Choosing a Church by Conrad Murrell

This is a privilege (or problem) that Christians of the first century did not have. In fact, there were no Christian “churches,” only heathen ones, since the word translated church, the Greek kuriakon, was an adjective describing a heathen temple. It is regrettable that our Bible translators did not preserve for us the more meaningful “fellowship” or “communion,” or “called” from the Greek ecclesia that is used to designate the body of Christian believers in the Bible.

In the first century, denominational divisions, doctrinal errors, apostasy splits and schisms had not yet taken their toll on the Christian community. When a person believed, he became a part of the only fellowship in the city or area where he lived.

In this country and in others where religion has not been uniformly mandated by the state, and where the gospel has been preached for scores of years, churches of all shades and sorts have sprung up. Not only is there a wide selection of denominations, and more recently, undenominated independent groups, but a considerable variety within one denomination.

This is more of a curse than a blessing, since we are now compelled to choose, not the best of something that is mostly all good, but the lesser of the evil out of what is practically all bad. That is the general case. There are, to be sure, some excellent churches; but every town or city or area in the U.S.A. does not have one. When a person lives in such a place, he must decide if he is going to subject himself and his family to one of the corrupt fountains of lies, or if he will take the responsibility of evangelizing in view of a true church being established. I am more immediately concerned in this paper, however, with those who do not have to make a choice like the one above. These live where, not only is the usual array of sick churches infecting all they contact with their own particular brand of religious disease, but a sound spiritual godly church exists. The question to be addressed is this: Can there be a valid reason to choose the unspiritual church, where there is a mixture of truth and error, and where flesh dominates the spirit, rather than the spiritual fellowship, where flesh is mortified and God is exalted by the Spirit?

I have too long delayed addressing the problem in a definitive dogmatic way, preferring rather to say, “You do what the Lord leads you,” or “Whatever you have liberty to do,” or “Whatever you think best,” feeling I had no right to tell anyone what church they should embrace.

There are certain biblical considerations, however, under which a free choice must be guided, and I do not think I can any longer escape my responsibility to call attention to them.

1 The church of God is declared to be the pillar and ground of truth [I Tim. 3:15].

Therefore a church that does not believe and teach the Holy Scriptures, the whole counsel of God, is not worthy of consideration. (And what one will not teach, he does not believe.) It must not dilute, avoid, diminish, or distort those difficult and humanly distasteful portions of God s word which are so essential to our salvation. It is not enough that it preaches faithfully certain truths, and simply avoids, without attacking, other biblical teachings. A false prophet is marked, not only by the error he teaches, but by the truth he avoids. This usually makes him appear more of a nice fellow, a wolf in sheep s clothing. How can a church profess to be the pillar and ground of truth when it teaches only man s responsibility and avoids divine sovereignty? Or when it teaches only the glories and power of Christ, carefully avoiding any reference to the moral demands of God upon man?

2 The church of the living God is a habitation of God through the Spirit (Eph. 2:22).

A people that is not spiritually alive cannot be a habitation of God. It is altogether possible for one to be orthodox in doctrine, correct in creed, meticulous in the fine points of hair-splitting theology, and be altogether empty of spiritual vitality. True Christianity is warm, vibrant, alive in personal communion with God through the Holy Spirit. It is careful and responsive to the needs of all its members. They are demonstrably loving and affectionate, unafraid of emotional demonstration. It lives, acts, prays, wages warfare by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

3 Nothing can be considered the church of Jesus Christ that has not Him as its Head (Eph. 5:23).

Most all churches make this claim for themselves; but even a casual investigation will often prove Him to be only a figurehead. Ask a few reasonable questions: Who really governs it? Who or what is consulted when decisions are to be made? From whence comes its polity and rules of practice, the scriptures, or tradition? To whom do its members look for approval and guidance in their actions? Whom does it strive to please?

A church that has a pope, an imposter professing himself to be the vicar of Christ, is not the Lord s church: it is the pope s church. A non-Catholic one which has a pastor making claims to be God s living word to the membership is not the Lord s church: it is the preacher s. (It is usually actually called his church). Nor can a church be Christian which fears to make any move that is not sanctioned by a denomination s practice, policy or tradition. Call it voluntary cooperation if you wish; the fact remains, that church s life is not ordered by Christ. It is dictated by the denomination, if not by legal coercion, then by popular pressure. Nor can a church ordered by a deacon board or by congregational vote be headed by Christ. If we are to commit ourselves to a body of believers in the way the Bible says members must, then we must be certain that church, to the best of its ability, is headed by Christ alone.

4 Members of a Christian church stand perfectly holy, accepted in the Beloved before God wholly on the basis of the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-6), Titus 3:4-5).

It is His death that satisfies God s justice on our behalf, His blood that covers our sins, and His person that presents us perfect in God s presence. Churches which add something to Christ, despise, cheapen and make His perfect work seem inadequate. Whether it be baptisms, sacraments, tongues, penances, external righteousness, catechisms, confessions, or whatever . . . they are all denials of Christ s sacrifice as a full and complete satisfaction to God for His elect for all time and eternity. We who begin in the Spirit must not hope to finish in the flesh. Let us not defile the white garment of Christ with the filthy garments of our own works for any religious affiliation. We must not subject ourselves to a fellowship that hopes in other than Christ Jesus alone.

5 The true people of God are a people who are not only counted holy for Christ s sake, but a people who are holy in their daily walk. They are a separated, peculiar, different people, markedly distinctive from the world and false religion (II Cor. 6:14-7:1).

They do not turn the grace of God into lasciviousness. Freedom in Christ to them means freedom from the penalty and power of sin, not freedom to sin. They hold in great awe God s holy law, and like the Psalmist, consider it a delight, “sweeter than honey and the honeycomb.”

If a little leaven leaveneth a whole lump, how much more will a leavened lump leaven what is added to it. Or how much more must we expect to get polluted if we get in a barrel of apples already rotting with the worldliness of loose lawless living? Especially must we flee from churches where the leadership is allied with lodges, clubs, fraternities and societies. The Bible is explicit on that point: Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers. They may protest that these organizations do much human good and that they speak often of God, that they use the Bible for their morals and dogma. This we do not deny. Atheists also quote scriptures when it serves their liking and purpose. Some lodges are, no doubt, religious, and its members required to believe in a “supreme being,” but that is far from Christianity. Be assured that there are no Christian fraternities or societies outside the Christian church. The true believer in Christ neither needs nor desires any. The Lord established one fellowship, the church which He purchased in His blood. He intended His people s community needs be met in it and none other.

6. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ is obedient to His commands, especially those which direct us to evangelize and make disciples.

The immediate consequences of true spiritual worship and communion in Christ is a bold and aggressive witness to the unbelieving world. A church without a mission is a locomotive without a track. It is consuming energy and going nowhere. It is cursed soil drinking in nourishment and rain, bringing no fruit. It is a barren tree destined to wither and die. Avoid those super elite groups, those myopic moles who have no vision, the lazy, self-centered gluttons who produce no more than they can consume. Be sure your church has a concerted outreach with the gospel in which you can share.

Some of you may now be thinking that there are special reasons, extenuating circumstances, special exceptions, which make it advisable for you to choose the less spiritual church. It has, perhaps, a more attractive program of activities for your children. More of your friends or relatives attend there. It is the old established church in the community, and it would be a scandalous break with tradition to leave it. You feel like you can reach more people, have a wider ministry for yourself in a church that has more people, even though it is short on truth and holiness and long on worldliness and unbelief. I beg of you to carefully consider the following and see if the above advantages will outweigh the following damages.

A. In spite of what you may have heard, the first consideration in a church is your own spiritual needs – not your ministry.

If you are not built up in the faith, you will have no worth-while ministry, only a false and self-destructive one. We have too much of that kind already. Consider then, what this polluted fountain will do to your own spiritual life and that of your family. Is it worth defiling your home with the world, the flesh and the devil? And that under the pretense of Christianity? If a man is a fool to gain the whole world at the cost of his soul, are you making any better bargain here? Please do not be so naive as to think it will not so affect you. It will most certainly do so. You cannot take fire to your bosom and not be burned, or touch the filthy without becoming defiled yourself. Is it worth it? The cost may be higher than you think. Wrong spiritual values, false teachings, moral corruptions fomenting broken homes, rebellious children and shipwrecked lives, all flow like a torrent from these worldly churches.

B. Your choice of the worldly church over the admittedly more spiritual one scandalizes the church more true to the Lord Jesus Christ.

You bring a reproach upon the bride of Christ and persecute her for righteousness sake, for you testify to the community by your choice that the worse is the better, and the better to be rejected.

How illogical and unreasonable it is for you to say, “Yes, I admit that church A is made up of holy God-fearing people who hate evil, love righteousness, teach truth, sacrificially give of themselves to glorify God and publish His word. However, in my circumstances, I think it is better for me to participate in church B, which is inferior spiritually, but has other valuable advantages.” What sort of signal are you giving to the world? It is either that carnal considerations are worth more than spiritual ones, that you do not really believe that church A is the more spiritual one, or that you are no true Christian yourself.

C. When you give yourself, time, energy and money to the carnal church, you are, in that measure, aiding an enemy of the Cross and helping build it up.

Surely you do not think your contributions go only into what spiritual values the church sponsors and not into its Christ-denying activities. No, you support the whole thing, that which is devilish as well as that which is divine.

The more you build up the hybrid, the greater image you give it in the community, and the more souls it will attract, entrap, deceive and corrupt. You help promote a false concept of the Christian church and Christianity in general. The greater it waxes, the darker the community becomes, for darkness has insinuated itself as light. When the light of men becomes darkness, the false passed off for the real, how great is that darkness!

D. At the same time you are building up the world’s church, you are weakening the Lord’s church. To the extent it is deprived of the fellowship and support you ought to be giving it, you are starving it of its rightful gifts for the true gospel ministry.

How must the Lord Jesus view this betrayal of the sheep, this shunning of the cross of reproach, this preference of the earthly over the heavenly? Is it enough for us to admire, and laud those who bear the heavy load of sacrificial labors and endure the shame of worldly and religious ostracization while we take the easier route of cheap worldly approved Christendom that requires no more of us than the flesh can deliver without hurting itself? Let Isaac Watt s hymn ask us the question afresh:

Am I a soldier of the cross, A follower of the Lamb?

And shall I fear to own His cause, Or blush to speak His name?

Must I be carried to the skies On flowery beds of ease,

While others fought to win the prize And sailed through bloody seas?

Are there no foes for me to face? Must I not stem the flood?

Is this vile world a friend to grace, To help me on to God?

When we choose the fleshy over the spiritual, we rob the true church of our fellowship, deprive ourselves of its benefits, and encourage others to leave it for the “going thing.” Thus we weaken ourselves, the church and Christian witness in general.

But, one will now object that he has a greater audience in the bigger, more worldly church. He has a bigger “ministry” there. He is there to shine light in darkness.

Please hear me carefully on this point, for it is the one that seems most reasonable and noble, and the excuse that is most often invoked for embracing the compromising church. Dear Christian friend, when the Lord spoke of light shining in darkness, He spoke of the church shining in the world, not the Christian shining in a worldly church. If that “church” is darkness, then Ephesians 5:11 certainly applies: “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” We who join them reprove the light and approve the darkness. The church of Christ is light shining in the darkness of this world. We should be a part of the light, not the darkness. The world, not the church, is the mission field; and we evangelize by being different, not part of it.

If we really believe that we effectively evangelize what we join, then let us select the most wicked, worldly ungodly groups in the country, and shed our light in that darkness. At least we would not be giving them our endorsement as a true Christian church by so doing. I suspect we do not really believe that: that we join the worse church because we like it better. It allows our flesh more comfort, and its darkness shields us from the brilliance of God s truth and life in the cross of Christ.

It may be noted that Paul preached in religious darkness when he began in a city s synagogue. He did not join it, and his preaching was of extremely short duration. No sooner did that darkness perceive that the light of the gospel was making their religion worthless than he was thrown out. Today s unbelieving half-apostate church will love the gospel no better. If we apply its truth to the particular lie that they embrace, we will no longer be allowed to minister under its auspices. You cannot make a stand for Christ, truth, and holy living and remain an accepted part of it. You cannot do otherwise and walk in communion with Christ.

The true Christian church has never been, is not now, nor ever will be any more than a small, rejected, despised sect. Therefore, “It is impossible but that offenses will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! (Luke 17:1)” Let us joyfully, willingly bear His reproach, not join those who reproach Him.

– Conrad Murrell

Christians, true to the gospel given us by our crucified and risen Lord, were forced to go underground in 300 A.D. when Constantine became emperor of Rome and married the church to the world. They survived until the Protestant Reformation as the hated and bitterly persecuted “heretics.” Their hopes that the Reformers would restore primitive church life and order were quickly disappointed, and Protestants killed and persecuted more Christians than Roman Catholics did.

Those of us, therefore, who wish to follow the Lord Jesus Christ in sound and full Bible truth cannot find our spiritual ancestry in either Roman Catholic or Protestant churches. Nor can it be found in any of the widely proliferated rootless Charismatic sects and cults that about today. Their history is less than a century old, the most modern of all deviations from Christianity.

