Rise joyfully

Our hymn of the month is Hark the Herald Angels sing, and Charles Wesley penned such rich truth in it. Let’s take a look, as I paraphrase. Listen up, the angel messengers sing: “Glory to the newborn King! Peace on earth. Mercy mild. God and sinners reconciled. We know that He did this at the cross, making peace with us there. So the song goes on to call the nations to joyfully rise and join the angels glorifying the King. Proclaim Him born in Bethlehem. Proclaim Him the king.

Let us confess that we are slow to rise joyfully and praise Him. That we continue to sow discord by our sin instead of peace. That we try to glorify ourselves instead of King Jesus.


Iphones and the Bible

 - which app will win your attention?

See John Piper's thoughts.


Don't shrink the Gospel

For centuries, God provided a place and a priest to intercede for Israel, saying, “I promise to keep my promise to Abraham, to bless the nations by his descendant.” Israel looked for the one who would do this, but they shrunk the promise to their nation. Redeem the kingdom of Israel, Lord. Well Jesus came, and He was a light to the Gentiles, and He gave us this meal as a sign of the better promises He fulfilled. God now says here, “I promise, I kept my promise to Abraham, to bless the nations by his Seed, Jesus Christ.” Believe this. Don’t be like Israel and shrink this promise to yourself, or just your family, or just the adults, or just those here, or just our nation. Instead, see yourself as a member of the body God has redeemed.  God is blessing the world, redeeming it in Christ.


Out in the dark, we see a light

Today is the first Sunday of advent, the first Sunday on the Church year calendar. So, happy new year! We have celebrated the harvest, including its spiritual dimension by looking forward to the harvest of souls at the end of time. We give thanks to God for His coming consummation of history. We now begin the saga of redemptive history at page 1, where we are dead in our sins, left out in the cold and the dark, in the bleak mid-winter. We sit in darkness, like every weeknight these days, but we will soon see a great light, the fulfillment of centuries of promises about a coming Messiah to deliver us. Our culture gets much wrong about the Christmas season. One thing they get right is the expectation. Advent is about expectation. The whole Old Testament is built pointing to something more coming.

I grew up in a church that was reviving the celebration of advent, but there was a good deal of suspicion of it being too Catholic, or just not Scriptural. Properly done, advent reminds us of our Lord’s first coming, and prepares us for His 2nd coming. Christmas is our holiday, and we don’t have to give it up just because the world corrupts it.



A reminder in the storm

Here [Genesis 15:3-16] was another sign of God’s covenant promise. Abraham was told his descendants would be pilgrims in a land not their own for 400 years. They had quite a storm to ride out, like the disciples on the sea (Matt 14:22-36), like the pilgrims of our nation did (Thanksgiving time). Many of the pilgrims died, but God also prospered them on the other side of the storm, as He did Israel. Whatever storm you are in now, take this cup as God’s way for you to look to Christ. He has provided a sacrifice to atone for your sin. He will keep you in His hand, whatever storm He sends you through here.


Right relating in reverent worship

Heavenly Father,
We have gathered to worship You in the name of Jesus, by the leading of Your Holy Spirit. You are holy and majestic, and we seek to worship You in the beauty of Your holiness. We are dirty sinners that You have mercifully saved. We have nothing for You that you did not give us. Nothing in our hands we bring, simply to Christ’s cross we cling. You made our ears to hear Your Word, our vocal chords to sing Your praise, our minds to understand what we are doing and the One we worship, our souls to fellowship and thank our Creator. You have done great things for us, as we just read, and we are glad. Your mercy endures forever. Help us relate rightly to You, with proper reverence and glad thanksgiving. We come to you through Your Son Jesus Christ, by the power of Your Holy Spirit who lives and reign with You, one God without beginning or end. Amen.



