Monday, January 27, 2014

A Wedding Homily

It is a privilege to be here and to have met with you for the last few months. I am encouraged by your desire to do things right, to honor Jesus while loving one another. So may my words today be of encouragement as you pursue this path.

As you know I wanted to share with you this afternoon from Psalm 45. Scripture holds before us a vision of the ideal marriage: the union between Jesus Christ and His People, His Church. Psalm 45 sings of this union, it sings of Jesus as the Bridegroom and the Church as His Bride. It is, we are told, A Song of Love, a model of wedded love.

The psalmist first describes the bridegroom and then addresses the bride. So, ---, first for you: the psalm identifies three traits, three attributes of Jesus, which I want to highlight as an example of true husbandhood. First, the psalmist praises the words of Jesus, the words of the King. 
My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; My tongue is the pen of a ready writer. You are fairer than the sons of men; Grace is poured upon Your lips; Therefore God has blessed You forever. (Ps 45:1-2)

Alongside praising the good looks of the king – something I gather --- thinks is true – King Jesus is glorious because grace is poured upon his lips. The words of Jesus give life to His bride and pleasure to God. And this is your task as a husband – to guard your lips and with them to encourage, instruct, counsel, comfort, correct, and cherish your wife. Even as Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, uses the Word of God to sanctify and purify his bride, so we as husbands are to use our lips to bless our wives. The tongue of the righteous, Solomon tells us, is a tree of life. So give life to --- with your lips.

Second, the psalmist praises the strength of the King.
Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, With Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; And Your right hand shall teach You awesome things. Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; The peoples fall under You.” (Ps 45:3–5) 

As a former military guy this kind of language no doubt resonates with you! Gird your sword on your thigh! Or perhaps better in our day, Sling your M-16 over your shoulder! I have no doubt that this command will be natural for you: you’ve got to protect your wife. Jesus took this call so seriously that he sacrificed His life to rescue His Bride from sin, Satan, and death. So you too are called to protect your bride from threats; and sometimes these threats will come from inside your home – from you or from her. You are to protect her from harsh words, from abdication, from bitterness, from wandering eyes, from pride and selfishness. Your calling is, like Jesus, to in Your majesty [honor, integrity, glory, authority] ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness. Protect ---.

Finally, the psalmist praises the godly authority of the King.
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness more than your companions. (Ps 45:6-7)

Jesus rules his household, exercises his God given authority as Husband, in righteousness. He does not use his authority to promote himself, to seek selfish ends, or to pander to his own sinful desires. Rather, he uses his authority to pursue what is good and pure and right. He loves righteousness and hates wickedness. Consequently, God has anointed him with gladness. So here is your King teaching you that godly authority is exercised for the blessing of those under that authority. God is giving you, as the husband, the opportunity to lead your home in the fear of God, to lead by serving, to go into the difficult places first. As you do this, you can expect God to anoint you with the oil of gladness. So love --- by using your authority to honor God and to bless her.

So --- this is the Jesus we follow, the Bridegroom who provides us with a model of glorious husbandhood: cherish your wife with your lips, protect your wife with your strength, and lead your wife in the fear of God. As you do this, you will be a truly honorable man.

And now for --- – the psalm doesn’t stop with the Bridegroom but moves on to the Bride. How is the Church to respond to Jesus and how does this teach you to respond to your husband? For here is your husband, the man whom you have chosen as your own, the man to whom you are pledging your life under God. How ought you to respond to him? First, the psalmist urges you to leave your father and cleave to your husband:
Listen, O daughter, Consider and incline your ear; Forget your own people also, and your father’s house; So the King will greatly desire your beauty;” (Ps 45:10-11a)

What bride doesn’t want her husband to desire her and pursue her? And so the psalmist advises you: the way to your husband’s heart is to be staunchly loyal to him. Even as the Church is to be loyal to Jesus, to listen to his voice, so be loyal to ---. Don’t undermine him; don’t compare him with others; esteem him and he will greatly desire your beauty – not mere external beauty, but the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. Cleave to ---.

