Saturday, May 31, 2008

Getting to the Heart

At long last we come to the final commandment. And as we do, we find that it cuts to the heart. So I will give you fair warning now - come to church prepared to be open before God. But rest assured, God's surgery is always life-giving and love-inspiring. May his life and love overflow in our assembly!

All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (#36)
The Name High Over All (#31)
How Sad Our State (#333)
Amidst Us Our Beloved Stands (#230)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)
Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life

Scripture Reading
The Law Shows and Stimulates Sin, but in Christ Jesus We Are Free - Romans 7:7-8:11

The Command to Love Your Neighbor - Deuteronomy 5:21

Friday, May 30, 2008

He Got That Right

At the Pew Forum's recent biannual Faith Angle Conference, Rice University sociologist D. Michael Lindsay described several misconceptions he had about evangelicals which were challenged while researching the book he published last year, Faith in the Halls of Power. He made one observation that is particularly relevant to a major distinctive of our church. Lindsay said:

I assumed that church life and theology really drove evangelicals’ political activism. In fact, church involvement is actually quite low among the cosmopolitan evangelicals I’ve studied. Sixty percent of them have low denominational loyalty or low church affiliation. Some of them are members of their church but only show up on Sunday morning; they’re not very engaged. Others are members in name only. Others are not members of any congregation whatsoever, and yet they are on the board of some of evangelicalism’s most important organizations. They just happen to be in the parachurch sector. You see, the parachurch is the real driver of how evangelicals have become so significant in a short span of time. These include operations like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, World Vision, as I’ve mentioned, as well as a whole range of educational institutions.

There are some theologically literate cosmopolitan evangelicals, people who are able to articulate how their faith matters and drives them to particular positions, but the interesting thing about that is that almost all of them come from the Reformed tradition. The rise of Presbyterian kind of theology has been very interesting to observe. Abraham Kuyper has been one of the figures that is oftentimes cited among the people I interviewed. But on the whole, most of the evangelical leaders that I interviewed – most of the folks who are in powerful positions who are evangelicals, they are like most of their fellow churchgoers. They are like most Americans: they don’t know what they believe or why. They cannot articulate basic theological ideas. There have been a number of folks who have written books about how America is becoming a theocracy as evangelicals have come into powerful positions. One of the interesting notes they talk about is how evangelical ideas about the apocalypse or eschatology are driving American foreign policy. You know, that would be interesting, except most of the people I interviewed do not know the difference between premillenialist and postmillenialist theology. They can’t articulate that.

So the idea that they’re driven by this concern that the rest of the country or the world is getting worse and worse and eventually there’s going to be this kind of cataclysmic result, I don’t find that to be the case at all. In fact, if anything, most of the people I saw are trying to bring about a cultural commission where they’re engaged in a whole range of issues – a much more positive view about future possibilities.

In other words, the majority of the power brokers, the wealthy, and the influential among evangelicals do not know theology and do not understand the church, which is the centerpiece of God's work in the world today. The church is the expression of the body of Christ. So, to put it bluntly, many of the most influential people in American "Christianity" today understand little of the content of Christianity and little of the institutional practice of Christianity. Lindsay's analysis here is spot on.

The upshot of all this is that Christianity becomes basically pragmatic. If there are no theological and institutional guidelines, then whatever "ministry" or "program" seems to work will do. In the process, true Christianity is pulverized and becomes nothing more than the moral seasoning on a pagan main course. It is no wonder that even with millions of dollars and thousands of organizations, Christianity continues to follow the culture rather than to confront it.

So, how does this relate to our church? We are working to be relentlessly biblical, to practically experience the authority of Scripture in every area of life. Therefore, we must be biblically/theologically driven. The culture does not set the agenda for us, not does it determine how we will go about ministry. Jesus Christ is Lord of his church, and we want to see the power of his Lordship in action by obeying him. I believe that as we do this, we will experience both the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings. This is how we know Christ!

We need to get this right.

The Fourth Commandment

The Command to Enter into the Lord’s Rest
Deuteronomy 5:12-15

In 1902, the Reverend and Mrs. James Dunlop Liddell, Scottish missionaries in China, gave birth to their second son, Eric Henry. At the age of 6 he was sent back to a boarding school in England with his older brother Rob. It was there that, as he matured, his athletic prowess became evident. He excelled in cricket and rugby, but it was his track meets that began to bring him fame. Before long he was known as the fastest runner in Scotland, and ever since he has been affectionately known as the Flying Scotsman. In 1924, he won the Amateur Athletics Association national championships in both the 100 and 220 yard races, setting a British national record in the 100 yard race of 9.7 seconds which would not be broken for 35 years. But his name is remembered today primarily for something that happened later on that same year.
Liddell’s strength in the 100 yard race made him a natural choice to represent Great Britain in that race in the summer Olympics held in Paris. However, when the schedule for the Olympics was published several months before the event, Eric discovered that the 100 meter race was to be held on a Sunday. He therefore decided not to compete in that race, and instead he trained for the 400 meter race.
Why did Liddell make that decision? To him it was simple, as it was to many, many Christians of that time. Sunday was the Christian Sabbath, and it would have been breaking the Sabbath to compete in a race on that day.
As Liddell went to the starting blocks for the 400 meter race, an American slipped him a piece of paper with these words written on it, “Those who honor me I will honor” (1 Sam 2:30). He ran with that piece of paper in his hand. Not only did Eric Liddell surprise everyone by winning the gold medal in the 400 meter race, he also shattered the existing world record.
As we Americans think back over 80 years ago to that decision that Liddell made, we might find it hard to comprehend. If you were given a chance to win a gold medal in the Olympics, and you stood a good chance of winning, would you sit out the race just because it was on Sunday? Eric Liddell’s example can raise all kinds of uncomfortable questions for us. Should Christians participate in sports on Sundays? Should we encourage sports on Sundays by watching them in person or on TV? But why stop with sports? What about all kinds of things that go on in our society on Sundays? What should be our response to them? Are we guilty of breaking the 4th commandment? We could also look at it from the other perspective, namely, in a society grown so careless about worshiping God, should we not reassert the importance of the Sabbath idea? What really is the Bible trying to teach us about the Sabbath?

Looking for the Gold, not for a Fight

Let me begin by saying there is a wealth of spiritual gold to be mined here, and I want us to approach this command with that spirit. I do not want us to approach it merely as controversialists, concerned only to prove that our approach to the 4th commandment is the right one. I want us to come as hungry souls, desiring to feast on the spiritual bounty provided by our God. I want us to come seeking to know him more, to see his glory, to become more like him, to honor him in all that we do, to obey him. Would you do that? Would you say in your heart, Lord, whatever you want from me in this command, I will obey it, even if, like Eric Liddell, the world thinks I am crazy for it? If we come in that spirit, then I believe that we will find great riches in this commandment. Good and godly men have wrestled with how this commandment applies to Christians for centuries, and now we as a church are going to join them on the mat. Even if, in the end, we disagree with some of our forefathers in the faith, I hope that we will learn from them and emulate their earnest desire to worship our Lord in the way that he desires.
Now, in order to properly grasp the significance of the 4th commandment, we must first make sure that we understand precisely what it meant to the Israelites to whom God gave it. That is what I intend to focus on here. Like the previous commandments, we need to make sure that we don’t see it in a reductionistic way. If all we think about when we think about the 4th commandment is “Don’t work on the seventh day,” then we haven’t thought about it very deeply and we won’t be able to apply it very skillfully.

