The contemporary church is tragically schizophrenic when it comes to liturgy. Most Christians are more consistent in their weddings than in their churches. We all know that weddings, funerals, and anniversaries call for high liturgy. Why is it that we get all dressed up for a wedding, but not for church? Why is it that the Marine Corps has a higher liturgy than the army of God? The Marine Corps exalts honor and duty. They are highly disciplined. Is it any coincidence that they have highly developed rituals and uniforms? We know special occasions call for special actions and special clothes. Why is church treated differently? Why is gathering before the Lord of the universe treated more casually than appearing before a king or president? Does anyone waltz up to Queen Elizabeth in a Hawaiian T-shirt? Would you go before a human judge (wearing a robe, I might add) sporting your dingiest blue jeans? This is most definitely a special occasion. This is why we wear liturgical vestments. This is why you should consider what you wear to church, and why. I won’t lay down a dress-code for you. But, I would challenge you to think of this as a foretaste of the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We dress up for human weddings—why not dress up for the marriage of Christ and his Church? We are the army of God—the Church Militant. Let us consider our uniforms. We are appearing before the Judge and King of the world. Let your clothing reflect that. Of course, our finest clothing cannot cover our sins. Only the righteous robes of Jesus Christ can do that. The best-dressed member of the church can still go to Hell. Let us confess our sins and call our God to clothe us in His perfect righteousness.
Category Archives: Exhortations
“Would you continue holy? Then abide in Christ. He says Himself, ‘Abide in Me, and I in you … He that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit’ (John 15:4, 5). It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell–a full supply for all a believer’s wants. He is the Physician to whom you must daily go, if you would keep well. He is the Manna which you must daily eat, and the Rock of which you must daily drink. His arm is the arm on which you must daily lean, as you come up out of the wilderness of this world. You must not only be rooted, you must also be built up in Him,” (J.C. Ryle, Holiness, 61).
I came across an exciting mission opportunity for academics. This organization sends Christian teachers into other countries, finding positions for them in secular universities. A quote on their home-page says it all:
|“The university is a clear-cut fulcrum with which to move the world. Change the university and you change the world,”
declared Dr. Charles Malik, former president of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council.
The Ascension of Christ is essential to our understanding of the Lord’s Supper. Of course, most of what happens to us at this Table remains a mystery, but we can say a few things, given what we know about Christ. We know that Christ is in heaven, seated at the Father’s right hand. We also know that Jesus Christ still has a resurrection body. Many Christians have never thought about this, but it is true. John says that we don’t know what the resurrection will be like, but we know that we will be like Jesus (1 Jn. 3:2). And we know that Jesus had a real body that Thomas could touch and feel. Jesus ate and drank after his resurrection. This table prepares us for heaven. Revelation tells us that heaven will be the wedding feast of the Lamb. We will eat and drink with Jesus in heaven. We are eating and drinking with him now, in the Church. But, we often assume heaven will be less than what we know now. We think we’ll float around, playing harps. But, what if heaven is an eternal banquet with tastes and pleasures that would make your mind explode now? Perhaps, when Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding at Cana, he was bringing a little bit of heaven to earth. Whatever heaven will be, we must guard against the gnostic heresy, which says our bodies are not important to our salvation. Christ came to save the world, including our bodies. In the Ascension, Christ took a human body back up to heaven. Things have changed at the center of the universe. We can’t go back. A grand and glorious party is coming. Don’t be left behind. If you’ve been baptized, and are not under church discipline, then you are already wearing the wedding garments, and you need to come to this party.
Thursday was Ascension Day. Most of American Evangelicals do not know that. And this is quite ironic. We just celebrated Mothers’ Day. Woe to you if you forgot this Most Holy Day! Memorial Day is coming up. Most of America has some exciting plan for Memorial Day. Maybe a few people will actually visit the graves of our fallen soldiers. But, Ascension Day? Isn’t that Roman Catholic? Well, it also happens to be one of the days the Reformers celebrated. Ascension Day celebrates the ascension of our Lord and Savior back into heaven. Jesus Christ was the God-Man. He was God, who became Man, in order to take mankind back into the heavenly places with him. You see, Jesus did not ascend alone. As the Head of the Church, our Head ascended back into heaven. And the location of the head affects the location of the body. If the head is under water, the body spazzes for a while, and then dies. But if the head is above the water, the body can be totally under water. In the same way, if our head were still submerged in this sinful world, we would soon be shark-food. But, since our Head is at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, we are filled with life, and we kick sharks in the face. Where our Head is makes all the difference in this world, and the next. So, let’s reclaim this wonderful Feast Day of the Church. Our Lord is risen, Amen! But the glory doesn’t stop there. Our Lord is ascended into heaven. Glory! Hallelujah! Because he ascended into heaven, we, too, will ascend into heaven. Blessed be the name of our risen and ascended Lord. But, we are not fit for heaven while we cling to this sinful life. So, let us confess our remaining sins to Almighty God …
Heidelberg Catechism (Q. 27) – What dost thou mean by the providence of God?Answer: The almighty and everywhere present power of God; (a) whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs (b) heaven, earth, and all creatures; so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, (c) fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, (d) riches and poverty, (e) yea, and all things come, not by chance, but be his fatherly hand.
