Jun 082015

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

Now on the first day of the week…

John 20:1

Jesus is Alive! It is a truth we should celebrate every day. This time of year, when we typically celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ, is a wonderful time to read again the crucifixion and resurrection narratives in the Gospel accounts. As you read through the Gospel accounts, you will see how the authors develop certain themes. When we come to the end of John’s Gospel, we see John tying in the ideas of Christ, the Author of creation and Christ, the Author of the new creation.

The introductory verses of John’s gospel (1:1-18) come together in the resurrection account of chapter 20. John begins by quoting Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning.” John’s birth narrative predates history – Jesus Christ is the Word, the eternal Son of God, and all things were made through him (1:3). John’s birth story is one verse: 1:14 – “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Also in the prologue it is introduced that the Word gives the right to all who receive Him to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. He wills creation and He wills the new creation too.

We notice in John 20:1 that the resurrection takes place on the “first day of the week.” This points us to a new creation. On the sixth day of the creation week, mankind was made in the image of God. On the sixth day of the last week of Jesus’ life, Pilate declares, “Behold the Man.” John is the only one who records this. In Genesis the seventh day of creation was the day of rest. In John, the seventh day is the day Jesus rests in the tomb. Now it’s the first day of the new week, and the One who was light and life (1:4-5) comes to life again. Mary comes to the tomb while it is still dark, and she discovers that the tombstone has been rolled away. The light and life has conquered the darkness!

Also we see in 20:17 how John connects 1:12-13. Jesus said, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” They are now children of God too in their own right. Reading chapter 20 in the light of the prologue, we understand that the death and resurrection of Jesus have together affected for the disciples the new birth (1:13, 3:1-8). We should not be surprised then when we read 20:22 when Jesus breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit,” just as Yahweh breathed his life into the life of Adam (Genesis 2:7). (***There is so much about God’s electing grace in John’s gospel that I can’t get to it here***)

To quote N.T. Wright, “The resurrection matters for John because he is, at his very heart, a theologian of creation. The Word, who was always to be the point at which Creator and creation came together in one, is now, in the resurrection the point at which Creator and new creation are likewise one.”

Finally, notice the connection between 1:18 and Thomas’ confession in 20:28 – “No one has ever seen God: the only-begotten God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Christ revealed the Father to us. Jesus could say, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” Now Thomas declares, “My Lord and My God!”

It matters that the resurrection took place. Jesus fully satisfied divine justice. God’s wrath is fully absorbed and death has been conquered. Christ gives life to all whom the Father has given him and He ever lives to make intercession for them! Jesus is Lord of Creation and the New Creation!

Pastor Bill

Apr 072015

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12 (ESV)

Spring has sprung! I love spring (except for allergies). The long, cold winter seems to wreak havoc on the house, inside and out. Outside, there are sticks and leaves all over the yard and flower beds, mold and dirt on the vinyl siding and decks – especially where the sun does not hit the house – and inside, there are many undone projects. Cluttered closets, walls that need a fresh coat of paint, floors that need to be waxed and buffed. Where do we find the time?

Right now is also a great time to pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” As a matter of fact, this is the most important cleaning that needs to be done.

The psalms were poems that were sung, and Psalm 51 is no different. Although it was written out of David’s experience, it would be sung by all in worship.[1] All of us have been conceived in iniquity (v. 5), we have all sinned against God ultimately (v. 4), and we all need mercy and cleansing (v.1-2, 7, 9). We all need spring cleaning. You see, God delights in truth in the inward being (v. 6). By nature, I like to try to cover up my sin, but God sees it. I have blind spots, He does not. We should pray that He teaches us wisdom in the secret heart, that He might reveal hidden sins. “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

This conviction of sin is like the breaking of bones (v. 8). It is painful indeed to be confronted with the evil in our heart, yet because of God’s mercy and cleansing, it leads to rejoicing. God does not treat us as our sins deserve and He forgives us through Christ, according to His steadfast love.

Don’t do your spring cleaning half-way! That is something I am prone to do. Let us pray with David, “Wash me thoroughly!” And, don’t procrastinate! We know from Scripture that Nathan confronted David around nine months after David sinned with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah, for the child of their adultery was stricken to death by the Lord, seven days after his birth (2 Samuel 12). May God give us grace to deal quickly with our sins, keep short accounts with Him, and to walk in the joy of our salvation. I am so thankful today that He has not cast out this smoldering wick and that He is willing to uphold me!

