Sunday, June 26, 2016

Lying Words that cannot Profit

Jeremiah 7:8–11 (NKJV)
8 “Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, 10 and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the LORD.

Last week we remarked that the only two options before us as individuals are to repent or perish. Because we have all sinned and are therefore guilty in God’s sight, deserving of judgment, there are only two options: repent or perish. Repent: turn from your sin, confess your need of Jesus to cover your guilt, and ask God’s forgiveness; or perish: cling to your sin, ignore your guilt, and face God’s judgment. These are our only options.

As sinners, however, we don’t like it that there are only two options. We would much rather hold on to our sin and avoid judgment. We want to have our cake and eat it too. So we tell ourselves lies – and these lies come in two forms.

First, we lie about the nature of our behavior. We begin to call good evil and evil good. We redefine justice in accordance with our own thoughts and desires rather than defining it according to God’s moral law. We say to ourselves, “This is the way we are supposed to act!” Or, in the words of our text, “We are delivered to do all these abominations!”

So, locally, some of our city officials, in the wake of the Orlando shooting, held a vigil. This vigil didn’t bow before God and confess that we are sinners deserving of judgment and in need of mercy. This vigil didn’t acknowledge the many ways that we as a people have violated the law of God – stealing, murdering, committing adultery, swearing falsely, worshiping false gods – and become justly subject to His wrath; instead this vigil stood in defense of our perverse sexuality and censured any condemnation of the behavior. We are lying about the nature of our behavior.

But not only do we lie about the nature of our behavior, we also begin to lie about the character of God. “God is soft and cuddly; God doesn’t care; God takes no notice; God just wants me to be happy; God believes in me; or, perhaps, God doesn’t even exist.” But it is these gods that do not exist – they are figments of our own imagination, not the God of creation and revelation. They are, in Jeremiah’s words, gods that we do not know – gods that we use to placate our conscience rather than the God who speaks in our conscience.

Repent or perish is not only a summons for us as individuals; it is also a summons for us as communities. When we lie about the nature of our behavior or lie about the character of God or both, these lies do not profit us. In the end, we shall come up against the solid wall of God’s reality. Gravity eventually catches up with us. For God declares, “Behold I, even I have seen it.”

Jeremiah’s words remind us that we have much to confess – individually and corporately. Let us cry out to God on behalf of our city, that God would have mercy upon us for our rebellion, that He would open our eyes to see the evil of our ways, and that we would together cry out to Him for mercy. And as we confess our sins to the Lord, let us kneel in His presence.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Repent or Perish

Luke 13:1–5 (NKJV)
1 There were present at that season some who told [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? 3 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

Last Sunday morning a deeply disturbed Islamic man attacked a gay and lesbian night club in Orlando, killing 49 people and wounding 53 more. Many have wondered how to respond to this tragedy. Does this indicate that those who were slain were worse sinners than others?

Jesus answers this question in our text today in the negative. No – they were not worse sinners. Their sin deserved the wrath and judgment of God and our sin deserves the wrath and judgment of God. Tragic events of this sort are intended by God as a shot across our bow, a warning of the judgment to come on all who spurn His lawful authority and pretend as though there is no higher law over them. The warning from our Lord Jesus Christ is simple, “Repent or perish.”

The reason that these are the only two options is that God is just. He has faithfully revealed His moral law in the human conscience and in His Word. When we violate His law – in minor or major ways – He cannot just wink at our sin and pretend it’s no big deal. Sin is an attack on His honor and an attack on the very foundations of the world. The one who sins becomes objectively guilty in the sight of God. And we have all sinned – we are all guilty.

And because God is just, there are only two ways to deal with our guilt – repent or perish. The first way is to repent: turn from your sin, acknowledge your guilt, and seek the forgiveness of God through the shed blood of His Son Jesus. Jesus is the only fully righteous Man who has ever lived. And He lived and then died and rose again from the dead in order that He might bear the guilt of our sin, that He might take away our guilt. For those who repent and trust in Christ, God’s justice is satisfied, judgment has fallen on Christ, and we can rejoice even in death knowing that God is on our side. Repent.

The second way to deal with guilt is to perish. Stand in the presence of God day by day declaring that the sacrifice of His Son is unnecessary. Tell Him hour by hour that you don’t need the blood of Christ to cover Your guilt. Announce minute by minute that your hands are clean; wash them with water like Pilate and say, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood.” And day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute fill up the full measure of your sin knowing that God will judge you and you will perish. Repent or perish – those are your options.

Do you suppose that those men and women in Orlando were worse sinners than you? I tell you, no, but unless you repent you shall all likewise perish – without hope, without God, and without Christ.

And so reminded of Jesus’ call to repent, to turn from our sin and acknowledge our need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, let us confess our sin to the Lord and cry out for His mercy. And as we confess, let us kneel.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Who is your God?

Psalm 4:4–5 (NKJV)
4 Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. 5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the LORD.

The call of God upon us as His people is very simple and straightforward – He wants us to serve Him, not man; to trust in Him, not in created things; to love and cling to Him, not to the idols which we create with our own hands.

Each of us faces the choice of whom we shall serve: will we serve God or will we serve some idol? And note that this is not a choice that admits of middle paths – there is no third option; no opportunity to plead that we have been placed in a false dilemma. The dilemma is real; the antithesis stares us in the face; you must choose whom you shall serve. Who will be your God? Who is your God?

Have you given yourself to the gods of this age? To glamour, wealth, power, sex, academic prestige, simplicity, health? Do you sit and worship at their feet?

