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When is it OK to Miss Church?

locked-church-doors

This question makes me cringe. Primarily because it says a good deal about the one who asks it and is difficult to answer without getting into the meat of who the Church is and what she is to be doing. The quick answer is, “You should “skip” (miss) gathering with the Saints as little as possible, but if necessary, only if you would also skip work, pleasure, family, vacation, etc. for the same reason.” When you are ill, contagious, etc. you should feel greived that you cannot make the assembly. The problem isn’t knowing when to miss gathering together, the problem is in the fact that so often professing believers seem to think that the local assembly (the church) is a social function.

The church is (are) the called of God who are redeemed in Christ Jesus for the sake of God’s glory and who are sealed with the Holy Spirit who LIVES within them. If that is you, then the rest of this article will surely apply; if not, then you’re under no obligation to your siblings in Christ, because you are not alive in Christ. To that end, please seek salvation through Jesus Christ Alone, by Faith Alone, not of your own doing but believing fully that God has come in the Flesh in the Son Jesus and has paid the ransom of your sins. Now back to a few questions that come to mind in response to this question by believers. Keep in mind that the church is THOSE GATHERED, not a place… so, on the onset, correct this in your mind.

Why would it cross your mind to “miss/skip” gathering WITH the rest of church?

The body of Christ is compelled to honor and glorify Him at all times and in all things by the NEW MIND and NEW HEART we have been given (which is your in Christ Jesus) through which we are enabled and find great affection for the LORD and the Lord’s PEOPLE – the church. So to have the Lord means to be driven by the Lord, who has us. Therefore, our desire to be in fellowship with other believers as a family is one of our TOP PRIORITIES in life.  This is above all things because the body and its gathering is eternally driven.  All other relationships in this life are temporal and fleeting.

What else would be more beneficial in life than being with the Lord’s people and under His word?

Seriously, where else do we want to be? What else do we want to be doing? Why are those things HIGHER in affection that Christ? Oh, you don’t see it that way, then beloved it’s time you understood the point. Christ saved a people in order that He might be glorified in them and that through His manifold wisdom He would put to shame and dumbfound the powers of darkness. This is seen fully in the love for the church. (the assembled) Anything else that pulls your heart strings away from God’s people is an idol or an excuse to live in unbelief and idolatry.

Where in the world will you find strength apart from God’s word and accountability and encouragement apart from God’s people?

You won’t. Plain and simple. There is no real wisdom, no real love, no real encouragement, no real worship, no real relationship with Christ apart from His bride. It is our continual striving together that makes Christ glorified. When you feel like you just can’t face another moment, when sin seems to have you by the throat, when you just don’t have enough strength to move another muscle, it is then you should be with God’s people the most. If your assembly doesn’t offer such a refuge, maybe it’s time you find a body that will honor Christ in your gathering… another point later in the year.

What reveals your true affections more than being assembled at the cost of unbelievers or young believers?

Skip church and show them that your relationship with the Christ is only a convenient thing OR tell them that nothing will interfere with the majesty of God and that they are welcome to join you in worship or sit at home and become second, as they should be. There is never a time to allow others to dictate our following of Christ and our joyful response to grace with God’s people. While some may read these words and disagree, I implore you to examine your heart. We are not bound to rules, we are bound to Christ and LOVE HIM with all the affection of God as we love each other with all the affection of Christ! If you have never looked at your Christian life in this way, I’m sorry that you have stayed so segmented and I pray that you would endeavor to quit placing Christ on aspects of your life but that He would be found in all corners, cracks and crevices of your soul.

Why should holidays put our faith on hold, especially those holidays that supposedly are about Jesus?

Oh my, haven’t we expressed this enough? I cringe again. As this year happens to see a holiday on the Lord’s day, it would be a tragic blasphemy of grand proportions to refuse to worship together in place of pagan traditions, family gatherings, and materialistic gain while saying that such holiday is about Jesus Christ.  Don’t get me started… I’ll write about Christmas later. I guess the point should be to ask, “What do I love most?” If you do not love the church, then you cannot love Christ. Something is greatly wrong in your heart if this is the case. And when I say the church, remember I am not talking about the things done, place attended, or programs employed; I am saying the PEOPLE OF GOD who are your eternal siblings.

Does it really matter?

As I have said before, it matters because it is reflective. Our love for God is directly relative for our love for the body. Jesus says it first and all the apostles concur. It matters that your heart is right because NOT being with the body regularly is the POINT of Hebrews 6:1-12. (take a look) – and it matters because so much is at stake, our joy, our hope, our prayers, the sharing of our faith etc. It matters because where there is no commitment, there is no transformed heart. The first century church saw explosive change in culture because when God saves His people, they leave the world’s ways and have no more affection for it. Imagine if every Christian daily laid their thoughts, lives, hearts, money and purpose captive to Christ. The world as we know it would be change.

What do you do if you don’t have this affection? Well, it may be because you’re with the body of Christ once a month or less. In 20 years I have been out of the pulpit once. We scheduled all trips and time off where I would only be gone no more than two Sundays in a row and then I was teaching elsewhere. Why? Because I cannot imagine not seeing my spiritual family for which I live, labor and thrive to see joyful in Christ. Sadly, most church goers would not tolerate an 80% commitment from their pastors but expect him to tolerate much less from them.  Brother Tom Ascol (Founders.org) made a comment recently on Facebook that “…what I have found even more egregious, to argue loudly for regenerate church membership and to remain undisturbed as a member or pastor for years in a church with 50-70% of its membership unwilling even to show up for worship on the Lord’s Day.”

The uncommitted mindset of Christians is ultimately a matter of discipline and in the same sense, should be corrected through discipline. Anyone who cries legalist should silent that ignorant claim and read the New Testament for a change where a life of transformation is evidence of a life redeemed and a loving brother is one who rightly opposes worldliness and friends, skipping the assembly on purpose is worldliness, just like drunkenness, adultery, malice and greed. Let’s be in fellowship tomorrow and every opportunity we have to the PRAISE of HIS glorious grace.

Pastor James

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heart and head bible pic

While these conversations are always on the table, the two “sides” are both biblically rebuked. First, the person who suggests that he is right before God due to his works is fighting for the place of his own security in his own might. Much like the Devil who argues that he is worthy to “share” the light of the glory of God due to his beauty. He forgot that he was created to reflect the light of his creator, not his own.  Second, the person who argues that good works are not even on the radar of “faith alone” and “grace alone” wants to maintain the record of fleshly so-called joys and ignore the premise of the reality of the good news: rebirth and new heart and mind.  The love we have for Christ employs our obedience toward Him, not for our justification, but as a result.

Bonar gives great insight on this matter below. You can get a printed copy of this from Chapel Library.

Good Works and the Justified

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)

“Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt”—Romans 4:4.

Does [Paul] by this speech make light of good works? Does he encourage an unholy walk? Does he use a rash word, which had better been left unspoken? No, truly, he is laying the foundation of good works. He is removing the great obstacle to a holy life, viz.,[26] the bondage of an unforgiven state. He is speaking, by the power of the Holy Ghost, the words of truth and soberness. The difference between working and believing is that which God would have us to learn, lest we confound these two things and so destroy them both. The order and relation of these two things are here very explicitly laid down, so as to anticipate the error of many who mix up working and believing together, or who make believing the result of working, instead of working the result of believing. We carefully distinguish, yet we as carefully connect the two. We do not put asunder what God has joined together; yet we would not reverse the divine order, nor disturb the divine relation, nor place that last which God has set first.

