How to Endure Together

Pastor Jay continues the series on Hebrews with this week’s sermon “How to Endure Together” from Hebrews 12:12-17.

Hebrews 12:12-17 (ESV)

Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

Warning and Encouragement

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

Let us strive to endure together.

Six strategic steps for enduring as the people of God.

  • Strengthen the weak.
  • Strive for peace.
  • Strive for holiness.
  • Push for grace.
  • Eliminate bitterness.
  • Avoid sexual immorality.

Parent Connection Questions:

  • Share about a time when you worked together with someone and what it was like.
  • How did Jesus strengthen us in out time of weakness?
  • What are the advantages of being at peace with others?
  • Why does God view grace as being important for the body of Christ?

New City Catechism – Week 18

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Worship Guide
“How Sweet and Awful is the Place”
(Hymn #350 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q18: Will God allow our disobedience and idolatry to go unpunished?

A18: No, every sin is against the sovereignty, holiness, and goodness of God, and against his righteous law, and God is righteously angry with our sins and will punish them in his just judgment both in this life, and in the life to come.

“My God would never…”
“The God I worship wouldn’t say…”

I’ve heard statements along these lines more and more lately. Usually, it has to do with something “harsh” some read in the Bible about God. Or it’s in relation to something someone said about God in a conversation or sermon. In some ways, it’s really hard to think about an all-loving God ever punishing someone. Does God really punish those who have not accepted the gift of forgiveness through Christ? Could he condemn someone to hell?

Some perspective is needed. In other words, let’s take an honest look at exactly who this God is that is so “mean”. This God is the one who said even Moses wasn’t able to see his face. Moses wanted to, but God said he would die if he did. Just being in his presence altered Moses’ appearance before the Israelites so that they couldn’t even look at him unless he veiled his face!

This is also the same God that brought Isaiah to his throne in a vision. Isaiah saw the angels worshipping him and the majesty of his beauty. His response? Isaiah throws himself down and

figures he’s a dead man. He admits he’s a sinner and unclean.

This is the God that punishes sin. Is it really so hard to imagine such a phenomenal being not allowing sin to be in his presence? It’s an often- used statement, but the love of God is truly seen in his not giving punishment to us that we deserve. It’s in his punishment for sins where we see his glory best. The fact that no one can even be near or see him because he is that perfect gives us even more reason to notice the love shown through his Son’s death on the cross.

The song asks the question, “How deep the Father’s love for us/How vast beyond all measure/That he should give his only Son/To make a wretch his treasure.” We are wretched before him. How could he bring us to him? By justifying those who believe in his Son and removing those who don’t from his presence.

My God would never be able to let sin go unpunished. That’s a harsh reality we find in the Word. But my God has also created a plan which makes me one of his children.

-Pastor Jon

New City Catechism – Week 17

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Worship Guide
“All I Have is Christ”
(Hymn #389 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q17: What is idolatry?

A17: Idolatry is trusting in created things rather than the Creator for our hope and happiness, significance and security.

The word “idolatry” often brings to mind images of tribal people, elaborate costumes, and primitive sacrifice rituals. Those are the idolaters, right? Idolatry is not something that is still a sin in the developed world, is it?

I am afraid that conclusion is tragically wrong. As long as humans struggle with sin, we will struggle with idolatry. As the catechism says, idolatry simply means that we are finding our hope, happiness, significance and security in created things rather than the Creator God.

One way I have sometimes expressed it is that whatever we think is “off limits” to God may be an idol. So if you find yourself saying to God, “I will follow you, but don’t take away __________, (fill in the blank yourself)” be careful.

Another “idol detector test” we can employ is to consider the things that provoke our emotions. Augustine wrote that things like worry, fear, and anger can be “smoke from the fires” rising from the altar of the true God we worship. Those emotions reveal the things on which we have set our hearts.

Here’s the tricky part: we can take good things, even common-grace blessings from God, and make them into idols. Money is necessary to survive in the world, but when we make it the source of our security, it can become an idol. God gave us taste buds to enjoy an amazing variety of food, but when we turn to food for emotional comfort or indulge a gluttonous appetite, we are in the realm of sin and idolatry.

What is the antidote to idolatry? It is trust in God, rooted in a sense of contentment that he will provide exactly what we need. Charles Spurgeon has this encouragement, “remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.”

Let’s turn away from idolatry and honor Christ the Lord as holy. We can trust him for our good.

-Pastor Jonathan

Don’t Waste the Struggles

Pastor Jay continues the series on Hebrews with this week’s sermon “Don’t Waste the Struggles” from Hebrews 12:4-11.

Hebrews 12:4-11 (ESV)

God Disciplines His Children

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Don’t waste your struggles.

  • See your struggles soberly.
  • Don’t waste the discipline of struggles.
  • Take the struggles as proof of His love.
  • Endure the struggle to get full benefit of discipline.
  • Consider what it’s absence would mean.
  • Submit to the Father who ordains out struggles.
  • Trust the good that comes from those struggles.

Parent Connection Questions:

  • Share about a time when you were rightfully disciplined.
  • Why does God discipline us?
  • What are some benefits of discipline?
  • What good does God bring from our struggles?

An Endurance Race of Faith

Pastor Jay continues the series on Hebrews with this week’s sermon “An Endurance Race of Faith” from Hebrews 12:1-3.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Run the race of faith with endurance.

  • Consider the cloud of witnesses.
  • Ride yourself of all hindrances.
    • Ride yourself of weights.
    • Rid yourself of sin.
  • Look to Jesus.

Parent Connection Questions:

  • Share about a time when you had to be faithful, despite some difficulty.
  • Throughout our lives, who should we look to at all times?
  • What did Jesus do for us that we do not deserve?
  • How should what Jesus did for us encourage us to follow Him no matter what?

New City Catechism – Week 16

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Worship Guide
“All I Have is Christ”
(Hymn #389 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q16: What is sin?

A16: Sin is rejecting or ignoring God in the world he created, rebelling against him by living without reference to him, not being or doing what he requires in his law—resulting in our death and the disintegration of all creation.

Sin is a big topic. The Bible defines and describes sin in many places and many ways. For instance, the first sin of Adam and Eve illustrates the nature of sin. Sin is an act of rebellion. Sin is an unholy desire for that which God has forbidden. It is a breaking of God’s commandment. Sin is a distrust God’s goodness. Sin is a seeking of our pleasure in place of that which we know pleases him.

On a very basic level, sin is any and all wrongdoing (1 John 5:17). Even men without the benefit of God’s word still sin (Romans 5:12-14). They do wrong.

Sin is the neglect of doing good (James 4:17).

Isaiah describes sin as a going our own way. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned— every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa 53:6). This “going our own way” is what the catechism means when it states, “we live without reference to him.”

When we who were created in God’s image sin, we do an injustice to the glory of God. (Romans 6:23). As an act of self-worship, every sin is in some sense and act of idolatry.

Sin subjected man to death and disintegration. Man became corrupted, as did the natural world around him. Though we are already born in sin, our continued sinning produces only more disintegration and death.

When we see the depth of our sin, we see the depth of our need for a savior. We understand why Jesus had to die, and we thereby see the incomparable value of our redemption in Him.

-Pastor Jay

Uncommon Common Power

Pastor Jay continues the series on Hebrews with this week’s sermon “Uncommon Common Power” from Hebrews 11:32-40.

Hebrews 11:32-40 (ESV)

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Faith is the uncommon, common power through which God saves His people.

  • All God’s people are saved through faith.
    • This faith saves us from destruction.
    • This faith saves us from falling.
  • Faith saves us together with all God’s people by His Son.

Parent Connection Questions:

  • Explain in your own words what it means to trust in someone or something.
  • What saves us from being destroyed?
  • Who made it possible for us to be saved through faith? How did Jesus make that possible?
  • Why are we not able to save ourselves by doing good things and living a good life?

New City Catechism – Week 15

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Worship Guide
“Rock of Ages”
(Hymn #209 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q15: Since no one can keep the law, what is its purpose?

A15: That we may know the holy nature and will of God, and the sinful nature and disobedience of our hearts; and thus our need of a Savior. The law also teaches and exhorts us to live a life worthy of our Savior.

Laws are odd things. We want laws when the benefit us. When we get in trouble for breaking one (speeding ticket), we are upset. When we see someone pass us going too fast, we love to see the familiar red and blue lights chasing after them. Some are odd because of their nature — it’s illegal in Kansas to shoot rabbits from motorboats. Others are odd because they can’t be followed to completion — see Leviticus.

