Thursday, May 23, 2013

Declarative Preaching

Acts 2:22 Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know: 23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 24 Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.
Peter wasn’t proving but preaching.  There is a difference. And the difference is punctuated by the power of the Holy Spirit. A man can prove through reasonable arguments. But Peter simply declares, and that with power endued from on high. The Spirit gives him utterance and the hearers are cut to the quick. He is not really trying to persuade them. He is simply declaring the truth about what is going on, who Jesus is, the guilt of the crowd, the need for repentance. And by God’s Spirit, the people hear and respond.

Glory on Earth as in Heaven

When Jesus Ascended, He was received up into a cloud.  That cloud must have been the glory cloud of God, the Holy Spirit of fire.  When Jesus went to Heaven, He took His glory with Him.  However, His glory did not stay in Heaven.  He made a promise that the Spirit would come.  God’s glory descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.  But it also descended upon the church in the form of tongues of fire.

Expectations Fulfilled at Pentecost

There is but one God only, the living and true God. There are three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
         This catechism answer is a good one. We tend to think in terms of hierarchy when with thing of God’s power and glory. The Father is the ancient God, Jesus is less than Him but someone we can relate. We know from our theology that the Holy Spirit is God but since we cannot see Him, He is even more mysterious to us than the Father.
         But this way of thinkng will not do. The Son and the Spirit are co-equal persons in the Godhead with the Father. The Son is fully God. He has existed always, is omnipresent and omniscient just as the Father. The Holy Spirit is also fully God. He has been God from before the creation. He hovered over the waters at creation. He was with Israel in the wilderness. He came with expansive power at Pentecost and dwells in the Christian Church globally and in each individual Christian personally.
         This is where we may even have a problem with the fact that Spirit is God. Since the Holy Spirit indwells His people, it is true to say that God is not only with us, He is in us and this is difficult for us to comprehend. God is in us, in our body, making us alive through the process of regeneration. The life that we now we live, we live in the Spirit.
         Of course, God is not wholly contained within us. He is in us and this is real and glorious but neither the Church at large nor our bodies fully contains the Holy Spirit. This is impossible because the uncreated Creator cannot be contained in Creation. And the Holy Spirit is the uncreated Creator.
         Contrary to popular modern Christian belief, the Holy Spirit did not arrive on the Earth at Pentecost. He had always existed here.  He was in the beginning hovering over the waters as God created the world.  He spoke by the mouth of the prophets.  He inhabited the praises of His people in a very tangible way in the glory cloud, in the pillar of fire and between the cherubim over the mercy seat.  The Holy Spirit did not begin to exist at Pentecost, but most certainly something new and glorious was happening.
This is a great and glorious passage.  It is the inauguration of a new age in the church and a new age in the world.  The old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.  We must see the coming of the Holy Spirit with all the splendor that our God desires.  He did not come merely that we might go to heaven.  Granted, that is a most precious reward of living in the Holy Spirit.  But believing Hebrews always believed that.  Remember that David said that he could go to his dead child?  He knew there was an afterlife and he looked to it in faith.  The promise of heaven is most certainly to all who believe in Jesus as the Savior of the world. 
But the Jews had promises given to them from God and they counted on God to fulfill that which He promised.  Faithful Jews believed that God will fulfill these promises.  In order for us to understand what was going on at Pentecost and the days following, we must get a hold of some idea of what the believing Jews expected. 

Acts 1:6   When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?  7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. 8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
You see from their question that their expectation of Jesus is that He would be the promised King of David’s line that would rule the re-established kingdom of Israel. Jesus’s answer prepares them for the coming of the Holy Spirit and what it would mean for the Spirit to be poured out on all flesh. Instead of a kingdom in Israel, the kingdom would extend to the ends of the Earth. And this is exactly what happened when the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost.

