TABLETALK DEVOTIONS WITH R.C. SPROUL


TABLETALK DEVOTIONS WITH R.C. SPROUL

Giving with
Discretion
======================
Matthew 6:1–4 “Beware of practicing your
righteousness before other people in
order to be seen by them, for then you
will have no reward from your Father
who is in heaven” (v. 1).

Society
is apt to take notice whenever the wealthy establish a foundation for
the
sake of charitable giving. Such persons are lauded for their generosity
and
good work in giving to those in need. More often than not, these people
seek
this publicity, wanting us to know how open-handed they truly are.

The
world pursues the accolades of men, but God’s people are not to do the
same.
In fact, if we practice righteousness for the accolades of other
people,
Jesus tells us we have no reward from our Father in heaven (Matt.
6:1). He
applies this general principle to the three chief acts of Jewish
piety —
almsgiving, prayer, and fasting — beginning in today’s passage with
giving to
the poor.

Our Savior warns us against sounding the trumpet
when we give. In His own
context He may be referring to the priestly blowing
of the shofar (a ram’s
horn trumpet) whenever there is a great need in the
community. When this
happened in His day, there was often an ostentatious
display of men closing up
shop and running toward the temple to be the first
ones seen responding to the
call. Trumpet-shaped collection boxes where money
could be deposited to help
the poor were present at the temple in the first
century A.D., and these may
also be the basis for Christ’s analogy in verses
2–4. Coins thrown into these
boxes might make a loud noise, announcing that a
great gift has been given. In
any case, our Lord’s point is quite clear: Do
not give in order to receive
praise from men.

As Matthew Henry notes
in his commentary, Jesus does not teach that it is
always “unlawful to give
alms when men see us.” Sometimes the only way we can
help others is in front
of other people. In keeping with the perfect
righteousness Jesus has
described in Matthew 5, John Chrysostom reminds us
that Christ “is not
focusing simply on the outward act done but the inward
intent” (Homilies on
the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 19.2). Just as under the old
covenant (Deut.
15:11), Jesus assumes we will give to the poor, and this must
be done in
hopes for a reward from God, not from others (Matt. 6:4b). Let us
do all we
can to give our alms, but with the aim of caring so little for the
praise of
men that we are ourselves scarcely aware of our own generosity.

Coram
deo: Living before the face of
God
========================================
Augustine says, “The praise
of others need not even be sought by one who acts
rightly” (Sermon on the
Mount, 2.2.5). Keeping track of our giving is not
inconsistent with the
Lord’s admonition that we do not let our right hand know
what the left one is
doing. Yet we are not to keep track so that we may show
others just how good
we are. As you give your money to the poor, ask yourself
if you desire the
praise of men more than God’s commendation.

For further
study:

Ruth 3

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STANDING STRONG THROUGH THE STORM


FAITHFUL TO THE
END
===================
This calls for patient endurance on the part of
the people of God who keep his
commands and remain faithful to Jesus.
Revelation 14:12

Patient endurance is an oft repeated theme throughout
the New Testament. But
it seems to be one theme we don’t talk about or preach
about much. Yet it is a
constant challenge for members of the persecuted
church.

Since 1975, Bengali pastors in Bangladesh have faced increasing
persecution
for preaching the gospel. Some are beaten, imprisoned or even
killed. As a
result, their wives and children often face isolation. They are
verbally and
physically abused, and they face extraordinary challenge to
remain free from
bitterness.

Pastor Mir wanted to take the gospel to a
place in Bangladesh that had not
heard about Jesus. So he brought his wife
Anjali and their children to a
Muslim community that had never seen a
Christian before. The community thought
that Christians must look different
somehow. Christians seemed so foreign to
them. So they came to see what
Christians looked like and introduced
themselves.

Over the next
several years, people began opening their hearts to the message
of Jesus.
But, not everyone responded so positively. Some in the village
pressured the
Mirs to leave. Nonetheless, they stood strong in their faith.
Then one night,
Anjali heard a loud noise. Someone was shot. Her husband had
been walking to
the market when two men caught him, shot him in the mouth and
he fell on the
ground. Then they took a dagger and stabbed him in the critical
points of his
body.

After a long while, Mrs. Mir heard that the man who had been shot
was her
husband. Though she longed to go to him, she knew her two small
children
required her care. So she could not leave her home. She was
thinking, He’s
going to die, and I have two boys. What am I going to do? How
am I going to
raise my two boys?

When Pastor Mir told onlookers he was
dying, some fellow believers defied the
threat of his attackers, and took him
to a hospital. Miraculously, he
survived. After years of extensive medical
treatment, he is preaching again,
but his injuries continue to plague him.
His wife still worries over her
children’s safety—and faces the challenge of
helping them understand why their
father was attacked.

Despite
persecution, Pastor and Mrs. Mir are committed to staying in their
village
for the sake of their new Christian brothers and sisters. Anjali says,
“If we
leave, then there will be no church and the people who have just put
their
faith in Jesus, may fall away.”

The real cry of their heart is wanting to
be faithful to Jesus to the end.

RESPONSE: Today I will keep Jesus’
commands and practice patient endurance.

PRAYER: Ask God to enable
workers in areas of persecution to endure patiently
the challenges they face
for the sake of Jesus and His church.

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STANDING STRONG THROUGH THE STORM


TEARS OF
SUFFERING
==================
Record my misery; list my tears on your
scroll—are they not in your record?
Psalm 56:8

Somewhere in this world a persecuted Christian might be crying right at this
moment. It might seem
that their tears are in vain and simply drop to the
ground. But ages ago King
David was convinced that God was interested in his
tears. In the passage
noted above, alternate translations for listing tears on
a “scroll” include
putting tears in a “bottle” or “wineskin.”

Today in the Middle East it is
not uncommon to see a collection of
oddly-shaped bottles, labeled only as
“sprinklers.” But in ancient Middle
Eastern times these bottles were known as
“tear-catchers.” When a husband went
off to war, his wife would collect her
tears for him in a bottle. On his
return she would hand him the bottle as
proof of her love. In times of death
or serious trouble, family members would
bring their tear-catchers and collect
tears from all the people present.
Sometimes the tears would be stored in a
small round jar with a lid. These
tear bottles represented the sorrows of the
family; tears serving as a
message in a bottle. In those days each person was
buried with his or her
tear bottle; archaeologists have found many of these
bottles in ancient
tombs.

In the days of King David of Israel the bottle was more likely
made of animal
skin. David was a man who went through a lot of suffering and
persecution.
David had no doubts: his tears were not shed in vain, but were
collected by
God. The words in Psalm 56 could also be those of our persecuted
brothers and
sisters. They serve as a reminder for us to “treasure” their
tears.

The words of David are still true today. People try to trample on
our brothers
and sisters; want to harm them; spy on their movements. David
put his trust
clearly in the Lord. In verses 3 and 4 he says, “When I am
afraid, I put my
trust in you. In God, whose word I praise—in God I trust and
am not afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

Watching the moving
DVD documentary, A Cry from Iran, you will be brought to
tears as you see and
hear the story of Iranian Pastor Haik who was martyred
for his faith in the
mid-1990’s. He worked tirelessly for the release from
prison of Christian
brother Mehdi Dibaj who was sentenced to death for
apostasy. Miraculously
Mehdi was released. At Pastor Haik’s funeral, a
teary-eyed Mehdi Dibaj said,
“I was the one who should have died, not Haik.”
Six months later he too was
martyred.

Recently our office for the Middle East received an Iranian
“tear-catcher” as
a present. The bottle helps us to remember the tears of the
Iranian
Christians, but with them all of the Christians around the world who
are being
persecuted. It speaks about grief, about tears, about suffering;
but also
about faith and confidence in the Lord.

Let us remember their
tears, knowing that as one member suffers, all members
suffer. And let us
rejoice that someday God will wipe away all tears from
their eyes and our
eyes.

RESPONSE: Today I will remember those of my extended Christian
family around
the world who are suffering and shedding tears.

PRAYER:
Pray for persecuted church believers today who may be shedding
sorrowful
tears of grief.

