Archive for the ‘Exhortations’ Category

Simplicity and Godly Sincerity

December 31, 2007

The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:12 mentions two traits that I would urge you to consider today as you enter into worship. He wrote, “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God.”

Simplicity and godly sincerity.

Simplicity doesn’t mean being a simpleton. It has to do with singleness. It’s the difference between 100% cotton and a poly blend. The all-cotton blouse has the trait of simplicity because it is singular in composition. And thus we too are to be not poly blends of many competing loyalties toward many competing lords. We are to be composed of simple love and devotion for the Lord Jesus Christ. He is to occupy the chief place in our minds and loyalties and affections.

And then I also exhort you to pursue godly sincerity in your worship today. When you are part of a formal worship liturgy each week, it is easy to fall into repetition with no heart. But godly sincerity is the heart behind the repetition. It is you doing what you do as unto Jesus Christ, in a living and real relationship with Him.

Finally, I offer you this caveat: Paul knew that these traits of simplicity and sincerity were by grace and not by human devising. They were gifts of the Spirit and not ways to manipulate something out of someone. In the entanglements of our hearts, we have to guard against seeing simplicity and sincerity as things we gin up to get God to accept us.

Simplicity and godly sincerity are the right environment for worship, but they are gifts of grace. They are not something you put on to get something out of God. You are here today at His bidding, as His new creations, called by His irresistible grace to come and worship Him and receive from Him. You can’t manipulate anything out of Him, and it is the height of fleshly wisdom to try to put on simplicity and sincerity in order to manipulate something out of someone else.

So I invite you all: come, in singleness and in holy authenticity that seeks Christ alone, come and worship God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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Advent Tradition

December 15, 2007

Ps 97:12-98:1

12 Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous,

And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.

This is the second Sunday in Advent and this is a season of tradition. You may have a tree up at your house or an advent wreath on the table. Perhaps you go caroling or give presents to loved ones. We have a young tradition at this church of having a lessons and carols service during advent. All of these traditions make for a memorable Christmas season. In some respects even the Church calendar is a tradition, after all it does not appear that Jesus was born on December 25th.

What is the purpose of tradition? To paraphrase Edith Schaefer: Traditions are great gifts, meant to guard and protect the greater gifts. It is the most attested historical fact in all the world that Jesus Christ came into the world for the Salvation of man. That He was born of a woman, lived, was crucified and buried, the third day He rose again from the dead and ascended again to His Father. Our traditions at this time of year are great gifts and ought to be received as gifts but, they are not the greatest gift.

Candles on your mantle are not substitutes for the light of the gospel. Evergreen trees are great; everlasting life – greater. Carols are great; worshiping in Spirit and in Truth – greater. The church calendar is great – the advent of Jesus Christ in the hearts of men and women – greater by far.  Come let us worship our Lord and God.

Wal Mart Does Not Set the Calendar Of The Church

December 9, 2007

Ps 147:1-12

Praise the LORD!

For it is good to sing praises to our God;

For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful.

12 Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem!

Praise your God, O Zion!

The Lord God calls you to worship Him this morning and we enter together into a time of High praise. It is good and pleasant to be here with you all.

Seasons Greetings, Happy Holidays. All of WalMart’s best to you and yours. The Friday after Thanksgiving was the beginning of shopping season. Your retailers are pleased that the majority of America, perhaps even the majority of the Church, marked their mental calendars in such a way as to announce this day as the beginning of the Holiday season. Well, let me say that Best Buy has its calendar and the Church has hers.

This is the first Sunday in Advent and the church begins its year today. This is the day of new beginnings, new Sabbaths, new worship, a new King promised to the world via a Virgin. This is the day of the New Adam, Jesus Christ. We are His new Creation, the song writer said, created by the water and the word.

I am sure that there will be voices raised in protest over this Christmas Season, when Target refuses to allow its employees to say Merry Christmas. I think the church should raise a stink about that, but if that is all we do then our goals are set too low. The church of Jesus Christ should be busy abolishing the calendar of Sam’s Club and reasserting the Lordship of Jesus Christ over the commercial enterprises that make up our economy.

Here is the best way to go about doing just that. Light an advent candle and tell the story of the birth of Jesus Christ in your homes. Take time every day from now ‘till Christmas to open your bible read about the newness of the Gospel and the promise of light and take that light out from your living room and share it with a cashier at Circuit City. Perhaps next year she will light her own candle and the kingdom will advance and she will defy the petty gods of commerce, embracing the Lord Jesus Christ as her own.

al sends

Mind How You Draw Near

November 26, 2007

In James 4:8 we read this invitation and promise: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” What a wonderful summons from the Word of God, and what an encouraging promise! In this worship service today, we are drawing near to God as a body to renew covenant with Him, and as we draw near we know that the Living God is drawing near to us.
But we should be mindful of how we draw near. Shall we draw near flippantly? Shall we draw near carelessly? Shall we draw near unmindful of one another?

We do well to remember the verses that come after James 4:8 –

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

In order to draw near to God rightly so that He will draw near to us to bless us rather than curse us, we must come to God through our Lord Jesus Christ and the blood of His cross alone. We can’t do that unless we hate our sin and lament over it when we confess it. We who are in Christ must indeed draw near – not to do so would be another form of presumption – but we are to do so with a whole heart that hates sin and loves righteousness and clings to Christ Jesus by faith. When we approach God with that humility, then we are confident that He will indeed lift us up.

And that is precisely what He will do today. Our Father is going to lift us up into His presence where he will assure us of His love and forgive us and accept our praise and comfort us and consecrate us. We are free to give our Lord our love. He delights in it, even though we are still unclean. By faith we are clean in Christ.

So we draw near to Him, and He draws near to us to bless us. Come, let us worship the Father through the righteousness of the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Who Serves Whom?

November 18, 2007

Brothers and sisters, here we are again, at the center of all creation. We have gathered here, in response to the Triune God’s command, to worship Him. We need to remember several things about what God does in worship and what we are expected to do.

God evaluates us in worship. God sees our hearts and knows our frame, from fingernails to split ends to little toes. He knows our motives and our true heart condition. Therefore, we must remember to present everything we do in the name of Jesus Christ.

God serves us in worship. That may sound a bit strange to the ears of someone who, with a high view of God’s sovereignty and glory, is not comfortable with seeing God as anything but the recipient during worship. We give Him glory. We give Him praise. But don’t squirm at those words. God serves us in worship. We give Him glory and praise precisely by receiving from Him. What do we have that we did not first receive from Him? And why to we give Him glory except because He gives us grace through His Son? God serves us in the “service of worship.” He ministers mercy and forgiveness and power for holy living, and He asserts through us His Lordship and awesome glory in the world. Therefore, receive the grace of His loving service through the covenant renewal.

What is expected of us in worship?

It follows that our job is to present ourselves in spirit and in truth. We sing from hearts and minds fully enlivened with the awareness that God is with us in Christ and within us by the Spirit of Christ, so we sing heartily. We don’t mumble the confession. We confess it loudly, boldly, earnestly. We don’t pray with passive minds. We grasp the confessions of sin and the words of praise and the intercessions and make them our own. We don’t hear the Word of God read and preached and eaten and drunk in the Supper with the blasé manner of a disinterested spectator. We are hearkening to the King of kings, the God of all grace who has come near. So let us be zealots, unashamed flaming brands of praise.

And it also follows that we receive from God. He serves us with condescending love and mercy and longsuffering. We then render to obedience Him and make His praise glorious and beautiful and holy. We are living sacrifices. Let us be burned up on the altar of Christ’s love today.

Come, let us worship before the Lord our Maker and Redeemer. Let us follow the Spirit Himself up into heaven to worship with the saints of all ages. We have come to a heavenly Zion to worship the Living God. Let us do so now.

“I Believe. Help My Unbelief!”

November 5, 2007

In Mark chapter 9 a man brought his demon-possessed son to the Lord Jesus Christ to be healed. He approached Jesus and said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help.” Jesus replied, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”

The man’s response is truly remarkable: “I believe; help my unbelief!”

That is the confession of every Christian. “I believe; help my unbelief!” A Christian is one who believes, who trusts in Christ, but also one who knows he is a sinner and is filled with unbelief as he comes to Jesus in faith. So with that statement in mind, I want us to remember three things today.

First, even in a believing heart there exists unbelief. We, like the man in Mark 9, are all a complex of belief in the promises of God and self-sufficient unbelief as well. Our faith is the root of every good thing in our lives that we apprehend by God’s grace. Unbelief is the root of every sin. Our posture is to root out the unbelief, by the help of God’s Spirit, and thrust ourselves toward Christ at all times in faith and obedience.

Second, the graciousness of Jesus reminds us that we can come to Him even though our hearts have unbelief in them. We come to Jesus like this man, believing. We do not come to Jesus presenting a perfect heart to him; indeed, that is impossible and would keep us from Him. It is the proud that Jesus rebukes and rejects. But for the humble – that is, those who acknowledge their unbelief even while they believe – Jesus holds no rebuke. Instead, He receives sinners. He welcomes believers who acknowledge their unbelief and heals them and delivers them and embraces them in the arms of His love. So in the humility of this cry of “I believe; help my unbelief!” is where we meet the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Finally, the cry of this man seeking the healing of his son reminds us how truly precious faith is. The man came to Christ believing, and seeking to believe more, and as a result he was given the great gift of healing. Faith, likewise for us, unites us to Christ. Faith is precious because of its object. Faith does not save us. God’s grace coming by the cross of Jesus Christ saves us, but faith is the empty hand that receives the grace of the cross. Faith is therefore very precious. It is a good thing to come to God desiring for our faith to grow and expand and apprehend the promises of God.

So come, believing sinners, as you enter worship. If your heart’s cry is “I believe; help my unbelief!” then there is a place for you in worship today. Do not settle into an uneasy truce with your unbelief. Come confessing it and rooting it out.

Come and draw near in the strength of the faith given to you as a gift from God. Come to the Father trusting in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit and exalt His glory with great joy.

Enabling Grace

October 29, 2007

The only way to be saved from our sin is to come to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance. But the Bible is clear that if we do come to Christ, it is because God first came to us and empowered us to do so by His grace. This is to say that the grace that delivers us and transforms us when we come to Christ is the same grace that enables us to come to Him to begin with.

We are coming to Christ for salvation today. He calls us to come, and we must obey. We must approach Him for forgiveness of sin. He is pleased when we worship Him, and He requires our worship, so we must come.

But how shall we come? Will we find it in ourselves to come? Is it enough merely to have an appointment for worship each Sunday or to come by force of habit? No. We need grace to come to God.

I want to assure you that God gives what He commands. God’s grace enables us to come to Him so that we can fellowship with Him and give Him glory and receive the grace of covenant renewal. We are in the position of Moses, who prayed to the Lord, “If I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight.” If I have found grace, let me find grace.

God enables by his grace you to come and worship Him so that you can receive grace. I exhort you to trust in that enablement and look to the Holy Spirit to help you do what you cannot do on your own. I exhort you to worship with your all because God is your help. God’s gracious enablement should not make you passive, but it should make you more able to sing, more emphatic in your confession, more heartfelt in your prayers, more active in your hearing of the Word.

God’s grace goes before us and helps us. Let us lean on that help as we worship the glorious God who is Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

The Man came to life again

October 7, 2007

We have gathered here on the morning of this first day of the week because this is the day Christ Jesus rose from the dead. In a very real sense Christ rises from the dead again and again every time His body, the church, rises to worship Him on resurrection morning. So I exhort you, as you worship today, to remember the resurrection of our Lord and your new life in Him.

You know how I love to quote C.S. Lewis. He wrote in Mere Christianity:

Again and again it has been thought Christianity was dying, dying by persecutions from without or corruptions from within, by the rise of Mohammedanism, the rise of the physical sciences, by the rise of great anti-Christian revolutionary movements. But every time the world has been disappointed. Its first disappointment was over the crucifixion. The Man came to life again. In a sense – and I quite realize how frightfully unfair it must seem to them – that has been happening ever since. They keep on killing the thing that He started: and each time, just as they are patting down the earth on its grave, they suddenly hear that it is still alive and has even broken out in some new place. No wonder they hate us.

