The Gift of Forgiveness

February 25, 2024 in Bible - NT - John, Forgiveness, Meditations

John 20:21–23 (NKJV) 

21So Jesus said to them again, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” 22And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

One of the great controversies that surrounded Jesus’ ministry was the forgiveness of sins. Recall that when a paralytic was brought to Jesus and let down through the roof into the house where Jesus was teaching, Jesus looked at the man and declared, “My son, your sins are forgiven you.” Immediately, the Pharisees began questioning among themselves, “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7)

The Pharisees’ question was entirely reasonable. While I can forgive you for intentionally breaking my nose, I cannot forgive you for breaking my neighbor’s – I wasn’t the one wronged, so how can I forgive you? The same principle applies for sins against God: only God can forgive those who sin against Him. So how can we know whether God has forgiven us? Who speaks for God on earth?

In the old covenant, the Aaronic priests spoke for God. God used the sacrificial system and the priests to assure people of forgiveness. 

5‘And it shall be, when [someone] is guilty in any of these matters, that he shall confess that he has sinned in that thing; 6and he shall bring his trespass offering to the Lord for his sin which he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a kid of the goats as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him concerning his sin. (Leviticus 5:5–6) 

The priest shall make atonement for him; over the sacrifice, the priest would announce, “Believe God’s promise! He has provided a substitute to bear the guilt of your sin. You are forgiven!” This feature of the old covenant helps us understand why the Pharisees were disturbed by Jesus’ forgiveness of the paralytic: Jesus was not an Aaronic priest, nor was He at the temple where a sacrifice was being offered. So how dare He presume to speak for God? “Who does this man think he is? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew the Pharisees’ doubts; He knew their questions. So He asked, “Which is easier to say to this man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or, ‘Arise, take up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” (he said to the paralytic), “’Arise, take up your mat and walk.’ And immediately the man arose, took up his mat, and walked” (Mk 2:9-12). According to Jesus, the healing of the paralytic proved that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. Jesus now speaks for God. With these words and actions, Jesus was announcing the end of the old covenant, the sacrificial system, and the Aaronic priesthood. Now, in the Messianic Age, the forgiveness of sins is declared in Jesus’ Name, based on His once-for-all sacrifice. Jesus speaks for God.

So that brings us to our text in John 20. After Jesus had been crucified and then risen from the dead, He spoke to the Twelve. “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you…”  Jesus commissioned the Twelve as His representatives; they were to speak for God in the world and to declare the forgiveness of sins in His Name. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said. “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” In other words, the sacrificial system has forever come to an end and the forgiveness of sins is now preached to all nations based on the sacrifice of Christ alone.

So every Lord’s Day, following our confession, I have the privilege of reminding you, assuring you, that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, there really is forgiveness with God. If you acknowledge your sin and turn from it, seeking God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ, then you are forgiven. My word does not grant forgiveness; only the sacrifice of Jesus can do that. My word simply reminds you of God’s promise and summons you to believe His word: all those who trust in the once-for all sacrifice of Jesus shall be forgiven and cleansed. Your calling is to hear that promise, even as the paralytic heard the words of our Lord, and to believe Him. “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

So reminded that God offers forgiveness only through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, let us continue to confess our sins in His Name, not denying or hiding or minimizing or medicating them but trusting that God will indeed forgive all those who confess their sins in Jesus’ Name. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins.

Through Many Tribulations

February 18, 2024 in Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Meditations, Trials

Deuteronomy 8:1–5 (NKJV) 

1Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers. 2And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord. 4Your garments did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you. 

On his first missionary journey, as the Apostle Paul traveled through the various cities where he had planted churches, he encouraged the brethren and reminded them, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). That which was true for our fathers in Paul’s day is likewise true for us. In His wisdom, God uses tribulations and trials to accomplish His purposes for His people.

So why does He do this? If we are children of God, objects of His love and affection, then why must we enter the kingdom through many tribulations? Our text offers three reasons – for even as we face many tribulations throughout history and our individual lives, so our Israelite fathers did; for forty years they wandered in the wilderness, suffering various trials and tribulations. So what are these three reasons?

First, trials and tribulations humble us. God led our fathers through the wilderness, “to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not” (8:2). Nothing reveals the depths of our hearts and the many ways in which we still need to grow in holiness (to be sanctified) than trials. We’re sick and what do we do? We, who when healthy are remarkably patient, begin snapping at the kids, are short with our spouse, or grumble and complain against God. So what are we learning about ourselves? We’re learning that we aren’t quite as sanctified as we thought, learning that there is still work for God to do, learning to confess our sin and to acknowledge our continuing need for God’s grace. Trials and tribulations humble us.

Second, trials and tribulations teach us to rely on God’s Word. God tested Israel “that you might know that man does not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (8:3). Rod Dreher, in his book Live not by Lies, recounts that, during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, Silvester Krcmery [kirch-MERRY] faced persecution, imprisonment, and even torture for his faith. Krcmery wrote later in his biography that he came to realize “that the only way he would make it through the ordeal ahead was to rely entirely on faith, not reason. He says that he decided to be ‘like Peter, to close my eyes and throw myself into the sea’” (153). Tribulations force us to rely on God’s promises even though we cannot see the fruit of them at present. Trials and tribulations teach us.

Finally, trials and tribulations remind us that we are children of God. “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you” (8:5). In times of trial, if you are in Christ, then know in your heart that this trial has not come because the Lord hates you but because He loves you. As a loving Father, the Lord is sending this trial to chasten you that you might learn to remain faithful to Him and to grow in maturity. Trials and tribulations remind us that we are God’s children.

As you may have noticed, today is the first Sunday in Lent – so our call to worship, our greeting, confession, creed, color, and benediction have changed with the season. Lent, like Advent, is a time of preparation and anticipation, a time of longing. We await the coming of Easter and the celebration of Christ’s triumph over death. Lent reminds us that, until our own resurrection, we must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God. Lent harkens back to Israel’s 40 years, and to our Lord’s 40 days, in the wilderness. Hence, Lent is a time to remember that times of trial and tribulation are not strange. Paul writes that even our Lord Jesus, “though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered …” (Heb 5:8). So if our Lord Jesus had to learn obedience by suffering, dare we think that we shall be exempt? Let us then “count it all joy when we fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of our faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (Jas 1:2-4).

So reminded that times in the wilderness, times of trial and tribulation humble us, teach us to rely on God’s Word, and train us as His children, let us acknowledge that we often respond to such trials in unbelief rather than in faith. As you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sins to the Lord.

Reciting the Creeds with Heart and Mind

January 28, 2024 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Meditations, Worship

Isaiah 29:13–14 (NKJV) 

13Therefore 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, 14Therefore, 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 of mindless repetition, of drawing near to God with our lips while our hearts remain far from Him. As our passage in Isaiah illustrates, this is not a new problem. The prophets regularly rebuke our fathers and mothers for this sin, the sin of failing to love God and instead trying to manipulate him with proper external rituals. So if reciting the creeds entails this danger, why even do it? There are numerous reasons – 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. The creeds do not serve to replace Scripture but to summarize its central teachings. And as God’s Word continues to be spurned in our culture and even in many churches, reciting the creeds enables us to declare openly, “We trust in God and His Word. He is God; we are not. We shall do what He says and follow Him.” 

Finally, 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 us. We confess the faith that they preserved for us; 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, Perpetua and Monica, Luther and Calvin, Edwards and Whitefield, Machen and Sproul. 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!” (2:19) 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.” Whom do you trust?

So what about you? 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 Spirit? Adults, how are you doing? Is worship growing ever more sweet and lovely to you? 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.

Protecting Life

January 21, 2024 in Abortion, Bible - OT - Exodus, Meditations

Exodus 21:22–25 (ESV) 

22“When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. 

Today is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, appointed such to mark the anniversary of the diabolical Roe v. Wade decision. Praise be to God that that decision has now been reversed and that here in the State of Idaho we have passed laws protecting the unborn. Yet the contempt for unborn life remains in much of America. Many states have voted to expand access to abortion. In addition, just this week the Biden campaign announced that one of its chief priorities for Biden’s reelection campaign would be expanding abortion rights and restoring Roe. So why should we continue to labor for the protection of the unborn? Why should we abhor abortion as wickedness and pray that it be not just illegal but unthinkable?

We find an answer to these questions in our text today. Exodus 21 demonstrates that God recognizes the personhood of unborn children and protects them. The opening admonition declares: “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.”

Note, first, that this law recognizes the personhood of the unborn. The ESV accurately captures the Hebrew and identifies the baby or babies in the mother’s womb as her “children” – not her property, nor her bodily tissue, but her children – human beings conceived in the very image of God who ought to be precious to her and to others. Unborn children are human and to kill innocent human beings is murder.

Second, note that God’s command fosters a culture that honors pregnant women and the life they carry. Exodus specifically addresses incidental or accidental contact. If two men are striving with one another and, in their striving, intentionally or inadvertently hit a pregnant woman so that her children come out, then the men are held liable for their action. God so honors the life-giving woman that He judges these men culpably irresponsibile. And note that this is the case even if no harm happens to the woman or child – if “they strike her so that her children come out but there is no harm, then they shall pay as the husband demands and the court allows. In other words, God demands that people honor a pregnant woman by restraining their rage in her presence. 

Finally, note that this law adds additional consequences in cases when harm does occur. Verse 23 declares, “if there is harm, then you shall pay.” If there is harm – harm to whom, we ask? The woman or the child? The answer is either. The ambiguity of the text indicates that both woman and child are protected by the law. And what shall be paid? The lex talionis is applied: “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.” Biblical law protects both the mother and her unborn child.

We see, therefore, the wickedness of the Biden campaign and the abortion lobby. And because many in our society refuse to protect the unborn, our honor for life generally has regressed. Many have sex outside of marriage with no thought to the children they may be conceiving; many couples marry with no intention of having children; Obergerfell has sanctioned perverse and fruitless same-sex unions; many States have endorsed euthanasia or asissted suicide; still others have given legal sanction to the mutilation of the healthy bodies of men and women, boys and girls. As God’s people, our calling is to reverse this trend by loving life. 

So what of you? Do you thank God for fruitful marriages? Do you pray for our married couples that have not yet had children but who are praying for them? Do you praise God for making you male or female? Do you prize the unborn in the way you vote? Men and young men, are you honoring the women in our congregation, especially those with child? Opening doors, yielding your place in line, making offers of help, channeling your sexual desires to marriage? Children, we have many pregnant women in our midst: are you being careful when you are playing lest you accidentally hit them? Parents, are you training your children to recognize and honor those who are with child?

Reminded this morning that God honors and protects the women who bear children and the children themselves, let us confess that we have betrayed the unborn and that we are guilty as a people.

Walking in Wisdom

January 14, 2024 in Bible - NT - Colossians, Meditations

Colossians 4:5-6 (NKJV)

5Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

In closing his letter to the Colossians, Paul urges a number of common graces upon the believers in Colossae. He knew that they would be tempted in the cosmopolitan and corrupt city of Colossae to retreat into a holy huddle and be cranky and uptight. Hence, he imparts to them, and to us, some closing words of counsel, that guide both our actions and our speech.

Regarding our actions, Paul urges us to “walk in wisdom toward those who are outside” and to “redeem the time.” In other words, Paul commands us to follow the exhortations to wisdom found in Proverbs and other books, particularly in light of our calling to be witnesses for Christ and of the brevity of time that the Lord has allotted to each of us on earth. We are to use the gifts and talents that the Lord has given us for the advance of His kingdom and the good of our neighbors.

This other oriented focus continues in Paul’s exhortation regarding our speech. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Paul wants our speech to be full of flavor – seasoned in such a way that it blesses those to whom we are speaking. Elsewhere he urges us to speak in such a way that it “gives grace to those who hear” (Eph 4:29). Our speech, Paul tells us, is not primarily to serve ourselves but others.

And so, what do these exhortations mean for us? First, they remind us that Paul saw no contrast between the Proverbs of Solomon and the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Proverbs guide us in the way of wisdom and teach us what it is to imitate our Lord. So let us be diligent to have these Proverbs dwell in our hearts and minds. Let us teach them to our children and grandchildren that they might learn what it means to walk in wisdom toward those who are outside and to redeem the time.

Second, Paul is validating the old-fashioned concept of good manners. Manners are simply patterns of behavior that attempt to put others at ease by considering their interests as more important than our own. Opening the doors for ladies, making eye contact, saying hello and goodbye, saying thank you and you’re welcome, putting our shopping cart away when we’re done with it, letting the other driver get into our lane, speaking to the telemarketer with respect – we should view all these things as attempts to apply Paul’s admonition to let our conduct be characterized by wisdom and our speech be seasoned with salt.

So what of you? Are you walking in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time, and speaking with grace that you may know how to answer each one? Or have you justified your sinful actions and words – they spoke unkindly to me, why shouldn’t I speak that way back? They ignored me, why shouldn’t I ignore them? They gossiped about me, why shouldn’t I gossip about them? But our Lord commands us to treat others the way we would like to be treated not the way we are treated. 

