By Nature Sinful and Unclean

June 28, 2020 in Bible - NT - Mark, Confession, Depravity, Heart, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Liturgy, Meditations, Regeneration, Sexuality, Sin

Mark 7:20–23 (NKJV)

20And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Those of you who have been at Trinity Church for some time know that we regularly rotate our liturgical greetings, confessions, and creeds in the course of the year. These changes enable us to focus on a variety of Scriptural commands and promises throughout the year. And, occasionally, we will tweak these liturgical elements in order to grow in faithfulness or to emphasize some other Scriptural principle.

One of the things that you may or may not have recognized is that we made a slight change to the confession of sins that we use at this time of year. In just a moment we will confess as follows:

M: Most merciful God,

P: we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone…

You may have recognized that that first sentence is new, “we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.” In the past our confession began with the words, “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed…” So why the change?

The purpose of this change is to emphasize that we are not only guilty of those actual sins which we commit but also of the corruption of our nature, historically called original sin, with which we are born. Because we rebelled against God in the beginning of human history, we are sinful by nature. We are, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3, “by nature children of wrath.” By nature we are guilty in the sight of God and justly deserve to be condemned for our sin.

In other words, sin attaches itself not only to our actions but also to our nature. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. It is from within, out of the heart of men, that our evil actions proceed. Consequently, we need both to have our sins forgiven and also to have our nature renewed, to be born again by the grace of God.

So why emphasize this? Well, there are many who are attempting to sow confusion in the church regarding same-sex sin. Some of you may be familiar with the Revoice conference last year where various teachers claimed that while same-sex sexual acts are sinful, same-sex desires are not. But this is a gross distortion of Scripture. The Scriptures insist that the desires themselves are twisted and perverse and must be confessed as sin. They are part of that which must be put to death, must be mortified, if we are to serve Christ faithfully.

So what does this mean for us? It means that our sinful actions are the fruit of our sinful nature – and I am responsible both both and I must confess both. Further, my sinful nature distorts not only what I do but fundamentally what I desire, what I love. A man who commits adultery is a man who has long indulged adulterous desires in his heart; a woman who slanders another is a woman who has long indulged bitterness and resentment in her heart. If we would grow in grace, therefore, we must not simply modify our sinful behavior but mortify our sinful desires. The mere fact that I possess a certain inclination or desire is no proof that that desire is upright or pleasing to God. God’s law is the standard by which my desires must be measured. We must pray that God renew our nature and rid us of covetousness, destroy our sexual lust, uproot our bitterness, humble our pride – for it is not only our actions which are sinful but the nature from which those actions proceed.

And so, as we enter into the presence of the Lord today, let us confess both our sinful nature and our sinful actions – for He is the only one who can forgive us for both and who can renew us in His own image. And as you are able, let us kneel together before the Lord as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

My God, in Him Will I Trust

March 22, 2020 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Discipline, Faith, Judgment, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Providence, Sacraments, Sovereignty of God, Worship

Psalm 91:1–8 (NKJV)

1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.” 3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. 4 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. 5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, 6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. 8 Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.

Well it’s been an interesting week! We thank you for your prayers that we and the Schumanns were able to return home from Guatemala. We witnessed many evidences of the Lord’s lovingkindness and care for us while we were away – we managed to arrive in Guatemala just before they began quarantining visitors from America; while at the airport in Guatemala City waiting to have our temperatures taken, we stood in line immediately behind a fellow believer who “just happened” to take his family to Antigua for the weekend and “just happened” to stay in the rooms right next to ours and who provided us with timely counsel and help as we were trying to decide whether to leave Guatemala or not; while we were unable to contact the airlines from our hotel in Antigua, Andy Schumann worked tirelessly back home and secured us tickets on one of the last flights out of Guatemala; and in the midst of all the turmoil, we experienced remarkable peace and enjoyed a relaxing, fulfilling few days in a beautiful hotel with friendly people and sweet fellowship. Praise God.

