Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Necessity of Holiness

Hebrews 12:14 (NKJV)
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.

Back when I was in college a nefarious idea was spreading itself through Christian circles and continues to exist even to this day. The idea was that one could receive Jesus as their personal savior while refusing to submit to His Lordship; that one could be delivered from eternal destruction and yet have no evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in his life.

The text today belies such a notion and informs us in no uncertain terms that the pursuit of holiness is not optional. We are to pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.

Notice first that we are to pursue it. To pursue means to strive to do something with an intense effort to a goal, to press forward, to follow in haste. In other contexts this same word is used to describe persecution – to hound someone so that they cannot escape your clutches. And so, Paul tells us, this is to be our approach to holiness. We are to hunt it down, seek it out, latch onto it, press forward as to a goal.

And what is the goal? Holiness or, as it is called in other places, sanctification. To be holy means to be separated to the Lord’s service, distinct from the world. And so the temple in the OT was called holy – a sanctuary, a place set apart for the worship of God. Holiness, therefore, is dedication to the Lord, manifesting itself particularly in moral purity. The goal, in other words, is to be living sacrifices, set apart for the worship and service of the Lord.

And so, Hebrews tells us, we are to pursue this holiness. We are to hunt it down. Bring out the blood hounds and find it. And he appends a warning to his admonition to prod us in the posterior lest we become complacent – without this holiness, we won’t see the Lord.

So, how are you doing? Are you hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Are you seeking first the kingdom of God? Are you selling everything to buy the pearl of great price? Are you scouring the house to find the lost coin?

None of us, of course, are adequate for such things. And this is why we stand in such need of the Spirit of grace who creates within us this very holiness, who cultivates within us the desire to pursue.

And so, as we come into the presence of our Lord this day, let us confess that we have not pursued sanctification as we ought and let us kneel and call upon His mercy to receive us and forgive us for the sake of Christ. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Meditating on 9/11

Amos 3:6 (NKJV)
6 If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the LORD have done it?

Amos reminds us today that as certainly as a trumpet gains the attention of those who hear it, so calamity that strikes a people comes from the hand of Yahweh, the Sovereign Lord. Providentially we find ourselves worshiping today on September 11th – the 15th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. It is appropriate, therefore, to remember that events such as these are not random or haphazard. They don’t come because of chance or random mutation.

Calamities such as this are the result of two quite different wills – the will of sinful man and the will of Almighty God. On the one hand, the attack on the World Trade Centers was the result of cowardly and sinful Islamic terrorists whose conception of justice and service for Allah is perverse and damnable. Their willingness to strike civilian targets highlights their barbaric cruelty, a cruelty which mimics that of Simeon and Levi against the inhabitants of Shechem, a cruelty which will end in judgment and destruction.

Alongside this sinful and criminal will of the terrorists is the holy and righteous will of God. God struck America. God used the wicked and inexcusable actions of sinful men to accomplish His holy and righteous purposes. Even as God long ago used the nation of Assyria to strike His people Israel for their wickedness (cf. Is 10:5ff), so He has used these terrorists to strike us. So why has He done so? What are His purposes? Calamities of this sort are sent by God to remind us of our collective sin, to warn us of the inevitability of judgment when we turn away from Him, and to call us to repentance and the practice of righteousness.

So in the last fifteen years have we given heed to God’s warning, to God’s call? Not at all. We have continued in our headstrong way, despising God, despising His law, sanctioning wickedness. In the last fifteen years we have continued to worship other gods; we have continued to practice no-fault divorce; we have continued to slaughter our unborn; we have continued to permit and even celebrate sexual perversity. We slander our neighbors, give heed to the proud and the haugty, and have candidates for the highest office in the land who are both known for their deceitfulness. Rather than destroying all the wicked of the land, we have begun officially leading boys and girls astray by saying that male and female are malleable. Many of our states and even our own city have extended public protections to perverse behaviors and our federal government has imposed same sex unions upon us. In the last fifteen years, we have doubled down in rebellion against God, calling good evil and evil good.

So what ought we to do as the people of God? We ought to cry out, “Lord, have mercy!” We ought to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, confess our own sins and the sins of our people, plead with Him to forgive our sins through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, and petition Him to deliver us from our rebellion by the power of His Spirit. As we come into the presence of God this morning, therefore, let us begin by kneeling and confessing our sins to the Lord. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Seeking the Lord in Times of Trouble

Psalm 13:1-4
 “How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
         How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
         Having sorrow in my heart daily?
         How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
         Enlighten my eyes,
         Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
         “I have prevailed against him”;
         Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.

David lived a difficult life and seldom enjoyed long periods of peace and prosperity. It was left to his son Solomon to enjoy such things while he himself was a man of war. Because he was a man of war, David routinely found himself in tight spots. Mocked by his brothers; harrassed by Saul; despised by Abimelech; scorned by his wife; pursued by his son Absalom; David often found himself facing enemies – some outside his house and some, tragically, inside.

Psalm 13 was composed in just such a circumstance. David was in trouble, his enemies were surrounding him, his defeat at their hands seemed nigh at hand.

Imagine, if you will, the turmoil that struck David in each of these circumstances. The pain and fear that must have confronted him. Well – we need not imagine. For we find his fears, pains, and anxieties expressed in the psalm before us today.

“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
         How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
         Having sorrow in my heart daily?
         How long will my enemy be exalted over me?”

Now consider your own circumstances. What troubles are you facing? Which enemies are surrounding you? What fears, pains, and anxieties are troubling you?

One last question: what are you doing with those fears? Notice what David does with his fears: he brings his anxious longings into the very presence of God. He does not suppress them; he does not fester over them; he does not wallow in them. He gathers them together and puts them in the best hands possible – the Lord’s.

“Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
         Enlighten my eyes,
         Lest I sleep the sleep of death;”

Our Lord Jesus counseled us:
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”

Jesus calls us to be like David – to place our fears, our anxieties, our worries in the hands of our Faithful Father who cares for us and promises to protect us. But often we fail to do so, do we not? So reminded of our failure to entrust our worries into the Lord’s hands, let us kneel and confess our sins in Christ’s name, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father. We’ll have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.