Saturday, March 29, 2014

What the Enemy Knows About Prayer

"Well might Mary Queen of Scots say, "I fear John Knox's prayers more than an army of ten thousand men."" - Ryle, A Call to Prayer.

And of course, this is but a small example of what the enemy knows about prayer.  Is it any wonder that he will do all he can to distract us from it and to tempt us to disbelieve in its effectiveness?

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Never-Failing Passport for our Prayers

"There is a way by which any  man, however sinful and unworthy, may draw near to God the Father.  Jesus Christ has opened that way by the sacrifice he made for us upon the cross.  The holiness and justice of God need not frighten sinners and keep them back.  Only let them cry to God in the name of Jesus, only let them plead the atoning blood of Jesus, and they shall find God upon a throne of grace, willing and ready to hear.  The name of Jesus is a never-failing passport for our prayers.  In that name a man may draw near to God with boldness, and ask with confidence.  God has engaged to hear him.  Think of this.  Is not this encouragement?" - Ryle, A Call to Prayer

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Easy to Pray

"I ask whether you pray, because prayer is an act in relation to which there is great encouragement.  There is everything on God's part to make prayer easy, if men will only attempt it." - Ryle, A Call to Prayer

We just noted how difficult it is to become a man given to prayer.  So what does Ryle mean here?  It is not that prayer is actually easy when it comes to ourselves.  His point is that through Christ, we have been granted easy access to boldly approach the throne of grace.  We have no theological or super-spiritual hurdles to jump over in order to come into the presence of our Father.  We simply have to come in the name of Jesus (dressed in His righteousness).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

When Excruciating Suffering Comes

A friend of mine recently witnessed his young son-in-law pass away after a very short battle with cancer.  The family, full of faith and hope in Jesus, prayed first for healing, and did so until his dying day.  But as it became more and more clear that the Lord was going to take this young man, they said they were preparing for the worst while praying for the best.  All too quickly, the young man succumed.  

One of the tough parts of their story was hearing about how terribly the young man suffered in his final hour before he passed.  Excruciating pain and suffocation, gasping for breath, writhing as his body fought for one more minute and then another and then another.  After his death, this was the horrible last memory of a son, a husband, a friend, and a brother in our Lord. 

Why, after such faithful praying, would God allow such horror?

As I reflected on this, maddened myself over a sovereign God allowing such suffering and hardship, four thoughts came to mind. In no particular order, I share them here.  In addition, I am sure there are far more important thoughts to bring to bear.  I simply share what came to me in a cascade of response.

First, I remembered my own anger when my oldest son, now 25 (and the same age as this young man), was only three weeks old.  He was in the NICU in Baltimore.  After an emergency Cesarean, a frantic rush to a hospital with all of the best services, days upon days of tests, pokes and proddings, we had no diagnosis and no sense of what was going to happen next.

Nathan was on an intravenous drip, for antibiotics if I recall rightly, but his little body was having trouble providing veins for the IV.  One day, I helped the nurses as they tried to get a new vein to re-insert the IV.  They couldn't find one.  For thirty long minutes I helped hold him down while he screamed and cried as they kept sticking and resticking, twisting and searching with that needle in his arm, his leg, and finally up on his head.  I remember the hot anger I had that day at God.  "You can't even give him one little vein - I'm not asking for a healing - just one little vein."  

What kind of sadist did I worship?

Second, I remembered a question my 9th grade student asked in Bible Class just a couple weeks ago.  He wanted to know why Jesus had to suffer so much on the cross?  Why did God need Jesus to die a slow, painful, humiliating death?  If the point was for His death to pay for our sins and for His blood to be shed by that death, why not a quick death without prolonged suffering?

Third, I am reminded of how much death really is an enemy - and all that leads up to that death.  Death is an enemy whose sting has been removed for the believer because at the moment of death we pass into the immediate Presence of our Lord and Savior.  But death itself remains an enemy that will not be conquered in full until the return of our Lord.

Fourth, I was again reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (NKJV)

16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. 17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, 18 while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Whatever suffering we do go through, however long that suffering is, God works it in us something so much more glorious in comparison to the suffering.  It is a glory which will exceed any suffering.  It is a glory whose heavy weight so knocks the scales of balance to its side that we all will be amazed - all who are in Christ.  But we cannot and will not see that glory on this side of eternity.  This is something we must embrace by faith.

But having embraced this truth, having embraced these sufferings from Christ, not only do we endure.  We will strangely find ourselves looking forward to them, hearing from our Savior, "more glory, more glory."

To the Praise of His Gracious Glory

Ephesians 1:6 - "to the praise of the glory of His grace..."

While normally translated, “to the praise of His glorious grace” or “to the praise of the glory of His grace,” I think it is worth emphasizing “His glory which is gracious, or His gracious glory.”  When we behold God, we behold His glory.  That glory is not sterile white fluorescent light.  It is a rainbow of love and mercy, with favor and acceptance; it is dripping with grace.  This helps explain why God predestined what He predestined.

This is the nature of God's glory.  It is gracious.

