Thursday, December 20, 2007

WHAT CHILD IS THIS?


What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

So begins the beloved Christmas carol, written by William Chatterton Dix in 1865 when he was twenty-nine. The story goes that Dix was stricken with a serious illness which left him bed-ridden and severely depressed for several months; but during this time he learned to put his full trust in God. Ace Collins wrote: “Not long after regaining his strength, an inspired Dix produced some of the greatest hymns ever written by an English layman.”[1] Collins also pointed out that this time in American history was dominated by Puritan thought, which forbade Christians from celebrating Christmas as a special day of worship because of the revelry and pagan origins of the holiday. Consequently, many hymn writers of that era ignored the story of the birth of Christ altogether. Not so with William Dix. He was moved to pen a poem which he titled, “The Manger Throne.” In it, Dix approached the birth of Christ from the perspective of visitors who were perplexed as to the significance of the child that was born in a manger in Bethlehem. The verses of “the Manger Throne” touched on the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection of Christ. This progression has appeared in numerous sermons by different preachers as the cradle, the cross, and the crown. In time, “The Manger Throne” became “What Child Is This,” and the answer to the question posed in the title is found in the words, “This, this is Christ, the King…”!

How incomprehensible is the thought that the little Babe born to Mary was God manifest in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16), the Creator of all things visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16), the one who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), the KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:16)! Should we not all marvel at such a magnificent truth? Small wonder that the shepherds feared when an angel appeared to them to bring the good news of His birth. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:11-12). Such a wonderful proclamation was cause for heavenly celebration and thus the narrative continues: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:13-14). As Mary pondered these things in her heart (Luke 2:19), I have little doubt that her thoughts raced back to the time when the angel Gabriel first appeared to her and told her that she had found favor (grace) with God and would give birth to the promised Messiah of Israel. It was then that she learned what her miraculous conception would entail: “thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). Lacking an adequate human explanation for such a miracle, the angel responded to Mary’s astonishment with the proclamation that it would come to pass because the power of the highest would overshadow her, or come upon her (Luke 1:35), “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

What Child was this who would come forth from her womb? He was none other than the One foretold by the prophets long ago in the writings of the Hebrew Scriptures. Chief among them was the prophecy of Isaiah, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:6-7). What amazing titles are ascribed to our Lord in this memorable portion of Scripture: “Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, the Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace”! This is the real Christmas story; sadly, it has become obscured by what the Christmas holiday has become in our day. We have become so busy with temporal things and family festivities that we have lost sight of the eternal significance of Christ’s birth and the lasting joy it brings. What Child is this? Volumes have been written to describe Him. I appreciate the inspiring thoughts found in another favorite carol written by Benjamin Handby in 1866. The first words of his carol echo the title, wherein he asks, “Who is He in yonder stall, at whose feet the shepherds fall?” In the chorus, the answer- and the only proper response- is shouted back to heaven:

’Tis the Lord, O wondrous story!’
Tis the Lord, the King of glory;
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him, crown Him, Lord of all!

The King of glory! Shall we not all bow before this Child who came to die for our sins, rose victorious from the grave, passed through the heavens, and sits at the right hand of the Father? Indeed, we must bow before him. He came first in lowliness to the insignificant village of Bethlehem to suffer and die. He will return to the Holy City of Jerusalem to occupy the throne of David and reign in unsurpassed glory. “Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

Have a blessed celebration of Christ’s birth, the One who is Lord of all!

Pastor Tom

“And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:8-11).

[1] Ace Collins, Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas(Grand Rapids, Mich. : Zondervan, 2001), p 186.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

THE DUTY OF PRAISE



There are many duties incumbent upon the Christian as a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17) that prompt the flesh to war against the indwelling Holy Spirit. Chief among them is the believer’s duty of rendering praise to God, who has called us out of darkness and into the kingdom of the Son of His love (Colossians 1:13). J.C. Lambert reminds us that “Praise is everywhere represented in the Bible as a duty no less than a natural impulse and a delight. To fail in this duty is to withhold from God the glory that belongs to Him (Psalm 50:23; Romans 1:20-21); it is to shut one's eyes to the signs of His presence (Isaiah 40:26), to be forgetful of His mercies (Deuteronomy 6:12) and unthankful for His kindness (Luke 6:35).”[1] Since Satan’s desire has always been to covet the glory which belongs exclusively to God, we should not be surprised that he is not slack in his efforts to rob God of the Christian’s sacrifice of praise (Hebrews 13:15). Jesus said, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal” (John 10:10). Jesus also taught us: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you “(John 16:13-14). Here we see that it is the desire of the Holy Spirit to boast in Christ, “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).


As the child of God yields to the will of the Holy Spirit, the fruit of praise will become increasingly evident in his life. This is the most natural thing for those who are debtors to grace. How can we neglect to praise our heavenly Father when we have so often praised our earthly fathers for the good things they have given us? The early church enjoyed rich fellowship in the name of Jesus and shared many times together praising God (Acts 2:42-47). When Paul and Silas were imprisoned for their testimony of Christ, we see a remarkable response to the dark circumstances they found themselves in. The Philippian jailor “thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks” (Acts 16:24). This was no time for a prayer and praise meeting; but that is precisely what occurred: “And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them” (verse 25). At this same hour the Lord intervened in a dramatic way by opening the doors of the prison, and everyone confined there had their chains loosed (verse 26). How many Christians are still bound by depression, fear, self-pity, etc., not realizing that the power of praise can set them free? Shall we continue to allow the arch-enemy of God to shut our hearts to the presence of God by forgetting that it is our duty to praise Him continually? “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the LORD: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad. O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Psalm 34:1-3). When we exalt the name of our Lord and Savior and boast in Him, our eyes are no longer focused on self and earthly things, and the reward is inner peace and joy. The Christian’s duty becomes the Christian’s deliverance. “Pliny, in writing to Trajan around 100 A. D., says, ‘The church assembled before daybreak to sing alternate hymns to Christ and to God.’ And does any one profess to believe there was no connection between this fact and the fullness of the Spirit's influence and power that they enjoyed?”[2] I, for one, do believe that there is a correlation between the dynamic faith exhibited by the persecuted church and their heartfelt praise and adoration of God. They lived as though they truly believed that with God nothing was impossible (Luke 1:37). He was their strong tower from the enemy (Psalm 61:3). He was their refuge and strength, and a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). If the church today had the same vision of a mighty God, we would have faith to fight every spiritual battle and hope in every trial of life. As we learn to rejoice in the Lord, the joy of the Lord becomes our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Therefore, let us praise God daily with the new song He has put in our mouths (Psalm 40:3). May our duty to praise Him become not only our deliverance, but also our delight. This is the mark of a spiritual man whose refuge is in the rock of His salvation.

