Monday, July 26, 2004

Heidelberg Exhortations-Lord’s Day 2

Q. 3. Whence knowest thou thy misery? “How do we know our misery?” A. Out of the law of God.

Q. 4. What does the law of God require of us? A. Christ teaches us that briefly, Matt. 22:37-40, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

Q. 5. Canst thou keep all these things perfectly? A. In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbour.

We know our misery from our failure to keep God’s law.  Jesus taught us that the law requires us to love God and love our neighbor.  We think this sounds easy enough but that is because we have a low bar as to what love is.  We think love is having warm feelings towards someone.  But that is not at all the Biblical definition of love.  Love is doing right by them.  Love is obeying God’s commands.  Love towards God is exhibited by worshipping Him and no one or nothing else.  Love towards God is exhibited by worshipping Him according to His pattern and no other way.  Love towards God is exhibited by honoring His name by the way that you live.  To fail to do so is to have His name placed on you in vain.  Love towards God is exhibited by honoring the Lord’s Day as the Sabbath, pledging every day to God by the way that you live this day.

Love towards your neighbor is not feeling sentimental about him.  It is primarily understood in the way that you honor your parents.  If you do not honor your parents, you cannot love your neighbor as you ought to.  It is here first that you learn what it means to honor.  It means to obey.  You obey God by obeying your parents and you must not obey with reservations.  Your obedience must be cheerful and willful.  You don’t submit because you have to.   You submit because you want to.  And as you leave the immediate authority of your parents, you honor them by continuing to follow God all the days of your life. 

Working down through the law, we find points of failure at every level.  Have you thought ill of another?  The Bible calls this murder in the heart.  Have you lusted after a woman or man who is not your husband?  Have you wanted someone else as wife or husband?  This is unfaithfulness in heart and mind and is spiritual adultery.  Are you honest in all business dealings and transactions of money?  If not, then you have stolen.  Do you always tell the truth, especially in a legal setting or when the reputation of another is on the line?  Are you content with the abundance that the Lord has given you?  If not, then you must surely covet the life and things of others.

It is clear that the law condemns us on every single point.  If we have sinned in one, we have sinned in all. But we have not sinned in just one, we have sinned in all.  And we continue to fall short and sin, even though the Holy Spirit has come to set us free from sin and death.

O wretched men that we are! Who will set us free from the body of this death?  We are here to celebrate the Lord and His kindness to us, so I will not leave you hopeless.  The Lord Jesus Christ desires to lift us out of sin and misery.  He has made the way through His own blood. It is true that by nature we are objects of wrath, but by grace we are objects of mercy. Let all those who love life lay hold of Christ for there is life in no other.

Heidelberg Exhortations-Lord's Day 1, too

Q. 2.  How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort, mayest live and die happily? A.  Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.

It is quite astonishing that we are so often in the dark regarding our own sin and misery.  We can grasp some aspect of this by looking at the current culture sinking in the mire around us.  In the midst of horrible crimes against God and man, they liken themselves the happiest men and women on earth.  Their hearts are darkened in the most extreme of sins.  So much so, that as a culture at large, these dark sins are now mainstream and respectable.  Not only do they not know that they are in rebellion against God, they flatter themselves that their horrible behavior is, in fact, pleasing to Him.  This is nothing less than measuring man by man’s standard.  When we do this, we always come out looking good.  The current travesty is that we now measure with such a perverse measuring stick that what is evil is considered good.

As Christians, we are not so debauched.  We understand that there is good and evil in the world, right and wrong, decency and indecency.  However, we have been so influenced by our culture that we often measure by the wrong standard also.  We compare ourselves to the rebellious lot that I mentioned above and we come out smelling pretty good.  However, that is the wrong standard.   You can always find a greater sinner than you are, but does the presence of a Stalin make Hitler a saint?  Of course not.  We must measure by God’s standard.  When we do this, we are always called up short in relation to our own self-righteousness because we haven’t got any.  Our only righteousness is in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, our culture fails to see its misery.  What they call happiness, is merely being punch-drunk with perverted pleasures.  Beware the adulteress women.  She is death.  Again, we Christians are not so far gone, but we often fail to see that our sins cause us great grief.  We will not give them up because we love them so.   What would we complain about if we forgave our brothers and sisters in the Lord?  How would we entertain ourselves if we applied God’s standards of not lusting after women in the heart?  We enjoy these things and think they bring us good and do not see the misery that they bring.

In our flesh, by our nature, we are objects of wrath, utterly lost and wholly unable to respond to God.  However, the Holy Spirit bids us repent and believe.  The law condemns us all as guilty and yet Christ proclaims all His own as righteous.  We merit nothing and in Christ gain everything.  What a gracious and merciful God we serve.  Let us forsake those things that lead to death and embrace Christ in new life.

As we are reminded of our sin and misery without Christ, let us confess our sins, repent of them, lay hold of Christ, and rejoice in His kindness to us.

Loving the Saints Part V

We strive to have relatively few events in our Church.  This is so that you can be faithful in your homes and also so that you can meet the needs of the body when they arise without feeling overworked.  At times, the work may be hard and the sacrifice deep but God is our rewarder.  We must do this work in faith trusting Him.  These things should not be seen as burdensome but rather both as a ministry to serve others and as a means by which God seeks to bless us so that we can serve others even more.  Weariness is often a state of mind, not a state of the body.  We are to endure, trusting God who brings the endurance.  Do we believe this?  Then don’t grow weary.  Keep giving and you will always have more to give. 

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 1 John 3:18-19

Friday, July 23, 2004

Heidelberg Exhortations-Lord's Day 1

Question 1.  What is thy only comfort in life and death? Answer. That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.

This first question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism offers so much grace, faith, hope and joy.  It declares that we are not our own but owe a great debt to our Savior Jesus Christ.  He has bought us with His own blood and so we have been made slaves of righteousness.  In purchasing us, he set us free from the dominion of the devil.  Many Christians act and speak as if the devil were still master but he is not.  Christ is king indeed and has set at nought the wiles of that foul fiend.

This first question also declares the complete sovereignty of God that not even a hair can fall from the head of one of His saints apart from His will.  If we think about the answer, we realize that even hairs falling from our head work together for our salvation.  They do this because God has determined these things.   He has determined them for His purpose of blessing you and of glorifying His own great name.  The Holy Spirit of God comes to us to speak of the life that now is and the life that is to come.  He assures us of our place of honor before the Father.  We doubt when we see our sins but the Holy Spirit calls us to look upon Christ’s blessed cross and wipe away the doubt.  When we do this, we are assured of our salvation and are enabled to walk in this new life without threat of banishment.  This produces more faith in Christ, hope of His calling, and love for Him.  We grow in His likeness and by His righteousness are ever pleasing to the Father.

One area we often fall short is in our assurance of salvation.  We do this because we look at our own sins instead of at the finished work of Christ.  Let us confess this lack of faith in looking at ourselves and not Christ.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Heidelberg Exhortations-Intro

We have a wonderful heritage in our faith.  It is an ancient faith that stretches back to the very dawn of time.  We find our kinship, not only in the second Adam, our perfect savior Jesus Christ, but in the first Adam, as well.  We all descended from him and he is our first earthly father.  Not such a good one.  But we identify with him in his fall and are his fallen seed.   You all sinned in him and fell with him in his first transgression.  God did not forget that Adam and brought forth a heritage from his stained seed that a perfect seed might come to redeem us from our sin and misery.  The story of redemption has been told through the ages and has found full fruition in Christ.  In our redemption, we are thankful to our God and understand that He requires holy living from us.  How dare we neglect so great a salvation? 

This identity with the past is very important to us.  We must know who we are and where we come from.  This tells us much about what we believe, why we believe it, and what we ought to do.  It tells us about how our thoughts have changed, what we have learned from our mistakes, how to correct them, and where we go from here.  The Scriptures tell us this marvelous story. As we learn the story of Scripture better, we will be informed from the past and equipped for the future. 

We have other friends of the past to inform us for today and for tomorrow.  We spent a couple of years going through the Westminster Shorter Catechism in our exhortations so that we could better understand the rudiments of the Scripture.  This proved very helpful in shaping our thoughts along the lines of those great men who came before us.  We learn from them and we go on to teach our children and those who will come after us. 

Another great body of divinity is the Heidelberg Catechism.  Written in 1536, it has one hundred twenty-nine questions giving us great pastoral instruction about the fundamentals of our faith.  The first part teaches on the sin and misery of man and covers the fall.  The second part teaches on man’s redemption and covers God’s requirement for justice, our inability to pay it and the need for Christ.  It covers God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Sacraments Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  The third part teaches on thankfulness and covers the requirement of good works as new men and women in Christ, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.  

This is a wonderful way to view the story of the Bible.  We will spend some time going over these one hundred twenty-nine questions in our exhortations.  May God bless us as we do so.           

As modern Christians, one of our great failures is having so much extra time and knowing our Bibles so poorly.  May this remind us of our need to confess our sins to God regularly.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Loving the Saints Part IV

Think about how you give.  The Bible says that if you give grudgingly and sparingly, God will give to you the same way.  Are your cupboards empty?  Are your bills piling up?  Is ninety-percent of your income twenty-percent too little?  Does nobody have time for you?  Then, perhaps you have not learned this fundamental lesson.  You must learn to give.  Yes, the tithe is part of this but we have many other opportunities to give in the life of the saints.  This giving can be financial but it can also be service oriented; giving to the deacon’s fund for pressing needs, meals for new mothers, taking the kids when a family is sick, help moving, cleaning the church, helping saints do work on their homes, hospitality on the Lord’s Day and throughout the week.  There are many ways to give and we must look for them.  The Lord will repay. 

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 1 John 3:18-19

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Hopeful Gospel

As the apostle Paul prays for the Ephesians, he qualifies his prayer with an explanation about what God has done in Jesus Christ. Namely, that we are to hope in Christ because God has exalted Him to His right hand in the heavenly places. Then he says something very interesting. He says that Christ is far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also that which is to come: and has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.(Eph. 1:20-22).

We often read our systematic right over scripture. What is interesting about this is that even when we have adopted a new systematic, the old one often still does the driving. The scripture tells us that Jesus is far above powers and authorities, not only in this world. We read it that Jesus is far above principalities in the other world, in heaven. But that is not the emphasis. The emphasis is that He has been raised above all authority here and that it even extends to heaven. We want to say that He has authority in heaven and He might have some here, if men, governments, churches would just let Him.

We misread the Lord’s Prayer in a similar fashion. Jesus told us to pray that His will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We often read that His will is to be done in heaven as it is in heaven. But that is not what He said. Jesus is King of earth and even heaven. May we take encouragement in this as we pursue the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Covenant of Creation

The current flap in reformed circles about the initial covenant with Adam as a covenant of works vs. a covenant of creation is unfortunate. Adam was not promised life if he obeyed what God said. He was promised death if he disobeyed. Gen 2:16,17. It is most certainly true that death entered through Adam's disobedience. Because of this, his offspring did not inherit the life that Adam once had and lost. Adam was in a state of righteousness at the creation. Although we do believe that this was a probationary period that God would have honored, like He did the elect angels, it does not at all follow that his obedience would have made him righteous or brought(bought) him eternal life. His obedience was a condition of maintaining that righteousness that he already had and in fact, inheriting eternal life. In the initial covenant God granted, by grace, life to Adam and Eve. Their job was to continue in that grace until the end, obeying all that God had commanded about the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Their failure to continue in obedience brought the consequences of the covenant upon them. They were to persevere, by grace, and thus receive the fulness of the promise.

This is analagous to our situation. God grants us life by grace. He chooses us in Christ, giving us promises of life if we obey. There is life in Christ for those who maintain fellowship with God in Christ, for those who do what God says. This is not maintaining 'getting in by grace' and 'staying in by works'. The getting in was by grace, the staying was also by grace. Adam rejected the grace of God when he disobeyed Him. We must not do the same. Otherwise, we will receive the sanctions of the covenant.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Loving the Saints Part III

Tithing helps us to understand the principle of giving in faith. When we tithe faithfully, we are enabled to live contentedly on ninety-percent of our income. Some Christians don’t tithe, not believing that they can live on ninety-percent of their income. That is not really the issue. Do you want to live on a blessed ninety-percent or an unblessed one hundred percent? For a Christian, ninety-percent equals more than one hundred percent. It does so because we learn a lesson in contentment that those who insist on spending one hundred percent of their income never learn.

It also does so because we don’t expect that ninety-percent to stay static. Faithful tithers expect that ninety-percent to grow. We expect God to bless our giving and give us more. The result is that our ten percent increases and our ninety percent increases, as well. We cannot out give God. He gives to us and we give in return. This is not blab it and grab it theology. This is not making God in the image of a cosmic slot machine, hoping for some big payout to spend on personal pleasures. It is taking Him at His Word and believing Him to bless us as we learn to be obedient to Him in blessing others with our blessings. The more we give the more He gives and the more He gives, the more we give. This is a wonderful game.

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 1 John 3:18-19

Loving the Saints Part II

Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. Luke 6:38

This is the essence of the life of the saints. We are to give not expecting return from men. The Pharisees only gave to those who could give back. They wanted an earthly and measurable return on their investment. We, too, want a return on our investment but we are people of faith. We believe in things we don’t see. Such is the case with giving. We sometimes make excuses, “I am too tired, I don’t have enough to give, It is too expensive.” But the man who lives by faith does not have to receive by faith. What do I mean? When we live in faith, we look to a reward that is yet future. It is not here now so we must take God at His Word. That is the principle of faith. But since we put our faith in action, we should expect God to keep His Word. When God does so, the result is something tangible, something that we can see. The things that we see do not require faith. They are with us.

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 1 John 3:18-19

Loving the Saints Part I

One of the central duties in the life of the church is for the body to minister to itself. Formal worship and the ministry of the elders and deacons should prepare and set the stage for this ministry but it cannot replace it. The life of the body as the body is vital to the health and growth of any church. The body lives together the entire week through as they prepare to come again as the people of God on the Lord’s Day. This life together should weave them into a tight knit body that is not easily separated.

There are many ways that this ministry can take place. One of the most obvious and important is in breaking bread together. This forces us to be together in a way that reveals who we really are. This revelation is not so that we can assure ourselves that we are better off than our neighbor but so that we can know him, love him and serve him. Because the modern Church is so full of surface Christians, these kinds of relationships are rare. We don’t want to get to know anybody because we might not like them and worse, they might not like us, and then we find ourselves separating from the very ones we wanted to draw near to. This is why a good understanding of the Church is needed. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all different but part of one body. We must grow in our love not only for the parts of others that are like us but even for and perhaps especially for their particular quirks. We serve a diverse God, Unity in Trinity, and we should rejoice in the diversity of His body, the Church, our Church. This is nothing less than loving God and loving our neighbor, particularly our closest neighbors, the brothers.

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 1 John 3:18-19

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Proverbs 8

Wisdom is not silent. Many Christians act as if they do not know how to live in this modern world. They are as confused as the culture around them. But that is not the fault of wisdom. She cries out and the righteous hear and answer. This current confusion in the Church and in our culture at large is proof that men will not hear. Wisdom can be found. It is found in the Scriptures. It is found in wise men. It is found in the Church. However, the simple love folly. They ask but with closed ears. Wisdom tells us to hear instruction and be wise and refuse it not. Some Christians even ask for counsel but in pretence. Their minds are already made up. They are not hearers of the Word but judges of it. They refuse to listen because their own sinful ways are what really matters to them. They seek to justify themselves by claiming to have asked of wisdom. They lay claim to Christ, they lay claim to the Church, they read the teachings of wise men, but they do not do what they hear. They have not really learned wisdom. They may be able to mimic wisdom or pass a theology exam but they prove who their god is when they continually choose their own ways and not the way of Wisdom. So, listen and heed. Wisdom is not silent.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Proverbs 1

Proverbs 1
Wisdom is not so mysterious as some would make it. Where are the wise of our day? They are not to be found. Why is this? Is it because wisdom is particularly hard to come by? Not according to Proverbs 1. Wisdom cries aloud in the streets, in the opening of the city gates, and throughout the city. She harkens to simpletons to take note and apply themselves to her wares. Wisdom is not aloof. She is hospitable and willing to entertain all that would listen to her. But men love simplicity. They love scorning. Fools hate knowledge. They will not be instructed nor turn from their own self-deception. They may not excuse themselves with ignorance in the time of their calamity. Wisdom wanted to pour her spirit on them in abundance but they would not. So, when calamity comes, wisdom changes her tune. No longer does she speak timely words of encouragement but the laughter of scorn. She will not answer. The foolish shall eat the fruit of their own way. They will reap what they have sown. They have sown folly and they will reap destruction

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Psalm 81

Psalm 81:11-16
The people of Israel would not hearken unto the voice of God. Thus, he gave them over to their own heart’s lust and to their own counsels. In addition to this, God did not subdue their enemies. He would have if they had been faithful. But they were not faithful and the result was that the enemies of Israel, the enemies of God, prevailed. This was God’s doing.

This is a striking parallel to our own situation in America. We are in the midst of an unclean people. They are following hard after the god of their stomachs. But what is really occurring? It is no doubt that these people are the enemies of God, so why isn’t God destroying His and our enemies as He promised to do? Is it because they are so wicked? Is it because they refuse to bow down to Him? Of course not. The wicked have always been wicked. The enemies of God have always refused to honor Him. The reason is what is stated in Psalm 81. God would have subdued these enemies if His people had been faithful. The first part of this Psalm warns them against worshipping strange gods.(v.9). That is exactly what we have done. As the American church has drifted away from Scriptural revelation, we have replaced the one true God with a god of our own imagination. We have become idolaters. God is judging us. Homosexual marriage, rampant promiscuity, beasts in the land in the form of sexual predators, and adultery are all a result of God’s people playing the harlot. This may sound too strong but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to run a weather station. Red sky in the morning…. Matt 16:3-4 ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times? 4 A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.