Archive for the 'Sermon' Category

True Worship according to Hughs Oliphant Old

April 25, 2009

We worship God because God created us to worship him. Worship is at the center of our existence, at the heart of our reason for being. God created us to be his image—an image that would reflect his glory. In fact the whole creation was brought into existence to reflect the divine glory. The psalmist tells us that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19.1) The apostle Paul in the prayer with which he begins the epistle to the Ephesians makes it clear that God created us to praise him.

Ephesians 1.3-6

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace… (Eph. 1:3-6)

This prayer says much about the worship of the earliest Christians. It shows the consciousness that the first Christians has of the ultimate significance of their worship. They understood themselves to have been destined and appointed to live to the praise of God’s glory (Eph. 1:12). When the Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches us, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” it gives witness to this same basic principle; God created us to worship him…Worship must above all serve the glory of God.—Hughes Oliphant Old

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The Law and the Gospel: from the Perspective of Acts 10.34-43

April 20, 2009

One of the big questions that all Christians face at one time or another has to do with the law of the Old Testament. What role, if any, does it now play in the life of the believer? Unfortunately, when Christians attempt to answer this question, the law often suffers. Throughout the centuries, Christians have maintained that the law does have an important role to play in the life of individual, born-again Christians; sadly, though, Christians who totally dismiss the law from their life or downplay its importance are denying themselves a wonderful benefit. So long as they ignore in whole or in part the law, they will miss out on a deeper, richer, and more vibrant experience of God’s call on their life. How can I make such a bold statement? While it is altogether true that the law does not and cannot save us, it does provide us with an indispensable guide to living the holy life that is pleasing to God. As Peter exhorted Christians to be holy in our conduct for God our Father is holy. Peter said,

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’ (quoted from Leviticus 11.44) (1 Peter 1.13-16)

Peter was quoting from the book of Leviticus, which was at the very heart of the law of the Old Testament. Once Peter had been saved by grace and was trusting in that grace day by day, he gained a fresh perspective on the law. It was a guide that instructed Christians on how to live a life that is pleasing to God. But before we consider how it is able to help in this way, let’s consider how the law has often been mishandled.

The Law

Typically, there are three ways that Christians may mishandle the law:

Legalism—is the mistaken belief that someone can save himself or, at least, nudge his salvation along simply by following the law perfectly. This belief is mistaken because it assumes that human effort is part of the grounds of salvation, rather than a fruit that grows out of the soil of salvation. Wherever legalism is in full force, God’s grace retreats. Legalism, and its ugly twin-sister moralism, asserts that people may storm the gates of heaven and wring favour from God’s heart simply by doing what is right. Yet the Bible declares that salvation is a free gift given by God and received by faith; it doesn’t depend on human effort at all (Ephesians 2.8).

Lawlessness (antinomianism)—is the misguided notion that the law no longer applies to Christians. Believers can do away with the law entirely because Jesus obediently fulfilled the law on our behalf; he lived the life of obedient submission to the commands of the law, so we don’t have to. In response to this misguided notion, Jesus replies, ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5.17-19).’

Law unto oneself (autonomy)—is the incorrect idea that Christ set us free to do what we please. The autonomous person has crowned himself king of his own destiny. No sooner has Christ achieved liberty, then he is side-lined. Although this incorrect idea has an ancient pedigree, it has gained a new sense of life and purpose in the post-modern era of which we are a part. Autonomy literally means ‘self-law’ or self-rule’ and our world has certainly made the self the centre of the universe and the Lord of reality. Not only does the figure of Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords make no sense to self-centered people, he is offensive to them. How dare anyone other than myself tell me what to do!, the autonomous person cries out. Doing your own thing in your own way in your time regardless of how anyone else is doing it is the great preoccupation of the autonomous person. The antidote to the plague of autonomy is found in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, where the apostle explains just how glorious and powerful Christ is:

Ephesians 1.20-23: (God) raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

God crowned only one person King of kings and Lord of lords and it is not you or me. God’s only begotten Son, who is co-eternal with his Father, holds that singular office. As a declaration of Christ’s absolute sovereignty, verse 23 says that God put ‘all things’ under the feet of Christ. There is nothing in this universe, past or present, material or spiritual, that stands above Christ. Rather, he stands supreme over it all in its totality. This passage deals a death-blow to the spirit of autonomy in the church by stating that God gave the church to Christ making him ‘head over all things to the church’ (verse 22). Even (and especially) in the church, Christ is supreme ruler. Autonomy is rebellion against Christ’s crown.

We have considered how Christians mishandle the law. So, then, what is the proper way to relate to it? The proper way to handle the law once we are born from above is to treat it is a guide that directs us to live holy lives that please God and bring him glory.

The Holy Life

The holy life is based on the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit with whom we cooperate.

God’s acceptance

Peter preached to Cornelius and his household a truth that applies to all humanity: God accepts anyone who

• Fears him

• Does what is right (verse 35)

Jesus Christ the Judge

Peter also stressed that God appointed Jesus Christ to be judge of the living and the dead (verse 42). What does the judgment entail? John’s gospel paints a picture of a world of darkness that has been pierced by heavenly light. Some are drawn to this light, while others are repulsed by it:

John 3.19-21: And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.

The Witnesses

There are several witnesses who bear testimony that Jesus Christ is supreme judge. Let’s consider three of these witnesses.

The apostles (verses 39, 41, 42 [twice])

The prophets (verse 43)

The works that Jesus does (verse 38)

Jesus the Perfect Judge

There are two things to note about the Judgment:

First, Jesus will be the judge. He will be a fair judge for he knows the entire content of human heart:

John 2.24-25: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

In this quote, ‘man’ means the breadth and depth of humanity. Jesus knows everything about all of us; nothing about humanity is unknown to him.

Second, the Judgment will be according to works:

Matthew 16.27: For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.

Let it be said loud and clear: it is by grace that we are saved through faith (Ephesians 2.8). It is by grace alone through faith alone. Our best works do not save. Yet, as was noted at the beginning of the sermon, the law becomes our guide, directing us to live holy lives that please God and bring him glory. The law can never save, but once we are saved it assists us in bearing the fruit that characterizes the children of God.

Works

Earlier we saw that Scriptures assures us that God accepts anyone who fears the Lord and does what is right. But what do these terms mean—fear of the Lord and doing what is right?

Fear of the Lord: summarizes the first four of the Ten Commandments:

• You shall have no other gods before the Lord God Almighty
• Do not make idols
• Do not profane God’s name; it is holy
• Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy

Doing what is right: summarizes in the final six of the Ten Commandments

• Do not murder
• Do not commit adultery
• Do not steal
• Do not bear false witness
• Do not covet your neighbour’s life

Jesus intensified the demands of the law when he taught that anyone who thinks murderous thoughts is considered a murderer. Those who think wicked thoughts has broken the law and Jesus taught that breaking one law is the same as breaking all the laws

The Holy God must act righteously and judge those who break God’s law.

The Good News

The law of God drives us back to the grace of God. When we consider the impossible standard that the law demands of us, we are forced to turn back in humble submission to our heavenly Father. While we may think that God will deal harshly with us, we are met with something unexpected.

Peter proclaims the truth: God sent the word of Good News of peace through Jesus Christ (who is Lord of all) (verse 36). The prophets witnessed to the forgiveness of sins through the name of Jesus (verse 43). Jesus was hanged on a tree, becoming a curse for us (verse 39).

Galatians 3.13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Reading has a Rich Tradition in Certain Churches

February 13, 2009

calvin-booksSome Christians love reading and studying. Nothing wrong with that! Such activities have enriched their faith. Calvin may not have been the one who established the tradition of studying within the wider church, but he certainly made it a priority among the flocks he was shepherding. This link takes you to a terrific story about the reformer of Geneva.

Christians of the Reformed Churches read books, study Scripture, and have a wonderful heritage of knowledge and wisdom to draw upon, as a result. Paul advised Timothy, ‘Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything’ (2 Timothy 2.7).

How does God Convey His Grace to Us?

February 13, 2009

Herman Bavinck

bavinckHerman Bavinck was one of the great Christian thinkers of the last half of the 19th century. He had important things to say about Scriptures and the Word of God. In saying them, he didn’t mince words, but pointed out errors. So, his criticisms of Roman Catholicism are said to point out deviations from the truth, as it is revealed in God’s word. For Bavinck and other Protestants, the Word of God stands head-and-shoulders above the authority of the church and, at the same time, is the foundation of the church. This is a long quote, but worth every word.

…(T)he relationship between Scripture and the church is totally different in Protestantism than in Roman Catholicism. In Rome’s view the church is anterior to Scripture; the church is not built upon Scripture, but Scripture arose from the church; Scripture does indeed need the church, but the church does not need Scripture. The Reformation, however, again put the church on the foundation of Scripture and elevated Scripture high above the church. Not the church but Scripture, the Word of God, became the means of grace par excellence. Even the sacrament was subordinated to the Word and had neither meaning nor power apart from that Word. Now, in accordance with Christ’s ordinance, that Word was indeed administered in the midst of the congregation of believers by the minister, but this did not alter the fact that the Word was (also) put into everyone’s hand, that it was plain to everyone who studied it with a desire for salvation, that it exerted its power not only when it was proclaimed in public but also when it was studied and read at home. In that way Christians, who accepted that word with a believing heart, were liberated from sacredotalism. No longer did any person or thing stand between them and Christ. By faith they appropriated the whole of salvation, and in the sacrament they received the sign and seal of that reality. Thus the Reformation changed the Roman Catholic doctrine of the means of grace.’ (Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 4, pp. 444-445).

What has Jesus Done vs. What would Jesus Do

February 7, 2009
Mike Horton

Mike Horton

It has experienced explosive growth among Christians. Capturing public awareness—at least in the Christian world—the phrase has become a buzzword:

What would Jesus Do?

How popular is the phrase? Well, the acronym, WWJD, is  known by scores of people, even non-Christians are beginning to recognize its meaning.

The question sounds so impressive that many believers have made it the gold standard of measurement. Facing a problem in life? Then ask yourself the question, WWJD? Prepare to be dazzled as the solution wondrously appears in the form of down-to-earth, easily applied advice. WWJD roots Christians in the real world, where problems can be solved through good old, practical know-how.

But a growing number of Christians are weary of an approach to life that sees challenges only as problems to be solved by practical means. Many believers are craving a richer diet when it comes to pondering life and faith. They crave mystery over know how. They also see God as more than Mr. Fix-It and Christ as Junior Mr. Fix-It.

For these Christians, the deeper, more satisfying question to ask is, ‘What has Jesus done?’ See what Mike Horton has to say. Read about it here. By regarding what Jesus has already done (rather than what he would do), we peer into a mystrery that is inexhaustible in its depth and complexity. Yet this mystery–what Jesus has done on the cross–has a direct bearing on our lives. What Jesus has done is die for our sins and rise to new life.

The Cross of Christ–Part Two

February 7, 2009
Mike Horton

Mike Horton

Michael Horton has this to say about Preaching Christ:

The purpose of the sermon is not a devotional or inspirational pep talk; nor is it a course on theology or an autobiographical account of the preacher’s life and times. It is not a moral lesson in how to be good, nor is it a practical seminar on how to have a happy life. The purpose of the sermon is neither personal self-improvement nor national salvation, but to preach Christ and him crucified.

Stirring words, for sure. And a challenge to all preachers, since most of us wish, deep down, to be liked by our people. But should the truth of the gospel be comprimised for the sake of friendship or popularity? Shouldn’t preachers make things relevant? Attractive? Entertaining? Horton goes on to say:

But will that (the preaching of Christ crucified) be perceived as relevant, with so many practical problems in our troubled world? Won’t they consider such a message impractical and foolish? And the Apostle Paul answers, ‘Sure, the Gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God.’

