Beware the Treasures of Wickedness

November 5, 2017 in Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Meditations, Wealth

Proverbs 10:2–3 (NKJV)
2 Treasures of wickedness profit nothing, But righteousness delivers from death. 3 The LORD will not allow the righteous soul to famish, But He casts away the desire of the wicked.

The proverbs of Solomon guide and teach us in order that we might be full of wisdom; in order that we might govern our daily affairs in a way that glorifies and honors our Creator and Redeemer, the Lord of hosts. In Proverbs chapter 10, Solomon begins to identify practical ways that the law of God teaches us wisdom. So today he urges us to place our confidence in the Lord, not in riches.

Because God is our Father, He knows that we need food, clothing, and shelter. He is not ignorant of our necessities and of the fears we have of going without, nor of the desires that drive us to accumulate more. Jesus responds to our fears and longings in the Sermon on the Mount:

““Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:31–33)

Jesus reminds us to put our trust in the Lord in the face of our fears and longings, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, knowing that He will care for us. Righteousness, Solomon reminds us, delivers from death.

Unfortunately, rather than trusting in the Lord, we often let our fears and longings drive us to sin. We become so consumed with the longing for wealth that we ignore or violate God’s law in order to obtain more. For example, we steal from God, withholding our tithe from Him and acting as though what we possess is our own and not His gift. We also steal from others; we take money from the cash register, steal credit card information, or lie on our declarations of income in order to obtain a larger grant. We vote to tax the hard won earnings of our neighbor or to confiscate his lawful inheritance. We become miserly, refusing to share with others the wealth that God has shared with us. In all these ways and more we endeavor to accumulate, in the words of our text, “treasures of wickedness” imagining that they will profit us or protect us. But they won’t. Why not? Because God is watching and He casts away the desire of the wicked.

So reminded that we are to place our trust in the Lord, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and that we are not to accumulate for ourselves treasures of wickedness, let us confess that we often permit our fears and longings to drive us to sin. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Bear with the Word

October 1, 2017 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Bible - NT - Matthew, Heart, Meditations, Preaching, Word of God

Hebrews 13:22
And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.

Whenever the Word of God is preached and applied, we have the opportunity to respond to it rightly or wrongly. If we respond rightly, then we will, in the words of our text, “bear with the word of exhortation.” When the word of exhortation comes our way, we will receive it, consider it, and respond to it in a way that testifies to the world – “This is the word of God. This is the word of my master. He has commanded and I am obeying. Why? Because this is life itself.” As we respond to the word of exhortation in this way we will bear abundant fruit – in the imagery from the parable of the sower, we will bear thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold. The word of God will utterly transform us.

Yet how often do we respond to the word of exhortation wrongly – not with faith but with unbelief? Rather than “bearing with the word of exhortation,” we harden our hearts and refuse to listen. So how can we know we are hardening our hearts? Consider the other soils that Jesus describes in the parable of the sower.

Some soil was so hard that the seed did not even penetrate the ground but was taken away by the birds, Satan snatched the word before it even took root. Does this picture describe you? When you hear God declaring His will for human relationships or challenging your own prejudices, do you close your ears and silence your conscience? “How dare Christ claim to be the only way to God? How dare Paul say that wives must submit to their husbands?” So you reject God’s law in favor of your opinions. Or, perhaps more subtly, do you start critiquing the minister? “I can’t believe he is speaking this way – as though he is immune from sin.” You see, so long as you point the finger away from your own sin and refuse to bear with God’s word to you, you are hardening your heart. And so some, rather than bearing with the word, reject it, maintaining their own opinions and remaining in unbelief.

But some soil is not quite so hardened; some soil is very fruitful, for a time. The plant springs up quickly giving quite a show of health and vibrancy – but when the sun arises it quickly withers and returns to dust, when trials and hardships come, faith dies. Our initial joy and enthusiasm is replaced with disinterest as the novelty of the faith fades. We listen to the evening news and see the Christian faith ridiculed. We mention our opposition to homosexuality and face angry stares. We speak to our neighbor about Christ and receive the cold shoulder. So we begin to wonder if believing the Scriptures is worth it. Its message begins to sound so old-fashioned, so out of step, so boring. And so rather than bear with the word of exhortation, we become ashamed of it.

