Second Reformed Church

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Puritan Church Growth Study

For our final session, we looked at the description of some early Church liturgies around the Lord's Supper.  Specifically, we looked at the relevant sections of The Didache at
http://www.paracletepress.com/didache.html and sections from Justin Martyr's First Apology at
http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.viii.ii.lxv.html.  We concluded that a biblical liturgy of the Lord's Supper will include (1) the warning, (2) thanks, (3) the words of institution, and (4) grace explained as being received in the past, present, and future (i.e., remembrance, communion, and hope, as the RCA liturgies dub them). 

We also noted the incontrovertible evidence that the Lord's Supper was received whenever the Church gathered for worship.

There will be no evening study for the next two weeks.  D.V., we will start a new study on Tuesday, April 17th.  Watch for more information!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

April Sermons

During the month of April, I plan, D.V., to preach as follows:

4/1/12 Communion/Palm Sunday
 Mark 11:1-11  “The Kingdom of Our Father David”

4/5/12 Communion/Maundy Thursday 7PM
 John 13:1-17, 31b-35  “Wash My Feet”

4/6/12 Communion/Good Friday 7PM
 Psalm 22  “Forsaken”
 
4/8/12 Communion/Easter
 John 20:1-18  “He Must Rise”

4/15/12
 Hebrews 2:1-4  “Pay Attention”

4/22/12
 Hebrews 2:5-9  “You Are Subjected”
 
4/29/12
 Hebrews 2:10-18  “The Brotherhood of Suffering”

Please join us for worship at 10:30 AM, except as noted during Holy Week.

"Lord's Supper 101" Sermon: I Corinthias 11:17-34


“Lord’s Supper 101”

[I Corinthians 11:17-34]

March 25, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            One final time in our series on Church growth, let us litanize – now – our five foci or principles of Church growth:

If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, the Word of God must be central to our life and worship.

            If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must obey Jesus and evangelize.  Each of us must tell others the Gospel:  Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead.

            If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must engage in regular hospitality and fellowship with non-Christians and our fellow Christians.

            If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must pray rightly, privately, and corporately.

            And today, our text shows that if we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must receive the Lord’s Supper frequently, properly, and worthily.  If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must receive the Lord’s Supper frequently, properly, and worthily.  

            We may remember that the Church at Corinth was a mess.  They were a Christian Church, but, perhaps in part because they were on a major trade route, they repeatedly strayed and adopted false teachings and allowed sin to flourish – such that we have two letters of Paul to the Corinthians correcting them – teaching them to obey what Christianity teaches.  If they were professing to be Christians, they ought to believe and act like Christians.

            Just before this morning’s text, Paul has a rare commendation of the Corinthians, in that they understood and practiced the Christian teaching of submission to Christ and spiritual headship in the home and church.  That gives us some insight into the turn of events as our text begins, because Paul then writes:

            “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”

            Paul begins this section by not commending them – by rebuking and instructing them, because they were sinning.  Paul says that when they came together as the church for worship – they were not united – they were divided.  There were divisions over various issues in the church, and everyone knew it.

            In chapter 12 of I Corinthians, Paul goes on to explain that the Church is the Body of Christ, and the Body cannot be divided and function properly, much less live.  We cannot cut off our toes, or our arm, or our head, and expect to function properly as the Body.  Each of us is different, and each of us has been gifted and blessed differently.  That is because, together, we make up the Church in this place, just as the Corinthians did in Corinth.  God gives us the people we need in the Church to be the Church where we are. 

Division among Christians – among things that do not concern salvation – is not right or good or healthy.  We ought not to divide from each other over our understanding of whether Baptism ought to be administered through immersion or sprinkling, or whether the organ is an appropriate musical instrument for worship, or whether or not women may wear pants.  We are to be united in Christ and the Salvation He gives us and be willing to work together for His Sake and the Sake of the Kingdom, allowing for us to have differences on things that don’t matter eternally.

However, Paul goes on to then say that there must be divisions in the Church.  And Paul did not have a multiple-personality disorder – when it comes to the Doctrine of Salvation – when it comes to the question of whether or not Salvation is Only by Jesus Alone, if some say “yes” and others say “no,” there must be division, and it is good that there is, because Christianity teaches that there is Only Salvation in Jesus Alone.  Anyone who denies that is not a Christian.

John wrote approvingly of some who left the church over the understanding of how a person is right with God – about salvation, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19, ESV).

When it comes to salvation, believers must divide from unbelievers – and sometimes there will be people in the church for years, who appear to be believers, and then, one day, will speak their heart, and we will know that they never believed.  That kind of division proves who is one of us.  Other division is sin.

“When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”

Here we find that the division was over the Lord’s Supper and how some were abusing it.  Some were coming to worship every day, rushing to the front, and consuming the bread and the wine with a perverse gluttony.  They we stealing the elements of the Lord’s Supper – consuming them all themselves – not allowing others to receive them, and in so doing, they were getting drunk during worship.

Let us remember, the Lord’s Supper was held in people’s homes.  There were no churches yet.  They worshipped in the Temple with the Jews – every day – and they worshipped in their homes, receiving the Lord’s Supper, whenever they came together to worship.  So, a smaller group of people were coming together in individual homes to worship and received the Lord’s Supper, and some were getting there and drinking all the wine and eating all the bread, being gluttons and drunkards and depriving their brothers and sisters of receiving the Sacrament.  Paul rightly tells them this is sin and must stop.

What do we learn positively from this account?  First, we learn that the original Church received the Lord’s Supper whenever – as often as – they gathered together for worship.  Receiving the Lord’s Supper was a normal and regular part of every worship service.

Why would they do that?

            “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”

            First, the Church received the Lord’s Supper every time they gathered to show that they were united in faith and belief – even in One Body.         

Paul wrote, “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5, ESV).  “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17, ESV).  “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, ESV).

In recognizing and confessing before each other that we are One Body, we confess our responsibility and care for one another:  “But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:24b-26, ESV).

Second, the Church received the Lord’s Supper every time they gathered to show that they were united in Christ and His Gospel.

Paul wrote, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5, ESV).  “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:15-16, ESV).

In receiving the One Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper together, all equal before our God and Savior, we confess that He is our Head, our Life, and we are responsible for one another.

Third, the Church received the Lord’s Supper every time they gathered to witness to the Jews – and the world – that the Covenant given by God through the Temple sacrifices was fulfilled in Jesus. 

The author of Hebrews explained, “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:24-28, ESV).

In receiving the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper together, we confess that the Passover has been fulfilled in Jesus, so there is never to be another blood sacrifice; Jesus is the Final Blood Sacrifice for sin.

Second, we learn that the original Church received the Lord’s Supper properly.

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”

We see the Church receiving the Lord’s Supper properly in at least four ways:

First, the Church received the Lord’s Supper properly by using the words of institution that Jesus gave.

As we are invited to receive the Lord’s Supper, we repeat the words that Jesus said as He took the Passover meal and made it into the New Sacrament – after the New Covenant – of the Lord’s Supper.  We remember that Jesus said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”  We remember that Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”    It is important that we remember the words that Jesus actually used to found the Lord’s Supper that we might understand it and practice it properly.

Secondly, in that immediate context – that of when Jesus first gave the words, the Church received the Lord’s Supper properly as they remembered that Jesus was crucified for the sins of all those that would believe.  Jesus’ Blood was really shed and His Body was really broken, and we are to remember that that event really happened – and it is through that historical event that the sins of everyone who would ever believe in Jesus were forgiven.

Third, the Church received the Lord’s Supper properly as they did not merely remember that Jesus celebrated it, but understood that we are to continue to receive it, because Jesus meets with us in the Sacrament every time we receive it.

If the Lord’s Supper was merely a matter of remembering what happened in the past, there would be no necessity of repeating it in the now.  The fact of the matter is that Jesus spiritually meets with us in the bread and the cup and gives us grace – the ability to do all that He calls us to do.  We’ll see this more specifically in a few minutes.

But there is a fourth way in which they properly received the Lord’s Supper, and that is in receiving it as a witness to the world. 

Paul said, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.”  That means that every time we receive the Lord’s Supper, we proclaim to the world that Jesus died for the sins of everyone who will believe and He is coming back.  In receiving the Lord’s Supper, we confess, not merely to believers, but to everyone who observes us receiving, that we do not merely believe in a Gospel of forgiveness from a dead saint, but we believe in a Gospel of forgiveness of the Living God – the God, Jesus, Who is alive and returning!

            “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”

            Thirdly, we learn that the original Church received the Lord’s Supper worthily.

Again, we understand this from what the Corinthians did wrong – and how Paul corrected them:  “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.”  What does Paul mean?  Most literally, Paul tells them – and us – if we receive the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, we are guilty of murdering Jesus.

We see in this rebuke and warning that the Lord’s Supper cannot be merely a remembrance in which we receive mere bread and a mere cup.  Something more must be going on given the consequences that Paul enumerates.

Who is worthy of the Lord’s Supper? 

First, “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”  The person who is worthy of the Lord’s Supper is the person who recognizes that he or she is a sinner, believes in salvation in Jesus Alone, and repents of his or her sin.  The person who is worthy of the Lord’s Supper is the person who understands that no one is worthy of the Lord’s Supper except through Jesus Alone.  No one is worthy to receive the Sacrament, but through Jesus and His Salvation, those who believe may receive it to their benefit.

Second, to receive the Lord’s Supper worthily, one must “discern the body.”  What does that mean?  Many scholars have argued that it means we must understand where Jesus is in the Sacrament – as though it was one of those “Where’s Waldo?” puzzles.  But look at the context:  Paul has rebuked them for coming to the Sacrament – not once, but every time they gather for worship – and some are jumping ahead, gluttonously eating the brink, and drinking up the wine to the point of drunkenness.  The Body that they failed to discern was the Body of Christ – the Church.

They had come into the church and thought themselves better – more worthy – to take the bread and the wine for themselves and make a party of it.  They unrepentantly sinned in their gluttony and drunkenness, they had contempt for the other members of the Church who did not receive the elements, and they showed a distinct lack of gratitude in their “taking” rather than “receiving” the elements.

Third, in receiving the Lord’s Supper worthily, Jesus meets with us and we receive grace – power and authority to do what He has called us to do in His Name.  And, conversely, as we see in our text:  “For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”  If we do not receive the Lord’s Supper worthily, God may make us sick, and He may even kill us.

“Com’on!  It’s a little piece of pressed unleavened bread and a little cup of grape juice or wine.  How could that make you sick or kill you?”

In one sense, those of you thinking that are correct – unless you choke badly, those elements can’t hurt you.  And conversely, if you eat them without choking, they will do next to nothing for you – there’s nothing much to it nutritionally.

If the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was a mere memorial, we could say that Paul was using hyperbole – that he was not being literally true.  But Paul was addressing the question they had of why so many people were getting sick and dying in the Corinthian Church, and his answer was, “You are receiving the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.”

Paul tells them if they had judged themselves – if they had confessed their sin to God, they would have been forgiven.  But with their unworthy taking of the Lord’s Supper – sinning with abandon and without repentance – what ought they to have expected in profaning the Lord’s Supper?

Brothers and sisters, there is more going on in the elements than bread and cup.  In the Reformed Church, we do not believe that the elements turn into literal flesh and blood, but we do believe that Jesus Christ, our Savior, the One Almighty God, meets with us – communes with us – ministers to us – gives us His Grace – as we receive the bread and the cup in a worthy manner. 

            Lastly, Paul tells them to wait for each other – together as the Church for worship and to receive the Lord’s Supper together – all believers on an equal playing field – all receiving the same Gift of the Lord Jesus in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper – no one getting more or less of the bread and the cup, but all parts of the Body joining together frequently, properly, and worthily. 

To confess what Jesus did in forgiving the sins of all those who would believe in Him Alone, to confess that the Passover was fulfilled in Jesus and there are no more blood sacrifices necessary or permitted, to confess that we are joined with all other believers in One Body with Jesus our Head,  to confess that Jesus will return, and to confess that Jesus meets with us in the bread and the cup in Power and Glory to minister to us to be able to do and be all that He calls us to do and be.

If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must receive the Lord’s Supper frequently, properly, and worthily.

Let us pray:
Almighty God, we have come into Your Presence in this sanctuary.  We have come into Your Presence through the reading and preaching of Your Word.  And we are coming into Your Presence through prayer and through the receiving of the bread and the cup, as You command us, in the Lord’s Supper.   Make us more desirous of You as we eat and drink.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Reformed Wisdom

"I had read that a survey had found that 30 percent of the average minister's time is spent in administration.  That's a disaster.  That's not what the minister is called to do.  The minister is called to preach, teach, and equip the saints for ministry.  He is to be the pastor, the spiritual leader of the people.  If he does that well, he has to know the Bible.  We need pastors who are equipped to teach the Bible and who have time to teach the Bible.  That's the only way to overcome this prevailing ignorance of Scripture.  Only when that happens will people begin to grasp the principles for prayer." -- R. C. Sproul, The Prayer of the Lord, 110.

"Delight & Desire" Sermon: Psalm 37:3-6


“Delight & Desire”

[Psalm 37:3-6]     

March 18, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            How do we – the Church – grow?

            If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, the Word of God must be central to our life and worship.

            If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must obey Jesus and evangelize.  Each of us must tell others the Gospel:  Jesus came to earth, lived, died for our sins, and physically rose from the dead.

            If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must engage in regular hospitality and fellowship with non-Christians and our fellow Christians.

If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must pray rightly, privately, and corporately.  If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must pray rightly, privately, and corporately.

Psalm 37 is a psalm of David in which he shows that God is always faithful to His people, and since God is faithful to His people, we ought to act in certain ways.  We are looking at a small section of that Psalm this morning.

“Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.”

David tells his readers – originally, the singers – that because God is God we ought to trust Him.  If we know God as His is, as He has revealed Himself in the Scripture, we have no reason to worry, and abounding reason to trust Him.

Charles Spurgeon writes, “Faith cures fretting.  Sight is cross-eyed, and views things only as they seem, hence her envy; faith has clearer optics to behold things as they really are, hence her peace” (The Treasury of David, volume 1, 171).

            We know that in this life, we do not have all the answers – we do not see things clearly.  Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV).

            We cannot see how things are going to work out in the future.  However, we do have the promise that if we believe in Jesus Alone for salvation, everything is working out for our good – even evil – even disaster:  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV).

            The author of Hebrews explains that faith is the absolute assurance that certain things will happen based on the Character and Being of God.  “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, ESV).  Because God is Who He is, and He is Holy, All-Powerful, and every other attribute we are told in the Scripture, we can believe and confess things that we have not seen and may not live to see or understand, but we can say, “This is so,” because it is based on Who God is.

            For example, I can say I have faith that I will be resurrected – body and soul – when Jesus returns – and I can say that with all assurance, because it is a promise that has been made by the One Holy God Who cannot lie.

            Some people look at faith as something irrational:  on the TV show “All in the Family,” Archie explained that “Faith is believing in something that nobody in their right mind would believe in.” 

Everything we believe in – everything we trust – is based on a set of statements – a set of facts.  Faith is not irrational.  Faith tells us that based on the available scientific evidence, the earth revolves around the sun.  And we may believe there is good science behind that – good evidence.  But when the One Holy God Who cannot lie tells us something is true, is there any room for questioning whether or not having faith in what He has said is rational?

            And since He is the One Holy God Who cannot lie, ought we not have faith in Him – ought we not to trust in Him above our own instincts and feelings and inclinations?  If you believe something is the case, but the Almighty God says that something else is true, Who does it make sense to trust – to believe?

            Solomon wrote, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (Proverbs 3:5-8, ESV).

            Let us trust in the God who promises in His Word:  “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14, ESV).

            And do good.  If we believe in God, if we know Who He is from His Word and believe in Him because of what He has revealed to us, we will also obey Him and do good.  Jesus said, “And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV).

            What does that mean?  It means that we should do for others at least as much and as well as we do for ourselves.  We ought to love everyone else at least as much as we love ourselves,  We are to work to advance the life and health and well-being of everyone else at least as much as we do for ourselves.  We are to seek the salvation of everyone else at least as much as we seek it for ourselves.

            We have heard it said that we should “look out for number one.”  And Jesus would not disagree with that, so long as you understand that you must love your neighbor as much as you love yourself.  You can be number one, as long as you treat everyone else at least like number one.

            God, Who is unquestionably number one, has provided for our every need and blessed us beyond all expectation.  God tells us to do the same for everyone else.  With the blessings that God has given us – and God has given all of us more than we need of something, God says we are to help provide for others – to do good for others that they might know Him and the Salvation that only comes through Jesus Christ.

            Of course, we are to use wisdom and not give to just anyone who asks for anything.

            Dwell in the land.  Jesus prayed, “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world”

(John 17:15-16, ESV). 

            We ought not to try to hide ourselves away from the world, but rather to be salt and light to the world – to show the world what is right and true and good.  Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.  You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven”

(Matthew 5:13-16, ESV).  We are not to follow the world into sin, but direct the world out of sin and show the way to Jesus.

            We are also not to be complaining about what God has seen fit to give us.  The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.  God has given us what He wants us to have and what He knows we need to be the men and women He has called us to be.

            Befriend faithfulness.  Faithfulness – believing and obeying God – is to be like a close and blessed friend to us.  We ought to want to walk with faithfulness and be happy to be seen with him.  When people look at us they ought to also immediately think of faithfulness, because we are such close friends.

            Well, what does this have to do with prayer?

            God answers our prayer and gives us what we pray for when our prayer is offered rightly – when our prayer is after the Mind of God – when we pray for God’s Will – for what He wants.   “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (1 John 5:14, ESV).

            God knows everything.  God has planned out every moment of existence.  So, God will not grant a prayer that goes against His Will.  God will only answer a prayer that is what He desires to do.

            Here we are told that God wants us to trust Him, to do good, to be witnesses to Him and to be thankful for what we have received, and to be faithful.  Do we pray for these things?  We pray for people who are sick and out of work – and it is good and right that we do that, but do we also pray that we would trust God, do good, be witnesses to Him, be thankful for what we have received, and be faithful?

            Do we pray that we would become who God commands us to become and that He would fulfill the promises He has made?  God loves it when we pray for what He desires.  St. Augustine prayed, “Grant what You command, and command what You desire."  Notice two things:  Augustine prays that God would do whatever pleases God, and he prays that God would enable us to do whatever God desires of us.

            So, prayer is all about God:  prayer is about our coming into conformity with the Mind of God – that we would desire what God desires.  When we desire what God desires – when we pray for what God wants – God promises to give us our request and enable us to do what we have asked of Him.

            And so our text continues:  “Delight yourself in the LORD,             and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

            Are you delighted by God?  Do you take pleasure in God?  Are you satisfied with God?  Do you look to what God has revealed about Himself to you in His Word and delight in knowing Him?  Are you awestruck by His Will and Commands?  Do you see God as He is presented in the Scripture and desire Him – want to know Him – want to please Him – want to be satisfied with Him – knowing that there is and can never be anything or anyone greater?  Do you desire to do everything in your life to delight God?   Do you believe that everything He Wills and Commands and Promises is the best that there could ever be for you and all of humanity?

            Do you love God more than these? (cf. John 21)

            If you were given one choice, would you want God – more than money, more than comfort, more than sex, more than security, more than praise, more than food, more than honor, more than ability, more than friends, more than family, more than fame…and God may give you any or all of these with Him – but if you had the choice between God and knowing Him and everything beautiful and pleasurable in all of Creation, would you choose God?

            Would you say, “My delight is in the Lord!”  Because the Promise of God is this, if you truly delight in the Lord, God will give you the desires of your heart.  If you truly delight in the Lord – if your greatest desire is to know Him and His Will, God will say to you, “Yes, my son.  Yes, my daughter.  I will give you the desires of your heart.”

            Why?  Because if our mind is aligned with God’s in prayer – if we want what God wants – God will give us exactly what we pray for.  Praying rightly is praying for what God wants.  And God has revealed an enormous amount of His Will for us and the world in His Word – and if we read it – if the Word of God is central to our lives and worship – we will know much of what God wants.  And if we delight in God and pray for what God has told us He wants, He will do it.

            This truth is recorded in the book of Job:  “then the Almighty will be your gold and your precious silver.  For then you will delight yourself in the Almighty           and lift up your face to God.  You will make your prayer to him, and he will hear you, and you will pay your vows.  You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you, and light will shine on your ways” (Job 22:25-28, ESV).

             As we train our minds more and more to know God and His Will through reading and living out His Word, we will pray according to the Mind of God, according to His Will, and God will answer those prayers and do what we ask.

            But there’s a problem, isn’t there?  What about times when we don’t know what God’s Will is?  I’m going to ask for prayer for a friend of mine who was in a head-on car crash, and while they checked him out with a CAT-Scan, they found something else – a major medical problem going on.  Is it God’s Will to heal him or not?

            I would like Eric to be healed; I am praying for his healing.  But there is a fifty percent chance that is not what God wants, and God will do what God wants.  How do we pray in cases like this?

            We must remember two things:  first, as James tells us, we must always acknowledge that any request we make of God will only be answered as God Wills and is willing.  “Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:15, ESV).

            And, we must remember that God has promised to pray for us when we don’t know how to pray.  What does that mean?  Remember that God the Holy Spirit lives in every Christian.  God has promised that the Spirit will pray on our behalf to the Father:  “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God”            

(Romans 8:26-27, ESV).

            How likely do you think it is that God will answer a prayer that God offers up to Himself – according to His Will?  God the Spirit prays according to God’s Will to offer up prayers on our behalf when we do not know how to pray rightly.

            Now, that does not give us an excuse to pray haphazardly.  We are to pray, asking for everything that we know God wants, and we are to pray with love of neighbor in mind, and we are to pray asking that our requests be granted as God wills, and we are to pray, giving thanks and asking the God the Holy Spirit would intercede for us as we do not know what or how to pray.

            So, I am praying for my friend, Eric, not knowing whether or not God will choose to heal him, but praying for his healing – in love, praying that God’s Will will be done, and the Holy Spirit will pray on my behalf for God’s Will, and it will be done according to what pleases God.

            You see, prayer does not change God, prayer changes us.  God does not need to be informed or corrected, but we need to come into line with the Mind of God.  We need to know Who God is and what He wants.  We need to think the thoughts of God after Him that we would be in agreement with God in all things.

            “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.”

