Great and precious are your promises, O God, and we thank you that you have chosen to extend those promises to poor sinners like us. Moreover, we praise you that you seal us in them by the powerful working your Spirit.
It is for this reason that we bow our heads now. We pray that we would, by faith, experience the full power of this sacrament. We pray that by these waters you would impress the reality of those promises upon our hearts and confirm us in them. We pray that each of us might be comforted by the gospel and be further assured that you are the Savior of sinners.
Most especially we pray for Dan as he undergoes this rite. We pray that the reality to which this points may enliven his soul and stir him up to greater obedience. We pray that this cleansing would be that which strengthens him in times of temptation, steadies him in seasons of doubt, and encourages him when he does stumble and fall into sin.
Yea, o God, we pray that his baptism would be constant reminder to him of the depth of your grace, mercy, and love.
And this we do ask in the strong name of Jesus; Amen.
I was asked to participate in today's Election Day Prayer event that is being held downtown. It is put on by Southview Church and the Coalition, a conservative political group here in town. My segment of prayer is to focus on the topic of families. Here is what I plan to say...
As we bow our faces before you we acknowledge that a renewal in our country requires a renewal in our marriages and families. We know that we cannot have the former without first having repentance and reformation in the latter.
We confess that our nation is broken because our homes are broken. We suffer oppression from Pharaohs and Caesars because we have not first had godly mothers and fathers.
So we pray that you would grant us renewal at the grassroots level. May there be a reformation in our land, where we take to heart what it means to be united in the covenant of holy matrimony. May we begin to see that there is nothing more patriotic than the fidelity of a husband and his wife. May you grant us fathers and mothers who, instead of slaying their children, will instead love them and cherish them all their days. May these parents then take up their responsibility to train their children them in the fear of you and not further the decay of our country by handing them over to schools where atheism and relativism are the rule.
As we stand here today, we pray “God save the home.”
But yet, we know that as the king goes, so goes the nation. And for this reason we pray not just for a grassroots revival, but we also pray for our leaders and the policies that they make.
Lord, we ask that you would grant that those who would win out these elections would be restrained from instituting policies that further the destruction of marriage and family in our land. Instead, may they be made to do what is just and promote what is in accord with rule of King Jesus.
We pray that policies that strike against godliness would be revoked. You know how our nation permits (and even encourages) things like divorce, sodomy, and abortion. Moreover, our leaders continue to wrap the chains of debt around us. They oppress our families with heavy taxation. They rip apart families with their welfare programs. All this leads only to death at every level.
So we pray, like our forefather’s before us “God save the king.”
Finally, We pray “God save the church.” Where is the light to be found for our families? It is not in the pure preaching of your word and in the revelation of Biblical Truth. Father, we know that families will only rise out of the ashes when you unleash the gospel and unveil the fullness of its saving power. So we pray that you would raise up godly men to preach your word and send them throughout our nation as heralds of Your eternal kingdom.
All this we pray in the strong name of our King and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I was asked to introduce this part of the service by offering a brief explanation of the doctrine of ordination. And I’d like to do so by beginning with a little illustration that I hope will give you a sense of what is happening here today.
Let’s say you and I are driving down the road. You look over and see that I’m going too fast. So you say to me, “You know, you are speeding. You better slow down.” That would be a very true thing (and a very good thing) to say. And I should listen to you because what you just said is very important. However, it is quite a different thing to have a police officer pull you over and tell you that you were going too fast.
Now, what I want you to see is that both you and the officer said virtually the same thing. But at the same time they were vastly different, weren’t they? Your words might have been true, but they did not have the same weight as the Police officer’s. Why is that? It is because he is a police officer. He has authority that you do not. As a result, his words have a greater gravity to them.
Let me give you another illustration. If I go to Iran and I start talking about some new policies that America is going to be enacting, what I say may be true. It might be good if the Iranian people and the Iranian government to listen to me. But it is a whole different thing if the US ambassador to Iran gets on the Aljazeera TV network and makes a speech. Even though we might say the same thing, there is a huge difference in what is said because the US ambassador has a power and authority that I do not have because he is specifically sent by the United States.
What I want you to see is that these illustrations portray well the meaning and significance of the doctrine of ordination. Up until now, Joe has been going around doing his evangelism, and he has been doing a great job of it. He’s been calling people to repentance and faith, and he has had many opportunities to share the gospel.
