Christ our Glory

The last two weeks have been extremely trying. The normal lives we thought we had, along with the comfort and ease, was cruelly crushed beyond recognition. This is particularly true to those in the Western world.

Yet, it may be at this time that the eyes of all true believers needs to be turned away from the cares of the world and refocused on Jesus Christ, who alone is the Author and Finisher of our faith. He is our glory and we, the Bride, are His.

Sovereign Grace Music has another hymn entitled “Christ Our Glory” that I have never heard until the last month or so. These words resonate in light of what we are currently experiencing.

“Our rest is in heaven, our rest is not here
Then why should we tremble when trials draw near?
Be still and remember the worst that can come
But shortens our journey and hastens us home!”

“No hours should be wasted on seeking our joy
And placing our hope in what will be destroyed
We look for a city that hands have not raised
We long for a country that sin has not stained!”

Worse Than Covid-19

Before you read any further, stop and take note of the time.

Write it down if you have to in order to remember. It is important because the next week is going to change the lives of millions.

1,209,600

This is the approximate number of people who will die from something worse than Covid-19. The coronavirus has nothing on this disease. There is no human cure or government intervention that can change what is going to happen. Not one single medical mega-corporation will ever find a cure to this deadly disease.

In fact, the number above is a close representation of the number of people who died since this exact time last week and the week before.

The Spanish Flu took the lives of approximately 50 million people in the three years between January 1918 and December 1920.

This disease I speak of is even worse.

The Black Plague or Bubonic Plague that ravaged the world from 1347-1351 took the estimated lives of 25-200 million.

But the disease I speak of is even worse.

If you had paid close attention to the news, you would still have missed the reality that in the last eight weeks, almost 10 MILLION people have died around the world. This is more than the population of New York City, New York. It is more than the population of Mexico City, Mexico. Actually, the approximate number of people who have died from this disease is the same as the population of Seoul, South Korea.

From March 17, 2020 until March 17, 2021, approximately 63 MILLION people will die from this ancient disease.

That is the combined population of: Tokyo, Japan; Jakarta, Indonesia; Beijing, China; New York City, New York; and Sao Paulo, Brazil!

Here is the worst news anybody in the world could ever read. Forget all of the statistics. This disease has a 100% mortality rate to anybody who contracts it. The news channels, magazines, government organizations, and not even the United Nations wants to talk about this because it is so scary.

Tragically, the news DOES get worse.

Everybody in the world has the disease and there is NOTHING that can be done about it from a human perspective. My friend, you have the disease in your body and you may not even know it. However, it is not a respecter of persons. I have it on perfect authority that you and I WILL die from this disease, although we do not know when death will visit us.

The symptoms are horrible and at the heart of each symptom is the brutal reality that the underlying issues are too blatant, gross, and vulgar to even print. The symptoms of this disease grow worse with each passing day, but are so subtle at times that the overwhelming majority of the world will never stop to think about what is happening in their body.

The disease I am speaking of is SIN.

Sin is a curse that has come upon all of mankind through the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Regardless of what modern psychology, humanistic philosophies, or even government mandates may try to dictate, they cannot stop the 100% mortality rate from taking place.

The effects of sin are evident all around for those with eyes to see. What seems like tragedies, illnesses, terrorist activities, natural disasters, and rampant disease are all the result of sin entering the world.

Further, because the disease of sin has entered the world, there is an even greater problem. Man has been separated from a holy God. God cannot bear to look upon sin and yet, man thinks he can become like God. This is the lie that has been the longest in existence and it comes from Satan.

Satan blinds the eyes of men, women, and children around the world. He does not want them to see the wonder of who God is. He does not want them to hear the good news that there is but one escape from this dreadful disease that has killed more people than all the wars and plagues to ever befall mankind.

Satan wants people to think that they can believe what they want, do what they want, live how they want, and then eventually die with no fear of eternity.

The Bible is clear though that there is a time that is appointed for ALL to die, and after death will come the judgment.

YOU CANNOT ESCAPE! The ravages of this death stare at you every day in your bathroom mirror, but you are ignoring them. Yet, they will not go away. Your flesh will decay until your body becomes dust in the grave.

But, there is a beacon of hope. It does not require hoarding toilet paper or food supplies. It does not require that you self-quarantine yourself in your home and hope for a better day.

The ONLY beacon of hope that you can escape is found in Jesus Christ ALONE. The Bible says ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Further, it proclaims that the wages of your sin is death.

Tired of the bad news, then hearken to the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Do you realize what this means?