God, please cleanse us and wash us whiter than snow. Please do not hide Your face from us. For Christ’s sake and because of the righteous blood He shed for us, restore to us Your everlasting joy, this spring and forever! Amen.

Pastor Bill

– * –

[1] Just a side note here: the superscripts in the Psalms are a part of the inspired Scripture. Not the publisher’s title to the chapter, but the superscripts. David penned this Psalm sometime after Nathan the prophet confronted him with his sin (2 Samuel 11-12).

Dec 172012

Johann Nikolaus Forkel had a desire to bring Germany’s native son, J.S. Bach, into focus in the early 1800’s. His research of Bach’s life and works were sketchy at times, but he put together the first authoritative work on the life of J.S. Bach. Forkel so desperately wanted his native land to know about the genius of Bach. “One of the best and most effective means of popularizing musical masterpieces is to perform them in public,” he wrote. “In that way works of merit secure a widening audience.”

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring is a work of merit and it desires a very wide audience. It is, in my humble opinion, and with my limited knowledge of music, one of the most beautiful melodies I have ever heard. It so captivates me! Our minister of music, Michael Roderick, played it yesterday (12/16) for the prelude of our service. When I hear the music, I close my eyes and focus on the One who should be the chief Joy of my heart. His name is Jesus! Yes, you heard me right – I close my eyes and focus on Jesus (with the eyes of my heart). Don’t think I’m crazy if I feel a sense of rapture when I listen to the song. Forkel said in 1802, “No one who is familiar with the work of other centuries will contradict or hold my statement exaggerated, that Bach cannot be named except in tones of rapture, and even of devout awe, by those who have learned to know him.” God gifted this man to compose music for the church. That’s right. He was a music director, first in Weimar, then in Leipzig. He composed a new cantata virtually every week! He began composing on Monday, finished it on Thursday, practiced it with the orchestra Friday and Saturday, then it was played at 8 AM at Sunday morning mass. He composed around 550 cantatas, and that is only the beginning!

Forkel, with great regret, said, “Bach’s works unfortunately are rarely heard nowadays; for the number of persons capable of playing them adequately is at best inconsiderable.” I am thankful that God sent RBC a music leader that can more-than-adequately handle Bach! Forkel said, “To awaken a wide appreciation of musical masterpieces depends upon the existence of good teachers.” Michael, not only can you handle Bach, but you play Bach for us and teach him to us! Thank you, indeed!

Generations of Musicians

It is said of Bach’s family that ”in six successive generations scarcely two or three of its members are found whom nature had not endowed with remarkable musical talent, and who did not make music their profession.” They were a close knit family. It is said that they, “exhibited a clannish attachment to each other.” The Bachs often lived in small towns and were not prone to migrate to larger cities. The Bach name was still big in Germany, but not as big as it could have been. Then came Johann Sebastian Bach, born March 21, 1685, in Eisenach. At the age of 10 he became an orphan and was dependent on his oldest brother for care. This brother, Christoph, was amazed by his little brother’s talent. He fed him with as much music as possible to help him grow as a musician.

The Song

Jesu, Joy of Man’s desiring comes from cantata number 147. The cantata was named Herz (heart) und Mund (mouth) und Tat (deed) und Leben (life). There are ten songs in the cantata, with Jesu being the final song. Jesu was the second of two choral sing-a-longs in the cantata. The choral arrangement was designed to allow the people to stand and stretch while they sang with the chorus. I have read that the song was first played on July 2, 1723, but I also read that it was performed in Weimar on the 4th Sunday of Advent. I can’t seem to find out which is true, or if a combination of both are true: First played on July 2, then played regularly at Advent.

The text of the song was written by Martin Janus in 1661. The music was actually written by Johann Schop, but was arranged by Bach for his Cantata 147. The song has actually been arranged several times since. The English that we see today does not correspond to the original German. I want to give the translation of the original to right of the German. I do this because many of you I believe will be encouraged from the message of the original hymn. Perhaps you are suffering and you need encouragement to hold on. Well, here it is in the words of this hymn.