Comfort in Jesus

As we have considered the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in power, we must now attend unto the power of the Holy Spirit here with us. We remember, here, at this Table, the Lord’s death, until He comes. But we do not remember here and now at this Table with sad hearts, troubled at our own sins and unsure of His love for us. In this place, at His Table, we take heart in His work for us on the cross, to be the perfect sacrifice for us, to take our sins upon Himself, to free us from the debt of sin, the shame of guilt and the fear of judgment.
The Spirit is with us to declare to us, that in Jesus Christ, we have the full forgiveness of sins, we are approved of by God, just as Jesus is, and that His Spirit is with us now. Our way is through the cross but we are on the other side of the cross, with Jesus, receiving the promises of God in Christ and the first fruit of those promises is His Holy Spirit. In the Spirit, we have the peace of God and this assures our hearts of His grace and mercy towards us now and always, even to the end of the age. So, take comfort here from the great Comforter and peace to you.

Pentecost Conviction

Last Sunday was Pentecost Sunday when we celebrate the Holy Spirit’s outpouring not only upon the disciples but also upon the crowds who gathered to hear them. The Spirit gave the disciples the ability to declare with power the wonderful works of God. When they did so, they preached Christ crucified for sinners and the Holy Spirit convicted the crowd for their sins. Peter expressly says that they had a hand in the crucifixion of Jesus.
         If the Spirit is present with us, we should understand that this is the connection of our sins to Jesus on the cross. He died for our sins. Those of us who are in Christ already understand this but when we come to understand it again, each time it cuts us to the heart. We realize that Jesus died for sinners, for you, for me, and also He died because of sins, your sins and mine. This makes His death personal to us and it requires a response from us. That response is confession and repentance and His response to us is forgiveness.
         So, I pray that the Holy Spirit moves you to confess and repent of your sins, for Jesus went to the cross so that you can be freed from them and forgiven for them and stand before Him without guilt, shame or condemnation. May the Spirit now reveal any present sins that you need to confess to Him today.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Honor Your Mother

Rarely do we honor quite as fully as we should. We sometimes chaff at the authority that requires our honor. Or, we seek to please the authority simply for our own benefit. Small children are perhaps the worst offenders, often immature and selfish, only wanting, seldom giving, sometimes, though, perhaps giving by mistake. But the parent takes great joy in the selfish child and that joy produces one who honors in due season.
         The Bible calls us to honor our fathers and mothers and God gives us a promise that we might live long and prosper on the Earth. Sometimes we have to work at honoring father and mother, especially if they have wounded us deeply. But all of you must honor your mothers here on Earth for at least one great reason. It is also the one great reason we honor our Father who is in Heaven.
         Quite simply, no mother, no you. She is creator and life giver. You owe her the very breath you breathe, the thoughts you form, the actions you make. So, let us at least start there, giving her honor for making us, for carrying us in her womb, for giving us birth, for giving us a chance to be in this place on this day to bless and honor our Father who is in Heaven. God bless our mothers here on Earth.

Ascension Meal

Today, we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord Jesus to the right hand of the Father. Of course, every day is the celebration of this Ascension because every day we are to get about the work of God here on the Earth, whatever work you are called to. But sometimes we do just stand gazing into Heaven wondering when the Lord Jesus will come to us. Well, He has already come, He lived, He died, He lives, He rules, He is coming again. But until that day when He comes again in body, He is with us fully by His Spirit.
         We celebrate that fact here in this meal. The Lord Jesus is not up in Heaven far away from us. He is near through His Spirit. Even now, we partake of His body and His blood to remind us that He is with us, now and ever, even until the end. So, we must not stand gazing up into the sky. Rather, by His Spirit, we look around at our brothers and sisters and at a lost world that needs Jesus and we offer ourselves. We do this by His Spirit and by His power, giving ourselves one for another, just as Jesus has given Himself for us.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Man of Peace

Col. 3:12-17 has to do with being a man of peace and unity. It takes a humble man to desire this and work for it. A gentle man can do so, but an aggressive, fault finding, defensive, self-justified man is unable to pursue peace. Wherever he goes, there is trouble. And he often fails to see that he takes his trouble with him wherever he goes.
But a gentle and humble man, is merciful, kind, humble of mind, meek and longsuffering. He bears with others, is quick to forgive, especially those he has been quarrelling with. He does this because he knows that he is a sinner and that Christ has forgiven him much and so he ought to forgive the little debts that are incurred against him. He loves the brothers perfectly and peace rules in his heart. He is full of thankfulness for the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
Such a humble man has the word of God dwelling in him richly and displays his wisdom in dealing with others. He does not return evil for evil but rather returns a blessing when he is cursed. Like David, he remembers to let God sort out wrath and vengeance. He can do this because his ultimate faith is in the Lord who works all things after His own will and who is the one who vindicates the righteous and punishes the evil-doer.

We ARE lowly

Part of being meek is realizing that we really are meek. We are lowly and not lofty. We are those who are the brokenhearted, the ones who realize that our sins have separated us from God. Like Lazarus in the tomb, we are dead in our sins and need to be made alive and set free.
Isaiah 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

Comfortable in Your Own Skin

If you own who you are, then you are almost impossible to offend. And if you are impossible to offend, then you are seldom on the defensive. And if you are not on the defensive, then you are able to be humble and gentle with others. This comfort is a persuasive argument.

Meekness that Gains the Victory

The Lord calls us to be gentle or as our text calls this characteristic, meek.
There are two definitions of meek. The first one here is the one we are driving at.
1. Showing patience and humility; gentle.

It is easy to see from this definition how the fruits of the Spirit that we have been studying overlap a great deal. One who is gentle is one who is patient and humble. Gentleness is simply another side of humility and it is necessary to be humble in order to be gentle. An aspect of this sort of humility is a willingness to please others. We must keep in mind, though, the list of the fruit of the Spirit. A man who is meek in the right way is not a doormat.

Look at the second definition of meek.

2. Easily imposed on; submissive. overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame.

One who is meek is amenable. He is willing to listen to others, to empathize, and to seek to be at peace. A gentle man does not do this by imposing his will on others. The characteristic of imposing one’s will on others is in contrast to the gentleman or to the one who is meek.  However, a meek man ought not to be a weak man. We are not talking about a craven man or a coward. A man can be meek and be very principled. In fact, the right kind of meekness requires a commitment to principles. A man who is meek in a godly way is willing to let God be right instead of having to assert his own rights. This means that he is willing for others to win the moment, or win the day because he knows that God will vindicate the righteous.
This fact enables the strong man to be meek. He may have the authority, the will or the personality to impose his will but he is unwilling to use that authority and power because he leaves that sort of thing up to the Lord in the Lord’s timing. The Bible says, Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay. And a godly gentle man believes this to be actually true and is willing to be patient with others and let the Lord sort out the circumstances and results.
So, while a meek man may look like a weak man, he is actually choosing to rest in the Lord’s strength rather than his own. At times this can look like a failure to act when it is actually a choice to act in a gentle or meek way.
One of the catch phrases that I have used is 'being comfortable in your own skin'. What I mean by this is having some idea of who you are in Christ and then being content with that and content with Jesus. I believe that this is a mark of maturity. This can be true of who you are as a homeschooler, who you are as husband, who you are as a wife, who  you are as a parent of 2, or 7 or 10 children. If you own who you are, then you are almost impossible to offend. And if you are impossible to offend, then you are seldom on the defensive. And if you are not on the defensive, then you are able to be humble and gentle with others.
This seems somewhat counterintuitive. We often think that those people who go around trying to straighten everyone else out think they are right about everything and need to impose their will on others. It is true that they think they are right but I would argue that they are still trying to convince themselves by brow beating everyone else. If you are comfortable in your own skin, that is, if you are resting in the Lord’s provision in these things and at peace about them, then you no longer feel compelled to win every argument. Your true confidence gives you a peaceful demeanor rather than an argumentative spirit. If you really are not at peace with God or yourself, then you are going to continue to try to justify your thoughts and actions by proving to everyone else in arguments that you really are right.
The Bible calls us mature Christians to a higher standard. Be meek. Be gentle. Speak the truth in love but do not call down fire from heaven on everyone that disagrees with you. When you do this, you do not know what spirit you are of. But Jesus made it clear that it is not the Holy Spirit.
What does this look like in practical terms? The main thing I want us to get is that a meek spirit is one of peace. We should be a people of steadfast convictions. God has revealed His truth to us in His Word and we can stand on those truths as the solid foundation of who we are and what we know to be true.  And if that is true, then nothing that others do or say can change the truth.
We should be willing to defend the faith, defend the name of Christ and stand firm in Jesus until the end, even unto death. But we do this with declared truths. Jesus is Lord. He is risen. The Bible is the Word of God. We do not have to do this with multiple proofs in the face of steadfast opposition. That is, we live in a godly and winsome way but when the words turn to strife, division and arguments, we do not ratchet up the argument by yelling louder. We simply stand on the truths that we have declared.  This is, in fact, a stronger position than getting in endless shouting matches that never prove what we are trying to declare. It is our declared and lived faith that overcomes the world.

Humbled to Death

The Lord has been gentle with us. He certainly gave commands to us as He did to His disciples but He did not rule them with a strong hand. He told them the truth and then He submitted Himself to service of them, washing their feet, suffering in the garden for them and us, dying on the cross on our behalf. What God has said is true. He is righteous altogether. He is also holy and those who stubbornly refuse Him will one day receive His wrath and fury. But the Lord Jesus was patient with us and His kindness led us to repentance. His own humility in submitting to the Father’s will on our behalf, even towards those who fled from Him at His hour of need, is a testament to the kind of love and service that we owe God and one another.
         So, just as Jesus humbled Himself to death on a cross, so we humble ourselves, partaking of His death, so that we can also partake of His resurrection and life and that abundantly.

Handle Gently

We all know what it means to be handled in a gentle way. And nearly everyone prefers gentle handling to rough handling. While our boys like to roughhouse, they also like a kind and gentle hand upon their shoulder. And when the hand is an angry and stiff one, then the resistance to that touch is often obvious and immediate. But a gentle hand and a gentle touch is a reminder that the one who touches this way is offering peace, is offering themselves in a humble fashion.
         It is rough hands and a hard touch that reminds the receivers that they must submit to the firmer hand, the stronger will, the one who controls by power.
         There is a time for strength and for power but when we are seeking to win those in our charge, a wife, a husband, a child, a parent, gentleness, kindness and humility are always better persuaders, at least if your intent is to win the heart and soul and not merely control the body.
         So, let us submit ourselves to God and learn to be humble so that we can also learn to be winsomely gentle.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Faith in Jesus

It takes faith to be faithful. That is almost a truism. How can it be argued with? But I would argue further. It takes faith in Christ to be a faithful Christian. Another truism. But we press further. It takes faith in Jesus Christ in order to a man who faithfully applies that which is true and beautiful and good. We do not want a generic faith or a generic goodness or faithfulness. We need to understand what Christ has done and to Whom our allegiance is owed in order to know how to live and whom to be faithful to.
         Contrast this with what counts as faithfulness in our country today. It is fine to have faith in anything, as long as you are a person of faith. Nationally, we have dropped the idea of having faith in the God of the Bible. Apparently, being faithful only requires that you operate based on faith. But faith in the wrong thing, in the wrong god, makes you faithful to the wrong ideals. George Bush II used this term constantly, calling people to faith. But he rarely said what our faith was to be in. We do not just possess faith. We have faith in some thing or some person. We do not have faith in faith and we ought not to have ultimate faith in anything or anyone other than the one true God of the Bible.
         Were the 9/11 hijackers faithful? Of course they were. Were the Boston bombers faithful? Yes, they were, wickedly so. In fact, they were more faithful, in the sense of purely following out their ideals, than most religious people. As far as believing their god and their holy book, they exhibited almost perfect faith, even faith unto death.
         However, faith that produces right actions, faithfulness in the things that are true, requires that you have faith in the One who is true. There is no other way to get the right kind of faithfulness.
         Now, it is true that Christians can do things, even in the name of religion, that are wrong. They can misapply the Bible and thus be found to be unfaithful to God. But when Muslims kill infidels, they are acting in accord with what they believe to be true and they can easily justify their actions from the Koran’s commands to kill those who resist the will of Allah.
         Contrast this to the Christian teaching of growing in the fruit of the Holy Spirit. We, too, call for martyrs. But our martyrs are not murderers. We do not call for Holy War where we kill with bombs and guns. Our call is to a life of selflessness, suffering and giving up of oneself in order to save others. When the Christian expresses a mature faith in Jesus Christ, his faithfulness reveals a growing empathy towards those who are outside of Christ, even loving one’s enemies.
         So, it is not that we simply need to have faith. Or, even that we need to have faith in some generic god, the current god of Americanism. That kind of faith is idolatry and an idolatrous faith necessarily leads to wicked results. It is not just Islam where faith is wrongly aimed at a false god. The current American creed towards faith, whose god is America, herself, justifies all sorts of evil, abortion on demand, homosexual behavior, greed in high places, crony capitalism protected by corrupt law-makers. There are enough adherents of the heresy of Americanism to condemn both the left and the right, republicans and democrats. Both sides profess faith, many of them in some god, nearly all of them in the ideal of America but few are willing to profess faith in the absolute Lord and Ruler, Jesus Christ. Even if they name the name of Jesus, they are unwilling to bet their political future on the fact that Jesus rules all nations, even America, that Jesus alone, is the Lord over all men in every nation, even the Muslim ones, and that all men must bow their knees to Jesus who is the Christ.
         So, before we understand what it means to be faithful, we have to know the God in Whom we trust. His name is Yahweh. He has a Son, who is Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit dwells here on Earth in the Christian Church, which is the gathered people of the One true Holy God. He has revealed Himself, especially, in one book, the Bible.
         Only when we acknowledge these truths, professing faith in this true God’s means of salvation to men, the Lord Jesus Christ, can we then learn how to live out our lives according to His will, that is, be truly faithful.

A Faithful Friend

There is no greater show of faithfulness than to lay down one’s life for a friend. We know this to be true and we hope that we are faithful enough to be able to do so for our family and friends.
         Some of us have a hard time imagining that we are the friends of God. Our sins rise up and accuse us, but that is just the devil. He has been defeated and cast down from God’s throne and is no longer in a place to accuse you. Stop listening to him.
         This meal says that Jesus has befriended you. He made you His friend and then gave Himself for you, laying down His life in order to raise you up with Him. He has done so and you are seated with Jesus now as a faithful friend.
Your task is twofold. First, believe that Jesus has, in fact, made you His friend. Accept the fact of His friendship. Believe that God’s favor rests on you. And then, second, return the love, return the friendship and prove it by laying down your life for Him and for all those for whom He died.
This meal forms us into the people that are the friends of Jesus, for whom He died, and who are willing to die for Jesus and His friends.

Faith to be Faithful

Being faithful has to do with faith and faith is steadfast trust. Faithfulness requires faith and faith is that element of virtue that does right when it cannot see right. Faith requires us to act as if the outcome is safe and secure when the outcome does not at all seem safe and secure. Being faithful requires us to persevere through struggles believing that God will be faithful to His promises.
         Fear and anxiety are the enemies of faith or perhaps a better way to say this is that they are opposites. Fear looks to an uncertain future and chooses to disbelieve in a good outcome. But God has made promises to us already about the future. He works out all things for the good of His saints.
         So, the issue is not so much what does the future hold but who is holding the future. If you truly believe that God is at work in the world and that He has chosen you out of the world, then your fear and anxiety about the future will be diminished by the degree that you hold this to be true. Faith in God’s power in providence, and his particular care for you in Jesus Christ, casts out fear and anxiety about the unknown.
         Let us confess our fears and anxieties and ask the Lord to increase our faith.