Expose the Unfruitful Deeds of Darkness

November 25, 2018 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Communion, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Heart, King Jesus, Marriage, Meditations, Responsibility, Sexuality

Ephesians 5:8–12 (NKJV)

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

Paul reminds us in our text that when the Lord saves us, He delivers us from darkness and brings us into the light. Whereas we once walked in darkness, subject to the prince of darkness and in bondage to our own sinful nature, God in Christ has brought us out of Satan’s kingdom and made us part of His own. He forgives our sins and renews us in the inner man, giving us a new heart by the power of His Spirit. He makes us to be children of light.

As those adopted into His family and made citizens of His kingdom, He now summons us to walk as children of light. The Lord of Light pours out the Spirit of Light upon children of light. And the Spirit so works in the hearts of those who have truly believed that they practice, in Paul’s words, goodness, righteousness, and truth. The Spirit bears rich and abundant fruit in the lives of His own. He causes us to walk in God’s commandments.

Consequently, those who have been saved want to have open lives. They want to dwell in the light and to have the vestiges of darkness removed from their lives. In Paul’s words, they have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. They don’t hide their emails or their phone conversations. They don’t engage in filthy speech or coarse jesting. They don’t look at pornographic pictures or develop intimate relationships with persons other than their spouse. They cultivate a love for goodness, righteousness, and truth.

While the calling to expose the unfruitful works of darkness is often uncomfortable and unpleasant, it is our duty to do so. We have just welcomed the —- household into membership. I now have the sober duty to announce that the elders are publicly suspending —- from the Lord’s Supper for the sins of adultery and deceit. For several years, —- has been living in sin, preying on several different women, some of whom have attended our congregation. He has been deceiving his wife and others and has been repeatedly unfaithful to her. Thankfully, —- is professing repentance. However, given the length of time he has lived a life of deceit regarding the nature of their relationship and his own walk with the Lord, the elders have determined to suspend him from the Supper until he manifests fruits in keeping with repentance.

We know that this will come as a shock to you even as it has come as a shock to his family and to the elders. We had believed that —- was walking faithfully with the Lord and that he was faithfully loving his wife. The truth, however, is that he has been deceiving us all. He has been having fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness rather than exposing them. Thankfully the truth emerged this last weekend and there is now opportunity for genuine repentance and change.

So please pray for the —-. Pray for —- – that he would truly repent and repudiate the unfruitful deeds of darkness that have bound him for the last several years; that he would seek out help and, by the power of God’s Spirit, break with the sin that has enslaved him. Pray for —- – that she would continue to lean on the Lord, entrust herself to His loving care, and treasure her daughters. Pray for their children – that they would know the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ, experience the comforting presence of their Heavenly Father, and love and obey their mom in these trying times.

Moments like this should cause each of us to reflect on the treacherous nature of our own hearts and the deceitfulness of sin. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” (17:9) That judgment pertains to your heart and to mine. It was to forgive the guilt of our sin and to transform our hearts that Jesus gave His life on the cross and then rose again from the dead. So if you are in sin, ensnared by the darkness, come to the light before it is too late. Confess your sin in Jesus’ name and seek the forgiveness of the Lord.

Sobered by the pervasiveness of sin, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found 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.

Abounding with Thanksgiving

August 17, 2015 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Heart, Meditations, Thankfulness, Worship