Jesus bleibet meine Freude
meines Herzens Trost und Saft,
Jesus wehret allem Leide,
er ist meines Lebens Kraft,
meiner Augen Lust und Sonne,
meiner Seele Schatz und Wonne;
darum lass’ ich Jesum nicht
aus dem Herzen und Gesicht.Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe,
o wie feste halt’ ich ihn,
dass er mir mein Herze labe,
wenn ich krank und traurig bin.
Jesum hab’ ich, der mich liebet
und sich mir zu eigen giebet,
ach drum lass’ ich Jesum nicht,
wenn mir gleich mein Herze bricht.
Jesus remains my joy
My hearts’s comfort and essence,
Jesus resists all suffering,
He is my life’s strength.
My eye’s desire and sun,
My soul’s love and joy.
So will I not leave Jesus,
Out of heart and face.Well for me that I have Jesus,
O how strong I hold to Him.
That He might refresh my heart,
When sick and sad am I.
Jesus have I, who loves me,
And gives to me his own.
Ah, therefore I will not leave Jesus,
When I feel my heart is breaking.

I pray that Jesus would remain your joy this Christmas and forever. That He would be your strength and comfort and that He would refresh your heart. He remains faithful and He holds on to you with His omnipotent hand! He loves you, friend, so don’t lose sight of that. Let Him be the Joy of your desires!

Merry Christmas!

Nov 222012

Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:26 (ESV)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! I love this holiday. If we look around we will see just how much we have to be thankful for. God has been so good to us. Americans really have been blessed like no other nation on earth. The way of life we enjoy now did not come easy. It started with the Pilgrims that came to the New World in 1620. Back in September, Beth and I watched Kirk Cameron’s new documentary called Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure. Cameron wanted to research what had made our nation great, so he went over to England to learn from some Pilgrim experts. What I learned from this was fascinating. I will never eat a Thanksgiving meal with a casual attitude again.

The Church of England held sway over the people. To be British was to be a member of the Church of England. The Puritan movement was an effort to purify the Church of England of the abuses of the bishops. Like the Roman Church, they wanted to keep the people in darkness. The Church did not want them to have the Scriptures in English. The Puritans were people of the Book. They were staunchly reformed in their doctrine and were serious about glorifying God in all of life. There is no group of believers that has documented their spiritual journeys and sermons and writings like the Puritans. (We should all read them!) As these believers grew in their understanding of the Scripture, they realized that the Monarch had no say over the Church. One was not a Christian by virtue of being born in England; rather one became a Christian only through faith in Jesus Christ.

With this understanding, these Puritans were being persecuted by the British authorities. So they separated from the Church of England. (It is from these Separatists from which our heritage as Baptists draws its connection.) So the Pilgrims, this Separatist congregation, led by Pastor John Robinson, planned to make an escape. But not an escape to nothing: they had a 500 year plan of how to build a democratic republic and to evangelize the world.

To leave the Church of England meant treason to the King. For four years this congregation met in an underground church in Scrooby. If they were caught meeting unlawfully, they would be taken to prison. The leaders of the Pilgrims met a Dutch sea captain who agreed to take them to Holland. What they did not know was that this captain had also made an agreement with the British authorities to turn the Pilgrims over when they got on the boat. So that’s what happened. They got caught and were put in prison. Upon release a year later, they planned another escape. This one would almost leave them with no more hope.

The men separated from the women and children because they would draw more attention from the British authorities. The women and children were sent down a stream to go to the shore to get on a boat, and they were to meet up with the men. The women and children got there a day early and became sea sick. They got caught and did not make it to the boat! The men got on board hoping to see them. The boat was put out to sea when a 2 week violent storm struck the sea. Over hundred ships sank in the sea during the storm and the men Pilgrims thought it was over for them. They cried out to their sovereign God, “Even now, You can save us!” The storm ceased! That boat carrying the male Pilgrims was the only boat still floating on the sea! The men made it to Amsterdam, but it took a year to get the women and children there. Remember, they were doing this for religious freedom. They believed in educating their own children and proclaiming the Gospel wherever they went. They loved England and they wanted to go back to England to set the people free from the tyranny of the King.

The Pilgrims would be in Amsterdam for 12 years! While there, they met a British publisher named William Brewster. They published 15 books and sent them throughout England. Well, this upset the British authorities, who came to Amsterdam, found them, destroyed the publishing house and brought them back to England.

So, now they were back in England. They hired two ships that would carry them to the new world, the Mayflower and the Speedwell. The Speedwell was not well! It sprung a leak and so those Pilgrims had to get off. The Mayflower was not big enough to carry all of them, so their Pastor John Robinson would stay in England with half of his congregation and send the rest with William Bradford to the New World. The journey lasted 66 days in the cold North Atlantic. It was a brutal trip. Before they got off the boat, the Mayflower Compact was drawn up. This was a democratic document guiding the Pilgrims and other settlers in self-government.

Well, that first winter was terrible. Forty seven died. There was a time when only six or seven were even strong enough to stand. The women would sleep on their children to keep them warm. Most that perished were women. The children survived with about 20 adults. They buried the dead in a common grave.

The captain of the Mayflower said he would take them back in the spring of 1621, but none went back. Things began to improve for the struggling settlers. They found favor with the Indians because they noticed that the Pilgrims brought their families with them. They did not come to pillage them and steal from them. The Indians helped them greatly that first summer, but their desire to start a new society came at a great price.

Today, in a suburb of Plymouth, MA is a monument erected in the 1800’s outlining exactly how these Pilgrims designed our Republic. The monument was paid for by the US congress and the State Legislature of Massachusetts. The statue is named Faith. There is a Geneva Bible opened pointing to faith in our Triune God. We are given wisdom through His Word. Then there is character and morality. It points to the heart transformation that only comes through the Gospel. There is a picture of an evangelist with the Bible open sharing the good news. In the New Covenant, the Law of God is now written on the heart. True liberty and a just society can only come as those in it have been born again. Then it moves to civil law, with God’s standards as the foundation. There is a standard of justice, but there is also a picture of mercy to those who are lawbreakers. Then there is education. The Pilgrims knew that this was the key. Education of children was to be done at home with responsibility given to the parents to educate their kids. The Bible was the curriculum! There is a picture of a woman sitting with her child representing the victory and joy of raising children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Finally, there is liberty! A man pictured conquering tyranny!

Let me tell you: these Pilgrims were not wimps!! They endured extreme hardships for years to pursue the plan of a just and godly society. This is the heritage of our nation. Watching Monumental made me want to go to New England and see all the monuments and graves. “There is nothing like bones to remind you of your heritage,” one of the historians said.

So, as you sit down to eat today, remember your heritage. Remember those who have gone before you and have sacrificed so much for your freedoms. Pray for our troops, pray for our leaders and pray that God would restore our nation. Pray that the Church of Jesus Christ would stand for truth. Pray that His Church would be built and that all nations would be glad in our great God!

I am thankful for each of you. We at RBC have had many hardships in planting a Reformed Baptist church in the mountains of Georgia. I will not quit the fight. God is doing great things among us. Keep a close watch on your heart and let us keep our marriages and families strong. Let us remember God’s covenant, steadfast love for us and let us be truly thankful.

Jun 122012

Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?

Ecclesiastes 7:13 (ESV)

We saw last week that whatever crook is in our lot is God’s making. There can be secondary or immediate causes, but, as the Heidelberg Catechism so rightly declares in answer to the question of God’s providence, “The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven, earth and all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand.” Who can make straight what God has made crooked? (Ecclesiastes 7:13)

Just think with me for a minute: each and every person’s life is unique. There are no two lifetimes that are lived with the exact same circumstances. Even those that grow up in the same household can have radically different experiences on a day-to-day basis. I think of my own two children… one has a math test, one has a science test. One goes to fish while the other plays video games (I’m sure you can guess which is which!). One is with a friend, one is riding the four-wheeler. There is a train of events orchestrated by the providence of God for every person in the world. Each train of events may widely differ according to the will and sovereign design of the Divine Conductor. Every event in every life follows the Conductor’s plan perfectly. The Conductor perfectly cues all parts to work according to His design. “Our God is in the heavens. He does all that pleases Him.” (Psalm 115:5)

As we saw in our text above, God designs the straight and the crooked. Very often, the crooked lots in our life become the focus of our attention. But please do consider that there are agreeable lots in life. They might not seem to be there as often, but they are there. Agreeable lots come mixed with crooked lots. Let me give you an example: having a loving church family (agreeable lot) is a gift from the Lord that helps us through the crooked lots that He himself has ordained. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” It is a blessing to have people in our lives whom God places there to help us through the rough times. My encouragement today is that you would not miss the agreeable lots that are mixed in with your crooked lots. If you are experiencing a crooked lot, the last thing you should do as a believer is to make yourself scarce to your Church family. Life in the body of Christ was designed for your endurance. “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that we might not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:13)

Everyone’s lot has some crook in it! Please don’t think that you are the only one with a crooked lot. Also, resist the temptation to compare your lot with others. We might think that their lot is straight, but in reality it might not be. A great example of this is Haman in the book of Esther. Haman’s lot looked straight. He lived in luxury and he was the chief of princes of the Persian king. Haman’s crooked lot came as judgment for his plot to exterminate the Jews. But God straightened the lot of the Jews by placing Esther as queen, using Mordecai to expose a plot to assassinate the king, having Haman plan a parade for Mordecai, indicting Haman for his plot to destroy the Jews, and ensuring that Haman was hanged on the gallows he had made for Mordecai! His lot appeared straight, and was for a time, but God designed a crooked end for his life. So don’t compare lots! Another’s lot can change in an instant!

In every thing, we are to give thanks. Look for the straight lots amongst your crooked ones. You might find that there actually are more than what you first thought. As I close, I want you to remember this straight lot from Lamentations 3:22, “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (KJV). In a moment of personal devotion I would encourage you to ponder the words of this hymn and, using the link below, sing it with all your heart. Once again, I can give no consolation to anyone except what is in the Spirit-inspired Word. He is sovereign, He loves us, and He won the victory through Jesus Christ His beloved Son! Soli Deo Gloria!

Day and with each Passing Moment

Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He, whose heart is kind beyond all measure,
Gives unto each day what He deems best,
Lovingly its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.

Every day the Lord Himself is near me,
With a special mercy for each hour;
All my cares He fain would bear and cheer me,
He whose name is Counsellor and Pow’r.
The protection of His child and treasure
Is a charge that on Himself He laid;
“As thy days, thy strength shall be in measure,” (Deut. 33:25)
This the pledge to me He made.

Help me then, in every tribulation,
So to trust Thy promises, O Lord,
That I lose not faith’s sweet consolation,
Offered me within Thy holy Word.
Help me, Lord, when toil and trouble meeting,
E’er to take, as from a father’s hand,
One by one, the days, the moments fleeting,
Till with Christ the Lord I stand.

Source: http://www.hymnal.net/hymn.php/h/713#ixzz1xVwvzyJG

May 152012

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18 (ESV)

Most of us really have no idea what it is like to be in constant physical pain. Yes, we might have little aches and pains, but they are often short-lived and we soon forget we even had an issue. Others however, are in a daily battle with constant, excruciating pain. Pain is a communicator. It tells us – may I say, screams to us – that something is wrong. When we have that pain, we know something is wrong and so we seek the cure or seek some relief. We might go to a doctor or search out some other type of remedy so that the pain will go away. Sometimes we can be helped and other times the pain persists no matter who we see or what we do.

Let’s face it: not one of us likes pain. We do not wake up each morning and pray that our bodies will experience excruciating pain. We would much rather enjoy pure comfort and ease of body. But some of you, in God’s frowning providence, are experiencing great pain. In light of your agony, I can only take you to God’s Word for encouragement. Here, in Romans 8, the apostle Paul holds out hope for those in pain.

The sufferings he refers to are sufferings and trials we endure because of the Fall. All of creation has been affected by it. All creation groans! Perhaps you are in agony over a physical issue or a financial trial. Perhaps it is a relational trial. It is the same word Jesus uses to refer to the pain of his crucifixion. “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). In 2 Corinthians 1:5, Paul said, “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings…” Be encouraged to know that Christ Jesus your Savior knows what physical pain is all about. He can sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). As a matter of fact, his entire life was one of humiliation, and he experienced all the trials of life just like we do.

The Apostle Paul was also no stranger to suffering. “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Co 11:24-27). He also had to endure what he called a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12). This was certainly some physical trial that he prayed three times for God to remove. But God, in his love for him, did not remove it because he wanted to humble him, helping Paul to see that His grace was sufficient for him.

Paul considers that these are sufferings of the present time – literally, the “now” time. By the “now” time, Paul means “in this present age.” Suffering and pain will be a present experience for us all, some experiencing it to a greater degree than others.

Here is where I want you to be encouraged today: because of what God has done for us in Christ, by virtue of being united with Him through faith and on the ground of His shed blood for your sin, these present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us! Paul calls us, in our present sufferings, to look ahead to that which will be far greater! Your pain and agony is real. It can be discouraging and you can feel so helpless and hopeless. But faith trusts God in His providence and hopes for that which has not been seen. Verse 24 says, “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?” This hope that Paul refers to is our adoption as sons, that is, the redemption of our bodies (verse 23). Let me say to those who suffer physically: you will get a new body some day! You will be given a body that will never get sick or grow weary. Those with bad eyes will have perfect vision to behold the glory of Christ. Those with bad ears will hear the worship of the saints and angels. Those with weak muscles will be forever strong and will be in a place where they will do the will of God perfectly.

When we hear of the glories that await us, our reaction is: I want that now! And it is right to long for the return of Christ, to love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8). But Paul says in verse 25, “we wait for it with patience.” That’s the hard part! But now, in the midst of suffering for this season, is the time for us to trust God’s purposes for us. We don’t see the big picture, we see in a glass dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). Now is the time for believers to comfort one another and exhort one another and encourage one another to endure for the glory of Christ. Now we must join in prayer for each other and hold out the hope that believers have in the Gospel. Now is the time to weep with those who weep and to bear one another’s burdens. Now is the time to preach the Gospel to ourselves and trust in His sacrifice for us. Let us NOT wallow in self-pity. Let us guard against being me-centered. Let us rid ourselves of the “victim” mentality. Let us pray with Paul that God would be exalted in our bodies whether we live or die (Philippians 1:20). I pray that the world around us would truly see the hope that is within us.

Let me close with 2 Corinthians 4:16-18. For all those who are suffering greatly in our congregation, hear my heart in this: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Read the words of William Cowper, printed below, from “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Are you experiencing God’s frowning providence? I pray today that behind that providence you will see His smiling face!

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

I can offer no encouragement for your suffering on my own. It can only come from God’s Word. By grace let us all hold fast to Christ and to each other in hope!

Apr 262012

For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law.

Nehemiah 8:9 (ESV)

On average, Bible readers in the United States personally own 4 copies of Scripture. Eighty-four percent of readers have more than one Bible. With the amount of Bibles we have and the easy accessibility of obtaining a new one, I still wonder how many really read the Word and desire to study it. Are we like Ezra, the priest? In Ezra 7:10, we read, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” Does that verse describe you? In America, we are so blessed to have access to so many Bibles, Bible translations, Bible dictionaries, Bible encyclopedias, Bible maps, language tools, study Bibles, lexicons, and the list could go on an on. But do we really use them or do we take all these things for granted? There are still hundreds of people groups in the world today who do not have the Bible in their own tongue.

What is your reaction when you come in contact with the Word? Do you merely read it out of obligation? Do we come to the Word with a heart of thanksgiving that we have been given the very words of life? In Nehemiah 8, the people gather as one while Ezra the priest reads the Law to them. In 8:5, Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it the people stood. When Ezra and the other Levites exposited the Word and explained it to the people, the people wept when they heard the words of the Law and because they could understand it.

What do you think it would be like to witness a people group receiving a Bible for the time? I am giving you a link to see it. I was pointed to this link in my missions class at Southern. It will move you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w9dpmp_-TY0. It’s a ten minute video of the Kimyal tribe in Papua, Indonesia, receiving copies of the Bible in their own tongue for the first time. I pray this video will challenge you to be more thankful for your Bible. I pray that you and I will read it and study it more, that its truth will sink deep into our hearts, that we will apply it to our lives, and that we will teach it to others. It would also be a wonderful thing if many would be stirred to work in Bible translation. There are still so many who have never experienced what the Kimyal people have experienced. Don’t take your Bible for granted. Get into it today!

Mar 072012

So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. (emphasis mine)

Acts 11:25-26 (ESV)

From the first two parts, we have learned the importance of a biblical understanding of baptism. What is the mode of baptism? Immersion. “Baptism” always means to dip or immerse. In the New Testament, persons are baptized, or dipped. Baptism never means to sprinkle or pour. Who are the subjects of baptism? Disciples alone. Adhering to the Regulative principle of worship, we find that the Scriptural subjects of baptism are always disciples. Disciples are called Christians. Those that are Christians, or disciples, are only those who have made a profession of faith in Christ alone repented of their sin.

How does this affect our doctrine of the Church? Is a right understanding of Baptism really that important? Once again, with the help of Fred Malone (from one book and an article in another: The Baptism of Disciples Alone and Ministry By His Grace and For His Glory: Essays in Honor of Thomas J. Nettles), I want to discuss the importance of believer’s baptism for our doctrine of the church. Scripture regulates how the church is to function in the world. Here are some condensed arguments for the importance of believer’s baptism.

