Finding the Will of God?

November 18, 2018 in Bible - NT - 1 Thessalonians, Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Covenantal Living, Faith, Meditations, Wisdom, Word of God

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NKJV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Many people are confused about the will of God. They speak of “finding’ the will of God as though it is mysterious and difficult to decipher. But Paul tells us in our passage today that the will of God, God’s purpose for our lives, is really quite clear, plain, and simple: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Paul’s words remind us that, as Christians, our calling is not to peer into God’s secret will but to obey His revealed will. Moses writes in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Our duty as Christians is to obey God’s revealed will not to discover His secret will. Within the fence of God’s revealed law, we are free to choose what we desire, trusting God for the outcome. This is the principle of liberty within law. As Paul reminds widows in 1 Corinthians 7:39 – a widow is free to marry whomever she desires only in the Lord. She has liberty – she may marry whomever she desires – within the context of God’s moral law – she may marry only in the Lord.

But walking as free men requires faith and courage. Sometimes we obey His law and the future ends in victory, prosperity, and kingdom advancement; sometimes we obey His law and the future ends in defeat, poverty, and kingdom retreat. This is the challenge of walking by faith. While pagans routinely practiced divination – looking at the entrails of animals, reading the signs in the stars, and relying upon superstitions in order to discern the will of the gods for each and every decision – God’s people have been called to walk by faith. We aren’t promised how obeying God’s law will turn out; we’re just called to obey it.

So what is God’s will for you? What is God’s will for your life? Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks. God’s will for you is that you learn and obey His moral law. Within the context of His law, you are free to do what you desire. The will of God, therefore, is not hidden or obscure. There is no need to find His will; it has not been lost. God wants you to know His law and then to walk by faith, entrusting the outcome to Him.

That which is true for us individually is also true nationally. This week we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. President George Washington remarked in his first Thanksgiving Proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor… therefore, I do recommend and assign [a day] to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country…

President Washington’s words remind us that our duty is not to find the will of God but to obey it. In the same proclamation, Washington called upon us “to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue…” He insisted that virtue is essential for our survival as a people and for securing the continued blessings of Almighty God. We don’t need to discover God’s secret will but to obey His revealed will.

So as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let us give thanks to the Lord for the Constitutional liberties we have enjoyed, for the peace we have experienced, for the abundance we have tasted, for the families we have been given, and for the salvation with which we have been blessed. If we are to give thanks in everything, how much more ought we to give thanks when we enjoy such manifold blessings?

Reminded that we are to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things, let us confess that we often ignore God’s clear will for our lives and feign ignorance of our duty. And as we confess our sins to the Lord seeking His forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Key to Long Life and Gladness

October 21, 2018 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Faith, Meditations, Politics

Proverbs 10:27–30 (NKJV)

27 The fear of the LORD prolongs days, But the years of the wicked will be shortened. 28 The hope of the righteous will be gladness, But the expectation of the wicked will perish. 29 The way of the LORD is strength for the upright, But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity. 30 The righteous will never be removed, But the wicked will not inhabit the earth.

What is the key to long life and gladness? This is a pressing question that our generation continues to ask. However, because we have apostatized and become a nation of idolaters, our answers are many and vacuous. We have lost our way. So we suggest that the key to long life and gladness is public education, or sexual experimentation, or social justice, or male chauvinism, or women’s empowerment, or state funded health care, or confiscatory taxation, or particular diets and supplements, or violating our marriage oaths. In our polytheistic culture, everyone seems to have their own answer.

But Solomon tells us that the correct answer is the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord prolongs days. It is the one who hopes in the Lord that will experience gladness; the one who walks in the Lord’s ways, observing His moral law, that will be strong; the one who listens to the Word of God and implements it, that will never be moved. As David teaches us to sing in Psalm 1 – Blessed is the man who… delights in the law of the Lord…he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither. The key to long life and fruitfulness is the fear of the Lord for the righteous, Solomon tells us, has an everlasting foundation. When the winds blow and the rains fall, it is the one who builds his house on the rock, who hears the words of Christ and does them, who will stand. Indeed, even if he perishes in this life, he knows that when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, he will be raised eternal and will serve the Lord in gladness forever. The fear of the Lord prolongs days.

So what is it that will bring death and desolation? Is it global warming (sorry, climate change), overpopulation, intolerance and discrimination, sexual repression, unhappiness, poverty, capitalism, processed foods? Solomon tells us that the correct answer is wickedness: the years of the wicked will be shortened, his expectation, his hope, will perish. The one who works iniquity, who violates God’s moral law, will be destroyed and will not inherit the earth. As David teaches us to sing in Psalm 1 – The ungodly [will not flourish], but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. Though the wicked may prosper for a time, God will bring their plans and expectations to naught. He will destroy them and the earth will vomit them out. They are like a foolish man who builds his house upon sand – when the rains and floods come, his house will be destroyed. And this destruction will reach its culmination when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. The years of the wicked will be shortened.

So where have you placed your hope for long life? What do your habits and passions reveal about your beliefs? Have you been distracted by the cacophony of voices surrounding us? Or have you remained centered on the answer that Solomon gives? Is your life devoted to knowing and serving God, to understanding His moral law and obeying His precepts, or have you become distracted by other things? Where have you placed your hope?

Reminded that righteousness is the key to long life and gladness, and that wickedness brings destruction, let us confess that as Americans we have abandoned the living God and embraced wickedness, and let us confess that we who bear His name have become confused by the vacuous answers given by our neighbors. 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.

The New Has Come!

December 31, 2017 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Church Calendar, Faith, Glorification, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Sanctification

Ephesians 3:20–21 (NKJV)
20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

This morning we find ourselves on the cusp of a new year. The old has passed away, behold the new has come! As we prepare to enter into this new year, I want to meditate on Paul’s words to the Ephesians. New years provide opportunities for renewed resolutions, hopes, and dreams. Paul’s words in Ephesians 3 contain profound wisdom for us as we consider these things.

So let us note that in our text Paul is giving glory to God in the process of which he gives instruction to us. So let us consider the significance of Paul’s words. First, Paul gives glory to God: to [God] be glory. So who is this God to whom Paul is giving glory? He is the One who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Whatever dreams or hopes you have for this upcoming year, Paul tells us, they are not too difficult for God to accomplish. God is able to do far more than we can articulate with our mouths or that we can even imagine with our heads. God’s power is infinite. He is Almighty God. Dream big.

Second, Paul tells us that this God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think is the very God whose power works in us. Did you catch that? If you are in Christ, then the omnipotent God, who rules and reigns among the affairs of men, is at work with His power in your life. As we will see in Psalm 37 today, God’s favor is toward His own and the meek shall inherit the earth.

You see, Paul wants the Ephesians to grow in wisdom and maturity and the way we grow is through a deep and personal knowledge of all that God has done and is doing and promises yet to do for us in Christ. So note that Paul gives glory to God in the Church by Christ Jesus. Note that the glory to God is by Christ Jesus – Jesus is the center of our faith. It is through His death and resurrection that we have forgiveness and newness of life; through His death and resurrection that the power of God is at work in us. Glory to God by Christ Jesus.

But note that this glory that is by Christ Jesus is in the Church. In other words, Paul wants glory to abound to God’s Name in and through you and me. God’s power is on display in His people – He has forgiven us and empowers us that we might display the wonder of His work in a dark and hopeless world, that we might display the impotency of Satan and his minions when confronted with the power of our Christ. In ourselves we are weak and powerless; but in our God we can run against a troop. God wants to display the wonder and the power of His grace in your life. Are you looking for a proof that God exists? Look for it as you grow in faith and godly character.

So what this means is that those excuses you’ve been making for not addressing that sin pattern in your life are groundless; those despairing voices that have been telling you that there’s no hope for change are lying; those urges to complacency that have said it’s okay that you’re just coasting along spiritually, that you’re not really growing or being intentional about serving Christ, those urges are from the devil. God gives His omnipotent strength to His people because He loves us and longs for us to “comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18b-19).

So as we enter into the presence of our Lord on the cusp of a New Year, let us confess that we have often failed to believe Him, failed to trust Him, and let us seek His forgiveness through Jesus Christ that He might empower us as His humble people to bring glory and honor to His Name. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Homily in Remembrance of Tom Madison

July 22, 2017 in Bible - NT - Acts, Bible - NT - John, Cross of Christ, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Faith, Funeral Service, Law and Gospel, Resurrection, Sin

Acts 26:28–29 (NASB95)
28 Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” 29 And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.”

The passage that I have quoted today contains Paul’s witness to a Jewish king named Agrippa. Two years prior to this exchange, Paul had been unjustly imprisoned and had remained in Roman custody that entire time, awaiting a trial, awaiting his freedom. At the end of those two years, however, the Roman Governor Festus was prepared to deliver Paul into the hands of his enemies; consequently, Paul used his right as a Roman citizen to appeal for justice to Caesar in Rome; his appeal was granted.

Shortly after he made his appeal, King Agrippa arrived and Festus decided to use Agrippa to help him explain to Caesar why Paul was being sent to Rome. Festus permitted Paul to explain why he was in prison; Paul, as was his custom, used the opportunity to preach about Christ. He wanted to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian. So Paul highlighted the way Jesus had fulfilled all the promises that God had made throughout the Jewish Scriptures – “that the Christ [God’s chosen Ruler of the world] would suffer [and die], that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” (26:23). Jesus is proof of God’s intention to reconcile human beings with Himself.

This may seem an unusual passage for a memorial service. But it is fitting for this reason: even as Paul had suffered in prison for about two years, our beloved brother Tom suffered in a prison of sickness these past two years. Tom would not have chosen that trial for himself any more than Paul would have chosen to be imprisoned. Far better to be free, far better to be well, and able to do what he was accustomed to doing.

But Tom knew, even as Paul did, that his Heavenly Father had some purpose for his suffering. Consequently, Tom used his suffering to speak to others about Christ. Tom’s faith was always strong – as the testimonies we have heard illustrate. But these last couple years Tom’s faith was even deeper; his perception of eternal realities clearer; and his understanding of the fragility of life keener. Though Tom suffered much in his sickness, he suffered in faith. When I would meet with Tom to encourage him, I would regularly go away encouraged. For he would remind me of God’s promises, remind me of God’s purposes, and remind me of God’s lovingkindness. Perhaps Tom did the same with you?
I was reminded of Agrippa’s encounter with Paul as I spoke with Connie and the children this week. They told me of a conversation that Tom had with an unbelieving friend in which he spoke of Christ and repeated Paul’s words in our text: I would wish to God…[that you] might become such as I am, except for this cancer. Tom would want all to know the hope of being reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ and having hope even in the face of suffering and death.

So I am here to repeat Tom’s urgent appeal; I am here to remind you of the fragility of life; I am here to tell you that you will die and face your Creator and your Judge; and the only way to look forward to that moment in hope, as Tom did, is if you have been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Your sins – your failure to worship your Creator as you ought, your acts of selfishness and spite, your mistreatment of your spouse, your unjust divorce, your anger and bitterness, your lust for money, for sex, for control, for youth – your sins have separated you from God; if you should die and stand before your Creator with those sins between you and Him, you will perish eternally.

But hear the Good News: God has been gracious to you – He has offered clear and irrefutable evidence of His existence and of His determination to reconcile you to Himself. Jesus’ death and resurrection are that proof – proof that God has provided a sacrifice to forgive your sins and reconcile you to Himself and proof that death is no longer a cause of hopelessness for those who believe in Jesus. So I am here to plead with you: be reconciled to God before it is too late. Turn from your sin and turn in faith to Jesus Christ. Listen to the words of Sacred Scripture:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

These words remind us that our condition as sinful human beings is so dire that there is no way to deal with our sin and be reconciled to God other than through Jesus; He is the only sacrifice for sins. “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). These are the only two options. Believe in Jesus or face the judgment of God.
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Despite God’s gracious proof of His existence and His purpose to reconcile us to Himself, many continue to resist Him and refuse to believe in Jesus. The Scriptures say again:
This is the [sober truth], that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God… (John 3:19-21)

So what of you? Are you willing to humble yourself before your Creator? Are you willing to come to the light and have your deeds exposed now? Or will you try to hide and hope that the day of death will not overtake you? Tom’s death illustrates that that hope is vain. It is appointed unto all men to die once and after this to face the judgment. So hear Paul’s wish once again: “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” Let us pray.

