July 30, 2013

"You proclaim the Lord's death until He comes"

This morning we, once again, have the distinct privilege of remembering the Lord Jesus through the bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper. What an honor it is! And what a blessing that God has ordained for us these visual, touchable, smell-able, taste-able aids to remind us of how Jesus died … having His body broken, and His blood shed for His people. “Do this,” He said … “in remembrance of Me” (1 Corinthians 11.25).

But sometimes we may overlook the fact that the Lord’s Supper is not only intended to help us look backward to Jesus’ cross … but also forward to His coming! Isn’t that what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11.26? “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

Did you hear it? In addition to the primary pattern of “remembrance,” the Lord’s Supper also has a future element to it. Somehow, while looking mostly backward, we are still to have one eye, as it were, looking forward, too! We are to remember, not only that Jesus came, but also that He is coming. Just as we now hold these hallowed symbols of Christ in our hands … someday we will hold Him, too! Just as we see this visual sermon today, someday we will see Him – “face to face”. And we are to “proclaim His death”, by means of the Lord’s Supper, until that day!

And there – in that word “proclaim” – is another aspect of the Lord’s Supper that we may sometimes forget. The Lord’s Supper is not only a remembrance of Jesus’ death … but a proclamation of it; a visual sermon, if you will. By taking up the elements in public worship, we are reminding one another what Jesus has done. We are, in essence, preaching Christ to one another! And not only to one another, but also to those in our midst who have not yet taken Jesus in by faith – to our children and grandchildren; to friends and guests who do not yet know the Lord. To all these, we “proclaim the Lord’s death” by means of the communion bread and cup!

And, though the New Testament writers do not spell this out, I also wonder if, by taking the bread and cup into our hands, and especially by placing them onto our tongues, if we aren’t also preaching not only Jesus’ death, but the necessity of our own faith in Him, as well. Most importantly of all, yes, the elements symbolize what Jesus did … but maybe our taking them into our mouths symbolizes what we have done, too – namely, taking Christ Himself in by faith! And anyone who wishes to be saved from sin, and made right with God, must do so – take Christ in by faith!

So, if you are here without Christ, this morning … that is what I hope you will see as you watch us take the bread and cup into our hands and mouths – mostly a reminder that Christ’s body was broken, and His blood shed for sinners; but also a prompt that, like the bread and cup, this Jesus must be taken in, and not merely observed!

And if you are a believer in Christ, and will be taking the Lord’s Supper yourself today … I hope you’ll also remember that Jesus is coming soon; that the Lord whom you hold in your hands today, in symbol form, you will soon embrace in the flesh, and see “face to face.” What a day that will be!

Remembering, preaching, and enjoying Christ with you … “until He comes.”

July 24, 2013

Taming the Tongue

“For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by the human race. But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.” James 3.7-10

How easy it is – even in Christian company, not to speak of when we are with those who do not know the Lord – to lapse into all sorts of shameful speech. Complaining about this or that; airing someone else’s dirty laundry; bickering; murmuring; criticizing. Indeed, the book of James says that we are all guilty of these sorts of things, in one way or another. “No one can tame the tongue!”

But, O, how we must try with all the grace the Lord will give us! We must use all the means God has granted to keep these sinful lips of our under control – even though we will often fail. Let me make a few suggestions to myself … and hope they will help you, too.

Be “slow to speak” – James 1.19 says we should “be quick to hear, slow to speak.” In other words, be a listener first of all … and speak only when you have something valuable to say. This is one fantastic way to cut back on the number of sinful words you utter – simply to cut back on the total number of words you utter!

“Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” – So says Colossians 3.16. And, if we will fill our hearts with the word of God, we will also be able to fill our mouths (still on Colossians 3.16) with instructive words, with “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs”, and “thankfulness … to God”. There is little room left for sinful words in a mouth like that!

Ask God to fill you with the Holy Spirit – To “be filled with the Spirit” enables you to sing and make “melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5.18-19). That sort of Spirit filled happiness in God will fill a mouth with grace, not grumbling … with praise, not pride.

Confess the sin of your lips – “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1.9). Do you want to wash out that filthy mouth? The way to do so is not mainly through resolves, but through constant confession and returning to Christ, the “fountain … opened … for sin and for impurity” (Zechariah 13.1). When we admit our faults, God offers both forgiveness and help to change. So the saying is true – ‘Confession is good for the soul.’ It is also good for the tongue!

Consider Jesus – He “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” (1 Peter 2.22). Isn’t it interesting that, when Peter says that Jesus was sinless, the one specific example he gives is that He was sinless in His speech? What a lesson for us! Let’s gaze upon Jesus. Let’s admire Him. Let’s adore Him. As we do, God will gradually make us just like Him – tongue and all.

July 17, 2013

Be Still

“Cease striving and know that I am God.” Psalm 46.10

Some time ago I had a problem with my eye-glasses. The screw that holds the right lens in place was loose. What I should have done from the beginning was to take my glasses to the eye-care center to be repaired. But instead I used a kitchen knife day after day to ‘fix’ the loose screw. But it kept coming loose (surprise, surprise). So, One day I decided to superglue it in. Resourcefulness, right? Except that the glue dried faster than I anticipated … and I ended up sealing the screw out of the socket instead of into it. Big mistake! Why did I not just take it to the expert to begin with?

The sad truth is, many of us handle life’s problems this way. Instead of going to God, our problem-solving expert and all-wise Father, we strive to fix things in our own ingenuity – super-gluing and duct-taping things together, so to speak – and end up making our problems worse, many times! If only we could all learn to obey Psalm 46.10: “Cease striving and know that I am God” (or, as the King James rendered it famously, “Be still, and know that I am God”). This command is to be applied in day-to-day situations like broken glasses, and aching bodies, and empty bank accounts, and uncertainties of every kind. It is also to be applied in big-time problems like wayward children, dying parents, and broken homes. And it is to be applied when it comes to personal salvation, too. “Cease striving and know that I am God.”

What a theme verse this seems often to have been for the men and women of the Bible! I don’t know if they were thinking of Psalm 46.10, specifically … but Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego survived the fiery furnace by doing what it says! We might say the same about our Lord Jesus Himself. He had silent confidence under the fiercest accusations and harshest physical punishments because He understood how to “cease striving” and put His hope in God. And when Paul and Silas were thrown in prison for their ministry in the name of Jesus, their response was not moaning or fretting … but singing! Why? Probably because they had learned to be still, and to trust the Lord!

Through the ages, obedience to Psalm 46.10 has brought peace, and hope, and holy character to the church. The persecuted early church maintained a godly testimony under trial by being still and trusting God (1 Peter 2.20-23). Mistreated African Americans endured the cruelty of their oppressors with great hope by singing songs like ‘Be still, be still, God will fight your battles.’ And beat-down believers in places like Sudan and China endure hardship and trial even today … not by taking matters into their own hands, but by waiting on the Lord.

Do you face issues tin which you are tempted to strive in your own strength instead of waiting on the Lord? I pray that you will “cease striving,” and lay your concerns at the Savior’s feet … and be still while God fights your battle!

July 9, 2013


“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, and the sky poured rain and the earth produced its fruit.” James 5.17-18

I’d like, once again, to call attention to the fact that prayer is one of God’s chosen methods of offering grace and help to His people. Prayer is the appointed means for calling down blessings from heaven! Therefore, it is no great leap of logic to say that God delights to answer prayer! Has He not said “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14.14)? Did He not tell us “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous, and His ears attend to their prayer” (1 Peter 3.12)? If we could only grab hold of the fact that our Father wants to give good gifts to His children, how mighty in prayer we might be! But as it is, we are so often weak! So let me use the account of Elijah’s prayer to encourage you (and myself) toward mighty prayer …

First of all, James reminds us that Elijah was a human being, just like you and me. There is no question, of course, that he was given a special gift and calling. He was a chosen instrument of God to rebuke kings, slay false prophets, and perform miracles. So He was no average Joe. However – and note this well – James seems to indicate that God’s amazing answers to Elijah’s prayer were not so much predicated on his status as prophet. Isn’t that what James is pointing out to us in the fifth chapter of his epistle? “Elijah was a man with a nature just like ours.” In other words, we may not all be powerful prophets, but we can all be powerful pray-ers like Elijah … because he was made of no different stuff than we are! There is no reason, James says, why we cannot pray as Elijah did!

But notice also that, though Elijah’s nature was not extraordinary, the fervency of his prayers was! Elijah “prayed earnestly.” And 1 Kings 18.41-46 gives us a picture of what fervent prayer looks like: Elijah never quit bowing his head in prayer until God answered. He believed God wanted to answer, so he was persistent. Are you persistent in prayer? Or are there areas in which you have given up on God? I remind you that earnest, fervent, persistent prayer reaps marvelous results – like rain after a forty-two month drought!

Now what is left for you to do? Seek the face of the Lord in prayer! Pray for yourself and your family. Pray for your co-workers and friends. Pray for your church family. And most of all, pray for the concerns of the kingdom of God and the advance of the gospel into our neighborhoods and the nations! Our Sunday morning prayer meetings would offer you great help in learning how to pray – even if you just began by listening to others, and praying silently to God in your own heart. So would you begin joining us on Sundays at 9am? There’s nothing like a room full of Elijah’s waiting on big answers from the Lord!

July 4, 2013

"Brethren, pray for us"

Last Sunday – from Acts 4 – I urged our congregation to make a special effort to pray for the preaching and teaching of the word of God to which they are privy in our church – asking God’s blessing on us as we meet with Him in our own prayer closets, during family worship, and in Sunday morning prayer meeting. Following up on that, I thought it would be good to rehash some prayers that I regularly pray for myself as I prepare to preach each week. I hope you’ll take them up as your own, praying both for your own pastor(s) and for the others who teach you God’s word week to week.

So then, pray that the preaching and teaching would be …

Accurate. That we who open the Book to you each Sunday and Wednesday would get it right – “accurately handling” (or “rightly dividing” as the KJV puts it) “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2.15). Correct understanding and legitimate application is sometimes easier said than done … especially with difficult passages. So pray for us … that we’d get it right.

Clear. That your preachers and teachers would, by their thoughtful organization, illustration, and speech patterns, be easy to understand and follow (rather than opaque, disorganized, or out of touch). That we would, therefore, be like lanterns in the Spirit’s hands, gently throwing light upon the scriptures – so that you can see for yourself what is there on the page. “Devote yourselves to prayer … praying at the same time for us as well … that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak” (Colossians 4.2-4).

Patient. That as we study, and as we preach, we will not be in a hurry to get to the end … but will work at a pace that allows the Holy Spirit to interject nuances and applications that we might have otherwise missed as we sped along at too high a speed.

Personal. Here I paraphrase my historical pastor/hero, Thomas Boston. Pray for us … ‘that the Lord may preach the truth into our own hearts, both as we study and as we actually preach. If this is lacking, we shall be like those who feed others, but starve themselves; or like a road sign, that shows the way to others, but never moves a foot itself.’*

Powerful. There are times when the preacher preaches, with the help of the Holy Spirit (and we are thankful for these times!). But then there are times when the Holy Spirit almost seems to do the preaching Himself; times when the preacher is taken up with what we might call unction from on high. Pray that, more and more, this would be the case among us … that we would preach, “not … in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1.5).

Prophetic. It is one thing to understand and explain what a particular passage means. But it is quite another to really see how that passage, written centuries ago, applies to the people sitting in front of the preacher today. Once again, we are utterly reliant upon the Holy Spirit to really drive the message home; to help us see the relevance of it for our own people; to deliver God’s message for God’s people today. So pray that God will, in this regard, help those who teach you each week – that, whether or not they actually know what is going on behind the scenes of your life, you will leave saying: ‘That word was exactly what I needed to hear today. It was almost as though he had been reading my journal, and came with a special word, perfectly suited to meet me in my need.’ And pray that this will be so, not only for you, but for many others as well!

There are other prayers that could be prayed as well, I am sure. But this is a starting place. Use this list. Maybe put it in the inside cover of your Bible or journal. Or create your own list. Or pray without a list at all. But however you do it, “brethren, pray for us” (2 Thessalonians 3.1) “that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified.”

*Paraphrased from Thomas Boston. The Art of Manfishing. Originally published in 1773 (over four decades after Boston’s death), and available in several modern editions.