It seems that no matter how long a loved one lives we are seldom ready to say goodbye to them. Even when someone close to us has lived his “three score and ten”, when he passes away we always wish we had a bit more time with them. We want one more long talk, one more cup of coffee, to hear “I love you” one more time, to hear one more word of wisdom or guidance or to ask one more question. After they are gone we ask, “Why did never ask him about that?” But it is too late. It doesn’t matter how old the person is, we never seem to have enough time.
When a person is taken “before their time” we especially feel robbed. But even when a person has lived so long that they are on “borrowed time,” as the saying goes, we still feel like there were things left unsaid and undone. Does a person ever really feel “closure”? There is a certain phenomenon that takes place when life progresses at a natural pace: Time quickens the closer to the end. “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Even though we always knew of the inevitability of death we are rarely prepared to deal with it when it finally arrives. Indeed, knowledge is not the same thing as preparedness.
There came a time when Paul had to say goodbye to a group of loved ones. He would never see them again and their parting was sorrowful (Acts 20:37-38). Yet Paul could confidently say, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Paul made sure he told his friends everything they needed to know. Everything was on the table.
What about you? Maybe there are things that have been left unsaid to someone close to you for far too long. There will be a last time you speak with that person. Have you told them you love them? Have you shared the gospel with them? Have you apologized for past wrongs? If not, I can almost guarantee you will regret not having done so.
Don’t let any more time pass before saying what needs to be said or doing what needs to be done. “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” (Jas. 4:14)
We give thanks, for your name is near.
We recount your wonderous deeds.”
Psalm 75 is a prayer of the magnificent joy found in recounting God’s great reversals, in God “putting down one and lifting up another” (Psa. 75:7). Our God is one who turns the tables (Lk. 16:19-31). He has made a pattern of exalting the humble and humbling the proud (Jas. 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5; cf. Obad. 1:3-4). God’s wondrous works of reversal are famously echoed in the songs of Hannah (1 Sam. 2) and Mary (Lk. 1:46-55).
Our “thanks” are prompted by remembering and then recounting the great works of God. We are to re-tell the story of His “wonderous deeds”:
“We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.” (Psa. 78:4; cf. Deut. 31:10-13)
In fact, Israel was to re-tell the story of God’s deliverance publicly every seven years (Deut. 31:10-13) on top of their daily routine (Deut. 6:4-9). This recounting of God’s wonderous deeds still remains an integral part of our worship today. Christians today re-tell the story of God’s deliverance over the Lord’s Supper every seven days (1 Cor. 11:23-26).
It is when we recount God’s story of redemption that God’s “name is near” (Psa. 75:1). The literal rendering of Psalm 75:1b is, “your name is near, your wonderous deeds declare (it).” It is through these mighty deeds that God declares His name (cf. Ex. 9:16). But what is meant by God’s “name” and in when is His name “near”?
God’s “name” stands for all He is. When God revealed Himself to Moses on Mount Sinai He said of Himself, “Yahweh (The LORD) passed before him and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahewh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.”” (Ex. 34:6-7, cf. v.14)
God’s “name” is an invitation to all who call upon Him. Peter preached from the prophet Joel, saying, “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
God’s name is brought “near” in all His acts. Whenever God acted to turn the tables, His name was being brought near to His people. But amazingly, His name was brought right down among us in Christ! Jesus prayed to the Father, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (Jn. 17:6) “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (Jn. 17:26)
The most “wondrous deed” God showed us was the sacrifice of His Son on the cross for all of humanity, therefore Christ’s coming was the clearest manifestation of God’s name and never has His name come nearer to us!
When we read of Jesus leaving heaven to dwell among us (Jn. 1:14), the unseen Father was finally “made known” to us (Jn. 1:18; cf. Heb. 1:3). Nowhere is God’s “name” (His power, character, grace, deliverance, etc.) nearer to us than in Christ the Son.
He is near to all who call on Him in truth.
“The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.” (Psa. 145:18)
He is near to the brokenhearted and crushed in spirit.
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted
and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psa. 34:18)
He is near to all those who fear Him
“Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.” (Psa. 85:9)
When something is “near,” it is close in distance, not far away. To be “near,” is to be close in relation, available. When someone is “near,” they are close in involvement, not idle. God’s nearness, in all its aspects, is found in Christ the Lord.
When you are hurting, discouraged and weak you may feel like God is distant, aloof and idle. But God sent His Son to walk through the valley of the shadow of death with you so that He could know your suffering, partake in it and personalize it (1 Pet. 2:21; Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16). Jesus is the Father’s final revelation to us that His name is near.
Perhaps you need to pray today, “Nearer my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee.” After all, wasn’t it He who promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5) and “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you?” (Jas. 4:8) Thank God for His nearness!
“It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
A Tale of Two Cities, (1859)
Charles Dickens penned those words in 1859 about London and France before the bloody French Revolution began in 1789. Despite being separated from those “times” by 70 years, Dickens saw how closely his present resembled the past. Even today, after more than a century after Dickens, those “times” could accurately describe our “times.”
In fact, this tale of two cities is something of a theme in the Bible. Isaiah prophesied universal judgment and salvation by telling a tale of two cities which represent all of humanity. “The lofty city” (Isa. 26:5; 24:4), the symbol of rebellious humanity and all those who trust in and exalt themselves above God, is destined for ruin (Isa. 24:6, 10, 12; 25:2, 5). But this proud city will be replaced by a righteous city in which the Lord reigns (Isa. 24:23; 26:1-2). Isaiah’s message was one of God overthrowing the present world order enslaved to sin to establish His eternal kingdom of righteousness. Jesus was the one who established that kingdom!
Fast-forward to the book of Revelation and John picks up the metaphoric language of the two cities: Babylon the Great (Rev. 17) and the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21-22). Our debates over whether Babylon represents Jerusalem or Rome in the book of Revelation may cause us to miss the point of the book. Like Dickens said, the period described in Revelation of these two cities is “so far like the present period.”
This is not to discount Revelation’s historical context. The original audience of John’s vision endured intense persecution because of their faith. They needed to know that the Lord was aware of their struggles and would act very soon to vindicate them. John was writing about “things that must soon take place” (Rev. 1:1) not events in the distant future. That being said, our time is looking more and more like the 1st century. We would do well to heed Revelation’s hopeful message today.
The New Jerusalem still stands, unshaken and strong as ever and we are citizens of that great city (Heb. 11:10; 12:18-29). We have our own modern Babylon, though she has yet to start drinking the blood of the saints. Satan is still active in the affairs of men (Eph. 2:1). Though his strength wanes and Jesus has all authority (Mt. 28:18-20) a desperate and hungry lion may fight more fiercely (1 Pet. 5:8).
The harlot holds power today just as she did in the 1st century. She has the loyalty of the kingdoms of men because they grow fat and wealthy because of her. Our “Christian nation” is becoming increasingly anti-Christian. Sometimes noticing the harlot’s impact in our society may cause those loyal to the Lamb to despair. But therein lies the ever relevant power of John’s message.
But why should we fear? What reason have we to despair when God has conquered every enemy that ever attempted to stand against Him, even death itself!? Who is Babylon? Babylon, which seemed so great in Nebuchadnezzar’s day, fell at the hands “the Most High” who “rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Dan. 4:25).
What of Assyria? Though powerful in her day, that proud nation was devoured by fire after she served her divine purpose (Isa. 10:5, 12-19). Egypt stood up to the Lord and enslaved His people for 400 years and was drowned in water for it (Ex. 14). Even Jerusalem, after her spiritual corruption, was destroyed a number of times until being finally dealt with in AD 70. And Rome, the tool used to destroy Jerusalem, also fell. Why should any modern Babylon be any different?
Though the evil of the world appears to prevail, be certain that in the Lord’s time we will hear, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!” Every kingdom that can be shaken will be shaken. And like a beautiful bride coming down from heaven, the New Jerusalem will forever stand, tall and proud in all her glory with Christ in her midst shining bright as the sun.
In many ways Dickens had it right. The present will always be a tale of two cities; one opposing the purposes of God under the control of Satan and the other, that heavenly city not made with hands, comprised of faithful followers of the Lord, is destined for glory. Babylons come and go but the New Jerusalem will stand eternal. The question is, which city will you be living in when that voice like many waters shouts and shakes not only the earth but also the heavens? God gives us that choice.
“Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
Gracious speech is both palatable and pragmatic, easy to swallow and good to follow. Because of the source of our speech (Mt. 15:18), our choice of words have an eternal impact on our soul’s destiny as Jesus and others have made abundantly clear (Mt. 12:33-37; Jas. 3:1-12). The tone and tact of our speech is just as important as the words themselves (Col. 4:6). Timing could make all the difference. After all, the only difference between a fresh salad and a pile of slimy garbage is time. But “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Prov. 25:11). So let us choose to speak pleasant words, easy to swallow and good to follow.
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Imagine you’re new to the area and looking for a local congregation to work and worship with. You might be looking for that “perfect” church.
You know the one. The church with lots of young families and children running around. The church with lots of veteran Christians who are eager to share their wisdom. The church with a solid eldership that is approachable and leads by example. The church where each member is evangelistically minded and studies together every week. The church with teaching of the highest caliber, where the preacher never has an off day, not to mention his flawless understanding of Scripture. His sermons are always relevant, touching, personable, applicable, etc. It’s just swell! It’s the perfect church!
If you ever find that “perfect” church (or at least your version of it), could I offer you some loving advice? DON’T JOIN THAT CHURCH! Really, don’t. Because you will undoubtedly ruin it! Don’t be offended, it’s not just you. If I joined the “perfect” church I would ruin it too!
You see, the “perfect” church doesn’t exist on earth. Every local church is made up of people: people with a unique past, with personal problems, character deficiencies, imperfect marriages, imperfect parental strategies, varying levels of faith, understanding and maturity, etc. Then consider the fact that each congregation is made up of many members creating a web of complexity. A local church is never "perfect." However, the Lord's universal church will be perfected only when Jesus returns (1 Cor. 15:24, 50ff; Eph. 5:27; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1ff). Consider these three fundamental things about the local church:
Our entrance and continued existence as part of God’s family is not based on our perfection but upon God’s gracious forgiveness (Eph. 2:4-9; Col. 2:13). For the local congregation to function in the way God intends we must forgive each other as God in Christ forgave us (Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13). Forgiveness is the bedrock our relationship with God and each other.
Just because God has forgiven us doesn’t mean we all suddenly behave exactly like Jesus after our baptism. Faith is organic, it grows over time (Mt. 17:20). At any given time in any given local congregation there are members at different stages in their lives (1 Jn. 2:12-14) with differing degrees of faith (Rom. 14:1ff). We are not to tolerate sinful behavior but to walk worthy of our calling we must tolerate our differences and be patient with one another as we grow into maturity together (Eph. 4:1-3, 13-16).
Even though we are all sons of God and one in Christ (Gal. 3:25-29), our equal standing with God is not sameness. Our diverse talents, abilities and experiences all serve to help a local church grow (1 Cor. 12:4ff; Rom. 12:3-8). In one way, our diversity brings unique challenges and problems but in another way, our diversity also brings unique strengths and abilities.
So don’t go looking for the non-existent “perfect” local church. Instead, let’s work in faith to maturity now and let the Lord perfect us in His time.