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STANDING STRONG THROUGH THE STORM


LIVING CHRIST IN THE
FAMILY
===========================
All your sons will be taught by the
Lord, and great will be your children’s
peace. Isaiah 54:13

A frail
old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and
four-year-old
grandson. The old man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was
blurred, and his step
faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the
elderly grandfather’s
shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult.
Peas rolled off his spoon
onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk
spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated
with the mess. “We must do
something about Grandfather,” said the son. “I’ve
had enough of his spilled
milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.” So the
husband and wife set a
small table in the corner. There, Grandfather ate
alone while the rest of the
family enjoyed dinner.

Since Grandfather
had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden
bowl. When the
family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a
tear in his eye
as he sat alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him
were sharp
admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food.

The four-year-old
watched it all in silence. One evening before supper, the
father noticed his
son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the
child sweetly, “What
are you making?”

Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a
little bowl for you and
Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.” The
four-year-old smiled and went
back to work.

The words so struck the
parents that they were speechless. Then tears started
to stream down their
cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be
done.

That
evening, the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to
the
family table. For the remainder of his days he ate every meal with
the
family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care
any
longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth
soiled.

Children are remarkably perceptive. Their eyes ever observe,
their ears ever
listen, and their minds ever process the messages they
absorb. If they see us
patiently provide a happy, godly home atmosphere, they
will imitate that
attitude for the rest of their lives.

The wise
parent realizes that every day the building blocks are being laid for
their
children’s future.

RESPONSE: Today I will purpose to live a life that
exemplifies to everyone the
love of Jesus…especially in my
home.

PRAYER: Help me, Lord, to be a positive Christ-like impact on
members of the
younger generation.

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STANDING STRONG THROUGH THE STORM


STANDING STRONG THROUGH THE STORM

SUFFERING BRINGS A GREATER HARVEST OF
SOULS
===========================================
On that day a great
persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and
all except the
apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria…Those who
had been
scattered preached the word wherever they went. Acts 8:1, 4

Again and
again we see that in many countries, right before persecution comes,
the
church grows rapidly. This happened in northern Korea one hundred years
ago
just before the Japanese occupation and persecution.

It is helpful to
remember this theme from the book of Acts: persecution does
not necessarily
cause church growth but church growth appears to
cause
persecution!

Church leaders among the many house church networks
in China (the fastest
growing church in the world) repeatedly share that
suffering for Jesus often
brings about a greater harvest of
souls.

Sariman was a young student preparing himself to serve the Lord
among the
thirty million Sundanese of Indonesia, the largest unreached people
group in
the world. During a violent attack on the Bible school, Sariman was
killed and
many other students were wounded. Sariman bravely assisted his
friends
although he could have saved himself. Before his death he was
tortured and
other students testified how Sariman was slaughtered. He was hit
with a bar of
wood and iron, then hacked, stabbed and his mouth was cut from
the left cheek
to the right cheek.

Upon hearing yet another testimony
of martyrdom, many questions arise. “Why
this tragedy, Lord? How long will
you allow this to continue? This is such a
terrible loss for this wonderful
ministry. What is the sense in all of this?”

Then the dean of the Bible
school completes the testimony and indirectly
answers our questions: “The
victory in this tragedy is that only ten days
after the murder of Sariman we
had ten new applicants to study at the Bible
school. Today, six months after
the incident, we have ninety-eight new
students who are willing to go where
Sariman would have gone. The blood of the
martyrs is indeed
seed.”

Paul clearly warns the Church in Galatia (Galatians 5:1) to stand
firm in the
midst of freedom. Freedom is not a time to relax. Freedom often
creates a new
kind of slavery. There is a price tag attached to freedom and
we need to count
the cost. It is time to open our hearts to the valuable
lessons that we can
learn from those that follow Christ in restricted
countries—even to their
death.

RESPONSE: Today I will accept the
biblical teaching and the many church growth
examples that suffering often
brings about a greater harvest of souls.

PRAYER: Lord, we pray today for
Your fast-growing suffering churches around
the world. May they be encouraged
as they see many more souls added to Your
kingdom.

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STANDING STRONG THROUGH THE STORM


STANDING STRONG THROUGH THE STORM

SUFFERING CAN MAKE OUR LIVES MORE
HOLY
======================================
Our fathers disciplined us for
a little while as they thought best; but God
disciplines us for our good,
that we may share in his holiness. Hebrews 12:10

Christmas is a time of
peace and joy for those who are fortunate enough to
celebrate the birth of
their Saviour in freedom. For Marko and his two fellow
believers it was the fifteenth Christmas that they had to celebrate behind the
bars of a prison
cell in a Muslim country.

The next day some colleagues felt they had to
visit Marko and his friends as
an encouragement and confirm to them once
again the love of Immanuel—God with
us.

Even though they often heard
the saying that a prison cell in the Middle East
is the closest to hell that
you will experience on earth, nothing prepared
them for the sense of
hopelessness that they experienced in that waiting room
of despair.

As
the prisoners entered, it was not difficult to recognize Marko and his
two
friends. Beaming eyes and smiling faces immediately assured them Marko
and
friends knew they had not been separated from the love of
God.

Tears flowed freely as they shared how lonely they were on Christmas
day and
how joyful they were to know that they were not forgotten.

“It
was so difficult yesterday.” Marko spoke softly. “Apart from being
Christian
prisoners in a Muslim prison, it was also a fast day of Ramadan. We
were not
allowed out of our cells and we were not allowed to talk to
anyone.
Fortunately, a week ago the three of us got hold of pieces of a cake
and we
hid them underneath our cushions especially for Christmas day.
Yesterday, when
the fast was broken, we simply walked to one another, held
the slices of cake
together and said “Merry Christmas!”

The visiting
hour flew past and soon it was time to say goodbye. Before being
marched back
to his prison cell, we looked at Marko and asked him a final
question. “What
are you going to do when you get to your cell and are once
again all
alone?

Marko smiled and answered, “I will simply spread the wings of my
spirit and
fly to Jesus.”

RESPONSE: Today I will seek to understand
the biblical principle that
suffering makes our lives more
holy.

PRAYER: Lord, help me, like Marko, to keep my eyes fixed on You
regardless of
my circumstances.

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STANDING STRONG THROUGH THE STORM


STANDING STRONG THROUGH THE STORM

SUFFERING BURNS AWAY
PRIDE
==========================
To keep me from becoming conceited
because of these surpassingly great
revelations, there was given me a thorn
in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to
torment me. Three times I pleaded with
the Lord to take it away from me. But
he said to me, “My grace is sufficient
for you, for my power is made perfect
in weakness.” Therefore I will boast
all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on
me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I
delight in weaknesses, in insults, in
hardships, in persecutions, in
difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am
strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Suffering burns away pride, as it did in
Paul’s life. When Paul prayed three
times for the removal of his “thorn in
the flesh,” he saw that it was God’s
will for him, and he accepted
it.

Many Christians are defeated at this point because they are not sure that they
are in the will of God, so they are not sure if the suffering is
really His
will for them. Without going aside into a Bible study on knowing
the will of
God, we can just present this thought. Our great God “works for
the good of
those who love him…” (Romans 8:28). If we consciously submit to
His will, He
will give His divine direction. Our suffering and persecution
can be placed in
His hands by a simple act of our will. No believer needs to
suffer alone and
in doubt. Commit it all to the Lord (Proverbs
16:3).

In an unscheduled visit to Lat Village in Vietnam, a co-worker had
the joy of
visiting Father Tranh, the leader of the local church. Realizing
the isolation
and loneliness of this leader the group with our co-worker
immediately asked
how they could pray for him.

Not having an abundance
of fellowship, he started sharing his hardships and
needs. He confirmed the
persecution and discrimination against the tribal
people as already expressed
by all the leaders they had met in Saigon. He
shared the hardship of
ministering to his people and the difficulties of
restriction both by the
police as well as the dense forest that limited his
movements.

Father
Thanh had 6,000 members in his congregation and found it an
overwhelming task
to be the only leader. “How do you do it brother?” the group
asked. “How many
people assist you in this enormous task?”

“I am only me!” he responded
and immediately went on to conclude his answer,
“but even though I am
limited, the Holy Spirit is unlimited.”

RESPONSE: Today I will recognize
that God may send suffering into my life to
burn away my
pride.

PRAYER: Pray for suffering church leaders around the world
today—especially
Father Thanh.

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