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1706, 2024

Two Main Reasons Why Members Leave and Join another Church

By |June 17th, 2024|

Members come and go. Some leave because they relocate. Others are compelled to leave because of doctrinal errors. Some leave not because the church is at fault but because they want to look for a congregation where their worldly practices can be tolerated. Or others leave with unrepentant hearts, wanting to avoid church discipline.

There are those who leave because they are fed up with church traditions that are not necessarily bad. But the problem is sometimes we (church leaders) place our traditions above the gospel. We unconsciously become legalistic in the way we deal with the life and ministry of our church. We become more concerned with our traditions than with the Scriptures.

Yet, I think, of all the possible reasons people leave, poor preaching and lack of love are the two leading ones.

  1. Poor preaching

Perfect preaching does not exist. Expecting our pastor to always deliver an A+ sermon every Sunday is not realistic either. However, if the preaching is poor almost every Sunday, most likely members will leave.

Here are some of the characteristics of poor preaching:

  • too doctrinal with almost no practical or personal applications
  • not engaging (preaching becomes like newscasting or reporting; no passion)
  • difficult to understand (too technical)
  • hard to follow (too unorganized with no clear direction)
  • too shallow

Now, sometimes a pastor does not preach well because he does not have enough time to study for his sermons, perhaps because of his other duties at home and at church. This is why elders need to protect the time of their pastor for sermon preparation. If you want to hear good sermons from your pastor, don’t overwork him. Of course, a pastor is also responsible to ensure that he does not neglect prayer and the ministry of the word (Acts 6:4).

  1. Lack of love

Members want to belong to a congregation that they can call a “home church,” where they feel welcome and where the communion of the saints exists. When the love of Christ is not felt in a congregation, people usually begin to look for a new church where they can find such love and experience the care of other believers. The Apostle Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up….encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” (1 Thess. 5:11–14). “Bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2).

Sometimes even if preaching is not the strength of a church, if the gospel is proclaimed faithfully and the members feel loved, they usually stay. But if the preaching is poor and love is lacking, don’t be surprised if one day members leave. That’s why church leaders need to make a consistent effort to cultivate a loving environment in a congregation. A pastor should love not only preaching but also the people to whom he preaches. Also, members are responsible to seek ways to become actively involved in the ministry of the church and to reach out to their fellow church members with the love of Jesus.

1705, 2024

Two Extremes to be Avoided in Preaching

By |May 17th, 2024|

Extreme # 1: Preaching as if everyone in the congregation is saved.

Years ago I received an email from a member of a certain congregation. This person, whom I did not know personally at the time I received the email, was wondering why their pastor preached as if everyone in their church was saved. And because their pastor viewed everyone in the pews as regenerate, he did not see the need to call his congregation to self-examination. In other words, since in this preacher’s mind everyone in his local church was saved, he only delivered messages that address the believers.  In his sermons, there was no direct call for the unbelievers to repent of their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation.

I have some problems with this kind of preaching. First of all, a preacher who preaches as if everyone in the congregation is saved has an idealistic view of a local church. The truth is, there is no absolutely pure local church composed of only true believers. A visible church will always have both goats and sheep—a sad and painful reality for the ministers. And both the goats and the sheep need the gospel: the goats for their salvation; the sheep for their sanctification. Until Christ returns the congregations that we serve will remain impure (Matt. 25:31–46). Therefore, a pastor should keep in mind that as he proclaims God’s Word, there might be at least one unbeliever present during the preaching. Furthermore, a pastor who does not see the need to call his congregation to self-examination on the basis of his assumption that everyone is saved, might create a false sense of assurance of salvation among the unbelievers.

Moreover, self-examination is not only for the unbelievers but for the believers also. Writing to the Corinthian church, Paul says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Cor. 13:5). Here Paul is particularly addressing his fellow believers. That self-examination is also for the believers is seen in our “Liturgical Form for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper,” in which we are exhorted to examine ourselves before partaking of the Lord’s Supper:

That we may now celebrate the supper of the Lord to our comfort, it is necessary, before all things, rightly to examine ourselves….Let every one examine his heart whether he also believes this sure promise of God that all his sins are forgiven him only for the sake of the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and that the complete righteousness of Christ is imputed and freely given him as his own – yea, so completely as if he himself, in his own person, had satisfied for all his sins and fulfilled all righteousness.

Here’s my point: Believers in Christ also need to examine themselves whether they truly believe in Jesus or not. And the purpose of this examination is not to make them doubt but to drive them even closer to Christ.

