Pastor’s Pondering: November 2015

November has always been one of my favorite months because there are so many great things that happen in November.  Thanksgiving immediately comes to mind and with it hunting and holidays leading into December and the New Year.  November is a month for preparing.  Most people probably associate November and preparation and think, “I’ve got to get ready for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have to make preparations for feasting and family.”  Those thoughts are certainly part of our experience, but I would like to challenge you to think about preparation from another perspective.  Thanksgiving, the act, not the holiday is not something we associate readily with preparation, but I think it is an incredibly important part of our spiritual preparation.  Are you ready for heaven?  Thanksgiving will be one of our primary activities when we get there and it is one of our best means of preparation as we await that glorious day.  If you preach the gospel to yourself you will understand how thanksgiving is an inherent part of our faith.  How could it be any other way?  Christ has done for us what we could not do for ourselves.  We have been saved from certain death that we deserved.  How can we not be thankful to our Savior?  That is why the apostle Paul tells us in several of his letters that we are to pray and thanksgiving is to be a large part of our prayers.  Philippians 4:4

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

 I love Thanksgiving, I’m pretty fond of all the holidays we observe in this country, but I particularly love that we have a day set aside for thanksgiving that is named after that activity.  When you consider Thanksgiving as a national holiday, you really cannot escape the Christian influence prevalent in the foundation of the United States.  That is why I’m grieved when I hear with more and more frequency the purposeful denial of the day and its purpose by referring to Thanksgiving as “turkey day.”  More and more stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day in order to draw in shoppers with the trinkets and trash of this world.  Think about it, the holiday is Thanksgiving and on that day we are to do just that, we are to give thanks for the blessings we enjoy.  It is a day for joy and gratitude, not a day for making sacrifices to the idols of materialism.  So here is my challenge to you this year as we live through another November, prepare.  Prepare for Thanksgiving and enjoy the holiday.  Prepare with thanksgiving for family and friends so when the holiday comes you will be ready to truly celebrate it before the Lord.  More importantly than that, I say to you, prepare with thanksgiving to God for that great day when we will see our Savior face to face.  We are a saved people; therefore we are a people of thanksgiving.  No matter what hardships, trials, calamities, or storms you have faced, in Christ you have every reason to be thankful.  Prepare for Thanksgiving with thanksgiving and make it a day of blessing the Lord,

“Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

 



Pastor’s Pondering: October 2015

October is the month of Reformation.  We celebrate Reformation Day on October 31st because on that day in 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg, Saxony.  In those days all theological writings were in Latin and from that time we have a number of Latin phrases, which were “battle cries” of the Reformation.  One such phrase that actually has its origins back to Augustine, is “Ecclesia Semper Reformanda est.”  There are various permutations of this phrase, and we need to be careful how we understand it, but it is very appropriate for the church in 2015 and we certainly need it here at Faith Church.  To that end, I’ve included an excellent little article reprinted from Tabletalk Magazine for your benefit in understanding this very important concept.

 Semper Reformanda

by

Michael Horton

If you’ve been in Protestant circles for very long, whether conservative or liberal, you may have heard the phrase “reformed and always reforming” or sometimes just “always reforming.” I hear it a lot these days, especially from friends who want our Reformed churches to be more open to moving beyond the faith and practice that is confessed in our doctrinal standards. Even in Reformed circles of late, various movements have arisen that challenge these standards. How can confessions and catechisms written in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries guide our doctrine, life, and worship in the twenty-first? Liberal Protestants frequently invoked this phrase to justify their captivity to the spirit of the age, but some conservative Protestants also use it to encourage a broader definition of what it means to be Reformed.

 But where did this phrase come from? Its first appearance was in a 1674 devotional by Jodocus van Lodenstein, who was an important figure in Dutch Reformed pietism — a movement known as the Dutch Second Reformation. According to these writers, the Reformation reformed the doctrine of the church, but the lives and practices of God’s people always need further reformation.

