Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Blessing of Church Officers

Ephesians 4:11–12 (NKJV)
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

The final thing that I would like to share with you publicly about my trip to presbytery in Minneapolis is the privilege that I had to serve on the examination committee for Kenton Spratt. Kenton is the pastor of our sister congregation in Colville, Washington. It was an incredible privilege to get to hear him preach, to read some of his writing, and then to examine him at presbytery.

But not only was it an incredible privilege to examine Kenton, it was also an incredible privilege to work in concert with other elders in the CREC during this process. The examination committee is typically composed of five CREC elders – some pastors, some teaching elders, some ruling elders. Our task is to examine the candidate’s fitness to serve as a minister of the Gospel.

 The privilege of joining in this work reminded me that one of our callings as the people of God – both officers and congregants – is to thank God for the gift he has given us in apostles, prophets, evangelists, and even pastors and teachers. God in His grace and mercy has gifted us with men to teach and articulate the Word of God – and it was my privilege to recognize Kenton as one of those men.

So how are you doing? First, have you been thanking God for the leaders, past and present, in the church? Thanking God that He has given us those equipped to read and understand and teach His Word? And not only thanking God for them, but continuing to pray for those living that they would fulfill their tasks with joy and integrity?

Second, have you reckoned with your calling to support ministers of the Gospel with your tithes and offerings? Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that those who minister the holy things [in the OT] eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:13-14). And so we are called upon as the people of God to express our gratitude for those who labor in Word and Sacraments by providing for their physical needs by giving to the work of the church.

Third, have you shown your appreciation for these men by listening to what they are telling you? The way we show respect and honor is not by nodding our heads and saying how much we appreciate them, but by doing what they urge us to do when it is consistent with the Word of God. God has given them that we all might be equipped for ministry, Paul says – and so our calling is to make use of their teaching by ministering, by implementing the principles they give.

Reminded of the many ways in which we take leaders for granted, let us kneel and confess our sin to God.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Tragedy of Division in the Church

Acts 15:36-40
Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing.” Now Barnabas was determined to take with them John called Mark. But Paul insisted that they should not take with them the one who had departed from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. Then the contention became so sharp that they parted from one another. And so Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus; but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of God.

At Presbytery learned not only of great deliverances but also of troubles in some churches. That which has sat most on my heart is one of the original congregations in the CREC whose elders – all godly men – have found it impossible to labor side by side any longer. Their difference of vision has become so entrenched that they have decided, for the sake of long term peace, to part ways and plant a new church in the same community while endeavoring to preserve fraternal relationships with one another through joint meetings, psalm sings, etc.

Their story reminded me of the event in the life of Barnabas and Paul that we read in Acts. They simply could not agree on what to do with John Mark. Barnabas was willing to give John Mark another chance; Paul felt that to bring him along would compromise their very important mission. Luke comments on their disagreement that “the contention become so sharp that they parted from one another.” They could not agree on the course forward.

Here’s the question: was the division between Barnabas and Paul a result of sin? No doubt. Not only had John Mark’s sin provided the original cause for the dispute but our general condition as fallen human beings means that both Paul and Barnabas were sinners as well and no doubt their particular weaknesses contributed to the conflict. But here’s another question: does Luke make an attempt to sort this situation out and ascribe blame? Not at all. These were godly men, they had a difference of vision, and so they parted ways because they simply could not agree on a course forward.

Isn’t that humbling? We imagine in our idealism that we Christians should be able to work all these problems out. We’ve got to preserve the unity of the Spirit – didn’t Paul himself write that?! But the story is put here to remind us of the stark reality of our current human condition – we are finite and sinful and stand in desperate need of the grace of God? Here are two godly men who couldn’t agree and had to separate from one another for a time. Here in the CREC are godly men who cannot agree and are separating from one another while endeavoring to maintain fellowship. How this ought to humble us, to cause us to cry out to God for mercy, to beseech him to keep us united and give us a common vision.

Job tells us, “Man is prone to trouble, as sparks fly upward.” Knowing how prone we are to such trouble, our calling is to be gracious to one another, to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and to cry out to God to unite us in love. Unfortunately we often fail to do so. We bicker and complain; we seek our own good rather than the good of others.

And so reminded of our need to be humble, to seek the face of God, to treat one another with kindness and mercy, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Passion for the Lost

2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

During my time at presbytery I had the opportunity to hear reports from the various churches in our region – hearing of God’s faithfulness, of challenging trials, and of remarkable deliverances. I promised that I would share some of these things with you and so permit me this morning to share one of the stories I heard – a story that both encouraged and challenged me.

We learn from our passage today that the reason God delays the coming of the Day of the Lord is to secure the salvation of all His people. He is not slack concerning His promise but is patient toward us, not will that any should perish. The Lord is determined to rescue his people. Through the preaching of the Word, the witness of believers to Christ, and the work of the Spirit, He is in the process of bringing men, women, and children into His kingdom – and He will not fail to save any of His people.

This was brought home to me through one of the stories shared at presbytery. A member of this congregation, a brother by the name of Dale, has worked for about 20 years as a postal carrier. He has endeavored to do his job faithfully and well, self-consciously endeavoring to bear witness to Jesus through his labor. For many of those years, Dale first worked alongside and later worked under his current supervisor. They have not always seen eye to eye.

About a month ago Dale’s supervisor had a dream. He was at work and it was a rotten day. Everything seemed to be going wrong. The employees were complaining, he was frustrated, the air was tense – except for Dale. Dale was sorting his mail, singing and whistling, doing his work with joy. The mail carriers went out to deliver and the day continued going poorly. Some mail didn’t get delivered; as carriers returned they were asked to carry this new mail out. And you can imagine the response: anger, frustration, railing on the supervisor – from everyone except Dale. He went and did his work with a smile.

Then, in his dream, the supervisor finally got to go home bringing to an end a long, miserable day at work. But wouldn’t you know it, his troubles weren’t over. When he got home soon he and his wife were arguing and fighting – over what, the dream didn’t make clear. But in the midst of their arguing, they heard a knock on the door. Dale’s supervisor went to the door, opened it, and was surprised to see Dale on his doorstep. “Can I help you?” he asked. And the dream ended.

The next day Dale’s supervisor related his dream to the office before Dale arrived and, when Dale arrived, called him into his office. “We need to talk,” he said. And so began a number of conversations between Dale and his supervisor over the Gospel – the next Sunday Dale’s supervisor showed up at church with his wife – though neither of them had darkened the doorway of a church since their childhood; within the next week Dale’s supervisor professed faith in Christ; and in the last several weeks he has continued to grow in the Lord.

As I said I found myself both encouraged and challenged by the story: encouraged because the story reveals that we serve the Living God, a God who moves and acts in the lives of men and women and children to draw them to Himself and give them life. He is not willing that any of His people perish.

But I also found myself challenged: is my life, my conversation, my demeanor – so let me ask you: is your life, your conversation, your demeanor – something that God can put to use in a dream to draw others to Him? Or have you been a poor witness, more the stuff of nightmares? God’s design is to reveal Himself to all the nations of the earth, to cause every knee to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus. And the way he intends to do this is through our witness – so how are we doing? Are we bearing faithful witness to our Lord Jesus?

Reminded of this call and no doubt convicted that we have fallen short of our calling, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Women and Wine

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that … the older women … be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.(Tit 2:1-5)

In our text today, Paul continues his admonitions to older women and his admonition is that older women “not be given to much wine.” What does Paul’s admonition reveal to us?

It is a perennial tendency of sinful men to identify the cause of our problem as human beings as something outside ourselves, something external to our nature. Rather than correctly understand that our fundamental problem is a problem of the heart – that we are indeed corrupt and twisted, inclined to evil rather than to good – we begin to imagine that we are basically good people and that the problem is all these corrupting influences that surround us.

The fruit of this thinking is the moralistic crusade – in order to secure salvation we must abolish whatever it is that is corrupting us. And so some have insisted that that which corrupts us is sexual pleasure – the solution? Develop man made rules restricting sexual enjoyment. Others have insisted that that which corrupts us is certain foods – the solution? Develop a list of those foods which are acceptable and those which are forbidden. Still others have insisted that it is ignorance which corrupts us – the solution? Develop schools, pay teachers larger salaries, save our kids.

But among the items which have been said to be the source of our corruption, none has been more fiercely condemned in the last 100 years than the demon liquor. The prohibitionist movement in America and the continuing antipathy toward alcohol of any sort in many conservative Christian quarters is evidence of the hold this notion has had and continues to have upon the Christian conscience.

But here’s what I’d like you to notice in our text today – Paul does not say that older women are not to drink wine, he says that older women are not to be drunkards, not to be given to much wine. Despite much conservative Christian thought to the contrary, alcohol is not in itself sinful. What is sinful is the abuse of alcohol – drunkenness is a sin. And what this means is that the fundamental problem is not with the alcohol, the fundamental problem is with us. As sinners we continually abuse the good gifts that God has given us, using them not for the glory of God but in sinful ways.

You see the same Bible which condemns drunkenness in the most emphatic terms, also tells us that God gave wine to gladden the heart of men. The problem is not the wine – the problem is us. We take a gift from God and corrupt it. And so Paul insists that older women are not to be drunkards, not to be given to much wine. And if women aren’t to be drunkards then neither are the rest of us.

Reminded that the primary problem in the world is our sinfulness and not the objects in the world, let us kneel and confess our misuse and abuse of His gifts.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Women and Slander

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that … the older women … be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.(Tit 2:1-5)

Some weeks ago we began a series of exhortations for the women in the congregation. What would God teach us through them and what are the particular sins which women need beware of? Last time we considered Paul’s admonition that the older women are to be reverent in behavior; this week we consider his admonition that the older women are not to be slanderers.

Characteristically sins of the tongue seem to tempt women far more than they do men. Fittingly, therefore, the Word of God does not shy away from exhorting women in this specific area. One of the key signs of godliness is the way we use our tongue. Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks – and therefore that which comes out of the mouth reveals that which is in the heart, reveals that which we treasure and love and esteem.

So what do you love? What do you treasure and esteem? Well answer me this – what is coming out of your mouth? For what is coming out reveals what is inside. We have this strange notion that the way someone acts and speaks doesn’t really reveal what they treasure. But Jesus insists that that’s just not true. So let me ask you – what is coming out of your mouth? Is it thanksgivings to God, the wisdom of God’s Word, words and remarks that refresh the soul and build up those with whom you are speaking, gracious words that always put the best interpretation on others’ actions? Or is it fretting and whining, complaints and grumblings, gossip and slander?

It is this last sin that Paul particularly focuses upon in our text – the sin of slander. Slander is closely related to gossip. Gossip becomes slander when the rumors we circulate are clearly false and intended to destroy. Slander has a much clearer sinister element to it – intending as it does to harm the one about whom the tale is told. While those who gossip sometimes delude themselves into thinking that they are really helping the other person or at least not harming anyone, the slanderer intentionally sets out to harm another by spreading falsehoods. She is using her tongue to destroy.

So whom have you slandered? Whom have you maligned and mistreated with your speech? Your husband? Your father? Other women? Your elders? Beware the sin of slander.

Warnings against this sin are replete in the Scriptures. David complained, “For I hear the slander of many; Fear is on every side; While they take counsel together against me, They scheme to take away my life.” His son Solomon notes in Proverbs 10:18, “Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool.” And Paul, in the other testament, notes that in the latter days men will be “unloving, unforgiving, slanderers.”

Because of the insidious nature of slander, severe curses are called down upon the one who practices the same. The psalmist prays in Psalm 140:11, “Let not a slanderer be established in the earth; Let evil hunt the violent man to overthrow him.” And God Himself announces in Psalm 101:5, “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, Him I will destroy.” God takes slander seriously.

And so reminded that the words we speak reveal what we treasure and love, let us turn to God and confess that we have loved wickedness and deceit. Let us kneel as we confess together.