1. The New Testament church is repeatedly called “the disciples.” The Church is never called “the disciples and their children.” This is because biblical churches are composed of disciples alone, who are baptized upon their profession of faith. Acts 2:41 – “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

2. The baptism of disciples alone affects evangelism. We must make sure the candidate for baptism knows what it means to be a disciple of Christ beforehand. (Matthew 28:19-20)

3. The church, as an assembly of baptized disciples, demands that the worship and teaching ministry of the church on the Lord’s Day be geared toward disciples rather than “seekers.” The Great Commission requires disciples to be taught all that Christ commanded as the basis of all true spiritual worship (John 4:24). Ministers are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. Of course, we still give Gospel appeals, and we long for the new birth to be granted to the lost, but we cannot neglect to teach those who are already disciples.

4. The church as an assembly of baptized believers demands that the priority and autonomy of the local church be emphasized over denominationalism. The local church is the only authorized instrument of Jesus Christ on earth, each with him as Head. Associational connections are voluntary. Associational leaders are servants of the churches and not masters over them.

5. The church as an assembly of baptized believers recognizes the priesthood of all believers as each disciple can come before God through Christ alone. Yet each church must recognize some body of beliefs by which covenant membership and unity can be established.

6. The church as an assembly of baptized believers requires church discipline. The church has the final say in these matters (Matthew 18:15-17). Each disciple needs fellowship, correction and accountability.

7. The church as an assembly of baptized believers requires that worship be regulated by Scripture. We are to worship “in spirit and in truth,” not “in spirit and creativity.” We should practice only those things taught us in Scripture. As was mentioned last time, the baptism of infants is clearly not taught in the New Testament and is a violation of the Regulative Principle of worship.

I confess that my understanding of a biblical ecclesiology was shaped largely by my mentor in Baptist History, Dr. Tom Nettles. His three-volume work called The Baptists, along with his lectures on historic theology and Baptist history, forever changed my life. God raised up Dr. Nettles “for such a time as this” in the Southern Baptist Convention. We needed to get back to our historical roots. Dr. Nettles is most certainly one of the most gracious men I have ever met and yet he is bold as a lion! He taught me the biblical doctrine of a regenerate church membership. Historically, “Baptists rejected infant baptism in the pursuit of a principle of regenerate Church membership.”[1] In the New Testament, never will we find examples of the unregenerate receiving baptism. (In Part 4, I will give my understanding of household baptisms. There is still no evidence in those passages supporting infant baptism.)

Those who accept infant baptism (baptizing the unregenerate), therefore, must say one of two things: either infant baptism is the same as believer’s baptism, or it is different from believer’s baptism. If the two are different, then there are two theologies of baptism, one plain in Scripture and one hidden. If they are the same, then paedo-Baptists must consider infants as believers capable of giving evidence of their belief, or agree that the belief of a substitute is in no way inferior to their own. Either alternative is difficult to prove.[2]

That is a great thought! And I will leave it at that for now. Jesus loves His Church, His disciples! He gave His life for them! It such a privilege to obey Him in baptism, a picture of redemption. Remember: only disciples of Jesus were called Christians!

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[1] Thomas J. Nettles. Baptism and the Ordinances: An essay to the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 1997. Pg. 3

[2] Ibid. pg. 3.

Jan 102012

The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit or traditions of men. (emphasis mine)

Westminster Confession of Faith, Article 1 Section 6.

The sum total of God’s revelation concerning all things essential to his own glory, and to the salvation and faith and life of men, is either explicitly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture. Nothing, whether a supposed revelation of the Spirit or man’s traditions, is ever to be added to Scripture. (emphasis mine)

Second London Baptist Confession of 1689, Article 1 Section 6.

Both Reformed credo-Baptists and paedo-Baptists claim to adhere to the regulative principle of worship. The WCF and the LBC (1689) describe the Regulative Principle as follows:

…the acceptable way of worshipping the true God, is instituted by Himself; and so limited by his own revealed will, that he may not be worshipped according to imaginations, and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representations, or any other way, not prescribed in the Holy Scripture.

(WCF 21:1; LBC 22:1)

This means that the Scriptures not only tell us to worship God, but they regulate how to worship God. If you could ask Nadab and Abihu (see Leviticus 10) if it matters how we worship God, I think you would hear them say that God takes worship seriously. It is not a game. Human beings are not at liberty to create worship patterns and practices in their own wisdom.

