Sunday, July 26, 2009

“Come, my soul, thy suit prepare”

Come, my soul, thy suit prepare:
Jesus loves to answer prayer;
He himself has bid thee pray,
Therefore will not say thee nay.

Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For his grace and power are such,
None can ever ask too much.

With my burden I begin:
Lord, remove this load of sin;
Let thy blood, for sinners spilt,
Set my conscience free from guilt.

Lord, I come to thee for rest,
Take possession of my breast;
There thy blood bought right maintain,
And without a rival reign.

As the image in the glass
Answers the beholder’s face;
Thus unto my heart appear,
Print Thine own resemblance there.

While I am a pilgrim here,
Let thy love my spirit cheer;
As my Guide, my Guard, my Friend,
Lead me to my journey's end.

Show me what I have to do,
Every hour my strength renew:
Let me live a life of faith,
Let me die thy people's death.

—John Newton (1725-1807), 1780

Thursday, July 23, 2009

“Further In and Deeper Down”

Below are four video clips from a sermon preached by the late Dr. E.K. Bailey, founding pastor of Concord Missionary Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. Entitled, “Further In and Deeper Down”, the message is based on the Scripture passage in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

The first clip begins somewhere after the beginning of the message, so the entire message is not here. However, what is here in these four clips blessed me. I hope these clips may be a blessing to you, too.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

A week of celebration

This week in our home was our week of celebration as it marked another birthday for me and, the following day, my wedding anniversary. I give God all the praise for both occasions.

First of all, I thank God for life. The older I get, it is with greater frequency that I find obituaries in the newspaper for those who were the same age or younger than me. The deaths of my contemporaries—along with thinning hair, arthritis pain in certain joints and an increasing need to use my bifocals (not to mention the annual prostate exams from my doctor!)—make me keenly aware of my own mortality. Therefore, it is with gratitude that I celebrate 46 years of life. Looking at this photo, I think I have held up well, by the grace of God.

I’m reminded each day that life is a gift from God. I thank God that He has let me live to see another day, to behold the work of His hands in creation (His “handiwork”), to praise Him in word and song, and glorify Him with my life.

I also thank God for my marriage. Catherine and I have been married for 19 years. I thank God for keeping us together. The Bible teaches, and I believe in, the sanctity and life-long permanence of marriage. According to the Bible, the relationship between a man and woman in marriage illustrates the relationship between Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). I feel I could no more legitimately forsake Catherine than Christ could forsake His Church. I took seriously that vow I made 19 years ago to take Catherine as “my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, to honor and cherish till death do us part.” I would take that vow all over again today.

Unfortunately, like many American families, the Duncan family has been deeply affected by marital discord. My family is relatively small: only twenty people—parents, children and grandchildren—not counting spouses. Eleven of us are age 20 and over. Out of eleven, seven of us have been or are married. Out of the seven who have been or are married, four (over half) have been divorced. Between the four, there are seven divorces (plus one marriage which is over, except for the divorce papers). Obviously, our family has been deeply impacted by divorce, and I could go on for some time describing the emotional, relational and spiritual fallout of all these divorces. God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16 NASB), and so do I.

Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.” I found a “good thing” when I married Catherine. I trust we’ve been good for each other. By the grace of God we made it 19 years, and I hope and pray that, by that same grace, we’ll be able to grow old together.

I’m also thinking about the generations that will come after us. Even now, I pray for godly young ladies to marry our sons and become our future daughters-in-law. I pray for godly grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I pray that Catherine and I can leave a legacy, through our children, of marriages that last, to the glory of God.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

And Can It Be?

Can you identify with these words of Charles Wesley (1707-1788)?

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray:
I woke—the dungeon flamed with light!
My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”

O follower of Christ, we are free! Sin has no more power over us! Here’s what God’s word says (Romans 6:6-14):

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

“My chains fell off, my heart was free;
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”

Hallelujah! We’ve been set free so that we “may belong to another”, even Christ Jesus our Lord (see Romans 7:4).

Having been freed from sin, we can sing with joy, “No condemnation now I dread…!”

Listen to this hymn, sung to that stirring tune by Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), and read the lyrics as they appear on the video. Consider what Christ has done for you who trust in Him. Then, I encourage you, play the clip again and sing along, rejoicing in our Savior’s amazing love.

I’d Rather Have Jesus

I was born again about 29 years ago. Although my Christian walk has not been without its ups and downs, after all these years I can still say, “I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.” Here’s George Beverly Shea singing the song he composed, recorded during the 1957 Billy Graham crusade in New York City.

Correction: Shea composed the tune (in 1932). The words were written in 1922 by Mrs. Rhea F. Miller (1894-1966).

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Jesus, My Rock

“As it is written, ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans (9:33).

Being reared by old Black people gave me a love and appreciation for the traditional Black gospel music they loved to sing. Here’s a recording of the old gospel song, “I Call Him Jesus, My Rock”, as sung by that great Black gospel music composer, pianist and singer, the late Doris Akers.

