The Shrug That Scares Me to Death

This past Sunday, Pastor Steve preached from Daniel chapter nine. In it, we see an amazing prayer by Daniel, crying out to God on behalf of his people. Daniel identifies himself with the sins of the children of Israel and pleads to God for mercy, and for God–for the sake of his own name–to turn and bless his people. He prays, “make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate.” If you missed it, I’d encourage you to catch it online.

Then yesterday, while scanning through my Facebook newsfeed, this Gospel Coalition post from Trevin Wax caught my eye. At first I was drawn in as the picture is from one of my favorite movies, Life is Beautiful. Then as I read it, I thought I needed to pass it along. Let us pray to the Lord for our nation, as Daniel prayed for his. Perhaps God, in his great mercy, might grant us repentance that leads to life.

91-Life-Is-Beautiful-1997

–Pastor Dave

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Published in: | on August 26th, 2015 | Comments Off

Are You Persecuted?

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim. 3:12 (ESV)

“If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” 1 Pet. 4:14  (ESV)

The persecution of believers has been in the national news recently. Very often such accounts have gone unreported in the past, but with such developments as the ascendency of ISIS and recent Supreme Court rulings, the secular media has been picking up these stories with increasing frequency.

Perhaps you have compared your own life with that of those in these news reports, and wonder if there is any sense in which you are personally being persecuted. I found the following article from Desiring God to provide helpful perspective:

You Will Be Persecuted With Words

May we persevere for the sake of the Gospel!

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on August 12th, 2015 | Comments Off

…you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I originally posted this back in January of 2014. In light of the recent undercover videos showing the heinous practices of Planned Parenthood, I thought it would be appropriate to repost it today. There is an unspeakably evil practice in our land, that has become viewed as the norm and unchangeable. As the people of God, we must pray and work for an end to this evil, and pray for God’s mercy upon our country.

–Pastor Dave

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;male and female he created them.– Genesis 1:27

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them. – Psalm 139: 13-16

 

tophetWhen I visited Tunisia in the Fall of 2010, one of the places our group visited was ancient Carthage. Carthage was one of the most powerful and prosperous nations in ancient history, until they were finally defeated by the Romans. The Carthaginians were seafaring, adventurous types who originated from Phoenicia, modern day Lebanon. When they settled and eventually made their kingdom in Carthage, near Tunis, they established a center for the pagan worship they brought with them. This heinous form of worship involved the sacrifice of children. In the Old Testament, Israel was warned not to take part in this type of gross idolatry. Sadly, the Israelites abandoned the God who had loved and chosen them, and had blessed them by delivering them from bondage in Egypt in order to dwell in the land of promise. If you visit ancient Carthage today, you will see scores of small monuments and ossuaries, silently and hauntingly marking the place where an innocent life was snuffed out in the fires of depraved worship. These markers are called Tophets.

Today in America, 40 million lives are snuffed out each year, through abortion. While we do not bow to idols of Baal or Ashera, we must confess that we as Americans are a deeply idolatrous people. We have rejected God, and as Paul states in Romans 1, we have worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator. In America we have fashioned a god in our own image. Man is the center of our worship. We live to serve and to please self. In this way, the atrocity of abortion is our Tophet. Children are sacrificed on the altar of self-worship. A life created in the image of God, is violently ended, so that another may not be inconvenienced.

What do we as Christians do? One danger of living in a culture that has legalized murder for over 40 years now, is to accept it as normal. This we must not do. The following are just a few suggestions.

First, live as God’s people.

Like the Israelites in the Old Testament, we must be different. We must prize life. We must reject first that life originates from anything other that the Almighty God. Human life, whether young or old, born or unborn, healthy or sick, is a creation of God and bears His image. We must teach this to our children, and we must live this out daily as we seek to not only love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, but also our neighbor as ourselves.

Second, pray as God’s people.

It would be appropriate to cry out to God like Isaiah, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” When Isaiah saw the holiness of God, he immediately recognized his own sin and unworthiness. He didn’t see himself as any more worthy to be in the presence of the Almighty than the idolatrous Israelites. This type of humility before our holy God, causes us to call out for mercy and grace. And, our hearts are filled with awe and gratitude beyond measure when we consider that God would choose to save us.

Pray for your own heart, and your own holiness. We cannot expect of others what we do not expect of ourselves. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. – Ephesians 4:20-24

Pray for Christ’s Church in America, that we would be holy and pure, salt and light, bringing praise and honor to our Savior.

Pray for our nation, that God would grant repentance leading to life. The manifestations of idolatry that we swim in everyday in America, are simply the overflow of hearts that are dead in sin, and in need of salvation. No election, no campaign, no legislation, can bring life to a dead heart. Only the gospel implanted in a heart made ready by the prompting of the Holy Spirit will bring life and transformation that manifests the author of life.

Pray for God’s leading for practical ways to demonstrate a life committed to the truth that all life is sacred. This will be as various as the varied gifts that God supplies. Some may choose to adopt a child. Others may serve at a crisis pregnancy clinic, or visit a shut-in. Another may help a teen mom graduate from high school, or reach out to a woman who is struggling with the guilt and remorse of an abortion in her past. While we pray and wait for the day when abortion no longer plagues our land, we can honor life today.

Third, proclaim the life-changing message of Jesus. We are not committed to moralism. We have no interest in making 21st century Pharisees who look good on the outside, but on the inside have no heart for God. The gospel explains the truth of our ultimate reality, namely, that apart from Christ we are sinners without hope and objects of the wrath of God. But, to as many as received him, he gave the right to become children of God. – John 1:12

The New Testament church did not live in a culture that was supportive or encouraging to its values. The culture in the 1st century Mediterranean world was immoral, idolatrous, and often violently opposed to Christianity. Yet our older brothers and sisters in Christ counted the cost. They were not trying to transform culture, they were trying to live lives obedient to their Master. So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” – Luke 17:10

–Pastor Dave

 

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Published in: | on July 30th, 2015 | Comments Off

The Grand Assumption

 

scales-of-justice-450198_1280The mood was somber. The judge tried to be friendly, even humorous, but you really can’t shake the austere and cold feeling of a courtroom. I was doing my civic duty. Jury duty. I was there with forty-four complete strangers, listening to various questions and instructions to determine which twelve of us (and two alternates) were to be the chosen ones. As number forty-five of forty-five, I knew my chances were slim. But I still had to go through the process like everyone else.

Participating in jury duty is a rich opportunity to observe human nature. I was fascinated by the cross-section of our population represented in the room. There was a wide range of ethnicities and ages. There were students, nurses, doctors, homemakers, administrators, and construction workers. Some were recent immigrants whose language proficiency eliminated them from the panel. Yet, ironically, the judge too was foreign-born and had earned not only the right to become a citizen, but also to sit in judgment of her fellow citizens according to the law of their adopted land.

As I sat, listening to the judge and the two attorneys questioning my fellow potential jurors, I was struck by what I call “the grand assumption.” Everyone in the courtroom — and in every other courtroom at the Alhambra Courthouse, and indeed every courtroom in this land — was operating under this same “grand assumption.” You may call it “fairness” or “justice,” but we all have it. The jurors were being tested to see if they would indeed do what was right, regardless of their individual biases. This was a criminal case, and we were instructed that our justice system operates under a “presumption of innocence”; that is, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. So, if it was suspected that a potential juror could not be fair, he or she was dismissed. (I presume that many were dismissed for other reasons as well, but that gets us into the nuances of jury selection that are beyond the scope of this article.)

As I sat in my well-padded seat, observing this uniquely American experience, I couldn’t help but hear the voice of C.S. Lewis in my head. In his book Mere Christianity, he discusses the importance of this “grand assumption,” which he calls “natural law.” This law of human nature, he argues, exists in every human being, and is an evidence for the existence of God. Why is it that we know we should do the right thing? Why is it wrong to take something that belongs to someone else? We don’t always do the right thing, in fact we very often do not, but we know we should, and we know that others should as well.

Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kinds of things they say. They say things like this: “How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?”—“That’s my seat, I was there first”—“Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm”—“Why should you shove in first?”—“Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine”—“Come on, you promised.” People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown ups…Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behavior does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about… These, then are the two points I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 17 & 21)

Some may disagree with the idea of the grand assumption, or natural law. To prove their point they may cite the recent Supreme Court decision concerning homosexual marriage, and say, “See, here is a clear example where people disagree over what they think is right and wrong.” Yes, there is a disagreement, but it may be that one side is right and the other wrong. Regardless, each side is still trying to hold the other to an assumed standard of fairness. All things being equal, both sides are demanding what is fair. The rub comes because one side—the traditional (and biblical) view of marriage side—would say, “All things are not equal. Therefore it is fair.”

The Apostle Paul said it best in Romans chapter one. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:20). This grand assumption is in the heart of every man, because God put it there. It is a silent testimony to the God who made him. Fairness, justice, righteousness are right and are to be observed because God is fair, just, and right in his divine nature. Paul will go on in the same chapter to describe how man can deny this truth, he can bend it, bury it, exchange it, and it actually will twist the way the man thinks, but it is not the way it is meant to be.

The fingerprints of God can be found all around us. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psalm 19:1). Even in jury duty, one can see the divine nature of God. Graciously, God has made himself known not only generally in things like creation and conscience, but also specifically in the Bible, and most completely in his Son Jesus Christ. Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs (Hebrews 1:1-4).

–Pastor Dave

 

 

 

 

 

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Published in: | on July 15th, 2015 | Comments Off

Praying Before Meals

cheeseburger-521240_1280Do you pray before meals? If so, why? The following article provides much food for thought–sorry for the pun! It is written by Donald Whitney, author of Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life (an outstanding book we have used in our Bible Institute at SGCC).

Here’s the article: “No, I Won’t Bless the Food.”

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on June 18th, 2015 | Comments Off

I Want to See Jesus

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 3.45.28 PMI’ve recently begun re-reading R.C. Sproul’s book Knowing Scripture. Actually, a friend and I are going through it together. I’m only through the first chapter, but already I have been greatly challenged and encouraged.

In chapter one, Sproul lays out reasons why we don’t study our Bibles, and reasons why we should. One of his arguments for why we don’t study is that the church has been infected by the culture in that we find it very difficult to do things that we don’t feel like doing. He calls this infection, “The Sensuous Christian.” Here are a few nuggets to whet your appetite…

“Many of us have become sensuous Christians, living by our feelings rather than through our understanding of the Word of God. Sensuous Christians cannot be moved to service, prayer or study unless they ‘feel like it.’ Their Christian life is only as effective as the intensity of present feelings.” (p. 31)

“Sensuous Christians don’t need to study the Word of God because they already know the will of God by their feelings. They don’t want to know God; they want to experience him.” (p. 31)

“The highest law of sensuous Christians is that bad feelings must be avoided at all cost.” (p. 32)

“The Christian life is not to be a life of bare conjecture or cold rationalism but one of vibrant passion. Strong feelings of joy, love and exaltation are called for again and again. But those passionate feelings are a response to what we understand with our minds to be true.” (p. 32)

“Reflect for a moment. What happens in your own life when you act according to what you feel like doing rather than what you know and understand God says you should do? Here we encounter the ruthless reality of the difference between happiness and pleasure…happiness and pleasure are not the same thing. Both of them feel good, but only one endures. Sin can bring pleasure, but never happiness. ” (p. 33)

“It is precisely at the point of discerning the difference between pleasure and happiness that knowledge of Scripture is so vital. There is a remarkable relationship between God’s will and human happiness. The fundamental deception of Satan is the lie that obedience can never bring happiness.” (p. 33)

“The secret to happiness is found in obedience to God. How can we be happy if we are not obedient? How can we be obedient if we do not know what it is we are to obey? Thus the top and the tail of it is that happiness cannot be fully discovered as long as we remain ignorant of God’s Word.” (p. 34-35)

“To be sure, knowledge of God’s Word does not guarantee that we will do what it says, but at least we will know what we are supposed to be doing in our quest for human fulfillment. The issue of faith is not so much whether we believe in God, but whether we believe the God we believe in.” (p. 35)

Reading through chapter one, a familiar verse of Scripture that I learned as a young adult came to mind. It’s a verse that I frequently find myself drawn back to again and again, John 14:21…“Whoever has my commands and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” This verse is found in the passage where Jesus is speaking to his disciples about the Holy Spirit who is to come, and who will be another Helper like himself.

In this potent verse, I’m struck by several things that Jesus said. First, Jesus defines what it means to really love him, namely, to know and obey his commandments. Second, Jesus gives a promise to those who do so…himself! Can we ask for anything more that to have Jesus, to know him, to have him manifest himself to us? How often do we hear Christians—perhaps ourselves as well—earnestly say “Oh, if only I could see Jesus. Then I would love him. Then I would obey him.” Here Jesus says in effect, “Do you love me? Do you want to see me? Then obey me.”

This then leads us back to what Sproul seeks to prove in his book; if we want to know and obey Jesus, we must know him accurately, for who he truly is. How do we gain this knowledge? Through Knowing Scripture.

–Pastor Dave

 

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Published in: | on June 3rd, 2015 | Comments Off

Thinking Through Tech

Technology is an ever-changing target.  It seems that as soon as the latest iPhone or Samsung is officially placed on sale, rumors of the next one are already in the press. We easily acknowledge that this technology has immense potential for both great evil and great good, and have probably experienced a bit of both. But how do we as adults teach ourselves and the younger generations about the pitfalls of the technology that most of them have in their pockets?  Here are two very helpful articles from Tim Challies and Doug Wilson on that very topic.  I highly encourage everyone to take a look.

Letter to Teens Unboxing Their First Smartphone

Push Function Quit

–Geoff

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Published in: | on May 29th, 2015 | Comments Off

Dealing With Gossip

For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and they you may find me not as you wish–that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” 2 Corinthians 12:20 (ESV)

gossipOur culture downplays the seriousness of gossip, and often seems to ignore its destructive power. But the Scriptures candidly address all aspects of our speech–including gossip. I recently read a helpful post that offered suggestions for dealing with this issue. I pray it is of benefit.

How To Shut Down Gossip (link)

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on May 20th, 2015 | Comments Off

To this end we always pray for you…

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 11.49.58 AMThis last Sunday, we looked at 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12. The Apostle Paul, after having planted the church in Thessalonica, is quickly taken away. Eventually making his way to Athens, he receives word from his faithful co-laborer, Timothy, that the church is doing well, and he quickly dispatches a letter of encouragement to them. Shortly after that, he writes a second letter in which he again encourages them, especially in light of their affliction for the name of Christ, and addresses their concerns about the Lord’s return.

At the end of 2 Thessalonians chapter one, Paul speaks to the nature of his prayer for the Thessalonian church. As he regularly prays for them, Paul prays that “God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

In this prayer of Paul, we see two things. First, we see the purpose: “that Jesus may be glorified in you and you in him.” Second, we see the means by which the purpose will be met: that God, according to his grace, would continue to work in their lives, namely by making them worthy and by fulfilling every resolve for good and every work of faith. In other words, Paul recognizes that God has called the Thessalonians to himself, he has saved them, and he is sanctifying them, making them more and more like their Savior Jesus, so that they might be worthy of his calling. Not only that, Paul prays that God would fulfill every resolve they have for good and every work of faith. As James says in his letter that faith without works is dead, Paul does not separate faith from work. Those who are saved will be zealous for good deeds (Titus 2:14).

Paul knew firsthand the circumstances in which the Thessalonian church was living. They had received the word in much affliction. It was not easy to be a follower of Jesus in Thessalonica. But Paul does not pray that they might be delivered from affliction. The focus of his prayer is not their temporal circumstances. His love for them and his prayer for them goes much deeper.

In his book A Call to Spiritual Reformation, D. A. Carson comments on Paul’s prayer and challenges the often temporal focus of our own prayers:

And so the text asks us: When was the last time you prayed this sort of prayer for your family? for your church? for your children? Do we not spend far more energy praying that our children will pass exams, or get a good job, or be happy, or not stray too far, than we do praying that they may live lives worthy of what it means to be a Christian?

This Thursday, May 7, is the National Day of Prayer. As we pray for our nation and for God’s church in America, will we pray like Paul prayed for the Thessalonian church?

–Pastor Dave

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Published in: | on May 6th, 2015 | Comments Off

What Israel Lacked in Numbers 11

I can recite Philippians 4:13 in Italian.  Ironically, for some reason I find it a tad easier to recite in Italian than in English.  Other than the word “prego”, I don’t really know much more Italian.  I memorized this verse while in Italy in 1999 on a short-term mission trip with Saints Equipped to Evangelize.  Back then I used the verse in the typical way,  as an empowering motto.  The verse says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil.4:13 ESV)  I recently read an article by a gent I went to school with which highlighted not only the specific fallacy of how I had for so long viewed this particular verse, but the underlying danger of taking any verse or passage out of context and running with it.  It gets to the heart of what Israel lacked so often in the wilderness and beyond, and the same goes for ourselves. It’s a short and, I hope, helpful article. Enjoy.

I Can Do All Things

~Geoff

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Published in: | on May 6th, 2015 | Comments Off