Friday, August 31, 2012

Something to Remember and Change Our Hearts During the Political Season

This is a great quote from Missouri synod Lutheran scholar David Scaer.  He is commenting on James 4:13-16:  

[13] Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—[14] yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. [15] Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” [16] As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
(James 4:13-16 ESV)

Scaer rightly sees Jesus in the phrase "if the Lord wills," since "Lord" is the New Testament's usual way of referring to Jesus.  Here is what Dr. Scaer says:

"'If the Lord wills' is more than a recognition of divine control over all of life; it is a confession that Jesus can appear at any time as God's appointed Judge and terminate the ordinary course of time.  The boasting condemned by James is that supreme confidence that a human being can direct his future affairs without fear of divine intervention.  'All such boasting is evil' (v. 16).  'Evil' here has the same intent as it does in the Lord's Prayer (Matt. 6:13), an attitude inspired by the devil.  Boasting about what a man is able to accomplish in the future is not only silly, because no man is totally in control of his destiny, but worse, the boasting man puts himself in the place of God the Creator.  This is, of course, an affront against the First Commandment in not letting God have that honor which can only rightly belong to Him.  This is the most satanic of all sins.  For this reason James sees boasting about the future as evil from Satan.  It is the opposite of faith which relies totally on God."

First, we should apply this to our own lives, and realize that we are not totally in control of our lives, and God can intervene, and does intervene, with adversity or prosperity, judgment and blessing, as He sees fit.

But, second, during this season of politics as we hear confident promises about what both parties will do in the future if elected, let's remember that all such boasting is evil, unless it is qualified with these four words: "if the Lord wills."  Sadly, I rarely hear that qualification, nor is there any sense in the world or in   politics that no human being or nation can direct his future apart from the Lord's intervention.  Jesus is Lord and will be Lord despite all our best and worst plans.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Luke's Christology in Hymn Form --- Hymn Based on Luke 22:63-71

If we call ourselves Christians, it should grieve us that we do not value our Lord and Savior as we ought. As men were mocking, beating, and crucifying Him, God was suffering, loving, and saving us through His beloved Son. At the cross, we see the deep corruption we all share in Adam as we crucified God incarnate. But at the cross, we also come to see and know the great salvation and love of God for us --- a love that can begin to change us and the way we live. May the Lord grant us grace to deeply know and feel His love displayed supremely to us at the cross.

O Praise the Prophet God Has Sent and Listen to All that He Says

To the tune: LASST UNS ERFREUEN (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=3).  Based on Luke 22:63-71.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
O praise the Prophet God has sent,
and listen to all that He says.
Give Him glory, give Him honor.
The One like Moses, prophesied,
His words forever will abide.
O believe Him and receive Him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

v. 2
The Christ’s rejection prophesied,
men mocked and beat and crucified.
For He suffered, then came glory.
The Scripture’s patterns and its types,
predictions pointed to the Christ,
and His suff’ring, then His glory,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

v. 3
While men were pouring out their hate,
our God revealed His mercy great.
Give Him glory, give Him honor.
For our corruption we should weep,
and feel God’s mercy oh so deep.
O believe Him and receive Him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

v. 4
Jesus the Christ the Son of Man,
came to fulfill the Father’s plan.
Give Him glory, give Him honor.
The Son of God became the Lamb,
the Lord incarnate, great I AM.
O believe Him and receive Him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Worship Services that Reflect our Theology

Instead of attending the church I usually attend, I visited a different church closer to my home today.  This church was your typical church-growth kind of church complete with a coffee shop for the older folks and a McDonalds-like play area for the little kids.  The first part of the worship service was basically 25 minutes of singing love songs to "You," who I assumed to be God or Jesus.  It was hard to tell who "You" was since God's name was not mentioned in the first three songs, nor was there a call to worship from the Lord to identify the One we worship at the beginning of the service.  I think I was right that the songs were directed to the Lord, though, because the fourth song mentioned Jesus confirming my suspicion that he was the one we were singing to in the first three songs.

While we were singing, there were some baptisms performed.  After each person was baptized there was applause, just as there was applause after each song.  I guess we were applauding to make up for our lack of singing or maybe we were applauding because of the band's performance.  As far as I could tell those baptized were not baptized into the name of Jesus or the triune God.  I say this because we were later told that three of the baptisms were performed by a father, a grandfather, and a female Sunday School teacher, rather than the elder or minister, and it did not look like the baptismal formula was used, although maybe my lip reading is not as good as I think.

The sermon was pretty hard hitting.  It definitely challenged people about idolatry and some of the idols of our time.  But I got the feeling that the sermon was not considered a part of the worship service in the eyes of the pastor.  In a prayer after the sermon, the pastor distinguished between worship which makes us feel good and this particular sermon which might make us feel bad.  The pastor seemed to give the impression that only the singing was worship and worship always makes us feel good.  This only makes sense if things like confession, repentance and the conviction that comes from God's Word, i.e., things that can be agonizing and make us feel bad, are not worship.

Probably the most interesting words in the service came in a short prayer from the guitarist.  He prayed to the Lord that our worship might be pleasing to Him.  I couldn't help but be a bit bemused and saddened at the irony of those words.  How do we determine if our worship is pleasing to the Lord?  Do we just hope it is?  Do we just assume it is?

It seems that most Evangelicals today are simply assuming their worship is pleasing to the Lord.  The majority view seems to be that God is not concerned with how we worship Him as long as we are sincere and our hearts are right with Him.  There really is no right or wrong way to worship the Lord as long as we have a right relationship to Him.  This seems to be the view of most.

I would argue, however, that just as Scripture is the arbiter of our faith and practice, so it surely must be the arbiter of our worship.  Just as we look to Scripture to determine our doctrine and how we live, so we must look to Scripture to determine how we worship together in the church.  Worship is the most important thing we do together, therefore, it is hard to believe that God's Word has nothing to say to us about how we should worship in the church.

While there are certain elements of a worship service that can be easily gleaned from Scripture --- things like reading the Word, preaching, prayer, the Supper, offerings --- a key consideration is that our worship service reflect our theology.  Everything we do in the worship service should reflect what Scripture teaches about God, ourselves, and His ways with His people.  God's ways include the question of how we approach Him in a pleasing way.

Martin Luther brought about a reformation of worship in his day because he challenged the false theology of the Roman Catholic church.  Rome's false theology was reflected in its worship.  Therefore, Luther's reformation of the church was not just a change in theology, but also a change in worship.  Luther redesigned the worship service so that it reflected Scripture's theology.  Something similar needs to happen today.

Luther's new worship, or better, the return to a more biblical worship, was based on how we approach a holy God. I believe, like Luther, we need to think more biblically and deeply about how we may approach a holy God, and then apply that to worship.

Part of Luther's theology was based on a rediscovery of the Bible's teaching about law and gospel. We desperately need to rediscover, doctrinally and experientially, the holiness of the law and the grace of the gospel and then apply that to our worship.  The law of God shows us that God is holy.  The law, when it is not watered down, but proclaimed and understood in all of its holy severity, condemns every one of us.  The law shows us that in actuality none of us can come into God's presence.  All of us are damned by the holy law of God.  Therefore, if we are going to come into God's presence to worship, we must find another way to approach Him.

Thankfully, God has provided a way to approach Him and it is through His Son. Though we are not holy, Jesus Christ is.  Though we are damned by the law, we are saved by the gospel.  Though we are barred from God's presence by the law, we may enter through the blood and righteousness of God's Son.  Though we are sinful and naked in and of ourselves and in Adam, the gospel clothes us with Christ's righteousness, and in His righteousness we may come into His holy presence through the Spirit He gives us.

We cannot simply barge into God's holy presence in whatever way we wish.  Why? Because we are sinners, and even if we are regenerate, original sin still clings to us.  Every Sunday, and in fact, every time we approach God in prayer and praise, we always come through Jesus Christ our mediator and His gospel.  This way of approach needs to be intentional in our services if we are to learn it. Yet this understanding is almost totally missing in our worship services today, and we need to recover it.

There is an ethos in most of our churches that is self-satisfied.  This self-satisfaction reminds me of the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:17: "For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked."  We mistakenly think that we can come to God on our own terms.  This self-satisfaction comes because we have forgotten that God is holy and we are not.  We no longer seem to understand that the holiness of God which damns us, condemns us, and kills us, is foundational to our relationship with Jesus.  For until we know our damnation we cannot know our acquittal, and until we know our dying, we cannot know Christ's rising.  In this regard, Peter is our example as He begins His walk with Jesus: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8); and, he is our example as we continue to walk with Jesus, as Jesus teaches Peter his need of daily washing in John 17.

But we love to sing about ourselves in our services these days.  We sing about our devotion.  We sing about our love.  We sing about our resolve.  "I" is the subject of the majority of our songs: "I" will praise, "I" will love, "I" will follow, "I" will serve.  We are confident like Peter that we are strong as we vow to follow Jesus no matter the cost.  But remember, Peter fell quickly after his resolution to follow Jesus to death.

