Tuesday, October 24, 2017

John Paton: Taking Christ to the Cannibals

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Spear-carrying cannibals setting his house afire, an irate chief stalking him for hours with a loaded musket, a native suddenly rising-up from a sickbed and holding him captive with a dagger to his heart—the life of John Paton reads at times like a lurid adventure story, with the hero saved at the last possible moment by his own death-defying heroics.

John Paton was born in 1824 near Dumfries, Scotland, to a humble, God-fearing family of the Reformed Presbyterian tradition. As the eldest of 11 children, he was forced to leave school at age 12 to work alongside his father in the family trade of stocking-making. Young John was influenced by his father’s prayers, which he said could be heard through the thin walls of the family cottage.

In 1857, when Scotland’s Reformed Church issued a plea for missionaries to the South Pacific, John went to his parents seeking advice. He felt the call of God on his life, and his parents confirmed that when they revealed to their son something they had never before disclosed—John had been dedicated to the mission field while he was in his mother’s womb.

John and his wife, Mary, sailed from Scotland, April 16, 1858, landing on the New Hebrides Islands in November. The Patons found themselves surrounded by “naked and painted wild men” who practiced cannibalism, witch doctoring, child sacrifice and idolatry. A few months after their arrival, Mrs. Paton gave birth to a son, but she suffered immediate attacks of fever and pneumonia. Tragically, Mary died three weeks after giving birth. Two weeks after her death, the little boy succumbed to the same sickness, and John Paton dug a second grave beside the little hut he had built upon their arrival.

Paton toiled on alone for the next four years, coming back to the graves of his wife and son whenever he needed comfort. “That spot became my sacred and much-frequented shrine,” he wrote in his autobiography, “during all the following months and years when I labored on for the salvation of the savage Islanders amidst difficulties, dangers, and deaths. But for Jesus, and the fellowship he granted to me there, I must have gone mad and died beside the lonely grave!”

For the first years, Paton had little success reaching the natives for Christ. But, he kept plodding writing, “I realized that my life was immortal until my Master’s work for me was done.” The turning point came when Paton decided to dig a well for the native tribes. The superstitious people were terrified at the thought of bringing “rain from below” and watched with deepest foreboding.

Paton dug until finally after 30 feet, he tapped into a stream of water. Opposition to his mission work ceased, and the wide-eyed primitives gave him their full respect. Chief Mamokei accepted Christ as Savior, then a few others made their commitment to Christ. On Oct. 24, 1869, nearly 11 years after his arrival, Paton led his first communion service. Twelve converted cannibals participated in the Lord’s Supper. Paton wrote, “As I put the bread and wine into those hands once stained with the blood of cannibalism, now stretched out to receive the emblems of the Redeemer’s love, I had a foretaste of the joy of glory that well nigh broke my heart to pieces.” -DM


Robert J. Morgan, On This Day (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), October 24. 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Life During the Millennium

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The Bible describes a thousand-year reign in which Jesus will rule the Earth in perfect peace and justice. Theologians have borrowed a Latin phrase to describe this epoch—“Millennium.” It is made of up two words mille—meaning “thousand”—and annum—meaning “years.” In our English Bibles you won’t find the word “millennium” but you will find a reference to a literal thousand-year period six times in Revelation 20:1-10.

Admittedly, there is not much preaching on the millennium today, which is odd considering the fact that the Bible has so much to say about it. In fact, Dr. Dwight Pentecost, who devoted his entire life to the study of prophecy, wrote: “A larger body of prophetic Scripture is devoted to the subject of the Millennium, developing its character and conditions, than any other one subject. Therefore, the Millennial Age demands considerable attention.”[1]

So what will life be like for those thousand years? If we went through the myriad of verses in the Old Testament that spoke on this subject I think you’d be stunned. Someone has remarked that there is so much written of the Millennial Kingdom that if we were to collect all the verses into a single book they would about the size of the epistles section in the New Testament.
·         A time of peace (Is. 2:4)
In the garden of the United Nations headquarters in New York City, stands a dramatic sculpture—actually it’s a 1959 gift from the old Soviet Union—which bears a portion of the words of Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares.” The sculpture shows the figure of a man holding a hammer in one hand, and in the other, a sword that he is beating into a plow. It expresses secular man’s utopian aspiration for world peace.

Yet since that statue was erected we have endured the Vietnam War, The Gulf War, the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict, countless tribal wars in Africa, 9/11, the Iraq War and the battle against terrorism. Those hoping for UN to get all the nations of the world to wear peace charms and sing “kum-by-yah” have a better chance of seeing pigs fly.