The catechism next teaches us about the nature of Providence. From one point of view, nature is Providence. We see God’s hand in the stars, in decomposing mulch, in the flight of a bird. There really are no natural laws. There is no such thing as an impersonal nature, much less a Mother Nature. God the Father has established every so-called “law” of nature. Nature is simply God’s law in action. But providence means more than this: providence is God’s active care over his world. The rain keeps falling on our heads because God makes it rain. The lightning which tears the sky is his power. The thunder which shakes our earth is his will shaking the earth. Providence means that God is charge of every sparrow that smashes into your sliding glass door. Providence means that God knows exactly how many hairs fell to the ground during your last hair-cut. But some Christians are schizophrenic about providence. This is often seen in what we call “natural” disasters. As hard as it is to believe, we must believe that God was guiding the tornado which destroyed Greensberg, Kansas. Read the rest of this entry »
Corporate Recitation (Heidelberg Catechism)
Question 26. What believest thou when thou sayest, “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”? Answer: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (who of nothing made heaven and earth, with all that is in them; (a) who likewise upholds and governs the same by his eternal counsel and providence) (b) is for the sake of Christ his Son, my God and my Father; (c) on whom I rely so entirely, that I have no doubt, but he will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body (d) and further, that he will make whatever evils he sends upon me, in this valley of tears turn out to my advantage; (e) for he is able to do it, being Almighty God, (f) and willing, being a faithful Father.
Much is included in this description of our Great God. In contrast to some people’s version of God, (more like a big Santa-in-the-sky who’s making a list and checking it twice) our God is a powerful Creator, and a loving Preserver. God made the world out of nothing. He made the world without our help, and he preserves it without our help. God did not create the world and leave it alone to keep ticking by itself like a cosmic clock. Rather, the world keeps ticking because God guides it every second. God upholds the world and governs it actively, through his eternal plan. That plan in action is called providence. Through Christ’s work of redemption, God calls us his sons and daughters. We rely on him completely, for everything. We need to repent of our folly in thinking that we have earned anything. Everything we have, God has given us as a gift. This includes everything we wish we didn’t have. All troubles and afflictions come upon us from the hands of a wise and loving Father. There are many reasons why we must suffer hardships, but we trust in a wisdom higher than ours. God could preserve us from all the evils things that have happened to us. But, he chose not to. The only question is whether we will respond in loving trust, or whether we’ll try to figure a better way. Loving trust leads to the peace that passes all understanding. Trusting in our own reason leads to suicidal madness and hedonistic annihilation. Though we walk through a valley of tears, God prepares a table for us. If we confess our stubborn pride and folly to him, he will lead us out of the valley of the shadow of death and will make us lie down in green pastures.
Excerpt from an Easter Sermon by Gregory Nazianzen (bishop of the Eastern church in the late 300s):
“Let us become like Christ, since Christ became like us. Let us become God’s for His sake, since He for ours became Man. He assumed the worse that He might give us the better; He became poor that we through His poverty might be rich; He took upon Him the form of a servant that we might receive back our liberty; He came down that we might be exalted; He was tempted that we might conquer; He was dishonoured that He might glorify us; He died that He might save us; He ascended that He might draw to Himself us, who were lying low in the Fall of sin. Let us give all, offer all, to Him Who gave Himself a Ransom and a Reconciliation for us. But one can give nothing like oneself, understanding the Mystery, and becoming for His sake all that He became for ours” (Oration I.5).
Some godly Reformed brothers teach that when we come to worship, we come to give praise and honor to God, and that we don’t come to get anything in return. We come to give, not to get. This is an understandable correction to the charlatans of “health and wealth,” but this is fundamentally misguided. It is an overcorrection. When we deny that we need to get from God, we are denying our very creature-hood. As God’s creatures, we need all the time. We need air. We need food. We need sleep. If we don’t get these things, we will die. In the same way, we need God. God the Creator created us with a fundamental need for Himself. There is a hole in the human soul which only God can fill. Yes, we were created to glorify God. Well and good. But we were also created to enjoy God, forever! When we come to worship God, we should come to glorify his name. And we should come expecting him to bless us beyond all our imaginings. This convicts all of us of thinking that we are so special that we can give God something no one else can give. But God has given us everything we have, including the conviction of sins. Even our conscience, which tells us we often do not come to worship God expecting a blessing, even this conscience is a gift from God. So let us make use of the gifts of God, and confess our sins to the God who gave us these gifts.
One slogan which inspired the Reformation was: “The Church reformed and always reforming.” Although the reformers were purifying the corruptions of the Roman Catholic Church, they were not so arrogant to believe they perfected the Church. So, as we seek to continually reform and purify our own worship, we must guard against the tendency to think we have arrived at perfection.
Part of this reformational purifying means we need to re-examine little things we do in worship and compare them to the Word of God. I call them “little things” because there are a host of practices and attitudes we have about worship which we just picked up along the way. They are not matters of life and death, and we may have never thought about why we do them. One such practice is the nearly-universal practice of closing our eyes and adopting a prayerful attitude during the Benediction. Read the rest of this entry »