Witnessing Like Palm Trees and Football Players

For Lord’s Day, February 7, 2016

windy palms

(Image source: http://timesofsandiego.com/life/2015/05/12/gusty-desert-winds-to-make-driving-difficult-on-interstate-8/)

Dear Saints,

Last week in the morning service, Leviticus 19:30 had us revisit the fundamental expression of being God’s people—sanctified Sabbath worship around Him in His sanctuary. This is, after all, a foretaste of heaven (as depicted in The Revelation).

Since then, I’ve been thinking about a beautiful image in Psalm 92, which the Bible entitles “A Psalm for the Sabbath Day”. Among other depictions of what is experienced within and expressed without by those who embrace Sabbath worship with reverence and godly fear, verse twelve gives us this simile to study: The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree ...

We have a lot of palm trees in San Diego. What do you notice about them? They are able to survive and thrive in an area that does not get a lot of water but does get a lot of sun. So spending time in the presence of the Son each week helps us flourish throughout our weekly desert pilgrimage.

Another thing comes to mind due to the recent stormy weather we experienced just last week. The high winds nocked down several trees. But notice, as far as I could determine, they were not palm trees. Palm trees are rarely blown over by strong winds. So the Holy Spirit fills us each Lords’ Day with rivers of the water of life so that we have the “bend but not break” stamina to not be bowled over by the powerfully changing winds of the world each week.

What a witness we can give to the Lord of the Sabbath before the rest of the trees out there struggling to stay green and upright. One other thing about palm trees: they are outside giving a witness to the world around them.

Facing GiantsLast week, we considered what Martyn Lloyd-Jones had to say about living out the Sermon on the Mount in our lives as the main way of real evangelism (relational). Sabbath-filled, sanctified palm trees give us a good illustration of this truth. But if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphors, may we also be motivated by an article in the November/December 2015 edition of Preaching magazine, entitled, “Run the Play! Why Preaching is Only the Beginning”. In it, Pastor J.D. Greear first writes:

If we really want to see the power of God, it’s not going to be found primarily in the pulpit. I’m all for the pulpit, but the real power will be released as ordinary, Spirit-filled people take the gospel wherever they go, into every part of our communities … I simply can’t reach everyone where they are, and you can’t either; however, the people in our congregations can.

Thinking of how we have recently learned in our evening sermons through Matthew that Jesus is looking to make fishers of men to catch men for the Kingdom of Heaven, Pastor Greear’s “mission statement” for his church is impressive: “sending capacity, not seating capacity, is the best measure of a church’s success.”

Let us share the same goal of him and his church, not to pad our pews but to plant churches. And let us remember that God reaps His sown Seed by sending laborers out to harvest. Here is the other metaphor to meditate on by Pastor Greear:

In many ways, a church service functions similarly to a football huddle. Imagine watching a football game in which the quarterback calls a play in the huddle, the team applauds him, pats him on the back and then runs back to the bench to have Gatorade and snacks. The quarterback would be right to feel frustrated: “Fellas! The point isn’t listening to me call the play. The point is to run the play.” … No matter how good pastors get at calling the plays, if we don’t get people to start running the plays, we’re going to forfeit the game … We won’t be content to have our preaching reflect the theology of the apostle Paul. We’ll want to match the evangelistic zeal of the apostle Paul, too … Faithful churches seek to reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, because that’s what good fishermen and compassionate shepherds care about. If we are not concerned about this, can we really call ourselves disciples of the One who said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men?” The bottom line? Faithful churches pursue width and depth, because one is not possible without the other. Depth in the gospel leads to width in the mission.

With these illustrations, let us hear and live anew Christ’s Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20: … All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations … Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

(Second image source: http://www.facingthegiants.com)

Proper Preparation for the Lord’s Day and Supper

Calvin SealFor Lord’s Day, January 18, 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

[Photo source: http://myheartioffer.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html]

Dear Saints,

Thomas Watson writes, “There is no receiving a crucified Christ but to a consecrated heart.”

