Don’t Waste Your Joy

December 19, 2016 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Psalms, John Calvin, Meditations, Singing Psalms
Psalm 28:7 (NKJV)
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, And with my song I will praise Him.
In our continuing study of Jesus in the Psalms we examine Psalm 28 today. Verse 7 of Psalm 28 reminds us how central worship ought to be to our experience as the people of God. As we will see, God has answered David’s cry for help. So what does David do? He composes a song to celebrate the Lord’s goodness.
Since we have been doing a series of meditations on worship, I want to use this time to consider David’s song of praise in Psalm 28. David tells us that his heart trusted in the Lord – he believed that God would be true to His word and deliver him from trouble. And what happened? God answered him. My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped. You can imagine, therefore, how thankful David was. Any time our desires are fulfilled, it is natural to be filled with joy. Our team wins the game – we are joyful. We receive the present we had desired – we are joyful. We recover from illness – we are joyful. And David’s response was no different. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices. His heart was filled with joy because God had mercifully answered his plea.
But note that David’s internal joy manifest itself externally; his heart of joy bore fruit in song. Therefore my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him. God saved David; consequently, David’s heart was filled with joy; and David’s joy bore fruit in praise and song. His joyful heart opened his mouth. As John Calvin wrote, “undoubtedly, when God spreads cheerfulness through our hearts, it is to open our mouths to sing his praises” (Psalms, 472). God gives us joy so that we might worship.
So what do you do when your heart is joyful? Do you direct the joy that is in Your heart in praise to God? James, the brother of our Lord, asks us, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms” (James 5:13b). James exhorts us: Don’t waste your joy! There are plenty of times when our heart will be weighed down and sorrowful; times for prayer and petition. But if your heart is joyful, then let it bear fruit in song – and not just in song, in songs of praise to God.
So what of you? Have you sung the praises of God? Have you spoken the wonders of God? Have you shared the rich treasures of God with others? Or have you wasted your joy?

Reminded that we often waste our joy, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.

Preference versus Principle

October 4, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Sexuality, Ten Commandments
James 1:22-25 (NKJV)
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
As we have emphasized various times, it is imperative for us as the people of God to distinguish between being men and women of preference and being men and women of principle. James urges us to be doers of the Word and not merely hearers who delude themselves. As doers of the Word our calling is to understand what God says and then practice it. As Luther so robustly emphasized, we are set right with God by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone. True faith manifests itself in good works. So let us recall the difference between a man or woman of preference and a man or woman of principle.
A man or woman of preference is one who would prefer things to be a certain way but who can’t seem, for one reason or another, to accomplish his objective. He would prefer to be sexually pure, but he just can’t seem to resist looking at pornography. She would prefer to be respectful to her husband, but he’s just so unworthy of respect. He would prefer to be honest at work, but the boss simply doesn’t pay him enough. She would prefer to live a life characterized by joy and gladness, but what her parents did to her when she was young is just too much to forgive. He would prefer to have obedient children, but the children God has given him are difficult and his wife just doesn’t do a good job with them. She would prefer to be content, but all her friends have much nicer things than she. He would prefer to make it to church each Lord’s Day, but it’s simply too hard to get the whole family ready ahead of time. She would prefer not to gossip, but she’s just so lonely she needs someone to talk with.
Contrast these scenarios with a man or woman of principle. He knows it is sinful to be sexually impure, and so he does whatever is necessary to shield himself from temptation. She knows that she must respect her husband, and so she begins honoring him with her words and actions, praying that her heart attitude will gradually change. He knows the utter necessity of honesty, and so he takes another job rather than steal from his employer. She knows that God commands her to be joyful, and so she confesses her sin of bitterness and refuses to listen to her own sob story. He knows he is responsible for the disobedience of his children, and so he asks his wife’s forgiveness for failing to train them and then sets about to do so. She knows that contentment is not an option, and so she meditates on the Word of God and rejoices that God is her portion in the land of the living. He knows that his family needs to be in worship every Lord’s Day, and so he organizes everything Saturday evening so they can make it. She knows it is a sin to gossip, and so she confides her loneliness to the Lord and looks for ways to praise others with her words.
What kind of man or woman are you? Are you a man or woman of preference or of principle? If the former heed the warning of James – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Reminded that we often fail to be men and women of principle and that we make excuses for our disobedience, let us kneel and ask our Lord’s forgiveness.