Mike is the host of The White Horse Inn, editor of Modern Reformation magazine, and professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California.

The Cross of Christ–Part One

February 7, 2009

the_cross

For some reason, I’ve never been able to read one book at a time. I always have several books going at once. One of the books I’m reading right now is In My Place Condemned He Stood, by Mark Dever and J.I. Packer. The book reprints a handful of essays on the cross of Christ; three by Packer, one by Dever, and an annotated bibliography by Ligon Duncan that describes other books that deal with the cross. Don’t let the slender size of the book fool you, this small tome packs an enormous punch.

How often have you, when you’ve actually paused to think about the cross, wondered what it was really about? Has the bloody and brutal death of Jesus puzzled you? It certainly puzzled me at one time. And, I’m sorry to say, I believe it still puzzles many Christians. They confess Christ as Lord and believe he was raised from the dead, but they are foggy on what exactly happened on the cross. For me, one of the people who helped to clear things up was John Piper. Others also helped, including R. C. Sproul, John Owen.

cross-book-dever-packer1Unless we grasp what God accomplished on the cross—in the death of Christ, the perfect sacrifice; in the pouring out of God’s wrath on his sinless Son; in the substitution that Christ made on our behalf, suffering and dying instead of us—we will never flourish as a church. No program will ‘fix’ us, no matter how well planned it is. Only the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world will save us. This is what should, first and foremost, be sung by the congregation, taught by parents and taught in the Sunday school, and preached and preached and preached from the pulpit.

New Life–Part One

February 5, 2009

I really enjoy hearing the story of someone’s conversion. It’s such a blessing to hear how God works. This one is great. I hope you read it. Let me know what you think.

‘For God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4.6)

Children in Worship–Part Three

February 5, 2009

kids-jumpingOur church is thinking about some big changes. One of the areas under consideration is worship. It’s being suggested that we combine our two services into one. Also, that we combine the various styles of music. And, finally, that we move the time of our children’s Sunday school to the hour before or after the worship service. If we did so, it would mean that our children would be in the sanctuary with us during the entire service. Chew on that thought for a moment. In this post, I’m going to focus on children in worship. Here is an outstanding short piece on children in worship.

Children in Worship–How will we cope?

If you are like me, then the first question is, ‘How will the poor parent of the child who stays in the sanctuary for the full service cope with the change?

That’s a very, very important question. How will parents of young children cope with their little one being by their side for an hour of worship. How will the child sit through four or five hymns, an anthem, offering, prayer, and a sermon?

A Fresh Perspective

It’s good to remember that not all churches have Sunday school. That is, there have always been churches where kids stay with mom and dad or grandma and grandpa (or another loving, caring adult) during the full worship service. These congregations have never dismissed the children. And, these congreagation don’t exist half way around the world, on another continent. They are right here in Canada. The reason I point this fact out is to give us some perspective. The way we have done things in the past is not the only possible way of doing things. There are alternatives that work well. We may be able to learn a thing or two from them. But in order to do so, personal humility is required.

Parenting from the Pew

book-parenting-in-the-pew1Also, there are resources that can help us re-think the situation. One book that Terri, my wife, has found particularly helpful has been Parenting in the Pew by Robbie Castleman, the mother of two sons, now grown. She speaks from experience as she provides advice to parents with little children. Her advice is simple, solid, and practical. Along the way, she offers an extremely valuable insight. Worship is never easy, contrary to popular myth.

Worship is work, hard work. It is also rewarding work. To worship the Lord ‘in spirit and truth’ does not come easily, and it certainly does not come naturally to us. It is difficult to worship on the leftover energy of a long week and a late Saturday. The Sunday morning encounter is worthy of our best energy, not our least.

The Lord of life promises to accompany us in worship. we will come upon unexpected stores of energy when we remember that worship is a joyous privilege. His mighty energy will be at work in us to revitalize our weary spirits. We will find rest for our souls.

The King’s House

cross-and-crownWhen Terri prepares our children for Sunday morning, she begins the process Saturday night by laying out the outfits the children will wear the next day. They see her do this and usually ask what’s going on? She’s then able to explain that we all are getting ready for tomorrow. ‘What’s tomorrow?,’ they ask. ‘Oh, well,’ their mom replies, ‘That’s the day we go to the King’s house, to worship the King of Kings.’ This plants the seed in their mind. Sunday is no ordinary day. Great things await them.

This isn’t a fabrication. Terri is not spinning a tale of make-believe. Her remarks are based on the witness of Scripture. The Lord God is King and his people, who are sealed by the Holy Spirit, are the new temple of the Lord. Christ promised that whenever two or three are gathered together in his name, he will be there. So, in a very real way, when we gather in the sanctuary as the people whom God has redeemed through the shed blood of the Lamb, we are, in fact, in the presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords. We are in the Kings house.

What an awesome and thrilling, humbling and mysterious thing we do when we come to worship him in our sanctuary. If we convey this to our children, they will slowly begin to appreciate being with you, in the pew, to worship their God, too.

Truth–Part Two

February 4, 2009

eyewitness4What is the foundation of our congregation? I hope most, if not all, will say ‘the truth.’ This may seem like stating the obvious. But it’s not a bad idea to state the obvious once in awhile–to clear the air, so to speak. As our congregation ponders our future and considers the possibility of making some major revisions, we all need to keep our eye on the main object, the truth as it is revealed in Jesus Christ.

The Testimony of Eyewitnesses

Truth is the foundation upon which so much depends. Paul said, if the resurrection did not really happen–if it was not firmly grounded in the truth of objective reality–then Christians are the most pathetic people alive (1 Corinthians 15.17-19). Because, in that case, we would be believing a lie. But, Paul added, the resurrection really did happen (1 Corinthians 15.20). And he encouraged the curious and the doubtful to search out and cross examine the many witnesses who eyeballed the Risen Christ directly. ‘Don’t take my word for granted,’ Paul was, in effect, saying,  ‘listen to the testimony of the eye-witnesses’ (1 Corinthians 15.3-8). That is what the gospels primarily are: the testimony of eyewitnesses. Click here to read a review article on the gospels as eye-witness testimonies.

The concluding paragraph by Ben Witherington is worth quoting:

(T)he original Christian Gospels need to be taken far more seriously as sources of reliable historical testimony about the life of Jesus, his words and deeds, his disciples and demise, and the aftermath thereto. They were neither created nor passed along in the form that modern form critics (such as Rudolf Bultmann and Martin Dibelius) thought. We do not have in those Gospels “cleverly devised myths” or stories only loosely based on history, but rather eyewitness testimonies and traditions that in many cases the witnesses were prepared to die for, so profoundly did they believe them to be true.

Defending the Faith Against All Error

It is painfully clear, that our world doesn’t want to hear the truth. Or, worse, they think there is no truth. Or, even worse, that Christians twist and distort the truth themselves! This is where defending the Christian faith (what experts call ‘Apologetics‘) comes in. There is a long lines of Christians, stretching back to the earliest days of the church, who have defended the truthfulness of the Christian faith. Across the centuries, Christian apologists have met and answered the challenges of heretics, sceptics, atheists, and apologists from other religions. One of the best apologists of the last part of the 20th century was the late Greg Bahnsen, who regularly debated with atheists, Darwinists, sceptics, Muslims, and Jehovah Witnesses. James White also does a fine job of defending the truth against all error.

The reason I am writing about the foundational importance of the truth has to do with the revisions are congregation will be facing very shortly. As we consider how to proceed in our plans, let’s make sure that the church has its roots deeply planted in the rich soil of the truth.