Did you hear that? The Man came to life again. Just as it was impossible for the bonds of death to keep their hold on Jesus, so it is impossible for the church to die. And so every time you gather to thunder out your confession and raise the roof with your zealous praise and sit at the feet of Jesus to receive His Word and to eat at His covenant table in peace, you are the body of Christ rising to rule just as Christ Jesus did. The worship of the church is the edge of the axe that is hacking through the deadness of the world to bring the aroma of new life in Christ Jesus. One day the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. And until that day the church will not fail. The church will not stay in the grave. The church will prevail.

So I urge you to worship your Triune God – the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit. I urge you to remember as you do so that you are the body of Christ that will not and cannot die. You have been raised to reign. So let us worship our risen Lord.

Vocal Cords from the Soul

September 25, 2007

People gather together and assemble in groups for all kinds of reasons. Parties and concerts, performances and sporting events, lectures and auctions, dinners and spectacles of all sorts. Group gatherings are a regular part of our lives, and they all have their own rules that you learn to follow as you attend them. Yet there is one corporate event that is the most important gathering of your life.

You are the new humanity in Christ Jesus. It is as that new humanity that you gather here each Lord’s Day for the most important gathering of your days. Each week we gather as God’s covenant people, specifically assembling as this new humanity that Jesus is recreating out of the broken mass of the old humanity. And God renews His covenant with us as we assemble before him to hear and pray and eat and drink.

This means that we should never miss the covenant renewal unless we absolutely have to.

This means that we should gear our lives toward being ready for this meeting. We should prepare our hearts by reading the Word and praying. We should settle all accounts with those whom we have offended.

And this means we should think about how we conduct ourselves in the worship assembly. Specifically, when you sing, sing heartily. This is my exhortation to you today. Sing loudly. Sing with gusto. Paul counseled bondservants in Colossians 3:23 never to obey merely because their masters were watching but to obey “heartily.” The word “heartily” is actually a translation of the phrase “out of the soul.” “Obey out of the soul.” In the same way, I am exhorting you to sing heartily – “out of your soul.” Don’t sing and confess and say amen in a perfunctory way, the way, say, you brush your teeth in the morning. How do you brush your teeth in the morning? You do it as a matter of habit. You do it without thinking. You do it because that is what you do in the morning.

I am saying to you, though, to sing from your soul. Let the volume knob be on high. I don’t care that your voice is not great. Your soul is full. Let your voice be heard – by your church family, by the principalities and powers who are intimidated by your praise, and by your Heavenly Father, who loves your zeal.

Come, new humanity, you are at no mundane sporting event. You are at no mere lecture. You are at the meeting point of heaven and earth, where God renews covenant with His special possession, His people of promise. Sing and confess and pray out of your soul, for the glory of the Triune God.

Drawn Together by God and Grace

August 31, 2007

What draws us together to worship the Living God today?

It must be something far greater than merely sharing the same socioeconomic group or merely being thrust together by a common religious, political, and cultural interest. Our backgrounds are Roman Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, and everything and nothing. We are married, unmarried and re-married. We are young, not so young, and, well, you know. To quote the great theologian Bill Murray: “There are two kinds of people in the world – those who like Neil Diamond and those who don’t.” Well, we have both kinds of people here today.

And yet with all our apparent similarities and all our real dissimilarities, we have been drawn together as one man to worship the Living God this morning.

There are only two real explanations. One explanation is simply God. God is sovereign. He reigns in heaven and earth, and He is drawing a people to Himself to worship Him as His new humanity in Jesus Christ. God in His providence ordained that we would gather as Providence Church and sustain His worship and His covenant in the world. God will keep doing this until Christ returns, so that His purpose of gathering all things under the feet of the risen Jesus will be accomplished in the world, for His glory.

But the other explanation is found in the passage that called you to worship: “The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; the LORD raises those who are bowed down.” God is good, and in His goodness He has brought you to Himself out of your blindness and out of your oppression. The gospel of Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Savior has gloriously interrupted your life and exploded all your other plans, and now you are captive to Jesus for the rest of your life. And God has placed you with other fellow-captives of Jesus who like you have been raised up by His gospel, and God has thrust you together as one body with one heart and one mind to gather and praise Him for that grace by which you have been redeemed and constituted as the new humanity.

You are here because God reigns and because God redeems. So I call you to worship and glorify this glorious God. Come, let us praise His name and be transformed with His grace and goodness.