Second Reformed Church

Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Lord of the Body" Sermon: Acts 9:37-43

“Lord of the Body”
[Acts 9:37-43]
January 31, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, various types of cancer, sarcoidosis, illnesses of the eyes, illnesses of the ears, illnesses of the skin – these are some of the diseases and illnesses that we – in this congregation – have suffered. And we have prayed and continue to pray for each other – for healing, for deliverance, for strength to persevere. And sometimes we find ourselves asking if it isn’t all so futile: Don’t we see suffering from illness more than healing? Don’t we experience the surgeon’s knife more than spontaneous healing? Aren’t we tempted, as we hear Scriptures like the one that was read this morning, to ask where God is now? Why doesn’t God do that for me now?

Last week we saw Saul led by the brothers to the port of Caesarea to escape from the Jews that were seeking to kill him and to go back to his hometown of Tarsus in Turkey. Luke now tells us about what Peter has been doing, and we find him preaching the Gospel in Lydda, which is also along the Mediterranean coast.

Peter found a man there named Aeneas who had been paralyzed for eight years. And Peter said, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” Notice, Peter did not claim to have any power or ability in himself to heal. He was informed by the Holy Spirit that Jesus would heal Aeneas, so Peter commanded Aeneas in the Name of Jesus Christ – the Lord of the Body – to be healed – to get out of his bed. And immediately he was healed. He was no longer paralyzed. He stood up – and all of the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they believe in Jesus savingly and repented of their sins.

Peter then went to the nearby town of Joppa where a disciple – a Christian – named Tabitha (in Aramaic) or Dorcas (in Greek) – in Joppa both languages were spoken. She was a good woman, full of good works and charity. She was the kind of woman who was always willing to volunteer – always doing all that she could to help out her brothers and sisters. She was especially skilled at sewing and creating garments, which she gave to any who had need. But she got ill and died. So, they prepared her body and lay her out in an upstairs room.

Some of the disciples who were there remembered that Elijah had raised the dead, and Jesus had raised the dead, and they prayed that Peter would also be able, as a servant of Jesus, to raise Dorcas. So they sent two men to Lydda to get him and bring him to her before she ended up being buried. They understood that death is not a natural occurrence – death is a result of sin – it is the last enemy that Jesus will one day banish to Hell. So, they went in the hopes that this evil could be reversed – for now.

Peter arrived and found the funeral service underway – the widows had been hired and were weeping and wailing in the upstairs room. Those who knew Dorcas were showing each other the clothes that she had made for them. But Peter asked them all to leave the room. And he prayed to know if it was the Will of God that she be raised at this time, and God told him, “yes.”

So Peter looked at her body and commanded her, “Tabitha, arise.” And her eyes opened, and she saw Peter, and he gave her his hand and raised her up. And he presented her to the saints and the widows. Her resurrection became known through all of Joppa, and many believed savingly in Jesus, repenting of their sins.

And again, we do well to notice that Peter did not simply march in and heal her – as though it was something he could do in his own power. No, he prayed and sought God’s guidance about whether or not this was the Will of God – something that God intended to do – before he proclaimed, in the Name of God, that she was to rise from the dead.

It should not surprise us to see that Jesus is Lord of the Body and can heal anyone of anything, if He so wills. For Paul wrote, “[Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17, ESV). Jesus, God the Son, is Lord of the Body, because He created our bodies and they function as He allows them to function.

But, still, that doesn’t answer the question, does it? Why did Jesus heal some people and not others? Why did God allow the disciples and apostles to heal some people and not others? Why does God hear our prayers today and heal some but not others? And let us understand that God is behind all healing, whether it is spontaneous like in this morning’s reading or through medical intervention – no one could be healed if God did not want the healing to occur. So, why some and not others?

The biggest part of the problem can be answered in understanding that we have been asking the wrong question. The question is not “Why does God heal some and not others?” The question is “Why does God heal any?” In our sin and selfishness we say that God is Good and God is All-Powerful (which are true), therefore, He must heal me – or my loved one – when I pray. Not so.

It’s understandable given our entitlement society that we should think that way – our youth and even some of our adults believe that if we exist, we are entitled to receive a whole slew of benefits from God and man for doing absolutely nothing. This horrific way of thinking is even in the Church – there are more and more teaching that worship is about receiving whatever makes you feel good – we come to worship and expected to be stroked and patted on the head and told how good we are.

Brothers and sisters, while it is true that we benefit from worship, the worship of God is about declaring the Worth of God. We come to worship to declare and learn about how great God is – how worthy – how majestic – how holy – how glorious. Worship is about Him – not you or me. I am not hear to please you and me; I have been called to stand and announce the Word and the Will of God, and then we are all to respond accordingly.

What does the Scripture tell us about our condition? What do we deserve from God?

God told Adam and Eve, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:16b-17, ESV). So, what did our first parents do? They ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And what did God do? Did Adam and Eve die that day? Partially – God showed them mercy, and though they died spiritually that day, God postponed their physical death for some eight or nine hundred years.

The Law has not changed, “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a, ESV). Have any of you sinned? If we have sinned, we ought to die. That is the Law. But God shows us mercy, too. We are born dead spiritually, but God postpones our physical death – which, after Noah, God said would average one hundred and twenty years. Yet, God has given us more than mercy – He has given us His Grace: “the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23b, ESV). Through Jesus Christ, we who believe are given eternal life – we are made spiritually alive, and we will never spiritually die again. But our body still suffers in this lifetime.

So, asking the biblical question, “Why does God heal any – when we are all sinners, deserving of immediate and eternal death?” God heals some – instantly or through medical intervention – because it pleases God to do so. That is the only explanation we are given in the Scripture. God, in His Mercy, chooses to heal some through various means, because it pleases Him.

Although we may anguish and mourn physical suffering on earth, we have no cause of action against God because He does not heal all – or heal in our time or as we desire Him to heal. What we do encounter is that God heals some – though none deserve it – and that ought to amaze us and cause us to praise and worship Him for His Incomprehensible Mercy.

So, what ought we do – we who are suffering – we who have loved ones who are suffering?

Hear what James wrote, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 5:13-15, ESV).

What is James telling us? James is telling us that is someone is sick or suffering, it is right for us to pray to God that he or she be healed. We are also told that we are to call for the elders to anoint the sick and pray over them. Why? Is oil a magic cure-all? Of course not. We anoint with oil on Ash Wednesday, but it is not magic. Anointing symbolizes being set apart. It reminds us and those that we pray for that we are set apart for God Who alone can heal us if He is willing, which is the third thing James tells us: if we pray “the prayer of faith,” that is, if our prayer is according to the Will of God, God will do it. As we have seen before, prayer is not magic, it is about aligning ourselves more and more with the Will and the Mind of God. God will already do whatever God has planned, but He calls us to pray that we might become more like Him and understand that He Alone is Sovereign.

Another lesson we need to take with us into suffering and illness – before it occurs, if possible, is, as Paul wrote, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, ESV). We have considered the myriad of ways in which Paul suffered, and he says that compared with the glory that God will bring us into when His Kingdom has fully come – this is nothing.

