Exhortation

Baptismal Exhortation: Not an Empty Symbol

The Bible—among many things—is a book of symbols. But they are not empty symbols, they are symbols that speak and direct us to a reality. Baptism does just that! It is a sign and symbol of the reality that God’s promises are true to you and your children. Baptism sets you apart to be a member of Christ so that, as the Heidelberg Catechism states, “you will be more and more dead to sin and increasingly live a holy and blameless life.”[1]

Baptism is the marking of a God who loves you and who promises to be with you all the days of your life.

But baptism is not a ticket to heaven, it is a ticket to enter into an earthly community that is heaven-shaped. And this is what Kole Downey is doing today. He is entering by profession into a heavenly-shaped community. He is going to continue to—by the grace and mercy of His God—to live unto righteousness and die unto sin. And we as a congregation have this profound responsibility to come longside and encourage his parents as they continue to nurture Kole in godliness and wisdom.

Harrell and Tammy, keep loving this great God we serve, and the more you love, so too, will Kole hunger to love that same God. As parents, look around and know that we have entered into that same covenant with our children. Be encouraged and filled with joy on this day.

Kole Barrington Downey: to be baptized is to love Jesus sincerely; to honor him daily, and to follow him all your days. This promise is for you! Cherish, remember, and live it!


[1] Question 70.

Exhortation Series on Church Membership: Striving for Unity

We have had a couple of extraordinary years as a Church. God has richly favored us. As a sign of this favor, we will be adding new members this coming Sunday. And part of being a member of Providence means abiding by a common covenant; sharing a common agenda.

In the next few weeks I would like to explore very briefly the covenants we make with one another and this congregation.

Our Church Covenant states that we “joyfully and solemnly enter into a covenant with the members of Providence Church.” And this is the first of those covenants:

We commit to walk together in Christian love through the power of the Holy Spirit and to strive for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

This is taken directly from Ephesians four where the apostle Paul says that we are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3).” In an age where church divisions are quite common, the Bible calls us to do something very uncommon: to work hard at unity. What does this mean? This means as a member you have to do something. You can’t simply sit passively going through the motions of membership. You actually have to work at something, and in this case working to ensure that– for the next 3 months to 30 years, or however long God keeps you in our midst—Providence Church continues to be a model of peace to the world.

The difficulty of keeping the peace is that you can’t simply lock yourself up in a closet, because that would be easy; but walking together in Christian love means loving in context; loving those around you. This is what is expected of you as a member of this congregation: to embody a theology of love. Some of you come from broken environments where divisions were expected and it is your duty to make this into an alternative city; a city that functions differently

One powerful way we begin to exercise this Christian love is by coming together today and walking together in this liturgy: smiling, singing, and striving to make this a house of peace, through the Spirit who is Himself the bringer of peace.

Prayer: Our God, apart from you peace is impossible, but with you peace is our great agenda. Mature this body of believers to love, serve, and bring the shalom of God to one another, through Christ, our Peace, Amen.

Death No More: A Brief Exhortation on the 40th Anniversary of Roe V. Wade

The incarnation is the miracle of divinity becoming flesh without losing his divinity. Jesus is fully God and fully man. The incarnation is the miracle of birth. Birth, which is despised in our culture, is actually God’s gift for men to replenish the earth with his likeness. The Psalmist refers to children as blessings from God.[1] In a day of fruitlessness, it is only through the ill-conceived desires of men that they should desire more fruitlessness, rather than the blessings of children.

It has now been 40 years since the Supreme Court’s momentous Roe v. Wade ruling by a landslide 7-2 vote on Jan. 22, 1973. The Supreme Court established a nationwide right to abortion. After more than 55 million abortions since then, Christians are still fighting through every means possible to abolish this crusade against the unborn.

We believe that birth begins at conception, but also that birth truly begins in the mind of God. And to take away a life is not merely to commit  crime against mankind, but also against the God of life. This is why we need to speak for life by proclaiming it with our own lives, and by being outspoken, not only in word, but in deed, on behalf of the unborn. We need to give of our monies, and to set time aside to pray that God would change the hearts of young women who are confused and often plagued by unbelief, that they would bring life into the world, and not destroy it.