The Significance of this Command

First of all, let us look at the command itself. The day is called the “Sabbath” (or “Shabbat”). The verb forms of this word mean “to stop, cease.” It was a day of cessation from ordinary work. Israel was to “observe” or “keep” this day as holy, that is, set apart to the Lord. It is the opposite of “profaning” (Ex 31:14; Isa 56:4) the Sabbath day by doing common work on it. So, Israel was to set aside all ordinary labor on this day. Yet it was not merely for physical rest. It was ceasing from labor for religious purposes. This is evident in that it was to be kept “holy.” On that day the priests offered special sacrifices (Num 28:9, 10; 1 Chr 23:31; 2 Chr 8:13; 31:3) and set out the showbread before the Lord (Lev 24:8; 1 Chr 9:32). The basic command is to cease from ordinary work on the seventh day of the week in order to spend time honoring God. That seems simple enough.
Such a simple command may not strike us as all that significant. But let me show you how important God thinks this command is. First, he not only put this command in the Ten Commandments right at the beginning of the law, he also reiterated it at key points in the giving of the law. After he gave instructions for the priestly service and the tabernacle, he repeated the Sabbath command (Ex 31). When God renewed his covenant with the people of Israel after they worshiped the golden calf, he repeated the Sabbath command (Ex 35). There was something very central to the covenant relationship that was represented in the Sabbath. In addition, notice the penalty that God attached to the Sabbath command. If the Sabbath breaker was an individual, the penalty was swift and severe – death (Ex 31:14-15; Num 15). If the nation as a whole was guilty of profaning the Sabbath, then God promised to destroy the nation (e.g. Jer 27:17). Obviously, there was something very important about this Sabbath command to the Lord.
Let’s dig a little further and see if we can discover why the Lord was so serious about having his people observe the Sabbath day. We can find clues in the reasons that the Lord attaches to the command. In Ex 20:11, God attaches it to creation. God rested on the 7th day, blessed it, and made it holy (Gen 2:2-3; Ex 20:11). This does not necessarily mean that there were any religious rituals associated with this day prior to the giving of the law of Moses. It is not technically correct to call Sabbath observance a “creation ordinance.” An ordinance is an authoritative decree or law that must be kept. But Genesis never records God making any kind of decree for man to do any kind of observance on the seventh day. In fact, there is evidence in Exodus 16 that the seventh day was not commonly understood to be a day of religious observance prior to the giving of the law. The command to observe the Sabbath as a religious institution was new when God gave the law to Moses.
So how is the Sabbath connected to creation? The Sabbath day is a means of entering into God’s rest through reenacting (“remembering”) what he did. It would indicate acknowledging sacred time which is a token of God’s Lordship over time and creation. By setting apart certain time to Yahweh, the Israelites would acknowledge his Lordship. They would copy God, so to speak. But the beautiful thing about this is that his Lordship meant rest or cessation from toil for his people. “You enter into a relationship with me,” the Lord says in effect, “you honor and obey me, you do as I do, and you will find rest.” This is a fundamental principle of human existence – that which most glorifies God is most good for us.
In Deuteronomy 5:15, God gives another reason why the Sabbath must be kept. This time it is redemption. God redeemed his people from Egypt. Every time an Israelite kept the Sabbath, he remembered his former bondage, Yahweh’s deliverance, and his status as a free man (Waltke). This in turn made him extend this freedom to his fellow man. The Sabbath was designed not only to induce the Israelites themselves to rest, but also to allow all their servants to rest. The Sabbath was meant to be rest even for the lowest classes, the servants, and also for the animals, and even for foreigners (cf. Jesus’ teaching that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; Mk 2:28). There was a real humanitarian concern in the Sabbath observance. Again – that which most glorifies God is most good for us.
Are you beginning to see why observing the Sabbath day mattered so much to the Lord? It was about creation and honoring the Lord as the Creator God. It was about redemption, and honoring the Lord as the God who redeems us all and gives us all rest. These reasons alone would be sufficient to make Sabbath observance supremely weighty. But there is yet another reason why the Lord enjoined Sabbath observance in Israel.
In Exodus 31:13 the Lord said to Israel through Moses, “Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.” He went on to say, “The people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever” (v. 16). It was a sign of the covenant between the Lord and Israel. A sign is “any aspect of the physical world that is deliberately selected to inform, instruct or remind someone….A ‘sign’ need not be extraordinary, and indeed it can be a predictable phenomenon that one expects with regularity…. What transforms the ordinary into [a sign] is that it has been intentionally given a significance that points to a larger reality” (S. A. Meier). It therefore represented the entire covenant relationship between Yahweh and Israel. As the rainbow was the sign of the Noahic covenant, and as circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant, the Sabbath was the sign of the Mosaic covenant. It was a physical reality which would be observed by those Israelites who truly believed in Yahweh and wanted to follow him and maintain a relationship with him. It was the physical, external act which embodied the spiritual reality of the covenant relationship between the Lord and Israel. It was the visible plant which grew up from the unseen roots of a spiritual relationship with the Lord. In other words, if you loved God in ancient Israel, you observed his Sabbath. If you didn’t love him, you didn’t keep his Sabbath. This is why the Lord highlights the Sabbath command so much. The Israelites really couldn’t keep the first three commandments if they didn’t keep this one.

How Israel Observed the Sabbath

It was a day of rest. No ordinary work was to be done (cf. plowing and harvesting, Ex 34:21; picking up sticks, Num 15:32; buying, Neh 10:31; treading winepresses and selling produce, Neh 13:15-18). This was not a prohibition against all physical activity. The idea of a “Sabbath day’s journey” was something invented by scribes and Pharisees which was not in keeping with the intent of the command.

It was observed on the seventh day of the week.

It was not a “church service” or a gathering of any kind, although later in Jewish history they began holding meetings in the synagogue on the Sabbath. “Most of the texts that relate the Sabbath to cultic activity occur outside the Pentateuch. For the ordinary Israelite, no religious ceremony was commanded. Basically, it was a day of rest” (Baker). We see from later OT texts that special religious activities were practiced. On that day special sacrifices were offered (Num 28:9, 10; 1 Chr 23:31; 2 Chr 8:13; 31:3) and the showbread was set out before the Lord (Lev 24:8; 1 Chr 9:32). On feast days and special occasions there would be gatherings and feasts (cf. 1 K 8:65). Still, most of the time, the Sabbath did not involve gatherings.

Yet this was not just a rest of relaxation. It was a cessation from ordinary work in order to reflect on Yahweh and the Israelites’ relationship with him. Psalm 92 was labeled by Israelite scribes as “a song for the Sabbath,” and it gives us a good indication of how a godly Israelite would have spent his time on the Sabbath. His heart was pulsing with joy on this day, for it is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to his name. He would have started the day declaring the Lord’s steadfast love to his household, and he would have closed it by reflecting on the Lord’s faithfulness. All day long he bathed his soul in thoughts of the Lord’s greatness and goodness. All day long he nourished his soul with meditation on the Lord’s mighty acts. He had time to do this because he ceased from ordinary labor. It was time for focused worship of the Lord.

