Jun 082015

A bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench.

Isaiah 42:3 (ESV)

One of the great encouraging words from the prophet Isaiah comes in chapter 42. The prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Spirit, presents Christ to us as the servant who will not break a bruised reed and will not quench a faintly burning wick. In Matthew’s account of the Gospel, he takes us back to this text to describe the ministry of our Savior in 12:18-21. The servant, chosen by God, is Jesus. The great love of God for His people is seen in the fact that He called His Son to save and serve the elect and the Son executes the offices of their Prophet, Priest and King.

Are you a bruised reed or a faintly burning wick today? Are you weak and tired? Do you feel like you are barely hanging on? Do you ever wonder how you will make it through another day and do you have difficulty believing that ‘God loves me like this?’ Does it seem that God has forgotten or that He doesn’t care?

The invitation of our Servant was spoken (as a prophet the greater Moses speaks) tenderly in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” And in Isaiah 55:1, “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” In Isaiah 53 we read that the Servant, our Great High Priest, is wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities.

We see in this verse the condition of those He came to rescue: weak reeds and faintly burning wicks. He came to rescue those who were not impressive in the eyes of the world. He came to rescue the broken and needy, the desperate and despised.

The Puritan Richard Sibbes wrote a masterpiece of a book entitled The Bruised Reed. The Puritans were so wise in giving care to one another’s souls. In his book he asks, “Who are the bruised reeds?”, to which he answers, they are those not only that are brought low by the burdens of life, but who by them are brought to see their sin, which bruises most of all (my paraphrase).

Yes, we go through God’s bruising, and in them our sin rises to the surface. That hurts! So it is this text above that encourages me. The bruised reed he will not break and the faintly burning wick he will not blow out. Listen to Sibbes here: “For our encouragement to a thorough work of bruising, and patience under God’s bruising of us, let us all know that none are fitted for comfort than those that think themselves furthest off.” Christ’s sheep are weak sheep. But He seeks them, calls them, is tender to them, feeds them, loves them, and heals their broken hearts. He is very familiar with souls bruised by sin and gently restores them. Look at Peter’s failures. He denied Christ three times and yet three times Christ said to him, “Feed my sheep.” Peter forsook Christ at the cross and Christ said following his resurrection, “Go your way, tell his disciples, and Peter.” Our Savior is so patient and kind and gentle. Let us praise God for the faithful ministry of his chosen Servant in the lives of his sheep.

Broken, yet healed in Christ,

Pastor Bill

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

Jun 082015

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Acts 20:24

There are many myths and legends that have developed through the years as to the man St. Patrick. First of all, it is important to make clear that Patrick was not Irish, but he was a Romanized Englishman. I will give more details on that shortly. Secondly, there is a legend that St. Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland. The reason that there are no snakes in Ireland today is that Patrick cast them all out! (I might want to move there now!) A third legend is that Patrick was a bishop sent by Rome to Ireland and there he taught the Irish about the Trinity using a shamrock. Lastly, “Kiss me, I’m Irish,” did not come from Patrick!

Now for the real St. Patrick: God raised up Patrick at a time when the church was in great decline as a result of Pope Leo. Tertullian, in the 3rd century, already speaks of merchants and soldiers bringing the teachings of Christianity to the British Isles. Patrick was born toward the end of the 4th century, about 389/390, a little before the fall of the Roman Empire. Rome had stretched its territory to the British Isles, into England, Wales and Scotland, but had not conquered Ireland. Most agree that Patrick, really Patricius, was born in southern England (some say northern England). His native language was Latin.

We learn these things from Patrick’s own autobiography which he called, like Augustine, Confession of St. Patrick. At the very beginning he declares that he is, “A sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many.” At age 16, England was raided by Irish pirates and Patrick along with thousands of Englishmen, was taken captive to the west coast of Ireland into slavery, where he would be for seven years. The reason he gives for Irish captivity is that the English have rejected God and have fallen into sin. The captivity is God’s judgment upon them. It was here that Patrick first learned of the sense of his own depravity and need of grace. He would be converted when he escaped from captivity and returned to England at age 23.

Following his conversion, God gave this Englishman a love in his heart for the pagans of Ireland. The Druids were of great influence there and promoted not even a hint of peaceful religion. The Druids were involved in all kinds of wickedness, even the sacrificing of their own children. It would not be until 430/431 that Patrick would return to Ireland to bring the gospel to them, never to return to England.

This came about in three main instances: The first was a vision that God had given to Patrick, much like that of the apostle Paul in Acts 16, when he saw the Macedonians say to him, “Come over here and help us!” Patrick claims to have had a similar experience of the Irish pleading for him to return to bring the gospel. Secondly, he felt compelled of God to go. He says, “I cannot keep silent, nor would it be proper, so many favors and graces has the Lord deigned to bestow on me in the land of my captivity. For after chastisement from God, and recognizing him, our way to repay him is to exalt him and confess his wonders before every nation under heaven.” Then lastly, Patrick understood that through the preaching of the gospel, God would call Abraham’s sons to himself according to his promise. So Patrick says, “We should fish well and diligently…It behooves us to spread our nets, that a vast multitude and throng might be caught for God.”

God granted Patrick great success in the northern half of Ireland. He spent his final 30 years preaching the gospel there until his death in 461. St. Patrick should be kissed, not because he was Irish, for he was not, but because God led him to return the land of his captivity and brought the gospel to them.

So during the month when Patrick’s life is celebrated, let us remember the real St. Patrick, and let us have a heart for the perishing like he had.

“Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (2 Corinthians 13:12)

Kiss me I’m…a Christian!

Pastor Bill

Jun 082015

By the breath of God ice is given, and the broad waters are frozen fast.

Job 37:10

I love the ice! Not the kind of ice that ruins travel on roads or the ice the weighs heavily on power lines, blowing out transformers and making power lines fall to the ground, causing power outages. But I love the ice on a frozen pond or at an ice rink. Actually, I love to play hockey! I learned to skate at age 5. Our pond in Cincinnati, Ohio, would freeze over in the winter. So me, my brothers, my cousin, and neighborhood friends played hockey. Every winter from age 5 to 18, I played as much as possible. One of our chief inspirations for playing was the 1980 Winter Olympics, when the US Men’s hockey team, a huge underdog, defeated the Olympic favorite, the USSR. Right at the height of the Cold War, the victory of the US men stunned the world. It has been called the “Miracle on ice.” We relived that game on ice countless times. I was 9 years old and remember the game like it was yesterday.

The Russians had beaten Team USA just two weeks before in an exhibition game 10-3! No one would have picked Team USA beat the Russians now in the semi-final match. After the first period of the game on February 22, 1980, the score was tied 2-2. The Soviets scored another goal in the second period, making the score now 3-2 going into the 3rd. Mark Johnson of team USA scored a goal with 11:21 left in the game. Just 1 minute and 21 seconds later, team USA’s Mike Eruzione, got free with the puck and shot it passed the Soviet goalie giving the USA a 4-3 lead! And yes, Team USA held the Soviets without scoring in the final 10 minutes to win the match. I have never seen such a sports celebration before or since in my life. It truly was the “Miracle on Ice.” Beating the USSR placed Team USA in the gold medal game and the US beat Finland to take the gold.

But enough of hockey! Let’s look to the Miracle of Ice! Where does it come from? How does it form in the sky? Who really controls the weather? Does man? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Only God does! That is what the Word of God tells us. Here in Job, ice is given by the breath of God and by His breath the broad waters are frozen fast. In Job 38:29, the Lord asks Job, “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?” Following a long string of God’s questions to Job, He can only reply, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4-5) Job realizes that only a sovereign God controls all the weather, and the water in all its forms. Not one drop of rain, or mist, or frozen precipitation, falls apart from the sovereign will of God.

Last week, following the snow storm in the Southeast, the Governor of NC, Pat McCrory, was chided by a CBS reporter because McCrory dared to say that the climate is ultimately controlled by God and not man. The Governor of North Carolina is absolutely right. No where does Scripture say that man causes weather or climatic changes. No! Only God does that. Just ask the Russian ship that recently went to the Antarctica with scores of scientists to study global warming and got stuck in the ice! It took efforts from 3 nations to rescue them! If we read the Bible, we will learn that God controls the weather. Read Job 37. At His voice come thunders and lightning. At his command it rains or snows. At his bidding we feel the wind. By His will He loads the clouds with moisture. He spreads out the skies and balances everything with wisdom. When I saw the ice last week, I thought, “O how mighty, and wise and glorious is our Triune God. How powerful is He!” The miracle on ice is nothing compared to the miracle of ice! Let us praise Him today for His power and sovereignty and love! To Him be the glory forever, Amen! I love you all!

Pastor Bill

Jun 082015

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.

Psalm 115:3

Today is Primary Day in the State of Georgia. Many will go to the polls today to cast their vote for different governmental positions in the primary elections. I pray that God’s people will go and vote, and not only that, but will confront boldly the moral and cultural decay we see all around us. The late Carl F.H. Henry wrote a book called The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, where he tells evangelicals that it is NOT an option to be disengaged from the critical issues of our day. He’s right!

Christians have a dual citizenship. One is in the City of Man and one is in the City of God. Augustine wrote his book, The City of God, during the collapse of the Roman Empire. As Christians we know that our ultimate concern must be for the glory of God. The City of Man is soon passing away and only faith, in Jesus Christ, in the Gospel, will translate a sinner to be a citizen of the City of God. But, Christ’s call for us to love our neighbor compels us, not only to promote the glory of God in this world, but also to promote justice and righteousness in the City of Man.

We know that the City of God is the eternal Kingdom and has primary importance. But that does not mean that the City of Man is unimportant. Christians are not permitted to forfeit our love for other citizens even in the City of Man. Our love of neighbor, grounded in our love for God, requires us to work for good in the City of Man. Christians bear responsibility in both cities. We should avoid the extremes of either neglecting the City of Man or making too of it. As believers, we know that we are temporary citizens in the City of Man.

Love of neighbor, grounded in the supreme love of God (our loving of God), provides a philosophy that strikes a balance between disengaging in politics or idolizing politics. As evangelicals, we must engage in political action, not because politics is ultimate (the City of Man is certainly not ultimate), but because our Redeemer commands us to love our neighbor. We love by speaking the truth! We do not love when we run and hide! If we truly love our neighbor, we should speak out against those things that are working to destroy our neighbor. Abortion, the re-definition of marriage, financial irresponsibility, and a host of other things are working to destroy our neighbor, and we should not be silent. Ultimately, we desire that our neighbors would be delivered from the god of this world and become citizens of God’s eternal Kingdom.

I am thankful today that God’s sovereignty is not up for a vote. No one can remove Him from His throne! He reigns supreme. But remember, when trouble hits the City of Man, the citizens of the City of God should spring into action. Our chief allegiance is to his Kingdom, but our love for neighbor calls us to fight for righteousness in the City of Man. Let’s not confuse the City of Man with the City of God, but faithful citizens of the City of God do not neglect their duty to the City of Man.

Remember in all of this that God is sovereign and He is working His plan. (See Romans 13).

The polls are closed (they were never opened)! God always has been and will be Sovereign!

Pastor Bill

Jun 082015

Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.

Song of Solomon 1:15

I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.

Song of Solomon 2:1

Our Sunday school adventure in the Song of Solomon is a new experience for me. This is the first time in 20 years that I have taught this important book. Shame on me! Our study has drawn me to two books that have been on my shelves for several years which I have never read. Now I have a great excuse to read them, and I have certainly been blessed. The first was published in 2009 and was written by my good friend and mentor, Michael A.G. Haykin. He perhaps, more than any other, had the greatest impact on my spiritual life while in seminary. He wrote a book called The Christian Lover. It a collection of love letters from believers in the past like Luther and his Katie, John Calvin and Idelette, Adoniram and Ann Judson, and many more.

The second book was originally published in 1971 and was reprinted in 2004. It was written by Elisabeth Dodds and the book is called Marriage to a Difficult Man: The Uncommon Union of Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards, probably the most brilliant theologian born on American soil, met his match when he met Sarah. He was 20, she was 13. Sarah was such a beautiful girl in every way that he was enamored by her. Being around her made him a different person. He was captivated by her beauty, and he became awkward around her and would stutter in speech. He took to walking past her house at night for a glimpse of a candle flickering behind an upstairs shutter. He would go to the wharf where shipments were delivered hoping to see her as she picked up packages to take home to her family. Here is what he wrote on the front page of his Greek grammar book – his mind most certainly was not on Greek. You get a glimpse of what true beauty is and what captured Jonathan’s heart.

“They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that Almighty Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him – that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up to heaven; being assured that he loves her to well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love, favor and delight, forever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and sweetness of temper, uncommon purity in her affections; is most just and praiseworthy in all her actions; and you could not persuade her to do anything thought wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; especially after those times in which this great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about, singing sweetly, from place to place; and seems to be always full of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone and wander in the fields and on the mountains, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.”

In our marriages (and everything), Jesus must be first. He is to be our supreme delight. He is to be our first love. Everything flows from our personal relationship with him. Let us draw close to Christ today. Others will see that we are living in His presence moment by moment. Now that is attractive!

Pastor Bill