Still other soil produces fruit and yet as the seed grows it becomes choked and entangled by weeds; the cares and concerns of the world choke it out. This soil recognizes that the Word is important theoretically but it’s just not relevant. It has very little to contribute to the everyday realities of life. So listening to the Word of God becomes tedious and hum-drum; we begin to question why we’re involved in worship anyway. “I’d much rather explore my sexuality; I’d much rather amass as much money as I can; I’d much rather be out on the beach or watching a movie.” And so, rather than bear with the Word of exhortation, we can scarcely even bear it – sitting inattentively, just waiting for the preacher to get done so we can devote ourselves to what’s really important.

The Word of exhortation comes to you this morning: how are you responding? Have you hardened your heart? Do you reject the word? Are you ashamed? Are you inattentive? Then wake up, give heed and confess your sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, kneel with me as we confess our sins together.

The Church’s Task of Discipling the Nations

May 8, 2017 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Matthew, Discipline, Evangelism, King Jesus, Politics, Sanctification
Matthew 28:18–20 (NKJV)
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
The passage before us today has appropriately been labeled the Church’s Great Commission. This commission contains both indicatives (statements of fact, of what is the case) and imperatives (commands, moral obligations). Let us consider each in turn. First, the indicatives. Jesus gives two. First, He informs the disciples that He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth – through His conquest of sin, death, and Hades, He is now Lord of all, God’s Messiah come to rule the nations with a rod of iron. Second, He assures the disciples that He will be with them forever – though He would be absent physically, He would remain present with them, by the power of His Spirit, to comfort, encourage, enlighten, and empower them to fulfill the task He has given them.
So what is this task? What are the imperatives, the commands? What is the commission? Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations… Notice that the task is quite clear: our task is to disciple the nations. What does this mean? Well, our Lord explains the task by adding two phrases: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. Notice the two components of the discipling process: baptizing and teaching. Baptizing introduces someone into the life of faith; teaching them to observe Jesus’ commandments helps that same person learn to live out the faith. In other words, our task is both to bring the nations into the faith and to bring them up in the faith.
It is not sufficient for someone to be incorporated into the faith if they remain, in their thinking and acting, an outsider. If a mobster gets a job on the police force, we won’t rejoice if he’s simply puts on a uniform; we’ll only rejoice if he actually becomes an officer in heart and mind. So too – those who are brought into the faith through baptism are to be taught to observe the things that Christ has taught through instruction. Discipleship, in other words, involves both conversion and transformation.
Paul writes in Colossians 1:28, “we preach [Jesus], warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man [mature] in Christ Jesus.” Paul’s words reveal that the church is called not simply to get people “saved” or to get them to “make decisions” for Christ, but to grow them up in the faith. We are to disciple the nations not just evangelize them. We are to aim for their growth and maturity. In other words, we are to create civilizations not mere converts.
Today we will see that the task Jesus lays out for the Church in the Great Commission is the same basic task to which Jesus calls parents. We are called to disciple our children. We are to train and instruct them so that they mature in Christ. We are to bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Parents are to warn their children and teach their children in all wisdom, that they may present their children mature in Christ Jesus. That is the task.
Parenting involves, in other words, not only having a child but raising that child in the fear of God. Any fool who has passed puberty can sire or conceive a child – can becomea parent; however, it takes a man or woman of faith to raise a child in the fear of God – to be a parent.

So reminded that Christ is the exalted Ruler over all, that He remains with His Church to this day, and that He has summoned us to disciple the nations, including our own children, let us confess that we have often distorted or neglected our calling. And as we confess, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why use wine in the Lord’s Supper?

