Second Reformed Church

Friday, February 29, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 5:10 --

"It is a good sign in the Minister that he hath a desire his Ministery should prosper; when he is not content to preach onely, but follow it with Prayer. As women having set herbs or sown seeds in a dry ground, following them with watering. For, have a minde they should grow, and as we sow not our seeds in the field, but ask Gods blessing thereon, so much more should we on this precious seed: Thus shall it appear that they trust not in themselves, and that they are desirous that their Preaching should not be in vain."

-- John Rogers, 680.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

March Sermons

D. V., in March I will preach:

3/2/08 Communion/Lent 4 Exodus 20:7 "Petition 1"
3/9/08 Lent 5 Matthew 13:44-50 "Petition 2"
3/16/08 Palm Sunday Psalm 103:17-22 "Petition 3"
3/20/08 Communion/Maundy Thursday 7 PM Matthew 6:25-34 "Petition 4"
3/21/08 Communion/Good Friday 7 PM I John 2:1-2; I Corinthians 10:1-13 "Petitions 5 & 6"
3/23/08 Communion/Easter Psalm 115:1-18 "To Conclude"
3/30/08 Ephesians 4:11-16 "The Body"

Join us for worship Sunday morning at 10:30 AM, and on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday at 7 PM.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 5:8 --

"For as a drunken man cannot hold open his eyes, so cannot an intemperate man in these things keep a Spiritual watch."

-- John Rogers, 665.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

"The Address" Sermon: Romans 8:14-16

"The Address"
[Romans 8:14-16]
February 24, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Over the past two weeks, we have taken a very broad look at what prayer does. And we saw that the Scripture teaches that God designed prayer to change us. We also saw, and it is important to keep in mind, that our prayer does not change God. Today, we begin a look at the pattern of prayer the Lord gave us and what those different elements of the prayer mean.

"Our Father, Who is in Heaven." That is how the pattern of prayer begins. This is known as the address. We pray to Someone Who is somewhere. We do not vaguely pray to the gods or to Mother Nature. No, we pray quite specifically to the One God of Christianity, and we are told to address the Person of the Father.

Why do we, why can we, call God, "Father"? It is not, as the Mormons insist, because we are the biological descendants of God. No, Christianity teaches, as we saw several weeks ago, that God is a Self-Existent Being, Who is a Spirit.

In the passage before this morning's reading, Paul explained that Christians are dead to sin. Sin and the devil no longer have any claim over us. We are not enslaved to sin any longer. We do not have to sin, and as we mature in Christ, by the working of the Holy Spirit in us, we are to be sinning less, to be becoming holy as Jesus is Holy, perfect as He is Perfect, until we are received into His Glory.

Then Paul explains, as we read, that our very standing in the universe has changed: we who were once slaves to sin, through Christ's Work and the reception of the Spirit, have been adopted as sons -- children -- of God. We were born children of the devil, slaves to sin, but, as we are told in verse fourteen, we are now led by the Holy Spirit, which proves we are the sons -- children -- of God. That means, consequently, that we ought not to say that God is the Father of all humans. God is the Creator of all humans, but He is only the Father of those who are led by the Holy Spirit, those who have been saved through Christ's Work.

Paul explains our sonship again in his letter to the Galatians, "But when the fulness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!' So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God" (Galatians 4:4-7).

So, all of us who have believed in Jesus Alone for our salvation, have been released from our slavery to sin, we have been brought into the process of sanctification -- of becoming holy, through the Holy Spirit, and God has adopted us as sons -- adopted brothers of Jesus -- co-heirs with Him in the kingdom. And, if Jesus is our Brother, and God is Jesus' Father, and we are the adopted sons of God, then, by relationship, God is our Father.

Now, there are some today that argue that we ought not to call God "Father," even though it is the biblical, relational title. Some say this because it is unfair for women if God is address in the masculine. The insist we ought to call God our Father-Mother, or our Parent. This is to assume that God was unaware that He created women; it is also to assume that we have the right to change the Word of God. We do not.

Others say we ought not to call God "Father," because some human fathers are abusive. They argue that if one has an abusive father, it will never be possible to relate to God as Father. If that is true, then any time anyone wrongs another, it then becomes impossible for that person to ever deal with another person of the same type. I have had teachers that were, if not actually, at least seemingly, sadistic. Does that mean I can never relate to another who holds the title "teacher"? Of course not.

Jesus makes it clear that, not matter what our relationship to our human fathers has been, understanding that we are the children of God the Father increases our faith, our love, our trust, our confidence, our respect, our awe with regards to Him, and it increases the earnestness of our prayers to Him.

Hear the words of Jesus, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?" (Matthew 7:7-11).

Jesus said that compared to the love and provision that comes from God our Father, the best our earthly fathers do for us can be considered evil. Jesus did not mean that all earthly fathers are evil towards their children. But consider if you had an abusive father -- can you imagine what a good father would be like? Of course you can. Jesus said that God, our Father, is like the best our human fathers' can be, raised to the nth degree -- raised to perfection. If we can understand the concept of "Father" at all, we can understand God as our Father and see and wonder at God being our Father -- so much more loving, so much more generous, so much more kind -- there is none greater at being a father to us than God.

And we probably all remember going into a room where our earthly father was, wanting attention, wanting to know what he was doing, wanting to ask to go out, to borrow the car, whatever we may have gone into the room for. And we may have gone in hesitantly. We may have gone in quietly, afraid to disturb him. We may have gone in unsure of how he would react to our presence. Not so with God, our Father:

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we now have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:19-25).

Since Christ has saved us from sin and God's Wrath and merited righteousness for us, and we are led by the Holy Spirit and are being made holy by Him, and we have been adopted as the children of God, we are called to come before God, our Father, with boldness, with confidence, with assurance, because the Father is always ready to see us, always waiting to hear from us. He says to us, "Come," and He calls us to stir up each other, that we would all come before Him, that we would pray to Him, that we would understand Him to be our Father, the Great and Only God Who loves us and has made us His Own. So we are to love each other and encourage each other in good works, especially in the good work of assembling together for worship, before the Father. If we are Christians this morning, coming into the presence of our God and Father for worship ought to be the most wonderful, awe-inspiring, love-filled time we ever have. We come because God created us, God chose us, God saved us, God forgave us, God justified us, God made us right with Him, God gave us the Holy Spirit, God is making us like Jesus in holiness -- we don't need to fear Him, as the hymn writer tell us "Nothing in my hands I bring, only to Thy cross I cling" -- we bring nothing, He has done everything, He has made us His children, and we will enter into the joy of Jesus' Salvation.

And why do we say "our Father"? Why not "my Father"?

Because, we -- all together -- everyone who every believes in Jesus Alone for salvation -- is the Church. We are the Church. We are the Body. We are the Family. We all function together in Christ. So God is -- collectively -- "our Father." God is my Father, but more importantly, more fully, God is our Father, and so we address Him as the God Who is the Father of all His people.

And we add "in heaven" to remind us that God is more that a human father, God is the Almighty, the Creator and Sustainer of all, the Great and Only God, Who Alone grants Salvation to His people -- this, this is the God Who bids us to come and call Him "our Father."

So, we pray, "Our Father, Who is in Heaven" to remind us, at the outset of our prayer, Who it is we are praying to, what our relationship is to Him, and how we have come to be in such a relationship.

Hugh Binning explains it this way, "Now, the great gift, and large allowance of our Father, is expressed in the next words, but ye have received the Spirit of Adoption, &c. Which Spirit of Adoption is a Spirit of Intercession, to make us cry to God as our Father. These are two gifts, Adoption and the privilege of Sons, and the Spirit of Adoption revealing the love and mercy of God to the heart, and framing it to a soul-like disposition: compare the two states together, and it's a marvelous change: a Rebel condemned, and then pardoned, and then adopted to be a Son of God: a sinner under bondage, a bound slave to sin and Satan, not only freed from the intolerable bondage, but advanced to liberty, to be made a Son of God, this will be the continued wonder of eternity, and whereabout the songs of Angels and Saints will be: accursed rebels, expecting nothing but present death, sinners arraigned and sentenced before his Tribunal, and already tasting Hell in their Consciences, and in fear of eternal perishing, not only to be delivered from all that, but to be dignified with this privilege to be Sons of God: to be taken from the Gibbit, to be Crowned, that is the great mystery of wisdom and grace revealed in the Gospel, the proclaiming whereof will be the joynt labour of all the innumerable companies above for all eternity. Now, if you ask how this estate is attainable, Himself tells us, John 1.12. As many as believed or received him, to them gave the privilege to be the Sons of God. The way is made plain and easy, Christ the Son of God, the natural and eternal Son of God, became the son of man; to facilitate this, ...” (Hugh Binning, The Sinner's Sanctuary, 256-257).

"“Our Father, Who is in Heaven."

Noticed one more thing: in this morning's Scripture, we are told that through the Spirit we cry out to God, "Abba, Father." "Abba a patre." One could literally translate it, "Father, Father." The first "Father" is in Aramaic and the second is in Greek. And we ought not gloss over that fact. What Paul is doing in using "Abba a patre" is to impress upon us the tender affection that the Father has for us.

We ought to understand, as we pray, as we address God, that we are not merely addressing anyone or anything, like "Bob" or "cinder-block," we are addressing the God Who has such love for us that He sent His Son to live and die and rise for us, He sent the Spirit to indwell us to perfect us, and He now calls us His children and tells us to call Him, "Our Father." This is the tender love of the Father for us. This is how Jesus said to begin our prayers -- how we should normally address God. Be amazed, brothers and sisters, as John was, "See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God;" (I John 3:1a).

Let us pray:
Our Father, we come before You in many ways, but You have given us this most revealing and loving way to address You. We thank You for the Great Work You have done in Trinity to make us Your children. We thank You that we can now come before You confidently, in awe, and in love, in prayer, knowing that You will hear, and answer us with every good thing and all that we need to be Your people this day. Be glorified in us, Almighty and Loving Father, in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 5:7 --

"By All, he means all superfluous and distrustful care. God bids that we should labor, strive, seek, give all diligence in matters of Salvation, to get Knowledge, Faith, Repentance, &c. therefore must hear, read, meditate, pray, confer, &c. for though God work both the will and the deed, yet he will have us work out our salvation with fear and trembling; he will not save us without us: So for this life, we must be painful; as Adam both before and after his fall: Every man must have an honest calling, and therein take pains (else he must not eat) that he may be a profitable member in his place: As the wise man commendeth diligence, so doth he well speak against idleness; yea, we must have an honest and moderate lawful care; therefore is the sluggard sent to the Ant to forecast, and save somewhat in youth against age, in health against sickness, as Joseph in the time of plenty saved for the years of famine: All this God likes well: When these two meet, as they did in that good woman, Pro. 31. Or when one is husbandly both for soul and body, as either of them is better then not, so both of them are excellent: Who may tend upon the good of their souls, better than the diligent and provident? Why may do more good to others then they? For idle persons and unthrifts, are neither good for themselves, nor any body else."

-- John Rogers, 660.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 5:7 --

"God is not onely able and willing to exalt his humble servants, but infinitely wise to know the fittest time."

-- John Rogers, 655.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 5:2 --

"People must also learn to do their duty, not by constraint but willingly; Thus must they reverence their Ministers, hear them, obey their Ministery, allow them maintenance; but how grudgingly do most pay their Tythes, which is for want of finding good by the Word; They should take part of the Ministers Spiritual things, as they may out themselves into his debt, and see cause to allow him means: O suffer not any of the tenth part to cleave to your fingers, neither seek to enrich yourselves hereby, but by the remaining nine parts: whoso think to enrich themselves by working on the Lords day, or keeping back their Tythes, deceive themselves, they shall not prosper: Be the Minister good or bad, give him willingly all the Law gives him; If he does not his duty, he shall answer for it: Be not you Trespassers also, stoppage is no payment; but if he be a sufficient and painful Minister, your custom will not privilege you from paying him his due by Gods appointment, you must give him his due to the utmost, and he is worthy of it: But O woful covetousness and corruption of men in this behalf! They think any thing enough for a Minister, though it be but from hand to mouth, whereas they look to encrease themselves, and think their Trade bad, and themselves ill Husbands, if they leave not store to their Posterity."

-- John Rogers, 626-627.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

"Does Prayer Change God?" Sermon: James 1:16-18

"Does Prayer Change God?"
[James 1:16-18]
February 17, 2008 Second Reformed Church

The answer is "no." If you remember nothing else this morning, please remember the answer to this morning's question is "no."

Last week we began a look at prayer, and we saw that God designed prayer to change us. God uses prayer to make us a people who seek His Will, His Kingdom, and His Glory. God uses prayer as a means to grow us in faith and trust and holiness, making us become more like Jesus, forgiving and loving others, that they, too, might come to salvation in Jesus Alone.

This morning we ask the question, "Does prayer change God?" We have seen that prayer changes us, but does it also change God? Do our prayers cause God to stop doing one thing and start doing another? If we believe that God is sovereignly in control of everything, can we pray that God will stop pursuing one thing and pursue another?

For example: If God is Sovereign, then we believe that the hurricanes that hit Florida do so in accordance with God's Sovereign Plan. Is it possible for us to see that a hurricane is heading towards Florida, pray that God will send the hurricane back out into the sea, and our prayer be the cause of God changing His Plan -- changing the course of the hurricane?

I've already told you that the answer -- the biblical answer -- is "no." Here's why it would be a problem: if our prayer could get God to change His Plan, then God was either doing something wrong or God was ignorant of some information that made there a better course to follow. And, if God sins, or makes mistakes, or doesn't have all the information to make the best possible plan, then there is no God.

And one may object, "But the King James Bible says 'God repented' eighteen times. Doesn't that mean that God will give in to our prayers and do something differently due to our prayers?"

The problem is, in part, one of translation. The Old Testament was written mostly in Hebrew and the New Testament was written mostly in Greek, so it needs to be translated into English for us to be able to read it.

Another part of the problem is that words often have more than one meaning. In our pew Bible, which is the New Revised Standard, eight of those King James texts are translated in a way that they no longer present a problem. However, there are still problems:

"And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people" (Exodus 32:14, NRSV).

"But when the angel stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented concerning the evil, ..." (II Samuel 24:16a, NRSV).

"You have rejected me says the Lord, you are going backward; so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you -- I am weary of relenting" (Jeremiah 15:6, NRSV).

"But if the nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring upon it. ..., but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it" (Jeremiah 18:8, 10, NRSV).

"It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn back from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings" (Jeremiah 26:3, NRSV).

"If you will only remain in this land, then I will build you up, and not pluck you up; for I am sorry for the disaster that I brought upon you" (Jeremiah 42:10, NRSV).

"Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing" (Joel 2:13, NRSV).

"Then the Lord relented concerning this; 'It shall not be,' said the Lord. ... The Lord relented concerning this; 'This also shall not be,' said the Lord God" (Amos 7:3, 6, NRSV).

"Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we will not perish" (Jonah 3:9, NRSV).

A plain reading of these verses gives us the understanding that God can be convinced that there is a better way. God, at times, it would seem, realizes that what He is doing is not the best thing. It seems as though God flies off the handle at times and doesn't always make the best choices, so, sometimes, we have to get Him back on track.

That's blasphemy!

Moses wrote, "God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind. Has he promised, and will he not do it? Has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" (Numbers 23:19, NRSV).

And this morning's Scripture, "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation of shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures" (James 1:17-18, NRSV).

So here we have a problem: the Bible tells us that God never, ever, ever changes, and He never changes His Mind. Yet, we have these verse of God repenting, relenting, changing His Mind, and being sorry. What are we to do?