We need a new humility in our services of worship that will truly reflect the theology of the Scriptures.  We need a theology of the cross not a theology of glory in our services.[1]  May the Lord begin a reformation of our theology that's reflected in our worship soon!


------------------------------------------ [1]  By "theology of the cross" I mean how we know God in a saving way and how we can approach Him in His holiness.  It is only through Jesus Christ as our mediator, only through the gospel, only through His forgiveness, righteousness, and Spirit, all freely given by grace alone, that we can truly know God and approach Him.  By "theology of glory" I mean approaching God as we think best through our morality or intellect.  Following the theology of glory comes naturally to us as sinners, because we mistakenly think that God can be approached however we wish.  The theology of glory greatly underestimates God's holiness and our sinfulness, and thus it misses the only avenue of approach and way of knowing God through the mediator, His beloved Son whom He sent.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Interplay of God's Word and Our Experience --- words from John Kleinig

From John Kleinig---I thought this was excellent and true, especially the part about God's Word interpreting our experience:

"We exercise our faith continually, in our work and in our rest, in the church and in the world, just as we exerci
se our eyes by seeing and our ears by hearing. We who have access to God's grace use our faith to approach Him for help and to bring His help to others. We exercise our faith by practicing our piety, whether it is by going to church or by saying grace before meals, by meditating on God's Word or by praying, by examining ourselves in the light of God's Law or by confessing our sins, by fasting or by presenting our offerings to God. Faith is meant to be used and grows as it is used. We are not called to live as practical atheists, people who, theoretically, believe in God, and yet act as if God has nothing to do with their daily lives; we are called to rely on God's provision for us at all times and in all places. If we have faith, we do not just theoretically accept a religious ideology, but we rely on Christ practically in day-to-day living.

"Exercising our faith involves the constant interplay between the Word of God and our experience of life, what God has to say to us each day and what happens to us each day. These two belong together; they interpret each other. God's Word interprets our experience. Our experience of life helps us to understand what He says and so confirms our faith in His Word. His Word teaches us to see ourselves and our experience from His point of view; the school of experience shapes our minds and souls, so that they are attuned to His Word and His good and gracious will for us. Without His Word we are spiritually blind, deluded, and unenlightened. Through the exercise of faith in His Word and its application to our lives, we are able to discern how God is at work in all that happens to us each day; with the wisdom that can only be learned quite practically in the school of experience, we are able to grasp His Word and work out how it applies to us."

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Temptation, Denial, Love and Restoration --- hymn based on Luke 22:54-60

I have been struggling with the idolatry of my sinful heart the last couple of weeks.  Interestingly enough, it has been at this exact time that I have been working on a hymn for Luke 22:54-60, the passage that deals with Peter's grievous denial of the Lord.  The Lord has taught me through looking at these verses as I have failed and found restoration.  He also has given me a greater understanding and appreciation for the greatness of his restoring love.  Text and hymn are below.

[54] Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into the high priest's house, and Peter was following at a distance. [55] And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. [56] Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” [57] But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” [58] And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” [59] And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” [60] But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed.
(Luke 22:54-60 ESV)


O How Cold When We Depart from our Savior’s Loving Heart

To the tune: AFRON (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=748).  Based on Luke 22:54-60.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
O how cold when we depart
from our Savior’s loving heart.
When we leave the Lord our light,
deep the darkness of the night.
When our Savior we deny,
with this world we stand allied.

v. 2
See in Peter you and me,
fearful, silent, cowering.
Of a little girl afraid,
no confession of Christ made.
See His look that will restore,
points us to His Word once more.

v. 3
Though the righteous fall they rise,
by the power Christ supplies.
For His love an ocean font,
for the children He has bought.
Soul diseases Jesus heals
by His Word, and signs and seals.

v. 4
Who is like the Lord our God,
give Him rev’rence, stand in awe.
There’s no love like love divine,
grace and mercy, patient, kind.
Faith repents and hears Christ speak,
finds the grace and love it seeks.

v. 5
Turn to Jesus from yourself,
He will be your strength and health.
Jesus’ nearness is your good,
and His love your daily food.
Lord, we’re needy, hear our cry,
help us or we surely die.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sons of Korah - Psalm 96



I love the Sons of Korah because they put the Psalms to wonderful music!

Heart Problems --- Wise Words from Philip Ryken

I don't know how it is with others, but I find that denying my Lord Jesus Christ is a regular problem.  I struggle with loving Jesus above all else.  Stupid things, vain things, vile things often capture the affections of my heart.  I also find that I often lack the courage to mention Jesus to others.  I don't want to be thought of by others, even if they are strangers, as some sort of Jesus freak.  This is why I take hope in what happened to Peter, who even though he grievously denied Jesus three times, yet the Lord restored Peter in His love and to His love.  Peter's restoration is told in Luke 22.  Here are a few paragraphs from Philip Ryken's commentary on Luke that I found applicable to my own fickle and often faithless heart:

"It is not certain whether Jesus was still inside the high priest's house when this happened---somewhere near the door, perhaps---or whether he was coming out on his way to the next trial, but wherever he was, as soon as Jesus heard the rooster, he turned and looked at Peter.  His heart went out to his fallen disciple.  At the very moment Peter was sinning, Jesus loved him and called him back to repentance.

"Here the wording of verse 61 seems especially significant: 'Peter remembered the saying of the Lord,' or even 'the word of the Lord' (Luke 22:61).  Jesus looked at Peter to remind him of what he had said.  It was not simply what Jesus said about the rooster that Peter needed to remember, but the whole conversation, including what Jesus said about praying for his faith and restoring him through repentance.  Jesus knew the man's weakness.  Even before he fell into sin, Jesus had a plan for Peter's restoration and gave him the word that would lead to his repentance.

"Jesus knows our weakness too, and he has a plan for our salvation.  This is why he came into the world in the first place: to die for our sins.  This is why he has given us his word" to promise his forgiveness.  This is why he has sent us his Spirit: to call us to repentance.  One look is all it took for Peter to repent, and now Jesus has sent his Holy Spirit to do the same work in us.  If we truly love Jesus, one quiet reminder from the Spirit is all it should take to call us back to repentance.

"We do not need to hide our sin.  So often we are tempted to think that God will not love us again until we deserve to be loved.  But it is right now that Jesus is looking to us in love, even if we have done all we can to deny him.  Jesus knows our weakness.  He has always known it.  Even when we sin he is looking to remind us of his word and call us to saving repentance.  Parents sometimes tell their children that God is always watching them, in the hope that this will keep them away from sin.  But it is just as important---maybe more important---to know that when we do sin, Jesus is looking at us in love, longing for us to come back to him.  There is no need for us to drag ourselves back to repentance when instead we should be running to the love that always looks for our salvation . . .

"From the beginning, Luke has been 'the Gospel of knowin for sure,' and this is one of the main things we need to knowl there is hope for anyone who comes to Jesus in faith.  No matter how much we fall to temptation, Jesus knows our weakness, and in his loving mercy he will lift us up to salvation."

Monday, August 20, 2012

Why No Mention of Music in Acts 2:42?

And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
(Acts 2:42 ESV)

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

The early church after Pentecost was devoted to four things when they met together:
  1. The teaching of the apostles, who interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures in a Christological way.
  2. Fellowship with fellow believers.
  3. The breaking of bread, which is a reference to the Lord's Supper.
  4. Praying together, which initially was done in the temple at set times.
What might surprise us about this list is that there is no mention of singing!  In many of our churches, singing is almost thought of in sacramental terms.  We mistakenly believe people will be attracted to the Lord through music.  We sing much more than we read God's Word or pray, when we gather together in our services.

Was the early church missing something?  Maybe they should've been devoted to singing!  Maybe the Lord Jesus forgot to teach them the important role of singing?  Or, could it be that we are missing something?  Could it be that we have elevated music to a sacramental place the Lord Jesus Christ has not given it in His church?

There are two means of grace given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ: His Word and the sacraments.  Through these means Jesus forgives us and gives us His risen life. Music is not one of the means of grace.

Closely associated with God's Word read, preached, seen, and tasted, is prayer.  Prayer is the hand of faith that receives what God promises in His Word.  Prayer is our response to God's Word present in the means of grace.

What then is the role of music if it is not a means of grace?  The answer is simple: music is the servant of the means of grace, or our response to the means of grace, or fellowship, i.e., our words to one another. When we gather together, music should serve one of the four things we are to be devoted to according to Acts 2:42, namely, God's Word as interpreted and given by the apostles, fellowship, the Lord's Supper, and prayer.  Music must serve these ends or its use is illegitimate in Christ's church.

Please do not misunderstand.  I am not against singing in the divine service of worship.  I only ask that we give music the place it deserves, so that we may be more devoted in love to the Lord and His people.  When we sing in church let our songs fit into the divine service, so that they are God's Word to us, or our words to God, or our words to one another.  Then, music will regain its rightful place among us, and maybe its rightful place will help us regain a truer devotion to our Lord and His people through devotion to His Word, fellowship, His Supper, and prayer.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Johann Gerhard: A True Knowledge of Sin

Concerning true knowledge of sin


Confession of a fault heals

Holy God, Righteous Judge, my sins are seen with eyes and spirit (Leviticus 11:45). Every hour I think about death, because death is nears in every hour (Psalms 7:12). Every day I think about judgment, because for every day a reckoning will have to be rendered (2 Corinthians 5:10). I examine my life and recognize it is entirely vain and profane. Vain and useless are my many actions. Even more vain are my words. Still even more vain than these are my thoughts.

