Friday, October 29, 2010

Son of Encouragement

“Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.”
Acts 4:36-37

Humans are born faultfinders--slicing and dicing God’s law either to excuse behavior we’d like to engage in ourselves or to condemn things we don’t want others to enjoy. Rare is the man who is so thankful for the gifts of God to him, so awed by the mercy which gives him life and breath each day, so grateful for what God has given him rather than jealous for what He has not, that he loves God’s law, delights in God’s people, and is quick to let them know it.

Joseph, known by his cognomen Barnabas, Son of Encouragement, was one such man. Thankfulness and generosity bubbled out of him. Bump him and joy and gratitude spilled on the floor. And it is this gratitude which we see today – selling a piece of land and donating the proceeds to the work of the Gospel. But this is not an isolated incident – as his name indicates. We see it again later in Acts when Barnabas and Paul cannot agree what to do with John Mark who had deserted them during the course of their first missionary journey. Paul refuses to take him; Barnabas refuses to go without him. And so he and Paul part company--but it is Paul who later acknowledges the blessing of Mark’s ministry. Paul had left him; but Barnabas stuck with Mark and encouraged him and so today we possess the Gospel of Mark. Such was the power of Son of Encouragement’s ministry.

And so, beloved, let me ask you today--have you been a Barnabas this week? Have you been so filled with thankfulness and gratitude that you have seen very little to complain about and much to encourage? Have you looked at the world with the eyes of faith, knowing that if God can save you from the kingdom of darkness then there is nothing that He cannot do?

Husbands and wives, have you praised your spouse this week for all the little things they do for you? Have you shown them how much you delight in them? Parents, have you praised your children as much or more than you have corrected them? Do you look for things to praise or things to critique? Employees, have you encouraged your employers by letting them know how grateful you are for your position? Children, have you thanked your parents for their love and their willingness to bring you up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Siblings, have you spent the week praising the gifts that God has given you in your brother or sister?

Listen, beloved, it is easy to criticize. We are, as I said, born faultfinders. There will always be room for improvement. But Barnabas understood as I think few of us do that the best way to accomplish the improvement is to lavish praise on even the smallest deeds done in faith.

So let us bow before our God, acknowledge our critical natures, and petition Him to forgive us through Christ and to make us all into sons and daughters of encouragement. Let us kneel together.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Woe to the Prophets

“Thus says Yahweh concerning the prophets
Who lead my people astray;
When they have something to bite with their teeth,
They cry, ‘Peace,’
But against him who puts nothing in their mouths
They declare holy war.
Therefore it will be night for you—without vision,
And darkness for you—without divination,
The sun will go down on the prophets,
And the day will become dark over them.
The seers will be ashamed
And the diviners will be embarrassed.
Indeed, they will all cover their mouths
Because there is no answer from God.”
Micah 3:5-7

The passage before us today is a stinging condemnation of the prophets in Israel. Entrusted with the sacred office of the ministry, these men had spurned God’s law and invented their own maxims and sayings. For the sake of a meal, they were willing to sell their goods to interested shoppers. But for those who failed to offer the required payment, judgment was severe. Jihad was nothing compared to the wrath of these offended prophets.

The prophetic office in Israel was, in many respects, similar to the office of the ministry in the church today. There were schools of prophets—seminaries—where these folks were trained in their duties. They were to be schooled in the Word of God; equipped to lead the people in righteousness; enabled to counsel God’s people when in trouble; rebuke them when in sin; chastise them when impenitent. They were to be prepared to apply the Word of God to all of life.

Alas, not all good intentions manifest themselves in actual performance. The schools had become corrupt. Many of the prophets were charlatans. They pretended to speak for God but they really spoke for themselves. These schools equipped them not to minister the Word but to undermine it. They comforted when they should have condemned; they compromised when they should have stood fast; they remained immovable when they should have bowed in repentance. They were prophets of the worst kind.

So what of today? What would Micah say to our prophets? What is it that pours forth from many of the pulpits in America? Is it the rich milk of the Word of God? Rarely. Frequently it is the curdled remains of week-old, luke-warm milk. The Word of God is set aside in favor of the traditions of men. “What? Those old-fashioned ideas? No one believes them any more. We are too sophisticated.” So we sanction vice; we distort the Word of God to suit our fancies; and we do it all for a buck.

