Pastor's Blog

  • Some Help in Reading Leviticus

    Image result for tabernacle painting

    This past Sunday, our journey through the Pentateuch brought us to Leviticus. In that message, I encouraged the listeners to read Leviticus this week. When reading that book, it's easy for many of us to "lose the forest for the trees." So here are some thoughts and resources that I pray will help you read Leviticus well.

    First, see Leviticus in its larger context. Recall that Leviticus is mostly direct speech from Yahweh (the LORD), and it takes place at Mount Sinai. This setting is the center of a larger overall narrative. If you're like me, it's easy to confuse some of the details of this narrative. For example, when did water come from the rock? Turns out, it was on two occasions! The outline below shows how these two occasions, as well as others, are not random.* Instead, these details parallel each other, drawing our attention to the main point and to the central scene: God's covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai.

    Next, consider the book of Leviticus itself. The diagram below demonstrates a parallel structure in Leviticus. After having our attention drawn to Leviticus, it turns out that there's an even sharper focal point in this book:  the day of atonement (Leviticus 16). With this in mind, you could say that Leviticus 16 is the center of the Pentateuch.

    I hope these outlines help you read and understand Leviticus. Another resource I've found helpful is this video by the guys at The Bible Project. It's full of good content, and it's organized very well.

    Finally and most importantly, the book of Hebrews—and especially chapters 7:11–10:25—provides us with God's own explanation of Leviticus. Always remember that Leviticus is a signpost pointing toward Jesus Christ.

    * The diagrams are taken from Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord? by L. Michael Morales; IVP (2015)

  • Are These the Last Days?

    Image result for australia fire

    There's a global pandemic. People are dying, and economies are shutting down. A locust plague is moving across East Africa and South Asia, ruining crops and putting millions of people in danger of starvation. Recently, Australia was on fire. A few days ago, an earthquake shook Utah, sparking fears of that unthinkable doomsday scenario of the Yellowstone supervolcano errupting. Locally, heavy rain is causing flooding and washing out roads. Oh, and tornado season is right around the corner! Are these the last days? Yes, they most certainly are.

    How can I be so sure that these are the last days? That's a fair question. After all, sickness, suffering, wars, and devastation are not new to human history. That's true. But I'm certain these are the last days, not because of current events, but because of an event that happened nearly 2000 years ago. The last days began when Jesus, the risen King, poured out his Spirit (Acts 2:17). As the writer of Hebrews puts it, "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son..." (Hebrews 1:1–2). When Jesus died and rose again, it was "at the end of the ages" (Hebrews 9:26). Indeed, if members of the first-century church were those "on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor. 10:11), in what age are we? To be sure, this is the end of the ages. These are the last days.

    What this means is that the last day could be today. That is to say, Jesus could come at any moment and bring redemption to fruition! Isn't it interesting that this possibility was just as real a month ago as it is now? And yet many of us are more aware now than we were before. One way God has been gracious to me during this time is to awaken me from my comfortable, middle-class American stupor, and to make more aware that Jesus is at the door knocking.

    Therefore it says,

    “Awake, O sleeper,
        and arise from the dead,
    and Christ will shine on you.”

    Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.

    (Ephesians 5:14–16)

    Given that we're living in the last days, what should we do? How should we live? Here are four themes from God's Word that I pray will help us endure all the way until we are home with our Savior.