Watson is speaking to the vital need of preparing ourselves properly for our effectual taking of the Lord in His Supper (which will be our topic of Scripture study tomorrow evening by the guidance of Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 171)–but his words are also important to help us remember to prepare for public and private worship on the Lord’s Day as well.  This verse is an important one we will consider tomorrow evening:

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

Tomorrow, God will speak to us again in Exodus 31:12-17 about keeping His holy Sabbath holy, for such a lifestyle is a living sign of covenant life with Him in Christ.  It is not insignificant that as God “wraps things up” after forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai regarding all the moral, judicial, and ceremonial laws just before He gives him the stone tablets as the witnessing “receipts” of their agreement (next week, vs. 18), God reviews how important Sabbath-keeping is as a witness to their holy relationship with Him.  So it is appropriate for us to review how to prepare for Lord’s Day worship by the guidance of the Westminster Divines:

Westminster Larger Catechism 117:  How is the sabbath or the Lord’s day to be sanctified? A. The sabbath or Lord’s day is to be sanctified by an holy resting all the day … in the publick and private exercises of God’s worship: and, to that end, we are to prepare our hearts, and with such foresight, diligence, and moderation, to dispose and seasonably dispatch our worldly business, that we may be the more free and fit for the duties of that day.

Westminster Larger Catechism 121:  Why is the word Remember set in the beginning of the fourth commandment? A. The word Remember is set in the beginning of the fourth commandment, partly, because of the great benefit of remembering it, we being thereby helped in our preparation to keep it … partly, because we are very ready to forget it, for that there is less light of nature for it, and yet it restraineth our natural liberty in things at other times lawful; that it cometh but once in seven days, and many worldly businesses come between, and too often take off our minds from thinking of it, either to prepare for it, or to sanctify it; and that Satan with his instruments much labour to blot out the glory, and even the memory of it, to bring in all irreligion and impiety.

Watson also writes, “We dress ourselves when we come to the table of some great monarch; so, when we are going to the table of the Lord, we should dress ourselves by holy meditation and heart consideration.”  This dressing of ourselves to meet with King Jesus in Person is spoken of in the Scripture above as “examining” and “proving” ourselves by quiet, thoughtful time in the Word and in devoted prayer.

May you give yourselves to such soul-searching tonight, beloved, that by faith you would truly receive the Messiah tomorrow.  And as you so prepare, may your meditation motto be that of John Calvin’s: “I offer my heart to you, O Lord, eagerly and earnestly.”

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Worship Jesus for Real Rest

1214121230For Lord’s Day, July 13, 2014

Dear Saints,

Tomorrow we will be reminded about the importance of rest to provide for and protect God’s people in this life to make it to the next life.  And that rest is connected to the Sabbath, which means, “to cease”.

Come to Jesus tomorrow on His Holy Day of rest and be truly comforted in the fellowship of the Saints as you join your brethren in truly resting at His feet as we cease from our works and trust in and worship Him.

We will sing part of Psalm 16, in which David rests in the hope of heaven (eternal rest) because of the Holy One (Jesus, the Messiah).  May you come ready to taste and see that God’s rest is good for your soul as you sing King David’s words:

Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.  For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.  Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:9-11)

I want to encourage you to think of rest like the ceasing of a storm.  Or, like the man, Legion, who was running around naked causing havoc until He encountered Christ, but was then put in His right mind, clothed and at peace.  Come to Jesus in Sabbath worship expecting to rest in Him like that, and He will not deny you of it, for He says:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-12:1)

Stormy souls have no peace.  Enjoy God’s peace tomorrow in Christ, Who only gives real and abiding rest.  He calmed the stormy seas. He can quiet your restless hearts. Only He can. Come to Him truly, by dropping everything else, for You Need Your Rest.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Going Out of Our Way to Get to Church

For Lord’s Day April 28, 2013

Dear Saints,

What is “Baca”?  That’s what one of my daughter’s asked after singing Psalm 84 together this week in family worship.  I have often meant to look it up, and so we did.  What a nugget we mined together!