And so God comes—God who is not mocked, the same God Micah served—and He steals their wisdom, undermines their influence, depletes their churches, robs their treasuries. The very thing that is happening in historic churches that have abandoned the truth. And they ask, what has happened? Micah tells us. The day has become dark over them; they shall be ashamed and embarrassed; they shall be destroyed.

“Amen!” we say to all this. Praise God our pulpit is different. Aye, do praise God but also fear. The churches whose prophets now spew forth such filth once drank from the clear and living stream of the Word of God; they once were filled with loathing at those churches which in their day had drifted from Scripture. And so what is to keep us from drifting down the same course?

First, we must give ear to the Word of God. The word of God is our life, our salvation, our hope. Whatever you must do, get to the Word of God. Demand that the preaching cling to the Word; devote time to personal study of the Word; saturate your families with the Word. If we are faithful to receive His Word—all of it, all the time—then He shall bless us for it.

Second, plead with God on behalf of this church. Only He can avert the shift to ungodliness and keep us in His paths. Only he can prevent our prophets from giving ear to idle tales. Only He can grant us wisdom to press into the future. And so pray.

This reminds us that we often fail to listen to the Word of God and to beseech Him to protect and defend His Church. Our ears are often closed; our mouths fail to speak. Let us then draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our sins and forgive us for the sake of Christ.

Givers and Graspers

“Many will seek the favor of a generous man, and every man is friend to him who gives gifts. All the brothers of a poor man hate him; How much more do his friends abandon him! He pursues them with words, but they are gone.”
Proverbs 19:6,7

Friendship is a precious commodity. Unfortunately we seldom give sufficient attention to those things which make friendships grow and blossom. The text before us today devotes this attention. And, with Solomon’s characteristic pith, he packs a mouthful into very short space.

The text contrasts two types of men—the one who is generous and the one who is grasping. The former is a man of many friends; the latter of many enemies—indeed even his brothers turn against him. We, of course, would prefer to have some friends as opposed to none and so let us consider this passage for a moment.

Who is this generous man? We are told that he is one who “gives gifts” and one from whom people “seek favors.” We are accustomed to think of these gifts in purely monetary terms. However, the text embraces no such limitation. The generous man is just that—generous, open-handed. He gives of himself; he gives of his time; he gives of his resources. In sum, he sacrifices his own desires to bless others. Consequently, he has many friends. When his co-worker asks him for help, he agrees. When his children ask him to read to them, he reads. If you are a generous child, you do chores for your brother or sister, you ask your mom or dad how you can help them around the house, you clean your room without being asked. The generous man gives—he is always looking for those in need not thinking how much he needs himself. And isn’t this truly the secret of friendship—to be a friend to others rather than to expect that others will be a friend to you?

Now contrast the generous man with the grasping man. “All the brothers of a poor man hate him; how much more do his friends abandon him.” Because Solomon is contrasting this poor man with a generous man, it is highly unlikely that Solomon is thinking solely of a man who is poor monetarily. Rather he is describing one whose poverty taints all his relationships. Th type of poor man Solomon describes is a grasper; he always wants more, always needs more. He is like a leech, never satisfied, ever consuming. He never seems to have enough. He is a bottomless pit. You can give him your fortune; he will still be poor. You can give him your time; he will demand more. You can do him a favor; he will expect another. Whereas the motto of the generous man is “My life for yours,” the motto of the grasping man is, “Your life for mine.” And so husbands and wives make demands of one another and grow embittered because their spouse just isn’t meeting their needs; girls demand that their friends spend more time with them or they won’t speak to them anymore; fathers neglect their families in order to have “time away” by themselves; children refuse to say “thank you” for their dinner. And all these actions, all these actions of the grasping man, estrange friends.

And so let me ask some questions. Do you wonder why your children seem distant? Wonder why your husband doesn’t want to talk as much? Wonder why your siblings can’t seem to get along with you? Wonder why you don’t have any friends? Let me suggest that the reason these things are happening is because you are grasping not giving. Covenant today to turn from your grasping self-centeredness and to become a generous man like our Lord Jesus Christ. The first part of this covenant is confessing to the Lord that we have been graspers. So let us kneel and let us confess our sin to the Lord.