"I'm Not the Praying Type"

"Have you forgotten that it is not natural to any one to pray?  "The carnal mind is enmity against God."" - Ryle, A Call to Prayer

Prayer is not something that comes naturally to anyone.  It is something that we will have to rouse ourselves to, against the flesh, from this point on until we are ushered into eternity.  I have never found it simple and easy to turn to prayer.  It seems I am always easily distracted, tempted to think in my materialistic way that prayer won't change anything.  This is not because I'm just not the praying type.  It's because none of us are.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Unsearchable Riches of Christ

Ephesians 3:8 (NKJV) To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ,

Revealing the Unsearchable Riches (v8) – Here is a wonderful summary of what it means to preach the gospel.  It is for a finite and fallible man to imperfectly declare and describe that which is unsearchable and incomprehensible to other finite and fallible people.  But when God blesses it, we hear Christ (Rom 10:14-15) which is why we come to this service of worship by faith expecting to hear Christ by His Holy Spirit through His Word proclaimed.
It also describes the breadth of the gospel.  The riches are not just about what Christ has given us; the riches are Christ, “…who became for us wisdom from God – and righteousness and sanctification and redemption – that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD”” (1 Cor 1:30-31).
Christ is My Wisdom – Jesus, by His Spirit, teaches me about God, about myself, about my sinfulness, about my need for redemption, about what it means to die to self, about what it means to live in the new Humanity, and on and on.
Christ is My Righteousness – Righteousness is less of a thing than it is a Person and a relationship.  In Christ, I have righteousness – I am righteous, for His name is “the LORD, my righteousness.”
Christ is My Sanctification – In Christ I stand faultless and blameless before God; it’s already done.  And then, in Him, He works into me by His Spirit that sanctification which then I work out in my life, led by Him all the way along.
Christ is My Redemption – Among other things, this means that I will be raised from the dead and all suffering, all shortcomings, all tears, all the imperfections that are me – will be gone.  There will be nothing lacking in body, mind or spirit.  Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10) – Whoot!  Whoot!
Again, summarizing the gospel, John wrote, “And from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (John 1:16, ESV).  We are thimbles placed under a Niagara Falls of riches – but no worries – we have an eternity to explore and grow into the fullness.

This Table of Grace

Too often communion has been portrayed as a time of special introspection and feeling guilty for one’s sins while coming before a holy God.  Wrongly, some have taught that this time at the Table is to be a time where we meditate on how unworthy we are to be here.

But that misses the fundamental point of the Table.  This is a Table of Thanksgiving – a Eucharist – that is what the word means.  This is a place to receive that which is wonderfully and freely given.  Of course we don’t deserve to be here – that is why we call it grace – that is why this is a gift – it is not deserved – it is not earned – it is simply given.

And what is given?  Jesus Christ Himself is offered to us by the Spirit as we partake of bread and wine.  We receive Him by faith – just as we do His Word – just as we pray in the Spirit dressed in the armor of God.  We believe – that is our work – and our reception of all of this as undeserved grace is what brings glory to our God and joy to His children.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Absorbing the Psalms in Worship

We are a Psalm singing congregation, committed to learning the songs of the Holy Spirit – all songs which point to and sing about Jesus Christ our Lord.  You may have noticed that we are singing Psalm 25 again this Sunday – for we are reviewing this Psalm – relearning it, or learning it if you are newer with us.  And as we do, we learn again that there are so many emotions, so many situations, so many questions and answers found in the songs the Lord has given us in the Psalms.

Peter Leithart writes about this – and I think it is very good and important to think about psalm-singing this way.  He writes, "The perfected soul is a symphony, harmonized by the Spirit through the discipline of psalm-singing.  The psalms are expressions of deep passion, of anguish and fear, and soaring elation.  Yet singing the psalms is actually a discipline in impassibility, for through the psalms we are trained to turn all circumstances and moods into worship.  Those who sing and absorb the psalms will have a rich emotional life, but none of their passions will cause them to deviate from following the crucified Messiah.  Through singing the psalms, we are conformed to the impassible sufferer, the Word made flesh.

What do we have in the gift of the Psalms?  What is before us in the work of singing the Psalms?  What we have is the opportunity to turn every circumstance in our lives into an opportunity to worship – to turn to the Lord in sorrow and in hope, in joy and in anguish, in life and even as we approach our death.  Absorbing the psalms protects the soul – but there is work involved here.  Give yourself to the work.  Give yourself to the Word of God – read, sung, spoken, meditated over, prayed, repeated, and let the Word of God dwell in your richly.

We come to worship in the name of the Word of God, even Jesus Christ our Lord.  We come to worship the Father in His name through the power of the Holy Spirit given to us.  This is how we worship.  This is how we pray.  This is how we sing.  And through these gifts, this is how God is going to transform this world – in real time and space.  Come and change the world.  Come and worship the Lord.

What Breath is to Life

"Faith is to the soul what life is to the body.  Prayer is to faith what breath is to life." - Ryle, A Call to Prayer

Saturday, March 22, 2014

What Disciplined Psalm-singing Gives the Soul

"The perfected soul is a symphony, harmonized by the Spirit through the discipline of psalm-singing.  The psalms are expressions of deep passion, of anguish and fear, and soaring elation.  Yet singing the psalms is actually a discipline in impassibility, for through the psalms we are trained to turn all circumstances and moods into worship.  Those who sing and absorb the psalms will have a rich emotional life, but none of their passions will cause them to deviate from following the crucified Messiah.  Through singing the psalms, we are conformed to the impassible sufferer, the Word made flesh." - Leithart, Athanasius, p169.

More Psalm-singing.  More prayer.  May every circumstance be turned to an opportunity to worship.  Teach me, O great Psalm-singer.

