Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: "Money Secrets of the Amish"

Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving by Lorilee Craker is not rocket science, yet it illumines how Americans, in particular, have development a sense of entitlement and a desire for instant gratification at almost any cost.

Craker spent time with several different Amish communities and talked with them, friends, and associates to find out why they have remained financially stable despite the “economic downturn.” With humor and honesty about her own finances, Craker discovers a number of principles which she applies to her own life in different degrees, encouraging her readers to consider and do likewise. (Each chapter has a conclusion with a thought and questions.)

The principles are these:

1. Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without. Begin by using what you have, using it up, making it work, or, if need be, realize you really don’t need it anyway.

2. Set priorities and work towards them, putting off instant gratification, and, in light of the bigger picture, pursue delayed gratification.

3. Pay your bills on time.

4. Rethink gifts. Rather than giving mountains of gifts that will be quickly forgotten, think of one of two special gifts to give; make a gift for someone.

5. Save a set amount each month.

6. Teach your kids to understand the difference between need and want, and teach them the principles of delayed gratification, saving, etc.

7. Repurpose, recycle, and reuse. To the greatest extent possible, rather than throw things out, find other uses for them, regift things you don’t want, need, or like, and recycle.

8. Only buy what you have money to afford; don’t go into debt. Pay off debt as quickly as possible.

9. Shop secondhand. Shop in stores that sell secondhand clothes, etc., as much as possible.

10. Buy in bulk. This takes some thought because buying in bulk can look like a savings at first, but only if you don’t throw out what you bought. Also, not everything in bulk is actually less expensive than smaller sizes. Work is required on this one.

11. Eat in as much as possible and shop locally for food.

12. Barter. (Trade something you have for something someone else has, whether things or services.)

13. Appreciate what is of real value. (Family, etc.)

These principles are good ones, and people who follow them will likely find themselves appreciating what they have more and being more financially stable.

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my ``blog. I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishing Group for this review.]

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Banner Redeux

Banner of Truth 2011 “So Great A Salvation”

The opening sermon was given by Rev. Mark Johnston on John 17:20-26.

He made three points:
1. Jesus is praying for us.
2. Jesus is praying for us to be in union in the same way that the Godhead experiences union.
3. That union is expressed in us through the love that we have for each other in Christ.

Dr. Joel Beeke had two sessions:

The first was “Gethsemane’s King and Lamb” on John 18:1-14.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see the King’s Threefold Sovereignty:
1. Jesus only had eleven with Him.
2. Jesus proclaimed His Divinity in saying “I Am.”
3. Jesus became our Sovereign Substitute in asking the others be let go.
In this, we understand we have nothing to fear, for the work is done.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we see the Lamb’s Threefold Submission:
1. Jesus was willing to be arrested.
2. Jesus was willing to be bound like a criminal.
3. Jesus allowed Himself to be led away as the Lamb to the Slaughter.
In this, we ought respond by offering ourselves wholeheartedly.

The second was “Christ Forsaken!” on Matthew 27:46.

Dr. Beeke warned us he could only begin to approach the meaning of this text.

These words do not mean:
1. Jesus’ Divinity was diminished.
2. Jesus’ Human Nature was divided from His Divine Nature.
3. The Trinity was destroyed.
4. Jesus was detached from the Holy Spirit.
5. Jesus disavowed His Mission.

It does mean:
1. Jesus expressed the agony of unanswered supplication.
2. Jesus experienced the agony of unbearable stress.
3. Jesus expressed the agony of unmitigated sin.
4. Jesus expressed the agony of singular solitariness.

Why was Jesus forsaken? Four possibilities:
1. God is capricious. NO
2. God did it out of malice towards the Son. NO
3. Jesus’ Suffering is merely didactic. NO
4. Jesus’ Suffering was a penal/vicarious suffering. YES
When we feel sorry for ourselves, we ought to sit at the feet of the cross and listen to Jesus’ Words. Let us love ourselves and our people enough to leave our petty complaints at the cross. Let us understand that the Father loves us with everything – we may give a tithe, but He has given us His Son. How do we dare not completely surrender?

Dr. Richard Gaffin gave two sessions on “So Great a Salvation in Paul.”

First, he looked at I Corinthians 15 and explained that the Gospel, according to Paul, is that Jesus rose from the dead according to the Scriptures.

Thus, 1. Christ’s Resurrection is our justification.
2. God is the One Who justifies.
3. Jesus continues to pray for us and maintain us in our justification.

Second, he looked at Philippians 1:6, arguing that sanctification is “the Gospel of Good Works,” noting that the Reformation was not just about justification by faith alone, but also about the restoring of good works to their proper place. The anti-text is the bumper sticker: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” The word “just” is anti-Christian.

1. The text assures us that God has really begun a good work in us. It is the work of causing us to delight in God’s Law and everything in which God delights and not delighting in what God does not delight in.
2. The work that God has begun in us is a resurrection work – a future hope and a present reality. We are alive from the dead in our mortal bodies.
3. Thus, we walk in the good works that God has prepared for us.
We are not “just forgiven.” The work of sanctification is God’s Work. Our good works are ultimately God’s good works in us. Our being conformed to the Image of Christ is the end for which we created and elected unto salvation.  The bumper sticker would be correct if it read: “Christians aren’t perfect, but God has forgiven them and is completing a good work in them.”

Rev. Tom Chantry spoke twice on King Josiah.

The first, on II Kings 22:8-20, was entitled, “The Penitent Minister.”

God calls us to be servant leaders and God-fearing men.
Six observations:
1. Josiah took God and sin seriously.
2. Josiah did not exclude himself from the list of the guilty.
3. Josiah wept over sin.
4. While under the conviction of sin, Josiah sought the Lord.
5. Josiah was answered by a merciful God.
6. When he was burdened, Josiah redoubled his efforts to eradicate sin.

The second, on II Kings 23:21-32, was entitled, “The Insufficient Minister.”

Our call is to proclaim He Who is the Resurrection and the Life to those who are perishing. How do we know if our work has been effective?
Three measurements of Josiah’s ministry:
1. Vv 21-23 compared with all of the other kings, his kingship was an unqualified success.
2. Vv 24-25 as far as his thoroughness in rooting out idolatry, his kingship was an unqualified success.
3. Vv 26-32 but he could not turn back the Wrath of God against their sin – this is the true measure of our ministry. He changed the people’s actions for a time, but he did not change their hearts to the Lord. This shows the themes of the OT – the insufficiency of men.
We ought to direct the hope of our people to the Great King, the Master-Shepherd. He alone fulfills His Ministry as one of our brothers and God. We ought to admit to our people that they ought to have better shepherds that us.  We ought never desire to be kings, because we will never be as effective as we ought to be. We are royal heralds, not kings. But, through Jesus, our King, God’s Wrath is turned aside.

Dr. Joey Pipa spoke twice – on Psalm 1 and Psalm 2.

