Thank you!

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  –Romans 1:21

Thanksgiving is part and parcel of the Christian life. Giving thanks is to be as common to the believer as breathing. As the bird flies, and the fish swims, the Christian gives thanks—or at least he ought to. If he does not, he robs God of his honor; joy and peace eludes his grasp; and continuing in this state of ingratitude may be an indication that the person is still unregenerate.

Romans 1:21 has long fascinated me. Paul connects the recognition of God with the honor that is due him, and the act of giving thanks to him. Not only that, but he then continues to say that those who refuse to do so (honor God and give thanks to him) become fools whose very cognitive function becomes futile and darkened.

The word in our English Bibles which is translated “give thanks” or “thanksgiving” comes from the same Greek word from which we get the word “Eucharist.” (Mt. 26:27; Mk. 14:23; Lk. 22:17; 1 Cor. 11:24). From very early in the history of the Church, the observing of the Lord’s Table was referred to as the Eucharist. How good and fitting it is that something so central to our faith, Communion, has the name “thanksgiving” assigned to it.

At this time of year, both at Thanksgiving and at Christmas, it is our habit to pause and give thanks to God for who he is and what he has done. However, the Apostle Paul, who was especially fond of this word (the overwhelming uses of it in the New Testament came from his pen), makes it clear that thanksgiving is not only to happen on special occasions, but at all times (Eph. 5:20; Col. 2:6-7).

Giving thanks has at least two positive results. One, it keeps us humble before God. To say “thank you” is an admission that we are not the center of the universe—that we have received something from someone else that we would not have had otherwise. Perhaps this is why Paul connects thanksgiving with honoring God. Second, it preserves and encourages our joy. When we are discontent—when we want what don’t have or have what we don’t want—we become nearsighted, unable to see beyond ourselves and our present, undesirable circumstances. IMG_1361It’s like this photo I took today. If I looked only at the ugly wires and poles, I would miss the glorious sky. Similarly, giving thanks pushes our focus beyond the immediate to the ultimate, to the eternal.

Finally, giving thanks is a choice. It is often most beneficial to practice when we don’t really feel like it. It is an exercise of faith, believing God and his promises such as Romans 8:31-32…What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Choosing to give thanks frees us from being slaves to our emotions, and brings us back to the rich truths of God’s great and gracious love for us.

–Pastor Dave

 

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Published in: | on December 17th, 2014 | Comments Off

Not just a Savior…my Savior!

“Behold here what the Gospel is, namely, a joyful sermon concerning Christ, our Saviour. Whoever preaches him rightly, preaches the Gospel of pure joy. How is it possible for man to hear of greater joy than that Christ has given to him as his own? He does not only say Christ is born, but he makes his birth our own by saying, to you a Saviour.

Therefore, the Gospel does not only teach the history concerning Christ; but it enables all who believe it to receive it as their own, which is the way the Gospel operates… Of what benefit would it be to me if Christ had been born a thousand times, and it would daily be sung into my ears in a most lovely manner, if I were never to hear that he was born for me and was to be my very own?”

(Martin Luther, “Christmas Day, Luke 2:1-14, The Story of the Birth of Jesus; and the Angel’s Song,” Complete Sermons of Martin Luther, vol. 1, p. 149.)

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Published in: | on December 14th, 2014 | Comments Off

Fighting Sin With The Majesty Of God

For nearly 350 years, believers have been encouraged to do battle against sin as they have read John Owen’s Christian classic, The Mortification of Sin. Thanks to encouragement from Tim Challies’ influential blog (www.challies.com), that audience was expanded the last few months. Tim invited people to read a given chapter each week, and then the following Thursday would provide his own summary and observations of that section, inviting others to post their reflections and applications as well.

It has been a joy to be a part of this virtual book club. Each chapter of The Mortification of Sin is filled with rich truth and practical strategies for “putting sin to death.” Chapter 12 was particularly powerful to me, as Owen encourages the reader to do battle with sin by considering the majesty and glory of God. I found this incredibly helpful! Here is the concluding paragraph of that chapter:

“Let us, then, revive the use and intendment of this consideration: Will not a due apprehension of this inconceivable greatness of God, and that infinite distance wherein we stand from him, fill the soul with a holy and awful fear of him, so as to keep it in a frame unsuited to the thriving or flourishing of any lust whatever? Let the soul be continually wonted to reverential thoughts of God’s greatness and omnipresence, and it will be much upon its watch as to any undue deportments. Consider him with whom you have to do, –even ‘our God is a consuming fire;’ and in your greatest abashments at his presence and eye, know that your very nature is too narrow to bear apprehensions suitable to his essential glory.”

 I would highly recommend the book. And if the language seems a little too archaic (it was written in 1656), a quick Amazon search will return editions that have been put into more readable, modern English.

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on December 3rd, 2014 | Comments Off

Gilded Torments

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19–21 (ESV)

The Tuesday morning men’s Bible study group is currently going through the Sermon on the Mount. We have been deeply impacted by Jesus’ words regarding money and possessions. Providentially, Jon Peirson and I have at the same time been reading the works of Cyprian, one of the great Latin church fathers of the third century. In a letter to Donatus, Cyprian has a passage that powerfully and eloquently describes the tragedy of those who make riches their god. In one place he speaks of such riches as “gilded torments.” I think it worth quoting the section at some length:

“But those, moreover, whom you consider rich . . .even in the midst of their riches those are torn to pieces by the anxiety of vague thought, lest the robber should spoil, lest the murderer should attack, lest the envy of some wealthier neighbour should become hostile, and harass them with malicious lawsuits. Such a one enjoys no security either in his food or in his sleep. In the midst of the banquet he sighs, although he drinks from a jewelled goblet; and when his luxurious bed has enfolded his body, languid with feasting, in its yielding bosom, he lies wakeful in the midst of the down; nor does he perceive, poor wretch, that these things are merely gilded torments, that he is held in bondage by his gold, and that he is the slave of his luxury and wealth rather than their master. And oh, the odious blindness of perception, and the deep darkness of senseless greed ! although he might disburden himself and get rid of the load, he rather continues to brood over his vexing wealth, –– he goes on obstinately clinging to his tormenting hoards. From him there is no liberality to dependents, no communication to the poor. And yet such people call that their own money, which they guard with jealous labour, shut up at home as if it were another’s and from which they derive no benefit either for their friends, for their children, or, in fine, for themselves. Their possession amounts to this only, that they can keep others from possessing it; and oh, what a marvellous perversion of names ! they call those things goods, which they absolutely put to none but bad uses.” (From Cyprian’s “Epistle to Donatus,” Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol V, Hendrickson Publishers, p. 279)

May Cyprian’s letter encourage us to heed the words of our Lord with even more fervency and resolve!

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on November 5th, 2014 | Comments Off

The World’s Greatest Need

a607020de01942d09cd2f57b2f37836e“The world’s greatest need is the personal holiness of Christian people.” J.I. Packer made this bold statement back in the mid-1980s, and it is no less true today. Some may argue that the world’s greatest need is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I would agree. But we cannot separate the message from the message-bearer. God, in his infinite wisdom, decided to make us his ambassadors of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5). A gospel-transformed life is the most powerful apologetic. Jesus calls his sheep, and his sheep hear his voice. The Holy Spirit draws men and women to repentance and faith in Jesus, as they hear the good news carried by the beautiful feet of those who also have heard and believed. The following is taken from Packer’s book, Keep in Step with the Spirit. I would encourage you to read it carefully, and prayerfully ask the Lord if there are areas in your life that need to be transformed by the work of his Spirit. If you enjoy these two paragraphs, pick up a copy and read the whole book!

HOLINESS OPPOSING WORLDINESS. Flooding Christian communities today is the anarchic worldliness of the post-Christian West. The gigantic corporate immoralism called “permissiveness” has broken over us like a tidal wave. Churches most closely in touch with their heritage have baled out more of the invading tide than others have been able to do, but none have been very successful here, certainly not among their younger members. Christian moral standards on the sexual, family, social, financial, commercial, and personal fronts have spectacularly broken down, and “new moralities” currently offered prove to be the old pagan immorality, traveling under various assumed names. “The place for the ship is in the sea,” said D.L. Moody, “but God help the ship if the sea gets into it.” That is an uncomfortable word to hear, for the waves of worldliness have got into the contemporary church and waterlogged it to a very damaging degree.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 4.23.12 PMChristians are called to oppose the world. But how, in this case, can that be done? Credible opposition to secular ideologies can be shown by speaking and writing, but credible opposition to unholiness can only be shown by holy living (see Ephesians 5:3-14). Ecumenical goals for the church are defined nowadays in terms of the quest for social, racial, and economic justice, but it would be far healthier if our first aim was agreed to be personal and relational holiness in every believer’s life. Much as the modern West needs the impact of Christian truth, it needs the impact of Christian holiness even more, both to demonstrate that godliness is the true humanness and to keep community life from rotting to destruction. The pursuit of holiness is thus no mere private hobby, nor merely a path for a select few, but a vital element in Christian mission strategy today. The world’s greatest need is the personal holiness of Christian people.

–Pastor Dave

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Published in: | on October 23rd, 2014 | Comments Off

“Little children, keep yourself from idols”

This is how the Apostle John closes his first letter (1 John 5:21). At first read, I would imagine most of us think of this as a command that has little to do with us. We reason that this must be some culturally loaded comment that is distant from us and the world we live in. But John’s words are as relevant for us today as they were when he first penned them. Idolatry is our besetting sin.

The quote below is from Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God. It is a reminder and a challenge to remain steadfast in the gospel, to preach the gospel to ourselves, to continue to ask how the gospel can sanctify us, and not simply to reflect on how it justified us.

“We habitually and instinctively look to other things besides God and his grace as our justification, hope, significance, and security. We believe the gospel at one level, but at deeper levels we do not. Human approval, professional success, power and influence, family and clan identity- all of these things serve as our heart’s ‘functional trust’ rather than what Christ has done, and as a result we continue to be driven to a great degree by fear, anger, and a lack of self-control. You cannot change such things through mere willpower, through learning Biblical principles and trying to carry them out. We can only change permanently as we take the gospel more deeply into our understanding and into our hearts. We must feed on the gospel, as it were, digesting it and making it part of ourselves. That is how we grow.”

What idols will tempt you this very day? This weekend? Let’s heed John’s words together in the fight of faith: “Little children, keep yourself from idols.”

–Pastor Steve

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Published in: | on October 17th, 2014 | Comments Off

Why Arguments Are So Crucial

Arguments are some of the most powerful things in all the world. By “argument” I’m not talking about heated disagreements, but reasons given to persuade us of something. A recent post at Desiring God shows us how our Enemy is relentless in attacking our thinking. I pray the article is an encouragement, and helps each of us do battle more successfully in this all-important area.

Click here to read the post, “Where Satan Will Attack You Today”

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on October 8th, 2014 | Comments Off

What People Who Are New to Your Church Want You to Know

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 4.35.54 PMImagine your family is having an open house. Perhaps it’s for a child’s graduation or sixteenth birthday. You sent out invitations to the usual friends and family, but you also invited the people who live around you in your neighborhood. You may not really know them. Perhaps you’ve only smiled and waved as you’ve passed each other on an evening walk. But you thought it would be polite to invite them. After all, they have watched your kids grow up, have seen them ride their bikes in the neighborhood, and have had innumerable balls and toys land in their yard after a big hit or an errant throw.

Yet when the day arrives, and folks start to show up, something strange happens. While you and your friends and family are standing around the dining room table, chatting and grazing on the hors d’oeuvres, a neighbor walks in the door. No one says hello, or even acknowledges the presence of the visitor. The visitor enters, curiously looks around, sits on the sofa for a while, and, after several awkward minutes of looking at his shoe laces, slips out the door.

Of course that would never happen. When we have guests in our home, we make them feel welcome, wanted, and “at home.” Sadly, often in many Christian churches–yes, even SGCC at times–guests show up and are not welcomed. They feel like outsiders crashing someone else’s party.

So, while we see the silliness of opening our own home to visitors, and then not greeting them when they arrive, somehow we don’t make the connection to our church home. It’s easy to do. We are busy talking to our friends. Maybe we’re catching up and it’s the only time we get to see each other all week. And it’s easy to assume that someone else will greet the visitor. Maybe you’re not good at small talk, and it makes you feel uncomfortable. Yet, while these may be reasons, I don’t think they are excuses. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to do to others as we would have them do to us.

Pastor Greg recently shared with the staff a blog post called “What People Who Are New to Your Church Want You to Know.” You may have seen it in last week’s Connection. I think it’s a good reminder, so I wanted to pass it along again.

–Pastor Dave

 

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Published in: | on September 18th, 2014 | Comments Off

A Trip Down Memory (Church History!) Lane

Hippolytus was one of the great Church Fathers of the early third century. His influences can be traced directly back to the Apostle John: Hippolytus was a disciple of Irenaeus, who was a hippolytus-of-romedisciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of John. He is a towering figure, and we are blessed to have a good sampling of his writings preserved for us (the most important being his “Refutation of All Heresies” – a tour de force in which he describes and destroys the major false teachings of his day).

Jon Peirson and I have been reading the works of this amazing saint and discussing them together. What an encouragement that has been! Hippolytus did not get everything right–for example, some of his interpretations of Old Testament passages have too great an emphasis on finding symbolic meanings. But his love for the glory of God and the gospel of Christ are so evident, and his insights continue to have great relevance. It has especially been striking to both Jon and myself to see how clearly Hippolytus and the other Church Fathers articulated Scriptures’ teaching on the deity and incarnation of Christ at such an early date. The popular misconception that these doctrines were “created” by the Church centuries later for political purposes simply will not stand up to the mountain of evidence we have from these giants of Christian history.

As twenty-first century believers, we have a rich heritage that stretches back two millennia. It is good for us to “come up for air” from time to time and move beyond our daily routines to reflect on what God has done in and through the Church since her inception. Indeed the gates of hell will not prevail against her! Church history can build our faith, sharpen our understanding of the Scriptures, grow our commitment to the body of Christ, increase our desire to see the Gospel go to all nations, and so much more.

If you desire to grow in your understanding of Church history, let me make two simple suggestions. One suggestion is to visit our Church Library. We have some of the best books available on the subject. (You can find the writings of Hippolytus there in volume five of the Ante-Nicene Fathers series). The other is to be a part of the ten-week class Jon will begin teaching in the Veritas class this Sunday. You will come away with a solid understanding of what God has been accomplishing in his Church the last two thousand years, and I believe you will find your personal walk with Christ enriched in the process.

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on September 10th, 2014 | Comments Off

Real Hope

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. – 1 Peter 3:14-16

When Peter gave this charge, it was not in the context of an evangelism seminar; it was in the context of a letter written to encourage saints who have experienced great suffering. Peter’s audience was suffering because they were Christians, and he exhorts them not to be afraid of their persecutors. Rather, they are to honor Christ the Lord as holy. In other words, Jesus is the only one to be feared, and as they do so, they should expect opportunities to make a defense to anyone who asks [them] for a reason for the hope that is in [them].

People want hope. Suffering is a universal issue. The longer we live, the more acquainted we become with the unwanted visitor of pain. How does one endure suffering? Is it possible to pass through suffering with joy? With peace? As followers of Jesus Christ, we have an unshakable hope in the one who is Lord of all. He is the sovereign ruler over all creation. And because he does all things for his glory and for our good, he is trustworthy. Of course, the tricky thing about trust is, we usually have to exercise it when we don’t know what the outcome is going to be.

Sadly, too often as Christians we are ashamed of this message of hope. Not wanting to offend, or not wanting to appear simple-minded or simplistic, we try to offer some kind of hybrid hope; a strange mixture of worldly wisdom with a dash of Scripture, which somehow we think will make it taste like godly counsel, but not be too strong for the palate of our non-Christian friend.

In so doing, we lose the actual message we were entrusted with, the only message that gives true and lasting hope. Should we then be surprised when the world rejects godly council because they feel like they’ve tried it and were left wanting? Strong medicine is effective, but it often tastes bitter and is unpleasant until it accomplishes its designed result.

In the book Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands, Paul David Tripp puts it this way:

As sinners, we have a natural bent to turn away from the Creator to serve the creation. We turn away from hope in a Person to hope in systems, ideas, people, or possessions. Real Hope stares us in the face, but we do not see him. Instead, we dig into the mound of human ideas to extract a tiny shard of insight. We tell ourselves that we have finally found the key, the thing that will make a difference. We act on the insight and embrace the delusion of lasting personal change. But before long, disappointment returns. The change was temporary and cosmetic, failing to penetrate the heart of the problem. So, we go back to the mound again, determined this time to dig in the right place. Eureka! We find another shard of insight, seemingly more profound than before. We take it home, study it, and put it into practice. But we always end up in the same place.

The good news confronts us with the reality that heart-changing help will never be found in the mound. It will only be found in the Man, Christ Jesus. We must not offer people a system of redemption, a set of insights and principles. We offer people a Redeemer. In his power, we find the hope and help we need to defeat the most powerful enemies. Hope rests in the grace of the Redeemer, the only real means of lasting change.

Jesus is our hope, and the only hope for a lost world.

 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. – Romans 1:16

–Pastor Dave

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Published in: | on August 28th, 2014 | Comments Off