      1. Repent and believe the Gospel. "Now when they heard [that Jesus is alive and he reigns supreme], they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' And Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:37–38). Repenting from sin (that is turning from and repudiating sin) and believing in Jesus to be our Righteousness—this is the mark that distinguishes those who are being saved from who are perishing.
      2. Pray. If you're like me, you are tempted to spend the majority of your waking hours focused on people—their thoughts, ideas, needs, complaints, opinions, etc. It's good to stay informed, and to love others. But these last days should propel us to God—to listen to him, and to speak with him. In Luke 18:1–8 Jesus tells "a parable to the effect that [we] out always to pray and not lose heart." At the end of that parable, Jesus makes a stunning statement: "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth." Notice how Jesus equates faith with prayer. Prayer to God in the name of Jesus Christ is the primary expression of saving faith. Today is the day to exercise faith in prayer. What should we pray? The Psalms offer excellent guidance, as does the Lord's prayer (Matthew 6:9–13). In short, read the Bible (what God says to us) and respond in prayer (what we say to God). Pray for faith, forgiveness, healing, endurance, peace, comfort, and joy, all in the name of Jesus Christ, and all to the glory of God.
      3. Run from sin & pursue holiness. Knowing we are living in the last days is a major motivator for fleeing from sin and for living in obedience to King Jesus. As 2 Peter 3:11–12 puts it, "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God..." We want to be found obeying our Master when he returns (Matthew 24:36–51; Luke 12:35–40).
      4. Invest in heaven. James warns us, "Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days" (James 5:1–3). As we watch our earthly treasures fade, we should be reminded that to fade is all earthly treasures do! But these things are all "rubbish" that is worth losing in order to gain Christ (Philippians 3:7–11). May God grant us grace to store up treasure in heaven, joyfully letting go of earthly goods in order to gain the treasure that never fades (Matthew 6:19–20; 1 Peter 1:4).

    “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

    The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

    (Revelation 22:20–21)

  • Church Giving

    We're all dealing with dramatic changes to our daily life right now. Many of our habits have been interrupted, and our plans are being upended. God says in James 4:14 that we "do not know what tomorrow will bring." That truth is front-and-center right now, isn't it? Thankfully, the One who does know what tomorrow will bring (indeed, the One who is charge of it!) — he cares about us, and he has promised to meet all of our needs (Matthew 6:25–34). If you're feeling the heaviness of anxiety in these uncertain days, I commend to you both what Jesus says in Matthew 6 and also this good word.

    Today I'd like to talk about giving to the local church. Since each church's situation is different, what I'm writing here is primarily for New City Fellowship. For us, when we give to the church, it's part of an annual plan. We create a budget each year which generates the "weekly needed." This is a known amount, and I imagine this figure helps many of us know how much to give. Otherwise, we might give to the building fund or the deacons' fund, each of which do not have a set "need," but they acrue and are available as needs arise.

    The New Testament describes giving in the early church. Passages like Acts 2:42–45; Acts 4:32–37; Romans 15:25–28; 1 Corinthians 16:1–4; 2 Corinthians 8 & 9; and 1 Timothy 6:17–19 all help us understand how Christians gave as part of the church in that day. As you reflect on those passages, what you'll see is that the giving was needs-based. But the needs weren't based on the church's board-approved and congregation-affirmed annual budget! Rather, they were based on the circumstances of the church in their time—a time when praying "give us today our daily bread" was, dare I say, prayed with more sincerity than we've been accostumed to in our lives.

    But here we are, experiencing realities of "biblical proportion," and so it's good for us to reconsider how we give to the local church, and to do so from a biblical perspective. There's nothing inherently wrong with how we've given in the past, but we now have an opportunity to reconsider what is wise and best given our current circumstances. Here's the current plan for giving at NCF in the coming days.

    1. Since giving at NCF is part of our worship service, we are pausing giving to the local church, just as we've paused meeting together. Christian giving is not simply a financial transaction, but it is an act of worship which is best done in the context of the local church's gathering. Therefore...

    2.  ..."On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper..." (1 Cor. 16:2). And then, when we meet again, bring what you have stored up. In the meantime I would encourage you to carefully set money aside "each week," not nessarily as pledged to God, but simply as what you intend to give to the ministry of NCF, as our Lord allows. To do this, you could earmark it in your bank account or on a calendar, put it in a jar on your dresser top, or use any other way that works best for you. And of course, do this with a joyful, thankful heart, "for God loves a cheerful giver."

    3. Finally, that phrase in 1Cor. 16:2, "as he may prosper," is important. Some of us are already feeling the economic ramifications of this pandemic. Eventually all of us will. So it seems wise to me for each of us to stay nimble right now in terms of our household economies. As the economy slows down, I encourage you to "devote [yourselves] to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful" (Titus 3:14). We are being humbled and sobered right now, so use this time to meditate on Scripture, to pray more than you have in the past, and to check on your family, neighbors, and fellow church members, seeing how you can love them best with what you have on hand. And let me and our deacons know if you see needs arise that we could address better as a church.

    This is our humble plan right now. Join me in trusting Jesus to provide all of our daily needs. He will.

