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

Being Some Earthly Good

I’m not sure who first said it, but Johnny Cash captures the sentiment in his song “No Earthly Good”:

If you’re holdin’ heaven then spread it around
There are hungry hands reaching up here from the ground
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
So heavenly minded you’re no earthly good
No earthly good you are no earthly good
You’re so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good
Move over and share the high ground where you stood
So heavenly minded and you’re no earthly good

I remember hearing that phrase as a kid and understanding it as a description of someone who was so godly that they were of no use to us here on earth anymore. “They are so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” Does this capture the heart of what it means to be a Christian? Is this to be our pursuit? Is this really the inevitability, to have our minds so set on heaven, so conformed to heaven, that we become useless on earth?

Isn’t our responsibility presented differently in Scripture? Here are a couple of passages to serve as quick examples.

Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Colossians 3:1-3:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Paul goes on in verses twelve through fourteen to connect heavenly mindedness to reformed earthly behavior:

Put on these as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

The implications here are that heavenly mindedness does not make us useless for earth. In fact, being heavenly minded serves the dual purpose of preparing our hearts for heaven while also making us more useful, more of a blessing in our lives now. The pursuit of the vertical is what makes us most effective in the horizontal.

C. S. Lewis captures the heart of this in one of my favorite quotes from Mere Christianity:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.

It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.

It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.

So let’s resolve to aim at heaven today in our thoughts, actions, goals, pursuits and dreams, and watch how much earthly good results.

To the Praise of His Glory,
Pastor Steve

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Published in: | on August 21st, 2014 | Comments Off

Our Brothers and Sisters in Iraq

stock-photo-9842791-magnifying-glass-over-a-map-of-iraqI believe it crucial to keep the plight of Christians in Iraq before us. Here is an article that has some helpful suggestions. I found the first point to be especially insightful. I would encourage you to stop and pray as soon as you have finished reading!

Click here to read the article.

–Pastor Greg

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Published in: | on August 13th, 2014 | Comments Off

9 Things You Should Know About Mormonism

moroniIn posting the following, I am not intending to pick a fight. As a pastor, I have a responsibility to protect the flock, to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). I personally know several Mormons and love them dearly, while I strongly reject Mormon doctrine. As Christians we must speak the truth in love. Often however, particularly with Mormons, it is easy for us to be strong on the former and weak on the latter. Taking an approach of ridicule or condescension is neither wise nor winsome.

At the same time, Mormons would like to represent themselves as Christians, not really that different from you and me. This is usually the approach of the friendly young men who come to your door. While we may agree to certain ethical or moral standards, our core beliefs could not be more radically different. The following blog post by Joe Carter of the Gospel Coalition, 9 Things You Should Know About Mormonism, is a brief but helpful reminder.

–Pastor Dave


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Published in: | on July 29th, 2014 | Comments Off