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!”






Ministry Update


I know you have not heard much from us lately. And if you are concerned that RTM is going out of business for the Lord, well, don’t be worried. To come to that conclusion would be a judgment based on appearance, or in this case apparent silence, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Lord’s business has led us through a very massive transition in the last 16 months.

During that time, we have moved from full-time pastoral ministry to full-time evangelism, missions, and revival ministry. But that is not all the moving we have done. RTM has relocated to the great state of Texas. It is one thing to relocate personally, but to move a ministry is just as demanding. But we are here and enjoying the favor of a very good and faithful Father.

In the days to come, we will be resuming our weekly blogs and very soon launching a new and improved website. We are incredibly excited about the new site and its features. Also, new sermons will appear on both website and app.

The lack of sermons posted was not because of a lack of preaching in 2017. I preached almost 100 times in churches and conferences. Our failure to deliver to you those messages was due to lack of mobile equipment that I could carry with me. We are working on acquiring the necessary tools that will allow us to provide you both video and audio.

Speaking of preaching, today I leave on an international trip that will take me to a place that is best left unnamed. But I solicit your prayers for my ministry companion, one of the elders of Providence Chapel, Lee Dodd, and me as we speak to pastors and church leaders on the foundational elements of the Gospel. Lee will be addressing the doctrine of the fall and sin, while I will be teaching on the nature and essential elements of the Gospel according to the Apostle Paul in Romans 1-3. We will return next week.

Once home, I then leave for the Memorial Day weekend to Parkway Baptist Church in Carthage, TX, pastored by Barney Bryant. This church is dear to us, and it will be wonderful to see all our dear friends, the saints of Parkway Baptist. Pray that our great God will move in on us as we seek Him through His word.

We are not a large ministry but we serve a big God. Through your prayers and financial support, you and I are yoked in service unto Him who is worthy of our devotion. Christian service is not our ministry, but devotion to Christ is our work. Thank you for your loyalty to Him by your prayers for us.


Michael Durham


A Celebration of the Hard Place

The church of Jesus Christ has never been in a good place.

It has forever lived in a hostile environment. It was born in the dragon’s lair where the hot breath of the beast is always felt. Its infancy was bloody; antagonists surrounded it and adversaries attacked it, and nothing has changed in two millennia. The world hates the church because it hates its Founder, Jesus Christ. The world and the church are on opposite courses. They represent two different kingdoms, two diverse realms. So, the church has always existed in a hard place.

But hardness is not necessarily bad for the people of God. By the amount of adversity God allows His church to endure, it must have some positive effect. The church’s finest hours seem to be when she stands bravely in stark contrast to the wicked world while feeling the fury of the beast against her. It is then the people of God, though tried by fire, have sung their best song. They have shown a watching world the beauty of their King, who also suffered the Serpent’s bruise.

The western church’s difficulty is not the heavy hand of persecution but the easy hand of prosperity. It is when we court the politician’s favor, the academia’s admiration, and the media’s approval that we suffer both morally and spiritually. We are like Samson in Delilah’s tent; we are flirting with captivity and begging to have our eyes put out. This is the hardest place for any church. When it wants success and stature in a world that is destined for destruction, it can’t end well for either church or world.

How many churches have become comfortable in its environment?

How many are comfortable with the world? Ease in Zion is not a good sign. Comfort always precedes collapse. But it’s when the church is in the hard place that it advances and the gates of hell cannot prevail.

It has always been that way. God’s people are not strangers to pressure or peril. When the children of Israel stood before the Red Sea, they experienced a hard place. With a vengeful Pharaoh and his well-equipped army in battle formation behind the former slaves, it looked hopeless. But the man of God lifted his rod and the Lord performed a miracle of deliverance by creating a highway through the sea.

Gideon suffered a 450-to-1 deficit. The enemies of Israel were the undefeatable Midianites. They had a 135,000-manned military, while Gideon didn’t have an army. It was more like a small battalion of 300 men. And their weapons were unconventional. Each man had a lit torch, a pitcher, and a trumpet. That was their entire weaponry. But as it played out, they needed no swords because God brought confusion upon the Midianites who turned on themselves and slaughtered each other until hardly a man was left standing.

