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Archive for February, 2010

by Pastor John Samson

 

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” – Luke 23: 39

I have often contemplated the potential scene in my mind as one by one, the proponents of all religions were given the opportunity of talking to the thief on the cross, and what they would say to him. This was a man who was a criminal, a notorious sinner, and definitely one whose so called “bad deeds’ would outweigh the good ones. Being nailed to a cross negates any further opportunity for good works to be done. But it would be an interesting conversation, wouldn’t it, to hear what each religionist might say to him? In every case (apart from perhaps universalism which teaches that all people will be saved regardless of their works) each religion would require the man to somehow come down from the cross to do something.

What would a spokeman for Islam say? How about a Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness? What would a Buddhist say? or a New Age guru? How about a Roman Catholic? If each could speak to this man, what religious advice would or could they give to him for the purpose of being saved (however they even define what that means)? Some might say that all he could do would be to hope for mercy, but Christ, the biblical Christ gave him far more than just hope. In contrast to what all man made religious systems could give the man, Christ gave him full assurance of salvation – and not just eventual salvation after countless years in the fires of purgatory, but bliss and paradise that very day!

Certain religions would require baptism, others would require the man go through religious instruction and devotion of some sort, while others would ask him to do more good works before his death hoping that they might outweigh the bad ones. But here’s my point, the man could never find salvation in those religious systems because he was stuck, pinned, nailed to a cross. His chance to help elderly people cross roads, or to give to charity or to live a life of service was gone. Nailed to a cross, works and service were no longer possible. His was a totally hopeless case.. except that crucified next to him was Someone who was able to save him by what He was doing, rather than what the man might do. Only the real biblical Jesus with the real biblical Gospel could announce to a criminal that before the day was over, he would be with Him in Paradise!

This thief’s salvation portrays the Gospel so clearly. Someone embracing anything other than the biblical gospel can only scratch their heads in wonder at the precious words given to this man, for in their system, such words would be impossible to say.

As far as I know, this man was the only person in the Bible that Jesus gave instantaneous assurance of salvation to. Jesus’ words, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” removes all doubt.

Can we know what was going on in the heart of this man? Well, we do not have a perfect understanding, but putting the pieces of the biblical text together, we can get quite a good picture. What is clear from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark is that this man had been amongst the many who had mocked Christ. Yet seemingly, out of nowhere, he turns to the other thief and says, “Don’t you fear God?” Obviously, this thief was now fearing God for him to be asking this question of the other one.

He also knew he was getting exactly what he deserved – “we indeed suffer justly” he said.

He also recognized the innocence of Christ when he said, “he has done nothing wrong.”

When he turned to Jesus and requested, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom” though knowing death was inevitable for all three of those crucified, he believed Jesus would triumph over death, and therefore, would be resurrected.

In affirming the fact that Jesus would come into His kingdom, he affirmed the Lordship or even the Deity of Christ. How much he knew of this we do not know, but obviously, he knew that Christ was indeed King.

So, he had an awareness of divine judgment, he knew the availability of forgiveness, he believed Christ was the true King and that in Christ there is hope even for him, he knew of the coming Kingdom and wanted to be a part of it.

As God opens our hearts and mind to the one true biblical Gospel, we will also find in Christ the full assurance of salvation. As we turn away from any attempt at self justification, knowing that it is by grace that we are saved, through faith and all of this is the gift of God, not as a result of works (Eph. 2:8,9), we too will enjoy the sweet saving mercy of God.

What a testimony to the Gospel this thief is. His testimony is exactly the same as mine. God saves sinners through the perfect work of the perfect Savior, plus nothing! Hallelujah!

 

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Mark Galli | posted at Christianity Today

It’s really hard to listen to God when there are really interesting things to think about.

When I preach, I often quote the Bible to drive home my point. I think it more persuasive to show that what I’m saying is not merely my opinion but a consistent theme of Scripture. And to avoid the impression that I’m proof-texting or lifting verses out of context, I quote longer passages—anywhere from 2 to 6 verses.

When I did this at one church, a staff member whom I’d asked for feedback between services told me to cut down on the Scripture quotations. “You’ll lose people,” he said.

I understood the reality he was addressing, and so I scratched out the biblical references for the next sermon. But lately I’m beginning to question that move, and wondering, Why have we become so impatient and bored with the Word of God? I ask this not in a scolding tone, but in wonderment, not to point fingers, for I wonder at myself as well.

Another example of this phenomenon: Recently in an adult Sunday school class, I heard a detailed and persuasive lecture on a biblical theology of creation. Rather than reading Genesis 1 and just waxing eloquent from that point on, the teacher patiently read passage after passage to demonstrate how central creation is in the Bible even after Genesis, especially in the covenant God made with his people. After class, the moderator for the class suggested that, for the following week, the teacher make room for questions; he suggested the teacher cut down on the reading of so many Bible verses as this would save time and, it was strongly implied, would better hold people’s interest.