But here’s the problem with that statue: Isaiah 2:4 has a first part to the verse that is omitted. It begins: “He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people.” Isaiah 2 is about the Second Coming of Christ and the establishing of His millennial reign. They are missing the most important part, namely a person—Jesus Christ!  

Only the Prince of Peace, has the power to make armies lay down their weapons. Have you ever noticed that when Christ gave the disciples the model prayer, He didn’t command them to pray for peace? Instead he told them to pray, “Your kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Only when Christ returns will there be a lasting universal peace, so when you pray and end with those words you are actually invoking the hastening of the Millennial Kingdom.

·         A time of prosperity (Ez. 34:26-27; 36:29-30, 34-35; Joel 2:24; Amos 9:13)
In 2013 the World Health Organization reported that although farmers are able to produce enough food to sustain the world’s 7+ billion people, poverty, war and a host of other problems prevent people from being able to receive a healthy diet. However, during the Millennium it appears that God will remove these hindrances. The entire world will be turned into a kind of paradise reminiscent of the verdant fields of Eden.

The Old Testament prophets filled their writings with imagery of agricultural abundance during this period. Ezekiel speaks of plentiful rainfall, trees loaded with an abundance of ripe fruit and land that once desolate now under the authority of Christ becoming fertile (Ez. 34:26-27). Joel writes that during the Millennium, “The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil” (2:24).

Amos 9:13 adds another interesting picture, “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when the plowman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it.” Notice that Amos says during this time there will be no dead space of winter between planting and harvesting. Imagine harvesting a crop at the beginning of the week and planting another at the end.

·         A time of prolonged life (Is. 65:20; Zech. 8:4-5)
According to the numbers, the average worldwide life expectancy in 2013 was 71 (68 for men and 73 for women). However, in this golden age, people who survived the Tribulation period and come into the Lord’s kingdom will experience longevity like the pre-Flood patriarchs enjoyed in Genesis. Isaiah tells us that a man who is a hundred years old will be considered a child, “No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old” (65:20).  

Zechariah tells us that along with increased years there will also be a baby boom during the Millennium as well, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (8:4-5).    

·         A time of praise (Ps. 98:4-9)
During the Millennium the whole world will be filled with praise to Jesus. “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all the earth: make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise . . . Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together before the LORD; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (Ps. 98:4-9).

Some people wonder why it’s important that Jesus reign on earth for 1,000 years in an earthly kingdom. Prophetic scholar, Charles Ryrie answers, “Because Christ must triumph in the same arena where He was seemingly defeated. His rejection by the rulers of this world was on the earth. His exaltation must also be on this earth. And so it shall be when He comes to rule the world in righteousness. He has waited long for His Kingdom; soon He shall receive it.”[2]


[1] J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1958), 476.
[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1986), 511. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Faith Is Not Safe

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Recently, I had the chance to watch the gripping documentary, “Facing Darkness” about the 2014 Ebola outbreak that ravaged the African nation of Liberia (Click here for the trailer). The movie told the life-and-death survivor struggle of Dr. Kent Brantley, who was serving in Liberia with Samaritan’s Purse as a medical missionary during the epidemic. Dr. Brantley became the first American diagnosed with Ebola in late July 2014.   

The 104.9-degree fever caused him to lapse into delirium and nausea. He could not keep down any fluids or food and the uncontrollable diarrhea further weakened his condition. The body aches were nearly unbearable. Because of the isolation that Ebola patients experience as they are quarantined, Brantley said, “Ebola is a humiliating disease that strips you of all your dignity.”[i]

Brantley moved closer to death, when finally, someone suggested that they try giving the doctor a plasma transfusion from an Ebola survivor. In the days before his infection, Brantley had been treating a 14-year-old boy with Ebola, who baffled the doctors and miraculously survived the virus. One of the doctors had the foresight to take a unit of the African boy’s blood with them back to the States.[ii] Doctors in Liberia were able to stabilize Brantley long enough for him to be transported to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, GA via specialized air ambulance.

Amazingly, the plasma donation worked for Dr. Brantley and many have thought it was no accident that the boy who donated the blood was type AB—the universal donor for plasma. Brantley made a full recovery and was discharged from the hospital with a clean bill of health on Aug. 21, 2014. Since his recovery Brantley, donated the plasma in his blood to three more patients in America who contracted the virus. All three survived.[iii]

Towards the end of the film Brantley said something that gave me chills, “People often ask me did your faith save you? I tell them ‘No,’ because faith doesn’t make you safe. My faith was the reason I was in Africa. It was my faith that put me on the front lines. It was faith that put me in the Ebola Treatment Unit.”

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I think Dr. Brantley is absolutely right. It’s our faith that takes us to the front lines, and into the storms. It’s our faith that takes us to places where must rely only on God to get us through. Following Christ is not safe, just look at the people of the Bible. Noah followed God and got caught in a Flood. Abraham followed God and nearly sacrificed his son. Joseph followed God and ended up being thrown into a pit and left for dead. Daniel was nearly eaten in a den of lions. Each of the Apostles gave their lives as martyrs precisely because of their faith.

At the end of Hebrews 11, the great Hall of Faith, we read this, “35 Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”               

Follow Jesus and you may risk your life. Don’t follow Jesus and you will waste your life (Mark 8:36). The cost of following Christ by faith is great. The cost of not following Christ is greater. Faith does not make things easier necessarily, but it does make all things possible. -DM

[i] Dr. Kent Brantly, “This Is What It Feels Like to Survive Ebola,” Time, 5 September 2014 <http://time.com/ 3270016/ebola-survivor-kent-brantly/>
[ii] Sydney Lupkin, “Why Blood Transfusions From Ebola Survivor Dr. Kent Brantley Could Help Patients,” ABC News 14 October 2014 <http://abcnews.go.com/Health/blood-transfusions-ebola-survivor-dr-kent-brantly-patients/story?id=26182136>
[iii] “A Miraculous Day,” Samaritan’s Purse, 21 August 2014 <http://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/samaritans-purse-doctor-recovered-from-ebola/>   

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Miles Coverdale: Tyndale's Finish Man

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This year, Protestants around the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. On Truth for Today, we have already looked back on the influence of John Wycliffe, “The Morning Star” of the Reformation (click here) and John Huss (click here) Now we look at another courageous man of faith who led the charge to rescue the Gospel from man-made traditions.

Do you believe that God can answer our prayers before we offer them? That’s what Isaiah 65:24 says, “Before they pray I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”  

I believe that’s what happened at the end of William Tyndale’s life. Tyndale put his life at risk when he decided to translate the Bible into the English language during the reign of King Henry VIII. The church and government opposed him vehemently, but he told one clergymen, “If God spare my life, I will cause the boy who driveth the plow to know more of the Scripture than thou dost.” On October 6, 1536 he was burned at the stake for his work. His last words were a prayer, “Lord, open the eyes of the King.”

The Bible translation that Tyndale had begun when he was arrested in May 1535 only included the New Testament, the Pentateuch and a few historical books of the Old Testament. England was still without a complete Bible in the English language. Who would finish the work? Because he was imprisoned, Tyndale perished without knowing that the Lord had already answered his prayer—one year earlier, almost to the very day. God had already raised up a new man to finish the work; his name was Miles Coverdale.

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Coverdale, like many of the Reformers of his time, was first an Augustinian monk. And like Luther, Coverdale found a profound emptiness in Catholicism. The turning point for Coverdale came in 1527 when he started studying the Scriptures earnestly looking for the answers to salvation. Not long after his conversion, he soon understood the depths of corruption in the Church. Coverdale wrote, “Upon study of the Scripture I perceived that the reformation of the church must be effected by the Word of God. For wherever the Scripture is known it reformeth all things. And Why? Because it is given by the inspiration of God.”

Using Tyndale's work as his starting point, Coverdale stepped in and filled in the gaps with his own translations based on the Vulgate (the Latin Bible of the Middle Ages) and Luther's German Bible. He worked quickly to piece together a complete English Bible, which was published on October 4, 1535 in Zurich, Switzerland. Coverdale wisely dedicated it to King Henry VIII, who being flattered, allowed it to become the first English rendering of Scripture to circulate without government hindrance—thus answering Tyndale’s prayer a year in advance.  

Without men like Wycliffe, Tyndale and Coverdale willing to sacrifice and risk everything, the English Bible may have never happened or at least been delayed by many years. Next time you open your Bible consider the blood, sweat and tears it cost a few so that you could have access to God’s Word.

Tyndale and Coverdale’s story also highlights an interesting dynamic in the Church—you may be plowing up the hard ground, so that someone else can plant and harvest. What you start for the Lord may be handed off for another servant to finish. We also see this pattern in Scripture: Joshua finished what Moses started by leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, Elijah passed on his prophetic mantle to Elisha, John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus, and Jesus invested in the disciples so that they could spread the Gospel over the globe. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). -DM  

1)      Robert J. Morgan, On This Day (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), October 4.

2)      <http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1501-1600/coverdale-finished-english-language-bible-11629958.html>