Back in Bid’ness

I was happier when I wrote stuff down… I was even happier when you read it and provided feedback. May both happen with some regularity again.

Here is what I have planned… To start this puppy up again I am going to write about the worship service at Providence Church in Pensacola, FL, the Church where Uri Brito and I pastor.  Why do we do the things we do and what does it mean for the life of the world.   You can find a copy of our Order of Worship here:  Order of Worship August 28th 2011. It is a tri-fold so start reading in the right hand column and then flip over to continue. 

I believe this series will last a bunch of weeks with a couple posts per week.  Give it a read and let me know what you think.

God Bless,

al sends

The Rock Is Rolling…

Psalm 95:1-3

1 Oh come, let us sing to the LORD!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
3 For the LORD is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.

Our God is a Rock of Salvation.  He is not a God of an ethereal salvation.  His Salvation is not a wisp of wind or permeating mist.  It is solid.  It is foundational.  We may stand on it and Him with confidence.

Although we stand on a Rock, whereby we cannot be moved, that Rock is itself moving through history.   Daniel sees this Rock or Stone moving through history and laying waste to the kingdoms of this world. He describes it this way in Dan 2:34-35

34 You (Nebuchadnezzar)  watched while a stone was cut out without hands, which struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

Now, this is not simply the destruction of the kingdoms that rise up in opposition to the one True Kingdom, this is Salvation!   You see, that Stone becomes a mountain which fills the whole earth.

On Tuesday there will be an election in this country and we will elect a man who in many ways is opposed to the Kingdom of Christ; but I want you to know that the Rock of our Salvation is still moving.  He is not bogged down in some marshy pit of noble history.  And if our kingdom should stand in His way, shake its collective fist at Him or call ourselves “the Rock that shall not be moved”, then the Mountain shall grow over the top of us and Salvation will still, without fail, come to the world.

He is the Rock of our Salvation and He rolls along.

al sends

Of Whom Shall I Be Afraid…

… no one.  I worship the King.

Ps 27:1

The LORD is my light and my salvation;
Whom shall I fear?

The LORD is the strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?

There is a temptation to fear today, there is a temptation to fear every day.  How precarious are our lives?  The world teeters on a banking collapse.  The bubonic plague or its next cousin is waiting for just the right conditions to explode on the scene.  There are wars and rumors of wars threatening to engulf us and our children.  Looking at the news you might come to the conclusion that we have much to fear.

The psalmist though asks, “Of whom shall I be afraid and Whom shall I fear?”  The questions have an assumed answer:  I will fear no one.  Why?  Because the Lord is my strength.  He is my light and my salvation out of every trouble.  I will not fear the stock market, the disease, the war.  My life is hidden in Him.

He goes on to say this:

Ps 27:4-5

4 One thing I have desired of the LORD,

That will I seek:

That I may dwell in the house of the LORD

All the days of my life,

To behold the beauty of the LORD,

And to inquire in His temple.

5 For in the time of trouble

He shall hide me in His pavilion;

In the secret place of His tabernacle

He shall hide me;

He shall set me high upon a rock.

Do you want to know where confidence is built up to believe the promises of God?  In His House, beholding the beauty of the Lord.  It is in worship the people of God are strengthened.  It is in worship that the fear subsides.  It is in worship where the Lord hides us and sets us upon a rock.  For in worship we realize this great truth…  God has saved me out of my own sin.  He has redeemed my soul and will my body also.  He has defeated my enemies and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  What can man do to me?

Whom shall I fear?

Of whom shall I be afraid?

No one.  For I worship the King.

al sends

We Do Not Live In Heaven…

… an exhortation.

I don’t know if you realize this or not, but we do not live in Heaven.  We labor through thorns and drought, our sweat soaks into the ground and our enemies sow tares in our fields of wheat.  Our families are touched by war, disease and death.  The church is beset by scandal and division, even while the Lord is calling her to purity and unity.   No sir, we do not live in Heaven.

In the midst of all of this non-heavenness we are called to worship.  Worship is the Lord’s answer to a fallen world.  He said in Matt 11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. We pursue heaven in our worship and at times it is a violent affair.

Our worship is a battle in a war whose outcome is secured in Christ Jesus.  In that war, we are called to do battle with weapons He provides.  Weapons like Psalms and confessions of sin; Hymns and a public reading of His word; Prayers and bread and wine. 

Here is the thing, these weapons are effective for battle.  They are effective because the Lord fights alongside us, slaying His enemies and raising them up again as beloved friends. Trumpets are sounding, walls are crumbling, the Captain of your salvation is riding forth on a white horse with salvation in His mouth.

