The New Has Come!

December 31, 2017 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Church Calendar, Faith, Glorification, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Sanctification

Ephesians 3:20–21 (NKJV)
20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

This morning we find ourselves on the cusp of a new year. The old has passed away, behold the new has come! As we prepare to enter into this new year, I want to meditate on Paul’s words to the Ephesians. New years provide opportunities for renewed resolutions, hopes, and dreams. Paul’s words in Ephesians 3 contain profound wisdom for us as we consider these things.

So let us note that in our text Paul is giving glory to God in the process of which he gives instruction to us. So let us consider the significance of Paul’s words. First, Paul gives glory to God: to [God] be glory. So who is this God to whom Paul is giving glory? He is the One who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Whatever dreams or hopes you have for this upcoming year, Paul tells us, they are not too difficult for God to accomplish. God is able to do far more than we can articulate with our mouths or that we can even imagine with our heads. God’s power is infinite. He is Almighty God. Dream big.

Second, Paul tells us that this God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think is the very God whose power works in us. Did you catch that? If you are in Christ, then the omnipotent God, who rules and reigns among the affairs of men, is at work with His power in your life. As we will see in Psalm 37 today, God’s favor is toward His own and the meek shall inherit the earth.

You see, Paul wants the Ephesians to grow in wisdom and maturity and the way we grow is through a deep and personal knowledge of all that God has done and is doing and promises yet to do for us in Christ. So note that Paul gives glory to God in the Church by Christ Jesus. Note that the glory to God is by Christ Jesus – Jesus is the center of our faith. It is through His death and resurrection that we have forgiveness and newness of life; through His death and resurrection that the power of God is at work in us. Glory to God by Christ Jesus.

But note that this glory that is by Christ Jesus is in the Church. In other words, Paul wants glory to abound to God’s Name in and through you and me. God’s power is on display in His people – He has forgiven us and empowers us that we might display the wonder of His work in a dark and hopeless world, that we might display the impotency of Satan and his minions when confronted with the power of our Christ. In ourselves we are weak and powerless; but in our God we can run against a troop. God wants to display the wonder and the power of His grace in your life. Are you looking for a proof that God exists? Look for it as you grow in faith and godly character.

So what this means is that those excuses you’ve been making for not addressing that sin pattern in your life are groundless; those despairing voices that have been telling you that there’s no hope for change are lying; those urges to complacency that have said it’s okay that you’re just coasting along spiritually, that you’re not really growing or being intentional about serving Christ, those urges are from the devil. God gives His omnipotent strength to His people because He loves us and longs for us to “comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18b-19).

So as we enter into the presence of our Lord on the cusp of a New Year, let us confess that we have often failed to believe Him, failed to trust Him, and let us seek His forgiveness through Jesus Christ that He might empower us as His humble people to bring glory and honor to His Name. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Make your pastor’s labor light!

May 31, 2017 in Ecclesiology, Quotations, Sanctification, Word of God, Worship

“In preaching the word there is some toil, and this Paul declares when he says, ‘Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.’ (1 Tim. v. 17) Yet it is in your power to make this labor light or heavy; for if you reject our words, or if without actually rejecting them you do not show them forth in your works, our toil will be heavy, because we labor uselessly and in vain: while if ye heed them and give proof of it by your works, we shall not even feel the toil, because the fruit produced by our labor will not suffer the greatness of that labor to appear. So that if you would rouse our zeal, and not quench or weaken it, show us, I beseech you, your fruit, that we may behold the fields waving with corn and being supported by hopes of an abundant crop, and reckoning up your riches, may not be slothful in carrying on this good traffic.” 

John Chrysostom, Sermon on John 2:4.

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.