When unceasing praise becomes our portion, our gatherings on the Lord’s Day will take on a different countenance. No longer will it be difficult to solicit a testimony of God’s faithfulness from His people. Prayer and praise will flow freely from those whose sins have been forgiven by the once-for-all offering of Jesus on Calvary. Just think what it would be like to experience the power and glory of God’s presence of in our midst. Oh Lord, grant that the fires of a revival of praise would begin in each and every heart of thy children, so that we may join our voices to the heavenly choir and proclaim: “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Revelation 4:11).

Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,

To his feet thy tribute bring;

Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,

Who like me his praise should sing?

Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the everlasting King.[3]


Psalm 147:1 Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.


For His glory,

Pastor Tom


[1] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article on praise.

[2] Sermon by W.B. Smiley: “The Singing of Praise a Duty”.

[3] Words by H.F. Lyte (1793-1847)

Thursday, November 15, 2007

LET US GIVE THANKS


How do you respond to the many blessings of God in your life? In this season of thanksgiving, just survey the wonderful evidences of God’s grace and mercy toward you, and I know you will be surprised with all that the Lord has done. Our heavenly Father has bestowed His loving kindness on us in many different ways, though we are entirely undeserving of it. Such is the nature of our salvation: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). No matter how many times I read this passage of Scripture, I cannot fully take it in. Who am I that God should show mercy toward me, in my rebellious state, and provide a way for me to be reconciled to Him? “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight” (Colossians 1:21-22). What a dreadful description of the human condition! Look at it more closely: We all were alienated from God, enemies of God, and intent on doing wicked things. This is not a picture of passive disobedience, but hostility to God’s holy law. All such sinners are certainly included in the category of those mentioned in Proverbs 1:29-30: “For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: They would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof.” Yet the aforementioned Scripture in Colossians says that the Christian has been reconciled to God by the death of Christ- not only that, but we will stand before Him holy and blameless. God is surely the greatest giver, who has given us the greatest gift – eternal life! He has done what is contrary to man’s nature. He has returned good for evil, and He has done so to the highest degree.

Once reconciled to God through the sacrifice of Christ, the believer lives in the sphere of God’s goodness. In other words, the wrath of God having been satisfied, God is now disposed to act with favor toward those redeemed by Christ’s blood (Revelation 5:9). We are the recipients of daily blessings from heaven which encompass every aspect of our lives, materially and spiritually. Not surprisingly, we are admonished in Psalm 100 to enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. In other words, our times of public and private worship (in the temple of our hearts) should be filled with gratitude and adoration. But how many of us take time each day to give thanks and exalt His holy name? Do you recall the story of the ten lepers that Jesus healed? They asked Jesus to have mercy on them, and He did. All ten were cleansed. I would think that this would have occasioned a spontaneous outpouring of praise from the entire group. Well, it didn’t. We read: “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:15-16). This prompted Jesus to respond, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" (verses 17-18, NKJV). What a rebuke! Only a Samaritan, a stranger to the true knowledge of God, returned to give thanks. If Jesus noticed the lack of gratitude in the other nine, do you think He notices our lack of gratitude? Of course, the answer is Yes, He does. He also knows when an outward expression of thanks may lack true sincerity of heart. We cannot fool God with our words.

What about giving thanks when trials and unpleasant circumstances come our way? Matthew Henry, the famous Bible commentator, was robbed of his wallet once. That night, he wrote in his diary all the things for which he was thankful: first, that he had never been robbed before; second, that though they took his wallet, they did not take his life; third, because, even though they took it all, it wasn't very much; and finally, because he was the one who was robbed and not the one who was robbing. Henry certainly had a heart filled with gratitude in every situation. Thirteen years before his conversion, John Wesley had a conversation with the porter of his college that deeply impressed him and convinced him that there was more to Christianity than he knew. Wesley discovered that the man had only one coat and that nothing had passed his lips that day except a drink of water, and yet his heart was full of gratitude to God. “Wesley said, ‘You thank God when you have nothing to wear, nothing to eat, and no bed to lie upon. What else do you thank him for?’ ‘I thank him,’ answered the porter, ‘that He has given me my life and being, and a heart to love Him, and a desire to serve Him.’[1] Should we not do likewise? The Scripture commands, “In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Brethren, Thanksgiving Day will soon be upon us, but every day must be the occasion for the expression of our gratefulness to God. We have all feasted upon the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. We have filled ourselves with the manna of heaven (John 6:51) and drunk freely from the water of life (John 4:14). We enjoy sweet fellowship with the God of creation (1 John 1:3). We know the comfort of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26), the presence of Christ (Hebrews 13:5), and the fellowship of the saints here on earth (Philippians 1:5). We are blessed of God; no one can argue otherwise. But though all these things are ours, we must remember that true gratitude focuses on the greatness of the giver even more than on the gift: It leads us to love God for who He is, as well as for what He has done. This is the essence of true thanksgiving, and many examples are seen in the book of Psalms, as in: “Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness” (Psalm 30:4).

As you continue to taste of the Lord’s goodness, I pray that you will find the time to thank God for who He is and all He has done. Don’t let the business of life keep you barren of the virtue of gratitude. If we follow the example of the righteous man Daniel, the prophet of God, we will learn the true spirit of thanksgiving: “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10,NKJV). I can only hope that Daniel’s custom of thanksgiving will become ours. I hope for this among God’s people everywhere because I believe that it is the path of joy, the means to a victorious Christian life, and a tremendous testimony to the lost. Brothers and sisters, let us give thanks! May the world know us as a thankful people.

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Happy Thanksgiving in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Tom

[1] A. Skevington Wood, The Inextinguishable Blaze [Eerdmans], p. 100).

