Discernment and Covid-19

April 19, 2020 in Bible - NT - Romans, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Depravity, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Politics, Responsibility, Ten Commandments, Wisdom, Word of God

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

This morning we return to Paul’s catalogue of the bitter fruits that are produced by those of debased mind, those whom God in His justice has handed over to their sin for their rebellion. Today, we consider Paul’s assertion that people of debased mind “are undiscerning.”

The ability to “discern” is the ability to distinguish what is good from what is evil; what is most important from what is least important; what is major from what is minor. Repeatedly Jesus rebukes the leaders of Israel for their inability to discern. They strained out gnats and swallowed camels; they washed their hands but inside were full of dead men’s bones; they tithed mint and dill and cumin but neglected the weightier matters of the law. They were undiscerning.

This inability to discern was not unique to the leaders of Israel. Paul exhorted those Jewish Christians who were entertaining abandoning Christ and returning to unbelieving Judaism:

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Paul’s words reveal that the ability to discern good from evil is a gift from God given to those who meditate regularly on His Word. After all, discernment requires a standard of assessment; that standard is God’s moral law. By meditating on His law, we have our senses trained to discern good and evil and are capable of consuming solid food.

Our current Covid-19 crisis has revealed that many of our leaders are undiscerning, incapable of identifying what is most important and ignorant of God and His moral law. Most Governors that have issued stay at home orders have distinguished between “essential” and “non-essential” services – yet the application of this distinction has uncovered many perverse priorities. Elective surgeries canceled but abortions continued; family diners closed but marijuana shops opened; churches shuttered but liquor stores accessible. These inconsistencies highlight our inability to discern what is most important and necessary for a healthy society.

The tragic consequences of this inability to discern are increasingly manifesting themselves. Quarantining the sick and urging the vulnerable to isolate themselves is wise and prudent; destroying our people and their livelihoods through statewide quarantines is not. The true heroes and sacrificial victims of our current crisis are the owners and employees of so-called “non-essential” services or businesses whose livelihoods have been destroyed and savings depleted by the actions of our governing authorities. Until our governors voluntarily suspend their salaries and cut pay for all “non-essential” government services, then they are, like the Pharisees before them, loading burdens on the backs of their people that they themselves are unwilling to bear. Let us not, in the comfort of our homes, enjoying extended time with family, continuing to receive a paycheck, forget those who are being sacrificed for the safety of a small percentage of our society, including myself, who are especially vulnerable to the Covid virus. This entire debacle weighs heavy on my heart and I find myself resorting again and again to the cry in our confession of sins, “Lord, have mercy!”

So reminded of our need to meditate deeply on the Word of God in order that we be equipped to discern good from evil; wisdom from folly; freedom from servitude; let us acknowledge that we have failed to do so and that we are reaping the consequences of our lack of knowledge. So let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sins to Him. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your order of service.

Calamity Comes from the Lord

March 29, 2020 in Bible - OT - Amos, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Ecclesiology, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, King Jesus, Lord's Day, Meditations, Politics, Providence, Responsibility, Sin, Sovereignty of God, Trials

Amos 3:1–6 (NKJV)

1Hear this word that the Lord has spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying: 2“You only have I known of all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” 3Can two walk together, unless they are agreed? 4Will a lion roar in the forest, when he has no prey? Will a young lion cry out of his den, if he has caught nothing? 5Will a bird fall into a snare on the earth, where there is no trap for it? Will a snare spring up from the earth, if it has caught nothing at all? 6If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?

Amos reminds us that when calamity comes, it comes from the loving hand of the Lord for the benefit of His people. God had rescued Israel from Egypt. But rather than fear and serve the Lord, Israel had rebelled against Him, worshiped idols, and committed iniquity. While God had permitted the nations to wander astray and to pursue their own course in the old covenant, He had chosen Israel as His own peculiar people. Consequently, He refused to let them remain in their sin. Whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, even as a father the son in whom he delights (Prov 3:12).

Therefore, the Lord acted to chastise Israel for her sin and to bring her back to the Lord. The calamity that was striking Israel in Amos’ day was clearly from the hand of God. Amos uses a series of rhetorical questions, the answers to which are patently obvious, to emphasize this. These questions culminate in the final one, “If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?” Of course! After all, He is the Sovereign Lord and the Ruler of His people Israel.