For those who place their faith in Christ alone and plead to God for mercy, He will not reject them. He will grant forgiveness to those who ask for their sins to be forgiven. His love will and does extend to all who realize that Christ is the only escape.

John 3:16, 17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

The ravages and effects of your sin will still end your life one day. It may not be this month, this year, or even this decade. But death is still coming and it comes to all.

However, for those who become true believers in Jesus Christ have the promise that there is NOTHING to fear when death comes. We will pass from this life into eternity where we will forever be with the Lord.

If your name has been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, then rejoice in this truth.

Romans 8:1 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Today is the day of salvation though. Tomorrow may be too late. Over the next week, another 1,209,600 people will pass from this life into eternity and you may be one of that number. The results for those without Christ will be far worse than Covid-19, the black plague, or anything found in a chemical warfare lab.

Come to Christ while there is still time. Do not worry about the effects of Covid-19 if you have a right relationship with God.

If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, then rejoice and lift up your eyes for our redemption draws near. Our Lord is, has been, and always will be sovereign and in control of this world. If we get sick, or grow old, or die in an accident, death has been swallowed up in victory because Jesus Christ died, was buried, and rose again so that we too can have the eternal hope that we will be raised to newness of life when this life is over.

The Fragrance of Suffering

Behind a Frowning Providence, He Hides a Smiling Face

“Ministers never write or preach so well, as when under the cross.”

– George Whitfield

I don’t know why, but I’ve always gravitated toward those who’ve endured suffering—far and above those whose lives are generally considered perfect.

Whenever I’m in the presence of anyone who’s been forever altered by a life of suffering, I am inexplicably drawn to them. They are beautiful and they possess a depth to their souls that causes them to stand out in the midst of everyone around them—a depth that only profound suffering can produce. Even more precious to me among those who’ve suffered, are those who understand that their suffering wasn’t for nothing, but was for a greater purpose.

In William Cowper’s hymn, God Moves in a Mysterious Way, he penned this verse:

“Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace; behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.”

A fragrance of suffering permeates those who’ve experienced great pain, loss, and trials, and is far more attractive than that of those whose lives have been defined by happy, clappy superficiality (and this is especially true when it comes to those who occupy pulpits).

Continue reading here.

And Can It Be?

The words of this hymn always stir my mind and heart. It is one of the hymns that I chose a long time ago to have played at my funeral when it comes for me to enter into eternity. While I will no longer care about this mortal flesh, this hymn of praise is my testimony.

Amazing love, how can it be?

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!

No condemnation now I dread,

Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!

The Man in Romans 7

The Man in Romans 7

In order to rightly understand what Paul taught in the latter part of Romans 7, we need to understand how he described two groups of people earlier in this epistle.

In Rom 3 & 4, Paul is teaching his kinsmen of the flesh why being Jewish is not enough, how children of promise are true Jews. In Rom 5:1-5 he is teaching – again – how those Jewish Christians were reconciled to God: righteous in faith, rejoicing in Christ and our afflictions, grounded in love, and possessed by the Holy Spirit.

In what follows in chapter 5 is an ongoing contrast between unconverted Jews and converted Jews, with an abbreviated history of sin – contrasting the first and last Adams. Throughout this chapter, the redeemed are described as righteous, justified, full of grace, saved from wrath, reconciled to God, having eternal life. The unconverted are described as helpless, ungodly, enemies of God, dead in sin, under judgment, condemned. Quite a difference – worth noting.

Chapter 6 is a continuation of Paul’s argument from the previous chapters, where he encourages the redeemed Jews (this is still his primary audience) are exhorted to walk in grace, not sin. These people are called dead to sin, joined with Christ, crucified with Christ, free from sin, alive to God, under grace, slaves of obedience and righteousness. He tells them – and us – not to let sin reign in our mortal bodies, for, he says, “sin will not rule over you because you are not under law but under grace.” (vs 14) We have new fruit resulting in sanctification and eternal life; we have a new master, grace – no longer slaves to master sin.

The unconverted man in Romans 6 has everything in common with his counterpart in chapter 5; he is in bondage and domination of sin, a slave to sin, ruled by death, obedient to sin, unrighteous, and ruled by sin; under law. This man is obedient to sin, under law not grace, a slave to sin – leading to death, weak in the flesh, morally impure, lawless, producing the fruit of death. Sin is his master, not grace.

