Witnessing Like Palm Trees and Football Players

For Lord’s Day, February 7, 2016

windy palms

(Image source: http://timesofsandiego.com/life/2015/05/12/gusty-desert-winds-to-make-driving-difficult-on-interstate-8/)

Dear Saints,

Last week in the morning service, Leviticus 19:30 had us revisit the fundamental expression of being God’s people—sanctified Sabbath worship around Him in His sanctuary. This is, after all, a foretaste of heaven (as depicted in The Revelation).

Since then, I’ve been thinking about a beautiful image in Psalm 92, which the Bible entitles “A Psalm for the Sabbath Day”. Among other depictions of what is experienced within and expressed without by those who embrace Sabbath worship with reverence and godly fear, verse twelve gives us this simile to study: The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree ...

We have a lot of palm trees in San Diego. What do you notice about them? They are able to survive and thrive in an area that does not get a lot of water but does get a lot of sun. So spending time in the presence of the Son each week helps us flourish throughout our weekly desert pilgrimage.

Another thing comes to mind due to the recent stormy weather we experienced just last week. The high winds nocked down several trees. But notice, as far as I could determine, they were not palm trees. Palm trees are rarely blown over by strong winds. So the Holy Spirit fills us each Lords’ Day with rivers of the water of life so that we have the “bend but not break” stamina to not be bowled over by the powerfully changing winds of the world each week.

What a witness we can give to the Lord of the Sabbath before the rest of the trees out there struggling to stay green and upright. One other thing about palm trees: they are outside giving a witness to the world around them.

Facing GiantsLast week, we considered what Martyn Lloyd-Jones had to say about living out the Sermon on the Mount in our lives as the main way of real evangelism (relational). Sabbath-filled, sanctified palm trees give us a good illustration of this truth. But if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors, may we also be motivated by an article in the November/December 2015 edition of Preaching magazine, entitled, “Run the Play! Why Preaching is Only the Beginning”. In it, Pastor J.D. Greear first writes:

If we really want to see the power of God, it’s not going to be found primarily in the pulpit. I’m all for the pulpit, but the real power will be released as ordinary, Spirit-filled people take the gospel wherever they go, into every part of our communities … I simply can’t reach everyone where they are, and you can’t either; however, the people in our congregations can.

Thinking of how we have recently learned in our evening sermons through Matthew that Jesus is looking to make fishers of men to catch men for the Kingdom of Heaven, Pastor Greear’s “mission statement” for his church is impressive: “sending capacity, not seating capacity, is the best measure of a church’s success.”

Let us share the same goal of him and his church, not to pad our pews but to plant churches. And let us remember that God reaps His sown Seed by sending laborers out to harvest. Here is the other metaphor to meditate on by Pastor Greear:

In many ways, a church service functions similarly to a football huddle. Imagine watching a football game in which the quarterback calls a play in the huddle, the team applauds him, pats him on the back and then runs back to the bench to have Gatorade and snacks. The quarterback would be right to feel frustrated: “Fellas! The point isn’t listening to me call the play. The point is to run the play.” … No matter how good pastors get at calling the plays, if we don’t get people to start running the plays, we’re going to forfeit the game … We won’t be content to have our preaching reflect the theology of the apostle Paul. We’ll want to match the evangelistic zeal of the apostle Paul, too … Faithful churches seek to reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, because that’s what good fishermen and compassionate shepherds care about. If we are not concerned about this, can we really call ourselves disciples of the One who said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men?” The bottom line? Faithful churches pursue width and depth, because one is not possible without the other. Depth in the gospel leads to width in the mission.

With these illustrations, let us hear and live anew Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20: … All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations … Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

(Second image source: http://www.facingthegiants.com)

How to Approach God in Worship to Reach the World

IMG_9789For Lord’s Day, January 31, 2016

Dear Saints,

Sometimes there are meaningful things gleaned in commentaries for sermon preparation that won’t make it “out of the woodshed” and into the sermons. Preparing for tomorrow evening’s sermon that will introduce our Lord’s magnificent “Sermon on the Mount” with His glorious “Beatitudes”, I have these particle shavings to share that I trust can serve us well for building up to the message on Matthew 5:1-12. First, some whittlings from the work of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

I do not think it is a harsh judgment to say that the most obvious feature of the life of the Christian Church today is, alas, its superficiality. That judgment is based not only on contemporary observation, but still more on contemporary observation in the light of previous epochs and eras in the life of the Church … [for example the Church’s modern] use of means which would have horrified and shocked our fathers … and her conception of holiness and her whole approach to the doctrine of sanctification. – Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.

With tomorrow’s morning Scripture about how to acceptably worship God with attentive hearts, what Lloyd-Jones points to behind the above symptoms should sober us: “… one main cause is our attitude to the Bible.” He goes on to say what should also motivate us considering what we have recently focused on in Matthew’s Gospel account of church life, evangelism, and growth:

I am never tired of saying that what the Church needs to do is not to organize evangelistic campaigns to attract outside people, but to begin herself to live the Christian life … [The Sermon on the Mount] is how the Christian is meant to live … I maintain again that if only every Christian in the Church today were living the Sermon on the Mount, the great revival for which we are praying and longing would already have started. Amazing and astounding things would happen; the world would be shocked, and men and women would be drawn and attracted to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ … The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first. That is how revival comes. That must also be true of us as individuals. It should not be our ambition to be as much like everybody else as we can, though we happen to be Christian, but rather to be as different from everybody who is not a Christian as we can possibly be. Our ambition should be to be like Christ, the more like Him the better, and the more like Him we become, the more we shall be unlike everybody who is not a Christian.

Mindful of the source of a holy witness being holy whole-hearted worship, Thomas Watson, in his introduction to his Beatitudes, observes the manner of proper listening to Jesus preaching (as seen in the response at the end of the Sermon on the Mount). He warns Christians how to come to worship and attend upon the Lord if we would ever expect others to follow our lead to Him here:

Many sit and stare the minister in the face, yet scarce know a word he says. They are thinking of their wares and drugs and are often casting up accounts in the church. If a man be in a mill, though you speak never so loud to him, he does not hear you for the noise of the mill. We preach to men about matters of salvation, but the mill of worldly business makes such a noise that they cannot hear; ‘in hearing they hear not’. – Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes.

Watson also writes something that should help us prepare for tomorrow’s morning sermon on Leviticus 19:30 about sanctifying the Lord in our hearts by sanctifying His Sabbath worship within the congregation with reverent hearts: “the flock of God … must take all opportunities to hear”; for, “when the Word of God is preached, the bread of life is distributed.”  And if we have so received, Watson, like Lloyd-Jones, describes how we will serve the Bread of Life to other beggars like ourselves: “Let us proclaim to the world that we do believe a blessedness to come by living blessed lives; walk as becomes the heirs of blessedness … Be assured they shall never be blessed who bless themselves in their sins.”

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Walking Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Valley ShadowFor Lord’s Day, June 28, 2015

Dear Saints,

With the egregious Supreme Court decision about gay marriage now forced upon our land, here are a few things to be thinking about.

First, while some of the rhetoric of the LGBT movement is to no longer be held back by the past, this is nothing new or socially revolutionary (or evolutionary). From ancient times, homosexuals have tried to force themselves and their ways upon the righteous: revisit this sermon.

Second, the obsession with being accepted as “equal” is obviously absurd (where do such get their children? not from their own biological union, even now that it is formally legal).  Still, the issue is not so much equality as identity: revisit this Pastor’s Post. The audacious baiting of approving applause and authoritative sanction is really a desperate drive to drown out the unaccepting voice of The Supreme Judge still speaking to the conscience (Romans 2:15) that one is truly identifying with the Devil in such abominations.

Third, we should not be talking so much about God’s judgment soon to be coming upon our nation but God’s judgment having just been further manifested upon we the people. Read Romans 1:26-32. And read this post. While we should wonder how God might respond to the White House boasting of this new law coming upon our land “like a thunderbolt” as it illuminates itself in the colors of His covenant sign, the greater national sexual context against God’s Biblical Law has cultured such corruption. And it is particularly our fault. The Church throughout this nation has long been lukewarm for her first love and His marriage expectations. We just go with the flow cowardly and unthinkingly. Consider these words from my readings this week while wondering about the Church’s state of the union:

Men are more ready to follow the bad examples of evil men than to follow the good example of righteous men. The example of the ungodly is like a mighty stream and it requires both determination and effort to swim against such a current. Most men are like the dead leaves of autumn that simply float wherever the stream may take them. As the saying goes, ‘even a dead fish can swim downstream.’ (Richard Bacon, The Visible Church and the Outer Darkness)

Our culture is an amusement culture. I have at times pondered the word ‘amusement.’ ‘Muse’ means ‘to think.’ The ‘ment’ at the end of the word means ‘to be in the state of.’ And to put an ‘a’ in front of it makes the word mean ‘to be in a state of non-thinking.’ That’s really where our [church] culture is. (John Armstrong, “Preaching to the Mind”, in Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Please for Preaching)

… people shun serious thoughts: ‘My people doth not consider.’ Hence it is they do not look after pardon. (Thomas Watson, The Lord’s Prayer)

Luke 13:24 says to Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. John MacArthur points out that “strive” in the Greek means “to agonize”. We must agonize over our ethical steps to influence the direction of our country!

Notice that Psalm 23:3-4 speaks of our walking in paths of righteousness within the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The Christian’s straight and narrow pilgrimage must not meander off into moral darkness on either side.

The horizon of our walk through this one nation refusing to be under God’s Law just got dimmer. But our Good Shepherd will comfort us with His crook after correcting us with His rod, and He will still lead us. He and we are the only hope for light at the end of the tunnel. Hold His Word before your path and feet, That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; (Philippians 2:15)

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Don’t Walk with Your Eyes Closed

Northern-Lights-GreenlandFor Lord’s Day, September 14, 2014

 

 

 

 

(Image Source: http://www.charterworld.com/news/wpcontent/uploads/2012/07/Northern-Lights-Greenland.jpg)

Dear Saints,

This Lord’s Day we will see in the morning by the Golden Candlestick (or Lampstand/Menorah), that Christ always shines in us, His true Tabernacle.  The Holy Spirit will never run out in His Church.  We will also see that we, the true Tabernacle, are intended to shine His light before the world (Mat. 5:14, John 8:12).  In the evening sermon, we will be reminded that the way we keep shining (and thus survive in effectual salvation, persevering unto the end) is to keep holding God’s glowing Word out before us:

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. (Psalm 119:105)

Perhaps you need help holding up the Bible before you so that you walk in the light and don’t bump around in the darkness of this world.  This week, I’d like to share the following song I wrote a while back. It’s not polished, but a friend of mine (Kenny Woods of WORD-FM in Pittsburgh, where and with whom I used to work, doing his excellent work on the keys) recorded it quickly with me in the studio after hours with some other “Song Sketches” just to have it.  I’ve been thinking about this song in light of tomorrow’s messages, especially the evening sermon with Psalm 119:105 as our featured text. I hope it will help you to meditate in Christ’s saving and enduring light:

“Walking With My Eyes Closed” (Words and music by Grant Van Leuven © 2002 Dumb Sheep Music):

Song Sketch Intro:
I think we all go through dry spells when we don’t turn to God’s Word for our daily sustenance and we thirst for the want of abiding in Him deeply.  I was in one of those seasons when I wrote this song.

Verse 1
It’s been days since I turned to where the answers are
It’s been weeks since I stopped … and asked for direction
Seems like God and my friends are very far away
I’m feeling lost, And lonely
And in need of connection
It’s almost like I’ve been…

CHORUS
WALKING WITH MY EYES CLOSED Unsure of where I’m going
WALKING WITH MY EYES CLOSED Feeling without knowing
God gave me two eyes to see, If I don’t use them the blame’s on me
He put His Word in my hand and in my heart, So I don’t have to be in the dark
WALKING WITH MY EYES CLOSED

Verse 2
My footprints make circles in the sand
I might as well be standing still
I’m ending up where I don’t belong, again
Grasping at the air, In need of reflection
Lost my sense of where I am, I’ve been …

CHORUS

I’m feeling lost , And lonely
And in need of connection
Lost my sense of where I am
I’ve been…

CHORUS

Walk in the Light, beloved.  Keep your eyes open, and your feet straight.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Uncover Your Opportunity Clothed in Crisis

wordcrisis1For Lord’s Day, August 10, 2014

Dear Saints,

Jennifer shared something with me that she just read which I found really motivating and I want to share it with you.

Are you familiar with the meaning of the Chinese characters that make up the element word for “crisis”?  The first character can be translated as “danger”; the second, as “opportunity”.  See the image above (source: https://secure.mycart.net/client_images/catalog22647/pages/E868A.htm).  Do you see your crises as dangerous opportunities?  Maybe you should, as more than one American president has suggested pointing to this Asian insight in a motivational speech.

Now, an important disclaimer should be shared. Wikipedia notes: The Chinese word for “crisis” (simplified Chinese危机traditional Chinese危機pinyinwēijī) is frequently invoked in Western motivational speaking because the word is composed of two sino-characters that can represent “danger” and “opportunity”. However this analysis is fallacious because the character pronounced  (simplified Chinese;traditional Chinese) has other meanings besides “opportunity” … Chinese philologist Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania states the popular interpretation of wēijī as “danger” plus “opportunity” is a “widespread public misperception” in the English-speaking world. While wēi () does mean “dangerous” or “precarious”, the element  () is highly polysemous. The basic theme common to its meanings is something like “critical point”. “Opportunity” in Chinese is instead a compound noun that contains jīhuì (机会, literally “meeting a critical point”).

OK, so let’s understand “crisis” as as a “Critical Point”.  Even better, really.  Our most critical points in life surely are not safe, but they also truly can be major moments of revelation, release, reformation, and revival.

May we not uncover our crises and find the beginning of opportunities lying before our feet?

Maybe we should thus speak of a life crisis (midlife or otherwise) as a “Crossroads”.  Choosing Christ’s abundant life along His narrow way at every juncture will always reveal later that it was a new opportunity for growth in grace and sanctification (the pain bringing the gain). So long as we face our crises taking steps of faith directed by God’s Word, He will always draw us closer to His wonderful Self through afflictions’ detours (Psalm 119:67, 71, 75).  Robert Frosts’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”, comes to mind considering where our crises should lead us:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

At what critical crossroad point are you standing?  We don’t choose the crossroads we face, but we do choose which path to take (the Lord helping us).  What opportunity is clothed in your crisis presently?  Are you looking for it?  Are you following its lead?  And what are you going to do with it?  Your crisis doesn’t have to be your breaking point.  May it become your new starting point.

I write this devotion while sitting with Jennifer during her eighth chemotherapy treatment, at which time she shared what she read with me about these Chinese characters making up the word for “crisis” while receiving her IV drip (for three hours before then getting her pump that she wears for the next two days at home).  This motivating concept she found was in a book handed to her today here, The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, in which authors Rebecca Katz and Mat Edelson describe the second Chinese character discussed as including the ideas of having an opportunity for change, nourishment, happiness, and community. But they also gave this qualification: a crisis is  “… a chance–not a guarantee, mind you, but a chance–to embrace life even while in the throes of serious illness.”

How are you handling your current crisis? Are you using it as an opportunity for new direction? If so, good things will happen.

You know, the reason the volunteer (herself a cancer survivor) handed my wife this book is because she was curious about another book Jennifer was reading at the moment about healing through special nutrition.  Jenn found this Chinese “proverb” in the making, if you will, by taking a look.  And due to the book she had brought with her and was reading, we have gotten a high end juicer to maximize vegetable and fruit nutrients in a modest and modified supplemental application of what is known as the Gerson Therapy.  To do so, we asked God to provide such a juicer used and much cheaper online, and He did almost immediately!  Not only is using the juicer going to help Jennifer now and proactively later, it will help me lose weight and it will help our children learn superb nutrition while they’re young.  As well, we found the machine we chose also makes incredible sorbet with frozen fruit (nothing added) — an absolutely delicious treat that gives us great fun!

By God’s grace, we are taking lemons and making lemonade.  Or rather, by God’s power and guidance, and with the love and support of you His saints, we are taking a sour providence and turning it into its intended sweetness.  What about you?

May you make the most of every difficult moment to witness for Jesus Christ, trusting that you will be able to say what Joseph said at the end of a long string of excruciating experiences: … God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. (Genesis 50:20)

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Water Dripping on a Rock

Rock DripFor Lord’s Day, July 20, 2014

(Photo source: http://anjou.uwaterloo.ca/gallery2/d/4748-2/8596_dripping_water_over_rock.jpg)

Dear Saints,

Relational evangelism over time can be trying and tiresome.  It’s easy to want to give up. But I want to give you a few encouragements to keep being a witness to your family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, fellow students, and with people in other spheres of your life.

First, remember what Elder Huffmaster shared in last week’s Sabbath Class: statistics show that the majority of people who come to church do so by influence and invitation of a family member or friend.  This doesn’t mean we should not exhaust as many outreach opportunities as we can, but may you and I exhaust ourselves reaching out to others with Christ as best we can.  For as we will be exhorted tomorrow morning, “Always Give Christ Your Best”.

Here’s another encouragement to keep witnessing to hard hearts.  In this recent article by Covenant Eyes, observe how a constant outreach over many years finally broke a pornography producer and by God’s sovereign grace made him a Christian:

Matt: I know your story is a long one, and we will probably get into it during the course of this conversation. But you left the industry. What was the breaking point or what was it that made you get out?

Donny: You know, I was really motivated by hatred towards God and towards Christianity, and a missionary group came into the pornography conventions that we had every year in Las Vegas, and over the course of 4 years really broke down my hatred. And once that hatred was gone, I couldn’t justify what I was doing anymore, and I had to finally cry out to God.

This story reminds me of what one of my seminary professors said ministry is like: water dripping on a rock.  Rocks are hard and don’t seem to change, but over time, a constant water drip can leave an indelible, unchanging mark.  Ministers need to keep dripping.  And you need to keep dripping  as you live and speak a witness for Jesus.  Rocky hearts can be carved into over time, and finally be broke open by the Gospel.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

 

Be a Difference Maker

For Lord’s Day, May 24, 2014

Dear Saints,

There is a song getting a lot of airplay on the Christian radio that my family and I have enjoyed singing along to while driving lately, and the refrain has been on my mind a lot with where God is bringing both sermons (and even the bulletin quote) this Lord’s Day, “I Am a Difference Maker”. Above is the band’s official video.   Here’s a video of a live performance at Austin City Limits:

And here’s a particularly nice live performance of the song:

A disclaimer: one of my daughters and I read the lyrics and each concluded, “I don’t get it.”  So I almost abandoned using the song for this week’s e-devotion. But it had touched my heart so much with what it had meant to me (and I like the style), that I searched for “what’s behind the song”.  I found an article that (while I still have some confusion or perhaps I’d give other qualifications) on the whole helps to understand and appreciate the song.  What songwriter Bear Rinehart shares about is behind his writing the song is important for us to consider with the sermons tomorrow, “Express a Good Profession”, and “Live a Good Report” with the main concern to witness to King Jesus’ rule over us and the world.

You can read the whole article here.  Following are some excerpts that should challenge us about why we do what we do, or more importantly, for whom (and some times we will find we have idols we need to lay down and bury):

This song is my story of trying to understand my role in God’s plan. We were on tour with a secular artist, Taylor Swift, playing to 20,000 and even 50,000 people per night. We felt like we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. Despite our efforts, I didn’t feel like we were having the impact we are called to have.

I think God was asking us at this time, “What are you doing this for? Are you doing it for Me?” …

We don’t need to be concerned about what happens after we’ve given up this gift we have to God. That was really powerful for us. We had ambition and let that take too much of a priority in things that led us down a road that wasn’t good.  I think that in trying to re-prioritize, God wants us to sacrifice those things, those idols in our lives. Some idols for us were wondering what the outcome was going to be, that we had the upper hand or maybe we were the best band out there, or we thought we were the most clever at it.

I feel like the beginning of the song is us asking ourselves are we really difference makers. How valuable are we, really?

Brethren, may we live our Christian profession with with a lifestyle like Christ and Peter command to make a valuable difference for Him:

  • Matthew 5:16: Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.
  • 1 Peter 2:12: Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Too many Christians are content with the status quo, and thus make little meaningful or lasting impact in the world for God.  May you and I, by the way we live our lives, be difference maker witnesses in this world for Jesus Christ.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Good Works are Good

IMG_0102 copyFor Lord’s Day, January 5, 2014

Dear Saints,

In Sabbath Class last week, we in part studied chapter 16 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “Of Good Works”.  I pointed out that too many Protestant Evangelicals today live out the Roman Catholic caricature; that is, sinful living and neglect of good works will be the result of teaching justification by faith alone.  The Reformers answered this accusation saying that saving faith is never alone, but will naturally be accompanied by good works.

Good works are the fruit of faith’s roots.

As part of my devotions this week, I noticed an emphasis on good works as essential for God’s people in Paul’s letter to Titus. When I preached through this letter a while back, we noticed in the opening verses that Paul makes it clear he is outlining an equal concern both for correct belief and correct behavior.  The phrase, “good works” occurs five times:

  • A lack of good works is evidence that some are simply not truly Christians: They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate. (Titus 1:16).  A related theme by Paul is a concern to not blaspheme God with a bad witness by a lack of Christian integrity (See 2:5 and 8, for example).
  • Following the example of older men, the young men are to be, In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: …  (Titus 2:7).  Good works are not something our young people are exempt from until they “mature”; rather, they are equally to be examples of such.
  • As we saw in Ephesians 2:8-10 last week, good works are what God has eternally purposed to save us to be about: [Christ] gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. (Titus 2:14). Notice, not only are we saved to do good works; if we are saved, we should be good work zealots (more literally in the Greek).
  • So Paul closes his letter with this concern: let ours also learn to maintain good works for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful. (Titus 3:14)
  • Thus, just before these last words on Christian good works, Paul insists on pastors regularly emphasizing good works to be done by true believers: This is a faithful saying, and these things I will that thou affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men. (Titus 3:8)

Now, we must emphatically insist that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone without any of our own works as meriting eternal life with God.  However, if we are truly saved in Christ, we will be eager to do good works as a witness to His work in our lives.  As James writes,

  • Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my [good] works. (James 2:17-18)
  • Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13)

Beloved, good works are good.  They do not save. But without good works, and without a zeal for them, no one should think he or she is saved.  So let me heed Paul’s command to pastors, and affirm that you be careful to maintain good works.  And may you return the favor and pass it on to all the brethren: And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: (Hebrews 10:24)

Or, to put it another way, as we have often quoted Paul elsewhere, “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

What is Sin? A Confessional Answer that Might Have Helped Duck Dynasty

Season 2 PreviewFor Lord’s Day, December 21, 2013

Dear Saints,

As most of you are likely well aware by now, Phil Robertson — the patriarch of A&E’s Cable program “Duck Dynasty”, has been suspended from the program indefinitely because of his “coarse” remarks against homosexuality. It is the latest talk show controversy fodder.

I have never seen the program. I don’t even own a television, although I could catch an episode on our computer; I likely won’t, as reality shows in general don’t appeal to me for lacking of reality and smacking of vanity (and, while I wouldn’t mind endorsing long, manly beards, I have never been much into hunting — not that there’s anything wrong with it!).

It has been truly amazing to read Mr. Robertson’s quotes in the GQ article that recently have caused all the fuss against him. To begin with, after my first (and likely last) reading of a GQ article to see for myself what he actually said, it seems to me unwise for a Christian to be interviewed for such a magazine.  The article was full of filthy, coarse language by the author (Let me say I thought the article was otherwise well-written, insightful, and respectful of its subject).  However, I did not see coarse language or speaking from Robertson that justifies not only the accusations of such by the LGBT activists, but also by “conservative” talk show hosts (and seemingly conceded by their Christian interviewees).

Having read the article myself, I’m dubious of proper journalism on all sides due to constant peer pressure.  Did they actually read the quotes? They don’t quote him when saying he was crass, nor even allude to what was so alarming specifically other than to criticize him in general for expressing that homosexuality (among other things he said but they omit or gloss over) is wrong (See Megyn Kelly’s cautious critique here, or O’Reilly’s typical butchering of Scripture in his obnoxious opine here).

No doubt, in the introductory part of the GQ piece, Phillips was a bit explicit in doubting how men could prefer masculine over female anatomy for enjoyment. But in the magazine’s culture and author’s language, Robertson surely remains prudish by comparison (note, I do not link to the article because of Mr. Robertson’s language, but because of his interviewer’s crudeness).  Perhaps this one introductory section is what is being pointed to as course by even sympathetic conservative talk show hosts; if so, I suggest such complaints only show our collective self-repressed shame coming out of the closet when the act is spoken of for what it is.  I suspect, however, their irk over the ink was the more direct judgement (which is not the same as condemnation) on homosexuality by the following section of the article:

The interviewer asked, “What, in your mind, is sinful?” Robertson answered:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men,” he says. Then he paraphrases Corinthians: “Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

Yes, Mr. Robertson “morphs” from homosexuality as a more major identification with sin, but is this so entirely different from God’s assessment of degrading societies in Romans, chapters 1 and 2?  Other than what may be a terrible result more than a chief cause, I think not.

First, I want to point out how being well trained by our Westminster Shorter Catechism might have helped Mr. Robertson, or, at least, how it should help us in less staged situations designed for failure of the less-than-wise.  The interviewer asks, “What … is sinful [behavior]?” Mr. Robertson might have said, “Well, sin is more than behavior, it also is what we think and speak” (See WSC 82).  He might also have said, “Man, since the fall, is inherently sinful” (WSC 13, 16, 82).  Perhaps this would have been a better starting point that may have lead to the question, “OK, what is sin then?” It occurred to me that our Shorter Catechism for tomorrow evening’s teaching time along with its memory verse is an essential place to go when answering such obvious set-up questions. The Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 14, asks: “What is sin?”  The answer, which I encourage you to memorize, is: “Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.”  That would have been a good place to leave it for such an interview, ay?  Not that Mr. Roberston’s answer was wrong, but it could have been more broad in a definition for starters to see where it went specifically in descriptions.  Leave a man or woman to answer specifically before God Himself.

The first part of the catechism’s answer is the omission of God’s Law (morality as revealed in His Word) and is explicitly stated in James 4:17. The latter section is our memory verse for tomorrow evening: “Whosoever commith sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.” (1 John 3:4).  Inherent and implied here are that the law is God’s Word and that sin is thus against Him.  No one in all these discussions seems remotely concerned about sinning against and thus offending God, but they ought to be. And, they will be.  And deep down, they all know it — thus the angst.

Second, and related to the above, notice in this quote that Mr. Robertson’s answer is a pretty close summary of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  It should be no surprise that all anyone seems to have heard or insists on making the quote about is homosexuality.  Although also mentioned, no one is crying foul over the judgement of bestiality.  Although also judged, no one is bemoaning the right to adultery, idolatry, or greediness being challenged.  Although also touched on, no representative from Alcoholics Anonymous has been invited to do rounds crying in his beer with the talking heads.  Neither is anyone standing up on behalf of those who steal, although I think they may want to review the issue of slandering for their own good in terms of how they are representing Mr. Robertson incorrectly from the article (not only in what he did not say or how he did not say it, but also ignoring what he did say about his heart for helping others to be rescued by God, and his efforts to be part of that with such a person as most would likely be quick to judge and condemn).

What is obvious in all of this are, 1) The homosexual activists are on a mission against Christianity and to control America; 2) Even by those who otherwise try to look like they at least lean toward conservative morality while keeping one foot on each side of the fence, there is a constantly expressed or obviously repressed anger against God and His right to define morality in nature, thinking, and practice.  See the outrageous but true heart of the matter in the closing comments of one of O’Reilly’s guests in this segment. And notice also in the article quote above, the question was not, “What IS sinful?”, but, “What IN YOUR MIND is sinful?”

Beloved, the question, if our nation is ever to turn around, needs to reform in purity to, “What in GOD’S MIND is sinful?”

This understanding is understood in WSC 14, “What is sin?” And it was understood by the Pilgrims, who, as we were shown this week in the second installment of Kirk Cameron’s video, Monumental, pointed to the founding of freedom to be upon God’s Word and our obedience to it. Presently, our nation demands liberty to sin, which will more and more prove to actually be our slavery to Satan and our undoing of “we the people”.

A few Scriptures come to mind for us to pray through over our nation:

  • For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; (2 Tim. 4:3)
  • The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. (Psalm 19:7)
  • By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD men depart from evil. (Proverb 16:6)

Finally, it wouldn’t hurt to review the first question of the Shorter Catechism: What is the chief end of man?  Answer: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  Is it not apparent in all of this most recent episode of our reality that mankind has this most foundational truth of our existence entirely upside down?  Beloved, may we not abandon God’s Word (and all of it), trusting that in His providence the world may yet be turned upside down again in our generation by the faithful preaching and living of it on behalf of the next generation (Acts 17:6; Psalm 78:1-8).

Semper Reformada,

Pastor Grant

Saving Souls by Cleansing Our Hateful Hearts

For Lord’s Day, October 13, 2013
(image source: http://www.123rf.com/photo_4123116_broken-heart.html)

Dear Saints,

This Lord’s Day evening, we will finish the Westminster Larger Catechism’s attention to the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex. 20:13).

In my recent studies, there were a few quotes that I thought would be very helpful to meditate on as it relates to where the Larger Catechism focused our attention last week through the Scriptures, our heart: “sinful anger, hatred, envy, desire of revenge; all excessive passions, distracting cares.”  This is where the outward aspects leading to murder come from. This is where the blood boils. And it is forbidden to let it bubble against our brethren.  It is murder.

Such a heart issue, if not dealt with Biblically, may often come across in what is sometimes referred to as “passive-aggressive behavior”, defined by Merriam Webster as “being, marked by, or displaying behavior characterized by the expression of negative feelings, resentment, and aggression in an unassertive passive way (as through procrastination and stubbornness)”.  This behavior is just as murderous, if not more so, to our hearts.

Thomas Watson writes:

We must not injure another in his soul.  This is the greatest murder of all, because there is more of God’s image in the soul than in the body.  Though the soul cannot be annihilated, it is said to be murdered when it is deprived of its happiness, and is for ever in torment.  How many are soul murderers!

How can passive aggressive behavior be said to be so deadly?  For a number of reasons. As it has been said, “If looks could kill”; do they not often kill the souls of others? If we care to honestly look, we will see this is the case.  As well, the subtle dismissal of indirect avoidance hurts.  Moreover, such behavior is murderous, because it is deceitful.

Jesus says in John 8:44 that the Devil was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.

We tend to justify such actions to ourselves as meek and mild, but may the words of Thomas Ridgeley check our consciences and our motives,

…the honour of God is the only motive which excites holy zeal; but pride or evil surmise is generally the occasion of sinful anger … true zeal for God is attended with many other graces; and sinful anger with many sins–Further, holy zeal for God inclines us to express anger against his enemies with sorrow and reluctance, being grieved for their sin, and at the same time desiring their reformation and salvation; but sinful anger meditates on revenge, is restless til it has accomplished it, and is pleased with having opportunities of executing it … Sinful anger … designs or wishes evil to others, to promote our own interest and advantage.”

Remember, beloved, Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)  The Lord Jesus warns us … whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (Matthew 5:22)

And, as Thomas Watson (citing Psalm 55:23) also put it, “Vengeance as a bloodhound pursues the murderer.”

Thou shalt not kill, beloved. From our hearts to others’, even through certain glances, or lack thereof.  We’re all guilty of this behavior which bubbles over from our hearts.  But Jesus Christ is the Lord of all, and of all of us.  May we please Him from our hearts, and seek His cleansing there this Lord’s Day in worship together.  That we would love one another more truly reflecting how Jesus loved and loves each one of us.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

How to Witness in Your Job and Keep It

Dear Saints,

Do you want to get a job?  Keep your job?  Advance in your job?  Increase your pay?  Improve your benefits?  Receive favor by your boss and work well with your co-workers?

Over the last two weeks, the Westminster Larger Catechism sermon series (Q&A’s 127-128) has instructed us how to do this.  Below is a business marketing e-newsletter I received this week by Roy Williams that I thought was a poignant message well worth forwarding to you in light of the honor you and I owe to our superiors as we transition tomorrow night into the duty our superiors owe to us (WLC Q&A 129).

We will continue to see in both regards that treating our superiors and inferiors in a God-fearing, Biblical way serves our own best interest, as evidenced below. And as demonstrated below, we will continue to see in the evening sermons that follow that such submission and leadership always is primarily a matter of our hearts.  Mr. Williams summarizes in his article the need for attitude adjustments in this sentence:

“Employees don’t lose their jobs because they lack skill. They lose their jobs because they don’t have a good attitude.”

Folks who can’t stay in one place often have an attitudinal issue with submitting to authority, or with being good and proper authority figures.  May we learn better and better from those whom God sets over and under us how to honor Him by honoring them, that:

  • … the word of God be not blasphemed. (Titus 2:5)
  • … that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you. (Titus 2:8)
  • … that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things. (Titus 2:10)

As Peter also commands: Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king. (1 Peter 2:17)

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

The MondayMorningMemo© of Roy H. Williams, the Wizard of Ads®

The Insightful Advice of David McInnis

I’ve had a handful of memorable moments.

Among them is a meeting with Zig Ziglar in 1986. Zig stood at a whiteboard and smiled at the 20 of us staring back at him with big eyes. Zig had written several bestselling books and created America’s most popular sales training program. The 20 of us were neophyte managers, trembling with excitement at having been chosen to be in that room.

Marker in hand, Zig said, “Name for me every attribute of the perfect employee.”

As we called out attributes Zig wrote them down. We had nearly 90 on the board before we began to slow.

“Can you think of any others?” We painfully named two dozen more.

“Think hard. I want you to describe the perfect employee. I need every attribute.” We studied that whiteboard until we began to sweat. We got to 114.

Pointing now at the first word on our list, Zig asked, “Is this a skill or an attitude?” We said it was an attitude. Zig wrote a big “A” next to it. Pointing at the second word, he asked, “Skill or attitude?” Another big “A.”

Twenty minutes later, Zig tallied the final score: of the 114 attributes on our list, only 7 could be classified as “Skills.” Five were “Skills/Attitudes,” and a whopping 102 of them were purely “Attitude.”

Zig could have saved himself 30 minutes by just blurting out the punch line: “Employees don’t lose their jobs because they lack skill. They lose their jobs because they don’t have a good attitude.” But Zig didn’t want to say these things and then try to convince us of their truth. Zig wanted us to say them, and thus convince ourselves to “always hire people who have the right attitude.”

I sat there drenched in realization and recalled a few lines from Elbert Hubbard’s famous rant of 1899, A Message to Garcia.

“I know one man of really brilliant parts who has not the ability to manage a business of his own, and yet who is absolutely worthless to anyone else, because he carries with him constantly the insane suspicion that his employer is oppressing, or intending to oppress him… Tonight this man walks the streets looking for work, the wind whistling through his threadbare coat. No one who knows him dare employ him, for he is a regular fire-brand of discontent.”

Twenty-five years after that meeting with Zig Ziglar, I had a similar moment with the great David McInnis. “I finally figured out how to improve employee morale,” David said, “Productivity skyrockets and everyone loves coming to work. It’s a program that never fails. Works every time.”

I stood there looking at David.

He stood there looking at me.

Finally, I raised my shoulders and turned my palms upward. Looking steadily into my eyes, David said, “Fire all the unhappy people.” Those words struck me with such comical force that I began to laugh. But David wasn’t laughing.

None of us wants to run a sweatshop. None of us wants to be that hard-hearted boss who fails to appreciate the humanity of employees. None of us wants to abuse our people with the cold pragmatism displayed by Wal-Mart.

And this is why so many businesses become country clubs for employees.

Here’s how it happens: a whiner makes a reasonable request and you grant it. That request is expanded upon and accelerated until it ceases to be a privilege granted to employees and becomes an inalienable right. And that was only the first request in an unending stream of others brought to you by an increasingly dissatisfied staff. And you, sadly, are now seen as the oppressive King George.

But this revolt is unlike that famous one of 1776. This time it will be King George that delivers the declaration of independence to the whiner.

David’s advice, and mine, is that you identify the “firebrand of discontent” within your company – if you have one – and give that person a smiling declaration of independence as you shake their hand, thank them for their months of service, and say, “You are now Free… free to go.”

It’s a plan that never fails.

Roy H. Williams

Show Honor to Be Honorable

Dear Saints,

I received an e-newsletter this week from Stand to Reason that I thought would be good to send to you all as this week’s e-devotion, as it relates very well to the evening series we’ve begun in the Westminster Larger Catechism related to the fifth commandment (started before my vacation with the sermon, “Show Respect”).  As we noticed then, the Larger Catechism gives far more attention to the fifth commandment than to any other of the Ten Commandments (striking as it is not the longest commandment).  It also was noted from Chuck Baynard’s commentary that if family, church, and state do not understand and apply the fifth commandment, we’ll be more likely to break the last five of the Ten Commandments.  This message from Greg Koukl gives us wise words to consider as we reconvene studying the fifth commandment together and all that the Larger Catechism helps us see is there:

Dear Crissy,

Sometimes you will encounter a daunting foe who is, in some way, your superior—a feared professor, a respected elder family member, an articulate supervisor or executive at work.

When this happens there is a temptation—especially if you’ve had some training or done some study in apologetics—to “show what you know,” to step into the fray armed with all your facts and take your superior down a peg or two.

In situations like that, it’s a good idea to consider Solomon’s counsel from Proverbs 25:6-7: [Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men:  For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.]

Years ago, I witnessed a powerful example of this wisdom at a conference called “Design and Its Critics.”  I’d wrangled a seat in the audience of a professional gathering where Intelligent Design proponents had invited their strongest detractors—secular scientists and philosophers—to engage them through a point/counterpoint format of aggressive, academic peer review.

During the Q & A after a presentation by ID leader Stephen Meyer, Dr. Clifford Matthews, a senior member of the evolutionary scientific establishment, laid into him, vigorously and (in my view) uncharitably attacking his ideas.

I was stunned.  Glancing around me I wondered what would happen next.

Dr. Meyer never missed a beat.  Completely unperturbed, he addressed Dr. Matthews by name, expressed genuine respect for his work, thanked the professor for what Meyer had himself learned from the scholar’s research over the years, and confessed being flattered that such an accomplished academic would attend his own presentation and offer a critique.

Stephen Meyer wisely positioned himself as the lesser before the greater.  Though Meyer was an accomplished academic in his own right, he engaged Dr. Matthews with his hat in his hand, as it were, not as the professor’s equal, but as his student.

Meyer then systematically, graciously, and decisively answered the criticism.

Notice the pattern.  It’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.  In fact, I’ve had my own opportunities to put it into play when I debated well-known New Age guru Deepak Chopra.  A DVD of this debate is our thank you gift when you make a donation to STR this month.

With confidence in Christ,

Greg Koukl

May we all endeavor to be so wise.

During the Men’s Tuesday Night Study this Spring, we have found Mr. Koukl’s Tactis of Apologetics very helpful along with our studies on cults, especially his “Columbo Tactic”.  While I would give the disclaimer that we are presuppositional apologists (see: http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=168 and http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=274 and http://www.trinityfoundation.org/journal.php?id=276), Mr. Koukl’s ministry provides myriad tactical resources that are truly terrific here: www.str.org.  I encourage you to study at STR among other places and keep your tools sharp to always be ready to give a witness (1 Pet. 3:15) and show yourself approved (2 Tim. 2:15).

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Andrew Evangelism

For Lord’s Day, March 18, 2012

Dear Saints,

May the Lord give us all more witnessing opportunities in our daily lives that we can be giving prayer support to as a church. May we be looking for such opportunities that are simple but packed with potential.

I am reminded of some of Rick Phillips’ comments in the opening of his book, Jesus the Evangelist, which the men studied last year about this time: “A true Christian church is not only evangelical, in that it holds to the biblical gospel, but it is evangelistic—it zealously spreads and shares that gospel. This means that to be a Christian is to be called as an evangelist … All Christians are called to evangelism.”

Now, don’t let that intimidate you. Relational evangelism is particularly in view in Phillips’ book. That is, simply living and talking in a way that gives opportunities to share the Gospel. That’s what happened with Mike at work. Let me encourage you to follow the example of Phillip in evangelism: Speaking of having found the Messiah in Jesus, he said to a skeptical Nathaniel, “Come and see”. Nathaniel did, and encountered Jesus. As well, Andrew told Peter they found the Messiah and brought him to see Jesus. Wow, how the Lord used Peter after his conversion! Such simple invitations were used mightily by God.

I’m trying to do this more and more myself. I really enjoy talking about Jesus with people. But initiating the conversation is not my forte. You know what I’ve committed myself to more and more? Simply handing a church card to passers by when I enter or leave the Church during the day, saying, “Come and see” essentially, inviting people to come hear and worship Jesus with us. When we go to the nearby parks as a family, we make a point to bring church materials and pass them out to people we meet, and essentially just invite them to church. This may not seem like much, but it could be in God’s providence. It was when Andrew did it. And, in fact, it was for Rick Phillips. He came to Christ when a lady he only met briefly once invited him to church. It took months, and she may never know how the Lord used it, but it brought Phillips to church and then to Christ as he was brought before the pulpit. Here’s how he shares his story:

Perhaps the greatest obstacle to our usefulness is the false belief that our witness does not matter … One person who might think poorly of her witness is a woman whose words were instrumental in my own salvation. I do not know her name and doubt that I could recognize her. One day, as I moved into an apartment, she was moving out next door. I carried one box of books to her car. After thanking me, she asked whether I was looking for a church to attend. My body language made it clear that I did not appreciate the question. So she quickly stammered, “If you are ever looking for a church, I would recommend this particular church a few blocks away.”’ With that, she drove off and I never saw her again. I have often imagined her kicking herself for her weak attempt to witness. But a few months later, when the Holy Spirit had prepared a way for the Lord into my heart, I remembered her words, went to that church, and, hearing the gospel there, I believed and was saved. You may think you are just one “voice” and that your witness doesn’t matter. But if Jesus is the Word your voice brings—and if He is living in you and you know Him—then your witness is mighty to cast down strongholds and lead dying sinners to salvation.

That church Rick Phillips went to and was converted at was the historic 10th Presbyterian Church in Downtown Philadelphia (where Dr. Barnhouse and J. Montgomery Boice were pastors). Later, he served as a minister at this church. Now he is a Presbyterian pastor in South Carolina, and his preaching is heard nationwide on the radio program, God’s Living Word. He serves on the board and is a writer and regular speaker for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (and its Reformation21 blog). He has spoken at my seminary when I was serving there with the Reformation Society of Pittsburgh, and his very important writing, “Covenant Confusion”, is listed on the resources page of our website. That lady who invited him to church likely is unaware of how the Lord used her in Pastor Phillips’ life, and so many others through him. May you be motivated by this true story to be like Andrew, and simply say in your own way, “Come and see”, to people who providentially cross your path. If you only give a church card and invite people to come and sit under the preaching (which Shorter Catechism 98 points out is especially how the Word is made effectual to salvation), who knows, in God’s timing, what the Spirit might do with that. And remember, you together are the body of Christ. So this is the other important reason to say, “Come and see Jesus” in public worship. Who knows what God might do …

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant