Matthew R. Perry

Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

God Wants Me to Love … Them? (Part I: No Partiality To Our Love and Prayers)

In Church Life, Culture, Politics, Sermons on July 30, 2008 at 4:29 pm

(This sermon was preached at the Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY, on July 27, 2008. To listen to this sermon in its entirety, click here.)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ [44] But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, [45] so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. [46] For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? [47] And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? [48] You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48, ESV).

For over thirty years, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood graced the PBS landscape with a small question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Honestly, I made fun of that show when I was middle school and high school. Mr. (Fred) Rogers was just nice, but as I grew older, I realized how important his message was. Rogers was a Christian and his Christian worldview permeated every skit he did. Everyone had value. Everyone had a purpose for being on earth. Everyone (and many would groan when he said this) was special.

Do we find this corny and cheesy, or do we find some kernel of truth in it? I pray we do, because this echoes much of what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:43-48. In this passage, Jesus sets up this teaching by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’” We recognize the biblical understanding of “love your neighbor.” The question arose, “Well, who is my neighbor?”

According to the Jews, they would look around and say, “Well, the surrounding nations couldn’t be my neighbor! They worship false gods, and we worship the one true God. They offer abominable sacrifices. They aren’t my neighbor.” Then they would look to the Samaritans. “ They aren’t my neighbor. They are half-breeds, with Jewish blood mixed in with Assyrian blood. I won’t even walk on Samaritan soil.” They would even look at many of their Jewish brothers and tell themselves, “Well, we are the religious leaders, the intelligentsia of Israel. Everyone looks up to us. We are special. We cannot consider the common riff-raff our neighbor.”

Do you see what happened? Only those who were just like them were considered their neighbor. Those who looked and thought exactly like they did. They began to view everything through their own narrowly man-made glasses.

This most certainly penetrates where we live, does it not? How do you view people differently from you? Those who may be in a different tax bracket, have a different educational background, live in different types of neighborhoods. Some have “spiritual” differences: different denominations, use different versions of the Scriptures, praise and worship in different ways. How do you view them? Do you feel your station, your views, your ways are superior for whatever reason — even if those people are made in the image of God and, in the spiritual sense, are redeemed by the blood of Jesus?

Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He had to set the entire Jewish community (and us) straight concerning their relationships to one another. In fact, the entirety of Matthew 5 in dealing wit the relationship of Kingdom people to one another in dealing with anger, lust, divorce, words and retaliation all come to consummation here. We are to love and pray for all, not just our friends or those who are like us, but also for those who are “enemies” to us personally or who are contrary to our lifestyles. We are to emulate Jesus — for this is not a super-spiritual status meant for the select few. Jesus not only sets the principle, but as we will see, lived it out to the fullest degree.

1. Our love and prayers should show no partiality.

Again, Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. They go together. Our flesh says, “Hate your enemies and get revenge on those who persecute you.” What is Jesus driving at here?

The Scriptures use a number of words for ‘love.’ ‘Philia’ is a friendship type of love—a brotherly love. ‘Eros’ is a sexual type of love reserved for marriage (or at least should be) and is where we get the word erotic. ‘Storge’ is a type of love between members of a family. Yet, Jesus uses another word to describe this love: ‘agape.’ What is this? This type of love is a sacrificial love which puts self aside for the sake of the Kingdom and for others.

This is the type of love Jesus describes. This is the type of love we extend to our enemies. Yet, the Pharisees didn’t get this. They saw the command from Leviticus 19:18 which said “Love your neighbor as yourself,” dropped the ‘as yourself part’ and just assumed the corollary, “and hate your enemy.” As studied as they were in the Old Testament, they missed the fact that in no place in the Old Testament does it say to ‘hate your enemy.’

For example: in Deuteronomy 16:19, Moses commanded the judges to “not pervert justice. You shall show no partiality.” In Proverbs 25:21-22, the Proverbist writes:

If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.

Where did they go wrong? They allowed their own cultural prejudices cloud the Spirit’s work in their hearts. They called themselves people of God, yet some prejudice took root in their hearts and they began to divide themselves from others.

