Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bragging about Ourselves in Worship

One of the things I don't like about some contemporary worship songs is the subtle note of self-congratulations in them.  It seems to me that it is always dangerous to sing about ourselves in worship, but it's even more dangerous to sing about our own strength. 

Here is a song we sometimes sing at the church I attend, and I honestly have a hard time singing certain parts of it.  The song starts off well:
Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name
Blessed Be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name
So far so good.  No doubt God's name should be blessed in both good times and bad, prosperity and adversity.  But the song starts to go to places I would prefer not to go:
Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord
The song makes an allusion to the experience of Job.  After Job lost everything, he said, "The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD."  Job's statement is remarkable.  He had just lost his wealth, his servants and his children, and still he blessed the name of the Lord.

Part of my problem with this song is that it doesn't recognize how very difficult this is to bless the name of the Lord in the light of these kinds of losses.  The next blow that came to Job, sickness, sent Job into a depression and a questioning of God that dominates the rest of the book.

Do we really know how well we will stand up when the Lord takes away?  Do we really know if we will bless the name of the Lord when He takes away our livelihood, our loved ones, our health?  There is too much self-confidence in this song and not enough of an understanding that we are weak creatures.  The reason we pray, "lead us not into temptation," is this weakness that clings to us.  If we stand at all in the midst of testing, it is only because of the Lord's favor upon us.

When the song says, "Blessed be Your name/Blessed be the name of the Lord/Blessed be Your glorious name," my heart says, Amen.  But when the song self-confidently sings that I will stand no matter the temptation, I have a hard time joining in. 
You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be Your name
I pray that my heart will alway choose to say, "Lord, blessed be Your name," but my weakness is such that I am better served by praying for such a heart, rather than blithely and arrogantly asserting that this is what I will choose.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Listening to Bach through the Heidelberg Catechism

Listening to Bach through the Heidelberg Catechism

This comes from Justin Taylor's blog.  I've read the book he recommends.  It is a good book, especially for those with both a bit of musical training and an interest in the Heidelberg Catechism.

Hymn Based on the First Commandment and the Heidelberg Catechism

The Lord Alone Has Saved

To the tune: DARWALL’S 148TH (Rejoice, the Lord Is King). Based on Lord’s Day 34 of the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 94 and 95 (related Westminster Shorter Catechism 45-48). Words: Bill Weber, 2010.

v. 1
The Lord alone has saved
you from your enemies,
from sin and death and hell,
He’s won a victory.
So give to Him: your thanks, your praise
your strength, your life, belong to Him.

v. 2
He made you for His own,
redeemed you by His grace.
The Father sent His Son
to die and take your place.
So do His will. Receive His Son
and walk with Him by grace through faith.

v. 3
The exodus of Christ,
He died and then was raised.
The devil was undone,
let God receive our praise.
O Father, Son, our hearts renew,
Your Spirit send to walk with You.

v. 4
Forsake all other gods,
for idols are in vain.
They all will be destroyed,
so do not share their fate.
Trust God alone. His Son the way,
the truth, the life, so do not stray.

v. 5
He is the Lord your God,
on Him you can rely.
His will completely good,
who sent His Son to die.
So trust in Him; and love and fear
and do His will; He will be near.

Q & A 94

Q. What does the Lord require
in the first commandment?

A. That I, not wanting to endanger my very salvation,
avoid and shun
all idolatry,^1 magic, superstitious rites,^2
and prayer to saints or to other creatures.^3
That I sincerely acknowledge the only true God,^4
trust him alone,^5
look to him for every good thing^6
humbly^7 and patiently,^8
love him,^9 fear him,^10 and honor him^11
with all my heart.
In short,
that I give up anything
rather than go against his will in any way.^12

^1 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 10:5-14; 1 John 5:21
^2 Lev. 19:31; Deut. 18:9-12
^3 Matt. 4:10; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9
^4 John 17:3
^5 Jer. 17:5, 7
^6 Ps. 104:27-28; James 1:17
^7 1 Pet. 5:5-6
^8 Col. 1:11; Heb. 10:36
^9 Matt. 22:37 (Deut. 6:5)
^10 Prov. 9:10; 1 Pet. 1:17
^11 Matt. 4:10 (Deut. 6:13)
^12 Matt. 5:29-30; 10:37-39

Q & A 95

Q. What is idolatry?

A. Idolatry is
having or inventing something in which one trusts
in place of or alongside of the only true God,
who has revealed himself in his Word.^1

^1 1 Chron. 16:26; Gal. 4:8-9; Eph. 5:5; Phil. 3:19

Monday, October 25, 2010

Birthday Meditation on Psalm 108:1

Psalm 108 (English Standard Version)

With God We Shall Do Valiantly
A Song. A Psalm of David.

