A Reformed Congregation. Sierra View Presbyterian Church, Fresno, California

Month: September 2014

Then I Went Into the Sanctuary of God

Then I called on the Name of the Lord.” Psalm 116:4

 My brethren,

I love Psalm 116 because I can’t miss seeing myself in the Psalmist’s experience.  He is struggling.  The things of this world appear to have overcome him.  He says, in verse 3, “The snares of death encompassed me, the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me.   I suffered distress and anguish.”  I have been in that place.  Distress and anguish, the snares of death.  Feeling like nightfall and separation have laid hold of me.  It’s a tough place to be, isn’t it?  I’m certain many of the saints reading this will readily agree that they too feel as though they personally know the Psalmist’s troubles, here.

Something similar is happening in Psalm 73, in which the Psalmist says, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped, for I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”  (Vs. 2-3).  He goes on, then, to describe what he sees in this world: the ease with which the wicked move through this life.  They overflow with pleasures, and seem to have no troubles at all.  No justice.  No harshsips.  Just ease and happiness.  You can hear Asaph’s wrath toward them, “Their tongue struts through the earth.” (Vs. 9)  Indeed, he even concludes, “All in vain have I kept my heart pure.”  Translation: what’s the point of all this heavenly-minded business, anyway?  Look at them.  All their fancy cars and fine dining.  And they’re happy and care-free, too.

What do you notice about Asaph’s perspective?  Where is his focus?  It’s on the things of this world.  He has taken his eyes off of the Living God, and has found that his heart is in turmoil.  Chaos abounds because he is concerned about the pleasures of this world, and he jealous for them.

Until verse 17, “Then I went into the sanctuary of God.”  That’s when everything changes.  So, too, in our Psalm 116.  Distress and anguish have encompassed the author.  “Then I called on the name of the Lord. “  From that moment on, everything changes.  “Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” (Ps. 116:7)

Did you catch that?  As in Psalm 73, where Asaph is distressed until he regains his vision of who God is, here a return to God-centered devotion produces the sweetest fruit in all the cosmos: a soul that is at rest in God.

The chaos of this life is still abounding, isn’t it?  Lots of stress points for all of us.  Loneliness, sadness, distress and anguish.  It’s chaotic.  But it’s only chaotic when our eyes are pulled down and off of our Savior.  But when we call on the Name of the Lord, He gives us a soul at rest.  That’s why the author of Hebrews exhorts us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of the faith.” (Heb 12:2)  This is prayer for you today: Keep your eyes on Him, that you may gain a soul at rest.

Extolling the Name of the Lord Jesus

…and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.”

My dear friends,

In 1993, there was a movie whose plot reveals the evils of mankind.  It takes place on the Congo River and was called, “Heart of Darkness.”  It was an adaptation of a famous book by the same title from century earlier.  The heart of darkness.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t have to travel the Congo to find it.  I need only to look at myself.

That brings me to Acts 19, which we read together at worship last Sunday.  Something from that chapter stood out to me as I was reading: “and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled.” (Vs. 17).  Paul had been in Ephesus and was encouraging the brethren there.  Many were coming to faith through his preaching, and a church was planted and growing.  But there was also the work of Darkness taking place alongside the work of the Gospel.  Isn’t this always the case?  The evil one is busy stealing away the seed of the gospel at every chance he gets (Mt. 13:19).

Think of it.  A new, small church that had virtually nothing.  Opportunities to abandon the faith were everywhere.  It was easy.  After all, there were sorcerers nearby who came with a fine sounding message; even speaking the name of the Lord (Ac. 19:13).  But in their midst, Aslan was on the move(to borrow from CS Lewis), and so they had all they needed.  They had the Brethren, the Gospel and most importantly, they had the King on their side.

And the King was victorious, as the Gospel was preached by the Brethren.  And the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled that day.  The response in Ephesus was incredible: people abandoned their false gods and came to faith.  “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.”  The word of the Lord will always prevail over the powers of darkness.

Which brings me back to the Heart of Darkness.  Do you struggle with sin, doubt or unbelief?  Questioning your role in the Kingdom?  It’s the heart of darkness, isn’t it?  My friend, you must give room in your heart for the Word of God to prevail.  What is it that crowds out the Gospel or steals your joy in the Lord?

I may not know what that is for you, but I know that in your own heart, as you give room for the Word, Christ will prevail. And in your soul, ‘the name of the Lord Jesus will be extolled’ as He overcomes remaining darkness.

Imagine a congregation filled with Christ-extolling hearts gathered in the light of worship and unity.  There is no power of darkness that can prevail there.  None at all.  Let us prove that over again as we join the chorus of the saints in singing, “And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us we will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.  The prince of darkness, grim, we tremble not for him.  His rage we can endure for lo! his doom is sure.  One little Word shall fell him.”  And the name of the Lord Jesus shall be extolled as you make room for Him!  This is my prayer for our church today.

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace

This week I’ve been reading Charles Spurgeon’s classic devotional, Morning and Evening.  It’s a good way to start the day, and I commend it to you.  This morning, the text comes from Ephesians 1:6, “to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”
Have you ever wondered why the apostle Paul would begin his letter to a struggling congregation with these words?  As I pastor a church, I don’t wonder why Paul would begin this way.  I know exactly why he would do so.  If you read Ephesians 1 as a whole, it feels as though Paul simply cannot help himself in expressing the inexpressible: That God, through Christ, has adopted us into His heavenly family.  He’ll use words and phrases like, ‘we have obtained an inheritance,’ ‘having been predestined according to His will,’ and ‘we are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance.’  But for Paul, all these blessings stand under the shadow of this: We are accepted in the Beloved.
It’s one of the rare uses of the phrase, “The Beloved” in the New Testament.  Of course, it refers to Jesus Christ, the Beloved Son of God.  But Jesus is usually referred to by other terms, like Savior or Son.  But here Paul states emphatically that we are sealed, pardoned, adopted and secured…In The Beloved.  It speaks simultaneously to our position, our place, if you like, and also to Jesus’ worthiness as the eternally loved Son of God.  Because Jesus is loved by the Father, therefore we are loved by the Father.  What’s more, God the Father so loves His Beloved Son that we are as eternally secure before the throne of mercy and Jesus is, Himself. Consider that.  God will no more do harm to us as He will to His Beloved Son!
That’s why Paul says, “He has blessed us…in the Beloved.”  He wants us to be rooted deeply in that relationship, and to lay hold of the sacred hope that we are found ‘in the Beloved.’  Literally the verse says, “To the praise of His glorious grace, with which he has graced us in the Beloved.”  That is, the glorious grace of God is that by which He has shown favor and kindness to us, and it comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Spurgeon says, “Some Christians seem to [feel] accepted in their own experience, at least, that is their apprehension. When their spirit is lively, and their hopes bright, they think God accepts them, for they feel so high, so heavenly-minded, so drawn above the earth! But when their souls cleave to the dust, they are the victims of the fear that they are no longer accepted.”
Can you relate to Spurgeon’s not-so hypothetical Christian, whose soul ‘cleaves to the dust?’  It is then that you must recall that God has accepted and blessed you in His beloved, because He loves you.  Because He loves His Son.  And because He desires that your heart and soul cleave not tot he dust, but to the songs of heaven.  To ”the praise of His glorious grace.’
 
This is my prayer today for you, dear friend.  That you will lay hold of God’s smiling providence upon you, and that you will, in turn, praise His glorious grace.  Hold fast to the promise of divine favor toward you.  Give Him your thoughts, your hopes and desires.  Because you are accepted in the Beloved, He will do for you that which brings Him praise.