Preach discriminatorily. Address both believers and unbelievers in your preaching. Don’t assume that everyone in your congregation is saved. But don’t think either that no one is saved.
Preach applicatorily. Apply your text to your listeners. With the use of practical illustrations, help them apply your message to their daily life. Remember a sermon without an application is like a lecture. You are preaching, not lecturing.
Preach clearly. Organize your thoughts. Avoid high-sounding words. Consider the children in your congregation. If you have to employ a big word (e.g. justification), explain it using simple words.
Preach evangelistically. Yes, preach against sin, but don’t stop there. Preach about salvation too. If you preach the Law without the gospel, you will make your congregation despair. Further, don’t think that the gospel is only for unbelievers. Believers need it as well for their sanctification.
Preach powerfully. Preach with the unction of the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul did, “[M]y speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5).
Preach prayerfully. Pray before, during, and after you preach. Humbly acknowledge that without God’s help, you can do nothing. Realize that God alone can change the hearts of your listeners.
Preach expectantly. Remember nothing is impossible with God. Expect greatly that He will do wondrous things—saving sinners and sanctifying saints. Be confident that His word will not return to Him void. He can even use your worst sermon to accomplish His wonderful plan.
Preach persuasively. Show that what you proclaim is God’s word. Announce, “Thus says the LORD.” Also, don’t be afraid to declare God’s truths, even if by doing so some of your hearers might be offended. You are not to please people but God.
Preach passionately. Love not only preaching but also the people to whom you preach. And if you love your congregation, you will feed them with spiritually nutritious food.
Preach faithfully. Be faithful to your announced text(s). Don’t just read your text, and leave it. Use it. Expound it. Preach from it.
Preach seriously. Preach in this manner because the very word that you preach is sacred. The God who has called you to preach is holy. Your message is a matter of life and death, heaven and hell. Thus jokes have no place in the pulpit. Preachers are not called to be entertainers.
Preach Christ-centeredly. Learn from Paul who says, “I…did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1-2). In the words of the Puritan preacher William Perkins (1558-1602), “preach one Christ, by Christ, to the praise of Christ.”
Preach exemplarily. Live what you preach. Demonstrate holiness, not hypocrisy. Acknowledge with Robert Murray M’Cheyne (1813-1843), “My people’s greatest need is my personal holiness.”
Preach soli Deo gloria. Your ultimate goal in preaching is to glorify God. Never attempt to take that glory that belongs to God alone. Sing with Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915): “To God be the glory, great things He has done.”
Oh, Lord, help me to preach!
Since November of last year, Michigan has been experiencing snow. In fact in the area where I live we have already reached our average season snowfall of about 70 inches. I have been in Michigan now for eight years and I can say that this year’s winter is definitely the worst one. And, winter is not yet over; more snow is predicted to come. Consequently, many feel tired of the snow. Many (including myself) cannot wait for the spring. But, before the snow melts, let me share some of my reflections on snow.
1. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to live in a place where it snows. Recently, when I was in the Philippines and Australia, I met people who have never seen snow in their lifetime, and who want to witness a snowfall. Of course there are countless of other peoples around the globe who would love to see snow too. Thus, if you live in an area where it snows, thank the Lord for that privilege.
2. Having seen snow with my own eyes, Bible verses that speak of snow become more meaningful to me. For instance, now I can better understand the point that God makes in Isaiah 1:18: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” Imagine God’s willingness to forgive those who repent of their sins.
3. Snow can serve as a reminder to me of how God has forgiven me in Christ, making me even “whiter than snow” (Ps. 51:7). As you look around at all the snow, think of how God has cleansed you from all your sins through the blood of Jesus Christ. As the hymn writer Robert Lowry (1826-1899) remarks in his well-known hymn “Nothing but the Blood”:
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
4. As a hymn lover, snow reminds me of some of the hymns that mention snow. Then as I recall these hymns, I sometimes sing them silently in my heart. Snow therefore is used by God for my spiritual growth. Right now the song that comes into my mind is this—“There Is Power in the Blood” by Lewis E. Jones (1865-1936):
Would you be whiter, much whiter than snow?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood;
Sin stains are lost in its life giving flow.
There’s wonderful power in the blood.
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.
Think of how you can use the presence of snow for the benefit of your soul.
