No Creed but Christ?

August 18, 2019 in Bible - NT - Matthew, Church Calendar, Church History, Creeds, King Jesus, Meditations, Temptation, Tradition, Uncategorized

Matthew 16:13–17 (NKJV)

13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” 14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

Our culture has institutionalized the tradition of anti-traditionalism. It is not that “rebellion” is acceptable within our cultural milieu; “rebellion” has become our cultural milieu. From “Not your father’s Buick” to “Not your father’s Root Beer,” to “Just be yourself,” our culture expects each new generation to be different, unique, revolutionary. “Out with the old, in with the new,” we are told. “This is the evolutionary process.”

Unfortunately, we evangelicals have imbibed much of this cultural food, routinely wolfing down the latest fad. However, because we have a residual loyalty to the Bible, we often try to cloak our anti-traditionalism in pious language. Consider, for example, the sentiment, “No creed but Christ.” “All we want to do is focus on Jesus. Away with these other teachings and traditions! Away with the creeds!”

Such a sentiment is nothing more than the anti-traditionalism of our culture cloaked in pious language. A moment’s thought reveals its utter inadequacy: No creed but Christ? What Christ do you mean? Who is this “Christ”? Is he…

  • The literal offspring of God the Father & Mary as Mormons teach?
  • The greatest of angelic beings as JWs & Arians teach?
  • Simply a great moral teacher as liberalism teaches?
  • A spirit being who only appeared to be human as Docetism taught?

To say, “No creed but Christ,” in other words, is vacuous. We must specify which Christ we mean. And this is the dynamic we see at work in our text today. Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” They respond, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  But then Jesus presses, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter confesses, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus declares, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.” In other words, Peter got the answer correct.

Jesus’ interaction with the disciples reminds us that creeds, doctrinal summaries of the faith, are inescapable. It is not whether but which; not whether we have and embrace a creed but which creed we embrace – the true one or the false one? It was this insight that led our fathers to compose creeds in the history of the Church – summaries of biblical teaching that answer the question, “Who is this God we worship?” They composed creeds such as the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon, and then handled them down to us as a sacred trust. These creeds were attempts to distinguish truth from error, to combat various false teachings that tried to infiltrate the Church – Gnosticism, Arianism, Sabellianism, Docetism, and others.

So how ought we to receive these creeds? As we shall learn in our sermon today, we ought to receive them in thankfulness and then hand them on to the next generation. Rather than scorn the creeds with our arrogant mantra, “No creed but Christ,” we ought to thank God that He poured out His Spirit upon His Church and enabled our fathers to summarize faithfully the teachings of Scripture.

So what of you? Have you given thanks to God for these creedal summaries, treasured them as gifts from God, and considered how you might hand these on to the next generation? Or have you taken them for granted, mumbling through them each Sunday and largely ignoring the blood, sweat, and tears that went into their composition and transmission?

Reminded that God has been good and kind to His Church throughout history and has given us the creeds to lead and guide us in the proper understanding of His Word, let us confess that we have often taken these creeds for granted. As we confess, and as you are able, let us kneel together before the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Truth and Love

June 23, 2019 in Bible - NT - 2 John, Creeds, Love, Meditations, Truth

2 John 1–3 (NKJV)

1 The Elder, To the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth, 2 because of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

The Apostle John wrote his second epistle to a Christian congregation whom he poetically calls “the elect lady.” In these first few verses John highlights his two primary concerns for this congregation – truth and love.

He loves this congregation “in truth” together with all those who have known “the truth” – because “the truth” abides in us and will be with us forever. Doctrine, John insists, accurate teaching about the Person and Work of Christ, is essential to the Christian faith.

But so too is love. John “loves” the elect lady and her children and prays that God would pour out “grace, mercy, and peace” upon them in truth and love. Love too is essential to the Christian faith.

Unfortunately many have attempted to pit these two virtues against one another. On the one hand we have churches that are so committed to “truth” that they treat others mercilessly and harshly, failing to love them as they have been loved. On the other hand, we have churches that are so committed to “love” that they refuse to stand for the truth, refuse to stand for what is good and right.

