April 21, 2013
On Monday, they were just terrorists.
I ran Boston in 1979. I lived in Massachusetts for 12 years. For me, Boston, rather than the Masters, is “a tradition like no other.”
Monday I watched the last hour of the elite race online. I enjoyed it, but turned off the computer after the top 10 finished.
So when a friend called me at 4 and said, offhandedly, “I guess you know about the bombs in Boston,” I was floored. Bombs? At the marathon? Who would do something like this?
Terrorists. Only terrorists.
Friday morning, I wrote about the bombing for the blog. By that time, we knew something about the terrorists. They now had names. A nationality. They were brothers. They were athletes. The younger brother was an excellent student.
We also got a glimpse of the alienation of the older brother, Tamerlan. Several years ago, he wrote: “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.”
That resonated with me. Three weeks ago, the Saturday before Easter, I met a Nepali man who had been in the US for almost four years. During that time he had only cursory interactions with Americans. He had never been in an American’s home. I asked him if he knew why he had Good Friday off of work. He said, “I think it has something to do with eggs and rabbits.” The name “Jesus” was vaguely familiar, but he didn’t know who He was. He had no inkling about the Gospel – until that day.
It sounds like Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s experience was similar.
At lunchtime on Friday I turned on the radio, and heard program host and Boston resident Robin Young say, “Some of us have found out that we know these boys.” I was intrigued, and kept listening. It turns out the younger brother, called Jahar by his friends, wrestled on a high school team with Robin Young’s nephew. They were good friends. Jahar had been the life of a party that Robin held for her nephew in her home.
As information streamed in over the internet, I noticed their birthdays. Jahar is 11 months younger than my son Matthew. Sixteen months older than Joel. Tamerlan was a few months younger than my son Jonathan.
That Friday afternoon something clicked in my heard. These two were no longer defined by the word “terrorist.” They were no longer abstractions. They were people. They were individuals. They were persons with birthdays and high school friends. They were the life of the party or the quiet kid in the corner.
All that – yet of greater importance:
Tamerlan and Jahar Tsarnaev were made in the image of God.
And: they murdered and maimed others made in the image of God. They committed an act of terrorism. By so doing they had made themselves my enemies, your enemies, our country’s enemies.
And Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45)
Yesterday evening, I was praying about whether to preach this sermon or the one I had planned. Driving home from a meeting about 8, flipping through radio stations, I heard a host reading emails from listeners. Each was suggesting what should be done to Jahar when he is convicted. One wrote: “Remember the end of Braveheart, when Mel Gibson is disemboweled?” I can’t even repeat some of the others.
We need to hear God’s Word on this issue.
How do we wrap our minds around this?
How do we love those who have committed such heinous acts?
What is the relationship between such love and love for the victims of their crimes?
What is the relationship between such love and a longing for justice?
Loving Your Enemy: Eight Propositions
1) If we are to love our enemies, surely we are to love those who are NOT our enemies but resemble our enemies.
In this case: Who resembles Tamerlan and Jahar?
The foreigners around us. International students. Refugees. Especially: The Muslims around us.
- No one is your enemy BECAUSE HE IS A MUSLIM
- No one is your enemy BECAUSE HE IS A FOREIGNER
- No one is your enemy because of language or ethnicity or dress or skin color
We must never treat anyone as an enemy because he looks like or talks like someone who is our enemy.
Rather: Can we love and care for and show hospitality to those who resemble our enemies?
Scripture is quite clear on this:
You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:34)
Love those who resemble your enemies.
2) To love your enemies is not to deny that they are your enemies
Jesus does NOT say: “No one is your enemy. We’re all just one big happy family.”
Jesus had enemies. They tortured Him. They killed Him.
We have enemies. Indeed, Jesus prophesied:
Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. (Matthew 24:9)
Once Tamerlan and Jahar decided to commit an act of terror, they became our enemies. Nothing is accomplished by denying that.
More broadly: A small number of Muslims from around the world has become radicalized. These few want to do all they can to wreak murder and mayhem. Those who are taking steps in this direction are our enemies.
Government is charged with helping us to live peaceful and quiet lives, and thus to protect us from enemies. We are charged to pray for government leaders and officials as they take on this difficult task.
