Thursday, September 7, 2017

Jesus With Thy Church Abide

This coming Lord's Day we will sing Hymn 348, "Jesus, with Thy Church Abide." Here is the full version, with all stanzas. It is a great prayer to pray for the church you are part of and for the church at large on earth.
Jesus, with Thy Church abide,
Be her Savior, Lord, and Guide,
While on earth her faith is tried:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May her voice be ever clear,
Warning of a judgment near,
Telling of a Savior dear:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Keep her life and doctrine pure,
Help her, patient, to endure,
Trusting in Thy promise sure:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

All her fettered powers release
Bid our strife and envy cease,
Grant the heav'nly gift of peace:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she one in doctrine be,
One in truth and charity,
Winning all to faith in Thee:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she guide the poor and blind,
Seek the lost until she find,
And the broken hearted bind:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May her priests Thy people feed,
Shepherds of the flock indeed,
Ready, where Thou call'st, to lead:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Judge her not for work undone,
Judge her not for fields unwon,
Bless her works in Thee begun:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

All that she has lost, restore,
May her strength and zeal be more
Than in brightest days of yore:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

Raise her to her calling high,
Let the nations far and nigh
Hear Thy heralds' warning cry:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May her lamp of truth be bright,
Bid hear bear aloft its light
Through the realms of heathen night:
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she holy triumphs win,
Overthrow the hosts of sin,
Gather all the nations in,
We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she thus all glorious be,
Spotless and from wrinkle free,
Pure and bright, and worthy Thee:
We beseech Thee, hear us.


Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Reconciled to God

1Corinthians 5:17-21
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
18 Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation,
19 that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
20 Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.
21 For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

When you think about it, life comes down to our relationships. Our relationship with family members is very important. We don't always get along very well with each other in the family though we realize how important it is to do so. Work relationships are also important. Companies work at improving "employee relations." Good relationships at work make the job more enjoyable and also increase productivity. Having good relationships with your neighbors is pretty important. But what about our relationship to God? Surely having a good relationship with your Creator would be a good thing and necessary to one's well-being, right? If so, we need to ask what it takes to have a good or a right relationship with God?

The passage we are looking at this morning gives us some vital and helpful information for having a right relationship to God. The average person today is woefully ignorant of these things. This morning we will look at four truths that will show us the way to have a right relationship with the Maker and Sustainer of the universe. First,

I. We Were Created by God to Enjoy Communion With God
The first verse in the Bible says, In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. On day six God made man. Genesis 1:27 says, So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God created man in His own image that we might live in communion with himself. Being made in His image we were given a mind to think God's thoughts after Him. We were given a conscience with God's law written there, that we might know how to please and glorify God. We were given a capacity to know God and to love Him. Man was created with the ability to speak to God and to hear Him speak and understand Him.

The Lord God also entered into a covenant of life with Adam and gave Adam and Eve free will. They were holy and sinless as created. They had pure and holy desires. They were perfectly happy in the Garden where God would come and speak with them. They were blessed with wholesome work, that of tending the Garden. They brought glory to God in exercising dominion over creation. God also gave them the Sabbath Day for rest. God blessed them by instituting marriage and establishing the family. Adam and Eve, as originally created, were in a right relationship with their Creator. It was a good relationship, a holy relationship, which resulted in peace and joy for Adam and Eve. They were at peace with God and at peace with each other. There were no barriers, no obstacles to their relationships. We can only dream of the bliss that was enjoyed by Adam and Eve during that time of man's innocence. We can only imagine how perfectly happy they were, enjoying God as they were created to do, without sin and with uninterrupted fellowship with the Lord. However, something happened to that perfect relationship with God. That leads us to the second point:

II. Our Sin Has Separated Us From God
Phillip Henry, who was Matthew Henry's father, wrote that, "When God made man at first there was perfect love and amity between them–God at peace with man; man at peace with God. They had sweet fellowship and converse one with another, walking together in the garden. But when Adam sinned, then, immediately, the quarrel began. Eating the forbidden fruit broke the peace, and ever since there hath been a quarrel." In Genesis chapter three we read about the fall of man. Adam and Eve both disobeyed God's commandment. They gave in to the temptation of the Serpent and immediately there was a breach in their relationship with God. They suddenly felt ashamed that they were naked. They sewed fig leaves to try and cover their shame.

They were alienated from God as Genesis 3:8 says, And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. They hid from God, who had been their friend. They didn't want to see Him. They were guilty and knew it. God had said that if they ate from the tree He commanded them not to eat of, that they would die. Well, they did die spirituality at that very moment. Their souls had been in union and communion with God. Then they were separated from Him. Isaiah 59:2 says, But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.

Man hides from God and God also hides his face from man. It is a mutual quarrel. There is enmity on both sides. Since the fall, man by nature does not love God, does not want to know God, does not want to be near God. God, on His part, is against them on account of their sin. Ephesians 2:3 says that all men are children of wrath. Romans 8:7 says that the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. This quarrel between man and God only widens over time. Daily we add sin upon sin. Sins of omission and commission. God's wrath is building and growing with each sin. Romans 2:5 says, But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. God has every right to be angry with us and to cast us away from His presence forever.

Sin is far worse a thing than men think it is. The Bible calls our sin a debt. We are indebted to the God who made us and has blessed us. We owe everything to Him and yet we give Him nothing. We have amassed a great amount of debt and we are unable to pay it. Our sins are also called "trespasses" in the Bible. We have trespassed God's commands. We have gone astray and have crossed boundaries that have been forbidden to cross. Men today seem to delight in crossing new boundaries every day. They flaunt their perversions and laugh at God's laws. And haven't we all laughed at sin and thought it was a fun thing to disobey? Again, Phillip Henry writes, "We must look upon sin as a treason, high treason, against the crown and dignity of the God of heaven: an affront to his majesty. It defies, despises, denies him." With Pharaoh we say, "Who is the Lord that I should obey His voice?"

Again, sin is like a wall that stands between the sinner and God. That wall of sin consists in the corruption of our hearts and our stubborn will to go our own way. That wall is the heart of stone we have by nature that will not turn away from sin and refuses to turn back to God. That wall between us consists also in God's holiness who is too pure to look upon evil. He cannot allow sin into His holy presence. He hates it with all His being and has promised to punish it with everlasting burnings. Exodus 34:7 says that God will "by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation." Clearly, sin has ruined the relationship we were created to have with God. And yet even within the heart of sinful men there is a yearning for what they do not have. As Augustine said, "Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee." We know that something is missing in our lives. Do you feel it? That something is a right relationship with the God who made us. That leads us to the next truth to think about.

III. God Seeks to Reconcile Sinners to Himself
In verse 18 we are introduced to a word that brings hope to the sinner's ear. That word is "reconciliation." Verse 18 says, Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ. What does this word "reconciled" or "reconciliation" mean? "Reconciliation is the restoration of loving fellowship after estrangement."1 It is the bringing together of those who were enemies so that they are now friends. In all non-Christian religious thought it is only man who must take steps to do the work of reconciliation. But in Christianity God is the author of reconciliation. Verse 19 says, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. God takes the initiative and He does the reconciling. The NT Dictionary of Theology states that, "Human action, including even repentance and confession of sins, is not a work of man to bring about and initiate reconciliation, to which God reacts. Rather, it is the reaction of man to the work of God and as such necessary and demanded."

In other words, by the time we hear the message of reconciliation, it is a finished work. It has been effected by the work of Jesus Christ. Verse 19 indicates that part of that work of reconciliation is "not imputing their trespasses to them." Sin is the barrier that must be removed before our relationship with God can become whole again. The guilt of sin is a wall that until satisfaction is made for it, God cannot be friends with us. This wall could only be broken down by Christ dying. All our own righteousness, penances, pilgrimages, promises or works are of no effect and cannot repair the breach. Sometimes when two friends are at odds, one person will send gifts to the other hoping to build goodwill and a change of heart. Man tends to think that this will work with God also. So we go through religious exercises and duties and deeds thinking that God will take these into consideration and be willing to accept us.

However, God is perfectly righteous. In order to be friends with God, we must have a perfect righteousness. Sinful man tends to think that God grades on the curve and that as long as we try our best, God will accept us. The general thought among people is that it doesn't matter so much what you believe as long as you try your best to live an upright life and sincerely practice your religion, then surely you'll be accepted by God. That's what comes across at most funeral services isn't it? "Ole John was a good man. He wasn't perfect, but He did a lot for people. If anybody ever needed help he was there to do whatever he could. He hardly ever missed church and he was a loving father. If anybody makes it to heaven, surely John will be there."

Such thoughts ignore the barrier of sin. It ignores that Scripture refers to our righteousness as "filthy rags." John Calvin said, "Beware, then, of placing even the smallest drop of your confidence on any thing apart from the gospel." The only righteousness that will reconcile us to God is the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Verse 21 says, "For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." This is the only way sinful people can be reconciled to God. Christ had to become sin for us - not a sinner, but He had to take the sinner's place and endure the wrath of God that was due to us. Christ had to assume our sin in order that we might assume His righteousness. Commentator C.K. Barrett says, "Since transgressions were no longer counted against men the way was open for reconciliation; nothing remained but for men to take it."

That leads us to the final truth to consider:
IV. God Requires Repentance and Faith for Us to be Reconciled to Him
Reconciliation is a gift of God that was purchased by Christ on our behalf. And yet that message of reconciliation must be proclaimed, heard and responded to for it to be actually effected in our lives. The apostle Paul declared to the Corinthians in v. 20, "Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God."
Reconciliation is incomplete until it is accepted by both sides. Just because Christ died and rose again does not automatically make you reconciled to God. The barrier of God's wrath against sin has been removed but another sinful barrier remains to be removed in us. We are sinful and corrupt and do not want to be reconciled to God! We despise Him and don't want to get near Him.

We are enslaved to sin and our wills are in bondage. God must not only remove the guilt of sin by the cross but must remove the stubborn heart of stone by the work of His Spirit. In Ezekiel 36:26, referring to the New Covenant, God says, "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." This is what Paul is getting at in verse 17, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation." We must have a new heart, a new birth in order to make us willing to come to God and be reconciled. When God opens our hearts and gives us a new heart, then we are enabled to repent of our sins and receive Christ by faith. Then the reconciliation is complete.

Then, as Romans 5:1 says, "having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." To be reconciled to God is to have peace with God. Do you have peace with God this morning? Are you right with Him? Is there something between you and the Lord this morning? Then, as Paul urged the Corinthians, I would urge each of us this morning, "Be reconciled to God!" God has set aside His enmity and offers peace to you this morning. The terms of peace on His side have been met by His Son on the cross. On our side we must repent of our sins and turn to Christ, receiving the gift of reconciliation by faith. Each and every day we sin and when we do we must turn back to be reconciled to God. As believers, this reconciliation is as family members. Our sin does not place us outside the family of God, but it does break our fellowship with God.

Calvin said, "As we daily sin, so we must, by a daily remission, be received by God into His favor." Colin Brown writes that, "The appeal to 'be reconciled to God' is addressed to the church. The church, no less than the world, needs to enter into this reconciliation and live it out." Ephesians says that "He is our peace." Since He is our peace, then we ought to take care to keep the peace between us and the Lord. As soon as we are aware of sinning then let us confess it to the Lord and repent of it. Only then will we be fit to be "ambassadors for Christ." The Lord wants to use those who are assured that they are reconciled to God by the grace of the Lord Jesus to have the ministry of reconciliation and to proclaim that "word of reconciliation" which is the gospel.

Do you need to be reconciled to God? He is more than willing to forgive your sins and to be reconciled. If you desire this reconciled relationship with God, then I would urge you to get alone with the Lord and read over 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2. Read over this passage and ask the Lord to show you your sin. Ask Him to show you your need of Christ. Then pray that God will reveal Christ to you and His way of salvation. That way of salvation is that you must be born again, you must repent of all your sins and you must surrender your soul in faith to God, receiving and resting in the Lord Jesus and his death and resurrection. May God grant you repentance and faith as you seek Him in this urgent and important matter - the salvation of your eternal soul.

1Reformation Study Bible notes, p. 1879.   

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Nashville Statement - A Coalition for Biblical Sexuality

Albert Mohler devoted an entire episode of his “Briefing” podcast to discussing The Nashville Statement.  Mohler writes why The Nashville Statement is so important:
What makes this document on the one hand so timely is the fact that it speaks with genuine gospel commitment and genuine Christian compassion to the entire church, including persons who are struggling with same-sex desires or with gender confusion. At the same time, out of that same love and gospel conviction, it speaks with clarity to what God has very clearly revealed in his Word concerning not only his original design for human beings made in his image male and female, but for the exercise of the sexual gift entirely, as Scripture says, within the context of marriage defined, as the statement says, as a covenantal sexual procreative lifelong union of a man and a woman.
The entire statement can be found at NashvilleStatement.com, and there you will also see a list of the original signatories. It’s a range of evangelical leaders; what binds those evangelical leaders together is a concern for the burden of speaking clarity during this time the confusion. And that clarity, not coming from ourselves, but rather, we believe, from the authority of God’s unchanging Word.

Critical Theory and the Unity of the Church

Fellow ARP Minister and Erskine College professor, Dr. William Evans (with others) has written about the notions of "white guilt, white privilege, critical theory and intersectionality" found in secular academia.  This article, Critical Theory and the Unity of the Church, shows us that we must return to Scripture and not rely on the bankrupt secular and Marxist categories that ultimately divide humanity.
Excerpt:
Some in the conservative Reformed community evince a laudable desire to overcome racial injustice, but they often seek to understand racial divisions by relying on categories drawn from the “critical theory” of secular academia (e.g., notions of “white privilege,” “white guilt,” “intersectionality,” and more broadly the power-analysis tradition that stems from Marx, Foucault, and others) rather than from Scripture and the Christian tradition.  As a result of this uncritical borrowing, some in the church are falling headlong into the divisive identity politics that now plague the broader culture and particularly higher education.
Continue reading

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Confederate Heritage, History and Statues

This is a fine explanation of why we ought to value our Confederate heritage written by Raquelle Sheen, who has a masters degree in Civil War history.
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Raquelle Sheen
A friend of mine from Massachusetts recently asked on Facebook why so many conservatives are so supportive of the Confederate flag and monuments and why the South in general is still so attached to their Confederate heritage, even though they lost. My friend wasn't trying to be combative, but genuinely wanted to know. So here's my response as to why many Southerners still feel as they do. Discussion welcome. Feel free to share.
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First, the fact that the Confederacy lost is irrelevant to the people who honor their Confederate heritage. And that's as it should be--one should honor causes because of what they stand for, not whether or not they triumphed. If the Allies had lost in WWII, I'd still honor my WWII Allied heritage. So hopefully that addresses your confusion about why people care even though they lost. 
Second, many Confederate History Lovers (for purposes of convenience, CHLs henceforth in this post) have spent far more time researching the Civil War and reading about the Southern people than most folks up North have. Most folks up North aren't terribly interested in the war. I know, I lived there for 10+ years and I didn't care much either when I lived there. But when you start researching and reading the "other side" and start reading original diary after original diary, including the post-war narratives, you gain an entirely different perspective.
Third, the reason the North isn't as interested in the war is that the war didn't happen on their land, there are few historical sites to bring it to their remembrance, and it didn't affect them historically the way it affected the South. When the war was over, Northern homes and crops were still standing, their economy recovered, and they did not face 12 years of occupation by vicious politicians and a military force. I don't think most Northerners fully understand the impact of the war down here. In some areas of the South it has taken literally 100 years for the economy to recover to its pre-Civil War levels.
Fourth, many CHLs are old enough to remember their grandparents talking about the war. They are old enough to remember the stories of destruction, looting, burning, and even raping. I know people today like this. They know exactly what happened to the family property, they know exactly how poor their grandparents were even several generations after the war because of the destruction, and they know the unspeakable things that happened in their own family at the hands of Northern soldiers. 150 years really isn't a very long time. I have personally met an elderly woman whose father was a Confederate soldier. Time shrinks when you look at it that way. To a Northern millennial, the Civil War was a big fight 150 years ago about slavery. To a 70-year-old Southerner, the Civil War was when Grandma's house was burned down, she lost everything, her father and brothers were killed, and (in some cases) she was raped by a Northern soldier. That's not an exaggeration for many families here.
Fifth, along those lines, many Southern families have lived in the same area for generations. The rural South isn't as nomadic as many of the transient Northern cities. So they know exactly where their Civil War ancestor lived, died, and is buried. Many times his grave is in their own town or close by. So again, they still have personal connections to the war.
Sixth, many CHLs know that roughly 65%-70% of the South did not own slaves. If you read the original writings, the average soldier was not fighting to preserve slavery. The politicians might have been, but the rank and file soldier was fighting to protect his homeland from an often merciless enemy. While there were many good men in the Union army, some Northern soldiers could be extremely brutal, ruthless, and cruel to civilians. Not all of them were, but many of them were. Southerners appreciate the Confederate soldier because he was fighting to drive out an invading force.
Seventh, many Southerners are steeped in the traditions and beliefs of the founders and do not (and did not) believe that secession was treason. If secession was treason, then so was the colonial secession of 1776. It grieves me that many Southern states seceded over slavery, but I absolutely believe they had the right to do so. The very Declaration of Independence spells out that when a people decide the government is no longer meeting their needs, they have the right to dissolve it and create a new one. We can disagree over the reasons and rationale for Southern secession (although a look at the various state ordinances of secession is enlightening--there are many other reasons listed for their secessions beside slavery) but that doesn't mean that they were irrevocably bound by natural law to remain in the Union forever.
Eighth, Southerners love an underdog and always have. 
Ninth, CHLs are becoming more and more attached to their heritage and the symbols of it because the extremists on the left are working harder and harder to take it away. If the extreme left had more savvy, they'd shut up and let it all fade from people's memory and eventually there might rise up a Southern generation who doesn't care about the monuments and flag anymore. Instead, they have a systematic fight going to erase history and sanitize it and reinterpret it. My master's degree is in Civil War history and I got so SICK of so many pompous Civil War historians prattling about "lost cause mythology" without ever once giving the Southern voice an objective ear.
Tenth, you gotta hand it to the South that Lee and Jackson were incredible, principled, God-fearing men. You get a few guys like that in the history of your cause and they quickly become larger than life heroes who live on well past a war.
Eleventh, Reconstruction bred more bitterness in the South than the war. You oughtta read up on it sometime from a Southern perspective. For twelve years, Northern politicians enjoyed grinding an already broken and impoverished people into fine dust. Southerners have long memories.
Twelfth, a lot of Southerners have Scottish or Irish roots. The Scots-Irish culture is very big into memorializing the past, reverencing heroes, and being attuned to its heritage.
There, that's a quick overview.
I love the monuments and respect the Confederate flag because I respect the Southern soldier for fighting in defense of his native land. I know the names of my Confederate ancestors and have photographs of some of them. To my knowledge, none of them owned slaves. I have records of their military service. I've walked onto battlefields and thought, "My own great-great-great uncle died here." I understand the complicated factors surrounding the war and realize that saying "it was just about slavery" is factually wrong and grossly oversimplified. I oppose attempts to rewrite history and therefore support the monuments and flag, because it tells a side of the story that the Northern victors began suppressing in the 1860s and that many liberals are continuing to suppress today.

https://www.facebook.com/raquelle.sheen/posts/10213589355559084

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Charlottesville Donnybrook - a column by Walter Williams

Charlottesville Donnybrook
"Few Americans recognize and respect the fact that multiracial societies are inherently unstable. What we’ve been doing for decades, through various government policies, is stacking up combustible racial kindling awaiting a racial arsonist to set it ablaze." 

Friday, May 26, 2017

Loving God

God's word commands us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Everyone who believes in God would say that they in some sense love God. But how are we to know if we actually do love Him? Are there any tests by which we may ascertain the veracity of our professed love for God? Two ways by which we may know if we truly love the Lord are the giving of thanks and learning to be content. Of course these two things are related. Those who give thanks to God for all things tend to become content. Those who are content with what they have are usually thankful to God for His blessings. The 10th Commandment forbids coveting. When we covet what others have we are in effect complaining against God because He did not see fit to give those things to us. If we love God, we should be content with what we have.

Hebrews 13:5 says, "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" God has given us, not everything we want, but everything we need. And above all He has given us Himself and will never leave us. Contentment comes when we know that God loves us, meets our needs and will never abandon us. This is true because of Christ's once and for all sacrifice on the cross for our sins and the subsequent gift of His Holy Spirit to us who believe. Do you love God? Are you content?

Secondly, if we love God, we will give thanks to Him at all times and in all things. And we will do so, not only with our lips, but from our hearts. That is, we will see God as our Creator and Provider and will realize our absolute dependence upon Him. Our response to God as our Creator and Provider is thanksgiving. In Romans 1:21 the apostle Paul indicates the great sin of mankind in turning away from God: "although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful." Francis Schaeffer writes, "The beginning of man's rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart." (True Spirituality)  True love for God is demonstrated by thanksgiving from the heart in all things. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." This must not be a superficial exercise. It is to sincerely acknowledge the goodness of God in my life in all circumstances. Every gift is from above and every trial is also from the loving hand of my heavenly Father. He makes all things work together for my good. Therefore I instinctively give thanks for His all-wise providence in working things for my good. And I especially give thanks for the indescribable gift of salvation in His Son Jesus Christ. By cultivating contentment and thanksgiving in our daily lives, we will be loving God and demonstrating to the world around us that God is good and worthy of praise.