Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving in a Dark World

As we conclude our service of worship, we come to the Communion Table, also known as the Eucharist.  Sometimes protestants are afraid to call this the Eucharist because that is what the Roman Catholics call it and we do not believe what they teach about the Eucharist.

But we do believe in the name – Eucharist is what you will do on Thursday this week.  Eucharist is Thanksgiving and so Eucharist is what Christians are to participate in all of their days.  Thanksgiving to God and to His Christ.

Thanksgiving is a testimony in a dark world of the Light that has come.  This Table is a testimony that this is a world not moving towards a funeral but rather towards a great Wedding Feast.  And so Thanksgiving also celebrates all that is coming and is to come.  Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Passover Reminder with Promise

As we come to partake of the elements of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, we are certainly reminded of His death for us.  But a memorial, according to the Scripture, is given to the people of God as a means, not primarily for reminding us, but for us to remind God of His covenant faithfulness and promises to us.

The blood from the Lamb at Passover was brushed onto the doorposts of the homes of the faithful, reminding the Angel of the LORD as He came over Egypt to pass over those who had sacrificed the ceremonial lamb.  Then the Angel went on to destroy the firstborn of Egypt.  Well, every Lord’s Day, you will recall, is a day of judgment.  And here, as we partake at the Table, we are reminding the Lord to pass over us in judgment and to go on to judge the world around us – both for our protection as well as for justice AND mercy to reign.

We remind God of the potent power of His Gospel, of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ – and of the promise that His death has and will change the entire world.  We partake at this Table looking for an increase in His government – His rule over all parts of creation.  Come and worship, and remind the LORD.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Satisfied in Him

Last Lord’s Day I attempted to challenge us all to consider this time of worship and how we determine what is best by thinking much less about our own personal preferences and far more about what would please the LORD.  I was challenging the modern notion of church consumerism and marketing for the purpose of church growth.

This idea, however, can lead some to a ditch on the other side of the road, and that is the ditch of Stoicism:  I am here to worship God and it does not matter at all how I am feeling about it.  This is not all about me and therefore my emotions, my heart-felt gratitude, my personal delight, has nothing to do in measuring the appropriateness or correctness of the worship of God.  That is a ditch.  That is as wrong as thinking that God doesn’t care about the details of our service as long as we sincerely experience deep feelings of satisfying worship.

And that is why I appreciate the phrase coined by John Piper:  “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  He also suggests that we slightly edit the answer to the first catechism question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “What is the chief end of man?” to, “The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever.”  This works so well with the Psalmist who writes, “In thy presence is fullness of joy; in thy right hand there are pleasures forever.”

God isn’t interested in disengaged, unfulfilling worship before Him any more than He is interested in self-centered self-worship with some Jesus-words sprinkled in.  What He intends to do, what He gives us and works in us – and He does so here by means of His Holy Spirit through the Word and sacrament – is to bring praise to the graciousness of His glory, a glory warm with satisfaction in Him.

None of that occurs without God-given faith – faith that “sees” when there is nothing the eyes of flesh can see, faith that hopes when there is nothing to hope in – but the promises of God.  Come and receive that faith; or come and have that faith strengthened more and more in the terrifying and satisfying presence of God the Father.  Come in Jesus’ name.  Come in the power of His Holy Spirit.

Monday, November 24, 2014

How Does God Feel About Your Worship?

Jesus shall reign where ever the sun does its successive journeys run.  The earth will be as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.  The gospel will go forth to all the nations and they will come to Him bringing their tribute and praise.  Mercy wins.  That is the gospel; that is the work of Jesus Christ.

And so we come to worship God, at His summons, at His command, with great hope and expectation.  Like Sara with Hagar, however, we can be tempted when we do not see the results as quickly as we would like – and think that we need to take matters into our own hands rather than trusting the Lord and working by faith.  Overly zealous in the wrong way, American Christianity in the 20th century took on a marketing, church-growth mentality to growing the church that has caused us to think about churches as products -  and parishioners, even unbelievers, as consumers that we must market to in order to succeed.

Pastors have been told that too much talk about sin or deep doctrine is “off-putting” to the consumer and so he should instead seek to entertain in order to grab the attention, especially in a day where each individual is bombarded with marketing messages, advertisements and enticements, at an almost relentless rate throughout every day and night.  70s style of worship led to 80s style and then 90s much the same as every other style of entertainment in our culture.

And if it is up to us to be culturally relevant, the church has proven that she can never keep up.  Try as she might she just can’t seem to be worldly as fast and as new and as hip as the world.

But what if it isn’t all about us?  What if we are not the audience, none of us, when it comes to the worship service?  What if God is the audience?  What if the thing that should concern us most is whether or not God was pleased with our worship and not whether or not it was our style, or whether it was hip enough for the kids, or whether it was culturally relevant enough for the visitor?  What if churches aren’t supposed to be shopped in the same way you choose your favorite restaurant?  What if we are more like the food than the consumer?  Come and worship the LORD, but make sure you taste good – to Him.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hallowed Be Your Name

We are instructed in the Lord’s prayer, and in the passage we will study later, to “hallow the Lord,” or “to sanctify Him and His name.”  What does it mean to sanctify the Lord?

That which is holy is distinct from the common or ordinary.  Thus to sanctify God is to demonstrate that He is “high and lifted up” in power and in character, as well as in His very essence.  To fail to sanctify Him is to make Him appear helpless, indifferent, and unimportant (Oswalt).

And so we begin a new week sanctifying the Lord by putting Him first and His worship first and our priority.  But what will the rest of the week look like.  Will it look like we are sanctifying Him?  Are we hallowing His name and seeking for it to be hallowed on earth as it is in heaven?

He is the Lord and He can do whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases and with whatever means He chooses.  Nothing stops Him, nothing thwarts Him, nothing interferes with His plan and His Providence.  Will that be expressed from our lips and from our hearts and hands this week, or will it look instead as though we believe God is helpless – unable to do anything about the present situation.  Maybe we will declare by our actions that He is indifferent, that He doesn’t care or doesn’t know what is going on in our situation, our trials or difficulties.  Or maybe we will act as though He is unimportant – that there are better, more powerful, more practical gods and idols to turn to in order to make our present situation better.

But that is not the God you have come to worship.  His powerful love, His holy love, His terrible jealousy for His people and His name means that He is near, present, immanent at all times.  We see this because we see Jesus, His only Son, Whom the Father sent to be our Savior and King, our Shepherd and Friend, our Elder brother and Lord.  There is not a hair on your head, not an event in your day, not a single need in your situation that He is unaware of or unable to handle.  That is the God you have come to worship.  He has summoned you – and He cares for you very much.  Hallow His name, come and worship the Lord.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Worship and Vote

We have gathered to declare the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all heaven and earth.  We are not hunkering down in our Christian ghetto here away from the world; we are meeting in the midst of the world declaring Christ’s majesty over that world and all of it.  Having begun our work for this week here, resting in the completed work of Jesus and simply offering Him the sacrifice of our praise, we will then be sent out all over this little part of the world to show forth Christ’s love and righteousness in innumerable ways.

One of the ways we should do that this week is by casting our votes in the civil realm for candidates and policies that reflect the Lordship of Jesus and His Law.  In our day, there are no candidates nor are there any policies that openly announce such a submission.  No one says, “I hold to thus and such as the proper way to govern on this issue because it best reflects the law and desires of the King of kings according to the teachings of scripture.”

We do pray that one day the kind of candidates and politicians that we elect will in fact say such things.  However, because we do not have that in front of us today on our ballots does not mean that we should not participate.  Reformation is messy.  Reformation is slow.  And the kingdom of God spreads slowly, like leaven in the lump, like the smallest seed in the garden.

