Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sing the Psalms

Hebrews 4:11-13 (NKJV)
Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Much has transpired in the last week. We have moved out of the time of Advent and into the time of Christmas. And in the season of Christmas we celebrate! We celebrate the arrival of the long anticipated One; we celebrate the fulfillment of God’s promises in the life and death and resurrection of His Son. The Lord our God has come!

In our sermons this Advent and Christmastide, we have focused upon Jesus in the Psalms. One of the things that we have emphasized is that Jesus is the true Singer of the Psalms. In Him the psalms, all the psalms, reach their fulfillment and culmination. Throughout His life Jesus sang these psalms, meditated upon these psalms, absorbed these psalms into His life and made them part of His being.

Our text in Hebrews urges us to have this same type of faith. After exhorting us to enter into God’s rest, Paul directs us to the Word of God, which is able to slice and dice us, able to show us our faults and illumine our shortcomings. Why direct us here? Why direct us to the Word of God? Because this is the same place that our Lord Jesus went to direct His own walk with His Father. He was a student of the Word of God. He allowed the Word of God to make and fashion Him into the type of man His Father desired Him to be. And though He was free from sin, free from the necessity of going back and redoing things that he had messed up, He nevertheless grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man through the things that He learned in the Word.

And so the author of Hebrews directs us to be students of the Word of God. We are called to be disciples. To hear what He says to us that we might correct our faults and that we might be reminded of the great promises that He has made to us.

So reminded of our calling to be singers of the psalms, let us kneel and confess that we have often failed to permit His Word to shape us and have instead been shaped by other, contrary voices.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Does not Belong to your Family

Mark 3:20–21, 31-35
Then the multitude came together again, so that they could not so much as eat bread. But when [Jesus’] own people heard about this, they went out to lay hold of Him, for they said, “He is out of His mind.”… Then His brothers and His mother came, and standing outside they sent to Him, calling Him. And a multitude was sitting around Him; and they said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are outside seeking You.” But He answered them, saying, “Who is My mother, or My brothers?” And He looked around in a circle at those who sat about Him, and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.”

What is Christmas? It is the public celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior. On this day we celebrate that the eternal Word of God, the only begotten Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity joined Himself to human nature and was not only conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary but was born of her and manifest among men. He was wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. He was proclaimed by angels and worshiped by shepherds.

Christmas is intended to be a joyful affair – thanksgiving for the gift of forgiveness and new life and light that God has given to men. The angels announced, Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men. For the shepherds this was glorious news. They longed for the glory of God and so went and worshiped the Christ Child.

But for those who will not give glory first to God and only then to one another, Christmas is not an occasion for celebration. Christmas divides: the shepherds celebrate; Herod plots and plans. Christmas announces that there is a new King and that His Name is Jesus and that all men and nations are called to worship and serve Him. It announces that peace with God comes only through the sacrificial death of this King who reconciles us to God. It insists that goodwill is the fruit of His reign, the product of His Spirit at work in the lives and characters of men and women and children.

And so we read our text today: Who is My mother and who are My brothers? Jesus’ words often shock us. Who is your mother, Jesus? She is Mary – that woman who bore you in her womb, who carried you on her knee, who fed you at her breast. She is your mother! We remember her every Christmas; we have memorialized her in song, in statuary, in painting. We see her in our minds’ eye, bending over the manger, caring for the newborn child. Who is your mother? How can you ask such a question?

But Christmas cuts. Christmas divides. And at this time Mary, even Mary, appears to have been wavering in her loyalty to her son; his brothers, who did not yet believe in Him, were petitioning her to control him – “He’s gone too far, mom! We’ve got to protect the family name! Let us go speak with him.” And so Jesus asks, Who is My mother and who are My brothers?

You see there is a reason that it is profitable to have a Christmas service every year. Having a Christmas service reminds us that Christmas is not ours. Christmas does not belong to me; it does not belong to my family; it is not a nice family tradition. Christmas belongs to the Church, it belongs to the people of God, it belongs to the family of those who say, “Jesus is Lord!” Christmas summons us to consider our allegiance: Is Jesus your Lord or do you worship some other god? Christmas calls us to declare with the angels, Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Awake and Sing!

Isaiah 51:9-11 (NKJV)
Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, In the generations of old. Are You not the arm that cut Rahab apart, And wounded the serpent? 10 Are You not the One who dried up the sea, The waters of the great deep; That made the depths of the sea a road For the redeemed to cross over? 11 So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

In our passage today Isaiah calls upon the Lord to fulfill His promise to rescue His people Israel from exile; indeed, not only to rescue His people Israel but to rescue all the peoples of the earth. The nations that sat in darkness needed the light of God. And so Isaiah cries out to God to fulfill His promises, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord!”

Isaiah calls to the Lord’s mind His previous acts of deliverance and implores Him to act again. “Was it not You, Lord, who acted to destroy Egypt? Was it not You who dried up the Red Sea? Who made the depths of the sea a road for Israel to cross upon? Yes it was You, Lord, who did this.” So Isaiah calls upon this same Lord, the Sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, Yahweh, the Creator of all men and nations, to fulfill His promises, “Awake! Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.”

And this, brothers and sisters, is what we pray in Advent. During Advent we recall the cries of our fathers like Isaiah and issue cries of our own. We rejoice because God answered Isaiah’s cry by sending our Lord and Savior Jesus to rescue the world from sin and darkness. But we not only rejoice that God has fulfilled Isaiah’s prayer, we also lift up prayers of our own. For the Lord has yet to fulfill all His promises. He has yet to fill the earth with the knowledge of His name, yet to spread justice to all the ends of the earth, yet to bring history to a close in the return of Christ and the resurrection of the just and unjust. And so we are instructed by our Lord Jesus to cry out, “Thy Kingdom come! Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!” In other words, “Awake! Awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord! Awake as in the ancient days, in the generations of old.”

One of the chief ways that we issue this cry is in our singing – we praise the Lord who has acted and beseech Him to act yet again. Note that Isaiah’s vision of God’s redemption in Jesus is filled with singing. “So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing.” Because God has answered Isaiah’s cry to “Awake!”, we ought to sing and praise the Lord, to come to Zion with singing. And even as Isaiah, remembering the Exodus from Egypt, remembering God’s past deliverance, petitioned the Lord to rescue Israel again, so we cry out in song for the full revelation of Christ’s kingdom.

So how ought we to sing? Isaiah models and instructs us. Note that his cry to God is filled with passion, conviction, entreaty, hunger, longing, joy, and delight. “Awake! Awake!” he cries. Then he describes our singing, So the ransomed of the Lord shall return, And come to Zion with singing, With everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; Sorrow and sighing shall flee away. May God make it so and fill us with joy and peace in believing and in singing.

Reminded that we are yet in need of the Lord’s mercy, that the Lord has exhorted us to sing and pray for the full arrival of His Kingdom, let us confess that we are often complacent and do not cry out to the Lord to fulfill his promises.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Why Celebrate Christmas?

Esther 9:20–23 (NKJV)
20 And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, 21 to establish among them that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar, 22 as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor. 23 So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them,

So why celebrate Christmas? The rationale is supplied by the passage before us in the book of Esther. About 2500 years ago God in His kindness delivered our fathers from the plotting of the wicked Haman. Though Haman was determined to slaughter our people, man, woman, and child, God rescued them from his machinations. God worked a marvelous deliverance – these were the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies… the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday. No more fear only delight and thanksgiving.

So what did our fathers and mothers do? They celebrated, of course – they feasted, thanked God, rejoiced in God’s goodness, shared presents with one another, and gave gifts to those in need even as they had been in need. Listen to the text again: Mordecai formalized the feast of Purim that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.

And so let us argue from the lesser to the greater. If our fathers and mothers celebrated their deliverance from the plottings of wicked Haman, ought not we to celebrate the birth of Christ who through His mercy have been delivered from the plottings of Satan himself? Jesus took on human flesh and was born in order that he might fight against the Evil One and deliver us from his evil intent to destroy us and ensnare us in wickedness and deceit; to hang us from his gibbet. The birth of Christ is the arrival of our Deliverer.

So what ought we to do? Why celebrate, of course! We ought to feast, thank God, rejoice in God’s goodness, share presents with one another, and give gifts to those in need even as we all were in need. Had not Christ come to rescue and deliver us, we all would have perished miserably in our sins. We all would have continued in rebellion against God, hateful and hating one another. We would have continued to despise the Lord Most High, to disregard His law, to endure the burden of our sins and the shameful, degrading lusts that once dominated our lives. But now…but now, we are free! Free from sin! Free from the fear of death! Free to delight in God and obey His laws! Free to love and be loved! Free to rejoice!  So ought not we to celebrate?

Yet how often we take God’s gift of life through His Son Jesus for granted! And this is why we need reminders, why God in His kindness has given us the Lord’s Supper and why our fathers in their joy gave us the gift of Christmas – that we might ever have Christ before us and rejoice in His goodness toward us. And so reminded of our call to celebrate, rejoice, give thanks, and share, let us kneel and confess that we are often ungrateful.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pictures of our New Building

Just a couple weeks ago we had the privilege of dedicating our new church facility to the glory and honor of God. Below are some pictures of the building. Many thanks to all who helped make this a possibility. If you'd like to make an online donation to help us complete some other improvements click here. Blessings!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Waiting on Jesus not on Marriage

I read a superb blog post on singleness and waiting on Jesus not on marriage. May God grant us grace to pursue Him whether single or married - for our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him. The hearts of married men and women are often in as great or greater turmoil than the hearts of any single man or woman. Marriage is not the source of joy and contentment - it is a gift of God in which one may experience His grace and mercy in community. Singleness is not the source of joy and contentment - it is a gift of God in which one may experience His grace and mercy in the community of His people. You can find the post here.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Do It Again!

Proverbs 8:30–32 (NKJV)
30 Then I [Wisdom] was beside [the Creator] as a master craftsman; And I was daily His delight, Rejoicing always before Him, 31 Rejoicing in His inhabited world, And my delight was with the sons of men. 32 “Now therefore, listen to me, my children, For blessed are those who keep my ways.

As we continue in Advent to anticipate the arrival of Christmas and the birth of the Christ Child, I would remind you that children love times of celebration like Christmas. While adults often grow tired, kids never tire and long for the celebration. “When are we going to get the tree? When are we going to put up the lights? When are we going to open presents?”

We see in our text from Proverbs today that the delight and energy and joy of children reveals God’s own delight in all His work. God never tires of causing the earth to spin like a top; never tires of flapping the wings of a bird; never tires of causing the grass to sprout from the earth; never tires of sucking water out of the earth through the roots of a tree and turning the nutrients into apples that people can eat. All these works of the Lord reveal His untiring joy and laughter, reveal His delight in all His work, His faithfulness and uprightness. Chesterton explains in his book Orthodoxy:

“A man [typically] varies his movements because of some slight element of failure or fatigue. He gets into a [bus] because he is tired of walking; or he walks because he is tired of sitting still. But if his life and joy were so gigantic that he never tired of going to Islington, he might go to Islington as regularly as the [river] goes to [the sea]. The very speed and ecstacy of his life would have the stillness of death. The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. it may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

And so reminded that we have sinned and grown old, that we have become bored and complacent with the marvelous world that God has made and in which He has placed us, that we have complained rather than overflowed with thanksgiving, let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord.