Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Preach the Law and the Gospel Together --- devotion based on Heidelberg 12

Heidelberg Catechism
Q&A 12

Q. According to God’s righteous judgment
we deserve punishment
both in this world and forever after:
how then can we escape this punishment
and return to God’s favor?

A. God requires that his justice be satisfied.
Therefore the claims of his justice
must be paid in full,
either by ourselves or another.

----------------------------

The law of God shows us our sin.  The gospel of God shows us our Savior.  The law shows us the punishment our sin deserves.  The gospel shows us the Savior who bore our punishment, in order to give us God's favor.  The law is meant, then, to drive us to Jesus Christ and his gospel so that we can escape the punishment we deserve and return to God's favor.

The law is bad news.  Our old sinful nature does not like to hear this bad news.  We prefer to live in denial, closing our eyes to our sinful condition before God.  We prefer to live distracted lives, amusing ourselves with a hundred different things rather than think about God's law and what it reveals about our hearts.

But unless we face up to the bad news of the law, we will never know the good news of the gospel.  Unless we know the bitter truth of the law, we will never know the sweet reality of the gospel.  Unless we agree with the judgment of the law, we can never know the freedom from condemnation the gospel brings through Jesus Christ.  

Law and gospel must be preached together as long as we remain sinners here on earth.  Law without gospel leads to either self-righteousness or despair.  Gospel without law leads to shallow and superficial "Christians."  Law and gospel go together in a sinful world.  May we learn to understand the great difference between the law and gospel. But may we also learn to preach both the law and the gospel together for the sake of a world that needs to hear the truth of God.

Christ's Intercession and Atonement For Us --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 22:31-38

[31] “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, [32] but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” [33] Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” [34] Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
            [35] And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” [36] He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. [37] For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” [38] And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough.”
           
(Luke 22:31-38 ESV)
                     
------------------------------

The first part of this passage teaches us about our Lord’s intercession for us (v. 31-34).  The second part of the passage teaches us about our Lord’s atonement for us (v. 35-38). 

Peter exemplifies the self-confidence that is fatal to our spiritual walk with the Lord.  How slow we are to learn that apart from Jesus Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).  He is our righteousness, our wisdom, our strength. Apart from his atonement, we could have no fellowship with God.  Apart from his prayer for us, we fall in an instant.  Apart from his restoration, we cannot recover from our falls.

Verse one of the hymn below describes the reason for our spiritual weakness and spiritual falls.  Our strength comes in recognizing our weakness.  Only in our weakness can we take hold of our Lord’s strength. 

Even our faith which takes hold of Christ’s forgiveness and strength is worked in us by our Lord.  It is Christ’s intercession for us that keeps us safe and causes our faith not to fail (verse two).  Since faith is the link between Jesus and us, it is the special target of Satan.  If the enemy can sever the bond of faith, then we are severed from Christ.  How wonderful to know, then, that Jesus prays for his own, that our faith may not fail!

Verse three marks the transition from Christ’s intercession to Christ’s atonement.  By dying for his people, Jesus fulfilled Old Testament Scripture and his own prophecies.  Verse four’s language alludes to the servant song of Isaiah 53, which is quoted by Jesus in verse 37. 

2 Corinthians 5:21 is also alluded to in the last two verses of the hymn: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  How amazing to think that Jesus, on the cross, became the denier that Peter was, that Jesus on the cross became the adulterer that some of us are, that Jesus on the cross became the gossip and slanderer that some of us are.  He was made sin for us. 

But that is not all!  Jesus was made sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.  In Christ we have the same loving Father, the same acceptance, the same status, and the same righteousness that Jesus has.  How amazing is the love that caused our Lord to be numbered with sinners, to take their punishment, to be made sin for us so that we might receive his perfect righteousness.  Praise the Lord!

We Trust Ourselves, We Think We’re Strong

To the tune: VOM HIMMEL HOCH (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=194).  Based on Luke 22:31-38.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
We trust ourselves, we think we’re strong,
and though we to the Lord belong,
in pride we think that we can stand
apart from Jesus’ strong right hand.

v. 2
Our enemy with doubt assails,
but Jesus prays our faith not fail,
and though we fall yet we will rise,
the Father hears His prayers and cries.

v. 3
Behold the Lord in mercy great,
fulfills just what the Scriptures state,
for all our sins on Him are laid,
and sin for us our Lord is made.

v. 4
Becoming sin and what we are,
His lovely countenance was marred,
was smitten, pierced and crushed by God,
to save us by His precious blood.

v. 5
His righteousness our God imputes
that David’s Branch might bear Him fruit,
for all He won to us is giv’n,
the blessings of the highest heav’n.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Tentative Start at a Worship Catechism

















I think I might try my hand at writing a worship catechism.  There are more qualified people than me to write such a catechism, but I am not aware of anyone who is undertaking the task.  Given the current state of worship, I think we could use one.  Here is a tentative start:
  1. Q.  Why do we call the Christian worship service a divine service?

    A.  The worship service is primarily about our Lord Jesus Christ’s service to us, not our service to Him.

  2. Q.  Why do we come to church?

    A.  We come, first and foremost, to receive Christ and His benefits.

  3. Q.  Why do we come, first of all, to receive from Christ his blessings?

    A.
      Jesus teaches us that the kingdom of God belongs to the poor in spirit.  All 
    of us are spiritually dependent from the beginning to the end of our 
    spiritual lives.  Jesus serves us by giving us His blessings. He says of himself, “I am among you as the one who serves.”

  4. What blessings does our Lord give us in worship?
                                                                                                                
    Chief among the blessings He gives us are his forgiveness and risen life.


  5. Q.  Where do we come to meet with Jesus?

    A.  We come to a local gathering of believers on earth where the Word and sacraments are rightly administered.  But the true meeting place is above with the resurrected Christ in heaven, for there He dwells bodily.

John Kleinig on Receptive Spirituality

John Kleinig, a Lutheran minister, writes about this verse.  He says:

"This counter cultural beatitude sums up the whole of Christian spirituality.  It contradicts popular religion and common piety.  Popular piety presupposes our unrealized spiritual potential; it seeks spiritual enrichment and empowerment through the practice of appropriate spiritual exercises.  In contrast to this desire for spiritual self-improvement and self-development, Jesus teaches that we begin, continue, and end our spiritual journey with Him as beggars before God the Father, the heavenly King.  We do not, as we follow Jesus, become incresingly self-sufficient.  Rather, we learn, bit by bit, the art of begging from God the Father, until at our death we can do nothing but say, 'Lord Jesus, have mercy on me!'"

Sunday, July 29, 2012

in all honesty: better than marriage

in all honesty: better than marriage: During my recent bloggy silence I wrote and led a seminar on marriage. One of the things that struck me as I read and reflected on marriage

The Law Shows Us the Penalty of Sin --- devotion based on Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 11

Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 11

Q. But isn’t God also merciful?

A. God is certainly merciful,
but also just.
God’s justice demands
that sin, committed against his supreme majesty,
be punished with the supreme penalty—
eternal punishment of body and soul.

------------------------

God's law shows us our sin, but it also reveals God's punishment of sin.  The ultimate penalty of sin is "eternal punishment of body and soul."

Jesus spoke of hell more than any other person in the Bible.  Again and again he warned us of that awful place:
"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire" (Mat. 5:22).
"And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Mat. 10:28).
"Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels' (Mat. 25:41)."
"I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 8:11-12).
"The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear" (Mat. 13:41-43).
The law's purpose is to cause us to flee to Jesus Christ for salvation.  At the cross he bore the awful judgment of hell for us.  Flee to Him and find forgiveness and escape from the reality of hell that Jesus warned us about again and again.  May the law do its good work in our lives.  May we cling to Jesus Christ and his gospel that saves us from the eternal punishment of hell.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Does God Judge Sin in this Life? --- devotion based on Heidelberg Q&A 10

















Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 10

Q. Does God permit
such disobedience and rebellion
to go unpunished?

A. Certainly not.

God is terribly angry
with the sin we are born with
as well as the sins we personally commit.

As a just judge,
God will punish them both now and in eternity,1
having declared:

“Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey
all the things written in the book of the law.”

------------------------------------------

This Q&A is probably distasteful to most people in our society.  Protestant Liberalism successfully catechized most people in our nation into believing that God has only one attribute, namely, love.  

But God is also holy and just.  And, most importantly, the Lord never stops being who He is.  In other words, God cannot stop being holy and just, so that he can be loving.  He is always, at one and the same time, holy, just, and loving, along with every other attribute He possesses.  This is why the cross is so crucial, for at the cross God in His wisdom found a way to satisfy His justice by punishing our sins in His Son as they were imputed to Him.  Thus, having dealt with sin and satisfied His own justice, God can love us in His beloved Son, whom He delivered from death on the third day.

But does God continue to punish sin in this life?  Q&A 10 says that God punishes sin "both now and in eternity?"  How can this be?

Let's remember that until we judge ourselves as sinners, there is no hope of salvation for us.  We must come to agree with God's judgment of us, as David came to do after his sin with Bathsheba:
"Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge." (Psalm 51:4)
David had experienced God's judgment of his sin with Bathsheba in his conscience.  For six months he endured the torments of conscience as the light of fellowship with the Lord was snuffed out.  Only when he came to his senses, agreed with God's judgment, and repented was the joy of his salvation restored.  

Yes, God judges and punishes sin "both now and in eternity" and the torment of conscience is one way in which he judges sin now.  But there are other forms of judgments in this life as well.  For example, every person's death is part of God's judgment on sin.  Terrorism, wars, illness, aging, weather events, earthquakes, economic woes, and maybe worst of all, blindness and insensitivity to our own sin and its enslavement, all are part of the original curse that fell on man after his sin: "In the day you eat of it, you will surely die" (Genesis 2:17).

As we see, and sometimes experience, God's judgments in life, there is only one thing to do: repent and believe in the Son He graciously sent to us in love. For Jesus bore the judgment we deserve at the cross, and he alone can turn the judgments of life into a door to paradise and fellowship with our gracious and loving, but also holy and just Father.  May we turn to Him through His Son and by His Spirit, so that we might know life, and not the judgment of death that He must bring upon sin. Amen.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Receptive Spirituality

"Our whole life as the children of God is a life of reception.  We have been justified by the grace of God the Father, so we now live by faith in His grace.  Because we believe in Him we now receive every spiritual gift from Him.  We receive grace upon grace from the fullness of the incarnate Christ." --John Kleinig

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Lord Who Serves Us! --- hymn based on Luke 22:21-30
















It is amazing that the Lord Jesus Christ, who is worthy of eternal honor and glory, from whom are all things, and for whom all things exist, has condescended to serve his sinful creatures.  Jesus says of himself, "I AM among you as one who serves" (Luke 22:27).  The Lord himself who has existed from all eternity eats with sinners, and dies for sinners to make that eating possible.  This is a hymn I wrote to "attempt" to exalt such a God who comes to serve us in love. The last two verses deal more specifically with the suffering that casting our lot in with Jesus brings, and our Lord's continued service to us in our suffering.

---------------------------

See the Lord who Eats with Sinners

To the tune: WARUM SOLLT ICH DICH DENN GRAMEN (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/warum_sollt_ich_ebeling).  Based on Luke 22:21-30.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
See the Lord who eats with sinners.
We recline
and we dine
with our dear Redeemer.
Who is this who comes to serve us?
He’s the Lord,
He has poured,
blood was spilled out for us.

v. 2
See the Lord who serves His people.
Great I AM
and the Lamb,
serves us at His table.
Gives us bread in great abundance,
multiplies,
satisfies,
see how much He loves us.

v. 3
See the Lord who for us suffers.
Great His love
from above,
in His cross find shelter.
He has won for us the kingdom.
By His grace,
and by faith,
we receive His welcome.

v. 4
Walk with Christ through many troubles.
With Him stay,
that you may
know His kingdom’s table.
Soon He comes, no more we suffer.
We will eat,
we will drink,
at His joyous Supper.


v. 5
All who thirst and all who hunger,
Christ will feed,
meet our need,
in His holy Supper.
Though this world cannot perceive Him,
faith beholds,
and takes hold,
faith is what receives Him.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Divine Service

"People often think that worship is about what we do for or toward God. The reality is quite different. In the Divine Service, God is providing His service for us. In the reading, the preaching, and the proclamation of His Word and in His Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, God comes to us. In worship, God gives His grace and then we respond with thanks and praise." --Scot Kinnaman

I would only add that the direction of worship is not only God coming to us, as Kinnaman says, but also our coming to Christ in heaven above through the Spirit, for all God's gifts come to us through the body of Jesus, who dwells in heaven. Worship is heavenly as the Spirit lifts us to our risen Lord.

Are We Really Devoted to the Public Reading of Scripture?


I attend a PCA (Presbyterian Church of America) church that I consider fairly solid.  Its theology is Reformed.  Its preaching is Christ-exalting, faithful, edifying, and challenging.  It distributes the Lord’s Supper three times a month (I am for administering the Supper every Lord’s Day, but three times a month is a step in the right direction).  Those who lead the service generally do a good job of recognizing the dialogical or conversational nature of worship.

