Hannah’s Vow, Spurgeon & Self-Denial

It is a great privilege to walk with my church through the book of 1 Samuel on Wednesday evenings.  Last night we spent some time considering Hannah, whom we meet in chapter 1.  This godly woman was barren, unable to conceive a child.  In the midst of her great longing to be a mother, she prays one of the most shocking prayers in the Bible:

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She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.” (1 Samuel 1:10–11)

It is shocking, because the thing that she desperately wants is the thing she offers to give away.  She vows that her son will be under a lifelong Nazarite vow and that this son will grow up not with her, but in God’s sanctuary/temple in Shiloh.  As a Nazarite, her son would be set apart not for her exclusive enjoyment and pleasure, but for special service to God and His priorities and pleasure.  Hannah’s desire for a child, strong as it is, has become eclipsed by her desire for God’s greater glory and purposes.  Charles Spurgeon notes that:

“Hannah had learned self-denial. This is clear, since the very prayer by which she hoped to escape out of her great grief was a self-denying one. She desired a son, so that her reproach might be removed; but if her eyes might be blessed with such a sight she would cheerfully resign her darling to be the Lord’s as long as he lived. Mothers wish to keep their children around them. It is natural that they should wish to see them often. But Hannah, when most eager for a son, asking, for only one, and that one as the special gift of God, yet does not seek him for herself, but for her God…

Her heart does not long to see her boy at home, his father’s daily pride, and her own hourly solace, but to see him serving as a Levite in the house of the Lord. By this she proved that she had learned self-denial. Brothers and sisters, this is one of our hardest lessons: to learn to give up what we most prize at the command of God, and to do so cheerfully. This is real self-denial, when we ourselves make the proposition, and offer the sacrifice freely, as she did. To desire a blessing so that we may have the opportunity of parting with it, this is self-conquest: have we reached it? Oh you of a sorrowful spirit, if you have learned to crucify the flesh, if you have learned to subdue the body, if you have learned to cast all your desires and wills at his feet, you have gained what a thousand times repays you for all the losses and crosses you have suffered.”

Hannah is truly an inspiration in this sense.  True life is not found in holding on tightly to the things we treasure, but in being willing to release any other treasure in order that we can better lay hold of God, His glory, and His purposes above all else, because He is our true and highest treasure.  Oh may the Lord help me to live in this way!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

Spring 2017 Community Groups Coming Soon!

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One of the things I love about HCBC is how eager our folks are to study the Bible.  Many people have been coming up to me lately asking when our next round of Community Groups will be launching.  I’m happy to say we’ll be relaunching the week of February 5th.  As usual we’ve got a terrific lineup of studies.  Here’s what we’re offering this time around:

1 Peter: Maintaining Our Hope in a World That’s Not Our Home

imagesLed by Steve Doyle at Barbara Coleman’s home.  1830 Jessica Way, Winder.
Launch Date: Tuesday, February 7th, 7pm.

Do you ever feel like an alien and a stranger in a land that is increasingly distant and even hostile to Jesus Christ?  That’s normal.  The Apostle Peter begins his letter by saying he is writing to “To those who are elect exiles…” (1 Pe 1:1).  To be a believer is to be an exile longing for their true home in heaven.  But in the meantime, how now shall we live?  This Bible study will equip and encourage all pilgrims who are passing through this difficult world in route to their ultimate destination, the New Heavens and the New Earth.  No study guide necessary, just your Bible!  Sign up here!

Lessons from the Upper Room

 Led by Jeff Thomas at Karen Lindsey’s home.  2515 Harbins Mill Drive, Dacula.
Launch Date: Wednesday, February 8th, 7pm.

Knowing the time was fast approaching for Him to imagesdepart this world, Jesus spent His final hours with His closest friends. As the disciples sat with their master, unaware of what would soon take place, Jesus served them, taught them, and prayed for them.  In this 12-part teaching series, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson paints a vivid picture of the disciples’ final moments with their Savior. Carefully walking through John 13-17, Dr.
Ferguson reminds us of the centrality of Christ in all of life.   No study guide necessary, just your Bible!  Sign up here!  For more information, view the trailer below:

 

God in our midst: The Tabernacle and our relationship to God.  

Led by Mark Pierce at the Pritchett home, 2290 Marshland Ct, Suwanee.
Launch Date: Wednesday,  February 8th, 7pm.

How does an ancient tent in the wilderness of Sinai relate to our relationship with God? The description of the tabernacle, God’s Old Testament dwelling place, spans sixteen chapters of the Bible. Yet many of us pass over this extended description without understanding its significance. In this series, Daniel R. Hyde encourages us to consider this “tent of meeting” (Ex. 27:21). By studying the particulars of this first tabernacle, we will better understand Jesus, the One who dwelt, or “tabernacled,” among us (John 1:14).  No study guide necessary!  Just bring your Bible!  Sign up here!  For more information, view the trailer below:

 

What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

Led by Demer Webb at the Sims’ home, 3605 Wynter Frost Walk.
Launch Date: Wednesday,  February 8th, 7pm

imagesIt won’t take long for you to be disappointed in marriage. It won’t take long for your dreams to be dashed. The reality is that you can’t escape the brokenness of this
world. You won’t be able to avoid the sin of your spouse.