Second, the psalmist urges you to honor your husband:
Because He is your Lord, [honor] Him. And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift; The rich among the people will seek your favor. (Ps 45:11b-12)

The Apostle Peter remind us that in former times, the holy women who trusted in God [made themselves beautiful by] being submissive to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord… So your call is to honor your husband, to praise his accomplishments and be his most ardent cheerleader, his most faithful follower. As a wife your greatest challenge will be to challenge your husband to be the man and to lead your home. The way to do this is to honor him by expecting him to do it. “I believe in you, ---! I know you can do it.” So honor ---.

Finally, the psalmist urges you, as God blesses, to train up children to the glory and praise of your husband:
Instead of Your fathers shall be Your sons, Whom You shall make princes in all the earth. [The Lord] will make Your name to be remembered in all generations; Therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever.” (Ps 45:16–17) 

God’s design for marriage is that the husband and wife be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. Even as the Church is to give birth to new disciples and train them to glorify the Lord, a wife is to bless her husband with children and train them to honor him. So rejoice as God blesses and receive children as a gift from God; but don’t merely receive them, train them, bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, that they may be princes in the earth. Respect --- by treasuring and training your children.

So --- this is the call that God issues to the Bride. Leave your father and cleave to your husband, honor your husband as his most faithful follower, and, as God blesses, train his children to honor him as well. As you do this, your name shall be remembered in all generations and the peoples shall praise you forever and ever.

May God bless you both as you enter into the covenant of marriage.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Why Sing Psalms?

James 5:13 (NKJV)
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at the world in which we live – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”

James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray. We are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom you direct your cries.

Likewise, when we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer. When joyful, James tells us, that which should first come out is the psalms.

But as you think about the psalms, you will perhaps remember that some of the psalms are expressions of grief and longing for God’s presence – how do they fit with James’ theme of thanksgiving? It is here that we are directed back to James’ command to pray when burdened. James’ exhortation to pray also directs us to the psalms – for the psalms embody for us what despairing cries to God look like.

Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter for the life of the people of God. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray. And where do we find examples, patterns of prayers offered up in the midst of suffering? In the psalter. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing psalms. And where do we find these psalms to sing? In the psalter.

So here’s the question for you – do you know your psalter well enough to obey James’ exhortations? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?

I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalms. This is a new experience for us. Many of the psalms may be strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand and believe. But is the problem with the psalter? Hardly. It is with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms. And so, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more excellent in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. And one of the things that we do every month to enable us to fulfill this duty is hold a psalm sing. The psalm sing is specifically geared to help us fulfill the exhortations given to us by James – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God expects us to cry out to Him with the psalms and to praise Him with the psalms, let us kneel and confess that we have neglected to do so.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Confess Your Sins to One Another

James 5:16 (NKJV)
16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

As human beings we frequently endeavor to put on a front in order to prevent others from knowing who we really are. Fearful of rejection, we hide our struggles, we hide our doubts, we even hide our fears because our standing with others is based on our own performance, our own worth. So we often live painfully alone.

But Jesus frees us from this loneliness and fear. In Jesus we behold the love of God reaching out to us and rescuing us even though He knows exactly who we are and what we’ve done. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Our standing with God is not based on what we have done, what we are doing, or what we will do – but solely on the righteousness of Christ who has given Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed.

Consequently, Jesus empowers us to be honest with others, particularly with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We can be honest, we can avoid putting on a front, we can seek help and accountability and encouragement because we know that God accepts us, God is on our side, God loves us – not because of our deeds but because of Jesus’ deeds. So freed from the paralyzing fear of what others think of me, I can confess to my brother in Christ, confess to my sister in Christ – I need your help.

