Superflous Praise for Superlative Grace: Our Cup Runneth Over

For the Lord’s Day, January 22, 2017

Dear Saints,

Last Lord’s Day’s morning sermon based on Ephesians 3:8 encouraged us to more deeply explore “the unsearchable riches of Christ”. We were exhorted to “Keep Searching Out Christ”, as His mercies are new every morning for great is His faithfulness.

 

(Image source: https://caffeineforge.com/2013/08/07/my-cup-runneth-over/)

We remembered in that sermon the words by Wilhelmus à Brakel which we wondered over during our Wednesday night study that same week leading up to worship:

… His intercession is efficacious to the superlative degree.

Today, I read a wonderful meditation by William S. Pulmer in Jehovah-Jireh: A Treatise on Providence that rang to the same lovely tune as à Brakel’s:

Observe, first, several words, nearly synonymous, are used to teach us the doctrine, such is merciful, gracious, long-suffering, pitiful, slow to anger, and not satisfied with the positive the inspired writers use the superlative: very pitiful and very gracious too.

Observe, secondly, that not content with the singular, mercy, by a felicitous fault of style, they adopt and employ the plural form, mercies … nor are they content with a simple plural; but they speak of these mercies as manifold, yea, they speak of the multitude of his mercies … And to denote that there is nothing uncertain about these mercies, they speak of them as sure mercies; … But they are not mere mercies, but tender mercies … Daniel goes further still; he says: ‘To the Lord our God belong mercies’ and forgiveness? No; but ‘forgivenesses.’

Thirdly, there is another set of phrases they use; they speak of God as rich in mercy, plenteous in mercy, and full of compassion; they speak of his abundant mercy, of the earth as full of his mercy, to denote its amplitude; and in respect of its continuance, they say his compassions fail not, and there is a Psalm [136] in which twenty-six times it is said, His mercy endureth forevever. There is still another phraseology used by the sacred writers. They speak of God’s kindness, his great kindness, his marvelous kindness, his everlasting kindness; but they are not satisfied to speak of it as simple kindness; they call it merciful kindness, and speak of it as great toward us.

Indeed, let us approach the Lord’s Supper tomorrow night rejoicing that our cup runneth over with His blood of the everlasting covenant! Thus, we have plenty of reasons to be superfluous in our praise of our gracious God tomorrow together, do we not?

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

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)

How to Approach God in Worship to Reach the World

IMG_9789For Lord’s Day, January 31, 2016

Dear Saints,

Sometimes there are meaningful things gleaned in commentaries for sermon preparation that won’t make it “out of the woodshed” and into the sermons. Preparing for tomorrow evening’s sermon that will introduce our Lord’s magnificent “Sermon on the Mount” with His glorious “Beatitudes”, I have these particle shavings to share that I trust can serve us well for building up to the message on Matthew 5:1-12. First, some whittlings from the work of Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

I do not think it is a harsh judgment to say that the most obvious feature of the life of the Christian Church today is, alas, its superficiality. That judgment is based not only on contemporary observation, but still more on contemporary observation in the light of previous epochs and eras in the life of the Church … [for example the Church’s modern] use of means which would have horrified and shocked our fathers … and her conception of holiness and her whole approach to the doctrine of sanctification. – Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.

With tomorrow’s morning Scripture about how to acceptably worship God with attentive hearts, what Lloyd-Jones points to behind the above symptoms should sober us: “… one main cause is our attitude to the Bible.” He goes on to say what should also motivate us considering what we have recently focused on in Matthew’s Gospel account of church life, evangelism, and growth:

I am never tired of saying that what the Church needs to do is not to organize evangelistic campaigns to attract outside people, but to begin herself to live the Christian life … [The Sermon on the Mount] is how the Christian is meant to live … I maintain again that if only every Christian in the Church today were living the Sermon on the Mount, the great revival for which we are praying and longing would already have started. Amazing and astounding things would happen; the world would be shocked, and men and women would be drawn and attracted to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ … The glory of the gospel is that when the Church is absolutely different from the world, she invariably attracts it. It is then that the world is made to listen to her message, though it may hate it at first. That is how revival comes. That must also be true of us as individuals. It should not be our ambition to be as much like everybody else as we can, though we happen to be Christian, but rather to be as different from everybody who is not a Christian as we can possibly be. Our ambition should be to be like Christ, the more like Him the better, and the more like Him we become, the more we shall be unlike everybody who is not a Christian.

Mindful of the source of a holy witness being holy whole-hearted worship, Thomas Watson, in his introduction to his Beatitudes, observes the manner of proper listening to Jesus preaching (as seen in the response at the end of the Sermon on the Mount). He warns Christians how to come to worship and attend upon the Lord if we would ever expect others to follow our lead to Him here:

Many sit and stare the minister in the face, yet scarce know a word he says. They are thinking of their wares and drugs and are often casting up accounts in the church. If a man be in a mill, though you speak never so loud to him, he does not hear you for the noise of the mill. We preach to men about matters of salvation, but the mill of worldly business makes such a noise that they cannot hear; ‘in hearing they hear not’. – Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes.

Watson also writes something that should help us prepare for tomorrow’s morning sermon on Leviticus 19:30 about sanctifying the Lord in our hearts by sanctifying His Sabbath worship within the congregation with reverent hearts: “the flock of God … must take all opportunities to hear”; for, “when the Word of God is preached, the bread of life is distributed.”  And if we have so received, Watson, like Lloyd-Jones, describes how we will serve the Bread of Life to other beggars like ourselves: “Let us proclaim to the world that we do believe a blessedness to come by living blessed lives; walk as becomes the heirs of blessedness … Be assured they shall never be blessed who bless themselves in their sins.”

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Melodious Companionship through Melancholy

singing-birds-300x266

For Lord’s Day, October 11, 2015

Dear Saints,

Considering our evening psalms of the month for corporate worship this October, we were delighted this week in family worship to read the following in Book Two of The Pilgrim’s Progress:

… Christiana thought she heard in a grove a little way off on the right hand, a most curious melodious note, with words much like these:

Through all my life Thy favor is
So frankly showed to me,
That in Thy house for evermore
My dwelling-place shall be.

