Monday, July 29, 2013

Prayer of Thanks for Birth and Life

Omnipotent, eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I give You thanks.  I praise You.  I glorify You because Your hands fashioned me and made every detail of what I am.  You shaped me like clay in my mother's womb.  You poured me out like milk and curdled me like cheese.  You clothed me with skin and knit me together with bones and tendons.  You gave me life and showed me mercy.  In Your providence, You watched over my spirit (Job 10:9-12).

I will celebrate the great mercy You have shown me with eternal praises.  Your kindness I will declare with everlasting songs of praise.  You covered me in my mother's womb.  I will praise You because I am wonderfully made.  Marvelous are Your works, which my soul knows well.  My frame was not hidden from You because You made me in secret when You adorned me with my various members in the lower parts of the earth.  Your eyes saw me when I was yet unformed.  In Your book were written all the days that would be, though not yet one of them was.

How precious are Your thoughts to me, O God.  How great is their sum.  If I were to count them they would be more in number than the sands of the sea (Psalm 139:13-18).  You showed Your mercy before I could perceive it.  You came to me with Your kindness before I could long for it. Your generosity encompassed me before I could offer thanks for it.  You not only marvelously formed me in my mother's womb, You have been my God (Psalm 22:10-11).

When I consider how many die in the womb before coming to the light of this life, I admire and praise Your mercy all the more because You brought me---alive, safe and sound---out of the confinement of the womb into the theater of this world.  How many years passed in which I was nothing.  But it pleased You to build this dwelling of my body and to bring it out of the deep darkness of mother's womb.  You have given me a rational soul and did not will that I be a stone or a snake.  To You, my God, be honor and glory forever for this, Your mercy.  Amen.
---Johann Gerhard, Meditations on Divine Mercy

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How to Avoid Lying in our Worship Services

One of points made over and over again in God's Word is the relationship between worship and ethics. A good example of this is Psalm 15:

[15:1] O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? 
Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 
[2] He who walks blamelessly and does what is right  and speaks truth in his heart;
[3] who does not slander with his tongue  and does no evil to his neighbor, 
nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
[4] in whose eyes a vile person is despised, 
but who honors those who fear the LORD;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
[5] who does not put out his money at interest  and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.   

This psalm ties godly living together with acceptable worship.  While Psalm 15 ultimately points to Jesus as the true worshiper, for he alone obeyed God perfectly (see Psalm 14 which tells us that no one is righteous), nevertheless, this does not remove the truth that those who are in Christ are to strive after holiness.  Worship and ethics continue to be tied together in this New Testament era.  Justification and the gift of the Spirit do not break the union between worship and ethics, for faith unites us to the true worshiper, Jesus Christ.

Since this is the case, the Lord cannot be pleased if in our worship services we lie to him.  Yet this is what happens I fear, if we put on the lips of people words that cause them to lie.  What am I talking about, you ask?  I am talking about our dangerous use of I, me, and my language in our singing.

Speech act theory has shown us more clearly than ever that language does not just state facts.  Rather, language is often commissive.  Language in worship often commits us to believe and live a certain way. For example, the bride and groom in a wedding commit themselves when they utter the words, I do. Similarly, in a worship service, we often commit ourselves to certain beliefs and behaviors and attitudes in our songs.  When we sing, "I will serve you, Lord," we make a pledge or promise.  When we sing, "I thank you Lord," we are committing ourselves to a certain attitude.  The language of worship is commissive.

The problem here is that commissive language in worship often makes liars of us.  In any given congregation there are believers and those who are not yet believers, what the church used to call catechumens.  These are people who are learning the faith and hearing about the Lord, but they have not yet committed themselves to him.  My concern is that by putting this commissive language on the lips of catechumens and children we are turning them into liars.  We are forcing them or manipulating them into singing words that are not yet true of them, and this lying cannot be pleasing to the Lord, nor good for the souls of those who lie.

My proposal to keep us from lying in our worship services is this: let's be careful in our use of I, me, and my language in worship.  Obviously, we cannot and do not want to get rid of all first person singular language.  But let us be careful to warn people about its use.  For example, before we confess the Apostles Creed, let's warn worshipers that we shouldn't lie when we say, I believe in God the Father . . . I believe in Jesus Christ . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit.  Reciting the Apostles Creed is pledging ourselves to belief and action.  First person plural language (we, us, and our) can protect us from lying.  It can allow catechumens to try on the language without lying, for some in the church are singing or saying this commissive language out of a sincere heart.

