Sunday, February 7, 2016

How to Respond to the Signs of Future Judgment all around Us

There is an insanity in America. People think we are protecting women by allowing babies in their wombs to be ripped apart. People think we are making social progress by redefining marriage to allow same sex unions that are incapable of bearing children and forming families. People think we can extinguish gender even though it is a biological and scientific impossibility, and thus we celebrate a former star athlete who is so confused that he thinks he is a woman. People have come to think socialism is a good idea even though we have fought a world war and a cold war against two socialist nations, and rejoiced when a wall came tumbling down that marked the end of socialist system that caused governments to act beastly. We have a population that is being devastated by drugs like heroin. We have a country that is threatened by terrorism, but picks this time in its history to let nearly anyone within its borders.

Why is all this happening to this nation? Why is the Lord Jesus Christ who rules sovereignly over heaven and earth allowing this chaos and death?

Jesus was once asked about the correct response to horrible sins and catastrophes:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

The right response to the chaos and death in this world is to return in repentance and faith to the Lord in whom alone is life. In this world there is chaos and death and rebellion. We must choose life by choosing to live near the One who is life. Come to the Father, through the Son. Turn from sin and turn to Jesus, who suffered and died in your place to save you from death and bring you to life. Do not make the mistake of ignoring the warning signs of future judgment that are all around you and are urging you to repent and believe in God's beloved Son.

Man's fundamental problem is our alienation and estrangement from the triune God who made us. But through Jesus' death and resurrection we can return to live in fellowship with the Father and the Son. When we do we will live in life and love and true delight, a delight that will grow greater even in a world filled with chaos---a delight that will find its consummation in a new nation that will be free of all death, all chaos and judgment, and filled with God's glory and life forever.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

New Hymn Based on Luke's Version of the Lord's Prayer

Based on Luke 11:1-4. Suggested tune:
  Words: William Weber, 2016.

O Christ our Lord, the lasting Bread,
who rose the third day from the dead.
You join the heavens and the earth,
and give to men the Spirit's birth.

O Christ our Lord, You are the key,
that opens up the heavenlies:
to life with God You are the door,
to love we were created for.

So to the Father now we come,
who gave the gift of Christ His Son.
He gave the Gift that is the best,
so we may live in Sabbath rest.

Our Father, hallow Your great name,
make known to all Your holy claim.
For all to You must give account,
and wash in Christ Your holy fount.

Our Father, we forgive within,
all those who have against us sinned.
For Christ forgave men from the cross.
He paid our debts, the awful cost.

Our Father, may we never stray,
from Christ our Lord who is the way.
And to our Lord, our life and light,
by faith and love to Him unite.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

D. Broughton Knox on Contextualization and the Desire to Be Liked

Someone on facebook tonight insightfully said, "The church is crippled by the desire to be liked." This "desire to be liked" leads to that dreaded word, "contextualization," and then to a lack of faithfulness. What we need in the church, it seems to me, is to reclaim law and gospel preaching. The law exposes sin and threatens judgment, and the gospel when believed removes condemnation and gives God's favor.
Here is one of my favorite Australian authors, who is sadly not well known in the US, D. Broughton Knox, on this subject:

"A gospel which contains judgement as a prominent strand as does the New Testament gospel, is relevant to men and women everywhere and in every age and culture. It does not need indigenization [that is, contextualization], so popular a catchword today, but requires only clarity of language and faithfulness in proclamation. The sense of right and wrong is universal in the human race and so is the knowledge that we fall below our own standards of what is right, and that this entails death.

"Thus the gospel that contains judgement, and salvation from judgement, is a gospel that is always relevant to the hearer, no matter to what stage of civilization he may have attained. Such a gospel does not need to be assimilated to the culture of the people who are hearing it.

"A theology that proclaims the God who saves from judgement by forgiveness through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ does not need to be adapted for Australian audiences, or to be turned into a black theology for the blacks of North America. Asian Christians and Western Christians need the same gospel and the same theology which is based on it, and all are able to understand it, no matter how different the cultural backgrounds of the hearers and preachers may be, so long as the proclamation is true to the New Testament gospel of judgement and salvation from judgement."

Monday, January 25, 2016

Good Preaching and Bad Singing?

"Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, 'When you pray, say' . . . ." (Luke 11:1-2)

Worship that is pleasing to God must be revealed to us.  The Lord's people have never been allowed to worship as they thought best.  The Lord has always defined acceptable worship for us.

We cannot worship God apart from prayer, so it is not surprising then that God the Son will authoritatively teach his people how to pray acceptably.  John the Baptist, who as the last prophet of the old covenant was given the honor of preparing the way for the Christ and pointing to him, authoritatively taught his disciples how to pray (v. 1).  So how much more authoritatively will the Christ himself teach his people how to pray! (v. 2).

If you went to most Evangelical and Reformed worship services today, one would be tempted to conclude that music is a fundamental element in a worship service, even though Jesus taught us nothing about singing, and is only once recorded as singing with his disciples, and that on the night before his death.  The same lack of singing as a main element in worship is seen in Luke's second volume, Acts.  Nothing is mentioned in Acts about the place of music in the Christian liturgy.

Where then does singing fit into the table fellowship pattern that Jesus gave us for Christian liturgy?  The answer is prayer.  Congregational singing fits into the category of prayer.  Jesus ministers to us through Word and meal, and then we respond to his ministry in believing prayer, and sometimes our prayers are accompanied by music.

But prayer is a broad category!  Prayer includes thanksgiving, praise, petition, lament, confession, teaching[i] and exhortation,[ii] etcetera.  And prayer, as we see in Luke 11:1-2, is to be biblical according to the rule Jesus gives for it.  We cannot pray anyway we please, just as we cannot worship anyway we please!

Should this inhibit our prayers?  After all, we are children of our heavenly Father, and we often do not know how to pray as we ought!  No, we can and should honestly cry out to our Father with our needs. 

But at the same time, especially in our worship services together, we should pray according to the pattern Jesus gave us, and this includes what we pray in song.  In the four references to singing in the New Testament epistles, singing is twice associated with the teaching/instruction, and three times with prayer (Colossians 3:16 and James 5:13 is associated with prayer; Ephesians 5:19 is associated with teaching; 1 Corinthians 14:13-26 is associated with both prayer and teaching).  This suggests that especially in our worship services we need to take care that what we sing is biblical!  Teaching a false theology through our singing can do as much harm as teaching falsehood through the pulpit!  Our prayers in song must edify the church, but edification will not come through unbiblical and false teaching.  Therefore, let us pay close attention to what Jesus teaches us about acceptable prayer. 
May our worship together not be marred by congregational singing/prayer that is unbiblical and unacceptable to our Lord.[iii]  Lord Jesus, give us discernment.  Amen.

[i] All prayer contains the element of teaching (e.g., our Lord's prayers and the Psalms are prayers that teach us theology).  Prayer inevitably teaches us a view of God and man.  Therefore, we must strive to pray/sing biblically as Jesus taught us.   
[ii] Sometimes in our songs we sing the Word of God to one another. The question then arises, should we categorize such a song as Word or prayer?  In other words, Is God speaking to us or are we speaking to Him or one another?  This is a difficult question, but overall, I think it is solved by remembering that prayer sometimes includes teaching, and inevitably teaches.  Thus, Paul teaches that prayer should edify the congregation, and this means that we must strive to be just as faithful in our prayers as we are in our preaching and teaching.  Churches today that would never tolerate bad theology in the pulpit regularly tolerate it in the songs they sing!
[iii] While we must strive to pray and preach biblically, we will fall short in some ways. We must remember that our worship is mediated through Jesus Christ, the perfect worshipper, so that our worship is accepted by the Father. But let us not use justification as an excuse to not strive to be faithful!

Luke 11:1-13: The Place of Prayer in the Liturgy

One commentator on this passage says that "it is not directly related to what precedes or follows."  I could not disagree more.  Luke 11:1-13 is part of a larger stratum in Luke's Gospel dealing with Jesus' authority.  Douglas McComiskey has shown that starting with Luke 4:14, there are 12 strata that are repeated four times in order until the end of Luke's Gospel.[1]  We are presently in the stratum that deals especially with Jesus' authority.

Beginning in Luke 10, Jesus' authority is seen in his sending out of the 72 and his healing ministry through them as Satan is defeated.  In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus' authority is seen in his authoritative interpretation of the law as he confounds a so-called expert in the law.  In this parable Jesus answers the essential question of life, namely, how can fallen man return to the Lord and dwell in fellowship with God once more?  His answer is that this can only happen through the grace and mercy he has come to bring us at great cost to himself.  Then in the Martha and Mary story, our Lord gives us his authoritative word about worship.  True worship is his ministry to us before it is our ministry to him.  Just as Jesus served and saved us through his redemptive work at the cross, so he continues to give us the fruit of his work by meeting with his people weekly in Word and meal. 

And now in this passage on prayer, Jesus gives us his authoritative word about the way to receive his ministry to us, which is through believing prayer.  We have a gracious Father through Christ who longs to give his children the gifts his Son has earned for them.

Thus, in a remarkable way, Luke gives us in narrative form what he spells out later in Acts 2:42 about the means of grace in worship that form the basis of the Christian liturgy: "And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers."  Jesus ministers to his people through his Word (the apostles' teaching) and his meal (the breaking of bread), and these gifts are received by prayer (the prayers), which is the hand of faith that accepts Christ's gifts.  And all of this takes place in the fellowship of the church Jesus is building.

The means of grace are the Word and sacraments through which Jesus gives us his forgiveness and life.  The direction of the means of grace is downward from heaven to earth.  But how do we receive these gifts Jesus desires to give us?  The answer is believing prayer, which is why prayer is often seen as a means of grace along with the Word and the sacraments.  But prayer is probably better seen as the way we receive the Father's grace through his Son.  Prayer is the open hands that receive the gifts Jesus gives us.

What we see in Luke 11:1-13 is that we ought to be assured that the Father and the Son long to give us these gifts.  We should come each Lord's Day in expectant faith to meet with Jesus, for the Father is not reluctant to give us grace, life, and power through his Son.  The Father and the Son are most glorified in giving.  Let God be God.  Let the Father be our Father through his gifts to his children.  Let Jesus be Lord through his ministry to his people.  Let us come to be served before we serve, for true worship is a receptive and believing heart that receives the gifts Jesus has earned for his people through prayer.

[1] Douglas McComiskey, Lukan Theology in the Light of the Gospel's Literary Structure.  See especially p. 204-263.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Lord, Teach Us to Pray---A Hymn

Christ Has All Authority, We Must Listen When He Speaks
Suggested tune: WEIL ICH JESU SCHAFLEIN BIN (  Meter: 778877.  Based on Luke 11:1-13.  Words: William Weber, 2016.
v. 1
Christ has all authority,
we must listen when He speaks.
Even how we pray He teaches.
To the Father come in weakness.
For in Christ we may approach,
to the throne without reproach.

v. 2
O how gracious Jesus is,
He is ours and we are His.
He who sees Him sees the Father,
in Him we are sons and daughters.
To our Father now we pray,
Christ our portion every day.

v. 3
Father, we Your name revere,
cause the earth Your name to fear.
May Your kingdom come and swiftly.
O how long? O Lord, come quickly.
Till that Day, O Father, give,
all we need in Christ to live.

v. 4
Father, keep us till that Day,
may we never leave the faith.
Lead us not into temptation,
keep us from what brings damnation.
Keep us ever in Your love,
in Your Son in heav'n above.

v. 5
O how good our Father is,
He is ours and we are His.
Blessed we are to be His children,
to our prayers He surely listens.
For our Father loves to give,
all we need in Christ to live.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Can We Worship as We Please? Where Did Jesus Institute His Worship?

Given the detailed instructions for how to approach God in the old covenant, it is inconceivable that we are free to worship as we please under the new covenant.  Yet that seems to be the attitude of many when it comes to the corporate worship of Christ's people today.  

But where did Jesus give us instructions for worship?  There is only one place where Jesus gives us a command that institutes ritual, and that is at his last supper.  In Luke 22:19 we read, "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.'"  In these words our Lord instituted table fellowship as the pattern for worship.  By instituting the Supper, Jesus also gave us preaching and teaching, for nowhere does Jesus' table fellowship occur apart from his teaching.  Thus, the early church followed the pattern of Word and meal, and the Christian worship service has always had two parts: the liturgy of the Word, and the liturgy of the table.(1)   

Also important in these words of institution of our Lord is the allusion to the Sabbath command.  "Do this in remembrance of me," hearkens back to the fourth commandment:  "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy."  The Sabbath was a day for both rest and worship.  Thus, Jesus is instituting his weekly worship of Word and meal as we remember him, not the day, on the new day of his resurrection, which we now call the Lord's Day.

Jesus' institution of table fellowship for the church is a wonderful truth because it means that Jesus is not absent from us, but present for us every time we gather!  Jesus is powerfully present to teach us through his Word and give us his healing life through his bread and wine.  Jesus is present to serve and minister(2)  to his people with his gifts each time we gather in his name on his day.

The Christian worship service is radically Christ-centered because Jesus is the true minister  in our midst.  The example of Mary and Martha shows us that we must let Jesus be Lord by allowing him to serve us.  Mary's posture, sitting at Jesus' feet, attentive and receptive to her Lord's teaching and life, is the pattern for all of Jesus' church.  Before we would serve Him and others, he must serve us.  Will we let him serve us or do we prefer the busyness of our own serving?(3)

1)  Terry Johnson in his book, Worshipping With Calvin, rightly says that "Worship . . . is ministry" (p. 13).  Yes, worship is more specifically Jesus' ministry to his people and those gathered.

2)  A better term than worship service is the phrase Divine Service, because it better describes the main thing that is happening in corporate worship.  Jesus Christ is ministering to us through Word and meal.  The main thing is the Lord's service to us, not our service to him.  Do we serve and worship him when we gather?  Yes.  But our service is always a response to his.

3)  Is it just me that feels our worship services are often very busy, so that we are distracted from the main thing---the one thing needed?

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