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    Nov 18, 2018

    Part 5 - Aging Gracefully

    Passage: Isaiah 42:1-4

    Preacher: John Huizinga

    Series: Canons of Dort

    Category: The Good Pleasure of God to Save You (God Is Sovereign in Salvation)

    Keywords: grace, perseverance of the saints, preservation of the saints, reed, nova effect, wick

    Summary:

    Part 5 and the final message on the canons of Dort on the sovereignty of God in salvation. One of the biggest heartaches in the Christian community is when friends and family members wander away from faith or give faith in Jesus up altogether and leave the church. We like to say ‘once saved, always saved,’ but sometimes we’re not so sure. Philippians 1 reminds and assures us: ‘. . . confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ We rest in the promises of our Heavenly Father and the presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. The Canons speak of the preservation of believers by God’s grace: For God, who is rich in mercy, according to the unchangeable purpose of election does not take the Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously. Neither does God let them fall down so far that they forfeit the grace of adoption and the state of justification, or commit the sin which leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit), and plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by God, into eternal ruin. We persevere by faith, finding assurance not in our own goodness or knowledge, but by the exercises of worship and service, praise and prayer, repentance and a hunger for righteousness.

    Detail:

    Andrew Root tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh

    and his painting Still Life with Bible.

    Van Gogh was the son of a pastor,

    and a believer in Jesus into his young adult years.

    But things changed in his thirties.

    Vincent’s father died,

    and that loss weighed heavy on his soul,

    not out of affection,

    but the memories of all the tense

    and unhappy moments he had with his dad.

    In 1885 he painted this picture.

    The Bible is in the center of the painting.

    It is open to Isaiah 53 –

    the prophecy fulfilled in Jesus

    the man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, despised and we esteemed him not  . . .

    by his wounds we are healed.

    The Bible is open to be read

    like a kind of light before the reader.

     

    But in front of the Bible is a smaller book.

    Its cover is worn.

    It looks like it’s been carried around

    and read cover to cover many times.

    The book is a popular novel from Vincent’s day,

    the French is translated to mean

    The Joy of Living

    or most recently The Bright Side of Life.

    The novel is a tragedy filled with death and loss

    and poverty and unhappy relationships.

    But the main character perseveres

    in fighting for life through the unhappiness and pain.

     

    Van Gogh wrote to his sister about this novel:

    If one wants truth

    this book paints life as we feel it ourselves

    and this satisfies that need we have,

    that people tell us the truth.

    It’s a painting that suggests

    Van Gogh is losing his faith.

    He’s looking for truth elsewhere than the Bible.

    The disappointments and sorrows of life

    were too much.

    Yet later on in life he was haunted by this loss, confessing his need yet for something of the wonder, the beauty, and the grace he used to know.

     

    We all could tell stories like this,

    with tears in our eyes and sadness in our hearts,

    of friends, family members,

    spiritual sisters or brothers in our church,

    who, it appears to us anyway,

    have been overwhelmed by temptation

    or the troubles of life,

    or the findings of science,

    or the idols of self and happiness,

    and have seemingly lost their faith,

    at least the outward display of worship

    and love for Christ’s church.

     

    And perhaps more of us

    could tell about our own struggles to believe.

    Of our own trials when God seems silent,

    when good prayers,

    not prayers for selfish things or easy things,

    but good prayers for deliverance or care,

    go without the answer we were hoping for.

    And our faith is tried,

    our heart and hope reaching elsewhere,

    and we say Lord I believe, but help my unbelief.

    In some seasons that’s the best we can do.

     

    The last words of the Canons of Dort

    recognize and wrestle with

    this deep spiritual struggle.

    Now if we were writing the Canons of Dort,

    we would be tempted to get preachy right here,

    as we have done to ourselves

     and our children and our friends.

    We would highlight the law of God

    and warn everyone to straighten up and fly right

    lest they lose their salvation.

    We would be quick to say it’s your fault,

    or blame the church for our malaise.

    It takes nothing at all for us

    to turn into the friends of Job.

    Or worse, we despair, suffering silently,

    coming to church each Sunday

    without the ones we love sitting beside us,

    knowing they have chosen not to worship again,

    and we fear for them

    We wish we could fix their faith

    but we know we can’t,

    yet we try anyway.

     

    But the Canons of Dort don’t blame

    our bad and foolish behavior.

    They acknowledge that our faith is fickle

    and we easily fall into sin.

    All this shouldn’t surprise us, they seem to say.

    What does surprise us is the confidence

    shared in the persevering grace of God.

    That same commitment of our sovereign God

    to save you

    will keep you,

    many times in spite of yourself.

    This is the reason the canons of Dort

    have sketched the biggest possible picture of

    God’s saving sovereign will that they can.

    So we will not lose heart, but keep the faith.

     

    Head 5, article 6 - For God, who is rich in mercy, according to the unchangeable purpose of election does not take the Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously.

    Neither does God let them fall down so far

    that they forfeit the grace of adoption

    and the state of justification,

    or commit the sin which leads to death

    (the sin against the Holy Spirit),

    and plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by God, into eternal ruin.

     

    Just as there are limits to our free will

    when we are dead in our sin,

    so there are sovereign limits

    to our freedoms as saved persons.

    And this is a good thing.

    We can’t be too sinful

    to forfeit God’s forgiveness.

    The LORD won’t let us.

     

    This is for our comfort and assurance.

    The Lord will preserve his own,

    so that we may persevere in faith.

    Even when we fall grievously, we read,

    the Holy Spirit is not taken away from God’s own.

    Think of David.

    Think of Peter.

    Think of Paul.

    Think of your own regrets, failings, guilt or shame.

    The first thing to recognize here is that we do fall:

    we continue to fall short of God’s glory,

    we all do.

    Somewhere today someone is giving up on church

    because someone there let him down.

    And without realizing it, he is beginning

    to distance himself from Jesus, too,

    because the church is the bride of Christ,

    and Jesus commanded those who believe in him

    and love him

    to also love one another, meaning his church.

    Focus not on faults but on forgiveness.

    And somewhere today

    someone is coming to church broken,

    so it’s necessary that we each prepare for worship

    that we may welcome her,

    because the Holy Spirit is still abiding

    in this broken one.

     

    John Piper says this about the Canons of Dort:

    We need to rethink

    our Reformed doctrine of salvation

    so that every limb and every branch in the tree

    is coursing with the sap of delight.

    We need to make plain that

    [T] total depravity is not just badness,

    but blindness to beauty and deadness to joy;

    and [U] unconditional election means

    that the completeness of our joy in Jesus

    was planned for us before we ever existed;

    and that [L] limited atonement is the assurance

    that indestructible joy in God is infallibly secured

    for us by the blood of the covenant;

    and [I] irresistible grace is the commitment

    and power of God’s love

    to make sure we don’t hold on to suicidal pleasures, and to set us free

    by the sovereign power of superior delights;

    and that the [P] perseverance of the saints

    is the almighty work of God to keep us,

    through all affliction and suffering,

    for an inheritance of pleasures

    at God’s right hand forever.

     

    This confidence comes to us

    even in our uncertainty

    through the words of the Bible

    revealing God’s character and sustaining grace.

    Isaiah 42 - 3 A bruised reed he will not break,

        and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

    This same verse is quoted in Matthew 12

    and applied to Jesus and his ministry,

    the reason for his coming as God with us

    and God one of us,

    this is what his cross declares.

     

    In our fears and struggles take this verse to heart.

    Isaiah pictures two useless things in everyday life.

    A bruised reed and a smoldering wick.

    Reeds are fragile plants,

    each bends easily in high winds or wavy waters.

    Reeds picture life

    that is fragile, weak, or broken down.

    When reeds were used to make simple flutes

    or children’s toys or writing utensils

    they could easily get bruised.

    Then they were of no use.

    When that happened they were simply thrown away

    without much thought

    and another was substituted.

    Isaiah pictures something different

    when he foretells the coming Messiah.

    John Piper says it this way for us –

    Think of all the things Jesus could break

    and you begin to see the wonder

    of what he won’t break.

     

    A smoldering wick is one that has all but gone out. Like the end of a candle’s use.

    Nothing can be done with it

    except to finally extinguish it and throw it away.

    A smoldering wick could only be replaced;

    it was spent and done.

     

    Isaiah speaks of the most useless and worthless things he can think of,

    but he highlights God’s preserving actions.

    Do you feel bruised and ready to break?

    Smoldering to the point of being snuffed out?

    Jesus won’t let that happen.

     

    If anyone felt that way it was the apostle Paul, unjustly imprisoned and falsely accused.

    But he wrote joyfully and with great hope

    to the Philippians:

    . . . being confident of this,

    that he who began a good work in you

    will carry it on to completion

    until the day of Christ Jesus.

     

    Can we hold on to this good news

    for ourselves in our failings and shortcomings,

    in our confession

    so easily forgetting the love of Christ

    and compromising his righteousness?

    Can we hold on to this good news for one’s spouse,

    son or daughter, parent, or friend

    who looks for all the world having lost her faith?

    Look around the room.

    Call to mind those on your heart,

    and speak in your troubled heart these words:

    I am confident that the Lord who began a good work

    in him and in her

    will carry it on to completion . . .

     

    How can I thank the Lord for this sustaining grace?

    The Canons dismiss that knowing this

    would make us careless

    or complacent in our faith.

    That happened long before

    we took to heart the words of Jesus.

    The fact is human beings have always been

    careless and complacent

    when it comes to

    God and sin and righteousness.

     

    Instead, of questioning our salvation,

    we are encouraged to age gracefully,

    resting in the continuing work of the Spirit,

    and to realize that since even our sin

    will not separate us from God forever

    we can put our energies into our union with Christ,

    and live in the faith relationship with him.

     

    article 10 points out –

    this assurance comes from

    faith in the promises of God,

    from the testimony of “the Holy Spirit

    testifying with our spirit

    that we are God’s children and heirs” (Rom. 8:16-17), and finally from a holy pursuit

    of a clear conscience and of good works.

    This is life-changing for us today.

    Because we live in a time that Charles Taylor

    has described with the term: nova effect.