It was not to depreciate or discourage good works that the Apostle spoke of not working, but believing; or of a man being “justified by faith without the deeds of the law”; or of God imputing “righteousness without works” (Rom 3:28; 4:6). It was to distinguish things that differ. It was to show the true use of faith in connecting us for justification with what another has done. It was to stay us from doing anything in order to be justified. In this view, then, faith is truly a ceasing from work and not a working. It is not the doing of anything in order to be justified, but the simple reception of the justifying work of Him Who finished transgression and made an end of sin (Dan 9:24). For the one justifying work was completed eighteen hundred years ago, and any attempt on our part to repeat or imitate this is vain. The one cross suffices.

Nor was it to undervalue good works that our Lord gave, what many may deem such a singular answer to the question of the Jews, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?…This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (Joh 6:28, 29). They wanted to work their way into the favor of God. The Lord tells them that they may have that favor without waiting or working by accepting at once His testimony to His only-begotten Son. Until then, they were not in a condition for working. They were as trees without a root, as stars whose motions, however regular, would be useless, if they themselves were unlighted.

To say to a groping, troubled spirit, “You must first believe before you can work,” is no more to encourage ungodliness or laxity of walk, than to say to an imprisoned soldier, “You must first get out of your dungeon before you can fight”; or to a swimmer, “You must throw off that millstone before you can attempt to swim”; or to a racer, “You must get quit of these fetters before you can run the race.” Yet these expressions of the Apostle have often been shrunk from, dreaded as dangerous, quoted with a guarding clause, or rather cited as seldom as possible, under the secret feeling that unless greatly diluted or properly qualified, they had better not be cited at all. But why are these bold utterances there, if they are perilous, if they are not meant to be as fearlessly proclaimed now as they were fearlessly written eighteen centuries ago? What did the Holy Spirit mean by promulgation[27] of such “unguarded” statements, as some seem disposed to reckon them? It was not for nothing that they were so boldly spoken. Timid words would not have served the purpose. The glorious Gospel needed statements such as these to disentangle the great question of acceptance, to relieve troubled consciences and purge them from dead works, yet at the same time to give to works their proper place…

In another’s righteousness we stand, and by another’s righteousness are we justified. All accusations against us, founded upon our unrighteousness, we answer by pointing to the perfection of the righteousness that covers us from head to foot…

Protected by this perfection, we have no fear of wrath, either now or hereafter. It is a buckler to us; and we cry, “Behold, O God our shield, and look upon the face of thine anointed” (Psa 84:9), as if to say, “Look not on me, but on my Substitute. Deal not with me for sin, but with my Sin-bearer. Challenge not me for my guilt, but challenge Him; He will answer for me.” Thus, we are safe beneath the shield of His righteousness. No arrow, either from the enemy or from conscience, can reach us there.

Covered by this perfection, we are at peace. The enemy cannot invade us; or if he try to do so, we can triumphantly repel him. It is a refuge from the storm, a covert from the tempest, a river of water in a dry place, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. The work of righteousness is peace; and in the Lord we have righteousness and strength.

Beautified with this perfection, which is the perfection of God, we find favor in His sight. His eye rests on the comeliness[28] that He has put upon us; and as He did at viewing the first creation, so now, in looking at us as clothed with this divine excellency, He pronounces it “very good.” He sees no iniquity in Jacob and no transgression in Israel (Num 23:21). “The iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found” (Jer 50:20). This righteousness suffices to cover, to comfort, and to beautify.

But there is more than this: we are justified that we may be holy. The possession of this legal righteousness is the beginning of a holy life. We do not live a holy life in order to be justified; but we are justified that we may live a holy life. That which man calls holiness may be found in almost any circumstances of dread, or darkness, or bondage, or self-righteous toil and suffering; but that which God calls holiness can only be developed under conditions of liberty and light, and pardon and peace with God. Forgiveness is the mainspring of holiness. Love, as a motive, is far stronger than law, far more influential than fear of wrath or peril of hell. Terror may make a man crouch like a slave and obey a hard master, lest a worse thing come upon him; but only a sense of forgiving love can bring either heart or conscience into that state in which obedience is either pleasant to the soul or acceptable to God.

False ideas of holiness are common, not only among those who profess false religions, but among those who profess the true. For holiness is a thing of which man by nature has no more idea than a blind man has of the beauty of a flower or the light of the sun. All false religions have had their “holy men,” whose holiness often consisted merely in the amount of pain they could inflict upon their bodies, or of food which they could abstain from, or of hard labor which they could undergo. But with God, a saint or holy man is a very different being. It is in filial,[29] full-hearted love to God that much of true holiness consists. And this cannot even begin to be until the sinner has found forgiveness and tasted liberty and has confidence towards God. The spirit of holiness is incompatible with the spirit of bondage. There must be the spirit of liberty, the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6). When the fountain of holiness begins to well up in the human heart and to fill the whole being with its transforming, purifying power, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us” (1Jo 4:16) is the first note of the holy song that commenced on earth and [is] perpetuated through eternity.

We are bought with a price that we may be new creatures in Christ Jesus. We are forgiven that we may be like Him, Who forgives us. We are set at liberty and brought out of prison that we may be holy. The free, boundless love of God, pouring itself into us, expands and elevates our whole being; and we serve Him, not in order to win His favor, but because we have already won it in simply believing His record concerning His Son. If the root is holy, so are the branches. We have become connected with the holy root and by the necessity of this connection are made holy too.

Forgiveness relaxes no law nor interferes with the highest justice. Human pardons may often do so: God’s pardons never. Forgiveness doubles all our bonds to a holy life, only they are no longer bonds of iron, but of gold. It takes off the heavy yoke in order to give us the light and easy. Love is stronger than law. Whatever connects our obedience with love must be far more influential than what connects us with law.

The love of God to us and our love to God work together for producing holiness in us. Terror accomplishes no real obedience. Suspense brings forth no fruit unto holiness. Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this. It is this certainty that melts the heart, dissolves our chains, disburdens our shoulders so that we stand erect, and makes us to run in the way of the divine commandments.

Condemnation is that which binds sin and us together. Forgiveness looses this fearful tie and separates us from sin. The power of condemnation which the Law possesses is that which makes it so strong and terrible. Cancel this power, and the liberated spirit rises into the region of love and in that region finds both will and strength for the keeping of the Law, a law which is at once old and new: old as to substance—“Thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart” (Deu 6:5)—new as to mode and motive—“for the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2); that is, the law of the life-giving Spirit, which we have in Christ Jesus, has severed the condemning connection of that Law which leads only to sin and death. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh (i.e., unable to carry out its commandments in our old nature), God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom 8:3, 4).

The removal of condemnation is the dissolution of legal bondage and of that awful pressure upon the conscience that at once enslaved and irritated; disenabling as well as disinclining us from all obedience; making holiness both distasteful and dreadful, to be submitted to only through fear of future woe…But the message, “God is love,” is like the sun bursting through the clouds of a long tempest. The good news, “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins” (Act 13:38), is like the opening of the prisoner’s dungeon gate. Bondage departs, and liberty comes. Suspicion is gone, and the heart is won. Perfect love has cast out fear (1Jo 4:18). We hasten to the embrace of Him Who loved us; we hate that which has estranged us; we put away all that caused the distance between us and Him; we long to be like one so perfect and to partake of His holiness. To be “partakers of the divine nature” (2Pe 1:4), once so distasteful, is henceforth most grateful and pleasant; and nothing seems now so desirable as to escape the corruptions that are in the world through lust.

We undergo many false changes, which look like holiness, but which are not really so…Time changes us, yet does not make us holy. The decays of age change us, but do not break the power of evil. One lust expels another; frailty succeeds to frailty; error drives out error; one vanity pails, another comes freshly in its room; one evil habit is exchanged for a second, but our [flesh] remains the same. The cross has not touched us with its regenerating power; the Holy Spirit has not purified the inner sources of our being and life.

Fashion changes us; the example of friends changes us; society changes us; excitement changes us; business changes us; affection changes us; sorrow changes us; dread of coming evil changes us; yet the heart is just what it was. Of the numerous changes in our character or deportment, how many are deceitful, how few are real and deep! Only that which can go down into the very depths of our spiritual being can produce any change that is worthy of the name.

The one spell[30] that can really transform us is THE CROSS. The one potent watchword is, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (Joh 12:32)…“For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth” (Joh 17:19). Christ presents Himself as the Holy One, Consecrated One, to God that His people may partake of His sanctification and be like Himself—saints, consecrated ones, men set apart for God by the sprinkling of the blood. Through the truth, they are sanctified by the power of the Holy Ghost. “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Heb 10:14); so that the perfection of His saints, both as to the conscience and as to personal holiness, is connected with the one offering and springs out of the one work finished upon Calvary. “By the which will we are sanctified, through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10). Here again the sanctification is connected with the offering of the body of Christ. Whatever place “the power of His resurrection” may hold in our spiritual history, it is the cross that is the source of all that varied fullness by which we are justified and purified. The secret of a believer’s holy walk is his continual recurrence to the blood of the Surety and his daily intercourse with a crucified and risen Lord

Want of sensitiveness to the difference between truth and error is one of the evil features of modern Protestantism. Sounding words, well-executed pictures, [and] pretentious logic carry away multitudes. The distinction between Gospel and no Gospel is very decided and very momentous; yet many will come away from a sermon in which the free Gospel has been overlaid, not sensible of the want,[31] and praising the preacher. The conversions of recent years have not the depth of other days. Consciences are half-awakened and half-pacified; the wound is slightly laid open and slightly healed. Hence, the want of spiritual discernment as to truth and error. The conscience is not sensitive, else it would at once refuse and resent any statement, however well argued or painted, which encroached in the slightest degree upon the free Gospel of God’s love in Christ; which interposed any obstacle between the sinner and the cross; or which merely declaimed about the cross, without telling us especially how it saves and how it purifies.

From The Everlasting Righteousness, available as a paperback from Chapel Library.

Horatius Bonar (1808-1889): Scottish Presbyterian minister and prolific author of tracts, books, and hymns. Born in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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On Good Works

It absolutely amazes me the number of individuals who argue that works of faith and good deeds justify them before God. While I have 1000 points that can be argued to the biblical teaching of justification, I stand befuddled that so many people actually believe that they live a life so pleasing to God that He takes note and “credits their obedience” as justification.

Peeling through my resources I came across Dr. Edward’s short to-the-point essay on the matter of good works… so enjoy.

Jonathan Edwards:

That those who are God’s workmanship are created in Christ Jesus to good works; or, in plainer terms, all those who belong to God, and are created anew by His Spirit, are enabled by virtue of that new creation to perform good works. In pursuance of this proposition, I will show —

1. What good works are.

2. What are the qualifications of them.

3. Why they must be done.

4. Apply all.

I. That we may understand WHAT IS MEANT BY GOOD WORKS, we must know that there are habits of grace, and there are acts and exertments of grace; and these two are different from one another, because these acts flow from those habits. These acts are two-fold, either inward or outward. The inward are such as these — a fear and reverence of the Almighty, a love of God and all goodness, and a love of our neighbours (which is called the work and labour of love, Hebrews 6:10), which, though they be not outwardly acted, yet are properly the works of the soul, for the not producing them into outward action hinders not their being works. For the mind of man may as properly be said to work as the body; yea, if we consider the true nature of things, we may rightly assert that the soul is the principal worker in man, and that all the outward exertments of virtue in the body flow from the mind of man, and take thence their denomination. These outward acts of grace which are exerted by the members of the body, and are apparent in the practices of holy men, are the good works generally spoken of in the Scripture. They are no other than visible exertments and actual discoveries of the inward graces before mentioned. Thus our reverencing of God is discovered by our solemn worshipping Him, and that in the most decent and humble manner. Our faith in Him, and love to Him, are showed by our readiness to do His will and obey all His commands. It is true good works in general comprehend all works morally good, whether they be adjusted to the law of nature or the revealed law; but I shall chiefly and principally consider good works as they are conformable to the revealed rule of the gospel. And so I proceed to the —

II. Thing I undertook, viz., to show WHAT ARE THE QUALIFICATIONS OF THESE GOOD WORKS, that is, what is absolutely required in these works to make them good. I shall speak only of those qualifications which are requisite in evangelical good works, namely, such as are necessary to eternal salvation.

1. In a good work it is requisite that the person who doth it be good. By which I mean not only that he be inwardly good and righteous, according to that of our Saviour, make the tree good and his fruit good (Matthew 12:33); but I understand this also, that the person who performs good works be one that is reconciled to God; for if the person be not accepted, the work cannot be good. It is said, “The Lord had respect unto Abel and to his offering” (Genesis 4:4). First unto Abel, and then to his offering. The sacrificer must be accepted before the sacrifice.

2. As the works are good because of the person, so both the person and works are good because of the righteousness of Christ, in whom God is well pleased. “He hath made us acceptable to the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:6). What we do is favourably received as we are considered in Christ. By virtue of our relation to Him, who is our Righteousness, our performances are accounted righteous. This qualification of a good work the devout Mr. Herbert assigns, saying, “It is a good work if it be sprinkled with the blood of Christ.”

3. A good work in the gospel sense and meaning is a work done by the grace of God and the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

4. It must be done in faith, for the apostle tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6), and, consequently, as he adds in another place, “what is not of faith is sin.”

5. In all actions that are really good there must be lawful and right means used. Acts of justice and honesty must be clone by ways that are lawful and good. We must not be just among ourselves by being unjust to others. I must not steal that I may be charitable to the poor. I must not promote the best cause either by persecution or by rebellion. Though it be God’s cause, it ought not to be fought with the devil’s weapons.

6. Good works must be adjusted to a right rule; they must be according to the will and commandment of God. They must not be after our own inventions, but according to this Divine command (Micah 6:8). That is good which God requires.

7. Every good work must proceed from a right principle; and by a right principle I mean these following things —

(1) That our works proceed from sufficient knowledge. No action done ignorantly is good. He that acts without knowledge cannot be said to act morally, much less Christianly. We must first know that what we do is our real duty, and we must also understand why it is so. Religion must not be blind; reason must always go first, and carry the light before all our actions, for the heart and life cannot be good if the head be not enlightened. The understanding must make way for the will. Which brings me to the next particular.

(2) Good works must proceed from a free and voluntary principle. As he that acts ignorantly, so he that acts unwillingly cannot be said to act well. To the will is to be imputed whatsoever is ill or well done by us. There is nothing good or bad but what is matter of choice and consultation.

(3) With the understanding and will must be joined the affections. And this includes in it these following things —

(a) Integrity of heart. As servants are bid to discharge their duty in singleness of heart (Colossians 3:22).

(b) An entire love of God is required in every good work. All our actions must flew from this principle, for if we love not God, we cannot do the works of God.

(c) There must be an entire love, not only of God, but of goodness itself, and the intrinsic excellency and perfection that is in it. There must be a delight and pleasure in the ways of God, and in all those good and virtuous actions which we do, and that for their own sakes.

(d) Not only a love of God, but a fear of Him, must be a principle from whence all our holy actions are to proceed, a fear of acting contrary to the purity of God’s nature, a fear of displeasing and offending Him. Joseph acted out of this excellent principle when he cried out, “How shall I do this wickedness and sin against God?”(e) Humility is another principle from whence we must act. Every good and righteous man lays his foundation low; he begins his works with a submissive and self-denying spirit; he proceeds with lowliness of mind, and a mean opinion of himself, and of all he can do.

(f) Alacrity, joy, and cheerfulness, and so likewise a due warmth, zeal, and ardency, are other principles from whence our good works should spring. We must with gladness undertake and perform them, and we must serve the Lord with a fervency of spirit (Romans 12:11).

8. This is another indispensable qualification of a good work, that it be done for a good end. As there are fountains or principles of actions, so there are ends or designs belonging to them all. You must necessarily distinguish between principles and ends if you would speak properly and significantly. Fountains and springs of actions are those from whence the actions flow; ends and aims are those to which the actions tend. There is a vast difference between these. I have told you what the former are; now I will set before you the latter. The right ends which ought to be in all evangelical actions (for of such I intend chiefly to speak) are these three — our own salvation, the good of others, and in pursuance of both God’s glory. This was it which spoiled and blasted the most solemn and religious duties of the Pharisees. When they did their alms, they sounded a trumpet before them, that they might have glory of men (Matthew 6:2). Whey they prayed, they did it standing in the corners of the streets, that they might be seen of men (Matthew 5:5). Likewise when they fasted, they disfigured their faces, that they might appear unto men to fast (Matthew 5:16). Yea, all their works they did to be seen of men (Matthew 23:5). All was to gain esteem and reputation, all was for applause and vainglory. This wrong end and intention made all they did sinful. When I say all our works are to be done for the ends above named, I do not by this wholly exclude all other ends. As two of the great aims of our actions, namely, our own happiness and that of others, are subordinate to the third, God’s glory, so there are other lesser and inferior ends which are subordinate to all these. He evidences this by such ways as these — He never lets these temporal things stand in competition with, much less in opposition to, those which are greater and higher. He never so seeks his own as not to seek the things which are Jesus Christ’s. He doth not one with the neglect of the other.

9. To comprehend all, a good work is that which is done in a right manner. Good actions are such as have good circumstances and qualities, and evil actions are such as have undue and evil ones.

III. Having instructed you in the nature of good works, I am to show you, in the next place, HOW REASONABLE A THING IT IS THAT WE SHOULD TAKE CARE TO DO THESE GOOD WORKS. I will present you with those arguments and motives which I apprehend are most powerful to incite you to this. First, I might mention the reason in the text, where first we are said to be created unto good works, that we might walk in them. This is the very design of the spiritual creation or new birth, that we should exert all these acts of piety and religion which I have before mentioned. It is the purpose of heaven in regenerating us that we should walk in the ways of holiness, and conscientiously perform all the parts of our duty towards God, towards men, and towards ourselves. Again, it is said, we are said to be created in Christ Jesus to this. This is the end of Christ’s undertakings. “He gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). Moreover, it is added that God hath before ordained these works. This was the good will and pleasure of the blessed Trinity in their eternal consults before man was made. Why then should we, as much as in us lieth, frustrate the purpose and decree of heaven concerning us I Further, this (as the apostle saith of sanctification) is the will of God (1 Thessalonians 4:3). This is that which is commended to us by the example of the saints; they have all been zealous practisers of good works. This is the grand evidence of the truth of our inward graces. This is that whereby you show your thankfulness to God for your election and redemption. I add, this is that which is the great ornament and lustre of our Christian profession; this will set forth and commend our religion to the world. But there are these two arguments yet behind which I will more amply insist upon — good works are necessary to salvation; good works glorify God.

1. Though our good works are conditions of salvation, yet they are not conditions as to God’s election, for He decreed from eternity out of His free will and mercy to save lost man, without any consideration of their good works. Predestination to life and glory is the result of free grace, and therefore the provision of works must be excluded. The decree runs not thus, I choose thee to life and blessedness on supposal or condition of thy believing and repenting; but thus, I freely choose thee unto eternal life, and that thou mayest attain to it, I decree that thou shalt believe and repent.

2. Though faith and obedience be conditions of happiness, yet the performance of them is by the special help and assistance of a Divine and supernatural power. God, who decrees persons to good works, enables them to exert them.

3. Nor are they conditions in this sense that they succeed in the place of perfect obedience to the law which the covenant of works required. I am convinced that no such conditions as these are consistent with the new covenant, the covenant of grace. Works, if they be considered as a way leading to eternal life, are indeed necessary to salvation; they are necessary by way of qualification, for no unclean thing shall enter into heaven. Graces and good works fit us for that place and state; they dispose us for glory. We are not capable of happiness without holiness. It may be some will not approve of saying, We are saved by good works, but this they must needs acknowledge that we cannot be saved without them; yea, we cannot be saved but with them. Some are converted and saved at the last hour, at their going out of the world; but even then good works are not wanting, for hearty confession of sin, and an entire hatred of it, sincere and earnest prayers, hope and trust in God, desire of grace, unfeigned love, and zealous purposes and resolves, all these are good works, and none can be saved without them. In the next place, good works are for God’s glory, therefore they must be done by us. As I have showed before that it is a necessary qualification of good works that they be done out of an intention to glorify God, so now it will appear that this is one great reason why we are obliged to perform them, viz., because thereby God is glorified. “Let your light so shine before men,” saith our Saviour, “that others seeing your works may glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The light of our works came from God, and it must be reflected to him again.

(1) Because of the wicked, that you may stop their mouths, and take away all occasion of speaking evil against you. Again, for the sake of good men, we are obliged to be very careful how we walk; we are concerned to do all the good we can, that they may not be scandalized and hurt by our evil examples, and consequently that God’s name may not be dishonoured thereby. By our holy and exemplary lives, we may be serviceable to stir up the hearts of the godly to praise God on our behalf. “They glorified God in me,” saith the apostle, of those Christian Jews who took notice of his miraculous conversion, and of his extraordinary zeal in preaching the faith (Galatians 1:24).

IV. By way of inference, from what hath been said of good works, we may correct the error of the Antinomians, we may confute the falsehood of the Roman Church, we may make a discovery of other false apprehensions of men concerning good works; we are hence also obliged to examine whether our works be good; and lastly, if we find them to be such, we must continue in the practice of them.

1. What I have delivered on this subject is a sufficient check to the Antinomian error, viz., that because Christ hath satisfied for us, therefore there is no need of good works; Christ’s obedience serves for ours. What need we do anything since He hath done all? And all this is conformable to the doctrine of our blessed Lord and Saviour, who tells us that He came not to destroy the law, but to fulfil it, and make it more complete and perfect. By His doctrine and practice He taught the world that the moral law obligeth the faithful under the evangelical dispensation, and that obedience to the former is not opposite to the grace of the latter. He constantly promoted good works and holy living, and bid His disciples show their love to Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15). You see then how fondly they discourse who say that, because Christ hath done and suffered all things for man’s redemption, therefore there is nothing left for us to do. Indeed, we have nothing to do that can further our salvation by way of merit, but we have something to do whereby we may show our thankfulness for Christ’s undertakings; we have a great deal to do whereby we may discover our obedience to the Divine commands and injunctions. Though good works and obedience are not conditions of justification, yet they are of salvation; they are requisite in the person who is justified, although they are wholly excluded from justification itself. Or we may say, though they do not justify meritoriously, yet they do it declaratively, they show that we are really of the number of those who God accounteth just and righteous.

2. The falsehood of the Romanists is hence confuted. They cry out against us, as those who utterly dislike, both in doctrine and practice, all good works. They brand us with the name of Solifidians, as if faith monopolized all our religion. Indeed, all that profess the reformed religion affirm that faith is the root of all graces, that Divine virtue is the basis and foundation of all good works; this they maintain, and have good reason to do so; but still they hold that good and holy works are indispensably requisite in Christianity, and that no man can be excused from performing them, and that those whose lives are utterly devoid of them have no right faith and no true religion. This is our unanimous belief, profession, and doctrine, and the Papists are maliciously reproachful when they accuse us Of the contrary.

3. From what hath been said, we may discover the wrong notions and apprehensions which most men have of good works. I will instance more particularly in charity, which is eminently called a good work, but there is a great and common mistake about it. And so as to other good works, all understanding men agree that they ought to be done, but they greatly mistake what good works are. They think if they do the outward acts of religion they do very well; if they fast and pray, and hear God’s Word, and receive the eucharist; if they perform the external acts of justice and charity, their doings cannot but be good and acceptable, and they need look after no more. They never consider whether their fasting and praying and other exercises of devotion and piety proceed from God’s grace and Holy Spirit in them, whether they be accompanied with faith, and be the result of good and holy principles, and be done for good ends, and in a good manner. Alas! these and the like things are not thought of. This discovers the gross mistakes in the world.

4. Then you are really concerned to examine your lives and actions, and to see whether you be not of the number of the mistaken persons.

5. When you have examined the true nature of good works, then urge upon yourselves that you are indispensably obliged to do them. Being thoroughly persuaded of the necessity of them, press the practice of them on yourselves and on others.That you may successfully do so, observe these four plain and brief directions —

1. Beg the assistance of the Spirit. These are no mean and common works which I have set before you as that duty. They require great strength and power to exert them.

2. Study the Scriptures. There, and there only, you will find instructions for the performing of works acceptable to God.

3. Set before you the example of the saints, for by viewing of them you will not only learn what to do, but you will be taught not to be weary in well doing.

4. Redeem and improve the time. Fix it on your thoughts that you have a good deal of work to do, but your time to do it in is short and soon expiring.

(J. Edwards, D. D.)

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Oh God, my life is over!

My life is half over by all estimation and while on side it’s a half full glass the other hand reveals a very depressing reality: I have wasted much of it.  I have wasted my life on meaningless endeavors, invested in idols that have never paid a return, breaded the meal of the flesh too many times to count only to be burned and held nothing in the end.  I have so many things, seasons, moments and dreams that will never be as it relates to my marriage, my children and God’s people – and in retrospect, I am satisfied.  Why? Because while I wish I had labored differently, I do have today.

This day is a gift from God and it is honorable not to waste it but to redeem the time.

Redeeming the time is not to catch up on past waste, but to manage what is mine this moment and be a Christ-filled steward of it. Here are a few thoughts from my journal as of late:

  1. With actual minutes and seconds: knowing that I have just moments in each day I resolve that it belongs to the Lord who created it for His glory. Remaining mindful of this, filled with time in the word and prayer, I pray He will honor my time and help me use it wisely.  Remember, God can do more with nothing than I can do with everything, so I need no MORE TIME, I just need HIM!
  2. Thoughts are my worst enemy. So I must put to death thoughts that carry me away from my Lord.
  3. Fleshly pursuits are not just greed, idolatry and sin, but also measuring my “needs” incorrectly and spending time on worthless s0-called enjoyable things that result in no fruitfulness.  This can include idleness, misaligned study, youtube, facebook, text messages, tv shows, music, books, etc. We must pay attention to these things.
  4. Invest in the GOAL, not the rest stops. This means that I should not spend time redeeming memories and lessons of life with my kids, but knowing that my role and most vital part of their lives is feeding them truth, showing them Christ, and walking with them into adulthood as a Christ’s siblings together. We often spend countless hours fretting on the “steps” and “memories” thinking they matter, but they don’t.  The End Does!
  5. Praying more for the Lord’s help, use, and purpose in all things gives me the perspective I need. So, if I am talking with someone about life, then I pray the Lord would help me hear them and HIM so that I may respond seasoned with saltiness, not worthlessness.
  6. Investing in what is clearly eternal. Time, friends, events, travel etc. Is it worth it? What matters for all eternity? Invest in those things; they bring the greatest joy and the highest reward.  For me, I write, think, pray, sing, listen to the Lord’s word, invest in other’s lives and pray the Lord would put me in the lives of others while not WORRYING about anything.  (Of course, I cannot do this… so the Lord must do it in me!)
  7. STOP TIME MANAGEMENT – At all costs!  Many years ago my time management actually had to be scheduled.  NOW, I live by boundaries and goals that NEVER change, ever. Period. I put the phone down at certain times, period. I won’t look at emails until it is time. Period. I refuse to alter some things, and I refuse to be a slave to the time management, leadership development cult machine.  It is not good, but boundaries are. When we live with boundaries we are more apt and able to invest in the lives of others, especially in crisis.  See my thoughts on Pastoral Ministry boundaries here.
  8. I often pray and say in my heart continually something like this, and it is my prayer this day….

Oh, how this day must be gleaned for opportunity that will shine the brightest light on the glory of God in all things! May this moment be expanded toward eternity by sharing, speaking and savoring the supernatural radiance of the magnificence of the Lord’s Light through the Son Jesus Christ in all conversations, all thoughts, all meditations, all time, all labor and all matters. While we cannot make up for time that we’ve lost, relationships that we’ve mismanaged, opportunities that have fleeted, the time is now to exult in Christ Jesus. After all, there is nothing greater and nothing more powerful to pull two people together with an intimacy that surpasses the logic of the greatest mind.

So for you:  Run to the Lord Jesus, cry for His power upon you, be filled with all His fullness, pray for others’ joy and peace and labor unto that end until the Lord returns or until the breath in our lungs has passed. Either way, it is a joyous and meaningful tarry.  Maranatha!

DV,

Pastor James

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Children and the Word

It often perplexes my mind when I hear people discuss their decision to “not” teach spiritual things to their children. For the staunch atheist or pagan I could understand, but this mind I hear from many professing believers. Some of their excuses include, “I want my children to make their own choices,” or “I just don’t think it is right to force Christian teaching on my kids.”  If this logic was equivocal on the plain I would accept it, but it isn’t. People make their children learn certain academic subjects that are truly just for the sake of being “well-rounded.” They encourage and reward their children to exercise discipline to learn mathematics, history, sociology etc. with the idea that these things are to be known for their good but yet they feel that spiritual teaching of God’s word is less than important.

Another reason that some believers don’t teach their children scripture is that they feel inadequate to do so but feel as though the “local” program for children can fill the gap in their ignorance. The truth is that children are more influenced by parental teaching than any other. SO, someone else can instruct children in spiritual things but if parents do not reinforce and at the minimum, show an interest in this learning, the child will soon depart from the heart of it. Keep in mind that I am not speaking of salvation, the new birth, justification, or anything else that comes by the work of God alone, but speaking of the foundations of such things: hearing the word of God.

