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.

Rejoicing in Male and Female

October 7, 2018 in Bible - OT - Genesis, Homosexuality, Image of God, Marriage, Meditations, Sexuality, Thankfulness

Genesis 2:18-24 (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.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. 21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. 23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” 24 Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

The recent hearings of Judge Kavanaugh have reminded us just how fragile the relationship between male and female is. Men often abuse women and women often make false accusations again men. But our text today reminds us that this tension was not God’s original design. God’s design was that the relationship between men and women image Him, be a representation of His own glory and splendor. God created man, male and female, to live in harmony and God has sent His Son Jesus to rescue us from our sinful corruption of this harmony and restore us to God’s creation design.

We see in our text that God has no interest in a world populated only by men or, for that matter, only by women. He hates chauvinism and He hates feminism. Throughout the creation narrative, God repeatedly pronounces that each part of His creation is“good.” But when God assesses the solitary male, He declares, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable to him.” God declares that the solitary male was “not good” – a world filled with males only or females only is barren.

God created men and women to live together in harmony. Men are not supposed to be women nor are women supposed to be men. A soft man is shameful and a hard woman is cruel. Men and women are not interchangeable – no matter how hard our culture may try to make them so. God has created us different, He has hard wired us differently – and these differences are a gift from Him, a gift to teach us more about Him.

And so, women, have you given thanks that God created the men in this world to be men; have you given thanks that God created your fathers to be men, your husbands to be men, your brothers to be men, your sons to be men? Have you not simply taken mental note of the fact but actually thanked God for it; thanked God that He had the wisdom to put male and female into the world that we might learn to love and respect and honor Him more fully?

Men, have you given thanks that God created the women in this world to be women; have you given thanks that God created your mothers to be women, your wives to be women, your sisters to be women, your daughters to be women? Have you not simply taken mental note of the fact but actually thanked God for it; thanked God that He had the wisdom to put male and female into the world that we might learn to love and respect and honor Him more fully?

These are the challenges that God’s creation of Adam and Eve place before us. Reminded that we often grumble about our differences as male and female, that we often express bitterness and resentment toward the opposite sex, that we often fail to thank God for these differences, let us confess our sins together. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

A Prayer for our Service Men & Women

May 4, 2017 in Bible - OT - Psalms, Coeur d'Alene Issues, Politics, Prayer, Thankfulness

Today was the National Day of Prayer. Our local pastors gathered at McEuen Park for our annual lunch time prayer gathering. I was asked to pray on behalf of our service men and women. This was my prayer:

Psalm 105:4 – Seek the Lord and His strength; seek His face evermore!

Almighty and Everlasting God, unless You guard the city, the watchman stays awake in vain; so we come seeking Your guidance, Your protection, and Your blessing on our service men and women.

Guide them, O Lord. Give them wisdom to know the right and honorable thing to do in any and every circumstance. To the commanders: grant that they would submit the might of our armed forces to the principles of right and justice which You have revealed in Your eternal law; that we might never, as a people, permit the ends to justify the means and that we would declare war and wage war justly. To all our service men and women: grant that they would be brave, courageous, and conscientious amid conflict; that they would be a credit to this nation and to the principles for which we stand.

Protect them, O Lord. Some men trust in chariots, some trust in the horse, but we will depend upon the Name of Christ our Lord. Protect them from the hand of the enemy; protect their marriages from the stresses of military life; protect their children from the absence of a parent; and protect their minds and hearts from the terrors of war.

Bless them, O Lord. Bless their plans and their strategies. Grant our generals wisdom and insight. Grant our service men and women satisfaction in their labor, joy in their service, and excellence in their calling. Grant that they might never have cause to be ashamed of serving this nation – that we would reflect the honor and courage to which we call them.

Finally, we ask Your forgiveness for increasingly placing our women in combat roles and even considering drafting them for military service. Forgive us, and grant us men willing to sacrifice their own lives and reputations to protect the women and children of our society. All this we ask in the Name of Christ our Lord,

Amen.