He calls you alongside Him and promises you that the gates of Hell will not be able to withstand the onslaught. Look up to the hill from whence comes your help.  It is the Lord who made heaven and earth.  Come and worship Him. 

If you want to hear what this sounds like when I actually get up in front of folks (it never comes out like I write it) it can be found on the Sermon Page of Providence’s website.

al sends

Two For The Price Of One…

… and worth every penny.

Here are the two most recent exhortations I delivered at Providence Church.  The second one was prompted by a sermon I heard by a pastoral intern in Orlando, FL.  Thanks Uri.

Hos 2:16

16 “And it shall be, in that day,”

Says the LORD,

“That you will call Me ‘My Husband,’

And no longer call Me ‘My Master,’

We love the sovereignty of God at this church.  We find comfort in times of trial and hope for the future of our children’s children because God rules and reigns in Heaven.  But in Hosea chapter 2 God gives the people of Israel this promise:  There will come a day when there will be a change in their vocabulary.  No longer will you call me Master, or Baal, but you will call me husband.”

We are the church, God’s bride.  We are not cowering in fear waiting for the Lord to strike us down like some pagan God.  He has promised to love us and love us to the end.  Listen, we have sinned this week.  And know this beloved: your sin has found you out on Sunday morning at Providence, but Your God is not demanding payment.  That has already been made.  Your Master is not threatening to lock you up in prison.  Your husband has come to set You at liberty.  Your Master does not promise You the whip.  For Your husband took the whip for You and by His stripes You are healed.

We are about to have a time of confession.  You are not coming to Baal to confess your sins.  You are coming to Your husband.  Pour out your heart to Him for that is what He wants.  Come and worship Your God who loves You.

And the second one:

1 Peter 1:3-5

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Have you ever wondered what it must have been like for Lazarus on the first Sabbath after his resurrection from the dead?  Here was a man who was dead; grave clothes binding him so that he could barely walk out of the tomb where his family laid him, now walking into the temple of God to worship the Lord.

He walked through the gates of the temple with new legs.  He was singing the Psalms with a renewed voice.  His hands were once lifeless, gravity holding them down against the earth, and now they were lifted high with the rest of the congregation in praise to God.  His pulled into his reinvigorated body the smells of a burnt offering meant to cover his sins.  His new eyes rested on the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.”  And there he was in the presence of God at the temple.  How that must have changed his worship on that Sabbath.

Beloved you are in Jesus Christ and when He was raised from the dead you were raised with him.  You walked in here on new legs.  Your singing is accompanied by an angelic host.  You will taste bread and wine and through the Resurrection it will be a new thing to you:  the body and blood of the Savior!  And when you look on Him who was pierced He wants you to remember what he says to you.  I am the resurrection and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me.  And here you are in the presence of the Father in worship.  Come and worship the Father, through the Son who gave you new life, by the power of the resurrecting Spirit.

I love the Resurrection!

al sends

I Was Glad When They Said To Me…

… “Let us go into the House of the Lord.” (Psalm 122:1)

An Exhortation to Worship God.

It may have escaped your attention this morning but the sun rose in roughly the same patch of sky it occupied yesterday.  This has been going on morning after morning since creation and while you may not have noticed it I am sure you did not despise it.

Oh no.  It’s the Sun… again.

This rising of the Sun is a wonderfully glorious event that occurs every day.  It is routinely glorious and while there are times when we stop and admire it we are, more often than naught, blinking and basking in its routine glory.

As we were last Sunday we are gathered for worship.  God willing we will gather here again next Sunday and the day will flow pretty much as it did last week and this week.   There may some of you who pause at moments and marvel at the beauty of the Word of God sung or preached. But for most it will all be gloriously routine.

Some will, I am afraid, despise the worship and I want to tell you: it is a sinful heart that despises the routine glory of worship.

Oh no, we are going to confess… again.  Awww, we are going to sing… again.  Another sermon?  Let me guess… Bread and wine?

That, beloved, is an abomination, not because of the routine, but because of a sinful inclination to despise the familiar.

Are you glad someone this morning said to you, “Let us go into the house of the Lord?”  I hope so.

Come let us bow down before Him just as we did before.  Let us pray… again.

al sends

He Is Unique…

… and you are like Him.  An exhortation

1 Cor 15:20-22

But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.

Jesus is unique.  Jesus Christ is the only begotten of the Father.  At Providence we confess this truth on the first Sunday of every month in the Nicene Creed.  Our Savior is uniquely begotten of the Father for He was eternally begotten.  There never was a time when the Son was not the Son and the Father the Father.  But we are gather to worship Him not just because He is the unique Son of God, but also because He was the first of many.  He is the first born from the dead.

We are gathered on Sunday because it is a day of resurrection.  In our worship we reaffirm in our confessions, our songs, our prayers, sermon and supper that we are people of God.  We are followers of the First Born from the dead and in all that we do in worship we anticipate our own resurrection.

We confess our sin, looking forward to the consummation of kingdom, when every sin shall be cast into the deepest sea.  We sing songs of praise to the Lord in anticipation of joining our voices with redeemed from all time, who sing Blessing and honor and glory and power Be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!  We turn our attention to word of God in the sermon that we might be drawn closer to our God and king, relishing the thought of an eternity with Him.  We gather around His table, preparing for our marriage supper where Jesus will take up the cup and we will marvel that he has saved the best wine for last.

Beloved, the Lord’s Day is a great day of resurrection.  Come and rejoice in Him and live forever.

al sends

In His Presence Unafraid

I want to exhort you to worship this morning by reminding you that you are in the presence of Almighty God right now. But what I want you to remember about this fact is that in the Bible when men come into the presence of God, very often they are overtaken with fear and dread, or they fall on their faces.

Gideon and Manoah were sure they would die when they saw the angel of Yahweh. Job repented in dust and ashes when he heard the Lord’s voice. Israel went into a panic when they heard the thunderous voice of God at Sinai. God told Moses, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” Isaiah said, “Woe is me” when he saw the Lord high and lifted up. The Apostle John fell over as a dead man when he saw the risen Christ in His glory.

Yet here we are, sinners in the presence of God Himself, hearing the voice of His Word, and without terror and dread. How can that be?

It is so because Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, has absorbed the wrath of Almighty God toward us unclean sinners, dying in our place on the cursed tree and rising again to share His invincible life with us. My point is not that we no longer fear God, for He is just as fierce in His holiness. My point is that all praise and glory and adoration and gratitude should be to our Savior for bringing us into the presence of God, not as a wrathful Judge and a fiercely offended Opponent, but as a loving Father who adopted us into His family and welcomed us into His company delivered, covered with the righteousness of His Son.

So direct your praise to Christ, your Savior this morning. You are in the presence of God right now, and you are not consumed because of Him and the amazing grace of your Father. So let us glorify the Lord together.

Grace to You, and You, and You

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

When I speak this apostolic greeting and extend grace to you, what does that mean? I am afraid that our thinking about grace is often muddled in the middle. We tend to think of grace as a substance or as a gaseous cloud that envelops us at certain times. It gets transferred to us the way, perhaps, the way cookie dough gets transferred from the package to the pan – in dollops – when we read the Bible or pray or receive the Lord’s Supper.

Or to change analogies, we think of grace as waves emanating out from the source, and when the waves wash over us, we get stronger or bolder or more joyful or change colors or something.

Here’s my point: when we think of grace as an impersonal thing, a vague, created entity or force or energy from God, abstractly considered, then we have stepped back from the biblical picture of a personal Triune God dwelling with His people and giving them gifts. In the Bible the Triune God speaks, and the world springs into existence. He speaks again, and the clouds bring forth rain. He speaks again, and the wild donkeys give birth.

The Triune God dwells with His people, personally abiding with them, granting them His favor by His Word. In the Bible God’s favor is evident through the gifts of promises, land, seed, rescue from enemies, victory in battle, commandments, fellowship with God, the Spirit’s presence, rituals like the Lord’s Supper and baptism, and inclusion in God’s people. These are all personal favors from the Lord God, evidences of His divine favor person-ally bestowed on you and me in Christ by the power of the Spirit.

So “grace” is not a wave or energy or a dollop of something coming from God to you. Grace is the personal presence of the Triune God Himself, here to bless you and favor you. So when the apostles wrote “grace to you,” what they really meant was “God to you.” The Son of God, St. John told us, came in the flesh “full of grace and truth.” He came full of the Father’s personal favor toward Him. And now we who are baptized into Christ are the recipients of that same dynamic, intensely personal favor. God favors us by giving Himself to us.

And that is what is going on in our covenant renewal today. Worship and singing and preaching and communion are not means of grace. They are grace. The Triune God is with us, abiding here, and we are in His presence. Because we are in Christ, that means we receive His blessing and forgiveness and joy.

So come, let us draw near to the God who is three in one. Let us worship the Father through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. And grace to you.

Professing the Faith

A question I asked my students at school recently was this: is a person’s private life relevant for their fitness for public office? That is certainly a good question for us these days, as the presidential election goes on.
But an equally forceful question is this: does your public life have any relevance for your private life?

Your gathering here in worship today is a public event. Continue reading