Sunday, June 28, 2020

Justice and Mercy



[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 28th of June, 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.]


So often these days we see people crying out for justice, demanding justice for what they see as a wrongful act.  When we witness or experience a criminal act, we want to see justice done, we want lawfulness to prevail.  But what is justice?  Well, it’s root word is “just”, and one good definition for “just” is guided by truth, reason, and fairness.  So we can say that justice is the quality of being guided by truth, reason, and fairness.

Justice also refers to moral rightness and lawfulness.  Our legal justice system is charged with maintaining the law, administering punishment, or reward, as deserved and determined.  But we know there is a higher law than man’s law, one which we believers should strive mightily to obey.  In God’s view, justice is righteousness – being right with God.  When we seek justice, we should be asking for what is right in God’s eyes.  We should look to what God would want of us.

The prophet Micah addresses this very subject.  Please listen and follow along to the words of great wisdom Micah brings us in chapter 6, verses 6 through 8 of the book of prophecy bearing his name, and I’ll be reading this from the Contemporary English Version of our Holy Bible…
6 What offering should I bring
when I bow down to worship
the Lord God Most High?
Should I try to please Him
by sacrificing
calves a year old?
7 Will thousands of sheep
or rivers of olive oil
make God satisfied with me?
Should I sacrifice to the Lord
my first-born child
as payment
for my terrible sins?
8 The Lord God has told us
what is right
and what He demands:
“See that justice is done,
let mercy be your first concern,
and humbly obey your God.”
--Micah 6:6-8 (CEV)

Let us pray…  Father God, again we thank You for the instructions You give us in our Bible.  Through these words, You show us what matters most to You.  We can see that giving up things or offering sacrifices does not mean as much to You as how we live and how we treat others.  Please help us to be more worthy of the great love You show us.  Help us to be more merciful in our interactions.  Help us to seek after justice and righteousness.  And Father, please protect this family from all the effects of the coronavirus and what is going on in the world today.  Please keep us strong in our faith, unified in our love and worship, and healthy and safe through the days ahead.

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 and for every day.  Speak to us of what You want, what You demand of us.  Help us take guidance and strength from the words of those who spoke for You in our Bible and from Your Holy Spirit within us. This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Sometimes, justice just seems to happen, as if by divine intervention.  A burglar in Antwerp, Belgium, was surprised in the act by the homeowners' return.  The thief fled out the back door, clambered over a nine-foot wall, and dropped down to the other side ... only to find himself in the city prison.

Sometimes, human justice is avoided.  Horace Gray, before becoming a US Supreme Court Justice, once address a man in a lower court who had escaped conviction on a technicality.  Judge Gray told the man, "I know that you are guilty, and you know it.  But I wish you to remember that one day you will stand before a better and wiser Judge, and that there you will be dealt with according to justice and not according to law."


That first little incident would be my luck, to end up jumping right into the jail compound while trying to flee arrest.  And it is comforting those times when we can see God’s hand at work in justice being administered when man seemed incapable of doing so.

And that is evident in the second incident, with the man being let off on a technicality.  We see or hear about that quite often, with someone being pretty obviously guilty of a crime being set free because of some technical detail that was overlooked.

Well, when it comes time for God to administer the final justice, there will be no technicalities to consider.  In God’s courtroom, there is right and wrong; nothing more, nothing less.


Micah speaks of justice and mercy, and of humbly obeying God.  The prophet doesn’t offer these as suggestions for a long and good life.  No, these are what God demands, what God has told us is right and just.

Micah and Isaiah were contemporaries, with Isaiah speaking for God in the high courts of Jerusalem while Micah spent more time with the common people.  But they both shared this theme of doing what God says is good.  In the 1st chapter, verse 17 of his book of prophecy, Isaiah tells us…
17 Learn to do good;
Seek justice,
Rebuke the oppressor;
Defend the fatherless,
Plead for the widow.
--Isaiah 1:17 (NKJV)

Rebuking the oppressor, calling them out for their misdeeds, defending the fatherless rather than ignoring or belittling them, pleading for the widowed, the vulnerable…  These are all ways of seeking justice, of doing right, of striving for righteousness.


Now, we know something is important to God when He repeats Himself in our Bible.  Well, there was another prophet, another speaker for God, who addressed this subject of justice and mercy.  Zechariah began his ministry some 200 years after Isaiah and Micah, yet God spoke to him the same message He gave the others.  Listen to what Zechariah recorded for us in his book of prophecy, chapter 7, verses 8 through 10…
8 Then the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, 9 “Thus says the Lord of hosts:

‘Execute true justice,
Show mercy and compassion
Everyone to his brother.
10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless,
The alien or the poor.
Let none of you plan evil in his heart
Against his brother.’"
--Zechariah 7:8-10 (NKJV)

Execute true justice – not necessarily man’s justice but God’s justice, righteousness.  Execute righteousness and show compassion and mercy to everyone.  Don’t even think about being an oppressor of others, and don’t harbor any ill will in our hearts.  Like we said a few weeks back: do no harm to anyone.


Now there are words from one more prophet I’d like to share, one more who spoke for God.  Our Lord Jesus always spoke for God, and He also addresses the importance of justice and mercy.  We touched on this two weeks ago.  In the Apostle Matthew’s Gospel account, chapter 23 verse 23, Jesus says…
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone."
--Matthew 23:23 (NKJV)

Jesus said that we must be more righteous, more just, than the scribes and Pharisees or we will not be granted access to heaven.  Of course, if we believe in Jesus as Lord, as the Son of God, we are already more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees who refused Jesus.  But here Jesus tells us to be more righteous than them by doing what they neglected.  Sure, they went through all the rituals and made the correct sacrifices.  But as Micah tells us, that isn’t what matters most to God.  God wants us to focus more on justice and mercy and faith.  This is what God wants of us, demands of us, expects of us.


As I mentioned, more and more, people today are demanding justice.  Yet mercy and kindness seem to be in short supply.  Do you think God is happy about all this?  What sacrifice can we offer Him to atone for our sin of apathy, of uncaring, of hostility?  How do we please God?  How can we love others as Jesus tells us to?

Let’s remember the prayer St. Francis lifted to God so long ago, that is so needed today.  O Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.  Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  Father, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; not to be understood, but to understand; not to be loved, but to love.

Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Master, our Savior.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, again we thank You for Your word preserved for us in our Bible.  Through this book You tell us what is right, and what You expect of us.  Thank You, Father, for extending so much love and compassion and mercy on us so that we might be saved from eternal condemnation and given everlasting life with You in paradise.  Please help us as we strive to meet Your expectations, Your demands.  Help us to seek justice, to do right, to show compassion in all we do.  And help us be more faithful, more trusting, more loving, more merciful, and more kindhearted in our daily dealings with our brothers and sisters in Christ and with all those around us.

