Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Their Throat is an Open Grave

“7 But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy;
In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.
8 Lead me, O LORD, in Your righteousness because of my enemies;
Make Your way straight before my face.
9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth;
Their inward part is destruction;
Their throat is an open tomb;
They flatter with their tongue.
10 Pronounce them guilty, O God!
Let them fall by their own counsels;
Cast them out in the multitude of their transgressions,
For they have rebelled against You.”
Psalm 5:7 – 10

In the psalm before us today, David reminds us of the power of a deceitful tongue. Throughout his life, David faced the tragedy of those who used their tongues to promote their own selfish ends rather than to promote truth. Their tongues were not faithful and true, but twisted and false. And so David uses a remarkable metaphor to describe the nature of their speech. Their throat, he says, is an open grave. It awaits to consume innocent passers by. Any hapless victim will do. Let him but come near.

The mouth of the wicked is full of faithlessness. The wicked man makes a promise with his lips but does not follow through. “David, if ever you are in trouble, I will help you out. Don’t worry, I will never desert you. I am your faithful companion.”

But no sooner does trouble arise than these men have betrayed him. David turns to them for help but no help is forthcoming. They have deceived him. They have used their tongues not to promote faithfulness and truth but to promote their own advantage.

But note how vividly this contrasts with the example of our Savior Jesus! His words, though sometimes sharp and stinging, were always true, always concerned for the glory of God and the good of His hearers. He came as the servant of all. He did not come to be served, but to serve. And so His words were not spoken for His own good but for the good of others. He did not speak to achieve something for Himself but to describe in faithfulness the life of the man or woman with whom he was speaking.

And so what of us? How have we used our tongues? Are we speaking honestly with our neighbors, friends, and family when eternal questions arise? Are we seeking their good or our own comfort? I fear it is often the latter.

Children, brothers and sisters, how are you doing? Are you building one another up or tearing one another down? Are you looking for opportunities to help one another and encourage one another? Paul admonishes you, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”

Those in authority – employers, parents, husbands - are you speaking the truth in love or are you flattering with your tongues? Are you avoiding speaking honestly with those committed to your charge while inwardly boiling with frustration and resentment? An honest answer, Solomon tells us, is like a kiss on the lips. Hard words make soft hearts. Be honest with those committed to your charge and entrust their response to the Lord.

Husbands and wives, are we ministering the Gospel of Christ to one another or laying burdens of guilt and bondage on one another? Are we not called to love and cherish one another? Has not Christ given us the immense privilege of picturing the beauty of redemption in our homes? Yet often our mouths are an open grave; we speak in spite to one another; we look for ways to tear down those closest to us. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

Reminded of our failure to speak faithful words, let us kneel and confess our sins in Christ’s name, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Our Singing Savior

(This is an email sent to our congregation discussing the idea that Jesus sang portions of Psalm 118 as He entered into Jerusalem.)


This past Lord’s Day I argued that Jesus was likely singing portions of Psalm 118 as He entered into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. One of the folks in the congregation had a great question for me and a good catch – that the text never explicitly notes that Jesus was in fact singing. How do we know that He was?

First, this was a great question. It forced me to think about the issue and why I would argue that Jesus was singing.

Second, given that this is an implication of the text and not an explicit assertion of the text, this is certainly not a hill anyone should die on. It is possible that He did not sing on this occasion. But whether Jesus sang Psalm 118 on this occasion or not, we do know that He sang the psalms frequently and that He did so during Passover week (cf. Mk 14:26). Further, the NT frequently asserts that the words of the psalms are the words of the Lord’s Anointed, His Christ, and so they are most appropriately Jesus’ words (cf. Heb 2:11ff). Consequently, it is fitting to consider how the words of Psalm 118 reflect the faith of our Lord – even as we did in our points of application on Sunday.

