Count It All Joy

June 9, 2024 in Bible - NT - James, Meditations, Trials

James 1:2 (NKJV) 

2My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials… 

Few exhortations regarding trials are more quoted and more difficult to obey than the one we find here in James’ letter. He exhorts us to count it all joy when we fall into various trials. We are to count itreckon it, consider it to be, reorient our attitude concerning it. We are to count it all joy – not just joy, not just partial joy, not just intermittent joy, but all joy. We are to count it all joy when you fall – encounter, face, experience in God’s providence. We are to count it all joy when we fall into various trials – trials of all shapes and sizes, trials of health, of family, of work, of poverty, of war. Count it all joy when you fall into various trials.

So why should we count it all joy? It is so much easier to count it all inconvenience or tragedy or frustration or discouragement or anger. Thus, when we fall into trials, we must remind ourselves why we should count it all joy. What are our grounds, reasons, for joy? Consider a few:

  • I should count it all joy because God is sovereign. Though these trials may have caught me off guard, they have not caught Him off-guard. “I am the Lord, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Is 45:6-7). 
  • I should count it all joy because God is all-powerful. Though I may be at a loss to understand or control the circumstances of this trial, yet God’s hand is not shortened. He can save. So I can call on Him. “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Is 59:1). 
  • I should count it all joy because the Sovereign, Almighty God is also my loving Father. Though my sin separates me from God, Jesus has died and risen again to forgive my sin and reconcile me to God. Therefore, I need not fear. “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Lk 12:32).
  • I should count it all joy because my loving Father has ordained this trial for my good. “All things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).
  • I should count it all joy because my loving Father is using this trial to teach me patience. This is the reason James gives, “knowing that the testing of our faith produces patience” (Jas 1:3).
  • I should count it all joy because my loving Father and His Son are with me in my trial. “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn 14:23). The Father and Son dwell with us by the Spirit.
  • I should count it all joy because Jesus, the Son of God, suffered in order to carry my sorrows and griefs. He will support me in my hour of trial. “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4). 
  • I should count it all joy because Jesus, as my fellow sufferer, sympathizes with me in my trial and I can have confidence that He will hear my prayers. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16).
  • I should count it all joy because Jesus, as my fellow sufferer, makes intercession for me and is able to save me from these trials. “Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25).
  • I should count it all joy because the Spirit too helps me in my weakness to cry out to God for deliverance. “Likewise, the Spirit also helps us in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Rom 8:26).
  • I should count it all joy because Jesus bore my sin on the cross in order to purchase my peace. “The chastisement for our peace was upon Him” (Is 53:5). Trials are the opposite of peace – they are a visitation of chaos, turmoil, disruption. Therefore, my trials shall pass. Peace shall come. I have hope. “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh” (Lk 6:21).
  • I should count it all joy because this momentary, temporary trial is producing for me an eternal, a perpetual weight of glory. “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17).

So are you counting it all joy when you fall into various trials? If you are like me, then you will have to review this list often and add to it in order to count it all joy. And so, reminded that there are grounds for joy even when we fall into various trials, and no doubt reminded that we often give way to frustration, complaint, anger, discouragement, or despondency, let us confess that we have often lost sight of our grounds for joy and given way to discouragement and despondency. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.

Declared to Be the Son of God

March 31, 2024 in Bible - NT - Romans, Easter, Meditations

Romans 1:1-4 (NKJV)

1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

Today is Easter – the most significant of the various holy days in the Church calendar. More pivotal than Christmas, more central than Pentecost, more crucial than Epiphany – Easter celebrates the most transformative event in all human history. Because of the resurrection, we have the Gospel. Because of the resurrection, we have cathedrals. Because of the resurrection, we have new life, forgiveness, and peace with God – all because of the resurrection of Christ on this day.

It is this transformation that Paul highlights in the introduction to his letter to the Romans. After assuring us that Christ’s coming was proclaimed beforehand by the prophets and that he came as was foretold from David’s seed, Paul goes on to declare that Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection of the dead. So what does he mean by this clause?

Many have supposed that Paul is describing Christ’s twofold nature: according to his human nature he was of the seed of David but he was also the Son of God. However, the text does not support this idea. For how could Jesus’ status as the eternal Son of God change as a result of the resurrection? He has and ever will be the only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. This is not what Paul is addressing.