Given that this calamity was from the Lord, what ought Israel to do? She ought to acknowledge her sin, return to the Lord, and cry out for His forgiveness. It may be that God would relent of His punishment:

14Seek good and not evil, That you may live; So the Lord God of hosts will be with you, As you have spoken. 15Hate evil, love good; Establish justice in the gate. It may be that the Lord God of hosts Will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15)

Amos insists that if the people of Israel repent and return to the Lord, loving His law and seeking His forgiveness, God may relent of the harm that He has brought. He may bless Israel and restore her.

So what does Amos teach us? Whereas in the old covenant, God dealt almost exclusively with the nation of Israel, in the new covenant God is calling all men everywhere, God is summoning all nations, to turn from their sin and to worship Him through His Son Jesus. Even as the Lord summoned Israel to repent by punishing her for her iniquities, so God is summoning us to repent. The calamity that has come upon us is from the Lord. Will we give heed, turn from our sin, and turn in faith to Jesus Christ, crying out for forgiveness and mercy? Or will we harden ourselves in our unbelief and our iniquity?

As the people of God, let us lead the way in seeking the Lord and His favor for our people. Let us confess our sins and the sins of our people to the Lord and seek His forgiving and empowering grace, praying that He would have mercy upon us as a people and draw us back to Him, back to the truth. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As we confess our sins to the Lord, let us kneel together as you are able.

They are Violent (Insolent)

February 9, 2020 in Bible - NT - Romans, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Heart, Human Condition, Meditations, Politics, Sin, Trials

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Paul’s continues his catalogue of the bitter fruits that are produced by a debased mind with violent. Paul writes that rebellious peoples, peoples whom God has delivered over to their sin because of their rebellion, “are violent.”

The Greek is hubristeis from which we get our English word hubris or pride. Yet the lexicons tells us that hubristeis means “more than merely an attitude of pride, for βρίζω implies an attitude of superiority which results in mistreatment of and violent acts against others” (Louw-Nida). Most translations opt for the word “insolent” which Webster defines as “proud and haughty, with contempt of others; overbearing; domineering in power.” In the only other use of this exact term, Paul describes his manner of life prior to his conversion, “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (1 Ti 1:13). His insolence, his proud and haughty countenance combined with violence, led him to persecute innocent men like Stephen and to supervise their imprisonment or murder.

The same root word appears in other places and reveals that a people given over to insolence increasingly persecute those who love God and who treasure His law. So the unbelieving Jews of the Old Testament “treated [the prophets] [insolently], and killed them” (Mt 22:6). Jesus Himself was “mocked and [treated insolently] and spit upon” (Lk 18:32). In Acts 14:5, “a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews [at Iconium], with their rulers, to [treat insolently] and [to] stone [Paul and Barnabas].” Paul recounts that he and Silas “were [insolently] treated at Philippi” (1 Thes 2:2).

It is no surprise, therefore, that as our culture has drifted away from God and embraced various forms of unbelief, God’s people have become objects of inceasing persecution. You may have read how Swiss Air recently terminated its contract with the chocolate maker Läderach after the sexual revolutionaries protested because the owner of Läderach leads a pro-life, pro-family Christian group. Läderach is not alone. Others have faced lawsuits, political pressure, financial punishment, ostracism – in a word, insolence.

But though the insolent persecute the just and may momentarily triumph, it is always better to serve the Lord and to be numbered among His people. “Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, Than to divide the spoil with the [insolent]” (Pr 16:19). Why? Because God is against the insolent and will destroy them: “The LORD will destroy the house of the [insolent], But He will establish the boundary of the widow” (Pr 15:25). God urges Job to conduct himself even as God does, “Disperse the rage of your wrath; Look on everyone who is [insolent], and humble him. Look on everyone who is [insolent], and bring him low; Tread down the wicked in their place” (Job 40:11-12). And Isaiah reminds us, “For the day of the LORD of hosts Shall come upon everything [insolent] and lofty, Upon everything lifted up— And it shall be brought low—” (Is 2:12).

