Thursday, May 24, 2012

Moving Forward!!

When I began this blog I decided to call it "Truth and Grace," because God values both of these.  John writes in the first chapter of his gospel, "The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).  Of course, John was not implying that there was no grace or truth in God's law; to the contrary, the law pointed to Jesus by pointing out the reality of sin and of God's judgment against it.  That was both gracious and truthful, for in so doing the law points us to our need for a Savior and to Jesus as the only Mediator between God and man.  Apart from the truth of God's Word, beginning to end, we would not know the truth about our sin or God's wrath against it, nor of His gracious offer to forgive those who trust in the cross of Christ as the payment for their sins.

Grace and truth go together; each pointing to the other.  In our day, however, "grace" has become defined as God's willingness to overlook sin and His unlimited love in forgiving people whether or not they believe in Jesus.   Such "grace," is no grace at all, for it is based on lies rather than the truth.   Paul spoke about this to the men of Athens in Acts 17:30-31:  "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent.  For He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising Him from the dead."  There is one way to escape God's just judgment and that is through faith in Jesus Christ.

In recent months the leadership and confessing members at Lighthouse have been confronted with what appeared to some to be a choice between grace and truth.  We have even been called names by some who believe that we are not being loving by calling all sexual activity outside of the marriage of a man and a woman to be sin, including homosexual behavior.  But the Bible tells us that we must expose sin and seek to lead people to Jesus Christ for forgiveness.  That is both loving and gracious.  We have all sinned and continue to struggle with our sinful natures, but the Spirit of God brings freedom to those who draw near to God through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is this good news, this truth, that God calls us to proclaim.

Meanwhile, we are in the process of leaving the church building which Lighthouse erected in 2004.  In an article in the Advance concerning the most recent events, Rev. Steve Smallegan was quoted as saying that the leadership of Lighthouse "broke the law" by re-filing our Articles of Incorporation without the permission of the Zeeland Classis.  The members of Lighthouse and others who read this blog post should know that this is untrue.  We withdrew from the RCA on December 31st, 2011.  We then re-filed our Articles of Incorporation as a non-denominational congregation.  We requested once again that the Zeeland Classis allow us to retain our property, property which the members of Lighthouse had paid for and hold the mortgage to.  Rumors that the Zeeland Classis contributed to the building in any way are also untrue.  The Zeeland Classis could have chosen to release our property.  There is no state law requiring them to claim a congregation's property as theirs.  Those who have said, "That's the way it is," do so based on the Articles of Incorporation of the Reformed Churches of America and the RCA's Book of Church Order, not based upon the Word of God or the laws of the State of Michigan.  We have chosen not to dispute their claim, but rather to move forward, trusting God to continue to provide for our needs, as He has done and is doing.  When Seventh Reformed Church in Grand Rapids was removed from the North Grand Rapids Classis in 1995 after not paying their full assessments, they were allowed to leave with their property and the Classis stated that this was a gracious act on their part.  The Zeeland Classis could have chosen to do the same.  In this whole process, which began in 2010, we have sought in every way to be both gracious and truthful.  Ultimately, God is the Judge of all those involved.  It is our desire to serve Christ alongside all those who trust in Him and who stand upon the truth of His Word, proclaiming His grace at every opportunity.

I want to close this post with a personal note, particularly to those who may not know me.  I grew up on a farm in Iowa and at an early age felt God's call to preach His Word.  I tried to avoid God's call, knowing that I was incapable of doing what God was calling me to do.  In 1973, with much fear and trembling, I gave in to God's leading and entered seminary.  This Sunday marks 35 years in pastoral ministry.  In all humility, I confess my own sin and acknowledge that anything good I may have accomplished has only been done by the grace of God and by the power of His Spirit working within me.  I am a weak vessel.  Having said that, my confidence rests in my God, who through His Son Jesus Christ has saved me from His judgment and has cleansed me by His blood shed on the cross.  My boldness comes from the awareness of His power at work within me and I must be faithful to His call to proclaim the truth.  During this whole process, no one has claimed that either I or the leadership of Lighthouse have done anything but stand on the Word of God.  My ordination vows were first to Christ, second to His one Church, thirdly to His Word and finally to the Reformed Church in America, in submission to Christ and in accord with His Word.  I have kept those vows.  Those who say otherwise are speaking untruth.  Jesus said, "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).  Those who accuse me or us of wrongdoing will stand before the same One who will judge the living and the dead.

It is the task of the Church of Jesus Christ to proclaim the whole truth of God's Word.  May the Lord of the harvest find us faithful to offer His grace to all, speaking the truth in love and trusting Him to accomplish His eternal purposes in us and through us, for HIS glory!!

In the truth and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

Pastor Steve

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Obeying God rather than men ...

Most people know the quote from the book of Esther where Mordecai is trying to convince Esther to intercede on behalf of the Jews because the wicked official in the king's court, Haman, is trying to have all the Jews exterminated.  Mordecai tells Esther that God may have put her in the position she is in as queen "for such a time as this."  Certainly, our God is wise enough and powerful enough to do such a thing; to orchestrate events in such a way that His will is accomplished through the lives of ordinary people - people just like you and me.