Saturday, November 10, 2007

THE COMING JUDGMENT UPON AMERICA



Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am not a prophet who receives special revelation from God. Therefore, I am not predicting a date for the destruction of America in the near future. However, I do believe that this once-great nation cannot continue its present course without experiencing Divine intervention. God does not let people sin with impunity, especially those who have been the recipients of His manifold blessings, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48b). In some measure, America was founded upon Judeo-Christian principles derived from the Bible. Those principles are now considered obsolete, archaic, and irrelevant to an enlightened generation in which intolerance of evil is fast becoming the only thing that is not tolerated. Sociologist Robert Wuthnow is correct in his observation that the God Americans believe in “is a God of love, comfort, order, and security. Gone is the God of judgment, wrath, justice, mystery, and punishment.” Today, we have adopted a “new morality” which is the defiant expression of man’s autonomy. Autonomy can be defined by its component parts, auto (self) and nomos (law). In many spheres, autonomy is good and necessary; however, the autonomy of man in biblical theology is the exertion of the creature’s will against the will of the Sovereign Creator. Man becomes a law unto himself. Such autonomy manifests itself in a variety of behaviors which the Bible identifies as: wickedness (Genesis 6:5), sin (Genesis 18:20), transgression (Exodus 34:7), perverseness (Proverbs 11:3), unrighteousness (Romans 1:18), and disobedience (Romans 5:19). This godless philosophy that originated with Satan, the original rebel against God, knows no barriers or limitations. His kingdom of darkness (Colossians 1:13) encompasses the world of business, politics, our schools and institutions of higher learning, the religious realm, and most notably, the foundation of society, the family. It is in the latter arena that Satan has fought with a vengeance to destroy America from within. The moral absolutes that guided our founding fathers from generation to generation have long been abandoned. The America that God shed His grace upon has become like the nation of Israel in the days of Isaiah: “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it; but wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isaiah 1:4-6). The wisdom of King Solomon has fallen upon deaf ears and hardened hearts: “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Surely the cup of God’s wrath is filling. His consuming, fiery judgment (Hebrews 12:29) is inevitable apart from genuine, biblical repentance. This thought became very real to me as I watched the telecasts of the recent wildfires here in Southern California. Driven by the fierce Santa Ana winds, the firestorms were virtually impossible to contain. “Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them” (Jeremiah 11:11). “And the strong shall be as tow [tinder], and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them” (Isaiah 1:31). Thus will it be when the day of God’s wrath descends upon America. Israel and Judah had the prophets to warn them. America has the Word of God found in Holy Scripture to warn of the stench of her iniquity in the nostrils of a Holy God. Consider this partial list of her wicked ways: greed; gratuitous sex and violence on television and in movies; the shedding of innocent blood (abortion); the proliferation of drugs, alcohol, and pornography; the endless molestation and exploitation of our children; murder in our schools; a homosexual lobby that seeks to legalize unholy matrimony between same-sex couples; and liberal judges who will not restrain evildoers. This is why I insist that the only hope for America is not the politician, but the preacher- not just the preacher in the pulpit, moreover, but ordinary Christians who are not afraid to say, “Thus saith the Lord” whenever they have the occasion to address the sins of our day. We must get past the disinclination to pass judgment when judgment is due. America needs a holy church to proclaim the truth of a Holy God. This is no time for sleepy, silent saints who are preoccupied with their own affairs. We must redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16). While I pray for revival in the short term, I know that there is no cure for America’s moral cancer in the long term. I am decidedly not post-millennial in my eschatology. Call this pessimism if you will; I call it biblical realism. Only the return of Christ will bring righteousness to this ungodly world. “And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). This is the end for which we must all pray. In the meantime, don’t be overcome with “rapture fever.” While we wait for that glorious day, we must be about our Master’s business. Jesus would have us heed the lesson of the parable of the ten pounds: “Occupy till I come” (Luke 19:13). “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35).

Even so, Come Lord Jesus!


Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith,


Pastor Tom

Saturday, October 20, 2007

PLAGUED BY DOUBT



Hebrews chapter 11 has been called the Bible “Hall of Fame”. In it we find brief accounts of numerous Old Testament believers who trusted God in a variety of different circumstances and “obtained a good report” (verse 2). The names of these individuals are familiar to many of us and have become the subject of countless sermons throughout the Christian era; but the Old Covenant gave way to the New Covenant, and with it came a new era in the unfolding story of men and women who comprise that great cloud of witnesses which encompasses us (Hebrews 12:1). If you were asked to compose a list of New Testament heroes of the faith, whom would you include? I suppose that a few of the apostles would appear, some devout women who followed Jesus to Calvary and testified of His resurrection, and Stephen, the first to give his life for Christ. Undoubtedly, the greatest of all apostles, Paul, who became Christianity’s most influential evangelist, teacher, and author, would be at the top of everyone’s list; but what about a man who served fearlessly and with great zeal in a hostile environment but who, in the end, languished in a prison cell, plagued with doubt? Would such a man make your “heroes of the faith” roster? Of course, I am speaking about “a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6). How could he be excluded, if Jesus said that “among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28) ? Surely this radical preacher, who was accused of having a demon (Luke 7:33), demonstrated a rare blend of courage and godliness as he confronted the leaders of Israel with their sin: “But when he [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). Furthermore, John’s holy boldness was not confined to the religious crowd. He also brought the figurative sword of God’s law to the heart of King Herod Antipas, accusing him of adultery and incest (Mark 6:18). This public denunciation of the King outraged Herod’s wife Herodias, and it led to John’s imprisonment in the wilderness fortress at Machaerus, near the Dead Sea.

There, in a dark and foreboding dungeon, John had plenty of time to be alone with his thoughts. As he reviewed his mission, doubts began to enter his soul and reached a climax as death appeared imminent. John dispatched two of his disciples to ask Jesus: “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). How could this be? It was John who gave the Spirit-filled testimony that Jesus was “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and “bare record” that He was the Son of God (John 1:34). What happened to John’s faith in Jesus? I think the answer lies in John’s failure to recognize God’s Divine timetable. As the forerunner of the Messiah, John believed that Jesus would usher in the promised Kingdom of God. He did all that was required of him. He had been faithful to his calling; he laid the axe to the root of the trees (Matthew 3:10). This “voice of one crying in the wilderness” prepared the nation for the revelation of God’s Deliverer (Matthew 3:3); but what about the present moment in John’s life? Was it not Isaiah the prophet who wrote of the Messiah: “He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn (Isaiah 61:1-3)? To his dismay, John’s own prison door had not been opened; he was still confined. Personal circumstances had clouded his understanding of God’s Word. While Jesus was increasing in popularity, John’s ministry abruptly ended. He knew that this must be (John 3:30), but there was another problem. Imperial Rome was still in full control; the triumph of the Messiah had not come. John had given up everything for Jesus, but the script was not going as he thought it would. In such a time as this, mortal men are vulnerable to the worst of doubts, even the greatest of them. In a nutshell, God had failed to meet John’s expectation. Knowing that “the best of men are men at best,” Jesus did not upbraid John harshly. Ralph Wilson wrote: “Friends, there are times when we are weak. When we have taken a blow. When we are still reeling. Know this, that Jesus is not there to chide you when you are struggling for air; he is there to help you. He does not push you down, but pulls you to the surface. It is the devil's voice, not God's, that incessantly condemns.” Jesus responded to John’s doubts with grace, kindness, and hope. He sent John’s disciples back to him with the assurance that He (Jesus) was sent by the Father and was filled with the Spirit to set men free from the tyranny of sin (Matthew 11:4-5). However, because Israel would reject His message, “the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God” would be delayed (Isaiah 61:2). John would die but not in vain. Jesus never asks His children to go where He has never trod. He would soon walk a path similar to that of John, but He would open heaven’s door to all who desire to enter in through the shedding of His blood at Calvary (Hebrews 10:20). His Divine mission would be accomplished! John had prepared mankind for it; he was indeed a chosen and faithful servant of God. He certainly deserves recognition as a hero of the faith, despite his great moment of doubt. “The greatest of prophets” simply did not understand how God would fulfill His Sovereign plan of redemption. He did not comprehend that it included not only a very dark time for his own soul, but even Christ’s ultimate rejection by the nation of Israel. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).

