Sunday, January 31, 2016

Face to Face Communication

2 John 12–13 (NKJV)
12 Having many things to write to you, I did not wish to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. 13 The children of your elect sister greet you. Amen.

Today we bring to a close our series of exhortations on 2 John. John has reminded us time and again of the intimate relationship between truth and love. Truth and love are not competitors but companions. As we emphasized, truth is like our skeletal structure and love is like our flesh. Truth without love is dead and love without truth is an amorphous blob. Only truth and love together, bones and flesh together, enable us to serve Christ to the glory of the Father.

And because of this intimate connection between truth and love, John is not content simply to write to his audience. Written words are great; written words are important; written words can convey a lot. But written words cannot convey adequately the heartfelt love and loyalty that John had for this congregation. He wanted to speak with them face to face – so that they could not only read what he had to say but see how he said it. He wanted them to know how deadly these false teachings really were; how reliable Christ really is; how burdened John really was for their spiritual growth. There is no substitute for face-to-face communication.

John’s words remind us that when we are facing difficulties and challenges with others, the best remedy is face-to-face communication. Face-to-face interaction forces us to remember who this person really is; gives us an opportunity to clarify ourselves, to express our heart and to ask questions.

At no time is this face-to-face interaction more important than when someone has sinned against us. Jesus commands us in Matthew 18:15, “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” Jesus commands us to pursue face-to-face communication with a brother or sister who has sinned against us. We are to “tell him his fault” privately – to speak to him, tell him the offense, and attempt to bring about reconciliation. We aren’t to give him the cold shoulder; aren’t to post his transgression on Facebook; aren’t to write him an email; aren’t to get even; aren’t to gossip to others. We are to go and tell him his fault privately. We are to seek him out face-to-face.

And the goal of this face-to-face communication is reconciliation. The goal is to re-establish peace and to again experience joy in the relationship. John writes, “I hope to come to you and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” Doing the (often) challenging thing of pursuing our brother or sister when there is tension in the air is the only way to eliminate that tension and reestablish joy.

So reminded this morning of our calling to unite truth and love and to do it by seeking face-to-face contact with our brethren, particularly when there is tension in the relationship, let us confess that we often grow cold and distant instead; that we often keep to ourselves, become resentful or indifferent, and rob ourselves and our brethren of joy. And as we confess these things, let us kneel before the Lord.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Schools can be the Very Gates of Hell

Among a series of great quotations on Scripture from Martin Luther (found here) was this stirring one on education:

"I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labour in explaining the Holy Scriptures, and engraving them on the hearts of youth. I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution in which men and women are not unceasingly occupied with the Word of God must be corrupt.”

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Our Gods are Devouring our Children

Ezekiel 16:20-21 (NKJV)
Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to [your idols] to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to [your gods] by causing them to pass through the fire?

Once upon a time there was a man and wife who longed to have a child. But for some years the wife could not conceive. Finally to their great delight she found herself with child and husband and wife eagerly awaited the arrival of their first child

It just so happened that the couple’s home overlooked a walled garden that was owned by a terrible witch. As the wife’s pregnancy progressed, she developed an intense craving for the nut lettuce or rapunzel that she saw growing there. She begged and pleaded with her husband to get her some of the rapunzel but he refused, knowing it was wrong to steal and being afraid of the witch. However, when his wife became so desperate that she ceased eating altogether, he relented, broke into the garden, and stole some rapunzel.

His wife was delighted. She made herself a great salad and devoured the rapunzel. But her desire only increased. The next day she demanded more – and then the next day again. But just as the husband was making away with the lettuce, he was discovered by the witch. Great was her wrath as she loomed above him.

“How dare you steal from my garden?” demanded the witch. “Prepare to die!”

“Please,” begged the husband, “have mercy! I would not have dared to steal from your garden but my wife is pregnant with our first child and declared that she would die without this rapunzel.”

At these words the witch’s demeanor softened though her lips curled in derision and her eyes bore a hungry look. “Very well, you may take the rapunzel. But this is the price you must pay – when your wife has borne this child, you must give it to me.”

The man agreed. After all, what else could he do? He had stolen from her garden and would lose his own life if he refused. And perhaps the witch would forget the bargain? So he departed with the rapunzel. Soon his wife gave birth to their child, a lovely daughter. But their joy was short-lived for the witch appeared to claim her prize and the parents watched helpless as she took the child away. They were brokenhearted.

The story of Rapunzel reminds us that when we choose to serve other gods, they frequently give us their goods – even as the witch gave away her rapunzel – but these goods always come at a cost. And that cost is frequently our children. It was for this abomination, the abomination of handing their children over to other gods, that God exhorted our fathers through His prophet Ezekiel.
Moreover you took your sons and your daughters, whom you bore to Me, and these you sacrificed to [your idols] to be devoured. Were your acts of harlotry a small matter, that you have slain My children and offered them up to [your gods] by causing them to pass through the fire?

Today is Sanctity of Life Sunday. This week is the 43rd anniversary of the diabolical Roe v Wade decision. Since then Americans alone have slaughtered over 58 million human beings, offered them up to our gods and polluted our hands with blood. In America the gods that we have been worshiping – consumerism, greed, immorality, power, influence, convenience, beauty – have been demanding our children. We’ve made a pact with the witch and now she’s taking our children. Even more tragically, many of these slaughtered children were slain by professing Christians. We have taken God’s children and caused them to pass through the fire.

Is there hope? Only in our Prince, the Lord Jesus Christ. He can rescue us and our children from our false gods, deliver us from the madness that has overtaken us, and take us to His own kingdom. For though He too demands our children, He demands them that they may live not that they may die. So let us listen to Him, hear His voice, and turn from the false gods we have worshiped.

Reminded that we have been worshiping other gods and sacrificing our children to them, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

He who does not honor the Son...

2 John 9–11 (NKJV)
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.

Last week we learned that the Father and the Son are inseparable. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father; and he who does not honor the Father does not honor the Son. This unity of the Father and the Son is a major theme throughout the Apostle John’s writings. Alone among the Gospel writers, John records Jesus’ words to the disciples at the last Passover feast. The unity of Father, Son, and Spirit is a major theme of these words. Consider these statements that Jesus makes:

Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately… you believe in God, believe also in Me… He who has seen Me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me… the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you…when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me… He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority; but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.

This inseparability of Father, Son, and Spirit explains why John takes such pains in our epistle to refute the errors of Docetism. It also explains why the Trinity was the first major debate in the history of the Church. Who is this God we worship? Who is Jesus? Who is the Spirit? The first commandment declares to us, “You shall have no other gods before me.” So who is this God we worship? He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The inseparability of Father, Son, and Spirit also explain why, as a congregation, we have prioritized reciting the historic ecumenical creeds together throughout the year. Depending on the time of year, we recite or sing the Apostles’ Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Each of these creeds reminds us whom we worship – we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we do not worship some abstract deity called “God”; we worship the God who revealed Himself in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ and who has poured out the Spirit to lead and guide us into the truth.

This morning, remember that it is this God, the Creator of all things and the Redeemer of His people Israel, who has called you here to worship. It is to Him we offer praise, before Him we confess our sins, to Him we present our offerings, from Him we receive instruction, and with Him we feast at the Table. And He is no puny tribal deity or idol, but the Living God who rules over heaven and earth.

So reminded into whose presence we have come and whom we are worshiping, let us bow before Him, acknowledging our sins and transgressions and asking Him to forgive us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Let us kneel as we confess our sins.