We do not believe that politics or the civil government is our Savior.  We do not, but the world in which we live today does.  And so we must not vote hoping to save our society through politics.  Rather, we should vote believing that God will save our politics; that our Savior, the Lord Jesus, will save our civil government.  If He does not do so, then He will certainly bring His judgment to bear – in even greater measure than He already has.  And so we come here to worship, we pray for mercy, and then we go and vote our consciences, influenced by the teaching of the Word of God and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Godly Repentance

As we gather in this time of corporate worship, we follow the plan of Covenant Renewal found throughout the Scripture.  Having been brought into the presence of God in all His holiness, we are reminded of our sinfulness, our shortcomings, our compromises, and we are reminded of our need to repent.  Paul warns us that there is a sorrow of the world, a fake repentance, that produces death.  People are truly sorry, but they are sorry for the consequences of their sin, they are sorry they have been caught, they are sorry that they are getting in trouble – but they are not sorry in a godly way.  For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation.  This is a sorrow that hates the sin, that hates the distance it has made in their fellowship with God who is their Savior, their Friend, their Shepherd, their Stronghold – and they want back – they want the joy of their salvation returned.

Worldly sorrow – the fake kind – can easily creep in here because we have scheduled it.  Sunday confession can become a stepping stone to religious-speak, to going through motions, to saying things with your mouth while your heart is far from God.  Don’t do that.  In the name of Jesus, do not do that.

Instead, remember again where you have come, what is required of you, and all that is provided for you.  What is it that is distracting you this instant from giving your full attention and your full devotion to the Lord?  Throw that bauble far from you – it is not worth it – it will never satisfy – it will never solve any issue – it will never please – the way the Lord Himself will care for, will satisfy, will take care of, will listen and hear and respond, and will draw near to you as you draw near to Him.

But this does mean you have to be aware of your sin, your sins, and your sinfulness.  But this is a gift; godly repentance is a gift, and if you are in Jesus Christ, then you are summoned to take hold of that gift again and be cleansed, brought near, raised up, be nurtured and fed and equipped, for all that you need for life.  Come and worship – but come and confess first as you do so – for you have come to the throne of the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Reaping What We've Sown

We are reaping what we have sown faster than many of us expected.  The movement is sweeping across our land at a rapid pace.  In conservative Idaho, the Supreme Court has overturned the State’s law banning same-sex-so-called marriages, and in just a few days since, a Christian couple who operate a small wedding chapel in Couer d’Alene will face time in jail and/or thousands of dollars in fines for refusing to offer such ceremonies.

Jail time for refusing to follow a practice which stands against one’s religious beliefs.  And not the beliefs of some strange, unheard of religion – but the traditional, well accepted practices and beliefs of Christianity.

We can shake our heads in disbelief, or we can corporately realize that we are reaping what we have sown.  There are pastors all over our land celebrating that just such practices are being offered and are openly offering them, this strange fire, in their own churches and denominations.  The church has taught the world around how to disobey and rebel against their own God.  We lead the way.

And so, as we will see Isaiah do in chapter 6, we must lead the way in repentance.  That repentance should be personal and individual first, for our own hearts must be cleansed.  It must be corporate as the church of Jesus Christ, one catholic church as we say in the Apostle’s Creed, and so we confess on behalf of the Christian church, and then finally it must be people-centered, nation-centered, in that we are a holy priesthood going before God, standing in the gap, and pleading His mercy to the nations.

Our worship here, cleansed by the shed blood of the Lamb, is holy.  And it will cause the shaking of the heavens and earth.  God has invited us to transform the world with Him, in His power, and by His grace.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Blessed are the Hungry

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  Here, at this Table, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are given that righteousness, filled to overflowing, for Jesus Christ is our Righteousness and His righteousness will fill the earth.

Those who refuse to come to this Table because they refuse to come to Jesus will be left hungry and desolate, like the warnings given to unbelieving Judah at the end of Isaiah 8.  And so we come and partake and tell the world, like fellow beggars who have found a feast, to come and join us in the Feast of Jesus Christ.  Life is good.  Eternal Life tastes wonderful.  There is plenty to share at this Table of Life.  Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 7, 2014

No Hocus Pocus Here

This Table is the Lord’s Table, and He has summoned all who are His children to come here and partake.  There will be no hocus pocus here – words muttered in Latin that somehow produce a magical transubstantiation of the bread into the real presence of Christ’s body and the wine into His blood.

When we stand against this error of the church, we are not making less of communion; we are making more of it.  As we come, we are not seeking to make something into Christ – we are coming as His body and we are coming by faith.  And as we come, we are the ones being changed – in our partaking by faith, we are partaking of Christ’s body and blood and our sanctification is really in process.  This is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit – and the ongoing effect of our union with Christ – union in His death and in His resurrection.  Welcome to life in Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

A Meal Following Atonement

You are not summoned to this Table to make atonement for your sins.  You are summoned to this Table because your sins have been atoned for.  You are not summoned to this Table in order to find forgiveness.  You are summoned to this Table because you have been forgiven.

You are not summoned to this Table to be reconciled to God.  You are summoned to this Table because you have been reconciled to God.  You are not summoned to this Table to find peace with God.  You are summoned to this Table because you have peace with God.

Why do we get this mixed up?  Because we are tempted to not believe that the atonement, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins – really took care of our sins.  We are tempted to believe that we still need to do something in order to make us right with God.  And this Table is to remind you, for it is a memorial, that there is nothing left to be done.  Come and eat, come and sit and fellowship with God, come and partake with the body of Christ by partaking of the body of Christ.

A Stone of Sanctuary or a Stone of Stumbling

"He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense" - Isaiah 8:14a

For those who fear the LORD (v13), God is their sanctuary, their safe place, a refuge from the storm.  But for those who fear the circumstances or refuse to trust in the LORD and fear Him, He will be like another kind of stone.  He will be a stone in their path over which they will stumble and fall.

Either way, He is there.  Either way, He is a stone.  He is a stone of safety or a stone of stumbling.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Trusting the Wrong River

Judah's choice to trust Assyria for deliverance from Israel and Syria is likened to choosing the wrong river.  Yahweh is likened to the river Shiloah, flowing softly and peacefully (8:6) and the king of Assyria is likened to the Euphrates, strong and mighty, glorious and threatening.  This river is the river to choose, the flesh says, if you really want to overcome the banks of another land.

Ah, yes, says the Lord, but can you stop this torrent when it begins to overflow your banks?  You will be consumed by that which you worship and put your trust in if it is not Immanuel.  And when this happens, even that will be because "Immanuel" (8:8, 10).

The people, by the way, are apparently well represented by their king, wicked and unbelieving as he is.  They make the same choice as he.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Public After a Private Warning

Isaiah had met, it seems, privately with Ahaz, at the aqueduct, warning him to trust in the Lord and offering him a sign.  When Ahaz refuses, Isaiah gives him a sign nonetheless.  There is no repentance on Ahaz's part, and so Isaiah 8:1-2 seems to follow the model of discipline set forth by Jesus later in Matthew 18.  If a man won't hear you privately, take two or three others, and then finally, lay it out publicly.

The public declaration of the name, "Speed the Spoil, Hasten the Booty," and the fact that this child will be born and before he grows up will see his name fulfilled upon Syria and Israel make this prophecy-in-action a very public one.  And of course, this is not because God is a very good predictor of the future, but the One who speaks and it is so.

But there is something else going on from "private" to "public."  Ahaz had been instructed and warned as the king of Judah and as an individual who had to determine whether or not he would trust God.  He refused.  Now the same warning is given to the people (8:11).  They end up following their king (not King Yahweh, but King Ahaz) with their own disastrous response.