When I Feel Stuck (or Handling “Wet Wednesdays”) – Neil Stewart

TT-April-2016This fine article from the April 2016 Tabletalk on how to deal with seasons of discouragement and depression in our lives is worth your reading, in my estimation. And worth passing on to a friend or family member who also struggles with these very real things in his/her Christian life.

I give you a portion of it here; you will find the rest at the Ligonier link below.

Stewart begins by describing the condition we experience:

The soul knows its own wet Wednesday afternoons. All prodigals, we walk home through a world blighted by Adam’s choice. Fallenness dampens every joy. Burdens heavy with guilt, shame, and regret bite into our shoulders. Fears within and troubles without loom black like thunder. We yearn to hear more of the running footsteps of a welcoming father, his strong arms wrapped around, his tears warm and salty on our cheeks. But disappointed longings follow us as constant companions. Our best moments are always interrupted, and like the weekend for the midweek schoolboy, heaven can feel far enough away to seem forever away.

The worst of these times go unexplained. No particular sin, failure, or mistake stands out as the culprit. We feel “blah” and don’t know why (Ps. 42:5). In this far place, we fall easy prey to a dark theology built upon feelings. A depressing inevitability follows: We don’t feel God speaking, so we stop reading our Bibles. We don’t sense God listening, so we stop saying our prayers. Inertia dampens everything; we go nowhere. What to do?

Indeed, what to do?! Here is part of his answer:

First, remember: you are not alone. All God’s children have trodden these paths before. How often the psalmists felt abandoned, yet they still reached for God in song. David cried out: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” (Ps. 13:1). The Sons of Korah asked, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (42:1). These saints were coming before the Lord and asking how long God would hide His face from them. There is a lesson here: good men often feel worse than they are. These men begin in a moment of dark despair, but they do not end there. As the psalmists agonize, their hearts leak Scripture. In the darkness, back beneath the sense of dereliction, God is still there, giving them words, helping them Godward, inspiring the Bible. Yahweh is always nearer to us than we feel.

Yes, that “first” is truly first! “Hope thou in God!” Psalm 42:5

Source: When I Feel Stuck by Neil Stewart

Note to Self: Jesus is Enough

First, read Philippians 4:11-13.

     Are you satisfied? It is pretty obvious that the answer is often no. …It is true; you need what you lack, but what you lack is satisfaction in Jesus.

When you find your deepest satisfaction in Jesus, you are protected from bitterness in times of want and pride in times of abundance. The world and all good gifts within it are temporal blessings. For you, Christian, their presence should remind you of the Giver, and their absence should remind you of that which never fades nor can be taken away.

…Both guilt and greed in times of abundance are the responses of your heart when Jesus is not more glorious to you than the worldly gifts God has also given. If Jesus is your greatest treasure, you respond to God’s generosity in all areas of life with great joy and the desire to share what God has given you – both the worldly goods and the heavenly gospel.

On the other hand, you know what it is like to have little in this world and then struggle with jealousy and bitterness. But the root of the problem is the same – Jesus is not your greatest treasure. Jesus is enough. Do you believe that? …But that kind of satisfaction is only experienced when we understand our greatest needs to be redemption and restoration. God in Christ has reconciled us to himself, is renewing our minds, and promises to raise us from the dead, and we will dwell in righteousness and peace forever. If you have this, what more do you need?

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from Chap.8 “Jesus is Enough” in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.49-51.

Christianity and Islam: Theologies Compared and Contrasted – J.D. Greear

TT-April-2016Yesterday I finished reading the main articles in this month’s issue of Tabletalk, including those on the theme of Islam. Both of the last two on this subject were excellent, including this one by Dr. J.D. Greear, author of Breaking the Islam Code (the other article  is “Sharing the Gospel with Muslims” by Dr. Bassam M. Chedid).

In his article – as the title indicates – Greear compares and contrasts the teachings of Christianity with those of Islam. After addressing a few misconceptions, he focuses on what he believes is the central difference – the doctrine of salvation. He calls Islam “the ultimate religion of works” and lays out plainly why this teaching is false and why Christianity has the only answer for man’s need of salvation.

This is what he says by way of introduction to this matter:

The biggest difference between Christianity and Islam is our view of salvation. Islam stands as a paragon of works-righteousness. Christianity alone stands as a religion of grace.

The Qur’an gives a long and detailed list of how to act, dress, think, and behave. If you follow carefully these instructions, Allah will approve of you, and you are more likely to be accepted into eternal bliss. Islam is the ultimate religion of works. From top to bottom, it exemplifies the principle “I obey; therefore, I am accepted.”

