Archive for January, 2011

This morning, I had the privilege of preaching on Zephaniah 3:9-20 and conclude the short, three-week series on that prophetic book. Here is my sermon in the space of one sentence: The day of the Lord brings the blessings of hope, joy, and restoration to God’s people.

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I’m in the process of reading an excellent book by Greg Gilbert called What is the Gospel? In the midst of his explanation of his first point of the gospel, he makes the point that God is holy and righteous and will, therefore, not leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7). Illustrating his point, Gilbert writes:

A common view of God is that he’s much like an unscrupulous janitor. In stead of really dealing with the world’s dirt – it’s sin, evil, and wickedness – he simply sweeps it under the rug, ignores it, and hopes no one will notice. In fact, many people cannot conceive of a God who would do anything else. ‘God judge sin?’ they say. ‘Punish me for wickedness? Of course he wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be loving.’

We’ll see later how the seemingly impenetrable contradiction in Exodus 34:6-7 – a God who ‘forgiv[es] wickedness, rebellion, and sin’ yet ‘does not leave the guilty unpunished’ – is resolved by the death of Jesus on the cross. but long before we get there, we must understand that despite all protests to the contrary, God’s love does not cancel out his justice and righteousness.

Scripture proclaims over and over that our God is a God of perfect justice and unassailable righteousness. Psalm 11:7 says, ‘The LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds.’ Psalm 33:5 declares, ‘He loves righteousness and justice.’ And two psalms go so far as to proclaim, ‘Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne’ (Pss. 89:14; 97:2)! Do you see what these verses are saying? God’s rule over the universe, his sovereign lordship over creation, is founded upon his remaining forever perfectly righteous and just.

That’s why the idea of God as an unscrupulous janitor is finally so unsatisfying. It makes God out to be unjust and unrighteous. It makes him a god who simply hides sin – or even hides from sin – rather than confronting it and destroying it. It makes him a moral coward.

And who wants a God like that? It’s always interesting to watch what happens when people who insist that God would never judge them come face to face with undeniable evil. Confronted with some truly horrific evil, then they want a God of justice – and they want him now. They want God to overlook their own sin, but not the terrorist’s. ‘Forgive me,’ they say, ‘but don’t you dare forgive him!’ You see, nobody wants a God who declines to deal with evil. They just want a God who declines to deal with their evil. (pp. 42-44 – author’s emphasis, not mine).

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Prayer is one of the most basic spiritual disciplines of the christian life. Along with intake of the Bible (read it, hear it, study it, meditate upon it, memorize it, and apply it) and involvement in church, prayer is absolutely critical to the life of a growing, maturing Christian. We need all three of them to be balanced. In other words, doing one or two of them well will not make up for a lack in the third.

But what is prayer? The most basic way to define prayer is expressing your thoughts and feelings to God. Prayer is not, as commonly thought, a conversation with God (the Lord audibly responding is something that is very, very, very rare in the history of the world). As it has been said (well, I might add), God speaks to us through the Bible and we speak to Him through prayer.

To whom should we pray? We pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ (God the Son) in the power, or under the direction of, the Holy Spirit. It’s acceptable to pray to Jesus or to the Spirit, but it’s more rare in the Scriptures than prayer being offered to the Father.

Praying “in the name of Jesus” is not a “rabbit’s foot” added to the end of a prayer to make sure it gets beyond the ceiling of our room, and it’s not even a sign to others that you’re through praying. We are to pray in a way that is consistent with the nature and character of Jesus, which is what the concept of “name” means in Scripture.

Prayer is made up of several elements: adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. We adore and praise God for who He is – His attributes, character, nature, essence, and personality. As we reflect on the perfect character of God, we’re driven to confess our sins because we fall far short of His glory. We thank God for what He has done for us and others – we express our gratitude to Him for all of His blessings. We make requests of God supplications – for ourselves and others. All of these elements don’t have to be present every time we pray, but they provide us with a helpful outline and summary.

Why should we pray, especially if God, being omniscient, knows everything? The best reason is that God commands us to pray – “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) – and we need to obey His commands. The Lord wants us to come to Him in prayer – we’re not just commanded but also invited to come into His presence. Prayer is also good for us because we grow in our dependence upon Him, especially when we make requests.

God answers every prayer. That may seem startling, but it’s true! It’s just not true in the way we normally think. God answers some prayers with a “yes.” He answers others with a “no,” and still others by saying “wait.”He answers each and every prayer, just not the way we want Him to.

The purpose of prayer is not to bend God’s will to ours – to try to “twist His arm” and get Him to do what we want – rather to conform our will to His. Ultimately prayer is for the glory of God and God alone.

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This morning I had the privilege of preaching on Zephaniah 2:4-3:8. Here is the sermon in the space of one sentence: God promises He will judge the nations, His people, and the whole world, yet in His mercy He urges us to repent and be restored.

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No Complacency

As he repeated God’s message to Judah, the prophet Zephaniah made this statement in 1:12 (God speaking) – “At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the men who are complacent, those who say in their hearts, ‘The LORD will not do good, nor will he do ill.'”

The Hebrew word for “complacent” refers to wine sediment that gathers in the bottom of a bottle, jar, or wineskin. If the wine is moved around a lot, there isn’t much settling. But if the wine isn’t moved around, or drank, it simply floats to the bottom, thickens, and stays stagnant. The sediment’s complacency is only changed if it’s disturbed and moved around. We might say that the problem of stagnation is solved by being shaken up.

What’s true of wine applies to us in our walk with Christ. To escape our complacency, we need to be shaken up, moved around, and used. Praise God that He loves us enough to do that if we need it!

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“The Chief Good”


God is the chief good. In the chief good there must be delectability; it must have something that is delicious and sweet: and where can we suck those pure essential comforts, which ravish us in delight but in God. In God’s character there is a certain sweetness which fascinates or enraptures the soul.

Thomas Watson, in his introduction of The Ten Commandments.

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I had the privilege of preaching on Zephaniah 1:1-2:3 this morning. Here is a summary of the sermon in one sentence: God’s judgment against His world, His people, and all mankind with is coming with certainty and severity – the only hope is repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Bad thinking leads to bad decisions – not necessarily what we think about, but how we think. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Our minds need to be continually renewed – day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment.

The reason for Paul’s admonition is that our minds, the part of our soul that thinks and reasons and deliberates, are included in what the Bible calls the “heart.” “The heart,” according to God in Jeremiah 17:9, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Our mind, affections (emotions, passions, desires, cravings, intentions), and will (the part of us that decides and chooses) are infected and polluted with the disease of sin. Our hearts are not pure and good from the moment of our conception, but rather dark, sinful, fallen, and depraved. Even after we are saved by God’s grace, our hearts are still not fully renewed – it’s a process that will take the rest of our lives.

It seems as if one out of every three movies or books have the theme of “follow your heart,” and “do whatever your heart tells you.” It sounds like good, kind, and loving advice, but it couldn’t be more foolish, unloving, or dangerous. Our hearts are not to be trusted or obeyed – they’re notoriously bad guides. In fact, the Bible says that we are not to “lean on our own understanding,” but instead to “trust in the Lord with all our heart” (Prov. 3:5).

This is where mind renewal comes in. If we’re not familiar with Scripture and have a biblical worldview, we could easily be drawn into the kind of foolishness fed to us in some movies and books. If we’re growing in our knowledge and trust of God, we won’t fall for the lie that human beings are basically good, and with enough education or incentive will do the right thing – that our hearts want only what is good, true, and beautiful.

We renew our minds through intake of the Bible – God’s Word. When we hear it, read it, study it, memorize it, meditate upon it, and apply it, our minds will be renewed and we’ll be transformed into the image of Christ. Let me close with this admonition and encouragement: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24).

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In his great book The Mortification of Sin, John Owen said that we must consider the symptoms that accompany a specific lust which can lead to sin. The first “deadly and serious” symptom is

Firm establishment over a long period of time and settlement as a habitual practice. If a sin has been corrupting your heart for a long time, and you have allowed it to prevail and abide in power, without vigorously attempting to kill it, and heal the wounds that it causes, this is a serious condition. Have you permitted worldliness and ambition to divert you from the important duties that promote communion with God for a long season? Have you allowed unclean thoughts to defile your heart with vain, foolish, and wicked imaginations for many days? This is a serious and dangerous symptom. “My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:5).

When a lust has remained a long time in the heart, corrupting, festering, and poisoning, it brings the soul into a woeful condition. In this instance an ordinary course of humiliation will not be sufficient. Such a lust will make a deep imprint on the soul. It will make its company a habit in your affections. It will grow so familiar to your mind and conscience that they are not disturbed at its presence as some strange thing. It will so take advantage in such a state that it will often exert itself without you even taking notice of it at all. Unless a serious and extraordinary course is taken, a person in this state has no grounds to expect that his latter end shall be peace.

If this is the case, do you think it will prove an easy thing to dislodge such a room-mate, pleading to stay? Old and neglected wounds can prove to be fatal, and are always dangerous. Indwelling lusts grow rusty and stubborn because they have long continued in ease and quiet. Such a sin will not be easily ejected. It will never die by itself, and if it is not daily killed it will only gather added strength.

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This morning it was my privilege to preach a topical sermon on evangelism. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 was the key passage (dealing with the gospel itself). Here is the sermon in one sentence: Evangelism is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God.

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