Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Speed of Light

An event happened several weeks ago that I can't get off my mind. Researchers at the CERN lab near Geneva claimed to have recorded neutrinos travelling faster than the speed of light. That may not seem important to the average person, but for the scientific world it was huge; huge because according to Einstein's theory of relativity nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light in a vacuum (186,282 miles per second). This has been a standard in the world of physics for over one hundred years. This has left the scientific world in a state of shock. In an article in the British paper, The Telegraph, Professor Jenny Thomas, of University College London, says the claims if proven true would call into question our very understanding of physics and the universe. She said, "It would turn everything on its head. It is too awful to think about."

Wait a minute. Isn't every declaration from the scientific community unassailable truth? Are they not as gods who have infinite knowledge and wisdom? And don't they look upon those who question their infinite wisdom as poor unintelligent fools?

So, let me see if I've got this straight. Could it be that they don't possess all of the knowledge of the universe after all? Perhaps they don't have as much knowledge as they thought. Could it be the theory of evolution will also soon be proven wrong? Will they soon discover that the age of the universe isn't thirteen billion years old after all? Will they soon discover that global warming isn't man-made after all? Will they soon discover that life begins at conception after all? Will they soon discover that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle after all? Could it be that there is actually a God who created this world and rules over it with absolute sovereign power? Could it be that all will stand before Him to give account--and all will be found wanting; all have broken His law. Could it be that our only hope is to trust in the Gospel of Christ--that He died on the cross to bear the penalty that we deserved? Could it be?

Oh, the foolishness of man. How hard it is to humble ourselves before the absolute wisdom of God. He alone is the source of all truth, absolute unassailable truth.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What's in a Life?

What's in a life? A man is born and he lives out his days, and then he dies. Solomon pondered such things. "What advantage does a man have in all his work which he does under the sun? A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever" (Ecclesiastes 1:4-5). With a cynical heart he concludes: "I have seen all the works that have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after the wind" (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

As I consider the life of Steve Jobs I'm not quite so cynical. Born February 24, 1955, he died on October 5, 2011. What can be said of his 56 years? Surely under his oversight Apple Inc. developed technologies that have transformed the world. Besides the Apple/Mac Computer, the iPod and iTunes changed the way we listen to music, and in 2007 the iPhone swept onto the scene with technology that changed the way we connect with the world. In addition, his involvement with Pixar changed the way we view animation. The effect a single life can have upon the world can be enormous.

But we must never forget the source of all things. God raises up and brings down. Every invention, every idea is governed by His infinite wisdom and sovereign reign. All wealth is distributed by God. Steve Jobs was what he was by the sovereign hand of God. Every dollar of his $8.3 billion in net worth was by God's design. "The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up. The LORD makes poor and rich; He brings low, He also exalts" (1 Samuel 2:6-7). In the end every man will stand before God to give account. At that time things become very simple. We will either stand before Him in our sin and declared guilty and condemned or will we stand before Him in Christ with our sins forgiven and covered by a righteousness not our own. Most know Steve Jobs was a Buddhist. Perhaps a devout Buddhist. Perhaps a sincere Buddhist. But without Christ there is no way to deal with the issue of his sin. In the end no amount of wealth will serve as a substitute for Christ. "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul" (Matthew 16:26). Perhaps Solomon was not so cynical after all.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The first evening of the Expositor's Conference was great. Once again the hospitality of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church overflowed as their membership labored with joyous service.

After a savory supper of fried fish we gathered in the Sanctuary for the beginning of the Conference. Steven Lawson preached from Colossians 1 and Al Mohler's sermon focused on the first four verses of Hebrews 1. This year's theme is the "Preeminence of Christ in Preaching" and both of these men lifted Christ high as they took their texts and exposed all of the choice savor of Christ in the Scriptures. We were richly reminded once again that true preaching keeps Christ as the focus; not just saying nice things about Jesus or even right things about Jesus, but declaring plainly that all of Scripture is a declaration of Christ. We know when Christ has been properly exalted in preaching when the hearts of God's people burn within them as they hear of His excellence.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Fruit of the Spirit - Book Review

This book by J.V. Fesko is small in size (only 80 pages) but large in food for thought. Dr. Fesko is the Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary, California. His writing style is clear and simple, yet meaty. The book deals chiefly with the subject of sanctification; that the Christian has been saved not only from the penalty of sin but also from its power. "God breaks the power of Satan, sin and death by redeeming us from the kingdom of darkness, the fallen reign of Adam. He indwells us with his Holy Spirit and produces this fruit of righteousness in us" (p. 64).

