Your Problem is Internal not External

March 28, 2021 in Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Children, Confession, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Heart, Human Condition, Meditations, Regeneration, Responsibility, Sexuality

Jeremiah 17:9–10
9“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.

In our sermon this morning, we study Romans 3 and the universality of unrighteousness. As Paul will summarize, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Or, as Jeremiah reminds us today, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” So let us consider some implications of our sinful, fallen nature.

I am sure that many of you have heard of the man who shot and killed several people at a massage parlor in Atlanta recently. A professing Christian, he apparently told police that he had been struggling with sexual sin and so decided to attack the massage parlor. Apparently, he believed that if he were to get rid of these women then he would be eliminating that which he found so tempting. In other words, he believed that his primary problem was outside of him.

But what Jeremiah insists is that our fundamental problem is not outside us; the problem is inside us – in our hearts and minds. Your problem is not other people. Your problem is not your circumstances. Your problem is your heart. You are corrupt and do not fear God. This is your root problem.

So if you are a man dealing with sexual temptation – your problem is not women. If you are a woman dealing with envy or bitterness – your problem is not that others have wronged you or that others have the gifts you want. If you are tempted to drunkenness – your problem is not alcohol. Your problem is not outside but inside. Men are not the problem; women are not the problem; sex is not the problem; liquor is not the problem; money is not the problem; the problem is your sinful heart that twists and abuses these good gifts that God has given.

So notice what this means. This means that the chief threat to your home is not outside your home. The chief threat to your home is inside your home. It is inside every sinner who resides in your home. You are a sinner. If you are married, your spouse is a sinner. If you have children, your children are sinners. And the chief threat is there, in those sinful hearts.

So let’s say you’re relatively poor. You don’t own your own home, have as nice a car, have as many toys; you can’t travel like your neighbor does or afford those organically grown foods – truly you’re suffering for Jesus. So you make some impulsive and foolish financial decisions. You buy a car you can’t afford; you run up credit card debt; you get yourself in a bind and now you feel like you’re drowning. What do you do? Do you blame your circumstances for your impulsive decisions? If you do, then you will never grow, you will never change. In most situations, finances are more about our hearts than our circumstances. “The love of money,” Paul writes, “is the root of all kinds of evil…” If you’re willing to confront that heart issue, then you can truly grow.

Or, fathers, let’s say you’ve had a hard day at work. You come home. Your children disobey and, rather than get up and do the hard work of lovingly disciplining your child, you lash out at him with your voice or strike him in anger. Whose fault is that? When your conscience smites you, can you say to your conscience, “Hey, I was tired! He shouldn’t have disobeyed. It’s his fault. It was a hard day.” No! Your circumstances do not justify your sin. Now, they may help contextualize your sin. By observing them, you may be able to learn more about yourself, to understand when you are particularly tempted to sin so that you can fight that temptation in the future. That is the process of sanctification and it is a good and right process. But what you cannot do, if you really want to grow in Christ, is blame your sin on your circumstances.

Let’s say, teens, that you get frustrated with your parents. You don’t think they’re listening to you or understanding you or seeing things the right way. So you roll your eyes or you speak disrespectfully. Whose fault is that? When your parents confront your disrespect, can you excuse yourself? Can you say, “Well you made me angry! It’s your fault!”? Is your disrespect their fault? Will God excuse you? No!

There are times when we Christians act as though our problem is primarily external not internal. We say to ourselves, “We are raising our kids in just the right way, so we won’t have the problems that people out there in the world have. Our kids won’t look at porn. We won’t have unwed mothers. Our kids won’t be drunkards. We’ll never have a child tempted to commit suicide. Our method will work.” If you think that way, then you have not yet reckoned with the depth of your sin, your spouse’s sin, and your children’s sin. Methods will not save us. Laws will not save us. Only the grace and mercy of God in Christ can save us and our children from destruction.

And so reminded that our hearts are desperately wicked and that we cannot save ourselves, let us confess our sin. Let us confess our need for the forgiving and transforming grace of God in Christ. And let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Mind your Business

March 14, 2021 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Bible - OT - Exodus, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Love, Meditations, Responsibility, Sanctification, Wealth, Work

Exodus 23:9 (NKJV)
9 “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

One of the most challenging things that many of us face in our daily lives is that of identifying honest and reputable businessmen. Our car breaks down; our sewer backs up; our computer crashes; our reputation or livelihood is threated by a lawsuit. We find ourselves strangers in a strange land – having to deal with problems we’ve never faced before. What we need is someone honest and skilled to assist us: to tell us exactly what’s wrong and then fix it for a fair price.  But what we often find instead are charlatans who expand the list of things wrong and charge far more than is just to do the work.

Last week we observed in our text from Exodus that God expects us to be gracious and loving toward strangers which implies that we are to be actively welcoming visitors into our congregation. Today I’d like us to consider a second implication of the text: namely, we are to treat others justly. When others are dependent upon our expertise or knowledge in a certain area, we are called to use our knowledge to bless them rather than to exploit them. As strangers in a strange land they are entrusting themselves to us. So we are commanded to treat them as we would like to be treated were we in their situation. Moses reminds us:

17For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Dt 10:17-19)

God commands us to love the stranger, to care for and protect him. He does this for two reasons. First, this is what God Himself does. He loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. As our Lord Jesus reminds us, God causes His rain to shine on the just and the unjust. His mercies are over all His works. And so, as those called to imitate our God, our Lord summons us, like Him, to love the stranger.

Second, we ourselves know what it is like to be strangers in a strange land. Hence, we are to love them. The principle embedded in this exhortation is none other than that articulated by our Lord Jesus in the Golden Rule. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7:12). When relying upon others’ expertise we would have folks treat us fairly and justly and graciously – assisting us in our need and not exploiting us in our ignorance.

Thus we are to practice the same – especially in the realm of business. As a businessman I must beware lest I take advantage of another’s ignorance and so exploit them. My work should be done honestly and well – giving them an accurate assessment of their problem and charging them fairly for the work I perform.

Reminded of our obligation to be just and fair to others, let us acknowledge that we often take advantage of our customers and exploit their ignorance rather than loving them. And, as you are able, let us kneel together 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.

Loving the Stranger

March 7, 2021 in Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Covenantal Living, Ecclesiology, Meditations

Exodus 23:9 (NKJV)
“Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

As our Scripture today reminds us, God commanded Israel to be hospitable, merciful, just and gracious to “strangers” – that is, foreigners or immigrants in Israel who were most susceptible to abuse and exploitation by those who understood Israel’s language and customs. God warns Israel lest they use their knowledge to swindle these newcomers or to humiliate them.

Note that in our passage today the rationale God uses to enforce his command is Israel’s own experience in Egypt. The Israelites were to remember that they had once been strangers and that, therefore, they knew what it was to be in a different land – unfamiliar with the language, ignorant of the customs, uncertain of the expectations, vulnerable to exploitation. Israel knew the heart of a stranger. Therefore, Israel was not to oppress a stranger.

This principle is repeated throughout the law. We read, for example, in Leviticus 19:33–34:

And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Israel was to take special care that strangers be treated justly and compassionately. So what does this command have to do with us? Much in every way. After all, Paul commands us in the book of Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…” (Heb 13:2). As Christians we have an obligation to welcome and protect those most vulnerable to exploitation or humiliation.

There are numerous implications that follow from this principle – today let us consider one and we will address others in weeks to come. One implication is that we need to love strangers to our congregation. When there are visitors, we have an obligation in the sight of God to love and cherish these folks and to assist them to feel at home. We have a certain language and certain customs with which visitors are unfamiliar; we have relationships with one another that visitors don’t yet enjoy. So we have an opportunity to make visitors feel welcome, loved, appreciated, and included. This may mean making sure they’re able to find a seat, assisting them with their bulletin or their hymnals, and engaging them in conversation before and after the service. We are to be gracious, hospitable, and welcoming. The goal is to make them feel at home – for you understand, do you not, the heart of a stranger? You know what it is to visit a new congregation – you know that it is awkward and that when members of that congregation make you feel at home it is a welcome oasis in a barren land.

But often we are so consumed with our own troubles or our desire to be with just our friends that we neglect to think of these visitors in our midst. Rather than think of others, we primarily think of ourselves. This exhortation I would urge particularly upon you young people and children. Look for opportunities to welcome new youth and children into the congregation. You have been doing well – excel still more. Welcome them and make them feel at home.

Reminded of our obligation to welcome strangers and of our tendency to think of ourselves more than others, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And, as we confess, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession in your bulletin.

Tree-Like Growth

October 25, 2020 in Bible - NT - Luke, Church Calendar, Creeds, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Tradition, Worship

Luke 13:18–19 (NKJV)

18 Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”

Routinely at this time of year, I have invited us to consider the nature of Christ’s work in our lives. As Americans, we tend to have a love affair with that which is spontaneous or new or different. As American Christians, therefore, we tend to grow tired of what we call the “same old thing” and hanker for some new fad to bring life back into our Christian walk.

But what Jesus articulates for us in His parables of the kingdom is that the way the Holy Spirit works both in our individual lives and in the life of His Church is better pictured by the growth of a tree than the lighting of a sparkler. Sparklers, of course, are fun and exciting – they burn bright and shed their fire on all around them. But sparklers soon burn out while trees, planted and taking root, slowly grow over time; growing almost imperceptibly, soaking up the nutrients in the soil and increasingly displaying the glory of their Creator.

This steady, slow, natural growth is the way Christ typically works in the lives of His disciples. Normal Christian growth involves long periods of steady plodding – plodding that brings prosperity but plodding nonetheless. Typically God works in our lives through steady plodding, slow growth, gradual transformation – through what theologians have called the ordinary means of grace: reading and hearing the Word of God and participation in and meditation upon the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Steady plodding. Few sprints; mainly marathons. A long obedience in the same direction.

You may not know, but the last six months in the Church Year – roughly June through November – are called “ordinary time.” There are no special feasts and celebrations; just the regular time of the Spirit’s work in the Church. After the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit began working in the Church, gradually transforming the people of God into the image of Christ. Hence the color of this period is green, a color of growth. Tree-like growth.

In several weeks we’ll be introducing some liturgical changes: entering a new church year when Advent arrives. We will have a different Call to Worship, a different Confession, a different Creed. Before we change, I wanted to draw to your attention the fact that for the last six months we have not changed these things.

Why have we done this? There’s no biblical requirement that we do so. We could have changed them weekly, monthly, or periodically. God has left such decisions to the wisdom of church officers. And for six months we’ve chosen to use the same ones. Perhaps you noticed; perhaps you’ve wondered if this is ever going to change. And perhaps you’ve thought the same thing about periods in your own life and spiritual development. And the message of Jesus is that He is at work growing His kingdom and even growing you – so trust Him and keep plodding.

Reminded that Jesus’ work in our lives is often gradual, like the growth of a tree, we are alerted that often our hankering for something spontaneous or new or different is not an impulse of our Christian faith but our Americanness. And this reminds us that we need to confess our fickleness to the Lord and ask Him to enable us to practice a long obedience in the same direction. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession that is found in your bulletin.

Contentions

October 11, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Church History, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Principles and Methods

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

One of the perpetual dangers of sinners in society is contention – the work of the flesh that we focus upon today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… contentions.” Webster defines contention as “Strife; struggle; a violent effort to obtain something, or to resist a person, claim or injury; contest; quarrel.”

Such contentions are characteristic of sinners in society and so are always a temptation for the Church Militant which is a society of sinful men and women. The Corinthian church, you may recall, was rife with contentions. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:11, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.” These contentions saw the rise of party spirit within the congregation. “I am of Paul,” said some. “I am of Apollos,” said others. But Paul rebukes both, “For where there are envy, contentions, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3) To give way to contentions, Paul insists, is to revert to our fallen nature and ignore the Lord who has saved us and united us together as one people. There is, Paul writes, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:5). Hence, we are to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). By one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body not many. Contentions are of the flesh, our fallen nature.

So why do contentions arise? Contentions arise from pride. Paul informs Timothy that the contentious man “is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words…” (1 Tim 6:4). The contentious man does not weigh matters rightly. He prides himself on his wisdom and discernment but through pride destroys the unity of the Church. He makes every mole hill a mountain and insists that all must agree with him or the church is going to fall into irreparable apostasy. Now, of course, the threat of apostasy is real; there are genuine mountains. But the contentious man cannot distinguish them from his personal preferences.

So what of you? Are you able to distinguish major from minor issues? Are you endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Are you putting to death the temptation to party spirit? Homeschoolers versus dayschoolers; gluteners vs non-gluteners; maskers vs non-maskers; winebibbers vs teetotalers. Among a people who take Scripture seriously, who take theology seriously, and who want to do all things well, there is always the danger of holding our theology in such a way that we destroy the very Church which Christ gave His life to save. So beware your heart; beware the lure of pride; always be open to correction; and pray regularly that God would preserve us all from contentions.

Reminded that contentions arise from a proud and disagreeable spirit and that we are often tempted to pride and contention, let us kneel as we are able and confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.