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

Last week we learned that not only is our walk with Christ to be conducted by faith but it is to be conducted by faith in a specific person. Faith in itself is no virtue. For faith to be virtuous it must join one to the Christ revealed in Sacred Scripture; for trust in any other is not virtue but idolatry.
Today I want to develop at more length Paul’s admonition that we are to be abounding in the faith with thanksgiving. To abound, we said, is to overflow, to know no limits. Imagine a glass full to the brim with water on your kitchen table. When you bump the table what comes out of the glass? Water. Bump the table really hard and what comes out? Water. Why does water come out of the glass each time? Because that’s what is in the glass.
So too with thankfulness. We are to be abounding in the faith with thankfulness. Thankfulness is to fill our lives. If we were to picture one another as drinking glasses, the beverage swirling in the glass is to be thankfulness. And when we are abounding in the faith with thankfulness and someone comes along and bumps our table, bumps our life, if our glass is full of thankfulness, what will come out? This isn’t rocket science is it? If our hearts are full of thankfulness then when we get bumped thankfulness will come out.
So you were driving down the road and the little old lady in front of you was driving excruciatingly slow – what came out? You faced challenges at work – what came out? Your son or daughter disobeyed – what came out? Your mom or dad disciplined you – what came out? You found out you have a serious illness – what came out? The Supreme Court of the United States made another vile ruling – what came out? Bump, bump, bump. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes 5:18). Notice Paul’s qualifier – in everything give thanks. In prosperity, in adversity; in sickness, in health; in peace, in war. Give thanks in everything. How is this possible? Only if our hearts, only if our glass, is full of thanksgiving before our table is bumped. And our hearts will only be full of thanksgiving if we meditate deeply on the character and works of God – God who created us, God who redeemed us, God who has placed us at this time in history and who so numbers the hairs of our head that not one falls to the ground apart from His Fatherly care. When we meditate on these things, our hearts will be filled with thankfulness and we will be enabled to give thanks in everything for the wisdom of our Heavenly Father – not just when it appears wise to us but when it is in fact wise, namely, always. Of all people, Paul insists, we should be the most thankful, the most joyful, the most riotously happy for we serve the God who rules and governs all things.
But instead of being known for exuberant bubbly thankfulness, we are often known for our restrictions, our uptightness, our angst, our frustration, our grumbling. Paul calls us to something different – he calls us to thankfulness. So where are you?

Reminded that rather than abound in thanksgiving we often complain and grumble, let us kneel and confess that we are an unthankful people.

Unite My Heart to Fear Your Name

August 31, 2014 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Confession, Cross of Christ, Depravity, Heart, Meditations, Sanctification
Psalm 86:11–13 (NKJV)
11 Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name. 12 I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, And I will glorify Your name forevermore. 13 For great is Your mercy toward me, And You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
As a result of our rebellion against God in the garden we are all by nature, at birth, estranged from God. We are alienated from God in the womb. As we will read in our sermon text this morning, our rebellion against God resulted in our expulsion from the garden, from God’s presence.
By the grace of God this estrangement from Him, this alienation, is recoverable. We who were once alienated from God, strangers to the covenants of promise, have been brought near by the blood of Jesus Christ. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, our sins which separated us from God, have been covered. Therefore, for all those who turn from their sin and approach God through Christ there is forgiveness, reconciliation and peace with God.
But even if you are at peace with God, you sense the remnants of the sinful nature. In this life we groan – we groan under the consequences of living in a sinful world and we groan under the folly of our own sin. It is this latter groaning which prompts the psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 86. The psalmist prays, Unite my heart to fear Your name. In other words, he asks God to give him singleness of heart. Why? Because as believers in Christ we still face a divided heart – sometimes we find ourselves longing for the glory of God and the praise of His Name; other times we long for our own glory and sin against God and others. We need God to give us a united heart.

So this morning as we enter into God’s presence to worship – let us approach Him only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ; and let us beseech him to root out of our lives the sinful desires which divide our hearts from him and from one another. Let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

Covetousness and the Heart of the Law

April 6, 2014 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Covenantal Living, Heart, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Regeneration, Ten Commandments
Exodus 20:17 (NKJV)
17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”
It is in this 10th commandment that the true force of the other nine commandments is revealed. Had we simply the other commandments, we might console ourselves, like the Pharisees before us, with a mere external observance of God’s laws. I’ve never murdered another; I’ve never committed adultery; I’ve never stolen from my neighbor; I’ve never borne false witness in a court of law. But when we come to the 10th commandment, all such externalism is obliterated. For here we reach the true heart of the law – commandments which do not merely regulate our external actions but which govern our internal attitudes and desires.
Here we find the inspiration for Jesus’ insistence that the 6thcommandment forbids not merely murder but the hatred and spite that give birth to it. Here we find the inspiration for Jesus’ insistence that the 7thcommandment forbids not merely the acting out of sexual deviancy but the lust that gives rise to it. Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, idolatries, and every other thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God. The law reveals that our fundamental problem as human beings is not that we do the wrong things but that we want, we desire the wrong things. Our problem is a problem of the heart, a problem of allegiance. We do not want to acknowledge that God is the Lord. Evil actions are merely the fruit of that idolatry.
Because the law, particularly the 10th commandment, highlight our sin, many have concluded that the law is the problem. “Let’s get rid of the law then we won’t have these problems.” Paul declares the absurdity of this idea in Romans 7 –
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.
The problem is not in the law, the problem is in our hearts. The problem is that we have rebelled against our Creator and need him to forgive us for our sin and to enable us to love what is good and right. And praise be to God that He has sent His Son Jesus Christ to solve this problem. Through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, God forgives all those who confess their sins trusting in Jesus as their sacrifice. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the Spirit of God empowers all those who trust in Christ to begin loving righteousness and practicing the same.

So reminded that the law of God is holy and just and good and that, in ourselves, we do not desire to practice it in our lives, let us confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through His Son Jesus. Let us kneel as we confess together.

Liturgy is Inescapable

March 10, 2013 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Heart, Liturgy, Meditations

Isaiah 29:13–14 (NKJV)
13 Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, 14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”
Every church is liturgical, has a liturgy that directs them in their public worship week by week. Liturgies are inescapable. For what is a liturgy? Webster defines a liturgy as “a series of … procedures prescribed for public worship in the Christian church.” It is simply the order in which the activities of public worship are arranged. Sometimes these liturgies are simple and straightforward; other times they are intricate and complicated. everyone has a liturgy.
The question that must be asked, therefore, is not whether we should have a liturgy at all – that much is inescapable – but whether the liturgy we have reflects the principles given to us in the Word of God. And one of the first principles given us in worship is that it must come from the heart. As human beings we are always in danger of replacing genuine, heartfelt worship with hypocrisy – speaking “holy” words, doing “holy” actions, thinking “holy” thoughts all the while our hearts are far away from God.
Because this is a human problem that comes from the human heart and not an external problem, hypocrisy infects all types of worship. Whether it’s a low church Pentecostal service with its planned spontaneity or a high church Anglican service in which every word is scripted. Both are prone to hypocrisy because sinners plan them both. And it is this sin of hypocrisy into which Israel had fallen in Isaiah’s day:
Therefore the Lord said: “… these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men,…”

So what of you? Have you become distant from God, begun attending the divine service out of mere habit, giving no attention to the words spoken, putting no heart into the service? Have you become a mere spectator thinking that worship is some sort of entertainment for your personal pleasure? Have you become dull of hearing? Or are you actively engaged? Learning your role in the service? Singing your part? Contributing your voice? Joining the one leading in prayer? Listening attentively?
Brothers and sisters, beware hypocrisy, beware mere externalism, beware drawing near to God with your lips when your hearts are far from him. God takes such hypocrisy seriously and threatens his people with his fatherly correction if we fall into such sin. So reminded that when we come to worship, we are to come with our hearts engaged, loving and cherishing the Lord and His law, let us confess that we often draw near with our lips while our hearts are far from him. Let us kneel as we confess together.

What’s in Your Glass?

June 25, 2008 in Bible - NT - James, Heart, Meditations, Tongue

James 3:9-12 (NKJV)9 With [the tongue] we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. 10 Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring send forth fresh water and bitter from the same opening? 12 Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.

Today we close our exhortations from James regarding the tongue. James offers a stirring rebuke of hypocrisy and asks a series of rhetorical questions driving home the same point again and again – we must control our tongues. Simultaneously his comments illustrate the point he has already made – that this control of the tongue is not something we can conjure up by mere will power but that it must proceed from a heart that has been transformed by the grace of God. By nature we are full of cursing and deceit. We need the Spirit of God to come and transform our hearts in order that we might use our lips to bring glory and honor to our Savior.

Our Lord Jesus explained the source of sins of the tongue in this way:

“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22 thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within and defile a man.” [Mark 7:21-23]

Note carefully that Jesus states that sins of the tongue – deceit and blasphemy as examples – come out of the heart. And James, with his series of illustrations in our text today, makes the same point. “Can a fig tree, my brethren, bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Thus no spring yields both salt water and fresh.”

So here’s the important question – what is coming out of our lips? Because whatever is coming out of our lips reveals what is in our heart. That which comes out of our lips doesn’t emerge willy nilly. Rather, it reflects what is inside.

Some years ago I illustrated this point with my children by having them fill a glass full of water – so full that the water was cresting at the top – and put it on the table. Then I told them, “Bump the table,” which, of course, they were only too happy to do. Then I told them to bump it again and they did. Then I asked a simple question – “When you bumped the table, what happened?” “It spilled,” came the intelligent reply. “Good! But what came out of the glass? Did dirt come out? Oil? Shampoo?” “No,” they reply, “water – because that’s what was in the glass.”

So James is challenging us – what is in your glass? Is it joy, gratitude, thankfulness, and contentment? Or is it cursing, bitterness, and deceit? What comes out of our lips is a reflection of what is in our heart. And so Solomon urges us, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.”

Reminded that we are often full of cursing and deceit, full of blasphemy and complaint, full of slander and lies, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.