Extreme # 2: Preaching as if no one in the congregation is saved.

Some pastors preach as if no one in their congregations is saved (they do the exact opposite of what the previous pastors do). Or more accurately, these pastors assume that most of their hearers are unsaved and that there are only a minority among their audience who are truly saved. As a result, many members of their congregations—who are genuine believers—suffer severely from a lack of assurance of salvation. Imagine sitting under such preaching. Eventually, you (as a believer) will begin to question the genuineness of your salvation in an unhealthy way, and then fall into despair.

I remember several years ago, I met an old man who sat under this kind of preaching. This man was in his 90’s and had been a member of their congregation for over 50 years. And yet, sadly he did not know whether he was saved or not. This man went to church twice every Sunday for many years and served as an elder several times, but he had no assurance of salvation. Ironically, for this man the more you doubt the more pious you become. Thus, in his mind, doubt is a form of virtue.

Well, such thinking contradicts what Peter says, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election” (2 Pet. 1:10). Here, Peter is commanding his fellow believers to make sure of their calling and election. And yes, it is possible for Christians to experience and enjoy assurance of salvation. As Canons of Dort says, “Of this preservation of the elect to salvation and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith…” Charles Spurgeon once observed, “Many a believer lives in the cottage of doubt when he might live in the mansion of faith.”

Pastors who commit the extreme # 2 in preaching should realize the damage they do to their members, namely, they foster a spirit of doubt and despair among those who are sincerely saved.

Conclusion

How can we then avoid these two extremes in preaching? There are many ways but for the sake of time, let me just give you one, that is, be faithful to your text. Don’t just read your text and leave it. Use it. Expound it. Preach from it. And don’t force your text to say something that it does not say. As a preacher, you are to tell your congregation what your text says. Suppose your text is Romans 8:28–29: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…”

Obviously this text is for the believers, so use this text to address the believers in your sermon. However, in that same sermon, (even just in a few words) you can also warn the wicked by saying that all things are not working together for their eternal good, because the glorious promise found in this passage is only for those who love God.

Now, if your text is Revelation 21:8, then address the unbelievers in your sermon: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” With this passage, don’t hesitate to challenge the unbelievers to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. And as you do so, in passing you can comfort and assure your fellow believers that their portion will not be in the lake of fire but in the new heaven and new earth.

Now, of course you can also preach from a passage that naturally addresses both the believers and the unbelievers. Some of the parables of Jesus do this (e.g., Wise & Foolish Builders [Matt. 7:24–27]; Wise & Foolish Virgins [Matt. 25:1–13]; and Sheep & Goats [Matt. 25:31–46]). These passages allow the pastor to address both the righteous and the wicked in his sermon in a natural and balanced way.

Nevertheless, let me issue a word of caution here for those who listen to a sermon: you cannot expect your pastor to deliver a well-balanced sermon that 50% deals with the godly and 50% deals with the ungodly. Depending on the text, sometimes the message can be geared more towards the believers and sometimes more towards the unbelievers. Therefore, if you want to evaluate your pastor, do so based on his faithfulness to his text. The question should not be whether he addressed the unbelievers or not in his message, or whether he addressed the believers or not. No! Instead, did he faithfully preach and apply his text to his congregation?

1704, 2024

Three Ways Adult Children Can Honor Their Mothers

By |April 17th, 2024|

Every second Sunday of May Americans, Filipinos, and countless others around the globe celebrate Mother’s Day. This celebration centers on honoring mothers. Although this tradition originated in ancient pagan festivals, the motive embedded in this tradition is biblical. In fact, God in His fifth commandment demands that we honor our mothers: “Honor your father and your mother…” (Exod. 20:12).

Unfortunately, many children only remember to honor their mothers on Mother’s Day. They forget that honoring their mothers is their daily duty to God. Of course, our mothers are not perfect; they commit mistakes. Yet, we must still respect them in the Lord. If we ever disagree with them, let us do so using respectful language and gestures. Remember that when we disrespect our parents we sin not only against them but also against God, for God has commanded us to honor them.

Do you honor your mother? Here are three ways you can honor them.

Firstprize them. To honor our parents means to place a high value on them. Our mothers, despite all their shortcomings, are precious gifts from God; and thus, we must treasure and love them. Remember, our mothers will not always be around with us. Most likely they will die first before we do; so while they are still alive, let’s tell them how much we appreciate them. Let’s show them our love in word and in deed. Sadly, it is when they are gone that we begin to realize how precious they were to us. Don’t wait until their funeral to say words of appreciation.

