Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Missed Opportunities and the Grace of God

I love George Müller. Sure, I’ve never met him (since he lived from 1805-1898), but I’ve carefully read many things he’s written and through his pen you can see his heart. One thing I love most about him is that he was quick to notice his failures, admit them, and learn from them. Once such failure took place when he was twenty-two years old and traveling from Halle to Berlin, Germany. Although the following quote is long, I want to let Müller speak for himself.

“Two ladies of title traveled with me to Berlin in a hired carriage. As I knew that we should be for two days together, I thought, in my fleshly wisdom, that though I might speak to them about the things of God, I should first show them kindness and attention, and that, after thus opening a way to their hearts, I might fully set before them their state by nature, and point them to the Lamb of God.

“We went on together most amicably, I making only a few general remarks about divine things. On the second evening, however, when we were near the end of our journey, I felt that it was high time to speak. And no sooner had I plainly begun to do so, than one of them replied, ‘Oh! Sir, I wish you had spoken sooner about these things, for we have, for a long time, wished to have some one to whom we might open our hearts; but seeing that the ministers whom we know do not live consistently, we have been kept from speaking to them.’ I now found that they had been under conviction of sin for some time, but did not know the way to obtain peace, even by faith in the Lord Jesus.

“After this, I spoke freely to them during the hour that yet remained. They parted from me with feelings of gratitude and regret that they could hear no more, for they only passed through Berlin. I felt myself greatly reproved, and all I could do was by a long letter to seek to make up for my deficiency in ministering to them on the journey. May this circumstance never be forgotten by me, and may it prove a blessing to the believing reader” (Autobiography of George Müller, Westminster Literature, page 27-28). 
As you reflect on this story, what do you think kept Müller from speaking about the things of God earlier? How did his fleshly wisdom get in the way of spiritual things? How does this story speak into your life and ministry with others?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Providence of God in the Work of the Gospel, Part II

When George Müller was twenty-two years old, he learned of a missionary opportunity in Bucharest, Romania and applied for it. However, the Lord closed that door and opened the way for Müller to be a missionary to the Jews. This was welcome news, but it required him to travel to London for prayer and planning which he reluctantly agreed to do (Autobiography of George Müller, Westminster Literature, page 23-26).

But no sooner had Müller began to prepare, he ran into a major obstacle. As a University graduate, he was required to complete one year of service in the Prussian army (non-graduated were required to complete three-years of service). In certain cases, people were granted exemptions, including those who had given themselves to missionary service. Unfortunately, Müller’s first two attempts at exemption were denied and he began to fall into a depression and also fell ill.

Just at that time, a good companion of his backslid. This really through Müller for a loop, and unfortunately, he began backsliding himself. But in his grace, the Lord disciplined Müller through the pain he found in backsliding and a further illness. “Thus, the Lord, in the faithful love of His heart, seeing that I was in a backsliding state, chastised me for my profit, and the chastisement yielded, in a measure at least, ‘the peaceable fruit of righteousness’” (page 26; see Hebrews 12:10-11).

Around that time, Müller received an invitation to come to Berlin where a friend thought he might be able to help him gain an exemption from military service. After a time of prayer, he decided to go, but unfortunately, they could not attain what was needed. Finally, someone advised him to put himself forward for service in the hope that his poor state of health would disqualify him from being accepted. It was a huge risk, but Müller took it, and he was indeed found to be unfit. Then, by the amazing grace of God, he was granted a lifetime exemption from service and was given counsel and several Scriptures for the Jews from the military official who granted the exemption! Amazing. 
In a couple of weeks from now, we’ll hear about the next part of Müller’s journey, but for now, please reflect on what you’ve read and ponder the providence of God. How do you see the Lord working in Müller? What might we learn from the Lord’s work in his life? How is the Lord working through discipline and circumstances to guide you in the way you should go?

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Providence of God and the Work of the Gospel, Part I

When George Müller was twenty-two years old, he learned of a missionary opportunity in Bucharest, Romania. After a time of prayer, he decided to apply for the position, for despite his weaknesses, he “had a great desire to live wholly for God” (Autobiography of George Müller, Westminster Literature, page 23).

