Sermon: Peace of God

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. 3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life. 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phi 4:2-7 NIV)
Today we are beginning a sermon series on prayer. Today’s sermon is about the relationship between prayer and anxiety. Paul tells us that the opposite of anxiety is God’s peace in our lives that only comes through prayer. But before we talk about prayer and it’s relation to peace as a spiritual antidote to the bane of anxiety let us first deal with the nature of anxiety.
Why do we worry? For some, if we don’t have anything to worry about… we would worry about that!
Rev. Brandon Obrien says that he hails… “from a long line of worriers. From my dad, I inherited an inability to sleep until I resolve whatever issue is currently on my mind; from my mom, I received a proclivity for stomachaches before exams.
It’s not all bad, I suppose; worry has historically been a powerful motivator for me. One Saturday night I went to sleep unprepared for the sermon I was set to deliver the next morning. I dreamed all my biblical studies professors, previous pastors, and mentors arrived at church to hear me preach, only to discover that I was shooting from the hip. I woke up in a cold sweat and worked on my sermon till morning.
I’d like to think that my tendency to worry is evidence of my unwavering sense of responsibility. Truth is, worry reveals a deep-seated self-reliance. I might say with Oliver Cromwell, “Put your trust in God; but mind to keep your powder dry.” But when I remember God’s faithfulness in the past, and remember that he alone has brought me through, I am able to replace worry with worship. This simple action ensures that my faith is not in my keeping the powder dry, but in God’s promise to secure the victory.”
Worry is an emotional effect brought about by of our deep-seated prideful reliance on ourselves. If pride is writing a check that we can’t back-up, then worry or anxiety is what happens when our check bounces. However, when we replace worry with worship (as Obrien contends) we are replacing self-reliance with a reliance or dependence upon God. This is where prayer comes in: prayer is a particular mode of worship where we replace our reliance upon ourselves with a reliance upon God, where we rest in God: the recumbency of prayer. Prayer is saying: “God…Thy will be done!” Prayer is never about changing God…but changing us!!
What is it that God wants to change about us: he does not want us to keep relying on ourselves, but on Him! Prayer is one of God’s methods of turning us to him. Ravi Zacharias says, Prayer is a constant reminder that the human being is not autonomous. Prayer, in its most basic form, is the surging of the human spirit in its weakness, grasping at the Spirit of God in His strength. And when we turn to Him and rely on Him we rest in Him: “Shalom!” This is what Paul means when he says: “. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” In our text this morning, Paul is first saying do not worry about anything because you do not control anything! Secondly, but in everything come to God in prayer because God controls everything! Thirdly come to God with your plea with thanksgiving! And fourthly (God will then act the way you want him to?) No! The peace of God (God’s peace) will guard, protect, and shelter your hearts and minds (feelings and thinking) in Christ Jesus, a peace that surpassed all human understanding! Notice Paul is saying that the purpose of prayer is the peace of God: resting, relying, depending on God and God alone. Paul does not say that after you petition God and after God gives you want you want, then you can rest and trust in God. If that were the case we would be trusting in the gifts of God and not God, the benefits not the benefactor. The purpose of prayer is to attain God’s peace as reliance on God. Just as light displaces darkness, the peace of God displaces worry, anxiety, and angst. If we let God write the check, it won’t bounce!!
However, how many times has prayer been construed the opposite way: instead of looking at prayer as a mode of worship where we replace our reliance upon ourselves with a reliance upon God—we treat prayer as a way to change or manipulate God into acting the way we want God to act on our behalf. There is a modern heresy in the church today called Word of Faith! You are entitled to health and wealth and happiness. It is a right that God must deliver on if you say the magic words. This modern heresy treats God like a genie in a bottle. All you have to do is rub God the right way!!
Philip Yancey says that —“If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet in worship, then I must learn about prayer. Most of my struggles in the Christian life circle around the same two themes: why God doesn’t act the way we want God to, and why I don’t act the way God wants me to. Prayer is the precise point where those themes converge.” Another way to state this is to say prayer is either “Thy will be done!” or My will be done!” This is a struggle that we Christians must deal with constantly. This is why Paul commands us not to be anxious, but pray; both the command to pray and not be anxious are in the present imperative: pray continuously so as to keep at bay anxiety. A constant struggle that God’s will be done and not our own!
But these two (anxiety and peace) are many times mixed. John Calvin noted this in his Institutes when he says: “Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not [sic] tinged with doubt or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety.” He goes on to talk about David who constantly struggled with belief and unbelief, belief in God’s will and promises versus unbelief in God’s will and promises which is nothing more than belief in ourselves by default.
In conclusion, this is why we worry and this is why we need to come to God in prayer. May we continue to be people of God who are continually learning to lean and depend on God so that the peace of God which passed all understanding will keep our hearts and minds through prayer? Amen.

