Theology

When the Willow Bends

willow

In the face of a powerful and unrelenting wind, the willow tree will bend to the force without breaking. And when the gale subsides it will resume its former upright posture towering over trees too weak or too rigid to withstand the blast. No doubt the willow tree has found its way into any number of sermons as an illustration of the nature of a believer standing and against worldly pressure (or some such sin-driven force) without compromising the inviolate truths held dearly by the one who bears Christ’s name.

Such a comparison, however, I think fits only those circumstances in which the forces of evil attack relentlessly and for a limited time only, leaving a believer only slightly – perhaps imperceptibly – scarred. What happens if the pressure to compromise one’s deeply cherished faith has left a permanent mark on the believer? Isn’t this something akin to Paul’s description of the messenger of Satan, the thorn in the flesh which Christ permitted to perpetually torment him in order that the Lord’s magnificent supply of grace might be found more powerful than earthly suffering? Do we have examples in nature depicting this type of spiritual struggle in a concrete – that is, a visible and tangible form?

I recently met a pastor who had endured four years of great suffering for his faith in his former homeland of Cuba. He is very much like a willow tree in the sense in that he does not still bear physical or seemingly emotional scars from his horrific ordeal. His intense, though temporary, suffering developed him into the godly and humble servant he is today, one whose ministry touches thousands every day.

During some recent travels, I saw a tall, sturdy oak in the distance. It looked like any other oak in the area except that it was bent at the top, essentially growing sideways. No doubt this tree had spent several decades upright, rigid, firmly maintaining its lofty stature with a tenacious root system not easily torn from the earth. But at some point in its existence, perhaps a powerful hurricane or some other “act of God” bent the trunk at its most vulnerable spot and everlastingly marred its majestic form. Nevertheless, despite the visible deformation, it stands firm today, it thrives today, and it is perhaps even more resilient to the unstoppable force that shaped its destiny. I wonder if there’s a good sermon application here?

Exposition in Mission: Gospel Narratives for Missionaries

Narratives HeaderThe Bible is full of “non-fiction” stories. In fact, approximately 60% of the Bible is narrative. And then, when we turn to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, we find some of the most memorable, interesting, and well-known historical accounts of Jesus, his followers, and even his enemies.

However, those who teach the Bible, including missionaries, tend to gravitate toward the more obviously didactic portions of Scripture—and who can blame them? Books like Romans and Hebrews are glorious. Yet the gospel accounts, and particularly the narratives within, are extremely valuable for missionaries. I’m not saying that other parts of the gospel accounts or the New Testament are unimportant. I’m simply highlighting one particular portion of the New Testament—narratives in the Gospels—and I want to give several reasons why missionaries should study and teach them. More

Plundering Satan’s House

Plundering-01-01It is striking how there is perfect peace in four chapters of God’s word. You see it in Genesis 1-2 and in Revelation 21-22, in the original creation and in the new creation. Sandwiched between these two bookends of perfect peace, lie nearly twelve hundred chapters of raging, all-out warfare. The Lord’s promise that there would be a Son who would be bruised and who would deal a skull-crushing blow to the ancient serpent (Genesis 3:15) is the first statement of the gospel, but it is also a declaration of war. Those whom the church sends out to the nations are sent out as soldiers into this battle. They face a dark and daunting battlefield with many dangers, and yet the tremendously encouraging truth from God’s word is that, much like ancient Israel’s campaign against those Ammonite cities which the Lord had promised to have already given into theirhand, missionaries go out into the battle from a place of having already been given the victory. More

God’s Purpose Isn’t Ruined by Unbelief

Elliff ArticleIt isn’t “The Parable of the Soils” in Matthew 13:1-23, but The Parable of the Sower, as Jesus himself called it (v. 18). The importance of this title is to show that it was Christ’s word, or the gospel, that is sown and that it is His intention to sow seed on the soil (people) who will not believe, as well as on those who would. Jesus is unambiguous. He clarifies that the gospel is able to be understood by a subset of those who hear (“to you it has been granted,” v. 11), “but to them [the rest] it has not been granted.” This surely had a special impact meant for the Jewish audience, as we see by reading Christ’s long quote in Isaiah 6. More

When God Lets Us Down!

AiOften, when things seem to be going well, we become confident in our own strength and forget our need of daily inquiry into the Word of God. This is what seems to have happened with Joshua after the great victory at Jericho in Joshua 7:6-13. Ai, the next city, seemed a small conquest, so Joshua planned the attack using the spies’ recommendations, but without seeking the counsel of God. The battle went horribly wrong, and Joshua jumped to some horrible conclusions. Let’s look at them: Joshua says “Oh Lord… why did YOU bring us across …to deliver us…to destroy us?” Joshua questions God! Then he says “We would have been content….on the other side of Jordan!” He looks to the past for contentment. Joshua thinks he must account for God’s “mistake” and cries “What shall I say…!” Next he jumps to conclusions about the future and assumes the Canaanites will hear and “…cut off our name from the earth!” To climax his concern he worries about God and asks, “and what will YOU do to YOUR great name?”

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