More Reflections Along the Jaw Rebuilding Road

Last Tuesday took me to yet another doctor appointment in Miami. Never have I looked forward to the 500 mile, day-long marathon trip as I did for this particular visit.

Time to remove the Erector Set pile of metal bars and chains holding my reconstructed jaw shut for the last 21 days.


What a war! Two surgical residents. Pliers. Wire cutters. Suction. It started easy enough. But before long the yanking, twisting, pulling, and tugging increased. I stiffened in the chair like a 2×6 piece of red fir. My kingdom for some nitrous oxide–PLEASE!

Once the nurse turned the gas on high I settled in for the duration. Bloodied and sore after it all, the word “Armageddon” kept running through my head for some reason.

It felt SO GOOD to open my mouth again. No more practicing the ventriloquist act for this preacher. Never I have enjoyed so much like I did that night flossing and brushing both sides of my teeth!

Rarely have I anticipated solid food again with more delight. The first bite of fish (soft and sauce remain my culinary mandates for the duration) melted in my mouth. I moaned at the savory taste with pleasure. But then came a moan of a different kind.

Chewing brought pain–again. There simply was no opening my jaw wide enough to bite down on the food. Both sockets hurt with each movement. I could hardly manipulate the food with my tongue so as to position it where teeth remain for mastication.

Sigh. This will take longer than I think. Double sigh.

But–my chains are gone! I’ve been set free! Slowly my range of motion improves. Each day it hurts a bit less to get solid food down. RoboJaw 2 gets further in the rear view mirror with each passing day. I am so thankful.

The next day, Wednesday, I turned 44, spiritually speaking. I celebrated yet another spiritual birthday. For some reason I happen to be one of those Christians who knows just when the Spirit of God blew with power resulting in his spiritual birth (John 3:1-8).

I don’t know that it matters all that much or not whether one knows the time and date specifics of his regeneration–although a special friend of mine admitted she envies that for me.

What matters a great deal more is the assurance that one has been born again. You know the Lord has changed your heart of stone into a heart of flesh (Ezek. 36:26). You enjoy the  assurance of hope in eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).

You fear no condemnation because Jesus’ propitiating sacrifice has satisfied the wrath of God most holy justly upon you for your sin (Rom. 3:21-26; 5:1; 8:1). Your sins are forgiven. Those chains are gone. You’ve been set free and are free indeed (John 8:31-32)!

You trust that the blood of Jesus covers all your sins. J. C. Ryle expressed the inexpressible joy of this particular assurance so well:

This wondrous blood of Christ, applied to your conscience, can cleanse you from all sin. It matters nothing what your sins may have been, “Though they be as scarlet they may be made like snow. Though they be red like crimson they can be made like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18.) From sins of youth and sins of age, from sins of ignorance and sins of knowledge—from sins of open profligacy and sins of secret vice—from sins against law and sins against Gospel—from sins of head, and heart, and tongue, and thought, and imagination—from sins against each and all of the ten commandments—from all these the blood of Christ can set us free. To this end was it appointed; for this cause was it shed; for this purpose it is still a fountain open to all mankind. That thing which you cannot do for yourself can be done in a moment by this precious fountain. YOU CAN HAVE ALL YOUR SINS CLEANSED AWAY.

Have you been born again?

More Blessed Than the Virgin Mary


As a kid I loved this time of year for all the reasons most children do. My romance with Christmas followed me all the way into my teen years as well.

However, things took on a whole new perspective in December of 1972. On the 14th of that month in that year the wind of the Holy Spirit blew powerfully into my life. I was born again. Jesus saved me and has faithfully kept me now these forty-one years. I find the season all the more gratifying since with it comes my spiritual birthday and the anniversary of the gift of gifts, my regeneration and union with Christ. Thanks be to God.