But today things are going to change. Even though Joe is probably not going to be doing anything really different when he goes out to do his evangelism. He’s probably going to be saying virtually the same things he has done before. There is going to be a significant change because his words are going to carry a greater weight and power due to his being set apart by God to be an evangelist in this church.
The wonderful thing about this service is that we all have opportunity to participate in this tremendous event. In just a few moments we as elders will be laying our hands on Joe. This little act is a way of publicly testifying to the fact that God has called and equipped Joe for this work. In our doing this we are as a church body confirming to Joe, each other, and all the world that God has set Joe apart for the work of evangelism, and that he joins us in leadership for this purpose.
But this ceremony is certainly not limited to Joe and those of us who lay our hands on him. All of you who are members of this church have an active role to play. Each of you participates to some degree. As we lay our hands on Joe, you personally must agree to what is being done here today, and you must personally affirm Joe & his new role. As you sit here today, you must in your own heart pledge both your support of him and your submission to his authority as a minister of the gospel.
So as we enter into this part of the service, let us all remember the depth of what happens here today and praise God for it. The kingdom of Satan today shudders because God has raise up a gospel evangelist. May we be equally grateful as they are fearful, and may we all unite together in one heart to join God in the sending forth of Joe.
Ordination is a doctrine that needs to be revived if we are going to see the church revived in our day. It is all but neglected because any old slub thinks he can do something for Jesus by becoming a campus parachurch worker or by jumping up in pulpit and "preaching." However, standing in a pulpit does not make one a preacher.
Preaching is an act only of the officially ordained (or licensed) man. In Romans 10:14-15 it says, "How are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!'"
The preaching in this passage is done by someone who is officially "sent." The OT quote emphasizes this as it references an official messenger who has been given the special charge to go announce a victory.
Therefore, when a man is ordained, he assumes an office. He becomes God's ambassador with the specific charge of formally declaring God's message, which is the gospel. That is what preaching is: The official declaration of God's Word by the man who is distinctly appointed by God for this solemn affair.
In the ordination service the church publicly testifies that this particular man who they are ordaining has been raised up and equipped by God for that role. Then, as they lay hands on him, they formally recognize that God has invested him with the authority that specifically pertains to this office.
It is not until that has happened that he actually preaches. Anything that happens before that moment is not what is technically known as "preaching." This is why theologians have differentiated between preaching and exhortation. Preaching is what preachers do (that is, ordained men). Everyone else who speaks biblical truth exhorts his brethren (i.e. encourages or instructs).
This is not to say that what a non-ordained person says is not effective or that God cannot use this person to convert people or edify the church. It's just not technically preaching.
Why is it important to consider this? For one, we are required to sit under the preaching of God's word from week to week. Paul tells Timothy to "Preach the Word." As a result, the people to whom he is to preach are to submit themselves to that word. So when we gather together for worship, we are mandated to listen to the officially appointed man declare what God has to say.
What's the big deal? Isn't that what any non-ordained person does? The truth is that there is a large difference. It is one thing to hear a brother speak to us and teach us truth from the Scripture; it is another to hear someone who has the authority of the office preach.
Let me illustrate: Suppose you are driving down the highway and your speed exceeds the set speed limit. The person in the passenger seat can tell you that you are going too fast and need to slow down. That would be a useful exhortation. However, it is quite a different thing to have a police officer pull you over and tell you that you were going too fast. Both said virtually the same thing, but they were vastly different as to their nature and power.
Secondly, understanding this doctrine will help us sift through the scads of men who wish to serve as pastor (funny, I almost said "who wish to play pastor", which is a blog in and of itself!). Men who do not have the skills required to preach ought not to preach. If they cannot speak well, put together a coherent message, or interpret Scripture with any sort of meaningful intelligence, they should not act in the capacity that requires them to do so.
Similarly, men who have not the theological acumen for this work ought to leave well enough alone. Men who are ordained ought to be thoroughly examined as to their knowledge and beliefs. We would not want any old schmo walking off to some foreign country to act as a representative of our country. We want someone who has some intelligence and expertise in his area of work to act in that capacity. Ought then we not to expect the same of those who will serve as God's ambassadors.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, after worship the congregation should be able to walk away saying, "I heard from God today." The words might have had the intonations of a man, but the message most certainly had the authority and weight of God's very word.
And when a man preaches, that's exactly what happens.
"Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment."
