Monday, November 24, 2014

What Shall We Do?

37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
Acts 2:37-39

What shall we do when we find that God is holy and we are sinful? Psalm 1 paints a picture of the blessed man as a fruitful tree, yet this is not the state that we naturally find ourselves in. We find in Psalm 32, and in the rest of Scripture, that there is no blessedness without forgiveness; sin is the universal problem of mankind (Romans 3, Psalm 51). David takes us through both his experience of feeling guilt in sin and joy in forgiveness. He then goes on to describe his close relationship with God as his Preserver and merciful Teacher. Psalm 32 proclaims a complete circle of justification and ongoing sanctification, so in many ways, singing this Psalm is like giving a testimony. Having been forgiven, followers of Christ can sing Psalm 32 while meditating on God’s many mercies throughout their lives. To those who can find no rest from their burden of sin, Psalm 32 is a song of hope, a song for the sinner yet without Christ, a song for the stumbling Christian. Christ is the answer to our problem of sin.

6Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. 7Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
Isaiah 55:6-7

Psalm 32 (NKJV)
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven,
Whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Psalm 32 starts with a benediction, a declaration of blessing upon those forgiven by God. The fact that this benediction exists at all, that God forgives even a single sinner, is a source of great wonder. Notice that the blessedness is not earned but instead “the Lord does not impute iniquity.”  Furthermore, the blessed man is changed in the inner man and, as a result, bears outward fruits (Matt 7:17; 2 Corinth 5:17). It is neither a self-deceptive trick nor merely an external change, but, as Jesus explains in John 3:1-21, a person must be born again, made into a new person. We see David’s personal experience in the next two verses.

When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was turned into the drought of summer. Selah

In contrast with a tree beside the rivers of waters, David pictures his suffering as the very inner supports of his body decaying and as God’s mighty hand pressing down on him. Maybe there was a time in David’s youth when he did not put his trust in God, so perhaps he is thinking of those first moments when he realized that he was a sinner. Or perhaps he is meditating upon a time when he fell into a pit of sin such as the incident involving Bathsheba and Uriah. Either way, we see that sin is a curse that brings death to those who do not seek God for forgiveness (Rom 6:23; Gal 6:7) and chastisement upon His children (Hebrew 12:6). Personally, verses three and four apply to and remind me of two different times in my life. I remember realizing the stench of my sin before finding peace in Christ, and also these verses describe my temporary periods of defeat to sin. But the horror of sin only makes the next verse of Psalm 32 all the sweeter.

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I have not hidden.
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

The Bible contains many remarkable statements such as verse five which we often can overlook. David declares at the end of verse five that God forgave him of all his sins. So what did he have to do to gain forgiveness? Do we have a declaration of any great work or life of holiness? No! Jesus Christ paid the price of sin for all who acknowledge their sin and confess it to God (Acts 2:37-38). This is my favorite verse of the Psalm, for it shows hope and joy after a time of distress. When I have a difficult time remembering God’s forgiveness through Christ, Psalm 32 reminds me how God has been so merciful to me in the past and to past saints such as David.

For this cause everyone who is godly shall pray to You
In a time when You may be found;
Surely in a flood of great waters
They shall not come near him.
You are my hiding place;
You shall preserve me from trouble;
You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah

With such mercy available, now is the time to seek God and pray to Him. Verse six goes on to say that the time of forgiveness is limited. There is coming “a flood of great waters” in which only those whose transgressions have been covered will be safe. When singing this Psalm, we are reminded that God is our Father, the One to whom we can now pray and go in times of trouble. Sin no longer bars us from God’s holy presence, and so we can now sing verses six and seven with joy! As a forgiven people, we have a new expectation in God, for He is our good Father in heaven. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”(Romans 8:14-15)

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will guide you with My eye.
Do not be like the horse or like the mule,
Which have no understanding,
Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle,
Else they will not come near you.

Just as God saves us through justification then sanctification, He answers David’s prayer with forgiveness and then instruction. Though some regard this section as David’s wise counsel to his fellow man, I believe it is more likely that the Lord Himself speaks in verses eight and nine. He first tells us that He will teach us but also gives commands on how we are to respond to His teaching. I could always clearly see the imagery of a stubborn horse or mule in my mind, however more recently I have understood by experience what it is like to be a stubborn mule. I look back and see how God has restrained and rebuked my sinful thoughts or daily habits. Though I often mourn over being like a spiritual mule, it is also comforting how God does not let us wander to our destruction. Verse eight is a promise for all forgiven people to cling to, that God will not leave us in our tendencies toward sin. As Paul reminds us, it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13) and it is Christ “who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked;
But he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall surround him.
11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, you righteous;
And shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

Each person begins in the same state of sin and misery, which David describes in Psalm 51 as his being “brought forth in iniquity;” that is, being a sinner from his very conception. Yet the end of Psalm 32 shows a great contrast between those who trust in the Lord and those who do not. Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior whom we will praise forever and ever! Not only did He save us from our sorrowful life of sin and from our well-deserved end of eternal suffering in hell; He has also clothed us with His righteousness, so that we may shout for joy and be glad in His presence! We are thus commanded in verse eleven to be glad and joyful, to obey God in a way which should be most natural to us as forgiven sinners.

Psalm 32 takes us through a complete journey of both self-examination and meditation upon God. In it we sing of our sorrow in sin, the merciful forgiveness of God, our new expectation in God as our Father, and His guidance throughout our lives. If you are unfamiliar with the salvation that is provided through Jesus Christ, I would encourage you to listen to this excellent sermon on Romans 6:23 here.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Sermons on the Psalms: "Peace Through Psalm Singing"

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 3:15-17

Here is a sermon on Colossians 3: 15-17. The link is given below. Every once in a while, we will post a sermon by a pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church which relates to the Psalms.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Return From Captivity: Psalm 126

Psalm 126 is celebrating Cyrus’ decree and Israel’s return from captivity. Isaiah prophesied Israel’s return over 100 years earlier (Isaiah 44:28-45:7). The Bible is rooted in history, and this Psalm is no exception. It can be difficult at times to understand the Bible in its historical context, but it’s crucial because history is important to the Christian faith. Some people find history quite dull, but God’s work is rooted in history. 
Recently, I had the privilege of attending LifeFocus, a week-long conference in Topeka, Kansas, where we explored the Psalter all week. One of the lectures was on Psalm 126 and the history behind it. We learned that for centuries, the only record of the Jewish return from exile and Cyrus’ decree came from the Hebrew Scriptures, including Psalm 126. No other sources mentioned this decree, even though it had such a great impact at the time. People began to doubt the Bible’s historical authenticity and reliability. Then, in 1879, the Cyrus cylinder with the decree was discovered by a British Museum exhibition that was digging in Babylon!

Now that we have a bit of historical context for this Psalm and Israel’s return from Babylon, we can look at and better appreciate the beauty of Psalm 126.  

1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

This is a Psalm about the history of mankind being brought back from captivity (v. 1).  There are many captivities throughout Scripture--the Israelites’ captivity in Egypt, the Babylonian captivity, and even individual captivity (see Psalm 42). This Psalm likely refers to the return from Babylon in 586 BC, but it’s also part of a much larger story. Throughout history, man has a history of captivity and return. The principle captivity in the Bible is found in Genesis 3 and the fall: the captivity and bondage of death.

3 The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like streams in the Negeb!

Notice that verse 1 (“restored”) is past tense, praising God for His deliverance. Verse 4 (“restore”) is present tense, praying to God and awaiting deliverance. 

5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

We live in an age in which all nations can return from captivity. These verses apply not only to the past, but also to the future and to our history, if we are in Christ. John Calvin said in his commentary on this Psalm, "In order then that joy may succeed our present sorrow, let us learn to apply our minds to the contemplation of the issue which God promises. Thus we shall experience that all true believers have a common interest in this prophecy, That God not only will wipe away tears from their eyes, but that he will also diffuse inconceivable joy through their hearts."

The decree of salvation is even more important than Cyrus’ decree releasing the Israelites. Restoration from sin and death itself (Genesis 3) has been accomplished through Christ. There is also a future restoration promised in this Psalm. Though in this lifetime we may sow in tears and hardship as we proclaim God’s decree to the nations, God’s word does not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11).