The Bible teaches that we all bring something destructive into our relationships – sin. But as Paul David Tripp explains, we buy into the delusion that our biggest problem is outside of us. We blame our spouse. We blame our circumstances. We rarely take seriously the nature of our own sin.

‘What Did You Expect?’ challenges you to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see yourself with clarity. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you love yourself more than your spouse. Maybe you love your little kingdom more than God’s big Kingdom. When you reach that level of honesty, you’re at the edge of real good things for your marriage.

Sign up here!  

After you sign up, get your FREE study guide here! (required)  

To go even deeper, click here and order the book! (optional but recommended)

For more information, view the trailer below:

 

Behold Your God

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF THE STUDY THAT BEGAN LAST SEMESTER.  

Led by Todd Harrison at the Harrison home. 1480 Bradley Gin Road, Monroe.
Study resumes Thursday, February 9th,  7pm.  

Are we sure that the God we serve is the imagesGod described in Scripture? Is rethinking Him biblically really necessary? How do we do it? How would it affect our views of Christ, the gospel, holiness, worship, evangelism, service, and revival?

Behold Your God is a study that focuses on God’s self-revelation in the Bible, helping the believer to apply the descriptions of God to all of life. Each week features a short biographical sketch of the life of a significant figure from Christian history whose ministry illustrates the truths that you will be studying weekly.  They include A. W. TozerGeorge MullerRobert Murray M’CheyneCharles Spurgeon,  Jonathan Edwards, and more.

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In addition, each week’s lesson will reinforce what you have been studying in the Bible on your own time throughout that week.  Finally, you will be able to listen to highlights from interviews with contemporary ministers whose lives and labors reflect these same truths.

This study is written with the conviction that our fundamental need in Western Christianity is to repent of our low and unworthy views of God, to return to the biblical descriptions of the true God, and to risk it all in order to live upon Who He is. Nothing in this study is new truth.  Instead, everything is meant only to help you to take the biblical descriptions of God seriously and to see how they form the foundation of Christian living.

***Because this is a study that began in the Fall, you are encouraged to consider another one of our study options.  However, if you are still interested in joining this study midstream,  order the required daily devotional and then sign up here!***

For more information, view the trailer below:

To preserve strong group dynamics and intimacy, Pastor Steve and I are trying to keep the groups from becoming too large.  Therefore, our preference is to have a maximum of 12 participants per group.  (This does not of course, include babies and other children who won’t really be participating in the study!) With that said, we want to make sure everyone is in a group, so if there is only one that you desire to participate in due to day of the week, location, interest, etc, then we will of course increase the size of any group to make sure that everyone is included.  With that said, please let us know as early as you can which group you’d like to participate in.

I’m thrilled that HCBC is able to offer such amazing studies that will draw you closer to God, facilitate transformation in your life, and sink your roots deeper into the precious Word of God, through which we are able to more clearly see and savor our Lord Jesus Christ!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

Who knew you could get so much out of 2 Chronicles?

When folks pick up the Bible looking for hope, encouragementBook of 2 Chronicles, and strength, people often go to the Psalms, or to the Gospels, or maybe an epistle.

They don’t go to 2 Chronicles.

2 Chronicles is not typically the “go-to” book for folks who are desperate to hear a word from God.  That’s too bad, because “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)  When we skip over large sections of the Bible we are depriving ourselves of rich nourishment and help for our spiritual lives.

I’d like to draw your attention to a rather short but powerful story in the Bible which is recorded in 2 Chronicles 33:1-20.  It is about an evil king named Manasseh.  This guy was awful, and he went from bad to worse.

imagesHe forsook God and instituted idol worship throughout the land (v. 3-4).  He built pagan altars in the temple itself (v. 4-5, 7).  He was deeply involved in the occult, sorcery, and necromancy, and he even he even sacrificed his own sons to his gods, offering them up as burnt offerings (v.6).

What’s more, he did not keep his evil to himself, but he led the people of Judah astray, enticing them into a level of evil worse than pagan nations (v.9).

So you’re probably thinking, “Ok Demer, this is a real downer…so why are we here?”  Hang with me.

In verse 10 we are told that, “The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention.”  

Ok.  That should get our attention and signal something to us about God.  How amazing is it that even after all of the wickedness of Manasseh and after all of the wickedness of the people, God is calling out to them and urging them to repent through His prophets and through His Holy Scriptures?  This speaks to the incredible love and patience of God and His desire to show mercy.  But this verse also speaks to the hard heartedness of man.  As God, through His prophets and through His Word is speaking, the people “paid no attention.”  (v.10)

And yet in 2 Chronicles 33 we learn that God is relentless in His pursuit of those He is determined to save.  God continues to speak, with the intent of saving, but this time He speaks in another way…

Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. (2 Chronicles 33:11)

imagesNow, I suppose our instinct here would be to cheer!  And surely we should cheer when the wicked are defeated.  Manasseh is beginning to get what he deserves, and if he continues to get what he deserves he will be totally humiliated, suffer more, die, and then face an even worse fate in Hell forever.  That’s exactly what Manasseh deserves and God would be just to exact such vengeance upon him.  Now,  how do you think evil Manasseh responds to this affliction?  Often we see the wicked respond to affliction by using it as an excuse to further rage against God.  They intuitively know that God is sovereign over their suffering and so they use that to justify further rebellion against Him, as Elihu once wisely said,

“The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them. (Job 36:13)

Now here is Manasseh, who is literally bound!  What will he do?  And it is here where the story takes a surprising turn.And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.  He prayed to him… (2 Chronicles 33:12-13)

What????

And how does God respond?…and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chronicles 33:13)

What????

Here are just a few observations, and then I’ll leave you to ponder and meditate on this passage on your own.

1. Affliction can be a blessing

God employs many means to save His own.  Sometimes God deems it necessary that suffering be one of those means.  We, being hard-hearted sinners, thick-skulled and spiritually deaf, have a hard time hearing God.  We need to hear the Word of God, but the noise of our own sin and rebellion tries to drown out that word.  Sinners by nature suppress the truth of God (Read Romans 1), sticking our fingers in our ears, so to speak, shouting “I can’t hear you!”  When God wants to get through to us, affliction is one way He turns up the volume.

And if they are bound in chains and caught in the cords of affliction, then he declares to them their work and their transgressions, that they are behaving arrogantly.  He opens their ears to instruction and commands that they return from iniquity. (Job 36:8-10)

C.S. Lewis famously said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

imagesSometimes it is not until God graciously brings us to the very bottom that we will actually and finally look up.  If that’s what it takes, then God is loving us in that affliction.  The Scripture says of Manasseh, “And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD.”  It was the distress that broke him and led him to humbly cry out to God.

He delivers the afflicted by their affliction and opens their ear by adversity. (Job 36:15)

It is the affliction itself that leads to God’s deliverance.  That’s exactly what happened to Manasseh.

2. God loves to save really bad people

How different the Bible’s message is from the false religions of this world.  The world will tell you, “God saves good people, so you better be good or else.”  The Bible says, “There is no one good, not one.”  So if you’re counting on being good to go to heaven, you’re doomed.  What man needs is not to try harder and do better, but to be saved by God’s grace.  Justice means getting what you deserve.  Grace means getting better than you deserve.  Manasseh deserved death.  As he burned up his sons in pagan sacrifice, Manasseh deserved to burn eternally in Hell.  The message of the Bible is that we deserve the same.  We may not have sinned like Manasseh, but our treason against God is manifest in a whole host of other ways, just as abominable and disgusting to God.

Maybe you are well aware of your sin.  Maybe you look back at the deeds you have done and you feel like you’ve been too awful to be saved by God. But the good news of 2 Chronicles 33 is that God loves to save abominable people like you and like me.  Manasseh, even in his evil, could be saved if he would but repent and call on the Lord.  That’s true for all today.

…for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:12-13)

3. God only saves the humble

We are saved by grace through faith, but it takes humility to receive that grace.  Manasseh arrogantly disregarded the Lord and it almost cost him his soul.  It was only when he was humbled by his suffering that he called out to God, recognizing his need.  It takes humility to realize you were wrong, to repent, and acknowledge your need.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)

4. God is compassionate and answers prayer

He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God. (2 Chronicles 33:13)

How different God is from the pagan gods.  God is not like the ancient false gods, like Baal imagesor Zeus.  Such gods are capricious, unfeeling towards humanity, cold.  In the mythological realm, if you cross the gods you’re a goner.  The lightning bolts will be hurled at you and you’ll be zapped.  Not so with the one true God.  After patiently enduring Manasseh’s rebellion for many years, after Manasseh shook his fist in God’s face over and over and over again, notice God’s response when Manasseh genuinely humbles himself and calls on God.  The text says that “God was moved” by Manasseh’s prayer.  Wow.  How beautiful is the heart of God?  And not only is God moved, and not only does God hear, but God responds.  Manasseh learned what his forefather King David learned many years before.  David, who also committed heinous and abominable sins before the Lord, humbled himself before God in repentance, and discovered that,

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

5. Genuine saving faith in God is evidenced by repentance 

Perhaps you’ve heard of “fox hole” conversions?  Sometimes people use that phrase to describe people who get into a real bad situation and out of desperation they call on God to get them out of this mess, but in their hearts they aren’t really repentant and they don’t really want God.  They just want relief.  That’s not the kind of faith that saves.  It’s not the kind of faith that receives God’s grace.

James, the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, said,

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! (James 2:19)

In other words, mere lip service means nothing.  A superficial acknowledgement of God does nothing.  Even demons do that and they certainly aren’t saved!  Instead, genuine faith is manifested in repentance, which is an acknowledgement of the sinfulness of doing life your way, combined with a desire to turn around and go God’s way.  If you don’t want to go God’s way, you don’t really trust God.  You lack faith.  That’s why James says,

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26)

As you keep reading through 2 Chronicles 33, you see that Manasseh wasn’t just experiencing a “fox-hole” conversion to get out of a tight spot.  He wasn’t like the demons who merely say they believe in God while remaining in their rebellion.  Manasseh was serious.  He began to reverse his evil deeds.  He cleared the temple of God of idols and threw them away (v. 15).  He restored the altar of God, he reinstated proper sacrifices to God, and he even became an evangelist, urging the people to return to the one true God. (v.16)

6. Christ must finally come for Manasseh, and us, to be saved

2 Chronicles 33 does not mention Jesus explicitly, but, like so much of the Old Testament, this story leaves us longing for something more.  The Kings of Judah were meant to be “Messiahs.” Messiah means “Anointed One.”  The King was to be God’s representative to the people and simultaneously be the people’s representative to God.  In the Old Testament, David was the greatest of these kings.  And yet the hope of Israel was that one even greater than David would come, bringing righteousness and justice, along with global blessing and worldwide rule.

Not only did Manasseh not live up to these expectations, but even David, the best of these kings, failed to be the perfect Messiah.  All of these “Messiahs” fell short.  It would take another to fulfill such Messianic expectations.  No mere man could do this.  It would take a God-Man. Years later Jesus, God in the flesh, would come into the world, and many believed that He was indeed the long promised Messiah and thus they believed the time for world-wide rule was at hand.  Jesus would bring justice to the evildoers and establish his global reign at long last.

imagesBut the shocking part of the story is that Jesus’ first step in bringing justice to the world was by dying on a cross for the sins of Manasseh, and for all of His people.  Surely you did not think that Manasseh’s sins of idolatry, sorcery, and child-sacrifice would go unpunished did you?  Surely you did not think that Manasseh or anyone else would be able to enjoy the blessings and joys of Jesus’ future, world-wide reign, while still being dirty and stained with sin?  Surely you did not think that the guilty would go free with God pretending that sin never happened?

No, our God is not like that.  The loving, compassionate, kind God who was moved by Manasseh’s prayer hates and despises sin.  He is a God of justice that must punish evil.  When God forgave Manasseh, he wasn’t sweeping all of his evil deeds under the rug.  The only reason He could forgive Manasseh for sacrificing his son is because God the Father was about to sacrifice His own Son.

On the cross we see the justice of God.  Jesus became a substitute for Manasseh and for millions of other sinners.  On the cross, the sin of His people was put on Himself, and those sins…all of them… were fully punished in Jesus.  Jesu
s experienced the Hell that Manasseh, and you, and me deserve, so that all who believe in Him don’t have to go there and pay for their sins themselves.

When Manasseh repented, one of the ways he would have shown that repentance would be by offering up a sacrifice in the temple.  As he offered up that sacrificial lamb, he, in essence, acknowledged that the wages of in is death and imagesit should be his throat slit and his body consumed by the flames, and that the only way he can live is if a substitute dies in his place.  He trusted that God would provide atonement for his sins and so when Jesus, the Lamb of God, came into the world and his blood was shed on the cross… and his body and soul endured the Hellish wrath of God… that payment was officially applied to Manasseh’s account.  God knew it would happen and so through Manasseh’s faith in that provision, God could count him as “not guilty.”

Manasseh looked forward to God’s provision.  Today we look back.  As you and I look back to Christ on the cross and trust in His provision, we too are acknowledging that the wages of sin is death and it should be us and not Jesus, enduring the wrath of God, but we recognize that the only way we can live and be at peace with God is because of the substitute that dies in our place.  And when we place our trust in that work on the cross, that payment is officially applied to our account.  We become “debt free” and therefore God can count us as not guilty.

And now you, me, and Manasseh, look forward to the day when the resurrected Jesus, the true and better Messiah, will come a second time and establish His kingdom fully and finally.  We look forward to the fulfillment of that great Messianic Psalm, Psalm 72, which declares,

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth! …May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight…May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May people be blessed in him, all nations call him blessed! Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen! (Psalm 72:8-19)

Who knew you could get so much out of 2 Chronicles 33?

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

 

 

 

 

You have been redeemed (Identity Matters)

 

Just who do you think you are, anyway?

imagesHow you answer that question is urgently important.  For several weeks now I’ve been blogging through the book of Ephesians which is a book written to Christians to answer that question. Ephesians discloses to us who we really are in Christ. Now, we all have what I suppose we could call, “secondary identities.” “I’m a dad…I’m a mom… I’m a teacher…I’m an American” There’s nothing wrong with recognizing those secondary identities, but when I’m discussing “identity” with you in this blog series, I’m talking about the core of who you are. Identity with a capital “I.”

Who you think you are at your core matters. If one of your secondary identities becomes the core of who you are then you will open up a door to all kinds of problems.

Tim Keller defines sin this way: as building your identity—your self-worth and happiness—on anything other than God. Instead of telling them they are sinning because they are sleeping with their girlfriends or boyfriends, I tell them that they are sinning because they are looking to their careers and romances to save them, to give them everything that they should be looking for in God. This idolatry leads to drivenness, addictions, severe anxiety, obsessiveness, envy of others, and resentment.

We all need reminders of what our true identity is bound up in.  So far in our look at Ephesians chapter 1, you’ve discovered three amazing things about who you are!  If you’ve missed any of these three truths, click on the links below.

You were chosen by God the Father

You were adopted by God the Father

You are delighted in by God the Father.

As spectacular as those truths are, Paul is not finished. He’s not done recounting all the ways we are blessed by God and he’s not done showing us who we really are in Christ. So in Ephesians 1:7-10, Paul reveals three more things to us about your true identity as a believer.

1) You are redeemed

2) You are forgiven

3) You are not the main character in the story

For this article, we’ll just consider the first point.

You are redeemed

In him we have redemption through his blood (Ephesians 1:7)

Redemption is not a common word in our vocabulary anymore. But in the 1st century it was often associated with slavery. Sometimes people became slaves through military takeover. Sometimes, because they didn’t have bankruptcy law (no chapter 11 or 13), they sold themselves or their family into slavery because it was the honorable thing to do. There was no other way for them to repay the debt.

But if a relative heard about your slavery he could redeem you.  He could buy you back and set you free.  All the relative had to do was go to the local pagan temple and pay the redemption cost plus an additional cut.  The temple kept the cut and gave the rest of the money to the slave owner.  Therefore, in theory, you weren’t totally free from slavery.  Instead, you were now a slave to that particular god.

 

The New Testament picks up on this language. Paul in Ephesians 2 says we were slaves to sin and slaves to Satan and now we are free. But we are not free to be autonomous and do our own thing. We are free….to be slaves to God!

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)

There is no such thing as an autonomous, independent person. We Americans struggle with that concept because our country is built on the notion of independent freedom. Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How we tend to interpret freedom in America is that we have a right to do whatever we want. “Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do. Don’t tell me what I can and cannot say! This is America! I do my own thing and chart my own course.”

That’s how Americans view freedom. That’s not how the Bible sees it.

Every single person on this planet is a servant and has a master whether they realize it or not. And so the Scriptures tell us that man, pre-salvation, is a slave to sin and Satan. If you are not a Christian, your master is sin and Satan. You are a slave.

If you are a Christian, The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 6 that you are not your own but instead you were bought with a price. Someone came and purchased you from your old master.

In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is warning the church to flee from sexual immorality. Now in America, sexual freedom is one of the biggest sacred cows you can think of. You can get away with a lot of things in this country but once you start trampling on someone’s sexual choices or criticizing them, get ready for a brawl!  Get ready for someone to scream, “How dare you tell me what I can’t do with my own body?”

As far as believers are concerned, Paul thinks otherwise.

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Notice that Paul tells the Corinthian church to glorify God in their bodies, to honor him by only expressing their sexuality in ways that God intended.  But notice why.  Paul doesn’t just give you a command in a vacuum. He gives a reason. He is essentially saying, “You may think your body belongs to you.  You may think you are autonomous, but you aren’t. You are not your own. You have been purchased. You have been bought with a price. So for that reason, glorify God in your body. God is your new owner. God is your new master.” This is a huge part of your new identity.

God has bought you. And what price did God pay to make you His own?

 

In him we have redemption through his blood… (Ephesians 1:7)

imagesAs sinners and slaves to Satan, God said the penalty we deserved was death and Hell. There’s no way we could pay that price on our own in this life, which is why Hell is forever. So Jesus comes to earth as a Man and He dies in our place. As Jesus Christ hung on that cross, with blood pouring out of His veins, God the Father poured out the Hellish wrath that you and I should have gotten, on Jesus.

Make no mistake.  The death of Jesus wasn’t an accident or a tragedy. It was planned by God. It was His rescue plan to release you from satanic slavery. Jesus deliberately gave His life for this very purpose.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

His life, His blood, was the ransom price to release you from your former condition. You’ve been bought by God.

Now, think about this. If this is a part of your identity, how might this change your life? How differently might you make decisions in how you live? How you talk?  How you work? How you do marriage?  What you do with your money, your time, your body? How might this alter the way you live, knowing that your life is not really your own but that you are a slave to Jesus Christ?

There have been times in my life where one of the truths that helped me to do what I should is the understanding that my life is not my own and I am not my own Master but I am a slave to Christ.  I have confessed sin to people when I was terrified to admit the truth. I have forsaken sin that every fiber of my being wanted to commit. I have taken paths that some thought were crazy. Why? Because my life is not my own. Because part of my identity is bound up as a slave to the Lord Jesus Christ. He owns me.

If you’re a Christian, He owns you.

As a matter of fact, look down at verse 13

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, (Ephesians 1:13)

imagesThis notion of sealing would bring a few images to the minds of Paul’s 1st century readers. One, is that often seals were stamped in wax on a document to show who it belongs to. Also, the image of animals being branded, being marked, would have gone through their minds. Of course, that’s a practice we can relate to as the branding of cattle still happens today.

And what does cattle branding indicate? It indicates ownership and protection. It was not uncommon even for slaves to be branded, to have a mark put on them signifying who they belonged to and who was responsible for them.

Paul is saying you, as a Christian, have been marked. You have been sealed with the Spirit. God has put His stamp of ownership and protection on you.

This notion of God marking His people is seen elsewhere in the Scriptures.

In Revelation 13-14, you’ll see that everyone has a mark. They either have the mark of the Beast, Satan’s mark, or they have the mark of the Lamb. If you have the mark of the Beast you are protected by the Beast and you can do whatever the Beast allows you to do.  So in Revelation 13 you have people buying and selling in a world that is under the control of the Beast.  You can live in that world and not face the wrath of the Beast.  But guess what?  You do have to face the wrath of the Lamb, who is Jesus.

Alternatively, the book of Revelation shows us that if you have the mark of the Lamb you’ll   be protected from the wrath of the Lamb.  You will be saved in the Last Day, but on the other hand you will face the wrath of the Beast.  In the book of Revelation you see everyone facing someone’s wrath! Who’s wrath you’ll face depends on who you belong to. And of course, the wrath of the Lamb is far more devastating and terrifying than the wrath of the Beast, and unlike the wrath of the Beast, the wrath of the Lamb is forever.

This is why Jesus says elsewhere,

….do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

 But for those of us who have been bought and purchased by the blood of the Lamb, the book of Ephesians tells you that you have God’s mark, God’s seal, which is the Holy Spirit.

…who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:14)

The Holy Spirit is like a deposit, a down payment, a guarantee that we belong to God and that we will receive a great inheritance from God in the age to come.

imagesNot only that, but the Holy Spirit in us signifies God’s ownership of us and God’s protection over us. And the most important thing we are protected from is the wrath of God, and the reason we are now forever protected from the wrath of God is because God’s wrath has been satisfied in the death of Jesus.  His blood purchased us from our slavery to sin which would have led to Hell.  Thanks be to God that He paid the price.  Jesus, on the cross, said, “It is finished!”  And if it is finished, that means that the purchased ones forever belong to God and are forever forgiven to the praise of His glory!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

A Maundy Thursday Message (2016)

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The following is a transcript of Pastor Demer’s Maundy Thursday message at HCBC

It’s Maundy Thursday.  If you don’t know what Maundy Thursday means, Maundy comes from the Latin word that we get our English word “command” or “mandate” from.  Jesus gave a special mandate the evening before He was crucified. And the mandate was this,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. (John 13:33-34, ESV)

Now, this is a bit unusual because when you look at this verse you might think, “New?  What does Jesus mean by a new commandment?”  Loving people is not new.  God has always wanted people to love other people.  Take for example Leviticus 19:18

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18, ESV)

Thousands of years before Jesus we have clear commands from God to love others.  It’s not like Jesus forgot about Leviticus 19:18.  He knows about that Scripture.  He’s not thinking, “Well, the Old Testament is all about hate so I better tell people to love because they’ve never been told to love before.”  No.  That’s not it at all.

When Jesus came into the world He didn’t come to change the commandments of God. But He did come to fulfill the law.  Typically when we think of Jesus fulfilling the Old Testament we tend to think of Bible prophecy, or we tend to think of Jesus fulfilling ceremonial law, such as Jesus’ death on the cross being a fulfillment of the Old Testament animal sacrificial system.

But just as messianic prophecies find their imagesultimate meaning, fulfillment, and expression in the person of Christ, and just as the ceremonial law finds it’s ultimate meaning, fulfillment, and expression in the person of Christ, so it is with God’s moral law. The laws of God and the commandments of God revealed in the Old Testament find their ultimate meaning, fulfillment, and expression in the person of Jesus Christ.

All things previously revealed in the Old Testament become clearer in light of Jesus, including God’s commandments.  In the Old Testament God speaks to us by His word,  but in Christ, God shows us His Word.  Indeed, John chapter 1 tells us that Jesus Christ is the Word of God.

God doesn’t just tell us to love God and love our neighbor, God sends Christ into the world to show us what that means and what that looks like.  Jesus knows that God has already told us to love, but through Jesus we see a fuller explanation and a fuller demonstration of love in a way and to a degree that had not yet been revealed.

Again, consider Leviticus 19:18:

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:18, ESV)

What does that mean?  Does that mean, “Just don’t do bad things to people?”  That, by the way, is the direction that rabbinic Judaism went.  And shortly before the time of Jesus, you had Rabbi Hillel, one of the most famous of rabbis say, “Whatever is hateful to you, don’t do to others, this is the whole law.”

But when Jesus comes He gives us a fuller understanding of God’s law and He gives us a fuller understanding of love.  In the time of Jesus the conventional wisdom said, “Don’t do things to others that you don’t want them to do to you.”  Jesus turns that conventional understanding on its head and says that’s not the essence of love.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12, ESV)

You just don’t refrain from doing to people all the bad things you don’t want done for yourself, instead you proactively step forward and you do for others the same things you’d want done for you.  Jesus says that this is the essence of love and sums up the law of God.

So God in the Old Testament tells us to love,  and Jesus in the New gives us a clearer explanation through His teaching of what that means, and then Jesus does something amazing.  He actually gives us a demonstration of what that looks like in action.

He says, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another”

Jesus is pointing us to Himself as the ultimate expression and definition and picture of love.  He says “You want to know what love is?  You want to know what it looks like?  Look at me.  Look at how I have loved you. That’s what it means to love others, go and do likewise”

And in this way Jesus’ command is a new commandment in the sense that Jesus holds up Himself and His actions towards others as the gold standard of what love looks like.

So then the next logical question is, how exactly did Jesus demonstrate love?

We see it earlier in John 13 don’t we?  What does Jesus do?  He takes the role of a servant. He wraps a towel around His waist, He gets on His knees and He washes the dirty, dusty, smelly, sweaty, disgusting feet of His disciples.  And then He says something very similar to what we’ve already read,

If I then, your Loimagesrd and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. (John 13:14-15, ESV)

 Jesus says we are to love one another by serving one another, by treating others as more important than ourselves, by setting aside our own comforts to meet the needs of others, thinking about what benefits them more than what’s good for me.

Jesus shows us that love is not just being nice to someone.  Rather, love is going to extreme lengths to bless and benefit someone else even at extreme personal cost.  The greater the cost, the greater the love.

This is why Jesus, two chapters later says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends…” (John 15:12-14, ESV)

Jesus pushes us to the limit and says if you want to love, if you want to really love, you lay down your life for your friends.  That’s love.  Jesus sets the standard for love…. and then He exceeds that standard!

For while we wimagesere still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:6-10, ESV) 

If greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends, how gloriously great then is the love of Christ that He lays down His life for His enemies?

Scripture teaches us that no one in and of themselves is a friend of God.  As Paul says in Romans 5 we were enemies of God.  In Romans 3 Paul says no one seeks after God.  In Genesis 6 Moses says that every inclination of man’s heart was evil continually.  It is not for good, God-loving, righteous people that Jesus laid down His life for but for rebels and insurrectionists.

Jesus died to pay the price for your wicked, self-centered, cold-hearted lovelessness.   Lovelessness is the essence of our sin.  A lack of love for God and a lack of love for our neighbor.

And why did Jesus do this incredible thing?  Because He loves you.  Because if He didn’t endure the wrath of God on the cross it would mean you’d have to endure it forever in Hell.  If He didn’t pay your price, you’d have to pay it.

And now, because of what Jesus has done, all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved not just from the punishment of sin, but saved from being slaves of self-centered lovelessness.  God’s not interested in merely rescuing you from wrath but He’s intensely interested in freeing you up to be someone you could never be apart from His salvation, namely, a person who loves others as Jesus loved you for the glory of God.

Jesus says,

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35, ESV)

Jesus is telling the disciples that their self-sacrificial, self-denying, radical, Jesus-imitating love will demonstrate to the world that they belong to Jesus.  Their love for one another is to point people to Jesus and exalt Him.

You see, ultimately the purpose of our love for one another as a church family is not so we can all just feel good and warm and fuzzy and sing kumbaya around the camp fire. The purpose of our love for one another has a strategic, missional, evangelistic, God-glorifying component to it. Jesus, just a few chapters later in chapter 17, is praying for all believers of all times and places. He is praying for Harbins Church, and He is praying that we would have a unity rooted in love.  He prays that the church,

may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me (John 17:23)

Jesus is saying that when the world sees the church loving one another, serving one another, treating one another as more important than themselves, laying down their lives for one another, it will be a testimony and a witness to a watching world that Jesus Christ has been sent from heaven to earth by God Himself.  It will not point to the church as much as it will point to, exalt, lift up, and glorify God.

So Jesus, in His love for us, dies to free us up to love one another, so that the world may see and know that Jesus was sent into the world by God so that they too may receive Christ and enter into that love.

imagesIn the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16, ESV)

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12, ESV)

The work that God does in our hearts is not just for our benefit but for the benefit of an unbelieving world.  There are those that will come to repentance and faith in Christ and will glorify God through the witness of the church’s behavior and Jesus is telling us in John 13 and 17 that particularly they will come to recognize Jesus through our love.

And one outward expression of the loving unity we as Christians share is by taking communion together.

You’ll never see Harbins Church making the announcement that, “From now on we won’t be doing communion gathered together, instead you can do it at home, with your family…or you can just do it by yourself during your personal devotional time.”

imagesWe’ll never do communion that way. We will always gather together and do it as a community of faith.  In taking the communion elements…the bread and the cup at the same time, we are saying something significant.  We are announcing that we are all one.  We all have the same Lord, we have all been saved by the same broken body, we have all been saved by the same shed blood, we have all been adopted into the same family, by the same Father, and we await the same inheritance to be received at the end of the age.

This is why we discourage anyone who is not a believer from taking the bread and the cup, because an unbeliever taking the bread and the cup is announcing something that is not true.  He has yet to experience the benefits of the broken body and shed blood of Christ and remains outside the family of God.

But this is also why we discourage any believer living in a state of unrepentant sin from partaking of the cup.   Paul says in 1 Cor 11,

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. (1 Corinthians 11:27-28, ESV)

Paul is speaking to a congregation that is struggling with arrogance, with division, with lovelessness towards one another.  He’s telling these people to take communion seriously and to examine their own hearts with an attitude of humble repentance.  Why?  Because when the unrepentant believer who doesn’t love his brother takes of the bread and cup he too is announcing something that isn’t true.  And what he is announcing, whether he realizes it or not is that this shed blood and broken body of Jesus didn’t really reconcile me to my brother…. and that we can be a part of the same family and not be reconciled…and we can go on being unloving towards one another.

If you are in a state of unrepentant sin tonight, I urge you to do business with God right now. Pray, seek God’s help and forgiveness, confess your sin to Him. We all struggle with sin, we all stumble and fall down.  But do not stay down.  Repent and humble yourself before God.

And if you are here tonight and you are an unbeliever, you can, right now, enter into the family of God.  You don’t have to jump through hoops, sign a card, or raise your hand.  All you have to do is receive Jesus.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, (John 1:12, ESV)

Receiving Jesus means trusting Him to save you from your sins.  It means asking Him to change your heart so that you want to go His way instead of your own way.  It means trusting in His payment on the cross for your sins instead of trusting in anything else.  Oh how I pray you’ll receive Him now, and if you do,  you too are welcome to enjoy communion for the very first time as a child of God.

Scripture tells us that after Jesus and the disciples took the bread and the cup they sang a hymn together and went to a place called Gethsemane. And the gospel of Luke says that,

images ….when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” 

 And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

 While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” 

 And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.” (Luke 22:40-53 ESV)images

 Jesus says this is the hour of darkness.  The time when the power of darkness is at it’s
most terrible strength and might, all of the twisted and fearsome and terrifying malice of Hell is bearing down at this moment.  It is the hour of the forces of darkness. It is their hour.

But for those who were listening very carefully to Jesus and hanging on his every word, would have remembered that just a few days ago, Jesus also described this same moment as His hour!  Jesus says,

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…” (John 12)

imagesThe moment of Hell’s fiercest and most devastating attack is also the moment of Jesus’ greatest glory and triumph.   God predicted in Genesis 3:15, thousands of years prior to this dark night, that the serpent would strike the heel of the offspring of the woman, wounding Him terribly.

But in the process of such a wicked attack, the serpent’s own head would be crushed and shattered by the mighty foot of the Offspring.

Thursday night is a trying and painful trial and affliction for Jesus and His disciples. It is hard, it is difficult, and it is very dark, and it’s about to get darker.

And all the while things are going according to plan.  What the forces of darkness mean for evil, God means for great good and great glory, and we will celebrate that tomorrow night during our Good Friday service.  Don’t miss it. God bless you. Thank you for coming to worship.  Go in peace.

Grace and Peace

Pastor Demer

Feasting on the Whole Counsel of God

When I was living on my own in college my diet basically consisted of Hamburger Helper and spaghetti. That’s it! Nothing too complicated for a single college male: boil noodles, add ground beef, stir in seasoning packet or sauce, enjoy. It was easy, simple, and it kept me living, but few would consider it a well-rounded, much less sufficiently healthy diet. Somehow I survived those years, and then, by God’s grace alone, a beautiful young lady named Heather came into my life and everything changed. Slowly over the past 20 years my wife has expanded my pallet and added a healthy variety into my diet.

food pyramid

A healthy diet requires a variety of beneficial foods. OK, I’m not sure Hamburger Helper qualifies as “beneficial” food, perhaps that’s why I haven’t had it since college, but the few good foods that were part of my diet were added to by my wife and thus I began to eat more healthily over the years. As children in school we are taught the Food Pyramid, where we are told that our diets need to have good variety. Regardless of what you think about pyramid itself (and I know we have some readers that think it’s a big government/Monsanto conspiracy) everyone agrees that a good diet consists of good variety. The same is true of our spiritual diet.

Some at HCBC have wondered how we choose the books of the Bible that we preach through and why we’ve been jumping around to a variety of different books. Well, our reasoning is the same as my wife’s when she introduced me to vegetables (yes, I was 22 and had never eaten veggies), and that reasoning is simply this: the elders of Harbins desire that our church have a healthy and balanced diet of God’s Word.

shutterstock140876329We want to have the type of diet that the Word of God itself calls for us to have. The key to Timothy’s development into a man of God equipped for every good work was that his mother and grandmother believed and taught him that, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). And the Apostle Paul, as he said his final farewell to the Ephesian elders charged them to be faithful elders by reminding them of his own preaching saying, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

So Demer and I have committed ourselves to preaching the whole counsel of God, knowing that the full breadth and beautiful variety of the Bible is inspired and useful to edify the people of HCBC. That means that we aim to vary our preaching by not only moving back and forth between the Old and New Testaments, but also by making sure the we are intaking all the different genres of Scripture. Those genres include in the Old Testament the Law, Histories, Poetry & Wisdom, Major Prophets, and Minor Prophets. In the New Testament the genres are the Gospels & Acts, Pauline Epistles, General Epistles, and Revelation. Our desire is for our preaching to develop a rhythm of bouncing back and forth between the different genres. For example, Demer and I prayerfully looked at what had been preached thus far at Harbins and we realized that we had not touched on much from the Old Testament Poetry & Wisdom, so we chose to preach Job last summer. Then we came back to the New Testament knowing a General Epistle had never been preached at our church so we launched into 1 John. We then bounced back to Esther which belongs to the Histories, a genre we only touched on a bit when Harbins first began. With Esther now concluded, and after our special Holy Week services, our plan is to bounce back over to the Gospels where we will continue our chronological exposition of all four gospels in a series we have called “Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ.” After a season in the Gospels we will, Lord willing, bounce to another genre.

I hope this helps you understand the reasoning behind the preaching schedule at Harbins. It may seem haphazard to some, but in reality it is very much thought through and prayed over with the hope that we, as the undershepherds of HCBC, will provide the flock with the Biblical nutrition it needs to be vibrant and healthy. And by the way, there is no Biblical equivalent to Hamburger Helper because all the Bible is healthy all the time. So eat up Harbins, and taste and see how good our God is!