Brethren, are you plagued by doubts? Are you discouraged because what you expected in serving Christ has not yet been realized? Can I tell you, truthfully, that no child of God is immune from what John experienced? You are not alone in your feelings; but God is good, and He is faithful. He will be the lifter up of your head (Psalm 3:3) and carry you through the darkness on eagle’s wings (Isaiah 40:31). Your strength will be renewed, and your season of weariness will pass as you learn to trust in Him for His will to be done, in heaven as on earth, in His perfect time. “For now we see through a glass darkly, but [one day] face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Your doubts will all be erased when you gaze upon the Lord’s glorious face. Your deepest hopes and longings will be realized in His loving presence.


Cheer up ye saints of God,
There's nothing to worry about,
Nothing to make you feel afraid;
Nothing to make you doubt;
Remember Jesus never fails,
So why not trust him and shout!
You'll be sorry you worried at all, tomorrow morning.


“If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Keep looking up brethren,


Pastor Tom

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A WILD BOAR IN THE VINEYARD



Numerous scholars of the history of Christianity, while they often differ on many details, are in substantial agreement that a new era in the course of Christianity began in the sixteenth century. Great political, social, economic, intellectual, and religious changes were sweeping the globe. Through the adventures and discoveries of mariners like Columbus and Magellan in the prior century, the oceans of the world had become highways for trade and the exchange of knowledge. Printing by movable-type had also made knowledge available to the common man. In the religious realm, a great battle was being waged. The early reformers like John Wycliffe of England, who died in 1384, and John Huss of Bohemia (1415) had challenged the authority of Roman papacy with the authority of God’s Word. They were called “dissenters,” a Latin word which means to disagree. Praise God for such dissenters. Many doctrines of the Catholic Church were subjected to the light of Holy Scripture and judged to be in error. As Isaiah the prophet said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). The great spiritual battle over the question of proper authority and the right to interpret Scripture reached its zenith on October 31, 1517 in Germany, when a disillusioned Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. Many would agree that Luther was the man raised up by God to lead a reformation that would take the church back to its biblical roots. Historian Bruce Shelley states: “In the summer of 1520 a document bearing an impressive seal circulated throughout Germany in search of a remote figure. “Arise, O Lord,” the writing began, “and judge Thy cause. A wild boar has invaded Thy vineyard.” [1] The document was a papal bull condemning the beliefs of a wild boar named Luther. Rather than retract his teachings, Luther preached them with even more boldness, and the fire of the Protestant Reformation spread beyond the borders of Germany.

Though known for his protests against ecclesiastical abuses, Luther was foremost a biblical scholar. While studying Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he came to the glorious truth that man is sinful and God is holy. In His holiness, God demanded a righteousness that sinful man could never satisfy through religious duty or sacramental merit. In 1520, Luther grasped what Paul had taught the ancient Church of Rome: Only the cross of Christ could satisfy the just demands of an all-holy God. In the words of Luther, “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:17). Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

Luther may have been judged to be the wild boar who invaded the Pope’s vineyard, but the truth is that Martin Luther’s soul was invaded by the penetrating and liberating power of God’s Word. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The wild boar had been liberated from the tyranny of a works-based religion. He understood in his heart that “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). The troubled soul of Martin Luther found great joy and rest in the words of Paul: "[Christ] loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). What a precious thought.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

As churches born out of the 16th century Reformation celebrate their spiritual heritage in the month of October, we must all pause to ponder the liberating truth of the gospel of grace which we have freely received. Luther’s experience is our experience, and it is reflected in the many hymns and songs of praise that constitute the heart of our corporate worship. We gather together as the redeemed saints of God each Lord’s Day to offer our praise and gratitude for His marvelous work of redemption. Hallelujah! We have been justified by faith, without human mediation. We have no priest but Christ, no sacrifice but Calvary, no confession but the throne of grace, and no authority but the Word of God.


Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Dear brethren,


Worship Him alone from Whom all true blessings flow, “The Lamb slain for sinners”!


Pastor Tom


[1] Bruce L Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Word Publishing: Dallas, 1982), p.255
Note: At the Diet of Worms in April 1521, Martin Luther refused to recant his theses and concluded his defense with the statement, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Thursday, September 20, 2007

THE GODLY CHRISTIAN


The Bible says that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” (Acts 11:26). Lately, I have been thinking about what it means to be a Christian- not just a Christian in name, but one who is truly committed to living his life for God’s glory (1 Corinthians 10:31). This kind of Christian will stand out in a crowd. Not surprisingly, this kind of Christian will also bear the spurn of the world just as the first Christians did when the gospel of Jesus Christ penetrated pagan cultures. Not much has changed in this regard. As our society drifts further and further toward a moral abyss, we will find that truly following Christ makes us unpopular. A cross is not, after all, a symbol that defines worldly success. Rather, a cross is the symbol of crucifixion. For the godly believer, it means death to self: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). A.W. Tozer wrote: “The man in Roman times who took up his cross and started down the road had already said good-by to his friends. He was not coming back. He was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise, modified nothing, spared nothing; it slew all of the man, completely and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with its victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.”[1]

To be identified as a Christian, in the truest sense of the word, marks a person as radically different from those who do not know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, or from those who may be Christians, but are still living for self. To employ a familiar cliché, a godly Christian “marches to a different drummer.” His walk is out of step with the beat of the world. This is the way that God intended it. However, we must not allow this fact to lead us to the wrong conclusion. The obedient child of God is not different for the sake of being different. His life is not defined by rules, but by a relationship. He does not refuse to partake of worldly things because he deems himself spiritually superior or duty-bound. His separation is not as much from things as much as it is to someone, and that someone is Jesus Christ. If truth were told, the former (separation from the world) is not possible without the latter (abiding in Christ). Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

The one who turns to Jesus for the forgiveness of sin experiences a profound love that compels him to love in return. This should be the norm. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). When one of the scribes inquired concerning the greatest commandment, our Lord responded: “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Mark 12:30-31). If we love Jesus with our whole hearts, there will be nothing left for the world. By this I do not mean that the Christian cannot appreciate the common grace of God in the created world or show Christ-like love to others. He must do these things. Yet, within his heart, there is a place of devotion that only God occupies. In the simplest terms, this is what it means to be a Christian who lives for God’s glory. Jesus is the One whom we love, worship, and serve moment by moment, day after day, even to the point of death (2 Timothy 4:6).

Certainly, I know that much more could be said to describe the godly Christian. We could talk of how he came to Christ; we could speak about his calling, his manner of life, and what he possesses in Christ Jesus. The essence of it, however, comes down to this: Godly Christian men and women delight in giving their all to the one who gave His all for them. It cannot be more clearly stated than in the words of the Apostle Paul: “For to me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). Let us praise God that, through the power of Christ working in us, we can be godly Christians. Every Christian can give the same testimony: “For me to live is Christ!” I pray that this will be your testimony to the glory of God.


