Monday, March 30, 2009

Learning About Spiritual Conflict in Psalm 3

Search the Scriptures --- Study 2a



Psalm 3

A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

3:1 O Lord, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
2 many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

3 But you, O Lord, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
4 I cried aloud to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah

5 I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the Lord sustained me.
6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

7 Arise, O Lord!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
8 Salvation belongs to the Lord;
your blessing be on your people! Selah

Comment:

Spiritual Conflict in the World and in the Church

In Psalm 2 we learned that there is a spiritual conflict in the world:

2The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed

The Lord’s Anointed was the Davidic king, who foreshadowed Jesus Christ. The word Anointed means Christ. The Davidic king was anointed by oil and declared king. Jesus Christ was anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism, and was enthroned as king of heaven and earth by his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.

Psalm 2:2 teaches us that there is a conflict in this world. The conflict is between the Lord, his Christ (Anointed), and the kings and rulers of the earth. Unredeemed humanity sets itself in opposition to the Lord.

But the enemies of David were of two kinds: external and internal. We are not terribly surprised about David’s external enemies, which consisted of the nations around Israel. But we are surprised by his internal enemies inside the kingdom. Psalm 3 shows us that David’s enemies came from his own family, (his son Absalom), his trusted advisers (Ahithopel), and the people in his own kingdom.

When we apply these things to Jesus, who is the Christ, whom David typified, we learn that the enemies of Christ come not just from the world (unredeemed humanity) but also from his own church. Just as David was opposed within Israel, so we should not be surprised when Jesus Christ is opposed in his own church!

Opposition in the Church

How is Christ opposed in his own church? He is opposed by false teachers, who stray from the teaching he gave to his church through the apostles. Christ is also opposed by those who cast off his authority by denying the inspiration and infallibility of God’s Word. Christ is opposed when the church itself usurps his authority, or when his glory is attributed to someone or something else.

Appearance is not Reality

I suppose that things looked very bleak for David as he left Jerusalem and Absalom sat on the throne. David was fleeing for his life with a small band of people. The odds appeared to be against him. This is reflected by the number of his foes and the “many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.” But the victory went to David, because the Lord was on his side. Human beings are no match for the Lord when he “arises” to save his people.

Today, things also can look bleak in both the world and the church. In the world it appears that those who are against the Lord outnumber those who are for him. In the church, few stay true to the apostles’ teaching. Jesus Christ is enthroned as king over heaven and earth, but the nations, and even the church, rebel against him in great numbers!

Let’s remember that Jesus is the Christ, but also the Lord himself, who rules in the midst of his enemies. He is not in a panic, but is sovereign over all things. Even in the present, he judges those who rebel against him. And, one day he will arise from his throne and return to the earth to strike his enemies and bring eternal blessing to his people.

In Psalm 3, David trusts the Lord and was able to sleep in the midst of turmoil. In the Gospels we see a time when Jesus is sleeping in the midst of turmoil. His disciples are in the midst of a storm, and Jesus is asleep. But when he awakes, his power is exercised. He calms the waves and destroys an army of the enemy as he casts out a Legion of demons with a mere word (see Mark 4:35-5:13).

Faith Looks to the Unseen Reality and not to Appearances

David was not a naïve optimist. He was not a positive thinker. In verses 1 and 2 he assessed his situation realistically. He saw that his enemies were numerous and he faced up to that fact!

But David lifted up his heart to the Lord and remembered the Lord’s promises to him. There was a reality greater than the reality of his dire situation. That reality was that he was the Lord’s Anointed and the Lord would fight on his behalf.

For us the reality is that Jesus Christ is enthroned in heaven. Nothing is beyond his rule. Therefore, with the eyes of our faith set on him, let us learn to live faithfully according to his Word. Let us seek his blessing above all things, for his blessing is upon his people, who have received him as Lord and Savior of their lives.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

Relying on Christ on our Best Days and Worst Days

Tim Challies had this helpful post on his blog yesterday. While I agree with it, it did raise some questions in my mind. His post and then my question for Tim are below:


Saturday March 28, 2009

The Means of Relating to God

I’ve been reading a new book by Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington. It is titled The Bookends of the Christian Life

. I read it some time ago when it was in manuscript form (as I was asked to write a blurb for it) but I am reading it again for review purposes, now that I’ve received a printed copy. I should have a review of the book ready to go for Tuesday. For now, though, I wanted to share with you what I’ve found one of the most comforting statements I’ve read in a long time. In the book’s early pages the authors describe Christ’s righteousness and the present reality of our justification. And here they offer some words that we all know, and yet somehow we tend to lose track of. They remind us that as sinful human beings, even as Christians, we are tempted to rely on our good deeds to save us but also on our bad deeds to condemn us. Here is what they say:
“Faith involves both a renunciation and a reliance. First, we must renounce any trust in our own performance as the basis of our acceptance before God. We trust in our own performance when we believe we’ve earned God’s acceptance by our own good works. But we also trust in our own performance when we believe we’ve lost God’s acceptance by our bad works—by our sin. So we must renounce any consideration of either our bad works or our good works as the means of relating to God.

Second, we must place our reliance entirely on the perfect obedience of the sin-bearing death of Christ as the sole basis of our standing before God—on our best days as well as our worst.


What a blessing it is that as Christians we relate to God only and always through the mediation of Christ. What a joy that we can renounce our works, whether good or bad, as our means of relating to God. What comfort!



Tim, I agree that this is a comforting notion that our bad works do not cause us to lose our salvation. However, I have some questions, and maybe you can help me with them.

Scripture exhorts us to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith. In order to examine ourselves, don’t we have to see what our works say about the genuineness of our faith?

I hold to the teaching of our Reformed catechisms and confessions. How do we harmonize the truth that Bridges and Bevington are bringing out with these statements from the Heidelberg Catechism:


94 Q. What does the Lord requirein the first commandment?

A. That I, not wanting to endanger my very salvation, avoid and shun all idolatry …

Or,

87 Q. Can those be savedwho do not turn to God from their ungratefuland impenitent ways?

A. By no means. Scripture tells us thatno unchaste person, no idolater, adulterer, thief, no covetous person, no drunkard, slanderer, robber, or the like is going to inherit the kingdom of God.

Or, the end of Q&A 86:

And we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits . . .

Can we really expect to have assurance of our salvation when we fail to live in devotion to Christ or follow the leading of the Spirit? While I agree that bad works cannot take away salvation from a genuine believer, it seems as if they can take away his enjoyment of assurance. Further, for those with a presumptive or false faith and “who show by what they say and do that they are unbelieving and ungodly” (Q&A 82) shouldn’t their bad works cause them to examine themselves so that they might truly flee to Christ and his cross?

I write, not to disagree, but to gain insight. Thanks, Bill Weber


Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Foolishness of Rebellion Against the Lord and His Christ






Search the Scriptures
Study 1b

Psalm 2

1 Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?

2The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
3"Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us."

4He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
5Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6"As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill."

