Sunday, October 25, 2020

Church Leaders


[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 25th of October, 2020, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service, also streamed live, due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


We will be electing our church officers in a little over a month, those who will serve on our governing body for the next term, representing all of us, all the church family.  We call these officers Elders and Deacons and our church Constitution lays out how they are to serve in those positions.  This is quite common in the modern church, but the early church had a slightly different view.

Hopefully we’re all familiar with how the Apostle Paul started churches during his missionary trips throughout the known world at the time.  At each church, Paul would appoint leaders, looking into a person’s heart to see how they would best serve the church.  One of those leaders was his young protégé Timothy.  As Timothy was about to take over one of those early churches as the pastor, or head of the church, Paul gave him some instructions on what to look for in those who would be leaders in that church family.

Please listen and follow along as I read from the 3rd chapter of Paul’s 1st letter to Timothy, verses 1 through 13, and I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation of our Holy Bible this morning…
1 This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.” 2 So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. 3 He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. 4 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. 5 For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?

6 A church leader must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. 7 Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.

8 In the same way, deacons must be well respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers or dishonest with money. 9 They must be committed to the mystery of the faith now revealed and must live with a clear conscience. 10 Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.

12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. 13 Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.
--1 Timothy 3:1-13 (NLT)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us snapshots of the life of the early church so that we can try to model ourselves after them.  Through Paul’s letters and the Apostle Luke’s Book of the Acts of the Apostles, we can see how the early church functioned, and flourished.  We can also see how, in all things, they sought guidance from You.  Thank You, Father, for showing us what is important in Your eyes.  Please help us to follow the example of the early church so that we might better serve our Lord Jesus.  And Father, please protect us from all the disease and craziness that’s going on in the world right now.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind and purpose in our love and worship, and healthy and safe through these trying times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us for this day.  Give us clearer insight into Your will for our lives.  Help us accept Your guidance through Your Holy Spirit and the leaders You appoint over us.  This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


A 1994 article in Bits & Pieces magazine quoted Dwight D. Eisenhower as having said:   
"In order to be a leader a man must have followers. And to have followers, a man must have their confidence. Hence the supreme quality of a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, on a football field, in an army, or in an office. If a man's associates find him guilty of phoniness, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose."

The first great need for a leader is integrity and high purpose.  President Eisenhower pretty well summed up what Paul described.  Paul acknowledged that a church leader must be well respected by others and have integrity.  And as for a high purpose, what higher purpose could there be than to serve our Lord Jesus by serving His people in His church.  So in effect, I think President Eisenhower took Paul’s qualifications for church leaders and applied them to any leader in general.  I also believe we would do well to follow that example.

We are rapidly coming up on the time when we decide those persons who will stand as our representative leaders of this church family.  And even sooner, we will elect those who will represent us at most levels of civil government.  We should hold all candidates – both church and civil - to the same level of scrutiny and maturity that Paul describes.  The first great need is integrity and high purpose.


As Paul notes, being a church leader is an honorable position.  But it is more than just an honor – it is a responsibility.  Like any institution or organization, a church can be led to success and to do great things, or it can be led to failure and destruction.  And the leadership plays a huge role in which way the church will go.  That is why it is so important for us to listen closely to the guidance Paul gives.

One thing we need to understand, though, is that the qualifications that Paul provides us are all marks of spiritual leadership.  One who would serve as a leader in the church should have a certain level of spiritual maturity.  And they should be expected to grow in that maturity while in their role as church leader.

The qualifications Paul gives can be considered targets, to a degree, goals that we should all strive for, but especially our leaders.  Listen to what Paul told Timothy, and us, a little earlier in this 1st letter, in verses 5 through 7 of the 1st chapter…
5 The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. 6 But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. 7 They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.
--1 Timothy 1:5-7 (NLT)

That part about spending our time in meaningless discussions sounds too much like some of our committee meetings, doesn’t it.  But Paul’s desired goal in all this is that all believers – all believers, not just our leaders – should be filled with love, a love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and true, genuine faith.  By this we see that our leaders should lead with love, acting on faith, expecting no personal gain of any kind.


Now, when we consider all that Paul went through and all he accomplished, it’s easy to see him as a great leader of the early church, one above reproach and having attained great spiritual maturity.  But Paul might humbly beg to differ.  In his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3 verses 12 through 15, Paul acknowledges that not even he has attained perfection…
12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not yet achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 
15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you.
--Philippians 3:12-15 (NLT)

All of us must press on as we strive toward greater spiritual maturity, but this is especially true for those who would lead us.  As leaders, we must press on to be above reproach, to be faithful to our families, to exercise good self-control, to live wisely and have a good reputation in our community.  We must have integrity and serve a higher purpose.


From what Paul tells us and as further noted by President Eisenhower, we can see that a leader must lead.  Arguably the best way to lead is by example.  So a church leader should set a good example for others in the church family to follow.  A leader must be present to lead, must be seen leading, or else the example is lost.

You know, we're all different.  We come from diverse backgrounds, with our own opinions on how things should be done.  So we're going to argue at times, debate the issues, hopefully with gentleness and love.  But once a decision is made, those in the position of leadership must speak and act in one voice.  If the leadership appears to be splintered, the church family will fracture.


Right now Satan is trying his best to do just that, to splinter the church, the body of Christ Jesus left here on earth, and in so doing destroy Christ.  And family, he’s doing a bang-up job of it!  This new disease that has paralyzed the entire world is his latest tool.  The mask issue alone is driving a wedge between us, even within the church body.  According to those who monitor such things, the greatest fear we have right now is of each other!

We certainly can’t look to our nation’s leaders for guidance.  As is readily evident in the current election cycle, our leaders seem intent on further splitting us apart rather than uniting us.

So who do we look toward for leadership?  Christ Jesus, our Lord.  We can look to His life for an example of how to live ours.  We can look to how He led His followers for how those in a position of authority over us should lead.

And we can look to the church to take a more active leadership role in the community.  The church must provide a beacon, must be a light for the people to follow out of the darkness and chaos.  It must stand united in love and in service to Christ Jesus.  It’s leaders must look back to the early church and follow the lead that Jesus and Paul set.  It’s time to return to our roots.


We’re about to elect leaders, for our church government and for man’s government.  Let’s strive to follow Paul’s guidance in these elections.  And let’s seek God’s guidance in all our personal decisions.

In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Savior, the one true Son of God.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us leaders.  No one can serve in a position of authority over us unless appointed by you.  Help us to accept their authority and to pray for them.  Thank You for giving us the example of the early church to use as a foundation for our church.  Help us, please Father, to be more like those early believers, and help our leaders to lead by their example, with integrity and in service to You.  And Father, help us be more loving, more trusting, more merciful, and more kindhearted toward others in our daily walk.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You straight from our hearts, promising to repent of our sinful ways, seeking Your forgiveness and Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, it is so important for us to choose people of great integrity to serve as our leaders.  Please give us those who will have our best interests at heart, who will serve You by serving us.  Give us true, God-fearing leaders and not those who just give lip service to our Father.  Forgive us, Jesus, for not respecting those who have been placed in positions of authority over us.  Forgive us when we let the troubles of the world control our thoughts and our actions rather than coming to You for leadership and guidance.  Help our leaders to pattern their lives after the example You set, to be more like You so that we have good examples to follow.  Help us to be more loving, Lord.  Help us to love one another as You love us, to see one another as You see us.  Give us Your heart for loving others.  Strengthen us, Jesus, through these dark times.  And Lord, please heal the divisions between us, that creep in and separate us, even within Your church family.  Help us remain faithful and obedient through the storms raging around us, concerned more with the needs of others than with our own wants and desires.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

Prepare Ye the Way

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 18th of October, 2020, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service, also streamed live, due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


As we read the Gospel accounts in our New Testament, we can see two times so far when Jesus has come on the scene, with His arrival being clearly announced.  The first was at His birth, with the announcement from an angel to the nearby shepherds.  And the second was just before He began His ministry, proclaimed to the multitudes who came to the River Jordan to be baptized by John.  Both were foretold long ago by the prophets, speaking for God to the children of Israel.  And both carried a tremendous impact on the fate of mankind.

Let’s look at that second instance for a moment, right before Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized along with the multitudes and the sinners.  Please listen and follow along as I read from chapter 3 of the Apostle Luke’s Gospel account, verses 1 through 18, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible this morning…
1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth;
6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

7 Then he said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. 9 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 So the people asked him, saying, “What shall we do then?”

11 He answered and said to them, “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.”

12 Then tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?”

13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what is appointed for you.”

14 Likewise the soldiers asked him, saying, “And what shall we do?”

So he said to them, “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.”

15 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, 16 John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

18 And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.
--Luke 3:1-18 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us such a clear explanation of what we should do to repent of our sins and to bear good fruit.  Through John’s exhortations to a few individuals, we can see examples of how we must live so as to be righteous in Your sight.  Thank You, Father, for making sure all of this is saved for us in our Bible.  Please help us to heed these examples and the words in our scripture, especially as they pertain to our Lord Jesus and our fate throughout eternity.  And Father, please protect us from all the effects of the coronavirus and all the troubles of the world around us.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind in our love and worship, and healthy and safe through these trying times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us for this day.  Give us the words and the courage to proclaim to all the world the return of Your Son Jesus to the earth.  Show us Your will for our lives through Your Holy Spirit and may He guide us through each day.  This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


During his 1960 presidential campaign, John F. Kennedy often closed his speeches with this story of Colonel Davenport, the Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives:   
“On May 19th, 1780 the sky of Hartford darkened ominously, and some of the representatives, glancing out the windows, feared the end was at hand.  Quelling a clamor for immediate adjournment, Davenport rose and said, ‘The Day of Judgment is either approaching or it is not.  If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment.  If it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.  Therefore, I wish that candles be brought.’  Rather than fearing what is to come, we are to be faithful until Christ returns.  Instead of fearing the dark, we are to be lights as we watch and wait.”

As I’ve mentioned more than once before, we don’t know when Jesus will return to call His church home but we must be ready for when He does.  Jesus Himself says to be watchful.  He tells us to do as our Master commands right up to that time, so that we’re sure to always be doing right, and to be righteous in God’s eyes.

As we asked of Jesus in our church reading earlier, let us live our lives as if His coming is but a second away.  And let us be a light unto the world – a world that is cowering in darkness.


Our scripture reading tells the story of John, a kinsman of Jesus, whom we call the Baptist, because that is what he is mostly known for: baptizing the masses.  He is also known as the voice crying out in the wilderness, as the great prophet Isaiah foretold.  And we could also call him an announcer, for John openly proclaimed our Lord’s first appearance upon the stage of life, as Jesus began His ministry on earth.

But Jesus was around 30 years old at that time, and as I mentioned, it was an angel that announced His birth, His first coming into our world.  Listen to how Luke recorded this wonderful event, in the 2nd chapter of his Gospel account, verses 8 through 14…
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
--Luke 2:8-14 (NKJV)

We’re all pretty familiar with that – we hear it or read it every Christmas.  But I bring it up here because it represents fulfillment of prophecy, the first time the absolute embodiment and incarnation of God set foot on the earth, the first time our Lord Jesus became as one of us.  This was our Lord’s first coming into our world.  John announced the coming of Jesus into His ministry, and His purpose for coming to us.


Now, Isaiah was not alone in foretelling of one who would prepare for the Lord's coming.  Hear what God said through the prophet Malachi in the 1st verse of the 3rd chapter of his book of prophecy…
1 “Behold, I send My messenger,
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
--Malachi 3:1 (NKJV)

God said He was sending His messenger to prepare the way of His coming.  And when He comes, the promised Messiah will suddenly come to His temple.  God did indeed come to earth in the person of Jesus, and as an adult came into the temple preaching repentance, with John the Baptist preparing the way.  Someday Jesus will return and come into His temple, His new temple.  Who will prepare the way then?


Through Malachi, God said our Lord is coming, in whom we delight.  We who believe in Jesus as the Son of God do indeed delight in Him as our Savior.  But God offers even more than salvation to those who would accept Jesus as Lord.  He also provides healing – spiritual healing - to those who had once accepted Jesus but have since strayed from the straight and narrow way.

Hear what God tells us through Isaiah, in chapter 57 and verse 15 of his prophecy…
15 For thus says the High and Lofty One
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
“I dwell in the high and holy place,
With him who has a contrite and humble spirit,
To revive the spirit of the humble,
And to revive the heart of the contrite ones."
--Isaiah 57:15 (NKJV)

But that healing requires repentance, a turning from our sinful ways back to a contrite and humble spirit.  John the Baptist prepared the way of Jesus coming into His ministry by calling the people to repentance, preaching to them to humble themselves before God.  He warned that the Kingdom of God was at hand.  And family, so it is again.


Isaiah and Malachi foretold of John's role in God's plan hundreds of years before the Baptist was even born.  Everything that the angel and these men and others spoke of regarding the coming of Jesus holds true for His return!  Jesus is coming again, He will return, and if we read our Bibles closely, it seems the time of His next arrival is getting closer and closer.

But now the job falls to us.  We must be the voices crying out in the wilderness, calling mankind to repent and to accept Jesus as Lord.  We must prepare the way of our Lord's second coming, making straight the crooked ways in the deserts of our times.

The Baptist has given us a good roadmap to follow in how to live our own lives and how to instruct others.  Share what we have with others in their time of need.  Be fair and just in our dealings with others, not trying to take advantage of them for our own gain.  Don’t intimidate anyone, or falsely accuse someone else of wrongdoing.  Be content with what we have, and not envious with what someone else might possess.  Bear good fruit, lest we be cut down and thrown into the fire.

For Jesus is coming, with His winnowing fan in His hand, ready to separate the chafe from the wheat.  He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn.  But the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.


Eternity is a very long time.  If we accept our Bible as truth, there are two ways we can spend eternity: either rejoicing in the presence of God in heaven, or burning with unquenchable fire.  Jesus is coming again, and when He does we’ll no longer have a choice.  Prepare ye the way of our Lord, and help others make the right choice, too.

In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Savior, the one true Son of God.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us the means to prepare for what is to come.  In our Bible, we read words of encouragement as we face tough times.  We are shown how to live and how to interact with others so that we will be righteous in Your eyes.  Thank You for this guidance.  Help us, please Father, to be ever vigilant as we await our Lord’s return.  Help us as we encourage others to turn from their disobedient ways and to accept Jesus as Lord.  And Father, help us be more loving, more trusting, more merciful, and more kindhearted toward others in our daily walk.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You straight from our hearts, promising to repent of our sinful ways, seeking Your forgiveness and Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, You who had never sinned came to John to be baptized.  You and John both warned the people that they must repent for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Well, Lord, from what we can see in our world today, God’s kingdom is rapidly approaching.  Forgive us, Jesus, for those times we have failed to do as You command us to make disciples from among the peoples.  Forgive us when doubts creep in and all that is going on in the world around us causes our faith and our love to falter.  Help us, please Jesus, to not be timid or fearful to tell others about You and what You have done for us.  Help us to love others enough to want to lead them to You and everlasting life.  Help us to love one another as You love us, to see one another as You see us.  Give us Your heart for loving others.  Strengthen us, Jesus, through these dark times.  And Lord, please heal the divisions between us, that creep in and separate us, even within Your church family.  Help us remain faithful and obedient through the storms raging around us, concerned more with the needs of others than with our own wants and desires.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Many Are Invited

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 11th of October, 2020, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service, also streamed live, due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


During His short ministry on earth, Jesus very often spent time talking to the religious leaders of the day: the chief priests and elders of the Synagogues, the Pharisees and Sadducees and scribes.  And by “talking” I mean He usually ended up rebuking them or lecturing to them.  Fortunately for us, the Gospel writers recorded these discussions so that we can benefit from knowing not to follow the bad examples set by these leaders.

Our reading this morning holds one such lesson, where Jesus draws a word picture for those chief priests and elders, painting a scenario they should be able to see and understand.  Please listen and follow along as I read from chapter 22 of the Apostle Matthew’s Gospel account, verses 1 through 14, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible this morning…
1 And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, 3 and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. 4 Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’ 5 But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. 6 And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. 7 But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. 8 Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy. 9 Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ 10 So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. 12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
--Matthew 22:1-14 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for sending Your own Son Jesus into this world to invite us to spend eternity with You in paradise.  All we have to do is accept the invitation, accept Jesus as our Lord, and we will be changed into a new creation befitting Your presence.  Thank You, Father, for Your great love and mercy.  Please help us to remain faithful and true, and to not stain or spoil our wedding attire.  And Father, please protect us from all the effects of the coronavirus and all the troubles of the world around us.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind in our love and worship, and healthy and safe through these trying times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us for this day.  Make us mindful of the invitation we have received from You, and of the importance of the change in us that attendance requires.  Show us Your will through Your Holy Spirit and may He guide us through this life.  This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Christian author C. S. Lewis once said:
“When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over.  God is going to invade, all right; but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else comes crashing in?  This time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.  It will be too late then to choose your side.  That will not be the time for choosing; It will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not.  Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side."

We don’t know when Jesus will return to call His church home and to set the world right, so we must be ready at all times.  We must be prepared since it could come at any moment, even while we’re sitting here today.  Because when He does come, when the Author of Creation comes riding in on the clouds, it will be too late to say, “OK, I’m with You now, Jesus”.  By that point, whether we realize it or not, we’ll have already chosen which side we’re own: the side of righteousness and Jesus, or the side of evil and Satan.

Just as we noted in our church reading a little while ago, we have a fundamental choice.  Jesus said we’re either for Him or against Him.  Choose wisely now, serve Jesus now, and enjoy irresistible love for all eternity.


Our scripture reading comes right after what we looked at two weeks ago, when Jesus cleared the Temple of the moneychangers and had His authority questioned by the chief priests and elders.  He told them parables about the two sons and which had actually done the will of the father, and about what the vineyard owner would do to the evil vinedressers who killed his son.  In the parable this morning, He continues warning them about the consequences of their refusal to accept the Son of God as their Lord.

In this story there is to be a wedding, with a sumptuous feast to follow.  The king sent out invitations and then followed up by sending his servants to call on all the invitees.  But no one really wanted to go, so they mistreated and even killed the servants, just like in the previous parable.  This time, though, the king sent out his army to destroy all those evil people and their lands.

Then he extended an invitation to the wedding and feast to anyone and everyone his servants could find.  At first, the invitation to a glorious party had been given to a select few, but since they all refused, it was extended to many.

And so it is for the grand party that will be eternity in paradise, in heaven.  Jesus came first to the Jews, God’s chosen people, and they rejected Him.  So the invitation has been given to all of us, Jew and Gentile alike.  All are invited, all may attend.  And of course, to accept the invitation, we need merely accept God’s Son Jesus as our Lord and Master.

But note that there is one other requirement in addition to accepting the invitation.  As we saw a few weeks ago, we need to be changed before we will be allowed entrance into heaven.  We need to be wearing the proper attire, the new creation that the Apostle Paul spoke of.  We need to be changed spiritually before we can be changed physically when Jesus returns.  And that change occurs only when we truly, with all our heart and soul, accept Jesus as Lord, doing as He tells us to do.  For many will be given the invitation, but few in comparison will truly accept it.


So just what is involved in accepting the invitation?  What is required on our part?  Jesus tells us that all we have to do to be saved is to believe in Him as the Son of God.  Truly, fully believe.  If we do believe in Him, we will accept Him as our only Lord.  And if we accept Him as our Lord and Master, we will do what He says.

Paul gives us some very simple guidelines in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4 through 9, when he says…
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things. 9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.
--Philippians 4:4-9 (NKJV)

Rejoice in the Lord and trust in Him in all things.  Pray humbly, giving Him thanks and asking for His help.  Be gentle and loving in our dealings with others.  Give honor to anything that is true and just and pure and lovely and good and virtuous, and act only on those things.

And all of this can be wrapped up in what Jesus commands us: to love one another.  Truly, unconditionally love one another, just as Jesus loves us.


The invitation is still being extended and will be right up until the moment Jesus returns.  It's up to us to accept it.  Throughout the New Testament, Jesus extends invitations to come, follow Him; come, be with Him; come, accept Him.  From the day after His baptism all the way through His revelation to the Apostle John, we are invited to come.

Come to the wedding and the grand feast to follow.  Come to the cross, where our dear Savior died.  Come to the tomb, and see it empty.  Come, and be with Jesus forever in paradise.

In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Savior, the one true Son of God.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for inviting us all to the wedding of Your Son and the great feast to follow.  Thank You for offering up Your Son as a blood sacrifice for us, to wash us clean of our sin so that we might spend eternity with You.  Help us, please Father, to be worthy of Your love.  Help us to be properly attired when we come into Your presence, to be changed by Your Holy Spirit within because of our true acceptance of Jesus as Lord.  And Father, help us be more loving, more trusting, more merciful, and more kindhearted toward others in our daily walk.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You straight from our hearts, promising to repent of our sinful ways, seeking Your forgiveness and Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, You have given us example after example of how we should pattern our lives if we truly accept You as our Master.  More to the point, You have shown us how not to live through the parables You spoke and the rebuking of the religious leaders of Your day.  Forgive us, Jesus, for those times when we fail to do as You command, when we fail to love as You love.  Forgive us when doubts creep in and the impact of worldly events cause our love to falter.  Help us, please, to love one another as You love us, to see one another as You see us.  Give us Your heart for loving others.  Strengthen us, Jesus, through these dark times.  And Lord, please heal the divisions between us, that creep in and separate us, even within Your church family.  Help us remain faithful and obedient through the storms raging around us, concerned more with the needs of others than with our own wants and desires.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Thursday, October 08, 2020

To God Be the Glory

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 4th of October, 2020, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  Our service this morning also included the observance of Holy Communion with our Lord.  This was an abbreviated service, also streamed live, due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Have you ever heard the expression, “there are no atheists in foxholes”?  When hunkered down in some low spot with bullets whizzing overhead and mortars and grenades going off all around, everyone prays for help.  At some point in everyone’s life, when the situation is dire enough and seems hopeless, they will turn to some higher authority, some ultimate power, whoever or whatever created everything and controls it all.

Those of us fortunate enough to already know that ultimate power to be our Almighty God, we can’t help but wonder why those folks didn’t know God all along.  We can’t blame God for that failing – He has shown Himself to mankind since our very beginning.  The Apostle Paul explains this quite clearly, I think, in the opening chapter of his letter to the church in Rome.  Please listen and follow along as I read from chapter 1 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, verses 16 through 25, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible this morning…
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man — and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.

24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
--Romans 1:16-25 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for giving us the wonderful gift of faith.  Faith provides the foundation for how we are to live this life, and the justification needed for the next life to come.  Thank You, Father, for loving us this much.  Please help us to continuously exercise our faith to keep it strong and vital.  And Father, please protect us from all the effects of the coronavirus and all the troubles of the world around us.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind in our love and worship, and healthy and safe through these trying times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us for this day.  We give you all the glory, for we can make nothing that You have not already made, we can do nothing without Your help.  Show us Your will for our lives through Your Holy Spirit within us.  This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


I’m sure you’ve all heard of the great composer, Johann Sebastian Bach.  Well, Bach once said, "All music should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the soul's refreshment; where this is not remembered there is no real music but only a devilish hub-bub."

Bach began all his compositions with the initials, "J.J.",  which stood for "Jesus Juva", which means "Jesus help me."  He ended them all with "S.D.G.", short for "Soli Deo gloria", which means "Glory to God alone."


To say that Johann Sebastian Bach was a prolific composer would be a great understatement.  I could easily spend the hour just reciting the names of his pieces and not get finished with them all.  He was also an accomplished musician, able to play many instruments at first sight and widely renown for making instruments.  Many consider him a great man, a brilliant artist, able to do what very few could.

Yet here was this “great” man asking Jesus for help as he began each one of those many compositions.  And then, as he completed them, knowing that man tends to give credit to the artist for such things, Bach made sure to give all the glory to God.  To God alone be the glory.  These words need to be on our lips and in our hearts all the time.


Paul understood just how important it is to give God the glory, and to God alone.  In our scripture reading, he warns us of the ramifications of not believing the truth that has been shown us.

God has shown us Himself since the dawn of creation, so woe be onto those who refuse to believe in Him, who work to suppress the truth, for they have no excuse.  Although they know God, they do not glorify Him nor give Him thanks.  They refuse to give God the glory for all He has done.

There are other times in our Bible where we are warned to always give God the glory.  For instance, take heed of what the prophet Jeremiah wrote in chapter 13 of his book, verses 15 and 16…
15 Hear and give ear: 
Do not be proud,
For the Lord has spoken.
16 Give glory to the Lord your God
Before He causes darkness,
And before your feet stumble
On the dark mountains,
And while you are looking for light,
He turns it into the shadow of death
And makes it dense darkness.
--Jeremiah 13:15-16 (NKJV)

When we are too proud of ourselves, of our own accomplishments, we fail to acknowledge that anything we have, anything we can do, comes from God.  We give ourselves the glory rather than Him.  We sink into idolatry, worshiping ourselves, making of ourselves an idol.  As Paul points out, we worship the creature rather than the Creator.


There is another aspect of glorifying God, and that is being able to see the very glory of God.  Lazarus had died and been laid in a tomb.  Of course, that meant nothing to Jesus, as He was about to show.

Listen to what Jesus, the Son of God, said about seeing the glory of God, as recorded by the Apostle John in his Gospel account, chapter 11 verses 38 through 44…
38 Then Jesus, again groaning in Himself, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay against it. 39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”
Martha, the sister of him who was dead, said to Him, “Lord, by this time there is a stench, for he has been dead four days.”
40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” 41 Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. 42 And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” 43 Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” 44 And he who had died came out bound hand and foot with graveclothes, and his face was wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Loose him, and let him go.”
--John 11:38-44 (NKJV)

Believe, and see the glory of God.  Faith is a gift – the gift of being able to believe without the need for absolute proof.  By our belief in Jesus, we are shown God’s glory.  It is made manifest to us all around us.  Just as God Himself is made known to us, His glory is shown to us.


Now, we all know ways to glorify God, but is there one really good way, is there something we can do that best shows our desire to give God all the glory?  Using our Bible as our ultimate guide, I’m sure we can come up with many “best” ways.  Here’s what the Apostle Peter instructs us in his 1st letter to the early church, chapter 4, verses 7 through 11…
7 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. 8 And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” 9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 10 As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. 11 If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
--1 Peter 4:7-11 (NKJV)

The end of things is truly at hand.  So we need to be ever diligent, ever watchful, ever more intent in our prayers and our worship.  And Peter tells us that above all things, we must have fervent love for one another.  Fervent love - having and showing great warmth and intensity of spirit, feeling, and enthusiasm.

Being enthusiastic in our love for one another glorifies God.  God tells us to love one another and doing what He says, for all to see, glorifies Him.  Not matter what we do, give God all the glory.


In just a few moments, we will be sharing in the last meal our Lord Jesus had while on this earth.  The Apostle Paul tells us not to come to the table, not to partake of the body and blood of our risen Savior, unless we are right with God.  Please take the next minutes to silently pray to God, promising to turn from whatever sin you still hold onto, and seeking His help and forgiveness.

In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Savior, the one true Son of God.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for all the wonderful things you do for us.  Thank You for making Yourself known to us.  Thank You for our faith, through which we might have eternal life.  Help us, please Father, to always give You all the glory.  Help us to fervently love others and in that way glorify You.  Help us to take courage from Your Holy Spirit during these troubling times, and not let all the turmoil overwhelm us and weaken our faith.  And Father, help us be more loving, more trusting, more merciful, and more kindhearted toward others in our daily walk.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You straight from our hearts, promising to repent of our sinful ways, seeking Your forgiveness and Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, You told us that is we would only believe, we could see the amazing glory of God.  Our belief allows us to see His hand at work in our life and grants us entry into paradise when our eternal life begins.  Forgive us, Jesus, for not fully exercising our faith.  Forgive us when we fail to fervently love one another.  Help us, please, to love one another as You love us, to see one another as You see us.  Give us Your heart for loving others.  Strengthen us, Jesus, through these stormy times.  And Lord, please heal the divisions between us, that creep in and separate us, even within Your church family.  Help us remain faithful and obedient through the wildfires raging around us, concerned more with the needs of others than with our own wants and desires.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

Who Will Enter?

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 27th of September, 2020, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service, also streamed live, due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:

http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Questioning authority seems to be the norm nowadays.  So many people appear to have little or no respect for those placed in a position of authority over us.  The result is usually hatred and distrust on all sides.  And this questioning of authority is not just between law enforcement and elements of the general public, but increasingly in all aspects of our daily lives, even within the church.

Much of it seems kind of ironic to me.  Consider the person who wants to attend an event at a private club, so they go and wait in line with everyone else.  When they finally get to the head of the line, just short of the door, there’s this big burly bouncer checking names off a list.  “Nope, sorry, you’re not on the list, you can’t come in.”  Do you think that person makes a fuss right there, perhaps picks a fight with the bouncer, or just walks away muttering and cursing under their breath?

Yes, we humans can be inconsistent in how we react to things, and especially we independent minded Americans, for whom questioning authority almost seems to be a God-given right.  But it’s not just us, and it is certainly not a new thing.  Jesus had His authority questioned often in His day.

Let me read to you one exchange between Jesus and the chief priests and elders of the people.  This discussion occurred the next day after Jesus had driven out all those who bought and sold in the temple, where He had overturned the tables of the money changers, proclaiming, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’”.  Listen and follow along to what the Apostle Matthew recorded for us in the 21st chapter of his Gospel account, in verses 23 through 32, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible this morning…
23 Now when He came into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people confronted Him as He was teaching, and said, “By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority?”

24 But Jesus answered and said to them, “I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell Me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: 25 The baptism of John — where was it from? From heaven or from men?”

And they reasoned among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus and said, “We do not know.”

And He said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.

28 “But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go, work today in my vineyard.’ 29 He answered and said, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he regretted it and went. 30 Then he came to the second and said likewise. And he answered and said, ‘I go, sir,’ but he did not go. 31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”

They said to Him, “The first.”

Jesus said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him."
--Matthew 21:23-32 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for all the examples You saved for us in our Bible of how we should react in almost any situation.  The religious leaders of Jesus’ day very often did not react in a manner pleasing to You, and Jesus rebuked them for it.  Yet through Your great mercy, He gave them every chance to do the right thing.  Thank You, Father, for giving us second chances to do right in Your eyes.  Please help us to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes we see others make.  Help us be more righteous and more pleasing in Your sight.  And Father, please protect us from all the effects of the coronavirus and all the troubles of the world around us.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind in our love and worship, and healthy and safe through these trying times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us for this day.  We acknowledge Your authority as our Creator and Sovereign King.  Please help us take guidance, strength, and encouragement from Your Holy Spirit within us.  This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


English minister Alexander Maclaren once noted that...
The caricature of heaven as an eternity of idleness has no basis in Scripture.  Instead, the New Testament conception unites the two thoughts of being with Christ and of service for Christ.  This blending is definitely set forth in the last chapter of Revelation where we read of “those who serve Him, and see His face.”  Here the life of contemplation and the life of active service are welded together as being not only compatible, but absolutely necessary for completeness.  But remember that if there is to be service there, the exercising ground is here.  I do not know what we are in this world for unless it is to apprentice us for heaven.  Life on earth is a bewilderment unless we are being trained here for a nobler work which lies beyond the grave. 

And C. S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, wrote:
"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

We were made for another world.  We were created with something else in mind.  This place is not our home.  But it is our training ground, where we must prepare for that other world, that better place.  We will not be idle there, nor should we be idle now.  Instead, let us increase our service to our Lord here and now in preparation for an eternity of service and worship to come when we enter heaven.


In our scripture reading, the religious leaders confronted Jesus, asking by what authority He acted.  Rather than answering outright, He offered them a trade: “You answer my question, I’ll answer yours.”  Of course, being the cowards they were, they refused to answer Him, so He refused to address their question.  Instead, He launched into a lesson about who will be allowed entry into the kingdom of God.

He started out making it sound quite simple, asking which son had actually done the will of their father: the one that said he would not go to work, but eventually did, or the one who said he would go, but didn’t.  They answered correctly by saying the first son, and then Jesus had then.

They were the “second son”, who said they would do the will of our Father God, but really didn’t.  John the Baptist came preaching repentance and preparing the way for Jesus, just as their own prophecy foretold, yet they refused to listen, refused to believe.  But the very ones the priests and elders called sinners, they did believe.  They repented and accepted Jesus as Lord and were saved.  And still the religious leaders refused to believe.


Family, this is all about who will enter the kingdom of God, and who will be forever barred.  This was not the first nor the only time Jesus made this point, trying to get those to understand who most needed to.  In fact, Jesus kept trying to push home this truth in the same discussion with these leaders.

Picking up immediately following our message scripture, still in Matthew chapter 21 and continuing with verses 33 through 44, Jesus tells the chief priests and elders…
33 “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. 34 Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. 35 And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. 37 Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?”

41 They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

‘The stone which the builders rejected
Has become the chief cornerstone.
This was the Lord’s doing,
And it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. 44 And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.”
--Matthew 21:33-44 (NKJV)

Again Jesus poses a question to the religious leaders, this time asking how the vineyard owner will react to those who rented his land and then killed his own son.  He will destroy them, they answered, and turn the land over to others who will be more responsible for it.

They – these leaders - were the evil vinedressers.  They kept killing the servants sent by the owner of the vineyard, the true servants of God.  They were supposed to be the ones leading the people in the ways of righteousness, supposed to be good servants of God themselves, yet they refused His Son, and were indeed about to kill Him.  Therefore the kingdom of God will be forever taken from them and given to those more responsible, those who acknowledge and accept God’s Son as Lord.

These people who turned religion and service to God to their own advantage and gain will be forever barred from heaven.  This is a stark warning to all who would use the name of our Lord for their own gain in this life.


Family, we are in dark times right now, made even murkier still by the height of the political season.  All around us, the truth is being stretched thin, evil intentions are being hidden.  And in some cases, true believers are being misled.  Some folks say they’ll do something, but never really intend to, while others promise they won’t do something, but then turn around and do it anyway.  Some do their best to silence the messenger, no matter what it takes.

We must stay strong in our faith.  We must understand what this wonderful book, our Bible, tells us and do what it says, following the examples of righteousness it holds for us.  This book, the words of God and our blessed Savior Jesus, this is the only thing we can put our full trust in.

Let’s do what Jesus tells us so we can enter heaven when our time comes, and not be forever barred.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Savior, the one true Son of God.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for our Bible.  Thank You for the words of encouragement and instruction it contains.  Help us, please Father, to trust in Your word.  Help us to act and react in righteous ways to all situations that confront us.  Help us to take courage in these troubling times, and not let all the turmoil overwhelm us and weaken our faith.  And Father, help us be more loving, more trusting, more merciful, and more kindhearted toward others in our daily walk.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You straight from our hearts, promising to repent of our sinful ways, seeking Your forgiveness and Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, You rebuked the religious leaders of Your day for not truly doing the will of God.  Time after time You used little stories to show them where they were going wrong.  But it never sunk in, they never listened.  Forgive us, Jesus, when we act too much like those leaders.  Forgive us when we try to bend our service to God to our own benefit.  Help us, please, to see ourselves in Your parables and fix the broken areas of our lives before we find ourselves barred from heaven.  Strengthen us, Jesus, through these times of great uncertainty.  And Lord, please heal the divisions between us, that creep in and separate us, even within Your church family.  Give us Your heart for loving others.  Help us to love one another as You love us, to see one another as You see us.  Help us remain faithful and obedient through the storms raging around us, concerned more with the needs of others than with our own wants and desires.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, September 20, 2020

Working for God

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 20th of September, 2020, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service, also streamed live, due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Since I was sidelined a bit two Sundays ago, I wasn’t able to bring you my annual Labor Day offering.  Elder Jim Neese gave a wonderful message on Jesus’ “Interrupted Sermon”, but I still feel the need to address what the Holy Spirit put on my heart.

So today we’re going to talk about our labors in this life, in our daily walk.  And who better to lead the discussion than one of the greatest, hardest working, most faithful laborers in the early church: the Apostle Paul.

Please listen and follow along to what Paul has to say about working for God, in his letter to the Galatians, chapter 6, verses 1 through 10, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible this morning…
1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For each one shall bear his own load.

6 Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.

7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
--Galatians 6:1-10 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for looking into the hearts of every person and discerning our true motives and intentions.  Thank You for ensuring that what is sown shall, in due season, be reaped.  You promise that those who sow goodness will be richly rewarded in Your timing, while those who sow evil will be punished.  Father, please help us to cleanse our hearts of all evil intention and hurtfulness.  Help us be more obedient to Your word and thus more pleasing in Your eyes.  And Father, please protect us from all the effects of the coronavirus and all the troubles of the world around us.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind in our love and worship, and healthy and safe through these trying times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us for this day.  Lay the groundwork for all our future labors, that everything we do be pleasing in Your sight.  And please help us take guidance, strength, and encouragement from Your Holy Spirit within us.  This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Some unknown wag once noted that 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.


Now, let me say right up front that this church family is the hardest working I’ve ever seen or been associated with.  When there’s a job to be done, folks jump right in to help share the load.  But how many of us have experienced situations where too many “helpers” just grabbed the piano stool?  And how many times have we seen folks ride on top of the piano while others push and pull?

We can’t all carry the stool, and none of us should be going along for a free ride.  But as we push and pull and carry, let us remember that in all we do, let’s make our labors be for our Lord.  Let’s do the very best we can do, in everything we do.


In our scripture reading this morning, it may seem a little difficult to see how it applies to working for God, but there are many aspects to working other than physical labors.  At its heart, Paul is speaking more on spiritual labors rather than manual.

He begins by telling us it’s our duty to try to help another believer back onto the right path if they’ve gone astray, but to do so gently, kindly, with love.  He says we should bear one another’s burdens.  Now that can certainly mean to help each other with some physical chore if needed, but I believe Paul is more concerned about our spiritual burdens, those loads we carry on our hearts that can weigh us down.  We need to help each other with those loads, if for no other reason than to show our love for one another, as Jesus would have us do.

And then we get to the warning.  Do not be deceived.  Don’t let someone else put the wrong ideas in your head.  God is not mocked.  He cannot be fooled.  He can see into our hearts and He knows us.  He knows exactly what we are, which is not always what we say we are.  Those who do good will be rewarded and those who do evil will be punished; maybe not in this life but in God’s perfect timing.  So anytime we have the chance, we should do good.


Have you ever heard the expression that we should work to live, not live to work?  As a workaholic, too many times in my life I had a tough time remembering that.  Too many times my work, my job, became my life.  My labors were for the wrong things, the wrong reasons.

After the feeding of the 5000, the multitude chased after Jesus, seeking Him.  The Apostle John recorded what our Lord told them, in the 6th chapter of his Gospel account, verses 26 and 27…
26 Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”
--John 6:26-27 (NKJV)

Jesus was speaking to me there, and to all of us, but I never heard His words until much later in life.  We shouldn’t waste our life working for things that perish, that rot and decay, that have no true value.  Instead, labor for that which is eternal.  Labor for our everlasting soul and eternity in heaven.


Still someone may ask why must we engage in this spiritual labor when we’re already having to work just to survive.  Why should we work for God?

The Apostle Luke, in the 1st two verses of the 10th chapter of his Gospel account, tells us that Jesus named His 12 disciples, and then…
1 After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. 2 Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest."
--Luke 10:1-2 (NKJV)

And now we’ve gotten back to the harvest that Paul also mentioned.  But again, this is more about spiritual labor than physical.  Sure, the apostles were required to physically go out into the villages and cities, preaching the Gospel and proclaiming the kingdom of God, but their actual work was in spreading the Good News of salvation, in reaching out to those whose hearts might be softened enough for the Holy Spirit to enter and do His work.  Their labor was to affect the spirit of mankind.

And if Jesus thought that 70 was not enough workers in His time, how many more are needed today, when the world seems headed toward ruin?  How many more people desperately need to hear about Jesus, to get to know Him personally?  There’s a lot of work to do, and it up to us – Jesus’ church – to do it.


In your bulletin, you’ll see a little exercise I had Dama include.  It talks about our labor for the Lord.  It is a labor of love, and not done in vain.  And it is for eternal things, as Jesus instructs us.

Take a few minutes when you get home and read the referenced scripture for each point.  Let God speak to you, through His Holy Spirit, and tell you what He would have you do for Him.  Let’s work for what is eternal.  Let’s get to work for God.

In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Savior, the one true Son of God.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for offering us an eternal reward for working for You, for our labors on Your behalf.  Help us, please Father, to do what is pleasing in Your sight.  Help us to not grow weary in our labors.  Help us to take courage in these troubling times, and not let all the turmoil overwhelm us and weaken our faith.  And Father, help us be more loving, more trusting, more merciful, and more kindhearted toward others in our daily walk.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You straight from our hearts, promising to repent of our sinful ways, seeking Your forgiveness and Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, You specifically sent Your followers out to cities and villages in advance of Your own visits.  Their mission was to prepare the people for Your coming.  Their job was to spiritually ready them for what lies ahead.  This, too, is the mission You have set before us, Your followers, Your disciples in this present age.  We are to prepare the people spiritually for the day when You return to set the world right again.  Our job is to work for You, for the Kingdom of God, for that which is eternal.  We are to rescue the perishing, opening their spirit to You.  Forgive us, Jesus, when we don’t feel up to the task.  Forgive us when we grow weary or when we hesitate out of fear of what others may think of us, or do to us.  Help us, please, to remain strong in our faith and steadfast in our efforts.  Give us Your strength to get through these times of uncertainty.  And Lord Jesus, please heal the divisions between us, that creep in and separate us, even within Your church family.  Give us Your heart for loving others.  Help us to love one another as You love us, to see one another as You see us.  Help us remain faithful and obedient through these troubling times, concerned more with the needs of others than with our own wants and desires.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Homecoming

 

[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 13th of September, 2020, at Pilgrim Reformed Church.  This was an abbreviated service, also streamed live, due to constraints put in place from the COVID-19 pandemic.  Our YouTube streaming channel is:
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDIz4WuP8igQstkEOq1AMTg.  Look for the video of our recorded services on our Vimeo channel:  http://vimeo.com/pilgrimreformedchurch.]


Today is homecoming for Pilgrim Reformed Church, when our relatives or others who have moved on to other churches might return and join us for the day.  Normally, we would all go down to the Fellowship Hall after the service and enjoy a big family lunch together.  And then tonight we would kick-off our revival services, which holds special meaning to me because the first time I ever came to Pilgrim was when my friend and mentor Rev. John Bigelow invited me to come speak at revival in 2011.  Unfortunately, the current pandemic has put an end to all that.  But we can still “come home” to Pilgrim, if not in person then in our hearts.

Let us remember, though, that nothing on this earth is home – not the structures we live in nor even this beautiful family house.  Our true home, our final and eternal homecoming, awaits us.

Please listen and follow along to the insight that the Apostle Paul shares with us regarding homecoming, in his 1st letter to the Thessalonians, chapter 4, verses 13 through 18, and I’ll be reading from the New Living Translation of our Holy Bible…
13 And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with Him the believers who have died.

15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet Him ahead of those who have died. 16 For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.
--1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NLT)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for the promise and the assured hope of eternal life with You in paradise.  Thank You for the faith to know that Jesus is Your Son and to accept Him as our Lord.  Father, please help us to stay true to Jesus, serving Him in all we do, as we await the day of our great homecoming.  And Father, please protect this church family from all the effects of the coronavirus and all the troubles of the world around us.  Please keep us strong in our faith, of one mind in our love and worship, and healthy and safe through these trying times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us for this day.  Assure us of our reward for faithfully serving You and Your Son Jesus.  Help us keep our faith ever strong through the storms of this life.  And please help us take guidance, strength, and encouragement from Your Holy Spirit within us.  This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Inspirational speaker Tim Hansel wrote in his book “Holy Sweat” about a close friend who attended his 40-year high school reunion.  His excitement grew and grew as the date of the reunion neared.  He looked forward to seeing all the friends he once knew, to see how much they had changed, to hear of their accomplishments, as well as seeing all the places he knew as a youth.  His wife became equally enthused as he spoke on and on of those halcyon days.  The night before they left out for the trip, he pulled out his old yearbooks and read all the silly comments and good wishes from those friends so long ago.  And he wondered how many of them had encountered Jesus Christ, who had so profoundly changed him.

When they returned from the trip, he seemed almost despondent when Tim picked them up from the airport.  He called the reunion “one of the saddest experiences of my life”.  In 40 years, no one had changed.  Sure, they had gained weight, they were wearing different styles of clothes, they had different jobs, but where it really mattered, down inside, no one had changed.  No one had become a new creation.  No one knew Jesus as their Lord and personal Savior.

On the drive home, he turned to Tim and said, "I never, never want that to be said of me, Tim.  Life is too precious, too sacred, too important.  If you ever see me go stagnant like that, I hope you give me a quick, swift kick where I need it -- for Christ's sake.  I hope you'll love me enough to challenge me to keep growing."


Tim’s friend was a changed man, a new creation, because of his personal encounter with Jesus.  The Apostle Paul speaks of this in his 1st letter to the church in Corinth, which I’ll read a little later.  But the man was saddened, even despondent, to learn that none of his old friends had yet undergone that transforming experience.  He asked that Tim give him a swift kick if he ever grew complacent in his faith, in his walk through life.

I think we need to do the same, and ask someone to watch over us, ready to kick us back into action.  And maybe we need to apply a few kicks here and there ourselves, where needed, and with great love.  We’ve been changed.  Let’s not slide back to our old ways.


Homecoming…  That word stirs up warm, comforting memories for most of us, memories of those times when all the individual families within the church would come together as one, to sit down and eat together, to laugh together, to catch up on each other’s lives.

Sadly, we can’t do that today, not without risking spreading a horrible disease.  But the word “homecoming” should still elicit warm, comforting thoughts, because God has promised us a great and beautiful homecoming that will surpass any we’ve ever know.  Jesus gave us a very broad clue to this homecoming, as recorded by the Apostle John in his Gospel account, chapter 14 verses 1 through 3…
1 “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in Me. 2 There is more than enough room in My Father’s home. If this were not so, I would have told you.  I am going to prepare a place for you. 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with Me where I am."
--John 14:1-3 (NLT)

Did you catch that promise, that hint?  Jesus said, “When everything is ready, when it’s all set up and the timing is just right, I will come and get you so that you will always be with Me.”  He’s talking to the church, and He’s talking about returning to take the church home.  He’s talking about our homecoming.

And He reiterates this promise a little later on, with more detail and an overtone of warning.  The Apostle Matthew recorded this for us, in the 24th chapter of his Gospel account, verses 29 through 31…
29 “Immediately after the anguish of those days,

the sun will be darkened,
the moon will give no light,
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

30 And then at last, the sign that the Son of Man is coming will appear in the heavens, and there will be deep mourning among all the peoples of the earth. And they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. 31 And He will send out His angels with the mighty blast of a trumpet, and they will gather His chosen ones from all over the world — from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven."
--Matthew 24:29-31 (NLT)

Jesus will come on the clouds in all His might and glory.  He will send out His angels and they will gather His chosen ones – His church – from the farthest ends of the earth and of heaven.  And He will take us home.


In the little story at the start, I told of a man who had been profoundly changed by his encounter with Jesus.  The same could be said of the Apostle Paul, profoundly changed by his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus.  Through the special insight Jesus gave him, Paul knew that each person truly touched by Christ would be changed.  He spoke often in his letters of our becoming a new creation when we accept Jesus as Lord.  And in his 1st letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 50 through 54, he tells us why that change is necessary…
50 My friends, I want you to know that our bodies of flesh and blood will decay. This means that they cannot share in God’s kingdom, which lasts forever. 51 I will explain a mystery to you. Not every one of us will die, but we will all be changed. 52 It will happen suddenly, quicker than the blink of an eye. At the sound of the last trumpet the dead will be raised. We will all be changed, so that we will never die again. 53 Our dead and decaying bodies will be changed into bodies that won’t die or decay. 54 The bodies we now have are weak and can die. But they will be changed into bodies that are eternal. Then the Scriptures will come true,

“Death has lost the battle!"
--1 Corinthians 15:50-54 (CEV)

We who believe, we faithful followers of Christ Jesus, will be changed.  We will be magnificently clothed for our great homecoming.  These frail bodies, irreparably damaged by sin, will be replaced with bodies that sin cannot stain, bodies that will no longer break down, bodies that will not rot or decay.  We’ll be outfitted for everlasting life with Jesus.  And we’ll enjoy the very best homecoming ever.

Let’s keep our faith strong, and our service to our Lord.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Master, our Savior, the one true Son of God.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for our gift of faith.  Through this we may believe in Your Son Jesus and obey His voice, and be granted eternal life in heaven.  Help us, please Father, to exercise our faith and keep it strong.  Help us to trust in Your word and Your promises.  Help us to take courage in these troubling times, and not let them overwhelm us and fill us with doubts.  And Father, help us be more loving, more trusting, more merciful, and more kindhearted toward others in our daily walk.

Please hear us now, Father, as we pause for just a moment to speak to You straight from our hearts, promising to repent of our sinful ways, seeking Your forgiveness and Your help to do so…

Lord Jesus, so often during Your ministry on earth, You promised great rewards to those who will believe in You and serve You to the end.  On those promises we place all our hope and trust.  Forgive us, Jesus, for those times when our faith is weak.  We seem under constant assault these days from Satan and his forces.  Help us, please, to be remain strong in our faith.  Give us Your strength and help us through these times of uncertainty.  And Lord Jesus, please heal the divisions between us, that creep in and separate us, even within Your church family.  Give us Your heart for loving others.  Help us to love one another as You love us, to see one another as You see us.  Help us remain faithful and obedient through these troubling times, concerned more with the needs of others than with our own wants and desires.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.