Jesus Speaks Today

December 9, 2018 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Christmas, Singing Psalms, Tradition, Word of God, Worship

Colossians 3:16 (NKJV)

16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

For Advent and Christmastide we are continuing our tradition of preaching through the psalms. It is important that we remember why this is a fitting tradition, why we should devote considerable time and attention to the psalms. In our day, various ideologies divorce Christians from the OT; consequently, Psalm singing has fallen on hard times, especially among Protestants. So as we recover this practice, let us consider the foundation for it that Paul lays in our text today.

First, Paul identifies the content of our worship. We are to let the word of Christ, Christ’s own word, dwell in us richly. Jesus speaks to us today; He is calling today. But where? Paul tells us: He speaks in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. In the Greek translation of the OT, these labels correspond to the varied songs in the psalter. Paul’s categories of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs are, in other words, different ways of directing us to one book, the Psalter. The book of Psalms contains psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs which we are to sing. Why? Because they are the Word of Christ – Christ’s own words to us. When we sing the Psalms to one another, we hear Christ speaking to us in the voices of our brethren.

Second, Paul identifies the function of our worship. We are to teach one another and admonish one another. First, we teach one another. When we sing the psalms to one another, we expand our knowledge of God and our awareness of His work in the world. We teach one another of His righteousness, His mercy, His wrath, His love, His patience, His judgments, etc. The psalms force us to reckon with ways in which our own thinking differs from God’s thinking. When we sing a psalm and find ourselves disagreeing with its words, the problem is not with the psalm but with us. Consequently, we not only teach one another as we sing, we also admonish one another. We correct erroneous thoughts, summon one another to trust the Lord more fully, rebuke one another’s complacency, immorality, greed, idolatry, and deceitfulness. The psalms teach and admonish us.

Third, Paul identifies the motive of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts. True worship emerges from a grateful heart; it is an expression of thankfulness for God’s work in our lives. The hypocrite says one thing with his lips and another with his heart; the true worshiper joins heart and lips together in song. We are to sing with thankfulness in our hearts.

Finally, Paul identifies the object of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts to the Lord. The Lord is the object of our worship. He alone is worthy of praise, thanksgiving, and honor. He has created us and not we ourselves; He has redeemed us through the precious blood of His Son Jesus. He has sent His Spirit to empower us to walk in newness of life. So we are to give Him thanks and praise, to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to Him.

So as we enter into the presence of the Lord this day, as we sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, let us teach and admonish one another as we worship the Lord. Unfortunately, much of the church has abandoned the psalms in favor of songs that do not teach and admonish. We speak to one another our own words rather than the words of Christ. But even when we speak the words of Christ to one another, we often fail to learn from our brethren, we often fail to correct ourselves. So reminded of our failures in this regard, let us kneel and confess our sins to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Unshakeable Kingdom

December 2, 2018 in Bible - NT - Hebrews, Bible - OT - Daniel, Christmas, Church Calendar, Dispensationalism, King Jesus, Meditations, Old Testament

Hebrews 12:25–29 (NKJV)

25 See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, 26 whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” 27 Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.

 After the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Jewish kingdom with its bloody sacrifices, priestly rituals, and frail kings, was replaced by the Kingdom of God – a kingdom that Paul describes in our text today as an unshakeable kingdom.

This picture of an unshakeable kingdom harkens back to Daniel chapter 2. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had seen the kingdoms of men as a great and impressive statue made of different metals. But as Nebuchadnezzar was looking upon the statue, its feet were struck by a rock made without human hands. This rock caused those kingdoms to shake and totter and crumble while the rock itself became a huge mountain that filled the entire earth. The rock was unshakeable. And what was that rock? Daniel identified that rock as the kingdom of God.