Understand, Paul is not saying that we should experience the death of a loved one and just shrug it off and say, “Oh, well, what’s coming is even greater.” No, we are to pray and struggle and mourn, but we are not to despair, because this is not the end; there is a day of resurrection when we shall all be raised to be received into the Kingdom or to be cast into the lake of fire.

Paul wrote, “For we know that if the tent [our body], which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened – not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (II Corinthians 5:1-5, ESV).

In other words, we are born with a body – a body that falls apart. And the day will come when our body dies and our soul will be given a new, eternal body. We will not remain a naked soul, but we will have a perfect body, just like Jesus’ after the Resurrection.

Again, Paul wrote, “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. Thus is it written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven” (I Corinthians 15:42-49, ESV).

In other words, just like our father, Adam, died in his body, we will die in our bodies. Yet, all we who believe in Jesus Alone will be raised from the dead, just like Jesus was raised from the dead and given a body just like His Body. And what kind of body will that be? It will be a perfect body that cannot decay or become ill; it is a physical body that can be touched and eat – just like Jesus’ Body.

What will our body look like? Will we be recognizable? Job said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, who I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me ” (Job 19:25-27, ESV).

We know from the Gospels that Jesus was not instantly recognizable in His Resurrected Body. But Job tells us that it is this body – the very body that we have lived this life on earth as – this body is the body that will be resurrected and perfected. It will be changed – perfected, glorified, made holy – so there will be differences, but it will be this same body. You will be you and I will be me.

Does God intercede and heal people without medical intervention today? Yes. We all know of people that have been healed and the doctors have no explanation for it. So what shall we do?

We ought to pray for those who are suffering and ill, anointing them, if they are willing and we are able. We are to ask God to help us to receive whatever answer He gives to our prayers, whether He heals or says, “wait,” or “no.” And we are to remember and look forward with great hope and expectancy for the day when Jesus returns and raises the dead and gives all those who have believed in Him holy and eternal bodies just like His.

We ought to be in prayer every day and as often as God brings people to our minds, remembering that God can heal if God wills, because He is Lord of the Body. But we do not know the depths of the Mind of God, so let us always have before us His Promise of a new body when He brings the new heavens and the new earth.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Creator and Sustainer of the Body, our Great Physician, help us not to be discouraged in our prayers for the sick and the suffering, but let us pray fervently and in faith, submitting ourselves to Your Holy Will. And raise up in us the fires of hope that sees the truth of the day coming when our bodies are made whole and holy. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Review: "Small Graces: the Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life"

A couple of people recommended Kent Nerburn’s Small Graces: the Quiet Gifts of Everyday Life to me, and I have now read it.

Nerburn has collected a number of meditations under the headings of “awakenings,” “passages,” “gatherings,” and “departures.” In each meditation, Nerburn looks at a common situation – a walk in the woods, greeting a neighbor, viewing dawn, etc. – and invites the reader to pause and consider the quiet – the silence – of the moment and recognize it as a grace.

Through his studies and other writings, Nerburn comes to the subject to a large degree from a Native American perspective. Yet, he has selected quotes from other cultures as well.

Nerburn makes an important point in our world of “on-demand” and “have it you way” and “instantaneous gratification” – there is grace to be found – an overwhelming awe to be felt in stopping and appreciating the space between movement. Even in Judaism and Christianity, we have the text, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Nerburn’s work will not be for everyone, because he stops short of finding the One Personal God in the silence. Even so, his work is worth reading to cause us to remember that if we only live in the noise, we are not experiencing the fullness of life that God gives to us.

Yes, Virgina, I Spoke at Classis

Tuesday night we had Classis meeting, and one of the issues before us was to vote on the proposed amendments to the Constitution. One of those amendments is the inclusion of the Belhar Confession as a Standard of the Reformed Church in America. I am opposed to its inclusion, and I said:

"I ask that we vote against the reception of the Belhar Confession as a Standard of the RCA for two reasons:

"1. It adds does not add anything to our current Standards. To wit: (a) Our Standards make it abundantly clear that every mere human being is utterly equal before the Face of God in-and-of him or herself. (b) Our Standards make it abundantly clear that we are to love all people -- meaning that were are to do everything in our power to do good for them and to prevent evil from befalling them.

"2. To add it as a Standard makes us necessarily obliged to adopt any and all confessions that confess non-bias towards any person."

Rebuttal was make to the effect that if we do not include it as a Standard, the South Africans will not know that we support the end of apartheid.

By a 3 to 2 margin, our Classis gave approval to its inclusion.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"Our Brother, the Murderer" Sermon: Acts 9:19b-31

“Our Brother, the Murderer”
[Acts 9:19b-31]
January 24, 2010 Second Reformed Church

Saul had been on his way to Damascus when Jesus struck him down, blinded him, and revealed to Saul that Jesus is God the Savior, Whom Saul had been persecuting. Jesus instructed Saul to go to Damascus, as he had planned, and to wait further instruction, and Saul obeyed and fasted and prayed.

Jesus came to Ananias, one of the Christians in Damascus and told him to go to Saul and heal him. But Ananias was hesitant – Saul had come “breathing threats and murder” – he had come to capture, try, and kill Christians. But Jesus assured him that Saul had come to faith and was going to be used by Jesus as His representative to the Gentiles. So Ananias went to Saul, once a murderer, now, his brother, and healed him, baptized him, and commissioned him in the Name of Jesus.

Saul stayed for some time in Damascus with the disciples there, and Saul went from synagogue to synagogue – remember, he had papers from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem to go into every synagogue and search for Christians. So, when he stood up in the synagogue, the Jews thought he would speak against the Christians and demand that they be given up. But, instead, he got up and preached that Jesus is the Son of God.

Our text tells us that the Jews were amazed and confounded: “Isn’t this Saul of Tarsus that the Sanhedrin sent to rid us of these Christians? Isn’t this Saul of Tarsus who caused such terror in Jerusalem among the Christians? Isn’t he here on the authority of the chief priests to stop this kind of talk – and here he is zealously preaching the very message that he was sent to stop What has happened to him?”

We know what happened to him – Jesus happened to him. Saul wasn’t the same person any more. All of his knowledge of the Old Testament was blossoming in him as the Holy Spirit helped him to understand how everything in the Old Testament points to Jesus. And he went from synagogue to synagogue, proving the that the text does proclaim that Jesus is God the Savior, and no one could refute him. In fact, the more he preached Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the better he understood the Old Testament and was strengthened in his preaching and understanding by the Holy Spirit.

If you are a Christian, you know that something is different about you – you’re not the person you once were. If you grew up in the church, the difference may be more subtle – perhaps you can look at your life and conceive what you might be like if you didn’t believe in Jesus – what you might be willing to do and believe if you didn’t believe in Jesus. We are different, and we must be different.

Let us understand, first this morning, that when God causes us to believe in Jesus savingly, we become new people – “new creatures.” Saul would write to the Church at Corinth: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthinas 6:9-11, ESV). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (II Corinthians 5:17, ESV).