Paul’s admonition reminds us that we are to be models of Christian character. Christ did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for many. And we are called to be like Him: to live for the good of others. We should be characterized by generosity, courtesy, kindness, faithfulness, and truth. We should shun all lies and deceit, all coarse jesting, gossip, slander, and flattery. Our lips should be characterized by thankfulness and our hearts by gratitude that we might shine like stars in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

So reminded of our calling to walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, speaking with grace to each person, let us confess that we have often justified foolish actions and words.

God’s Power for a New Year

December 31, 2023 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Meditations

Ephesians 3:20–21 (NKJV) 

20Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 

This morning we find ourselves on the cusp of a new year. The old has passed away, behold the new has come! As we prepare to enter into this new year, I want to meditate on Paul’s words to the Ephesians. New years provide opportunities for renewed resolutions, hopes, and dreams. Paul’s words in Ephesians 3 contain profound wisdom for us as we consider these things.

So let us note that in our text Paul is giving glory to God in the process of which he gives instruction to us. First, Paul gives glory to God: to [God] be glory. So why is Paul ascribing glory to God? Because God is the One who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Whatever dreams or hopes you have for this upcoming year, Paul tells us, they are not too difficult for God to accomplish. God is able to do far more than we can articulate with our mouths or that we can even imagine with our heads. 

And what Paul tells us is that the power of God comes to us by Christ Jesus. Jesus is the center of our faith. It is through His death and resurrection that we have forgiveness of sins and newness of life; through His death and resurrection that the power of God is at work in us. Paul ascribes glory to God by Christ Jesus our Lord. 

So what does this mean for us? Well Paul tells us that this God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think is the very God whose power works in us. Did you catch that? If you are in Christ, if you have turned from your love of sin and sought out the forgiving grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, then the omnipotent God, He who rules and reigns among the affairs of men, is at work with His power in your life. God’s favor is toward you. Do you believe it? You see, Paul wants you to grow in wisdom and holiness and the way you grow is through a deep and personal knowledge of all that God has done, is doing, and promises yet to do for you in Christ. 

So note that Paul writes that God’s glory is revealed in the Church: to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. In other words, God’s glory is revealed in and through you and me. God’s power is on display in His people – He has forgiven us and empowers us so that we might display the wonder of His work in a dark and hopeless world, that we might display the impotency of the world, the flesh, and the devil when confronted with the power of our Christ. In ourselves we are weak and powerless; but in our God we can run against a troop (Ps 18:29). If you are in Christ, God wants to display the wonder and power of His grace in your life; to glorify His Name through you.

So what this means is that those excuses you’ve been making for not addressing that sin pattern in your life are groundless; those despairing voices that have been telling you that there’s no hope for change are lying; those urges to complacency that have said it’s okay that you’re just coasting along spiritually, that you’re not really growing or being intentional about serving Christ; all those excuses, voices, and urges are of the devil. God gives His omnipotent strength to His people because He loves us and longs for us “to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18b-19).

So as we enter into the presence of our Lord on the cusp of a New Year, let us confess that we have often wasted much time by our failure to trust in Him to empower us for obedience.

Jesus the Center of Our Calendar

December 17, 2023 in Advent, Bible - NT - Colossians, Church Calendar, Meditations

Colossians 3:17 (NKJV)

17And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Last week we considered Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3:16 that we “let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” Today we consider his admonition in the verse immediately following that we do all in the name of our Lord Jesus. How can we practice this as the people of God?

One of the ways that we attempt to do so is by utilizing the Church calendar to organize our year. Our songs, our Scripture readings, our confessions of sin, our meditations, and even sometimes our sermons are geared to the Church Calendar. And one of the great advantages of doing this is that the Church calendar explicitly places Christ’s Person and Work at the center of the year. It orients our calendar around Christ: Advent – awaiting His birth; Christmas – celebrating His birth; Epiphany – celebrating His revelation as Messiah to the Magi and in His baptism; Lent – remembering His suffering on our behalf; Passion week – remembering His final week of challenge, betrayal, death, burial, and resurrection; Ascension – celebrating His enthronement at God’s right hand as King of kings and Lord of lords; Pentecost – celebrating the outpouring of the Spirit by our Risen and Exalted Lord; between Pentecost and Advent – celebrating Christ’s work, by the power of His Spirit, throughout church history. The Church Calendar puts the Person and Work of Christ at the center of our lives, year after year.

So why is this valuable? Well note Paul’s command today: So whatever you do in word or deed – whether eating or drinking or sleeping or waking; whether living in the winter or summer; in the fall or the spring – do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus – to honor Him and to glorify Him – giving thanks to God the Father through Him – recognizing that all the gifts we enjoy all year long come from His loving hand. The Church Calendar puts Jesus exactly where He belongs – at the center of our Church life, at the center of our calendar, at the center of our celebrations and at the center of our worship. And this, of course, reminds each of us to put Jesus at the center of our own life as well.

But often we are consumed with other things. We push Jesus to the periphery; oh, we’ll give Him a bit of attention on Sunday but the rest of the week? That’s ours. But Jesus demands all our time – each day, each hour, each minute, each second. He is the Sovereign Lord and all we are and do is to be offered up in praise and thanks to the Father through Him.

So what of you? Has Christ been at the center of your life this week or have you put your own self at the center of your calendar? Singles, have you displayed Christ this week, manifesting His character in your life and speaking His praises with your lips, living a life of integrity, purity, and honor? Husbands and fathers, have you led your family to Christ this week, worshiping and praying and speaking of Christ’s work in your home? Wives and mothers, have you modeled Christ this week, laying down your own life for the lives of your loved ones? Children, have you followed Christ this week, obeying your parents even as Christ obeyed His?

Reminded this morning that whatever we do, in word or in deed, is to be done in the Name of Christ to the glory and praise of God, let us confess that we often do things and speak things in our own name, for our own glory. 

Psalms & Worship

December 10, 2023 in Advent, Bible - OT - Psalms, Christmas, Meditations

Colossians 3:16 

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

For Advent and Christmastide we are continuing our tradition of preaching through the psalms. So let us review once again why this is a fitting tradition. Why should we devote considerable time and attention to the psalms? In our day, various ideologies have divorced Christians from the OT. Consequently, Psalm singing has fallen on hard times, especially among Protestants. So as we recover this practice, let us consider the foundation Paul lays in our text today.

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

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

Third, Paul identifies the motive of our worship. We are to sing with grace in our hearts. True worship emerges from a heart that has been transformed by the grace of God. By nature, we are all sinners; we have hearts of stone, hearts that love neither God nor neighbor rightly. When God delivers us from our sinfulness by His grace, He changes our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh; He makes us true worshipers. By His grace, He transforms our loves and enables us to sing truly. While any sinner can sing the psalms with his lips; only a true worshiper, by grace, can join heart and lips together in song.

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

So reminded that we are to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs that we might teach and admonish one another as we worship the Lord, we must confess that much of the church has abandoned the psalms in favor of songs that do not teach and admonish. We often speak to one another our own words rather than the words of Christ. But even when we do speak the words of Christ to one another, even when we sing the psalms, we often fail to learn from our brethren, we often fail to correct ourselves.

Penitential Singing

December 3, 2023 in Advent, Bible - NT - 1 John, Meditations

1 John 1:8–10 (NKJV) 

8If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the time of year when we recall both God’s promise to our fathers that one day He would send a Son of Adam to rescue the world from sin and death and God’s promise to us that one day that Son, whom we now know as Jesus of Nazareth, shall return in glory to vindicate all who have trusted in Him. As the beginning of a new year in the church calendar, there are a number of changes that occur in our service of worship. We have already recited a different call to worship and greeting. Soon we shall recite a different corporate confession and creed.

But while we change some of the details of our worship, we retain the central components or basic structure of our worship. And one of those central components is the confession of our sins. John reminds us that if we say we have no sin, we both deceive ourselves and make God a liar. If we confess our sins, however, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins on account of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Thus, while the specific wording of our corporate confession changes depending on the season of the year, the fact of our confession does not. As John implies, the closer we get to God and the more we meditate on His word, His truth, the better we will get at seeing and confessing our sin.

One of the resources that God in His kindness has given to us that we might learn how better to confess our sins are the penitential psalms. These are psalms in the psalter that model faithful confession – psalms like numbers 5, 6, 13, 22, 32, 38, 40, 42, 51, 56, 63, 80, 130, 137 and others. Alongside these psalms, the Cantus Christi contains hymns that likewise share this penitential flavor. 

Historically our congregation has sung many of these psalms and hymns in our service of worship. However, because we haven’t had a slot to sing them during the confession of sins, we have included them elsewhere in our service. This has resulted in the odd phenomenon of confessing our sins, hearing God graciously pronounce our forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and then confessing our sins again later in the service. To avoid that odd phenomenon, our elders have decided to adjust the order of our songs and to begin including a penitential psalm or hymn as part of our confession. 

So this morning as we enter the presence of the Lord and are reminded of our calling to confess our sins to the Lord, let us turn to Psalm 130 and cry out to the Lord for His forgiving grace.