Testimony About Jesus

“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid.  There is another who testifies in my favour, and I know that His testimony about me is valid.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 5:31-32

                Just recently as I was relaxing and watching a comedy on television the situation was presented whereby a young man began to express a romantic interest in a young woman.  He announced that he was not going to give up until she agreed to be his.  As you can imagine, given that nature of this sinful world in which we live, his pursuit of the young woman descended into an awkward stalking relationship.  The point I found myself reflecting upon as that television show proceeded was from a much purer point of view.  This was the young man’s commitment to building a relationship with the woman.  He took a long view of how the relationship might develop.   How like the point that the Apostle John brings us to as He describes the life and ministry of the LORD Jesus Christ in his gospel. 

                In the fifth chapter of that gospel John describes the defence that Jesus gives as He responds to the constant persecution which comes from His enemies.  His defence focuses upon the truth about Himself and the rules of evidence which are set out in the Scriptures.  In everything that Jesus says here He has a long view of the issues that are involved.  His enemies want to put Jesus to death.  Jesus looks beyond His own death to the Day of Judgement which was coming.  When Jesus brings in the very human testimony of John the Baptist which these enemies had sought out and even gloried in for a season he speaks about the fact that human testimony and opinion does not amount to very much when it comes to the things of God.  There is a much weightier testimony available which is that which the Father Himself has given in His Word.  Jesus however makes use of John’s testimony, because He knows that it is something which these enemies had witnesses and to a certain extent it was something that they respected.  He make use of it for one reason only, in verse 34 Jesus states this, “I mention it that you might be saved.”  With this we are given a glimpse into the heart of the LORD Jesus Christ.  While these enemies as committed to a policy of bringing Jesus to the cross He is pursuing a very different path.  The LORD Jesus Christ is seeking to save these enemies.  He is presenting evidence that just might touch their hearts and bring them to repentance.  He is demonstrating Himself as the friend of sinners.  The Apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans.  “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) 

                Think about this for a few moments.  While you were the enemy of God Christ was dying for you.  What does this mean?  It means that while you were rebelling, committed to a sinful path in life, seeking to destroy the testimony of the Gospel, behaving in all kinds of wicked ways, the LORD Jesus Christ was not sitting in the wings of history waiting for the opportunity to destroy you.  He was dying for you.  He is interceding for you.  He is reaching out his hands in gracious love to you offering you hope and healing.  He has taken upon Himself your sin.  He bore it all in agony upon the cross of Calvary.  In essence He is speaking to you and saying it does not matter what you have done in the past.  It does not matter how deep into iniquity you have descended.  There is no amount of sin which will be able to keep from you the love of God.  If you will come to Him, believing that He is the Son of God who gave His life as a ransom for you, then you will be saved.  The question is however will you come to Him in faith?

Commissioned To Preach

                “Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His Name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  I am going to send you what My Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.””

                                                                                                                                                                                Luke 24:45-49

                There is something truly wonderful about the way in which each of the gospel writers closes out their books.  In each one there is a form of the great commission in which the disciples of the LORD Jesus Christ are sent out with the responsibility to proclaim the message of grace to the whole world.  With Matthew the commission comes with the promise that the LORD Jesus Christ will go out with them.  Here in Luke the promise is that the Promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit will be given in order to empower the witness of the disciples.  The point that each of them is making is that the commission given to the church is the primary responsibility of the Triune God who is going with us and empowering us for cross centred witness. 

                Each gospel writer has his own focus.  For Luke the focus is upon the gift of the Holy Spirit who comes to bear witness to the LORD Jesus Christ.  He opens our minds to the truths of the Scriptures so that we can understand that the things with the Christ suffered were necessities proclaimed by the Old Testament Prophets.  These things must happen.  He must suffer the cross.  He must rise from the dead.  We must proclaim the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins, which is the Biblical definition of the Gospel, to all nations.  The Holy Spirit is the Missionary Spirit.  The Church is a Missionary Church.  Luke labours in his Gospel as well as in the Book of Acts to make this clear. 

                The Apostle John reinforces this when he writes in John 14:26 these words, “But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  The Holy Spirit causes us to understand the message of the Scriptures, particularly as it points to the suffering of the Christ upon the cross as atonement for our sins.  Luke quotes Jesus as pointing to this fact in the quotation regarding the Great Commission.  He must suffer and die and He must be raised again.  This is the heart of the Gospel.  There is no salvation apart from this great event.  Jesus without the cross simply gives us an impossible example to follow.  With the cross and the resurrection He encounters us in the depth of our miserable slavery to sin and He redeems us from it by taking our place.  In the account quoted by John regarding the woman caught in adultery Jesus does not condemn her for one reason alone.  This is because He will soon be taking her place.  The condemnation will rest upon Him for her sin, but also for your sin and mine (John 7:53-8:11).  It is this message of grace that we are called to preach in the power of the Holy Spirit to every nation in this world.  It is the message of grace.                 The proclamation of the Gospel of grace calls us to repentance for one very powerful reason.  This is because it is of grace.  We cannot earn it.  It is not dependant on our own goodness.  It calls us no cease depending upon anything which we could do for ourselves.  We must put our trust in the LORD Jesus Christ.  The Apostle Paul put it this way as he wrote to the Philippians Church.  “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  If anyone else thinks that he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the Church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.  But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  What is more I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my LORD, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead.” (Philippians 3:3-11)

Evangelism

                “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.””

                                                                                                                                                Matthew 28:16-20

                Throughout the long history of the Christian Church there has always been an intense wrestling with the task of the expansion of the Christian Church.  We might call the task evangelism, or disciple making.  Some might refer to such terms as Church Growth or a missonal approach to Church life.  As we have debated, and developed our work we have had a whole variety of approaches, some better than others.  At the heart of the debate however has been a desire to see people brought into a genuine discipleship.  Hugh Halter, in his book The Tangible Kingdom points to the absolute necessity of the working of the Holy Spirit in our attempts to carry out our call to lead others to genuine faith.  A century ago a missionary writer by the name of Roland Allan touched upon the same theme in his books Missionary Methods: Ours or Saint Paul’s? And The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church.  In both Allan pointed us towards faith in the Holy Spirit as He causes us to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ as the power source for authentic expansion of the Kingdom of God.

                It seems as if our present debate is leading us back to a real wrestling with the Great Commission as it is found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.  In Matthew 28:16-20 we encounter several helpful thoughts which push us forward in mission.  The first is that such a work is in fact the response that we make to genuine worship.  Worship requires faith.  Matthew tells us that when the Disciples met Jesus on the mountain in Galilee they worshipped Him, “but some doubted”.  What was required was faith.  We might ask however; “Faith in what?”  As Jesus delivers the commission He leads us into that faith.  What these disciples have experienced, and what we are called to believe is that the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled in His ministry the prophesy Daniel delivers which is really the promise of a coming Kingdom.  In Daniel 7:14 we read, “He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”  Later on in Daniel 7:27 we read further that, “Then the sovereignty power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High.  His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and adore Him.”  There are many things that could be said about these verses and how we can understand them, but for our purposes here I will confine myself to these thoughts.

  1. Jesus is claiming, in Matthew 28:16-20 that this promise has been fulfilled in Him.
  2. Faith that this is so is a necessity if we are to be part of the promised kingdom.
  3. It is fulfilled in Him and in His people, who are in fact “in Him.”
  4. We abide in Him as the Holy Spirit unites us with Him.  This is one of the central doctrines of our faith.
  5. John Miller in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church describes how this became a reality for him as he gave himself without reservation to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.  Miller goes on to say that he then stepped out in faith obeying that command of the Lord even when he did not feel like it.
  6. This is what Jesus means when He tells His disciples that they are to make disciples of all nations as they are going.”  For me this means that in every place that I find myself I am called to obey my Lord’s command to make disciples of Him.
  7. This command is for all Christians.  It is not restricted to Disciples, or Apostles, or Pastors, or to those who some hired to serve.  It is for every believer.
  8. The command requires faith that recognises that as we are going, He is going with us.

In times of revival in the church I believe that we draw close to this reality.  We begin to pray and to live as those who have heard the call of the Lord to go out with this faith, courageously making disciples of the nations. 

For The Glory Of Christ

                “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.  And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”

                                                                                                                                                                Romans 8:26-27

                It is of vital importance that the Church of Christ recaptures an awareness of and commitment to the prayer meeting.  So much of the power which we need for genuine outreach in this world hardened by sin is dependent on prayer.  We need the presence of the LORD Jesus Christ among us.  We need an ever deepening awareness of His glory.  It is this which draws people to His holy presence.  In Matthew’s Gospel we read these words from the lips of our saviour.  For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

                One of the key issues which we often find ourselves facing as we think about joining with others in prayer is our own lack of proficiency in prayer.  We hear about the effective and fervent praying of others and then look at ourselves and in reality we judge ourselves as being deficient in our prayer life.  Surely the reason for this is owing to our focus upon ourselves.  We are not looking at the LORD and His limitless resources, but at our own all too frequent failures and limitations. 

                I found this account given by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in a sermon entitled The Fatherhood of God, based upon the Lord’s Prayer.  “As one dear brother said the other day at the prayer meeting, — he could not get on in prayer, and he finished up on a sudden by saying, “LORD, I cannot pray tonight as I should wish; I cannot put the words together; LORD, take the meaning, take the meaning,” and sat down.” (Spurgeon’s Sermons, Vol. 5, Hendrickson publishers, Peabody, Mass. 2011, p. 109)

                This illustration helps us to understand the dynamic which the Apostle Paul is describing in the Romans 8 passage quoted at the beginning of this devotional.  We often don’t know how to pray.  Our words and our understanding are often so very limited and unsatisfactory.  We feel as if anything that we could add to the prayer meeting will be unhelpful.  We have forgotten something however.  This is that the prayer meeting, like everything else in the Christian life is not really about us.  It is all about the Glory of the LORD Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit comes to Glorify Christ.  He comes in and intercedes for us as one who knows just what the will of God is for us.  He knows what is really in our hearts and He will pray for us accordingly.  He knows what we are really seeking in life and will bring our desires into accord with the purpose and plan of God so that we might be conformed to the likeness of Christ.  It is not about us.  It is all about the LORD Jesus Christ.  In the prayer meeting, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we are brought into the reality of a life lived for the Glory of Christ. 

                Ian Hamilton expressed this truth so well in a Pastoral Letter to the Cambridge Presbyterian Church in March of 2010, www.cambridgepres.org.uk/nl/nl1003.html.           “I shall lay the foundation of the ensuing meditations in this one assertion, — namely, that one of the greatest privileges and advancements of believers, both in this world and unto eternity, consists in their BEHOLDING THE GLORY OF CHRIST (1.286).”

                It is to this that the Holy Spirit leads us as we gather together with other believers to pray. 

Living In Christ

                “I am the true vine, and My Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in Me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 15:1-5

                I have been spending a lot of time brooding on this passage from John’s Gospel.  Brooding is the word that Packer and Nystrom use in Praying, for the Christian practice of meditating upon the Scriptures.  It is a wonderful and descriptive word which ushers us into the heart of a way of living that is centred upon the prayerful application of the Word of God to our lives.  In looking carefully at this text of Scripture I have been struck once again by the vital necessity of remaining in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Actually I prefer to translate this word with “abide” or “live.”  What our Lord is telling us here is that we can accomplish nothing in our lives as believers apart a living relationship with Lord Jesus Christ.  Hudson Taylor called this “the exchanged life” in Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret.  It is a looking unto the Lord Jesus Christ as the faithful one.  He will always keep His promise to us.  He has promised to dwell in our hearts through faith as we are indwelt by His Holy Spirit.  It seems to me that Jesus is calling His disciples to a conscious step of faith where they seek from God the promised Spirit that He will give to all who seek it. 

                What this calls us to is a life of faithful, obedient, abiding prayerfulness.  We are to be those who earnestly seek and expect God to fulfill His promise and give His Spirit to those who seek Him through faith.  Apart from this active living in the Lord Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit, nothing of eternal blessing can ever be accomplished.  This is where my brooding has come in because as a Pastor I am aware that too often the work that I do is in fact my work, not His.  It is accomplished in my own strength, not His.  It leaves me feeling as if I am apart from Him, not living in vital fellowship with Him.  The consequence is that I find myself too often building a Kingdom of this world rather than the Kingdom of God.  In addition I find that my methods and approach actually work against creating the type of abiding which we so desperately need.

                In my brooding I am sensing a calling for us to become much more focused on developing an intentional prayerful abiding in Christ.  This is a call for all who love our Lord to be committed to a growing life of prayer, seeking to understand what it is that God calls us to as we abide in the Lord Jesus Christ.  I will be exploring this theme this fall in the Adult Sunday School class I teach.  I will also be intentional in calling others to a committed, obedient, prayerful abiding in Christ.  Our hope is to incorporate this way of living into everything that we do.  If you too hear this call to prayerful abiding won’t you commit yourself again to this lifestyle of abiding?

Providence

                “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”

                                                                                                                                                Micah 6:8

                Years ago a friend of mine challenged me by their actions to become a student of the Scriptures.  It never ceases to amaze me how the Lord builds into our lives those key moments in His providence which we look back upon and discover that was when so much of our path in life became set.  This is one of the arguments for God’s grace.  These key moments come about unsought but they form the foundation for our lives.  My friend was sitting in a hallway reading her Bible after classes were finished for the day.  I was with the school track team preparing for our daily workout.  Another friend came by and asked my seated friend what she was doing. Her answer, overheard by me, changed my life.  It was that it had recently occurred to her that she was a pastor’s daughter and she did not understand the Bible.  She then said that she had set herself a goal to read twenty chapters a day so that she could begin to understand God’s Word.  It was as if those words were said for my benefit, because I instantly knew that I must begin to read God’s Word for myself.  There and then began my quest to become Biblically literate.  It is a quest that I am still engaged in.

                Now all of that may seem to be an unusual way to introduce a reflection on Micah 6:8. It is however crucial to my understanding of the verse because it is rooted in the Old Testament Biblical context which calls us to a radically transformed way of living.  John Calvin reflects upon this verse in context by stating that what we see here is God’s confrontation with us based upon His covenant love for us.  So often we approach God in a way that seems right to us.  We believe that anything goes in worship because our intention is to Worship God.  Calvin puts it this way.

                “We think that God must approve of our actions because of our intention to worship Him.”

                                                                                                (John Calvin; Sermons on the Book of Micah, p. 306)

However the evidence of the entire Scripture helps us discover that God is to be approached only through His Covenant love.  Such love was revealed at Sinai in the Old Covenant and in the cross in the new.  There is no other way. 

                There is a message of great joy here for us.  Each of these covenant events was in fact an event of grace.  Both describe something that God did for us which we in fact could not do for ourselves.  He touched our lives at the key moment and nothing will ever be the same again.  It is just like the words from my friend which I overheard in a High School hall.  They were not said with the idea of their eternal significance.  That is however how God used them.  In the process of obeying what God had called me to do I began the journey which led my discovery for myself of God’s gracious invitation to come to the cross of Christ and receive life.  I praise God for His grace and for His providential intervention in my life for without it I would be lost.

Believing That The Gospel Is The Power of God

                “For we know, brothers loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 Thessalonians 1:4-5a

                “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere.  Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us.  They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead – Jesus who rescues us from the coming wrath.”

                                                                                                                                                                1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

                “The sixth Angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the horns of the golden altar that is before God.”

                                                                                                                                                                Revelation 9:13

                For anyone who is born again there is a deep awareness of the power of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to save or to condemn.  The Apostle Paul certainly understood this.  The conversion experience which is described in Acts chapter nine and then which is testified to twice more in Luke’s description of the early years of the Church bear’s eloquent testimony to the power of the gospel.  Here was a man opposed to everything Christian, arrested on the Damascus road and turned into a powerful evangelist when he met Christ.

                Paul did not just have his own experience to rely upon here.  Time and again he had encountered the same power in the Gospel confronting a person and bringing them into a vibrant faith in Christ.  It is this which he gives thanks for as he begins his first letter to the Thessalonians.  This gospel has come to the Thessalonians with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.  As the Word of the Gospel was preached among them it began to do a deep work of conviction and conversion that ended up delivering them from the darkness into the light of the Lord’s Kingdom.  Describing his own conversion Paul recounts the words of the Lord Jesus Christ to him in Acts 26:16-18.

                “Now get up and stand on your feet.  I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you.  I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles.  I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.”

                Paul believed that the Gospel of Christ crucified was the power of God to save anyone who believed it.  He was so convinced of the power of the Gospel that he preached it to all who came under the sound of his voice.  He prayed that his preaching would impact all who heard him.  He not only prayed himself, he encouraged others to pray as well. 

                Paul was not the only Apostle to believe in the power of the Gospel of Christ and to link that power with the prayer of the Church. Repeatedly in the book of Revelation John links the spread of the Gospel with the symbolic prayers of the saints which God answers with warnings, calls to worship, and judgment.  

                I don’t know about you but these texts of Scripture call me to believe that the Gospel preached has the power of God to convert anyone who will believe it.  Therefore I must witness and preach in faith.  I must also be committed to a growing prayer life, calling on the Lord to rescue all who hear.  That is my calling; it is also yours as well.  Do you believe that the Gospel is the power of God to save?

A Call To Serve

“And we will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 6:4

                Over the past few weeks, in conversations with others, in my reading, in message preparation, and in my own personal Bible Study the Lord has impressed on my heart the call to servant hood.  In Mark 9 as we trace through the Gospel account we are confronted by the means that the Lord Jesus Christ used to break up the hard heartedness of His disciples.  As I write this I am reminded of the statement of john Newton regarding his aim in preaching.  “My grand point in preaching is to break the hard heart, and to heal the broken one.”  It seems to me that this was also the intentional approach that the Lord Jesus Christ was following.  Mark presents Jesus as the suffering servant who has come to redeem His people.  His method of transforming His Disciples gives us a wonderful example of how He is dealing with us, as well a pattern for us to follow in serving others.

                The Disciples eventually got the message.  Acts 6 tells us that as they wrestled with a crisis in the Church in Jerusalem that they went back to the Godly priority that they had been called to.  They recognised that they had been appointed to serve the people of God through a commitment to the Word of God and to prayer.  This does not mean that they were not engaged in other tasks.  What it tells us is that they would not allow those other urgent things to move them away from the essential service that they had been called to.  We should be deeply thankful that this is the case because if they had given in to the temptation to neglect the Word of God and prayer we would not have the New Testament today.  In numerous places the Scriptures tell us that these Apostles we called to be taught of the Holy Spirit what the word was that the Lord was speaking to His people.  They listened, and they taught, and eventually they wrote down that New Testament word for the benefit of all of us.  We must praise God for their faithfulness in their calling.

                There is a story told about some Burmese Christian leaders who were in conversation with some missionaries and when the topic of discussion turned to the pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson, to a person they emphasized with tears that he was the one man that they all owed their salvation to because it was Judson who translated the Scriptures into their language.  What a wonderful legacy to leave behind.  In reality we can all say that from a human point of view we owe our salvation to the faithful service of those Apostles who were the human authors that God used to write the New Testament.

                What these thoughts teach us is that we are called to serve God by serving His people.  As servants of God we find that there are many things that we could be doing, some of which will seem to be incredibly urgent.  We must resist the call to be ruled by the urgent things that are thrust upon us so that we will be able to engage in the essential tasks of service which we have been called to.  A true servant is one who listens for his master’s voice.  That is the one who must be obeyed.  When our Lord calls us we obey by serving in that place and means that He appoints.  To serve in this way requires brokenness before the Lord because we will find ourselves following in a way that will always be hidden.  The Lord always gets the credit.  We are merely His faithful servants.

An Astonishing Invitation

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

                                                                                                                                                                Galatians 1:6-7

                How often have you found yourselves to be truly astonished by the things which you witness or experience?  You find yourselves in the middle of a set of circumstances that stretch your comprehension to the breaking point and you are left wondering just what this will mean for you and for others.  For a little while you find yourself struggling to understand how to respond to the things which you have witnessed.  In the summer of 1972 one such event happened in my life when I found myself responding to a set of disappointing circumstances by becoming bitter of spirit.  While struggling with this inward bitterness I found myself at a youth retreat.  The fact that I was there reluctantly and with a determination to involve myself in any positive way made the events that took place that weekend all the more astonishing.  While sitting through a worship service I found myself encountering such a strong impression of the love of God that I found myself yielding to the LORD Jesus Christ as Saviour and LORD.  In an instant everything in my life was changed.  Years later I found myself agreeing with John Wesley who wrote regarding his own conversion experience that, “I found my heart strangely warmed, and knew that my sins had been forgiven.”  This was my experience and it was very much as if the LORD Jesus Christ had called me to His grace.  I seemed to sense that that was the time for me to come to His grace.  The moment of decision had come unsought.  It was astonishing and completely life transforming. 

                The Apostle Paul tells us in the book of Galatians that this Gospel of the LORD Jesus Christ is a truly liberating thing.  It delivers us from this actively evil world and brings us into the liberty of Christ.  It does this by calling us to repent and to put our faith in the LORD Jesus Christ who is the Son of the Living God and who became human flesh in order to bear our sins upon His cross.  Just this morning a group of us were sharing at a Bible Study  and reflecting upon the fact that what was taking place on the cross of Christ was that the LORD Jesus Christ was bearing all of our sin, all of our brokenness, everything that keeps us away from communion with the Living God, in His body.  Therefore He understands and identifies with every part of our current struggle.  When we feel guilty over our sin, He reminds us that He bore that, and it is forgiven.  He was at all points tempted as we are yet without sin.  What precious freedom this brings into our lives when we begin to see what He has done for us.  What prayerfulness this creates in us when we understand that there is nothing that we can ever bring before the LORD which He has not already borne.  Imagine that you were to go onto a website for an organization which promises that it has made provision to deal with every circumstance you might face in life.  No matter what you describe there is a plan to deal with it.  No matter how costly provision has been made to deal with your circumstance graciously because the organization has already paid for it.  Would you not rush to receive the grace that was being offered to you?