We do have enemies.
3) To love your enemies is not to hope against justice
We must long for justice. We must long for every sin to be paid for, for every wrong to be righted.
God is a just God. He is the moral authority in the universe. He guarantees that the right punishment will be rendered for every sin.
In Revelation 6:9-10, John sees “under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
God doesn’t tell them: “O, don’t long for justice; love your enemies!”
They are right to long for justice – EVEN as they love their enemies.
So in Jahar’s case, love does not imply that we must hope for a lenient sentence, or no sentence at all. We hope for justice – not against it.
4) To love your enemies is perfectly consistent with loving your enemies’ victims
Sometimes in our politics we become advocates, on the one hand, of victims rights, and advocates, on the other hand, of rights of the accused.
Jesus tells us to be advocates for both.
We are to love our enemies AND we are to love EVERY neighbor as we love ourselves. That surely includes our neighbors who are victims.
And so: pray for the families and friends of Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, Krystle Campbell, Sean Collier. Pray for the seriously wounded, including Richard Donohue, tThe officer critically injured in the Thursday night shootout.
Love the victims.
In propositions five to eight, we turn to how we should see our enemies – in particular, how we see Jahar Tsarnaev today.
5) To love your enemies is to see them as fundamentally like yourself.
What is true of you fundamentally?
What is true of Jahar Tsarnaev fundamentally?
What does Scripture say?
- You and Jahar are made in the image of God
- You and Jahar are made to glorify Him
- You and Jahar have rebelled against God
- You and Jahar deserve His judgment
- You and Jahar can do NOTHING to make up for your sins, to pay the penalty for your sins
- And God so loved you and Jahar – that He sent His one and only Son to die so that you might be forgiven by grace through faith
If you have not turned to God in repentance, with faith in Christ, you stand before God in exactly the same way as Jahar Tsarnaev. For as James tells us, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).
Should Jahar turn to Christ, he will stand before God FULLY cleansed – just as clean as anyone in this room, despite the enormity of His sins. For the blood of Jesus is able to wash clean even the vilest of sins.
And if that should happen – JUSTICE WILL HAVE BEEN DONE. For the penalty that Jesus paid – the beatings and whippings and overwhelming flood of God’s wrath that Jesus endured on the cross – is sufficient to satisfy the requirements of justice.
At root, Jahar and you stand before God in exactly the same way:
- Apart from the blood of Christ: Without hope
- Covered with the blood of Christ: Completely forgiven
6) To love your enemies is to be like God in showing mercy and kindness to the undeserving, because God showed mercy and kindness to you, the undeserving
Jahar does not deserve mercy. He certainly showed no mercy to his victims.
And our government, our court system, is under no obligation to show mercy. Rather, government is set up by God as His “servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).
But what about you and me?
Acts like the bombing can lead to righteous anger on our part: An anger at the undermining of what is right and good; a steady, certain, deliberate intention to exercise justice. Such anger is consistent with loving our enemies.
But when that anger morphs into hatred, into a desire for personal vengeance, into the sorts of expressions I heard on the radio last night, we have sinned. We are not loving our enemies.
To love is to desire what is good AND TO DO GOOD for our enemies.
Remember what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:45, immediately after telling us to love our enemies, and thus to be sons of our heavenly Father: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. “
Consider: God gives sun and rain and life and breath every minute of every day to people who hate Him!
God gave YOU sun and rain and life and breath every minute of every day to YOU WHILE you were under His condemnation – when you deserved death!
We are to be LIKE GOD in DOING AND DESIRING GOOD for our enemies.
Specifically, we are to desire the good Paul speaks of in 2 Timothy 2:25-26: We are to pray that God might “grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”
You have received God’s undeserved mercy and kindness when you were His enemy.
Be like Him!
Show undeserved mercy and kindness to your enemies
We’ll consider the last two propositions together:
7) To love your enemies is to see them as potential kings, potential heirs of the earth
8) To love your enemies is to see them as a potential part of the bride of Christ
Jahar Tsarnaev is made in the image of God. He has polluted that image by his sin and rebellion. By God’s grace, that image can shine forth in majesty and beauty.
Jahar Tsarnaev is potentially an heir of the earth (Matthew 5:5).
Jahar Tsarnaev is potentially part of the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27), dearly loved by Him, indeed, dearly loved by YOU. As John Newton writes, those who are our enemies now who truly follow Christ will one day be, “Dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.”
Could that be true of Jahar?
Love Your enemies.
Pray for Those Who Persecute You
As we’ve said, we must pray for justice.
But also: Pray for Jahar.
- Pray that God would grant him repentance
- Pray that God would shatter the walls he has built to shield himself from the Gospel
- Pray that God would protect him from the even greater hardening that could easily occur in custody
- Pray that our Lord might open His eyes
And who else hates you? Who persecutes you? “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.”
Remember our text Matthew 5:43-48: If we claim to be followers of Christ, if we say to Him “Lord, Lord,” we are to be different. We are to do more than others. We are to take on a family resemblance to Christ. Indeed, we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect. We are to be agents of God’s mercy.
So: List your enemies.
Some might be abstractions, anonymous groups. But be sure to include individuals: Those who would do you harm if they could. List them. Pray for them.
As for the Boston Bombings:
- Pray for justice. By all means.
- Pray for information about contacts with foreign terrorists, if any.
- Pray for those whom they so cruelly injured.
- Pray for the families who have lost loved ones
- And pray for Jahar.
That You May Be Sons of Your Father
God in His mercy has invited you to be His child
- He has covered your guilt with blood of Jesus
- He has invited you into His Family
- He will wipe every tear from your eyes
- He will love you with an everlasting love
- You can call Him Daddy
- He will never leave you nor forsake you
And He enables you to look like Him. He empowers you to display His image. Indeed, He commands you by His power to treat your enemies as He treated you when you were His enemy.
He loved you when you were His enemy.
Will you love your enemies?
Will you love Jahar Tsarnaev?
By a process that we do not yet understand, he became your enemy. He became our enemy.
By a process that God has revealed to us, he can become your brother. May he become our brother.
Love Jahar. Love Your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you.
So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
(This is a shortened version of a sermon preached 4/21/13. The audio of the sermon is available here.)
April 19, 2013
As I write, one alleged Boston Marathon bomber is dead; the other is on the run. Both, apparently, are Muslim; both have been in the US for more than a decade. The younger brother was an excellent, scholarship-winning student and captain of his high school’s wrestling team. The older brother was a boxer.
These young men grew up in schools and in communities like those around Charlotte. They played sports, they hung out with friends, they worked hard in school.
And then they attempted to commit mass murder.
How should we respond to this shocking tragedy?
Here are four biblical guidelines:
First: We all rightly long for justice. Our God is the moral authority in the universe. He will see to it that all sin are paid for, all wrongs duly punished. Vengeance is not in our hands as individuals (Romans 12:19). Our anger and bitterness and vitriol will not effect justice (James 1:20). In the present age, however, God has provided the government to act as His “servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.” (Romans 13:4)
Second: Your prayers matter. In light of government’s heavy responsibility, the Apostle Paul instructs us:
I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)
So may we thank God for the hundreds of police who, right now, are tracking down the fugitive – many risking their lives. May we lift up civil servants and political leaders who make decisions about lockdowns and public transport and school closures. May we pray for judges and attorneys should the fugitive be captured and tried. And may this episode end with increased confidence throughout our nation that our authorities will act bravely and professionally to enable us to live peaceful and quiet lives.
Third: Life is fleeting. Lu Lingzi, Martin Richard, and Krystle Campbell woke up this Monday excited to watch friends and loved ones run the Marathon. They had plans for that evening, this weekend, and years into the future. And in a flash, murderers snuffed out their lives.
How long do I have in this world? How long do you? We have no idea. As James tells us:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (James 4:13-16).
James is not telling us to forget about plans for the future. Rather, we must live knowing that we are dependent, fragile creatures, living and breathing today by the mercy of God. Thus, we should live humbly before the eyes of our all-knowing, all-seeing, all-sovereign Lord, confessing that He knows best, and gladly subjecting ourselves to Him, for His glory.
Finally: Your light matters. The deceased alleged bomber wrote, “I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them.” Note that he came to the US more than ten years ago. Yet Scripture instructs us:
When a foreigner lives with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
What might have happened if a follower of Christ had done unto Tamerlan Tsarnaev as he would that others do to him? How might lives have been changed if followers of Christ had been salt and light in this young man’s life?
And what might happen if you and I love the foreigners among us? If you and I reach out to those who have come to study, to those who have come because of war and chaos, to those who have come because of political oppression?
Our response to this tragedy must not be to shrink back into a fear of foreigners. Our Lord calls us to go, to be light and salt – so that others may see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).
Through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus, we are heirs of eternal life, entrusted with the message of God’s abundant mercy, to be proclaimed to all. May the horror of Boston compel us all the more to be His ambassadors, His heralds, holding out the word of life with love and compassion to all the peoples God has brought to Charlotte.
January 19, 2013
Tuesday is the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which declared unconstitutional virtually all state laws protecting the lives of children still in their mothers’ wombs. Since then, well over 50 million such children have been put to death in the United States. We rightly are horrified at the murder of 20 children in Newtown CT; on average there are more than 160 Newtown killings per day of unborn children in this country. In light of this anniversary and these facts, please take time to reflect on the following Scriptures; read their contexts; consider them in their relation to the overall storyline of the Bible. Then, in light of these Scriptures, reflect on the words below of President Obama in Newtown. Do not his arguments hold all the more strongly for our unborn children – who, in their mothers’ wombs, are in much greater danger than children in school classrooms or in shopping malls?
Psalm 127:3-5 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. 5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!
Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.
Psalm 139:13 You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
Isaiah 44:2 Thus says the LORD who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you.
Isaiah 46:3 Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb.
Psalm 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. [King David is not saying that his mother was particularly sinful. He is saying that from the moment of conception, he was in sin. A subhuman being cannot be in sin.]
Luke 1:15 [John the Baptist] will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb.
Luke 1:44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb [John the Baptist] leaped for joy.
Proverbs 24:10-12 If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small. 11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. 12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?
Psalm 82:3-4 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
From James 3:14-4:7 If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. . . . 4:2 You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. 4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? . . . 6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God.
Luke 9:23-24 And [Jesus] said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.
And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm? . . . Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? . . .
If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. . . .
These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. . . . But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child . . . then surely we have an obligation to try. . . .
Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?
July 17, 2010
God requires to set up his throne in the heart, and to reign in it without a rival: if he be kept out of his right, it matters not by what competitor. The revolt may be more avowed or more secret; it may be the treason of deliberate preference, or of inconsiderate levity; we may be the subjects of a more or of a less creditable master; we may be employed in services more gross or more refined; but whether the slaves of avarice, of sensuality, of dissipation, of sloth, or the votaries of ambition, of taste, or of fashion; whether supremely governed by vanity and self-love, by the desire of literary fame or of military glory, we are alike estranged from the dominion of our rightful Sovereign. Let not this seem a harsh position; it can appear so only from not adverting to what was shown to be the essential nature of true religion. He who bowed the knee to the god of medicine or of eloquence, was no less an idolater than the worshiper of the deified patrons of lewdness or of theft. In the several cases which have been specified, the external acts indeed are different, but in principle the disaffection is the same; and we must prepare to meet the punishment of rebels on that tremendous day, when all false colors shall be done away, and, there being no longer any room for the evasions of worldly sophistry, . . . “that which is often highly esteemed amongst men, shall appear to have been abomination in the sight of God.”
William Wilberforce, A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes of This Country Contrasted With Real Christianity (1797). The book is available in its entirety at the link. Here is a three-page pdf file of this excerpt plus surrounding text. Note that, as was common in his day, when Wilberforce uses the word “religion,” he most often is referring solely to Christianity.
February 25, 2010
What does the Bible say about political advocacy?
In Romans 14, Paul discusses a specific issue: Should Christians have concerns about whether or not the meat that they eat has been killed according to Old Testament regulations? Paul does believe one side is right in this disagreement. But he emphasizes that loving our brothers and following our convictions are both much more important than being on the right side.
Today, the way animals are killed is not an issue many Christians worry about. But, as usual, Paul resolves the issue by looking at bedrock principles of who we are in Christ, and what motivations should underlie all that we do. His argument in this chapter is thus helpful for every issue not fundamentally related to salvation on which Christians may disagree.
What follows is a reworking of Romans 14, replacing Paul’s specific discussion of food issues with present-day, American political issues. I’ve arbitrarily labeled one side Democrat and the other Republican – feel free to reverse the labels if you wish. Verse 14 moves furthest from the original text, while verses 7-13, 18, and 19 are all unchanged.
The central point in Paul’s discussion is found in verses 7 to 9: We are not to live to ourselves. We are not to live aiming to increase our own comfort or status. All we do– from our seemingly trivial decisions like what we eat to our political decisions – should be focused on giving God honor, on glorifying Him.
So I encourage you: Read Romans 14, then read over this reworking of the chapter. See if this helps you to take to heart the lessons Paul is teaching. Ask yourself if my reworking is true to the basic principles Paul lays out. And then ensure that whatever you do – eating, drinking, or political advocacy – you do all to the glory of God.
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions, or to convince him of your opinion. 2 One person believes he should vote Democrat, while another votes Republican. 3 Let not the one who votes Democrat despise the one who votes Republican, and let not the one who votes Republican pass judgment on the one who votes Democrat, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person esteems one party as better than another, while another esteems all parties alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who supports a party, supports it in honor of the Lord. The one who votes Democrat, votes in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who votes Republican, votes in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that one party is better than the other, but it would be wrong for another believer to support that party to please me if he is convinced otherwise. 15 For if your brother is grieved by your political advocacy, you are no longer walking in love. By political advocacy, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of political advocacy but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of politics, destroy the work of God. One party is indeed better than the other, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by political advocacy. 21 It is good not to support a political party – or to do anything else – if that causes your brother to stumble.
January 14, 2010
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is devastated. Thousands and thousands of buildings have collapsed. Tens of thousands are dead. Thousands more are injured and doomed to die, as hospitals too are destroyed and the needs outstrip the remaining medical care.
How can we respond to such a tragedy?
The Bible is our guide in all matters. In His Word, God tells us who He is, who we are, how He rules the world, and how we should respond to Him. He tells us what we could never learn on our own, what we would grope after and never find apart from His revelation.
So what guidance does the Bible give us?
First, we must weep with those who weep, mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15). Our Lord wept over the coming judgment on Jerusalem (Luke 19:41); He wept at the grave of His friend, even though He was about to raise him from the dead (John 11:35). Ultimately, all sorrow and pain in this world is the result of sin – God’s initial creation was very good (Genesis 1:31). So let us weep over sin and its impact.
Second, we must pray. God works through prayer to bring about His purposes at all times (2 Corinthians 1:11), and so He exhorts us to pray about all our needs (Philippians 4:6).
Third, we must do what we can to help those in need (Luke 12:33). In so doing, we honor God (Proverbs 14:31), who has compassion on the poor and needy (Psalm 72:13). Now, in such situations we can do more harm than good – our attempts to help can hurt, as we noted earlier. So let us give to organizations that are cognizant of these dangers, who are working with local institutions, considering both the urgent relief needs and the longer term rehabilitation and development needs. Some suggestions (among many possibilities): Food for the Hungry, Child Hope International, and Water Missions International.
Fourth, we must take note of Jesus’ warning to those around Him as they considered a local tragedy:
“Those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:4-5
Some people evidently were explaining the fall of the tower as God’s judgment on those eighteen people, saying that they deserved to die, and others (like themselves) did not. Jesus says, “Don’t think that way – but take the occasion of these deaths to examine yourself!” God’s judgment will come on all who do not repent (Romans 2:4-5) – and it will be much more terrible than the fall of the tower of Siloam, much more terrible than the Haiti earthquake, much more terrible than the Aceh tsunami (Revelation 6:15-17).