March 27, 2017 in Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Mark, Bible - NT - Matthew, Communion, Meditations, Politics
Matthew 26:26–30 (NKJV)
26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” 27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” 30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.
For several weeks, we have been explaining some of the traditions that we include in our corporate worship. Last week we touched upon our practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper weekly; this week let us consider our practice of using wine in the Lord’s Supper. Why wine?
This is not merely an academic question. As your pastor, I know that many of you are tempted by alcohol; a number who have a history of alcohol abuse in your families or in your own life. Our use of wine in communion is for some of you a personal challenge.
Further, we are part of a broader evangelical subculture which has a history of opposing alcohol. While Lutherans and Roman Catholics were almost uniformly critical of the prohibitionist movement in America, many of our evangelical forefathers jumped on the wagon. “Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t chew; and don’t go with girls that do!”
So given these personal and historical factors, why do our elders persist in using wine? One of the questions that we evangelicals are known for asking is, “What would Jesus do?” In the matter of wine, the way to answer that question is to ask first, “What did Jesus do?” And the NT answers that question clearly: Jesus made wine, Jesus drank wine, and Jesus used wine to commemorate God’s salvation.
First, Jesus made wine. The first miracle that Jesus performed was turning water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. And, as the question that the master of the feast asks the groom makes plain, this wasn’t grape juice. “Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!” (Jn 2:10) Jesus made excellent wine.
Second, Jesus drank wine. Jesus contrasts His ministry with that of John the Baptist in this way, “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’” (Mt 11:18-19). Jesus came drinking – and many accused Him of being a winebibber, a drunkard. Such an accusation would hardly stick were Jesus known as a teetotaler. Jesus drank wine.
Finally, Jesus used wine to commemorate God’s salvation. When Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper, He used the fruit of the vine as a symbol of His shed blood. Refrigeration was not common in the ancient world. When the Bible references “the fruit of the vine”, therefore, it refers almost exclusively to wine. And if Jesus used wine to celebrate the Supper, why wouldn’t we?
So what did Jesus do? He made wine, drank wine, and used wine to commemorate God’s salvation. And here’s a very important point: Jesus did all this within a cultural context in which drunkenness was a common problem; He established this for His Church knowing that many of His disciples would be tempted by alcohol. So why did He do it? Why didn’t He just use water like the Mormons do?
Because in using wine within the context of the Supper, Jesus declared that wine is good in itself. The problem with humanity is not there in the cup; the problem is here in our heart. Drunkenness proceeds out of the heart (Mk 7:20-23). Communion puts the use of wine in a holy, a sacred context. By giving me wine for communion, Jesus is teaching me that it is possible for me to use and not abuse this gift to the glory of my Creator.
So what of you? Have you thanked God for the gift of wine? Further, have you been using that gift to His glory or have you been abusing it to your own shame? Reminded that God has given us wine to use to the honor of His Name and that we often deny or abuse His good gifts because our hearts are corrupt, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Seeking the Lord in Times of Trouble

September 5, 2016 in Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Trials
Psalm 13:1-4
 “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
         How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
         Having sorrow in my heart daily?
         How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
         Enlighten my eyes,
         Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
         “I have prevailed against him”;
         Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
David lived a difficult life and seldom enjoyed long periods of peace and prosperity. It was left to his son Solomon to enjoy such things while he himself was a man of war. Because he was a man of war, David routinely found himself in tight spots. Mocked by his brothers; harrassed by Saul; despised by Abimelech; scorned by his wife; pursued by his son Absalom; David often found himself facing enemies – some outside his house and some, tragically, inside.
Psalm 13 was composed in just such a circumstance. David was in trouble, his enemies were surrounding him, his defeat at their hands seemed nigh at hand.
Imagine, if you will, the turmoil that struck David in each of these circumstances. The pain and fear that must have confronted him. Well – we need not imagine. For we find his fears, pains, and anxieties expressed in the psalm before us today.
“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
         How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
         Having sorrow in my heart daily?
         How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”