After receiving the consent of his father and spending some time with him, he “returned to Halle [Germany], and now prepared with earnestness for the work of the Lord. I set before me the sufferings which might await me. I counted the cost. And he, who once so fully served Satan, was now willing, constrained by the love of Christ, rather to suffer affliction for the sake of Jesus, ‘than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.’ I also prayed with a degree of earnestness concerning my future work” (page 23).

However, as he prepared himself to go, he encountered an older Christian friend who was about to give up on a ministry to the Jews simply because of his age. On hearing of this, the Lord began to stir in Müller’s heart to take his place and thus he began learning Hebrew and otherwise taking steps in that direction. But since he had committed to the work in Romania, he thought it best to follow through with that, trusting that the Lord would guide him along the way.

Amazingly, due to a war between the Turks and Russians, the missions society decided not to send Müller or anyone to Bucharest, and just at that time one of Müller’s mentors offered him a position as a missionary to the Jews. After a time of prayer, Müller was not sure of what the Lord would have him do, but he thought it good to apply to the position and trust the Lord to guide his path.

Accordingly, Müller applied for the position in December of 1827 and received an answer on June 13, 1828—seven months later! While they did think it good to accept his application, they wanted him to come to London to interact with the committee, pray, and make final plans. This wasn’t good news to Müller, however, upon consideration he saw the wisdom in going, received the blessing of his Father, and began the process that would lead to the journey. 

Next time, we’ll consider the conclusion of the story, but for now, please reflect on what you’ve read and ponder the providence of God. How do you see the Lord working in Müller? What might we learn from the Lord’s work in his life? How is the Lord working through the various circumstances of your life and of your church?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Preaching the Bible on its Own Terms

George Müller is well known as the founder and director of several orphanages. But did you know that his primary job was to serve as the preaching Pastor of Bethesda Chapel in Bristol, England. As Pastor George read and preached the Bible year after year, he developed the conviction that it should be read and preached from beginning to end over the life of a church. He gives five reasons why this approach is good, right, and God-exalting (from the Autobiography of George Müller, Westminster Literature, page 22).

First, reading and preaching the whole Bible throws light upon critical connections between various parts and doctrines, while failing to do so makes “it utterly impossible to ever to understand much of the Scriptures.” Please think about this. If we don’t understand the whole, we cannot understand the parts. This is a critical truth, and one that is getting lost in our evangelical zeal to grow churches.

Second, while we remain in the flesh, we need variety to hold our attention and to integrate the things of God into our lives. The Scripture provides much variety which, over time, meets the needs of the seeking soul. However, the church that contents itself with only certain portions of Scripture will soon become bored and stagnate in faith.

Third, reading and preaching the whole of Scripture “tends to the glory of God, for leaving out some chapters here and there is practically saying that certain portions are better than others or that there are certain parts of revealed truth [that are] unprofitable or unnecessary.” While we may affirm with our mouths and statements that all Scripture is God-breathed and useful for life in Christ (2 Timothy 3:16), we can unwittingly deny this important fact in our personal and corporate practices. The primary way a church can honor the whole Word of God in the life of the church is to read and preach the whole word of God in the prominent worship services of the church.

Fourth, reading and preaching the whole of Scripture keeps us from erroneous views because it leads us to see the Scripture as a whole and to interpret specific parts in light of the whole. It adds context, tempered insight, and proper balance. It disciplines the preacher and people alike to read, understand, and apply the Word on God’s terms rather than ours.

Fifth, the “Scriptures contain the whole revealed will of God, and therefore we ought to seek to read from time to time through the whole of that revealed will. There are many believers, I fear, in our day, who have not read even once through the whole of the Scriptures, and yet in a few months, by reading only a few chapters every day, they might accomplish it.” And preaching through the whole Word inspires people to read through the whole Word. May the Lord bless us as we seek to savor the whole of the Scriptures!