The first talk was called “the Righteous Man.” (He explained that he chose to speak on these two Psalms because he sees them are summarizing all of the themes of the Psalter.)

1. The character of the righteous man – he is focused on God’s Truth, repudiates the wicked, turning to the Word of God, and getting lost in the treasure box of God’s Word.
2. The condition of the righteous man – he has been transplanted to a place of blessing, vitality, utility.
3. The confidence of the righteous man – looks ahead at the great assembly and knows the fate of the wicked.

The second talk was called, “The Warrior King.”

Even though the dark kingdom seems pervasive, Jesus will run rampant through it and defeat it.
1. The people are involved in orchestrated rebellion against God.
2. The Warrior King is perfectly calm, with joy for His people and mocking disdain for the nations.
3. The King is completely confident in His Victory.
4. That Victory extends throughout the whole Creation.

Rev. Ian Hamilton gave one mini-talk, called, “Preachers Beware!, quoting John Owen,
"Without the Holy Spirit, we might as well burn our Bibles.”
1. The Word apart from the Spirit is a dead letter.
2. Some things are so basic, we can lose sight of their vital importance.
3. We can become obsessed with our doctrine. Beware, conveying the Reformed faith accurately is not the same as conveying it truly.

Rev. Jonathan Watson gave one mini-talk in which he asserted that the success of Spurgeon’s’s ministry was his relying on the Holy Spirit.

Monday, May 23, 2011

"Providential Passing the Buck" Sermon: Acts 25:13-27

“Providential Passing the Buck”
[Acts 25:13-27]
May 22, 2011 Second Reformed Church

Last week, we saw Paul appear before governor Festus – the new governor of Caesarea. Festus didn’t understand the Jewish religion, but he wanted the Jews to be supportive of his governorship. Yet, he didn’t want to become their puppet. So, when they asked for Paul to be put to death, he called a trial and heard the evidence against Paul – of which there was none. In an attempt to get himself out of this predicament, Festus asked Paul if he wouldn’t like to go back to Jerusalem and be tried by his own people. Paul claimed his rights as a Roman citizen and said if Festus refused to rule on his case, then he appealed to be heard by Caesar, himself. Festus’ gubernatorial council agree this was a good solution. So Paul was sent back to prison to await transfer to Rome to present his case to Nero.

In the meantime, King Agrippa of Chalcis (in Syria) and Queen Bernice, who were both Jews, arrived at Caesarea. Now, King Agrippa was the brother of Drusilla, the wife of Felix, the former governor. Bernice and Drusilla were also sisters. So, yes, Agrippa was married to his elder sister, Bernice.

Bernice achieved quite a notorious reputation for herself throughout her life: as a teenager, she married her uncle, and after his death, she wooed King Polemon of Cilicia, but he abandoned her, so she married her younger brother, Agrippa. After Agrippa’s death, she married Emperor Vespasian, and then his son, Emperor Titus.

Agrippa was the son of Herod Agrippa, whom we met in Acts 12 – the King who dressed like a disco ball and praised himself until God sent worms after him to eat him alive. After Herod Agrippa died, Claudius Caesar thought his sons too young to be crowned as a singular king over Israel, so he divided the kingdoms among his sons. Agrippa received part of Syria – Lebanon, today.

These were the king and queen who stopped by to see the successor of their brother-in-law to the seat of governor. It was a perfect set-up for Festus to pass the buck regarding Paul.

So Festus, being shrewd, greeted the king and queen and told them, “You know, there’s a case I’d like to tell you about – a prisoner that Felix left behind when he was called back to Rome – a Jew by the name of Paul. When I arrived in Jerusalem, all the Jews laid out a case against him and asked that I condemn him to death. I told them that Romans do not give up prisoners before the accused meet face to face with his accusers and have the opportunity to make a defense. So, I invited them to come here, and the very next day I took my seat as tribunal and told them to present their charges against this man.

“Imagine my surprise when they didn’t bring any charges against him that I could rule on – you would have thought this man was the greatest terrorist to have every lived the way they reacted. But their whole case was built on some points of their religion – in which I’m not well versed. You see, they say this Jesus is dead, and Paul says He is alive.”

Notice: Festus got the point – as Paul kept saying – he was on trial about the resurrection of the dead, and specifically the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That is the key to Christianity. If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, Christianity is a myth, at best, and, at worst, a blasphemous heresy. Are we are getting the picture of how important the Physical Resurrection of Jesus is to Christianity?

Festus continued, “Since I was at a loss as to how to deal with this situation, I offered Paul the chance to go back to Jerusalem to have his case tried among his own people. But Paul is a Roman citizen, and he appealed to have his case tried by Caesar, himself, so, what could I do?”

Notice how shrewd Festus was: most of what he said was true, but it was slanted to make him look good and also to endear Agrippa to him and to get Agrippa to offer him help – a way out of taking responsibility for Paul.

Still Agrippa bit: “I would like to hear him myself.”

The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp – they wanted everyone to see them and “ooh” and “aah.” The military and all the prominent men of the city were enlisted to be part of the celebration that King Agrippa had come and would examine a prisoner before them.

Let us notice that Agrippa learned nothing from his father: Herod had gone to address the people of Caesarea, and the writers of the day said that he was dressed in reflective material so, when the sun hit his clothes, his appearance was blinding to the crowd, and the crowd cried out, “The voice of a god, and not a man ” And Herod was pleased and accepted their praise and worship. So God sent an angel to strike him down, and then he was attacked by worms and died a slow and painful death.

Agrippa was in the very same town where his father had been killed by God for his pride, and here he was – flaunting his marriage to his sister – not seeking justice for Paul – but for the opportunity for the crowd to see him and praise him. He had learned nothing.

He arrived with his wife, dressed in their finest robes, hailed by the crowds which had been gathered from the cream of the crop – those who only dared to speak well to his face – and they brought Paul out to him.

For the sake of the public and to put Agrippa up on a pedestal, Festus announced what was happening, “King Agrippa, and all who are present, see the man who all the Jews of the world have petitioned me to have put to death. But in Rome, we require evidence, and I have found nothing to convict this man of the death penalty. Besides which, he is a Roman citizen, and he has appealed to trial by Caesar, so to Caesar he will go. But, since I have nothing to write to accompany him to Caesar, O Great King, my lord, I appeal to you, O Wise King, that you might hear him, and after examining him, you might put down some words that we might deliver with him to Caesar. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.”

Festus buttered up Agrippa. What the law required was that Festus free Paul the moment the Sanhedrin had no evidence of anything. But Festus folded, making a weak offer of a Jewish trial – which was illegal for him to do, in the hopes that Festus would not be held responsible for Paul. Now that that hadn’t worked, he worked to pass the buck to Agrippa, appealing to him as King and being wise in rendering decisions. And that’s what Agrippa wanted – he wanted the limelight – he wanted to be praised by the people, so he jumped at the chance to “wow” them with his views on Paul.

Did you get the understatement of Festus’ final words? “For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him.” The word that is translated “unreasonable” can also be translated “irrational” or “absurd” – which it certainly was. The law said that a Roman citizen could appeal his case to the Emperor, if the case was serious enough. To send a case to Caesar with no evidence and no charges was to have Caesar throw the case out and possibly have you put to death.

But now, the buck had been passed to Agrippa.

So, what is all this? Good luck? Chance occurrences?

Paul returned to Jerusalem to complete the vow he had made to God. While he was in the Temple, it just so happened that the Jews from Ephesus arrived and tried to kill him. But it just so happened that a Roman, Claudius Lysias, intervened to keep the peace. And it just so happened that Paul was a Roman citizen, so he averted being tortured by Lysias. (During the night, Jesus came to Paul and told him not to worry – that Jesus would make sure that he arrived safely in Rome to preach the Gospel to Caesar.) And it just so happened that when another plot to kill Paul was made, Lysias sent Paul to Felix, governor of Caesarea. And it just so happened that Felix was an unethical person and kept Paul in prison when he was deposed from office. And it just so happened that the new governor, Festus, was a more honest man than Felix and upheld Roman law, but didn’t know what to do with Paul, so he tried to pass the buck to the Sanhedrin. But it just so happened that Romans were allowed to call for Caesar himself to judge their case, so Paul was kept safe from the Jews. And it just so happened that King Agrippa came to Caesarea and Festus passed the buck of what to do with Paul to him.

Was this really all luck?

Jesus promised Paul that he would preach the Gospel to Caesar in Rome. Paul freely chose to go to Jerusalem to fulfill his vow. The Jews freely chose to follow Paul and try to kill him. Lysias freely chose to protect Paul and to send him to Felix. Felix freely chose to manipulate the system and leave Paul in prison. Festus freely chose to given Paul a Roman trial and then to cop-out and not give a verdict. And Agrippa freely chose to take on the burden of Paul after being buttered up.

Have you ever looked back on your life and see that things have happened for a reason? Maybe you don’t understand why everything has happened to you, but you can look back and say, “ok,” that’s why I did this – that’s why I did that – it was preparing me for whatever.

I initially went to college to do something with chemistry – probably neurochemistry. But I took a required course in philosophy and fell in love with the science and declared a major in philosophy. I didn’t know what I would do or where I would go with it. But it turns out that philosophy is an excellent background for going into theology and the ministry, so my choosing that field better prepared me for being called to the ministry. Can we not all look back and say, “OK, I didn’t understand what was happening then, but that prepared me for this.”

Brothers and sisters, the point we ought to get this morning is that there is no such thing as chance or luck – everything occurs by the Providence of God. We saw last week that God preserved Paul from the Jews to make sure that God’s Plan would come to pass just as He said it would. Jesus visited Paul when he was being held by Claudius Lysias because Jesus knew that Paul wouldn’t understand everything that happened to him between then and appearing before Caesar, so Jesus encouraged Paul to trust and follow Jesus.

Hannah sang, “The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world” (I Samuel 2:6-8, ESV).

David confessed, “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Your is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted head over all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand is power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all” (I Chronicles 29:11-12, ESV).

Job said, “[The Lord] makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and he leads them away. He takes away understanding from the chiefs of the people of the earth and makes them wander in a pathless waste. They grope in the dark without light, and he makes them stagger like a drunken man” (Job 12:23-25, ESV).

Solomon wrote, “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21, ESV).

We will remember the testimony of Gamaliel from the book of Acts, “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you are not able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God ” (Acts 5:38-39, ESV).

And we remember the testimony of King Nebuchanezzar from last week, “[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34b-35, ESV).

It was God’s Providence that Paul would return to Jerusalem to keep his vow. It was God’s Providence that the Jews followed Paul and tried to kill him and that Paul was born a Roman citizen and that Claudius Lysias would intercede and send Paul to Felix, who would pass him off on Festus, who would pass him off on Agrippa. All of these people chose what they would do – good or evil – but it was all according to the Providence of God, and God made sure it would occur.

That’s why the apostles so often say, “if the Lord wills.” Because we can choose, but unless God wills, it will not occur. James wrote, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’ – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance, and such boasting is evil” (James 4:13-16, ESV).

If we love God, this should help us to be less anxious about life. As Jesus said, “Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ Or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matthew 6:31-34, ESV).

Let us pray:
Almighty God of Providence, Sovereign Ruler of All, we thank You for revealing to us that You rule over the whole world and are bringing everything to pass as You will. Help us to recognize Your Providence in all things. Help us to trust in You and to seek You in times of anxiety. Forgive us for thinking that Your Plan will fail if we don’t do this or that, and forgive us for doubting that You love us and will provide for us and bring us to the end for which You have created us, bringing us into Your Kingdom with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Prayer Meeting

Saturday's prayer meeting on Saturday May 21st and 28th are both cancelled.  D.V., we will resume on June 4th.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Thelma Flynn Service

Thelma Flynn died this past Monday.  There will be a viewing at Preston Funeral Home in South Orange on Saturday (5/21) at 9:30 AM, followed by a service at 10:30 AM, and then burial in Hollywood Cemetery.

Review: "The Part-Time Vegan: 201 Yummy Recipes That Put the Fun in Flexitarian"

Let me say it right off the bat: I don’t like the title of Cherise Grifoni’s The Part-Time Vegan: 201 Yummy Recipes That Put the Fun in Flexitarian. That being said, this is a great cookbook

I understand the title: it’s a marketing thing. Being a “Flexatarian” is hip right now (though the word “fun” is not contained in it so far as I can see). It is easier to sell a “part-time” commitment or something that is “flexi”-ible than it would be to sell a vegan cookbook – which is what this is. (Though there are hints about changing the recipes if you really want to...) Enough about the title.

I have made four recipes from the book thus far:

(You’re) Hot Artichoke Spinach Dip (20) I had made a cold spinach artichoke dip from another cookbook, so I was interested in what this would be like. It turned out to be quite different – almost like a creamed spinach, but very good. This dip would be best to dip a bread thing in rather than vegetables, as it is more on the liquid side.

Lean, Mean, Kidney Bean and Chick Pea Salad (52) I love bean salads and I love chick peas, so this was a no-brainer for me. The other two major ingredients are corn and black olives. I enjoyed this very much, both at room temperature and cold out of the fridge. I am thinking to make it again and try green olives.

Barley and Mushroom Pilaf (126) This turned out to be a wonderful comfort-food. The meatiness of the mushrooms with the barely was very satisfying and filling.

Raspberry Lemon Cupcakes (232) I made this for one of the women in our church who was skeptical about using soy milk in baking. Using real lemons and real raspberries, this was a most and “yummy” snack – or dessert. I did wonder, though, why is this a cupcake and not a muffin? It is not iced...