In Paul’s day this rock had just struck the feet of the statue: Jesus had come and fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament: He was the long awaited King who would reign on earth, the Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world, the Rock that struck the feet of the statue. Through his earthly ministry he established the kingdom of God but the remnants of the old covenant system were still around. The Temple still stood; the priests still offered sacrifices; the feasts of the old covenant were still celebrated. But Paul knew that all that was going to change – the old covenant was ready to disappear, to be destroyed, and in its place would stand the kingdom of Christ, the unshakeable kingdom. Paul’s prediction came to fruition in AD 70 when the Romans, inspired by God Himself, destroyed the temple and the old covenant system collapsed. The kingdom of the Jews came to an end; the kingdom of the Messiah was established.

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, the time of year that we call to mind this transition from the old covenant to the new, from the age of immaturity to the age of maturity, from the kingdom of the Jews to the kingdom of Christ, from the shakeable kingdom to the unshakeable. As we recall this transition, let us remember that the Lord who spoke to our fathers in the old covenant continues to speak to us in the new and that this means not less accountability but more. Paul exhorts us,“See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth [during the old covenant], much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven… [in the new] Because Jesus has risen from the dead and speaks to us as the Lord of all, seated at the right hand of the Father, we are called upon to approach Him with reverence and awe – for our God, Paul writes, is a consuming fire.

Reminded that the Lord has given us the great privilege of being members of His unshakeable kingdom through the sacrifice of Christ, let us confess that we have treated this privilege lightly. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Expose the Unfruitful Deeds of Darkness

November 25, 2018 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Communion, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Heart, King Jesus, Marriage, Meditations, Responsibility, Sexuality

Ephesians 5:8–12 (NKJV)

8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), 10 finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. 11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.

Paul reminds us in our text that when the Lord saves us, He delivers us from darkness and brings us into the light. Whereas we once walked in darkness, subject to the prince of darkness and in bondage to our own sinful nature, God in Christ has brought us out of Satan’s kingdom and made us part of His own. He forgives our sins and renews us in the inner man, giving us a new heart by the power of His Spirit. He makes us to be children of light.

As those adopted into His family and made citizens of His kingdom, He now summons us to walk as children of light. The Lord of Light pours out the Spirit of Light upon children of light. And the Spirit so works in the hearts of those who have truly believed that they practice, in Paul’s words, goodness, righteousness, and truth. The Spirit bears rich and abundant fruit in the lives of His own. He causes us to walk in God’s commandments.

Consequently, those who have been saved want to have open lives. They want to dwell in the light and to have the vestiges of darkness removed from their lives. In Paul’s words, they have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. They don’t hide their emails or their phone conversations. They don’t engage in filthy speech or coarse jesting. They don’t look at pornographic pictures or develop intimate relationships with persons other than their spouse. They cultivate a love for goodness, righteousness, and truth.

While the calling to expose the unfruitful works of darkness is often uncomfortable and unpleasant, it is our duty to do so. We have just welcomed the —- household into membership. I now have the sober duty to announce that the elders are publicly suspending —- from the Lord’s Supper for the sins of adultery and deceit. For several years, —- has been living in sin, preying on several different women, some of whom have attended our congregation. He has been deceiving his wife and others and has been repeatedly unfaithful to her. Thankfully, —- is professing repentance. However, given the length of time he has lived a life of deceit regarding the nature of their relationship and his own walk with the Lord, the elders have determined to suspend him from the Supper until he manifests fruits in keeping with repentance.

We know that this will come as a shock to you even as it has come as a shock to his family and to the elders. We had believed that —- was walking faithfully with the Lord and that he was faithfully loving his wife. The truth, however, is that he has been deceiving us all. He has been having fellowship with the unfruitful deeds of darkness rather than exposing them. Thankfully the truth emerged this last weekend and there is now opportunity for genuine repentance and change.

So please pray for the —-. Pray for —- – that he would truly repent and repudiate the unfruitful deeds of darkness that have bound him for the last several years; that he would seek out help and, by the power of God’s Spirit, break with the sin that has enslaved him. Pray for —- – that she would continue to lean on the Lord, entrust herself to His loving care, and treasure her daughters. Pray for their children – that they would know the forgiving grace of Jesus Christ, experience the comforting presence of their Heavenly Father, and love and obey their mom in these trying times.

Moments like this should cause each of us to reflect on the treacherous nature of our own hearts and the deceitfulness of sin. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can understand it?” (17:9) That judgment pertains to your heart and to mine. It was to forgive the guilt of our sin and to transform our hearts that Jesus gave His life on the cross and then rose again from the dead. So if you are in sin, ensnared by the darkness, come to the light before it is too late. Confess your sin in Jesus’ name and seek the forgiveness of the Lord.

Sobered by the pervasiveness of sin, let us confess our sin to the Lord. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Finding the Will of God?

November 18, 2018 in Bible - NT - 1 Thessalonians, Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Covenantal Living, Faith, Meditations, Wisdom, Word of God

1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 (NKJV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Many people are confused about the will of God. They speak of “finding’ the will of God as though it is mysterious and difficult to decipher. But Paul tells us in our passage today that the will of God, God’s purpose for our lives, is really quite clear, plain, and simple: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Paul’s words remind us that, as Christians, our calling is not to peer into God’s secret will but to obey His revealed will. Moses writes in Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Our duty as Christians is to obey God’s revealed will not to discover His secret will. Within the fence of God’s revealed law, we are free to choose what we desire, trusting God for the outcome. This is the principle of liberty within law. As Paul reminds widows in 1 Corinthians 7:39 – a widow is free to marry whomever she desires only in the Lord. She has liberty – she may marry whomever she desires – within the context of God’s moral law – she may marry only in the Lord.

But walking as free men requires faith and courage. Sometimes we obey His law and the future ends in victory, prosperity, and kingdom advancement; sometimes we obey His law and the future ends in defeat, poverty, and kingdom retreat. This is the challenge of walking by faith. While pagans routinely practiced divination – looking at the entrails of animals, reading the signs in the stars, and relying upon superstitions in order to discern the will of the gods for each and every decision – God’s people have been called to walk by faith. We aren’t promised how obeying God’s law will turn out; we’re just called to obey it.

So what is God’s will for you? What is God’s will for your life? Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks. God’s will for you is that you learn and obey His moral law. Within the context of His law, you are free to do what you desire. The will of God, therefore, is not hidden or obscure. There is no need to find His will; it has not been lost. God wants you to know His law and then to walk by faith, entrusting the outcome to Him.

That which is true for us individually is also true nationally. This week we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. President George Washington remarked in his first Thanksgiving Proclamation:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor… therefore, I do recommend and assign [a day] to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country…

President Washington’s words remind us that our duty is not to find the will of God but to obey it. In the same proclamation, Washington called upon us “to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue…” He insisted that virtue is essential for our survival as a people and for securing the continued blessings of Almighty God. We don’t need to discover God’s secret will but to obey His revealed will.

So as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let us give thanks to the Lord for the Constitutional liberties we have enjoyed, for the peace we have experienced, for the abundance we have tasted, for the families we have been given, and for the salvation with which we have been blessed. If we are to give thanks in everything, how much more ought we to give thanks when we enjoy such manifold blessings?

Reminded that we are to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things, let us confess that we often ignore God’s clear will for our lives and feign ignorance of our duty. And as we confess our sins to the Lord seeking His forgiveness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Restoration to the Lord’s Table

November 11, 2018 in Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Sacraments, Thankfulness

2 Corinthians 2:5-8, 10-11 (NKJV)

5 But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe. 6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, 7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. 8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him… 10 Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, 11 lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices.

Despite numerous problems in the church at Corinth, they responded to Paul’s exhortations in First Corinthians in faith and obedience. Paul had commanded them to publicly censure one of their members who was living in sin (1 Cor 5) and the Corinthians responded in faith, doing that very thing. In our text today, Paul counsels them what to do now since the man they had censured had repented and sought forgiveness from the Lord and from the church.

The Corinthians thought that perhaps they needed Paul’s approval before welcoming the man back into their fellowship. But Paul insists that they didn’t need his approval – after all, he wasn’t the one who had been wronged. He writes, But if anyone has caused grief, he has not grieved me, but all of you to some extent—not to be too severe.” Paul wasn’t the one grieved but them; so it wasn’t Paul who needed to restore the man but them. They had disciplined him originally and, now that he was repentant and desirous of reconciliation, they were entirely capable of restoring him to fellowship on their own. “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority,” he writes, “is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him.” They had disciplined him in love; now they ought much more to receive him back in love.

In accordance with Paul’s words here to the Corinthians, the elders have the joyful privilege of restoring — to fellowship in this congregation. — has taken concrete steps of repentance and has expressed to the elders her grief over her sin and her desire to be reconciled to the Lord and the church. —, her new husband, has done likewise. While we plan to read their letters at our next Head of Household Meeting, we wanted to take this opportunity to restore them to the Table and reaffirm our love for them.

As we do so, Paul reminds us not to let Satan take advantage of us. In times like this, Satan plots against us and seeks to undermine the work that God is doing. So how might Satan scheme to turn this happy moment sorrowful? First, he might tempt you to respond to their restoration like the elder brother in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son. The elder brother resented his father’s open-hearted and festal acceptance of his brother back into the home. And so what of you? Are you prepared to rejoice in God’s munificent grace to — and to pray that He would pour out yet more grace upon them?

Second, Satan might tempt you to look down on them, imagining yourself superior. But Paul asked the Corinthians, when they were boasting over one another, “What do you have that you have not received? And if you have received it, then why do you boast as though it is something of your own?” Paul urges us to remember that it is the grace of God that enables us to walk uprightly. Consequently, when one of our own stumbles into sin, it is not an occasion for pride but humility, recognizing our own propensity to stray from the Lord. And when one of our own repents and returns to the Lord, it is an occasion for joy and thanksgiving to God for His outpouring of grace. As the Scriptures declare, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

Reminded of God’s forgiving grace and that He extends this grace freely to all who call upon Him in truth, let us confess that we often respond to His grace to others with resentment or a sense of superiority. And as we are able, let us kneel before the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Church is Culpable

November 7, 2018 in Church History, Confession, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Image of God, Judgment, King Jesus, Providence, Quotations, Sin

The English poet William Cowper (1731-1800) reflected on the condition of England in his day in his poem, “Expostulation.” His words condemning the compromise of the Church and her ministers are as true of the American Church in our day as of the English Church in his. The first two lines are golden: “When nations are to perish in their sins, ‘Tis in the church the leprosy begins.” Cowper informs us that the future does not look good for America primarily because things do not look good in the Church. So if we want to see reformation and revival in America, then it must begin with the Church and her ministers returning to God’s Word.

When nations are to perish in their sins,
‘Tis in the church the leprosy begins;
The priest, whose office is with zeal sincere
To watch the fountain, and preserve it clear,
Carelessly nods and sleeps upon the brink,
While others poison what the flock must drink;
Or, waking at the call of lust alone,
Infuses lies and errors of his own:
His unsuspecting sheep believe it pure;
And, tainted by the very means of cure,
Catch from each other a contagious spot,
The foul fore-runner of a general rot.
Then Truth is hushed, that Heresy may preach:
And all is trash, that Reason cannot reach:
Then God’s own image on the soul impressed,
Becomes a mockery, and a standing jest;
And faith, the root whence only can arise
The graces of a life that wins the skies,
Loses at once all value and esteem,
Pronounced by gray-beards a pernicious dream;
Then Ceremony leads her bigots forth,
Prepared to fight for shadows of no worth;
While truths, on which eternal things depend,
Find not, or hardly find, a single friend;
As soldiers watch the signal of command,
They learn to bow, to kneel, to sit, to stand;
Happy to fill Religion’s vacant place
With hollow form, and gesture, and grimace.

A Godly Woman

October 28, 2018 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Covenantal Living, Creation, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Image of God, Marriage, Meditations, Sexuality

Genesis 2:18 (NKJV)
18
And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”

The Scriptures insist that male and female together bear the image of God. God made males to be male and females to be female. This was his design, his intention, his plan. He saw that the man was alone and declared it wasn’t good. So He decided to make a helper comparable to the man. This morning let us consider what it means, therefore, for a woman to honor and glorify her Creator, the very Creator who also sent His Son Jesus as woman’s Redeemer.

First, because God is your Creator, His Word is to govern and rule your life. The first woman, Eve, sinned by questioning God’s Word and deciding for herself whether God’s Word or the serpent’s word was to be believed. She set herself up as the judge. But none of us were designed to live that way – and it is the choice to live that way that has wrought calamity and destruction in the world – and that continues to do so. The so-called “battle of the sexes” has arisen precisely because men and women have refused to live according to God’s Word and have instead lived according to their own.

Second, God’s Word declares that men and women were created to complement one another. God’s judgment that it is not good that man be alone reveals not only the relationship that God designed for marriage but also for broader society. Whether the number of men and women would have been perfectly balanced in an unfallen world we are not told – but we are told that God designed man as male and female to glorify His Name and be for the benefit of all. Men as male and women as female were designed by God to complement one another, not compete with one another.

Third, God’s design for women, revealed here in the creation story, is that women were created to help men fulfill their creational tasks. God declares, “I will make him a helper suitable to him.” If you are a woman, God created you to help the men in your life become better men. While this will look different in different situations, a woman’s basic calling is to serve as a pillar of strength and support that enables the men in her life to be all that they can be. As John Piper has written, “At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.” So, ladies, how are you doing? Are you affirming, receiving and nurturing the strength and leadership of your husbands? Your fathers? Your elders? Are you encouraging the men about you to be men and to be masculine? This is your calling.

And what of you men? Remember Piper’s words: “At the heart of mature femininity is a freeing disposition to affirm, receive and nurture strength and leadership from worthy men in ways appropriate to a woman’s differing relationships.” There are plenty of unworthy men in the world, men who abuse women or men who abdicate their responsibilities. So what of you? Are you weak and irresponsible, overbearing and tyrannical? Or are you stepping up to the plate and providing godly strength, leadership, and protection to the women in your life? This is your calling.

Reminded that rather than submit to God’s design for us as men and women, we frequently develop our own visions for what is good and right, let us confess our sins to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.

The Key to Long Life and Gladness

October 21, 2018 in Bible - OT - Proverbs, Faith, Meditations, Politics

Proverbs 10:27–30 (NKJV)

27 The fear of the LORD prolongs days, But the years of the wicked will be shortened. 28 The hope of the righteous will be gladness, But the expectation of the wicked will perish. 29 The way of the LORD is strength for the upright, But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity. 30 The righteous will never be removed, But the wicked will not inhabit the earth.

What is the key to long life and gladness? This is a pressing question that our generation continues to ask. However, because we have apostatized and become a nation of idolaters, our answers are many and vacuous. We have lost our way. So we suggest that the key to long life and gladness is public education, or sexual experimentation, or social justice, or male chauvinism, or women’s empowerment, or state funded health care, or confiscatory taxation, or particular diets and supplements, or violating our marriage oaths. In our polytheistic culture, everyone seems to have their own answer.

But Solomon tells us that the correct answer is the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord prolongs days. It is the one who hopes in the Lord that will experience gladness; the one who walks in the Lord’s ways, observing His moral law, that will be strong; the one who listens to the Word of God and implements it, that will never be moved. As David teaches us to sing in Psalm 1 – Blessed is the man who… delights in the law of the Lord…he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither. The key to long life and fruitfulness is the fear of the Lord for the righteous, Solomon tells us, has an everlasting foundation. When the winds blow and the rains fall, it is the one who builds his house on the rock, who hears the words of Christ and does them, who will stand. Indeed, even if he perishes in this life, he knows that when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead, he will be raised eternal and will serve the Lord in gladness forever. The fear of the Lord prolongs days.

So what is it that will bring death and desolation? Is it global warming (sorry, climate change), overpopulation, intolerance and discrimination, sexual repression, unhappiness, poverty, capitalism, processed foods? Solomon tells us that the correct answer is wickedness: the years of the wicked will be shortened, his expectation, his hope, will perish. The one who works iniquity, who violates God’s moral law, will be destroyed and will not inherit the earth. As David teaches us to sing in Psalm 1 – The ungodly [will not flourish], but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. Though the wicked may prosper for a time, God will bring their plans and expectations to naught. He will destroy them and the earth will vomit them out. They are like a foolish man who builds his house upon sand – when the rains and floods come, his house will be destroyed. And this destruction will reach its culmination when Christ returns in glory to judge the living and the dead. The years of the wicked will be shortened.

So where have you placed your hope for long life? What do your habits and passions reveal about your beliefs? Have you been distracted by the cacophony of voices surrounding us? Or have you remained centered on the answer that Solomon gives? Is your life devoted to knowing and serving God, to understanding His moral law and obeying His precepts, or have you become distracted by other things? Where have you placed your hope?

Reminded that righteousness is the key to long life and gladness, and that wickedness brings destruction, let us confess that as Americans we have abandoned the living God and embraced wickedness, and let us confess that we who bear His name have become confused by the vacuous answers given by our neighbors. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As we confess our sins to the Lord, let us kneel together as you are able.

Why We Need the Psalms

October 14, 2018 in Bible - NT - James, Dispensationalism, Liturgy, Meditations, Old Testament, Singing Psalms, Thankfulness, Worship

James 5:13 (NKJV)
13
Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

What are we to do when facing the ups and downs of life? When we are suffering and weighed down, heavy of spirit – what are we to do? On the other hand, when cheerful, full of joy and wonder at God’s work in our own lives or in the world – what are we to do? Today James tells us. “Is anyone among you suffering – feeling poorly, enduring trouble? Let him (an imperative, a command – this isn’t simply good advice) Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him (again, an imperative, a command), Let him sing psalms.”

James tells us that when we are suffering we are to pray; we are to take our troubles straight to the Lord. Cry out to God; He wants to hear; He wants to be the one to whom we direct our cries. Likewise, when we are cheerful, we are to sing psalms. Why? Because singing enables us to funnel the joy that we are experiencing in the right direction – in praise and thankfulness to our Creator and Redeemer.

But as we think about the psalms, remember that many of them express grief and longing for God, not cheer – so how do they fit with James’ theme of cheerfulness? It is here that we must return to James’ command to pray when sorrowful. For what are many of the psalms but model prayers of sorrow, embodying what desperate cries to God look like? Singing them enables us to funnel our sorrow in the right direction – in prayer and petition to our Creator and Redeemer.

In other words, James’ exhortation in this verse directs us to the psalter in times of both sorrow and cheerfulness. Notice then the priority that James places upon the psalter. What are we to do when suffering? We are to pray. And where do we find examples, patterns of prayers offered up in the midst of suffering? In the psalter. What are we to do when joyful? We are to sing psalms. And where do we find these psalms of praise? In the psalter.

So here’s the question for you – do you know your psalter well enough to obey James’ exhortations? How well do you know your psalms? Do the psalms, when you are burdened and weighed down, come to your mind and fill your soul with cries to God? Do the psalms, when you are cheerful and lifted up, come to your mind and fill your home with praise and thanksgiving?

I dare say that if you are like me there is some lack in this regard. Not many of us grew up singing the psalms; hence, the psalms are often strange and foreign to us. Some of the tunes that we have in our English psalters are hard to learn. Some of the words of the psalms are difficult to understand or even believe. But the problem is not with the psalter but with us. We need to grow in our ability to sing and to understand the psalms.

Consequently, one of the things we are committed to do as a congregation is to become more skilled in our ability to sing the psalms and more knowledgeable of their content. To facilitate that, we prioritize the psalms in our worship and hold regular psalm sings in which we can learn to sing more skillfully. We do these things so that the entire congregation, not just a few individuals, can fulfill James’ exhortations – is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms.

Reminded that in our suffering and in our joy God has given us the psalms to channel our prayers and praises, let us confess that the American church has largely ignored the psalms of late, believing that we no longer need them; and let us confess that even in our attempt to recover them, we too have neglected to hold them close to our hearts. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess.