God’s Character in Exodus 33-35

Friends,

On our (Chester ARP Church’s) journey through the Bible this year, we will read many passages that will clearly and wonderfully reveal the loving, holy, and just character of God. In fact, we believe that every word of the Bible is given to us for that exact purpose. Charles Spurgeon once preached, “from every text in the Bible is a road to Jesus Christ,” and since Jesus is the purest manifestation of God (John 1:18; Hebrews 1:1-2), the Bible, in its entirety, the glory and character of God by telling the story of Jesus.

The passage we read (or, are planning to read) today in Exodus 33-35 is a wonderful example of this truth. As I read it, I was struck by several things it reveals to us about our God. First, he is a forgiving God. You will remember that chapter 33 follows Exodus 32 where we find the story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf they made while Moses was on the top of Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God. Their idolatry angered the Lord, which caused him to prepare to leave them to fend for themselves without his ever-present provision. But Moses interceded with God on their behalf and plead for his forgiveness. God graciously forgave them because he’s a forgiving God.

Second, God is a gracious God. The end of Exodus 34 contains the great story of when Moses asks to see God in his glory. Perhaps, his faith was weak. Perhaps, he needed some encouragement to continue to lead these hard-headed people through the desert and into the Promised Land. Perhaps, he was just curious as to what God’s glory looked like. Whatever his reason was, he asked to see God’s glory and God graciously obliged. Moses’s life was transformed instantly as he saw the glory of God pass before him.

Third, God is an orderly God. Exodus 35 begins a section of the Bible, which continues throughout the whole next book, Leviticus, that tells us of the particular and orderly way in which God prescribed for his Tabernacle to be built and records the meticulous law he gave to the Israelites to govern their lives, their worship, and their morality. We can’t read these chapters without seeing that God is a god of decency and order (1 Corinthians 14:40), who holds his people accountable to a standard of belief, behavior, and worship. In his being, God is a god of order and expects the same from the people who bear his name.

As you read these chapters you may find some other things more applicable to your life than these I’ve mentioned, and that’s ok. There are many lessons we can learn from them as the Holy Spirit illuminates our hearts and minds while we read. These three aspects about God’s character, however, struck me powerfully this morning.

May the Lord add his blessing to you as you read his word to get to know him more and more fully everyday. Happy Reading.

In Christ,

Clint

Pursue Christ. Elevate Others.

 

Cultivating Thankfulness

What’s up everybody?

On Sunday we talked about how Psalm 50 tells us that thankfulness needs to be cultivated in our lives because it is not natural to us. Here are a few suggestions from Jerry Birdges’s book The Practice of Godliness to help you cultivate a habit of thankfulness: 

  1. Expand our mealtime expression of thanks to include other blessings beyond the food before us. 
  2. Begin each day with thanksgiving by thanking God for his love, which is assured to carry us through the day. 
  3. End each day with thanksgiving by thanking God for all the specific demonstrations of His providence and faithfulness during the day. 
  4. Keep a record of the answers God has given you to your prayers so that you can adequately thank him for his blessings.
  5. Set a time aside each week to do nothing but thank God for specific blessings of his grace. Thank him for these things: personal salvation, church family, opportunities for spiritual growth, instruction of our Church, the availability of the Bible, the health of our family, political freedom, spiritual freedom, material provisions, godly spouse, believing family.

May the Lord bless you richly in his grace. Pursue growth and practice thankfulness.

In Christ,

Clint  

Who Exactly is Saved by Jesus?

…We have to let God be God. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and we’ll never fully understand the mind of our sovereign and good creator. We have to trust him with our lives to work out all things for his glory and our good. We walk by faith in Christ and commit ourselves to sharing the gospel with other people so they can have the opportunity to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as well…

We had a lively conversation during our Bible Study on Wednesday morning as we studied Westminster Shorter Catechism Question #20, which asks, “Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?” The answer is: “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life, did enter into a covenant of grace to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.”

Our teacher, Buzzy Elder, did a good job unpacking the answer in three parts – God’s motivation for his salvation, the subjects of his salvation, and his method of salvation. We were encouraged to hear that God chooses to save his people (us) from their (our) sin and its effects out of his own pleasure and that he accomplished this salvation through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer.

As Buzzy prepared to move on to Question #21, someone asked the question, “Well, who is actually saved?” I thought, “Here we go” and chuckled a little. Buzzy answered the question well and then led lively discussion about the doctrine of election that resulted in varying degrees of confusion, frustration, clarity, and concern among the group.

A Hard Line

The Doctrine of Election is one of the most discussed — even rejected — doctrines of the historic reformed faith. I believe this is because it forces us to draw a hard line between the just and the unjust, between those who are being saved by grace through faith and those who aren’t. We simply don’t like to think in such black and white terms.

Absolute religious truth offends our modern sensibilities. Whether we realize it or not, we have all been shaped by the philosophies of contemporary American civil religion, which teach that all men, women, and children are relatively good and walking in the same ultimate direction. Religion’s role is therapeutic in that it helps its adherents to feel happier, more relaxed, fulfilled, and healthier. Thus, no one religion is better than any other, for they all fulfill the same function: to help an individual get farther down the road to where we are all going.

The Just and the Unjust

But there is a difference between the just and the unjust, isn’t there? The Bible clearly distinguishes between those who profess faith in Christ and those who don’t (Matt. 7:13-14). Those who do (Christians) are just and those who don’t (Non-Christians) are unjust. The just and unjust aren’t going to the same place; they aren’t walking in the same direction. The just will receive eternal life with God and the unjust will receive eternal destruction.

Does this mean that Christians are inherently different than non-Christians? No. We are all the same. We have been created equally in the image of the same God. And, we have all sinned against our universal creator, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, “for we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” – his holy standard (Romans 3:22-23). So, what makes the difference between the just and unjust? Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ made possible by the grace of Almighty God does. The just have trusted the Lord Jesus Christ and thus been made right before God through his life, death, and resurrection, while the unjust have not trusted Jesus and so remain unreconciled to God in their sin.

Therefore, we’re all equally guilty before God in our sin with our rebellious hearts, but God freely chooses to redeem his chosen people in his grace. And, he has the authority to do it however he wants to do it. He can redeem all, none, or some of those who’ve sinned against him simply because he is God. That is his prerogative, and it cannot be taken from him.

Let God Be God

Because we understand that salvation is God’s sovereign prerogative, our objection to the doctrine of election isn’t theoretically with God’s authority to save whom he wishes; rather, it is with our often precarious experience of his salvation in this life. We typically express our concern in two questions. First, there is the question about us personally: How do I know that I am elect? The answer is simple: If you have placed your faith in Christ and repented from your sins, then you are elect, for only those who are elect will be converted to faith in Christ. If your testimony is that you have been saved and transformed by grace through faith, then you are counted among the elect. In this sense, the doctrine of election is a doctrine of assurance (Eph. 2:1-10).

Second, there is the question about other people – our friends, our family members, people all over the globe. Are they elect, and if they are, how do we know it? The answer is two-fold. If they have placed their faith in Christ and repented of their sins, then they are in the number of the elect. Plain and simple. But, if they haven’t placed their faith in Christ, we don’t know if they are elect or not. God hasn’t published a list. However, we do know that they will never know the joy of salvation unless they are told of the good news of Jesus Christ in the gospel and are given the opportunity to place their faith in him and repent of their sins. In this sense, the doctrine of election is a doctrine of motivation for Christian missions (Rom. 10:14-17).

In conclusion, we have to let God be God. His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8) and we’ll never fully understand the mind of our sovereign and good creator. We have to trust him with our lives to work out all things for his glory and our good. We walk by faith in Christ and commit ourselves to sharing the gospel with other people so they can have the opportunity to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as well, all the while holding fast to the biblical truth that “God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life…”

Discipleship Matters: Prayerful Evangelism

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” — Matthew 9:37-38

Friends,

Jesus calls us to participate in his mission to redeem sinners by prayer and action in Matthew 9:35-10:15. We are to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out laborers, and we are to participate in the harvest. Notice the following four points about Jesus’ life, ministry, and expectations for his disciples in this passage.

First, Jesus was actively involved in a ministry that demonstrated and exercised the power of his kingdom (9:35). He taught in the synagogues. He proclaimed the good news of his kingdom. And, he healed every disease and affliction.

Second, Jesus had compassion on the crowds of people who had gathered around him because they were harassed and helpless (9:36). They were weary, tired, exhausted, exposed, and dejected. Their leaders, who were supposed to care for them, had abandoned them, burdened them, and blamed them.

Third, Jesus relieved people’s burdens (9:35). He healed their afflictions in his grace and mercy. This healing, however, was not merely a physical one. Jesus proclaimed the good news of his kingdom while healing them of their diseases and afflictions. The outward healing illustrated the inner healing of the gospel in their lives.

Fourth, Jesus expects his disciples to have compassion on people as we participate in his ministry of relief (9:37-38). The harvest is plentiful. We need more laborers. And, the need is urgent.

Therefore, pray earnestly for laborers for the harvest (9:38). Pray for spiritual eyes and a compassionate heart so that you may see people as they really are and discern their needs (9:36). And, be prepared to be the answer to your prayer as you participate in the harvest by doing gospel ministry (9:35, 10:1-15).

In Christ,
Clint

 

 

Finish What You Start.

Friends,

“You’ve got to finish what you started.” is a sentence I have heard all my life from my coaches, teachers, and parents. I have a bad habit of not finishing the things I start. I start strong and then fade toward the end.

Recently, I made my way through J.D. Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy (a book I highly recommend btw). When I read the last page, I remember thinking, “Wow, I finished it.” Out of the many volumes in my library, this is one of the few that I’ve read all the way through. I tend to lose interest quickly. I don’t know why; I just do.

While struggling to finish a book is trivial, finishing other things – like our journey of faith in Christ – is not. Repeatedly, the Bible tells us that we have to finish our lives in faith with Christ. We have to persevere in faith. We have to remain steadfast in our faith. We have to walk in repentance and faithful obedience in order to receive our reward at the end. Paul instructs us to “remain steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

So, let me encourage you to press on in faith. Make sure you are committed to finish what you started because finishing matters. May the Lord bless you richly in his grace by strengthening you in your faith.

In Christ,
Clint

 

Discipleship Matters in 2018

Friends,

In 1986, the late pastor James Montgomery Boice wrote, “There is a fatal defect in the life of Christ’s church in the twentieth century: a lack of true discipleship. Discipleship means forsaking everything to follow Christ. But for many of today’s supposed Christians – perhaps the majority – it is the case that while there is much talk about Christ and even much furious activity, there is actually very little following of Christ Himself. And that means in some circles there is very little genuine Christianity. Many who fervently call Him ‘Lord, Lord’ are not Christians [at all]” (Matt. 7:21).

Sadly, I think Boice’s assessment of general evangelical Christianity is as true today as it was 30 years ago. I’ve seen it in my own life. I talk a lot (as you know) about Christ and am consumed with furious activity. However, I’ve recently been convicted of how little time, energy, and emotional resources I spend actually following Jesus – going where he went, doing what he did, thinking how he thought, loving as he loved. I wondered if you are the same way.

Therefore, I have decided to focus our teaching and preaching time along with the rest of our congregational life on growing as active disciples of the Lord Jesus. You will hear a lot about discipleship as a whole and the five elements that make up our active pursuit of Christ: obedience, repentance, submission, commitment, and perseverance, in particular. By God’s grace, I pray we will end 2018 with a greater desire to forsake everything to follow Jesus.

May 2018 will be a wonderful Christ-centered year for you and your family!

In Christ,
Clint

Worshipping the Lord of Steadfast Love — Psalm 33

H.A. Ironsides, in his sermon on Psalm 33, defines worship simply as adoration: worship is the soul’s adoration of God Himself. All of the things we do in worship are meant to assist us in adoring God, but none of those things are actually worship. We worship God when we adore him for who he is. Period.

Like any great song book, the Psalms have an order. It is:

  • Psalms 1-41 — These psalms are primarily Psalms of David and focus on statements of distress and confidence in the God who can save.
  • Psalms 42-72 — These psalms have multiple authors and again focus on distress and lamentation, but they are more communal than personal.
  • Psalms 73-89 — These psalms focus on the reality of injustice in the world, particularly with reference to the justice of God as seen in the light of his presence.
  • Psalms 90-106 — These 16 psalms are a response to the previous 89 in general, and 73-89 in particular. The gracious and mighty reign of the Lord becomes prominent.
  • Psalms 107-150 — These final psalms focus on the fact that God does answer prayer and his presence and word is highly valued among his people.

The order is as divinely inspired as the hymns. As we read the Psalms, we often see the flow of thought from one psalm to the next. This is certainly the case with Psalms 32 and 33.

Forgiveness Leads to Worship

Psalm 32 is primarily about confessing sin and the gracious forgiveness that God offers to us. David is consumed by the effects of his sin, which he feels in the very core of his being. He suffers spiritually and physically. He confessed his sin before God and found joy in the blessed forgiveness of God. And the psalm concludes with verse 11.

  • Psalm 32:11 — “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

Now, we begin Psalm 33 with these words:

  • Psalm 33:1-3 — “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”

Do you see the connection there? I hope so. Psalm 32 ends with a call to shout for joy and Psalm 33 begins with the same call. It is as if the psalms were ordered to flow after one another. They were.

Worship

We have a variety of ways that we think about worship.

