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.

Like a Tax Collector and a Sinner

April 7, 2019 in Authority, Bible - NT - Matthew, Communion, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Responsibility, Sacraments, Sanctification, Satan, Sin

Matthew 18:15-18

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 

The Scriptures make plain that our love for God is directly connected to and demonstrated by the fruit in our lives (Luke 6:43-49). As we have seen in the Gospel of John, love for God is not defined by our feelings but by God’s law-word: Jesus says that if we love Him, we will obey His commandments (Jn. 14:15; 15:10-17). Because our love for God is revealed in such visible fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-26), Jesus instructs us in our text today how we are to respond when a brother fails to bear such fruit and sins against us.

Recently, we went through this passage in detail. We saw that following private attempts to confirm that our brother really has sinned and that he refuses to repent, the church is to come alongside this brother publicly and correct him. When the church acts in this way, then the brother is summoned “to hear the church” – to take ownership for his sin, make concrete changes in his attitude and actions, and submit to his brethren in the Lord. This is the Lord’s calling upon us as His people.

However, if he refuses “even to hear the church”, then Jesus instructs us, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Mt 18:17). Jesus insists that we are no longer to treat him as an erring brother in need of correction but as an unbeliever in need of the saving grace of God in Christ. This action is a mercy to him for it endeavors to speak God’s own word to the man, warning him that a refusal to humble himself now will only incur God’s judgment later. After all, Jesus’ command is accompanied by the sober promise that heaven itself will concur in the sentence of excommunication: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Mt 18:18).

As elders it is our duty to apply Jesus’ words to a member of our church. A little over a year ago, we told the church that —— was refusing to repent of his contribution to persistent strife and discord in his marriage and home despite receiving over a year of marital counseling with three different pastors in our community. At the time, we asked you to come alongside him in prayer and, as your relationship permitted, accountability. Rather than respond to this attempt at increased accountability with humility, however, he has steadfastly refused “to hear the church.” He has absented himself from worship and from meaningful accountability. He has refused the elders’ offers to meet with him and help him grow. Most recently, he has asked that we remove him from membership at Trinity.

Since he has refused “to hear the church”, our obligation is to put him out of the church. Therefore, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we, the elders of Trinity Church, hereby excommunicate ——- from the church of Jesus Christ and hand him over to Satan, praying that God may yet have mercy on him and restore him to the true faith, that his soul may be saved in the Last Day (1 Cor 5:4-5).

As we do so, we would deliver to you two exhortations. First, remember prayer. As you think of —-, please pray that the Lord would humble him, expose his sin, and bring him to a true faith in Christ. As you think of his family who remains in the church, please pray that God would empower them, by His grace, to continue to serve the Lord in humility, to honor —— as a husband and father, and to be faithful witnesses to —— in his unbelief that they might be a means of touching his heart with the Gospel. Remember prayer.

Second, remember humility. Apart from the grace of God, we none of us would humble ourselves before Him. Our hearts are deceitful, our thoughts are vain, and our consciences are darkened. We all of us stand in constant need of God’s grace and mercy. So if you meet or interact with —–, be gracious, be kind, be loving, express your desire for his salvation, and your commitment to the well-being of both him and his family. Remember that Jesus regularly ministered to tax collectors and sinners, bringing them the truth of the Gospel in the hope that they would repent and turn in faith to Him. —– needs the Gospel. But hear the Word of the Lord: so do you. So beware the lies of the devil, the lusts of your own heart, and the snares of the world. Remember humility.

And so reminded this morning of our call to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, let us kneel and acknowledge our sin to Him, praying for His mercy and grace. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Baptism Meditation

March 18, 2019 in Adoption, Baptism, Bible - NT - Luke, Children, Ecclesiology, King Jesus, Sacraments

Luke 18:15–17 (NKJV)

15 Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 17 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.”

Today I have privilege of baptizing —–. Before I invite the family forward, I wanted to remind you why we baptize children. Jesus provides for us the foundational reason in this text. The reason that we baptize children, including infants, is that Jesus claims our children as His own. He reckons them to be members of His kingdom, the kingdom of God.

