What does it mean to abide in Jesus’ love?

October 22, 2017 in Bible - NT - John, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Ten Commandments

John 15:9–10 (NKJV)
9 “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

It has been a persistent temptation throughout history to separate the love of God from the law of God. In the passage before us today, however, Jesus teaches us to unite them. First, Jesus instructs us to love God. “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.” The Father has loved the Son for all eternity, delighting in Him and in the honor that He receives. Likewise, the Son delights in His people, loving and cherishing them. So, Jesus commands, “abide in My love” – remain in the love with which I have loved you.

It is at this point that much ancient and modern mysticism wanders astray. One of my professors used to define mysticism as that religious philosphy which begins in “myst”, centers in “I”, and ends in “schism.” Mysticism makes abiding in Jesus consist in certain feelings of dependency, or in a certain emotional state, or even in some sort of mystical enlightenment. Mysticism often sounds very spiritual. It urges us to listen to the promptings of the Spirit who, we are told, will guide and direct us through the course of our lives as to whom to marry, where to go to school, what car to purchase, or which job to take. It is important to experience God, to discern what His intentions are in each and every situation and then to follow them. This is to abide in Him.

But note that Jesus does not define abiding in Him in this way. To abide in Him is not to have an ongoing mystical experience but to devote yourself to His commandments. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. The one who abides in Jesus is the one who loves His commandments and keeps them; it is the one who meditates on the law of God and finds his delight in it; it is the one who hides God’s word in his heart that he might not sin against God. Abiding in Jesus is not mysticism but obedience.

So note that obeying Him means giving attention to His commandments, to His revealed will, to His written Word. We are not called to tune our spiritual antennae to the secret voice of Jesus but to tune our ears to the written word of God. So, for example, Jesus does not call upon us to have a mystical enlightenment which tells us which apple to buy at the store. “Oh, I think it’s that one there on the bottom of the bin.” No! He calls upon us to use our God given discernment and common sense to choose a decent apple and then to abide in Him by purchasing the apple rather than stealing it from the store. The abiding happens not in choosing the apple but in purchasing it. Why? Because God’s law has not commanded me which apple to buy; but His law has commanded me, “You shall not steal.” I’m free to choose any apple I want – green or red, ripe or rotten, small or large, fuji or macintosh – so long as I pay for it.

The same principle applies in many other realms. Whom shall I marry? Whomever you want, only in the Lord. Which home shall I purchase? Whichever you want, provided you can afford it. Which job shall I take? Whichever you prefer, provided that it is a lawful calling. Behold the liberty of abiding in Christ’s love! Behold the liberty of living by the commandments of God!

Reminded this morning that abiding in the love of Christ means keeping the commandments of God, let us confess that we have often disobeyed His commandments, that our sin has often separated us from our God. And reminded of our sin, let us kneel and confess it in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will have a time of private confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

A Pentecost Liturgy

June 4, 2017 in Holy Spirit, Law and Gospel, Liturgy, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Pentecost, Ten Commandments
One of the ancient associations of Pentecost is with the giving of God’s Law on Mt. Sinai. While the feast of Passover was associated with the deliverance from Egypt, Pentecost 50 days later came to be associated with the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai. As Christians, it is important, as we celebrate the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, that we not drive a wedge between God’s Law and His Spirit. For the Spirit who has been poured out upon us is the Spirit of holiness who enables us, by His grace, to live lives that fulfill God’s law. The Spirit teaches us to cry out with David, “O how I love your law! It is my meditation day and night.” So this morning we mark our celebration of Pentecost with a responsive reading of God’s law – the men will be reading each of the Ten Commandments and the women will respond with passages from the New Testament that parallel these commandments.
Responsive Reading of the Law of God (Exodus 20:1-17)
Pastor: Then God spoke all these words, saying,
Men: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me.”
Women: For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things, and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
M: “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
W: Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)
M: “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”
W: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name.’” (Matthew 6:9)
M: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
W: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.(Hebrews 10:24-25)

M: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.”
W: Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. (Colossians 3:20)
M: “You shall not murder.”
W: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For this, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:8, 9)
M: “You shall not commit adultery.”
W: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)
M: “You shall not steal.”
W: Let him who steals steal no longer; but rather let him labor, performing with his own hands what is good, in order that he may have something to share with him who has need. (Ephesians 4:28)
M: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
W: Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. (Ephesians 4:25)
M: “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.”
W: Do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints. (Ephesians 5:3)
All: Amen!