There is, however, a people, a remnant as there always has been. They will never have an admired name in this world, will always be given the lowest place among religions. They are still the ecclesiastical outcasts, the “heretics.” But it is among these that we who love the rejected Saviour and worship the reigning King Jesus, will find our true spiritual roots.

Pray for the Spirit in Nature’s Path Today

1. Of most importance, pray this morning that God would touch the hurricane hitting the east coast. Twenty million people are in its path. You already know this and you know how to pray. It always moves me to faith when I remember that Jesus Himself is the one that starts and allows any storm and He is controlling its every movement. He still rules the wind and the waves, and he also hears the cries of his elect. 
    Should we not pray for mercy to be extended and for him to show his power in changing the storm? We do not know his secret decree, but we know his heart, his mercy, and his promises. Please do pray this morning for this. Pray for the power of the Spirit upon the hurricane and its force and path.
    I think many of you and your churches would want to do something afterward if possible. There is already talk of some relief trips, so if you or your church begins to think of this, please do pray that God would raise up all that is needed. 
 
Pray for the Spirit in the work of the Gospel this weekend
 
2. I am scheduled this Sunday morning to begin preaching at First Baptist Church, Olney Texas, 2 hours west of here. It is the largest and probably the most historic church in this town of a few thousand people. Chad Edgington is a dear brother who serves as the pastor there. This church has been preparing with some seriousness, and now have excitement and expectation about the three days of meetings Sunday morning and evening, and then Monday and Tuesday.
    Please pray. Please pray for the power of the Spirit to come on the preaching. All we will be doing in the services will be to sing the songs of truth and preach the Word. That’s all. But that is sufficient. I have longed to see God break in and move in power, and have not seen it happen in years since I saw it happen in Romania about 10 years ago.
   I have driven through another small town near Olney in recent months which reminded me of God’s descending power. Bryson Texas, approximately 1 1/2 hours northwest of Fort Worth, where I preached in 1976 for a full weekend. It was there on a Sunday morning that the Holy Spirit came down suddenly and every young person in the church was either converted or was greatly affected by a movement of the Spirit. It shook the entire church. I had no idea it would happen, and I had no idea what to do during that day when it was occuring. The pastor did not know what to do either, so we sat back and watched God at work. 
    I have never forgotten it, and every time I drive through there, I drive right by that Bryson church building. God is able to do it again. Please pray that he would do it in Olney starting Sunday.
 
Luke 11:13!
– Mack 

Every Enemy Defeated

Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father, after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1 Corinthians 15:24)
 
How far does the reign of Christ extend?
The next verse, 1 Corinthians 15:25 says, “He must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” The word all tells us the extent. 
So does the word every in verse 24: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”
There is no disease, no addiction, no demon, no bad habit, no fault, no vice, no weakness, no temper, no moodiness, no pride, no self-pity, no strife, no jealousy, no perversion, no greed, no laziness that Christ will not overcome as the enemy of his honor. 
And the encouragement in that promise is that when you set yourself to do battle with the enemies of your faith and your holiness, you will not fight alone.
Jesus Christ is now, in this age, putting all his enemies under his feet. Every rule and every authority and every power will be conquered. 
So, remember that the extent of Christ’s reign reaches to the smallest and biggest enemy of his glory in your life, and in this universe. It will be defeated.
– John Piper
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Heavenly Wisdom

What a man is on his knees before God in secret, that will he be before men: that much and no more.
-Fred Mitchell

We must deliberately seek to meet with God absolutely alone, and to secure such aloneness with God we are bidden to ‘enter into the closet.’ God absolutely insists on this ‘closet’ communion with Himself. One reason, no doubt, that He demands it is to test our sincerity. There is no test for the soul like solitude. Do you shrink from solitude? Perhaps the cause for your neglect of the ‘closet’ is a guilty conscience? You are afraid to enter into the solitude. You know that however cheerful you appear to be you are not really happy. You surround yourself with company lest, being alone, truth should invade your delusion.
– Gordon Cove

I want deliberately to encourage this mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.
– A. W. Tozer

I should like to allude to a point in the character of Mr. Hudson Taylor which impressed me personally, and which I think had something to do with the blessing that God granted to his efforts on behalf of China. First his prayerfulness; he was of necessity a busy man, but he always regarded prayer itself as in reality the most needful and important part of the work.
– D. E. Hoste

Out of a very intimate acquaintance with D. L. Moody, I wish to testify that he was a far greater pray-er than he was preacher. Time and time again, he was confronted by obstacles that seemed insurmountable, but he always knew the way to overcome all difficulties. He knew the way to bring to pass anything that needed to be brought to pass. He knew and believed in the deepest depths of his soul that nothing was too hard for the Lord, and that prayer could do anything that God could do.
– R. A. Torrey.

All great soul-winners have been men of much and mighty prayer, and all great revivals have been preceded and carried out by persevering, prevailing knee-work in the closet.
– Samuel Logan Brengle

The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23

This week’s blog is an audio recording of a sermon I recently preached. The address is The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23. There is nothing new that can be said about this great psalm, but its lush green pastures and still waters always provide needed rest and refreshment. May you find both as you listen. I ask that you pray for me as I prepare for what I am calling my “fall campaign.” Starting early September through mid-November, I will be preaching in five countries delivering almost 60 sermons. May the Good Shepherd be lifted up!

The Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 Sermon

 

 

What Kind of Faith Do You Have? Part 2

 

 

“Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; They did not remember the multitude of Your mercies, But rebelled by the sea–the Red Sea. Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake, That He might make His mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it dried up; So He led them through the depths, As through the wilderness . . . Then they believed His words; They sang His praise. They soon forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel, But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, And tested God in the desert.” (Psalms 106:7-9, 12-14)

Israel left Egypt triumphantly. There were no shamefaced pilgrims leaving the Nile Valley and entering the wilderness. The Exodus was victoriously jubilant; God had crushed Pharaoh and his kingdom. However, their tune changed abruptly when they were hemmed in by the Red Sea on one side and Pharaoh’s able army on the other. It takes little faith to rejoice when God answers prayer. The question is can you rejoice in faith when the answer is not apparent?

The Hebrews’ lament was as loud as Pharaoh’s trumpets.

Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness. (Exodus 14:11-12)

Fear turned faith into fainting. Nevertheless, graciously, the Lord made a way for them when there was no way. He parted the sea. And when the pursuing army followed into the watery highway, the Lord made the walls of water tumble down; drowning the entire army.

What was Israel’s response?  The psalmist tells us, “Then they believed His words: They sang His praise.” What interesting phrases! Faith was restored, and they returned to rejoicing.

What kind of faith starts and stops depending on circumstances? Did they really believe? Was faith exercised? The answer depends on your understanding of faith. There is a biblical kind of faith that endures in spite of environment, and there is a natural or human faith that only believes the empirical. Israel could trust God as long as the senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch were satisfied with the evidence. But once the senses experienced something different, faith evaporated and fear entered. Fleshly faith works on the principle, “seeing is believing.” But that kind of faith is not blessed, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

The only kind faith that honors God is the faith that can believe God and does not require observable proofs of His power. It’s the kind that can see Red Seas and Egyptian armies and does not panic but rests confidently in God and His Word.

Why else would the psalmist follow up the report of faith and a worship service with the words, “They soon forgot His works”? Once again, after perhaps the second greatest miracle of all time (second to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus), Israel could not believe the Lord. Three days, not three weeks or three months, but only three days after the great miracle at the Red Sea, Israel again murmured in unbelief at the bitter waters of Marah. How could they forget what they saw three days earlier? Because natural faith can only believe what it momentarily perceives.

Supernatural or biblical faith, on the other hand, puts trust not in what it sees, but in a Person who is “eternal, immortal, invisible,”—the one the One who is Spirit and not material. The faith that saves, sanctifies, and supplies every need is not a faith founded on the tangible. All that is physical is ever-changing. Godly faith is focused on the never-changing God. It does not set its sight so much on what God does, but on who God is. Faith’s eye is on the Person of God, His character, and revealed will.

Therefore, if new challenges assault you, all you need is to look at Him who is faithful. There is no need to comb circumstances looking for a sign that God will intervene. You do not need empirical data to assure your heart. To remember the Lord’s works is to remember who God is. Israel’s fault lied in the fact they did understand what the works of God told them about the Almighty. They never saw the connection. Their faith was of the wrong kind.

What kind of faith do you have? Spiritual or natural? Can you rest in the One who is unchanging, having learned by His works that He is as His Word proclaims? Or with each trial must you once again go through all the same emotions of fear and doubt because all you can see is the obstacle? The “blessed” faith relies not on the senses but sees another opportunity for God to display His goodness.

What Kind of Faith Do You Have? Part 1

 

“Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; They did not remember the multitude of Your mercies, But rebelled by the sea–the Red Sea. Nevertheless He saved them for His name’s sake, That He might make His mighty power known. He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it dried up; So He led them through the depths, As through the wilderness . . . Then they believed His words; They sang His praise. They soon forgot His works; They did not wait for His counsel, But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, And tested God in the desert.” (Psalms 106:7-9, 12-14)

It is known as one of the greatest miracles of the Bible. Moses lifting the rod, the blast of God’s nostrils ripping through the sea; created a dry passageway for God’s people to safely travel between two towering walls of water. The crossing of the Red Sea was omnipotence on display.

But there was a hitch. The psalmist said, “They . . . rebelled by the sea.” How can it be that rational men and women who watched God decimate the greatest empire of their day by ten supernatural plagues, ever doubt God’s intention or power? Ten times, the prophet of God had spoken and prophesied what was to come. And not once, did the Word of God fail. The plagues fell like a hammer shattering Egypt.

God’s people stood between sea and soldier; between life and death—and they believed death. They spoke their words of unbelief with tears and loud lament, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11-12).

The psalmist tells us the root of their problem—they neither understood nor remembered, that it was by the mighty hand of God, rather than the feeble hand of man, that rescued and delivered them. “Our fathers in Egypt did not understand Your wonders; they did not remember the multitude of Your mercies (Psalm 106:7).

They did not have a grasp of the ways of God. They were not in tune with the redemptive program of God. All they could see was today. They lived by a nature that could not see the trajectory of God. They lived by isolating each moment into the tyranny of the present. They did not connect the dots and come to see what God was doing. In short, they didn’t understand God because they didn’t know God.

Many of us claim to know God. But if we don’t understand His ways, we prove we don’t understand Him. How can you claim to know someone and not understand them? Perhaps the argument of incomprehension would be sensible if the person we are trying to comprehend is deranged and psychotic. However, that argument cannot be leveled against the Lord God. He has given us 66 books to explain Himself to anyone who wants to know Him. If you’re going to understand the Lord, then start studying His Word. In addition to the Bible, He has given His very Spirit to teach us the Bible and reveal Himself to us.

I don’t mean to imply you will know all there is to know about God, because that is impossible. Finiteness cannot contain infinity. Nor do I suggest that you will always discern what God is up to in your life. What I mean is that even though you may not grasp the next step or your last step as you follow God, you will be able to know His heart and that He is trustworthy; even when it doesn’t make sense. How can God’s people have such assurance? Because we know the character of the Person we call the Lord God Almighty.

If you know Him, you will trust Him! The question is, do you truly know Him?

Trusting in the Goodness of Another

 

Photo by Noah Buscher on Unsplash

“You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.” Matthew 20:4

“Whatever is right I will give you,” is the rub of the matter. Man loves to talk about his rights, but seems unwilling to ask the question, “What is right?” In the parable from which this statement comes, Jesus is exposing the problem of the self-righteous heart. In the parable’s beginning, Jesus tells of a landowner who hires workers in the early hours of a new day. However, before these workers would agree to work, they negotiated their wages. They left nothing unsettled; there was no trust in benevolence or human kindness. They knew what they wanted for their labor, and once the landowner agreed with them, they commenced to work. It doesn’t take much theological training to see that the landowner represents Jesus, while the first hired laborers represent the self-righteous—those unwilling to trust in another. The self-righteous trust only in themselves.

Self-righteousness is a common problem for us all. From our progenitor to you and me, this plague poisons indiscriminately. It manifested itself when Adam defended his dastardly deed and blamed Eve. His words to the Lord were, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” In other words, “It’s not my fault. It’s your fault, God. You gave me this woman who tempted me.” The argument of self-righteousness is as old as the Garden of Eden.

While conversion by the power of regeneration changes the heart of the self-righteous, it does not eliminate the problem. Even Christians must still wrestle with the temptation to trust in their perceived worthiness more than in the goodness of God. Whatever worthiness is perceived is false; it is a mirage. We are never and will never be able to say with any degree of honesty, “Look and see what I have gained from God by my goodness!” The whole lot of us, with no exception, deserve nothing from our Lord’s hand but His wrath, yet He endows us with untold blessings. Each blessing, gift, and kindness is underserved. The Lord will never be in debt to you or me. Despite our knowledge of this, we still battle the urge, if not attitude, of self-righteousness that manifests itself as deserving good and nothing less.

Like the first employees in Jesus’ parables, a believer can slide into the mentality that whatever good in life he enjoys is directly proportionate to his or her good conduct. We’ve earned comfortable stress-free living with the 3-car garage and a car in every stall. We subconsciously feel we are owed good health, behaved children, and great vacations. The motive for decent living is not a love for holiness or the desire to please God but as holding up one’s side of the “negotiated bargain.”