Now consider your own circumstances. What troubles are you facing? Which enemies are surrounding you? What fears, pains, and anxieties are troubling you?
One last question: what are you doing with those fears? Notice what David does with his fears: he brings his anxious longings into the very presence of God. He does not suppress them; he does not fester over them; he does not wallow in them. He gathers them together and puts them in the best hands possible – the Lord’s.
“Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
         Enlighten my eyes,
         Lest I sleep the sleep of death;”
Our Lord Jesus counseled us:
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”

Jesus calls us to be like David – to place our fears, our anxieties, our worries in the hands of our Faithful Father who cares for us and promises to protect us. But often we fail to do so, do we not? So reminded of our failure to entrust our worries into the Lord’s hands, let us kneel and confess our sins in Christ’s name, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Face to Face Communication

January 31, 2016 in Bible - NT - 2 John, Bible - NT - Matthew, Confession, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Trials
2 John 12–13 (NKJV)
12 Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. 13 The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.
Today we bring to a close our series of exhortations on 2 John. John has reminded us time and again of the intimate relationship between truth and love. Truth and love are not competitors but companions. As we emphasized, truth is like our skeletal structure and love is like our flesh. Truth without love is dead and love without truth is an amorphous blob. Only truth and love together, bones and flesh together, enable us to serve Christ to the glory of the Father.
And because of this intimate connection between truth and love, John is not content simply to write to his audience. Written words are great; written words are important; written words can convey a lot. But written words cannot convey adequately the heartfelt love and loyalty that John had for this congregation. He wanted to speak with them face to face – so that they could not only read what he had to say but see how he said it. He wanted them to know how deadly these false teachings really were; how reliable Christ really is; how burdened John really was for their spiritual growth. There is no substitute for face-to-face communication.
John’s words remind us that when we are facing difficulties and challenges with others, the best remedy is face-to-face communication. Face-to-face interaction forces us to remember who this person really is; gives us an opportunity to clarify ourselves, to express our heart and to ask questions.
At no time is this face-to-face interaction more important than when someone has sinned against us. Jesus commands us in Matthew 18:15, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.”Jesus commands us to pursue face-to-face communication with a brother or sister who has sinned against us. We are to “tell him his fault” privately – to speak to him, tell him the offense, and attempt to bring about reconciliation. We aren’t to give him the cold shoulder; aren’t to post his transgression on Facebook; aren’t to write him an email; aren’t to get even; aren’t to gossip to others. We are to go and tell him his fault privately. We are to seek him out face-to-face.
And the goal of this face-to-face communication is reconciliation. The goal is to re-establish peace and to again experience joy in the relationship. John writes, “I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” Doing the (often) challenging thing of pursuing our brother or sister when there is tension in the air is the only way to eliminate that tension and reestablish joy.

So reminded this morning of our calling to unite truth and love and to do it by seeking face-to-face contact with our brethren, particularly when there is tension in the relationship, let us confess that we often grow cold and distant instead; that we often keep to ourselves, become resentful or indifferent, and rob ourselves and our brethren of joy. And as we confess these things, let us kneel before the Lord.

Extortioners, Swindlers and the Kingdom of God

September 21, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - Matthew, Meditations, Ten Commandments
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.
Today we bring our series of exhortations on 1 Corinthians 6 to a close. Paul has catalogued a number of sins from which God in His grace and mercy has determined to free us in Christ. While these sins did characterize us in our unbelief, they are not to characterize us in Christ. We close with Paul’s declaration that extortioners will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Extortion is the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats. Paul has already condemned thieves – those who take others’ possessions as their own – he now condemns a certain type of thievery – a thievery that uses one’s superior strength or wit in order to take advantage of others. The ESV captures the full extent of the Greek with the translation “swindle” – to put forward plausible schemes or use unscrupulous trickery to defraud others; to cheat.
It is likely that the group of people that Paul particularly had in mind were false prophets who used their slick speech to line their own pockets. Jesus warned in the Sermon on the Mount, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Mt 7:15). That word “ravenous” is the same Greek word found in our text. False prophets extort and swindle people; they get from the sheep whatever they can for their own advantage, not caring for the sheep or feeding them or protecting them.
The modern church has no shortage of such swindlers from televangelists who capture gullible men and women to certain mega-church pastors who tickle people’s ears with feel-good sermons. Paul describes them well as men who suppose that godliness is a means of gain (1 Tim 6:5).
But religious swindlers are just one type of a breed – we find the same type of person in politics and business and health care and social services and relationships. Swindlers include all those who twist the good gifts that God has given them – whether strength or wit or speech – and then use that gift to aquire that which God hasn’t given them. They are acting on the adage, “Might makes right.” Rather than use their strength and wit to glorify God and serve others, they use them to take advantage of others.
So what of you? Are you using the gifts that God has given you for for the glory of God and the good of your neighbors? Or are you using those gifts to swindle others?

