Friday, December 4, 2009

Preaching God Loves!

Ezekiel 3:27

“But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ He who hears, let him hear; and he who refuses, let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house.”

Those reading this on Facebook will find it easier to read from the original blog site.

God loves preaching. In fact, He invented it. It was God who called Noah to preach to his generation about the coming judgment. It was God who sent the prophets to preach to Israel. And so it should be no surprise, that when God became man, what do we find Him doing? Preaching, of course! "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23)." Preaching is God’s idea. But as with every good idea of God, sinful man has found a way to corrupt it and misuse it.

What is the preaching that God loves? What sort of preaching pleases God? Is it the preaching that typically fills our sanctuaries today? Oh my soul, listen to our text this day and see in the Lord’s commission to Ezekiel the type of preaching approved by God.

1. First, God-pleasing preaching is a response to the command of God, not conditioned by the response of man. True preaching does not begin with what I want to hear. A preacher must come to terms with this as he constructs every sermon. “What is my first priority – pleasing God or pleasing man?” Ezekiel was told, basically, to forget about results. “He who hears, let him hear, and he who refuses, let him refuse.” The duty of the God-pleasing preacher is faithfulness to the message of God, and only such preaching truly cares for the souls of men. Paul says in Galatians "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ (Galatians 1:10)."

Too much modern preaching is constructed to please and flatter men. Never offend! That is the slogan of the church today. Preaching seems to be driven by the consumer in a sort of sermon-by-survey approach. If flashy video and casual chats are more comfortable, then that is what the leadership of the modern church provides. But such methods are man’s methods and not God’s. The Lord told Ezekiel to preach and not to worry about the results. If they will hear, let them hear. If they refuse, let them refuse. God doesn’t adjust the message to make the truth more pleasing to fallen men. The Lord said to Ezekiel “I will open your mouth.” God-pleasing preaching flows from the mouths of men content to be the messengers of God. A preacher is, in some respects, God’s puppet. And the problem with much of modern preaching is that it has removed the arm of Almighty God and replaced it with the feeble hand of man.

2. Second, God-pleasing preaching demands serious attention to the words of God. “But when I speak to you…” No man can faithfully proclaim the word of God who is not carefully and humbly listening to the voice of God. This demands study. Preaching and teaching God’s word requires the labor and diligence of carefully examining the Scriptures. “Study” said Paul to Timothy “to show yourself approved unto God.” Too much preaching today sounds like it flows from studying the newspapers, the TV shows, or the bestselling novels rather than a diligent and painstaking study of the living Word of God. How many hours are spent anymore weighing carefully the words of preachers and commentators in previous generations? How much time is spent interacting with the original text to be sure that God’s main point in any verse or passage is actually our main point as well? How much time is spent to ensure the sermon is balanced with proper amounts of “doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.” How much time is spent weeping over the text so that a man can say, without hesitation, "For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:27)." Ezekiel was to pay close attention to what God said. Iain Murray put it this way “Sermons will not be marked by authority and power unless they are marked by truth that the Holy Spirit can honor. The word of God is to be exegeted and explained. That has to be the heart of the sermon.”

Preaching that fails to give serious weight and attention to God’s Word never gives true glory to God’s Son. The reason is simple. Jesus Christ is the Word of God. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14)." To play loose with God’s Word will always result in playing loose with God’s Son. It was His Son with whom God was perfectly pleased. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And God-pleasing preaching will always pay close attention to the Scriptures through which His Son is made known to us. Isaac said to him whom he would bless “make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me…”(Genesis 27:4)." Dear preacher, that is what the Lord is saying to you every week as you prepare your sermons: “Make me savory food, such as I love!” And the Holy Spirit only blesses those sermons that are sliced and seasoned with ingredients from the holy pantry of His inspired Word.

3. Third, God-pleasing preaching demands communicating God’s Word with God’s authority. “Thus says the Lord.” Away with your own thoughts, your own opinions, and your own perspectives! Keep your suggestions to yourself! Give us the Word of God, tell us what God has said, and declare with humble dignity the eternal truth for our eternal souls. “Thus says the Lord!” No man truly preaches with authority that is not sure his words are grounded in the Word of God. So says Peter “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.” So it was with the teaching of Jesus Christ. He taught, and “they were astonished at His teaching (Mark 1:22).” Why? “For He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Charles Spurgeon put it this way “The clearness of the testimony is spoiled when doubtful voices are scattered among the people, and those who ought to preach the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, are telling out for doctrines the imaginations of men, and the inventions of the age.

The sort of preaching sought out today carries no authority with it. The whole atmosphere of modern worship is designed to downplay the importance and place of truth. I heard a sermon online recently preached by a man who, after a nice musical piece had finished, apologized to the congregation that they now had to “put up with his babbling.” This sort of false humility tends to demean and diminish the authority of God in preaching. John Gerstner put it well when he said “If preachers insist on competing with psychiatrists as counselors, with physicians as healers, with politicians as statesmen and with philosophers as speculators, then these specialists have every right to tell them how to preach. If a minister’s message is not based on “Thus saith the Lord,” then as a sermon it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of the specialists in the department with which it deals.”

Dear reader: Do you love preaching? Do you love the kind of preaching that God loves? Are you hearing it? If not, why not? How long can a child of God endure what their heavenly Father cannot enjoy? In the words of Isaiah "Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance (Isaiah 55:2)." Are you afraid that maybe - just maybe - more serious preaching might demand of you more serious living? Have you grown comfortable with sermons that pat you on the back rather than poke you in the eye? I plead with you to carefully consider these things, as one who cares for your soul.

And you, O my soul, if you hear this sort of God-pleasing preaching…are you listening? Am I doing what I hear? Am I obeying the voice of the Lord? How many souls have soothed themselves to sleep simply because they sit under faithful preaching and think, therefore, that all is well? Hearing will not save you. Many heard the very sermons of Christ on earth who now hear nothing but cries of anguish in hell. Have you closed with Christ? Have you embraced by faith Him whom every God-pleasing sermon seeks to exalt? Oh be careful how you hear! "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:17)."

Monday, November 30, 2009

More Sunday School Lessons

Audio for this post is only available at the blog: Pickled Eggs

Continuing to post the Adult Sunday school lessons here taught at Immanuel Chapel OPC church in Upton, MA.

From Sunday November 22, 2009. The final lesson on Colossians 2:1-7, focussing primarily on verse 7.

"As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving"

From Sunday November 29, 2009. This is the first lesson in a series on Colossians 2:8-10. Here Paul begins to address the Colossian heresy directly. We only dealt with part of verse 8 today:

"Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration

Those reading this note from elsewhere, like Facebook, will find it easier to read from the original blog site:

The Manhattan Declaration, begun in NY on September 28, 2009 and released on November 20, 2009, is a 4700 word document endorsed by 152 religious leaders, united to oppose the moral collapse of our society in the areas of marriage, abortion, and religious freedom. The document is intended to be a cooperative effort of “Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians” to join forces and “speak and act in defense of these truths.” Prominent signers of the document from the evangelical community include men such as Chuck Colson, Dr. J.I. Paker, Dr. Robert Cannada Jr. and Pastor Al Mohler. Many other Catholics and Evangelicals have rallied support and signed this declaration. Professor Al Mohler argues for support from his blog in which he writes on November 23, 2009:

I believe we are facing an inevitable and culture-determining decision on the three issues centrally identified in this statement. I also believe that we will experience a significant loss of Christian churches, denominations, and institutions in this process. There is every good reason to believe that the freedom to conduct Christian ministry according to Christian conviction is being subverted and denied before our eyes.”

