Sunday, February 23, 2014

Through Many Hardships

The following story, told by Pastor Jim Cymbala of Brooklyn Tabernacle as he opened one of the chapters in his book, Fresh Power, provides a good picture of why we are foolish to make our hardships the main focus as we travel toward the eternal glory God has promised us, or to conclude they ought not happen.

Imagine, if you will, that your telephone rings one day with astonishingly good news. A pleasant voice says, “I’m a representative of Carol Joy Enterprises, and do you remember putting your name into a drawing last month in a store to win a month-long, all-expenses-paid vacation to the English countryside? Guess What—you’re the winner!”
You might begin to scream and shout and dance around the room. “Are you serious?! Oh, my goodness, I can’t believe it!  I’ve never won anything in my life!”
Immediately your head would fill with images of the green, rolling hills you saw on the poster in the store…the quaint little cottages with the thatched roofs…the narrow cobblestone streets…the sheep calmly grazing in the meadows…the stone fences…the delightful shops. Now it is all to be yours: a free package of airfare, lodging, food, and activities.
“Come to our offices tomorrow at 11 o’clock, and we’ll give you the details,” the representative continues. She quotes the address and then hangs up.
That night you can hardly sleep. You’re going on a free vacation! By the next morning, your excitement is still strong.
When you sit down across the desk from the woman, she confirms the truth of the phone call the day before—yes, you’ve really won a month of leisure in England. She checks your identification and takes down essential data. Eventually she starts to explain the particulars.
“Okay, on May 17, you have a 7:40 p.m. flight out of Kennedy airport, so you’ll need to be there by 5:30,” she says.
“Kennedy airport?” you ask with a frown. “I don’t like Kennedy. It’s really hard to get there from where I live, especially in the middle of the evening rush hour. I thought you said I was getting a free vacation in England.”
“Yes—well, it all starts by catching a flight from Kennedy,” she replies. “You’ll have to wait in several lines and have your luggage checked and show your passport, and then when the plane finally takes off, you’ll be flying all night to London. You probably won’t be able to sleep very well in those little seats, but that’s just the way it is….”
“I don’t like the sound of this at all,” you complain. “What if the plane goes down in the ocean?”
The woman rolls her eyes. “Look, it’s not going to go down.”
“Well, I get nervous in an airplane.”
She ignores you. “And then when you get to Heathrow Airport in London—“
“Wait a minute! You said I was going to the English countryside.”
“Yes, well, first you have to stand in a long line at the customs checkpoint in the airport. When you finally get up to the front, they’ll ask you some questions and stamp your passport. Then you’ll have to get your luggage and haul it out to the bus, which will take you into the city to catch the train. It’s a three-hour train ride before you finally get to your hotel.”
You’re getting quite irritated now. “I don’t want to do all that,” you insist. “I just want to walk out of my house and go straight to the little English village.”
At this point the woman would probably be ready to disqualify you and pick another winner!

Have you ever known a Christian who, similar to this imaginary story, expected their trip to heaven to be all a smooth ride?  Have you expected that?  It is not likely to happen. As Paul and Barnabas instructed newly converted people, it is “through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). The sooner we acknowledge this the better.

If you would like help in how to navigate hardships, I encourage you to listen to the February 23, 2014 sermon I preached at the Minden Evangelical Free Church titled, “Yet I Will Rejoice: Handles To Hold When Disappointed With God,” out of the book of Habakkuk. You can find it at:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Four Encouraging Reasons We Should Be Involved In Missions

There are a number of ways that we can be involved in God’s mission of proclaiming his gospel throughout the world and bringing to him a worshiping-serving-people from every tribe, language, nation, and people group. Consider these. (1) We can learn more about missions and what God is doing, as well as what the needs are. This almost always leads to greater involvement. (2) We can be part of sending out missionaries by supporting them and encouraging them through letters, emails, or Facebook messages. (3) We can go ourselves—on a short-term trip, a medium-term trip (up to two years), or as a long-term vocational missionary. (4) We can welcome missionaries into our homes that are in the area to get to know them and how we can pray for them, as well as encourage them. (5) We can welcome international students or workers into our homes, build relationships with them, and give the Spirit an opportunity to open up doors to share Jesus Christ with them. (6) We can pray for missionaries, for specific countries (See the Operation World web site), and we can pray for unreached peoples. (7) Finally, we can engage in mobilizing missions-minded persons, in other words, we can help encourage others to get involved also.

It is fine and good to talk about how to be involved in missions, but perhaps even a more fundamental question is this: “Why should we want to be involved in missions?” To answer that question and to propel us into the kinds of involvement mentioned above, here are four encouraging reasons from Isaiah 59:19-60:22 to help move us off the missions bench and into the game.

1. If You Have Trusted Jesus Christ As Savior, God Has Given You Resources To This End.
In Is. 59:19-60:2 the prophet Isaiah wrote:
So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the Lord drives. 20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord. 21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
60:1 Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you.

To the early seventh century Israelites whom God had informed that their nation would be destroyed and sent into Babylonian captivity because of their sin (Isaiah 39:5-8), Isaiah repeatedly made it clear hope was coming. In other words, this judgment was not the end of the story. In fact, here in the passage just quoted, God promised through the prophet to send a Redeemer to save his people, resulting in the pouring out of the Spirit and transformation of God followers from the inside-out. During this time of great transformation and Spirit-work (the days we live in today) there will be generation after generation of people who are saved and changed so that they want to carry out God’s will and can carry out his will. One of the effects of this is that God’s glory will shine upon his people in a way that they (we) can allow that glory to shine forth through us in our lifestyle (60:1-2) and our proclamation of the good news (Is. 60:6).

From Isaiah 59:19-60:22 Isaiah intersperses events that the New Testament authors later tell us take place either when Jesus Christ came the first time, when he comes the second time and ushers in the New Heaven and New Earth, or during the age in between those comings. In other words, we gain a picture of what will happen from the time Jesus came the first time until he comes again. What Isaiah seems to be telling us in these verses is that one of the reasons God has changed us in this era through Jesus Christ and given his empowering Spirit to us is so that we can be witnesses to Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8). Since the Spirit ministers to us the presence and power of Jesus Christ, we know he is present with us as we seek to do gospel or missions work (Mt. 28:20). So, Christian, be encouraged, we have the power to get involved boldly, courageously, and fruitfully. It only remains for us to get involved.

2. God Has Promised The Mission Will Be Successful.
Notice what we read in Isaiah 60:3-5b:
And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be carried on the hip. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and exult, because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you….

As God changes his people by the work of Jesus Christ applied through the work of the Spirit in this New Covenant era, nations will respond to the changed lives and the proclamation of God’s people (Jew and Gentile) and God will bring forth adopted, saved sons and daughters from the nations into his saved people. This does not mean every person we try and reach will trust Jesus Christ. It does mean some will. God will raise up an army of gospel-armed soldiers to go and win people to him from the ends of the earth.

This promise should not only encourage us to get involved in missions to the nations, but also to be diligent about telling those near us about Jesus Christ. Some will respond and will be engaged in the mission of winning the lost through the world.

So, be hopeful, be courageous, and as William Carey (the father of modern missions) once said, “Expect great things from God; do great things for God!”

3. We Are Not Alone: Believers From God’s Expanding Church Through The World Will Bring Their Resources To God For His Glory And The Mission.
Many of us will be surprised to read the following from Isaiah 60:5c-10:
…the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you; the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall come up with acceptance on my altar, and I will beautify my beautiful house. Who are these that fly like a cloud, and like doves to their windows. For the coastlands shall hope for me, the ships of Tarshish first, to bring your children from afar, their silver and gold with them, for the name of the Lord your God, and for the Holy One of Israel, because he has made you beautiful. 10 Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.

Speaking to Zion, the city of God, Jerusalem (the people of God) in language that would be understood and familiar in the seventh century, B.C., God promises through Isaiah that there is coming a day after the Redeemer comes and the Spirit changes the people of God that people from the nations who have come to trust in the true God through the Redeemer (Jesus Christ) will bring their wealth (their animals, resources, monies, valuables, gifts, talents, all those those things that show forth the greatness of their culture such as art, music, and literature, etc.) and they will submit them to God as acts of worship and in order that they can serve him. They will do it in response to the good news of God’s praises (his saving works) and also the beauty of the bride of God whom he has made beautiful through his saving mercies. I would propose that this kind of thing has been happening all through the church age and will continue to happen.

So, Christian, the Lord does not call any of us to save the whole world. He will raise up thousands and thousands of people to do that. But, he does call you and me to participate, literally to “gospel the praises of the LORD” (60:6). So, fall in love with our Savior so deeply that you cannot keep from singing and shouting forth his praises to those around you and to the ends of the earth. He is able. May we be willing!

4. The End Of Our Mission Will Be A God-glorifying, People-benefiting New Heaven and New Earth For The People Of God.
Here in 60:11-22 we see language that Revelation 21 informs us is fulfilled in the age-to-come:
Your gates shall be open continually; day and night they shall not be shut, that people may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. 12 For the nation and kingdom that will not serve you shall perish; those nations shall be utterly laid waste. 13 The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine, to beautify the place of my sanctuary, and I will make the place of my feet glorious. 14 The sons of those who afflicted you shall come bending low to you, and all who despised you shall bow down at your feet; they shall call you the City of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. 15 Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, with no one passing through, I will make you majestic forever, a joy from age to age. 16 You shall suck the milk of nations; you shall nurse at the breast of kings; and you shall know that I, the Lord, am your Savior and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. 17 Instead of bronze I will bring gold, and instead of iron I will bring silver; instead of wood, bronze, instead of stones, iron. I will make your overseers peace and your taskmasters righteousness. 18 Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. 19 The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.  20 Your sun shall no more go down, nor your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended. 21 Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified. 22 The least one shall become a clan, and the smallest one a mighty nation; I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it.

There will come a day when God vindicates his people, as well as rewards them. At the same time he will glorify himself. It will be in that day we will grasp we have been involved in the greatest, most significant, and most lasting of all works in the world. We will never have one ounce of regret we responded to his call.

So, Christian, go, make disciples of all people groups. We all will not be involved in the same ways, but all of us are to be involved in some ways.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Snapshots Of Revival

In this final post on the subject of revival I offer two snapshots of revival that are found in Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., When God Comes To Church: A Biblical Model For Revival Today (Grand Rapids, Baker, 2000).

In response to the question, “What is revival?” this Old Testament scholar and pastor writes the following (page 5):
Revival is a season in the life of the church when God causes the normal ministry of the gospel to surge forward with extraordinary spiritual power.
Revival is seasonal, not perennial. God causes it; we do not. It is the normal ministry of the gospel, not something eccentric or even different from what the church is always charged to do. What sets revival apart is simply that our usual efforts greatly accelerate in their spiritual effects. God hits the fast-forward button. And this blessing spills out from the church to wash over the nations with an ingathering of many new converts to Christ.

Then, in response to the question, “What might revival look like when it comes, Ortlund explains (page 32):
When God rends the heavens and comes down on his people, a divine power achieves what human effort at its best fails to do. God’s people thirst for the ministry of the Word and receive it with tender meltings of soul. The grip of the enslaving sin is broken. Reconciliation between believers is sought and granted. Spiritual things, rather than material things, capture people’s hearts. A defensive, timid church is transformed into a confident army. Believers joyfully suffer for their Lord. They treasure usefulness to God over career advancement. Communion with God is avidly enjoyed. Churches and Christian organizations reform their policies and procedures. People who had always been indifferent to the gospel now inquire anxiously. And this type of spiritual movement draws in not just the isolated straggler here and there but large numbers of people. A wave of divine grace washes over the church and spills out onto the world. That is what happens when God comes down. And that is how we can pray for the church today.

Oh, God, do such a work within us!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Fruits Of Revival

Why does the church need to be revived?  Sam Storms aptly describes the problem and the need:[1]
Preachers teach the Bible, and the people snore. Homemakers share their faith, and it falls on deaf ears. Lives are broken and rarely get fixed. Bodies are suffering, and few are healed. Marriages are dying, and people just give up. Temptations are faced, and sin flourishes. The poor are hungry and stay that way.
I don’t mean to sound overly pessimistic. There are some who think we’re doing fine, but most of the people I know concede the church’s lamentable impact on the spirituality of its members and its minimal influence on society at large. So, what’s wrong? …I’m convinced the problem is power, or, should I say the absence of it.
…More than a few would point not to the lack of power, but to the abysmal theological immaturity in the church as the source of its struggle. I can’t argue with that. Biblical illiteracy and theological naivete have reached epidemic proportions in the church today. But more than knowledge is needed. Mere doctrine won’t suffice. What the church needs is truth set aflame by the power of the Holy Spirit. What the church needs is the divine energy of God himself bringing what we know to bear on how we live and how we pray and how we love and how we witness. And let’s not forget that teaching is itself a spiritual gift….
…the church desperately needs an infusion of the supernatural activity of God into its life and ministry.

This is why I am praying for revival and encouraging you to join me. In the past couple posts I have unpacked Isaiah 58 to show us what the empowered and revived life looks like. This same chapter in the Old Testament also displays for us the fruits of revival as well. These eight products of true revival give us direction for how to pray. So, once again, I will pray through this passage and ask you to join me.

Lord, as your Spirit works in your church, I ask that your light would break forth in our darkness like the dawn (8a). We don’t know where to go, we don’t have a sense of hope, we are so depressed (10b), and it usually feels like our little light is but a smoldering candle. Don’t snuff it out. Fan the flame so that it burns like the midday sun (10b) and so that others might see your glory in us.

Great physician we often think that we are barely holding on. How can we offer the way, the truth, and the life to those who are dying?  Give us health and strength (8b, 11c), and may your righteousness and your glory protect us from all enemies (8c-d)—seen and unseen. May you apply the medication of your grace and as we see this renewal, may we encourage each other and may those without you sit up and take note of how you have done the impossible in us and can do it in them also.

We confess that we have wanted to go our own way, follow our own course, listen to our own wisdom. So, work in us to want to follow you, direct us continually in the way we should go (11a), satisfy us so we see there are truly no others who can satisfy (11b), invigorate us and give life that produces more life in us and others (11d).

Lord, we seek you and your strength, we seek your presence continually that through us the ruins of a crumbling, weak, rundown church can be repaired—may we rebuild the ruins, raise up the strong foundations for many generations to come, may we restore the streets of your living temple, and may we mend the broken walls that surround your city, the Church (12)!  May we once again be a Christ-built, on-the-move-church against whom the gates of hell cannot prevail!

And finally, Lord, among a people who more often than not yawn at you, grant us the gift of delight in you, bless us as you promised to do with the descendants of the Patriarchs, and may we soar in your mission to your glory as if we are on the wings of eagles (14)!

[1] Sam Storms, The Beginner’s Guide To Spiritual Gifts (Ventura, Ca., Regal/Gospel Light, 2002), 9, 11, 17.