 Van Lodenstein and his colleagues were committed to the teaching of the Reformed confession and catechism; they simply wanted to see that teaching become more thoroughly applied as well as understood. However, here is his whole phrase: “The church is reformed and always [in need of] being reformed according to the Word of God.” The verb is passive: the church is not “always reforming,” but is “always being reformed” by the Spirit of God through the Word. Although the Reformers themselves did not use this slogan, it certainly reflects what they were up to; that is, if one quotes the whole phrase!

 Each clause is crucial. First, the church is

Reformed, and this should be written with a capitalized “R.” If it is true that Jesus rose from the dead two millennia ago in Palestine, then it is just as true in our time and place. The ecumenical creeds confess the faith that we all share across a multitude of cultures and eras. Similarly, the Reformed standards (such as the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Confession and Catechisms) summarize what Reformed Christians believe to be the clear teaching of God’s Word. Churches will always be changing in significant ways depending on their time and place, but these communal ways of confessing Christ remain faithful summaries of “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

 Our forebears who invoked this phrase had in mind the consolidation of catholic and evangelical Christianity embodied in the Reformed confessions and catechisms. There is a reason that this wing of the Reformation called itself “Reformed.” Unlike the Anabaptists, Reformed churches understood themselves as a continuing branch of the catholic church. At the same time, the Reformed wanted to reform everything “according to the Word of God.” Not only our doctrine but our worship and life must be determined by Scripture and not by human whim or creativity.

 Interestingly, it is a mainline Presbyterian theologian, Anna Case-Winters, who brings attention to what she calls “our misused motto.” Winters points out that “in the 16th-century context the impulse it reflected was neither liberal nor conservative, but radical, in the sense of returning to the ‘root.’” This was reflected in the rallying cry,

sola Scriptura

(by Scripture alone). The Reformation had no interest in “change” as an end in itself. As Calvin argued in his treatise “The Necessity of Reforming the Church,” the Reformers were charged with innovation when in fact it was the medieval church’s innovative distortions of Christian faith and worship that required a recovery of apostolic Christianity. Rome pretended to be “always the same,” but it had accumulated a host of doctrines and practices that were unknown to the ancient church, much less to the New Testament.
 
Some people today leave out the “Reformed” part or at least interpret it as “reformed” (little “r”): the church is “always being reformed according to the Word of God.” This means that to be Reformed is simply to be reformed and to be reformed is simply to be biblical. All who base their beliefs on the Bible are therefore “reformed,” regardless of whether their interpretations are consistent with the common confessions of the Reformed churches. However, this runs counter to the original intention of the phrase. Doubtless there are many beliefs and practices that Reformed believers share in common with non-Reformed believers committed to God’s Word. We must always remain open to correction from our brothers and sisters in other churches who have interpreted the Bible differently. Nevertheless, Reformed churches belong to a particular Christian tradition with its own definitions of its faith and practice. We believe that our confessions and catechisms faithfully represent the system of doctrine found in Holy Scripture. We believe that to be Reformed is not only to be biblical; to be biblical is to be Reformed. As important as it is to keep “Reformed” in the phrase, an even more dangerous omission is often found among more liberal Protestants who also leave out the “according to the Word of God” clause. And usually it is “always reforming,” instead of “always being reformed.” In this view, the church is the active party, determining its own doctrine, worship, and discipline in the light of ever-changing cultural contexts. Progressivism becomes an end in itself and the church becomes a mirror of the world.
 
Yet those of us in confessional Reformed churches must also beware of forgetting that our doctrinal standards are subordinate to the Word of God. Christ’s church was reformed by God’s Word in the Reformation and post-Reformation era. It was brought back to God’s Word and the fruit of that great work of the Spirit continues to guide us through our confessions and catechisms. And yet the church is not only Reformed; it is always in need of being reformed. Like our personal sanctification, our corporate faithfulness is always flawed. We don’t need to move beyond the gains of the Reformation, but we do need further reformation. But here is where the last clause kicks in: “always being reformed according to the Word of God.”
 
It is not because the culture is always changing and we need to be up with the times, but because we are always in need of being re-oriented to the Word that stands over us, individually and collectively, that the church can never stand still. It must always be a listening church. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). Personally and corporately, the church comes into being and is kept alive by hearing the gospel. The church is always on the receiving end of God’s good gifts as well as His correction. The Spirit does not lead us apart from the Word but directs us back to Christ as He is revealed in Scripture. We always need to return to the voice of our Shepherd. The same gospel that creates the church sustains and renews it. Our personal conformity to the Word that Paul commands in Romans 12 is never completed in this life, and the same is true of the church in this present age.
 
This perspective keeps us from making tradition infallible but equally from imbibing the radical Protestant obsession with starting from scratch in every generation. When God’s Word is the source of our life, our ultimate loyalty is not to the past as such or to the present and the future, but to “that Word above all earthly pow’rs,” to borrow from Luther’s famous hymn. Neither behind us nor ahead of us, but above us, reigns our sovereign Lord over His body in all times and places. When we invoke the whole phrase — “the church Reformed and always being reformed according to the Word of God” — we confess that we belong to the church and not simply to ourselves and that this church is always created and renewed by the Word of God rather than by the spirit of the age.

 



Pastor’s Pondering: September 2015

Another Summer is about gone and another school year has started.  The cycle of life seems to trudge endlessly on whether or not we notice.  How many times have you stopped to think, “Am I really participating in my life, or am I just along for the ride?”  Sometimes it feels like things are so chaotic that I just go from one thing to the next depending on the level of urgency.  Can you relate to that?  Life seems to overwhelm us at times and we do our best to hold on and just get through.  That is not the kind of life or living to which God has graciously called us.  In our modern therapeutic world we would say that isn’t “healthy” and that is right.  It is not healthy emotionally or physically or spiritually.  That kind of life is not God honoring. 

One of Satan’s greatest tools for keeping us ineffective is to keep us overwhelmed and distracted.  We get busy doing lots of good things, but we miss out on doing the best things.  In the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12), a very successful man is very busy making plans and building barns for his wealth, etc..  None of those things in itself is wrong, but the story ends in tragedy and the man is shown to be a fool because he pursued his own welfare without really considering his own welfare.  He laid up treasures for himself, but he didn’t take care of the most important thing.  He didn’t seek the Lord.  He took care of his physical needs, but he neglected his spiritual needs and when the time came to account (before he was ready) he was lost.  Seek the Lord, while He may be found, call on Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6). 

So where are you in life?  Are you living your life in submission to the Lord, or are you just along for the ride trying to do your best to hold on?  If your answer to that question is anything other than I’m living my life in submission to the Lord, it is time for you to do some serious thinking.  All of us, at normal intervals need time to think and reflect.  We need to withdraw from life’s chaos and ask ourselves some serious questions. I’m a big fan of doing strategic self-reflection.  I’m not a big fan of getting caught up in pointless navel-gazing.  God has not called us to spend all our time contemplating ourselves.  However, the apostle does tell us in 2 Peter 1:10, “Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”  As Christians it is imperative that we know our lives are hidden in Christ with God.  Our lives have been purchased for us with the precious blood of Christ.  Living such a life is to lay up treasures in heaven by His grace. That is a life worth living.  Do not be like the rich fool pouring out his life for himself only to find that he had thrown it all away.  Take time today and get on your knees before the Lord and pray for His hand of mercy and guidance to take hold of your life so that you may know you are His and you are in Christ.  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28).”



Pastor’s Pondering: August 2015

I’m not clairvoyant.  In fact I’m sometimes rather obtuse.  Not to mention that clairvoyance would probably fall under the category of things the Bible calls sorcery.  On a scale of 1-10 that is bad, really bad.  So it is good that I’m not clairvoyant.  I also do not work in the Hall of the Justice League.  Do you remember the Super Friends cartoons?  They had a place to meet that was full of monitors so you could see everything that was going on in the world and respond to impending disasters.  Alas, we don’t have the budget for that kind of thing and it is rather creepy to think that you are constantly being monitored.  Fortunately we live in the real world where we are only constantly monitored by the government, which is also creepy.  So what is the point of all of this?  My point is if you don’t let me know what is happening, I don’t know what is happening.  I don’t say that as an excuse, I’m just saying that to state a fact.  I’m a sinful human being, again not an excuse, just a fact. 