When Jesus makes us His own, we cannot continue in our sin; we cannot continue to be and live as we once did. Now, will we sin now and then? Yes. We shouldn’t, but we will, because we will not be perfected until Jesus returns. But we are to be zealously fighting against our sin by the Power of the Holy Spirit Who lives in us. And we are certainly not to happily, unrepentantly continue in the sins in which we once engaged.

Those who believe in Jesus are not what they once were, as Saul explained to the Corinthians: if we were once murders, Christ welcomes us and tells us to murder no more. If we lived lives of sexual immorality, Christ welcomes us and tells us to be sexually immoral no more. If we were once thieves, Christ welcomes us and tells us to steal no more. If we were gossips, or gluttons, or busybodies, or lazy slobs, Christ welcomes us and tells us to sin no more. If we believe in Jesus, we no longer happily, unrepentantly desire to follow after our sin. Will we be tempted, yes, but we should also desire not to sin, and, by God’s Grace, we will not sin as we once did.

At this point our text says, “when many days had passed.” Scholars believe that this was actually a period of three years, as Saul mentions in his letter to the Galatians, “I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem” (Galatians 1:17b-18a, ESV). After his conversion, Saul spent three years in Arabia in study and prayer before he continued the ministry to which Jesus had called him.

Then he returned to Damascus and began to preach again, and when he did, the Jews plotted to kill him. But the plot was made known to Saul, and his disciples lowered him out through a window, through the city walls, and he escaped to Jerusalem.

Let us understand then that when God causes us to believe in Jesus savingly, our old friends many not understand, and some of them might be angry with us. In this country, we may not have people try to kill us, like they tried to kill Saul, but if a Muslim becomes a Christian, he is often shunned and in some cases, his life might be sought. The same is true in China and in some parts of Africa. Family members and friends still kill converts to Christ in the modern world.

We’re much more polite in US. I have a friend who tells me that “I will grow out of this religion stuff.” He thinks this is a phase that I will move beyond one day. My grandmother always said that she didn’t understand all this religious stuff, but she guessed it was fine if it helped me – if I needed that kind of a crutch. One of my friends who is now “old enough” that she says she doesn’t need Jesus any more yells at me and tells me to stop talking about religion if it comes up in conversation.

If we truly believe in Jesus, we will be different people and we will believe different things, and some people will not like that or understand it. We have to be patient with them, pray for them, calmly showing them the Gospel without beating them over the head with it. But if Jesus is the Truth, we can’t keep quiet – we can’t not talk about Him, we can’t not live as He has called us to live, we can’t not have His Gospel affect every part of our lives.

We see, in a way, the other side of the coin with Saul. Saul was a persecutor of Christians, a terrorist, and now he claimed to be a fellow believer – a brother in Christ. But when he arrived back in Jerusalem, the apostles were afraid of him – he had overseen the capture and murder of Christians and now he was claiming to be their brother? They didn’t believe him. Depending on how notorious our sin is, it might be difficult for our fellow Christians to believe our confession of faith.

But there was one, Barnabas, the “son of encouragement,” who we met back in chapter four, when he sold a piece of property that he had and gave the whole sum of the sale to the Church – Barnabas talked with Saul and got to know him and brought him back to the apostles and said that he believed Saul. And Barnabas told them how Saul had met the Lord Jesus on the road, and how Jesus has spoken to him and called him to preach, and how he had been zealously preaching that Jesus is the Son of God the Savior in Damascus during the past three years.

And Saul went out among the people of Jerusalem and began to boldly preach that Jesus is God the Savior. And he argued for the faith with the Greek Jews who were in Jerusalem. But within a short time, the Jews in Jerusalem sought to kill Saul. His brothers, the apostles and the disciples, having seen his confession in action, believed his conversion, and for his safety, they smuggled him down to the port at Caesarea and sent him on a ship back to his hometown of Tarsus in Turkey.

Let us understand, thirdly, then, that it may be hard for some people to believe that some of us have come to faith in Jesus. So we understand that our confession of faith is not enough to prove our changed lives, we must live out our Christianity before the world. As Saul would write to the Church in Ephesus: “Now this I say to you and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ – assuming that you have learned about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created in the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom your were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:17-32, ESV).

And James, the brother of our Lord, wrote, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22-25, ESV).

When you got ready for church this morning, did you look in the mirror? Have you ever asked what you looked like when you got here? Have you ever asked how your hair looked? Have you ever forgotten if you had all your clothes on or put your make-up on – even for just a moment? There have been times when I have forgotten what I was wearing or if I was wearing an article of clothing – if for just a moment – and I know that some of you have asked me how your hair looked.

Charles Colson was President Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.” It was said that if the president asked Colson to run over his grandmother, he would have done it. After Colson was imprisoned, after Watergate, he became a Christian. And it took time for people to believe that he was truly a believer. It took him living out his Christianity before the world for some time before he was believed.

Charles Watson – the man who actually committed the infamous “Mason murders” – also became a Christian in prison. There are still people today that question his conversion. In his book, Will You Die for Me?, he tells of how Manson would hold a knife or a gun to each “family” member and ask him if he would die for him – and at that time, Watson said he would. But now he confesses Christ in prison and lives out the Gospel in those circumstances.

What we believe is important. What we say we believe is important. But if we don’t live it out so others look at us and understand that we do what we do and say what we say because we are believers in Jesus Christ, then something is wrong, and they really don’t have any reason to believe us, do they? Could someone look at your life and only explain it by your being a Christian? That should be the case.

Let us look at our lives and see if there are areas in which we are doing things that do not live up to Christ and His Call on our lives. Let us see if there are areas in our lives that we need to work harder at to bring them into conformity with what we say we believe. Let us see if there are things we have been doing that we really shouldn’t be doing if we are truly believers in Jesus. God has indwelt us in the Person of the Holy Spirit and He will enable us to do these things.

Our text this morning ends with one of Luke’s interludes to show he is moving from one thing to another: “So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” Luke tells us that at this point there was a lull in the persecution of Christians. Why?

We might be tempted to say that it is because Saul was now a Christian, and that would be true to a degree – Saul was a zealous persecutor of the Church. But we need to remember that he was not the only persecutor of the Church – as we see, the Jews were seeking to kill Saul wherever he went.

A greater change that made for this lull was the change in government around the Roman Empire: Saul was in Jerusalem – in this morning’s reading – around 36-37 A.D. In 36 A.D., Governor Pontius Pilate was replaced by Vitellius, and the High Priest, Caiaphas, was replaced by Jonathan. And in 37 A.D., Emperor Tiberius died and was succeeded by Caligula, who appointed Herod Agrippa over Palestine. For a short time, these changes kept the larger forces busy and decreased the persecution.

And we are told that during this time the Christians walked in the fear of the Lord – they lived in a way that showed that they were in awe of God – that they respected and worshiped Him, and they received comfort from the Holy Spirit – especially through the reading and preaching of the Scripture. And God was pleased to cause the Church to multiply.