God’s Compassion in Sufferings

September 7, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Ezekiel, Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Bible - OT - Job, Meditations, Providence, Sanctification, Trials
James 5:10-11 (NKJV)
My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
When you think of the compassion and mercy of our Lord, what comes to mind? Perhaps occasions when Jesus stoops down and heals those in pain and anguish? Perhaps occasions when God, despite Israel’s great sin, sends one deliverer after another to rescue them from the predicament that they have gotten themselves into? When we think of God’s compassion and mercy, these are the types of scenarios that come to mind.
But today, James points us to another evidence of God’s compassion and mercy, an evidence that we would be unlikely to see. What is this evidence? The evidence that James cites is the suffering endured by God’s prophets throughout the OT.
Think, for instance, of Jeremiah who is called the weeping prophet – called to bear witness to a people under judgment, his message rejected and refused, he himself thrown into a pit, left for dead, forced to witness the destruction of Jerusalem and dying in exile in Egypt. Take all of this as evidence, James tells us, of the compassion and mercy of the Lord. Think of Ezekiel, taken into exile into Babylon, told to make a fool of himself before his friends, forced to lie on his side for so many days, to play with tinker toys and army men in the city streets as a grown man, forbidden to weep when his wife died. Take all of this, James tells us, as evidence of the compassion and mercy of the Lord. Think of Job, robbed of his family, robbed of his wealth, robbed of his health, lectured by his friends. Take all of this as evidence, James tells us, of the compassion and mercy of the Lord.
Suffering and hardship as evidence of the compassion and mercy of the Lord? What is this? What is James talking about? Evidence of His power, perhaps. Evidence of His inscrutable wisdom, perhaps. Evidence of His mysteriousness, certainly. But evidence of His compassion and mercy? Yes – but in order to see it, we must also see something else. We must see what it is that God is really about in the course of our lives.
You see, if God is all about making us happy, carefree, and successful then suffering is not a sign of God’s compassion – it is a sign only of His discipline and disfavor. But sometimes, James tells us, suffering is a sign of His compassion. Therefore, God is not all about making us happy, carefree, and successful. Rather, His purpose is to make us men and women and children of faith; men and women and children who trust Him, rely upon Him, cling to Him, and obey Him no matter what the circumstance. This is what God is about. And if this is what He is about and if suffering creates us into this kind of people, then truly suffering is a sign of God’s compassion and mercy, is it not? For by suffering God trains us in patience and endurance – the very things James highlights.
So what of you? Have you considered that the sufferings through which God is making you pass right now, and that the sufferings through which He shall have you pass in the future, may be evidences of His compassion and mercy? Or have you instead looked upon them in unbelief, seeing them as evidence of how screwed up the world really is, or how much God hates you, or how little purpose there is in the world?

Reminded of our failure to look upon suffering in faith and even, at times, as a sign of God’s compassion and mercy, let us kneel and confess our sin to Him.

Responding to Obergefell

June 28, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Homosexuality, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Politics, Ten Commandments
James 4:12a (NKJV)
12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy.
Isaiah 5:20–21 (NKJV)
20 Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!
Psalm 94:20–23 (NKJV)
20 Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil by law, Have fellowship with You? 21 They gather together against the life of the righteous, And condemn innocent blood. 22 But the LORD has been my defense, And my God the rock of my refuge. 23 He has brought on them their own iniquity, And shall cut them off in their own wickedness; The LORD our God shall cut them off.
God is the Lord. He is Himself the embodiment of all that is good and beautiful and true. As human beings, however, we often go astray, seeking to define these things for ourselves. This inevitably results in evil, ugliness, and lies. The brutality and wickedness of the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Romans, the Huns, the Vandals, the Mongols, the Turks, the Japanese Empire, the Nazis, the Soviets, the Saudis, and, increasingly, the United States of America are well known and grievous. Woe, says Isaiah, to those who call evil good.
This past week the Supreme Court of the United States continued to exalt itself against the Most High God and pretend that it can make laws contrary to the moral law of God. It declared that same sex unions are a constitutional right. Such a declaration is an abomination to God, an affront to our forefathers, a violation of our Constitutional Republic, and a further invitation of divine judgment. God will destroy the throne that devises wickedness by law.
CREC Response to the Obergefell Decision
In light of the Obergefell decision by the United States Supreme Court on June 26th, [our denomination] the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches makes the following declaration.
All the varied expressions of transgressive sexuality currently being celebrated in our culture, and now by the highest court in the land, are out of accord with God’s creational design for human sexuality, and are therefore sinful in the eyes of God. Whenever men set themselves up arrogantly to challenge God’s holy standards for sexuality, seeking to teach contrary to what God has taught us in His Word, they are vainly attempting something that is not within their authority to accomplish. We cannot bestow dignity where God has withheld it, and we cannot join together what God has determined shall remain forever separated.
Because we in the CREC submit to the full and complete authority of Scripture, we accept our responsibility to reach out in true compassion to those caught in the snare of such sexual sin. At the same time, we refuse to accept that false compassion which leaves men and women alone with their sin, and so we declare that Jesus Christ died and rose, and we plead with all such to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ so that they might be forgiven, just as we have been forgiven.
In light of this decision, the CREC calls upon the leaders of these United States, whether elected or appointed, whether legislative, judicial, or executive, whether local or national, to repent of this egregious and arrogant sin of attempting to define reality contrary to how God has defined it. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.