And listening still, she thought she heard another answer it saying,

For why? The Lord our God is good;
His mercy is for ever sure;
His truth at all times firmly stood,
And shall from age to age endure.

So Christiania asked Prudence what ’twas that made those curious notes. They are, said she, our country birds … I often, said she, go out to hear them; we also ofttimes keep them tame in our house.  They are very fine company for us when we are melancholy: also they make the woods, and groves, and solitary places desirous to be in.

Did you notice the peculiar warbles of those two little birds?  The first sang Psalm 23:6; the second, Psalm 100:5.  These are the final sentences of what we are singing together all October in the evening services as we study Psalm 23!  What a wonderful providence.

In our home, as we practice singing parts for these two psalms this month, they have been making our hearts merry like medicine.  May we all often go out to hear these birds sing and keep company with them in our houses by singing these words of Christ one to another, making melody in our hearts to the Lord and creating places He and others thus find desirous to dwell within — especially while they are our evening Psalms of the month.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Image source: http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/yourbestlifenow/2013/03/do-you-hear-the-birds-sing.html

Remember Christ’s Redeeming Righteousness

For Lord’s Day, July 26, 2015

Dear Saints,

There is a quote that I will share with you in tomorrow’s morning sermon that is worth meditating on beforehand as we are reminded to remember that we are a chosen people and God’s peculiar treasure only because we are a redeemed people:

The only thing of our very own which we contribute to our salvation is the sin which makes it necessary.
— Archbishop Temple (quoted by Eric Alexander in “Evangelistic Preaching” in Feed My Sheep)

May we remember in worship tomorrow that we only have filthy righteousnesses to offer the LORD (Isaiah 64:6).  Thus, may we humbly approach Him with nothing but the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ and His righteousness.  As Paul reminds us, we are Christians …

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7)

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

The Proper Response to Sovereign, Gracious Mercy

For Lord’s Day, February 22, 2015

Dear Saints,

In Exodus 32-33, we have seen God’s frightening judgment upon horrible, idolatrous (and adulterous) sin.  And we have learned that our repentance is the only means of being restored to the LORD through the work of our Mediator, Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow, we will see God forgives and restores the Church simply because He is gracious and merciful!  May we respond as Moses does to the LORD’s sovereign, unmerited favor:  And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. (Exodus 34:8)

Such a reverent response to mercy is almost unheard of today in the contemporary culture of the American church.  But R.C. Sproul challenges us not to presume upon God’s grace in worship:

“Reverence. This may be the most difficult. We are among the most casual and disrespectful people who have inhabited the earth.  That disrespect carries over even into our worship and prayer life. We tend to approach God as if he were our peer. We talk to him as if we were talking to our next-door neighbor, with no sense of awe, adoration, or reverence before him.” (Truths We Confess, vol. 2, 321)

J.I. Packer warns us that such “ … inattention is an insult.” (Concise Theology, 98).

Beloved of the Lord, may we respond to God’s sovereign, gracious mercy tomorrow like Moses—with reverence and godly fear, just as we are told in Hebrews 12:28 to respond to the LORD’s more manifest and magnificent mercy to us in Jesus Christ.

But, also, if we really appreciate what we have been given instead of what we deserve (Psalm 103:8-12), may we not be able to help ourselves but enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise, to be thankful unto Him and to bless His name (Psalm 100:4). For we already have more than we deserve (death, Romans 6:23), and thus we have plenty to be happy about. Dr. Sproul also shares:

“Dr. [John] Gerstner once gave a lecture on the joy of the Christian. He pointed out that joy should be the chief characteristic of every Christian … If God never bestowed another blessing upon me for the rest of my days, I would still have every reason to be joyful for the blessings he has already poured out upon me.” (Truths We Confess, vol. 2, 239, 40).

With all this in view, may we take to heart the call of Sinclair Ferguson’s closing application chapter of his book, A Heart for God, that we studied together this Wednesday Night: “Let Us Worship God!”

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Reverence: The Soul of Christianity

For the Lord’s Day, February 15, 2015

Dear Saints,

Last Lord’s Day evening, we were reminded to approach God in worship and during the Lord’s Supper with reverent attention:

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:  For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28-29)

In both worship services tomorrow, we will be reminded that real reverence is a gracious heart issue that is observable in our gracious behavior.  What is more, reverence that is authentic in affection and actions–first in worship and then in life–is the heart of real Christianity.

Goethe writes that “The soul of the Christian religion is reverence …”, and Simmons says reverence is “the very first element of religion.” Tryon Edwards avers that “Reverence is one of the signs of strength; irreverence one of the surest indications of weakness.”

What will you say about your religion in worship tomorrow to yourself and to God within your heart? And what will you witness to God, to your minister, and to others by your behavior? What will you reveal about your soul to yourself, to God, and to your brethren?  Will you demonstrate that Christianity is your soul’s true religion by expressing its very first element, and that you, through Christ, are strong? May it be so.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Turn Over the Earth of Your Hearts

For Lord’s Day, February 1, 2015

Dear Saints,

photo-1Led by the Westminster Larger Catechism in the evening sermons, we have been considering the need to examine ourselves and prepare our hearts for proper worship and partaking of the Lord’s Supper.  Elder Renner and I recently were reminded of what that needs to “look like”, as we often say, while we were on a hike together.

Notice in the photo above from our hike alongside some farmland in Escondido the different colors of different sections of ground.  The light part on the right is what had not been turned over yet. It was hard and dry and covered by weeds.  The dark part on the left and in the background is the earth that was recently plowed by the tractor in the distance (top right). It is broken and moist and ready to take in water and grow tomato plants.  This contrast is a good illustration of what we learned in the sermon a while back on how to listen to a sermon per Westminster Larger Catechism 160.  Entitled, “Be Good Listeners”, the sermon took us through Luke 8:1-18 and the Parable of the Sower, where we learned that the distinguishing difference of the people who received the Seed of God’s Word and thus had it grow within them and produce fruit in the world were those who had “good ground”, that is, self-cultivated hearts.  Christian hearts are ground that has been turned up and over so that it is ready to be planted.  So the Prophet preaches:

… thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. (Jeremiah 4:3)

photo 2Fallow ground is not ground that has never been plowed, but ground that hasn’t been plowed in a while and thus needs to be broke open again so God’s Word can be sowed into in it and so it can receive rain from heaven to nourish growth and fruitfulness.  The light ground in these pictures was clearly plowed last year. But for a new season of sowing and harvesting, it needed to be plowed again.  So too, beloved, do we always need to freshly cultivate our hearts for worship and the Lord’s Supper to see God produce new fruit in us and in our fellowship.

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I will leave you with some thoughts on self examination before the Lord’s Supper that I trust you will take to heart in preparing your hearts for worship tomorrow and Communion after the evening service.  In his book, The Lord’s Supper is a Celebration of Grace, Rev. Gordon J. Keddie writes in the chapter on self-examination:

The emphasis here [2 Corinthians 13:5], as in 1 Corinthians 11:28, is not on whether or not they are Christians, but whether or not they are actively living as Christians who are heart and hand ‘in the faith’.  Are they living the Christian life? In other words, it is not the question of assurance of faith that is in view, but living in faith, daily, practically and consistently …

His question is not, ‘Am I a believer?’, but ‘How am I doing as a believer?’ or, putting it another way, ‘Am I recognizable as a believer?’

… If we approach the Supper thoughtlessly, carelessly, with unrepented sin, abusing the symbols of Jesus’ death, we in effect treat Christ lightly, if not even contemptuously … The English Puritan Thomas Doolittle highlights the seriousness of this matter in a most searching manner when he says, ‘I think a man who is not fit to die is not fit to receive [the sacrament].  A man should sit down at the Lord’s Table with as great care as he would lie down in his grave.  He should be as serious for his soul at this ordinance as he would be upon his dying bed.  You should go to the Lord’s Table as carefully as if you were going into another world.’

May these words stir you and I up to turning up tomorrow having turned over the earth of our hearts anew for a new season of personal and corporate growth.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

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

Christian Profession Has its Expression

IMG_0081For Lord’s Day, March 30, 2014

Dear Saints,

Tomorrow in our morning worship, the text will be Exodus 20:18-22, where Moses says in verse 20 that God caused His people to fear Him in such a way as to reverently produce holy living, which he defines as “not sinning”.  Understood positively, “not sinning” is to keep God’s commands (which we remember Jesus says is to love Him back).

On this note, I’d like to share with you what my seminary systematics professor, Dr. Richard C. Gamble, wrote when introducing the Ten Commandments:

“Our Christian profession must come to expression in our conduct … The law of God must be seen in faithful lives.” (1).

Hebrews 12:28, which summarizes our text again tomorrow, summarizes such holy expression of our profession to love Christ as serving Him “with godly fear”.

May you love the LORD your God completely, beloved. And may this spiritual devotion be seen with whole-hearted worship and awestruck attention as we serve Him tomorrow acceptably, that is, with godly fear. For our God continues to be a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).

Semper Reformanda,
Pastor Grant

(1) The Whole Counsel of God: God’s Mighty Acts in the Old Testament, Vol. 1.

Be Ready to Properly Approach the LORD

IMG_9789For Lord’s Day, March 2, 2014

Dear Saints,

The powerful winds and rain today had to get your attention. You’d have to be dead not to be moved by such a storm; let it drive your attention to the LORD on this Lord’s Day.  It is so providential to have such storms leading into our morning text on Exodus 19:9-25. God gets the attention of His people with mighty winds, lightning, and thunder so that they are ready to approach Him rightly with godly fear.  For if they casually and presumptuously approach God on Mount Sinai with a lack of holy attention, they will end up dead.

One thing emphasized in the text is that God goes out of His way to prepare us to properly prepare ourselves to be ready to meet with Him and receive what He has to say.  So that He is pleased to receive us in worship.  May the unusual weather this weekend help you especially prepare for this Sabbath Day’s worship. For God has gone out of His way to prepare you to be able to prepare for this text!

I just found this advice on preparing for Bible study very fitting for preparing for corporate worship. Give it your attention ahead of this Lord’s Day:

Here are some rules for Bible reading whose observance will pay rich dividends:

1.  Read with a definite purpose and expectation: to understand what is written; to gain quickening of thought and enlargement of mind and vision; to get personal help for good living; and, above all, to meet God and to hear his voice.  These are great ends; whether they are reached will rest with each student.

2. Bring all that you have to your reading.  What you get will depend on what you bring.  Especially, bring a sympathetic imagination.  You will not be reading dead words.  They came out of life.  Try to enter into that life of the past: into the faith of a psalmist and his trials and hopes, the appeal of a prophet speaking to a nation, the witness of Paul, the full heart of the Evangelists.  Occasional reading aloud will help make the words live.  Bring also an attentive and inquiring mind.  Read slowly, pause, reflect, always seeking the real meaning.

3.  Read in the spirit of prayer.  Offer a prayer as you begin.  Ask for the light which God’s Spirit can give.  Lift up your heart to God and ask God to come to you.

4.  Read in the spirit of obedience.  Ask what the passage means for your own life and pray for grace to follow what is thus revealed.  “Apply thyself wholly to the Bible; apply the Bible wholly to thyself.” (Bengel.)

— Harris Franklin Rall, Editor’s Preface to, The Fourth Gospel and The Later Epistles, by John Knox (not the Reformer in Scotland).

Do you want to be lifted up with wings like eagles this Lord’s Day in worship? He would have you so soar to heaven together.  Here’s how the Spirit will take you there:  Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (James 4:10)

This call to a fearful preparation for properly approaching the LORD isn’t just Old Testament.  As we will see, the writer to the Hebrews notes that as Christ has now come and takes us in worship to heavenly Mt. Zion, we ought to be even more careful about how we draw near to Him in worship, with humble anticipation:

Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.  (Hebrews 12:28-29)

In this NT Scripture, the writer is directly comparing our present worship situation to Exodus 19:9-25. And he is saying that, because we are now in a more exalted state in Christ, so we should even more prepare to be ready to enter into heavenly Worship with Reverence and Awe.  May you properly prepare to do so, beloved.

Semper Reformanda,
Pastor Grant

Drink of Jesus Again

Water bubble and wavesFor Lord’s Day, February 2, 2014

Dear Saints,

Several thematic elements continue out of Exodus 15 into chapters 16 and 17 this Lord’s Day.  One of the main and very sad themes is that the people keep murmuring against and testing God.  After each miraculous milestone, they again doubt standing upon their Rock in fear and unbelief, and complain.  Yet God (while He does call them out for these sins and warns us by their example in 1 Cor. 10:6, 11), in His unceasing covenant mercy refreshes them once again with life-giving water. In fact, the wilderness times are to keep teaching them (and us) that we only can be refreshed by the gracious waters that flow only out of Christ the Rock (1 Cor. 10:4).

Augustine, in Book Five of his Confessions, deeply understood this lesson after drinking from sandy cisterns for far too long before drinking of Christ.  While he was still in the Manichean heretical movement, he had the opportunity to finally meet and converse with their leader, Faustus, who was known for his great oratory and presentation.  But Augustine found Faustus to be unsatisfying in handling his own personal questions, and lacking in comparison to his own academic knowledge and abilities.  So Augustine was left thirsty after the encounter with this man of great eloquence who yet offered no sustaining spiritual substance. A lesson Augustine said he learned was what Colossians 2:8 teaches: Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

Augustine put it this way (you’ll see how it ties in with our text from Exodus 15 last week and into our text in Exodus 16 and 17 this Lord’s Day):

But what did it matter how well the cupbearer spoke, if he was unable to give me the drink that will quench my thirst?

Thankfully, Augustine listened to Jesus’ call: … If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. (John 7:37), and he drank — and He was satisfied to keep drinking of Him, for Christ filled him with springs of living water (John 7:38).  Christ still cries out to us to drink of Him. And tomorrow night in the Lord’s Supper, to drink of His blood:

Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. (John 6:53-56)

Some of us were talking after the morning service last week, and Mr. Delgado said something that I’ve enjoyed meditating on: when you’re thirsty, there is nothing better than a cup of pure cold water; we all know this is true, and with that in mind, let us approach our Savior in worship and the Holy Supper this Lord’s Day with the same thirst that David expresses in our Psalm of the month for worship, Psalm 63: O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. (vss. 1-3).

Notice that, according to the title of Psalm 63, David wrote it while he was literally in the wilderness. He was being proved (trained) there to be the kind of king that Saul, his pursuer, was not, and which he knew he would later enjoy (vs. 11). He was being trained to be a righteous king by thirsting for Christ the King of Whom he was a type.  It is best to thirst for Christ’s righteousness. He will fill us with living water and prepare us to serve others with Him.  Beloved, thirst for Christ and be quenched in Him as we approach the well together and find that once again, it never runs dry as He further springs up within us while we draw from and drink of Him again (Num. 21:17; John 7:38).

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Know God in the Now

For Lord’s Day, January 19, 2014

Dear Saints,

I have been very blessed recently by listening to and meditating on Michael Card’s song, “Know You in the Now”.  It has come to mind with our sermon texts for the Lord’s Day tomorrow.

Here are some of the lyrics:

We should confess
We lose You in our busyness
We’ve made You in our image
So our faith’s idolatry

Lord, deliver me
Break my heart so I can see
All the ways You dwell in us
That You’re alive in me

Lord I long to see
Your presence in reality
But I don’t know how
Let me know You in the now

I encourage you to watch the live performance of this song through the above link (with a riveting piano hook and excellent support musicians).  May Mr. Card’s music and lyrics move you to want to get through all the nonsense and know your Savior, King Jesus, intimately.  Intimate knowledge of anyone begins in live moments, doesn’t it? May you want to know Jesus like Paul does in Philippians 3:8-14.  Ask Him to help you. He will, as you live out James 4:8. Do so now.

Tomorrow, we have the opportunity to know God in an even more satisfying way as Jehovah (Ex. 15, Rev. 15) and as the God who blesses the diligent, honest laborer with Christian contentment in simply serving Him daily (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12-13).  We will learn to appreciate Christ in both the big and small moments of walking with Him.

An important part of walking with Jesus, as with any good friend, is to not try and walk ahead of Him.  That’s something I know God is always drilling into me more and more.  I think this temptation to worry about tomorrow as if we’re living in it is why Jesus teaches us to pray for our daily (not weekly) bread “this day” (Matthew 6:11).

I mentioned a while back I had watched an interesting PBS documentary, “My Life As a Turkey”.  The man who raised over a dozen turkeys from egg shell to field and flight had a lesson refrain, learned by interacting with and observing the turkeys for a year: they have an innate, intense ability to live in the present and be in touch with all their surroundings, especially other animals.  I think, in this case, we need to be more like turkeys and endeavor to take God in more and more in our every moment, great and small.  As we’ll see tomorrow, God designed the Psalms for us to sing to do just this and look around and remember to see and know that our Redeemer lives and shall always stand (Job 19:25).

Remember that the Israelites had to be still to move forward with God (Ex. 14).  May you and I be still tonight and know that God will be exalted in all the earth (Psalm 46:10); and so may we rest in Him, our refuge and our strength (vs. 1).  Spend some serious quiet time with Jesus tonight in prayer, reading, and singing of His Word, and expect to be especially blessed as we seek to know Him in the now tonight, tomorrow, and every moment in between. I’m finding this thought to be a lovely one — and peaceful, joyful experience.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

God’s Gracious Sovereignty

Alexander Fleming 3.jpgFor Lord’s Day, October 20, 2013

Dear Saints,

When my family recently volunteered for the annual Creation & Earth History Museum Day in Santee at the end of September, we had the opportunity to listen to an opening ceremony message by  the museum’s patron, Mr. Tom Cantor.

He shared about how on September 28, 1928, biologist, botanist, and pharmacologist, Sir Alexander Fleming “accidentally” discovered penicillin, one of the world’s first and still most used antibiotics.  Fleming had returned from holiday and found one of his staph cultures he had left out growing a fungus which, upon inspection, had killed the bacteria within its immediate contact.  Later, when asked to what he attributed this success, he replied: “I can only suppose that God wanted penicillin, and that was His reason for creating Alexander Fleming.” The words of a true scientist!

And the words of every true Christian that recognizes God’s gracious sovereignty in all things on behalf of His elect:

  • And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) This includes especially the salvation of His elect (vss. 29-20), that does not exclude improving their earthly care.
  • Thus, may we always marvel in the majestic control of King Jesus like Paul does: O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

God’s gracious sovereignty is a great and glorious thing to sing about for them that love Him. I trust you do, and I trust you thus rejoice in this story of His sovereignty as you prepare to glorify Him tomorrow together.

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Prepare to be Holy

For Lord’s Day, August 11, 2013
(Image Source: versaday.com)

Dear Saints,

One of our brothers from the East who (with his family) worshiped with us earlier this year while in San Diego on business recently shared this quote:

“The reason why people complain so much of difficulty in duty is because their hearts are not prepared. . . . Make preparation for holy duties and you shall have success in holy duties.”

This quote is from a sermon by the Puritan preacher, Jeremiah Burroughs,  “On The Importance of Preparing for Worship”.  Certainly, these words should provide you with encouragement to properly prepare for Sabbath worship tomorrow that you not only glorify God, but enjoy Him together.  But I also encourage you to think about the quote as it relates to holy living for Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit throughout the week, with this Scripture in view:

… exercise thyself rather unto godliness. For bodily exercise profiteth little: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation. (1 Timothy 4:7-9).

No athlete goes onto the field without having been practicing and exercising both in mind and body. Or, if he does, his coach doesn’t let him back on the field until his habits change (so that his playing improves).  Similarly, we should not expect to excel in holy duties and be used mightily by Jesus Christ if we spend little time preparing for these duties in and for Him.  But the opposite also is true.  We should expect to excel in holy duties and be used mightily by Jesus Christ as we prepare our bodies and souls for them in the power of the Holy Spirit.

So how will you spend your Sabbath eve? And how will you spend your Sabbath?  And how will you spend your week? The answer will be seen in what preparation you are presently making. As you consider these questions, remember that you and your time is not your own (Galatians 2:20).  And remember also that holy things are the most happy things for Christians (John 10:10).

As was preached here recently, Be Prepared.

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

Cheerfully Celebrate

For Lord’s Day, April 7, 2013

Dear Saints,

As we prepare to partake of the Lord’s Supper tomorrow evening, I want to challenge us to check and prepare our disposition with this comment from Geerhardus Vos (father of J.G. whose Commentary on the Westminster Larger Catechism you’ll often hear me quoting):

“Jeremiah complains [2.9-11] that Israel is more inclined to change its God than the heath nations.  It is not difficult to explain this.  The pagan nations had no desire to change, because their religion was the natural expression of their disposition.” (Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, 62).

Our disposition is our heart, our inclination, our desire.  It is our sanctifying the Lord God in our hearts and serving Him only if we are true Christians with a new spiritual disposition.

Our text for this Lord’s Day evening’s sermon was our recent Shorter Catechism memory verse, 1 Corinthians 10:16: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ?  The bread we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”  The focus is on communion, or true and direct fellowship with Christ and God and one another.  You may remember when I preached on the larger context a while back that there is a contrast being made in this chapter between communing with demons spiritually present in the pagan temple feasts.  Paul says you can’t come from such fellowship and truly have a disposition of holy fellowship with King Jesus actually present in the activity of His Holy Supper.

So what will your disposition be tomorrow night?  It is only natural in your flesh to change from the true Holy God of Israel back to the lusts of the flesh in pagan idolatry that is the same in every age.  This is why the same chapter of our text says in the beginning that the Israelites are our example of the disposition NOT to have (shown by their actions and warned by their punishment).  How will you be careful to come to Christ’s Table with the spiritual expression of an appropriate disposition for the King of Glory?

Vos seems to give advice related to this question on the next page of his book quoted above:

“Where the transcendent power and majesty of the deity is felt, the temptation is much lessened to confound God with the world or draw Him down into the realm of nature or matter.”

Remember by the text for tomorrow night that Jesus Christ is actually present in the act of the Lord’s Supper.  And your partaking of the spiritual meal is showing forth His death till He come back in bodily form to resurrect your bodies from the grave.  His spiritual presence brings you into the holy throne room of God Who should otherwise throw you out and away from Him like He did our first parents from the Garden of Eden.   In God’s throne room, angels, elders, and other saints fall at Christ’s feet and humbly worship around God’s throne, for He is still a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).  You can come in and not be singed by Him because you come through Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and men, Whose body and blood took away your sins and gave you eternal life.

How then should you approach Jesus tomorrow night at His Table?  Certainly with reverence and awe (Hebrews 12:28); but also with confidence seeking grace and mercy, as we are always in need (Hebrews 4:16).  And because we can do this through Jesus, and because this is what the symbols of the Lord’s Supper represent in the sacramental activity of communion (fellowship), we also can think of it as the “Eucharist” (as Communion is also sometimes called), because that word in Greek means “thanksgiving”.  We should come to the Table with thanksgiving for the sanctified privilege of being in God’s special presence as a foretaste of heaven that awaits us in Christ.  Your actions in receiving what is given to you in the Supper is very important, for:

“It is not the quantity of the meat, but the cheerfulness of the guests, which makes the feast.” (Clarendon).

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Carefully Hallowing God’s Name — Watch the Euphemisms

Dear Saints,

This week, I heard a sermon by a fine, nationally known Reformed pastor, in which he said several times something like, “Holy smoke”, and it was a euphemism, not an exultation of prayer or praise.  Frankly, after our recent evening studies in the Westminster Larger Catechism (which he subscribes to) teaching us about the Third Commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain …”, I was primed to find this carelessness by a pastor who should know better enough to make my skin crawl.  The preacher is still well worth listening to. But his poor choice of words behind the pulpit gave evidence that we don’t pay close enough attention to what our Catechisms guide us in seeing what the Word says should be expected in our faith and life — including the nuanced words that come out of our mouths that may mean well but are not well chosen.

Many euphemisms are problems that need to not be accepted by the conscientious Christian because they are common, but corrected as he or she looks to burn a brighter and more uncommon witness for our Holy God in this dark world (we won’t if we speak like everyone else, or only slightly differently — and practically the same).

As we continue in our study of the Third Commandment tomorrow evening and next week with the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A’s 113-114 (having begun the subject with 111-112), and are guided by the wise and godly Puritan pastors who wrote them to teach mature Christians the depths of what is revealed in the Scriptures, I want to encourage you to read a few of the following articles related to how we tend to improperly speak in euphemisms specifically related to concerns for God’s attributes and Word.  I thank you in advance for prayerfully considering some of these articles at your convenience (a Sabbath afternoon would be an excellent time to do so):

I have noticed some of you “getting it” in how you catch yourself with your speech related to what I am highlighting below in response to the last two week’s evening sermons (Take Care of Jesus, and Hold Your Tongue), which is commendable — and encouraging as it has particularly been self-corrected by our young people.  However, it seems my efforts to address some particular issues without being too direct so as not to risk seeming contemptuous have either not yet convinced some of you or have not been clear or obvious to some of you.  The particular issue being, how beginning a sentence with “Oh my” is an outburst that should not only not be followed by “God”, but neither by such euphemistic replacements as “goodness” or “Word”.  There are other implications worth the thoughtful meditation of a Christian who wants to go out of his or her way to not take God’s name in vain with an empty use of his or her speech (for instance, bovines and fish should not be carelessly labeled “holy” to better express an exclamation another way with a little thought and change in habit).

In considering the above articles, let me revisit what I particularly have in mind that I am concerned to see ingrained into your minds and speech patterns for the glory of our Savior.  The WLC 112 guided us in seeing from the Scriptures that, among things required in the Third Commandment, are, “That the name of God, his titles, attributes [such as goodness, mercy, and holiness], ordinances, the word, sacraments …. be holily and reverently used in thought, meditation, word, and writing; by an holy profession, and answerable conversation, to the glory of God, and the good of ourselves and others.”

In WLC 113, among the sins forbidden in the third commandment are, ” … the not using of God’s name as is required, and the abuse of it in an ignorant, vain, irreverent, profane, superstitious, or wicked mentioning or otherwise using his titles, attributes, ordinances, or works, by blasphemy … ”

Let me also say that I have had people speak to me in the past about other euphemisms they noticed I was carelessly using (which you will see mentioned in some of these articles) and I am very thankful they had done so.  First of all, faithful are the wounds of a friend (Proverb 27:6).  As well, I am always in need of improving such speech patterns, and I should want to to better glorify and lift up a fuller witness to His most beautiful Name.  For the Lord Jesus teaches us in His model prayer first and foremost in the first petition to pray, “Hallowed be Thy Name”.  The Lord be willing, we will revisit this topic of how to carefully speak relating to God’s attributes when we get to WLC 190 on that very petition in the Lord’s Prayer in the evening sermon series.

In closing, I share again these recent thoughts from commentaries on the WLC in the aforementioned evening sermons:

First, J.G. Vos: “ … profanity in speech proceeds from a personality alienated from God … Christian people should always be on guard against the temptation to compromise with the sinful world’s habits of speech.”

Another commentator said what I paraphrase here: most saints are guilty of breaking this commandment many times each day; yet with the most meager efforts, and thought before utterance, it should be easiest to keep.

I trust you will be careful, because you care to take care of the name and reputation of your King, Jesus Christ the Lord of Glory.

Notice in our closing Psalms for both our morning (Psalm 117) and evening (Psalm 134) worship services that praising God’s “name” is highlighted.

Whether we eat, or drink, or speak formally or casually, let us do all to the glory of God.

“O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.”  (Psalm 34:3)

For Christ and His Kingdom,

Pastor Grant

Worship the Sovereign God of All Things

For Lord’s Day, February 17, 2013

Dear Saints,

The heat hasn’t worked all week at the manse, so we had someone stop by Friday afternoon to take a look.  It’s now fixed, although thankfully God has made the weather warm again, so we don’t presently need the heater (this is really February, right!?).

It was an exciting visit for us, actually.  And not only for the heater working again through a simple reset.  The man who visited turned out to be a Christian, and we had a lovely talk (and later we all prayed together).  Turns out he wrote a book about the Cedar Fire of 2003 in California, and how his friend’s property in the Cuyumaca Mountains was spared by the fire that consumed everything all around it — and right along the property’s border lines.  And this was in answer to the prayers of his wife and daughter.  You can read about it in a book he wrote, called God Inside the Fire, here: http://www.amazon.com/God-Inside-The-Fire-Amazing/dp/1477499911

Turns out his working in a field he never planned on for ten years had him particularly trained to write a book about the physics of fire.  Turns out the lady assigned by his company to visit the manse that day with him also was a Christian, although they had never met until then.  Turns out our recent changes that have me working at the manse most days had me home to meet them and chat — normally I would have been in the office on a Friday afternoon.  Turned out God sent them to help us when it could have been any number of other employees.

Turns out as he explained his story, I remembered that I had heard it a few months ago on KOGO radio when he called in and did a great job of getting a testimony of God’s protection of that property in the midst of California’s largest fire ever (the radio host was taking calls remembering the fire on its anniversary).  I only catch that particular program once in a while (and only for a few minutes when I do).

This gregarious man, named Greg, said I was one of the first pastors to get excited about this story and believe that God was behind it (of course, I also recognize God was behind the fire as well as the special protection within it).  I told him God, in His sovereignty, could have chosen not to answer that prayer (and we obviously believe there is no further Revelation outside His Word, properly speaking), but as good Presbyterians we know that God is providentially involved in and behind everything, even each drop of rain as I have noted in a quote by Calvin in an earlier post.  This discussion reminded me of how blessed we at our church are to know to exalt God in all His doings in our world (including the asteroid that penetrated Eastern Russia that same morning of the visit); I was reminded of of how our Statement of Faith explains such things nicely in the chapter, “Of Providence”:

  • “God the great Creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5, section 1)
  • “God, in His ordinary providence, maketh use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.” (Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5, section 3)

Let us thus approach God in worship with this attitude:

  • “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (Revelation 4:11)
  • “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

Family Feasting

For Lord’s Day, January 27, 2013

Dear Saints,

First, a reminder we’ll be watching Sherwood Pictures’ “Courageous” tonight at the Church in the Fireside Room. Bring popcorn to share.  Remember, these Homemaker events are for fellowship for the WHOLE covenant family at PECA (youth, singles, young adults, etc.). Hope to see you all there.

Speaking of covenant homes, I’d like to share an email Elder Huffmaster sent to me this week for your family’s edification:

Thought you might like this. They say a family should enjoy at least 1 meal a day together. How much more important that they should have at least one spiritual meal a day together. I have found family worship to be so important because it allows the family to gather and have that spiritual meal.

From: “Grace Gems” <pilgrim@gracegems.org>
Date: Jan 21, 2013 2:07 PM
Subject: Family devotions
Today’s Puritan Audio Devotional:
Family devotions (J.R. Miller)

Hearts that are drawn together at God’s feet every day in family devotions–cannot drift very far away from each other. The domestic frictions of the day are forgotten–when all voices mingle in the same heavenly song. As the tender words of Scripture fall with their gracious counsels–all feeling of unkindness melts away. The family altar in the midst–wondrously hallows and sweetens the whole home. Besides, the family altar . . .

  puts new strength into every heart,

  comforts all sorrows,

  is a shield against temptation,

  smoothes out the wrinkles of care,

  inspires strength for burden-bearing,

  quickens every holy sentiment, and

  keeps the fires of devotion burning on every heart’s altar.

May your family feast on Christ together often:

  • And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.  And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:5-8)
  • … Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. (Genesis 18:18-19)
  • And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:15)
  • Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
  • But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:14).

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant

How to Listen to a Sermon

For Lord’s Day, March 11, 2012

Dear Saints,

How should one listen to a sermon? The email below poses and answers this question. It is something I mentioned recently at a Wednesday night study that I had received and would forward as worth your considering to prepare for listening to God in worship. An important thing to remember is that each of us has a responsibility to prepare to be active listeners. Just like anything else in life, we get out of the sermon what we put in to listening to it for personal application.

As I read the email below, I thought of something else that is helpful for Bible study that also could be a useful tool for you in listening to sermons. Ask yourself two questions as you study and listen: 1) What am I to learn to believe about God?; and 2) What am I to learn that God requires of me to do? Of course, I hope you’ll give attention to the title that I state at the end of my introduction and conclusion in each sermon (also in the bulletin, and the main point of application intended for you to take with you). But these two questions are helpful also.

My Hebrew professor gave the above instruction as a helpful nugget in learning and applying Bible texts, and this is exactly how the Larger Catechism is divided in half. Question 5 says that the Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. And the Larger Catechism expounds on the first idea (what to believe about God) with questions and answers 1 to 90. Then there is an actual subheading that instructs we will now expound on the second stated emphasis of Scripture (how we are to obey God) with questions and answers 91 to 196. This is a good way to think about and interact with God’s Word (of course always asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind). It is always wise to let the Larger Catechism guide you in such meditation of the main things God reveals to us in the Bible both in personal study and actively being engaged as a responsible listener in worship. On that note, one of the Larger Catechism’s question and answers gives more specific instruction on how you will most glorify God and enjoy Him in how you listen to Him in worship (and then live for him throughout the week):

What is required of those that hear the word preached?

Answer: It is required of those that hear the word preached, that they attend upon it with diligence, preparation, and prayer; examine what they hear by the scriptures; receive the truth with faith, love, meekness, and readiness of mind, as the word of God; meditate, and confer of it; hide it in their hearts, and bring forth the fruit of it in their lives.

You might find the brief article below beneficial to prepare for this Lord’s Day (the idea of the article came after reading a book about how to read a book).

May we all come to hear the Lord Jesus Christ (with Whom God the Father is well pleased) with reverence and awe as He takes us up into the heavenlies and upon the unshakable Mount Zion (Hebrews 12 – we will see our morning text referenced and applied there).

Semper Reformanda

How to Listen to a Sermon

Posted: 27 Feb 2012 09:56 AM PST

Editor’s Note: In the coming months, reformation21 will be reprinting some of our classic articles. This month’s selection comes from January 2002.

Shortly before college I read Mortimer Adler’s little classic How to Read a Book.  That may sound like an odd title.  After all, how could somebody read the book unless they already knew how to read?  And if they did know how to read, then why would they need to read it at all?

How to Read a Book turned out to be one of the most important books I have ever read.  Adler quickly convinced me that I didn’t know how to read a book after all–not really.  I didn’t know how to ask the right questions while I was reading, how to analyze the book’s major arguments, or how to mark up my copy for later use.  

I suspect that most people don’t how to listen to a sermon, either.  I say this not as a preacher, primarily, but as a listener.  During the past thirty-five years I have heard more than three thousand sermons.  Since I have worshiped in Bible-teaching churches all my life, most of those sermons did me some spiritual good.  Yet I wonder how many of them helped me as much as they should have.  Frankly, I fear that far too many sermons passed through my eardrums without registering in my brain or reaching my heart.  

So what is the right way to listen to a sermon?  With a soul that is prepared, a mind that is alert, a Bible that is open, a heart that is receptive, and a life that is ready to spring into action.

The first thing is for the soul to be prepared.  Most churchgoers assume that the sermon starts when the pastor opens his mouth on Sunday.  However, listening to a sermon actually starts the week before.  It starts when we pray for the minister, asking God to bless the time he spends studying the Bible as he prepares to preach.  In addition to helping the preacher, our prayers help create in us a sense of expectancy for the ministry of God’s Word.  This is one of the reasons that when it comes to preaching, congregations generally get what they pray for.

The soul needs special preparation the night before worship.  By Saturday evening our thoughts should begin turning towards the Lord’s Day.  If possible, we should read through the Bible passage that is scheduled for preaching.  We should also be sure to get enough sleep.  Then in the morning our first prayers should be directed to public worship, and especially to the preaching of God’s Word.  

If the body is well rested and the soul is well prepared, then the mind will be alert.  Good preaching appeals first to the mind.  After all, it is by the renewing of our minds that God does his transforming work in our lives (see Rom. 12:2).  So when we listen to a sermon, our minds need to be fully engaged.  Being attentive requires self-discipline.  Our minds tend to wander when we worship; sometimes we daydream.  But listening to sermons is part of the worship that we offer to God.  It is also a prime opportunity for us to hear his voice.  We should not insult his majesty by looking at the people around us, thinking about the coming week, or entertaining any of the thousands of other thoughts that crowd our minds.  God is speaking, and we should listen.

To that end, many Christians find it helpful to listen to sermons with a pencil in hand.  Although note taking is not required, it is an excellent way to stay focused during a sermon.  It is also a valuable aid to memory.  The physical act of writing something down helps to fix it in our minds.  Then there is the added advantage of having the notes for future reference.  We get extra benefit from a sermon when we read over, pray through, and talk about our sermon notes with someone else afterwards.

The most convenient place to take notes is in or on our Bibles, which should always be open during a sermon.  Churchgoers sometimes pretend that they know the Bible so well that they do not need to look at the passage being preached.  But this is folly.  Even if we have the passage memorized, there are always new things we can learn by seeing the biblical text on the page.  It only stands to reason that we profit most from sermons when our Bibles are open, not closed.  This is why it is so encouraging for an expository preacher to hear the rustling of pages as his congregation turns to a passage in unison.

There is another reason to keep our Bibles open: we need to make sure that what the minister says is in keeping with Scripture.  The Bible says, concerning the Bereans whom Paul met on his second missionary journey, “that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11; NKJV).  One might have expected the Bereans to be criticized for daring to scrutinize the teaching of the apostle Paul.  On the contrary, they were commended for their commitment to testing every doctrine according to Scripture.  

Listening to a sermon–really listening–takes more than our minds.  It also requires hearts that are receptive to the influence of God’s Spirit.  Something important happens when we hear a good sermon: God speaks to us.  Through the inward ministry of his Holy Spirit, he uses his Word to calm our fear, comfort our sorrow, disturb our conscience, expose our sin, proclaim God’s grace, and reassure us in the faith.  But these are all affairs of the heart, not just matters of the mind, so listening to a sermon can never be merely an intellectual exercise.  We need to receive biblical truth in our hearts, allowing what God says to influence what we love, what we desire, and what we praise.

The last thing to say about listening to sermons is that we should be itching to put what we learn into practice.  Good preaching always applies the Bible to daily life.  It tells us what promises to believe, what sins to avoid, what divine attributes to praise, what virtues to cultivate, what goals to pursue, and what good works to perform.  There is always something God wants us to do in response to the preaching of his Word.  We are called to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22; NKJV).  And if we are not doers, then we were not hearers, and the sermon was wasted on us. 

Do you know how to listen to a sermon?  Listening–really listening–takes a prepared soul, an alert mind, an open Bible, and a receptive heart.  But the best way to tell if we are listening is by the way that we live.  Our lives should repeat the sermons that we have heard.  As the apostle Paul wrote to some of the people who listened to his sermons, “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:2-3; NKJV).

Dr. Philip G. Ryken is the president of Wheaton College. Prior to assuming this post, Dr. Ryken was for many years the senior minister of the historic Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. The author of numerous books and commentaries, Dr. Ryken’s latest book is Loving the Way Jesus Loves (Crossway, 2012).

Thanksgiving: Religious Expressions of Cheer and Joy

Dear Saints,

In preparation for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving Service, please meditate on this quote by Charles Hodge:

“Foolish talking and jesting are not the ways in which Christian cheerfulness should express itself, but rather “giving of thanks”  (Eph. 5:4). Religion is the source of joy and gladness, but its joy is expressed in a religious way, in thanksgiving and praise.”

This religious focus is a great reason to get together and praise the Lord of the Harvest tomorrow before we enjoy all the food and fellowship that He has provided for us.  May we express our gratitude to Christ the Lord together with Him in worship.

For Christ and His Kingdom,

Pastor Grant

Pious Delight in the Works of God

For Lord’s Day, November 18, 2012

Dear Saints,

As we sing the first part of Psalm 19 for our morning worship this month, I want to share a quote from Calvin’s Institutes that has really blessed me in my day-to-day observance of God’s hand in nature which stays in my mind’s eye during our corporate praise:

”  … let us not be ashamed to take pious delight in the works of God open and manifest in this most beautiful theater … There is no doubt that the Lord would have us uninterruptedly occupied in this holy meditation … let all readers know that they have with true faith apprehended what it is for God to be Creator of heaven and earth, if they first of all follow the universal rule, not to pass over in ungrateful thoughtfulness or forgetfulness those conspicious powers which God shows forth in his creatures, and then learn so to apply it to themselves that their very hearts are touched.” (Book 1, chapter 14, paragraphs 20-21).

May you deeply reflect on God’s glorious and marvelous power and goodness to you exhibited in General Revelation with the words from Special Revelation that He gives you to do so: The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. (Psalm 19:1)

I am reminded of the video Elder Renner shared on a Wednesday Night this summer, which pointed out that the universe is so large simply for the purpose of instilling in us how awesome God is.

May your outdoor “theme songs” include Psalm 19:1-6, as well as one of my favorites for hiking:  O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches … The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.  He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.   I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.  My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD  (Psalm 104:24, 31-34).

Semper Reformanda,

Pastor Grant