Mere jars of clay

“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7).

These verses remind me it’s all right to feel inadequate, because we are inadequate! We’re also defective, broken and terribly flawed. We can never make ourselves good enough to be used by God. At our best, we’re still mere jars of clay. If God uses us at all, it’s only because of grace. All the power—and, therefore, all the glory—belongs to God.

So, as God gives opportunity, serve joyously, trusting in God’s “surpassing power”.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A question

I have a question. Really, I do. I have some ideas, but I’d like to know what you think.

In John 14:21 we have recorded these words of Jesus: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Jesus said that the one who loves Him will be loved by His Father.

So, here is my question:

Does God love everyone? Specifically, does God love the wicked—those who, without shame or regret, refuse to keep His commands and obey His Son?

And, if not, how do you reconcile Jesus’ words in John 14:21 with His words in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Like I said, I have some ideas, but I want to know what you think. And could you please back up your thinking with Scripture? I want Scripture proof.

Thanks. I look forward to reading your responses.

Time to get out

According to the New York Times, the Houses of Bishops and Deputies of the Episcopal Church “voted overwhelmingly” to pass a resolution recommending that “any ordained ministry” be made open to gays and lesbians. The House of Bishops also approved the creation of a liturgy to bless same-sex couples. You can read more about it here.

This is a sad, sad day for the Episcopal Church. Yet, not surprisingly, many are rejoicing.

What more reasons do those Episcopalians who take the Bible seriously need before they finally decide to get out of this apostate denomination? I don’t want to encourage schism, but it seems to me that there comes a point when remaining in such a denomination as the Episcopal Church is sinful.

I think the words of the Apostle Paul are very relevant in this situation (2 Corinthians 6:14-18):

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”
In my opinion, it’s time for those Episcopalians who still believe in the authority of Scripture to get out of this apostate denomination.

Jesus spoke about leaders like those Episcopal bishops and priests who voted in favor of these measures (Matthew 15:14):

Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14).
The “pit” is hell. And that’s where the leaders of the Episcopal Church seemed determined to take their followers.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Free Will

I hear so much talk about “God gave us a free will” from Christians. O, how I wish we knew our Bibles better! John Piper has a few thoughts on the subject here.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Seeking direction from God

Judging from the number of books, booklets, pamphlets and articles I’ve read or heard of over the years, it seems just about every Christian, at one time or another, wants to know the answer to this question: “What is God’s will for my life?” What the questioner is seeking is direction in making life’s many choices. The difficulty, of course, comes when the choices before us are not specifically addressed in Scripture. What college should I attend? What career path should I follow? Who should I marry? Sometimes we find ourselves absolutely stuck, unable to move, so uncertain are we as to what our next move should be. Of course, the major problem is, short of God speaking to us with an audible voice, it is usually extremely difficult to be sure when you have a definite answer from God.

Consider the following verse of Scripture. I think, perhaps, this verse holds the key to our dilemma of discovering God’s will for our lives:

“Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose” (Psalm 25:12).
Maybe the problem of discovering God’s will is actually the problem of an inadequate view of God. Perhaps, when we obtain a clear vision of God as the One who is to be feared, then we will see clearly the way He would have us to go.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Grieving as those who have no hope

I watched some of the Michael Jackson memorial on TV today (and I will probably see the rest of it, as I had to record the entire service for my wife who could not be at home at the time). In general, I thought the memorial service was a very tasteful and fitting tribute to a man who was, by all measures, an enormous talent, an entertainment phenomenon.

Yet, as I watched and listened, I could not help but remember the words of the apostle Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Yes, those who do not trust in the sinless life, sacrificial and substitutionary death, and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ do, indeed, grieve in a different way from those whose trust is in the Lord.

Today, despite participants’ attempts at joy and celebration, it seemed to me a certain heavy sadness hung in the atmosphere of the memorial service. Those who spoke seemed to me to be reaching for any glimmer of hope, yet, despite their words, a heavy sadness remained.

This was the end. Jackson’s singing and dancing would be heard and seen live no more. There was no hope.

The implication in Paul’s words is that it is possible for Christians to also grieve as if they have no hope. Make no mistake about it, death is an enemy, and death is cruel. Grief, as a response to the death of a loved one, is appropriate and fully understandable. The grief that multiple millions around the world feel today for Michael Jackson is real grief—I don’t want to minimize it at all—but, when a true Christian dies, fellow believers need not grieve over him or her as if death is the end of the story. Jesus arose from the dead! We shall live with Him forever! This world cannot even begin to compare to the glory that awaits us in eternity! We have hope!

I pray that those sad people I saw on TV today at Michael Jackson’s memorial service would find true hope in Christ. I pray that surviving members of the Jackson family would find eternal hope in Christ. Death is a cruel enemy. Grief is real. But, those of us who have placed our trust in Jesus have hope that lasts. We don’t have to “grieve as others do who have no hope.”

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Seek Him

“Everybody wants blessing, of course; yes, but the peculiar mark of the child is that he is interested in the Person, he wants his Father, he wants to know his Father. He is more interested in the Giver than the gift, in the Blesser than the blessing. He begins to know something of a hunger and thirst for God himself; as the Psalmist puts it, his soul thirsteth for the living God [Psalm 42:2]…

“Seek not an experience but seek Him, seek to know Him, seek to realize His presence, seek to love Him and give yourself entirely to Him. If He is at the centre you will be safe, but if you are simply seeking for experience, if you are simply seeking for thrills, if you are simply seeking for excitement, well then, you are opening the door to the counterfeit and probably you will receive it.”

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, as quoted in Iain H. Murray’s David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), p. 235.

Worth the “bother”

“To the question, ‘If there will be Arminians in heaven why should we bother about this difference in theology?’ [Dr. Lloyd-Jones] replied personally:

“I think that is a foolish question. We ‘bother’ about it, to use the term, because the Scripture has a great deal to say about it. Not only that. Any child of God should be anxious to understand as far as he can. I will go even further. If I were to give my experience in this pulpit tonight, I should have to put it like this: I know of nothing that is so strengthening to faith, nothing which so builds up my assurance, nothing which gives me such certainty about the blessed hope for which I am destined, as the understanding of Christian doctrine, the understanding of the way, yea the mechanism of salvation. And that is why I personally ‘bother’ with it.”

Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), pp. 233-234.

“Let the weight of the truth convince the people”

“Dr Lloyd-Jones certainly did not believe that discussion of the doctrines of grace should be carried on in an atmosphere of controversy. To present those doctrines in an argumentative way to evangelical Christians of a different understanding, or to make a direct attack on their beliefs and practices, is unlikely to be beneficial. He thought that A.W. Pink had made a mistake at this point and that in so doing he had lost an opportunity to influence numbers who were incapable of suddenly receiving meat in the place of milk. Reflecting on this in later years, he was to say:

“If I had behaved like Pink did, I would have achieved nothing. Nothing at all. I could see that the only hope was to let the weight of the truth convince the people. So I had to be very patient and take a very long term look at things. Otherwise I would have been dismissed and the whole thing would have finished.”

Iain H. Murray, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), p. 232.

Forgetting the devil

“There is nothing which is quite so disastrous…as not to accept in its fullness the biblical teaching concerning the devil. I am certain that one of the main causes of the ill state of the Church today is the fact that the devil is being forgotten. All is attributed to us; we have all become so psychological in our attitude and thinking. We are ignorant of this great objective fact, the being, the existence of the devil, the adversary, the accuser, and the ‘fiery darts’.”

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, as quoted in Iain H. Murray’s David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith 1939-1981 (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1990), p. 217.

Friday, July 03, 2009

My “Independence Day”

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
—Psalm 40:2-3

He brought me out of the miry clay;
He set my feet on the Rock to stay;
He put a song in m soul today;
A song of praise, hallelujah!
—Henry L. Gilmour (1837-1920)

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
—Colossians 1:13-14

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
—Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Recognized by the devil

We find this scene recorded in the book of Acts, chapter 19, verses 13-17:

Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.

This fascinating passage of Scripture tells us that the demon in this possessed man knew who Jesus was. The text also says the demon recognized Paul. Jesus gives authority to his followers to act in His name (e.g., Mark 16:17a; 9:38-40), and Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, had the authority from Christ to cast out demons in Jesus’ name. However, when the sons of Sceva came along, the demon wanted to know, “who are you?” It was as if the demon asked, “Who do you think you are?” The demon knew that the sons of Sceva had no right or authority to act in Christ’s name and, therefore, had no right to tell the demon to leave. Apparently, demons can distinguish between those who trust in Jesus Christ and those who do not.

Beginning in Genesis 3, and ending with his eternal destruction in the lake of fire in Revelation 20, we see that the devil and his demons are opposed to God. It follows that if the devil and his demons are opposed to God, they also oppose the children of God. Believers in Jesus are children of God (John 1:12), and if you are a child of God, the devil and his demons know who you are, and hate and oppose you, too.

Unbelievers are children of the devil (1 John 3:10), and what holds true for the devil holds true for his children in that the devil in unbelievers will hate and oppose the Jesus in you, if you are a believer in Christ. Isn’t this what Jesus told His followers? Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20a).

So, believer in Christ, don’t be surprised when people dislike you, oppose and undermine you, or even hate you, for apparently no good reason of which you’re aware. Maybe—perhaps even subconsciously—they oppose you simply because you’re a child of God. In that, they’re only following the lead of their father, the devil. Whatever you do, don’t return their animosity. Rather, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45a). Pray sincerely and compassionately for their salvation and deliverance from the devil.