Fesco does a wonderful job of drawing from the Old Testament in describing the work of the Holy Spirit in the sanctification of the believer. He makes the connection of Israel's exodus with the Christian's journey in grace. Israel suffered under the cruel bondage of the Egyptians until God freed them by His mighty power. He sent forth Moses to lead them out of their bondage and then manifested His presence as He led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. This redemption event served as a foreshadow of God's greater redemption of His people from their sin. He sent forth a greater Deliverer than Moses in the person of Christ and then leads us by the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. The prophet Haggai writes, "Work for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not" (Haggai 2:4b-5 ESV). In describing the work of the Holy Spirit Fesco writes, "we must follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, and if we do so, then we will not desire to satisfy and gratify the wicked desires of the flesh" (pp 33-34).

Fesco, however, goes beyond the Exodus account to demonstrate that the "fruit of the Spirit" so familiar to us in Galatians 5 is actually the ongoing fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. For example, in Isaiah 5 the prophet likens Israel to a vineyard which God carefully nurtures and cultivates with expectation of fruitfulness. Instead of a rich crop of grapes suitable for fine wine the vineyard yielded wild grapes. What would be done with such a vineyard but destruction. "I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but their shall come forth briars and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it" (Isaiah 5:1-7). Israel was fruitless and suffered God's judgment but God promised to rebuild His vineyard through His fruitful Servant (Isaiah 11:1-5). Fesko writes of the fruitfulness of God promised in Isaiah 27:6, "The fruit of which Isaiah writes is not literal -- Isaiah is not referring to bananas and mangos! Rather, he is referring to the fruit of righteousness and justice" (p 46).

Following the methodology of John Owen, this book is not only rich in laying the theological foundations, it is also rich in application. For example Fesko writes, "When you respond to your children in patience, even though they have tested you and you have every right to be angry, the long-promised Spirit is producing his fruit in you. You resign your desire to respond in anger and instead rely upon the power of the Spirit to respond in patience. To act in such a manner is to walk in the Spirit; it is to pursue righteousness--to deny ourselves and follow Christ" (p. 52).

In Chapter 6 Fesko gets to the heart of the Galatians 5:22 text, examining the "fruit of the Spirit." He is wonderfully Christological in his analysis of the text. He writes, "We must not idealize these moral qualities in an abstract manner but rather define them in terms of God's revelation in Christ. By so doing, we hopefully realize that God is forming Christ in us, as we begin to see our need to reflect Christ's righteousness in every word, thought, and deed" (p. 57).

The whole of the book flows powerfully to the final chapter which asks the question, "How do I obtain this fruit?" This is the million dollar question that Fesko answers well, "We must never forget that godliness and the fruit of the Spirit cannot be found within ourselves. Rather, we must look to Christ by faith alone, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit, and trust in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension on our behalf to save us from our sins. Only Christ's life of perfect obedience can fulfil the law's demands for sinless perfection" (p. 67). He then skillfully describes the importance of the use of means in bringing about our sanctification. These include God's Word, the sacraments, and prayer. "One day, all of God's people will cross the threshold of the celestial city, the New Jerusalem, and never struggle with the desire to return to Egypt, to the bondage of the law. Until that day, seek Christ in the visible word and invisible word, Word and sacrament, and cry out in prayer that Christ would conform us to his holy and righteous image" (p. 80).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Women Teaching Men

We sometimes meet people who struggle with the question of whether Paul's charge for women to "be silent" in 1 Timothy 2 is still relevant for today. The contention seems to be that Paul was speaking only to a situation facing the first century church. Allow me to reiterate some of the reasons why Paul's charge to the women is, without question, universal in scope.

First, Paul's instruction is in the context of his charge to the local church in general. In Chapter 3 Paul states that his reason for writing this epistle was to give instruction regarding the order of every church (1 Timothy 3:14-15). At the beginning of this section in 1 Timothy 2 Paul gives instruction for prayer in the church. He charges the men using a word that speaks of men in contrast to boys and in contrast to women. He charges them to pray "in every place," implying that the women were not to speak "in every place," that is, in the assembly of the local church. There is nothing in this that appears to address a particular local situation. Rather, Paul is giving instruction that applies to every church.

Second, Paul addresses the besetting sins that are particular to men and women of all ages. For the men, they are to guard against strife, quarrels, and aggression (verse 8). This is universal in scope. Men are naturally more aggressive than women. It was Cain who killed Abel. The number of men incarcerated for violent crimes far exceeds that of women. For the women, they are to guard against inordinate attention to personal appearance (verse 9). This is also universal in scope. The fashion, cosmetic, and jewelry industries are primarily supported by women. Obviously, Paul wasn't speaking of a particular, local situation here. Rather he was speaking of something that applies universally to man and women.

Third, Paul recognizes the consistent principle of masculine headship that God established at creation. Adam was created first from the dust of the ground. Eve was formed from Adam as his helper and she was named "woman" in relationship to the man (Genesis 2:22). God gave his covenant to Adam and held Adam accountable for its breach (original sin coming through him). Paul links this passage in 1 Timothy 2 to Eve's sin in Genesis 3. In 1 Timothy 2:11 he charges women to a place of submission. In verse 12 he forbids them from the exercise of teaching men in the church. Then in verses 13-14 he connects it to Eve's sin. What exactly was the nature of Eve's sin? She rejected Adam's role as her head and leader. Instead she took charge of the situation. She examined the fruit and found it good; she made the decision to partake of the fruit; and she took the position as the leader in her home by giving the fruit to her husband. In essence Paul is saying, I do not allow a woman to teach or assume authority over the man because this is exactly what Even did.

In other words, Paul was not addressing a particular, localized situation. Rather, he is speaking of a principle going back to creation, one that applies to men and women for all generations.

Monday, June 20, 2011

2011 Trinity Baptist Church VBS



Our 2011 VBS was blessed of the Lord. The children were very attentive to the teaching as the Gospel was carefully applied to their hearts. Our prayer is that the Holy Spirit will work effectually in each of them.

Special thanks to all of our workers who served diligently in order to make this event a success. God has blessed Trinity with so many who have a mind to work and a heart to do it to the glory of Christ.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Can Christians Practice Yoga?

I was recently asked the question, "Should Christians practice yoga?" Let me say a few things in preface to my answer. First, I've never practiced yoga, which for some would disqualify me from answering the question. As a pastor, however, I often address issues of which I have no personal experience. I've never been divorced or committed adultery. I'm not an alcoholic or addicted to drugs, gambling, or pornography, but as a pastor I feel qualified to speak on all these and many other subjects from a Biblical prospective. Second, the Bible says nothing explicitly against yoga, which requires great caution on my part. I never want to bind the consciences of others with my ideas or opinions. I think the Bible, however, gives us sufficient implicit teaching to cause us to question the validity of yoga for Christians. Third, I recognize that there are some who are greatly invested in the practice of yoga and so my words will seem inflammatory and they will find many ways to dismiss them. To them I must raise this caution. We must always pay great attention to those things that we are passionate about. As Christians, our great passion must always be Christ and we must always be willing to bring all things under His dominion. Fourth, there are men who are much more able than I who have already dealt with this subject in the past. For example, Albert Mohler posted a blog on the subject in September, 2010. I surely don't claim as much knowledge as some of my colleagues in the ministry. With that said, let me say a few things about Christians practicing yoga.

Yoga has always been associated with the Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, both of which are in distinct contrast with Christianity. The Eastern religions look to the divine within; the idea that we ARE God, and if you are quiet enough and still enough (or hold a pose long enough) you can discover it. The goal of yoga is the attaining of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility. Christianity, on the other hand, looks for God outside of ourselves. Although we believe the Holy Spirit resides within us, we see God as transcendent, greater than us and above us. We seek God outside of ourselves through His Word and through His appointed means of grace. This means the concept of yoga and Christianity are diametrically opposed to one another.

An important element in yoga is meditation. Meditation in yoga, however, is an emptying of the mind, often including the chanting of the same word, phrase, or sound over and over in order to direct the attention inward. Meditation in Christianity is not the clearing of the mind but the filling of the mind and directing our thoughts outward. "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

So can a Christian practice yoga? Certainly it is permissible for Christians to do various stretching exercises, but yoga is more than stretching. Yoga is inseparably connected to religion which is contrary to our life in Christ. One must question why a Christian would want to be involved in anything that might in any way direct himself away from the centrality of Christ. As Christians we give ourselves completely over to His lordship. "I urge you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2). Notice, the Christian is renewed through the transforming of the mind, not the emptying of the mind.

God gives us the rule of life in His Word. The Bible never prescribes for us to empty or clear our minds and then focus all of our attention inwardly upon ourselves. Instead, we are commanded to focus on God and His Word.
"When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches" (Psalm 63:6).
"I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways" (Psalm 119:15).
"And I shall life up my hands to Your commandments, Which I love; And I will meditate on Your statutes" (Psalm 119:48).

Again, yoga is inseparably connected to the Eastern religions. You can no more have Christian yoga than you can have Christian Buddhism. Knowing the dangers of yoga, sound counsel for the Christian would be to avoid it. There are so many other ways to exercise and stay in shape.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

ARBCA Conference Day 3

Day three of the ARBCA General Assembly opened with a devotional by Pastor Steven Woodman on the question of John the Baptist, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for another" (Matthew 11:3). The focus was how to deal with doubts. This was followed by another theological discussion which was profitable. This was followed by several missionary reports: Jim Adams and Don Donell brought reports about the work in Chili and Argentina. Don Lindblad gave a report on the work in Cuba. I was particularly blessed to sit with a group at lunch and hear from Steven Murphy as he shared his testimony and the work of his church in Ireland.

