Thursday, March 31, 2011

Where is the harvest? Who is the harvest?

I am looking for a little help from my friends.  I have been camped out in Matthew 8-9 for many days.  This morning I read the very familiar words of Christ, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few". (9:37)

In your opinion, where is the “harvest” today?  Who is the harvest today?  Jesus sent his disciples to a very specific group, if you were called as a laborer, where would you go and to whom? 

Thank you!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God

Sometimes you just need a good dose of the classics.  I recently listened with great intensity as I heard the classic sermon, "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" by Jonathan Edwards, originally given in 1741.  The recording that I listened to was either made in the 50's or made to sound like it was recorded 50 years ago.  The scratchy sounds reminded me of listening to a well loved LP.  The voice of the orator heralded the poignant words of the sermon notes as if Edwards himself had risen from the grave to preach this masterpiece to a much needed audience.  The result of the old-time sound made it easy to believe that I was sitting in church listening to Jonathan Edwards preach this hell-fire and damnation sermon.  It was said when this sermon was first preached, the congregation began clutching the pews in fear that the ground would open up and swallow the wretched sinners.    

The other classic that I have been enjoying is Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Instead of reading this again, I purchased the audiobook so I could listen to it.  At work, in my car, going for a walk are all places in which I have been enjoying this classic.  I have to confess, I didn't know that C.S. Lewis was so funny.  The printed matter didn't convey to me the same sense of humor that I am now enjoying.

May I recommend that you immerse yourself in a classic, whether for first time or the 10th time.  They are classics for a reason and have had impactful influence on the greatest theologians and pastors alive today.

You can find the sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" many places on the web but here is a great resource for all things classic - Christian Classics Ethereal Library, www.ccel.org.  Here's a direct link to the sermon.  http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/sermons.sinners.html 

An audio version is available at Sermonaudio.com.  It's not the one I listened to but it is a free audio version as well as a pdf version of the sermon.  http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=770213541

ENJOY!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Where is God in disasters? (part 2)

The last few nights sleep has eluded me.  The mysteries of God can be deeply profound and more than mortal man can comprehend (Isaiah 55:8-11).  However, it doesn’t stop us from trying to make sense of the profundities of life.  Over the next few issues I want to examine God's providence, His sovereignty and the profound impact of His sovereignty on the direction of our lives (i.e. God's will).  Part 1 and 2 will be reprints of an article by John Piper that addresses God's sovereignty in natural disasters.  Parts 3 and following I want to answer some very specific questions that many might be asking in lieu of disasters abroad or in our own lives.

Here's part 2:

Tsunami, Sovereignty, and Mercy
By John Piper
© Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org 


“The waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me. . . This God—his way is perfect” (2 Samuel 22:5, 31).

After the loss of his ten children owing to a “natural disaster” (Job 1:19), Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). At the end of the book, the inspired writer confirms Job’s understanding of what happened. He says Job’s brothers and sisters “comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). This has several crucial implications for us as we think about the calamity in the Indian Ocean.

1) Satan is not ultimate, God is.
Satan had a hand in Job’s misery, but not the decisive hand. God gave Satan permission to afflict Job (Job 1:12; 2:10). But Job and the writer of this book treat God as the ultimate and decisive cause. When Satan afflicts Job with sores, Job says to his wife, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10), and the writer calls these satanic sores “the evil that the Lord had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). So Satan is real. Satan brings misery. But Satan is not ultimate or decisive. He is on a leash. He goes no farther than God decisively permits.

2) Even if Satan caused the earthquake in the Indian Ocean the day after Christmas, he is not the decisive cause of 100,000+ deaths, God is.
God claims power over tsunamis in Job 38:8 when he asks Job rhetorically, “Who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb . . . and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?” Psalm 89:8-9 says, “O Lord . . . you rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.” And Jesus himself has the same control today as he once did over the deadly threats of waves: “He . . . rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm” (Luke 8:24). In other words, even if Satan caused the earthquake, God could have stopped the waves.

3) Destructive calamities in this world mingle judgment and mercy.
Their purposes are not simple. Job was a godly man and his miseries were not God’s punishment (Job 1:1, 8). Their design was purifying not punishment (Job 42:6). But we do not know the spiritual condition of Job’s children. Job was certainly concerned about them (Job 1:5). God may have taken their life in judgment. If that is true, then the same calamity proved in the end to be mercy for Job and judgment on his children. This is true of all calamities. They mingle judgment and mercy. They are both punishment and purification. Suffering, and even death, can be both judgment and mercy at the same time.

The clearest illustration of this is the death of Jesus. It was both judgment and mercy. It was judgment on Jesus because he bore our sins (not his own), and it was mercy toward us who trust him to bear our punishment (Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24) and be our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Another example is the curse that lies on this fallen earth. Those who do not believe in Christ experience it as judgment, but believers experience it as, merciful, though painful, preparation for glory. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope” (Romans 8:20). This is God’s subjection. This is why there are tsunamis.

Who suffers from this fallen world of natural disasters? All of us, Christians included: “Not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). For those who cast themselves on the mercy of Christ these afflictions are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). And when death comes, it is a door to paradise. But for those who do not treasure Christ, suffering and death are God’s judgment. “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17).

For children, who are too young to process mentally the revelation of God in nature or Scripture, death is not the final word of judgment. God’s commitment to display his justice publicly means that he does not finally condemn sinful people who could not physically construe natural or special revelation (Romans 1:20). There is a difference between suppressing revelation that one can mentally comprehend (Romans 1:18), and not having a brain sufficient to comprehend it at all. Therefore, when small children suffer and die, we may not assume they are being punished or judged. No matter how horrible the suffering or death, God can turn it for their greater good.

4) The heart that Christ gives to his people feels compassion for those who suffer, no matter what their faith.
When the Bible says, “Weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15), it does not add, “unless God caused the weeping.” Job’s comforters would have done better to weep with Job than talk so much. That does not change when we discover that Job’s suffering was ultimately from God. No, it is right to weep with those who suffer. Pain is pain, no matter who causes it. We are all sinners. Empathy flows not from the causes of pain, but the company of pain. And we are all in it together.

5) Finally, Christ calls us to show mercy to those who suffer, even if they do not deserve it.
That is the meaning of mercy—undeserved help. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). Therefore, pray earnestly for Scott Purser and his team as they investigate the best way that the Global Diaconate can mercifully respond with the love of Christ to the calamity around the Indian Ocean.

In the merciful hands of Almighty God,

Pastor John



© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred.
http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TasteAndSee/ByDate/2004/1278_Tsunami_Sovereignty_and_Mercy/
Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org 

Where is God in disasters? (part 1)

The last few nights sleep has eluded me.  The mysteries of God can be deeply profound and more than mortal man can comprehend (Isaiah 55:8-11).  However, it doesn’t stop us from trying to make sense of the profundities of life.  Over the next few issues I want to examine God's providence, His sovereignty and the profound impact of His sovereignty on the direction of our lives (i.e. God's will).  Part 1 and 2 will be reprints of an article by John Piper that addresses God's sovereignty in natural disasters.  Parts 3 and following I want to answer some very specific questions that many might be asking in lieu of disasters abroad or in our own lives.

Here's part 1:


Whence and Why the Earthquake in Turkey?
By John Piper August 18, 1999
© Desiring God. Website: www.desiringGod.org


"Weep with those who weep" (Romans 12:15). When love has wept and worked, it must have some answers. Not all the answers, but some. No earthquakes in the Bible are attributed to Satan. Many are attributed to God.** This is because God is Lord of heaven and earth. "He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey Him" (Luke 8:25). "He sends forth His command to the earth. . . . He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes. He casts forth His ice as fragments; who can stand before His cold? . . . He causes His wind to blow and the waters to flow" (Psalm 147:15-18). "He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they smoke" (Psalm 104:32). "[He] shakes the earth out of its place, and its pillars tremble" (Job 9:6). And if the devils try to intrude on his control, "He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him" (Mark 1:27).

Earthquakes are ultimately from God. Nature does not have a will of its own. And God owes Satan no freedom. What havoc demons wreak, they wreak with God's permission. That's the point of Job 1-2 and Luke 22:31-32. God does nothing without an infinitely wise and good purpose. "He also is wise and will bring disaster" (Isaiah 31:2). "The LORD is good" (Psalm 100:5). Therefore, God had good and all-wise purposes for the heart-rending tragedy in Turkey that took thousands of lives on August 16, 1999.

Indeed he had hundreds of thousands of purposes, most of which will remain hidden to us until we are able to grasp them at the end of the age. "How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord?" (Romans 11:33-34). "The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever" (Deuteronomy 29:29).

Yet there are possible purposes revealed in the Bible that we may pray will come to pass.

   1. The end-time earthquakes in the book of Revelation (see the footnote) are meant as calls to repentance to warn people who deny Jesus Christ that a day is coming when unbelievers will cry to the mountains and the rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16).
   2. The end-time earthquakes in Matthew 24:7-8 are meant to be interpreted as "the beginning of the birth pangs." That is, they are a wake-up call to this oblivious world that God's kingdom will soon be born; so be alert and prepare to meet Jesus Christ.
   3. God's unilateral taking of thousands of lives is a loud declaration that "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away" (Job 1:21). The message for all the world is that life is a loan from God (Luke 12:20) and belongs to him. He creates it and gives it and takes it according to his own will and owes us nothing. He has a right to children (2 Samuel 12:15) and to the aged (Luke 2:29). It is a great gift to learn this truth and dedicate our lives to their true owner rather than defraud him till it is too late.
   4. The power felt in an earthquake reveals the fearful magnificence of God. This is a great gift since "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalm 111:10). Most of the world does not fear the Lord and therefore lacks saving wisdom.
   5. When the earth shakes under your feet there is a dramatic sense that there is no place to flee. In most disasters the earth is the one thing that stands firm when wind and flood are raging. But where do you turn when the earth itself is unsafe? Answer: God.

May the Lord fulfill two other purposes for this painful catastrophe. 1) That Christians repent of worldliness. "I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3). 2) That Christians, around the world, step forward with extraordinary, sacrificial love to show more clearly the mercy of Christ who laid down his life in the midst of the Father's judgment.

Praying, giving, trembling, trusting,

Pastor John

    ** 2 Samuel 22:8; Isaiah 13:13; 24:18-20; 29:6; Psalm 60:2; Nahum 1:5-6; Revelation 6:12; 8:5; 11:13f; 16:18.

© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred.
http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/TopicIndex/129_Natural_Disasters/1136_Whence_and_Why_the_Earthquake_in_Turkey/
Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.
Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

To the Clouds: Faith is Gazing at the Heart of God (part 3)

What motivates you?  You are who you are because...?  Before you read another sentence, take a moment to answer that question (I’ll wait).  Do you have an answer?  I have all the time in the world if you aren’t ready.  Ready?  Great, let’s begin.

When it comes to things that motivate us, our answers are probably as diverse as we are.  However, I suspect that money, family, love and God are high on most lists.  The writer of Hebrews excites our Christian faith as we are reminded of the great Heroes of Faith in chapter 11.  He wants to motivate us to be the next Abraham, Moses and Enoch.  They seem larger than life yet the goal of finishing strong seems to be within our grasp.  Read with me the next two verses that follow that great chapter on faith.   

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder [author] and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” [emphasis NASB]

The Greek word for cloud (νέφος), used only here in this form, refers to a large dense multitude.  Calvin said, “Had they been a few in number, yet they ought to have roused us by their example; but as they were a vast throng, they ought more powerfully to stimulate us.
He says that we are so surrounded by this dense throng, that wherever we turn our eyes many examples of faith immediately meet us.” 

This motivates me!  I want to please God like Enoch, I want to consider the reproach of Christ greater wealth than all the money of Wall Street.  I want to walk by faith like Abraham and remain faithful like Daniel.  The image of running a race on the same track that the greatest runners of all time have raced would be awe-inspiring.  Imagine running a race were the stands are filled with your heroes and they are cheering as you pass by, “you can do it,” “don’t give up,” “keep your eyes on Jesus”.  A better image might be a relay race where Abraham is passing me the baton to run a section of the race, ready to pass it on to the next person.  I am not running to please them, but their inspirational lives provide a great motivator for me to run as they did. 

My ultimate motivator is none other than Jesus, the author and perfecter of my faith.  Listen to these verses just one more time from The Message, then get motivated for the right reasons.

1Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. 2Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. 3When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item,
that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!
Hebrews 12:1-3