Posts Tagged With: sermons

The Ant Camp or the Sluggard Camp: A Gospel-Centered Work Ethic, Part II

We work because we have examples to teach us (Proverbs 6:6-11). 

I read this and the other Proverbs portion to my children last night, calling it, “The Story of the Ant and the Slug.” Isn’t it amazing the lessons that God teaches us through His creation, and even through two animals that, for most, are not considered at all. And yet, God speaks to the sluggard and says, “Consider her ways and be wise.” To consider means to think about something before you make a decision. So, before you decide on the life course of a sluggard, think about the ant.

The ant — the great earth mover (Proverbs 6:6-11).

In Proverbs 6 we learn much about a tiny little creature to which we may not pay much attention: the ant. In reality, the only time we pay attention to them is when they start marching along the baseboards of the house or begin carrying off your sandwich at a picnic luncheon.

But God wants us to take notice. Everything in the created order has a purpose (although the house fly and mosquito will need some convincing from us, I’m sure). God calls us to consider this creature. You may say, “Wait a minute, he’s not calling all of us, just the sluggards.” Fine—but isn’t a word to the wise sufficient?

Verse 7 shows that ants are motivated. By whom? They need not “any chief, officer, or ruler,” they get things gone. If you watch ants around the anthill (or in your house), they do not stop. No breather is needed, no one is dragging behind.

Verse 8 show how they prepare: They get what they need now, and store up what they need later. They prepare. They don’t wait for the disaster. They store things away. I’m reminded of the Parable in Matthew 25:1-13 regarding the Ten Wise and Foolish Virgins.

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ 12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

God has called us to plan and prepare for when the Lord returns for His people. The ant, one of the smallest of all visible creatures, brings this to mind. There’s an old song, “Little is much when God is in it.” That sure applies to the ant!

    1. The sluggard— the great lion maker (Proverbs 26:13-16).

The sluggard is another story. We hear much about him in Proverbs. In Proverbs 6:9-11:

How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

What is a sluggard? Ray Ortlund helps us: “Think of the way syrup oozes slowly out of a bottle when it is cold. That is the sluggard—sluggish and slow and hesitant when he should be decisive, active and forthright. His life motto is, ‘Don’t rush me.’”[1]

And what do we see first? He’s not motivated—he’s lying there, sleeping, resting! It reminds me of an old adage I heard recently: There are three kinds of workers. For example, when a piano is to be moved, the first kind gets behind and pushes, the second pulls and guides, and the third grabs the piano stool. 

The sad issue is that one who is lazy like the sluggard is among the more selfish to walk the earth. They simply think about their own feelings. He seldom if ever thinks about his use to other people as an imagebearer of God.

Some of you may remember the running back Ricky Watters. He was a great player coming out of Notre Dame and did have a great career as a running back. He played for the 49ers, leading them to the Super Bowl, before jumping ship to the Eagles. He’s one of the few who rushed for over 10,000 yards and had 4,000 receiving yards in his career. Yet, he’s not in the Hall of Fame. Why?

Selfishness and self-centeredness marked his career. All that came to a flashpoint when the Eagles were playing the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Randall Cunningham threw a pass over the middle, intended for Ricky Watters. As the ball was coming, so was a linebacker with his sites set on Watters. So Watters pulled what’s called “alligator arms”—he pulled his arms in so to avoid being hit. When he was asked in the post-game interview why he didn’t fully extended, his response was, “For who? For what?” This is the epitome of selfishness—only doing something that benefits you. If it costs, requires any energy, thought, dedication, or perseverance, no thanks.

In Proverbs 26:13-16, we meet more of Mr. Sluggard:

13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
There is a lion in the streets!”
14 As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a sluggard on his bed.
15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
than seven men who can answer sensibly.

A lion in the streets? Sluggards worry much about what could possibly happen, then do nothing; rather than work to see what will happen, then prepare and adapt. We hear from Spurgeon that those who are lazy do not simply respond to lions—they make lions.

Laziness is a great lion-maker. He who does little dreams much. His imagination could create not only a lion but a whole menagerie of beasts; and if some mighty hunter could hunt down all the lions that his imagination has let loose, he would soon distribute herds more of the terrible animals, with wolves and bears and tigers to match. An idler will never be short of difficulties as long as he has no heart for work. As they say that any stick will do to beat a dog with, so any excuse will do to ruin your soul with; for this man’s objection, after all, was not to lions in the way: he objected to the way itself, and he was glad to place a lion there so that he might be excused from going into the street. He did not want to get to his work, and therefore there was a lion in the way to obstruct him. The lion was his friend. He had invented him on purpose to be the ally of his idleness.[2]

These ‘lions’ they create are a product of the sinful life that fail to do what God called us as imagebearers to do. While we are called to take care of the ground and keep it, part of the curse is found for Adam in Genesis 3 is:

… cursed is the ground because of you;

In pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

Thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;

And you shall eat of the plants of the field.

God always called us to work, but now the ground would be a picture of the lack of unity and harmony between Creator and created. Proverbs 24:30-31 says:

30 I passed by the field of a sluggard,
by the vineyard of a man lacking sense,
31 and behold, it was all overgrown with thorns;
the ground was covered with nettles,
and its stone wall was broken down.
32 Then I saw and considered it;
I looked and received instruction.
33 A little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to rest,
34 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
and want like an armed man.

Solomon noted that those who a lazy lack sense. Why? A direct reflection of their view of God and why He created them—and the sense of what the curse is all about. There is a gospel reflection here.

Notice this man’s property was overgrown with thorns. The wall was crumbling. The vineyards could produce nothing. The walls could protect nothing. All because he did nothing. Thorns and thistles are a sign of God’s impending judgment, whether from the ground, or from the cross (Jesus with the crown of thorns), or in Hebrews where hearts produce thorns and thistles rather than producing a “crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated.”

Our job is a gospel-centered work ethic where we work to be disciples in taking the gospel as an instrument of the Spirit to reverse the curse, work the land of the heart, and beat back the ‘thorns and thistles’ that lie there.

What lions are we creating in our minds that keep us from doing our physical work? What lions are we creating in our minds and hearts that are excuses from being spiritual slugs?


[1]Ray Ortlund, Proverbs. Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books), Kindle location 1900.

[2]Charles H. Spurgeon, One Lion, Two Lions, No Lion at All! http://www.ccel.org/ccel/spurgeon/sermons28.xxxiv.html.

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What is the Gospel?

This past week, I came across a very transparent article written by a believer named Cornell. He shared about how his day usually goes, especially on the bus ride home. After a work day, he likes to sit alone in his world and read or simply pray and meditate. One day, this did not happen.

A man sat next to him and began to talk to him. After the initial annoyance, he began to see what a great conversationalist this man was. They talked about the literacy problem in Kenya and the western world, music trends, and other common ground topics that made him relax for about an hour. But he wasn’t fully relaxed:

I should have been fully relaxed and at ease by now. But I wasn’t. There was something that I was still holding back. Something that I felt would spoil this infant acquaintanceship. Numerous perfect opportunities for bringing it up came and went, but I ignored them all. I deliberately pushed it to the back of my mind and conveniently omitted it from the conversation. The truth of the matter is, I was ashamed of the Gospel. What’s even sadder is that this was not the first time it was happening. This is not to say that I am ashamed of the Gospel every time I choose to discuss politics over sharing it. But the circumstances surrounding today’s encounter were especially unique.

  1. I was on my way to church, to join others for the Wednesday evening prayers and Bible Study. The Gospel was bound to be on my mind.
  2. The e-mail I happened to be checking turned out to be today’s For the Love of God commentary by D. A. Carson, which I’ve been using as a guide through the Bible in the past couple of months. Today’s commentary was on Genesis 9 and this was one of the phrases that I picked from it, “… the problems of rebellion and sin are deep-seated; they constitute part of our nature.” Talk about a perfect cue for evangelism.
  3. I was wearing the T-shirt in the photo above (right). It’s written LIVE BY THE C.O.D.E. C.arrying O.ut D.iscipleship E.verywhere. Talk about a shouting hint.
  4. We stayed in that traffic for slightly over 2 hours.

So, it wasn’t for the lack of time or opportunity. I just didn’t feel like sharing the Gospel with the guy. I have found that there’s always a convenient excuse at the back of my mind every time I fail to share the Gospel with a friendly stranger on the bus. I can think of four excuses that made me shy away from sharing today:

He came up with four reasons why he didn’t share. (1) He didn’t want to be a killjoy, (2) he shared much about his love of certain styles of music, but also didn’t share that this was before he came to Christ—and was afraid he would compromise too much of the witness, (3) too many people listening. And lastly (4), even though he was a theology student and had preached, he didn’t know how in the day-to-day of a bus conversation with an unbeliever.

For the majority of us, we can relate to this. Talk about the Broncos, bring it on! Politic issues of the day, no problem! Gush about your wife and kids—I could give lessons on that. Share the gospel? We feel fine when it comes to common ground or about things we are passionate about. The gospel? Why should we be passionate about that? And if it’s so incredible, why do we find ourselves tight-lipped about it. It could be:

  • We’ve never surrendered to the gospel of Christ
  • We don’t know how to articulate it.
  • We are ashamed of it because we love what men think about us more than what God thinks about us.

But know this: the gospel of Jesus Christ is all that stands in the way of hell and eternal judgment for us. Receive it, it’s enough to save your soul and keep hell at bay. Reject it, and no amount of good works will be enough keep the penalty of our sin at bay.

1. Are we ashamed of the gospel—or eager for it?

Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel. Some are appalled that this notion—that the apostle Paul could ever have trouble in this area. How could Paul, after his conversion experience that was so spectacular, ever be ashamed of the gospel and of His Savior? As one commentator put it, it’s only when you have the capability of being ashamed that you could, by comparison, say that you are not ashamed. And before we put him up on too high a pedestal, some of you may recall from Romans 7:14-21, where he brings a bit of transparency to his Christian walk:

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

Paul recognized that though the Spirit of Christ rested in Him because Christ regenerated and redeemed his soul, he was still in his body, his flesh. His flesh wanted to carry him in its desires one way, and the Spirit was carrying him in another way with His desires. So one of the issues Paul could well have dealt with was being ashamed of the gospel.

Jesus warned all of us about this. He told his disciples in Mark 8:34-38:

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life[ will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).

Jesus warned the disciples, knowing that they all would struggle in this manner—and that all of us as believers would struggle with this. But he makes the implications clear. We are His body, and we make Him known on the earth. And if we, as His body, are ashamed of him in the midst of this sinful generation that needs Him—He will be ashamed of us.

Even Pastor Timothy struggled with fear and shame in regards to the gospel and his calling.

“Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. . . . But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:8, 12).

Why was Paul not ashamed—why was Paul to “eager to preach the gospel? In Romans 1:14, it says that he is “under obligation both to the Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish. . . . [and] to you who are in Rome.” An ‘obligation’ or (as some versions translate it, a ‘debt’)? What does Paul mean? It means that he is entrusted with the gospel as a steward—something that God gave for him to share.

2. The gospel serves as the power of God for salvation.

Notice that this is the “power of God” for salvation. It is not the “power of man” for salvation. Let me share with you that you are not saved by what you do. There were some in the Roman church (yes, in the church) who believed that they were saved by their own works. But notice in Romans where it says in Romans 2:3-5:

3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing upwrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

So many rely on the power of man to save them. In this context, the Jews looked down upon the Gentiles and all their practices and all their wickedness (see Romans 1:24-32), and felt a moral superiority as a Jew, since they were God’s covenant people descended from Abraham as a physical nation. They had God’s law and knew His boundaries. The difference?

The Gentiles broke God’s law out of ignorance, the Jews condemn the Gentiles for doing what they themselves were doing as well. Their spiritual walk was one of sheer morality. But their morality was for everyone else—they failed to look in the mirror. What mirror? The mirror on the bathroom wall? No, the mirror of God’s Word! The gospel is the ultimate mirror. It exposes the power on which we rely.

Then Paul says, “To everyone who believes, first to the Jew then to the Gentile.” Again we come across the ‘belief.’ It’s not simply believing He exists (first chair), or believing that he is true (second chair). It’s the third chair—surrender! It’s only by God’s power we are saved. The apostle John said, “You must be born again” and “you must be born from above.”

Unamuno y Jugo, a Spanish philosopher and writer, says:

“Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God idea, not God Himself.”

I believe in many cases the world sees churches who only believe in a Christ-idea, but not Christ Himself! And when the crunch of life comes, we it exposes what is or is not there. Look at Romans 5:1-5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

When we have surrendered to Christ and the penalty of our sin has been removed (justification), God grants a peace that passes all understanding. We have access to grace! We have joy in the hope of the glory of God! Suffering comes? We rejoice! It brings endurance, which develops character, which produces hope. How?

“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The Holy Spirit is sent by God to show us the Father, to convict us of our sin, to guide us into all truth, to regenerate us unto salvation by grace through faith, and will continue to counsel us in the days ahead. This is how we know of God’s power—it’s called change.

3. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God.

For the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, just as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

So we are not saved by the power of man, nor are we saved by the righteousness of man. And notice what it says. For the righteousness of God is revealed. It is a righteousness, first, that belongs to God. Whatever righteousness or approval we may find from God originates from God and not from man. Also, notice that he does not say, “The righteousness from God is earned.” Remember the passage from Romans 5:6-8?

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Here’s the mistake many make when it comes to understanding the faith:

  1. “I have to be good enough in order for God to love me.” Yet, it says that Jesus Christ died for the “weak” and “ungodly” and “sinners.”
  2. “I have to do good things, but rely on Jesus to fill in the rest.” But Paul tells us that no one is good, not even one (Romans 3:9-10) for we must be rescued from the dominion of sin.

You see, we think we have to do something to help God along, to show we are of value. I read about an instant cake mix that was a big flop. The instructions said all you had to do was add water and bake. The company couldn’t understand why it didn’t sell — until their research discovered that the buying public felt uneasy about a mix that required only water. Apparently people thought it was too easy. So the company altered the formula and changed the directions to call for adding an egg to the mix in addition to the water. The idea worked and sales jumped dramatically.

People want to do something to help God along, but the more we try to do, the worse shape we are in. But the beauty of the gospel is that God has revealed his righteousness to us by His grace:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Look at these phrases:

  • Righteousness of God through faith in Jesus
  • We are justified by His grace as a gift.
  • Redemption is found in Jesus Christ.
  • The cross of Christ show’s God’s righteousness.
  • He is just (he must demand a penalty for our sin) and the justifier (he took the penalty for our sin).

Charles Spurgeon once preached:

Those who are once justified are justified irreversibly. As soon as a sinner takes Christ’s place, and Christ takes the sinner’s place, there is no fear of a second change. If Christ has once paid the debt, the debt is paid, and it will never be asked for again; if you are pardoned, you are pardoned once forever. God does not give a free pardon . . . and then afterward retract it and punish man . . . He says, ‘I have punished Christ; you may go free.’ And after that we may ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God,’ that ‘being justified by faith we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ . . . . In the moment they believe, their sins being imputed to Christ, they cease to be theirs, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them and accounted theirs, so that they are accepted.[1]

(This was preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO on Sunday, January 13, 2012. You may listen to the sermon here or download the mp3.)


[1]Charles Spurgeon. Quoted by Wil Pounds: http://www.abideinchrist.com/messages/rom1v16.html.

Categories: Gospel, sermons | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Do We Sing? God’s Gift of Music

 

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

(Ephesians 5:15-21)

In the Preface of the 1991 Baptist Hymnal, Jimmy Draper, at the time President of the Sunday School Board, now known as LifeWay Christian Resources, penned this opening paragraph:

God’s people are a singing people. Ours is a singing faith, our songs incorporating our beliefs. Our music draws us in praise and adoration to worship our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Nothing is more vital to vibrant Christian faith than to praise and adore our Lord. It is in worship that we encounter God, that God speaks to us and calls us to deeper levels of understanding and commitment. Nothing draws us to true worship more forcefully and effectively than music.[1]

John MacArthur once wrote:

“The Spirit-filled life produces music. Whether he has a good voice or cannot carry a tune, the Spirit-filled Christian is a singing Christian. Nothing is more indicative of a fulfilled life, a contented soul, and a happy heart than the expression of son. The first consequence of the Spirit-filled life that Paul mentioned was not mountain-moving faith, an ecstatic spiritual experience, dynamic speaking ability, or any other such thing. It was simply a heart that sings. When a believer walks in the Spirit, he has an inside joy that manifests itself in music. God puts music in the souls and then on the lips of His children who walk in obedience.”[2]

You will notice that a considerable amount of time during the first half of our gathering together is that of singing. We sing different styles (praise choruses, hymns, etc.), in different ways (solos, congregational singing, choir, instrumental pieces, etc.) at differing tempi. And frankly, some folks are very much caught up in styles, ways and means, and tempos.

Yet, with all these varieties, there holds one unifying factor: the goal is to magnify Christ, to help us mature in Christ, to minister the name of Christ, and mobilize in the name of Christ from Centennial to the corners of creation. We must realize this—Christ has given us the gift of music to point to the gift of Him and what he’s accomplished for us on the cross and empty tomb in atoning for our sins.

Isn’t it a shame how God gave a gift of music, and our fallen natures can turn that gift intended for Him into something intended for us? Martin Luther put it in his normal blunt way: “A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of donkeys and the grunting of hogs.”[3] (Goodness, Martin—how do you really feel?) But we see that music, especially music in the service and witness of God, brings out some strong feelings!

The apostle Paul is no different! In the midst of some great instruction, he encourages us to use “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” to propel us upward, forward, inward, and outward.

The Upward Dimension: We sing to magnify God (Ephesians 5:19b-20).

Look with me at Ephesians 5:19b-20: “… singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So music, specifically singing, has a distinctly upward direction to it. We sing outwardly from the melody that He has already placed in our heart.

John MacArthur once noted:

Our singing and making melody is not for the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves or of entertaining others but of rejoicing in and praising God. Whether we are singing a solo, singing with a choir, or singing with the congregation, our focus should be on the Lord, not on ourselves or other people. He is the audience to whom we sing.[4]

This type of singing mirrors other areas of our lives. In 1 Corinthians 10:31, we see the passage, “Whatever we eat, or drink, or whatever we do [even how we sing], do to the glory of God.”

If you read on later in Ephesians 5 when it talks about the roles of husbands and wives.

  • “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22)
  • “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25).
  • “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1).
  • “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
  • “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:5-7).

Every place that God has put us, we live to magnify Him. But we live in the flesh that seeks to magnify self. We live in a world that seeks to magnify personalities, celebrities, fame.

