Welcome to the Pastor’s Corner! The Pastor’s Corner is a place where you will find periodic updates from our pastor such as sermon reflections, or other matters of interest in the life of Emmanuel Reformed Church and her people. Please check here regularly to see new content.

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What Does the Bible Teach About Climate Change?
What Does the Bible Teach About Climate Change?

Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • October 27, 2020

This is a good question and one that seems to come up every four years around election time. I think in order to answer this question, we need to decouple climate change the environmental issue from climate change the political issue.

By all official statistics, global temperatures are on the rise. Now, I want to just state right up front: I am not a climate scientist, so it is not my goal to corroborate or refute the “official” statistics. I am merely reporting on the facts of the matter. How the facts are interpreted is quite another story. Let’s stipulate this fact for the sake of argument. As I understand things, the earth has gone through several cycles of warming and cooling. This seems to be a natural thing as far as the earth is concerned. We just happen to be on a warming cycle.

So as far as the environmental issue goes, the earth has gone through several cycles of warming and cooling, we’re currently on a warming trend, what’s the big deal? Now when we look at the Bible, we need to take into account two things: (1) God is in sovereign control of all things, and (2) God made a covenant with Noah (and all humanity) that normal cycle of the environment shall not cease to be.

Regarding the first issue (God is sovereign), consider the following Scriptures:

  • Genesis 1:1 (KJV) In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
  • Colossians 1:16,17 (KJV) 16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether [they be] thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: 17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

There are others that could be cited, but God, as the Creator of all things, is the Sovereign Ruler of all things. Everything that happens in heaven and on earth (including the climate) is in His sovereign control. The reality of climate change is not a thing that has caught God off guard.

Regarding the second issue (God’s covenant with humanity) consider the following Scriptures:

  • Genesis 8:22 (KJV) While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.
  • Jeremiah 33:20-26 (KJV) 20 Thus saith the LORD; If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; 25 Thus saith the LORD; If my covenant [be] not with day and night, [and if] I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth

God made a covenant with Noah after the flood that never again will He destroy the earth by means of a flood. In that covenant, God promises (a promise sealed by the sign of the rainbow) that the normal pattern of seasonal change shall continue uninterrupted while the earth remains. This is a key point for the world will not last forever. It will be purged and renewed by God on the day of Christ’s return (see 2 Peter 3:10).

So why do I belabor this? The reason is this: I don’t believe that climate change will be what destroys the earth. I believe that the Bible teaches that God so preserves the earth that the normal pattern of change (day & night, summer & winter, warming & cooling, etc) will continue while the earth remains. I also do not believe that climate change will be the means God uses to remake the earth (again see 2 Peter 3:10). So I am not overly concerned with the environmental issue of climate change. 

I do believe that as creatures made in the image of God with the breath of life in our lungs, we do have a duty to be good stewards of God’s good creation. When Adam & Eve were created and placed in the garden, they were to care and tend to it (Genesis 2:15). What that means is that we should definitely use and develop the environment for the benefit of all mankind. I do not think we should exploit or damage the environment for the sake of profit. The trend in recent decades regarding the reaping of the earth’s natural resources has been very positive and responsible. We should definitely explore so-called “clean” energy and alternative energy while at the same time seek cleaner and more efficient ways to use fossil fuels.

Now when it comes to climate change the political issue, this is a vastly different subject. The current, political, environmental movement is a quasi-religious movement. You have a “priesthood” (climate scientists) whose word on the subject is taken as “gospel truth.” You have “prophets” (political & environmental activists) who proclaim that the earth is doomed in 10 (12, 15, 20, etc.) years if we don’t act now. You have a “god” in “Mother Earth.” If you dare to counter the climate “orthodoxy” you are shunned and labeled a “heretic” (i.e., “climate denier”).

All of this is, in my opinion, a ploy to gain political power for other nefarious reasons. If you look at any political group that adheres to the current orthodoxy of climate change (the Green Party, the Socialist Party of America, etc.), you’ll see that it’s all for the purpose of scaring people into voting for them so they can dismantle our current constitutional-republic and implement a democratic-socialist “utopia” (which literally means “no place”) that bows to the false religion of climate change.

So in summary, I believe that as Christians, we should be good stewards of God’s creation. We should all want clean water and breathable air. We should all seek to move toward viable clean energy solutions that protect our environment. On the other hand, as Christians, we should avoid the current “radical” environmental movement that is attempting to gain control of our political process. I believe this is really a false religion for atheists & agnostics.

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Is “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD) Biblical?
Is “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD) Biblical?

Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • October 22, 2020

I was recently asked by a member of the congregation my stance on WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?”). Before I get too deep into this issue, a little context is in order. The church in which I serve is a member church in the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS). The RCUS is a denomination with German Reformed roots going all the way back to the Reformation itself. The RCUS subscribes to the Three Forms of Unity (TFU) as their secondary standard of authority after the Holy Bible itself. The TFU are: The Belgic Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dordt. These three documents express a decidedly Calvinistic theology.

Why does this matter to the question? Well, in Reformed circles, the emphasis is on God’s sovereignty and free grace. You may have heard of the “Five Solas” of the Reformation (Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Solus Christus, and Soli Deo Gloria). In English, they read: Scripture Alone, Faith Alone, Grace Alone, Christ Alone, to the Glory of God Alone. In other words, we are saved through faith alone by grace alone in Christ alone to the glory of God alone. Furthermore, Scripture alone is the sole infallible source of authority in faith and practice for the Christian.

So when a Reformed person hears WWJD, there is an almost autonomic negative response to it. The feeling is that WWJD reduces the richness of the Christian faith to a slogan: What would Jesus do? It also seems to suggest that to be a Christian is simply using Jesus’ life as an example to emulate. It reduces the sovereign grace of God in salvation to a crass “do this and live” mentality.

Now as one who considers himself Reformed, I understand that reaction to WWJD. There are some segments of Christianity who preach “saved by grace, stay saved by works,” or “saved by grace, sanctified (made holy) by works.” I believe this is a perversion of the gospel. It preaches a “do more, try harder” type of Christianity that creates anxiety or burn out in Christians. The Christian life is a life of faith from beginning to end:

Romans 1:17 (NKJV) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."

Now this member of my congregation had told me that this question was brought up to a previous pastor at Emmanuel Reformed Church, who reacted much the way I described above. Basically saying that WWJD has no place in a Reformed church and should not be used as means to train children. When this question was posed to me and I was told of the reaction of the previous pastor, I was a little shocked. Now “why were you shocked, Carl” you may ask? Given what I said above, as a Reformed pastor, why would I be shocked by a negative reaction to WWJD?

Two reasons. First, the reaction of this previous pastor was described to me as rather visceral. Here was a dear saint in the congregation attempting to raise her children in the Lord, and she thought that WWJD was a useful tool to help train her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So to get such a negative reaction from your pastor would be shocking to say the least. 

Secondly, I think there is an aversion to “works” in Reformed circles. I love Reformed theology and I love redemptive-historical preaching, but if all of our preaching application is only and exclusively “trust in Jesus, rest in Jesus, look to Jesus,” I think we’re missing the point. We’re so focused on God’s sovereign grace in salvation that we forget that the Bible does contain commands. Shocking, I know, but it does! We need to preach the commands in Scripture as commands! If all we do in preaching commands is “you can’t do it, Jesus did it, trust in Him,” then I think that kind of preaching is just as shallow as “do more, try harder.”

Reformed preaching needs to be balanced. It must be rooted and grounded in God’s sovereign grace toward us in salvation. Amen! Reformed preaching must emphasize the fact that Jesus Christ is our righteousness, that He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. Amen! However, we must also not forget that the imperatives (commands) of Scripture flow out of the indicatives (facts) of Scripture. Because Jesus did, we can do!

Let’s not forget that in the RCUS, our very own beloved Heidelberg Catechism is organized as: Sin, Salvation, Service; or Guilt, Grace, Gratitude. In fact, LD32, Q86 asks “Since, then, we are redeemed from our misery by grace through Christ, without any merit of ours, why must we do good works?” That’s a really good question! The Catechism gives three answers: (1) “We show ourselves thankful to God for His blessing, and that He be glorified through us;” (2) “We ourselves may be assured of our faith by the fruits thereof;” (3) “By our godly walk win also others to Christ.”

This is so much more than simply “rest in Christ, look to Christ, trust in Christ.” Jesus Himself said, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word” (John 14:23). Obedience = Love of Christ! Let’s not also forget that the Bible does speak of WWJD. Consider the following:

1 Corinthians 11:1 (NKJV) Imitate me, just as I also [imitate] Christ.

Ephesians 5:1 (NKJV) Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.

Colossians 2:6 (NKJV) As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him

Imitate Paul as he imitates Christ, be imitators of God, as we have received Christ so walk in Him...all of this sounds like WWJD. Not to mention all of the passages that speak of “walking” in general.

So is WWJD Biblical? Yes. There are clear commands in Scripture which call us to walk as Christ walked. Can WWJD be abused? Yes. Like anything good and useful, it can be reduced to a cliche and abused. Should we balance obedience with faith? Absolutely! We must always remember that our obedience to Christ flows out of His salvation for us. It is always a walk of faith that is grounded in God’s great salvation for us; never as a means to obtain God’s favor.

~Pastor Carl

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Of RBG, the Supreme Court, and Vacancies...Oh My!
Of RBG, the Supreme Court, and Vacancies...Oh My!

Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • September 24, 2020

This past week saw the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Badger-Ginsburg (commonly referred to as “RBG”). Justice Ginsburg died last Friday, September 18, 2020 from a prolonged battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 87. She was appointed to the court by President Clinton in 1993 and has been a stalwart defender of gender equality and women’s rights. She was a remarkable woman who led a very accomplished life overcoming her own form of gender discrimination as she was coming up the legal ranks. Myself, as a conservative, there are some areas in which I would agree with RBG, and many areas in which I would disagree with her (most notably her “pro-choice” stance in regards to abortion).

However, my concern isn’t to talk about her life, but to talk about the aftermath of her death. You see, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re nearing the end of one of the most contentious presidential election years I’ve ever witnessed. RBG’s death came with just 46 days left until the election. Because RBG was considered one of the members of the “liberal wing” of the court, naturally, democrats are saying that her seat on the court shouldn’t be filled until after the election. Republicans, on the other hand, are saying that the seat should be filled, and filled now!

What muddies the waters even more is that in 2016, a nearly identical set of circumstances occurred. On February 13 of that year, Justice Antonin Scalia died. Then President Obama wanted to appoint Judge Merrick Garland to replace Scalia on the bench, but senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to hold hearings on Judge Garland. In fact, many republicans were “quoted” as saying that in an election year, we should let the people decide who will appoint Scalia’s replacement. Some of these very same republicans are now saying that RBG’s vacancy should be filled.

This opens up the republicans to charges of “hypocrisy.” How could they deny a hearing to Judge Garland in 2016 266 days out from the election, but then be in favor of appointed a replacement for RBG in 2020 only 45 days out from the election? Seems like a clear cut case for hypocrisy, right? Let’s examine this.

The first thing to say is that the same democrats who are accusing republicans of hypocrisy in 2020, were the ones saying “fill the seat” back in 2016. So the charge of hypocrisy seems to cut both ways (welcome to the world of politics). The point being, politicians are politicians. Now you might say, “Carl, you’re a pastor. How can you be in favor of ‘naked hypocrisy’ in American politics?” Well, I’m not in favor of “naked hypocrisy” in American politics. I am just simply stating the facts as I see them. This is the “partisan battle” we see happening everyday before our eyes. Should we expect better from our politicians? Yes, absolutely. But that’s not the reality we live in, so we have to deal with what we have.

Secondly, there is the “precedent” issue. To hear the rhetoric, what is being proposed is “unprecedented” in American history. However, 29 times in our history there has been a Supreme Court vacancy in an election year. Each of these 29 times, the sitting president has nominated an individual to fill that vacancy. The only difference is whether or not the senate has confirmed the nominee. In a majority of the cases, whether or not the senate has confirmed the nominee has been largely determined by which party controls the senate. When the president’s party has control of the senate, the nominee has been confirmed the vast majority of the times. When the opposition party has been in control of the senate, the president’s nominee has not been confirmed the vast majority of the time.

Why does all of this matter? In general, it speaks to the “will of the people.” In 2014, Americans voted to give the senate to the republicans. The republicans maintained control in 2016 and in 2018. In part, one could say, the American people made a decision as to which party controls the confirmation of Supreme Court nominees. Similarly, when the country elected Donald Trump as president in 2016, one could say, that there was a mandate as to what kind of Supreme Court justices the people wanted nominated. So it makes sense why the republicans didn’t confirm Merrick Garland, but are willing to confirm whomever President Trump nominates (and vice verse the democrats).

Another question can be asked of me, “Carl, being a pastor, how can you be in favor of such ‘naked partisanship?’” In general, I’m not. But there is an ideology, a philosophy, behind the parties. I am in favor of the judicial philosophy to which the republicans hold. That philosophy is that the Supreme Court should judge laws based on their constitutionality as understood by the framers of the constitution. In other words, I do not believe that the U.S. Constitution is a “living document” that needs to evolve to fit our modern understanding. I believe the Constitution set forth limits on the power and reach of government as put forth in their enumerated powers. The Constitution also holds forth as sacrosanct the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Conversely, I do not agree with the judicial philosophy of the Democratic Party. They generally tend to nominate justices who will interpret laws and the Constitution in light of current thinking on “social justice,” “economic justice,” etc.

A final question can be asked of me, “Carl, aren’t you espousing an ‘end justifies the means’ argument?” No, and let me explain why. The U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section II) grants that the president shall nominate individuals to the Supreme Court and that the senate shall provide their “advice and consent.” It is fully within the constitutionally mandated authority of the president to nominate a person to the Supreme Court, and for the senate to confirm (or not confirm) that nomination. The fact of the matter is that in this particular case I happen to approve of whomever would be nominated. If the parties were reversed, I would not be happy, but there is no constitutional argument to be made against such a situation. Now do I wish that the rhetoric of our elected politicians were more honest and less partisan? Absolutely! But I can only hold my own senators (Ben Sasse and Deb Fischer of Nebraska) accountable for any hypocrisy in their speech.

In closing, what is disconcerting to me about all of this is the importance we, as a people, place on the Supreme Court. We’ve invested these nine individuals with so much mystique and power that they’re almost seen as “holy seers” or “sacred prophets.” The fact of the matter is that they, like all of us, are flawed, sinful individuals. They need the forgiveness of sins just as much as the next person. Though they may be esteemed members of the highest court in the land, they are all under the sovereign control of THE Supreme Judge, God, and His Son, Jesus Christ. As Christians, we should be concerned with the goings on of our nation, but the Bible reminds us that we are “in the world, not of the world” (John 17:11, 14). Meaning we live in this world, but our citizenship “is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). As such, we should have minds that are “seeking those things which are above” (Colossians 3:1). This is difficult to do when we see all of the craziness going in in the world, but one of my favorite verses is this: “In the world, ye shall have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Go forth in the knowledge that your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has overcome the world, and that through Him, we are all over-comers!

~Pastor Carl

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Turning Away From the Truth
Turning Away From the Truth

Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • September 16, 2020

2 Timothy 4:3–4 (NKJV): For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

Paul, in warning his young protege Timothy, talks about a time coming when people “will not endure sound doctrine...and they will turn their ears away from the truth.” Never has this statement been more true than today. Now perhaps it’s a bit hyperbolic to make that statement, so let me ask you this: Can you recall a time within your lifetime where truth has been less relevant in our culture? I myself certainly can’t.

