THOSE HARPERS WHOM JOHN HEARD HARPING WITH THEIR HARPS!

jonathan-edwards-jpg-700x220

And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps… Revelation 14:2

One of my favorite sermons by one of my favorite pastors is a Thanksgiving sermon preached by Jonathan Edwards on November 7, 1734. His text was Revelation 14:2. Listen to his description of the saints in Heaven:

Second, this doctrine may give us an idea of the glorious and happy state of the saints in heaven. It shows how joyfully and gloriously they spend their time. Joy is a great ingredient in praise. There is an exultation of spirit in fervent praise. Praise is the most joyful work in the world. And how joyful a society are they that join together, so many thousands and millions of them, with one heart and one soul, to sing a new song before the throne, that fill heaven with their glorious melody! How joyful they are in their work, appears in the text, by their fervency in it, so that their voices resounded as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of a great thunder. What ineffable joy was there in those harpers whom John heard harping with their harps!…

We ought now to begin that work which we intend shall be the work of another world. For this life is given us on purpose that therein we might prepare for a future life. The present state is a state of probation and preparation, a state of preparation for the enjoyments and employment of another, future, and eternal state. And no one is ever admitted to those enjoyments and employments, but those who are prepared for them here. If ever we would go to heaven, we must be fitted for heaven in this world. We must here have our souls molded and fashioned for that work and that happiness… if we begin now to exercise ourselves in the work of heaven, it will be the way to have foretastes of the enjoyments of heaven. (From the sermon, “Praise, One of the Chief Enjoyments of Heaven”)

Why not get a jumpstart on eternity, get a foretaste of the enjoyments of Heaven by praising and thanking God this week? May it be said of us after the weekend, “What ineffable joy was there in those harpers harping with their harps as they drank their Starbucks, ate their pies, threw their footballs, worshipped on the Sabbath, helped their neighbors, etc!”

THE SLOW, SLOW, SLOW, SLOW, SLOOOOOOOOOW GROWTH OF DISCIPLES

Plant Sequence

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6

Every disciple of Jesus is always in a state of growing. There is always another step of discipleship. There will always be areas of growth in every disciple’s life and in every church. No exceptions. Spiritual growth takes time. No one ever “arrives”- even though there many people who think they have arrived. Take the last donut that they wanted or cut them off in traffic and you’ll see that they haven’t arrived. Sanctification takes time. C.J. Mahaney said-

“Sanctification is a process—an extremely slow process— for us all. Comprehending truth, applying truth, mortifying indwelling sin, cultivating the fruit of the Spirit— it’s a process that usually takes place by small increments over a lifetime. Normally, people don’t grow dramatically as the result of a single sermon or sermon series. And neither do you, pastor. Look at it this way: for ordinary pastors, the slow process of sanctification is a form of job security.”

Pastors are guilty of getting frustrated at their churches when they fail to respond to particular sermons. Pastors often forget that they too are slow to grow. Pastors aren’t transformed immediately as a result of seminary training. Pastors, like all disciples, are slow to grow spiritually.

John Newton said-
“I have been thirty years forming my own views; and, in the course of this time, some of my hills have sunk, and some of my valleys have risen: but, how unreasonable would it be to expect all this should take place in another person; and that, in the course of a year or two.”

Spiritual growth takes time. Nobody arrives over night (or, after hearing one sermon!). That last sentence is a hard pill for this pastor to swallow. So, think about, don’t obsess over your spiritual journey. The Gospel is transforming you. But don’t lose heart if it feels like there is no progress. I’m sure there is. God began a work in you. He will complete it (Philippians 1:6). Just keep pressing on. Keep reading your Bible. Keep fellowshipping with other believers. Keep praying. Keep giving. Keep serving. Keep sharing the Gospel. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Keep rehearsing the Gospel. And stop obsessing over your growth or the growth of others!

And keep remembering that just as you haven’t arrived overnight spiritually, the people in your life haven’t either. Your children are slow to grow spiritually (Man, do I need to remember this!). So are your believing co-workers. So are the people you sit next to in church. So are the people in your small group or Sunday school class. And so are your pastors. Every one is slow to grow, but we’re all growing. Be patient. And be patient with others. Remember Newton’s words- “…how unreasonable would it be to expect all this should take place in another person; and that, in the course of a year or two.”

