Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Which is easier?

I am sorry it has been so long since my last blog...I may truly be a man with no audience by now. Anyway, for the last few weeks, I have been praying for a dear friend and brother in Christ who is battling pancreatic cancer. His name is Dave Maynus, and he lives in Marion, Indiana. If you aren't already praying for him, would you begin? The Lord has intervened in wonderful ways to this point, and He is to be praised for that.

This friend's struggle actually refreshed an ongoing meditation I have had recently on Luke 5:23. A paralytic has been brought by friends to Jesus for help and healing. Jesus sees their faith, and He pronounces that this man's sin has been forgiven. The Pharisees immediately begin to think, "Who does this guy think he is? Only God can forgive sin." It is at this point that Jesus says, "Which is easier: to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.." Then, he heals the paralytic of his physical ailment.

That got me thinking...which is easier? To heal or to forgive sin? I asked a Bible study group this question, and they all seemed to think that forgiving sin was easier. That's probably how most of the Christian world feels, isn't it? Forgiving sin would certainly be easier than healing a paralytic simply by speaking to him, wouldn't it? We can easily forgive someone who has hurt us, but we can't restore health to anyone at the local hospital simply by speaking to them. Asking "Which is easier?" created one of those moments where everyone had answered the question, nobody was sure of their answer, and they desperately wanted me, the teacher, to relieve their stress and give them the right answer. We've all been there.

Back to the question, though. Is it truly easier to forgive someone? Thinking of the context in which Jesus asked, He was certainly proving His ability to forgive sin. The thought of the day was that being paralyzed, blind, deaf, etc., were all the result of sin. Jesus is proving to the skeptical Pharisees and teachers of the law that the Son of Man had the authority to forgive sin...how would He do that? He would exercise His authority over the paralyzation.

That doesn't answer my question. Which is easier? To forgive sin or to heal the paralytic by speaking to him? When we think of forgiving sin, we think of just saying the words "I forgive you" to someone who has hurt us, whatever the level of pain. The problem with that is...this doesn't seem to be biblical forgiveness. Forgiveness restores a relationship. Forgiveness is visible. Have you truly forgiven someone if you avoid contact with them...no conversations, use a different hallway at church, no eye contact, etc.? I don't think so. Remember how we are to pray? "Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors."

Imagine a God who forgives the way I just described. He forgave you, but there's no relationship attached to it. The forgiveness doesn't really accomplish being right with Him. What a desperate place that would put us in! Isaiah says that it was our sin that separated us from God...forgiving our sin restores our relationship with God. It is this forgiveness that gives us the assurance to say we are saved. In forgiving us, God had to pay the debt Himself. That's what forgiveness is. If you owe me $10,000, and I choose to forgive the debt, then I am choosing to pay the $10,000 myself...you will never pay it back. If I have slandered you with my words, and you choose to forgive me, then you are paying for those words with the pain that I caused you...I can never say enough words to restore things. Your choice to pay the debt and forgive my sin against you did that.

Now, pick up your camera, and go to the wide-angle view. How did God provide for the forgiveness of sin? It was through the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. Romans 3:25 says that Jesus died on the cross "to demonstrate [God's] justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished." Ephesians 1:7-8 says that "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding."

Now, back to Luke 5...which is easier? To forgive sin or to heal a paralytic with words. Jesus has forgiven the man (v. 20), knowing that He would go to the cross to pay for the sin. This mission for which Jesus was sent is the same "cup" that Jesus prays would pass from him, if possible (Luke 22:42). Authority over disease? That was something Jesus merely spoke...it was part of His deity. He didn't have to die to be able to speak to disease and watch it flea. Sin? That had to be paid for...why? Because God is just...and when it comes to punishing sin, He gives justice with no mercy. His wrath had to be satisfied, and either all of humanity would suffer for all eternity paying an eternal debt for an eternal offense against an eternal God...OR one man, Jesus Christ, the God-Man, would pay the eternal punishment for our eternal sin in one moment of human history. He would be the propitiation for sin, and God's justice without mercy would fall on him..."God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Which is easier? It seems that speaking to a paralytic and making him walk again is easier than forgiving sin. Does the same hold true for us? Well, you and I have no ability to do either. It is impossible for us. We have no authority over sickness, and we have no authority over sin. Our only ability to forgive sins committed against us exists because we are a forgiven people...filled with the Spirit of Christ. We only love because God first loved us, and we can only forgive because God first forgave us. If left to ourselves, it is impossible for sin to be forgiven. "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fruit After the Field Changes Hands, Part 2

If you haven't read Part 1 yet, scroll down...it will set the tone for this blog.

So, Robert Murray McCheyne has had to leave the pulpit after 2 years because of illness, but he is still the pastor at St. Peter's Church in Dundee. He has been praying for revival, but nothing has happened...there has been no fruit. Rev. W.C. Burns has taken his place in the pulpit for the time being, and McCheyne has written to Rev. Burns to encourage and instruct him as he continues this good work. What happens? Good question...glad you asked...I love the answer, and I believe it provides the encouragement we need when we don't see the fruit of our labors.

While sick, McCheyne had an opportunity to travel to Israel with Andrew Bonar and some others to evangelize the Jewish people. The heart of many churches in Britain had been burdened for Israel, and this trip was God's answer to the prayer for a door to go. McCheyne never stopped praying for his people in Dundee while he was in Israel. He fervently stayed on his face before God, pleading for intervention and revival in St. Peter's Church. Here is the account from Memoirs of McCheyne:

"On one of those days when [McCheyne] was stretched on his bed, praying for his flock despite all his own suffering, a very remarkable revival began to be witnessed back in Dundee, under the preaching of W.C. Burns...Beginning in Kilsyth, a great awakening took place which soon swept over Dundee. For some time there had been symptoms of deeper attention than usual at St. Peter's, and of real anxiety in some who had previously been careless. On Thursday evening after the usual weekly prayer meeting, Mr. Burns invited those to remain who felt the need of an outpouring of the Spirit. About a hundred remained; and at the conclusion of a solemn address to these anxious souls, suddenly the power of God seemed to descend, and all were bathed in tears. At a similar service [on the] next evening in the church, there was much melting of heart and intense desire after the Lord, and a vast number pressed into the after meeting with awful eagerness.

[About this, it was written,] 'It was like a pent-up flood breaking forth; tears were streaming from the eyes of many, and some fell on the ground groaning, weeping, and crying for mercy. Onward from that evening, meetings were held every day for many weeks; and the extraordinary nature of the work justified and called for extraordinary services. The whole town was moved. Many believers doubted; the ungodly raged; but the Word of God grew mightily and prevailed. Instances occurred where whole families were affected at once. Other men of God in the vicinity hastened to aid in the work.

When McCheyne arrived at the conclusion of his trip through Europe, the blessing was still continuing. He saw much evidence of the revival for which he had been praying as to make his heart rejoice. He had no envy because another instrument was so honored in the place where he himself had labored with many tears and trials. In true Christian magnanimity, he rejoiced that the work of the Lord was done, by whatever hand.'

His people welcomed his arrival with the greatest joy. There was not a seat in the church unoccupied; people were crowded into every available space. Many were weeping; all were still and calm, intensely earnest to hear. On coming out of his church he found the road to his house crowded with old and young who were waiting to welcome him back. He discovered that many of those who were saved during the revival were numbered among those for whom he and others had prayed before he left them."

After the field of Dundee had been passed on to W.C. Burns, the Lord brought revival. Souls were saved for whom McCheyne had interceded for years. The whole town had been changed. What encouragement does that give to me, to you, and to all who don't see the fruit of their labor as their pour out blood, sweat, and tears for the sake of the kingdom? Paul wrote that he was compelled by love, and so we, too, should have that same motivation. Don't be compelled by fruit...be compelled by love. Be compelled by love for Christ to remain faithful in ministry, knowing that His Word does not return void. McCheyne was given a great grace when God allowed him to see the salvation of souls for whom he had prayed. We may or may not have that same opportunity in this life, but we ultimately do what we do for the glory of God.

Pursue the lost, compelling them to come in. Rebuke, teach, correct, and encourage believers, seeking to be a tool for God's sanctification of their souls. Fight the good fight of faith, for your own sake and the sake of others. However, don't get discouraged over the lack of visible results when we work for what is invisible. "For what is seen is temporal, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18b).

Fruit After the Field Changes Hands, Part 1

As any of us endeavor to serve the Lord in ministry, we long to see the fruit of our labors. We want to see souls saved, prodigals return, and lives sanctified as the Lord uses us in one place or another. What are we to think if we don't see the fruit? We often hear, "Well, I'm just planting seeds...or, I'm just watering." These are very biblical ideas and are often the case, but where is the encouragement for those who serve the Lord and don't see the desired results? This is where Robert Murray McCheyne comes into the picture.

McCheyne began his ministry at St. Peter's Church at Dundee in 1836. This Scottish preacher was known to be a powerful man of God both in and out of the pulpit. He saw the spiritual condition of his congregation, and he began praying for God to send revival to His church. At the end of 1838, after just over two years of ministry, a heart condition forced McCheyne to get rest and stop preaching for a time. During these days, he saw the Lord's purpose as sanctifying his own heart through suffering in illness, and he continued to fervently pray for revival. Three months after he stopped preaching, W.C. Burns agreed to preach in McCheyne's place while he healed. Out of a concern for his own flock, McCheyne wrote the following words in a letter to Rev. Burns:

"Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. You know a sound body alone can work with power; much more a healthy soul. Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people.

Expound much; it is through the truth that souls are to be sanctified, not through essays upon the truth. Be easy to access, apt to teach, and the Lord will teach you and bless you in all you do and say. You will not find many companions. Be the more with God. My dear people are anxiously waiting for you. The prayerful are praying for you. Be of good courage; there remaineth much of the land to be possessed. Be not dismayed, for Christ shall be with thee to deliver thee. Study Isaiah 6, and Jeremiah 1, and the sending of Moses, and Psalm 51:12, 13, and John 15:26, 27, and the connection in Luke 1:15, 16.

I shall hope to hear from you when I am away [in Israel]. Your accounts of my people will be a good word to make my heart glad. I am often sore cast down; but the eternal God is my refuge. Now farewell; the Lord make you a faithful steward."

In McCheyne's first two years, he did not see the revival and sanctification of his congregation as he had hoped. However, he did not lose heart. He believed that, under the sovereign hand of God, he had been afflicted with sickness for his own good as well as for the good of St. Peter's Church. Instead of believing that he had failed, he believed that the Gospel could still find success in the faithfulness of his successor and in the power of the Holy Spirit. So, with an eye toward real kingdom growth, McCheyne sought to encourage and equip Rev. Burns for the task at hand, reminding him of what he would need to know as a pastor in that congregation.

Why did he do all of this? Because the glory of God revealed in Christ Jesus was McCheyne's greatest joy. What if pastors actually did this today? What if they would set their pride aside and leave some instructions for the next man to fill his place? What if the guy taking his place could set his pride aside and submit himself to some encouragement and instruction? We may be living in a different church atmosphere right now...there might be a greater sense of partnering in the Gospel. There might not be such egotism in the pulpit. I would have to freely confess...I needed that kind of encouragement and instruction coming to my current place of ministry, but it's quite possible that my pride would have prevented my accepting such words. I fear I am not alone in that foolish pride...God, keep us humble.

So, what happened in St. Peter's Church? Was there "fruit after the field changed hands"? Read part 2 and find out.