Sunday, August 30, 2015

Is Worship a Fancy or a Feeling?

Psalm 33:1–3 (NKJV)
Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the LORD with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.

One of the great lessons of life is Solomon’s adage, “All hard work brings a profit but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23). It is easy to talk about achieving something; but actually to achieve that thing requires determination and hard work. As the editors of the Geneva Bible wrote: “All things are difficult that are excellent and fair.”

Consider the skilled musician. I don’t play an instrument – although I love music. Often I close my eyes while listening to Archangelo Corelli’s Concerti Grossi and imagine myself playing the violin. I imagine how proficient I would be. But my imaginings are just that. I’m not a skilled musician because I have not invested the time and energy into learning that would be necessary to be one.

The same principle applies to the skilled athlete. While native talent is an important starting point, the one who truly succeeds in a sport is the one who practices, who pushes himself so that he may acquire increasing skill and proficiency. I might imagine myself hitting 100 free throws in a row; but each time I’m on the court I’m lucky to hit seven out of ten. Why? Because I don’t practice.

This principle applies in most every area of life, including relationships. Consider a solid marriage. Marriages start with the swearing of an oath; they continue as a couple learns to love and sacrifice and forgive. Successful marriages – marriages in which spouses learn to communicate well, forgive well, make love well, and parent well - require hard work, practice, and persistence. They don’t just happen. The love that makes marriages work is elbow-grease love.

This same principle applies in worship. Much has been written and said regarding the “worship wars” in the modern church. What should be the nature of our worship? Many, in an attempt to be seeker sensitive, have striven to make worship easier; to use music that makes visitors comfortable; to limit the amount of theological depth in lyrics to make songs more digestible. If you haven’t figured it out yet, we have not jumped on that bandwagon. We haven’t accommodated ourselves to this musical trend. We sing psalms and hymns; we try to sing in harmony; we use printed books. This proves very challenging for many who visit our congregation; and I can certainly symphathize with the challenge. Perhaps it has been challenging for you.

But here’s the question: should we expect the worship of God to come easily? Skill in music comes only with practice; skill in sports comes only with practice; skill in marriage comes only with practice; should we expect anything different of worship? The idea that worship should just come naturally when we’ve lived lives alienated from God is absurd. When God rescues us He does not immediately make us skilled worshipers; rather, He so touches our hearts so that we, for the first time, desire to become skilled worshipers.

Is worship difficult for you? Is it challenging for you to learn to sing the psalms and hymns? Challenging to learn to sing in harmony? Challenging to understand what those lyrics mean at times? Then keep working at it. Remember, all things are difficult which are excellent and fair.

So reminded that we are often lazy in our pursuit of the Almighty and that we treat His worship less seriously than the acquisition of musical, physical, or relational skill, let us confess our slothfulness to the Lord. And as you are able, let us kneel as we do so.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Goal of Fatherhood

1 Thessalonians 2:10-12 (NKJV)
You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe; 11 as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, 12 that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

In our text today Paul reminds the Thessalonians of his conduct among them – and he uses the metaphor of a father. In so doing, Paul gives us a vision of fatherhood that is appropriate to consider as we celebrate Family Camp. Note that Paul helps us understand the goal of fatherhood: “You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe…” What is to be the goal of fathers? To live devoutly, justly, and blamelessly among those who believe. This is our calling. As fathers in Israel we are to set a standard that all others can witness and follow.

First, we are to live devoutly. We are to models of love for God, love for His law, love for His people. We are to be the ones encouraging our wives and children to grow in their love for the things of God – for His law, for His people. And the principal way in which we encourage this is by modeling it – loving the Lord, loving to read His Word and to pray, loving the singing of the psalms, loving fellowship. We are to live devoutly.

Second, we are to live justly. We are to be models of justice and fair-mindedness, listening carefully to complaints and judging justly based on the principles found in God’s word. We are not to be blinded by our own prejudices; we are not to delight in our own opinions. We are to be steadfastly loyal to the principles of God’s Word. We are to live justly.

Third, we are to live blamelessly. We are to listen to the Word of God and implement it in our lives. We are to live above reproach. Our standard is not that we be cool or that we be hip or that we be fashionable or that we be politically correct or that we be conservative or that we be liberal. Our standard is that we be blameless – clinging tenaciously to the Word of God. We are to live blamelessly.

This, then, is the goal of fatherhood: to live devoutly and justly and blamelessly among those who believe. How can we possibly live this way? Only by the grace of God who calls us into His kingdom and glory. He is the One who must work in and through us to glorify His Name. In ourselves we are not capable to live this way – but by the grace of God we can.

Reminded of our calling to live devoutly, justly, and blamelessly before the Lord and before His people, let us confess our failure to do so to the Lord. We will confess our sins privately and then corporately using the printed confession found in your bulletin. Let us kneel together as we confess.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Abounding with Thanksgiving

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

Last week we learned that not only is our walk with Christ to be conducted by faith but it is to be conducted by faith in a specific person. Faith in itself is no virtue. For faith to be virtuous it must join one to the Christ revealed in Sacred Scripture; for trust in any other is not virtue but idolatry.

Today I want to develop at more length Paul’s admonition that we are to be abounding in the faith with thanksgiving. To abound, we said, is to overflow, to know no limits. Imagine a glass full to the brim with water on your kitchen table. When you bump the table what comes out of the glass? Water. Bump the table really hard and what comes out? Water. Why does water come out of the glass each time? Because that’s what is in the glass.

So too with thankfulness. We are to be abounding in the faith with thankfulness. Thankfulness is to fill our lives. If we were to picture one another as drinking glasses, the beverage swirling in the glass is to be thankfulness. And when we are abounding in the faith with thankfulness and someone comes along and bumps our table, bumps our life, if our glass is full of thankfulness, what will come out? This isn’t rocket science is it? If our hearts are full of thankfulness then when we get bumped thankfulness will come out.

So you were driving down the road and the little old lady in front of you was driving excruciatingly slow – what came out? You faced challenges at work – what came out? Your son or daughter disobeyed – what came out? Your mom or dad disciplined you – what came out? You found out you have a serious illness – what came out? The Supreme Court of the United States made another vile ruling – what came out? Bump, bump, bump. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes 5:18). Notice Paul’s qualifier – in everything give thanks. In prosperity, in adversity; in sickness, in health; in peace, in war. Give thanks in everything. How is this possible? Only if our hearts, only if our glass, is full of thanksgiving before our table is bumped. And our hearts will only be full of thanksgiving if we meditate deeply on the character and works of God – God who created us, God who redeemed us, God who has placed us at this time in history and who so numbers the hairs of our head that not one falls to the ground apart from His Fatherly care. When we meditate on these things, our hearts will be filled with thankfulness and we will be enabled to give thanks in everything for the wisdom of our Heavenly Father – not just when it appears wise to us but when it is in fact wise, namely, always. Of all people, Paul insists, we should be the most thankful, the most joyful, the most riotously happy for we serve the God who rules and governs all things.

But instead of being known for exuberant bubbly thankfulness, we are often known for our restrictions, our uptightness, our angst, our frustration, our grumbling. Paul calls us to something different – he calls us to thankfulness. So where are you?

Reminded that rather than abound in thanksgiving we often complain and grumble, let us kneel and confess that we are an unthankful people.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

So Walk in Christ

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

Here in Colossians 2 Paul begins to deliver a series of exhortations to the Colossians. Our fathers in Colosse were being tempted to move away from the message that their pastor Epaphras was preaching in favor of some new teaching that was tickling their ears. Hence, Paul urges them to continue in Christ even as they began in Him.

In other words, he warns them lest they move away from the Gospel they originally heard: the good news that though we were dead in transgressions and sins, estranged from God because of our rebellion, God Himself took on human flesh and dwelt among us; He sent His only Son to rescue us from our sin and slavery and to restore us to fellowship with Himself; Jesus lived for us, suffered for us, died for us, was buried for us, rose again from the dead on the third day for us, ascended into heaven for us, and has sent His Spirit to give us faith, make us more holy, and assure us of our own resurrection. This is the message you heard – now, Paul says, cling to it tenaciously.

Notice that Paul calls us to be faithful to the faith as it was handed down in the churches, to (in his words to Titus) hold firmly to the traditions which we have been taught. Like Jude, Paul wants us to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

One of our practices as a congregation is to recite one of the ecumenical creeds together every Lord’s Day – in a moment we will be reciting the Nicene Creed. Why do this? So that by memorizing and corporately confessing these confessions of Christ, we be rooted and built up in Him. Each Lord’s Day, we grow in our knowledge of Him – where did He come from? He was eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds. Who is He? He is God of God, light of light, very God of very God. Is he a creature? No, for he is begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. What has he done? Through Him all things were made, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, the third day He rose again from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Christ we worship. The very one who is worthy of all glory, laud, and honor. The very one who created all things and to whom it is right and fitting to give praise. And it is in this One that we are to be rooted and grounded and in whom we are to grow.

And note that Paul insists that it is not enough to recite this faith, not enough to know who Jesus is and what he has done; he commands us to be abounding in the faith with thanksgiving. To abound is to overflow, to know no limits. The words we recite or sing each Lord’s Day should come from hearts that are in the full flood of thanksgiving – thanks for rocks and trees and good friends and green grass and fresh honey and butter and flashlights and honorable men and lovely women and cheese and forgiveness and resurrection.

And so, coming into His presence, let us kneel and confess that we have failed to appreciate fully His glory and to honor His name by rejoicing in the faith as we have been taught.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Planned Slaughterhood

Luke 1:39–45 (NKJV)
39 Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, 40 and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45 Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

This week The Center for Medical Progress has continued its expose of Planned Parenthood’s barbaric treatment of the unborn. Not only has Planned Parenthood participated in the slaughter of the innocents on a scale that King Herod would have envied, it has sold the body parts of those slaughtered children to lab workers whose white coats can never cover the blood that is upon their hands.

Our passage today reminds us that infants in the womb are fully and completely human. When Mary came to visit Elizabeth, it was not only a meeting of mothers but a meeting of the boys they were bearing. And the meeting of these boys was electric. John, a fetus developing in Elizabeth’s womb, leapt for joy to meet Jesus, a fetus developing in Mary’s womb. They were not mere tissue but tiny human beings interacting with their environment.

David declares the wonder of God’s creative genius in Psalm 139:13-16 – “For You formed my inward parts; you wove* me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are your works, and that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they were all written, the days fahioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.” God is the Master Craftsman – he not only created the first man, Adam, from the dust of the earth; not only formed the first woman, Eve, from the rib of Adam; but He fashions each man and woman in the womb, giving each a unique identity, calling, and dignity.

Human beings are made in the very image and likeness of God – and yet our laws protect those who kill them and our tax dollars have been used to fund one of the main institutions that slaughters and, now we have learned, sells their body parts. For forty years the blood of our unborn has cried out to God for vengeance and the God of vengeance has heard their cry. And it is our calling as God’s people to hear their cry as well.

So this morning, reminded of the dignity and honor which God has invested in every member of our race, let us confess that we have often mistreated those made in His image and that, as a people, we have too long countenanced the slaughter of the innocents.