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.

Jesus the Only Savior

November 10, 2019 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Church History, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Glorification, Lord's Day, Meditations, Worship

On November 9th I had the privilege of participating in the ordination and installation of Adam Harris as the new pastor of Trinity Covenant Church (CREC) in Fort St. John, British Columbia. The next day, I was also privileged to participate in the worship service by giving the following exhortation:

Isaiah 45:22–25 (NKJV)

22 “Look to Me, and be saved, All you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. 23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath. 24 He shall say, ‘Surely in the LORD I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed Who are incensed against Him. 25 In the LORD all the descendants of Israel Shall be justified, and shall glory.’ ”

It is an auspicious and glorious occasion that has brought us together today. We have arrived here from our residences in and around Fort St. John; we have flown here from our houses in Oregon and Idaho; we have driven here from our homes in Ontario and Alberta. We have gathered with one accord to perform one of our central joys and duties as the people of God.

So what is it that has brought us together? It is to worship the Lord of glory. Now perhaps you thought I was going to say that it is the ordination and installation of Pastor Harris to Gospel ministry that has drawn us together. But it is not. For as significant as his ordination and installation to pastoral ministry is, his call to ministry is itself a means to an end – and that end is the worship and praise of the Lord of glory throughout the world. Pastor Harris is not the one whom Trinity Covenant Church and Fort St. John need. Jesus is the one you need. So we have gathered together to glory in Him; gathered together to worship Him; gathered together to kneel before Him; gathered together to take oaths in His Name and to claim the righteousness of Jesus Christ as our own.

Peter reminds us that “there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved” than that of Jesus Christ our Lord. He is our Savior; He is our Deliverer; in Him do we trust. As glorious as Pastor Harris’ ordination is, he himself will tell you that it is nothing to the exaltation of Jesus Christ as the Lord of all the earth. But we often turn from our Lord to other gods; turn from the Living God to put our confidence in princes or people or pastors or pagan gods. We forsake the fountain of living waters and build for ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Our Scripture today reminds us that the goal of God’s work in the world through His Church, through His ministers, and through His Providential governance is to ween us away from the worship of other gods and to instill within us an unswerving loyalty to Him. Jesus is the only Savior.

So reminded this morning that we are to seek the Lord alone to be saved, let us confess that we are routinely tempted to place our hope for salvation in our man-made idols rather than in the Lord of glory.

The Centrality of the Resurrection

May 19, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Easter, Ecclesiology, Glorification, Resurrection

1 Corinthians 15:12–19 (NKJV)

12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

As part of our celebration of Eastertide, I’ve selected these words from 1 Corinthians 15 to help us meditate on the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. As we approach Paul’s words, we must beware lest we drift into auto-pilot and simply assume that we know what Paul is saying. We might be tempted to assume, for example, that Paul is defending the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. “Paul’s point is that Jesus really rose from the dead and that this is what guarantees our forgiveness.” If we assumed this, however, we would be wrong. While Jesus’ resurrection is central to Paul’s whole argument, it is not Paul’s point in these verses.

So what is his point? Paul’s point is not that Jesus rose from the dead but that all other human beings are going to rise from the dead. You see the Corinthians weren’t denying that Jesus had risen from the dead; they were denying that the rest of us would rise from our graves. Listen to Paul again: Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead [generally, at the end of history]? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.

Notice that Paul is endeavoring to highlight the inconsistency of the Corinthians’ beliefs. If there is no resurrection at the end of history; if the dead will not be raised when Christ returns again in glory, then neither did Jesus rise from the dead. Why? Because Jesus’ resurrection is the guarantee that every human being will rise from his tomb and stand before God. Jesus is, as Paul says elsewhere, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. His resurrection is God’s pledge of the resurrection of all men. So note Paul’s argument: if we deny the general resurrection then we must, of necessity, deny Jesus’ resurrection. And if we deny Jesus’ resurrection, then we are still in our sins and without hope. But Jesus has risen from the dead; therefore, there will be a general resurrection.

In the modern American church we stand in dire need of re-reading these verses. We have gone on auto-pilot. We imagine that we can teach that Jesus rose from the dead and simultaneously teach that our ultimate destiny as human beings is to go to heaven when we die. But this is not the Gospel; this is not the Christian hope for the future; this is not the meaning of Easter. Our hope is that we shall emerge from our graves just like Jesus. So our confidence is that the bodies of those who have fallen asleep in Christ have not perished but that they do rest in their graves until the resurrection. We are not to be pitied; for we have not only in this life placed our hope in Jesus; there shall be a resurrection of the just and the unjust – Jesus’ resurrection is proof.

Paul’s words today remind us that it is not only our actions that are sinful; sometimes our ideas are sinful as well. We can embrace ideas that are erroneous and dangerous. The Corinthians were tempted to do so. So when God in His grace and mercy shines the light of truth on our error and corrects us, corrects our thinking, what ought we to do? We ought to confess our error, ask God’s forgiveness for our folly, and rely upon the sacrifice of Jesus to make us right with God despite our erroneous ideas. Jesus is the sacrifice for our sinful ideas even as he is the sacrifice for our sinful actions. Praise God this is so.

And so reminded that our ideas are often sinful and dishonoring to our Creator, let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through Christ. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

History is Foundational

May 5, 2019 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Church History, Easter, Ecclesiology, Meditations

1 Corinthians 15:3–8, 12-14 (NKJV)

3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. 7 After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. 8 Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time…12 Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.

The American Presbyterian historian and theologian J. Gresham Machen wrote his classic work Christianity and Liberalism to expose the massive chasm that separates these competing religious beliefs. In his day liberalism was just beginning its infiltration of American mainline churches. Machen warned that liberalism is not merely a corrupted Christianity, it is no Christianity at all. As one proof of his thesis, Machen noted that in liberalism Jesus’ resurrection is historically unimportant; what truly matters is not that Jesus rose from the dead but that Jesus lives on in each of our hearts. In other words, for liberalism experience not history is foundational.

As Machen correctly perceived, this notion is entirely foreign to Christianity. Christiantiy is not merely a system of dogmas or teachings, but a declaration of events that have theological and experiential significance. Christ died and rose again – that is history. Jesus did not swoon or get spirited away or exchange places with someone else. He actually died on a cross outside Jerusalem while Pontius Pilate served as governor of the Roman Empire in Judea. After three days, He rose from the dead and was seen by Cephas, the Twelve, 500 brethren at one time, James, all the apostles, and, finally, Paul himself. The Gospel is rooted in history, rooted in reality.

So why did Christ die and rise again? The answer to that question is theological. He died, Paul says, for our sins (15:3); He died to endure the punishment that our sins deserve. Then He rose from the dead to conquer death and free us from fear, to transform our experience. Our experience, therefore, depends upon history. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus in history, Paul tells us, “our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty” (15:14). In other words, in Christianity, history not experience is foundational.

In our broader culture, however, theological liberalism has won the day. Hence, we are constantly barraged by the claim that religion is primarily subjective, primarily a matter of personal experience. Religions are simply various ways of meeting the subjective needs of their followers; each religion is merely a record of the private, personal experiences of its adherents; hence, no religion is objectively true or false, just different. There are different strokes for different folks. Experience not history is foundational.

Christianity rejects this exaltation of subjectivity, of experience, over objectivity, over history. The Gospel is an announcement of something that objectively happened and that objectively changed the course of human history. Christianity is not just the record of private religious experiences; it is a public declaration: Jesus died, was buried, and then rose again; so all men and nations are called to confess that Jesus is Lord; He is God’s Anointed One.

So reminded that if we are to approach God it must be on the basis of truth, of something that really happened, and not just on the basis of our sincerity, of our personal experience; reminded that we must approach God through Jesus who died and rose again for our sins, died and rose again to reconcile us to God, let us kneel and confess our sins to God. 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.