If the rest of the recipes in this book are as good as the four I made, this will become one of my favorite cookbooks. Overlook the name, forget making changes to the recipes, eat vegan, and enjoy these good and healthful recipes.

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog. I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson Publishing Group for this review.]

Review: "When Worlds Collide: Where is God?"

R. C. Sproul wrote his book When Worlds Collide: Where is God? Shortly after the 9/11 attacks.

In its five chapters, he looks at the meaning of the term “worldview,” and how the three strands of a worldview interrelate. Then, he looks at the doctrine of Providence and specifically that fact that God must be Sovereign over all – both peace and calamity. In the third chapter, he addresses the oxymoron of “senseless suffering,” showing that all suffering must have meaning. Then, he looks at why the God of mercy must also be the God of wrath. He ends by showing that it is only in the cross that one can find peace in a world of terror.

This is a thought-provoking book – one that I hope to use in a adult study in the near future.

The one area that might be improved is in this book being written so soon after 9/11, Sproul speculates on how things might change vis-a-vis worldviews in the future. Ten years later, we have some answers – answers that would benefit by being addressed in and afterward or a new edition of the book.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Review: "Out of Far Country"

Out of a Far Country is the story of a family – specifically, a non-Christian Chinese family. A marriage filled with hope had become one of silence and dread, and two sons slated for medical success changed when one announced he was gay, left the family, (at which his mother decided to commit suicide), became a drug user and seller, became HIV +, and went to jail.


But that wasn’t to be the end of the story: Our of a Far Country is told in the first person, alternating between Christopher and his mother, Angela’s, telling of their story. This could have been one of a hundred similar stories I have read – and the story of broken families, homosexuality, drug use and suicide plans are not, unfortunately, unique, but it is not: it is a compelling format, and the conclusion that are drawn in the story are much more helpful.

Angela and her husband both become Christians during Christopher’s ordeal as a club boy and dealer, yet, to this day, they are working on their marriage – Christianity didn’t magically fix their marriage. Likewise, Christopher did become a Christian in jail, and he is a minister today, but he did not become a heterosexual and married with 2.5 kids.

The powerhouse chapter of this book is entitled “holy sexuality” – it is worth the price of the book, because in it, Christopher explains that he did not lose his same-sex desires in becoming a Christian, but he did come to an understanding that God calls all people to “holy sexuality.” What that means is that there are two sexual realities – and only two – which are pleasing to God – either being a married man and woman or being celibate. There are no other choices.

Christopher brilliantly and honestly avoids the messy “nature/nurture” discussion and states that God says we can be in a man-woman married sexual relationship or celibate, there is no other acceptable option.

For too long, Christians have written about how they instantly went from gay to straight in conversion (which may happen for some) or have ignorantly told those struggling with homosexual temptation and sin to just “shake it off.” What Christians need to do is what Christopher presents: explain that God calls all humans to “holy sexuality” – and there is no gray area in holiness. Compassion acknowledges the struggle and does not dismiss it, but holds all people to God’s sexual standard.

May all Christians – however they are sexuality tempted and fall into sin – learn compassion and stand firm on the Word of God.

[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]

"Using the System to the Glory of God" Sermon: Acts 25:1-12

“Using the System to the Glory of God”
[Acts 25:1-12]
May 15, 2011 Second Reformed Church

From before the creation of everything that is, God had a Plan, and that Plan is being accomplished on earth today. Sometimes God uses miraculous means to accomplish His Plan – like the Birth of Jesus the Savior through a virgin; God doesn’t need humans or even what we consider “the normal course of events” to accomplish His Plan. However, God usually uses humans and “the normal way things work” to accomplish His Plan.

What we see in this morning’s Scripture is Paul using the system of Roman government and law to accomplish God’s Promise to him that he would preach the Gospel in Rome to Caesar. Could God have accomplished this without Paul being wise enough to use the system that Rome had in place? Of course. But, as we just said, God usually chooses to work through humans that “the normal way things work” to accomplish His Plan.

Do you find that amazing? It really is – that God would choose to enter into human history and work through our governments and societies and languages to accomplish His Purpose. God can be nothing less than Absolutely Sovereign to accomplish such a feat – who else could align all of human history to accomplish his will?

Just consider that God has chosen to use Christians, who, on our best days – we must admit – sin against God and continue to rebel, to be the ones to carry the Gospel Message of Salvation in Jesus Alone to the world. For God’s Own Reasons, He has seen fit to use what to anyone but God would be a pretty iffy plan – to use human beings to get His Message of Salvation to the world. That’s pretty amazing.

And so, as we consider history, we have to do a balancing act: first, we need to understand that God is Sovereign and does not need us to accomplish His Will and His Plan. Yet, second, God has chosen to use us to accomplish His Will and His Plan. Who can explain these things?

As we turn back to our text and see how Paul uses the system to the Glory of God, let us remember that Governor Felix was recalled by Emperor Nero to Rome to answer changes of cruelty against the Jewish people. In the hopes that the Jews would speak kindly about him, he left Paul in prison.

Nero appointed Porcius Festus as the new governor. Festus was a better man than Felix. Festus had been raised in a noble family and appreciated the rule of law. When he was appointed in 60 A.D. as governor, he began his rule by wiping out the “daggermen” – a group of assassins which had flourished under Felix, who would enter celebrations and funerals, get people aside, stab them, and steal their goods. This terrorist group was stopped by Festus.

Unlike Felix, Festus didn’t know much about the Jewish religion or the group called “the Way” – which is what Christians were originally called. So, upon being appointed to the position of governor, Festus traveled first to Jerusalem to meet with the Sanhedrin, the ruling Jewish council, to learn about them and their ways.

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem, he met with the Sanhedrin and the new high priest, Ishmael ben Phabi, and they immediately laid out their case against Paul and asked that Festus do something about him. They asked that Festus summon Paul back to Jerusalem that he might be tried in their courts and have sentence issued by them. And Luke tells us that they, once again, had planned to ambush and kill Paul on his way back to Jerusalem. And once again, we see that this secret was not well kept – as Luke knew about it and would have told Paul, and it was likely that Festus also had heard of the plot.

Although Festus didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the Jews as soon as he arrived, he also didn’t want to become their puppet, so he told them since Paul was already in prison in Caesarea, and Festus was headed back to his palace in Caesarea, they could send anyone they wanted to Caesarea, and Festus would sit in judgment of the case there, where his seat of authority was.

About a week and a half later, Festus, and some from the Sanhedrin, arrived in Caesarea, and Festus took his seat as tribunal. We may remember, Felix never took the seat as tribunal with Paul, he just let the Jews argue with Paul. This is the first time that Paul was sitting before a Roman court for a Roman ruling on his case.

And notice: Festus kept his word. He tried Paul’s case as soon as he got back. He didn’t try any tricks or stalling. He immediately called court to order.

And Luke tells us that the Jews put the same case against Paul that was made two years previously – Paul violated the law of the Jews and attempted to profane the Temple. Only this time, two years had passed, so there were even fewer people who could attest to Paul doing anything – he had been under Roman guard for the past two years – who remembered with any certainty what he really did two years before? They hadn’t been able to produce witnesses at the time, so it was hopeless now. And Paul responded with even more force to his innocence that he “neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I committed any offense.”

Festus understood – this was some Jewish religious squabble. It had nothing to do with Roman Law or keeping the peace. And Festus didn’t care about the Jewish religion and he certainly didn’t want to start settling religious squabbles. So to get the Jews off his back and Paul out of the Roman system, Festus asked Paul if he would like to return to Jerusalem and be tried by the Sanhedrin – “after all, they know your religion better than I do, and this isn’t really a Roman issue. Don’t you think you would like to leave and go home and work it out there?”

Even if we assume for the moment that Festus didn’t know about the plot to murder Paul, Paul knew that there was a plot to murder him, and Jesus had told Paul to leave Jerusalem, and that Jesus would protect him and bring him to Rome where he would preach the Gospel to Caesar and his household., so Paul gave the only answer he could, in trust and faithfulness to Jesus, his God and Savior:

“I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried.”

“I am a Roman. I have asked for a Roman trial, which is my right, and I will have a Roman trial in accordance with the law of Rome.”

“To the Jews I have done nothing wrong, as you yourselves know very well.”

“You have heard the evidence against me. No one has been able to show I have committed any crime whatsoever. There is no evidence, and here I am two years later, still in prison. What does Roman law say you ought to do?”

“If then I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death. But if there is nothing to their charges against me, no one can give me up to them.”

“Festus, if you can show me to have committed any crime – even a crime worthy of death – I am here ready to take my punishment. But if you believe that there is nothing in their accusations against me – and you obviously do – then you cannot hand me over to them for trial – that would be unjust and against Roman law.”

“I appeal to Caesar ”

We will remember back in chapter twenty-two when Paul first met Claudius Lysias, and Lysias was going to flog him for the sake of the crowd, Paul cried out, “I am a Roman citizen ” That cry activate the Roman law for him so he would not be flogged, because it was against Roman law to flog a Roman citizen.

Similarly, Roman citizens were given the opportunity to have their case tried by the Emperor, himself, if the case was serious enough. Paul appealed to his right to have his case judged by the Emperor, Nero, himself. And Festus turned to the council – not the Sanhedrin – but his gubernatorial council and asked them if his claim of this right had merit.

They agreed, and Festus announced, “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you shall go.” Paul was on his way to preach the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Alone to Nero – the ruler of “the civilized world” – just as Jesus had promised.

We should find comfort in knowing that God will always accomplish His Will; there is no person or power that can thwart His Will for us and all of Creation. As King Nebuchandnezzar confessed, “[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34b-35, ESV).

We don’t have to worry that God might fail if we don’t accomplish what seems to be set before us. God put His Plan in order before the Creation existed, so God accounted for every act of obedience and every act of rebellion so everything is working together to the Glory of God – and for the joy of those who love Him.

Paul writes, “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake, we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31-38, ESV).

Everything that occurs and does not occur is part of the Plan that God planned from the beginning, and all of it is being worked to His Glory and the joy of we who love Him. And even though we will suffer and even die for Christ, we shall not be separated from Him and His Love and His Salvation.

We ought to be humbled to know that God is working in us and through us to accomplish His Will, as Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV).

And we ought to work hard to use every means in the systems in this world to see that the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus Alone is proclaimed to the whole Creation. The fact that God is Sovereign and works everything according to His Will, even through using us and all of Creation to His Glory, is no excuse to not work hard – it is an incentive to work hard for Christ, because we cannot ultimately fail, because we are victorious in Christ.

So, Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (I Corinthians 9:24-27, ESV).

Let us keep our eyes on the Prize of Jesus Christ. Let us look to Him, glorifying Him and knowing Him and proclaiming Him as the Goal of all of our lives – and everything else we need will be given to us.

Let us use the systems that we are involved in – in family and work and government – let us seek to do everything legally and morally right that the world might know that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of the Father.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You have chosen us to proclaim Your Word and Your Gospel to the world. Help us to be involved in the world and to use the systems around us to Your Glory and our joy. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Encouraging Words

Father of the bride to me:  "So, did he [the groom] get you out of the Yellow Pages or what?"

Banner of Truth: May 24-26, 2011

MinConf Postcard 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Consistory

Consistory is scheduled to meet Sunday at 12 PM.  Please plan to remain after worship for the meeting.

Prayer Meeting

Join us for prayer today at 3 PM.  Most Saturdays we meet for a time of communal prayer at 3 PM.

More From Men

More From Men will not be meeting today and will be going on hiatus.  Watch for more information.

Calliope

Cali sends her thanks to all those who wished her a happy 16th birthday this past Monday.  We got to spend most of the day together.  :)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

"The Resurrection is the Key" Sermon: Acts 24:1-27

“The Resurrection is the Key”
[Acts 24:1-27]
May 8, 2011 Second Reformed Church

What is the absolutely essential, most important, non-negotiable teaching or doctrine of Christianity? No fair looking at the sermon title.

Would it surprise you that there are people – people who claim to be Christians, people who teach in our seminaries, people who preach in pulpits around the country and around the world, who say that the Physical Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is irrelevant to the Truth of Christianity? Would it surprise you to have someone who claims to be a Christian say to you, “It makes absolutely no difference whether Jesus physically rose from the dead or not as far as what Christianity teaches and means”?

In today’s text, we will see that the Physical Resurrection of Jesus is key to Christianity – there is no Christianity – and no salvation – if Jesus did not physically rise from the dead.

So, we will remember from last week that Paul had been transported by armed guard for his protection from the barracks of Claudius Lysias to the governor’s palace in Caesarea. Paul was now under the protection of Governor Felix of Caesarea, and Paul was under house arrest in Herod’s palace. However, as a Roman citizen, he has been granted the right to move about and receive guests – at least until Paul’s accusers came to bring their case against him.

According to the laws of the day, this would likely mean that Paul would have one arm chained to a centurion by a long chain, but, otherwise, he would be free and allowed to move about and do whatever he wanted, including visiting his friends and preaching and teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And we will remember that Felix had been friends with Emperor Caligula, and Felix was known by the historians to have “served with all cruelty and lust.” Felix was known for inciting riots, engaging in corrupt deals, and perverting justice to gain pleasure and power for himself. At this time, Felix served under the current reigning emperor, Nero.

After five days, the high priest, Ananias arrived with some of the elders and a lawyer they had hired by the name of Tertullus. And, in accordance with Roman law, the accusers were allowed to speak first:

Tertullus began by buttering Felix up, “Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your foresight, most excellent Felix, reforms are being made for this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly.” Whatever you choose to call this, it was baloney to try to get Felix on the side of the Jews.

Then Tertullus presented their case, such as it was:

First, he accused Paul of starting riots among the Jews all over the world.

Second, he accused Paul of being the leader of the Nazarenes.

Third, he accused Paul of attempting to profane the Temple.

And the Jews all agreed, “Yes, you tell him, Tertullus, hoo hoo hoo ”

Then Paul was given a chance to respond, and Paul acknowledged that God had given Felix the position of judge, so, for the sake of God’s appointment to that position, Paul cheerfully made his defense:

First, Paul explained that it was only twelve days now since he had returned to Jerusalem from his missionary journey, and when he returned home to Jerusalem, he went up to the Temple to worship. What the Jews found when they hauled him away, was that he was in the Temple, giving alms to the poor and taking part in the ceremonial purification rites. He hadn’t taught or preached anything to anyone since he returned, and he certainly wasn’t causing riots. He was doing what every Jew was expected to do in the Temple, and there was no one who could witness otherwise against him.

As to the second point, yes, Paul admitted he was a member of the Way – (which was the original name for Christians). What that means, Paul explained, is that he worships the God of his fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. He believes everything that was written in the Law and the Prophets, and he has his hope in God – just as every one of his accusers before him – and every Jew – that there will be a resurrection of the just and the unjust. That is what Jews have always believed and taught and that is what he believed and taught. Paul said he believed everything that his accusers – and every Jew – says that he believes.

And thirdly, Paul said again, that he had returned after a long time – several years – to Jerusalem, bringing alms for the poor and offerings to the Temple. When he was hauled away, he was in the Temple purifying himself according to the Law of Moses. There was no crowd, no tumult, no riot. He was taken from the Temple while he was doing everything that is instructed for a Jew to do – while he was doing his duty. But there were some Jews from Turkey – but none of them came to Caesarea to accuse him....

In fact, he explained that he was brought before Claudius Lysias and the Jewish High Council, the Sanhedrin, and no one could produce a charge against him. The only thing that he did that caused a problem was that he cried out, “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.”

“The only thing I have said this whole time that has gotten these people upset is that there is a resurrection of the dead. But the resurrection of the dead is taught by the Law, and the Prophets, and in the Temple, and by the Pharisees....”

We can imagine that Ananias’ face was beet red. How could he answer this? Everything Paul said was true. The problem they had with Paul was that he said that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and the Romans wouldn’t care. They had to push the idea that Paul was causing riots – that the Romans would address – but they had no witnesses to put forth the claim.

Nothing has changed, has it?

Just about everyone is ok with Jesus, so long as you don’t go too far with Him, right?

“Jesus was a great moral teacher.” “He was an example of how we should all live.” “He showed one of many ways back to God.” “Jesus taught us to love everyone.”

But, is Jesus God?

“No, no, no. Well, in the same way that we all have the spark of divinity in us. He showed us how we can fulfill our potential.”

Did Jesus physically rise from the dead?

“No.”

Why not?

“Only monsters and serial killers can come back from the dead. Jesus was just a person, and people don’t come back from the dead. I mean, if you mean that Jesus is always with us in spirit – that His ideas live on – that He is an inspiration – yes. But, two thousand years ago, did He get up and walk out of the tomb, no.”

And the scholars chime in, “It doesn’t matter whether Jesus physically rose from the dead or not – it doesn’t change His message of love and social rebellion. Jesus’ being physically alive adds nothing to what he taught.”

Really?

Paul wrote, “Now, I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you 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 in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace towards me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is within me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preached and so you believed.

“Now, if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testify about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life alone we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Corinthians 15:1-19, ESV).

Paul says, if you don’t believe in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus, you don’t believe the Gospel. Because if Jesus did not survive the Wrath of God against Him for our sins, then Jesus failed – He did not pay the debt for our sins and credit us with His Righteousness.

If Jesus did physically rise from the dead, then we shall physically rise from the dead. If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then we shall not physically rise from the dead.

If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain – it’s useless.

If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then we have been lying about God, because we teach what the Gospel says, that God physically raised Jesus from the dead.

If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then our sins have not been forgiven.

If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then those who have died, believing in Jesus, have gone to Hell.

If Jesus did not physically rise from the dead, then our faith is only about living a “good life” now, and we are still going to Hell in the end, and we above all people ought to be pitied for being such utter fools.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to exercise judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in their tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25-29, ESV).

At the moment Jesus died on the cross, we read, “And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many” (Matthew 27:51-53, ESV).

And when Jesus returns, we read, “Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened. Then another book was opened which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were throne in the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV).

And Job testified, and we will sing the hymn based on this text shortly, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth. After my skin has been 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, ESV).

There is a book out right now which attempts to answer the question, “What is the least I can believe and still be a Christian?” That is a foolish thing to ask; we are to believe the whole Word of God because it is the Word of God.

However, understand this, if you do not believe that Jesus the God-Man, Who was put to death in His Real, Physical Body on the Cross, and really, physically rose from the dead in that same Physical Body and is alive, you don’t believe in Christianity.

Does the Physical Resurrection of Jesus matter? Yes It is the key to Christianity. Without the Physical Resurrection of Jesus, Christianity is a lie, we are dead in our sins, bound for Hell, and we are fools.

Paul said, “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.” Brothers and sisters, it is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that we will stand before God on that final day. Don’t slough it off as an unimportant issue – for it is the key to Christianity.

Governor Felix knew about the Way and their teachings, so he told them that he was going to put his decision off until Lysias arrived to give his account of what happened. According to Roman Law, Paul should have been set free – there was absolutely no precedent for holding him, but he was put back under house arrest.

Some days later, Felix and his wife, Drusilla, who was a Jew, sent for Paul and asked him to preach to them about Jesus. Amazing, isn’t it? And Paul preached to them about Jesus and righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, and Felix became alarmed and said, “Go away ”

Why? Because Felix was being convicted. Felix not only loved power and pleasure – at any cost, but he had been married three times, as had his historically, fabulously beautiful wife – and their marriages had been unions of pleasure and power, not legal unions in the sight of God.

When Paul explained that God holds us to His Standard of Right and Wrong and the Only Hope for anyone is faith in Jesus Christ, Felix became terrified. This wasn’t fun anymore Felix was feeling guilty, and that didn’t give him pleasure. So – for now – “Go away ”

Yet we see in verse twenty-six, that Felix called him back to speak many times – not because he wanted to hear Paul preach, but because he was hoping after awhile that Paul would get tired of even house arrest and offer him a bride to let him go – to slip him the key – to forget to post the centurion. But Paul wouldn’t bribe him.

After two years, Nero recalled Felix back to Rome and made Porcius Festus governor of Caesarea. You see, there had been an uprising among the Jews about the cruelty of Felix towards them, and word had gotten back to Nero, so Nero was calling Felix back for trial. In the hopes of kinder testimony from the Jews, Felix didn’t release Paul; he just left him in chains. “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.”

Do you believe in the Physical Resurrection of Jesus? It makes all the difference in this life and in the life to come.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You are Sovereign and that You kept Your promise to Paul and used him to spread Your Gospel through the Roman Empire. We thank You for the testimony we have in Your Word that Jesus did physically rise from the dead, and You have physically raised others from the dead in times past, and You will physically raise all people from the dead on the last day. Help us not to be confused by the pop dismissal of the Resurrection by modern people, but help us to examine the evidence and understand why the Resurrection matters and why it is the key to Christianity. For, as Job prophesied, we shall all see You in our flesh. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Mother's Day Hymn?

"O, the Joy of Asherah!"

Friday, May 06, 2011

Review: "Life Without Limits"

Nick Vujicic is an inspirational young man – in fact, an inspirational speaker and minister of evangelism. He was born without arms or legs, but has turned from looking at himself as disabled and pushing the limits of what it means to be able.

I very much wanted to love and recommend his book, Life Without Limits. Vujicic is a Christian and wants people to receive Jesus. He rightly believes that God is Sovereign over our lives and whatever happens to us is part of God’s Plan for our lives. God can be trusted; He is not surprised or taken aback.

However, I cannot recommend this book, because its theology is, basically, wrong.

Two points:

“God helps those who help themselves” (16). Although this is a popular adage, it is simply not true. What the Bible tells us is that we are born dead, unable to help ourselves, “But God, being rich in mercy with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5, ESV). God doesn’t give us “a leg up,” (no pun or offense intended), He raises us from the dead.

“God has a truly great purpose for your life” (229). This, again, is a popular thing to say, but it is simply not true. Paul explains, “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of one lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?” (Romans 9:21, ESV). God indeed has a purpose for each person, but for some, their purpose is to experience the Wrath of God for His Glory.

That being said, I wish Vujicic well. I thank God for his faith and his attitude. I would recommend more biblical and theological training.

Multnoma


[This review appears on Amazon.com and my blog. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]

An Uplifting Moment at a Clergy Seminar

"So, are you pursuing a PhD, or just a DMin?"

"Use the Law; Love Your Neighbor" Sermon Acts 23:12-35

“Use the Law; Love Your Neighbor”
[Acts 23:12-35]
May 1, 2011 Second Reformed Church

We return to our look at the book of Acts this morning – and it’s been awhile – so let’s remember where we were:

Paul returned from his third – and unbeknownst to him – final missionary journey to Jerusalem. Jews who had thrown riots in Ephesus, in what we now call Turkey, had followed him to Jerusalem, and there they accused him of teaching people to turn against the people of Israel, the Temple in Jerusalem, and the Law of God. And they decided to kill Paul.

As the crowd began its attack on Paul, the noise rose to the ears of a Roman tribune by the name of Claudius Lysias, and he and his centurions stepped in to stop the riot and the murder of Paul, binding him and demanding that the crowd tell Lysias what was going on, but they couldn’t give him a satisfactory answer.

The mob seized forward and tried to take Paul from Lysias, but Lysias was ready and had the centurions lift Paul over the crowd to bring him into the barracks. There, Lysias questioned Paul, and Paul explained to Lysias – in Greek – who he was and asked that he be given an opportunity to explain to the crowd what he really taught.

Lysias allowed Paul to speak to the crowd, and Paul stood up before them and spoke to them humbly in Hebrew. He explained in detail who he was, who trained him, his work as a Pharisee, employed by the very high council – the Sanhedrin – that was now coming after him. He explained that he had met the risen Jesus Christ Who proved Himself to be the Promised Savior, and so Paul was now witnessing to Jesus as the Savior; Paul never spoke against the people of Israel or the Temple or the Law of God – he was a faithful Jew who believed that God’s Savior had come, just as the Scriptures promised.

Paul told them that Jesus told him – before his first missionary journey – that he was to leave Jerusalem, because they would kill him if he stayed, and instead, God sent Paul to the Gentiles to bring the Gospel of Salvation to them.

Up to this point the crowd was listening quietly, seeing that they had been misled, but when Paul said that the Savior and the Gospel were not just for the Jews, but for the Gentiles – for the non-Jews – for all the people of the whole world, the crowd went wild again and called that he immediately be put to death.

Lysias continued to be confused as to what the problem was with the Jews and Paul, but he thought they might be satisfied if he had Paul tortured with the flog. But as he was readying Paul to be tortured, Paul revealed that he was a Roman citizen, and since it was illegal for a Roman citizen to be flogged, and Lysias unbound him, but returned him to the barracks.

The next day – the day before this morning’s reading – Lysias allowed the Sanhedrin – the high council of the Jews – to meet with Paul to discuss their differences. Paul claimed his innocence of all charges, and the high priest had Paul struck. Noticing that both Pharisees – who believed in the resurrection of the body – and Sadducees – who denied the resurrection of the body – were present in the Sanhedrin, and that discussion with them was hopeless, Paul got them to fight with each other by telling them that the reason he was a Pharisee by training and the reason he was being persecuted was that he believed in and taught the hope of the resurrection of the body.

The Pharisees and Sadducees began arguing with each other over the resurrection of the body, and they began to get violent. To save Paul and the Romans, Lysias again instructed them to take Paul into the barracks.

During the night, Jesus came to Paul and comforted him and told him that he was not to worry about the crowd and their desires against him, because Jesus would make sure that Paul got to Rome to testify of the Salvation and the Gospel of Jesus before Nero.

Our Scripture picks up the next morning: forty Jews made a secret plot and vowed that the would not eat or drink until they killed Paul. These forty went to the chief priests and the elders and told them that they had taken a vow and would not eat or drink until Paul was dead. And they told the Sanhedrin, “What we need from you is to ask the tribune to bring Paul down to your council chambers that you might examine him again more carefully to really understand the case against him. As he crosses from the barracks to your chambers, we will kill him.”

Have you ever told someone a secret and “the cat got let out of the bag”? Have you ever told several people a secret and had it spread? Can we imagine what might happen when forty people try to keep a secret – and not even forty – they told the chief priests and the elders, as well – it could have been more like eighty people in on the secret?

Well, they didn’t keep the secret. In fact, immediately, word got to Paul’s nephew of the plot against Paul Talk about not keeping the secret Immediately, Paul’s family knew what they were plotting.

So, let us see, first this morning, that Jesus will see Himself glorified, no matter what men may plan. Jesus had promised Paul that he would not be killed in Jerusalem; in fact, Paul was going to preach the Gospel to Nero in Rome.

The Psalmist wrote, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’

“He who sits in heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’

“I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make your nations a heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them into pieces like a potter’s vessel.’

“Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:1-12, ESV).

The nations – the kings – the rulers – plot against God. They meet in secret and plot to overthrow God and not allow God to accomplish His Plans. And God laughs: “Are you kidding Me? I created you – everything you have is from Me – and you think you are going to stop My Will? Watch out ”

We are taught on every page of the Scripture that the God of Creation, the God of our Salvation, the God of everything that is and will every be, is Absolutely Sovereign. That means, if God makes a promise, it will happen. It means, no matter how much anyone dislikes God’s Plan and wants to stop it – it can’t be stopped. As the old musical said, “You arms are too short to box with God.”

Solomon says it very straightforwardly: “No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against God” (Proverbs 21:30, ESV).

To the person who loves God, this is wonderful news: God is Sovereign and Jesus will see Himself glorified, no matter what men may plan to do or not do. God does not stand or fall based on what we do or do not do. God is not crippled by our disobedience, and God is not suddenly able to accomplish His Plans when we follow Him. God is God and God is Sovereign and God will accomplish all that He has planned to His Glory.

To the person who hates God, this is terrible news – news they will not admit. Instead, they will foolishly plot against God and His Savior and do everything they can to overthrow Jesus and stop the Will of God from coming to pass, and God says, “Are you kidding Me? I created you – everything you have is from Me – and you think you are going to stop My Will? Watch out ”

So much for the secret plot – Paul’s family knew about it right away. So, Paul’s nephew asked to talk with Paul, and he told Paul about the plot. And what did Paul do? Did Paul call for a centurion and tell him that, as a Roman citizen, he demanded those involved in the plot on his life be brought to trial and condemned for attempted murder? No, he didn’t. He called for a centurion and told him that the boy had something he needed to tell Lysias. As a Roman citizen, he had the right to have messages conveyed to the Roman authorities, and Paul used the Roman law to his advantage and to the Glory of God.

So, let us notice two things:

First, it is acceptable for us as citizens of our country and state and town, to use the laws that are in place for our good and our neighbor’s good and to the Glory of God. For example, in this country, we have a “Bill of Rights” in which it states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

I am using that law this morning by preaching to you that there is Salvation Only in Jesus Alone. In telling you that God came to earth in the human person Jesus of Nazareth – that He lived and died for our sins according to the Scripture, rose from the dead and ascended back to the Right Hand of God the Father – I am exercising a right that I am given by this country.

Not everyone agrees with what I just said about Jesus and the Gospel and the way to salvation. Senator Harry Reid and Senator Mitt Romney are both Mormons, and they would disagree with what I just said about Jesus, but we have a law in the country which allows us to speak freely, and so we should – to the Glory of God.

Second, we are to love our neighbors. We are to do everything we can to help our neighbors be everything God has called them to be and to keep them from falling into sin. What does that have to do with our text? What did Paul think of the Jews that were trying to kill him? Paul wrote, “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belongs the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. In them belong the patriarchs and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9:1-5, ESV).

Paul could have had the Jews tried for attempted murder, because he was a Roman citizen, but in wisdom and love, he did not use that part of the Roman law, but loved the very people who were seeking to kill him. Why? Because Paul understood that he was just as much a sinner as they were, and they need Jesus and His Salvation just as much as he did.

Paul loved his kinsmen so much, he tells us, that if it were possible for him to be damned to hell in exchange for the salvation of the Jews, Paul would volunteer to be eternally damned – that’s love of neighbor.

Paul tells us that for the sake of Christ and His Gospel, we are to love even those people who want to kill us. We are not to seek vengeance against them, but to seek their salvation through Jesus Alone. Not easy, is it?

Is there ever a time to pursue prosecution? Yes, the Scripture is clear that there are times. We don’t have time this morning to discuss every crime that has ever been committed. Let us understand that we are not called to be doormats or to let people “get away with murder,” as the expression goes, but we are not to seek vengeance, and we are to seek the benefit and the Salvation of everyone. OK? If you have a specific example you’d like to discuss, we can do that another time. For now, let us see that Paul loved those who sought to kill him.

Paul’s nephew explained to Lysias that the plot was afoot, and Lysias believed Paul’s nephew. Lysias also used wisdom in his response – having dealt with these parties over the past few days.

Lysias called two of his centurions and told them to get two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen at 9 P.M. and transport Paul to Antipatris – about forty miles away. In the morning, the seventy horsemen would take Paul the rest of the way – about thirty miles – to Caesarea, where Felix, the governor, would handle Paul’s case.

And Lysias sent Paul along with a letter to Felix stating the facts of the case: First, the Jews were trying to kill Paul, and when Lysias found out he was a Roman citizen, he interceded and gave Paul protection. Second, after questioning Paul and the crowd, Lysias found that Paul was guilty of nothing requiring imprisonment or punishment – Paul and the Jews just disagreed about how to understand their religion. And third, when Lysias discovered a plot to murder Paul – right under his nose – he thought it best, since Paul was a Roman citizen – to get him to the protection of the governor and have him sort the matter out.

Paul was safely taken to Governor Felix in Caesarea, and the letter was read to Felix. Felix asked where Paul was from, and he told him Cilicia. And Felix said he wanted to hear his accusers so he would be able to make an informed decision about Paul and his case. So Felix confined Paul – not in prison, but in Herod’s palace.

Just as a glimpse into what we will see, Lord willing, in the next few weeks, Felix had been a slave who rose up through the ranks and eventually earned the role of governor. He was smart and resourceful. However, the historians of the day also say that Felix, a friend of Caligula, “served with all cruelty and lust.”

Paul was a prisoner. The Romans didn’t know what to do with him, but they had to protect him because he was a Roman citizen. The Jews wanted to kill him, but Jesus had promised Paul that he would preach the Gospel before Nero in Rome.

Let us be encouraged that our God is Sovereign and will carry out His Plans and keep His Promises and Glorify Jesus – just as the Scripture says. No human or government can thwart God’s Will.

Let us remember that God has given us government and rulers, and we are to use the laws of our world for the good and to the Glory of Jesus.

And let us remember that we are to love our neighbors – even those who want to kill us – not seeking vengeance, but looking for ways to let them know the Gospel – that salvation is Only through Jesus Alone – praying for them and seeking their good – to the Glory of Jesus.

And as we join together in receiving the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, let us remember that our Sovereign God and Savior, Jesus, meets with us spiritually in the bread and the cup, and He ministers to us and gives us the grace to follow after Him in wisdom, to live for Him, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

May Jesus equip us this day for all He has called us to do today.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You that You are Sovereign and Trustworthy. We thank You that no human being can stop Your Hand or call Your Will into question. Fill us with confidence and hope in all that You have said. And give us Your wisdom that we might live wisely, using the law and loving our neighbors, that the whole world would know Jesus is Lord and Savior. For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

May Sermons

D.V., I plan to preach:

5/1/11 Communion 
  Acts 23:12-35  "Use the Law; Love Your Neighbor"

5/8/11
 Acts 24:1-27  “The Resurrection is the Key”

5/15/11
  Acts 25:1-12  “Using the System to the Glory of God”

5/22/11
  Acts 25:13-27  “Providential Passing the Buck”

5/29/11
  Guest Preacher: Rev. Dr. Solomon Tivade