Homily in Remembrance of Tom Madison

July 22, 2017 in Bible - NT - Acts, Bible - NT - John, Cross of Christ, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Faith, Funeral Service, Law and Gospel, Resurrection, Sin

Acts 26:28–29 (NASB95)
28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”

The passage that I have quoted today contains Paul’s witness to a Jewish king named Agrippa. Two years prior to this exchange, Paul had been unjustly imprisoned and had remained in Roman custody that entire time, awaiting a trial, awaiting his freedom. At the end of those two years, however, the Roman Governor Festus was prepared to deliver Paul into the hands of his enemies; consequently, Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal for justice to Caesar in Rome; his appeal was granted.

Shortly after he made his appeal, King Agrippa arrived and Festus decided to use Agrippa to help him explain to Caesar why Paul was being sent to Rome. Festus permitted Paul to explain why he was in prison; Paul, as was his custom, used the opportunity to preach about Christ. He wanted to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian. So Paul highlighted the way Jesus had fulfilled all the promises that God had made throughout the Jewish Scriptures – “that the Christ [God’s chosen Ruler of the world] would suffer [and die], that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (26:23). Jesus is proof of God’s intention to reconcile human beings with Himself.

This may seem an unusual passage for a memorial service. But it is fitting for this reason: even as Paul had suffered in prison for about two years, our beloved brother Tom suffered in a prison of sickness these past two years. Tom would not have chosen that trial for himself any more than Paul would have chosen to be imprisoned. Far better to be free, far better to be well, and able to do what he was accustomed to doing.

But Tom knew, even as Paul did, that his Heavenly Father had some purpose for his suffering. Consequently, Tom used his suffering to speak to others about Christ. Tom’s faith was always strong – as the testimonies we have heard illustrate. But these last couple years Tom’s faith was even deeper; his perception of eternal realities clearer; and his understanding of the fragility of life keener. Though Tom suffered much in his sickness, he suffered in faith. When I would meet with Tom to encourage him, I would regularly go away encouraged. For he would remind me of God’s promises, remind me of God’s purposes, and remind me of God’s lovingkindness. Perhaps Tom did the same with you?
I was reminded of Agrippa’s encounter with Paul as I spoke with Connie and the children this week. They told me of a conversation that Tom had with an unbelieving friend in which he spoke of Christ and repeated Paul’s words in our text: I would wish to God…[that you] might become such as I am, except for this cancer. Tom would want all to know the hope of being reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ and having hope even in the face of suffering and death.

So I am here to repeat Tom’s urgent appeal; I am here to remind you of the fragility of life; I am here to tell you that you will die and face your Creator and your Judge; and the only way to look forward to that moment in hope, as Tom did, is if you have been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Your sins – your failure to worship your Creator as you ought, your acts of selfishness and spite, your mistreatment of your spouse, your unjust divorce, your anger and bitterness, your lust for money, for sex, for control, for youth – your sins have separated you from God; if you should die and stand before your Creator with those sins between you and Him, you will perish eternally.

But hear the Good News: God has been gracious to you – He has offered clear and irrefutable evidence of His existence and of His determination to reconcile you to Himself. Jesus’ death and resurrection are that proof – proof that God has provided a sacrifice to forgive your sins and reconcile you to Himself and proof that death is no longer a cause of hopelessness for those who believe in Jesus. So I am here to plead with you: be reconciled to God before it is too late. Turn from your sin and turn in faith to Jesus Christ. Listen to the words of Sacred Scripture:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

These words remind us that our condition as sinful human beings is so dire that there is no way to deal with our sin and be reconciled to God other than through Jesus; He is the only sacrifice for sins. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). These are the only two options. Believe in Jesus or face the judgment of God.
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Despite God’s gracious proof of His existence and His purpose to reconcile us to Himself, many continue to resist Him and refuse to believe in Jesus. The Scriptures say again:
This is the [sober truth], that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God… (John 3:19-21)

So what of you? Are you willing to humble yourself before your Creator? Are you willing to come to the light and have your deeds exposed now? Or will you try to hide and hope that the day of death will not overtake you? Tom’s death illustrates that that hope is vain. It is appointed unto all men to die once and after this to face the judgment. So hear Paul’s wish once again: “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” Let us pray.

