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.

Cry Out for Justice

July 8, 2016

Alton Sterling. And Brent Thompson. Philando Castile. And four as yet unnamed Dallas police officers.

We could go on: Thousands trafficked for sexual exploitation. About 2700 unborn babies killed yesterday in the US. In the absence of any effective government, warlords rape and pillage, leading millions to flee their homes in Syria, in Libya, in Congo. Meanwhile, even in this country, the powerful and well-connected get off scot free while the weak are punished to the full extent of the law.

We cry out with the prophet:

How long, LORD, must I cry for help? But you do not listen! I call out to you, “Violence!” But you do not intervene!  Why do you force me to witness injustice? Why do you put up with wrongdoing? Destruction and violence confront me; conflict is present and one must endure strife.  For this reason the law lacks power, and justice is never carried out. Indeed, the wicked intimidate the innocent. For this reason justice is perverted. (Habakkuk 1:2-4 NET)

Or, as a contemporary songwriter puts it:

“I believe you will come, Your justice be done – but how long? . . . How long? How long until this burden is lifted?”

We are right to cry out. We are right to weep. We are right to long for justice, indeed to work for justice.

But Scripture both challenges us and enables us to look at the horrors of this world from God’s perspective.

  • As we ask, “How long must we look at evil?” God asks, “How long will this people despise me?” (Numbers 14:11)
  • As we cry out, “Justice is perverted!” God asks, “How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” (Proverbs 1:22)
  • As we long for God to act, He asks, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me?” (Exodus 10:3)

God challenges us to look within – to look at our own hearts, and to examine the hearts of our fellow countrymen. And when we look within, what do we see? Individually and as a nation: We have despised Him. We have mocked Him. We have rejected His revelation. We have arrogantly refused to humble ourselves before Him.

Scripture tells us that all the evil we see around us is the result of this human rebellion against God – a rebellion which we must admit, when we’re honest, is deeply ingrained within us. Indeed, all such evil is the logical consequence of that rebellion.

We can and should take palliative measures as a society that will lessen some of the suffering: Checks and balances in government; proper training for the police; equitable and efficient prosecution of criminals – both of the weak and the powerful; wise voting; holding up examples of honorable men and women. Furthermore, as individuals and as churches we can and must love and care for and assist the broken and hurting around us.

But suffering will continue. Injustice will endure. Violence will rear its head. The poor we will always have with us. Sin will thrive.

Until the Right Government takes over. That is, until the government is on Immanuel’s shoulders. Until God’s Kingdom comes, God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Then His government and His peace will increase forever (Isaiah 9:6-7, Matthew 6:10).

After Habakkuk’s cry, God tells His prophet:

If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. . . . The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. . . . The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. (Habakkuk 2:3, 12, 20)

And the Apostle Paul assures us:

At the name of Jesus every knee will bow– in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:10-11 NET)

So cry out. Weep with those who weep. Help the hurting. Work for justice.

And know: The Lord is indeed in His temple. He offers reconciliation to all rebels through the wiling sacrifice of His Son. He will bring about His Kingdom at exactly the right time. He is King.

 

Preparing for Suffering

June 17, 2016

Five days ago Omar Mir Siddique Mateen walked into the Pulse Bar in Orlando and killed 49 people. Not one went to that bar last weekend thinking, “I’m going to die tonight”

Imagine that your brother, your sister, your friend, your classmate, or your next-door neighbor were among those killed. How would you respond?

We rightly shrink in horror from that heinous crime.

But in the four days since the Orlando terrorist attack, about 170 other people have been murdered in the US; about 6400 have died of cancer, about 6700 of heart disease; about 100 were killed by drunk drivers.

Then on Tuesday, also in Orlando, two-year-old Lane Davis was dragged underwater by an alligator and drowned. Lane’s father, wading into the water, didn’t have an inkling that there was any danger to the boy.

Imagine that Lane was your brother, your nephew, your grandson, or your son. How would you respond?

In the days since that tragedy, approximately another 200 little boys and girls under five years of age have died in the US.

In this rich and predominantly peaceful country, we can live under the illusion that death is something strange, something unusual – something we can avoid, we can put off indefinitely if we drive carefully, eat well, and exercise diligently.

But death is all around us. Tragedies happen. All the time.

Furthermore, in the years ahead, unless Jesus returns in the next few decades, every one of us will die. Some will know they are dying. Some won’t. Some will die swiftly and painlessly. Others will die horribly. But we will all face death. It is certain.

So shouldn’t we prepare for it? Shouldn’t we learn how to approach the tragedies that will undoubtedly come in this life – so that we will be prepared both to help others in the midst of such crises, and to endure them biblically ourselves?

This Sunday we begin a short sermon series on the book of Job. We have been making our way through Paul’s letter to the Romans for more than a year, and still have much to cover in that great epistle. We’ve come to one of the best-known verses in all of Scripture:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28 NAS

What a promise! What comfort! And how great is the God who can make such a promise!

And yet, a dear friend who had recently suffered horrible tragedy once told me, “If one more person quotes Romans 8:28 to me, I’m going to kill him!”

What led others to misuse this great verse, so that it was not a comfort but a barb?

I believe the problem was a lack of understanding of the lessons of the book of Job – lessons that the Apostle Paul knew well, indeed, that he assumes the readers of Romans know.

In Job, we see a good man – kind, generous, loving, dutiful, pious, and upright – lose his goods, lose his children, and lose his health, all in a few days. Then his friends come and make matters worse. Buffeted by all this tragedy, Job deeply questions the goodness and justice of God.

In this book we learn about some of the causes of pain and suffering in this life; we learn of the hatred of our enemy, Satan; we learn of the majesty and sovereignty of God, even over Satan; we learn some of God’s purposes, as well as the nature of genuine faith.

So through this book, we can gain a solid and necessary foundation for understanding Romans 8:28 and following.

Through this book we can become genuine comforters, instead of the “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2) who tormented Job and my friend.

And through this book, we can prepare for the tragedies that undoubtedly await us in the years ahead.

So join us. And may God’s Word build us up and equip us, so that in the day of trouble we might look to Him in the full confidence of faith.

Three Sunday Conversations

June 9, 2016

To understand these conversations, a little background is necessary: At Desiring God Church, about 80% of our preaching consists of working our way through books of the Bible. A typical sermon is about 45 minutes long. I have been preaching through Romans for more than a year, and focused on Romans 8:26-27 this last Sunday. During the sermon I mentioned that, prior to studying Romans 8:28 – “God works all things together for good for those who love Him, for those who are called according to His purpose” – we will leave Romans for a few weeks to look at what Scripture teaches about suffering in the book of Job.

Also: Our service begins at 9:30 and ends at 11; our host church begins their service at 11:30. When we first moved to our present facility, I thought the early starting time would be a negative. But we discovered an advantage: Many people are happy to stick around and talk when they don’t have to rush out for lunch. We often have a third of the congregation still at the church 45 minutes after the service ends.

Here are three vignettes from the ten or so conversations I had between 11 and noon on Sunday:

Shortly after the close of the service, I see a couple I have never met before talking with another elder. After introductions, they say, “We have never heard preaching like this. I now feel like I understand what this passage means, and how I can live it out. Thank you so much! Do you preach like this all the time at Desiring God Church?”

A few minutes later, Janey approaches me. A native of Congo, Janey received her citizenship in a ceremony at the US District Court two days previously. She had asked me after that ceremony if she could speak to the congregation following Sunday’s church service, thanking God and those individuals who helped her to get to this point. She now reminds me; I clap hands to get folks’ attention. Janey notices a few people talking outside the Fellowship Hall door, and asks if I can go alert them. When all is arranged, she very graciously thanks those who helped her study, those who drove her to classes, those who loved her and prayed for her – and praises God for taking her from a dangerous situation into this country. As she finishes, everyone claps, and Bruno – also a refugee from Congo – breaks out into a Swahili song, praising God for His goodness.

As the crowd begins to thin out, I sit down next to eight-year-old Rachel. Her family was part of this congregation before her birth, so I had the privilege of holding her when she was a newborn. As part of our service, we always ask for a volunteer to recite the week’s memory verses; this morning, Rachel and her brother had done so. I thank her for that, and we discuss Bible memory for a while. Then Rachel surprises me: “Pastor Coty, I was sad about something you said in the sermon.” “What, sweet girl?” “You said we were leaving Romans. I love Romans! I’m learning so much from it. So I’m sad that you’ll be preaching on something else” It takes me a bit to know what to say. Finally: “I’m so glad you are taking Paul’s message to heart, Rachel. I promise you, we will get back to it – I’ll only preach about five sermons on Job. And you know what? I think Job will help you understand Romans even better!” Then she is satisfied.

Driving home, tears well up in my eyes, praising God, and thanking Him for so much that I don’t deserve: For visitors responding to expository preaching; for those from a number of countries and peoples who grace our church; for a new citizen and spontaneous song; and for a little girl I once held as an infant who loves both the book of Romans and the in-depth preaching that opens up its truths.

Reflections on a New US Citizen

June 4, 2016

Today Ed Conrad and I accompanied Janey to her being sworn in as a US citizen. Forty-eight others joined her, from thirty different countries of origin, including Congo (Janey’s former country), Vietnam, Iraq, Bhutan, Ghana, Colombia, Ecuador, and Hondurus. Most took new name’s; Janey’s legal name is now Mary Jane Rebecca. All forty-nine new citizens joined together in affirming that they:

absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which [they] have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that [they] will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; . . . that [they] will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; . . . and that [they] take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.

The mood was celebratory. Each new citizen rejoiced in swearing allegiance to the United States of America.