Now we’ve returned home and we have this appalling circumstance in which I am speaking to a mostly empty sanctuary rather than gathering face to face with the flock. I should be seeing your faces, shaking your hands, hearing your voices, rejoicing in God’s mercy and deliverance together. Instead, we are broadcasting a service of prayer and preaching. I trust that you recognize that this is not normal, nor is it an acceptable substitute for our assembling together – livestreaming is not assembling. We must view this as a chastisement from the Lord on our nation for our many sins and transgressions. God is isolating us from one another as a small taste of the isolation that shall face us for all eternity if we do not turn from our sin and seek the forgiving grace of God in Christ.

God has placed us in the wilderness. So what ought we to do? We ought to acknowledge our sin, acknowledge the justness of the Lord’s rod of correction, and entrust ourselves to God Himself and to every word that proceeds from His mouth. We have yet to see what the final outcome of the current crisis will be. Yet we know that our Sovereign Lord is in control, that He governs in the affairs of men, and that He is at work. For all those who acknowledge their sin and trust in His forgiving grace, He promises to grant us long life, eternal life, through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son to deliver us from the fear of death and to grant us the sure and certain hope of the resurrection of the dead – is that not good news?

And so reminded that we are to turn to the Lord in times of disaster, let us do so together. Let us confess our sin to the Lord and seek His forgiving and empowering grace, praying that He would have mercy upon us as a people. 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.

Trinity Sunday 2019

June 16, 2019 in Bible - NT - John, Creeds, Image of God, Liturgy, Meditations, Trinity

John 17:1–6 (NKJV)

Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.

Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday we explicitly remind one another that the God we worship is Triune – three Persons in one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Later in worship we will recite the Athanasian Creed, one creedal attempt to articulate our Triune faith.

As we saw in our study of John 17 last month, Jesus’ prayer reveals the relationship that has existed for all eternity among the Persons of the Trinity. For all eternity, the Father and Son have loved one another with such a deep bond that that love is Himself a Person, the third Person of the Trinity, the Spirit. In their bond of love, the Father and Son share glory with one another. Jesus prays, And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. Jesus asks the Father – the Father who declared through Isaiah, “My glory I will not give to another…” – Jesus says to this Father, glorify Me together with Yourself… And note that it is a particular type of glory, the glory which I had with You before the world was. Prior to His incarnation, Jesus existed in the form of God and, though His deity was veiled during His time on earth, now that He has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven, that glory has been restored to Him. Jesus was and is God Himself in human flesh. The Father, Son, and Spirit share glory.

Second, Jesus reveals that in eternity past, before the world was, when the Father and Son shared glory, they communed with one another, they lived in a relationship of love with one another. Jesus alludes to this eternal fellowship a couple times. He says, I have glorified you on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do. In eternity past, before the world was, the Father gave Jesus a task to accomplish, a work to perform. Not only did the Father give the Son a task to do, He also gave Him a people to call His own. Jesus prays, I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me So when did the Father give these people to the Son? Before the world was. As Paul writes in Ephesians, the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.

This interaction between the Persons of the Godhead prior to the foundation of the world is sometimes called the Covenant of Redemption or the pactum salutis. God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have dwelt in covenantal life for all eternity. As we consider this Covenant of Redemption, that before the foundation of the world God thought of us, loved us, and gave us to be Christ’s own people – apart from any merit of our own; indeed despite the demerit which He knew we would deserve – ought we not to be humbled and awed that the Creator of all took notice of us? As our opening Scripture from Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians records, But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes 2:13-14).

And so reminded of the great love which the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has bestowed upon us, and that He loved us before the foundation of the world and loves us despite our unloveliness, let us confess that we are unworthy His love. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

With Palm Branches in their Hands

April 14, 2019 in Bible - NT - Revelation, Easter, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Worship

Revelation 7:9–12 (NKJV)

9 After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Today is Palm Sunday, the day on which our Lord Jesus entered into Jerusalem and was acclaimed the long-awaited Messiah by the people of Israel. To celebrate Jesus’ entrance into the city, they gathered the branches of palms, laid some upon the road and waved others in the air, rejoicing in His arrival. In Christian history, we have called this event Jesus’ Triumphal Entry.

