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Direction Not Perfection

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

(Isa 6:1 ESV)

Last month you will recall we dealt with the theme of assurance, assurance of salvation. Assurance of salvation is an important theme in Scripture. However, too often we look in the wrong direction for our assurance. Too often we look to our past experiences: our coming down the aisle to make an emotional profession of faith, or signing a card, or saying the “sinner’s prayer.” These are all examples of past experiences we can remember. But there are also past experiences we don’t remember: being baptized as an infant before the church or being dedicated to God before the church as a baby. These are all past experiences. But, as I have noted on occasion in the pulpit, our “experience” does not save us. God saves us.

But if we have had a saving experience (conversion) with God then there will be present evidence to the fact of such an experience. Case in point, if I was derelict in my duty to lead worship service next Sunday at my church by not showing up to preach or anything that Sunday, and then apologized to my parishioners and the leadership for not showing up that Sunday, would they not want a reason? What if I told them that the reason why I did not show up was because, while driving the night before on I-81, I was involved in a car accident? I explain that a Mack truck hit me head on traveling 80 miles an hour. Would they believe me, especially in light of the fact that neither I, nor my car, had a scratch on us?

Let’s be honest. You and they would think either I was delusional, or I was the biggest liar. If I had a head on encounter with a Mack truck then there would be some evidence. If this is true of a truck, then how much more for God who is infinitely more impactful than a tractor and trailer? Above all, God is holy. In fact God is not only holy; and God is not only holy, holy. But God is holy, holy, holy. The prophet Isaiah came in contact with an infinitely holy God. The impact of that event changed Isaiah. Before his tongue was impure; now he can speak with prophetic purity. Before he was racked with justifiable guilt and shame and blame; now he is guiltless and faultless and blameless. Prior to this, Isaiah was prideful and hopeless; now Isaiah is humble and hopeful. This does not mean Isaiah was perfect; perfection in this life is impossible. As John Macarthur says, “It’s not perfection, but direction.” God impacted Isaiah. This impact radically changed Isaiah’s bearings or orientation. We hear a lot these days of “orientation.” Some orientations are more radical than others, some so radical we think they are inseparable from who we are. Of all these orientations, the deepest and most radical is our sinful nature. When God has had an impact on us, like Isaiah, we will not come out unscratched. God seizes us, turns us, and changes us from the inside out. We are marked by repentance!

In conclusion, assurance of salvation is the primary theme of the Epistle of 1st John. In light of this theme, John gives us evidences or marks of assurance that we can point to in the present to show that in fact we have been and are saved. John’s method to gain assurance is by looking at our present pursuit of holiness. Ask yourself, “how is my present pursuit of holiness? Does my pursuit of happiness trump my pursuit of holiness?” This does not mean true Christians can’t seriously fall into sin, but it’s never total or final. Read 1st John. Prayerfully ask yourself these questions. As you do, don’t look to your perfection, but your direction.

Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God alone)


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From Ugly Duckling To Lovely Swan!

Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

(Psa 51:12 ESV)

Someone has said that there are two kinds of people: those who say there are two kinds of people and those who do not. D. James Kennedy once quipped that “there are three kinds of people: those who can count and those who can’t.” We can all agree it’s unfair to put people in tight, tidy little categories. Putting people in categories does not do justice to the complexity of what it means to be human.

However, I think some typologies are useful, especially when it deals with the spiritual/moral state or condition of a person. Jesus taught that there were only two kinds of people: saved and unsaved. He used metaphors from the world of agriculture: goats (unsaved people) versus sheep (saved people); weeds versus wheat. So, Jesus taught that there are only two spiritual/moral conditions. But, even though there are only two spiritual states—i.e. spiritual death and spiritual life—there are differences in how we perceive these spiritual states or conditions. The story of “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Anderson captures this well. Just as the little swan thought he was a mallard, likewise could there be sheep who think they are goats? The clear teaching of Scripture is yes!

In light of this Dr. R.C. Sproul believes that there are four types of people. First, there are those who believe they are saved by grace, and are in fact saved by grace. Second, there are those who do not believe they are saved by grace, and are in fact not saved by grace. These first two groups are aware of their spiritual condition. However, there are two other types of people (type three and type four) who are not aware of their spiritual condition. The third type of person, though truly saved by grace, is not sure whether he or she is saved by grace. Then there is our fourth type. There are people who truly believe they are saved by grace, but in fact are not.

St John penned his first letter (1 John) when he was as an aged apostle, an apostle who had a pastor’s heart. John explains why he wrote his first letter. He says: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (1Jo 5:13 ESV). Pretty simple. John is saying that he is writing to that third type of person who, though saved, is not aware that he or she is saved, or at least not totally sure or not as deeply rooted in confidence. Such people live their lives as ugly ducklings, though in reality they are beautiful swans in the eyes of God.

In conclusion, in the near future I will be preaching (in my own church) an expository sermon series through the first letter of John. My purpose is the same as John’s original purpose: that is to confirm my parishioners in their faith with these four typologies in mind. My hope is that through this study they may (like King David) have the joy of their salvation restored from ugly ducklings to lovely swans! If you are an ugly duckling may God confirm you as His swan!

Soli Deo Gloria


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Believing is Seeing

No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. 34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. 35 Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. 36 If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.

(Luke 11: 33-36)

We have all heard the axiom: “seeing is believing.” It is a pithy way of saying that only hard, concrete evidence is convincing. However, this saying assumes a lot. One thing it assumes is that our eyes do not lie to us. But is this true? Recently on the news I came across a report about baseball. This report said that the baseball mechanics of throwing a fast ball have all been mistaken. New computer models are contradicting traditional wisdom. How?—the reporter asked. The answer: “our eyes lie to us.”

Not only do our eyes lie to us, but so do our minds and hearts. On a spiritual/moral level, the reason why our eyes, minds, hearts lie to us is because of sin. Apart from the “lamp” of Christ, sin darkens the eye; sin dims the mind; sin blackens the heart! Disbelief is a function of the soul wracked with sin and guilt. Sin and guilt distort reality from inside and out! This is, in one sense, what our Lord means when he says, “Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.” Without the light of Christ, seeing is believing a lie!

However, the light of Christ is the wisdom of God. Faith (the topic of last month’s article) is a function of a soul liberated from sin and guilt. Faith brightens the eye; faith illumines the mind; faith whitens the heart! This is, in one sense, what our Lord means when he says, “If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” With the light of Christ’s wisdom believing is seeing the truth! This is what C. S. Lewis meant when he said in a famous quotes: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

In the book, Raised? Finding Jesus by Doubting the Resurrection, author Jonathan Dodson writes, “The resurrection is a dividing line—a parting claim.” Here’s how he illustrates that “dividing line”:

The resurrection is like a river that parts a road. People are on the road approaching the river. Arriving at the river of the resurrection, you look across it to where the road continues and see quite a few cars are there. In your doubt, you can’t imagine how people got to the other side of the river. How did they get across? How can rational people come to the belief that Jesus died and rose from the dead?

Faith is the unnoticed ferry, lying hidden near the bank of the river that can take us from the riverbank of doubt … to the other side of belief in the resurrection. [But] it’s not blind faith … You don’t cross by closing your eyes and wishing Jesus’ resurrection was true. No. You cross with your eyes wide open. This is an informed faith, faith in a historical plausible resurrection, attested by hundreds of witnesses, one proven to be worth believing.

In conclusion, you’ll notice there is a dividing line. On one side, there are those who see in order to believe; on the other side, there are those who believe in order to see. The resurrection of Christ is God’s proclamation that believing is seeing the truth, the truth that we are sinners in need of a savior! What side of the line are you on? If you are wracked with sin and guilt receive him now! Repent and believe! Let Christ spiritually resurrect you from death to life today in hopes also of a bodily resurrection when He returns for His church!

Let us close with this prayer from John Piper:

“Lord, open the eyes of our hearts to see the supreme greatness of your wisdom and power. Make our eyes good. Heal our blindness. Fill us with the all-pervading, all-exposing, all-purifying, all-pleasing light of your presence.”

Soli Deo Gloria


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Faith and Belief!!

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

(2Co13:5 ESV)

What is faith? What is belief? Faith and belief in the English language are used quite differently! There is a classical distinction in theology regarding faith. In one sense there is faith, a faith whereby we have a strong connection toward someone or something! Faith in this sense is a grasping, a clutching, a hanging onto that which you trust with dependency, sincerity, and hope! This sense of faith is what we do. Faith is subjective.

However, there is another sense of faith, faith in the sense of what we believe, i.e., the object of our faith. This is normally what we mean in the English language when we speak of belief! Belief is objective!

There is a line from a famous Peanuts cartoon which combines these two notions of faith. It says, “It doesn’t matter what you believe, as long as you’re sincere!” In this statement, “sincerity” correlates with our first notion of faith; it’s someone’s faith sincerely grasping, clutching, and hanging onto something with dependency and trust! What is this something? It’s “what you believe!” But notice the rather odd, naïve clause: “It doesn’t matter what you believe….” Isn’t it rather naïve to trust if that which we trust is not trustworthy? This “peanutty” assertion assumes that the act of trusting makes something trustworthy! But isn’t it the other way around? Doesn’t a trustworthy person or thing make the act of trusting possible? You wouldn’t trust ISIS to teach your children tolerance? Would you? Nor would you think that by trusting ISIS to teach your children tolerance would make ISIS trust worthy! How absurd!!

But how many of us treat our Christian faith this way? We think that the content of our faith is irrelevant! All that matters is our faith, our trusting, and our sincerity! But this could not be further from the truth! Hell will be full of sincere people who have been sincerely wrong! Sincerity is not the touchstone of genuine, saving faith! The touchstone of saving faith is the object of faith. The object of the Christian faith is Christ. Paul warns us to examine our lives to see if we are “in the faith!” Christ is the only way to be saved or justified because Christ is the only trustworthy object of faith!

Our belief about Jesus is essential to salvation. However, belief about Jesus is not enough. Belief about Jesus requires belief in Jesus! Belief in Jesus is a sinner’s grasping, clutching, a hanging onto and trusting in Jesus with dependency and sincerity! Faith without belief is mindless, but belief without faith is heartless!

Last month I wrote on the subject of the gospel. I shared that the gospel is all about Jesus: his life, death, burial, and resurrection! But what connects a sinner to the gospel of salvation? What connects us to Jesus? One of the many gifts God gives in saving us is the gift of faith. Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…”(Eph 2:8 ESV). Paul, in II Corinthians, notes that the object of “the faith” (Christ), is a central touchstone for whether we are a genuine believer or not. But Paul also notes in Ephesians that the act of faith, i.e. the act of sincere trusting, is also a gift! This gift of faith is conversion!

Conversion is one of the marks of a true believer, and a healthy church! Faith is turning to, and trusting in Jesus! Faith is what we do! Faith is an ability we have, but an ability we do not have on our own! Faith is an ability God gives graciously! But, faith is only half of the equation. Next month I will discuss the second half of conversion: that is repentance! But for now, may God continue to build us up in our faith! May our ability to sincerely trust and depend upon God mature us, to grow us into mature believers, and to grow us into a mature church!

Soli Deo Gloria


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Partnership Of The Gospel

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

(Phi 1:1-5 ESV)

The renowned British journalist and satirist, Malcolm Muggeridge, famously quipped that “All new news is old news happening to new people!”  It is true that what is “new” to us many times is not new, but must be rediscovered. This rediscovery is “old news” to “new people!”

This is especially true of the greatest of all news, that is, the gospel! The term gospel literally means good news! In general, the gospel is the good news of salvation: human beings being rescued from eternal damnation by running from sin (repenting) and trusting in Jesus (faith). The source of this good news is God the Father. It originated from God the Father. However, the good news is primarily about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ is the only mediator between man and God, connecting us to the Father.

So there are four main components to the gospel: God, man, Christ, and human response!

To summarize these four components, the bible teaches that God is holy, so holy that he must judge and punish sin. That is bad news for human beings! Why? The bible teaches that all human beings are born sinful, alienated, and hostile to God. Because of this, all human beings are subject to the just wrath of God. Simply put, we human beings aren’t right with God because something isn’t right with us, but deeply wrong. And that wrong is the moral condition of sin. The combination of a holy God and sinful man is like oil and water. It doesn’t mix.

This is where Jesus comes into the mix. Jesus Christ who is fully human and fully God, lived a sinless life, died and shed his blood on the cross to bear God’s just wrath in the place for all who believe in him, and rose from the grave to bring eternal life. God commands everyone to respond to the message of the gospel through faith and repentance, to turn from their sins and trust in Christ in order to be saved! This is the gospel, the good news. What is deeply wrong with us is supernaturally made right by faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is what Paul means when he speaks of the “righteousness of God!” We are made right with God or made righteous, not by our self-righteousness, but Christ’s righteousness for us!

Why is this important for us to rediscover? One reason, as Martin Luther noted, is that in “every generation there will be the threat of the gospel going into eclipse.  Every time the gospel is proclaimed, clearly and boldly, opposition arises and conflict comes.” Satan hates the gospel and he will do any and everything he can to erase the good news! The Prince of the Puritans John Owen opined that Satan’s attack comes via the rage of a lion through persecution and/or the subtly of a serpent through false teachers within the church. Regarding the latter, this was what was happening during the 16th century Reformation! The Reformers, as Luther, Calvin, and others, rediscovered the good news of the gospel after generations, and generations of the gospel being eclipsed.

Another reason why it’s important for us to reclaim and rediscover the gospel is that a gospel driven church is a healthy church. As I shared with you previously, I agree with Mark Dever that a gospel driven church (what he calls the Third Mark of a Healthy Church), along with Expository Preaching, and Biblical Theology, is an essential mark of a healthy church. A gospel driven church builds unity and brings glory to God. In fact Paul speaks of a special unity we have in the church based upon the gospel. He described the church of Philippi’s unity based upon the gospel as a “partnership of the gospel!” Partnership is a technical term in New Testament Greek referring to “oneness.” Just as the gospel of salvation makes the individual Christian one in Christ, likewise the gospel fellowship of believers in the church makes us all one together as the body of Christ. This is the bases of our unity. The gospel is the glue which hold us together!

In conclusion, there is much cause for division in the American church today. It is during times as this that the gospel is further eclipsed, causing further division and discord! May we in our local churches continue to rediscover the gospel in our lives, and in the life of the church! May the old time religion of the gospel renew us! May this two thousand year old news continue to make us new people in Christ!

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A New Year’s Reflection

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:16-17 ESV)

We hear in today’s modern pop-psychology and, as well as, in much of the self-help genre in both secular (and unfortunately) Christian book stores that in order to be prosperous or happy or upright we need to think more positively about ourselves, that all we need is a little more faith in ourselves. This attitude is usually most noticeable during the New Year: our culture “resolves” to live better; we resolve to live our lives empowered to live upright. “Upright” is defined by exercise, eating right, losing weight, reading more books and a little less television…etc. The problem is that we quickly burn out, and lose power to keep the standards that we have created. One reason is that we lack the mental focus, the desire, and the will to be upright. In biblical terms, we simply lack faith.

Of course mature Christians and astutely pious students of the Bible (which are one and the same) know that… that is the problem: that is, the object of our faith is misapplied. The object of faith—that is, our mental focus, desire, and will—ought to never be ourselves! We are too weak of a crutch to depend upon! Biblical faith is never focused on the power of the human will and desire, but on God’s power, that is, the power of God to save us. Our help always comes from the Lord!  God helps us in Christ, we who are totally helpless in saving ourselves from spiritual death, from the wrath of God, from meaninglessness and purposelessness. In one sense God always saves us from ourselves. God never helps those who help themselves! When we help ourselves (self-righteousness) we make our lives, our human condition worse.  This is why Paul proclaims proudly that he (Paul) is not ashamed but proud of God’s Gospel which is God’s own power (and only power) able to save us. All one must do is believe, have faith in God’s power to change us in the only way that really counts. The result of salvation is being right with God or upright with God. Salvation is not a promise of wealth, health, and happiness as preached by today’s false prophets.” Salvation is not a “this-worldly salvation” (though we can be saved now in this world). Salvation is an “other-worldly salvation.” Salvation is not spatio-temporal. Salvation transcends our space-time continuum. No doubt God the Father through Christ will on the Lord’s Day break into space and time to bring heaven to earth, a total transformation of the heavens and the earth with our Lord’s second coming to resurrect those whom are dead in Christ. But, for now, God spiritually saves us by making us right with Him (righteous) in and through Christ’s active and passive obedience/righteousness. We receive this gift through faith. God gives this gift by grace. This great salvation empowers us to live for God as salt and light and as witnesses to this great salvation to our corrupt generation.

In conclusion, during this New Year may all of us resolve to refuse to focus on ourselves, but wholly on God’s power, His power to continually change us!  All we must do, day-in and day-out, is to have faith: that is, to trust and obey and focus our minds on God’s great salvation to daily renew our minds or as Paul says: “The just shall live by faith!”  May we too live by faith.

Soli Deo Gloria


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Nothing is Impossible for God!

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit….22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” (Mat 1:18, 22-23 NRS)

• Why is it important for us (as Christians) to believe in the doctrine of the Virgin Birth—other than of course it’s taught in the Scripture? What use is it? It is a sacrifice of our intelligence?
Pastor William Carter said that on his Christmas vacation on his first year in college, he had become an expert on the birds and the bees. Biology was his major, and after a semester in the freshman class, he was certain that he knew more biology than most adults did in his hometown … including his minister. A few days before Christmas, he stopped in to see him. He received him warmly and asked how he had fared in his first semester. “Okay,” he replied, avoiding the subject of his mediocre grades. But then he told his pastor, “I’ve come home with some questions.”
“Really?” the pastor replied. “Like what?”
“Like the virgin birth. I’ve taken a lot of biology, as you know,” which meant one semester in which he received a B-, “and I think this whole business of a virgin birth doesn’t make much sense to me. It doesn’t fit with what I have learned in biology class.”
“What’s the problem?” he asked.
“There had to be a father,” he announced. “Either it was Joseph or somebody else.”
His pastor looked at him with a coy smile and said, “How can you be so sure?”
“Oh, come on,” he said. “That’s not the way it works. There had to be a father.”
His pastor didn’t back down. Instead he said something that Carter said he’ll never forget: “So – why not God?”

That’s a good response “Why not God?” In fact that is not only a reasonable response, but a biblical response: “…she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit….” Luke says it this way: “34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy–the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luk 1: 34-37ESV) Notice Mary is just as dumbfounded as Carter the first-semester-biology major (with one class with a B-) who cynically asks “come on! That’s not how it works?” Mary responds in a similar way: “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” We would ask today: “Is it in the water?” The difference between Carter and Mary is that Carter is a cynic and Mary was not. Skepticism and cynicism are not intellectual virtues. Skepticism and cynicism are usually the coward’s-way-out. Anyone can be a skeptic and cynic: the minimum requirement is to have both a small mind and small heart. Carter at the time was small minded and hearted indicative of his sophomoric reliance on his grasp on how things really work. But Mary did not rely on her own grasp of how things work; she relied on and had a sufficient grasp on another reality, the way things are truly done. Mary did not look to secondary causes for reality, but the primary cause of reality (i.e. God). Gabriel reminds Mary this: “For nothing will be impossible for God!” In other words God can not only override nature and natural causes and natural laws, but God can (and has) suspend nature and natural causes and natural laws: God can suspend gravity, second-law of thermodynamics, all the laws of physics. Why? God made it!! For Mary to believe this was the most reasonable thing to do. But in regard to Carter (the young sophomoric cynic) he came to realized how unreasonable he was, realizing he had been the one sacrificing his intelligence. Only a fool would say there is no God! And only a fool would say such a thing (Virgin Birth) proves impossible for God!
• But this does not answer my original question: why is it important for us to believe in the Virgin Birth? What use is it? There are at least two reasons the Virgin Birth is useful for Christians.
First, the Virgin Birth teaches us that God occupied history. Unlike the Occupy-Wall Street- Protesters, God did not pitch a tent on property that was not his; God pitched His tent on his own property. The Virgin Birth teaches and affirms what all of Scripture teaches as affirms—that is that the Creator is sovereign over all of His creation (including us), that God is outside of space-and-time, yet intimately within space and time, that He is concerned about us, so concerned that God became flesh (incarnation). This flies in the face of our modern pagan culture—our neo-pagan, sophomoric, cynical culture rejects the Virgin Birth. The reason? We are taught that we live in a closed-universe: closed off from God. All things existing are material and can be explained mechanistically or materially. [science defined by closed-universe]. The problem with this so called scientific definition or understanding of reality is that it is not based upon science, but philosophy. Philosophically, the Virgin Birth teaches that our universe is open. Theologically it is open to God as Creator and Redeemer in Christ through the incarnation.
The second reason the Virgin Birth is useful is that it teaches that Jesus was not a mere man: God-Man. Familiarity can breed disrespect and contempt. When you get to know someone the mystique fades and we’re no longer interested. This happened to Jesus. People in his hometown of Nazareth did not honor Jesus because he was a hometown boy. There is no mystique to a hometown-boy. You don’t want a hometown-boy whom you’ve baby-sitted and changed diapers to grow-up and become your OB-GYN? The Virgin Birth gives us an insight into just how radically different and unique Jesus was and is. The Virgin Birth teaches that though God became flesh (familiar) the manner of His incarnation makes Him unfamiliar. Unlike Carter the young sophomoric cynic who is comfortable with what is familiar, Mary accepted the unfamiliar mystique of her virgin birth.
In conclusion, as we make our preparations during this second Sunday of Advent, may we keep focus on not only the meaning of Christmas (Jesus born to die) but also the mystique of Christmas. Too often we are too familiar with the biblical stories of Christmas, too comfortable with what we think we know. May we become less like Carter the young sophomoric cynic, and be more like Mary (one of the greatest women of faith) whose faith was open to God and His activity in this world, and a faith that was challenged, not fixed on the familiar and comfortable but willing to be stretched and molded, knowing nothing is impossible for God. AMEN!

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No Carved Image

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. (Exo 20:4 ESV)

Very early on in the church there was a man names Marcion. Marcion did not like the image of God depicted in the Old Testament. For him the image of God in the Old Testament was too harsh, wrathful, and angry! On the other hand, Marcion did like the image of God in the New Testament. Generally speaking, for him the image of God in the New Testament was gentle, loving, and merciful! The early church leaders took Marcion to task by affirming God as He really is, over-and-against Marcion and his followers who wanted a God based upon their own desires.
Mark Dever shares a similar story when he was in seminary. A fellow student (named Bill) said that he liked to think of God as “wise, but not meddling; compassionate, but never overpowering; resourceful, but never interrupting.” Dever responded by saying, “Thank you Bill for telling us so much about yourself, but we are concerned to know what God is really like, not simply about our own desires.”
What Marcion and Bill (and the penchant of all human beings) have in common is that they have created an image in their minds about God. The problem with this is that if the image does not correspond to reality then we are worshiping an image of God, not God! This is the essence of idolatry. Idolatry is literally idol worship. Idols can be literally carved images or images in our minds. But either way when our idea or concept or image of God does not correspond to the reality of what or who God is…then we are violating the second Commandment in Exodus 2:4!
This is why the Bible is so important and why biblical theology is so important! The Bible is God’s self-disclosure! Biblical theology is teaching gleaned from the Word of God. This is why, as Mark Dever notes, the 2nd mark (among his 9 Marks) of a healthy church is Biblical Theology.
Biblical theology teaches us that the God of the Bible is the Creator and Sovereign ruler over everything. The universe is not eternal! The universe did not create itself! These are pagan ideas (not to say irrational and bad science and philosophy)! And because God is Creator and Sovereign, we and everything else are His creation! We all live and move and have our being in God! This means among other things, that all human beings are accountable to God. An implication for the church is that everything we do will be held accountable to God. A church which really believes and lives out these doctrines will seek to be transparent, open, and honest. Such a church will always seek to do what is right no matter the cost! Church leaders will confront problems before they get out of hand!
Biblical theology also teaches that the God of the Bible is faithful and loving. This means that though God will hold us accountable, He is still longsuffering, patient, and gentle! A church which really believes and lives out these doctrines will also be gentle, patient, and longsuffering. Church members will seek to be peace makers, not trouble makers, walking around with a chip on his or her shoulder. Love and restoration will be some of the marks of a church because God is faithful when we have been faithless, loving when we have been unloving!
A truthful, and transparent, and honest church, as well as, a loving, and patient, and gentle church will be some of the marks of a healthy church. Biblical theology will help rid us of our idols so as to help us to be a more healthy church, a church that lives, and moves, and has its being in God!

Soli Deo Gloria

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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

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