Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Boldly into the Fog

We do not know what the future holds. We look into it with some inclination of the direction that we are traveling but the future is foggy and difficult to see. We can look back at the past with much greater clarity. We look back not so that we can see forward clearly but so that we can walk forward into the fog without fear. God has directed our paths and we have come safely through the fog of future that we now call past. If we were fearful then, it was only because we could not see forward and know that God would be at every foggy place leading us through the shadows of death. But He was and we know that now.
         So, how do we go forward into more fog? Well, we still do not know the future but I hope we have come to believe that God is there and that He is beckoning us to come forward in peace, hope and joy. And to prove this to us, He calls us to sit down at His table to eat and drink and grow strong and develop keen eyes of faith so that we can go forward in hope without fear. 
        This meal is His promise to never leave or forsake us and to guide us in the way of peace. So, eat and take courage.

Perspective is Heavenly

Perspective is defined as a way of regarding situations and facts and judging their relative importance. Many of our problems, especially our reactions, come from having bad perspective. Something happens and we are unable to accurately judge the relative importance of the event. Since it is happening to us and it happening now, we make it out to be relatively important. I ask, relative to what? And the answer often is, relative to anything and everything. The thing of the moment is the thing. And when we think this way, we often act way out of proportion to the true relative importance. 
         This is true of the man cutting in front of you in line, the person taking too long to cross the intersection, the clown with his head down, texting at the green light who had the relatively important distinction of delaying your day by three whole seconds!
         Saints, get some perspective! Step back and see the situation, maybe even as God sees it. The clown texting might be oblivious but at least he is not a saint given to rash emotions and overreactions. How is God looking at that situation?
         This proper perspective in the little things will help you learn a principled perspective in the big things. Such a true perspective will create a place for you of peace and hope in Jesus Christ.
         So, let us confess our inability to see things properly and ask God to give us a more heavenly-minded perspective.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Appetite for Jesus

The Lord’s Service is discipline. That may surprise you if you think of discipline as punishment. But working out is discipline. Wrestling practice is discipline. Eating well is discipline. These disciplines train us for the fight. This service disciplines the mind and body to conform us to the image of God. The Lord, in His graciousness, runs us through this training towards godliness. Just as working out creates a healthy appetite, so the Lord’s Service ought to create a healthy appetite in us for the things of the Lord.
         We become like Jesus and so we desire to do what He does, say what He says, eat what He eats; every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Having tasted of Christ, we know that He is good and we desire more and more of Him.
         So, we can see that the Lord’s Table is another place of discipline. We eat and drink of the Lord Jesus and we grow bigger and stronger in Jesus and we need more and more of Christ to sustain us. We do not need more bread and more wine. A little is enough because in them we see that we really already have all of Christ As we grow in Christ, His grace and power are all that we need to sustain us for growth and for the fight of life.

Fatherly Discipline

The Bible teaches us that discipline is something that a loving father does. As parents, we recognize this. When we discipline our children, whether with corrective teaching or the sin squashing swats of the spanking spoon, we know that we are showing them love and teaching them a path that will lead them to peace and joy.
         As adults, we often fail to see this. When loving friends confront us, we resist and justify. If we persist in this resistance, our hearts grow hard to correction and a hard stubborn heart is not a receptive place for God’s Spirit.
Thus, the Lord, Himself, will bring direct correction into our lives. Sometimes, it is just enough to get our attention so that we straighten up. If we continue to resist Him then we run the risk of having Him let us run headlong into our sin. The rebellious heart loves this, thinking it is freedom but the righteous man fears the withdrawing of God’s Spirit of conviction and correction, knowing that this leads to slavery to sin.
         So, we need to come to the Lord humbly, heeding His voice in friends, the elders, the pastor, and His Spirit, so that we are easily corrected and do not justify ourselves in our sins.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Going to Heaven

Christian, what is your plan in this life? What is your daily aim? Are you seeking to grow in grace, advancing in the fruit of the Spirit? How are you doing? How is your Love growing? How about your Joy? Peace? Patience? Kindness? Gentleness? Faithfulness? Meekness? How are you doing with Self-control?
            To grow in these areas is to be like God, to bear His image here on Earth, to be like Jesus and reveal the work of the Holy Spirit in your lives. It is being heavenly. So, how is it that you become heavenly minded? And where are you going to spend eternity? In heaven? Yes, in heaven. And to be fit to spend eternity in heaven, you practice heavenly mindedness here on Earth.
           In Ephesians 2:4-6, we are told, But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,  Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)  And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus:   This Scripture reveals something glorious to us. God has brought us to heaven in Jesus. When we gather as God’s people, we are getting a glimpse of this glory full blown. We see the gathered people of God, forgiven in Jesus, engaged in worship, sitting at the feet of Jesus, rising up in song, eating at His Table. We are in heaven!
          This worship service is nothing less than a heavenly feast. When you come to worship, you are coming into heaven. Now, who would does not want to go to heaven? Seriously, who in their right mind, would refuse heaven?
            Would you refuse heaven because you had a late night on Saturday? Would you refuse heaven because your child had a sporting event? Would you miss heaven because your family was visiting from out of town? Would you miss heaven for nearly any old excuse? 
           Dear Saints, I am not kidding about this or being glib. I mean it with all my heart. If you do not understand that we are going to heaven together when we gather as God’s people, you really do run the risk of missing heaven altogether. If you cannot see the glory in the gathered people of God, then you are missing the glory of God. It really is that simple. So, come to heaven every week so that you are consistently drawn to God and will spend eternity with Him and His people in Heaven.

Covenant Renewal Communion

The high point of our liturgy moves to the Lord’s Table. In our service, as in our lives, we are aiming at close communion with God. At His Table, we see this all come together. The Father has called us, Jesus has cleansed us, the Spirit has filled us and we have become friends of God.
         Because there is still sin and death in the world, we need the promises and the closeness of this Table. It is very important that you embrace the entire service and that you especially get what is going on here. 
         You are a sinner but God has forgiven you through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He identifies you with His own beloved Son. Because of that truth, He and the Son invite you to eat with them. They send you the Holy Spirit that the love of God fully dwells in you as you sit down with Him and His people to eat. This is the place of peace and assurance.

Covenant Renewal Exhortation

In our Covenant Renewal Worship Service, we have an Exhortation early in the service, right after the Call To Worship. This part of the service is to remind us not only that we are sinners, fallen from grace in Adam, but that we continue to sin in thought, word and deed. Thus, we need to continually return to that fountain of grace, for where sin abounds, grace doth much more abound. It is vital that we continue to confess and repent of our sins so that we continually receive this abundant fountain of grace.
         We are reminded of our sins, confess them and receive the Lord’s forgiveness early in our service, so that the rest of the service draws us near to God as we stand before Him fully forgiven with a holy boldness given to us by Jesus, Himself.
         So, we take a moment, recalling the ways we have sinned and especially confessing the sins of our nation and the sins of God’s people, including ourselves in those sins, so that we can rightly seek God’s grace for our nation and for our people.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Age of Gold

Isaiah 9:6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

It is finally Christmas and along with the angels, we rejoice at the birth of Jesus. Our Savior has come into the world and we have been saved from our sins and our enemies. We seem to get the first part, salvation from sin, assuming we understand that we are sinners. But we have a harder time believing that God is going to chase down every enemy. We have a hard time believing this even in the direct and clear revelation of Scripture. Jesus will reign until all of His enemies are subdued. Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
         This great passage from Isaiah was immortalized and forever stamped in our minds by that illustrious composer Frederick Handel. It is difficult to even say these words without hearing the tune run through our minds.
         But like so much of Scripture, if we are not careful, the words run through our mind but not the meaning. We hear the words but we do not really believe them or heed them. 
         Many of our Christmas songs create this same contradiction.  We sing the words but we do not understand or perhaps do not believe what we sing.

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, original verse 5
For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

This reference to the age of gold harkens back to Virgil’s fourth eclogue, written around 40 B.C. It is likely that Virgil was anticipating the age of gold arising in those emperors to follow the rule of Julius Caesar. Although we are not certain of Virgil’s intent in this passage (some have claimed he actually prophesied the birth of Jesus) the hymn writer quotes it as a deliberate poke at the aspirations of a usurped authority to rule the world. No one but Jesus Christ can truly bring this ‘age of gold’ but the reality is that Jesus truly does bring the age of gold.

Think about these great lyrics.

Joy to the World, Isaac Watts, 1719
Verse 3
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

Verse 3 says that Jesus comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found. The curse brought sorrow, sin and thorns. But the blessing of Christ will reverse that curse and restore the world to and Edenic state.

Verse 4
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

         Verse 4 says that Jesus rules the world. Many Christians do not believe that but it is true and the

         All of this is said as a prelude to how we view the historic, current and future Kingdom of God.  By far and away the historic view of Christ’s Kingdom clashes with the modern American view.  We see this even in Christmas hymns, until the mid to late 19th Century.  Prior to that time, the prevailing view of Christ’s Kingdom is that it would continue to grow and fill all the Earth.
In the modern era, a particular pessimism has set into the church, largely as a result of dispensational thinking. Instead of the kingdom of God growing and filling the Earth, the kingdom of Satan grows, many think, filling the Earth, and threatens the saints until Jesus comes back to save them at the last possible moment.
We need to remember what Jesus has already done. We need to remember our Christmas songs. Satan has no kingdom. At best, he is a banished usurper, wandering the dry places of the Earth, hoping for a sympathetic ear.  He is a pathetic outcast.  How different that view than those who make Satan the archrival of the Lord Christ. Nothing of it! 
Jesus has already come to save us from our sins and to free us from our and His enemies. He made a show of them on the cross triumphing over them in it. We are not waiting for this to happen in the future, it happened over 2000 years ago!
Gladly, that dispensational view, along with its gospel hopelessness seems to be running out of steam. You can only predict the end of the world and the tribulation for so many decades and generations before people start to grow skeptical, although it is amazing what a tenaciously long life this view has had.
So, we arrive to this great anthem of the Christian faith.  Can you say these words without singing the song?
Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
We sing these songs every year and there was a time when we actually believed them. It is true that the advent of Christ makes a tremendous impact in our personal lives. He saves each one of us from our sins. This gives us peace and assurance, knowing that our God is for us and not against us. But that is not main message of the Glad Tidings. The main message of the glad tidings is the universal rule of Jesus Christ over all things.
         I hope we can get excited about this. This is something we get to declare. It is the gospel message proclaimed. Although we do try to persuade others to see this great truth and submit themselves to Jesus, our declaration remains true whether they accept it or not. Jesus is ruling the world and will continue to rule the world until every knee bows and every tongue confesses that He is indeed the Messiah.  
Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this!

Peace on Earth

Peace starts here at the Lord's Table among God's people but it does not end here. We are the first fruits of the Resurrection of the Lord but the knowledge of the Lord Jesus will be as the waters that cover the sea, and the peace that passes our understanding will be the peace that fills the whole Earth.
         It is very important that we hear these truths declared and then see, feel, smell and taste that the Lord is good. God’s peace is granted to you and from here expands to fill the whole Earth. 
         This is not a peace without cost. Peace never is. It required death, even the death of the only perfect man that ever entered the world. And it requires our death as well. We are crucified with Christ: nevertheless we live; yet not us, but Christ living in us: and the life which we now live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us.
         And this life, that is Christ, is the life that will fill the whole Earth, for all that call upon the Lord in faith, believing what God has done in Jesus Christ.

Christmas Rest

It is finally Christmas and we get to revel in the celebration for a little longer before we hustle back into our New Year. For some, this is a time of great joy. For others, it is a time of recovery from the frenzy of food, piles of presents, ostentatious decorations, extra church services, entertaining family, shopping and re-shopping.
Recovery is okay. It is hard to celebrate all the time and the truth of the matter is that we could never really celebrate enough to fit the occasion. We could never give enough, eat enough, shop enough or worship enough to fill up the glory that is Christmas. We are still human, after all, and we will not have the kind of endurance needed to adequately celebrate the glory of Christ until we get our resurrected bodies.
         In all the bustle and celebration, I hope we have not lost the simple yet enormous truth of the Incarnation. God has come to Earth to increase His government and peace ad infinitum. Really? Yes, truly and really.
         Since this is true, we must rest in Him so that His government and peace is increasing in our lives, families, church and city. That is the truth of the gospel message and the saints of God get to declare this glorious truth every time they gather in His name. To the extent that His government and peace are not increasing in your life, you have the need to stop resisting and start resting.