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Humility

March 29, 2011 2 comments
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit,
but with humility of mind regard one another
as more important than yourselves…”

Philippians 2:3

I wonder, have you every stopped to think about the irony of so many of the realities found in God’s Word? Just think about it:

  • In order to live you must die (Romans 8:13).
  • The  first  will  be  last  and  the  last  will  be  first
    (Matthew 19:30).
  • The  least  in  God’s  kingdom  are  considered  the
    greatest (Luke 9:48).
  • We must become blind in order to see (John 9:39).
  • The humble will be exalted and the exalted will be
    brought low (Matthew 23:12).

Paul says in verse one of Philippians chapter 2:

“…if there is any encouragement in Christ,
if there is any consolation of love,
if there is any fellowship of the Spirit,
if any affection and compassion…”

all these things are made complete in one thing: HUMILITY. He reminds us that our unity and common purpose are built upon the solid foundation of “humility of mind…regarding one another as more important than ourselves.”

God calls us to live as Christ who humbled himself and became obedient to death –  even death on the cross. The king of heaven became a suffering servant. He veiled His robes of majesty with the lowly rags of humanity so he might be exalted above all for the salvation of the many. The one who descended into the depths of this earth has been raised to the highest heavens. The one who kneeled to wash the feet of his disciples now sits at the right hand of God the Father. He who was beaten, cursed, scorned, and killed now reigns on high, holding the sword of judgment and offers the olive branch of peace… this is the one whose footsteps we are called to follow.

We speak of this aspect of Christ, the King’s life, as His humiliation. His being born, in a low condition; His submitting willingly to the demands of the law; His undergoing the miseries of this life; His experiencing the wrath of God against disobedience; His cursed death upon the cross; His being buried and continuing under the power of death for a time.

He who “existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to grasped, but emptied Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The one who knew no sin became sin for us. He muttered no complaint. The King of Kings became the Servant of servants.

“Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.
Assuredly, he will not be unpunished.” (Proverbs 16:5)

“There are six things the Lord hates,
yes seven which are an abomination to Him… haughty eyes… ”
(Prov. 6:16)

God is not pleased with us when we try to maneuver ourselves into positions where we think we might be noticed and receive praise. He is pleased when we are clothed by faithful humility in Christ’s righteousness. God loves the Davids, the Jeremiahs, the Johns, and the Marys of this world – he frowns upon the Sauls, the pharaohs, the Nebuchadnezzars and the Herods.   Those who seek after their own selves, who think highly of themselves, who seek to exalt themselves even above God will not hear those blessed words, “In you I am well pleased.” But will only hear “away from me for I never knew you.” Andrew Murray defines humility as . . .

“perfect quietness of heart.  It is to expect nothing,  to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me.” It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep-sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble. The humble person is not one who thinks meanly of himself,
he simply does not think of himself at all.”

The proud imagine themselves to be greater than they really are. Like Pharaoh, they laugh at God and ask “Who is the Lord?” It took the crashing waves of the Red Sea for this proud man to discover the answer. Pharaoh’s pride was in his power. But pride can also be in beauty, our talents, and abilities, our position, our goodness, our ability to help and to serve. The ugly head of the serpent of pride can even be found in an expectation of “Thanks” for something we may have done.

Whatever the source, be aware that at the center of PRIDE is the singular “I” of self, a self that has forgotten that it is but dust held together by a God of grace and power. We have nothing that we haven’t received from Him. We are nothing, but what we are in Him! Each of those God calls as His children are also called to be servants. And as servants, your primary duty is obedience borne out of your love for the One who calls you. But you must remember that even this obedience is powered by God’s abundant grace poured out upon you in Christ Jesus.

Faithful obedience that looks for a “Thank You” or a “Way to go” pat on the back or an exuberant “high-five” is motivated by pride, not humble service. It is moved along by self, not selfless service. It was as Christ humbled himself becoming obedient even to the point of death, that “God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).   It is through your humble obedience even in the midst of performing those “thankless” and “unnoticed” tasks that those you serve will see Christ in you. They will be compelled to confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

O Lord,

I am a shell full of dust, but animated with an invisible rational soul and made anew by an unseen power of grace; Yet I am no rare object of valuable price, but one that has nothing and is nothing, although chosen of thee from eternity, given to Christ, and born again; I am deeply convinced of the evil and misery of a sinful state, of the vanity of creatures, but also of the sufficiency of Christ. When thou wouldst guide me I control myself, When thou wouldst be sovereign I rule myself. When thou wouldst take care of me I suffice myself. When I should depend on thy providings I supply myself, When I should submit to thy providence I follow my will, When I should study, love, honour, trust thee, I serve myself; I fault and correct thy laws to suit myself, Instead of thee I look to man’s approbation, and am by nature an idolater. Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to thee. Convince me that I cannot be my own god, or make myself happy, nor my own Christ to restore my joy, nor my own Spirit to teach, guide, rule me. Help me to see that grace does this by providential affliction, for when my credit is god thou dost cast me lower, when riches are my idol thou dost wing them away, when pleasure is my all thou dost turn it into bitterness. Take away my roving eye, curious ear, greedy appetite, lustful heart; Show me that none of these things can heal a wounded
conscience, or support a tottering frame, or uphold a departing spirit. Then take me to the cross and leave me there.

From The Valley of Vision – A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, Arthur Bennett

Blessings and Peace to You All,

Pastor Mark

“The Lord Has Done Great Things . . . “

 

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,

And our tongue with joyful shouting;
Then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
We are glad!
Psalm 126:1-3

 

Greetings in the Name of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

I’m sure you know people who are constantly complaining and  finding fault with everything.  Always looking on the dark side  of situations, they are continually finding their cup half empty  instead of half full. Never able to find the good in a situation they turn to criticism and condemnation. Their philosophy of  life is: “If I always expect the worst possible outcome, then I will never be disappointed!” Do you know someone like this? If you are honest with yourself, the answer has to be a resounding “Yes!” And guess what!  This is not a past time reserved only for the world.

Some Christians (maybe even more than we would like to admit) are inclined to dwell incessantly upon what they have gone through and the difficulties of what they are experiencing now rather than upon what God has graciously done for them in the past. When you ask for their Christian journey, they are likely to describe their continual conflicts, their awful afflictions, their sad sufferings, their disillusionment an devastating disappointments. And they do all this with hardly any reference at all to God’s overwhelming mercy, love, grace and peace that has led them along the way.

The Psalm referenced above is one of the “Songs of Ascents” in which the community of believers reflects with thanksgiving about God’s beneficent acts in  the  past  while  praying for his continued goodness in the present and future. Israel and Judah had suffered much at the hand of their foreign oppressors. Jerusalem, God’s Holy City, the City of Peace, had been destroyed. His people had been deported to foreign lands. And now some had returned. Did they dwell upon the dark side of their captivity? Did they complain about what God had not done for them? Did they complain about how the city had not been rebuilt? Did they find their cup half empty rather than
half full?

As the Apostle Paul is fond of saying, “May it never be!” Rather their mouths were filled with laughter and their tongues with songs of joy as they proclaimed, “The Lord has done great things for us.” Their cup overflowed with God’s goodness and mercy.

It is true that we endure trials, but it is just as true that in God’s appointed time we are delivered out of them. It is true that we are sinful and corrupt, but it is also true that we have an all-sufficient Savior, who overcomes these corruptions and delivers us from the bondage of sin as we come to Him in faith and repentance.

How would you describe your Christian journey? In looking back, it would be wrong to deny that we have been as Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress finding ourselves in the Slough of Despond. We’ve all been there. It would be wrong to deny that we have crept along the Valley of Humiliation. We’ve been there too! It would be equally wrong to forget that we have been through them safely and securely. We have not remained in them, thanks to our Almighty Helper and Leader, who has faithfully brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey.

The deeper your troubles, the louder your thanks to God ought to be. He has led you through all situations. He has protected you through them. He will preserve you now and tomorrow. He promises that He will go ahead of you; He will be with you; He will not fail you; He will not forsake you. So, do not fear or be dismayed (Deut. 31 :8).

It only takes one voice singing out of tune to disrupt the entire choir. Our disappointments and griefs too often become discordant themes in our song of life disrupting the melody of our praise. Let’s rather allow them to be harmonious chords in the bass part of our life’s song as we continually sing in harmony with one another,

“The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy!”

Blessings and Peace to You all,

Pastor Mark

Controlled Burn

 

“…each man’s work will become evident;
for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire;
and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.”

1 Corinthians 3:13

In the days of the pioneers, when men saw that a prairie fire was coming, do you know what they would do? Since not even the fastest of horses couldn’t outrun it, the pioneers would take a match and burn the grass in a designated area around them – controlled burn.   Then they would take their stand in the burned area and be safe from the threatening fire. As the roar of the flames approached, they would not be afraid. Even as the ocean of fire surged around them there was no fear, because fire  had  already  passed  over  the  place where they stood.

We are told in the scriptures that a day of reckoning is coming. This Day of Judgment has been appointed by God (Acts 17:31). It is a day when not only the fallen angels will be judged (2 Peter 2:4), but all people that have lived upon the earth will appear before the judgment seat of God to give an account of their thoughts, words, and deeds. It is a time for receiving “reward”, a time during which each person will receive according to what he has done in his body, whether it be good or bad (2 Corinthians 5:10). God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

The reality of divine judgment is a fact set out clearly on page after page of Bible history…Adam and Eve expelled from the Garden…the flood during Noah’s day…Sodom and Gomorrah…Nadab  and  Abihu…Korah,  Dathan,  and  Abiram…Achan…unfaithful  Israel (the Northern Kingdom) taken into captivity by the Assyrian armies…Judah (the Southern Kingdom) swallowed by Babylon…the Jewish people rejecting Christ…Ananias and Sapphira…and it goes on…

It’s standard fare to think of God in the Old Testament as the God of wrath and judgment. There are those who tell us that God in the New Testament is a God of love, but all you have to do is read a few pages of your Bible beginning in the chapters after Malachi and you will find at once that the Old Testament emphasis on God’s action as Judge, are not diminished, but are actually intensified.

The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgment. We
find  that  Jesus  Christ,  ‘the  righteous  judge’ (2 Timothy 4:8) is the one who has been designated by God to execute judgment (Romans 2:16, John 5:22ff). Jesus of the New Testament, is Savior and also Judge!

What is involved in the idea of the Father, or Jesus, being a judge?

 J. I. Packer in his book Knowing God  lists four thoughts that must be considered…

1) The judge is a person with authority. God is our Maker.  He owns us.  As our Owner, He has a right to dispose of us as He wishes. He has a right to make laws for us and to reward us according to whether or not we keep those laws. He is both the Lawgiver and the Judge.

2) The judge is a person identified with what is good and right. We have this modern idea that a judge should be cold and dispassionate, but the biblical judge is expected to love justice and fair play. He hates all ill-treatment of man by his fellow-man. God loves righteousness and hates sin. He is “wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” He can be no other way. It is because He is the God of Love that he must be the God of Judgment.

3) The judge is a person of wisdom, to discern truth. In biblical terms the judicial system has no jury! “It is the judge’s first task to ascertain the facts in the case that is before him. It is his responsibility and his alone, to question, and cross-examine, and detect lies and pierce through evasions and establish how matters really stand. When the Bible pictures God judging, it emphasizes His omniscience and wisdom as the searcher of hearts and the finder of facts. Nothing can escape Him. We may fool men, but we cannot fool God. He knows us, and judges us, as we really are (Packer, p. 128).” This judgment is according to factual as well as moral truth.

4) The judge is a person of power, to execute sentence. The modern judge by way of the jury’s  finding  only  pronounces  the  sentence.  Another  department  of  the  judicial  system executes  that  sentence.  “The  same  was  true  in  the  ancient  world.  But  God  is  His  own executioner. As he legislates, and sentences, so He punishes. All judicial functions coalesce in Him (Packer, p. 129).”

The reality of divine judgment must have a direct effect on our view of life. Leon Morris in his book  The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment puts it this way…

“The doctrine of final judgment…stresses man’s accountability and the certainty that justice will finally triumph over all the wrongs which are part and parcel of life here and now. The former gives a dignity to the humblest action, the latter brings calmness and assurance to those in the thick of the battle. This doctrine gives meaning to life…The Christian view of judgment means that history moves to a goal…Judgment protects the idea of the triumph of God and of good. It is unthinkable that the present conflict between good and evil should last throughout eternity. Judgment means that evil will be disposed of authoritatively, decisively, finally. Judgment means that in the end God’s Will will be perfectly done.”

As in the days of the pioneers, the ‘prairie fire’ is coming. The day is coming when the quality of each man’s work will be tested by fire. Where have you taken your stand? The roar of the flames is approaching.

For godless men, this thought has frightening implications. But for those who have taken their stand in the place where God has already poured out his wrath upon sin – in that place of controlled burn –  that day will be filled with joy in knowing that ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1).

“While I draw this fleeting breath; When my eyelids close in death; When I soar through worlds unknown, See thee on thy judgment-throne; Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in thee.”

Rock of Ages – a hymn by Augustus M. Toplady, 1776

Blessings and Peace to You all,

Pastor Mark

Living Stones

 

“. . . so in Christ we who are many form one body
and each member belongs to all the other.”
Romans 12:5

What a joy it was as we joined together this past Lord’s Day for worship gathering around our Lord’s Table in worship and in fellowship with hopeful anticipation of Christ’s return. The Apostle Peter describes individual members of the church as living stones being built as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood. I couldn’t help but be reminded that we who are many are one in Him. Because individual believers are one with Christ and Christ belongs to God and God is one, then those who join themselves with Him who is One are in reality one with Him and with one another.

This is Paul’s point in his letter to the Corinthian church. If you are ONE, why are you divided? Why are there contentions among you? Why are so many striving to maintain their own personal Christian liberties at the expense of unity and peace? For those of you who look for the “bottom line”, this is it: truth joins, error divides. Where there is division, there must be some form of error. It may be error in doctrine that is taught from the pulpit. It may be error in the way we think about ourselves. It may be error in the way we think about “church.” It may be error in the way we interpret scripture. If the error is in doctrine taught, then I highly recommend that you start searching for another church right now. If the error is found to be within ourselves, we had each better start searching our own hearts and our own motives. If you have the wrong concept of “church”, then maybe you should sit back and re-evaluate your motivation for joining yourself to a particular body of believers.

Unfortunately worldly wisdom says “anything goes”. And this has filtered over into the church so that many churches have inculcated a marketplace mentality. The church growth movement has created churches with no firm doctrinal standards. The emphasis in these churches is “felt-needs”. The sad by-product of this movement is as Mike Beates, associate editor of Tabletalk, wrote in an article a few years ago, . . .

[is the] “revolving door syndrome of most Evangelical churches, people come and go with no commitment to a creed or to other people — the commitment is first to the self. The felt-needs are met through programs.”

He attributes this sad situation to two problems, the fear of community and the fear of accountability.

“Flimsy ‘commitment to the local church is a problem of discipline –poor discipline by the professed believer as well as by the local church…Church for many does not exist ultimately for God and service to His kingdom; it is there to meet personal needs and help people with the struggles of life. Such a perspective is lamentably selfish and undisciplined! If Romans 12:5 is true, “so in Christ we who are many form one body and each member belongs to all the others,” then we really don’t belong to ourselves, we belong to the community we have joined ourselves to. When we so quickly walk away from church commitments and relationships rather than stay to work through whatever conflicts and disagreements may arise, we are admitting we have a wrong concept of doctrine and a wrong view of the church.”

 

Truth joins, error divides!

David Wells, in his books No Place for Truth and God In the Wasteland, says that our culture has created a consumer mentality even regarding the church.

“It is my choice after all. I’ll choose whatever church suits my needs right now” we tell ourselves. Says Wells in Wasteland, “We all have needs…But God does not want us to interpret the meaning of these needs ourselves because, being sinners, we resist seeing such needs in terms of our broken and violated relationship with Him. Christ’s Gospel calls sinners to surrender their self-centeredness, to stop granting sovereignty to their own needs and to recognize His claim of sovereignty over their lives.”

When the church is not meeting “perceived needs,” people leave for inconsequential reasons with no biblical or ecclesiological defense. Other churches receive them and welcome them without asking any questions thereby contributing to people’s propensity for church shopping. This is the fear of community. There is also a fear of accountability. Some drift from church to church in order to avoid confrontation of their sin. Looking for a place where they are never really confronted by their sinful patterns of behavior, they shop around. Rather than admit that there is a problem, submit to the church and work through the problem, they leave to find another church.

Beates says in his article,

“In our culturally handicapped thinking the church carries no authority. Yet Augustine likened the church to a mother — one that nurtures, corrects and trains. When we leave because of correction, it is like a child rebelling against his mother, deciding instead to go live with an aunt. We move on again when the aunt also exercises discipline.”If believers are living stones in the Temple of God (1 Peter 2:5) and members of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) then the local church is not just some social organization. It is a living organism. Leaving to go to another church leaves a hole in the wall and a wound in the body.

“To build the Temple and strengthen the Body, we must carefully choose where we can best serve Christ and then commit ourselves to submit humbly to that body. Part of this submission is working to build and maintain fellowship. One key ingredient often missing is the necessity of keeping short accounts. We are prone to avoid even the smallest conflicts in our evangelical politeness. But the sum total of year’s worth of minor frustrations, conflicts, and unresolved disappointment will amount to substantial hurt – often to the point where people are beyond reconciliation Your church commitment should not be based on where your needs are met, or where you like the music, or where your kids have a ‘happening’ youth group, and certainly not on where the church leaves you to live in your sin. Rather be committed to a church that exhibits biblical fidelity to the marks of a true church: faithful preaching of the Word, administration of the Sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. It might not keep you comfortable, but it will keep you growing in Christ and in service to his body.”

O God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Take away all pride and prejudice, and whatsoever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that as there is but one Body and one Spirit, and one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you our God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

(from The Book of Common Worship, 1946)

Grace and Peace to you all,

Pastor Mark

Preaching: An Act of Worship

March 1, 2011 2 comments

 

 “Hear the word of the Lord,
all you of Judah, who enter by these gates
to worship the Lord!”

Jeremiah 7:2

 

I pray that your Lord’s day was uplifting and that each of you were blessed as you offered yourselves holy and living sacrifices before His throne of grace.

 
I’m sure that many of you have spent long hours contemplating the act of worship –  what it involves . . . why you come before God each Lord’s Day . . . how you are to present yourself to Him, etc., etc.  But have you spent much time thinking about the centrality of the Word during the worship  service?  What  is  the  purpose  of  the  preacher  standing  in  front  of  the congregation?  What is he really doing?  How are we, sitting in the ‘congregation’, supposed to receive his message?  Whose message is it intended to be?

 
I have spent hours over the past 20 years (and will continue to spend much more time)  thinking about just that,   i.e., preaching as as an act of worship. If preaching is not an act of worship then the church will end up worshiping the preacher and what he says rather than worshiping God and what He says.

“When I declare the Word of God I offer sacrifice.”

Martin Luther

 

  “When thou hearest the Word of God with all thy heart, thou dost offer sacrifice . . . Preaching, if not sacramental, is profane.  By this we mean that a true sermon is an act of God, and not a mere performance by man.  In real preaching the speaker is the servant of the word and God speaks and works by the word through his servant’s lips.” 

J. I. Packer and R. J. Coates in their book Beyond the Battle for the Bible

 

The act of preaching is an awesome responsibility. The witness to God, the witness to the church, and the witness to a lost world are all brought together in the proclamation of the Word.  The Pastor is called to be both a prophet in that he proclaims the Word of God and a priest in that he also administers the Word and its sacraments.  Paul viewed his ministry of the gospel as a “priestly ministry.” He used the word latreuo (“priestly service of God”) in Romans 1:9 to describe his ministry of the gospel; and in Romans 15:16, he used leitourgos
which gives us our English word liturgy.  Both words have priestly overtones. (It’s interesting to note that these are these same words used in Revelation 22:3 describing our service before God and the Lamb in the New Heaven and the New Earth!)  Paul viewed his evangelist ministry as that of a priest, bringing the people won to Christ as sacrifices on the altar, to the glory of God.  He sees himself  as “a  minister (leitourgos) of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles,  ministering as a priest offering the sacrifice of the gospel of God, praying that the offering (prosphora, a sacrificial offering) of the Gentiles might be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 15:16).

What a high and holy view, not only of preaching, but the sacrifice of worship and also of personal evangelism!  When we look at preaching and evangelism as acts of spiritual worship, it ought to change the way the preached Word is heard. It certainly ought to have an impact on the way the Word is preached.  If preaching is an act of worship, then the preacher must not present to God that which has cost him nothing (2 Samuel 24:24).  Malachi reprimanded the priests of his day because they were not giving God their best. They put defiled food on God’s altar and brought sacrifices that were lame and sick (Malachi 1:6-8).

May that never be said of those who teach and stand in the pulpit of Covenant Reformed PCA.  It is my prayer that as we worship each Lord’s Day, as you hear the Word taught and as you hear the Word preached, that each one of you might be brought face to face with the living God through our Lord’s preaching ministry, which is

“an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”

Westminster Confession of Faith, ShorterCatechism Q. #89

 

May God richly bless you as you serve Him this week through the knowledge of His Son, Our Savior Jesus Christ, and in the power of His Spirit.

In His Service and Yours,

Pastor Mark