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 Word and Spirit

May 1, 2019 in Holy Spirit, John Calvin, Quotations, Word of God

“For as soon as the Spirit is severed from Christ’s Word the door is open to all sorts of craziness and impostures.”

John Calvin, The Gospel According to St. John, Part Two (A New Translation, Edited by David W. Torrance & Thomas F. Torrance), p. 121.

Jesus Speaks Today

December 9, 2018 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Christmas, Singing Psalms, Tradition, Word of God, Worship

Colossians 3:16 (NKJV)

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

For Advent and Christmastide we are continuing our tradition of preaching through the psalms. It is important that we remember why this is a fitting tradition, why we should devote considerable time and attention to the psalms. In our day, various ideologies divorce Christians from the OT; consequently, Psalm singing has fallen on hard times, especially among Protestants. So as we recover this practice, let us consider the foundation for it that Paul lays in our text today.

First, Paul identifies the content of our worship. We are to let the word of Christ, Christ’s own word, dwell in us richly. Jesus speaks to us today; He is calling today. But where? Paul tells us: He speaks in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. In the Greek translation of the OT, these labels correspond to the varied songs in the psalter. Paul’s categories of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are, in other words, different ways of directing us to one book, the Psalter. The book of Psalms contains psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs which we are to sing. Why? Because they are the Word of Christ – Christ’s own words to us. When we sing the Psalms to one another, we hear Christ speaking to us in the voices of our brethren.

Second, Paul identifies the function of our worship. We are to teach one another and admonish one another. First, we teach one another. When we sing the psalms to one another, we expand our knowledge of God and our awareness of His work in the world. We teach one another of His righteousness, His mercy, His wrath, His love, His patience, His judgments, etc. The psalms force us to reckon with ways in which our own thinking differs from God’s thinking. When we sing a psalm and find ourselves disagreeing with its words, the problem is not with the psalm but with us. Consequently, we not only teach one another as we sing, we also admonish one another. We correct erroneous thoughts, summon one another to trust the Lord more fully, rebuke one another’s complacency, immorality, greed, idolatry, and deceitfulness. The psalms teach and admonish us.

Third, Paul identifies the motive of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts. True worship emerges from a grateful heart; it is an expression of thankfulness for God’s work in our lives. The hypocrite says one thing with his lips and another with his heart; the true worshiper joins heart and lips together in song. We are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts.

Finally, Paul identifies the object of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. The Lord is the object of our worship. He alone is worthy of praise, thanksgiving, and honor. He has created us and not we ourselves; He has redeemed us through the precious blood of His Son Jesus. He has sent His Spirit to empower us to walk in newness of life. So we are to give Him thanks and praise, to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to Him.

So as we enter into the presence of the Lord this day, as we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, let us teach and admonish one another as we worship the Lord. Unfortunately, much of the church has abandoned the psalms in favor of songs that do not teach and admonish. We speak to one another our own words rather than the words of Christ. But even when we speak the words of Christ to one another, we often fail to learn from our brethren, we often fail to correct ourselves. So reminded of our failures in this regard, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. 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.

Cultivating Hope

October 7, 2018 in Bible - NT - Romans, Ecclesiology, Lord's Day, Meditations, Postmillennialism, Preaching, Resurrection, Word of God

The following was my exhortation for the worship service which Trinity Church held during the 2018 Knox Presbytery (CREC) Stated Meeting. It was a privilege to host presbytery here in Coeur d’Alene and to worship with old friends and new. May the Lord continue to bless our presbytery and give us men of hope to preach in our pulpits and people of hope to fill our pews.

Romans 15:4 (NKJV)

4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.

As ministers of the Gospel and officers in Christ’s Church, our fundamental duty is to give our people the Word of God. The Good Shepherd makes His people lie down in green pastures and leads them beside still waters. So as under-shepherds we are to teach our people to love and cherish the Word of God, to drink deeply of the law and the prophets, to chew regularly on the psalms and the Gospels, and to feast freely on the epistles and Revelation. The Word of God is to be our meat and drink.

Paul’s words to the Romans in our text today remind us how we should teach the Word of God. First, he writes that whatever things were written before were written for our learning. The Scriptures were written for our instruction. As we preach and teach the Word of God, therefore, we must do so in such a way that our people grow in their understanding of the Word. The greatest commandment includes loving the Lord our God with all our minds. Therefore we must instruct God’s people, we must engage their minds with our teaching.

This instruction, however, is never to be merely academic. Jonathan Edwards reminds us, “Our people do not so much need to have their heads stored, as to have their hearts touched; and they stand in greatest need of that sort of preaching which has the greatest tendency to do this.” So Paul reminds us that the Scriptures were written in order that we… might have hope. The end of our instruction is to foster hope in our flocks – hope for God’s work in the world and hope for God’s work in their own lives.

So how do we cultivate this sense of hope among our people? Paul writes that we do this through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures. First, through the patience of the Scriptures. One of the ways that we are to feed the hope of our people is by reminding them of God’s patient and persistent work in history and in their lives. When we fail to perceive immediate change – either in our personal fight against sin or in the advance of the Gospel in history – we can grow discouraged. Is there no hope of victory? One of the glorious things that the Scriptures do is remind us that God is patient. He works slowly over the course of our lives, growing us in holiness and righteousness as we walk by faith. And He works slowly over the course of history, causing the Name of His Son to be exalted in the earth. As Isaiah assures us, God’s Servant will not fail nor grow discouraged until He has established justice in the earth.

Second, we feed the hope of our people through the comfort of the Scriptures. We are to remind them regularly of God’s mercy and grace, to direct their vision again and again to the loveliness of Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. When discouraged by their sin, we point them to Jesus who died on the cross. When overwhelmed with daily tasks, we point them to Jesus who has poured out His Spirit upon us. When despairing of historical progress, we point them to Jesus who sits enthroned at God’s right hand.

So how are you doing? If you are a minister of the Gospel or the head of a family, have you been teaching your flock the Word in such a way that you are enabling them to have hope? And do you embody that hope in your own life? Or have you become discouraged and overwhelmed with the tasks of the day, forgetting the patience and comfort of the Scriptures?

Reminded that we often lose hope, becoming discouraged by our own indwelling sin or disheartened by setbacks in God’s work in history, let us confess our lack of hope to the Lord. And as you are able let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Maleness or Manliness?

June 10, 2018 in Homosexuality, Meditations, Responsibility, Word of God

Psalm 119:9 (NKJV)
9 How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word.

What does it mean to be a young man and not just a young male? We have many young males in the world. Perhaps you have seen them strutting along the streets; speaking disrespectfully to their parents and teachers; scorning authority; using foul language; starting fights; being sexually licentious; causing trouble? But what does it mean to be a man and not just a male. For maleness is a matter of biology – anyone with certain anatomy is a male. But manliness is a matter of moral fiber – it is the grace that unites male anatomy and godly character.

So you young males out there – do you know what it is to be a young man? This is the question David poses today. How can a young man cleanse his way? How can he be a young man after God’s own heart? How can he grow in favor with God and with other men? How can he demonstrate his worth? David’s answer is simple: By taking heed according to God’s Word.

The Apostle John writes in his first epistle, “I have written to you young men because you are strong and the word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one” (2:14b). In other words, the most important thing you can do to become a young man and not simply to be a young male is to consider, meditate upon, memorize, and practice God’s Word. Ask God what He wants you to love and esteem; what He wants you to cherish; what it means to be a young man after His own heart. It is this type of meditation which leads to John’s conclusion, “and you have overcome the evil one.” The key to manliness is faith in and reliance upon the Living God who has revealed Himself and His will in His Word. The Bible is the pathway to manliness.

So how important is the Word of God to you? Can you find a reference in your Bible? Can you summarize the books of the Bible? Have you memorized portions of the Bible? Do you know the Lord’s Prayer? Do you know the Ten Commandments? Are you letting the Bible shape your thinking and acting more than the latest music video or Marvel film? Are you a man of the Word? In other words, are you not just male but masculine?

Reminded that we often confuse maleness with manliness, let us confess our sin to our Heavenly Father, asking Him to bestow true manliness upon our men – young and old alike – and an esteem for true manliness upon our women – young and old alike. 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.

Bear with the Word

October 1, 2017 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Bible - NT - Matthew, Heart, Meditations, Preaching, Word of God

Hebrews 13:22
And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.

Whenever the Word of God is preached and applied, we have the opportunity to respond to it rightly or wrongly. If we respond rightly, then we will, in the words of our text, “bear with the word of exhortation.” When the word of exhortation comes our way, we will receive it, consider it, and respond to it in a way that testifies to the world – “This is the word of God. This is the word of my master. He has commanded and I am obeying. Why? Because this is life itself.” As we respond to the word of exhortation in this way we will bear abundant fruit – in the imagery from the parable of the sower, we will bear thirty, sixty, and a hundred-fold. The word of God will utterly transform us.

Yet how often do we respond to the word of exhortation wrongly – not with faith but with unbelief? Rather than “bearing with the word of exhortation,” we harden our hearts and refuse to listen. So how can we know we are hardening our hearts? Consider the other soils that Jesus describes in the parable of the sower.

Some soil was so hard that the seed did not even penetrate the ground but was taken away by the birds, Satan snatched the word before it even took root. Does this picture describe you? When you hear God declaring His will for human relationships or challenging your own prejudices, do you close your ears and silence your conscience? “How dare Christ claim to be the only way to God? How dare Paul say that wives must submit to their husbands?” So you reject God’s law in favor of your opinions. Or, perhaps more subtly, do you start critiquing the minister? “I can’t believe he is speaking this way – as though he is immune from sin.” You see, so long as you point the finger away from your own sin and refuse to bear with God’s word to you, you are hardening your heart. And so some, rather than bearing with the word, reject it, maintaining their own opinions and remaining in unbelief.

But some soil is not quite so hardened; some soil is very fruitful, for a time. The plant springs up quickly giving quite a show of health and vibrancy – but when the sun arises it quickly withers and returns to dust, when trials and hardships come, faith dies. Our initial joy and enthusiasm is replaced with disinterest as the novelty of the faith fades. We listen to the evening news and see the Christian faith ridiculed. We mention our opposition to homosexuality and face angry stares. We speak to our neighbor about Christ and receive the cold shoulder. So we begin to wonder if believing the Scriptures is worth it. Its message begins to sound so old-fashioned, so out of step, so boring. And so rather than bear with the word of exhortation, we become ashamed of it.

Still other soil produces fruit and yet as the seed grows it becomes choked and entangled by weeds; the cares and concerns of the world choke it out. This soil recognizes that the Word is important theoretically but it’s just not relevant. It has very little to contribute to the everyday realities of life. So listening to the Word of God becomes tedious and hum-drum; we begin to question why we’re involved in worship anyway. “I’d much rather explore my sexuality; I’d much rather amass as much money as I can; I’d much rather be out on the beach or watching a movie.” And so, rather than bear with the Word of exhortation, we can scarcely even bear it – sitting inattentively, just waiting for the preacher to get done so we can devote ourselves to what’s really important.

The Word of exhortation comes to you this morning: how are you responding? Have you hardened your heart? Do you reject the word? Are you ashamed? Are you inattentive? Then wake up, give heed and confess your sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, kneel with me as we confess our sins together.

Preach the Word: With Teaching

September 24, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - 2 Timothy, Bible - NT - Hebrews, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Preaching, Word of God

2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NKJV)
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

Today we close our series of meditations on Paul’s charge to Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” We consider the last of Paul’s admonitions when he writes, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” What does Paul mean when he urges Timothy to continue in his work “with teaching”?

Paul’s words remind Timothy that when people enter into the Christian faith, they enter as infants in need of teaching and instruction. We do not enter the Christian faith as mature adults; the Spirit does not magically fill our head with doctrinal truth; rather, teaching is necessary; discipleship is the need of the hour, every hour; for this cause, Christ has appointed teachers in the Church to build up the people of God, instruct them in the Scriptures, and protect them from lies that parade as the truth.

Because of this necessity of teaching, the church has historically insisted that ministers of the Gospel be well-trained prior to entering into ministry. Paul writes, “And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). This was the pattern. Paul taught Timothy; Timothy was to teach other faithful men; those other faithful men were to teach others. In this way, the work of God would be multiplied and the people of God built up in the knowledge of Christ.

This emphasis on teaching helps us to put Paul’s warnings about knowledge elsewhere in their proper context. For instance, Paul writes to the Corinthians that “knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Cor 8:1). While some have erroneously inferred from Paul’s words that learning doctrine is dangerous at worst or superfluous at best, it is clear that Paul is warning us of the danger of severing knowledge and humility. A true knowledge of God leads to a profound sense of one’s own insignificance and of the magnitude of God’s grace. Teaching is not the problem; learning is not the problem; pride is.

How do we know? Because Paul insists that teaching is necessary. Ministers of the Gospel are to commit themselves to the task of teaching the people of God.

If ministers of the Gospel are to teach the Word of God, then what are Christians to do? Learn the Word of God. Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews, “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…” (5:12). Paul is disappointed in these folks because they had failed to learn what Paul and their elders had striven to teach them. They did not give heed to the teaching.

So what of you? Are you taking seriously Jesus’ call to discipleship, Jesus’ call to become a learner? Do you know your Bible? Do you know basic Christian doctrine? Can you defend the Trinity? Can you articulate what it means to be reconciled to God? If not, then learn.

Reminded this morning that ministers of the Gospel are called to teach God’s people and that all God’s people are called upon to learn, let us acknowledge that we have often neglected our duty. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Preach the Word: With all Longsuffering

September 17, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Corinthians, Bible - NT - 2 Timothy, Church History, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Meditations, Preaching, Truth, Word of God

2 Timothy 4:1–2 (NKJV)
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.

For the last several weeks, we have been meditating on Paul’s charge to Timothy to “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season.” A few weeks ago, we began looking at the series of imperatives that Paul gives to explain his charge. Paul writes, “Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” Today we consider Paul’s admonition to continue in this effort “with all longsuffering.”

The Greek word translated “longsuffering” can mean patience, fortitude, or forbearance. Paul wants Timothy to continue preaching without growing weary or being dissuaded. He is to stick to the task, be faithful to his calling, whether folks desire to listen to him or not. Paul warns Timothy in the next couple verses (4:3-4):
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

Timothy must persevere, he must be patient, for he will face opposition. People will – in this great phrase – heap up for themselves teachers who tell them what they want to hear, who soothe their consciences and who turn away from the truth to fables. But, ultimately, Paul wants Timothy to remember, the truth will prevail and so Timothy must persist in His calling.

It was this firm confidence that buoyed John Wyclif during the 14th century in England. Facing much opposition and criticism for his critique of the pope, his emphasis on the authority of Scripture, and his proclamation of the grace of God, Wyclif persevered, he taught with much longsuffering. What gave him confidence? “Magna est veritas,” he wrote, “et praevalebit.” Great is the truth and it shall prevail.

The reason Wyclif had such confidence in the power of the truth to overcome all obstacles is because God had promised that His Servant, our Lord Jesus, would not fail, in the prophet Isaiah’s words, to “bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (42:1d). This Servant, continues Isaiah, “will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law” (42:4). Jesus will so labor that the truth become fully manifest. So the Apostle Paul assures us that Jesus “must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:25-26). Great is the truth and it shall prevail – or, perhaps better, He shall prevail.

This same patience demanded of preachers of the Gospel is to be practiced by the hearers of the Gospel as well. Paul reminds us that “faith comes from hearing” (Rom 10:17) and asks, “How shall they hear without a preacher?” But sometimes the preacher is unclear; sometimes we have had a rough evening the night before; sometimes the ambient noise is annoying; sometimes the preacher’s mannerisms are distracting; sometimes his voice is too quiet; sometimes his appearance is off-putting. What is your calling then? It is to listen to the Word preached with all longsuffering – to listen for the voice of Your Master, Jesus, in the voice of the preacher and to apply the truth, as best as you are able, to your own life.

And so reminded that we are to pursue patience and persistence in the preaching and hearing of the truth, must we not acknowledge that we often give up too soon, we often boil over in frustration, we often permit ourselves to grow distracted, we often lack patience? Let us, therefore, confess our impatience to the Lord; and, as we are able, let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.