My life is not only vain, but also profane and impious. I find nothing good in it. Even if something in it appears good, it is certainly not good and perfect, because it is corrupted by the contagion of original sin and the sinful nature. Godly Job used to say, “I will fear every work” (Job 9:28). If therefore the holy man complains loudly, what ought the unholy do? “All our righteous acts are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).8 If our righteous acts are such, of what kind, may I ask, are our unrighteous acts? The Savior says, “If you have done everything that has been commanded you, you are to say, ‘We are unworthy servants’” (Luke 17:10). If we are worthless when we obey, we will certainly be abominable when we disobey. If I owe a debt to you, holy God, when I do something that is not a sin, what will I be able to offer you as payment when I do sin?

Our own righteousness, which appears to be righteous in our eyes, is merely unrighteousness when it is compared with your divine righteousness. A lamp is noticed when it shines in the darkness, but is it obscured when it is enveloped by the rays of the sun. Oftentimes a stick is regarded as straight if it is not held to the ruler. Yet, if it is compared to the ruler, one may then discover that the stick has crooked spots. Oftentimes the image of a seal will appear perfect to the naked eye. Nevertheless, the eye of the maker discerns many imperfections. Oftentimes, therefore, a thing, which shines in the estimation of the one doing it, is foul in the discretion of a judge. The first is the judgment of man, the second of God.

The memory of my many sins terrifies me. Even worse, my thoughts explode, “What man can even recognize all of his offenses? Cleanse me from my secret sins, Lord” (Psalm 19:13). I do not dare to lift up my eyes to heaven because I have offended him who lives there (Luke 18:13). Nor can I find refuge on earth. How indeed have I dared to hope for favor from creation when I have offended the Lord of creation? My adversary, the devil, accuses me (Revelation 12:10). “Most fair judge,” he says to God, “declare this despicable one to be mine on account of his sin and guilt—this one who has been unwilling to be yours through grace. Yours he is by nature. Mine he is by his sins. Yours he is by passion. Mine through persuasion. To you he is disobedient. To me he is obedient. From you he receives immortality and the robe of innocence. From me he receives this ragged robe of the wickedest life. He discarded your clothing when he chose mine over yours. Declare this deplorable sinner to be mine and damn him along with me.”

All the earthly elements accuse me. The heavens say, “I have provided light for you for solace.” The air says, “I have given all kinds of birds to you for homage.” The water says, “I have given many different kinds of fish to you for food.” The land says, “I have given bread and wine to you for nutrition but you have nevertheless wasted these things and shown contempt for our Creator. Let all our benefits therefore be turned into your punishment.” The fire says, “Let him be burned in me.” The water says, “Let him be drowned in me.” The air says, “Let him be tossed in me.” The earth says, “Let him be absorbed in me.” The holy angels accuse—those whom God had given to minister to me and for fellowship in the future life. My sin has deprived me of their holy ministry in this life and of the hope for their fellowship in the future life.

The very voice of God himself, namely, the divine law, accuses me. Either the divine law must be fulfilled or I am going to perish. However, since it is impossible for me to fulfill this, I am going to perish in an unbearable eternity. God, whom I am unable to deceive, the most severe judge and the most powerful executioner of his own eternal law, accuses me. He is wisdom itself. From him I am unable to flee. He certainly powerfully reigns everywhere. To where then can I flee (Psalm 139:7)? 

To you, O pious Christ, our sole Redeemer and Savior, I can flee. Great are my debts, but greater is your payment. Great is my unrighteousness, but greater is your righteousness. I acknowledge. Please ignore. I open what is closed. Please shut. I uncover. Please cover. In me there is nothing except damnable sin. In you there is nothing except saving merit. I have committed many things on account of which I am most rightly deserve to be damned. You, however, have not left anything undone by which you may mercifully save me. I hear the voice in the Song, which urges me to hide in the clefts of the rock (Song of Solomon 2:14). You are the strongest rock. The clefts of the rock are your wounds (1 Corinthians 10:4). In them, I may hide myself from the accusations of all of creation. My sins cry to heaven, but your blood shed for my sins cries louder (Hebrews 12:24). My sins are persuasive, so that my heart ought to be accused by God, but your passion in my stead is more persuasive, so that I will be defended. My unrighteous life is powerful enough that I ought to be damned, but your righteous life is more powerful, so that I am going to be saved. I appeal from the throne of justice to the throne of mercy, in order that I may not come into the condemnation that I greatly deserve. This is on account of your most holy merit, which has been placed between your condemnation and myself.