    The nova effect means that today

    it is accepted by most

    that any way you choose to live

    is a good way to live

    provided it’s what makes you happy

    and it doesn’t hurt anybody else.

    The nova effect means you can be spiritual

    any way you want to be spiritual.

    I don’t have to go to church to believe in God.

    The church can’t tell me what to believe

    or how to believe it!

    Neither can the Bible for that matter!

    Sunday is my day,

    I’m free to do whatever I want once church is over.

    When was the last time you got real specific

    confessing to the Lord your sins?

    Or even admitted to the Lord

    you do sin and are a sinner?

    More, we are pressured in so many ways every day to believe and try different ideas and experiences

    as a way to live a full life.

    Derek Rishmawy writes,

    ‘Put another way, we all know sane, rational people, living much the same way we do

    yet believing radically different things.

    Your Sikh neighbors, your Buddhist gym buddy,

    and your atheist co-worker

    buy groceries at the same stores,

    catch the Marvel franchise superhero flicks,

    and love their families.

    But none of them go to your church on Sunday.

    There are no more singular, monolithic,

    obvious takes on the world.’

     

    Living in this kind of society can make us think

    that however I respond to the gospel is fine.

    But yet at the same time

    we wind up stuck in persistent sins,

    we take on lifestyle choices

    that harm our bodies and minds

    and even threaten the lives of those we love,

    we feel distant from the living Lord.

    For instance, every Sunday we are blessed

    to go out in the peace of the Lord.

    But how can you do that if

    your credit cards are maxed out,

    you and your spouse aren’t talking,

    or you’re hiding something from your parents?

     

    How can we know the assurance of forgiveness

    and the health of belonging in community

    if we think the worst of other people?

    And we miss the wonder and beauty of worship

    when we haven’t prayed or opened the Bible

    since last Sunday.

     

    Your doctor tells you that

    if you want to be healthy there are certain

    food and physical choices you have to make.

    Social scientists warn us that

    gambling and pornography

    harm our minds and our relationships.

     

    So doesn’t it make sense that

    not all roads lead to God?

     

    On an episode of King of the Hill

    the Hill family is upset with their church,

    so they are church shopping.

    LuAnn’s boyfriend says this to Hank:

    Lucky: Me, I don't got to church –

    church goes with me.

    I'm worshippin' when I'm drinkin' a beer,

    diggin' a hole,

    or fishin' for trout.

    Luanne: That's beautiful, Lucky!

    Hank: Luanne, I happen to know it's asinine!

    And Hank is right.

    If we belong to the Lord

    then so do our lives.

    And the way to a fulfilling life

    is found in the way of Christ,

    not our own prideful ways.

     

    So now knowing that God won’t let us go

    no matter our failings,

    instead of questioning the Lord’s sovereignty

    in salvation,

    respond thankfully to the invitation

    to get yourself as close to God as you can,

    by responding to the gospel

    with the hard work of

    cementing holy habits into our daily lives,

    godly loves that the Spirit can use

    to transform our desires and loves.

    Philippians 2:12-13

    Therefore, my dear friends . . .

    continue to work out your salvation

    with fear and trembling,

    for it is God who works in you

    to will and to act

    in order to fulfill his good purpose.

     

    We don’t work FOR our salvation,

    but alive again in the Spirit,

    we age gracefully by working it out.

    Like you work out at a gym,

    like you do your homework,

    like you practice your scales

    or follow the instructions.

    Do you take for granted the ones you love?

    When we really love the Lord

    we don’t take Jesus for granted either.

    We delight in his presence and power.

    We can’t wait to follow him today.

    We take him at his word.

    Do you push yourself at the gym?

    Do you strive for excellence in your schoolwork

    or on the job?

    Why wouldn’t you strive for righteousness?

     

    article 14 goes on to guide us in that following:

    ‘And, just as it has pleased God

    to begin this work of grace in us

    by the proclamation of the gospel,

    so God preserves, continues,

    and completes this work

    by the hearing and reading of the gospel,

    by meditation on it,

    by its exhortations, threats, and promises,

    and also by the use of the sacraments.’

     

    Missionary Victor Attalah shares

    in his latest newsletter

    that there is a reason Christ Jesus

    is referred to as the cornerstone.

    He is the foundation for life.

    So why would we forsake the means he has given us to live with him as Lord?

     

    So again, the Canons don’t say,

    in order to preserve your faith

    you must do it yourself,

    keep your nose clean,

    and keep up appearances.

    We humbly recognize

    our continuing need for the Lord,

    and the Lord has provided for us

    simple nourishing experiences

    like the preaching of the gospel,

    participation in the sacraments,

    application of scripture,

    prayer and worship and service

    and a hunger and thirst for righteousness.

     

    We too easily give in to sin today.

    It’s too easy to go with the flow.

    But it is also a missing out on

    the joy of the Lord when we do so.

     

    Frederick Buechner encourages us:

    ‘The final secret, I think, is this:

    that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” become in the end

    less a command than a promise.’

     

    God is sovereign in salvation.

    The grace of the Lord is personal,

    making you alive to what is holy and righteous.

    So live into that promise.