In Revelation 7 this vision of praising God with the waving of palm branches is repeated. John beholds an immense multitude standing before the throne of God and before the Lamb of God. They are clothed in white robes which point to the forgiveness of sins through the shed blood of Jesus (cf. 7:14). And in their hands are palm branches. So why palms? Why have we distributed palms in worship today so that your children can disturb you with them during the service?

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery notes that throughout the Old Testament, “the palm tree was associated with the oasis, a place of fertility in the midst of the wilderness. It provided food in the form of the date, and its sap could be used as a sweetener or for making wine… the palm frequently connoted fertility and blessing” (622). Consequently, the righteous are compared to the palm in Psalm 92:12-13 –

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, He shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those who are planted in the house of the LORD Shall flourish in the courts of our God.

The palm tree makes its way into the construction of the Temple. Palm trees were carved into the walls and doors of Solomon’s temple according to 1 Kings 6:29, 32, and 36. Later in Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glorious Temple, he describes the palms that decorated each of the gateways and gateposts of the Temple – likening the Temple to a fruitful garden, like the Garden of Eden, a place where God’s blessing dwells.

So when John beholds the righteous, clothed in white robes and carrying branches of palm in their hands, it is this vision of fruitfulness and delight that he wishes to communicate to us. We are palm trees adorning the temple of the Living God. So the righteous cry out, while waving their palms, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And the angels join in the praise, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”

Then the angels explain the significance of the palms with these words, “They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any heat; for the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to living fountains of waters [in other words, He will lead them to oases where palm trees grow]. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev 7:16-17).

So as we enter into worship this Palm Sunday, waving our branches of palm, let us rejoice that our Lord Jesus has given Himself for us, He has shed His blood that we might stand before our God clothed in garments of white and that we might be fruitful palm trees, reflecting the fruitfulness of our God. The only way that we can be here in such joy is by confessing our sin, our need for the cleansing blood of Christ, and our need for His empowering grace. So let us confess our sins to the Lord and rejoice in His goodness. Let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Like a Tax Collector and a Sinner

April 7, 2019 in Authority, Bible - NT - Matthew, Communion, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Evangelism, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Responsibility, Sacraments, Sanctification, Satan, Sin

Matthew 18:15-18

Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 

The Scriptures make plain that our love for God is directly connected to and demonstrated by the fruit in our lives (Luke 6:43-49). As we have seen in the Gospel of John, love for God is not defined by our feelings but by God’s law-word: Jesus says that if we love Him, we will obey His commandments (Jn. 14:15; 15:10-17). Because our love for God is revealed in such visible fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-26), Jesus instructs us in our text today how we are to respond when a brother fails to bear such fruit and sins against us.

Recently, we went through this passage in detail. We saw that following private attempts to confirm that our brother really has sinned and that he refuses to repent, the church is to come alongside this brother publicly and correct him. When the church acts in this way, then the brother is summoned “to hear the church” – to take ownership for his sin, make concrete changes in his attitude and actions, and submit to his brethren in the Lord. This is the Lord’s calling upon us as His people.

However, if he refuses “even to hear the church”, then Jesus instructs us, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Mt 18:17). Jesus insists that we are no longer to treat him as an erring brother in need of correction but as an unbeliever in need of the saving grace of God in Christ. This action is a mercy to him for it endeavors to speak God’s own word to the man, warning him that a refusal to humble himself now will only incur God’s judgment later. After all, Jesus’ command is accompanied by the sober promise that heaven itself will concur in the sentence of excommunication: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven” (Mt 18:18).

As elders it is our duty to apply Jesus’ words to a member of our church. A little over a year ago, we told the church that —— was refusing to repent of his contribution to persistent strife and discord in his marriage and home despite receiving over a year of marital counseling with three different pastors in our community. At the time, we asked you to come alongside him in prayer and, as your relationship permitted, accountability. Rather than respond to this attempt at increased accountability with humility, however, he has steadfastly refused “to hear the church.” He has absented himself from worship and from meaningful accountability. He has refused the elders’ offers to meet with him and help him grow. Most recently, he has asked that we remove him from membership at Trinity.

Since he has refused “to hear the church”, our obligation is to put him out of the church. Therefore, in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we, the elders of Trinity Church, hereby excommunicate ——- from the church of Jesus Christ and hand him over to Satan, praying that God may yet have mercy on him and restore him to the true faith, that his soul may be saved in the Last Day (1 Cor 5:4-5).

As we do so, we would deliver to you two exhortations. First, remember prayer. As you think of —-, please pray that the Lord would humble him, expose his sin, and bring him to a true faith in Christ. As you think of his family who remains in the church, please pray that God would empower them, by His grace, to continue to serve the Lord in humility, to honor —— as a husband and father, and to be faithful witnesses to —— in his unbelief that they might be a means of touching his heart with the Gospel. Remember prayer.

Second, remember humility. Apart from the grace of God, we none of us would humble ourselves before Him. Our hearts are deceitful, our thoughts are vain, and our consciences are darkened. We all of us stand in constant need of God’s grace and mercy. So if you meet or interact with —–, be gracious, be kind, be loving, express your desire for his salvation, and your commitment to the well-being of both him and his family. Remember that Jesus regularly ministered to tax collectors and sinners, bringing them the truth of the Gospel in the hope that they would repent and turn in faith to Him. —– needs the Gospel. But hear the Word of the Lord: so do you. So beware the lies of the devil, the lusts of your own heart, and the snares of the world. Remember humility.

And so reminded this morning of our call to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, let us kneel and acknowledge our sin to Him, praying for His mercy and grace. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Come and Worship!

March 24, 2019 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Liturgy, Lord's Day, Meditations, Singing Psalms, Worship

Psalm 95:1–3 (NKJV)

1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. 3 For the LORD is the great God, And the great King above all gods.

Each week as we begin the Lord’s Service, I summon us to stand and worship the Lord. This section of our weekly liturgy is called the Call to Worship. Why begin each week this way?

The Call to Worship reminds us of two things. First, it reminds us that we are part of one body. Listen to the words of the psalmist: Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to him with psalms. As one body, we all are joining our voices together. And even as a body has many members and yet is one body – so also is the Church. We are each integral parts of the body, given to one another to join our various voices together as one voice.

So why do we join our voices together? To worship. We are here to praise and honor and exalt God Most High. Oh come, let us sing to the Lord! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to him with psalms. We are here to sing joyfully, to utter thanks, and to shout joyfully to Him with the psalms. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the Lord was seeking out men and women and children to worship Him. Every week the call to worship summons us to fulfill this calling.

So why are we here to worship? Because God is worthy of our praise. The psalmist reminds us, after calling us to join him in worship, For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods. To worship God is to acribe worth to God – it is not to add something to God that he lacks but to praise Him because He does not lack anything. God is the Lord and greatly to be praised.

So how ought we to worship? Remember the words of the psalmist – we ought to shout joyfully, we ought to enter into his presence with thanksgiving, we ought to shout joyfully with psalms. So where is your heart today? Are you prepared to worship with joy and thanksgiving? Or are you filled to the full with other things, with other worries and concerns? As we enter worship this day, let us put such sins aside, let us confess our sin to the Lord and beseech him to empower us to worship with joy and thanksgiving. As you are able, let us kneel together as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Restoration to Fellowship

February 17, 2019 in Authority, Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Confession, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations, Responsibility, Sin

2 Corinthians 2:5–11 (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. 9 For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things. 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.

For the last couple weeks we have been studying Matthew 18, in part to prepare for today. We have seen that Jesus teaches us to deal with our brother’s sin compassionately and to rejoice over the one lost sheep who is restored to the fold. Today the elders have the privilege of restoring a lost sheep to worship and to the Lord’s Supper. We are pleased to report that after —- sin was exposed, he responded by confessing his sin and professing repentance. For the last few months he has been walking out this repentance and has humbly submitted to the discipline of the church. He has sought the forgiveness of those he has wronged, has developed a plan for accountability and growth, and has striven to reconcile with his wife. Therefore, based on his profession of repentance and the fruit that has accompanied that profession, the elders rejoice to restore him.

