Thanksgiving Grace

“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

                                                                                                                                                1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

                A number of years ago at the Hope Centre Bible Study we were discussing the ways in which Joseph demonstrated his faith by the decisions he made and the attitude he demonstrated throughout his life.  His whole character seemed to be marked by a trusting in the providence of God.  Even as he discussed the betrayal which he had suffered at the hands of his brothers, a betrayal which had in many ways defined his life, he did so with a deep trust in God’s leading.  “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)  At its heart what Joseph demonstrated was the radical thankfulness which is at the heart of the Christian life.

                This weekend we celebrate Thanksgiving.  For one weekend we remind ourselves that we need to be thankful for all of the blessings which God has given to us.  Being Thankful is really something much deeper than this.  Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 that it is in fact the will of God for us.  It is the character which He has designed us to live in.  As Paul puts it here we are to become people who are walking into a lifestyle which is constantly joyful, prayerful, and thankful.  When it comes to the word Paul uses for thankful we find that it is defined as “properly acknowledging that God’s grace works well.  It works towards our eternal gain and His glory.  We are called to be thankful for God’s good grace.” (According to Helps Wordstudies)  Later in the verse Paul adds this provision for all of the traits he has been discussing, “for this is God’s gracious design for you.”  This is, in other words, what God has designed for you to be.  The circumstances you experience in your life are moving you towards this design.

                Joseph understood this.  He knew that God had been moving him through a lifetime of experiences towards the man he had become.  He was strong in faith, and therefore submissive to God.  In all of his circumstances Joseph was seeing God at work.  So too do we see God at work in our circumstances.  In God’s providence we find ourselves being led into the very places where we meet God in all of his graciousness.  Eventually we find ourselves responding to His leading with trusting praise because we are beginning to discover that He is in fact a trustworthy God who is displaying His matchless grace in our lives.

                Bruce Theilman in a sermon on the book of Ruth tells a story about his Mother who went through a whole series of great difficulties in her life as a young woman.  These experiences were painful but they led her to a place where she would meet a godly young man who would become Theilman’s Father.  In due time her experiences led to her conversion and marriage.  Theilman told this story to demonstrate how she was in fact walking into the purposes of God just as Ruth had done.   Years later Bruce Theilman was attempting to define expository preaching and he said this, “There is no special honor in preaching, there is only special pain.  The pulpit calls those anointed to it as the sea calls its sailors.  And like the sea, it batters and bruises and does not rest.” Such is the life of service we are called to as believers.  God is transforming us into this image of Christ.  Like Joseph we are learning to rejoice in His leading because we know that it is leading us into something wonderful.  Be continually thankful!

A Debtor To Mercy Alone

For Christs love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore, all died.  And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.  So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

                                                                                                                        2 Corinthians 5:14-17

            The Apostle Paul writing in 2 Corinthians has a long central section of the letter, from 2:14 to 7:4, in which he focuses our attention on the great central fact of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Its working is in many ways unseen, requiring us to respond to it in faith rather than by sight.  As Paul reflects upon it he brings us to wrestle with two central convictions that bring us to real faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is those two convictions that I want to highlight briefly as 2012 draws to a close, and as we look forward to 2013. 

  1. The Lord Jesus Christ, as our incarnate redeemer, died on behalf of and in the place of all men and as a consequence all men have undergone death in Him.  This substitutionary death has immense consequences of us.  On account of it not only do we die with Christ, but we are also raised in Him.  The benefit of this death and resurrection are made available to us but and they are received by us through faith which unites us with the Lord Jesus Christ.
  2. The consequence of our Lord’s great redeeming act is that we are given new resurrection life in Him.  Paul tells us that we are made into a new creation in Him if we are in fact “in Him.”

 All of this is received by faith that looks upon the Lord Jesus Christ as God in human flesh who came among us to be our mediator.  What a tremendous blessing this is.  It is all given to us based upon the mercy of God.  Such mercy leads us to worship the Lord.  There can be no other response to such great love.  As this year draws to a close, and as we look ahead to a brand new year I would encourage you to focus upon a real response of worship.  To lead us in this worship please prayerfully read the words of Augustus Toplady’s wonderful hymn “A Debtor to Mercy Alone.”  God bless each of you in 2013.

· A debtor to mercy alone,
Of covenant mercy I sing,
Nor fear, with God’s righteousness on,
My person and off’rings to bring.
The terrors of law and of God
With me can have nothing to do;
My Savior’s obedience and blood
Hide all my transgressions from view.

·  The work which His goodness began,
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is Yea and Amen,
And never was forfeited yet.
Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below or above,
Can make Him His purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from His love.

·  My name from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase;
Imprest on His heart, it remains
In marks of indelible grace.
Yes! I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is giv’n;
More happy, but not more secure,
When all earthly ties have been riv’n.”

Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/292#ixzz2GHLQqF1G

Jesus’ Crucial Question

                “Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when He found him, He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 9:35

                One of the principles which I have been following in much of my recent reflection on the Gospels is to notice and take seriously the questions which the text asks.  I believe that the Gospel writers meant for their readers to ask themselves the questions found in the text.  In John 9:35 there is a key question asked of us towards the end of the ninth chapter.  The chapter has focused upon the Lord Jesus Christ opening the eyes of a man who was born blind, and the resulting controversy and investigation that came of it.  Here we discover the power of the Lord to create functioning eyes in a man who never had them.  Sight is given at the working of the Son of God.  This is, however, also a teaching event.  To open the eyes of the blind was one of the Biblical signs of the coming of the Messiah as these passages from Isaiah tell us.

                “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of the gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 29:18

                “Then the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 35:5

                “This is what God the Lord says – He who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand.  I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Isaiah 42:5-7

                For the person who loves God and who is open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit regarding the revelation which God has given to us in His Word these passages and those like them are signposts pointing to the identity of the Son of Man.  To see these sign miracles taking place is to be brought to faith in the One that God has sent into this world in order to be its Redeemer.  This is why the question of John 9:35 is of such vital importance to us today.  “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  The title “Son of Man” is a crucial title that the Old Testament Prophets applied to the coming Messiah.  Here in John’s Gospel Jesus takes that Messianic title and appropriates it for Himself.  “You have now seen Him; in fact, He is the One speaking with you.”  The blind man, as well as the hearers of Jesus and everyone who reads John’s Gospel, are confronted with this question. 

                It is crucial for us to answer Jesus’ question.  The word believe is a present active verb meaning that it describes the continuing action of believing which takes place in the present.  Jesus is not asking whether we once believed in the past, or whether we will one day believe in the future.  He is asking whether you and I are engaged in believing right now. 

                For you today is the Lord Jesus Christ the One who has been promised in the Word of God who will come and give His life as a ransom for all of you sin?  The blind man answers that He is and then falls down and worshipped Him.  How will you respond to the Son of Man?

Reverence For God

                “Listen! The Lord is calling to the city — and to fear your Name is wisdom — “Heed the rod and the One who appointed it.””

                                                                                                                                                Micah 6:9

                George Truett used to speak about how he did the work of personal evangelism.  He would focus upon the needs of the person’s family, how they would be helped by having a Godly parent. He would remind the person that he was visiting that “your children need to have a better parent.”  In doing this Truett seems to be faithfully following the words of the Prophet Micah who brings God’s accusation against the city of Jerusalem.  Judgement is coming upon them because of certain sinful practices that they have been engaged in.  At the heart of God’s word to them is the fact that they are lacking in real reverence for God.  They are treating God’s words as if they are empty. 

                This is a foundational thought for us.  Reverence, or fear, of God is vital to living a successful life.  In the Scriptures we read this.

                                “The fool says in his heart.  There is no God.  They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 14:1

                “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.  Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.  The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.  Come my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.  Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking lies.  Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”

                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 34:8-14

                “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

                                                                                                                                                                Proverbs 1:7

                In Romans 3:10-19 the apostle Paul summarizes this teaching from the Old Testament by showing us that each of us has fallen into a hard hearted disobedience to the purposes of God for our lives.  We have not reverenced Him as we ought; therefore we have disobeyed His commands and fallen short of His standards.  It is this hard hearted “lostness” that keeps us from enjoying the blessings of God in our lives.

                Paul tells us this so that he can lead us to the free gift of redemption which we find in the Lord Jesus Christ.  What we cannot do for ourselves God has done for us in the Lord Jesus Christ.  Through faith in Him we find ourselves set right with God.

Genuine Repentance

                “But Samuel replied: “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD?  To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.  For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.  Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has rejected you as King.””

                                                                                                                                                                1 Samuel 15:22-23

                The fifteenth chapter of 1 Samuel is one of the most instructive chapters in the whole book regarding the LORD’s ways with His people.  It is concerned with the trying of King Saul, his failure to obey the LORD’s command, his justification of his actions, and finally the LORD’s judgement upon him.  Earlier, in chapter thirteen, Samuel had pronounced God’s judgement upon Saul and his future dynasty on account of his failure to obey the Prophet’s command to wait.  Now we see that judgment begin to unfold as Saul’s true nature as a rebellious man is revealed.  It some ways this is a depressing portion of God’s Word.  The Bible is a very honest book, describing in great detail our depravity and the consequences that come from it.  The point of this chapter is that just as Saul was tried, so too will we and our generation be tried.  The sinfulness of our hearts will be exposed in the trials we face in life.  There is a purpose to these trials which is to cause us to see the reality of our rebellion and to come to the LORD in genuine repentance.  That is our only hope. 

                In 2 Peter 3:9 we read, “The LORD is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness.  He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”  This is what we see here in 1 Samuel 15.  Outwardly it seems as if Saul has repented, but his heart has remained rebellious towards the LORD. When another test is given he once again failed spectacularly, and when confronted by Samuel he justified his actions rather than confessing his sin.  Finally he brought to acknowledge his sin but he does so in a way that continues his self willed rebelliousness.  The LORD requires genuine repentance which results in a person turning to the LORD in whole hearted obedience.  This is what the LORD requires, that we become people who seek His Glory first.  When we are tested by God in the circumstances of our lives it is as if God is asking us one key question.  This is, “Who are you worshipping?”

                How do we as twenty first century Christians answer God’s question?  In every generation, including this one, there are challenges and trials which serve to test the reality of our faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.  Surely this is one of the key themes of the Book of Revelation.  In that prophetic book we see the LORD confronting and testing the world.  Who are you committed to?  Who do you worship?  These are the questions God is asking us.  The answer we give determines our eternal future. 

                Today our trials confront the things which we are worshipping.  We are led into living lives which are judged successful based upon the standards of this world in which we live.  In the first five verses of the Book of Galatians the Apostle Paul describes this world as evil, using a word which defines evil as an active, aggressive force in this world which seeks to corrupt others.  It is not a passive evil, but and active one seeking to conform others in rebellion.  We are led down a road in which we seek wealth, popularity, security, fame, health, and peace based upon the teaching of worldly philosophy rather than upon the Word of God.  In Church circles so often we define success based upon these same standards.  Are we attracting a crowd to our Church or Ministry?  Do we have a growing internet presence?  Are we selling more books, or CDs?  Are we more in demand today than we were yesterday?  How often do we ask ourselves whether we are “Keeping in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:24-26)? In answering this question we find ourselves having to deal with just what it means for us to live in a way which is truly obedient to the LORD.  His ways are revealed to us in His Word.  His call is for us to turn from our sin and cast ourselves upon His grace revealed in the LORD Jesus Christ who went to the cross bearing all our sin, so that we might be reconciled to God.  What is needed is genuine repentance, seeking Christ first and humbly walking with God in Christ.

                How will you respond to the trials of your life?

I Am The Vine

                “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not remain in Me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.  This is to My Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples.  As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in My love.  If you obey My commands, you will remain in My love, just as I have obeyed My Father’s commands and remain in His love.”

                                                                                                                                                                John 15:5-10

                “Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming.  See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains.  You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

                                                                                                                                                                James 5:7-8

                This week the children return to school, and we find ourselves resuming the “busyness” of our church schedule. We find ourselves dealing with the worries and concerns of the Covid19 pandemic.  At this time of year there is always a day or two when the sheer number of things which demand our attention threatens to overwhelm us.  The temptation is to try to respond by working harder in the flesh as if the whole work of Christian mission is dependent upon us alone.  Sometimes I find myself wondering just how God accomplished His work before I came along.  Very quickly I am reminded that this way of thinking is in fact idolatry, and that I am called to repent of it right away.  It seems however to creep up on me each year at this time. 