    Grace & peace through faith in Christ,

    - Pastor Josh

  • What Do We Know?

    Today is March 16, 2020... you know, given the current state of things, writing out the date like that brings to my mind that movie scene... the lonely man's journal entry, writing in his daily log book, unsure if anyone will ever find it. You know what I'm talking about, right? All of those post-apocalyptic or lost-in-space stories. But this is real life. And yet, as we self-isolate, and as society comes to a grinding halt, the doomsday world we've previously only imagined seems to be coming upon us. What are we to do?

    Certainly, now is a time for searching out knowledge. It's good to be aware of medical insights, disease statistics, and the government's declarations. But be careful! There are many loud voices out there—voices claiming to know what's wrong, why it's wrong, and what to do about what's wrong. If you spend much time trying to listen to all these voices, and you will find yourself more confused and anxious than you were before!

    The reality is that none of us knows how things are going to go. How will daily life change? Will I contract this disease? What will happen to my family, my neighbors, and my friends? What about the economy? What about my job? What about my home? Will we have enough to eat? Will we have enough to pay our bills?

    The truth is, we don't know the answers to these questions. As Scripture says to us: "You do not know what tomorrow will bring" (James 4:14). Suddenly, our self-reliance has been revealed. Our confidence in man is being called out. We are seeing what comes of a life that relies on men. As Jeremiah relays to us:

    "Thus says the Lord:
    'Cursed is the man who trusts in man
        and makes flesh his strength,
        whose heart turns away from the Lord.
    He is like a shrub in the desert,
        and shall not see any good come.
    He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
        in an uninhabited salt land." (Jer. 17:5–6).

    Sounds true to life, doesn't it? Sounds a lot like that doomsday landscape.

    The good news is that we are saved not because of what we know about tomorrow, but because of Who knows us today (Isaiah 41:1–10). And while God tells us that we cannot know what will happen tomorrow, he offers us something much better: knowing him today! And so the LORD continues to say through the prophet Jeremiah:

    “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
        whose trust is the Lord.
    He is like a tree planted by water,
        that sends out its roots by the stream,
    and does not fear when heat comes,
        for its leaves remain green,
    and is not anxious in the year of drought,
        for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jer. 17:5–8)

    Now that's good news! We can flourish today by depending upon the LORD.

    What does this mean, though? What does trusting the LORD look like? For now, I want to give you just one basic way: know him.

    Instead of fixating the unknown, or trying to keep up with the latest news, I encourage you to know him.

    Psalm 46 is an excellent psalm for days like today. At the end of that Psalm, God says,

    "Be still, and know that I am God.
        I will be exalted among the nations,
        I will be exalted in the earth!”

    Be still, and know him.

    Know God as he has revealed himself in the word (the Bible) and in the Word (his Son). Know that God will be exalted among the nations. Know that he is! And that he will be forever exalted through the universal kingship of his Son, Jesus Christ. Know that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Know that he is a forgiving God. Know that you are a sinner in need of his grace. Know that pandemics are part of the curse of sin. Know that Jesus died for sinners, and was raised to life for our justification. Know that Jesus is the Sustainer and Redeemer of all things. Know that good things await those who have faith in Jesus. Know that God hears the prayer of the one who cries out to him in faith. Read his word, and respond in prayer. Link up with his people, and share in the joy of his salvation.

    In short, the most important question before you right now is this: Who is God?

    ------

    In the coming days, I hope to continue writing here, helping you to meditate fruitfully on who God is. Please pray for me. I'm praying for you.

    Grace and peace to you in Jesus,

    - Pastor Josh

  • 2018 Marriage Workshop

    NCF's first ever "Marriage Workshop" is this Friday, February 16, 2018.

    I am giving thanks for this, as I already see our church body working together, showing hospitality, and serving one another with the gifts that God has provided. And I'm praying for and anticipating God's blessing, for God's glory.