Despite all of these good things, in my opinion, there is a deficiency in its liturgy.  The church exalts singing above the reading of God’s Word.  The church is not devoted to the public reading of Scripture, at least the way one would hope it to be.  Paul commanded that churches be devoted to the public reading of Scripture.  In 1 Timothy 4:13 he writes, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.”

Today, as an example, we sang nine songs (three of the choruses were before the service).  Of the nine songs, four were hymns and five were choruses.  The total number of words sung was 1,678.  Singing at a rate of 70 words per minute (my average when I sang the lyrics at home), this means we sang for at least 24 minutes.  That 24 minutes does not include preludes to songs or music in between lyrics.  I think it is fair to say the church is devoted to singing.

What about the public reading of Scripture---is the church devoted to that practice?  Today we read 21 verses that contained 335 words.  The average speaker reads 120 words per minute.  That means it took 2 minutes and 48 seconds to read the 21 verses.  The church sang for 24 minutes and read Scripture for almost 3 minutes.  We sang 8 to 9 times more than we read God’s Word!  Can we honestly say a church is devoted to the public reading of Scripture when it “devotes” a paltry 2 minutes and 48 seconds to it?

Not only do the statistics show a lack of devotion to the public reading and hearing of God’s Word, but so does the removal of the traditional categories of an Old Testament reading, a Psalm reading or Psalm sung, an Epistle reading, and a Gospel reading.  All that is left is a Scripture reading before the sermon and some verses in a couple of the other elements of worship.

Our Lord Jesus instituted the Christian liturgy through his table fellowship with his disciples that culminated in the last supper and Emmaus meal.  Table fellowship with Jesus always included our Lord’s presence, our Lord’s teaching, and a meal.  When Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me,” at the last supper, he was instituting a ritual that was to be repeated regularly. At the last supper a dialogue takes place between Jesus and his disciples, a pattern of the dialogical nature of the divine service.  But the dialogue is dominated by Jesus, not his disciples.  Jesus speaks seven times, and the disciples speak three times in Luke 22 in the supper dialogue. 

How much more important is it to hear the Lord than to hear ourselves!  As James said, we should be “be quick to hear [the Lord] and slow to speak.”  But in our churches, today, increasingly we are hearing less and less from the Lord as we continue to shrink the public reading of God’s Word, even while we sing more and more.  No longer does the Word of the Lord dominate the dialogue of our liturgies.  Sadly, we dominate the speaking through our singing. 

Songs in church can be God’s Word to us, if the lyrics echo the Word of God.  But most of the time, this is not the case.  Usually our songs are a response to God.  But without hearing from the Lord in his Word, one wonders what we are actually responding to?  By stringing songs together without recognizing each song’s function, we are losing the dialogical nature of Christian worship, that is, the Lord speaks and we respond.

I saw my parents, today, who belong to a mainline Lutheran church.  Mainline churches generally have a lower view of Scripture’s authority than do the Evangelicals and the Reformed.  But many sincere Christians, like myself, long for a return to the seriousness and reverence of the kind of liturgy we find in churches like my parents.  In their Lutheran service, today, they had an Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel reading.  They sang 733 words in their four hymns and read 754 words of Scripture in their four readings.  They sang for 10 minutes and read for 6 minutes. 

Now, I don’t really think that reading for six minutes can be considered to be devotion to the public reading of Scripture as Paul commands, but it does put Reformed and Evangelical churches to shame.  For, even, mainline liberal Protestants with a weak and faulty view of Scripture are more devoted to its public reading than we are!  How sad!

What would constitute obedience to the Lord’s command to be devoted to the public reading of his Word?  What would it look like to take seriously the command to read God’s Word in our churches?

In Augustine’s day, Scripture was read for an hour, and this was not uncommon in the churches of that time.  Of course, part of this was because illiteracy and a lack of personal Bibles meant Christians could only become familiar with God’s Word through its public reading in church.  But let’s face it, there are still plenty of Christians who for various reasons (some legitimate like a reading problem), will never open a Bible at home.  The only time they will hear God’s Word read will be in church.

One solution would be to restore the Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings that have been a fixture in Christian worship until recent times.  Another solution might be to read large portions of Scripture before the service begins instead of singing as some churches do, giving opportunity to those who want to hear God’s Word read publicly.  Another solution might be to set a goal to read through the Bible in a systematic manner over the course of a set number of years.  For example, a ten year cycle would require 60 verses per Sunday or about ten minutes.

I suppose this article may ruffle some feathers.  I don’t mean to attack anyone or any church, nor am I interested in controversy.  All I would like is for church leaders to honestly consider 1 Timothy 4:13, and make an attempt to put that verse into practice, so that they might be able to say before the Lord, “We want to be devoted to the public reading of your Word, O Lord, because you command it.  Give us wisdom as we try to obey your command, and bless our worship with your presence, without which there can be no true worship in our church.”


Saturday, July 21, 2012

Mother Nature?



I find it sad to see how often our society here in the USA uses the term "mother nature," attributing all our weather to her. Don't people know that the Lord controls the weather? Our society is similar to the unfaithful Israelites who attributed all weather events to the storm god named Baal, rather than the Creator of heaven and earth.

Sharing the Family Likeness --- devotional based on Heidelberg Q&A 9














Q&A 9

Q. But doesn’t God do us an injustice
by requiring in his law
what we are unable to do?

A. No, God created human beings with the ability to keep the law.
They, however, provoked by the devil
in willful disobedience,
robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts.

---------------------

Having been catechized by our culture's individualism, it is not easy to accept our connection to Adam.  The Bible teaches that each human being has inherited Adam's sinfulness.  Just as physical characteristics are passed from parents to children, so sinfulness is passed down from Adam to all his descendants.  All of us are born into Adam's family and share the family likeness.

This means that none of us can keep God's law perfectly as he requires.  We simply do not have the ability to keep God's law anymore, because our nature is disordered.  Just as a thorn bush cannot create grapes, or a wolf cannot suppress his love of lamb stew, so sinners cannot love the Lord and others as they ought.  Therefore, we are under condemnation.  We have sided with the devil in our sin. We love the things we should hate and hate the things we should love.  We are rebels against our Maker, and his holiness must bring wrath to such creatures, for God can never stop being holy.

But as we will learn later in the catechism as it explains the gospel, God found a way to be merciful and gracious without canceling his holiness and justice.  The cross of Jesus fulfilled the requirement of God's justice, for our sins were punished in the new Adam, Jesus Christ, so that God could be merciful to those who would receive his beloved Son.  At the cross of our Lord, God's holiness and love embraced and his justice and mercy kissed, so that we might be reconciled to him in love.  Jesus is the new Adam, and through our connection to him by faith, we are severed from the old Adam.  As Christians we are born from above into to a new family now, the family of Jesus Christ, the second Adam.  More and more may we share our new family likeness!

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Communion Hymn Based on Luke 22:14-20

















I wrote the hymn below based on Luke 22:14-20. In that passage, Jesus institutes the Lord's Supper. The hymn is an invitation to come and eat His covenant meal, for in the Supper he communicates his life and love to his weary pilgrims here below. Feel free to use it. Maybe your church might sing it during communion. If you want to hear the tune, there is a link.

How Great the Love For Us His Own

To the tune: VISION (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/vision_doane). Based on Luke 22:14-20. Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
How great the love for us His own,
a love this world had never known.
Our Lord from heaven left His throne,
and at the cross for sins atoned.
Refrain:
Come eat and drink the cov’nant meal,
His bread and wine the sign and seal.

v. 2
O see the flame of Christ’s desire,
His love for us a quenchless fire.
He would not stop ’til He acquired,
and paid the precious price required.
Refrain:
Come eat and drink the cov’nant meal,
His bread and wine the sign and seal.

v. 3
The types and shadows Christ fulfills,
accomplishing the Father’s will.
His death and resurrection bring,
the reign on high of Christ our King.
Refrain:
Come eat and drink the cov’nant meal,
His bread and wine the sign and seal.

v. 4
Receive His body and His blood,
the Son of Man and Son of God.
Eat of the bread that satisfies;
drink of the life that He supplies.
Refrain:
Come eat and drink the cov’nant meal,
His bread and wine the sign and seal.

v. 5
Believe that Jesus died for you.
He took your place, a substitute.
His body giv’n, His blood is poured.
O see the love of Christ your Lord.
Refrain:
Come eat and drink the cov’nant meal,
His bread and wine the sign and seal.

Our Need of Faith and a New Heart --- devotion on Heidelberg Q&A 7-8



Q&A 7

Q. Then where does this corrupt human nature come from?

A. The fall and disobedience of our first parents,
Adam and Eve, in Paradise.
This fall has so poisoned our nature
that we are all conceived and born
in a sinful condition.

Q&A 8

Q. But are we so corrupt
that we are totally unable to do any good
and inclined toward all evil?

A. Yes, unless we are born again
by the Spirit of God.

--------------------------------

In order to rightly understand Q&A 8 we need to understand that the Protestant reformers believed that all people were capable of doing what they called "civil good."  Unbelievers can be good and caring to their neighbors.  Unbelievers can be good citizens.  Unbelievers can love their families, neighbors, and country, sometimes in extraordinary, sacrificial ways.

So what does the catechism mean when it says that "we are totally unable to do any good?"  It means that until we receive the gift of saving faith in God's Son, we cannot please God.  The catechism echoes Scripture, which says, "without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him" (Hebrews 11:6).  If we have no faith, then everything we do, including our good deeds, spring from a heart of unbelief toward God and his Son, and a heart of unbelief cannot be pleasing to the true God.

What we need, then, is a new heart---a believing heart that has welcomed Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.  We need to be born again or born from above.  We need a new nature.  We need to offer the prayer David prayed to his Lord: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).  We need to be born from above, as the Lord prophesies will happen:
Among those who know me I mention Rahab and Babylon;
    behold, Philistia and Tyre, with Cush—
    “This one was born there,” they say.
And of Zion it shall be said,
    “This one and that one were born in her”;
    for the Most High himself will establish her.
The Lord records as he registers the peoples,
    “This one was born there.” (Psalm 87:4-6)
Has it happened to you?  Have you been born from above?  Are Jesus' words true of you: "“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).  If you believe in Jesus Christ, then you have been born from above, and from your believing heart will spring good deeds that please your Father in heaven.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Theologians Who Cry out to God --- devotion based on Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 6-7















Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 6-7

6 Q. Did God create people
so wicked and perverse?

A. No.
God created them good and in his own image,
that is, in true righteousness and holiness,
so that they might
truly know God their creator,
love him with all their heart,
and live with him in eternal happiness
for his praise and glory.

7 Q. Then where does this corrupt human nature
come from?

A. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents,
Adam and Eve, in Paradise.
This fall has so poisoned our nature
that we are born sinners
corrupt from conception on.

------------------------

Every person is a theologian.  Every Christian is a theologian. The only real question is whether we are good or bad theologians!

But is theology important? Theology is important because it is about relationships: first, our relationship to God; second, our relationship to others; third, our relationship to the material world God created. If our relationship to God, other human beings, and the world is not important, then what is?!

To be a good theologian, we need to factor in four doctrines: creation, the fall of man because of sin, redemption through God's Son, and the consummation when God will create a new heaven and earth for his redeemed people. Often times, bad theology is the result of leaving out the fall. We justify our sinful desires and emotions by saying this is how God created me, therefore, all my desires are good. But we forget to factor in the fall, which "so poisoned our nature that we are born sinners corrupt from conception on."

A deep reflection on God's law---his requirements for all our being: mind, emotions, and will---shows us how broken and undone we all are after the fall. But when we see our brokenness and disordered natures, then we are ready to cry out to our Creator and Redeemer, the Lord who can heal us now, and heal us completely when he brings about a new heaven and earth through his Son. Good theologians are sinners who cry out to God through Christ as they see their own sin and its shattering impact in their lives.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Law Shows Us Our Misery --- Heidelberg Q&A 4-5











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

A. Christ teaches us this in summary in Matthew 22:37-40:

Love the Lord your God
with all your heart
and with all your soul
and with all your mind
and with all your strength.
This is the first and greatest commandment.

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

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

5 Q. Can you live up to all this perfectly?

A. No.
I have a natural tendency
to hate God and my neighbor.

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Sometimes people mistakenly think that the command to love God with all our heart is the gospel. It is not. The command to love God is law, not gospel. It tells us what God requires of us, not what he has done for us to give us salvation.

The command or law to love God with all our heart is good, but there is a problem. We have not lived up to this. We have failed to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. With our minds we show a rebellious independence that strays from God's Word. With our wills we go our own way, not God's way. With our emotions we do not love and delight in the Lord above all else. The catechism is right: we do not live up to God's requirement to love him with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves.

Even worse, our lack of love for God is actually tantamount to hate. Whether our lack of love for God shows up as indifference, willful ignorance, or active enmity, it all adds up to hate. O what a miserable condition we are in as sinners! We need the gospel that tells us, not what God requires, but what God has done through his Son to save sinners like us!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Darkness Plots While Love Prepares --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 22:1-13



22  Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people.  Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.

 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. So Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” They said to him, “Where will you have us prepare it?” 10 He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters 11 and tell the master of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 And he will show you a large upper room furnished; prepare it there.” 13 And they went and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

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While men were plotting their worst, the Lord was doing his best.  In verses 2-6 we see the unholy alliance of the chief priests, the scribes, Satan, and Judas, plotting the death of God incarnate.  But in verses 7-13 we see Jesus Christ, omniscient and sovereign, preparing the meal that will bring forgiveness and life to his people through his sacrifice as the Passover Lamb.  Jesus’ plan, in perfect alliance with his Father, will foil the plan of his opponents, for his death, unbeknownst to them, will bring life to a dying world and crush the head of the serpent.

What this dying world needs more than anything else is forgiveness and life, and this life could only come through sacrifice.  As the Old Testament taught us, there is only forgiveness through the shedding of blood.  While the Old Testament prohibited the eating of animals with the blood because the life was in the blood (Leviticus 17:10-14), Jesus commands us to eat his body and drink his blood, so that we might share his life.  We eat his body and drink his blood by faith, and thus we receive his forgiveness and life.

The hymn below calls us to look at the love of Jesus as he cares for his own disciples.  His loving concern for his own in the preparation of the Supper is in luminous contrast to the dark hatred that plots to destroy him.  This Supper continues to bring forgiveness and life to all who call upon the name of the Lord, who eat and drink by faith and trust in his work on the cross.  What amazing love that the Lord, the great I AM of the old covenant, would also be the Passover Lamb who brings us forgiveness and life under the new covenant.  Let us eat and drink of Him with wonder, praise, and gratitude.

The Time of Jesus’ Death Drew Near

To the tune: MARTYRDOM Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/martyrdom_wilson).  Based on Luke 22:1-13.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
The time of Jesus’ death drew near,
the time for which He came.
The sins of many He would bear,
on Him our sins were laid.

v. 2
O look and see, the hearts of men
against the Lord conspire.
But look and see God’s loving plan
to save is His desire.

v. 3
In love the Lord prepares a meal,
before His suffering.
His people by His wounds are healed,
a fragrant offering.

v. 4
O praise the sov’reign plan of God,
O praise the paschal Lamb.
O praise the Son who shed His blood,
Our Lord, the great I AM.

v. 5
O Christian, come and eat and drink
His body and His blood.
For He’s a fountain and a spring,
receive the life of God.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Misery? --- A Brief Meditation on Heidelberg Q&A 3

Heidelberg Catechism

Q & A 3

Q. How do you come to know your misery?
A. The law of God tells me.

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How many of us think of our condition in terms of "misery"? But listen to what God says about us in Romans 3:20: "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." Our sin has separated us from God. Apart from Jesus, we are not justified or righteous in God's sight. We can't become righteous before God by doing good or keeping God's law. All we get from God's law is a "knowledge of [our] sin."

Therefore, we are in a miserable situation whether we know it or not. Sin has separated us from God, in whom is life and blessing. We were made for fellowship with the triune God, but we live estranged from him until we receive God's Son.

What can give us comfort instead of misery? How can we have blessing instead of separation from God? The answer is the gospel. By believing the good news about Jesus Christ we can be restored to God as our Father and know his favor and blessing once more. Though the law cannot save us, it can show us our need of saving and cause us to look to Jesus and his cross for forgiveness and favor from God.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Law and Gospel and Our Experience --- Heidelberg Q&A 2














Heidelberg Q&A 2

2   Q.  What must you know
        to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

    A.  Three things:
          first, how great my sin and misery are;
          second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery;
          third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.

---------------------

Vital to understanding God's Word is understanding the difference between the law and the gospel.  God's law shows me "my sin and misery."  God's gospel shows me "how I am set free from all my sins and misery." 

We have to "know" both the law and the gospel not only intellectually, but in an experiential way.  God's law has to undo us in a sense.  God's law has to cause us to give up on ourselves, so that we seek salvation in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Similarly, we also have to know the gospel in an experiential way.  It is not enough to merely know who Jesus is and what he did for us.  That is important. But we must also trust in Christ and his work on our behalf.  Jesus must become not only the Lord and Savior of others, but also my Lord and my Savior.  In fact, we must trust into Christ, so that we are joined to him in a living and vital way.

The law and the gospel understood in this experiential way of knowing lead us to a life of thankfulness, so that increasingly I learn "how I am to thank God for such a deliverance."  "These three things": the law, the gospel, and a life of gratitude are the basics of the Christian's life.  We must learn them in a deeper and deeper way all of our lives.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The New Temple in the Old Temple --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 21:29-38

Luke 21:29-38

English Standard Version (ESV)
29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32  Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33  Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
                                                
37 And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet. 38 And early in the morning all the people came to him in the temple to hear him.

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The movement of Jesus is described by Luke during this last week of his life.  As verse 37 says, “And every day he was teaching in the temple, but at night he went out and lodged on the mount called Olivet.” 

This movement is significant because Jesus is the true temple.  Wherever Jesus is bodily, this is the new dwelling place of God with man.  Soon the temple of stone would be destroyed, and the temple of Jesus’ flesh in heaven would be the new dwelling place of God with man!  Under the old covenant, the temple of stone was the place of God’s presence, but now that presence is found in the body of Jesus.

The temple of stone was also the place of atonement and forgiveness, but Jesus’ body is now the place of atonement and our Lord’s body is in heaven.  If we want forgiveness we no longer go to the temple of stone, but to the temple above, which Hebrews 12 calls Mount Zion, the city of the living God, and the heavenly Jerusalem.  There we find Jesus Christ who dwells bodily as the mediator of the new covenant and whose sprinkled blood brings us God’s favor instead of wrath (see Hebrews 12:22-24).  Under the old covenant, the temple of stone was the place of atonement, but now that place is the bodily presence of Jesus.

The temple of stone was also the place of worship, but now Jesus’ body is the new place of worship.  Under the new covenant we come to Christ who dwells bodily on the heavenly mountain that Hebrews 12 calls Mount Zion.  It seems to me this fact explains the significance of Jesus’ movements from the temple of stone during the day to the mountain (symbolizing the heavenly mountain where Jesus is now) at night.  A transition was taking place from the old temple to the new temple above where Christ would soon dwell.  After Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension a new situation arose.  From now on worship would take place for the people of God in the temple above where Jesus dwells bodily.

We live in this new situation.  Our worship is heavenly.  Our worship takes place where Jesus dwells bodily.  Yes, there is a sense in which Christ comes down to us in Word and sacrament meeting with us by the Spirit he gives to indwell us.  But this downward movement is matched by an upward movement, for there is no life for us apart from Christ’s body which is in heaven, for every blessing he earned for us was through his flesh and is mediated to us  through his human body.

It seems to me that we need to learn this heavenly aspect of our worship, which is little understood in our churches today.  Not only could it transform our worship, but it could also transform our understanding of the church, which is first of all heavenly, even as it meets on earth.  This heavenly understanding of the church also has the power to unify the church, for a heavenly church transcends the denominationalism and broken table fellowship that we so often see in Christian churches today.

This is the doctrinal background of the hymn below.  But the hymn says more.  Briefly, verse one echoes verses 37-38.  Jesus’ disciples were coming to him to learn from him and we should too.  Verse two points out, however, that we come to Christ not only to learn from him, but to receive his forgiveness and risen life.  Verse three echoes Jesus’ teaching in verses 34-36, which echoes the parable of the sower in Luke 8.  It is easy for our faith to be choked or drowned by the riches, pleasures and cares of this life.  Verse four emphasizes our need to trust and pay close attention to the words of Christ, which are eternal and more solid and trustworthy than the most regular motions of this universe, which will one day pass away.  Finally, the last verse sings about the very best thing and highest privilege of human beings: to know the Father and the Son.

We Come to You, O Christ

To the tune: LEOMINSTER (http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/CCEH/905).  Based on Luke 21:29-38.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
We come to You, O Christ,
our Teacher and our Guide.
We humbly come to learn from You,
Your words that give us life.
Your kingdom now has come,
though dead You are alive,
by faith our lives are hid with You
to share Your risen life.

v. 2
We come to You, O Christ,
true Temple, to receive:
forgiveness through Your sacrifice
for those who will believe.
Your death has brought us life,
and raised with You we live,
Your presence is our highest prize,
Your love our highest gift.

v. 3
We come to You, O Christ,
we would not be weighed down
by riches, pleasures, cares of life
that cause our faith to drown.
O be our present help
that we by faith might stand,
when You return on clouds with pow’r,
the glor-ious Son of Man.

v. 4
We come to You, O Christ,
we raise our eyes to You,
and though the heavens pass away,
Your words are always true.
Though trying times will come,
before You come again,
Your words eternal we can trust,
on them we can depend.

v. 5
We come to You, O Christ,
O Spirit, lift us up,
to know the fellowship divine,
the Father and the Son.
For us this is enough,
the life that satisfies,
communion in Christ’s sufferings,
and power in His life.

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