What Israel Learned from Observing the Sabbath

There is an entire cluster of ideas that connect with this command. Let me just list them here, and we will consider them further later. I believe Israel would have learned at least the following things from observing the Sabbath.

1. We are creatures, not the Creator.

2. There is a regularity to this created world, and we should operate according to it. This would include our worship. Our worship must take place in real time and space. In other words, we must set aside time devoted to God.

3. We emulate God.

4. We are not in control, God is. We must trust God for provision, not our own efforts. This is the opposite of pride and worry. It is submission and trust.

5. This breaks us free from the tyranny of time and toilsome labor.

6. Nevertheless, labor is good.

7. Still, we need rest. We are not merely machines for production and consumption.

8. We should not treat other people, and even animals, as if they were merely machines for production and consumption. The 4th command challenges our economic assumptions and aspirations.

9. What glorifies God is good for us!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 30—The Lord’s Supper

30.1 THE Lord's supper was instituted by the Lord on the same night in which He was betrayed. It is to be observed in His churches to the world's end, for a perpetual remembrance of Him and to show forth the sacrifice of Himself in His death. It was instituted also to confirm saints in the belief that all the benefits stemming from Christ's sacrifice belong to them. Furthermore, it is meant to promote their spiritual nourishment and growth in Christ, and to strengthen the ties that bind them to all the duties they owe to Him. The Lord's supper is also a bond and pledge of the fellowship which believers have with Christ and with one another. 1 Cor. 10:16,17,21; 1 Cor. 11:23-26.

30.2 In this ordinance Christ is not offered up to His Father, nor is any real sacrifice made in any sense of that term for remission of sin of the living or the dead. The supper is only a memorial of the one offering up of Christ, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all. It is also a spiritual offering up of all possible praise to God for the once-for-all work of Calvary. Hence the popish sacrifice of the mass, as it is called, is utterly abominable, and injurious to Christ's own sacrifice which is the sole propitiation for all the sins of the elect. Matt. 26:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:24; Heb. 9:25,26,28.

30.3 In this ordinance the Lord Jesus has directed his ministers to pray, and to bless the elements of bread and wine, and in this way to set them apart from a common to a holy use. They are to take and break the bread, then to take the cup, and to give both to the communicants, they themselves at the same time participating in the communion. 1 Cor. 11:23-26.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Truth Is In Jesus

"What is truth?" Pilate asked Jesus. Nearly 2000 years later, the echoes of that question still reverberate, not only in courtrooms, but in the very hearts of men. Join us this Sunday as we listen to the ultimate witness to the truth - the work of Jesus Christ the Lord. In fact, he himself is the truth, and everyone who is of the truth listens to his voice.

Come, Christians, Join to Sing (#67)
Give to Our God Immortal Praise (#53)
From Depths of Woe (#337)
The King of Love My Shepherd Is (#336)
Holy Spirit, Lead Us Now (#198)
Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life (see below)

Scripture Reading
Colossians 2:1-15

Loving the Truth - The Gospel of John

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:

such a way as gives us breath,

such a truth as ends all strife,

such a life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:

such a light as shows a feast,

such a feast as mends in length,

such a strength as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:

such a joy as none can move,

such a love as none can part,

such a heart as joys in love.

(Text: George Herbert; Tune: Ralph Vaughn Williams) Listen here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Third Commandment (Part 2)

The Command to Worship the Lord with Honor,
Or the Command to Treasure the Name of the Lord (Part 2)
Deuteronomy 5:11; John 20:31; Phil 2:9-11; Rev 19:16

The 3rd commandment states, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” This command prohibits us from using the name of the Lord in any kind of a light, trite, worthless, or false way. This applies as much to our actions as to our speech. But is that all that it implies? As we saw in the last sermon, it really points all the way down to our attitudes toward the Lord. And I believe that shows us something very significant: the positive implication of this command is that we should honor the name of the Lord. The opposite of the vanity this command speaks of is worthiness, merit, value, importance, weightiness. Therefore, the command calls us to value, honor, treasure, prize, revere, appreciate, and esteem the name of Yahweh, and then to use it in that way.

Now, we could profitably spend weeks unearthing from Scripture all the diamonds of truth regarding what it means to treasure the name of the Lord. Let me just tic off a few things the Bible says about our attitude toward God’s name. Believers are commanded to call upon his name (1 Chron 16:8), ascribe glory to his name (1 Chron 16:29; Ps 29:2; 96:8), give thanks to his name (Ps 30:4; 54:6), exalt his name (Ps 34:3), sing the glory of his name (Ps 66:2; 68:4; 135:3), bless his name (Ps 96:2; 100:4), and praise his name (Ps 148:13; 149:3). We are those who love his name (Ps 69:36), fear his name (Ps 86:11), and call upon his name (Gen 4:26; Ps 105:1; Isa 12:4; Rom 10:13). We recognize his name as holy and awesome (Ps 111:9; Lk 1:49). All of this and much, much more in the Bible deals with the way we treat God’s name.

But here I simply want to focus on one aspect of biblical truth and then try to impress on our hearts why the Lord’s name deserves such honor and how we can give it to him.

The name of Jesus Christ is equivalent to the name of the Lord (1 Cor 8:6; Matt 1:21-23).

Jesus the Messiah is the Lord incarnate. He is the Word who was with God and was God, who has now become flesh and dwelt among us. He is equally worthy with God the Father of all worship and adoration. The apostle Paul said that there is one Lord, namely Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. Once we have this biblical truth firmly fixed in our minds, we can move on to why he deserves honor.

The name of Jesus Christ is our only hope of life and salvation (John 20:31).

Do you realize this fact this morning? You have life in his name. That is why on the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter quoted the prophet Joel saying, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And when the audience was cut to the heart, convicted of sin, and said, “Brothers, what shall we do?” then Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”

The apostles and early Christians consistently tied everything back to the name of Jesus Christ. For example, when Peter and John performed the miracle of healing the lame beggar in Acts 3, they expressly said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Peter explained this to the crowd that gathered: “And his name – by faith in his name – has made this man strong whom you see and know.” Why did they do this? Because they recognized that who Jesus was and what Jesus did, represented by his name, was their only hope of life and salvation. This conviction comes out powerfully in Acts 4:1-12 when Peter and John were arrested and called before the council to account for what was going on. The Jewish elders and scribes demanded, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Peter boldly replied, “Let it be know to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him this man is standing before you well. …And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Therefore, I would submit to you that

The most fundamental way that you can honor the name of the Lord today is to believe in his name. This means more than believing that he exists or believing that Jesus was a historical figure who was a good man. It means understanding who he is - the God-man, the Lord of all - and what he has done – becoming a man in order to perfectly fulfill God’s law and die as a substitute for sinners, as well as rising from the dead, being exalted to the right hand of God, and coming again in power and glory. And then it means committing yourself to him, that is, trusting in him completely as your only Lord and Savior. Are you doing that?