Receive Christ, through others

Jesus provides bread through the disciples. He creates it out of nothing, but wants to minister to us through others. Spurgeon said he “often felt as if he had neither loaf nor fish to give the people, but for 40 years he has been a full-handed waiter at the King’s great banquet.” We have nothing to give from ourselves, but Jesus gives to us, so we can give to others. He could have bypassed the disciples and put the bread and fish in everybody’s laps, but He wants the disciples to give to the people. You see elders and deacons passing trays right now, with full hands, making sure each gets a portion from Christ’s Table. They have nothing to give you from themselves. Neither do I. We seek to give you Christ. Receive Him. Trust His death, which this cup proclaims. Trust God to count Christ’s death as removal of your guilt before Him. Cling to Christ, and seek life, provision and direction from him.


Crucify sin

Galatians 5:16 - "I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh."

In our sermon text this morning [Matt 14:1-21] we have lived out before us these two choices. Walk in the flesh, or walk in the spirit. We can live like Herod and his family by the flesh, gratify the desires of our sinful hearts, and wind up with heads on platters. Or we can live like Jesus by the Spirit, denying our own desires to serve God and one another, and wind up with bread from heaven. When our sinful desires arise, we must crucify them. Rome crucified people as an extreme punishment for treason against Rome. We should go to all extremes to put down our sins as the highest treason against God. This can take various forms, not just the sins of the flesh variety that comes to mind with Herod’s dancing daughter. Notice the last verse in Galatians 5 highlights other forms of treason: conceit, provoking and envying others. Our desire to be recognized as important, godly, or smart must be crucified. Our designs on others to make that happen must be crucified.
Assurance of Forgiveness
            Those who are only mildly concerned about their sin will not find forgiveness. Those who see this as a mental exercise are just going through motions, and receive a hollow, comfort-less, token forgiveness. But we are convinced of better things regarding you. By God’s grace, you have pried the sin from you, its claws ripping at your skin to hang on. You have thrown it to the floor and stomped on it, leaving it for God to dispose of. You have confessed your sin vigorously to the Lord.


Of course you're incompatible...

If Americans can be divorced for “incompatibility of temper” I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.
G.K. Chesterton

Perfect for a sermon on Matthew 19, Sunday.


God treasures His glory, and you

Exodus 19:3-6
"And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: 4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

God values His own glory above all else. What He is doing in creating and redeeming us in Christ is showing His power, His justice, His mercy. Most of all He is showing what a treasure He has given us in His Son. He seeks to glorify His Son, and we are to value Him above all else. But in these verses from Exodus we discover that God also treasures His people. He makes them His special treasure. Part of glorifying Himself is redeeming rebels and then reveling in relationship with them. His grace astounds, and it is meant to. Enjoy the treasure of Christ now.


Jesus lays down the law

Matthew 22:36-40
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

One of the more obvious things the law does is show us our sin. When Jesus quotes Deut 6 which tells us to love God with all our heart, we are reminded that we have not done this. The law calls us to confess our sins.

But it important to know how we have sinned, so we can pursue godliness. And this is another purpose of the law: it shows us what God is after; what He wants from us now, and for the rest of our lives, after we confess our sins. The rabbis in Jesus' time challenged each other to summarize the whole law while standing on one foot. In other words, keep it simple, succinct and yet cover the whole law. Jesus meets their challenge right here. God made us to love Him and others. That's what life is about. That's God's will for you.

The law shows us our sin. It shows us how to live. and it shows us our need for a savior. The same one who summarizes the law here, kept the whole law, and bled and died for your breaking of the law. Let us confess to Him.



Eat and drink free of guilt

Isaiah 55:1-3

You sit here receiving bread and wine by grace alone. We could say it is because you had the wisdom to believe in Christ. We could say it is because you haven’t fallen into unrepentant sin that calls for church discipline. But those things are true because God made them true, not you. God is sovereign over your faith, and over your obedience. So praise Him, thank Him, give Him all the glory for redeeming you.