If there is any virtue…

November 21, 2016 in Bible - NT - Philippians, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Sanctification
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
Today we bring our series of exhortations on Philippians 4:8 to a close. Paul has catalogued numerous “excellent things” for us that we might meditate upon them and so be transformed by the Holy Spirit’s working in us. We have considered Paul’s call to meditate on whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report or praiseworthy. Today we close by meditating on that quality which unites all these others together, virtue.
In his 1828 dictionary Webster defines virtue in this way:
Moral goodness; the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice, or a conformity of life and conversation to the moral law. In this sense, virtue may be, and in many instances must be, distinguished from religion. The practice of moral duties merely from motives of convenience, or from compulsion, or from regard to reputation, is virtue as distinct from religion. The practice of moral duties from sincere love to God and his laws, is virtue and religion.
Virtue, therefore, is the pursuit of moral excellence and the avoidance of vice. It is the love and practice of whatever things are true, noble, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Furthermore, in the Scriptures, virtue is the pursuit of moral excellence out of a sincere love for God and for neighbor. God’s mandate is not merely that we do “virtuous things” but that we become“virtuous people.” He crafted us to be men and women who long to do what is right in any given situation – to love truth, honor, integrity, purity, justice, chastity, temperance, mercy, etc. and to practice the same willingly and joyfully no matter the cost.
The English word “virtue” derives from the Latin virtus, virtutis which means “manliness or courage.” You may think it strange that a word which originally referrred to courage came to be used to describe moral excellence. However, the pathway from its use to refer to strength or courage and only later to moral excellence is helpfully explained by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters. He writes,
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality. A chastity or honesty or mercy which yields to danger will be chaste or honest or merciful only on conditions. Pilate was merciful till it became risky.”
So what of you? Does your virtue have conditions? Or are you truly virtuous, willing to stand out, willing to ruffle feathers, willing to suffer ridicule, willing to be ostracized, willing to be scorned out of love for God and love for others? We must become courageous men and women precisely because God wants us to be virtuous men and women. “I, even I, am He who comforts you,” [says the Lord,] “Who are you that you should be afraid Of a man who will die, And of the son of a man who will be made like grass?” (Is 51:12) Solomon warns us, “The fear of man brings a snare, But whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.”(Prov 29:25)

Reminded of our calling to be virtuous, to choose to do and say the right thing regardless the consequences out of love for God and our neighbor, let us confess that our virtue often has conditions and that we are often ensnared by the fear of man. And, as you are able, let us kneel together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

We are far too easily pleased

November 2, 2016 in Glorification, Human Condition, Quotations, Sanctification, Sin

“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”


          C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

There are no ‘ordinary’ people

November 2, 2016 in Human Condition, Quotations, Sanctification

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ‘ordinary’ people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”


          C.S. Lewis

Whatever Things are Noble

October 17, 2016 in Bible - NT - Philippians, Depravity, King Jesus, Meditations, Politics, Sanctification, Sexuality, Sin
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
In Philippians 1, Paul prays that we “may approve the things that are excellent” (1:9b). In order to do so, we must be able to identify these excellent things and, in our text, Paul catalogues some of them. He calls us to meditate on these things – to give them our attention, mull them over, and let them shape our attitude and actions.
So let us meditate on whatever things are noble. This word noble is “used in classical Greek in the sense of ‘venerable, inviting reverence, worthy of reverence.’ The word exhorts here to a due appreciation of such things as produce a noble seriousness.” (Wuest) Other translations endeavor to capture the meaning with the English word “honorable.”
P.T. Barnum, founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus, once remarked, “No man ever went broke underestimating the public taste.” His remark reflects a sober truth: our sinful nature lends itself to that which is base. Taking advantage of this sinful corruption, much of the entertainment industry has become horribly degenerate, appealing to our baser instincts.
Yet even though our sinful nature gravitates toward that which is base and corrupt, we still possess a longing for nobility, a longing for that which is honorable and upright. Because we have been created in the image of God, we still retain a sense of the divine and, at times, long for those things which reflect His glory, long for nobility. This longing is cleverly expressed in an old poem of unknown authorship:

  I have three tame ducks in my back yard,
  Who wallow in the mud, and try real hard
  To get their share and even more
  of the overflowing backyard store.
  They’re fairly content with the task they’re at
  Of eating and sleeping and getting fat.
  But when the wild ducks fly by
  In a streaming line across the sky,
  They cast a wishful and quizzical eye
  And flap their wings and attempt to fly.
  I think my soul is a tame old duck
  Wallowing around in the barnyard muck,
  It’s fat and lazy with useless wings
  But, once in awhile when the north wind sings
  And the wild ducks hurtle overhead
  It remembers something lost and almost dead,
  And it casts a wistful eye
  And flaps its wings and tries to fly.
  It’s fairly content with the state that it’s in

  But it isn’t the duck that it might have been![1]

Paul calls us, in our passage, to follow those wild ducks; to meditate on what we were created to be; to delight in that which is noble, honorable, and glorious. He calls us to delight in the boy who opens the door for his sister; to rejoice in the wife who honors her husband and shields his faults; to esteem the man who keeps himself free from pornography; to admire the businessman who pays his employees well; to honor the soldier who lays down his life for his friends; to worship the Lord Christ who sacrificed Himself for us all. “That’s what I want to be like,” we should say, “that’s who I want to be.”
So reminded of our call to meditate on whatever things are noble, let us confess that we often gravitate toward that which is base instead. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.



[1] http://www.christians.org/grow/grow13.html

Whatever Things are True

October 9, 2016 in Apologetics, Bible - NT - Philippians, Bible - NT - Romans, Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Politics, Sanctification, Sexuality
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
In Philippians 1, Paul prays that we “may approve the things that are excellent” (1:9b). In order to do so, we must be able to identify these excellent things and, in our text, Paul catalogues some of them. He calls us to meditate on these things – to give them our attention, mull them over, and let them shape our attitude and actions.
So let us meditate on whatever things are true. “Truth is an attribute of God. As such the term speaks of His integrity, His trustworthiness, His faithfulness” (Holmes, 827). As the psalmist declares in Psalm 89:14, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; Mercy and truth go before Your face.” The Triune God is the true and living God, not a mere idol, not a figment of the imagination, not a pipe dream.
Because God is true, the world which He has created reflects His nature and, therefore, it has a distinct and definite nature. Our calling as human beings, is to understand the way God has made us and the world and to conform ourselves to this reality. We are to live truly not falsely – to live in accord with the way the universe really is. This implies, of course, that the world has a fixed nature, reflecting God’s own nature. This fixed reality characterizes empirical observations, intellectual and mathematical principles, and moral obligations. Boys are boys; girls are girls; animals are animals; gravity is real; 1+1 does in fact equal 2; multiplying the length times the width of a rectangle tells you its area; if all men are mortal and Socrates is a man, then it follows necessarily that Socrates is mortal; murder, adultery, and theft are grievous crimes; love suffers long and is kind.
All these statements are true, and Paul calls us to meditate deeply on these things. He summons us to rejoice in the regularity of the world that God has made. We are to rejoice in empirical truths, intellectual truths, and moral truths. And we are to rejoice in these truths wherever and by whomever they are discovered. All truth is God’s truth and we are called to meditate upon it; indeed, to rejoice in it.
However, when we are in rebellion against God, we don’t like to acknowledge the truth. Paul declares in Romans 1:25 that in rebelling against God, we “exchange the truth of God for a lie.” Having given ourselves over to this first-order lie, we find ourselves tempted to lie in other areas. We try to hide from the truth – for truth points us inevitably to the Truth Giver. As Jesus declares, “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 come to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (Jn 3:20-21).
This is why our culture has increasingly embraced the folly of relativism – whatever is true for you is true for you and whatever is true for me is true for me. There is no such thing as absolute truth – except, of course, for the absolute truth that there is no absolute truth. So we have begun calling evil good and good evil; justifying to ourselves our sexual licentiousness, our slaughter of the unborn, our greed, our loss of a moral compass. We have set ourselves up as the standard of truth. The result? We can no longer tell the difference between male and female; we have announced that men are able to wed one another; we have declared that a woman can be trapped in a male body; soon we shall claim that pigs fly.

But all this is folly, all this is falsehood, all this is lies and deceit and a sham. And Paul calls us to see it as such and to meditate instead on whatever things are true. So have you? Are you meditating deeply on what is true, are you being transformed by the renewing of your mind, or are you being conformed to this world by meditating on falsehood and filth? Reminded of our call to meditate on whatever things are true, let us confess that we often embrace what is false. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Necessity of Holiness

September 19, 2016 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Sanctification
Hebrews 12:14 (NKJV)
14
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
Back when I was in college a nefarious idea was spreading itself through Christian circles and continues to exist even to this day. The idea was that one could receive Jesus as their personal savior while refusing to submit to His Lordship; that one could be delivered from eternal destruction and yet have no evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in his life.
The text today belies such a notion and informs us in no uncertain terms that the pursuit of holiness is not optional. We are to pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.
Notice first that we are to pursueit. To pursue means to strive to do something with an intense effort to a goal, to press forward, to follow in haste. In other contexts this same word is used to describe persecution – to hound someone so that they cannot escape your clutches. And so, Paul tells us, this is to be our approach to holiness. We are to hunt it down, seek it out, latch onto it, press forward as to a goal.
And what is the goal? Holinessor, as it is called in other places, sanctification. To be holymeans to be separated to the Lord’s service, distinct from the world. And so the temple in the OT was called holy – a sanctuary, a place set apart for the worship of God. Holiness, therefore, is dedication to the Lord, manifesting itself particularly in moral purity. The goal, in other words, is to be living sacrifices, set apart for the worship and service of the Lord.
And so, Hebrews tells us, we are to pursue this holiness. We are to hunt it down. Bring out the blood hounds and find it. And he appends a warning to his admonition to prod us in the posterior lest we become complacent – without this holiness, we won’t see the Lord.
So, how are you doing? Are you hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Are you seeking first the kingdom of God? Are you selling everything to buy the pearl of great price? Are you scouring the house to find the lost coin?
None of us, of course, are adequate for such things. And this is why we stand in such need of the Spirit of grace who creates within us this very holiness, who cultivates within us the desire to pursue.

And so, as we come into the presence of our Lord this day, let us confess that we have not pursued sanctification as we ought and let us kneel and call upon His mercy to receive us and forgive us for the sake of Christ. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.