Aren’t we guilty of that? I’ve seen Baptists have a hatred for other denominations, Republicans and Democrats have a hatred for one another, the rich and a hatred for the poor and the poor for the rich. Even Christians who have a hatred for those who are abortion practitioners, homosexuals, pornographers, etc.

Does God have a ‘hatred’ for them? The Scriptures do say that God is angry with the wicked every day that that his wrath is being poured out against ungodliness and wickedness as a consequence of those who rebel against him. But consider Romans 5:6-8: :

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. [7] For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— [8] but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

You see, outside of Christ, we are enemies. When Christ saves us from our sin, we are no longer enemies but friends. If Christ lives in us, then he will lead us in exemplifying this type of love.

Do Christians Have Any Rights? (Part II: What About Our Security?)

In Church Life, Culture, Sermons on July 26, 2008 at 11:44 am

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 20, 2008, at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky. To listen to this sermon in its entirety, click here.  To read Part I, click here.)

In Matthew 5:40, Jesus says, “And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” Since 99.999% of Americans do not wear tunics and cloaks, this particular saying of Christ may leave us scratching our heads. We need to see the context. This tunic is seen as an undergarment and was worn next to the skin. The cloak, however, was the outer garment which was very precious. It kept the man warm and also served as a blanket by night. In Exodus 22:26-27, the Mosaic Law stated:

If ever you take your neighbor’s cloak in pledge, you shall return it to him before the sun goes down, [27] for that is his only covering, and it is his cloak for his body; in what else shall he sleep? And if he cries to me, I will hear, for I am compassionate.

Therefore, the cloak was very precious — and usually the only one they had. When someone is sued, but has no money, the fine would often entail clothing. The one being sued is usually in the wrong, but often unwilling to help remedy the situation unless made to do so. But what is someone being sued is not in the wrong? How should the Christian respond?

Among the people of God, it should never, ever come to a point where Christians would go before a worldly court in order to have justice prevail. The Christian should be willing to give up his “cloak” if you will, in order to restore the relationship.

In 1 Cor. 6:1-8, the Apostle Paul under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit sheds some light on the matter.

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

Paul chastises the Corinthian church for settling disputes before a worldly court. This passage tells us that the church has a greater authority and ability to handle issues among God’s people than sinful, worldly courts. It would be better to be defrauded!

Do Christians Have Any Rights? (Part I: What About Our Dignity?)

In Church Life, Culture, Sermons, Theology on July 21, 2008 at 9:46 pm

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 20, 2008, at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, Kentucky. To listen to this sermon in its entirety, click here.)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ [39] But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. [40] And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. [41] And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. [42] Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. (Matt 5:38-42)

Do Christians have any rights? Ever since Jesus spoke these words almost 2,000 years ago, this question has been the subject of debate for millennia. The core of this passage is when Jesus says, “Do not resist the one who is evil.” As you can imagine, this opens up a can of worms that needs to be addressed.

Does this mean that Christians cannot serve in the military, especially in a combat situation, since they are fighting against the enemy of the state? Does this mean that Christians cannot serve as law enforcement, since they spend a good amount of time fighting crime (i.e., evil ones)? Does this mean that if a Christian sees someone who is defenseless being attacked that we do not step in?

The Scriptures repeatedly call for Christians not only to help the defenseless, but that God has also established our government and the law enforcement to help maintain order and to protect their respective citizenship! What Jesus is referring to is when some attacks you personally! How do we respond? Do we say, “I’ll get you” in an eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth attitude? If not, how do we respond?

This morning, we shall look at four areas Jesus addresses in these verses: our dignity, our security, our liberty, and our property and see where our foundation lies and where our treasure belongs.

1. Does a Christian have a right to his dignity?

In Matthew 5:39b, Jesus says, “But if anyone slaps you on the right check, turn to him the other also.” Only humans truly understand what it means to treat one another with dignity. Because each of us is an image bearer of God, he expects us to treat one another with respect. In fact, the last six of the Ten Commandments deal with respecting and honoring one another: honor your father and mother, do not murder, do not commit adultery, steal, bear false witness against your neighbor, and do not covet. When this is violated, God makes it clear we stand under his judgment!

Yet, in this world we as followers of Christ will be persecuted for the name of Christ. Remember in Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus said,

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. [12] Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

While God may not have originally set up the order for this, the truth is that we are fallen creatures marked by the curse of sin. Therefore, these things will happen. So how are Christians to react? It must be noted that to the Jews, a slap in the face was an insult, demeaning the honor of one slapped. In 2008, the principle still exists. When we have been insulted or treated poorly by another, how do we respond?

Jesus tells us to “turn to him the other [cheek] also.” We are not to take this like the Scottish preacher who preached that when struck on the one cheek, then yes turn to him the other. But if he strikes you a third time, let him have it!

Our response is that we are not to retaliate, but to remain gentle and humble, even when our dignity is maligned by another. Again, we must keep in mind that this is dealing with our personal dignity. Keep in mind 1 Peter 2:21-23:

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. [22] He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. [23] When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

When your dignity is damaged, do you feel it is your right to retaliate and defend your honor, all the while demeaning theirs in return?

Calling Cards, iPods, and the Worth of Words, Part II: A Lesson from the iPod

In Uncategorized on July 18, 2008 at 3:00 am

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 13, 2008 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY. To listen to the sermon in its entirety, click here. To read Part I, click here.)

On occasion, you may see someone walking down the street with a very small device that is used to listen to music called an iPod. In fact, I have an iPod right here — it’s a small one called an iPod shuffle that holds 1 GB worth of files. I have songs and sermons on this that I listen to while walking or in my car. What makes iPods so distinct?

If you take a look at one, you will notice the simplicity of the layout. Mine is silver with one big button on the front that includes the play/pause button. Simple. In his book, Simple Church, Thom Rainer observes how certain companies such as Apple, Google, Papa John’s, and Southwest Airlines are part of a trend:

Simple is in. Complexity is out. Out of style at least. Ironically, people are hungry for simple because the world has become much more complex. The amount of information accessible to us is continually increasing. … The result is a complicated world with complex and busy lives. And, in the midst of complexity, people want to find simplicity. They long for it, seek it, pay for it, even dream of it. Simple is in. Simple works. People respond to simple.

If that is the case with our culture at large, should this not also be the case with us as Christians in regards to our speech? In the first portion of verse 37, Jesus says, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’ Why is Jesus making this point?

Your character should be such a model of truthfulness, you won’t need the stack of Bibles or your momma’s grave or even feel the need to swear to God Himself. Your character will be such that when you speak, they know that you are speaking the truth. You won’t need to lace your conversation with extraneous comments so people will take you credibly.

God gave King Solomon great wisdom. In Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, we read some helpful wisdom for today:

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. [2] Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. [3] For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words.

[4] When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no plea sure in fools. Pay what you vow. [5] It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. [6] Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? [7] For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.

You see, the number of words does not equate to wisdom and devotion. “Let your words be few.” Words are precious, so when we speak, we should make them count.

Dan Doriani is a pastor in Missouri who gives us a helpful illustration. Suppose you say to your child on Thursday evening, “If you help me clean the yard tonight, I’ll take you for ice cream on Sunday. The child immediately replies, “Do you promise?” What is this question? It’s questioning the credibility of the dad. Maybe the dad let the child down previously. Yet, whatever the reason, there is a check in the child’s mind that the Dad will come through.

Take a mental inventory of what you say. How do you use your speech? Do we use our speech to honor God’s good truth and character, or do we use our speech to be thought of greatly by men?

Calling Cards, iPods, and the Worth of our Words, Part I

In Culture, Politics, Preaching, Sermons on July 17, 2008 at 1:20 pm

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 13, 2008 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY. To listen to the sermon in its entirety, click here.)

Truth is a rare commodity in our culture. We find ourselves searching high and low in our culture for truth. Not only do we not find it, we have grown cynical as to whether anyone can really tell us the truth at all. If the great Roman orator Cicero was right that “Nothing is sweeter than the light of truth,” then we are living in dark and bitter times. Daniel Webster noted once, “There is nothing so powerful as truth—and often nothing so strange.” Would we know what to do if we had a politician who told the truth? Would we know what to do with a car salesman who told us not only the good but also the bad of a car we are considering purchasing?

Even among our preachers, we hear of preachers and evangelists embellishing stories and statistics in order to (in theory) make their point more valid. Some have taken such liberties with the truth that some even joke about it while preaching that they are really telling them the truth with this.

This morning, we look at Matthew 5:33-37 and see that our words matter and our words count. What does our speech tell us about our hearts?

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.”

At first, this simply looks like Jesus is speaking of the making and taking of oaths, but he really goes deeper. Many in the Old and New Testament have made oaths to others. Hebrews 6:16 says, “For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation” (Hebrews 6:16, ESV). All through the Sermon on the Mount, in fact, Jesus made an oath when he said, “Truly I say to you… .” In other words, he is giving an oath to help seal the truthfulness of an issue. To Jesus, words mattered to establish truth.

Yet some use words to manipulate. Does saying something, then swearing on a stack of Bibles or swearing on your Momma’s graves or, even more serious, swearing to God to help people believe what you are saying?

1. Our words are the calling card of our character.

I have on me a business card. This business card contains my picture, my name and title, the name of the church, my phone numbers, e-mail, and a short Bible verse. This is my business card that I give whenever I call of folks for a visit. That card, though it contains some great information, is only as good as the man behind it. So too is any oath and really any propositional statement you make is only as good as the character.

Look with me at verse 33 once again: “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’” Up until this point, Jesus brings up two of the Ten Commandments (anger and murder), but here Jesus goes a little further into the particular traditions set up by the rabbis. What Jesus sets up here is a combination of verses found in the Old Testament. For instance, Leviticus 19:12 says: “You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” Numbers 30:2 says, “If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” Deut. 23:21 says, “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.”

These are the verses Jesus has in mind. He puts before them the commands not to swear falsely, or to perjure oneself. But even with religiously minded people, they would find loopholes. Jesus gave the teaching correctly, but there is one clause that we must see: “You shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.” In other words, they taught, “If make a vow or taken an oath swearing by God’s name, then it is permissible and you have to honor it. But if you swear by any other name or by anything else, it could be broken.”

Jesus comes along and says in verse 34-35, “But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.” Again, Jesus here is not forbidding the taking of oaths. He is forbidding taking oaths in such a careless manner that they are rendered meaningless. Jesus takes umbrage in other areas in which we use words carelessly.

In October, we shall spend four weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer and our prayer before the Lord. In Matthew 6:7-8, Jesus says, “And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. [8] Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” The New American Standard version puts it nicely, “Do not use meaningless repetition.” Our words have to have weight!

Same principle here. Some made vows to heaven thinking that conveyed a seriousness, but still gave them an out to be at odds with the truth. But Heaven is God’s throne. Earth is God’s footstool. Jerusalem is his city. But it went even further. In Matthew 23:16-22, Jesus said:

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ [17] You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? [18] And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ [19] You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? [20] So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. [21] And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. [22] And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.

What’s the point? It is all part of God’s created order. Every lie brings shame upon the name of God ultimately. Just because we say certain things about stacks of Bibles and momma’s graves does not mean that God gives us a free pass to play fast and loose with our words.

Do I Have a Teachable Spirit? (Part II: Living God’s Unshakable Truth)

In Church Life, Sermons on July 8, 2008 at 9:32 pm

As I read through this portion of Scripture, the Spirit really shined his light on my heart and asked me this probing question: “Do I have a teachable spirit?” There are times when I fear I do not. I find myself really reading a lot of books about the Bible rather than spending the majority of my time in God’s Word.

Many Christians, I fear, believe that there will come or has come a day when they have learned all they need to know about God. Sadly, many so-called Christians feel that as long as they know enough to be saved, there is no sense in learning any more sense they are already going to heaven.

Others believe that they simply do not have the mind to really dig down deep and explore the great truths that God has given to us! In the first portion of Psalm 86:11, David prays, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth.” In order to say, “Teach me your way, O Lord,” we in essence are saying, “Lord, I cannot know your way unless you show me.” David is not only humbled by at God’s greatness, humbled at his majesty, humbled that he can create and sustain such a vast universe on the grandest and the smallest scales imaginable. This produces not just an awe of God, but also an awe of our sinfulness and finiteness before God. In other words, in order for us to have a teachable spirit, we have to be bruised and crushed in our sin, which then produces a desire in David to grow closer and learn more about his glorious God.

John Calvin in his commentaries says, “He tacitly contrasts the ways of God with all the counsels which he could derive from carnal reason. In submitting himself to God, and in imploring him to be his guide, he confesses that the only possible way by which we can be enabled to live a holy and upright life is when God goes before us while we follow after him.”

How can we tell if we have a teachable spirit? Three questions!

First, do you make every effort possible to make it to worship services and Bible studies where the Scripture is taught?

Secondly, do you make efforts to read books and watch shows that deal with the Scriptures or biblical themes? There is no shortage of books and channels in the world (just go to any bookstore) dealing with every topic under the sun. Of the books and magazines you read, the websites you frequent, and the TV shows you watch, how many of those shows honor God’s Word in their content?

Thirdly, do you read the Scriptures to simply lean or do you read to know God and his will? Notice verse 11a again: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth.” This is what the Scriptures are about, to echo Howard Hendricks in “Living By the Book” — the Scriptures are about life-change. The Scriptures transform (Isaiah 55:11-12) through the moving of the Spirit who inspires the Scriptures.

Do you have a teachable spirit?

Living God’s Unshakable Truth, Part I: A Desire To Love The One True God

In Culture, For Preachers/Pastors, Sermons on July 7, 2008 at 11:22 am

(This sermon was preached on Sunday, July 6, 2008, as part of our VBS Kickoff at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY. To listen to the entire sermon, click here.)

This morning serves as our VBS Kickoff. All this week, children from all over will march in to say their pledges, sing their songs, enjoy the puppets, do the Penny March, guess in the Mystery Box, have snacks, make crafts, and learn about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As you have seen from everyone wearing T-Shirts, the theme is “Outrigger Island: Living God’s Unshakable Truth.”

What a great theme. Living God’s Unshakable Truth! How does one go about this? What’s interesting is that when many read this, they have a hard time reconciling this statement. When people read the word ‘truth,’ they begin to this of principles and ideas that can be thought, but it does not have to affect their living. It is a truth that 2+2=4, but how does that truth change my life? We can know that Johannesburg is the capital of South Africa. That’s true, but so what?

What we are seeing is that there are truths put out in the Scriptures that we cannot just take or leave. We have to deal with them and have a choice of accepting them or rejecting them. And left to our own devices, we will reject the great truths that God puts forward in his Word and his world. But God works in us to help us not only know the truth but to live out that truth. You see, we live out what we believe… you cannot separate the two.

So what does your life speak about how you live? Is it on the shifting sand of the here and now? You’ll never get your footing that way.

1. We have a desire to love the only true God.

In Psalm 86:10, we read, “For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.” Isn’t it wonderful that we can go to God in prayer? “For you…” David says. He’s not just simply stating how great God is and how wonderful his acts are — he’s addressing them to God. We see even Jesus doing this: “Our Father who heaven, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” He puts before God his attributes in order to glorify him. Again, Jesus does this in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Some may ask, “Why would you spend time in prayer telling God about Himself? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if he is God, he already knows?” To answer this, Charles Spurgeon said when writing about prayer that we should learn to pray with arguments. He said that we should “sharpen our thinking by learning to express the reasons why God should answer our prayers affirmatively.” So this method of praying is not simply for his benefit, but for ours. We pray out of love for God so that his glory may spread in our hearts.

David does this all through Psalm 86. He tells God all about … God! God is “gracious” (v. 3), “good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you” (v. 4), and that in the day of trouble he calls upon him, “for you answer me” (v. 7). He tells God that there is none other God like him (v. 8). Later, he calls God “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (v. 15).

So back in verse 10, David starts by calling God “great.” David realizes that God is the only one… he is exclusive. “There is none like you among the dogs, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours” (86:8). David knows that even though he is “poor and needy” (v. 1) and is pleading for grace (v. 6), he is able to obtain an audience with the great God of the universe because he knows that, even though he is God over all, he “will answer” (v. 7).

God is great and does great things. He is unshakable. And since God is truth and his Word is truth, we know that there is a sure anchor in this world. In fact, he is the only anchor we have. He knows that there is only one true and living God who is worthy of our praise and adoration. In theory, many of us believe there is just one God who made and sustains all. Some say, “Since there is just one God, then all religions lead to that one God. After all, all religions basically say the same thing.” This is silly, of course, because there are clearly marked differences.

Let me ask you this: do you have an issue with prayer? Do you find yourself not knowing what to say in prayer? Then come before God and pray back to him his attributes. Pray back to him the Scriptures. Do we struggle with coming before him in prayer? Maybe it’s because instead of telling God how great he is and how wonderful he does things, we in our heart of hearts want to see that!

But part of loving the true God is getting to know him and his attributes. Paul said he would rather know Christ than have all the accolades of the world. For Peter, who in the flesh longed to be first and rely on his own strength in obedience, noted in 1 Peter 2:6 that Jesus is our cornerstone and that he is “precious.” He paved the way to heaven by his death, burial, and resurrection. Christ not only died for our sins but was raised for our sins as well. He intercedes even now. The only way we can truly love God is by loving Jesus who shows us his greatness and shows us the wondrous things he has done.

Why God Gave Us Marriage, Part III: A Portrait of Christ and His Church

In Church Life, Culture, Family on July 3, 2008 at 1:03 pm

In Ephes. 5:31-32, the Apostle Paul

“’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

We must realize that marriage gives us a portrait of Christ and his bride, the Church. Paul calls it a “mystery,” but not the type that you try to keep a secret for as long as you can, but one that you reveal at just the right time.

Again, you see why God takes this seriously. So what do we see as far as this portrait that a marriage should look like? Well, as we go through these, I pray you will not only reflect on your own personal marriage, but also look to Christ who is the perfect Husband to his bride and rejoice and praise Him for who He is and all He has accomplished.

Going back to Ephesians 5:23, we see that Christ is the head of the church. He is the spiritual authority of his people and we as his bride submit to him. He is perfectly capable of leading his church. As Christ is the head of his house, so Christ must be the head of our house — with each member submitting to him in all things.

Next, Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). This really caught me. Sometimes, the church does not seem all that lovable. All too often, we find ourselves very sporadic in our devotion to God, in our attendance, in actively engaging in our times of worship, or rarely spending time with him. But for whatever reason that I will never fully understand, he loves us. Not only does he love us but He gave himself for us. This was not just a feeling of love, but a sacrificial love that put self aside for his beloved. This is a connection we see all through Scripture: Christ loves, Christ gives (see John 3:16 among others).

Christ also nurtures the church.
Verse 26 says that he wishes to sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor without sport or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” Christ takes it upon himself to love his bride whom he purchased with his own blood. Verse 29 talks of how he “nourishes and cherishes” the church.

Christ leads, loves, sacrifices, and nurtures his church. In return, the church submits to this— willingly! Dear Christian, does this describe your marriage? Does it describe mine? Do we realize that our marriages, good or bad, are a portrait of Christ and his church? May God continue to open this truth up in our hearts so that our marriages would line up with His will, not with the shifting sands of the culture.

Why Does God Care About Marriage, Part II: Marriage is the Primary Bond

In Uncategorized on July 2, 2008 at 3:10 pm

Larry Cunningham in an article in Reader’s Digest a number of years ago told about the time he was visiting friends. While there, they received a telephone call from their recently married daughter. After several tense minutes on the phone, the mother told the father to pick up the extension. The newlyweds had had their first big fight. In a few moments, the father rejoined us and tersely explained, “Said she wanted to come home.” “What did you tell her?” I asked. “Told her she was home.”

Matthew 19:5-6 quotes Jesus as saying, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:5-6). Here, Jesus quotes from Genesis 2, establishing once again that marriage is not a new institution nor simply a cultural one, but a spiritual one. It’s not just about a ‘piece of paper,’ but it’s an acknowledgment that the God of heaven has joined you together.

Each culture has struggled with the role of marriage, and they did as well in Jesus’ day. In Matthew 5:31, “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ In fact, the Pharisees bring this up in Matthew 19 when, in expressing disagreement with what Jesus said, noted, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” (Matthew 19:7). So, since this is mentioned in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19, permit me if you will to help understand.

Turn with me to Deut. 24:1-4

“When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 24:1-4)

Granted, this is a heavy passage. Many have interpreted this to be a way to get out of a marriage, but this is not the case. This is dealing with the matter of adultery and how divorcing someone improperly will lead to adultery. The whole passage hinges on the understanding of a phrase found in verse 1: “he has found some indecency in her.” What is this indecency? The indecency was not adultery, because adultery was punishable by death. But it may have been some indecent act that led up to adultery that brought disgrace and betrayal upon the union. In this passage, we see not an excuse for divorce but the potential harm and evil that comes from it. It serves as a warning that divorce can bring about adultery if a marriage ever takes place.

You may say, “Well, why did God allow this, if he’s so against it?” Jesus enlightens, “Because of your hardness of heart, but it was not so from the beginning.” God gave that provision to protect women from the death penalty and to warn men not to give up on their marriages too quickly.

Now, obviously, while we do not do the death penalty for adultery in 2008, do we see any relevance? Absolutely. God put all these issues and warnings in place so we would take his institution of marriage seriously. It is not something to trivialize or trifle with. We are to leave our father and mother and to join with our spouses so the two will become one flesh! Jesus says in Matthew 5:32, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Why sexual immorality? Because the trust and the bond has been shattered. Does God want us to reconcile, if possible? Absolutely. Is it difficult if not next to impossible under those circumstances? Believe it!

Why Does God Care About Marriage, Part I: He Gave It From the Beginning

In Church Life, Culture, Sermons on July 1, 2008 at 5:00 am

This coming Friday, July 4th, represents the 232nd anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. We live in a country founded on the notion of what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, that our Creator endowed us with the inalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” What is not well known is that this can only work if people were disciplined with a significant moral code. As a result in our day, people are looking to whatever, saying they have the liberty to pursue whatever lifestyle makes them happy.

Of late, that “pursuit of happiness” has been to try and redefine the definition of marriage. In essence, they say that marriage is just a social construct that society has enforced on people for generations. David Graham Cooper, a British physician, believed in the 1960s that we should just do away with the family because it was how British and western culture spread their empire. In the 70s, Kate Millet believed the family must go due to how it enslaved women. In the 90s, homosexual activists seek to redefine marriage because the “traditional” view is too narrow.

Look with me at Matthew 19:3-4

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female?

The Pharisees were trying to test Jesus’ knowledge of the Bible — for the Bible does address this issue. So Jesus puts this line of argument right back on them: “Have you not read …?” You see, the Scriptures show that God had marriage in mind “from the beginning.” This echoes Genesis 1:1, doesn’t it? God had this in mind even before the world began and would serve as a core fabric in our society. Marriage is not a social construct, it is a spiritual contract exclusively between “male and female.” So when you hear about people who are trying to redefine marriage, I want to tell you that this institution is not theirs to redefine. It’s God’s.

Also notice this. One of the arguments from homosexual activists is that Jesus never addresses homosexuality. He is silent on the matter, they say. What they look for is Jesus to come out and say, “Children, homosexuality is a sin.” Yet, in this passage he does address it: he “made them male and female.” He’s talking about marriage, then addresses that marriage is made of male and female. Do we really need to say anything more? Jesus said plenty.

But on a more basic level, does this not truly open our eyes to the seriousness of marriage? It is the first institution that God created. It should not be entered into lightly (and given the nature of the vows expressed at weddings, it is understood that this is a solemn union), but it should never be exited lightly as well. But given how so many in our culture have experienced this devastating trend of leaving. Many enter into it lightly, and leave lightly as well. May we see the seriousness with which Jesus approaches marriage in his ordained way.