Understand that we, us and our language is still commissive language.  It still binds us to certain beliefs, attitudes and actions.  But there is a protection, I believe, in our use of the first person plural. It may be that this is part of our Lord's wisdom in commanding us to pray together using we, us and our language in the Lord's Prayer:

"This, then, is how you all should pray: Our Father who are in heaven . . . give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one."
It seem to me that we can also avoid lying in worship when we sing by singing Scripture.  The Psalms are filled with I, me and my language, but we are not lying if we are reciting Scripture.  This might be part of the reason the Lord gave us these prayers, so that we might be able to try on the language of prayer and personal devotion without lying, similar to the way the church has used catechisms, letting those who are learning the faith try it on before they come to the point of committing themselves to it.

There can be no debate that worship language is necessarily commissive.  I don't know of anyone who would disagree with that truth. The only question is how this language does not make liars out of everyone who worships.  Certainly, we must hide ourselves in the only true worshiper, our Lord Jesus Christ.  But it seems to me that Reformed and Evangelical churches would be acting in love by protecting their children and catechumens through a careful use of we, us, and our language when we sing and by singing Scripture.  Could it be that this is an area where we need to repent in order to experience refreshment and blessing from the Lord?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Role of Singing in Worship Succinctly Summarized

A facebook friend posted a great article on worship music, and so it has caused me to meditate on the subject further today.  Here is my view of the role of singing in worship in about as succinct a way as I can put it:

My view (hopefully based on Scripture) is that our songs in worship fall into the larger category of prayer. Christ established the ritual of worship in the words, "Do this in remembrance of me," and the first remembrance took place on the day of his resurrection on the Emmaus road. By establishing the Supper, necessarily teaching is included as part of Jesus' table fellowship pattern (teaching and a meal) and his other ministry pattern (teaching and signs). Thus, Jesus' ministry patterns, together with his institution of the ritual of the meal, give us the basic historic pattern of Christian worship: the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the table. It is not a surprise, then, when we read in Acts 2:42 that the early church was devoted to apostolic teaching, the Supper/breaking of bread, and prayers. In these three things, teaching, meal, and prayer, we are given the basic elements of Christian worship. Songs, therefore, fit into the broader category of prayer. 

Thus, worship is a dialogue between the Lord and his people. He teaches and gives his people his gifts and we respond in faith by prayer, which sometimes takes the form of song. However, because Evangelical and Reformed churches at the current time have almost a sacramental view of music, in which music is no longer subservient to the dialogue of worship and prayer, we have gone astray.

Vital Signs: Contemporary Church Music: Enjoy It? Endure It? Or Escape It?

A Christian brother, who also is from Omaha, writes on some of the problems in our worship.

Vital Signs: Contemporary Church Music: Enjoy It? Endure It? Or Escape It?

Individualism in Worship Songs and a Better Way

This is an interesting article. These words stood out to me: 

"If the focus of worship is “God and me” then why go to church at all?"  

This is a good question when so many of our songs in Evangelical and Reformed churches are filled with I, me, and my language.  Why not just stay at home and have a quiet time, sing some songs by ourselves, and then come for the sermon, and hopefully the Supper and fellowship?  Ornery person that I am, I have begun to read Scripture during these individualistic songs, since one of the things these songs replace is the reading of God's Word, since we have to sing for a long time in order to create the right atmosphere.  But if everyone is else singing their own songs and doing their own individualistic thing, as the I, me, and my language suggests, what could possibly be wrong with me choosing to read my Bible as my individualistic way of worshiping the Lord?  If everyone else is worshiping in an individualistic way, what choice is really left for me?

The problem is that we seem to no longer understand that songs in worship fall under the category of prayer put to music. In our day, we have turned music into a means of grace, another sacrament, by which we think the Lord will draw near to us. If we are going to recover sanity in our worship services, a first step will be to understand the function of songs as prayer, and music as a medium that can move our hearts to a warmer devotion for the Lord, if the words of our prayers are sound. 

