Inherit a Blessing!

Redeemed Living

Inherit a Blessing

Well, it has been far too long since I have had a chance to sit down a write a blog post. The big transition is over and we are settling in in our new community and at our new church. It is great to feel at home again!

Inherit a Blessing – Sermon Audio

Having said this, I find myself now in the midst of preaching through Peter’s first epistle and seeing how God works in us through the difficulties that He brings to our lives. Through those difficulties, He brings us grace and blessings. Difficulties beyond anything that I have ever experienced are still ways of God working in us, maturing us and conforming us to the image of Christ! The past several messages have been related to this theme as I have preached through this weighty and stimulating letter.

1 Peter 2:13-25  Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme,  14  or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good.  15  For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men– 16  as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.  17  Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.  18  Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.  19  For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully.  20  For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God.  21  For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:  22  “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH”;  23  who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;  24  who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed.  25  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 3:1-15  Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives,  2  when they observe your chaste conduct accompanied by fear.  3  Do not let your adornment be merely outward–arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel– 4  rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.  5  For in this manner, in former times, the holy women who trusted in God also adorned themselves, being submissive to their own husbands,  6  as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, whose daughters you are if you do good and are not afraid with any terror.  7  Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.  8  Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;  9  not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.  10  For “HE WHO WOULD LOVE LIFE AND SEE GOOD DAYS, LET HIM REFRAIN HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL, AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT.  11  LET HIM TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; LET HIM SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.  12  FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE ON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ARE OPEN TO THEIR PRAYERS; BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”  13  And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?  14  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “AND DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THEIR THREATS, NOR BE TROUBLED.”  15  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;

In this section of Peter’s letter, he drives home the idea of submission and suffering (even when we suffer unjustly!) as an essential part of the Christian Faith! Most “Christians” will say, “NO WAY!” yet see what Peter said, which you already read above;

1 Peter 2:21-25 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:  22  “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH”;  23  who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;  24  who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness–by whose stripes you were healed.  25  For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 3:9-14  not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.  10  For “HE WHO WOULD LOVE LIFE AND SEE GOOD DAYS, LET HIM REFRAIN HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL, AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT.  11  LET HIM TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; LET HIM SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT.  12  FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE ON THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ARE OPEN TO THEIR PRAYERS; BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.”  13  And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?  14  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “AND DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THEIR THREATS, NOR BE TROUBLED.”

Listen to the messages and think about it!

Submission to Authorities – Sermon Audio 1 Peter 2:13-16

Submission Pt 2 – Sermon Audio 1 Peter 2:17-20

Shepherd and Overseer – Sermon Audio 1 Peter 2:18-3:1

Heirs together – Sermon Audio 1 Peter 3:1-7

Inherit a Blessing – Sermon Audio

In Christ!

Kevin

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Live in Fear?

Redeemed Living

Live in Fear?

As we continue to examine Peter’s first letter (1 Peter), we recall that we have seen that his intention is to encourage Christians who are struggling due to persecution and the difficulties of life that they are facing because of their faith in Christ. As we get to verse 13, we see that Peter calls his readers to a response to the pile of great truths that he has heaped up like so many sand bags against the flood of dispair that has come with their persecution.

Live in Fear? – SERMON AUDIO

He informs them that God has; ( 1 Peter 1:1-12)

Chosen to set His love on them

Set them apart, for Himself, from the rest of the World

Entered into a Covenant Relationship with them through the Blood of His Son.

Made them Citizens of Heaven

Given them an inheritance

And proved the reality of their faith (by which they are in that covenant and and have the right to its benefits) through bringing them through trials.

The response to these great truths begins in verse 13, as Peter tells them,

1 Peter 1:13-19  Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;  14  as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance;  15  but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  16  because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”  17  And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;  18  knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers,  19  but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

Last time we looked at the first part of this. See the post: Be Holy. Today,we will consider verse 17 and its relationship to the rest of Peter’s message.  How indeed, do the words, “And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;” fit into this message of comfort and encouragement? First, we must establish that living in the “fear of God” is not living in constant fear of His punishment. Rather, it is living in light of who He is, as the Creator, Ruler and Judge of the universe. From Job to Jesus, this is the idea that is communicated by the term, “Fear of the Lord.”

Job 28:28  And to man He said, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, And to depart from evil is understanding.’ ”

Proverbs 14:2  He who walks in his uprightness fears the LORD, But he who is perverse in his ways despises Him.

Ecclesiastes 12:13  Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, For this is man’s all.

Jesus adds another bit of encouragement to the idea of fearing God as He tells His Disciples,

Matthew 10:28-31  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  29  Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will.  30  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  31  Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.

A proper fear of God ()which is a respect for who He is and the authority that He has to instruct and to judge His creation) leads us to the place where we need not fear anything else!  This what Peter was getting at when he instructed his readers as we saw above.

1 Peter 1:17  And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;  18  knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers,  19  but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

As redeemed people, we continue to walk in a respectful manner toward the God who has saved us. That is an aid to our holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16) and a comfort in our trials, which is the point of the whole passage. If we fear the Lord, we need not fear anything else! I encourage you to listen to the audio of this one. I get too long here in my post. This is a vital concept for the Church of Jesus Christ to understand and in our time, it is neglected far too often. Check it out and consider the words of encouragement that Peter is giving to us.

Live in Fear? – SERMON AUDIO

In Christ!
Kevin

 

 

 

 

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Be Holy!

Redeemed Living

Be Holy!

Among the comforts that Peter gives to his readers (readers who are Christians struggling to live under persecution) there is that comfort of personal holiness. Holiness is little spoken of in many Christian Circles these days. When it is, we are often reminded that, “We are not under the Law!” as if there is no holiness in the context of the Gospel. Peter would heartily disagree with that idea.On the contrary, to him, it is a vital element of the Christian’s walk in this world. It is one of the way that God assures us that we are no longer the rebels we once were.  Verse 13 of 1 Peter begins with a “Therefore.” That is, it is the proper response to God for the many wonderful gifts that He gives to His people, as outlined in the previous verses.

1 Peter 1:13-16  Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;  14  as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance;  15  but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  16  because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”

Be Holy – SERMON AUDIO

As he comforts these struggling Christians with the Gospel concepts of:

  1. God’s sovereign election of them(1 Peter 1:2),
  2. their status as Pilgrims, or citizens of heaven (1 Peter 1:1),
  3. The New Birth which God has accomplished by His Spirit (1 Peter 1:3),
  4. The convenant relationship He has entered into with them through the Spirit who has applied Christ’s Blood to them (1 Peter 1:2),
  5. Their irrevocable inheritance, (1Peter 1:4)
  6. Their being kep by His power (1 Peter 1:5),
  7. And even that their trials are God, demonstrating the reality of their faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
  8. Finally, that God had been preaching that Gospel to His people, through His prophets from the beginning of human history (1 Peter 1:10-12). Its antiquity, reinforcing its authority.

All of these things should be sources of strength and comfort to the Christian, throughout his pilgrimage on this earth, through his trials and struggles and the difficulties of life. After all of these, Peter comes to this idea that, Holiness in the Christian life is a comfort to us when times are hard.

1 Peter 1:14  as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance;  15  but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  16  because it is written, “BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”

As those who have been chosen, have become citizens of Heaven, have been begotten again and entered into a covenant relationship with God. As those who have been given an inheritance by Him and are kept by His power. As those who have heard the authoritative preaching of the Gospel and been saved by it. Though life is hard (by the grace of God, to give us assurance about where our faith really lies). We become children of God through all of this. The best evidence of our relationship to God is that we begin to reflect His character in our lives. He is Holy and so, as His children, we too need to reflect His holiness. We cannot continue to live like the heathens we were before He set His love upon us. If we do, it is evidence that we have not received that love.

Jesus makes this distinction as He engages the Pharisees in John 8. They are making the claim that they belong to God becasue they are physical descendants of Abraham. Jesus answers them very sharply, saying;

John 8:42-44  Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and came from God; nor have I come of Myself, but He sent Me.  43  Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.  44  You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.

So, what is the evidence that you are a child of God? Is there holiness in your life, or do you still act like the person you were before you heard about the Love of God as revealed in His Gospel? Holiness is to live above the world and separate from sin. Not to think you are better than the world, but to actually be unattached to the sin that the world lives in. This is well illustrated in the first part of Ephesians 2.

Ephesians 2:1-10  And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins,  2  in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience,  3  among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.  4  But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us,  5  even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),  6  and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  7  that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  8  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,  9  not of works, lest anyone should boast.  10  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Walking in Good works is the evidence that you have received the grace of God. You are not saved by them, but they are evidence of the reality of your salvation. Do you reflect the nature of the One you claim to be your Father? I encourage you to listen to the audio of the sermon and consider the level of your personal holiness. Not so that you can get the “holier that thou” attitude of so much of Christendom, rather so that you can realize where you fall short and come back to God again for Grace and Help in time of need. So that your humility will be increased and therefore your holiness.