There is the story of a time when Thomas K. Beecher substituted for his famous brother, Henry Ward Beecher, at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, New York. Many curiosity seekers had come to hear the renowned Henry Beecher speak. Therefore, when Thomas Beecher appeared in the pulpit instead, some people got up and started for the doors. Sensing that they were disappointed because he was substituting for his brother, Thomas raised his hand for silence and announced, “All those who came here this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may withdraw from the church; all who came to worship God may remain.”

The Forward Dimension: We sing to become mature in Christ (Ephesians 5:15-17).

Look with me at Ephesians 5:15-17:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Paul begs the Ephesian Christians to look carefully at how we walk. When he uses this term ‘walk,’ he is referring to how we live and move in this world. Back in Ephesians 4:17-18, Paul warned the church, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” So Paul calls them (and us) to put that off and to walk wisely.

In the preceding paragraph, he tells us to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1). In verse 8, he reminded them that they once walked in darkness, “but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” (5:8).

Now, he is calling us to walk wisely. By what standard? Our backgrounds and experiences may develop in us what seems like ‘wisdom’ and common sense. And the longer we live, the more we rely on this—even being lauded by others for our good sense!

Many of you read through the wonderful devotional “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. In the August 29th entry of this devotional, Chambers says:

Every time you venture out in your life of faith, you will find something in your circumstances that, from a commonsense standpoint, will flatly contradict your faith. But common sense is not faith, and faith is not common sense. In fact, they are as different as the natural life and the spiritual.[5]

So what informs this wise living? Solomon wrote that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). The fear, reverence and awe of the LORD, the covenant God of His people who created heaven and earth by his own will and purpose—this here is the beginning of knowledge, wisdom, and instruction. Wisdom comes from taking instruction and the knowledge that comes with it, and them applying it! Even them, we need help, don’t we?

So Paul takes it a step farther: “be filled with the Spirit.” The Spirit was promised to us by Christ himself before He left to ascend back to the Father. Being filled with the Spirit means to be fueled to walk as Christ would have us. Walking lovingly, walking in the light, walking wisely, walking productively (“making the best use of your time, because the days are evil”). Every moment, every second, every hour matters. Even the routine things.

Walking unwisely means walking in ‘the course of this world.’ Ephesians 2 tells us that we followed “the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is at work in the sons of disobedience.” Satan seeks to blind us to our true situation outside of Christ. But when we come to Christ and surrender, He through the Holy Spirit begins to indwell us. Through the Holy Spirit, we are connected to the mind of Christ and Christ is connected to us!

When I lived in Michigan, I was 11-12 years old and remember driving past a restaurant in downtown Midland, Michigan called The French Onion. Below the title, it said, “Food and spirits served here.” Spirits? That’s another name for alcoholic beverages. I had only heard or seen the word spirit in connection with something other-worldly or supernatural.

So when Paul says, “Do not be drunk with wine, which leads to debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,” the juxtaposition was not accidental on his part. Wine and other substances have a way of influencing. Look at Proverbs 23:26-35:

29 Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
30 Those who tarry long over wine;
    those who go to try mixed wine.
31 Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly.
32 In the end it bites like a serpent
    and stings like an adder.
33 Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your heart utter perverse things.
34 You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea,
    like one who lies on the top of a mast.[c]
35 “They struck me,” you will say,[d] “but I was not hurt;
    they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
    I must have another drink.”

This doesn’t surprise us, does it? You hear of those who are drunk have certain personalities: “Oh, he’s a mean/nice/fun/crying drunk”—with the implication that this is not their normal personality—or at least it’s not that intense.

See what kind of influence this has—but Paul is saying, “To live wisely, to be connected to ultimate wisdom—be filled with the Spirit. You see, we will be filled by something—and whatever fills us, fuels us. If the Spirit fills us and we are being filled by His inspired Word, we will live not only wisely, but productively. Note what is says that wisdom is that which “makes best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

The Inward Dimension: We sing to minister to fellow Christians (Ephesians 5:19, 21).

When I was a music minister (served as one for about 10 years), everyone had a differing view of this. In fact, when I was a music minister from 1992-2002 (and at that time, going to college and seminary to get ‘church music’ degrees), there was a term that was being bandied about: worship wars. Now, if two words ever did not go together, it was that! And people got in their camps: traditional (I love the hymns and anthems), contemporary (I love more modern music), blended (a blend of both), and some are liturgical (a very scripted service with scripted music and Scripture readings).

And for a while, instead of music unifying, it divided. It was like when Paul wrote to the Corinthians that some followed Paul, others follow Apollos, etc. It was, “I’m in this camp,” “Why how could you? I’m in this camp.” And instead of it being merely about preferences, it would become a test of faith.

Another way music can be seen as selfish is by relying on talent and musicianship rather than the giver of that talent and musicianship.

After the apostle Paul tells the Ephesian church to be filled with the Spirit, them something interesting happens. The filling of the Spirit does not simply affect the person filled, but the people also that surround the person so filled. Notice in verse 19 that immediately follows: “addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Then as you go down to verse 21, you see that a result of this singing to one another and making melody to God that the result is that we are “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

God has called us to take care of one another in the faith. All through Scripture, singing among God’s people is always shown within the communion of believers. And this type of ministry among God’s people always puts music in its proper place—as a vehicle for the truth!

In 1 Chronicles 25:1, we see how King David is setting up the worship that would take place in the Temple. In this verse, we see something very interesting: “David and the chiefs of the service also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who prophesied with lyres, with harps, and with cymbals.” What were they doing with those instruments? Prophesying! They were using music to preach and minister to the people.

Let me ask, “Do you sing?” If so what is your motivation behind your singing? If you don’t why?

Some of you may not sing because you don’t think you can sing. Are you afraid how you sound? Are you afraid you might not get the tune right to that new song, so you’ll only stick to the older songs you’re familiar with? Could this lack of singing be pride—a reflection of our lives where we do not wish to risk breaking the façade of what others think of us? Could there be a coldness in our relationship to Christ where the song won’t come—and if it does come, it only comes with a time limit?

If you do sing, why? Do you sing to show off your pipes? Do you sing so people will think well of you? Do you sing, but may be offended of someone doesn’t acknowledge your talents and gifts? This also could be a sign of pride. You are using a gift that God has given you to exalt you rather than the One who gave it.

You see, friend, our audience is not each other—our audience is the crucified and risen Savior. And he gave you a song to sing when he saved you. The unholy Trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil want to take away your song. But you must fight that! Sing helps you in your worship upward to God—but it also help the person sitting beside you. Your singing encourages them in their song!

The Outward Dimension: We sing to mobilize Christians Monday through Saturday.

The people of God would always sing before battle, but especially in praise to God after a victorious battle! We sing to encourage believers here, but songs are also sung.

It must be said that each Sunday, we are unleashed. But each Sunday, we also come in from that to which we were unleashed! When we are living for Christ, trusting in Christ, witnessing for Christ, and discipling others in Christ—and Christ sustains us and continues to show himself faithful—you cannot tell me that will not fuel up and fire up our singing!

Of if we are aiming to live for Christ, but an issue comes along, a monkey wrench is thrown into our circumstances—we come and sing to remind ourselves in song about the mercy, faithfulness, and sovereignty of God in Christ.

Louie Giglio in his book The Air I Breathe, poignantly wrote:

“It’s a lot easier to sing a song than it is to stop and touch the broken. It’s a lot less taxing to go to church than to take ‘church’ to the world. But sharing with others is a sacrifice of worship that makes God smile.”

May God give us a song to sing that springs, as Larry Norman once sang, from “that sweet, sweet song of salvation.”


[1]The Baptist Hymnal, Wesley Forbis, General Editor (Nashville, TN: Convention Press, 1991), v.

[2]John F. MacArthur, Ephesians

[3]Luther on Music. Accessed at http://www.eldrbarry.net/mous/saint/luthmusc.htm [on-line]; Internet.

[4]MacArthur., p. 257.

[5]Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, August 29. Accessed at http://utmost.org/the-unsurpassed-intimacy-of-tested-faith/ [on-line]; Internet.

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Jesus is Still on the Throne

Back in June 2009, I flew down to Charlotte, NC from Lexington, KY to see my niece graduate from high school. I did not fly regular, but flew standby. If you have never flown standby before, I must tell you that it is wonderful if two things happen: you know someone who has worked at an airline for a considerable amount of time, and that there are enough empty seats on your desired flight.

If you fly standby, ‘buddy passes’ are given by those who work for an airline to their buddies. The flight itself costs nothing, save only the taxes and fees. You reserve the flight you want, show up at the counter, and if there are extra seats no one has purchased, and if you have a pass from a buddy with seniority, you rise higher on the list, giving you a better chance to get on your desired flight.

I had no troubles flying down, even going through Atlanta. I was to fly back Saturday afternoon to make it back in time to preach at Boone’s Creek. But when I went to the Charlotte airport for my 3:30 pm flight, I was #22 out of 31, with only 9 seats available. The 6:00 pm flight was no better–17th out of 28 on the list with only 6 seats available. So, I called a deacon and put him in the bullpen. I had a chance to get on a 6:00 am flight that would put me in Lexington at 10:15, just in time for 11:00 service. It too was full. So, mom and dad drove me back (which is what we should have done in the first place).

