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Strangers in Danger

 “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exo 22:21 NKJ).

OT Israel had been a stranger, a foreigner or sojourner dwelling in Egypt.  Driven there by famine Jacob and his sons with their wives and children moved to the land of Pharaohs to stay alive.  There in Egypt as immigrants they lived 400 years (Gen 15:13) and Israel learned by sad experience what it was to be taken advantage of as a stranger in a strange land.  True, at first they were favored by the Pharaohs that knew Joseph.  But slowly the tide changed and the once favored people were subject to bitter bondage and harshly accused and abused.  Israel was indeed a stranger in the land of Egypt.

There are many reasons in the providence of God that cause men to immigrate and settle in a new land.  If a man or family comes to settle in a new country and can demonstrate they are “honest men … not spies” (Gen. 42:11), God takes special care for them.  They are not to be oppressed, mistreated or taken advantage of by the people of the land.  Have you ever been on the outside of a community, society, or culture?

Well, while I was never a stranger like the Israelites, I do recall when I was in the sixth grade, my mother took a teaching job in an adjoining school district in the north end of the County. My parents made the decision that it would be best if I, along with my two younger siblings went to school in the same school district.  It was going to be a real adventure I was told.  But my sixth grade heart said, no way!  But, as sixth graders don’t get to call those shots or make those decisions we left all our friends behind and were taken to a school where we didn’t know anyone.  We were outsiders to the kids who grew up together and had known each other all their lives.  If ever there were foreigners and strangers, surely it was us.

But wait, the story doesn’t end badly.  On my first morning at school as I was sitting in the classroom waiting for an omen of bad things to come the rest of the year, pouting I think mom called it.  When suddenly strange looking faces raced into the room.  The class teacher who had been trying to get me to talk with her turned to a sandy headed boy with a face full of freckles and said, Clayton, go tell Charlie (the janitor/assistant coach) to “turn the basketballs loose in the gym.”  Without hesitation Clayton looked at me and said, come on let’s go!  We raced to the gym and there over those basketballs Clayton, his twin brother Clinton, Kevin, Gary, Roy, Galen, David, Joe and myself all became fast friends.  We had lots of boyish fun those two years, but wonderfully, I don’t recall ever feeling like an outsider after that first, “come on let’s go!”

Instead of an omen of evil, that morning was a harbinger of many blessings to come for as it turned out those two years were by far the best two years of my primary education.  Discovering healthy friendships was the best thing ever, mom was right – again.

I know, this was small time in comparison to those Israelites, but the same lesson is learned.  Think of the blessing we as individuals or the local church can be to someone who just needs a friendly face and a word of encouragement.  Can we imagine the opportunities God sets before us in the lives of strangers?  Having trouble? Try imagining this,  “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels” (Hebrews 13:2 NKJ).

 

Panoramic Prayer Topics for the Church – Straight from the Word.

Pray one for another …

 

“Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and a thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.”  Westminster Shorter Catechism Q 98


~ Don’t forget to pray this week for one another in the congregation, for our leaders, for friends and neighbors in need.   Especially, pray that as Christ shines through our lives those who do not know Christ as Lord and Savior, will see in us and hear from us the glorious truth of Jesus Christ.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.”  (1 Tim. 2:1-6 ESV)

“First of all” is the language of priority.  Paul is concerned for the prayers of the church to be ordered in God glorifying way.  Ordered not so much in structure or the way we say our prayer, but in content or what our prayers say.   Paul believes this with a degree of intensity and “urges” us to practice what he preaches. So that we understand his intent Paul states, what he is asking of us, who is to be the target of our praying, and why we must pray in this manner before giving the aim of his instruction.