Rather, he is describing the change that occurred in Jesus’ status as a result of the resurrection. Jesus was born of the seed of David – in other words, He had the natural right to rule as God’s King. But simply having the natural right to rule does not establish that one does in fact rule. Bonnie Prince Charlie may have had a rightful claim (de iure) to the throne of England; but a rightful claim to the throne does not make one king de facto. So Paul insists that Jesus was not only born of David’s seed – not only did He have a rightful claim to the throne of His father David – by His resurrection from the dead He was declared to be the Son of God with power, authority. In other words, in the resurrection Jesus was crowned as God’s Son, His Messianic, Davidic King. Jesus not only has a lawful claim to the throne, He is now seated upon His throne, ruling with power as King.

So what is the significance of Easter? On this day we celebrate the coronation of our King. Nearly two thousand years ago Jesus was crowned King of the Universe, the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords. All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him and this includes, because He has conquered death, authority over death itself. He has the keys of death and hell. He opens and no one shuts; He shuts and no one opens. So death is conquered; death is destroyed. Christ is risen and all those who trust in Him shall arise as well. We can say to death, “O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in Christ Jesus our Lord!”

Is this not good news? Brethren, Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!) Let us shout Alleluia! (Alleluia!) So give heed to the exhortation in Psalm 2, the coronation psalm of our King:

10Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. 11Serve the Lord with fear, And rejoice with trembling. 12Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.

And so reminded that Jesus is Lord of all and that we are to serve Him with fear and rejoice before Him with trembling, let us join together in confessing our sins against Him, our disloyalty to Him as a people. As you are able, please kneel before your King.

Humble & Lowly

March 24, 2024 in Bible - OT - Zechariah, Meditations

Zechariah 9:9-10 (NKJV)

9“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, Lowly and riding on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey. 10I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.’

Have you ever been taught that while Jesus came as Savior in His first coming, He is waiting until His second to arrive as King? He is waiting, so it is said, to establish His kingdom on earth. If you have heard or even, like me, embraced that kind of thinking in the past or perhaps still do, then you may have a hard time understanding Palm Sunday. For Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as our King come to establish His kingdom. As Jesus entered the city, our fathers and mothers laid branches of palm upon the ground and sang psalms in order to fulfill Zechariah’s summons, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you.”

But if Jesus entered Jerusalem as King, why, some ask, didn’t He appear very kingly? Why is He lowly and riding on a donkey? Yet such questions reveal that we often allow the world rather than Jesus to define true kingship. For Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem to establish justice, to deliver His people, and to advance both the glory of God and the good of His people is the preeminent illustration of what it means to be a good king. What is it to be a good king? It is to be just and to bring salvation to your people; it is to be humble and lowly; it is to be a servant, to bring blessing and light to your people. And it was precisely this type of King that our Lord Jesus was and is. 

To our fallen nature this type of kingship can seem utterly ineffective. Among pagan nations, might makes right. Rex lex. The king is law. The king is to be served, not to serve. And the measure of his success is how many cower before him. Pagan nations extol those like Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar who push and prod and pursue their own glory. It is kings like that who accomplish great things.

But the prophet Zechariah extols the glory of our King’s rule. Our just and humble King will so rule as to destroy warfare from Israel and bring peace to all the nations of the earth, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, And the horse from Jerusalem; The battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations.” On the one hand, He eliminates warfare; on the other, He brings peace. And because He is a King of Peace, God promises to extend His kingdom throughout the earth, “His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, And from the River to the ends of the earth.’”

So what of you leaders out there – what type of kingship have you been exercising? Whether you are a husband, a father, a mother, an employer, a foreman, a manager – what type of rule have you practiced? Have you demanded, cajoled, manipulated, and wormed your way to the top? Or have you been just, looking to bless those whom God has entrusted to your care? Are you humble, considering others’ interests more important than your own? Are you living as peacemakers showing all humility in the fear of God? Are you imitating the glory of pagan kings or the glory of our Great King who entered Jerusalem this day?

Reminded that we have been unrighteous kings and queens, demanding our own way rather than imitating our great King and willingly serving others, let us confess our sin to our Lord. As you are able, let us kneel together as we do so.

“Amen!”