We preach and teach grace here. We do not use guilt trips to exploit or manipulate you into doing what we want. If you trust Christ to remove your guilt from God’s sight, then you are a free child of God. Yes, you continue to sin, but the Spirit is working in your heart to fight sin. As you sit here considering Christ’s great sacrifice and your great sin, we need to get to freedom. Yes, it was an awful price to pay, Christ’s crucifixion. But He paid it, and He doesn’t want your guilt trip, He wants your gratitude. God no longer cares about your sin. Thank Him for that. He has thrown it in the sea, never to be remembered again. He has dealt with it. So God doesn’t care what you did. If you’re clinging to sin secretly He cares. But if you’re confessing and fighting it, He has already forgiven you. He doesn’t hold it against you, keep you at a distance, until He sees how you turn out. He already knows and sees you among His eternal saints. You are His beloved child. He wants you to see His glory and His grace here at His table. Come, and eat and drink freely.


Salvation summarized in the church year

We need to be re-formed in God’s presence, not removed FROM His presence. So it is with our holidays. While the reformation rightly removed many saints’ days, several of our holidays need to be reformed, not removed.

The church began to celebrate All Saints Day in the 300s, celebrating the victorious saints at rest with Christ. Over time, superstition and error came in. All Hallow’s Eve turned into Halloween. Like Mardi Gras revelry before Lent’s piety, Halloween became the devil’s last stand before the celebration of the holy ones in glory.

So let’s get the big picture here. Christian calendar year begins Dec 1 with advent and Xmas, when we celebrate the coming of the light of the world at our coldest and darkest hour. We then celebrate His death and resurrection in the spring, the time of new life. We celebrate Pentecost at the beginning of summer, when God cultivates our new life in the Spirit. Summer is the time of growth. Fall is when the harvest comes in, and we have All Saints Day to remember those who have entered their rest, and thanksgiving for the harvest. Meanwhile Satan makes one last grab at the end of history. This is Halloween. All of history is dramatized in the church year, and it is all pointing to the vindication of Christ’s saints, as they appear with Christ, when He comes again. We need to reform and recover All Saints day. Instead of trying to replace it with something different, let us return thanks to God for fruitful saints now at rest with Christ.

10/31/10 - All Saints' Eve


More on the ministry of the Word

On difficult ministry to people
"If you are going into the ministry for a comfortable seat, and to fulfill yourself, rear a happy family, gather a happy congregation around you and end up with a nice plaque... for your 'gracious ministry,' but nothing more, then you will long since have ceased to listen to me" (99)

"We must not live in the world of books, but in the world of real people. Yet, all that is worth saying to them of lasting value comes from books.... the end is never propositions... but a certain kind of flesh and blood" (101-2).

"I am not saying that the Spirit never acts directly through the Word alone [without people]. But it is not normally His way. God respects humanity, especially the new humanity He has created in Jesus Christ, and seeks no other than His church to do His work" (119).

On balance
"[Avoid] the danger... of falling... into the archaic past or [into]... futile 'with-it'-ness" (102).
"There are two dangers.... being so preoccupied with soundness in the truth... that we go all academic and dead.... The other danger is that we go all activist... constantly stirring the pot of emotionalism to boiling point" (113).

On confronting evil
"As we look out, then, upon the wickedness of the day, we will not panic, or fear. Nor will we be complacent.... There is an application of the Word of God for even the most urgent contemporary situations, but if we get all hot and bothered about it, and myopicaly concentrate all our ministry on that, forever moaning from our pulpits about the evils of the day, what are the hungry sheep going to feed upon the while? The devil is a master of sidetrack" (104, 107).

On feeding sheep
"A shepherd is no mere warder-off of wild beasts.... What is the good of being saved to starve?... We must be fed" (112).

See the Body of Which You're a Part

1 Cor 11:29
"For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body."

God’s command to discern the body is not a call to pull out the weeds of those around you that you suspect aren’t genuine. It isn’t a call to pull yourself out because you don’t think you are faithful enough. Discerning the body means paying attention to the other wheat around you. Don’t focus only on your needs and your feeding on Christ, but notice that you’re all eating from the same loaf at the same time because you’re the same body, the same field, with the same Lord and Savior. This should transform how we eat and drink here. There is a time to focus on Jesus so hard that you shut your eyes tight and bow your head. But here you are eating and drinking with many others and God means for us to focus on Jesus by seeing His Body. Look around. Consider the kingdom growing in each heart, the kingdom sowing more seeds every day, multiplying the number in Christ’s Church.



Great quotes

"The task of the Christian shepherd is to fatten the sheep for the kill. In Israel that meant for sacrifice in the Temple. By 'the kill' I mean, of course, consecration." (86)

"Ministers must do something to justify themselves.... if they devote themselves to running large organisations, or spend their time forever on a round of vain visiting, they feel that they are doing something. Whereas if they devote themselves to the study and ministry of the Word of God, they create all sorts of problems for themselves and jangle many of their people, until their fellowships are soon in a dither of change and challenge" (86).

"One of the most injurious practices in the church psychologically is the segregation of age groups and sexes.... The church of all places is meant to be a family.... all we do beyond the diets of worship and meetings for prayer and Bible Study, we do because we are failing in these" (89-90).

"God can use those with no more than turnips for heads and make them exude the sweetest and most nourishing spiritual juices to their people, so He can take the most frightened and frightening little bookworms - boring little creatures who bore into books all the week and bore their heads into manuscripts on Sundays so that they bore all the poor people who are bored enough to put up with them - and can make them both mighty and courageous" (93-4).

"What is wrong? Some [ministers] should not be in it. Some should, but they've got the wrong wife. Others have allowed the right wife to take a dominant place. Some are lazy.... Some are plain 'feart' as we say in Scotland; afraid of repercussions... if they are fully faithful, for they think that anything that upsets the congregational life, especially the good givers and attenders, must be wrong. I simply do not know how they square that with out Lord upsetting the tables in the temple" (95).

"If you are called of God, you are not your own, and you are certainly not your wife's nor your children's, nor even your congregation's. Keep close to God, there is no substitute for that" (97).

Carnal sectarians

1 Corinthians 3:1-7
"And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk... 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?...6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. 7 So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase."

Paul makes the point that we souldnt make too much of human preachers and teachers, and we need to take heed. Dont put John Calvin, Martin Luther, RC Sproul, John piper on a pedestal, they are tools God uses to conceive and grow believers. God is causing the growth, but he wants to use us to do it. Don't idolize God's instruments, but don't despise them, either. The same applies to the sacraments. Don't wave flags for the way you do the sacraments in a way that divides or sets you above the rest of the church. But don't despise them, either. God wants to use them to help you grow.



Great quotes

"We take for granted our liberty to proclaim the Gospel... but we are not promised that liberty in the New Testament at all.... Christian churches often thrive best... when their human liberty is jeopardised.... The church is not called to subsidise the state any more than she is called to work against it.... We are to submit to whatever regime we happen to be under - submit to it, not sponsor, or oppose it.... There are no conditions on earth in which the Christian church cannot survive.... Do not think that the church is smothered in [persecuted] countries. She is more likely to be smothered by wealth, ease and complacency" (64-66).

On social or political reform
"The New Testament... is not to be sidetracked trying to achieve what can only be achieved by Christians becoming their true selves in the church and in the world, and letting that influence work itself into society.... 'Do you not want the church to make impacts on the state?' With all my heart: but not that way. Her influence is indirect, not direct, and is always most powerful when she is attending to her own work" (67-68).

On preaching the Word TODAY
"it may be that... you are in the process of absorbing... the solid teaching of the Puritan writers... and have acquired a detachment from the present day, and even a cold disdainful attitude towards it that makes you exceedingly unattractive and forbidding. What a pity.... Whereas some of the present-day 17th-century 'boys' manage to compose their faces to look like morose old men - not a bit like some of the 17th-century divines themselves, if you had seen them romping at home with their children.... Perhaps you... are a Wesley man... you have a class-meeting complex.... But maybe... you live in the early 19th century.... taking the whole Bible and filing it down to one fine point... namely, the Sabbath Day. This is the whole law; there is no other.... But have I still missed the mark?... Your Elysian Fields are the 1859 revival.... You are a Moody and Sankey man...." (69-73).

"Even if we teach the whole Word, but do so through the eyes and mind and outlook of other days, refusing to allow the living Spirit of God to make it shine in contemporary colors, then our teaching or preaching will be stale, flat and unprofitable" (76).

Sabbath all over the place

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. He was there when Adam was made, as the first Sabbath began. He is greater than the temple itself. He rules on Sabbath observance above the Pharisees. Jesus proves He is Lord of the Sabbath by healing.

We have Sabbath at the beginning, with Adam, and Sabbath at the end of history when we rest in the consummated kingdom, and Sabbath at the middle where Jesus provided for our rest at the cross. We proclaim His death here at the Lord's Table, and that death made our rest possible. Our coming complete rest breaks in ahead of time here at this Table. We look back to the tree of life in the garden. We look forward to eating of it in glory. We look back to Christ’s death. We look forward to seeing Him face to face and finding complete rest in Him.


Pushing Jesus aside

Matt 12:14
"Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him."

The Pharisees tried to get rid of Jesus on the Sabbath. Any time we sin, we are trying to get rid of God, or ignore Him. Sin is functional atheism. When we seek to do our own thing on the Lord’s Day, we are pushing Jesus aside like the Pharisees did. We want to be in the driver’s seat, running the show, but He is the Lord of the Sabbath, and of all your time. We are quick to stretch God’s commands to our convenience. We think the money we don’t tithe to God is our to do with as we please. We think Mon – Sat are ours to do with as we please. We even get into the habit of thinking Sunday is ours to do with as we please once church activities are over. May God forgive us and restore our first love of Him every moment.



How to receive Him

Psalm 131
"    LORD, my heart is not haughty, 
          Nor my eyes lofty. 
          Neither do I concern myself with great matters, 
          Nor with things too profound for me. 
    2      Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, 
          Like a weaned child with his mother; 
          Like a weaned child is my soul within me. 
    3      O Israel, hope in the LORD 
          From this time forth and forever."

We often wonder what we’re supposed to be doing or thinking during communion. The trick is to keep your thoughts right here on earth. If you try to ascend to heaven on your own, you either fail and despair, or think you succeed and wind up like Pharisees cast down to hell. If you send yourself to hell being so unworthy, you are still refusing Christ’s call to Himself. But you have no right to stay away from Him if He is calling you TO Him.

Do not exalt yourself. Calm and quiet yourself before Him. You are on earth and He is in heaven. He will come to you. He is the Coming One, your king. All you need do is receive Him. Eating bread and drinking wine is practice in receiving Him. Trust Him. Press in to take hold of Him. Rest in Him.


I'll tell you why

Isaiah 58
"If you extend your soul to the hungry.... if you turn away your foot from the Sabbath.... then you shall delight yourself in the LORD."

Israel was asking: why doesn’t God hear us when we fast so hard? The answer was that they did not help the poor, they were full of strife and infighting, and they did as they pleased on the Sabbath. We find satisfaction in selfish materialism. We find satisfaction in pointing fingers. We find satisfaction in doing what we want on the Lord’s Day. Instead, we are supposed to find satisfaction and rest in Christ, delighting in Him. Let us find rest and joy in being generous as He was. Let us be satisfied with bearing our own load and helping others as He did. Let us take rest not so much in our entertainments as in clinging to Christ on His Day.



The Calumny of Compromise

Jeremiah had to bring hard words to the nations, telling of their disobedience and coming judgment. He was not to be dismayed when they resisted him. He was not to cave in under their pressure. God calls us, too, to keep our witness unstained with personal sin, not to bend Christ’s message to be more palatable to the world. We need to confess times when we are itching to fight over minor issues. But just as often, we compromise on a major battle line by our silence or inaction. None of us is without sin in this, so let us confess together to our merciful God.


Read Matthew

I just finished reading this commentary, which has been valuable to me in preparing sermons through Matthew last year and the last couple weeks. Boice is an able and clear expositor, making good sense and application of the text. Sometimes he spiritualizes or simplifies a bit too much. But I've learned much about simplicity of application from him, and we often miss a spiritual point lurking in the text.

I believe these are manuscripts of his sermons, and are accessible to the layman. If you are looking to study Scripture in depth, I highly recommend it.