The hundreds, thousands, and millions of souls all around us who are going their way today without believing in the name of Jesus are really participating in the ultimate sin. John 16:8-9 says the Spirit “will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me….” Since Jesus has come, and has revealed God to men, and has made it possible for us to know God, it is the ultimate in dishonor to reject believing in his name.

If you are a true believer, then another crucial way you can honor the name of the Lord is to do just as the apostles did – proclaim the name of the Lord. They knew Jesus Christ. They had seen his glory, and it had captivated their hearts. Notice what happened in Acts 4:13-20. If the name of Jesus means something to you, then you will be doing just the opposite of taking his name in vain. You will say, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” You see, when we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord, we are telling the world how important he is, how honorable he is, how worthy he is. “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). Share the gospel with people, for nothing honors the name of Jesus like the gospel. Like the early Christians, we go out for the sake of the Name!

Our belief in the name of Jesus works itself out in many ways, all the ways I listed at the beginning of this message. When you come to church in true faith (that is, because of your trust in and love for Jesus) and you sing the songs of God, you are honoring his name. When you kneel daily in prayer to cast your cares on him, to seek his face because you believe that he is a rewarder of those who seek him, you are honoring his name. When you do your work, not as manpleasers, but as unto the Lord, you are honoring his name. When you teach your children diligently the works and words of the Lord when you rise up and when you lie down, when you train them up in the training and admonishment of the Lord, when you gather them round you for family worship, you are honoring the name of the Lord.

All of this points to a great day that is coming. We see it now by faith, and live and long for that day when all the earth will honor the name of the Lord. Zechariah put it this way, “And the Lord will be king over all the earth. On that day the Lord will be one and his name one” (14:9). In other words, the Lord alone will be acknowledged by name as the king of all. And now that God has revealed himself in Jesus, we know that God has “bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11).

I believe this gets to the heart of the issue of why the world does take the name of the Lord in vain. It is a way of trying to dethrone him, of making him light and trivial, of making him worthless. It is a way of trying to avoid believing in him. But Revelation 19 describes a day in which no one can avoid all the awesome power and glory inherent in his name (19:11-16). In light of this, my challenge to you today is to heed the principle of the 3rd commandment by honoring the name of the Lord.

Making Disciples of All the Nations

It was exciting to host our first World Disciple-Making Days this week. I hope that it helped you to lift up your eyes and look on the harvest fields. In light of that, I want everyone to be aware of how we want to go about the task God has given us when it comes to sending missionaries. We have learned much from other churches, and in what follows we have borrowed freely from them.

In keeping with our purpose of glorifying and enjoying God by knowing him and making him known, HCBC will aggressively engage in the task of world evangelization. HCBC’s role in the mission of spreading the good news of Christ can be summarized in this way:

  1. Sending – The local church is responsible to send missionaries (Acts 13:1-4). This is not the prerogative of a college, board, or foundation. This means that we will seek out those whom the Spirit has equipped and set apart to be missionaries.
  2. Supervising (Acts 14:26-28) – The local church should be well aware of the ministry of its missionaries, both to meet their needs and to ensure that they are properly reflecting the ministry of the church. Missionaries must maintain regular communication with the supporting church.
  3. Supporting (Phil 4:10-20; 3 John 5-8) – The local church must provide missionaries with moral, logistical, financial, prayer, communication, and re-entry support.
  4. Supplicating (Matt 9:36-37; Eph 6:18-20)


Missionaries will be supported financially by regularly budgeted funds of the church and by special offerings received on their behalf.


HCBC will seek to be proactive in determining where the Lord would have us to invest her missionary efforts and funds. Through prayer and awareness of world-wide needs, we will seek the Spirit’s will. We will then seek both to find and raise up missionaries who share our burden.

Our priorities for missions work involve a three-fold emphasis.
1. Supporting or helping indigenous believers and churches.
2. Training native leaders.
3. Church planting.

Missionary candidates for potential support will go through the following general approach for approval.

  1. Missions questionnaire – When we have become aware of a potential missionary, the elders will send him our missions questionnaire. When this is completed, the elders will evaluate the answers provided. If they need further clarifications or have additional questions, they will discuss these with the candidate.
  2. References – If the elders believe that this candidate will fit well with HCBC’s doctrine and philosophy of ministry, they will then seek additional input from the references he has provided, especially regarding his character and ministry experience.
  3. Evaluation of our financial resources – If the candidate appears promising, the elders will evaluate whether we have the financial and other resources available to make a real commitment to this missionary. If not, the candidate will be informed and we will keep his information on file for future use. If so, the candidate will be invited to share his ministry with the church.
  4. Presentation to the church – The missionary candidate will share his ministry with the church. We would request that if at all possible he be present at two church services minimum.
  5. Approval or disapproval of the church – The candidate will be informed of the church’s decision. If approved, arrangements will be made for support.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 29 - Baptism

29.1 BAPTISM is an ordinance of the New Testament instituted by Jesus Christ. It is intended to be, to the person baptized, a sign of his fellowship with Christ in His death and resurrection, and of his being engrafted into Christ, and of the remission of sins. It also indicates that the baptized person has given himself up to God, through Jesus Christ, so that he may live and conduct himself 'in newness of life'. Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:12.

29.2 The only persons who can rightly submit themselves to this ordinance are those who actually profess repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, being willing to yield obedience to Him. Mark 16:16; Acts 2:41; 8:12,36,37; 18:8.

29.3 The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, in which the believer is to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Matt. 28:19,20; Acts 8:38.

29.4 Immersion, that is to say, the dipping of the believer in water, is essential for the due administration of this ordinance. Matt. 3:16; John 3:23.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Glory of Christ in the Spread of the Gospel

The Scripture tells us that salvation and glory and power belong to our God, and nothing displays this glory like the spread of the gospel in order to make disciples of all nations. I hope your hearts are fired with zeal for God's glory as we meet together during our World Disciple-Making Days!

Come Thou Almighty King (#64)
O Worship the King (#46)
O Sacred Head Now Wounded (#139)
Salvation! O My Soul Rejoice! (#291)
Hark! the Gospel News Is Sounding (#293)
For My Sake and the Gospel's, Go (#695)

Scripture Reading
2 Corinthians 4-5

Presentation of the Work of Christ in Brazil
Michael Carlyle

Having a Heart for the Harvest - Matthew 9:36-38
Dave Deets

In the evening service, Dave will instruct us about the work of Christ in Italy, while Michael will bring us the Word of the Lord.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Jesus My All

This poem, "Jesus, My All, to Heaven is Gone," has been a both a balm and a stirring call to action for my soul recently, so I thought I would like to share it with you. It will repay slow and repeated contemplation.