The reason I go into this story is to reinforce something we already know: from our vantage point, airports look like pandemonium. From scrambling to unload out front, getting bags checked in, going through security, getting on the flight, then getting off the flight and going to baggage claim–total mayhem.

Until you get to the control tower.

In the control tower, you see there is a method to the madness, a purpose and a plane are in place.

Revelation 4-5 show us the control tower of the universe. While many read Revelation for various reasons, we cannot neglect the context. The Revelation is that of an unveiling, a pealing back of the curtain of heaven. The apostle John, the one who received this revelation, was very, very old. He had seen the rest of his fellow disciples systematically executed by the Roman machine. He himself was on the island of Patmos–5 miles wide and 10 miles long out in the middle of the Mediterranean along with other criminals of the Roman system. He had seen churches have varying degrees of faithfulness. Some stayed faithful, some had gone worldly, some had been lukewarm, apathetic to it all. He began to lose hope.

It was at that point that heaven opened up. John needed to see that all was not lost. Yes, on the ground all seemed to be mayhem, spiraling out of control. God graciously gave John a glimpse into the control tower of the universe.

As we read through this, one word keeps appearing. In fact, in 24 verses, this word shows up 17 times. This word shows us the central object in the entire book of Revelation–and even in the entire universe! It is that of a throne. The Spirit wanted to show Him what would take place–and he brings him to a voice and a throne, and one seated on that throne.

Notice the appearance: He had “the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of emerald” (4:3). Can you picture this? To be honest, me neither. We could go into the ins and outs of what all this could mean, but I believe the point of this is that the picture around the throne is indescribable–this was the best that John could do! But there is more:

Imanating from the throne were flashes of lightning and horrendous peals of thunder. What is John communicating: of all the things we see about God in His Word (his love, mercy, grace, and his wrath against sin), we see that God is a God of splendor and majesty and terror! This is not a politically correct view of God, but our interest is being biblically correct! God is not one to be mocked or trifled with. In fact, the book of Hebrews describes God as a consuming fire.

We also see that there are 24 elders around this throne. Who are they? We can speculate lots. Are they the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel and the 12 apostles? Why aren’t they identified? Because they are not the point, are they? But we can see what they do: they are clothed in white garments with crowns! There were some in the church at Sardis who, as John writes, “have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy” (Revelation 3:4). But each of them have crowns on their heads… golden crowns. These represent the clothing and crowns of victory–victory that has been won for them by Christ. And Revelation 4:10 says that in praise they perpetually cast these crowns at his feet. They fall down, submit, and have surrendered! The identity of the elders are not important–especially not to them. What is important is that we know the identity and the person who is important: the one who sits on the throne!!

What about the living creatures? These are of the angelic order of the cherubim, the ones who attend and stand with the King on the throne.

What are they saying about the One on the throne? What they have been singing for all eternity: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” Isaiah caught that vision of these angels singing. And we must catch that vision now. He is not only thrice holy, but he is of utmost worth:

Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelation 4:11).

We are seeing the point of these two chapters: to put firmly in our minds that, even though our lives seem chaotic, that our culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity, that more and more of those who call themselves churches and even Christians are denying the truth of Scripture or even the existence of God himself–none of these opinions and authorities has a chance aganst the sovereignty, holiness, and worth of our Lord and God who sits on the throne. He “created all things… by [His] will.”

Revelation 5 brings to our attention a scroll. This scroll has seven seals on it–and where is it? Located in the right hand of the One who sits on the throne. This scroll, as the Word says, had writing on the inside and on the outside. With Roman documents, such as a will or other orders being given to an army, the full directions were given on the inside while the summary of the documents ingredients were on the outside. The seals showed ownership, and could only be broken by someone specific, someone able.

The seven seals will, as you read in Revelation 6, unleash untold devastation upon the earth against those who have chosen to stand against Christ. We must remember that everything on earth is a spiritual warfare. As 1 John 2:15 outlines that unholy trinity of the world, the flesh, and the devil that war against the things of the Spirit. It is a second-by-second warfare–and those that shake their fist at their Maker and reject His Son will receive exactly what they ask for. This is a mission that was put in place from the foundation of the world–and the time has come to execute that mission.

So the “strong angel” asked the question of the moment: “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” Here is a great reason why we are introduced to the white robed elders, the four living creatures, and even all of the population of Heaven. They are mighty. They are impressive. They are imposing. But they are not worthy! At this, what did John do?

He wept! Given the information he had, he did not see anyone who could keep this going. Remember in Revelation 4:2, these are things that “must take place.”

Dennis E. Johnson puts it well:

If the scroll stays sealed, the consequences are even more serious than the confusion in the vindication of his servants and the unchallenged establishment of his dominion on earth, as it is in heaven. The angel’s question is … “Who is worthy to carry out God’s plan?” (Triumph of the Lamb, 105).

John wept, but one of the 24 came up and said, “Weep no more!” Why? “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so he can open the scroll and its seven seals.” This lion of Judah was told of all the way back in Genesis 49:8-12 who would rule like that lion with strength and fortitude. The root of David comes from Isaiah 11:1-2:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

This One who is worthy is not just mighty, but Almighty. What distinguishes him from every other person not only in heaven, but also on earth is that he has conquered. But conquered what? And why?

He was told to behold, and behold he did. Located between the four living creatures, but among the elders, John saw “a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth” (Rev. 5:6).

I remember sitting in a Fazoli’s off Man O’War Blvd. in Lexington, Kentucky reading over this passage. This verse really caught my attention because I never noticed this, but when I did, tears came to my eyes. This Lamb, as though it had been slain, was standing. I immediately thought, “Slain lambs don’t stand–yet this One does.” Every other lamb that was offered as a sacrifice for sin were slain, but they did not stand. This one does! This is no ordinary Lamb. But this was part of the conquering!

And he took that scroll! And the sorrow turned to joy! And what was their reaction? Singing! Shouting!

Last Sunday during our Student Led Sunday, Katie Shoun led us in some incredible songs. What uplifted my heart as I sat in the congregation being fed by these songs was that many of you–lots of you–didn’t simply go through the motions, disengaged with what’s going on. It’s easy to do, isn’t it? People can be leading us in worship, and we can have our minds wander, look at the bulletin, look at other people–and be here, but not be here, not engaged at all with what’s going on. The only thing that some of us may be engaged in is the time.

But when we are confronted by the Lamb that was slain, the Root of David, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, we cannot help but sing and shout. We don’t worry about what Sister Sue or Brother Bill thinks about us. When we come across the victory that was secured on our behalf by the Lamb who is ever present and sees everything completely–even seeing us completely–and he still willingly conquered?

What did these 28 sing about?

We have to be very careful about the books that are on the shelves of our bookstores talking about heaven. In fact, there’s a book about a man who spent an hour and a half in heaven (I won’t mention the name of book). I began reading this book, but I confess I stopped after page 35.

Many of the old hymns and choruses I had sung at various times in my life were part of the music — along with hundreds of songs I had never heard before. Hymns of praise, modern-sounding choruses, and ancient chants filled my ears and brought not only a deep peace but the greatest feeling of joy I’ve ever experienced.

As I stood before the gate, I didn’t think of it, but later realized that I didn’t hear such songs as “The Old Rugged Cross” or “The Nail-Scarred Hand.” None of the hymns that filled the air were about Jesus’ sacrifice or death. I heard no sad songs and instinctively knew that there were no sad songs in heaven. Why would there by? All were praises about Christ’s reign as King of Kings and our joyful worship for all he has done for us and how wonderful he is.[1]

I confess, I put the book down and never opened it up again. And even now, books that are out on heaven that are primarily based on an experience that someone had, be it a toddler or a Baptist pastor or anyone else, without looking at it through the litmus test of Scripture I just don’t have time for it all.

Why? First, look at what they all sang and shouted about. It was about victory! It was about what was conquered!

… for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, so you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.

Look at what the angels shouted in a “loud voice.” Worthy is the Lamb who was slain! This is the basis of his conquering. This is the basis of him being able to take the scroll and accomplish His mission.

And with all due respect to Don Piper’s experience by him saying they weren’t singing sad songs about his death… don’t you believe they who populated heaven knew why they were there? Yes, at the time and even now, it is the greatest miscarriage of justice that ever took place–but it is also the only way that the door of heaven could be opened up to us.

Now the chorus of believers in heaven and on earth shout: “To him who sits on the throne and unto the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

So what do we see happening?

First of all, the Christian needs to see that, regardless of what happens on earth–no matter what happens in your family, no matter what the government pronounces, no matter what others may say or do–Jesus is still on the throne! He is not simply working to conquer–the Word says He has conquered. He is not simply mighty, he is Almighty. So when Jesus says, “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body what you will put on. … Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:25, 33)–you now see the vantage point from which he is talking. He is sitting on the throne as the center of the universe.

Secondly, for those of you who have reject Christ to this point, both in your thinking and, ultimately, in your living: Christ was the lamb who was slain, and ransomed “people for God” (Rev. 5:9). Ransomed from what? Ransomed from their captor–ransomed from the sin which enslaves. Ransomed from that sin nature into which we were all born due to Adam. Ransomed the wages of that sin, which is eternal death away from God in a place called hell. Who did he ransom? From every tribe, and language and people and nation. No exclusion with God. No racism with God. No partiality with God. From every people, every geographical location, every societal structure, from the penthouse to the poorhouse–he calls out a people to Himself.

