Sacraments vs. Predestination

In his excellent introduction to M.F. Sadler’s The Second Adam & The New BirthRich Lusk tackles the unnecessary division within the modern Reformed movement, especially affirmed by B.B. Warfield that a view of sacramental efficacy contradicts a proper view of God’s sovereignty in salvation. Lusk observes that a healthy Reformed faith should be more Augustinian in orientation. The theological “combination of sovereign grace with a high view of sacramental efficacy” do not need to be divorced. They are fully compatible. We do not need to undermine one to rescue the other. We may not grasp how God uses the means to accomplish His sovereign purposes, but they are not to be at odds.

Instrument and Agent

The Church is both the instrument and agent of applying Christ’s salvation, as well as the form that salvation takes in the world. –Rich Lusk, An Introduction to M.F. Sadler’s The Second Adam & The New Birth

Meditation on the Lord’s Supper

God is filling the world with his glory. And we are called to make this glory known in word and deed. We do not attempt to make this glory known through our own strength, but by the strength of another, The Holy Spirit. It is He that makes our works fruitful; it is He that transforms and it is He that makes us ambassadors of the most High God.

At this table, Jesus provides us another reminder that God is filling his world with his glory as we partake of bread and wine in this new world. When we eat Jesus is present by His Spirit, and by His Spirit He nourishes and sustains us in all our earthly endeavors. Eat, drink, and rejoice, for the Spirit of God is among us.

Why Ministers Leave

The typical pastor stays in a church for 3.6 years. This does not seem to offer much hope for any long-term vision for a local parish. Planning ahead seems futile from the outset. This discouraging number stems from a variety of issues. Some pastors, fresh out of seminary, attempt to revive a church that has already died a thousand deaths. Their optimism suffers the same amount of deaths within the first twelve months. Other pastors eager to persuade a congregation of his theology immerse with psalmic zeal into the nuances of his dogmatic learning only to find that the congregation does not share the same interest or enthusiasm. In many cases pastoral conflicts ensue among staff ultimately leading to each one doing what is right in their own eyes. And the reasons for the 3.6 number can be multiplied.

In Dr. John Gilmore’s Pastoral Politics: Why Ministers Resign he observes the phenomenon of pastoral departure from various angles. In particular, he wants to offer hope to pastors who have gone through the terrible emotional pain of leaving or being forced to leave a congregation. He observes that “Both undergraduate Christian college and seminary courses should do a better job of proactively addressing the matter of pastoral closure.” Pastors usually leave their congregations under tremendous stress and uncertain about their future. If the numbers are right, “resignation” is a common word to the majority of congregations in this country.

When a pastor resigns he is not only leaving his job, he is leaving his life. The pastorate is not merely the exercising of rhetorical skills, but actually the exercising of life skills. No profession is so immersed in the lives of ordinary people than the pastorate. This past Sunday alone during our congregation’s fellowship time I engaged in over 10 different conversations in the space of 30 minutes. From children to older saints, each conversation was important to me because they were manifestations of what was important to my parishioners. As far as I am aware no profession (and I use that term broadly) is so engaged in the well-being of fellow men than the pastorate. And so when a pastor resigns, he resigns not just from a job, but from his life; the life he knew and invested in heart, mind, soul, and strength.

There is no doubt the ecclesiastical charlatans and wolves are out there, and to hell with them! But when the local pastor who sees his unique calling to shepherd and care for his flock resigns he loses more than just a salary, but in many ways his spirit.

Jonathan Edwards understood this. In his farewell sermon he prepared his congregants by saying that it was a matter of vast importance how a people treat their ministers, and in some ways the future of that minister is in the hands of how the sheep treat their shepherd, or as Edwards puts it, “how they receive and entertain a faithful minister of Christ.” Parishioners need to be aware that the implications of Hebrews 13:17 weighs heavily each day to the local minister.

As I stated in a homily delivered at a recent ordination service, no profession undergoes the ups and downs of life so quickly than that of a pastor. He may be rejoicing in the heavenly places on Sunday as he leads his congregation in adoration only to be confronted with a parishioner eager to seek a divorce after 20 years of marriage on Monday morning.

With that in mind, the 3.6 year average seems almost justifiable. But there is hope. And the hope lies not in some pastoral technique or on superb leadership skills, but in the Spirit of God through his intervening grace. The Third Person of the Trinity is the sustainer of the body through the Pentecostal fire poured in the church’s infancy and continued into the church’s maturity. It is by grace that those numbers are not lower and it is by grace that those numbers will increase and no longer reflect the evangelical scene.

May congregations learn to nourish their pastors in love and may pastors nourish their people in every spiritual blessing. And may pastors look with hope to the future of their parishes in the 20-30 years ahead and see the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and care bear much fruit in the lives of their people, their children, and their children’s children.

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.

Got Wine?

According to J. Duncan M. Derrett in “Water into Wine,” (Biblische Zeitschrift, Neue Folge, 7 (1963), pp. 84-85,89) Mary was deeply concerned about the shortage of wine in John two for a few reasons:

First, she was deeply involved in the preparation for the festivities.

Secondly, the lack of wine at the wedding would be the cause of general disruption.

Thirdly, there would be obvious embarrassment to the host family.

Finally, there was a possibility of legal action against the family.

The lack of wine could be the source of legal action!  Not only does wine cheer the heart, but it also keeps you out of legal problems. To not provide for the guests of the wedding would be the ultimate insult. But we also know that wine is a sign of kingship. When one is invited to the feast, he joins the royal gathering and drinks what kings drink. Finally, we must keep in mind that in God’s house wine is never lacking, for He prepares a feast for kings and queens every time we gather to praise Him.

Communion Meditation: Wash Yourselves and Eat with Jesus!

We celebrate today the baptism of Jesus, because all the events in the life of Jesus are significant to our own lives. The baptism of Christ is that initial moment where he presents himself to the world as the God/Man sent with a divine mission to accomplish the Father’s will.

Baptism is not optional. If the Son of Man was baptized, if the Son of Man, who in Luther’s words “is holier than the waters of baptism” needed to be baptized, so too God calls us to submit ourselves to this act.

Baptism gives us access to the table. Baptism means you are clean to come to Jesus’ Table.  Baptism is God the Father saying: “Children, wash yourselves, so you can eat with my Son, Jesus Christ.”

Those washed in baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, from whatever Christian tradition, baptized through immersion, sprinkling, or pouring, are welcome to this table. This is not Providence’s table, this is the Lord’s Table, and so it belongs to those marked with His name in baptism. Come and eat with our Lord.

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.

The Baptism of our Lord

Nicolas Poussin. The Baptism of Christ.

Nicolas Poussin. The Baptism of Christ. 1647. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, UK.

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.