Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Bread for the Four Corners of the Earth

When I break the bread, I have tried to think of a fitting typology for the breaking of the pieces. I think I have it. I break the loaf into four trays of four pieces because the bread of  Christ goes out to the four corners of the Earth.

Direct Access to Jesus

          I mentioned in my sermons on the Church that each one who comes to Christ at this Table comes to Him directly. This includes our children. If you are a baptized member of Christ’s Church, you are entitled to all the benefits of Jesus. It is not necessary for the father to guard the Table of the Lord. That is the duty of the elders. So, as we pass the bread and wine, it is fitting for the ladies or the children to take the bread and wine and pass it on to the family. We do not want the picture of the fathers as patriarchs at the Lord’s Table. Of course, if little ones are going to tip over the wine tray or eat all of the bread as soon as they grab it, then we want siblings and parents to intervene and teach them maturity. If you want to further understand our take on this, I refer you to my three sermons on the church and our practice in the CREC and at Providence Church.
         The main thing we want to picture in this meal is that each one of you have direct access to Jesus Christ by His Spirit in His Church.

He Keeps Our Feet

We need to have a long view of the Lord’s doings. This is often difficult for us. We suffer and our sufferings cause us to be distressed, sometimes to the point of distraction, even as Hannah was.  She was pining away to some degree, wondering where God’s favor was, even though she was named favored one. Where is God’s favor when the arrogant are blessed and the humble suffer in distress? But God is at work and will reveal His will to bless His saints, safely keeping their feet, in due time.
         So, let us call out to Him, asking Him to deliver us and reminding ourselves not to despair but to wait upon the Lord and trust Him for deliverance at just the right time that Him receive glory and we will be exalted in Christ.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Glory to Jesus

In the book of Samuel as well as in our own lives, God’s glory is central. It is our chief end. We know this and yet as God blesses us and lifts us up, we sometimes let our glory compete with His. This mainly occurs when we simply forget to thank Him for all of our blessings.

At this table, the Table of Thanksgiving, it is easy to see that all of the glory must go to God. It is here that we celebrate death and Resurrection.

Like Lazarus in the tomb, there is nothing we can do about being dead. Dead bodies don’t pray. They just lie there and decay. But when Jesus calls us to life, we rise from the dead and come forth. Our death clothes come off and we begin our lives among the living. In such cases, it is obvious that we did not raise ourselves. If we are alive and therefore doing the things that the living do, then Jesus must get ALL the glory for we could do nothing without Him calling us to life. It is absolutely true that everything that we do should redound to the glory of God and without the life of God in us, we would have no glory at all.

Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever

Our catechism tells us that man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. We should keep this in mind in all that we do, especially as God blesses us with success at our doing. This is true of our good marriages. It is true in our raising godly children. It is true in our desire to honor God in covenant renewal worship and in our attempts and successes in continual reformation.
          We are seeing successes and our one rightful response to this should be to bow before the throne of grace and give back to God the glory that He has given us. In our successes is our danger. We easily become full of ourselves and instead of honoring God with praise for His kindness to us, we flatter ourselves that we have done these good things by the power, might, and wisdom that we possess. Thus, we claim the glory that is God’s.
         As we reflect on this, let us turn to God in Christ, confessing our sins, especially if we have stolen God’s glory, waxing fat and kicking against the goads. And let us return to God, thanking Him for His kindness in lifting us up to His glory in Christ.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Children in Christ

What a blessing it is to be in the presence of God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. God has gathered us all together as His people, His children. Someone once said that God has no grandchildren and I think this is true. By God’s grace, He uses the family to be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth with His Saints but as each one comes to Christ, they become rightfully His own dear children. Each member of God’s family is directly His son or daughter, joint-heirs with Jesus and brother or sister to Jesus.
         Last week in Communion I mentioned how every member of the family is also a brother and sister in Christ. It is also true that every member of the family is also a son or daughter in Christ. And being joint-heirs with Christ, the Father has made us all first-born sons or daughters. None of us are second-class citizens. All of us have every privilege in the inheritance that belongs to Jesus. The Father is granting us all the benefits of His Kingdom to all of His blessed children who are in Christ. And that means every one here who names the name of Jesus and is among God’s beloved in Christ. This is cause for thanksgiving and rejoicing. Let us eat and drink in full assurance of God’s love for us as His children.

God's Patience Chapter

Matthew 18 describes a scenario that we often call the church discipline chapter. But it might best be described as God’s patience chapter. Why is this? Because God extends every kindness to us before He brings punishment. His Spirit convicts us of sin but if we will not repent at that, He sends us a friend. If we will not hear our friend, God sends us two or three friends to talk to us. If we will not hear them, He sends us elders and deacons and a whole church to plead with us to repent. It is not until you have exhibited your hard heart through all of these graces that God brings judgment.
         So, we learn from this that God is patient but that He does require accountability. We should also learn that we can easily deceive ourselves that we are in the right. Thus, we need the corrective of God’s Spirit and our brothers and sisters in Christ so that we can live faithful lives, regularly repenting of offenses against the brothers.
         So, have you sinfully offended someone? Let me ask another way. Do you have current offenses against anyone? If so, are you able to either let love cover over it so that you are fully at peace with them? Or, are you willing to address their sin against you so that you can freely and fully forgive them and thus be at peace with them? You may have addressed their sin and your attempt at reconciliation was refused. Let the Lord judge in such cases but as far as it is up to you, the Lord requires you to be at peace with all men. I might add that the best place to start is with the people closest to you, wife, husband, children, parents, fellow church members and then work your way out from there.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sanctifying Parenting

The first step in being a spiritual spanker is to recognize your own failings and sins and seek to correct them.  If you are prone to anger, especially anger at your children, then you need to deal with this before the Lord before you deal with your children.  Because you must deal with your children in order to be obedient to God, then you also must deal with your anger.

This is one of the glorious aspects of being a parent. We start out on a journey to teach our children so that they grow up well, have faith in Christ, and learn maturity and wisdom. But in that process of raising children, we find that the Lord is making a good work of us, so that we grow up, have faith in Christ and learn maturity and wisdom. He calls us to the task of parenting and parenting well but we cannot accomplish that task unless He continues to transform us into the image of Christ. And then we find, wonder of wonders, that He uses the very process that He calls us to fulfill, parenting, to lead us into the deep waters of our lives in Christ.  God’s ways truly are glorious and past finding out!

Our Children in the Lord

The Lord desires that our children grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and that they lovingly and cheerfully embrace the kindness of God in Jesus Christ.  But in order for this to happen in the normal way, we parents must believe God.  We must believe in such a way that it affects the way that we live and move and have our being in Christ.  Our belief must produce godly fruit.  Here is the great part; all true belief does produce godly fruit.  So, let us look at what God has in store for us as we raise our children to His glory.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Observations on the Body of Christ

The Body of Christ- Jesus and His People

1.    It’s local- Being a member of the universal church without being a member of the local church is like being a member of the swimming world without actually being the member of a local pool. You can swim. You may even be able to swim in local pools. However, you do not have the benefits of membership. You have to sign in as a guest and you are neither required to perform the duties of membership nor are you a recognized member. You can come and go as you please with no commitment other than a day pass. You cannot swim on the swim team, come to the community gatherings, or sit for or vote for board membership. You are there but barely. Your membership in the swimming fraternity means nothing when it comes to participating and competing for your local pool.
However, once you join the pool, you can vote for the board, you can even run for board membership. You can swim on the swim team. You can come to member parties.
How much more important is the church than the local pool? If you are a member only of Christ’s universal Church, then your local visibility, accountability and access to benefits, are slim to none. You are here but barely.

2.    You must be a part of it- The Lord does not leave us the option of being in the body or not. If we are in Christ, we are in His body. But He tells us to honor those who serve in the Word and Sacraments. He tells us to submit to those who rule over us. We cannot do this if we do not know who they are. This can only be a reference to the local church and not the universal church.  So, joining a local church is not an option. It is required of you for your good and for God’s glory.
Heb. 13:7 Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.
1Pet. 5:1  The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:  2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;  3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

3.    More important than your own family- This is a good corrective for us. I do not believe that I have ever taught that the family is more important than the Church, meaning the local church. But I can see how our emphasis on marriage and family could be confused and the emphasis can shift. I see this shift practically when families choose to miss church for various family related issues. The issue really becomes the answer as to where your primary loyalties are located. Is it in your own blood family? Or, is to Christ and His Church? I have argued that it should be the latter. So, when we choose our own blood family over the family of God, we have revealed where our allegiances lie. Many times, this does not create a conflict if our immediate family's desires and activities align with Christ. However, we see where the allegiance is misguided when we choose with our family against Christ and His family.
We see this happen in many ways. How do you spend your Lord’s Days? Do you spend them primarily as another day off for the glory of your family? Or, is it a day set aside for the glory of Christ and His people? Again, these two things may go together well when the family is lined up with the Church. But what if family members do not want to attend church? What if they want to play soccer, or baseball or lacrosse on that day? What if you have extra work and see that time taken from Church as the answer to your prayers? Now, you have a choice to make. How are you doing on those choices?
What if you have family from out of town visiting over the weekend? What does it say to them if you skip church? It says that they are more important to you than Jesus and His people. That is entirely the wrong message to send them. Invite them to church. If they do not want to join you then let them know that you will be back at eleven. I think you would be surprised at the power of this. Many of your family members would actually join you for church. The others would be impressed that you have increased your commitment to Christ and His Church. This might be a profound and life changing event for them. But to stay home and visit with them for another hour on Sunday morning will not change their lives.

4.    Structured as Christ and His people for the salvation of the world- Why is the local church so important? Because it is God’s vehicle for the salvation of the world! God is building His kingdom through His Church. In both preaching and discipleship, the primary place for these things is within the scope of Christ’s Church. Again, I remind you that His Church is Jesus and His people. This does not all need to happen at church on Sunday morning. But it does happen through God’s people as we gather for worship and then go out into the world to gather in people from every tribe and tongue and nation. The Church’s ministry is healing to the world.

5.    Is eternal- Christ’s church is eternal. The family is not eternal. Even marriages are not eternal. The marriage covenant on Earth can be broken. Marriages and families disintegrate. But God’s Church lasts forever. Jesus and His people are eternal. So, they take precedence over the temporal family. By temporal, I mean time bound. Now, there is a sense in which the local body is also time bound. Providence Church will not last forever in the remade Heaven and Earth. But the collection of Christ’s people will last forever as a community and our local body will always be a part of that larger body.

Who Is My Brother?

I mentioned in the sermon that we all partake of Christ directly and that there is no need for fathers or mothers to mediate that Communion here at the Lord's Table. As we think about this, we should also think about our relationship to one another at this place. It is at Communion, even as we are gathered in families that we should understand that we are not gathered as families. 

At this place, we are all gathered as brothers and sisters in Christ. Your father is your brother in Christ. Your mother is your sister in Christ. Your son is your brother in Christ. Your daughter is your sister in Christ. Your wife is your sister in Christ. Your husband is your brother in Christ. Your brother is your brother in Christ. Your sister is your sister in Christ. Your friends are your brothers and sisters in Christ. 

I ran through all of those relationships with a purpose. As we look around, do not merely think of the blessedness of seeing your parents here, or your children here or your friends here. We are glad they are here. But think that they are here, like you, in Christ, directly appealing to Jesus and sitting as a co-equal with you and me, with their parents and elders and deacons and siblings, as co-equals before God, eating with Jesus and His people as full participants in Christ. I hope that begins to change your view of what is going on here as well as who your brothers and sisters are.

Covenant Renewal with God's People

It is important that we renew our covenant vows each week both with the Lord and with His people, the people that we call the Church and the people in this room that we call the local Church.
         In serving the Triune God, we come to know unity in diversity. And in serving the body of Christ, we come to experience this unity in diversity in tangible ways. It is good that we are not all the same. If we were, we could not adequately image the Godhead. But it is also good that we strive for unity, loving each other because Christ has first loved us. In this, there is no room for spiritual competition, seeking to get ahead in Christ’s kingdom, to better our brothers and sisters in Christ.
         The differences that we have are part of the glory that God is revealing in the world, like the differences between a husband and wife that reveal a glorious marriage knit together by Jesus. This takes work and it takes the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, let us rejoice in each one and the fact that God requires me and you to love them and be at peace with them now and always, in Christ.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Unworthy of Jesus

Matt. 10:37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
This is so vital that Jesus says that if you do not have it clear, then you are not praiseworthy. Do we not long to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But if you love your father or mother or sister or brother, son or daughter more than you love Jesus, then you will not hear those words.

The Sword of Jesus

Matt 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
The peace of the blood family is not the ultimate goal, at least not at the expense of peace with Christ. As I mentioned before, when blood lines and water lines are in line, then God be praised. But if they are out of line, then your loyalties should lie with God’s people. In that sense, serving Christ can cause division in a blood family while maintaining unity in Christ’s family. Jesus clearly teaches that it is more vital to have peace in Jesus than peace in the Hurts, or Phillipses, or Smiths or Jones.

Balance in Christ

At Family Camp, pastor Duane Garner delivered several sermons on various aspects of the biblical family. He did an excellent job. The sermons were recorded and will be available and I recommend them to you. I think his sermons were timely and sparked some thoughts that are pertinent for us here at Providence Church.
         There is always a risk in any movement of getting out of balance. In one sense we at Providence Church are part of a movement. That is not all bad. Our movement, if you will, includes a return to the old paths in many things and putting a new twist on old things in other ways.
         Our emphasis has been on Worship. Our primary goal is to glorify God in every area of our lives. We believe that this glory is foremost revealed and then reflected by the gathering of the saints in corporate worship. Nothing that we do or say is more important than what happens in our churches every Lord’s Day. So, renewing covenant with God and with one another on a weekly basis is absolutely foundational to everything else that we do. What we are doing right now, Sunday morning, is the most important hour and a half of your week. It calibrates every other part of what you do and more importantly, who you are. You are the body of Christ.
         I hope that we have been consistent on our emphases on corporate worship as the foundational aspect of our lives together. We are the worshipping people of God.
         Sometimes our other emphases become dominant and our priorities are not clear. We emphasize the importance of marriage, of children and of families. We emphasize the importance of Christian Education, whether at home or through delegating to Christian teachers at Christian schools.
         If we are not careful, the emphases of family or education can trump the emphasis on Worship in the local church. If this happens, then we are in danger of erecting idols that must fall like Dagon before the Ark of the Covenant.
         How do we do this? How do we erect idols as we seek to reform our lives? I am going to suggest several ways in which we are in danger of inverting our priorities.  I expect to step on many toes as I do so. Let me assure you that I have also stubbed my own toes in the process. This is a corrective that we all need and so I pray that the Holy Spirit would open our ears and our hearts.
         Before I talk about ways in which we are tempted to get out of balance and erect idols, I want to establish biblically where our first priorities should be.
         In the passage that I read, Jesus clearly teaches that the will of the Father in Heaven is more important than family members. While family loyalties should be strong, it is important that we get the priority straight right in the beginning of our Christian pilgrimage. The will of the Father in the revelation of Jesus Christ trumps every other loyalty that might exist. This is true of the loyalty between parents and children, between husbands and wives, or between any other familial relationship.
         In saying this, we need to understand that there are relationships that trump our bloodlines. Those relationships are the ones with Jesus and His people. At Family Camp, Pastor Garner quoted somebody as saying that for we Christians, "Water is thicker than blood", talking about the waters of baptism. Blood is our birth line. Water is our re-birth line.
         It is most glorious when your blood line and your water lines are one and the same, but if they are not, then your fundamental loyalties should lie with those in whom you are washed in the water and washed in the blood of the Lamb.
We need to understand that those who belong to Jesus are more fundamentally our family than those who were birthed from our mother or even those who were created from our loins or the wombs of our wives. Your relationships with God’s people in Christ are more fundamental even than your relationship to your own father and mother.
Jesus clearly teaches this in Matthew.
         Matt. 12:46   While he yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him.  47 Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.  48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? 49 And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! 50 For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.

Jesus and His People

We should think a lot about Jesus and His people. We call Jesus and His people, the church. But when we speak of the church, we should be careful to not simply mean the broader church, out there somewhere. That is a church that we belong to, one holy, catholic and apostolic church, but one in which we are not able to participate with at any meaningful level. Many Christians lay claim to their inclusion in the Universal Church while at the same time resisting inclusion in the local church. This ought not to be the case.
         Christ’s body has particular members, hands, arms, legs, eyes, ears. The local body is the representation of Christ’s universal body. It is here in the local body that we find our identity in Christ, who is the head of the body. There is not a more important organization or political structure that you belong to than Christ’s body as represented in the local church. In fact, your own blood family is not so vital as Christ’s body. This may come as a shock to some of you but it is at the heart of what Jesus revealed to us as He taught us to hate father and mother, sister and brother, in comparison to our love of Jesus and His people. It is those who do the will of Jesus that are our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers and we find them in Christ’s Church.
         Our call is to commit to Jesus and His people. To the extent that you have not submitted to Christ in His Church, then the Lord would have us confess our sins and walk in newness of life in and among Christ and His people.

Christ's Family, Our Family

As I mentioned in the sermon, each person here is directly connected to Christ. That means that they are also directly connected to His Church. Their primary connection is to Christ and His Church. They receive nurture from God the Father, through God the Son, by the means of God the Spirit, in the divinely instituted body of Christ, His bride, the Church. The Church is located wherever God’s people are gathered but is particularly revealed in the local church, the gathering of particular saints at a particular place. This is vitally important.
         It is these saints gathered here, from the oldest to the youngest, from the greatest to the least, that are Christ’s body to us who are gathered here. We gladly embrace all other saints who are in Christ, but God has given us these particular saints to live with, suffer with, rejoice with, weep with, commune with and die with.
         As we look around we see not only forgiven sinners gathered before the Lord but we truly see our brothers, our sisters, our mothers and our fathers in the faith. This is our fundamental family in the Recreation, in the beginnings of the New Heaven and Earth. How then can we not rejoice around so glorious a Table, in Jesus and His people?