But truth and love are not competitors – together the two shape and mould biblical wisdom as we see them displayed in our Lord Jesus. Truth and love are like the twin components of bones and flesh. Truth by itself is like a skeleton without flesh – stark, frightening, lifeless. Love by itself is like flesh without a skeleton – a big blob of goo with no structure. But together the two unite to form the living body of Christ.

So this is the challenge for us as a body of believers – to so unite truth and love in our lives that we be a light to the world and embody in our congregation the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. First, we need to embrace the truth – to meditate deeply on the Word of God, to cling to it regardless the opposition, and to articulate it clearly as life and light for the world. Second, we need to practice love in our families, in our congregational life, and in our broader community – to treasure our spouses, to disciple our children, to honor our parents, to encourage the fainthearted, to lift up those who have stumbled, and to show redemptive compassion to those who are suffering.

God calls us to so knit truth and love together that Christ be exalted in us and through us. But often we too pit one against the other – and so let us confess our sin and pray that God would enable us to experience His grace, mercy, and peace in truth and in love. And 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.

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.

Why and how to use creeds in worship

January 30, 2017 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Creeds, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations, Tradition, Worship
Isaiah 29:13–14 (NKJV)
13 Therefore the LORD said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, 14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”
Every Lord’s Day we have opportunity to confess our common faith with one of the ancient creeds. Currently, we are reciting the Apostles’ Creed but we use others at different times of year. In churches like ours that use the creeds – as well as other written responses and prayers – there is an ever-present danger – the danger of mindless repetition, of drawing near to God with our lips while our hearts remain far from him. As our passage in Isaiah illustrates, the prophets were stern in their rebukes of the people of God for this sin, the sin of failing to draw near to God in our hearts and substituting external ritual for an inward love for Him. So if common confession entails this danger why even do it? There are numerous reasons that we recite the creeds – consider just a few.
First, reciting the creeds enables us to declare boldly and clearly whom we worship. Amid a pluralistic society in which a variety of gods are honored, we declare our trust in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do not worship Vishnu, nor Zeus, nor Allah, nor the Mormon deity; neither do we worship America’s idol, some general theistic deity. We worship the Triune God; in Him is our trust.
Second, by reciting the creeds immediately after the reading of God’s Word, we declare our trust in the Sovereign Lord who has revealed Himself in sacred Scripture. As God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and even in many churches, we confess openly, “We trust in God and His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him.” With the creeds, we express our faith–we trust the One who has spoken to us in His Word.

Third, reciting the creeds reminds us to preserve the faith which has been handed down to us. Jude commands us to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). When we confess the creeds, we acknowledge our indebtedness to the saints who have gone before. We confess the faith because they preserved it; and this now is our duty for future generations. The God we worship is the God of Abraham and Isaac, Peter and Paul, Ambrose and Augustine, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield, J. Gresham Machen and Francis Schaeffer. They lived, breathed, suffered, and died to preserve this faith for us and we are called to hand it down in turn.
While remembering why we recite the creeds, it is also important to emphasize how we are to do it. And this brings us back to our opening danger – the danger of mindless repetition. As we recite the creed each Lord’s Day we declare, “We believe…”It is important to ask, believe it or not, what we mean by the word “believe”? James reminds us: “You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe and shudder!” There is a certain type of belief that will not deliver in the day of judgment. So when we confess the creed, the belief that we should be confessing is not a mere admission of intellectual assent, “Oh, yeah, this is what I think,” but rather an expression of heartfelt commitment, “This is the One I love, I trust, I cherish, I adore.”
And so, how are we doing? Children, how are you doing? Are you embracing and cherishing the One who has called you His own in the waters of baptism? Are you approaching worship in faith, hungering to hear the voice of Christ, to be changed and transformed by His SpiritHHHeH? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely? Are you reciting the creeds intelligently and faithfully or merely by rote? Our confession should be robust, lively, and full of faith. Beware lipping the words and losing your heart.

Reminded of our propensity to draw near to God with our lips and fail to draw near Him with our hearts, let us seek His face and ask Him to forgive us and make the fruit of our lips a pleasing sacrifice in His sight. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

He who does not honor the Son…

January 3, 2016 in Bible - NT - 2 John, Bible - NT - John, Creeds, Heresy, Meditations, Trinity, Worship
2 John 9–11 (NKJV)
9 Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; 11 for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.
Last week we learned that the Father and the Son are inseparable. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father; and he who does not honor the Father does not honor the Son. This unity of the Father and the Son is a major theme throughout the Apostle John’s writings. Alone among the Gospel writers, John records Jesus’ words to the disciples at the last Passover feast. The unity of Father, Son, and Spirit is a major theme of these words. Consider these statements that Jesus makes:
Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in Him. If God is glorified in Him, God will also glorify Him in Himself, and glorify Him immediately… you believe in God, believe also in Me… He who has seen Me has seen the Father… Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me… the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you…when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me… He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority; but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.
This inseparability of Father, Son, and Spirit explains why John takes such pains in our epistle to refute the errors of Docetism. It also explains why the Trinity was the first major debate in the history of the Church. Who is this God we worship? Who is Jesus? Who is the Spirit? The first commandment declares to us, “You shall have no other gods before me.” So who is this God we worship? He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The inseparability of Father, Son, and Spirit also explain why, as a congregation, we have prioritized reciting the historic ecumenical creeds together throughout the year. Depending on the time of year, we recite or sing the Apostles’ Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Definition of Chalcedon. Each of these creeds reminds us whom we worship – we worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; we do not worship some abstract deity called “God”; we worship the God who revealed Himself in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ and who has poured out the Spirit to lead and guide us into the truth.
This morning, remember that it is this God, the Creator of all things and the Redeemer of His people Israel, who has called you here to worship. It is to Him we offer praise, before Him we confess our sins, to Him we present our offerings, from Him we receive instruction, and with Him we feast at the Table. And He is no puny tribal deity or idol, but the Living God who rules over heaven and earth.

So reminded into whose presence we have come and whom we are worshiping, let us bow before Him, acknowledging our sins and transgressions and asking Him to forgive us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Let us kneel as we confess our sins.

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.

Trinity Sunday 2015

May 31, 2015 in Bible - NT - John, Creeds, 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 the people of God 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 express God’s Triune nature.
In our Scripture today Jesus reveals the interpersonal dynamic that has existed for all eternity among the Persons of the Trinity. First, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit 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 Holy 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, lived in a relationship of love with one another. Jesus alludes to this eternal communion and communication 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 MeSo 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 Paul writes to the Thessalonians, 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.

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. Let us kneel as we confess our sins together.

Abounding in the Faith with Thanksgiving

January 18, 2015 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Confession, Creeds, Meditations, Sanctification, Thankfulness, Word of God

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

Paul’s admonishes us to walk in Christ in the same way in which we received Him – and this, of course, means that we are to walk by faith. We are to reject all attempts at self-deliverance or self-justification; we are to reject moralism and legalism; we are to acknowledge our weakness and need for grace. In that posture, relying upon the help that only God can give, we are to do that which is good and pleasing in His sight.
Christ is the center: He is the center of history; He is the center of the biblical story; He is the center of our own personal lives. He has done for us what we could not do for ourselves; and, by the power of the Spirit, He continues to do in us what we cannot do on our own. So Paul urges us to be rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith just as we have been taught. Paul calls us to be faithful to the faith that 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.
This injunction that Paul gives the Colossians is one of the reasons that we, each Lord’s Day, recite one of the Creeds together. Our goal in reciting them each week is that these summaries of Scriptural teaching rest in our bones and become part of us through corporate confession. The goal is that each week we grow in our knowledge of Christ and our thankfulness for what God has done for us in Him.
You see Paul wants us not to be just rooted and built up in Christ, not just established in the faith we have been taught, but established in a certain fashion. And what is that? Note what he says: he wants us to be abounding in the faith with thanksgiving. First, consider that he calls us to be “abounding in the faith.” To abound is to “exist in large numbers or amounts.” Paul doesn’t want us just holding on to the faith; not just enduring; but abounding. Abounding in our study of the Word; abounding in our devotion to prayer; abounding in service to God, to His people, and to the world. So are you abounding? Are you striving to grow, week by week, year by year, in your knowledge of the faith and service to Christ?
Second, he wants us to be “abounding in it with thanksgiving.” It would be easy to work really hard and so appear to be abounding but to have an attitude in our work that is resentful or frustrated or bitter or empty. We are not to be abounding in the faith with bitterness, or with burn out, but with thanksgiving. How is this possible? Only if we recall, once again, that it is God who is at work in us to will and to do for His good pleasure. We walk by faith – faith in the Son of God who gave Himself for us and who poured out His Spirit on us.

So this morning as we enter into God’s presence, let us confess that we are often not abounding in the faith with thanksgiving. And let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord.

Ordinary Time

November 24, 2014 in Bible - NT - Luke, Church Calendar, Creeds, Ecclesiology, Holy Spirit, Meditations, Postmillennialism, Sanctification
Luke 13:18–19 (NKJV)
18 Then He said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches.”
As 21st century Americans who profess the Christian faith, we can often be tempted to muddle our Christianity with our Americanness. This temptation to mistake our cultural mileau for Christian piety is not unique to us, but the particular ways in which our culture influences us are unique. One way our Americanness affects our conception of Christianity is our love affair with that which is spontaneous or new or different. We tend to grow tired of, what we call, the “same old thing” and have a hankering for some new fad to bring life back into our Christian walk.
But what Jesus articulates for us in his parables of the kingdom is that the way the Holy Spirit works both in our individual lives and in the life of His Church is better pictured by the growth of a tree than the lighting of a sparkler. Sparklers, of course, are fun and exciting – they burn bright and shed their fire on all around them. But sparklers soon burn out while trees, planted and taking root, slowly grow over time; growing almost imperceptibly, soaking up the nutrients in the soil and increasingly displaying the glory of their Creator.
This steady, slow, natural growth is the way Christ typically works in the lives of His disciples. Normal Christian growth involves long periods of steady plodding – plodding that brings prosperity but plodding nonetheless. Steady plodding. Few sprints; mainly marathons. A long obedience in the same direction.
You may not know, but the last five months in the Church Year are called “ordinary time.” It is a time of year when there are no special feasts and celebrations; just the regular time of the Spirit’s work in the Church. After the pouring out of the Spirit at Pentecost, the Spirit began working in the Church, gradually transforming the people of God into the image of Christ. Hence the color of this period is green, a color of growth. Tree-like growth.
So one thing that you may have noticed, if you’ve been here a while, is that for these last five months we have used the same greeting, the same words of confession, and the same version of the Creed. For five months. Why have we done this? There’s no biblical requirement that we do so. We could have changed them weekly, monthly, or periodically. God has left such decisions to the wisdom of church officers. So why have we kept them the same? To highlight that the course of our Christian lives is only occasionally interrupted by unusual acts and works of God. More typically God works in our lives through steady plodding, slow growth, gradual transformation – through what theologians have called the ordinary means of grace: the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Next week we’ll be introducing some changes: entering a new church year when Advent arrives and we’ll have a different Call to Worship, a different Confession, a different Creed. Before we change, I wanted to draw to your attention the fact that for these last five months we haven’t changed. Perhaps you noticed; perhaps you’ve wondered if this is ever going to change. And perhaps you’ve thought the same thing about periods in your own life and spiritual development. And the message of Jesus is that He is at work growing His kingdom and even growing you.

Reminded that Jesus’ work in our lives is often gradual, like the growth of a tree, we are alerted that often our hankering for something spontaneous or new or different is not an impulse of our Christian faith but our Americanness. And this reminds us that we need to confess our fickleness to the Lord and ask Him to enable us to practice a long obedience in the same direction. So let us kneel as we confess our sins together.