We will come home with shouts of joy. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Regulative Principle of Philly Cheese Steaks

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12:28-29 NKJV

In a previous article, “Why Should We Sing the Psalms Exclusively?”, the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW) was given as one of the fundamental, biblical reasons as to why we sing the Psalms exclusively. My pastor recently went over the RPW at my church, and I would like to share some more Bible verses on the RPW along with what he called the Regulative Principle of Philly Cheese Steaks. Definitions of the RPW, ordinances, and circumstances are given at the bottom of the article for reference which were adopted from a book he cited.   

The Regulative Principle of Philly Cheese Steaks

Background: Imagine you are in Philadelphia and go to the restaurant which has, in your opinion, the sacred purpose of making the best Philly cheese steaks around. Upon receiving your order, you notice that your cheese steak has caramel syrup and colorful sprinkles on top. Displeased with your cheese steak, you call for your waiter.

You: “Waiter, why is there caramel syrup and sprinkles on my cheese steak? I didn’t ask for caramel and sprinkles to be put on top.”

Waiter: “Well we decided to change the way we make cheese steaks, and you didn’t specify that caramel and sprinkles were unacceptable to be put on your Philly cheese steak.”

You: “But this is not how a Philly cheese steak is supposed to be made! I ordered a Philly cheese steak with a specific description of what I wanted.”

Waiter: “I understand sir, but we found that our cooks really enjoy putting caramel and sprinkles on cheese steaks. It has been a great way to attract cooks, since they are bored of the normal way of making cheese steaks.”

You: “But this is unacceptable! I want to receive exactly what I ordered! I should not have to specify everything that you cannot add to my cheese steak!”

Of course this example works with any food of your choice, but the point is that you would be upset if you ordered food and received something different due to the preferences of the cooks. In the same way, the RPW states that God has told us how we are to worship Him in the Bible, and we do not have the freedom to add to the worship of God what we want. Just as the Philly cheese steak is for us and not the cooks, worship is for God and not us.

Key Texts for the RPW

Here is a larger list of biblical texts which relate to the RPW. I would like to challenge you to read these verses while meditating on what God teaches concerning His worship.

Cain’s Offering (Gen. 3:21; 4:3-7; Heb 11:4)

Second Commandment (Ex. 20:4-6; Deut. 5:8-10)

Second Commandment Expounded (Deut. 12:28-32)

The Golden Calf (Ex. 32:1-8; Neh. 9:18)

Strange Fire (Lev. 10:1-4)

Saul’s Transgressions (1 Sam. 13:5-14; 15:10-26)

The Ark on a Cart (Ex. 25:10-16; 2 Sam. 6:1-13; 1 Chron. 15:1-3; 11-16)

Jeroboam’s Innovations (1 King 12:25-33)

Child Sacrifice (Jer. 7:21-32; 19:4-6)

The High Places (Duet. 12:2; 5-6; 8-9; 1 Kings 15:11-14; 2 Kings 10:28-29: 2 Chronicles 33:11-17)

Ahaz’s Alter (2 Kings 16:10-16)

Spirit and Truth (Jn. 4:19-24)

Religious Hand-Washing (Matt. 15:1-9; Mk. 7:5-13)

The Temple Cleansing (Mk. 11:15-17)

Will Worship (Col. 2:18-23)

Scripture’s Sufficiency (2 Tim. 3:14-17)

God’s unchanging Nature (Heb. 12:28-29)

John’s Warning (1 Jn. 5:20-21)

The Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW): Whatever is not commanded by scripture in the worship of God is forbidden. Anything that the church does in the worship must (1) have warrant from an explicit command of God, (2) be deduced by good and necessary consequences, or (3) be derived from approved historical example. [Worship = Any public, private, or domestic acts of direct worship offered to God.]

Ordinances: Worship ordinances are those things and activities received from divine revelation. Every worship ordinance is appointed by God. Anything connected to worship that has religious and moral significance has to be based on divine command (explicit or implicit) or approved historical example. The church receives all worship ordinances from God as revealed in the Bible. The church must obey all of God’s ordinances. The church does not have the authority to add or detract from those things God has appointed.

Circumstances: The circumstances of worship refer not to worship content and ceremony but to those things “common to human actions and societies.” Unlike the ordinances of worship, the circumstances of worship are not necessarily dependent on clear Biblical warrant. Although some circumstances (such as not ascending the alter via steps, Ex. 20:26; or as some would argue female head coverings in 1 Cor. 11) are specifically determined by Scripture, most depend solely upon general revelation and sanctified command sense. Believers and unbelievers alike know that shelter and heat are useful to conduct meetings in January, in Minnesota. They understand the desirability of chairs, lighting, clothing, and so on. It is understood that a time must be chosen in advance in order to conduct a meeting. There are many things common to both religious and civil (or secular) meetings that are not dependent on specific biblical instructions. These things, which contain no direct religious or moral symbolism or significance, are circumstances, or incidentals, of worship.   