This worthy Lamb was slain. This is the atrocity of our sin! This is the audacity of our sin–thinking that our sins are merely personal choices, but God accepts us as we are. God meets us where we are, to be sure–but He loves enough not to keep us that way.

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Links to Help Your Gospel Grip (May 12, 2012)

Mothers Day and the Infertile (Russ Moore):  “Regardless of how you do it, remember the infertile as the world around us celebrates motherhood. The Proverbs 31 woman needs our attention, but the 1 Samuel 1 woman does too.”

6 Bullet Points on Preaching (Tim Challies): “The Apostle Paul had a lot to say about preaching, but I think the majority of it can be grouped under six main headings or ideas.”

Five Reasons Christians Should Continue to Oppose Gay Marriage (Kevin DeYoung): The temptation, then, is for Christians go silent and give up the marriage fight: ‘It’s no use staying in this battle,’ we think to ourselves. ‘We don’t have to change our personal position. We’ll keep speaking the truth and upholding the Bible in our churches, but getting worked up over gay marriage in the public square is counter productive. It’s a waste of time. It makes us look bad. It ruins our witness. And we’ve already lost. Time to throw in the towel.’ I understand that temptation. It is an easier way. But I do not think it is the right way, the God glorifying way, or the way of love.”

The Subtle Art of Sabotaging Your Pastor (Jared Wilson):  “Following in the footsteps of The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis, Jared Wilson writes from the perspective of a senior demon to his apprentice on how to oppose and confound Christians. This imaginative piece offers powerful insight into the subtle ways leaders might be led astray” (A note from the Editor).

What is the Purpose of Small Groups and Sunday School? (Trevin Wax):  “If the main goal of the group is to invite outsiders to meet the Christians in their neighborhood, then Sunday school and small groups are clearly deficient. Meanwhile, if the primary purpose is Bible study and application, then community groups are off-base. The way we analyze these models depends on what we think is most important to accomplish.  I’m convinced that the purpose for breaking into smaller groups is one of the most neglected areas of discipleship. And when we don’t know what our purpose is, we’re certain not to fulfill it.”

6 Steps to Turning Your Sermons Into Books (Jared Wilson, again!):  “Over the last 6-7 years, I have worked on numerous book projects for pastors, some you’re familiar with and some you aren’t. I’m not new to the work. . . . I have worked on bad books and good books — which is to say, I’ve worked with bad sermons and good sermons. So the level of work it takes sometimes to turn a sermon transcript (the word-for-word script of what a preacher said from the pulpit) into a book chapter (a polished work of composition suitable for submission to a publisher) changes from project to project, but the process itself is fairly standard. Here’s sort of how it breaks down.”

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Jesus is the Glory of the Father: From our “Jesus Is” Series

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, April 22, 2012 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO.  This is part of our “Jesus Is __________” sermon series as we begin an exposition on the Gospel According to John.  The audio version of the sermon should be up soon on our sermons page.)

1. He is the God of all creation.

In John 1:1-5, it says:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life,[a] and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

If you have read through the Gospels (that is, the first four books of the NT) that outline the ministry of our Lord Jesus start in differing places. If you read Matthew starts with Mary and Joseph, with Joseph’s dilemma of how his virgin wife could be with child—that child being the Lord Jesus Christ himself—God with us! In Mark, the “beginning” was the start of his earthly ministry. In Luke, he starts with the coming of John the Baptist who (as you will see in John 1:6-8) is the one who came to pave the way as the witness of the Messiah to come.

Yet John starts further back—before Jesus’ ministry, before Jesus’ birth, before David, before Abraham, and even before Adam and Eve. “In the beginning”—meaning for our ears to understand before time began from all eternity—the same as it is in Genesis 1:1. At the same point when God created everything before time began, we see that “in the beginning [too] was the Word.” What are we to glean from here?

The word ‘word’ is translated from the Greek ‘logos.’ John understood that two different audiences would be reading this: the Greeks, and the Jews. The Greeks, especially the uber-rational Stoics, believed that this ‘logos’ was the principal showing the foundation of all rational thought. For the Jews, it was the sum total of all of God’s revelation (“His Word”). So the apostle John intentionally communicated that this to both groups! He is, as the apostle Paul noted, “the treasure of all wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

He was with God, meaning he has a distinct personality that was intimate in fellowship with the Father. He is also God in that he possesses the same substance.

Then John goes on! Verse 3: “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” So Christ is the agent of all creation!

The pivot comes in verses 4-5: “In him was life, and that life was light of men. The light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it.” Why is this a pivot? On the surface, it looks as if John is talking about Jesus’ role in the physical creation. But here, John begins to show Jesus’ spiritual creation and work. It’s the word ‘overcome.’ He is using a physical understanding to move forward a spiritual truth. In physical creation, darkness is simply an absence of light. In the spiritual realm, darkness is the presence of evil. But this ‘overcoming’ is interesting. This word can also be translated ‘comprehended’ or ‘understood.’

We have all been in classes where we have struggled. But there is a time (hopefully) that when you have struggled, you persevere until (and what’s the expression we use) “the light comes on.” There is a comprehension to the subject and a mastery that helps you overcome the obstacles impeding the progress!  Here, when we say that the darkness has not “overcome” it—it has not mastered it.  As in physical properties, so it is in spiritual properties, the light will never master the darkness.  Ever.

2. He is the true light of the new creation (John 1:6-13).

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own,[a] and his own people[b] did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Here, John begins to show us what the true light is—it’s of a spiritual realm, but more than this. All through the OT, when the Shekinah glory of the Lord would arrive, it would be in light, in splendor, in majesty, and in awe.

This true light (Christ) came into the world. Remember, this is the world that He made. But the world did not know him.

Even more surprisingly (at least on the surface), he came to his own people—and they said no as well. This is the people of Israel! And this is devastating! I remind you of what Romans 9:4-5 says:

4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

Look at all God had given them! Every advantage! Every opportunity! Before them, God rolled out progressively every sign and every relational possibility to show how He would come to rescue—all culminating in the True Light coming, but they remained blind! As we heard on Good Friday,

It would be bad news if the story ended at John 1:10-11. But let’s look again at John 1:12-13:

12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

There are those who do receive him! There are those who believed in his name, trusting in his character, and His work! And God bestowed the right to become children of God. We receive him, but we see how this ultimately happens. We become children of God because we were born only of God.

Think about when you were born! Do you remember the day? Well, no, you don’t. Hopefully you remember your birthday at this point, but we do not remember when we were born. The fact is, most of us don’t remember anything before our 2nd birthday—with rare exceptions. The fact is, we had no say when we were conceived, and we had no say when we were to come into the world! John 3 says that we must be born not just once, but be born again.

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[a] 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[b] must be born again.’ 8 The wind[c] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

We are not saved by our family or heritage. We cannot manufacture the Spirit’s work like so many evangelist charlatan’s out there who try to use certain words or emotions to elicit a response.

3. He is the true temple of His people (John 1:14-18).

Look with me at John 1:14-18:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 ( John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.[a] 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God,[b] who is at the Father’s side,[c] he has made him known.

In the Old Testament, God gave His people His name, but He would not dwell among them. Moses and Joshua would go outside of the camp into the Tent of Meeting to meet with and commune with God. So when this Word, this True Light, would become flesh and dwell among us? And we would see his glory? We must not lose the thrust of this passage!

The Tabernacle in the wilderness and the Temple in the Promised Land were the centerpiece of the community of Israel, the people of God.  The Temple was the place where God and man met and communed.  So when the apostle John writes that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” this is a ‘tabernacling’ term.  The Tabernacle and the Temple pointed to the ultimate centerpiece of God’s people, the ultimate place where God and men could commune and dwell together: Jesus Christ. 

Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4 that there would come a time when they would not worship in Jerusalem or anywhere else (even their Mt. Gerazim), but they would worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).  Christ would dwell with us and we would dwell with him (Revelation 21:1-4).  We have even been termed a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit’ through the Spirit of God through Christ residing in us (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) taking us to the throne of God (Hebrews 4:14-16). 

Jesus even said that the Temple would be destroyed, but he would raise it again in three days.  He is the Temple to which he refers.  Not another building, but Himself! 

If we wish to see the glory of God, we will not need to be hid like Moses was in the cleft of the rock—we need to see Christ! 

Charles Wesley’s words speak true, not just during the Christmas season:

Christ by highest heav’n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin’s womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King!"

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Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God–Audio Sermon

If you have never heard the Jonathan Edwards sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, preaching in 1748, take time to listen.

It makes us aware that the wrath and mercy of God are met at the cross of Christ. May we realize how horrendous sin is, and how sweet our Savior is.

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Whatever Your Condition: The Power of Faith in Prayer (Part I)

(To listen to this sermon in full, go here.  This was preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO on Sunday, February 26, 2012.)

As we come to the end of this Epistle to James, we would do well to remember why this book was written to begin with. These were Jewish Christians who had dispersed and were facing persecution left and right. Temptations from the inside, trials from without—and James began with the notion of exhorting them to “count it joy, my brothers, when you face trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and compete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

This epistle is bookended by prayer. We have received warnings about the misuse of the tongue—quarreling, grumbling, and that the tongue is a fire, a restless evil, a poison, staining the whole body, directing all we do—set on fire by hell itself.

