Monday, July 25, 2005

Exhortation to Prayer (part 8)

(Hebrews 4:16) Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

This verse contains what is arguably the simplest, sweetest and yet most profound invitation in all of scripture. God has appointed a way for us to secure that which we need the most: Mercy, and help in our time of need. And that way is prayer. Bold, outspoken, confident approach to the throne of grace, coupled with simple petitions made in the name of our perfect high priest, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Without divine mercy and help, our pathetic strivings will end in nothing but horrific and complete failure. But, in principle, there is infinite grace at our disposal, and we can make it ours in practice by means of prayer. If we could only comprehend the fullness of God's grace that is ours for the asking, its height, depth, length and breadth, we would no doubt give ourselves more earnestly to the work and communion of prayer. For the measure of our apprehension of grace is determined by the measure of our prayers.

Who is there that does not feel the need for more grace? Beloved, it is yours for the asking. So ask, and be constant and persistent in your asking. Be unrelenting and untiring in your asking. God delights to have us hound Him as “shameless beggars” in this regard; for it shows our faith in Him, and nothing pleases Him so much as faith. Oh, what little streams of grace most of us know, when we might know rivers without number, swollen with mercy and support, and overflowing their banks!

So ready yourselves dear saints. The river that gushes forth from the Temple on Mt. Zion runs deep with divine favor and assistance, and prayer is the appointed means to draw them out. So pray as you approach the throne of grace in song, pray as you hear God’s Word read and preached to you, pray as you are led in prayer, pray as you approach the Table to feed on grace, and pray as you receive your weekly benediction and commissioning for service.

Simply put, fill the Lord’s Service with prayer, and the Lord will fill you with His mercy and help…Come let us worship the Lord together!

Exhortation to Prayer (part 7)

(Mark 1:35) And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
(Hebrews 7:25) Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.

The words pray and prayer are used at least 25 times in connection with our Lord in the brief record of his life contained in the four Gospels. He rose up early to pray. On at least one occasion he spent the entire night in prayer. He cried out to his Father in joy as his disciples returned from preaching and healing, and he poured out his heart in agony on the eve of his passion. He prayed before meals and miracles, he prayed alone and with others, he prayed in the Temple, he prayed in the tempest and he prayed in the hour of his greatest trial. He was the consummate man of prayer.

And neither did his ministry of intercession end with his ascension to the right hand of the Father. For, as the author of Hebrews reminds us, he [Jesus] lives forever “to make intercession” for us. Jesus as the perfect man, the un-fallen Adam and the first-fruits of redeemed humanity continues steadfastly, earnestly and joyfully in prayer…for us!

This glorious truth has at least two startling implications. First of all, as John wrote in his first epistle, “Whoever claims to live in Christ, must walk as he did.” Our predestination is not mere fire-insurance. As Paul wrote to the Romans, we have been predestined to Christ-likeness, to conformity to his character and conduct. Although we will always fall short of Christ’s perfection in regards to prayer, still the aroma of Christ, and his passion for intercession should be present in us, and discernable to those around us, even as it was to those who observed our Savior in the time of his first advent.

The second implication has to do with fellowship. True fellowship is not mere association or proximity. Everyday we spend time with associates and neighbors with whom we have little or no fellowship. True koinonia fellowship is the by-product of shared beliefs and even more importantly, shared work or common activity. The deepest intimacy and the strongest bonds are forged on the anvil of common experience and communal endeavor. Therefore, if we would know intimate fellowship with our Savior; if we would know, as Paul gushed, “the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings” then we must pray as he is praying at the right hand of the Father. We must enter into his ceaseless activity on behalf of the Church and the world. It is no marvel then that the non-praying saint feels so distant from his Lord. It is no surprise that the prayerless Christian often fails to feel in his soul what his mind assures him is true. Simply put, those who fail to participate in the Lord’s work, deprive themselves of the intimacy of the Lord’s fellowship.

But God has shown us a better way. Let us turn now Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and let us learn how to mingle our prayers together with his here on Zion, so that we may do so all week long on earth…Come let us worship the Lord together!

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Exhortation to Prayer (part 6)

(Acts 6:2-4) Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.

This passage reminds us of the primacy of prayer. Service was the heart of Christ’s ministry and of the apostles’ ministry after their Lord’s ascension. But Peter rightly discerned the Spirit’s priorities when he insisted that service, as important as it was, should not be allowed to hinder the apostles’ ability to pray.

Peter knew what we are very inclined to forget: that service without prayer is at best wrongheaded and ineffective, and at its worst it is harmful and sometimes even dangerously so. We think, or at the very least act, as if problems are best solved by means of human effort, sweat and busyness. Peter knew that divine graces called down to earth via prayer were the key to any meaningful healing, help or victory. And that whatever service was necessary, was only necessary in the sense of laying hold of the prizes won and secured by means of prayer. As someone once quipped, “Prayer is warfare. Ministry is picking up the spoils.”

Although the apostles could not have been aptly described as men of prayer before Pentecost, after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit prevailing prayer was the hallmark of true faith in the apostles and the church at large. (Could the same be said of us today?) Continual and fervent prayer was the indication that the first century Christians were indeed filled with the Spirit of Jesus Christ who himself deemed it perfectly necessary to rise up early and sometimes spend the entire night in prayer in order to secure the blessing of his heavenly Father’s upon his ministry.

It is time for us now to ascend by faith before the heavenly throne of God on the heights of Zion. And there to worship Him, to receive His revelations, mercies and enabling power; to listen intently to His commands and decrees, to sing joyfully to Him, to place our petitions and offerings before Him mingled together with thanksgiving, and finally to feast with Him, and others who love Him as we do, at His Table of delights.

And following the sermon, mid-way through the Lord’s Prayer, we will make this glorious request together, “Heavenly Father, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, “Lord, take everything that we have done in Your Service on this Your special day and spread it into our lives, our families, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, our community and don’t stop until the whole world is wholly devoted to the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to prayer and to the Eucharist, just as we are.” So come brothers and sisters, we have a gladsome task to perform this afternoon. We need to pray here now in heaven, so that we can pray this week on earth, and praying, to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of us. There is no other way, so…Come let us worship the Lord together!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Exhortation to Prayer (part 5)

(James 4:2) Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Given the importance of prayer in our weekly and daily worship regimens, we are continuing to glean wisdom from God’s Word regarding the import, glory and necessity of prayer.

This verse in James’ epistle is striking for at least two reasons. First of all, because although the brother of our Lord mentions lust and desire he does not condemn either one. James saves his strongest reproof for the weakness of our wants. As C. S. Lewis once put it,

“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased!”

Lust and strong desire are not necessarily wrong. More information is needed. Lusts and strong desires are perverse and unlawful if they are directed to things unworthy of pure affections and heartfelt devotions. But James addresses the second way that lusts and strong desires can go astray. To desire those things which are pleasing to the Lord, but to strive after them in ways other than prayer.

