Only God Can Write a Story that Starts Out Perfect and Ends Better

Note from Pastor Tim: for privacy reasons, the names have been changed.

Words of Comfort from God’s Word at a Memorial Service in our Community

This afternoon, as I have the opportunity to bring you a message of hope from God’s Word, I want us to think about the basic message of the entire Bible in less than 10 minutes as we look at 4 movements in the Bible, just like a symphony has different parts or movements. Immediately as humans when we are faced with a tragedy like this, when it is forced on us that someone who we saw at the park a few days ago took his own life 2 days later, we want answers. I have heard many try to figure out answers over the last few days. What we do know though is that we will never have a final answer, except to accept that this is a choice that Sam made, and to not take responsibility ourselves. The immediate thought is, “If I had only known ______________.  Or if I had only done __________________.”

But the Bible gives answers for how things like this can happen. The Bible, as a message from God, faces reality. It does not gloss over the fact that we live in a broken world.

But this brokenness is not how it all began. The Bible begins with God, and God making a perfect creation. God created man and woman, and He created Adam and Eve in His own image. God set humankind apart because He simply spoke when He created everything else…but when He created man and woman, God touched them. He formed them with His own hands out of dust and the Bible says in Genesis that God breathed into them to give them their breath. This means that humans are different than any other part of God’s creation. We are made in God’s image. This means that every one of us in this room, whether elderly or disabled or healthy or in our 20s or in our 70s has meaning and a purpose in life. And that purpose, that identity is given to you by God Himself when you come to know God as your Savior through Jesus Christ.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The 1st movement in the Bible is Creation, and when God finished His work of creation He looked at it and said that it was, “Very good.”

The 2nd movement in the Bible is the Fall, and this is where sin and evil and suffering and brokenness enters God’s perfect creation. When Satan came to tempt Adam and Eve they had a choice to either obey God and to be His representatives on earth as they were made in His image, or to try to be King themselves and do things their own way. This rebellion against their Creator is when separation from God and suffering first began to happen, and it is the reason that we live in a world in which there is so much pain and hurt and tears.

From the moment that Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible explains how they no longer had a close relationship with a holy God and death even entered the world. Their own son Cain even killed his own brother Abel, and Adam now had to work hard to put food on the table and Eve now had pain in childbirth. Creation began to unravel. The rest of the Bible, from the moment of the Fall or sin entering the world in Genesis 3 to Matthew chapter 1 when Jesus comes on the scene, is a picture of what happens when people try to be King rather than letting God be King.

Then we have the 3rd movement of the Bible. First we saw Creation, then the Fall which answers why there is so much pain in the world today, then the 3rd movement is the Cross. Mark 1:1 explains it like this, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Do you know what “gospel” means? It is good news! It is not just any good news, it is an announcement of something that has been done for you.

Religion tells you that you have to do “x” “y” and “z” to be able to work your way back to God, but the gospel—the good news of Jesus Christ—tells you that Jesus has already done “x” “y” and “z” for you. The diagnosis for you and I is worse than we ever imagined. We are more wicked and evil than we ever imagined, but the good news is that we are more loved and important than we ever imagined. Jesus came to give us life, to give us forgiveness, to bring us to God. So Jesus lived for 33 years exactly like you would expect a man who is also fully God to live—healing, loving, caring for and teaching those who were the most rejected by the rest of society like the lepers and the sick as we read in the Gospels—doing miracles because He was fully God and the wind and the waves knew His voice. And then Jesus died on a cross to pay the punishment for your sins, the punishment you could never pay, and then He rose from the dead, to show that the price for your sins had been paid in full—and so that all who trust in Him alone for their salvation can become children of God.

Jesus brings us back to God! Jesus explained how He came to reverse the work of the devil in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” You see, we saw the Fall earlier. Satan comes to destroy, but Jesus comes to give life!

But it doesn’t end there. This is where the 4th movement of the Bible comes in, the New Creation. The Bible started out in a Garden, and at the end of the Bible there is a Garden in the capital city of Heaven, the New Jerusalem. Only God can write a story that starts out perfect and ends better.

Here is God’s promise for all who will trust in Jesus alone for their salvation, and accept that the good news of the gospel is that the work has already been done by Jesus: we just have to accept salvation and confess that we have sinned, and that we want Jesus to be our King and Savior, and ask Him to save us and help us to follow Him.

Here is what God promises for all who will do that, in Revelation 21: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will be with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.” Do you notice how at the beginning of the Bible humans were made to be with God, but then sin separated us from God, Jesus came to bring us back to God, and then in the end we can be with God if we have trusted in Jesus?

God goes on in Revelation 21: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.  And He who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’”  God will make everything sad come untrue.

Today, we wipe away our tears with Kleenex, but on that day God Himself will wipe our tears away. Will you be there? Have you asked Jesus to save you? It’s ok to shed those tears now. When Jesus was faced with his friend Lazarus’ death, Jesus wept even though He would raise him from the dead just a few minutes later.

One of the things that I will miss most about Sam is seeing him at the park. My family loves going to the Manchester Rec Park and in fact that is the last time that I saw Sam just over a week ago—we waved and smiled at each other. About 1 year ago, I was with my 2 youngest who loved seeing “Mr. Keene” at the park, and Sam stopped me and said, “Pastor Tim—I need to show you some things on my phone. Why do I keep seeing crosses everywhere?” And he showed me picture after picture of shadows of a cross that he would see in nature or somewhere. I told Sam that day what I beg you to believe today so that you can be part of this New Creation that God will create for those who believe in Jesus, “Sam, the cross reminds us of God’s love for us. Romans 5:8 explains, “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’”

Do you know God’s love? God wants to comfort you today, but you need to come to Him and trust in Jesus only.

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Family Devotions Are Not New

John Newton, one of my heroes of the faith, wrote the hymn Amazing Grace in 1779.  He also wrote many personal letters that we can learn from, including one answering a question about “Family Worship.”  Family Devotions, time set aside as a family to read the Bible and pray together (and sometimes maybe even sing), is nothing new because the call to raise our families in the Lord is not new.family devotions

Parents were seen as the primary disciplers of their children before Deuteronomy 6:7 was given to the people of Israel, and before the Apostle Paul instructed parents to raise their children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” in Ephesians 6:4.  Newton explains:

I am afraid I shall not answer your expectations with regard to the particulars of your inquiry, concerning the most proper method of conducting family worship. The circumstances of families are so various, that no determinate rules can be laid down: nor has the word of God prescribed any; because, being of universal obligation, it is wisely and graciously accommodated to suit the different situations of his people. You must, therefore, as to circumstantials, judge for yourself. You will do well to pursue such a method as you shall find most convenient to yourself and family, without scrupulously binding yourself, when the Scripture has left you free…

…He requires us to acknowledge him in our families, for our own sakes; not because he has need of our poor services, but because we have need of his blessing, and without the influence of his grace (which is promised to all who seek it) are sure to be unhappy in ourselves…

…For it being every believer’s duty to worship God in his family, his promise may be depended upon, to give them a sufficiency in all things, for those services which he requires of them.

Happy is that family where the worship of God is constantly and conscientiously maintained. Such houses are temples in which the Lord dwells, and castles garrisoned by a Divine power. I do not say, that, by honouring God in your house, you will wholly escape a share in the trials incident to the present uncertain state of things. A measure of such trials will be necessary for the exercise and manifestation of your graces, to give you a more convincing proof of the truth and sweetness of the promises made to a time of affliction, to mortify the body of sin, and to wean you more effectually from the world. But this I will confidently say, that the Lord will both honour and comfort those who thus honour him.

I especially appreciate how Newton points out that no matter how inadequate you feel to lead Family Devotions, God has already given you what you need.  Also, there is no one set method–and it will change in your own family over time.  But the basics of being reminded of something from the Bible together as a family in your home, and praying together, is timeless.  If you don’t already have a pattern, why don’t you start with one night a week after dinner–tonight!

Source: Newton, J., Richard Cecil. (1824). The works of the Rev. John Newton (Vol. 1, p. 153). London: Hamilton, Adams & Co.

Do You See Election as an Act of God’s Eternal Love?

Believer, you may have had times of great struggle or confusion in your theological understanding of election.  Even those of us who have long held to a reformed understanding of God’s sovereignty in salvation will often admit that although we think there is great clarity in God’s Word regarding election, there is also great mystery in this doctrine.

diff-lighthouse-waveBut brother or sister in Christ, I hope that there are times in your pursuit of the Lord and your understanding of Him and His Word that you throw out all of your objections and cling to this doctrine as a beloved anchor for your soul.  I am not suggesting that you should not continue to study and think hard about great sections of Scripture like Ephesians 1:3-6, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

What I am saying, though, is that Scripture does not present election as a great conundrum but rather as a great comfort.

When you feel as if the earth has given way under your feet, you no longer question God’s ways but you cling to Him and His promises with all that you have.  This is strongly implied in Romans 8:28-31.  “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, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, doesn’t answer, “What then shall we say to these things?” by questioning God’s unconditional decrees and purposes.  Rather, Paul sees God’s sovereign election mixed right in with God’s sovereign goodness:  “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35)  The answer is a resounding “nothing” (Romans 8:39)!

He who chose those He would save in eternity past is intimately involved in every detail of their lives today, and will continue to be until He brings His bride to glory.  When I read, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Ephesians 1:4b-5), my heart no longer questions my Lord and my God.  But my heart rejoices in my Savior’s eternal love, a love that loved me long before I loved Him.  That is security.

Jesus Wept with Gospel Hope

The last ten days have found me thinking about mourning more than I ever have. Just last week a dear young wife and mother in our church family, the fathers of two different church members, and a young jungle pastor many in our church know all passed from this earth into Glory.  The grief was palpable in our church last Sunday, even as we worshiped and rejoiced.  There were many tears and there will be tears in the weeks to come.

Jesus’ words in front of Lazarus’ tomb, found in John 11, are one way to describe why we are sorrowful yet rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10).  I often turn to John 11 when I think about death, partly because of Jesus’ riveting proclamation: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26)

Rather than comforting words, you could see Jesus’ words to Martha as a riddle, spoken in her time of grief.  Why would he talk in what seems like a paradox?  What does he mean in one breath that those believers who die yet live, but in the next breath that those who believe will never die?  Wasn’t Lazarus already in the tomb?

Jesus so often amazes me.  We should expect to be amazed by God in the flesh, but sometimes we are surprised by His words of life.  Only One who can call Himself “Resurrection” and “Life” can talk this way.

Jesus lovingly acknowledged the fact that people–like Lazarus–die.  There is a finality felt by those who lose a loved one.  While we know that our believing friends and relatives who have died are experiencing nothing but gain (Phil. 1:21), we know that we are experiencing loss.  Do you hear His words?  “Whoever believes in me, though he die…”  Christians die.  And Jesus wept as He stood in front of that tomb with Lazarus’ grieving friends and relatives.  Jesus didn’t tell them to stop the funeral and have a celebration of life service; He entered into their suffering.

We cry.  Jesus cried.  But oh, how we love and cling to Jesus’ next words:  “…yet shall he live…”  Christians never die.  This is the “gospel paradox.”  Death is real, yet eternal life is oh so real.  Christians die, yet Christians never die.  Jesus said both truths in the same sentence.

It’s ok to call it a funeral (Ecc. 7:2).  It’s ok to say that death is an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26).  It is Christ-like to weep (Jn 11:35).

Raising_of_Lazarus.

But our weeping is temporary, just as Jesus’ weeping was.  Because we know that for those who are in Christ, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54).  We know that for the Christian, what is mortal is “swallowed up by life” (2 Cor. 5:4).  We know that the same Lord who wept is the same Lord who will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4).  And we know that the same Lord who commanded Lazarus to come forth from the dead will joyfully command the dead in Christ to rise first (1 Thess. 4:16).  It is true–praise God that it is true–that because of Jesus, “it is not death to die.”

Our Resurrection, Eternal Life, and Union with Christ

Romans 8 has long Kilimanjaro_Sunrisebeen one of my favorite passages of Scripture, both in happy and hard times.  As I read the incredible truths all throughout Romans 8 in happy times, it only adds to my happiness and praise of what God has done and is doing for me and those He loves–and in hard times it adds to my joy in and worship of our good and sovereign God, even if that joy is not a feeling at the moment.

I remember my wife and I reading Romans 8:31-35 with a high school girl in our youthgroup years ago who was struggling with depression over an abortion she had had before she was a believer:  “…If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  The answer, of course, was that since she was now in Christ, even in the face of great regret, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom. 8:1)

Romans 8 has been the solid rock that the Holy Spirit has been using in my heart this week as our church goes through a time of great mourning.  The same chapter that comforts the repentant sinner also comforts the bereaved.  Romans 8:10-11 teaches that our resurrection and the hope of our eternal life is just as sure as the resurrection of Christ, because of the work of the Holy Spirit.  For those who are in Christ, for those who have the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9), we have this blessed assurance: “If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom. 8:11)

When God saves you, He gives you His Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9-10a).  We usually think of the Holy Spirit as being the agent of our regeneration and sanctification.  In other words, He is the member of the Trinity that gives us a new heart at salvation and brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life (Rom. 8:2).  The Holy Spirit continually works in the lives of those He has saved to transform them more and more in practice into who they are spiritually–children of God (Romans 8:29; 8:16-17).  But don’t forget, brothers and sisters in Christ, that the Holy Spirit does not leave us when we die.  The Holy Spirit who actually resides in you not only is with you to the brink of eternity, He continues the spiritual life He had begun in you (2 Cor. 5:4-5) and ushers you right into Heaven!  Those who had God dwelling in them on earth will then dwell with God in His home (Rev. 21:3)–through the power of the Holy Spirit.  God will never forsake His own, just as He would not and cannot forsake Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

Your resurrection–and the resurrection of those brothers and sisters in Christ whom we love–is just as sure as Jesus’ bodily resurrection.  The Spirit of Christ has united us to Jesus so closely that we cannot fully comprehend it this side of Glory: “For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His.” (Rom. 6:5)  What a joy that brings, even through tears.

Two Resolves God Wants Us to Have from Psalm 46

There are many suffering people in our church, just as there are in every church.  We are still on this side of Heaven.  But sometimes it seems that the suffering comes in waves.  There are currently five ladies that I know of in our church fighting cancer, and we just found out about three of them in the last two weeks.  Add this to other forms of physical struggles, marriages and parents that need encouragement, a continued weak economy for many workers, and persecution that some feel for following Christ in their families, schools, or jobs, and Jesus’ words feel stronger right now: “In the world you will have tribulation.” (John 16:33)

When you go through times that it feels the earth has fallen out from under you, or just when you are having a bad week, there are two resolves that God wants you to have that I want to remind you of from Psalm 46.

1) We will not fear.
Psalm 46:2 declares, “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…”  Why, specifically?  Verse 1 explains, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Sometimes the cancer goes away.  Sometimes the relationship struggle gets better.  But sometimes it doesn’t.  We will not fear because God is our fortress.  There is no better reason to not fear.

2) The LORD of hosts is with us.
In the Psalms, when a theme is at both the beginning and end of a Psalm–and especially if it is in the middle too–that is an important point that the Lord does not want us to miss. God is not just a refuge and strength, He is also a very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).  Verses 7 and 11 also echo this promise: “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

The reason that we will not fear is exactly because of Who is with us in all of our trouble.  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  But it gets even better–as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, we are privileged members of the New Covenant.  “The LORD of hosts is with us” would have been enough–but you are identified so closely with Christ now that God loves you like He loves Christ (John 17:26)!  This assurance would be enough, but the Holy Spirit actually indwells you–yes, lives IN you (1 John 3:24)!  The same One who promised, “In the world you will have tribulation,” then assures us: “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

These are resolves that God wants us to have.  In our fear, He alone is our fortress–so we will not fear.  And His presence is all we need.

A Wonderful Tension: The Importance of Fathers and the Supremacy of Christ

As I think about Father’s Day approaching, I can easily think of areas in my parenting that I need refocus in.  Voddie Baucham Jr. helped me put my fatherhood in perspective this morning:

The role of men in their families is so important that God picture21honored it by conferring upon us his own title, Father.  We’re the governors and guides of our families, and the way we lead has far-reaching implications…I’ve watched families crumble under the weight of paternal neglect…I’ve watched households transform quickly as fathers take the helm and begin to lead and disciple their wives and children.  I’ve seen marriages healed as husbands begin to take seriously their duty to love their wives as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25) and to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4).

The role of fathers in the family can hardly be overstated.  However, the supremacy of Christ is our fuel, our goal, and our comfort in this great duty.  Because of the power of the gospel and the past and present work of Christ, we can have strength to lead our families today, the vision for where we need to be leading our families, and the reality of forgiveness and help for where we have failed and when we will fail.  I need Jesus.  My family needs Jesus.  Baucham continues:

…The family is not the gospel; nor is the family as important as the gospel.  The family is a delivery mechanism for the gospel.

In Ephesians 5 and 6 the role of fathers loving their wives and discipling their children, the responsibility of wives to submit to their husbands, and the duties of parents to their children are all couched in terms that are unmistakable in their gospel-centeredness.  This is all about “Christ and the church” (5:32)…

…In the end, I want you to see Jesus.  I want you to see him in a way that drives you to pursue him personally and to keep him before your wife and children in a way that causes them to seek him as well.  In short, I want you to shepherd your family in the direction of the Good Shepherd.
(From Family Shepherds, pp. 11-14)