March 17, 2024 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Meditations, Worship

Psalm 106:48 (NKJV) 

48Blessed be the Lord God of Israel From everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord! 

For several weeks now we have been exploring why our elders incorporate various traditions in our corporate worship. Today we consider our practice of shouting, “Amen!”, after singing psalms and hymns. Why do we do this?

The declaration, “Amen!”, is a means of affirming what has been said. It is shorthand for, “So be it! That’s right! That’s true! I agree with that!” or even, “May that come to pass!” So, in our text today, the people are to say, “Amen!” upon hearing the declaration, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting!” Similarly, the Apostle John closed Revelation by responding, “Amen! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!” to Jesus’ declaration, “Surely I am coming quickly” (Rev 22:20).

Last week we saw this same dynamic at work in the curses of Deuteronomy 27. After Israel entered the Promised Land, the Levites were to speak with a “loud voice and say to all the men of Israel:”

15 ‘Cursed is the one who makes a carved or molded image, an abomination to the Lord, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and sets it up in secret.’ 

“And all the people shall answer and say, ‘Amen!’ 

16 ‘Cursed is the one who treats his father or his mother with contempt.’ 

“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ 

17 ‘Cursed is the one who moves his neighbor’s landmark.’ 

“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ 

18 ‘Cursed is the one who makes the blind to wander off the road.’ 

“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ 

19 ‘Cursed is the one who perverts the justice due the stranger, the fatherless, and widow.’ 

“And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’ 

Each time the people shouted, “Amen!” they were affirming their agreement with what was said. So when we pray or sing and close by saying, “Amen!”, or when we shout, “Amen!” during the sermon, we are saying, “So be it! I agree with that! May these things truly come to pass!” 

So how ought we to speak this “Amen!”? First, make sure you agree with what has been said or sung. And this of course means that we must pay attention to the words we are singing and make sure we do agree. Don’t say, “Amen!” if you don’t mean it. Part of our elders’ rationale for singing the psalms and other substantive hymns is to protect us from saying, “Amen!”, to things that we ought not affirm. If the lyrics affirm, “Good is evil, and evil is good!” the last thing that you should say is, “Amen!” Say, “God forbid!” or “Certainly not!” but don’t say, “Amen!” Why not? Because to say, “Amen!” is to declare that you agree with what was said or that you truly want it to happen.

Second, issue your, “Amen!” heartily. Either you agree with what has been said or you don’t. If you do, then do it. Don’t mumble or halt between two opinions. You’ll note that the “Amens!” in your Bible are typically printed with an exclamation mark. That’s because they are exclamations. And the word “exclamation” comes from two Latin words: ex, which means “out,” and clamare, which means “to shout.” So you’re supposed to “shout it out”! Say it like you mean it. “Amen!”

Reminded that we often approve of things that we should condemn and that we are often tepid rather than hearty in our approval of what God has said, let us confess our error and complacency to the Lord. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins.

Baptized into Christ Jesus

March 10, 2024 in Baptism, Bible - NT - Romans, Meditations

Romans 6:3–6 (NKJV) 

3Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, 6knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 

In our exhortations, I have been exploring various traditions that appear in our corporate worship services. Since we have the privilege of baptizing Josiah, Rebekah, Matthew, and Daniel Bursese later this morning, I thought it would be beneficial to use our exhortation to explain the meaning of baptism which Paul discusses here in Romans.

In Biblical Theology sacraments are visible words. Even as God communicates to us in His written Word, the Bible, so He communicates to us in visible words, in covenant signs and seals – what we call sacraments or ordinances. One of the earliest covenant signs was the rainbow – God placed the rainbow in the sky as the sign of the covenant that He made with Noah. The rainbow visibly proclaims God’s promise to Noah and to us that He will never again flood the earth. So every time we see the rainbow, God invites us to believe His promise and trust Him. In other words, the rainbow isn’t our word to God but God’s word to us.

What is true of the rainbow is also true of other covenant signs: they are primarily God’s Word to us, not our word to God. Paul emphasizes this by using the passive voice to describe baptism. He writes that the Roman Christians “were baptized” (passive) into Christ and “were baptized” (again, passive) into His death. So why the passive voice? Because, first and foremost, baptism is God’s act, God’s word, not my act, my word. Thus, we do not baptize ourselves; we are baptized by another. 

Paul further declares that as many as have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death. Every baptized person has felt God’s word of condemnation for his sin, God’s word of pardon through Christ’s crucifixion, and God’s call to newness of life through Christ’s resurrection. In baptism, God speaks to each of us individually – He claims us as His own and assures us that, so long as we trust Christ, we are cleansed of our sin as surely as water washes our bodies and are anointed with His Spirit for newness of life as surely as the water makes us wet. While the preaching of the Word holds that promise out generically, baptism makes that promise personal. Today, God speaks to Josiah, Rebekah, Matthew, and Daniel and assures each one of them that His promise is reliable for them; even as He spoke to you in your baptism and made the same promises to you.

Baptism, therefore, is an invitation to trust God’s Word; it is a call to faith; a call to believe God’s promise in Christ personally. Paul declares that baptism unites us with Christ’s resurrection such that we also should walk in newness of life. We should walk. Whether we were baptized as an infant, a child, or an adult, God speaks to us through our baptism, unites us to Christ, and calls us to trust Him, to love Him, and to walk in newness of life by the power of Christ’s resurrection. We are to respond to His grace with faith and obedience – thus I will be asking these young folks today to profess their faith in the Lord’s promises.

So reminded that in baptism God has claimed us as His own, has put His Name upon us, and summoned us to walk in newness of life, let us confess that we often respond to His Word with unbelief, that many of us have despised our baptism and forgotten the call that He has issued to us in it, and that we have need of His forgiving and cleansing grace as even our baptism signifies. Let ys kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.

Presenting Our Tithes & Offerings

March 3, 2024 in Bible - OT - Malachi, Giving, Meditations, Worship

Malachi 3:8–10 (NKJV) 

8“Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. 9You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. 10Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. 

Martin Luther once remarked that every Christian undergoes three conversions: the first of his mind, the second of his heart, and the third of his wallet. Of these three, it may well be that we find the conversion of our wallet to be the most difficult. Charles Spurgeon writes, “With some (Christians) the last part of their nature that ever gets sanctified is their pockets.”

Last week we began exploring various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship. As we continue in this vein, let us address our practice of presenting our tithes and offerings before the Lord. You may be unaware, but we have a box in the foyer where you can deposit your tithes and offerings. Each Sunday during worship we sing a song about giving. And, as we sing, the man who will be offering our prayer of thanksgiving brings that tithe and offering box to the front of the sanctuary. So why do we do this?

Consider just a few of the many reasons: first, presenting our tithes and offerings to the Lord in worship reminds us that God lays claim to our wallets. God is the owner of all we possess and appoints us as His stewards to manage all our wealth in a way that honors Him. And Malachi insists that one of the ways we honor Him is by giving Him a tithe, or ten percent, of our increase. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse. Alongside such tithes are offerings, free-will gifts above and beyond the tithe which can be the fruit of vows we have made, an expression of gratitude for the Lord’s generosity, or an effort to help others who are in need. Presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us of God’s claim on our wallets. 

Second, presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us that worship is not confined to Sundays. What are our tithes and offerings but tokens of the work that we have done throughout the week? They represent the fruit of our work – all of which is done to the glory of God. They remind us that there is no division between “secular” work and “sacred” work – all our work is sacred, performed in the presence of God to the glory of God. Presenting our tithes and offerings reminds us of this.

Finally, presenting our tithes and offerings to the Lord reminds us that we are only able to prosper by God’s hand. David prayed after collecting supplies for the construction of the Temple, “But who am I, and who are my people, That we should be able to offer so willingly as this? For all things come from You, And of Your own we have given You” (1 Chr 29:14). Did you catch that last phrase? “Of Your own we have given You” – it is God who gifts us with intelligence, with opportunity, with ingenuity, and with skill to get wealth. So we are to give Him thanks – and one way we do so is by giving Him a portion of the wealth He gives us. 

Presenting our tithes and offerings weekly reminds us, therefore, that God lays claim to our wallets, that all our work is to be done to the glory of the Lord, and that we are only able to prosper by His gracious gift. So as we bring our tithes and offerings to the Lord, how ought we to do so? The Apostle Paul reminds us to give “not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). We are to give thankfully, freely, and cheerfully. We are to give, not because compelled to do so, but because we recognize God’s generosity to us. God has freely given to us, so let us give freely to Him and others. He has saved us from our sin; He has provided for our daily needs; hallelujah, what a Savior! 