History has not been kind to children. No wonder Jesus’ statement in the gospels is such a reversal of the ancient, wicked practices when he said:

“Let the children come to me, and don’t try to stop them! People who are like these children belong to God’s kingdom.”

The Incarnation is the reversal of barbaric practices; practices, which still continue to this day, but which will one day be abolished from earth by the power of the gospel.

We remember on this anniversary of Roe v. Wade that our Lord Jesus came for such as these. He came that little ones might have life and life more abundantly. As George Grant ably summarizes:

The Gospel therefore came into the world as a stern rebuke. God, who is the giver of life (Acts 17:25), the fountain of life (Psalm 36:9), and the defender of life (Psalm 27:1), not only sent us the message of life (Acts 5:20) and the words of life (John 6:68), He sent us the light of life as well (John 8:12).  He sent us His only begotten Son—the life of the world (John 6:51)–to break the bonds of sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:54-56).

Let us Pray:

Most merciful and tender Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, on this day we are reminded of the sacredness of life. We are reminded that life is precious because You have declared it precious. We pray for the reversal of Roe v Wade. We pray that abortion clinics in this country, here in Florida, be put out of business because of the prayers and protest of your people. Restore our society to a vision of life. Remind our culture that no one has the authority to terminate the life of the unborn. Do not forget your promises, O God. But be speedy to help us and to reverse the ugliness and misery of a culture of death.

We are especially grateful for the love you have given us for children in this congregation. May this love increase each day. May our lives be testimonies to the blessings of children and the joys of nurturing them in truth. O, Triune God, may death no more reign, but may life be the theme of your ever increasing kingdom, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


[1] Psalm 127 & 128.

The Voice of Yahweh

In the Psalm we are reciting this morning we will hear a lot about the voice of Yahweh. Psalm 29 says some spectacular things about what the voice of Yahweh accomplishes. It literally transforms the landscape of the desert, makes animals rejoice, and makes us cry out His glory.

The words of God change the world. When he speaks the world respond. We will consider Luke’s account this morning of the baptism of Jesus and we hear those precious words uttered in the the baptism of Jesus from God the Father: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!” The words of Yahweh are repeated also in our baptisms. In baptism God is affirming his love for his sons and daughters and marking them with His name. We are recipients of the blessings of the voice of Yahweh over us.

But also we hear the voice of Yahweh in this worship service. He invites us with the call to worship and He dismisses us with His benediction. The voice of Yahweh changes our lives. The Psalmist concludes:

Yahweh gives strength to his people;
             Yahweh blesses his people with peace.

And this is the purpose of Yahweh’s words: to give us all His peace. Let us then be changed as we hear His voice.

Prayer: May We reply to the voice of Yahweh with these words:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

Receive our praise, O Gracious King Jesus Christ, for in your name we pray. Amen.

Exhortation: And So This is Still Christmas…

Merry Christmas! After all Christmas is with us until January 6th, which is Epiphany. The calendar is moving. Our final candle is lit. Christ has come! But he did not come the way it was expected by men; He came the way the Father ordained. And this is what we will see as we walk through the birth and life of Jesus: that he does not conform to the expectations of men; He does not act as we expect of a coming King. Everything Jesus does is remarkably paradoxical.

But this is the story of Christmas. Christmas is blessed not because it is common, but because its uniqueness provoked this historical tsunami that the world will never get over. Heaven comes to earth in the Eternal Son of God.

While modern culture entangles itself in debates over whether to allow manger scenes in certain public places, the Church says that Jesus is the king of all public places, because He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations know the wonders of His love. Let us prepare then to enter worship and make him room in our hearts and voices on this holy day.

Exhortation: New Season

Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. It is the beginning of a rich season of anticipation and preparation. The word Advent means “arrival” or “coming.”
For centuries Christians have used the month prior to the celebration of Christ’s incarnation to ready their hearts and their homes for the great festival.

Advent is a time to consider our lives in light of our calling. We will be busy with many things in the weeks ahead, but let us not be too busy to consider the magnificent descent of God for us in human flesh. Let’s place ourselves in the story of our forefathers and walk with them as they sung and hoped for their redeemer.

As is customary, we make a few alterations in our bulletins. We have a different confession of sins, and at certain moments during the Pastoral Prayer, the pastor will conclude each section with Father, Hear Our Prayer, to which you will respond: for Your Steadfast Love Endures Forever-a common refrain from Psalm 118. After the pastoral prayer, we will stand and sing the Lord’s Prayer for the next four weeks rather than merely reciting it.

In this season, we will sing great hymns of expectations; great hymns pertaining to Christ’s coming for us. This will cause us to anticipate even more the season ahead. The best way to prepare for the coming of the Lord is to make straight His pathway in our hearts. Let us do so even now as we pray:

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, ever faithful to your promises and ever close to your Church: the earth rejoices in hope of the Savior’s coming and looks forward with longing to his return at the end of time. Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which his presence will bestow, for he is Lord for ever and ever. Amen.

Exhortation: A Life of Thanksgiving

Spurgeon once wrote:

Before you go out into the world, wash your face in the clear crystal of praise. Bury each yesterday in the fine linen and spices of thankfulness.

We are a people skilled in the art of complaining. We complain while driving, we complain at home, we complain everywhere because everywhere is convenient for complaining. The corpse of the old man clings to us. But God expects differently. God has clothed us with a new armor. He has marked our foreheads with His Name. And the more we live a life of complaint the more faded that name looks. But when we truly find our refuge in Christ, the Name of Yahweh becomes clearer and brighter.

Jesus says: “Come all ye who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The paradox of that famous statement is that the way to find rest in Jesus is by working hard to pursue him.

And nothing is more tangible in our pursuit of Christ than words of thanksgiving. The more grateful and thankful we are, the more rest we find in Him.

In what ways are you grateful to God this morning? Have you pondered that question lately? If not, why not? Is the mark of God a mark that is fading or is thankfulness causing his mark on you to be visible to the watching world? If your week has been a reflection of a complaining spirit, and if it has offered little to no thanksgiving, you are in need of confession. We will soon confess our sins before a holy God, and during that short time of silent meditation I exhort you to confess the sin of ungratefulness, because our God—the One who rescued us from bondage, sin, and damnation—has given His Only Son to die and be raised for our justification. Thankfulness is the appropriate response to the God who gives and gives and gives to His children.

Prayer:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, we give you thanks and praise that you have again fulfilled your gracious promise, that while the earth remains, seed-time and harvest will not fail. We bless you for the kindly fruits of the earth which you have given for our use. Teach us, we pray, to remember that we do not live by bread alone; and grant that we may always feed on the true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and glory, now and for ever. AMEN.

Baptism Exhortation for Sophie Leonard and Ephraim Brito

Grace, Mercy, and Peace be with You from God our Father, and Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our Scripture reading this morning is from Matthew 3:16-17:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

The first words spoken are rarely forgotten. When Adam spoke his first words to Eve they were poetic words:[1]

Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

(Genesis 2:23 ESV)

Opening words form our impression of a person or an event. Everyone knows the first words of Genesis: “In the beginning…” Those words express the commencement of something. If there is a beginning, then there is a middle and an end.

We must pay attention to the first words.

This morning we bring two infants, Ephraim Brito and Sophia Leonard, to be baptized into a holy covenant with the Triune God and His people. And upon these baptisms we remember the first words of our Heavenly Father upon the baptism of his only Son, Jesus Christ. God is the great Father in Matthew three, and He is the master of first words. His first words to his Son are remarkably appropriate for such a powerful event. We notice from our reading that when Jesus was baptized the Father was present. He signified His profound care for His Son, and he also understood the magnificence of such an event as baptism. In the same manner, these little ones are surrounded by faithful parents who are present in their lives in this baptismal celebration.

Also, the Father made His presence felt by sending His Spirit to descend like a dove in order to rest upon Jesus. Parents, your presence is not enough. Your presence must be felt in the lives of your little covenant children. They must know from their earliest days that you are with them, not just bodily, but emotionally. They will need both. They will need your affection as well as your presence.

