False Assumptions

I’ve been having an ongoing conversation with a few of my elders regarding Evangelism, Spiritual Development, and the stagnation that many of us experience in these areas.  These conversations were in the back of my mind while I was perusing a book called, “Evangelistic Sermons at Aberavon” by D.M. Lloyd-Jones.  In particular, his sermon entitled “False Assumptions” I found particularly moving.

Before I share a portion of his sermon I have to comment on the nature of the message. Lloyd-Jones’ message comes out of a reading of Luke 2:44 – “but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances.”  He then speaks about those who suppose that Christ is with them for all the wrong reasons, and finishes by sharing on the importance of knowing that we are with Christ. To take this one verse and build such a powerful message on it demonstrates a marvelous gift of grace in evangelical exposition. I dare say that I would have glossed over this verse and focused on why Jesus was there in the Temple – so perhaps this is a reminder to be more careful to observe all that is in God’s word.

What follows here, then is an excerpt from his sermon, highlighting the reasons Lloyd-Jones gives for those who falsely assume that Christ is with them, and how we may be genuinely assured that we are with Jesus.

I have often been struck, when talking to people about these matters, by they way in which, in the very terms they use, they confess that they had always assumed that they were Christians. This is their favorite terms, ‘Of course I am a Christian,’ they say.  Now, the very use of that term suggests that there is something wrong.  There is no ‘of course’ about being a Christian. It is something entirely new. It is by no means inevitable or something which is bound to happen. Indeed, becoming a Christian… is a supernatural act wrought by God Himself, something which is comparable to a dead soul being made alive… In this view, the Christian does not say, ‘Of course I am a Christian,’ but rather, ” By the infinite grace and mercy of God I am what I am, I am a Christian.’

But why is it that people should thus assume that they are Christians, or, in the more picturesque language of my text, why is it that people should thus suppose that Jesus Christ is with them on their journey through life and that He will be with them to the end?

There are some who actually assume that all is well with them for the simple and only reason that they being to a so-called Christian country.

There are those who base their assumption of their Christianity on their upbringing… Having been baptized when they were infants, they assume that they are Christians and that all is well with them.

Another group of persons base this assumption on the fact of church-membership or church-attendance. They have their names in the book, they attend with a fair regularity, they contribute to towards the funds… and on they go feeling quite happy and never doubting for a moment that God is well-pleased with them.

There are those that suppose that a good-life and good works mean of necessity that we are Christians and that Christ is with us. They have not gone near a church; they have not read their Bible for years; their prayers have been fitful and intermittent; but that has not concerned them at all.

Finally, there are those who would base their hope on the so-called love of God. Whatever may be said to them, they just wave their hands and say, ‘God is love.’ Nothing else really matters, a man’s life makes no difference at all. God’s love will deal with everything and all will be well.

What is at the heart of all of these assumptions?

Mary and Joseph assumed that the boy would follow them, that His one business was to do so, and that therefor the matter need not be considered any further… The whole fallacy is to think that our Lord must accommodate Himself to us and not we to Him. We expect Him to come, we assume He will come. We thank that we can come and go as we please and do anything that we like, but that He will always be there when we need Him. So we talk glibly and blasphemously about ‘taking Christ with us’ to various places – we leading, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the King of kings and Lord of lords, following. Oh, the blasphemy of it all!

How can we know that we are with Jesus?

‘If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.’ There it is. He promises to dwell with, and abide with those who keep the condition. And the condition is, loving Him and keeping His word. Without that condition there is no promise. And keeping His word means believing what He said and doing what He has told us to do. It means believing that He is the only Son of God who came on earth to save us. It means believing that He died for me and that He is my only hope of heaven. It means giving myself to Him, turning from my sins and from the world and doing my all and upmost to please Him in everything.

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A Labor of Love

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship,
to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

(Acts 2:42)

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this passage taught as the model for Church ministry – and rightfully so.  This example of the early Church’s daily practice of life together reveals the essential marks of the Christ’s body.  What is the Church if it is not centered around the teaching of the Word of God, with genuine fellowship among believers who care for and build up one another, the regular and proper administration of the Sacraments, and faithful, passionate, and Spirit-filled prayer?  Countless books and conferences have given attention to this passage, seeking to keep the Church grounded in those “means of grace” through which God has long-blessed His people.

Yet something struck me as a I re-read the passage today: As often as I’ve heard this passage extolled to the leaders of the church, highlighting these essential four marks, how often have we stopped to consider what is being said about the members of the congregations? We rightly focus on the fact that the leaders of the Church (teaching and ruling elders) need to keep us grounded on these four marks, but do we give enough attention to the role of those who are being led?

Consider what Acts 2:42 says, “they devoted themselves…”  The people of the church, not just the leaders, gave themselves to these practices, devoted themselves to these means.  This word, “devotion”, deserves some consideration.

In it’s simplest form, “devotion” means diligence, commitment to, or endurance.  It suggests an intent to follow through on a decision, I have devoted myself to this task… So, in one sense, devotion is a labor, a work, that we must be dedicated to perform.

Now, before the “works-righteousness” alarms start going off, please understand that I don’t mean that we must do this in order to merit salvation.  Scripture clearly teaches that we are “saved by grace through faith… it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8-9).  That being said, God’s free gift of salvation in Jesus Christ does not exempt us from doing good works, it actually enables us to those works (Eph 2:10).  When I say that we must commit ourselves to the work of studying the apostles teaching, to fellowship, to partake in the sacraments rightly, and to prayer, I am talking about the discipline and duty of the Christian in ongoing growth and life in the Spirit.

Another aspect of this word “devotion,” however, is that of the heart.  Devotion doesn’t just suggest commitment and dedication, but also love and adoration.  Devotion implies a heartfelt passion.  Devotion cannot be a plodding through the God-given means of grace of study, fellowship, sacrament, and prayer as though these were burdens to be carried out.  Devotion is a joy-filled, Christ-centered love for God and for the blessings known in sweet communion with Him.  It is a commitment to the Lord because of a delight in the Lord.  It is a labor, yes.  But it is a labor of love!

For the church to thrive, she must practice these marks, these are god’s gracious means give for our growth.  As leaders we must never abandoned the principles of Acts 2:42.  But this passage is meant to go beyond a Church ministry model.  It speaks to the heart of every believer.  We must, each of us, be devoted, to seek out the Lord and delight in His presence.

May you know and grow in the joy and delight in devotion to the Lord!


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The Christmas Story – Revisited

While radio personality Garrison Keillor has had to walk away from the public spotlight due to accusations of improprieties, his legacy as a story teller extraordinaire is what will stand the test of time.  For over 40 years he produced and hosted The Prairie Home Companion radio program, and has authored several books containing his stories. His folksy, Americana, stylings in “News from Lake Wobegone,” are so relatable and picturesque that one can not help but be drawn into his narrative.  You may completely disagree with him politically (which I do), but you have to admit, he can spin a good tale.

All that being said, I thought I would share with you my transcription of his radio broadcast retelling of the Christmas Story.  I heard this years ago, and was so captivated by the way he told the familiar Biblical account of Christ’s birth, that I started typing while listening, then listened again to make sure I got it all right.  I enjoy rereading this every year, just to get a different take on the story I know so well.

I hope you will enjoy this as much as I have.  Be sure to read the account from Luke 2:1-20 and Matthew 1:18-2:18, then come back and read this retelling.

At that time there went forth a decree from Caesar Augustus, that a census should be taken of the whole world, or at least the world that he was familiar with, which was not nearly all of it.  It was an order that was pretty much ignored in America, for example.

But in the Holy Land it was obeyed, and people went to their hometowns to be counted for the census.  Could have been done the other way, with the government sending census takers out to count the people where they were but there’s always been a lot of governments that like to see people march to their orders and like to see people follow instructions and stand in lines and so they did it that way and everybody had to travel to their home town.

And among the Jews who traveled to their hometowns were Joseph and his wife Mary who was great with child.  And they came down out of Galilee out of the town of Nazareth, down into Judea, into the city of Bethlehem, the city of David, because Joseph was of the house of David.  And while they were there, standing in line, filling out forms, the time came for Mary to be delivered of child.  Now Joseph had tried to get them a hotel room, but the clerk said that all the rooms were booked.  And when Joseph tried to explain that his wife was great with child, the clerk said “Don’t tell me I just work here.”  And so they were living in a stable.

In all of the manger scenes that we’ve ever seen that stable is always shown as being a very clean stable, and filled with clean straw, sweet smelling straw, and I certainly hope that it was, though I doubt it.  And there, Mary brought forth her first-born son, and she laid him in a manger, which is a sort of a feeding trough.

There were animals there in the stable, there were some donkeys and a few horses, and some dairy cows, and their feed had to be put in buckets for them but they still out of habit came over to their feed trough, and they put their noses down and they smelled the baby.

Now there were, round about, shepherds tending their flocks by night, lying in the field.  Actually, they were lying around the campfire, and they were smoking, and they were telling jokes, and they were passing a bottle around.  They were kind of a motley bunch those shepherds were.  It was not a profession that educated people went into, in those days.  Kind of like parking lot attendants today.  They were not looked on with esteem by other people.  They were not considered to be high-class citizens, because sheep are not high-class animals, you know.  From a distance they may be, but not up close.  Sheep are fine if they are doing what they want to do, but as soon as you try to make a sheep do what you want it to do, I tell you, all the high-class people get out of the profession at that point, and the only people left to be shepherds are the people who don’t have anything else.

And so, they were lying there around the campfire when an Angel of the Lord suddenly appeared unto them, they were sore afraid. They fell on the ground.  They didn’t just fall on it, they hugged the ground.  They pressed their faces in the ground.  They were kind of shy people, these shepherds.

And though the Angel said, “Be not afraid,” they were terrified, they were scared out of their pants.  They hid the bottle. They thought God had come to punish them for drinking.  And they lay there whimpering, and they said “No, please, no, don’t.”

And the angel said, “Be not afraid.”  But they had never seen an angel before, they had never looked at an angel or smelled an angel or heard and angel’s voice and the angel was sort of like a human form but not exactly and the voice was kind of strange and kind of distant and the smell the angel gave off was a smell of such purity that it almost hurt their noses.  So they were terrified.

The angel said, “Be not afraid, behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be for all people that unto you is born tonight in the city of David a Savior who is called Christ the King, and this shall be a sign unto you.  You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manager.  And suddenly there was a heavenly host praising God and singing, “Glory to God in the Highest and peace on earth among men of good will”.

Well, when suddenly the heavenly host ascended and left them, the shepherds all headed into Bethlehem to see what it was that they were talking about.  They followed the star in a way but the star was high in the sky so it gave them general direction but it wasn’t useful as far as finding one stable in one town. A street map might have been more useful, so they had to look around for it a little while.

Some of the shepherds believed what they had been told and other shepherds weren’t so sure.  They would stop townspeople as they looked around through the streets. They would tap somebody on the shoulder and say, “You didn’t see a heavenly host up in the sky just about 10–15 minutes ago off to the west, did you?”  The person said, “A what?”  They said, “Never mind.”  One shepherd said to another, “You know Bob, we were drinking a lot.”  “I emptied half of that wineskin myself.”

But they found the stable and they walked in and there was Mary, and there was Joseph, and there was the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger and instantly they all believed.  They all believed instantly, they had to ask no questions.  They knew it was all true what the angels had said.  And they tiptoed out of there, after worshiping the child and they were never to be the same people again.  They went back to shepherding, but they were never the same again.  They were filled with joy and happiness the rest of their lives.

Not that it made shepherding any easier or made the sheep any easier to handle.  Sheep were sheep, and they could get angry sometimes and they’d be sad sometimes, but life could never again be the same for them.  There was always a light in their hearts. And it would never be dark night for them again as long as they lived.

There were other things that happened.  There were three wise men who came from an eastern university.  There was an assistant Wiseman, and an associate Wiseman, and there was the chairman of the wisdom department.  And they came bringing gifts, and they worshipped the child, they believed instantly when they saw it.  Even though worship had not been the purpose of the grant, and it really was not the custom among wise men then to do very much worshipping at all, they were scholars, but they believed instantly.

And so did the innkeeper in a way.  He believed… at least he believed that an event had happened that had great publicity value for Bethlehem.  He fired the clerk, and sent a message to Joseph and Mary saying that it had been a mistake in the Telex system, that actually there were rooms and in fact there was a suit of rooms for them, and they were welcome, the whole family was welcome to come and to stay the whole weekend at no charge.  And he made plans that he would rename the hotel the La Fonte hotel and would raise his prices.  He would put up a plaque saying that the baby had been born there, and would have a gift shop in the lobby, selling holy nativity type items.  And in fact he had already placed a large order for hand carved sheep when the word came back from the stable that they were gone.  An Angel had come again to Joseph and Mary and told them that their lives were in danger, that the government was about to begin a program of massacring infant children in the hopes of killing the one child whom the government believed might overthrow it.  And so they had left, the stable was empty, just a bunch of hungry animals standing around inside, and outside on the street there was crowd of people who had come to see this, but they had gone.  If they were to find this child, they would have to find him elsewhere or in some other way.

The shepherds were the lucky ones when you come right down to it, and the wise men, cause they saw it all.  They were there, it all happened to them.  It didn’t have to be told to them by somebody else.  They didn’t have to sit down and study it and figure it out.  It was just given to them, as a gift.

Merry Christmas!

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Temporary’s Path to Apostasy

I’ve been reading Pilgrim’s Progress to my young sons, and I am continually amazed at the depth and clarity with which Bunyan examines the spiritual condition.  Most recently, we read of Hopeful’s acquaintance Temporary and how he fell away from his faith.

Temporary, as his name implies, was a pilgrim who started his journey with enthusiasm, but then quickly left the path of faith. He stand as an illustration of those who, like the seed that falls among the rocky soil, which quickly grew, but then withered under the heat of the sun.  He begins with outward excitement, but as there is no inward working of the Holy Spirit, he soon proves to be apostate.

Christian, in explaining how Temporary fell away, gives us a warning for our own life of faith.  Here are the steps to avoid:

They draw most of their thoughts away from the remembrance of God, death, and judgment to come. 

Thinking regularly on God’s holiness, Christ’s death for your sins, and the coming Day of Judgment keeps you in close communion with God. Yet so often, family concerns, careers ambitions, and the barrage of  social-media and 24/7 entertainment are distractions from thinking of God.

Then they gradually neglect private duties such as personal prayer, curbing their lusts, watchfulness, sorrow for sin, and the like. 

The God-given means fo grace (ie. prayer, Bible study, reading of wholesome books, discipline (physical and spiritual), self-examination, stewardship, etc) are all meant to strengthen you in your faith. Neglect these gifts at your own peril.

Then they shun the company of lively and whole-hearted Christians.

Though you may continue to come to worship, the conversations over coffee never get past the kids activities or current events. The idea of sharing your testimony, or listening to someone else’s never comes to mind.

After that, they grow cold to public duty, such as conscientious listening, reading of the Word, godly corporate gathering, and the like.

When you stop talking to others about your faith, then your desire for worship falls away.  Attendance becomes hit and miss, you cannot concentrate on the sermon, and your commitment to the ministry of the Church weakens.

They then begin to find fault or pick holes, as we say, in the lives of some of the godly, so that they may claim religion is stained based on some weaknesses they have noticed in these believers, and they then justify putting religion behind their backs. 

With no real commitment to the worship and ministry of the Church, you then turn on the people of the Church.  With growing criticism, you judge the saints with specks in their eyes while ignoring the logs in your own (Matt. 7:3-5).

Then they begin to adhere to and associate with, carnal, immoral, and unrestrained men. 

As you no longer participate in the life of the Church, and you don’t like the people of the Church, your circle of activity expands to include worldly entertainment and even Sunday activities (hunting, organized sports, etc) that conflict with church life.

They give way to carnal and depraved conversations in secret, and they are glad if they can find similar practices in any who are considered reputable, for these hypocrites encourage them to be all the more bold. 

As you spend more time with people of the world than with people of faith, worldly influences creep in, looking for the faults in other Christians as justification for your own.

After this they begin to play with little sins openly. 

Desensitized to the effects of sin, you dance even closer to the fire, with no fear of being burned.

And then, being hardened, they show themselves as they are.

No longer bothered with pretense, you invite more worldliness into your life, and reveal your true nature.

Christians, trust in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit to keep you and strengthen you in your faith.  Do not wander or neglect the means by which God has promised to nourish and sustain you.  And if you find yourself in Temporary’s path toward apostasy, repent, and turn from your sins, that you might be restored by God’s mercy!


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My daily bread…

I was reading this morning through Joel Beeke’s and Brian Najapfour’s book Taking Hold of God: Reformed and Puritan Perspectives on Prayer when something just hit me right between the eyes.

Writing about John Knox’s teaching on prayer, specifically, why God sometimes denies our prayers, they offer one reason is, according to Knox, our own hypocrisy.  Quoting Knox.

“When men ask of God things whereof they have no need… In such cases a great number to offend, principally the mighty and rich of the earth, who for a common custom, will pray this part of the Lord’s prayer, ‘Give us this day our daily bread’: that is, a moderate and reasonable sustenance; and yet their own hearts will testify that they need not so to pray, seeing they abound in all worldly solace and felicity. I mean not that rich men should not pray this pray of the Lord’s prayer, but I would they understood what they ought to pray in it, and that they ask nothing whereof they fell not themselves marvelously indigent and needy. For unless we call in verity, he shall not grant; and except we speak with our whole heart, we shall not find him.”

In other words, why would God answer the prayers of those who are well supplied in the things of this world when they offer before Him a thoughtless prayer for daily bread?  It is not that we shouldn’t pray for our daily bread, but that we should learn what it is we truly need, and seek after that with our whole heart.

So the question is, what is your daily bread?  What is it you need, that only God can provide?

For some, it may well be provision for the very essentials of sustenance: food, water, shelter, work, peace, etc…

For others, they should give thanks that God has provided these things in abundance, but should still seek from God the eternal blessings from His throne; faith, assurance, growth in grace and sanctification, etc…

What immediately came to mind for me is this: I need more of Christ.

I need Him to be more glorious to me than all the shiny and tempting things of this world.  I need a vision of His glory, His goodness, His truth.  I need more of Christ, in my preaching, in my praying, in my speaking, in my everything.  I need more of Christ at the very center of my being.

This is my daily bread.  May I seek Him in sincerity and faithfulness, and may God be pleased to answer this prayer.


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Thanksgiving Proclamation

No need to post anything new – here’s George Washington’s Declaration of Thanksgiving I shared last year.

Reveds's Blog

As we take time this week to celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I thought I would share George Washington’s Thanksgiving proclamation. While Thanksgiving would not become an officially recognized national holiday until established by Lincoln in 1863 (and made law by Congress in 1941), each state celebrated a day of Thanksgiving in various manners since the original proclamation in 1789. In many places, it was set aside as a time of fasting and prayer, a day of service devoted “that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be.” What follows is the original proclamation of President George Washington declaring Thursday the 26th of November a national day of Thanksgiving in 1789.

Thanksgiving Proclamation

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty…

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The Praying Parent

In my study for this week’s message on Joshua 24:14-15 and the importance of Family Worship, I came across these two paragraphs from James Alexander’s “Thoughts on Family Worship.”  Keep in mind, this book was originally printed in 1847, and while the language is a bit out of date, it is incredibly accurate and relevant for our families today.  Whether you are considering family worship for the first time as part of my sermon series, or have come upon it randomly on this blog, I pray that this will help to encourage and motivate you in the practice of worshipping together as a family.

I’ve highlighted some of the more powerful sentences.

In the rage for amassing wealth, which threatens the church among us, and especially in our great commercial cities, there is an estranging process going on which I fear is too little observed. Such is the insane precipitation with which the man of business rushes to his morning’s task and such the length of his absence from home, often extending till the hours of darkness, so that he gradually loses some of that parental tenderness which Providence keeps alive by the presence of those whom we love.  The long continuance of such habits cannot fail to affect the character. Of all persons in the world, he should be most willing to take time for family devotions who is, by his very employment, shut out from his home most of every day  The paternal heart demands this hour of culture. A deliberate service in which the voices of infancy and age unite in praising God, amidst the flow of mutual affection, is a blessed means of countervailing the hard and selfish world which surrounds them. But above all the Christian parent needs something to keep him constantly in remembrance that his children have souls, that they look to him for more than their earthly support, and that there are means whereby, under God, he may be the instrument of their salvation. If, amidst the avocations of this life, he seldom finds time to deal faithfully with their souls; if he rarely conveys to them any sign of fear for their safety; if he is dumb in respect to Christ and eternity; here is a daily service of which the direct tendency will be to arouse him to these duties.  Can it be possible for a man to pray earnestly for the salvation of his children in their hearing, representing them to God in earnest supplication as dead in trespasses and sins, while at the same time he leaves them to wonder why no syllable ever falls from his lips on those momentous subjects? The praying parent has a daily reminder of these and the like obligations; and while he asks heavily good for his household, he will sometimes cry to God for grace to fulfill them. The answer of such prayers will not be withheld. The prayer-hearing God will render him a better parent, will endow him with those peculiar gifts for which, alas, professing parents are slow to seek, and will cause him to discharge the obligations of this fearful station in a better manner, to say the least, than those who hasten through life without any token of family religion.

Prayerless parents have cause to tremble.  God’s anger may light upon them in their parental relation, as Eli’s neglect was visited (1 Sam 3:13). They have no right to expect parental happiness. They place themselves and their household in the defenseless condition of the heathen. “Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know Thee not, and upon the families that call not on Thy name” (Jer. 10:25). Family prayer invites and bespeaks the blessing of God on all concerned, but chiefly on him who leads in it. Better a roofless house than a prayerless one; better beg one’s bread with prayer than deny God by a neglect of this chief means of domestic property. One who has any genuine religious faith, and any trust in God’s promises, must be assured that in the rearing of his household, in providing for their support and education, in governing and restraining them, and in laboring for their souls, no good can ensue but by the blessing of God. And for this blessing, in the way of direction and grace, the Christian parent should join with his family in asking everyday. In so doing he will not only be a better man, but a better father. He will love his children more, and more wisely. He will be doubly a parent to them by the power and affection of a holy example. He will better be able to bear those reverses and bereavements which may befall him.*

* Alexander, James W. Thoughts on Family Worship 2002 (Soli Deo Gloria Publications; Morgan, PA) Pg. 30-32.
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