And so the Lord summons you today to flee from insolence, from the violent pride that opposes His work in the world and joyfully to number yourself among His people. Reminded that the Lord will judge the insolent, let us confess the sin of our people in opposing the Lord and His Christ, and let us pray that He would have mercy upon us and turn our hearts back to Him lest we continue to experience His judgment. And, as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord as we are able. We will have a time of private confession, followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

The Descent into Utter Debasement

September 22, 2019 in Abortion, Apologetics, Bible - NT - Romans, Children, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Creation, Depravity, Heart, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Meditations, Politics, Responsibility, Sanctification, Sexuality, Sin, Temptation

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

This morning we continue our survey of Romans 1. Paul reminds us that unbelief never remains isolated in the head and the heart; it inevitably bears fruit. Over time, unbelief degenerates into idolatry, immorality, homosexuality, and thence into utter debasement and societal instability; its fruit is barbarism whereas the fruit of faith is civilization.

Today we begin to examine the descent into utter debasement and societal instability. God is just. Therefore, when we refuse to repent in the face of widespread idolatry, immorality, and homosexuality, when, in Paul’s words, we do not like to retain God in [our] knowledge, then God hands us over to our sin. He gives us over, Paul writes, to a debased mind… This debased mind then reveals itself in the practice of those things which are not fitting.

So what does Paul mean by a debased mind? A debased mind is one that is adulterated, corrupted, twisted. It is the type of mind that argues that no-fault divorce is good for society and good for children; it is the type of mind that believes we can increase wealth by confiscating others’ rightful property; it is the type of mind that defends pornography as freedom of expression; it is the type of mind that cannot distinguish a boy from a girl; it is the type of mind that imagines that having drag queens read to little children and groom them for sexual exploitation is praiseworthy; it is the type of mind that thinks coercing people to make cakes for sodomite unions is just; it is the type of mind that thinks it is merciful to permit mentally confused people to change their sex on their birth certificate.

A debased mind, in other words, is a mind that has lost its moral compass. In our case, succumbing to the internal logic of relativism, our debased mind no longer has the ability to distinguish good from evil, justice from injustice, or kindness from cruelty. “A righteous man,” Solomon notes in Proverbs 12:10, “has regard for the life of his animal, but even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.” Societies that rebel against God eventually lose what used to be called “common sense”; God gives them over to a debased mind.

When God hands a people over to a debased mind, that debased mind begins to manifest itself in action. We do those things that are not fitting, that do not reflect our true glory as men and women made in the image of God. We were created to rule over the world in righteousness, faithfulness, and truth; to erect civilizations to the glory and honor of God. But a debased mind degenerates into barbarism, cruelty, injustice, and dishonor.

In coming weeks, we will explore these actions in more detail. For now, suffice it to say that our dishonorable actions are the outworking of our debased mind. Our debased mind is the root; the dishonorable actions are the fruit. Therefore, what is our calling as the people of God? What is your calling as a follower of Christ? Paul commands in Romans 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Your calling is to be transformed by the renewing of your mind, to study the Word of God and permit it to shape your mind anew, so that you can begin to practice that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

So what of you? Are you conforming yourself to the world or are you being transformed by the renewing of your mind? If you are not being transformed, if you are not purposely renewing your mind through study of and meditation upon the Word of God, then let me assure you that you are being conformed. Transform or conform – those are the only options.

Reminded that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, let us confess that we are often conformed to the world instead. And as you are able, let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sin. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

Open Letter to Idaho Dept of Health & Welfare

September 18, 2019 in Apologetics, Authority, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Creation, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Image of God, Politics, Truth

The Idaho Department of Health & Welfare is accommodating itself to a judicial ruling that requires the State to allow individuals to change the gender on their Certificate of Live Birth. They are inviting public comment on these changes (email at dhwrules@dhw.idaho.gov) and below is my open letter on this matter:


Dear Idaho Department of Health & Welfare,

Good afternoon. It is my understanding that your department is receiving public input on permitting individuals to change their gender on certificates of live birth. I am unable to attend the public hearing here in Coeur d’Alene this Friday but wanted to take the time to register my concerns and objections to allowing such changes.

As a pastor in the State of Idaho, I share the concern of others in our community for those who are suffering confusion regarding their sexual identity. The mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical distress that accompany such confusion is monumental and these individuals need true help. They need to be counseled to reconcile their sexual identity with their biological sex. Any other sort of counsel or therapy is deceitful, encouraging the person to lie to themselves and others.

Regardless of one’s personal perception of their sexual identity, their biological sex is a fixed reality. We have been created and born either male or female and birth certificates in our State have reflected this truth. Indeed, it is the duty of the State of Idaho to represent that fixed reality, that truth, in our documentation for truth’s sake. The State no more has the right to classify a biological male as a female than it has the right to declare that dogs are cats and cats are dogs. The State does not have the right to lie. To do so will invite the judgment of Almighty God upon us.

If the Federal Government is endeavoring tyrannically to force our State to allow such changes on our birth certificates, then I would urge Governor Little to appeal, first, to God, the Supreme Ruler over all men and nations, to have mercy upon our State and, second, to the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn such a wicked mandate. If States are refusing the dictates of the Federal Government regarding the legalization of marijuana (which they are), then certainly the State of Idaho can refuse the dictates of the Federal Government regarding the preservation of the truth on our birth certificates.

Let me urge you, therefore, to continue to record the biological sex of individuals on Idaho Certificates of Live Birth. Such certificates should not be changed unless the biological sex was mistakenly recorded.

Sincerely,

Stuart W. Bryan
Pastor
Trinity Church
A Reformed & Evangelical Congregation
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
www.trinitycda.org

The Descent into Homosexuality

September 15, 2019 in Apologetics, Bible - NT - Romans, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Depravity, Heart, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Judgment, Justice, Marriage, Meditations, Politics, Responsibility, Sexuality, Sin, Sovereignty of God

Romans 1:26–27 (NKJV)

26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.

This morning we continue our survey of Romans 1. We have seen that when peoples rebel against the Living God, that unbelief never remains isolated in the head and the heart. Unbelief inevitably works itself out into idolatry and thence into immorality, then into unnatural homosexual lusts, and, finally, into utter debasement and societal instability. In other words, barbarism is the fruit of unbelief while civilization is the fruit of faith.

Today we examine the descent into unnatural homosexual lusts. Paul writes, “For this reason God gave them up to vile passions…” In other words, when groups of people fail to repent in the face of widespread sexual immorality and its devastating consequences, then the just God hands them over to even more degrading practices. As we emphasized last week, not all sins are equal. Some sins are more heinous in the sight of God than others. Among these more heinous sins is that of unnatural homosexual lust and behavior. Paul writes clearly, “For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful…” Despite attempts to reinterpret Paul, it is clear that he is addressing homosexual longings and acts among both women and men. A woman who pursues another woman sexually or a man who pursues another man sexually is committing a grievous sin.

So why is homosexual desire and behavior so sinful? First, Paul insists that it is against nature. “…women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman…” Both lesbianism and sodomy are affronts to the God who made mankind both male and female, who made men to respond sexually to women and women to respond sexually to men. To indulge in same sex attraction or acts is to rebel against one’s very nature as male or female and, hence, to rebel against the God who created one male or female.

Therefore, second, Paul describes this behavior as shameful: “…men with men committing what is shameful.” While a man who lusts over a woman or a woman over a man is committing a grave sin, their sin, distorted though it is, reflects their underlying nature; it is a sin that can have a lawful outlet in matrimony. And, as Paul reminds us, the marriage bed is undefiled (Heb 13:4), sanctified to the glory and honor of the Creator. The homosexual bed, however, whether united in a faux (fake) marriage or not, is always and in every situation shameful and degrading. There is no lawful outlet for homosexual longings.

Therefore, homosexual longings are, in Paul’s assessment, vile passions. They are passions, that is, desires that dwell in the heart; and it is from these desires in the heart, Jesus tells us, that sins emerge (cf. Mk 7:21). Homosexual acts are but the fruit of homosexual desires – and it is the desires that are, in Paul’s words, vile – the Greek word means infamous, dishonorable, reproachful, disgraceful. They are passions which can never be lawfully fulfilled. And so the passions themselves, as well as the acts which proceed from them, must be confessed as sin and forsaken.

