The Lord Jesus Makes No Mistakes

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

This from J.C. Ryle’s Practical Religion, Chapter 14, titled “The Best Friend”:

“The Lord Jesus makes no mistakes in managing His friends’ affairs. He orders all their concerns with perfect wisdom: all things happen to them at the right time, and in the right way. He gives them as much of sickness and as much of health, as much of poverty and as much of riches, as much of sorrow and as much of joy, as He sees their souls require. He leads them by the right way to bring them to the city of habitation [heaven]. He mixes their bitterest cups like a wise physician, and takes care that they have not a drop too little or too much. His people often misunderstand His dealings; they are silly enough to fancy their course of life might have been better ordered: but in the resurrection-day they will thank God that not their will, but Christ’s was done.”

We should think of God’s management of our lives in terms of His friendship toward us, even in the hard things which don’t seem friendly at the moment. He is unfailingly working all things together for our good.

Consistent with this, John Newton, also the author of the classic hymn of the faith “Amazing Grace,” wrote a beautiful hymn named “I Asked the Lord” (alternate tune by Indelible Grace).

Take a listen and be helped.

THE FENCE

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Meet “THE FENCE”:

THE FENCE

Sufficiently disturbed by the proclamation of the saving gospel of Jesus outside an abortion clinic (the horrors!), concerned citizens raised funds and voila! – the structure was raised. Well played. Except that I like the fence, I think you should too, and here are three reasons why:

      1. The Declaration. This fence screams “THIS IS A DIFFERENT KIND OF PLACE!” to everyone who passes by. Up until now, “A Preferred Women’s Health Center of Raleigh” has made every effort to blend in. Don’t think so? Then how do you explain even the name? They may kill babies inside, but the outside is one of a million normal, respectable office complexes, and that is totally by design. Attention is the last thing an abortion clinic wants. Now, complements of THE FENCE, this place of business looks like a seedy massage parlor, complete with a parking lot hidden from view. For a group that is only present two hours a week, I don’t know how we could hope for more than this 24/7/365 declaration. Scream on, fence. Scream on.
      2. The Symbolism. What could be a better symbol of shameful things done in secret than THE FENCE? Consider Ephesians 5:12: “It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” (NIV). Why are people so bothered by the graphic pictures on the signs held by some pro-life protesters? Is it because the pictures represent falsehood? No – they are actual pictures, absent any commentary. No commentary is needed. These signs are disturbing – to friend and foe alike – because actual pictures of what happens in an abortion clinic present the unspeakable. It is shameful even to speak of what is happening in there behind the six foot wall of secrecy. THE FENCE tells the tale.
      3. The Irony. A world where people committing murder need to be shielded from those who are pleading for their pity is a world turned on its head. Everything is upside-down. Is the remaining twinge of conscience really so dangerous that no one should indulge it before going through with a life-changing – and life-ending – act? Apparently some think so. Maybe the subtle absurdity of THE FENCE will be like a splash of cold water to those who are coming. Sometimes it is irony that jolts us awake. May it be so with THE FENCE.

Friends – I don’t want to win the snark war. And it’s a good thing, because I think we’re dealing with experts. I want Jesus Christ to break into these circumstances with the breathtaking mercy that many of us have experienced firsthand. Some of the most beautiful words in the Bible are found in Isaiah 61:1-3, words which Jesus quoted as prophecies about Himself:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;  to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn,  to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”

I want everyone who comes to this clinic hurtling towards the day of the perfect justice of God to hear of the liberty that Jesus Christ has proclaimed to the captives, that they may trade their ashes for beauty, their mourning for joy and be free. “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36).

And if we have to find lawful ways to proclaim this good news over or around THE FENCE, so much the better.

The Tattooed Jesus

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

I have been looking forward to reading Kevin Swanson’s new book “The Tattooed Jesus: What Would the Real Jesus Do with Pop Culture“. Thanks to the wonders of WiFi, it is now on my Kindle and I’m getting a running start.

This from the introduction:

“There is much material that address a Christian worldview, as contrasted with other prevalent worldviews of the day. But these are hardly useful to the masses, unless they connect the dots between the worldview and the cultural incarnations. Most people do not sit and study worldviews all day, but they will go to the movies and listen to Top 40 radio stations. Unless Christian families can properly see the connections between cultures and the worldviews they reflect, many more will be ‘spoiled by philosophies and vain deceit after the traditions of men.’ (Col. 2:5).”

Cultural incarnations of a worldview is an interesting and helpful way to think about things. In other words, wisdom is justified by her children (Matthew 11:19), but she isn’t the only one with children! Every philosophy that competes with the truth of God’s word has offspring as well, and we would do well to identify them so that we can be on a trajectory away from the world, not towards it.

Consider giving it a read yourself. Swanson is always great for stimulating thinking, and we will be the better for it.

What the Beauty of the Bride Says About the Bridegroom

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Friday was the first ever Sovereign Redeemer wedding, and consequently the first wedding I have ever officiated. I have to admit to being nervous. It goes without saying that this is THE BIG DAY for the bride and groom and their families, and no one wants to be the weak link that takes away from the plans of the day.

Here is the happy couple, just after being pronounced man and wife and exiting the sanctuary:

Just After

I had the privilege of delivering a short message, doubled in time by sequential translation into German (the bride and her family are from Germany). My focus was to establish how earthly marriage is a picture of the heavenly marriage, and then use that to speak of one undeniable observation about our weddings. I hope you find it encouraging.

The Beauty of the Bride

The Bible begins and ends with a wedding. It begins with a human wedding, the wedding of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2. It ends with a heavenly wedding, the wedding of Christ and His Church in Revelation 19 and 21. In between, in Ephesians 5, Paul teaches us that this is not a coincidence, that human marriage was meant by God to be a picture of the heavenly marriage.

This, of course, has profound implications for our conduct in marriage. If we play our roles according to God’s design, we will display to the world the beauty of Christ’s redeeming love for His Church – that Jesus saves His Church – and that His Church joyfully follows Him. If we play our roles in unfitting ways, we will give the world a warped, distorted picture of Christ and the Church.

With that as the context, I want to make an undeniable observation about our human weddings and say why I think it is appropriate and what it means about Christ and His Bride.

Here is the observation: THE BRIDE. Behold the bride! She’s beautiful! And the groom is handsome, but I promise you that no one is going to remember the groom!

To be more biblically accurate, it should probably be the groom coming down the aisle, because it is Jesus who comes for His bride, but it is never the groom, it is always the bride! There is always “that moment” when the bride enters, and we’re always in awe.

Here is why I think that’s okay: in the context of human marriage as a picture of the heavenly marriage, the bride’s glory – the Church’s glory – is a reflected glory and actually brings great glory to Jesus Christ. In other words, the groom isn’t diminished in any way by the bride being breath-taking. He is actually greatly honored.

Let me explain using 3 brief texts of Scripture:

  1. Isaiah 64:6a, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags”. This is what all of us are in ourselves. We think well of ourselves and offer up our very best things, assuming that they will be pleasing to God, or at least acceptable, only to find that they are like filthy rags to Him, because He is holy and we are actually filthy. Now how does Isaiah’s description of us compare with today’s bride? Our second text will help explain this profound difference between what Isaiah says and the obvious beauty of the bride:
  1. Colossians 1:21-22, “And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now [Jesus Christ] has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight”. Through His death, Jesus Christ reconciles us to His perfectly righteous and perfectly just Father. He makes us pure. Though our sins are like scarlet, he cleanses us and makes us as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).

In Revelation 19:7, the heavenly wedding is called “the marriage of the Lamb.” It is surprising to me that it is not called “the marriage of the Son,” or “the marriage of the Prince of Peace,” or “the marriage of the King” – any one of Jesus’ more majestic titles. The only way I can think of to explain this is that for His wedding, Jesus covets the title of Redeemer. It is the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8) that makes the bride a bride, and it is the Lamb that makes her lovely, and so the heavenly wedding is “the marriage of the Lamb.”

  1. Revelation 19:6-8, “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.’ And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.”

At this heavenly wedding, the bride is beautifully dressed in clean, bright, fine linen, and this is the righteous acts of the saints. In other words, believers aren’t left where we were found – we are moved into a life of grateful obedience, where it is our great delight to do things that glorify our redeeming Bridegroom, our saving Bridegroom.

Believing friends, you who are in Christ: look at the bride in all her glory, in all her beauty, and glorify Jesus Christ! It is His glory to take sinners and do THIS!

Unbelieving friends, you who today are outside of Christ: consider your life and be wise! In the parable in Matthew 22, a king arranges a wedding for his son. During the course of the wedding, the king notices a man present who isn’t wearing wedding garments. The king rebukes this man and commands that he be cast outside where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. If you have not fully and only trusted in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, I tell you today that unless you repent you will likewise perish! You will eternally perish! Let today be the day that you repent and believe in Jesus Christ, the redeeming Bridegroom.

In closing, I would like to read a final passage: Revelation 21:1-5, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”

Behold the heavenly wedding! Please pray with me.

Take Care How You Spend Your Days

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

In J.C. Ryle’s book “Practical Religion,” in his chapter on happiness (Chapter 10), he calls a succession of witnesses who prove that pursuing happiness in the wrong things only leads to emptiness and misery. Here is one of his witnesses, Lord Chesterfield (a man previously unknown to me), in his own words:

“I have seen the silly round of business and pleasure, and have done with it all [meaning he is finished with it all]. I have enjoyed all the pleasures of the world, and consequently know their futility, and do not regret their loss. I appraise them at their real value, which in truth is very low; whereas those who have not experience always overrate them. They only see their gay outside, and are dazzled with their glare; but I have been behind the scenes. I have seen all the coarse pulleys and dirty ropes which exhibit and move the gaudy machine, and I have seen and smelt the tallow candles which illuminate the whole decoration, to the astonishment and admiration of the ignorant audience. When I reflect on what I have seen, what I have heard, and what I have done, I cannot persuade myself that all that frivolous hurry of bustle and pleasure of the world had any reality. I look on all that is past as one of those romantic dreams which opium occasions, and I do by no means wish to repeat the nauseous dose for the sake of the fugitive dream.”

Think about that. A world of people are chasing happiness on the wide road that leads to destruction, while those who have “been there, done that” have learned by experience that those pleasures never deliver what they promise.

May we be a people who think about the spending of our days and are wise!

Spurgeon on Knowing Jesus

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Here are some very precious thoughts on Matthew 11:27 from Charles Spurgeon’s “Lectures to My Students” (Volume 2, Lecture 2, “The Necessity of Ministerial Progress”):

“Last Sunday night I had a text which mastered me: ‘No man knoweth the Son but the Father.’ I told the people that poor sinners who had gone to Jesus and trusted him thought they knew him, but that they knew only a little of him. Saints of sixty years’ experience, who have walked with him every day, think they know him; but they are only beginners yet. The perfect spirits before the throne, who have been for five thousand years perpetually adoring him, perhaps think they know him, but they do not to the full. ‘No man knoweth the Son but the Father.’ He is so glorious, that only the infinite God has full knowledge of him, therefore there will be no limit to our study, or narrowness in our line of thought, if we make our Lord the great object of all our meditations.”

Beat that! Well, perhaps the Apostle Paul has: “Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 4:8). Otherwise, Spurgeon might be tops.

Like Spurgeon, let us be mastered by texts about Jesus!

The Well Is Deep, and Our Brains Are Shallow

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

The title is essentially the post. I have been reading Richard Baxter’s classic work for pastors, “The Reformed Pastor,” with a friend, and we just came across a gem. Baxter exhorts pastors to throw themselves wholeheartedly into sermon preparation:

“Study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow…”

I don’t know a preacher who disagrees.

A Warning About Fiction

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

Most of us have never critically examined the genre of fiction. We have simply been swimming in it for decades in its various forms. We know that there are bad things to listen to, watch and read, and that from those things a Christian should steer clear. But what about the genre as a whole? Are there characteristics inherent to the whole category that pose risks? I believe J.C. Ryle has identified one such characteristic in his book “Practical Religion” (Chapter 7, “Charity”). As a preemptive note of explanation, Ryle was writing in the mid eighteen hundreds, and so when he uses the term “charity,” we would substitute the word “love.”

“The delusion which I am trying to combat is helped forward to a most mischievous degree by the vast majority of novels, romances, and tales of fiction. Who does not know that the heroes and heroines of these works are constantly described as patterns of perfection? They are always doing the right thing, saying the right thing, and showing the proper temper! They are always kind, and amiable, and unselfish, and forgiving! And yet you never hear a word about their religion! In short, to judge by the generality of works of fiction, it is possible to have excellent practical religion without doctrine, the fruits of the Spirit without the grace of the Spirit, and the mind of Christ without union with Christ!

Here, in short, is the great danger of reading most novels, romances, and works of fiction. The greater part of them give a false or incorrect view of human nature. They paint their model men and women as they ought to be, and not as they really are. The readers of such writings get their minds filled with wrong conceptions of what the world is. Their notions of mankind become visionary and unreal. They are constantly looking for men and women such as they never meet, and expecting what they never find.

Let me entreat my readers, once for all, to draw their ideas of human nature from the Bible, and not from novels. Settle it down in your mind, that there cannot be true charity without a heart renewed by grace. A certain degree of kindness, courtesy, amiability, good nature, may undoubtedly be seen in many who have no vital religion. But the glorious plant of Bible charity, in all its fullness and perfection, will never be found without union with Christ, and the work of the Holy Ghost.”

His point is that in our intake of fiction, we enter worlds where the heroes have the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) – without being indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and this can never be! This errant view of mankind can detach us from a sense of our desperate need for Christ.

And losing site of that is a high price to pay for having been entertained.

His Love Is Utterly Realistic

Dear Sovereign Redeemer and other friends,

A phenomenal quote from Chapter 3, “Knowing and Being Known”, of J.I. Packer’s classic, “Knowing God”:

“There is unspeakable comfort – the sort of comfort that energizes, be it said, not enervates – in knowing that God is constantly taking knowledge of me in love and watching over me for my good. There is tremendous relief in knowing that his love to me is utterly realistic, based at every point on prior knowledge of the worst about me, so that no discovery now can disillusion him about me, in the way I am so often disillusioned about myself, and quench his determination to bless me. There is, certainly, great cause for humility in the thought that he sees all the twisted things about me that my fellow humans do not see (and am I glad!), and that he sees more corruption in me than that which I see in myself (which, in all conscience, is enough). There is, however, equally great incentive to worship and love God in the thought that, for some unfathomable reason, he wants me as his friend, and desires to be my friend, and has given his Son to die for me in order to realize this purpose.”

Wow. Double wow. Because God is all-knowing, there can never be a discovery about any of His people that can disillusion Him and quench His determination to love us. He wants us as His friends, and He wants to be our Friend, and Jesus has laid down His life to bring us together with Him. Beautiful.