The great thing about being a "Christian" and not being linked in to any local church is that no one can tell you that you are wrong. You are the isolated man, immune from all correction.
And that, of course, is the Biblical definition of a fool. By his willful shunning of the body of Christ and the wisdom of Christ's leaders, he's breaking out against all sound judgment.
All this is to say that Providence Church, unlike many other churches today, won't be dying out anytime soon.
What I also like is that this picture displays something of our church's unity. These families came forward on Sunday for a child dedication. They took vows to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and I had the great opportunity to close this part of the service by praying for them.
Sure, I would have prefered that they baptize the children too. I believe that paedo-communion is Scriptural. As a matter of fact, I think it is quite a serious thing to "neglect or contemn" this rite. They don't though. So we have to deal with it. In the midst of our diversity, we seek to love each other. We accept each other in the Lord despite our quibble over water's application.
These two dynamics of our church home here in Ashland is just some of what makes it such a great place to worship.
Providence Church is a dual confessional church, which means we allow for either infant baptism or infant dedication if the family is of a credo baptist persuasion. This morning we had a child dedication. This was the prayer that I offered for the occasion:
You sent your own Son into this world as the child of Mary and Joseph. And in the same way you commit to us the joy of raising children.
We thank you for the life of Josiah and Nevin, which now have been entrusted to the care of these parents. Help us to remember the weight of this great privilege and to assist them as they raise them in the fear and admonition of your name.
Grant Matt & Rachel and Mike & Renata all grace and fill them with your Spirit, so that they may love these precious gifts and help them walk in the way of God. Equip them with the patience, strength and wisdom to impart our most holy faith at all times. Guide them to speak what is in accord with sound doctrine, to use the rod of discipline with the most affectionate skill, to exemplify repentance, and to hold forth the gospel in all its purity.
And in so doing, may Josiah and Nevin grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man. May they hold fast to Christ all their days and seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. May there never be a day that they did not know Christ as Lord and Savior. And may you shine the light of your love upon them even now.
For we ask this in the strong Name of Jesus.
I've had a great time speaking at the Fuse's "Wheel of Theology" series these last two weeks. The Fuse is a young adults' program at Grace Church here in Ashland and during the Spring they have their group submit theological or biblical questions for a panel to answer.
I like this simply for the reason that it shows these young people are thinking seriously about Christianity and a comprehensive Christian worldview. I commend the guys leading this ministry (Rich, Ben, Randy) and all of the pastoral staff at Grace Church for their work.
Here are a few of the questions I was called upon to field
Marijuana is starting to be legalized in the United States. How should a Christian respond? There are basically four things to remember Scripturally when thinking about this subject.
Medicinal purposes: The Proverbs say, “Give strong drink to the perishing.” It allows the one who is dying to have some reprieve from the pain by means of drug induced stimuli. Marijuana has also, in ages past, been used as an anesthetic prior to surgery. These are legitimate purposes according to Scripture.
Purposes of dominion: God calls us to take dominion of the world and advance society. The things He has created are the raw materials for our creative and productive work. This includes the marijuana plant. Through scientific inquiry we have discovered good uses for it (and perhaps there are many more usages waiting to be discovered). For instance, the marijuana plant can be used in forms of rope. Such a thing would be most useful and godly.
Purposes of food: God gave us every seed bearing plant for food. Eating it might be a legitimate thing to do....But as Joe Carter has said: let’s get real, no one is adding hash to their brownies because it makes them taste better.
Recreational purposes: The key to remember is this: Any drug should be carefully examined as to its affects upon our minds and our bodies. Obviously, we do not want to bring physical harm upon ourselves. We might use as a good guide what Solomon said regarding his use of alcohol: He drank enough to where he still had the capacities of his mind. In other words, he was not drunk or given over to senselessness. God requires us to have self control and our powers of rationality are key to that.
Studies indicate that it only takes approximately 4 tokes to affect your psychological state. I've also heard that just one puff can put you over the top. This makes the use of marijuana unwise for the Christian. It should also make us question the terminology of "recreational use of marijuana," as it makes it sound fun and exciting.
There are two basic things to consider regarding participation in a secular band, the company you keep and the content of your songs. I'll start with the later.
If you are singing songs that are overtly immoral (i.e. rape your mother, premarital sex, hedonistic lifestyle), then you are most definitely out of God's will. Even if you are only playing the guitar and not directly singing them, this is being an accomplice in the act.
However, if you are singing songs that are not directly against God's law, you might be able to do it. Love songs are not expressly evil in and of themselves (Just check out the Song of Solomon). There are many songs that what we might call adiaphora, i.e. "things indifferent."
The other item to consider is the company you keep. Scripture says that bad company corrupts good character. If you are in a band, it may be likely that these guys you are playing with are your closest confidants. They are people with whom you hang and have a good deal of interaction. This might not be healthy and you need to use discernment.
Overall, if this is a question someone truly is considering, he has to gauge whether or not it is healthy for his walk with Christ. It might just be love of pleasure or pride that motivates his wanting to participate. Or, it may be a good means of using his God given gift in order to make a jump to a more overtly Christian purpose.
Images of Jesus
Some people deem it okay because Jesus was a man. They can depict his human nature, just as long as they are not worshipping the image. Teaching purposes, they say, are ok.
I differ from the main stream. I think that the second commandment applies to the person of Jesus too. That’s because Christ wishes to be known through his word and the sacraments. The Bible says that "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God."
What's more, to depict Christ is to teach something about Christ (liberal, feminine, surfer dude who cannot ever be made.) It is my belief that teaching is a form of worship.
Even if that isn't true, learning about Christ should lead you to worship. So if you are learning by means of images, you are worshiping God by means of images. So, the use of pictures of Jesus does, in my opinion, violate the second commandment's prohibition to not worship or bow down to images. See the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 96-98
If you want images, the Bible does provide you with some. They are baptism and the Lord's Supper. Developing a right understanding of these tactile means of grace would be a very good thing to do.
There are many people in the Bible with disabilities. Mephibosheth had crippled legs, Ahaziah fell through the upper latice. The Apostle Paul likely would have had some degree of diability after being stoned, recieving the 40 lashes minus one (5 times!), beaten with rods (3x!), and shipwrecked at sea. Then, of course, there are all the people who got healed, a significant cast for sure.
Here are some things to note:
Symbolic: People with deformities were not allowed into certain places in the temple. The purpose for this is symbolic: the closer one comes to God the more “holy,” i.e. perfect, he had to be. This is not to say that these people were rejected by God. The Lord was simply using a picture lesson to teach our deformity of sin and need for Christ's redemption.
Purpose: Sometimes people are given a disability because of a direct curse from God. For instance, Miriam was inflicted with leprosy temporarily. However, sometimes people receive this condition as a result of God’s purpose and plan for their lives ("who sinned, this man or his parents?" Jn 6). Others have disabilities as part of the effects of sin through aging or war.
Most disabilities are not debilitating. You might be prevented from engaging in certain forms of activity or certain amounts of activity. But normally, you are not prevented from taking dominion in some capacity and engaging in meaningful work. I say this because our culture today sends the message: disability means useless, or gives the excuse to not work.
Think of Paul. Despite him likely having a bad back with all that he went through, he still vigorously sought to fulfill his calling.
Due Honor & respect: At the same time, those who are infirm ought to be respected and honored by those who are physically well. Leviticus 19:14 says, "Do not put a stumbling block before those who are blind." Negatively this is saying that God hates it when we take advantage of those who are disabled. Positively this is saying we should respect them and do everything in our power to promote their welbeing.
The Scripture also is high on restitution. So, if an employee is hurt on the job and it is the company’s fault, they ought to provide fair and just compensation.
If their disability is debilitating, then they should be recipients of charity and encouraged to work in the capacity that they can, if it only be a life of prayer.
At the same time, those who are disabled should not become a special class of people. By that I imply the state and federal regulations that mandate ramps and parking & such for people with disabilities. This is an infringement on the private sector.
One of the churches that I highly recommend in the Ashland area is the Grace Brethren Churches (not to be confused with the other Brethren denominations). In particular, I highlight their current Wednesday night study at the Main Street GBC. Throughout the month of April Dick Riley will be teaching through the five points of Calvinism at 7:00.
In other news, my friend, Rich Policz, who leads a Thursday night study called the Fuse at GBC invited me to be part of their annual spring "Wheel of Theology" series. I'll be part of a panel of guys who will be fielding questions about Scripture, theology, and practical, godly living.
Some of the questions that will be floated include what is the Christian view of legalized marijuana? Should Christians be in a secular band? What happens to babies when they die? What does the Bible say about people with disabilities? Are films or paintings with portrayals of Jesus graven images? And more...
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.