Saturday, January 31, 2009

“The remembrance of them is grievous unto us”

The denomination in which I grew up, in which I was ultimately ordained a minister of the gospel—and which my family and I left about eleven years ago—was more liturgical than the average evangelical church. Although the worship services of each local congregation had its own distinct feel, there was a structure and pattern to worship which let you know you were in one of our churches, no matter the part of the country in which you were.

This was especially true when it came to the observation of the sacraments: the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. For the sacraments, there was a set form, with written prayers and set procedures. The ritual for the Lord’s Supper and Baptism were taken from the old Methodist Episcopal Church from which my former denomination broke rank in the late 18th century. The Methodist Episcopal Church, in turn, borrowed their ritual from the Book of Common Prayer of the Anglican Church from which it came.

After all these years, I still know much of the liturgy by heart, especially the order for the Lord’s Supper. After inviting communicants to the altar rail to partake of communion (in my former denomination, we used to kneel to receive the Lord’s Supper), the minister led the congregation in a prayer of general confession:

Almighty God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men, we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, and are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; the remembrance of them is grievous unto us. Have mercy upon us, have mercy upon us, most merciful Father; for thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, forgive us all that is past; and grant that we may ever hereafter serve and please thee in newness of life, to the honor and glory of thy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Today, I was thinking about particular sins I’ve committed, and the thought crossed my mind: “the remembrance of them is grievous unto us.” That’s exactly how I feel. I’m grieved by the things I’ve done. Needless to say, I can’t change the past, nevertheless, I still remember. Even knowing God’s forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, I find that “forgive and forget” is impossible to do. We can forgive others and receive God’s forgiveness, but the mind still retains its memory. It’s when my mind pulls up the memory of my sins that I’m grieved.

Not only does the memory of my sins grieve me, but the memory humbles me. When I want to lash out with condemnation against someone else, it is the memory of my own sin which either stops me completely or tempers my response. It’s the memory of my own sin which helps me understand fellow sinners, even of the grossest sort. I don’t condone their sin, but I understand that, but for God’s grace, I could do the exact same thing. It is the memory of my own sin which helps me to realize that, apart from Christ, I am a vile sinner deserving eternal condemnation.

Obviously, one can take this kind of thing too far. Nevertheless, I think brief remembrances of our own sins can be a useful corrective against self-righteousness and pride. As awful as abortion is, as shameful as homosexuality of any kind is, I just can’t get as worked up over it as some of my fellow conservative evangelicals. Is abortion a sin? Definitely. Abortion is murder. Is homosexuality a sin? Absolutely. It is an abomination in the sight of God. But the remembrance of my own sins reminds me that I’m not far removed from the homosexual or the one who condones abortion. Homosexuality and abortion are symptoms of a fatal affliction that I also have: sin.

The memory of my own sins informs me that the “pro-choice” individual and the homosexual do not need my hatred and condemnation; they need the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior from sin. They need Jesus like I do.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Where is the Lord of glory?

Crossway Books has just published Living Water: Studies in John 4, fifty-six previously unpublished sermons by the late Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. (Now, pause just a moment and think about that: Fifty-six sermons on John 4? For goodness’ sake, there are only fifty-four verses in John 4!) Taken from this volume, the following quote by Dr. Lloyd-Jones is just as relevant, I think, as when originally preached:

“Possibly one of the most devastating things that can happen to us as Christians is that we cease to expect anything to happen. I am not sure but that this is not one of our greatest troubles today. We come to our services and they are orderly, they are nice—we come, we go—and sometimes they are timed almost to the minute, and there it is. But that is not Christianity, my friend. Where is the Lord of glory? Where is the one sitting by the well? Are we expecting him? Do we anticipate this? Are we open to it? Are we aware that we are ever facing this glorious possibility of having the greatest surprise of our life?

“Or let me put it like this. You may feel and say—as many do—‘I was converted and became a Christian. I’ve grown—yes, I’ve grown in knowledge, I’ve been reading books, I’ve been listening to sermons, but I’ve arrived now at a sort of peak and all I do is maintain that. For the rest of my life I will just go on like this.’

“Now, my friend, you must get rid of that attitude; you must get rid of it once and for ever. That is ‘religion’, it is not Christianity. This is Christianity: the Lord appears! Suddenly, in the midst of the drudgery and the routine and the sameness and the dullness and the drabness, unexpectedly, surprisingly, he meets with you and he says something to you that changes the whole of your life and your outlook and lifts you to a level that you had never conceived could be possible for you. Oh, if we get nothing else from this story, I hope we will get this. Do not let the devil persuade you that you have got all you are going to get, still less that you received all you were ever going to receive when you were converted. That has been a popular teaching, even among evangelicals. You get everything at your conversion, it is said, including baptism with the Spirit, and nothing further, ever. Oh, do not believe it; it is not true. It is not true to the teaching of the Scriptures, it is not true in the experience of the saints running down the centuries. There is always this glorious possibility of meeting with him in a new and a dynamic way.”

“Where is the Lord of glory?” In this day in which churches seem to think they can make things happen simply by applying the right methods and latest strategies, it seems few are very concerned whether the Lord of glory shows up or not. Yet, isn’t this the crying need? Plenty of large churches dot the country. We know (because we’ve been to the conference or read the book) how to draw a large crowd. We’ve perfected the methods. But, my friend, where is the awful [i.e., awe-inspiring] presence of God in our midst? And, I’m not talking about Pentecostal-Charismatic hysteria (and I don’t think that’s what Lloyd-Jones had in mind, either). I’m talking about the church as she appears in the book of Acts, during the Reformation and throughout church history during other times of genuine revival.

We’re definitely missing something. Although he still has a number of admirers, preaching like that delivered by Dr. Lloyd-Jones is exceedingly rare in our day. Maybe, for all our admiration of the late Doctor, we just don’t believe God’s word to the degree that he, apparently, did. This is our loss.

HT: Justin Taylor

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A momentous event: Let’s celebrate and pray

I know it’s been said innumerable times today, but I, too, “never thought I’d see the day” that a Black man would be sworn in as the President of the United States. Today’s Inauguration was truly a momentous and historic event. I honestly believe God put Barack Obama into this high office. Therefore, it only makes sense to thank God for Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States.

Also, as a great-great-great grandson of former slaves, I can’t help but think about my forebears: “If only _______ was alive to see this.” I’ve wondered what they would say had they lived to see this day. Thinking about our nation’s history, you know it’s only been by the grace of God that Black people have come so far:

God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who hast brought us thus far on the way.

Barack Obama’s Inauguration as President of the United States is a testament to the grace of God. That’s why I celebrate.

However, I also join with others in praying for President Obama and his family.

I pray that God would protect them from all physical harm.

I pray that God would grant President Obama great wisdom to deal with the deep and serious issues that confront our country at this present moment.

Though we don’t deserve it, I pray that God would bring about much good for our country through the leadership of Mr. Obama.

I also pray that God would keep our President from doing evil.

Finally, as a sinner saved by grace, I pray that God’s Spirit would deal mercifully with President Obama, a fellow sinner, and open his eyes to see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

May God grant that the sound of the gospel be effectually heard even within the walls of the White House.

In my opinion, the best thing I can do for my President is pray for him. Believer in Christ, will you join me and pray for our President? Millions are rejoicing, especially Black people. Even if you did not vote for President Obama, can you “rejoice with those who rejoice”? Today was an historic, momentous day in the life of our country. I invite you to rejoice and pray with me.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Making Christ a minister of condemnation

As is now well-known, President-Elect Barack Obama selected the openly homosexual Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, to pray the invocation at the opening Inaugural event, tomorrow at the Lincoln Memorial. About the decision to select Robinson, John Piper writes,

The gospel, with its forgiveness and deliverance from homosexual practice, offers salvation. Gene Robinson, with his blessing and approval of homosexual practice, offers damnation. And he does it in the name of Christ.

It is as though Obama sought out a church which blessed stealing and adultery, and then chose its most well-known thief and adulterer, and asked him to pray.

You can read the rest here.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cold weather and God’s word

When I awoke this morning, the temperature was about -17°F with a wind-chill of something like -33°. The reporter on the radio said this was the coldest weather we’ve had on this date since 1982. I don’t remember if it was 1982 or not, but I do remember a couple extremely cold Sundays back in the 1980s—so cold, in fact, that church was cancelled. Today, it is so cold the decision was made to cancel school.

Since I’m home for the day, I have time to write. Thinking about this cold weather, I was reminded of that part of Psalm 147 where we read these words:

15 He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
16 He gives snow like wool;
he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
17 He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?
18 He sends out his word, and melts them;
he makes his wind blow and the waters flow.
19 He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and rules to Israel.
20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his rules.
Praise the LORD!
According to the psalmist, the power of God’s word is seen in the forces of nature. God sent out His command and the temperature plunged way below zero, it became too cold to be outside, buses wouldn’t start and, as a result, school was cancelled for the day. “Who can stand before his cold?”

God has spoken His powerful word to His people whom He has chosen (Psalm 147:19). He has caused it to be written down so that it could be preserved for generations to follow. God’s chosen people hear His voice as it speaks in the pages of Scripture, and they do what He commands. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Those who are not God’s people—who are not Christ’s sheep—do not hear Him. They don’t know His rules. They are lost without a guide.

What a profoundly awesome privilege it is to know this great and powerful God! That believers in Christ Jesus enjoy this unique privilege is an act of grace. “He has not dealt thus with any other nation”, and it’s not been because we’ve earned the privilege. It’s all of grace that God has chosen to speak to us, to bring us into relationship with Him, to allow us a glimpse into His mind. I wouldn’t know anything about God or know the way to God without His revelation. This is why the Bible is so infinitely valuable and precious, and why it should be read, studied, taught, proclaimed and believed.

On this cold day, I’m grateful for God’s gracious gift of a warm home and the opportunity I have to spend time with Him, reading His word and listening to His voice.

Romans 8

Wordle: Romans 8
Courtesy of Wordle

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pride and disgrace

As you know, I live in Illinois, the apparent center of the galaxy, when it comes to corrupt politicians. The fiasco involving our governor, Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois Attorney General, Roland Burris, and President-Elect Obama’s Senate seat is international news—high political drama, as only Illinois could produce.

Faced with criminal allegations, recorded phone conversations, impending indictments and impeachment, the honorable and humble thing for Gov. Blagojevich to have done weeks ago would have been to resign. That would have saved a lot of people a whole lot of trouble but, because the governor is too proud, he continues to scheme, lie (some time ago, he said he would not to appoint anyone to the Senate seat under the present circumstances), and play legal and political games, fighting to the bitter end.

With such a huge cloud of scandal surrounding Gov. Blagojevich, the wise and commonsensical thing for Mr. Burris to have done was refuse any appointment from Blagojevich (as Congressman Danny Davis did). However, because of ego (fueled, perhaps, by his hurt pride at being rejected by voters three times in a row in unsuccessful bids for the Chicago mayoral office, Illinois governorship and US Senate) Burris continues to fight on against the odds. What Mr. Burris needs are some true friends who will pull him aside and tell him, in a kind yet firm way, to go somewhere and sit down.

As if this weren’t bad enough, some Burris supporters are bringing race into the mix, suggesting race as a reason Burris is being refused entry to the Senate. On the face of it, the suggestion is ridiculous. In my opinion, Blagojevich is simply using Burris (with some success, I might add) in order to help divide people along racial lines. The whole affair is disgusting.

According to King Solomon, “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2). How right he was. Thanks to Blagojevich-Burris, the people of Illinois have a disgraceful spectacle being played out before the eyes of the world. We could use some humble, wise leadership in Illinois right now.

So, what is the lesson for us?

It’s this: BEWARE OF PRIDE. Pride is such a dangerous and destructive sin, so prevalent—everyone suffers from it—yet so elusive when we try to discover it in ourselves. What we need is a clearer view of the holiness of God.

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord…” “And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost…for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:1, 5).

When we see God as He is, we see ourselves as we truly are. And we are humbled.

Where can we see God? God has revealed Himself in His Word—the Scriptures. The next time you read the Bible, ask God to help you see Him more clearly. What you see of God in the Word will transform your life, and save you from becoming a disgraceful spectacle before the world.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

And Are We Yet Alive

And are we yet alive,
And see each other’s face?
Glory and praise to Jesus give
For His redeeming grace!

Preserved by power Divine
To full salvation here,
Again in Jesus’ praise we join,
And in His sight appear.

What troubles have we seen,
What conflicts have we passed,
Fightings without, and fears within,
Since we assembled last.

But out of all the Lord
Hath brought us by His love;
And still He doth His help afford,
And hides our life above.

Then let us make our boast
Of His redeeming power
Which saves us to the uttermost
Till we can sin no more.

Let us take up the cross
Till we the crown obtain;
And gladly reckon all things loss
So we may Jesus gain.

—Charles Wesley (1707-1788)