Perhaps you might be thinking, “You sound just like every other ‘doomsayer’ from generations gone by.” Okay, maybe you’re right, but what this tells me is that we’ve been descending down this spiral for a long time. We live in a time in which the truth is under attack.

Consider the following:

  • The concept of gender is being erased
  • Rioters and protesters bringing chaos and anarchy in the streets of many of our major cities is considered “peaceful,” and policemen doing their jobs protecting the citizenry and upholding law & order are considered “evil”
  • Religious worship, which is protected and guaranteed by our first amendment, is considered “non-essential,” while abortion clinics (protected by an imaginary “right to privacy”) are considered “essential” during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Things such as “white privilege” and “systemic racism” have been invented out of whole cloth to promote a narrative racism and discrimination is still rampant in American society

All of these examples are just the latest entries our society’s battle against truth and objectivity. Truth doesn’t matter, only narrative. Facts don’t matter, only how those facts support a narrative. And so on...

You see, if we still held high standards for truth and objectivity, then all of those things I mentioned above would be easily resolved: (1) There are only two genders; (2) violent protesters and rioters would be arrested; (3) religious worship would be allowed to progress unhindered; and (4) we would recognize the tremendous progress this country has made in the way of race relations.

But our society has become allergic to the truth. Objectivity has devolved into morass of subjectivity. It used to be “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” now it’s “Hey, well that’s your truth.” Why is that and what’s the solution?

Well you can try to find solutions in sociology, psychology, etc., but the truth (pun intended) of the matter is that when you reject God and His revelation, then it’s no surprise that truth and objectivity no longer matter. The Triune God is not only the ground and source of all being, but He’s also the ground and source of all knowledge. One of the clearest Biblical statements of this fact is Paul’s comment in Romans 1:21-22...

Romans 1:21–22 (NKJV): Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools.

It’s clear, when you reject God, you end up with a foolish heart and futile thoughts. That’s why when people—even unbelieving people—make objective truth claims, they are shouted down by opponents. Their futile thoughts and foolish hearts hate the truth—it is offensive to them, therefore they lash out at anyone who promotes truth and blames them for being “intolerant” and “bigoted.”

The solution is just as simple as the diagnosis from a Biblical perspective, and that’s conversion. Now when I say simple, I mean from God’s perspective. We cannot change the heart of fallen mankind. The only thing we can do is continue to lovingly share the truth—the truth about their sin and the truth about Jesus Christ who died to save them from that sin.

Jesus said...

John 8:31–32 (NKJV): If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

Jesus is the “Light of the world” (John 8:12) who shines in the darkness of the human heart to bring the Light of life to lost sinners. If you’re not a Christian, if you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, then I urge you to confess your sins and come to Jesus in faith. Find a Bible and read the Gospel of John. The Gospel of John presents one of the clearest pictures of Jesus Christ as the Son of God in all of Scripture. If you’re so inclined, then continue on to the Book of Romans. Romans presents us with the most detailed expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the entire Bible. If you’re inclined to pray, then pray that God will soften your heart and speak to you through His word. My prayer for you is that you will indeed “know the truth and the truth shall make you free!”

~Pastor Carl

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Navigating the Waters of Politics & Religion
Navigating the Waters of Politics & Religion

Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • August 26, 2020

I wasn’t in the pulpit this past Sunday, so there is no sermon reflections this week. However, I did want to take a moment to discuss how difficult it is sometimes—particularly in our current cultural and political environment—to navigate the waters of politics and religion.

Full disclosure: In my early to late 20’s, I wasn’t very politically active at all; neither was I religious (having walked away from the church when I was 18). Into my 30’s, I had a “political epiphany” in which I embraced political conservatism and began intentionally voting republican. It wasn’t until I was 36 that I came faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, so from that point on I became a conservative Christian.

This “conservatism” was both politically and theologically. I had gotten to the point that I honestly thought that if you didn’t vote republican, then you really couldn’t call yourself a Christian. I mean, what Christian would be for the right for women to abort their unborn children? What Christian would vote for someone who was a socialist? I had really believed that the Republican Party was the Christian party.

I’m 55 now, and I haven’t believed that for the last 5-10 years. Coming to a more Reformed Christian perspective rather than a Conservative Christian perspective has broadened my view somewhat. There are things the Republican Party believes that align with Christian values (Right to Life, personal responsibility, respect for law and order, etc.). There are things the Republican Party believes that are relatively neutral with Christian values (being pro-business, low taxation, strong national defense, etc.). Similarly, there are things the Democrat Party believes in that also align with Christian values (care for the poor and the oppressed, “social” justice*, etc.).

What’s my point? Simply put, it’s this: There is NO SUCH THING as a “Christian” party. Christians are free to vote for whomever, or whichever party, their conscience allows them to. Now I’m convinced in my own conscience that there are more reasons to vote Republican than Democrat, but these are decisions that I came to after thinking, researching, and praying.

Moreover, my first allegiance is to Christ and His kingdom, not to the United States of America or the Republican Party. As a Christian and as a minister of the Word, I am called to not only love my neighbor as myself (Matthew 22:39), but also to love my enemies (Matthew 5:44). In other words, the command to love supersedes national loyalty or party loyalty. The command to love knows no bounds—racial, political, social, religious, or national.

One of the things that troubles me every two years in this country (i.e., every election cycle) is that the nation becomes more and more polarized. This, unfortunately, bleeds into the church as Christians become politically active. Now, I have no problem with political activity. In fact, I believe we should exercise whatever rights we’ve been granted by whatever government under which we live. But if our political activity causes to not love our brother or sister, then we’ve crossed a line. If our political activity prompts us to speak evil of someone on the “other side,” then we’ve crossed a line. Again, full disclosure: I say this as someone who has been guilty of such sins and has had to repent.

Ultimately our destiny is not decided by who wins on November 3rd. If you’re a Christian, then your destiny was decided 2,000 years ago outside of Jerusalem by a Jewish rabbi who was crucified on a hill called Golgotha. That Jewish rabbi, was Jesus Christ—The Son of God, the Eternal Word, The Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Son of Man, the Son of David, the Messiah! If you’re a Christian, then you’re a citizen of God’s Kingdom and our hope lies in heaven where Jesus now sits at the Father’s right hand and who will one day return to judge the living and the dead.

If you’re not a Christian, then ultimately it doesn’t matter who wins on November 3rd because you’re hope is in the things of this world, which, as the Bible says, are passing away (2 Peter 3:7). The Bible commands “all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved (Acts 16:31)! This is the only sure rock upon which to stand.

~Pastor Carl

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Responding to the True Light — Reflections on John 1:6-13
Responding to the True Light — Reflections on John 1:6-13

Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • August 19, 2020

John 1:12–13 (ESV): But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Does it ever seem to you that the gospel is too good to be true? The good news that Jesus died on the cross 2,000 years ago to pay for your sins and mine and that by trusting in this fact we can be assured of life eternal and avoid the just wrath of God seems way too good to be true.

Whenever we’re presented with an offer that seems too good to be true, we react skeptically. These reactions are probably justified because for the most part offers that seem to be too good to be true are, in fact, too good to be true.

But the unbelieving world rejects the good news of the gospel not just because it’s too good to be true, but because due to sin we either: (1) don’t think we have a problem to begin with, or (2) don’t think Jesus is the answer to our problems.

In John 1:6-13, we see three things going on here:

  1. John’s Witness to the True Light (vv. 6-8)
  2. Rejection of the True Light (vv. 9-11)
  3. Receiving the True Light (vv. 12-13)

In vv. 6-8, we’re introduced for the first time to this “man sent from God, whose name was John.” This is clearly John the Baptist, not John the Gospel writer. As we’ll learn later, this “man sent from God” is to be the forerunner of the Messiah, the one who heralds the coming of the King. He will bear witness regarding the True Light, which is the Eternal, Creative, Life-Giving Word who will become flesh. He is clearly not the True Light, but comes to point the way to the True Light “that all might believe through him.”

What’s interesting about John’s witness is that it’s all about Christ. John doesn’t talk about himself. He doesn’t talk about how Jesus turned his life around. All he does is bear witness about the Light. The Gospel of John is a book of testimony. John the Evangelist is gathering witnesses to prove his thesis that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John the Baptist is the first witness that the Evangelist calls.

In vv. 9-11, we see that the True Light was coming into the world. That’s the “good news.” Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us (more on that next time). That’s what John is bearing witness too. However, there are those in the world who “did not know him.” Jesus came into the very world that was made through him (John 1:3), and the world did not recognize him. They didn’t recognize him because they love the darkness (as John will say later in ch. 3).

This concept of “light & dark” operates on the spiritual and moral plane. Darkness refers both to the fact that fallen mankind does not recognize God in the world and rejects spiritual truths, and the fact that we are also morally depraved (our deeds are evil). As such, when the True Light, which gives revelatory light to all men, comes into the world, the world refuses to recognize him. The unbelieving world rejects Jesus.

What’s worse is that Jesus “came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.” Jesus came as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah, but his own people rejected him; they did not receive him as such.

The moral of the story here is that all kinds of people reject Jesus. Irreligious and unbelieving people reject Jesus because they will not submit to his kingship and renounce their wicked ways and come to Jesus for forgiveness. Religious people reject Jesus for much the same reasons, but they do so because Jesus doesn’t fit their pre-conceived perceptions of what a Messiah should look like.

But it’s not all bad news as there are those to receive Jesus and believe in his name. Receiving and believing in Jesus is (1) recognizing that he is the Messiah and that he is God in human flesh, and (2) trusting and resting in his name (that is how he has revealed himself in the Bible). It is to these people that have been given the awesome privilege to be called children of God.

This privilege does not come through human means. We can’t be born into God’s family, we can’t desire to be in God’s family, and we can’t orchestrate it through human ingenuity. The privilege of being called children of God comes only by God himself. John will later tell us the story of Jesus and Nicodemus in which he tells Nicodemus that in order to enter into the kingdom of God one must be born again. This is spiritual rebirth, and not something that fallen human beings can do. It is solely a work of the Holy Spirit.

So if you’re a child of God, if you have received and believed in the name of Jesus, praise God! This was not something you achieved on your own, but it is a gracious and merciful act of God for the glory of his name!

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In the Beginning Was the Word
In the Beginning Was the Word

Carl Gobelman • August 12, 2020

The most important question any of us can answer is “Who is Jesus?” The answer to this question literally spells the difference between (eternal) life and (eternal) death. For the vast majority of the history of Christianity, the church believed and taught that Jesus was the Son of God, the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity. This was a doctrine formerly codified in the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.