Reminded that extortioners shall not inherit the kingdom of God, let us confess that we often use our gifts to take advantage of others rather than serve them. Let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.

Original and Actual Sin

February 5, 2015 in Baptism, Bible - NT - John, Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Genesis, Newsletter, Regeneration, Sin

This week one of the questions we recite from the Westminster Shorter Catechism concerns our sinfulness:

Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness, and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.


The catechism reminds us that our fundamental problem as human beings is not what we do (actual sins) but what we are (original sin). Our problem is that our nature is corrupt. And it is from this corruption of nature, a corruption which all human beings share, that our actual transgressions proceed.

And this, I believe, is one of the reasons that God has always dealt not just with believers but with their children – commanding our fathers to circumcise male infants and (I would argue as a good Presbyterian) commanding us to baptize our male and female infants. Even those precious, cuddly, warm and snuggly infants have a corrupt nature. Hence, apart from the grace of God, they too will perish in their sins. But thanks be to God! He shows mercy to our children and our children’s children to a thousand generations.

This also reminds us why we are wholly dependent upon God for our salvation from first to last. Paul reminds us that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” It is not simply that we “do not” please God but that we “cannot please God” – we lack the ability and the desire. Left to ourselves we will consistently choose to worship idols, to abandon the Living God, and to spurn His good law. So we depend on God to draw us to Himself (Jn 6:44), to enlighten our minds (Mt 11:25ff), and to free us from the shackles of our sin (Jn 8:34-36). When He does so, our only fitting response is one of praise and thanksgiving!

This week we study the Call of Abram – God in His grace and mercy reached out to Abram when he was in Ur of the Chaldees and called him to faith. This was wholly of grace – even as our call to faith is wholly of grace. So let us join our voices with Abram’s in giving thanks to God.

Ordinary Time

January 8, 2015 in Bible - NT - Matthew, Bible - OT - Psalms, Church Calendar, Creation, Newsletter, Providence

Greetings and blessings as we enter into Ordinary Time. There are two sessions of Ordinary Time in the Church Year. The first is this that we have entered which spans from Epiphany to Ash Wednesday. The second follows Trinity Sunday in the Spring and continues until Advent. The majority of the year, therefore, is Ordinary Time – it is the time of slow and steady growth at the hands of our wise and loving God.

Jesus reminds us in His parables that the kingdom of God is like planting and harvesting a crop – it grows slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, but always persistently. God is at work. Consequently, the color for Ordinary Time is green – the color of plant-like growth.
Appropriately this Sunday we recite the 11th question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Q: What are God’s works of providence?
A: God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions.


The Living God is the Lord of all; He is sovereign. Not only did He create all things in the beginning, He continues to sustain them by His Almighty Hand. Providence is what separates us from Deists. Deists want a god who created but who is no longer involved in the history of the world and creation. But the Living God is not like this. It is He who causes the earth to rotate on its axis; He who supplies the birds of the air with food; He who directs the molecular structures of every created thing. “Our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Ps 115:3).

Because our Lord is Sovereign and in control of all, all those who have Him as our Father through faith in His Son Jesus, can have great confidence. We can rid ourselves of worry and anxiety – God is in control. “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29–31) Praise God!