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

High Hopes for the King: Psalm 72

Jesus is our ultimate King. He is the ruler who will reign eternally. To many of us, this is not a new concept. Christ’s role as a King has been preached to us. But what does that really look like? A true believer doesn't gaze at world leaders alone for protection. Though they try to deliver us, their solution is not God's solution. Psalm 72 has a lot to say about why our hope should rest in King Jesus alone. The language of this Psalm can’t fully apply to any earthly leader; its language is fit only for God.

1 Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
2 May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

Verses 1-2 offer insight into Jesus’ role as our ultimate King. Justice and righteous judgment are the qualities emphasized. These traits are fully embodied in Jesus Christ, and earthly leaders should strive for them as well, by God’s grace. Rulers can have righteous qualities but they all also have weaknesses. Pray fervently and petition God to give our rulers the justice and righteousness of Christ.
2 May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

4 May he defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
may he crush the oppressor.

12 For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
13 He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.
14 He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.

The next kingly trait emphasized in Psalm 72 is care for the poor, found in verses 2, 4, and 12-14. The king’s subjects are needy. A just king defends them and conquers their oppressors. Jesus is the only King who exhibits perfect love and compassion for the poor in spirit. Truly, their blood is precious in His sight. Knowing and serving Him is the highest good for all people, whether poor or wealthy by the world’s standards.
6 May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.
7 In his days may the righteous flourish
and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

16 May grain abound throughout the land;
on the tops of the hills may it sway.
May the crops flourish like Lebanon
and thrive like the grass of the field.

Peace and prosperity are the next benefits brought about by the reign of King Jesus. These attributes are mentioned in verses 6-7 and 16. Jesus brings flourishing life and an abundance of peace. The Hebrew word used for peace here is “Shalom”, and it carries a picture of the wholeness and safety necessary for vital life. The result of righteousness is peace for eternity. 

May he endure as long as the sun,
    as long as the moon, through all generations.

In his days may the righteous flourish
    and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.
8 May he rule from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.
9 May the desert tribes bow before him
    and his enemies lick the dust.
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
    bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
    present him gifts.
11 May all kings bow down to him
    and all nations serve him.

17 May his name endure forever;
    may it continue as long as the sun.
Then all nations will be blessed through him,
    and they will call him blessed.

King Jesus also gloriously offers what no earthly ruler can: an eternal and universal reign. This is spoken of in the Psalm in verses 5, 7-11, and 17. The reign and benefits of Christ will continue forever. God’s promises look forward to a broad and universal kingdom, through all generations. It includes all nations, even rulers of other lands (think of the magi worshipping Jesus). Luke 1:32-33 predicts Christ’s enduring reign: The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.

We see many of the aforementioned benefits of Christ’s reign now. However, we do not see perfect justice and equity (Hebrews 2:8 tells us this). Christ has won the victory but He hasn’t fully and finally established perfect righteousness in the world. God’s promises are sure though His timing is yet unknown.

Earthly rulers, while they can have a portion of these traits, will not satisfy our souls. They cannot be our salvation, and they cannot bring about perfect peace and an eternal reign. My grandfather says, "World leaders try to be surrogate parents, but we have only one Father."  Many governments, including the United States, feel they are invincible and that power lies with them to bring about “world peace.” No president, king, or military leader will ultimately deliver us. 'We the people' are incapable of fulfilling the United States Constitution: “form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility… and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” The only leader who can and will establish perfect peace and justice is Christ Jesus. 

As God’s people, we must learn to live with imperfection. We can’t expect too much of this world before Christ has fully redeemed it. We also must not place too much hope in our government, or even the church. The God of Psalm 72 must be our only hope as we expectantly wait for the full peace and rule of Christ. We can pray and sing this Psalm in eager expectation of the King who will make all things right: Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory (vv. 19).

May he be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth.

Note: This post was taken from my notes on a sermon I heard from Pastor H.P. McCracken at the Orlando RP Church.