Thoughts on Households and Church Membership

February 26, 2017 in Bible - NT - Acts, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology
Acts 16:31-33 (NKJV)
31
So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.
This morning we have the privilege of welcoming a number of households into membership at Trinity Church. At such times it is always profitable to recall why we do this membership thing. This morning I would like us to consider why we administer membership vows to the Head of Household rather than to each individual member of the household. Why do this?
The point is certainly not that only the Head of Household is important; nor is the point that in order to be a member of the church you have to be an adult. May it never be! It is important to remember that the Head of Household is taking a vow not only for himself or herself but for his or her entire household. In other words, if you have been baptized and you are part of a member household, then you individually are a member of this congregation. You receive the loving care of Christ, the kindly fellowship of the covenant community, and the gracious accountability of the elders and deacons. You are part of the body, an integral member of the covenant community, and to be treated as such. So as we bring these families and individuals forward, all those who have been baptized join us as members of the church.
If they are all individually members of the congregation, then why have just the Head of Household take the vows? The reason is this: to emphasize that God has created a covenantal world. What this means is that not all the decisions which affect us personally and legally are decisions that we ourselves make. All of us were born to parents that we did not choose; we were born into a country we did not choose; we were born subject to laws and statutes we did not choose. Not only is this the case, we all were born in sin, subject to the wrath of God, because of the rebellion of our father Adam. He was our representative, the one whose sin determined the course of our lives. God created the world in such a way that we have representatives whose choices affect us for good and for ill.
And praise God that this is true – for were it not, none of us could ever be saved. Why not? Because we are saved not because of anything we have done but because of Christ. We have His righteousness credited to our account. Though we have not personally been righteous, God in His grace and mercy looks upon us in Christ and treats us as holy and beloved. Because we are part of His house, under His loving headship, we receive innumerable blessings.

So household vows emphasize three things: first, the critical role that the head of household has for the spiritual vitality and health of the entire household. Second, the incredible blessings that come to the entire household when that household is subject to the Lord Jesus Christ. And third, the need for faithfulness from every member of the household so that, in the future, additional healthy, robust, and godly households can be established to the glory of God.

Revilers and the Kingdom of God

September 14, 2015 in Authority, Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - Acts, Bible - NT - Jude, Bible - OT - Exodus, Meditations, Sanctification
1 Corinthians 6:9–11 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.
For the last several weeks we have taken a hiatus from our analysis of this text where Paul’s catalogues sins from which God in His grace and mercy has determined to free us through Christ. If we have truly believed in Christ and the Spirit has been poured out upon us, then these pernicious fruits will be uprooted and in their place the Spirit will begin to bear His fruit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Thus far we have considered the sins of fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, thievery, covetousness, and drunkenness. Today we speak of reviling. Revilers will not inherit the kingdom of God.
To revile is to reproach, to insult, or even to blaspheme. Moses commands us in Exodus 22:28, “You shall not revile God nor curse a ruler of your people.” Reviling, therefore, has particular reference to the authorities which God has placed in our lives – including, especially, God Himself. We are to treat our authorities with respect; in other words, we are not to revile them or treat them lightly.
When the Apostle Paul was on trial before the Sanhedrin, he began by protesting his innocence but the high priest ordered him to be struck on the mouth. Not knowing who had given the order, Paul reponded in anger, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?” One the bystanders then demanded, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” Paul immediately corrected himself, “I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.’” Note that Paul shows respect for the high priest’s office even though the high priest was acting unjustly.
Paul’s conduct reminds us that God takes authority seriously – authority in the home, in the church, and in civil society. Why? Because these authorities represent Him as the ultimate authority. Consequently, those who revile the authorities that God Himself has established in the world ultimately revile God.
God is no egalitarian – He is Himself the Ruler over the world. Hence, the world that He made reflects these layers of authority and we are called upon to respect them. We are to give honor to whom honor is due. Jude warns us that it is false teachers who “defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries” (8).
So what of you? Have you given due honor to the authorities God has placed in your life? Children, are you honoring your parents? Wives, are you honoring your husbands? Employees, are you honoring your employers? Christians, are you honoring your local elders and deacons? Citizens, are you honoring the civil authorities that God has placed over you? This is our calling.