1 My heart is steadfast, O God!
I will sing and make melody with all my being!
2Awake, O harp and lyre!
I will awake the dawn!
3I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
4For your steadfast love is great above the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.
5Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!
Let your glory be over all the earth!

6 That your beloved ones may be delivered,
give salvation by your right hand and answer me!
7God has promised in his holiness:
"With exultation I will divide up Shechem
and portion out the Valley of Succoth.
8Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet,
Judah my scepter.
9Moab is my washbasin;
upon Edom I cast my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph."
10Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
11Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
12Oh grant us help against the foe,
for vain is the salvation of man!
13With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes.


I want to consider just the opening line of Psalm 108:
“My heart is steadfast, O God!”
I just had a birthday. I am now 54 years old. As I look back on my life, the last thing I can say about myself is that my heart has been steadfast. In all honesty, my heart has been anything but steadfast in its devotion to the Lord. Instead, I would describe my heart as just the opposite---unstable, fickle, changeable---tried, tempted, and mostly failing. My heart is better described by Jeremiah 17:9:
“The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?"
I recently read this statement about Martin Luther: “Even after the great shift in theological outlook, Luther continued to suffer periods of severe spiritual anxiety.” Luther’s associate, Philip Melanchthon sometimes witnessed Luther’s spiritual trials, and described them this way:
“On those frequent occasions when he [Luther] was thinking especially about the wrath of God or about extraordinary instances of retribution, such violent terrors afflicted him that he almost died. I have seen him, distressed by his concentration upon some dispute over doctrine, lie down on a bed in a nearby room and mingle with his prayer this oft-repeated sentence: ‘He has concluded all under sin so that he may have mercy upon all.’”
This verse quoted by Luther is very important. It comes from Romans 11:32: “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” This verse gives those with an unstable heart much hope. The truth is that there is only One whose heart was steadfast, and that is the true speaker of this psalm, Jesus Christ. Only He could say to his Father, “My heart is steadfast, O God.” David was an extraordinary man, and there were times when his heart was steadfast. But we also know of those times in David’s life when his heart was the opposite of steadfast, namely, unstable, changeable, fainting and failing.

The good news in Romans 11:32 is that mercy is offered to sinners. None of us have a great track record. If a record of our sins was kept, none of us could stand before a holy God. If our secret sins behind closed doors were exposed, how ashamed we would be before the Lord and one another.

But mercy is offered to us, even though we are undeserving. The forgiveness Jesus earned for us at the cross is offered to us. Christ’s perfect righteousness (and steadfastness) is offered to us to make us right with God. In Christ, we can stand before God forgiven and clothed in his righteousness, his steadfastness.

Having received this gift of Christ’s forgiveness and righteousness by faith, does that mean we no longer have to pursue a steadfast heart? No. Now that we have been freely accepted through Christ and his work on our behalf, we should pursue even more a steadfast heart as a response to God’s grace and mercy to us. We should exult in God’s praise, “steadfast love” (v. 4), and faithfulness. As we focus our hearts more and more on God’s grace and mercy to us in Christ, we will find that our hearts will grow more steadfast.

But, sadly, after 54 years of life, I am pretty sure now that in this life that pursuit of a steadfast heart will always involve us in the kind of spiritual struggle that Luther endured, until we enter Christ’s presence and sin is completely removed from our hearts. Again and again we will realize how unstable these sin-infected hearts of ours really are. But in the midst of that realization, we take hold of the gospel again and again, remembering the gospel promise, even as Luther taught us by example:
“He has concluded all under sin so that he may have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A New Hymn about the Love of God

God Is Love, Before All Time

To the tune: DIX (For the Beauty of the Earth). Based on Lord’s Day 34 of the Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 92-93, see also Q&A 4 (related Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 41). Words: Bill Weber 2010.

v. 1
God is love before all time,
Father and the Son divine.
Lived in holy love, delight,
bless’d were they in triune life.
Highest virtue, highest goal,
love for God our all in all.

v. 2
In the fullness of His love,
God created time and space.
Spirit hovered like a dove,
over water, angry waves.
Through His Word it all was done,
great is He the God of love.

v. 3
When our sin did bring us low,
fallen from our home above.
God in love could not let go,
sent His Son for us in love.
Christ the mighty for the weak,
came in love for us to seek.

v. 4
We are born in sinful state,
idol worship, lust, and hate.
But the Judge in mercy great,
came to free all sin’s inmates.
For the Judge for sinners died,
through the cross we’re justified.

v. 5
Wondrous is the love of God,
He who bore His creature’s sin.
May we Jesus love and laud,
by the Spirit live in Him.
Highest virtue, highest goal,
love for God and love for all.

v. 6
Let us live in love each day,
far from lust and hate always.
Lives that live in Jesus’ way,
His commands to know, obey.
Highest virtue, highest goal,
love fulfillment of the law.

Lord's Day 34

Q & A 92

Q. What does the Lord say in his law?

A. God spoke all these words:

"The First Commandment"

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of Egypt,
out of the land of slavery.
You shall have no other gods before me.

"The Second Commandment"

You shall not make for yourself an idol
in the form of anything in heaven above
or on the earth beneath
or in the waters below.
You shall not bow down to them or worship them;
for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God,
punishing the children for the sin of the fathers
to the third and fourth generation
of those who hate me,
but showing love to a thousand generations of those
who love me and keep my commandments.

"The Third Commandment"

You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,
for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless
who misuses his name.

"The Fourth Commandment"

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.
On it you shall not do any work,
neither you, nor your son or daughter,
nor your manservant or maidservant,
nor your animals,
nor the alien within your gates.
For in six days the Lord made
the heavens and the earth, the sea,
and all that is in them,
but he rested on the seventh day.
Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day
and made it holy.

"The Fifth Commandment"

Honor your father and your mother,
so that you may live long
in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

"The Sixth Commandment"

You shall not murder.

"The Seventh Commandment"

You shall not commit adultery.

"The Eighth Commandment"

You shall not steal.

"The Ninth Commandment"

You shall not give false testimony
against your neighbor.

"The Tenth Commandment"

You shall not covet your neighbor's house.
You shall not covet your neighbor's wife,
or his manservant or maidservant,
his ox or donkey,
or anything that belongs to your neighbor.^1

^1 Ex. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:6-21

Q & A 93

Q. How are these commandments divided?

A. Into two tables.
The first has four commandments,
teaching us what our relation to God should be.
The second has six commandments,
teaching us what we owe our neighbor.^1

^1 Matt. 22:37-39

Q & A 4

Q. What does God's law require of us?

A. Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22—
Love the Lord your God
with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your mind
and with all your strength.^1^*
This is the first and greatest commandment.

And the second is like it:
Love your neighbor as yourself.^2

All the Law and the Prophets hang
on these two commandments.

^1 Deut. 6:5
^2 Lev. 19:18

*Earlier and better manuscripts of Matthew 22 omit the words "and with all your strength." They are found in Mark 12:30.

Here is the beginning of my post. And here is the rest of it.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Theme of Exile and Christ's Fullfillment in Psalm 107

The theme of exile is an important theme in Scripture. Psalm 107 is a psalm about God’s redemption of the scattered Israelites from exile. This redemption from exile is an evidence of his love. The first three verses teach this:
1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
2Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
whom he has redeemed from trouble
3and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
Of course, when we speak of exile, we are speaking about what happened in 586 B.C. when Israel was exiled from their land and taken in captivity to Babylon. But exile is a theme that begins in Genesis 3, when the first couple was exiled from God’s special presence in the garden after their sin. Adam and Eve were forced to leave the land of Eden to go into a far country away from the special presence of God. Israel repeated Adam’s history by their forced exile, which happened because of their sin, rebellion, and idolatry.

In Jesus we see the fulfillment of the exile theme. Jesus is the second Adam and the true Israel, who faithfully walks with God. Jesus does not have to leave the land or God’s presence because of his own sin. But, nevertheless, Jesus experiences the exile of the cross, when the Father abandoned the Son, and Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Through this second Adam and true Israel, the exile comes to an end for all those he redeems and gathers to himself from out of the world.

In Psalm 107 there are four scenarios or examples of redemption from exile. In each of these examples there is a pattern. First, there is an experience of trouble. Second, the people cry out to the Lord in their trouble. Third, they are redeemed (bought/saved with or by a price). Fourth, they give thanks to the Lord for their redemption. Let’s take a look at these four examples of redemption. Instead of commenting on all of the details, I will briefly comment on how Jesus gives us true redemption and ends the exile for all those who come to him by faith.
4Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
5hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
6Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
7He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.
8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
9For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
The people redeemed in verses 4-9 are described as people with no home. Redemption in Christ brings us home. Our new home is with Jesus Christ in heaven. The New Testament teaches us that by faith we die and are raised with Christ. We no longer belong to this world, but we belong to Jesus Christ.

As a heavenly people we are given heavenly food and drink for our journey to our new home. Ironically, believers in Christ, who are saved by his exile on the cross, are now themselves exiles. We walk with Christ as pilgrims and exiles, and on our journey our food and drink are Jesus Christ’s body and blood, which we eat by faith.
10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
14He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.

The people redeemed in verses 10-16 were redeemed from darkness and slavery. The kingdom of the devil is characterized by ignorance, sin, and slavery. But Jesus Christ is the true light of the world. He can give us a knowledge of God. He can free us from sin’s guilt by his atoning death, and from sin’s slavery by his resurrection power. Jesus is the Redeemer, who has bought us body and soul for himself. We no longer belong to the kingdom of darkness that controls this present world.
17Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
The people redeemed in verses 17-22 were redeemed from sickness, and death. Sickness and death are in this world because of sin. After Adam’s fall, our default state is foolishness and sinful ways of life. But Jesus Christ is God’s wisdom. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life. By walking with him and learning his words we can experience his health.
23Some went down to the sea in ships,
doing business on the great waters;
24they saw the deeds of the LORD,
his wondrous works in the deep.
25For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27they reeled and staggered like drunken men
and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
29He made the storm be still,
and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
The last group that is redeemed in verses 23-32 are redeemed from the storm. Storms are often times symbolic in Scripture of God’s judgment. The wrath of God is the price of our sin. All of us will appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Who will be able to stand on that stormy day of judgment? Only those will stand on that day who also know the Judge as their Redeemer, who bore God’s wrath at the cross.

Where is this “desired haven” we long to attain? In essence, it is Eden regained at the consummation of history. It is the kingdom that Jesus will give to all his people at the day of judgment, for he is the One who ends our exile by his exile. “Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

Jesus Christ is the only One who can bring us through the storms and judgments of this life and the final judgment that will come at his return. We see this pictured for us in John 6:16-21. Jesus comes to the disciples walking on the stormy waters of the sea. Verse 21 says, “Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” Only with Jesus with us will we make it to “the land to which [we are] going.”

Is Jesus with you? Is he your Redeemer? Is he your true food and drink as you make your way to your new heavenly home? Is he your light in a dark world? Is his Word your wisdom?  Is he your resurrection strength and life? Who is Jesus to you?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Few Quotes from Martin Luther on Repentance

From the Smalcald Articles: 
"This function of the law is retained and taught by the New Testament.  So Paul says in Rom. 1:18, 'The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men,' and in Rom. 3:18-20, 'The whole world may be held accountable to God, for no human being will be justified in his sight.'  Christ also says in John 16:8, 'The Holy Spirit will convince the world of sin.'
"This, then, is the thunderbolt by means of which God with one blow destroys both open sinners and false saints.  He allows no one to justify himself.  He drives all togheter into terror and despair.  This is the hammer of which Jeremiah speaks, 'Is not my word like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?' (Jer. 23:29).  This is not activa contritio (artifical remorse), but passiva contritio (true sorrow of the heart, suffering, and pain of death).
"This is what the beginning of true repentance is like.  Here man must hear such a judgment as this: 'You are all of no account.  Whether you are manifest sinners or saints, you must all become other than you now are and do otherwise than you now do, no matter who you are and no matter how great, wise, mighty, and holy you may think yourselves.  Here no one is godly,' etc.
"To this office of the law the New Testament immediately adds the consoling promise of grace in the Gospel.  This is to be believed, as Christ says in Mark 1:15, 'Repent and believe in the Gospel,' which is to say, 'Become different, do otherwise, and believe my promise.'  John, who preceded Christ, is called a preacher of repentance---but for the remission of sins.  That is, John was to accuse them all and convince them that they were sinners in order that they might know how they stood before God and recognize themselves as lost men.  In this way they were to be prepared to receive grace from the Lord and to expect and accept from him the forgiveness of sins.  Christ himself says this in Luke 24:47, 'Repentance and the forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations.'
"But where the law exercises its office alone, without the addition of the Gospel, there is only death and hell, and man must despair like Saul and Judas.  As St. Paul says, the law slays through sin.  Moreover, the Gospel offers consolation and forgiveness in more ways than one, for with God there is plenteous redemption (as Ps. 130:7 puts it) from the dreadful captivity to sin, and this comes to us through the Word, the sacraments, and the like as we shall hear."
Later, from the Smalcald Articles:

"In the case of a Christian such repentance continues until death, for all through life it contends with the sins that remain in the flesh.  As St. Paul testifies in Rom. 7:23, he wars with the law in his members, and he does this not with his own powers but with the gift of the Holy Spirit which follows the forgiveness of sins.  This gift daily cleanses and expels the sins that remain and enables man to become truly pure and holy."
From What Luther Says:

"To repent means to feel the wrath of God in earnest because of one's sin, so that the sinner experiences anguish of heart and is filled with a painful longing for the salvation and the mercy of God."
Again, from What Luther Says:

"Repentance is begun when we acknowledge our sins and are sincerely sorry for them; it is completed when trust in the mercy of God comes to this sorrow and hearts are converted to God and long for the forgiveness of sins."
Again, from What Luther Says:

"There is a different repentance, not a true but a false one, which Germans call a Galgenreue [a repentance of the gallows], when I repent in such a way that I am not ashamed of having offended God but merely regret having injured myself.  Such a repentance is very common.  I myself have repented in this way and deplored having done something foolish, stupid, and to my hurt.  I was more ashamed of the stupidity and the harm than of the sin, of the guilt, of the offense against God.  But if we only deplore the harm we have done --- that is a repentance which God does not know; nor do our own hearts know it. . . . For a genuine repentance looks at the wrath of God against sin; with Him it would be reconciled; it flees before the wrath of God.  It does not give birth to pains only because of the harm that has been done."
Again, from What Luther Says:

"A penitent heart is a rare thing and a great grace; one cannot produce it by thinking about sin and hell.  Only the Holy Spirit can impart it."
Again, from What Luther Says:

"Where sin and God's wrath are not known or felt, men cannot come to repentance or to the forgiveness of sin.  Therefore Christ, too, and the apostles began with the preaching of repentance, thereby confirming the preaching of the Law.  And for this reason the Law had to precede this Priest Christ, and Moses and his priests had to impress it deeply on his people in order to prepare them for Christ."
Again, from What Luther Says:

"Beware of placing confidence in your contrition or of ascribing the forgivenss of sins to your own sorrow.  For God does not favorably regard you because of contrition or sorrow but because of the faith with which you have believed His threatenings and promises and which worked such sorrow in you."
Again, from What Luther Says:

"Inward repentance is not real at all if it doesn now outwardly produce various mortifications of the flesh."

New Hymn Based on Lord's Day 33

The Son of God Came to the Earth

To the tune: BROTHER JAMES’ AIR ( Based on Lord’s Day 33 of the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 88-90 (related Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 31, 87). Words: Bill Weber, 2010.

v. 1
The Son of God came to the earth,
the Living One to die.
The King to wear a crown of thorns,
and on a cross to lie.
He was the Lord before all time,
yet came a sacrifice.

v. 2
Why would the Lord endure this shame
and die upon a cross?
He who could still the raging storm,
why would He suffer loss?
The judgment that was on our race,
alone He could exhaust.

v. 3
The Father’s love and great delight
is His beloved Son.
We’re saved from sin and death and hell,
for Christ salvation won.
Now, like the Father we love Him,
our Lord, our dearest One.

v. 4
In Christ we’ve died to sin and self,
so put off the old man.
And put on Jesus and His love,
it is the Father’s plan.
Live not for self, live not for gain,
for Jesus take your stand.

v. 5
The cross the shape of our new lives,
we died and rose with Him.
This world opposes Christ our Lord,
and takes delight in sin.
But Jesus is our great delight,
we long to stay with Him.

v. 6
This world is passing from the scene,
so set your mind on Christ.
You have been raised with Him above,
so set your mind on life.
Not on this earth will you find rest,
so seek your life in Christ.

Lord's Day 33

Q & A 88

Q. What is involved
in genuine repentance or conversion?

A. Two things:

the dying-away of the old self,
and the coming-to-life of the new.^1

^1 Rom. 6:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:22-24; Col. 3:5-10

Q & A 89

Q. What is the dying-away of the old self?

A. It is to be genuinely sorry for sin,
to hate it more and more,
and to run away from it.^1

^1 Ps. 51:3-4, 17; Joel 2:12-13; Rom. 8:12-13; 2 Cor. 7:10

Q & A 90

Q. What is the coming-to-life of the new self?

A. It is wholehearted joy in God through Christ^1
and a delight to do every kind of good
as God wants us to.^2

^1 Ps. 51:8, 12; Isa.57:15; Rom. 5:1; 14:17
^2 Rom. 6:10-11; Gal. 2:20

Monday, October 11, 2010

Grace Through a Mediator --- Psalm 106 (Part 2)

Psalm 106 (English Standard Version)

Mark Futato says, “Psalm 106 is a recounting of Israel’s sin for the purpose of magnifying the saving grace of God.” Last time we looked at human sin and God’s judgment of sin. This time let’s look at the grace of God.

First, it’s important to remember that God’s grace is undeserved. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Because of our rebellion against God, none of us deserve even the least of God’s kindnesses. Life itself is a gift of grace to sinners. The sun that shines on us, the rain that falls, the food on our tables---all these things come to sinners as grace.

Second, it’s important to remember that the word “grace” means favor. Therefore, grace is primarily an attitude of God. To have God’s grace or favorable attitude is life. To be under the opposite of God’s grace is death.

Third, it’s important to understand the distinction between common grace and special grace.

Common grace refers to the kindnesses that God sheds on all people, regardless of their standing before God. Jesus refers to common grace when he says, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45). Notice, that God’s common grace, according to Jesus, comes to both the evil and the good, the just and the unjust. But one can receive this common grace from God, but still be far away from God, under his wrath, and not his favor.

Special grace, therefore, refers to grace of God given only to those people who have come into the new covenant of grace that Jesus established by his death and resurrection. At the Lord’s Supper instituted by Jesus, he said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). Only when sinners enter into this new covenant by faith in Jesus Christ, are we saved, moving from the wrath of God into the grace of God.

With this background in mind, one of the things that we learn about the grace of God in Psalm 106 is that grace only comes to us through a mediator.

First, what is a mediator? A mediator is someone who goes between two parties that are in conflict in order to reconcile them and bring them together. The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is the mediator between God and man: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).

The reason we need a mediator is our sin and God’s holiness. God’s holiness is so all-consuming that it would destroy any sinner that dared to enter his holy presence. Just as light immediately casts out darkness or a blazing fire immediately consumes anything in its path, so God’s holiness would consume us as sinners apart from a mediator. Therefore, we enter into God’s special presence only through Jesus Christ --- through his blood which cleanses, and his righteousness which covers us.

There is a contemporary worship song that’s sung in some of our churches that forgets the fact that we may only enter and live in God’s presence because we have a mediator. The song goes like this:
Come now is the time to worship
Come now is the time to give your heart
Come just as you are to worship
Come just as you are before your God

One day every tongue will confess You are God
One day every knee will bow
Still the greatest treasure remains for those
Who gladly choose You now
This song, quite frankly, is an insult to Jesus Christ in two ways. First, it ignores the vital fact that we cannot come to God the Father apart from Jesus Christ’s mediation. We may only come to him as sinners because Jesus Christ gave his body and blood for us to make us acceptable in the Father’s sight. Second, it is absolutely sub-Christian to refer to the words “every tongue will confess” and “every knee will bow,” quotes from Isaiah and Philippians 2, and not refer to Jesus Christ! What amazed the first disciples and early Christians was that these words that referred to the Old Testament Lord now are applied to the man, Christ Jesus! We have become so non-Christ-centered that we actually open a Christian worship service with no mention of Jesus! How far such an attitude is from New Testament Christianity!