I say without equivocation that this makes me and any other blood-bought child of God more blessed than the blessed virgin Mary. Don’t get me wrong. Her privilege in bearing the Son of God put her in a distinguished, one-of-kind category. The angel greeted her with tiding of her station with the words “Hail, favored one!” (Luke 1:28). Her cousin Elizabeth greeted her later in that same chapter with the words “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Indeed. Who can even begin to imagine what it must have been like to travel Mary’s journey as the mother of Jesus?

That said, the fact remains, Jesus Himself made one thing very clear about the relative privilege between her station and that of anyone like me who belongs to Him by faith. I refer to Luke 11:27-28.

As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

I don’t think Jesus meant to dismiss outright the extraordinary responsibility embraced by His earthly mother. Rather He sought to impress upon His followers the enormity of blessing that comes with receiving God’s grace in salvation. No privilege remotely compares in this life with God’s tuning your heart to sing His grace and tendering your will to obey the Scriptures.

Jonathan Edwards put it this way:

Great was the privilege which God bestowed on the blessed virgin Mary, in granting that of her should be born the Son of God; that a person who was infinitely more honorable than the angels, who was the Creator and King of heaven 220px-Jonathan_Edwardsand earth and the great Savior of the world, should be conceived in her womb, born of her, and nursed at her breast, was a far greater privilege than to be the mother of the child of the greatest earthly prince that ever existed. But yet, surely that was not so great a privilege as it was to have the grace of God in the heart, to have Christ, as it were, born in the soul, as Christ himself does expressly teach us.

From the depths of my heart this December 14, 2013, I rejoice by His grace to have God in my heart, Christ as my King, born in my soul, and pray humbly for that same grace to keep me for another year and for as long as I shall live.

Precious Little on the Loss of Precious Little Ones

Whether referencing our confession of faith or the Scriptures themselves, that seems to sum things up.

We just don’t have a great deal of authoritative data to work from in forming our convictions about what happens to the infants of believers who die in infancy.

The confession takes a position, for sure, in chapter 10 on Effectual Calling, paragraph 3:

Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how He pleases. The same is true of all elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called through the preaching of the gospel.

It lists only John 3:3,5, 6, & 8 as proof texts.

Honestly, I don’t find the statement all that helpful. Election lies within the sovereign decree of God. That Christian parents who lose their infants can only wonder whether or not their child falls under that category seems to me to offer little or even no comfort at all.

The Bible says more, but in some ways not as much as we might hope in specific to settle the matter. Rather we must draw theological inferences from texts that can help inform our thoughts and encourage our hope that someone like Annabelle went to be with the Lord on Saturday and that her folks will see her again some day in heaven.

I could rehearse those texts and thoughts in my own words, but frankly I have a memorial service message to write between now and Friday. Furthermore, Desiring God published a blog post some time ago that summarizes the question supremely well.

Here is a significant section from the article by Matt Perman:

It is important to emphasize that, in our view, God is not saving infants because they are innocent. They are not innocent, but guilty. He is saving them because, although they are sinful, in his mercy he desires that compassion be exercised upon those who are sinful and yet lack the capacity to grasp the truth revealed about Him in nature and to the human heart.

To read the entire post click here.

A memorial service for Annabelle Walton will be held at Orlando Grace this Friday, June 22, at 7 PM. Visitation with the family will take place from 5:30 to 6:45 PM. Refreshments will be served.

Please continue to pray for the Waltons and their extended family as they walk through the valley of the shadow and reckon that even in staggering loss Jesus is enough.

Reflections on My 38th Birthday

No, I haven’t gone into denial about my age. I refer to my spiritual birthday. Thirty-eight years ago today, by God’s grace, I trusted in Jesus Christ. Due to His keeping/preserving power I have never looked back in my walk with Him.

Each year on this significant date in my journey I reflect in some way on what God has done and where He has me in my pilgrimage toward the celestial city.

It started early this morning with this Operation World entry regarding spiritual conditions in Uzbekistan:

Uzbekistan’s government relentlessly persecutes the Church. Dynamic and evangelism-oriented churches, especially Uzbek churches, are particularly targeted. Uzbek Christian leaders have extensive files on them compiled by the 14 different government agencies that monitor religious activity. Persecution tactics include: public humiliation, property seizure, book and Bible-burning, expulsion of Christian students, dismissal of Christian employees, arrests (followed by beating and torture) under the flimsiest of pretexts and massive fines for first offences [sic] (up to 50 times the annual salary), (p. 874).

Upon reading that I wondered, What if God in His sovereignty had determined that I should have lived out my days in a place like that? He could well have. Acts 17:26 teaches us this truth: And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.

I found myself filled with gratitude for His kindness in putting me in a place like the US where free and abundant access to the gospel is more than not the norm.

From there I went to my reading in J. C. Ryle’s Holiness with this confirming thought:

How thankful we ought to be that we live in a land where the great remedy for spiritual thirst is known, in a land of open Bibles, preached gospel, and abundant means of grace, in a land where the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is still proclaimed, with more or less fullness, in twenty thousand pulpits every Sunday! We do not realize the value of our privileges. The very familiarity of the manna makes us think little of it, just as Israel loathed ‘the light bread’ in the wilderness (Num. 21:5). But turn to the pages of a heathen philosopher like the incomparable Plato, and see how he groped after light like one blindfolded, and wearied himself to find the door. . . . Turn to the accounts which trustworthy travelers and missionaries give of the state of the heathen who have never heard the gospel. Read of the human sacrifices in Africa, and the ghastly self–imposed tortures of the devotees of Hindostan, and remember they are all the result of an unquenched thirst and a blind and unsatisfied desire to get near to God. And then learn to be thankful that your lot is cast in a land like your own. Alas, I fear God has a controversy with us for our unthankfulness!

I have no wish for a controversy with God over anything. I am indeed thankful that my lot is cast in a land like our own.

Are you?

Sowing & Sleeping

Day Two at T4G, The (Unadjusted) Gospel.

John MacArthur spoke this morning on Mark 4 in a message he called The Theology of Sleep.

He surveyed the entire chapter, calling it The Magna Carta of Evangelism by the Lord Jesus Christ, but he landed most of the time in his exposition on the parable (unique to Mark’s gospel) in verses 26-29.

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Dr. MacArthur introduced his talk by sharing that he tends to sleep well. Wherever he goes all over the world, it just doesn’t seem to matter, he gets a good night’s sleep. I leaned over to my young friend Shane and said with a smile, I hate him. I don’t share that testimony much as I would like.

Pastor MacArthur went on to explain that he credits much of his non-insomnia experience to the theology of sleep he takes away from this pithy little story of Jesus. It’s another of Jesus’ kingdom parables. It begins with the familiar The kingdom of God is as or like. In this case he draws from the familiar realm of agriculture and the experience of the farmer in raising crops. Truth be told the farmer doesn’t do much. He does sow seed, hard work certainly, but beyond that, in this context, nothing more. He sleeps and rises, night and day, in the normal rhythms of life. As for the sprouting of the seed and its growth into a crop, the farmer is clueless – he knows not how. It just happens. From blade to ear then full grain in the ear, he remains out of the loop. The farmer waits around until the grain is ripe. Then he goes back to work, sickle in hand, for the time of harvest.

The point of the parable, particularly in light of our conference theme about the temptation to adjust the gospel by altering its content so as to somehow make our evangelism more effective in this postmodern age, is that in truth, like the farmer, we as sowers of the seed of the word of God have little to nothing more beyond that to do in terms of our contribution to someone coming to saving faith. That requires the power of God at work in the human heart. How that works we know not how. To use Jesus’ words in John 3 regarding spiritual birth. It’s like the wind. It blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes (John 3:8). So it borders on the ludicrous to think our methods and manipulation of the gospel will ultimately make the difference in a lost person’s life. Our job is to humbly, obediently, diligently, and confidently (four points the speaker further lifted from Mark 4) sow the seed of the gospel (unadjusted) and get ready to harvest if God gives the increase.