Note again the specific reproof that James brings, “you don’t have the things you desire because you don’t pray.” This was a favorite theme of Jesus when he walked among us during his first advent. “Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you, ask and will be given to you….If you fathers know how to give good gifts to your children, then how much more your Heavenly Father!”

Therefore it is very safe to say that we can trace every unfulfilled desire, every un-remedied situation, every financial, health or family difficulty, every want of wisdom, every weakness of the will and every failing of the flesh back to the very root of the problem: Neglect of prayer. Not praying enough. Failing to pray. Lack of prayer. Prayerlessness. Being distracted from prayer. Forgetting to pray, refusing to pray, being too busy or too tired to pray. Did I mention neglect of prayer?

We do not have, because we do not ask! And instead of starting to ask as we have been invited, indeed even commanded to, we have blustered about, battled and bloodied for that which could have been obtained by simply asking the Father in the name of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is time for us to do so now... So, come let us worship the Lord together!

Exhortation to Prayer (part 4)

(Ephesians 6:11, 18) Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil….praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

As Paul reminded the Ephesians, we live out our lives amidst a pitched battle. A battle whose ferocity demands that we daily dress ourselves in the armor of God, determinedly take up the weapons of the Sprit and diligently pray without ceasing lest we fall under the repeated assaults of our enemy. Elsewhere Paul reminds us that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual, and mighty for the pulling down of strongholds and for bringing the whole world into joyful submission to Christ and his commands. Prayer is one such weapon, and perfectly necessary if we are to “stand against the schemes of the devil.”

As we considered last week, Satan has indeed been cast out of heaven. He has been thrown down to the earth and deprived of his access to the Lord our Judge and thereby deprived of his ability to accuse us. He has been stripped of his power to deceive the nations and to delay the angelic messengers. The devil is a defeated foe, conquered, at least in principle, in the cross of our Savior Jesus Christ, or as John put it in Revelation 12, overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony.

But he is still a “roaring lion” as Peter warns us, still seeking those whom he may devour. And so, while it is true that he has been bound, or greatly curtailed in his ability to harass and deceive us, still he wields enough power to necessitate the daily donning of God’s armor, and a disciplined use of prayer. As Luther put it, “The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure. One little word shall fell him.”

If we would stand, and not fall, in the midst of the fray, then we must learn to pray, and we must actually pray, there is no other way. Our enemy is fierce, but easily enough dispatched by the “one little word” offered up to God in prayer by the most insignificant saint. The church today lacks this sort of victory, not because she lacks a promise of divine protection and provision, but simply because she refuses to claim the same in prayer. We do not have because we do not ask. The devil doesn’t flee from our presence, not because we lack the wherewithal for his defeat, but simply because of our faithless refusal to “resist him” in humble prayers offered up to the Lord of armies in Jesus’ name.

It is time for us to get on our knees, to bow our heads, lift up our hands and fight. For there, in prayer, is the victory of Christ’s kingdom and the vindication of the saints. We pray because there is a devil, but we pray with a promise of victory over him and his minions surely in hand...So, come let us worship the Lord together!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Commencement Address to the Class of 2005

To the first class ever to graduate from The River Academy, June 4, 2005:

The great statesman Daniel Webster wrote nearly two centuries ago:

"If we work upon marble, it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it; if we rear temples, they will crumble into dust; but if we work upon immortal minds, if we imbue them with principles, with just fear of God and love of our fellowmen, we engrave on those tablets something which will brighten all eternity."

And so we have worked here at the school over these last seven years to pour into your minds, and to fill your hearts and hands with that which will enable and enliven you to “brighten all eternity.”

And as we who labor at The River Academy know, this process, while ultimately a joyful one, has not been without its trials and temptations, ups and downs, late nights and long weekends, tears and tribulations. As the apostle Paul once wrote, you were “…troubled on every side, yet not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair;  Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed…” And yet here you are today, looking, I might say, none the worse for the wear.

Admittedly, our efforts to educate you were far from perfect, but they were nonetheless done in love, offered up as so many acts of worship in Jesus’ name, and made effectual by the Lord God who delights to answer the prayers of His people for the sake of His Son, by the power of His Holy Spirit.

And so we many-membered faculty and staff, working together as one, have striven over the years to engrave on your tablets that which would make you useful in the King’s service, a blessing to your neighbors, and a joy to all. So over the course of your short "swim" in The River your minds were filled with the grand stories of Western history and culture, and the sublime stories, and especially The Story, of the Old and New Testaments. Along the way, you fell in love with the likes of Robert E. Lee and Booker T. Washington, and learned to critique the writers, historians, playwrights and filmmakers who hate God and refuse to acknowledge His sovereign rule over all. You learned the rudiments of language and logic, and later on the art of persuasive writing and speech. You were introduced to the world of divine order and harmony as you began your study of Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry and Physics, and recently some of you have even begun to master the trinitarian complexities and intricacies of analytical math and calculus. You learned the joys of reading Homer and Herodotus, Shakespeare and Sayers, London and Lewis, Archer and Austen. You were intoxicated by the strong drink of metaphor, poetry and verse and even distilled a few good bottles yourselves. You learned the subtle nuances of line, color and shading, which fork to use first, proper evening wear, how to make a toast and polite conversation, and how not to make a fool of yourself at the table, in summary: How to Display Love in the Trifles. And lastly, you learned the serious joy of singing the Psalms in four part harmony, and I for one will not soon forget the angelic sounds of your voices blending together in harmonious praise and joyful thanksgiving as you so beautifully declared the present rule and loving reign of King Jesus.

The River Academy has discharged its duties towards you reasonably well. The Board of the River Academy is reasonably satisfied that your hearts and heads have been adequately filled with the impulses, inclinations and information necessary for you to graduate from our hollowed, although not yet ivy-covered halls.

But, as Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “One thing thou lackest.” And if you look carefully right now, with the eye of faith, you might be able to see it down on the floor, next to your feet. Actually its been there quite a long time, even though you may not have always noticed it. But it is now time for you to pick it up, and to use it as it has been used on you. It’s not much to look at, in fact it’s rather dirty. But it’s supposed to be. Because it’s a servant’s towel, the towel that has been loving laid beside your dirty feet a thousand, thousand times, and carefully applied to remove the dirt and grime, and to refresh you.

That towel was picked up and used for your benefit by your parents and grandparents who made numerous and significant sacrifices to send you to this school. Who purchased your uniforms, proofread your papers, packed your lunches, praised your achievements and, failing that, your efforts. And when necessary, protected you from your own perfectionism. (It really was just an art-project for Pete's sake!!!)

That towel was lovingly used by our support staff, whose service to you was so ubiquitous and pervasive that you often took it for granted (though you would have surely noticed had they but stopped their services for a day.) Copies, calendars and curricula appeared in a timely fashion, as if by magic, when it was in fact, the fruit of much foresight, sagacious planning and self-sacrificial sweat.

That towel was picked up and applied by the likes of Mr. Appel who taught you all day long, and then ate his lunch with you; pleased, as Paul said to the Thessalonians, to share with you not only his message, but his very life!. Or by the likes of Mrs. Helsel who routinely spent 4 hours of preparation to teach you a 40 minute lesson. Or Mr. Welch who labored to address your souls as much or more than your minds. Or the upper level math and science teachers who surely could have secured a more lucrative teaching position elsewhere in the Valley, but preferred instead to spend themselves in your service. Or the foolhardy cadre of teachers who, without sufficient training or support, recklessly agreed to “stand in the gap” and teach whatever needed to be taught, just so there would be no gaps in your education.

That towel was picked up and used for your benefit by teachers at the school who never had you as a student in their classroom, but were eager nonetheless to bear your names before the throne of grace in our weekly staff meetings. O, that you could have heard for yourselves the fervor, the love and the longing for God’s blessing to be poured out into your lives, in the prayers that were faithfully prayed for you each week.

That towel was picked up and used for your edification as Mr. Tracy, our beloved Headmaster, stayed at the school long after you had gone home…to perform some menial but neglected task, such as washing tables in the classrooms or recruiting a recess monitor; or to perform some Herculean task such as preparing the impeccable college transcript that opened the doors of higher education for some of you.

Look again. Now do see it? Two millennia ago, our Savior Jesus Christ met with his disciples in the upper room to prepare them for his departure, and to ready them for fruitful service in his kingdom. In the course of that evening he wrapped himself in a servant’s towel and carefully washed the feet of his followers, charging them to do likewise.

It is the combined desire and prayer of your parents and the Board and Staff of The River Academy, that you begin to take your places of leadership in this world. So that in time, you might lead the Church to increasing holiness, love and joyful obedience; and to lead the unbelieving world to true faith in Jesus Christ. But the Lord is quite clear in his teachings: Those who would lead, must first serve. Humility precedes exaltation, and lowliness goes before greatness.

Without true humility, lowliness of mind and a penchant to serve, your training here at The River Academy will only have served to make you great, arrogant, obnoxious boors, who know most everything, can win arguments even when they are wrong, and cannot understand why no one enjoys talking about them as much as they do. Well who cares about that!

But if you seek and find grace to serve others faithfully and cheerfully wherever you are… the knowledge and skills that have been etched upon your tablets here, will find great usefulness in the service of King Jesus, and great effectiveness in the advancement of his kingdom and glory. Your TRA training and education employed in the selfless service of others will indeed, as Webster noted, brighten eternity.

Class of 2005. You will always have a special place in my heart. You have been my students, and my teachers. And I praise God for the sweetness of our fellowship and the richness of our times together, especially as we studied God’s Word. It is now time, by faith, for you to take the towel and to wash the feet of others.

Blessings, and Godspeed.

Exhortation to Prayer (part 3)

(Philippians 4:4-6) Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.

As we noted in past weeks, our Lord’s Day worship is an extended conversation with the Lord of heaven and earth. It is a prolonged and multifaceted exercise in prayer. But, just like everything else, our prayers need to be informed, enthused and regulated by the Word of God. We are not to pray according to our own lights, but rather according to the instructions of the One to whom our prayers are directed.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he reminded them of the manner and mindset of prayer that that is truly pleasing to God. From his pithy instructions we gather that prayer is never to be regarded as a cosmic Coke machine, where one simply puts in the correct amount of change, punches a few buttons and out comes the desired product. Granted, prayer is one of God’s means for accomplishing His purposes here on earth, but often His purposes have more to do with fully forming Christ in us than in answering the specifics of our supplications.

And so we are commanded to come into God’s presence rejoicing, and then again rejoicing some more. Did I mention that we are to rejoice? But note that we are to rejoice, not in our pain or affliction, but rather in the Lord, who has Himself promised “never to leave us, nor forsake us” and to work all things together for our good.

Nextly we are commanded to “let our moderation” be evident to all those around us. The meaning of the original Greek word for “moderation” connotes a “forbearing spirit.” In other words, we are commanded to display a cheerful resignation to the providences of God, whatever they may be, and a cheerful acknowledgment that He is close enough at hand to deal with whatever danger, difficulty or distress He has marked out for us.

If we, by faith, are doing these things, then of course anxiousness is out of the question, and the only thing left is to do is to present our prayers, supplications and requests mingled together with heartfelt thanksgiving, and seasoned with joyful gratitude for mercies already received, and even for the ones yet to be given.

Joyless prayers deny the very Gospel upon which they depend to make it into the ears of the Almighty. Anxious prayers impugn God’s wisdom, goodness and power. Thankless prayers are void of the faith requisite to make them (or anything for that matter) pleasing to God.
The call to worship is, at its core, a call to prayer. But unless we care not whether our prayers are heard and answered, then we must learn to pray in the manner and with the mindset prescribed by our Lord. And that means with gladness, and with faith….So, come let us worship the Lord together!

Exhortation to Prayer (part 2)

(1 Peter 3:7-8) Husbands, likewise, dwell with [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to [her], as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered. Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous;

As I noted last week, our Lord’s Day worship is an extended conversation with the Lord of heaven and earth. It is a prolonged and multifaceted exercise in prayer. Having ascended before His throne by faith and encouraged by the “blood of sprinkling” all around us, we present our confessions, our praises, our thanksgivings and our supplications to the Lord Most High. And He, because He is so perfectly filled with love and mercy, is pleased to hear the lisping mutterings of His people, and to receive our simple supplications. And we are glad that it is so.

But here, Peter, like the psalmist in last week’s meditation, warns us of something that stops the ears of Almighty God; something that causes Him to grow deaf to our pleadings and insensible to our cries: neglect of husbandly duties.

As Paul taught elsewhere in scripture, in the covenant of marriage the husband is a picture of Christ. And therefore he must relate to his wife as Christ relates to his bride, the Church. When husbands fail in this seminal duty, their prayers are, as Peter warned, “hindered.”

Not to overstate it, women are complicated beings. And this is precisely why Peter requires husbands to dwell with their wives “with understanding.” The Word of God does not permit a man to throw up in hands in exasperation and say “Women, who can understand them!” Men must study their wives according to what God has revealed about them in scripture, but they must also study the particular wife that God has given them, until they understand her unique complexities, proclivities and idiosyncrasies.

Ironically, men who do this well are immediately confronted with a companion temptation: To despise this creature that is so very different than himself; whose feelings and fears, thought processes and priorities are so radically dissimilar to his own. And therefore does Peter follow the command to understand, with a command to honor the wife. Husbands are to speak honor to their wives (especially in front of the children) and about their wives to others. Husbands are to guard and promote the reputation of their wives, delighting in the dissimilarities that make her the true helper-completer that God intends for her to be.

Finally, Peter commands husbands to be courteous to their wives. But note here that Peter does not command husbands to have courteous thoughts about their wives in the deep recesses of their hearts. Rather he commanded a husband to display courtesy for his wife; to demonstrate with his deference towards her (including, but not limited to, opening doors and such) that he regards her as a “fellow heir together of the grace of life”, one for whom Christ was pleased to die, and to receive as part of his bride.

When husbands neglect these duties towards their wives, their prayers are hindered because they are telling gross lies about the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, husbands take care to understand and honor your wives and to display genuine courtesy towards them, lest your prayers and consequently the prayers of this assembly be hindered. Speak the truth about our husband, the Lord Jesus Christ so that we may worship Jehovah-God together in spirit and in truth…

Exhortation to Prayer (part 1)

(Psalm 66:16-20) Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. I cried unto him with my mouth, and he was extolled with my tongue. If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me: But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor his mercy from me.

Our Lord’s Day worship is an extended conversation with the Lord of heaven and earth. It is a prolonged and multifaceted exercise in prayer. Having ascended before His throne by faith and encouraged by the “blood of sprinkling” all around us, we present our confessions, our praises, our thanksgivings and our supplications to the Lord Most High. And He, because He is so perfectly filled with love and mercy, is pleased to hear the lisping mutterings of His people, and to receive our simple supplications. And we are glad that it is so.

But the psalmist reminds us, or should I say warns us of something that stops the ears of Almighty God; something that causes Him to grow deaf to our pleadings and insensible to our cries: the regarding of sin in our hearts.

But what is it to “regard sin” in one’s heart?

They regard sin in their hearts who practice it secretly, fearing the reproach of men, but having little care for the omniscient gaze and stern reproof of Him who knows all, and has promised to chasten all disobedience.

They regard sin who entertain, fantasize about, and indulge the desire of sin, even though God in His merciful providence may have restrained them from the actual commission of it.

They regard iniquity in their heart who reflect upon past sins not with contrition, remorse and humiliation, but rather with relish, enjoyment and even delight.

They regard iniquity in their heart who look upon the sins of others with favor, approbation and approval. Although not personally guilty of the sin, they nevertheless countenance the rebellion and lawlessness of others without grief or reproof.

They regard iniquity in their heart who will not diligently apply themselves to God’s grace, and to His several appointed means of grace until the sin in question be properly mortified and put away.

Dear Christian, if you, while standing here in the presence of God this afternoon feel distant from Him. If you, while standing in the midst of Christ’s body, feel disconnected from him, consider the possibility that you may be “regarding” some sin in your heart, and seek grace even now to put it away by faith, and to enter joyfully into unhindered communion with the Father, through the death and merits of the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Come, let us worship the Lord together in spirit and in truth…

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


(Deuteronomy 27:14-16) And the Levites shall speak, and say unto all the men of Israel with a loud voice, Cursed be the man that maketh any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and putteth it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen. Cursed be he that setteth light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.

Anything that we do regularly in worship needs regular instruction. And perhaps the thing that we do with the most regularity is the utterance of the covenantal oath: “Amen.”

Israel was commanded by God to respond to His revelation by saying “Amen”, and when they did so, to pledge, out loud, their devotion to the Lord, and their intent to obey all of His commands. Jehovah is still pleased, and His people still edified with audible professions of faith and fealty. So ready yourself to say “Amen”. At the close of each psalm and hymn that we sing this morning, affirm the verity of the doctrines contained in them, and pledge yourself anew to obey every command and precept that we have sung in the congregation. Listen carefully to the prayers as they are prayed so that you can add your careful “so-be-it”, “yes, truly”, “Lord, make it so”, your “Amen” at the end of the prayer. Seal the sermon and declare your intent to live it out with a hearty “Amen”.

Again, be careful Christian, things done often can be done without thinking and more importantly without faith. Seek grace to offer a faithful, energetic, well-informed “amen”, and to never utter a faithless, apathetic and ignorant one.Remember as well not to take the name of the Lord your God in vain. According to the Revelation of St. John, one of Christ’s names is “Amen”, in fact, “the Amen”. This being the case, when you say or sing “Amen” in response to God’s Word and the illumination of His Holy Spirit, you are publicly pledging your fealty and obedience in Jesus’ name, a very weighty thing indeed. And lastly, do not mumble your oath. Confirm the veracity of each amen with the reverent enthusiasm and volume befitting the vows you are making to your King. And amen!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Heavenly Worship

(Revelation 5:6,9) And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth…And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;

In the fourth and fifth chapters of Revelation we have, as it were, a template of heavenly worship. We have a manifold and marvellous description of God’s throne room, and an accurate account of the worship that takes place there. It is crucial that we understand the nature of heavenly worship, because, according to the author of Hebrews, this is the place to which we ascend each Sunday morning to offer our praises to God the Father through the mediations of His Son Jesus Christ by the power of His Holy Spirit. This worship is so holy, so other and pure, that it can only be entered into by invitation. As John was invited at the beginning of his vision, “Come up hither” so you are weekly invited, at the conclusion of the Call to Worship, to “come and worship the Lord.”

It is critical for us to note the focal point of heavenly worship. Although many wondrous creatures and features are described in these two chapters (six winged beasts, angels and elders; thrones, an emerald rainbow, burning lamps and crowns of gold) none of these things are center stage. Rather, we are directed by them to the One whose presence surely dwarfs them all, and whose person sovereignly demands our attentions, affections and adorations: The Lamb who was slain.

All of heaven resounds with the reverent, exuberant praises of men and angels who cannot take their eyes off of, nor cease to praise the Lamb who was slain: Jesus. Jesus, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of world; the perfect Lamb that was slain as a sacrifice for the sins of his people. Jesus, the Lamb that was slain; the one sacrificial Lamb that death could not hold, nor decay even touch. Heaven is gloriously, joyously and eternally obsessed with both the death and resurrection of our Savior, the Lamb that was slain, and who was slain, but now lives to take the book, to open the seals, and doing so, to make for himself a kingdom priests comprised of every tongue, tribe and nation of the earth.

Put another way, heaven is preoccupied with the message of Easter; with the cross and the empty tomb. And therefore we ought also to be. And not just on Easter Sunday. Every weekly call to worship, every “come up hither” is a call to worship the Lamb who was slain, in the company of seraphim, angels and the spirits of just men made perfect, blending our voices together with them in song, adding our feeble “amens” to theirs, and casting our crowns at the feet of him who alone is worthy to receive power, and riches, and wisdom and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing, and amen. So come up hither and let us worship the Lord together!