Anyone who’s been in the preaching and teaching business knows these are not isolated examples but represent the larger reality. We teachers and preachers are well aware of how easily listeners get bored. And we recognize that, when it comes to good teaching technique, extensive quoting of anything can become tedious, and that, yes, it is important to make time in one’s presentation for questions. Still, these examples reveal such a feature of current church culture that we might want to question ourselves.

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It has been said to the point of boredom that we live in a narcissistic age, where we are wont to fixate on our needs, our wants, our wishes, and our hopes—at the expense of others and certainly at the expense of God. We do not like it when a teacher uses up the whole class time presenting her material, even if it is material from the Word of God. We want to be able to ask our questions about our concerns, otherwise we feel talked down to, or we feel the class is not relevant to our lives.

It is well and good for the preacher to base his sermon on the Bible, but he better get to something relevant pretty quickly, or we start mentally to check out. Don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible, we tell our preachers, but be sure to get to personal illustrations, examples from daily life, and most importantly, an application that we can use.

It’s easy to see how this culture has profoundly reshaped the dynamics of preaching and teaching. All the demands have been placed on the shoulders of the preacher, so anxious are we to meet needs and stay relevant. No longer are listeners asked to listen humbly to the proclamation of God’s Word, in all its mystery and glory. To be sure, we want the preacher to begin with the Word—we’re Christians after all—but only as a starting point, and only as long as he moves on to things that really interest us.

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We often hear people say how difficult it is to hear God anymore, and I wonder if one reason is that we’ve forgotten how to listen to the Word of God when it comes to us in the sanctuary or the classroom. We listen like a husband and wife listen when they are in the middle of an argument: they listen only so they can have ammunition to mount a counterattack. That’s not listening. And when we listen to the sermon only to hear what seems immediately and directly relevant, neither is that listening. And yet we’ve raised a whole generation of Christians to listen like this.

Again: I do not claim that I have transcended this cultural impatience with the Bible. I’m as irritated as the next person when it comes to the public reading of Scripture. Doesn’t this person have anything original to say? I think. Isn’t he going to address this issue, or that concern? Get on with it! At least I hope he says something funny soon … .

I try to laugh at myself when I catch myself in such moods: bored with the very revelation of God! We have this extraordinary gift, this miracle book, from the Creator of Heaven and Earth, the Mystery of the Universe, the Infinite One whom we (the finite) cannot begin to fathom, the Holy One whom we (blinded by our unholiness) cannot begin to comprehend. The One who can answer our deepest questions but could remain The Question, the One who can restore our broken humanity, but could remain a vague Hypothesis—this One has revealed himself in Law, Prophets, and Gospel—in the words of a collection we now call Holy Scripture.

Whenever the Bible is read, a hush should come over us. We should be inching toward the edge of our seats, leaning forward, turning our best ear toward the speaker, fearful we’ll miss a single word—the deeds and words and character of Almighty and Merciful God are being revealed! In a world of suffering and pain, of doubt and despair, of questions about the meaning and purpose of existence, we are about to hear of God’s glory, forgiveness, mercy and love, of his intention for the world, of his promise to make it all good in the end, of the way to join his people, of the means to abide with him forever! And there we sit, tapping our feet, mentally telling the preacher to get on with it.

But if we take the trouble to listen, really listen, to that Word, we’ll discover something else marvelous: that the One being revealed is as patient with us as we are impatient with his Word, and as enamored with us as we are bored with him. Ah yes, even more enamored.

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Mark Galli is senior managing editor of Christianity Today and author of A Great and Terrible Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Attributes of God  (Baker).

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Excerpt of Tim Challies’ review on Philip Graham Ryken’s book entitled, City on a Hill. To view entire article, please click this link.

 

 

City on a Hill begins with an introduction to postmodernism. Ryken identifies these post-Christian times as being characterized by relativism and narcissism. In order to combat those forces and to be a remedy to society, the church needs to return to the model of the 1st century church – a church that was modelled on teaching, worshiping and caring. These three forces, when combined, caused the church to grow. Ryken identifies seven objectives for the church: expository preaching, worthy worship, Bible study and fellowship, pastoral care, educational programs, missionary work and service to the church and community. Each of these objectives forms a chapter in the book.

While these objectives are hardly unique, and could as easily be found in a book written by John MacArthur or any of the other Reformed or conservative church leaders, Ryken does something that gives this book great value. He shows how relativism and narcissism negatively impacts each of these seven objectives, and also shows how returning to the biblical model can be an antidote to the influences that pervade our culture. For example, he teaches that in a post-Christian culture, worship becomes less about Scripture, and less about honoring God, while becoming predominantly about the individual. Church becomes a place where needs are met rather than a place where God is worshiped. He teaches that we need a theology of worship to guide our practice so that we can avoid society’s negative influences. In the fifth chapter, which deals with pastoral care, the author teaches that “the revolt against the meta-narrative helps explain why people are so resistant to the gospel. Christianity has a story to tell. It claims to be the story, the story of humanity…However in these post-Christian times, people don’t want to listen to God’s story; they want to make up their own. When they read the script of salvation, they discover that it’s all about God and His glory. But they were hoping to play a bigger part. Hence the postmodern revolt against the meta-narrative, which is really a rebellion against the authority of God” (page 94).

Ryken determines that if we are wise, “we will recommit ourselves to expository preaching, God-centered worship, loving fellowship, pastoral care, costly discipleship, global evangelism, and practical compassion. But none of this will matter unless we recognize our need – our daily need – for the gospel. The church can only be a city on a hill if it confesses its sin and trusts in the crucifixion, resurrection, and intercession of Jesus Christ for any hope of salvation” (page 179).

For the church to succeed in its ministry during the post-Christian era, it must take care that it presents a biblical alternative to the forces of society, all the while ensuring that it does not accomodate them. When church does what it is called to do – to be a city on a hill; a light shining in the darkness – it will give the world what it most needs – the message of life and salvation in and through Jesus Christ.

This is a book that is sure to challenge the reader. It is consistently biblical, returning constantly to the Word of God. It calls the church to return not to the model of the twentieth century, but the model given to us in the Bible. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to others.

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About the Author: 

Dr Ryken holds degrees from Wheaton (B. A.), Westminster (M. Div.), and the University of Oxford (D. Phil.).  He is on the Board of Trusties at both Wheaton College and Westminster, and is an Executive Board Member with the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

Philip Graham Ryken is Senior Minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he has preached since 1995.  He is Bible Teacher for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, speaking nationally on the radio program Every Last Word.  Dr. Ryken was educated at Wheaton College (IL), Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) and the University of Oxford (UK), from which he received his doctorate in historical theology.  He lives with his wife (Lisa) and children (Josh, Kirsten, Jack, Kathryn, and Karoline) in Center City, Philadelphia. 

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Our feelings are as changeable as April weather.  They are affected by an infinite number of subtle causes – our physical health, the state of the atmosphere, overweariness, want of sleep – as well as by those that are spiritual and inward.  No stringed instrument is more liable to be affected by minute changes than we are.  And we are apt to take it sorely to heart when we see the tide of emotion running out fast.

At such times we should question ourselves, to see whether our lack of feeling is due to conscious sin or worrying; and, if not, we may hand over all anxiety in the matter to Him who knows our frame and remembers that we are dust.  As we pass down the dark staircase, let us hold fast to the handrail of His will, willing to do His will, though in the dark.  “I am as much Your own, equally devoted to You now in the depths of my soul, as when I felt happiest in Your love.

 

This is the 5th excerpt taken from F. B. Meyer’s book on The Secret of Guidance, under the section on Burdens, and What to Do With Them – EmmausTrekker

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How to maintain our congregations; how to hold our ground amid the competition of neighboring workers; how to sustain the vigor and efficiency of our machinery; how to adjust the differences arising between fellow and subordinate workers; how to find material enough for sermons and addresses – beneath the pressure of burdens like these how many workers break down! They could bear the work, but not the worry.

And yet the responsibility of the work is not ours but our Master’s.  He is bearing this world in His arms, as a mother her sick child.  He is ministering to the infinite need of man. He is carrying on His great redemptive scheme for the glory of His Father. All He wants of us is a faithful performance of the daily tasks He gives.

Let the sailor lad sleep soundly in his hammock; the captain knows exactly the ship’s course. Let the errand boy be content to fetch and carry as he is bidden; the heads of the firm know what they are about and have plenty of resources to meet all their needs. And let the Christian worker guard against bearing burdens that the Lord alone can carry. The Lord would never have sent us to His work without first calculating His ability to carry us through.

 

This is the 4th excerpt taken from F. B. Meyer’s book on The Secret of Guidance, under the section on Burdens, and What to Do With Them – EmmausTrekker

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Many are kept from identifying themselves openly with the Lord’s people by a secret feeling that they will never be able to hold out. They carry with them a nervous dread of bringing disgrace on their Christian profession and trailing Christ’s color in the dust.  Almost unconsciously,. they repeat the words of David, “I shall now perish by the hand of Saul” (1 Samuel 27:1).

Anxiety about so sacred a matter as this will hide the face of Christ, as the impalpable vapor-wreaths hide the majestic, snow-capped peaks.  And it is quite needless.  He who saved can uphold.  As is His heart to love, so is His arm of might.  He is able to keep us from stumbling and present us faultless before the presence of His glory.  But we shall never know the sufficiency of that keeping while we cling to the boat or even keep one hand upon its side.  Only when we have stepped right out onto the water, relying utterly on the Master’s power, we shall know how blessedly and certainly He keeps what is committed to Him against that day.

We must not carry even the burden of daily abiding in Him.  Let us rather trust Him to keep us trusting and abiding in Himself.  He will not fail us if we do, and He will answer our faith by giving us an appetite for those exercise of prayer, Bible study, and communion that are the secrets of unbroken fellowship.

 

This is the 3rd excerpt taken from F. B. Meyer’s book on The Secret of Guidance, under the section on Burdens, and What to Do With Them – EmmausTrekker

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