At Last! The Psalms!

October 7, 2016

This Sunday we begin a multi-year sermon series on the book of Psalms. If our Lord is willing, over something like 75 sermons, we’ll cover the entire book from “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked” (Psalm 1:1) to “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:5). Most weeks, as on October 9, we’ll consider more than one psalm. We’ll also break up the series into groups of about 15 sermons, returning to Romans to complete that series after the first set of psalms, and interspersing other New Testament series with the remaining psalms.

Why the book of Psalms?

At one level, it’s about time to consider it! While we read Scripture from this book almost every Sunday, only a handful sermons at DGCC have taken any of the psalms as their text.

At another level, the book of Psalms fits well with where we are in our preaching. Both Fred and I have focused in the past several months on key doctrines of the faith – who is God, what is man? How are we not condemned before Him? Where is the world headed? The psalms help us to see and to live out what must follow from such doctrines – the emotions, the affections, the praise, the crying out – as we live life in a sinful, fallen world.

Furthermore, when you read the psalms – personally, in your family, or in corporate worship – you are linking yourself with followers of God over the last three thousand years. Over centuries and millennia, these psalms have expressed and shaped the affections and emotions of God’s people. We pray that God will do the same with us – that our prayers might be shaped by these psalms and our attitudes might become more consistent with biblical doctrine as we hear and speak and live out these psalms.

Let’s look at seven forms that this expressing and shaping of emotions takes (modified from Mark Dever’s similar list in The Message of the Old Testament):

Praise: We proclaim the greatness of our God to all peoples and, indeed, to all creation, citing who He has proclaimed Himself to be:

Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! 
Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. 
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!  
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. 
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. 
Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. 
Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength!
Psalm 96:1-7

Remembering: We remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness to His covenant, especially as shown in the history of His people:

When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid;
indeed, the deep trembled.
The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder;
your arrows flashed on every side.
The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lighted up the world;
the earth trembled and shook.
Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Psalm 77:16-20

Thanksgiving: Giving thanks in the psalms is not private, between an individual and God. Rather, thanksgiving in the psalms is always a form of public praise. Whether the psalmist is thanking God for assisting him personally or for helping the people, the thanksgiving praises God for such acts:

Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; 
they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. 
He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. 
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! 
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
Psalm 107:17-22

Trust: Praising God for who He is, remembering His covenant love and faithful deeds, and thanking Him for His work on our behalf all serve to deepen our trust in Him. So the psalms call upon us to trust Him always, especially in the midst of trials and difficulties:

Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. 
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. 
They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.
Psalm 20:6-8

Honest Lament:  Yet while we are in such trials and difficulties, God often seems distant and confusing. We cry out and don’t see an answer; we ask God to intervene, and don’t understand how He is at work. Many psalms reflect this confusion, this darkness; indeed, more than one-third of the psalms contain a lament. One author says there is so much lament in the psalms to “show that the experience of anguish and puzzlement in the life of faith is not a sign of deficient faith, something to be outgrown or put behind one, but rather is intrinsic to the very nature of faith” (R.W.L. Moberly, as quoted by B Waltke et al, The Psalms as Christian Lament, p. 1). Often these laments sound similar to Job’s cries:

O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me? 
Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless. 
Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me. 
They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together. 
You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.
Psalm 88:14-18

Love for and Obedience to God’s Law:  We delight in God’s revelation of His character in His Law, and strive to follow it by His grace, knowing that in following Him we find true life, true joy.

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. 
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. 
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. 
I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. 
I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. 
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.
Psalm 119:97-104

Repentance: Though we love His Law and strive to follow it, we often fall short. So we turn from our sin, confessing that God rightly condemns us and seeking forgiveness by His grace and mercy.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.
Psalm 51:1-4

May God be pleased to express and shape our affections and emotions through this great book, and so continue to transform us into His people who live to His glory among all the nations.