The Spirit not only teaches us the law of God, He also convicts us of the ways we have fallen short of its demands. And so reminded of God’s law, let us respond by confessing our sin to the Lord – and let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

Jesus Honored His Mother

May 14, 2017 in Bible - NT - John, Meditations, Parents, Ten Commandments
John 2:1–5 (NKJV)
1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”
In honor of Mothers’ Day, I thought it would be fitting to remember that our Lord Jesus, the very One who existed eternally as the Word of God and who assumed a human nature for us and for our salvation, had a mother and learned to honor his mother throughout His earthly pilgrimage.
One of the greatest tests of Jesus’ honor for his mother is described in our text today. As I have read, when the wine ran out at this wedding, Mary urged Jesus to assist the bridegroom. Unfortunately, her request was entirely inappropriate – so much so, that Jesus felt compelled to correct her. “Woman, what does your concern have to do with Me? My hour has not yet come.” She was not the one to determine when His earthly ministry would begin.
And yet; and yet, Mary is confident that Jesus will honor her request. So she speaks to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” Mary knew the character of her Son and knew that He would do this for her. And Jesus doesn’t disappoint. He turns the water into wine and, in so doing, reveals His glory and commences His public ministry.
There is an important lesson here for you children, especially for you sons. Note that even when Jesus’ mother asked something that was inappropriate given the circumstances, Jesus honored her and did what she requested. And if Jesus, the Lord of all, honored His mother’s request even when it was untimely, then how much more ought we children to honor our mothers when they make requests of us? In so far as we are able, let us fulfill the requests of our mothers – for Jesus has gone before us.

Often, however, we are too full of ourselves to sacrifice and die to our own desires on behalf of our mothers. We think of what our mothers are to do for us rather than what we are to do for them. But God calls us to honor our mothers even as our Lord Jesus did. As we see in our text, He commenced His ministry at her request. Further, one of His last actions was to provide for His mother’s welfare even while He was suffering on the cross, entrusting her to the care of the Apostle John (John 19:25-27).
So let me urge you fathers out there – one of your most important callings is to make sure that your children, especially your boys, respect and obey their mom. Your children should know that a non-negotiable in your home is disobeying mom. “You will honor your mother; you will obey your mother; or you will face me.” When mom is forced to say, “Just wait till your dad gets home!”, that should fill your child with a sense of dread. “Oh no! Now I’ve blown it!”

So today let us confess to God that we have neither treasured motherhood nor our own mothers as we ought. And let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Apostate Children

February 22, 2016 in Children, Discipline, Parents, Quotations, Ten Commandments

Note, The gross misconduct of wicked children is the grief and shame of their godly parents. Children should be the joy of their parents; but wicked children are their trouble, sadden their hearts, break their spirits, and make them go mourning from day to day. Children should be an ornament to their parents; but wicked children are their reproach, and are as dead flies in the pot of ointment: but let such children know that, if they repent not, the grief they have caused to their parents, and the damage religion has sustained in its reputation through them, will come into the account and be reckoned for.

Matthew Henry (1994). Matthew Henry’s commentary on the whole Bible: complete and unabridged in one volume (p. 74). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Shouldn’t you have more compassion?

December 8, 2015 in Coeur d'Alene Issues, Homosexuality, Politics, Resurrection, Sanctification, Sexuality, Ten Commandments

I’ve received diverse feedback on my recent My Turn piece in the Coeur d’Alene Press (here). On the negative side, the most frequent critique is that I need to have more compassion, need to be more loving, and need to consider what Jesus would say or do. Below is a response I wrote to this critique.