Walk in the Truth and Rejoice in the Truth

December 7, 2015 in Bible - NT - 2 John, Christmas, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Faith, Love, Meditations, Sanctification, Truth, Word of God
2 John 4–6 (NKJV)
4 I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father. 5 And now I plead with you, lady, not as though I wrote a new commandment to you, but that which we have had from the beginning: that we love one another. 6 This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.
Last week we emphasized that though it is common for people, including Christians, to pit truth and love against one another, the Scriptures do no such thing. In Scripture, truth and love are not competitors but companions. John continues this theme today – rejoicing that the believers walked in truth and calling the church to love one another. Truth and love go together.
So when we see truth and love united together and both being implemented by a group of people; when we see believers who are eager to understand the Word of God and, simultaneously, eager to put it into practice and sacrifice on behalf of one another, what should be our response? John tells us. He writes in verse 4 – I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth, as we received commandment from the Father.
As children of our heavenly Father, we are to rejoice greatly when we see others walking in God’s truth. Nothing should give us a greater delight than to see folks growing and maturing in the faith. That, John tells us, is something worth celebrating.
So consider a couple implications of John’s words. First, walk in the truth. John forces you to ask, “Am I delighting in the Word of God and so striving to bring delight to others who fear God?” We all know how demoralizing it is when those we thought were on our side suddenly start compromising with the enemy: when Judas betrays the Master with a kiss; when Benedict Arnold sells the colonies out of personal spite; when fellow Christians turn away from you in time of trial or hardship. Betrayal stings. So the first admonition is to treasure the truth – don’t betray the Father and so demoralize the brethren. Instead walk in the truth and so bring delight to those who fear and reverence God. Be a cause of joy to God’s people and a cause of grief to His enemies.
Second, rejoice in those who walk in the truth. The national media, our President, many of our elected officials including some of our local city officials, want you to rejoice in wickedness, to rejoice in those who despise God and show contempt for His Word. They want to shape your celebrations, to shape your delights. Don’t let them. Rejoice in what is good and true and beautiful. In other words, celebrate Christmas with gusto. Rejoice with the wise men, rejoice with Joseph and Mary and Zacharias and Elizabeth and Simeon and Anna. And call Herod, Herod the Tyrant rather than Herod the Great.

So this morning, reminded that we are to walk in the truth and to delight in those who do the same, let us confess that we are often prone to weakness, that we often cower in the face of criticism, and that we are tempted to rejoice in wickedness rather than in righteousness. And as we confess our sins to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able.

Repent and Believe

February 15, 2015 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Confession, Evangelism, Faith, Holy Spirit, Justification, Meditations, Sanctification
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.
It seems that the Church today is in a crisis. We want to proclaim God’s holiness and the unchanging moral standards that proceed from him; simultaneously we know that we all stand in need of God’s forgiveness and that God transforms even the vilest offenders into glorious saints. So which do we preach? Do we preach God’s forgiveness for even the worst? Or do we preach God’s righteous standards for all?
The Bible’s answer is yes; we preach both. We preach that sinners both inside and outside the Church must repent and believe – must turn from sin and turn to Christ. The glorious good news of God’s salvation through Jesus does not stop with forgiveness; it includes righteousness and holiness by the Spirit. The same God who grants us free forgiveness through the shed blood of His Son Jesus also grants His Spirit to all those who believe on Jesus. And His Spirit empowers us for holiness and righteousness.
Repentance and faith aren’t like peanut butter and jelly – yummy together but enjoyable separately. Rather they are like sodium and chloride – remove one or the other and you no longer have table salt but poison.
So how do we preach the Gospel? Just like Paul we preach that men must repent and believe – turn from your idols, turn from your sexual sin, turn from your thievery, turn from your drunkenness and believe that Jesus is the One through whom you can receive God’s forgiveness. The man, woman, or child who wants to hold on to his sin does not truly want Christ. When a French Officer strode up to the British Admiral Nelson to congratulate him on his victory, Nelson stopped him. “First, give me your sword.” And Jesus says to you, “Take up your cross and follow Me!” “Die to your selfishness, your sin, your unrighteousness, and follow me!”