The other men hired later in the day agreed to no arbitrated settlement, but consented to trust the landowner. He said to them, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.” Later, an hour before sundown, the landowner returned where he had hired his day laborers and found men not working. He asks them, “Why have you been standing here idle all day?”

Their reply was, “Because no one hired us.” Such a confession meant they were in some way, inferior workers. No one wanted to take a chance on them. However, to these unworthy workers, Jesus said, “You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.”

“Whatever is right.” Can you trust the Lord for whatever is right? Are you willing to leave your health and wealth in His hands, accepting whatever He may give? Can you enter into his fields sowing and reaping His harvest, even if your fruit be small? Can you trust Him to be right then? Moreover, can you trust the Lord on that day when you stand before Him on His throne? Will you now trust that “whatever is right you will receive”?

How many of us, God’s servants, fear that hour, fearing we will not get much reward? Death is fearful because we want to do more before we stand before the Lord and death ends the possibility of more time and more fruit. If we were to die today, we fear we will have not much to show for our lives. We should be redeeming the time and not be idle. Moreover, we should desire to be as fruitful as possible. But, I think it is possible that some of us fear the judgment because we fear the Lord will do what is right. And what is right, is little reward.

But the parable suggests that what is right in the sight of God, is much more than we think we deserve unless we are self-righteous. Those whom the landowner hired last were given the same wage as those who had held out for a denarius. What was right was grace—superabundant grace. Whatever we receive in this life or the next, will always be right, and it will be far more than we deserve. What rewards we receive in heaven will be more grace-based than merit-based.

The question is singular, but one you must not dodge—do you trust Him? Do you really believe He will always be loving, even when His hand brings you affliction? Jesus Christ, our Lord, cannot do anything contrary to His benevolent nature. He is much too good to do you wrong, and He is much too wise to make a mistake with you. Do not be self-righteous and want to earn everything you receive from His gracious hand. You will always be disappointed if you work on that basis with God. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”

 

 

 

 

 

WHY DOES GOD ALLOW WAR?

From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
James 4:1

As I contemplate human nature and human life, what astonishes me is not that God allows and permits war, but the patience and the long-suffering of God. “He maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). He suffered the evil, perverse ways of the children of Israel for centuries; and now for nearly two thousand years He has patiently borne with a world that in the main rejects and refuses His loving offer, even in the Person of His only-begotten Son. The question that needs to be asked is not, “Why does God allow war?” but rather, “Why does God not allow the world to destroy itself entirely in its iniquity and its sin?” Why does He in His restraining grace set a limit to evil and to sin, and a bound beyond which they cannot pass?

Oh, the amazing patience of God with this sinful world! How wondrous is His love! He has sent the Son of His love to our world to die for us and to save us; and because men cannot and will not see this, God permits and allows such things as war to chastise and to punish us, to teach us and to convict us of our sins, and above all to call us to repentance and acceptance of His gracious offer. The vital question for us therefore is not to ask, “Why does God allow war?” The question for us is to make sure that we are learning the lesson and repenting before God for the sin in our own hearts and in the entire human race that leads to such results. May God grant us understanding and the true spirit of repentance, for His name’s sake.

– Martyn Lloyd-Jones

You Do Not Have Much Time

(Read this slowly and carefully with real meditation-MT)
Of the many video clips I watched of Billy Graham the week of his death, one in particular has stuck with me. Preaching in Southern Seminary Chapel in 1982, Graham said that at sixty-four years old, his greatest surprise in life was the brevity of life: ‘If someone had told me when I was twenty years old that life was very short and would pass just like that — I wouldn’t have believed it. And if I tell you that, you don’t believe it either. I cannot get young people to understand how brief life is, how quickly it passes.’
Time. Flying past us. Not enough of it. Slipping away from us. Always pressed for it. Wishing we were better at managing it. Feeling guilty we don’t have more for someone special or something noble. We are always running out of time. And Billy Graham is right — oh, how quickly it passes.
Time is a profoundly theological entity. An eternal God teaches creatures some of his greatest lessons in the vehicle of time. It has both a linear and a circular form — you can’t repeat time, even as it gives you many things on a repeating loop. All of it educates us about what God loves and about what it means to be human, giving us at least three great lessons.
1. THE PATH OF WISDOM RESPECTS TIME’S RHYTHMS.
‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven’ (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It’s worth pausing right there, at the entrance to this most famous of reflections on time.
Scripture says there is a time for all things, but our world counters that, instead, all things can be done all the time. Most technology, for instance, has harnessed us to the lie that we can throw off the creaturely restraints of time and have access to everything always, without waiting, without stopping, and without needing to rest.
Electricity blurs the boundaries between working while it is day and sleeping while it is night. Our online life has become our timeless master, as several screens ping commands without end which we obey without question. Gyms, fuel stations, libraries, offices, and supermarkets are open 24-7 and we come to believe we can do everything all the time. There is no particular season for anything. We do what we want, when we want.
Wise people respect time’s rhythms. Dawn, morning, afternoon, evening, night. God made six days to work, one day to rest. This structures a week, which repeats over a month, and the months in years.
Many people try to live rhythm-free lives by simply doing whatever they feel like doing in any given moment, without proper attention to whether it is the right time to do that thing; this actually tears at the fabric of what it means to be human. We are now discovering that our constant, season-less attention to digital media is diminishing our personhood.
In years of pastoral ministry, I have not seen many families unravel who unswervingly observe the Lord’s Day together with deliberate joy and routine hospitality. I have witnessed others whose irregular devotion to the corporate body of the church is merely a symptom of the irregular rhythms in other areas of life.
2. THE PATH OF FOLLY SEEKS TO CONTROL TIME’S SEASONS.
Rhythms are not all there is in an ordinary life under the sun — there is ‘a time to be born, and a time to die’ (Ecclesiastes 3:2), there is ‘a time to weep, and a time to laugh’ (Ecclesiastes 3:4), there is ‘a time to love, and a time to hate’ (Ecclesiastes 3:8). These are seasons, not rhythms, for there is no predictability to their appearance in our timelines and often their presence takes us by surprise.
It takes the eye of faith to see that God ‘has made everything beautiful in its time’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11), because we often live with life’s ugliness and pain as much as its beauty and delight. Further, these are relational seasons: they involve people we love and lose, those we wrong and forgive, those we befriend and those who do us harm. We are profoundly relational beings and most of our lives are taken up with navigating the different seasons of our relationships and the effects they have on us.
Such seasons expose how little control we actually have over our lives. Zack Eswine says, ‘Many of our frustrations rise from our blindness to the change of season or to the pain or joy of them, and we struggle to adjust our expectations’ (Recovering Eden, 130). What do we do with those seasons which bring wrecking-ball damage to our tidy little realms? Where do we turn?
Ecclesiastes helps us to see that one of the seasons we do not control is the time for justice. ‘I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work’ (Ecclesiastes 3:17). There will be a time, one day, for divine time travel: ‘God seeks what has been driven away’ (Ecclesiastes 3:15). All the events of human history that have slipped through the hourglass of time into the past might be lost to us — but they are never lost to God. One day, he will dial back time and fetch the past into his present to bring it to account. Every time will have its day in court.
Foolish people seek all the answers to life in each and every season of life. But some seasons yield only questions, not answers. Some seasons bring a wound that will not heal; it might take a lifetime to learn that we ‘cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). The story of my life has broken characters, jarring interruptions, unexpected joys and relationships caught up in unresolved tensions and difficulties. In God’s kindness I have, as yet, unfinished chapters. But my story is not the story. ‘The story reveals that there will be a time for judgment, and believers trust that judgment will finally prevail’ (Craig Bartholomew).
3. THE PATH OF LIFE EMBRACES TIME’S REVERSALS.
This perspective is the gospel’s now-and-not-yet voice speaking in the unfamiliar accent of Ecclesiastes. Today is the time of suffering and anguish, of work and pleasure, of toil and terror; tomorrow is the time of glory and judgment, of the resurrection of the body and life everlasting in world without end.
Now, this; tomorrow, that. The Lord Jesus fills our time with the unspeakable comfort of promised great reversals. Lose your life today for the sake of Jesus and his gospel; save it tomorrow. Gain the world now; forfeit your soul then. Be ashamed of Jesus in the time of this sinful generation; witness him being ashamed of you in the time of his coming in the glory of the Father and the holy angels (Mark 8:35–38).
Believers on the road to life know that the experiences of time can be reversed. The gospel turns the world on its head. Marred beyond human resemblance, the Servant of the Lord comes, in time, to shut the mouths of kings; buried with the wicked, he comes, in time, to divide the spoils of the strong (Isaiah 52–53). Blessed are those who are poor in spirit, who mourn, who are meek, who are hungry, those who lose everything in the here and now, for the day of reversal is coming and the reward will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5).
– David Gibson