  • What is Paul asking the church to do?  Paul places a string of words together that describe our calling on God, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings.”  All of these words signify our conversation with heaven’s King, and as our relationship with the King is personal our conversation will vary according to need.  Our talking with God will sometimes rise to the throne of grace as a supplication or entreaty.  The word used here captures more of the pathos of our prayer, our earnestly imploring God to hear us.  Elijah was commended for his effectual fervent prayer (James 5:16), not like the prophets of Baal who decimated their own bodies, but as one who was sincerely and intensely serious about his plea to God.  To hear that a covenant child has been overtaken in a sin or temptation will cause the heart of parents and pastors alike to raise many earnest supplications and fervent pleas.  King David made supplication,  saying, “Help Lord, for the godly man ceases” (Psalm 12:1).  Prayers are those petitions to heaven’s King that demonstrate our complete dependence upon God.  Prayer is a sign of our belief in God’s faithfulness and so also becomes a sign of our own commitment to Him.   Intercessions are those prayers akin to our Great High Priest, Jesus who ever lives to intercede for us (Hebrews 7:25).  Specifically, praying for others and on their behalf or benefit.  Thanksgivings, when directed towards God, are also a part of our regular conversation with God (Rom 8:1; Phi. 1:3; Phm 1:4).  These are intended to express gratitude to God for His mercies and kindness (Col 4:2).  It difficult to tell where one starts and the other ends as they often go from one to the next and back again almost imperceptibly (Phi 4:6).  It seems appropriate then to consider, “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” as styles of address, even tones (“groanings which cannot be uttered”, Rom 8:26) of our conversation with the Triune God rather than different types of prayer.  So rather than 5 minutes with God on supplication, 5 minutes on prayer, 5 minutes on intercession and 5 minutes on thanksgiving, let our requests be made known unto God using all the components of godly and reverent conversation with God.  Praying always ,with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit (Eph 6:18).

 

  • Who is Paul urging the church to pray for?  The text quickly supplies an answer, “all people.”  But another question arises, in what sense are we to pray for “all people” and how is that even possible?  We cannot pray for all people in a personal and individual sense, for we haven’t known the sum total of all people.  Is Paul asking us to pray in the way we often hear our small children pray, “God help all the people of the world.  Amen”?  That Paul is asking us to pray universally is true, but the universality he is recommending to us is for, all kinds of people and not every individual.  This is alluded to in the companion phrase when he says to pray, “for kings and all who are in high positions.”  We can see then we are praying for categories of men.  Meaning, either Paul is listing rulers as examples of the categories to pray for, or by praying for our rulers we in effect will pray well for all kinds of men, because of the desired end. So we need to ask …,

 

  • Why does Paul urge the church to pray in this manner?  “… that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  By praying to God for rulers to lead and deal justly we secure our personal and corporate benefits for the church and for all.   Times of war have proven to be disruptors of gospel progress as missionaries doing the kingdom’s work are driven out, church gatherings ended, hearts are jaded to gospel love, and talk of another king, King Jesus is unsettling to despots and tyrants of all political shades (Acts 17:7).  So praying for the stability of a people is a means used by God’s amazing providence as the pathway for the gospel of King Jesus.  Consider the transportation system of the Imperial Roman government that was used to convey soldiers as well as goods was also used by the apostles and their missionary zeal in the first century of the Christian Church.  Throughout church history the expansion of economic interest in both east and west have often been accompanied with cargo holding the church’s finest wheat, missionaries bearing the Word of God.   We pray evangelistically as we pray this prayer to lead a  quiet and peaceable life knowing that an orderly government was designed by God to be the friend and handmaid of the church (Isa. 49:22-23).  Yes, God is sovereign and He is as free to use the devastation of war to accomplish His plans as He is free to remove war from the earth altogether (Hab. 1:6-13; Psalm 46) and to use rumors of wars as much as the making weapons into farming tools (Mk 13:7-8 ; Joel 3:10,  Isa. 2:4).   Since we are a people whose King and kingdom are not of this world (John 18:36) our lot in life is to pray for the church’s quietness, peaceableness, godliness and dignity in every way so that through gospel prosperity (not health and wealth prosperity) the world is made more secure and the church is helped to corporately carry out the Great King’s work.  By praying faithfully in this way we are echoing the heart of God.  Recognition of this leads us to the last section …

 

  • The great ends of gospel praying.  It is good and pleasing to God our Savior.  Prayer takes on more than a merely moral dimension as the word good describes what is well, sound, healthy, whole, beautiful (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:17; Mt 7:17; Mt 13:8; Lk 21:5).  Prayer is sound and beautiful not due to the form or the many words spoken (Mat 6:5-13).  Rather, it is the content and intent which is beautiful, precisely and only because it reflects the heart of God, where true beauty exists.  Further, this kind of prayer is acceptable to God for it shows that we understand who God is and His purpose in the earth.  God is disposed toward the salvation of all peoples and no one who has truly heard the everlasting gospel can easily dispute this claim.  God has His secret election made from before the foundation of the world concerning those who will certainly be saved (Eph. 1:3).  God’s election of men to salvation is not based upon our performance, but on free grace alone (2 Tim 2:9), yet God’s decree of election does not interfere with God’s will of disposition toward the wayward in this life (Eze. 18:23; 33:11), neither should it interfere with our prayer for all men. We rightly pray for the salvation of all men until their death according to God’s will of disposition, and must finally rest in the truth that God has chosen to save all kinds of men as it pleases God best according to His decree of election (1 Cor 1:27-31).  To conclude this matter Paul reminds us that this is no universal salvation.  Christ is the one mediator between God and men who gave Himself as a ransom for all.   However, when Paul says that God testifies this truth of redemption in the proper or right time we must ask when does this occur?  Theologically speaking, we can say this testimony happens at conversation in the believing soul as the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.  But in a broader sense God gives this testimony in the last great day before all the world showing all for whom the ransom was given.  Just as each of Christ’s sheep come to call Jesus Lord and believe on Him to everlasting life at the proper time (Gal 1:15, 16), so ultimately when Jesus says to us, “Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Mat. 25:21) all the world will hear, but only His own will be present, where not one seat in heaven will be empty, for all were redeemed.

Paul’s urging the church to pray in this fashion may not seem to follow the model prayer of Christ in the gospels.  Yet, in a very real manner it does contain all the material within the Lord’s prayer at one level or another.  This prayer culminates in God’s glory and the hollowing of His name, it concerns the coming of His kingdom even as we pray for the ruler’s submission to Christ, it seeks the benefit of all with a daily supply of quietness and peace, and the forgiveness of sin in God our Savior and ransom provided only in Christ, it prays against corruption and temptation as we want for ourselves a godly and dignified way of life.  It creates a sense of purpose in this world and expectation of eternal life with Christ.  This is faithful prayer for a faithful people.

The next time we come to a prayer meeting and think that seeming random prayers concerning the well-being of all kinds of people are not big ticket items on God’s agenda, may this prayer list for the church teach us to look again.

 

“Being Built Together” – A Present and Ongoing Work of God

Friday, May 3, 2019

Beloved Congregation,                                                                    

In 2004, Janis and I were travelling west to visit her mother and stopped in the city of Denver, Colorado to see a few sights around the state capitol building.  It was then we saw this curious structure then under construction.  When I first saw the building it seemed as if the structure had collapsed.  Since at the time I was employed by an engineering firm as a mechanical designer, I felt compelled to investigate the pile of steel more closely.  Upon that inspection, I saw that the building was not just a pile of steel, it was really quite sound structurally.  It was to become a large parking garage constructed to appear somewhat chaotic although it was to be a fully functional building.

Well, there is no accounting for taste I suppose, and some people have more money and time on their hands than others, but beyond a discussion of aesthetics, efficiencies, and laws of physics we can also observe helpful lessons for the church.

Jesus Christ as the Divine Architect of the church commands us to build, as He said, on,“these sayings of mine” (Mt 7:24).  “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1Cor. 3:11).  Jesus has a master plan in the Bible and anything that is not stamped with His Divine authority is in for a devastating surprise when the storms of eternal judgment come (Mt. 7:28, 29).

Another lesson for the church is that of patience in allowing the Divine plan to unfold in God’s own time.  Christians may look around at the church today while it seems to appear in disarray and turmoil.  In our sadder moments, we may even be tempted to accuse the Architect of folly.   Too often, we can look at the present state of the church as I once looked at that confused pile of steel not realizing that it was destined to become a signature landmark parking garage.  Today, as we look at the state of the church don’t hurry to judgement, for we walk by faith and not by sight.  Patience!

Because, “… you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-3:1).

Soon the Temple of the Lord will appear in all its glory. But until that day, let our building construction continue according to God’s design, trusting the plans God has for us and for His own glory! “… to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Eph. 3:21)

 

The Briefing – News Analysis by Albert Mohler 

Shawnee RP Church

You Shall Love Your Neighbor as Yourself: Weeping with Poway

April 30, 2019

Dear Congregation,

This week at Shawnee Reformed Presbyterian Church our hearts along with millions of others, are deeply touched with sorrow at the news of the Poway Synagogue shooting.  Sympathy flows for the families and friends who by the actions of one person were made victims in this tragedy.  This is indeed a time to grieve with those who are grieving and pray that those personally affected will find true Shalom [peace] in the one living and true God.

As we view this tragedy and grieve for our neighbors in Poway, we must recognize we are staring at the harsh reality of the fallen and broken world in which we live.[1]  While all the details surrounding this tragedy may not yet be known, what is clear is that the sin of Cain[2] follows the line of humanity down to the present day.  The actions at the Poway Synagogue are manifestations of the same hatred that raged in the heart of Cain who murdered his own brother.[3], [4]   

This kind of hatred is not a manifestation of the Spirit of God, but a product of sinful human hearts.[5]  Sadly, the young man who turned himself in to authorities as the perpetrator of this slaughter had, so we are told, the advantage of a Christian home.  Yet, he fell prey to the deception of thinking less of Christ and more of the tradition of men.[6]   Here is a warning to pastors, parents, teachers, and teens themselves, allowing us to see the degree to which the way of Cain can quickly radicalize unsuspecting lambs transforming them into ravenous wolves.[7]

All living generations need to learn in a fresh way how that Cain’s action proved to be utterly senseless and solved nothing, his killing Abel helped no one, least of all himself.  Instead Cain was driven from God’s presence and had an irremovable stain upon his person.  Cain suffered from a conscience which he described as a punishment greater than he could bear.[8]  Murder only takes away from humanity, it cannot add or contribute anything but lasting shame.

Once our hearts stabilize from the shock of such news, we find that a sense of righteous indignation ensues.  We naturally desire that justice will be swift, the victims vindicated, and that others would not suffer the same fate.  There is nothing wrong and everything right in a desire for justice as God is just and teaches us to love justice.[9], [10]  However, true justice must be served according to the rule of law and administered in a court of law and not by self-appointed means of retribution. [11] God has given this responsibility the civil government[12] precisely so that societies might combat and protect themselves against this kind of anarchy.  Christians, our prayers are needed so that we may lead that reverent, godly, quiet, and peaceable life Paul speaks to Timothy about in his pastoral letter (1 Tim 2:2).  In this way may the world know that we are Jesus’ disciples, by the love we have for one for another.  Our love must be our apologetic for Christ in this post-modern world.[13]

This week as we mourn over this senseless slaughter of human life locally, nationally, and globally join us in praying that this blight of blood lust might be blotted out through God’s one true sacrifice for sin in Jesus Christ.  Pray that the world will look to the Just One for Salvation from the way of Cain![14]

 

Footnotes:

[1] Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned– (Rom. 5:12)
[2]  “… And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.” (Gen 4:8)
[3] “We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous” (1 Jn. 3:12).
[4] “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matt. 5:21-22).
[5] Galatians 5:19-23
[6] Beware lest anyone cheat [literally, take you captive] 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. (Col. 2:8)
[7] Proverbs 12:26 ; Jude 1:11
[8] Genesis 4:8-15 “… My punishment is greater than I can bear!” …”
[9] Isaiah 61:8 ; Amos 5:14-15 ; Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8).
[10] “For the word of the LORD is upright, And all His work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the lovingkindness of the LORD” (Ps. 33:4-5).
[11] Numbers 35:9-34 is evidence of God’s provision and insistence that human government bear the sword of justice.  While our jurisprudence is administered in different manner than Numbers 35, it is nevertheless carried out according to the principles of guilt or innocence and punishment is according to intent and degree just as the law of Moses taught.
[12] Romans 13:1-7

[13] John 13:34-35
[14] Acts 7:52-60

Supper Plans: Thinking About the Supper of Christ

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Dear Congregation,                                                                   

This Lord’s day evening our congregation comes not only to hear the Word of God audibly proclaimed, but also to publicly and visibly participate in one of the greatest privileges of Christian church membership, the Lord’s Supper.

The Bible tells us that on the night our Lord Jesus was betrayed He took bread and wine and set them apart for a special and particular use (Matthew 26:26-30).  We call this special use a “sacramental” use, that is for a sacred purpose.  Our church’s Westminster Shorter Catechism instructs us that, “A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ, wherein by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers” (WSC Q92).

In the Supper of Christ, the sensible signs are bread and wine.  These elements of bread and wine are to remind us what Jesus has done for us.  The bread is a sacred symbol and seal of Jesus’ body, which was given for us.  The cup is a sacred symbol and seal of the new covenant in Jesus blood (Luke 22:19-21).  In receiving the supper, we are saying to ourselves and to others that while Jesus’ death should have been ours, we also participate in the resurrection life of Christ by faith (Galatians 2:20 ; 2 Cor. 5:21).

Furthermore, we acknowledge that just as truly as the physical bread and wine are present in our eating, that Jesus is spiritually present to nourish and strengthen us by faith in His promise.  This is communion with Christ in His body and blood (1 Corinthians 10:16) and is received only by faith. This pattern is to be followed in the church until Jesus returns and receives His followers at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).  What a glorious day for us!

But as we are still waiting for that great day, here are a few words of counsel to the church and her honored guests.

  • God in His Word forbids the church to invite unbelievers, the spiritually careless, or those under church discipline to partake of the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 5:1-11 & 11:27-29; Matthew 18:16).
  • Who is invited to dine with Christ? The Bible invites (yes, commands) the followers of Christ who are baptized and communicant members of a true branch of the visible church to dine at the Table of Christ (Luke 22:19).
  • How do we at SRPC carry out obedience to this Biblical teaching? In terms of our local practice communicant members of the RPCNA and those known to the session may commune at the Supper. Visitors among the congregation who desire to participate in the Supper are asked to share their profession of faith in Christ prior to a communion service.  If it is not possible for elders to conveniently meet with visitors before the service, we welcome all in attendance to remain, but to refrain from partaking of the elements until a meeting can be scheduled.  At heart, we truly wish to honor and obey the King of kings and His wishes at the Table.

Communion is a time for spiritual accounting and preparation (1 Cor 11:28).  Think of it in this way, we spend 18 to 24 years of our lives preparing to live as accountable, responsible, mature adults, so spending a few minutes this week to prepare to take the Supper which has temporal and eternal benefits is in our best interest.  Our spiritual fathers have asked us to consider this matter in question 171 of the Westminster Larger Catechism,

WLC 171  How are they that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper to prepare themselves before they come unto it?

  1. They that receive the sacrament of the Lord’s supper are, before they come, to prepare themselves thereunto, by examining themselves(1) of their being in Christ,(2) of their sins and wants;(3) of the truth and measure of their knowledge,(4) faith,(5) repentance;(6) love to God and the brethren,(7) charity to all men,(8) forgiving those that have done them wrong;(9) of their desires after Christ,(10) and of their new obedience,(11) and by renewing the exercise of these graces,(12) by serious meditation,(13) and fervent prayer.(14)(1) 1 Cor. 11:28 ; (2) 2 Cor. 13:5 ; (3) 1 Cor. 5:7 compared with Exod. 12:15 ; (4) 1 Cor. 11:29; (5) 1 Cor. 13:5; Matt. 26:28 ; (6) Zech. 12:10; 1 Cor. 11:31; (7) 1 Cor. 10:16,17; Acts 2:46,47 ; (8) 1 Cor. 5:8; 1 Cor. 11:18,20 ; (9) Matt. 5:23,24 ; (10) Isa. 55:1; John 7:37; (11) 1 Cor. 5:7,8 ; (12) 1 Cor. 11:25,26,28; Heb. 10:21,22,24; Ps. 26:6 ; (13) 1 Cor. 11:24,25 ; (14) 2 Chron. 30:18, 19; Matt. 26:26

By seeking Christ in this way, we can all look forward to sitting at the Lord’s Table with a people prepared by the Lord Jesus Christ – like heaven.

 

Shawnee RPC Group Photo

Hope and Your Heart

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Shawnee RPC Group Photo

Beloved Congregation of the Lord,                                                             

What a great difference a change of season makes in our lives.  I say this because to me this past winter was especially long, and long winters can have an impact on our well being.  We could ask a physician to confirm this generally, but God’s book already tells us that, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life” (Pro 13:12).  Solomon seems to say that when the grace of hope returns to the heart, it is like spring time in the soul.

In light of this, how is your heart doing?  The heart which the sage of Israel told us to be concerned about when he said, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life”?  This is the heart or inner man where Christ dwells by faith as Paul said, “… that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18-19).

Perhaps some of us are looking for relief from some fiery trial or victory over a particular sin, or a the return of wayward friend or family member, but the relief we hoped for is like the long winter that keeps freezing and throwing sleet and ice at all our efforts to thaw out.  When we find ourselves in such a spiritual freeze, look to Christ in fresh faith and you will find, “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16)   A Christian’s hope is not deferred forever, God will see to that.  So, let’s trust in God’s provision and have a heart strengthening week in the warm weather of God’s good grace in Christ Jesus our Lord!

 Hope is never ill when faith is well ~ John Bunyan