Forgiveness is a Gift

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.”
Philippians 3:7-9

Humans are goal driven, hope driven creatures. Apart from some inherent belief that the future has some meaning, some purpose, our lives reduce to despair. The text today gives us a glimpse of the hope that Paul had for the future.

His hunger and thirst was to be found, in the last day, standing before God not in his own righteousness but only in the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ. He counted all his labors rubbish – all the works of righteousness, all the prayers, all the kindnesses – he counted them all rubbish that he might gain Christ and be found in Him. He sold all that he had in order that he might buy the Pearl of Great Price.

Note that Paul’s hunger has both a negative and a positive dimension. On the negative side, when Paul appears before the judgment seat of God, he does not want to arrive there in his own strength or on the basis of his own performance. He does not want to appear before God and have God weigh his good and bad deeds. For were he to be weighed in the balance on the basis of his own deeds of righteousness, he knows that even like Belthashazzar he would be found wanting. He knew that were he to come before the throne of God on his own, he would perish. All our righteous acts are like filthy rags in the presence of the Lord.

But note that Paul did have hope, did have ambition. His hope, his burning desire, was to appear before the judgment seat on the last day, clothed not in his own righteousness but rather clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He wanted to come into the presence of God and say to His Sovereign Lord, “Lord, I know that I have failed to do all that which I ought to have done. I know that I have done that which I ought not. But receive me, O Lord, not for what I have done but for that which Your Son has done for me. I have trusted Him, believed Him, had faith in Him that He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. So receive me for Christ’s sake.”

Paul’s goal throughout his life was to avoid the folly of coming to rely upon his own righteousness, his own deeds. His goal was to rely wholly and completely on the righteousness of Christ. So even when Paul began striving, laboring, pressing ahead for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus; even when he had it as his ambition to glorify God through Jesus Christ, He was doing this in faith – knowing that none of his striving, none of his laboring, none of his pressing ahead or ambition to glorify the Lord could ever earn forgiveness with God. Forgiveness was and ever would be a gift – and Paul’s ambition, Paul’s goal for his life, was never to forget that.

So what of us? Have we remembered that forgiveness is a gift, a free gift of God offered through Christ? Have we lived in the freedom and joy that this produces? There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Or have we instead begun to act as though our acceptance with God is conditional on our own performance, our own righteousness? Having begun by faith, are we striving, like the Galatians, to be completed by works? Then let us confess our folly to our Lord, asking Him to forgive us for despising the sacrifice of Christ and imagining that we could somehow earn His favor. Let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Remember Saul

“Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice.’”
1 Samuel 15:24

Our vision of kings is of men who held absolute power—men like Henry VIII in England or Louis XIV in France—men whose word was law. But most kings have been far less powerful; their thrones have been far more precarious. In England during the late Middle Ages, for instance, Henry of Huntingdon tells us that of a total of 36 kings, four died natural deaths.

This is important for us to understand when we come to the text before us today. We are accustomed to discount Saul’s excuse of “fearing the people” as special pleading. “Feared the people,” we cry in disbelief. But he was the king! He could do what he wanted!

But here we betray our misunderstanding. Saul’s excuse was very likely legitimate. After all in destroying the cattle, sheep, and oxen of the Amalekites, Saul was in effect piling up treasury notes and setting them aflame. Not the sort of activity most people will sit around and watch—“Here,” they cried, “is wealth right before our eyes; who is this man to get in the way? Give us the animals or we’ll soon remove you from kingship just as fast as we raised you to it.” Saul was afraid.

But note—Saul was also the king. He had been appointed by God as the leader not the follower. He was to do what God had told him to do—regardless what others might think or do. Saul was given a task—he was to complete it or die trying. But Saul didn’t. He caved in to the people and preserved the best of the spoil. And when confronted about his sin Saul made excuses. He did not come forth in true manliness and take complete reponsibility for his sin. Rather, he tried to make his sin appear less heinous than it was. “I know I sinned,” he said, “but the people made me do it.” It wasn’t really my fault. Forgive me please.

And how does God respond to Saul’s method of repentance? With pity and forgiveness? No, with scorn and judgment. Saul loses the kingdom and falls into madness.

And so let me ask you, what excuses have you been making to God this week for failing to do your duty—for failing to do what God has so clearly called you to do?

Christian, what excuses have you offered for failing to feed yourselves on the Word of the Lord and seek Him in prayer? I don’t have enough time; God knows I love him. Remember Saul.

Husbands and fathers, what excuses have you offered for being unloving and short tempered? For snapping at your children and failing to lead your families? I had a long day at work; my head hurts; my boss treated me unfairly; my children don’t want to have family worship. Remember Saul.

Wives and mothers, what excuses have you offered this week for failing to submit to your husbands? For criticizing them and gossiping to your neighbor? He just isn’t like Sally’s husband; I have a right to vent; I just need to ask for prayer. Remember Saul.

Young men, what excuses have you made for disobeying your parents? For speaking back to them? For letting your eyes linger too long on lovely young ladies? My parents just don’t understand me; I have a right to express my feelings; I was just admiring her beauty. Remember Saul.

Young women, what excuses have you made this week for manipulating your friends and family? For whining and complaining? For flaunting your charms and seducing young men? I’m simply letting my family know what I need; I’m not complaining just persuading; I may never be married if I don’t advertise myself. Remember Saul.

When we come to God all excuses are vain. God sees beyond our shallow repentance; He knows why we do what we do and when we are truly sorry. This was the difference between Saul and David. Both sinned grievously. The difference is that Saul made excuses to Samuel—I have sinned but the people made me do it—while David stopped with the first three words—I have sinned. David made no excuses and God forgave the guilt of his sin. As we come before the Lord today let us confess to him our sin—and put aside all temptations to make excuses. Let us kneel together as we do so.

Who Has the Most?

“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstance I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4:10-13

While I was out of the pulpit Bob delivered a couple of exhortations on contentment. Today I would like to follow up on that theme and make a couple observations from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. There is an ancient Roman proverb that I have mentioned in our assembly before. It states, “Who is it that has the most? Is it not he who desires the least?”

What Paul and this short proverb are endeavoring to communicate to us is that our contentment and happiness are directly proportionate to our expectations. We imagine that we need more, deserve more, are entitled to more and so we are not content with what we already possess. We set our expectations so high that they are never met and so we are never content. And our discontent reveals itself in a lack of thankfulness to others and to God. For thankfulness is an expression of contentment—an expression that the expectations we have set have been fulfilled and even exceeded.

These expectations come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sometimes, as in the text before us, they are monetary in nature. Paul had learned, he tells us, to be content both with prosperity and with poverty, both with being filled and going hungry, of having abundance and suffering need. As a result, he was able to give thanks regardless of his circumstances.

But our expectations can also be non-monetary. We can set unreasonable expectations upon our spouses, our employers and employees, our children, our friends—and so we never thank them for the meal on the table, for the folded towels in the closet, for the daily labor at the office, for the opportunity to work, for the work performed, or for the frequent sacrifices made on our behalf. “It’s his or her job to do all those things,” we say to ourselves, and so we never express thankfulness—never look at others with a twinkle in our eye and a full heart and say, “Thank you.” Our expectations are set so high that no one—including ourselves—could ever possibly meet them. We demand of others what we would never demand of ourselves. Consequently, no circumstances however favorable could conspire to make us happy.

But this was not Paul’s situation. He tells us that he had learned the secret of being content. What is that secret? Paul came to understand that what is most important in life is not our circumstances but the God who has given these circumstances to us. Let us ask ourselves, when tempted to be discontent and unthankful, “Is God sovereign? Is God in control of every event in our lives both good and bad? Has God orchestrated every moment of our past lives as He sees fit?” If the answer to these questions is “yes” – and it is – then should we not trust Him? Should we not rest in His good providence and be overflowing with gratitude? As Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” True contentment comes not by having high expecations of our circumstances but by trusting in the goodness of our Heavenly Father who has given our circumstances to us.

So let me take a moment to express my gratitude for you as a congregation. The time that you gave me away to travel through Oregon down to the Redwood Forest was delightful. The time to read, to think, to pray – to be released from the need to develop a new sermon each week – this time was refreshing. So thank you. Thank you as well for your love for the Lord, your love for His Word, your desire to grow and to prosper, your willingness to listen to the Word of God preached even when I preach too long. Thank you – you are a blessing.

Yet how often am I tempted, how often are we tempted, rather than giving thanks for one another, rather than being content, to grumble and complain about what God has put in front of us. Reminded of our failure to trust the Lord in any and every circumstance and our failure to be thankful, let us kneel and confess our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.

Young Women, Beware Vanity

Isaiah 3:16-17 (NKJV)
16 Moreover the Lord says: “Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, And walk with outstretched necks And wanton eyes, Walking and mincing as they go, Making a jingling with their feet, 17 Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, And the Lord will uncover their secret parts.”

Today we come back and close out the series of exhortations on the lessons taught to us by the young women in our midst. Tragically, as we see in our text, not all the lessons which young women teach are positive. There are particular sins to which young women are prone – and these sins which show up so strongly in young women are sins by which all of us to a greater or lesser degree are tempted.

As we observed a few weeks ago, young women are lovers of beauty – and this love of beauty is a good thing. God has placed in young women an appreciation of fine clothes and jewelry. Accentuating beauty is a good thing.

However, a young woman’s love for beauty can frequently degenerate into the idolization of beauty, into vanity, and it is this sin which our Lord so vividly condemns in the passage before us, a sin which permeates our broader culture – a culture whose women are loose and immodest, vain and self-centered. So listen again:

“Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, And walk with outstretched necks And wanton eyes, Walking and mincing as they go, Making a jingling with their feet, 17 Therefore the Lord will strike with a scab The crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, And the Lord will uncover their secret parts.”

As one reads Isaiah one’s mind can’t help but be filled with visions of Hollywood celebrities, Cosmopolitan models, and the beaches of Coeur d’Alene. And note that God’s judgment on this vanity is harsh. To those women who made their beauty their idol and were were intent to show off their goods to the men around them God declares, “I will give you scabs in place of beauty and I will cause you to reveal everything to the passers by.” God’s judgments are always proportionate.

But note that the true tragedy of the prophet’s words is that he is not exhorting the daughters of Canaan but the daughters of Zion. The culture of the Canaanites had become the culture of the Kingdom of God. Rather than be a light to the world, the daughters of Zion had become a mere reflection of the world, mimicking the vanity of the world. Tragically, it is often the same today.

So, young women, beware vanity. It is a sin which our Lord hates and for which we as a people can only expect judgment. Don’t be like the daughters of Canaan – proud, strutting, immodest, offensive, catty, self-centered; rather be daughters of Sarah – chaste, discreet, modest, wise, shrewd, joyful, thankful, humble.

Likewise, all of us must beware the lure of vanity. In our culture, image is everything. We must keep up with the Joneses. We must have the newest, the greatest, the best. We must appear important. God hates this vanity and will judge it.

Reminded of this, let us kneel and confess that we are a vain people, concerned more for image than for substance of character.

All the Earth Shall Worship God

1 Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth!
2 Sing out the honor of His name;
Make His praise glorious.
3 Say to God,
“How awesome are Your works!
Through the greatness of Your power
Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.
4 All the earth shall worship You
And sing praises to You;
They shall sing praises to Your name.” Selah
Psalm 66:1-4

When we look toward the future, what do we expect? And how does our expectation shape the decisions and investments which we are making with our time today?

For the last 100 years, the predominant Christian view of the future is what we might classify as pessimistic. It is believed that we are living in the last generation before Christ’s bodily return, that the world is destined to get worse and worse prior to His return, and that there is nothing Christians can, or even should, do to reverse this trend. Indeed, to attempt to reverse the trend would be to postpone the imminent return of our Lord, something no thinking believer should want to do.

The results of this particular vision of the future for the history of our nation have been deadly. Christians retreated from cultural involvement, downplayed the importance of future generations, and prepared for the rapture. The results of this retreat have been tragic. Violent crime has mushroomed, educational standards have plummeted as ignorance has spread, church buildings have been designed for utility as opposed to beauty, Christian kids have been abandoning the faith in droves. America has become, in many respects, an ugly place. And much of this is a result of the church’s view of the future.

How does this pessimistic view of the future mesh with David’s view in the psalm before us today? It is the exact opposite. Notice that David describes his anticipation for the future like this:

“Through the greatness of Your power God
Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.
All the earth shall worship You
And sing praises to You;
They shall sing praises to Your name.”

In light of the power of God, David sees the future full of the worship of God, full of the knowledge of God, full of the praise of God. All the earth shall worship, all shall sing praises, even the enemies of God shall submit themselves to Him. Why? Because God is Almighty.

How does this vision of the future shape David’s exhortations in this passage? For notice that David is issuing a series of commands. Listen again:
Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing out the honor of His name;
Make His praise glorious. Say to God, “How awesome are Your works!

Notice that David is summoning the nations – make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! David calls upon all creation to worship and serve the Lord; to join him as he praises God for His might and power.

This is the same summons we make every Lord’s Day. As we come into God’s presence and sing His praises, we are invoking the nations to come and to join us: smell the fragrant aroma, behold the goodness of God, come see the glory of our King and join us in praising Him. And this praise, which starts here each Lord’s Day, is to eek out of here and make its way into our lives during the week so that folks can’t help but declare – how good and how pleasant it must be to know the Lord.

This morning, then, as we enter the presence of the Lord let us consider the exhortations that David gives us:
• We are to sing – don’t mumble, learn psalms as quick as can
• We are to sing joyfully – Make a joyful shout to the Lord
• We are to sing loudly – Make a joyful shout, sing out His Name
• We are to sing beautifully – make His praise glorious

And so let us fill this building with the praise of God – but let us begin by seeking His forgiveness for failing to live now in light of the glorious future that He has promised – let us kneel and confess our pessimism and doubt to Him.

Remember Jesus Christ

“Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned.” 2 Tim 2:8,9

The text before us today issues a very clear imperative to the people of God; we are to “remember Jesus Christ.” So what does it mean to remember Him?

First, we are to remember who the Lord Jesus Christ is. To remember Christ is not simply to worship some figure named Jesus but to worship the Jesus who actually manifested himself in history and revealed himself to the Apostles. The Jesus we are to remember is “risen from the dead, [a] descendant of David, according to my Gospel.” We are to remember the Apostolic, the historical Jesus.

To remember Jesus in this way requires not only that we embrace the Christ revealed to us by the Apostles, but that we repudiate every notion of Christ which does not harmonize with the real Jesus. We do not have the freedom to worship a Jesus of our own imagining. So we are called upon to repudiate the Jesus of liberalism—who is no more than a jaded image of the liberals themselves rather than the eternal Son of God. We are to castigate the Jesus of Arianism (the Jehovah’s Witnesses), who is the first creation of God, not God Himself clothed in human flesh. We are to reject the Jesus of Mormonism—who is the illegitimate offspring of a philandering father, not the High and Holy One of Scriptural revelation.

It is to remember Jesus Christ, declaring our trust in the historical Jesus and renouncing heretical ones, that we corporately confess the creeds every Lord’s Day. The Nicene Creed, which we are currently reciting, was composed to exalt the Christ of the Apostles and to repudiate other notions. With it we declare our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ of history—manifested for us, crucified for us, risen for us, ascended for us, coming in judgment for us. Every Lord’s Day we have the immense privilege to remember Jesus Christ as we recite these words.

So, how are we remembering Him? Are we reciting the creed with joy, gladness and confidence or are we mumbling the words, caring little for the truths encapsulated in them? Are we giving our attention to understanding the words written or are we content to think about the weather outside in the midst of our recital? For to remember Jesus Christ is not simply to know who He is but to worship, serve, love, and adore Him. It is to follow Him no matter the cost.

Paul’s exhortation, therefore, reminds us that we often fail to remember our Lord Jesus Christ as we ought. So let us kneel and let us confess our sin to the Lord.

Hardening our Hearts

Psalm 95:7-11 (NKJV)
7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture, And the sheep of His hand. Today, if you will hear His voice: 8 “Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion, As in the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 When your fathers tested Me; They tried Me, though they saw My work. 10 For forty years I was grieved with that generation, And said, ‘It is a people who go astray in their hearts, And they do not know My ways.’ 11 So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’ ”

When we hear the Word of God week by week the danger always arises that it begin to seem humdrum – just one more voice in the mass of noise. This is particularly true in our day – technology has made it nigh impossible to escape the drone of voices. Just yesterday I was at Killarney Lake, in the midst of God’s beauty, hearing the musica mundi –the music of the world – when a speed boat came by blasting the latest sounds from its speakers. The voice of God begins to sound like just one more voice in the crowd.

This morning we are warned against this very type of problem, against hardening our hearts to the Word of God. Today if you hear His voice – which we all do in the reading and preaching of His Word – do not harden your hearts. Cultivate an ear to hear and heed what God has to say.

What does it mean to harden our hearts? Notice the parallel that we are given to define hardening our hearts. We are reminded of a story – the story of our fathers at Meribah in the desert. What happened on this occasion? How can this help us to understand what it means to harden the heart? Notice that our Lord makes the story particularly clear by noting that “your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work.”

What then was the sin of our fathers? You know the story. God rescued them from Egypt by an outstretched arm. He sent plagues on Egypt, granted our fathers favor with the Egyptians in the midst of these plagues, and then brought them out of the land. When they were in danger of destruction at the hand of Pharaoh’s army, God parted the waters of the Red Sea and let our fathers pass through on dry land while swallowing up Pharaoh’s chariots in the sea. An astounding act of God’s power and mercy! And yet, and yet, within a short time the people of Israel began to grumble, began to complain, began to long to return to Egypt. Why? Because the harsh reality of wandering through the wilderness drove from their minds a consideration of what God had already done for them and of what God had promised to do for them yet. Here then is our definition. To harden the heart to God’s Word is, in the midst of life, to forget what God has done for us already and what God promises to do for us in the future.

So what about you? What trial are you passing through in the wilderness? And how are you responding to it? Are you clinging in faith to the Father who rescued you from your sin and sorrow by sending His own Son to take on human flesh and to die on the cross? Are you remembering that the same Father who sent His Son also sent the Spirit upon our hearts that we might cry out Abba, Father? The Spirit who promises to work in us that which is good and well-pleasing in His sight?

Or are you instead hardening your heart? Have you forgotten the way in which our Lord rescued you? Forgotten the promises He has made to you? Drowned them out in a sea of noise and voices such that His Word is no longer clear? I fear that each of us finds ourself too frequently longing to return to Egypt. And so let us confess our sin to the Lord. Let us kneel and ask his forgiveness for hardening our hearts.

Women of Beauty

Ezekiel 16:9-14 (NKJV)
9 “Then I [the Lord] washed you [O Israel] in water … and I anointed you with oil. 10 I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. 11 I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. 12 And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty. 14 Your fame went out among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through My splendor which I had bestowed on you,” says the Lord God.

The passage before us today describes the significance of God’s redemption of Israel. Though he found her helpless and unclean, He rescued her, protected her, drew her to Himself, washed her, and decked her with beauty. Following the Exodus from Egypt, He gradually raised Israel up to glory. He brought her through the period of the Judges; He gave her the Davidic and Solomonic ages; He gave her wealth, splendor, beauty – for she was His beloved, His bride.

A couple weeks ago we remarked that one of the lessons we as the people of God learn from the young women in our midst is the manner in which we are to long for the wedding day – the day when Christ shall return in glory to be admired among His saints. Today we learn a related lesson. For it is as a girl is transformed by God into a woman that her beauty begins to shine – and this beauty, God tells us today, is something He put there to teach us about the Church.

While the typical spectacle presented before our eyes in the animal kingdom is that the male species is endowed with color and beauty and awe, in humanity it is the beauty of the female that is routinely praised in Scripture. Men are strong; men are courageous; men are wise. But women are beauteous and fair. And this beauty that young women begin to manifest serves to picture for us what God is doing with His bride, the Church.

After all, the picture of God’s work among Israel is reframed by the apostle Paul in his admonition to the Ephesians, an admonition we have already considered. The Lord Jesus is sanctifying and purifying His bride, the Church, intending gradually to raise her up to greatness and glory – why? “that he might present her to Himself a glorious [radiant, beautiful] church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” In other words, the beauty which young women possess and which they endeavor to accentuate with perfumes, jewelry, special diet, and clothes is to remind us of the beauty of the Church for which we are to be laboring.

As we have seen in the book of Nehemiah, our calling as the people of God is to remove the reproach of Jerusalem, to make her more lovely and glorious, beautiful, as a bride adorned for her husband. Reminded that we have failed to do so, let us kneel and let us confess our sins to God.