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 admonished the religious leaders of the Jewish people for their failure to do what is right in God’s eyes.  They didn’t listen to their own prophets, especially Micah who told them what God demands of us.  They neglected what truly matters: to seek justice, to show mercy, to have true faith.  Jesus, help us, please, to be more righteous than those men.  Help us to see others through Your eyes and to act out of love just as You would.  And please, Lord, stand by our side as we struggle through these very trying times.  Help us remain faithful, just, merciful, and humble through it all.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Our Father's Love



[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Father's Day, Sunday morning the 21st of June, 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 the day we celebrate fatherhood.  Now, granted, not everyone has warm, loving thoughts of their father.  Sadly, some do not even know who their father is.  And some men serve admirably as Dads to children they did not father.

But we who do love our Fathers and Dads celebrate them on this day and try to show them our love.  I would hope, though, that we recognize and celebrate our heavenly Father’s love every day, not just on Father’s Day.

Let’s look at what Jesus said about our Father’s love.  Please listen and follow along to our Lord’s words as recorded by the Apostle John in chapter 15, verses 9 through 17 of his Gospel account, and I’ll be reading this from the Modern English Version of our Holy Bible…
9 "As the Father loved Me, I also loved you. Remain in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will remain in My love, even as I have kept My Father’s commandments and remain in His love. 11 I have spoken these things to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 This is My commandment: that you love one another, as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no man than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. 15 I no longer call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I have heard from My Father have I made known to you. 16 You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that the Father may give you whatever you ask Him in My name. 17 This I command you: that you love one another."
--John 15:9-17 (MEV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for being such a good Father.  Thank You for adopting us into Your family and making us Your children.  Please help us always be good, obedient children.  Help us to stay clean and righteous in Your eyes.  Please keep this family healthy and safe from the coronavirus.  And please keep us strong in our faith and see us safely through the days that lie ahead.

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 and for every day.  Speak to us of Your love and assurances.  Help us take guidance and strength from the words of our Bible and from Your Holy Spirit within us. This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Columnist Erma Bombeck once wrote:

I received a letter from a single mother who had raised a son who was about to become a dad.  Since he had no recollection of his own father, her question to me was, "What do I tell him a father does?" 
When my dad died in my ninth year, I too, was raised by my mother, giving rise to the same question, "What do fathers do?"  As far as I could observe, they brought around the car when it rained so everyone else could stay dry. 
They always took the family pictures, which is why they were never in them.  They carved turkeys on Thanksgiving, kept the car gassed up, weren't afraid to go into the basement, mowed the lawn, and tightened the clothesline to keep it from sagging. 
It wasn't until my husband and I had children that I was able to observe firsthand what a father contributed to a child's life.  What did he do to deserve his children's respect?  He rarely fed them, did anything about their sagging diapers, wiped their noses or fannies, played ball, or bonded with them under the hoods of their cars. 
What did he do? 
He threw them higher than his head until they were weak from laughter.  He cast the deciding vote on the puppy debate.  He listened more than he talked.  He let them make mistakes. He allowed them to fall from their first two-wheeler without having a heart attack.  He read a newspaper while they were trying to parallel park a car for the first time in preparation for their driving test. 
If I had to tell someone's son what a father really does that is important, it would be that he shows up for the job in good times and bad times.  He's a man who is constantly being observed by his children.  They learn from him how to handle adversity, anger, disappointment and success. 
He won't laugh at their dreams no matter how impossible they might seem.  He will dig out at 1 a.m. when one of his children runs out of gas.  He will make unpopular decisions and stand by them.  When he is wrong and makes a mistake, he will admit it.  He sets the tone for how family members treat one another, members of the opposite sex and people who are different than they are.  By example, he can instill a desire to give something back to the community when its needs are greater than theirs. 
But mostly, a good father involves himself in his kids' lives.  The more responsibility he has for a child, the harder it is to walk out of his life. 
A father has the potential to be a powerful force in the life of a child.  Grab it!  Maybe you'll get a greeting card for your efforts.  Maybe not.  But it's steady work.

This is a powerful tribute to good fathers everywhere.  It speaks of their selflessness and their sacrifice.  It speaks of their love for their children, whether they actually fathered them or not.

Being a Dad is indeed steady work.  Not all fathers take the job.  Not all men are cut out to be fathers, and not all fathers are good.  Some fathers don't learn how to be good until much later on, sometimes too late.

Well, our Father in heaven is always good.  And I believe Ms. Bombeck well described the love He has for us, His adopted children.  When we accepted His Son Jesus as our Lord, God chose us to join His family, to be His children.

By His word in our Bible, He tells us how to treat other people.  He instills in us a desire to give something back to the community.  He teaches us how to handle adversity, anger, disappointment, and success.  And He doesn’t laugh at our dreams, rather He helps us attain them.  Our Father God loves us, and all He wants is for us to love Him back and to love others, too.


That is what our scripture this morning speaks of: our Father’s love.  More than that, though, it also paints a picture of what it means to love.  Jesus says that no one can have greater love than to be willing to lay down their life for someone else.  And that is just what He did, for all of us.  Jesus laid down His mortal life so that we could be freed from sin and saved from eternal damnation.  He tells us that anything we ask in His name, our Father, out of His love, will give.  And what does Jesus ask of us in return?  Only that we love one another.


Our heavenly Father will give us whatever we ask if we ask in the name of Jesus.  If a child has a need, what would any good father withhold from them?  A good Dad provides for the basic necessities, and usually much, much more than that.

And so it is with our heavenly Father.  Jesus tells us just how good our Father is, as recorded by the Apostle Luke in his Gospel account, in chapter 11, verses 9 through 13…
9 “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.

11 “If a son asks for bread from any of you who is a father, will you give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will you give him a serpent instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will you offer him a scorpion? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
--Luke 11:9-13 (MEV)

When we truly seek our Father God, we will find Him.  What we ask of Him, He will provide.  Now understand that He might not give us exactly what we are asking for, especially if doing so might harm someone else.  But He will give us what we need, what He knows is best for us.  And the very best thing for us, what He offers so freely, is everlasting life with Him and in paradise.


So on this Father’s Day, as we honor our fathers, even if only their memory, let us remember to include our heavenly Father.  Say a special thank you for His love and kindness and for all the mercy He extends to us.  And show Him how much you love Him in return, not with a necktie or a greeting card, but by loving others.

In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Master, our Savior.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, Happy Father’s Day!  Thank You for being such a good Father to us.  Sadly, some fathers aren’t so good.  Some children do not have a father in their lives.  Thank You, Father, for loving us and for giving us loving fathers and dads.  Please help us show our love to You in return by doing what Jesus commands and loving others.  Please help us show Your love to a world that so desperately needs it.  And please help us be more faithful, more trusting, more loving, and more kindhearted in our daily dealings with those around us.

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 so often how much God loves us.  And you were the first to tell us to call God our Father, when You taught us how to pray to Him.  Jesus, help us, please, to understand that God’s love for us knows no bounds and that He only wants what is best for us, for all of us.  Help us to not doubt or question His love, or put human limitations or conditions on it.  Help us show our love in return by loving all others, by showing them unconditional, unwarranted love just like Your love.  And please, Lord, stand at our side and strengthen us we walk through these very trying days.  Help us remain faithful through it all.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, June 14, 2020

The Law Fulfilled



[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 14th of June, 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.]


God inscribed His law onto two stone tablets, what we call the Ten Commandments, and handed them to Moses on Mount Sinai.  Moses can down from the mountainside to find the people engaged in idol worship.  In a fit of anger, he smashed the tablets into bits.

I think this symbolic of the fact that mankind is incapable of keeping God’s law intact.  We are always breaking it.

In what we call the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke to His disciples and to the people gathered there on the hillside, on a level place.  From this we received the wonderful message of hope and encouragement known as the Beatitudes.  Here we are told, “You are the salt of the earth”, and we’re compared to a shining city on a hill.  And we also get a little more information about God’s law, and the connection between it and Jesus.

Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle Matthew recorded in chapter 5, verses 17 through 20 of his Gospel account, and I’ll be reading this from the Modern English Version of our Holy Bible…
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill. 18 For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one dot or one mark will pass from the law until all be fulfilled. 19 Whoever, therefore, breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever does and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say to you that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will in no way enter the kingdom of heaven."
--Matthew 5:17-20 (MEV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for inspiring men and women to preserve for us the words that our Lord Jesus spoke.  Thank You for the reassurance they give.  And thank You for sending Your Son to fulfill Your law.  Please help us be more obedient.  Help us be more worthy of all Jesus did for us.  Help us be more righteous in Your eyes.  And please keep us strong in our faith and see us safely through these challenging days.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us, a message not only for this morning but to see us through the dark days ahead.  Speak to us of Your love and assurances.  Help us take guidance and strength from the words of Your Son and from Your Holy Spirit within us. This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


In his book, Who Will Deliver Us?, Reverend Doctor Paul Zahl tells of a duck hunter who was with a friend in the wide-open lands of southeastern Georgia.  Far away on the horizon he noticed a cloud of smoke.  Soon he could hear crackling as the wind shifted.  He realized the terrible truth: a brushfire was advancing, so fast they couldn't outrun it.  Rifling through his pockets, he soon found what he was looking for - a book of matches.  He lit a small fire around the two of them.  Soon they were standing in a circle of blackened earth, waiting for the fire to come.  They didn't have to wait long.  They covered their mouths with handkerchiefs and braced themselves.  The fire came near and then swept over them, but they were completely unhurt, untouched.  Fire would not pass where fire already had passed.

The law is like a brushfire.  I cannot escape it.  But if I stand in the burned-over place, not a hair on my head will be singed.  Christ's death has disarmed it.


Firefighters have long used the concept in that story when battling wildfires.  To stop the advance of an out-of-control forest fire or grasslands fire, they would actually start a fire on purpose ahead of the inferno rushing toward them.  This would be a very controlled burn, one that would only be allowed to cut a swath in the direct path of the wildfire.  When the blaze reaches that burned swath, the flames have nowhere to go, the fire has no more fuel, and it dies.

Jesus set a backfire in the wildfire of sin.  His death on the cross cleared a swath where sin can no longer burn, where it cannot flourish.  Like the duck hunters standing safely in the burned-over spot, if we stand in the path Jesus laid for us, we will be saved.


In our scripture reading, Jesus says he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  In other words, the law doesn’t change just because He came to us.  The Ten Commandments are still in force for us to obey and follow.  In fact, Jesus warns us not to break even the least of them, and especially not to teach others to break them, either by instruction or by example.  He cautions us to be more righteous than the Pharisees, the larger group of Jewish religious leaders, and their lawyers, the scribes.

So where did the scribes and Pharisees fall short in their obedience to the law, their righteousness?  They failed to love others.  They failed to love their neighbors.  And this is how Jesus fulfilled the law, by being love personified, love in the flesh.


The law…  A doctor by the name of Phil Williams once said that, “The law is the light that reveals how dirty the room is, not the broom that sweeps it clean.”  Without the law, we would have no way of knowing when we are being disobedient, when we are sinning.  We would not know when we are displeasing God.

The law is not a tool for cleaning, but a light that shines into the corners of our being to show us what we need to clean up.  And if we truly want to start cleaning the place where God’s Holy Spirit dwells, the easiest way to begin is to love God with all our heart, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Jesus fulfilled the law by loving us all.  In his letter to the Romans, chapter 13 verses 8 through 10, the Apostle Paul writes…
8 Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
--Romans 13:8-10 (NKJV)

He who loves one another has fulfilled the law.  That sounds almost too easy, doesn’t it.  Is that really all there is to it, to keeping the law, just loving others?  Well, yes, and no.  Yes, that’s all there is to it, but loving others isn’t always easy, not if we love as Jesus loves.

Love does no harm.  Is there any among us that at some time or another has not caused harm to someone else, whether unintentionally or on purpose?

No, loving others isn’t easy all the time.  So we need to be more aware of what we are doing, what we are saying.  We need to be more conscious of how our words and actions may affect others.


I wonder if sometimes we aren’t more worried about keeping man’s laws than God’s law.  Well, one benefit of keeping God’s law is that it helps us not break man’s laws.  How much trouble could we avoid if we simply strove to do no harm to others?

Of course, the punishment for breaking God’s law is much more severe than anything man can dole out.  Even we believers will have a price to pay for our disobedience.  But note that in our scripture reading Jesus didn’t say we would be condemned for our disobedience, just that our stature in heaven will be diminished.  We just need to make sure we don’t follow the path of the scribes and Pharisees, who refused to believe.

We won’t be condemned because Jesus washed us of our sin.  Having been cleaned, we need to stay clean.  Turning again to one of Paul’s letters, this one to the Galatians, in chapter 5 verses 13 and 14, where he writes…
13 For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
--Galatians 5:13-14 (NLT)

The whole law of God can be summed up in the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  We know that this is important for us to understand because we can read it multiple times.  Jesus fulfilled the law of God by love, and by love we too can fulfill the law.  We must use the freedom given to us by the sacrifice Jesus made out of His love to serve others in love.

What does love look like, how does it act, in the midst of a pandemic?  The same way it did when Mother Teresa tended to the sick and dying.  The same way it does with all the doctors and nurses and first responders taking a chance of being infected while they strive to help others.  The same way it looked and acted when it healed the afflicted, made the lame to walk and the blind to see.  The same way it did on the cross.

Love does no harm.  Love is selfless, unconditional, uncaring of background or nationality, blind to race or physical appearance.  Love is Jesus, and Jesus is love.  If we want to be more righteous, be more like Jesus, then we need to love more like Jesus.  And in that way, the law of God is fulfilled.

In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Master, our Savior.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, You gave us Your law so that we can know when we are displeasing You.  Sadly, we are not able to completely and fully keep Your law, so You made it simple for us.  You sent Your Son to fulfill the law for us.  Thank You, Father, for loving us this much.  Please help us show the same love to others.  Help us be more righteous in Your eyes.  And please help us be more faithful, more trusting, more loving, more kindhearted.

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 came to fulfill God’s law for us.  You came as God’s love in the flesh.  Jesus, help us, please, to do as You command and to love others as we love ourselves, to love others as You love us.  Help us to be more loving, more understanding, more merciful and kind to one another.  Help us to look past our differences and see through Your eyes the true heart of others.  Help us to offer them our full love, encouragement, and support.  Help us to show fulfillment of God’s law.  And please, Lord, be with us and see us through these difficult times.  Help us remain faithful through it all.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Punishment or Ploy?



[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 7th of June, 2020, and our return to in-house worship 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 Trinity Sunday, when we celebrate the entirely Christian doctrine of the Trinity, God in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  From a human standpoint, we can see certain aspects of each of these three Persons that kind of distinguishes them from each other.  God the Father is loving and protective.  God the Son offers us healing and salvation.  And God the Holy Spirit is the giver and sustainer of life itself.

But the Trinity as One points to the ultimate authority and sovereignty of God, the Almighty, the Creator.  And as Sovereign, God can dole out both punishments and rewards.  An earthly sovereign or king might do so on any whim, sometimes giving rewards to those who should be punished, if that proves politically expedient.  But God has specifically laid out when punishments and rewards will be given, for what reasons.  We have those in our Bible, and God has never lied to us about anything.  But just as earthly kings might hand out rewards and punishments in order to further their own goals, so too does Satan.

When we look at punishment, then, the problem arises in trying to figure out just who’s hand is dealing it out.  Are we being punished by God for some sin or disobedience, or is this a ploy of the devil, trying to inflict harm on Jesus and His followers?

Since our Bible is God’s inspired word saved for our benefit, let’s see what it says on this confusing subject.  Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle Paul wrote in his 2nd letter to the Thessalonians in chapter 2, verses 1 through 12, and I’ll be reading this from the Contemporary English Version of our Holy Bible…
1 When our Lord Jesus returns, we will be gathered up to meet him. So I ask you, my friends, 2 not to be easily upset or disturbed by people who claim that the day of the Lord has already come. They may say that they heard this directly from the Holy Spirit, or from someone else, or even that they read it in one of our letters. 3 But don’t be fooled! People will rebel against God. Then before the Lord returns, the wicked one who is doomed to be destroyed will appear. 4 He will brag and oppose everything that is holy or sacred. He will even sit in God’s temple and claim to be God. 5 Don’t you remember that I told you this while I was still with you?

6 You already know what is holding this wicked one back until it is time for him to come. 7 His mysterious power is already at work, but someone is holding him back. And the wicked one won’t appear until that someone is out of the way. 8 Then he will appear, but the Lord Jesus will kill him simply by breathing on him. He will be completely destroyed by the Lord’s glorious return.

9 When the wicked one appears, Satan will pretend to work all kinds of miracles, wonders, and signs. 10 Lost people will be fooled by his evil deeds. They could be saved, but they will refuse to love the truth and accept it. 11 So God will make sure that they are fooled into believing a lie. 12 All of them will be punished, because they would rather do evil than believe the truth.
--2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (CEV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for providing us with what we need to get through this life, saved for us in our Bible.  Your word inspires us, comforts us, gives us peace of mind as the storm rages around us.  Please give us clearer insight into the messages Your word contains.  Help us better understand how to apply our scripture to what is going on around us today.  And please keep us strong in our faith and see us safely through these challenging times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us not only this morning but throughout the dark days ahead.  Speak to us of Your love and assurances.  Help us take guidance and strength from Your Word and Your Holy Spirit so that we might better please You. This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Once there was a man who was such a golf addict that he was neglecting his job.  Frequently he would call in sick as an excuse to play.  One morning, after making such a call to his office, an angel spotted him on the way to the golf course and decided to teach him a lesson.  "If you play golf today, you will be punished," the angel whispered in his ear.

Thinking it was only his conscience, which he had successfully ignored in the past, the fellow just smiled.  "No," he said, "I've been doing this for years.  No one will ever know.  I won't be punished."

The angel said no more and the fellow stepped up to the first tee where he promptly whacked the ball 300 yards straight down the middle of the fairway.  Since he had never driven the ball more than 200 yards, he couldn't believe it.  Yet, there it was.  And his luck continued.  Long drives on every hole, perfect putting.  By the ninth hole he was six under par and was playing near-perfect golf.  The fellow was walking on air.  He wound up with an amazing 61, about 30 strokes under his usual game.  “Wait until I get back to the office”, he thought, “and tell everyone about this!”  But, suddenly, his face fell.  He couldn't tell them, not after calling in sick.  He could never tell anyone.  The angel smiled.


That’s a cute, fanciful little story that speaks of punishment for wrong-doing, but it’s also a lesson in morality.  One could say that this man’s “sin” was minor, ducking work to play golf.  Well, his punishment was minor, too – not being able to tell anyone about his fantastic game.  The punishment he received was meted out in this life.  Since we aren’t told about his belief system, we don’t know what he’ll receive when Jesus returns.


COVID-19, senseless abuses of authority, rioting, destruction, anger, fear, helplessness…  The world seems to be falling apart all around us.  And it’s all leaving us confused, lost, unclear, unsure, and perplexed.  Is what we’re seeing punishment from God for the sins of the world, like many people are saying?

Visualize the ark for a moment, being tossed about in the Great Flood.  God became fed up with man’s evil ways and destroyed the earth and all that lived on it, all but Noah and his family and a full sampling of animals.  Only Noah was found to be righteous in God’s eyes, so he and his family were spared while everyone else perished.  That was clearly punishment from God’s own hand.  But God spoke through Isaiah, in chapter 54, verse 9, of his prophecy and made this promise…
9 “For this is like the waters of Noah to Me;
For as I have sworn
That the waters of Noah would no longer cover the earth,
So have I sworn
That I would not be angry with you, nor rebuke you."
--Isaiah 54:9 (NKJV)

God sealed that promise to all mankind with the rainbow we see in the sky after a storm.


Now please consider the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by fire from heaven.  Again, God chose to destroy these cities because of the evilness of man.  And again, this is indeed God’s punishment, just handed out on a more localized level.  Only Lot and his daughters escaped the destruction.  His wife would also have made it out had she not disobeyed the Lord and looked back.

If you remember this story, recall that Abraham pleaded with the Angel of the Lord to not destroy everyone within the cities.  He asked that if any righteous people be found, that they be spared.  That would be Lot and his family – only they were righteous.  And just like Noah and his family, only they escaped the punishment.


I wanted to emphasize these two very well-known and very dramatic instances of God’s punishment of mankind because they also show that those who were righteous in God’s eyes were spared.  The righteous escaped God’s retribution reserved for the evil-doers.  And that pattern will continue.

Our scripture this morning clearly states that the evil ones will be punished when Jesus returns.  What happens to us, to those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God and who follow His commands?  Right in the very first verse Paul says, “When our Lord Jesus returns, we will be gathered up to meet him.”  We will be spared God’s punishment of the wicked.  Regarding the wicked, our scripture reading ends with Paul noting that, “All of them will be punished, because they would rather do evil than believe the truth.”

Now none of this is to say that even we believers will be spared the trials and tribulations of life.  Jesus even says that we will suffer in this life.  James, the brother of Jesus, tells us we just need to get through this life, get past the suffering.  In chapter 1 verses 12 through 18 of his letter to the early church, James writes…
12 Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. 15 Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 18 Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.
--James 1:12-18 (NKJV)

James says that those who endure trials are eventually rewarded.  An early Christian philosopher named Origen argued that through suffering we can better understand our own weaknesses and dependence on God.  Suffering is not punishment but something that can draw human beings closer to God and to one another, giving us cause to love one another.  And let’s not forget that Jesus also suffered, for us.  Was that punishment from God, or His love for us?

James makes a couple other interesting points there.  God cannot be tempted by evil, so therefore God Himself cannot do evil.  Instead, what comes from God is every good gift, every perfect gift.  And Paul tells us why.  Going just a few verses ahead of where our scripture reading stopped in chapter 2 of his 2nd letter to the Thessalonians, in the first part of verse 17 Paul writes…
16a God our Father loves us. He is kind and has given us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope.
--2 Thessalonians 2:16a (CEV)

Our Father God loves us.  He has given us eternal comfort and a wonderful hope.  Every good and perfect gift comes from His hand.

So where does all the not so good stuff come from?  What about all this suffering that Jesus promised?  Who’s to blame for all the madness in the world?  Who caused us to sin in the first place?  Satan.  Consider Job and everything that happened to him.  This was not caused by God, but by Satan, who wanted to make Job lose his faith in God.  Family, all this suffering we’re going through is not at the hands of God.  This is the work of Satan!

Ask yourself…  God created us to be social creatures, to draw strength and comfort and encouragement from one another.  Do you think He would want us to be forced apart, whether by disease or hatred or distrust?  Better yet, do you think God would want for those who follow His Son to be forced to stay away from His Son’s church?  Does God desire to drive a wedge between His Son’s believers because of the color of their skin or out of fear of illness?

No, no, and no!  What would God have to gain in this?  How would any of it benefit His kingdom?

Now granted, I cannot see into tomorrow, nor am I privy to all God’s great plan for our salvation.  But the one I see who benefits most from what is going on in the world is Satan!  He wants to drive a wedge between us!  He would like nothing better than to splinter the church of our Lord Christ so that we can no longer effectively carry out the assignment Jesus left us.


God has spared the righteous in the past and promises to do so again, so there’s no reason to think He’ll do otherwise in between.  Now understand that righteous doesn’t necessarily mean perfect.  The great church planter and evangelist Paul was far from perfect and admitted it.  But the One who was and is perfect died on that cross so that God could see us as righteous.  His blood washed us clean in God’s eyes.  This is the love of Jesus, the love of God.  He is not punishing the world.  This is Satan, trying to rip it apart.

Believe in Jesus and be spared the final punishment.  In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Master, our Savior.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, again, thank You for the wonderful gift that is our Bible.  It truly does contain all we need to get through each day.  Father, please help us make better use of it.  Help us read it and study it and draw instruction, comfort, and hope from it.  Help us survive all the tricks and ploys the devil uses in his attempts to destroy our Lord’s church.  Help us be more faithful, more trusting in You.

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, we know that suffering is a part of this life.  Not even You could escape suffering while You walked this earth.  But Lord, we also know that our suffering is not punishment from our Father God unless we are among the wicked and evildoers.  Right now, so many people are hurting.  We are hurting in body and mind and spirit.  We are even suffering at the hands of those in a position of authority over us, much as You suffered.  Jesus, help us, please, to do as You command.  Help us to be more loving, more understanding, more kind to one another.  Help us to endure and withstand all that Satan might throw against us and to be more righteous in God’s eyes.  And please, Lord, be with us and see us through these times of great trial and devastating illness.  Help us remain faithful through it all.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, May 31, 2020

Get Involved



[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 31st of May, 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 Pentecost Sunday, when we celebrate the first coming of God’s Holy Spirit to dwell within believers.  This occurred after Jesus had ascended back into heaven, and fulfilled the promise He made to provide us with a constant Companion, Counselor, and Guide.  In the Apostle Luke’s recordings of the Acts of the Apostles, the Jewish converts received the Spirit first, followed by the Samaritans and then the Gentiles.

But before that first time in Jerusalem, God only sent His Spirit to be with certain specific people, and usually just to help them through a given task.  Even while Jesus walked the earth, not everyone had the Spirit within them to guide them and strengthen them.  Not even those twelve who followed the Lord for three years and were closest to Him.

It is during this time that I would like to look at the actions of one man, one of the first chosen as a disciple, one who swore his love of Jesus.  Please listen and follow along to what the Apostle Mark recorded for us in his Gospel account, from chapter 14 verses 53 and 54 and verses 66 through 72, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible this morning…
53 And they led Jesus away to the high priest; and with him were assembled all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes. 54 But Peter followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. And he sat with the servants and warmed himself at the fire.

66 Now as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came. 67 And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus of Nazareth.”

68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you are saying.” And he went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed.

69 And the servant girl saw him again, and began to say to those who stood by, “This is one of them.” 70 But he denied it again.

And a little later those who stood by said to Peter again, “Surely you are one of them; for you are a Galilean, and your accent shows it.”

71 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know this Man of whom you speak!”

72 A second time the rooster crowed. Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And when he thought about it, he wept.
--Mark 14:53-54, 66-72 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for loving us enough to speak to us through Your word, saved in our Bible.  It provides us the information we need to get through each day, shows us how we can better serve You, and also gives us examples of what can happen when we fail to act on our faith.  Thank You, Father, for providing us with this guidance.  Please help us live by these examples.  Help us be more willing to stand up for Jesus and get involved in our community in His name.  And please keep us strong in our faith and help us through these difficult times.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us in these troubling and trying times.  Speak to us of putting our full trust in You.  Help us take guidance and strength from Your most Holy Spirit so that we might better serve You. This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


In his book, The Fall of Fortresses, Elmer Bendiner describes one particular bombing run his B-17 flight team made over the German city of Kassel:
Our B-17 (the TONDELAYO) was barraged by flak from Nazi antiaircraft guns.  That was not unusual, but on this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit.  Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a twenty-millimeter shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, our pilot, Bohn Fawkes, told me it was not quite that simple.
On the morning following the raid, Bohn had gone down to ask our crew chief for that shell as a souvenir of unbelievable luck.  The crew chief told Bohn that not just one shell but eleven had been found in the gas tanks - eleven unexploded shells where only one was sufficient to blast us out of the sky.  It was as if the sea had been parted for us.  Even after thirty-five years, so awesome an event leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the story from Bohn.
He was told that the shells had been sent to the armorers to be defused.  The armorers told him that Intelligence had picked them up.  They could not say why at the time, but Bohn eventually sought out the answer.
Apparently when the armorers opened each of those shells, they found no explosive charge.  They were clean as a whistle and just as harmless.  Empty?  Not all of them.
One contained a carefully rolled piece of paper.  On it was a scrawl in Czech.  The Intelligence people scoured our base for a man who could read Czech.  Eventually, they found one to decipher the note.  It set us marveling.  Translated, the note read:  "This is all we can do for you now."


You know, I believe the reason a lot of people don’t get involved in an important activity is because they think there isn’t much of anything they can do to help.  It isn’t that they don’t want to help, they just don’t see how they can make a difference.  After hearing Mr. Bendiner’s story, we should be able to see that even the smallest act can make a huge difference in someone’s life.  Those Czech munitions workers saved the flight crew of a B-17 Flying Fortress by simply, but purposely, not filling antiaircraft shells with explosives.  Had they been caught doing that, I’m sure they would have been severely punished by the Nazis, maybe even executed.

Sometimes our involvement can indeed carry certain risks.  But it didn’t stop the munitions workers even though they knew they thought they could only do so little to help.  And it shouldn’t stop us.  There’s no way of knowing how many lives they saved.  We need to get involved, even if we can only do a little, because there’s no way of knowing how many souls we might save.

One other thing…  it would have been easy for those workers to quit trying to help, to stop taking risks.  It’s easy to just quit, especially during trying times, during risky operations.  But they didn’t quit, nor should we.


Our scripture reading today addresses involvement.  In this particular case, it speaks volumes about the consequences of not getting involved.

Peter swore his love of Jesus.  He was ready to fight for Him, even die for Him if necessary.  Or so he said.  But when it came time to actually stand up for Jesus, at the very least to say, “Yes, I am with Him!”, Peter hid off to the side, trying to avoid being noticed.

Peter was afraid, afraid to get involved when it could have mattered the most.  Afraid to come forward and testify for the one he called Lord.  That fear, that failure to get involved, took its toll.  When Peter realized that he had done exactly as Jesus said he would do, what he had so vehemently denied he would ever do, he was filled with remorse and wept.


Get involved…

One thing’s for sure, Jesus certainly got involved!  He was not fearful or concerned about what any of the ruling class might think about Him and His actions.  God’s Holy Spirit was in Him, strengthening Him, guiding Him.  In chapter 10 verse 38 of the Apostle Luke’s Book of Acts, we read of…
38 "how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him."
--Acts 10:38 (NKJV)

Now that’s getting involved!  Jesus went all over the place, mostly on foot, doing good and healing anyone and everyone who suffered because of the works of Satan.  He didn’t care what their nationality was, or the color of their skin, or even what, if any, religion they held.  Jesus got involved and did good, because God was with Him.


So why should we get involved?  Well, if not suffering remorse for our inaction as did Peter isn’t enough to encourage our involvement, how about because Jesus tells us to?  While He doesn’t necessarily put it in those words, I think the message is quite clear.  Listen to what Jesus said as recorded in chapter 12 verse 30 of the Apostle Matthew’s Gospel account…
30 "He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad."
--Matthew 12:30 (NKJV)

If we’re not with Jesus, we’re against Him!  There’s no riding the fence here, no staying neutral and not picking sides.  There’s no grey area – it’s all black and white.  If we’re not working with Jesus, we’re working against Him!  If we’re not helping Him gather in the lost sheep, then we’re helping scatter them abroad, helping Satan in his work.  If we’re not involved in doing good and trying to counteract the work of the devil, even if what we can do seems small and insignificant to us, then we’re no better than Peter cowering in the shadows!


I mentioned that today is Pentecost Sunday and this talk of involvement may seem  a bit off topic, but because of Pentecost we have God’s Holy Spirit living within us, we who believe.  Just like Jesus, we have been anointed with the Holy Spirit and God is with us.   And just like Jesus, we need to be going all about doing good and helping folks who are suffering because of Satan.  We should not be afraid to act, not fearful of what others may think or what they might do to us.

The Apostle Paul, in chapter 10 verses 6 and 7 of his 2nd letter to his young protégé Timothy, wrote…
6 Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.
--2 Timothy 1:6-7 (NKJV)

At Pentecost, God sent His Spirit to us.  He did not give us a spirit of fear, but His own Spirit of great power and strength!  We have that power within us.  Why should we fear anything of this world?

God has given us His Spirit of love.  The same love that drove Jesus to help and heal all those afflicted by the devil, whether in mind or body or spirit.  Let’s stir up the Holy Spirit within us.  Let’s not quit, because that’s the easy thing to do.  Let’s get involved and show the love of Jesus to the world.

In the blessed name of Christ Jesus our Lord, our Master, our Savior.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to dwell within us to guide us and make sure we are never alone.  You have given us Your Spirit of power and love, not of fear.  Father, please help us take strength and courage from Your Spirit.  Help us step out of our comfort zone and serve You in ways that show others Your love.  Help us become more involved in expanding Your kingdom across the face of the earth, beginning right here in our community.

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, Peter failed to stand up for You even after swearing that would never happen.  Lord, it just seems to be human nature that many times we fail to act out of fear.  Like Peter, we may fear for our very lives.  Or we may simply be afraid of what other people may think of us if we do something they see as foolish.  Jesus, help us, please, to be more faithful and assured in working for You.  Help us to put aside any fears and doubts when faced with possible public ridicule for serving You.  Help us take courage from our Father’s Holy Spirit within us, to face each day and to show Your love to the world.  And please, Lord, be with us during this time of great trial and devastating illness.  Help us remain faithful through it all.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Jesus Calms the Storm



[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 24th of May, 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.]


In our scripture last week, we read of a man possessed by a legion of unclean spirits, demons that drove the man mad.  Jesus rid the man of the demons and then left him there in that region to tell everyone of the good thing the Lord did for him.  I mentioned that this incident came when Jesus and His disciples reached the far shore of the Sea of Galilee, after a great windstorm had arisen during the night while they crossed the sea.

Well, family, today we are being tossed about by a great storm.  So I’d like to take a closer look at the events of that night, what Jesus did and how His disciples reacted to it all.  And I’d like to turn to the Apostle Matthew for his account of that tempestuous sea passage.

Please listen and follow along to what Matthew recorded for us in his Gospel account, from chapter 8 verses 23 through 27, and I’ll be reading from the New King James Version of our Holy Bible…
23 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. 25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

26 But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”
--Matthew 8:23-27 (NKJV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for the four men who faithfully recorded the things Your Son said and did during His ministry on earth.  Through their eyes, we can see our Lord work His great signs.  Through their words, we can come to know Him even more.  Thank You, Father, for giving us the wonderful gift of our Bible.  Please help us make better use of what it tells us in our daily lives.  Remind us of our need to pray before making any decision.  And please help us to completely trust in You and not be fearful.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us in these trying times.  Speak to us of fully trusting in You and Your Son Jesus.  Help us be more obedient to His voice. This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


Dr. Eli Stanley Jones, American missionary and theologian, once wrote:
"I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear.  Fear is not my native land; faith is.  I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is the oil.  I live better by faith and confidence than by fear, doubt and anxiety.  In anxiety and worry, my being is gasping for breath - these are not my native air.  But in faith and confidence, I breathe freely - these are my native air.  A John Hopkins University doctor says, 'We do not know why it is that worriers die sooner than the non-worriers, but that is a fact.'  But I, who am simple of mind, think I know;  We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear.  God made us that way.  To live by worry is to live against reality."


Worry and anxiety are the results of fear.  I guess you could call them by-products.  No matter what we call them, they shorten our lives and make us more miserable.  According to Dr. Jones, this is not how we were made, not how we were intended to go through life.  We were created for faith, and then given faith as a gift, to help us through this tumultuous life.

But sometimes our faith falters, and we give in to fear.  That’s when we should run to our Lord and cry out, “Save us!”.  That’s when faith is most important, most needed - when our fears begin to take hold.


Like I mentioned last week, Jesus had been teaching along the Sea of Galilee when evening came and He decided to head to the other side of the lake.  And as they sailed, a great windstorm arose and blew across the waters, threatening to fill and sink their boat.  Jesus slept – Mark tells us in the stern of the boat - as the waves washed over the deck.  His disciples awoke Him, fearing for their lives.  He stood and told the wind to be still, and the storm died down and the waves calmed.

His followers were stunned, left wondering just who this might be, that even the wind and sea obeyed Him.  A literal translation of verse 27 is “What sort of man is this that even the winds and sea obey Him?”.  What sort of man is this…  It took them a while to finally understand the truth.


Today’s scripture reading is actually in two parts.  Let me read the second part now.  It comes a little later on in Matthew’s Gospel account, in chapter 14, verses 22 through 33, after the feeding of the five thousand…
22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea, tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.

25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.

27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

33 Then those who were in the boat came and worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”
--Matthew 14:22-33 (NKJV)

Here, during the height of the storm, Jesus walked across the raging sea to come to His disciples.  Amazed, Peter wanted to join Him on the water.  And He was doing OK, until he took his eyes off Jesus and began worrying about the stormy sea.  He lost his focus on Jesus, and began to sink.


I’m sure you noticed the commonality in these two events.  Both took place on the Sea of Galilee.  And in both, Jesus rebukes His followers for having so little faith, for being fearful, for not fully trusting Him.  And once again, His very presence calmed the wind and the seas.  But at least by now the disciples were beginning to understand.  They worshiped Him, saying, “Truly You are the Son of God.”

Do we understand that?  Do we fully understand that as the Son of God, Jesus can do anything?  Can He calm the storm?  Sure!  As the Creator of everything there is, He can control everything there is.  We can see all the signs of what He did, as recorded in our Bible, to show that Jesus is the Son of God, is indeed God.

So what it comes down to is do we believe Him when He says He will do what we ask when we ask in His name?  Do we believe that God is working all things to the good for those who love Him and are called to His purpose?  Do we believe Jesus will reach out and pull us from the water, save us from drowning in the stormy seas of life if we only cry out to Him for help?

If so, then why are we fearful?  Why do we sometimes have so little faith?


I guess one reason is that we don’t have to look very far or hard to see a good, God-fearing Christian suffering through some trial, some illness, some struggle.  The storm is raging all around us, threatening to sweep us overboard and into the sea.  And storms are fearful things.

Right now the waves of COVID-19 are washing over our deck and the winds of death blow hard against the hull.  And we worry and wonder, in our hearts or even out loud, “Where is Jesus now?“  “Why doesn’t He calm this storm?”

Well, family, sometimes our Lord calms the storm.  And sometimes He lets the storm rage and calms us, His believers, God’s children.  For the greatest storms are the ones that rage within us, the storms of worry and fear.  They may be caused by the tempests swirling in the world around us, but the ones that really cause us the most harm, the most damage, are those churning within.

Let’s keep our faith, trust in the Lord, keep our eyes on Him, and let Him calm the storm within us.  Blessed be Jesus our Christ, our Savior.  In the glorious name of Christ Jesus our Lord and Master.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for the great love You have for Your children and Your creation.  You love us so much that You sent Your own Son to save us from ourselves and to show us how to live.  You offer us salvation, not only in the next life but this one as well, if we would just remain faithful.  Father, please help us understand that You will always be with us, seeing us through this life.  Help us to put all our trust in You and in Jesus.  And help us follow Him always, even when we may be fearful of the path we 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, by the many signs and indications You gave, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that You are indeed the Son of God, and capable of anything, including calming any storm.  We accept You as Lord, and we truly believe You can do anything, but where our doubt comes in is whether You will do anything for us, whether we are worthy enough to deserve Your help.  Jesus, help us, please, to be less fearful in this world, of this world.  Help us to place all our trust in You.  Lord, if it is not in Your will to calm the storm that is raging all around us, then please calm the one raging within.  Help us keep all our focus on You, and not on the storm.  And please, Lord, see us safely through these times of great trial and tribulation.  Help us remain faithful through it all.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.


Sunday, May 17, 2020

Left Here to Witness



[The following is a manuscript of my message delivered on Sunday morning the 17th of May, 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.]


Have you ever heard someone ask, “Why am I here?  What’s the point in all this?”  Maybe you’ve wondered that yourself.  I think we all probably have doubts and questions like these at some point in our life.  I know I sure have.  It is a question asked so often that Pastor Rick Warren wrote a book trying to answer it.  It is a tough question, but one I think we can find an answer to in our Bible, by looking at and studying our scripture.  So let’s look at one example that I think can help.

Please listen and follow along to an incident recorded for us by the Apostle Mark in his Gospel account, from chapter 5 verses 1 through 20, and I’ll be reading from the Modern English Version of our Holy Bible…
1 They went to the other side of the sea to the region of the Gadarenes. 2 When He had come out of the boat, immediately a man with an unclean spirit came out of the tombs and met Him. 3 He lived among the tombs. And no one could constrain him, not even with chains, 4 because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. But he had pulled the chains apart and broken the shackles to pieces. And no one could subdue him. 5 Always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.

6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran up and kneeled before Him, 7 and cried out with a loud voice, “What have You to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure You by God, do not torment me.” 8 For Jesus said to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!”

9 Then He asked him, “What is your name?”

He answered, “My name is Legion. For we are many.” 10 And he begged Him repeatedly not to send them away out of the country.

11 Now there was a great herd of swine feeding near the mountains. 12 All the demons pleaded with Him, asking, “Send us to the swine, so that we may enter them.” 13 At once, Jesus gave them leave. Then the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine. And the herd, numbering about two thousand, ran wildly down a steep hill into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

14 Those who fed the swine fled and reported it in the city and in the country. And people went out to see what it was that had happened. 15 They came to Jesus and saw him who had been possessed with the legion of demons sitting and clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid. 16 Those who saw it told them how it befell him who had been possessed with the demons and also concerning the swine. 17 Then they began to plead with Him to depart out of their region.

18 When He entered the boat, he who had been possessed with the demons prayed Him that he might be with Him. 19 Jesus did not let him, but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you and how He has had compassion on you.” 20 So he departed and began to proclaim in the Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him. And everyone was amazed.
--Mark 5:1-20 (MEV)

Let us pray…  Father God, thank You so very much for our Bible.  It is Your word, brought to us by the hands of men and women who You inspired, who You spoke to and through.  If we read and study it, using references and resources from others who have studied it at length and have received insight and inspiration from You, we can find answers to anything we may encounter, to any question we may ask.  Thank You, Father, for such a great guide.  Please help us make better use of our Bible.  Remind us to refer to it, and to come to You in prayer, before we make any decision.  And please help us remember that You love us and that You put us here for a reason: to serve You.

Speak to us now, Father, that we might hear Your voice through Your Spirit and better understand the message You have for us in these trying times.  Speak to us of how important it is that we listen to Jesus and obey His voice.  Speak to us of how we can best serve You and Your Son.  This we pray under the blood and in the name of Your Son, Christ Jesus our Lord.   Amen.


George Sweeting, in his book The No-Guilt Guide for Witnessing, tells of a man by the name of John Currier who, in 1949, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in prison.  Later he was transferred and paroled to work on a farm near Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1968, 19 years after being found guilty, John's sentence was terminated and a letter bearing the good news was sent to him.  But John never saw the letter, nor was he told anything about it.  Life on that farm was hard and with no promise for the future.  Yet John kept doing what he was told, even after the farmer for whom he worked had died.

Ten more years passed by.  Then a state parole officer learned about John's plight, found him, and told him that his sentence had been terminated.  He was a free man.

Sweeting concluded that story by asking, "Would it matter to you if someone sent you an important message - the most important in your life - and year after year the urgent message was never delivered?"

We who have heard the good news and experienced freedom through Christ are responsible to proclaim it to others still enslaved by sin.  Are we doing all we can to make sure that people get the message?


When Jesus walked this earth, people would throng to Him, coming from miles around, from distant villages.  They would come to Him no matter where He was.  In an age with no internet or radio or TV, no instant communications, how did people get word of Jesus, or where He might be?  How did His message get out, how was it received, how did the people get it?  Simply by word of mouth, by people sharing the information and news with each other.  Jesus was a healer, and people would tell each other of how He healed them.  Just like the man in our scripture was healed of being possessed by Satan’s minions.

Well, Jesus is still a healer.  He heals us of our sins.  He heals our broken hearts and spirits.  He makes things right again.  Are we telling others how He has healed us?  Are we spreading the word?


Jesus had been teaching along the Sea of Galilee when evening came and He decided to head to the other side of the lake.  This was the same night when a great windstorm arose and blew across the waters, threatening to fill and sink their boat.  Yet all the while, Jesus slept in the stern.  His disciples awoke Him, fearing for their lives.  He stood and told the wind to be still, and the wind died down and the waves calmed.

Mark, in his usual brevity, doesn’t tell us whether it was morning yet or still dark, but when they reached the far shore, a madman came rushing out of the tombs toward Jesus and His followers.  Jesus recognized what was going on and ordered the demons to leave the man.  The demons, named Legion because they were many, asked to be allowed to enter some nearby swine.  Jesus granted the request, whereupon the swine promptly ran down a hill into the sea and drowned.  I think this a fitting fate for the demons, one which should serve as a stark warning to all those who would serve Satan.

The man, now freed of his demons, asked if he could stay with Jesus and follow Him, to always be with Him.  But Jesus had another purpose for this man, a different job for him to do.  He was to stay behind and bear witness of what Jesus had done for him.  He was to remain there in his home region of the ten cities – that’s what Decapolis literally means.  He was left there to give testimony of the mighty works of Jesus to all his friends and family.

This is how he was to serve our Lord.  This is why he was here.


Giving testimony and witnessing for Jesus can be seen even while Jesus performed His mighty acts.  There are a number of incidents in our New Testament where we can read of the witness of certain people while Jesus was still a youth.

One testimony I would like to share with you comes from just before Jesus began His ministry.  John, a kinsman of Jesus, was called by God into the wilderness to witness to Jesus and His works to come.  Hear what the Apostle John tells us in the 1st chapter of his Gospel account, verses 6 through 8, about a man called by God to witness to Jesus…
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.
--John 1:6-8 (NKJV)

John, whom we call the Baptist, was sent from God to bear witness to the Light that is Jesus.  John himself was not the Light, but was sent for the sole purpose of bearing witness to the Light, of preparing the way for our Lord to begin His ministry.  That is why he was here.  John was left there, out in the middle of nowhere, to witness to Jesus.


When Jesus returned to heaven, He left us here, His church, His followers.  He left us here on earth to continue His work.  He left us here with orders to witness of Him.  We call those orders the Great Commission, and the Apostle Matthew recorded it for us in chapter 28 verses 18 through 20 of his Gospel account.  You’ve heard me read this before, and you’ll hear it many times again…
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
--Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)

Jesus was given all authority in heaven and on earth by the One who created heaven and earth – God Almighty!  What should we do as regards those in positions of authority over us?  We should obey them, right?  We should obey them so as to avoid possible retribution or punishment.

Well, Jesus is the ultimate authority.  We can’t hide from Him, we can’t fool Him, we can’t do something and hope He doesn’t find out about it because He already knows what we are about to do!  When He commands us to go out and make disciples of all people, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe and follow all that He has commanded, then family we should do just that!

This is why He left us here.  Just as the healed man was left there in his home land to witness to Jesus and what He had done, we have been left here in our land - on this earth - to witness to Jesus and all the great things He has done for us.  We have been left here to witness.  Let’s do the very best job of it we can.

Blessed be Jesus our Christ, the One we proclaim as our Master!  In the glorious name of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.  Amen.


Let us pray…  Father God, thank You for all the love and mercy You show us, lowly sinners that we are.  You sent Your own Son to save us from ourselves, to wash us clean with His own precious blood.  Thank You, Father, for such love.  Please help us grasp the full impact of what Jesus did for us.  Help us understand that to truly believe in Him as Lord is to obey His every command.  And help us follow Him always, even when we are unsure of where His path might lead us in this life on earth.

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 rid a man of the many demons that possessed him, then left him there in his homeland to witness to You, to tell everyone what You had done for him.  God put John the Baptist in the wilderness alongside the Jordan River, there to witness to You and to call others to repentance.  And Lord, You command us, who You left behind here on earth when You returned to Your Father, to also bear witness to You and to tell others of all You’ve done for us.  Thank You, Jesus, for the sacrifice You made on our behalf, for offering us redemption of our sin.  Please help us obey Your voice, Your command.  Help us teach others what You have taught us.  Help us love them as You love us.  Help us lead them to You so that they too might gain eternal life in heaven.  And please, Lord, see us through these times of trial and tribulation, that we may grow ever stronger in our faith and love.  This we pray in Your blessed name, Christ Jesus our Lord and our Savior.  Amen.