The contrast between the unconverted sinner and the redeemed sinner is striking and it’s consistent: the one man is fleshly and full of sin, under the law and breaking the law; the other man is full of the Holy Spirit, rejoicing in all things, dead to sin and the law, producing good fruit unto eternal life.

A couple of observations: contextually, Paul has been describing his kinsmen of the flesh. The man in Romans 7 is a Jew, even though all people can identify with the spiritual struggle portrayed. The pious Jew  would see God’s law, instructions, Scriptures as good and holy even while he would be unable to comply with them.

When we then read about the man in Romans 7:13-24, who does he sound like? Let’s look at a list:

vs 13: dead, sinful

vs 14: of flesh, sold into sin’s power

vs 15 & 16: double minded

vs 17: full of sin

vs 18: no ability to do good

vs 19 -21: captive to evil

vs 22: he agrees, he knows the law of God is good

vs 23: he is a prisoner of sin

vs 24: he is a wretched man

While you and I see some of our Christian life in what Paul wrote about in this passage, it’s clear that this man has nothing in common with the redeemed man Paul described in chapter 5 & 6; but he has everything in common with the unconverted man in those chapters.  The context of the epistle indicates Paul is describing a Jew, not a Gentile, and a Jew that is struggling under a law he knows is good but without the ability to obey from the heart and produce good fruit unto eternal life. The man in Romans 7 does not have the Holy Spirit, but he is of the flesh, captive to evil, a slave to sin, producing fruit unto death.

The change to present tense does not mandate the view that Paul has changed course and began talking about himself as a Christian. It may very well be nothing more than a literary device to make the plight of the man all the more gripping. He is in a very dangerous condition! Present tense does not mandate the view that this man is Paul as a Christian. The description of the man and the larger context of the epistle provide a more sure guide to interpret this passage.

As with all Scripture, we learn from this passage. But we have no more reason to insert ourselves into this passage than we do with Jeremiah 29:11.

Death of A Missionary

EDITED – If you are interested in helping this family, a GoFundMe account has been set up. Click HERE.

When we departed for Liberia, West Africa in 2012, we had an understanding of the risks. Our family was moving to an area that was 3-hour drive from any other missionaries. We would be living in an old mission house that sat on a hill that was considered to the “Devil’s Hill” due to wicked practices that took place before the first missionaries arrived. Nobody else would live on the hill and many of the villagers would avoid it, especially at night.

To make matters worse, we lived in the heart of what had been rebel-held territory during a very brutal 14-year civil war. The war claimed the lives of approximately 10% of the population of Liberia. The ramifications of that war, which ended around 2004, are still being felt today. Violence and vulgarity were constant reminders of what surrounded us, and ex-rebel soldiers surrounded us on every trip into town.

Our plan involved spending 4-5 years in the jungle training pastors and starting churches. However, that was cut short when one of my 6 year old daughters and I became deathly ill. There were nights that we thought she would not make it until morning and times like that really make you consider your priorities. A few days later, I spent my first night in a mission clinic being tended to in highly unsanitary conditions. As my fever and delirium grew, I would learn later that another pastor had entered the clinic the same day with the same symptoms. Three days later his wife and family buried him.

Less than three months later, I was diagnosed a second time with a completely different strain of both typhoid and malaria. Much of the time is but a dark cloud over my mind, but I remember the times of pain. The chief physician at the Firestone Plantation hospital informed me that my immune system was shot and I needed to get out of the country. If I did not, my next time would probably be my last.

Heartbroken, we began to make the arrangements to return to the USA. I was leaving behind what I loved, but I still could not help but wonder why I had lived when others had died.

The following year, a severe epidemic of Ebola broke out in the area of villages where we lived and thousands died. During that epidemic, I lost some pastor friends and their wives to the disease.

Since then, I continue to keep my finger on the pulse of the missions world, and the news that I read yesterday brought some painful memories to my mind.

The day started with an email from one of the brothers I trained in Liberia. We had been praying for God’s will to be done in regards to the health of Pastor Harrison Margai. He was the pastor of a brand new church that had been planted in an unreached village. The email informed me that this man had closed his eyes in death and left a wife and children.

Later that day, I read the news of what took place with another missionary in Cameroon, West Africa.

Charles Wesco, a Baptist missionary from Indiana, had surrendered his life to serve the Lord. In particular, he and his wife believed they had been called to minister in the country of Cameroon. After raising funds, they departed just over 2 weeks ago and began the process of settling into their new home with their eight young children.

Yesterday, another missionary was taking this man into town for some supplies. A situation erupted between a separatist faction and Cameroonian soldiers. In the crossfire, a “stray” bullet crashed through a car window and entered the head of Charles Wesco.