 I recently became aware that I said something that was very offensive to someone.  I didn’t mean to hurt their feelings, but I did.  Sometimes I try to banter with people and they don’t understand and go away hurt.  That is a problem, but the real problem that leads to long-term trouble is when I’m allowed to think there is no problem.  If I don’t know you are hurt, I don’t know you are hurt until sometime later when I notice that our relationship has changed.  There is a coolness there that wasn’t there before.  So once I notice there is a problem then I can deal with it by seeking to make right what I did wrong.  So what if I don’t notice?  Our relationship continues in a place that is damaged and prone to more damage.  If you love me, you will not let me continue in my ignorance.  If you don’t love me, you can walk away from relationship with me and let it go.  In church relationships I see a lot more of the unloving response than the loving response.  People don’t want to cause problems, they don’t want to make waves and when they don’t, they do it at the expense of our fellowship.  In that case the church is damaged and it is ultimately an affront to Jesus Himself.  This thing gets pretty serious very quickly.   This also applies equally well to the marriage relationship (I know some of you already picked up on that). 

 If I haven’t offended you, then we haven’t spent enough time together.  Relationship is about interacting and it brings about change.  I change through interaction.  Usually the most lasting change comes from painful interactions that get worked through and there is confession, repentance and forgiveness.  In the church, I’ve noticed there are those times when people are offended and they choose to let it go and not hold a grudge, this is a great example of

Proverbs 10:12           Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.  Peter picks up on this verse in 1Peter 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

  I’ve been loved earnestly by those who have overlooked my faults; those who have shown me grace in spite of myself.  On the other hand I’m reminded of a woman in the church who loved me “earnestly” by storming into my office when I had said something casually that should not have been said and she, in no uncertain terms, let me know it.  She was very angry and she was right to be and when I thanked her for loving me enough to confront me with my sin, you could have knocked her over with a feather.  She was ready for a fight, but little did she know that she was the Holy Spirit’s messenger to convict me of sin.  I changed that day and I need to keep changing.  Thank you for loving me enough to confront me when I’ve need to be confronted and thank you for showing me grace when I’ve not been gracious.


Pastor’s Pondering: July 2015

The 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) was marked by a significant discussion of racial issues.  The conversation started when Drs. Ligon Duncan and Sean Michael Lucas, both having served or serving congregations in Mississippi, stood up on Tuesday night to introduce a personal resolution calling for the PCA to confess the sins of our churches and people during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.  The following day (Wednesday) of the Assembly, the Overtures Committee had to deal with this resolution and then bring it to the floor for the consideration of the whole Assembly during their report on Thursday.  The debate in the Overtures Committee on this issue lasted nine hours on Wednesday.  The final recommendation of that committee was to refer the issue to the 44th General Assembly so that not just confession was a part of the resolution but that concrete steps toward repentance could be added as well.  For many that was just not enough.  There were many that wanted the 43rd General Assembly to speak to the issues now while these things are in the front of our national consciousness.  Being Presbyterians and having a penchant for doing everything decently and in order makes quick action difficult if not impossible.  Ultimately, the recommendation of the Overtures Committee was adopted and we will take up the issue at the next GA with the intention of making it a more robust statement with tangible actions.  I can live with that and look forward to what will come from the next Assembly.  However, I was one who believed that we needed to speak in a timely fashion and so I joined several hundred men that signed a protest, saying in effect, that we believed the time is now to speak up about the need to confess our sins and to take clear steps to repent of any complicity in sinning against our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ.  That goes for the Civil Rights movement before our denomination even existed right up to today.

 As I write this I realize that someone, far more eloquent and capable of explaining this, will be writing an article for “by Faith” magazine.  So happily you will be able to read more about it later.  I’m particularly glad that I signed that protest because it was the only way for there to be a record in the minutes of the General Assembly that we had discussed these things and were taking them very seriously this year.  It was a way to tell the world that we do things decently and in order because we want things to be right, that doesn’t mean that we are passing the buck to next years Assembly.