Friday, March 25, 2005

The Beauty of Holiness

(Psalm 96:6-9) Honour and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Give unto the LORD, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength. Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts. O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness: fear before him, all the earth.

The Holy Scriptures abound with references to the dwelling place of Jehovah, and each of these references abounds with detailed descriptions of the majestic glory and exquisite beauty of God’s habitation.

Before the Fall, Jehovah met with our first parents in a luscious garden, perched atop a mountain from which flowed a single river that soon parted into four. After the Fall, the patriarchs met with God in groves of trees planted on the high places. In the wilderness, Jehovah gave His people an incredibly complex list of instructions regarding the construction of His house, right down to the color, arrangement and types of materials to be used. When it was time to build the Temple in Jerusalem, God gave similarly detailed instructions, and one can only imagine the majestically glorious and exquisitely beautiful dwellings that resulted from God’s commands and enabling gifts and graces.

In the very last book of the Bible we are given glimpses of the glory and beauty merely foreshadowed by Jehovah’s earthly abodes. And again, heart-stopping glory and indescribable beauty abound as John details his vision of precious gems, crowns of gold, magnificent beasts, a sea of glass, a river and a tree of life, and the shekinah-glory of God to illumine all.

As is most often the case, there are two ways to go wrong at this point: The materialistic sensualist wants to make idols of the visible forms of glory and beauty, ignoring Him to whom they point. The Gnostic Pietist attempts to worship God as a disembodied spirit divorced from this world, and winds up with worship wafer thin, stone ugly and depressingly drab; the very antithesis of that which it pretends to emulate: the sumptuous splendor of the Lamb’s wedding feast, set out and celebrated on the heights of Zion. But the true worshipper sees through the external forms of beauty and glory by faith, and through faith beholds and adores the beauty and glory of the Lord who dwells in unapproachable light.

Every material thing has a form; every form is an art form; therefore every material thing communicates something to those who behold it. If this is true (and it is) then every Lord’s Day, the clothes that we wear, the part in our hair, the color of the carpet beneath our feet, the height of the ceiling above our heads, the candles on the communion table, the volume and skillfulness of our singing, and even the taste of the bread and wine all bespeak something (whether true or false) of the nature and character of Him who dwells in the “beauty of holiness”, and say something about the nature of worship around His throne. So with these truths in mind, and your hymnal in hand…Come, let us worship the Lord.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005


(1 Corinthians 13:11) When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

Once there was a father who had two sons. The father was a faithful man and an artist of some renown. The firstborn son was halfway to forty; the youngest, a mere four winters.

One day the boys decided together to honor their father with drawings made with their own hands. So they gathered up colored pencils, sketch pads and set to work. The young artisans relished this exercise, and when they were both finished, took their drawings in hand and set out across the backyard to their father’s studio.

Once inside their father’s workplace, the younger son excitedly blurted out, “Favver, I love you bery much, and I want you to have this pictured that I drawed wif my own two handses for you.”

The father examined the drawing carefully, taking in each line, proportion, shade and color with his practiced eye. After a full minute he dropped to his knees, and smiling broadly, embraced his youngest and said, “Nice work son. I am very pleased.”

After a minute or so, the father stood up to receive and evaluate the offering of his eldest, who said, “I too just wanted you to know how much I love and respect you Pop.”

Just as before, the artist scanned the page carefully, but this time, his countenance fell. As he silently composed himself, the drawing slipped from his hand and floated gently to the floor.

“Son” the father began slowly, “I am certainly pleased to call you my son, and pleased at your desire to honor me. But this drawing, quite frankly, is grievous.”

Stung by his father’s critique, the eldest son picked up his drawing from off the floor, snatched the drawing of his younger brother and held up them, side by side, before his father’s face.

“I mean no disrespect sir” he spluttered, “but how can you pleased by my brother’s offering and grieved by my own when they are nearly identical?”

“My son” gently intoned the father, “I am grieved precisely because they are, as you say, nearly identical. Your brother is barely four years old and his drawing is the fitting effort of one so young. But you, the son of my youth, are five times his age, yet your drawing is scarcely the better of the two. If this is the token of your affection for me, I am sorry, but I cannot help but feel slighted, even maligned by your offering.”

As the older son stared sullenly at the floor, the father continued, “And we both know that your artistic ignorance is self-imposed. How many times have you studied and traced the lines of the master painters contained in the books on my shelves? How many times have you consulted my own books on drawing? How many times have you asked or allowed me to guide your hand with my own?” The elder brother’s silence testified to his slothful neglect.

“My son, you have confused spontaneity with skill; emotion with maturity; confused enthusiasm with experience and good intention with glorious execution. If you truly wanted to honor me, instead of honoring yourself honoring me, then you would have offered me something more consistent with my refined sensibilities and less like your sophomoric scribblings.”

At this the older son turned and left his father’s studio, but strangely enough, he wasn’t angry or annoyed, distracted or even the slightest bit dissuaded from his course. You see he really liked scribbling, and that was the point after all. Wasn’t it?

As we continue to learn how to worship God in ways pleasing to Him, may He grant us grace to study His book, to imitate the liturgical graces of our fathers and in all things to grow up into our Head who is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Divine Amnesia

(Hebrews 10:16-17) This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.

Once upon a time, there lived a certain prophet whose name was Abner. As was often the case in those days, this purveyor of divine promises and enforcer of divine decrees was little esteemed and lightly regarded by the people to whom he was sent.

One especially bleak and bleary winter, the prophet’s God appeared to him on three successive nights outlining a message that he was to deliver to the faithless king who currently occupied the throne. This monarch’s grandfather and father before him had been faithful kings, and he had begun his reign well enough, but ever since he had taken one of the foreign princesses to wife, his faith had begun to wane in the same measure that his appetite for her pagan-ish practices had begun to wax. He had even begun to house and feed a handful of the prophets and priests of the local deities.

The day after the third night of revelations, Abner requested and received an audience with his sovereign. As always, he bowed himself low before the king, reintroduced himself as the messenger of God, and was about to relay his message when the king abruptly cut him off saying, “It has occurred to me recently, that any beggar off the street could march in here claiming to speak to me on God’s behalf. Therefore, before I countenance whatever it is you have to say to me, you must first pass a simple prophet’s test. The next time you conjure up your God, ask Him to make known to you the sin of my youth. If you divine correctly, then I will listen to your heavenly harangue. But if you do not bring me the correct answer, or have no answer at all, then you will that day receive the stony recompense of the false-prophet. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes m’lord” said Abner meekly. “But I must tell you two things. Firstly, I do not ‘conjure up’ Him who sits above the heaven of heavens. And secondly, I can only speak to you what He is pleased to make known to me. Nothing more, nothing less. But if it pleases m’lord, then I will ask the Lord of lords for the answer to your question.”

“It does” said the king curtly.

On the third day following the king’s inquiry, Abner appeared again before the royal throne looking both calm and a little puzzled.

The king arched his eyebrows, cocked his head slightly and asked, “Have you an answer to my question prophet? Has your God revealed to you the sin of my youth?”

“I have a word from your Lord, m’lord. Although, as usual, His reply to my question, is not quite what I expected. And perhaps not what the king wishes to hear, nor enough to save me from the pile of stones outside the city gate.”

“Proceed” said the sovereign warily, rising to his feet.

“Last night, during the third watch” said Abner softly, “the Lord appeared to me and directed me to ask Him the question whose answer He already knew, and had already determined to give me. But as a I said, m’lord…”

The king broke in suddenly, “You weary me with your ramblings prophet. Get to the point, if indeed you can. What was the sin of my youth?”

Abner continued, “Your God and the God of your fathers has given me a reply to the king’s question. He said to me, ‘Tell him that I don’t remember.’”

For half a second the king’s nostrils flared in anger, then quite suddenly his knees buckled and he sat down very un-royally upon his throne. While the king sat in stunned silence, Abner delivered the whole of his original message, after which the king rasped, “Meet me at the stoning pit, three days hence at even.”

And so began the great cleansing of the land as both king and prophet united to purge the kingdom of its idolatry, and as they did so, singing psalms and declaring to the people the mercy that makes no earthly sense. As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Palm Sunday Exhortation

(Matthew 21:14-17) And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise? And he left them, and went out of the city into Bethany; and he lodged there.

Although little children were not highly regarded in Jesus’ day, he always welcomed them as true members of his kingdom and the proper recipients of his blessings. When his own disciples tried to shoo the little children away, Jesus rebuked his followers saying, “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God” And then, as if to illustrate what he was saying, he took the wee-ones up in his arms, “put his hands upon them, and blessed them.”

And on the day of his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus chose the little children to serve as his royal heralds; to announce to the people assembled in the Temple courts, that the Son of David had come to claim his rightful place on David’s throne.

When the Jewish leaders heard the testimony of the little children they were incensed, and inquired harshly of Jesus, “Do you hear what those children are saying?” One can easily imagine Jesus replying with something like, “Yes. Isn’t it wonderful?” But we know for certain that Christ confused and confounded those religious hypocrites by pointing out that although they, as full-grown adults, had read the scriptures that described in detail what the children were doing (and its glorious effects) they still could not understand what was going on. While those little children, who had not read the scriptures, had correctly identified Jesus as the Son of David and were giving him the praises due God’s anointed One.

Jesus actually quoted, with a slight modification, a well know verse from Psalm 8. The Psalmist wrote that God had ordained military might to issue forth from the mouths of babes and sucklings. But when Jesus quoted the verse he said that God had ordained praise from the mouths of babes and sucklings. Which is it you say? Well, thankfully we don’t have to choose. Because according to the Bible, praise is military might, and true worship is the surest path to true victory. A few examples will suffice: Recall that Joshua retraced Abraham’s previous journey through the promised land, conquering with the sword that which Abraham had subdued and secured with altars and centers of worship. Joshua took the great walled city of Jericho with a mobile worship service of sorts, and King Jehoshaphat sent the choir out to battle ahead of his army.

As always, God delights to use the humblest of means to secure the greatest of victories so that He will receive all the praise, all the honor and all the glory when the victory is complete. So please stand with me and and let us sing Psalm 2. And as we sing together this afternoon, listen to the sounds of true praise and military might being sung all around you. Listen for the sound of the little voices, the stammering tongues, the lisping words and the belated amens of the little saints. And by faith, hear the bastions of unbelief up and down this valley crumbling at the sound of their tiny voices, and the very gates of hell splintering as they are battered by the sweet music of their psalms, hymns, creeds and prayers. Listen to their testimony and learn from the lesser, for in some respects they are your greaters.

And if you can’t hear all that, then hear this, “Let the little ones come to Jesus, forbid them not. For of such is the kingdom of God.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Do It Again!

(Ecclesiastes 1:4-9) A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

I spent the late winter and early spring of 1975 living in a Christian community nestled in the northern hills of South Korea. I learned many things during my short stay at Jesus Abbey, but one of the most enduring lessons I learned from two of my littlest sisters in Christ, Chung-hee and Suk-hee, who were 1 ½ and 3 years old respectively.

Almost every evening after dinner but before our evening Bible-study commenced, I found myself playing with these two little Asian pixies. After a few weeks we had developed a set of pseudo-gymnastic moves that we would rehearse each evening, all of them involving me lifting, spinning and sometimes even throwing the girls at sundry angles and in different ways. At the conclusion of each “move” I would set whichever of the girls I was tumbling on the floor in front of me, and regardless of which one it was, she would immediately look at me and earnestly plead, “Doe uttekae, Gee-in (Gene). Doe-uttekae.” If you have ever played with children, you already know the translation of that wonderful little phrase. For indeed it is common to children the world throughout. Every culture, every language, even the ones without the light of special revelation, has its own gleeful version of the English, “Do it again!”

Which begs the question, “Why is this seemingly insignificant petition common to cultures across the millennia and around the globe?” And the answer is really quite simple. Children delight in what we jaded adults consider boring repetition because they bear well the image of their Creator, who every morning in the pre-dawn darkness looks to the eastern horizon and gleefully issues this command to the sun: “Do it again!” Who, each Spring beholds the myriad landscapes of barren brown-ness and clapping His mighty hands together, accompanied by a divine, joyful sort of jumping up and down, commands the dormant trees, plants and bulbs to “Do it again.”

The universe bears a Trinitarian resemblance to its Creator who is many and one in sublime perfection. And so each day, and each season, and each year, considered one way is identical to its predecessors. But considered another way, delightfully different.

Sadly, there are many enemies today of the sort of historical liturgy that we are currently in the process of adopting as our own here at Trinity Church. These moderns want everything to be new and improved, spontaneous and different, unplanned and unpredictable, and consequently ungodly. But for some inscrutable reason the Lord has shown us mercy (there is no cause for boasting here), and so we assemble each week, often seated in the same chair and next to the same people, and during the piano prelude to the Lord’s Service, as we think of the several elements of our liturgy that are repeated week after week in unvarying order (such as the set prayers, the psalms, the sursum corda, the sermon, and the Lord’s Supper) by God’s grace, we silently but gleefully cry out to Him, who is our Father, and whose image we bear, “Do it again.” And wonder of wonders, He does.

Friday, March 11, 2005

The King's Service: A Parable

(Psalm 16:11) Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.

Once there were two men who were summoned to appear before the throne of their king with indications of their fealty, love and devotion to their sovereign. This ceremony was known throughout the land as “The King’s Service,” and as the two men awaited their summons in the antechamber, they quietly debated the meaning of name. The first man asserted that the “King’s Service” could only refer to service rendered to the king. After all he was the king, right? But the second man contended that the “King’s Service” referred primarily to service rendered by the king, and only secondarily to service rendered to him.

Their quarrel was politely interrupted by a chamberlain who ushered them solemnly before the king. For a full two minutes neither man spoke, nor could they, so overwhelmed were they by the king’s royal personage, splendorous attire and regal bearing.

At length the first man broke the silence and began mumbling something unintelligible as he emptied the contents of his pockets onto a sturdy oak table directly before the king. The only items recognizable in the pathetic little mound were a broken rubber band, a creased bottle cap and a crumpled candy bar wrapper. With the offering thus made, the vassal closed his eyes and began to sway back and forth singing “I worship You, I adore You, I worship You, I adore You” and continued thusly for several minutes. When he had concluded his anemic anthem, he looked the king squarely in the eye and said, “I know the tokens of my devotion are certainly not as good as they could be, but they all mine to give, I even wrote the song, and I am pleased to give them to you as evidence of the sincerity of my subservience. And…” he added piously, “I ask nothing of you in return.”

The king was silent, so the second man stepped forward, bowed low upon one knee and said, “O king, I have nothing to give You, for I have nothing even remotely worthy of Your majesty. Therefore have I come with a series of requests. Your generosity is well known in all the land, so please Lord, fill my hat this instant with gold coins and precious gems, and put a song, penned by the king’s own hand, into my hand, and I will sing it to you now….ah…provided His Majesty will lend me the assistance of His royal choir to support my feeble voice. A herald appeared and quickly presented a musical score to the man and filled his ragged cap with gold and jewels from the royal treasury, the contents of which were poured out just as quickly onto the table before the king. Quite suddenly, the royal choir appeared as if this very request had been anticipated, and began to fill the chamber with a harmonious strain that was at the same time unabashedly joyful and achingly beautiful.

At the conclusion of the glorious hymn, the first man began to object strenuously to what he had just witnessed. But the king raised his hand and silenced him with a royal wink and a knowing smile.

“My loyal subject has thrice honored me this happy day. He honored my generosity with the audacity of his requests, my worth with the extravagance of his offerings (no less his to give simply because I first gave them to him.) And he honored my glory with the sublime poetry and exquisite grace of his musical offering…” (Here the first man began to turn purple with agitation) “No less beautiful” continued the king, “because it was written by myself. Now, I have prepared a great feast, and both of You are most welcome to sit and sup with me. That is if…” he said fixing his eyes on the first man, “if you are willing to acknowledge that your offering differed from his…” Here the king pointed to the second man, “only in weight of glory, not according to whence it originated.”

The first man hesitated for a moment, but acquiesced at the first whiff of the beef brisket beckoning him from the next room. “Yes m’lord,” he said humbly. “It is as You say. It all comes from You.”

Then the sovereign turned to the second man who was quite taken aback by the king’s reproachful stare. “My steward had prepared a bushel of royal treasure, but strangely, you requested a paltry hat-full. Thinkest thou me a miser?”

“Forgive me m’lord, for besmirching your beneficence.”

“Done. Alright then.” said the king, taking them both by the arm. “Off we go gentlemen. I trust you’ve had a light breakfast.”

Come empty, come thirsty, come hungry, come all
The Lord of the feast awaits in His hall
At His right hand are pleasures and grace evermore
For those eager to share what He lays up in store

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Golfing with the Greeks

(Colossians 2:8) Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Once upon a time there was a man who heard his pastor preach one Sunday morning that it ought to be the goal of every Christian to lay hold of the glorious patterns embodied in the Lord’s Service, and to spread them faithfully into the rest of the week; living life according to God’s call; making humble confessions of sin and rejoicing in God’s grace; living knowledgeable of and obedient to God’s commands; singing psalms, feasting and communing with the Lord always.

And this the man determined to do, but immediately met with frustration and bewilderment. Because although he golfed like a Hebrew, he worshipped like a Greek. Faced with the arduous task of lowering his already admirably-low golf-handicap, this man read books, watched videos, took private lessons and most importantly went regularly to the driving range where he was able to transfer the data stored in his mind into the very tissues of his muscles, bones, sinews and nerve-synapses. In Solomon’s parlance, he was a wise golfer, because he knew golfing in his hands as well as he knew it in his head.

But, unfortunately, unlike his golfing, he worshipped like a Greek. This poor man was perfectly convinced that the importance of what happened between his two ears as he worshipped, far surpassed the grittier realities of what he did with his body, which was merely a fleshly distraction to true worship. He didn’t sing well nor loud, nor did he care to learn how to do so (what was the point?) He bowed his head perfunctorily and knelt as one of the herd, but never in contrition. He lifted his hands just high enough to avoid an elder visit, but never high enough to indicate actual exuberance. He ate the bread without savoring the taste of it, and drank the wine without imagining that his plastic thimble was golden chalice and filled to the brim.

And so, ironically, this man’s half-hearted obedience was his own undoing. He dutifully obeyed his pastor’s exhortation to spread what he was doing in the Lord’s Service into corners of his life, but unfortunately, what he was doing in worship was nothing but a lifeless little Gnostic mind-game. So all week long, just as he had rehearsed on Sunday morning, he thought great thoughts, purposed great purposes and intended great intentions, but sadly, nothing ever made its way from the realm of his mind into the fabric of his life.

Quite abruptly, the man decided upon a bold experiment. He would golf like a Greek and worship like a Hebrew.

The effects have been difficult to gage because he no longer keeps score on the links, preferring instead his contemplations of a perfect swing and a perfect game. His weeks are measurably more demanding yet somehow less complicated. He’s gained a couple of pounds, but he’s singing more. He goes to bed tired every night, but a visceral sort of joy seems to be seeping into the cloth of his conduct and conversation. And he is thankful.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Kuyper Poem

I am not sent a pilgrim here,
My heart with earth to fill;
But I am here God's grace to learn,
And serve God's sovereign will.
He leads me on through smiles and tears,
Grief follows gladness still;
But let me welcome both alike,
Since both work out his will.
No service in itself is small,
None great, though earth it fill;
But that is small that seeks its own,
And great that seeks God's will.
Then hold my hand, most gracious Lord,
Guide all my doings still;
And let this be my life's one aim,
To do, or bear thy will.
There is not an inch of any sphere of life of which Jesus Christ
the Lord does not say, "Mine."

(Abraham Kuyper)

The Lord Be With You!

(Ruth 2:4) And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The LORD be with you. And they answered him, The LORD bless thee.

Although this greeting sounds a bit foreign to our ears. It has only been in the recent history of God’s people that these sorts of salutations have been superceded by the mundane likes of “How’s it goin’?”, “Hey”, “How ya doin?’”, the slightly more formal, “Hello”, or the vapid just saying nothing at all.

Evidently, in Boaz’s time, even the everyday/ordinary greeting uttered by a master to his servants in the field was considered an opportunity to invoke a blessing of unspeakable worth and inestimable value: “The LORD be with you.” To which the sweaty reapers joyfully replied with a benediction no less glorious than their master’s: “The LORD bless thee.”

Indeed all of Scripture contains similar greetings. The angel of the LORD hailed Gideon with a “The LORD be with you” as did the angel who announced God’s wondrous plans to the virgin Mary. The newly resurrected Christ greeted his apprehensive disciples with a “Peace be with you” and the epistles of Paul are fairly well interspersed with the likes of “The Lord be with you all”, sometimes as a greeting, and sometimes as a farewell.

For the last two millennia, our own generation excepted, the saints have delighted to greet one another, and to call one another to prayer with some form of the biblical and beautiful responsive “The LORD be with you…And also with you.” A higher blessing one cannot imagine, and a more fitting way to exercise one’s office as a New Testament priest is difficult to conceive. For God has made us a kingdom of priests, a royal line of clerics imbued with authority to call down upon, and to convey to one another the very blessings of Almighty God. One has to wonder how we can be so content with the parched dryness of silence, or the insipid juice of “How’s it goin?” when the potent wine of “The LORD be with you” is so near at hand? Oh well…

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Feminine Glory

(1 Corinthians 6:19-20) …Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.

The church’s relation to her Savior is one of bride to bridegroom. And therefore our corporate relation and response to Christ is fundamentally feminine and wonderfully womanly. The essence of true femininity is receiving, glorifying and responding. Woman takes the seed from man and returns it to him a fully formed baby; she takes the various staples that his work-a-day-wage supplies and returns it to him and to her children a delicious and nutritious feast. She receives the shell of a house and transforms it, in other words, glorifies it, into a place of aesthetic charm, comfort and rest. She receives the attentions, affections and admirations of her husband and glorifies herself with beauty, both within and without.

This is, in a nutshell, the church’s lifework. To receive from God our husband, to glorify that which He has graciously given to us, and then to return it to Him with thanksgiving and praise.

Take for instance God’s Word. The bride thankfully receives this incredible gift and then immediately sets about to glorify it, so that she might return it suitably adorned to her loving husband. To do this she first glorifies it by adorning it with the meter, metaphor and rhyme of poetry. Then, in increasing glory, she sets the poem to music. But not content to offer it to her husband as mere shadows on sheets of paper, she sings His gift back to Him in the assembly. And she not only sings His word adorned with melody, but presents it gilded with the greater glory of harmony sung by well-trained voices and if possible accompanied by the stirring sounds of strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion.

As Paul taught, glorifying God is not merely an exercise to be performed between our two ears. Rather we are to glorify Him “in our body and in our spirit.” In all things material and all things spiritual, receiving good gifts from Him, glorifying them, and then returning them back to Him to the ever increasing praise of His glory and amen.

Clive Staples Lewis quote

I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel (though we do not put it into words) that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted him to do, and we should be obliged if he would leave us alone. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what he intended us to be when he made us...

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on. You knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of -- throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards.

You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself. (C.S. Lewis)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Lenten Meditation

(Romans 8:12-14) Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.

After reminding the Romans again of how the death and resurrection of Christ has cancelled their obligation to their sinful desires, and united them to the life and obedience of Christ, Paul enjoins them to mortify, or to put to death, the deeds of their former, unregenerate selves. This is Paul’s favorite formula: He declares to Christians who they are in Christ, and then commands them live in the way most consistent with who they are by virtue of their union with him.

Historically, this Lord’s Day has been called the First Sunday in Lent. Lent being the season leading up to Easter Sunday. In times past, God’s people have used this season to do exactly what Paul commanded the Romans to do in chapter 8, to “mortify the deeds of the body.” Granted, there have been many abuses of this observance. Some have trivialized it by giving up things like chocolate or pop. Some have disingenuously used it as a reason to diet or stop smoking. Some have used it as a sort of penance or a time to “do something for God.” And some have tried to bind men’s consciences with Lenten observances and practices, in the absence of a Biblical command to do so. All of this nonsense needs to be rejected “root and branch”, down to the ground and good riddance!

But many of the faithful, taking Paul’s command to heart have used this season, with great profit, as a means put to death the sinful desires and deeds of the flesh, and to prepare themselves more fully to celebrate the joyous import and meaning of Easter. How? Let me offer a few suggestions:

Jesus offers salvation to those who know themselves to be sinners, and rest to those who are weary and heavy laden. In God’s economy, life always comes through death, forgiveness through repentance, and exaltation through humbling. Therefore a good preparation for the joy of Easter is a thoroughgoing meditation upon our desperate need for a Savior, and our utter dependence upon the daily outpourings of his mercy and grace. Easter is “ho-hum” only for those who think too highly of themselves, but for those who have meditated upon their weakness, worldliness and wantonness, the message of the empty tomb is pure joy and unrestrained gladness!

You might also consider certain fastings in this season. But avoid the ones that are mere temporary deletions in your routines, and instead, search out the spiritual exercises that that will permanently alter you. By faith, seek opportunity to exercise the dominance of your spirit over your body.

However, lest Lenten discipline and devotion lead to smugness or a false sense of spiritual security, it must be noted that all such endeavors depend on grace. We do not save ourselves by virtue of such spiritual exercises; rather, we seek simply to alleviate the blockages that hinder God from working freely in us and through us. In other words, the messages of the great 50 days between Easter and Pentecost must be understood, loved and embraced before one can properly and profitably observe the 40 days leading up to Easter.

One final note: This coming Wednesday, called Ash Wednesday, marks the official beginning of the 40 days of Lent. But if you counted up the days on the calendar, it would appear that there are 46, not 40 days, of Lent. Hmmm. Why is that? The reason is most wonderful! Every Lord’s Day is a celebration of Easter, therefore not a single one can be a fast day. Every Sunday is a feast day and therefore cannot be included in the Lenten fast! In other words, the joy and gladness of Easter trumps the sobriety and sadness of Lent. The weakness of our flesh is conquered by the victory of the cross and the empty tomb.

God does indeed call us to sober meditation and to the strenuous subjugation of our sinful flesh, but never in a way where the love of God and the victory of Easter are far from view.

Back Online

Hey there. I'm back. I had surgery on my elbow in January and had to cut way back on my computer keyboarding. I had a rather severe case of "Tennis Elbow" brought on either by computer keyboarding and mousing, or by playing guitar. If anyone asks, please say that it was the latter.