Reminded that revilers shall not inherit the kingdom of God, let us confess that we often despise and insult the authorities He has placed in our lives. As you are able, let us kneel as we seek the Lord’s forgiveness.

Ascension Sunday 2015

May 17, 2015 in Ascension Sunday, Bible - NT - Acts, Bible - OT - Psalms, King Jesus, Meditations, Politics, Resurrection
Psalm 110 (NKJV)
A Psalm of David. 1 The LORD said to my Lord,“Sit at My right hand, Till I make Your enemies Your footstool.” 2 The LORD shall send the rod of Your strength out of Zion. Rule in the midst of Your enemies!
Today is Ascension Sunday. Forty days after rising from the dead, forty days after Easter, Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. What is the significance of this?
Oft times in history, the coronation of kings was followed by a time of travel – the new king would journey throughout his kingdom and show himself to his people. It was an opportunity for the people to see the new king, pledge allegiance to him, and rejoice in his coronation. But eventually the circuit would come to an end and the king would return to his palace, take his seat on his throne and begin to rule.
It is this narrative that ties Easter and Ascension together. In the NT, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is understood as coronation day. When Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, he rose as God’s triumphant King; the ruler over all the kings of the earth. “You are my son,” God declares in Psalm 2, “Today I have begotten you.” And that “today”, Peter declares in Acts 2, is the day of Jesus’ resurrection, the day God crowned Jesus King.
For the next 40 days Jesus showed himself to his people. It was an opportunity for them to see the new king in his glory, to pledge their allegiance to him, and to rejoice in his coronation. But eventually this time came to an end and Jesus took his seat on his throne and began to rule – He ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God Almighty, there to rule until all his enemies are subdued beneath his feet. The Father said to Jesus, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”
And it is sitting on the throne of His father David, sitting at the right hand of God Almighty, that Jesus continues to reign even now and will continue until he has subdued all his enemies beneath his feet. Jesus is Lord! Jesus reigns! Let the earth be glad and the righteous rejoice! And so we are instructed to pray that God’s kingdom come, his will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. We are told to pray for the expansion of Jesus’ rule, the full manifestation of His kingship in human history. For as Jesus’ kingship becomes increasingly acknowledged, light and life come in ever greater degrees.

And because Jesus is Lord, because Jesus is God’s anointed king, the only way that we can come to God is by pledging our loyalty to Jesus. He who honors the Son, honors the Father; he who does not honor the Son, does not honor the Father who sent him. This morning we have been summoned into the presence of God Almighty; let us kneel as we enter his presence and pledge our allegiance through His Son Jesus.

Shortsighted, Even to Blindness

November 16, 2014 in Baptism, Bible - NT - 2 Peter, Bible - NT - Acts, Federal Vision, Justification, Meditations, Sanctification
2 Peter 1:5–9 (NKJV)
5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
During the height of the so-called Lordship Salvation controversy, there were teachers who wanted to claim that one could have Jesus as one’s Savior but not as one’s Lord. All that is necessary to be saved from judgment, so it was said, is to believe in Jesus. Thereafter one should and ought to make Jesus one’s Lord, to obey Him in the nitty gritty of life; but this making Jesus Lord was, as it were, optional. One could be saved by Christ and not manifest that salvation in a life of obedience.
How different have been the words of Peter in our text – and how different is his closing observation. He writes in verse 9: For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
The man who has been baptized into Christ and pronounced forgiven on the basis of faith in Him and yet who lives a life of sin and rebellion is still in his sins. He remains blind even though he claims that he has been brought into the light. He is wandering about in the darkness, still ensnared by the clutches of the Evil One. Such was Simon Magus in the book of Acts and such is many another who claims to believe in Jesus but denies Him with his life.
Peter will go on in the next verse to command his readers to “make their calling and election sure.” And one of the ways that God assures us that we have been called by Him is by working in us the virtues that Peter identifies: faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. God’s Spirit works in His elect to cultivate such virtues – and so the way we reveal that we are among the elect is by pursuing them with all diligence. Obedience is a fruit of faith – we are saved by faith alone – which just means that we are saved by Christ alone. And when Christ saves us, He doesn’t do a piecemeal job. He delivers us not only from the penalty of sin by forgiving us, He delivers us from the power of sin by sanctifying us.
And so reminded of our call to pursue virtue; of our deep need for the grace of God to free us from blindness; let us confess our sins to the Lord and ask Him to empower us for obedience. Let us kneel as we confess.

Joe Biden and Civilized Nations

June 29, 2014 in Bible - NT - Acts, Bible - NT - Matthew, Church History, Homosexuality, Love, Meditations, Politics, Trials
Matthew 5:11–12 (NKJV)
11 “Blessed are you when [men] revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Vice President Joe Biden declared this last Tuesday that “protecting gay rights is a defining mark of a civilized nation and must trump national cultures and social traditions.” He warned other nations that there is a price to pay for failing to do so.
We shouldn’t misunderstand what this means. In one fell swoop, Biden has identified all traditional Christians – as well as Jews and Muslims for that matter – as enemies of civilization. Of course, Biden is using this rhetoric to justify intervention and regime change in Africa, the Middle East, and Russia. But such a statement must necessarily relegate us to barbaric status as well. Should this policy prevail, we will find ourselves the object of discrimination and persecution, labeled as “those who turn the world upside down.”
It is fitting for us to remember, therefore, how we are to respond to such persecution. It is ever easy to take opposition personally and forget that in defending the cause of Christ we’re not defending ourselves but the truth. And because we’re defending the truth, we can rest in the knowledge that God is His own best Defender. He will vindicate His Name and demonstrate to all nations that He is Yahweh.
In the meantime, our calling as individuals is to imitate His grace and mercy by showing kindness to those who persecute us or say all kinds of evil against us. While standing courageously for the truth and speaking it frankly, we are to look for ways to bless and extend grace to our persecutors. Why? Because this is the way God acts toward his enemies day by day. And if God extends grace, ought not we?
We must always beware the lure of moralism and defensiveness; we must ever remember the grace and mercy that God has extended to us and so extend it to others. As we do so, we can rest in God’s promise that no gracious word, no good deed, no turning of the other cheek will go unnoticed. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And this type of faith manifesting itself in love is precisely what the Apostles modeled for us when they were persecuted by the Jerusalem authorities for preaching Christ – they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name(Acts 5:41b).

But often we respond to the criticisms and slanders of others not by giving a blessing but by giving an insult instead. Rather than returning good for evil, we return evil for evil. But this is not the way of our Lord Christ, nor is it the way that God will work to bring the nations to bow before Christ and acknowledge Him to be Lord of all. So let us confess our sin to the Lord and pray that He would enable us to give a blessing instead.