[1] A.W. Tozer, “The Old Cross and the New”


Draw near to Him,


Pastor Tom

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

MAN'S LABOR UNDER THE SUN


The first Monday of September, Labor Day, is a national holiday to honor American workers who have contributed to the security and prosperity of our country. It has been celebrated for this purpose since the late 1800’s. America is a nation built by the sweat of many ordinary people who demonstrated the meaning of a good work ethic, day in and day out. In my own family, I witnessed such an example. My parents and grandparents worked hard to provide for the needs of their families, and, consequently, I was never adverse to a hard day’s work. The word ‘welfare’ was never in our family vocabulary. When I became a Christian, I discovered that the Bible had much to say about the subject of man’s “labor under the sun,” as King Solomon put it (Ecclessiastes 1:3). This should not surprise anyone, since the subject of work makes its first appearance in the very first book of the Bible. Work is God’s idea. The man that God created was not idle prior to his fall into sin. We read in Genesis 2:15, “And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.” Exactly what this involved in a perfect creation, we cannot say in detail, and, certainly, his job became much harder after he was banished from the garden (Genesis 3:19); but you can be sure that Adam kept himself busy, doing tasks God had given him to do. Dr. Henry Morris notes: “It is noteworthy that, even in the perfect world as God made it, work was necessary for man’s good. The ideal world is not one of idleness and frolic, but one of serious activity and service. Even in the new earth to come, after sin and the curse have been completely removed, Scripture says that ‘his servants shall serve him’” (Revelation 22:3)[1].

Work is not merely God’s idea; work is intended by God to bring us satisfaction: A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth: and the recompense of a man's hands shall be rendered unto him“ (Proverbs 12:14). I am sure that, at one time or another, you have taken delight in a job well done, even if it is as simple as cutting the lawn, doing the dishes, or sewing a new dress. No job is too small if our hearts are right and if we see it as God sees it. This leads to my next thought, which is especially relevant to the Christian: The believer’s work or vocation in life is to abound in glory to God. We read in 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” This most definitely takes into account the menial, as well as the more significant, tasks and responsibilities of life. It takes into account every type of work we do, without thought of monetary compensation. It should also encourage us to develop the skills we need in order to do the job better than anyone else, for the Scripture says, “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before [obscure] men” (Proverbs 22:29). Joseph and Daniel are just two examples of men whose good work habits brought them success and gave them a greater platform for serving God. Furthermore, the work we do should be worthy of the King of Kings. John Piper said, “… the essence of our work as humans must be that it is done in conscious reliance on God's power, as a conscious quest of God's pattern of excellence, and in deliberate pursuit of God's glory.[2] Just today, a man at our monthly men’s prayer breakfast mentioned that he has had many opportunities to share the Lord with people on his job in the last two weeks. He encouraged the others to pray for such opportunities and to seize the moment when it comes.

Lastly, the Christian must be assured that what we do for God’s glory is never unrewarded: “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Although we typically associate the phrase “work of the Lord” with Christian ministry, the idea of a life-calling means that our daily work is part of our ministry. A busy housewife and mother is engaged in full time Christian ministry every bit as much as the busy evangelist or pastor. It is unfortunate that we have come to think in categories which are not biblical. What Christian work is not full time? Do we ever cease to be teachers of God’s Word, godly examples, ambassadors of Christ, or careful stewards of all that God has given us? Christians are called to be shining lights in a dark world, to express the Kingdom of God in the Kingdom of this world in everything they do. So take heart brethren, the God who sees all will reward all your labors under the sun. He has the last say when it comes to the evaluation of your earthly work. I would admonish you to serve Him with all joy of heart and be satisfied where He has placed you at this time in your life. The time may come when your calling in life may change, and you will be given other tasks. The time will certainly come when our earthly labors are over, so please make the most of them. A wise servant of God “redeem[s] the time” (Ephesians 5:16).

“No labour is servile when the Lord’s approval is the paramount consideration.” -Geoffrey B. Wilson


Enjoy the work of your hands, and rest in His unfailing love,


Pastor Tom


[1] Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988. p.92
[2] “Why God Wills Work”, A sermon preached on September 4, 1983.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

LOOKING TO EGYPT



After they had suffered for hundreds of years under the oppression of the Egyptians, the Lord delivered His people from their bondage with a mighty hand (Deuteronomy 4:34). One would think that after they had obtained freedom in such a glorious way, Egypt would be far from the minds of the Israelites. They were headed to a land of promise and hope. Moreover, God Himself would be their guide: “And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of a cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; to go by day and night: He took not away the pillar of the cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people” (Exodus 13:21-22). Furthermore, this vast multitude of people would be fed with manna from heaven and given fresh water to cool their thirst: “Thou gavest also thy good Spirit to instruct them, and withheldest not thy manna from their mouth, and gavest them water for their thirst” (Nehemiah 9:20). The Lord had certainly demonstrated His all-sufficient grace. How did the Israelites respond? Sadly, they murmured and complained (Exodus 16:2). All that the Lord had done and promised to do was not enough for their carnal appetites; but the story doesn’t end with their complaints and God’s judgment on that generation (Hebrews 3:7-19). Although Egypt stands for man’s supply as opposed to God’s supply, the children of Israel, for many generations after Moses, continued to look to Egypt for help. The prophet Isaiah gives a striking reminder of their unbelief when he wrote, “Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin: That walk to go down into Egypt, and have not asked at my mouth; to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and to trust in the shadow of Egypt” (Isaiah 30:1-2). This indictment occurred in the reign of King Hezekiah, who was tempted to make an alliance with Egypt when faced with a hostile Assyrian foe. Had the King not learned that this was the sin of the Northern Kingdom which had resulted in defeat? The phrase “that cover with a covering” (Isaiah 30:1) may also be translated “that weave an alliance,” as noted by biblical scholar W.E. Vine. I think of it as fashioning a plan that does not include the Lord. This was a plan which was not of God’s Spirit (Isaiah 30:1).

The question I ask myself is this: How many times have I looked first to Egypt for help in a crisis? How many times have I taken counsel that was not biblical when I felt the pressure of circumstances? Brethren, may we never forget that “…the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1). Yes, the problem of God’s failure to hear can be due to any manner of personal sin as the next verse specifies; but what about the sin of simply failing to trust in Him? Bear in mind that the Israelites, who perished in the wilderness, failed to enter into God’s rest because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:19). The sin of unbelief is one which will send a man to hell: “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24). Spurgeon once said, “A fearful form of unbelief is that doubt which keeps men from coming to Christ; which leads the sinner to distrust the ability of Christ to save him, to doubt the willingness of Jesus to accept so great a transgressor.” The Scripture says, “He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). I believe that the sin of unbelief is the root of all sin, and it manifests itself in many ways. In the life of a Christian, it will keep him from enjoying the sweet assurance of God’s presence and the power of His deliverance in life’s trials. He is able to deliver us from all our fears- fears which can literally engulf us like the darkness of storm clouds covering a mountaintop, hiding the rays of the sun shining above.