The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual Songs of the Rev. Isaac Watts To which are Added, Select Hymns from Other Authors ; and Directions for Musical Expression By Isaac Watts, Samuel Worcester:
""Following Jesrus as the Forerunner 1 TESUS my all to heaven is gone v He whom 1 fix rny hopes upon His track I see and I ll pursue The narrow way till him 1 view 2 The way the holy prophets went The way that leads from banishment The King

P.S. I was first introduced to this poem through a very enjoyable adaptation of it R. R. Osborne which I heard while listening to the May 4th broadcast of Sing for Joy. Sing for Joy often has beautiful and edifying music.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Third Commandment

The Command to Worship the Lord with Honor,
Or the Command to Treasure the Name of the Lord
Deuteronomy 5:11

I hope as we have begun this journey through the Ten Commandments you have seen how relevant they are to our lives in 21st century America. They are not just old rules dug up from the rubbish heap of history. They are a revelation of the character and expectations of our God, and it will be to our great detriment if we do not take them to heart. We cannot love the Lord with all our heart if we do not participate with him by practicing these commands.

We may not feel the force of the Third Commandment as readily today as many of our forefathers would have. In many states in the early years of our nation, there were legal proscriptions against publicly using God’s name in a derogatory way. You could be fined or even imprisoned for doing so. We live in a very different social atmosphere today, so let’s consider

What is prohibited by this command?

I believe a few words of explanation will make fairly plain what this command prohibits. “The name of the Lord” represents God himself. It stands for all that he is and all that he does, his attributes and his actions. He is the Lord, the self-existent and eternal one who is pure and infinite spirit, pure personality, pure power, pure love, pure being, pure presence, pure transcendence, pure holiness, pure truth. He is the one who created all things, sustains all things, and directs all things according to the counsel of his will. He is the covenant making and keeping God who redeems his people and destroys his enemies. All this and more is what his name stands for. The very glory and weightiness and splendor of God are attached to his name.

So this command speaks of “taking” God’s name, which is simply to use it, to invoke it, or to appropriate it in some way. And the command says that we are not to take his name “in vain.” The general idea is of anything worthless or empty. So to use the name of the Lord in a worthless or empty way is to use it to no good purpose. Psalm 139:20 says, “They speak of you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain.” A perfect example of this is found in 2 Kings 18:25, where the Rabshakeh tried to claim the Lord’s name for destroying Jerusalem. The idea of worthlessness shades easily in some contexts over into the idea of falseness (the same term is used in the 9th commandment in Deuteronomy 5:20). Psalm 24:4 says that a godly man “does not lift up his soul to what is false.” To attach the name of the Lord in any way to anything that is worthless or false, whether through our speech, our actions, or our attitudes, is to take it in vain. Marshall summarizes the commandment well: “To invoke the divine name was to associate the power and purposes of Yahweh [the Hebrew name we translate as “Lord”] with the thing being spoken and the purposes being represented. Using Yahweh’s name in vain involves associating God with purposes and powers that are inconsistent with God’s identity and will. The end result is a misrepresentation of God, a false claim to divine power and endorsement, and a miscommunication of truth” (DOTP, “Decalogue,” 176).

This command, then, is fairly broad in what it prohibits – any unworthy use of God’s name. And does this ever hit us between the eyes!


Probably the first and most obvious application of this command is to prohibit false swearing or perjury. It became customary in our nation for formal legal and judicial oaths, such as oaths of office or oaths in court, to include the statement “so help me God.” This is invoking the name of God to authenticate the truth of what you say. Since he is the God of absolute truth who always keeps his word, this is supposed to enforce absolute truth on us. But a great deal of dishonesty has gone on in the name of God on the witness stand and in the halls of power.

Yet before we congratulate ourselves that we have never lied under oath, we need to realize that any form of lying or deceit with God’s name directly or indirectly attached is forbidden. This would include false prophecies and false teaching. This would also include forsaken vows. Our divorce rate in this nation shows that we are people who take God’s name in vain regularly. When we stand before God and men and make a solemn vow to enter into a covenant relationship with our spouse till death do us part, and then break that vow because “we don’t love each other any more,” then we have just taken God’s name in vain.

But there are other forms of speech which take God’s name in vain. One, of course, would be blasphemy or mocking God’s name, being openly disrespectful to him in any way. This can also be done through common profanity – invoking God to damn somebody or using his name as an exclamation. We get so used to this because it is all around us that we forget what an awful, wicked sin it is. Keep yourself aware of this. Don’t get desensitized through entertainment. You wouldn’t let men use your wife’s name the way they use God’s name. I would even advocate that you avoid all euphemisms for God’s name, so that you are not like the Pharisees who swore by the gold of the temple instead of by temple. Christ exposed this clear hypocrisy.

One common violation of this command is trivializing or making frivolous God’s name through jokes or by using God’s name in an inherently trite medium. I do not like to see God’s name on bumper stickers and t-shirts. A large section of the “Christian” niche marketing seems to be dedicated to producing this kind of drivel. Another common way to use God’s name unworthily in our speech is in prayer. When we pray insincerely, with vain repetition, or for things that are inconsistent with God’s character and will, then we are taking his name in vain. We might also treat his name in prayer like a magic talisman, some kind of a magical guarantee that we will get what we want. This is unworthy of him. These are all ways in which we can take God’s name in vain through our speech.


God’s name can also be used unworthily through our actions. When we claim the name of Christ – we call ourselves “Christians” – but do not live in a way that is pleasing to God, we are using God’s name unworthily. This is hypocrisy. Isaiah 48:1 speaks of those “who swear by the name of the Lord and confess the God of Israel, but not in truth or right”. When we treat the things of God lightly, such as the Bible and the church, we are evidencing disrespect for his name.


Now, where do our words and our actions come from? In the Bible, they come from our hearts. Jesus said out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. Thus this command gets right down to our attitudes toward God. If we don’t feel the weightiness of God on our souls, then it will show up in worthless ways of speaking and living. We will misuse God’s holy name.

What is the punishment?

God backs up this prohibition with an explicit warning of the punishment that he will mete out on those who take his name in vain. He says he will not hold them guiltless. That is just another way of saying that they will be punished. God does not say exactly how he will punish people who misuse his name. Probably he does it in different ways at different times. In OT times, it was mostly connected with the blessings and cursings of the covenant they lived under (as seen clearly in the writings of Malachi). In our day, we don’t know how exactly God will punish this sin. It may be that judgment will not finally fall until men die and stand before him in judgment. But realize this – God is your final judge, and I don’t think you would want to stand before a judge when you had been trashing his name all your life. You might have reason to suspect that he would be angry with you.

There is yet one more aspect – the most important aspect – of this commandment that we need to explore. We have seen the prohibition and the punishment, but we particularly need to see the positive implications of this command. It is a command to worship the Lord with honor or to treasure the name of the Lord. This is what we will consider next week, Lord willing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 28 - Baptism and the Lord's Supper

28.1 BAPTISM and the Lord's supper are ordinances which have been explicitly and sovereignly instituted by the Lord Jesus, the only lawgiver, who has appointed that they are to be continued in his church to the end of the world. Matt. 28:19,20; 1 Cor. 11:26.

28.2 These holy ordinances are to be administered by those alone who are qualified and called to do so, according to the commission of Christ. Matt. 28:19; 1 Cor. 4:1.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Mother's Day

We are looking forward to a wonderful day celebrating godly womanhood and motherhood. Combined with this, we are planning a time of dedication for the new children God has blessed us with. See you there.