At 4:45 Dr. Mike Renihan preached a sermon on "Prayer as a Means of Grace." Prayer is the blanket that wraps and glue that binds the other means of grace. Prayer is a part of natural religion that precedes the fall; it is the oldest means of grace. Like the other means of grace it is of Divine origin and contains Divine promises. Prayer is both a private and public means of grace. It was a foundational practice that defined the early church. Prayer is an essential part of the pastoral ministry. We speak to men on behalf of God in preaching. We speak to God on behalf of men in prayer.

The final evening session began at 7:00 with Pastor Steve Garrick preaching on "The Minister's Expectation of Success." This was a stirring close to the 2011 General Assembly. Using 1 Timothy 4:16 Pastor Garrick proved that the pastor has every right to expect Biblical success--God's blessings upon his ministry. Pastors are proof that Christ loves the church because He has gifted them to minister to His church. Using the text Pastor Garrick gave four elements to his argument:
1. There is Biblical warrant to expect success - "For as you do this you will ensure salvation both to yourself and to those who hear you." Success in the pastoral ministry is the salvation of God's elect and the sanctification of the same.
2. The blessing is contingent upon the pastor taking heed to himself - "pay close attention to yourself." The pastor must give himself to physical discipline, to spiritual discipline, and to ministerial discipline.
3. The blessing is contingent upon the pastor taking heed to his teaching - "and to your teaching." "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching" (1 Timothy 4:13).
4. The blessing is contingent upon consistency; i.e. perseverance in both Godliness and teaching.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

ARBCA Conference Day 2

Day two of the ARBCA General Assembly began at 8:30 a.m. with a devotion by Pastor Jim Dundas from Luke 10 on the "Good Samaritan." This was followed by a Sermon by Dr. Fred Malone on "Baptism as a Means of Grace." Baptism is the outward sign that one has been converted. It strengthens the faith of the one being baptized as well as those observing. Baptism proclaims the Gospel to unbelievers. Dr. Malone gave several functions of Baptism as a means of grace. (1) Baptism is a sign to the one baptized of his fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection and of his being engrafted into Christ. (2) Baptism is a sign of remission of sins. (3) Baptism is a sign of the believer giving himself up to God to walk in newness of life. (4) Baptism is a sign of the believer's future resurrection.

After a brief break ARBCA held its annual business session followed by lunch at 12:30. At 4:45 we had a theological discussion on the various aspects of the means of grace. Of particular focus was the nature of preaching as a means of grace.

The evening session began at 7:00 with Dr. Richard Barcellos preaching a sermon on "The Lord's Supper as a Means of Grace." He developed his argument using several texts. In 1 Cor. 10:16 Paul speaks of our communion with Christ (koinonia) on a vertical level, i.e. Christ coming to us. Bread and wine are symbols of the benefits of Christ's death. In Ephesians 1:3 Paul speaks of "Spiritual blessings" as blessings from the Holy Spirit. "Heavenly places" refer to blessings from the heavenly state which are already present in the life of the believer. Heaven is brought down through the ordinary means of grace. In Ephesians 3:16-17 Paul prays that the church might be strengthend with power by the Holy Spirit and that Christ might dwell in their hearts. In other words, the indwelling presence of Christ is experienced by degrees. The Lord's Supper is a means through which the believer experiences fellowship with Christ--heaven experienced as the "already" and the "not yet." In addition, it provides spiritual nourishment and growth. Barcellos said through partaking of the Lord's Supper the soul is altered for the better.

ARBCA Conference Day 1

The 2011 ARBCA General Assembly began at 8:30 a.m. with a devotion by Pastor David Johnson on the life of Jeremiah. This year's theme is "The Means of Grace." Dr. Jim Renihan opened the series with a sermon, "Defining the Means of Grace." He defined the means of grace as instruments or methods by which the grace of God is imparted. They are channels of grace. He stated that there are two criteria necessary for an activity to be a means of grace:
1. Is it of Divine Institution. In other words, there must be a Divine origination or command. Has God plainly declared the activity in His Word?
2. There must be a Divine Promise attached to it. Has God plainly declared in His Word that He would bless the activity with His grace.

The means of grace declared in the Word of God and consistent with our Confession are prayer, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and the ministry of the Word. Our Confession lists other means such as occasional fasting with thanksgiving.

During the evening session Pastor Tom Lyon brought a wonderful sermon on "Preaching as a Means of Grace." The sermon had three points. Preaching is the ordinary means of grace because:
1. No other means enjoys the authority of preaching. Preaching is the voice of God.
2. No other means enjoys the atmosphere of preaching. Preaching involves preaching AND hearing. He quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "You cannot put preaching on paper." Nor is a recorded sermon the same as preaching.
3. No other means enjoys the accuracy of preaching. The preacher must be well prepared.
4. No other means enjoys the agenda of preaching. Only preaching can fulfill the Great Commission of teaching "all things."

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 6

This will be my final post on the blessings of the Sabbath. I want to conclude by adding one further consideration. As we consider the keeping of the Sabbath day our motives are of great importance. We must never obey God out of a fearful or servile obedience. We must never obey out of a desire to win God's approval. Obedience must always be rendered out of our great love for Christ. This is the difference between servile obedience and evangelical obedience. When obedience is rendered from the right motive there is glorious pleasure from the act of pleasing Christ.

There is always a danger when churches begin to enforce the Sabbath in a harsh or legalistic manner. The Sabbath must be observed out of delight, not out of fear. Pastors must guard against "lording over the flock." They must guard against overstrict authoritarian oversight that keeps the congregation on the level of children rendering legal obedience rather than allowing them to grow in maturity and holiness. At Trinity we preach and teach our duty to obey the 4th Commandment but never make harsh demands as to its observance. As we recognize the blessings of this day we will find greater ways to observe it. This kind of obedience cannot be forced upon a congregation. The motive for all of our obedience must always be Christ. As we delight in Him His Law will also be a delight. When Christians fail to delight in the Sabbath the root cause is either a lack of delight in Christ or ignorance of His Law. The Law will always convict of sin, but only grace will make the Law a delight. May God be pleased to raise up a generation of Christians who call His Law a delight.

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 5

This is the fifth entry on the blessings connected to the Sabbath. It is sad when God's people look upon His Law as a curse rather than a blessing. Oh to have the heart of David, "Oh how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). The Sabbath is full of blessings and we must look upon it with delight. It is full of Divine wisdom. God knows our frame. He knows what we need. We need the weekly Sabbath rest. God also knows what we need spiritually. In this post I want to address the spiritual blessings of the Sabbath.

The Spiritual Benefits of the Sabbath

God is the Lord of all the earth. He has ordained every detail of our existence. He has ordered days and weeks and months and years. He established a pattern of six days of work followed by a day of rest. God could have created time without any divisions. He could have ordained that we labor without rest--unending toil. For the believer, would we not long in our heart for some free moments to study God's Word? Would we not wish for time off to pray. Would it not be a wonderful blessing to have a whole day without work so we could worship and meditate upon the wonders of God? Isn't it amazing that God has blessed us with such a day and yet most Christians today see it as a slavish burden rather than a blessing?

Consider the blessing of gathering with God's people for worship. The Sabbath is a day where we can set aside the cares and distractions of our weekly toil and focus entirely upon God. You might answer, "Well we can do that without believing in a Sabbath." Yes, but God has set apart a particular day. The early church recognized the pattern of one day in seven as a Sabbath's rest as they began worshiping on the first day of the week in commemoration of our Lord's resurrection? Where did they get this notion? Is it not true that they recognized the abiding importance of the 4th Commandment? What a glorious blessing that God has given us a day for worship. How our souls have been enriched as we've gathered with the saints to worship.


Consider also the extra time we have on the Lord's Day to pray or to study and meditate upon God's Word. What a blessing to spend these precious moments with our God. It is inconceivable that a Christian would rather watch a ballgame on Sunday afternoon than spend time with Christ. It is possible to glory in your liberty to the detriment of your soul. God has provided this day that His people might be more holy. R.L. Dabney wrote, "It is historically true that the vitality and holiness of the church are usually in proportion to its reverence for the Sabbath. The Sabbath-keeping churches and generations have been the holy and zealous ones" (Dabney, Robert L., Discussions of Robert L. Dabney. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust. 1967, page 541).

Finally, consider the spiritual benefit of submission to all the Divine ordinances. When God commands us to sanctify one twenty-four hour day to Him He is declaring His sovereign prerogative over time and His sovereign dominion over us. Our submission to Him is a declaration of His sovereign right over our lives. Such submission is always beneficial for us as we humble ourselves beneath His dominion.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 4

We've been examining the wonderful blessings that come from keeping the Sabbath. God's laws are not designed as a curse for us but blessings given for our good. God is kind and gracious and we must receive His laws as tokens of His goodness. As I've pointed out, God gave us the Sabbath because it is fitted to our nature and condition. To reject the Sabbath is to bring detriment to both body and mind.

The Blessing of a Godly Testimony

In this fourth installment concerning Sabbath blessings I'd like us to consider the blessing of a Godly testimony. Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). We live in a thoroughly secularized society. Because of the remants of our Christian heritage many people do not have to labor on Sunday. Government offices are closed, educational facilities are closed, and most business are closed. Most people simply see it as a day off and they spend it in various ways according to their personal desires. Few see it as a Sabbath's rest. What a testimony it is for them to see you and your family honoring this day. Sadly, it is often hard to identify God's people today. In days gone by, you could easily recognize a Christian family on Sunday morning. Their dress indicated they were going to something important. Going to worship was not like going shopping or going to the park. Every one who saw them knew exactly where they were going. When we leave the house on Sunday morning our neighbors should not mistake what we are doing. And they should witness that, as God's people, we see this day as a special day. Do your activities on Sunday demonstrate to the world that you serve the Lord Jesus Christ? When our children were young their friends knew that this day was not a day that they played outside. It was a testimony to their friends that we are the people of God, and it was a testimony to our children as well. What a testimony it is to lost family members when you humbly excuse yourselves from family activities that violate the separation of this day. How many lost husbands or wives have been converted as they witness their mates faithfully honoring this day? And what a testimony it is when the world sees us observing this day with great joy, not as a day filled with harsh rules and regulations that bind and restrict us, but a s a blessing from God full of joyous delights. "For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being" (Romans 7:22 ESV). As I pointed out in one of my earlier posts, it is true that we seek to glorify God every day, but God has set apart one day as being holy, distinct, and separate. As we order our lives for the keeping of this day we must keep in mind how our lives might benefit others. What greater benefit than demonstrating before the lost that we serve a good and gracious God in whose service we delight. May we demonstrate before them the joyous liberty we have as we faithfully honor this day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 3

As I pointed out last time, the Sabbath is a declaration of God's sovereignty over time. In obeying the Sabbath we are declaring that God is supreme over every aspect of our life. As human beings we tend to fill our lives with created things rather than the Creator. This is idolatry. For some, work becomes all encompassing, For others, the pursuit of pleasure and enterntainment becomes a savory delight that gains a grip upon their lives. While work is a blessing from God and recreation is an enjoyment and token of God's grace upon us, when these things control us they become sin. God has declared one day in seven as distinct and separate--a Sabbath's rest; a ceasing of these activities for a whole day. He is telling us that these things must not rule us. When we declare that every day is the same we are declaring our sovereignty over God. For those who declare that for the Christian every day is filled with worship they miss the point. While it is true that we live each day to God's glory, God has declared that one day in seven will be set apart from our normal daily activities.

One of the benefits of the Sabbath is in the surrender of our lives to God's design. God says this day is set apart. Some might balk at such control over our lives. We want absolute autonomy and liberty. That is why Sabbatarians are often accused of legalism. We don't want to be restricted from watching football on television or playing a video game. We don't want to be restricted from making Sunday an extension of Saturday. The Sabbath is a reminder that life isn't about self. As we look away from self we can see the Sabbath as a wonderful opportunity to serve others Many of the confessions of faith add "works of necessity and mercy" to the proper observance of the Lord's Day.

The Blessing of Mercy

One of the aspects of the Sabbath was the idea that all deserved this day of rest. The 4th Commandment speaks of slaves and strangers and visitors. It even included the animals! Refraining from shopping or eating at restaurants is an expression of our desire to provide a Sabbath's rest to others. It is a denial of our selfish interestes for the sake of others. It is a wonderful expression of mercy. You might argue that the businesses are going to be open anyway. This may be true, but are you going to contribute to their sin. Will you deny yourself for the sake of others?

The Sabbath opens many other opportinities to serve others. Jesus healed on the Sabbath and offered mercy to those in need. Don't forget, "the Sabbath was made for man" (Mark 2:27). Perhaps the Sabbath might provide occasion for you to visit the sick or lonely and enjoy the blessing of being used of God to bless others. Hospitality is a wonderful activity for the Sabbath. Our church ends the Sabbath with a fellowship meal. Our ladies provide wonderful dishes (prepared before the Lord's Day) as expressions of their love and service to others, and we fellowship with one another, often setting aside our own selfish interests in order to enter into the lives of others and listen to their concerns. Even the cleanup is an expression of service and selflessness.

Thus the Sabbath is a wonderful blessing and opportunity to step outside ourselves in service to others. To spend this day in self-indulgence is to rob ourselves of the blessings of the Sabbath.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 2

In my previous post I began describing the wonderful blessings that flow from keeping the Sabbath. Presuming that the principle of setting apart one day in seven is a part of the moral law and a precept to be obeyed by the church, what should our attitude be regarding it?

The nature of Christian conversion involves the transformation of the heart of a sinner. He no longer hates God as his enemy but loves Him and desires to please Him with his life. He sees Jesus Christ as most precious and savors his relationship with Him, fleeing from anything that might hinder his pursuit of Christ. As I stated in my previous post, the Law of God, summarized in the Ten Commandments, is God's standard of obedience. The believer sees God's Law as the glorious reflection of God's holy character and seeks to conform his life to it. As a part of the New Covenant God has written His Law upon our hearts. "I will put my law within them, and on their heart I will write it" (Jeremiah 31:33). Among other things, this means our hearts have been changed with a disposition to love God's Law. His Law is no longer seen as a burden to us. The Apostle John wrote: "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome" (1John 5:3). This is the nature of Evangelical Obedience. We obey God, not out of a slavish fear of His condemnation, but out of the shear joy of pleasing Him. We obey Him, not necessarily to receive anything from Him, but simply because Christ has captivated our hearts and we love to obey His Law.

The Blessing of Obedience
The love of God and His Law makes observing the Lord's Day a wonderful blessing. We don't see it as a burden to restrict us but a wonderful means of reflecting God's holiness. There are so many ways the Sabbath reflects God's holy character. It reflects God's sovereignty over time, as He has determined, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work. . ." (Exodus 20:9-10). We joyously submit to His dominion. We can also see God reflected in the various dispensations of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given at creation and so in the Sabbath we celebrate God as our Creator. The Sabbath was affirmed at Sinai as a part of the Moral Law so in the Sabbath we celebrate God as Law Giver. At the resurrection of Christ the Sabbath was again affirmed and the day was changed as we celebrate our great God as Covenant Keeper and Redeemer. Finally, as we look to our blessed hope in Christ and our final Sabbath's rest, we celebrate God's ultimate restoration of all things in Christ. Sunday is a celebration of the resurrection of Christ and our joyous expecatation and anticipation of the full accomplishment of our redemption.

Observing the Sabbath must never be seen as a burden but a glorious act of obedience as we celebrate all that God has done for us in Christ. And as we read in Isaiah 58:13-14, as we find delight in the Sabbath we find ever sweeter delight in God.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Sabbath Blessing - Part 1

There are few subjects in the church today that garner as much controversy as the issue of the Sabbath. People line up on both sides of the debate. The question is, who is right? This is no small matter. If the Law has not been abrogated the flagrant disregard of the 4th commandment is a matter of great sin, and if it has been abrogated Sabbatarians are guilty of improperly binding men's consciences. Sadly, in my experience, it would seem that far too many have chosen their position without ever making it a matter of serious study. Far too many Christians today find it convenient to simply follow the pattern of our secular culture. I'm aware of the position of those holding to New Covenant Theology and I disagree with their hermeneutics and their conclusions, but at least they've given themselves to serious study on the issue. Much hinges on a proper understanding of the relationship of the Law and the Gospel. Most of us would agree on the purpose of the Law in convicting the sinner and driving him to Christ? Most would agree that the Law is God's standard of holiness, reflecting His holy character, and that the disobedience of God's Law is His standard of judgment. Most would agree that Jesus was made under the Law and met the Law's demand of perfect obedience. The question is, what is God's standard of holiness after conversion? Has His standard changed? In Romans 7 Paul (the believer) speaks of his struggle with obedience to the Law of God. To what Law is he referring?

Much could be argued on the subject of the non-abrogation of the Law and the perpetuity of the Sabbath, but for the purpose of this blog entry (and at risk of immediately alienating some readers) I'm going to presuppose the perpetuity of the Sabbath. I want to focus on the blessing of God's gift of the Sabbath to man. I'm afraid that too often those who hold to the 4th commandment are unfairly labeled as legalists; a caricature that reveals an ignorance of the true nature of legalism. Legalism in its truest definition is looking to the Law as the basis of justification. Many who oppose the Sabbath call it legalistic because they consider it harsh, binding and restrictive rather than a blessing; something to be received with delight and thanksgiving. I want to describe why we should look at the Sabbath as God's gift and why we should observe it with delight. "If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day, And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the LORD honorable, And shall honor it, desisting from your own ways, From seeking your own pleasure, And speaking your own word, Then you will take delight in the LORD, And I will make you ride on heights of the earth; And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, For the mouth of the LORD has spoken" (Isaiah 58:13-14).

What are some of the ways God has provided the Sabbath as a blessing? This will be the first installment on this subject.

First, consider our humanity. How has God created us? What are the rythms of life? God created us to work. Work is a gift, not a curse. But were we designed to work nonstop? Can we learn anything from God's creation of time upon the earth--days and weeks and years Have we not been created in such a manner as to labor during the day and sleep at night? In fact, our bodies will not allow us to disregard this pattern. Extended sleep deprivation can even lead to death. Is there anything significant about God's creation of a seven day week? Is there anything significant about His example of creating the world in six days but reserving the seventh for rest? Can we disregard this pattern without doing harm? To many, especially in our secular world, the Sabbath seems like a wierd, outdated practice reserved for religious fanatics. The truth is the Sabbath is a day of rest for our good and the disregard of it is detrimental to our wellbeing. It was established at creation and reiterated as a part of the Ten Commandments. The Sabbath has a prominent place in the Old Testament but is not abrogated in the New Testament. Jesus and Paul critiqued the Sabbath practices of their day while at the same time observing and affirming the Sabbath as normative for God's people. We need this day of rest as an essential element of our life. It should be seen as a rich blessing from God, not an inconvenience or obstacle to our own desires.