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Rightly Handling The Word Of Truth

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. (2Ti 2:15 ESV)

I shared with you what I believe are the“9 Marks” of a healthy church. The first mark on that list from Mark Dever is expositional preaching. Expository preaching was the primary approach by preachers during the Reformation up to about one hundred years ago. From John Calvin (16th century) to Charles Hodge at Princeton Seminary (19th century) expositional preaching reigned.
However, such preaching was eclipsed because of many theological and cultural reasons; it was replaced by other methods. One other method is topical preaching. Topical preaching takes a topic and expounds on the topic by stringing together a number of biblical texts about that topic. For example, a preacher chooses a topic like love. After choosing the topic, then the preacher brings together in a coherent fashion a number of different texts of scripture, biblical texts that deal with the topic of love. Many times topical sermons are strung together in a series. The strength of this approach is its weakness. The strength is the strength of the preacher. The preacher chooses topics he/she is knowledgeable or knows something about. Yet that’s a weakness! Such preaching limits the congregation to the knowledge of the preacher. A preacher who only preaches what he knows limits preaching to what he knows. And preaching that is limited to what the preacher knows limits the spiritual growth of a church. It may not limit the numerical growth of a church. There are many large churches limited spiritually. But it will limit the spiritual growth, the growth of a healthy church.
There are other approaches to preaching like topical, but one thing they all have in common: they are limited to what the preacher knows. This will stagnate both the growth of the preacher and the growth of a church. One of the marks of stagnation is conformation to the world’s standard. This is the main reason why the church looks so much like, acts like, talks like, smells like the larger pagan, secular, humanistic culture. In contrast expository preaching seeks to transform God’s people by the renewing of the mind by God’s Word. Expository preaching seeks to explain a text of Scripture in context, chapter upon chapter, verse upon verse within a whole book of the bible. It seeks to explain the main point of a text. To do that it requires grappling with the meaning of the text in context. It forces the preacher to preach not what he wants, not what he knows, but what is in the Word. It forces the preacher (as Paul says to Timothy) to “rightly handle the word of truth.” Such an approach transformatively expands the mind of God’s people. The fruit of such an approach is a healthier congregation.
Sometime next month I hope to begin preaching through the whole book of Acts at my own church. We will be transformed and our minds, hearts will continue to expand by the power of God’s Word which is health to our souls. If you are looking for a church, make sure your church and your pastor preaches the whole counsel of God’s will via expository preaching!!
Soli Deo Gloria
Carl

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Withstanding The Gates of Hell

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mat 16:18 ESV)

As an under-shepherd, I love the church: big churches, little churches and everything in between. And Jesus promised that His church will withstand the gates of hell. But what is the church? As Gregg Allison in Sojourners and Strangers notes the church is:
…the people of God who have been saved through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and have been incorporated into his body through baptism with the Holy Spirit.
Allison continues to make the distinction between the universal church and the local church. The universal church is all of the people of God saved in Christ, from Pentecost (the birth of the church) to the second coming of Christ when God brings judgment to earth, ultimately bringing heaven to earth in future glory. The universal church includes all of the people of God in the past, present, and future: saints who have died, who are living, and who are yet to be born, all of God’s elect in Christ. St. Augustine noted that the universal church is mostly invisible; in other works, it’s hard to put a finger on it.
In contrast, there is the local church; you can point to the local church. You can point your finger on it. The local church is mostly visible, though there are invisible characteristics to it. One invisible characteristic is people’s hearts, their motives. Just because a person professes outward faith in Christ does not mean that that person is a true child of God, adopted into the family of God. Jesus taught that the church is made up of false (tares) and true (wheat) believers, making it difficult to tell the difference at times. However, a local congregation does have two visible marks, characteristics which tell us if it’s true or false. In the Reformed tradition, the marks of a true church are if the Word of God is purely preached, and the second is if the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are employed correctly. So, for example, if a pastor from the pulpit continually preaches that Jesus was just a good man, not the divine Son of God, then such a church is a false church. If a believer finds him or herself in a false church, then she or he must leave. Notice, I did not say that if a believer finds him or herself in a false or apostate denomination, but a false church. A denomination (like PCUSA or United Methodist or the Southern Baptist Association, or like the Assembly of God, etc.) is not a church. Denominations are connectional associations from one degree or another, but not a church. A church is a local body, within the larger, church universal.
Jesus said that, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” What He means is that His church will survive, even death and dying, i.e., tribulation and termination. That means the universal church will survive; the church will not be snuffed out!! However, local churches do die. For example, the local church which St. Paul addressed in Corinth is no longer around. Local churches close down all the time. Why? Well churches can get sick just like people get sick. Also like people many times a church can be deathly sick, but look well and vibrant on the outside. Just as there are marks of a true, local church there are marks of a healthy church.
So, what are the marks of a healthy church? Mark Dever insightfully notes “9 Marks” of a healthy church. These marks are: expositional preaching, biblical theology, a biblical understanding of the gospel, a biblical understanding of conversion, a biblical understanding of evangelism, a biblical understanding of church membership, a biblical understanding of church discipline, a biblical understanding of church discipleship and growth, and a biblical understanding of church leadership.
No church perfectly demonstrates these 9 health marks, but my hope is that the people of God will continue to get healthier and healthier and healthier as our Lord continues to build us up so that we can continue to withstand the gates of hell!
Soli Deo Gloria
Carl

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Praise Thee As I Ought

Weak is the effort of my heart

And cold my warmest thoughts

But when I see Thee as Thou art

I’ll praise Thee as I ought

 

If you recall last month’s letter the issue was about worship, true worship. Jesus taught that true worship is always in spirit and in truth. Spirit, in part, is a heart and will in lockstep with God’s heart and will. Truth is, in part, a mind that corresponds with the mind of God.

The issue before us now is about the content of our worship. What are the ingredients of true worship? We in the Reformed tradition, which includes Presbyterians, hold to (what is historically called) the “regulative principle” of worship. The regulative principle states that corporate worship is to be founded upon, or “regulated” by specific directions from Scripture. Just as a delicious “chocolate pie” is regulated by the contents of a recipe, likewise true worship is regulated by the content of Scripture! What does this mean? First, in part, it means we cannot worship God any old way we please. In Leviticus, chapter 10, Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire” unto the Lord in worship. This unauthorized worship cost Aaron’s sons their lives. I remember in seminary when a professor shared a story about a friend of his who was a minister. He shared with us that his friend would preach from the newspaper and current events instead of preaching from the Bible. Instead of current events serving as illustrations to better understand and apply the Bible, he reversed it: that is, the Bible was used as an excuse to talk about current events.  So we must be careful when we introduce elements like this in our worship. It is dangerous to our souls!

A second thing the regulative principle does for us is that it frees the church. What I mean is that there is much freedom and wiggle room in our worship; case in point is style of worship. Traditional versus contemporary songs are examples of “matters of indifference,” known in biblical theology as “adiaphora.” Each culture and age has its own unique way to express adoration and praise to God. I am told by church historians that the traditional hymns of the 18th and 19th centuries we sing today were “contemporary” in their day, meaning the music to the hymns was the music of the day. There is nothing sacred about the style of music we sing; what is sacred is the object of our songs of praise!

                So what are the ingredients of true worship based upon the regulative principle? In 1 Tim. 4:13, Paul directs the church’s worship with reading the Bible; in 1 Tim. 4:2 worship is directed with preaching the Bible. The same goes for singing the Bible (Eph. 5:19), and prayer guided by the Bible (Matt 21:13) and the two sacraments of the church, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, both formed and informed by the Bible (Matt 28:19; Acts 2:28-39; Col. 2:11-12). So reading the Bible, preaching the Bible, singing based upon the Bible, prayer based upon the Bible, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper which are from the Bible—all of these are some of the essential ingredients that make up true worship.

In short, the content of true worship is formed and informed by Scripture. Why? It is because Scripture is God’s self-revelation or disclosure of Himself. The Bible is the only place where God reveals Himself as He truly is. Science and philosophy dimly reveal God as He truly is. It is dim because such knowledge is very general compared to Scripture. We can know through philosophy and good science that God exists. This is why the beauty and grandeur and awe of creation arouse within us a sense of praise!! But such worship pales in comparison to what takes place on the Lord’s Day during Sunday morning worship. Why? It is because it is only through Scripture (the sacred history of redemption) that we know that God not only exists, but God saves miserable sinners by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone! When we are confronted by such a good and great God in His self-revelation to us, then (as the poetry of the hymn says) you and I, in spite of our cold sinfulness, are able to be lifted up in worship, to “… see Thee as Thou art [and in turn to] … praise Thee as I ought.”

                In conclusion, there is a well-known saying that goes “to know me is to love me.” The object of our songs of praise is God! True worship is a heart enraptured by God. But our hearts cannot be enraptured by God until our minds are captivated by Scripture. Our hearts are enlarged by the renewing of our minds by God’s Word! My heart enlarges as my mind grasps more and more of His grace to me! In humility, as I think less of myself, I am able to think more of God. And I am able to think more of God as I think more about God as He reveals Himself to me and to you In the Bible. That is true worship! Anything less is not! So, may we praise God as we ought!!

Soli Deo Gloria

Carl

 

 

 

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True Worship

God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Joh 4:24 ESV)

Some years ago a Christian friend had gotten into a discussion about true worship. The particular church he attended was a Four Square church. This church’s worship was contemporary. The worship service’s liturgy was simple. Typical of most Pentecostal churches this church eschewed formal worship. It was within this context that a number of his fellow members got into a discussion about what made worship true worship. The discussion took place on Face Book. I noticed many people talking about traditional versus contemporary worship, high liturgy versus low liturgy, organs versus drums. It was in the midst of this back-and-forth that I entered the fray and reminded them of how Jesus defined true worship. I simply posted Jesus’ words from John 4:24. Simply put Jesus is reminding us that worship is all about God, not about us. Worship is about the nature of God which is spirit, not about the nature of man which is flesh. Spirit in biblical parlance is focused on the will of God; flesh is the opposite: it’s about the will of man. Since the nature of God is spirit, then the response of those who focus on God must be spiritual and truthful. In other words true worship is not about external formalities. When external formalities become the focus of worship, when our symbols and forms become more significant than what our symbols and forms ought to signify…then such worship in vain. This is what our Lord meant when he said, You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: 8 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me….'” (Mat 15:7-9aESV)
So what is true worship? Jesus notes that true worship is in spirit and in truth. Spirit, in part, is a heart and will in lockstep with God’s heart and will. Truth is, in part, a mind that corresponds with the mind of God. Simply put, true worship is a heart and will of a man or woman, boy or girl who loves what God loves, does what God demands, and believes what God says and teaches—all formed and informed by the Word of God.
Next month we will delve into the content of worshiping God in spirit and in truth, but for now let us be reminded of true worship. Much so called worship across churches today in America is fleshly. Fleshly worship can be external and formal, focusing on external symbols and acts void of spirit. On the other hand, worship can be fleshly by focusing on ourselves: how we feel, how we emote, how we think, instead of how God feels, and what God thinks. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Mat 7:21 ESV). May we always do the will of the Father in our worship! Amen!!
Soli Deo Gloria
G Carl Moore

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More Wonderful Beyond

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

I Corinthians 15: 12-14

 

Alister McGrath, a former atheist who has become a believer in Christ, a theologian and a scientist, tells the following story about the first time he awakened to the hope of Christ’s resurrection:

[As a young man], I was a grumpy and frankly rather arrogant atheist. I was totally convinced that there was no God, and that anyone who thought there was needed to be locked up for her own good. I was majoring in the sciences at high school and had won a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford University, beginning in October 1971. I had every reason to believe that studying the sciences further would confirm my rampant godlessness. While waiting to go up to Oxford, I decided to work my way through a pile of “improving books.” Needless to say, none of them were religious.