"Behold, He Prayeth"

"And I say, furthermore, that of all the evidences of the real work of the Spirit, a habit of hearty private prayer is one of the most satisfactory that can be named...When (the Lord) sent Ananias to Saul in Damascus, he gave him no other evidence of his change of heart than this, "Behold, he prayeth" (Acts 9:11). - Ryle, A Call to Prayer

Planted by the Lord

The last verse of Psalm 92 promises that even though we may grow old, having been planted by the LORD, we will still bear fruit if we are planted here, in God’s courts, in God’s temple, in the church of the living God.  They will flourish, they will be fresh and green.  Here they will loud proclaim that God is upright, that He is our Rock, and that there is no wrong found in Jehovah.

This is the time of covenant renewal – and it is a time where God invites you, both individually, and corporately as His people, to be renewed, to be revived, to be built up – and to bear fruit.  It does not matter what your circumstances are – what victories you have enjoyed, what struggles you are enduring, what failures you have had to confess – God has not left you if you are planted in Him – and He has not finished bringing forth fruit from you to the glory of His name.

So come – lay down old and new rebellions – take off doubts and anxieties – lay aside unbelief and false teachings about the King of kings and Lord of lords, even Jesus Christ your Lord, and His Father, and the power and person of His Holy Spirit Who even now is drawing you into the presence of the One who sits at the throne of grace.  Do you need help?  Are you in a time of need?  Do you feel old?  Unworthy or unused or unnoticed?  You have come to the right place.  For it is here, in Christ, where you have been planted – and where you will bear much fruit.

Come and worship.  Come and be renewed.  Come and bring your offerings of praise and thanks to the Lord – for He has only begun to pour out His blessings upon His people.  He has only begun to bring His salvation to the ends of the earth.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Creation is an Act of Grace

"Creation itself is an act of grace; existence is a gift and depends on the continuing sustenance of the Word and the Spirit. Adam was the recipient of grace from the beginning, the grace of participation in the Spirit, the grace of the ordering Word, and the grace of the spoken word of a loving Father." - Leithart, Athanasius, p148.

Faith and Prayer

"I can find that nobody will be saved by his prayers, but I cannot find that without prayer anybody will be saved." - J.C. Ryle, A Call to Prayer

And Calvin said, "Faith is ever the mother of prayer."

Sing to the Lord like You Mean It

The Lord calls us to sing to Him, to sing before Him, lifting up our hearts and voices.  In the never ending discussions about what is appropriate for music in the worship service, it is very true that many people have many different ideas and opinions on what makes for good and right worship music.  What we must avoid is thinking that our opinion or preference is what matters first.  And so, here is a charge to sing to the Lord like you mean it – loud and uplifting, skillfully as you can and in such a way that your neighbor, the people in your row, and together the ends of the earth, believe that you believe that God is truly listening – because He is.

First – your decision to sing should be a response to God’s command to do so.  He wants you to sing.  He wants to hear you.  He wants to hear us.  In His providence, He has selected these psalms and hymns to sing before Him.  And so do so – like you mean it – to the glory of God.

Second – your decision to sing and to do so like you mean it should be because God tells us that we are to listen to one another as we sing.  We are to be admonished and taught by the hearing of these psalms and hymns and spiritual songs – we are to be moved by thankful hearts around us lifting up their voices to the Lord.  He says He will do this in the congregation of His people.  So you should sing – loud and full and boisterously – because together with all of the other voices, God may just use it to convert someone here, to turn someone away from despair, discouragement, temptation or doubt.  He may use our singing to glorify His name by changing the hearts of others here.  So sing with this in mind.

Third – sing because you love the music. And if you do not love it – ask God to help you love it.  Ask Him to help you love the words, the tunes, the styles – even if they do not immediately sit well with you – even if they do not for some time.  After you have done so, feel free to talk with me or the elders or Jordan about how we might choose, write, arrange, and sing and play these in ways that may be more to the Lord’s pleasure and to His children’s – but only after.

So come and sing to the Lord – with all of us – and change the world as you do so.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Reformation Hope

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. The Reformation of the 16th Century gave the church many gifts, not the least of which was the recovery of the doctrine of the Word of God and the power of that Word preached to the nations. It was a combination of Sola Scriptura, the declaration that the Scriptures are our
only ultimate and infallible authority for faith and practice, the translation of the Scriptures into common languages and the recovery of a high view of the pulpit and the preached Word.

The world is still reeling from this reformation, although much of the Western world is reeling with a kickback of rebellion.  And yet, Western civilization is ignorant of her heritage – why she is what she is – why she has so many governmental, societal, scientific, and material blessings.  It is because of the Reformation.  It is because the Gospel was shaken out of a casing of unbelief and Roman heresies and set free to fly all over the world again.  And it did.

And yet, we long for a greater Reformation and believe the Holy Spirit was just getting started. And we believe this will come because of what we are taught about the completed work of the reformation of humanity in and through Jesus Christ.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

This is not an invitation to be saved out of the world; it is a declaration that the world has been reconciled and therefore you need to come quietly, surrendering to the invasion. This is the establishment of Christendom. This would be a reformation of faith and hope.  Put simply, we know we win; this worship gathering is not all of us running away from the game of real life out there in the world.  It is simply a huddle to call the next play, a renewal of the covenant of this gospel age of hope.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

One Powerful God, But Just One

"God must be strong:  his "eternal power" is manifest in creation (Rom 1:18-20).  God must also be one:  "If there were many gods, there ought to be many worlds" since "it would not be becoming that the many produced only one world nor that the one world were made by many gods" (Against the Pagans 39).  How can the world go in one direction without a single pilot?  How can creation produce its harmonious sound unless it is played by a single artist? (Against the Pagans 39).  In short, "because the world which has been made is one, one must also believe that its Maker is one" (Against the Pagans 39)." - Leithart, Athanasius, p98.

Put on Christ at the Table

As we come again to commune at this Table of grace, this spiritual Thanksgiving, this heavenly feast, it is good to be reminded that this is also a part of what it means to put on Christ, to put on the whole armor of God.

We partake of Christ here, by faith, and receive all the benefits of His life for our life in Him, here – as the body of Christ, the one body.  In a moment we’ll sing St. Patrick’s Breastplate and in that song we are reminded of how we are in Christ and He is in us and above us, and beside us, and around us.

This Table and this ritual is a memorial.  It serves to declare and proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again.  It declares that all that Christ died for – including your final and complete sanctification – is in His hands and according to His grace.  Come and receive all Christ has for you – and do so again and again, week after week, to the praise of His gracious glory.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Evil is a Move Towards Non-Existence

"Evil, for Athanasius as much as for Augustine, is no substance, but a breach with the source of existence and therefore a move toward non-existence." - Leithart, Athanasius, p89.

Participation in evil makes us less and less "real."  Think about that the next time you are tempted with the words, "just be yourself," "follow your heart," or "express yourself."

Trinitarian Dependence - Add the Spirit

"Add the Spirit.  Then what?  The Father begets the Son in the Spirit; the Father speaks the eternal Word through the breath of the Spirit; the Father gives the Spirit to the Son as the Son's eternal and eternally complete inheritance.  The Son gives the Spirit to the Father as well, but as the return gift, the inheritance "enhanced"; the Word spoken by the Father in the Spirit reverberates back to the Father; the Son begotten in the Spirit of love loves the Father with the love that is the Spirit...The Spirit is the one by whom the Father speaks his Word, and so the Spirit gives the Father articulation and the Word beauty and rhetorical power.  The Spirit is the love by which the Father loves the Son, so that the Spirit is the one who makes the Father a loving Father and the Son a beloved Son.  Or, considered from the other direction, the Spirit is the love that the Son returns to the Father, and so is it through the Spirit that the Son is the loving Son and the Father the beloved Father." - Leithart, Athanasius, pp87-88.

I am pretty sure you are going to want to read that one through one more time.

Worship on Behalf of the World

On this Lord’s Day, let us join with all the saints on earth and in heaven in proclaiming, celebrating, declaring and rejoicing in the crown rights of King Jesus over all heaven and earth.  As we do so, please keep in mind our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.  While that part of the world seems so far away from us, we are connected in many ways, including with our brother and fellow pastor San Sanych who was with us not long ago and who serves many churches, like-minded with us and the CREC, in Ukraine.

There is no way to easily analyze all that is going on in Ukraine and with Russia.  One thing seems certain – if Crimea is annexed and brought into Russian control it will be extremely complicated to reverse such actions.  In my trip to Eastern Europe last year it became clear to me in listening to the stories of pastors that here in the United States, we still do not know the devastation upon the peoples of Poland, Ukraine, and other Eastern European nations, brought upon them from World War II and the later Soviet invasions.  But these were not innocent nations and peoples themselves, the histories are very long and very complex.

In and through it all, God is weaving His story and it is not a story of defeat.  It is a story of victory and conquest.  It is the story of redemption – of real freedom – of real peace – of real hope and transformation.  But His story takes many twists and turns and we are witnessing another difficult, painful twist – the pain is only intensified by our own nation’s sin and rebellion which has rendered us more and more ineffective in doing anything about such grievances.  But our trust is not in these United States.  Our trust is in the LORD, in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Our worship here is another blow against the gates of Hades and, in the end, the enemy will not, absolutely will not, be able to withstand our blows.

You and your family, this nation and the nations of the world, will bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ.  We do so now in faith, rejoicing in the grace that is ours and that is promised to the world.  We do so as ambassadors of that gospel – to our own people, to our own families, to our own nation, to Ukraine, to Russia, and to all the ends of the earth.  Worship on behalf of the world.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Father-Son Dependence

"Dependence thus goes both ways, but the dependence is not symmetrical or identical.  At least we can say that the Son depends "filially" on the Father, and the Father "paternally" on the Son.  That is not saying much, though.  We might also say that the Son's dependence on the Father is the dependence of begottenness; the Son does not "beget" the Father....The Father does not depend on the Son as one begetting him but depends on the Son for his status as Father.  He depends on the Son as the one who does his will so fully that he is the living will of the Father, and he depends on the Son as his image, his radiance, and the exact representation of his glory." - Leithart, Athanasius, p87.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Eternally Triune

"That God is a Trinity also implies that there is eternal difference in God.  Some of Jesus's statements about his relation to the Father are given in order to establish just this point.  Jesus says that he has "received" from the Father and that things have been "delivered" to him "only to show that He is not the Father, but the Father's Word, and the Eternal Son, who because of His likeness to the Father, has eternally what He has from him, and because He is the Son, has from the Father what He has eternally" (Discourses 3.36)." - Leithart, Athanasius, p83.

God could not have not been eternally Triune and then eternally Triune.  If there is an eternal Father, He must be eternally Father with a Son, and so forth.  If eternally Father and Son, then eternally Triune.

Discerning One Body

When we are told as we come to the Table that we must be able to discern the body of Christ, we are not being told that we have to pass a theological exam regarding the relationship between the bread and the actual body of Christ.  We are not being told that we must understand the transformational work of justification by faith and all of the reformed tenets of the faith.

What does it mean to discern the Lord’s body?  It means that we open our eyes as we partake and look around us.  It means that my personal communion with Christ is never simply about my own little personal worship experience here.  It is about the body – all of us in Christ.  It means I am to look and see and rejoice with my brothers and sisters that we are brothers and sisters washed in the grace of Jesus, baptized together into one body of which I am a member.  Rejoice with them.  Sing with them.  Partake with them.  Encourage them.

This is the body that is being built up into the perfect man – into mature Christlikeness.  God is making us more and more fitted to our Head.  He does so with Word and Sacrament and we receive them both by faith.  Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Wisdom of God

"Throughout this discussion, Athanasius relies heavily on Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians 1:24 that Christ is the "Wisdom" and "Power" of God.  He takes that statement quite straightforwardly.  The Father does have "His own" Wisdom and Word and Power, but "His own" Wisdom and Power is the Son himself, a hypostatic Word and Wisdom, the Word and Wisdom that is the Father's image." - Leithart, Athanasius, p75.

I've wondered about this "power" and "person" distinction in considering Ephesians 1:19-20 - "and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places," (NKJV).

"...His mighty power which He worked in Christ..."  There is more here than simply that the Father did something upon Christ.  He did something in Christ.

How God Makes One

Of course, as we come to the Table, we do see God’s way of making one.  We witness how God goes about bringing forth unity.  He makes one by breaking one into two – or then into many.  He distributes His sacrifice and by that sacrifice, He brings together as one.  One loaf – one body.  One loaf divided, one body united.

He did this in the marriage covenant as well.  He broke Adam into two – separating his rib from the rest of his body.  Then God fashioned from the broken portion a woman for the man – brought her to him and proclaimed them to be one-flesh, united and unable to be broken apart except by Him.  When He broke Adam open, He did so putting Adam into a death-sleep.  Adam died, gave away his body, and awoke to a new life, a new union, a new unity.

We come and partake of the broken body of our Lord, our Savior, and the Husband of the church.  We partake as individuals, required to come upon our own individual faith – but as we partake, we are remade, we partake of the death by faith, the separation by faith, the resurrection by faith, the new life by faith, and the unity which is ours together – by faith.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Wordless God?

"If the Son was not before he was begotten, and if, as Athanasius argues, this can only be understood as a temporal statement, then God willed and determined to beget and to create before the Son was.  That is nonsense, since the Son is the Word, and how can God deliberate about anything when he is yet wordless?" - Leithart, Athanasius, p71.

There was a time when the "Word became flesh," but there never was a time when the Word wasn't.

Wine and not Grape Juice

I believe the scriptures are very clear that on the night Jesus instituted the Lord’s supper, they partook of wine, the fruit of the vine, a fermented beverage made from grapes.  I also believe that Scripture and history are very clear that wine was an appropriate drink for Christians throughout the history of the church – and no one used to check your ID.

And here is another place where we could have divisions among us.  Because of the sin of drunkenness and a humanistic and statist approach at dealing with it, we now have all kinds of regulations surrounding the partaking of this drink – a drink Jesus used in order to reveal His divine nature in His first public miracle at a wedding in Cana.

But because of generations of confusion in our culture – and generations now in the church of mixed messages surrounding alcohol, we also offer grape juice.  We do so knowing that we are dividing the tray – but we’d rather do that right now than divide the congregation.  But here is another exhortation to start where you are – where we are – and grow in our maturity of understanding the scriptures.  Let’s study together, with charity and gentleness, but with sober Bible Study.  There is an answer to be found.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Jesus "the" Son, Not "a" Son

"...a begotten Son inherent in the Father's nature is a single Son, the unique and utterly final Word of the Father.  Creatures become "sons," not the Son.  They are "gods" (Psalm 82:6), not God as the Father is God." - Leithart, Athanasius, p69.

This, in response to the Arians' desire to make Jesus one of many sons of God.  Jesus is the final word.  Our words are fragmentary, partial, and temporary.  The Son, Who is the Word, is a Word which is stable, single, and final.  There is no fragmentation of God or His Word.  This is part of the great Creature/creation divide.

Come Receive from the King

Spurgeon’s church served communion the night he preached on Hebrews 7 – and so he concluded his sermon with these words – 

But when you come to the feasts of love, drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved. There never was a Christian man that was too happy in God. There never was a believer that was too peaceful, too serene, too confident, too hopeful. You cannot drink too much of this heavenly nectar. Oh, that you would but have grace to take in all that you may have! I know what you will do. You will come to-night into my Lord’s treasury, and he will say, “Take what you will.” There will be mints of gold and silver before you, and you will look all round and take up some brass farthing or other and say, “Bless the Lord for this!” Such gratitude is right enough. Bless the Lord for anything. At the same time, why not take something better? “Oh, I have been a mourner,” you say, “all my days.” Whose fault is that? “Oh, but I have never had any great light or any great joy.” Whose fault is that? Is it not your own?”

Brothers and Sisters - do not be like the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son – all righteousness and no joy – all seriousness but with an attitude towards your Father for His lavish graciousness – come and eat and drink – come and have your fill – you have been to the Table before, but of course, you need much, much more…

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Always Father

"Arianism is a heresy about the Son, but Athanasius recognizes that it is equally about the Father.  He takes Jesus's words quite literally:  "He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him" (John 5:23).  In dishonoring the Son, the Arians also do injustice to the Father.  As Peter Widdicombe points out, "The denial of the eternal fatherhood of God is the first of the heretical doctrines with which Athanasius charges his Arian opponents."  They believe, by Athanasius's account, that "God was not eternally Father," and that "God was not always Father, but became so later," and they say both "not eternal Father" and "not eternal Son."  Because the Son did not always exist, "God was not always Father". - Leithart, Athanasius, p63.

And while the Scripture does teach that there was a time where the Son became incarnate, there is no teaching that there was a time where the Son wasn't the Son or didn't exist.  We know explicitly from Scripture that He is called the Son by the Father in Psalm 2, "I will declare the decree:  Yahweh has said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.'" (v7).  Elsewhere we understand "begotten" as eternally proceeding from the Father.  This "Today, I have begotten You" is particularly fulfilled in Christ's resurrection (and not his incarnation) when Paul makes his arguments in Acts 13:33.  The true Son and not simply David are being referred to long before Jesus is conceived.

Community and Clean Up

There are so many things to consider when we come to the Lord’s Table and so it is fitting that we come here week after week.  Some meditations are very personal and some very corporate – because both things are happening here.  Some meditations are very spiritually minded – body and blood, and some are very pragmatic – bread and wine – because both are here.

So, as we gather as a community at a Table remembering the Lord’s death, remember as well all of those in the body served by those in the body who serve, doing menial things – like setting up this Table, setting up the trays, cleaning them up afterwards – along with the set up and clean up of this place we use for our worship service.  There are a host of “chores” like the chores in your house that have to be done here each week at Trinity.  We are in need of more hands to help with those chores – and so, as members of this body, please consider speaking to our deacons about helping by volunteering in one of many ways.  Putting hymnals away is being Christlike.  Vacuuming the fellowship hall is being Christlike.  Look – you can see these things here – at this Table as well.  Jesus serves.

Monday, March 10, 2014

His Friends to the Table

In the meal before His greatest battle, Jesus called His friends to Himself, set a table for them, and gave them bread and wine.  He told them He was grateful to share in that particular meal with them.  Table fellowship is sweet, but that night, a particular blessing was to be enjoyed around that Table – a blessing that would change the world forever.

Jesus gave His life that night to His friends; friends who would betray Him, friends who would desert Him, friends who would deny Him.  These were friends who did not yet understand what He was doing, what was going to be accomplished, and what it would cost Him.

Jesus did not call friends to this Table who had it all right, who understood everything, who had obeyed Him or would obey Him perfectly after coming to that Table.  He simply called those who were His friends.  Are you His friend?  Have you been baptized into His friendship?  Have you come to know Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, as friend.  Then come and welcome to Jesus Christ.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Gathering of the Commonwealth of Heaven

Good morning, happy Lord’s Day, and welcome to the gathering of the commonwealth of heaven.  We are an outpost of the heavenly Jerusalem, pilgrims assigned to press the victorious kingdom of God upon all the nations.  We have been assigned here in the greater Seattle area, and now, in the beginning of the twenty-first century of the reign of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

He summons us each Lord’s Day to gather as that outpost and be joined in a mysterious way, a covenantal way, especially through our liturgy, with the heavenly city.  We hear of John’s experience of this on the island of Patmos when he was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day where he received the Revelation.  And the writer of Hebrews tells us that in much the same way we are gathered up together to be with all of the saints that have gone before us up into the heavens where we gather at the throne of Grace, worship our King, and pronounce judgment upon the nations.

It is not an arrogant pronouncement of judgment.  It is a pronouncement which we received as well.  It is a pronouncement due to our utter rebellion by our covenant head, Adam, and our own resultant sins of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, of refusing to glorify God, and of refusing to give thanks to Him for all things.  But God, who is rich in mercy, called us to Himself, gave us new life in Jesus Christ, and through our death and resurrection in Him, our baptism, we are joined to the new humanity, the kingdom of God, the citizenship of heaven.

This is therefore a political gathering.  The kingdom of heaven comes with much violence for it breaks the yoke of oppression and tyranny – the yoke of the devil and all his minions.  It sets captives free, it enables a love for and an ability to obey God’s law and walk in His ways faithfully and joyfully.  It provides life where there is only death, forgiveness where there is only blame and shame, and hope where there is only despair in the midst of suffering.  Welcome to Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Govt Shutdown

While we continue to endure the great circus in the other Washington, our beloved Government Shutdown, and all the hype and criticism surrounding it, another Lord’s Day has come and with it the opportunity to approach the throne of Grace.

We come to the throne of Grace and not the throne of Entitlement – and when we come to this place, we are reminded that we do not deserve anything.  Not a single blessing, and they are without number, have we been given that we can say we have earned.  The only thing to do at the throne of Grace is ask – ask and receive.  But at this throne, we find that when we ask, when we come clothed in the humility and honesty of our situation, we are quickly heard and we are cared for by a Great Shepherd.

At the throne of Entitlement, however, we find a mob-mentality, an elite oversight and rule, and a place where envy and discontentment, anger and selfishness reign.  In these weird days of the so-called partial government shutdown we find our wise rulers closing monuments and parks but refusing to touch the most treasured entitlement programs that really are the problem at hand.  We are at the beginning of the greatest redistribution of wealth this nation will have ever seen, and the last minute panic of those who realize just what we could be in for is evident.

But what to do and where to turn?  How is this to be solved?  There are two thrones before us.  It is imperative that each one of us, that our families, and that this nation turn away from the throne of Entitlement and to the throne of Grace.  But the only way to come to that throne is with your hands open, having dropped your demands, your envy, your pride, your faux-exceptionalism – and bow your knees to receive – grace.  That will require the confession of Your sin, the repentance from works which the One Who sits on this throne of Grace requires.  For it is a throne – and that means someone is ruling, Someone is in charge.  This morning’s sermon text could be addressed to a nation, to the politicians in Washington, just as easily as to individual hearts – “Let him who is stealing, steal no longer.”

Friday, March 7, 2014

Let the Nations Come

This morning we will have the privilege of hearing Pastor Pawel Barosik preach to us.  I am humbled to have the blessing of sharing this pulpit with Pawel.  His love for the Lord and His love for the people of his city, Gdansk, Poland, is evident in his words, his family, and his actions as he ministers to his congregation and works unceasingly to bring the gospel to his community.

In just one generation we have seen communist nations go from being officially closed to the work of the gospel to once again legal places where evangelists may more freely go and churches may more freely minister.  But officially being open to the gospel is not the main obstacle – and Poland and America are both two great examples.

While we both enjoy now the freedom to gather, to worship, and to share our faith with others, these alone will not bring about conversions – not without the work of God Himself.  And God Himself was never limited – He was not limited in Poland when the land was in lock down and kept from hearing – and He is not limited today, here, in Poland, or anywhere in the world.

And He is not limited with you either.  God is absolutely and completely sovereign over every man and woman, over every city and nation, over every hair of your head, over every issue, concern, large or small, which you may have this morning.  He is not limited by us in raising up worshippers.  Jesus said Himself that if God wanted to, He could raise up rocks to become sons of Abraham.

But He hasn’t raised up rocks.  He has raised you up – He has given you the new life of Jesus Christ – and in that life He intends to minister to you and through you to the world around.  And so, with faith, not in ourselves, not in government structures, not in great ecclesiastical movements – but in the God Who has said the nations will come – let us come and worship.

Imitating the Redeemer of this Age

"...redeeming the time, because the days are evil." - Eph 5:16

The world was full of sin, rebellion, darkness, and foolish ignorance.  What did God do towards this stiff-necked rebellion?  “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).  Jesus Christ seized the day.  Paul says, in the wisdom of Christ which is yours, go and do likewise.
Every moment of every day has a redemption possibility in it.  Seize it.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lord, My Heart is Not Haughty

You have come before the Lord and King of all, to the Risen Christ and before the throne of His Father, Your God.  You have come at His summons to present yourselves at the beginning of this new week, this Lord’s Day celebration.  Because You have come to this holy convocation, to this holy place, it is important that you remember to confess your sins, to be reminded that it is all of grace by which you can stand in His presence.  His grace – His grace to us.

We are about to sing a psalm 131 and I think it speaks so well of the kind of attitudes we must have as we come before the LORD – and it speaks to us of how we can be settled and at rest while still in the presence of such a holy God.  “Lord my heart is not haughty – nor my eyes lofty – neither do I exercise myself in great matters, or in things too high for me.”

What are we saying?  We are singing about our real situation before God.  There is nothing for us to boast in, there is nothing to commend us to God, there is nothing to brag about.  We really are not that smart, we really do not understand the really deep things of God and His creation.  We really are flummoxed when it comes to understanding why we are here or why He has given us the specific tasks, trials, temptations and activities set before us for this coming week.  And so, we will simply come and find rest and trust in Him – He will reveal, He will provide, He will explain in due time.  He is to be trusted in all matters.

And so we sing – Surely I have behaved and quieted myself, as a child that is weaned of his mother – Let Israel hope in the LORD from henceforth and forever.  The charge as we come to worship and as we come confessing any sin and all of our unworthiness is this – find yourself to be at rest in the LORD and in His sovereign care.  Find yourself at peace in Him.  Find yourself well cared for by Him – for He cares for you.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Feeling Overwhelmed

For many, especially those of us with school aged children, September often feels more like the New Year than January does.  And often in homes and businesses, the fall brings with it the launch of new plans, new responsibilities, new challenges.  We are a couple weeks into those new challenges and I have a question for you – Feeling overwhelmed already?  Feeling a touch like you bit off a bit more than you can chew?  Are you swimming in it?

Actually, this isn’t a bad place to be in – if, as Christians, we understand what the Lord is doing through such experiences and feelings.  Here is the truth:  all of us, all the time, are in over our heads.  And the times we are the most faithful is when we realize this and turn to the Lord, trusting Him for what seems impossible.  King David was at his best when he knew he was in a situation where only God could deliver him or his people.  He fell short and often into sin when he acted as though his own political know-how, or his own strength or status would take care of the situation.

When the new problem comes, when the new challenge comes, when the feelings of “over my head” start to appear, where do you turn?  Christian, where should you turn?  And why in the world would you expect your situation to be any different?  Do you really think that you could be in a situation where you have it all in control?  Your life is a vapor – you have no control, no ultimate control over anything, not your tomorrow, not even your next breath.  And the best place for you to be is to remember that over and over.

And then He calls us – He summons you – to come here with the saints again – and to hear Him – I am your God, You are my people.  I have your future, your destiny, your successes, your failures, your challenges, your answers, here, in the palm of my hand.  But they are not in yours.  Come and trust me.  Come and ask me.  Come and worship me.  Come and humble yourself before me.  Come and find rest.  Come and find hope.  Come and renew your faith – no – rather – come and have your faith renewed. 

Christian Kissing and Customs

 Greet one another with a kiss of love. - 1 Peter 5:14

The cultural custom of greeting was a kiss of love, or a ‘holy kiss’.  Jesus considered it bad manners not to have received one (Luke 7:45), and there is something important to learn here.  The cultural application does not have to be exactly replicated, but the principle of physical affection must, for we are physical creatures.  We consider this unimportant, because we think it is OK to come to church and never touch, never greet, never express affection to anyone else.  We must think again.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Twenty Years of Grace (Sept 2013)

This Lord’s Day, following our service of worship, we invite you all to celebrate with us 20 years of God’s faithfulness to this particular local body – to Trinity Church.  A small microcosm of what God is doing all over the world and all through this gospel age of hope, we have been blessed in countless ways.  We celebrate 20 years of grace.

In all of it, there is nothing that we can commend ourselves for.  It is all grace, from grace to grace that we have been given life, a community, our children, the Word, the singing of psalms, feasts and memorials, the Table, this location to come and worship, our discipleship, fellowship, service to one another, gifts and acts of mercy, instruction, associations with other churches in the area and worldwide, the ability to rejoice with one another, to weep with one another, to carry burdens for one another, to be the body of Christ for one another and to those God places in our midst - and on and on and on.

But central to it all is our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the life of the Trinity bestowed upon us.  What we celebrate is our redemption, the resurrection of Jesus Christ applied to hearts here in the here and now.  What we long for is more of this – both in our own lives and in the life of the world around us.  We long to see a greater outpouring of His grace, of the work of the Gospel – and all to the glory of His grace.  Our celebration then, is much like this service of worship.  It is both a memorial of what God has done – and a heartfelt, urgent request for more – a realization that we must offer our bodies as living sacrifices to the Lord and an expectation, an anticipation that our Savior Who has reconciled the world to Himself, would and will make that more and more manifest.

And this is what He promises to give as we come here at His summons.  He will renew His covenant with us and call us to do likewise.  The Father has given the nations to His Son and calls us to join with Him in that promise and declaration to all around.  Come and worship.

Monday, March 3, 2014

And Then God Speaks

Part of the work of reformation is God making us realize that we are not up for the task.  Part of the work of revival is God making sure we see that we are not qualified, we are not equipped, that we do not have what it takes to accomplish what He has commanded.  This is because that both in reformation, something we desperately need today, and in revival, God has to reveal to us and convict us of our sins of self-righteousness, self-ability, and self-absorption.  He has to turn us away from ourselves again and point us to Jesus Christ – high and lifted up – high and lifted up on the cross for our sins – and high and lifted up at the right hand of the Father as the Savior and King of the world.

The church has become far too much like Judah in the days of Nehemiah who said, “The strength of the laborers is failing, and there is so much rubbish that we are not able to build the wall.” (Neh 4:10).  Attacks from the enemy outside are one thing.  Discouragement from within is often more destructive.  But as I said, this is often the very purpose of God.  He wants us to see that without Him, we cannot do anything.  We cannot succeed.  We will fail.

And then He speaks.  Then the wind is calmed, the rock is split apart, the fish vomits, the tomb is opened.  Our God is the God Who raises the dead.  Our God is the One who calls things to be which are not.  Our God is the cliffhanger storyteller.  Our God is the great knot untangler.  Outside of Christ, we can do nothing.  In Christ, we can do all things.  We can endure all things because we know that through all things He is victorious – He is perfectly accomplishing all that He intends.  We cannot see what that is most of the time – and this is why it is called faith.

Maybe it is not the church generally that you are discouraged about.  Maybe it is your marriage, your family, your health, your battles with temptations, your finances.  You are tempted to think God cannot make right on this anymore – it’s too big, too late, too tangled, too much rubble.  “Perfect,” God says, “come and worship at my temple and watch what I am about to do.” Come and worship God.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Table and Tribulations

The last verse from our sermon text this morning says, “Therefore I ask that you do not lose heart at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.”  Paul would not have the Ephesians be depressed or worried over his tribulations, his imprisonment, for it was their glory.  His message of salvation cost him his freedom – but it gave the Ephesians theirs.

Paul was imitating Christ who gave thanks as He instituted a ritual that would declare His broken body and shed blood.  He gave thanks for His coming tribulation for it would be for the glory of His disciples – and life for the world.

We partake by faith and in Christ and in the power of His Spirit we too rejoice in the filling out of the sufferings of Christ, which we, His body, goes through – and we rejoice looking for the glory which will be wrought in His body – in us and in our brothers and sisters, because we are poured out for them.  This is communion – the communion of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  And it gives all aspects of life meaning and purpose.