                It is when I am wrestling with this way of thinking that I am helped by passages such as those quoted above.  Jesus tells His disciples, and us, that they, and we, can do nothing without His indwelling presence.  James calls his readers, and us, to a lifestyle of patience on account of one supreme fact.  This is that the Lord’s coming is near.  Life is to be lived, decisions made, sin repented of, in the light of the Lord’s return because it is near.  He is at the door.  This is how believers are to face each day of their lives.  Everything is changed by this one great fact. 

                For the work of ministry this means that everything needs to be done with an awareness of the Presence of the Lord.  It is His work we are engaged in.  Moses pleaded with the Lord that His Presence would go forward with the People of Israel.  Can we do any less?  James MacDonald in Vertical Church describes how people are brought to the Lord when there is a tangible awareness of His presence among us.  This, under the sovereign will of our God, is what we must be seeking as we go forward in the work we are called to.  The Church moves forward in mission as it walks with the Lord, being indwelt by His Presence.  If He is not in our work, it may be impressive, but it will be of the flesh and will ultimately accomplish nothing.

                For me this will require that I be seeking the Lord’s Presence in everything I do.  Dependent intercessory prayer is our calling.  In this praying, along with a prayerful meditation upon the Word of God, we are seeking to really know and walk with the Lord, so that He can do His work among us.  This seems to have been the heartbeat of the New Testament church.  It must be our heartbeat as well.

Evangelism

                “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  When they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.””

                                                                                                                                                Matthew 28:16-20

                Throughout the long history of the Christian Church there has always been an intense wrestling with the task of the expansion of the Christian Church.  We might call the task evangelism, or disciple making.  Some might refer to such terms as Church Growth or a missonal approach to Church life.  As we have debated, and developed our work we have had a whole variety of approaches, some better than others.  At the heart of the debate however has been a desire to see people brought into a genuine discipleship.  Hugh Halter, in his book The Tangible Kingdom points to the absolute necessity of the working of the Holy Spirit in our attempts to carry out our call to lead others to genuine faith.  A century ago a missionary writer by the name of Roland Allan touched upon the same theme in his books Missionary Methods: Ours or Saint Paul’s? And The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church.  In both Allan pointed us towards faith in the Holy Spirit as He causes us to abide in the Lord Jesus Christ as the power source for authentic expansion of the Kingdom of God.

                It seems as if our present debate is leading us back to a real wrestling with the Great Commission as it is found at the end of Matthew’s Gospel.  In Matthew 28:16-20 we encounter several helpful thoughts which push us forward in mission.  The first is that such a work is in fact the response that we make to genuine worship.  Worship requires faith.  Matthew tells us that when the Disciples met Jesus on the mountain in Galilee they worshipped Him, “but some doubted”.  What was required was faith.  We might ask however; “Faith in what?”  As Jesus delivers the commission He leads us into that faith.  What these disciples have experienced, and what we are called to believe is that the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled in His ministry the prophesy Daniel delivers which is really the promise of a coming Kingdom.  In Daniel 7:14 we read, “He was given authority, glory, and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and His kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”  Later on in Daniel 7:27 we read further that, “Then the sovereignty power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High.  His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and adore Him.”  There are many things that could be said about these verses and how we can understand them, but for our purposes here I will confine myself to these thoughts.

  1. Jesus is claiming, in Matthew 28:16-20 that this promise has been fulfilled in Him.
  2. Faith that this is so is a necessity if we are to be part of the promised kingdom.
  3. It is fulfilled in Him and in His people, who are in fact “in Him.”
  4. We abide in Him as the Holy Spirit unites us with Him.  This is one of the central doctrines of our faith.
  5. John Miller in Outgrowing the Ingrown Church describes how this became a reality for him as he gave himself without reservation to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.  Miller goes on to say that he then stepped out in faith obeying that command of the Lord even when he did not feel like it.
  6. This is what Jesus means when He tells His disciples that they are to make disciples of all nations as they are going.”  For me this means that in every place that I find myself I am called to obey my Lord’s command to make disciples of Him.
  7. This command is for all Christians.  It is not restricted to Disciples, or Apostles, or Pastors, or to those who some hired to serve.  It is for every believer.
  8. The command requires faith that recognises that as we are going, He is going with us.

In times of revival in the church I believe that we draw close to this reality.  We begin to pray and to live as those who have heard the call of the Lord to go out with this faith, courageously making disciples of the nations. 

A Certain Word

                “This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once and entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty.  I myself am going.’  And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat Him.”  This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 8:20-23

                I love the opportunity afforded to believers to be students of the Word of God.  To gather together with other believers and meditate upon the message of the Scriptures is of such great blessing to each of us.  To think that we have been given the privilege of reading, reflecting upon, and of growing in understanding of the thoughts of the Living God leads me to stop and praise that God for His great grace which has been poured out upon such creatures as us.  It is in fact a wonder that more people do not avail themselves of this great privilege. 

                These thoughts came to me as I was preparing for the Bible Study I lead each Wednesday Evening at First Baptist Church Brampton.  Currently we are focusing upon the eighth chapter of the book of the prophet Zechariah in which good and comforting words of prophesy are spoken by God through the prophet.  That these are the words of God and that He repeatedly tells us that this is what He says helps us to see that the Words spoken here are not only of great importance, so that we must listen to them, but that they are a certainty to be fulfilled.  When God speaks His Word always comes with His infinite power to fulfill what is promised.  This is not wishful thinking, it is reality. 

                The promise made here is related to the soon to be completed Temple and how it is to be made into a house of prayer for the Nations.  Many peoples and powerful nations are going to flow into Jerusalem, coming into the holy city in order to entreat the Lord Almighty.  They will find in this place a meeting place with God where they can truly pray and receive the blessing that God has promised to give through His people.  In Genesis 12 we are told that God will make Abraham into a blessing for the Nations.  This promise is being fulfilled says God through Zechariah. 

                There is more here however because Zechariah goes on to share God’s plan with us.  More than just the Temple is on view here.  As God speaks we are given a vision of a Temple that is much bigger than any earthly building.  Throughout his prophesy Zechariah has been lifting our eyes up higher to the One who will come as redeemer.  In the Words spoken here in chapter eight we again begin to see something greater, a Kingdom and a Temple which are not of this world.  Here peoples from all over the world will enter into the blessing that God promised through Abraham.  Such blessing would come through the promised seed, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Could it be that we see a small hint of this when we read the final verse of the chapter?  “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”  There are hints here that the blessing promised will come to the ten men because they have grasped hold of a Jew who is with God.  The number ten, in prophesy, is often used as a symbol for an indefinite number of people.  The one Jew could refer to the one who is in fact Emmanuel, God with us. 

                The blessing promised to the Nations is to come through an individual who will in fact be God with us.  He is the one through whom we are reconciled to God.  It is in Him that we have access to God in prayer.  To make this thought clear I want to quote from two great Christian leaders who seek to define the way in which we draw near to God.

                The first is Horatius Bonar writes on page 44 of Light and Truth: or Bible Thoughts and Themes, the Lesser Epistles (London, James Nesbit, 1883).

                                “The whole Trinity has to do with our return and reception.  The Father throws open His presence chamber; the Holy of Holies where He dwells; the Son provides the way for our restoration, by answering in His death all the ends that could have been served by our exclusion; and the Holy Spirit conducts us into the Father’s presence along the new and living way.”

                John Bunyan shouts amen to that in his Discourse on Prayer in The Works of That Eminent Servant of Christ, John Bunyan (Philadelphia: Clarke, 1863) 2:81.“Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to His Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith to the will of God.”

Bible Study Restarts

This Wednesday September 9, 2020 at 7 PM we will be restarting weekly Bible Study for the Fall. This will be done as a Zoom conference in order to make it as interactive as possible. If you would like to participate please email PastorWest@live.ca by 1 PM on Wednesday to get the access information for the Zoom meeting.