7I will tell of the decree:
The LORD said to me, "You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
8Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9You shall rule them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel."

10Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry,
and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Comment:

Why do the nations rage against the Lord? What makes people rebel against the Lord and his Anointed One, that is, the Christ? Why does the human heart hate the things that bind them to God, things like his laws, his creation, and his redemption?

I’m not sure that Psalm 2 answers the question it poses, but it does teach us how foolish it is to side with those who conspire against God and his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The truth is that the human race is involved in a rebellion against its Creator and Redeemer. Human beings live on the stage of a monumental conflict, and as with every conflict, there are two sides. Not to side with the Lord and his Christ is very foolish.

The first reason it is foolish not to side with the Lord and his Christ is that the Lord is sovereign. The Lord rules over heaven and earth. A conspiracy against a King like this cannot possibly end well. As verse 4 says, “He who sits in heaven laughs.”

The second reason it is foolish not to side with the Lord and his Christ is the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ in history. God has acted in sending his Son into the world. The apostle Paul interprets verse 7 as fulfilled by Christ’s resurrection from the dead. When the Father raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand, then truly the Christ was installed on God’s “holy hill” in heaven.

The third reason it is foolish not to side with the Lord and his Christ is the goal of history. God’s goal in history is to bring all things into subjection to his Son! Ephesians 1:10 speaks of this goal of history as do verses 8 and 9, which speak of the universal rule of Christ.

The fourth reason it is foolish not to side with the Lord and his Christ is that the way is open to be on the Lord’s side. Verse 12 speaks of the human response required to be on the Lord’s side. It involves receiving the Son of God into our hearts. In the words of verse 12, it involves kissing the Son and taking refuge in God’s king as our king.

Hidden in Psalm 2 is the strongest reason for siding with Jesus Christ, and this is the love of God. It took the cross of Christ to make it possible for us to switch sides in this spiritual conflict. It is only because of the cross, that we can be reconciled to God. At the cross we see the love of God for rebellious sinners. Who could ask for a better God and King, than One who was willing to suffer and die for those in rebellion against Him? The Son suffered the very wrath of God rebellious sinners deserve in order that we might have the blessing of God, which is life to the world.



Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Sola Panel | Is Jesus all about life?

This is a great article by Tony Payne. It gets at the dishonesty of an approach to the Bible that ignores negative biblical themes like sin, judment, self-denial, and the wrath of God. Are we ashamed of the gospel?

The Sola Panel Is Jesus all about life?

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Forsaking the Counsel of the Wicked


Search the Scriptures
Study 1a --- Psalm 1

1:1 Blessed is the manwho walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Comment:


In these comments on the Psalms, I don’t want to comment on every verse. Instead I want to focus on a single verse, phrase, or theme. Today I want to look at the underlined phrase above: “who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.”

What is wrong with the counsel of the wicked? The problem, simply put, is that the counsel of the wicked is false. The counsel of the wicked is made up of lies, and does not coincide with the truth or reality about the Lord and his world.

The first counsel of the wicked came from the wicked one himself, that is, the devil. In the garden his first lying counsel concerned God’s Word: “Did God really say . . . .” The devil’s tactic was to cast doubt on the Word of God. If the enemy can destroy confidence in God’s Word he wins, since communion with God comes through his Word.

There has been a major attack on God’s Word over the last 200 years, although obviously this attack is as ancient as human history. This recent attack has devastated mainline Protestant churches, whose seminaries no longer teach the inspiration and reliability of the Scriptures.

Ultimately, only the self-attestation of God’s Word and the illumination of the Holy Spirit can convince a person that the Bible is God’s Word. But apologetics can clear away many of the lies that are told about the Bible. For example, I have heard many people say that the New Testament books were written a couple hundred years after the life of Christ. But the truth is that Jesus died and rose in the Spring of 33 A.D. and the first New Testament letter was already written in 48 A.D., a mere 15 years after his death and resurrection. We know this from a careful comparison of Paul’s travels in Acts with his letters.

There is also an amazing amount of manuscript evidence for the New Testament, especially when compared to other ancient literature that is never questioned. Most ancient books like Homer’s Illiad or Pliny’s History have only a few manuscripts which usually date from 500 to 1500 years after their writing. But the New Testament has 24,000 manuscripts, some of them dating from only 25-40 years after their writing.

So the first counsel of the wicked is an attack on God’s Word --- the Word which should be the righteous person’s delight and meditation. But a second counsel of the wicked is to deny a future judgment. Again, we see this false counsel in the garden. The serpent counseled Eve with the words: “You will not surely die.” The psalmist contradicts this wicked counsel in Psalm 1. Against the false counsel that there will be no future judgment, the psalmist warns that “the wicked will not stand in the judgment,” and "the way of the wicked will perish."

A third false counsel of the wicked can be deduced from Psalm 1. How often Christianity is painted as dour, gloomy, and joyless. Living a life in conformity to God and his Word is thought to be a miserable, unhappy sort of existence. But against this wicked counsel, Psalm 1 says, “The truly happy person, the blessed man, is the man who delights in God’s instruction, meditates on God’s Word, and lives according to it.

A fourth false counsel of the wicked is implied in Psalm 1. How often we are told that human beings are to be independent and self-sufficient. The goal is to depend on no one but yourself. But the wisdom of Psalm 1 points us to another way. It recognizes that man is a creature who must draw his life from God. The picture of a tree planted by streams of water is a picture of life coming to us from outside of ourselves. In the New Testament we learn that streams of life-giving water come to us from our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven via the channel of the Holy Spirit.

There is much more we could say about Psalm 1. But this is enough to show that living in communion with the Lord means recognizing and forsaking the false way, and learning to delight in the good way that comes from knowing the Word of God and the God who authored that Word through his servants, the prophets and apostles.



Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Christ's Incomparable Medicine for Our Souls

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

126 Q. What does the fifth request mean?

A. "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" means,

Because of Christ's blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully
determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.
Scripture

John 3:19-21: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

Luke 5:29-32: And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. 30 And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Psalm 51:17:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Comment:

There is a major obstacle that hinders forgiveness for many people in our culture. This obstacle is that they no longer believe in sin!

I listened in amazement to a psychiatrist interviewed on television as he described violent behavior as a disease. People do violent things, he explained, because they are sick.

This trend to explain away sin as a disease or as an inherent part of our nature has been gaining momentum for some time now. Nothing is ultimately our fault now! Everything can be blamed on the brain. All of our problems are in the genes.[1]

Apparently our Creator and Judge is unaware of all of this, for the Word of God sees human beings as accountable to him for their thoughts, words, and deeds. John explains God’s judgment in John 3 in moral and spiritual terms, not physical terms. People are in darkness and love the darkness. Their love for the darkness causes them to hate the light, for the light shows them their guilt, which they would prefer to repress. Instead of coming to Christ, the light of the world, for forgiveness, they stay as far away from Christ and his gospel as possible.

But what about Jesus as a physician? Does seeing Jesus as a physician and sinners as sick with sin give credibility to the contemporary notion that we are compelled to bad behavior by our DNA or disease?

The answer is no. While the medical analogy of sickness is used in Scripture to show us the Lord’s compassion and our need of his pardon, this medical imagery never excuses our sin. Jesus still calls the sick, that is, sinners, to repentance. Sinners are certainly in need of the healing medicine of forgiveness and grace, but this forgiveness is only given to those who own their guilt, confess their sins, and flee to Christ for mercy and a new way of life.

For those who are willing to humble themselves to accept God’s Word (“a broken spirit”) and its teaching about our sin, and who confess their sins with a contrite heart, there is a wonderful promise of forgiveness. The Lord never turns away any person who comes to him with a broken spirit and a contrite heart! Try as you might, you will never find one person in Scripture who was ever refused forgiveness by the Lord, if that person came in repentance and faith!

We have a gracious and forgiving God in Christ! How foolish we are if we stay away from him and his forgiveness in his Son, the light of the world! How wonderful it is to be forgiven and have our consciences washed clean in the blood of Christ. To come to him in repentance and faith for the forgiveness of our sins is incomparable medicine that heals our souls, and will one day lead to the healing resurrection of our bodies!

Discussion: What is the reason for God’s judgment in John 3:19-21? How does Christ’s command of repentance show that human beings are responsible for their sin? What magnificent promise of forgiveness is found in Psalm 51:17?

Prayer Starter: Praise the Father for his gracious attitude toward those with a broken and contrite heart. Pray for such a heart that pleases God.

[1] Materialism, the view that "physical matter is the only reality and that everything, including thought, feeling, mind, and will, can be explained in terms of matter and physical phenomena," has won the day. Materialism excludes the human soul or spirit, therefore sin can be explained by physical causes like disease or genes. But the biblical view of sin locates the seat of sin in the soul or spirit (often called the heart in Scripture), therefore, physical causes like disease or DNA cannot be the ultimate explanation of sin. This is not to say that the body does not influence the soul or the soul the body. But the body cannot compel the soul to sin despite its infirmity, for Christ often felt our bodily weakness, and yet did not sin.



Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Chains that Bring Life, Freedom, and Joy


Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

126 Q. What does the fifth request mean?

A. "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" means,

Because of Christ's blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.

2) Scripture

Luke 7:36-50: One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and took his place at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Comment:

William Ames, the great Puritan theologian, spoke of “three chains of union” that bind us to God in Christ: the Spirit, faith, and love. Without the Holy Spirit, we simply wouldn’t want to come to Christ. Sinners love their sins too much to leave them for Christ. The only way we leave them is by the work of the Spirit through the gospel in our hearts.

However, from a human standpoint, the first thing that unites us to Christ is our faith. Faith is like the hands of our soul. Through our faith we are able to take hold of Jesus Christ and the favor and forgiveness he offers us. Faith is not a work. In fact, faith is the opposite of works for it passively receives the gift of Jesus Christ and his spiritual riches. The woman in our passage was first bound to Christ by her faith, which is why Jesus says to her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

But the third chain is love, and love is the result of forgiveness. Love is the result of Christ’s great work of salvation in our lives.

The parable Jesus tells, begins by teaching us the lesson we have already learned in Q&A 126, namely, that sin is against God. In the parable, the moneylender stands for God. We owe the heavenly Father a great debt of obedience, love, and honor. All of us owe our Creator an infinite debt of love and obedience, even if we are unaware of this huge debt we owe him!

Jesus spoke this parable directly to the two people he was dealing with at this dinner. Simon, the Pharisee, was a man who did not realize how large his debt of obedience and love to God really was. Simon was blind to the majesty and holiness of God and the greatness of his sin. Therefore, forgiveness of sins was a small thing in his eyes.

But the sinful woman in this account was different. She knew her sin was against God. She knew she owed God her heart and life. She knew her debt was too great to pay. So when she came to Christ by faith for the forgiveness of her sins, her sin was large in her eyes. The reason she loved Jesus much was because she knew her debt of sin was much. To the cord of faith, the cord of love was added. Having been forgiven much, she loved much.

Who are you like: this woman or Simon? Do you love Jesus much or little? The answer depends on what you think Jesus has done for you. The answer depends on who you think you are before a majestic and holy God. The answer depends on whether you’ve been forgiven a little or a lot.

All of us are bound to something. When we are bound to our sin or our lusts or a false god of our own inventing there is a terrible misery involved which leads to spiritual death. The woman in this parable must have felt that spiritual death profoundly. But when we are bound by the Spirit, faith, and love to our Creator and Redeemer there is spiritual life. All things are from him and to him, therefore, what joy it is to be bound to the One to whom we were meant to be bound! In these chains of the Spirit, faith, and love, “poor sinners” find true freedom, spiritual riches, and joy!


Discussion: Describe the three chains that bind us to Christ. Do you see your debt to God as great or small? How do we see the chains of faith and love in the life of this sinful woman from Luke 7?

Prayer starter: Thank the Father for the three chains that bind us to his Son. Ask for an increase of the Spirit, faith, and love in your heart that you might serve Christ better in your life.





Do Not Hold Our Sins Against Us!

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

126 Q. What does the fifth request mean?

A. "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" means,

Because of Christ's blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.


2) Scripture

1 Corinthians 6:9-11: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Comment:

I don’t know about you, but I find these verses from 1 Corinthians 6 to be some of the scariest verses in the Bible. I find them scary for a simple reason: I am guilty of at least some of the sins in this list of sins that keep a person from the kingdom of God, i.e., heaven. And, the alternative to heaven, of course, is hell, which is a frightening prospect indeed.

The sexual sins in this list are especially frightening and damning, because in the west we have lived through and are continuing to experience the effects of the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s. This “revolution” has swept an entire generation into a new hedonistic view of sex. Sex in our culture is no longer the sacrament of marriage instituted by God, but a sign and seal to be used however men and women please. All of this to say, that many of us are guilty of sexual immorality, adultery, and even homosexuality. We have followed the lusts of our hearts rather than the way of the Lord.

Our society is also filled with “drunkards” which would include all of those who are enslaved to various substances be they drugs or alcohol. Greed, which is the love of money and possessions, is so prevalent in our affluent society that we have a hard time even recognizing that sin in ourselves. Reviling or abusive language has become so commonplace in our movies and political discourse that it is extremely easy sin for us to fall into.

But here is the scary thing: All of these sins can send us to hell. Jesus Christ through his apostle warns us not to be deceived, for all of these sins will keep us from inheriting the kingdom of God!
What can we do? How can we receive forgiveness? How can we be sure of heaven and avoid the real possibility of being cast outside his kingdom?

The answer is found in two words: repent and believe. Repentance and belief are found in that phrase in verse 11: “such were some of you.” We cannot continue in our sins and expect forgiveness and entrance into heaven. But repentance and faith bring about a change in us. We may continue to struggle with a particular sin, but having come to Christ we are no longer the same person. From now on repentance and faith characterize our lives. If we sin, we will repent and turn to Christ once more for cleansing and for strength to live for him.

There is a big difference between a sincere and struggling believer in Jesus Christ who wants to follow his Lord in a new way of life, and a person who lives entirely for his own lusts and the idols of his heart. Jesus Christ will not quench a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed (Matthew 12:20). He is patient and tender with those who sincerely struggle with sin but want to live for him. But the unrepentant and unbelieving person, who refuses to live for Christ, cannot expect forgiveness or entrance into his kingdom. God’s Word warns us, “Do not be deceived!”

But for those who come to Christ in repentance and faith, verse 11 promises wonderful blessings:

First, there is the washing or forgiveness of our sins.

Second, there is justification, which is God’s imputation of Christ’s righteousness to us.

Third, there is sanctification, which is God’s setting us apart for himself.

Fourth, there is the gift of the Spirit who unites us to Christ, whose kingly power enables us to come again and again to him for the gift of forgiveness and strength so that we might live for him, and not ourselves.

Discussion: What makes 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 scary? What makes 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 comforting? Can we be forgiven if we refuse to repent (turn away from sin) and believe (turn to Christ)? Describe the difference between a believer who struggles with sin and a person who is simply following his own lusts and idols.

Prayer Starter: Repent before the Lord of any sins or idols in your heart. Come to Christ and thank him for his patience, tenderness, forgiveness, justification, and Spirit.




Friday, March 20, 2009

The Briefing Library: Christ vs culture

Ray Galea has written the best small book on Roman Catholicism I have ever read. Ray grew up Catholic, and understands it well. In his article he argues for the need to evangelize Roman Catholics. --Bill

The Briefing Library: Christ vs culture

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The Humility of Confession and the Joy of Forgiveness

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism


The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

126 Q. What does the fifth request mean?

A. "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" means,

Because of Christ's blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.


2) Scripture

Psalm 51:4:

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.

1 Peter 5:5b-6: Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you . . . .”

Comment:

Sinclair Ferguson speaks of “the distinctive privilege of the minister of the gospel to pronounce the forgiveness of sins” by virtue of his “special and holy calling and as the means by which God chooses to make his word of grace known to us.” The minister of the gospel has the high privilege of declaring the forgiveness of sins to all who have repented and believed in Jesus Christ.

Ferguson goes on to explain why this word of forgiveness is so vital for sinners like us:

“Having rejected the word of God, it is to family physicians, hard-pressed for time, to analysts and psychiatrists that men and women now turn for the exorcism of the demons of the mind, and for the freeing of the conscience from the guilt that sears it. Others turn to the pop counsels of the day for assurance that their lives will be ‘OK’. These occupations command respect and a following by contrast with the gospel ministry. But sedatives and ‘forgiving ourselves’, or our family, or society are no substitute for being told that God has forgiven us. Since it is against God that we have sinned (Psalm 51:4), he alone can forgive us. It is to the gospel of Christ that
we must go to have our consciences cleansed, and therefore to the minister of that gospel sent to us by Christ for our good.”
I hope that you go to a church where you regularly confess your sins and hear the assurance of pardon. Historically, Reformed worship has practiced a corporate confession of sins followed by an assurance of pardon spoken by the minister, who in a special sense speaks on behalf of Christ. This part of the liturgy is described by Hughes Oliphant Old in this way: “First is the lamentation and confession of sin, then a supplication for forgiveness and an assurance of pardon spoken by the minister, and finally a psalm of thanksgiving sung by the congregation.”

It is important that in the corporate confession of sins we confess, not just our actual sins, but also our original sin. Q&A 126 recognizes that Christ’s forgiveness covers both our actual sins and original sin (sometimes called the flesh or sinful nature in the New Testament), when it says, “Do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us.” “The evil that constantly clings to us,” is a reference to the original sin that still clings even to the regenerate or born from above believers.

But some object that confessing sins in church doesn’t make them feel good. How often I’ve heard people say that they go to church so that they can feel better about themselves!

Ultimately, hearing God’s word of pardon and assurance will make us feel better! But we won’t feel better until our sin and guilt are squarely faced and confessed. The truth is that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The grace of God is a great blessing, comfort, and joy, but it is only for the humble. Until we confess the poverty that is ours because of sin, the riches of the gospel remain sealed in heaven. Until we confess the misery of our sinful condition, the comfort of the gospel will be withheld from us. Until we humble ourselves through the mirror of the law, we will not share in the gospel, whose goal is to lift us to the glory of God.

Discussion: Why must sin be confessed to God, according to Psalm 51:4? Why is it important to confess both our actual sins and original sin in the light of 1 Peter 5:5-6? How would you answer the person who objects to confessing sins as too depressing?

Prayer Starter: Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand by confessing your actual sins and original sin to him. Ask him to lift you up by his gospel of forgiveness and grace.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Costly Words that Heal our Souls

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as
we also have forgiven our debtors
.

126 Q. What does the fifth request mean?

A. "Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors" means,

Because of Christ's blood, do not hold against us, poor sinners that we are, any of the sins we do or the evil that constantly clings to us. Forgive us just as we are fully determined, as evidence of your grace in us, to forgive our neighbors.

2) Scripture

Mark 2:1-12: And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. 2 And many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door. And he was preaching the word to them. 3 And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. 4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay. 5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” 6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 7 “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? 9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home.” 12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

Comment:

Put yourselves in the shoes of the four men who went to so much trouble to get their paralyzed friend to Jesus. Who knows how far they had to carry the paralytic to get him to the house in Capernaum! But once they get him to the house, they are stymied from getting their paralyzed friend to Jesus because of the huge crowd. Instead of being deterred, however, they go to the considerable work of digging through the roof of the house to get their friend to Jesus!

But when they finally get him to Jesus there is no healing! Instead they only get words --- “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Very likely those men were disappointed. One can even imagine them saying, “What we want for our friend, Jesus, is healing! Please meet his real need!”

But the truth is that Jesus did meet the paralyzed man’s real need when he forgave his sins. The forgiveness of sins is the deepest, most real need of the human race. To hear God incarnate say to us, “Son or daughter, your sins are forgiven,” is to hear the greatest words a member of Adam’s fallen race can ever hear! More important than the healing of our bodies, and prior to the healing of our bodies at the day of resurrection, is the healing of our souls.


Jesus recognized that it was easier to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” than to say, “Rise . . . and walk.” The reason for this is verification. It was easy to verify if the paralyzed man was healed. But how do you verify the forgiveness of sins? Jesus heals the paralytic to verify that he has the authority to forgive sins.


But in another sense it was much harder for Jesus to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” than to say, “Rise . . . and walk.” To heal the paralytic’s body, Jesus had only to exercise his divine power. Jesus had only to say a word and the man’s body would be healed. But to forgive our sins was much more costly for our dear Savior. In order to accomplish our forgiveness, Jesus had to shed his blood, suffering bodily and spiritually at the cross in a way that exceeds our understanding. It’s no wonder that Peter points to the high price of our forgiveness in this way: “You were ransomed . . . not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18b-19a).


Don’t take those words, “Son, daughter, your sins are forgiven,” for granted! They are the best words you and I will ever hear. They are words of healing to our souls. They are words that meet the deepest need of our souls. They are costly words that come to us at the high price of the death of God’s Son. They are precious words that come to us only through the precious blood of Jesus to bring us true life.

Discussion: Why might the friends of the paralytic been disappointed with mere words from Jesus? Should we regard the words “Your sins are forgiven,” as merely words? How does forgiveness of sins meet our deepest need as sinful human beings?

Prayer Starter: Give thanks to the Father for sending his Son. Give thanks to Jesus for paying the high price necessary for the forgiveness of our sins. Give thanks to the Spirit for applying the words of forgiveness to our hearts, so that we believe the gospel message.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Father's Tender Care of Our Lives

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

125 Q. What does the fourth request mean?

A. "Give us today our daily bread" means,

Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.


And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and to put trust in you alone.

2) Scripture

1 Timothy 4:4-5: For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, 5 for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.

Romans 1:20-21: For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Matthew 5:44-45: But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Comment:

Human beings are dependent creatures. Even from a strictly human point of view our lives are completely dependent on others. As infants we depend entirely on our parents for cleansing, clothing, nourishment, education, and protection. As we grow older we are dependent on our teachers and training, none of which we can accomplish by ourselves. Even as adults we are dependent on the work of others: farmers, manufacturers, and grocers for our food; doctors and the medical establishment for our health; police officers and the government for our safety; businessmen and the economy for our livelihood.

But if we have eyes to see it, God’s good and powerful hand is behind all of this loving care. The heavenly Father cares for us through the love of parents. The heavenly Father feeds us through the vocations of farmers and grocers. The heavenly Father teaches us through the work and calling of schools and teachers. The heavenly Father heals us through the vocation of doctors, nurses, and even insurance companies! The heavenly Father protects us and gives us peace through his institution of government. God’s tender care of our lives is not negated by his use of means. Our Father continually cares, feeds, heals, teaches, and protects, but we often fail to see it because of our spiritual blindness.

This tender goodness of God comes to all of us as a gracious, undeserved gift. In Adam we forfeited our right to life and all of its means of support. The fact that the heavenly Father continues to graciously give good gifts to his rebellious creatures is evidence of his mercy and generosity.

How should we respond to this abundant generosity that comes to us from our Creator and Sustainer each day? The wicked respond with a proud independence and arrogance. They refuse to trace the stream of earthly gifts to their source in God. As Romans 1:21 says, “They did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” They continue in their futile and false thinking, speaking about an imagined independence.

But the righteous, who have been declared righteous in Christ, give thanks. The Lord opens their eyes to see his providential care of their lives. They see their dependence on God. They see that their life and ways are entirely in his hand (Daniel 5:23). They honor the triune God by receiving the gospel word concerning his Son, and they begin to live thankfully. 1 Timothy 4:4-5 becomes the rule of their use of God’s temporal gifts, i.e., our daily bread. Having received the word from God that his created gifts are good, we receive those gifts with words of thanksgiving to God. We also pray that we might use those good gifts as they were intended to be used for our Father’s glory our benefit and joy. For we have learned that none of our Father’s gifts can do us any good without his blessing.

Discussion: How does God feed, clothe, heal, teach, and protect “the just and the unjust”? Why do people have such difficulty in tracing the stream of earthly gifts to their source in the Lord? Describe the attitude and rule for the use of the good things of this life for those who belong to Christ.

Prayer Starter: Give thanks to the Father for all of his goodness and care to you throughout your life.




Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sadness in the King's Presence?

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

125 Q. What does the fourth request mean?

A. "Give us today our daily bread" means,

Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.

And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and to put trust in you
alone
.

2) Scripture

Nehemiah 2:1-2: In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid.

Matthew 9:14-15a: Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?

John 2:1-10: On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”


6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.”


Comment:

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the Persian king, Ataxerxes. Apparently, it was inappropriate for anyone to be sad in the presence of a Persian king, for Nehemiah “was very much afraid” when the king noticed his sadness of heart.

Jesus is a far greater king than Ataxerxes. Ataxerxes abandoned his throne about 2500 years ago. Jesus will never abandon his throne. Having been raised from the dead after his suffering, Jesus will occupy heaven’s throne forever, ruling over his universe.

Christians on this earth are already raised by faith into the presence of our resurrected king. We recognize this fact every time by prayer and the Spirit we enter his presence. We recognize this fact every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper and say, “Lift up your hearts,” and respond, “We lift them up unto the Lord.”

I wonder, then, as those who have entered into this heavenly fellowship, if sadness of heart is appropriate? I know that a full-orbed human life will involve us in every kind of human emotion. Even a brief look at the Psalms shows us that. But even in the Psalms joy is the prominent note, from the initial “blessed” of Psalm one to its final joyful note of praise in Psalm 150. Even the psalms of lament work themselves out from the cry to God to the praise of God.

But even more to the point, our resurrected king is also our bridegroom. In the bridegroom’s presence, should we not be joyful? Jesus is our Immanuel --- God with us. In him we have complete forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Can we really live in sadness if we believe he is always with us and have the blessing he earned for us by his death and resurrection?

At Cana we learn that our bridegroom gives us a quality of wine that cannot compare with anything this world has to offer. The wine symbolizes the joyful, satisfying life of the age to come, which Christ gives his people in the kingdom to come. But already that joyful life is ours, for Christ our king and bridegroom is ever with us and we with him.

Philip Ryken says that “the gift of our daily bread” is meant to teach us “to depend on God for life itself, not only physically, but also spiritually.” Jesus says, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life” (John 6:53). Have we learned the wonderful lesson of God’s sufficiency for our lives? Jesus Christ is all we need. We have the one thing that’s necessary! (Luke 10:38-42). When we learn this lesson well we will be content with our Father’s apportioning of the good things of this life, i.e., our daily bread.

Discussion: Do you think we ever insult God by our lack of happiness or contentment? What lesson should we learn from Christ as king, bridegroom, and giver of the best wine? Are you satisfied with Christ as your king, bridegroom, and giver of joy?

Prayer Starter: Pray for a heart that is satisfied with your Lord Jesus Christ. Confess your discontent and unbelief. Ask the Spirit to illuminate your heart to see the sufficiency of your King.





Monday, March 16, 2009

Temporal Gifts as Pointers to God and His Goodness

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

125 Q. What does the fourth request mean?

A. "Give us today our daily bread" means,

Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.

And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and to put trust in you alone.

2) Scripture

Matthew 4:1-4: Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Comment:

In the petition, “Give us today our daily bread,” the word bread in literary terms is called a synechdoche. A synechdoche occurs when a word is used to designate a whole class of things of which it is a part. The catechism rightly understands bread to stand for “all of our physical needs” of which bread is the most basic. Living in America in the 21st century, then, bread would include not only food, drink, housing, and employment, but also a car to get us back and forth from work, maybe a computer to help us do our work better, and many other things as well.

But why is the word daily added as a modifier of bread? It is added to show us that we should be content with our Father’s allotment to us of the good things of this life. As the Puritan divine William Ames said, “We should not prescribe to God what measure of these things he should assign to us, but we should rest in his will.”

The great 20th century British preacher, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones left a promising career in medicine to preach God’s Word. In the midst of this transition his wife asked him, “But how do you know that you can preach?” He replied, “I know I can preach to myself.” When it comes to the issue of contentment, I feel a bit like and unlike Lloyd-Jones. How do I know I have anything to say on the subject of contentment? I know because I’ve struggled with contentment for a long time!

Contentment is all about learning to rightly use the good things of this life. Contentment is learning to be satisfied with the Father’s allotment or assigning of his temporal gifts.

What do we learn from Jesus about contentment as we see him without bread in the wilderness? The first thing to notice is his priorities. Fellowship with his heavenly Father was always his highest goal, delight, and blessing. Christ hungered and thirsted for a right relationship with his Father above all else. His communion with the Father was enabled by the Father’s word and teaching.

The second thing to see about Christ was how he viewed temporal blessings like bread. Bread for Christ pointed to the teaching, nourishment, and fellowship that came from his Father’s word. The spiritual mind of Jesus always moved from earth to heaven, from the physical to the spiritual, from the sign to the thing signified. He did not despise earthly things, but recognized that earthly things always point to things higher than themselves.

Our problem is that we trust in the created things which God graciously gives us as pointers to himself and his goodness. We fail to raise our hearts to the better things earthly gifts point to. Is there beauty in the world? It is meant to show us the beauty of God. Do bread and wine nourish our bodies and gladden our hearts? It is meant to show us the nourishment and joy we have in fellowship with the Father and the Son. Are our families and homes places of security and joy? They are meant to point us to our true home in heaven where we enjoy rest and happiness now and forever.

Instead of making idols of the good things of life, we should use those good things to lift our hearts to heaven. Our souls are created with a capacity that exceeds the whole world, and this means that only the triune God can fill and satisfy us. Therefore, let’s use and enjoy the good things our Father gives us. But let us also lift our hearts higher, for his gifts can do us no good if we miss his blessing.

Discussion: Why did Jesus add the word daily in the Lord’s Prayer? How is contentment related to God’s portioning out to us the good things of this life? What two things can we learn to imitate in Christ’s life to move us to contentment?

Prayer Starter: Praise the Father’s wisdom in the gifts he has given you. Ask him to meet any physical needs you have knowing that in Christ the Father loves his children.


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Three Chains that Bind us to Christ

I found these beautiful words from William Ames, who was a brilliant Puritan minister and theologian in the early 1600s:

"There are three chains of union that are used in our conjuntion with God in Christ: the Spirit, faith, and love. The Spirit is a chain by whom Christ lays hold of us and binds us to Himself. Faith is a chain by which we lay hold of Christ and we apply Him to ourselves. Love is a chain through which we hand over and consecrate our all to Christ. Among these, however, faith is the first chain by which we lay hold of Christ. On the other hand, faith follows the operation of the Spirit as its effect, and for this reason it is called the gift of God and the gift of the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, it precedes love and the hope of salvation."

I was especially appreciative of that last chain Ames mentions --- the chain of love. I struggle with devotion to Christ in my struggle with sin and self. It is easy to forget that it is love that will bring about devotion and commitment to Christ. We obey Christ because we love him.




Saturday, March 14, 2009

Corporate Confession of Sins: Part Three

Almighty and merciful God,
we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep.
We have followed too much
the devices and desires of our own hearts.
We have offended against your holy laws.
We have left undone those things which we ought to have done;
and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.
O Lord, have mercy upon us.
Spare those who confess their faults.
Restore those who are penitent,
according to your promises declared to the world
in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
And grant, O merciful God, for his sake,
that we may live a holy, just, and humble life
to the glory of your holy name. Amen.


I find this corporate confession of sins from the Book of Common Prayer very moving. Is there a confession of original sin in this confession? I think so. It is found in these two sentences:
  • We have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep.
  • We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.

Like sheep we have followed the lead sheep, Adam, into sin. But it is not just his example we have followed. We are also born with his sinful likeness. This is the reason we err and stray. This is why our inclination is to follow the devices and desires of our own hearts. The sinful poison of independence from God and his Word has entered our blood stream.

From original sin, the prayer moves to actual sins: "We have offended against your holy laws." Some of us offend against his holy laws by ignorance. I am amazed in our culture, for example, how people no longer realize that fornication (premarital sex) is against God's holy law. We also sin against his laws through weakness. And some sin against his laws defiantly.

Then the prayer confesses our sins of omission: "We have left undone those things which we ought to have done." We are far from perfect conformity to God's law in this life, and our sins of omission are another way we see our fall from the glory of God we were created to reflect on the earth.

The only plea we can make before our God is the plea for mercy. If the Lord gave us what we deserve, the just penalty would be eternal death. Throughout Scripture we learn that "the wages of sin is death." The Lord is under no obligation to grant us mercy. His obligation is to give us justice. But he chooses in Christ to give mercy to his people. His mercy comes as a free gift through his Son. Romans 6:23 summarizes our situation: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

The next four lines of the prayer point to the response we need to make:

Spare those who confess their faults.
Restore those who are penitent,
according to your promises declared to the world
in Christ Jesus, our Lord.


We must repent and believe. Repentance is seen in the words confess and penitent. Repentance involves three things:
  1. We confess and agree with God's verdict on our lives. We confess that he is right in his judgment of us. We confess both our original sin and actual sins. We acknowledge that his ways are right and we are entirely in the wrong.
  2. We mourn over our sin. We tell the Lord that we are sorry for how we have treated him and others. How we have sinned against his love and the love of others.
  3. We resolve, with the Spirit's help, to follow the Lord and not our own hearts.

But if repentance is turning away from ourselves, faith is turning to the mercy of our God in Christ Jesus. By faith we take hold of the promises God has declared to the world in his Son. The promise is forgiveness and eternal life to all who come to his Son in repentant faith. These promises have come to many of us personally by name in our baptism. We add to our sin if we do not believe these gospel promises are for us. The ultimate proof of God's favorable intentions toward us is the giving of His Son. The Father's gift of his beloved Son is the ultimate sacrament. How it should remind and assure us of his favorable attitude toward us!

The last three lines of the prayer are in keeping with our repentance and faith. We want to turn from our ways in sorrowful repentance and turn to the Lord in joyful faith. In this life, sorrow and joy will be mingled together in the hearts of Christ's people. These last three lines express the goal of our lives as Christians who live lives of regular repentance and faith:

And grant, O merciful God, for his sake,
that we may live a holy, just, and humble life
to the glory of your holy name.

Our motivation is love for Christ, who purchased us with his blood. It is for his sake that we want to live new lives that are "holy, just, and humble." The new life that flows from from that love brings glory to God's holy name.

This prayer from the Book of Common Prayer is masterful in its language and its understanding of the human disease and cure. Let's pray it regularly until we need to pray it no more --- when the Lord brings us by his mercy into his presence where sin, and sins, are banished forever.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Obama's Perpetuation of a Needless Stem-Cell War

Between Two Worlds

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Respecting Our Leaders, While Decrying their Unjust Decisions


While we certainly want to honor the new President of the United States, in keeping with Scripture's command to respect all authority, this doesn't mean we have to agree with his policies. Especially, on moral questions, we should respectfully and forcefully stand for the truth, without engaging in ad hominem attacks on our leaders. We can respect our leaders and their offices by the grace of Christ, even when we disagree with their unjust policies. God's Word, not majority opinion or the opinions of our leaders, is the final arbiter of our consciences in matters of faith and morality. We cannot let our consciences be enslaved to anything other than the Word of God.

I came across the above picture depicting how quickly the human being develops physically in the womb. Maybe a picture like this can help us to see why our President is sinning by encouraging more destruction in the womb.

But, even without pictures, for Christians, life always begins at conception because our Lord Jesus Christ was conceived in his mother's womb, according to Scripture. Christ's conception authoritatively answers the question as to when human life begins.

Barack Obama's latest rulings on fetal research is heart breaking, but not surprising. One has to pray for God's mercy on our president, who has made such a wicked moral decision. But we also have to include ourselves in our prayers of confession, for we too are in this society even if we are not of it in terms of our approval of what it does. Like Isaiah, we need to confess our sin, and our society's sin: “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!”

Below is an article from the Wall Street Journal decrying the ruling by the President.


The President Politicizes Stem-Cell Research
Taxpayers have a right to be left out of it.

By ROBERT P. GEORGE and ERIC COHEN

Yesterday President Barack Obama issued an executive order that authorizes expanded federal funding for research using stem cells produced by destroying human embryos. The announcement was classic Obama: advancing radical policies while seeming calm and moderate, and preaching the gospel of civility while accusing those who disagree with the policies of being "divisive" and even "politicizing science."

Mr. Obama's executive order overturned an attempt by President George W. Bush in 2001 to do justice to both the promise of stem-cell science and the demands of ethics. The Bush policy was to allow the government to fund research on existing embryonic stem-cell lines, where the embryos in question had already been destroyed. But it would not fund, or in any way incentivize, the ongoing destruction of human embryos.

For years, this policy was attacked by advocates of embryo-destructive research. Mr. Bush and the "religious right" were depicted as antiscience villains and embryonic stem-cell scientists and their allies were seen as the beleaguered saviors of the sick. In reality, Mr. Bush's policy was one of moderation. It did not ban new embryo-destructive research (the president had no power to do that), and it did not fund new embryo-destructive research.

"Moderate" Mr. Obama's policy is not. It will promote a whole new industry of embryo creation and destruction, including the creation of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are destroyed. It forces American taxpayers, including those who see the deliberate taking of human life in the embryonic stage as profoundly unjust, to be complicit in this practice.

Mr. Obama made a big point in his speech of claiming to bring integrity back to science policy, and his desire to remove the previous administration's ideological agenda from scientific decision-making. This claim of taking science out of politics is false and misguided on two counts.

First, the Obama policy is itself blatantly political. It is red meat to his Bush-hating base, yet pays no more than lip service to recent scientific breakthroughs that make possible the production of cells that are biologically equivalent to embryonic stem cells without the need to create or kill human embryos. Inexplicably -- apart from political motivations -- Mr. Obama revoked not only the Bush restrictions on embryo destructive research funding, but also the 2007 executive order that encourages the National Institutes of Health to explore non-embryo-destructive sources of stem cells.

Second and more fundamentally, the claim about taking politics out of science is in the deepest sense antidemocratic. The question of whether to destroy human embryos for research purposes is not fundamentally a scientific question; it is a moral and civic question about the proper uses, ambitions and limits of science. It is a question about how we will treat members of the human family at the very dawn of life; about our willingness to seek alternative paths to medical progress that respect human dignity.

For those who believe in the highest ideals of deliberative democracy, and those who believe we mistreat the most vulnerable human lives at our own moral peril, Mr. Obama's claim of "taking politics out of science" should be lamented, not celebrated.

In the years ahead, the stem-cell debate will surely continue -- raising as it does big questions about the meaning of human equality at the edges of human life, about the relationship between science and politics, and about how we govern ourselves when it comes to morally charged issues of public policy on which reasonable people happen to disagree. We can only hope, in the years ahead, that scientific creativity will make embryo destruction unnecessary and that as a society we will not pave the way to the brave new world with the best medical intentions.

Mr. George is professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton and co-author of "Embryo: A Defense of Human Life" (Doubleday, 2008). Mr. Cohen is editor-at-large of The New Atlantis and author of "In the Shadow of Progress: Being Human in the Age of Technology" (Encounter, 2008).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Living as Children of God and not Brute-Beasts

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

125 Q. What does the fourth request mean?

A. "Give us today our daily bread" means,

Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.

And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and to put trust in you alone.

2) Scripture

Matthew 6: 31-33: Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Acts 14: 14-17: But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

Comment

One of the questions to be answered about the petition, “Give us today our daily bread,” is just what is meant by “daily bread”? For many centuries, Christians considered this petition to be a request for supernatural bread, that is, the bread of the Lord’s Supper. The Vulgate or Latin translation of the Bible translated “daily bread” as panis supersubstantialis,[1] which is Latin for supernatural bread.[2]

This Latin translation may have been influenced by the thought that prayer for mere physical bread was out of character with the spiritual nature of the Lord’s Prayer. But it was the Lord himself who taught us that his heavenly Father is concerned about the physical needs of his children! Jesus said, “Do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”

Eating, drinking, and clothing---these are all physical needs, and Jesus tells us that the Father knows we need such physical necessities. Our Lord then goes on to assure us that the Father will meet our physical needs in the very next verse: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

So were earlier generations of Christians entirely wrong in thinking that “daily bread” was a reference to Jesus Christ, “the bread who came down from heaven”? (John 6:41). I think it would be wrong to say they were entirely wrong, for it is a short step from our bodies to our souls! Jesus himself moves very quickly in Matthew 6:31-33 from our physical needs to our spiritual needs! And, Paul, sees God’s gift of food and drink to all people as a witness to God’s gracious and generous character. God is good and he gives good gifts to all people despite their walking in “their own ways” rather than the ways of the Lord.

In Luke 11, Jesus spoke of earthly fathers who give food to their children: “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?” (v. 11-12). But then Jesus moves from earthly fathers to the heavenly Father, and says, “How much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (v. 13). Earthly fathers are known for giving their children physical gifts. Jesus’ Father, and our Father through faith in his Son, is known for giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit, who brings us into union with Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Lord and the true bread of heaven (John 6:32).

So is the “daily bread” of the Lord’s Prayer a reference to physical bread or is it also a reference to Jesus Christ, “the bread of life”? (John 6:35). It seems clear that daily bread is a reference to “all of our physical needs,” as the catechism says. But let’s also remember the connection Jesus drew between physical bread and himself as the bread of life. If our bodies need daily bread, how much more do our spirits need the daily bread of heaven. Let’s not live as brute-beasts who care only for their bodies and nothing for their souls. Let’s live as children of God who daily look to their Father to be fed spiritually on Jesus Christ, our living and heavenly bread.

Discussion: How does Jesus move from physical needs to spiritual needs in Matthew 6:31-33 and in Luke 11:11-13? Are you more concerned with missing a meal or missing your daily time with the Lord in his Word? If you are a parent, are you making sure your children get their spiritual meals?

Prayer Starter: Praise the Father for his goodness and generosity. Come to Christ and feed on him by believing and taking hold of his blessings promised to you.



[1] Most are agreed that this is a poor translation of the Greek word epiousios. Even Roman Catholic scholars, like Max Zerwick translate the word as meaning for the coming day.
[2] The physical bread in the Lord’s Supper is not supernatural. In fact, in many historic Reformed liturgies, people are urged to take their eyes off of the physical bread in order to turn the eyes of their faith to Jesus Christ in heaven, upon whom we feed spiritually and receive spiritual life.

J.I. Packer on wisdom and the fear of God

The post below comes from Jean Williams' blog, In All Honesty. She quotes J.I. Packer on wisdom. Packer's thoughts mirror the beginning of John Calvin's Geneva Catechism:


1. What is the chief end of human life?
A. To know God.

2. Why do you say that?
A. Because He created us and placed us in this world to be glorified in us. And it is indeed right that our life, of which He Himself is the beginning, should be devoted to His glory.

3. What is the sovereign good of man?
A. The same thing.

4. Why do you hold that to be the sovereign good?
A. Because without it our condition is more miserable than that of brute-beasts.

5. Hence, then, we see that nothing worse can happen to a man than to live without God.
A. It is so.

Packer is wise in pointing out that we cannot live with God if we live without His revelation, which is found in His Word, the Bible.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009
JI Packer on wisdom and the fear of God

Probably the most common definition for the fear of the LORD is reverence or awe. After weeks of trying to work out what "the fear of God" is, I've come full circle and decided that this is a pretty good definition.

The reason I don't just stop there and be done with it is that "reverence" and "awe" are very slippery terms, and I'd like to unpack exactly what they mean (a vague feeling of devotion? obedient service? fear without the scary bits? all of the above?).

Here's a great passage from JI Packer where he defines "the fear of the Lord" as "reverence", and explains how it leads to wisdom.



Where can we find wisdom? What steps must a person take to lay hold of this gift? There are two prerequisites, according to Scripture.

First, we must learn to reverence God. 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom' (Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; cf. Job 28:28; Prov. 1:7; 15:33). Not till we have
become humble and teachable, standing in awe of God's holiness and sovereignty
('the great and awesome [fearful] God', Neh. 1:5; cf. 4:14; 9:32; Deut. 7:21; 10:17; Ps. 99:3; Jer. 20:11), acknowledging our own littleness, distrusting our own thoughts, and willing to have our minds turned upside down, can divine wisdom become ours.

It is to be feared that many Christians spend all their lives in too unhumbled and conceited a frame of mind ever to gain wisdom from God at all. Not for nothing does Scripture say, 'with the lowly is wisdom' (Prov. 11:2 KJV).

Then, second, we must learn to receive God's word. Wisdom is divinely wrought in those, and those only, who apply themselves to God's revelation. 'Your commands make me wiser than my enemies,' declares the psalmist, 'I have more insight than all my teachers:' why? - 'for I meditate on your statutes' (Ps. 119:98 f.). And here is the rest of it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Humbling Petition: "Give us today our daily bread"

Reading:

1) Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.

125 Q. What does the fourth request mean?

A. "Give us today our daily bread" means,

Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing.

And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and to put trust in you alone.

2) Scripture

Genesis 2:17: “ . . . but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Deuteronomy 8:17-18a: Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ 18 You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth . . .

Romans 8:31-32: What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

Comment:

Philip Ryken tells the story of a publisher who wrote an article to explain why he no longer prays. This man wrote, “I don’t pray any more. I’ve given it up for Lent. Also for Advent and Pentecost. . . . How can I maintain, without lying, that God has a hand in this meal?”

As Ryken says, “Apparently, this man thought it would be somehow dishonest to pray for his daily bread. He had earned the paycheck. He had gone to the grocery store. He had untwisted the tie on the bread bag and made his sandwich. What did God have to do with it?”

The truth is that there is only one independent, self-existing being in the universe, and we are not him! The Lord alone is the great I AM, who is eternal and self-existing. Everything else in his universe depends on him. Everything else depends on his will and power for existence. The fact that we have nothing to do with keeping our hearts beating or our lungs breathing at this moment should be sufficient evidence to dispel any notion of human autonomy and independence. The truth is that we are all dependent on the Lord as our creator and sustainer.

So Jesus rightly commands us to use the word give in our petition for daily bread, since we are dependent on the Father for our physical existence and sustenance. But the word give is doubly appropriate because we are also dependent sinners. When Adam rebelled against the Lord, and we with him, we forfeited our right to bread. Death or the loss of life was the penalty for sin, and this loss of life included the means of support for physical life, namely, bread. When any of us receive our daily bread, and this includes the care of all of our physical needs, this is a gracious, undeserved gift of God to sinners who have forfeited their right to God’s provision.

But what about the proud man who thinks it dishonest to pray for the things he himself has provided by his own work? Such a man is a fool. He doesn’t realize he is a creature who depends on the Lord for existence and life each moment. He is also ignorant that it is the Lord who gives him whatever ability he has to make a living.

This one word of Jesus, give, should humble us. For our physical life and all that is necessary to maintain it is his gracious, undeserved gift to us. But even more humbling is the fact that he sent his beloved Son as a gracious, undeserved gift to us. John 1:12 promises that all who receive and believe in his Son, are given the amazing privilege of being called the children of God: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . . .” Such children can confidently trust that their Father will give them their daily bread, for he has already given them the far greater gift of Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven.

Discussion: What does the truth that the Lord alone is the self-existing and independent mean for us? Does the sinful human race deserve bread as a right or was that right forfeited in Adam’s sin? How do we see God’s undeserved grace when he gives us our daily bread? How do we see God’s grace in his giving us his Son, who is called the bread of God that came down from heaven?

Prayer Starter: Praise the Lord for his self-existence and independence and that all creatures depend on him in his universe. Thank him for his grace in giving you your daily bread, and even more, for his grace in offering you his Son.

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