But coming out of the 18th century enlightenment and continuing on into the 19th & 20th centuries, more and more questions came to be raised regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ. There were the so-called quests for the historical Jesus. This was a movement that was borne out of enlightenment ideals of naturalism, materialism, and anti-supernaturalism. This movement wanted to “de-mythologized” the Bible—essentially remove anything that smacks of miracle or supernatural origin.

So things such as Jesus’ virgin birth, miracles, and His vicarious atonement on the cross are all out. His care and compassion for the outcasts of society, His attacks against the power structures of the day are okay.

Today many of the “historical quests” for Jesus have been largely debunked. The problem, as it turned out, is that people ended up finding the Jesus they wanted to find. For example, if you believed that Jesus was an itinerant Jewish rabbi, well look-and-behold that’s what you found. If you believed that Jesus was a radical end-times prophet, well golly-gee that’s what you found.

That’s the problem with fallen humanity, right? We were originally made in the image of God, but after the fall into sin, we’ve spent our entire history returning the favor—we make God in OUR image.

The Gospel of John was written to combat all of that. This Gospel, written by the apostle John late in the 1st century (ca. 80-90 AD), has this as its stated purpose:

John 20:30–31 (ESV): Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John wants his readers to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. No other Jesus will do because no other Jesus can save! When you look at the opening verses of John’s Gospel, you see one of the clearest texts in all of Holy Scripture that speaks of the divinity of Jesus Christ and of the Trinity:

John 1:1–5 (ESV): In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. he light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 

We learn three things about Jesus from this text, and they’re all important for a correct Biblical view of Jesus:

  1. Jesus Christ is the Eternal Word
  2. Jesus Christ is the Creative Word
  3. Jesus Christ is the Life-Giving Word

That Jesus Christ is the Eternal Word is seen in vv. 1-2 in which John tells us that “In the beginning was the Word.” Before there was anything, there was the Word—the Word is eternal. The Word was also with God and was God. The Eternal Word is in a face-to-face, intimate relationship with God, but also the Word IS God—that it the Word shares fully in the divine essence.

That Jesus Christ is the Creative Word is seen in v. 3 where we learn that “All things were made through Him.” The Word is the creative agent. In Genesis 1, God created all things by speaking—God speaks, things happen, and all things were created through the Word of God.

That Jesus Christ is the Life-Giving Word is seen in vv. 4-5 where John tells us that “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” The Word has life, as such the Word can give life, and the Word gives life through revelation. He is the Light of the world (John 8:12), whoever believes in Him will not walk in darkness (i.e., ignorance and wickedness), but have the light of life.

Put this all together, and John is painting a picture of Jesus that blows away any of the so-called “historical” Jesus’. This is the Jesus John wants us to believe in because this is the only Jesus in whom we find eternal life!


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The Best is Yet to Come — Reflections on Haggai 2:1-9
The Best is Yet to Come — Reflections on Haggai 2:1-9

Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • July 29, 2020

One of the things human beings like to do is reminisce. We remember days gone by and reflect nostalgically on our youth. Just like the Bruce Springsteen song, Glory Days, we spend way too much time remembering the “glory days” of our youth. The same thing happened in the days of Haggai during the latter half of the 6th century BC.

By way of reminder from Haggai chapter one, Haggai is a post-exilic prophet. That means he prophesied to the people who returned from Babylon after the 70 years of captivity. They had returned so that they could rebuild Jerusalem and rebuild the temple—both of which had been destroyed when the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah back in 586 BC. It’s now late fall of 520 BC, the people have been back in the land for 18 years and have little to show for it. Along comes Haggai to shake them out of their complacency and stir them up to re-engage in the building of the temple.

It’s now a month after the events in chapter one—“the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month”—and the people are sad. They’re sad because the temple they’re rebuilding looks nothing like the temple from the “glory days” of the past—i.e., Solomon’s temple. So God sends another oracle through the prophet Haggai to encourage the people in their task of rebuilding the temple:

Haggai 2:3–5 (NKJV): Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? In comparison with it, is this not in your eyes as nothing? Yet now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ says the Lord; ‘and be strong, Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land,’ says the Lord, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘According to the word that I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, so My Spirit remains among you; do not fear!’

Notice those three commands the Lord gives the people through Haggai—Be Strong, Work, and Do Not Fear. It’s easy to despair when we don’t see immediate fruit from our work for the Lord. This is particularly true for pastors who labor week in and week out in the local church and don’t see a return for all their efforts. Yet, we need to Remember that the Christian life is a walk by faith, and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).

We are to work because the Lord is with us. These are the same words the Lord said to the people back in Haggai 1:13—“I am with you.” What a glorious promise of encouragement! One of my favorite verses in this regard are Paul’s words at the end of 1 Corinthians 15:

1 Corinthians 15:58 (NKJV): Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.

What a great promise this is! Our work is never in vain if we’re working for the Lord. Our job is to be “steadfast, immovable, and always abounding.” The Lord’s part is to bless our labors and make them fruitful. Also, this promise encourages us even when it seems that our labor Isn’t amounting to much. Speaking for myself, I can take hope in this promise. As a small town pastor in the middle of Nebraska, it’s very tempting to think that my labors are in vain. But the promise from God is that as long as we’re faithful to do our part, our labor will never be in vain!

This passage closes with a phenomenal statement in Haggai 2:9–“The glory of this latter temple shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of Hosts.” Now I’m sure that to the people in Haggai’s day, there was no way that the glory of this “latter temple” would ever eclipse the glory of Solomon’s temple. However, the prophet is not speaking of the temple that the people were working on in that day, but of Jesus Christ, who is the fulfillment of the OT temple imagery.

The old “brick & mortar” temple of Solomon, as glorious as it was, will pale in comparison to Jesus Christ, the One in whom the fullness of God dwells bodily. It’s interesting because just as the people of Haggai’s day looked at the temple they were rebuilding and were mourning its distinct lack of glory, so too, I imagine, the people of Jesus’ day looked at Him and thought “how could this be the Messiah?” Yet it was Peter, James, and John who were able to catch a glimpse of the glory of the Only Son of God, full of grace and truth!

The lesson from Haggai 2:1-9 is that the glory of God’s work is not always manifest—at least initially. But we know that when Christ returns at the end of the age, He will return in full glory!


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Building the House of the Lord — Reflections on Haggai 1:1-15
Building the House of the Lord — Reflections on Haggai 1:1-15

Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • July 15, 2020

Have you ever been scolded by a parent, a teacher, or an employer that you needed to get your priorities right? I can certainly recall times in my life when I had a severe case of misplaced priorities. It just seemed that what my parents and teachers wanted me to do wasn’t as important to me as watching cartoons on television or playing outside with my friends.

In the history of God’s people, there have been many times when they had a case of misplaced priorities. God’s people in the OT are often described as a “stiff-necked people,” meaning they were stubborn as all get out. In particular, the people of Haggai’s time were certainly suffering from misplaced priorities. Perhaps a little background is in order.

Throughout the period of the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah, God’s people went through various periods of apostasy and faithfulness. The northern kingdom of Israel immediately went off the rails and down the path of idolatry and unfaithfulness. Judah, the southern kingdom had its ups-and-downs, but in the end, they too succumbed to covenant unfaithfulness. All through this period, God sent prophets to warn the people that if they didn’t get their act together, God will enact the covenant curses spelled out in Deuteronomy 28:15ff. These curses included eventual deportation, which is what happened to Israel in 722BC (to Assyria) and Judah in 586BC (to Babylon).

This exile was predicted by the prophet Jeremiah to last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11-12), and after Babylon was conquered by the Persian Empire, Cyrus, king of Persia, began allowing deportees to return to their land of origin—this included many Jews who were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city wall and the temple.

This generation of returning Jews to Jerusalem are the people to whom Haggai the prophet was sent (ca. 520BC). The people who had returned under the leadership of Zerubabel, son of Shealtiel, and Joshua, son of Jehozadok, started to rebuild the temple, but began to face fierce opposition from the people who had settled in Palestine (you can read about this in Ezra 3-4). As a result, the people postponed the rebuilding of the temple, and instead began their own rebuilding projects. They had a case of misplaced priorities.

Along comes Haggai who delivers a stinging indictment to the people by saying “Consider your ways!” (Haggai 1:5). In other words, “Think about what you’re doing!” Using their own words against them, the Lord of Hosts, through the prophet Haggai, says to the people, “You say it’s not time to build the house of the Lord...is it time to dwell in your paneled houses while My house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:2, 4). CONSIDER YOUR WAYS!!! What the people were doing was instead of rebuilding the temple, they were “templeizing” their own houses (the word for “paneled houses” is used in 1 Kings 6:9 to describe the decorations of Solomon’s temple).

The Lord tries to get the people to connect the dots between the temple which lies in ruins and their own fruitless labor (Haggai 1:6). They have sown much, but reaped little, they eat but remain hungry, they drink but remain thirsty, they put one clothes but are still cold, and they earn wages to put them into a bag with holes. The people are barely able to scratch by because they have neglected the Lord’s priorities, and instead have improved their own homes.

When God’s people pursue God’s kingdom they receive God’s blessing. This is a spiritual axiom. God rewards obedience and punishes disobedience, and we see it here in Haggai 1:1-15. Now the good news is that in Haggai 1:12, we see that the people respond to the Lord’s challenges with renewed vigor. The text says they “obeyed the voice of the Lord their God...and the people did fear before the Lord.” Obedience and fear (reverence) is the proper response of God’s people when they are convicted of their sin. The people get their priorities straight and begin to rebuild the temple with gusto. As a result, instead of “Consider your ways,” the Lord says to the people “I am with you” (Haggai 1:13). These are words of gospel assurance!

Now this is an interesting story, but how does this apply to the Christian in the 21st century? Are we to rebuild the temple today? Clearly the answer to this question is “no.” However, we need to understand what the temple represented to the people of God. The temple is representative of God’s presence among His people. From the Garden-Temple in Eden, to the Tabernacle at Sinai, to the Temple in Jerusalem, these are all modes, or manners, in which God dwelled among His people. When the tabernacle was built at the end of Exodus, we learn that the glory of God came down and filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34). The same thing happened when Solomon’s temple was completed (1 Kings 8:10-11).

Fast forward to the Gospel of John, when in John 1:14, we read, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the OT temple—He is God dwelling among us, He is full of the glory of the Lord. Later on in John 2:19, Jesus said (regarding the temple) “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” John later goes on to say that Jesus was speaking of the temple of His body (John 2:21). The body of Christ is the fulfillment of the temple. This refers not only to His literal body, but also to the church, which is the body of Christ.

Therefore, rebuilding the temple is building the church, the kingdom of God. This is accomplished through the means of the Great Commission: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observes all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world. Amen!” (Matthew 28:19-20).

Amen, indeed!

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Redemption Accomplished — Reflections on Ruth 4
Redemption Accomplished — Reflections on Ruth 4

Emmanuel Reformed Church (RCUS) • July 08, 2020

As we come to the close of the book of Ruth, one of the things I would like to point out is that the book of Ruth is like a mini-story of Redemptive-History within the vast tapestry of the Biblical story of Redemptive History. So many of the themes we find all throughout Redemptive-History are found in the book of Ruth.

In chapter 4, we see the resolution to the story of Ruth. At the end of chapter 3, the story left us with a bit of a “cliffhanger.” Ruth had pleaded with Boaz to “to spread his wings over her” (what amounted to a marriage proposal), and Boaz had agreed to perform the duty of a Kinsman-Redeemer. There was one, small catch—Boaz was not the nearest redeemer, there was one closer.

Now, it might be helpful to explain what is meant by a “Kinsman-Redeemer.” In OT law, there were provisions in the law to protect those who were hit by bad economic times, or had made poor choices, etc. (Leviticus 25:25). If an Israelite had to sell his land inheritance to make ends meet, or if he had to sell himself into servitude to pay off a debt, a member of that man’s clan (a Kinsman-Redeemer) could step in and “buy back” (or “redeem”) the land or the relative and restore them to solvency.

This is precisely the predicament that Naomi (and Ruth) found herself in. Her husband had died as well as her two sons. Furthermore, her two daughters-in-law were also childless widows. This meant that for them, they had to sell the family land, the land that belonged to Elimelech, in order to make ends meet. Now when the news came that Ruth had found favor in the eyes of Boaz, who was a Kinsman-Redeemer, Naomi had her hopes renewed. However, as we had previously stated, Boaz was not the nearest Redeemer, there was one nearer.

As chapter 4 unfolds, we’re introduced to this nearer Redeemer, and it’s not apparent in the English, but in the Hebrew, the closer Redeemer has no name. Where the NKJV text says “friend,” the Hebrew literally means “Mr. So-and-So.” In other words, he is The Man with No Name (however, not in a ‘cool’ Clint Eastwood kind of way, but in a lame kind of way). Why do I belabor this point? Because when we get to Ruth 4:5, Boaz announces to “Mr. So-and-So” that when he redeems the land of Elimelech, he must also acquire Ruth to be his wife so that he could “perpetuate the name of the dead.”

What’s going on here? The idea of “perpetuating the name of the dead” is a practice called Levirate Marriage. According to Deuteronomy 25:5-6, a brother is obligated to marry the widow of a dead brother in order to raise offspring for the dead brother “that his name might not be blotted out of Israel.” Had no one done anything, the name of Elimelech (as well as the names of Mahlon and Chilion) would have been blotted out of Israel. Their land would have been absorbed into the clan, and their names would have been forgotten. “Mr. So-and-So” refused to perpetuate the name of the dead, he backed out of the deal when he realized he would have to marry Ruth. The irony is because “Mr. So-and-So” refused to perpetuate the name of the dead, he would forever remain nameless.

With “Mr. So-and-So’s” departure, Boaz is free to redeem Ruth and Naomi. The match we’ve all been waiting for is sealed—a worthy man and a worthy woman become one flesh. The town elders approve of the deal and bless their union. And God blesses their union by giving them a child. This child proves to be the ultimate redeemer for Naomi, as the woman who thought she had lost everything holds her future in her arms. The women of the town acknowledge as much when they say that Ruth has proven to be “better than seven sons” to Naomi. What a blessing! Naomi left with two sons and came back with seven in the person of Ruth. She has been restored to complete fullness.

As lovely as the story of Ruth is, the redemption of Naomi and Ruth by Boaz is not the main point. The main point is that the Lord redeems His people through Messiah. The book of Ruth ends with a genealogy that traces the line of Perez through Obed (the child of Ruth and Boaz) to David, the great king. The Lord redeemed His people through the line of the king by giving His people what they needed the most. Ruth takes place in the time when the judges ruled—a time of chaos and debauchery. There was no king and people did what was right in their own eyes. David comes to restore hope and order to the people of Israel.

But even more than that, this all points forward to David’s greater Son, Jesus Christ. The NT opens with a genealogy that traces Abraham to David to Jesus Christ. The Bible is chock full of genealogies, and they all serve one purpose to point to the Messiah. After the genealogy in Matthew and Luke, there are no more genealogies recorded in the Bible. Why? Because the Messiah had come. And it is said of Jesus that he came to save His people from their sins. You see, sin is a far more existential threat than anything Ruth or Naomi had faced. Sin separates us from a holy and righteous God. But Jesus comes to bridge that gap and restore us to fellowship with the Father. Jesus redeemed us with His broken body and His shed blood. And now, by grace through faith, we are members of God’s glorious kingdom.


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