Called to Contentment

August 15, 2016 in Bible - NT - Philippians, Meditations, Thankfulness
Philippians 4:10-13 (NKJV)
10 But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last your care for me has flourished again; though you surely did care, but you lacked opportunity. 11 Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
On several occasions I have shared the ancient Roman proverb, “Who is it that has the most? Is it not he who desires the least?”
What Paul and this short proverb are endeavoring to communicate is that our contentment and happiness are directly proportionate to our expectations. We imagine that we need more, deserve more, are entitled to more and so we are not content with what we already have. We set our expectations so high that they are never met and so we are never content. And our discontent reveals itself in a lack of thankfulness to others and to God. For thankfulness is an expression of contentment—an expression that the expectations we have set have been fulfilled or even exceeded.
These expectations come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Sometimes they focus on our circumstances – if I only had more money; a nicer car; a newer phone; a bigger house; a larger budget. Sometimes they focus on our relationships. We can set unreasonable expectations upon our spouses, our employers and employees, our children, our friends—and so we never thank them for the meal on the table, for the folded towels in the closet, for the daily labor at the office, for the opportunity to work, for the work performed, or for the frequent sacrifices made on our behalf. “It’s his or her job to do all those things,” we say to ourselves, and so we never express thankfulness—never look at others with a twinkle in our eye and a full heart and say, “Thank you.” Our expectations are set so high that no one could ever possibly meet them. We demand of others what we would never demand of ourselves. Consequently, no circumstances however favorable could conspire to make us content.

But this was not Paul’s situation. He tells us that he had learned the secret of being content. What is that secret? Paul came to understand that what is most important in life is not our circumstances but the God who has given these circumstances to us. Let us ask ourselves, when tempted to be discontent and unthankful – Is God sovereign? Is God in control of every event in our lives both good and bad? Has God orchestrated our circumstances as He sees fit? Has God promised in Christ to sustain me in the midst of every circumstance? Clearly the answers to these questions are, “Yes!” And since this is the case, and since the God we serve is the same God of love who has revealed Himself in Christ, ought we not to trust Him? To rest in His good providence and be overflowing with gratitude? As Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” True contentment comes not by having high expecations of our circumstances but by trusting the goodness of our Heavenly Father who has given them to us and promises to sustain us in them.

Reminded of our failure to trust the Lord in any and every circumstance and our failure to be thankful, let us kneel and confess our sins in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Thankful to Preach

August 7, 2016 in Bible - NT - Philippians, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Thankfulness, Word of God, Worship
Philippians 1:3–4 (NKJV)
3 I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy,
As I return to the ministry of the Word today, I wanted to thank you for the time that you have afforded me year by year to sit as one of you and listen to the preaching of the Word. As a congregation, we are blessed to live within such close proximity to several sister churches from whom we can draw an array of qualified and talented men to preach the Word to us. And the opportunity you give me to sit and to listen and to meditate on the Word helps remind me why we’re doing what we’re doing. I hope also that it reminds all of you that what we’re doing is far larger than any one of us, including me. It is important to emphasize regularly that this is not “my” church but Jesus’ Church and our church. We are the body composed of many members, each serving an important role.
So during my time sitting and listening to the Word, it has been a joy to observe the work of God’s Spirit in our midst. I have witnessed the way in which folks have stepped forward and served in various roles. I have witnessed your mutual love, affection, interaction, encouragement, exhortation, and comfort. The intensity of your joy and delight in one another is almost palpable – and so, like Paul, I just sit back and “thank God upon every remembrance of you.”And the reason that I thank God is because the joy and enthusiasm and energy and love and hunger to learn and grow that are present in the congregation are gifts from Him. His Spirit is at work. So since He has given us these things, it is fitting that we give thanks.
And this is one of several reasons I take July out of the pulpit – it is all too easy for us to begin taking one another for granted, getting into a rut, and failing to let joy and thankfulness characterize our interaction with and attitude toward one another. We can become bitter and resentful or we can simply become disinterested. We begin to look upon worship as routine, fail to give the attention to the Word that it deserves, overlook the needs of others, and take for granted their acts of kindness. Taking time off helps shake things up and remind me to be thankful.
So what about you? Are you thankful? Thankful for your brothers and sisters here at Trinity Church? Thankful for the opportunity to gather week by week and worship the Lord? Thankful for friends and family gathered around the throne of grace? Thankful for the preaching of the Word? Thankful to have your sin exposed, your idols broken, and your compromises crushed? Paul was thankful and we have much for which to be thankful as well.

But as we come into the presence of the Lord, I think that we must confess that often we fail to be thankful as we ought. We often take His gifts for granted, ignore them altogether, or even view them as curses and not blessings. So as we enter into the Lord’s presence, let us kneel and confess our ingratitude.

That Thanksgiving May Abound

May 1, 2016 in Bible - NT - 2 Corinthians, Bible - OT - Psalms, Easter, Meditations, Resurrection, Thankfulness, Worship
2 Corinthians 4:13–15 (NKJV)
13 And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak, 14 knowing that He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus, and will present us with you. 15 For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? This is the question we have asked during this time of Eastertide. As we anticipate Ascension Sunday and Pentecost Sunday in the weeks to come, I would like to close our observations on the resurrection today. In our text Paul helps us understand the significance of the resurrection. Why did Jesus rise from the dead? Jesus rose from the dead so that we might be thankful and praise our God.
To make his point, Paul quotes from Psalm 116, a psalm of thanksgiving. In this psalm, the psalmist cries out to God in the face of death: “The pains of death surrounded me, and the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow.” But the psalmist trusts God – God is capable of delivering him from death and so he cries out to God in these words: “I believed, therefore I spoke, ‘I am greatly afflicted.’” He trusted God so he cried out to God, “God help me!” And glory be to God, the Lord answers his prayer: “For you have delivered my soul from death, My eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” God delivers him, so he does the only thing he can rightly do: praise and thank the Lord for His mercy: I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.
The faith and thanksgiving manifested by the psalmist are a pattern for us. The psalmist trusted the Lord in the face of death. When God delivered him, what was his response? He praised and thanked God. This is our calling in light of Christ’s resurrection. Even as God delivered the psalmist from the fear of death, He has delivered us from the fear of death. How? By raising Christ from the dead. Why does this give us hope? Because He who raised up the Lord Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus.Death is a defeated foe; Christ is Risen, so we too shall rise. So what ought we to do? Precisely what the psalmist did: praise and thank the Lord.
You see, the end goal of Christ’s resurrection is that praise and thanksgiving might abound in all the world to Yahweh, the living God. Jesus came in order to restore rightful worship. Jesus rose from the dead in order to restore rightful worship. In other words, Jesus rose from the dead so that you would be here this morning, joining your voice with the voices of all God’s people and thanking God for his mercies, thanking God that He has delivered you from death.
So, brethren, how eager are you to be here? God raised up Jesus so that you would be here this morning; so that you would lift up your voice in company with the voices of your brothers and sisters; so that you would worship him. So how ought we to approach this morning? With sloth? With mere formality? With mumbling and inattention? May it never be! Let us join our voices week by week in thankful acknowledgement of God’s mercies toward us in Christ – Alleluia! Christ is risen! So let us worship.

Reminded that Jesus rose from the dead in order that we might worship Him together, we are also reminded how we often approach worship with insufficient joy and delight. So let us kneel and confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of private confession followed by the public confession found in your bulletin.

A Bestial Vigil

December 1, 2015 in Coeur d'Alene Issues, Homosexuality, Politics, Thankfulness, Tradition

I recently wrote another Letter to the Editor which the Coeur d’Alene Press was kind enough to publish on page C2 of Tuesday’s paper. For those who don’t get the paper, here it is in pixels:

Well it’s Thanksgiving season and that always makes me more than usually happy and grateful to live here in America. We have a glorious heritage. 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…

Washington recognized our dependence as a people on the Creator of all and called upon us as Americans “to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue…” Virtue, Washington believed, is essential for our survival as a people and for securing the continued blessings of Almighty God.

It is for this reason that I read with much concern the article in the Coeur d’Alene Press reporting that our mayor and at least one member of our City Council attended a candlelight vigil to remember and honor transgendered people who have been murdered. While these murders are certainly tragic, the action by our city officials, by the Human Rights Educations Institute, and by Heather Seman, the leader of Community United Methodist Church, to glorify and laud the supposed “courage” of those in the transgendered community is appalling. They would like us to believe that the transgendered are the new martyrs, the heroes whom we are to extol and whose virtues we are to imitate.

But are they really? Is transgressing sexual mores really a display of courage? Or is it not rather a display of profound confusion, weakness, and sin? After all, if it is a sign of courage then why limit ourselves to the transgendered community? Why doesn’t the HREI sponsor a vigil honoring all those who’ve been killed for practicing bestiality? The bestial man killed by a local farmer because he just couldn’t suppress his longing for the farmer’s lambs. The bestial woman trampled to death by the bull with which she was attempting to mate. Are such people worthy of remembrance; are we to praise their virtue and courage?

In his Farewell Address, President Washington reminded us that “religion and morality are indispensable” to a free republic. A people who do not treasure virtue, self-control, and the moral law of God are a people doomed to destruction. Transgressing sexual mores is no more an expression of courage than murdering those who do is. We do not praise the “courage” of the thief, the “courage” of the adulterer, or the “courage” of the child abuser. Instead we condemn their violation of the moral law and their lack of virtue. Candlelight vigils should be reserved for those who truly deserve them – those who embrace virtue despite others’ opposition, those who give their lives to keep others safe, and those who restrain their passions and desires in order to honor their Creator.

Abounding with Thanksgiving

August 17, 2015 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Heart, Meditations, Thankfulness, Worship

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

Last week we learned that not only is our walk with Christ to be conducted by faith but it is to be conducted by faith in a specific person. Faith in itself is no virtue. For faith to be virtuous it must join one to the Christ revealed in Sacred Scripture; for trust in any other is not virtue but idolatry.
Today I want to develop at more length Paul’s admonition that we are to be abounding in the faith with thanksgiving. To abound, we said, is to overflow, to know no limits. Imagine a glass full to the brim with water on your kitchen table. When you bump the table what comes out of the glass? Water. Bump the table really hard and what comes out? Water. Why does water come out of the glass each time? Because that’s what is in the glass.
So too with thankfulness. We are to be abounding in the faith with thankfulness. Thankfulness is to fill our lives. If we were to picture one another as drinking glasses, the beverage swirling in the glass is to be thankfulness. And when we are abounding in the faith with thankfulness and someone comes along and bumps our table, bumps our life, if our glass is full of thankfulness, what will come out? This isn’t rocket science is it? If our hearts are full of thankfulness then when we get bumped thankfulness will come out.
So you were driving down the road and the little old lady in front of you was driving excruciatingly slow – what came out? You faced challenges at work – what came out? Your son or daughter disobeyed – what came out? Your mom or dad disciplined you – what came out? You found out you have a serious illness – what came out? The Supreme Court of the United States made another vile ruling – what came out? Bump, bump, bump. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thes 5:18). Notice Paul’s qualifier – in everything give thanks. In prosperity, in adversity; in sickness, in health; in peace, in war. Give thanks in everything. How is this possible? Only if our hearts, only if our glass, is full of thanksgiving before our table is bumped. And our hearts will only be full of thanksgiving if we meditate deeply on the character and works of God – God who created us, God who redeemed us, God who has placed us at this time in history and who so numbers the hairs of our head that not one falls to the ground apart from His Fatherly care. When we meditate on these things, our hearts will be filled with thankfulness and we will be enabled to give thanks in everything for the wisdom of our Heavenly Father – not just when it appears wise to us but when it is in fact wise, namely, always. Of all people, Paul insists, we should be the most thankful, the most joyful, the most riotously happy for we serve the God who rules and governs all things.
But instead of being known for exuberant bubbly thankfulness, we are often known for our restrictions, our uptightness, our angst, our frustration, our grumbling. Paul calls us to something different – he calls us to thankfulness. So where are you?

Reminded that rather than abound in thanksgiving we often complain and grumble, let us kneel and confess that we are an unthankful people.

So Walk in Christ

August 10, 2015 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Creeds, Meditations, Thankfulness, Worship

6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

Here in Colossians 2 Paul begins to deliver a series of exhortations to the Colossians. Our fathers in Colosse were being tempted to move away from the message that their pastor Epaphras was preaching in favor of some new teaching that was tickling their ears. Hence, Paul urges them to continue in Christ even as they began in Him.
In other words, he warns them lest they move away from the Gospel they originally heard: the good news that though we were dead in transgressions and sins, estranged from God because of our rebellion, God Himself took on human flesh and dwelt among us; He sent His only Son to rescue us from our sin and slavery and to restore us to fellowship with Himself; Jesus lived for us, suffered for us, died for us, was buried for us, rose again from the dead on the third day for us, ascended into heaven for us, and has sent His Spirit to give us faith, make us more holy, and assure us of our own resurrection. This is the message you heard – now, Paul says, cling to it tenaciously.
Notice that Paul calls us to be faithful to the faith as it was handed down in the churches, to (in his words to Titus) hold firmly to the traditions which we have been taught. Like Jude, Paul wants us to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
One of our practices as a congregation is to recite one of the ecumenical creeds together every Lord’s Day – in a moment we will be reciting the Nicene Creed. Why do this? So that by memorizing and corporately confessing these confessions of Christ, we be rooted and built up in Him. Each Lord’s Day, we grow in our knowledge of Him – where did He come from? He was eternally begotten of the Father before all worlds. Who is He? He is God of God, light of light, very God of very God. Is he a creature? No, for he is begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father. What has he done? Through Him all things were made, who for us men and our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man; and was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate, suffered and was buried, the third day He rose again from the dead and ascended to the right hand of the Father from whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
This, brothers and sisters, is the Christ we worship. The very one who is worthy of all glory, laud, and honor. The very one who created all things and to whom it is right and fitting to give praise. And it is in this One that we are to be rooted and grounded and in whom we are to grow.
And note that Paul insists that it is not enough to recite this faith, not enough to know who Jesus is and what he has done; he commands us to be abounding in the faith with thanksgiving. To abound is to overflow, to know no limits. The words we recite or sing each Lord’s Day should come from hearts that are in the full flood of thanksgiving – thanks for rocks and trees and good friends and green grass and fresh honey and butter and flashlights and honorable men and lovely women and cheese and forgiveness and resurrection.

And so, coming into His presence, let us kneel and confess that we have failed to appreciate fully His glory and to honor His name by rejoicing in the faith as we have been taught.