A Lord’s Day Prayer

Heavenly Father,

As we anticipate this coming Lord’s Day, may we, your people, come before you humbly and submissively. May we recognize our dependency upon You in every area of our lives. Thank You for your church and Your churches. Thank You for calling us to assemble as Your people in local churches so that You can minister to us through the means of grace You have ordained. Help our posture to be one of reverence and awe. Help us magnify your holy and awesome name.

We ask that you would pour out Your grace upon us. We thank You for the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We thank You for Your Spirit that applies this gospel to our hearts. Please fill our hearts with Your peace and joy and hope. Please continue this sanctifying work in our souls. Please show us more of Your greatness and glory.

May we hear in the preaching and teaching not the lofty speech and wisdom of man, but the proclamation and explanation of Your Word. May we glory in the cross of Christ. May we be taught and exhorted and warned and encouraged. May we receive Your Word; may we welcome it truly as the Word of God that effectually works in us.

Bless our fellowship and help us to encourage one another in the most holy faith. Hear our prayers and may we embrace Your answers as You respond to us according to Your good and sovereign purposes. May we know the special presence of Christ as we partake of the Lord’s Supper.

Father, accept our thanksgiving for who You are and for what You do. We know that all Your ways are perfect. We know that You are great and greatly to be praised. Your greatness is truly unsearchable. Please be merciful to us and bless us and make Your face to shine upon us, in a special way even this Lord’s day. To You be honor and glory forever and ever.

Amen

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“Descended to Hell”?

A few weeks ago, we recited the Apostles’ Creed (see below) during the worship service at our church as an expression of our faith. It is a very early and concise confession of the Christian faith. It is called the Apostles’ Creed because it is believed to reflect a brief summary of their teachings. A most interesting line from the creed is: “he descended to hell.” Just what are we confessing here!

First of all, we are not confessing that after Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins (I Corinthians 15:3) that He went to hell to pay for them. He paid for them on the cross. It was there that He became a curse for us (Galatians 3:13); it was there that the redemptive price was paid in full (John 19:30); it is the cross in which we glory (Galatians 5:14), because through it we have been reconciled to God (Ephesians 2:16). So Jesus did not need to go to hell to be punished for our sin, He bore our sins on the cross (I Peter 2:24).

Many take this expression to mean simply that Jesus was buried. “Hell” is taken to be referring to the grave. Some believe it is a reference to Ephesians 4:9 where it says that Jesus “descended into the lower regions, the earth.” If this is the case, of course, the Creed repeats what it just said.

I believe that John Calvin’s understanding of the phrase deserves our consideration (I owe this information to Donald Macleod from his book Christ Crucified). Calvin believed that Christ’s decent into hell refers to what Jesus experienced while on the cross. It is not referring to what happened to Jesus after death at all. The details in the creed of Christ’s crucifixion, death, and burial are what happened in the sight of men. Then comes the expression “he descended to hell” which refers to what he suffered in the sight of God. In other words this expression refers not to what Christ suffered bodily, but what Christ suffered as He experienced the Father’s wrath toward sin. Christ experienced our “hell” on the cross. That, of course, was the great redemptive price Jesus paid in our place (II Corinthians 5:21)! This makes good sense to me.

May we continually take time to reflect on the cross of Jesus Christ! God forbid that we should glory in anything else!

 

The Apostles’ Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

and born of the virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to hell.

The third day he rose again from the dead.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.

From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

 


 

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What Biblical Hope Isn’t!

It is important that believers understand their great hope in Jesus Christ. At the same time, believers should know what the Bible doesn’t mean when it speaks of hope. This writing will focus on what hope according to the Scriptures is not speaking of. Before we begin, let me give a concise definition of Biblical hope. Biblical hope is the joyful and confident expectation that God will fulfill all of His future work on the believer’s behalf as promised, culminating in final glorification. “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:13).” Let’s look at some notions that fall short of the confident expectation of Biblical hope.

Biblical hope is not human optimism. This is not real hope but simply a positive outlook with no actual foundation. Our faith is not based on uncertainty but on redemptive history. Paul writes of the certainty of the resurrection in I Corinthians 15:16-20. He argues that there is no Christian faith without it and he concludes with this statement in v.20: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

Biblical hope is not wishing. We often use the word hope in this way.  For example one might say: “I hope it won’t rain today.” This is not how the Bible uses this word hope! Biblical hope is not simply wishing about something. It is an expectation we have based on the faithfulness of God concerning His promises. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (I Thessalonians 5:24).

Biblical hope is not positive thinking. It is not about thinking positively about something in order to make it happen. Our minds do not have that power! It is not our thinking that brings events to pass but God’s sovereign purposes. Nothing can possibly interfere with what God has ordained. He is God and we certainly are not. “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). Praise the Lord, we are in His good and mighty hands.

Biblical hope is not name it and claim it. We should not expect God to do that which He has not promised to do because we have a distorted view of faith. James makes it clear that many times we do not get “yes” answers to our prayers because we ask for the wrong things and with the wrong desires. “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (James 4:3).

Biblical hope is far greater than any of the above substitutes. The realities of our faith give us so much to hope for! Jesus came to give us and abundant life in Him right now and full joy when the fullness of His kingdom comes at His return! What hope we have because of the gospel of Jesus Christ! We do not trust human wisdom. We dare not trust our own wisdom. Our trust must be in the living and true God and His redemptive work on our behalf! As the wonderful old hymn lyrics tell us, “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness” (“The Solid Rock” by Edwin Mote). Often today we sing the more contemporary words, “In Christ alone, my hope is found, He is my light, my strength, my song” (Keith Getty, Stuart Townend). The hope we have in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone, is not matched by anything this world has to offer. May we go forth in this hope!

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The Call to Steadfastness

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.  1 Corinthians 15:58

To be steadfast is to be firmly fixed or established. In terms of the Christian life, it means to continue to live the Christian life without wavering or deterring from it. It certainly includes pursuing holiness and not falling away. It involves being faithful, growing, striving, and more. Being steadfast is running with patience the Christian race before us. In one’s own strength, it is not possible. Being steadfast in the faith is God’s work in us. He sustains our faith, but, as in many things, He uses means to do it. The Christian life is all of grace, but we must see God’s grace as transforming. Below are some of the truths about God’s call for His children to be steadfast. As you contemplate them, remember that the God who calls you to steadfastness is faithful and will surely persevere with you (I Thessalonians 5:24)

  1. A believer’s call to be steadfast comes at the beginning of conversion; it is not something to be tacked on later down the road of faith journey (Acts 11:23; 13:43; 14:22)
  2. A believer’s call to be steadfast involves endurance for the long haul; not simply spurts of “spiritual energy” from time to time (Hebrews 12:1)
  3. A believer’s call to be steadfast is a call to be aware of the outward dangers involved in living out the faith (I Peter 5:8,9)
  4. A believer’s call to be steadfast is a call to be aware of the inward dangers involved in living out the faith (I Peter 2:11)
  5. A believer’s call to be steadfast is a call to progressively understand the faith; it is a call to grasp the truths of the faith more and more deeply as time goes on (Colossians 1:10)
  6. A believer’s call to be steadfast is a call to grow not just in theological understanding but in love (Philippians 1:9)
  7. A believer’s call to be steadfast is a corporate call that involves a body of believers running the race together (Hebrews 10:23-25)
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Are You a Great Sinner?

Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.   Luke 7:47

      The above words were spoken to a Pharisee named Simon by Jesus Christ. You can read the whole account in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus was dining at Simon’s house when a woman, a notorious sinner, came and anointed His feet with ointment and washed them with her tears. Simon thought that if Jesus were truly a prophet he would not have let this woman touch Him! Jesus then told the parable of the two debtors who were forgiven by a money lender. One debtor owed a great deal and the other a small amount. After the very brief parable, Jesus asked the question which of the two debtors would love the money lender more. The correct answer was, of course, the one forgiven the large debt. Simon got the answer right. Then Jesus pointed to the woman and explained that her actions were a reflection of her great love because of the fact that her great debt of sin had been forgiven. She was showing her great love in contrast to Simon who did not perform very well as a host to Christ.

The principle Jesus sets forth is something like this: great sinners, who know they are great sinners and who have their great sins forgiven by Jesus, become greatly attached to Jesus. Now let me now say something of extreme importance. This does not mean that only the outwardly worst of the worst among us can really love Christ. This is because we are all truly great sinners! Our problem is really and truly and deeply understanding this! There are no little sins and there are no little sinners. The more acutely we understand our depravity, the more wonderful and merciful we will understand our Savior to be.

When John Newton was on his death bed in 1807 at age 82, he was visited by William Jay, a younger minister whom he had been a mentor to. Newton was near the end and could hardly speak.  Jay made a note of Newton’s last words to him: “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.” This is what every believer must know. We must know that His grace is amazing. We must know that His love and mercy are unfathomable. We must know that our sins, which are great and many, have been forgiven. Christ has reconciled us to God so that we can glorify and enjoy Him forever!

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Covetousness = Idolatry

Pardon the mathematical equation in the title but I couldn’t resist (I guess my former days as a math teacher will always haunt me). The equation comes from Colossians 3:5 which clearly states that believers are to put to death sins of the flesh and includes among them “covetousness, which is idolatry.” Just how does covetousness amount to idolatry? Well, let’s define each one first and then show how they relate to each other.

Covetousness can be defined as a strong desire to possess more and more things irrespective of one’s need. It can be synonymous with greed. It can involve envy or jealousy. It certainly means that a person has in his or her heart things treasured that should not be treasured. Idolatry can be defined as the worship of false gods. It makes no difference whether or not those idols are specific images of false gods or simply things we worship or treasure in place of the living and true God.

Hopefully, you can already see how these two things relate to each other. When one covets, one is idolatrous in the sense that he or she is treasuring something in place of God who is to be treasured in a category all by Himself. So to be guilty of idolatry, you simply need to replace God as your treasure with something else.

When I properly understand this connection, I can see a little more clearly how I fail in this area. I am not in the habit of constructing small or large objects and bowing down to them and worshipping them. I do, however, oftentimes, place a value on things that affects adversely how I am relating to God. God being my center and treasure and supreme joy is compromised.

There are lots of things a believer might do when this happens, but let me simply share one important one. Run to the gospel! By this, I mean acknowledge sin before God, confess your need for new mercy and grace, and understand that through Christ you are forgiven. But don’t move away yet. Here is a key question. Where do you want your desires to be? We must have a desire for God to be our supreme desire and for all other desires to simply flow out from and come under that desire. This may be a constant battle but please understand that it is the main one! Stay at the cross and contemplate God’s amazing grace and wondrous love! Ask God to help you see, more and more, His glory. Behold your God. Let God encourage you because He is faithful and ask God to change you as you behold. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (II Corinthians 3:18).

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He Cares

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.  (I Peter 5:6-7)

One of the marks of true humility consists of one’s humbly bringing before God in prayer those things that are causing anxiety in one’s life. It is not simply bringing them before God to ask God for help in handling these matters. It is bringing them before God in a way that casts off the anxiety. These kind of prayers are not only acts of humble dependency upon God, but also acts of humble resting in God. Note that the humbling requested in verse 6 is reflected in the casting of verse 7. Note also that now is the time for humbling ourselves under God’s hand (whatever God brings our way—good or bad) for at the proper time we will be lifted up. This proper time refers to the eschatological exaltation of a believer. It refers to the time that all believers will be brought into the fullness of God’s kingdom. The exaltation actually consists of our wonderfully privileged position of exalting Christ and reflecting His image! It is our glory to glorify Him.

This is all extremely wonderful. However, what I want you to take special notice of is the very last clause in verse 7. It says that we can do this humbling and casting with the confidence that God cares for us. Please don’t turn this last clause into something you do for Him for that is not what it says. Please let this soak down into your soul. This verse says that God cares for you. If you are a believer, you should know this, of course. We do, though, have a tendency to move on from the good news of the gospel to a kind of self-sufficiency and independence. We tend to think that God’s desire now is for us to become independently strong, pay Him back for His grace, and go forward in our own power. Absolutely not! We will never be independently strong, we are not supposed to pay God back, and He delights to give us His power. So we need to be reminded of the great truth that He cares for us. In Christ, because of Christ’s cross, because of His great, steadfast, and sacrificial love—He cares for you!  This is why you can come to Him, day by day, even moment by moment, and cast you anxieties upon Him. This is why you can rest in Him, because His purposes for you are good in the ultimate sense, and His care for you will never diminish! Therefore, you can say, “I will bring my burdens to the Lord now and cast upon Him the anxiety they are causing because I know, I wonderfully know, that He cares for me.” This does not mean that your burdens will necessarily go away like magic. It means that you can know His rest and not anxiety even in those burdens.

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