Monday, May 23, 2022

A Provoked Spirit

 "While Paul was waiting in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols." -Acts 17:16

While Paul was dropped off in Athens and waiting for his co-laborer in the ministry Silas and his son in the faith Timothy, Paul walked the great ancient city of Athens. The hub of Greek culture, the beauty of ancient temples such as the Parthenon which, by Paul's time of arrival, was already four centuries old. Athens was a city teeming with spirituality and thinking. Paul discussed truth with a variety of thinkers in the marketplace only to be viewed as a collector of little spiritual tidbits ("babbler") and a teacher of strange gods.

The bold apostle to the Gentiles stood up on Mars Hill and doesn't waste a moment. The incredibly diverse, deep thinking, yet highly suspicious throng of diverse peoples listen to Paul consider their various religions and spiritualities toward the shrine dedicated to a god unknown, a god the Athenians pay homage to out of ignorance. Paul tells them the mystery of the ages: God created all things, He is Judge, and He alone is Savior.

What led Paul to preach so boldly in front of this intimidating crowd? Paul saw the overwhelming abundance of idols in Athens and his spirit was troubled to act.

America is not a land and a singular people without religion. It is a land teeming with both major metropolises and a great diversity of religions and spiritualities. They are a suspicious people which can intimidate the church of Jesus Christ into silence. If you are silent, dear saint, I ask you to consider having your spirit provoked.

Paul didn't wait for Silas and Timothy to tell them of his Athenian tour. Paul's visit to Athens didn't go like this: "Guys, look at this city. They are so lost and sinful. These people are hopeless fools. They really need to change. They need Jesus!" Then silently tour the city until moving on. No, Paul's spirit wasn't provoked to simply diagnose the Athenians and ignore the people. His provoked spirit spoke!

Go ahead and take in the sights of America. What do you see? Does the idols of our land disturb your heart? Does the lack of worship of the beautiful Christ in your neighborhood provoke your spirit? Can you be bothered to pray for the deliverance of those wicked, idol worshipers around you? Can you be troubled to reason with them, dine with them, invite them to small group or even church? 

Recall our Savior's words in Luke 10: "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest." Pray for laborers to enter the great field of the Lord's harvest of salvation! So, they prayed. Then Jesus said, "Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves." Basically, Jesus said, "Good news guys! Your prayer has been heard by the Lord of the harvest for more workers and is now answered! It's you guys! Go into field of intimidating teems of people who will mock you and hurt you!"

I confess to you, and I am certain I'm not alone, dear reader. I am too stubborn to go without a provoked spirit. So pray. Pray, "Lord, provoke my spirit! Bother me! Trouble me! Send me into Your field!" For those ignorant fools do not know that they are spiritual and religious but ungodly, that Christ died at the right time for the ungodly. The One, True Creator of the universe is a "strange deity" in their eyes. 

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-16)

The gospel makes your feet beautifully sent as lambs among wolves to save sinners through Christ. Go, and go boldly with provoked spirit and enter the Lord's field for harvest. "For faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). Pray, then go and preach Christ and Him crucified, dear lowly saint. 

Heavenly Father, I confess my spirit is all too comfortable with the idols in the land, homes, and hearts of those around me. I confess my heart is not troubled enough to be bothered by them. Be gracious to me and provoke my spirit, o Lord. Open my lips, give me the words to say, and open their ears to the rich treasures of the word of Christ. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Gratitude is God's Will for You

 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” -I Thessalonians 5:18

What is God’s will for our local church family? Our plans may become complex webs of what we would like to see in our church. Yet, those are our own plans. What is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus? God’s will for us is not something we plan and inform God of, but rather what God desires and reveals to us.

Paul and Silas preached the good news of Christ throughout Thessalonica in Acts 17, which formed a local church that drew the attention of Rome as Jewish and Gentile converts to Christ hailed the divisive political statement, “Jesus is Lord.” Paul and Silas fled town; however, despite persecution and Paul and Silas’ absence, the church flourished. The Apostle Paul now tells the saints at Thessalonica that Christians can always be full of thanksgiving to God. This command came to a church who needed Paul’s beautiful message of Christ and the church’s glorious future hope while remaining faithful through persecution.

Paul challenges continued growth in this thriving church with this command: give thanks in all circumstances. First, you dear Christian are individually to be thankful to God at all times. “I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise will always be on my lips” (Psalm 34:1). Be thankful even if you are in exile like Daniel who gave thanks to God in private prayer three times a day (Daniel 6:10). Being thankful to God in all circumstances in our personal prayer life keeps the heart from stiffening or bitterness. In a word, the Lord keeps us humble.

God is good to remind us not only who we are as undeserving sinners, but who He is as gracious, loving, faithful Savior. O, to be reminded of His goodness and tender kindness toward me refreshes my heart prone to grow weary and stimulates a growing gratefulness to God! Such constant thanksgiving encourages my soul to maintain a peaceful, joyful posture toward both my labors and my love for His church.

Second, we as a church family are to be thankful in all circumstances together. “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:18-21).

The church in Thessalonica was a persecuted church; yet, God’s will for them in Christ Jesus was to display His greatness in receiving all things, both hardship or sunny days, freedom or imprisonment, prosperity or poverty professing God’s goodness with a cheerful heart ready to praise God for it all! A thankful church stands as a lighthouse beacon piercing the dark fog displaying God’s goodness to a dark and confused world.

The world may wonder what power fills the hearts of the church gathered to sing of God’s grace each and every Sunday full of gratitude in every circumstance. This joy and peace the world does not know remains forever elusive in the darkness, but what a warm ray of sunshine is our Savior’s mercy to us His bride the church! What a true blessing to each of our hearts and homes as God fills us with His mercies in Christ Jesus with the tremendous sound of a grateful church!

Heavenly Father, strengthen our weak hearts with gratitude. Increase our love for one another to encourage our thanksgiving in every circumstance that we may with cheerful hearts sing together the praises of our gracious God. In the name of our Savior Jesus Christ who is mighty and given full authority in heaven and on earth. Amen.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Have the Son and Have Assurance

 "Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life." –I John 5:12

 Do you know the details of Christianity to believe in? Christ is truly God and became human, suffered and died on a cross, buried, then on the third day rose again? Chances are you say, “Yes, I believe this.” Yet, there is a nagging doubt which creeps up in the Christian’s mind time and again telling us, “you know these details, but will they save you when death comes for you?”

John assures the Christian of eternal life in this: whoever has the Son has life. My righteous deeds and my strength waxes and wanes, my life is but a vapor. I cannot fix my confidence in these things to quiet my restless, anxious soul with any assurance. Rather, I must fix my confidence on eternal righteousness, strength, and life that never fails for assurance.

Martin Luther was a 16th Century monk plagued with doubts and troubles of the soul when he fixed his confidence on himself. Luther pursued the monastic life with an exhausting, self-deprecating attempt at holiness before a perfectly holy God. Lacking assurance of salvation, with anguish in the soul viewing God as a tyrant to demand such perfection, Luther discovered the Greek verse of Romans 1:17, “in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” Faith, that is, in Christ.

Christ obeyed the Father even to the point of death, and He is eternally righteous as the righteousness of God revealed. By faith you are in Christ. By faith His perfect obedience and the righteousness of God is yours as far and as long as Christ is righteous. By faith His eternal life is yours as long as Christ lives. By faith His mighty grip of His right hand holds you as long as He has strength.

Take comfort, Christian, in He who overcomes the world. Be diligent, wrote Peter, “to confirm your calling and election” with self-examination. May such an examination drive you more to Christ for assurance. This is the very reason John said he wrote these things, that those who believe in Jesus “may know that you have eternal life” (I John 5:13).

Look at Christ’s baptism when you consider your own. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). By faith in Christ you have the Son. The Father says of you, “This is My beloved Child, with whom I am well (eternally) pleased.” Take your restless, troubled soul by faith in Christ to the Father by the strength of the Holy Spirit. Take your rest there and you will find assurance of your salvation.

Heavenly Father, help us fix our confidence in Christ Your beloved Son to find assurance of Your salvation, this precious gospel, for our souls troubled by our feebleness. May such assurance of Your strength by Your eternal purposes drive us to the good works You created us in Christ Jesus for. And be glorified in Your church. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

God Laughs at the Nations' Rage

 “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” – Psalm 2:1

This Psalm views all the rulers of all the nations on earth with both rage and a strange unity in their rage. They rage because they hate God and His Messiah, or Anointed One. Humanity rages and wages war on one another, uniting in a singular cause in their passionate opposition of God. The raging nations of war devotedly seeks to break the cords from God and rule themselves. Ever since human intelligence crafted tools to make their work easier, the depraved mind of humanity sought clever ways to use it in a rage against another human being. What are nations but such a collection of such human beings, and what are rulers but ordinary sinners with a collection of tools to be used in a rage?

Such rage and such warfare is met with a riveting response by the Almighty: God laughs (verse 4).  What a laughable thing for creatures to gather in revolt to our Creator! It is utterly insane to attempt to match human rage with divine wrath, earthly war with the might of the Lord of heavenly hosts.

This Psalm promises that God’s chosen Messiah will be King on His holy hill ruling the nations. All must kiss the Son of God to have God’s wrath turned away, for “blessed are all who take refuge in [the Son]” (verse 12). The Psalmists warns kings and rulers of earth to “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice with trembling” (verse 11).

Christian, today’s headlines are frightening. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine again meets east and west as the nations continue to rage. A people who simply desired to live in freedom from communism now must defend their land from superior firepower. To laugh at Putin’s rage seems wildly inappropriate. Yet, our heavenly Father laughs. Psalm 2 is not making light of momentary but intense afflictions. On the contrary, God’s laughter leads to the Son of God being a man of sorrows acquainted with grief and carrying our burdens. This is how the wrath of God turns away from sinful humanity: having love for the Son of God who is our rightful King, and serving Him with fear and trembling.

My personal reading lately has been I Peter. “In this you rejoice,” wrote Peter, “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials” (I Peter 1:6). In what do we rejoice? There is a coming Kingdom that does not rage, a coming King who is our everlasting Prince of Peace. “Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (I Peter1:8). Our inexpressible joy is looking forward, even when the pain is intense now.

The nations who rage now have a coming Deliverer, Christian. He is coming with the clouds to cease all war on earth (Psalm 46:9). Beloved child of the Lord most high, do not fear the raging nations with trembling. Have a trembling fear of God who laughs at the raging nations. A healthy fear of God dismisses all earthly fears including war. Pray God to come and vanquish His enemies, which He will fully and finally do in the coming of Jesus. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess He is Lord.

Heavenly Father, we confess to be frightened by the raging nations. With great pain do we cry out to You. Our hearts break for Your people both in Ukraine and in Russia. Bless them and bless us with Peter’s extraordinary vision of Your coming imperishable, undefiled, and unfading Kingdom and comfort us in this truth. Provide our hearts with Your peace and joy, o Refuge of our souls, as we wait for it with patience. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, January 3, 2022

New Year's Nearness to God

“For me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge that I may tell of all Your works.” –Psalm 73:28

The New Year is a time we think about new habits, new ideas, and new ways of improving our lives in the coming year. The great magnitude of blog posts on Bible reading plans alone reflect the craving for deeper spiritual habits. As your pastor, I strongly encourage you to find a good Bible reading plan and stick to it. Find a good rhythm for prayer time and, of course, regular Sunday attendance to be spiritually nourished by God’s ordinary means of grace.

What will make your spiritual habits more enduring and deeply satisfying is nearness to God. Notice the Psalmist is confident in this: it is good to be near God. Good! Literally, it is good to draw near to God. Good means pleasant or enjoyable. And near does not mean God is not present everywhere. Nearness is a trusting intimacy with God. By trusting, I mean by faith in Christ. In Christ, it is pleasant to intimately draw near to God.

To truly appreciate our approach to God in faith in Christ, we need to answer: who is God whom we desire to approach? He is a perfectly holy God and so fearful that even seraphim cover their faces and feet (Isaiah 6:2-3). Moses approached God and trembled with fear (Hebrews 12:21). God commands us to worship Him with fear and rejoice with trembling (Psalm 2:11). The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him (Psalm 147:11). God reveals to us that He is holy, a perfect judge with holy wrath, and He is scary beyond our overwhelmed senses of fear.

We cannot approach our holy God with any blot, any sinfulness, any wrongdoing or we would be judged according to God’s eternally holy law. Therefore, we as sinners are tempted to simply know a lot about God without truly knowing Him. We are tempted to study God without fearfully drawing near through Christ. Again, the Psalmist teaches us, it is good to draw near to God.

Does your study of God and spiritual habits draw your heart to greater affection for God? If not, all of your study of God will be a knowledge that puffs up rather than humbles you to love (I Corinthians 1:8). All of your spiritual habits such as prayer, Bible reading, and even church attendance will be reduced to a cold duty rather than a delightful treasure. You will find yourself sacrificing spiritual habits for worldly things rather than making time and sacrificing worldly things for deeply enjoyable spiritual habits drawing near to the Lord.

Beloved, look to the spiritual habits of drawing near to God as enjoyable, pleasant, good. Why? Because God is good and merciful. In Christ, every blemish of sin is cleansed and in exchange you receive the perfect righteousness of God. This wondrous spiritual truth of being reconciled to God means you can draw near to God and enjoy Him. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Delight in God is the fuel which drives us to endure and be satisfied in our spiritual habits. Such intimacy with God will prevent you from falling out of healthy spiritual habits in this New Year.

Heavenly Father, draw us nearer to You and fill our hearts with a high affection for You. Teach us to forsake worldly things in favor of habits of grace to draw near to You, treasuring our God with such delight in our time with You. Bless us by Your needed mercies. In Jesus’ name. Amen.