5. I understand we have had a lot of snow, and we can either have a murmuring, or thankful heart towards this very cold winter. Someone told a story about a certain minister who “was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, ‘Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank God on a wretched day like this.’ Much to his surprise, however, [the minister] began by praying, ‘We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.’”
Since I came to Michigan, I have had eight winters. And as I have already noted earlier, this year’s winter is the worst one. But learning from this preacher I can still thank God and say, “Lord, I thank you that Michigan winters are not always like this one.” How is our attitude towards the weather? When it is cold we complain, when it is hot we do the same. May we learn to say with Paul, “[G]ive thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:17).
An Interview with Brian Croft about his book The Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family Through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013, 171 pp., paperback.
It was a joy to meet you at the 2013 Puritan Reformed Conference. I enjoyed reading your practical and gospel-centered book. I especially appreciated its humble and honest tone.
1. How would you respond to a pastor who says that his ministry is his priority over his family? You may also want to comment on William Carey’s conviction that ministry work must come first before family responsibility.
I would tell him that he is disobeying the Word of God and the biblical calling of a pastor. A pastor’s calling in 1 Timothy 3 is to first manage his household before the church. I would also say that a pastor will give an account for souls (Heb. 13:17) not just in the church, but those in his family. I would argue the account will be given first to those in his household. A pastor’s first ministry is to his family, then the church. Lose your family, you will lose your ministry.
2. On page 41 you state, “Being a pastor and the wife of a pastor can indeed be a very lonely position.” Can you please elaborate your thoughts on this statement?
Most think the pastor and his wife would be the ones with the most friends in the church. The opposite is usually the case. Because of the position of the pastor in a church, it is hard to be transparent and open with certain folks not knowing what might later be used against him. Many relationships are based upon those wanting to get close to the pastor for personal gain, not simply friendship. This makes it hard for the pastor and his wife to find meaningful friendships and most pastors do not make the effort to find them outside their church.
3. What do you think is a pastor’s main problem as far as balancing his family and ministry responsibility is concerned?
The pastor’s main problem is not what he thinks it is. It is not the demands and pressures put upon him. The pastor’s main problem that causes an imbalance is his own sinful heart. It is his heart that makes him desire things that would cause the ministry to become an idol to him, thus neglecting his family. The pastor has to apply the power of the gospel to his heart struggles in the ministry to prevent family neglect.
4. What is the biblical solution to the problem mentioned in question # 3?
The power of the gospel not only saves us from our sins, but it also empowers us to overcome the sins of our hearts that affect our daily lives. The pastor must identify the sinful struggles in his heart that pull him away from his family, and repent. Then, he must turn to the Scriptures as the guide to how a pastor must conduct his life. Scripture gives us the blueprint to the calling of a pastor (1 Timothy 3:4-5), what the pastor should be doing with his time (Heb. 13:17; 1 Peter 5:1-4), and how essential it is for a pastor to care for his wife (Eph. 5:22-33; 1 Peter 3:1-7) and shepherd his children (Eph. 6:1-4) in the midst of his life and ministry. As the pastor ministers God’s Word, he must himself walk in it to counter the sinful temptations that lead to neglect of the family.
5. This question is for your wife Cara: In what way can a pastor’s wife best help her husband in the ministry?
Each ministry is different, therefore what each husband needs will be different. I can not give you a specific answer except this, ask them. If you really want to know what your husband needs for you to do, ask him, and then be willing to hear whatever his answer may be. I know it sounds simple, but we as women tend to think we know what our husbands need and how they need us to serve. The truth is there may be a way that they are desiring for us to serve and we have never taken the time to ask them.
The second answer I would give is to pray for husbands. Our husbands need our prayers. And we need to not only pray for them but we need to tell them we are praying for them and ask in what specific ways we can pray for them better. This does two things. First it encourages our husbands by letting them know that we are thinking and interceding on their behalf. Second, it allows us to see into our husbands’ hearts a bit deeper and to know more of the burdens they are carrying. We need to be lifting them before God daily and seeking ways to encourage them as they labor both for the church and for our families. Notice I said “we”. That is because this is a lesson I am still learning.
6. What projects are you currently working on?
I have several books I am working on. There is a companion with the Pastor’s Family that will be about, “The Pastor’s Ministry” which will be focused on the top 10 biblical priorities of every pastor’s ministry. Then I am writing, co-writing, and editing 6 more books for our Practical Shepherding series, all to be published in the next two years. Practical books on administration, caring for widows, planning and leading worship, praying for the flock, and how to comfort the grieving are some of the topics of these books. We are very excited about all the Lord is doing with Practical Shepherding and the books that will be the foundation for our ministry for year to come, Lord willing.
Note: You can buy the book here.
By Dr. Jim Cowman (guest blogger)
The lowly sermon title is the most commonly undervalued and neglected part of a sermon, despite its many useful functions. Like an individual’s name, it specifically identifies the work. It serves as a descriptive summary of the content. And it can entice the audience in a variety of ways to hear and remember. For maximum sermon impact, a concise and memorable title is as indispensable as a handle to luggage. Contemporary preaching would do well to integrate it creatively into each sermon for optimum effect.
The Form and Use of Titles in Biblical Literature
One has to admit at the outset of this line of inquiry, that in the few places where the Bible presents a sermon, there is no obvious sermon title. For example, Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5-7), Paul’s “Speech on Mars Hill” (Acts 17), and Peter’s “Pentecost Sermon” (Acts 2) came with no original titles. Subsequently, common usage came to identify the speech only by where or when it was delivered so that these famous words could be easily referenced.
The books of the Bible, the next larger literary unit, were also given a minimalist title—something to identify it for referencing purposes. So the prophets, the Gospels, Peter’s and John’s epistles, James and Jude are named after the authors, while the epistles of Paul are named after their respective recipients. Fewer are the books that have a brief descriptive title: the books of Moses, Psalms, Proverbs, Lamentations, Acts, and Revelation. Again, a title is a name to identify, or minimally describe a document for easy referral. There are very few examples hinting at a more significant use of title for a document: The “Book of the Law” for Deuteronomy, found and restored to its rightful place of authority over Judah in the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22; 2 Chron. 34), and “The Book of the Covenant” for Exodus 20-23, to which the Israelites swore allegiance.
The most developed use of titles in the Bible is to be found in the naming and renaming of individuals. Name and title are both labels and designations by which a person or thing is known or called. Name is the simpler and more general term or appellation. Title is the more formal and honorary attribution. For our purposes, the two terms will be treated synonymously. For instance, consider four people in the Bible who had their name changed to refer to the changes that would take place in their character.
- According to Abram, “Father of One,” a new name, Abraham (“Father of Many,” Gen. 17:5), conferred upon him a descriptive characterization that was true to the promise of God and Abraham’s certain destiny.
- Likewise, Jacob became Israel (“He Struggles with God,” Gen. 32:28);
- Simon became Peter (“The Rock,” John 1:42);
- Joseph became Barnabas (“Son of Encouragement,” Acts 4:36).
The two most entitled Biblical persons are the antagonist, the Devil, with some 25 titles; and the protagonist, Christ, with over 50 titles.
- So Satan is… “The Evil one” (1 John 3:12),
- “The Tempter (Matt. 4),
- “The Prince of Demons” (Matt. 12:24),
- “The Great Dragon” (Rev. 12:9),
- “The Ancient Serpent” (Rev. 12:9),
- “The Roaring Lion” (1 Pet. 5:8).
Notice from this sampling that these are generally negative, alarming, and repulsive; that is, they add the function of warning, or driving the audience away from what it should fear him to be.
In Christ, titles rise to the highest level of complexity and function. Whichever title we call him, we are always doing more than affirming his identity and describing his person and work. For example, if we meaningfully call him “The Good Shepherd,” (John 10:11, 14), it is because “we all like sheep have gone astray,” (1 Pet. 2:25) and are in need of his protective care. But we are also attracted to being like him, as under-shepherds who “tend the flock of God” that is under our care (1 Pet. 5:2). If we describe him as “The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6), it is because our anxious hearts and troubled world need the calm that only Jesus offers (John 14:27; 16:33). But we who enjoy his peace are also drawn to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). In short, we call him what he is, what we believe him to be, what we trust him to be, what we need him to be to us; and we follow him in conformity to the likeness of his name. We can comprehend better now why blind Bartimaeus included the title, “Son of David” in his plea of faith, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47)
The name for Christ that elevates titling to its highest pinnacle is found in Revelation 22:12: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” This is probably a form of synthetic parallelism in which each title variation is adding something to the basic title meaning:
- “Beginning and End” affirms his eternal priority and finality over all that is temporal;
- “Alpha and Omega” summarizes his authorship, keeping and disposing of all things:
- “First and Last” emphasizes his meritorious elevation (ascension) over all moral creatures by way of the terrible humiliation of the cross (Phil. 2:6-11).
It is to the “First and the Last” that we are most drawn: (in Christ’s Kingdom those will be first who, for Christ’s sake, assumed the place of the last.) In this, we follow Christ in his incarnation, humiliation, and exaltation.
In summary of the relevant Biblical teaching, then, there is not a single instance of a titled sermon. However, there are plenty of titles in the Scriptures providing analogical evidence, at least. So from all these usages, we can still profitably ask, “What use does the Bible make of a title?” That is, “What exactly can a divinely sanctioned title do?”
- It identifies the individual bearer as an assigned name does.
- It describes or characterizes the bearer as to its present or future qualities.
- It confesses what the title user/hearer is trusting the title bearer to fulfill (positively); or, it repels the user from the title qualities, i.e., the works of darkness of Ephesians 5:11 (negatively).
We can summarize this more precisely by observing the first two are applicable to the title bearer, the thing being titled. The last two concern the audience or hearers using the title:
The Biblical Uses of a Title
A. Affecting the Bearer
1. Identification by Name
2. Description of Qualities
B. Affecting the User
1. Affirmation/Confession of Qualities
2. Enticement/Conformation to Qualities
A couple of open-ended questions remain for further consideration. Does this biblical usage, derive mainly from personal titles, carry over directly and fully to sermons, whether in written or oral form? And, if the answer be yes in the whole or in the part, why does the Bible not evidence directly such title use for its sermons and documents? The two most obvious answers are not very satisfying: the lack of cultural progress in the area of oral communication; and that the issue is too peripheral to the central theme of redemption in Christ to warrant any more specific attention by the Biblical writers. This remaining element of biblical ambiguity invites corroboration for the use of titles from the secular sphere of life and work. I hope to address this matter in the context of building a case for an integrative use of titles in part two of this article.
Rev. Dr. Jim Cowman holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. For the past 14 years he has served Lead Pastor at the Wyandotte Alliance Church in Wyandotte, Michigan. This past summer he was honored for his 27 years of service with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, having served in three C&MA churches, including a new church plant near Rugters University, (“Grace Alliance Church”). In addition to being an online adjunct Professor in Crown College’s Christian Ministry department, he has also served 12 years on the Ordaining Counsel of the Great Lakes District located in Ann Arbor, as well as the Ordaining Counsel of Bethesda Baptist Church in Allen Park, Michigan. He welcomes your emails/comments with regard to his article: email@example.com
The psalmist says in Psalm 119:71, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” What is good about affliction? I address this question in my sermon titled “Good To Be Afflicted” (Psalm 119:65-72). John Bunyan (1628–1688), author of the famous book The Pilgrim’s Progress, once said, “In times of affliction we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of the love of God.”
Here’s an excerpt from that message:
In 2005 Hurricane Katrina claimed at least 1,800 lives. Commenting on this disaster, Pat Robertson, the host of the 700 Club, said that God was punishing Americans
with this hurricane. In 2010 a powerful earthquake shook Haiti, killing more than 100,000 people. Again Robertson stated that this earthquake was a form of divine judgment.
Recently my native land, the Philippines, was hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan, locally known as Yolanda. As of November 17, the death toll from this typhoon is now close to 4,000. Jim Solouki, a blogger, is convinced that this disaster was also a divine punishment. Solouki writes, “Did you know that God is punishing the Philippines for their tolerance of homosexuality, prostitution, Catholicism, and other sins?”
Did God Punish the Philippines with Typhoon Yolanda? I will answer that question by looking at Christ’s teachings concerning disasters as found in Luke 13:1-5. Let’s read this text:
1There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he [Jesus] answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
In this passage Jesus gives at least five basic teachings on disasters.
1. Jesus does not want us to think that those who die in disasters are worse sinners than we are.
There are two kinds of disaster mentioned in our passage: moral & natural.
a. Moral (or man-made) disaster (vv. 1-3)
In verse one some of the people in the crowds inform Jesus of the Galileans who were murdered by Pilate. We do not know much about this incident. But we can imagine that these Galileans went down south to Jerusalem to offer their animal sacrifices to God in the temple. At this time Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea where the temple of Jerusalem was situated. For some reason Pilate slaughtered these Galileans. Hence, we read in verse one that their blood was mixed with the blood of their animal sacrifices. What a horrible way to die!
Now, the people informing Jesus of this event believe that these Galileans died in this terrible way because they were exceptionally wicked compared to other Galileans. To correct their belief, Jesus asks them rhetorically, “Do you think that these Galileans [who were slain] were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” (v.2). The answer is, of course, no (v. 3).
In 2009 fifty-eight Filipinos were brutally killed in the Maguindanao massacre, also known as the Ampatuan massacre. Jesus does not want us to think that these Filipinos deserved to die in this manner because they were worse sinners than other Filipinos. He does not approve of making a hasty judgment upon the character of the victims of moral disasters.
b. Natural (or God-made) disaster (vv. 4-5)
The second kind of disaster recorded in our text is what we call a natural disaster. Let me clarify the difference between moral and natural disasters. A classic example of a moral disaster is the holocaust, or the September 11 Attacks. Examples of natural disasters include earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, tornados, typhoons, and others. In verse four we encounter another type of natural disaster: the fall of the tower in Siloam. Look at verse four again:“Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?”
Like the murder of the Galileans, we also do not know much about this event. However, the message of Jesus is clear: Do not think that those who were killed by the fall of the tower in Siloam were greater sinners than all the others who lived in Jerusalem. In other words, Jesus forbids us to think that we are morally better than those who were struck by Typhoon Yolanda and that they deserved it more than we did.
2. Jesus does not want us to think that we are racially superior to those who suffer in disasters.
The informers in our text who came to Jesus were most likely from Jerusalem. Now lest these Jerusalemites think that the Galileans had a dreadful death because of their ethnicity, Jesus adds the incident of the fall of the tower. This natural disaster killed eighteen Jerusalemites. Here’s the message of Jesus to his audience: You, Jerusalemites, don’t think that those Galileans who were murdered were an inferior group of people. Don’t think that you are ethnically better than they were. Remember that even your fellow Jerusalemites also had an awful death.
To apply this message to us, the people in Quezon City, for example, should not conclude that they are better than those who live in Tacloban City, an area severely damaged by Typhoon Yolanda. Likewise, Jesus prohibits you, you who are not Filipinos, to think that you are better than the Filipinos because their land was hit by a powerful storm. Regardless of our nationality, in God’s sight we are all equal, for we were all created in his image.
3. Jesus does not want us to think that disasters are absolute indicators of God’s punishment.
Among the first-century Jews was a common notion that the Galileans were massacred because of their great sin. Jesus, however, does not focus on the sin of these Galileans. Yes, Jesus does not deny the fact that they were sinners. But he denies the opinion that they died in an awful way because they had committed great sin. Thus, Jesus does not encourage us to think that disasters are definitive indications of divine judgment.
In Acts 7:54-60 we read about the stoning of Stephen. Some might say, “God must have punished Stephen for his sin because of the manner of his death—he was stoned to death.” Well, we know that Stephen was stoned to death, not because of his sin against God, but because of his faith in Jesus. In short, the stoning was not a sign of God’s judgment upon Stephen, but a manifestation of Stephen’s love for Christ.
In Job 1:18-19 we are told that Job’s ten children died from a natural disaster. A messenger comes and speaks to Job: “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Observe: A great wind (a natural disaster) killed Job’s children. Yet, because Job is aware that behind this mighty wind was God’s sovereign hand, Job does not hesitate to say that it is God who has taken the lives of his children: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away” (Job 1:21). From Job 1:6-12 we know that God allowed this calamity to test Job’s faith, not to punish him for his sin. Therefore, a natural disaster is not necessarily a direct result of personal sin.
Yes, there are instances in the Bible where we can conclude with all certainty that a disaster occurred as a direct result of personal sin. For example, we know that God rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire out of heaven in order to punish the people of these cities (Gen. 19:24). Hence, this particular tragedy was undoubtedly a form of divine judgment. We know this truth because God tells us in his Word.
Now, how about Typhoon Yolanda? Was it also a form of divine retribution? Did God punish the Philippines with this typhoon? The answer is simply that we do not know, because God does not tell us in his Word. Furthermore, it is not our business to know. Jesus does not want us to speculate whether God punished the Philippines or not. We cannot always understand why God does what he does. His wisdom is infinite, whereas ours is finite. God says in Isaiah 55:8-9:
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
There is a song that says: “God is too wise to be mistaken/ God is too good to be unkind/ So when you don’t understand/ When you don’t see His plan/ When you can’t trace His hand/ Trust His heart.”
4. Jesus wants us to look at our own sin and not the sins of those affected by disasters.
The main message of Jesus in our text is repentance. Twice Jesus emphatically tells his audience, “I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (vv. 3 & 5). Notice how Jesus uses the two disasters in our passage to direct his listeners’ attention to the worst kind of death—everlasting death in the lake of fire. Jesus shifts the focus of the conversation from physical and temporal death to spiritual and eternal death. Therefore, for us believers in Christ, we must use the occasion of Typhoon Yolanda to talk to others, especially unbelievers, about eternity.
Dear reader, instead of discussing the sins of the victims of this typhoon, consider your own sins, for unless you repent of your own sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you, too, will perish. Again, instead of speculating whether God punished the Filipinos for their sins or not, focus on your own sins. Ask yourself, “Have I repented of my sins? Have I believed in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?” If not, God’s condemnation will remain upon you (John 3:18).
5. Jesus wants us to realize that nothing distinguishes us from the victims of disasters but the grace of God.
By calling his listeners to repent, Jesus is telling them that they, too, are sinners, deserving of death. As Scripture says, “[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Jesus, therefore, makes it clear to his audience that the reason they are still alive is because of God’s grace. I remember attending a conference in British Columbia in 2009. One of the speakers was Jerry Bridges, who was 80 years old at that time. Bridges is known for his classic book—The Pursuit of Holiness. Bridges mentioned something that struck me. He said, “What differs us from others is nothing but the grace of God.”
As we think of the victims in the Philippines, remember that we could have been one of them. What happened to the Philippines could happen where you live. Thus, thank God for graciously sparing your life. That we are still alive should humble us before God and make us appreciate more his grace upon us.
In his famous hymn “Amazing Grace,” John Newton says, “Through many dangers, toils, and snares,/ I have already come;/ ‘tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,/ and grace will lead me home.”
Let me ask you with love:
1. Do you think that those who died in disasters were worse sinners than you are, or do you recognize your own sinnership?
2. Do you think that you are racially superior to those who suffered in disasters, or do you realize that with God there is no respect of persons?
3. Do you think that disasters are always indicators of God’s punishment?
4. Do you focus on looking at the sins of those affected by disasters, or do you seize the opportunity to examine yourself?
5. Do you realize that nothing distinguishes you from the victims of disasters but the grace of God?
Finally, remember this: The super typhoon that ravaged the Philippines is a reminder that we live in a fallen world—a world corrupted by sin (Rom. 8:19-22). A disaster, moral or natural, shows the problem that exists between our Creator and his creation. Indeed, there is a problem between the Creator and his creatures. The solution to this problem is Jesus Christ—the only mediator between God and us. This sinless Jesus is the one who suffered “the strongest storm” from the hand of God, so that we sinners might be reconciled to God through Christ by faith. Do you have Jesus Christ?
I was once interviewed about my co-edited book Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer (2011). The interviewer asked me this question: Which one of these godly men has influenced your prayers the most. Here’s my reply:
Allow me to give you two: Martin Luther (one from the Reformers) and John Bunyan (one from the Puritans). These two men have profoundly shaped my spirituality, particularly my prayer life. For example, they taught me to maintain the priority of prayer. Luther once said, “I have so much scheduled for tomorrow I must pray for that I must arise an hour earlier to have an extra hour alone with God” (p. 224). Similarly, Bunyan wrote, “You can do more than pray, after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed” (p. 231). How often we do the opposite and only set apart a little time to pray because we are too busy in our work. May we capture the prayer life of Luther who “Even in the busiest periods of the Reformation,” says Andrew W. Kosten, “averaged two hours of prayer daily” (p. 24). And how true that we accomplish little because we do not pray to God for help. This is basically the point of James: “You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:2). I am more and more convinced that behind the effectiveness of these men in the ministry was their powerful prayer life.