Reminded that the Sovereign Lord is the Lawgiver and Judge, let us confess our own sins and the sins of our nation this morning. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Homosexuality and the Christian

April 23, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Book Reviews, Homosexuality, Sexuality, Temptation

I finished reading Homosexuality and the Christian: A Guide for Parents, Pastors, and Friends by Mark Yarhouse. Yarhouse is Professor of Psychology at Regent University. I appreciated his distinction between attraction, orientation, and identity. Attraction is a base level sexual temptation that certain folks experience more than others for members of the same sex. Orientation is attraction that seems to be persistent. Identity is when someone chooses to label themselves as homosexual. I think that these distinctions are helpful; he is articulating James 1:13-15 but in a way that is at times confusing. James would be willing to acknowledge that certain of our desires are sinful and that these desires move us to practice sin. So sin is more than mere behavior – it reaches to our desires. Yarhouse seems to want to say that our “attractions” are never sinful in themselves; he places the label of sin almost exclusively on our behavior and I’m not convinced that’s biblical. Nevertheless, it is true that being tempted is not the same as sinning – Jesus was tempted and yet without sin. So I’m not completely throwing out his distinctions because I think there is a kernel of truth there. Yarhouse is a psychologist and so speaks for that community; as a pastor I’m much more interested in what Scripture has to say and on that I find him less than fully satisfying. Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay? is more helpful and makes some of the same distinctions.

I appreciated his emphasis on reaching people who struggle with same-sex attraction – and reaching them as “our people.” I think that this is an area where I could certainly grow. At the same time, I simply don’t agree with his approach to some specific cases; for instance, if my child were to choose homosexuality, I would not “respect” that choice. I think that is the wrong framework within which to process the decision. I guess I’ll “respect” him to the extent of holding him accountable for his choice and urging the church to hold him accountable; but I won’t “respect” him in the sense of saying, “I recognize that’s a legitimate choice to make.” May it never be!

So while there were some good an helpful distinctions and the book was very charitable, there are times where I think his allegiance to psychology is more apparent than to Scripture. 

Treasuring the Word

January 29, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Discipline, Newsletter, Word of God

A happy Thursday to you! This past Sunday I preached on Treasuring the Word. So have you considered this week how to implement a plan to get into the Word more in the coming year?

Remember that a wish is different than a goal. A wish comes flying through like a butterfly – it floats about, occasionally landing here or there, but it’s notoriously hard to pin down. A goal lands like an Army Ranger – it hits the ground and sets about doing what it’s supposed to do. When the Word is preached we all – me included – have a multitude of impressions and wishes that touch us. But the Spirit wants not merely to impress us but to change us – to begin transforming our habits.
James reminds us:

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (1:22-25)

So what things did the Spirit impress upon you during the sermon? What are you going to do to implement those things? Set a goal. Be very specific – goals are measurable, you should be able to check them off. At the end of the day, week, month, or year you should be able to say, “Yes – I did that.” So what new Bible reading habits do you want to implement this year – in your personal life and in your home? Don’t let that butterfly fly away! Get to it and make a plan.

Sins of Omission and Commission

January 22, 2015 in Bible - NT - James, Church Calendar, Confession, Newsletter, Sin

This coming Sunday we recite question numbers 14-15 in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Question number 14 directs us to the topic of sin:

Q. 14. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.

The Westminster divines remind us that sin entails both acts of omission and acts of commission. Acts of omission are covered in the first clause – “Sin is any want of conformity unto…the law of God.” When we fail to do that which we know we ought to do, that which God has commanded us to do, then we have sinned. As James reminds us, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). So be sure to listen to your conscience and to implement the good things you think of doing – don’t just think about them.

The catechism also addresses sins of commission: “Sin is any…transgression of, the law of God.” To rebel against God, to hear what God says and then to do the opposite, is also sin. Hence, the Apostle John reminds us that “sin is lawlessness.” Sin is an attempt to act as god; to pretend that we are the lawgiver and the judge; who will rule over me?

During Ordinary Time we confess our sins with the following words: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” Sins of omission and sins of commission.

Thank God that in His grace and mercy He has not abandoned us to our sins of omission and commission but has rescued and delivered us through His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord! He has rescued us and given us His Spirit that we might, by the power of the Spirit, do those things which honor and please Him. So don’t be discouraged: confess your sins of omission and commission and then rise up and hear God’s word of pardon and forgiveness, giving thanks to His Name.

Why Sing Psalms?

January 27, 2014 in Bible - NT - James, Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Singing Psalms, Worship
James 5:13 (NKJV)
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.
What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at the world in which we live – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”
James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray. We are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom you direct your cries.
Likewise, when we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer. When joyful, James tells us, that which should first come out is the psalms.
But as you think about the psalms, you will perhaps remember that some of the psalms are expressions of grief and longing for God’s presence – how do they fit with James’ theme of thanksgiving? It is here that we are directed back to James’ command to pray when burdened. James’ exhortation to pray also directs us to the psalms – for the psalms embody for us what despairing cries to God look like.
Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter for the life of the people of God. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray. And where do we find examples, patterns of prayers offered up in the midst of suffering? In the psalter. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing psalms. And where do we find these psalms to sing? In the psalter.

So here’s the question for you – do you know your psalter well enough to obey James’ exhortations? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?
I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalms. This is a new experience for us. Many of the psalms may be strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand and believe. But is the problem with the psalter? Hardly. It is with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms. And so, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more excellent in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. And one of the things that we do every month to enable us to fulfill this duty is hold a psalm sing. The psalm sing is specifically geared to help us fulfill the exhortations given to us by James – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God expects us to cry out to Him with the psalms and to praise Him with the psalms, let us kneel and confess that we have neglected to do so.

Confess Your Sins to One Another

January 20, 2014 in Atonement, Bible - NT - James, Bible - NT - Romans, Confession, Ecclesiology, Meditations
James 5:16 (NKJV)
16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.
As human beings we frequently endeavor to put on a front in order to prevent others from knowing who we really are. Fearful of rejection, we hide our struggles, we hide our doubts, we even hide our fears because our standing with others is based on our own performance, our own worth. So we often live painfully alone.
But Jesus frees us from this loneliness and fear. In Jesus we behold the love of God reaching out to us and rescuing us even though He knows exactly who we are and what we’ve done. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Our standing with God is not based on what we have done, what we are doing, or what we will do – but solely on the righteousness of Christ who has given Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed.
Consequently, Jesus empowers us to be honest with others, particularly with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can be honest, we can avoid putting on a front, we can seek help and accountability and encouragement because we know that God accepts us, God is on our side, God loves us – not because of our deeds but because of Jesus’ deeds. So freed from the paralyzing fear of what others think of me, I can confess to my brother in Christ, confess to my sister in Christ – I need your help.
And if that brother or sister looks at me and says, “My god! What kind of freak are you!”; if that brother or sister refuses to help, rejects me, then I can rest in the knowledge that God is still on my side. “I have sought God’s forgiveness in Christ; so even though my brother has rejected me, God has not.” And in the knowledge of God’s favor I can approach another brother or sister for help, for encouragement, for accountability.
But as Christians we often fail to believe the Gospel, fail to believe that our standing with God really is dependent on Christ’s work and not on ours, and so we begin erecting fronts once again. We are fearful of confessing our sins to one another; fearful of seeking help; “Everyone else seems to have it all together,” we say to ourselves. “If I tell them my struggles then they might not speak with me any more.” And so we erect a stunning façade but inside we’re becoming increasingly empty and lifeless.

James exhorts us, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” In the knowledge that God has forgiven us, that we are right with God because of Jesus’ sacrificial atonement, let us confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed, that we may grow in righteousness, grow in our ability to please the Lord who has loved us. Let us cease hiding; cease erecting facades, cease playing at following Christ. Let us pray for one another so that the joy on our faces, the delight in our eyes, the comfort in our souls be not merely a façade but reflect what is truly reality. And let us begin by confessing our sins corporately this day.