Be Holy – SERMON AUDIO

In Christ!
Kevin

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The Prophets Inquired

Redeemed Living

The Prophets Inquired

This past Sunday, we took a good, hard look at the Word of God as an encouragement to strengthen God’s People in times of distress. Peter said that it was useful for this as he wrote to the suffering Christians in Asia Minor:

1 Peter 1:10-13  Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you,  11  searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.  12  To them it was revealed that, not to themselves, but to us they were ministering the things which now have been reported to you through those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven–things which angels desire to look into.  13  Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

The Prophets Inquired – SERMON AUDIO

As I studied and prayed my way through this text, I noticed the fact that Peter says to his readers, (AS A SOURCE OF ENCOURAGEMENT) that the Old Testament was primarily written for the benefit of the New Testament Church. As I pondered this thought, it reminded me of a conversation I once had with a man who fancied himself a preacher. Knowing that, I am a preacher, he asked me what I was preaching on the following Sunday. At that time, I was preaching through Exodus, and so I gave him my text. Thy guy freaked out and yelled at me, “What!? Are you going to teach your people to be good Jews!?” Apparently, that man had not read 1 Peter 1:12, or 1 Corinthians 10:11, or Romans 15:4! All of which tell us this very same truth.

I can’t tell you how many times in my 20 years as a preacher and teacher that I have been reproved with the statement, “But that was Old Testament!” Now, I realize that the Old Testament was written to the Jews as well; that there are plenty of things that do not apply directly to the Church, but the Gospel was preached in the Old Testament and God was at work, bringing His promise to Abraham to fruition. That is what the whole Bible is about! But, what was that promise? Was it just a people and a land? No, those were side effects of the ultimate promise. The main promise to Abraham was that, through his Descendant, every people group on the planet would be benefitted.

Galatians 3:8-9  And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.”  9  So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.

Galatians 3:13-18  Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”),  14  that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.  15  Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it.  16  Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “AND TO YOUR SEED,” who is Christ.  17  And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.  18  For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

The main message of all of Scripture is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As the Resurrected Christ walked with His Disciples on the Road to Emmaus, He said this to them;

Luke 24:25-27  Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken!  26  Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?”  27  And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.

It is a comfort to the Christian who understands that God is still on Plan A, because that plan is working! He does not need a Plan B. Some have taught precisely this about the Gospel. That God failed with Isreal (who is still His primary concern, according to them) and that the Gospel came to correct that failure. This is the opposite of what the Bible actually teaches. God began in Genesis 3:15 proclaiming that the Seed of the Woman (Jesus Christ) would crush the head of the serpent (the devil). To Abraham, God expanded that promise, saying, “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The Apostle Paul tells the Galatian Christians that when God said that, He, “Preached the Gospel to Abraham” (Galatians 3:8).

Paul tells the Christians in Asia Minor, that this is a cause for hope, but that we need to be prepared to really think about it, as the prophets had to. They “searched what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.” (1 Peter 1:11)  It is not that we need to understand all of God’s plan for Redemptive History in order to be saved. But it is a stregthening agent in the life of the Christian, especially when trouble comes and we are battling doubt and fear. I encourage you to dig into the Scriptures. See what Jesus and the Apostles say about the Old Testament and follow their lead as you go back and search the Old Testament Scriptures for traces of the Gospel. I am including a few resources to help you along in this journey, as others have made their way down this path and can offer insight and resources that you will find helpful:

In addition to your studies, I encourage you to listen to the audio of the sermon and think this through, There is a lot that I have not been able to say here due to the constraints of blogging, which I was able to say in the sermon. Paul tells his readers that the fruit of understanding this is, that if you’re willing to think this through, it will strengthen your faith and increase your steadfastness;

1 Peter 1:13  Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ;

The Prophets Inquired – SERMON AUDIO

In Christ!

Kevin

 

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Begotten Again!

Redeemed Living

Begotten Again

As I have been studying my way through 1 Peter, it has been a great blessing to consider the context of this letter. Peter wrote to Christians who were struggling in their faith because of the great difficulties of life in the Roman Empire in the 1st Century. Those difficulties are far more than most Christians, living in the U.S. today, can comprehend. There are plenty of Christians in the world who know, first hand, what persecution looks like. As we try to identify with that level of suffering, we begin to understand what Peter is saying. The truths in this letter are designed to buttress our faith and strengthen us when life stinks! We can relate to this message today, because persecution is not the only trial that Christians face. These truths are applicable to other trials, like illness, broken relationships, the death of loved ones, etc. But, they are not only for those times. We need to grasp these ideas, these TRUTHS when things are not so bad because it is through them that we begin to live our lives as His people, citizens of heaven, a sanctified race that God has created from every people group on the planet.

Begotten Again – SERMON AUDIO

1 Peter 1:1-3  Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia,  2  elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.  3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

As we begin to focus on these truths that strengthen and encourage us in times of difficulty, one of the most profound of these truths is found in these opening verses. It’s kind of tough to separate these truths too much because of their strong relationship to one another. If we divide them into individual concepts, divorced from one another, we lose too much of their meaning and therefore the strength that comes from knowing what God has done for His people. I covered the broader perspective on this last time, in the sermon / blog post, When Life is Hard.

This time, I want to examine the above verses and the truths that they communicate to the People of God.

Verse 1 says that we are “pilgrims.” That means that this world is not our home. We are, as the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians, Citizens of Heaven (Philippians 3:20). We need to live like we are what we are. I mentioned, last time, that this idea of “Pilgrims of the Dispersion” is a phrase that describes the Old Testament Saints and is a part of describing our covenant relationship to God. Judah went through this kind of living, as displaced citizens of another Kingdom. They are an example to us, the Church, as to how we should live in a world that is not our true place of citizenship.

Jeremiah 29:4-7  Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon:  5  Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.  6  Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters–that you may be increased there, and not diminished.  7  And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.

Paul give the same kind of instruction to Pastor Timothy as he instructs him on proper conduct as a member of God’s household (1 Timothy 3:15)

1 Timothy 2:1-3  Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men,  2  for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence.  3  For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

But, the question arises, how does one become a “citizen of heaven?”

1 Peter 1:2  elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.  3  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

First, God has chosen whom He will give citizenship to. He has purposed to set His love upon His people. Then He goes about the means of procuring them by separating them from the rest of humanity by giving them His Spirit and causing them to walk in obedience to His statutes. This is the New Covenant that God had promised in the time of Israel’s captivity;

Ezekiel 36:24-27  For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.  25  Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  26  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

What makes this possible is the “sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. God is a God who makes covenants. Covenants in the Old Testament, often involved the sacrifice of an animal and as the two parties agreed upon the terms, the implied agreement was, that should one party break the terms, then it should be done to them as it had been to the animal. God certainly kept His part of the covenant with His people, but they did not. Yet, in His mercy, God took on the form of a man (the guilty party) and suffered in our place. At Mount Sinai, Moses sprinkled the Tabernacle, the vessels of ministry and even the people with the blood of a sacrifice, signifying their entry into the covenant that God made with His people in that day. In order to be set apart from the world, made citizens of heaven and receive the inheritance that God gives to His people, we too must be sprinkled with the Blood of the Covenant. (N0t the Mosaic Covenant as Israel was, but the New Covenant which is the completion of the Abrahamic Covenant. SEE GALATIANS 3) This is done by the Holy Spirit, when God sends Him to give us life (beget us again) and make us citizens of His kingdom.

All of this was accomplished, By God, through Christ and His death and resurrection and then applied to us by His Spirit.

What should our response be?

Romans 8:31-33  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?  32  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?  33  Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.

I hope that you can see how the doctrines (or teachings) of the Apostle Peter give strength to the struggling Christian. What an amazing God who would do that for a rebel and a traitor like me! I encourage you to listen to the sermon and be encouraged in your faith, as you struggle through life’s difficulties.

Begotten Again – SERMON AUDIO

In Christ!
Kevin

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When Life is Hard

Redeemed Living

When Life is Hard!

If there is any one particular thing that the Lord has been teaching me lately, it is to trust Him when I don’t get what I want…  when things are tough. I don’t mean when I have a hangnail. I mean when my daughter is sick and I haven’t had a job or a  paycheck in two months. I mean when life seems out of control and I can’t figure out what to do about it, other than pray and trust the Lord. As I read the letter of 1 Peter with my wife a few weeks ago in our devotions, the Lord was yelling to me through that text. A text that speaks over and over again about standing up under trials.

When Life is Hard – SERMON AUDIO

I had the privilege of starting my first series of sermons this past Sunday, as the new pastor of Grace Bible Church and that is where I began: Having been through the trial of no job and no income for a few months (pastors do not get to collect unemployment). Having stretched ourselves to care for our daughter who has been chronically ill for about two years. And struggling to maintain our household and waiting for the Lord to open a door to us, the idea of enduring struggles while trusting the Lord was fresh in my mind. There is a popular notion that, if we live our lives a certain way, that God must bless us. You know, when the news paper askes the centenarian how he managed to live to that ripe old age, the answer “Clean livin’!” often follows. There is some truth to that. Certainly, alcoholics and drug addicts have a much shorter life expectancy. But does God have to bless us if we live reasonably moral lives?

Peter’s argument is that, God uses difficulties in our lives to make us more holy and prepare us for eternity;

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4  to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,  5  who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.  6  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,  7  that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,  8  whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,  9  receiving the end of your faith–the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:3-9 

But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. – 1 Peter 5:10

So, difficulties in the life of the Christian are not something that is opposed to God’s will, but they are a part of His plan for our lives. They are evidences of His love for us because they force us to deal with the issue of where or faith is really placed. They are God’s tool to aid us in the removal of sin from our lives.

And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good?  14  But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “AND DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THEIR THREATS, NOR BE TROUBLED.”  15  But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;  16  having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.  17  For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. – 1 Peter 3:13-17

The Apostle Paul says to the Roman Believers, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance;  4  and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  5  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Trials cause us to persevere and build character and increase our hope. Hope is our assurance that we are Christ’s and the knowledge that He will bring us to our appointed end! He says it in more detail again, in chapter 8;

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE KILLED ALL DAY LONG; WE ARE ACCOUNTED AS SHEEP FOR THE SLAUGHTER.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:28-39

The idea here is not to make trials into something trite by saying, “It’s for your own good!” Rather, it is to help you realize that God is the one who is at work in you. He is in charge of the trials and the triumphs. It’s kind of like taking a test in school, or a tough workout or practice for your sports team. Those things are not fun, but they are necessary to prepare you and prove you for the task at hand. I remember back in High School, when I played football; My senior year, the assistant coach took charge of our conditioning. We had been a pretty mediocre team the first three years I played. Less than mediocre, actually. Coach Duncan made us do things Coach Young had never made us do. More sprints, more Calisthenics… We were exhausted and complained a lot throughout the month of August as we battled through our conditioning. It was a trial! But when we began to win more games and see the result of those long and gruelling workouts, we were glad we had done it. We finished that year with the first record over 500 in a decade or two! God is smarter than a football coach!  The writer to the Hebrews understood this when he told those Christians;

Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.  – Hebrews 12:11-13

So, can you trust God in your trials? If you do, it is evidence that you really know Him, It will strengthen and prove the reality of your faith and it will help you to deal with the sin that is still in your life. When we begin to realize these truths, we can begin, with Paul, to “glory in our tribulations.”

There is a lot more to this and you can hear it as you listen to the sermon. This may be one of the most important sermons I have ever preached. It is my prayer that the Spirit of God uses it to perfect (mature), establish, streghten and settle you! Give it a listen.

When Life is Hard – SERMON AUDIO

In Christ!

Kevin

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Laying a Strong Foundation

Grace Bible Church

Foundation!

This is my first post as the Pastor of Grace Bible Church, though I have now been there for two Sundays.

I have tried to lay a strong foundation in the first couple of messages that I preached there. To do that, I have focused on two passages of Scripture that have had a great impact on my own Christian life. The New Testament books of Colossians and 1 Timothy have been used by the Lord in my life, to mature and temper me as a Christian and as a pastor.  Both lay out the importance of right believing that produces right living.

    Too much of the Church in our day is not concened with either! Too many of those, so called, Christians cry, “Foul!” when either of these areas are brought into question in their lives. This is clear evidence of their failure to understand who they are and who Christ is; to comprehend the amazing grace that He gives to His people. This is not legalism, but true, biblical Christian Faith. It is rooted in what God did for me while I was yet a sinner and my proper response to His great mercy!  He saved me because He is good, not because I am or was ever good.

The Apostle Paul asks this stinging question to the Roman Christians,  “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?  5  But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God…” Romans 2:4-5 Later, he tells them what the apropriate response to God’s grace is as he says, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1  That, “reasonable service” is an important phrase. It is not our reasonable service as a slave who serves his master. The Greek word used there is latreian and it is where we get the word “liturgy” from. That means a religious  or worship service. Christrian, is your life a worship service to the God who saved you when you were absolutely helpless and unworthy? Do you realize what God has done for you and do you realize that your reasonable response is to worship Him with every breath that He puts into your lungs? Not that you have to live at church and only sing praise songs, but that every thing you do is as a representative of Jesus and should be done as a form of thanksgiving to God through Jesus Christ?

Colossians 3:17  And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Whatever You Do – SERMON AUDIO

Or that God expects you to live a life that accords with the Gospel of Grace that He has revealed to you by His Word and His Spirit and that He actually expects you to be Holy because He will use that in the lives of those around you, possible to bring them to faith as well?

1 Timothy 4:16  Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.

Doctrine and Deeds – SERMON AUDIO

I encourage you to listen to the sermons and meditate on the Scriptures as you pray that the Lord would make His Word effective in your life through the agency of His Spirit and that you would have more than a “said faith.” This is the sure foundation that we must build our lives upon!

“But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say? Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock. But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently; and immediately it fell. And the ruin of that house was great.”  Luke 6:46-49

 

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For This Purpose I Was Born…

nativity

John 18:37

I am very thankful for the opportunity that I had this year, to preach at the Lima Rescue Mission on Christmas Eve. It was a great time for my whole family to go and serve the Lord as we celebrated our Savior’s birth. I am equally grateful for the way in which the Lord led in my selection of a text to preach on that evening. I am preaching my way through John’s Gospel as I go there every month. I have been in that book of the Bible for well over a year (about a chapter a month).  As I prayed about what to share with the men, since it was Christmas Eve, I went back to the text and prayerfully read through the passage one more time. As I did, I came across Jesus’ very own Purpose Statement. If I was to ask the average person (Christian or not), “Why did Jesus Come into the World?” I am sure that I would get many different answers. Answers like, “To show the love of God,” and “To be our Savior.” While these answers are certainly true, this is not what Jesus says about Himself as he answers that question. There is a foundation that needs to be laid underneath of those truths in order to make them fully comprehenisble to the fallen race of mankind.

For This Purpose I was Born – SERMON AUDIO

John 18 is, by no means, a nativity passage. However, as Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate, He relates His present situation to the reason that He was born a man. He came with a very specific purpose, to accomplish a very specific goal. Not just to be something, but to instruct the world of siful men in the nature of who we are and what He would accomplish on our behalf so that we could embrace Him and His work by faith.

As the Jews brought Jesus to the tribunal of the Roman Governor at the rising of the sun, the somewhat stunned and unprepared ruler sought to get to the bottom of the situation. Why were there scores of angry priests thrusting a man into his presence and demanding His execution? What had He done that waranted such hatred? As Pilate questioned Him we find this very specific statement by Jesus that sheds some light on the behavior of His people;

John 18:37  Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

What is the truth to which Jesus bore witness? It was the truth of man’s utter depravity and self-serving nature. These Jews, who had waited upon their Messiah for centuries and read, weekly about His coming, did not like the message that He brought them. They despised Him! So much so, that they were willing to shed His innocent blood in order to be rid of Him. In that very act, they showed the level of their sinfulness.

John 18:28-31  Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas to the Praetorium, and it was early morning. But they themselves did not go into the Praetorium, lest they should be defiled, but that they might eat the Passover.  29  Pilate then went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?”  30  They answered and said to him, “If He were not an evildoer, we would not have delivered Him up to you.”  31  Then Pilate said to them, “You take Him and judge Him according to your law.” Therefore the Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death,”

They would not enter the house of a non-Jew for fear of being ceremonially unclean, because they wanted to participate in the ritual feast of Passover. Yet, they had no problem in condemning an innocent man. Though they were very religious, their understanding of sin and purity was twisted beyond recognition. Exposing our sinfulness is one of the first parts of the Truth that Jesus is bearing witness to. The Apostle Paul tells the Romans that this is so when he writes to them and says;

Romans 8:3  For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh,

The Love of God that was also demonstrated in Christ’s Advent, could never be properly understood without sin as its backdrop. It was through this that Jesus was able to say to His Father, regarding the men who nailed Him to the Cross, “Father, forgive them…” (Luke 23:34). This is the Love that loves in the face of the rebellion and sinfulness of man. This is the Love that loves in spite of who we are and not because of who we are. I am profoundly thankful for that kind of love! I am profoundly thankful for the God who made His love known in such a profound way as He sent His angels to announce that our rebellious race could be at peace with the God whom we had made our Enemy!

Luke 2:10-14  Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  11  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  12  And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”  13  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:  14  “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

This peace and goodwill is announced to the shepherds but is extended to all people, people from beyond Israel, to the remotest parts of the earth. It is the announcement of peace to those who are at war with their Creator. It is not a benign concept of peace among the human race, of simple well-wishing. Jesus came to tell us the truth about who God is, who we are, and how He has satisfied our greatest need. Yet, just like Israel of old who murdered the prophets (Matthew 23:31) we do not want to hear that truth. We do all that we can to obscure that message and pretend like we have everything covered when it comes to God and sin and religion. Jesus demonstrates this as He witnesses to the truth in the 18th chapter of John’s Gospel, not by His words as much as by giving the people an opportunity to display their self-righteous wickedness in contrast to His truth.

Something to think about as you consider the Babe in the Manger this year.

For This Purpose I was Born – SERMON AUDIO

In Christ!

Kevin

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Strengthen The Things Which Remain

Westminster Shorter Catechism

Christian Education

    It is my hope to present a persuasive argument, for the use of catechisms as a biblical and useful (and even necessary) tool and a great foundation for Christian Education / Spiritual Formation in our churches. They are a time-tested institution in many branches of the Christian Church and were considered a primary means of communicating the essential doctrines of the Faith to the people from the earliest days of the Christian Church. Today, we live in a time where most Christians have a very shallow understanding of the most important doctrines of the Faith which they profess to hold. Individualism has captured the heart and mind of the Church in the United States. No one wants to be told what to believe or how to understand and interpret the Bible. Almost unanimously, the claim is, “I can read it and understand it for myself!” While there is a certain amount of truth in that statement, it is not universally true. The Apostle Peter speaks of some who are not so good at interpreting the Scriptures as he writes to the saints in Asia Minor, saying; There are some things in [Paul’s Letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:16 ESV)

Is this idea of everyone having their own individual interpretation a biblical attitude? I fear that it is not. Many of the churches of our day have strayed so far from where our forebears were, from what the Scriptures have clearly told us about ourselves, and how they instruct us to behave. I am beginning to hope for the state of our nation and of the Church to move further into the present decline in hope that it will be something to awaken us from our lethargy and pragmatism, and ultimately brings about true revival. That pragmatism, however, is really no pragmatism at all! It does not actually seek to accomplish the end which ought to be in our view. Rather, it seeks to accomplish an end that follows from it’s own line of pragmatic deduction, based on what it ought to accomplish according to it’s worldly methods. Sometimes, what is going on in so many churches almost seems like another form of Roman Sacrementalism. It simply wants people to be a part of itself. It appears to believe that, by association comes salvation. This is most evident in the Emerging Movement, but also seems to be a growing problem in much of the Evangelical Church. However, it is not really a recent innovation, but has been an underlying current for the past two hundred years. In our relativistic culture, what that association is and what it means has become almost completely undefined in some cases.The goal is little to nothing beyond simple participation. “Community” and (often un-biblical) “purpose” have replaced true knowledge and therefore true faith. Faith, after all, is first a “body of doctrine to be believed” before it is ever the human will exercising itself in belief. (which is never done apart from the sovereign regenerative act of the Spirit, but that is another paper altogether).

As Dr. Parrett begins his lectures, (http://www.biblicaltraining.org/educational-ministry-church/gary-parrett) he first gives us seven questions which we must ask ourselves concerning the teaching ministry within the local church. He tells us to ask ourselves, “Why, What, When Whom, How, Where and Who.” As he presents these questions for us to ponder, he draws his answers for us from the Word of God. It is there where we find our commission, as the People of God, to keep the Faith going from generation to generation. We are not called to simply make converts, but learners and followers of Christ. What Jesus called, disciples. Dr. Parrett draws our attention to the primary place in the New Testament that we have this responsibility revealed to us. It is in what we commonly call, the “Great Commission.”

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

The orders given here, by our Lord, consist of one basic command that is accomplished through three actions. Our job, as His Church, is to make disciples. We accomplish that task; First, by going out into the world where the people who need to know Him are at. Secondly, by baptizing them or getting them to enter into the proper covenant relationship with Him (evangelism). Finally, by teaching them to obey all of the things that He has commanded. So, essentially the command is to Make Disciples by first going, then winning, and finally, instructing those whom we have won.

Having begun here with answering the “Why?” question (Because Jesus has sent us to the work!), and having given us the other six questions to consider, Dr. Parrett draws from the text, what he calls, “Three Commitments to Reaffirm;” 1) “Biblically-based Starting Point” which he demonstrates by drawing his answers from Christ’s commission and which, as we have seen above, entails; A) Baptizing = Evangelism, and B) Teaching = Christian Education. (These are derived directly from the text.) Then he goes further in depth with what this means as he deals with the other two commitments, which are; 2) “Obey and Teach The Faith” and, 3) “Cooperative Servant Leadership” (Lecture 1, Introduction).

We find, in all of this, that instruction is paramount in keeping this command. Instruction takes leadership. That leadership must model its own obedience to those commands. All of this is described in some detail in the Scriptures (See Acts 20:28-35, 1&2 Timothy and Titus). As Dr. Parrett instructs us in these things, he says, “I believe that in many cases, Christian Educators have lost sight of the clear biblical vision of what Christian Education is.” He continually pushes us back to the Bible as the source for directing our service to God in the area of making disciples. He speaks of the lack of this kind of direction as being fairly pervasive in the contemporary Church. As he does, he draws us into the history of the Church and even Old Testament practices that show what this kind of Biblically derived education or discipleship looks like (Lessons 5 and 6). Without him actually saying it in so many words, one important thing which I take away from the lectures is that the way to fix what is wrong with the areas brought to our attention by each of the seven questions is to center our focus on the authority and utility of Scripture and then evaluate our own response to its grace-driven directives. We must not just to talk about what it says, but let it direct us in our own performance of the duties that it requires. Then we must pass on, not only a pattern of sound words (2 Timothy 1:13), but of obedience to those words. We must pass on a sound pattern of life;

Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us. (Titus 2:6-8 ESV)

The Scriptures that give us our doctrine are also there to direct our behavior (1 Timothy 4:16). The Apostle Paul tells the young pastor, Timothy that the Scriptures are powerful to change the people of God as he instructs him in his second letter;

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

Because of what it is, God’s own word which is given by Him for a particular purpose, it is always and absolutely useful to that end! That purpose is accomplished, however, not just by giving a Bible to everyone in the church and letting them interpret and apply it for themselves. Though this may sound good at first blush and though it is at the heart of much of Evangelical theology, it is not really what the Scriptures themselves teach. Some believe that for us to rely at all on men is to discount the Holy Spirit and His work in the mind of the Believer. They immediately run to verses like 1 John 2:27 which tells us,

But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie–just as it has taught you, abide in him. (1 John 2:27 ESV)

Is John indeed saying that we do not need the aid of any man, in our understanding of the Scriptures? On the contrary, if he was, he would not have had to write these very words! In the preceding verse, he says, I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.” If they have no need to be taught by any man, why does he warn them about certain men? Why also, a few verses later, does he embark on an entire chapter (chapter 4) in which he teaches them how to discern a false teacher from a true one? It is because God has gifted the Church with men who are called by Him, and gifted through Him, to teach His Church. To ignore them and claim absolute autonomy in the matter is a great dishonor to the Holy Spirit who calls and gifts men to hold that office!

And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30 ESV)

God has set some individuals in His Church for the purpose of leading and teaching. Paul asks a series of rhetorical questions. Among them is the question, “Are all teachers?” The obvious answer is a resounding “NO!” Though all may be equal at the foot of the cross, all are not equally gifted or called into the service of the Body of Christ. Every one of these gifts have not remained active in the Church. The miraculous gifts were given during the time of the writing of the New Testament and they were designed by God to give authentication to the words of Christ and His Apostles (Hebrews 2:4). Yet, the office of Pastor and Teacher is perpetually given to the Church to bring maturity, unity and stability to it. This office continues and is spoken of elsewhere as the standard for the local church;

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (pastors) and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-15 ESV)

Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (1 Timothy 3:2 ESV)

The New Testament writer, James, instructs his readers in the letter that bears his name, in this way; “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (James 3:1 ESV) And so, if we are to honor the Spirit who gives us the Word, we must also honor the Spirit who gives us teachers of that word. Likewise if we honor the Word that the Spirit has given, we should honor the teachers whom He has given to instruct us in it, to the degree that that teacher is faithful to the Word. No one I have ever discussed this issue with would deny this idea when it is related to their own pastor or any other gifted teacher in their local church. Rightly so! But it does not stop there. We can also do this by relying on good, historic interpretations of the Scriptures. Almost every teacher does this when he opens a commentary or leans upon a Greek or Hebrew scholar to aid him in his own interpretation of the sacred text. However, many strongly oppose the idea when we apply this idea of using trusted teachers to help us understand the Scriptures and then turn to the historic confessions of the Church. Those all came about as the Church came through the Reformation and was established throughout Europe and New World.

A Brief Historical Overview

As we read the Scriptures, and we find that God has given to the Church, men, whom He has gifted to lead and to teach within Her (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11), we may turn our attention to some very significant giants in this area during the time of the Reformation and in the century that followed. These men laid a strong foundation of basic interpretation and application of the Scriptures, regarding its primary doctrines, in order to provide unity for the Church as a whole, as well as the local assemblies. Dr. Parrett refers specifically to the Heidelberg Catechism in Lesson 7. This catechism and its accompanying confession of faith, the Belgic Confession, are among the earliest of Reformed confessions. (According to Phillip Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, the Belgic Confession was received in 1561, whereas the Westminster Assembly was not convened until 1644, and its Confession, published in 1646). These two confessions are the dominant confessions of Protestantism and are in agreement on the fundamental doctrines of the Christian Faith. In addition, the London Baptist Confession of 1689 is also largely based the content of the earlier Westminster Standards. These are what governed the interpretation and application of God’s Word for the largest number of the Churches of Europe and the New World for about 300 years. At the end of that time, much of the Church threw them off and rejected the authority of those men whom God had placed in the Church for the purpose of instruction and unity. Again,we turn our attention to the description of the office of pastor / teacher in the Letter to the Ephesians.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, (Ephesians 4:11-13 ESV)

The unity that had been established, was all but destroyed in the middle of the 19th Century when Revivalsim and the Restoration Movement took hold of the American Church. In the name of unity, they rejected the historic confessions in favor of individual interpretations of the Scripture. They claimed that these “forms of unity” were actually dividers of the Church. They turned to individualistic interpretation as the standard, somehow believing that this would bring greater unity. Thus, they divided the Church (which had been somewhat divided by their country of origin in the New World where the Germans were mostly Lutheran, the Scottish were Presbyterian, the English were Anglican or Congregational, etc. At this point they Church was divided into thousands of splinter groups. Each one claiming that they were the only ones who knew what the Bible actually said. Nearly 200 years later, having passed 33,000 different denominations (World Christian Encyclopedia : a comparative survey of churches and religions in the modern world, David B. Barrett, George T. Kurian, Todd M. Johnson. 2nd ed., Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2001) we are living with the fruit of that mutiny. And now, secondary issues seem to be primary in many of those churches. Issues like what Bible translation you use, what style of music you like, or whether women should wear dresses or pants, these are the standards of fellowship. Actual Biblical doctrine is pushed aside and even derided as something that divides Christians (though, in my experience, personal taste has done more to divide than doctrine ever has!). In our day, almost no one really knows what they believe or why they believe it! The catechism has fallen into disuse because the accompanying confessions have been discarded. The very idea of catechism is so foreign to most evangelicals that the very word sounds “unchristian” or even “anti-Christian” to many of them. These confessions and their catechisms embody the basic interpretation of the Bible which is the solid foundation upon which the church had been built from its inception.

In an introduction to John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, a foundational work that helped the Church recover the Gospel from 1,000 years of papal obscurity, Rev. John Murray describes Calvin this way;

Calvin was far above the weakness of aiming at the invention of novelties in theology, or of wishing to be regarded as the discoverer of new opinions” (The Reformers and the Theology of the Reformation, Edinburgh, 1866, p. 296). As we bring even elementary understanding to bear upon our reading of the Institutes we shall immediately discover the profound sense of the majesty of God, veneration for the Word of God, and the jealous care for faithful exposition and systematization which were marked features of the author. And because of this we shall find the Institutes to be suffused with the warmth of godly fear. The Institutes is not only the classic of Christian theology; it is also a model of Christian devotion. For what Calvin sought to foster was that “pure and genuine religion” which consists in “faith united with the serious fear of God, such fear as may embrace voluntary reverence and draw along with it legitimate worship such as is prescribed in the law” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Introduction, Pg. 4)

Calvin’s approach to the Scriptures became the defining attitude of the Reformation and its leaders. Exceptional scholarship, in both theology and in history, were at the center of that movement. It’s goal was to move forward by looking backward to the time before the Roman Church co-opted the Faith, and to restore the Church and the Gospel to its proper place. Calvin was not the only one who was moving in this direction at that time. He, himself stood on the shoulders of many other men whom God had begun to use to restore the Church and the Gospel. Men like John Wycliffe, John Huss and Martin Luther, as well as faithful teachers throughout the history of the Church.

Zacharias Ursinus was also numbered among those men which God used to establish pure doctrine and strengthen His Church. Ursinus’ Heidelberg Catechism begins by explaining the state of man in his guilt, as delineated by the Scriptures. It then covers the biblical affirmations of the Apostles Creed (an ancient statement of faith) dealing with the nature of the Godhead and Christ’s Person and Work. From here it leads us to Gratitude for Christ’s Grace and to our response, as given by a study of the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sacraments. It constantly derives its teaching directly from the Scriptures and relates every question and answer to the Scriptures as it’s source and confirmation. The biblical truths which are taught therein, are a systematized presentation of the fundamental elements of the Christian Faith.

From the 1600’s through the 1800’s there were some who were arguing for the continued use of such catechism and their accompanying confessions for the very purpose of instructing the people of the Church and bringing unity to the Faith.

William Beveridge tells us, in the 1600’s

   And therefore to catechise or instruct Children in the Knowledge of God and our Lord Jesus Christ, is a Duty here laid upon all Parents by Almighty God himself; and all that neglect to educate or bring up their Children in the Admonition of the Lord, by catechising or teaching them the Principles of his Religion, they all live in the breach of a plain Law, a Law made by the supreme Law giver of the World, and must accordingly answer for it at the Last-day. Wherefore all that are sensible of the great Account which they must give of all their Actions, at that time, to the Judge of the whole World, cannot but make as much Conscience of this as of any Duty whatsoever, so as to use the utmost of their Care and Diligence, that their Children may grow in Grace, and in the Knowledge of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and so be wise unto Salvation. Neither is this any hard matter for those to do, who live in the Communion of our Church, having such a Catechism or Summary of the Christian Religion drawn up to their Hands, which is easy both for Parents to teach, and for Children to learn: And yet full and comprehensive, that it contains all things necessary for any Man to know in order to his being saved. As you may clearly see if you do but cast your Eye upon the Method and Contents of it; which may be all reduced to these five Heads, The Baptismal Vow, the Apostles Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Doctrine of the Sacraments, ordained by our Lord Christ. (William Beveridge: Private Thoughts Upon a Christian Life Pg. 184)

Phillip Schaff was still calling for the same thing in the 1800’s

    Confessions, in due subordination to the Bible, are of great value and use. They are summaries of the doctrines of the Bible, aids to its sound understanding, bonds of union among their professors, public standards and guards against false doctrine and practice. In the form of Catechisms they are of especial use in the instruction of children, and facilitate a solid and substantial religious education, in distinction from spasmodic and superficial excitement.” (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, Pg. 28)

Charles Spurgeon, assembled his own catechism for the Baptists in England. He did that by editing the Westminster Shorter Catechism in the 1800’s. In his introduction to that work he stated the following;

I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times, and therefore I have compiled this little manual from the Westminster Assembly’s and Baptist Catechisms, for the use of my own church and congregation. Those who use it in their families or classes must labor to explain the sense; but the words should be carefully learned by heart, for they will be understood better as years pass.

May the Lord bless my dear friends and their families evermore, is the prayer of their loving Pastor.

As the Reformers had worked hard to recover the Gospel from 1,000 years of papal incarceration, they strove, not only to free it, but to give the Church a sound method to pass it on to the succeeding generations. One of John Calvin’s earliest works is called, simply, Instruction in Faith. It was published (in the native language of French) in 1537, the year after he began his ministry in Geneva. In the foreword to one edition of that little book, Paul T. Fuhrman tells us;

The great Jesuit theologian, Cardinal Bellarmine, 1542-1621, frankly acknowledged that before the Reformers came, nothing was firm in the world: there was no severity in the church courts, no discipline in morals, no erudition in sacred letters, no reverence in divine things, almost no religion. That the purpose of the French Reformers was then essentially positive and constructive is clearly shown in the Declaration of the Church of France of 1559, whose Article 31 defines the Reformers as men whom God has raised up in an extraordinary manner to build anew the Church which was in ruin and desolation…..

It was under these circumstances, and on Farel’s suggestion, that Calvin wrote in French this Instruction in Faith and published it in 1537. His intention was not to gain the admiration of scholars, but to inspire a simple faith in the people of Geneva. This treatise represented to the common people, the essence of His Institutes of 1536… As the title, Instruction in Faith suggests, this work is essentially constructive. Abstaining from debates and attacks on the Roman Church, it offers the positive tenets of the Christian Faith. It aims at spiritual upbuilding and religious education. (Instruction in Faith, Historical Foreword, Pg 7-8)

The very first acts of the Reformers, once they had established the basis of the Christian Faith as, Sola Scriptura (the Scriptures alone, as opposed to the Pope and Church councils), was to establish a method of instruction to teach the people faithfully from the Scriptures. As early as 1520, according to Graebner’s The Story of the Catechism (Concordia Publishing House, 1928), Luther had begun to preach on and produce booklets dealing the subjects of the catechism. (William E. Fischer, Luther’s Small Catechism—Then and Now) He actually published the complete work in 1529. In his preface to the work, Luther says;

The deplorable, miserable conditions which I recently observed when visiting the parishes have constrained and pressed me to put this catechism of Christian doctrine into this brief, plain and simple form. How pitiable, so help me God, were the things I saw: the common man, especially in the villages, knows practically nothing of Christian doctrine, and many of the pastors are almost entirely incompetent and unable to teach. Yet all the people are supposed to be Christians, have been baptized, and receive the Holy Sacrament even though they do not know the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, or the Ten Commandments and live like poor animals of the barnyard and pigpen. What these people have mastered, however, is the fine art of tearing all Christian liberty to shreds.

How is this any different than the situation that we find ourselves in today? (except that they had the excuse of 1,000 years of the Scriptures being held in papal bondage, which we have not had!) How is it that many will fight and wrangle over being called by the names of these great theologians, through whom God changed the course of the Church, by their mighty efforts, and then disregard their gifts to the Church, which come in the form of simple instruction for our children and the members of our flocks?

It is either through ignorance of our history (predominantly) or through human sloth and love of the world (autonomy) that we do not make use of these amazingly profound, yet simple tools bequeathed to us by our forebears. As Christian parents and as pastors, we will be found guilty on the day of judgment if we do not make every effort instruct our disciples, and especially, our own children, in the primary doctrines of the Faith! A cursory glance at Church History shows us that every branch of the Church, following the Reformation, did exactly the same thing as Luther and Calvin had done! Zacharias Ursinus, as he published the Heidelberg Catechism, wrote a treatise on the historic use of catechisms in the Church. In it, he states;

…from what is said in the epistle to the Hebrews, where mention is made of some of the principal heads included in the catechism of the apostles, such as repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God, of the doctrine of baptism, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection from the dead, and of eternal judgment which the apostle terms milk for babes. These and similar points of doctrine were required from the Catechumens of adult age at the time of their baptism, and of children at the time of their confirmation by the laying on of hands. Hence, the apostle calls them the doctrine of baptism and laying on of hands. So likewise the Fathers wrote short summaries of doctrine, some fragments of which may still be seen in the Papal church. (What is Catechism?, Preface to the Heidelberg Catechism, Pg. 6)

And so, again we hear the admonition of William Beveridge;

Seeing therefore this catechism is so full, that it contains all that any man needs to know, and yet so short, that a child may learn it: I do not see how parents may bring up their children in the ‘nurture and admonition of the Lord,’ better than by instructing them in it. I do not say by teaching them only to say it by rote, but by instructing them in it, so that they may understand, as soon and as far as they are capable, the true sense and meaning of all the words and phrases in every part of it;” (William Beveridge: Private Thoughts Upon a Christian Life Pg. 189)

We have been bequeathed the proper tools for the job of instructing the next generation in the Faith of Jesus Christ. Not only one tool, but several of them! And yet, we live in an age where “How do we effectively communicate the Faith to the next generation?” is the question on the lips of every concerned parent and pastor. According to the statistics of our time, 59% of our teens are leaving the Church on or after their 15th birthday! (http://www.barna.org/teens-next-gen-articles/528-six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church) Josh McDowell claims in his book, The Last Christian Generation, that those numbers are far greater. Are these ancient documents of any use to the Church in America in the 21st Century?

What Must We Do With What We Have Been Given?

Certainly a booklet, no matter what it contains, will not be sufficient to fix all the ails of the Church. But, if heeded and practiced with conviction, this encapsulation of God’s own wisdom, for the task of instructing converts and the children of Christian parents, will have great effect!

One of the primary things that was lost after the Second Great Awakening was the idea of Gifted Leadership, working with Fathers, in order to help them instruct their own families as the pastor of their own “little church” (their home). Dr. Parrett mentions this practice in Lecture 6 and relates it to the Hebrew practice of instructing covenant children. That practice flowed out of many Old Testament passages (i.e. Exodus 12:26, Deuteronomy 6:7, Psalm 78:4-7, et al.) where fathers are given the primary responsibility to instruct their own children. This is not only the case in the Old Testament, but it is also reiterated in the New Testament;

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6:1-4 ESV)

While obedience is enjoined upon the children (Which no one would dispute!) responsibility for discipline and instruction are enjoined upon the fathers, and upon them alone! However, we do see that the example of the instruction of a godly mother and even a grandmother, are given elsewhere in the New Testament. This is, apparently, in the absence of a godly father. The Apostle Paul writes to Timothy;

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well. (2 Timothy 1:5 ESV)

Elsewhere (Acts 16:1) we discover that Timothy was the son of a believing Jewish mother and a Greek father. It is assumed that the father is not mentioned by Paul in 2 Timothy because he was not a believer. Commentator Albert Barnes says this of 2 Timothy 2:5, In the history in the Acts , nothing is said of the father, except that he was “a Greek,” but it is implied that he was not a believer. In the Epistle before us, nothing whatever is said of him. But the piety of his mother alone is commended, and it is fairly implied that his father was not a believer.” And so, the unbelieving father is not required or expected to instruct his children in the Faith. In this situation, it falls to the mother if she is a believer. In a case where the father is a believer, it is his responsibility and none other.

These Biblical directives led the Reformers to the above conclusion and subsequent actions; that there must be; 1) a standard of the Faith given to promote unity and maturity among Christian families and churches. 2) that fathers were the God-given means of passing that standard of the Faith on to their families. And so, with both biblical and historic president, Confessions and Catechisms were brought into use in the Church. Unfortunately, most Christians in our day are patently and willfully unaware of this. Most Christians in our day have bought into the lie of autonomy that was promoted by the Revivalists and the Restorationists and reject any and all forms of Confession or Catechism.

What do we, as pastors and teachers, do about that? Do we lie down and let the individual interpreter command the situation with his appeal to 1 John 2:27 while we watch Christ’s Church disintegrate before our eyes? We, who are His appointed under-shepherds of the flock? Or, do we correct that false assumption with a strong stance for Biblical authority as it is reflected in those confessions and catechisms which are based on the Apostle’s call to honor the position of Teachers as given in the New Testament Scriptures? Do we take our own place as one who leads the Church to both maturity and unity?

We MUST take a stand! We must, as pastors and as fathers, make known to our churches and to our families, that God has, by His providence, given us more than adequate tools so that we may accomplish our duty to our families and to the new disciples in our congregations. As pastors in the Church, we must lead, not only in instructing others, but in exemplifying the teachings of Christ in our own lives. We must be actively engaged in the discipleship of our own families. We must make use of the tools of the catechism and confession in unifying the Body of Christ that resides in our own homes and in our churches.

This was certainly Richard Baxter’s main aim as he wrote to instruct other pastors in their duties as shepherds of the flock of God over which the Holy Spirit had made them overseers. He instructs those pastors in this manner, saying;

Persuade the master of every family to cause his children and servants to repeat the Catechism to him, every Sabbath evening, and to give him some account of what they have heard at church during the day. Neglect not, I beseech you, this important part of your work. Get masters of families to do their duty, and they will not only spare you a great deal of labor, but will much further the success of your labors. If a captain can get the officers under him to do their duty, he may rule the soldiers with much less trouble, than if all lay upon his own shoulders. You are not like to see any general reformation, till you procure family reformation. (The Reformed Pastor, Pg. 48)

Mr. Baxter was so earnest in his insistence on the matter of making diligent use of the catechism that he took the last 60 pages of this book to reflect on the method of it, the obstacles to it, and the fruit that would come from it (as a motivation to the work) as he closed out the book. He begins that final section of the book with these words;

Leaving these things, therefore, I shall now proceed to exhort you to the faithful discharge of the great duty which you have undertaken, namely, personal catechising and instructing every one in your parishes or congregations that will submit thereto. ( The Reformed Pastor, Pg. 97)

If, as we have seen, every segment of the church, from the Germans to the Dutch and from the English to the French concurred on the matter. And if every denomination, from the Reformed, to the Lutherans and from the Presbyterians to the Independents and the Baptists, agreed on the necessity and usefulness of the catechism, how can we simply throw it off and claim that we have no need of such instruction?

I remember when I first stumbled upon the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. I read through them and found at the end of the book, a brief work called The Sum of Saving Knowledge. I felt as I read through that booklet, at that moment, that if all of our Christian families had these resources and used them, that the Church would be a much more built-up and established community (Colossians 2:7-8). I reflected on the fact that many pastors I knew would not be able to articulate the faith so accurately, so simply and profoundly. I immediately began to use the Westminster Shorter Catechism with my own children. I was not in a church that recognized or understood the value of such things. As a matter of fact, I have never been a part of any church that did not look upon them with absolute skepticism and suspicion! We made it through thirty-some of the questions before we lost our momentum and failed to continue. What a blessing it would have been to have the support I needed in order to continue on in that exercise! My children have all turned out quite well, by the Grace of God! But that is, at least in part, because of my commitment to sound theology and my understanding of Church History. They have been a part of my studies as I have taught and argued in defense of the Faith for almost two decades now. They have heard the arguments on both sides and were satisfied with my defense of the truths of the Scriptures. The difference being, from what I can tell, is that I know what I believe and they know that I know what I believe. I do not have to be fearful of opposing opinions. I can logically oppose them and do it with a good attitude, because I am well grounded in the Faith. I do not respond from fear, but from love of souls and of truth. I have striven to pass that on to them through family devotions and ministering together, as a family. Everyone does not have those spiritual gifts or those kinds of opportunities. Relying on good resources for helping those who are not gifted teachers is unavoidable! I, personally, cannot comprehend why any Christian would oppose such a gift. Nor, why they would not make ready use of it.

I have argued this point with a few of my Christian friends who oppose the use of such things as creeds and catechisms. As they shout, “No creed but Christ!” they fail to recognize that, in saying this, they have composed yet another creed. They take the rather awkward position of pitting the Bible against such works. The Bible is the source and measuring rod for these works. Again, as much so, and or even more than the commentaries and Sunday school curriculum that is used by virtually all of Christendom. These are works made by Godly men (sometimes scores of them) for the purpose of strengthening the Church in a biblical faith. I like the way Dr. Larry Bray recently put it in a Face Book discussion on this topic. He said;

He goes on to say that he uses the Bible rather than catechisms and does not set up strawmen…yet that’s a strawman as confessional believers do use Scripture as their standard, not catechisms. It’s also a false dichotomy as Scripture and catechisms are not an either-or paradigm.”

It is not just having the resources! It is the active sanctification in the life of the father or other head of household. It is investing in personal time with the young believers. It is making the Faith something other than a Sunday morning obligation. This combined with the accurate and succinct description of the Christian Faith, taught faithfully and explained well, to the inexperienced Christian. This is the means that God has ordained for the perpetuation of His Church. For it, He has given us proven teachers who have stood the test of time and proven the fruitfulness of their ministries. By them He has bequeathed to us, valuable and useful resources for the purpose of instructing new converts and children of believing parents, in the Faith. Not by the written works themselves, but by our implementation of them in our own families and churches, we can strengthen the Church of Jesus Christ once more. Through the expedient use of them we can see the blessings of our own children and others being, “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as [they] were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:7 ESV)

Some Useful Resources

Some may yet balk and say, “I cannot teach this stuff to anyone. I have never been taught it myself.” And yet, as there have been so many men whom God has gifted and given to His Church for the purpose of writing those confessions and catechisms, He has also given us many men, (Men like Richard Baxter) who have a passion to see them regularly used within Christ’s Church. Within a few decades of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms being published, Richard Baxter and others saw fit to promote their use. Not just to talk about using them, but to give aids for the practical implementation of them. There are two resources that I have found eminently helpful in this, they are; Thomas Watson’s trilogy; A Body of Divinity, The Ten Commandments and The Lord’s Prayer. (published in 1692). As well as I Thomas Boston’s Complete Works, Vol 2. These very useful resources are both, complete commentaries on the Shorter Catechism. Each was originally delivered as a series of sermons and then encapsulated into book form. They are profound expositions of the essential doctrines of the Christians Faith. Their design is to aid individual Believers in their comprehension of those truths. Both are available for free, online.

Thomas Watson:

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/watson/divinity

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/watson/commandments

http://www.ccel.org/ccel/watson/prayer

Thomas Boston:

http://www.cpr-foundation.org/library/#Thomas%20Boston

In addition, I have found a ministry called Reformed Music. They have produced a short song for the question and answer of each of the 107 questions of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. A great way to help you memorize them!

http://www.reformedmusic.com/the-complete-cd-set/

And so, I must ask; 1) Seeing the Biblical command to pass the Faith on to the next generation and to reach our own generation, making true disciples of both, 2) Recognizing the authority of God in calling and gifting teachers who serve the Church in order to bring it to maturity and unity, and 3) Knowing that we have been given the tools, through God’s providential care, so that we may fulfill our God-given responsibility, Can we continue to pretend like it is our job to reinvent the wheel of Christian Education as we spend more time playing with the kids and entertaining the new converts than actually instructing them? Can we ignore the instruction of the fathers in our churches, in their God-given duty to instruct their own children? Can we, without compunction or fear of reprisal, neglect the gift that has been given to us in the name of being “spiritual” people and leave the work of God undone?

On the contrary, we must make diligent use of the means that the Lord has provided for the carrying out of our duties as parents and as pastors. We must call our churches and the families that compose them, back to the way of our forefathers. We must begin by strengthening the things that remain, even as the Lord spoke to the Church at Sardis, in the third chapter of the Book of Revelation. As we do, I am confident that the Lord will bless His Church and we will become a much more effective witness to our generation and remain faithful as a witness to the next generation.

Conclusion

Why, What, When Whom, How, Where and Who. Whether you realize it or not, these questions have all been answered above. I began answering the Why? question. We teach, not only information but obedience to that information, because Jesus has commanded us to do so.

What do we teach? Whatsoever Christ has commanded. He has commanded many things, among them that we teach or make disciples of those who come to faith.

When do we teach? From the beginning of our children’s ability to comprehend. The most ironic thing about this whole conversation is that the catechisms were written, primarily, for the instruction of children. Most adults are only marginally familiar with what they contain. So, we teach them also to the adults. One of the most profitable ministries in the local church would be to instruct the fathers in these things so that they are competent to instruct their own children! So, we are constantly teaching in the various phases of life so that our people are equipped for every good work.

To Whom is our teaching directed? It is to everyone, “until we all attain to… mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Which directs the bulk of our attention to the less mature, i.e., new converts and children.

How do we teach? By focusing mostly on the primary doctrines and instilling them at the family level. Not just by having Sunday School classes and small groups full of electives and hot button issues!

Where do we teach? In the home and in the Church. In all of life. Christian teaching is to become a daily part of life for every person in the church, but especially for families with children.

Who does the teaching? It begins with the gifted and called teachers in the church, but, they, in turn instruct those in positions of leadership within the individual families and aid them in the instruction of their own mini-flocks. So, it ultimately encompasses the entire church

The best single tool to aid us in the complete and biblical instruction of the disciples that the Lord has given us would be one of those historic catechisms. The tough question, at this point, would probably be, “Which one should I use?” Well, if you are baptistic in your beliefs, that would be a no-brainer. The 1689, London, Baptist Confession and Spurgeon’s Catechism are your primary source. However, a quick Google search of the phrase “Baptist Catechism” will reveal several choices. Look to the ministry that you trust, Desiring God (John Piper) offers The Baptist Catechism of 1689 on their website. The Founders Ministry offers an 1813 edition of it as well. Keach’s Catechism is probably the oldest (1677) and most used of them (Spurgeon’s being a possible exception to most used). Interestingly enough, as I was talking to my wife about this paper, she mentioned that when she was in grade-school, she was instructed from a Bob Jones catechism. Indeed, that still exists if you feel so led to pursue it, though I would not recommend that.

Again, all of the historic Baptist catechisms say essentially the same thing and are variations to make them more readable and understandable for contemporary users. Read them all and see which ones you think would be easiest to memorize and teach to your children.

If you are not baptistic, then you can choose between the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms. Heidelberg, as you may have guessed, is German and is used more with the churches of German and Dutch origin (For Lutherans, Luther has own small catechism). The Westminster standards reflect Presbyterian and Congregational churches from England and Scotland. Again, they all teach, essentially the same things. Though, as you might guess, the Baptists will teach differently on the subject of Baptism than the Presbyterians.

With all of this laid before us, it is high time that we as shepherds of the Flock of God look back to those great men who have given us these documents and to those who have spurred us on to the work of making use of them in our churches. It is time for us to hear and head the words of that great divine, Thomas Watson has he introduced his Body of Divinity in this way;

Catechising is the best expedient for the grounding and settling of people. I fear one reason why there has been no more good done by preaching, has been because the chief heads and articles in religion have not been explained in a catechistical way. Catechising is laying the foundation. Heb 6:6: To preach and not to catechise is to build without foundation. This way of catechising is not novel, it is apostolic. The primitive church had their forms of catechism, as those phrases imply, a ‘form of sound words,’ 2 Tim 1:13, end ‘the first principles of the oracles of God,’ Heb 5:52. The church had its catechumenoi, as Grotius and Erasmus observe. Many of the ancient fathers have written for it, as Fulgentius, Austin, Theodoret, Lactantius, and others. God has given great success to it. By thus laying down the grounds of religion catechistically, Christians have been clearly instructed and wondrously built up in the Christian faith, insomuch that Julian the apostate, seeing the great success of catechising, put down all schools and places of public literature, and instructing of youth. It is my design, therefore (with the blessing of God); to begin this work of catechising the next Sabbath day; and I intend every other Sabbath, in the afternoon, to make it my whole work to lay down the grounds and fundamentals of religion in a catechistical way. (Body of Divinity, Pg. [5])

You see, in the statement above, that Rev. Watson made it his regular work to catechize his flock, every other Sunday afternoon. I too have made it a point to study the Westminster Shorter Catechism with my own flock during our Midweek Prayer Meetings. The question is not, “Do we have the tools we need to accomplish our duty?” The question is simply, “Are we willing to put forth the effort to make efficient use of those tolls which the Lord has already provided?” Not just to teach the catechism in so many lessons, but to make it a regular part of our teaching. Not just to teach it in the church services, but as Rev. Baxter has admonished us, to visit the homes of our people and make sure that the heads of households are making use of it there as well.

As we do, the experience, by all those men who have encouraged us to that task is unanimous. They have found the benefits to vastly outweigh the work. Baxter lists those benefits as he writes;

  1. It will be a most hopeful means of the conversion of souls;

  2. It will essentially promote the orderly building up of those who are converted, and the establishment of them in the faith.

  3. It will make our public preaching better understood and regarded.

  4. By means of it, you will come to be familiar with your people, and may thereby win their affections.

  5. By means of it, we shall come to be better acquainted with each person’s spiritual state, and so the better know how to watch over them.

  6. It will show men the true nature of the ministerial office, and awaken them to the better consideration of it, than is now usual.

This duty of personal catechising and instruction is so important, that as Rev. Baxter expounds on it, he closes that section with these words, as will I;

And now, brethren, the work is before you. In these personal instructions of all the flock, as well as in public preaching, doth it consist. Others have done their part [the Reformers and authors of the confessions and catechisms], and borne their burden, and now comes in yours. You may easily see how great a matter lies upon your hands, and how many will be wronged by your failing of your duty, and how much will be lost by the sparing of your labor. If your labor be more worth than the souls of men, and than the blood of Christ, then sit still, and look not after the ignorant or the ungodly; follow your own pleasure or worldly business, or take your ease; displease not sinners, nor your own flesh, but let your neighbors sink or swim; and, if public preaching will not save them, let them perish. But, if the case be far otherwise, you had best look about you. (The Reformed Pastor, Pg., 125)

Works Cited

Beveridge, William. Private Thoughts Upon Religion and a Christian Life. Vol. 1. London: Whittaker & Co., 1834. 2 vols. Library., Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.

Baxter, Richard. The Reformed Pastor. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d. Calvin College. Web. 22 Aug. 2012.

Calvin John, Calvin’s Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI. Calvin College. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Beveridge Translation ed. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 1536. 4 vols. Calvin College / Seminary. Web. 8 Dec. 2012.

Calvin, John. Instruction in Faith (1537). English Translation ed. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1949. Print.

Fischer, William E. Luther’s Small Catechism – Then and Now. Mequon, WI: Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary, N/A. Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <www.wlsessays.net>.

Luther, Martin. Small Catechism (with explanation). St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing, 1986. Print.

Parrett, Gary. Educational Ministry of the Church (audio). Spokane, WA: Biblical Training, 2001. N. pag. Bill Mounce’s Educational Resources. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.

Schaff, Phillip. Creeds of Christendom. Vol. 1. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1877. 3 vols. Library., Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI. Web. 10 Nov. 2012

Spurgeon, Charles H. Charles Spurgeon’s Catechism with Scripture Proofs. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982. 1. Web. 7 Dec. 2012.

Ursinus, Zacharias. Heidelberg Catechism. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1852. Library., Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI. Web. 12 Nov. 2012.

Watson, Thomas. The Body of Divinity. Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974. [5]. Print

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I Will Open My Mouth in a Parable (Psalm 78)

Psalm 78

It has been a few months since I have been able to sit down and write a blog post. Life has been a bit insane and my family is in the midst of a transition. This has given me some opportunity to contemplate a few things as we plan and wait for this transition to come to pass. I have been a pastor / elder for about 13 years now. Three years ago, my family and I came to Lima, OH, where I became a full-time, paid, senior pastor. Having left a warm, loving and healthy church environment we (I) set out to minister in a small, elderly, declining church.

Open My Mouth in a Parable – SERMON AUDIO

Amidst all of the goings on in the Church today, it seems that many of them have lost their way. Some are wildly successful (at least in running the business end of things). They have large, fancy buildings, multiple paid staff, and hundreds or even thousands of people attending every week. Not all of them, but many of them, have missed it where it is most important. They have wandered away from the central truths of the Christian Faith and begun to preach a message that is more inclined toward self-help with God as your personal “Life-Coach.” Some have wandered into a “Health and Wealth” idea of the Gospel, that it is really about God wanting to bless His people materially and that if I can “work the system” well enough, I too can be fat and happy! This is really just a mystical modification of classic Deism! In the midst of this, there are some smaller churches that wear their smallness as a badge of honor. “We are small, because we are the faithful remnant in the midst of the Great Apostasy of our day,” they tell themselves. “We have not compromised like the others.”

I know that there are churches, many churches, small and large, who are about the business of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Size is not the determining factor in a church’s faithfulness! But even those who are small are not always small because they are faithful, though they imagine that this is so. Many are small because they have taken a Pharisaical attitude and have become introverted and self-righteous. They sit in judgment of the rest of the Body of Christ because thy want to feel superior to them. This is not only the case with the small churches however. Many of the more hip and younger churches treat the older members of their own churches like the little old churches treat the big, young, hip churches and their members, as though they, themselves are better Christians and far superior to those who think church should be done a different way. I would tell you that both of these groups of professing Christians should examine their profession of faith and see whether, failing to be able to love their brothers and sisters in Christ, they can claim to know Christ at all!

1 John 3:14-19  We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love his brother abides in death.  15  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.  16  By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  17  But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?  18  My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  19  And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

So, what does all of this have to do with Psalm 78?  Well, as Asaph wrote this Psalm, he was calling his own nation to repentance and to the acknowledgement of what God had done for them. He was also calling them to the God-given responsibility they had to make sure that the next generation knew and understood who God is and what He has done for His people. That they could count on His blessing and provision as they were faithful to the task of pointing the next generation to true and Biblical faith.

Psalms 78:1-8  A Contemplation Of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth.  2  I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old,  3  Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us.  4  We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.  5  For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children;  6  That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children,  7  That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments;  8  And may not be like their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation, A generation that did not set its heart aright, And whose spirit was not faithful to God.

Why was Israel in apostasy? Why were things in the Kingdom going from bad to worse? Because the previous generation had been unfaithful. The older folks were not really trusting God, but trusting in their own forms of religion. They were dissatisfied with God and His provision for them. They were a bunch of grumbley, complaining old coots who did not really have the testimony of actually Trusting God themselves. They were not able to communicate God’s faithfulness because they failed to recognize it in their own lives.  They were a “stubborn and rebellious generation” and here they were thinking they were holy! Why do we live in a nation where a successful church is often one that is more focused on self-help than sin, righteousness and judgment? Because the previous generation has (not completely,  but in large part) not been able to communicate the truths of God’s Word to this generation, often for the very same reasons!

Psalms 78:2  I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old,  3  Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us.  4  We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done.

But Asaph calls the people back to faithfulness, but also to creativity! He says, “I will open my mouth in a parable…” That is, he will creatively draw comparisons to things that the next generation can understand and relate to. We often fail to relate the truth in ways that our generation can grasp, or to relate it to where they are at, socially, intellectually or spiritually. And so, they wander off and, if they stay in the Faith at all, they they become guilty of twisting it up into something that feels good to them,  just like their fathers did.

But it is not just creativity that Asaph calls them to. He also says ” I will utter dark sayings of old,” That is, that he is going to deal with the Whole Counsel of God. He will deal with the weighty and difficult matters of the Faith and pass them on in a way that the next generation will be able to comprehend.

Whether you are apart of an small church or a large one. We all bear this responsibility! How are you being creative in reaching this generation? Just as importantly, How faithfully are you communicating the “dark sayings” which were passed down from our fathers,  to that generation?  It is not an either / or kind of thing. God’s faithfulness and power are made apparent to us throughout the history of God’s ancient people in the Old Testament, but also in the New Testament as the Church comes into being and  is sustained by God through times of great conflict. I would even encourage you to look at Church History, especially from the Apostolic Church through the Dark Ages and into the time of the Reformation. But not just abstract historical data. Remember the power and faithfulness of God in your own life and the lives of your family members.

I encourage you to listen to the sermon and I pray that it would compel you to seek the Lord for the grace to communicate the Christian Faith to this generation and the generations to come.

Open My Mouth in a Parable – SERMON AUDIO

In Christ!

Kevin

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