Who spoke the Earth and sky to form
Who sets the sun and calls the dawn
Who breathed me out of dust to life
With the will to trust or run and hide
I will stay should the world by me fold
Lift up Your name as the darkness falls
I will wait and hold fast to Your word
Heart on Your heart and my eyes on You
Who loved me through my rebel way
Who chose to carry all my shame
Who breaths in me with endless life
The king of glory Jesus Christ
God of wonder and God of grace
Let my soul stand always to praise You
Fix my eyes on Your perfect way
And I’ll never look back
Who lifts the poor and heals the blind
Who trampled death for all mankind
Who stands for all with arms stretched wide
My King forever Jesus Christ
If faith can move the mountains
Let the Mountains move
We come with expectation
We’re waiting here for You
I’m Waiting here for You
You’re the Lord of all creation
And still You know my heart
The Author of salvation
You’ve Loved me from the start
Waiting here for you
With our hands lifted high in praise
And it’s You we adore
You are everything You promised
Your faithfulness is true
And we’re Desperate for Your presence
All we need is You
We’re singing, Hallelujah
We’re singing, Hallelujah
Christianity in this country is big, powerful, and familiar. We need it to become strange again.
An edifying article by Russell D. Moore.
“I was distracted at the Baltimore Orioles’ game the other night. At the end of the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), my wife and I joined friends at Camden Yards, but a new friend with us there in the stands kept driving my attention to a jail cell overseas.
A few hours earlier, that new friend, Naghmeh Abedini, had joined me on the platform of our gathering of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. I called the SBC to stand with her husband, Saeed, an American citizen who is imprisoned in Iran for his evangelical faith. As we ate hamburgers and watched umpires call balls and strikes, I wondered what was happening, at that very moment, to Saeed. Was he being beaten? Was he, like Paul and Silas of old, singing hymns behind the bars?
I couldn’t help but wonder if we were living a parable.
After all, before and after we had prayed for Saeed and the persecuted church on our knees on the convention floor, we had prayed for awakening and revival in our American churches. Southern Baptist baptism rates are robust compared to tanking mainline Protestantism, but they are anemic given our history and our aspirations of reaching our neighbors with the gospel.
It would be easy to assume that American evangelicals are the “strong” ones, standing up for our “weak” brothers and sisters imperiled around the world. In one sense, that’s obviously true. We can pressure the State Department to act. We can send relief to communities in peril. We can use information technology to alert the global community to what is happening to religious minorities (not only Christians) due to persecution.
But more and more American Christians are recognizing that we should not only advocate for our persecuted brothers and sisters; we should also learn from them how to live as Christians.
Evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer warned in the 1970s that affluence is spiritually dangerous for Christians. He pointed to the ancient words of the Hebrew prophets and said that those who need never to wonder where daily bread will come from soon stop praying for it — and turn to immorality.
It’s hard to question his diagnosis, especially since it echoes Jesus himself.
For a generation, American evangelicals have talked quite a bit about “faith” and “values.” We want “faith-friendly” movies and we build coalitions of “people of faith.” We talk about “traditional values” when it comes to policy questions. But “faith” and “values” aren’t necessarily praiseworthy. Jesus told us there are all sorts of faith responses to the Word he was preaching. He compared these to seeds that fall on different kinds of soil. The seed that falls on rocky ground, Jesus said, appears to be vital, until persecution comes and then the hearer walks away.
But what happens when there is no persecution?
We have grown accustomed to an American civil religion, nominally Christian, where in many places it does someone social good to join a church. To say “I’m not a Christian” has been in those places the equivalent of saying “I’m not a good person.” This has inflated membership rolls, yes, but it has done so at the expense of what Jesus calls the gospel: the call to carry a cross.
Moreover, this nominal Christianity has emphasized the “values” and “meaning” aspects of Christianity while often downplaying the “strangeness” of Christianity, namely the conviction that a previously dead man is alive and returning to judge the living and the dead.
This Bible Belt experiment will not long survive the secularizing of American culture, where increasingly even the “values” seem strange to the culture. The church will survive, and, I believe, flourish — but it will mean the stripping away of the almost-gospels we’ve grown accustomed to.
In the “religion” aisle at any given bookstore, one can see volumes promising “every day a Friday” and so on. Jesus is the totem to acquire what American culture has told us we deserve. This is closer to Canaanite fertility religion than to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have become the people Jesus warned us about.
When we encounter those persecuted around the world, we see a glimpse of what Jesus has called all of us to. We see the sort of faith that isn’t a means to an end. We see the sort of faith that joins the global Body of Christ, across time and space, in the confession of a different sort of reign. We see a gospel that isn’t the American Dream with heaven at the end.
When we pray for those in prison for their faith, we remember that the gospel came to us in letters written from jail. When we plead for those whose churches are burned in Egypt, we remember that our hope isn’t in building religious empires but in a New Jerusalem we’ve never seen. When we weep for those crucified in Syria, we remember that our Lord isn’t a guru or a life coach, but a crucified Christ. That can remind us of the gospel we signed up for in the first place, and free us from our fat, affluent, almost-gospels that can never save.
Maybe at next year’s denominational meeting, we’ll go to another ball game. And, I pray, it’s possible that not only Naghmeh but also her husband can join us — as a free man. We’ll celebrate, and we’ll pray for those still in chains. But then I think we’ll just ask him to preach.
We American evangelicals need our persecuted brother more than he needs us.”
by Jared C. Wilson
The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms . . .
– Deuteronomy 33:27
I am sorry for the lack of posting in a long while. Life and ministry have occupied most of my time, and I am sad to report to those who don’t follow me on Twitter that our church is undergoing yet more challenges from the beast called cancer. In the last 6 months we lost our friends Anne and Richard. Our friends Daisy and Jerry are said to be fighting on the final fronts. And so is our friend Natalie. Can I tell you a bit about her?
Natalie is one of our deaconesses. I say “is” even though she tried to resign and we wouldn’t accept. It didn’t seem right. One of my first memories of Natalie was at a funeral, actually, one of the first of the many I have officiated in my five years in Middletown. I don’t even remember who it was for — it was not a church member but a townsperson — and I was doing my normal introverted, new pastor on the job thing, being young and shy and scared hanging out in the kitchen at the fire hall. Natalie comes walking in. “What are you doing in here? Go out there and meet people.”
Excuse me? Who does this lady think she is?
One of my best critics and greatest friends, actually. As I’ve thought over our friendship the last few weeks, it occurs to me that Natalie is the person from the church I talk with the most. Several times a week we exchange emails. We volunteer together at the local food shelf. When I have to meet with a woman alone at the church, Natalie is the one who will come and hang out in the room next door. Natalie is the one who, when she’s at the table, I know things will get done. When she says something is doable, dangit, it’s doable. Natalie went from my shrewdest challenger to my fiercest supporter and encourager.
On Easter Sunday a friend said, “Natalie, your eyes look yellow.” She went to the doctor that Monday, where they did blood work. Tuesday they called and said “Go to the ER.” She was in the hospital over a week. They found problems with the bile duct, but in that process, also, pancreatic cancer, which, they say, nobody survives. But they also created all kinds of complications in the bile duct procedures which left her feeble and wounded. Talk of air building up, of bile building up, of perforated this and that. And even if that stuff could be fixed, there was still the cancer, which again they say, nobody survives.
Natalie refused treatment. She could not endure any more surgeries. Every thing the doctors did only created three more things to do. She wasn’t going to fool with all that.
She’s at a friend’s home now in Middletown, and hospice has taken over. They gave her a few days to two weeks to live. That was 11 days ago. She’s in a lot of pain. We all hope the perforations and the air and the bile and all that is getting sorted internally, by the body’s great design or God’s great miraculous way. But there’s still that cancer untreated. And nobody, they say, survives that.
I’ve been reading Scripture to her. She asked for Revelation — with its whores and dragons and plagues and beheadings — and for Ecclesiastes — with its vanities and meaninglessnesses and chasings of the wind. This tells you something about Natalie.
I said, “Why Revelation?,” as I’m reading Jesus’ letters to the churches. “This is what I have against you!” he declares over and over.
She said, “He’s not talking to me!”
I said, “Why Ecclesiastes?”
She said, “Because I see that having a bunch of stuff and money and fame doesn’t do anything. It tells me I didn’t waste my life.”
Some people tell Natalie they are mad at God about this. She gets mad about their getting mad. “God’s the reason we have anything in the first place.”
Yesterday she pointed to the collection of cards she’s received. “I almost wish you’d take them all away,” she said.
“Because they go on and on about how great I am and how I’ve done all these wonderful things for them. And they don’t know how selfish I am. Anything good I’ve done wasn’t me.”
Her kids are grown. They are all here, even her son who lives in Sweden. He says, “Wouldn’t it be something if of all the things the doctors got terribly wrong, it was also this diagnosis about the bile and the air? Maybe, if she starts feeling better, she will change her mind about fighting the cancer.”
But, they keep saying, nobody survives pancreatic cancer.
Natalie was upset the other day that she didn’t know when she was gonna go. “They said ‘a few days to two weeks’ eleven days ago. Now they won’t tell me how long I have.” She pauses, eyes closed. “God knows.”
I don’t know when Natalie will go. I don’t know when I will go. None of us knows the when, really. I could go before her. Any of us could.
I preached on Psalm 1 at a conference last weekend, and this line from verse 6 strikes me: “the Lord knows the way of the righteous.” There is nothing more precious than to be known by God, all our days and all our ways.
It has been difficult watching Natalie, a fit, healthy, thin giant of a woman, shrink down in body and energy. And yet, one thing I have learned over the course of our church’s afflictions is that when a saint’s body gives way, their spirit builds up. They get smaller, and God gets bigger, as if their passing is itself a foretaste of the day Christ will put all things in subjection under his feet. And we are not annihilated on that day but redeemed, resurrected, restored. When we die, we get smaller and God gets bigger, that he might be all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).
The day before Richard died, I stood in his bedroom while he lay in his deathbed. Another bed had been pressed up against it, where his wife slept by his side in the night. I was told I could speak to him, although Richard was not conscious, heavily sedated. Because of that other bed parallel to his own, I could not sit near him. I had to actually lay down next to him. So I did. While his sister and aunt watched, I crawled basically into bed with him, lying on my side to face him, and we laid there, inches from each other, while I looked into his thin face. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open. I could feel and smell his breath, slow and labored on my own face. I said to him, “Richard, God loves you and approves of you.” (These were the words the Spirit spoke to my heart in my moment of gospel wakefulness years ago.) “Richard, the Lord is proud of you and ready to welcome you because of your faith in him.” Then I said something that has been a meaningful exhortation to me ever since Ray Ortlund said it to me over plates of enchiladas at Cancun Mexican Restaurant in Nashville, Tennessee. “You are a mighty man of God.”
The words sounded weird given our intimate, vulnerable, tender positions.
In the ordinary, in the mundane, in the boredom. In the throes of suffering, in the pangs and numbness of depression, in the threats to life and safety. Christ is all.
Richard passed early the next morning. His body finally gave way to the brokenness and the curse. Few people survive brain tumors. And yet — he did. He really and truly did. Thinking of him standing in the presence of God in great glory, presented blameless by virtue of the righteousness of Christ, he was swallowed up into the divine kingdom in which he was already seated with Christ, into the very God in which he was already hidden. Richard was — is — more than a conqueror.
Jesus looks right into the eyes of Lazarus’ sobbing sister and says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live. Do you believe this?”
I do. I really do, by God’s grace.
So does Natalie. Nobody survives pancreatic cancer, “they” say. But the blood of Christ speaks a better word. Natalie will survive.
Everyone who is in Christ will survive — prevail, even.
He must increase, but I must decrease.
– John 3:30
-Jared C. Wilson,
Father, in captivity,
We would lift our prayers to Thee,
Keep us ever in Thy love,
Grant that daily we may prove
Those who place their trust in Thee
More than conquerors may be.
Give us patience to endure.
Keep our hearts serene and pure,
Grant us courage, charity,
Greater faith, humility,
Readiness to own Thy will,
Be we free or captives still.
For our country we would pray,
In this hour be Thou her stay,
Pride and sinfulness forgive,
Teach her by Thy laws to live,
By Thy grace may all men see
That true greatness comes from Thee.
For our loved ones we would pray,
Be their guardian night and day,
From all danger keep them free,
Banish all anxiety,
May they trust us to Thy care,
Know that Thou our pains dost share.
May the day of freedom dawn,
Peace and justice be reborn,
Grant that nations loving Thee
O’er the world may brothers be,
Cleansed by suffering, know rebirth,
See Thy kingdom come on earth.
-Margaret Dryburgh (1890–1945), written while interred under horrific conditions during World War 2. Margaret was a Presbyterian missionary who died in Japanese captivity on Sumatra.
Pray for the persecuted church today!
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’ (John 15:18-25)
China seeks to tear down the Christian church. Evidence: church building demolished by the Chinese government, CNN article.
The world may tear down our buildings but God is building a spiritual house–the temple of the living God–in the hearts of His people. The church is His people. No building permit is needed. States unleash the wreckers, but no bulldozer can stop the church. There is no authority on earth or under heaven which can delay the construction schedule of God’s house. Jesus promises He will build His church and even the gates of hell shall not prevail against it!
So many Christian suffer so much for Christ. May we never forget them!
“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Hebrews 13:3)
From Tavis Bohlinger
Reading Isaiah in bed just a few nights ago a piece of folded paper fell out into my lap. It was a photocopy of the same text that has been sitting on Pastor John MacArthur’s desk for many years now. I received this while attending The Master’s Seminary, and it has stuck with me every since. It is a timely reminder for me at the end of what has turned out to be a very difficult and challenging, though at times rewarding, first year of PhD studies. John prefaces this quote from an anonymous author with the following words: ‘To regularly remind myself of … self-sacrificing love, I have on my desk the following words from an unknown source:’
“When you are forgotten or neglected or purposely set at naught, and you sting and hurt with the insult of the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ—that is dying to self.
When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient loving silence—that is dying to self.
When you lovingly and patiently bear any disorder, and irregularity, or any annoyance, when you can stand face to face with waste, folly, extravagance, spiritual insensibility, and endure it as Jesus endured it—that is dying to self.
When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any attitude, any interruption by the will of God—that is dying to self.
When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown—that is dying to self.
When you see your brother prosper and have his needs met and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances—that is dying to self.
When you can receive correction and reproof from one of less stature than yourself, can humbly submit inwardly as well as outwardly, finding no rebellion or resentment rising up within your heart—that is dying to self.”
Am I a soldier of the cross,
A follower of the Lamb,
And shall I fear to own His cause,
Or blush to speak His Name?
Must I be carried to the skies
On flowery beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?
Are there no foes for me to face?
Must I not stem the flood?
Is this vile world a friend to grace,
To help me on to God?
Sure I must fight if I would reign;
Increase my courage, Lord.
I’ll bear the toil, endure the pain,
Supported by Thy Word.
Thy saints in all this glorious war
Shall conquer, though they die;
They see the triumph from afar,
By faith’s discerning eye.
When that illustrious day shall rise,
And all Thy armies shine
In robes of victory through the skies,
The glory shall be Thine.
-Isaac Watts, written for a sermon on 1 Corinthians 16:13, Published 1721-4
“It may be that the reaction of some to the re-telling of the Müller story will be to wish that they themselves were similarly gifted with faith. And to be sure, Müller was a great man of faith. But in his lifetime, he used to deny that he had been given a special gift of faith.
‘My faith,’ he said, ‘is the same faith which is found in every believer. Try it for yourself and you will see the help of God, if you trust in Him.’
‘But what can we do to have our faith strengthened?’ people used to ask him.
1. ‘First,’ he would reply, ‘read the Bible carefully and thoughtfully. Then you will learn more and more about God’s character – how kind, loving, merciful, wise and faithful He is. Then when difficulties come, you will be able to rest on God’s ability and willingness to help you.’
2. ‘Second,’ said Müller, ‘try to keep your conscience clear. Otherwise when your faith is tested, you will have no confidence in God because of your guilty conscience.’
3. ‘Third, don’t try to avoid situations where your faith may be tested. Naturally we don’t like trusting in God alone but it is when we do this that our faith is strengthened.’
4. ‘Finally, remember that God won’t test you more than you are able to bear. Be patient, and He will prove to you how willing He is to help and deliver, the moment it is good for you.’”
“The living God is with us, whose power never fails, whose arm never grows weary, whose wisdom is infinite and whose power is unchanging. Therefore today, tomorrow and the next month, as long as life is continued, He will be our helper and friend. Still more, even as He is through all time, so He will be through all eternity.”
-Roger Steer writing on George Müller in Delighted in God (Christian Focus Publications, 1997), 242-243.