Throughout human history, indeed, since the Garden of Eden, there have been significant moments when God has raised up men and women to take a stand for Him, for His kingdom, for His truth, that has been unpopular and that has resulted in persecution of various kinds.  Since the days of the Reformation in the 1500's and 1600's, the battle against God's truth has raged on and many have lost their foothold, turning away from God's Word to follow cleverly devised alternatives that sound good to the human ear, but that have no power to transform the human heart or save the human soul from the just judgment of a holy God.

The same is true in our day.  We have witnessed attacks on the Bible and the truths contained therein before.  Those from other religions have sought relentlessly to disprove the claims of those who declare that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man, that He is God in the flesh, that He paid the penalty for sin on the cross, that He died and rose again and ascended into heaven where He rules over all things until He comes again as Judge.  Yet, today there is another wave of attacks on the authority and truthfulness of God's Word and it is coming from within the visible church, from those who claim to be part of the true body of Christ.

This should not surprise us, but many are being caught off guard and are giving in to the pressure to conform to the spirit of the day:  tolerance.  Differing views on Scripture and what the Bible really says are said to be equally true and valid.  After all, we are told, who are we to decide what God intended to say through the writers?  Everyone is entitled to their own interpretation.  This attack on truth comes from the very pit of hell, from the enemy of our souls, from Satan, the father of lies.  "Oh, but these are brothers in Christ," we are assured.  We would do well to heed the warning of the apostle, Paul, as he wrote to the Corinthians in II Corinthians 11.  In chapter 10 Paul goes into a rather lengthy defense of his ministry.  He was being criticized for his boldness in his writings and for being timid when face-to-face.  Paul's answer was that it was his goal to preach the Gospel, nothing more.  It was not about him, but about Jesus Christ.

In this context Paul speaks a firm word about those who criticized him for standing on the truth of the Gospel and declaring that anyone who was preaching anything else was wrong!  "For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.  It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.  Their end will be what their actions deserve"  (II Corinthians 11:13-15).  These men talked about all the "right" things and they tolerated other teachings.  In fact, they tolerated any other teaching BUT the true Gospel that called people to repentance and to faith in Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness.  Such teaching was too "narrow," too confining, too rigid, too un-loving.  But Paul knew from experience that the Gospel, while it convicts people of sin, is the only message that is able to set people free from the guilt and judgment that our sin deserves, through the blood of Jesus shed on the cross.

Brothers and sisters, we are in a battle for truth today.  The steady slide away from the authority of the Word of God on the part of so many within the visible church makes this a crucial time in the history of the world and of God's plan of salvation.  The time has come that we read about in II Timothy 4, when people IN the church are turning their ears away from the truth and are turning aside to different "interpretations" of God's Word.  We are being told that we must understand and accept these alternate interpretations and promote a unity based on some generic love that is powerless to save, for it allows people to remain in bondage to sin and self-centered thinking and living.  It pleases man rather than God.

That's why the following words from the Puritans, written somewhere around 1629, seemed to me to speak so clearly to our present-day situation.  I trust they will speak to you as well.

"There comes a time in every man’s life when he must make a decision.  I’m not talking about the kind of decision that determines the outcome of his day, or his year, or even his life.  I’m talking about the kind of decision that goes far beyond his personal interest, far beyond his own life - a decision that will set in motion the destiny of the world for generations to come.

The time has come for us to make such a decision.

The choice that confronts us is not complicated.  Simply put, it is this:  Will we observe the laws of God, or will we conform to the desires of men?  Shall we obey the Bible, or shall we obey the dictates of a London bishop?

The question before us is simple; so must our answer be simple.

Borrowing Peter’s words our response should be:  “We ought rather to obey God than men,” Acts chapter 5, verse 29.

As Christians of conscience, how can we decide otherwise without denying our faith?  The Bible alone is God’s perfect statement of how we are to live.  The Lord God, determining to set before our eyes a perfect plan, is both able to do it and hath done it.

It is natural that God should be so explicit in the instructions regarding His people, since it is the virtue of a good law to leave as little undetermined as possible.  The explicitness of God’s moral and judicial law is a clear indication of God’s mind.  And His law is permanent.  It cannot be repealed by any earthly king, any earthly council, or any earthly bishop.

Either the Bible is God’s perfect Word, or it is not.  Either we will choose to obey Him, or we will not.  The choice before us is a simple one.  Making our decision is not difficult; living according to our decision will require great courage and faith.  These are perilous times.  Who knows the full measure of the price we will yet pay?  However, the choices we make, we make not only for ourselves, but for our children and our children’s children.  Whatever the price, it will be worth it.

This is not the time for the weak of heart.  Nor is it the time to turn the other cheek, for we have not been insulted.  We have been deceived.  It is time for godly men and women of England to choose their future.

I, for one, choose God.  I would rather fail attempting to obey God, that to succeed in any attempt to please men."

In the past two weeks nearly all those who are active confessing members of Lighthouse Community Church Non-Denominational have signed your names and declared your commitment to standing on God's Word, being willing to leave the building we have been using to do ministry in order to follow God's call to be faithful to Him and to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the authority of His Word.  God knows what He has planned for us and what He desires to accomplish in us and through us.  It is a joy and a privilege to walk alongside you on this journey.  May God help us to stand firm, giving thanks to Him for His grace to us in Christ Jesus, and declaring with all the strength He supplies the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ ... "until the whole world hears!"

In the service of the King!

Pastor Steve