    Here is a .zip file for you: This Momentary Marriage.zip

    Explanation:

    • I decided to use John Piper's book This Momentary Marriage for the Marriage Workshop.
    • The .zip file includes a pdf copy of that book. You can also order it online or get it directly (for free) from desiringgod.org.
    • I realized that the book was basically a print version of Piper's series on marriage.  The .zip file includes the sermon audio from that series (with the exception of the chapter on sex).
    • I expect more of you will be able to listen to these sermons than will read the book, so it made sense to me to emphasize the audio format.
    • These sermons will encourage you, challenge you, and lead you to joyful contemplations, soli Deo Gloria.
  • On the Son of Man's Ignorance

    "But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows,
    not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son,
    but only the Father"
    (Mark 13:32)

    As our church continues through Mark, we run into this remarkable statement. And it leads us to a very reasonable question: "Since God knows everything, and Jesus is God, how did Jesus not know this?"

    Some, including Jehovah's Witnesses (modern-day Arians), use this verse to deny that Jesus was God. Stated simply, their conclusion runs against the rest of Scripture, and so we are right to disagree with it. But that leaves the question: How could Jesus not know? 

    I've found John Calvin's answer to be particularly helpful, and so I'm sharing it with you here. It will be worth your time to read. Not only will you find the answer to our question, but also some very helpful words of encouragement and correction from a masterful theologian.

    Grace and peace to you, in Christ—

    “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." (Mark 13:32)

    By this sentence, Christ intended to hold the minds of believers in suspense, that they might not, by a false imagination, fix any time for the final redemption. We know how fickle our minds are, and how much we are tickled by a vain curiosity to know more than is proper. Christ likewise perceived that the disciples were pushing forward with excessive haste to enjoy a triumph. He therefore wishes the day of his coming to be the object of such expectation and desire, that none shall dare to inquire when it will happen. In short, he wishes his disciples so to walk in the light of faith, that while they are uncertain as to the time, they may patiently wait for the revelation of him. We ought therefore to be on our guard, lest our anxiety about the time be carried farther than the Lord allows; for the chief part of our wisdom lies in confining ourselves soberly within the limits of God’s word. That men may not feel uneasy at not knowing that day, Christ represents angels as their associates in this matter; for it would be a proof of excessive pride and wicked covetousness, to desire that we who creep on the earth should know more than is permitted to the angels in heaven.

     

    Mark adds, nor the Son himself. And surely that man must be singularly mad, who would hesitate to submit to the ignorance which even the Son of God himself did not hesitate to endure on our account. But many persons, thinking that this was unworthy of Christ, have endeavored to mitigate the harshness of this opinion by a contrivance of their own; and perhaps they were driven to employ a subterfuge by the malice of the Arians, who attempted to prove from it that Christ is not the true and only God. So then, according to those men, Christ did not know the last day, because he did not choose to reveal it to men. But since it is manifest that the same kind of ignorance is ascribed to Christ as is ascribed to the angels, we must endeavor to find some other meaning which is more suitable. Before stating it, however, I shall briefly dispose of the objections of those who think that it is an insult offered to the Son of God, if it be said that any kind of ignorance can properly apply to him.

     

    As to the first objection, that nothing is unknown to God, the answer is easy. For we know that in Christ the two natures were united into one person in such a manner that each retained its own properties; and more especially the Divine nature was in a state of repose, and did not at all exert itself, whenever it was necessary that the human nature should act separately, according to what was peculiar to itself, in discharging the office of Mediator. There would be no impropriety, therefore, in saying that Christ, who knew all things, (John 21:17,) was ignorant of something in respect of his perception as a man; for otherwise he could not have been liable to grief and anxiety, and could not have been like us, (Hebrews 2:17.) Again, the objection urged by some—that ignorance cannot apply to Christ, because it is the punishment of sin—is beyond measure ridiculous. For, first, it is prodigious folly to assert that the ignorance which is ascribed to angels proceeds from sin; but they discover themselves to be equally foolish on another ground, by not perceiving that Christ clothed himself with our flesh, for the purpose of enduring the punishment due to our sins. And if Christ, as man, did not know the last day, that does not any more derogate from his Divine nature than to have been mortal.

     

    I have no doubt that he refers to the office appointed to him by the Father, as in a former instance, when he said that it did not belong to him to place this or that person at his right or left hand, (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:40.) For...he did not absolutely say that this was not in his power, but the meaning was, that he had not been sent by the Father with this commission, so long as he lived among mortals. So now I understand that, so far as he had come down to us to be Mediator, until he had fully discharged his office, that information was not given to him which he received after his resurrection; for then he expressly declared that power over all things had been given to him (Matthew 28:18).*

     

    *Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Vol. 3, pp. 153–154). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

  • Blind Spots

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    It is hard to persuade men to believe 
    what they are not willing to find true; 
    they are ignorant, in many cases, 
    because they are willing to be ignorant, 
    and they do not know
    because they do not care to know.

    I was recently reminded of this quote from Matthew Henry's commentary on 2 Peter 3. I had posted it 4 years ago on social media, and then promptly forgot about it. Thankfully, it resurfaced and led me again to a piercing question:

    "Where are my stubborn, self-serving blindspots?"

    This question, in turn, reminded me of our church's corporate confession of sin from this past Lord's Day. The confession was in response to our reading of Mark 2:15–17, and it is adapted from the book, The Valley of Vision —

    Searcher of hearts, 
    it is a good day to me when you give me a glimpse of myself.
    Sin is my greatest evil, 
    but you are my greatest good. 
    I have reason to loathe myself, 
    and not to seek self-honor, 
    for no one commends his own dunghill. 
    Let me not take other good men as my example, 
    and think that I am good because I am like them, 
    for all good men are not as good as you desire. 
    Show me how to know when a thing is evil
    which I think is right and good. 
    Give me grace to recall my needs. 
    And let me not lay my pipe too short of the fountain of your steadfast love. 
    Amen.

    Next step: the delightful reminder that God answers that prayer as we look to Christ with faith, according to the Scriptures, and in dependence upon the Spirit.

    "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

    Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:12–16)

    I'm not able to see my blind spots on my own; but praise God! — He sees me.

  • The Gospel and the Greatest Commandment

    Last week we heard a powerful message from God's Word.

    I'm not talking about my sermon. I'm talking about the message Jesus spoke in Mark 12:28–34.

    And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.

    As I've meditated further on this passage, and as I've spoken with some of those who listened to my sermon last week, I've been overwhelmed.

    I'm overwhelmed by the magnitude and gravity of God's law, and my inability to keep it.

    I'm overwhelmed by the glory and righteousness of God's Son, and his perfect obedience.

    I'm overwhelmed by the power and wisdom of God's Gospel, and my perfection before Him in it.

    I thought it might be helpful for me to share with you (primarily my church family, but also anyone else who might be reading this) my most recent and most clear meditation on this message from God's Word.

    God,
    my Creator,
    The Holy One,
    my Perfect Judge,
    my Loving Father,
    commands me above all else,
    to love him,
    with all that I have and with all that I am;
    and to love my neighbor,
    with the same care and concern I have for myself.

    He is worthy, worthy, worthy of my obedience.

    But I break this command
    every moment of my life.

    And so the Gospel is,

    that through faith in Christ,
    my Spotless Lamb,
    and by virtue of my spiritual union with him,
    I have loved God and my neighbor
    perfectly.

    simul justus et peccator

    So now,
    through faith in Christ,
    I am free to run in the way of God's commandments,
    with peace and joy
    abundant.

    "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."

    (Romans 8:1–4)

  • A Call to Prayer

    A printed copy of J.C. Ryle's tractA Call to Prayer, had been sitting idle on my desk for some time, lost in a stack of "I'll get to it later" papers. A buried treasure! Now unearthed, I want to set this gem on display for you. Take your time with it, and benefit from Ryle's biblical clarity, spiritual urgency, and pastoral encouragement.

    Below you will find links to the document and to an audio recording of it. Further down is my outline. Use each of these in whatever way helps you most.

    I leave you now with Ryle's words as my own:

    I offer these points for your private consideration. I do it in all humility. I know no one who needs to be reminded of them more than I do myself. But I believe them to be God’s own truth, and I desire myself and all I love to feel them more.

    I want the times we live in to be praying times. I want the Christians of our day to be praying Christians. I want the church to be a praying church. My Heart’s desire and prayer in sending forth this tract is to promote a spirit of prayerfulness. I want those who never prayed yet, to arise and call upon God, and I want those who do pray, to see that they are not praying amiss.


    A Call to Prayer

    (Click to access the tract in the file format of your choice.)


    Audio Recording

    (Click to listen to the tract on YouTube.)


    A Call to Prayer.pdf