When was the last time you thanked and appreciated your mom? Again, she may have many flaws, but she is still your mom.

Secondprovide for them. In Matthew 15:4, Jesus understands the fifth commandment as referring to both submission to and provision for our parents. As God enables us, we should help our mothers (especially our widowed mothers) with their physical, material, or financial needs. If you grew up with a caring and responsible mom, just think of what she had done for you from the time you were born until you became an adult. For several months she carried you in her womb; she fed you, changed your diaper, rocked you to sleep in the middle of the night, took care of you when you were sick, and the list goes on and on. The least thing that we can do in return for our mothers’ loving care for us is to help them in their time of need. The truth is we cannot pay them back for all the many good things that they have done and continue to do for us, even in our adulthood.

Are you concerned with your mother’s welfare?

Thirdpray for them, especially for their spiritual life. And pray for them regularly. Do not underestimate the power of prayer. If your mother is not yet saved, ask God to grant her faith in His Son, for the Bible says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). If you have a godly mother, thank God for that tremendous blessing. And as Abraham Lincoln once declared, “No man is poor who has a godly mother.” Indeed, the “mother is the central sun of the child’s early life, and without her it is a poor home.” I personally thank and praise God for giving me such a loving and God-fearing mother. Part of what I am today, I owe to my dear mother.

Conclusion

Now, if we are honest with ourselves, we all have failed to honor our mothers as we should. There’s only one person who honored His mother as He should. His name is Jesus. Born under the law (Gal. 4:4), Jesus honored Mary (His earthly mother) and Joseph (His foster father). Jesus indeed kept the fifth commandment perfectly, so that through His perfect obedience to the law, we who are sinners may be justified through faith in Him.

And here’s our comfort: Yes, we are all guilty of not honoring our mothers as we should. But we can always come to God for forgiveness. We can borrow the words of the prodigal son in Luke 15:21 and apply it to our mothers, “‘Mother, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’” Our heavenly Father delights to forgive repentant sinners (1 John 1:9). We trust, too, that our mothers will pardon us: “forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).

The command to honor our mothers should humble us before God because it makes us realize that apart from God’s help we cannot honor them according to God’s standard.

1703, 2024

The Three-Fold Function of the Law

By |March 17th, 2024|

God’s moral law (the Ten Commandments) has three basic functions.

  1. In relation to society, the law issues a standard for right and wrong (the civil use of the law).

God’s law promotes righteousness in society and protects the people from wrongdoers (Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Tim. 2:1-2). For instance, the law commands us not to bear false witness against our neighbor in order to promote honesty and in order to protect us from dishonest people (Exod. 20:16).  The moral law then provides a standard for good and evil in our land. It commends good and condemns evil.

  1. In relation to salvation, the law informs sinners of their sins and the need for a Saviour (the evangelical use of the law).

The law proclaims our guilt for we have transgressed God’s law. “Through the law,” the Apostle Paul says, “comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The law is like a mirror that exposes our sins.

The law also pronounces a judgment on us as guilty sinners. Because of our disobedience to God, we deserve punishment, that punishment being death (Rom. 6:23).

But the law also points us to Jesus Christ who kept the law on behalf of guilty sinners and died in their place, so that sinners who believe in him will be justified on the basis of his righteousness. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24 KJV).

So, when used by the Holy Spirit, the law convicts us of our sin, condemns us, and creates in us a sense of need for Christ who alone can save us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:10).

  1. In relation to sanctification, the law instructs us to live a holy life out of gratitude for what God has done for us in Christ (the didactic use of the law).

The Heidelberg Catechism, a reformed document published in 1563, primarily uses the law in this way. Divided into three main sections (guilt, grace, & gratitude), this catechism asks, “We have been delivered from our misery by God’s grace alone through Christ and not because we have earned it: why then must we still do good?” Answer: “To be sure, Christ has redeemed us by his blood. But we do good because Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself, so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all he has done for us… And we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits… (Q&A 86)”

In other words, why do good works if we have not been saved by our good works? Or why obey the law if we have not been justified by our obedience to the law? Why? Because our obedience to the law shows that we have truly been justified by faith in Christ (James 2:17). Moreover, our obedience to the law is an expression of our gratitude to God for what he has done for us in the gospel. We love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and we love our neighbors as ourselves in response to the great gift of salvation that God has given to us.

1702, 2024

Take Good Care of Your Body

By |February 17th, 2024|

“Thou shalt not kill” (Exo. 20:13)

In this post, I will focus on the physical aspect of the sixth commandment. This particular law requires us to preserve our lives and the lives of others. However, it does not prohibit self-defense, lawful war, and capital punishment. But with these exceptions, it certainly forbids us to harm ourselves and others. Or positively, it tells us to take good care of our bodies.

Why should we take care of our bodies?

Let me give you two basic reasons. First, because God created our bodies. The prologue to the Ten Commandments states, “And God spake all these words” (Ex. 20:1). And who is this God who spoke all the words of the Law? This is the God who created the heaven and the earth (Gen. 1:1). This is the Elohim God who created us (our body and soul) in his own image (Gen. 1:27). So by introducing himself as Elohim, God is reminding his people that he is their creator. God is saying to them, as it were, “I am the God who created your body. Therefore, do not harm your body and the bodies of others. I created your body in my own image, and on that basis, respect it.”

When you disregard your body, you disrespect the One who created it. Your body is the crowning work of God’s creation (Gen 1:31). Thus, treat it as special. It is the excellent work of God’s hands given to you as a gift. The way you treat your body can be an indicator of the level of your appreciation for the One who gave that gift to you. Do you value that gift?

The second reason why we should take care of our bodies is this: Because God delivered our bodies. God speaks to his covenant people, “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  Here’s what God is saying to the Israelites: “I have liberated you from the power of Pharaoh. Before you were serving him as slaves, now you are free from slavery. When you were in Egypt, the Egyptians ruthlessly abused your bodies. They forced you to work beyond your limitations. They tortured and afflicted your bodies without pity. But out of my mercy, I have brought you out of Egypt. And in light of this deliverance, do not kill—do not hurt your body and the bodies of others.  Rather, honor me in your body.”

Do you honor God in your body? You are probably saying, “But I’m not a Hebrew set free from the house of slavery. True! But in Christ did you not receive a far better kind of deliverance—deliverance from the bondage of sin? On this ground, God is telling you to glorify him in your body. This is precisely the point of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”

Two quick observations from this Corinthian passage: First, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Think about this: God the Spirit dwells in your body and makes your body his temple—a place set apart for worship. In a sense, we do not go to the place of worship. We bring the place of worship with us whenever we worship God on Lord’s Day. What a great motivation then we have to take care of our body! Second observation: in the gospel Jesus bought your body, not just your soul. And he did so with his own precious blood. And because Jesus bought your body, it now belongs to him. We are only stewards of our bodies.

In view of these two indicatives, Paul gives an imperative—“glorify God in your body.” Why use your body for sin, when in fact it belongs to Jesus? Why ignore and injure your body, when it is the Holy Spirit’s temple? “Alright,” you say to me, “I’m now convinced to take care of my body, but how should I do that?”

How should we take care of our bodies?

We can learn from the Westminster Larger Catechism. In question 136 we read, “What are the sins forbidden in the sixth commandment?” Answer: “The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are . . . immoderate use of meat, drink, labor, and recreations.”  Thus, in order to take care of our body, we need to avoid: (1) immoderate eating; (2) immoderate drinking; and (3) immoderate working and/or leisure.

Let’s pause for a moment here and examine ourselves. Perhaps we don’t realize we are already slowly killing our bodies by eating, drinking, and working at the expense of our health. Hear God’s Word: “Thou shalt not kill.” Sometimes we think God is only concerned with our souls. Consequently, we focus on our spiritual life and neglect our physical health. Wrong! Jesus did not just die for our souls; he also died for our bodies. And why do you think there is bodily resurrection, if our body is not important to God? To show his concern for Gaius’s physical health, John wrote to him, “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (3 John 1:2). Are you concerned with your body? Do you take good care of it? Let me give you three practical ways by which you can maintain a healthy body:

  1. Eat healthy food. Don’t let your food and drink control your body. Control what you eat.
  2. Exercise regularly. Remember, the condition of your body can affect the condition of your soul. Hence, exercise for your soul’s sake too. If you are not healthy, you cannot function well as a husband, father, and minister. Your unhealthy lifestyle cannot only harm you but also your family and ministry.
  3. Ensure enough sleep. We are not robots. We get tired. We need rest. Jesus himself encouraged his disciples to get some rest (Mark 6:31).