Because these passions are vile, God faithfully reveals their character even to those who practice them. How does He do so? Paul writes that the practitioners receive in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” God visits those who practice these sins with troubled consciences, mental disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases, and, in so doing, calls them to repent, to turn from darkness and return to the light.

But we as a people have not heeded these calls to repentance, have we? Our entertainment industries thrust such perversions upon us; our media outlets increasingly praise perverse sexual behaviors; major businesses tout their allegiance to gay pride; the Supreme Court of the United States has compelled the States to recognize same sex unions in Obergefell; and even our own city forbids business owners and others from “discriminating” against perverse sexual behavior. We are guilty.

As we come into the presence of the Lord, therefore, let us lead our culture in the way of confession. Let us acknowledge our sin and pray that God would have mercy upon us, enabling us to embrace our identity as male or female and escape our coming judgment. And as we confess our sin to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Prayer for the Church Family in America

May 2, 2019 in Baptism, Bible - OT - Psalms, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Ecclesiology, Holy Spirit, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Mosaic Law, Politics, Sacraments, Ten Commandments, Wisdom, Word of God

Today is the National Day of Prayer. Our local Pastors’ Association coordinates an event in our city at which various pastors briefly pray for our families, our churches, and our communities and leaders (local, state, federal). I was tasked to pray for the Church Family in America and given the following Scripture as my theme:

Psalm 111:10 (NKJV) – The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments. His praise endures forever.

Almighty and Everlasting Father,

You are good, You do good, and You are worthy of praise. You have not abandoned us Your people but have revealed Yourself in Your most holy word. Your law is holy, righteous, and pure, beloved of all those who put their hope in You. Our Lord Jesus knew that Your law is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path; so He Himself delighted in Your law, rejoiced in Your precepts, and meditated upon Your commandments day and night. He was filled with the Spirit of wisdom and of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. Likewise, He summoned us, as His people, to walk in the light of Your Word. “If you keep My commandments,” He said to our fathers on the night He was betrayed, “you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (Jn 15:10).

But, Father, we Your people have not feared You as we ought; we have despised Your commandments; we have substituted our own opinions of what is good and right for Your most holy Word; we have preached cheap grace, “grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ;” we have preached “forgiveness without repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession of sins.” Holy Father, have mercy upon Your Church and grant us repentance; unite us together in a most holy love for You, for Your Son Jesus, for Your Word, and for one another, that together as one body we might praise Your Name forever and ever,

Amen.

*The words in quotations are from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

A Prayer for our Service Men & Women

May 4, 2017 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Politics, Prayer, Thankfulness

Today was the National Day of Prayer. Our local pastors gathered at McEuen Park for our annual lunch time prayer gathering. I was asked to pray on behalf of our service men and women. This was my prayer:

Psalm 105:4 – Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore!

Almighty and Everlasting God, unless You guard the city, the watchman stays awake in vain; so we come seeking Your guidance, Your protection, and Your blessing on our service men and women.

Guide them, O Lord. Give them wisdom to know the right and honorable thing to do in any and every circumstance. To the commanders: grant that they would submit the might of our armed forces to the principles of right and justice which You have revealed in Your eternal law; that we might never, as a people, permit the ends to justify the means and that we would declare war and wage war justly. To all our service men and women: grant that they would be brave, courageous, and conscientious amid conflict; that they would be a credit to this nation and to the principles for which we stand.

Protect them, O Lord. Some men trust in chariots, some trust in the horse, but we will depend upon the Name of Christ our Lord. Protect them from the hand of the enemy; protect their marriages from the stresses of military life; protect their children from the absence of a parent; and protect their minds and hearts from the terrors of war.

Bless them, O Lord. Bless their plans and their strategies. Grant our generals wisdom and insight. Grant our service men and women satisfaction in their labor, joy in their service, and excellence in their calling. Grant that they might never have cause to be ashamed of serving this nation – that we would reflect the honor and courage to which we call them.

Finally, we ask Your forgiveness for increasingly placing our women in combat roles and even considering drafting them for military service. Forgive us, and grant us men willing to sacrifice their own lives and reputations to protect the women and children of our society. All this we ask in the Name of Christ our Lord,

Amen.