As this Psalm was our Psalm of the month in March, you’ll remember that the whole Psalm sings of how much the writers love to be in God’s house of worship (vss. 1-2); so much so that they would rather be there than a thousand days anywhere else (vs. 10).  They’d even prefer being a lowly doorkeeper of the house of God than hanging out inside the tents of the wicked (vs. 10). In fact, they would go over mountain and valley to get there, and no one would keep them away. Nothing could keep them from getting to worship Christ with His and their brethren within their Father’s House.  Not even the “Valley of Baca”:

Blessed is the man whose strength is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them.  Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a well; the rain also filleth the pools.  (Psalm 84:5-6)

It’s almost like they are saying, “We’d walk through the dessert barefoot uphill both ways without water if that’s what it took to get to corporate worship. Nothing will keep us away, no way, no how, no sir!”  The phrase, “Valley of Baca” seems to be a figurative expression, and means something either like “Valley of Weeping” or “Valley of Tears/Trickling” (some say Valley of Mulberry Trees); basically, it means a dry valley that would not be pleasant to travel through, and thus some would use it as an excuse therefore to turn around and not make it to worship.  Yet the Psalmists say that even if they faced the Valley of Baca on their pathway to Church, somehow they would make water out of it and survive to get through to worship God where He especially meets with His assembled people.  They would make lemonade out of lemons to refresh themselves enough to get through to be refreshed within the congregation where Christ Personally speaks and sings to and with His brethren (Psalm 22:22, 25/Hebrews 2:12; Psalm 40:7-10/Hebrews 10:7-10).  There’s no way they’re missing out on that special experience of God’s grace and truth!

John Calvin gives a powerful commentary on this verse that I encourage you to meditate on as we continue our evening sermons on the fourth commandment, preparing for them by singing Psalm 92: A Psalm or Song for the sabbath day. It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night (vss. 1-2).

The meaning of the Psalmist is, that no impediments can prevent the enlightened and courageous worshippers of God from making conscience of waiting upon the sanctuary. By this manner of speaking, he confirms the statement which he had previously made, That nothing is more desirable than to be daily engaged in the worship of God; showing, as he does, that no difficulties can put a stop to the ardent longings of the godly, and prevent them from hastening with alacrity, yea, even though their way should be through dry and barren deserts, to meet together to solemnise the holy assemblies … There is, however, no doubt, that dry and barren deserts are here to be understood, in travelling through which, much difficulty and privation must be endured, particularly from the want of water; drink being of all other articles the most necessary to persons when travelling. [The Psalmist] intended this as an argument to prove the steadfastness of the godly, whom the scarcity of water, which often discourages travelers from prosecuting their journey, will not hinder from hastening to seek God, though their way should be through sandy … vales. In these words, reproof is administered to the slothfulness of those who will not submit to any inconvenience for the sake of being benefited by the service of God. They indulge themselves in their own ease and pleasures, and allow nothing to interfere with these. They will, therefore, provided they are not required to make any exertion or sacrifice, readily profess themselves to be the servants of God; but they would not give a hair of their head, or make the smallest sacrifice, to obtain the liberty of hearing the gospel preached, and of enjoying the sacraments. This slothful spirit, as is evident from daily observation, keeps multitudes fast bound to their nests, so that they cannot bear to forego in any degree their own ease and convenience. Yea, even in those places where they are summoned by the sound of the church-bell to public prayers … to hear the doctrine of salvation, or to partake of the holy mysteries, we see that some give themselves to sleep, some think only of gain, some are entangled with the affairs of the world, and others are engaged in their amusements. It is therefore not surprising, if those who live at a distance, and who cannot enjoy these religious services and means of salvation, without making some sacrifice of their worldly substance, remain lolling at home. That such may not live secure and self-satisfied in the enjoyment of outward prosperity, [the Psalmist] declares, that those who have true heart religion, and who sincerely serve God, direct their steps to the sanctuary of God, not only when the way is easy and cheerful, under the shade and through delightful paths, but also when they must walk through rugged and barren deserts; and that they will rather make for themselves cisterns with immense toil, than be prevented from prosecuting their journey by reason of the drought of the country.