I will continue with this subject in my next post.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Japan Crisis


As I see the tragedy unfolding in Japan many things come to my mind. First and foremost, there is great sadness over the suffering of so many who have had their lives suddenly turned upside down. I pray for God's mercy upon Japan in the coming days. But I can't help but consider how vulnerable man is upon the earth. Japan is a wealthy, industrialized nation. They are proud, independent, and satisfied. But suddenly, and without warning they were hit by the most powerful earthquake they have ever experienced (and they have seen many) followed by a giant tsunami that destroyed what the earthquake left behind. And now, as I write this blog entry, one of their nuclear reactor complexes is threatening a meltdown with radiation already leaking into the atmosphere. Their stock market is plummeting and experts are wondering how their economy will survive. All of this happend suddenly, unexpectedly, and completely out of their control. "For when they are saying, 'Peace and safety'!; then destruction will come upon them suddenly like birth pangs upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape" (1Thes.5:3).

Surely we serve a mighty, all powerful God who rules over all of His creation. He raises up and brings down. All of the mighty nations are but dust to Him. "Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold He lifts up the islands like fine dust" (Isaiah 40:15). Will Japan take notice? Will they forsake their powerless Buddah and turn to the living God? We can only pray that God will use this disaster as a means of drawing them to Christ.

There is another lesson we must learn from this tragedy. The United States is also a wealthy, industrialized nation. We are also proud, independent, and satisfied. And we are foolish to think that we cannot be suddenly and unexpectedly brought down to the dust in a moment of time. Will we learn anything from this? Will we see just how frail man is upon this earth? Will we take notice that there is an almighty God who rules this world? Will we have to experience His wrath personally before we take notice? Sadly, even as the mountains crumble around them, many will not repent. Oh that God might show mercy upon our generation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Priorities

In a recent "Christianity Today" interview with Billy Graham he was asked, "If you could, would you go back and do anything differently?" His answer touched on the issue of priorities. He said, "Yes of course. I'd spend more time at home with my family, and I'd study more and preach less." I appreciate his honesty and candor. As he enters the twilight years of his life God has blessed him with time to reflect upon his life. May God bless each of us with such time for reflection. As I ponder my own mortality and how I'd like my life to come to a close I hope God grants me days close by His throne to reflect, repent, and praise God for His infinite mercy.

Billy Graham touched on the importance of family. It is easy for a man to become absorbed with his career and hobbies while his family coasts along on autopilot. His wife becomes distant and his children look elsewhere for instruction and leadership. Before he knows it his children are grown and he wonders what happened to the years. The young husband and father must see his family as his great ministry and calling. They need his time and leadership more than they need the dollars of his career.

Graham also spoke of the priorities of his ministry: "I'd study more and preach less." This is great wisdom. However, I'm not sure the issue was preaching too much. Many of the reformers preached every day of the week with little lament that it was too much. The issue is going to the pulpit with an empty cup. Too many pastors rely on skills of rhetoric without considering the importance of digging deep into the text so that they might lead their congregation to fresh pastures of delight. There are few pastors who can adequately explore a passage in less than eight or ten hours. Often a text will demand fifteen or twenty hours of labor or more! Study, however, is not just the realm of pastors. Every one of us must spend more time in study. Even if you designate just one hour a day, one hour before bed to dig into a text, the benefits will be enormous.

If I could add to the priorities of Billy Graham I'd add, "And pray more!" Your families need your labors before God's throne interceding for them. Your pastors are in great need of your prayers. Spurgeon said, "The sinews of the minister's strength under God is the supplication of his church. We can do anything and everything if we have a praying people around us. But when our dear friends and fellow helpers cease to pray, the Holy Spirit hastens to depart, and 'Ichabod' is written on the place of assembly." And pastors, our congregations need our intercession. Our preaching must be bathed in prayer.

It is important to reflect upon our priorities, but we need not wait until the final hours of our life. Self-examination must be a daily exercise.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Osteen Uses the Word Sin!!!



Sometimes I see things that surprise and amaze me. Here's a clip of Joel Osteen calling homosexuality sin. Not only does he use the word "sin" but he declares the Scriptures to be the authority for his conclusion. I'm not ready to endorse Joel Osteen. I disagree with both his theology and his methodology. And there times in this video that he is obviously uncomfortable disussing this matter of sin. But he did say it! He admitted that there are issues of sin that separate us from God and in this I can rejoice. Hallelujah!

UPDATE - 3-22-11

I noticed that this video has been removed from YouTube claiming copyright issues. Hmm... I can't help but think Mr. Osteen is not particularly proud of his statement. I hope I'm wrong but I must say, if I make a public declaration against sin I'm not going to place copyright restrictions on it. I can still rejoice that he did say it, even if the evidence has been removed.