Or have you given yourself to the Triune God, the Creator of heaven and earth, the fountain of true glamour, of lasting wealth, of real power, of meaningful sex, of profound wisdom, of unpretentious simplicity, of blessed health? Do you sit and worship at His feet?

It was here that David sat and he knew as one who sat at God’s feet what the Lord required and summarized it quite well –

         Be angry – Fear God, and in fearing him despise wickedness and those who practice wickedness; be indignant for God’s Name.

         Do not sin – Remember in all your indignation, that to love God is to hate evil and the ways of wickedness; and that it is not first and foremost to hate the evil out there but the evil in here, in your own heart; so in loving and fearing God, turn away from sin.

         Meditate in your heart upon your bed – When you are laying down to rest and your mind begins to go over the day, to consider where you’ve been and where you’re going, do not let your thoughts wander wildly but instead bring them into subjection to the Word of God. For it is by meditating upon God’s law, His promises and assurances of love toward us that we will be able to…

         Be still – If we meditate on the Word, if we let our thoughts race not on our own anxieties but on the Word of God then we shall be equipped to be still – God will care for me; God will bless me; God will remember me. And so it is in this knowledge of God’s care for me that I…

         Offer sacrifices of righteousness – I come before the Lord faithfully every Lord’s Day in company with His people, I serve the Lord with gladness of heart every day; I rejoice in his precepts; delight in His law; pray; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.

         Trust in the Lord – Don’t succumb to the allurement of the idols – many of them are carved quite cunningly, beautiful with their gold and silver accents – but remember that despite all their cunning beauty they cannot do anything for you.

So what is God’s call upon us as His people? David tells us: Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the LORD.

As we come into the presence of our Lord to worship, reminded that our calling is to trust wholly in Him and no doubt convicted that we have failed to do so, let us kneel and confess our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. We will have a time of private confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Word and Ritual, Proclamation and Sacrifice

"Therefore, beginning with Genesis 4:26 and continuing through the history of the faith, true believers have proclaimed their faith to the world through their worship. With the call of Abraham to begin the covenant program of bringing blessing to the world, that proclamation became clearer, richer, and more powerful... proclamation has ever since been an integral part of worship. Now in the worship of the new covenant the preaching of Christ crucified is the necessary correlative to celebrating Holy Communion. Whenever proclamation has been lost to worship, worship loses its way and becomes empty ritual. Both the drama of the ritual and the interpretation by the proclamation are necessary for the full worship of God. The Word gives the ritual meaning, and the ritual gives visible form to the Word."

Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, p. 146.

A Vision of the Sublime

"To speak of God's 'holiness' is to say that there is no one like him, that he has absolute power and perfection; to speak of God's 'glory' is to say that he is preeminent in existence and that the whole universe is filled with evidence of his importance and sublimity.... to the degree that a vision of the sublime has faded from the consciousness of a religious people, adoration and reverence as well as obedience and service have also been diminished. For worship to rise above the clutches of a materialistic and secular world, the church must once again focus on such revelations of the Lord of glory. The revelations of glory revealed in Scripture will inspire all we do in the name of worship. Without them we, and our worship, will wither and fade; but with them we will be able to keep our eyes fixed on what is eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18)."

Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation, pp. 48-49.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

What's With the Kneeling, Standing, and Lifting Hands?

Psalm 95:6 (NKJV)
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Psalm 134:1–2 (NKJV)
1 Behold, bless the LORD, All you servants of the LORD, Who by night stand in the house of the LORD! 2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the LORD.

One of the most frequent questions visitors have about our service of worship, one of the questions that you may also have, is this: What’s with all the different postures? We sit, we stand, we kneel, we bow heads, we lift hands – why all the variety?

The answer to these questions is threefold: first, God did not create us as mere spirits but as creatures with body and soul. As those who have bodies, God expects us to use them for His honor. Paul writes, “…you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” Our bodies belong to God and so what we do with them is important. Our actions should should reflect our reverence for Him and our knowledge that one day Christ will return in glory and raise these very bodies from the grave. Our bodies matter.

So this leads us to the second answer to our question: why all the variety? The answer is that in worship there are a variety of things we do. We praise and thank the Lord; we confess our sins; we hear the assurance of forgiveness; we listen to the reading of God’s Word; we confess the creeds; we present our tithes and offerings; we pray; we learn from the Scriptures; we feast with God at His Table. This wonderful variety demands a variety of responses – both verbally and bodily. There is no “one size fits all” bodily posture.

And this is why, third, the Scriptures invite us to worship God with a variety of postures – standing, kneeling, sitting, lifting hands, etc. So consider our texts today from the psalms - Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker. Behold, bless the LORD, All you servants of the LORD, Who by night stand in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the LORD. These are just a few examples of bodily invitations given in the context of worship.

As we consider this threefold rationale, let us also beware les we merely go through the motions. For the ultimate reason that our posture changes is that we worship in God’s very presence. He is here with us and we dare not treat Him lightly. He calls us to worship; we respond by standing to praise Him. He thunders at our sin; we respond by kneeling to confess it. He assures us of pardon; we stand to listen and enter boldly into His presence through the blood of Christ. He instructs us from His Word; we stand to give our attention to its reading. This is the drama of the Divine Service – but it’s a drama that is meaningful only when accompanied by hearts that love and cherish Him.

So what of you? Why do you stand? Why do you kneel? Why do you sit? Do you do it just because that’s what you’re being told to do? Do you kneel so you won’t appear out of place? Do you sit so you can take a nap? Or do you do all these things because you recognize with awe and wonder that the God we worship this Day has invited you into His very presence to worship?

So today as we have entered into God’s presence He has thundered at our sin – let us confess that we have often just gone through the motions of worship; and let us kneel as we confess together.