Discernment and Covid-19

April 19, 2020 in Bible - NT - Romans, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Confession, Depravity, Judgment, Justice, Meditations, Politics, Responsibility, Ten Commandments, Wisdom, Word of God

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

This morning we return to Paul’s catalogue of the bitter fruits that are produced by those of debased mind, those whom God in His justice has handed over to their sin for their rebellion. Today, we consider Paul’s assertion that people of debased mind “are undiscerning.”

The ability to “discern” is the ability to distinguish what is good from what is evil; what is most important from what is least important; what is major from what is minor. Repeatedly Jesus rebukes the leaders of Israel for their inability to discern. They strained out gnats and swallowed camels; they washed their hands but inside were full of dead men’s bones; they tithed mint and dill and cumin but neglected the weightier matters of the law. They were undiscerning.

This inability to discern was not unique to the leaders of Israel. Paul exhorted those Jewish Christians who were entertaining abandoning Christ and returning to unbelieving Judaism:

12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Paul’s words reveal that the ability to discern good from evil is a gift from God given to those who meditate regularly on His Word. After all, discernment requires a standard of assessment; that standard is God’s moral law. By meditating on His law, we have our senses trained to discern good and evil and are capable of consuming solid food.

Our current Covid-19 crisis has revealed that many of our leaders are undiscerning, incapable of identifying what is most important and ignorant of God and His moral law. Most Governors that have issued stay at home orders have distinguished between “essential” and “non-essential” services – yet the application of this distinction has uncovered many perverse priorities. Elective surgeries canceled but abortions continued; family diners closed but marijuana shops opened; churches shuttered but liquor stores accessible. These inconsistencies highlight our inability to discern what is most important and necessary for a healthy society.

The tragic consequences of this inability to discern are increasingly manifesting themselves. Quarantining the sick and urging the vulnerable to isolate themselves is wise and prudent; destroying our people and their livelihoods through statewide quarantines is not. The true heroes and sacrificial victims of our current crisis are the owners and employees of so-called “non-essential” services or businesses whose livelihoods have been destroyed and savings depleted by the actions of our governing authorities. Until our governors voluntarily suspend their salaries and cut pay for all “non-essential” government services, then they are, like the Pharisees before them, loading burdens on the backs of their people that they themselves are unwilling to bear. Let us not, in the comfort of our homes, enjoying extended time with family, continuing to receive a paycheck, forget those who are being sacrificed for the safety of a small percentage of our society, including myself, who are especially vulnerable to the Covid virus. This entire debacle weighs heavy on my heart and I find myself resorting again and again to the cry in our confession of sins, “Lord, have mercy!”

So reminded of our need to meditate deeply on the Word of God in order that we be equipped to discern good from evil; wisdom from folly; freedom from servitude; let us acknowledge that we have failed to do so and that we are reaping the consequences of our lack of knowledge. So let us kneel before the Lord as we confess our sins to Him. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your order of service.

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.

The Mouth of the Righteous

January 13, 2019 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Regeneration, Tongue, Wisdom

Proverbs 10:31–32 (NKJV)

31 The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, But the perverse tongue will be cut out. 32 The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, But the mouth of the wicked what is perverse.

God takes words seriously. As the God of truth, all His words are righteous, holy, and upright. “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Ps 12:6). God knows just the right word to speak and when to speak it for He is righteous. His words encourage the fainthearted, remind the forgetful, strengthen the weak, rebuke the lazy, exalt the humble, humble the proud, protect the innocent, condemn the guilty. Consequently, God is ultimately reliable. He can be trusted, for His words never lead astray. “As for God, His way is perfect; The word of the Lord is proven; He is a shield to all who trust in Him” (Pr 18:30).

Because God’s words are righteous, holy, and upright, He expects our words to reflect His own. Mankind was made in His image, in His likeness, to reflect His character in our own. But because we rebelled against God in the beginning, there is now an antithesis in the world. While some, by the grace of God, reflect God’s character in their words, others, by their own rebellion, speak perverse words. We witness this contrast in our text today.

On the one hand, Solomon tells us, the mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom and the lips of the righteous know what is acceptable. The righteous man is the man who knows God and who reflects God’s character in his own. Consequently, his words reflect God’s words. First, he speaks with wisdom. He takes the knowledge that he has acquired, considers the principles that God has revealed, and then applies them faithfully to any specific situation. Second, his lips know what is acceptable. He knows how to speak in such a way that his words will be pleasing and honorable in the sight of God and other faithful men.

On the other hand, Solomon also tells us, the mouth of the wicked [knows] what is perverse. The wicked man is he who does not know God and does not reflect God’s character in his own. He lives in rebellion against God. Consequently, his lips and his words are perverse, twisted from their God-given intention. Rather than lead others in the way of truth, righteousness, and beauty, his words lead others into lies, wickedness, and deceit. But because God remains the Lord, the perverse tongue will be cut out. God takes note of their angry outbursts, cruel lies, demeaning speech, empty boasting, and coarse jesting. He will set all to rights and remove their ability to speak such perversity. He will cut out their tongue.

Our text today reminds us, therefore, that our words are a reflection of our character. Our words reflect who we really are, what we really love, what we truly cherish. The righteous man speaks acceptably not because God controls his tongue and forces him to speak just the right words but because he himself, by the grace of God, knows God and has a heart to please Him. His words reflect his character. The wicked man speaks perversely not because Satan controls his tongue and forces him to speak wickedly, but because he himself is estranged from God, the source of righteousness. His words reflect his character. As Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

So what of you? What do your words reveal about you? Whom do you love? What do you cherish? Whose character do you reflect? Do you have the tongue of the righteous or the lips of the wicked? Reminded that God takes our words seriously and that our words reflect our character, let us confess that our words are often perverse and that we stand in need of His forgiving and transforming grace. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

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.

Keeping Instruction or Despising Correction?

June 3, 2018 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Meditations, Wisdom

Proverbs 10:17 (NKJV)
17 He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, But he who refuses correction goes astray.

Once upon a time there were two men traveling to the city of Zoe. It was an ancient city, the inhabitants of which lived in happiness, abundance, and peace. The Lord of the city openly welcomed visitors to the city and even invited them to stay and become citizens. Indeed, so generous was the Lord of the city that he sent envoys into the world to explain the way to the city.

The first traveler was named Sophos. He had met one of the Lord’s envoys and received directions to the city with great joy. “Always pass through the narrow gate and stay on the narrow path,” he was told. “For wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction.” He set out on the road to the city. Though there were many paths that led off the main road, wide paths that seemed to lead to pleasant pastures, he made sure to stay on the narrow path that led to the city of Zoe. In due time he arrived at the city where he was warmly welcomed.

The second traveler was named Moros. He too had met one of the Lord’s envoys and received instruction. But as he set out on the road to the city, the narrow lane began a steep climb and the going became difficult. It was then that he noticed the wide gate that gave access to a broad path leading down to a plain that was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt as you go toward Zoar (Gen 13:10). So he went through the gate and headed down the path.

The Lord of the city knew that the country toward which Moros was heading was filled with vagabonds and cutthroats, so he had placed his envoys near the gate to warn travelers lest they go that way. One of the envoys warned Moros, “Beware! You are heading to the land of Sodom and Gomorrah, which the Lord of the city shall soon destroy.” But Moros would not listen. He had no desire to admit he had been wrong to wander off the narrow path and no desire to resume the arduous climb. So he continued along the path to the plain, admiring the pillar of salt that the inhabitants of the plain had built to point the correct way.

He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, but he who refuses correction goes astray. Reminded that God has pointed out the way to the Heavenly City and given us instruction to guide us on our way, let us confess that we often wander off the path and have need of the Lord’s correction. And let us pray that the Lord would preserve us from folly and from refusing to listen to those who would summon us back to the way. 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.

Why pursue wisdom?

October 29, 2017 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Bible - OT - Psalms, Confession, Discipline, Image of God, Meditations, Parents, Wisdom

Proverbs 10:1 (NKJV)
1 The proverbs of Solomon: A wise son makes a glad father, But a foolish son is the grief of his mother.

The proverbs of Solomon guide and teach us in order that we might be full of wisdom; in order that we might govern our daily affairs in a way that glorifies and honors our Creator and Redeemer, the Lord of hosts. In chapter 10 of Proverbs, Solomon begins to identify practical ways that the law of God teaches us wisdom. And where does he begin? He begins with your motivation. Why should you pursue wisdom? Because it is the wise son who brings joy to his parents.

Every child is born with an innate desire to please his parents. This desire is a gift from God, part of what it means to be made in the image of God. God the Son has eternally delighted to do the will of His heavenly Father, a delight on display in His Incarnation. “I delight to do Your will, O God,” Psalm 40:8 declares, “Your law is within my heart.” This delight of the Eternal Son in the Eternal Father has been hard-wired into the world such that children long for the approval of their parents, oftentimes even when those parents have been cruel or unkind.

So how can a son, young men, how can you, please your parents? Solomon gives you the answer: strive for wisdom and avoid folly. Cultivate the fear of God; meditate on the commandments of God; imbibe the promises of God; flee greed; flee lust; flee covetousness. Why should you do these things? Because it is the wise son who makes his father glad; because it is the foolish son that brings grief to his mother. And which would you rather do, bring your father joy or bring your mother grief? I pray to God that you would rather do the former.

But perhaps you don’t care about pleasing your parents. Perhaps you could care less what they think; perhaps you just want to cause them pain because you are frustrated with their restrictions or upset by their rules or hurt by their inattention. What should you do then? The first thing you should do is stop making excuses for your sinful attitude, confess it to God, and pray that He would change it. The fifth commandment is clear: Honor your father and your mother, that it may go well with you and you may live long on the earth. God’s desire for you is that you honor your parents. So if you are failing to do so, if you have no desire to do so, then you are in sin and you need to repent.

But what if you are the parent? What if your child doesn’t care about pleasing you, what should you do? First, ask yourself whether you care about pleasing your parents. Much more is caught than taught. If you do not long to please your parents it may very well be that your kids are simply taking a page from your book. If so, repent and confess your sins to the Lord and to your kids. Second, are you embittering your children, treating them tyrannically? A child’s innate desire to please his parents, though strong and resilient, can be destroyed by such behavior.

Reminded this morning that the innate desire that God has placed within us to receive the praise of our parents is often twisted, distorted, or even annihilated by our sin, let us confess our sin to the Lord and seek His forgiveness. And as we confess our sin, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Ignorant Christians?

September 29, 2014 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - 2 Peter, Justification, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Mosaic Law, Sanctification, Wisdom, Word of God
2 Peter 1:5–9 (NKJV)
5 But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, 6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, 7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. 8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
Last week we learned that our call as Christians is to add to our faith virtue. Holiness is not optional but a natural outgrowth of God’s work in our lives. He who has been born of God will become like God.
Today Peter exhorts us to add to virtue knowledge. Webster defines knowledge as “acts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.” So let us explore two implications of Peter’s words:
First, Peter tells us that we are to acquire knowledge, to gain a greater understanding of the Christian faith through experience and education. Remember that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with, among other things, all our minds. God has given us minds to understand the Word of God, to apply it in our lives, and to grow in knowledge. So Paul commands us, Brethren, do not be children in [your thinking]; however, in malice be babes, but in [your thinking] be mature (1 Cor 14:20). Being an ignorant Christian is simply not a godly option.
What this means, therefore, is that each of us is commanded by Peter to grow in knowledge. We are to use the abilities and opportunities that God gives us to expand our minds. And we are, remember, to devote ourselves to this task with all diligence. Read your Bibles; read sound Christian literature; listen carefully to the sermons; review and discuss them through the week. Add to your virtue knowledge.
Second, the order in which Peter places virtue and knowledge is important. We are to add knowledge on top of virtue. Knowledge in itself is not the object; rather, it is knowledge in the service of faith and virtue. Paul warns us that knowledge puffs up but love edifies. In other words, it is possible to abuse knowledge. As J.I. Packer writes in Knowing God:
“if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject-matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theolgical ideas seem to us crude and inadquate, and dismiss them as very poor specimins… We need to guard our hearts against such an attitude, and pray to be kept from it.”

So this morning Peter would remind us to add to your virtue knowledge. In light of this, we must admit that we are often either lazy and slothful, failing to gain the knowledge that we ought, or proud and arrogant, looking down on those who haven’t learned as much as we. Reminded of our sins in these areas, let us seek the Lord’s forgiveness through Jesus. Let us kneel as we confess our sin.

Destroying the Wisdom of the Wise

June 30, 2013 in Bible - OT - Obadiah, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Homosexuality, Marriage, Meditations, Sexuality, Wisdom
Obadiah 8 (NKJV)
8 “Will I not in that day,” says the LORD, “Even destroy the wise men from Edom, And understanding from the mountains of Esau?”
This week the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and further advanced the perverse agenda of those who would obliterate all vestiges of Christianity from the laws and institutions of our once great nation.
If you, like me, find yourself scratching your head and wondering, “How in the world did we get here? How is it possible that otherwise intelligent men and women could argue that the Constitution protects the rights of men and women to do that which is perverse and unnatural? Particularly when the Constitution was written by those who would be shocked and appalled by the uses to which the document is being put?” If you find yourself asking these very reasonable questions, let me direct your attention to our text today.
Edom was a people descended from Esau and had shared, like their namesake, in covenantal unfaithfulness. When the Israelites were suffering at the hands of the Babylonians, the Edomites mocked Israel’s suffering and assisted the Babylonians in plundering the land despite the covenant oaths that had joined Edom and Israel together. So God sent the prophet Obadiah to prophesy against Edom and announce the judgment that would fall upon the Edomites. What was the judgment?
“Will I not in that day,” says the LORD, “Even destroy the wise men from Edom, And understanding from the mountains of Esau?
Brothers and sisters, God still rules and reigns in the affairs of men – and the proof of His reign is that we are witnessing this same judgment on our land. Our wise men are being destroyed and understanding is being removed from the ruling centers of the land. Washington D.C. is a den of fools and charlatans. It seems that our leaders can no longer tell a man from a woman – and yet we expect them to calculate our tax burdens and administer justice?

We stand in desperate need of the grace and mercy of God – and the only way that we can expect God to pour out His grace and mercy upon us is if we bow before Him and confess our sin and rebellion against Him. As the Church, our calling is to lead the way in this confession. So today, let us kneel and confess that we have as a people rebelled against God and let us ask Him to have mercy upon us and our nation.