I find it interesting that only once do we read of Jesus and his disciples singing.  If singing was a sacrament, the Lord did not make that clear to us in his ministry. Similarly, of the four things the early church was devoted to in Acts 2:42 (apostolic teaching, fellowship, prayer and the Lord's Supper), none of these things were singing. 

Our singing should fall into the category of prayer, but it does not function like this in most services today. It has become a sacrament---a feeling or ethos---that supposedly brings the Lord's presence to us. Don't get me wrong, I love to sing prayers. Music can emotionally enhance and beautify our prayers, increasing our heart's devotion to Christ. But, nevertheless, music is not a sacrament and cannot make up for the individualism and bad theology we often find in our lyrics.  Music has no power to usher us into the presence of Christ.  Christ has promised to meet with us through his Word and through his meal, but not through the power of music.

One of the interesting things to ask of our worship services is this question: How do we believe we meet with God in this place today? Do we meet with the Lord Jesus through His Word and Supper? This is the Reformation view. Or, do we meet with God through creating the right kind of atmosphere, ethos and feeling? This seems to be the Charismatic/Evangelical view that God meets with us through our emotions, bypassing our minds. Sadly, this second view has won the day.  Thus, music becomes a sacrament because it creates the right ethos for God to work among us.

Both Augustine and Calvin warn us of the dangers in singing.  Although Augustine saw the value of combining sacred words with pleasant music so that "our souls are moved . . . [and] kindled to piety," he also spoke of the dangers of music.  He writes, "Yet when it happens to me that the music moves me more than the subject of the song, I confess myself to commit a sin deserving of punishment, and then I would prefer not to have heard the singer."

Calvin also acknowledged the value of singing the Psalms because they "stimulate us to raise our hearts to God and arouse us to an ardor in invoking as well as in exalting with praises, the glory of his name."  But he too cautions us about music: "music has a secret and incredible power to move our hearts.  When evil words are accompanied by music, they penetrate more deeply . . . ."  He too, like Augustine, cautions us to "be very careful that our ears be not more attentive to the melody than our minds to the spiritual meaning of the words."  Calvin was also concerned about why songs were sung, in other words, their liturgical function, and who chooses them in a worship setting.

In summary, we need to be devoted, not to singing, but to prayer, teaching, and the Supper.  These last two are truly means of grace that enable us to hear from Christ and receive from Christ his forgiveness and life if they are received by the hand of faith, which is prayer.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Pattern of Suffering for God's Word

And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. And they said, “Is not this Joseph's son?” 23 And he said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.” 24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. 25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29 And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, he went away. (Luke 14:22-30)


Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament.  The prophets' words were fulfilled in him.  Jesus announced their fulfillment in the synagogue in Nazareth after reading from the prophet Isaiah.  But Jesus also fulfilled the prophets’ pattern of life, what Darrell Bock has called Jesus’ “proclamation from prophecy and pattern.”  Just as all the prophets God sent to Israel suffered persecution and opposition in some form, so Jesus, the consummate prophet, must suffer rejection and die. 

Arthur Just puts it like this: “Jesus, the final end-time prophet, must do what all prophets did before him: suffer for speaking for God.”  The proud, sinful heart does not like God’s words.  This was man’s sin in the garden as we opted for our own understanding instead of God’s.

Although Jesus was more than a prophet, he was not less.  As the Son, he spoke the words the Father gave him.  These words are impossible for the sinner to receive apart from the Spirit’s work within, for our tendency, like Adam, is to follow our own understanding, not God’s.  We are especially slow to accept our Lord’s teaching about suffering and death.  Even Jesus’ own disciples were resistant to hearing that he must suffer and go to the cross.  Today, we too are resistant to hearing that we must die with Christ daily if we would truly live. 

But Jesus gives us a clear pattern for our lives in his incarnation and death on the cross.  The pattern is one of love and self-giving, a pattern of dying with Christ to our own advantage and seeking the glory of God and the edification of others.  This path is not a popular one and is opposed by our own flesh, the world, and the devil, but it is the path that honors the Lord and is faithful to his Word. 

This path is also the life of love even when it results in suffering and rejection, as it must, because we speak God’s Word and side with his truth.  Love and truth are not enemies, for “love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).  But the pride that rejects the truth of God is an enemy of love, and we see this displayed in the murderous hate that tries to kill God’s Son in Nazareth.  Ironically, the people finally receive the miracle they demand as Jesus passes through their midst, unscathed until his cross arrives.

No Prophet Sent to Israel Was Received

Suggested tune: ELLERS (  Meter: 10 10 10 10.  Based on Luke 3:22-30.  Words: William Weber, 2013. (After sermon, persecution, suffering, joy, love of God)

v. 1
No prophet sent to Israel was received,
their words rejected, met with unbelief.
Just like the prophets, who had come before,
Christ was rejected and His words deplored.

v. 2
The prophets’ words, the patterns of their lives,
fulfilled by Jesus, He was Lord and Christ.
Just as the prophets suffered for God’s name,
Christ was rejected, bore our sin and shame.

v. 3
The pattern now in place ’til Christ returns,
His people suffer and His Word is spurned.
But blessed are those, though hated for His name,
let them rejoice for heaven is their gain.

v. 4
O Father, work in these poor hearts, we pray,
to know the love our priceless Lord displayed.
In love He took the nature of a slave,
humbling Himself, His life for us He gave.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Disappointing Experience in Worship Today

The Christian liturgy, historically, has been divided into two parts: the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the table.  So often these days, our experience of both parts is disappointing.  Today where I attended was no exception.  Let me see if I can lovingly explain.

The first disappointment is how we use songs in our service.  For some reason we fail to see that songs fit into the liturgy as prayer.  Prayers can function in various ways: as praise, petition, teaching, exhortation, confession of the faith, confession of sins, etc.  But, generally, prayers are supposed to be some form of response to God's Word.  We tend to make a few mistakes in our use of songs as prayer:

  • There are no longer Scripture readings in our liturgies, so sometimes there is little to respond to.
  • We never sing a single song, but always group songs together---a give away that our songs really are not a response to the Word.
  • Our songs are incessantly filled with I, me, and my language---another give away that we do not see our songs as prayer.  If we truly saw songs as prayer, then we would use we, our, and us language, as we do when we voice our prayers apart from music.
  • We sing so much, that our services have no room or time for an Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle or Gospel reading.
The second disappointment is how we confess our sins. Instead of using wonderful prayers that the church has used to confess sins, for some reason, at least in our church, we read a couple of Scripture verses which are really not confessions.  Our church is allergic to the great general confessions of sins that used to be used in Protestant churches.  Here are some examples:

Merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart and mind and strength.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. In your mercy forgive what we have been, help us amend what we are, and direct what we shall be, so that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess unto You that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against You by thought, word and deed.  Therefore we flee for refuge to Your infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Your grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.  O most merciful God, who has given Your only begotten Son ot die for us, have mercy upon us and for His sake grant us remission of all our sins, and by Your Holy Spirit increase in us true knowledge of You and of Your will and true obedience to Your Word, to the end that by Your grace we may come to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

Our confession today consisted in reading Hebrews 10:24-25 responsively followed by 30 seconds to formulate our own silent prayer.  If we are going to pray silently, and somehow feel there is something wrong with general confessions of prayer like those above, there are still better and wiser ways to help us in our individual prayers.  For example, the leader could say something like this:

Our Lord Jesus said: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” As God has instructed us in these great commandments, and because we have not lived in full obedience, let us now confess our sins to God, trusting Christ as our Savior and Lord. 

Much more could be said about leading a congregation in the confession of sins and assurance of pardon, and I have written about this on this blog (look under confession and assurance in the topics section to find these).  But almost every week I find our confession and assurance disappointing.  That does not mean I don't still confess and repent of my sin in church, but many times I manage to do this in spite of the lack of wisdom in the liturgy.

The third disappointment is the lack of a pastoral prayer.  For some reason we rarely have what used to be called in some circles the long prayer or congregational prayer.  This prayer's general outline would usually go something like this:

Praise to God for Who He is and What He has Done followed by petitions:
For the Creation
For the World
For the Nation
For the Local Community
For the Worldwide Church
For the Local Church
For those with Special Needs

It is hard, not to suspect, once again that the reason for the elimination of this congregational prayer is that we have forgotten or never learned that songs in the worship of God fall under the category of prayer and are supposed to fit into the dialogue of worship between the Lord and his people.  We sing so much that we do not have time for this kind of prayer, and we sing so much because we have not learned the liturgical function of singing in the worship service.

The fourth disappointment is the lack of Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel readings as a separate element in our services.  The liturgy of the Word in our time has almost become a liturgy of song and music.  We simply refuse to take the command of 1 Timothy 4:13 seriously, which teaches us to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture.  Today's church has eliminated Scripture reading as a separate element in the liturgy.  How can such a move be called devotion?

The fifth disappointment was the lack of the Supper.  Our "priest" was gone and so we could not partake of our Lord's Supper, not the pastor's supper, this week.  We have not thought through this issue.  If even lay people can preach when the pastor is gone, then surely lay people can do the less complicated task of passing out the elements and leading the Supper under pastoral supervision.

It is highly doubtful that the early church or reformers would recognize the part of our service prior to the sermon.  We really need to ask ourselves if these changes to this part of the liturgy of the Word are evolution, in the good sense of that word, or devolution.  Have we made these changes because we are learning from Scripture and putting what we learn into practice?  I think the answer to that question is clearly, No.

I am thankful for the church I attend.  I appreciate the sincerity of the people and their genuine desire to love, serve and worship the Lord.  I think the preaching is usually faithful, glorifying to Christ and edifying for the people.  I appreciate the fact that the Supper is given frequently.  These are the reasons I regularly attend it.  In my opinion, it is the best choice in a metropolitan area of 900,000 people.  But these good things do not mean that there are no unwise things in our services, where we follow the culture and bad trends happening throughout the landscape of the church in our time.

Certainly there are more important things than ritual or what the Old Testament calls right sacrifice.  Love for the Lord and his people and a life given in love for others is surely more important than right sacrifice.  But it can also be the case that our failure to offer right sacrifice is proof of a church that has lost its way, even as it lost its way in the time of Elijah, for in his day, things had so degenerated that the church was no longer orthodox in its worship, no longer giving the right sacrifice the Lord required to be given together with a right heart.  False teaching had corrupted right sacrifice in Elijah's day, and we would be naive to think that false teaching, or at least a false understanding of worship and the liturgical function of music, could not do the same thing to our worship as well.

Friday, July 19, 2013

SBTS Resources » Love For a Bible Not Read: A Call For Biblical Literacy

I agree with Dr. Mohler, of course, but conspicuously absent is a call for the public reading of Scripture. God's Word calls us "to be devoted to the public reading of Scripture" (1 Tim. 4:13), but are we? We have paired down the Old Testament, Psalm, Epistle and Gospel readings in too many churches to a single reading before the sermon. 

Why have we done this? Apparently, we have done this so that we can imitate Willow Creek and Charismatic styles of worship that string together lots of songs in a row, so that now our singing is no longer a response to the Word or part of the dialogue of worship. So the call for devotion to Scripture should begin, at least in my view, with the leaders of the church re-instituting its reading in the public services.  If our leaders think that Bible reading is unimportant, why should we expect the laity to think otherwise? If our leaders can ignore the clear command of Scripture about reading Scripture, then why should the laity who lack a specific command, be expected to read?  On this issue, as in so many worship issues, we follow our culture and our own inclinations, rather than Scripture.

Singing has displaced the reading of God's Word in our churches.  I am not against singing.  But singing finds its biblical place under the category of prayer, as Acts 2:42 teaches us.  Until we realize this, singing will continue to swallow up the place of Scripture reading in our services to the detriment of biblical literacy.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Did Jesus Institute His Worship?

I wish we would just follow the simple pattern of Jesus' table fellowship: His presence, teaching, and a meal/sign to which we respond in prayer (Acts 2:42). He is Lord and we should listen to Him. He instituted a ritual of worship with these words: "Do this in remembrance of Me," and by commanding a meal his teaching and presence must necessarily come along too! Where, and with what words, does Christ institute worship? That is the question no one seems to ask.  Apart from his institution of worship, we have no reason to believe our worship is pleasing to Him.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Danger of Being Liked

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.....26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:22-23, 26)

Arthur Just from his commentary on Luke writes:

"The Beatitudes continue the Great Reversal theme of the Magnificat: the last shall be first and the first shall be last, the exalted shall be humbled and the humble shall be exalted. The blessed are those who are poor, who hunger now, who weep now, who are hated on account of the Son of Man. Here the disciples are called to follow in the humility and poverty of Jesus, who, as the Son of God and the Son of Man, is God's ultimate Great Reversal. By following Jesus, they will also follow the pattern of the prophets, who went before them and whom the Israelite fathers hated and reviled. The disciples must be on guard lest they succumb to this age. They do not want to be spoken well of by the people of this generation. That would be a sign that they are false prophets. The pattern of prophetic persecution is established here for the disciples."

It is a great mistake for churches and individual Christians to want to be appealing and liked by the unbelieving people of this age, although we should not go out of our way to be disliked. Instead, we should be what we are in Christ, follow Jesus and be loyal to his Word. The favor of God is better than the favor of an unbelieving world. And, it is better for the unbelieving world when the church or individual believers follows God's Word and not the fads of this age, for it is only in believing the true gospel, not a compromised, false version of it, that there is hope for unbelievers to become believers and become blessed to also possess the forgiveness and favor of God through his Son.

An Ordinary Means of Grace Model of Ministry

Excellent words from Terry Johnson, who was my instructor for a class at RTS. He is especially good in this ariticle on the topic of music and the ridiculous notion some Christians have about vulnerability. This area of music is especially problematic. We fence the pulpit and the table, but not the opening part of public worship, foregoing the reading of the Word (especially the Old Testament and Psalms), the pastoral prayer, and the confession and assurance, all so we can squeeze in the all too cultural sound and superficial lyrics that come to us from contemporary Christian music.

An Ordinary Means of Grace Model of Ministry

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Temptation and Worship (Word and Meal)

Adam and Eve rebelled through word and meal.  They believed the words of the devil. They confirmed their unbelief in God’s words by eating from the tree forbidden to them, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Thus, they became like God, determining good and evil by themselves, though by so doing, his image in them was distorted.

How fitting, then, that God in his grace saves and heals us through another word and meal.  We are saved when we believe God’s gospel word about his Son, rejecting the lies of the deceiver.  We are strengthened and confirmed in God’s grace when we eat the food of a new tree, Christ’s cross, receiving his body and blood by faith.  Turning away from our own understanding we turn to the Lord by means of his Word and meal, and faith is produced and strengthened, as the Spirit begins to restore within us the image of Jesus, the new Adam.

It is difficult to overestimate the place of God’s Word in our lives.  Jesus believed man was to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (v. 4, see also Mat. 4:4).  The Word of God is to have supreme authority in our lives.  By the thrice repeated phrase, “it is written,” Jesus shows us his belief in the authority of the Old Testament.  If Jesus believed in the authority and trustworthiness of the Scriptures, then surely we should too.

God’s Word, however, must be internalized.  The Word is our authority, but we must receive it by faith.  The Word of God points us to Jesus, but Jesus’ life, forgiveness, and grace must enter within.  Thus, the Word is accompanied by a meal in which Christ, the bread of heaven, is taken within by faith to give us the grace and strength we need to resist the temptations of the enemy.

Worship is the antidote to temptation.  But at the heart of worship is Word and meal.  In the place of lies, we believe the truth of God’s Word.  In the place of the fading glory and vanity of sex, wealth, and power, we behold the glory of Christ in his gospel.  In the place of pride, we humble ourselves by taking our rightful place around Christ’s table as humble supplicants, hungering and thirsting for the food and drink of his broken body and shed blood, and there we find enough.

Adam Was Tempted in a Temple Garden

To the tune: HERZLIEBSTER JESU ( click on Father, Most Holy, Merciful 240). Meter: 11 11 11 5.  Based on Luke 4:1-13.  Words: William Weber, 2011. (after sermon,

v. 1
Adam was tempted in a temple garden,
losing the battle, from God’s presence driven.
Now in a desert, comes the Second Adam,
trusting what’s written.

v. 2
Israel was tempted, in a desert lonely,
failing like Adam, didn’t serve God only.
Jesus true Israel, altogether lovely,
He served God wholly.

v. 3
Jesus had come to bring back to His Father,
Adam’s race scattered, Jesus came to gather.
So with the devil, holy warfare entered,
praise Christ our Warrior.

v. 4
Adam had fallen, ate the tree forbidden,
evil accepted, from the garden driven.
But to the devil, Jesus would not hearken,
saved all God’s children.

 v. 5
Come to the Father through the Son He sent us,
sin is a desert, far from God’s blessed presence.
Christ the new Adam opens heaven to us,
praise our Lord Jesus.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Spiritual War

And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. 3 The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” 4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” 5 And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, 6 and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. 7 If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8 And Jesus answered him, “It is written,

          “‘You shall worship the Lord your God,
          and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written,

          “‘He will command his angels concerning you,
          to guard you,’

11 and

          “‘On their hands they will bear you up,
          lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” 13 And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13, ESV)


The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery tells us of the inevitability of temptation in our world:

          “Temptation exists in the first place because the moral and
          spiritual world, in the view of the biblical writers, is such that a
          great battle between good and evil is raging at every moment. 
          For people living in a fallen world, life at every moment is at a
          transcendent crisis in which a person’s allegiance is claimed by
          God or counter-claimed by Satan and evil.”

As the children of Adam, we are reluctant to look at the world in this way.  Such a narrative is too painful, too unhappy, and too serious.  Nevertheless, it is important we come to grips with the reality of the situation.  Closing our eyes to this spiritual war will not enable us to avoid it.  We are in a fight that has eternal consequences whether we like it or not.

As Christians our interest in Christ’s conflict with the devil is twofold.  First, Christ is our champion, the divine warrior, the second Adam who won eternal life on our behalf.  We rejoice in our Lord’s victory and in him we take refuge for deliverance.  What Adam and Israel (the corporate Adam) failed to do, Jesus has done.  But, second, as followers of Christ we want to learn from him as we see him overcome temptation, for we are still in the battle.  Our goal is to maintain our devotion to Jesus Christ until the end.  1 Corinthians 15:1-2 puts it like this: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

Faith in Christ and in his saving death and resurrection enables us to share in the eternal life he won on our behalf.  But temptations, things like “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things” (Mark 4:19), can choke our faith in Christ.  And, if these “peaceful” allurements fail, the devil sometimes uses more violent temptations like “tribulation or persecution” (Mark 4:17), to drive us away from Christ and our devotion to him.  May we always seek refuge in our Lord Jesus Christ in this terrible spiritual war in which the consequences are not just life and death, but eternal life and eternal death.  Amen.

Adam Was Tempted in a Temple Garden

To the tune: HERZLIEBSTER JESU ( click on Father, Most Holy, Merciful 240). Meter: 11 11 11 5.  Based on Luke 4:1-13.  Words: William Weber, 2011. (after sermon,

v. 1
Adam was tempted in a temple garden,
losing the battle, from God’s presence driven.
Now in a desert, comes the Second Adam,
trusting what’s written.

v. 2
Israel was tempted, in a desert lonely,
failing like Adam, didn’t serve God only.
Jesus true Israel, altogether lovely,
He served God wholly.

v. 3
Jesus had come to bring back to His Father,
Adam’s race scattered, Jesus came to gather.
So with the devil, holy warfare entered,
praise Christ our Warrior.

v. 4
Adam had fallen, ate the tree forbidden,
evil accepted, from the garden driven.
But to the devil, Jesus would not hearken,
saved all God’s children.

 v. 5
Come to the Father through the Son He sent us,
sin is a desert, far from God’s blessed presence.
Christ the new Adam opens heaven to us,
praise our Lord Jesus.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Live as You Want?

This picture has been making the rounds on facebook. From a Christian standpoint there is a problem with living life "the way you want." The problem is that we are not the Lord. There is a Creator and a Redeemer we all answer to, and we are called to live as He wants.

Are we free to live as we want? Of course, and in a sense we all do. But repentance and faith in Jesus means that we relinquish our own lordship, which is the essence of our rebellion against our Creator, and own the crucified and risen Lord as our Lord and God. Thomas' response to the resurrected Christ is the response that will bring us salvation: "Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”"

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