Dear Christians, the storms of life will never cease, but the rays of God’s providential care are always shining above the clouds. His goodness will come in due time. Beneath the clouds, there is a hiding place which the Lord has provided, and that place is under the shadow of His wings (Psalm 17:8). “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Let us take our refuge there. I am absolutely convinced that the God who led his children out of Egypt in the day of Moses is the same One who will keep His children safe today and secure forevermore. “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).


May the Lord Jehovah be your Helper. May His promises be your hope and strength.


Pastor Tom





Thursday, August 09, 2007

THE PHILOSOPHY OF ENTITLEMENT


Yesterday was one of those days that every pastor in ministry occasionally experiences. Matters that I hadn’t planned on dashed my hopes for a really productive one. In late afternoon, the phone rang. I must confess that I was somewhat hesitant to answer it, but I did. A familiar voice was on the other end; it was a good brother in Christ who asked me if a had a "few minutes" to talk. It turned out that he was just a few miles away, running an errand, and he wanted to stop by to see me before heading home. I wasn’t sure what was on his mind, but I wanted to be available to reluctantly minister to him in some way if need be. As it turned out, the purpose of his visit was to minister to me. He just wanted to tell me how much the previous Lord’s Day had blessed him and his family. Part of that blessing was the morning sermon I preached, “Guarding Your Heart,” which he evidently took to heart. The message focused mainly on Proverbs 4:23: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” God had used His Word to bring conviction and a desire to make sure the Lord was really first in his life. I appreciated his honesty and the gratitude he expressed. I also realized that God often preaches my sermon back to me through someone else. This was one of those times. What does it really matter if my plans for a productive day are set aside by a Sovereign God for purposes He desires to fulfill? If I am really seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), I should never complain when things don’t go “my way”, or when I am inconvenienced. This is a sign of the self-centeredness I preached about on Sunday, a sin that so easily besets us (Hebrews 12:1). “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5a).

Perhaps you're thinking I’m just too hard on myself. I beg to differ with you. We all need our times of rest, which God graciously provides, but “the disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord" (Mark 10:24). The Christian life is not about what is best for me; it’s about what Jesus desires to do through me and in me. This necessitates a life of self-denial, not self-service: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). One of the problems I see in the church today is the philosophy of entitlement which has crept in unawares. We have come to believe that we deserve the best God has to offer in the here and now, not the hereafter. While we may not embrace it outright, the heresy of the “Health and Prosperity Gospel" is crouching near the door of our hearts. Yes, God has given us an “abundant life” (John 10:10), however, it is the abundance of His spiritual blessings that make us truly rich toward God.

So brethren, please forgive me if I appear inconvenienced by the little time you seek from me. I can only think of the crowds pressing in on Jesus, the busy days, the long nights of prayer, and the multitude of things people were seeking from Him; but most of all, I think of these words He spoke: “And it came to pass, when the time was come that he should be received up, he stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem...” (Luke 9:51). He chose to go to Jerusalem, knowing that a cross-awaited Him there. Praise God that He did not take another direction. Praise God that He was not thinking of Himself, His desires, and His needs. He went to Jerusalem for you and me. Even more remarkable is the fact that He did not go reluctantly. We read in Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” The joy set before Him was the joy of doing His Father’s will. Shouldn’t our joy be doing His will, whatever the cost?

Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain
Free to all, a healing stream
Flows from Calvary’s mountain.
Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
Bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day,
With its shadows o’er me.


May He be always near to your heart,

Pastor Tom

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

LIVING IN SODOM


The word “homosexual” did not enter the English vocabulary until 1869. It was coined by Hungarian physician Karoly Maria Benkert. Biblically speaking, homosexuals are sodomites. "There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel" (Deuteronomy 23:17). The first occurrence of the name Sodom is found in Genesis 10:19 which mentions the border of the Canaanite territory. In Genesis 13, we read of a division which occurred between the patriarch Abraham and his nephew, Lot, because the land was not big enough for their respective herds (6,7). In a deep display of grace and humility, Abraham deferred to Lot and allowed him to choose a suitable place for his family and herds. We read that "... Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, as thou comest unto Zoar. Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other. Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot dwelled in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:10-12). In Genesis 14:12, we discover that Lot “dwelt in Sodom”. Eventually, we see him sitting at the gate of Sodom (Genesis 19:1), which means he was serving in some capacity as a city official. Inside the gateway of ancient cities were rooms that served as communal areas for meetings and the administration of public justice by the elders of the city. It would appear that Lot had risen to the rank of a city magistrate. He had attained a high status in Sodom. However, he was not a contented man there. Indeed, while Lot was sitting at the gate of Sodom one day, he was approached by two angels from heaven who were not paying him a social visit. They brought him the fearful news that God was going to destroy the city completely. Its sins were so grievous in the eyes of a holy God (Genesis 19:13) that no other punishment was fitting. We are told that they sinned exceedingly (Genesis 13:13). The apostle Peter, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says in 2 Peter 2:6-8: “[God turned] the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes [and] condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly; And delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds).” Lot was living in Sodom, but the wickedness of the city was a constant grief to his soul.

True to His Word, God destroyed Sodom and the other cities of the plains with brimstone and fire (Genesis 19:24), and “the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace” (verse 28). Archaeologist Bryant Wood believes that the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah have been discovered southeast of the Dead Sea. He writes, "The modern names are Bab edh-Dhra, thought to be Sodom, and Numeira, thought to be Gomorrah. Both places were destroyed at the same time by an enormous conflagration. The destruction debris was about three feet thick. What brought about this awful calamity? Startling discoveries in the cemetery at Bab edh-Dhra revealed the cause. Archaeologists found that buildings used to bury the dead were burned by a fire that started on the roof. What would cause every structure in the cemetery to be destroyed in this way? The answer to the mystery is found in the Bible: "Then the Lord rained down burning sulfur on Sodom and Gomorrah—from the Lord out of the heavens" (Genesis 19:24 NIV). The only conceivable explanation for this unique discovery in the annals of archaeology is that burning debris fell on the buildings from the air. How could such a thing happen? There is ample evidence found in subterranean deposits of a petroleum-based substance called bitumen, similar to asphalt, in the region south of the Dead Sea. Such material normally contains a high percentage of sulfur. It has been postulated by geologist Frederick Clapp that pressure from an earthquake could have caused the bitumen deposits to be forced out of the earth through a fault line. As it gushed out of the earth, it could have been ignited by a spark or surface fire. It would then fall to earth as a burning, fiery mass.”[1]

The lesson for us is clear: God takes sin seriously! This is especially true when it is embraced wholeheartedly by a city or nation. While the sins of Sodom were numerous, the most heinous of all was the sin of homosexuality. The men of Sodom and Gomorrah were so evil that they wanted to have sex with Lot’s visitors. Jude verse 7 confirms this: “ ... [they gave] themselves over to fornication, and [went] after strange flesh.” The lust of men for other men resulted in an attempt at gang rape, and God abandoned Sodom and the cities of the plains to His Divine judgment. Any city or nation that condones homosexuality, which is wicked and deviant behavior, and publicly endorses it abides under the wrath of God: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20).
This warning from Isaiah applies to many localities in the United States, but I write in particular about the city in which I live. I reside in San Diego, California. The local politicians call it “America’s finest city,” but the reality is that I am living in Sodom. On July 17, 2007, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, with the unanimous approval of the city council “officially” designated July as "Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month."

The resolution reads:
BE IT RESOLVED, by the Mayor and Council of the City of San Diego, that this Council, for and on behalf of the people of San Diego, does hereby recognize the many civic contributions of the LGBT community in San Diego County, and encourages all people to share in the pride of our City's diverse citizenry by participating in the 33rd Annual San Diego LGBT Pride community celebration, parade, festival and arts and culture programs.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that July 2007, be and is hereby proclaimed to be, "LESBIAN, GAY, BISEXUAL, TRANSGENDER PRIDE MONTH" in the City of San Diego.

The San Diego Union-Tribune called the annual gay pride parade that is mentioned in the resolution: “one of the most popular events of its kind in the country.” Indeed it is popular. The attendance at this year’s parade attracted over 150,000 people. On July 8, the San Diego Padres hosted “Pride Night” at Petco Park, and a gay men’s chorus sang the national anthem. In connection with this, the Padres offered floppy hats to children aged 14 and younger. San Diego has become a modern-day Sodom, but time does not change God’s view of things. Homosexuality is still a grievous sin before God: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them" (Leviticus 20:13).
Is it popular to cite Scripture in the debate on alternative lifestyles? Absolutely not! The minute you do, the accusation of intolerance is lodged against you. So be it! True Christians must continue to be intolerant of sin. Those who still honor God’s Word are on the right side of this moral issue. God is not a God of tolerance and diversity when it comes to moral values: “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Homosexuality is a destructive lifestyle. The truth cannot be hidden. The facts do not lie. The Centers for Disease Control reveal that homosexuals make up 80 percent of all AIDS cases in America. Add to this a very high incidence of many other forms of sexually transmitted disease, substance abuse, and depression among homosexuals. This is not the picture of a gay life in the traditional meaning of the word gay. The only true hope for deliverance from this bondage is repentance. Jesus can forgive every manner of sin and grant forgiveness. He paid the price when He died on the cross (John 3:16), but His forgiveness must be sought before the heart of a man is completely hardened (Romans 1:28). Homosexuals must turn to God with broken hearts that desire not only His saving grace (Ephesians 2:8-10), but also His grace to change (2 Peter 1:1-4).

In the book of Romans, Paul writes concerning those who rejected God and of their subsequent downfall. When you read the account, it is chilling: "... God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet [necessary] (Romans 1:24-27). Seminary professor and theologian Charles Ryrie translates the words God uses in the above text to describe lesbians and homosexuals in this manner: “degrading ... unnatural ... indecent.” [2] Homsexuality is likewise condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. God does not view homosexuality as acceptable. Where does that leave us, the residents of modern-day Sodom and of cities just like it? Certainly, our politicians cannot help. They have condoned wickedness. They have called evil good. They have offered their blessing on that which God has condemned. They have abandoned the idea of moral absolutes. In time, and God alone knows the hour, His fierce wrath will fall on this once- great nation. As tempting as it is to flee, where can one go if God has abandoned America? Bible- believing Christians must not run nor hide. We must stand our ground and faithfully proclaim the authority of Scripture. Like Noah in his generation, we must be “preacher[s] of righteousness” to our godless generation (2 Peter 2:5). Our hope rests in the Lord who made heaven and earth. He is Sovereign, and the Sovereign Lord will never forsake those who truly desire to live holy lives for His glory.

“ O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth. Say among the heathen that the LORD reigneth: the world also shall be established that it shall not be moved: he shall judge the people righteously” (Psalm 96:9-10).

Trusting in the Lord always,


Pastor Tom

[1] From ChristiansAnswers.Net article:Is there any evidence for the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction by fire and brimstone (sulfur)?

[2] Charles C. Ryrie, Biblical Answers to Contemporary Questions (Chicago, Moody Press, 1994), p.117

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

DOES GOD OWE SINFUL MEN ANYTHING?


It is often the case that people come to God in prayer with the mistaken notion that they are worthy of an audience with Him and that He exists to grant them all they desire. This is a view of God that delights in His love but excludes His holiness. I confess that for many years, before I gave my life to Christ, I approached God with this self-centered view. The truth is that the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth owes sinful men nothing. Apart from Divine grace, no man is deserving of anything from God but eternal damnation: “For the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). The very fact that a sinful creature can breathe another minute is due to the loving kindness and longsuffering of God: “It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (Lamentations 3:22). All men in their natural state are estranged from God and under condemnation (Romans 5:12-18), not commendation. None merit God’s approval; all merit His judgment: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). As part of Adam’s fallen race I shared in God’s sentence of death upon sinners (Romans 6:23). How dreadful was my spiritual condition - all the more perilous because of the ignorance of my foolish heart. Satan surely had blinded my mind “lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto [me]” (2 Corinthians 4:4). I was doomed to an eternity without God.

Today, I am new person in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17) and I can approach God with the full confidence that I have “an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1) What brought about such a change? I am still a sinner who struggles in my walk of faith. Although I seek, by God’s grace, to live a godly life, I am not yet fully conformed to Christ’s likeness. Why should God now hear me when I pray? The difference is in my position, not my performance. When Christ died on the cross, He paid a sufficient penalty for the sins of the world (2 Corinthians 5:19). This certainly included me and meant that I could be free from His wrath because that wrath fell upon Jesus: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). If I were to ask God to forgive me on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, He would “cleanse me from all iniquity” and grant me eternal life. Whereas I was once and enemy of God, I could now be reconciled to Him. One day I did just that, and through faith in His Son I have been adopted into God’s family (Galatians 3:26). My eternal destiny is secure. I have been washed in the blood of the lamb (Ephesians 2:13). What a glorious thought! I can say, with the song, “Oh! precious is the flow that makes me white as snow.” But it doesn’t end there. As a child of the King, I now go “boldly unto the throne of grace, [to] obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). The Scripture says: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). All spiritual blessings are mine in Jesus. I can approach the throne of God’s grace with full assurance. When I think about it, I can’t comprehend it. I deserve nothing from God, but He has given me everything in Jesus. He has not only saved my soul from certain death; he has supplied all that I need for a “life [of faith] and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).

Each day that I live, I thank Him for His rich mercy and abundant grace toward me, which have no human comparison. Such love is beyond description. I am His and He is mine - forever and ever. No one can take this gift away from me. I am truly safe and secure in the love of my Savior: “In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise" (Ephesians 1:13).

Jesus my Lord will love me forever,
From Him no pow'r of evil can sever,
He gave His life to ransom my soul,
Now I belong to Him;

Joy floods my soul for Jesus has saved me,
Freed me from sin that long had enslaved me,
His precious blood He came to redeem,
Now I belong to Him;

Now I belong to Jesus,
Jesus belongs to me,
Not for the years of time alone,
But for eternity.

Rejoicing in Him,
Pastor Tom

Monday, June 25, 2007

ROCK-SHOCK

For the thousands of visitors to Grand Canyon National Park, the canyon is truly a “wonder to behold!” For those who have the opportunity to view the canyon from the Colorado River looking up, the word ‘Grand’ is an understatement.[1] Imagine what it must have been like to be the first to see the canyon while riding the rapids of the Colorado without any skills in whitewater navigation, in small wooden boats which modern day river runners have described as the technical equivalent of walnut shells. Worst of all, imagine undertaking such a journey without any knowledge of the course of the river. Major John Wesley Powell and his crew of nine men were the first to take up this epic challenge of exploring the Grand Canyon. Their journey began at noon on May 24, 1869 and ended three months later at the end of August, when six of the original party emerged from the canyon. Four men never completed the journey.
While the Powell expedition makes for an exciting and fascinating read, what is more important for the discerning Christian is Powell’s journey from a knowledge of Scripture which he acquired in a devout Christian home, to the belief that the biblical record was mythology.[2] His parents entertained hopes that their son, like his namesake, would become a preacher of the gospel. What led John Wesley Powell to abandon his Christian roots, and never return? The answer lies in Powell’s acceptance of the doctrine of uniformitarianism which was first proposed by James Hutton in 1795, and later expounded by Charles Lyell in Principles of Geology, written in 1830.[3] Shortly after Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species appeared in print Powell joined the ranks of the naturalists and “religion never again played a major role in defining his outlook of life.”[4] However, his departure from biblical truth was not without struggles. Edward Dolnick writes of Powell’s great intellectual challenge posed by his journey through the canyon: “The challenge was to accept the dizzying lesson the rock landscape proclaimed – in the immensity of time, water prevails over stone and shapes it as it pleases. It is not great feat to mouth the words, but believing them is another matter. To try to grasp the unfathomable stretches of time required for a tricking stream to carve a cathedral-sized cavern is a kind of intellectual vertigo. Geologists today call this time-induced dizziness rock-shock. The shock was all the more profound in an era when it was still commonly believed that the earth was a mere six thousand years old. But for Powell, the rebellious son of a minister who believed in the Bible’s literal truth, the notion of limitless time was a liberation rather than a consternation. It would become a central theme of his intellectual life and the great lesson he was to draw from the Grand Canyon”.[5]
Needless to say, those who still hold to the authority of the Bible don’t share in the excitement of Powell’s liberation. What came as rock-shock to Powell is not proof of the formation of the Grand Canyon, but proof of the significance of one’s presuppositions. Powell went into the canyon believing in billions of years and he interpreted what he saw in the geology of the canyon in light of that belief. He was correct that water prevails over rock, but never considered an alternative mechanism which could cause water to prevail over rock and form the grandest canyon of all – a catastrophic event.[6] Denying the supernatural power, and intervention of God in a worldwide judgment, Powell was left only with the science of his day as his guide. Dolnick writes: “Powell believed with all his heart that science was the only path to truth and that religion was a tangle of myth and obscufation.” [7] Worster said: “On the death of Darwin in 1882, Wes delivered a memorial address that may help to explain the abrupt shift in his youthful beliefs. “It remained for Darwin,” he said, “To demonstrate the laws of biologic evolution, and the course of the progress of life upon the globe." [8] Having been taught the word of God from infancy, I can only conclude that John Wesley Powell was “willingly ignorant” of the power that altered the history and landscape of the earth.[9] He accepted a worldview without God.
In 1902, at the age of sixty-eight, John Wesley Powell came to the end of another journey – his earthly life. There is no indication that he ever returned to his boyhood faith and his father’s belief in the record of Holy Scripture. But to deny the Scripture doesn’t change the truth it reveals. After his death, Powell experienced another rock-shock. He would be confronted with the reality that Jesus Christ was the creator and sustainer of all that exists, seen and unseen.[10] He is the “Rock of Salvation” for all who put their trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins “… if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). In his trip down the Colorado River Powell feared that he might be swept into the rapids and perish.[11] That fear never materialized. The same cannot be said about his step into eternity. The Bible say’s: “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). John Wesley Powell survived the perils of rafting through the Grand Canyon, he did not escape the judgment of God.
What lessons can be learned from the story of this adventurer’s life? 1) The Christian must beware of the implications of accepting the conclusions of science when they conflict with the clear teaching of Scripture. 2) Every Christian must be a discerning Christian. 3) Those who twist the Scripture to conform to science must be identified and refuted. 4) Every believer needs credible answers in the controversy over the age of the earth and other issues related to the creation-evolution debate. Ministries such as Answer in Genesis and Institute for Creation Research provide credible answers – reasons to continue to believe in the Divinely inspired Word of truth, the Holy Scripture.
God bless,
Pastor Tom

[1] The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and nearly a mile deep![2] Powell was named after the 18th century evangelist John Wesley. Powell’s father was a Methodist preacher who believed in the authority of God’s Word.[3] Uniformitarianism is the belief that geologic changes occur slowly over vast periods of time at the same rate we see today.
[4] Donald Worster, A River Running West: The Life of John Wesley Powell (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2001), p.66.[5] Edward Dolnick, Down the Great Unknown: John Wesley Powell’s 1869 Journey of Discovery and Tragedy Through the Grand Canyon (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001), p.198.[6] Noah’s flood. See Genesis chapters 6-9.[7] Dolnick, op.cit., 218[8] Worser, op.cit., 66[9] See 2 Peter 3:5-6[10] Colossians 1:16-17[11] "We are now ready to start on our way down the Great Unknown... We are three quarters of a mile in the depths of the earth... We have an unknown distance yet to run; and unknown river yet to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rock beset the channel, we know not; what walls rise over the rive, we know not. Ah, well! We may conjecture many things. The men talk as cheerfully as ever; jests are bandied about freely this morning; but to me the cheer is somber and the jests are ghastly." - John Wesley Powell, August 13, 1869