Running Toward the Plague: Christians and Ebola

Running Toward the Plague: Christians and Ebola.

Antoine plague-3rd centuryAs the news around the world and in our own country swells with reports of the spread of the ebola virus, I found this brief commentary about how Christians have reacted to plagues throughout history to be a welcome perspective.

Not only is this 21st century plague a sign of our Lord’s coming and the judgment of death He justly brings on sinners (including ourselves apart from His grace!); it is also an opportunity for Christians to show their true colors and minister to their neighbors, believing and unbelieving. Some are showing this already, especially in West Africa.

If ebola came to our neighborhood, would we be willing to do the same? Are we not the only ones who can offer real, abiding comfort and hope – for the living as well as the dying? Something to think about today and in the days ahead.

Here’s a segment of this article; find all of it at the link above.

Between 250 and 270 A.D. a terrible plague, believed to be measles or smallpox, devastated the Roman Empire. At the height of what came to be known as the Plague of Cyprian, after the bishop St. Cyprian who chronicled what was happening, 5,000 people died every day in Rome alone.

The plague coincided with the first empire-wide persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius. Not surprisingly, Decius and other enemies of the Church blamed Christians for the plague. That claim was, however, undermined by two inconvenient facts: Christians died from the plague like everybody else and, unlike everybody else, they cared for the victims of the plague, including their pagan neighbors.

This wasn’t new—Christians had done the same thing during the Antonine Plague a century earlier. As Rodney Stark wrote in “The Rise of Christianity,” Christians stayed in the afflicted cities when pagan leaders, including physicians, fled.

For yet another story and perspective on Christians and ebola, see this Christianity Today story (dated Oct.15, 2014).

Serving Those With Mental Illness: Free eBook | HeadHeartHand Blog

Serving Those With Mental Illness: Free eBook | HeadHeartHand Blog.

mental healthToday we can also call attention to this important notice from Dr.David Murray (professor at Puritan Reformed Seminary here in Grand Rapids, MI), who enlisted help in serving those with mental illness, out of which need arose a small eBook that guides pastors, counselors, and church members.

If you have seen this need in the church or in your family firsthand and struggled with how to help, this significant book may help. It is available as a free download through the link provided on Murray’s blog post.

Here is the first part of that post, explaining how this book came to be.

What possible good can come out of schizophrenia? What possible good can come out of losing a loved one due to schizophrenia-related complications?

Hard to imagine any good resulting from such painful and tragic circumstances isn’t it?

Well, today I want to encourage you by demonstrating how much good God can bring good out of such evil, how much light He can create out of such darkness, and how much comfort He can produce out of such deep sorrow.

Over the last couple of years, I got to know a Christian family who had seen family members suffer with mental illness, including schizophrenia. A close relative died from schizophrenia-related issues and left a substantial sum of money in his estate. After much prayer and consultation, the family decided to donate the money for research into mental illness and how it affects Christians, pastors, and churches.

J.Calvin on Psalm 149: “…Praise is their continued exercise.”

JCalvinPic1To benefit further from the Word of God in Psalm 149, we also post here the comments of the great Reformer John Calvin on vss.1 and 2. It may be noted that Calvin places this Psalm in the post-exile period of Israel’s history, that is, after the return from captivity. Keep that in mind as you also profit from his thoughts.

 1. Sing to Jehovah a new song.

The object, I think, of the Psalmist, is to encourage them to expect the full and complete deliverance, some prelude of which had been suddenly and unexpectedly given in the permission to return. As the Church was not fully restored at once, but was with difficulty and only after a long period brought to a state of vigor, comfort such as this was much needed. The Spirit of God would also furnish a remedy for evils which were afterwards to break out; for the Church had scarcely begun to respire when it was again harassed with various evils, and oppressed by the cruel tyranny of Antiochus, which was followed up by a dreadful dispersion.

The Psalmist had good reason therefore for animating the godly to look forward for the full accomplishment of the mercy of God, that they might be persuaded of divine protection until such time as the Messiah should arise who would gather all Israel. He calls this a new song, as we have noticed elsewhere, to distinguish it from those with which the saints commonly and daily praised God, for praise is their continued exercise.

It follows that he speaks of some rare and unusual benefit, demanding signal and particular thanksgiving. And I am disposed to think that whoever may have been the author of the Psalm, he alludes to that passage in Isaiah, (Isaiah 42:10,) “Sing unto the Lord a new song,” when he speaks of the future restoration of the Church, and the eternal kingdom of Christ.

 

2. Let Israel rejoice in his Maker.

He insists upon the same point, that the Lord’s people should rest firmly persuaded that their family had not been chosen out in vain from the rest of the world, but that God would be mindful of his covenant, and not allow the mercies which he had extended to them to fail or become extinct. Although they had been temporarily deprived of the inheritance of the land of Canaan, which was the pledge of their adoption, the Psalmist calls God their Maker, and king of the sons of Zion, to remind them that when adopted to a pre-eminency above other nations, this was a species of new creation.

So in Psalm 45:6, the Israelites are called “the work of God’s hands,” not merely because they were like other men created by him, but because he had formed them anew, and distinguished them with a new honor, that, of being separated front the whole human race.

The Death of His Saints

Psalm116-15With the sudden death of two, precious saints – one young (25), one middle aged (55) – in our PR Christian community in the past week, I find this “Grace Gems” devotional from yesterday very fitting – and very comforting to every child of God. May it speak peace to our hearts in the face of that fearful, yet defeated last enemy, death.

The death of His saints!

(Alexander Smellie, “The Secret Place” 1907)

“Precious in the sight of the Lord, is the death of His saints!” Psalm 116:15

To me death has its unlovely aspects. I may be ready by God’s grace to meet it–and yet I recoil instinctively from the act of dying.
It seems unnatural.
It is usually attended by pain and suffering.
It is a farewell to dear and beloved associations.
It is a going out into an untrodden land.
I cannot coax myself to love the dreadful experience. And therefore I am glad to think that there is another side to the matter, and that to my Lord, my death is precious. And why should it be so?

Let me consider the name by which He calls me, and I shall begin to understand. “His saints!” That is His title for His sons and daughters, among whom I have been enrolled.
The people of His own purchased possession.
The redeemed people whom He has set apart for Himself.
He owns them in virtue of the stupendous price which He paid for them.
He has been at infinite pains to redeem and save and cleanse them.
Nothing which concerns them appears indifferent to Him.
The death of the humblest of them, is of stupendous moment in His sight.

Let me reflect, too, that death is one of the means His grace and power employ to uplift and crown me. It looks as though I scarcely could know God thoroughly, or confide in Him completely–until I learn to lean upon Him . . .
when heart and flesh faint and fail,
when the long and close fellowship of body and soul is sundered,
and when I pass forth alone into the mystery of unseen eternity.
Then He becomes more indispensable than ever. Then my trust must be simple and absolute. Then, when lover and friend are put far away, I cling to Him and refuse to let Him go. Death teaches us this perfection of dependence.

And let me predict to myself the future to which death is the doorway. I can scarcely imagine it . . .
its spotless holiness,
its unfathomable bliss,
its endless pleasures,
its divine love.

But He sees it clearly, and comprehends it in its breadth and length and depth and height. He is familiar . . .
with the flowers and fruits of His upper garden,
with the refreshment of the fourfold river,
with the music of the better country,
with the city’s foundations of gems, and its gates of pearl, and its streets of gold.

Is it a marvel that He should pronounce desirable and precious, that loosening and wrench from earth which liberates me for a Heaven like this?

When I think my Lord’s thoughts, I shall cease to be so afraid of death!

