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No Sea, But There Will Be A River (via R.C. Sproul)

I always maintain that my lack of affection for beaches is simply a matter of anticipated eschatology.
This excerpt from R.C. Sproul’s Surprised By Suffering reminds us that the future promise is really about what is present and what is absent, and the comfort that should arise from that expectation.
Scripture often speaks of the entire creation awaiting the final act of redemption. To destroy something completely and to replace it with something utterly new is not an act of redemption. To redeem something is to save that which is in imminent danger of being lost. The renovation may be radical. It may involve a violent conflagration of purging, but the purifying act ultimately redeems rather than annihilates. The new heaven and the new earth will be purified. There will be no room for evil in the new order.

Surprised by Suffering by R.C. Sproul is available to download the ebook free through August 31, 2014.

From Ligonier.

A hint of the quality of the new heaven and new earth is found in the somewhat cryptic words, “Also there was no more sea” (Rev. 21:1). For people who have a love for the seashore and all that it represents in terms of beauty and recreation, it may seem strange to contemplate a new earth without any sea. But to the ancient Jew, it was a different matter. In Jewish literature, the sea was often used as a symbol for that which was ominous, sinister, and threatening. Earlier in the Revelation of John, we see the Beast emerging from the sea (Rev. 13). Likewise, in ancient Semitic mythology, there is frequent reference to the primordial sea monster that represents the shadowy chaos. The Babylonian goddess Tiamat is a case in point.
In Jewish thought, the river, the stream, or the spring functioned as the positive symbol of goodness. This was natural in a desert habitat where a stream was life itself. If we look at a relief map of Palestine, we see how crucial to the life of the land is the Jordan River. It cuts like a ribbon through the heart of an arid and parched land, connecting the Sea of Galilee in the north with the Dead Sea in the south.
The Mediterranean coast of western Palestine is marked by rocky shoals and jutting mountains. The ancient Hebrews did not develop a sea trade because the terrain was not suitable for much shipping. The sea represented trouble to them. It was from the Mediterranean that violent storms arose.
We see this contrasting imagery in Psalm 46. The psalmist writes: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling” (vv. 1–3). Then he adds, “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God” (v. 4).
I live in central Florida. Our area is sometimes described as “the lightning capital of America.” The summer months bring severe electrical storms. My grandchildren are frequently frightened by what they call the “booming.” The loud thunderclaps are not a part of what they would envision heaven to include.
But the Jews feared other problems from the sea besides turbulent storms. Their traditional archrivals, marauders who beset them countless times, were a seacoast nation. The Philistines came from the direction of the sea.
The Jew looked to a new world where all the evils symbolized by the sea would be absent. The new earth will have water. It will have a river. It will have life-giving streams. But there will be no sea there.

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Solidarity (via David Cook)

Posted on August 5, 2014 at David’s page at the PCA website:

According to real estate agents, it is all about location, location, location.
It is precisely the same according to the Christian gospel when it applies to the believer’s experience of God.
Once we were located in Adam, now by God’s grace, we are located in Christ (see Romans 5:12 – 21). So Paul says, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have decamped, and our new address is in Christ. This was one of the first lessons Saul (Paul) learnt on the Damascus Road, that to persecute Christians is to persecute Jesus, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:5)”.
Being now located “in Christ” means that there is solidarity between Jesus and his people, and that when Christians are persecuted, Jesus takes that personally.
Jesus speaks of the same solidarity when he sends out the twelve on mission in Matthew 10:40, “he who receives you, receives me and he who receives me, receives the one who sent me”. There is solidarity between the believer and Jesus Christ, just as there is solidarity between God the Father, “the one who sent me” and God the Son, “the one whom He sent”.
In Psalm 14:4 – 7, David says that those who devour God’s people ought to be overcome with dread, for the Lord is in the company of the righteous, he is their refuge and he will watch over the fortunes of his people!
Therefore let ISIS and other such groups be warned, the outrageous threats and attacks on Christians in Iraq, the similar attacks in Nigeria, Yemen, Egypt, Syria and Gaza will not go unpunished, Yahweh is in the midst of His people. He alone is Lord and he will punish the persecutor, either now, or in judgement in eternity.
Let us go to prayer for both our persecuted family and for those who persecute them. Pray that God will be merciful to the persecutor, that they will have their eyes opened to their willful rebellion and bow the knee, as did Saul, to the resurrected Lord. If they don’t, they are in for a terrible, eternal shock.
Pray for those who take the gospel of light and peace to such antagonists that they will be sensitively bold and faithful in the task.
“All wickedness flows from a disregard of God”, wrote Calvin, and in another commentary, “the hatred of sin proceeds from the fear of God”. What a wicked world we live in, it is a world under God’s judgement and we must not be sidetracked by trifling concerns, but seriously pray and reach into the heart of the rebellious with the momentous news of the gospel.
Remember the gospel is God’s power to save. Saul was the chief persecutor of the ancient church, “the worst of sinners” was his self description, but God’s power vanquished him, and we can be confident that the gospel of God will continue to melt the rebellion of even the worst hardened opponent.
David Cook

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‘Hello Darkness’ – Some Thoughts On Psalm 88

My pastoral letter in this month’s edition of MGPC’s newsletter.

When I was in Sydney last week David Cook asked what I’d be preaching on when I returned home. I replied Hebrews 12:25-29, and Psalm 88. In response to Psalm 88, David commented ‘That’s the dark one.’ And so it is.
I won’t reproduce it here, but go and have a read. The content is bleak as the Psalmist pours out an unbroken stream of lament expressing loneliness, confusion, and a desire to trust God even when he has no idea how that will happen.
Now this is a song which is for the covenant people. It carries no hint of judgment, as if the voice of lament is wrong, or is lacking in some way.
Rather the Psalm give voice to just how low the people of God can find themselves. And even in those depths they are still the people of God.
Some of us have spent long seasons in the dark. Others of us have visited for shorter times.
We can slip in and out.
But we can be in the darkness
and still be assured that we belong to God.
There is a sense of profound isolation from both God and everyone else expressed in these words that seems at odds with the fact that it is a song to be sung to God by a group of His covenant people.
Why put this song on our lips? Well, as I said it helps us remember how dark it can get, and that we are still God’s own in the darkness.
Notice how even though the Psalm may indicate no one is listening, it is still addressed to God. Even in the darkness we can reach out to Him.
We can also see that darkness can continue for a long time. ‘From youth’… Our desire for recovery can turn to impatience, and then to dismissal if there is no improvement. As God’s people we stand alongside others who may be in darkness for a years and decades, rather than days or weeks.
There is a point of empathy which these words evoke among those who have never experienced darkness in their souls. The perceptions and emotions expressed here are instructive in an emotional language that not all of us know, but which all of us need to be aware of.
Those of us who aren’t in the dark need to be aware of what it’s like for those who are.
And we need to remember what it’s like for some who stand among us week by week.
We need to pray and praise for those who can’t, until, in time prayer and praise returns to their hearts.
We need to be faithful to Jesus, who knew the ultimate absence of God’s presence, but who has also experienced the resurrection and glory that all Christians will share.
Psalm 88 ends in darkness, but darkness is not the end. Physically, the presence of God’s people around is testimony of that; spiritually the resurrection presence of Jesus power and the Holy Spirit testifies to a life of eternal light.

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You’re Not (via Paul Tripp)

This is from Paul Tripp:

When I’m
Weary and exhausted
You’re not.
When I’m
Confused and discouraged
You’re not.
When I’m
Fickle and unfaithful
You’re not.
When I’m
Doubtful and disheartened
You’re not.
When I’m
Fearful and anxious
You’re not.
When I’m
Short-sighted and fearful
You’re not.
When I’m
Tired and about to quit
You’re not.
When I’m
Lacking in hope and love
You’re not.
When I’m
Shocked and surprised
You’re not.
When I’m
Angrily withholding grace
You’re not.
When I’m
Unfaithful to what I’ve promised
You’re not.
When I’m
Selfish and disloyal
You’re not.
Oh, Lord of
Faithfulness and grace
I am so thankful
In those moments
When I’m
Losing my way
You’re not.


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Rhys & Rhonda Hall At MGPC

It was a pleasure to joint thirty other folk to hear an update from Rhys and Rhonda Hall about their work in Africa today.
After a very ample lunch, we were told about their work in literacy training and the opportunities which exist for that work to grow.
We also heard how God has encouraged them both to continue to step out in faith to continue the work.


Sufficiency (via David Cook)

From David Cook, Moderator-General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, dealing with the Christian’s possession of an all-sufficient Saviour and a sufficient revelation of God’s Word, the Bible; and the privilege which pastors have in encouraging people to know and trust that they don’t need anything beyond these for life and belief.

After spending the last 37 years of my life being a Christian pastor, 26 of those years training others to be pastors and missionaries, I have reached this conclusion:

All pastoral ministry is designed to encourage in Christians a God honouring contentment with Jesus Christ as the all-sufficient Saviour who sets us right with God, eternally; and to encourage a God honouring contentment with the sufficiency of His word, the Bible, to tell us everything we need to know about Him and to equip us with everything we need to live the Christian life, from new birth through to heaven.

All God honouring missionary activity must commend the all-sufficient Saviour for salvation and then commend His all-sufficient word as the instrument His Holy Spirit uses to lead the believer to maturity.
Such statements are driven by these Scriptures: The way, not “a” way (Acts 9:2, 19:9); the exclusive claim (John 14:6, Acts 4:12, Galatians 1:8-9, 1:16, Acts 20:21). Entry into God’s family through Jesus alone (John 1:12-13).
Jesus’ teaching is the truth (John 8:31-59); and the apostles’ words are true (1 John 4:6); God does not lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18); the prophets say “thus says the Lord”, Jesus says “I say unto you”; the apostles say “thus we have seen and heard”; our certainty lies in that we know, “thus the Lord has written”.
J I Packer says in Knowing God, “the comprehensiveness of our contentment is a measure whereby we may judge whether we really know God.”

Here’s the controversial part. If you believe in an all-sufficient Saviour and an all-sufficient Bible you will not believe:

  • that you need to supplement the work of Jesus, with your own good works in order to make it to heaven.
  • that assurance of salvation is sinful, after all, if it depends on Him and you, how can you be sure you will keep doing your part.
  • that basic 10 commandment morality, church attendance, sacramental practice is an essential part of the foundation of your salvation. (All these other things, though good, are the fruit of our salvation, but salvation itself is based on Christ’s life, death and resurrection, alone).
  • that you need to hear God speak in a supplementary way to the Bible, through visions, dreams, a word from others.
  • that the Bible is not clear and is a minefield for any lay interpreter.

(God can speak in dreams etc, the only thing impossible for God is for God to act contrary to himself. However, we cannot expect Him to reveal Himself other than through His word. He is most honoured when we listen carefully to the Word His Spirit has given to us, that alone is the sure guide to truth. Discontentment that wants more than the Bible is discontentment with God and His Spirit.)

There is only one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ.
He said “no one comes to the Father except through me” and in John 14 urges Philip to believe in Jesus’ sufficiency on the basis of his words or his signs (John 14:11). Jesus said, God’s word alone is truth (John 17:17) and the apostle Paul said God’s breathed out words completely equip us for living the Christian life. (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
Peter calls it “the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23); James calls it “the word of truth (James 1:18). To hear God speak, read your Bible regularly, carefully and prayerfully.

Do you have a God honouring assured contentment in an all-sufficient Saviour and an all-sufficient Bible?
Pastors are shepherds, shepherds can readily identify healthy sheep. Pastors identify healthy sheep in God’s flock. They are people of an assured contentment with what God has provided for them.


(UPDATE: edited to conform to corrected version at PCA website.)

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Develop A Gospel Response Plan (via Tim Brister)

Another summer in Australia includes public service television spots reminding everyone in rural areas to have a plan to deal with bushfire emergencies.
After the fire has broken out it’s too late to develop a plan about how you’re going to respond to the threat.
Tim Brister reflects on the lessons Christians can learn from these warnings in the intentional development of a personal Gospel Response Plan.
The plan deals with two certainties of life: someone will sin against you; and you will sin against someone else.
When it’s happened is not the best time to work out what you’re going to do.
It’s far better to have thought it out before hand, and then work yourself through the steps of a gospel-centered response in everyday situations where your fallen nature might otherwise provoke you to respond in non-gospel ways.
This is personal because you know best the situations where you are most likely to react in ways that don’t display the love of Jesus.

An excerpt:

You are sinner living in a fallen world. You are going to be hurt, betrayed, frustrated, prideful, annoyed, judgmental, pitiful, and so much more. It’s going to happen. But are you going to be trained as a follower of Jesus Christ to know, almost instinctively, how to respond with the gospel through premeditated prescriptions of specific ways to walk in repentance and faith?
Perhaps what we need to do each morning is prepare ourselves with some “gospel drills”. Think about one possible situation a gospel response will be required of you. For example, you are at a restaurant and your server is extremely slow and the food is cold. The server asks you if there is anything else you need, and you are tempted to treat her like her actions deserve. But instead, you respond by saying, “Thank you for serving me today, and by the way, as I pray over my food I would like to know if there is anything I can pray for you about?” Who knows? The server may already be feeling guilty and embarrassed by their service and surprised by your gracious response. They could be going through a terrible crisis in their lives, and they open up to you and provide opportunity to minister to them (and perhaps introduce them to Jesus).
Why that gospel drill? Because you will get bad service and cold food. You will be tempted to act out of the old Adam and not out of the risen Christ.

Read the whole post at Tim Brister.