Here are a few things in my mind, and in my experience, that should be considered regarding the teaching of children:

  1. Children must be TAUGHT EVERYTHING they are to learn. If we think they’ll get their “own” way soon enough, they most certainly will. Whatever we teach them they will learn. Learning is not belief or obedience, but learning brings the power of LIFE as the Spirit brings life through hearing by giving hearing. (Rom 10:17)
  2. Parental figures are the PRIMARY TEACHERS. Nothing will ever replace the direct and indirect teaching of parental influence. As an adult, I have many habits and practices that I realize I mimic from my father. These are learned behaviors and ideas that were not directly taught. Parents that do not love the word of God will have children that will NOT LOVE the word of God.
  3. Entertainment is the opposite of learning. So often people think that kids need to incorporate FUN FUN FUN with the learning of God’s word. When is the last time you ever saw a 1st grade teacher play dodgeball while teaching addition? How about a high school calculus class using drama to enforce a mathematical truth? All learning can be enjoyable, but it is a lie that it has to be a certain “level” of attraction for children: They learn more than adults anyway these days.
  4. Churches are often ill-prepared: Some well-meaning people pull kids out of worship and preaching to accommodate  their little weak minds while the scripture teaches that more children flocked around Jesus to listen than did adults at times. Jesus even said, “do not hinder…”.  When we separate the children from the teaching of the word, we hinder them against the command of Christ.  While children’s programming can be useful, in the long-haul, it divides the body of Christ and destroys the essence of future generations who feel like the church should “give me what I want…”
  5. Teaching and Living go hand-in-hand. The word of God is replete with examples of teaching and then exhortation to live out a teaching. Surely, as believers, we know that all good works are fulfilled by God, but we know the warning that if God is not transforming His people, then they are not His people because HE DOES and never leaves a child to rot. So, children need to hear and see the word lived out in adults. They need to see forgiveness and repentance. They need to see worship and affection for God’s people.
  6. Zeal and Love are different beasts. Loving the teaching of God without doing the teaching of God in loving His people at the cost of us is a lie according to John. We lie when we say we love orthodoxy but don’t LIVE according to orthodoxy. My hyper-grace friends can just click off of this now, as some of them may have cut much of the NT from their bibles. Having zeal for teaching our kids the right theology will never save them; living without love is condemnation, because Christ alone through Faith alone by Grace alone produces zealous love for God and His people.
  7. Love vs. Obey.  “If you love me you will obey my commands.” This is a very difficult pill to swallow from the mouth of Jesus. When we teach children we need to teach them that love is obedience.  Jesus loves the Father so He went to the cross in obedience. We love Jesus (because we have been born of God), so we follow after Him. Teaching children that one can love with a “feeling” while hating with “actions” is deplorable. Do children see US loving in this way?
  8. Teaching TRUTH is not revealing ERROR. So many polemics think they are making disciples by showing all the bad stuff. NEWS FLASH: you will never find time for truth and worship if your life is lived for the pointing out of the world’s error.  We know error because WE KNOW THE TRUTH; not the other way around. I know so many people who were taught by their parents of all the “bad”  things out there.  They know everything wrong in the world and yet they still know nothing right – ergo, they do not know Jesus Christ because they have been denied discipleship: teaching them to obey all I have commanded you!!!!!!!

Much more could be said and may well be said in the future. Add your voice and add to these points. My mind leaves me this moment so as for my children I want to show them, teach them, pray for them and trust in the Lord even when I royally destroy everything I employ!  So point 9 – The Lord is faithful, even when we are NOT!

Trust in the Lord and His word. Even when we as parents do it all wrong, if we invest in prayer and scripture with our kids, we can trust the Lord to bring the fruit!  Glad aren’t you!  Because otherwise, we are all miserable failures…. but alas, Jesus Christ came to save sinners.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Pastor James

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The Point: Wicked Speaks from Dead Hearts | A Politician’s Quote

And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed

While the efforts surrounding this small quotation are honorable in relation to the empowerment of women’s rights, the context in which these words were spoken are dangerously wicked. In speaking about abortion rights, this line was enforced as one of the ways in which laws would be backed with “resources and political will”. While Christians should abhor what is evil and hold to what is Good, sometimes what is good is coupled with what is evil in an attempt to placate to the deception of Satan while feeding the desires of a depraved world and the flesh that is certain to find eternal judgment.  Only blind individuals or misogynistic patriarchs would deny that our sisters are surely “second class” in so many eyes, it does not allow for the reduction of truth and the banishment of divine decrees in order to do what is right.

When one desires to change the essence and explicit dogma of righteousness by what is pleasing or “culturally” acceptable it brings many consequences. Two of them are, a hatred for resistance by the contrary and persecution of the firm.  “Rights have to exist in practice” says this leader, who doesn’t understand that her very words will condemn her when she stands before the eternal judge who clearly shows that murder, of anyone, is murder and no matter how the plane lands, the heart of the murder, if not transformed by the grace of the Lord, will remain condemned. When “deep-seated” codes of cultural religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed by the leaders of a nation in order to exercise new rights that conflict with righteousness persecution and ultimately the death of true believers is inevitable.

Remember these words beloved. We are guaranteed to share in the suffering of Jesus Christ as a good soldier. Not by fighting to win but standing as though we have already won. When the attack comes, it will come from the locals, the churches, the neighbors, the spouse, the kids, and those who love you most. The body of Christ will have to endure the persecution that follows the world’s ways and we must do it with gentleness, humility and pity toward those who would rather see us burn on a pyre than to tell them the truth of the Gospel. Keep in step with what is taught us, keep in step with the Lord Jesus (in His grace), and keep in step with the future that we know is ours; not of this world, but gloriously awaiting us who are kept by the power of God!

Do not be deceived, the culture hates the Lord, the natural man wants to do what is contrary to the Lord’s will and design and all these things we see, all the bullying against holiness and the advocating for abortion, same-sex marriage, racism, greed, monarchy and the like are preparing to see the wrath of God poured out on all unrighteousness. May the Lord grant us a heart to pray that we send forth the gospel to a dead world; not a dying one.

Lord have mercy on the souls of men. Lord thank you for the cross – Jesus was killed for preaching the words of God!

Pastor James

 

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A Little Thought

heart and head bible pic

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You Are One of the Morons

Screenshot 2016-09-04 00.49.01

Seldom do I EVER respond to polarizing arguments online, but there are a few forums that I frequent and have good, sometimes tense, but healthy conversations. This evening was one of those evenings. I was floating in the bliss of this coming Lord’s day and basking in the aroma of a week of study and hope-filled expectation of the work of God through His word. To say I was glad is understated. In the midst of my bliss, an unsuspecting troll moved along and unbeknown to me, I accidentally posted in a forum that I “observe” thinking it was a good-soiled tilling. For a moment think of someone who claims to be holy, a lover of truth, and a lover of the brethren by their self-confession. Now consider these following statements:

Pinhead, I despise your iniquity. Get your heart right and get honor, I eschew evil – YOUR theology. YOU are one of the morons.

This is not a joke. For about four seconds I was totally taken back, asked the brother to message me and he adamantly noted that all of his points and thoughts would “remain public”.  In just a few minutes though I realized I had posted in the wrong place my exegesis of the love of God in answering a metaphor listed by a participant. To that then I graciously just bowed out. Had I had an EKG at the moment it would have read a near heart failure! It’s amazing what the flesh will do when provoked unwarranted. By the grace of the Lord I was able to settle down, remove my anger, pray for this man, “Jeff” and then engage in another fruitful conversation before retiring for bed.

Just so we don’t get assumptive on the context, I was sharing previous theological writing from me and my colleagues on the matter of universalism, which is a very bad heretical view of salvation that teaches all people are forgiven and propitiated at the cross of Christ.  We know that the scripture teaches that only those who believe will be saved and no one can believe apart from God’s word. So, I shared the resources and was slapped ferociously as stated. But in the end, I am glad and here’s why:

  1. I am a pinhead. I mean, I have believed some very pinheaded stuff through the last four decades, so, comment taken. However, while so, I am not being foolish or stupid on this matter and by leaving the argument to the Lord, I have proven so – staying in would have proven me a pinhead.
  2. I too despise my iniquity and I am glad this hateful person has so much in common with me. Gladly my iniquity has been nailed to the cross and I am no longer bound to the death that belongs to my sinful guilt because Jesus Christ has taken on Himself and made me His righteousness. Amen. (BTW, it is by grace alone through faith alone, not of works of any kind.)
  3. Getting my heart right and getting honor is hard to comprehend. His statement to get my heart right was to repent of number 2 and go with universalism, but for that I am not going to shake. And also, my heart cannot be right before God through any work of my own, but only through the finished work of Jesus Christ. The honor he was speaking of was me asking him to please not call me and my brothers “morons”.
  4. Another point of unity with Jeff is that I also “eschew” evil, that is I avoid and shun it by the grace of God. Sadly, he was calling me evil because of my theology right after he argued that ALL people are saved automatically because of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. I’m confused by this because if we are indeed brothers, according to John, he cannot avoid me but rather, should be patient with me while training me in righteousness. After all the litmus test of redemption is love for God and love for the saints.
  5. OK, while I hate to admit it, I am a moron. Got me. I am a fool that is sustained by the invisible and sovereign grace of God that was manifest through the person of Jesus. I am a fool for Him and His gospel and preaching it is foolish in the eyes of all the world.
  6. As this was unfolding, the resources I shared sparked a conversation off forum with a few folks and one in particular wanted to learn more, so we spoke and will, by the Lord’s grace, talk again tomorrow evening. Happily I have brothers near him who can surround him and provide answers if needed.

So, remember church, the world will hate you because it hates the Lord of the Bible, the Son of God and His good news. Stay close to the vine, don’t wobble down the line and stand firm in Christ!

For His Glory,

James

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The Mouth of Babes: Silly Truth

mouthofbabes

Over a decade ago we painfully transitioned to integrated family worship. This means that all people who are part of the family of faith, all ages, sit together under the preaching of the word of God. The first year or two it was difficult for many reasons: we couldn’t handle our children, other people didn’t know what to do about a kid who may make a noise, it was different, visitors were caught off guard…. the list could go on. But ten years later, while there are always matters to deal with along with 30 children sitting in the services at any given time and three infants on the way in the fall, we have seen so much more blessings from this decision than any of these pains would discourage us. And every now and then we see a little light and encouragement on how God teaches children in the midst of the church.

This past Lord’s day one such example was given and in my experience, it was the youngest example of “listening” I have ever seen.  My two year old daughter was doing her usual: sitting with grandparents and back and two between folks in the church trying to “talk quietly” and “listen.” Usually this is cemented with a well-placed snack. (meh).  The text for the day was 1 Thessalonians 4:15 – “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” For the introduction and then as a reminder halfway through the message (63 minutes this day), I was making the case that our natural instinct when hurt is to hurt back. I used the illustration of how our children, even at a young age reveal depravity and sinfulness even though they do not know or recognize it as rebellion. I was discussing how we are patient with them as they progress and grow and in the same manner God has been patient with us and even patient with “vessels of destruction.”  Either way, God is patient and we are patient.

I alluded to a basic expression of rebellion that most children do, the crying for no reason, the testing, looking, whining etc. and in the midst of this example my two year old looks at those around her and says, “My daddy’s talking about me.”  A low chuckle birthed from that area of the congregation and an epiphany was born. We know that God is sovereign to teach through the word and no matter what “educators” teach, God is greater than our ability to teach. The New Testament shows us that children flocked to Jesus as He taught ALL PEOPLE; and they understood Him. We learned by statements like this that children hear, listen and by the grace of God, understand. Not only was Abby listening (even though it appeared she wasn’t), she resonated with the experience of her sinful actions as they were illustrated, without the use of her name.

Remember beloved, our God is gracious and can pierce the hearts and minds of the infantile, the ignorant, the young, the old, the stubborn and the incapable. He is mighty to save and reveal even those things that are impossible to see. Scripture teaches through the mouth of Jesus that unless our faith be like the little children we cannot inherit the kingdom of Heaven. This shows us that ALL OF THE WORK of salvation is God’s doing, not man’s. Glory be to God for His faithfulness. I have hundreds of examples like this of children hearing and understanding deep things, but this is by far the youngest and I thought I would share.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor James

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Sin of Political Fodder | Unity of the Bride

Broken Idolatry

As I chime in here I actually shudder at the necessity of such writing and smirk at the lack of interest it will garner pressing against all the other noise related to the fodder of this election year. My heart though is very burdened for the sake of the Glory of the Name of Jesus Christ our God and so I write, for those small few who will read and engage the scripture on this matter so that their joy would be full, their minds at ease and their affection for the saints will be pure.

Looking at any election is like peering into the ocular tube for Anton van Leeuwenhoek at his first peek at a eukaryote. He didn’t know what he was going to see nor did he understand what he saw as he gazed. This year’s election possibilities are foreign in history, foreign in my life-time and foreign for the Church. So what does the church need to know about voting, candidates, values, morals, etc. “How would Jesus Vote?” is usually on the tip of everyone’s tongue, while not in that same query, the outcome of investigation is always the same, “what should I do as a believer this election year?”

To date, actually just this week, I have read over 30 articles, responses, rebukes, theological positions, white papers, red letters, vlogs, blogs, comments, posts and even napkin scribbles related to how a Christian SHOULD view and RESPOND to the question at hand concerning this electoral challenge.  Quite honestly I am disgusted with it all. I am tired of the undue burden placed by well-meaning people on the body of Christ. I am tired of pulpits being hijacked by lesser mundane inanity in place of sublime glory. I am labored over the souls of so many sheep who are stepping over each other in an attempt to be “right” in the eyes of God while murdering their fellow man. (1 John should come to mind here) I am overwhelmed as a pastor of the local church when I have to continually be on guard that such ready division could implode at any moment and usher a barrage of discipline and unnecessary harm. I am weary of so-called defenders of truth who in their polemics violate the basics of the faith through harassment, evil speech and hatred. As you can see I am tired of things as they are and the only reason is that it is dividing the body of Christ over matters to which the Scripture DOES NOT SPEAK.

Let the exegete stand up and use the context of divine utterance in truth instead of conveying a converted and untruthful boast while calling it God’s. Speak the truth in love for the sake of the glory of Heaven wherein lies no victory in government, national, creed or liberty. Be true to the truth of the Word of God lest God be a liar; let Christians repent of such low hearted and contrived silliness as their flesh shakes with desire to burst their opinions against the decrees of the living God. In summary, let the word of God be true and let those who handle it not twist it lest they face the judgment. God needs no help and God’s word speaks not the matter of national interests for any nation, race or ethnos. Get that and be quiet otherwise.

Therefore, for the sake of the redeemed of the Lord and our unity which is not just commanded of us but GIVEN to us through the SPIRIT, let’s look at Romans Chapter 14 and 15 and what it says about matters of conscience and let’s quit listening to each others commentary, but rather hear the exposition of God’s word so that our souls will be one.

For the sake of argument, let’s say ALL of us are right in our own eyes. That’s right, every contrary statement is true and in an absurd reality, it was permited for insanity to reign righteously. (Not going to happen but I am not here to argue your point of view as many would think.)

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. (Romans 14:1 ESV)

Look at that! I can stop now. Do not quarrel over opinions.  “It’s not my opinion!” some would say… yes it is. God’s word does not anywhere give us directives or moral commands on voting, elections, policies, social matters and the like. But the contrary, we must discern individually on these matters that are of no consequence. And yes, let the Lord send America to destruction, it’s destined to be there one day anyway, why not now? Maybe then Christians will share the faith instead of nationalism. So in Romans 14:1, if “THEY” are wrong, we are to just be welcoming. If one thinks they should vote for Snoopy, then let them. If one is convinced they should “nevertrump” so be it. If someone else is writing their own names in; great! Quarreling is SIN SIN SIN SIN SIN and is WICKED! So…. let’s look at 15:1

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:1-2 ESV)

No only are we to welcome others and their different opinions, we are to BEAR with them and build them up. This is not in correction to our way of thinking. Disagree?

The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. (Romans 14:22 ESV)

So now what? This text speaks of what one may eat or drink, wear, think, decide on matters of choice. Regulate their entertainment. We know what sin is and we know what liberty is and we are NOT free to sin but are free to be at peace with God through Jesus Christ in our convictions on matters like these. For example, I think it is a very poor expression for people to dialog and put their personal information on social networks, so I don’t do it. Often times I engage in encouraging others to be careful, but I cannot say, “God prohibits the use of Facebook!” It just isn’t so. Just like I cannot say, Godly people vote for CANDIDATE X or would never vote for CANDIDATE Y. We are NOT supposed to gain others to our opinion at the cost of intimacy and unity.

Keep in mind right now that I am not speaking TO or ABOUT anyone. So if any of you reading this desire to converse, please do so. If you desire to rebuke, please do so. But be biblical about it, because I will follow the scriptures. I will talk with you about sin and I will call your pastor if it doesn’t resolve. So, OPEN RESPONSES to me should be private if they are directly respondent to this article.

Remember, there are always weak and strong arguments that come from weak and strong positions. There are differences of opinions but we are to bear with each and go along without confusion and argument. Dogma at the cost of love is worthless dogma when it isn’t dogma. Look at the next few verses in 14.

One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. (Romans 14:2-3 ESV)

Wow, we are not to be concerned with converting out brothers to carnivores or to the GOP or the SBC or to the WWJD! We are not only supposed to bear with others in affection, but we are to serve them out of affection and never hold with contempt those who seem to oppose our views. Why? Because we are accountable to the Lord Jesus Christ on these matters and will answer for them one day. We best be sure we are right while we are also not violating the commands that are clear; you know, like loving your brother, bearing with his weakness, not being divisive, not quarreling, not repaying evil, not breaking the unity of the faith… and stuff like that.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4 ESV)

 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10-12 ESV)

We best be willing to stand before God and say, “I am right and spoke on your behalf… ” with these matters, because we will be called to account on how we speak, act and interact, especially with the use of God’s word. (James 3:1) So, let’s be sure in our minds that what we desire to say and hold to is RIGHT before the Lord. Otherwise, we could be in for a grand surprise. Either way, it is our choice on the matter, not our job to change the minds of others. Remember we are talking about moral peripherals, not absolutes.. voting, not worship.  If I chose to vote one way, my wife another and my daughter to abstain, we are ALL RIGHT before the Lord if we are prayerfully acting in response to the Lord and His bearing upon our consciences. In doing so, we live AS THE LORD’S and we live TO the LORD and if we die we die TO the LORD.  The ultimate purpose in all our actions is ascribe glory to the one for whom it is due, Jesus Christ. See verses 5-9 below. These temporal things have NOTHING to do with the Kingdom of Christ. After all, man casts the lots but the Lord decides the vote. (Proverbs 16:33)

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. (Romans 14:5-9 ESV)

When we make division over these types of things we cause sin in the lives of each other. Resentment, doubt, anger, fear, frustration and many other grievances. This cannot be, it is not our lot. We should be willing to lose our rights and lives for the sake of each other, not remove each other from our lives for the sake of the temporal. (v13) The things that are clean are not forbidden. Is voting clean? Is patriotism clean? Is debating these things clean? If it is for you, then good. If it isn’t then good. (v14) We are not to exercise our conciseness and our liberties to the detriment of our affection. (v15) We are not to be KNOWN for our politics but rather the law of love in Christ Jesus Alone! Let us care more for our brother than our rights and liberties. [20] Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. (Romans 14:20 ESV)

[13] Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. [14] I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. [15] For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. [16] So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. [17] For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. [18] Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. [19] So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:13-19 ESV)

See how this portion of text closes? Serving Christ, not the nation is our priority. All the lands of this world are temporal and ONLY those things which are ETERNAL remain and our siblings in Christ and His glory are eternal. We may be political “enemies” but we are one in Christ Jesus. (Sarcasm intended). Our convictions are personal, private and for dialog only when called upon. When it comes to political issues I rarely, if every, give my thoughts. But when privately asked I labor over the word of God and my prayers and express my fear in sharing them and warn the hearer to not adopt my position but rather pray and seek the Lord and whatever they decide will be pleasing to Him. Our desires should be to edify each other (v19) and to be at peace at all times and to violate our conscience, we sin; so to violate another’s, we cause them to sin.  But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23 ESV)

What I Don’t Care About

I don’t care who you vote for and why or why not you vote. God doesn’t either except that you listen to Him and His word. Neither candidate of any party is right, just look at their policies. Every candidate is right on something. There is no such thing as a lesser evil or a greater good; that’s a very childish and ignorant petition. The conscience of a man is ignored with much gravity, God speaks through His spirit (through His word) to our consciences and we best not ignore Him.

What I Do Care About

I do care about the joy of the saints, the glory of God, the name of Jesus Christ, the mission of the church (which is not to change America, but to see it die for Christ!). I do care about meanness in the name of Jesus. I do care about the love of God that is given to us so that we can love each other. I do care about the unity of the faith and the intimacy of the body. I do care about the testimony of the local church. And so should you.

Care beloved. Love as Christ has called us to love. Turn off the tele, stop the likes and frowns, tweet no more to the harm of each other. Let the world do what the world does and pray the Lord gives each of us wisdom and the next time someone comes up to sway you to their idol, just smile and thank them, encourage them, and be at peace.

Be in CHRIST beloved, trash the rest.

Pastor  James

PS. Did you catch the matter of discipline. Just to emphasize, the body of Christ should bring any who cause division in this manner under public discipline according to the word of God. That is clear… even if they are a national treasure, small country pastor, pew sitter or praise recording artist. Think a minute on that. It’s what’s at stake.

PSS. And yes, there are many opportunities for debate here, the spirit of the matter is that we must not continue in this division and we must stop allowing others to twist the use of God’s word to validate their personal convictions. Straw men do not work, they just sit and burn… that’s the point.

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