Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Reformed Wisdom

"God often afflicts his church simply to enable them the better to glorify his name." -- Charles Hodge on II Corinthians 6:8-10.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

"Love" Sermon: John 15:12-17



“Love”
[John 15:12-17]
February 26, 2017 Second Reformed Church
            Do you love me?
            Do you love the weirdo sitting near you?
            How much are you willing to sacrifice for the Christians in your life?
            We saw last week that Jesus explains to the Eleven that if we keep His commandments, we will abide in His love.  Remember, as Christians, we must abide in Jesus as a branch abides in the vine if we are to live and bear fruit – and that is what God desires for us!  Anyone who says they are a Christian and does not abide in Jesus – someone who says they never have to do the things that Jesus said to do – they will dry up and wither away – and they may die – or worse, if they are not grafted back into the Vine.  But, if we abide in Christ, our joy will be full.
            Jesus continues His Upper Room Discourse by commanding the Eleven:
            Christians are to love each other as much as Jesus loves us.
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
This is Jesus’ commandment.  If we are to abide in Christ, we are to keep His commandments.  If we keep His commandments, we show that we love Him.
Jesus says we are to love each other as much and to the same extent as He loves us.
We have talked about the Christian life being one of self-denial – of putting others first – of seeking the best possible for everyone else, especially our fellow Christians.  That does not mean we are to be doormats and let people do whatever they want to us or with us, but it means – insofar as we are able and gifted we are to gladly, lovingly, joyfully do what our brothers and sisters ask and help them in the ways that they need.
Are you willing to do that?
“Yes, but how far may this go?” one askes.
Jesus says – if it is necessary for the sake of the Gospel and to the Glory of God – the greatest way we can show our love for one another is to be willing to die for each other.
This is not something to take lightly or flippantly or to agree with without thinking it through.
For example, if someone came into this church and pulled a gun on Carol and said to me, “If you do not renounce Christ, I will kill Carol!”  Would I be willing – would I love Carol enough – to stand between her and the gunman to protect her and to refuse to renounce Christ to the gunman, even if it cost me my life?
In this country – right now – we don’t often have such dramatic encounters, but we have – remember Columbine?  And our brothers and sisters are being slaughtered around the world for bearing the Name of Christ.  And we may be heading towards that type of culture here.
It certainly was that type of culture in second century North Africa, when the church father, Tertullian, preached.  He recorded the way pagans talked about Christians: “Look . . .  how they love one another (for they themselves [pagans] hate one another); and how they are ready to die for each other (for they themselves are readier to kill each other)” (https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/see-how-these-christians-love/)
Paul reminds us, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, ESV).
And, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2, ESV).
The greatest love we can show (as Jesus did) is to lay down our lives for fellow Christians.  And Jesus commands us – and if we love Him we will keep His commands – to love our fellow Christians as He loves us.
Ours, however, could never be as horrific a death as Christ died for us, because after being denied and tortured and crucified, God brought down His entire Wrath – Hell – upon Jesus for every single one of us who will ever believe.
I am reminded of an old song by John Fisher titled, “Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die.”
The worse we suffer is momentary pain as we are received into the glory that God has prepared for us as believers in Jesus Christ.  So, in a sense, being willing to die for our fellow Christians isn’t as big a sacrifice as it might seem, because it gets us to Jesus – where we want to be.  Yet, it is the greatest love we can show for our fellow Christians – our friends.
And someone may wonder, “Wait a minute – not every Christian is my friend.  Some of them are pretty creepy.  Some of them voted wrong.”
But Jesus says:
If we obey Jesus, we are His friends.
“You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
The first thing we need to understand is that this is not abuse.  Normally, if we say that “you can be my friend if you obey everything I say,” that is a sign of abuse.  But, in Jesus, if we obey Him, we love Him, we are in Him, we are enlivened and made fruitful in Him – obedience to Christ brings all good things and joy!
Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).
Now, Jesus is not talking about eggs:  a “yoke” is a wooden device that is put around the necks of work animals to bind them together in the work that they are doing.  Jesus is saying His commands are not restraining and painful, but liberating and joyful as they guide us in doing what is good and right and pleasing in God’s sight.
Jesus explains that those who obey Him are His friends, not merely servants, because servants don’t know what their master is up to, but Jesus revealed the plan of salvation – what He would suffer, die, and how He would physically rise, and return to the Father – to them – so they are His friends.  We are His friends if we obey Him, because He has revealed the whole Gospel of salvation in the Bible.
Still, we need to notice the “if” in what Jesus says:  if we obey Him, we are His friends.  We are responsible to respond to the salvation God has given us by striving to do all that God has commanded.
There are a frighteningly large number of people who say they are Christians, but it has made absolutely no difference in their lives.  They still sin as they sinned before, and they don’t care, because they said that “sinner’s prayer,” so nobody can touch them now.
I will never forget talking to my chemistry teacher in high school, and he said he was a Christian, and then when I mentioned something from the Bible, he said, “Oh, I don’t believe the Bible.”
If you love Jesus, you will obey Him.  If you obey Him, you are friends with Him.  If you are friends with Him, He has given you the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit Who helps you to understand the Bible and obey all that Jesus has commanded.
Next, Jesus says that we do not choose Christ, but He chooses us.
“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
And you might be right to raise the question, “Wait a minute, isn’t Jesus referring to the Eleven and not to all believers throughout time and space?”
And the answer is, yes, in the first place, He is talking to the Eleven.  Still, what He says applies to all believers:  God Sovereignly chooses those who will be His.
John explains it further like this:
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (I John 4:9-19, ESV).
God chose to love us and save us through the sacrifice of His Son before any of us had any interest in God and salvation.  The only reason we love God is because God loved us first and grafted us into the Vine – Jesus Christ – and resurrected us spiritually and made us to bear fruit to Him.
And Paul puts it this way:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:3-10, ESV).
God chose us – before anything was ever created – and for His reasons, decided to love us and save us through Jesus in time, when we existed.  That’s something, isn’t it?
Then Jesus says that He appointed us to bear fruit – fruit that abides.
What does that mean?
Jesus planned good works for us to do as Christians – He planned out the fruit that we would bear – that people would see it and give glory to the Father.
God’s primary purpose in what He does is to glorify Himself.  God’s primary purpose in what He does is to show how holy, how awesome, how perfect, how – all the attributes of God – He is.  
Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, ESV)
And our fruit abides – that is, our work in Christ is not fruitless. Whatever we do for Christ and His kingdom will last.  No matter how things may look – no matter how unsuccessful you might feel as a Christian – your works for Christ will last – you will bear fruit in abundance according to the Father.
And remember – one of the themes we have often heard:  if we ask for what God wants, god will give it to us.  It pleases God to give us everything He wants to give us, and He has involved us in this through prayer.
God wants us to love each other in Christ.  Let us pray that we would love each other in Christ.  Let us pray that we would be wise in our love and love sacrificially as we are called to.
God wants us to obey Christ.  Let us pray that we would be guided to understand and obey, turning away from the temptation to sin.  Let us pray that the Holy Spirit would enable us to do everything God has commanded.
God wants us to know Him and glorify Him and love Him for choosing us to be His when we hated Him and wanted nothing more than to disobey Him.  Let us pray that we would revel and be filled with joy in knowing Who God is.
Finally, Jesus says that the commands that He gives us are given to us that our love would abound.
 “These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”
We often look at rules – commandments – as things put in place to ruin our fun – to stifle us – to take the joy out of living, but that’s not what Jesus says – and Jesus cannot lie.
The commands we are given are – among other things – given so our love would be great and sacrificial for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
If we want to grow and bear fruit and love and be loved as Jesus wants us to be, then let us ask of Him and let us obey Him in all that He has said.  The commandments are for our good and our benefit.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, we thank You for the commands that Christ has given us, for our ability through God the Holy Spirit to keep them, and for Jesus making us His friends through our salvation.  Help us to see You as the Sovereign God over all things, and help us to really love one another with the love that Your Son has for us.  Show us how we might better love a fellow believer today, and may we be filled with joy to put ourselves out for them that You would be glorified.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: "The Jesus Club"



The Jesus Club by Brain Barcelona is an inspired collection of stories about how 16-year-old atheist, Brian, became a Christian with a passionate vision for bringing the Gospel to high schools.  To which end, he is the founder of One Voice Student Missions.
In seeking out more about his mission beyond the book, I found that he holds to the Lausanne Covenant and an evangelistic set of Core Values (http://onevoicestudentmissions.com/codeofdoctrine/).
I applaud his passion and boldness for Christ, though I was disappointed that this book has scant reference or explanation of what the Gospel is.
And, although I believe God can heal and does speak to us through His Word, Bareclona’s frequent reference to himself as “like Elijah,” his frequent hearing of specific instructions from God and Jesus, as well as his reception of “words of knowledge” from others towards him, and his claim that he does “miracles in cooperation with God,” left me very nervous.
I am not questioning Barcelona’s faith – and his passion for the lost in high school is palpable, but this book would have been greatly strengthened with some specific and biblical foundation for what he preaches and how he works in his ministry.
I pray God uses him for His glory and the salvation of many.  But, I would recommend other books to help someone understand and become involved in evangelism.
#TheJesusClub
[This review appears on my blog and on Amazon.com.  I received this book free in exchange for an honest review.]