Thank you for responding to my letter and for taking an interest in these matters. Like you I think that these issues are very important and I do consider the difficulties faced by individuals who identify as transgender as tragic. I often look in the mirror and ask what Jesus would do and am often convicted of my own lack of courage, conviction, and compassion. I am thankful that He is my Savior even as He is the Savior of all those who turn from their sin and turn in faith to God the Father, our Creator and Redeemer. I daily thank God for His mercy in sending Jesus to rescue and redeem me. Apart from His grace I would be as lost and adrift as anyone.
 
You take issue with my parallels of bestiality and I certainly understand that comparison is uncomfortable. However, what you seem to be articulating does, it seems to me, leave you open to these types of comparisons. One of my professors used to refer it as the “hobgoblin of consistency.” You say that the transgendered individual is “no different than someone born with a genetic abnormality” but your only foundation for that claim is the assertion by the transgendered person that they feel like they should have been born a different gender. There are no genetic markers otherwise; just psychological ones. So how can you avoid giving credence to the person who says that they feel that they shouldn’t have been born as a human; that they really self-identify as a dog or cat and that they want to associate with those of their own self-identified kind? Then, once technology develops how will you escape supporting the surgeon who offers to begin a transspecies transformation? I do think that this is where your position inevitably leads.
 
I would fully agree with you that a person struggling with gender identity needs help, counsel, prayer, and compassion. They need those who are willing to help them see that biology trumps psychology; to help them know that God has created them male or female for a reason and that that reason is good. The basic types of struggles and temptations that they are facing are no different from the struggles and temptations that others face: e.g., the child who feels she has been born into the wrong home, the man who believes he should have been born into a more wealthy family, the woman who thinks she should have been born with more physical beauty, etc. These are all struggles that people deal with in varying degrees of intensity and each needs true compassion.
 
The parallel I typically draw is with drug abuse. The one who truly loves the addict won’t celebrate their addiction but help them to fight it and, Lord willing, escape it. True compassion, compassion that is informed by God’s commandments, will endeavor to help a “gender confused” person give thanks that God has created him or her as He has, to rest in that identity, and to look forward to the renewal of all creation when they will not be so conflicted. It is false compassion to fuel their confusion in the name of being loving. The one who truly loves them will endeavor to help them embrace God’s biological design. And, glory be to God, Jesus has risen from the dead to empower us to do that very thing. Through faith in Christ we can find peace – peace with God, peace with our gender.

Again, thank you for writing. This is probably a longer response than you wanted or expected. My apologies if so. I do sincerely hope that you will continue to think about these issues carefully.

Preference versus Principle

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

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

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.

Planned Slaughterhood

August 2, 2015 in Abortion, Bible - NT - Luke, Meditations, Ten Commandments
Luke 1:39–45 (NKJV)
39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
This week The Center for Medical Progress has continued its expose of Planned Parenthood’s barbaric treatment of the unborn. Not only has Planned Parenthood participated in the slaughter of the innocents on a scale that King Herod would have envied, it has sold the body parts of those slaughtered children to lab workers whose white coats can never cover the blood that is upon their hands.
Our passage today reminds us that infants in the womb are fully and completely human. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, it was not only a meeting of mothers but a meeting of the boys they were bearing. And the meeting of these boys was electric. John, a fetus developing in Elizabeth’s womb, leapt for joy to meet Jesus, a fetus developing in Mary’s womb. They were not mere tissue but tiny human beings interacting with their environment.
David declares the wonder of God’s creative genius in Psalm 139:13-16 – “For You formed my inward parts; you wove* me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they were all written, the days fahioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” God is the Master Craftsman – he not only created the first man, Adam, from the dust of the earth; not only formed the first woman, Eve, from the rib of Adam; but He fashions each man and woman in the womb, giving each a unique identity, calling, and dignity.
Human beings are made in the very image and likeness of God – and yet our laws protect those who kill them and our tax dollars have been used to fund one of the main institutions that slaughters and, now we have learned, sells their body parts. For forty years the blood of our unborn has cried out to God for vengeance and the God of vengeance has heard their cry. And it is our calling as God’s people to hear their cry as well.

So this morning, reminded of the dignity and honor which God has invested in every member of our race, let us confess that we have often mistreated those made in His image and that, as a people, we have too long countenanced the slaughter of the innocents.

Responding to Obergefell

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

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