Knowing we cannot follow God’s law completely, why is it even there? Why did God set up the laws knowing it would be impossible for us to be innocent? Romans 3:20 states we are not justified by keeping the laws. It’s an impossibility. In fact, the more we know about the law, the more obvious our imperfection becomes. So what is their purpose?

Picture a child playing with a toy where you put various shaped pieces into the box through the proper shape on the lid. As a parent, you watch the child struggle. At times, the pieces are dropped into the proper slots, but there is much anguish. Exasperated, the child looks to you for help. You show where the final pieces are to be put in. For the child, it may be a learning moment in the understanding of shapes, but it reminds the child to look to the parent for help. It begins to imprint on the child’s mind that you are there to help.

God gave us laws (literal and moral) to remind us of how depraved we are as a result of Adam’s sin, and to point us back to his help. The law shows us our sin. It forces us to look at God for help the same way the child looks to the parent. We see we cannot be perfect. God gives his Son to declare us righteous in spite of the laws we break. In that sense, the law is really given as a reminder for how much God loves us. Our failure in keeping the law points us to the sacrifice of Christ and the love of God.

Consequently, we follow God’s laws and commands because we love him, not because living his way keeps us from hell. We keep the laws and commands because when we look at our sin, and we look at God’s love through Christ, it’s the least we can do.

-Pastor Jon

Faith that Takes Hold

Pastor Jay continues the series on Hebrews with this week’s sermon “Faith that Takes Hold” from Hebrews 11:17-31.

Hebrews 11:17-31 (ESV)

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future. By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones. By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

Faith takes hold of salvation.

  • Faith trusts God to save the dead.
  • Faith trusts God to save Abraham’s faith children.
  • Faith looks beyond death to the promised salvation.
  • Faith risks for the good of salvation.
  • Faith prefers the reproach of the savior.
  • Faith endures because it sees the God who saves.
  • Faith trusts God’s means of salvation.
  • Faith experiences God’s salvation.

Parent Connection Questions:

  • Share about what you trust in.
  • In what ways should faith trust in God according to today’s passage?
  • In what ways is the reproach of Jesus greater than what this world offers?
  • What is a Christ-follower able to look forward to after death?

New City Catechism – Week 14

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Worship Guide
“Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”
(Hymn #391 in Hymns of Grace)
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Q14: Did God create us unable to keep his law?

A14: No, but because of the disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve, all of creation is fallen; we are all born in sin and guilt, corrupt in our nature and unable to keep God’s law.

This week’s catechism we are examining what it means that our nature is corrupt and sinful. I have heard one pastor describe it this way: Imagine that you have a hungry lion, and you set before him two plates of food. One plate is full of juicy red meat. The other has some nicely cooked vegetables.

The lion is free to eat either plate of food, but which one will he choose? Every time, the lion will eat the meat. Why? Because that is in his nature.

As fallen humans, we face a similar situation. We are free to choose to obey or disobey God. However, in our sinful flesh we break God’s law and fall into disobedience. Even our “good” deeds are tainted with impure motives. In this state, we have no spiritual hope, for “those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:8).

Some have called this the doctrine of “total depravity.” The EFCA statement of faith says that we are “sinners by nature and by choice, alienated from God, and under His wrath.” Regardless of how you put it, it’s a bad situation!

How did we get here? The catechism explains that we are born in sin and guilt because of Adam’s sin. You have heard phrases like “as the leader goes, so goes the organization.” Adam and Eve were the first human beings created by God. They were

created in the image of God, the very good pinnacle of God’s creation, unspoiled by sin.

However, we know how that story ends. Adam and Eve fell into sin, and the creation is spoiled. Where only God’s blessing existed, now human beings and all of creation experiences the consequences of sin (Genesis 3:14-19). Now, everyone is born already guilty before God because of our fallen nature.

However, even in the midst of God’s curses on the creation, there is a hint of the redemption to come. Genesis 3:15 is called the “protoevangelium,” which is just a big word that means “first gospel.” It’s a glimpse of God’s gracious rescue plan, already in motion, which will crescendo with the coming of Jesus Christ.

And that gospel is our hope today for our sinful condition. We know that our hearts are evil and broken. But when we trust in Jesus Christ, God gives us a new heart (Ezekiel 36:26) and his Spirit comes to dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). Praise God that he did not leave us in our sinful condition, but lovingly provided rescue in the gospel.

-Pastor Jonathan