In conclusion, if you are unhealthy because of your addiction to food, laziness to exercise, and lack of discipline to attend to your body’s needs, you are disobeying the sixth commandment. I plead with you, my friend, to take good care of your body and do it for God’s glory in response to what He has done for you in Christ.

1701, 2024

Six Ways in Which Noah’s Ark Is a Type of Christ

By |January 17th, 2024|

Noah’s ark is a type of Christ. It points us to some of the truths about the person and work of Jesus. How then is Noah’s ark a type of Christ?

  1. Just as the ark was graciously provided by God for sinners, so is salvation in Christ graciously provided by God for sinners (Gen. 6:13-14).

Noah by nature deserved to be destroyed because of his sin against God. “But Noah found favor [or grace] in the eyes of the Lord” (Gen. 6:8). God graciously provided him and his family the ark—a means through which they could escape from the flood of God’s judgment against sin. Likewise, in our natural condition we deserve to perish in hell, but God graciously provides us a savior in the person of His Son through whom we can escape from the fire of God’s wrath in hell. Noah and his family did not deserve the ark. We do not deserve Christ either. We do not deserve heaven; we deserve hell. But God gives us the exact opposite of what we deserve. Amazing grace! 

  1. Just as the ark was planned by God, so is salvation in Christ planned by God (Gen. 6:14-15).

Noah did not design the ark. God did. Noah did not plan for his deliverance. God did. In the same manner, God is the one who plans for our deliverance from the power and penalty of sin. God gives us his Son so that through faith in him we might be saved from sin. And God has planned this provision of salvation before the creation of the universe (Eph. 1:4). Imagine this: If you are a believer in Christ, God was already planning for your salvation even before you were born. He was already thinking of you before you were even able to think of him. You think of him because he first thought of you.

  1. Just as the ark was a place of safety, so is Christ a place of safety (Gen. 6:17).

The ark was a place of safety for Noah and his family. It sheltered them from the flood of God’s judgment. Similarly, Jesus is our shelter against the storm of God’s wrath. Those who are in Christ are protected but those who are outside Christ are perishing. Indeed, those who are in Christ are saved forever. Those of you, however, who are struggling with assurance of salvation may say, “I believe in Jesus but I don’t feel like I am saved.” Let me respond to you with this story that I read:

A man once came to D. L. Moody and said he was worried because he didn’t feel saved. Moody asked, “Was Noah safe in the ark?” “Certainly he was,” the man replied. “Well, what made him safe, his feeling or the ark?” The inquirer got the point. “How foolish I’ve been!” he said. “It is not my feeling; it is Christ who saves!”

  1. Just as Noah and his family must come into the ark for their safety, so must we come to Christ for our salvation (Gen. 6:18).

God says to Noah, “You shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you” (v. 18). How shall they come into the ark?

First, they shall come into the ark in response to God’s command. In Genesis 7:1 God commands Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household.” To deliver them from the flood is God’s work but to enter the ark is their responsibility. If Noah and his family don’t come into the ark, they will perish. Jesus also commands us to come to him: “Come to me…and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). To give you rest is Christ’s work but to come to him is your responsibility. You must come to Jesus by faith, or else your soul will forever be restless!

Second, they shall come by faith in God’s promise. God’s promise is two-fold: to destroy those who don’t believe in him and to deliver those who believe in him. Noah and his family believed God’s promise and so they entered the ark (Heb. 11:7). In the gospel Jesus promises never to cast out those who come to him (John 6:37). He promises to save those who believe in him. Do you believe his promise?

Third, they shall come into the ark individually. Noah must enter the ark and so must his family. Noah cannot come on their behalf. They must come by themselves. In the context of salvation, no one can come to Christ on your behalf. You yourself must come to Jesus by faith. Salvation is personal.

  1. Just as the call to come into the ark was a limited-time offer, so is God’s call to come to His Son a limited-time offer (Gen. 7:16).

The door of the ark did not stay open all the time. God shut it in his appointed time. God shut the door for the protection of those inside and as a punishment for those outside.

Once the door has been shut, there is no more opportunity for people to come into the ark and be rescued from the flood of God’s punishment. Oh, imagine those who were outside the ark when the flood came! “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near” (Isa. 55:6). Remember, the offer of the gospel is a limited-time offer. If you are still an unbeliever, I urge you to come to Jesus now for your salvation, while he may be found. Knock, while the door of heaven may be opened for you. Once the door is shut, there is no more hope for you. Oh, dear unbeliever, when will you repent of your sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?

  1. Just as the coming of the flood was unexpected, so is the second coming of Christ unexpected.

The flood came down suddenly upon the ungodly in Noah’s day. Although they were informed and warned, they did not know the exact time of the coming of the flood.

Jesus proclaims, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:37-39).   

Jesus will come again and he will come unexpectedly! Do you prepare for his return? Are you prepared to meet him?

Concluding thoughts:

At Calvary God poured his wrath upon his only begotten Son. The flood of God’s wrath came upon his Son. God the Father shut the door of heaven, as it were, and Jesus was locked out. This inexpressible feeling of being shut out caused Jesus to cry out loudly, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Imagine the cries of the people who were locked out in Noah’s days. But here’s the gospel: At Calvary God locked his Son out, so that he could open the door of heaven for sinners who will believe in his Son. Through faith in Christ, sinners can now enter into the joy of heaven (Matt. 25:21). Do you believe in Jesus Christ? “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).

1712, 2023

“Give me Scotland, or I die”: John Knox as a Man of Prayer

By |December 17th, 2023|

John Knox was born in Scotland about 1514. So he was only about three years old when the Protestant Reformation started in Germany in 1517. Converted to Protestantism from Roman Catholicism in 1543, Knox lived during a time when it was often very dangerous to be a follower of Christ. When the Roman Catholic Mary Tudor (also known as “Bloody Mary” because of her ruthless persecution of the Protestants) became queen in 1553, Knox, who was in England at this time, was forced to hide. He eventually landed in Geneva where he met John Calvin, who became his mentor. Knox returned to Scotland in 1559, the year after Queen “Bloody Mary” died and was succeeded by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. He remained in Scotland, bringing reformation to the church until his death in 1572.

Today people remember Knox as the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland and the founder of Scottish Presbyterianism. But what others don’t realize is that by the end of his ministry, he became more well-known for his prayer than for his other ministries.  The devout Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, is reputed to have said, “I fear the prayers of John Knox more than all the assembled armies of Europe.” Why do you think the Queen said this? Well, because she saw the impact of Knox’s prayer. From a human point of view, it was the prayer of Knox that sparked the Reformation in Scotland. His prayer became the fuel of the ongoing reformation during his time. His prayer shook the land of Scotland, causing a revival among God’s people.

Perhaps of all the prayers of Knox, “Give me Scotland, or I die” is the most quoted one.  It was not an arrogant prayer but a passionate plea, showing his intense desire for the conversion of the people of Scotland. His prayer was an expression of his great confidence in God. One of Knox’s mottos was “one man with God is always in the majority.” His prayer also echoes the Apostle Paul’s prayer in Romans 10:1, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” I wonder if we have the same desire for our fellow countrymen. When was the last time you prayed for your country like Knox did for his? Do we sincerely pray for our fellow countrymen’s conversion?

Knox remained prayerful even to death. During his dying hours, “he was much engaged in meditation and prayer. These words were often in his mouth”: “Come, Lord Jesus. Sweet Jesus into Thy hand I commend my spirit. Be merciful, Lord, to Thy Church, which Thou hast redeemed. Give peace to this afflicted commonwealth. Raise up faithful pastors who will take charge of Thy Church. Grant us, Lord, the perfect hatred of sin, both by evidences of Thy wrath and mercy.”

“Grant us, Lord, the perfect hatred of sin.” What a godly prayer of Knox! Indeed, after he died on November 24, 1572 (at about age 58), Principal Smeaton, one of Knox’s contemporaries, said of him, “I know not if ever God placed a more godly and great spirit in a body so little and frail.” Knox was not perfect, but we can definitely learn from his prayer life.

To learn more about Knox’s theology, spirituality, and practice of prayer, see my book The Collected Prayers of John Knox (Reformation Heritage Books, 2019).

1711, 2023

Dedication, Doubt, & Declaration:

By |November 17th, 2023|

A Message Delivered by Rev. Brian G. Najapfour at the Grave-side Service for His Dear Mother-in-law Joan Jacoba Elshout

May 13, 2013

Introduction

Before I proceed to the reading of God’s Word, allow me to first commend my dear father-in-law for his forty years of faithful and patient love for his wife. Dad, thank you for the godly example that you have left to us your children. You kept the vow that you had made to mom on your wedding day: to love her in sickness and in health. I understand that without God’s grace, you would not have been able to love mom in this way. Therefore, I praise God for His grace upon you.

Let’s now read our text for this short meditation—John 20:24-28.

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” 26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Sadly, we remember Thomas as “Doubting Thomas.” But as Joshua Harris asserted, “God didn’t give the name ‘Doubting Thomas’, we did. God never defines us by our failures. He defines us by the perfection of his Son.” In the gospel God defines us not according to our sin, but according to His Son’s righteousness. You might ask, “What is the gospel?” Interestingly, in Mark 1:15 Jesus says, “[R]epent and believe in the gospel” and you will be saved. Then when the Philippian Jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” they replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…”(Acts 16:30-31). Notice that Paul and Silas did not say, “Believe in the gospel,” but instead “Believe in the Lord Jesus.” Observe also that Jesus says, “[B]elieve in the gospel,” and not “believe in me.” Here then we see that the gospel and Jesus Christ are essentially synonymous. The gospel is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the good news. And here’s the good news: He “came to seek and to save the lost” (John 19:10).

This afternoon, upon my mother-in-law’s request, I would like to proclaim this gospel to you. And I can only preach the gospel if I preach Christ to you. My mother-in-law would have agreed with Charles Spurgeon who rebuked ministers that did not preach Christ: “Leave Christ out? O my brethren, better leave the pulpit out altogether. If a man can preach one sermon without mentioning Christ’s name in it, it ought to be his last, certainly the last that any Christian ought to go to hear him preach.”

What I will do in this brief message is present the gospel by looking at Thomas’s life under three headings: (1) his dedication, (2) his doubt, & (3) his declaration. Let’s consider our first point.

I. His Dedication

In John 11 Lazarus whom Jesus loves is sick. Actually, as the story progresses we discover that Lazarus eventually dies. Jesus wants to go to Judea to revive Lazarus, but listen to what His disciples tell Him:

Then after this he [Jesus] said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?” 16 So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Please note Thomas’s remarkable dedication to his Master here. He is courageously willing to die with Jesus. He is loyal to the Lord’s work. To some extent my mother-in-law was like Thomas. She was also committed to the service of the Lord. Her passion was to serve others. In fact, even when she was sick,she was still thinking of how she could minister to others. When she became severely ill, she was greatly disappointed that she could no longer help others, especially Mrs. Lyn Krul from British Columbia who became like a mother to her. Everyone who knew my mother-in-law would not question her dedication to the Lord’s work. She evidently loved the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, like Thomas, although she had a strong commitment to Jesus, her faith in Him was weak. Like Thomas, she also struggled with doubt. This brings us to our second point.

II. His Doubt

In our passage the dedicated Thomas shows his doubt to the testimony of his fellow disciples concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas tells them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (v. 25). Before Jesus died, He Himself had informed Thomas of His resurrection (Mark 8:31). Thus we learn that you can be dedicated to the Lord’s work and at the same time doubt His word. Are you like Thomas—dedicated and yet doubting? You actively serve God, but doubt His promises. You faithfully attend church services every Sunday, but you doubt the gospel promise that if you believe in Jesus you will be saved.

Nevertheless, despite his doubt, Thomas is an honest seeker of truth. He does not want to remain in his state of doubt. He eagerly looks for the truth. Do you recall his dialogue with Jesus in John 14:5-6? In this passage the confused Thomas asks Jesus about the way to His Father’s house—the way to heaven:

“Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Thomas doubts, but he is not content to remain doubting. He wants to be certain, especially of matters pertaining to everlasting life. Sadly, some Christians seem to be content to stay in the place of doubt. They don’t seek the truth. Perhaps you are struggling with assurance of salvation. Well, seek the truth that will set you free from the bondage of doubt. Read books about assurance of salvation. Attend bible study where your faith can be strengthened. Learn more about the gospel promises. Attend a church where the gospel is preached faithfully. Charles Spurgeon once mentioned, “Many a believer lives in the cottage of doubt when he might live in the mansion of faith.” My friend, you do not need to live in the cottage of doubt. Leave that place and live in the mansion of faith. You might ask, “Can I really know if I am saved?” Oh, yes, my friend, you can! As John the Beloved articulates, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Take note, the Bible has been written in order for believers to have absolute knowledge of their salvation in Christ. Can you honestly sing with Fanny J. Crosby?

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.

Now I am not saying that once you become a Christian, you will never experience doubt. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones explains in his book Spiritual Depression, “Doubts are not incompatible with faith…. Some people seem to think that once you become a Christian you should never be assailed by doubts. But that is not so, Peter still had faith (as he panicked in the storm in Matthew 14)…. His faith was not gone, but because it was weak, doubt mastered him and overwhelmed him and he was shaken…. Doubts will attack us, but that does not mean that we are to allow them to master us.”

With love let me challenge then those of you who are like Thomas. Are you allowing your doubt to rob you of the joy of assurance of salvation? Are you allowing your doubt to keep you from growing in your faith in Jesus? Are you making an effort to stay away from the cottage of doubt? Again like Thomas, my mother-in-law struggled with doubt, but she strove for assurance. She wanted to be certain of her salvation. Thankfully, after a long struggle, she experienced full assurance of salvation and could echo Thomas’s declaration which we will consider in our final point.

III. His Declaration

Thomas doubted. But look what he declares in our text after he has been confronted by Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). This confession is the clearest confession on the deity of Christ. Of all the Twelve Disciples, only Thomas explicitly calls Jesus God. In this sense, Thomas has surpassed his fellow disciples.

Notice the personal and possessive pronoun “my” in Thomas’s declaration: “My Lord and my God.”What Thomas is saying here is this: “Jesus is my Lord and my God, and I am His. Jesus belongs to me, and I belong to Him.” There is no more doubt here but assurance. I remember two days before my mother-in-law died, my wife and I skyped with her and sang for her the famous hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” Despite her extreme fatigue, my mother-in-law still sang with us:

“Great is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

For many years my mother-in-law had struggled to call God her Father. Now by God’s grace she could prayerfully sing with full confidence, “O God my Father!” What a confession! What an assurance! Can you say by God’s grace that God is your Father, too? John 1:12 says, “But to all who did receive him who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Oh, I urge you, my dear friend, to receive Jesus by faith and you will be given the right to become a child of God. Are you His child, or the Devil’s? Remember what Jesus says to the proud and self-righteous Pharisees in John 8:44, “You belong to your father, the devil.” They belong to Satan because they have not received Jesus. Have you received Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior? Think of the verse that we have heard this morning—“Jesus receives sinners” (Luke 15:2), but you must receive Him, too.

On her death bed shortly before she died, my mother-in-law prayed with her hands lifted up toward heaven, “Lord Jesus…..please come quickly!” My aunt Beth (the only sister of my mother-in-law) and Mrs. Jackie Mol (best friend of my mother-in-law for over 40 years) personally heard these words. Unquestionably, my mother-in-law borrowed her prayer from John the Beloved who pleads in Revelation 22:20, “Come, Lord Jesus!” This is a prayer of a true believer who longs to be with Jesus Christ. This was my mother-in-law’s last prayer.

Amazingly, my mother-in-law had a calendar that provides her a daily verse. And the verse that she was supposed to read on the day she died was John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans [or comfortless]; I will come to you.” Indeed, Jesus heard my mother-in-law’s request. He came quickly and gently to take her home to be with Him. What a comfort and joy to know that she is now with her Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ! She is now free from sin and sickness. Also, it is a comfort to know that Christ bought not only her soul but also her body. As the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully states in response to the question: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”

That I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil….Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

This body then in the coffin that we are about to bury is Christ’s. He purchased it and it will someday be changed into an immortal one (1 Cor. 15:51-54). On the great day of the resurrection of the saints, this mortal body will be raised from this cemetery to be with the Lord forever and ever and ever. It is with this glorious doctrine of the resurrection that the Apostle Paul exhorts us to comfort one another (1 Thess. 4:18). Hence, as we bury my mother-in-law’s body, we do not need to say goodbye but only good night to her, for we believers shall see her again in heaven. May the precious reality also that her soul is now in heaven sweeten our sorrow! She is now in a far better place than we can imagine (Phil. 1:23).

Conclusion

Let me close this message by simply asking you: Do you belong to Jesus? Does He belong to you? Is He your Lord and Savior? If not, I regret to tell you that if you die today you will go to hell and be there for eternity. Oh, once again I beg you to come to Jesus by faith and be saved. Jesus promises, “[W]hoevercomes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Therefore, with the words of the hymn writer Joseph Hart, I plead with you:

Come, ye sinners, poor and wretched,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready waits to save you,
Full of pity, love and pow’r:
He is able, He is able,
He is willing, doubt no more.

Jesus says, “Stop doubting and believe” (v. 27).

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