Faith & Hope For A New Year

FaithHopeDear Zion,

The month of January is named for the ancient mythical character named Janus, a figure drawn with two faces – one face looking back into the past, and the other looking forward into the future. I don’t know about you, but that is often how I feel during January: one eye looking backwards at the year of 2015 as it has come to an end, and one eye looking ahead, wondering and praying about what 2016 will bring. As you ponder and pray about God’s work in your life in the year ahead, and evidences of His grace from the close of 2015, do you tremble?

Zion_Arch_CircleI know I do. The close of a year brings with it memories that leave me nearly speechless. There were uncounted blessings in 2015, each of which were undeserved gifts of grace. “Every good and perfect gift comes from above from the Father of Lights, in Whom there is no shadow of change or turning” (James 1:17). Have you awakened to the sheer number of blessings of 2015? But I also tremble at the undeserved mercies that built up over a year of needing His forgiving love. Each year that passes marks 365 days of falling deeper into the debt of grace, having been desperate for the cleansing blood of Jesus. Without His majestic mercy, none of us could get through one day, let alone an entire year! “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3).

It helps us to look backwards into a year spent and look forward into the year ahead if we think about the Christian blessings of faith and hope. These twin virtues from God help us deal with the past (faith) as well as the future (hope). And God’s Word often puts them together, like in I Thessalonians 1:3, “your work of faith… and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ,” or even closer in I Peter 1:21, “your faith and hope are in God.”

We talk a lot about biblical faith, but what is the difference between faith and hope? And how does faith inform our past, and hope inform our future? Continue reading

6 Truths to Stand On When Voting

Dear Zion,
With the campaign advertisements, donor & polling phone calls, it is clear that election season is upon us! Christians are, often rightly, concerned over where the country is going, what candidates do and say, and the pressure cooker of the election season only adds to that. But what truths from the Bible can we stand on, even leading up to the election? Here are six:

  1. God is sovereign over whoever is elected in November. It is clear from Scripture that ultimately the White House, as well as every position of power, comes from God’s power and authority. He “brings kings down and He sets kings up” (Daniel 2:21). The rise and fall of nations is in His control (Daniel 4:30 – 37). If even such little things as the life of sparrows (Matthew 10:29) and the rolling of dice (Proverbs 16:33) and under God’s control, will God not also oversee the heart and decisions of rulers (Proverbs 21:1)? The citizens of America will elect their leader on Nov. 6 by voting, but this is simply the means that God uses to install the leader He has chosen.
  2. God can use bad leaders to accomplish good things. Even if the person who gets elected is not the person we wanted, God is still able to accomplish His purposes! In fact, God always accomplishes what He wants, and no force in heaven or earth can thwart Him (Ephesians 1:11)! God called the pagan king Cyrus to be His “messiah” in setting His people free from exile (Isaiah 45:1 – 4). The apostle Paul reminds us that even an emperor as wicked and notorious as Nero was still the Lord’s civil minister keeping peace, rewarding righteousness and punishing evil (Romans 13:1 – 7). Ultimately, all rulers, kings and presidents will be subdued before the King of Kings and President of Presidents, Jesus Christ (Psalm 2)!
  3. Therefore, our ultimate hope is in God, not politics. Continue reading

Jesus Is – And Calls Us to Be – Light

Dear Zion,

Sometimes we look at all of the problems in the world, and it can become overwhelming. We see the darkness even in our own lives: broken & fractured relationships between husband & wife, parent & child, and family members; untrusting communities; dishonesty, greed and pride. So what is God doing about it now, and what are we to do?

The Gospel of John tells us that Jesus came as the “true light of the world” (1:9). The only way to combat the darkness of sin, injustice, violence, oppression and pride of this world was if God’s Light came fully human into our lives to chase away the shadows. And in Jesus, the Light of the World, we see the glory of God (John 1:14; II Corinthians 4:4 – 6).

By coming as the Light, Jesus went to war against darkness. Darkness is the absence of light, and darkness cannot remain where the true Light shines. Even in the Old Testament, God had promised He would send “a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6; cf. 42:6). So God began the Light when He spoke it into existence in Genesis 1. And in our rebellion; our divine treason; our sin against God – humanity had rejected the Light and lived in darkness. But God promised to send His light again, and Jesus is our “bright Morning star” (II Peter 1:19) and the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2). Continue reading

Gospel Amnesia

Dear Zion,

Quick – pop quiz: what is the Gospel? It seems a simple enough question, right? We hear about the Gospel in every Sunday sermon. We learned about Jesus’ virgin birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection to save us through faith and repentance since we were little. Ok then, next question: do you know how the Gospel relates to whatever you’re going through right now? Or, have we become like many people today who are suffering from “gospel amnesia” – we’ve got the facts, but we’ve forgotten its immediate relevancy?

One of my former professors, Dr. David Powlison (CCEF), is a licensed and practicing counselor. He had undergone heart surgery in his fifties, and though the surgery was successful, it took over five years for him to return to full strength. There were numerous losses to his personal, social and professional life due to his recovery. He found that he would go to important counseling meetings and mediation sessions, and was horrified to find that there would be times when he could not complete his thoughts. He was paralyzed by the thought that his life as professor and counselor might be at an end – who would ever go to a counselor that couldn’t complete his own thoughts, much less help the patient? Who would hire him as a professor to teach young minds, when his own mind was clouded? Continue reading

Sovereignty, Providence, and Good Works in 2012

Dear Zion,

There’s no use denying it any longer: 2012 is here! As we enter into this “New Year,” all sorts of new experiences come with it: new hopes and new fears for what the new year may bring; new possibilities – as well as the feelings of regret and loss that can come as time marches on. With all of the unknowns in the future, feelings of anxiety, fear, curiosity, or hope can settle into all of our hearts. But no matter what 2012 brings with it for good or for bad, Christians have a rock-solid confidence in two important doctrines: God’s sovereignty over 2012, and God’s providence for 2012.

The Sovereignty of God over 2012
No matter what the new year brings, we can be sure of this: God is in control of 2012. All times are in His hand, and since He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last (Revelation 1:8), we know that He makes the ends known from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). Every day that we live in 2012 has already been written in His book (Psalm 139:16), and nothing that happens to us can happen apart from His will. Life and death, health and sickness are in His hands (Deuteronomy 32:39). Neither a sparrow (Matthew 10:29 – 31) nor a hair from your head (Luke 21:16 – 18) can fall apart from God’s will. So for those who love God and are called according to His purpose, the future of the new year doesn’t need to be a scary thing, because He has promised that all things will work together for our good (Romans 8:28). As we make our plans for 2012, we should recognize God’s absolute power and control over all the decisions we make, and ultimately entrust ourselves and our plans to Him (James 4:13 – 17).

The Providence of God for 2012 Continue reading

Zion Christmas Cantata & Narration

ZION CANTATA
December 18, 2011
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Prelude

Narrator
Have you noticed how fast the days are going? When the holidays approach, the days fly by. More presents to buy, cookies to bake, decorations to be hung… in all the hustle and bustle, there is not enough time in the day – the day of Christmas is coming!

All this work for one day. The ancient prophets spoke of a Day, a Day that would bring rest instead of weariness, a Day of peace amidst war and strife, and a Day of beauty and glory far away from our gray and dreary days on earth. But when will this day come? And what does Christmas have to do with this Day?

On This Day, Earth Shall Ring

Narrator
What wonderful sounds: “gloria in excelsis Deo!” Glory to God in the highest! Surely there are few things sweeter to hear.

Can you imagine keeping watch with the shepherds as they watched their flocks by night? Can you contain your awe and excitement, as the air around them begins to tremble with a heavenly power. But wait a minute! Do you hear that? What is that sound? It sounds like the most beautiful voices ever assembled, a swirling of the melodies and harmonies of glory. Behold! A light in darkened night sky!  Let joy fill our hearts!

All My Heart This Night Rejoices Continue reading

How to Listen to Bad Sermons

Dear Zion,
We have spent some time thinking about the importance of sermons in the regular, spiritual diet of God’s people, including how to hear a sermon, and also how to live from a sermon. But this all assumes that we are hearing good sermons to begin with. What should we do when we listen to a bad sermon?

Scripture tells us that there are some sermons so bad, we should not listen to them. When Paul soberly warned and admonished Timothy “to preach the Word” (II Timothy 4:2), the emphasis must be retained: a sermon is only a useful sermon if the content is the Word of God. Paul himself resolved to “know nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2). Unfortunately, we live in a day and age where the content of many (most?) sermons do not rely on God’s Word and His power, but instead rely on the preacher’s experiences, storytelling, practical suggestions, and eloquence. The preacher may even begin with a Bible passage, but the content of the sermon that follows is not coming from sacred Scripture. If sermons today were edited down to only “Christ and Him crucified,” how much would be left?

Similarly, Paul warned Timothy that there would be a time when “people will not endure sound teaching, but they will gather around them a great number of [preachers] to say what their itching ears want to hear, to suit their own desires” (II Timothy 4:3). Continue reading

Reformation Day Lesson 2011: Standing Firm in the Faith to the End

Things have been pretty busy for myself, my church, and my family lately, so I doubt I’ll put up the whole text from our Reformation Day festivities at church, but what follows is the outline for Reformation Day conference that encouraged us to stand firm in the faith. May we all stand firm in the power He provides. “Our hope is in no other save in Thee / Our faith is built upon Thy promise free / Oh grant to us such stronger help and sure / That we can boldly conquer and endure.”

Standing Firm in the Faith
I. Introduction
A. How Scripture Exhorts Us to Stand Firm
1. And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. (Exodus 14:13)
2. For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
3. Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved. (Philippians 4:1)
4. But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits1 to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter. Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word. (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17)
5. I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. (1 Peter 5:12)

B. How the Reformation Exhorts Us to Stand Firm

II. The Uniqueness of the Protestant Reformation
A. The General Consensus on the Need for Reforming the Church
B. Previous Reformation Attempts
C. What Was Unique About the Protestant Reformation

  1. Creeds vs Deeds
  2. Reformation vs Revolution
  3. New Technology – the Gutenberg Press
  4. Continue reading

Headline: Reformation Day 2011

Featured

Reformation Day Worship Service

As a congregation that stands proudly in the tradition of the Protestant Reformation, we are grateful for an opportunity to remember God’s gracious kindness to His Church around the anniversary of the Reformation. On the Sunday closest to October 31, the day history tells us Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 Theses to a church door in Wittenburg, Germany, we pay special attention the details of the Reformation.

Our worship service will take special care to reflect the liturgies of the Reformed tradition of Christianity, especially in the songs and arrangement of psalms that came out of this historical era. Then, be sure to join us later… Continue reading at Zion Ev & Reformed Church…

Reformation Day Liturgy

Order for the Divine Service on Reformation Sunday While the entire liturgy is largely based off of Calvin’s post-Strasbourg order, especially the Call to Worship from Psalm 121 reflects this influence. For more on how Calvin was affected by Bucer and Strasbourg, see Charles Baird The Presbyterian Liturgies. Continue reading Reformation Day Liturgy…

Reformation Day Sermon

I John 4:7 – 21 “The Effects of God’s Love”

Reformation Day Lesson: Standing Firm with Luther, Zwingli and Calvin

Things have been pretty busy for myself, my church, and my family lately, so I doubt I’ll put up the whole text from our Reformation Day festivities at church, but what follows is the outline for Reformation Day conference that encouraged us to stand firm in the faith. May we all stand firm in the power He provides. “Our hope is in no other save in Thee / Our faith is built upon Thy promise free / Oh grant to us such stronger help and sure / That we can boldly conquer and endure.”

Standing Firm in the Faith
I. Introduction
A. How Scripture Exhorts Us to Stand Firm Continue Reading “Standing Firm in the Faith to the End…”

 

Robert Farrar Capon:

“The Reformation was a time when men went blind, staggering drunk because they had discovered, in the dusty basement of late medievalism, a whole cellar of 1500-year-old, 200 proof grace—a bottle after bottle of pure distillate of Scripture, one sip of which would convince anyone that God saves us single-handedly. The word of the gospel—after all these centuries of trying to lift yourself into heaven by worrying about the perfection of your own bootstraps—suddenly turned out to be a flat announcement that the saved were home-free before they started. Grace was to be drunk neat: no water, no ice, and certainly no ginger ale.”

Be Careful How You Hear

Dear Zion,

One of the things a pastor and a congregation spend a lot of time on together is the sermon that is preached every Lord’s Day in the worship service. The minister spends time preparing and delivering the message, and the congregation spends time hearing it and living their lives based off of it. But have you ever thought about how to hear a sermon? How can we obey Jesus’ command to “be careful how you hear” (Luke 8:18)? Consider a few ideas with me:

  • Believers should prepare themselves to hear. The Apostle Peter commands that we “desire the sincere milk of the Word like newborn babies,” and that one of the ways we prepare that spiritual “thirst” within us for God’s Word is by laying aside all sin (I Peter 2:1 – 2). Sin acts like wax in our ears, and keeps us from hearing the life-giving words we so desperately need. Do not allow Saturday night – or the week before Sunday – as an opportunity for sin, but instead lay aside sin by faith and focus on “thirsting” to hear from the Lord in the sermon.
  • Believers should prepare through prayer. Continue reading