Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Your Sins, Your Enemies, and Your Fears Will Be "Cleared Away"

“Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away his judgments against you. He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you will fear disaster no more.” (Zephaniah 3: 14,15) 

Now, there’s a passage to lift your spirits! For remember, all who have trusted in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to pay the penalty of their sins, whether they be Jew or Gentile, are “grafted in” to the covenant God has made with the spiritual Israel (Romans 11, et al). And that means that these exquisite, exciting promises are yours!

And here are a few more points to ponder:

1) The judgments of a holy God against your sins are “taken away” -- completely and forever -- because Jesus, the King of Israel has paid for them with His death on Calvary’s cross. John the Baptist rejoiced in this glorious truth when he saw Jesus coming to him at the Jordan River: “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” What an exhilarating miracle -- our sins and guilt and lack of righteousness are taken away where they will condemn and shame us no more. No wonder the prophet Zephaniah calls for the people of God to shout for joy. 

2) The above promise has a twofold fulfillment. One is for now. One is for the future. One points to what theologians call the “positional truth” of our salvation. If you have received Christ as Savior (that is, trusted in His sacrifice to atone for your guilt before God), then you are saved, born-again, forgiven forever, adopted into God’s family, grafted into the covenant, etc. It is a done deal. From God’s perspective, the believer is, at the very moment of faith, cleansed from sin, redeemed, and sealed with his Spirit. Furthermore, the Bible teaches that with your complete trust in Christ, God actually imparts His righteousness into you. Wow.

But, you say, you still struggle with sin. That’s correct. Having your sins forgiven doesn’t mean that you will be free from sin in this life. But when this part of the adventure is over, you will be. And there is the double fulfillment -- the penalty of your sins are taken away right now but, in the day when you are ushered into the presence of God, the very presence of sin will be taken away…and forever. 

3) A double fulfillment is also in play with the promise of God “clearing away” our enemies. Our enemies, of course, are all too obvious: our carnal nature, the devil, the rebellious world around us. And those enemies have, in our past, enslaved us. But, in Christ, we have been made new and the shackles of our old slavery have been broken. We can now, by the power of the Holy Spirit (which was given us at the moment of our salvation), walk in newness of life and victory. We are free. In this important sense, the Lord has already “cleared away” our enemies. Even the macabre and frightful enemy of death has lost its sting for we are guaranteed the same resurrection which Jesus experienced.

But again, through unbelief, rebellion, cowardice, selfishness, and other sins, we surrender over and over to our old enemies. Our aching need is to live free, to live for the Lord, to live like the people He has created us to be. And, one great day, we will do so without any stumbling or backsliding. Ah, yes…this is why we can “rejoice and exult with all our heart” as Zephaniah bids us. For in that glorious day of Christ’s triumph, all of our enemies will be “cleared away” completely and forever! 

4) Fears of disaster regularly assail us in this life and drain us of confidence and joy. They deter us from lives of selflessness and mercy. We fear failure, sickness, loneliness, shame, disability, disappointment, the seeming victory of evildoers, and so much more. Yet here too we rejoice in the twofold nature of God’s promise. On the one hand, we look forward with great hope and happiness to that glorious day when all disasters are defeated, when all fears are swallowed up in our eternal bliss. O rejoice indeed!

And because of that splendid future, we can so much more confidently deal with the disasters of this life. This is not all there is. We have a future. We have an inheritance that is glorious and liberating and beautiful. And it is forever. And why can this be? Zephaniah tells us, it is because “the King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.” Yes, the Lord is with us at this very moment as our Savior, Advocate, and Helper, But the day will soon be here when we will join our Sovereign Conqueror and Almighty Lord in the New Jerusalem with all sin, all enemies, all fears defeated and destroyed forevermore. 

“Shout for joy, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away his judgments against you. He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you will fear disaster no more.” (Zephaniah 3: 14,15)

Monday, April 16, 2018

“Five Annihilating Words: One Night He Heard Screams”

“The daughter of a former German diplomat in Moscow was trying to explain to me why her father, who, as an enlightened modern man, had been extremely pro-Communist, had since become an implacable anti-Communist. It was hard for her because, as an enlightened modern girl, she shared the Communist vision without being a Communist. But she loved her father and the irrationality of his defection embarrassed her. ‘He was immensely pro-Soviet,’ she said, ‘and then -- you’ll laugh at me, but you must not laugh at my father -- and then one night in Moscow, he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.’

A child of Reason and the 20th Century, she knew that there is a logic of the mind. She did not know that the soul has a logic that may be more compelling than the mind’s. She did not know at all that she had swept away the logic of the mind, the logic of history, the logic of politics, the myth of the 20th Century, with five annihilating words: one night he heard screams.

What Communist has not heard those screams? They come from husbands torn forever from their wives in midnight arrests. They come, muffled, from the execution cellars of the secret police, from the torture chambers of the Lubianka, from all the citadels of terror now stretching from Berlin to Canton. They come from those freight cars loaded with men, women and children, the enemies of the Communist State, locked in, packed in, left on remote sidings to freeze to death at night in the Russian winter. They come from minds driven mad by the horrors of mass starvation ordered and enforced as a policy for the Communist State. They come from the starved skeletons, worked to death, flogged to death (as an example to others) in the freezing filth of sub-arctic labor camps. They come from children whose parents are suddenly, inexplicably, taken away from them – parents they will never see again.

What Communist has not heard those screams?”

(Whittaker Chambers, Witness, pages 13, 14)

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Profound Present of a Compliment

“A sincere compliment, as the poet Phyllis McGinley suggests, is a gift we give to others. It is an important way to encourage, to express kindness and goodwill, to be a winsome witness of Christ as we gratefully delight in the virtues, skills, and demeanor of those whose lives touch ours. Indeed, giving the gift of compliments is very much a part of our Christian discipleship. Think of Jesus’ compliments to Nathaniel, to Mary Magdalen, to the widow who gave her mite, to the Roman centurion, to the Syrophonecian woman, to Mary of Bethany, to the churches in Revelation…and to all the saints who pass into His presence who will hear, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant.’”

I write about the powerful present that is a compliment in this month’s Vital Signs Ministries letter. Check it out right here.

Friday, April 13, 2018

“Making Mention” Prayers

The apostle Paul writes to the believers at Thessalonica, “We give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers.” (First Thessalonians 1: 2,3)  But Paul and his ministry colleagues engaged in many more “making mention” prayers than these verses refer to. Indeed, he uses the exact same words (connected in every case with prayers of Thanksgiving for believers) in Romans 1:9, Ephesians 1:16, Philemon 4, and very similar wording in Colossians 1:3 and Philippians 1:4. That’s quite a lot of references — more than enough for us to be curious about what “making mention” prayers are all about.

The Greek words Paul uses here reveal no mysterious meaning. No, “making mention” means just what it seems; that is, briefly naming in his prayers the believers in the various churches who have lifted his spirits because of their faithfulness to God. Now, the apostle may well find time to intercede for them regarding other issues. And he may well, in other instances, spend more time in his prayers for them. But what we see in these passages are that Paul’s Thanksgiving-oriented prayers simply make mention of them. We see too that he did so as a frequent activity. That is what is made clear with the word “always,” a word that is used in extra-biblical Greek literature to refer to an ongoing cough. Therefore, this doesn’t point to a mystical preoccupation — an ideal that is, in practice, unattainable. It merely means that Paul remembered, thought of, and made mention of these Christians in his regular, ongoing prayers.

I find these little verses of tremendous interest and full of stimulating applications. Among them? 1) Paul, though responsible for the immense responsibilities of apostleship, preaching the gospel, defending the Faith, overseeing the churches, traveling, sometimes making tents, sometimes dealing with persecution and the trials of imprisonment, was nevertheless a Christian leader who frequently prayed for individual believers. His prayers were not solely concerned with “cosmic forces” but also for individual saints. 2) Paul’s prayers were not prompted only because of trouble, trial, or sin in peoples lives. No, he obviously spent a great deal of his prayer time interceding for Christians who were doing well. Are we remembering to do the same? Again, Paul’s example and the number of Bible verses involved here testify that we should be.

3) Another important thing to note in reading all of these verses is that Paul was not merely praying that God bless these believers, but he was thanking God for their love and loyalty to Christ. Indeed, gratitude towards God is clearly the emphasis. We are so used to supplication in our prayers (asking God for blessings) that we often overlook the need to simply give Him thanks for blessings already received. And Paul recognized that those blessings were not just daily bread, deliverances, spiritual strength, conversions, the fruits of the Spirit, and on and on…but they included God’s splendid work in other saints. We should make sure this is a part of our prayer experience too.

4) Were Paul and Silas and Timothy praying “off the top of their heads” or did they perhaps have a prayer list? Did they have set times of prayer or did they merely find whatever time in the day was available? Did they pray together as a group? Or did they pray alone? Did they talk to God out loud or silently? We will not, on this side of the Jordan, be able to conclusively answer such questions. Yet I feel fairly safe to suggest the answers are: all of the above! And so the task before you and I is to emulate their behavior, using whatever methods serve best to help us pray more frequently, more intelligently, and more confidently.

5) These verses also prove that prayers for others do not need to be long, detailed, impassioned prayers. Some times they will be. That will depend upon the need, the depth of the relationship, and so on. But don’t be fooled by false guilt. Short, “making mention” prayers also please God and draw down His blessing. Furthermore, those brief prayers also lift our spirits and stimulate us to the same love and good deeds we see in our faithful brothers and sisters.

And here’s one more item I have found inspirational in these verses, 6) Just as the faith, love, and hope of the believers in Thessalonica, Ephesus, Rome, and the rest provided great joy to the apostle Paul and his team, you and I can greatly contribute to the joy, thanksgiving, and spiritual health of other believers as we stay the course for the Master. Should our primary motivation for faithfulness be our desire to please the Lord Jesus Himself? Of course. But, in the glorious plan and provision of God, it does not end there. Our faithfulness pleases the Lord, yes; but it also enriches and guides other Christians, rebukes and convicts unbelievers, moves the Kingdom of God forward, impresses angels and disheartens demons, and lays up treasure for ourselves in heaven.

In summary — Make prayers for others a priority. It will take creativity, work, and endless restarts and fine-tuning. But keep after it. Also make sure you’re not neglecting to pray for Christians who are doing well. And pray in joyful thanksgiving to God for their doing so. Finally, let your efforts to create an effective prayer life be as purposeful and committed as all of your other spiritual responsibilities.

P.S. To learn more on this matter, you might consider joining us for our next  L’Abri Evening (Tuesday evening, April 24th) where we will be listening to and then discussing an audio recording of Anna Friedrich talking about “Everyday Artistry: Prayer, Bible-reading, and other Disciplines as Opportunities for Creativity.” Mrs. Friedrich is a wife and home school mom who worked at the Swiss L’Abri for 5 years and is now serving with her husband Dave with the Southborough L’Abri team. Details are over on Vital Signs Blog.

Spiritual Disciplines: The Focus for the Next L’Abri Evening

It’s been quite awhile since Claire and I have hosted a L’Abri Evening and, to be quite honest, the main reason was that we hadn’t found any sessions from recent Rochester L’Abri conferences that we found of sufficient interest. So we began to think about other options. For instance, we considered a discussion on a Francis (or Edith) Schaeffer book and on a showing of the film series How Shall We Then Live? And we may pursue one of those paths in the future. However, we did recently discover a very enlightening presentation from February’s Rochester conference that we decided to offer as our next L’Abri Evening program.

It was a shorter “breakout” lecture by Anna Friedrich entitled, “Everyday Artistry: Prayer, Bible-reading, and other Disciplines as Opportunities for Creativity.” Mrs. Friedrich is a wife and home school mom who worked at the Swiss L’Abri for 5 years and is now serving with her husband Dave with the Southborough L’Abri team.

The lecture (which we listened to on our way to Branson) was well planned, well delivered, and presented very helpful counsel regarding spiritual disciplines. Unlike too many of these lectures, it was practical to the max.

We have set Tuesday evening, April 24th for the listening/discussion party. We will begin at 7. As always, there will be refreshments as well as scintillating conversation so please consider joining us. And, yes, RSVP’s are greatly appreciated.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Spring May Be a No Show, But "When Swing Was King" is Still Springing Forward!

Yes, spring may have lost its way but that won’t keep us from swinging into April with the newest edition of “When Swing Was King,” the extremely popular program that Vital Signs Ministries brings to 11 senior care facilities each month. “When Swing Was King” is a delightful journey back in time with original hits from the big band era, a visual smorgasbord of the same era featuring hundreds of photographs, a fun and interesting narration, and the opportunity for sharing memories and conversation with friends.

It’s no wonder that we’re told over and over that “When Swing Was King” is the residents’ favorite program of each month. How cool!

Why don’t you come along and see what all the hoopla is about? The schedule for each month is always posted on the Vital Signs Ministries website.

And this month’s lineup? It’s a real doozy!

1) Glenn Miller Orchestra (Ray Eberle, vocals), “At Last”

2) Harry James Orchestra (Helen Ward, vocals), “Where or When”

3) Artie Shaw Orchestra, “Oh, Lady Be Good”

4) Nat King Cole Trio, “Route 66”

5) Vaughn Monroe Orchestra, “Blue Moon”

6) Larry Clinton Orchestra (Bea Wain, vocals), “Heart and Soul”

7) Benny Goodman Quartet, “After You’ve Gone: Take One”

8) Tommy Dorsey Orchestra (Frank Sinatra and the Pied Pipers, vocals), “I’ll Never Smile Again”

9) McGuire Sisters, “Sugartime”

10) Bing Crosby, “Stranger in Paradise”

11) Les Brown Orchestra (Doris Day, vocals), “My Dreams Are Getting Better All the Time”

12) The Mills Brothers, “Paper Doll”