King Jehoshaphat experienced something similar, only his army sang their way to victory, and God turned an ambush into a bonanza of loot. When the dust settled, the enemy army lay dead before Jehoshaphat and his praise team; all they had to do was pick up the treasure trove. The plunder was so much; it took them three days to collect it all.

Surely, my reader, you know the stories, each one a tale of impossibilities.

A brother sold by his jealous brothers to foreigners and winded up ruling over the foreigners. A shepherd boy against a warrior giant, three young men who wouldn’t bend or bow, but also wouldn’t burn when thrown into the fiery furnace. A praying old man thrown into a lions’ den slept comfortably among the ferocious felines, while the king who threw him into that hard place tossed and turned all night, unable to sleep in his palatial bed. Yes, all of these and more were in hard places, places no one, including the men and women who were there, would have chosen to visit or occupy. But in the hard place, God wrought deliverance and made them all unlikely heroes of the faith.

But not all the stories end up with a “slam-bang finish.” Some hard places end with tears, pain, and suffering. Some end in death, but that doesn’t mean the hard places were a defeat. When Jesus stood before His enemies all alone, there was no miraculous deliverance. He may have been able to call for twelve legions of angels, but He didn’t. He chose Calvary. The cross was His weapon, but it brought no deliverance from death; it became the instrument of His death.

In the most confusing twist of plots and storylines, the God-Man died an unjust death, the just for the unjust, the innocent for the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous.

Jesus did not come down from the cross by divine power. He came down by two men pulling the nails out of His lifeless body, removing Him from the cross timbers and burying Him in a tomb.

For Jesus’ weak and cowardly followers there could be no harder place. Their Messiah dead and gone. Their sorrow compounded by the guilt of forsaking Him in His hour of need. How bitter was this place of hardness! But out of the jaws of defeat God secured His victory. The weakness of God was still more powerful than all of hell’s might. Satan bruised His heel, but nipping at someone’s heels puts your head in a vulnerable position. Jesus crushed His enemy’s head, and the blow was fatal. And in so doing, God proved that the hard place does not have to end in miraculous deliverance for Him to bring about His good purposes. He doesn’t need to display His power to win; He can win by demonstrating weakness, humility, and infirmity. Over and over this has been the weaponry of God: allowing His church to suffer hardship and through weakness win.

Martyred in the Ecuadorian jungle in January 1956, no one could imagine what the sacrifice of five young men would produce.

The men, Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Ed McCully, Peter Fleming, and Roger Youderian were endeavoring to take the Gospel to the Waodani people, whose tribal rivals called them “Aucas,” meaning savages. Why did they have to die? Why did their blood stain the river beach and their speared bodies get cast into the river’s current? Days later only four of them were found and then buried in a common grave on the spot where they died. Why such a waste of youth and missionary zeal? What a hard place for the wives and children of the martyred.

But the mystery of the hard place once again proved that God’s weakness is stronger than anyone or anything. Within days, volunteers came forward to resume the outreach to the Waodani. As news of the tragedy spread throughout the western world, thousands of young people were emboldened to respond to the call to foreign missions. Within two years, Elisabeth Elliot, the widow of Jim Elliot, along with their daughter, Valerie and Nate Saint’s sister, Rachel Saint, entered the Waodani encampment extending forgiveness to the very men who had killed their loved ones. They lived among them for years administering the Gospel and medical care.

The Indians saw the love of God lived out before their eyes; the Gospel came alive to them. They heard and saw the Gospel and conviction had its perfect work. Many of them were converted, and today the church of the Waodani prospers in Ecuador.

Yes, the church thrives in the hard place.

But many who profess the name of Jesus find themselves responding very differently to adversity. You see, the hard place is a gift from God to bring us to the end of ourselves. It is His love that leads us to the position of desperation to free us from the self-reliance that so often keeps us from trusting Him. Desperation is designed to lead us to dependency. That is God’s purpose, but Satan perverts the hard place in the mind of the Christian. Instead of desperation leading to dependency, it leads to despondency. And despondency leads to unbelief, a distrust of God and His hard places.

Everyone faces difficult times. Hard times are no respecter of persons. But it is the severe places in life that proves who you really trust. They expose what we truly rely upon. The principle of sin still remains in the Christian and, if allowed, it will work in us a self-reliance that is both stubborn and tough to detect. It is the hard place that drives self-reliance out of hiding and makes us see that it must be absolutely abandoned so we may totally trust in God.