Consequently, children (including nursing infants) teach us something important about the nature of God’s work in our lives. After all, Jesus reminds us in Matthew 21:16 that the Scriptures proclaim, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You [O, Lord] have perfected praise.” So what do children proclaim? What do they declare? Children proclaim that we are all dependent upon God for His grace and mercy in both creation and salvation. We none of us created ourselves and we none of us enter into the kingdom of God by our own merit or worth or choice. It is God who created us, not we ourselves, and it is God who saves us, not we ourselves.

The 19th century Presbyterian theologian B.B. Warfield wrote, “Every time we baptize an infant we bear witness that salvation is from God, that we cannot do any good thing to secure it, that we receive it from his hands as a sheer gift of his grace, and that we enter the Kingdom of heaven therefore as little children, we do not do, but are done for.” Did you catch that last clause? “We do not do, but are done for.” Salvation, like creation, is the work of God, who graciously grafts us into His people. Today God welcomes —– into His Church. So as I baptize him this morning, let me urge you to remember that your baptism preaches to you, proclaims to you the grace and mercy of God. So believe Him, trust Him, rely upon Him, and know that “as a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Ps 103:13).

Restoration to the Lord’s Table

November 11, 2018 in Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Sacraments, Thankfulness

2 Corinthians 2:5-8, 10-11 (NKJV)

5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. 6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, 7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. 8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him… 10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

Despite numerous problems in the church at Corinth, they responded to Paul’s exhortations in First Corinthians in faith and obedience. Paul had commanded them to publicly censure one of their members who was living in sin (1 Cor 5) and the Corinthians responded in faith, doing that very thing. In our text today, Paul counsels them what to do now since the man they had censured had repented and sought forgiveness from the Lord and from the church.

The Corinthians thought that perhaps they needed Paul’s approval before welcoming the man back into their fellowship. But Paul insists that they didn’t need his approval – after all, he wasn’t the one who had been wronged. He writes, But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.” Paul wasn’t the one grieved but them; so it wasn’t Paul who needed to restore the man but them. They had disciplined him originally and, now that he was repentant and desirous of reconciliation, they were entirely capable of restoring him to fellowship on their own. “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority,” he writes, “is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.” They had disciplined him in love; now they ought much more to receive him back in love.

In accordance with Paul’s words here to the Corinthians, the elders have the joyful privilege of restoring — to fellowship in this congregation. — has taken concrete steps of repentance and has expressed to the elders her grief over her sin and her desire to be reconciled to the Lord and the church. —, her new husband, has done likewise. While we plan to read their letters at our next Head of Household Meeting, we wanted to take this opportunity to restore them to the Table and reaffirm our love for them.

As we do so, Paul reminds us not to let Satan take advantage of us. In times like this, Satan plots against us and seeks to undermine the work that God is doing. So how might Satan scheme to turn this happy moment sorrowful? First, he might tempt you to respond to their restoration like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The elder brother resented his father’s open-hearted and festal acceptance of his brother back into the home. And so what of you? Are you prepared to rejoice in God’s munificent grace to — and to pray that He would pour out yet more grace upon them?

Second, Satan might tempt you to look down on them, imagining yourself superior. But Paul asked the Corinthians, when they were boasting over one another, “What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it, then why do you boast as though it is something of your own?” Paul urges us to remember that it is the grace of God that enables us to walk uprightly. Consequently, when one of our own stumbles into sin, it is not an occasion for pride but humility, recognizing our own propensity to stray from the Lord. And when one of our own repents and returns to the Lord, it is an occasion for joy and thanksgiving to God for His outpouring of grace. As the Scriptures declare, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Reminded of God’s forgiving grace and that He extends this grace freely to all who call upon Him in truth, let us confess that we often respond to His grace to others with resentment or a sense of superiority. And as we are able, let us kneel before the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Save a Soul from Death

June 24, 2018 in Bible - NT - James, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Sacraments

James 5:19–20 (NKJV)
19 Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, 20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

One of our duties as a congregation is to come alongside one another and assist one another to walk faithfully with the Lord. Our enemies – the world, the flesh, and the devil – are relentless in their attacks upon our faith and faithfulness to the Lord. Consequently, the Lord has given us brothers and sisters to assist us in the fight. It is this dynamic that James addresses in our text. Let us note a few things.

First, notice that James views it as possible that those who profess faith in Christ be tempted to apostatize. Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth – each of us has names that we can attach to James’ warning. If we have walked long in the faith, we have known those who wander from the truth and fall into error and sin.

Second, James views it as possible that those who are so tempted can be reclaimed. Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back… It is possible, by the grace of God, to be God’s means of bringing an erring brother back to the truth. It is possible, in James’ words, to turn a sinner from the error of his ways.

Finally, James encourages us to reclaim those who have wandered for, in doing so, we save the erring brother from certain destruction. Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins. This is the great privilege of helping those who are wandering astray.

Today the elders perform the sober duty of announcing to you that our beloved sister and daughter, —-, is wandering from the truth…. Consequently, we are publicly suspending her from fellowship in the Supper and calling upon you, her brothers and sisters in the Lord, to come alongside her and attempt to rescue her from the error of her ways. She knows the right thing to do and often desires to do it but has thus far lacked the strength of purpose to carry out what is good and right. So what can you do?

First, regardless of whether you personally know —-, please pray for her and for those who do know her, especially her family, that —- would be disposed to listen to them, to do what is right, and to return to the truth with a whole heart. Pray that she wouldn’t flee from the truth but embrace it with a whole heart.

Second, if you know —-, please endeavor to reach out to her. Consider writing her a letter. Remind her of your love for her, of the Lord’s love for her, and urge her to return to the truth. The Lord is gracious and longsuffering and does not desire the death of a sinner but that one repent and return to Him. So this is what we desire for —-. Don’t treat her self-righteously; don’t lecture her in haughtiness or pride; appeal to her as a beloved sister.

And so, having been notified of —- sin, we are reminded of how susceptible we all are to the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. So let us confess our own need of God’s forgiving grace and His merciful intervention to keep us in the truth. And as we confess, and as you are able, let us kneel together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Why shouldn’t you get rebaptized?

July 31, 2017 in Baptism, Ecclesiology, John Calvin, Quotations, Sacraments, Word of God

There are actually many answers to this question – but consider the following from John Calvin:

“Our opponents ask us what faith we had for many years after our baptism, in order to show that our baptism was in vain, since baptism is not sanctified to us except by the word of promise received in faith. We answer that although we were blind and unbelieving for a long time and did not embrace the promise which had been given us in baptism, yet the promise itself, since it was from God, always remained steady, firm, and true. If all men were false and liars, still God continues to be true; if all men were lost, still Christ remains a Savior. We confess, therefore, that when we totally neglected the promise offered to us in baptism, without which baptism is nothing, we received no benefit at all from baptism… Yet we believe that the promise itself never expired…. By baptism God promises the forgiveness of sins and will certainly fulfill the promise to all believers; that promise was offered to us in baptism; let us, therefore, embrace it by faith.”

In short, Calvin reminds us, baptism is not primarily my word to God, my promise to God, but God’s promise to me. Baptism is a visible word. It invites me, summons me to believe the One who has promised to cleanse my sins through the death and resurrection of Christ. The “solution”, therefore, to someone who has not believed his baptism thus far is not to get baptized but to repent and to believe and receive the promise symbolized in that baptism.

Word and Sign Go Together

August 2, 2016 in Bible - OT - Genesis, John Calvin, Quotations, Sacraments, Word of God, Worship

“…since no living image of God can exist without the word, whenever God has appeared to his servants, he has also spoken to them. Wherefore, in all outward signs, let us be ever attentive to his voice, if we would not be deluded by the wiles of Satan. But if those visions, in which the majesty of God shines, require to be animated by the word, then they who obtrude signs, invented at the will of men, upon the Church, exhibit nothing else than the empty pomps of a profane theatre. Just as in the Papacy, those things which are called sacraments, are lifeless phantoms which draw away deluded souls from the true God. Let this mutual connexion, then, be observed, that the vision which gives greater dignity to the word, precedes it; and that the word follows immediately, as if it were the soul of the vision.”

John Calvin, Commentary upon the Book of Genesis, p. 388 (on verse 46:2)

The Sign and the Thing Signified

September 30, 2014 in Baptism, Bible - NT - 1 Peter, Ecclesiology, Federal Vision, John Calvin, Justification, Quotations, Reformation, Regeneration, Sacraments, Sanctification

When Peter writes “not the putting away of the filth of the flesh” (1 Pet 3:21) in reference to baptism, “he speaks not of the naked sign, but that the effect must also be connected with it… the external symbol is not sufficient except baptism be received really and effectually…

“But the fanatics…absurdly pervert this testimony, while they seek to take away from sacraments all their power and effect. For Peter did not mean here to teach that [baptism] is vain and inefficacious, but only to exclude hypocrites from the hope of salvation, who, as far as they can, deprave and corrupt baptism. Moreover, when we speak of sacraments, two things are to be considered, the sign and the thing itself. In baptism the sign is water, but the thing is the washing of the soul by the blood of Christ and the mortifying of the flesh. The institution of Christ includes these two things. Now that the sign often appears inefficacious and fruitless, this happens through the abuse of men, which does not take away the nature of the sacrament. Let us then learn not to tear away the thing signified from the sign. We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign.

“What then ought we to do? Not to separate what has been joined together by the Lord. We ought to acknowledge in baptism a spiritual washing, we ought to embrace therein the testimony of the remission of sin and the pledge of our renovation, and yet so as to leave to Christ his own honour, and also to the Holy Spirit; so that no part of our salvation should be transferred to the sign.”

John Calvin, Commentary on the First Epistle of Peter, pp. 118-119.

The Edenic Covenant: Covenant of Works or Covenant of Grace?

June 9, 2014 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Creation, Creeds, Federal Vision, King Jesus, Law and Gospel, Old Testament, Quotations, Sacraments, Sanctification

     “The Adamic covenant should not be considered in such narrow terms that it is seen only of the eating prohibition and its consequences. It is also improper to call this covenant a covenant of works. The implication then would be that other covenants are not covenants of works, or that this covenant, which obviously had its inception before the Fall, is not a covenant of grace. Then grace can only be evident in matters which have to do with redemption, which is a post-fall activity.
     “Such distinctions should be abandoned. All covenants between God and man should be seen as covenants of grace. The metaphor of covenant portrays a relationship between a sovereign and a vassal. The sovereign is under no obligation to initiate this arrangement. That he does so is a matter of grace. But the vassal is going to benefit from such an arrangement.
     “When we see the first biblical covenant in this light we will find that it frees us from the problems introduced by a covenant of works concept. First, it removes the idea that Adam could have worked for his salvation.
     “Second, it puts the entire original creation into a different perspective. The creation, with Adam as its head, is seen to be under covenant obligation to the Creator-Sovereign.
     “Third, there are implications, in an original Creator-creation covenant, for the concept of free will. Is a creation which is in covenant relationship free to do whatever it wants? When man and the rest of creation with him chose to disobey the creator this was an act of rebellion. It was willful breaking of the creation covenant.
     “The covenant with Abraham, Aaron (Levi) and David are covenants of promise. God promises to do something for Abraham, Aaron or David and their descendants. But when we consider what happened to some of their descendants we find that God rejected them and God stated that they had broken his covenant. Implicit in every covenant is the obligation of obedience. Along with promise-covenants is the understanding that those to whom the promises come must obey the Lord. Failure to obey marks the one under promise-covenant oath a rebel.” John M. Zinkand, Covenants: God’s Claims (Sioux Center, IA: Dordt University Press, 1984), pp. 54-55.