From here, Greear lays out three (3) reasons why this religion of works never works. Here is the first:

(1) Works-righteousness fails to address the “root” idolatries that drive our sin.

The root of sin is esteeming something to be a more satisfying object of worship than God. Works-righteousness religions, including Islam, fail to address that issue. They simply give a prescribed set of practices to avoid judgment or inherit blessings.

Islam, for example, warns Muslims of the terrors of hell and uses that to motivate Muslims to obey. It promises them sensual luxuries in heaven if they live righteously. Many Muslims pursue these things without caring for God at all. They are using God. For them, God’s favor is a means to an end. But any end other than God is idolatry.

The starkest New Testament example of this kind of attitude is Judas Iscariot. Many New Testament scholars believe that Judas betrayed Jesus because he was disappointed with him. Judas wanted a Messiah who would reward “the righteous” (himself included) with power and money. Jesus taught that He Himself was the reward. Judas never accepted this. For him, Jesus was always a means to something else, and never the end itself.

Love for God is genuine only when God is a means to nothing else but God. Righteous acts are righteous only when they are done out of a love for righteousness and not as a means to anything else.

The Qur’an is not an adoring, worshiping love letter about God. It is a guide for what behavior will increase your chances of avoiding hell. Merit, threat, and reward form the entire foundation on which Islam is built. And this never addresses the root of man’s sin—our desire to substitute God with something else.

To finish reading the other two reasons, visit the Ligonier link below.

Source: Theologies Compared and Contrasted by J.D. Greear

Note to Self: Sing

      You really should sing more. You should sing more than at gathered worship with the church. You should sing in the car, while working in the yard, and in your home. And when you sing, you should do so with more than lungs and lips. You should sing with your heart, mind, and soul.

…People sing about the things that capture their hearts and things that give them joy. People sing of heroes, victory, longing, and hope. People even sing as a way to express their sorrow. Does anyone have more reasons to sing than you? As a sinner who has been forgiven, a slave who has been freed, a blind man who has received sight, a spiritual cripple who has been healed – all by the gospel – you have real reasons to be known as a person of song!

It is one thing to tell the world of God’s work of redemption in Jesus; it is another to sing of it. Anyone can parrot truth, but to sing of it – from the soul – reveals how you feel. Song is the natural and appropriate response to the gospel, because singing is one of the highest expressions of joy.

So why aren’t you singing ‘always, only for [your] king?’ Have the mercies of God grown small in your heart? Is there little joy, little gratitude, little wonder? Do you just not feel like singing? The confession of sin and gospel meditation will lead you to song, so start there. There are songs of praise, thanksgiving, confession, lament, and victory that need your voice.

…So join the chorus of God’s people, who have always been known as a people who sing.

Note-to-self-ThornTaken from “Part One: The Gospel and God” (Chap.4 “Sing”) in Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself by Joe Thorn (Crossway, 2011), pp.41-42.

Resurrection Sunday 2016

EasterMessageFor this Resurrection Day Sunday 2016 we post a number of quotes on our Lord Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead, beginning with the Scripture itself.

May the Lord fill you and yours with the joy and hope of His victory over death and the life everlasting He gives to all who trust in Him.

Matthew 28:1-8

In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre. And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it. His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow: And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.

1 Corinthians 15:12-22:

Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

J.C. Ryle:

“The resurrection of Christ is one of the foundation-stones of Christianity. It was the seal of the great work that He came on earth to do. It was the crowning proof that the ransom He paid for sinners was accepted, the atonement for sin accomplished, the head of him who had the power of death bruised, and the victory won.”

“We need not wonder that so much importance is attached to our Lord’s resurrection. It is the seal and memorial stone of the great work of redemption, which He came to do. It is the crowning proof that He has paid the debt He undertook to pay on our behalf, won the battle He fought to deliver us from hell, and is accepted as our guarantee and our substitute by our Father in heaven.

Had He never come forth from the prison of the grave, how could we ever have been sure that our ransom had been fully paid (1 Corinthians 15:17)? Had He never risen from His conflict with the last enemy, how could we have felt confident that He has overcome the power of death from the devil (Hebrews 2:14)? But thanks be unto God, we are not left in doubt. The Lord Jesus really rose again for our justification.”

John Calvin:

“The Bible says he was raised not just after the blood-shedding, but by it. This means that what the death of Christ accomplished was so full and so prefect that the resurrection was the reward and vindication of Christ’s achievement in death.”

Charles H. Spurgeon:

“There is a resurrection after death. Let this never be forgotten. The life that we live here in the flesh is not all. The visible world around us is not the only world with which we have to do. All is not over when the last breath is drawn, and men and women are carried to their long home in the grave. The trumpet shall one day sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. All that are in the graves shall hear Christ’s voice and come forth–those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of damnation. This is one of the great foundation truths of the Christian religion. Let us cling to it firmly, and never let it go.”

Martin Luther:

“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime.”

Jesus, “the Conqueror of Death”, Buried – J. Calvin

The burial of Christ is now added, as an intermediate transition from the ignominy of the cross to the glory of the resurrection. True, indeed, God determined, for another reason that Christ should be buried, that it might be more fully attested that he suffered real death on our account.

But yet it ought to be regarded as the principal design, that in this manner the cursing which he had endured for a short time began to be removed; for his body was not thrown into a ditch in the ordinary way, but honorably laid in a hewn sepulchre.

Although at that time the weakness of the flesh was still visible and the divine power of the Spirit was not clearly seen before his resurrection; yet God determined by this, as a sort of preparation, to shadow out what he was shortly afterwards to do, that he might exalt gloriously above the heavens his Son, the conqueror of death.

JCalvin1Taken from John Calvin’s Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), XVII: 330-331.

Jesus and the Cup – F. Leahy

The apparently innocent cup offered to Christ had a sinister origin. Even as he tasted the sedative he recognized the hand of the Tempter. Mocked, scourged, worn out as he staggered to Golgotha beneath the burning sun, he craved a cool draught to quench his raging thirst. The Tempter said, ‘Drink! This will cool your tongue.’ Satan knew that the One about to be crucified was the Messiah.

…Christ saw the situation in a flash. He refused Satan’s cup. He was about to descend into even greater depths of suffering as he experienced the unmitigated wrath of a holy God against sin and as he grappled with the legions of darkness that were hurled against him. In that hell not so much as a drop of water may cool his tongue, nor relieve in the smallest degree his agony.

What if Christ had accepted that cup…? Then, with a befuddled brain, he could not have prayed for the soldiers who were waiting to nail him to the cross. Then those seven great sayings on the cross would not have been uttered. Then his disobedience would at last have been broken and all would have been lost. How much was at stake as they pushed the rim of that cup towards the Saviour’s lips! Everything! All of the divine decree, all of prophecy, all of redemption was at stake as that appealing cup was offered to the Suffering One again and again.

…The Great High Priest, offering the once-for-all sacrifice for sin, must know what he does, must in no way be insensible or inattentive. In this crucial encounter with Satan the Saviour must not be doped, nor must he allow the emphasis to shift from the realm of the spirit to that if the body. The body must serve the spirit, not vice versa. Viewed from every conceivable angle, this was Satan’s cup. His fingermarks were all over it. The fetid stench of his breath clung to it. Christ pushed it away. He spurned it with all his being. He drank only from the Father’s cup and now he hands to each one of his redeemed that precious cup that overflows with the sweet wine of his love, the cup of salvation.

CrossHeBore-LeahyTaken from chapter 11, “Satan’s Cup Refused” (based on Mark 15:23) by Frederick S. Leahy in The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer (Banner of Truth, 1996), pp.64-66.

Hymns on the Passion and Death of Christ – A.Toplady

ATopladyFor our reflection on the sufferings and death of Christ today we post these two poems by Augustus M. Toplady, one set to music in a familiar hymn, the other perhaps not as well known but also edifying and comforting. Both of these are taken from the website poemhunter.com.

Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee!
Let the Water and the Blood,
From thy riven Side which flow’d,
Be of Sin the double Cure,
Cleanse me from its Guilt and Pow’r.

Not the Labours of my Hands
Can fulfil thy Law’s demands:
Could my Zeal no respite know,
Could my Tears for ever flow,
All for Sin could not atone:
Thou must save, and Thou alone!

Nothing in my Hand I bring;
Simply to thy Cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for Dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for Grace;
Foul, I to the Fountain fly:
Wash me, SAVIOUR, or I die!

Whilst I draw this fleeting Breath–
When my Eye-strings break in Death–
When I soar through tracts unknown–
See Thee on thy Judgment-Throne–
ROCK of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in THEE!

Fountain Of Never-Ceasing Grace

Fountain of never ceasing grace,
Thy saints’ exhaustless theme,
Great object of immortal praise,
Essentially supreme;
We bless Thee for the glorious fruits
Thine incarnation gives;
The righteousness which grace imputes,
And faith alone receives.

Whom heaven’s angelic host adores,
Was slaughtered for our sin;
The guilt, O Lord was wholly ours,
The punishment was Thine:
Our God in the flesh, to set us free,
Was manifested here;
And meekly bare our sins, that we
His righteousness might wear.

Imputatively guilty then
Our substitute was made,
That we the blessings might obtain
For which His blood was shed:
Himself He offered on the cross,
Our sorrows to remove;
And all He suffered was for us,
And all He did was love.

In Him we have a righteousness,
By God Himself approved;
Our rock, our sure foundation this,
Which never can be moved.
Our ransom by His death He paid,
For all His people giv’n,
The law He perfectly obeyed,
That they might enter heav’n.

As all, when Adam sinned alone,
In his transgression died,
So by the righteousness of One,
Are sinners justified,
We to Thy merit, gracious Lord,
With humblest joy submit,
Again to Paradise restored,
In Thee alone complete.

Our souls His watchful love retrieves,
Nor lets them go astray,
His righteousness to us He gives,
And takes our sins away:
We claim salvation in His right,
Adopted and forgiv’n,
His merit is our robe of light,
His death the gate of heav’n.

Caiaphas and Christ: One for All!

Caiaphas has followed his declared policy – one for all. There is a strange irony here, for unwittingly the high priest was enunciating a principle that lay at the very heart of redemption. ‘The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Matt.20:28). The Apostle Paul elaborates on this principle. ‘For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous’ (Rom.5:19). One for all!

So another voice has spoken in Caiaphas’ court. That word was spoken in the eternal counsels of the Godhead, and Christ had accepted it on behalf of those whom the Father had given to him. One for all! Did he hear that voice again as he stood condemned by the Sanhedrin? He certainly had not forgotten it.

Ultimately two voices have spoken in that courtroom, the voice of God and the voice of Satan: both said, ‘one for all.’ But there is fundamental disagreement between them. God speaks in terms of redemptive substitution, substitutionary atonement; Caiaphas, who is Satan’s tool as much as Judas, speaks in terms of elimination. God would have his Son die for his people so that they might live; Caiaphas would have Christ die in order to be rid of him, and so he sticks by his policy that it was expedient that one man should die for the people rather than that the whole nation should perish.

Thus predestination and human responsibility meet as Christ is condemned. He was ‘delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,’ yet ‘crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men’ (Acts 2:23). God’s eternal purpose was realized in the death of his Son. The one for the many!

So the believer can say, ‘Christ embraced me with all my sin and guilt that I might embrace him in all his righteousness.’ That is what Luther had in mind when he said, ‘He died for me; he made his righteousness mine and made my sin his own; and if he made my sin his own, then I do not have it, and I am free.’

CrossHeBore-LeahyTaken from chapter 7, “Sentenced to Death” (based on Matt.26:65,66) by Frederick S. Leahy in The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer (Banner of Truth, 1996), pp.41-42.

“Art thou the Christ?” Christ Taking the Oath – F.Leahy

     Warfield reminds us that our Lord’s life of humiliation ‘was not his misfortune, but his achievement’ and that ‘He was never the victim but always the Master of circumstance.’ This must be borne in mind as we reflect on the Saviour obediently taking the oath. His response was clear; ‘You have said so’, meaning, ‘Yes, indeed; I am the Christ.’

…Christ was fully aware of the authority of the Sanhedrin and of his Messianic calling. He would be faithful to both. He took the oath. …Christ knew that his answer would lead to his death, but he made his noble confession and added, ‘I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ …He saw beyond the cross and the resurrection to his glorious return as Judge and he saw his enthronement at God’s right hand. In effect he was saying that when he returned the situation would be reversed. On that day his present judges would stand before his tribunal and he would be their Judge!

…All agreed that the Prisoner was guilty of blasphemy and that he should die. They refused to acknowledge his claims. ‘His own people received him not’ (John 1:11). In the full light of his character, teaching and deeds, they rejected him. The cry of their hearts was , ‘We do not want this man to reign over us’ (Luke 19:14). So answers the heart of fallen man when confronted with Christ and the challenge of his cross and his crown. Never had the members of the Sanhedrin heard a proclamation so majestic as that which fell on their ears when Christ declared his Messiahship and warned of his second advent. But unbelief and prejudice blinded them to the truth.

There is no more solemn moment than when one is confronted by the Christ of God. Is he a fraud and an imposter? or is he the world’s Saviour and the world’s Judge?

‘What think ye of Christ’ is the test
To try both your state and your scheme;
You cannot be right in the rest
Unless you think rightly of Him.

Christ’s solemn oath before Caiaphas echoes throughout the centuries. ‘Are you the Christ?’ ‘YES.’ There is the mighty rock that bears the faith of the people of God in all ages. Those who build on that foundation shall never be confounded; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken it!

CrossHeBore-LeahyTaken from chapter 6, “Taking the Oath” (based on Matt.26:63-64) by Frederick S. Leahy in The Cross He Bore: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer (Banner of Truth, 1996), p.34-36.

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