 

Cancer Cannot Separate Us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus

September 27, 2016

After preaching Sunday on Romans 8:35-39, I learned via Facebook that Anjel French has melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer that has spread to other parts of her body. Anjel is married to Jason French, former worship leader at one of the campuses of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis and the author of some of the songs we sing at DGCC. In Jason’s post on Sunday evening, he discusses how the very truths we sang about and heard about that morning are life-giving and spirit-feeding in the midst of such serious trials. An excerpt:

Cancer is not God. It is created. It is creation. It is not self-existing. It is not autonomous. It does not have a will of its own such that it can live and move, expand or shrink, or even die apart from the will of the Creator of the entire Cosmos whom we are so privileged to call “Father,” because we have been adopted into his family through the life, death, burial, and resurrection of his beloved Son, Jesus, and are now sealed with the promise of and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

So, cancer does not have the final say. Cancer must obey God. God has the final say and for his children, this will is always for us. It can never, ever be against us. If God commands the cancer to go, it will and must go. If God in Christ commands the cancer to remain, or grow, or shrink, or stay the same, it bends to the will of him who holds as things together—even cancer—by the word of his power. And if he wills the cancer stays, we know and believe he hides a smile behind the frowning providence, for he has written down all of our days in his book when as yet there were none of them (Psalm 139:14). Our days will not be cut short, nor prolonged. This is not fatalism. This is faith in our Father, Lord of heaven and earth.

Do pray for Anjel and Jason. And do read the whole post.

Keith Lamont Scott and Brentley Vinson

September 21, 2016

Keith Lamont Scott, 43, father of 7, is dead, killed by Police Officer Brentley Vinson, 26, a 2012 graduate of Liberty University, where he played football.

Both are African-American.

It should go without saying – but unfortunately still needs to be said – that black lives matter.

It should go without saying – but unfortunately still needs to be said – that black cops’ lives matter.

Was Officer Vinson acting out of racial hatred? Clearly not.

Was Officer Vinson acting out of a justified assessment that he and other police officers were about to be attacked? That is what Police Chief Putney – also African-American – states emphatically.

Based on our past experience, some of us tend to believe what police tell us.

Based on our past experience, some of us tend not to believe what police tell us.

Thus we can react very differently to the same set of facts.

Our local political leaders, Democrat and Republican, have handled the situation well in my assessment, calling for calm, condemning violence, acknowledging the right of peaceful protest, and assuring the city that there will be a full and fair investigation. Some of last night’s protestors rightly called for accountability – and there must be. May we all work to make sure that happens.

Yet right now, in the fog of these chaotic events, many people are speaking out, in public and on social media, after hearing what can only be partial accounts of what happened, condemning Officer Vinson, condemning Chief Putney.

Brothers and sisters, all Christians should be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). All Christians should know that “the one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17).  And all Christians should know that:

There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19)

If Officer Vinson is guilty of shedding innocent blood, and if Chief Putney is guilty of having a lying tongue, they should be convicted in a court of law, and in the end will be found guilty before our Lord’s perfect tribunal. So may the process play out justly. If others are acting as false witnesses, breathing out lies, trying to sow discord, they too in the end will be found guilty before our Lord’s perfect tribunal.

So may we call for justice. May we work for justice. May we mourn with the Scott family, who have to face this tragedy. May we mourn with the Vinson family, who also have to face a tragedy – a tragedy of a lower order of magnitude, but  a tragedy nevertheless.

And may we pray – together, with one heart, with one accord – that God might use even these horrible events to heal our city, to enable the Gospel to shine forth in a thousand acts of love and comfort, and to display the unity all believers of all races really, genuinely have in Christ.

 

Call to Me and I Will Answer

September 9, 2016

Jeremiah 33:2-3: “Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it – the LORD is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

We should be amazed at this statement. The One who made all things, the One who fulfills all His plans,  tells part of His creation – us! – to call out to Him. And He promises to answer! Indeed, He promises not only to answer, but to reveal to us what we could never know on our own, “great and hidden things.”

God declared these words to Jeremiah while he was under arrest for speaking truth. The Babylonians had besieged Jerusalem, cutting off all sources of food. Jeremiah had prophesied again and again that they would conquer the city as a judgment from God. The Lord God had rejected His people, and had ordained that even His temple – the physical picture of His presence in the midst of His people – would be destroyed. Since many officials found these prophesies treasonous, they had him arrested. Unable to scrounge for food in a city where starvation was rampant, Jeremiah was in danger of death. And the Babylonians were coming soon.