And if that brother or sister looks at me and says, “My god! What kind of freak are you!”; if that brother or sister refuses to help, rejects me, then I can rest in the knowledge that God is still on my side. “I have sought God’s forgiveness in Christ; so even though my brother has rejected me, God has not.” And in the knowledge of God’s favor I can approach another brother or sister for help, for encouragement, for accountability.

But as Christians we often fail to believe the Gospel, fail to believe that our standing with God really is dependent on Christ’s work and not on ours, and so we begin erecting fronts once again. We are fearful of confessing our sins to one another; fearful of seeking help; “Everyone else seems to have it all together,” we say to ourselves. “If I tell them my struggles then they might not speak with me any more.” And so we erect a stunning façade but inside we’re becoming increasingly empty and lifeless.

James exhorts us, “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” In the knowledge that God has forgiven us, that we are right with God because of Jesus’ sacrificial atonement, let us confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed, that we may grow in righteousness, grow in our ability to please the Lord who has loved us. Let us cease hiding; cease erecting facades, cease playing at following Christ. Let us pray for one another so that the joy on our faces, the delight in our eyes, the comfort in our souls be not merely a façade but reflect what is truly reality. And let us begin by confessing our sins corporately this day.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Public Reading of Scripture

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

In its public worship, every church has traditions. Whether it is a tradition of spontaneity or a tradition of regularity, traditions are unavoidable. They are an inescapable part of human life. It is important, therefore, that we learn to distinguish between our traditions and God’s commands so that we are able to evaluate our traditions in light of His commands. Nothing is more deadly than imagining that we don’t have traditions – for this is the first step to subverting the Word of God with our traditions.

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 an apostolic tradition.

Given that Paul places such a premium on reading the Word of God in our public assembly, how ought we to approach it? First, how ought we to read the Word of God? The Scriptures give us a number of principles. We ought to read with reverence and awe for it is the Word of the Living God, the God who is a consuming fire. We ought to read in a language that God’s people can understand – for when Ezra read to the people of God in the Old Testament he translated to give the sense (Neh 8:8). We ought to read with joy – for the Word is life itself, giving us wisdom and direction for our lives. Finally, we ought to 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, how ought we to listen to the Word of God? 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 Word 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.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Epiphany Sunday

Matthew 2:1–2 (NKJV)
1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”

Today is Epiphany Sunday, the Sunday in which we recall God’s wonderful mercy in revealing His Son to Magi from the east. The Magi were a powerful class within the Persian Empire – wise men and counselors who were often the power behind the throne or who were on the throne themselves. When these Magi arrive, they cause quite a stir for they come to pledge their allegiance to him who was born King of the Jews. They come to acknowledge that there is a new king born among men and to offer Him their service.

And it is this action of the Magi that continues to instruct us to this day. The Magi remind us that our basic confession of faith is this: Jesus Christ is Lord. In other words: Jesus, the one sent to save mankind from sin and death, is the Christ, the One whom God has chosen, as Lord, Ruler, King. Jesus Christ is Lord. This is what the Magi’s visit announces and it is what troubled Herod so greatly.

But though Herod endeavored to destroy God’s plan, God rescued Jesus and in time made plain that Jesus was His Chosen King at Jesus’ baptism. The heavens were torn asunder and the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove and God declared, “You are My Beloved Son! In you I am well pleased!” Jesus’ baptism announced the same thing as the Magi’s visit: Jesus Christ is Lord. Hence, Epiphany Sunday has been associated with Jesus’ baptism as well as the visit of the Magi.

Since Jesus is Lord, our responsibility is to renounce our allegiance to the kingdom of darkness and to pledge our allegiance to the kingdom of light. And as members of the kingdom of light, our further responsibility is to announce Jesus’ Lordship to all the world and summon men and women and children to worship and serve God’s King, Jesus. And even as the Magi came to Jesus, bowed before Him and worshiped Him, so we are called to gather in His Name, worshping Him. So this day, let us kneel before our King and confess our sins to him.