Eventually, I came to a classic work of philosophy—Plato’s Republic. I couldn’t make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows—and is meant to know—that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery.

As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that’s the end of the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it?

 

McGrath’s struggle with the truth(s) of the Christian faith is not unique. The Apostle Paul had his own barriers, one being (from a Jewish perspective) the barrier of a religious tradition which assumed that the Messiah would conquer via the glory and honor of war, not the ignominious cross of dishonor.

Barriers to belief many times come in the form of intellectual pride as with McGrath, but McGrath knew by virtue of the moral law within and the starry sky above that “there is something more wonderful beyond” this life. Our neo-pagan culture lies to itself by saying that this is all that there is. It reduces reality to matter, a contiguous concourse of mere molecules in motion. We are like the ancients in Plato’s allegory of the Cave; we believe the shadows of this dark fallen world are all that there is. Yet, some of us are like St. Paul prior to his conversion; because of religious pride we assume “man-made” traditions are all there is. Religious tradition can too cast a long, dark shadow upon us. Even regenerate (born again) Christians will allow the need to belong to muddy our thinking in the morass of misconceptions. This was the case for Paul as he addressed the First Church of Corinth. Their intellectual pride of wanting to be accepted by their surrounding pagan culture (sounds familiar?) had them buying into pagan concepts (like the pagan idea that there is no bodily resurrection of believers), concepts contrary to the essentials of the faith (like the Christian idea of the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ). 

These are just some barriers to belief. Others barriers can be suffering, evil, and pain. However, when we are confronted with the resurrected Lord, when we have an encounter with the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when we encounter the ultimate reality of the Word of God made flesh then all the idols of our minds retreat while our hearts surrender to Christ. This is what happened to Paul. It was Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus which eroded his doubt; his pang of a guilty conscience receded into the shadows in the face of the overwhelming effulgence of the resurrected Lord.

During this season of Lent and Easter if you are struggling with doubt—e.g. doubt from pride, or doubt from pain and loss, etc.–turn your gaze again to the reality of our Lord who conquered death not for Himself, but for us. Because of Christ’s death on the cross death for us is but a shadow; and because of Christ’s life and resurrection there is something more wonderful here and now for us and beyond!

Soli Deo Gloria

G Carl Moore

 

 

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Preserved By God

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God (Gen 45: 4-8a)

 

 

In this text we read about how God preserves his people in the midst of forces and pressures that seek to do us no good. Joseph the son of Jacob knew this very well. If there was ever a person who knew the forces and pressures of life that seek to pull apart and press us down it was Joseph: sold into slavery; sent to prison, forsaken and betrayed by family and friends. Yet through all of that Joseph persevered; Joseph prevailed; Joseph persisted! He went from prison to prominence! How? Why? 

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve lifeGod sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God.”

In our text Joseph is pointing to a biblical truth which is throughout the Old and New Testaments: that is, the truth that God preserves us. In a theological parlance or manner of speaking this is known as “remnant theology.” All throughout sacred history God has always preserved for Himself a remnant: in the days of Noah there were eight; Abraham there was one (Isaac); in the days of the Judges God whittled down Gideon’s troops from 32,000 soldiers to a mere 300 to win the battle; in the days of the evil King Ahab there were 7000 who would not bow their knee to Baal; in the days of our Lord he taught that broad was the road to destruction, but narrow the road to life; in the days of the Apostolic church it was known as a “little flock.” Joseph points this out to explain how he persevered and how he was used by God to preserve his family in the midst of a great famine, taking them from Canaan to Goshen, preserving 70.

One of the things we learn from the life of Joseph is that in spite of our abilities, our tenacious perseverance, we are held up and preserved by God. I like to say that God preserves us in our perseverance. Paul says, “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, knowing it’s God who works in us to will and do!” As we look back in faith upon 2013 we are aware of how God has preserved us. As we look forward in hope may we look to God and his plans for us in 2014 as He again continues to preserve His people! Pray for your leaders and your church this coming year for God’s preservation!

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Carl

 

 

 

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