In this time of despair, God speaks to His people through His suffering prophet, saying: “Remember who I am. Remember my power and might. Remember my authority. Yes, my people have been disobedient. Yes, judgment is coming – it must come. But you, my faithful remnant: Call to me. Seek my face. Cry out to me. Run after me. For I will answer you. I will reveal to you more of who I am than you’ve ever known: more of my covenant promises, more of my plans, more of my glory. Call to me! For this is who I am – the revealing God, the God who speaks.” And in the following verses, He speaks of His plans to restore the people and to bring forth a “righteous branch” – Jesus Himself! – from the line of David.

Today, we too live in a society which rebels against God’s authority. We too can look around and be tempted to despair. We too can think that there is no hope.

But the Lord God tells us also: “I made all this. I am in control. I am working out my good and right purposes in the entirety of this creation and in this specific country. So know me! Cry out to me – and I will answer! I will tell you great and hidden things!”

So cry out to Him! Open His Word, in which all things were written for our instruction that we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Go to the Word in prayer, as a supplicant, asking for insight, acknowledging your dependence. Go to church services, asking to hear of God’s marvels in that Word. Expect to see great and hidden things about our Lord, which only He can reveal. Expect to have that Word mold your thoughts and attitudes, conforming you to the image of Christ, the Righteous Branch. Ask that it might be so, for you and for all of God’s people, God’s remnant.

And the Lord God – He who made the earth, he who formed it to establish it, Yahweh is His Name – He Himself will answer Your call through His Word, and will show you wonderful things from His Law (Psalm 119:18).

What is a Member Initiative Driven Church?

August 31, 2016

Desiring God Community Church is a member-initiative driven church, rather than a program-driven church.

What does that mean?

Let’s get to that question first by asking: Did the first-century church have programs? That is, did the leadership set up ministries in the church, decide what positions were necessary to operate those ministries, and then fill those positions from within the church?

The answer? Maybe.

Consider the church’s support of widows, first mentioned in Jerusalem in Acts 6 and discussed more fully by the Apostle Paul about 25 years later in 1 Timothy 5:3-16. Paul, writing to Timothy in Ephesus, describes conditions under which certain widows should be “enrolled” (ESV) or “placed on the official support list” (HCSB). So there must have been at least a somewhat formal organization, defining who was to be served, who was doing the serving, and what services would be offered. We don’t know how the ministry to widows began – whether by church leadership, or by an individual beginning to minister, and then as the ministry expanded gradually bringing in others to help. In any event, this is an example of a ministry that at least takes on some characteristics of a program. We want to be careful, therefore, not to think of programs per se in a negative light.

Today, many churches not only have programs, but are program driven: That is, their programs define the church. Ask why you should attend such a church, and the answer often will be a list of the various programs that are set up to serve members, or to reach the community.

What are some advantages of a program-driven church?

  • First, the leadership may have a good feel for the needs of the congregation and the opportunities in the community, and can set up ministries that will effectively meet those needs
  • Second, when people come to the church, the leaders can guide them quickly and easily into a slot in a program, and thus assimilate them into the life of the church.
  • Third, the leaders can define a plan for the future, and see that plan implemented over several years.

What are some disadvantages of a program-driven church?

  • The first is the flip side of one of the advantages: The leadership may not have a good feel for the needs of all parts of the congregation, or for the opportunities in many segments of the community. Church members may have a much better sense of these needs and opportunities – particularly in the relationship circles in which they regularly function.
  • Second, when ministry is understood to consist of participating in the church’s programs, members often will close their eyes to needs and opportunities outside those programs.
  • The third disadvantage is related to the second: In a program-driven church, it is easy to fill up all your spare time with the church’s programs. Then, even if you notice needs and opportunities elsewhere, you don’t have the time and energy to serve.

So, as stated above, we aim to be a member-initiative driven church. What does that mean?

Fundamentally, it means that all of us are taking initiative to grow as disciples and to step out in ministry in our circles of relationships, in the Charlotte area, and with unreached peoples around the world. Our leaders speak the Word to us, provide us resources, set an example, help us partner together with others, pray for us and with us, speak with us about the needs and opportunities that they discern, and help us imagine what God might do in us and through us – but we all are responsible to grow in Christlikeness and to serve faithfully and lovingly, reaching out with the Gospel and with Christ’s love.