The basic principle of Scriptural interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture. This is based on our understanding, as Paul wrote, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (II Timothy 3:16, ESV). The Bible, though it was written by many men over two thousand years, God the Holy Spirit made sure that what was written down is in perfect harmony with all of the rest of the Scripture. There are no contradictions and no errors in the Scripture, because the Holy, Perfect God has made sure it was written down that way.

So, if God is Perfect, Holy, All-Knowing, etc., He cannot err or sin or be lacking information. So, we must do something else with those Scriptures that seem to indicate that He does. In order for us to be consistent, we must understand those Scriptures that seem to be inconsistent in a different way.

And the answer is quite simple: God is All-Knowing and humans are not. All that God knows and plans cannot fit into our minds. So, when faced with a dilemma, as we see in the verses I brought to our attention earlier, we may look at them and understand that God's Plan never changed, but our perception of God’s Plan, or our understanding of God's Plan changed.

For example: Jeremiah 18:8, 10, "But if the nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring upon it. ..., but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it" (NRSV).

A plain reading of this text would have us say that God intended to bring a disaster upon Israel, but, if they obeyed, God would change His Mind and not bring the disaster. That would mean that God's Plan hinged on Israel's actions -- that God didn't know what He would actually do until they responded -- that God didn't have enough information to say whether they would obey or not, so He was waiting to see what He would -- even should -- do.

But if we understand it from the perspective of our knowledge being limited, we could say that God, Who is Sovereign and All-Knowing, knew exactly what Israel would do, and He carried out the Plan He had intended from before the creation. However, neither the prophet, nor Israel, knew what they would do, so to their understanding and their knowledge, there were still two possible options -- two possible ways God's Plan could be worked out.

God's Plan was already worked out; He knew what He would do. But Israel didn't know their future or whether God would bring them judgement or mercy, so both options were still valid based on their lack of knowledge.

Another example: Jesus is returning. He may return tomorrow, or He may not. God knows definitely when Jesus will return -- His Plan is sure. But our knowledge is limited. So, we may only say, "Jesus will return tomorrow, unless God changes His Mind and grants us the mercy of additional time to preach the Gospel and witness His Salvation to the nations, in which case, He will return another day."

If you would like a twenty-five cent word, this is called, "anthropopathism." This is the attributing of human emotions to a non-human. Just like we talk about God's Hands and Eyes, when God doesn't have a body, we also talk about God changing His Mind, and so forth, when such a thing is impossible. This is just the way we speak because our knowledge is limited.

So, what shall we do with this understanding?

First, let us understand that prayer changes us; it does not change God.

And second, let us understand that since God is Unchanging, we can always trust Him. God will always be the same; He will always keep His Promises. We never have to doubt God or worry about whether or not He will do what He has said. Our God is Faithful and Trustworthy. He has a Plan that is unfurling, and He knows our needs before we ask. So we can come to Him, in prayer, to be changed, and with the trust and faith that we always come before that same Perfect and Holy God. And that is good news.

Let us pray:
Eternal God, we thank You that You do not change; we thank You that You can always be trusted and relied on. Remove from our minds any doubt that You might change, or get confused, or not have all the facts. Rather, let us know that the Lord our God is the Great and Only God, Who knows our needs and fulfills every one of them. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 5:2 --

"If a sitting hen should go much from her nest to seek food for her self, the eggs could not but chill: If Ministers should not be maintained, how could they go on in this great work? Contrarily, how many purloin from their Minister? How many endeavor to get their Tythes at an under-rate, &c? Doth their minister feed them carefully, and should not they allow him to the utmost? Should not they be as careful of him, as he is or ought to be of them? How else shall he maintain himself and his family? How else keep hospitality, and be helpful to the poor? How else succor poor Christians, Schollars, and Strangers that resort to him for succor? A good Minister had need be a Treasurer helping to so many good uses."

-- John Rogers, 621.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 5:1 --

"The Apostle knowing that there are three vices incident and very hurtful to the Ministry and Ministers of the Word of God, namely, Idleness, Covetousness, and Pride, seeketh to prevent these in all Ministers, by exhorting them to diligent and faithful performance of their duties belonging to them; namely, 1. To feed the flock of God, that is, to Preach the wholesome Word of God diligently to them. 2. To take oversight of them, that is, to have a special care of them, and regard all their lives and behavior, applying themselves to them accordingly. 3. To be examples to them of pure, humble, and godly conversation; nor doth he onely exhort to the doing of these, but to the right manner of performing the same: They must be done, 1. Not by constraint, that is, out of fear of Gods wrath, or force of mens Laws, but willingly. 2. Not for fifthly lucre, but of a ready and free minde, seeking Gods glory and the peoples salvation. 3. Not being lordy or haughty in their carriage, but examples of humility and godliness: The Reasons whereby he urgeth the same are diverse: The 1. Taken from his own person, verse 1. Where are three motives to perswade them to obey his counsel, even for that he was a Minister as they were, a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory to come in Heaven. The 2. For that the people were Gods flock and his heritage. The 3. For they did depend on them for instruction and means of Salvation. The 4. For that hereupon they should receive a Crown of glory that fadeth not away."

-- John Rogers, 613-614.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

"Why Do We Pray?' Sermon: Matthew 6:5-15

"Why Do We Pray?"
[Matthew 6:5-15]
February 10, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Today is the first Sunday in Lent. Lent is a "season of prayer, penance and self discipline" (The Christian Year. Metford, 42-44). This season developed out of the practice in the first century of fasting and prayer before baptism. By the late second century, the Church generally practiced a forty day period, (patterned after Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness), before Easter, as a time of preparation for all believers, but especially those who were to be baptized. But, if you count the days, you will find forty-six days from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday. That is why we say this is the first Sunday in Lent, not of Lent. We have Sundays of Advent, because they are days of celebration, as every Sunday should be, but we have Sundays in Lent -- they are not part of the season of Lent, because we ought not to be in mourning on the Lord's Day.

With this in mind, and due to the fact that some of you have asked me about prayer, I thought it well to spend the Sundays in Lent looking at prayer, and specifically the Lord's Prayer, which is the pattern of prayer that our Lord gave us. So, if the Lord is willing, we will first look at a few general questions about prayer, and then we will look at the Lord's Prayer in some detail.

Today, let us look at the question: why do we pray? How would you answer that? What is your purpose in praying? What do you look to get out of it?

In verses five and six of this morning's Scripture, Jesus says that we are not to pray to get attention or to impress others. We are not to be like hypocrites, praying on street corners and in synagogues, hoping that others will see us. We ought not to pray to get attention from others or to get others to tell us how great we are at praying.

Instead, Jesus says, we are to pray in private, quietly, out of the sight of others. Our prayer is to be between us and God, our Father. Jesus is not saying that we shouldn't ever pray together. What He is saying is that, when we pray alone, it should be alone, not on display for others to see.

If we want others to hear us pray and tell us how wonderful we pray, we might be able to get that, but then that is all we get. Jesus says that is their reward. It is not prayer. It is hypocrisy, and it does not achieve the purpose of prayer.

"[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 'Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayer thus, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all I get." But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breasts saying, "God be merciful to me, a sinner!" I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted'" (Luke 18:9-14).

The Pharisee in this parable felt good about himself, but that was all he got from his "prayer." The tax collector, on the other hand, received the mercy he prayed for; he was justified.

Jesus says that we ought to pray to get a reward from our Father. We are not to pray to impress others or to build our self esteem -- that's not prayer. Yet we are to pray, looking for a reward, but a reward from our Father. And some us may not be comfortable with saying that, and some might ask, "But doesn't that make God that slot-machine/pitiful father that we confessed God is not?" Let's look at the rest of what Jesus said in this morning's Scripture:

In verses seven through thirteen, Jesus says that we do not pray to give God information. We do not pray to enlighten God. We do not pray to convince God that He is mistaken in what He is doing. Jesus said, "your Father knows what you need before you ask him." God has always known everything; God learns nothing when we pray.

Jesus said, in giving the Lord's Prayer -- the prayer we should pattern our prayers after -- that prayer is, first, part of the way we worship God for Who He is. As we pray, we acknowledge Who God is and what He is able to do. Prayer is a type of worship.

Prayer is also a major way in which we align ourselves with God. Prayer is a major way that God makes us into who He wants us to be.

As we pray after the pattern of the Lord's Prayer, we begin by asking that we will, first, look to see that God is glorified for Who He is, that we will look to see that His Kingdom is coming, and that we will look to see that everything we do is according to His Will. We begin by asking that we would become people who seek first God's Glory, God's Kingdom, and God's Will -- that these would be our priorities.

Then we ask that God would make us trust in Him for our needs, and make us thankful for all the needs He has provided, day after day. We pray that our trust and faith in God would grow -- that we would seek our satisfaction, our hope and future, in Him.

And, finally, we ask that we would be delivered from and forgiven for our sin. We ask that God would make it possible for us to say "no" to sin and follow Him in obedience and love, instead. And we ask that when we do sin, that God would provide the Way for us to be forgiven for our sin, that we might be restored to fellowship with Him.

So, we don't pray to give God information or correct His wrong thoughts. We pray to worship God and to learn to become all the more people who seek His Glory, Kingdom, and Will. We pray to increase our faith and trust in God. And we pray for forgiveness and deliverance for sin, that God would continue to make us into the Image of His Holy Son.

Then, in verses fourteen and fifteen, Jesus says that we are not to pray to get even with those who have sinned against us, but we are to pray to learn to forgive and love our enemies. Just a few verses before this morning's text, Jesus said, "'You have heard that it was said that, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemies." But I say to you, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you'" (Matthew 5:43-44).

Is Jesus saying that we should never seek justice? Is Jesus saying that if someone steals your car, you should just say, "Oh well. Now, how can I love him?" No, Jesus was not against the justice system. If your car is stolen, you should report it stolen, and if the person is found, he or she should receive what the law requires. What Jesus is saying is that we are not to seek vengeance. We are not to be out for blood. We ought to be praying for that person, because he or she is someone who is in need of salvation.

Do we now see what the reward of prayer is that we ought to seek from the Father?

Do we know why we pray?

Jesus said we are to pray, looking for a reward from the Father. That reward consists in our glorifying and worshiping God, growing in faith and trust and holiness, becoming more like Jesus. That reward consists in forgiving and loving our neighbor, as God has forgiven and loved us.

Does that remind us of anything? Jesus said the summary of the Law and Prophets is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength and our neighbor as ourselves. We love God by becoming more like the Son, and we forgive and love all others.

The reward of prayer is that we love God with everything that we are and our neighbor as ourselves. The reward of prayer is that we become more like the Son, and forgive and love others.

Prayer is not about our getting what we want; it's about our being transformed into the people God has called us to be.

Well, how do we do that? On the one hand, we have the pattern of the Lord's Prayer. On the other, we have the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us, as Paul wrote, "Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And He who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27).

Let us pray:
Father, we come before You in prayer not seeking a pay-off, but desiring the great reward that You have for Your children -- that we might be transformed into the Image of Your Son. Teach us to pray. Make us a people who seek Your Glory, Kingdom, and Will. Make us Holy, as Jesus is Holy. And teach us to love that others might come to know that You are the One and Only Savior. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray. Amen.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:19 --

"Whatsoever troubles befal us in this life, either afflictions from the hand of God, for chastisement or persecution from the world, for our tryal, &c. that they come not to us by chance, or the will of the Devil or man without God, but by the determinate purpose and counsel of God:"

-- John Rogers 611.

"What Is Our Greatest Need?" Sermon: Acts 16:16-34

"What Is Our Greatest Need?"
[Acts 16:16-34]
February 6, 2008 Second Reformed Church

The sermon title this evening is, "What is Our Greatest Need?" How would you answer that? What is our greatest need? What do we need above everything else? Might it be food? Water? Oxygen? What is the one thing we cannot live without?

In our Scripture reading this evening, we find Paul and Silas in Macedonia -- Greece -- where the Holy Spirit had sent them. And as they were heading to the temple to pray, this young, slave girl started following them. Now this wasn't just any slave girl: she was possessed by a demon, and her owners would have her tell people's fortunes for pay.

This girl kept following Paul and Silas, and as they went, then demon prompted the girl to cry out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." All throughout the town she cried, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." Day after day like a car alarm, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation."

Paul became fed up. This was not the way he was accustomed to ministering, and he didn't want his ministry associated with demon-possession. So he did an exorcism: "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And the demon immediately came out of her, and the girl was whole again, and she could no longer tell fortunes.

Now this infuriated her owners, so they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace -- they wanted justice -- they had stolen their livelihood from them. And they held and impromptu court, accusing Paul and Silas of trying to get people to do things that were unlawful for Romans to do. These foreign Jews were teaching strange customs that Romans ought not do.

Let us understand from this that having other people believe us is not our greatest need. Certainly, we should live to be trustworthy people, like Paul and Silas lived, but they told the truth, did good for others, and they were not believed when they were accused. Having other people believe us is not our greatest need.

In fact, the people gathered up stones and rods, and they beat Paul and Silas over and over again, and then they were dragged to the prison, thrown in the door and their feet were locked in stocks so they couldn't move.

Let us understand here that being kept from being unjustly abused and imprisoned is not our greatest need. Surely, we should avoid getting into such circumstances if possible -- we should not desire to suffer, but as we have seen again and again, if we are follows of Christ, we will suffer, and some will suffer physically and may even be put to death. Being kept from unjust abuse and imprisonment is not our greatest need.

Paul and Silas were full of joy and hope; they had not lost the fulfillment of their greatest need. They had done the work of God, they had been merciful and delivered a possessed girl. They had been lied about, beaten, and thrown in prison. Yet, what do we find? Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns through the night. They weren't planning an escape. They weren't feeling sorry for themselves. The weren't blaming God for the situation they were in. They were lifting up they voices in prayer and singing hymns!

So, we understand that being free is not our greatest need. Having a comfortable home is not our greatest need. Having good food and water is not our greatest need.

Suddenly, there was a great earthquake, and every door in the jail unlocked, and all the chains and stocks unlocked -- the prisoners were free. The jailer knew that the prisoners could all escape. He knew that he could catch them all. He knew that no one would believe that and earthquake cause all the doors to unlock. He knew that he would be condemned to death for allowing all the prisoners to escape. So he drew his sword to commit suicide.

Suicide should not be encouraged or attempted, but let us remember something that we learned in I Peter -- being alive in this life is not our greatest need. Paul said "to live is Christ, to die is gain" -- we ought to live our lives, joyfully for Christ, but we ought to understand that to die in Christ and for Christ is gain. So, this life, and living it, are not our greatest need.

Paul cried out and told the jailer, "Don't kill yourself; we're all here."
And, suddenly, the jailer realized that keeping his job wasn't his greatest need. He ran into the cell and fell before Paul and Silas, not to worship them, but because he knew what had happened -- he knew how the slave girl had followed them around crying out, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." His eyes were opened, he knew these were servants of the Most High God, and he knew that their message was his greatest need, so he cried out, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" The jailer understood that his greatest need was salvation.

The theologian, R. C. Sproul, tells of a time when he was a visiting lecturer on a campus where there were a goodly number of students who hadn't heard of him. This was on a Christian college campus, and as he was walking across the campus, zealous young people would come up to him and ask, "Have you been saved?" Dr. Sproul said that, for awhile, he politely answered them so he could get to when he was going, but he finally had been asked so many times, "Have you been saved?", that he asked the student back, "Saved from what?" Dr. Sproul said the student hadn't expected the answer and couldn't quite pull himself together again.

It's an answer we all need to have. If we believe that our greatest need is salvation, then we need to know what it is we are being saved from. And perhaps many of us would say, "Well, we're saved from our sin." And while that is true, it doesn't get at the heart of the matter. Who cares if we sin -- sin is fun. Why do we need to be saved from it? Why is it our greatest need?

Would it surprise anyone if I were to say that our greatest need is to be saved from God? I didn't say that we need to be saved for God -- or by God -- I said our greatest need is to be saved from God.

Listen to Paul, "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by [Jesus'] blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God" (Romans 5:9). Yes, we are forgiven for our sin in salvation. Yes, the righteousness of Christ is imputed to our accounts in salvation. But the big picture answer is that in salvation, the Wrath of God against us is appeased through Jesus Christ. Our greatest need is to have God's Wrath taken away from us -- which includes forgiveness for sin and the imputation of Christ's Righteousness. This is our greatest need, because if the Wrath of God is not taken away from us, we will suffer at His Hand in body and soul for all of eternity.

The jailer understood this -- being executed for losing the prisoners, or committing suicide, was nothing compared with what God caused him to realize before Paul and Silas. That is why he cried out, "What must I do to be saved?" And they give him the lynch-pin of the Gospel: "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household."

After Peter preached his sermon on the day of Pentecost, we read, "Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself'" (Acts 2:37-39).

So, what happened to the jailer? He repented and believed in Jesus. He took Paul and Silas back to his home and cleaned their wounds and fed them. His whole household hear their words and believed, and they were all baptized. "And [the jailer] rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God." He had had his greatest need filled: He had been delivered from the Wrath of God.

Tonight is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. This is a period of time when we especially consider our sins and repent of them, turning and practicing what is good and true and holy, as we consider all that Jesus did to deliver us and bring us back to God.

We practicing anointing with ashes to remind us of the seriousness of sin, of our greatest need, and our need to avoid sin and always, quickly repent of it.

We also practice anointing with oil, not as a magic cure, but, as James wrote, "Is anyone among you sick? Let him call the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord" (James 5:14). For He is mighty to heal.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for sending Jesus, Your Son, to take on Your Wrath for our sin, that we might be delivered and made righteous in Him. In this season of Lent, may we each consider Your Sacrifice and seek all the more diligently after holiness. For it is in Jesus' Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday Worship

D.V., our Ash Wednesday Worship service will be this evening at 7 PM. Come, worship our Holy God with us. We plan to impose ashes and anoint with oil for all who are willing and desirous.

"And It Was Good" Sermon: Genesis 1:1-2:4

"And It Was Good"
[Genesis 1:1-2:4]
February 3, 2008 Second Reformed Church

Over the past two weeks, we have seen that the Bible confesses to there being One God Who is Eternal. He existed before time and exists outside of time, as well as in time, and He lives forever into the future. He is the Only Uncreated Being: He Alone forever is and was and will be.

This One God exists in Trinity -- in Three Persons, and all Three Persons took part in the creation of everything that is -- except for Themselves. They created everything that is because it pleased them to do so. They did not have any need that provoked their creating.

God spoke everything that is into existence and now uses the reproductive systems of plants and animals to continue His creation.

This morning, as we look at the creation history one more time, we consider these questions: What was the Holy, Perfect God's evaluation of His creation? And what does that mean for us?

We don't have to guess what God thought of His creation, because He tells us: "And God saw that the light was good" (Genesis 1:4). "God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:10). "The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:12). "And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light to the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:17-18). "So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swim, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:21). "And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good" (Genesis 1:25). "And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31a).

God proclaimed everything He had made in the spiritual and the physical realms was "good," and collectively, "very good."

Paul wrote, "Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage, and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer" (I Timothy 4:1-5).

And St. Augustine wrote, "And thou, O God, didst see everything that thou hadst made and, behold, it was very good. We also see the whole creation and, behold, it is all very good. In each separate kind of thy work, when thou didst say, 'Let them be made,' and they were made, thou didst see that it was good. I have counted seven times where it is written that thou didst see what thou hadst made was 'good.' And there is the eighth time when thou didst see all things that thou hadst made and, behold, they were not only good but also very good; for they were now seen as a totality. Individually they were only good; but taken as a totality they were both good and very good. Beautiful bodies express this truth; for a body which consists of several parts, each of which is beautiful, is itself far more beautiful than any of its individual parts separately, by whose well-ordered union the whole is completed even though these parts are separately beautiful" (The Confessions, chapter 28, paragraph 43).

God created everything that is because it pleased Him. He called everything that He created, "good." He said that taken together the creation is "very good." And we see in Paul and Augustine that when we receive God's creation with thanksgiving it is good for us -- it gives us pleasure.

Still, we may wonder just what "good" means. What does it mean for God to say that the creation is "good" and "very good"?

Francis Schaeffer says this: "This is not a relative judgment, but a judgment of the holy God who has a character and whose character is the law of the universe. His conclusion: Every step and every sphere of creation, and the whole thing put together -- man himself and his total environment, the heavens and the earth -- conforms to myself" (Genesis in Space and Time, 55). In other words, the creation is good because it conforms to God and what God created it to be. When dogs are being dogs and mud is being mud and cherubim are being cherubim, that, God says, is good.

And some will be thinking, "Wait a minute: how can we call a sinful and fallen world good? Is God saying that sin and evil are good?"

Absolutely not. Sin and evil, which came to earth through our choice through our representative, Adam, are acting contrary to creation. Sin and evil are doing that which is opposed to the way and the purpose of creation. It is doing those things that we ought not to do and not doing those things that we ought to do. Sin and evil are against what it means to be who we were created to be.

We see this is Paul's description: "For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved" (Romans 8:19-24a).

Christians understand that sin and evil came into the Garden, into the whole creation, through the sin of our Father, Adam. All of creation -- men, women, animals, plants, inanimate objects -- all of creation was punished and made to suffer for our sin. Why do we die? Our sin. Why are some plants poisonous? Our sin. Why do animals kill each other and humans? Our sin. In the Garden, we were healthy and at peace with all of creation, but sin destroyed that.

And the creation understands that it is not her fault that she suffers and causes suffering. The creation understand that it is suffering because our Father, Adam, chose to bring us into sin. But the creation also understands -- this is what Paul says in the passage I just read -- the creation understands that the day is coming when Jesus returns as Judge, and after the judgement, the elect of God will be perfected and glorified and all of creation will be restored and perfected and set aright -- it will, once again, be good -- in the full meaning of the word.

We share a hope with the creation -- that when Jesus returns, sin will be put away from us, and we will be made into what we were created to be. The living and the dead will stand before the throne, and Jesus will grant everlasting life, perfect holiness, and righteousness, to every human who ever believed in Him and to the whole non-human creation. Carol's dog, Winston, will rise from the dead, and Barbara's dog, Bonnie, will rise from the dead, and they will be made perfect and whole with us, so the whole creation will join in glorifying and praising Jesus.

As will the elect of God be raised from the dead, in their bodies, and their bodies will be healed and perfected to the glory of God.

Now, our bodies will be different -- our bodies will be like Jesus' Resurrected Body. Our bodies will no longer be subject to sickness and disease and death -- like Jesus, we will be in perfect health, unable to sin, and everlasting. But let us not make the mistake and say that we shall not be physical -- Jesus could be touched; Jesus ate food and drank after His Resurrection, and so shall we.

There are modern religions that deny that the physical creation is good. Christian Scientists deny that the physical world exists. For them, one of the greatest sins is to believe that there is any stuff here at all. They say that we can be perfect, holy, and healthy in this life, if we just deny the physical world exists, if we just deny that sickness and disease can bother us.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that the physical world exists, but they believe that the physical world is corrupted by sin and evil and Jesus will not restore the creation. They deny the physical resurrection and the release from bondage that Paul wrote about. They say that the future life after Jehovah's return will be entirely spiritual.

If they're right, what do we do with Jesus' being touched and eating and drinking and saying we shall be like Him? What do we do with Job's confession: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!" (Job 19:25-27). What do we do with the fact that God said the creation is very good?

As it was created, God said that the whole creation is very good. What does that mean for us today, in a fallen and sinful world?

It means that we should be thankful for the creation: even amidst the sin and futility of the world, are we not thankful for our pets, for the wonders of the creation, and for other people? Let us be thankful for the creation that we enjoy, despite its being marred.

It means that we should delight in the creation: God has given us the whole creation to enjoy and to know Him better through. Let us enjoy everything that God has given us in the world. Enjoy food and drink and viewing and interacting with creation, listening to the variety of songs and sounds, seeing all the variety of being and color. Let us enjoy what God has given and put around us.

It also means we are responsible for and should act responsibly towards the creation: not just because our sin has corrupted it, but because God, in the beginning, said, "'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth'" (Genesis 1:26). The word, "dominion," in this text, does not mean that we can do what we want with the creation, it means that God has assigned humans the responsibility to care for the creation in His place. We are God’s viceregents; God’s expects us to care for the creation in the same way that He does.

And, since God created the creation very good, we ought to trust God. We ought to trust His Word, be thankful, enjoy the creation, care for the creation, but also look forward with the hope that Paul says the creation has for the day of Jesus' Return when we and the creation will be restored and perfected. (Cf. James Boice, Genesis, vol. 1, 73).

It is appropriate the we consider this hope on a communion Sunday, because Jesus said, "'I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you that I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, 'Take this, and divide it amongst yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes'" (Luke 22:15-18).

In the communion liturgy, we say that this is a feat of remembrance, communion, and hope. Remembrance of Jesus' Work on earth, communion with that same Jesus Who is spiritually here with us, giving us His Grace through the elements, and hope -- the hope that Jesus wasn't lying -- that the day is coming when He will come to earth again, and we, in real, very good, glorified bodies, will share real bread and a real cup, with the Real Man, Jesus Christ, when He fulfills the kingdom of God on the last day.

Let us pray in hope:
Almighty God, Creator of every good thing, we thank You for the creation and for the promise and the hope that one day it will be fully restored, and us with it. We thank You that You allow us to enjoy and be thankful for all of Your amazing creation. Help us to take responsibility for caring for it as Your stewards. And keep the communion hope ever before us. May Jesus Christ be praised, Amen.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Puritan Wisdom

On I Peter 4:17 --

"Therefore let us not be against the Lords chastening: Its better to have a strong purgation, then to fall into spiritual diseases and dangers, whereunto we shall else be subject; there's no rule in the world aomng children without rods: Neither use we untimely means, or make overmuch haste to get out of them, but crave rather to be better renewed and inclined in Faith, Patience, Humility, &c. our care is comfortable."

-- John Rogers, 598.