Come, Christians Join to Sing (#67)
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
Lord, How Delightful (#726)
Give Ear Unto God's Holy Word (#729)
Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild (#714)
Mothers of Salem (#711)
O Lord Behold Us at Thy Feet (#730)

Scripture Reading
Matthew 19:13-15

A Charge to the Parents - "Acquainted with the Sacred Writings from Childhood" 2 Timothy 3:14-17
A Charge to the Church - "Training the Next Generation of Godly Mothers" Titus 2:1, 3-5

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Puritans by the Bookload

For those who like to benefit from the wisdom of the Puritans, the Puritan Library is an excellent resource that I just found out about. Check it out.

(HT: Tim Bayly)

The Second Commandment (Part 4)

The Command to Worship the Lord Spiritually (Part 4)

Deuteronomy 5:8-10; John 4:23-24

As I was studying and preparing this message, my wife and children got the Christmas decorations out of storage. My children’s response was immediate and uninhibited. There was dancing, shouting, and jumping. There was no duplicity here. There was pure integrity of thought, feeling, and will. In a simple way, that is an illustration from everyday life of the way that we ought to engage with God. Worship which God accepts must have integrity, which means that it must engage the whole person in response to God’s revelation. John 4:23-24 teaches us that because God is spirit, we must worship him in spirit and truth. This means that our worship must be a true response of our whole person to God. Last week I tried to show that genuine worship must include truth rationally apprehended by the mind. Without this, we do not have integrity in our worship.

However, this does not mean that intellect is the only thing involved in worship. When we gather for our church services, we don’t just have a lecture and then go home. When we worship the Lord, it also requires that our emotions and wills be fully engaged. Spirituality in the Bible always implies personality, which includes our intellect, our emotions, and our wills. These are not separate compartments of our being; they are all perspectives from which we can view our personality. We think, we feel, and we desire, and all of these are inseparably bound up with each other. All of this, our whole personality, must be engaged with God when we worship him.

Now, all of this might sound a little philosophical, so I want to show you some evidence from the scripture for what I am saying. 1 Corinthians 14:14-15 says, “For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” There is an aspect of communion with God that differs from, although it does not contradict, what we can put into words. I do not mean anything that is irrational or anti-rational, but I do mean something that is beyond our ability to articulate or verbalize. The apostle Peter speaks of a joy “that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Worship in spirit and truth must capture and invigorate our emotions and wills, which are sometimes called our affections. This is the only appropriate way to seek the Lord, to engage with him.

I believe Augustine understood this perfectly when he closed his massive study of the Trinity with a prayer saying that he desired to see with his understanding what he believed, and asking God to help him “seek his face always with burning desire” (taken from Psalm 105:4).[1] Jonathan Edwards was exactly correct when he wrote, “That religion which God requires, and will accept, does not consist in weak, dull, and lifeless wishes, raising us but a little above a state of indifference: God, in His word, greatly insists upon it, that we be in good earnest, ‘fervent in spirit,’ and our hearts vigorously engaged in religion.” He went on to write, “If we be not in good earnest in religion, and our wills and inclinations be not strongly exercised, we are nothing. The things of religion are so great, that there can be no suitableness in the exercises of our hearts to their nature and importance, unless they be lively and powerful. In nothing is vigor in the actings of our inclinations so requisite as in religion; and in nothing is lukewarmness so odious. True religion is evermore a powerful thing; and the power of it appears, in the first place in the inward exercises of it in the heart, where is the principal and original seat of it.”[2]

This is the consistent testimony of Scripture. Consider just the example of the Psalms. Psalm 1 speaks of delighting in the law of the Lord. Psalm 2 says to serve with fear and rejoice with trembling. Psalm 3 talks about not being afraid. Psalm 4 tells of relief in distress, anger, and joy in the heart. Psalm 5 says that those who take refuge in the Lord rejoice and sing for joy, those who love his name exult in him. The list goes on and on. Even the psalms which do not talk about our affections per se are still obviously drenched in passion or earnestness (Ps 8, 9). We even find direct calls to engage our affections with God in this way – “Delight yourself in the Lord” (Ps 37:4).

If we consider the Ten Commandments, we see this truth displayed again. Jesus said that all the law and the prophets hang upon these two commands: love the Lord, and love your neighbor. We might actually characterize the two tables of the Ten Commandments in this way. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our strength. That is the kind of worship God deserves and desires.

This emotional, volitional response to God can take many forms.[3] It may be a sense of awe, reverence, and wonder that leaves us silent before him (Hab 2:20). Gerhard Tersteegen wrote a hymn which captures this so beautifully:

God himself is present,

Let us now adore him,

and with awe appear before him.

God is in his temple,

All within keep silence,

Prostrate lie with deepest reverence.

Him alone, God we own,

Him, our God and Savior,

Praise his name forever!

Whenever we contemplate God, precisely because he is not a god that we can reduce to some physical representation, it should provoke deep and intense feelings of amazement.

Not only that, but since we are so small and so sinful before this holy God, there should be in our spirits a genuine dread of his righteous power. When we enter a dangerous situation, we instinctively or intuitively feel fear. It is only when we do not recognize the danger we are in that we feel no fear. The most dangerous situation possible for a sinful human being is to come into contact, if you will, with a holy God. This should produce in us deep brokenness and sorrow for our sin which leads us to repentance.

This in turn leads to desire for God and a longing for him. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psa 42:1). “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you” (Psa 63:1). God forgives and makes himself known to the contrite heart (Is 57:15). And this produces great joy (Psa 30:11-12). And as our hope in Christ abounds in our hearts, we experience joy that is beyond words. It is pure delight in God.

Now, stop and ask yourself, “If this is what it means to worship God spiritually, is this the way I worship God?” Is this the way you pray? Is this the way you sing? Is there an earnestness, a desire, a hope in Christ that impels you to worship God? Think about coming to church on the Lord’s Day. I wonder what would happen if we were somehow able to send home everyone who attends church in America who does not really want to be there to worship the Lord. This means all those who came out of habit, or social acceptability, or to be with friends, or for a good show, or to get a religious fix, or mere duty, but not because of a heart desire for God. How many people would be left in our church services? How many of us would be there? Do you honestly feel that a day as a doorkeeper in the Lord’s courts is better than a thousand doing anything else?

How do you learn to worship God in your affections? First, this is all based upon the work of the Spirit in your heart, but this does not mean that there are not things you can do to help.

  1. Make everything in your life a tool or a means of glorifying and enjoying God: marriage and family, job, money, physical possessions, friendships.
  2. Make spiritual disciplines the central projects and identity markers of your life: attendance on the preaching and teaching of the Word, participation in the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, fellowship, service and hospitality, Bible meditation, prayer, evangelism, stewardship and giving, fasting, singing, and so on. Carve out time to make this a priority. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
  3. Remove from your life those things which may be hindering your ability to worship God with integrity. Fill your life with things that build you up your mind and affections in keeping with God’s revelation of himself.

There is much more that we could say, but I’ve gone on long enough already. Let me wrap up our study of the 2nd commandment this way.

  1. The 2nd commandment forbids us making any physical representation of God, or, since God alone is to be worshipped, any physical representation of anything for the purpose of worship. This excludes crucifixes as well as the special effects of contemporary worship services.
  2. The 2nd commandment requires us to worship the Lord spiritually because he is spirit. Thus it is worship that is based on the person and work of Jesus Christ and is enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  3. The 2nd commandment teaches us, then, to engage with God as whole persons – our minds and our affections.

You see, the 2nd commandment is pointing us to a day in the future – a day when all of our hopes and longings for God will be fulfilled, when our joy in him will be full. We cannot now see God, and we are forbidden from reducing him to something that we can see. However, one day in the new Jerusalem, “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face…” (Rev 22:3, 4). That’s what our worship is all about.

[1] The Trinity, 15.28.51. Available at

[2] The Religious Affections (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 27, 28.

[3] These applications adapted from John Piper, Desiring God, 10th Anniversary ed. (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Books), 80.

Classics for Childhood

This has nothing to do with what I normally post about, but if you haven't checked out our sister Rebecca Bernhard's online business Classics for Childhood, then you should do so. You can get all kinds of high quality toys for little ones.

Rebecca writes, "The memories we enjoy in childhood can last a lifetime. We at Classics for Childhood would like to help you nurture those special times, helping you create special memories for your child each day. Children are a blessing from God and in the fast paced world in which we live, I am afraid childhood is being forgotten and playtime lost by the wayside. Being aware of the short time we have to be a positive influence on our children and grandchildren, it is our privilege to help you guide them into the adults they will become by offering you a collection of special playthings to grow the minds of the next generation.
They are our hope.
Enjoy them!"

You can also sign up to receive her special "Lolly-Dot Stories" via email here.

The Wages of Sin is Death

This isn't new news, but recently there has been a spate of reports about the coming demographic crisis in Japan. In short, Japan is simply not reproducing enough to sustain its population and its economy. What is amazing about this population implosion (not only in Japan, but also in places like Russia and Europe) is that it is willful. It was not brought on by famine, war, poverty, or government edict. It was a choice - a choice to embrace a naturalistic, materialistic view of what is good for us.

I would like to use this as another illustration of how destructive sin is. Sin destroys. It destroys individuals, and it also destroys whole societies. As Albert Mohler writes, "A society that stops having children is like a healthy person who simply decides to starve himself." The end result of sin is always death.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Second London Baptist Confession

Chapter 27 - The Communion of Saints

27.1 ALL saints are united to Jesus Christ their head by His Spirit and by faith. But this does not mean that they become one person with Him. Yet they have fellowship in His graces, sufferings, death, resurrection, and glory. Also, as they are united to one another in love, they enjoy fellowship in the gifts and graces one of another, and are under obligation to render such services, public and private, as promote their mutual well-being, in both spiritual and temporal matters. John 1:16; Rom. 1:12; 6:5,6; 1 Cor. 3:21-23; 12:7; Gal. 6:10; Eph. 4:15, 16; Phil. 3:10; 1 Thess. 5:11,14; 1 John 1:3; 3:17,18.

27.2 By their profession of faith, saints are committed to maintain a holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God and in the performance of such other spiritual services as promote their mutual well-being. They are also bound to relieve one another in their temporal concerns according to their various needs and abilities. According to the rule of the gospel, this type of fellowship, while it particularly applies to the family and church relationships of saints, is to be extended, as God gives opportunity, to the whole household of faith, that is to say, to all who in every place call upon the name of the Lord Jesus. At the same time, however, it must be understood that such a sharing one with another as saints, does not deprive any man of the title and proprietorship which he has in his own goods and possessions, nor does it infringe such title. Acts 5:4; 11:29,30; 1 Cor. 12:14-27; Eph. 4:28; 6:4; Heb. 3:12,13; 10:24,25.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Another Example of Multi-Generational Faithfulness

Basil grew up in a large Christian family of five boys and five girls with deep Christian roots. His grandparents suffered during the persecutions at the beginning of the century, and one of his grandmothers taught the children sayings she had learned from the sainted Gregory the Wonderworker, a holy Christian teacher who had lived in the previous century. Such continuity within Christian families over several generations helped spark the flowering of Christian intellectual life in the late fourth century. As a recent student of Basil has observed, "Remarkably few of the well-known Christians of Basil's generation leap onto the historical stage straight from a completely pagan milieu. Christians had been breeding Christians for a long time" (Robert Louis Wilken, The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, 138-139).

Basil, as you may have gathered, was not an herb used for flavoring. He was the bishop of Caesarea in the latter half of the fourth century and a leading pastor and theologian. He defended the faith at Nicaea. Do we always have the same theological tastes as Basil? Of course not. But I want you to notice how crucial multi-generational faithfulness was to producing Christian leaders for the early church. The same is still true today.

Friday, May 02, 2008

A Taste for Truth

Truth tastes good on the tongue of the Christian, for the One we follow is himself the way, the truth, and the life. Join us as we worship him and conform our lives to him.

All Creatures of Our God and King (#59)
Praise Ye Jehovah (#4)
There Is a Fountain (#267)
Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed (#141)
Communion Hymn (#228)
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (#243)

The Lord's Supper

Scripture Reading
Hebrews 10

The Command to Love the Truth and Your Neighbor's Good Name - Deuteronomy 5:20

Transformed by the Renewing of the Mind

In contrast with the previous post, Robert Louis Wilken argues that the early church fathers transformed Greco-Roman thought and society by their biblical reasoning.

The intellectual effort of the early church was at the service of a much loftier goal than giving conceptual form to Christian belief. Its mission was to win the hearts and minds of men and women and to change their lives. Christian thinkers appealed to a much deeper level of human experience than had the religious institutions of society or the doctrines of the philosophers. In this endeavor the Bible was a central factor.... God, the self, human community, the beginning and ending of things became interwoven with biblical history, biblical language, and biblical imagery.

The notion that the development of early Christian thought represented a hellenization of Christianity has outlived its usefulness.... [A] more apt expression would be the Christianization of Hellenism.... [O]ne observes again and again that Christian thinking, while working within patterns of thought and conceptions rooted in Greco-Roman culture, transformed them so profoundly that in the end something quite new came into being
(The Spirit of Early Christian Thought [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003], xiv-xvii).

In this regard, may we follow in their footsteps!