Believing savingly in Jesus changes everything – it made a murderer like Saul a brother to those he had set out to destroy. All those who believe in Jesus savingly are transformed – metamorphasised – into something new – have you become a new creation?

Our old friends may be confused or angry as we let them know of our coming to faith. They may not want us around any more – they may even become violent towards us. But we are called to live out Christ before them that they, too, might come to faith.

And Christianity is more than just a set of beliefs, it is living them out. We must live as God has called us to live, or there will be no reason for anyone to believe that we have truly believed. How are you living?

Let us walk before God, knowing Him as He is revealed in the Scripture, humbly worshiping Him as our God and Savior. Let us draw our comfort from the Word of God and from the Holy Spirit Who lives in us and gives us the strength to stand for Christ in peace.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for calling us to Yourself and changing us. Help us to love all of Your people and welcome all those who confess faith in You, and cause us to live out our faith that others might see that we truly believe in You alone for our salvation. And may You receive all the glory. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Review: "Too Good to Be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype"

Too Good to Be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype by Michael Horton has much good in it, as Horton’s books usually do, but I found the structure of the book a bit confusing: the dust jacket says that this book is a collection of readings on suffering and the hope that is to be found in Jesus. Yet, the book has been edited (?) in such a way as to look like a single work. Yet, it reads more like a collection of essays. This is, perhaps, a minor point, but it made the books more difficult for me to read than it needed to be.

The first half of the essays are collected under the heading, “God of the Cross.” These six essays compare and contrast the prosperity gospel and the biblical Gospel, the theology of glory and the theology of the cross, look at the Fall and its consequences, understanding the Sovereignty of God and Christ as the center of all Scripture, and the difference between redeeming grace and common grace. While some may not know the terminology off hand, Horton explains them thoroughly and shows that these are major misunderstandings and lacks of knowledge among many today – issues that must be understood if we are to understand why there is suffering in the world and God’s place in the scheme of things.

The second half are collected under the heading of “God of the Empty Tomb.” These four essays look at Job and our need for an advocate, Adam and Christ as both “federal” and “organic” heads, the difference between justification and sanctification – or “redemption accomplished” and “redemption applied,” the “already” and the “not yet,” spiritual warfare and the armor of God, ending with the understanding of Jesus as the Resurrection, not merely giving resurrection. Again, Horton explains all of these things well for the lay person and shows the biblical understand of the hope that there is in Jesus, no matter what “slight affliction” we incur on earth.

The issues Horton covers in this work are important and well-addressed, so I would recommend this work strongly. Yet, as I said to begin with, my reading of it left me wishing it was edited differently.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

"God's Bad Choice" Sermon: Acts 9:1-19a

“God’s Bad Choice”
[Acts 9:1-19a]
January 17, 2010 Second Reformed Church

This morning, we return to our look at the book of Acts: we will remember that a great persecution had begun against the Christians, and they were fleeing out from Jerusalem into other parts of Israel and even into other lands. The disbursement began in earnest after the martyrdom of Stephen. And, as we saw in the ministry of Philip, the Gospel began to spread throughout the Roman Empire.

We will remember that there was a young rabbi, Saul, a student of the learned Pharisee, Gamaliel, who joyously stood by and encouraged the stoning of Stephen to death for claiming that Jesus is God the Savior – blasphemy, as Saul understood it. Saul was well on his way to be as famous as his teacher; Saul was zealous for the Law of God and sought to have anyone who broke it swiftly and thoroughly punished.

It was probably not long after the death of Stephen that this morning’s Scripture occurred: Saul would not have waited patiently by while these blaspheming Christians spread their blasphemy throughout the Empire.

So Saul, full of extreme rage, “breathing threats and murder,” “spitting mad,” desiring to destroy the disciples of Jesus and hallow the Name of the Lord, went to the Sanhedrin in his great zeal and asked them for letters to the synagogues in Damascus – in Syria – that he might act in the name of the Sanhedrin, capture, and bring back any people of the Way – (that’s what Christians were first called, because they followed Jesus Who said He was the Way) – any people he found – whether man or woman – to be questioned – and if they would not recant – put to death!

The Sanhedrin was impressed with Saul’s zeal and gave him the letters he requested so he might act in their name. So, Saul gathered a group to go with him – we don’t know if they were Romans or other zealous Jews – just that he had a number of men with him to help him capture and bring back Christians. And they headed out on the road to Damascus.

As they approached Damascus, a blazing light – the Light of the Glory of God – shone down out of heaven and centered on Saul, like a lightning bolt that came out of the sky and kept coming and shining on him. Saul was knocked to the ground. And he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

Let us understand, first, this morning, that our sin is always, ultimately, against God.

After David had arranged Uriah’s death and committed adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, he repented and prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against, you, you alone, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment” (Psalm 51:51:3-4, ESV).

And Jesus answered the “goats” when they complained to Him, “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:44b-46, ESV).

Saul had been persecuting Christians – seeking them out and having them brought to trial for blasphemy. But now a voice from heaven called to him, questioning why Saul was persecuting him. Saul’s mind must have been reeling – he was on the ground, light blazing around him, and he has just come to realize that he had not been hallowing God’s Name – he had not been keeping God’s Law – he had been fighting against God and God’s Plan all along! How could that be? How could he be so wrong? After all of his study – after the approval of the best scholars of his generation – how could he be so completely wrong?

But he had to be sure, so he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what to do.” It was Jesus; He is God the Savior. Saul had been wrong, and now the True God had thrown him to the ground, blinded him, and told him to go into the city. So Saul got up, went into the city, and fasted and prayed for three days until he heard from the Lord Jesus.

Let us understand, second, that since we are sinners, we can make mistakes in our doctrine – in our understanding of the Scripture, so we ought to be very careful about what we say is necessary to believe and what there is room for disagreement about. The Apostle’s Creed was an early attempt at saying, “these are the non-negotiables,” and it is still one of the best summaries of what the Church has always understood and believed and agreed upon.

I was raised in a Bible-believing home, but my understanding of the Scripture was not the Reformed understanding – I did not understand what God’s Sovereignty really meant, until God was pleased to confront me in college about this issue and help me to see what the Scripture says. Now, I was a Christian before I had a Reformed understanding of the Scripture, and I was a Christian after, but I better understood the Scriptures after. We all continue to grow and learn and God is pleased to help us to understand all that He has revealed to us in His Word.

So, let us also understand, that when God helps us to understand something, we are to respond by immediately and humbly bowing and receiving the truth that God has revealed – especially if it is a matter of saving belief.

If someone has not believed in Jesus Alone for salvation and then comes to understand that Jesus is the Only Savior, as Saul did, he is to immediately believe and subject himself to Jesus. If a person comes to understand that Jesus is the Only Savior, it is an inappropriate response to refuse to believe, to refuse to submit, to say, “let me consider my options.”

Similarly, if we come to understand something in the Scripture that we have not understood before, our response is to be to submit and obey. It is inappropriate to say, “well, I see that God has said that, but I don’t believe it.” It is inappropriate to say, for example, “I understand that gossiping makes me just as guilty and worthy of the fires of Hell as does murder, but I don’t think it’s as bad, so I’m going to continue to gossip.”

Saul understood that Jesus is God the Savior, and he rightly responded to that understanding by humbly obeying and waiting on the Lord. Let us be quick to obey God in any and all things that we understand He has said.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias – one of the believers in Jesus in Damascus was a man named Ananias. And the Lord came to him and called to him and told him to go to Straight Street – (which still exists today – it is a street that goes the length of the nation from east to west in a straight line) – to go to the house of Judas, where he would find Saul of Tarsus, who was praying, waiting for Ananias to come and lay hands on him that he might regain his sight, as the Lord told Saul in a vision while he was praying.

We can imagine Ananias shaking at this word, “Saul. Saul of Tarsus. Lord, I have heard about this man: he has commit great acts of evil against the saints in Jerusalem, and he has been given authority to come to Damascus and bind all the saints he finds here and take them away to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. Lord, do You really want me to go and heal this man? Do You know what kind of evil he will do once he is well again? Lord, are You sure?”

“Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.”

What must Ananias have been thinking? “Lord, are You sure he’s the best choice for the job? He has acted as a terrorist against Your people – even if he has changed, and I find it hard to believe – don’t you think he’s a bad choice to represent You?”

Can we imagine similar choices? If God came to the thirteen colonies and said that He wanted King George to be made the first President of the United States. Or Adolph Hitler the Prime Minister of Israel. Or Charles Mason the Presidential Secretary on Mental Health. Or David Duke of the KKK the chairman of the black caucus. Those would seem to us bad choices. It would certainly have seemed a bad choice to Ananias to pick Saul of Tarsus to do anything for the people of God.

Let us understand, then, that God chose Saul to represent Him, first before the Gentiles, then kings, and lastly before Israel, because it pleased God to chose Saul and use him for that purpose. Yes, it is true that Saul was well-educated, he came from a cosmopolitan city, but he was also the last person anyone would believe had converted. Saul would have great difficulty convincing the saints that he was not trying to trap them – that he wasn’t faking his conversion. But God chose him for God’s Reasons.

Saul acknowledged this when he wrote, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:15-16, ESV). God did not use him as the brilliant Jewish scholar he was, but sent him, for God’s reasons, to be the apostle to the Gentiles – the non-Jews.

Likewise, God chose you and me to be His for His Reasons. We are not to be prideful in the fact that God has called us to be who were are – to be His sons and daughters. We ought to humbly give thanks that God chose us, despite who we are – despite our sin. And we ought to receive anyone and everyone who confesses Christ, no matter who they were or what they have done. Our perception of a person or our knowledge of what they have done in the past is irrelevant, if they have truly come to faith in Christ.

Why? “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of the darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (II Corinthians 4:5-10, ESV).

When I first went to seminary, I was being discourage from pursuing the ministry because my health was not the best and there is a great deal of work and stress in the ministry. But that is the point – one reason God uses us is the very fact that we are weak and broken and common, because it makes His Glory all the more easy to see.

So, when you look at me, I appreciate your prayers for my health and so forth, but I don’t want you to look at me and think, “Oh, there’s our pastor; he’s chronically ill.” No, I want you to look at me and say, “Isn’t our God great that He would work through someone like our pastor?” I desire to see you the same way: Isn’t our God amazing – that He would even work through you?

Jesus continued, “For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” The word that is used for “show” does not mean that God revealed everything that Paul would have to go through as the apostle to the Gentiles – it means that God gave him a glimpse of what he would have to go through – a taste.

What did Saul go through? In defending himself against false teachers in Corinth, Saul wrote, “But whatever anyone else dares to boast of – I am speaking as a fool – I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So I am. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they the offspring of Abraham? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

“If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows I am not lying” (II Corinthians 11:21b-31, ESV).

The Lord Jesus revealed Himself to Saul, received him and appointed him to be the apostle to the Gentiles, and promised him that he would suffer great things. “You’ve been known as the well-educated, zealous, cosmopolitan Pharisee – the Jew of the Jews, but I have chosen to reveal the Truth of My Salvation to you, and you will serve among the non-Jews and suffer miserably all of your life.”

Jesus says to each one of us who believes, “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20a, ESV).

O how great is the Gospel of our God and Savior If it were not, we should all be locked up. But it is that great, so Saul, humbled himself before God and received his call, and Ananias trusted God and went to heal Saul.

Ananias came to the place where Saul was staying and lay his hands upon him, calling him, “Brother Saul,” telling him that he had come at the directive of Jesus Christ, Whom Saul had seen on the road to Damascus, so he would regain his sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

And Saul believed and was filled with the Holy Spirit, and “immediately, something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight.” And he got up and immediately was baptized in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now a Christian, and he ate and was strengthened.

What shall we conclude?

Hear the word of God record by Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, ESV). And as Saul, himself, would write, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways ” (Romans 11:33, ESV).

We may look with our humans eyes and wonder why God did certain things. We may wonder why God chose certain people to serve Him. We may even think we know better than God or think that He made some bad choices. Some may think Saul was a bad choice to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Some may think God made a bad choice in calling me to be a pastor.

Saul understood his sin, and he knew he wasn’t worthy. I understand my sin, and I know I am not worthy. But the Gospel is not about Saul – it’s not about me – it’s about Jesus. And if God magnifies Jesus through Saul and me and you – through our sin and weakness – ought we not find ourselves eternally thankfully to Him? Submitting to Him and His Word in all things we come to understand?

Jesus calls us to make His Gospel known, through our frailty, through our aches and pains and disappointments and lack of understanding. An image I have used before: God puts the diamond of the Gospel in the litter box of our lives, because the glory of a diamond is better seen in a litter box than among other jewels.

Let us rejoice that God has made us His own through Jesus Christ and has chosen to use us to make His Gospel known.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we are amazed that You have chosen the very people we would find last on our list – like Saul – to be Your people – to be the heralds of Your Gospel. Help us to humbly recognize our frailty and magnify You through it. Let us receive all those who confess Salvation in Jesus Alone and join together in worshiping the One and Only Savior. In Whose Name we pray, Amen.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Consistory

Consistory members, please remember that we will meet, D.V., this Sunday morning after worship.

Review: "Desiderata for Cat Lovers"

Desiderata for Cat Lovers is a delightful end table book, illustrating the well-known poem by Max Ehrmann with pictures of cats and kittens that reflect what each stanza is calling on to.

The introduction explains that Desiderata is a Latin term for “things that are yearned for.” And, as the subtitle of the book explains, the poem is “a guide to life and happiness.” The introduction also gives a history of the poem.

The poem is an encouraging look at life, though some Christians (and others), might be put off by Ehrmann recommending belief in God, “whatever you conceive him to be.” But, I hope one can get past that, appreciate the poem for its wisdom and for the pictures that accompany it.

Recommended for all cat-lovers and those who should love cats.

Reformed Wisdom

On Acts 9:4-5 –

“Amidst the mysteries of the will, this palpable fact is often disclosed – that while one may take long to make up his mind, his mind is finally made up by one effort and in that second of time when preference loses its passive character, and inducement ceasing to be a potential becomes an efficient motive. The instant in which Saul heard Jesus name him was that of a total and immediate revolution, for the truth rushed at once upon him that Jesus was true and divine, dwelling in glory, and possessed of sovereign power” – John Eadie, Paul the Preacher, 3-4.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Review: "The Gospel According to Lost"

The Gospel According to Lost by Chris Seay is my latest read and review for Thomas Nelson. Seay is obviously a passionate devotee of the Lost series and has put a great deal of thought into the series and what it all might mean, reveals something that has been lost in much of modern Christianity, yet, overall, the Gospel seems to be lost in his book. Product information can be found at: http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=0849920728&title=The_Gospel_According_to_Lost&author=Chris_Seay

Seay begins his book with what I found to be his most important and true contribution in this work: there is mystery in Christianity. There are things we cannot and will not understand – things the biblical writers even say are mystery.

There had been a certain rationality in the Church which thought and sought to explain everything of Christianity – which goes against Christianity. We can “explain” the Trinity, but no one can explain the Trinity – no one really understands how it is possible that the One God exists in Three Persons Who are equally the Same One God yet distinct in Their Personhood. (For example.) But that is what we are taught – unequivocally – in the Scripture – in God’s Word – so it is true.

However, in more recent times, there has been a swing to the opposite excess – understandably – but that must now be corrected. It is not true that there are no absolutes – that nothing can be said with certainty – that whatever means brings you closer to God is good and right.

Back to Seay: in most of the books chapters, Seay introduces or re-introduces the reader to the major characters of the series and shows how they may be based in some biblical knowledge. But here Seay stumbles – just because the creators of Lost use biblical imagery at times does not prove anything about their intent. Surely, the stories in lost can be used as narrative examples, but Seay seems to force them into being parables.

The biggest problem with this book, and the reason I cannot recommend it, is because, for all of it’s good in directing the reader to mystery and introducing the reader to the series, the gospel that Seay presents according to Lost is not the biblical Gospel. Seay writes, “Christianity (that is, the devotion to following the ways of Jesus) is about love, forgiveness, and reconciliation” (96).

Not so: the Gospel is not about following the ways of Jesus – any none believer can attempt to follow the ways of Jesus – as the late Keith Green use to say, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.” Following Jesus’ ways is not the Gospel. It does not make one a Christian.

Paul wrote, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you now stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” (I Corinthians 15:1-4, ESV). The Gospel is Jesus Christ His Life, Death, Resurrection, and Ascension. The Gospel is God – Who He is – it is not who we are or what we can become by following Jesus’ ways.

One final comment is that Seay uses almost exclusively his community’s “translation” of the New Testament, called The Voice. Based on the quotations, I find it suspect, but I hope that Thomas Nelson will offer it up for review, as I would like to know more about it – for better or worse.

Enjoy the TV show; read you Bible; skip this book.

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog.]

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Prayer Meeting

Due to the pastor being ill, today's prayer meeting is cancelled.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Review: "The Sweet By and By"

Country Music star Sara Evans’ first novel is the work, The Sweet By and By. You can check it out at the publisher’s website at http://www.thomasnelson.com/consumer/product_detail.asp?sku=1595544895&title=The_Sweet_By_and_By

The story concerns a young woman named, Jade, who is engaged to be married to Max, but from the initial counseling session with his minister, one is given the impression that there is much to be revealed and settled before the wedding occurs – beginning with the fact the he is a “believer,” whereas she is unsure, to which the minister says he is unable to perform the wedding unless she becomes sure – bravo for portraying such convictions in a world that doesn’t much care.

The book is well-written and a fast-paced read as the reader learns about Jade’s family and past and her own inability to forgive what she and others have gone through. Is there forgiveness? Is there redemption? Should Jade be getting married? And how did her dog lose an eye? It is likely that this book will do well and be enjoyed by many.

Two criticisms would be that in the first third of the book, many of the items used are identified not merely as what they are, but with brand names – this is dropped for the second two-thirds of the book. I would not say it is wrong to use brand names, but it was being used so much and so consciously that I felt like there were advertisements in the book at times.

My second criticism would be the ending. Without giving anything much away, although Jade’s “encounter” with Jesus does not instantly remove all her problems – thank you for that! – but it still seems a bit too “easy.” I won’t say any more for the sake of the reader.

It is an enjoyable work, and it seems to be the first in a series, so if one likes this book, more will be on the way.

(This review was written as a reviewer for Thomas Nelson and is posted on my blog and Amazon.com.)

Review: "One Day in the Life of Daniel Radcliffe"

One Day in the Life of Daniel Radcliffe is precisely that – a coffee table photo book of Radcliffe during the run of Equus in New York City, specifically on January 13, 2009 – with commentary by Radcliffe.

The book photographs Radcliffe from sleep to getting ready to eating to rehearsing to the show and going home and back to bed. The photographs are well done and portray Radcliffe as a human being, as does his commentary, especially about his sports passions. (The photos I found most interesting were of the books and DVDs he was reading and viewing, and one of his standing next to a poster for Equus.)

This is an enjoyable work and proposes to be the first in a series by Hailand. If you are interested in Radcliffe or his humanity, pick it up. A percentage of the proceeds of each book sold goes to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids.

Time for a Doctorate (D.V.)

From "The Newsletter of Second Reformed Church":

A few months ago, I was approached by two different individuals about several possibilities, both for me and the church. After much prayer, I have decided not to pursue the opportunity that was suggested to me, and the Consistory will be discussing some possible means of outreach that we can engage in beginning this year. Please pray for their wisdom in making a decision and implementing our call to love God and our neighbor with every part of our being.

We continue to be blessed by our relationship with Frank Bryant and the groups he is involved with. We thank God for his efforts to improve Irvington for all of her residents. Recently, we hosted the Our Youth Academy’s end of the year party thanks to Frank sending them our way, and now we have an ongoing relationship with them.
We are also going to make a go at getting the Girl Scouts to have a troop a Second Reformed. Last year, they were unable to achieve this goal, but we pray that they will be able to do so this year.

As for me, my prayer led me to the conviction that now is the time for me to begin a doctoral program. And it is my hope, D.V., to begin the program this September.

Drew Theological School offers a doctorate which would be advantageous to me for several reasons: It is very close by and it is taught in intensive daily and week-long sessions over a three year period. This will allow me to pursue the degree without neglecting the work I have been called to do at Second Reformed: I will use my vacation and days off to accomplish the work I need to do.

The program track I am interested in pursuing is in “Church Growth and Development.” The first year will be primarily course work. The second, primarily developing a plan. And the third, implementing the plan at Second Reformed and writing it up.
Drew’s program is also, relative to other programs, rather inexpensive: fifteen thousand dollars, or so, over the three years.

I would ask that you would please pray for me: Please pray that I would get into the program. Please pray that I would work diligently and hold fast to the Word of God as I achieve the degree. Please pray that God would be merciful and grant me mild symptoms (relative to my sarcoidosis) so my work will not be hindered by health restrictions. Please pray that God would be pleased to use this work in His Providence for the growth and development of Second Reformed and all those who worship there.

Up until this newsletter, I have only told a handful of people about my prayers and that I believe God would have me pursue this work. The question I have been asked over and over is, “How will you afford it?”

I have contacted the Classis and asked for their assistance, and I was told that they do not have the funds to assist with doctoral programs.

I have contacted Drew, and they told me that the maximum scholarship they award is thirteen hundred dollars a year, and that is almost exclusively for minorities. I will apply, but I was told not to count on getting anything from the school. The professor I spoke with did tell me to fill out the government loan forms, though. Although up till now, the government has not authorized loans for graduate work, he told me that President Obama’s education bill, if passed, would allow for a partial loan towards the first year. So, I will apply, and see what the government decides.

By the time you read this, I should have met with the Consistory.

I have gone over my budget, and I will save every penny I can, but my basic expenses and taxes use up almost all of the money the church is able to pay me.

So, I would also ask that you would pray that God would provide the fifteen thousand dollars I need – whether through loans, grants, scholarships, gifts, or some combination of any or all of the above.

I would also ask you to pray if God is calling you to be a part of this work at Second Reformed. If God puts it on your heart that my pursuing this work could be beneficial to Second Reformed and you would enjoy participating in it, I would greatly appreciate your sending checks to “Second Reformed Church” and marking the memo, “for the pastor’s education.”

May God be glorified as you and I seek to follow Him at Second Reformed Church.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

"Blessed Be the Lord God of Israel" Sermon: Psalm 72:1-20

“Blessed Be the Lord God of Israel””
[Psalm 72:1-20]
January 3, 2010 Second Reformed Church

It is said that political satire is the sign of a healthy country. If that is true, we are a very healthy country. We satirize all of our politicians, and those who are against a particular politician cry out, “hooray!”, while those who are for that paticular politician cry out, “foul!” How ought Christians to act and react to our politicians?

Today is Epiphany, and in many churches it will be taught that this is the day that commemorates the three kings – one from China, one from Africa, and one from Europe – who followed the star of Bethlehem to the manger and gave the Baby Jesus gifts. Of course, that is mythology. The history that we are given is that some magi – astrologers – came from the East – probably modern day Iran and Iraq – and went to the house where Mary and Joseph lived and gave the Baby Jesus gifts.

But that’s not what we’re going to look at this morning: the word “epiphany” means “revealing,” and one of the Scriptures that is recommended for today is the Psalm that was read. So, let us look to it and see what it reveals to us. As you may have already guessed, this Psalm – this hymn of Solomon, the son of David – has to do with politicians.

Solomon wrote this Psalm – this hymn – as a prayer for his kingship and for those who would follow after him. He prays for what he would like to see in himself and his descendants as they rule on the throne of their father, David.

Solomn begins by praying that the king would be just and righteoues with the people: “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteouesness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteouesness, and your poor with justice!” Solomon prays that he and his descendants would rule in a way that reflects the holiness and innocence and fairness of God. He desires that kings rule as God rules over His people. He prays that there will be no unfairness or cheating or immorality among the kings.

He prays that the land would respond and be released from the curse placed on it in the Garden of Eden – in response to the righteousness of the kings – that the land would respond to the people with abundance: “Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!” For the sake of the good that the king does, he asks that God will bless the crops – that they would be bountiful and good.

He prays that a top priority of the king would always be to defend and provide for the cause of the poor, the weak, the widow, and the orphan – all those who have no one to stand by them and help them in their time of need. And he prays that the king will crush those who oppress the truly needy and helpless: “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!”

He prays that those who would oppress the poor and the needy would be in fear of the king while the sun is up, while the moon is up, and while there is human life on the earth: “May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!”

He prays that the king would not just be righteous, but that that righteousness would flourish from him throughout his kingdom and that there would be a true and lasting peace throughout all of the kingdom until the moon is no more: “May he be like the rain that falls on the mown grass, and like showers that water the earth! In his day may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!”

He prays that such kings of righteousness and peace and justice would be sovereign over the whole earth – that all of the other kingdoms would recognize him as the true and rightful king and come to him and bow down and offer gifts to him – that all the world would be subject to the one king who rules like God rules.

“May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! May desert tribes bow down before him and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastland render him tribute; may the kings of Sheba and Seba brings gifts! May all the kings fall down before him and serve him!”

And this desire for sovereignty is not out of pride or arrogance, but out of the recognition that if the king did serve his people perfectly as God reigns, he would be worthy of such submission. They would look to him and see the way in which all kings and rulers and politicians ought to live and reign. “For [they would see] he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.”

The righteous and just king that he prays to be and he prays his descendants to be would be a king who looked upon his people as precious. His chief goal would be to protect them and punish those who do evil.

That would be a king that the people would pray to have long life. That would be a king who the nations would bring gold in tribute to. That would be a king who would be prayed for and blessed day and night by all the peoples. If he only did what was right and just for them and punish evil.

God would bless that king and his kingdom – there would be an abundance of grain – their would be food enough for everyone – and it would be equitably distributed. The mountains would be covered with grain – there would be no hunger. The fruit of the harvest would be strong and lasting like that of Lebanon. The people would blossom in the cities – they would be healthy and grow in every way. They would multiply like the grass of the fields.

The name of such of king would endure forever – just as the throne of David endures forever. His fame would continue until the sun goes out. The people would be blessed by the rule of such a king and all the nations of the world would call such a king blessed.

Is that how we pray for our politicians? Do we pray for those in authority like Solomon did?

We know from history that Solomon did not live up to the goals he set and prayed for in this Psalm. And the truth of the matter is that no mere human authority has lived up to the prayer and the goals that Solomon put forth in this Psalm.

I am an authority in this church, and I have sinned. The elders and the deacons of this church have sinned. Our President and senators and representatives and governors and mayors have all sinned. None of us have done everything we should do as authorities and we have done things that we ought not to have done.

There is truth in the statement that political satire proves a healthy country – in this sense, we do right to expose and condemn sin. When our leaders do what is wrong, we are to hold them accountable. When we are unsure of what our leaders are doing, we are right to question them and ask them to show why they believe what they are doing is right.

But is there anything else that we ought to be doing?

Shortly before he was to be executed under the rule of Emperor Nero, Paul wrote this to Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:1-4, ESV).

Paul, knowing he would shortly be executed, said to pray and give thanks for all people – including kings – those in authority – Emperor Nero – that they would live and reign with justice and righteousness. And, let us Christians live peaceful, quiet lives, godly and dignified.

We need to pray for our leaders. We need to pray for President Obama. We need to pray that he would look to the Only God, Our Savior, and rule with justice and righteousness. We need to pray that he would exercise the two biblical offices of government and protect the people – especially the most needy – and punish those who do evil. We are to pray that God would be pleased with his godly leadership and bless the land. We are to pray that other nations will look to him as he does what is good and right and in the likeness of our God and follow him and praise him and seek alliances with him. We are to pray that he will see the blood of the people he serves and rules as precious to him. We are to pray that his kingdom would be long in its justice and righteousness and that he would be remembered for living and ruling like the One True God.

And if anyone has gotten tense by my saying we need to pray such things for President Obama, understand that we need to pray those things for me, as your pastor. We need to pray those things for Governor Christie and Mayor Smith, and all those that God has gifted with positions of authority. And we ought not to lose hope when we see our leaders sin, because they will. Instead, we ought to pray for them more, that they will repent and turn from their evil. That God would give them wisdom and guide them in His paths.

But there’s still the epiphany. What is the epiphany in this Psalm? What is the “a-ha!”?

Well, the negative would be that no mere human being will ever live up to the call to leadership that God has placed on him or her. Every mere human being will sin and fail the people he or she has been called to lead. That is a truth, but it is not the only truth here – not the only epiphany.

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!”

The epiphany is that there is a King Who is a descendant of David Who sits on the throne of David right now and rules perfectly, justly, and righteously, with all the holiness of God, because He is not merely Man, but He is God. That Man is Jesus.

That’s why Solomon exclaims praise to God at the end of his Psalm – because he knows it would only be the Incarnate God, Who would sit on the throne of David Who could be the perfect leader – the perfect politician.

Remember what Isaiah prophesied, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV).

When God became Man on that first Christmas, Jesus began His Eternal Reign as the Perfect and final Son of David – King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And He is working all things together to fulfill the Plan He had from before the Creation. And in the end, Paul tells us, “therefore, God has highly exalted [Jesus] and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee shall 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 2:9-11, ESV).

Jesus reigns and seeks justice and righteousness for His people. He is the God Who grants us food and all prosperity in Him. He defends the needy and punishes the wicked. He is feared by all who have wisdom. His Righteousness and Peace is flourishing, and more and more people are coming to faith in Him – until the full number of the elect have been brought in. He is the Sovereign over all of Creation and all the world will one day confess that fact. He will deliver the poor and the needy who come to Him. He will be worshiped and blessed and prayed to forever and ever. He will bring His people into eternal glory. And His Name will endure forever and ever.

As we begin this New Year – this epiphany is Good News – the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory belong to Jesus, and whether our leaders are good or evil or somewhere in between, we ought to be in prayer for them, knowing that Jesus cannot be dethroned and we shall enter in His Glory.

Let us pray:
Sovereign God, we thank You for telling us that Your Reign is Holy and Eternal, and You shed Your Blood in love for Your people. Help us not to be discouraged by the sins of our leaders, but to pray for them that they would believe in You and become more like You, even as we seek to become more like You. And now, as we receive the bread and the cup, we ask that we would have the privilege of meeting with You even now and having You minister to us Your Grace that we might be more fully equipped to do and be all that You have called us to. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Review: "Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles: Chapters 1-7" & "Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1 & 2"

I bought John Calvin’s Commentaries about twenty years ago and have used them regularly since. Despite professors and other ministers telling me that Calvin is outdated and not very useful, I have found his commentaries to be both inspiring and enlightening. However, it was not until this past year that I read any of Calvin’s sermons – I figured, what’s the point? I have his commentaries.

This past year I decided to see if there was a point, and I read and used two volumes to assist in my sermon preparation: Sermons on the Acts of the Apostles: Chapters 1-7 and Songs of the Nativity: Selected Sermons on Luke 1 & 2. And there is – to my surprise and joy, I found that Calvin’s sermons are as worthwhile as his commentaries.

Both of these volumes have been translated into English for the first time. The Acts volume was originally volume one of a series – the rest of which have been, sadly, lost. The Nativity volume is selected out of the French work Sixty-five Sermons on the Harmony or Concordance of the Three Evangelists.

There is a difference between commentaries or lectures and preaching, as “all” pastors have been taught. I recognize that there is a difference – the commentary or lecture has more blood and guts details of grammar, history, etc., as the passage is opened up, whereas the sermon presents the doctrine and then the heart-work (to express it “Puritanly”). However, I cannot give a good statement as to what the difference is beyond that. Some have said that sermons have “practical application” (an express I have come to loath), whereas commentaries do not, but that is not the case. Surely, the commentary seeks to expose all that one can find, whereas the sermon is more restrained and guides the sheep along the path that God has ordained. Yet, I still find a certain Je ne c’est qua about the whole matter. (Perhaps it is like the rules of grammar, which, though I can state to some degree, I still find inscrutable.)

All that being said, in reading the sermons, one sees the essence of Calvin’s Commentaries, but one also see the pastor urging his congregation on in the heart-work of the text. Given the time, many of the examples engage the errors of the Papists, which have not changed, despite what our denominational leaders may say. Even if one is not inclined to apply the text in that manner with one’s own sheep, one can absorb the methodology of giving an urgency of heart-work to them, which alone would make these volumes worthy of reading.

Since reading and using these volumes, I have picked up a few others. I heartily recommend reading Calvin’s sermons. Let them infect your preaching for the better, and see how and what Calvin saw as the need to address amongst his own sheep.

Calvin’s concerns are not foreign to our own day: I often found myself reading and seeing how his application and urging of heart-work was them same then as now – just as needed. As I read these words, I thought of some of the debates and sins in the RCA (my denomination) right now: “As soon as men give themselves license to say ‘We must have such and such an image to represent God’, the devil straightaway takes possession of them and everything they do and fills their heads with so much nonsense that there is no end or restraint to their inventions, as is evident in the many trifling playthings in the Papacy. Yet there is no foolish trifle that does not convey some great mystery. A candle represents the Holy Spirit, salt represents God’s wisdom, and spittle, oil, and other items in endless array all add their spice to the sauce, so to speak. Into the mix they add play-acting and mimes, and yet God is everywhere. Indeed, men grossly abuse God’s name whenever they invent what pleases them and then try to compare God, his power, and his majesty to their inventions” (Acts, 525).

I fear that my high recommendation of these sermons will be seen as old-fashioned or not “practical” enough for our supposed “post-modernity.” I take small comfort in knowing that “practical” is Greek for “but it just jumped out of the fire” (cf. Exodus 32:24).

I urge us all to read the sermons of biblical men of God, such as John Calvin, for our spiritual health and to assist us in the proclamation of the Gospel.

January Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach in January:

1/3/10 Communion/Epiphany
Psalm 72:1-20 “Blessed Be the Lord God of Israel”

1/10/10 Baptism
Psalm 89:1-29 “The Steadfast Love of the Lord”

1/17/10
Acts 9:1-19 “God’s Bad Choice”

1/24/10
Acts 9:20-31 “Our Brother, the Murderer”

1/31/10
Acts 9:32-43 “Lord of the Body”