Help!

grief-counseling
Note:  This is a repost from Aug, 2011

If you live long enough and interact with enough people you will eventually be in the place of ministering to those who are suffering.  Nothing will prove the body of Christ more effective nor bring about greater disappointment than how the body reacts to such members.

This past summer I began a ministry through the book of  Job.   Job is the quintessential book on suffering.  The majority of the book deals with the discussions between Job and his three friends.  The initial compassion of Job’s friends is truly commendable.   They first of all desire to be with Job.  They secondly desire to enter into his sorrows and to mingle their tears with his.  They thirdly determine to comfort Job.  They desire that truth will be a blotter to Job’s tears.  In these desires they do well.  Where they derail is in their making dogmatic assertions without all the evidence.  In dealing with this section my mind ran to some counsel I offered years ago to aiding others in dealing with grief.  This was born out of  being on the receiving end of  those who sought to minister to me and my wife in the loss of a child.   The counsel I gave then involved having swift feet to come to be in the presence of those who are grieving.    Secondly to have long arms to embrace the one who is grieving.  Thirdly to have busy hands to meet the practical needs of the one who is grieving.  Fourthly to have bent knees to interceed for the one who is grieving.   Fifthly to have large ears to listen to the one who is grieving.  Finally to have a small and well guarded mouth to speak to the one who is grieving.  The temptation to ‘explain’ what God is doing and to quickly end the pain of the suffering can cause us to derail as quickly as Job’s well intentioned friends did.  May God help us to fulfill the true meaning of the body of Christ unto the end that when one member suffers all the members suffer with him.


Superheroes In the Pew

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If you were to ask the average Christian to speak of their spiritual heroes it would be common for them to bring forth the names of great pastors, preachers, and missionaries who have served faithfully and well in the Kingdom in the past or present. They buy the books, listen to the sermons, follow the tweets, and read the biographies of these esteemed men and women. I want to tell you bit about some of my heroes. Many of them have never preached and certainly have not written popular books or blogs. They have never spoken at conferences. With the exception of a few dozen fellow churchmen, they are unknown in the wider Christian world. My heroes consists by and large of the men and women of my church. They are the faithful plodders of God’s Kingdom. They love the worship of God and the ministry of His Word. They work long hours in their spheres of labor, in the home and out of the home and yet make it a priority to come to services of worship and the times of prayer. They have full schedules, are often weary and yet they come, not to be served, but, like their Master, to serve. Some of my heroes face crippling diseases and have battled through crushingly dark providences. I’ve seen them lose their jobs, lose their children, and their spouses. I’ve seen the cost they pay to simply follow Christ. I’ve seen men and women persevere when loved ones turn back to the world. I’ve seen them bear with the faults and sins of others. Their elders have at times disappointed them, their brothers and sisters have let them down. Yet, they show a love that covers a multitude of sins. They exemplify what it means to bear with one another and to bear one another’s burdens. Unlike the heroes of the church or the heroes of our culture, they do not preach, they do not travel to foreign lands, they are not strange visitors from another planet with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man, they do not cling to walls or fly through the sky. But they are my heroes, and one day, the King of Kings will say to them before the whole world, Well done!


Here Comes The Groom! (The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’s Husband)

 

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This is the time of year for weddings.  I have been to two over the past few weeks.  The highpoint of the wedding is always when the bride is first spotted in all her glory.   As a pastor I am often privileged to perform the weddings and to see the beautiful bride presented to her husband up close and personal.   I love to watch his face as his beloved is placed upon his arm by her father.    After one of these recent weddings I posed a question to some of the folks around the table at the reception.  The question was, “What will be  the primary difference between the last wedding and this wedding?”   The answer?  The focus on this wedding is on the Bride and the focus of the last wedding will on the Groom.   I was thinking about this in conjunction with recent headlines about the so called ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’.  Did you read about this?   Apparently some scrap of papyrus was found on the bottom of some guys  sandal where Jesus is said to speak about his ‘wife’.  This is not the first time that the press has jumped on the supposed scandal that Jesus had a wife.  Jesus was married!   My reaction?   Of course Jesus has a wife!  The Bible talks about it plenty!  He came for his wife!  He laid down his life for his wife!  He loves his wife indescribably!   He is going to present His wife to his Father on the last day as a glorious bride!  Nothing hidden, nothing scandalous, nothing secret, all open,  all wonderful.  But on that Day the focus will not be on the beauty of the Bride (though she will never have been so beautiful!) but on the beauty of the Husband. The eyes of all will upon Him.  He will be adored, He will be the object of song and praise.  He is  altogether lovely, all together perfect.  The Bride will not eye her garment, but her dear Bridegroom’s face, she will not gaze at glory but on her King of grace, not at the crown He gives, but on His pierced hand. He will be all the glory of that wedding day.   The good news is not so much that Jesus has a wife, but that His wife has a husband!


Anticipation – Reformation21 Blog

Anticipation – Reformation21 Blog.


With Johnny at T4G

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In early April of this year nearly 8,000 folks crowded into the Yum Center in downtown Louisville (my home for the past 24 years) for the bi-annual Together For the Gospel (T4G) Conference.  For those who do not know about the conference, it is a preaching conference geared towards pastors with a bent towards Calvinistic and Reformed theology.  While the teachers and preachers hold differing convictions on things like baptism, church government, covenant theology and even the gifts of the Holy Spirit they embrace a common confession on the gospel and the sovereignty of God in the work of  grace.  Though the conference is less than half and hour away for a variety of reasons I had never attended.  A couple of things changed my mind (including the fact that I got to go for free—thank you BibleWorks!) and I attended the conference and benefited greatly.

One of the major factors in my going to the conference and evaluating my time at there came from one of my dear old mentors, John, or Johnny, or Johnny C, or JC as he is often called. 

I should explain (and I know he would not mind) that Johnny is an old guy, an Old Calvinist, and loves what is called ‘high churchmanship’.  Johnny is old school at its finest.  You would never find Johnny in jeans.  He has never listened to rap or contemporary Christian music.   I met him when I was a young man, first  through his writings and preaching.  I have long considered him a dear friend.  I asked Johnny what he thought about conferences like these and whether or not he found profit in them.

He told me that there was much to be excited about to see such conferences abounding in our day.  There was a time when few would attend a conference with this kind of emphasis (thirty years ago if  300 men attended a Reformed Conference you were tempted to become postmillennial).  He said,  “They are, in fact, established institutions of the day, and the crowds who attend them supply plain proof that they are popular. In short, we find ourselves face to face with the undeniable fact, that the (last few years) is an age of an immense amount of public religion.”

I sought to find if he had anything negative to say about some of the means and methods used by these men to promote what they were preaching and to reach people.

This is what he wrote, “Now I am not going to find fault with this. Let no one suppose that for a moment. On the contrary, I thank God for revival of the old apostolic plan of “aggressiveness” in religion, and the evident spread of a desire “by all means to save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22).”  I was a little take aback when he said that he would have even supported the ‘gospel’ preaching of the old revivals with men like Moody and Sankey. 

Johnny then took me to task asking in essence what I was doing with such zeal.  He wrote to me, “Anything is better than torpor (I had to look this word up—it means sluggish inactivity), apathy and inaction. If Christ is preached — I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice (Phil. 1:18). Prophets and righteous men in…days gone by… once desired to see these things, and never saw them. If Whitefield and Wesley had been told in their day, that a time would come when people would attend such services (including Anglicans)  and take an active part in them — I can hardly think they would have believed it. Rather, I suspect, they would have been tempted to say, like the Samaritan nobleman in Elisha’s time, “if the Lord would make windows in heaven — might this thing be?” (2 Kings 7:2).”

I said, John, surely you have some concerns about these things, don’t you?  Being a wise and balanced and gracious man, he did offer this bit of concern. 