---from Sacred Meditation

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Eastern Bankruptcy by Dan Iverson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

Eastern Bankruptcy by Dan Iverson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org

A helpful post.  Helpful for evangelism.

Hearts Unveiled --- devotion and hymn based on Luke 22:47-53

[47] While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, [48] but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” [49] And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” [50] And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. [51] But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him. [52] Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? [53] When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
           
(Luke 22:47-53 ESV)

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

Satan entered Judas according to Luke 22:3.  So now he leads this violent band, including the leaders of Israel, to arrest the Son of God and put him to death.  How fitting that the perpetration of the crime of all crimes occurs in darkness, for Satan’s realm is called the “domain of darkness” (Col. 1:13) and this world is dominated by what Scripture calls “this present darkness” (Eph. 6:12).  Jesus is speaking to Satan in verse 53, for the “your” is singular.  This is Satan’s hour and the world’s hour as they are permitted to vent their rage against God and his Son.  Verses one and two of the hymn emphasize the darkness of this hour and its apparent triumph.  But verse three reminds us that Jesus is in control, and that God will use even the darkness to bring forth his salvation through his Son.

Verse four of the hymn points to the stark contrast between the Lord and the world ruled by the devil.  While men were doing their worst, God was doing his best.  The true nature of the world is unveiled in this hour, but so too is the loving heart of God.  It is remarkable to see the love of Christ even for his enemies as he heals the ear of the high priest’s servant with merely a touch.  What a blend of power and love flow from the Son of God!

Verse five picks up on Jesus’ words in verse 52: “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs?”  Yet, Jesus was the most gentle man who ever lived, so there was no need to come armed with swords and clubs.  But the irony goes farther, for Jesus is not merely a gentle man, but also the Lord incarnate, and no human weapons are a match for his divine power.  Christ is holy and harmless, and yet he is also the Son of God.

Finally, verse six calls on Jesus’ disciples to imitate his love even for his enemies.  What kindness he showed in healing an enemy who came to arrest him.  Jesus lived out his earlier teaching in Luke 6:35: “love your enemies, and do good.”  Christ’s ways are different than the world’s ways where people live in malice and hatred toward others.  His economy --- his way of life --- is to pray for enemies and look for opportunities to serve enemies in love, even in the midst of suffering.

The Hour of Darkness Now Arrives

To the tune: DUNFERMLINE (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/dunfermline).  Based on Luke 22:47-53.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
The hour of darkness now arrives
as Satan leads his band;
and Judas with a kiss betrays
the Lord, the Son of Man.

v. 2
The darkest hour of history,
the triumph of the night.
Arrested, tried and put to death,
the Lord, our sun, our light.

v. 3
But still our Lord is in control,
He overrules the night.
For darkness soon will be dispelled
by resurrection light.

v. 4
The hatred of the world unveiled,
but see the love of Christ.
He even heals His enemies,
His touch enough for life.

v. 5
O praise the Lord who earns us grace,
He suffered in our place.
The holy, harmless Son of God
has died for Adam’s race.

v. 6
O follow Christ in blessing men,
and even enemies;
and pray and serve when suffering,
it’s His economy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Love in the Midst of Spiritual Warfare

Philip Ryken has given us a good reminder about our deportment as Christians, who are called to bless even our enemies.  He is writing in the context of Luke 22 and the disciples failure to pray and their illegitimat use of the sword, which may possibly be a metonymy for a combative attitude, rather than an attitude that seeks blessing.  From his commentary on Luke:

"At a practical level, the healing of the servant's ear also shows how we should respond when we are mistreated, or even betrayed.  We should not seek retaliation and revenge, like the disciples.  Instead, we are to follow the example of Jesus in blessing our enemies. . . .

