Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

March Sermons

D.V., during the month of March, I will preach:
March 1, Mark 4:21-34, "Parables and the Kingdom"
March 5, Lent 1/Communion, Mark 35-41, "The Lord of Creation"
March 12, Lent 2, Mark 5:1-20, "Pigs"
March 19, Lent 3, Mark 5:21-43, "Talitha Cum"
March 26, Lent 4, Mark 6:1-13, "The Call"

Monday, February 27, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Labour to grow better under all your afflictions, lest your afflictions grow worse, lest God mingle them with more darkness, bitterness and terror."
-- John Owen, A Puritan Golden Treasury

Ash Wednesday Worship

Our Ash Wednesday worship service will be (D.V.) this Wednesday at 7 PM.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Sunday Sermon

"Parables and Seed Sowing"
[Mark 4:1-20]
February 26, 2006 Second Reformed Church

Listen! Pay attention! Once upon a time, there was a gas station attendant. And the gas station attendant pumped gas. Gas was necessary to make the cars run that pulled up at his station. The first car pulled up, and the gas station attendant pumped gas into gas cans, took the driver's money and sent him on his way. But the driver never got gas at all, because the gas was in the cans back at the station. A second car pulled up and asked to "fill her up." So the gas station attendant put the nozzle in the tank and began to fill it. But the driver started to worry about the money he was going to give to the gas station attendant -- whether that money would be used to support terrorists, whether someone might run up to the window and steal the money, whether the gas would leak and catch on fire, so the driver pulled off with his tank only partially filled, and he ran out of gas long before he reached his destination. A third car pulled up and asked for a fill up. And, again, the gas station attendant started to fill the tank. But the driver kept looking at his watch, he had places to go, people to meet, money to be made. So, before the tank was filled, he pulled out and short down the road. But he ran out of gas long before he reached his destination. A fourth car pulled up and asked for a fill up, and he waited until the gas tank was full, and thanked the attendant and thanked God that his car still ran and that he had the ability to buy gas. This is the Good News. Amen.

Now, what exactly was the Good News? Did you understand the parable of the gas station attendant? The parable is similar to the one Jesus told about sowing seeds, and we're told that this was the only way that Jesus taught the masses. He would speak plainly, at times, with His disciples, but for the crowds, He always spoke in parables. Why?

Jesus is quite clear: when the disciples asked Him why He always spoke in parables, Jesus said that He spoke in parable so His Words would be heard, and He would be seen, yet the people would not understand. Jesus said the reason He preached in parables was so He would not be understood. Why not? Because if they understood, they might repent and be forgiven. Jesus said He preached to the crowd in parables, so they wouldn't understand, and they wouldn't repent, and they wouldn't be forgiven.

When Isaiah was called as a prophet, God told him to preach this, "Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their eyes heavy; and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with the ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed. Then I said, 'How long, O Lord?' And he said: 'until cities lies waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the places are many in the midst of my land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.' The holy seed is the stump" (Isaiah 6:8b-13).

Jeremiah was likewise told to preach, "Hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes, but see not, who have ears, but hear not" (Jeremiah 5:21).

Jesus preached in parables so the crowd would not understand and repent and be forgiven.

However, Jesus also said -- to the twelve and the disciples alone -- "To you is given the mysteries of the kingdom of God." Jesus said that those who are His are given understanding, not just of the parables, but of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Those who belong to Jesus understand what Jesus and the Scriptures say.

Hear what Paul says, "As it is written, 'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of a man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him --'these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. ... The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but himself is to be judged by no one. 'For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?' But we have the mind of Christ" (I Corinthians 2:9-10, 14-16).

Do we understand what Paul means? Do we understand why Jesus preached in parables? Hear again Paul's words, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience --" (Ephesians 2:1-2).

What we need to understand and remember is that every single mere human being is born dead in his sins, unable to understand or believe the Word of God or to choose salvation in Jesus. We are born spiritually dead, incapable of responding or believing or even understanding.

So, Jesus preached in parables to make the spiritual death of all humanity clear by their inability to understand parables. To look at it the other way, we believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation, we understand and believe the Scripture to be the Word of God, we can make sense of the parable, because God chose us and makes us able. If we believe in Jesus Alone for our salvation this morning, it is because God chose to enlighten us and make us understand and believe. On our own, all mere humans are incapable. So Jesus spoke in parables to make it clear that all glory for salvation belongs to God Alone. We cannot and do not respond to God on our own; the Gospel makes no sense unless and until God intercedes, and God owes that intercession to no one. "It is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8b-9). God Alone gives understanding, belief, faith, and ears to hear -- ears and hearts open to hear and willing to obey.

So Jesus was not surprised that the crowd did not understand His parables, but He was annoyed with the twelve and His disciples, because they should have understood. Jesus was merciful and explained the parable to them.

"The sower sows the word." The preacher preaches the Word -- he heralds the Good News -- he announces the Good News. The preacher does not create the Good News, or give it it's power, or make it true. The preacher's job and responsibility is to say, "Thus, says the Lord." That is his job. The preacher neither had the ability or the authority to make the seed grow or to make it bear fruit.

And some of the seeds falls on the path and the winged creatures take it away. Why do some people come to faith in Christ and others do not? Because God has not chosen everyone; He has chosen some. Those He has not chosen hear the Word of God, the call to repentance and belief, but it is like throwing seeds on a stone path. There is no soil, it will not grow, and the birds will steal it away. So God allows Satan and his demons to steal away the Word from those who will never come to faith in Christ.

And some of the seeds falls in rocky soil, and it springs up quickly, but has no root, so it shrivels up and dies in the heat of the sun. There are people who come into the Church or who grow up in the Church, who are active and joyful, but don't believe a word of the Scripture. They were raised in the Church. They served in the Church. They taught Sunday School. Surely we all know people like that. But when it got tough. When they were questioned, "Do you believe that there is only salvation in Jesus Alone?" Dead. Dried up. Gone. They had no root. They had no belief. Such people fill our churches in America. Church is a good and happy place to be, but don't say that someone has to commit to believe anything.

And then there are seeds that fall among the thorns. These people also come into the Church or grow up in the Church, but they get to an age or a point in their lives when "it just doesn't have meaning for them anymore." Not when there is wine, women, and song to be had! Not when they can amass their fortunes and exert their power and influence. Why should they spend their time in a place that tells them to deny themselves and take up their cross, when the world is calling to "come and get it"? They, also, never believed. It was fun, reassuring, and so forth, to be in the church for awhile. But when the choice was between a dusty old book and silver and gold, they became sterile in the house of God: they bore no fruit.

But then there are the elect of God, the seeds that fall in good soil. These are the ones that God has called out from among the mass of humanity. These are the ones that Jesus lived and suffered and bled and died and rose again for. These are the ones who have been brought back to life, raised up, fed, and nurtured by God Himself and placed where they can serve to the glory of God, no matter what befalls them. Paul said, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth" (I Corinthians 3:6). They hear the Word of God and receive it, and they bear fruit according to the gifts and abilities that God has given them -- thirty fold, sixty fold and a hundred fold. Peter said, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace" (I Peter 4:10).

Have you understood the parable this morning? Where do you stand -- grow -- as far as your seed sowing is concerned? If you truly believe in Jesus Alone for your salvation -- rejoice in God, thank and praise God, because it is His Work Alone that has brought you to this place. If this is true of you, then you must care for yourself, just as a plant must be cared for to grow. And if we must care for each other in the Church, if we are going to see each other grow -- like a plant -- in faith and hope and love -- in knowledge and understanding.

The life of a plant is not really that complicated: light, water, food, air, but these simple things are necessary. Likewise, we ought to be about those things that help our growth and each other's growth -- simple, but vital things:

Let us prepare ourselves to hear God's Word, in worship, in our private study, and in studying together, by getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and praying that God the Holy Spirit would illumine the Scripture and help us to understand what God has said in His Word.

Let us come before God early, quieting ourselves, getting ourselves at peace, ready to hear what will be said. Yes, there are times when we cannot help but rush in, but usually, we are able to make our preparation time a habit. Habits are easier to start than break, but don't plan and plan and plan -- just do it. Get up fifteen minutes earlier. Arrive just a few minutes earlier to get your mind and body at rest, willing and ready to hear what God has to say.

Let us pray, as individuals and together, that we would desire to hear from God. Let us pray that we would want to spend more time reading God's Word, more time hearing it read and preached. Let our desire for God's Word be greater than any television show, or game, or sale.

Let us pray that we would hear the Word of God as the truth, even when it is difficult, even when God says things that we don't want to hear. Let us not be offended by God, but hear Him and obey Him and love Him, because He is our God and Savior. Let us ask for that grace.

And let us pray to desire and live out everything that God has said. Let us pray that our satisfaction would be made full in doing those things that God has called us to do. Let us pray that we would have joy in Him and that everything else around us would pale and melt away in His Glory.

Then we shall be like "trees planted by streams of water that yield fruit in their season, and their leaves do not wither. In all we do, we prosper" (Psalm 1:3b-4, alt.).

Let us pray:
Almighty God, Giver of the Word, we thank You that You have given us the mysteries of the Kingdom, and their understanding through God the Holy Spirit. We ask that You would work in us that we would desire above all to be ready to hear from You, that we would long to read Your Word and hear it read and preached. That we would care for ourselves, that we would always be ready to hear from You and to respond in love and obedience. Give us the grace to receive the hard words and Your discipline, and let us understand that they come to us in love and for our good. Raise us up in this place to be a people wholly devoted to Your Word, anxiously waiting the trumpet blast signaling Your Triumphant Return. And may it all be to Your Glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Prayer Meeting

Our next prayer meeting will be (D.V.) on Tuesday, February 28th, at 12 pm.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Monday Puritan

"Let me entreat you to abound in works of charity and benevolence. Go to the poor, and see what they want, and show your compassion at once to their soul and body. Buy them a catechism, and other small books that are likely to do them good, and make them promise to read them with care and attention. Stretch your purse to the utmost, and do all the good you can. Think not of being rich; seek not great things for yourselves or your posterity."
-- Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Worship Music and the Regulative Principle

In the Reformed Church in America, along with other reformed bodies, we say that we believe in the Regulative Principle of Worship. What this means is that we believe that we are to do ("liturgy") in worship, what God has prescribed to be done in worship, nothing more and nothing less. We differ from the Lutheran concept which says that anything that is not expressly forbidden by Scripture may be used in worship. Since we are of the reformed camp and say that we hold to the Regulative Principle, it ought to effect our worship.

The Regulative Principle leads to the following:

1. Music in worship ought usually involve the use of the human voice. The examples of worship we have in the Scripture most frequently involve the singing of words by human voices. Thus, we ought do the same.

2. Music in worship ought to involved the use of musical instruments. We see the use of musical instruments, especially in the Psalms, but throughout the descriptions of music in the Scripture. There are also descriptions of instrumental music, so that ought also be used in worship. But what instruments ought to be used? David and others noted the use of the musical instruments of the day. Are we to use the biblical instruments and no other? That seems to carry the Regulative Principle into Pharisaism. The point we might conclude is that the instruments of the day -- whenever that day is -- ought to be used in worship -- and a variety of them.

3. The Psalms must necessarily be used and sung. Why? Because they are the "hymnal" that God inspired and gave to His people.

4. If any other words are sung besides the Psalms, they are to be biblical, (in fact, based on the Scripture itself), clear, and not in contradiction with any of the Scripture. One might argue that this goes beyond the bounds of the Regulative Principle, since God did not "breath out" any of the songs and hymns that are outside of the Scripture. Again, this seems Pharisaical: if the words are based on the Scripture, clear, and do not contradict any of the Scripture, then they would have to come out of the Scripture, at least indirectly. (But, yes, if one desired to "take no chances" one could use only the 150 Psalms.)

5. The music ought to be simple. The music we see in the Scripture is sung by the congregation, not just the choir or the paid soloists (one might question whether these should even exist given the biblical example, but that question can be left for another day). The music does not need to be dull or "uninspired" or boring, but it must be music that most of the congregation is capable of singing. Worship is not the time for a concert or to show off, it is a time in which the congregation joins together as a Body, including in the music, in the worship of God. If the majority of the people cannot learn to sing the music that is being proposed, it ought not to be used. The majority of the congregation ought to be capable of learning a piece for it to be legitimate.

One other note:

6. The music and the words must be of the highest quality. We have no sheet music for the Psalms, so we must write music for the singing of them, and since that music is for the worship of our Holy and Worthy God, it must, by definition, be of the highest quality. Likewise, if we use any mere human words, they also must be of the highest quality. We serve a God Who only accepts a pure and holy sacrifice, and if we offer up our best, through Jesus, it will be well received.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Monday Puritan (a day late)

In the his application of Mark 3:33, George Petter writes:
"To reprove such as omit or break off good Duties, as Prayer, Reading, Meditation, Hearing the Word, etc., to gratify some of their Friends, who (it may be) come unto them, and desire to speak with them about Worldly businesses, or to have them keep company with them at such times when they should be imployed in better and more necessary Duties, such as those before named. What do such plainly shew, That they prefer the Company of their Friends, before the Service of God; and that they make more account of giving contentment to Friends, than of pleasing God, and of yielding obedience to his Will. Let it not be so with us. But learn by the Example of our Saviour, not to take notice of our best Friends, in case that they go about unreasonably to hinder us in such Duties as God calls us to perform. When Peter would hinder and disswade our Saviour from suffering death, though it were under pretence of love, yet he would not hearken to him, but counted him his Enemy in that case, and therefore called him Satan, Matth. 16. So some of the Holy Martyrs, when some Friends of their went to disswade them from standing out, and suffering death for the Profession of Truth, they would not hearken to them, nor suffer themselves to be hindered from the bold and constant confession of Truth, being called unto it."

Thursday, February 09, 2006

"The Book of Daniel"

As often happens, it seems, I spoke well of NBC's show, "The Book of Daniel," and it was promptly cancelled. For anyone who would like to see the show, episodes can be viewed on www.nbc.com. They are adding a new episode each week. For how long? I don't know. I just watched the most recent episode, about the son, Peter's, recovery from being beaten for being gay. The episode is interspersed with a homily of Father Daniel Webster.
"Sometimes the will of God -- Fate -- is meaningless and cruel."
"Prayer is the dress-rehearsal for the action we know we must do."
"God's will is that we live for each other..."
The Muslim world is outraged over a comic about Mohammed. Some have even resorted to violence to show that he is not to be made fun of.
The Christianity of "The Book of Daniel" is not, to my understanding, sound biblical theology. Yet, as I heard and here quote some of the lines from the episode, I wonder if any of my congregation watched the episode. I wondered if they knew what was biblical and what was not in Father Webster's words.
Part of the job of the shepherd is to guide, nudge, and whack the sheep on the head, so they don't fall off a cliff or down into a pit. To do so, we must be able to recognize the cliff and the pits and know where the safe ground is.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Monday Puritan

On Mark 3:5, George Petter wrote, "Labour for this holy affection of anger against sin, that we may have our hearts moved to indignation when we see God dishonoured: To this end, labour for the true love of God in our hearts; then we shall not endure to see him dishonoured without being angry and displeased with it. A loving Child cannot but be displeased when he sees his Father abused; neither can any true Child of God endure to see or hear God dishonoured, he must needs shew dislike and displeasure in it. ... Examine our anger against others by this property, to know whether it be good and holy: is it joined with inward grief for the person and for the sin? Then our anger is good and not otherwise."

Sunday, February 05, 2006

4-H

The Consistory of Second Reformed Church has approved working with Rutgers University and Essex County 4-H Youth Development to provide space for several once-a-month 4-H clubs. The parent/teacher meeting will be (D.V.) this Thursday, the 9th, at 7 PM. Anyone who is interested is invited.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Purpose of Government

I watched the State of the Union Address and the Democratic rebuttal (which all seems curious to me). (Not to mention that insane female senator, who shall remain nameless, and her theatrics!)
As Christians, it would do us well to consider, at least first, what God says the purpose of government is. From there were can dream our dreams of Republicans and Democrats and whatever else we might salivate for.
Paul wrote, "For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:3-4, ESV).
From what Paul has written, one can see that God appoints persons to authority -- the government -- for two reasons: here then is the raison d'etre of government: are you reading this carefully? The purpose of government, according to God, it to protect her people from evil and to punish evil. That is the extent of the purpose of government.
What about health care, taxes, social security, the preservation of my right to be and do as I please and be awarded a gold star for doing it, (cf. nominating a movie for an academy award for the reason that it features someone putting his hoo-hoo in another guy's haa-haa -- but that's off the point of this post.), etc?
The point is -- government is to protect us from evil and to punish evil. That plays out in many ways. But it should also make us wonder if we haven't forgotten about our duty as the Church to provide assistance for our members and even the world. Perhaps, while the government is protecting us from the evil monsters and punishing them when they do evil, we should be doing good in the Name of Jesus Christ. Perhaps one of the jobs of the Church is to care for the flock -- and those who have yet to come into the flock.