He wrote to me, “While we are thankful for the increase of public religion — we must never forget that, unless it is accompanied by private religion, it is of no real solid value, and may even produce most mischievous effects. Incessant running after sensational preachers, incessant attendance at hot crowded meetings protracted to late hours, incessant craving after fresh excitement and highly spiced pulpit novelties (note: he was not referring here to T4G particularly) — all this kind of thing is calculated to produce a very unhealthy style of Christianity and, in many cases I am afraid, the end is utter ruin of soul. For, unhappily, those who make public religion everything, are often led away by mere temporary emotions, after some grand display of ecclesiastical oratory, into professing far more than they really feel.  After this, they can only be kept up to the mark, which they imagine they have reached, by a constant succession of religious excitements. By and by, as with drug addicts, there comes a time when their dose loses its power, and a feeling of exhaustion and discontent begins to creep over their minds. Too often, I fear, the conclusion of the whole matter is a relapse into utter deadness and unbelief, and a complete return to the world! And all results from having nothing but a public religion! Oh, that people would remember that it was not the wind, or the fire, or the earthquake, which showed Elijah the presence of God, but “the still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12).

With this, Johnny began to wax powerfully and I want to share what he said, “Now I desire to lift up a warning voice on this subject. I want to see no decrease of public religion, remember; but I do want to promote an increase of that religion which is private — private between each man and his God. The root of a plant or tree makes no show above ground. If you dig down to it and examine it, it is a poor, dirty, coarse-looking thing and not nearly so beautiful to the eye as the fruit or leaf or flower. But that despised root, nevertheless, is the true source of all the life, health, vigor and fertility which your eyes see, and without it the plant or tree would soon die. Now private religion is the root of all vital Christianity. Without it — we may make a brave show in the meeting or on the platform, and sing loud, and shed many tears, and have a name to live, and the praise of man. But without it — we have no wedding garment, and are “dead before God”. I tell you plainly, that the times require of us all more attention to our private religion.”

After having this interaction with my friend Johnny, I was rebuked, refreshed, challenged and warned. It’s often that way with Johnny…Johnny Charles Ryle. 

All excerpts (with a few tweaks) from Ryle’s, Holiness, chapter 19, The Needs of the Times.

 


Three Implications of the Empty Tomb

It has been said by some that all preaching consists of two elements–the ‘what’ of the text and the ‘so what’ of the text. Millions of professing Christians take one Lord’s Day a year to celebrate the wondrous reality of the empty tomb of Jesus. Jesus had power to lay down His life and to take it up again. I trust we all realize the tremendous theological and eternal implications of our Lord’s glorious resurrection. But what difference will it make between the time I am converted and the time I reach heaven? I may sing of it on Sunday but what help is it to me on Monday or Tuesday? For our churches facing so many different practical and spiritual issues, what difference does the empty tomb make? We must realize that we are dealing with more than empty tomb. We are also dealing with an occupied throne. Jesus did not rise from the dead only to wander the earth for two thousand years. He ascended to heaven and sat down at the Father’s right hand. 1 Corinthians 15 is the classic New Testament text which deals with the necessity and implications and applications that arise from both the truth of the resurrection and the horrific speculation of what it will mean for all of us if Jesus never did rise. At the conclusion of the chapter Paul (v. 58) gives three applications that arise from the fact of the empty tomb. The first is that we ought to continue steadfast and immovable in the faith. The word ‘steadfast’ can be translated to mean, sit there and don’t get up. Ground yourself here. This is reinforced by the command to be immovable. There are rocks so big that no one even tries to move. The world should see the Church of Jesus Christ holding fast to the truth of divine revelation. It is the truth of the gospel of a risen and glorified and one day returning Savior. If He is dead and decayed we can choose to hold or choose to throw away. If the tomb is empty we must stand fast.
The second application is that of Spirit empowered effort and activity to obey Him. Since Christ is risen and glorified we are to be ‘always abounding in the work of the Lord’. There is no greater motivation for Christian service and unceasing labor than the empty tomb. The third application is the truth that our labor is not in vain. Why does Paul have to say these words? Is it not because many who profess faith lose sight of this truth? What is the point of all these labors and efforts? Why do men get home from work, wolf down a quick meal and go to prayer meeting? Why do women gather late on the Lord’s Day evening with one another to pray? Why seek to send missionaries and hand out tracts and preach the same truths to the same folks week after week? Is it fruitfulness and success that moves and motivates us to the blood, sweat, and tears of laboring for the good of the Kingdom? Paul says, if the King is risen and if the King is enthroned than nothing done for Him is meaningless. It is His triumph and not our fruitfulness that determines these realities.


To Be Continued

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This past week brought home the realities of death and the world to come in a powerful way. I awoke on Monday morning to find the news that a dear friend, Johnny Farsese, had gone to be with the Lord on the Lord’s Day afternoon. A few hours later my wife called to tell me that her older sister, Gini, who had been battling ALS (Lou Gerhig’s disease) had seemingly contracted pneumonia. About an hour later she phoned again to tell be that Gini was with the Lord.
I first heard about Johnny in 1986 from Pastor Al Martin when I was a student at the Trinity Ministerial Academy. Johnny was born with a condition called spinal muscular atrophy.
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This meant that Johnny never walked. By the time I met him he was completely bed ridden. He has lost the ability to swallow and in later years had great difficulty communicating. In the blessed providence of God, Johnny came to age in the days of increased computer technology which he was able to master with his limited mobility. With the advent of email I began a ‘professional’ relationship with Johnny in the early 1990’s as he would kindly distribute emails from our church to others for their prayers. At some point along the way personal notes began to be exchanged and we went from being simply brothers involved in mutual ministry to being friends with one another. Through one means or another Johnny and I discovered that we were firmly entrenched on either side of baseball’s greatest rivalry. The first time I was in Florida to preach at Johnny’s church he found out that the Yankees were playing the Red Sox on Saturday afternoon and he invited me and my wife to come, enjoy some pizza and watch the game on his big screen TV. To make things interesting we said that the loser would have to wear the rival’s cap for a time. Sad to say this day’s game meant that I wore the Red Sox cap for some hours. When the Sox finally won the World Series I was able to rejoice with Johnny (several times over the years at it turned out). I was fond of telling him that I loved him more than I hated them!
I truly did come to love Johnny. Not just as a figure on the internet or a man seen through videos, but as a man who battled hard for his joy and who was determined to do what he could do for the Savior. His emails always ended with the words of Edward Everett Hale, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do.”
Through the years when I thought of the resurrection and the glory of the final triumph of Jesus over the full extent of the curse I would think of Johnny. What, but the power of God could undo the cruelty of the curse on that body? How God will be glorified in that day when all the bodies of the redeemed will be forever without the curse.
I am thankful that because for him to live was Christ, death is now his gain. Johnny joins his voice now and forever with saints and angels with unending and sinless joy. I envy him.
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I first met my sister in law, Gini in 1986 when my relationship with my wife to be took off. Gini and her husband Steve had met at Wheaton College and were gifted musicians. Those who knew Gini were impressed with her vibrant personality and gifts in playing the piano, singing, and acting. Gini grew up in a godly home and had some struggles with her faith but had in recent years returned to her foundation. A little over two years ago we had some concern about some numbness and tingling in Gini’s hands and some slight slurring of her speech. A battery of tests indicated that there might be some vitamin deficiencies. We soon found out that the diagnosis was much more grim. ALS is one of the most devastating diseases to plague mankind. All who loved Gini watched helplessly as the disease took it’s toll. The ability to sing and then to talk, and then to walk. She and her family bore these sufferings with both grace and joy. There was no hint of bitterness towards God, no self pity. What would have struck most folks who saw her was a radiating happiness in the midst of crushing disappointment and increasing pain. Her life was focused outwardly to others. She made painful journeys to attend my daughter’s play and another daughter’s graduation. She went to our niece’s wedding in September and with grit and determination rose from her wheelchair when the bride came down the aisle. With the hope of eternal life in Christ, there is a sense of relief as one leaves the pains of this world. J. C. Ryle once preached a sermon to children where he spoke of three places. One place is this world where there are many tears. The second place was hell where there is nothing but tears. And the final place was heaven where there are no tears. This past week these two loved ones entered that place where there are no tears. At God’s right hand are pleasures forevermore. Tears have been and will be shed on this side but not theirs. Emptiness is felt here and fullness there. Their joy, though now complete, will get better when their bodies, ravaged and battered and now fading away are raised with power. The lame will leap with joy and the mute will sing. Oh, glorious day!


How Many Motivations Are There for Godliness?

How Many Motivations Are There for Godliness?.


The Panic Button

Panic-Button-Light-Switch

The quickest and surest way to bring about change in a society is to instill a sense of panic.  In a nation, in a community, and yes, in the churches, if you can convince people that we are in peril, that their very survival is at stake, they will welcome many changes that under other conditions would not be tolerated.

For some time now church leaders have been hitting the panic button and issuing dire warnings about the future of the church in our society.   We must get our heads out the sand, see what is happening and above all else respond with appropriate change.  We can’t do things the old way, people don’t want that, they won’t embrace that, you can’t say it that way, we have to change, change, change.

The statistics regarding the number of churches closing and  the rate of declension in membership  among American bible believing churches should certainly have our attention. 

I recently came across these words written by a prominent pastor, “Our lot is cast in an age of abounding unbelief, skepticism and, I fear I must add, infidelity.  Never, perhaps, since the days of the early Roman persecution of the church  was the truth of revealed religion so openly and unblushingly assailed — and never was the assault so speciously and plausibly conducted.”   And then carefully consider these words that I cam across on the internet a few weeks ago by another prominent pastor, “It is come to be taken for granted by many people, that Christianity is not even a subject of inquiry, but that it is now at length assumed to be fictitious. And accordingly they treat it as if, in the present age, this was an agreed point among all people of discernment, and nothing remained but to set it up as a principal subject of…ridicule, for its having so long interrupted the pleasures of the world.”

Pop quiz?   What prominent pastors wrote these dire warnings?

The first prominent pastor I quoted is J. C. Ryle.  He wrote those words in 1879.  The second quotation is from Bishop Butler who wrote  in 1736.  

When Paul wrote to Timothy and told him to be steadfast in the faith and to preach the Word he did so against the prospect of great changes coming to the church.   People would not want sound doctrine and if  Timothy gave them sound doctrine he could anticipate that tthe flock would likely go eleswhere and find preachers and teachers to give them what tthey wanted.

There are certainly churches that need to change and that need to change drastically.  The Bible calls for repentance and for reformation.   Churches who are unfaithful to their calling and commission must change.  Churches aware of sin in their midst and compromises in their doctrine and practices must change.   But we must not change due to fear and we must not alter due to the pressures of society.   Every pressure we feel to change must be produced by the weighty pressure of exegesis and not the enormous pressure of an empty pew.   Before we push that panic button, let’s remember it’s been there for a long time and let’s remember how faithful men responded in the past.


Good Christian Men Rejoice!

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One of the marks of a true believer is that they have seen their utter poverty of spirit before God and have been brought to the place where they are mourning over their sin. Such people are driven into the arms of Christ and there find comfort in the knowledge that their sins, not in part, but the whole have been nailed to the cross. When this happen the rule and reign of sin in the life of the believer has been broken. We are transferred out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. Really. Truly. Actually. Those who had been slaves of sin are now slaves of righteousness (see Romans 6:5-20). The Christian is made a new creation, he has a new heart which has the law of God written on it (2 Cor. 5:17, Jere. 31:31). As Paul says to the Philippians, God has begun a good work in you. Jesus spoke of ‘good men’ who, out of treasure of their ‘good hearts’, bring forth good things (Matt. 12:35).
Many of us struggle to understand who and what we are now that Jesus has saved us. We can speak, preach, pray, and sometimes sing as though no real change had taken place. We still have a black heart, a dead heart, a thoroughly corrupt and sinful heart. It is as though Christ has saved us from the penalty of sin and not the power of sin. The bible teaches us that believers not only possess a perfect righteousness before God in their union with Christ, but that they are now set free to pursue holiness and ‘practice righteousness’ (see Heb. 12:14 and 1 John 3:7). When we see ourselves preeminently, contiually and defeatedly as sinners then sinning regularly and slavishly is in accordance with our nature. What can we do? Dogs bark, cats meow, birds fly, and sinners sin. But sin, for the believer, is now out of character. They not only enjoy a new position, but a new nature as well. We are no longer under the sway of evil one, we have been given a way of escape, we are the slaves of righteousness, we have God’s seed in us, the Holy Spirit dwells within, we are being made more and more like Christ. This perspective is not only exegetically accurate, but necessary for the believer to think rightly about himself and his attitude towards God’s commandments and his temptations to sin. Paul could speak of his confidence that the Romans were ‘full of goodness’(Romans 15:14). They were full of the grace of God which produces fruit unto holiness. This is your true identity in Christ. This is the work of the Spirit in you. Rejoice in the transforming power of the gospel!


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