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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What about the babies and children? Part 2

One of the biggest problems that Christians (and non-Christians) have with the conquest of Canaan is that even the Canaanite children were killed by the Israelites, who did so at the command of God.  Last time we looked at the biblical case for believing that those who do not have the mental capacity to either reject God or repent and believe go to heaven.  We touched almost exclusively on Old Testament passages.  But can the case be made from the New Testament?  I believe so.
Romans 1:18-23 tells of the culpability of all those who willfully reject God:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.  20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.  21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.  22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.
Those who suppress the truth are without excuse before God.  Those who by the faculty of reason can recognize the evidence of God within them and in creation are without excuse before God.  Those who clearly see the invisible attributes of God through what has been made are without excuse.  Those who by general revelation know God but do not honor Him or give thanks are without excuse.  Those who exchange the glory of God for the idols of the earth are without excuse. 
None of those things are true of infants or young children or the mentally disabled.  These basic truths seen in creation must be understood before they can be rejected.  But these people don’t have the mental ability to discern the existence of God from the things that have been made.  Therefore, they are not able to willfully reject God. 
This is reminiscent of the passage in Deuteronomy 1 that we looked at last time.  There Moses explained that even though the first generation who sinned against the Lord were sentenced to death in the wilderness, the children who were alive at the time did not die, because they had “no knowledge of good or evil.”  God takes into account the ability of a person to apprehend truth, and the case of the Israelite children in the wilderness is an excellent example.  They were not capable of grasping who God is, nor of willfully rejecting Him, and for that reason, their lives were preserved.
Consider Revelation 5:9-10: And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
Who did Christ ransom by His blood, and who has He made a kingdom and priests to reign on the earth?  People from every tribe and language and people and nation.  How can this be if there are tribes in parts of the world today, and certainly nations and tribes prior to the death of Christ, who never heard the gospel?  How can people from every tribe and language and people and nation be saved if the whole human population during the time of Noah was so evil that God drowned everyone but Noah’s family?  Every person of every nation perished in the Flood because “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5 ).  The only way that representatives from every tribe, language, people, and nation will sing a new song to Christ, as told in Rev 5:9-10 is because Christ saved those who died in childhood or did not have the ability to understand. 
Then we have Mark 10:13-16 (with parallel passages in Matt 19:13-15 and Luke 18:15-17): And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.  But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, "Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.  Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it."  And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.  John MacArthur comments on theses verses, “A child can do nothing for himself to be saved. A child can earn no salvation. A child can offer no accomplishment, no merit, no achievement, totally dependent on sovereign grace. That's the way we come. The Kingdom is full of people just like them, saved purely on the basis of sovereign grace.”
In Matt 18:1-14, Jesus again uses a child as an analogy of the humility with which one must come to Him.  In v14, He says, “So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”  The Lord is talking about believers, but the analogy only makes sense if little ones are saved.  He doesn’t want believers to perish any more than He wants little ones to perish.
I said in the beginning that this case was a circumstantial one.  We have no explicit, golden proof-text telling us that all infants, children, and mentally disabled persons go to heaven.  But for me, the circumstantial case is persuasive.  All people are conceived in sin, but God graciously saves those who are unable to understand truth and either reject Him or believe. 
This has been a brief look at this subject.  If you are interested in a more thorough resource, I highly recommend John MacArthur’s book, Safe in the Arms of God: Truth From Heaven About the Death of a ChildThis is a great book to help answer your own questions or to comfort those who have lost a child. 
I stand by the comment that I made in the sermon on the conquest a couple of weeks ago.  The deaths of the Canaanite children represented their rescue from a nightmarish existence on earth, and their instantaneous delivery to eternal joy and peace in the presence of the Lord.  God is just, gracious, and deserving of our worship.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: What about the babies and children?