When that happens, it is impossible to plan for what God might do. For in a member initiative-driven church, a key way the church fulfills its ministry is by everyone in the body stepping out and ministering. A member may see a need, and begin to serve. Opportunities to serve may expand. In consultation with leaders, that member may invite others to participate and serve. As the ministry grows, it may take on some characteristics of a program. But it all began with one person stepping out faithfully. And this is replicated time and again, the church’s array of ministries can become what the leaders never imagined.

We want our people to be like the Good Samaritan – on his way, presumably traveling for business, he encounters a needy man, and is a neighbor to that man (Luke 10:25-37). Or like Philip – in response to mysterious leading by the Spirit, he heads away from town on a road, and encounters an Ethiopian reading Isaiah. He takes the initiative to begin from that passage to speak the Gospel (Acts 8:26-39). Philip wasn’t participating in the Jerusalem church’s evangelism program – he was simply sensitive to the way the Spirit was leading him in his day to day life. Or – especially – like Jesus. Whether He unexpectedly encountered Jairus, or the woman with the flow of blood (Mark 5:22-43), or the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22), or the widow from Nain (Luke 7:11-17), or a woman wiping His feet with her hair (Luke 7:36-50), or a blind man (Mark 10:46-52), or a man with a demon (Mark 5:1-20), He loved them, He served them; He glorified the Father.

So, we thank and recognize the many of you who are taking initiative, stepping out, and serving faithfully, whether that is with international students, with neighbors, with refugee women, or with poor children. We encourage all of us: Do this more and more. Open your eyes. Grow in Christ. See the fields ripe for harvest. Pray. Go. Speak the Gospel. Live out the Gospel.

And may God be pleased to build up from our initiatives hundreds of people coming to faith, hundreds of lives changed, hundreds of people loved and served , all to the glory of God.

See That You Do Not Refuse Him Who Speaks

August 25, 2016

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  But they all alike began to make excuses.” (Luke 14:16b-18a)

God the Father invites us to a celebration – a party, if you will. He invites us to the greatest celebration of all time: The company will be the best; the nourishment will be the most satisfying; the conversation will be the most interesting; the love will be the deepest possible.

We don’t deserve to be invited – for we have denigrated the One who invites us. We’ve spurned His invitation before. We’ve chosen to spend our time and energy seeking after thrills and accomplishments and honors, or safety and protection and health – yet the thrills get old, the honors and accomplishments fade to insignificance, what we thought was safe and guarded is lost, and health deteriorates.

Yet He invites us. He calls to us. He sent His Son to this world so that He might display His love, mercy, grace, and justice to these invitees. He has paid that high price – and now all is ready. The banquet is prepared.

But so many refuse Him Who speaks! So many make excuses! In Jesus’ story, the excuses are a newly-purchased field, a new yoke of oxen, and a new wife. What are our similar excuses today? Why do we today refuse the invitation? Here are some possibilities:

  • “It’s all I can do to put food on the table, take care of my kids, and get too little sleep! I don’t have time for that.”
  • “My life is great – why should I attend that banquet?”
  • “I doubt what you say about that great celebration. It can’t possibly be as great as the parties I attend! Here – let me get you an invitation for one of them.”
  • “God the Father wouldn’t want me at His party. Yes, I see the invitation – but there must be some mistake. He didn’t really invite me.
  • “I don’t like the others invited to the party. I can’t associate with such people.”

My friends: Don’t make excuses. The invitation is genuine. God invites you: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). The celebration is joyful beyond imagining. Whatever you must give up to attend, whatever others may think, this is the one party you must not miss.

For to turn down the invitation is to malign the God of the universe. To make excuses, to explain why other activities are more important than the celebration, is to claim that God is not glorious, that pleasures are not at His right hand, that wisdom and love do not dwell with Him.

And the Inviter says, “I tell you, none of those men who were invited [and made excuses for not coming] shall taste my banquet” (Luke 14:24). He will fill His banquet hall, and one day it will be the only joyous celebration, indeed, the only place of joy – but if you make excuses, if you refuse, you will be left out.

