Robert Murray M’Cheyne was a 19th century preacher in the Scottish Church. I recently read part of one of his sermons in which he reminded his congregation that our time on this earth is short and that very soon other people would sit in the pews they were occupying and another man would preach from the pulpit he used. For M’Cheyne that turned out to be very true. He died from typhoid fever at the age of 29.
I think that, among all the problems besetting the Church in the 21st century, one of the most glaring is the lack of preaching emphasis on our short life spans in this world. Too many preachers are bowing to the wishes of too many parishioners for upbeat messages about how God wants them to have a great life here on earth, how He wants to be our pal and help us out. Too many people want to hear that they are just fine the way they are and go home after singing a bunch of so-called praise songs, patting themselves on the back for being good people who just gave God an hour of their life.
How many people, I wonder, sit through church services without being told they are sinners who deserve eternal damnation but, through God’s mercy, their lives will be spared because of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ for the sins of the elect. Or maybe the words are use but the emphasis isn’t there. Friends the exit door from this world is right in front of everyone of us and sooner rather than later we will all pass through that portal. There is not time for us to fool around. There is not time–no there is not time. We stand on the very edge of eternity. There is no more time to waste.
The early Church Father Irenaeus wrote a book with the same title as this blog post. The heresies which most concerned him were various forms of Gnosticism which were plaguing the 2nd century Church. Gnostic teachers tried to use Christianity as a way of spreading their rather outlandish teachings. They tried to appropriate Jesus and insert Him into their fanciful visions of divine history. Every now and then we read of some academic with a burning need to publish something trying to say that those heretics were really a legitimate version of Christianity.
What fascinates me is the way in which all sorts of old heresies keep raising their ugly heads in the Church. The old Arian heresy that led to the formulation of the Nicene Creed by the Church is still floating around in the form of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who might ring your doorbell this evening. Another modern version of an old heresy was raised up a couple of years ago by some well known evangelical theologians who began to argue that Jesus was eternally subordinate to the Father. In other words, Jesus might be God but He isn’t as fully God as is the Father. And who knows where their speculations would take them with regard to the status of the Holy Spirit? And then there is all sort of heresy being sown in Pentecostal circles, including the idea that the Holy Spirit is not equal to the Father and the Son. (A good reference on this is John MacArthur’s book Strange Fire) And let us also note here the Unitarianism that is really the undercurrent among many liberal theological speculations.
Yes, there are always heresies troubling the Church of Jesus Christ. And we need to be quite candid about why that is so–Satan tempts sinners within the Church. He holds before them the illusion that they have more insight into God’s ways than those who went before them. It is a conceit rife in our society, that we moderns are more knowledgeable and even more intelligent than our ancestors. What the modern heretics ignore, however, is the work of the Holy Spirit inspiring the Church to come to a knowledge of the Truth. A knowledge which has been shared down through the centuries. We find the Truth in the Word of God and in the Ecumenical creeds which summarize the one true faith.
If you doubt the Word of God recorded in the 66 books of the Bible or if you cannot speak the Creeds without any dishonesty, friend–you are a heretic. And that is not a good things to be.
However, since heresies are the creations of the minds of men, we can indeed return to the true faith by spending our time immersed in the Word of God and allowing Him to guide us past the rocks and shoals our sinful minds erect to keep us from the submission we owe to the Creator, Redeemer and Comforter who is the true object of our worship.
What makes you get out of bed in the morning? (please don’t say the alarm clock, you know what I mean). Seriously, why bother to get up and face this world we live in? Well, I think there are some pretty good reasons.
First, we get up because God exists. Simple as that sounds, it’s profoundly true. If God didn’t exist, neither would we. But for any agnostics out there, if God didn’t exist there would be no reason to get up and go out into a world which would so very often give us pain. If God didn’t exist, why would we want to go through all the terrible things that happen in our lives, knowing that we were just animated carbon on our way to being inanimate carbon and that ultimately there was no meaning to life? If I didn’t believe in God I would have killed myself long ago.
Second, we get up because God has given us a new day. It’s unfortunate that we so seldom recognize that important fact. God, who holds all existence in the palm of His hand, who wills everything’s existence, has chosen to give us another day here on the 3rd planet from a minor star in a corner of the universe (okay, so the universe doesn’t have corners–you still know what I mean) We are here today because God wants us to be here. And with the new day come new opportunities to do the work He prepared for us before the beginning of time.
Third, we get up in the morning because we have sure and certain hope in our future and we have that hope because Jesus Christ died upon the Cross, enduring the punishment we deserve for the sin that clings so stubbornly to us, and He rose from the dead on the 3rd day that death might be forever defeated for His chosen people.
Finally, we get up in the morning because we just might meet someone today who needs to hear the Gospel and that there might be joy in heaven.
Go in peace and serve the Lord.
In my last post I spoke of sin, the evil that clings to us, that deforms us, that makes us unacceptable to God. Sin is always our attempt to be a god and to put ourselves in the place of the true God.
Now many people don’t think of themselves as sinners anymore. In fact, many people seem not to even believe in sin because they don’t believe there is any standard or rule that is valid at all times and in all places. It’s a terrible situation because no one can come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ without realizing first that they are sinners and second, that they can do nothing about that situation on their own, but must have a Savior to bring them back from the rim of hell.
When someone becomes aware of their sinfulness they will do one of two things–they will revel in it, or they will repent of their condition. This post isn’t about the first group, but about the second. What really is repentance and what place does it hold in the life of a saved saint of God?
First we have to consider whether or not we have the capacity to repent on our own. The answer is no, we don’t. We will not, indeed we cannot truly repent unless the Holy Spirit has worked that repentance in our hearts. When we are confronted by God’s perfect Law, the Holy Spirit will pierce our hearts with the certainty that we have not kept it. So without the work of the Spirit we cannot know ourselves to be sinners. And since not everyone knows themselves to be a sinner, then we can know that the Spirit does not touch the hearts of all people.
Yet even when we come to know ourselves to be sinners we cannot be said to have repented. Only after we have stopped trying to play at god-ness can that be true. In other words, if we continue to try to make things right with God on our own, then we have yet to repent. If we try to work really, really hard at keeping all of the Commandments, trusting in our own power and will, then repentance is not yet in us. It is only after we fail in our attempts to be holy and righteous and turn instead to Christ that we can be said to have truly repented. Only when we recognize that righteousness is not ours but His and that it is imputed to us, only then can we be said to be repentant sinners, saved by the blood of the Lamb.
When we are told to repent we are told nothing except to place our full and complete trust in Christ and in His substitutionary work on our behalf. Even repentance is not about us–it is, as all good things are, only about Him.
First I want to apologize. It’s been some time since I posted any thoughts on this blog. I could make up all sorts of excuses–some of them might even be true. But that won’t change anything and it won’t edify anyone, so I’ll just be content to say I’m sorry.
Now it’s not a sin to fail to post a blog entry–I don’t find any mention of such things in Scripture. Still, we too often respond to our sins in much the same way. “I’m sorry, but is that really a sin?” “I wasn’t thinking.” “Everyone else does it so I don’t see why I can’t do it.” And the ever popular, “I made a mistake” followed by its brother–“I won’t do it again.”
Yes we can come up with all sorts of excuses for our sins, but that doesn’t make them any the less sin. And I don’t care what your excuse is, God isn’t buying it. You see sin isn’t just a bad decision or a misstep which can be overlooked. Sin is an affront to God and His Holiness. Few of us would ever think of wearing muddy boots in the house, soiling the carpets and the floors. Nor would we wear those boots under the sheets in our beds. But we think nothing of walking about with our bodies reeking with the smell of sin. My mother used a phrase when I would get too full of myself–she’d say “self praise stinks.” Well self praise might stink a bit but sin has an odor utterly disgusting to God. And He will not tolerate sinner in His holy presence
Over the years many people have tried to overcome the sin in their lives. Every one of them has failed and they’ve failed because we can’t overcome sin, it is too much a part of our being. We don’t just commit sins–we are sinful because we are human. And the harder we work to please God and erase the stink of sin, the worse our sin gets because our very efforts are based on the sinful idea that we can become holy on our own. And we can’t do that.
God, however, is not simply holy and just, He is also gracious and loving. And so from the very beginning of time He began the process of bringing sinners back into His fold. We could not bear the punishment which would erase our sins, so Jesus, the Son of God, very God of very God, came amongst us and bore our punishment for us. As St. Paul says it, He became sin for us. And so now those who follow the Lord Jesus can be at peace because our sins are forgiven and when God forgives, He forgets. Not only are we not punished for our sins, He has willed Himself to forget them all for the sake of His Son.
I just have to say–that’s really good news!
Today I began preparing for Reformation Sunday. Some of you might be saying “what’s that?”. Well, it’s the Sunday closest to October 31st, the 499th anniversary of the day Martin Luther began the Reformation by nailing 95 Theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenburg. It always amazes me how many Protestant Christians know next to nothing about the Reformation. After all, it’s the most important religious event of the last 1000 years. But then again we live in a country where most people probably can’t tell you who was president in the year they were born, must less what happened in Germany 5 centuries ago. (I know, I’m being smarmy, but it’s been that kind of day)
Still, for Lutherans at least, this is an important day, a day when we remember and celebrate the movement God began to reform His Church after many years of drifting away from it’s Biblical moorings. We’re going to sing Salvation Unto Us Has Come and A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. We’re going to hear words about how God frees us from bondage to sin through Christ alone without any of the works of the Law. We’re going to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. We’re going to be blessed spiritually by worship, emotionally by the fellowship of other Christians and physically as we share a wonderful meal after the service.
So I’m busy preparing for that special Sunday service. I generally begin my sermon preparation on Tuesday by reviewing the texts and looking through commentaries and trying to get a fix on what aspect of God’s Word I will try to highlight that Sunday. I expect to write the sermon on Friday. In between, I expect to be in prayer about the words I will preach, that they will be true to the Word we have been given.
Now I know pastors spend more time thinking about such things than do most lay people. But truly everyone should spend time every week preparing themselves for worship. Everyone should seek to know themselves better and know their neediness even more every day. So when we come into the sanctuary we are truly ready to commit ourselves wholly and completely to God.
It’s way too easy to assume that worship is something you do for an hour or an hour and a half each week. Truly, though, worship is to be part of our everyday lives. We are to prepare ourselves for our time of worship with our brothers and sisters in Christ by worshiping each day. Preparing our hearts and minds for the proper reception of God’s gifts in the means of grace is part of the life of all who call upon the Name above every name–Jesus the Christ.
In the Gospel of Mark we find Jesus in discussion with the Sadducees about the resurrection. That particular Jewish sect didn’t believe in the resurrection, accepting only the Pentateuch as Scripture. So they came to the Lord with a challenge involving 7 brothers who had married the same woman after her former husband had died. Whose wife would this woman be at the resurrection was the question asked of Jesus.
The Lord defeated their attempt to confound Him by telling them that they didn’t know the Scriptures and so were unable to understand what the resurrection life would be like. I think that’s a good warning to you and me also. Most of those reading this post don’t doubt the reality of the resurrection–that’s not the lesson we can draw from here. But most Christians have an imperfect knowledge of the Word of God as found in the Bible. Consequently we can occasionally find ourselves saying or doing things that are contrary to God’s Word.
For example, God is very clear about the damage that can be done by idle gossip about someone. And yet there are few of us who do not regularly engage in gossip. God is also very clear about His care and concern for the least, the last and the lost amongst us. And there is nothing in His Word that would divided the poor in this world into the categories “deserving” and “undeserving.” Yet how often we do just that very thing, saying there are people we should help and people we should not. And then there’s war. Our nation has been engaged in some form of war of another for most of my life. Yet we claim to serve a Lord who told us to turn the other cheek. We bow before a God who told us that we are to trust not in weapons but in the Name of the Lord our God for our security.
Friends, I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anyone that many of the generations who came before us had a far better grasp of Scripture than do the ones alive today. They still failed to live perfectly, but I suspect they knew they were failing and weren’t fooling themselves into thinking everything was good between them and God.
There’s really only one way to rectify this problem–study the Word of God. Read it for yourself. Study it in conjunction with other Christians. Don’t skip quickly pass the parts that challenge you or that are hard to understand. God wants us to know the easy to accept parts and the hard to understand parts. The Bible has been rightly called God’s love letter to the Church. And so it is. I’m going to end by quoting a song by Cary Landry.
Great things happen when God mixes with us, great and beautiful, wonderful things, great things happen when God mixes with us. Some find hope, some find peace, some people even find joy. Some see things that they never saw before and some people find that they must now begin to change. Great things happen when God mixes with us.
And He mixes with us in Word He has given us in the Bible.