Christianity and theology

A Review of God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison

Crossway asked me to consider applying and joining their Blog Review Program. I gladly did and was approved hence from time to time you will see or read reviews of their books on this blog. I trust and pray that these reviews will be helpful to you as you consider reading or recommending books. My reviews will focus more on books about Bible studies/devotions, spiritual growth, theology, Christian living, Christian leadership, and pastoral ministry. God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison is my first review in this program. Crossway has provided me with a complimentary copy of the book.

One wise and godly man once noted that there are always three groups of people in this world. Those who are just coming out of hard times, those who are passing through hard times, and those who are about to enter into hard times. He was very right. We are all acquainted with suffering, pain, sorrow and hardship. None of us is immune to it and God never promises immunity to suffering even for his own children as David Powlison rightly observes at the beginning of his book, God’s Grace in Your Suffering.

However, although God does not guarantee immunity, he does assure and provide his children with grace and help in their suffering. This is the point that Powlison is driving home in his book by answering two key questions: “When you face trouble, loss, disability, and pain, how does the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ meet you and comfort you? How does grace and goodness find you, touch you, work with you, and walk with you through deep waters?”

Powlison ably answers these questions by taking the reader through the verses of that famous hymn which is a favorite to many Christians, “How Firm the Foundation.” As he makes his way through the hymn Powlison also shares his personal experiences of how the truths of the hymn have positively impacted him. Although most words of the hymn are direct quotes from the Scriptures, the book could have failed miserably if it focused on the hymn alone. But I am thankful that Powlison takes us beyond the hymn to the Bible itself and to the Christ of the Bible as the true source of encouragement and comfort in our trials.

Another recommendable thing about God’s Grace in Your Suffering is that it is very practical. Powlison has endeavored to accomplish this by engaging the reader and asking probing questions that enables the reader to apply the truths of Scripture to his own situation. True to its own assertion, this book is a workshop of an afflicted soul.

I think I would be right to say that when passing through hard times one has no time for jargons or hard reading and would greatly appreciate a book that hammers the nail right on its head. Powlison has also managed to do just that in this book. God’s Grace in Your Suffering is an easy reading yet full of profound truths hewn from the ever-trustworthy word of God.

 

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Christianity and Society

A Lament: Why I feel betrayed by my fellow Christians who support disparaging remarks of Africa and Africans

About a week ago, the President of United States of America, Donald Trump allegedly used vulgar language to disparage the country of Haiti and the continent of Africa. The president has since denied using vulgar language but admitted to have spoken tough on the issue of illegal immigration in the USA.

Ever since the news was reported in the media, there have been two main reactions. Some have condemned what the president said while others have supported what the president said. However, what has greatly disheartened me is to hear fellow Christians categorically supporting the degrading language that the president allegedly used to describe a continent that is a home to many of their brothers and sisters in Christ. When I read and heard some of the comments I felt like David in Psalm 41:9: “Even my close friend in whom I trusted…has lifted his heel against me.

Now, before I proceed to bemoan what I strongly feel as betrayal I need to highlight the following: first, I strongly believe that the USA just like any other country in the world has a right to decide who enters and stays within its boarders. This is absolutely right. It is only wrong if the USA chooses basing on skin color or the conditions of where one comes from. Secondly, I also strongly agree with the USA government that illegal immigration is wrong. When somebody enters the USA, they agree to stay in the country as long as they are permitted by their visa or other immigration documents. It is sinful and wrong to overstay.

That said, I feel let down by fellow Christians who have unconditionally supported what the president of USA said regarding the continent of Africa where I come from for the following reasons: first as I have already highlighted above, your fellow brothers and sisters live in this continent. It is just normal and human to feel hurt when one demeans your sibling. No matter how poor or unattractive your brother is, he is your brother. Even the secular world recognizes this and acknowledges that blood is thicker than water. The Bible even says it better that all Christians are one body of Christ and “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).

Second, no one can deny that the USA is more wealthy and powerful than the countries of Africa. I have often confessed it to my brothers and sisters from the USA that the Lord has blessed their country with many material blessings. There are many opportunities of personal advancement and growth in America. Life is more comfortable and easier in many ways in the USA. This is the Lord’s doing and should not make American Christians accept the tendency to look down upon Africa. “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).

Third, consider the Christian testimony in Africa. An unconditional support of the president’s remarks has serious implications for evangelism more especially among Moslem communities in Africa. In many Moslem strongholds, people are told that what they see in the West, more especially, in America is what Christianity stands for. To many in these places, America is a Christian nation and everything that people do or say in America is what the Bible teaches. Now, guess what will the Muslim say. “Christianity believes that Africa is the most unpleasant place in the world.” Of course not all people will believe that, praise the Lord for his grace. But if one person finds the president’s remarks a stumbling broke to believe in Christ just because some Christians did not condemn and distance themselves from the remarks, we ought to be greatly concerned for that soul.

Again, let me reiterate that not all Christians have unconditionally supported the President’s remarks and I am thankful for that. A Sunday following the reporting of what the president said, one of my pastors came to me after the service and said, “How do you feel about what our president said?” I told him that I was hurt and I felt my eyes warming up with tears as I spoke to him. He then said to me, “I am sorry. I know…It’s hurtful. But I don’t think of you or your country that way, my brother.” He then put his arm around my shoulders and said, “You are my brother forever.” Oh, what a comfort it was to hear those words and know that there are still brothers and sisters who care for this brother from the so-called unpleasant continent.

“You are my brother forever,” that’s is very true. Here on earth, God has made us to live in different parts of the planet as Paul points out, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,” (Acts 17:26-27). But a day is coming when all the boundaries will be abolished and as one family in Christ we will live together forever.

 

 

 

 

 

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My Life as a Christian, My Sermons

A Cry of the Broken Heart (Psalm 130:1-2)

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord, hear my voice, let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (Psalm 130:1-2)

The Psalmist is crying to the Lord with his broken heart.  His heart is broken due to the sin or sins he has committed. Now please notice the two things about this cry.

First, is the object of his cry. To whom does the Psalmist cry out? To the Lord! “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” In the depths of his sin, the Psalmist cries out to the Lord. This is very important to notice because sometimes when we believers sin, more especially if it is a grievous sin, we feel ashamed to turn to God. We look at ourselves and think of how much we have brought the name of the Lord into disrepute. And we think to ourselves, “How can I turn to the Lord in this mess. Where do I start?” And Satan takes advantage of our guilt and shame and whispers in our ears and says, “Look at you a hypocrite! You claim to be a child of God, how can you sin this way if you are really a child of God. How can you? Do you think God will hear you prayer after you have let him down like this?”

If we are not careful we buy into this lie of the devil and instead of drawing close to the Lord, we withdraw from the Lord and like a wounded dog run into the corner in darkness to lick our wounds. Satan does this deliberately so that we can despair and think that the sin has conquered us and there is no way out. However, we need to learn from the psalmist here. When we have fallen flat on our face because of sin, it is time to lift our eyes and cry out to the Lord through Jesus Christ. The Psalmist did not completely fall into despair. He turned to the Lord and cried for help. For sure the hymn writer was right when he wrote:

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free
For God the Just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me
To look on Him and pardon me

Secondly, I want us to notice the plea or the request of his cry. What is the psalmist asking in his cry? “O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my please for mercy.” The Psalmist is crying out to the Lord for mercy. He is saying: “I know that I deserve your judgment Lord because of my sin. But please be merciful to me and do not punish me in your anger, as my sin deserves.” The Psalmist is not crying to the Lord because he is worthy but rather because his God is a God of mercy. So, when we have sinned let’s remember that God is merciful.

Of course, God hates sin and nothing will change that. Of course, God will punish all unrepented sin and nothing can change that. But also God is a God of mercy. When we have confessed and repented of our sin, he freely grants his mercy. This why the psalmist in Psalm 103 rejoices and declares: “Bless the LORD, O my soul and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity…He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him (2, 9-11).

So, when our heart is broken due to sin. Let’s remember to cry out to the Lord. Don’t despair. Don’t wallow in your sin because there is mercy with God. He pardons those who truly repent of their sin.

(This material first appeared in a sermon form which was preached at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, USA on October 22, 2017)

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Christianity and theology

What Happens at Death?

We are continuing with our study of personal eschatology, and we now come to the question of death. What happens at death? This is a broad question that unfortunately cannot be answered broadly since there are two types of deaths namely that of a believer and an unbeliever. What occurs at the death of these two differs significantly. We will look at believer’s first and later at unbelievers.

First, as a Christian dies, he experiences God’s grace. This might sound obvious since the daily life of a believer is marked by grace. But, I highlight this point because even though death is a defeated foe, it still remains one of great fears of humanity. It is for no reason that we call it the chief of terrors. Many have experienced or witnessed loved ones passing into glory, perhaps more than a dozen times, yet they can’t say that they are used to death. Since no single human being can be used to death, God always grants grace both to the one dying and to his family, more especially, if they are believers. Christ’s grace proves to be more than sufficient and helps everyone through it.

Second, at death a believer attains full sanctification (Heb. 12:23). In this life, by God’s grace, a believer strives to become more like Christ but sin has not yet been fully conquered in his life. However, at death sin is completely eliminated and the Holy Spirit makes his soul perfect in holiness.

Third, a believer’s soul immediately enters into heaven. There are a number of teachings regarding what happens after the soul has been separated from the body in death. Some have taught that the soul sleeps waiting for the final judgment. This teaching is also called the doctrine of soul sleep. Some have said that the soul goes into an intermediate place. In this place, so the say, the souls of believers enjoy a measure of reward but not equal to their final and full reward in heaven. On the other hand, the souls of unbelievers, this teaching states, suffer a degree of punishment but not equal to their future judgment in hell. Some also have taught that there is a place named Purgatory where Christians with some unrepented sins go to be purified before their entry into heaven. However, we cannot find any biblical basis for these teachings. Instead, the Bible clearly teaches us that the moment a believer dies, his soul goes straight to be with the Lord in heaven (2 Cor. 5:1, 6, 8; Phil. 1:23). We shall in the following posts look at how Christian should respond to these erroneous doctrines.

Fourth, a believer’s body returns to earth waiting for the day it will be glorified and reunited to its soul (1 Cor. 15:53-54). I think the fact that one day the dead body will be glorified should be one of the motivating factors for Christians to treat dead bodies with respect. Burial is not just an incidental detail in our lives.

This could spark a debate on whether Christians should bury or cremate. I will weigh in only by making a confession. I have always believed that burial is more ideal. I also believe that I can argue from Scripture that burial is preferable than cremation. I had strong reservations towards cremation until one day when I was talking to a fellow Christian who is from one of the Asian countries. In our conversation we somehow arrived at the topic of cremation and he told me that in his country, more especially in his area, they don’t have enough land for cemeteries so even Christians cremate.

That conversations helped me clear some of the prejudice I had towards Christians who practice cremation. It helped me to understand that not all Christians who practice cremation prefer it to burial rather there are some factors that compel them. So, if there weren’t any valid reasons for cremation, I would have argued that Christians should shun it.

 

 

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Christianity and theology

Cultivating a Heavenly Outlook

Having seen the importance of being heavenly-minded, we need then to answer the question: how can we develop and cultivate a constant reflection of heaven in our daily lives?

First, we can do that by having regular meditations upon the glories of heaven. Deliberately take time each day to reflect upon the splendors of heaven and remind yourself that nothing you know or have experienced in this life can be compared to the glory of heaven. The beauties of heaven include an everlasting joy (Matt. 25:23). There are so many things that bring joy in our life here on earth yet there also many things that try to deflate this joy. But in heaven we will have eternal joy.

Related to eternal joy, heaven is also a place of no tears and sorrows (Rev. 21:4). Ever since the fall, sorrow and tears have been part and parcel of humanity. Sin has brought so much brokenness in the world that a day can hardly pass by without feeling its ugly effects. We shed tears and sorrows engulf our hearts as we experience the curse of the fall. But in the new heavens and new earth, the curse and its effects will be ultimately removed hence we will have no reason to weep and grieve.

Heaven is also a place of rest (Heb. 4:9; Rev. 14:13). One of the reasons I love the Sabbath or Sunday is that it does not only give me more time to worship the Lord both in public and in private but also time to rest from my labours. The author of Hebrews tells us that our earthly Sabbath is a shadow of the real rest to come. In heaven we will experience true rest and we will worship the Lord unceasingly.

Heaven is also a place where we will see God face to face (Matt. 5:8; Rev. 22:3-4). On this side of heaven, we know that no one can see God and live (Ex. 33:20). Of course, God revealed himself and dwelt among us in Christ and as John writes, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father” (1:14). Yet when Christ came on earth, he did not come in his full glory. He came as a man of sorrows. His appearance was more of a humble servant than the conquering King whom John saw in Revelation 1:12-18. But in heaven we will see God face to face in his full glory. How that will look like is beyond me to speculate, but it is one of the major reasons I long for heaven.

Heaven is also a place where our souls and bodies will be made perfect (Hebrews 12:23; 1 Cor. 15:42-44). Everyday, I feel the heaviness of sin in my life. I know the right things I am supposed to do; however, I don’t always do them. There are times that temptations and sin conquer me. I believe this is also true for many Christians if not all Christians. In addition, our current bodies are also constantly wearing out due to the effects of the fall (2 Cor. 4:16). But in heaven, both our souls and bodies will be made perfect.

Oh, what a sweet place heaven is! So, if we can take time to regularly reflect on these glories, it is impossible that we should not have a heavenly out look.

Second, we can develop a heavenly outlook by making heaven a regular subject of our conversations. Richard Baxter in his book Saints’ Everlasting Rest bemoans the fact that Christians can meet and part without ever talking about heaven. “It is a pity that Christians should ever meet together without some talk of their meeting in heaven, or the way to it, before they part…Get together then fellow Christians, and talk of the affairs of your country and kingdom, and comfort one another with such words.”

Third, always remember that our day of entry into heaven is nearer than we often think. As you hear or see your clock tick, be reminded that every tick is drawing you closer to heaven if you are in Christ. It could be right this minute or second. Christ reminds us: “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt. 25:13). So, fellow Christians, think of heaven regularly and always be ready to enter into the glory of your Master.

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Christianity and theology

So Heavenly Minded and No Earthly Good?

Last week we began looking at individual eschatology and some of the reasons why this doctrine is rarely discussed among Christians. Today, we pick up by considering the spiritual benefits that come when we constantly reflect upon the glory to come.

One of the lies that the world wants Christians to believe is that they can be “so heavenly minded that there are of no earthly good.” However, the opposite is true. Christians can never be of earthly good until they are heavenly minded. John Calvin writes, “If that hope (of going to heaven) be deeply seated in our mind, it is impossible that it should not lead us to devote ourselves wholly to God. On the contrary, they who do not cease to live to the world and to the flesh never have actually tasted what is the worth of the promise of eternal life.

A Christian should always live with one leg in this life and another up in the air ready to step into glory. Our prayer should always be like that of Jonathan Edwards, “O God, stamp my eyeballs with eternity.” Indeed, may God stamp eternity not just on our eyeballs but also on our minds, ears, hands, soul, feet, and the whole of our being so that the hope of glory should always before us.

The spiritual benefits that come with constant contemplation of the future glory include: a motivation to pursue holiness in our daily lives. How can a Christian contemplate about the land in which he will sin no more and deliberately live in sin? How can we contemplate the eternity in the presence of our Holy Father and willfully give ourselves to sin? Just as sin will keep us from reflecting on heavenly glory, reflecting on heavenly glory will also keep us from sin. Moreover, the author of Hebrews reminds us that without holiness (in this life), we won’t see God in heaven (Heb. 12:14).

Second, constant reflection of heavenly glory is a sign of true conversion and adds to the assurance of our salvation. This is what Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 1. In the chapter, Paul writes that one of the reasons he is convinced that the Thessalonians are truly saved is that they are constantly living with the hope of glory. “For we know, brothers, loved by God, that he has chosen you because…” He mentions various reasons and at the end of the chapters adds one more reason: “(you) wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come” (1:4, 10).

Third, constant reflection of our blessed hope will make us resist getting comfortable in this world and conforming to its standards. It will enable us to realize that this life is just but a tent. “For we know that if our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1).

Fourth, constant reflection of heaven will bring comfort in times of trials and afflictions. When a believer considers what Christ has prepared for him in heaven, the sorrows of this world would seem as a fleeting shadow. The sorrows will be like labour pains, which last for a while and turn into greater joy when a baby is born. Apostle Peter writing to the persecuted Jewish Christians comforts them with the truth of heavenly glory and says, “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Lastly but not least, constant reflection of our eternity in heaven fosters love for our neighbors both believers and unbelievers. Knowing that we will spend eternity with our neighbors who are Christians changes how we treat each other here on earth. It will often, by the grace of God, lead us to love them as we love ourselves. For our unbelieving neighbors, a constant reflection of our future glory motivates us to share the gospel with them because we realize that without faith in Christ they can’t taste this glory but will be subjected to the eternal wrath of God.

But how can we cultivate this constant reflection of heaven in our daily lives? This is what we will look at in the next post, the Lord willing.

 

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Sound Teaching

The Intercession of Christ

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).

The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 23 asks: “What offices does Christ execute as our Redeemer?” Answer: “Christ, as our Redeemer, executes the offices of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king, both his estate of humiliation and exaltation.” Then in the following questions and answers the catechism explains that Christ as prophet he reveals God’s will for our salvation. As king he defends and protects us, and as priest he offered himself for the sins of his people and he continually intercedes for them.

In Hebrews 7:25 we perfectly see the office of Christ as priest. We are told that Christ intercedes for his people. But before we can look at these two points, we need to have a right view of Christ’s intercession. How does Christ intercede for his people? I believe John Calvin best answers this question. He says, “We are not to measure this intercession by our carnal judgment, for we must not think of Him as humbly supplicating the Father on bended knee and with outstretched hands. Christ however, is justly said to intercede for us, because He appears continually before the Father.” The intercession of Christ is his continual presence at the right hand of his Father.

Now the author of Hebrews 7:25 tells us two important things about this intercession: it is unfailing (he is able to save to uttermost) and unceasing (he always lives to make intercession). The intercession of ChrisT is unfailing because God the Father can never reject any of Christ’s prayers since Jesus’ prayers are always according to the will of the Father. It is also unceasing because Christ can never grow weary in interceding for his people. We sometimes grow weary in prayer, but that cannot be said of Christ. He lives to make intercession for his people.

So, due to Christ’s unfailing and unceasing intercession, all believers are assured that their faith will not fail. They will remain standing in Christ until the day he will call them to enter into his glory or when he shall come to this world in glory. This is why Paul states that he is confident that the one who has begun good work in us will also bring it to completion (Phil 1:6).

Peter’s life is a good proof  of this truth. On the night that Christ was betrayed, he said to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”” (Luke 22:31). But Peter promised never to forsake Christ.

It did not take long for Peter to realize that Christ was right. Peter denied Christ three times. Then the Lord looked at him and he was convicted. He went out and wept bitterly probably repenting of his sin. But the story does not end there. Some days later after Christ’s resurrection, Jesus appeared to Peter by the shores of Sea of Tiberias. Christ restored Peter and commanded him, “Feed my sheep,” (John 21). That prayer he prayed for Peter never failed.

The unceasing and unfailing intercession of Christ is the hope for every believer. This is why when Apostle Paul is discussing the intercession of Christ in Romans 8, he also emphatically states that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

 

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