If we are going to live a supernatural life, (the only kind of life a Christian is to live), we must believe God’s will is best and that the hard place is necessary for us. It is not a matter of learning to adapt to difficulty or adopting a tougher mindset. No, it is believing that your God is a Father who so loves you that He will never abandon you in your hour of need. You must have faith that He has brought you to the place of need to see your real need, not deliverance from the circumstantial problem, but deliverance from a self-will that determines a plan different from God’s agenda for you.

Your weakness is the vehicle He uses to win the day, not your strengths.

Too many Christians are trying to overcome by becoming better, better at faith, better at making wiser choices, better at being more sanctified. This is only asking for more trials by fire. The whole purpose of the hard place is not to show how strong a Christian you are, but how God’s weakness is greater than any power. It is to display through your inabilities that God is the One who brings us through. God is not looking for strong believers; He is looking for impotent instruments to demonstrate His great power. Some of us need our sanctification sanctified.

The church was born in the environment of adversity, and it is in that climate the lungs of the church are best suited to breathe. As the eagle is made to navigate the thinner air of the higher atmosphere, so is the church built to soar on the absence of human strength. It was made to fly in the power of God only. So, celebrate the hard place because it is there God manifests His glory. It the glory of God revealed that makes us rejoice. The less visible our human glory, the more of His glory will we see and so will others.

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The Doctrine of Suffering

Suffering is such a big part of life.

From the cradle to the grave, the human experience is one of almost continual suffering. Therefore, it is indispensable that we correctly view suffering. Most of us suffer our suffering and don’t know how to use it for our good and God’s glory. We must have a view of suffering shaped by the Bible rather than a view shaped by personal feelings or, even worse, given to us by the world.

It may not have crossed your mind that the Bible presents a doctrine of suffering, but it does. The statements of Scripture on the topic, when examined separately and then correctly synthesized, produce a comprehensive teaching.

One text of Scripture stands out in this grand doctrine of suffering. It is Psalm 119:71, 75:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted, That I may learn Your statutes . . . I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right, And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.

Not only is suffering a huge part of life but it is a great perplexity. Why must we suffer? But even more difficult—why must we suffer by the hand of a good God? We could feel more confident tackling the question why suffering by the hand of a bad devil. But David did not say suffering came to him by way of Satan, but by way of the Lord. In His faithfulness to us, God afflicts us. In other words, in His goodness to us, He makes us suffer.

How do we account that a holy, loving, compassionate, and good God can permit it? The problems this presents are many, and I do not pretend that we can understand all these questions and their complexities. However, I do believe that the Bible can bring clarity to these issues, which will help us to suffer well.

C. S. Lewis wrote a small book titled A Grief Observed. 

It is a random journaling of his grief after the death of his wife Joy, and in it he spoke of a good God afflicting His children.

The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably [relentlessly] he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.

Then Lewis asks—“But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us?” Lewis answers with a profound depth of wisdom.

Take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren’t.

Either way, we’re [in] for it.

Finally, Lewis asks an insightful question that demonstrates our own inconsistency when thinking or talking about the goodness of God,

What do people mean when they say, “I am not afraid of God because I know He is good?” Have they never even been to a dentist?

What Lewis and the Bible want us to know is that you cannot define goodness as pain-free.

For most people, if it hurts it isn’t good. But the Bible differs with that opinion and shows that one of the most loving acts of God is the introduction of pain into the life of one of His children. But our attitude of entitlement stands in the way of receiving the good delivered to us by the errand boy of pain. The moment bad news comes to us, we immediately question God’s goodness, thinking we surely don’t deserve the ill because we have been good. In our minds, it’s all a matter of rewards and punishment. If I have been a faithful servant of God, then He owes me blessing; if I have performed less than I should or badly, then I deserve suffering. Thankfully, God is not on the quid pro quo system.

It is an evidential fact that although Christians are redeemed they are not yet perfected. Martin Luther, the German reformer, called the believer a simultaneous saint and sinner. I prefer to say that the Christian is a saint who still can sin and unfortunately does. Our depravity remains, although not totally. And it is this remaining corruption that suffering aims at removing, as the furnace removes the dross. The flames cause the impurities of the precious metal to rise to the surface and the gold or silversmith extracts it.