J.Calvin on Psalm 147: “…God will not suffer his work to fail.”

calvin-preaching-genevaFor our spiritual profit as we meditate on Psalm 147 today, we may also find edification and encouragement from these thoughts of John Calvin on v.2. This is a lengthy quote, but worth keeping together, since the entire section is of great instruction and comfort to us as church in this 21st century.

May this Reformer’s comments also serve to lead us to praise our God for His work in and with His church throughout her history, including in our day. May we too remember that “God will not suffer his work to fail.”

2. Jehovah building up, etc.

He begins with the special mercy of God towards his Church and people, in choosing to adopt one nation out of all others, and selecting a fixed place where his name might be called upon. When he is here called the builder of Jerusalem, the allusion is not so much to the outward form and structure, as to the spiritual worship of God. It is a common figure in treating of the Church to speak of it as a building or temple.

The meaning is, that the Church was not of human erection, but formed by the supernatural power of God; for it was from no dignity of the place itself that Jerusalem became the only habitation of God in our world, nor did it come to this honor by counsel, industry, effort or power of man, but because God was pleased to consecrate it to himself. He employed the labor and instrumentality of men indeed in erecting his sanctuary there, but this ought never to take from his grace, which alone distinguished the holy city from all others.

In calling God the former and architect of the Church, his object is to make us aware that by his power it remains in a firm condition, or is restored when in ruins. Hence he infers that it is in his power and arbitrament to gather those who have been dispersed.

Here the Psalmist would comfort those miserable exiles who had been scattered in various quarters, with the hope of being recovered from their dispersion, as God had not adopted them without a definite purpose into one body. As he had ordered his temple and altar to be erected at Jerusalem, and had fixed his seat there, the Psalmist would encourage the Jews who were exiles from their native country, to entertain good hope of a return, intimating that it was no less properly God’s work to raise up his Church when ruined and fallen down, than to found it at first.

It was not, therefore, the Psalmist’s object directly to celebrate the free mercy of God in the first institution of the Church, but to argue from its original, that God would not suffer his Church altogether to fall, having once founded it with the design of preserving it for ever; for he forsakes not the work of his own hands.

This comfort ought to be improved by ourselves at the present period, when we see the Church on every side so miserably rent asunder, leading us to hope that all the elect who have been adjoined to Christ’s body, will be gathered unto the unity of the faith, although now scattered like members torn from one another, and that the mutilated body of the Church, which is daily distracted, will be restored to its entireness; for God will not suffer his work to fail.

J.Calvin on Psalm 146: “…So many reasons why we should hope in him.”

JCalvinPic1For our further meditation on Psalm 146 today, we include this commentary of John Calvin on vss.7ff., where he remarks on the character and works of God that call us to hope in Him and to praise Him. May His words encourage us to see God for Who He is and to fall down before Him in perfect (complete) trust and adoration.

7. Rendering right, etc.

He instances other kinds both of the power and goodness of God, which are just so many reasons why we should hope in him. All of them bear upon the point, that the help of God will be ready and forthcoming to those who are in the lowest circumstances, that accordingly our miseries will be no barrier in the way of his helping us; nay, that such is his nature, that he is disposed to assist all in proportion to their necessity.

He says first, that God renders justice to the oppressed, to remind us that although in the judgment of sense God connives at the injuries done to us, he will not neglect the duty which properly belongs to him of forcing the wicked to give an account of their violence. As God, in short, would have the patience of his people tried, he here expressly calls upon the afflicted not to faint under their troubles, but composedly wait for deliverance from one who is slow in interposing, only that he may appear eventually as the righteous judge of the world.

It follows, that he gives bread to the hungry. We learn from this that he is not always so indulgent to his own as to load them with abundance, but occasionally withdraws his blessing, that he may succor them when reduced to hunger. Had the Psalmist said that God fed his people with abundance, and pampered them, would not any of those under want or in famine have immediately desponded? The goodness of God is therefore properly extended farther to the feeding of the hungry.

What is added is to the same purpose — that he looses them that are bound, and enlightens the blind. As it is the fate of his people to be straitened by anxiety, or pressed down by human tyranny, or reduced to extremity, in a manner equivalent to being shut up in the worst of dungeons, it was necessary to announce, by way of comfort, that God can easily find an outgate for us when brought into such straits.

To enlighten the blind is the same with giving light in the midst of darkness. When at any time we know not what to do — are in perplexity, and lie confounded and dismayed, as if the darkness of death had fallen upon us — let us learn to ascribe this title to God, that he may dissipate the gloom and open our eyes. So when he is said to raise up the bowed down, we are taught to take courage when weary and groaning under any burden.

Nor is it merely that God would here have his praises celebrated; he in a manner stretches out his hand to the blind, the captives, and the afflicted, that they may cast their grief’s and cares upon him. There is a reason for repeating the name Jehovah three times. In this way he stimulates and excites men to seek him who will often rather chafe and pine away in their miseries, than betake themselves to this sure asylum.

What is added in the close of the verse — that Jehovah loves the righteous, would seem to be a qualification of what was formerly said. There are evidently many who, though they are grievously afflicted, and groan with anxiety, and lie in darkness, experience no comfort from God; and this because in such circumstances they provoke God more by their contumacy, and by failing for the most part to seek his mercy, reap the just reward of their unthankfulness.

The Psalmist therefore very properly restricts what he had said in general terms of God’s helping the afflicted, to the righteous — that those who wish to experience his deliverance, may address themselves to him in the sincere exercise of godliness.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 146

Psalm 146For this new Sunday, as we awaken to new mercies and fresh revelations of God’s faithfulness (Lam. 3:22,23), we turn to the Word of God in Psalm 146.

As we continue to make our way through this OT Psalter, using it especially to prepare ourselves for the worship of the Lord in His house of prayer, we note that these last five psalms all begin and end on the note of “Praise ye the LORD” (or simply, “Hallelujah”). As such, these closing songs of the OT church’s songbook are most fitting for our worship – public and private – for the theme of our worship as well as of our daily walk must be the praise and adoration of our sovereign God and King.

And as we look at Psalm 146, we see that this is the psalmist’s resolve and testimony too. He will not praise the Lord occasionally or sporadically, but as long as he lives and as long as he has being (v.2). This is the way we must tell our own souls to praise God (v.1).

And the psalm writer also gives himself and us good reason to praise the Lord. The God of Jacob (which is another way to say that He is the God of the covenant and church) is the God of boundless power and saving help for His people. Read carefully the things he mentions here in describing the Lord and His power and works. And note too how broad and deep these works and ways of the Lord are, from creating the heaven and earth out of nothing to relieving the fatherless and widow. O, yes, this God reigns – forever! And He is “Thy God, O Zion, unto all generations” (v.10).

How foolish then to put our trust in anyone else but this sovereign Lord! The psalmist calls the people of God not to place their trust in princes or in the son of man (v.3). For obvious reasons (vss.3b,4). Rather he points us to the incredible happiness – and blessedness! – of having the one, true God for our help and hope (v.5). Is He such to us? Have we placed and do we place our trust in Him alone? Is He our only hope, in life and in death, in good times and in bad times, in prosperity and in adversity?

As we come into His presence today, may we find Him to be all that He is revealed to be here – the God of amazing creation, of faithful providence, and of gracious salvation. In Jesus Christ, the Son of Man Whom He made strong to save us and help us in all of life and in all of life’s circumstances. And finding Him so, may we place all our hope (trust) in Him alone. So that with solid hope in our souls, we may say with the psalmist, “Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.”

Psalm 146

146 Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.

While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God:

Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:

Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. TheLord looseth the prisoners:

The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind: the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down: the Lord loveth the righteous:

The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.

10 The Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the Lord.

If you desire to meditate on Psalm 146 through music, I encourage you to listen to a versification of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “Trust and Praise” to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,
O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises
Of my God through all my days.

2. Put no confidence in princes,
Nor for help on man depend;
He shall die, to dust returning,
And his purposes shall end.

3. Happy is the man that chooses
Israel’s God to be his aid;
He is blest whose hope of blessing
On the Lord his God is stayed.

4. Heaven and earth the Lord created,
Seas and all that they contain;
He delivers from oppression,
Righteousness He will maintain.

5. Food He daily gives the hungry,
Sets the mourning prisoner free,
Raises those bowed down with anguish,
Makes the sightless eyes to see.

6. Well Jehovah loves the righteous,
And the stranger He befriends,
Helps the fatherless and widow,
Judgment on the wicked sends.

7. Over all God reigns forever,
Through all ages He is King;
Unto Him, thy God, O Zion,
Joyful hallelujahs sing.

J.Calvin on Psalm 142: David “made known his griefs with unsuspecting confidence to the Lord.”

JCalvinPic1For our continued reflection on Psalm 142 today, we also post these thoughts on John Calvin, taken from his commentary on the Psalms. Here Calvin comments on the opening words and setting of this psalm, pointing us to David’s godly example of prayer. May his thoughts also encourage us to bring all our burdens and cares to the Lord in prayer.

1. I cried to Jehovahetc.

It showed singular presence of mind in David that he was not paralyzed with fear, or that he did not in a paroxysm of fury take vengeance upon his enemy, as he easily might have done; and that he was not actuated by despair to take away his life, but composedly addressed himself to the exercise of prayer. There was good reason why the title should have been affixed to the Psalm to note this circumstance, and David had good grounds for mentioning how he commended himself to God.

Surrounded by the army of Saul, and hemmed in by destruction on every side, how was it possible for him to have spared so implacable an enemy, had he not been fortified against the strongest temptations by prayer? The repetition he makes use of indicates his having prayed with earnestness, so as to be impervious to every assault of temptation.

He tells us still more clearly in the next verse that he disburdened his ears unto God. To pour out one’s thoughts and tell over his afflictions implies the reverse of those perplexing anxieties which men brood over inwardly to their own distress, and by which they torture themselves, and are chafed by their afflictions rather than led to God; or it implies the reverse of those frantic exclamations to which others give utterance who find no comfort in the superintending providence and care of God.

In short, we are left to infer that while he did not give way before men to loud and senseless lamentations, neither did he suffer himself to be tormented with inward and suppressed cares, but made known his grief’s with unsuspecting confidence to the Lord.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 142

Psalm 142To guide us in preparing for our worship of Jehovah through Jesus our Savior this Lord’s Day we consider the Word of God through David in Psalm 142. The title of this psalm refers to it as a “maschil” of David, which it to say it is a contemplation or meditation of the psalmist. Being so, it also calls for our careful meditation.

The heading also points to the psalm’s historical setting; “when he was in the cave”, that is, when David was fleeing from Saul and hid himself in a cave (There were at least two such incidents.). Most commentators believe this is a reference to the second cave hiding of David (cave of Adullam), recorded in I Sam.22:1-5, an incident which also provides the background for Psalm 57.

We see, then, that the setting of this psalm is again that of suffering, specifically, the suffering of persecution. And even more specifically, persecution at the hands of those who were in the church. David was being pursued by wicked king Saul, who belonged outwardly to the kingdom of God and professed His name.

And as we see from these words, David was in a bad way. His “spirit was overwhelmed within” him (v.3), because he was “brought very low” (v.6). His persecutors (Saul and his band) were stronger than he (v.6b) and had set snares for him (v.3b). David’s life was on the line and he could see no way out.

Besides, David felt all alone. According to v.4, he had no one at his right hand; refuge failed and no one cared for his soul. It is one thing to be in trouble; it is quite another to stand alone, feeling that all have forsaken you. No wonder David considered his soul to be “prison” (v.7).

And yet, as we see from the rest of this psalm, David was not alone. Jehovah God was with him! With him as his refuge and portion (v.5). With him as the One Who is all knowing: “then thou knewest my path”. With him as the One Who sovereign over this situation and stronger than Saul and his mighty men. Yes, his God cared for his soul!

And therefore to Him David cried and made supplication (brought his needs – v.1), pouring out his complaint (musing, meditation) and showing his trouble (v.2). Trusting in his God, he asked for deliverance (vss.6,7). And confident of the Lord’s blessing, he promised to praise His name (v.7).

From this psalm we learn again how to behave when we are persecuted and in trouble; how to handle trials and temptation; how to hang on to the God Who hangs on to us and Who will never leave us or forsake us.

But above all, we learn to look at Christ, our suffering Savior, Who endured such persecution and the ultimate forsaking for our sakes. In this psalm hear His cry for help as He faced Calvary for us, to deliver us from the greatest prison – sin! And hear God hear His Son and see Him through His trouble, so that He and we triumph over sin and Satan and death and hell.

Read David’s meditation with your eye on Jesus. And your soul will sing with sweet comfort and hope, no matter what your sin is or what your situation may be.

Psalm 142

I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication.

I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble.

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me.

I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.

I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.

Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I.

Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.

PsalterAppIf you desire to meditate on Psalm 142 through music, I encourage you to listen to a versification of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. To God my earnest voice I raise,
To God my voice imploring prays;
Before His face my grief I show
And tell my trouble and my woe.

2. When gloom and sorrow compass me,
The path I take is known to Thee,
And all the toils that foes do lay
To snare Thy servant in his way.

3. All unprotected, lo, I stand,
No friendly guardian at my hand,
No place of flight or refuge near,
And none to whom my soul is dear.

4. O Lord, my Saviour, now to Thee,
Without a hope besides, I flee,
To Thee, my shelter from the strife,
My portion in the land of life.

5. Be Thou my help when troubles throng,
For I am weak and foes are strong;
My captive soul from prison bring,
And thankful praises I will sing.

6. The righteous then shall gather round
To share the blessing I have found,
Their hearts made glad because they see
How richly God has dealt with me.

And here is the PR Psalm-singing Choir with a performance of this Ps.# from their 2012 concert:

New and Notable Books July | T.Challies

New & Notable Books July | Challies Dot Com.

Christian pastor/author/blogger Tim Challies has posted his latest set of new books for this month of July. He has highlighted a variety of profitable titles again.

Below are a few of them, along with Challies’ description; find the rest at the link above.

Lifelines-MFaberezLifelines for Tough Times by Mike Fabarez. Here is how the publisher describes this one: “When tough times hit, we often find ourselves vulnerable—to doubt, fear, worry, even depression. We ask, ‘Does God care? Has He forgotten me?’ So why does God allow suffering? Author Mike Fabarez—who is well acquainted with deep pain himself as the father of a special-needs child and as a pastor who has counseled many through life’s hurts—looks to the truths of Scripture for answers. Along the way, he shares how complete trust in God alone can restore your confidence and hope; the power of focusing on God’s eternal goals for you in life’s temporary setbacks; God’s promises to love and protect you no matter what happens. This book will not only help you understand why God allows suffering—it will provide you with the resources to stand strong, rest in God’s care, and endure!” It comes with endorsements from John MacArthur, Joni Eareckson Tada, Jay Adams, and others. (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

60 People-CH-Gansky60 People Who Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky. “The Church exists today in its current form because of the people who have come before us. From a consummate storyteller comes this collection of inspiring biographical sketches of people who played pivotal roles in advancing the Kingdom of God on earth. In rich prose and spanning twenty centuries of church history, these engaging narratives range from the well-known to the obscure, highlighting personalities such as Josephus, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Aquinas, Galileo, John Calvin, Blaise Pascal, Jonathan Edwards, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, William Wilberforce, G. K. Chesterton, and many others. Readers will feel the past come alive and mingle in their minds with the present state of the Church, encouraging and galvanizing them to live their own faith courageously in our time—and shape the Church of the future.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 496 other followers