What is Your Problem?

IM000643.JPGWhen I was in college, I had a 1968 Mustang. It was a fun car to have, but as with all old cars, it had a lot of problems. This was back in the day when you could actually work on your car yourself with some patience, a little know-how, and a basic set of tools. I remember one time the car was having trouble starting. I replaced the battery. It was an easy job. I went to Sears, bought a new one, removed two brackets, installed it, and guess what? The car didn’t start. The problem wasn’t the battery. Then I replaced the alternator. This was a more difficult job. It was harder to reach, and I had to wrestle with the belt, but after losing both some skin off my knuckles and my patience at least once, I had successfully installed a new alternator. The car still didn’t start. Then I discovered the solenoid. Yep, that was it. If I had known from the get-go that this was the real problem I could have saved myself a lot of time, money, and aggravation. It was a learning experience. What did I learn? I learned that I did not want to be a mechanic.

Well, what’s the point? The point is, you can’t find a solution until you’ve correctly identified the problem. We live in a world that is broken. It is filled with people who are broken. When God made all things, he declared that it was good. When he made man, he declared that it was very good. But that is not the world we live in now. We live on this side of Genesis, chapter three. We live in a world that is not the way it ought to be, and we contribute to the state of that world. Cornelius Plantiga, in his book NOT the Way it’s Supposed to Be – a breviary of sin, takes 200 pages to describe what is sin, its nature, and its effects. He says that before the fall of man in Genesis three, the creation was in a state of shalom; that is, the creation was living and working as intended, and in harmony with its Creator. When sin entered into the world, that shalom was broken, things became what they were not supposed to be, and this is the reality we know today. When Christ came, he showed us how things are supposed to be, and through his work on the cross and his resurrection, he made it possible for us to enter into life the way it was supposed to be.

Everyone knows the world is broken–that things are not as they should be–but not everyone agrees as to what the problem is. Some say it is injustice or a lack of education or opportunity. Some say it is economic inequality, social and relational isolation, a lack of green space or public parks in urban neighborhoods, etc. The common thread in all these supposed problems (and the list is never-ending) is that the problem is perceived to be outside and not inside of us. There is a famous story about G.K. Chesterton once being asked by a London newspaper what he thought was wrong with the world. He very quickly and succinctly replied, “I am.” Now, the story may actually be legend, but it does catch the wit and attitude of Chesterton, and, more importantly, it gets it right. What is wrong with the world is found inside of us, not outside of us. Sin is the problem, and it’s universal, and it’s fatal. The Bible clearly teaches that all have sinned (Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 3:9-18) and all are deserving of God’s wrath (John 3:16-21, 36; Ephesians 2:1-3). But the good news of Jesus Christ declares that we do not need to bear the wrath of God ourselves. Jesus took our punishment upon himself, so that through him, we might have life (Ephesians 2:4-10; Acts 10:43; Acts 4:12).

Now, unbelievers are blind to the reality of sin. Therefore, unbelievers cannot supply the solution to the problems of the world. Only the church, as it looks to and obeys the Scripture, can do this. I don’t mean to say that unbelievers cannot do good things. Unbelievers can be generous, they can dig wells and build hospitals, but they cannot address the root issues that branch out in all the tragic ways we witness each day. The best a society can do is create laws which prohibit evil and then prosecute those who violate such laws. However, the worst society can do is create laws which condone and promote evil and then prosecute those who violate such laws. And let me further clarify that it is God alone who can bring about the change. He graciously uses his people through the guidance and power of his word and his Spirit, but God alone can deliver a darkened and dead soul into the kingdom of his beloved Son. God alone can convict and convince a person that he or she is a sinner in need of a Savior.

Here’s my concern. In spite of thousands of years of human history that would testify otherwise, I still hear people say that man is basically good. Often in the midst of a political pep talk, you will hear someone extol the virtues of the goodness of man and exhort the crowds that if only we could come together in mutual understanding, we could make the world a better place. Hooey! I can understand why unsaved people say and believe this, but this is not what really concerns me. What really concerns me is that Christians believe this as well. This lie of the devil has crept into the Church and has sapped us of power. We will never see lasting change in our own lives, in our own battles with sin, until we humbly confess it is our main problem. Further, we can offer our culture nothing if we only offer them solutions that they can come up with in their own. Plantinga says it this way: “In short, for the Christian church…to ignore, euphemize, or otherwise mute the lethal reality of sin is to cut the nerve of the gospel. For the sober truth is that without full disclosure on sin, the gospel of grace becomes impertinent, unnecessary, and finally uninteresting.”

We must not forget what the Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthian church: “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:3-4)

–Pastor Dave

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

Understanding God

BriefHistoryTimeStephen Hawking is the Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University. Debilitated for many years with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), he has nevertheless done much to make theoretical physics accessible to general readers. His A Brief History of Time defied all odds by becoming a worldwide bestseller despite the technical subjects it covered. He clearly is a gifted scientist and communicator.

A frequent figure on documentaries, Professor Hawking has again been in the news lately with the release of “The Theory of Everything,” a movie based on his life with first wife Jane Wilde. But what most caught my eye in recent weeks was not the movie publicity, but a NBC report of his interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.[1] During the course of that interview Hawking clarified a comment made in A Brief History of Time, where he had said that discovering the unifying scientific principles known as the theory of everything would enable scientists to “know the mind of God.” In the El Mundo interview he made it clear that this statement was not to be understood as his believing there actually is a God:

 “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”

 In that same interview he also said,

“In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind.”

These are astonishing statements. Professor Hawking is indeed a brilliant theoretician, but the hubris reflected in these words is nonetheless staggering. The Bible makes it clear that not only is there a God, but his ways are incomprehensible to us. Consider these passages:

 As for me, I would seek God, and to God would I commit my cause, who does great things and unsearchable, marvelous things without number. (Job 5:8–9)

Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty? It is higher than heaven—what can you do? Deeper than Sheol—what can you know? Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea. (Job 11:7–9)

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand? (Job 26:14)

 God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend. (Job 37:5)

 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. (Psalm 145:3)

 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)

 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:3)

 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 2:11)

Advanced degrees and impressive scientific learning do not ensure that we know or embrace the truth. As the Apostle Paul makes clear, our minds are hardened and veiled unless Christ intervenes. It is only when we turn to the Lord that the veil is removed (2 Corinthians 3:14–16).

Otherwise the sobering words from the opening chapter of Romans remain true for all who have not experienced this gracious, sovereign intervention on God’s part:

 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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools (Romans 1:21–22)

May we humbly fall down and worship such an unfathomable God, glorying that he would make it possible for our sins to be forgiven so we can be in his holy, resplendent presence forever!

–Pastor Greg

[1] http://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/im-atheist-stephen-hawking-god-space-travel-n210076. Accessed December 17, 2014

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Published in: | on January 2nd, 2015 | Comments Off

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