The Tragedy of Division in the Church

October 23, 2011 in Bible - NT - Acts, Ecclesiology, Meditations

Acts 15:36-40
Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.
At Presbytery learned not only of great deliverances but also of troubles in some churches. That which has sat most on my heart is one of the original congregations in the CREC whose elders – all godly men – have found it impossible to labor side by side any longer. Their difference of vision has become so entrenched that they have decided, for the sake of long term peace, to part ways and plant a new church in the same community while endeavoring to preserve fraternal relationships with one another through joint meetings, psalm sings, etc.
Their story reminded me of the event in the life of Barnabas and Paul that we read in Acts. They simply could not agree on what to do with John Mark. Barnabas was willing to give John Mark another chance; Paul felt that to bring him along would compromise their very important mission. Luke comments on their disagreement that “the contention become so sharp that they parted from one another.” They could not agree on the course forward.
Here’s the question: was the division between Barnabas and Paul a result of sin? No doubt. Not only had John Mark’s sin provided the original cause for the dispute but our general condition as fallen human beings means that both Paul and Barnabas were sinners as well and no doubt their particular weaknesses contributed to the conflict. But here’s another question: does Luke make an attempt to sort this situation out and ascribe blame? Not at all. These were godly men, they had a difference of vision, and so they parted ways because they simply could not agree on a course forward.
Isn’t that humbling? We imagine in our idealism that we Christians should be able to work all these problems out. We’ve got to preserve the unity of the Spirit – didn’t Paul himself write that?! But the story is put here to remind us of the stark reality of our current human condition – we are finite and sinful and stand in desperate need of the grace of God? Here are two godly men who couldn’t agree and had to separate from one another for a time. Here in the CREC are godly men who cannot agree and are separating from one another while endeavoring to maintain fellowship. How this ought to humble us, to cause us to cry out to God for mercy, to beseech him to keep us united and give us a common vision.
Job tells us, “Man is prone to trouble, as sparks fly upward.” Knowing how prone we are to such trouble, our calling is to be gracious to one another, to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and to cry out to God to unite us in love. Unfortunately we often fail to do so. We bicker and complain; we seek our own good rather than the good of others.
And so reminded of our need to be humble, to seek the face of God, to treat one another with kindness and mercy, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Son of Encouragement

October 29, 2010 in Bible - NT - Acts, Meditations, Thankfulness

“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Acts 4:36-37

Humans are born faultfinders–slicing and dicing God’s law either to excuse behavior we’d like to engage in ourselves or to condemn things we don’t want others to enjoy. Rare is the man who is so thankful for the gifts of God to him, so awed by the mercy which gives him life and breath each day, so grateful for what God has given him rather than jealous for what He has not, that he loves God’s law, delights in God’s people, and is quick to let them know it.

Joseph, known by his cognomen Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, was one such man. Thankfulness and generosity bubbled out of him. Bump him and joy and gratitude spilled on the floor. And it is this gratitude which we see today – selling a piece of land and donating the proceeds to the work of the Gospel. But this is not an isolated incident – as his name indicates. We see it again later in Acts when Barnabas and Paul cannot agree what to do with John Mark who had deserted them during the course of their first missionary journey. Paul refuses to take him; Barnabas refuses to go without him. And so he and Paul part company–but it is Paul who later acknowledges the blessing of Mark’s ministry. Paul had left him; but Barnabas stuck with Mark and encouraged him and so today we possess the Gospel of Mark. Such was the power of Son of Encouragement’s ministry.

And so, beloved, let me ask you today–have you been a Barnabas this week? Have you been so filled with thankfulness and gratitude that you have seen very little to complain about and much to encourage? Have you looked at the world with the eyes of faith, knowing that if God can save you from the kingdom of darkness then there is nothing that He cannot do?

Husbands and wives, have you praised your spouse this week for all the little things they do for you? Have you shown them how much you delight in them? Parents, have you praised your children as much or more than you have corrected them? Do you look for things to praise or things to critique? Employees, have you encouraged your employers by letting them know how grateful you are for your position? Children, have you thanked your parents for their love and their willingness to bring you up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Siblings, have you spent the week praising the gifts that God has given you in your brother or sister?

Listen, beloved, it is easy to criticize. We are, as I said, born faultfinders. There will always be room for improvement. But Barnabas understood as I think few of us do that the best way to accomplish the improvement is to lavish praise on even the smallest deeds done in faith.

So let us bow before our God, acknowledge our critical natures, and petition Him to forgive us through Christ and to make us all into sons and daughters of encouragement. Let us kneel together.