Thirdly, the God and Father of us all spoke to His Son. He said: “This is my Beloved Son.” Covenant parents speak to their children. They communicate their children’s sonship. Ephraim and Sophia are children of the most High God, and they need to hear from their parents this declaration again and again. “My son/Mydaughter,” you belong to your Heavenly Father. He has chosen you as His own treasured possession. He has made you His child. He has marked you in baptism. And so when your little children sin, when they walk according to their own understanding, remind them who they are: “My Son/My Daughter,” you are not your own. You belong to God. Live like a child of the King.

Finally, God the Father, upon his Son’s baptism, said: “My Son, in You I am well-pleased.” The Father expressed His pleasure in His Son. The first thing we are told about the relationship of the Father to the Son is that the Father encouraged His son in His baptism and mission. This is our calling as parents: Pastor Brito, Melinda Brito, Todd Leonard, and Trina Leonard. Our agenda is to express our pleasure to our children before they utter their first word, before they give us their first kiss, and before we discipline them for the first time. Why? Because they are baptized members of God’s family. They are identified with our Lord and God, and they are called by Jesus Himself to ascend with Him.

First words matter. And this is why our words as parents, and as members of Providence Church are important. In these baptisms, the Father of us all calls us, fathers and mothers, to declare and act in the same way He acted at the baptism of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.


[1] The majority of these thoughts are taken from Douglas Wilson’s Father Hunger and my lecture on the Trinitarian Father to be delivered on November 9th, 2012 at the 22nd Family Advance Conference.

Exhortation: The God of the Reformation

lutherThis is Reformation Sunday! And for some of you who are new to Reformed Theology this may seem a bit strange. Some of you who may be visiting may wonder “what have I gotten myself into?” You may reason to fear this morning, or you may reason to be comforted. I pray the latter for you.

When we speak of Reformed Theology, we are speaking of a Sovereign God. And the consequence of this is that if you are looking for a Church that worships a God that just leaves you alone and who only tells you what you want to hear, then most certainly you have walked into the wrong building. But if you are looking for a God who forgives sinners, calls you to abandon your sins, who is Holy and Right, who sustains you in good and in bad times, a God wo controls everything in heaven above and earth below, who chooses you as his eternal possession and trophy of grace, and who calls you to worship Him this morning, then be at peace for this is why you are here. And this is why we are celebrating the God of the Bible; the God the Reformers believed. The God of Calvin, Luther, and Bucer is the God we worship, the God we cherish, and God who calls us to give Him praise. Let us do so!

Prayer: A Mighty Fortress is Our God! You are above all things, Lord God Almighty! There is none other but You. You dwell in unspeakable glory. Your throne is an everlasting throne. Your kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom. Your glory is an everlasting glory. And unto You we offer our thanks for you have redeemed us, cleansed us, and made us righteous in Your sight. Prepare our hearts to know you, to serve you, and to declare your praises now and forever, Amen!

 

Exhortation: Consider the Ways of Wisdom

Proverbs presents Christ, but it also presents our works in the sight of God. This Wisdom Book is an earthly book. It shatters the nice and politically correct discourse so prevalent in our culture. Proverbs makes us all human again. It brings us to the day to day struggles; from the ivory towers to diaper changing to the sweat of our brows. The type of discourse that typically offends our more “refined” sensitivities is the type of language the Bible loves to address. Proverbs is a shocking, adventurous journey into exploring our own natures and realizing that we are never mature enough; that growing and following the steps of our Lord is the way to wisdom. If you want a view of sex, wealth and wisdom the Bible will provide that for you, and once you grow up into the language of the Bible then you learn to judge everything else by it. What standard is going to shape the way you think about life? As we prepare for worship this morning, consider that God has spoken, and He is not silent. Consider that living in wisdom is not an easy path, but it is the righteous path. Let us prepare our hearts and enter into his gates with praise!

Prayer:

God of grace, you have given us minds to know you, hearts to love you, and voices to sing your praise. Fill us with your Spirit, that we may celebrate your glory and worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.