Fifth, we must remind ourselves of the Gospel. No one is righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10-12). We all deserve God’s condemnation, His wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). Yet God sent His Son to live the perfect life that we should have lived, loving God with all His heart, soul, mind, and strength every minute of every day, loving His neighbor as Himself (Hebrews 4:15; Matthew 22:36-40); He sent Him to the cross to suffer and die, taking on Himself the penalty we deserve (2 Corinthians 5:21); and He raised Him from the dead, showing that the penalty was sufficient (Acts 2:24). We who believe in Him (John 1:12), valuing Him above all else (Matthew 13:44), receive the benefits of this death, and are united with Him for all eternity (Romans 6:4-5, 23).
Finally, we can rejoice that God is sovereign over all affairs of men. He is the Almighty One, who not only knows the number of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30), but watches over and superintends all the events of my life, and of all the lives of those who are united in His Son (Psalm 1:6). So we can pray with the psalmist, “When my spirit faints within me, you know my way!” (Psalm 142:3). May our hurting brothers and sisters in Haiti know this truth, and lean on our Rock and our Refuge (Psalm 61:2-3).
May we, by His grace, be as He is in this world (1 John 4:17) – and thus, knowing our sinfulness, knowing our weakness, serve humbly as conduits of His mercy, His compassion, and His Word to the downtrodden and the needy.
October 17, 2009
[Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) was a Welsh preacher who ministered in Wales and in London in the last century. God used him mightily, particularly in holding up the value of expository preaching when most ministers had abandoned it. The following is taken from his sermon on Matthew 7:7-11, which includes the sentence: "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." I quoted from this in last Sunday's sermon on God as our fatherly provider; this selection is also relevant for tomorrow's sermon on prayer. You can read and listen to Lloyd-Jones through this website - Coty]
If you should ask me to state in one phrase what I regard as the greatest defect in most Christian lives I would say that it is our failure to know God as our Father. . . . Ah yes, we say; we do know that and believe it. But do we know it in our daily life and living? Is it something of which we are always conscious? If only we got hold of this, we could smile in the face of every possibility and eventuality that lies ahead of us.
How then are we to know this? It is certainly not something based on the notion of the ‘universal Fatherhood of God’. . . . That is not biblical. Our Lord says something here that ridicules that and proves such an idea to be nonsense. He says, ‘If ye then, being evil’. You see the significance? . . . ‘Ye being evil’ means that we not only do things which are evil, but that we are evil. Our natures are corrupt and evil, and those who are essentially corrupt and evil are not the children of God. . . . No; by nature we are all the children of wrath; . . . by nature we are not His children. . . . God is your Father only when you satisfy certain conditions. He is not the Father of any one of us as we are by nature.
How then does God become my Father? According to the Scriptures it is like this. Christ ‘came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power (i.e., authority) to become the sons of God’ (John 1:11, 12). You become a child of God only when you are born again. . . . Believing in [Christ], we receive a new life and nature and we become children of God. Then we can know that God is our Father; but not until then. He will also give us His Holy Spirit, ‘the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father’; and the moment we know this we can be certain that God as our Father adopts a specific attitude with respect to us. It means that, as my Father, He is interested in me, that He is concerned about me, that He is watching over me, that He has a plan and purpose with respect to me, that He is desirous always to bless and to help me. Lay hold of that; take a firm grasp of that. Whatever may happen to you, God is your Father. . . .
But that does not exhaust the statement. There is a very interesting negative addition. Because God is your Father He will never give you anything that is evil. He will give you only that which is good. ‘What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?’ Multiply that by infinity and that is God’s attitude towards His child. In our folly we are apt to think that God is against us when something unpleasant happens to us. But God is our Father; and as our Father he will never give us anything that is evil. Never; it is impossible.
[Another] principle is this. God, being God, never makes a mistake. He knows the difference between good and evil in a way that no-one else does. . . . The earthly father at his best sometimes thinks at the moment that he is acting for the good of his child, but discovers later that it was bad. Your Father who is in heaven never makes such a mistake. He will never give you anything which will turn out to be harmful to you, but which at first seemed to be good. This is one of the most wonderful things we can ever realize. . . . If we but knew we were in the hands of such a Father, our outlook upon the future would be entirely transformed.