God speaks. The Gospel goes forth.  He invites. Don’t refuse Him Who speaks.

Search the Scriptures

August 19, 2016

Most churches have one statement of faith. We have two – a statement of faith that all members must agree to that basically outlines the Gospel, and a statement of faith governing teaching that goes in to more detail. All of the elders must agree with this more detailed statement of faith.

Why did we go a different direction? What value do we derive as a church from having that second statement of faith?

As those of you who are members heard in the What is DGCC class, the second statement serves in part as “truth in labeling.” The statement of faith governing teaching speaks to many issues unaddressed by the statement of faith for members. When you read the more detailed statement, you learn what you will hear preached on a number of important issues. You don’t have to agree with the statement to become a member, but you do have to be willing to sit under preaching that brings out these points.

When churches don’t have such a statement, there are still theological guidelines that control what is preached – they’re just unstated. Frequently they consist of whatever the primary preaching pastor believes. And it may take a while for visitors to figure out what those guidelines are. Furthermore, the guidelines are subject to change with a pastoral change.

We don’t think that’s helpful for visitors or healthy for the congregation. We want to be upfront about what we believe – thus this second, more detailed statement of faith.

But the preface to the Statement of Faith Governing Teaching helps bring out a second reason we think it is valuable:

The aim of this statement is to encourage a hearty adherence to the Bible, the fullness of its truth, and the glory of its Author. A passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples is best sustained in an atmosphere of deep and joyful knowledge of the character of God. We thus aim to teach the whole counsel of God rather than aiming to discover and teach some minimum required for salvation. In affirming what we believe on these matters, we separate ourselves doctrinally from some brothers and sisters within the universal church.  The cause of unity in the church, however, is best served not by finding the lowest common denominator of doctrine, but by elevating the value of truth through stating clear doctrinal parameters, and then demonstrating to the world how Christians can love each other across doctrinal boundaries, rather than by removing those boundaries. We commit ourselves to both elevating truth and loving our brothers.

So we’re saying this more detailed statement helps us “elevate the value of truth.” How does it do that?

After Paul tells Timothy that all Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction , and training in righteousness so that each man of God can be thoroughly equipped for every good work, he gives the younger man a solemn charge: “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; using the Scriptures, reprove and rebuke, exhort, encourage, and comfort, with great patience teaching all doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2, my paraphrase).

So that’s what we try to do: As we say in the preface just quoted, we aim to “encourage a hearty adherence to the Bible” through teaching “the whole counsel of God.” We don’t avoid controversial passages or issues; we primarily preach straight through books of the Bible – Old Testament and New, prophecy and narrative, wisdom and epistle, Law and Gospel – and thus have to address the whole range of issues that Scripture brings up. We believe, as the Apostle states, that this is for your good.

So through the two doctrinal statements, we’re saying, “Here in this shorter statement is what we all must believe to be united in the body of Christ; and here in this longer statement is what the elders of this church think Scripture says on a much wider range of vital, life-giving biblical doctrines. This second document is the Cliffs notes version of what you will hear from us. All these scriptural truths are profitable; and we’re going to do our best to patiently teach all of them to you over decades. Through such teaching you can be fully equipped for every good work.”

So the statement of faith governing teaching serves both as truth in labeling, and as a way to elevate the value of biblical truth.

We want to emphasize those last two words: BIBLICAL TRUTH. This more detailed statement of faith is not above Scripture; it is rather an attempt to summarize what Scripture says on a number of issues. If the statement of faith were to supplant Scripture as our authority, we would be in the wrong.

Consider Acts 17:10-11. Paul has been persecuted in the city of Thessalonica.

 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

The Jews of Berea question what Paul is saying. They are intrigued. They are eager. But they are not convinced that what Paul says is true. So they go back to the Scriptures. They search them. They examine them. They test Paul by the Scriptures.

The author, Luke, does not fault the Bereans for searching the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. He doesn’t say, “Those foolish Bereans – they didn’t believe the Apostle Paul based on his own authority!” Rather Luke commends them – they were more noble than the Thessalonians.