I don’t think Dr. MacArthur meant to belittle bridge-building ministries and relational connections in the evangelism effort. But his point was well taken. If anyone gets saved, the gospel and its power (Rom. 1:16-17) have to penetrate the human heart and turn it from stone to flesh. We simply act as the means of delivering the message at some point in the whole transaction. How are they to hear without someone preaching (Rom. 10:14).

Paul put it this way in 1 Cor. 3:6 – I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth.

So church, let us engage lost people whenever we can by sowing the seed of the gospel.

Keep your sickle at hand in case God gives a harvest.

In the meantime, get some sleep.

What Happens When Infants Die?

Warning: this post is longer than the average blog post. Consider the topic and little more needs to be said.

A few weeks ago Pastor Clay gave a terrific message on family issues. In it he referenced the 1689 Confession of Faith and its statement regarding the difficult question of what happens to infants who die in infancy.

Elect infants dying in infancy are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who works when and where and how He pleases. The same is true of all elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called through the preaching of the gospel (Chapter 10, paragraph 3).

After the message I expressed some need for clarification about this particular provision of the document and promised to blog at some point to that end. Here goes.

Everything within me wants to believe this and more. Who doesn’t? However, I deny or at least want to qualify full subscription to the confession at this point for one very important reason. It says more than the Scripture says. Where the Bible is silent we are wise to remain the same. And the Bible is especially silent on the question of the children of unbelieving parents. We simply can’t say from Scripture with authoritative citation what the Lord does in such cases. Whatever He does we may be certain that He is just and wise in all His ways in determining the fate of little ones who die before the so-called age of accountability – the time they actually understand the truth and can make some choices about what to do with it. We may rest right there on the matter, as far as I am concerned.

As for the children of of believing parents, we stand on safer ground to say more. God certainly can regenerate an infant, even in the womb, as testified by the account of John the Baptist in Luke 1:15. But clearly this is not the normal way He saves. Still, as Wayne Grudem points out:

We should recognize that it is God’s frequent pattern throughout Scripture to save the children of those who believe in him (see Gen. 7:1; cf. Heb. 11:7; Josh. 2:18; Ps. 103:17; John 4:53; Acts 2:39; 11:14(?); 16:31; 18:8; 1 Cor. 1:16; 7:14; Titus 1:6; cf. Matt. 18:10, 14). These passages do not show that God automatically saves the children of all believers (for we all know of children of godly parents who have grown up and rejected the Lord, and Scripture also gives such examples as Esau and Absalom), but they do indicate that God’s ordinary pattern, the “normal” or expected way in which he acts, is to bring the children of believers to himself. With regard to believers’ children who die very young, we have no reason to think that it would be otherwise.

Theologians of significant stature from the past including Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd, and B. B. Warfield have not shied away from proclaiming confidence that God saves the infants of believers who die in their infancy because of arguments like Grudem’s. Many often point to the account of the child of David and Bathsheba who died in infancy due to God’s judgment upon David for his sin in 2 Sam. 12:23. Grudem calls David’s confidence that he would go to the child the language of personal reunion, the only plausible explanation for David’s reversal from a state of enormous grief to business as usual (a change not lost on his servants as the context notes).

One of the most helpful insights on this subject contributing to my tentative yet hopeful view that infants who die in infancy go to be with God in heaven comes from this section from a funeral meditaiton by John Piper at the occasion of an infant’s death.

But what about tiny children who do not yet have the physical ability to even know the basic facts of the gospel or even of any of God’s revelation in nature? Does the Bible teach that God will judge them in the same way that he will judge an adult who consciously rejects the truth of God that he knows?

There are clues that God does not condemn those who are physically unable to know the truth that God has revealed in nature or in the gospel. I’ll mention two clues.

One comes from Deuteronomy chapter one. God is angry because the people would not trust him to help them take the promised land. They rebelled against him. So he says, “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers [except Caleb and Joshua, who had trusted him].” Then he adds a word about the children: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil , they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it” (vv. 35, 39).

Not having the “knowledge of good and evil” takes away the judgment. They were not yet physically able to know what they needed to know, and so God does not sweep them away with the adults who wouldn’t trust God.

The second clue confirms this principle from the New Testament. It’s found in Romans 1:18-21. The text is not about children, but the same principles of justice apply. Listen to the relationship between having available knowledge and having accountability. “What can be known about God is plain to [men], because God has shown it to them. For ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. Therefore they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.”

The point is this: to be held accountable at the judgment you need two things: 1) available knowledge of the glory of God whom you should have adored and thanked; 2) the physical ability to know it, to perceive it. If this knowledge were really not available, then, Paul implies, there really would be an “excuse” at the judgment. No adult, except perhaps profoundly retarded or mentally ill ones, have this excuse. That’s Paul’s point. We adults are without excuse. But children are in another category. They do have this excuse. They don’t have the physical ability to know what God has revealed. Therefore we believe that God will apply to them the blood and righteousness of Christ in a way we do not know. We adults can have this pardon and righteousness only through faith. That is the clear teaching of Scripture (Ephesians 2:8; Romans 3:28 ). How are infants united to Christ? We don’t know. And speculation would not help us here.

I treasure our confession. Some exceptions apply as for me and my house. With regard to this statement, some clarification. Whatever the case, God will be found to have no fault in whatever He does with the souls of those who die in infancy or without rational capability.

For another helpful article click here.

Reflections on My 37th Birthday

Spiritual that is. December 14, 1972, Berwyn, PA, 10:30 AM. The man came to my house and preached the gospel to me. I believed and was baptized. While the ride has been wild, to say the least, I have never once looked back. For that  I am most grateful.

My gratitude for getting to be this old in Jesus recently got a jolt of intensity thanks to Facebook. An old prof from seminary found me through the friends network. I emailed him to get caught up. He commented how good it was to hear from a former student noting his joy whenever he discovers someone who has gone on with the Lord over time. “More often than we would like that doesn’t happen,” he said.

To what should I or any aging believer attribute staying power in the spiritual life? There can be only one answer for surely there is nothing particularly devoted about my flesh. The amazing keeping power of God alone keeps one persevering toward the finish line. Consider verses like 1 Peter 1:3-5 for example:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (emphasis added).

Or Jude 1 where the writer calls us kept for Jesus Christ and in v. 24-25 where he concludes his letter with this doxology:

24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen (emphasis added).

So I appear thus far to be among the kept of God. That makes me a blessed man. By God’s grace I, the kept of God, intend to go on keeping myself in His love (see Jude 21) unto my 40th, 47th, and whatever7th birthday He may allow should I enjoy length of days.

I’ve got my eye on the reward. I am one day closer to hearing, I trust, Well done good and faithful servant! I long to finish well. The vision of the end I imagine is not unlike this lovely section of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress:

After this it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant–for–Truth was sent for by a summons, by the same party as the others. And he had this word for a token that the summons was true: ‘The pitcher was broken at the fountain’ (Eccl. 12:6). When he understood it, he called for his friends, and told them of it. Then said he, ‘I am going to my Father’s house; and though with great difficulty I have got here, yet now I do not repent me of all the troubles I have been at to arrive where I am. My sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my pilgrimage, and my courage and skill to him that can get it. My marks and scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought His battles, who will now be my Rewarder.’ When the day that he must go home was come, many accompanied him to the riverside, into which, as he went down, he said, ‘O death, where is your sting?’ And as he went down deeper, he cried, ‘O grave, where is your victory?’ So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.

Trumpets. I really like trumpets.