Reminded that we are to present our tithes and offerings to the Lord generously and thankfully, let us confess that we often fail to give, that we close our fists to those in need and rob God of that which is His due. As you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.

The Gift of Forgiveness

February 25, 2024 in Bible - NT - John, Forgiveness, Meditations

John 20:21–23 (NKJV) 

21So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

One of the great controversies that surrounded Jesus’ ministry was the forgiveness of sins. Recall that when a paralytic was brought to Jesus and let down through the roof into the house where Jesus was teaching, Jesus looked at the man and declared, “My son, your sins are forgiven you.” Immediately, the Pharisees began questioning among themselves, “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7)

The Pharisees’ question was entirely reasonable. While I can forgive you for intentionally breaking my nose, I cannot forgive you for breaking my neighbor’s – I wasn’t the one wronged, so how can I forgive you? The same principle applies for sins against God: only God can forgive those who sin against Him. So how can we know whether God has forgiven us? Who speaks for God on earth?

In the old covenant, the Aaronic priests spoke for God. God used the sacrificial system and the priests to assure people of forgiveness. 

5‘And it shall be, when [someone] is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; 6and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. (Leviticus 5:5–6) 

The priest shall make atonement for him; over the sacrifice, the priest would announce, “Believe God’s promise! He has provided a substitute to bear the guilt of your sin. You are forgiven!” This feature of the old covenant helps us understand why the Pharisees were disturbed by Jesus’ forgiveness of the paralytic: Jesus was not an Aaronic priest, nor was He at the temple where a sacrifice was being offered. So how dare He presume to speak for God? “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew the Pharisees’ doubts; He knew their questions. So He asked, “Which is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Arise, take up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (he said to the paralytic), “’Arise, take up your mat and walk.’ And immediately the man arose, took up his mat, and walked” (Mk 2:9-12). According to Jesus, the healing of the paralytic proved that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus now speaks for God. With these words and actions, Jesus was announcing the end of the old covenant, the sacrificial system, and the Aaronic priesthood. Now, in the Messianic Age, the forgiveness of sins is declared in Jesus’ Name, based on His once-for-all sacrifice. Jesus speaks for God.

So that brings us to our text in John 20. After Jesus had been crucified and then risen from the dead, He spoke to the Twelve. “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you…”  Jesus commissioned the Twelve as His representatives; they were to speak for God in the world and to declare the forgiveness of sins in His Name. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In other words, the sacrificial system has forever come to an end and the forgiveness of sins is now preached to all nations based on the sacrifice of Christ alone.

So every Lord’s Day, following our confession, I have the privilege of reminding you, assuring you, that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, there really is forgiveness with God. If you acknowledge your sin and turn from it, seeking God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, then you are forgiven. My word does not grant forgiveness; only the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. My word simply reminds you of God’s promise and summons you to believe His word: all those who trust in the once-for all sacrifice of Jesus shall be forgiven and cleansed. Your calling is to hear that promise, even as the paralytic heard the words of our Lord, and to believe Him. “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

So reminded that God offers forgiveness only through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, let us continue to confess our sins in His Name, not denying or hiding or minimizing or medicating them but trusting that God will indeed forgive all those who confess their sins in Jesus’ Name. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins.

Through Many Tribulations

February 18, 2024 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Meditations, Trials

Deuteronomy 8:1–5 (NKJV) 

1Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. 2And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. 4Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. 

On his first missionary journey, as the Apostle Paul traveled through the various cities where he had planted churches, he encouraged the brethren and reminded them, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). That which was true for our fathers in Paul’s day is likewise true for us. In His wisdom, God uses tribulations and trials to accomplish His purposes for His people.

So why does He do this? If we are children of God, objects of His love and affection, then why must we enter the kingdom through many tribulations? Our text offers three reasons – for even as we face many tribulations throughout history and our individual lives, so our Israelite fathers did; for forty years they wandered in the wilderness, suffering various trials and tribulations. So what are these three reasons?

First, trials and tribulations humble us. God led our fathers through the wilderness, “to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (8:2). Nothing reveals the depths of our hearts and the many ways in which we still need to grow in holiness (to be sanctified) than trials. We’re sick and what do we do? We, who when healthy are remarkably patient, begin snapping at the kids, are short with our spouse, or grumble and complain against God. So what are we learning about ourselves? We’re learning that we aren’t quite as sanctified as we thought, learning that there is still work for God to do, learning to confess our sin and to acknowledge our continuing need for God’s grace. Trials and tribulations humble us.

Second, trials and tribulations teach us to rely on God’s Word. God tested Israel “that you might know that man does not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (8:3). Rod Dreher, in his book Live not by Lies, recounts that, during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, Silvester Krcmery [kirch-MERRY] faced persecution, imprisonment, and even torture for his faith. Krcmery wrote later in his biography that he came to realize “that the only way he would make it through the ordeal ahead was to rely entirely on faith, not reason. He says that he decided to be ‘like Peter, to close my eyes and throw myself into the sea’” (153). Tribulations force us to rely on God’s promises even though we cannot see the fruit of them at present. Trials and tribulations teach us.

Finally, trials and tribulations remind us that we are children of God. “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you” (8:5). In times of trial, if you are in Christ, then know in your heart that this trial has not come because the Lord hates you but because He loves you. As a loving Father, the Lord is sending this trial to chasten you that you might learn to remain faithful to Him and to grow in maturity. Trials and tribulations remind us that we are God’s children.

As you may have noticed, today is the first Sunday in Lent – so our call to worship, our greeting, confession, creed, color, and benediction have changed with the season. Lent, like Advent, is a time of preparation and anticipation, a time of longing. We await the coming of Easter and the celebration of Christ’s triumph over death. Lent reminds us that, until our own resurrection, we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God. Lent harkens back to Israel’s 40 years, and to our Lord’s 40 days, in the wilderness. Hence, Lent is a time to remember that times of trial and tribulation are not strange. Paul writes that even our Lord Jesus, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered …” (Heb 5:8). So if our Lord Jesus had to learn obedience by suffering, dare we think that we shall be exempt? Let us then “count it all joy when we fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas 1:2-4).

So reminded that times in the wilderness, times of trial and tribulation humble us, teach us to rely on God’s Word, and train us as His children, let us acknowledge that we often respond to such trials in unbelief rather than in faith. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sins to the Lord.

Reciting the Creeds with Heart and Mind

January 28, 2024 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Meditations, Worship

Isaiah 29:13–14 (NKJV) 

13Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, 14Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.” 

Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. Currently, we are reciting the Apostles’ Creed, but we use others at different times of year. In churches like ours that use the creeds – as well as other written responses and prayers – there is an ever-present danger of mindless repetition, of drawing near to God with our lips while our hearts remain far from Him. As our passage in Isaiah illustrates, this is not a new problem. The prophets regularly rebuke our fathers and mothers for this sin, the sin of failing to love God and instead trying to manipulate him with proper external rituals. So if reciting the creeds entails this danger, why even do it? There are numerous reasons – consider just a few.  

First, reciting the creeds enables us to declare boldly and clearly whom we worship. Amid a pluralistic society in which a variety of gods are honored, we declare our trust in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do not worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the Mormon deity; neither do we worship America’s idol, some general theistic deity. We worship the Triune God; in Him is our trust.

Second, by reciting the creeds immediately after the reading of God’s Word, we declare our trust in the Sovereign Lord who has revealed Himself in sacred Scripture. The creeds do not serve to replace Scripture but to summarize its central teachings. And as God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and even in many churches, reciting the creeds enables us to declare openly, “We trust in God and His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him.” 

Finally, reciting the creeds reminds us to preserve the faith which has been handed down to us. Jude commands us to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to the saints who have gone before us. We confess the faith that they preserved for us; and this now is our duty for future generations. The God we worship is the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Perpetua and Monica, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield, Machen and Sproul. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us, and we are called to hand it down in turn.

While remembering why we recite the creeds, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…” It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? James reminds us: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” (2:19) There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.” Whom do you trust?

So what about you? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who has called you His own in the waters of baptism? Are you approaching worship in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed by His Spirit? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely to you? Are you reciting the creeds intelligently and faithfully or merely by rote? Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing your heart.

Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight.