Sunday, February 24, 2013

Blessing Strangers

Exodus 23:9 (NKJV)
9 “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

One of the most challenging things that many of us face in our daily lives is that of identifying honest and reputable businessmen. Our car breaks down; our sewer backs up; our computer crashes; our reputation or livelihood is threated by a lawsuit. We find ourselves strangers in a strange land – having to deal with problems we’ve never faced before. What we need is someone honest and skilled to assist us: to tell us exactly what’s wrong and then fix it for a fair price.  But what we often find instead are charlatans who expand the list of things wrong and charge far more than is fair to do the work.

Last week we observed in our text from Exodus that God expects us to be gracious and loving toward strangers which implies that we are to be actively welcoming visitors into our congregation. Today I’d like us to consider a second implication of the text: namely, we are to treat others justly. When others are dependent upon our expertise or knowledge in a certain area, we are called to use our knowledge to bless them rather than to take advantage of them. As strangers in a strange land they are entrusting themselves to us. So we are commanded to treat them justly and fairly. Moses reminds us:
Deuteronomy 10:17–19 (NKJV)
17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

God commands us to love strangers, to care for and protect them. He does this for two reasons. First, this is what God Himself does. He loves them and so we must. Second, we ourselves know what it is like to be strangers in a strange land. Therefore, we are to love them.

The principle embedded in this text is none other than that articulated by our Lord Jesus in the Golden Rule. “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Mt 7:12). When relying upon others’ expertise we would have folks treat us fairly and justly and graciously – assisting us in our need and not exploiting us in our ignorance.

So we too are to practice the same – especially in the realm of business. As a businessman I must beware lest I take advantage of another’s ignorance and so exploit them. My work should be done honestly and well – giving them an accurate assessment of their problem and charging them fairly for the work I perform.

Reminded of our obligation to be just and fair to others, let us kneel and confess that we have often used our knowledge to exploit others rather than to bless them.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Showing Hospitality to Guests

Exodus 23:9 (NKJV)
“Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

As our Scripture today reminds us, God commanded Israel to be hospitable, merciful, just and gracious to “strangers” – that is, foreigners or immigrants in Israel who were most susceptible to abuse and exploitation by those who understood Israel’s language and customs. God warns Israel lest they use their knowledge to swindle these newcomers or to humiliate them.

Note that in our passage today the rationale God uses to enforce his command is Israel’s own experience in Egypt. The Israelites were to remember that they had once been strangers and that, therefore, they knew what it was to be in a different land – unfamiliar with the language, ignorant of the customs, uncertain of the expectations, vulnerable to exploitation. Israel knew the heart of a stranger. Therefore, Israel was not to oppress a stranger.

This principle is repeated throughout the law. We read, for example, in Leviticus 19:33–34:
‘And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.

Israel was to take special care that foreigners and strangers be treated justly and compassionately. So what does this command have to do with us? Much in every way. After all, Paul commands us in the book of Hebrews, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers…” As Christians we have an obligation to welcome and protect those most vulnerable to exploitation or humiliation.

There are numerous implications that follow from this principle – today let us consider one and we will address others in weeks to come. One implication is that we need to love strangers to our congregation. When there are visitors, we have an obligation in the sight of God to love and cherish these folks and to assist them to feel at home. We have a certain language and certain customs with which visitors are unfamiliar; we have relationships with one another that visitors don’t yet enjoy. So we have an opportunity to make visitors feel welcome, loved, appreciated, and included. This may mean assisting them with their bulletin or their hymnals; it most certainly means making sure that visitors aren’t standing around with no one welcoming them. Be courteous, be gracious, be hospitable, be welcoming. The goal is to make them feel at home – for you understand, do you not, the heart of a stranger? You know what it is to visit a new congregation of God’s people – you know that it is awkward and that when members of that congregation make you feel at home it is a welcome oasis in a barren land.

But often we are so consumed with our own troubles or our desire to be with just our friends that we neglect to think of these visitors in our midst. Rather than think of others, we primarily think of ourselves. This exhortation I would urge upon the youth as much or more than upon the adults. Look for opportunities to welcome visitors. Welcome them and make them feel at home.

Reminded of our obligation to welcome strangers and of our tendency to think of ourselves more than others, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Envying the Wicked

Psalm 37:1–4 (NKJV)
1 Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity.

This morning David warns us to beware how we relate to the wicked. David’s warning reveals a keen insight into the wiles of the human heart and the way in which the righteous can be subtly ensnared by the lure of vice.

Notice that David’s warning is two-fold. Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. In typical Hebrew parallelism the two sides of David’s statement help to reinforce and explain one another. So note that David warns us lest we fret because of evildoers. To fret is to worry, to fuss, to agonize or be vexed. But fretting can manifest itself for a variety of reasons – so David explains the trajectory of the fretting with his second warning: don’t be envious of the wicked. The type of fretting is an envious fretting – a fretting that secretly or openly casts a longing glance toward the apparent prosperity of the wicked or their indulgence of certain sins.

David’s twofold warning – don’t fret; that is, don’t be envious –reminds us that one of the reasons we often get in a huff and puff toward those who are practicing wickedness is that secretly, in our hearts, we would like to be doing the same thing. We think that the wicked are getting a free pass to do all the fun stuff while we have to be all prudish and stick with the straight and narrow. Starched collars and all that. Secretly, in our hearts, we are still defining the good life according to the world’s measure. We’re saying to ourselves, “My, I wish I could get away with that.”

But David reminds us that if we think this way, we are being deceived and our hearts are not right before the Lord. If we find ourselves fretting and worrying because of evildoers, envious of their supposed liberties, then we haven’t yet reckoned with the Lordship of Christ. God rules and reigns and this means that these folks are going to be destroyed and that their wickedness is as foolish as pouring kerosene on kindling amid a forest fire. Their days are numbered and the folly in which they are engaged is not something we should envy – no more than envying a child who is preparing to stick his hand in the beautiful blue flames on the stovetop.

So what of you? What are you treasuring in your heart? Have you been secretly envying the state of the wicked? Saying to yourself, “My, I wish I could get away with that.” Then consider and take to heart the word of the Lord:
For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb. 3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. 4 Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

Reminded that we often envy the wicked rather than pity them for their folly, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Biblical Case for Infant Baptism

Our men's group is currently reading Book IV of John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Finding ourselves in the midst of his defense of infant baptism, I decided to take the time to reformat a paper I wrote some years ago when I was still a credobaptist and moving toward paedobaptism. As Calvin makes clear in his defense, the linchpin of the argument for paedobaptism is the correspondence between circumcision and baptism. Being keenly aware of that I did a fair amount of meditating and wrestling with that very issue. This paper was the fruit of that meditation. I hope you enjoy it.
The Significance of Circumcision

Friday, February 1, 2013

Preference vs Principle

James 1:22-25 (NKJV)
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

It is imperative for us as the people of God to distinguish between being men and women of preference and being men and women of principle. The text before us today provides the basis for this distinction and so let me explain it briefly.

A man or woman of preference is one who would prefer things to be a certain way but who can’t seem, for one reason or another, to accomplish his objective. He would prefer to be sexually pure, but he just can’t seem to resist looking at pornography. She would prefer to be respectful to her husband, but he’s just so unworthy of respect. He would prefer to succeed in his schoolwork well, but his friends invited him to a party this weekend. She would prefer to live a life characterized by joy and gladness, but what her parents did to her when she was young is just too much to forgive. He would prefer to have obedient children, but the children God has given him are difficult and his wife just doesn’t do a good job with them. She would prefer to be content, but all her friends have so many more clothes than she. He would prefer to make it to church each Lord’s Day, but it’s simply too hard to get the whole family ready ahead of time. She would prefer not to gossip, but she’s just so lonely she needs someone to talk with.

Contrast these scenarios with a man or woman of principle. He knows it is sinful to be sexually impure, and so he does whatever is necessary to shield himself from temptation. She knows that she must respect her husband, and so she begins honoring him with her words and actions, praying that her heart attitude will gradually change. He knows that all hard work, including school work, brings a profit, so he skips the party to study for his exam. She knows that God commands her to be joyful, and so she confesses her sin of bitterness and refuses to listen to her own sob story. He knows he is responsible for the state of his children, and so he asks his wife’s forgiveness for failing to train them and then he sets about to make them obedient. She knows that contentment is not an option, and so she meditates on the Word of God and rejoices that God is her portion in the land of the living. He knows that his family needs to be in worship every Lord’s Day, and so he organizes everything Saturday evening so they can make it. She knows it is a sin to gossip, and so she confides her loneliness to the Lord and looks for ways to praise others with her words.

What kind of man or woman are you? Are you a man or woman of preference or of principle? If the former heed the warning of James -
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.

Reminded that we often fail to be men and women of principle and that we make excuses for our disobedience, let us kneel and ask our Lord’s forgiveness.