 There is much in the news about racial issues these days.  It is a painful thing to wrestle with what happened in Charleston.  We can learn much from the response of our brothers and sisters there as they have grieved with Christlike grace and humility.  Please pray for issues that divide us that should not divide Christians.  God made man in His image, in the image of God He created them male and female.  From our first parents we all trace our heritage, we are one race, let us love that way. 



Pastor’s Pondering: June 2015

I have on a number of occasions addressed church discipline in my pastor’s pondering and it is right and fitting to do so again.  Most of the time when I address discipline it is in regard to discipleship and what I call the “positive side” of discipline.  However, most people when they thing of church discipline think of the “negative” or “judicial side.” If you put the word “disciple” next to the word “discipline” you immediately see the two are connected.  Jesus commissioned the church to go into all the world making disciples.  Part of that process of being the church is to discipline those disciples so that Christ will be honored, disciples will be grown up in the faith and the church will be effective and fruitful.  You know that a church is a true church by these three indicators: 1) the faithful preaching of God’s Word, 2) the right administration of the sacraments, and 3) the proper exercise of discipline.  The elders of the church are called and set apart by God as confirmed by the church (disciples) to make sure these things happen for the benefit of the church.  Since we have been seeing Paul dealing with discipline in 1Corinthians 5 and following, I thought it appropriate to put some basic principles in writing for you.

 Many people and many “so-called” churches get really nervous when you start talking about discipline, because they immediately think of judicial discipline.  You’ll hear words associated with it like “mean,” “judgmental,” “unloving,” “harsh,” etcetera, etcetera.  The purpose of discipline generally is stated above, but the specific purpose of judicial discipline is the honor of Christ and the restoration of errant sinners.  This is no small thing and cannot be taken lightly.  Matthew 18:15-20 is very clear about the process of discipline and our Book of Church Order gives very clear guidelines for how to proceed in these matters.  When a person is in sin or suspected of being in sin they are approached privately and if that is not successful in bringing about repentance then that person is approached again privately but with several others involved.  If that fails to generate repentance then the person is brought to trial before the elders and if they will still not repent, then for the benefit of the church and for the ultimate benefit of the person involved they are put outside the covenant community. 

 Church discipline is a hard thing and it is hard on the church that pursues discipline because there are so many ways this gets misunderstood and misinterpreted.  First of all, the Session seeks to guard the privacy of the individual involved until such time as they are admonished, barred from the sacrament, or excommunicated.  Since I have been here we’ve only done that twice and it didn’t need to go beyond the Session because both parties were repentant and restored.  The discipline really only needs to be known as far as the sin is known. Second, the Session is a fallible body of men, everyone knows that and sometimes that is used to make the accusation of being inconsistent, judgmental, or holier-than-thou.  The Session does make mistakes, but let me caution you that you do well to not jump to that conclusion too quickly.  This is one of those places where the men on the Session shudder and are very deliberate and cautious in exercising this awesome responsibility.  Another source of trouble is when word gets out that someone is under discipline and the gossip chain gets fired up. People get all sorts of exercise jumping to conclusions.  Most of those conclusions are not based on knowledge of the truth.  That is why the Bible speaks so strongly and negatively about gossip.  There are many dynamics at work in these situations and lots of room for misunderstanding.  If you have questions about discipline or maybe something you have heard about discipline, please bring it to me and I’ll be glad to discuss it with you.  Remember it is all for the glory of Christ and the benefit of sinners, like you and me.

 As a pastor, I have been accused of a lot of things in regards to church discipline.  For the most part those accusations have not been in accord with knowledge. 



Pastor’s Pondering: May 2015

One of the things every pastor needs to consider and develop is a philosophy of ministry.  It has been my philosophy of ministry to not run programs if there are not people in the congregation who feel called and have a heart to do that ministry.  I like to refer to that as organic ministry.  If we are not raising up people from within the church who want to take on a ministry as their own, we don’t need to be generating programs just to be able to say we have that program.  The Holy Spirit gifts individual believers with gifts for ministry.  Yes, that means you have been gifted for ministry by the Holy Spirit if in fact you are trusting by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone as Savior and Lord. Now the question is, “what is your ministry?”  If people in the church don’t step up and take on the challenge of ministry it is not going to happen because the pastor can’t do it all.  We got a good taste of that truth last year when we chose to cancel our Vacation Bible School because we just didn’t have anyone willing and ready to step up and lead that ministry. 

I’m very happy to say that people have risen to the challenge this year and it is a real blessing for the church not only to have VBS, but to have people who are exercising their gifts for the glory of God and the advancement of the kingdom.  So you may be asking at this point, “what does that have to do with me?”  Well the answer is this, you may not be called to be a part of running VBS, but that doesn’t mean you are excused from supporting your church and its outreach to the community.  You can support VBS in a number of ways that will not require your presence during the fourth week of June.  First, you can pray for the success of VBS.  This in itself is a big job, because there is much to pray for; leaders, teachers, helpers, kids all need your prayers.  Pray that the gospel would be presented clearly and that the Holy Spirit would prepare hearts to hear and receive it.  Pray for the provisions we need to run the ministry.  Pray for many who don’t attend church to come and hear about Jesus.  Second, you can really help by inviting people to participate.  You have access to children outside our church who might really benefit from VBS.  Be bold to invite your friends, family members and any other children you may come in contact with.  Third, you can help by providing materials that will be needed.  There will be more about that published in the bulletin and on the website. 

 Yes, you can be a part of VBS without really leaving your home.  We need to pull together as a church and fully support those ministries and programs the Lord raises up people to pursue and coordinate here at Faith Church.  I hope you will participate at some level and put God’s gifting to work in your life for His glory.



Pastor’s Pondering: April 2015

If you will remember from last month’s pastor’s pondering, I heard a great sermon on forgiveness preached from the parable of the unmerciful servant from Matthew 18:21-35.  Jesus invites us to see ourselves in the parable.  The painful part is that we are to see ourselves in the place of the unmerciful servant because we are like him. 

When you read the parable it is not easy to put yourself in the place of the unmerciful servant because he is the villain in the story and he comes to the end of the story and gets what he deserves.  It is not at all comfortable for us to take the hard look in the mirror that Jesus is challenging us to do as he tells the story.  As we consider the fact that we are sinners who are also sinned against, we need to consider both sides of our being. 

We begin with the sinful side.  This is where we bring the gospel to bear in our lives.  Christ died for sinners and we hold to that truth with all that we are because we know we are sinners in desperate need of a Savior.  The Scriptures say believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.  Therefore, as the Holy Spirit enables us, we believe.  Salvation, forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ is Good News.  We may even struggle to understand why anyone would reject that gospel message. We need to understand that exercising faith in Christ is not simply an intellectual exercise.  Certainly there is an intellectual aspect to it, there are facts that we need to know, but there is also an aspect of agreement.  We must agree that this is true and that knowing and believing together is followed by our action.  We hear the gospel and respond in faith because the Holy Spirit enables us to know and believe the truth and we are then able to act by placing our faith and trust in Christ.  However, we don’t stop there.  Real gospel change will be seen not in a person’s profession of faith (although profession is important). 

Now lets take a look at the other side of things, the more difficult side.  This is where we are called to apply the gospel to our lives when someone sins against us. Real gospel change is seen in the changed life.  We can tell the difference between lost sinners and redeemed sinners by how they react when they are sinned against.  We’ve stated that we are sinners who are also sinned against.  The question we need to be asking is, how do I respond when someone sins against me?  Do I sin against them in retaliation or do I seek reconciliation and forgive?  If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you have been forgiven an impossible debt, just like the unmerciful servant.  Now the question is will you show the same mercy that you have received?  If so, you show forth the love of Jesus that is in you.  If not, you show that the love of Jesus is not in you.  It is a hard lesson.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.



Pastor’s Ponderings: March 2015

I very much enjoyed going through a series on the Ordo Salutis and am somewhat sorry it is over.  The problem with ending one series is figuring out what to do in the next.  I thought it might be helpful to take a look briefly at the subject of forgiveness.  There is a lot of confusion surrounding forgiveness and I think it would be good for us to take a quick look at the issue. 

What is forgiveness?  Unfortunately, the catechism doesn’t give us a good answer to that question.  It does in terms of our salvation, but not as we practice forgiveness with others.  So I submit the following general definition of forgiveness from the Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms: “Forgiveness – Pardoning or remitting an offense.  It restores a good relationship with God, others, or the self after sin or alienation.”  God has reconciled us to Himself by forgiving our sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  Forgiveness with God is a one-way street, because God never needs our forgiveness.  That is not so for our other relationships.  As I am fond of saying, we need to remember that we are sinners who have been sinned against.  Therefore we need to forgive others just as we need their forgiveness. 

 If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus that concept shouldn’t be foreign to you.  However, it is surprising at times how unforgiving believers can be.  I don’t get the privilege of sitting under live preaching very often, but this past Sunday I was on a commission to install a new pastor within our Presbytery.  As part of that service of installation I heard one of the best sermons on forgiveness that I have ever heard.  The pastor spoke from Matthew 18:21-35.  It is a sermon about extreme forgiveness and subsequent un-forgiveness.  It is about the gospel and living in light of the gospel.  Peter asks how often should we forgive the brother that sins against us and Jesus answer with the word picture of a parable.  It is a familiar parable, a servant owes his master the equivalent of billions of dollars, a sum no one could ever have the hope of paying off.  The master takes pity on the servant and forgives the debt.  Think of such a huge debt being forgiven.  It will have a serious impact on the financial affairs of the master.  It will be a costly forgiveness for a long time if not always.  Yet the master had compassion and chose to absorb the debt even at such great cost to himself.  The servant then turns around and goes out and demands another servant pay his debt of about the equivalent of 6,500 dollars.  It is a lot of money, but it is possible to pay it.  The first servant shows no compassion and has the other servant thrown into debtor’s prison until the money is paid.  The one who received mercy showed no mercy.  Who are you in the parable?  Jesus invites us to walk in the shoes of the unmerciful servant, because he is the one we are most like.  It is a painful look in the mirror.  We’ll take another look at this parable and the whole idea of forgiveness next month.  Until then, may the Lord bless you as you practice forgiveness.



Pastor’s Ponderings: February 2015

If you are reading this, I hope you are waiting for this month’s Pastor’s Pondering with great anticipation.  I’ve been looking forward to writing this one and I’m looking forward even more to experiencing what I’m writing about in this edition.  Since May of 2014 we have been going through the Order of Salvation (Ordo Salutis), which, as you may remember, are the various steps in the process of salvation.  It is through this order of salvation that God ultimately brings us to Himself, whole and blameless.  We have looked at effectual calling, regeneration, faith, repentance, justification, adoption, sanctification, perseverance, and we close with glorification.

So we have to ask, “what is glorification?”  The Westminster Shorter Catechism does not have a question about “glorification.”  It has two questions about glorification (37 & 38), neither of them mentioning the term “glorification”, however both describe the process.  They are as follows: Q. 37. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at death?

  1. The souls of believers are at their death made perfect in holiness, and do immediately pass into glory; and their bodies, being still united in Christ, do rest in their graves, till the resurrection.
  2. 38. What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the resurrection?
  3. At the resurrection, believers, being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment, and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

Notice in question 37 that when a believer dies, they are perfected in holiness and go to be with the Lord.  That is part of our glorification, the perfecting of our souls.  The long process of sanctification is completed.  However, this doesn’t capture all there is to glorification, because at the point of death, our bodies and souls are separated, so we are not perfected completely.  God created us in perfection as a whole comprised of both body and soul.  That is where question 38 comes in to address the eternal state of the body.  At the resurrection our bodies will be reunited with our souls in perfection and we will be with the Lord in glory and glorifying Him forever.  That is what glorification is about, that is what we look forward to as the ultimate fulfillment of the order of salvation.  God is saving us and nothing will keep the believer from being fully glorified in God’s presence. 

We read the words of the Apostle John in 1 John 3:2, Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  When we come to that time, then we will experience in fullness our the chief end of man, “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  That is a blessed promise and a blessed hope.  This is the end to which Christ saved us; this is our ultimate freedom in Christ.  Live today in light of this truth and indeed your life will be glorious.