Paul provides us guidance for this action in our text today. Paul had written to the Corinthians commanding them to censure a man in their congregation who was committing sexual sin. The Corinthians acted on Paul’s command and inflicted a fitting punishment upon him – they suspended him from the Supper. It appears that after they disciplined him the man was moved to repentance. Consequently, in our text today, Paul urges them to forgive the man and to restore him to fellowship in the body. Paul writes, “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.”

Jay Adams notes that the “word reaffirm is a specialized term… meaning to officially reinstate.” As part of the restoration process, therefore, the elders want to give you opportunity to reaffirm your love for —— and to assure him that he is forgiven and welcomed back into the congregation. Hence, we have asked him to come up front, to confess his sin to you here in the assembly, and to seek your forgiveness. At the conclusion of his letter, I will invite you to reaffirm your love for him; to declare loudly and thankfully, “You are forgiven. Alleluia!”

Form for Readmission to Fellowship:

Public Confession

Pastor: Brothers and sisters, this sheep that was lost has been found and restored to the fold. So let us reaffirm our love for him.

Congregation: You are forgiven! Alleluia!

Officer Prayer

Family of God, moments such as this remind us how great the Father’s love is for His flock. He forgives us and removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west, He remembers our sins no more. Though our sins be like scarlet, yet, through the shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ, He makes them white as snow, white as wool. He grants us forgiveness freely and fully so that we can, in turn, forgive one another. And so, reminded of the greatness of His love and the freeness of His forgiveness, let us all together confess our sins to the Lord and seek His face. And as we confess, let us kneel together as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

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.

Today the Bridegroom Claims His Bride

January 7, 2018 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Church Calendar, Liturgy, Meditations

Isaiah 49:6 – Indeed [the Lord] says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, And to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Today is Epiphany Sunday. Epiphany means “revelation.” On this Sunday, therefore, we celebrate God’s wonderful mercy in revealing His Son to the world. Historically, Epiphany has been associated with three distinct yet related events: the coming of the Magi, the baptism of Jesus, and the wedding at Cana. Each of these events reveals Christ in a unique way.

Consider, first, the coming of the Magi. The Magi were a powerful class within the Persian Empire – wise men, counselors, astrologers who were often the power behind the throne. What is perhaps most significant is that while Herod, the King of the Jews, plotted Jesus’ destruction, these Gentile rulers sought Him out and bowed before Him, acknowledging Him as God’s King. God revealed His Son to these Gentile rulers; they were the first fruits among the Gentiles.

Even as God revealed His Son to the Magi, He also revealed His Son to the world in His baptism. In the waters of the Jordan, Jesus entered upon His earthly ministry; He was washed in water to identify with His people and prepare the way for our forgiveness. As Jesus was baptized, the heavens were opened and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven declared, This is My Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. God revealed His Son to the watching world.

Finally, God revealed the identity of His Son at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. This was the first sign that Jesus performed after His temptation in the wilderness. As Jesus entered upon His earthly ministry, He turned water into wine and, in the words of the Apostle John, revealed His glory – revealed that He was indeed God’s Anointed King, come to rescue His bride, and to shed His own blood for her that He might restore to her the joy of salvation and celebration.

Epiphany, therefore, is a day of revelation, a day when God demonstrates how determined He has been to eliminate our excuses for rejecting His Son and refusing His love. As one of the ancient blessings for Epiphany announced, “Today the Bridegroom claims his bride, the Church, since Christ has washed her sins away in Jordan’s waters; the Magi hasten with their gifts to the royal wedding; and the guests rejoice, for Christ has changed water into wine, alleluia.”

So what of you? Have you given heed to God’s revelation of Himself in Christ and acknowledged Him as God’s Son? Have you rejoiced in His coming and brought your gifts before Him? Have you rejoiced that God has revealed Himself to you and to the world? If you have done all these things, then thanks be to God! So one more question: have you then, in turn, been another means of God’s revelation of Himself to the world? It is to this that Epiphany calls us – to reveal Christ to the watching world.

Reminded of our calling to receive the revelation of God in Christ and to be the revelation of Christ to the world, let us bow before our Christ, confess our sins, and rejoice in His mercy.