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the conquest for most of us to understand is the fate of the children of Jericho and the other cities later destroyed.  Some of us may not have a problem with the adults being killed – that’s easier to accept because we can agree that they were a very sinful culture and deserved the wrath of God (just like us).  But what about the children?  What about the babies?  Their deaths at the hands of the Israelites by the command of God is far more disturbing.
As I said Sunday, I believe that those babies and children who did not have the mental capacity to repent and believe went to heaven.  Considering the vile culture in which the children of Jericho lived – one of sexual depravity, abuse, and horrific child sacrifice – God’s act to take their lives was the best thing that could have happened to them.  They went from the closest thing to hell on earth to being in the presence of the Lord.  Their deaths meant salvation.
Can a biblical case be made for this?  Is it Scripturally plausible to hold that babies and small children go to heaven?  I believe so.  
Let me be upfront with you - if we were going to argue this subject in a court of law, we would have to say that the case for the salvation of those who die very young is completely circumstantial.  To my knowledge, there is no place in the Bible where we can read explicitly, “children who die while not having the mental faculty to repent and believe go to heaven.”  So there is no slam dunk passage to to which we can appeal.  However, we can piece together a case for this by drawing implications from several texts. 
First, let’s look at Job 3.  Job is suffering greatly by this time.  He has lost everything dear to him, including his health.  He is mourning the deaths of all his children and suffering the horrible pain of large boils “from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head” (Job 2:7).  Job cries in 3:11, "Why did I not die at birth, come out from the womb and expire?  Why did the knees receive me? Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?  For then I would have lain down and been quiet; I would have slept; then I would have been at rest.  Job was suffering so intensely that he wished he had died at birth.  In the following verses, he goes so far as to say that he wished he had been still-born because then he would have rest.
Is this because newborn and unborn children are not sinners?  No.  In Psalm 51:5, David writes, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”  We are all sinners from the moment of conception.  But Job obviously does not believe that infants who die go to hell and suffer eternal torment.  Rather they go to a place of rest. 
A similar point can be made from Ecclesiastes 6:3-5:  If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered.  Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he.  A child who dies at birth is better off than a man who lives a long life, but does not find any meaning in it.  How can that be true if that child goes to eternal torment?  That child who dies finds something that the long-lived man did not: rest. 
“Rest” is a keyword in the Bible.  We find it in Hebrews 3 & 4, where it is repeatedly used as a metaphor for heaven.  Speaking of the Israelites who died in the wilderness, the writer quotes Psalm 95:7-11, writing “they shall not enter my rest.”  In Hebrews 4:8-11, “rest” is clearly meant to be a reference to heaven.
One more Old Testament reference indicates that the baby who dies goes to heaven.  In 2 Samuel 12, God takes the life of the baby born to Bathsheba by David.  When David’s servants ask why he is not mourning in the traditional manner, David answers that fasting would not bring the child back, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (v23).     In Psalm 23:6, we see that David was confident that he himself would live forever in the presence of the Lord.  Clearly according to his statement in 2 Sam 12:23, he was also confident that he would be reunited with his son when he died.  The implication is that this would take place in the Lord’s eternal presence.
So the question then becomes, “Okay, you keep talking about babies, but what about toddlers and preschoolers, etc?”  Most of us have heard of the concept of the “age of accountability.”  This is supposedly the age at which a person becomes culpable for their sin.  But I like what John MacArthur said in a sermon addressing this issue:
“Get the word ‘age’ out of this discussion. We're talking about a condition of accountability...not an age. Who qualifies then in our discussion as an infant or child who dying is saved, who dying instantly goes to heaven? Who are we talking about?  Answer...those who have not reached sufficient mature understanding in order to comprehend convincingly the issues of law and grace, sin and salvation.”
In Deut 1:19-46, God speaks of the little ones of Israel, who “today have no knowledge of good or evil.”  This is an interesting passage because in it, Moses is recalling for the generation that Joshua would lead into the land why the first generation died in the wilderness.  They died because they disobeyed, but their children did not die.  Why? Because at the time of Israel’s disobedience in not taking the land, the second generation were children who had "no knowledge of good or evil."  Does this mean that the children weren’t sinners?  Of course not.  They were born sinners.  They simply did not know good and evil.  As MacArthur would put it, they had not reached the condition of accountability. 
Now so far, I’ve referred mostly to the Old Testament.  How about the New Testament, where it is so clearly written that faith is necessary for salvation?  Is there anything there that would point toward the salvation of those who have not reached a condition of accountability?  We’ll look at that next time.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor: Explaining (Away) the Conquest

(If you have not listened to the sermon from Sunday, you can find it here.)
As promised, I would like to present a couple of the most common ways people have found to explain, or explain away, the conquest.   Joshua 6:21 records in very simple language the complete slaughter of the inhabitants of Jericho at the hand of the Israelites: Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.  Deuteronomy 20:16-17 tells us that this was done by the command of God.
This event, perhaps more than any other in the Old Testament, has troubled believers and incensed unbelievers.  If God is a God of love, how could he command the total annihilation of an entire city, every man, woman, child, and animal? 
The first main argument that people use to deal with this issue is that it is an Old Testament problem that the New Testament makes right.  Christopher J. H. Wright, in his book The God I Don’t Understand, describes this approach this way:
“These things all happened in the Old Testament, but, thankfully, we are New Testament Christians and we now know either that God was never really like that (though the primitive Israelites imagined he was), or that God has radically changed the way he deals with us now that Jesus has come and shown us a better way and fuller revelation.”
A similar approach is to play the God of the New Testament, who is a God of love, against the God of the Old Testament, who was a God of wrath.  In a sense, Jesus came and rescued God from His Old Testament reputation, and revealed Him to be the God of grace and love that we find in the New Testament. 
However you want to phrase it, there is the idea among some that the God we see in the conquest is not God being God.  This just isn’t like Him.  God is more Himself in the New Testament.  But that notion is not plausible if we believe what the Bible says about the immutability, or unchangeable nature, of God.  Malachi 3:6: "For I the LORD do not change.”  In James 1:17, God is described as the one “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Further, for one who has read the Old Testament, it becomes impossible to view the God presented there as unloving or unmerciful.  In fact, there are more references to the love and mercy of God in the Old Testament than in the New.
On the other hand, it cannot be said that what we see in the conquest is out of character for God.  God is full of wrath and the judgment we see in the conquest is exactly like God.  Read Deut 28 and see what God promised He would do to the Israelites if they broke His covenant.   
There were at least two instances where God was ready to destroy Israel on the way to the Promised Land, but Moses prayed, asking Him to relent, and He did (Exodus 32, Numbers 14).  But the Old Testament is filled with God’s promises of judgment and the fulfillment of those promises.  Read the prophets, like Isaiah and Jeremiah, and you’ll see God pronouncing judgment on nations, and history corroborates that the judgments did in fact happen.  God doesn’t seem to be ashamed of this. 
Nor are the New Testament writers ashamed.  Some people want to use the New Testament to save God from the Old, but none of the New Testament writers do this.  Everywhere in the Bible, God’s judgment, whether it be on the Canaanites, on Sodom and Gomorrah, or on Israel, is always assumed to be just.  Jesus Himself talked more about the judgment of God than anyone else in the Bible.
And Revelation 19, if you interpret it literally, and I do, tells us that in the end Jesus is going to slaughter all the armies of the world.  Rev 19:15: “He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
So it is like God to pour out His wrath.  And it is like Jesus to do that. Some might say, “But God is a God of love.  A God of love wouldn’t do this.”  God is a God of love, but the Bible also tells us He is a God of wrath, and He would do this.  There is no contradiction between the portrayals of God in the two testaments.  Both show Him to be a God of wrath and love.
The second prominent explanation for the conquest is that the Israelites were mistaken about what God commanded.  This one also cannot be taken seriously if you believe in the inerrancy of Scripture.  First of all, God promised the land to Abraham back in Gen 15:16, knowing that the land would at that time be occupied by another people.  And in Deut 7:1-2 this is what is commanded regarding those occupants:  "When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than yourselves, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them.
And just to make sure there were no misunderstandings, it is reiterated in Deut 20:16-17, But in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, 17 but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the LORD your God has commanded.
Of course, God commanded this.  The Israelites weren’t mistaken.  God repeatedly told them to do this.  
As I said, Sunday, the best way to view the conquest is to see it in the context of salvation history.  It was a demonstration of God’s just wrath, just a glimpse of the eternal hell that we all deserve, from which His Son would come to save all who repent and believe. 
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Blessing in a Brake Job

Yesterday, I was out running errands with my family, enjoying my day off, when our vehicle started to make an unpleasant noise.  I knew immediately what it was – the brake pads in the front had worn so low that they were grinding on the rotors.  At first I thought, “I’ll have to find time to take care of that this weekend."  But over the next few minutes, the grinding became so bad that we decided to immediately head for home. 
I knew what I would be doing for the rest of the afternoon. 
Those of you who know me well most likely would not peg me for a grease monkey, and you’d be right.  I only know how to do two maintenance tasks on my vehicles – fill them with gas and change the brake pads.  The former I taught myself; the latter I learned from my father-in-law. 
It was about 3:30 when we got home and I immediately changed my clothes to get to work on the truck.  There was a trip across town to borrow the tools that could be borrowed, and later multiple trips to buy brake pads and new tools to replace the borrowed tools that turned out to be wrong for the job.  In the end, it only took me five hours to do a task that a normal man could have done in one.
At more than one point in the process, even as I prayed for patience and help from the Lord, I realized what a pickle I would be in if not for Greg Ryerson, the father of the woman I married.  He and I have done the brakes on my vehicles numerous times.  The first time, he did the work, explaining what he was doing, and I watched.  The next couple of times, he had me help him, again explaining what we were doing.  Later, he let me do the work while he watched, helping me only as necessary.  Yesterday was the first time I had ever done it all by myself without him around.  I guess I should say almost not around.  When he heard about what I was doing, he came over just in time to watch me finish up. 
When I was done, he commented that he needed to call his brother-in-law, the one who taught him to do a brake job decades ago, and tell him that the torch had been passed yet again.  Paraphrasing 2 Tim 2:2, he said, “What you have learned from me entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  I laughed and we went inside.
Later, it occurred to me that even though he was joking about 2 Tim 2:2, he has entrusted to me far more than how to change brake pads.  While I definitely have not mastered any of the virtues and truths he has modeled for me, I am a better father, husband, pastor, and friend for having known him.
The Lord has blessed me greatly by placing a few men in my life who have mentored me and showed me what it means to be a Christian man.  My dad, my maternal grandfather, and my father-in-law all stand as my fathers in the faith.  Any work that I do of any eternal value shows their fingerprints next to mine.  I thank God for them. 
Who are the people in your life who served as the Lord’s tools in making you who you are?  Who mentored you in the faith?  Who walked before you and showed you the way?  I encourage you to take a few minutes today and thank the Lord for their influence on you and to ask for His blessing on them.  They might be encouraged to hear from you as well.
In whose lives are you building?  Are there people who would say of you that God used you to shape them and teach them?  If you have children, they are the obvious candidates, but there may be others in your life to whom you could be a lifelong blessing.  This kind of thing doesn’t just happen – you have to be intentional. 
I'm thankful this morning that a troublesome brake job reminded how blessed I am and that I should be a blessing to others.   May we all be just another link in the chain, passing along not only the practical tricks of life – like doing a brake job – but more importantly, the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Recommendation: A Quest for Godliness

Typically, when you hear the word “puritanical,” it has a negative connotation.  People use it to disparage those who are morally restrictive or religiously legalistic.  In history classes as a kid, I learned to associate the Puritans with the Salem Witch Trials and The Scarlet Letter.  They were a rigid people determined to force an outward morality on the populace. 
But a careful look at history will find a far more favorable picture of the Puritans on the whole.  The movement arose in 16th century England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  As the Protestant Reformation was taking hold on the European Continent, England was experiencing the same tug-of-war between the Catholic Church and those who sought reform.  In 1534, King Henry VIII made an official break with the Catholic Church, signing the Supremacy Act, which declared the English Monarch to be the head of the church in England.  This would appear to be a wonderful development for the Protestants, however, Henry’s action was motivated by self-interest, not a desire for theological purity in the church.
The coming decades would see a back-and-forth pattern of breaks and re-associations with Rome depending on who was sitting on the English throne.  Edward VI was a Protestant who genuinely sought reform, but died at the age of 16.  Mary Tudor was a die-hard Catholic and persecuted the Protestant church.  Under her reign many Protestants fled to the mainland and studied under some of the big name reformers, like John Calvin.  When Elizabeth, a Protestant, came to the throne, these exiles returned to England to help with the reform of the church there. 
But what they found was disheartening.  Although Queen Elizabeth was supportive of the theological reform of the church, she did not want to see changes in form.  In other words, she still wanted the church to “look” Catholic, i.e. with the clergy in robes, icons displayed, etc.  Many of the Protestants decided to compromise on “form” for the opportunity to preach the Word faithfully and work for the purity of the church from within.  For this reason, they were called Puritans.
When the pro-Catholic Charles I became king, he sought to squelch the Puritan reform.  Many Puritans left for Holland or New England to escape the persecution. 
A few years ago I was blessed to take a more intimate look at the Puritans and their writings in J.I. Packer’s book A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life.  In learning more about them and in reading their works, I came to the conclusion that their desire to reform the church stemmed from a desire to reform themselves for God’s glory.  They were a people who longed for purity in their own personal lives, and therefore, in the church as well.
In Packer’s first chapter, entitled “Why We Need the Puritans,” he writes this: “In thought and outlook they were radically God-centered.  Their appreciation of God’s sovereign majesty was profound, and their reverence in handling his written word was deep and constant.  They were patient, thorough, and methodical in searching the Scriptures, and their grasp of the various threads and linkages in the web of revealed truth was firm and clear.  They understood most richly the ways of God with men, the glory of Christ the Mediator, and the work of the Spirit in the believer and the church.
“And their knowledge was no mere theoretical orthodoxy.  They sought to ‘reduce to practice’ all that God taught them.”
So much of our time is caught up in pursuing the things and pleasures of the world, and so little in pursuing the things and pleasures of God.  I have found the writings of the Puritans to be both challenging and inspiring.  Hundreds of years after their deaths, they are still ministering to souls and reforming believers.  We do indeed need the Puritans.
A Quest for Godliness is a wonderful introduction to the theology, history, biography, and writings of the Puritans.  Please consider taking the time to read this book.  I know that you would be blessed by it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Health Care Reform and the Book of Daniel

I got a surprising email the other day.  We home school and are members of a home school legal defense organization.  Emails are sent out on a weekly basis, informing the members about legal issues in the country affecting homeschooling.  What got my attention last week was an email urging home school families to contact their congressional representatives to speak out against….health care reform? 
I got a similar message through the mail a couple of weeks ago from a well-known organization that exists to promote Christian family values.  This organization also was urging the citizenry to rise up against the health care reform currently being pursued in congress.  The passage of this legislation would ruin the fabric of our society, the publication argued.
Talk radio personalities and their callers can’t seem to think about or discuss anything else.  What surprises me is not that people oppose the legislation.  To be perfectly honest, I oppose it.  I would hate to see it become law.  But what is striking is the doomsday picture of the future that many have envisioned if the legislation does succeed.  Some believers, even the leaders of some Christian organizations, are acting as if socialized health care will mean the end of all hope.  We seem to be losing sight of where our hope is to be found.
This morning I read Daniel chapter 1 and found it to be a very refreshing look at how a believer should live in the midst of undesireable circumstances.  The opening verses tell us that in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, the Lord gave Jehoiakim into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the cream of the crop of the people of Judah should be brought to serve in the king’s palace.   
It’s difficult for me to identify with such a scenario.  I tried to imagine Canada invading the U.S. and taking over. (I know, but just pretend for a minute.)  I tried to imagine a foreign military marching our streets and seizing our government.  I tried to imagine being taken out of my home, away from my family - not knowing if I would ever see them again - and off into Canada to serve the Prime Minister.  That is a very dark picture to me.  Quite a bit worse than socialized health care.  Yet that is the kind of situation in which Daniel found himself. 
Daniel was among the “youths” taken to serve Nebuchadnezzar.  The text tells us that the king ordered that all the youths should eat the same food he ate and drink the same wine that he drank (v5).  But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank (v8).  This was not a spirit of rebellion in Daniel.  He was not determined to buck the system or to revolt against the king.  His motive had nothing to do with any disdain that he had for Nebuchadnezzar.  Daniel simply wanted to be faithful to the Lord.  And God in His sovereignty protected Daniel for his faithfulness.
This becomes a major theme of the book of Daniel.  No matter what the situation, no matter how daunting the circumstances, even in the face of certain death, Daniel only sought to be faithful to the Lord.  HE didn’t seem to view his circumstances in terms of his own happiness or freedom.  For Daniel, each circumstance provided another opportunity to be faithful and glorify the Lord.
Would he rather have been back in Jerusalem?  Certainly.  In ch9, when he determined based on Jeremiah’s prophecy that the exile might be approaching an end, Daniel prayed fervently that the Lord would lead His people back to Jerusalem (9:18).  He wanted to go home.  But even in this request, Daniel was motivated by a desire that the Lord be glorified (9:17).
We would benefit from that kind of God-centered view of our circumstances and responsibilities.  God is in sovereign control of all things, and in all things He is bringing glory to Himself.  No matter what the situation, we should place our hope fully in Him, striving to be faithful in everything.  For those who have been redeemed, there should be no such thing as despair.  If there is, that is a strong indication that we are not hoping in God, but in man.   
Please understand that I am not saying Barack Obama is Nebuchadnezzar, nor that health care reform is divine punishment, nor that we as the United States are God’s chosen people.  By referring to the Daniel passage, I have not intended to make any of those connections.  I am just concerned at the despair in the eyes and voices of some believers in our country, and I believe we would do well to adopt the worldview and priorities that Daniel had.
While we are well within our biblical liberty to use whatever legal means we have at our disposal to promote or oppose actions taken by our government, we should not pin our hopes to any political cause nor strive for any goal with more vigor than that of being faithful.  We are first and foremost citizens of heaven and our first priority should be to seek His kingdom and righteousness.  If we will do that, no matter what happens in this country, we will never be despairing, but eagerly looking for how God is glorifying Himself and for how we can be faithful to Him right where we are.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Spurgeon's "Morning and Evening"

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) served as the pastor of New Park Street Chapel in London for 38 years.  In addition to preaching up to 10 times per week, Spurgeon wrote prodigiously, penning an autobiography, books, a commentary, hymns, magazine articles, and poetry.  When these writings are added to the many thousands of his transcribed sermons, the volume of work is astounding.  It is believed by some that there is no other author in history who has more material in print than does Charles Spurgeon.
One of his most well-known writings is a compilation of daily devotionals entitled Morning and Evening.  As the title implies, there are two devotionals for each day, one a.m. and one p.m.  Upon reading the morning entry yesterday, I was struck by the obvious depth of meditation that surely went into its writing.  The care with which this entry was written is amazing, especially considering it is but one piece from enormous body of work.  That Spurgeon was able to write this well this much is a testament to the Lord’s hand on him.
I’m including here yesterday’s morning entry in its entirety.  I hope you’ll be blessed by it as I was.

"I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." --Isaiah 48:10

Comfort thyself, tried believer, with this thought: God saith, "I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." Does not the word come like a soft shower, assuaging the fury of the flame? Yea, is it not an asbestos armour, against which the heat hath no power? Let affliction come--God has chosen me. Poverty, thou mayst stride in at my door, but God is in the house already, and He has chosen me. Sickness, thou mayst intrude, but I have a balsam ready--God has chosen me. Whatever befalls me in this vale of tears, I know that He has "chosen" me. If, believer, thou requirest still greater comfort, remember that you have the Son of Man with you in the furnace. In that silent chamber of yours, there sitteth by your side One whom thou hast not seen, but whom thou lovest; and ofttimes when thou knowest it not, He makes all thy bed in thy affliction, and smooths thy pillow for thee. Thou art in poverty; but in that lovely house of thine the Lord of life and glory is a frequent visitor. He loves to come into these desolate places, that He may visit thee. Thy friend sticks closely to thee. Thou canst not see Him, but thou mayst feel the pressure of His hands. Dost thou not hear His voice? Even in the valley of the shadow of death He says, "Fear not, I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God." Remember that noble speech of Caesar: "Fear not, thou carriest Caesar and all his fortune." Fear not, Christian; Jesus is with thee. In all thy fiery trials, His presence is both thy comfort and safety. He will never leave one whom He has chosen for His own. "Fear not, for I am with thee," is His sure word of promise to His chosen ones in the "furnace of affliction." Wilt thou not, then, take fast hold of Christ, and say--
"Through floods and flames, if Jesus lead,
I'll follow where He goes."

This is of an entirely different level of spiritual writing than can be found in much of our modern day devotional literature.  If you have enjoyed this entry, you can find both daily entries of Morning and Evening online here

If you would like a hard copy, you can order it at a great price here.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Cutting Room Floor - Joshua 4:10, 19

(If you have not heard the sermon on Joshua 4, you can find the audio here.  The text of ch4 can be read here.)
This week there are a couple of smaller things that didn’t make the cut, although they are still notable.  The first comes from v10: For the priests bearing the ark stood in the midst of the Jordan until everything was finished that the LORD commanded Joshua to tell the people, according to all that Moses had commanded Joshua. 
I did note on Sunday that God called for the memorial of this event before the event was even finished.  The priests were still standing in the bed of the river, 1/3 of the Jordan piled up in a heap at the city of Adam (3:16), when God instructed Joshua to gather 12 stones for a memorial so that future generations would know about God’s miraculous sign and proven faithfulness displayed at the Jordan River.
The fact that the Lord commanded this before the feat was completed points to what a high priority it was.  It was what we could call a preemptive memorial and it is not unique in the history of salvation.  We see a beautifully similar act in Luke 22:19-20 on the night before the Messiah’s death: And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."  And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. 
What blood?  The blood that had not yet been shed.  What body?  The body that had not yet been broken. 
We know that Jesus spent time with His disciples after His resurrection. Why not institute this memorial then?  Well, like the crossing of the Jordan, it indicates the high priority that the Lord has place upon the observance of the Lord’s Supper.  I think it also served to show the disciples the significance of the meaning of His death.  This was to be an event so monumental that it was divinely interpreted for us before it even happened. 
The second tidbit that didn’t make it into the sermon pertains to v19: The people came up out of the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month, and they encamped at Gilgal on the east border of Jericho.  When we see the actual date given, we may assume that its purpose is to assist in commemorating the event and to indicate that the Jordan crossing was a literal historical event.  I think both of those things are true, but there is more to it than that. 
What is significant about the 10th day of the 1st month?  The first time we see it is in Exodus 12 in the account of the first Passover:  The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household…” (Ex 12:1-3).  The 10th day of the 1st month is the day on which the preparation for the Passover begins.  On the 14th day, the lambs are slaughtered at twilight and the Passover is observed.
In our passage for this coming Sunday, Joshua 5, we’ll find that prior to the taking of the land, the people observed the Passover.  However, the Passover was not the people’s first act upon entering the land.  The first act was the circumcision of all the males who were born during the 40 years in the wilderness.  Exodus 12:48 tells us that no uncircumcised male could eat of the Passover, therefore the mass circumcision had to take place before the Passover.  So what?  God providentially accomplished the crossing of the Jordan on the 10th, the first day of the preparation for the Passover, so that the males could be circumcised (and somewhat healed) and therefore allowed to celebrate the Passover on the 14th, so that the celebration of the Passover could be the last act of the people before taking the land.
In 4:23, the text drew a parallel between the crossing of the Jordan and the crossing of the Red Sea.  This crossing of the Jordan out of the wilderness and into the land was like a second exodus.  Like bookends of the wilderness narrative, the Passover preceded the crossing of the Red Sea and followed the crossing of the Jordan River. 
Is God sovereign or just lucky?  Evidence of the former, both explicit and implicit, is insurmountable in Scripture.  God caused the crossing of the Jordan at just the right time to fulfill His plan.  Praise the Lord that His timing was just as perfect when He delivered us (Rom 5:6; Gal 4:4-5).

Posted by Greg Birdwell