The question is why does the Lord not perfect us immediately at the moment of conversion, as He will when we get to heaven?

Wouldn’t that solve the problem and eliminate suffering altogether? Wouldn’t that be good? At least it would be easier than the kind of goodness David and C. S. Lewis is talking about.

Well, it might make our philosophical problem with suffering go away but, in the end, it would not help us. Help for us is not making us to have heaven but making us suitable for heaven. In the wisdom of God, it is better to put us through a process of conformity rather than instantaneous conformity to Christ. Certainly, God can do anything within the confines of His character. He could suddenly transform us. But even if He perfected His children in a moment, which He will at the resurrection, perfection in heaven does not mean there is no room for growth. Our perfection doesn’t mean we become deity. We will not know everything there is to know, nor will we be all-powerful. We will forever be depending upon the Almighty.

So the saint’s perfection in heaven will be for the most part—the removal of remaining corruption, both spiritual and physical, and the removal of the ability to sin. This perfection will not eliminate the need for development. Christians will continually be expanding, growing, maturing, and learning in heaven.

Therefore, before glorification, to help us grow in our love of Christ, we need to be better aware of how gracious our Lord is to us. The point of Jesus’ parable to Simon the Pharisee was that the more a person understands his or her sinfulness, the more he or she will love the person who forgave them of their sins. Simon was as evil as the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and poured out perfume on Jesus’ feet. The Pharisee just didn’t know it, but the woman knew how much sin was forgiven.

Thus, to teach us just how great the grace we experience is, it is necessary for God to allow us to remain in a less than perfect state so we learn the depth of our depravity.

When converted, we think we are terrible sinners. But it isn’t until we have been walking with God for a while do we begin to see how terrible sin is and how deeply it runs through our natures. The more we learn of our utter weakness, the more dependent upon God and His amazing grace we become. In the end, we love more because of the process.

I get concerned when I hear professing believers quip that sometimes they wish they had lived more sinful lives before being saved so that they could appreciate God’s grace more.

Which do you think grieves the Father’s heart more, the sins of a rebel and outcast who hates the King or the rebellion of the King’s child?

“Well,” says one, “can’t God make us know all that the moment we are saved? Isn’t that the whole point of the conviction of sin that we underwent before being saved?” Yes, it is the point of conviction of sin, but to be made to understand and experience grace is not enough to make us absolutely dependent upon grace. When converted, we are saved by grace, but we’re far from living by grace alone.

Here’s a two-part question that I hope sheds light as to why God allows suffering in our lives.

Which would bring God more glory—saving a sinner and instantaneously perfecting the sinner that he or she will never sin again? Or saving a sinner and allowing him or her to still be able to sin, but with time, change them, so they do not want to sin and instead become more and more like Jesus?

If He saves sinners but leaves their corrupt flesh to remain, then they will, again and again, prove that they did not deserve salvation. The Lord will glorify His grace over and over again that He is a God that mercifully, kindly, tenderly, and patiently forbears with sinners until they enter into a state of perfection.

It is this struggle that reminds us of our sin and teaches our continual need for God’s grace. This is what brings immense glory to the Lord and proves to other sinners that they too could be recipients of such lovingkindness.

Therefore, we too can say with David that it is “good for me that I have been afflicted. . . and that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.”

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What is Redemption?

Recently, I stood on top of Mount Nebo where Moses climbed his last mountain and looked out on the Jordan Valley and the Promised Land.

It was surreal to think I was in the same area where one of the greatest Old Testament characters was and died. I’ve always wondered about that. Why did God seem so severe with Moses’ indiscretion?

I certainly don’t want to demur the Lord God or insinuate that He has some questions He needs to answer. God doesn’t give an account of Himself to anyone, much less me. But why was Moses not allowed to enter the promise he labored 40 years to achieve? It does make you pause when you think of his illustrious career as a deliverer. He was 80 years old when God called him to redeem the people of God from Egyptian bondage. Moses resisted God’s call as much as he could. He wanted nothing to do with the task. Repeatedly, the people challenged, contested, and rebelled against Moses personally. On a couple of occasions they would have stoned Moses, had not God intervened. Leading hundreds of thousands, if not a million or more, stubborn and unbelieving ex-slaves in a barren wasteland called ‘wilderness’ was not the dream job of any Hebrew man. Here was a person that withstood and brought to its knees one of the greatest civilizations of history. In one of Israel’s rebellions, God had told Moses that He would make a great nation from his descendants. But Moses argued against that privilege, and as a faithful mediator interceded for the deliverance of the people’s sins.

Mount Nebo, Jordan.

When you examine Moses’ infraction, the sin that kept him from entering the Promise Land, you can’t help but think that it seems the penalty doesn’t match the crime.

It wasn’t that Moses opposed doing what God told him, but in a moment of anger with the people’s unbelief and constant complaining, he forgot the method God had prescribed to fetch water out of the rock.

He was told to speak to the rock, but having done this once before, Moses did as he had done years earlier: he struck the rock. And even though Moses didn’t do it exactly as God prescribed, the Lord did not withhold the blessing. He still gave plenty of water to the nomadic nation as a gushing fountain poured out of the rock.

After all the sacrifice, hardship, and grief, Moses was not allowed into the land flowing with milk and honey. He had not obeyed the specific instruction and thus failed to glorify God before the people. All of this flooded my mind as I stood there that day on the summit of Nebo. Why not let old Moses into the land? Where was the hope of redemption for Moses? Who was there to intercede and mediate for his sin? There seems no deliverance for the great deliverer.

The lawgiver of Israel could not enjoy the thrill of entering the land, for this reason: Moses represented the Law, and by the Law, there is no hope of entering the promise of God’s rest. The Law could not grant access because the Law brings no one salvation, not even Moses. The Law cannot save; only by grace through faith are we delivered. Redemption is not the work of the Law; it is the work of grace.

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. –John 1:17

Rule keeping or legal compliance does not produce redemption.

The Bible says if you have kept all the commandments but one, you have violated the entire law. Moses simply did not do what God said and, therefore, he was guilty of breaking all the Law. “Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight” (Romans 3:20).

Redemption is by the blood of another, Jesus Christ. He is our Redeemer. But too many of us are not okay with leaving our reclamation totally to someone else. We want Jesus to save us from sin and self and the world. We want Him to rescue us from our problems—sickness, financial ruin, marital storms, rebellious children, stubborn parents, anxiety, and rejection by others. We cry for His help, but His help must come on our terms. Like Moses, we will seek the miracle from the rock, but we will do it our way. Whatever the dilemma we are in, we are not too eager to simply “trust Jesus.” We want Jesus’ power but our control. Yet, the key to redemption, whether the need is liberation from our sin or suffering, is simple faith in our Redeemer.

Once again, Jesus is our Redeemer, or to put it another way, Jesus is our redemption. It is He, and not we, that has done the work of our deliverance. It is not our faith that redeems us but Christ Jesus Himself that redeems His people. Not until we truly believe this can we enjoy the freedom that is ours.

If we could redeem ourselves, then what need was there for Christ to redeem us?

There is only one Redeemer, and He needs no help from us.

What is the essence of redemption? Is it the forgiveness of sin, or is it the prospect of an eternity free of wrath and torment? Surely, both forgiveness and the escape of eternal punishment is involved in redemption; yet redemption exceeds these and takes us to the very heart of God and His presence with us.

If you were kidnapped and held for ransom, then the person who paid your ransom would be your redeemer. The payment would secure not only your freedom from your captors, but it would restore you to the presence of the redeemer. This is the heart of redemption—restoration to the relationships and residence you enjoyed before your abduction.

Sin ripped man away from relationship with holy God and the residence of His glorious presence. While forgiveness is hugely important, it is not the sum of redemption.

The goal of redemption is to be restored to the fellowship and presence of Almighty God in the person of Jesus Christ. 

The Redeemer loved you and desired your presence with Him. But something held us in captivity and kept us reserved for everlasting judgment. That something was God Himself. His pure justice demanded our separation from Him. We stood barred from the life of God. His goodness, which ended up saving us, was the gatekeeper that turned us away as the cherubim’s flaming sword kept Adam and Eve from the garden.

Redeemer Jesus paid not a kidnapper’s ransom but a prison warden’s required payment to set us free and restore us to Himself. No one abducted us; we voluntary were co-conspirators in the vilest coup in human history. We willfully rejected our Creator and Father and renounced His sovereign goodness. To His justice, we were in debt. To His righteousness, we were marked as prisoners eternally incarcerated.

From the portals of Heaven’s throne room, the Son of God came, “born of a woman, born under the law.” He sought us and His pursuit is called the demonstration of love. Unlike the story of the prodigal son, we did not come to our senses and return to the Father. The real Elder Brother found us and carried us away and brought us to the very throne He left, where He robed us with His righteousness, sealed us with His Spirit, and seated us on His throne.

What was His currency? What would He give to ransom the elect bride? What medium of exchange would He use to satisfy Heaven’s integrity? It was “nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

For my cleansing this I see—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
For my pardon this my plea—
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

His life’s blood was traded for our presence with Him, restored in communion and love. We are free to come to Him in full acceptance. We enjoy access to Him; it’s no longer barred or banned. Indeed friendship with Jesus is fellowship divine!

All our goodness, rule keeping, and religiosity could not bring us into this land of promise.

Only God’s grace in the person of our Lord Jesus could lead us out of our bondage and sever the flooded waters that kept us out. He has led us into the paradise of His spiritual presence and will soon bring us over into His physical reality. The redeemed restored to the Redeemer in the land of eternal milk and honey. Oh, what a Savior!

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What is Christian Discipleship?

How would you answer if asked, “What is required to be a Christian?”

How do you think Jesus would respond to that question? Could you find daylight between His reply and yours?

The religious answer is “get baptized,” or “ask Jesus into your heart,” or “join the church,” or “keep the sacraments,” or “be good.” These are all forms of performance indicating a works-gospel.

Jesus actually answered the question different ways.

To the Pharisee who came to Him under the cover of darkness, Jesus said, “You must be born again.” The new birth is not something accomplished by the sinner but something given to him or her. The sinner is passive while God does the work of salvation.

To the rich young ruler, Jesus said to sell all that he owned, give the proceeds to the poor, and then tag along with Him. Surely this was something that the young man could do. Jesus called upon activity and not passivity. The question was, would he do it? Would he obey Jesus and give all of his wealth away? Sadly, he didn’t.

So which is it?

Is becoming a Christian something you do or is it something done to you?

The answer is: becoming a Christian requires something to be done to you—“you must be born again,” but being a Christian requires you to do something—be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said if you are to be a Christian, you must deny yourself, pick up a cross, and follow Him.

But what about Jesus’ answer to the young rich ruler? Did it negate the miracle of regeneration? No, in fact, it did just the opposite. It showed him his need for it. Apart from the new birth, we cannot keep the commandments of God. That was what Jesus was trying to show him. He could not save himself by his works because there was something fundamentally wrong with his heart that would not allow him to trust and obey Christ. Had he believed the Lord’s answer, he would have obeyed.

Thus, to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus, one must experience the gracious activity of God converting the heart, which is to turn it toward righteousness. But that is not the sum of salvation. After regeneration, the new convert can start being and doing what Christ demands. What does He demand? He demands discipleship.

Discipleship is the heartbeat of Jesus’ Christianity. It does not save the Christian, but it is for those whom God has saved. It is not an option. There is no Christian faith without some form of discipleship. For several decades, the churches in Europe and America have not required discipleship as a condition of being a Christian. No longer does Christianity demand discipleship, but we see people remaining in the church without any signs of progress in it. This is so remote from Jesus’ explanation of being His follower.

What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus?

With the plethora of information on discipleship, you would think we would not need to discuss the definition. Yet, a great deal of confusion exists about the subject. I do believe we see much improvement with a new enthusiasm for discipleship by certain groups. These ministries are going a long way to make the necessary changes in our discipleship paradigms. But it has yet to gain steam and roll through most of conservative evangelicalism.

To understand the New Testament view of discipleship we need to know how discipleship was done in the first century, since this would have been the context of how Jesus defined it. In our Lord’s era, rabbinical discipleship meant more than academics. It was much more than having weekly Bible studies. A rabbi and his pupils would live together for as long as the rabbi deemed necessary. They would eat together, travel together, and study together. There were structured formal times of study, but for the most part, the discipleship process was very informal, and mostly came by the disciple observing the way the rabbi lived.

The relationship of the student to the teacher was so full of respect that the pupil would even walk behind the master. His entire life was in submission to the discipler. That is why the disciples often called Jesus “Master.” It was the title a disciple maker would receive from students and non-students alike.

Another way you could describe first-century discipleship is much like a father/son relationship. The teacher viewed his disciples as sons and he cared for them, provided for them (usually the education was at the rabbi’s expense), and praised or admonished them as a father would a son.

What are the components of first-century discipleship? And how can we assemble a definition from them? Let’s dive in.

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Report from New England and New Brunswick

In a land where spiritual darkness reigns, a nation’s prime minister dances with the homosexuals and lesbians in the streets, and it’s stated in the halls of government that the greatest obstacle to the socialistic agenda is evangelical Christianity, there shines a light from the Miramichi River Valley in Canada’s New Brunswick province.

Three church plants in this region are countering the spiritual decline with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. One Monday, May 15, Brother Mack Tomlinson and I pulled into the driveway of lead pastor and senior church planter, David Storey. David and his gracious wife Lisa welcomed us into their home and hearts. We went to be a blessing to them but ended up the ones greatly blessed by God’s activity in New Brunswick.

Eleven years ago, the Lord brought David and Lisa back to his hometown of Doaktown to plant a church. David burdened for the perishing in the area, would pray and weep over a long list of people he knew. In the ensuing years, God has done a steady work of saving sinners. Although Doaktown has a population of 793, the church runs on average 175, with visitors almost every Sunday.

I was blessed and convicted by the personal evangelism of this pastor and the other pastors of the other two church plants.

This fervor for evangelism has spread to many of the converts in the churches and believers are sharing with families and friends the Gospel that can transform them.

Each night, but Thursday, we were in one of the church plants in Doaktown, Fredericton, or Richibucto. In each church, we found vibrant New Testament Christianity. The majority of the folks in the churches range in age from 20s to 40s, and every service has unconverted people attending.

On Sunday morning, I preached at Cornerstone Church of Richibucto, a two-year-old church plant pastored by Brother Chris Sippley. Chris is a young pastor advanced beyond his years. Many unbelievers were in attendance and, as I preached, the Spirit of the Lord pierced many hearts. Many people wept as the word of God was declared. I counseled some after the service who admitted that God had exposed their hearts and they knew they were lost and needed His mercy. Please, join me in praying that the seeds Brother Mack and I planted and watered will germinate and produce much fruit for the Lord.

We also had the privilege on Saturday to conduct a pastors’ and church leaders’ retreat in a gorgeous Canadian setting.

A cabin nestled in a pine forest overlooking the Miramichi River was our backdrop. There were nearly 20 of us there and the Lord blessed us all. Both Mack and I spoke to the pastors, Mack about the theology of pastoring, and I about the importance of personally feeding on Christ so that we, as pastors, can feed Christ to our sheep. The Q &A times were especially rich and valuable. We can only thank the Lord for how He conducted our time with these dear brothers.

What we found in the budding spring of New Brunswick is one of the strongest works of God that I have seen in years. Please lift these churches under David’s leadership in prayer. Pray for pastors David, Chris, and Corey, as well as the other elders who serve the churches. Their hearts burn to see many more churches planted throughout the New Brunswick province.

Mack and I ministered in Redeeming Grace Fellowship Church in Portland, Maine the weekend before our trek north into Canada. While there, Mack performed pastoral visits and counsel to this church plant of Providence Chapel, Denton, Texas, where Mack is an elder. On Sunday, he and I both preached to an eager and hungry fellowship. I preached evangelistically on The Righteousness that Saves, from Romans 10:3-5. Brother Mack preached on the Theology of Singing and encouraged the saints with why God has given us the gift of singing to each other and Him.

This is a wonderful group of saints serving Christ in Portland under the leadership of Jeff Hebert. Please pray for them as they desperately desire to sow and reap the Gospel harvest in New England.

Lastly, do not underestimate your ministry on this trip.

Even though you were not there physically with Mack or me, you were there in spirit by your prayers. I only hope you truly know how much work is done by prayer and not to be credited to our efforts alone. I remind you and my heart of what the Apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). To God be the praise for the great things He has done and is doing!