But others, such as Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church, refuse to sign such a document on the grounds that it compromises the gospel. In a statement released on Tuesday November 24, 2009 he writes:

Instead of acknowledging the true depth of our differences, the implicit assumption (from the start of the document until its final paragraph) is that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant Evangelicals and others all share a common faith in and a common commitment to the gospel’s essential claims. The document repeatedly employs expressions like “we [and] our fellow believers”; “As Christians, we . . .”; and “we claim the heritage of . . . Christians.” That seriously muddles the lines of demarcation between authentic biblical Christianity and various apostate traditions.”

Who is right? To sign or not to sign…that is the question! Men of great intellect and accomplishment appear to be taking positions on both sides of the line. Does it matter? I believe that it does. Personally I am deeply saddened that so many good men and women from Evangelical churches no longer appreciate the significance of this compromise. They seem to believe that we can safely set aside our differences on the gospel to deal with matters of social sin. But my dear reader, the only means appointed by God to deal with sin IS the gospel. And although the Manhattan Declaration clearly states that it is “our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness” it has, in my opinion, utterly and entirely ignored this duty in the context of this document. I do not claim any sort of perfect grasp or understanding of the issues involved in the Declaration. Like you, maybe, I am just trying to think these things through as a steward and servant of Jesus Christ and, if possible, hope to help others to do the same. I do, however, feel compelled to speak. Allow me to lay out, in my opinion, the problems with the Manhattan Declaration:

Problem #1: Soft-peddling the Problem of Sin

The document deals with matters which the Bible clearly and unequivocally calls SIN. But the document fails miserably, in my opinion, to clearly call these moral failures by this name. Sin is not mentioned as a concern in the Preamble (page 1). Sin is not mentioned in the declaration (page 2). When dealing with the issue of abortion (page 3) the document does not call it sin, does not call it murder. The section on government tyranny (page 7) never speaks of sin. The section on marriage (which runs from page 3-6) only mentions sin in 1 short paragraph and in that context the emphasis, in my opinion, is clearly to downplay the seriousness of sin. There are 5 references to “sin” or “sinner” in this little paragraph (and nowhere else in the document). Here are 4 of the 5 references:

Our rejection of sin, though resolute, must never become the rejection of sinners. For every sinner, regardless of the sin, is loved by God, who seeks not our destruction but rather the conversion of our hearts.”

This section does not call marital infidelity sin, does not call homosexuality sin, though I grant it seems to be implied. It only deals with God’s love and desire to restore sinners…but sadly never presents God’s just wrath and anger with our sin. Although it is right to speak of God’s love toward sinners, that concept has been divorced in this document from God’s anger with sinners. Both are Biblical. Psalm 7:11 says “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day." It must be remembered (with fear and trembling) that God doesn’t send sin to hell…he sends sinners to hell. In fact, this section wrongly identifies the drive toward same-sex marriage as a symptom of the “the erosion of the marriage culture.” Is that what the Bible says? In Romans 1 Paul talks about homosexuality. He clearly identifies the cause. It is not because man has rejected “marriage” but because man has rejected “God.”

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them…Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” (Romans 1:18, 19, 27)."

I believe the section on abortion equally tiptoes around the issue of sin, and focuses the issue on the “loss of the sense of the dignity of the human person.” Though true, it misses the point. Man has sinfully rejected God and therefore loves death (Proverbs 8:36). The wages of sin are death. Murder (not simply “killing” as the document prefers to call it…which is misleading) is an attack upon God Himself. Men murder themselves and others ultimately because they want to murder God.

Problem #2: Avoiding the Solution to the Problem: Repentance and the Cross

The Manhattan Declaration, thus unwilling to deal with sin as sin, is unable to deal with the remedy provided in the cross of Jesus Christ. Since the cause is not really addressed, the cure is not really needed. Since the wrath of God against sin isn’t mentioned, it is appropriate that the cross is not mentioned either. Notice: the cross of Christ is never mentioned. This is a document on sin, serious sin, by those claiming to be Christians, and they never once mention the cross. But this should not surprise us. Paul said, writing to the Corinthians “…but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23)." The cross has long been an embarrassment to many in the church, so it is not surprising to find it absent from such public appeals. The world has no use for the cross, for a bloody Savior, for an atonement that would cost so much.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the central event in the history of the world which proclaims both the seriousness of sin, and God’s plan to deal with sin through a substitutionary sacrifice of His very own Son.

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7)."

"But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7)."

Some will say that this misses the purpose of the document. I say again: this Declaration is intended to highlight the offense of three particular and pressing sins of our day. It is, if you will, a “sin soaked” document. And it has been drafted by professing Christians– not doctors, psychiatrists, or lawyers (well…not AS lawyers). Christians! And it has not one drop of the blood of Christ. The drafters, and signers, in my opinion, should be ashamed.

This Declaration also never calls sinners to repentance. The Bible has a solution for sin. Repent! But such a call is neither politically correct nor polite any longer. They gently ask Christians to repent of sin, but not others. While discussing the marriage failures of many believers they write “…we repent, and call upon all Christians to do the same.” Yes, we need to repent. Christians need to repent. Every day I must repent. But it is a sad day in Evangelical Christianity when representatives no longer have the courage or conviction to call all mankind to repent of their sins before a holy God. The late James Montgomery Boice put it well in his book called “Foundations of the Christian Faith” when he said “We often hear the "Savior" characteristics of God stressed – His love, mercy, goodness and so on – but the matter of his lordship is absent. The distortion is particularly clear in evangelism. In modern practice the call to repentance is usually called an "invitation," which one can obviously accept or refuse. It is offered politely. Seldom do we hear presented God's sovereign demand to repent or his demand for total submission to the authority of his appointed king, Christ Jesus.”

Problem #3: A Call to Discernment

One of the saddest elements of this document is the testimony it gives to the growing lack of discernment amongst evangelicals. Discerning Christians should recognize the evangelical names on this document and begin to see red flags immediately. J.I. Packer is the author of several books that I dearly love. He has helped me in many ways develop as a Christian. But several years ago, against the advice of many of the most prominent and faithful leaders in Reformed and Evangelical Christian circles, he signed the hotly debated Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) document. Chuck Colson has made it abundantly clear for a long time that he believes the Catholic church to be just one expression of the body of Christ to which we all, as “Christians” are united. He has said “But at root, those who are called of God, whether Catholic or Protestant, are part of the same Body.” If this is so, it would appear that the Reformation was unnecessary, unfortunate, and wrong. The name “Al Mohler” should, I believe, be shocking, saddening, and sobering. This is the same Al Mohler who, several years ago, endorsed RC Sproul’s book on “Faith Alone” by saying “In a day of rampant theological confusion and compromise, R.C. Sproul provides a voice of conviction deeply rooted in Biblical truth and the faithful heritage of the gospel. He makes clear what is at stake in the current patterns of evangelical compromise.” Did he really ever mean that? Has he himself now fallen into that very compromise he warned others about? I hope and pray he did not, and that he will come to see the error of his endorsement.

Alistair Begg, pastor of Parkside Church near Cleveland, OH sums up his reasons for not signing the Declaration well in this statement:

"Are we wise to lay aside crucial differences of eternal significance so as to secure temporal advantages? George Smeaton, in his classic work on the atonement observes, "To convert one sinner from his way is an event of greater importance than the deliverance of a whole kingdom from temporal evil."

I do not believe it is possible to embrace the premises of ecumenical strategy and still draw the conclusions of evangelical orthodoxy."

It should also be a matter of awareness to discerning Christians that certain names are conspicuously NOT on this list. Those of us from a Reformed background have a wide range of godly and gifted men laboring for Christ in His church today, whom we especially respect and listen to. That is not to say they can’t be wrong. The best of men are men at best. Yet a humble attitude toward this issue should at least give us some pause when we consider who has opted to NOT sign. Shall we name a few? In no particular order, and with no intention on being comprehensive:

R.C. Sproul
Michael Horton
John MacArthur
Sinclair Ferguson
Joel Beeke
John Piper
Carl Trueman
Mark Dever
Tom Ascol
Iain Campbell
James White
Conrad Mbewe
Phil Ryken
Geoffry Thomas
Iain Murray
David Wells
Maurice Roberts
The Apostle Paul (okay…threw that one in for fun).

I recently read a book entitled “Risking the Truth” in which Martin Downes collected answers from 20 top Reformed men around the world on issues related to heresy in the church. Note: not one of these men signed the declaration. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has a website and blog with a variety of contributors. These men are on the cutting edge of issues affecting the church. Not one of them signed it [correction: Ligon Duncan signed]. The Banner of Truth holds a conference every year for Reformed men and ministers. Five men will speak in 2010 in Pennsylvania. Not one of which signed this document. For those who see this Declaration as “no big deal” I merely present these facts to give some support for re-thinking your position.

Dr. James White sums up the issue quite well in his blog I believe: “These are the matters that truly concern me about the Manhattan Declaration. Why does God have the right to determine human sexuality, marriage, and to define life itself? It all goes back to the gospel, does it not? If we are going to give a consistent, clear answer to our culture, we dare not find our power in a false unity that overshadows the gospel and cripples our witness.”

Problem #4: The Danger of Pride

This is not a problem with the Manhattan Declaration. But it is a real potential problem for those of us who are trying to wedge their way through this difficult issue, raise an awareness about the seriousness of the gospel, and provide some Biblical perspectives on this matter. If Satan cannot get us to fall into an error (as we perceive it) he will tempt us to pride over our position and accomplish, virtually, just as much a victory. Richard Baxter, the Puritan minister, put it this way “Self is the most treacherous enemy, and the most insinuating deceiver in the world. Of all other vices, it is both the hardest to find out, and the hardest to cure.” Therefore, whatever side of this issue you fall on, let us humble ourselves before the Lord. J.C. Ryle said “Let us watch against pride in every shape – pride of intellect, pride of wealth, pride in our own goodness, pride in our own deserts. Nothing is so likely to keep a man out of heaven, and prevent him seeing Christ, as pride. So long as we think we are something, we shall never be saved.”

I hope that nothing I have said has transgressed the boundaries of charity. There are men whom I deeply respect who have chosen to sign this declaration. I want to speak the truth in love. But I do want to speak the truth, to the degree I see it, and to the best of my meager ability. All that I have said is true to the best of my knowledge. Where wrong, I am willing to stand corrected. I am very disturbed by the moral climate of our culture, especially respecting these areas of abortion, marriage, and government tyranny. What is the answer? Personally I think the best answer is to pray and preach the gospel. Promote the gospel. Tell this dying world of a risen Savior. Let them see you weep over their sin, as Christ wept over Jerusalem. Finally, plead with heaven the promises of Scripture that "if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14)."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Colossians 2:7 "Rooted in Christ"

Colossians 2:6-7
"As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving"
The New King James Version.

Well, I had hoped to finish Colossians 2:7 today. But alas, the theme of being "rooted" in Christ and the application of that truth exhausted our 25 minutes and I shall have to take up the last 3 participles ("built up" and "established" and "abounding") next week Lord willing. It is a good thing the Lord has given me such a patient church family, or else I would have been tossed out for such slow progress long ago.

Here again is the MP3 file, which I can post until I run out of free space at LOL. May you, my dear listener, know the joy, peace and comfort of being rooted in the unshakable and immovable soil of Christ Jesus the Lord.

For readers on other sites where this feeds to, the audio is only available back at the main blog:

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Letter to Modern Worship Leaders

Dear Worship Leader,

I am writing this letter to congratulate you on the long overdue success of a truly casual worship. Casual, comfortable and harmless worship is a magnificent masterpiece of our modern generation and must be maintained and encouraged at all costs. We have finally escaped the shackles of that stuffy reverence of the past, and I for one am glad to see it go. Well done! It is only through the innovation of this informal, care-free, friendly and frothy worship that we can really meet the needs of the spirit of our age and the soul of modern man. The church must recognize and respond to the climate of our current culture if it wants to provide a paradigm of worship that is relevant and meaningful. The modern trends in worship are doing well to further this cause, and I am entirely committed to promoting this progress.

Casual worship is necessary if the church wants to stir up within society any sort of interest in God today. If we want our neighbors to approach God, then our goal must be to make God approachable. The logic is simply irresistible. And once armed with the courage of this compelling argument, a whole army of opportunities come marching in. Deliberate alterations in church designs are a delightful development. Finally we have broken free from those architectural embarrassments such as pulpits and pews. Structures carry a silent but unmistakable message to our minds. The student’s desk makes it clear that the classroom is designed for study and instruction. Judges preside at benches to convey the solemn seriousness of the law. Kings sit on thrones to communicate greatness, power and authority. Therefore…barstools and soft chairs are perfect for church! Our message to the modern worshipper couldn’t be clearer now: chill, relax, make yourself at home, don’t worry…this isn’t going to hurt! By the way, big screen TV’s and Starbucks coffee were brilliant additions as well. Just keep your eyes open. Look at the structures in modern society that communicate “laughter, fun and entertainment” and do what you can to reproduce them in worship.

Let me just say that our modern worship music has gratefully come a long way in creating the right impression as well. Nobody goes to a pop-concert expecting to be changed or challenged. MTV doesn’t tend to engender deep contemplation or serious thought. And to the degree we can duplicate that design we will create exactly the same environment in church. And don’t think for a moment that it is only the quality and style of the music that have contributed to creating this valuable worship climate. That was the more obvious, but really far less important accomplishment. Our greatest advantage has been primarily the sheer quantity of focus and attention that has been given to what is helpfully called today “the music ministry” of the church. Until recently “music” was but one piece of furniture in the worship décor. Like a chair carefully selected and situated in your den, it occupies a place suitable to compliment the overall atmosphere of the room. But while Christians fussed and fought over the best fabric and color for this musical chairwe successfully managed to increase the size of the chair without notice! Our music today now occupies such a prominent and disproportionate place in worship that everything else is conveniently crowded out. However, even the best of our efforts sometimes fall flat, so wise worship leaders have learned to add sufficient servings of video and drama as well.

Oh, and kudos to all of you who have helped promote the most casual attire to accompany these helpful trends. This is so obvious; it is surprising the church has missed it for so long. Clothing communicates! A company dress code communicates to the customer what he or she should expect. If your heart surgeon were to show up in sandals, sunglasses and tattered shorts you might be inclined to reschedule! A serious message, matters of weight and moment, demand more formal attire. Thus the clever clergyman today will carefully choose clothing that is both casual and cool. Nothing about our worship must be taken too seriously! Trade in your ties for t-shirts and your jackets for jeans. Sermons in sneakers are easier to swallow, especially if they are short and sweet. Since the chief end of God is our comfort and happiness, we should get used to such comfort in church. Dress up for holidays and funerals and interviews and weddings…but by all means please dress down for church!

Finally, isn’t it just obvious that casual and comfortable worship puts the attention of our adoration back where it properly belongs…on you the worshipper! What sort of atmosphere makes you most comfortable? What environment tends to make you feel at home? The church must seek to create a worship service that caters to your wants, your needs, and your desires if it ever hopes to communicate something to our society, whatever that something might be. With all of the former adjustments now implemented, worshippers today will find themselves comfortably insulated from those touchy topics which often characterized the preaching of our past. Themes such as heaven and hell, sin and holiness, law and gospel, suffering and sacrifice, and the cross of Christ which is the real measure of God’s love…simply no longer fit in. Worship, once saturated with the superficial, is entirely safe from such serious stuff. And if, by some embarrassing blunder of poor planning these themes should accidentally appear, they will, with any luck, go entirely unnoticed. Keep your fingers crossed!

Well done my good and faithful servants,
Your affectionate father,

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Sunday Evening Worship Tradition

The following post is actually a letter just sent to the editor of our local newspaper. I don't know if it will actually get printed. But I mention this only to explain the flavor and consistency of this little dish. It certainly lacks the depth and diversity of a full dinner. Space restrictions in local newspapers greatly impact what the menu can offer. Some will likely find even this tiny morsel a bit tough to chew and difficult to swallow. Others will consider it a virtual culinary catastrophe. But if I do nothing more than stir within someone a deeper desire to plunge into the scullery of Scripture and create a more robust regale, I will consider my labors worthwhile. Bon appetit!

Traditions. They are the sweet fragrances of the past casting forward with fond memories the rich aroma of days gone by. Many reading this letter will remember fondly the tradition of morning and evening worship on the Lord’s Day. Sundays were special. Shoppes and stores were closed and only those employments of absolute necessity or mercy were generally engaged in. Life slowed down on Sunday in a sort of humble reflection of our very Redeemer and Creator’s rest. But times have changed. Gone are the days of the “Closed – See you in Church” signs in business windows. Gone, for many, are the days of a warm home-cooked Sunday afternoon meal with friends and family gathered around a table at which Scripture was read, sermons discussed, and catechisms recited. And gone, it would appear, is the long standing tradition of Sunday evening worship. Of course, for many, the idea of any Sunday worship has been sadly forgotten. But today my heart and thoughts go out to those who remember the time when the curtain on this spiritual “Market Day” was closed by gathering with the people of God to worship, sing, and give thanks to the Lord.

This letter is written to encourage my neighbors in Upton and the Blackstone Valley to re-establish this helpful tradition from our past. Immanuel Chapel in Upton, MA has a Sunday evening worship service at 6:00PM. If your church cannot offer an evening service, would you consider coming to join us? You will hear the gospel of Jesus Christ - that glorious heaven-born provision for sinners like you and I - preached and proclaimed with passion, faithfulness and love. You can join us in singing psalms and the best hymns of our past and present; rich in content and penetrated throughout with holy affection and zeal for the Lord. But most importantly, Sunday evening worship offers us the opportunity to close this first day of the week in the worship and the presence of the Most High God. Psalm 92 is entitled a “Song for the Sabbath Day” and in it we read “It is good to give thanks to the Lord…to declare Your lovingkindness in the morning, and your faithfulness every night.”

I am under no illusion that beginning this tradition again will be easy. For some it may seem utterly impossible. But for those who sense the value of Sunday evening worship, and desire to commit this time to the Lord, allow me to offer a few brief words of encouragement and advice. First, let me assure you that it can be done. I am married, and a father of four children with busy lives, hoards of homework, countless commitments, and insane schedules. It is only by the grace of God that it happens, and I give Him all the glory, but He has enabled us to worship together as a family on Sunday morning and evening all the years of their lives. Second, let the Lord know the desire of your heart. Do you want to worship Sunday evening…but simply do not see how to do it? Bring this request to the Lord, and keep bringing it, until He shows you a way. Psalm 37:5 says “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.” Third, plan for it. Think ahead to Sunday. What are you going to be doing at 6:00PM? Can you adjust your meal time, your shopping, your family events, or your work schedule? It is a piece of time-trusted wisdom that those who “fail to plan, plan to fail.” Proverbs says that “the plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty.” And I would pray that the Lord blesses your plans and leads you to worship Him on Sunday evenings, for He is worthy to be praised.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Colossians 2:6 Walk In Him

Colossians 2:6-7
"As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving."

Still playing with my new MP3 voice recorder. Personally, I wouldn't cross the street to hear myself teach. But I'll post the lesson here anyway. This was taught at Immanuel Chapel OPC in Upton, MA on Sunday morning 11/1/2009.

If reading elsewhere, like on Facebook, the only way to get the audio is from the original blog:

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Divine Solace for Disquieted Souls

Isaiah 41:10
“Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”

O Anxious Soul! You who fear tomorrow…that great unknown…that dark cloud of uncertainty that lies ahead. You who expect to be undone underneath the enormous weight of difficulties you bear. You…who see more foes than friends, more conflicts than comforts, more dangers than defenses and more sorrows than solace. You who sense the depths of your own inadequacy and the boundless reaches of your own iniquity. O dear soul that treads within the valley of death’s shadow and that “walks in darkness and has no light (Isaiah 50:10).” Hear now the words of the Lord: “Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.”

First, notice that God Almighty bids your trembling heart to look at Him. Five times in one verse He directs our attention by “I.” “I am with you” “I am your God” “I will strengthen you” “I will help you” and “I will uphold you.” I…I…I! Oh dear soul, consider who it is that bids your gaze! The Eternal and Everlasting One invites you to look up from your present and momentary affliction. “I the Lord am the first, and with the last I am He (Isaiah 41:4).” He lived before ever your present trial was born and shall exist long after this affliction is gone. Men, angels and beasts all have their likenesses in the world. But this God who requires your regard has no equal in heaven or earth. “To whom will you liken Me and make me equal (Isaiah 46:5)?” Look up, dear soul, look up and take captive all the powers of your contemplation to consider Him, the Omnipotent Maker of all that is. “Unto You I will lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens (Psalm 123:1).” Let Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God-with-us, have your attention in the midst of this affliction. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2).” Spurgeon put it this way “Thou lookest within, and thou sayest, “There is nothing acceptable here!” But look at Christ, and see if there is not everything acceptable there.”

Second, notice dear quivering spirit that this God is now speaking directly to you. He who has no equal, He who “measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, measured heaven with a span”, and He before whose glory angels cannot lift their eyes, is now in these words speaking pointedly and personally to your very heart. Five times He said “I” and now five times He says “you!” “with you” and “your God” and “strengthen you” and “help you” and “uphold you.” Do you hear this dear reader? Will you pause for only a moment to meditate on what this means? In this text heaven has come knocking at your door. Oh wonderful grace, Oh unexpected and blessed intrusion! It is more than could ever be hoped for, and were the words not so clear…more than could ever be believed. But it is true! The Lord God sees you, has come to you, and is speaking to you! Dying Joseph said to his brethren “God will surely visit you (Gen. 50:24).” The “High and Lofty” condescends to deal intimately with the weak and lowly. Our God draws near His afflicted children. He speaks to you. It is a mystery and wonder that the Lord even notices rebellious mankind in general, “what is man that you are mindful of him.” But who can adequately express the surprise that God Almighty should so stoop to speak to you and I? The disciples on the road to Emmaus were sad, but then “Jesus Himself drew near (Luke 24:15).” Paul was in prison, but “the Lord stood by him (Acts 23:11).” And it is to you dear saint, for whom Christ died and rose and comes again, that our Savior says “I will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).”

Thirdly, dear reader, consider from our text that this God who speaks to you knows precisely how you feel. He knows your anxieties, for He says “fear not.” He knows your confusion, for He says “be not dismayed.” He knows, more fully than you or I will ever know, your weakness…and He says “I will strengthen you.” He knows you are helpless, but He says “I will help you.” He knows you have been brought low, and from heaven He reaches down and says “I will uphold you.” Dear child of God…no one on earth knows you like this! Oh be convinced of this dear soul, be more convinced of this than of anything else, that our Great High Priest knows your heavy heart and your present trial. Forget not that our Savior too, and more so than any man, was a “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).”

Finally, as a conclusion to all these comforts, I would confirm them to your heart with two little words from our text: “your God.” You are, if you are in Christ, in an unbreakable and eternal relationship with God, sealed by the very blood of Christ, and written forever in the Lamb’s book of life. “I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands (Isaiah 49:16),” says the Lord. Through a faith implanted by heaven in your soul, by an irreversible transformation of your heart, and a down payment upon your eternal happiness by the Spirit of God Himself…He is your God! “What shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)” Your God is also your Father. The door to His chamber is ever open to you. “I am the Lord your God (Num. 15:41).” Remember in the midst of “your trial” to listen to the voice of “your God.” Your trial is but for a moment, but “the Lord shall reign forever – your God (Psalm 146:10).”

Oh stranger who happens to read these words…is He your God? Can you say with the hymnist “Our God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home?” If not, then I implore you to flee to Jesus Christ, cast down your good works and your evil works and leave all and go to Him. He has a righteous for you, prepared in Christ, and free to all who come to Him by faith. Those who will not come have much to fear. But once embraced by God’s provision for your soul in Christ, then to you He says “Fear not for I am with you; be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous hand.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The 2009 Bolton Conference

Remembering the Reformation

On Friday and Saturday October 23-24, 2009 over 300 people from around New England gathered for the Annual “Bolton Conference” at Pleasant Street Christian Reformed Church in Whitinsville, MA. The conference theme was appropriately “John Calvin: Reformer and the Reformation of the Church” as this year marked the 500th anniversary of the birth of the French Pastor and Theologian. The speakers were Ligon Duncan and Mark Johnston. Pastor Duncan is the Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS as well as President of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and Adjunct Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. Mark Johnston came to us all the way from London, England where he is the Minister of Grove Chapel, a historic Calvinistic Independent Church in London. Both men are also accomplished authors of numerous books and articles.

The conference consisted of six sessions divided evenly between these two men, as well as a question and answer period. Ligon Duncan spoke on Calvin the Reformer, Calvin and the Christian Life, and Calvin’s Doctrine of Justification. In speaking on the doctrine of Justification he made reference to Calvin’s commentary on Romans 3:21 in which Paul says “But now the righteousness apart from the law is revealed…even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.” Man’s greatest problem is his guilt before a holy God. Good works are utterly incapable of delivering man from this massive debt of sin. Thus, says Calvin, “Men’s consciences will never be at peace until they rest on the mercy of God alone.” “Read Calvin’s commentary on Romans 3:21-28” said Pastor Duncan, “it is pure gold.”

Mr. Johnston spoke on the topics of how the Reformation, and particularly John Calvin, addressed the three issues of “Piety, Worship, and Missions.” I was personally the most struck by the boldness with which the issue of “worship” was addressed. He pointed out that when Calvin handled the question of “why the Reformation was necessary” he put the doctrine of salvation as the second most important reason. The first reason he gives is the “mode in which God is truly worshipped.” “We can do nothing but err” said Mr. Johnston in quoting the Genevan Reformer, “when guided by anything in worship other than the Word.” He expressed great sorrow that we live in a day when, in the public worship of God, we are often “caught up with the music and atmosphere, but not caught up with God.”

I am sincerely grateful for the passion and faithfulness to Scripture that both of these men brought to the conference this year. Many thanks are due to the men of the New England Reformed Fellowship (NERF) for organizing this blessed event, and to Pleasant Street CRC for hosting it. Thanks also belong to the many whose labors and efforts went in behind the scenes to make everything run so smoothly. The book table provided by Westminster Discount Book Service was, as always, a great opportunity to obtain some soul-enriching reading material at a significant discount. Recordings were made of all sessions and are available from The Sanders Christian Foundation at (978) 468-3003 or

Other quotes (I apologize for always not catching the source) from these men, from Calvin, or from other authors that were especially memorable were:

There is a God we want and there is the God who is. They are not the same. And true piety begins by embracing the God who truly is.”

True worship can only flow from knowing God rightly

Where worship is sincerely offered, Christ will be seen as King

Our worship must be controlled by the gospel

I have made a heap of all my bad works…and all my good works too. And I have fled them both and run to Jesus Christ” –David Dickson, Puritan

By piety I mean that union of reverence and love to God which the knowledge of His benefits inspires” –John Calvin, Institutes Book I, chapter 2, section 1

If men knew what was in my heart I wouldn’t have 4 friends left in all of Scotland” –Thomas Boston

I’m not the man I want to be. I’m not the man I ought to be. I’m not the man I will be. But by the grace of God I am what I am. And thanks be to God that I am NOT the man I USED to be!”

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Does Your Church Preach the Gospel?

Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God, “That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord.”
Amos 8:11

I know that the question which is the title of this article will be offensive to some. They will say that any such examination of the preaching in our day is far too strict, too unkind, and too critical. Some will suggest that such a question will breed divisions, discouragement, discontentment, and dissent. Others will think it the very epitome of pride to suggest that any church is not preaching the gospel. “Who are you to make such claims, to offer such opinions, to set these standards, or to suggest such hurtful things?” I can only say that it grieves me deeply to have to ask such questions at all. I would prefer that no such issues would ever have to be raised in our churches. But I feel I have no choice but to raise the question, and so let me briefly offer several reasons why.

1) The Bible declares that there is such a thing as “different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4, Gal. 1:6) or “another gospel” (Gal. 1:8). The Bible clearly warns that there will be “false prophets” (Matt. 24:24), “false apostles” (2 Cor. 11:13), “false brethren” (Gal. 2:4), “false teachers” (2 Peter 2:1), yes even “false Christs” (Mark 13:22). Such teachers speak with “great swelling words of emptiness” (2 Peter 2:18) and fulfill the prophecy of Jeremiah who said “their shepherds have led them astray” (Jer. 50:6). This day in which we live has no special exclusion from these warnings.

2) The Bible commands that hearers examine with all carefulness what they hear. “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).” The believers in Berea are commended by the Holy Spirit for they "… searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so (Acts 17:11)." Paul warned the churches about this "Now this I say lest anyone should deceive you with persuasive words (Colossians 2:4)." Men will come with all of the credentials, all of the Bible knowledge, and all of the appearances of sincerity and faithfulness, while underneath this cover they are enemies of the gospel. "… you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars (Revelation 2:2)." Proverbs warns that it is foolish to believe everything you hear "The simple believes every word...(Proverbs 14:15)."

3) The Bible teaches that a church without the gospel has no power to save at all. That church may be an instrument of many blessings to many souls, but without the gospel it cannot save a single one from hell. Only the true gospel will save. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (Romans 1:16)." When a church abandons the gospel, it is a sinking ship that may clothe and feed and comfort its passengers, but all the while they are heading swiftly and surely to death. Salvation is of the Lord, and it is only by the gospel of Jesus Christ that He saves "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18)."