Sunday, May 07, 2017

Faith and the Word: Advice from George Müller

George Müller is well known as a man of faith and prayer, but did you know that he read the Bible nearly two-hundred times! The reason his faith was strong and his prayers were effective was because his mind was filled with the Word of God and his prayers were shaped by the wisdom of God. For Müller, there’s no way to be a person of faith and fruitfulness without a robust commitment to the Bible, and therefore he offered his readers five pieces of advice for Bible reading (Autobiography of George Müller, Westminster Literature, pages 21-22).

First, above all, we should settle in our minds that only God can give insight and help us profit from our time in the Word. Therefore, we should seek him before we read, while we read, and after we read. Since Bible reading is a relational exercise, it should be shot through with prayer.

Second, we should realize that while the Holy Spirit is our teacher, he teaches us in his time and way. Therefore, we may not get the insight or application we seek immediately or easily. Indeed, we may have to repeatedly ask for his help and work toward understanding until he’s ready to open our eyes to his wisdom. So, Müller says, we must seek “for light prayerfully, patiently, and with a view to the glory of God.”

Third, Müller feels that it’s best to read the Bible one book at a time, from the beginning to the end. Reading a small portion from this or that book may seem profitable, but in the end, it is not. God has revealed his will in his way, and therefore we should receive his Word as he delivered it. Müller suggests, then, that we read a little from the Old Testament and a little from the New Testament each day, always starting where we left off the day before.

Fourth, in addition to reading, Müller suggests that meditation is of utmost importance. We must learn to ponder some portion of what we’ve read, or the whole if we’re able. Reading without meditation is like smelling food without eating it—it may be superficially pleasurable but it profits nothing. So we must learn to meditate on something each day so that the Word will inform our minds, inflame our hearts, and give shape to our way of life.

Finally, Müller urges us again to pray, for he suggests that prayer is the most important means of grace after the Word of God itself. He confesses that although he prayed much in his later years, he would have made more progress if he would have prayed with more regularity, fervor, and length in his earlier years.

O Beloved, let us have ears to hear the simple but sage advice of this great man of God! He bore much fruit well into his 90s, not in the least because his mind was filled with the Word of God and his prayers were shaped by the wisdom of God. 

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Sharing Your Faith in the Workplace - Simple Ideas from Tim Keller

Here are a few ideas from Tim Keller (the Protestant Pope) about sharing your faith in the workplace. Really good stuff, mainly because of its simplicity. 
  • Let people around you know you are a Christian (in a natural, unforced way)
  • Ask friends about their faith – and just listen!
  • Listen to your friends problems – maybe offer to pray for them
  • Share your problems with others – testify to how your faith helps you
  • Give them a book to read
  • Share your story
  • Answer objections and questions
  • Invite them to a church event
  • Offer to read the Bible with them
  • Take them to a course on the basics of Christianity

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Running Our Race: Knowing Christ

In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author urges us, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God"  (Hebrews 12:1-2).

How would you define the race that's been set before us? 

I would define it like this: Christians are called to know Christ, grow in Christ, and go with Christ together—know, grow, and go. This is our daily race, and it is a life-long race. So for today, I want to say a few things about knowing Christ, and then later this week I'll write about growing in Christ and going with Christ.

Christians are called to know Christ. Our privilege is to seek and see and savor the glory of him who saved us; who is the rightful inheritor of all things; through whom the Father created all things; who sustains all things by the word of his power; who is the very radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature; who carries all things along to their appointed end so that that purposes and promises and plans of God are fulfilled with perfect precision; who made the once-for-all sacrifice for sins so that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life; who is seated at the right hand of the throne of God as the rightful ruler of all things and the eternal High Priest over heaven and earth. 

Friends, Christians have been called to delight ourselves in the glory of Christ, to indulge ourselves in the richest feast in the universe. We’ve been called to know Christ truly, deeply, intimately, and eternally, and the more we learn of him the more this calling will take our breath away. 

But here's the deal: it takes time and focus to know Christ. So how are you doing? Are you taking time to seek him each day through the Word of God and prayer? When you seek him, do you remove distractions like phones and computers and TVs? When you see something of his glory, do you take time to praise and thank him? 

The greatest privilege in this life is feasting on the glory of Christ. So let's do it! Let's make the time, and then make the most of the time, by God's grace and for his glory.