"An awkward discussion..."
I would hope that most of us reading this feel blessed to be part of a Christian fellowship. Of course, it is our prayer that we will continue to be a blessing to each other until the day the Lord returns victoriously on the clouds, or alternatively, calls us into His eternal presence some other way.
Sometimes being part of a Christian fellowship means that we need to have ‘awkward’ discussions before we pass into glory. A Pastor was once asked two questions concerning death. First, how many years can we reasonably expect the Lord to give us? He answered by quoting Psalm 90:10, “The length of our days is seventy years or eighty if we have the strength…” Second, what happens if we don’t get to seventy? After some thought, the Pastor replied, “If you are a Christian, early promotion.”
The reality is that unless the Lord returns quickly, the Lord will use various means to call us home, perhaps an accident or sickness or just heart failure that eventually comes with old age. Having said that, did you know some of the best thanksgiving services are held when people have planned their departure to glory before it occurs? So, may I encourage you to give that some thought. Here are some suggestions that you may wish to consider:
It's not about the view...
When we lived on the Northern Beaches in Sydney, there were some spectacular views along the coastline, especially when one drove along the cliffs and could see the beaches below. Perhaps one of the best views was from the Bible Garden looking down to Palm Beach. Interestingly, some people (not all) who have spent megabucks purchasing their dream mansion along the coastline were soon bored with the view and after a while rearranged their furniture so that they didn’t have to look at the ocean all day or sold their mansion. I am not too sure how you could be bored with those great views, but some were. Perhaps I would be too if all I had was the ocean to look at.
Now you may be wondering, “Where is this going?” Well, it’s going to the graveyard! I once attended a graveside service on the northern beaches in NSW and I overheard the comment, “I would like to buried here – it has such a great view?” Well, I could certainly appreciate the view, it was spectacular, to say the least, but I have a strong suspicion that the Christian brother we buried that day is enjoying a far better view in glory. Sometimes we need to be reminded, despite the tranquil and picturesque surroundings at cemeteries, our loved ones are in glory and not in the grave looking up or out to some picturesque scenery. Dearie me, if that is how we think we will spend eternity, it will be very disappointing, for even the best scenery soon becomes ‘dead’ boring.
This past week we laid to rest the earthly remains of a brother in Christ. I mention earthly remains, for as Christians, although we wish to show respect to the earthly body, we don’t believe for a moment that our soul (spirit) remains with the body nor do we believe that this is the body we will have in eternity. There is enough evidence in Scripture to understand that from the moment we breathe our last our soul goes to be with the Lord (Jn 11:25-26; Rev 6:9ff). Furthermore, when Jesus returns there will be a great resurrection and Christians will be changed in the twinkling of an eye and be given glorified bodies that are fit to live with our Saviour forever. We will no longer have perishable bodies, but imperishable. While on earth, we have the image of the man of dust, but when the last day arrives we will bear the image of the man of heaven (1 Cor 15:42ff).
So, let’s be thankful that Scripture teaches that the grave is not the end and that heaven will be something spectacular. How good? I wish I could tell you, but I cannot. Even the man (possibly Paul) recorded as seeing the ‘third heaven’ and being ‘caught up into paradise’ was not allowed to utter what he had seen (2 Cor 12:1-4). But this I do know, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Cor 2:9).
So let’s not be too concerned about the views around us, not when we are living nor when we are buried. Rather, let us be concerned presently that we love the Lord dearly, and continue to fan into flame the gift of faith that He has given us. JZ
"Fight the good fight"
One annoying thing that keeps niggling at our assurance of salvation on occasions is whether we will be like some others who have at one time done their profession of faith but now seemingly have given their Christian faith away. One trap we fall into as Christians is looking for assurance of salvation in the wrong places. It is so easy to be what I call ‘belly-button’ gazers and continually look at ourselves to see if we can somehow qualify or quantify what God is doing in our lives. For instance, we may be looking at our own spiritual growth or whether we are being obedient to God’s will or even doing good works.
Now some of these things may be useful and be evidence of our salvation because Jesus Himself said that “by their fruit you shall recognize them” (Mat 7:16), but they are not what we should base our assurance of salvation upon. There may come a day when we can no longer do the good works, perhaps due to illness or even the frailty of old age. Nor should we place our trust in how we ‘feel’ for one day we may feel great and the next day we may feel lousy!
Rather, we should find the assurance of salvation in the objective truth of God’s Word and hold on tightly. The thief on the cross had no chance of doing any good works. In fact, his life was probably one of all ‘bad-works’ and yet Jesus assures him of his salvation that very day because the thief believed in Jesus and the objective promise given to Him by the Saviour of sinners. Abraham, years earlier, believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. This is the key to assurance of salvation. We can only be confident that we are saved based on the objective promises of God contained in His Word, and not because of what our hands have done or any other other subjective experiences.
There are many verses in Scripture which testify that God wants his children to be certain of their salvation and not to be tossed about ‘to and fro’ by the storms of life or their continuing self-doubt. For instance, John 20:31; “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Or again, 1 John 5:11-13, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” (See also John 3:16; 5:24; 6:37; Acts 16:31. Rom 5:8ff; Rom 8:28-39; 10:9; 2 Cor 5:21 and others). Jesus gave this assurance, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:28-30).
Now it is one thing to know all this, it is another thing to hold onto it tightly. Yet even there, God preserves us so that we will continue to persevere and hold on tightly. The Apostle Paul encourages the Philippian Christians in 2:12-13 to work out their salvation with fear and trembling. It’s not that Paul doubted his salvation, rather, he understood that the sanctifying process calls for ongoing obedience (See WCF 16.3). Furthermore, Paul did not place any confidence in the things he ‘felt’ or ‘did in his flesh’, rather, he considered everything a loss, but rested in the righteousness gained by Christ, given by God and is by faith and kept working at it (please read Phi 3:7-14.)
So, yes we can have assurance of salvation, however, there is no room for being a ‘lazy’ Christian. Don’t neglect feeding on God’s Word, participating in the sacraments, spending time in prayer, gathering for worship. These are some of the means of grace God has given us to encourage us in our faith and walk of obedience. May we all be able to say with Paul, (2 Tim 4:7-8) “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Prayer: “Lord, thank you for giving us such great promises in Your Word. In light of them, forgive us when we doubt or do not trust your promises. Holy Spirit, please help us in times of doubt to trust in Jesus Christ and to recall to mind the wonderfully promises and assurances given to us in Holy Scripture of our eternal salvation. Amen. JZ
Renewal and revival
As most of you would know, we have been in Europe this past month, catching up with some family and friends and seeing some spectacular scenery. One of the highlights of the trip was being able to see the history of Europe, which included some of the early architecture, the narrow streets that are sprinkled with little shops and of course the Cathedrals.
Of all the Cathedrals seen, perhaps the Milan Cathedral was the most spectacular of all, at least from the outside. It took six centuries to complete. It's hard to imagine that people worked on that structure all their lives and many after doing so never saw it completed. Of course, many of these workers saw this as a service to God and hence were willing to commit their whole lives to these projects.
History has recorded that the indulgences demanded by the early Roman Church paid for these structures. Today, many of these Cathedrals have their doors open to the public, but most of them charge a price, from about five through to twenty euro or pounds for entry, depending on where you were. Much of those funds are used today to cover the expenses associated with maintaining these buildings.
One sad thing was to see that many of these churches, along with their lavish artefacts and beautiful paintings, still had crucifixes depicting a ‘dead’ Jesus on the cross. Some had little shopping (souvenir) areas inside the building where people could buy all sorts of memorabilia associated with the particular Cathedral. Perhaps one of the most disturbing things was to see the public invited to purchase a small candle for three euro, light it, say a prayer, and be given an assurance that their prayer would be heard for it would be carried on the wings of the saints.
There was only one church where we didn't see a crucifix and that was at St Peters in Geneva. Yet even there we were charged five euros to go up the tower for a view of the city. And then not to be out done, we were charged quite a bit more to see the Reformation Museum around the corner. This museum was very dated and had very little or no modern content at all. In some ways, it denied the reformational concept of an ‘Ecclesia semper reformanda’ (a church always reforming).
However, we did have the opportunity to attend an Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Cambridge. We just loved being part of a fellowship where we could understand and hear faithful preaching, great singing and enjoy Christian fellowship (sometimes we forget how blessed we are to be able to enjoy this every week). This particular Sunday, they had a guest preacher for their previous minister (Iain Hamilton) had retired. When speaking to one of the elders afterwards, he remarked how difficult it was to find ministers who were willing to move to a new congregation and finding willing and gifted men for the eldership. Nothing new under the sun!
Anyhow, one thing became apparent and that is the need to pray for renewal and revival and may the Holy Spirit begin with us. We need to pray for a ‘new’ reformation where people will bow the knee before King Jesus and Him alone. We need to pray that people everywhere may understand that God is not concerned in the first place about bricks and mortar or gold-plated icons, but a heart that loves Him and desires wholeheartedly to worship Him for Who He is and all He has done, not least in sending His Son for our eternal salvation. To that end, may we always be seeking renewal and 'reforming' to reach the lost for Christ, to the glory of our Father in heaven. JZ