                Imagine further that you were to discover that some people having received knowledge of this gracious gift turned away from it in order to pursue another plan that did not deal adequately with your need and which enslaved you to the evil principles of this world.  Would you not be astonished by this turn of events?  This is the point that the Apostle Paul is at in Galatians one.  Those who had made a start with the LORD Jesus Christ are now deserting Him for something that could not hope to save them.

                Years ago the LORD Jesus Christ called me to grace.  In receiving that grace I found myself meeting one who set me free from sin by bearing it for me.  He gave His life that I may be set free from this evil world so that I might live in His glorious light.  It was astonishing that He might be so gracious to one who was so bound up in sin.  I have never regretted accepting His invitation.  Perhaps today you have heard Him inviting you to receive His grace.  Today is the day of salvation for you.  How will you respond?

Come and Worship

                “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our maker; for He is our God and we are the people of His pasture, the flock under His care.  Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried Me, though they had seen what I did.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 95:6-9

                There is something delightful about walking past a Church and hearing a congregation of the Lord’s people singing the praises of the Lord.  One senses an invitation to come in out of the cold of unbelief and to warm oneself at the fire of God’s grace.  Iain Murray tells about an event that took place around the time that D.M. Lloyd-Jones was converted.  It is contained in the first volume of Murray’s wonderful biography of Lloyd-Jones, and tells about how he was out with some friends attending some sort of social event when a Salvation Army Band passed by them.  As Lloyd-Jones listened to the music being played, and being at that time being drawn by the Holy Spirit to faith, he suddenly had an overwhelming sense that “these were my people.”  There was an unmistakeable invitation to a faith that would alter every part of Lloyd-Jones’ life.

                This compulsive nature of God’s invitation to us to receive His grace is what I believe that the Psalmist is focusing our attention upon in this particular Psalm.  Of all of the suggestions that I have encountered regarding how to analyse the 95th Psalm I find myself agreeing with Spurgeon most.  Spurgeon divides the Psalm into two parts.  In the first five verses Spurgeon sees and invitation followed by convincing reasons why we must believe.  In the second half of the Psalm, verses six through eleven, we have the invitation restated followed by a warning that we not harden our hearts to it.  In presenting the invitation in this way the Psalmist leads us into a real warm hearted faith in the Lord.  He shows us who the God is that we are worshipping.  Then he defines the faith that worships the Lord by showing us examples of what it is not. 

                In leading us into worship in this way the Psalmist answers one of the chief questions that we must wrestle with in our lives.  This is to define just what saving faith really is.  Here we discover that the faith that saves us is first of all a faith in someone.  It is not faith in general.  It is not, if you will, faith in faith, as we find ourselves encouraged to think by so many in our world.  It is not a belief that it will all work out somehow in the end.  It is faith in the real, living God who has created all things, ourselves included, and who sovereignly rules everything for His own glory.  It is faith in one who has entered into our world in order to redeem us.  Like a good Shepherd He has come and cared for us, laying His life down for His sheep. 

                There is more here however.  Saving faith is revealed in the way in which we respond to the trials we face in our lives.  The Psalmist issues an invitation to us to submit to the Lord with warm hearted obedience to His voice.  When He speaks to us, through His Son (Hebrews 1:1ff), or through His written Word, we listen to Him with a heart that is already obedient.  The Psalmist points us to two Old Testament events, found in Exodus 17:1-7 and Numbers 20:1ff, to show us how not to submit to God.  In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the New Testament takes these definitions and applies them.  People with saving faith have hearts which are submissive to the calling of the Lord upon our lives.  Our desire is to obey Him even in the deepest, darkest days of our lives.  Steven J. Lawson illustrates this in The Unwavering Resolve of Jonathan Edwards (Reformation Trust Publishing, Crawfordsville, Indiana, 2008) when he quotes these words from Sarah Edwards to her daughter Esther on the occasion of Jonathan Edwards death.

                My very dear child, What shall I say?  A holy and good God has covered us with a dark cloud.  O that we may kiss the rod, and lay our hands upon our mouths!  The Lord has done it.  He has made me adore His goodness, that we had him so long.  But my God lives; and He has my heart.  O what a legacy my husband, and your father, has left us!  We are all given to God; and there I am, and love to be.”