So Paul’s challenge to the Corinthians and to us remains: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Pursue Christ; and pursuing Christ means shunning sin, turning from it day after day; confessing when we fall and seeking grace to live new lives by the power of the Spirit. Each day we must repent and believe anew – today if you hear his voice harden not your hearts. So this morning let us lay aside the sin that so easily ensnares us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith. And as we confess our sin, let us kneel before our Lord in token of submission.

What is it to have a god?

October 30, 2014 in Faith, Justification, Quotations, Reformation, Ten Commandments, Worship

In honor of Reformation Week, here is a great quotation from Martin Luther’s Large Catechism:

The First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” That is, you shall regard me alone as your God. What does this mean, and how is it to be understood? What is it to have a god? What is God?

Answer: A god is that to which we look for all good and in which we find refuge in every time of need. To have a god is nothing else than to trust and believe him with our whole heart. As I have often said, the truth and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust are right, then your God is the true God. On the other hand, if your trust is false and wrong, then you have not the true God. For these two belong together, faith and God. That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is, I say, really your God.

The Danger of Self-Righteousness

August 3, 2014 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Cross of Christ, Faith, Justification, Meditations, Sanctification
Colossians 2:6-8
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.
It is common for those who have a passion for good works to degenerate into self-righteousness. The Pharisees, the Galatians, the Judaizers, and, at moments, even Peter and Barnabas fell into this trap. After all, nothing makes more sense to our carnal reason than to say that if we have achieved righteousness, then we must have earned it solely by our own merit and hard work.
It is to combat this notion that Paul exhorts us to walk in Christ, to conduct our lives, according to the same principle that united us with Christ in the first place. And what was that principle? Faith. Faith united us with Christ, was the appointed means by which God credited to our account the righteousness of Christ, was the gift that enabled us to emerge from darkness into the light of life.
So let us be absolutely clear what this means. Faith brings nothing of its own to the transaction; we did not receive Christ because we were wiser than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because we were more intelligent than our neighbor; we did not receive Christ because of anything in us. For by nature we are all children of wrath, deserving of destruction, committed to waste and profligacy. What then does faith do? Looking to self and despairing of any self-deliverance, faith looks to Christ and rests upon Him for deliverance – save me O Lord, for I am helpless and needy; have mercy on me, for I am a sinner worthy of death.
And so Paul urges us to pursue our growth in holiness with this same mentality. Look not to your own worth, not to your own deserving, not to your own wisdom, but instead to the grace of God, the mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who frees us from our self-absorption and enables us to pursue righteousness to the glory of God. God will not honor those who strive to achieve righteousness in their own strength. He looks to the one who is humble and who relies on His grace in Christ.

And so, reminded that God’s grace is the source of our strength and righteousness; that that which distinguishes us from our neighbor is not our commitment, not our determination, not anything of ours, but rather the completely free grace of God, let us confess that we often fall into the sin of self-righteousness.

Unconditional Covenants?

July 28, 2014 in Covenantal Living, Faith, Federal Vision, Justification, Quotations, Sanctification

“…all covenants require obedient faith. This is a not a condition of one covenant or another; it is essential to all human dealings with God, simply by virtue of who God is. It is a requirement of what I have called the universal covenant. Individual covenants require specific forms of obedience, but obedience itself, springing from faith, is simply a requirement of all relations between God and human beings. This requirement is implicit in the very distinction between Creator and creature….

“This emphasis on faithful obedience does not compromise grace at all. For we can never begin to earn God’s forgiveness of our sins through good works, and the blessings that God promises to Abraham are far beyond what any human being could accomplish….

“So like all the other covenants, the Abrahamic covenant is unconditional in the sense that in it God declares that he will certainly accomplish his own purpose, the blessing of the nations through Abraham. But it is conditional in that those who would receive that blessing must trust and obey. As sovereign controller, God is the God of grace. As sovereign authority, he demands obedience of his covenant partners.”

John Frame, Systematic Theology, pp. 70-71.