Lastly, we must remember increasingly the good gifts which He has for us. ‘How much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?’ This is the theme of the whole Bible. What are the good things? Our Lord has given us the answer in that passage in Luke 11. . . . ‘If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?’ That is it. And in giving the Holy Spirit He gives us everything; every fitness we require, every grace, every gift. They are all given to us in Him. . . . You see now why we should thank God that asking, and seeking and knocking, do not just mean that if we ask for anything we like we shall get it. Of course not. What it means is this. Ask for any one of these things that is good for you, that is for the salvation of your soul, your ultimate perfection, anything that brings you nearer to God and enlarges your life and is thoroughly good for you, and He will give it you. He will not give you things that are bad for you. You may think they are good but He knows they are bad. . . .
That is the way to face the future. Find out from the Scriptures what these good things are and seek them. The thing that matters supremely, the best thing for all of us, is to know God, ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom (he) hath sent’; and if we seek that above everything else, if we ‘seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness’, then we have the word of the Son of God . . . that all these other things shall be added unto us. God will give them to us with a bounty that we cannot even imagine. ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’
[Studies in the Sermon on the Mount Volume 2 (Eerdmans, 1960), p. 202-205.]
May 29, 2009
For the last several months, Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has been advocating a “Great Commission Resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention. In his chapel address on April 16th (audio), Dr Akin laid out twelve axioms required for such a resurgence. Since then, SBC President Johnny Hunt has embraced this message, and modified the axioms somewhat, reducing them to ten, as available here.
In many ways, I am impressed with the Great Commission Resurgence document, and believe the SBC should move in the direction it lays out. Here are some of the axioms that clearly resonate with our theology, vision, and values:
1: We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels.
2: We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our convention ministries.
January 24, 2009
[For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.]
Do you listen? How is your hearing?
Jesus thinks listening is vital: He says, “Whoever has ears to hear had better listen!” (Mark 4:9 NET).
Most of us have the physical equipment to hear. And yet so often we fail to listen.
Listening is never easy, is it? All of us are so easily distracted – even in church. For example, when someone gets up during a service, perhaps to go to the bathroom, at least one-third of the eyes in the sanctuary follow the person out the door – making sure, I suppose, that the person doesn’t fall down.
Sometimes we listen, but don’t really hear. This was the case with Ezekiel. God tells His prophet that to the people of Israel:
you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. (Ezekiel 33:32 NIV)
Ezekiel had become an attraction, an amusement. And note that the people responded to his preaching! They expressed devotion, but their actions belied their words. So Ezekiel was to them a performer, a maestro, fun to listen to but having no impact on their lives. They responded aesthetically – but they did not really hear him.
In Mark 4, Jesus emphasizes again and again the importance of truly hearing Him.
- Verse 3: His first word to the crowds is, “Listen!”
- Verse 9: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
- Verse 23: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!”
- Verse 24: “Consider carefully what you hear!”
- Verse 33: “Jesus spoke the word to them, [literally] as much as they could hear.”
In this chapter, He relates the parable of the farmer who sows seed on the path, on rocky ground, among thorns, and on good soil. The seed on the path is eaten by birds; the seed on the rocky soil and among the thorns initially springs up, but dies; the seed on good soil bears a hundredfold more seed.
We frequently understand this parable as referring to evangelism: the evangelist spreads the word; some people never respond; some people appear to respond, yet fall away eventually; others respond and bear fruit. That interpretation states an important truth.
But in context in Mark, I believe it preferable to think of the different grounds as yourself at different times. Ask yourself: How am I responding to the word I hear right now? What barriers prevent me from hearing the word and putting it into practice?
We all want to be like that good soil, multiplying the seed of the word, bearing fruit, giving to others God’s love and life. What does this parable teach us about overcoming barriers to hearing – so that we might be that good soil? Read more
October 25, 2008
(For a version of this devotion that is easier to print, follow this link.)
Gyrations in the stock market. Banks losing billions. Dire predictions unless Congress does X. Congress does X, yet the situation deteriorates.
What does it all mean? How should Bible-believing Christians respond?
We should respond by trusting in God and in His Word.
Paul tells Timothy to know that hard times are ahead (in his case, from persecution and evil deceivers), but to “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15).
Just so for us. Remain steadfast. Remind yourself and others of the truths of Scripture. God does not change. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His Word is our anchor; His promise is our hope, a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 6:19). Read more