The Crisis of Unbelief in the Church

September 16, 2018 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Judgment, Meditations, Postmillennialism, Sovereignty of God

Proverbs 10:23–25: To do evil is like sport to a fool, But a man of understanding has wisdom. 24 The fear of the wicked will come upon him, And the desire of the righteous will be granted. 25 When the whirlwind passes by, the wicked is no more, But the righteous has an everlasting foundation.

It is important to understand that increasingly we live amongst a people who act as though there is no God. We live amongst fools; for it is the fool who says in his heart, “There is no God.” He runs up debt with no intention to repay; he makes promises and does not fulfill them; he commits sexual immorality, performs lewd acts, divorces his spouse, violates his oaths. He does not believe there is anyone who will call him to account, “I am my own master.”

Consequently, in Solomon’s words, doing evil is like sport to a fool. Life is just a game where decisions are not a matter of life and death; not a matter of heaven and hell; everything will turn out fine. “It’s all good,” so the saying goes.

A man of understanding, however, has wisdom. He understands that his choices have consequences – not only in the next life but also in this life. God is the Lord, rewarding the just and judging the wicked. The wise man lives his life aware of this fact; lives his life in the fear of the Lord.

Though the fool may claim that there is no God who rules in the affairs of men, the wise man knows better. God does rule; God does see; and He shall reward the righteous and judge the wicked – both in this life and in the next. The fear of the wicked will come upon him, and the desire of the righteous will be granted. When the whirlwind passes by – when God’s judgment falls – the wicked is no more, but the righteous has an everlasting foundation. As Solomon reminds us in Proverbs 11:31,“If the righteous will be recompensed on earth, how much more the ungodly and the sinner.” God is just and His justice will manifest itself in the course of human history.

Today Christians are facing a crisis of unbelief: it’s not that we don’t believe in God, it is that we do not believe that God’s justice will triumph in human history; we do not believe God executes justice in space and time. As a result of pessimistic end-times teachings about the nature of history, we have become convinced that wickedness is going to triumph in history. “The world is going to hell in a hand basket and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

It is understandable that unbelievers think this way. The unbelieving worldview is cynical by nature. This week Peter Hitches wrote a review of Game of Thrones, highlighting the way in which it basks in this unbelieving cynicism. He writes:

In [the author’s] imaginary country, virtue and trust are always punished… almost everyone associated with honesty, selfless courage, and justice is doomed…. Bravery and charity toward others are rewarded with death or betrayal. The simple poor are raped, robbed, enslaved, and burned out of their homes. Chivalry… is… a fraud. All kinds of cruelty and greed, typified by the House of Lannister, flourish like the green bay tree. Treachery and the most debauched cynicism are the only salvation, the only route to safety or advantage.

While this debauched cynicism is not surprising in unbelievers, believers should know better. The Scriptures assure us that God’s justice will triumph in history. Though the wicked may temporarily triumph, God shall cause their fears to come upon them.

So what of you? Have you become cynical, believing that God’s justice will sleep forever? Have you become discouraged, longing for God to reveal His justice on your schedule? Do not give way to this unbelief but be a man, a woman of wisdom. Trust in the Lord. Remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

Reminded that the wise man lives His life in the fear of God, knowing that God’s justice will triumph, let us confess that we have often been cynical, often been discouraged. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As we confess our sins, let us kneel before the Lord as we are able.

The Father is Seeking Worshipers

June 18, 2017 in Bible - NT - John, Communion, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Sovereignty of God, Worship

John 4:23–24 (NKJV)
23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”

Last week we observed that Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman explained some of the changes in worship from the old to the new covenant. While old covenant worship was centralized in Jerusalem, new covenant worship has been spread throughout the earth; and while old covenant worship was simply monotheistic, new covenant worship is Trinitarian, gloriously monotheistic. Today I’d like us to meditate on Jesus’ remark that the Father is seeking such to worship Him.

In the history of Christianity, one of the names used to identify the weekly corporate gathering of the congregation is the Divine Service or the Lord’s Service. Unfortunately, we rarely use this term any longer, almost exclusively using the word “worship” to label our weekly gathering.

On one level, of course, using the label “worship” is entirely fitting. To worship God is to ascribe worth to Him – it is to announce that He is the Lord and Creator of all and is therefore worthy of all honor and glory and power. Each Lord’s Day we gather to worship the High and Exalted One, the One who has created us from nothing and who has redeemed us from destruction. As Jesus says in our text today, we gather to worship God the Father in the Name of His Son and by the power of His Spirit. Worship is a great term.

But the term “worship” can obscure a fundamental reality to which Jesus points us in our text: The Father is seeking such to worship Him. Jesus declares that when we come to worship the Lord, the reason that we have come is because God in His mercy has sought us out. Our worship, in other words, is a response to God’s action. Why are you here today? Because God sought you out, God summoned you here, God brought you here. We love because He first loved us. We serve God in worship because God first served us by bringing us here.

And this is why the title the “Lord’s Service” is so helpful. The title is intentionally ambiguous – is the “Lord’s Service” our service of the Lord – worshiping Him, honoring Him, and praising Him – or is it the Lord’s Service of His people – calling us together, comforting us from His Word, and feeding us at His Table? Biblically our gathering each Lord’s Day is both. He serves us and we serve Him. And whose service is primary? Whose service comes first? The Lord’s. For if He did not serve us by calling us here then we would not serve Him by worshiping Him.

Ought we not, therefore, to begin each Lord’s Day with gratitude and thankfulness? God has called us here; summoned us to enter His presence and worship Him in Spirit and Truth. So how have you responded to His summons? Are you here with an eager heart and mind? Or are you here cloudy and disinterested, so worn from the cares of the week that you cannot serve Him well?

Reminded that God has sought us out and served us in order that we might serve Him, let us confess that we often respond to His work with ingratitude and indifference rather than joy and delight. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

God and our New Year’s Dreams and Resolutions

January 1, 2017 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Sovereignty of God
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 enter into a new year. The old has passed away, behold the new has come! As we 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 here 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 saw in our study of Psalm 29 last week, Yahweh, the God of the Storm, is the very one who promises to give His strength to His people. David sings, The Lord will give strength to His people… In Christ, by the Spirit, that promise is fulfilled. God has granted His strength to us.
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 this New Year’s Day, 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.

A Vision of the Sublime

June 9, 2016 in Liturgy, Quotations, Sovereignty of God, Word of God, Worship

“To speak of God’s ‘holiness’ is to say that there is no one like him, that he has absolute power and perfection; to speak of God’s ‘glory’ is to say that he is preeminent in existence and that the whole universe is filled with evidence of his importance and sublimity…. to the degree that a vision of the sublime has faded from the consciousness of a religious people, adoration and reverence as well as obedience and service have also been diminished. For worship to rise above the clutches of a materialistic and secular world, the church must once again focus on such revelations of the Lord of glory. The revelations of glory revealed in Scripture will inspire all we do in the name of worship. Without them we, and our worship, will wither and fade; but with them we will be able to keep our eyes fixed on what is eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).”

Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, pp. 48-49.

The Justification of God

September 21, 2015 in Bible - NT - Romans, Book Reviews, Election, Sovereignty of God

Just finished reading John Piper’s The Justification of God: An Exegetical & Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23. It was excellent but not for the faint of heart. His study pays close attention to the Greek text, the Old Testament background, and the New Testament cultural mileu. His central thesis – worked out more popularly in his books like Desiring God – is that God’s chief end is the exaltation of His character and Name in all the universe. Even as the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, this too is God’s chief end – exalting His Name in all the universe. And His determination to exalt His Name in all the earth is good news for His people.

Some quotations from Piper:

“Therefore these prophetic writings… impress upon the careful reader of the Old Testament that all God’s saving deeds spring ultimately from his loyalty to his own name…. the righteousness of God consists most basically in God’s unswerving commitment to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory. Thus if God ever abandoned this commitment and no longer sought in all things the magnifying of his own glory, then there indeed would be unrighteousness with God.

“…the righteousness of man in relation to God is (reflecting God’s righteousness) to love the honor of God’s name, to esteem above all things God’s glory (especially as it has been mercifully experienced in his saving deeds), and, finally, to do only those things which accord with this love and esteem. Thus human actions may be described as righteous not because they conform to an ‘ideal ethical norm’ (like impartial distributive justice, though this may often be righteous), but rather because they are fitting expressions of man’s complete allegiance to maintain the honor of God’s name and display his glory.” (p. 119)

“Thus God’s glory and his name consist fundamentally in his propensity to show mercy and his sovereign freedom in its distribution. Or, to put it more precisely still, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex 34:7) on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God.” (p. 121)

“For God to condone or ignore the dishonor heaped upon him by the sins of men would be tantamout to giving credence to the value judgment men have made in esteeming God more lowly than his creation. It is not so much that he would be saying sins do not matter or justice does not matter; more basically, he would be saying that he does not matter. But for God thus to deny the infinite value of his glory, to act persistently as if the disgrace of his holy name were a matter of indifference to him–this is the heart of unrighteousness. Thus if God is to be righteous he must repair the dishonor done to his name by the sins of those whom he blesses. He must magnify the divine glory man thought to deny him.” (148)

God’s Holiness and Ours

March 1, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - OT - Isaiah, Creation, Holy Spirit, Judgment, Meditations, Sanctification, Sovereignty of God
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.
Paul reminds us that the One who claims to love God and does not keep God’s commandments is a liar. Though the world would claim that such an idea is harsh and judgmental, the Scriptures make it quite plain: the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Why is this? The Bible grounds its answer in the holiness of God: the one who serves the Holy God must himself be holy. Why? Well what does it mean that God is holy?
The word “holy” conveys the idea of “separate, distinct, or different.” Theologians note that God’s holiness is both metaphysical(referring to God’s being) and ethical (referring to His character). First, God is holy metaphysically – He is the Creator and everything else is created. He is holy – fundamentally different from His creation. There are two basic realities: God and non-God. God, in other words, is transcendent: He is not part of the created order but distinct from it. As Paul says, “Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath and all things.”
Not only is God holy metaphysically, He is also holy ethically. God’s ethical holiness is His love for all that is good, righteous, just, and pure – it is His love of that which reflects His own character. As a result of our rebellion against God and our attempt to defy the metaphysical holiness of God, to breach the distance between Creator and creature, to become “like God” – as a result of this rebellion, we became morally corrupt / unholy. Hence, not only do we stand before God as creature before our Creator, we also stand before Him as sinner before our Judge.

And it is this twofold reality of God’s “otherness” as our Creator and His “righteousness” as our Judge explains why we must be holy ourselves. God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil. He cannot just wink at sin and overlook our rebellion.
Consequently, when the prophet Isaiah saw God lofty and exalted and heard the angels crying aloud to one another, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty! The whole earth is full of His glory!” – when Isaiah beheld this holy God, all He could do was cry out, “Woe is me! For I am undone! For I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Glory!” God’s holiness leaves us feeling not only small but also unclean for He is Holy – He is our Creator and our Judge.
So have you reckoned with this God? Have you considered that you live your life ever before His eyes? That He created you and has given you life, breath, and all things? That He evaluates you and speaks to you regularly in the world, in your conscience, and in His Word? And what’s more, have you reckoned that you know you have not done all He would have you do? That you have unclean lips and that you dwell among a people of unclean lips?

For if we reckon with God’s holiness, with our Creator and our Judge, then our only possible response will be to bow before Him and to seek His mercy and forgiveness. And the good news is that God has provided a way in which He can remain holy and yet restore unclean sinners to fellowship with Himself. How so? By sending His Son to live a holy life on our behalf and then to endure the punishment which our sin deserved; so for all those who seek God’s mercy and forgiveness through Jesus, He promises to forgive us, to receive us into His presence, and to give us His Spirit that we might become holy. But for those who reject Jesus there is no forgiveness but only a fearful expectation of judgment. So this morning as we enter into the worship of the Holy God, let us seek His forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ – and let us kneel as we do so.

Shall We Not Accept Adversity?

August 17, 2014 in Bible - OT - Job, King Jesus, Meditations, Sovereignty of God, Trials
Job 2:9–10 (NKJV)
9 Then [Job’s] wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Our sermon today considers God’s words to Adam and Eve following our rebellion against God. We will find that the various troubles that exist in the world have their origin in our rebellion. Toil, severe pain, animal suffering, weeds, strife, death – all these things entered the world as a consequence of our rebellion.
But it is important for us to understand, simultaneously, that none of these things took God by surprise or happened apart from His Sovereign control. God is the Lord. He rules over men and nations. Nothing happens apart from His decree, including the Fall.
Consequently, when we face the consequences of living in a fallen world – when, like Job, we begin to suffer: we lose our wealth; our health is compromised; our loved ones die – when these things happen, as Christians we know that they come from the hand of God. As Job reminds his wife, Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity? God sends the one as well as the other; the heart of wisdom takes them from His hand and trusts Him in the midst of them.
If you are suffering, be assured that God is still in control, still ordaining and overseeing and governing all things. The question is not, “Has God sent this adversity?” – for we know most certainly that he has. No one can say to Him, what have you done?! The question rather is, “Why has God sent this thing?” Has he sent it because He hates you or because He loves you?
Hear the good news: if you have turned from your sins and sought forgiveness in Christ’s Name; if you serve God through Jesus, then God loves you. He has sent this suffering because He delights in you and delights to show through you the wonder of His power. So trust Him, rely upon Him, and know that not a hair falls from your head without your Father’s say.

Reminded that our God reigns and that he sends even adversity for the good of His chosen people, let us confess that we are often tempted to respond to adversity like Job’s wife; we’re often tempted to curse God. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

Sin in our Context

June 26, 2014 in King Jesus, Quotations, Sin, Sovereignty of God, Word of God

“Only 17 percent of Americans define sin in relation to God, so for the overwhelming majority sin has become a trivial matter, no more serious than having violated some church rule about something quite inconsequential… [But] Sin is all about taking issue with God, defying him, refusing to submit to him, and displacing him from the center of our existence… We imagine that within ourselves we have power enough, wisdom enough, and strength enough to live in security, in the fullness of happiness, as we want to live, amidst all the conflicts and opportunities of life… But all expressions of sin break apart what God has put together. Sin began by breaking apart our relation to God, and from this followed every other breach that has left life in pain, confusion, and disarray.”

David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World, pp. 102-104.

Our Incomprehensible Creator

April 7, 2014 in Book Reviews, Church History, Creation, Fabulosities, Sovereignty of God
This last Sunday I quoted from the book On the Trinity by the early church father Novatian (c. 200-258). The passage discusses the inability of we finite beings to either comprehend or explain God fully. Here is the quotation in full – this is an updated translation from the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 5:

Therefore, the mind of man cannot fully comprehend God in His being and nature, nor can our tongues adequately express the wonder of His majesty. For when conceiving and speaking of His majesty, all eloquence is mute and all mind impoverished. For He is greater than mind itself; nor can it be conceived how great He is, seeing that if it could, then He would be smaller than the human mind that conceived Him. He is greater, moreover, than all speech, nor can He be fully declared; for if He could, then He would be less than the speech which encompassed and contained Him. For whatever can be thought concerning Him must be less than Himself; and whatever can be declared must be less than Himself …For if the keenness of our eyes grows dull on looking at the sun, so that the brightness of the rays prevents us from gazing upon the orb itself, the keenness of our mental perception suffers the same thing in all our thinking about God, and in proportion as we give our endeavors more directly to consider God, so much the more the mind itself is blinded by the light of its own thought. What could you possibly say then that would be worthy of Him? He is more sublime than all sublimity, higher than all heights, deeper than all depth, clearer than all light, brighter than all brilliance, more splendid than all splendor, stronger than all strength, mightier than all might, more beautiful than all beauty, truer than all truth, more enduring than all endurance, greater than all majesty, more powerful than all power, richer than all riches, wiser than all wisdom, kinder than all kindness, better than all goodness, juster than all justice, more merciful than all mercy. Every kind of virtue must of necessity be less than He, who is the God and source of all virtue.