  • Prayer
  • Singing
  • Preaching
  • Listening to Preaching
  • Sacraments
  • Devotions
  • Reading the Bible

All of these things assist our worship, but are they worship? No. H.A. Ironsides, in his sermon on Psalm 33, defines worship simply as adoration: worship is the soul’s adoration of God Himself. All of the things we do in worship are meant to assist us in adoring God, but none of those things are actually worship. We worship God when we adore him for who he is. Period. Ironside continues:

“It is occupation not with His gifts, not coming to Him to receives something, but occupation with the Giver; the heart going out in gratitude not only for what He has done for us but also what He is in Himself.”

This is true worship. We adore God for who He is.

Let me ask you: Can your worship of God be defined in this way? Do you come before Him simply to adore Him for who He is? Or, do you come to get something from Him? Do you do your devotions into order to ensure that you will continue to get your blessing from him?

I’m convicted. Maybe you are as well.

Why Do We Adore Him?

The Psalm gives us four reasons the Psalmist gives for adoring God. They are:

  1. He is our Creator— Psalm 33:6-7 — He spoke the word into existence. Period. All of creation flows freely from the mouth and genius of God.
  2. He is our Ruler— Psalm 33:6-12 — He spoke the world into existence and continues to govern it by the word of his power. He watches over the world and brings to reality the plans of his heart.
  3. He is our Savior. — Psalm 33:12,20 — God saves his people for His heritage. He preserves us through faith in Christ. Christ’s died for our sins and raised for our life. The Lord is our Savior.
  4. He is the Lover of our Souls— Psalm 33:4-5 — God is a God of love. He loves his people.

Jesus is the Word of God.

This all points to Jesus. He is the Word in the flesh. He is the creator. He is the king. He is our salvation. He is love. The word of God is central to this Psalm.

  • Psalm 33:4 — “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.
  • Psalm 33:6 — “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
  • Psalm 33:9 — “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
  • Psalm 33:10 — “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.”
  • Psalm 33:11 — “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”

The Apostle Paul sums the point well.

  • Colossians 1:16-17 — “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him. All he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

3 Necessary Commitments for Planting New Churches

The number of Americans not affiliated with Christian Churches is rising, and the Christian Church’s influence in our society is declining. This reality gives many Christians, myself included, a great sense of burden for non-Christians and for the future of the Christian Church, which we dearly love.

What can we do? The best thing we can do, out of the many possibilities, is to plant more Christ-centered churches. Planting new, biblical, Christ-centered, and confessional churches is the most effective way to impact the lost world for Christ. Period.

I have experienced this first hand over the past 4 years as I have overseen the church planting and revitalization efforts of Catawba Presbytery of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARPC). God has worked mightily and wonderfully in our church plants.

Three Commitments

As the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church moves into the future, we must view our church planting efforts as intentional missionary endeavors of the denomination and our presbyteries. To do that, we must make the following three commitments.

1. We must commit to planting more churches.

Tim Keller has written, “The vigorous, continual planting of new congregations is the single most crucial strategy for (1) the numerical growth of the body of Christ in a city and (2) the continual corporate renewal and revival of the existing churches in a city. Nothing else — not crusades, outreach programs, para-church ministries, growing mega-churches, congregation consulting, nor church renewal processes — will have the consistent impact of dynamic, extensive church planting.”[1]

He’s right. New and reclaimed Christians are often better served by new congregations because, unlike older, established ones, they do not have long-standing traditions, leadership and social structures, and other baggage that must be adopted, broken into, or carried. Additionally, new churches can think creatively about ministering to our diverse and transient society more so than established, mature congregations can. Research bears this out, indicating that 60-80% of attendees of church plants do not have any affiliation with other Christian congregations.

2. We must commit to viewing our church planters as missionaries.

Our church planters are missionaries, and they are planting in a “foreign” culture, full of idols with constantly changing norms. This is true even though their mission field oftentimes is within a 30-minute drive of our existing congregations. Planters must learn how to effectively communicate the gospel, the essence of the church, and the principles of the faith in a complex and changing environment. This takes time, and time takes a long-term financial commitment from those who support them.

3. We must commit to rethinking the timeline and funding paradigm for our church planters.

Our (ARPC) current funding paradigm was designed for a time when Christianity was the dominant influence in general culture. The social, political, moral, and intellectual landscape has changed drastically in the last 15 years, leaving Christianity to be simply one of the many voices being heard around the table of American religious and public life. Therefore, we can’t expect our planters to plant on the same timeline and have the same financial expectations now as they did in the early 2000s.

Presbyteries and the General Synod through Outreach North America should continue to support church planters financially with a lump sum to be disbursed over a period of 3-5 years. In addition, local congregations and individuals should be strongly encouraged to partner with the planters’ efforts by making long-term commitments to pray for and financially support our planters in much the same way as they partner with missionaries in foreign countries.

Furthermore, we must consider the church planting model that the planter has chosen and the context in which he will be planting when developing a timeline for his church plant. For instance, a church planter planting among the rural poor should take longer to develop solid leaders and become financially solvent than a planter planting among highly educated, upwardly mobile suburbanites. Any timeline that disregards these realities will be insufficient.

Christ will be faithful.

We plant churches expecting that Christ will be faithful to bless the work of his people as we go into the world and make disciples of all nations. Making disciples cannot be done completely apart from planting new churches. May we go forward and plant many churches for Christ’s glory, trusting him in his sovereignty.

[1] “Why Plant Churches,” Redeemer PCA, http://download.redeemer.com/pdf/learn/resources/Why_Plant_Churches-Keller.pdf

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

Here are a few thoughts on praying the Lord’s Prayer from Bishop JC Ryle. I shared these with our congregation last Wednesday evening as we prayed our way through the prayer. Take a moment to read them and then pray through the prayer the Jesus taught us to pray.

Petition 1: Hallowed Be Thy Name

The [first petition] is a petition respecting God’s name: “Hallowed be thy name.” By the “name” of God we mean all those attributes under which He is revealed to us, — His power, wisdom, holiness, justice, mercy, and truth. By asking that they may be “hallowed,” we mean that they may be made known and glorified. The glory of God is the first thing that God’s children should desire.

Petition 2: Thy Kingdom Come

The [second petition] is a petition concerning God’s kingdom: “thy Kingdom come.” By His kingdom we mean first, the kingdom of grace which God sets up and maintains in the hearts of all living members of Christ, by His Spirit and word. But we mean chiefly, the kingdom of glory which shall one day be set up, when Jesus shall come the second time, and “all men shall know Him from the least to the greatest.” This is the time when sin, and sorrow, and Satan shall be cast out of the world. It is a time when the Jews shall be converted, and the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in, and a time that is above all things to be desired.

Petition 3: Thy Will Be Done on Earth as it is in Heaven

The [third petition] is a petition concerning God’s will: “thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.” We here pray that God’s laws may be obeyed by men as perfectly, readily, and unceasingly, as they are by angels in heaven. We ask that those who now obey not His laws, may be taught to obey them, and that those who do obey them, may obey them better. Our truest happiness is perfect submission to God’s will, and it is the highest charity to pray that all mankind may know it, obey it, and submit to it.

Petition 4: Give Us This Day our Daily Bread

The [fourth petition] is a petition respecting our own daily wants: “give us this day our daily bread.” We are here taught to acknowledge our entire dependence on God, for the supply of our daily necessities. As Israel required daily manna, so we require daily “bread.” We confess that we are poor, weak, wanting creatures, and beseech Him who is our Maker to take care of us.

Petition 5: Forgive Us Our Debts

The [fifth petition] is a petition respecting our sins: “Forgive us our debts.” We confess that we are sinners, and need daily grants of pardon and forgiveness. This is a part of the Lord’s prayer which deserves especially to be remembered. It condemns all self-righteousness and self-justifying. We are instructed here to keep up a continual habit of confession at the throne of grace, and a continual habit of seeking mercy and remission.

Petition 6: Forgive us Our Debts, as we Forgive Our Debtors

The [sixth petition] is a profession respecting our own feelings towards others: we ask our Father to “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” This is the only profession in the whole prayer, and the only part on which our Lord comments and dwells, when He has concluded the prayer. The plain object of it is, to remind us that we must not expect our prayers for forgiveness to be heard, if we pray with malice and spite in our hearts. To pray in such a frame of mind is mere formality and hypocrisy.

Petition 7: Lead Us Not Into Temptation

The [seventh petition] is a petition respecting our weakness: “lead us not into temptation.” It teaches us that we are liable, at all times, to be led astray, and fall. It instructs us to confess our infirmity, and beseech God to hold us up, and not allow us to run into sin.

Petition 8: Deliver Us From Evil

The [eighth petition] is a petition respecting our dangers: “deliver us from evil.” We are here taught to ask God to deliver us from the evil that is in the world, the evil that is within our own hearts, and not least from the evil one, the devil. We confess that, so long as we are in the body, we are constantly seeing, hearing, and feeling the presence of evil. It is about us, and within us, and around us on every side. And we entreat Him, who alone can preserve us, to be continually delivering us from its power.