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Your First Love

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A Characteristic Of The Church

                “Great fear seized the whole Church and all who heard about these events.”

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 5:11

                One of the characteristics of the book of Acts is the combination of key significant events which move the account of the creation of the Church forward and editorial summaries which describe the characteristic live of the believing community.  After four chapters in which the new Testament Church is shown to be growing in grace and commitment to the LORD Jesus Christ Luke begins to describe the challenges which they will begin to face.  The Apostle Paul makes this clear while writing in 2 Timothy 3:12 “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  This is a certainty which we must expect and which we begin to see developed in the fifth chapter of Acts.  We must expect that there will be challenges to living the Christian life which we will have to face which come from the world around us, our own flesh and satanic deception.  This is what the fifth chapter draws our attention to.  Ananias and Sapphira are clearly deceived by Satan, being led astray by their own fleshly desires to pursue things which are rooted in a worldly approach to life.  At its heart this passage reveals an attitude of heart which takes God lightly and elevates our own fleshly desires for security in the things which this world provides.  Satan takes something which they need and deceives this couple so that they lie to the Holy Spirit. 

                To dig down into the heart of the account which Luke gives us here we see that the whole purpose of this event was to lead the New Testament Church into the development of a reverent fear and awe of God.  At the beginning of the fifth chapter of Acts Ananias and Sapphira have an attitude which assumes that God now takes sin lightly.  Again, as Paul asks in Romans 6:1 “Shall we go on sinning that grace may increase?”  This is certainly a danger that the Church faces as the Gospel is proclaimed.  We receive grace from God and then forget that His purpose is to make us holy with the Righteousness of Christ.  Luke shows us how this event brought the Church back to a reverent fear of God.  He tells us that the Church came into, or developed, a reverent fear or awe of God. 

                To take God’s Holiness lightly is a danger which the Church is always facing.  To fall into this error robs us of the grace and power which the Lord has promised to us.   The Scriptures constantly call us to a life of reverence for God. 

                “Then the Church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace.  It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit; it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Acts 9:31

                “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.  Fear the lord, you saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 34:8-9

                “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Psalm 36:1

                “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

                                                                                                                                                                                Proverbs 1:7

                “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”

                                                                                                                                                                Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

                This reverent awe and fear of God is desperately needed by the Church today.

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Providence

                “He has showed you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”

                                                                                                                                                Micah 6:8

                Years ago a friend of mine challenged me by their actions to become a student of the Scriptures.  It never ceases to amaze me how the Lord builds into our lives those key moments in His providence which we look back upon and discover that was when so much of our path in life became set.  This is one of the arguments for God’s grace.  These key moments come about unsought but they form the foundation for our lives.  My friend was sitting in a hallway reading her Bible after classes were finished for the day.  I was with the school track team preparing for our daily workout.  Another friend came by and asked my seated friend what she was doing. Her answer, overheard by me, changed my life.  It was that it had recently occurred to her that she was a pastor’s daughter and she did not understand the Bible.  She then said that she had set herself a goal to read twenty chapters a day so that she could begin to understand God’s Word.  It was as if those words were said for my benefit, because I instantly knew that I must begin to read God’s Word for myself.  There and then began my quest to become Biblically literate.  It is a quest that I am still engaged in.

                Now all of that may seem to be an unusual way to introduce a reflection on Micah 6:8. It is however crucial to my understanding of the verse because it is rooted in the Old Testament Biblical context which calls us to a radically transformed way of living.  John Calvin reflects upon this verse in context by stating that what we see here is God’s confrontation with us based upon His covenant love for us.  So often we approach God in a way that seems right to us.  We believe that anything goes in worship because our intention is to Worship God.  Calvin puts it this way.

                “We think that God must approve of our actions because of our intention to worship Him.”

                                                                                                (John Calvin; Sermons on the Book of Micah, p. 306)

However the evidence of the entire Scripture helps us discover that God is to be approached only through His Covenant love.  Such love was revealed at Sinai in the Old Covenant and in the cross in the new.  There is no other way. 

                There is a message of great joy here for us.  Each of these covenant events was in fact an event of grace.  Both describe something that God did for us which we in fact could not do for ourselves.  He touched our lives at the key moment and nothing will ever be the same again.  It is just like the words from my friend which I overheard in a High School hall.  They were not said with the idea of their eternal significance.  That is however how God used them.  In the process of obeying what God had called me to do I began the journey which led my discovery for myself of God’s gracious invitation to come to the cross of Christ and receive life.  I praise God for His grace and for His providential intervention in my life for without it I would be lost.

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Questions Which Lead To Faith

                “When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Men of Israel, why does this surprise you?  Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?  The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified His servant Jesus.  You handed Him over to be killed, and you disowned Him before Pilate, though he had decided to let Him go.  You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you.  You killed the author of life, but God raised Him from the dead.  We are witnesses of this.””

                                                                                                                                                                Acts 3:12-15

                The Scriptures so often ask us the key questions which force us to examine our own walk with the living God.  Such is the case here in the third chapter of the Book of Acts.  In verse 12 we are asked these key questions about our response the healing of the crippled man at the beautiful gate at the Temple in Jerusalem.  “Why does this surprise you?”  “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?”  These are the two key issues we face when it comes to the sign miracles and their significance.  We are astounded that a miracle can even take place.  Then when we accept that the miracle has happened we look for a human source for it.  It is hard for us to accept that God is personally active and intervening in His creation.  I want to take a closer look at what Luke tells us here.

  1. We must ask ourselves about why we are surprised by the sign miracles.  The Scripture teaches that God’s nature is to be a being who reveals Himself to His creation.  Why should this surprise us because we have the testimony of the Word of God that He would in fact do this?  The Scriptures clearly defined what the Messiah would do when He came to us.  The issue we are facing here is one of faith.  Do we believe God when He speaks to us revealing His purposes in grace to us?  Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that “Nothing was impossible with God.”  She accepted that with faith.  Do we?
  2. This sign miracle was done in the Name of the LORD Jesus Christ.  In fact Luke tells us that God did it in the Name of Jesus in order to Glorify Him.  As Luke focuses our attention here he calls our attention to God as One who reveals Himself.  He is “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers.”  These texts draw our attention to a wonderful passage in the Book of Exodus chapter three and verse six.  “Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  There, in the burning bush event God reveals Himself to Moses and speaks His Name “I AM.”  For Peter what the LORD Jesus Christ has done in this crippled man is to reveal Himself as the one who intervenes by the power of His Name.
  3. Luke also tells us here that God has glorified His Servant Jesus.  In Isaiah 53:5 we discover this nugget of truth.  “But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.”  Why then should is surprise us that He would heal a crippled man?  Why should we attribute that healing to a human source?  The only explanation here is that God is at work through His Holy Servant the LORD Jesus Christ. 
  4. This leads us to our response to Him.  Do we believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Messiah who has come to set us free from sin?  The people that Peter preached to had rejected Him, and their rejection of Him had led to His cross.  God on the other hand had accepted His offering for sin, demonstrating it by raising Him from the dead.  What they were called to do was to repent and believe the Gospel.  This is God’s call upon us today as well.  We must turn from our unbelieving rejection of Him so that we believe God when He tells us that salvation is found in no one else.  The question is will you believe in Him?
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Genuine Faith Revealed

                “Once more He visited Cana in Galilee, where He had turned the water into wine.  And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.  When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to Him and begged Him to come and heal his son, who was close to death.  “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”  The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  Jesus replied, “You may go.  Your son will live.”  The man took Jesus at His word and departed.  While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.  When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.”  Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.”  So he and all his household believed.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            John 4: 46-53

                As John draws this fourth chapter of his gospel to a close he brings us back to the issue of Jesus’ knowledge of what was in the hearts of people.  John does this by telling us about the enthusiastic response that Jesus receives when He returns to Cana in Galilee from Judea.  The eyewitness accounts of the miraculous works that Jesus had performed in Jerusalem were stirring the imaginations of the people of Galilee.  Their response however was betraying a false, superficial type of believing that would not lead to salvation because it was not genuine faith. 

                As we take a careful look at the events at the close of chapter four we are forced to ask ourselves a question about the genuineness of our own faith.  Charles Haddon Spurgeon in his hymn “Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands” puts it this way.  “If now, with eyes defiled and dim, we see the signs, but see not Him, O may His love the scales displace, and bid us see Him face to face.”  Spurgeon echoes the point that John is pressing home here.  We see and presumably get excited by the signs, the miracles, that which stirs our lust for the sensational.  We do not look beyond the sign to see Him as He really is.  To understand who the LORD Jesus Christ really is, as He has been revealed to us in Scripture is to have our whole lives transformed by a new commitment and love.  It is this that John points us to here in this text.

                What this calls us to has been wonderfully illustrated for us by Robert Rayburn in his sermon “True and False faith” preached on April 9, 2000.  In it Rayburn quotes this story from Phillip Evans, (“The Parson Converted by his Own Sermon,” The Evangelical Library Bulletin 77 (Autumn 1986) p. 2-3). 

                “I was reminded the other Sunday, in the foundations class, of William Haslam, whose story I have told some of you before.  In some ways, it is very much like the story of this father in Galilee.  No doubt this man too was a religious man, a man who, up to that time, had no real concerns about his state before a holy God.  He had been content to take God’s favour for granted, he thought well enough of himself to do so.  It was the near death of his son that changed all that and took him out of the blindness of his pride.

                Well so with William Haslam.  He was among the large number of Anglican priests who held pastorates in English churches and preached every Sunday, but who had no living faith in Jesus Christ.  But, through a variety of circumstances, he had become unsettled in his heart and conscience.  He began to be aware that his religion was more outward than inward, what Paul had called “a zeal for God, but without knowledge.”

                On Sunday morning, October 19, 1851, he was preaching a sermon to his church and was making the point that the Pharisees had been condemned because they had not believed that Jesus came to save them from their sins.  As he preached it, he realized for the first time that he did not really believe it either.  As he continued with his sermon he saw the truth more and more clearly.  “I do not remember all I said,” he wrote in his autobiography, “but I felt a wonderful light and joy coming into my soul….Whether it was something in my words, or my manner, or my look, I know not; but all of a sudden a local preacher, who happened to be in the congregation, stood up, and putting up his arms, shouted out in Cornish manner, “the parson’s converted! The Parson’s converted! Hallelujah!” and in another moment his voice was lost in the shouts and praises of three or four hundred of the congregation.” The vicar’s own conversion sparked a revival in the parish that lasted for three years.  Haslam was thereafter known as the parson converted by his own sermon!”

                What type of faith do you have?

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Psalm 115

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Believing In Him

At first His disciples did not understand all this.  Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.”
John 12:16
In each of the Gospels we are confronted with the command and invitation to put our faith in the LORD Jesus Christ.  When we turn to John 12:1-19 we find ourselves facing this call to faith.  This chapter finishes off the first half of John’s Gospel which is concerned with seven signs which teach biblical truth.  John weaves these seven signs into his account of the life and ministry of Christ drawing clear Biblical teaching out of each one of them.  John tells us at the end of his Gospel that he has been selective in what he has included in this Gospel because he wants to pursue an evangelistic purpose.  He writes in John 20:30-31 this, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing you may have life in His Name.”  What a wonderful statement of his purpose in this Gospel record.  He brings us to ask ourselves the question have we received life in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  If we have not them we truly have not understood the message of the Gospel of John.  
The first half of the Gospel is often referred to as the “Book of Signs.”  The second half has been referred to as the “Book of Jesus’ Hour.”   John weaves into each of these halves material that overlaps and which helps us to understand what is being taught here.  The second half points to teaching about the cross of Christ.  His hour has come for Him to lay down His life for His Church.  The first half weaves together a series of seven miraculous signs that make it clear to us that the Lord Jesus Christ is truly the Son of Man who lays down His life for us.  
To review these seven miraculous signs, meaning miracles which Jesus does which teach Biblical truth, we must retrace them in the first half of the Gospel.  They are as follows.
1) John 2:1ff – Jesus turns water into wine.
2) John 4:43ff – Jesus heals a Nobleman’s son who is dying of a fever.
3) John 5:1ff – Jesus heals a lame man at the pool called Bethesda.
4) John 6:1ff – Jesus feeds the 5000.
5) John 6:16ff – Jesus walks on the water.
6) John 9:1ff – Jesus heals a blind man.
7) John 11:1ff – Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.
In each case John then records the teaching which Jesus gave as a consequence of the sign miracle which He had done.  These are meant to lead us to faith in Christ.  John wants to make sure that the faith that we have in the Lord Jesus Christ is firmly rooted in the promises revealed in the Scriptures.  As John explains this to us he confesses the ignorance which the Apostles had at one point.  They had not understood, or believed, that Jesus was the Christ at the point that these signs were being done.  It was only after Jesus was glorified that they put it all together, believing that these Scriptural prophesies were pointing in reality to the Lord Jesus Christ.  
This is the Biblical faith that we must have if we are to be saved.  In faith we look to the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s promised redeemer.  As we explore this book this is the point that John is confronting each of us with.  Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ?

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Believing In Him

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Meditation On God’s Works Of Grace

                “I will bring them back from Egypt and gather them from Assyria.  I will bring them to Gilead and Lebanon, and there will not be room enough for them.  They will pass through the sea of trouble; the surging sea will be subdued and all the depths of the Nile will dry up.  Assyria’s pride will be brought down and Egypt’s sceptre will pass away.  I will strengthen them in the Lord and in His Name they will walk.”

                                                                                                                                                                Zechariah 10:10-12

                It never ceases to amaze me just how fruitful the study of the Word of God is for those who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Over the past months I have been engaged in a careful study of the Old Testament prophetic book of Zechariah.  One of the consequences of the meditation on this book has been an enhancement of my own worship of the Lord.  D. A. Carson in the first volume of his devotional series For the Love of God writes the following reflections on the meditation for May 22nd

                “One of the important functions of corporate worship is recital, that is, a “retelling” of the wonderful things that God has done.  Hence psalm 78:2-4: “I will utter hidden things, things from of old – what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us.  We will not hide them from our children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done.”  Similarly, if more briefly, psalm 75:1: “We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds.”  In fact, the New English Bible is a little closer to the Hebrew: “Thy Name is brought very near to us in the story of Thy wonderful deeds.” God’s “Name” is part of His gracious self-disclosure.  It is a revelation of who He is (Ex. 3:14; 34:5-7, 14).  God’s “Name,” then, is brought very near us in the story of His wonderful deeds: that is, who God is is disclosed in the accounts of what He has done.”

                What Carson claims for corporate worship holds true for personal worship as well.  At its heart worship requires a reverent, submissive meditation upon the Word of God as we meditate upon the wonderful things that God has done.  This explains something which Jonathan Edwards referred to when he wrote about the overwhelming joy that flooded his heart whenever he meditated upon the Word of God.  As we meditate upon the Scriptures, reminding ourselves of all the wonderful things God has done for us it is as if the curtain is pulled back so that we can glimpse something of the character of God.  In fact, I am discovering more fully each day that through His Word God is revealing himself to His people as He gives us a glimpse of His character.  Leon Morris, on pages 162 and 163 of The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross puts it this way as he deals with the Biblical concept of the wrath of God.

                Referring to the Greek word translated as wrath in the New Testament Morris writes, “Which signifies ‘to be getting ready to bear, growing ripe for something’, and comes to mean the natural disposition or character.”  What Morris is telling us is that God’s character is revealed to us in all of the works that he has done, is doing, and will ever do.  “Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed His Name, the Lord.  And He passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.  Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished; He punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”  (Exodus 34:5-7)

                What precious truth is found in the Word of God.  As we meditate upon it we begin to see more clearly than ever the character of God as it is revealed to us in the wonderful things He is doing.  Won’t you join me in praising the Lord who reveals Himself to us in this way?

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He Was In The World

                “He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him,   the world did not recognise Him.  He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

                                                                                                                                                                                John 1:10-14

                At times I am asked, as I was recently in an email, how we can live a holy life while living in this sinful world.  This is a vital question for us to ask.  So often people find themselves drifting through life, without really examining how they live.  We push down those questions and moral struggles which we face because we are engaged in the struggle to just survive.  There are times when we find ourselves facing that insistent inner discomfort which tells us that all is not right with our world.  What are we to do in response?

                In order to adequately deal with this question we need to first of all answer the number one question of life which is, are we a Christian?  Have you been born again?  As the Apostle John introduces his Gospel this is the first thing that he confronts us with.  In fact it seems that this question of being born again is central to all that John writes in his Gospel.  Have you been born again?  What does John mean by this?  Why is it so important to him?

                John, in chapter three of his Gospel tells us that we must be born from above, or again.  He confronts us with this as he reports on a conversation that Nicodemus had with the LORD Jesus Christ.  In explaining His meaning Jesus tells Nicodemus that to be born again is to be born spiritually.  It is a work of the Holy Spirit making us alive spiritually.  Technically we will call this to be regenerated.  Historically Christians like John Wesley called it the New Birth.  John tells us in the first chapter of his Gospel that this is the work of God given to those who receive the LORD Jesus Christ by believing on His Name.  This text leads us to that precious work of God where His only begotten Son came and dwelt among us revealing His glory in the cross of Calvary.  D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once stated that we cannot adequately deal with the issues we face in life until we answer the primary issue, are we a Christian?  It is to this point that John brings us in his Gospel. 

                Behind what John is writing here is a rich vein of Old Testament Prophetic teaching which speaks to us about the necessity of God changing our nature so that we will live holy lives.  We cannot live a holy life in our own flesh, no matter how hard we try to do so.  Ezekiel 18:30-32 speaks about this to us.

                “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent!  Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.  Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.  Why will you die, O house of Israel?  For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD.  Repent and live!”

                Earlier Ezekiel tells us in chapter 11:19-20 that this work is in fact the work of God, graciously accomplished within us when he writes.

                “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit within them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.  Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.  They will be my people and I will be their God.”

                Here Ezekiel points us to the Covenant which God has made with His people.  Jeremiah, in chapter 31:31-34 echoes these thoughts telling us that God is going to give His people a New Covenant written by the Spirit on their hearts, and causing them to walk in His ways.  I believe that this is what Jesus describes in John’s Gospel. 

                To be born of God is to be given this new heart which is responsive, and obedient to God’s purposes as revealed in His Word.  We delight ourselves in His Word.  It is a work of God in us.  It is vital that we are born again if we are ever to live a holy life in this sinful world.

                Once we are saved then we are called to actively live out our life of obedience to His Word by faith in His power to work in us.  There are a number of scriptures we could appeal to here, (Romans 13:11-14, Philippians 2:12-13, 3:12-14).  I will only quote one here in conclusion.

                “And do this understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because your salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.  So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.  Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.  Rather, clothe yourselves with the LORD Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13:11-14)