With these challenging words before us, let us remember what was said in an evening sermon recently, entitled “Watch Your Sabbath Attitude”, guided by the first part of Westminster Larger Catechism 119:

If you are like the men in Amos and Malachi, here’s how your actions and attitude really sing Psalm 84:1-10: How aggravating are thy tabernacles, O LORD of heavy burdens! My soul loatheth, yea, even fainteth about the idea of being drug to the courts of the LORD: my heart and my flesh snuff against the boring God. Yea, why would the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may bury her young, even thine sepulchres, O LORD of heavy burdens, my taskmaster, and my oppressor. Blessed are they that leave thy house: they will be still avoiding thee. Stop the music. Pathetic is the man whose crutch is in thee; in whose heart are the ways of them. Who passing through the valley of Baca make it a swamp; the mold also stinketh the pools. They go from crutch to crutch, every one of them in Zion gets dragged before God. O LORD God of hosts, I got nothin’ to say, O God of Jacob. Stop the music. Behold, O God our kill-joy, and look upon the yawns of thine annoyed. For a day in thy courts is worse than a thousand anywhere else but here! I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my pub, than to dwell in the tents of Shem.

May we have the devoted attitude of Psalm 84 toward worship in God’s house, and may we show it truly as they did in going out of our way to worship God with God’s people every time they get together, as do the writers of Psalm 84 — even if it means going through the Valley of Baca to get there.

Philippines Family WalkIn closing, I have in mind this photo that sits in my office given to Elder Renner by Pastor Bradley in Wales.  It shows a number of saints who worship at one of the mission churches in the Philippines that Pastor Bradley has helped grow in Reformed doctrine and practice over the years.  On the back of the photo, there is a handwritten note about one of the women and her children focused on in the center of the picture.  Here is how the note reads:  This lady is of special interest for she has seven children and walks for six hours to be at every Sabbath service, she hasn’t missed once in the last four months.  She walks for three hours to meet the church vehicle, walking over rough land and then has to get back home, sometimes in the dark.  She brought four with her on this occasion, as much as she could cope with on her long journey.  We asked her as to why she was so willing to walk such a distance to be at the service.  She responded, “I must bring my family around God’s Word.”  Quite amazing.  Her husband does not come, as yet.  This woman is our example of Psalm 84:6, and may God bless us to have her same devotion to bring her family to worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth!

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Watch Your Sabbath Attitude

For Lord’s Day April 14, 2013.

Dear Saints,

In preparation study for sermons the next few weeks on the heart of the fourth commandment, I was very challenged by Chuck Baynard’s commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism regarding its sections guiding our present evening sermons. It’s one of those kind of readings where I am tempted to quote him too much in my sermons. So I’d like to share some with you here and encourage you to honestly meditate on them before the Lord, remembering God’s Law is a perfect mirror that converts the soul and makes the simple wise (Psalm 19:17):

  • “While the first three [commandments] speak of the same thing in going after strange gods, the Sabbath breaker has brought that strange woman into the bedroom of God’s own house.”
  • “Open breaking of the Sabbath is no less a declaration by man of his fully taking charge of his life and religion over God’s rightful place as his Creator.”
  • When we break the Sabbath due to the desire to work [Amos 8:5], ” [we are saying] … God is a liar and if we obeyed him and everyone rested and worshipped God on Sunday the nation would suffer.”
  • “God never cursed a nation for showing obedience.”
  • “Perhaps if you learned to obey God and rest and worship on His day He would be pleased to bless your efforts the other six.” [Isaiah 58:13-14]
  • “ … not obeying the commandment and keeping the Sabbath holy does affect everything else we do and stand for so righteously at other times.”
  • “With such total disregard of God’s law and the violation of His command, and the defilement of that which He has hallowed, and the tossing aside of the great grace given us, can we wonder why the church as a whole is so ineffective? Friends we have surrendered the fortifications to the enemy without his firing the first shot. The road to recovery will be long and uphill for the church to regain even a portion of the respect of man and the reverence for God she once maintained. The first step of this journey is the return of the Sabbath to its rightful place in God’s family, His gift of grace and love, returned to Him in worship in spirit and truth. From here alone will the prayers of the saints rise as missiles from hidden silos to rain on the stronghold of the evil one, as in prayer and fasting the church prepares for the sudden return of her Master, even Jesus Christ. Judgment begins in the house of God, and here is the first charge. Are you guilty?”
  • “How rediculous our lame excuses will be on that great day of the Lord.”

Do these quotes possibly annoy you? A little bit?  If so, consider that the people being called out in our evening texts (Amos 8:5 and Malachi 1:13) were similarly annoyed with having to worship God His way on His Day, even as they did it, yet not well and only half-heartedly. And so, the evening message is: “Watch Your Sabbath Attitude”.  Related to this concern to whole-heartedly obey God, our morning sermon’s text will show us through the midwives of Exodus 1:15-21 and God’s response to them fearing God rather than man and thus obeying Him only, that ” … them that honour me I will honour” (1 Samuel 2:30).

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Abide Under the Almighty

For Lord’s Day, March 31, 2013

Dear Saints,

Last week in the evening, we considered the second part of the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 117 about preparing for the Lord’s Day to properly sanctify it and the Lord in our hearts.  This week in the evening, we will look at Q&A 118 and the responsibility of those set in authority (mainly elders and parents) to supervise the sanctifying of the Sabbath and ensuring everyone has a holy rest in our household.

I’d like you to meditate on the following verse with the Christian Sabbath in view:  He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. (Psalm 91:1).

This kind of approach in our attitudes to the Christian Sabbath is the way to prepare for and ensure the sanctified enjoyment of the Lord’s Day in our public and private worship.  May you see the Lord’s Day this way and prepare to be blessed together as Christ preaches to us in the congregation (Psalm 22:22; Hebrews 2:12).  For, The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant. (Psalm 25:14).  He doesn’t share His secrets with just anyone anywhere, but with those who come to seek shelter under His gracious wings.  I look forward to meeting with you there and resting in Christ together.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Family Time with the Father

For Lord’s Day, March 17, 2013

Dear Saints,

For this week’s devotion, I’d like to share one of a number of Pastor Jeff Stivason’s emails to his congregation this week preparing them for the Lord’s Supper.  His message equally prepares them for celebrating the Lord’s Day more broadly, which is the focus of our evening sermons through the Westminster Larger Catechism presently.

To the Family of God in Gibsonia,

As we continue to reflect on our adoption in Christ as we prepare to come to the communion table this Lord’s Day we ought also to think about our new family and not simply our new status.  So, today I want us to think for a few minutes about our new family.

First, like all families the family of God has a certain rhythm or pattern to it.  And perhaps one of the most basic patterns is worship on the Lord’s Day.  God provides us with one day in seven that we might come together as a family in order to worship God and encourager one another (Hebrews 10:24-25).  This family time is an important part of being in the family of God and should not be neglected by any sibling for rather obvious reasons.

Second, every family has family time.  Now, what makes this different from what I said in number one?  Well, in number one I was stressing family rhythms but here I am stressing family time.  Think about it.  Today family time is a valuable commodity.  In the face of extra activities it is fleeting.  Some families can be assured of having everyone together at breakfast and others at supper.  The Christian family has it’s time on the Lord’s Day – morning and evening.  What is more, this Lord’s Day evening we are having a family supper.

Third, every family has a Father to whom the children have free access.  We enjoy the privilege of approaching God and addressing Him as our heavenly Father with the confidence that He cares for us.  Perhaps prayer is the most important thing that we can do to nurture this understanding of God.  Tonight gather your family around.  Pray with them.  Remind them of the importance of the family into which God has placed them.

Blessings,
Pastor Jeff

Beloved, I encourage you to look at our text for this Lord’s Day evening on how to sanctify the Sabbath as children of God. Isaiah 58:13-14 challenges us not to do what we delight in on the Sabbath, but to delight in what our Heavenly Father delights in having us do on His Holy Day.  And, as we will learn, delighting in the Lord’s Day is to Delight in the Lord of the Sabbath.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant