Exhortation

Mission and the World; opening introduction for our Lord’s Day Service

Mission and the World; opening introduction for our Lord’s Day Service

Grace, mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are at a unique stage in history; a stage when the world is now being exposed to the Gospel as fast as hitting the refresh button on your computer screen. We have today in our congregation someone who is developing software to facilitate the job of Bible translation, or as I call it “the modern gift of tongues.”

We have with us our speaker this morning, Rev. Blake Purcell, who has invested his life in the training and equipping of God’s people and the proclaiming of the reign of King Jesus in Eurasia, and who has served with zeal in what the Apostle Paul calls the “defense and confirmation of the Gospel.”

This morning we have the opportunity in worship, Sunday School, and later this evening to expand our world to see what God is doing in the world.

We have the opportunity to hear what one missiologist referred to as the “social continuation of the incarnation;” the work of the gospel going forth and continuing what began at Pentecost.

I pray that you will have ears to hear Pastor Blake Purcell, but beyond that, to be caught up into the vision of the kingdom of God.

Let us pray:

Father, Son, and Spirit, apart from your work, we are all dead and incapable of uttering an intelligible word, but by your grace you have enabled us to speak words of wisdom; words of gospel transformation; words of life. Hear us when we pray and beseech you to change the hearts of the lost and bring them into your everlasting kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Keep Yourselves from Idols

In one of the most lovely letters written in the Bible, I John– which we will be studying during Sunday School in July–the apostle encourages us by the example of Christ that our joy may be full. And then in chapter 5:21, which is the last verse of John’s first letter, we read this remarkable little exhortation: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

We will consider this in the sermon more fully, but before we bow down to the only true God, what idols are we carrying along with us, even this morning?

All those virtues that we treasure: love, trust, hope; all of them can be turned on their head. What do we truly love, hope, and trust in during times of pain? Who do we seek when our lives are turned upside down? If any of these answers do not find their joy ultimately in the God who is righteous and just (I Jn. 1:9), then we have not heeded John’s warnings.

Brothers and sisters, as we come and confess our sins this morning, confess that you have not loved, trusted, and hoped in God as you ought. Confess that you have sought other gods before him. Confess them, and be still, and know that He is God, and there is none other before him.

Prayer: God Almighty, Father, Son, and Spirit, strengthen us today by your great mercy and transform us into the image of your own beloved Son, whom we love, trust, and hope. Amen.

Confessing our Envy

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 73:3 that I “was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” It is clear that as we come into worship this morning, we all have this one sin to confess: envy. At some time this week, we have desired something that someone else has. Maybe you desired that luxury car, perhaps that dark desire you pray no one ever finds out, or the celebrity life, whatever it may have been, you and I are guilty of envy. We have worshiped at the altar of my wants, my needs, and my feelings. We have placed our desires at the center of the world, and we want the world to answer them. “Envy reveals that there is still a war of treasure raging in our hearts.”[1]

What is that consuming thing without which our lives have no meaning?  What is it? Ponder that in your hearts as you come to worship this morning.

The purpose of worship is to direct your attention to the priorities of the kingdom, and in order to change our priorities we need to confess our envy. As Paul Tripp writes: “Loving God above all else means submitting all I want, all that I think I need, and all that I feel to his good, wise, loving, and holy lordship.”[2]

Prepare your hearts to confess how you have desired other things before the kingdom of God; confess your self-centeredness, and then be assured that the kingdom of God is within you.

Prayer: O gracious God, our hearts are full of envy. We imagine ourselves with a different life, and when we do so we forget to give you thanks for the gracious life you have given us. Do not allow us to drift from your goodness. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Truth is Truth

Flannery O’Connor once wrote: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” This is something we need to keep in mind in our day. What God has defined let no man put asunder. God provides the world with a divinely inspired dictionary, and in this dictionary there are no second editions.

In the modern day frenzy to discredit God’s creation and His purposes for Creation, we need to always come back to this simple reality: Truth is truth whether we can stomach it or not. This world may not be prepared for biblical authority, but it is our role to let them know that whether they are ready or not truth is truth.

And since this is the case, worship becomes even more central. Worship is God’s word spoken to us in a definitive and authoritative way. Our response to this word is to allow it to shape us to be the people who can communicate that word with and grace and truth. Let us prepare our hearts to receive this divine word.

Exhortation: Good vs. Evil

The harsh reality of this fallen world sometimes causes us to lose hope of its restoration. The mass murders at the Gosnell abortion facility—which biblically is not to be differentiated from the actions of any abortion clinic in the country,– the evil protagonist of the Boston Marathon bombing are just for many confirmations of a hopeless philosophy that Christians cannot refuse. And there would be legitimacy to this philosophy were it not for this one event in history: we Christians refer to it as The Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

In the Resurrection of Jesus, creation itself begins to expect a renewed world. In the resurrection, the saints of God are given true hope to fight the good fight and to not allow one square inch of creation to act as if it is neutral.

When evil is perpetrated, we have the opportunity to either allow it to dominate the way we think of God’s world or we can begin to think Resurrection-like knowing that God is changing the world and laughing at the plans of evil men. Christians are called to believe that the Resurrection confronts evil in the Person of Jesus Christ and Christ has already won the victory. Let us celebrate that victory in worship this morning!

Prayer: O Lord God, cause our hearts to grieve over the calamities of our culture, but also to hope in the promises of your Risen Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Pastoral Meditation on God’s Justice for the Season of Lent

We treasure by our very nature as new creation beings (II Cor. 5) the justice of God upon injustice. We are imprecational beings. The Psalms are given for and to us for a particular reason. They are our prayers. They belong to righteous sons and daughters of the King. They are our means to communicate our hunger for justice in this world.

The blessedness of these prayers is that they begin to shape us in a new way. Mixed with the blessings of the covenant are the many curses the covenant brings to those who despise Yahweh. Of course, God’s judgments are pure and perfect and they are acted upon in His time and way. Since this is the case, they usually befuddle our expectations. And naturally, this can be frustrating. While we live in this justice-paradox, we also live knowing that God does not forget His justice. Though time passes painfully for us, God is not emotionally moved by His passion to see His Name and children vindicated.

So as we seek the kingdom of God above all else, let us also seek His justice in that kingdom. And while we do, let us continue to pray faithfully and continue to wait patiently for the God of war to act. His kingdom will prevail and His justice will not fail.

Exhortation: Remembering the Works of Yahweh

In Isaiah 43, Yahweh, the Covenant Lord, says that He is making something new. He is re-creating the world. He proves that by making a way in the wilderness and making rivers run through the desert. Why would God perform such works? “That the people He formed might declare His praise.”

The Lenten Season is a season to remember the works of God. As Christians, we meditate with gladness not only on His present work for us, but also His past work on our behalf. This is why Lent is a season where we practice the art of remembering our Lord’s death. Jesus, fulfilling Isaiah, became a drink to His chosen people; Jesus gave His life that we might live and declare His praises. And this is what we do as we enter into worship. God is re-creating us and causing us to see that His works for us in the past are the guarantee that He will do it again for us in the present and in the future.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, you feed us with by Your Spirit; You make a way for us when we believe there is no way possible. All these things You do so that we might declare your praise. Enlarge our hearts with gratitude, strengthen our faith with hope, and build us up in praise that we might ever remember your works for us, Father, Son, and Spirit. Amen.

Exhortation: Church Covenant Series, Part IV

We come to the fourth part of our Church Covenant, which states:

We will reject all heretical beliefs and practices, using Scripture as our final authority.

This is a strong statement with profound repercussions. We are asking as a Church that you submit to something greater than yourself. In particular, to submit to the authority of the Bible. We live in a culture that despises authority. But God has formed this world with authority structures in it. It’s not that the Bible is our only authority, God has given us other authorities– pastors, parents, and leaders– but what we are saying is that the Bible is our final authority. And that means that pastors, parents, and leaders need to submit to this one authority.

We also reject heretical beliefs. If it does not align itself to the God of Scriptures who is reveled in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, then it must be abandoned. First things, as long as God graces us with His mercy, will always remain first things in this congregation. And it is your duty as members to ensure that it remains this way.

But bad ideas leads also to bad practices. And this is perhaps what makes us unique in this culture. We do treasure practices at Providence that in some ways are long forgotten in our culture. Our view of the Church, worship, families, and marriage, all shape who we are as a people. These practices challenge our passivity and causes us to hunger for righteousness.

This is why as a Church we want to encourage, exhort, and be a source of strength to our members here who are striving to live the life of faith amidst a faithless world. If God’s revelation guides us as a people, then we can safely walk in the paths of truth and godliness.

Prayer: O God of truth, change us to reflect truth daily and live unto You. May our hearts not be far from you, but ever seek your face. On this holy day, we pray that you would cause our lives to embody the truths of your Holy Word, and may be now and forever a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

Saturday Night Live (SNL), DJesus Uncrossed, the Romans, the Jews and the God of the Bible

DJesus UnCrossed is SNL’s latest attempt to de-christ Christ. Of course, in our day, Jesus is easy to disrespect. One wonders if SNL would attempt a comedy journey through the life of Muhammad. No further comments needed.

David Flowers believes that the skit has something to teach us, and that we should begin to listen to our critics. He argues that the skit has hermeneutical problems, but that it shows our hypocrisy and inconsistency in our faith. Flowers argues that this is the result of an American-shaped Jesus. He is correct to assert that humor has a way of offending Christians and revealing weaknesses and hypocrisy. We should be aware of them.

The Jesus raised from the dead murdering Romans out of revenge seems bizarre in light of the biblical narrative. Flowers is correct to assert that it reveals the Jesus kick-ass motif portrayed by many in our evangelical culture. It is easy to object to the video’s false portrayals, but in what sense is this skit true, even with its exaggerative and faulty hermeneutics? There is something to be learned here. Flowers is correct that we are to listen to our critics. The point, however, is that our critics don’t go far enough.

Surely the 2nd Amendment Rights’ Jesus is very American and Neo-Conservative like. But that doesn’t even begin to describe the type of justice-driven Messiah we as Orthodox Christians believe.

For starters, we believe in a Messiah that is ascended to the right hand of the Father, and from that place of kingship rules and reigns over us and creation. He is not an unmoved Mover. Further, Jesus did not have the Romans in mind when He judged, He had the corrupt and idolatrous first century Jewish generation in mind. Upon them, He brought a profound tribulation (Mt. 24). The Gospel Lesson this Sunday is Luke 13:31-35 where Jesus laments over Jerusalem. He sought her with love, but she continued to kill and murder the prophets sent with a message of salvation and deliverance. The vengeful Jesus portrayed by SNL has no interest in context, but it should well observe that the Messiah who destroys is first the Messiah who shows mercy.

How Can we Learn from SNL?

First, Saturday Night Live is not a theology show. Its humor is devoid of accuracy, and frankly, that is not their interest. They have been on the air for 37 years because of their exaggerated (especially in the last ten years) view of current events. This is important to keep in mind.

Secondly, use these opportunities to correct false information. Bill Maher, the well-known HBO atheist host, does this better than anyone I know. He takes a portion of Scriptures and twists its meaning in a fashion that would make even the devil jealous. This is a good time for Christians to be hermeneutically savvy. In fact, go ahead and make a t-shirt with that slogan “I am hermeneutically savvy.”

Thirdly, do not allow an exclusively New Covenant narrative to shape your theology. As James Jordan observes: “The division of the Bible into “Old Testament” and “New Testament” is merely for convenience, for the Scriptures are one narrative from beginning to end.” It is important to note also that this one narrative portrays God as a God of justice who says all vengeance belongs to Him. The modern Marcionites have failed us just as much as SNL has.

Finally, remember that the life of Jesus–especially as we meditate upon it in this Lenten Season–is a life of cross before glory; suffering before resurrection. The Jesus that came out of the grave was first a Jesus that came riding on a donkey as the Prince of Peace. But that same Jesus has promised to come again riding a horse of judgment upon Jerusalem and upon all those who despise His Name.