Conformed to this World

Another intelligent observer notes that American churches are conformed to this world in deep ways:

"...Churches are modeling themselves on the prevailing social ethos rather than leading it."
Roger Scruton

This remark was made in the Q & A time following Scruton's lecture on Wilhelm Ropke's humane economics.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Second Commandment (Part 3)

The Command to Worship the Lord Spiritually (Part 3)

Deuteronomy 5:8-10; John 4:23-24

Perhaps one of the greatest divisions among churches today is over how we should worship God. I lament this state of affairs. It is mostly about what forms are appropriate for engaging with God. Is dance an acceptable way to worship God, and, if so, what kind of dance? Are videos suitable for sermons? Can we worship God with rock’n’roll, hip-hop, be-bop, doo-wop? Is “high culture” music acceptable to God? These things matter to us as Christians precisely because we recognize that the way we worship God tells a lot about who we conceive God to be. We all agree that worship is, in its ultimate sense, something that encompasses all of life. Worship is a personal response to God’s revelation of himself on the terms he proposes and in the manner he makes possible. We must also agree that the Word of God is our ultimate authority in these matters. The 2nd commandment is foundational biblical truth to give us direction on these matters. We have learned that the 2nd commandment is the command to worship the Lord spiritually. Jesus’ exposition of this in John 4:23-24 informs us greatly about the full ramifications of this command. I preach this message today in hopes that it will not only help us as a church to worship in spirit and truth, but also that it will help us lead a reformation in worship so that the church can be unified and Christ can be honored by all.

We have learned that (1) worship must correspond to the nature and character of God. Whatever worship we offer God must fit with who he is. (2) Worship must fit with God as he has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the true revelation of God who is spirit. All true worship must be based on who Christ is and what he has done, and it must be offered from a position of trust in him. Faith in Christ is at the heart of genuine worship. (3) This worship must also, then, come from our spirits which are made alive by the Holy Spirit. Without the life of God in our spirits, we can never worship him in spirit and truth.

Now, building on everything we have learned so far, there is another point I need to make about how we worship God. It may sound a little esoteric at first, but I hope as I begin to make application from it you will see how important all of this is to our current confusion over worship.

The worship which comes from our regenerated spirit must have integrity.

That is to say, it must be the whole person responding to God’s self-revelation. Leon Morris says, “The combination ‘spirit and truth’ points to the need for complete sincerity and complete reality in our approach to God.”[1] God excoriated the Jews for precisely this lack of integrity (Ps 78:36-37; Isa 29:13; Jer 12:2; Ezek 33:31; Mark 7:6-8). It seems that worshiping “in spirit and truth” is closely connected with what in other places in Scripture is the “knowledge of God” or the “fear of God.” I want to meditate on our integrity in worship from a few different perspectives.

Intellectual Integrity

Truth, Truth, Truth! Don’t look for a tingling sensation going up and down your spine to tell you if worship is the real deal or not. If the preaching of God’s truth does not connect with you, then there is something seriously wrong. There is something about the regenerated spirit that craves and delights in the Word of God. Any person who is truly born again is going to want the real deal – the truth of the Word of God.

Many church services have degenerated into what I call “commercials for God.” What does a commercial do? It stimulates your appetite, but it gives you nothing. So many people today get involved in church services which are designed to make them feel cravings or passions, so they leave the church service saying “I want God, I want God,” and thus they feel like they are spiritual because they have these cravings. “God must be at work in my life,” they reason, “because I just feel like I want him so much.” But this desire they feel may well be no more than the result of good marketing techniques. “Desire” and “passion” can be, and often are, no more than selfishness dressed up in religious clothing. They can be completely stimulated by bodily, physiological reactions. And the whole way much of contemporary Christianity goes about calling people to Christ is carnal or fleshly. As an analogy, in order to get a man to desire a relationship with a woman, you can train him in what it means to love, honor, and cherish a wife, or you can show him pictures of seductively dressed women. Both of these approaches will produce desire and even passion. But the latter is wicked, immoral, degrading, and bestial, while the former is beautiful, upbuilding, righteous, and wholesome.

The biggest difference in these approaches is that one is focused on communicating truth about God that can be spiritually, which is to say, intellectually, discerned, while the other is focused on getting a gut reaction, an immediately accessible feeling. You see, because we have tended to identify spiritually with non-material only, we have strongly tended to identify spirituality with emotion. If something is very emotional, then we suppose that it is spiritual. But this almost the direct opposite of true spirituality. Everything about our worship should be conducive to intellectual integrity, that is, communicating truth about God so that we can intelligently respond!

The atmosphere of our church services should be conducive to intelligent responses to God. The smoke and lights of many contemporary church services are no more in keeping with the 2nd commandment than are the crucifixes of the Roman Catholic church. But as soon as I say that, someone will stop me and say, “Preacher, where does the Bible say we cannot have smoke and lights in our church services?” I reply that the Bible does not say that we cannot have smoke and lights in our church services, but the Bible does say that we must not use any physical, humanly created artifice to try to stimulate worship by bypassing intelligent response to God. Whenever men lose touch with a spiritual perception of God, they will try to substitute some man-made stimulation, which almost invariably involves trying to create an atmosphere of “worship.”

But let me preach to fundamental Baptists here, too. I have attended plenty of revival meetings and camp meetings where the crowd is worked with all the skill of a circus master. 1 Corinthians 14 is a good application of the 2nd commandment to church services. Prophecy is better than tongues, the apostle said, because it communicates truth to those in the service. Everything was to be done decently and in order. The Spirit of God is the Spirit of truth, and he will work in you to worship God through truth! So when I say that the genius of the 2nd commandment instructs us to make our church services conducive to intelligent responses to God, I mean that our services should be conducted in a decent and orderly way. We put thought and effort into the order of our services, and I hope that we will improve in our liturgy. Our services should be constructed with the goal of maximal understanding.

Now let’s just be honest - many people are not going to like this kind of a church service any more than a little child likes to go to school. “Your services are dead,” they will say. And sometimes they might be right, but not because we aim at communicating truth. If all of us come together in true faith in Christ, with the Holy Spirit enlightening our spirits to desire to worship God in truth, then our services will not be dead. To those who only want to have their senses titillated, then our services will seem dead. But for those who want to know God, then our services will be animated with the very life of God!

The music of our church services should be conducive to intelligent responses to God. Music is something which by its very nature is designed to articulate with our emotions, and that is a good thing (more on this to come). But that also means that music can be used to manipulate our emotions without any clear comprehension of truth.

The content of our church services must be conducive to intelligent response to God. We emphasize expositional preaching for a reason. The more you really grasp the truth content of the Word of God, the more you will be enabled to worship in spirit and truth. Now, this flies in the face of what the majority of people think about worship. They think that the more emotionally stirred you are, the more you have really worshiped, and so worship has very little to do with how much you know. But if we understand what the Bible means by “spiritual” then we will understand that that is wrong. Doctrine matters, not just for our arguments about right and wrong, but even for the way we relate to God. The more truth you grasp about God, the better you will be equipped to engage with him in spirit and truth.

Conclusion: There is a reason why the Bible says to not be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of your mind. It also says to set your mind on things above, not on things of the earth. It also says to be renewed in the spirit of your mind. In order to worship God in spirit and truth, we must worship him with intellectual integrity, which is to say that we must comprehend truth. King David understood this so well when he correlated God’s presence and pleasure (his “face”) with knowing God’s truth. He prayed in Psalm 119:135, “Make your face shine upon your servant, and teach me your statutes.” Is that your heart today? That is a necessary component of worshiping in spirit and truth.

(Next time: 3 more perspectives on integrity in worship)

[1] The Gospel According to John (revised ed.), 239. We must bear in mind that proper worship is described as in “spirit and truth” (one concept), not “in spirit” and “in truth” (two concepts) [cf. D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 225].