            What should you pray for?  Begin with what God has said.  Pray to know Him.  Pray to know and keep His Will and Commands.  Pray that God would bring His Promises to pass.  And then pray that God would intercede and do His Will when you aren’t sure what His Will is.  And then trust Him.  Trust that God will answer your prayer; trust that God will glorify Himself and act according to His Will.

            “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (Psalm 16:3, ESV).

“Well, isn’t prayer just a figment of our imagination then?  If we can’t change God or change what God is going to do, what’s the point?  If God is just going to do what He wants to do whether we pray or not and pray rightly or not, what’s the point of our bothering to pray?”

            We ought to pray for at least three reasons:

            First, God commands us to pray.

            Second, prayer changes us.  As we spend more time in prayer, more time learning to pray rightly, we become more delighted in God.  We progress – we grow – in holiness – in sanctification – in knowing God, Who He is, and how to pray His Desires.

            Third, prayer strengthens and grows our relationship with God.  God’s Desires become our desires through prayer, and God gives us grace to be who and what He has called us to be.

As we see in the conclusion to this morning’s text:  “He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.”

            If we are trusting God and delighting in Him for Who He is and what He desires, our desires will become His Desires, and God will answer our desires and do them.  We will be doing what is right and pleasing in God’s Sight, which will be all joy to us, and God will bring us to righteousness and cause justice to come for us and for the whole earth.

            If we are following God, seeking after Him in prayer and life, we won’t have to worry about our reputation or seeking justice for ourselves, because we will have confidence and pray that God will take care of that for us.  And God will guard the reputation of those who follow Him – even if people misunderstand us or lie about us on earth, God knows who we are and why we do what we do, and if we are delighting in Him and praying according to His Mind, our desires will come to pass.  If we are following God in holiness and praying obediently for all that God desires, we will also trust that God will bring justice, so we have no need to seek vengeance.

            If we want to grow as individuals and the Church, we must pray rightly, privately, and corporately.

            How might we begin to delight in the Lord and receive the desires of our hearts?

            Let us read God’s Word and pray that God will help us to understand it and delight in Who God is and what He has said.  Let us pray that God would make the desires of our hearts that same as what God wills for us.  And let us pray that God will continue to grow us and mature us and make us holy like Jesus.

            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, we want to have joy; we want the desires of our hearts to be fulfilled.  Lord, please change our hearts and help us to understand Your Word and desire You and Your Will.  Draw us close to You and cause us to trust You, live for You, commit ourselves to You, and live, believing that the Holy Spirit will intercede for us with You and will continue to work in us bringing us ever closer to holiness until the Day of Christ Jesus.  For it is in His Name we pray, Amen.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Puritan Wisdom


“It is a very ill office to be the devil’s secretary.” – Nathaniel Hardy on Psalm 37:5 in Charles Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Puritan Church Growth Study

Last night was the study session on fellowship and hospitality, and the pastor thought it best to do this as a kinesthetic session.  To that end, he made organic whole wheat pasta with organic tomato basil sauce and an organic mixed spring greens salad with red kidney beans, cannelli beans, sliced oranges, topped with a macadamea nut butter and orange juice dressing.  Maria contributed white wine, and Rebekah made chocolate chip cookies.  We had an enjoyable time of eating and talking.  Join us next week, D.V., at 7:30 PM, when we plan to talk about how we are to pray.

"Eat, Drink, & Be Friendly" Sermon: Acts 2:42


“Eat, Drink, & Be Friendly”

[Acts 2:42]        

March 11, 2012 Second Reformed Church

            The third foci – or principle – in our series is:  if we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must engage in regular fellowship and hospitality.   If we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must engage in regular fellowship and hospitality.

            We have already said that for us to grow as individuals and the Church, the Word of God must be central to our lives and worship, and we must obey Jesus and evangelize – tell others the Gospel.  Now, to this we add:  if we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must engage in regular fellowship and hospitality.

            Our text us is a short one:  hear it again:  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” 

The first question we ought to ask ourselves is, who are “they”?  “They” in this verse – as we look back in our text – are the eleven original apostles, Matthias – who replaced Judas, and the three thousand souls who had believed and repented after hearing Peter’s sermon, in which he explained the Gospel to all those in attendance for the festival:  Jesus is the Savior that God sent, He lived a perfect life – doing miracles among them, they put Him to death – through the Romans – according to God’s Plan that Jesus might die for their sins, and He physically rose from the dead, because death could not hold Him.  Peter told the crowd that Jesus is God the Savior and about three thousand believed and repented of their sins.  They became the early Church.

            Our text begins to tell us what the early Church was like:  “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

            First, “they devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching.”  The devoted themselves to keeping the Word of God central to their life and worship.  They understood the centrality of the Word is a right and necessary principle for the life and growth of the Christian and the Church.  We talked about this two weeks ago.

            Second, “they devoted themselves to…fellowship.”  They devoted themselves to engaging in regular fellowship and hospitality as a principle for the life and growth of the Christian and the Church.  We’ll say more about that in a moment.

            Third, “they devoted themselves to…the breaking of bread.”  They participated in the receiving of the Lord’s Supper and recognized it as necessary for the life and growth of the Christian and the Church.  Lord willing, we’ll talk more about that in two weeks.

            And fourth, “they devoted themselves to…the prayers.”   They prayed and understood the necessity of prayer for the life and growth of the Christian and the Church.  Lord willing, we’ll look at that next week.

            At this point, we may ask, “wait a minute, the text says that they participated in the ‘breaking of bread,’ not the Lord’s Supper.  How do you know this is the Lord’s Supper?”

            Two reasons:  first, the expression “breaking of bread” is the expression that Paul uses when explaining the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.  Second, sharing meals comes under the heading of fellowship and hospitality, as we see in one of the verses following our text:  “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,” (Acts 2:46, ESV).

            It’s true that the Lord’s Supper would have been celebrated in the homes of the believers – the Lord’s Supper would not have been celebrated in the Temple – and there were no churches.  Yet, the statement about receiving food indicates a meal other than the Lord’s Supper.

            What does “fellowship” mean?

            Fellowship, as we understand it in the Scripture is something that happens among believers – among fellow Christians.  Fellowship means being part of a group, holding certain beliefs in common, and it means working together for the good of the whole.

            When we are told they devoted themselves to fellowship, it means that they worked hard to see and experience themselves as a group – as the Church – that they saw great importance in unity about what they believed, and that they gathered together as the Church to support and encourage each other and to act together.

            We who are the Church -- all those who believe in Jesus Alone for salvation – we are to engage in fellowship regularly, if we are to grow.

            As believers in the same One Jesus Christ for Salvation, we are to show love to each other – affection for one another, because we are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ.  As Paul wrote, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (Romans 8:29, ESV). 

We ought to spend time together – not merely on Sunday mornings – we are not just members of a club that has periodic meetings, but family – those who have been united in salvation, who have the same Father.  We ought to talk with each other – rejoice with each other, show concern for each other, be interested in each other, sympathize with each other.

            Now, that does not mean that we must fake liking each other – we, in the Church, are very different people – we have been called from every people, and language, and tribe.  Some of us will naturally be more attracted to another and gravitate towards certain people.  That is alright, but we all must show love for every other Christian.

            What does that mean?  It does not mean we have to give each person in the Church, or even in this church, the same amount of our time.  It does mean that we are to show love to each other by acknowledging and welcoming every Christian to join with us in worship and other things that are open to all.

            We have examples of what the early Church did together: 

They all joined together daily for worship in the Temple. Notice, they continued to worship in the place God had authorized for worship, even though the unbelieving Jews were leading worship.  What does that mean for us?  It means you cannot be a Christian, much less have fellowship, if you do not worship in a church.  God commands us to regularly worship together:  “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

Notice, they worshipped together in the Temple every day.  Whenever the Temple was available for worship, they were there.  Do we love God and each other to join together with each other whenever something is happening at this church?

They also worshipped together in their homes.  Certainly all three thousand did not worship in any one particular home on a regular basis, but small groups of Christians regularly gathered together to worship in each other’s homes.  This is not quite the idea of a “house church,” because they also worshipped in the Temple.  These were small groups gathering together to read God’s Word, pray, sing – worship together – in addition to their all gathering together for worship in the Temple.

There are legitimate reasons why some people don’t open their homes to others, but do any of us open our homes – ever – as a place to be with each other and pray for each other, to study God’s Word together, and so forth?  Might we not grow together if we spent more time together worshipping in each other’s homes?

They also received the Lord’s Supper regularly and frequently.  We will talk more about this in two weeks, Lord willing, but let us understand that they believed the frequent reception of the Lord’s Supper was essential as part of their fellowship and for their growth, because we are united in receiving the elements and because we receive God’s Grace through them.

They prayed with each other.  In small groups, in homes and elsewhere, they gathered and prayed with each other.  We know each other and learn how to love each other better as we hear from each other – as we express our needs, our joys, and our sorrows.  There is an intertwining of each other when we share these things and then pray for each other.

Do you believe in prayer?  We’ll talk more about prayer, next week, Lord willing, but know that we have a prayer meeting on Saturdays at 3 PM.  We gather together, talk about what’s going on with each other, and then we pray.

We also see that they shared meals.  That may be what we think of most frequently when we say “fellowship,” because we have “coffee hour” in the “fellowship hall” – our “Freeman Hall,” and there we get food and drink and sit at tables and talk.

When we share food together – whether it’s eating Costco baked good, or home cooked or baked items, or going out to eat, or going to someone’s home – as Christians, we are eating the blessings of the Lord.  It is not just our host – or hosts – who provide the meal, but we are sharing what God has blessed another with.  Even if someone takes us out to eat, we are receiving part of the financial blessing that God has given to someone.  This is reason for us as brothers and sisters to unite together in giving thanks to God for the gift of the food.

Food breaks down barriers.  No matter how different one Christian – or any person – might be from another, as we join together in eating, we show something of our vulnerability – our need to receive sustenance.  We admit a shared need and a shared thanksgiving as we receive food.  We also get to know each other better on a person level by what food is prepared and how the food is prepared.  One of the joys of being part of this congregation – for me – has been experiencing foods from other cultures.

Food opens up discussions – what is it?  How was it made?  Why do you eat this way?  Food opens up avenues of personal discussion into our heritage and preferences that we might not otherwise know.

The sharing of food is a confirmation of the Gospel, as well:  After the Resurrection we read:

“As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high’” (Luke 24:36-49, ESV).

Jesus fellowshipped with the disciples after the Resurrection by eating fish with them.  And in eating fish with them, He proved to them that He was alive in His Physical Body.  The Gospel includes the salvation of our whole self – soul and body.  Jesus had to physically rise from the dead to prove that the body was also saved in His Victory.  And so, in eating together, we celebrate the fact that our whole selves, including our bodies, will be raised to eternal life.

Eating together was also a sign of who was truly a Christian:

“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace be to this house!” And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, “Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.” I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town” (Luke 10:1-12, ESV).

A Christian would receive and feed a missionary.  One of the reasons we are looking for ways to provide food is to supply food for Christian who have need.  One of the reasons we have contributed to the Church Women United Food Pantry of Irvington is to provide food for Christians who have need.

What about the other term, “hospitality”?  We said, if we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must engage in regular fellowship and hospitality.

When we are talking about Christians getting together, it may be possible to use the words synonymously.  That is not the case with non-Christians – for this reason:  we cannot have fellowship with someone who does not believe the same things we do.  Fellowship implies a deep unity and intimacy that is not available between people who do not believe that Jesus is the Only Savior.  However, hospitality is to be shown towards all people, and especially towards non-Christians.

In fact, Jesus’ primary mode of evangelism was through the hospitality of sharing a meal:

            “And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance’” (Luke 5:29-32, ESV).

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, ‘If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.’ And Jesus answering said to him, ‘Simon, I have something to say to you.’ And he answered, ‘Say it, Teacher.’

            “’A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.’ And he said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’ Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, ‘Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’ Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace’” (Luke 7:36-50, ESV).

            “[Jesus] said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just’ (Luke 14:12-14, ESV).

            One of the best ways to share the Gospel is to share a meal with someone.  As you share a meal, you get to know a person better and there may be a way to raise the question of what a person believes.  Being willing to share a meal is also just a way to show that you care for others, even if you don’t present the Gospel in that moment.

            One of the reasons we are looking for ways to provide food is that others would know why we are looking for ways to provide food.  We are seeking to let others know that we show hospitality because we have been saved by Jesus Alone – that others would know we give to them out of our blessings in thanks for what Jesus has done for us.

            So, hospitality ties back to evangelism that we looked at last week.  We must seek ways to tell others the Gospel.  The way Jesus used most often was over sharing a meal.  Since hospitality is intertwined with evangelism, it is part of how we grow as individuals and the Church.

            Eat, drink, and be friendly.  That is the primary mode of evangelism we see our Lord using.  Let us use it to the Glory of God.

            Eat, drink, and be friendly.  That is how we are to be with each other, joining together for worship, for Bible study, for prayer, in times of sorrow and in times of rejoicing.  We are brothers and sisters through Jesus Christ, and we ought to regularly spend time together in and out of the sanctuary.

            If we are to grow as individuals and the Church, we must engage in regular fellowship and hospitality.

            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, you have called us to be one body, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ, Your sons and daughters.  Help us to love each other.  Help us to show that love to each other.  Stir up a desire in us to be part of each other’s lives outside of this sanctuary.  Let us find ways to support and encourage each other in our whole lives.  And help us to care for the souls of all people, even enough to share a meal.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.