There are great parallels between what happened today in the US District Court of Western North Carolina and what happens in the life of every Christian. We all have been subject to a foreign power. And there is war between this power and the Kingdom of God. Indeed, we have marched in the army of this foreign power, taking up arms against God’s Kingdom. Yet now, pardoned by God’s grace through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we must “absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity” to that foreign power, Satan’s Kingdom of Darkness. We must bear arms against that Satanic Kingdom, putting on the full armor of God and taking up the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. We must battle also against the “domestic” enemy within each of us, the rebelliousness that would lead us to revolt against our rightful King and renew our allegiance to Sin. Furthermore, we can’t become citizen’s of the Kingdom of God half-heartedly, or to aim for selfish gain. We must freely offer ourselves “without any mental reservation” to our Lord and Master, for Him to do with us as He sees fit.

Those are wonderful parallels. But there is an important difference between that swearing-in ceremony and our allegiance to the Kingdom of God: Janey was born as a citizen of Congo. There was nothing wrong with that citizenship. She was right to be loyal to her country as long as she was a citizen.

Not so with us. From the creation of mankind, we humans were by right under God’s rule and authority. At Satan’s prompting, we rebelled against our rightful King.

Thus, rather than Janey renouncing her allegiance to Congo, the following would be a closer parallel: A native US citizen leaves this country, joins ISIS, and participates in terrorist acts. He even burns his US passport, and posts a video of that act on the internet. The US government revokes his citizenship. Then, coming to his senses, this terrorist freely gives himself up, accepts just judgment and punishment, and eventually takes the above oath in becoming once again an American citizen.

That’s a closer parallel. But in our case, the rebellion is even more heinous. For our Ruler is perfectly loving, perfectly good, and perfectly just.

And yet, in our case, the just punishment is not administered to us. Jesus became man, and took our punishment on Himself. When we admit our rebellion, absolutely and entirely renouncing all allegiance to Satan’s Kingdom, trusting in Jesus as crucified and risen, we are citizens in the Kingdom for which we were created – the Kingdom of Light – the Kingdom of love, joy and peace.

Praise God that He has “delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13) so that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). May we live out that right allegiance faithfully.

Who Will I Vote For?

May 20, 2016

In this country, we citizens have the great and – considering the history of the world – the unusual privilege of having a role in choosing who will govern us. As Christians, we are foreigners, exiles, strangers in this world. We are ambassadors from our home country, serving our rightful King (2 Corinthians 5:20). Our hope is in Him, not in any political figure or movement. However, during this period of our exile, God commands us, like the ancient Israelites in Babylon, as foreigners and strangers to  “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). One way we work for the welfare of our city and country is through this privilege of voting. Surely we are to vote wisely, prayerfully, and responsibly.

If you spend any time at all on social media, you’ve come across many statements recently, saying, “I will never vote for so-and-so.” A number of you have asked me who I intend to vote for when the candidates are so disappointing. Here is my answer:

  • I will gladly vote for judges in North Carolina who will uphold the law as written and make decisions with wisdom and equity.
  • I will gladly vote for legislators who will represent their constituents faithfully, and will make laws that will improve our country and state.
  • I will gladly vote for school board members and town council members who will help our town to serve its community – especially its children – well.

“But, Coty,” you say, “I want to know which presidential candidate you’ll vote for.” That’s my point. Way too much of the discussion has been about the presidential candidates – whether that discussion has been supporting one candidate or another, or bemoaning the choices we have. There are fine men and women running for office! Find them and support them! And these other offices – collectively if not individually – have more impact on our day-to-day lives than the president of the United States.

We are not electing as president a king with absolute authority. We are electing a man or woman whose role is governed by a constitution and limited both by other branches of government and by state and local governments. So, if you’re dissatisfied with the presidential candidates, take that much more seriously your responsibility to vote for candidates for other offices. Then joyfully support those who will do an excellent job.

In North Carolina, we have a primary election June 7. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will be on the ballot. Vote! Especially consider carefully those running for the position of judge on the North Carolina Supreme Court.

As for president: We have almost six months to go before the November election. While we should not vote for a presidential candidate based on his or her stand on one issue, that stand on a single issue can disqualify a candidate from the office (see this post, written during the 2008 campaign). Perhaps both major party candidates in the end will show themselves to be disqualified. Perhaps one candidate or another will grow and change over the next few months and become much more acceptable. Perhaps one or both conventions will give us a surprise. Or, perhaps there will be a viable third party candidate. (Indeed, if in the next few months a pollster asks me who I would vote for if the election were today, I will give the name of whatever third party candidate is most likely to achieve the 15% support required to gain entrance to the presidential debates. In my view, our country would be much better off if there were a third voice in those debates.)

So, in my opinion, it’s much too early to make declarations about who you will never vote for. Pray. Find candidates you can gladly, enthusiastically support. Vote. Seek the welfare of this country of our exile.

 

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