the godly will share perfection together someday (Hebrews 11:40). O that it was today!

Grace and peace, David

Heaven (Part One)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV).

One of the privileges of being a pastor or elder is the spiritual care of God’s people, especially as they approach the end of their earthly journey. Then, we see together what is truly important in this life, and it is not houses, cars, career accomplishments, victories by our favorite sports teams, vacations, entertainment, and gourmet restaurants. At the end, family and friends matter most, and if we are wise, our approaching meeting with the Lord. Our present purpose is to examine what the Bible says about life after death for believers, about what most people refer to in a general sense by the word “heaven”.

What do we mean by heaven? The term is used in two general senses in relation to God’s purposes of salvation. The first refers to the past ages and this present age. When we speak of heaven in the first general sense, the term is used in to speak of:

  • The sky (Matthew 8:20; 16:2-3)
  • The region of the stars and galaxies (Acts 7:42: Hebrews 11:12)
  • The place in the present age where God reveals his glory, where Christ resides in his glorified humanity, and where the angels and the spirits of the justified currently reside (Isaiah 66:1; Matthew 5:45; 18:10; Luke 22:43; John 12:28; Acts 1:11; 3:24; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Galatians 1:8; Hebrews 8:1)

When we speak of heaven in the second general sense, which is the primary subject of this study, we are speaking of the eternal destiny of God and his people. In this second sense, we refer to the new heavens and the new earth, and what the Bible reveals about them. “Heaven is the place where God most fully makes known his presence to bless” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 1159).

Eternity is a most solemn and heart-searching subject. Our present life is but a very brief blip. Think on the following (cf. Ryle, Practical Religion, pp. 472-488):

  • We live in a world where all is temporary and passing way (2 Corinthians 4:18), whether beauty, strength, wisdom, or the worldly wealth we accumulate.
  • We are all going to a future where everything is eternal, whether for eternal happiness with God or for eternal misery under God’s wrath (Matthew 25:46)
  • Our state in eternity depends entirely on what we are in time (John 3:16-18, 36; Romans 2:6-7; Galatians 6:8)
  • The Lord Jesus Christ is the Great Friend to whom we must all look for help, both for time and for eternity (John 6:37-40; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:15; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18)

Next, consider the various terms used in the Scriptures to describe the future blessedness of the saints. Invest some of your time in reading and meditating on these verses.

  • Life, eternal life, live forever (Matthew 7:14; 19:16, 29; 25:46; John 5:24; 6:47, 54-58)
  • Glory, the glory of God, an eternal weight of glory (Romans 2:7, 10; 5:2; 2 Corinthians 4:17; Ephesians 3:21; Colossians 3:4; 2 Timothy 2:10)
  • My Father’s house, home with the Lord (John 14:2; 2 Corinthians 5:8)
  • Peace (Romans 2:10)
  • Salvation, eternal salvation (1 Thessalonians 5:9; Hebrews 5:9; 9:28)
  • Paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7)
  • The Jerusalem that is above, the city with foundations, the heavenly Jerusalem, the new Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 11:10, 16; 12:22; Revelation 3:12)
  • A better country (Hebrews 11:16)
  • The kingdom, heavenly kingdom, eternal kingdom (Matthew 8:11; 25:34; 2 Timothy 4:18; 2 Peter 1:11)
  • Eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15; 1 Peter 1:4)
  • Eternal dwellings (Luke 16:9)
  • Glorious freedom (Romans 8:21)
  • To live and reign with Christ (2 Timothy 2:11-12)
  • Heaven (Matthew 5:12; 6:20; 19:21; Luke 12:33; 2 Corinthians 5:1; 1 Peter 1:4)
  • New heavens and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1)

Each of the above ought to stir the hearts of followers of the Lord Jesus. They tell us what to set our minds upon. Make room for heaven in your thoughts today!

Grace and peace, David

Resettlement

SAMSUNG

Genesis 47:1-10

Change happens. Change can be unavoidable, as it was for Jacob and his family. God can bring circumstances to us that require us to change, like finding a new job or school, like dealing with the suddenly impaired health of a family member or grief in our separation from them. We must be prepared to act wisely and in faith in new situations. We should act diligently when change comes to us. For example, if you have a flood in your house, (I speak from experience here), you call the insurance and start to clean up. You don’t let the situation drag on and on. Pick up the trash, put it in the dumpster, and have the dumpster taken away as quickly as possible. We must act as swiftly as is prudent and possible in other change situations. God told Jacob to relocate to Egypt, and Joseph, due to his position, took charge in resettling his family. Let’s look at Joseph’s wise policy.

The usual way that men act, who are in positions of authority, is to do everything to advance the prominence and wealth of their family. However, Joseph acted prudently and discreetly to preserve his family’s identity as a separate people. This is in line with God’s plan to make them into a great nation. God had told Abraham generations previously that Israel’s future lay in oppression by Egypt, not in becoming part of it. So, Joseph did not seek influential positions for them at court.

It is obvious that Pharaoh is very pleased with Joseph. He probably would have rewarded his brothers with any titles and positions that Joseph requested for them. But Joseph resisted. All opportunities are not God’s opportunities. Jonah found a boat going away from God’s will. As has been said, some open doors lead to empty elevator shafts. There are many temptations involved in politics, like power-mongering, greed, and sexual immorality. Joseph did not thrust his brothers into positions that they probably, given their history, were unprepared to handle properly. Like other vocations, politics involves a call from God.

Joseph did seek a place where his family could maintain their own identity. In Goshen, they were away from the affairs of state, yet it was a fertile area where they could thrive as shepherds. Don’t despise your Goshen. The Lord has you in a place where you can thrive spiritually. You may not gain much earthly wealth here, but it may be the best place for you to lay up treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21).

Joseph emphasized their earthly calling. Shepherds were detestable to the Egyptians. If they were known to be shepherds, then the Egyptians would gladly leave them separate from the mainstream of society. In this way, they became outcasts from the world. Joseph “would rather have them to be an abomination than a delight to the Egyptians. Egypt’s frown is better for them than Egypt’s flattery and fellowship” (Candlish). The same holds true for us. “The world’s hatred is safer for the friends of Jesus than the world’s smiles” (Candlish, cf. Lk 6:22.).

To cement their position in the land of Egypt, Jacob met Pharaoh (47:7-10). He went to Pharaoh with a blessing. This may seem strange to the worldly-minded person. What could Jacob give to Pharaoh, ruler of the world’s greatest empire? The eye of faith can see what the worldly eye cannot. Who is Jacob? A detestable old shepherd before a great king? No, he is a child of the King of kings, one who will someday reign with the Lord Christ, and Jacob approached a needy beggar who happened to wear royal robes. What else could Jacob do but give a blessing? God’s people should always try to be a blessing to a needy world. Therefore, let us be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.

However, all Jacob’s words were not words of blessing. Yes, Jacob could acknowledge his misery in this world. Surely, he must speak the truth. But where was his faith? Why not add, “But God has helped me all the way?” Let not God’s people give a wrong view of service to the King of kings. We may wear the scars of many battles for our King, but let us speak of the eternal reward he has promised. Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18).

Grace and peace, David

Reunion

Genesis 46:28-30

Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time. Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive” (NIV).

We have seen God’s power at work many times in the life of Joseph. God spoke to Joseph through dreams, enabled him to interpret dreams, protected him from death a couple times, and helped him to endure terrible suffering and the near loss of hope. God also raised him from slavery and imprisonment to become the second in command in the kingdom of Egypt. In this section, we see God at work in a different way.

This incident is one of those times in the Scriptures when faith became sight, when hope received its fulfillment. Events of this type are recorded in the Bible for our encouragement, in order that we may have hope. For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope (Romans 15:4 NIV). Another example would be when the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead. Let us remember that all Scripture is useful for training in righteousness. Instead of running to the Psalms automatically in your troubles, it might be to your profit to meditate on the historical parts of the Scriptures when you are depressed or discouraged. Think on what God has done for his people in the past and what he is able to do for you.

Jacob and the son he thought was dead had a happy reunion. Here is the mutual love of a godly father and his son for each other. The Holy Spirit shows the reality of these people. They were not wind-up, super-spiritual dolls. They had strong affections just as we do. God approves of such displays of love. Think of the reception of the lost son (cf. Luke 15:20). It is very manly and good to express love for one’s family like they did. There is a strange idea that has been circulating for many years: “Big boys don’t cry.” Perhaps boys don’t, for big boys often have mistaken notions of maturity. But godly men cry when it is appropriate (John 11:35; Philippians 3:18; Psalm 126:5-6).

Jacob acquiesced to what God had done: “Now I am ready to die….” He had seen the fulfillment of a dream. His dearly loved son is alive! God’s word has been proved true! Consider Simeon’s joy at seeing the infant Messiah (Luke 2:28-32).

Yet again, Jacob was mistaken in a way. He was ready to die, but it was not yet his time. In fact, Jacob still had 17 years to live (cf. 47:28). Over the years of being a pastor, I have seen many people live much longer than what the medical professionals thought possible. It is good to be ready to face the Lord, but we cannot determine that any particular event (except salvation) makes us ready. So then, don’t quit too soon! You don’t know what job the Lord might yet have for you to do for him. Old age brings a decline in strength, but it adds the benefit of vast life experience. Use what God gives you for his glory.

Grace and peace, David

A Father’s Fortress (Part Two)

Proverbs 14:26-27

Whoever fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for their children it will be a refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death (NIV).

What are the benefits of the fear of the Lord? The man who fears the Lord has a “secure fortress”. He has strength—a stronghold or a strong tower (Proverbs 18:10). Whatever troubles come his way, he can trust in the Lord’s strength (Psalm 61:1-3; 62:5-7). A man, a father needs strength that is far greater than his, in order to handle all life’s pressures. There are many matters beyond his ability. “How can I have a great relationship with my wife? Sometimes we seem to be from different planets! How can I provide for my family? I work hard, but a hundred and fifty dollars seems to buy fewer bags of groceries every week! How can I guide my children in the right way? Everyone else seems to have their attention except me! How can I serve the Lord? Too much else demands my constant efforts!” The answer is found in the strength or security of the Lord’s Almighty power.

He has a fortress—a place of confident expectation (hope). The word translated “fortress” in the NIV in this text has the idea of “the feeling of being safe or secure.” While it means trust, it has the sense of hope. A man’s hope in God is not a questioning sort that seems to be mere wishing, but a confident expectation. It lays hold of God’s trustworthiness. A man who has a strong trust does not act like those who worship false gods and who try to control everything by their ability or sacred rituals. Instead, he relies on the God he can’t control, who nevertheless has pledged to be faithful to whoever trusts in him. An unbeliever wants a god he can control. A believer worships the God he can’t control, but who is totally faithful. And he is content and feels safe in this fortress.

The man who fears the Lord has a “fountain of life”. Since he is convinced of God’s surpassing worthiness, he gains various benefits. In God’s word, he has the “teaching of the wise” (Proverbs 13:14). He has a standard of judgment he can evaluate life by. This gives him understanding (Proverbs 16:22). He can escape the punishment that is the destiny of fools. He recognizes God as the source of life (Psalm 36:9). He does not turn aside to manmade cisterns that break and cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). This is because he has received Christ, who is the fountain of life (John 4:13-14). With Christ as his fortress and fountain, the man who fears the Lord has all that he needs for life and godliness. Do you rejoice that you have all you need in Christ?

What is the outlook of the fear of the Lord? The man who fears the Lord has something to offer to his children. What does the worldly focused man have for his children? Perhaps he goes and watches their ballgames, puts food on the table and gives them a shelter from the weather, shows up for their graduations and weddings, and leaves something for them in his will—maybe, if anything is left. Is that all you want from your life? Is that all you can give to your children? The man who fears the Lord has something better for his children. Since he knows the Lord as his secure fortress and fountain of life, he can point to his children and say, “This is the way of true joy and peace. Don’t waste your lives on the pursuit of lesser things. God will be your refuge, too!”

The man who fears the Lord knows what turns aside death. Yes, we all have to die, but for the man who fears the Lord, physical death is but the passing to be with the Lord and eternal life. Why is this? The man who fears the Lord knows that the “sting of death is sin, and the power of the sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:56). So, he knows he can escape the power of death through Jesus Christ. He says, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57 NIV). I know him who has conquered sin and death. His word teaches me to turn aside from its snares to follow and to trust in the Lord Jesus, who is the fountain of life.” This is the confident expectation of the man who fears the Lord. Is he your fortress and fountain?

Grace and peace, David

Fill Them, Lord (Part One)

Romans 15:13

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (NIV).

The letter to the Romans is a peerless explanation of the good news of justifying grace. Throughout its length, Paul opened gospel treasures. Our text is the concluding verse of the instructional part of Romans. How will the apostle sum up what he has said? He finishes with a prayer for his readers. Plainly, Paul wants his readers to experience the fullness of gospel grace. Therefore, he calls out to God Most High. His request can be prefaced this way. “Fill them, Lord. Fill them with the most wonderful of your blessings. Then they will be able to live properly for you.”

While I am thankful what the sound teaching I received as a new follower of Jesus Christ, I wish I would have known what is recorded here. It would have helped much during the early years of my walk with God. But none of us can change the past. Let us, then, go forward in the light of this truth!

The apostle worships the living God. Three general observations about this worship.

  • We are too brief in our prayers. We do not invest proper time in conversing with him. God is not a convenience store, where we rush in and rush out.
  • When we begin with worship, we show that it is our chief concern to honor God. If we’re not thinking this way, it shows a clear need for repentance in agreement with the first great commandment. We will then reflect the glory of the Holy One through how we pray.
  • Proper form. When we pray, it is good to address him with his characteristics that are most agreeable with errand we come upon. By so doing we confess his ability to provide what we ask. It is like getting in the correct lane on an interstate highway. In some places in our area, they have painted road markers on the lanes, so that drivers know ahead of time which lane to take. Learn the attributes of God and learn to get in the correct lanes.

Here we encounter a specific example of proper worship. To do this requires a Biblical view of God. A study of the prayers in the Bible can be a helpful refresher course on this subject. Learning from the prayers of the Bible is like having a professional instructor by your side. You not only do a better job, but you also know that you’re doing well.

Hope is confident expectation. Hope energizes every saint to endure in service to the Lord and others. Why is he called the God of hope? This is God’s essential character. He looks forward to the day of his appointed victory. Do you think that the Lord is in danger of losing? Perhaps this is what has happened to some people. They’ve counted heads and wrongly concluded that they were on the wrong team. They lack the zeal to pray with other believers. United prayer doesn’t excite them. They sit and stare at the news, which leads them into deeper depths of hopelessness. It is time to get out of that swamp of depression. Seek out prayer times with other believers. In the practice of prayer, you will experience that God gives hope. The apostle’s prayer depends on this fact. The Lord himself is the hope of his people. He is our portion, inheritance, and dwelling-place (cf. Psalms 73:24-26; 90:1; Revelation 21:3). Draw near to him this weekend. Lord, please fill your people!

Grace and peace, David

On the Pilgrim Way (Part One)

Hebrews 6:11

Now we desire each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the full assurance of your hope until the end (CSB).

Sharon and I recently watched a series of video lectures on Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Many times the lecturer pointed out how Bunyan portrayed the concern of pastors and other ministers for people on pilgrimage. He also commented many times on Bunyan’s emphasis on perseverance. Perhaps both were on my mind the other day as I read the second half of Hebrews six.

In our time in our culture, professing Christians have taken a strange turn from the concepts of pilgrimage and perseverance. For too many, it has become a quasi-religious, entertainment, program-driven experience. It has become something for them to consume. But Christianity is a way of life in which believers endure or persevere to the end. Christians are on a journey to the heavenly city and ought to be motivated with that goal in their thoughts. So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:1-2 CSB). As a minister of Jesus Christ and the gospel, I want to encourage you to follow Christ in the walk of love, and as this and the next verse declares, the walk of faith and hope. One of the first hymns that I can remember hearing says, “O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way, leaning on the everlasting arms.” Our way of life is one of “Leaning on Jesus, leaning on Jesus, safe and secure from all alarms.” I want to build you up to diligently pursue your hope.

However, we should not skip over the opening words.

The Spirit says through the writer, “Now we desire each of you….” Desire is a strong word. It is used for greediness (Romans 13:9), hunger (Luke 15:16; 16:21), and sexual lust (Matthew 5:28). Ministers, pastors, and elders ought to show a deep desire for the spiritual well-being and progress of those to whom they minister. Part of the problem with American churches is that the pastor(s) and elders are much more interested in running a business than in caring for and nurturing people. As one of these neglected saints recently said of her church leaders, “All that matters is money.” Very sad!

The task of Christ’s servants is to serve him by serving his dearly loved people. They ought to, we dare to say, lust for their spiritual good. If you deeply desire someone, you make sure you are with them, you show that you care about them, and you shower them with kindness. This is a task for spiritually mature people, who possess a strong faith that their Father in heaven has already met their needs.

This strong desire is for each of you. Yes, everyone who is part of a local gathering of believers. However, local churches have become places where the oldest are neglected and the older leaders forced out. The rich are loved, while the poor are mere ministry “projects” or worse. And we could list others. But Christ’s servants are to have a deep desire for the imitation of the Lord Jesus in everyone.

Pray for leaders of your local church that possess strong desires for the spiritual progress of all its people. Pray that the Spirit of the Lord would transform the leaders, so that they follow Christ and pursue others to join them on the heavenward journey. “O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way!”

Grace and peace, David