Slowly (but surely) growing and not necessarily due to my own sermons ’cause they’re not that dynamic,
Benji

ABSORBED IN THE GOSPEL

5113IyNqWIL

One of my favorite (and I think best books on the Gospel!) is A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love. Please, please, please: don’t let the cover fool you! This book is Gospel gold. I cannot stress enough the importance of this book in helping me “rediscover” the Gospel in 2008. I was burdened under the weight of sin and constantly running on what Jerry Bridges calls the “performance treadmill”- trying to earn God’s love through my obedience. Of course, I failed repeatedly, therefore, I felt God was always mad at me. And then this book came along. I will be forever grateful for what Milton Vincent has done in this book. In this book he explains how absorbing the Gospel gives believers perspective and enables them to find contentment in any situation:

The more absorbed I am in the gospel, the more grateful I become in the midst of my circumstances, whatever they may be.

Viewing life’s blessings as water in a drinking cup, I know that I discontentedly focus on the half of the cup that seems empty, or I could gratefully focus on the half that is full. Certainly, the latter approach is the better of the two, yet the gospel cultivates within me a richer gratitude than this.

The gospel reminds me first that what I actually deserve from God is a full cup churning with the torments of His wrath. This is the cup that would be mine to drink if I were given what I deserve each day. With this understanding in mind, I see that to be handed a completely empty cup from God would be cause enough for infinite gratitude. If there were merely the tiniest drop of blessing contained in that otherwise empty cup, I should be blown away by the unbelievable kindness of God toward me. That God, in fact, has given me a cup that is full of “every spiritual blessing in Christ,” and this without the slightest admixture of wrath, leaves me truly dumbfounded with inexpressible joy. As for my specific earthly circumstances of plenty or want, I can see them always as infinite improvements on the hell I deserve.

When I look at any circumstance that God apportions me, I am first grateful for the wrath I am not receiving in that moment. (The empty part of the cup never looked so good!)

Secondly, I am grateful for the blessings that are given to me instead of His wrath. (Life’s blessings, however small, always appear exceedingly precious when viewed against the backdrop of the wrath I deserve.) This two-layered gratitude disposes my heart to give thanks in all things and it also lends a certain intensity to my giving of thanks. Such a gospel-generated gratitude glorifies God, contributes to peace of mind, and keeps my foot from the path of foolishness and ruin.

Give thanks to God today that Jesus absorbed all of God’s wrath against you that you might absorb the Gospel in Him. As Steve Brown likes to say, “God’s not mad at you, Christian!” Thank God, He isn’t!

Truly dumbfounded with inexpressible joy,
Benji

ST. SATAN PRAY FOR ME?

praying devil

…as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 1st Corinthians 1:7b-9

I love this passage. It gives me hope. And it helps me to sleep well at night (more on that in a moment). But this passage is encouraging because of what Paul says and to whom he says it.

Paul is writing to the Corinthian church and, to put it mildly, they were seriously messed up because of sin. This church was sick and warped. There were divisions and cliques because people favored certain pastors (1 Cor 3:4-9). A man was engaging in an inappropriate relationship with his step-mother (1 Cor 5:1-5). They were taking each other to court and suing each other (1 Cor 6:1-8). They were involved in gross immorality and idolatry (1Cor 6:12-20; 10:1-22). Some were even hogging all the bread at the Lord’s Supper and were getting drunk from the wine (1 Cor 11:17-22)! They were abusing spiritual gifts and were lacking love (1 Cor 12-14). And people say, “We want to be a New Testament church.” Not me! At least not this particular church.

But the thing that gives me hope is that it is to these messed up Christians at Corinth that Paul writes and says, “… Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful…”

Incredible. A sin-soaked congregation will be guiltless on the day when Jesus returns. Why? Because God is faithful. Because the Gospel is true. What a glorious hope sin-soaked churches have (both then and now)!

This is why I sleep well at night. Well, actually I don’t sleep well at night because I’m a “light sleeper” and my wife recently gave birth to our 6th child and we have a few sick kiddos at the house. So I haven’t been sleeping well lately, but I do sleep without worrying over the state of the church where I serve as pastor. No matter how messed up we are because of sin, if Jesus were to come back today, we’d all be blameless and without guilt at His return. That’s good news!

But what do you do when Satan repeatedly reminds you of your sins? Even though you are guiltless, what do you do when Satan reminds you of your besetting sins? Let me give the floor to my friend Martin Luther:

“When I go to bed, the devil is always waiting for me. When he begins to plague me, I give him this answer: ‘Devil, I must sleep. That’s God’s command — work by day, sleep by night. So go away.’ If that doesn’t work and he brings out a catalog of sins, I say, ‘Yes, old fellow, I know all about it. And I know some more you have overlooked. Here are a few extra. Put them down.’ If he still won’t quit and presses me hard and accuses me as a sinner, I scorn him and say, ‘St. Satan, pray for me. Of course, you have never done anything wrong in your life. You alone are holy. Go to God and get grace for yourself. If you want to get me all straightened out, I say, Physician, heal thyself.’”

I love Luther’s honesty and sense of humor. But he didn’t take sin lightly and neither should we. Let’s fight sin. Let’s strive for holiness by God’s grace. But let’s sleep well at night knowing that God sees us covered with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Give thanks today that you are forgiven and now stand blameless in God’s eyes because of Jesus… regardless of what Satan says!

Guiltless (what a great description!),
Benji

* Photo by Mike Adams

HERO WORSHIP

Baltimore concert

What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” 1 Corinthians 1:12

It’s in our blood. We simply have an innate desire to elevate and worship the heroes of our faith. It might be a well-known Christian from history, your favorite radio preacher, a best-selling author, or even one of the pastors of your church. We just can’t help but be drawn to worship God’s servants. Of course, I don’t mean that we can’t honor and respect these servants. There are plenty of people that I admire and appreciate. But sometimes we can step beyond that to “hero worship.” Perhaps this is never truer than when it comes to David. We love David. And who doesn’t love David? He killed Goliath. He spared Saul’s life. He wrote many of the psalms… and he was a murderer and an adulterer. We may have an unhealthy fascination with David.

I’m not here to throw David under the bus. But I want to point out that he wasn’t as “squeaky-clean” as we make him out to be. In fact, we easily throw Solomon under the bus for having 700 wives and 300 concubines (see 1 Kings 11:3), but did you know that David had many wives and concubines too?

And sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel; and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron. 2 Samuel 3:2-5

And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron, and more sons and daughters were born to David. And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet. 2 Samuel 5:13-16

It’s true that kings in the ancient Near East were deemed powerful according to the number and beauty of their wives and concubines, but it violates Deuteronomy 17:14-20. David was clearly violating Yahweh’s law, even if culture called for him to amass wives. So David may not have had 700 wives like his son Solomon, but how many wives is too many? I think 2 wives is too many. Where do you think Solomon learned how to amass a harem? It seems that we may have an unhealthy fascination with David and may only find fault with him concerning the Bathsheba incident. Too often we forget that God’s servants are sinners. Too often we elevate them and put them on a pedestal. Too often we fall into “hero worship.”

Understand this: God’s servants will let you down. Your pastors will let you down. Your leaders will let you down. But there is One who won’t. There is One who sustains the church, the kingdom, even when sinful leaders are at the helm. He is the only One we should worship. He is the true Hero. His name is Jesus.

WHAT YOUR CHURCH NEEDS MORE THAN ANYTHING

DontLose

…and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5:15

My personal mission in life and the mission at Grace (the church where I serve) is simple: we exist to ignite a passion in every person to glorify and enjoy God everywhere and in everything. We believe that this is why we were created. We agree with the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #1: What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

But how do we do that as a church? How do we ignite a passion in every person to glorify and enjoy God everywhere and in everything? Paul Tripp captures the central way in which a church can pull this off:

Awe of God must dominate my ministry, because one of the central missional gifts of the gospel of Jesus Christ is to give people back their awe of God. A human being not living with functional awe of God is profoundly disadvantaged. He is off the rails, trying to propel the train of his life in a meadow, and he may not even know it. When awe of God is absent, it is quickly replaced by awe of ourselves. If you are not living for God the only other alternative is to live for yourself. So a church must turn people back to the one thing for which they were created: to live in a sturdy, joyful, faithful awe of God.

This means every sermon should be prepared by a person whose study is marked by awe of God. The sermon must be delivered in awe and have as its purpose to motivate awe in those who hear. Children’s ministry must have as its goal to ignite in young children a life-shaping awe of God. The youth ministry of the church must move beyond Bible entertainment and do all it can to help teens see God’s glory and name it as the thing for which they will live. Women’s ministry must do more than give women a place to fellowship with one another and do crafts. Women need to be rescued from themselves and myriad self-interests that nip at their hearts; awe of God provides that rescue. Men’s ministries need to recognize the coldness in the heart of so many men to the things of God and confront and stimulate men with their identity as those created to live and lead out of a humble zeal for God’s glory, rather than their own. Missions and evangelism, too, must be awe-driven.

Remember, Paul argues that this is the reason for the cross. He says that Jesus came so that “those who live may no longer live for themselves, but for him who loved them and gave himself for them” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Only powerful grace can keep this awe alive. Only then can we be used to ignite that awe in others. (Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, p.119)

Praying for more awe,
Benji