Third, I would argue that frequently when the Scriptures cite a verse of a psalm in the context of a “worship” or “praise” moment, that verse frequently serves as a pointer to the psalm in toto. So, for instance, as Jehoshaphat and the people of Israel marched out against the Edomites, Ammonites, and Moabites, they were singing “Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever” (2 Chr 20:21). Most commentators would argue that this verse is stuck there to point us to Psalm 136 (and possibly Psalm 106). So the quotation from the psalm in the book of Chronicles is a pointer, telling us that as Jehoshaphat and Israel went forth to battle they were singing Psalm 136 from the Psalter. This is why I would argue that Jesus was singing part of the psalm. I think the quotation of the psalm in Mark serves a similar “pointer” purpose. Be that as it may, you should be aware that this is an implication of the text not an assertion of the text – and weigh it accordingly.

For those interested, much of my thinking on this matter of Jesus as the singer of the psalms was shaped by a book written by James E. Adams entitled, War Psalms of the Prince of Peace: Lessons from the Imprecatory Psalms published by P&R. He has a chapter in there on Jesus as the proper singer of the psalms. He notes that in passages such as Hebrews 2:11-13 Jesus is represented as the One truly singing the words of the psalms. I would highly recommend his book if you haven’t read it – I think there may be a copy on the book table.

May the Lord continue to heighten our love for His Word and our desire to understand and apply it!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Anxiety and Fear

“How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death;
Lest my enemy say,
“I have prevailed against him”;
Lest those who trouble me rejoice when I am moved.
Psalm 13:1-4

David lived a difficult life and seldom enjoyed long periods of peace and prosperity. It was left to his son Solomon to enjoy such things while he himself was a man of war.

Because he was a man of war, he routinely found himself in tight spots: mocked by his brothers, harrassed by Saul, scorned by his wife, pursued by his son Absalom. David often found himself facing enemies – some outside his house and some, tragically, inside.

The psalm today was composed in just such a circumstance. David was in trouble, his enemies were surrounding him, his defeat at their hands was nigh at hand.

Imagine, if you will, the turmoil that struck David in each of these circumstances. The pain and fear that must have confronted him. Well – we need not imagine. For we find his fears, pains, and anxieties expressed in the psalm before us today.

How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will You hide Your face from me?
How long shall I take counsel in my soul,
Having sorrow in my heart daily?
How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

Now consider your own circumstances. What troubles are you facing? Which enemies are surrounding you? What fears, pains, and anxieties are troubling you?

One last question: what are you doing with those fears? Notice David’s response – he brings his anxious longings to the presence of God. He does not suppress them; he does not fester over them; he does not wallow in them. He gathers them together and puts them in the best hands possible – the Lord’s.

Consider and hear me, O LORD my God;
Enlighten my eyes,
Lest I sleep the sleep of death;

Our Lord Jesus counseled us:

Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?

Today is Father’s Day and the Father to whom all our eyes should first and foremost be turned is our Heavenly Father. Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven,” and the Spirit causes us to cry out, “Abba, Father.” As we come into the presence of our Heavenly Father this morning, we are reminded of our failure to entrust our worries into His hands. So let us kneel and confess our sins in Christ’s name, seeking the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ecce Homo, Ecce Rex Vester!

Referenced the painting Ecce Homo by Antonio Ciseri in my sermon this last Lord's Day. For those who haven't seen it, I decided to post it here.

The Public Reading of Scripture

1 Timothy 4:13 (NASB95)
13 Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching.

As we mentioned a couple weeks ago in a call to worship, traditions are unavoidable. Every church has traditions. The important element in traditions is recalling the distinction between our traditions and the Word of God and constantly subjecting our traditions to the Word of God.

Among the traditions which we have as a congregation, one of them is reading various passages from the Word of God each Lord’s Day. Apart from the sermon text, we read Old and New Testament passages. Why do this?

The passage today answers this question. For while many of our traditions are simply applications of biblical principles, the public reading of the Word of God is the implementation of a biblical tradition. Paul exhorts Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture.” Likewise, John in the book of Revelation pronounces his blessing on the one who was to read in worship the book he was composing. Reading portions of the Word of God each Lord’s Day is not simply a church tradition – it is one that has apostolic precedent.

Given that Paul places such a premium on reading the Word of God in our public assembly, how ought we to approach this activity? First, how ought the Word of God to be read? The Scriptures give us a number of principles. It ought to be read with reverence and awe for it is the Word of the Living God, the God who is a consuming fire. It ought to be read in a language that God’s people can understand – for when Ezra read the Word to the people of God in the Old Testament he translated to give the sense so that the people could understand the reading (Neh 8:8). It ought to be read with joy – for the Word is life itself, giving us wisdom and direction for our lives. Finally, it ought to be read with discretion – giving due attention to the tone of the passage – whether it is pronouncing doom upon the unrepentant or comfort to the afflicted; tone matters.

Second, what ought we to do who are listening to the Word of God? What should characterize the listeners? We are told in Nehemiah 8:3 that “all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” And this is our first and primary obligation. We should be straining our ears to hear the Words of the living God. Our ears should be attentive to His message; all our being should be focused on God’s revelation of Himself. Taking every thought captive, let us hear what the reading is announcing to us today.

And, having heard, let us not be like the man who looks at his face in a mirror and immediately forgets what sort of person he is. No, rather let us not only give ear to the Word but as God uses it to poke and prod us, let us give heed to in in the alteration of our attitudes and actions.

This reminds us that we often fail to give heed God’s Word as we ought. Our attention is often distracted when it is read. Our own opinions often intrude. Our heart often refuses to obey when we have heard. Let us then draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our faults.

Strong Enough Not to Need to Crush

Touched on Isaiah 11 the last Lord's Day when preaching about Jesus as the Son of David. As usual I read John Oswalt's excellent commentary on Isaiah in seeking to clarify my understanding of the passage. His remarks below were so trenchant that I included them verbatim in my sermon and post them here for those interested:

“What [Isaiah] does envision is a time when the ruler will no longer see himself as privileged but rather as responsible, when he will become one for whom his people’s welfare is uppermost. In a word, the ruler will be the servant, not because he is too weak to dominate, but because he is strong enough not to need to crush.”

In this Jesus becomes a model for all those in authority and reminds us what our calling is. Wow.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Muslim Demographics

Spoke this last Sunday about the implications of Trinitarianism for life and the contrast this makes with Islamic monotheism. As a spur for our passion for evangelizing Muslims would recommend watching the following video.

Let me encourage those interested in an excellent way to support evangelization among Muslims to consider supporting the Classical School of the Medes. See www.csmedes.org.

Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth

John 4:21-24 (NKJV)
21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and Truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. 24 God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.”

The text before us today is frequently misconstrued. It is imagined that Jesus is contrasting the external, formal worship of the Old Testament period with the heartfelt, internal worship of the New. At one time people worshiped externally, now all worship is “in spirit and truth” – that is, heartfelt and genuine.

The difficulty faced by advocates of this approach is not the insistence that worship is to be heartfelt and genuine. That is most certainly true. The difficulty is that this was no less true in the Old Testament than in the New. “Sacrifice and burnt offering you did not desire,” David declares. “The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite spirit.” Heartfelt, genuine worship was to characterize the Old Testament no less than the new?

What then is the change Jesus is anticipating? There are actually two changes. First, Jesus insists that the corporate worship of the people of God would be decentralized. No longer on Mount Gerizim in Samaria nor on Mount Zion in Jerusalem would corporate worship be confined – rather corporate worship would be spread throughout the earth. Note that he is addressing corporate worship, for that was what happened in Jerusalem and, idolatrously, on Mt. Gerizim. Jesus is announcing that wherever the servants of God gather together in the Name of Christ and lift His Name on high, there is Mount Zion, there is the City of our God, there is the place of corporate worship. Jerusalem in Israel is no longer the center of God’s dealings with man; the heavenly Jerusalem, Mount Zion, the Church is the center.

Second, Jesus informs us that not only would corporate worship be decentralized, it would be explicitly Trinitarian. When Jesus rose from the dead and sent forth His Spirit, the worship of God’s people was forever transformed. It became explicitly Trinitarian – worshiping the Father in Spirit – the very Spirit whom Jesus promised would come and lead His people into all righteousness – and in Truth – the very Truth who took on human flesh and declared to His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday the Church has historically emphasized the Triune nature of God. It is this that Jesus does in our text. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is not an exhortation to heartfelt, genuine worship – that exhortation had been given throughout the Old Testament. Worshiping the Father in Spirit and Truth is to worship the Triune God not some vanilla deity. It was this transformation that Jesus anticipated and announced in His words to the Samaritan woman. “The time is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth.”

So what does this mean for us? It means that this morning as we gather together to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth we are entering into the presence of God Himself. Brothers and sisters, the roof has been ripped off and we have been ushered into the presence of the Most High. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are registered in heaven…” (Heb 12:22-23) And, like Isaiah, who entered into the presence of God in the Temple, the first thing that should strike us is our own unworthiness – we are not worthy to be here. And so let us kneel and seek His forgiveness through Christ.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wilson/Hitchens Debate

Douglas Wilson recently debated the atheist Christopher Hitchens and had the debates filmed. In the video below Doug explains the purpose and value of the film. Can't wait to see it.

Wilson Review from Collision Movie on Vimeo.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Tradition of Anti-Traditionalism

1 Corinthians 11:2
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.

Our culture has institutionalized the tradition of anti-traditionalism. Yesterday’s clothes are outmoded; yesterday’s ideas are prehistoric. Each new generation is expected to originate something totally new. Beanie babies have come and gone; Tickle me Elmos have lost their flare; and Cabbage Patch dolls are a long forgotten craze.

Unfortunately the Church has imbibed much of this cultural food. A couple weeks ago Steve was kind enough to pass along a Religion piece from the Wall Street Journal on the experience of one Trinity Church in Connecticut. Trinity was founded by folks who were dissatisfied with the traditions in the churches and who wanted something new, something hip, something relevant. But now, ten years later, they’ve found that they have their own traditions. The Journal remarks that “these churches were founded by people in rebellion against established institutions. Ten years down the road, they have become the establishment.” Consequently, the pastor of Trinity has decided to step down. “You don’t want to become ossified,” he says. “You have to keep thinking freshly on how to do church.”

Contrast this way of thinking with Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians in our text today: "Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you." Paul praises the Corinthians not for their novelty but for their faithfulness to that which they had been taught. Paul, and the rest of the Word of God, teaches us to value a godly inheritance – to take what is given in one generation and prize it and pass it down to the next generation. To tell our children and grandchildren the wonderful works of God so that they in turn can tell their children and grandchildren.

Popular culture, by design, rejects this idea--it plans for obsolescence. Who could imagine making special note in one’s will of your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Collection? Or your Garth Brooks CD collection? The idea seems absurd because these things are not meant to be handed down. Products and performers in pop culture are expected to have their day in the sun and then disappear, to be replaced by another. For this reason, it is critical that our worship not reflect the pop culture mentality, not reflect an opposition to a godly inheritance.

One way that Classical Protestants have endeavored to cultivate a love for godly inheritance is to focus on those traditions in the history of the Church which highlight and exalt Christ, that celebrate the course of His life. Among these is Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we celebrate that Christ poured out His Spirit upon the Church to equip her for her worldwide mission of discipling the nations and bringing all men to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

It is because of Pentecost that the disciples were emboldened to preach the Word of God despite opposition. It is because of Pentecost that we have the New Testament. It is because of Pentecost that our fathers and mothers throughout history have endured torture and death for the glory of Christ. It is because of Pentecost that teachers continue to instruct God’s people. It is because of Pentecost that the Gospel has spread throughout the earth. And it is because of Pentecost that in years to come all the rulers and citizens of the nations shall come and bow before Messiah and acknowledge His greatness. So what better thing to do than to celebrate such an event?

Traditions are not bad; traditions are inevitable. It is when our traditions undermine or distract from what is biblically important that our traditions are destructive. The Pharisees were wrong not because they had traditions but because their traditions obscured and undermined the Word of God. Likewise, many traditions within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy obscure and undermine the Word of God rather than clarify and exalt it. But the traditions of modern evangelicalism are also destructive – the tradition of anti-traditionalism, the constant tumult, the overthrowing of older generations because younger ones always know better – what do these things have to do with the Word of God?

As we gather to worship, therefore, let us do so with joy, celebrating the great work of the Spirit of God who was poured out upon the Church at Pentecost. And the first thing the Spirit does in bringing us into the presence of our thrice holy God is awaken in us a sense of our own sin – in particular, our sin of obscuring and undermining the Word of God through our traditions. Let us kneel and confess our sins to Him.