Monday, September 26, 2016

Singing As He Goes

Russ Ramsey post:  Singing Man:  The Story Behind the Viral Video of Ben Ellis

God has anchored my soul to the firm hope I have in Jesus, and I am praying for more days. Not selfishly, though. The truth is these days are pretty tough. But I thank God each morning for another day of seeing him in me, and showing him to others. I ask for more days to give him glory here on earth, and to show Jesus as best I can to you.
— Ben Ellis, August 20, 2016
On September 7, 2016, 400 high school students from Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, along with their teachers and administrators, loaded into buses and cars and drove two miles to the home of Ben Ellis, a Bible and Latin teacher in the late stages of an aggressive cancer.
The students and faculty poured out of the buses and onto his lawn, and sang worship songs. With his window open, Ben leaned forward into view and sang along. A friend took a short video of Ben and the kids singing, and that video made its way around to a few friends and family until one shared it with country singer Tim McGraw, who posted it on his Facebook page, where the video went viral. At the time of this writing, the video has been viewed more than 32 million times, and has been featured on CNN, “Good Morning America,” Fox NewsThe Telegraph, and other news agencies all around the world.
Shortly before the students came to sing with Ben, he asked God for more days because he wanted as many opportunities as possible to show the love of Jesus through his suffering. As Ben learned of the video’s reach, he wrote in his CaringBridge journal:
Remember my prayer request [for more days] from my post on August 20? God has blown the doors off of this prayer request! This is far beyond our wildest, biggest dreams. I have never felt so weak, but God is strong in me. More days, more glory to him, more people seeing Jesus, more people coming to know Jesus. What an amazing answer to prayer.

Whole-Life Journey

Ben’s cancer came to light just before Christmas last year. He noticed he was having trouble swallowing. His wife, Shelley, a doctor, immediately felt concern about what the tests soon revealed—a tumor was obstructing his esophagus.
I learned about the cancer the same way many of Ben and Shelley’s closest friends did—from Ben himself. He called me to calmly explain he had advanced esophageal cancer, that people with his diagnosis tend to live between six and eighteen months, and that his prayer was to show people a picture of the love of Jesus through both his living and his dying. Then he asked if I would join him in that prayer and mission—which is why I’m writing this article.
When a person is diagnosed with a terminal illness, it can be easy to sentimentalize what’s happening by dressing his suffering in spiritual-sounding platitudes that try to put a sunny spin on an overcast reality.
From the beginning of his bout with cancer, Ben had little use for sentimentality. He didn’t need it because he had something better—hope. Confident hope. The sort of hope that made him a source of strength to his friends who, themselves, were struggling as they grieved the prospect of losing someone they loved. Ben comforted us in our sorrow with a steady hand and an unwavering faith. And Ben trusted God to care for him.
One of the ways Ben sought to show Jesus to others was by allowing people to witness his journey through cancer in real time. He made public his progress and his setbacks. One month after his diagnosis, he wrote:
I must trust [God] with all my heart. It is much easier for me than to begin to try to lean on my own understanding. This cancer thing is beyond understanding. Cancer and its treatment is often called a “journey.” I prefer to think that my whole life is a journey, the perfect one that God planned for me before I took my first breath. This cancer isn’t a new journey; it’s the same one I’ve been on for almost 50 years. This isn’t a detour. It is God’s perfect path. I don’t really understand, but I do trust.
Ben brought us along on this stage of his journey. He told us about what living with cancer was like. He told us how after his diagnosis, the rhythm of his family’s life changed. Days quickly filled with doctor appointments, and schedules began to revolve around them—lots of doctors running lots of tests and mapping out lots of possible approaches.
He told us about chemotherapy and radiation treatments—what they involved and how they felt. I had the honor of driving Ben to some of these appointments and sitting with him while he endured that day’s round of chemo. I was one of many who did this with Ben, and he told each one of us that he loved how the Lord was using his illness to give him time to sit with his friends—people he loved.
He told us about how he missed eating solid food. And after the radiation shrank the tumor a little, he told us about every bite of solid food he swallowed—scrambled eggs, lasagna, part of a scone.
Ben kept his humor, but it was never irreverent. It was playful. He told us about the kindergarten boy who put a hand on his shoulder and prayed, “Dear God, please help this poor old man get better.” To this, Ben said, “Amen.”
He told us about the days he felt strong and encouraged, and the days he felt weak and discouraged. But Ben always did it as a man whose hope gave him the strength to be honest.
Earlier in the summer, Shelley shared from her experience as well, poignantly reminding us this was her cancer too. She wrote:
Jesus is so kind to us daily, often through the words, actions, and constant and overwhelming love of many of you dear ones, and I’m thankful and grateful. Right now Ben is doing well. It is, at times, easy to not even think about it for a few moments. But I know it’s right there, and will potentially roar back when we least expect it. And I know that will again likely be very rough. But I’m thankful beyond words for these current calm and hopeful days in the midst of this journey. I rest securely in the hope that God will continue to do the kindest and the best thing for us.

Bound for the Promised Land

Ben loved to sing songs of worship. Even more, he loved worshiping with others. On July 7, Ben hosted a hymn-sing in the chapel of the school where he taught. More than 300 of us crammed into that room and sang hymns together, with Ben right there in the middle.
A few times that night, Ben would come to the microphone and talk a little about how he was doing, how much he loved each one of us, and how his hope was anchored in Jesus. He was tending to the hearts in the room. In the middle of that hymn-sing, Ben gave us an update on his condition, which included a word on how he was doing spiritually. He concluded: “So, it is not well with my body. But it is well with my soul.” At this, he went back to his seat, and we sang about peace like a river attending our way where sorrows, like sea billows, roll. His eyes were closed. His hands raised.
After the hymn-sing, Ben wrote to those who had gathered,
My favorite moment was as we stood to sing the last song, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.” The chorus repeats “I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promised Land.” I felt that we are all traveling together. I felt both meanings of the word “bound,” that we are headed for a destination, but also that we are tied together. During that hymn I felt bound together in community. I have never felt alone during this cancer journey, but this was a different feeling. I think I usually see myself as traveling my own path, with lots of people behind me, beside me, surrounding me; but [I’ve thought of you as] people who will have to take an off-ramp before I complete the journey on my own. Thursday I felt that we are all on the same journey. We are marching together to the Promised Land. You are not sending me off to join me later, but you are destined for Jesus’s arms just like I am. Such a beautiful picture of a spiritual reality that is usually hard to grasp.
This was Ben. He was always looking for opportunities to give a reason for the hope within him. And whenever possible, he sang.

‘We Didn’t Serenade Him’

The student body singing in Ben’s yard was an event that came together quickly. In a letter to parents, the high school principal wrote, “Over the course of last night and into this morning, three separate and unrelated people approached me saying that while praying they received a vision of the high school students and faculty singing praises on the front lawn of the home of Ben Ellis, our Latin teacher battling cancer and who loves a good hymn-sing. So, we loaded the buses and cars and went.”
Media outlets picked up the story and described it as students serenading their teacher. When “Good Morning America” asked Ben’s high school-aged daughter Betsey (on live TV) to describe her reaction, she said:
We didn’t necessarily serenade him. We got to worship with him. And especially because of how important worship has been for my dad and our family through this whole journey, it was amazing and special to get to worship with him again.
And that’s exactly what the video, shot from inside Ben’s bedroom, shows. The video opens with Ben, gaunt and smiling, as he looks out his window. Then his wife, Shelley, moves into the frame and rests her head on his right shoulder. A chorus of strong, youthful voices filters into the room, but through their singing one voice rises distinct from all the others—Ben’s. In halted, short breaths, he sings of the love of Christ. He sings of the comfort of the Holy Spirit. He sings words that welcome God’s presence.
He sings.

More Days, More Glory

In the early morning hours of September 16, 2016, Ben Ellis passed peacefully from this life into the next.
We who remain here on Jordan’s stormy banks are left to sort out the effect of Ben’s time with us. Sentimental notions about how he’s now in a better place, resting in his great reward, singing with the angels, don’t offer near the substance his life and memory warrant.
Yes, we trust he’s with Jesus now, and we believe his suffering is over. We embrace all of that and more with hope-filled, grieving hearts. But when Ben asked God for “more days, more glory to him, more people seeing Jesus, more people coming to know Jesus,” it would be a near-sighted mistake to assume these days after his passing aren’t included in God’s answer to Ben’s prayer. These too are days where Ben’s life will bear witness to the love of Christ and bring glory to God. These are the days in which we marvel and wonder at the hope in him. These are the days we hold up to the light and examine the hope in us as well.
And as we do, Ben ventures on ahead, no doubt singing as he goes.

Ambassadors for Christ

John Piper post:  Awake and at War

Blessed be the Lord, my rock, 
who trains my hands for war, 
and my fingers for battle. 
Psalm 144:1
Two thousand years ago, “the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45) sent his Son to earth on a new kind of mission among his enemies (Romans 8:7Ephesians 2:316). He would defeat them not by killing, but by dying, and he would gather those who surrender into the very family of his Father. The world had entered a new era. 
Until his crucified, risen, and reigning Son returns to earth in glory, God will no longer go out among the armies of his people with the weapons of this world. That Old Testament period of holy war is over. Now there are no nations, no peoples, no tribes to be defeated, because the crucified Lamb has “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). The enemy is not nations, not peoples. The enemy is sin, and Satan, and hearts that hold fast to the insurrection.

Day of Salvation

For now, until he comes again, there is no trumpet summoning God’s people to sword and shield and chariots and horses. Instead, the God of armies has dispatched his ambassadors among every enemy outpost with the message of amnesty, the offer of reconciliation with no recriminations for past disloyalty. “We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
For now, in this “favorable time” — in this “day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2) — “the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4–5).
For now, until “the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7–8) — until then, the followers of the Lamb are called to imitate their Master, “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). “When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure, when slandered, we entreat” (1 Corinthians 4:12–13). 
“The Lord Jesus is no less a warrior today than in the days of old.”
For now, until the Lord Jesus, with his eyes “a flame of fire,” and with “a robe dipped in blood,” and with “a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations” — until he comes to “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God” (Revelation 19:12–15), “we are not waging war according to the flesh” (2 Corinthians 10:3). “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). 
For now, until Christ appears “a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28) — until then, the Lord declares, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting” (John 18:36). 
Once he led his armies in holy war at the head of Israel. At the end of the age, he will take up arms again. But for now, this is the day of salvation. The day of amnesty. The day of reconciliation. The day of triumph through suffering.

Call to War

But we who follow the Lamb are in no less a war than David or Joshua. The Lord Jesus would not even let us follow him until we considered the cost of this war: “What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:31). 
But it is a “good warfare” (1 Timothy 1:18). A “good fight” (1 Timothy 6:122 Timothy 4:7). Our enemies in this war are “the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11), the law of sin “waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin” (Romans 7:23), and the devil who was “a murderer from the beginning . . . and the father of lies” (John 8:44). 
It is a fight for faith (2 Timothy 4:7), a fight for righteousness (2 Corinthians 6:7), and a fight for life (1 Timothy 6:12). No one perishes because of this fight, but only in spite of it. It is a fight to save (1 Corinthians 9:22), not destroy. The arch enemy in this fight is a destroyer (1 Corinthians 10:10). Our warfare is a fight for liberation from this enemy.
“As with every war, people must often be opposed for the sake of people. For the enemy has many agents.”
It is a good warfare, even though, as with every war, people must often be opposed for the sake of people. For the enemy has many agents. “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14–15). But our defensive protection against the apostles of darkness is not the armor of steel, but the “armor of light” (Romans 13:12). And our offensive weapon is “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” not the sword of the flesh (Ephesians 6:17). 
The words of our warfare may be gentle: “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24–25). Or our words may be severe: “Filled with the Holy Spirit, [Paul] looked intently at [Elymas] and said, ‘You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?’” (Acts 13:9–10).

Promise of Victory

It is a good warfare also because the decisive victory has already been achieved by the Lord of glory. “The Son of God appeared . . . to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Christ took on human nature “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). 
Satan’s time is short. The dragon’s head is off. And he is flailing in the death throes of defeat. At God’s appointed time, “The devil . . . [will be] thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur . . . and will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10Matthew 8:2925:41).
“Satan’s time is short. The dragon’s head is off. And he is flailing in the death throes of defeat.”
For the followers of the Lamb, the implications for their warfare are stupendous. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies” (Romans 8:33). Neither “angels nor rulers . . . nor powers . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38–39). “He who is in [us] is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). We conquer “him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of [our] testimony” (Revelation 12:11).
Let us pray, therefore, that we not be lulled into the sleep of appeasement, as if the Hitler of hell had no intentions of world conquest. We are not ignorant of his designs (2 Corinthians 2:11). And though the warfare of the world is not the war of chariots and horses, the Lord Jesus is no less a warrior today than in the days of old. So let us come as willing soldiers of the Prince of Peace and declare, “He trains my hands for war” (Psalm 18:34).

What God Is Doing

Excerpt from Don Carson:  2 Samuel 22; Galatians 2; Ezekiel 29; Psalm 78:1-39 is a post from: For the Love of God


One of the most intriguing “behind-the-scenes” reasonings is found in Ezekiel 29:17-20. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon is going to succeed against Tyre, but it will be a hard campaign and with little profit. So God will give Egypt to Babylon, in part to pay off Babylon for its long and costly years against Tyre. “I have given him Egypt as a reward for his efforts because he and his army did it for me, declares the Sovereign LORD” (Ezek. 29:20). Not for a moment should one think that any of the nations acted out of conscious obedience to the Lord (cf. Isa. 10:5ff!). But the Lord is no one’s debtor, and these are the arrangements that Almighty God is making.

We would not know these things apart from revelation, of course. But they warn us against pontificating too loudly about what is going on in our day, when we see so little of the big picture as to what God himself is doing.