We want all of you in Desiring God Church to be like those Bereans. Scripture is our authority. Not the elders. So when we say something that puzzles you, something different from your previous understanding of Scripture – go to the Word! Search the Scriptures! Ponder them! It’s ok to disagree with something said in a sermon, and it’s ok to disagree with something in the statement of faith governing teaching. We want to drive you to Scripture – if we do that, we’ve succeeded in our teaching, whether or not you in the end agree with us on the interpretation.

So rather than stifling debate, the longer statement of faith brings these truths to the forefront where they can be discussed. We’re by no means saying through this statement, “Never talk about alternative understandings of Scripture.” Comparing Scripture to Scripture, we’re trying to build up from Scripture what it says about God, about man, about the plan of redemption. Some of our conclusions are widely debated in the evangelical church – and we welcome such debates among us , when together we search the Scriptures to see what is true.

How then do we see this longer statement of faith functioning in the life of the church?

Authoritative teaching at DGCC – that is, speaking without discussion – is to be done in accord with the statement. That includes preaching, and other occasions in which Scriptures are opened up without discussion. But in small groups and in Sunday School classes where there is considerable discussion, we welcome alternate understanding of passages when these discussions are aimed at honestly trying to discern what Scripture says. Indeed, as young men neither Pastor Fred nor I agreed with a number of the doctrinal positions of our longer statement of faith; we came to believe these doctrines through searching the Scriptures ourselves, and through teachers who helped us search the Scriptures. We believe that all the doctrines in our longer statement of faith stand up to scrutiny – but we want you to search the Scriptures, and not necessarily take these positions because we do.  And so we welcome, and never want to stifle, discussion.

Furthermore, I know that some positions I hold are wrong. I don’t know which ones (or I would change them!). The Lord will show me at an appropriate time – perhaps on the Last Day, or perhaps by one of you convincing me from Scripture that I am wrong. So – once again – we welcome discussion.

So, people of Desiring God Church: Be faithful Bereans. Search the Scriptures. Know the Scriptures. And spur one another on to know them better.

(An earlier form of this article served as the devotion at the August 14 members meeting.)

Manasseh, Trump, and Clinton

August 4, 2016

Which king of Israel or Judah had the longest reign?

Not David. Not Solomon. Neither Jehoshaphat nor Hezekiah.

The longest reigning king was Manasseh. He reigned for 55 years – the equivalent of 1961 until today. And yet he was a wicked, evil king:

Because Manasseh king of Judah has committed these abominations and has done things more evil than all that the Amorites did, who were before him, and has made Judah also to sin with his idols, therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: . . .  I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. And I will forsake the remnant of my heritage and give them into the hand of their enemies (from 2 Kings 21:11-14).

Why did God leave His people for such a long time under the authority of a bad man – such a bad man that, according to Jewish tradition, he had the prophet Isaiah sawn in two? Why did the people have to suffer? Why did God subject His people to injustice, to being led even further astray from Him?

The passage tells us. It is not only Manasseh who is evil. The people also are guilty. The king influences them, but they are responsible for “sin with his idols.” And so they must bear with an evil king for all these decades.

And make no mistake: God is the one who allows Manasseh to remain in power. For “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Daniel 4:17, 25, 32).

God’s final judgment is yet to come, but is fully determined: He will send His people into exile. He will use the Babylonians to destroy the very temple dedicated to His Name. As 2 Kings 21 makes clear, Manasseh’s sins, and the sins of the people under him, lead to this horrible judgment of God (see especially Lamentations 2 for a description of some of the horrors).

But the judgment of God does not fall during Manasseh’s reign, nor during the reign of evil Amon, his son, nor during the reign of good Josiah, Manasseh’s grandson. Why the delay?

Perhaps in part because in his old age, near the end of his reign, Manasseh repents:

[The Assyrians] captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon.   And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.   (2 Chronicles 33:11-13)

As the Apostle Paul states in another context: “Note then the kindness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22). Kindness and mercy toward one of the most evil of all the Judean kings; severity toward the rebellious people; kindness and mercy to their descendants, in bringing them back from exile.

We can continue the thought: Kindness and mercy to all those today from every tribe and tongue and nation who repent, who turn, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are saved; severity to those from every tribe and tongue and nation who continue in rebellion, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), who reject their rightful King and only possible Savior.

Like the people of Judah, we the people of the United States do not deserve even a modicum of God’s mercy, and so we do not deserve an honest, good, principled leader of our government. At this point, it certainly does not look like we will get one this year. But if God could bring Manasseh to repentance, He can bring to repentance any American president; if God could destroy His own temple and bring down the kingdom called by His Name, He can bring down in judgment the United States of America; and if God could restore His people, showing mercy that they did not deserve, and raise up from a descendant of this very Manasseh the Savior of the world, then God can bring a sinful and rebellious nation today to repentance, and use it for His good and wise purposes to bring about the final culmination of His great  plan.

Father, in Your mercy, would you would grant such repentance?

Should We Have Heroes?

July 29, 2016

Should we have heroes? Should we look to people as examples, to show us what is possible and to spur us on to what we can become?

There are arguments on both sides.

On the one hand, honoring heroes can be dangerous. Some Sunday School curricula are based around highlighting certain biblical characters as heroes, as examples that we should emulate. Such curricula – whether by intent or not – can distort the story of the Bible, transforming it from a story of God and His acts to a story of great men and women. Think of Abraham, of Moses, of Samuel, of David; think of Peter, of Paul, of John, of Paul. Scripture tells us of their weaknesses, their sins, and their flaws. They achieve greatness by God’s grace in spite of who they are as persons. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit is the hero in their stories.

We easily slip into similar errors when we make heroes of men and women in history: Stories of human achievement, of overcoming all odds, of tremendous sacrifice, and of devotion to country can idolize the person, overlook human sin, and minimize the role of God.

On the other hand, rightly told, stories of men and women like us who attain greatness can lead us to raise our vision above the commonplace, and help us to become what God intends us to be.

In a new book, If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, Eric Metaxas argues that our tendency in the US over the last fifty years to debunk national heroes is one of several developments that have put our republic at risk. The concept of a country united not by ethnicity and language but by the idea of freedom was strange, foreign, and new at time of this nation’s birth. If “all men are created equal and . . . are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” then those of all classes, all incomes, and all religions are to participate in government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” What does such government look like? How can it continue to exist? What keeps us together as a people from generation to generation? Metaxas argues that one important element is the telling and retelling of the stories of the great men and women who have exemplified the ideals of America and sacrificed for the furtherance of those ideals.

He contends:

We are more than political ideas. We are a people who live those ideas out in common. Knowing those ideas is a vital first step, but part of how we know them is knowing how they came into being and how they were subsequently lived out in history. So by pushing away these common stories of our heroes, we have allowed ourselves to be drained of our very common identity as Americans. Our emotions must be as engaged in “keeping” the republic as our minds are engaged in it. It is the real stories of heroes like Washington and Nathan Hale and others that help us to properly feel the power of the ideas behind them. . . . By deciding that every potential hero is too flawed to celebrate and venerate, or that such stories are somehow corny, we have done a grave disservice to several generations and to the country. (p. 131)

So Metaxas includes stories of great men to illustrate his point: Americans George Washington, Nathan Hale, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere, as well as Englishmen George Whitefield and William Wilberforce. Washington in particular “lives in a world in which virtue and honor are accepted as vital to the life they all wish to lead” – something we have lost as a country in the intervening years (p. 165).

Metaxas agrees with the point above about the danger of idolizing heroes. He is careful to argue that we must be open about the flaws of our heroes as well as the flaws in our country’s history:

Heroism and ignominy both are part of our history. The only question is whether, having seen both, we can repent of the one and rejoice and be inspired by the other. Or whether we will let one of them tempt us so far away from the other that we have a deeply distorted view. (p. 227)

So he says we should be inspired, even as we acknowledge the weaknesses and sins that come out in every country, and in all men and women.

So should we have heroes? How should we judge this biblically?

Heroes are a lot like parents. We parents must raise our children well; we must set an example for them; we must teach them Scriptural truths and live out those truths before them. We will fail. We will sin, against others and against them. We are flawed. But nevertheless, in a God-centered family, the children should be able to look at their parents, model themselves after the good aspects of their parents’ lives, and learn from their parents’ flaws.

Just so with heroes from past generations. We can and should look to a George Washington and learn from his devotion to others, his sacrifice for the common good, his wise leadership, and his critical stepping away from power after two terms. We can and should honor him, use him as a model, and be encouraged by his example of what God chooses to do through men. At the same time, we can see his limitations, how his view of slavery was shaped by his culture, how his view of God, similarly shaped by his society, was not entirely biblical, and be careful not to fall into similar errors.

Jesus is our only hero without flaws. We must look to Him above all. But we also need to see examples of other sinners, others stained like us, who through dependence on God, through turning away from themselves and giving up their own goals and comforts, glorify Him and serve their fellow men. Our role likely will be less prominent than theirs; our accomplishments likely won’t result in recognition now and biographies in the future. But as we follow Christ – and as we learn from and are spurred on by others who have followed Christ – we too can play key roles in God’s plan to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory as the waters cover the sea.

So praise God for heroes. May we learn from their flaws, be inspired by their lives, living to God’s glory – and so become heroes ourselves.

Total Depravity: More Sinful Than We Ever Dared Believe, More Loved Than We Ever Dared Hope

July 17, 2016

By Fred T. Balbuena

In trying to understand humanity, it is apparent that people like to be told they are good, but they cringe when they hear how sinful and corrupt everyone is at the very core of their being. This is because all of us have an inclination to believe that man is generally good and that sin is basically a deficiency, imperfection, or a weakness. Take for example the optimism of the last 200 years which was ushered in at the Age of Enlightenment. It was a period in time where man was believed to be perfectible and that humanity was improving.[1] This idea is contrary to what Romans 3:10-12 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one,” and Romans 3:23, “For all of sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” We intuitively assume we are capable of moral progress. But as we can observe in the history of humanity no generation can be said to be better or worse than others. Certainly, in our day, this idealism that has permeated Western thought no longer exists. It is now replaced by the contemporary philosophy called postmodernism. In the postmodern culture many sins are no longer called sins but something else, such as a bad judgment call, a mistake, oversight, weakness, or a psychological disorder. Today many people have this notion that there is no absolute. Truth today is basically defined as “whatever feels good” or “whatever seems right for you”, which has a devastating effect on society and individuals. We have created a new society where sin and conscience have vanished, and the prevalent mindset is to regard all values, beliefs, lifestyles, and truth claims as equally valid. This is what postmodernity is doing by comprehending that the reality of sin cannot be eradicated.

We can liken this moral situation with the game of Monopoly where the players can accumulate a lot of money and get “rich”. Similar to this are our good works. We cannot assume that by accumulating human goodness we can please God.[2] The currency is only useful in the game, it cannot be used for any real purchases.  In the same way, good works are not the type of currency which God accepts. As Romans 14:23 says, “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” God requires divine righteousness through faith not human righteousness through works. Clearly, it is hard to exaggerate the importance of admitting our condition to be this bad, but we need to see sin in this light in order to understand God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness. If we think of ourselves as basically good or even less than totally at odds with God, our grasp of the work of God in redemption will be defective. But if we humble ourselves under this terrible truth of our total depravity, we will be in a position to see and appreciate the glory and wonder of the work of God in salvation. One of my favorite quotes by Tim Keller in articulating the gospel is this: “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

So we need a deeper understanding of the reality of sin and this is how we go deeper in our experience of God’s grace. Knowing the seriousness of our condition will make us all the more amazed at the greatness of our Savior. Comprehending the extent of our deep-seated rebellion, we will be amazed by the longsuffering grace and patience of God towards us. Ultimately, the way we worship God and the way we treat others, especially our enemies, are profoundly and wonderfully affected by knowing our depravity to the full. Let us cultivate a heart of thankfulness. The fact that we still believe in God every morning when we wake up is owing to God’s mercy and grace. God gives what he requires from us, and that is the obedience of faith. Acknowledge him in all your ways and remember that we need God’s gift of faith in order for us to be able to respond to his command to be holy. Let us also strive to grow in faith, for without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) Oh, that you may you worship God and love people as never before. This is the result of a profound experience when you embrace the doctrines of sovereign grace.

 

 

 



[1] The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel – April 1, 2009

by James Montgomery Boice  (Author), Philip Graham Ryken, p.69.

[2] Ibid. pg.76.

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