Look at the type of suffering that can happen to a Christian just from the book of James:

  • Trials and temptations (James 1:1-18);
  • Anger (v. 20-21)
  • Being on the wrong end of partiality (James 2:1-13)
  • Inability to control one’s tongue.
  • Quarrelling and divisiveness within the church.
  • Being defrauded by the rich.
  • Persecution for your faith.
  • Sickness

So, whatever your condition, send Him your petitions. (James 5:13-15).

Look with me at James 5:13-15:

13Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.

Notice verses 13 and 14. He brings out three attitudes and conditions: suffering, cheerfulness, and sickness. And in all three areas, where does the Spirit tell us to run? To God! Back in James 4:7-8, James exhorts:

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Those dealing with trials on the outside and temptations from within, the primary solution is coming to God in prayer and praise.

Over this past week, it’s been interesting to talk to people who have rather backstories in regards to their testimonies. Some have been involved in eastern religions looking for spiritual peace; others have been involved with alcohol and drugs looking for a type of peace in that area. Some go to the mountains or were environmentalists, trying to find peace with their surroundings.

All of them have one thing in common: to escape! To get away from the sorrow and conviction of their soul, they look to empty their minds, numb their spirits, or get away from where they believe the issues lie. But we cannot get away from ourselves—nor can we get away from God.

Part and parcel of being a radical, dedicated follower of Christ is undergoing persecution and suffering. And it can come in many ways. We read in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 that faithful men were “afflicted and mistreated” in countless ways (Hebrews 11:32-38). And the more we speak up for Christ, the more we will suffer at the hands of the world and, even like Jeremiah, suffer emotionally and spiritually:

[7 ] O LORD, you have deceived me,

and I was deceived;

you are stronger than I,

and you have prevailed.

I have become a laughingstock all the day;

everyone mocks me.

[8 ] For whenever I speak, I cry out,

I shout, “Violence and destruction!”

For the word of the LORD has become for me

a reproach and derision all day long.

[9 ] If I say, “I will not mention him,

or speak any more in his name,”

there is in my heart as it were a burning fire

shut up in my bones,

and I am weary with holding it in,

and I cannot.

(Jeremiah 20:7-9 ESV)

What do you do when you are suffering? You pray! You ask for wisdom, having faith in the One you are petitioning (James 1:5-8). In Psalm 42: “Why so cast down, o my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5). God is the only one who not only has the perspective above all that we have, but He is working everything in the world to an appointed end. By connecting with Him, He allows us through the Spirit to tap into that understanding.

Is anyone cheerful? If you are cheerful, what do you do? You glorify God for that situation as well. In what ways may someone be cheerful in the Lord? Remember how James said to “Count it joy when you are facing trials of various kinds?” (James 1:2). God may have blessed, God may have answered a prayer, God may have sent a trial your way—all things being worked together for good (Romans 8:28), knowing that our steadfastness is being worked out! You know that the victory is won (1 Corinthians 15:55-57; 1 John 5:4-5).

The result? “Let him sing praise!” We don’t praise to talk ourselves out of our situation, or praise Him in hopes of Him removing us from our situation. We praise Him because of the strength He provides in the midst of our situation!

Whatever your condition, make your confessions!

James now gets to this third question: Is anyone among you sick?

The word here is for those who are physically sick, to be sure. But it also allows for those who are under such mental anguish that it manifests itself physically. How often have I heard of spouses who, after a divorce or death, lose weight due to an inability to eat, or gain weight to try and salve that comfort? Emotional or mental stress and strain can show itself physically.

Sickness can come from sin. Look at verse 15-16: “And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

Our unconfessed sins show themselves. Look at Psalm 32:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity.
And in whose spirit there is no conceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
My strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
I acknowledged my sin to you,
And I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
And you forgave my sin.

There are three categories of ‘sin’ mentioned here.

  • Transgression: this literally means a ‘going away,’ or ‘departure—rebellion against God and his authority. Even what we deem the most insignificant act is not simply against ourselves or a person, but against God himself. Psalm 51: “Against you, you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
  • Sin: “falling short of a mark,” like an archer missing his target. Romans 3:23
  • Iniquity: a corruption, a twisting, a crookedness of our heart and spirit.

The Lord’s Supper narrative in 1 Corinthians 11 also says this:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).

The broken body and shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who atoned for our sin and removed our guilt, justifying us by grace alone through faith alone must never be approached in a casual manner—either at the Table or in our lives!

Notice dear church how your brothers and sisters in Christ are a part of this process:

First, the leaders of the church are part of this process: “Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14b). If I may, there is a word here that every one of us would do well to hear. How often do we hear of people who are sick, but keep it to themselves? They are sick from anxiety, from spiritual or emotional distress about their standing before the Lord, or from countless other reasons. Some even go into the hospital for such issues—but tell no one. They only tell who has to know: their spouse, (maybe) their children, and their doctor (if they go). They don’t want to worry their pastor (he’s so busy as it is) or their small group (they have their own issues—I don’t want to put more on them)—so they keep it to themselves.

The reasons why so many fail to inform are (1) don’t want to be a bother, and (2) do not want the pity, or (3) they are ashamed!

If you are in this boat, consider these two things:

First, God did not create us to be alone, but in fellowship with one another. You will miss the benefits of that fellowship in how they may pray for you and apply the Word of God, through the anointing work of the Holy Spirit. The leaders of the church are the ones who are (or at least should be) the most mature. This is why Paul warns against those who are immature in the faith becoming a deacon or a pastor—they become full of themselves, their position, their authority. They do not handle their responsibility well. In fact, some who are immature in the faith and are leaders begin looking under every rock for sin—even when it’s not there. It’s not enough to be a pastor—they want to be Holy Spirit, Jr.

Secondly, you deprive your brothers and sisters in Christ the blessing of coming alongside and ministering. There is a blessing in being ministered unto and also ministering. Look at 5:16: “The effective prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

What does this mean? When sins are confessed and ones walk with the Lord is strong, what powerful prayers come forth!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together notes:

Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride. To stand there before a brother as a sinner is a humiliation that is almost unbearable. In the confession of concrete sins the old man does a painful, shameful death before the eyes of a brother.

What does this look like for the church? In confessing your sins:

  • If it’s a private sin, find a mature brother/sister to confess it to.
  • If it’s a sin against that brother, go to that brother personally.
  • If it’s a sin against the body, go to the body.

It’s not helpful to bring private and personal matters before the assembly—go and find that accountability with someone else. Yes, it’s tough and humbling, but there will be strength in that obedience and confession and accountability.

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SERMON: Taming the Tongue: It Only Takes a Spark (James 3:1-12)

(To listen to this sermon, go to our ARBC sermons page.)

At my former church, we would take one Sunday a month during the singing time in our evening services to ask for requests of favorite hymns. The music minister’s daughter would always pick one of two songs: “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” or “Pass It On.” You may know that song from the 1970’s:

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
And soon all those around can warm up to its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love
Once you’ve experienced it, you spread his love to everyone
You want to pass it on.

We praise God that He gave us words to communicate so many great things. Primary to that is His Word! He used words to show us who He is, what He has done, and what He aims to do in us through Christ. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). Even Jesus was described in John 1:14 as “the Word made flesh.”

And Christians are to use their words to build up, encourage, correct, and challenge in Christ! In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, we see:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

I used to have a shirt that had a quote on the back of it that said, “Preach the gospel at all times—if necessary, use words!” That sounds good, doesn’t it? That is until you realize that it’s not mere actions that do it—for the gospel is words! It’s like in the days before cell phones and telling someone, “Make a phone call—if necessary, use the numbers.” We have something to say, not just to do. But what we say is our calling card. What we say clarifies what we are doing!

Words wield a positive influence to be sure! But words can also be weapons! In reference to the song sung earlier, could we not change the words to this?

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
And soon all those around, can burn up in its blowing!
That’s how it can be with our tongues,
Once you’re unleashing it, you can spread hell’s death with every breath;
You must not pass that on.

Our words are the calling card of our lives. Not just to times we speak in public, saying what we are expected to say. But even in private, when we think no one hears our words. In Romans 1:28-32, when Paul was mentioning the fact that there were some that God gave over to that debased mind, he goes on to list other characteristics of those who worship creation rather than the Creator:

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventers of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, and ruthless.

So being a ‘gossip’ and ‘slanderer,’ using those words as weapons, are numbered among the malicious, evil, haters of God, and the like. Words matter! Washington Irving once noted, “A sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows [sharper] with constant use.” God’s Word reveals His nature—so do our words! Our words set a pattern for our lives. Our words cause damage! Our words need redeeming because, as Jesus said, out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34).

1. God must tame our tongue’s direction.

Join me in reading James 3:1-5a:

1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2 For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3 If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4 Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

Every word we speak puts forth our view of God! Christian’s actions and speech show the world what our hearts hold. And if Jesus will hold us accountable for every word we as Christians speak (Matthew 12:36ff), this will hold doubly for those who teach.

In the early church, teachers were crucial! Remember, the NT wasn’t completed (and wouldn’t be completed for another 40 years until the apostle John and the inspired Book of Revelation). The letter by the apostle James was likely the earliest NT book we have. Given how young Christianity was at this point, having able teachers was critical for a strong church.

How critical are teachers even today! The nature of individuals is to surround themselves with people they want to hear. Paul warned young Timothy that:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wonder off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

Some are not interested in truth. They are interested in personality or presentation. The evangelist Dwight L. Moody was preaching at a church in a prominent city, and many were in attendance. Now, one thing about Moody’s preaching was that he, as some say, “murdered the King’s English.” One rather sophisticated listener was sitting there disgusted at how Moody spoke. Finally, when he couldn’t take it anymore, he took out a piece of paper, wrote something on it, gave it to an usher to take up to Mr. Moody. When he took the paper, only one word was written on it: “Fool!” Moody stopped, then said, “Now this is an amazing thing! There have been many times when people have written a letter without signing their name. This is the first time someone signed their name, and forgot to write the letter!”

This is why teaching is judged with “greater strictness.” It’s not simply about your relationship with God—but what we teach affects other people’s relationship with Christ. Jim Jones’ view of God caused the murder of 38 people. Joseph Smith’s vision led a movement that believed that God was once a man, that we could become God and that salvation is by what we do in keeping with the LDS code. Charles Taze Russell taught that Christ is an archangel and not God the Son—even putting out a ‘translation’ of the Bible that denied such. Mormonism and JWs now have millions of followers worldwide—all started by the deviant teaching of those who hated Orthodox Christianity.

Our words give direction and demonstrate power. Horses are 550 pounds of raw power and can run ¼ mile in 25 seconds. But put a bridle in them and a person ¼ their size who has the skills can make that horse do anything. Rudders that are small in comparison to the entire ship can change the direction of that ship. So can words—the words of Adolf Hitler can start an entire movement. The legislation of the words written in Roe v Wade determined the legalization of 54.5 million unborn children since 1973. Words spoken in the corner of a church building and take off and split churches, harm friendships, and lead those astray from God!

2. Tame the tongue’s damage (James 3:5b-8).

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. 7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

It only takes a spark, doesn’t it? Many of you have heard of the great Chicago Fire of 1871 when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern as she milked—blackening 3 ½ miles of the city, destroying over 17,000 buildings before it came under control. Two days, and 250 lives later it still lives in our collective memory.

We’ve heard of wildfires started by a cigarette flicked out the window. We have heard of houses being burned down by electrical shorts. Fire is different from water. With water, you can just pour it out, and it stays the same amount in the same area. Fire spreads and causes great damage—even destruction!

So it is appropriate that James uses the object lesson of fire! Seldom do words stay put. And isn’t it sad that with human nature, it’s only the bad things that spread fast.

He goes on to say a ‘world of unrighteousness’—meaning that it’s an entire system of evil. Kent Hughes says, “The tongue contains and conveys all the world system’s wickedness. It is party to every evil there is, and it actively obtrudes its evil into all our lives.”

Our entire ‘course of life’ is set on fire—everywhere our life takes us! And the uncontrolled tongue is connected directly to hell itself! The word ‘hell’ is that of Gehenna. This word connects with the Jerusalem city dump (the Valley of Hinnom) where criminals, dead animals, and the garbage would go. As a result of the incoming refuse, the fire that burned in that place burned continually. This is another image to show that not only is our heart fueled by our sinful nature, but it’s fueled by hell itself!

Do we see how our tongue, set among the members of our body, stains the entire body? John MacArthur one time told of a time when he was in seminary and needed a sports coat in order to preach in some of the church in the area. So we went to a local thrift store and bought a $9 sport coat and suited his needs. Soon after, however, numerous people asked him if he was a heavy smoker. Why? Apparently, no matter how many times he dry-cleaned this jacket, a cigarette smell overwhelmed people wherever he went.

This is the affect of our tongues. And it doesn’t take much. Think about this: suppose as I’m preaching along I let slip a profanity. Now, even though I’ve only been here two months, and along with the fact that I’ve been in the ministry for 20 years—if I let that word come out of my mouth, it’s over! I’m done! Like any type of word, once that word is out, you cannot reel it back it. It perpetually stains you. Even if you have been forgiven, that impression remains.

So if you read this, I hope you don’t read this like I often read it a million times before when I was younger. I thought verse 8 read that ‘no one can tame the tongue.’ Animals can be tamed—just go to a circus! The trainer can stick his head into the gaping, powerful jaws of a lion, no problem. Jockeys that weigh 100 pounds can guide a horse that weighs 5x or more his weight. But, again as I read, no one can tame the tongue.

But is that what it says? No—it says “no man can tame the tongue.” While no man can tame the tongue, there is One who can. Only God can tame the tongue. It serves as a poison! It is verbal cyanide. You can commit arson just by a hell-fueled tongue.

3. God must tame the tongue’s distinctions.

Look with me at verses 9-12:

With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

So James again draws from his box of object lessons and brings us to water and vegetation—and where each of these things originates. Sin pollutes even the good things that come from us. If you have a spring that has both fresh water and salt water, how will that water be? Here’s a hint: it won’t be fresh. If you advertize yourself as a fig tree but you bring forth something else—oh, say, olives—will you be believable?

We saw this firsthand in the news this week. Earlier in the week, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation released a statement that they were stopping funding to Planned Parenthood (the nation’s largest abortion provider) for breast cancer screenings. The reason they offered was due to the fact they were under investigation for allegedly using federal money for abortions. But the reaction was very polarizing.

The pro-life groups praised the decision, seeing it as a consistency that life was being seen as valuable not only to the mom but also to the unborn child. The pro-abortion groups reviled the decision, even from it’s own affiliates. Even 26 senators (I won’t say from which party) signed a letter calling for Komen to reconsider.

And reconsider they did. On Friday, the news said they had reversed their decision and offered an apology.

Wherever you fall on this matter, this is an illustration of how words work and how they have an affect on you. The backlash now from many is that the Komen Foundation can be pressured from the outside which affects their convictions (if any) on the inside. Now, both sides of this discussion will always wonder if this organization can be bullied—if their convictions really come from a moral center or just from who yells at them the loudest.

Dear friends, we are here this morning in a church building as the church. This time has been given over to the body of Christ and I pray that everyone of us has surrendered to Jesus Christ as well. We have sung songs with the lines, “Beautiful One, I love; beautiful One I adore,” “I will open up my heart and let the healer set me free; I’m happy to be in the truth and will daily lift up my hands,” “Now I belong to Jesus; Jesus belongs to me” and “open the eyes of my heart, I want to see you.” As for me, there is nothing better than singing and hearing God’s people sing praises to Him in this place.

If you recall though in Genesis 1 that God has created plants and animals to function “according to their kind,” he has also created us as Christians to function after our kind as well—to function as Christ has called us to function to speak and live the Word by for teaching, reproving, correcting, and training in righteousness.”

But yet some turn right around from blessing God to cursing those made in his image! In James’ day, a king or emperor would erect a statue—and anyone who curse that statue would be treated as one who did that to the king or emperor himself!

The next time we murmur something under our breath or shout it loud, whether against an authority figure or against our neighbor, that is a tear-down is as if you were saying it to God’s face!

Conclusion

As you leave, consider the importance of words! God used words to communicate to those who bear His image the glorious wonder of who made creation, and who came to rescue us so we could become a new creation! Words matter! They can be used for well-being, or as weapons!

Consider also the importance of our words! Everything we say reflects on our view of what Christ accomplished on the cross on our behalf and how we view the resurrection! Words matter! Do we use them to build up in Christ, or to tear down?

Consider the importance of these words: repent and trust! Only God can tame the tongue. Only God can forgive the sin that separates you from Him! And He did so through Christ! “All that the Father gives to me will come to me; and whoever believes in me I will in no ways cast out!” There is no faith in Christ without repentance from sin. Faith comes by hearing the word of God. Repentance comes by using words from our hearts to confess our sin and turn to Christ alone!

Words matter! The Word matters! Does it matter to you this morning?

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A Faith That Works: What Does That Look Like?

(This sermon was preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO, on Sunday, January 29, 2012.  To listen to the sermon, click here.)

As you know, I spent the weekend in Trinidad. I’m understanding that I need to clarify that I was in Trinidad & Tobago in the Caribbean, not Trinidad, Colorado. I went there to preach for my friend who was being honored for his years of ministry as a preacher, church planter, and mentor of young pastors. The place was packed—so good to see so many coming that God has touched through this man. The service lasted just over three hours which a lively time of singing, testimonies from other pastors, plus I had the opportunity to preach.

What I didn’t realize was that this service would be televised! Yet as I was sitting there through much of the festivities, my attention kept being drawn to the cameraman, someone who was sent on assignment to be at this worship service. I remember thinking, rather cynically, “I bet this guy is hating life, being at a worship service of this nature for three hours!” I was quickly taught a lesson about how God works.

After the service, he asked some of us to do an interview about Roddie Taylor (how we met, what was his heart/passion, etc.). As he was setting up the camera, he looked at me and said, “What you said it there . . . I’ve never heard anything like that!” I told him, “Well, glory to God—thank you for the encouraging word!” He said, “I knew all that from when I was young, but never heard it put like that!” When I asked him his spiritual background and upbringing, he said that his mom is a Christian and his dad is a Muslim—so in elementary school he went with his mom to church, but in his teenage years he went to mosque. So I asked him a question that I ask a lot of folks who present things to me that just do not seem to go together: what does that look like? He went on to explain it—and I’m thankful for the opening to share the gospel with him. Please pray for him—his name, if I understood him correctly, is Trevor.

“What does it look like?” I personally and all of our members at ARBC believe in the perfection of the Scriptures and its full authority in every sense. It is God’s inspired word. It is with this understanding that we approach matters that seem to us contradictory. As we started this look into James’ letter, we noted that James and the apostle Paul seemed to, on the surface, contradict each other. We saw that with Paul, he repeatedly says that one is justified by faith alone. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Romans 3:28). What does James say?

Let’s take a look at the questions that propel his theological and doctrinal argument:

  • James 2:14: “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?”
  • James 2:20: “Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless?”
  • James 2:22: “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.”
  • James 2:26: “”For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”

So this is the idea that James is seeking to communicate—and like a good communicator, he puts the same thought in different ways to drive this all-important concept home: Jesus lives so He empowers us to live and work for Him! Remember, the apostle Paul who wrote that we are saved by grace through faith, not of our selves but by God also said in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” So Paul and James are not apart at all. James, like Paul in Ephesians 2:10, is telling Christians what Christianity looks like after you are saved.

But here, James doesn’t stop at merely stating something correctly! It’s helpful to know—but it’s even more helpful to see and to visualize what this looks like. Let’s take a look.

1. A practical example of a faith that works (James 2:14-17).

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:14-17).

By practical, I mean that that this is a day-to-day example, one that can be put into practice (thus, practical). He takes something that is theological (faith/works) and puts those groceries on the bottom shelf for us. It’s practical and relational—for our faith must splash over into how we deal with people.

James knew this from Jesus Himself—when Jesus began His ministry in the Sermon on the Mount, after speaking of how we are to be salt and light, and that he came to fulfill the law and not abolish it, he goes into numerous different areas dealing with what? How Christians are to, in their relationship with God, also deal with people in regards to anger, marriage, divorce, lust, vows we make to people, retaliation, dealing with our enemies, and giving to the needy.

We must notice something interesting here is that James is talking about a ‘brother or sister’ in need. Who is he talking about? In verse 14, James talks to “my brothers,” meaning those who are Christ followers! So in verse 15, are these ‘brothers and sisters’ to whom he is referring Christians?

This can be asked of Jesus as well in Matthew 10:42: “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

The question is, are Christians simply supposed to take care of themselves? Not exclusively, but the idea here is if you aren’t taking care of even your brother or sister in Christ and helping them in their time of need, it’s no good to anyone. It’s a bad reflection of your relationship with Christ, it’s a bad sign of your view of your fellow Christians, and leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the watching world.

But keep in mind that we are to help those in need, even if they aren’t in Christ! As we saw with the Good Samaritan from Luke 10 this past Sunday night, the story was not simply about helping those in need, but the Good Samaritan represented Christ who helps us who are dead and dying spiritually on the side of the road. Did not Christ come and rescue us when we were against Him?

Imagine if Christ treated us the way we Christians often treat others. See the object lesson here: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body what good is that?” (James 2:15-16). This “go in peace” is a Jewish way of saying, “Goodbye” and served as an ending of the conversation.

Do you see the dichotomy here? Doesn’t it exist today? We say, “Well, we are all about the spiritual! This world is passing away, so let’s just take care of spiritual needs.” And in the process, those churches that spend a great deal of time trying to improve the community and help with justice among those among us as a conduit to the gospel that people are seen as ‘liberal.’ But if this is us, not working among those in our midst as Jesus did to minister to physical needs as a way to point to those spiritual needs, we are having a faith that, as James said, is “no good” and likely “dead.” He has placed us at 780 E. Arapahoe Road here in Centennial to make a gospel difference and a gospel witness.

2. The spiritual example of a faith that works.

Join me in reading James 2:18-19:

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!

I recently heard an interview by Michael Horton on the White Horse Inn of a man who produced a documentary entitled, “A Mormon President”—interestingly not about Gov. Mitt Romney who is running for president, but about Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon church who also has the distinction of being the first Mormon to run for president, running in 1844.

In the midst of the discussion, he began telling of the historical inaccuracies and contradictions found in the Book of Mormon. When he would begin presenting these inaccuracies and contradictions to his Mormon friends, often they would listen and start tracking with what he is saying—yet quickly they would break it off and appeal to their experience. They would come back and tell them that while all of those things may be true, my experience tells me otherwise. What you need to do is to read the Book of Mormon, and feel the ‘burning within your heart.’ This is their test for the authority of this book.

We say, “How foolish!” But isn’t this what many Bible-believing Christians do as well? We appeal to how it “makes me feel” in regards to preaching, church music, or any other experience there is. Even in times of singing/worship, I hear worship leaders tell people to disengage their minds and just have a “spirit of worship”—yet not qualifying what that means! Even some of our hymns say this. Consider this popular one:

He lives, he lives, salvation to impart,

You ask me how I know He lives—he lives within my heart.

Now, I love that hymn and find it to be mostly true. This hymn was written in the 1930s in reaction to liberal preachers and scholars who questioned the veracity of the Bible. Many church members did not have the education these men had, so their response was, “Well, I know He lives—He changed my life!” But we do know that He is alive not just by our experience of the quickening of our hearts by the Spirit, but by the written Word of God, given by the eyewitnesses of His resurrection! Our experience must be fueled by the truth of the Word, not vice versa.

So we must be careful. The faith we hold, dear Christian, must not be seen as sufficient if it simply remains internal. It must be tangible to be believable. Otherwise, we are no better than the devil.

Why does James do this—why bring up the devil? Because the devil has a type of belief. Do you believe that he is a believer? You see there are three types of belief that are mentioned in Scripture. Some of you may have come across those Latin names of notitia, assensus and fiducia! This first time is simply believing he exists. The second type believes that He not only exists, but is true in his nature and by what he says. Fiducia is a form of word where we get fidelity—it means you not only believe he is true, but you are committed to Him with all you have.

You see, Satan is a fallen angel who ranked high in the angelic ranks (Isaiah 11:12-14). Think he believed in God? Yes, he knew he existed first hand. And he even knew he was true! But consider what one commentator said: “If the demons might hold to such a faith and remain in perdition, men might hold it and go to perdition.”

If you are here this morning, and your faith is “in God,” on one side of the coin I want to tell you that that’s not enough. The devil and his minions are in a much better position to know who he is and what he’s all about that we do. They know His power, they know His majesty, and they know His holiness—He doesn’t put up with sin in His presence forever. Yet, if we say we believe in God—do we understand who this God is? Do we tremble as even the demons do? It’s not enough to know he simply exists, to have warm feelings or even respect for him—or even to believe he is true. Have you surrendered to Him? Have you come to God through Christ?

3. The biblical example of a faith that works.

20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

Here James gives his readers two examples from the OT: one expected, one unexpected. First the expected example: Father Abraham. Again and again, the apostles come back to Genesis 15:6 which is quoted in James 2:23: “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness,” then James adds “—and he was called a friend of God. From Genesis 15 to Genesis 22 when God called his boy Isaac to be offered up, Abraham may have stumbled at points, but in his heart of hearts—at the core of his very being—he trusted God.

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification (Romans 4:20-25)

So this is one way we can reconcile faith alone and a faith that works. When God works his saving, justifying work in us—that will work in and through us. We become His instruments of righteousness. We becomes ones who are so changed that we realize that God will keep His promises that are recorded in His Word always—even in the 24 years between the promise and the fulfillment. And the only person through whom that promise could be fulfilled (Isaac), Abraham was ready to offer up because God told Him to—that’s a faith that works.

You say, “Yes, but Abraham blew it on a number of occasions!” And so will we—but how will we react? Will we just say, “Oh well, God’s a forgiving God—once saved, always saved” and use that doctrine to excuse our behavior? Or when we do sin, will we repent because the promises of God mean more to us ultimately than the present pleasures of sin?

What about Rahab? Rahab? The prostitute? One thing about this line of work is that faithfulness is not one of their attributes. But she is not only mentioned as faithful here but also in Hebrews 11 in the Hall of Fame of Faith: “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.” Spies?

Yes, back in Joshua 2. Moses had led the people of Israel for 40 years to head into the Promised Land. But Joshua took over and had sent spies into the land to the city of Jericho. Rahab’s place could have also served as an inn—a place of lodging—at the wall of the city. She hid these men of God and redirected those from the city on a wild goose chase so these spies could go free. Listen to what she said to the men:

Before the men lay down, she came up to them on the roof and said to the men, “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heart it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man, because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death (Joshua 2:8-14).

What happened here? She heard about the testimony of the Lord—His previous actions were a witness to her and all of Jericho. She knew of the power of God in such a way that her heart melted. She saw who she was before God—someone destined and doomed for an eternal punishment. She confessed that the “LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” She did not want to be identified with her countrymen, but wanted to be identified with God and His people.

And her faith was put into action—for she “let them down by a rope through the window” and gave them a way of escape. Her inner faith translated to outward action!

Conclusion

This morning, you see the Lord’s Supper table before us. You see how Christ and His faith in what God had sent Him to do was put into action! He did not simply say what needed to be done from afar, but he put that into action! If he hadn’t, how would we really known His nature? And since now one can come to the Father except by Him, how could we have gotten to the Father if He hadn’t come? The Lord’s Supper is an example of faith in action! Jerry Bridges said, “"Faith and holiness are inextricably linked. Obeying the commands of God usually involves believing the promises of God." Have you surrendered to Christ? Do you today believe in the promises of God that the one who made you born physically can rescue and make you born again, this time spiritually? Do you want to be identified with Christ and to have Him first in your life by turning from your self and sin and trusting in Him?

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