"Today there are signs of increasing spiritual conflict everywhere in the world.  Some Christians are under hostile attack.  In an increasingly secularized America, people of faith often use the language of warfare to describe what is happening in the wider culture.  In other countries Christians are actually facing physical forms of persecution.  Whatever attack we are under, we must never forget that our real warfare is spiritual warfare and our only weapons are spiritual weapons like prayer and the preaching of the gospel.  If only the disciples had prayed the way Jesus taught them to pray, they would have been ready for this midnight assault.  But because they did not fight against the principalities and powers of darkness through prayer, they ended up resorting to the use of worthless weapons."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Spiritual Depth in a Shallow World

"The Gospels depict the entire ministry of Jesus as a journey from baptism at the river Jordan to His death on the cross outside the city of Jerusalem.  He calls His disciples to follow Him on that way, the Lord's way, the way of the cross.  Just as He has passed through the whole course of human life, from conception to death, in order to purify and sanctify the whole of it, so we are called to travel with Him on His holy pilgrimage to His Father's heavenly presence; the way of baptism takes us through death with Him to eternal life with Him.  As we follow Christ as He takes us through our life on earth, we have constant access to the Father's presence.  Thus our journey is earthly and yet heavenly, temporal and yet eternal, visible and yet invisible." --John Kleinig from his book, "Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today"

How wonderful to know the life that is "earthly and yet heavenly, temporal and yet eternal, visible and yet invisible!"  In a shallow age, the Christian can know a depth of life unknown and unseen by the world.

The Compromise of Evangelical Worship and Our Repentance































[8] Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. [9] And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” [10] Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
(Matthew 4:8-10 ESV)

[4] “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. [5] You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,
(Exodus 20:4-5 ESV)

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

Have you noticed that almost every Evangelical and Reformed church service looks alike these days?  Essentially services are led by a praise band and a worship team.  Usually songs are a blend of contemporary choruses and hymns.  Singing dominates the first 30-40 minutes of the service and is followed by a sermon.  

Gone are Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings.  Sometimes the call to worship, confession of sins, assurance of pardon, and pastoral prayer are also gone.  The fact that communion is rarely given hardly needs to be stated.

Gone too is depth in either content or emotion.  Our services seem to be dumbed down.  We live in the shallows when it comes to our worship.  We even are given the impression that only our singing constitutes worship.  The hearing, reading and preaching of God's Word is something altogether different than worship, so it seems.

Why do our worship services all look the same from church to church?  Why does every church now have a praise band, worship team, and a blend of contemporary choruses and hymns?  Why are so many of the songs we sing individualistic and shallow, rather than filled with the rich theological content that causes our hearts to mourn our sin even as we rejoice in God's grace found in Christ?  Why does everything seem fake and trivial as the 20-something in the praise band (with undeniable musical talent but little liturgical or theological acumen) leads us in prayer as the ever present music plays softly in the background, rather than a genuine approach to our transcendent Creator and Judge who is now our Father because of Christ?

I suspect what has happened is that we made a deal with the devil.  Our churches have uncritically adopted the church-growth, seeker-sensitive model of worship, a model that compromises worship for the sake of mission, outreach, and getting bigger.  The deal struck was to compromise the worship service in order to attract "seekers," despite the fact that Scripture tells us clearly that "no one seeks for God" (Rom. 3:11), and the fact that our Father is the true Seeker, who seeks worshipers in Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).  Instead of trusting our Father to regenerate and convert through the proclamation of the gospel, in fear we succumbed to the temptation to alter both the content of worship (Mat. 4:8-10) and the form of worship (Ex. 20:4-5) for the sake of pragmatic results.

After nearly 30 years, all the new worship (and newer is always better in our culture!)  has left us with is a shallow, trivial, and --- dare I say it --- even an idolatrous worship service at times --- as we elevate music and entertainment above the Word of God read, heard, and preached. And our shallow worship breeds shallow worshipers, even as Psalm 115:4-8 teaches.  We sing and we sing and we sing, but we have practically jettisoned the reading of God's Word.  We can go months without ever hearing the Old Testament or the Psalms in our services.  We did away with the traditional readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, Epistles, and Gospels, even as we made the excuse about the need for Scripture readings to fit the theme of the seeker-sensitive service.  One suspects the real reason for their demise is that they do not fit in with our culture's thirst for fast-paced entertainment and its desire to be ever and always positive.  Nevermind the fact that the Lord commands us to "be devoted to the public reading of Scripture" (1 Timothy 4:13).

We need to change all this.  We need to repent.  We need to be grieved and mourn.  We need to realize that Scripture must guide our worship services and what we do in them.  We need to study worship in Scripture in dependence on the Holy Spirit, even as we look to see what He taught believers before us in church history.

One of the first things we need to do is to recover the ministerial role of music.  The Word of God is to have the preeminence in our services.  Before anything else our great need in worship is to hear from our Lord Jesus Christ.  Worship is a dialogue between the Lord and his people, but how inappropriate it is for us to dominate that dialogue!  Let us be, as James says, "quick to hear (the Lord) and slow to speak" (James 1:19).  Let us reinstate the Old Testament, Epistle, and Gospel readings that were clearly part of the early Christian services that adapted the synagogue's readings and then added the Gospels and Epistles as the church was scattered away from the apostles in the mid-40s and 50's.  Let us also understand how each song we sing, whether it be a psalm, a hymn, or a spiritual song, fits into the conversation of worship as prayer, praise, exhortation, confession, or as God's word to us.

Finally, let us acknowledge and confess that our compromise of the worship service has borne the bitter fruit of shallow, false discipleship, and trivial, sometimes even false worship.  Let us acknowledge that our compromise in worship's content and form was wrong as Matthew 4:8-10 and Exodus 20:4-5 show us.  Let us turn from the magisterial role of music to its ministerial role that recognizes the preeminence of the Word read, taught, preached, heard and responded to in our services of worship.  And, then, even if many people leave who do not recognize and love the voice of the Shepherd (John 10:27), the Lord will give us his favor as we repent; his face will shine on us; and, if it pleases Him, He might even bring us a time of refreshement as He blesses and grows His church.


Monday, August 13, 2012

168 hours: To suffer faithfully

168 hours: To suffer faithfully: We were watching a bit of the Olympics the other night, and one of the commentators who was talking about the men's 50km walk made a statem...

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

Sunday, August 12, 2012

O Praise the Love! --- hymn based on Luke 22:39-46

I wrote this hymn to reflect Jesus' struggle in Gethsemane to bow His will to the Father's will for our salvation and pay the awful cost.

O See the Righteous Son of God in Dark Gethsemane

To the tune: PROVIDENCE (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=221).  Based on Luke 22:39-46.  Words: William Weber, 2012.

v. 1
O see the righteous Son of God
in dark Gethsemane.
O see His sweat like drops of blood,
His soul in agony.

REFRAIN:
O praise the love, O praise the love,
that gives us liberty.
The Son has drunk the bitter cup
in love for you and me.

v. 2
O see the Son’s humanity,
as from the cup He shrinks.
He sees the torture of the cross,
but still the cup He drinks.
REFRAIN

v. 3
O see the Son’s divinity,
He knows the awful price.
He knows the wrath that He must bear,
for sin a sacrifice.
REFRAIN

v. 4
O see the perfect plan of God,
there was no other way.
The Son of God must shed His blood,
the debt of sin be paid.
REFRAIN

v. 5
O see the heart of God for us,
the Father and the Son.
The Father’s will to save in love;
in Jesus it is done.
REFRAIN

v. 6
O see the Son of God obey,
His righteousness for you;
all condemnation takes away,
no more is it in view.
REFRAIN

Thursday, August 9, 2012

God's Ways with His Children

I thought this was very good. The last paragraph is especially profound in understanding God's way with his children.  God's ways are the exact reverse of our culture's self-congratulatory ethos.  Instead of esteeming ourselves, Jesus calls us to die to ourselves so that we might find ourselves in Him.  Let us also remember that Jesus is the Way.



"Jesus set down the terms for our spiritual life quite clearly at the beginning of His ministry.  After He had been baptized and before He called His first disciples, He began to preach this simple message: 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel' (Mark 1:15).  On the one hand, Jesus calls us all, no matter who we are, to repent.  By repenting we admit our spiritual bankruptcy and turn to God as beggars to ask for His mercy and grace.  Our repentance is not just an initial act or occasional event in our journey with Christ; it is a daily event, a lifelong process.  Our whole life is a process of conversion from ourselves to God, a dying to self that is complete only when we die.

"On the other hand, Jesus also calls us to believe the good news of God and His gracious kingly rule.  By believing, we receive pardon from sin and access to the Father's grace as His royal sons and daughters; we become receivers of God and His good gifts to us.  This reception does not just happen initially at the beginning of our journey or occasionally when we need a hand.  Our whole life as disciples is a process of receiving grace upon grace from God the Father.

"God deals with us in a strange way as we travel on our course here on earth.  Little by little He strips us down until we are left with nothing except our bare, fragile human soul, a soul that relies on Him utterly for its existence.  Then He strips us of our soul in death.  He takes away everything that we have in order to give us everything that He has in store for us.  His purpose in this gradual demolition of us is to give Himself ever more fully to us and to bless us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3).  He brings us through the darkness of dying and death with Jesus to usher us completely into the light of His radiant face."  

--John Kleinig "Grace Upon Grace: Spirituality for Today"

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Vanity

"Everything, beyond loving and serving God alone, is vanity, the vanity of all vanities." --Thomas a Kempis

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