I will be very clear: one of the huge reasons that I am a Baptist and not a paedo-baptist is that I see paedo-baptism as a violation of the regulative principle of worship. Baptists, certainly, and even paedo-Baptists, agree that there is no New Testament example of the practice of baptizing infants. John the Baptist did not do it. Jesus did not do it and neither do the apostles practice it nor tell us to practice it. John Murray is probably one of the foremost adherents and defenders of the paedo-Baptist position. Murray readily admits that there is no New Testament evidence. So, how do paedo-Baptists, that also claim to adhere to the Regulative Principle of worship, defend the practice? They do so using the phrase I emphasized in the WCF at the top of this page, claiming that infant baptism falls under the category of good and necessary consequence. Listen to Murray here:

What by good and necessary inference can be deduced from Scripture is of authority in the church of God as well as what is expressly set down. The evidence for infant baptism falls into the category of good and necessary inference, and it is therefore indefensible to demand that the evidence required must be in the category of express command or explicit instance. In other words, the assumption upon which this objection rests is a false assumption and one which cannot be adopted as the norm in determining what Christian doctrine or Christian institution is. (emphasis mine)

So Murray makes clear that infant baptism is not expressly set down in Scripture. This absence forces him to argue from good and necessary consequence. Then Murray claims that arguing against infant baptism is indefensible because of its foundation upon good and necessary consequence. Really? Indefensible? Why cannot we demand evidence when we are dealing with an ordinance instituted by the Lord and Master of the Church? Fred Malone calls this understanding to account when he says, “Good and necessary consequence can be valid only when deduced from written revelation and not contrary to other written revelation, i.e., the analogy of faith.”[1] The argument of “Good and necessary consequence” cannot be used if it violates standard hermeneutical principles or the regulative principle of worship, and because Scripture does not contradict itself.

In Part 1, I argued that the word baptizo always means to dip or immerse. It cannot mean anything else if we properly understand the nature and regular historical use of the word. So baptism is by immersion, and the Scriptures clearly and explicitly set down the subjects of baptism as disciples, or those who have made a profession of faith. We are never taught to baptize the unregenerate. Baptists, historically, have held to a regenerate church membership. This stems from our understanding of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31. The New Covenant is NOT like the old. It is not a renewed Abrahamic covenant. The Abrahamic covenant had with it physical blessings and spiritual blessings. In the Abrahamic covenant, believing and unbelieving males were circumcised, making it a mixed community. But the New Covenant community is not a mixed community. He will put his laws within the hearts of his people. His Spirit will be given to His people alone and because of this they will obey Him and love Him. He will be their God and they will be His people. They will ALL know Him and He will forgive their iniquity and remember their sin no more. In the New Covenant, there is no such thing as a mixed community. Now, there certainly will be false professors in the church, and church discipline is designed to handle that eventuality (1 John 2:19), but the church should not knowingly baptize those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ.

Baptism is not the new circumcision. Circumcision did not ultimately point to entrance in the covenant community but rather to the circumcision (or uncircumcision) of the heart. “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (Romans 2:28-29). Romans 9:8 reinforces the point: “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” The children of the promise are those that are unity to Christ through faith alone. Entrance into the community has always been by faith, not an external mark. It is a matter of the heart. The old covenant pointed to the new and finds its fulfillment in the new. God, by His Spirit, gives us a circumcised heart. The New Testament testimony of this inward work of God’s grace is baptism. It clearly pictures the Gospel, that we have been buried with him in baptism and raised to newness of life.

If one argues good and necessary consequence, it can only be valid if it is not contrary to Scripture. Baptism is an ordinance given to the church by Christ. It’s a serious matter. We cannot say that it’s no big deal. I love John Calvin, but I am not bound by Calvin, but by Scripture. Calvin held to infant baptism. Based on Scripture, I cannot agree with him. I love Jonathan Edwards. I think if Edwards had lived longer he would have renounced infant baptism. His changing views of the Lord’s Supper and his rejection of the Half-way Covenant give evidence of this. Our heroes of the faith are all fallible.

The early Baptists took the Reformation all the way. They broke completely with Rome and their tradition of baptizing babies. Their understanding was based on the covenants, but it was, as far as I can see, a proper understanding of those covenants.

These are the convictions that drive me. Others I know feel differently and I would never ask anyone to worship against his conscience. But these convictions are very serious to me. My conscience cannot escape them. I want to follow Jesus with all my heart. I want His Gospel to shine and I pray that you do as well.

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[1] Fred Malone. Baptism of Disciples Alone. (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2007), p. 21.