And so dear reader, will you not give a little time to consider this weighty question? Does your church preach the gospel? I have not asked about your denomination. I do not ask ‘what is your tradition’ or ‘to what confession do you subscribe.’ I ask not whether your church is large or small, high church or low church, contemporary or traditional. All of these questions may be worthy of discussion in some way, but none seem as important as this: Does your church preach the gospel? Does your pastor come to you as an angel of God with “the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth (Rev. 14:6).” Whatever good your church may otherwise be doing, will you pause for just a moment to carefully consider the preaching that you hear and ask yourself if it is really the gospel?

In order to aid you in this inquiry, I should like to lay before you several elements which are central and imperative to the faithful preaching of the gospel.

1) Sin and the Depravity of Man. The word gospel means “good news”. However, good news is only good news if people first know the bad news. And the sad reality is that most churches today will not explain the bad news. Does the pastor talk plainly about the problem of sin? “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Does he clearly explain that all men are both inwardly and outwardly rebellious against God? (Psalm 14:3, Psalm 53:3, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10, Romans 8:7). Some form of the word “sin” occurs over 750 times in the Bible. How many times does it appear in the sermon? In the literature the church uses? Is it on their website for the world to see? Do they shy away as though embarrassed about the plain and simple truth man is born an enemy of God? We are by nature unholy and at war with a holy God. The Bible calls it “enmity” with God (Romans 8:7). Left to himself man cannot please God (Romans 8:8). And this sinfulness leaves man both unwilling and unable to change. He is, as the Bible says, “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). This truth is a dominant theme in the Scripture…but too often denied or ignored in the church. Pastors are afraid to offend and are thus ashamed of the gospel (I Cor. 1:23, Gal. 5:11). From such churches, I tell you, turn away. J. Gresham Machen once said this “No man is interested in a piece of good news unless he has the consciousness of needing it; no man is interested in an offer of salvation unless he knows that there is something from which he needs to be saved. It is quite useless to ask a man to adopt the Christian view of the gospel unless he first has the Christian view of sin.

False teachers and preachers focus attention primarily on the problems of life caused by sin rather than on the problem of sin itself. They will speak of the problems of broken marriages, crippling addictions, destructive habits, relationship failures, emotional difficulties, and problems like fear, loneliness, greed, anger, and lust. They will preach on the evils of unkindness, cruelty, selfishness, and pride. But they rarely or never expose the real root of all these problems, which is the wicked, sinful, rebellious, disobedient and deceitful heart of man. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked, who can know it? (Jer. 17:9)” “But you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1) A church that is afraid to preach about the issue of sin is a church that is not preaching the gospel. Without the knowledge of sin, there can be no saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Listen to author David Hegg’s words on the matter “Today, the pressure to fill auditoriums and services has driven many pastors to place the felt needs, or tastes, of the people above their duty to Christ. On every hand we hear of the Gospel being molded into a non-confrontative message intended to meet felt needs and impress the sinful heart. And, by most standards, this new philosophy of church life is working, as more and more auditoriums are filled with people hungry for a message that will affirm that they are actually on fairly good terms with the Almighty. But the biblical message is the message of the cross. It cuts right across the grain of the modern age's preoccupation with pride, tearing down the façade and exposing the wretchedness of the human heart…Unfortunately, while the modern 'un-gospel' may fill seats, it is the true gospel of sin and grace that is 'the power of God unto salvation' (Rom. 1:16).

Because of man’s sinful, lost condition, the gospel is a message about God seeking to save man, not man seeking to be saved by God. Man, by his now fallen nature, is dead to all spiritual realities and concerns. Without the Lord initiating our rescue we can never be saved. The Lord said “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away (Ezekiel 34:16).” "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.(John 6:44)." Charles Spurgeon said this in a sermon on that text “We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ.”

2) God’s holy anger and wrath toward sin and sinners. Some churches and pastors will still acknowledge a “sin” problem amongst mankind, but then tend to move too quickly towards grace and forgiveness. It goes like this “yes you are a great sinner…but God loves you and is ready to forgive you”. Does that sound familiar? This is what I call “the gospel abridged”. And it is a deadly abridgement indeed! It entirely fails to acknowledge and declare that God has a righteous and holy anger toward all such sin, wherever it is found, and intends to justly punish such sin with His holy wrath. “God is a just judge, and God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11). We water down the seriousness of sin because it is universal (we’re all sinners, nobody is perfect, right?), but not so with God. “I will render vengeance to My enemies, and repay those who hate me” (Deut 32:41). According to the Bible, every day a sinner lives he is mounting a greater and greater debt of sin and judgment against his own soul, “treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Romans 2:3)"

Does your pastor tell you this?
Does he not only point out the “problem” of sin, but also clearly indicate the terrible “consequences” of sin? “The wages of sin is death” says the Lord. In connection with this is the almost forgotten doctrine of the reality of “hell”. This is a true Biblical doctrine, of which Jesus Himself spoke more than any other Biblical author. “If your eye causes you to sin” said Jesus “pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Mark 9:47). Listen carefully to what your pastor is preaching. Jot down on your bulletin the number of references to sin, death and hell that come through in the message of the gospel. Does your pastor ever speak about the wrath of God? Would your pastor ever tell an unbeliever that as long as he remains unconverted “the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36)? Listen to what Dr. D.A. Carson has said on this matter “The cliché, God hates the sin but loves the sinner, is false on the face of it and should be abandoned. Fourteen times in the first fifty Psalms alone, we are told that God hates the sinner; His wrath is on the liar, and so forth. In the Bible, the wrath of God rests both on the sin (Romans 1:18ff) and on the sinner (John 3:36).” Without this element of the gospel, the cross itself is meaningless, because the cross is where God’s wrath on sin was poured out. On the cross our Lord Jesus Christ was “smitten by God, and afflicted (Isaiah 53:2).” But unless we preach the wrath of God against sin, the cross can never be rightly understood.

3) The substitutionary death of Christ on the cross. Now comes the good news…but be sure your church gets it right! The good news is not that “God loves you just as you are and has a wonderful plan for your life”. That’s not the Bible. The good news, the gospel, is that Christ bore the punishment for sin upon the cross. Every sin, of everyone who would ever believe in Christ, was charged to Jesus on the cross, and He bore the just punishment for that sin. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). The curse of the law is death, but Christ became that “curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). The law was against us like a legal notice of execution, but in Christ it was “nailed to the cross” (Colossians 2:14). Many churches and pastors today are reluctant to talk about the cross in this way. They sentimentalize it and talk about the “great example” of sacrifice and love that Jesus’ death displays. That is not the gospel. If you hear that…run…don’t walk! The Bible talks about the “offense” of the cross (Galatians 5:11) and the true gospel is still offensive to man’s pride. We don’t naturally want to hear that our sin is so bad it required such a death, such a sacrifice, such a substitution as this. But the substitutionary death of Christ is the very heart of the gospel.

And without this doctrine of the cross, there is no forgiveness of sin. This is why Paul said “God forbid that I glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. You are not saved by being good. Most preachers will tell you that. But dear reader, do you understand that you are also not saved simply because God is good? You are saved, and can only be saved, because God is both good AND just, and He has dealt justly and righteously with your sin on the cross of Christ. If we could be saved merely by God’s goodness, there would be no need of a cross. But without the shedding of blood, there can be no remission of sin (Matt 26:28, Heb. 9:22) Does your pastor preach the cross? Does it even matter to you if he does? Listen to what Martin Luther, that bold reformer, once said “Whenever the true message of the cross is abolished, the anger of hypocrites and heretics eases…and all things are in peace. This is a sure token that the devil is guarding the entry of that house, and that the pure doctrine of God's Word has been taken away.”

4) Salvation is by faith alone in Christ alone. So how does the “good news” of the gospel become good news for you? Not by trying to reform your life. “Man is not justified by the works of the law…” (Galatians 2:16). Not by becoming more religious. “Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil?” (Micah 6:7). Not by devoting yourself to a life of serving others. “Many will say to Me in that day ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in your name…’ and I will declare to them ‘I never knew you’” (Luke 7:22-23). There is one way to be saved, and that is by faith. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). “Therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God” (Romans 5:1). A church that preaches the gospel will call sinners to faith in order to be saved. A faithful pastor will tell his hearers not to trust in their works, their traditions, their experiences, their family or their church for salvation…but to trust in Christ alone.

The “faith” that the Bible speaks of and which the gospel demands is very specific. Notice that saving faith is NOT the same as belief in God. Demons believe in God, and tremble! Saving faith is not merely an act of agreement with Christian doctrine or teaching. Hypocrites have that. Matthew Henry, the Puritan preacher, once wrote “We are too apt to rest in a bare profession of faith, and to think that this will save us; it is a cheap and easy religion to say, ‘We believe in the articles of the Christian faith;’ but it is a great delusion to imagine that this is enough to bring us to heaven.” Saving faith casts itself fully and completely upon Jesus Christ. And faithful ministers of the gospel will call unbelievers to do just that. Does your pastor ever pointedly, deliberately, clearly, and unashamedly tell his congregation that if they don’t repent and believe in Jesus Christ they cannot be saved? The substitute for this call today is something like “stick around and get to know us” or “take a class and you can join us” or “let us help you find a ministry to meet your needs.” My dear reader, such things may all have their proper place, but they are no substitute for the need to call men and women to turn from their sin and believe today in Jesus Christ.

So, dear reader, if you have tarried this far, all that is left now for me to do is to ask you the question again. Does your church preach the gospel? Do these themes flow as steady streams throughout the sermons that you hear? I do not wish anyone to make an uncharitable assessment of their minister. I do not expect that any preacher exhausts the message of the gospel every week. But I am even more fearful that many today sit weekly, monthly, yearly under ministries in which there is no gospel being preached at all. There is rich music, fine drama, friendly fellowship, engaging and entertaining messages…but not a shred of the gospel. “Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things (2 Timothy 2:7).”


Can I apply these truths for a moment?

1) Where there is no gospel, there is no true church of Christ. This question is essential because, whatever the religious sentiments, whatever the spiritual adornments, whatever the level of activity, energy, and accomplishments are going on in a church…if the gospel is not being preached, it is not a church of Jesus Christ. The Lord sent His disciples to “preach the gospel” (Mark 16:15). The apostles in Acts went everywhere “preaching the gospel” (Acts 8:25). Paul understood himself as set aside to one great work and calling, which he described as “separated to the gospel of God” (Romans 1:1). Ministers have been “entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thes. 2:4). How then can a church which does not preach the gospel be called a church at all? They may have the most vibrant youth ministry in the area, they may feed the hungry, clothe the poor, and they may have Bibles and hymns and music and elaborate worship and large buildings and ministries and crowds of eager listeners. But if they preach not the gospel, they are not a church. So serious a matter is this that Paul said to the Galatians “if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed (Gal. 1:9).” The church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) and that truth is first and foremost the gospel (Eph 1:13).

2) Next, can it be right to stay in a church where the gospel is not preached? Would Christ Himself go there to be worshipped? Jesus went all about Galilee “preaching the gospel of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23).” He did so in fulfillment of that great prophecy “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor…(Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:18).” And shall we continue week after week under a ministry that is ashamed of the gospel? Is there no church in your area that is committed to Biblical, faithful, Christ-centered, God glorifying preaching of the great message of the gospel of grace? Maybe you are thinking “but this is my church!” My dear reader…it is not. The church belongs to Jesus Christ. And if there is no gospel there, then there is no Savior there either.

3) Third, maybe you are somewhere where the gospel is being preached. Praise the Lord! But may I remind you in closing that hearing the gospel is not enough. You must personally believe upon Christ in order to be saved. There are many sitting in hell right now who sat for years under the gospel on earth. Some of the most dreadful and terrible words in all the Scriptures are pronounced upon those who heard the gospel but would not believe.

4) For those who hear the gospel, and believe the gospel, let me close by reminding us all that we also must live the gospel. “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27).” Nothing is more shameful than when the children of God give the enemies of God a reason to mock. Nathan said to David “you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme (2 Sam. 12:14).”

5) Finally, to those faithful ministers who proclaim the truth week after week, let me remind and encourage you to never lose hope in the power of the gospel of Christ. George Whitfield once said that “other men may preach the gospel better than I, but no man can preach a better gospel.” Take heed to the ministry you have been entrusted with. Preach the Word! It is still “the power of God unto salvation!” I leave you with a few words from the missionary David Brainerd who said “I never got away from Jesus, and Him crucified, and I found that when my people were gripped by this great evangelical doctrine of Christ and Him crucified, I had no need to give them instructions about morality. I found that one followed as the sure and inevitable fruit of the other… I find my Indians begin to put on the garments of holiness and their common life begins to be sanctified even in small matters when they are possessed by the doctrine of Christ and Him crucified.”

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pastor Marquis Sermon Psalm 119:161-168

Still playing with my new MP3 recorder. I recorded a sermon preached by my pastor at Immanuel Chapel last night. He has been preaching through Psalm 119. These messages have been challenging and encouraging. If you live near Upton, and do not already have a home church, can I warmly invite you to visit us at Immanuel on Sunday?

If you are reading this on will only get the audio by going to my blog:

Your soul's well-wisher,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Colossians 2:5 Lesson 3 - Steadfast Faith in Christ

Just a test. I picked up an MP3 recorder and wanted to see how easy (or difficult) it would be to post the Sunday school lesson I taught today at Immanuel Chapel online.

Did it work? This is the 3'rd week we have devoted to this text, next week we shall move on to Colossians 2:6.

If you are reading this on another site, you may have to go to my blog to get the audio, I'm not sure.

All are welcome to attend! Our Sunday school class begins at 10:00AM every Sunday, and our worship service follows at 11:00AM. Classes are available for all ages!

Your soul's well-wisher,

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Immanuel Chapel joins the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

Immanuel Chapel becomes Immanuel Chapel OPC

At 8:30PM on Friday October 16, 2009 as Pastor Mark Marquis closed the reception service with these words “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you allImmanuel Chapel of Upton, MA was officially and formally received as a particular congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. This evening was the culmination of at least 2 years and 8 months worth of prayer, study, and discussion related to the topic of Biblical Church Government. I provide here an extract from the minutes of our session meeting of February 10, 2007:

“VII. It was decided unanimously that we would call a Congregational Meeting on February 28, 2007 to open up the question about church government for discussion. The purpose of the meeting is to determine if the congregation would be willing to consider Presbyterianism as an alternative to our present form of Cambridge Platform Congregationalism.”

This decision by the session was prompted by a series of prior discussions and concerns over matters such as mission’s oversight, ordination practices, and membership matters that were seen to be complicated especially by our form of government. Immanuel was founded and established as a Congregational church in the Reformed Tradition expressed in such documents as the Cambridge Platform and Savoy Declaration of Faith. This heritage, though rich and in many ways Biblical, had left Immanuel virtually independent in the regular exercises of the government and ministry of the church. And so, under the gracious and guiding hand of God and for His glory, this body of believers began in early 2007 a sort of wilderness journey together which brought us to the evening of October 16, 2009 and our reception into the OPC.

The reception service actually began at 6:40PM with a meeting of representatives from the OPC Presbytery of New York and New England in the basement classroom of Immanuel Chapel. The representatives were:

· Pastor David O’Leary – Pastor of First Presbyterian OPC church of Ipswich, MA
· Pastor Stephen Migotsky – Pastor of Jaffrey Presbyterian church in Jaffrey, NH
· Pastor Richard Dickinson – Ordained minister of the OPC and full time military chaplain
· Pastor Allen Tomlinson – Ordained OPC minister and pastor of First Congregational Church of Merrimack, NH
· Pastor Greg Reynolds – Dr. Reynolds is Pastor of Amoskeag Presbyterian Church in Manchester, NH

The meeting was opened in prayer and the representatives of the Presbytery approved the order of the service which was to follow. It was discussed and agreed that the session of Immanuel Chapel could, on the basis of this reception service tonight, accept into OPC membership all those members currently on the rolls of the church, even those who for various reasons could not attend the reception service that evening.

The reception service began officially at 7:00PM and in attendance was, along with the members of Immanuel Chapel, various visitors and friends who shared with us in the joyful events of the evening. After a word of welcome from Pastor O’Leary, former Immanuel Chapel Pastor, Leonard Gulstrom (who served Immanuel from 1995-1999), was invited to open the reception service in prayer.

Following this the congregation sang a favorite Psalm together, Psalter selection 98A. The words were fitting for the occasion as the Psalmist says “Oh, sing a new song to the Lord, for He has done marvelous things.” Indeed, what we were doing and seeing this night was nothing less than a “marvelous thing” in the history of Immanuel Chapel.

Following this Psalm Pastor Migotsky read to the congregation Philippians 3:1-16. Following which Pastor Dickinson preached the Word to those gathered. This passage encouraged believers to build all their hope and lives firmly upon the person of Jesus Christ. “I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord (vs. 8).” Pastor Dickinson solemnly reminded us that Christ must remain central to our life as a church. We are joining the OPC, but the OPC did not die for Immanuel Chapel…Christ did. He warned us about looking elsewhere for guidance. The world around us is changing. We are changing. But Jesus Christ never changes. He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” Come to Him! Keep coming to Him. And in Him, he reminded us, we will find all the fulfillment, fellowship and satisfaction that our hearts long for.

After his message, Pastor Mark Marquis read a moving and thoughtful letter to Immanuel Chapel from our former Pastor, Irfon Hughes (who served Immanuel from 1983-1993), who could not be with us that evening. In it he said that he had felt long ago that the OPC was the best place for Immanuel, and was so pleased that the Lord had guided us in His timing to this place.

Pastor Allen Tomlinson reviewed for those present the process that had been followed by the Presbytery in receiving Immanuel Chapel, including the examinations of officers and meetings with the congregation.

Pastor Greg Reynolds then proceeded to ask the members of Immanuel Chapel to rise and respond to the 4 vows of membership as found in the OPC book of church order. Following these Pastor Reynolds issued a charge to the congregation, especially focusing on the much neglected subject of the “Biblical importance of church membership.” After this, Pastor O’Leary officially welcomed in the members of Immanuel chapel to the OPC. He then proceeded to ask the elders and deacons to come forward and take the vows of office as prescribed by the OPC.

An audio clip of these vows is included here:

Following this Pastor Mark Marquis was called forward and asked to take such pastoral vows as is in accordance with the recommendations of the OPC.

These vows being taken Pastor O’Leary gave a charge to the officers of Immanuel Chapel drawing specifically from 2 Timothy 4:5Be watchful in all things.” He pointed out that one modern translation says “keep your head in all situations.” When things seem to be falling apart, “keep you head.” When tragedy strikes, when problems arise, when confusion threatens to overtake the church…”keep your head.” Be watchful of each other. Be watchful of yourself. And remember, he told us, the Lord Himself is watching you.

At this point the founding pastor of Immanuel Chapel, Norman Brower, came to the front and shared some of his own personal joy and love for this congregation which he began serving in 1975. He pointed out that Immanuel is actually the 3rd church that he planted which has eventually joined the OPC! He then offered a prayer to the Lord for this church and her officers.

The concluding hymn, “For all the saints,” was then sung together. Pastor Mark Marquis closed the meeting with a benediction, and Immanuel Chapel officially became the newest congregation in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

What spiritual lessons can be gleaned from this process? What has the Lord done at Immanuel Chapel? How can we apply something of this history to our own souls? If ‘history’ is “His Story” then what does this brief portion of our history tell us of the wonderful works of Jesus Christ in His church?

1) Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. Let us never forget this. What happened here in this process was not our work but Christ’s work. The moment we begin to think of the church as “our church” is the very moment things begin to go wrong. There are so many little things that happened and that coordinated in making this transition possible that only God Himself can be credited with the glory. Oh my soul, remember this truth, and do not be discouraged when difficult days draw near. Christ still is the Head of His church.

2) Jesus Christ often drives His church into uncomfortable and unfamiliar places to strengthen our faith in Him. There was no real blueprint for this process. But this body of believers was convinced that the Lord is glorified when churches work together in tangible unity, fellowship, purity, accountability and service for the glory of Jesus Christ. The Lord called this little flock of believers to step out of the comfortable boat and walk to Him on the water. I can confess personally that I often, like poor Peter, found myself sinking and looking around at the waves. But He who began this work, would also complete it.

3) In Christ are all the provisions needed by His church. Many helped us through this process. But all who did were ultimately doing so as the arms, hands, and mouth of Christ Himself. Paul wrote to the Colossians and said “you are complete in Him.” Elsewhere he, speaking of Christ, writes of “the exceeding greatness of His power (Eph 1:19).”

4) Finally, all such who see Christ’s work in His church should submit and accept the provision of forgiveness as offered in the gospel. What other response is rational dear reader? If Christ is so working and moving and orchestrating His church…what shall become of your soul if you continue to resist and refuse to surrender to the call of the gospel? “Who then is able to stand against Me” (Job 41:10) says the Lord. Shall you? Will you overthrow the advancing of His kingdom when Christ Himself said that “the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it?” Oh my friend, you who possess a soul that lives here for a moment and must forever enjoy or regret the decision you now make, please “be reconciled to God.” Turn from your sin today. You have run up a great debt of iniquity in heaven’s account. “But there is forgiveness” with the Lord, that He may be feared (Psalm 130:4). Repent and believe the gospel today. May this little history of the work of Christ at Immanuel be the beginning of God’s work in your soul!

We welcome you to come and visit us at Immanuel Chapel Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

To God be the Glory!

I wish to express our heartfelt appreciation to all the men named above, as well as others, who were instrumental in so many ways related to our joining the OPC.
A few pics:

Pastor & Mrs. O'Leary from Ipswich, MA OPC

Pastor Richard Dickinson and our own Pastor Mark Marquis

Founding Pastor and Mrs. Norman Brower

Pastor and Mrs. Leonard Gulstrom with their daughter