In a matter of minutes, this man who loved the Lord went out into eternity. Immediately, the news erupted along with the comments. I read several that were hateful, but some extended sympathy. I finally had to stop as the comments began to infuriate me.

The bottom line is not that this man gave his life needlessly. The bottom line is that God is and always will be sovereign. For reasons that may never be understood, this brother in Christ never planted a church, nor saw a Bible Training institute started in Cameroon. This family is devastated as they face a new life. Soon, they will return back to the US and will try to pick up the pieces. Questions will be asked, and many will never be answered.

Today, many hearts are breaking and while I have connections with others who knew this family, I did not ever have the privilege of meeting them myself. However, I know that one day I will, but before that day comes, this brother has already gone to his reward. He was welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We could ask, why, why, why, but it would do no good. There is nothing wrong with seeking the face of God and asking Him for understanding. Where we tend to go wrong though is when we want to question His sovereign purposes. We cannot find fault with the Almighty, but we can learn to trust in His grace and mercy.

In a village close to where we lived in England, there is a cemetery. In the cemetery, a tombstone tells the brief story of a young pastor who lost his infant son and his wife. In the tragedy, this man had inscribed the following words on the tombstone.

“We cannot Lord, Thy purpose see,
But all is well, that’s done by Thee.”

Through what is a tragedy to human eyes, we pray for strength and extreme comfort to be provided to this dear sister, their eight young children, and extended family, friends, and church members.

For those who know the Lord, the Bible is clear that when we become absent from this body, we are forever present with the Lord. The apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and told them to not only find comfort in these thoughts, but to comfort others as well.

May His will be done and may all find peace through this time of turmoil. Our prayers also go out for the people of Cameroon that they will one day learn of the Prince of Peace, who alone brings salvation.

The Death of Mr. Hof

Dennis Hof is dead. Many people do not know the man, but his life of vulgarity and degradation have destroyed many homes for many years. You see, Dennis Hof ran several houses of prostitution in the state of Nevada. One of the many stunts that the man offered was for veterans returning from war to give him a call. He would extend the red carpet to anybody who wanted to come to one of his businesses and treat them royalty.

In this life, we never know whose life we will touch and almost seven years to the month, this man and I met in September 2011. I was a funeral director working in Carson City, Nevada. I also served as the chaplain for anybody who did not have a minister.

One day, we received a call to collect the remains of a man who had worked on the staff of one of Mr. Hof’s houses of prostitution. The wife came to the funeral home to make the arrangements. In the process, she asked if I knew somebody who could preach the man’s funeral and I told her that I would be willing to do so.

She asked what kind of message I would preach and how I conducted funerals. I told her that I pulled no punches. I said, “Ma’am, I am a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ first. Second, I will not allow anybody to dictate to me what I should or should not preach, even at a funeral. Third, I do not preach anybody into heaven or hell for I do not the condition of their heart. However, I will preach the truth and I always give a gospel message.”

We completed the arrangements and she stood to leave. I could tell something was bothering her and asked if there was anything else I could do.Before she left, she turned to me and said, “I am so glad I came here. There are not many who would be willing to preach my husband’s funeral, and if they would be willing, then they would not preach the truth.”

I thanked her for her time and she left the building. In just a minute though, she came back in.

“Mark, there is something else you need to know. I do not know all that my husband did at Mr. Hof’s business, but you need to know that he and several of his ladies will be at the funeral.”

At the time, I had no clue who Mr. Hof was and it did not matter to me whether he was connected to the prostitution business or not. I told this man’s wife that I would still teach the truth. She thanked me and then left. I would not see her before the funeral.

The owner of the funeral home received a few phone calls and a couple of individuals who came to inform the staff that “Mr. Dennis Hof will be attending the funeral.” The police even came to ensure us that they would be providing additional security.

The day of the funeral arrived and the funeral home chapel was packed. There were people lining every aisle and even into the side rooms listening in. The only exception to the seats being full were six or seven seats across one side at the very front and two very imposing men stood with very dark sunglasses keeping people from taking the seats.

A few minutes after the funeral was supposed to start, I had still not been given the ok to start and the front seats were still empty. A ripple of words began to filter through the assembled crowds and somebody whispered to the man’s wife. She stood and walked up to me. Leaning down she whispered, “Mr. Hof has arrived.”

I nodded that I understood and waited. In a couple of minutes, the main doors opened and 4 or 5 women dressed extremely provacatively pranced down the center of the chapel and found their seats. They were followed by a woman dressed all in black and a large man that I knew must be Mr. Hof. Coming down the center aisle, he stopped to greet several people, shook several hands, and finally took a seat right on the front row.

Looking over at me, he said, “Hey preacher-man, you can get started now.”

Several people chuckled and I knew that the service was not going to get any easier. A tradition in Nevada that is not found everywhere is allowing people to stand and offer their condolences or to share an anecdote of the person’s life. This was scheduled to take place at the very end of the service.

Praying for wisdom, I started the service. The family had selected some songs and one of the man’s daughters read a brief eulogy. When I stood to deliver the message, I knew that what I had to say needed to be said last, so I asked for friends and family to share any thoughts.

Several things that were shared are not printable and perfectly described the debauched life that the deceased must have lived. The brothel madam (Mr. Hof’s other half) stood and gave a raunchy anecdote about the man and then Mr. Hof stood to speak. He wasted no time trying to make everybody laugh and more than a few grew extremely embarrassed at what was shared.

He finally wound down and looked at me with a smirk. “I guess it is time to hear the preacher-man with the few minutes we have left.” Sitting down, he crossed his arms and stared at me.

Standing to my feet, I began.

“Thank you for your attendance today and despite the length of time that has been taken, the wife of the deceased asked me to preach a message. I will share this in its entirety.”

If looks could kill, the entire front row would have been in attendance at a second funeral.

“The Bible tells us clearly in Hebrews 9 that once a person passes away, there is a judgment which will follow.”

Over the next 30 minutes, I followed the pattern of the apostle Paul in preaching to Agrippa in the Book of Acts. God gave me the strength to preach sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment.

On the front row and possibly for the first and only time in his life, Mr. Hof and his ladies heard the truth. They heard that judgment was real and that everyone will face it at the moment of death. However, they also heard that God is merciful to those who call upon Him and repent and turn away from their sins. As I closed, I appealed to each person who was in attendance.

I looked each one of those women and Mr. Hof in the eyes as I scanned the room. In my concluding remarks, I told them that I stood ready to answer any questions they may have, but that they could not walk away and think they could make a mockery of God because ONLY the fool says in his or her heart that there is no God.

As I did in every funeral I preached (a total of 271 over 8 years), I said something like this.

“I do not know where the deceased stood before God. However, if they could return for just one more minute of life, they would implore you to make things right with God. They would tell you that heaven and hell are real. They would tell you to not put off the reality of eternity for all of us will face it the moment we cross from death into the life after.”

Mr. Hof was furious and I honestly wondered if he was going to say anything else or come to the front and accost me in some way.

I gave a final prayer and dismissed everybody. Most ignored me on the way out including most of the women from Mr. Hof’s ranch. However, one of the women stopped as if she was going to say something. Her face was a wreck from tears that ran freely down her face. She turned to walk away as Mr. Hof walked up behind her.

“Ma’am, is there anything I can do for you?”

She turned back and said with sobs, “I heard you speak the truth today, but I am not sure that I can change now. Please pray for me!”

I put out my hand and shook Mr. Hof’s hand. I told him that I would be praying that he would know the truth that I preached. He only glared at me and didn’t say another word to me. He turned on his heel and left just as the wife of the deceased walked up to me and gave me a hug.

“I know Mr. Hof is very angry right now, but I want to tell you that I am so glad you were the one preaching. Thank you for sharing the gospel. My husband was not a believer and things were not good for us the last few years after he took the job. However, I can say that all of these people needed to hear what you said.”

I told her again that I would be praying for them and with that everybody was gone. I have never forgotten the events of that day, nor have I forgotten each person that I personally interacted with that day. A man had gone into eternity and I had been granted the privilege of preaching as a dying man to dying men.

From all the news reports today, Mr. Hof died in the midst of enjoying his sin and his debauched life. Now, he faces the God of all creation and I could not help but wonder if he has ever remembered the words that I preached that day back in 2011.

Sin brings judgment and now he faces judgment alone without any of the women he sought to keep entrapped in a life of destruction. I do not rejoice in the death of this man, but pity those he left behind. I have sorrow for those he has destroyed.

Tomorrow, his family and friends will be making final arrangements for the earthly remains of Mr. Dennis Hof, but eternity has already started for his man.

Here now the Word of the Lord God –

“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” – Ezekiel 18:32

This is still the only message to be preached to unbelievers. TURN AND LIVE!