Psalm 106 foreshadows Jesus Christ as mediator in two places. First, Moses, foreshadows Jesus as our mediator:
19They made a calf in Horeb
and worshiped a metal image.
20They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Because of the idolatry of Israel, the Lord threatened to destroy Israel, and begin again with Moses. But Moses interceded for the people, even asking to bear their punishment himself:
So Moses went back to the LORD and said, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. 32 But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written."
Of course, Moses himself was a sinner, and could not even pay for his own sins, let alone the sins of others. But his desire to bear their punishment foreshadowed what God’s Son would do for us on the cross as he suffered, not for his own sins, but for ours.

The second place we see Christ as mediator foreshadowed is in these verses from Psalm 106:
28Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor,
and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;
29they provoked the LORD to anger with their deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
30Then Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was stayed.
31And that was counted to him as righteousness
from generation to generation forever.

Idolatry rightly provokes God’s wrath and judgment. As people created in God’s image, we are to only worship and serve the Lord who made us. When we worship and serve anything less than the Lord, it is terribly wicked.

Phinehas was able to stop the wrath of God by his zeal for the Lord. Jesus’ zeal for the Father led him to the cross where that zeal consumed him (see John 2:13-21). On the cross, he stayed the wrath of God, by enduring that wrath for us. Now there is no longer any wrath left for those who belong to Christ Jesus, but only the Father’s blessing and favor. As Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Even the temporal judgments of this life have been transformed for the believer into the loving discipline of our Father in heaven.

How should we respond to the wonderful grace of God given to us so undeservedly and freely in his Son? The answer of Psalm 106 can be found in verse 47:
47 Save us, O LORD our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.
Dear Christian, you have been saved by grace. Jesus Christ, by his gospel word and Spirit has gathered you to himself. Your dwelling place is now in heaven with Christ by faith. One day your dwelling place will be in heaven by sight, when faith passes away and we see Jesus as he is in all his glory and beauty. In the meantime, let’s live thankful lives, lives especially thankful for his grace. Even our temporal gifts are gracious to sinners such as us. How much more is that favor that made us his children through Christ’s suffering. Let’s glory in the praise of our triune God the way a little child glories in his parent’s care and strength. How blessed we are to know and live in the grace that Jesus earned us. Let’s not forget that grace as Israel so often did, but remember it each day as his baptized children. Amen.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Hymn to Use to Confess Our Sins

Forgive Me, Lord, My Sin is Great

To the tune: EIN FESTE BURG (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God). Words: Bill Weber, 2010.

v. 1
Forgive me, Lord, my sin is great,
my sins are grievous to You.
Conceived in sin and Adam’s race,
my sinful past cannot undo.
Have mercy, Lord, on me,
and hear this sinner’s plea.
My sin deserves Your wrath,
return me to Your path,
and I will praise Your mercy.

v. 2
O Father, You’ve been good to me,
through all my life providing.
For food and drink and covering,
my needs and wants supplying.
But still I’ve sinned ’gainst You,
Your love I did eschew.*
Your gifts I have abused,
and gave not thanks to You.
I have not lived to praise You.

v. 3
When I was lost and far from You,
in mercy You came near me.
You gave me grace and then I knew,
adoption in Your fam’ly.
But even as Your son,
I’m often still undone.
Your grace is great to me,
and yet my history
is filled with sin against You.

v. 4
Have mercy, Father, on your son,
remember me in Jesus.
For Jesus has forgiveness won,
in Him give favor to us.
I mourn and grieve my sin,
uncleanness deep within.
My heart would You renew,
make Christ’s heart my heart too,
and breathe in me Your Spirit.

*eschew means “to shun; to avoid, as something wrong, or from a feeling of distaste; to keep one’s self clear of.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A Hymn about Grace Alone, through Faith Alone, on Account of Christ Alone

Praise to Our Christ, For He Alone

To the tune: TRURO. Based Lord’s Day 32 of the Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 86 (related Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A 85). Words: Bill Weber, 2010.

v. 1
Praise to our Christ, for He alone
did earn us favor through His cross.
That grace, goodwill is now our own,
won by our Lord at highest cost.

v. 2
Not by our works or sacrifice,
can we earn favor with our God.
’Tis grace alone earned by our Christ
that makes us thankful to our God.

v. 3
So walk by faith and not by sight,
and dwell with Jesus Christ above.
In Him is grace and strength and life,
our faith the hand that takes enough.

v. 4
Praise to our God, the three in one.
We thank You for salvation won.
May You be praised for all You’ve done.
Into our hearts, be pleased to come.

First step

First step

No doubt, this step of faith is the first and vital step in overcoming spiritual depression. Lord, help me (and others) to take this step, and keep taking it for our joy and your glory. Amen.

Time to Shake Up the Status Quo in Our Churches

This comes Phillip Jensen and Paul Grimmond in their new book on preaching, The Archer and the Arrow: Preaching the Very Words of God:

Unlike any other sort of meeting, when we gather as a church our purpose is to hear the word of God.  On the archetypal 'day of the assembly,' when the people of Israel 'churched' around God at Mt. Sinai, the Lord's purpose was "that I may let them hear my words" (Deut. 4:10; cf. 9:10, 10:4).  Likewise, when the great assembly gathers around the Son in the heavenly Jerusalem in Hebrews, they hear the better word of Jesus' blood (Heb. 12:24).

Whatever else we may do when we come together---to give thanks to him, to make melody in our hearts to him, to cast our cares upon him---we primarily gather to "hear his most holy word" (as The Book of Common Prayer puts it).  Ultimately, the preacher has no other agenda or goal but to make God's word clear to the church. . . .

The purest preaching happens in the context where God's servant is preaching God's word to God's people.  This makes both church going and church preaching critical.  In our gatherings, we must be careful not to allow other elements to crowd out the hearing of God's word.  It happens easily ought.  Sometimes it's singing; sometimes it's long interviews and announcements and news about what is happening in the church's program; sometimes it's simply an overly short meeting, with the aim of getting people in and out before they get bored.  But however it happens, when the hearing of God's word is reduced to one short Bible reading and a quick sermon, we have lost touch with why we are getting together in church in the first place.
This last point from Jensen really hits home with many American churches with our short services and twenty minute (if that!) sermons.  When we have lost touch with the reason we gather together, then we are in a sad, spiritual condition, and it is time to shake up the status quo, no matter how painful that might be.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bach Recitative "Gebenedeiter Mund! Maria macht ihr Innerstes der Seele"...

The words of warning are something we rarely hear in our churches, sad to say. Here are the words:

Gebenedeiter Mund!
Blessed mouth!

Maria macht ihr Innerstes der Seelen
Mary makes the innermost part of her soul

Durch Dank und Rühmen kund;
known through thanks and praise;

Sie fänget bei sich an,
with herself she begins

Des Heilands Wunder zu erzählen,
to tell of the wonders of the saviour,

Was er an ihr als seiner Magd getan.
all that he has done for her as his handmaid.

O menschliches Geschlecht,
O human race

Des Satans und der Sünden Knecht,
servant of Satan and sin,

Du bist befreit
you are set free

Durch Christi tröstendes Erscheinen
through Christ's consoling appearance

Von dieser Last und Dienstbarkeit!
from this burden and servitude!

Jedoch dein Mund und dein verstockt Gemüte
Yet your mouth and your obdurate spirit

Verschweigt, verleugnet solche Güte;
keep silent and deny such kindness;

Doch wisse, dass dich nach der Schriftbut
be aware, that according to scripture

Ein allzuscharfes Urteil trifft!
there awaits you a judgement that is all too sharp!

Bach - BWV 147 - 7 - Jesus bleibet meine Freude

Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe,
What joy for me that I have Jesus,

O wie feste halt ich ihn,
oh how firmly I hold on to him

Dass er mir mein Herze labe,
so that he may make my heart rejoice,

enn ich krank und traurig bin.
when I am sick and mournful.

Jesu, hab ich, der mich liebet
I have Jesus, who loves me

Und sich mir zu eigen gibet;
and gives himself to me for his own.

Ach drum lass ich Jesum nicht,
Ah, therefore I shall not let go of Jesus,

Wenn mir gleich mein Herze bricht.
even if my heart should break.

Bach - BWV 147 - 1 - Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben

Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
Heart and mouth and deed and life

Muss von Christo Zeugnis geben
must bear witness to Christ

Ohne Furcht und Heuchelei,
without fear or hypocrisy

Dass er Gott und Heiland sei.
that he is God and saviour.

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