Weekend Worship Guide :: Sunday April 5 (Palm Sunday)

Call to Worship:

O Lord Jesus Christ, who on this day received the worship of those who hailed you as their King: accept our praise and adoration, our worship and love;
grant that we, who now confess you with our lips,
may never fail to give you the service of our lives,
for the honor of your holy name,
who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end. Amen.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we praise you this day for your amazing grace which came to us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  We praise you for the amazing grace you showed in becoming human, humbling yourself into the pages of history, living the perfect life and offering the atoning death on a cross, for us, your estranged creation.  As the people of old opened wide the gates of Jerusalem and received their King, the Messiah, may we open wide again the gates of our hearts and be reminded of your great love and the salvation that has come to us in Jesus Christ.  We pray all of this in his strong name, who himself taught us to pray:

Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day, our daily bread
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.

Songs:

“Raise a Hallelujah”

“Your Name is Power”

Call to Confession:

John 1:9-14
“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

A Christian is one who knows on their own, they are in darkness
But who has come to know the light of Christ
A Christian is one who, like all, was born of the flesh
But who, by grace, has been born again by the Spirit and made to be a child of God.
A Christian is one who knows the law of God
Yet also knows how far they fall short of its keeping
And continually run to Christ – the Light, the Savior, the Lawkeeper, the Giver of Grace.

Prayer:

God, we praise you for the re-birth, the salvation, the identity as your children that is ours in Jesus Christ.  God, we have received you into our hearts, much like the crowd at your triumphal entry received you with shouts of “Hosanna!”  Yet, there are times – perhaps even this day, certainly this week – where we behave more like that same crowd gathered at your crucifixion, refusing to believe who you really are.  God, those moments of unbelief, those lapses in our faith, those moments of rejecting you are sin and lead to sinful expressions, passions, and indulgences in our lives.  God those moments of unbelief lead us to transgress your holy law, to sin against you in our thoughts, words, and deeds.  For these things, we repent.  For these things, we ask for your mercy.  For these things, we once again seek the grace brought to us from the Father’s side by Jesus.  In his name, amen.

Assurance of Pardon:

John 1:15-18
“John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”  For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.”

We are assured in these verses of John 1, that from the fullness of the unseen God, we have received the fullness of grace, seen and given, through Jesus Christ.  Moses gave us the law of God – spelling out his perfect holiness and the expectations for his creation – yet it was Jesus, the Prophet, Priest, and King, who brought us the grace of that law fulfilled and its perfect keeping credited to our account, by faith. Therefore, we can be assured though we try and debit from that account by our sin, it remains fixed, and we remain forgiven and loved by God because of Jesus Christ. He has given us grace upon grace.

Songs:

“Behold Our God”

“Build Your Kingdom Here”

Prayer:

Lord, thank you for your grace. Thank you for always sticking with us. Thank you for the continued companionship of your written word, the Holy Scriptures, which direct us to the Word who became flesh, Jesus Christ.  Please bless its reading now, and give us eyes to see our Savior, high and lifted up. Amen.

Reflection Text:
Matthew 21:1-11
Revelation 7:9-12

Reflection: “Two Sets of Palm Branches”

Palm Sunday marks the day in which we, as the Church, turn our attention to the Passion Week (also called Holy Week) of Jesus Christ, his last week on earth, the week which culminated with his atoning death on the cross of Calvary.  So it is that Matthew 21:1-11, marks the textual turning point in Matthew’s Gospel, as the “The Triumphal Entry” officially kick starts Jesus’ week in Jerusalem, a time he kept cryptically telling his disciples was coming, and again, the time that would end with him on the cross.

Matt. 21:1
The anticipation in the passage of Matthew builds, almost like a classic Western movie. The riders on their horses, cowboy hats drawn low, crest the hill and look down upon the town they aim to rescue from corruption.  So it is here that Jesus and his disciples draw near to Jerusalem, looking down over it from the Mount of Olives which only lies about a mile east of Jerusalem, rises roughly 2,600 feet high, and has a direct view of the temple mount.  You can imagine, just like the cowboys in those Western classics, Jesus and the disciples pausing and quietly, anxiously even, considering what lies ahead as the wind blows and the sun sets.

Matt. 21:2-3
Whatever the collective feeling of that group was, as they crested the hill, Jesus in his Divinity knew exactly what must be done and so he instructs two of the disciples to enter the village and secure for him a donkey and her colt.  In Luke’s gospel (ch. 19) the villages of Bethany and Bethpage are seemingly conflated together in his account.  In either case, here in Matthew, we have Bethpage mentioned and know it is likely situated near Bethany –perhaps is even part and parcel with it – and is on the east side of the slope of the Mount of Olives on one’s way to Jerusalem and so here it is that the disciples likely got the donkey and her colt.  What has always struck me though, is how potentially awkward this encounter could have been!

Just imagine – two strangers walking into town, undoubtedly nervous, undoubtedly looking all around and over their shoulders – and thereby looking even more suspicious – coming up to a donkey and her colt which would’ve clearly belonged to someone else and untying them in order to be taken away.  You can imagine if in that moment of untying, the shocked and angry hand of the owner clamped down on the wrists of the disciples, only for them to assure the angry owner that they aren’t common thieves but rather, “The Lord needs them.”  You can imagine the possible doubt these two disciples had, the grumbling and muttering perhaps even between them, as they tried to concoct in their minds another excuse they might use if they were to be caught, besides something so hilariously simple and hard to believe as, “The Lord needs them.”  And yet, this is the power of our God.  This is the faith the disciples had slowly learned to have in their Lord, after seeing miracle upon miracle.  This is not a story that teaches us we can go into our local department stores, take a bunch of items without paying, only to reply miraculously to the clerk, “The Lord needs them!”  Rather, it demonstrates once again the authority of the Lord Jesus, he is God over all of creation, and his word carries power.  Just like he could calm the raging sea with a word, so here, his word can accomplish what it sets out to do, what it has assured his disciples it will do.

Matthew 21:4-7
And so, as the disciples went back to the rest of the group still waiting for them outside the village, they brought the newly found donkey and colt with them and began to see that before their very eyes prophecy was being fulfilled.  How humbling, amazing, do you think it was for the two disciples who had gone into the village and returned, to now realize that they were part of how God in his eternal wisdom decided the ancient words of Zechariah would be fulfilled?  Think in your own life today – how humbling and amazing is it to know that God still uses us, lowly and small as we may be, to accomplish his eternal purposes?  How humbling and amazing is it to think that plans he laid before the foundation of the world come to pass through us human vessels?  He uses us as his ambassadors and messengers to share his gospel and lead others to salvation.  Surely, treasure is found in jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7).  Amazing!

And yet, in typical fashion, as Jesus fulfills prophecy, the Messianic texts and images he most closely associates with are the lesser-known ones, the ones that speak more to the servant nature of the Anointed One, the less glamorous ones, if you will.  Just as he preferred the “Son of Man” title often in his ministry, so here he closely identified with and employed the humble image in Zechariah of the king who would ride into Zion, not on a war horse or with a battalion, but on a lowly donkey.  When Moses approached the Promised Land in Numbers 13 and sent the two spies (Joshua and Caleb) to scout it out, we know that they too, like the disciples here, had a measure of anticipation and wonder, and yet that was ultimately to be a mission of conquest.  The mission of Jesus Christ – the Greater Moses and Greater Joshua – after sending his two disciples to fetch the donkey, would be a mission of compassion, salvation, and “conquest” of another kind – that of triumph over sin, death, darkness, the devil and the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 5:12).

Matthew 21:8-11
So it is, that as Jesus and his merry band of men (disciples) rides into town, again, like in the Western classics of American film, they are initially received with gladness and rejoicing.  This is no tumble-weed scene whereby the citizens of the town are holed up on their porches, where the saloon doors blow open and shut in the breeze, and whereby resident cowboys with boots propped up on barrels look skeptically under the brims of their hats pulled low while the town is eerily quiet.  The scene here in verses 8-11 that day as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, and then as he enters the official city limits, is one of loud, exuberant jubilee. The disciples, the steadily increasing crowd, the curious, and those who simply get swept up into a party whenever and wherever it can be found are throwing their cloaks on the ground – a practice common when recognizing a king (think “rolling out the red carpet” in today’s language).  Further, they begin grabbing palm branches wherever they can be found and waving them crazily (think of the yellow sea of “terrible towels” waved at Pittsburgh Steelers games) – a practice that had precedent in Jewish military victories of the inter-testamental times, and again was something the crowds would do to recognize a conquering hero who has returned, or one who was on the precipice of a great victory.  All of this chaos and commotion and excitement was accompanied by the rhythmic choruses (now think of rowdy, European soccer match chants) of “Hosanna!” – a Greek rendering of Hebrew and Aramaic words that mean, “save us!” or “deliver us!” Again, all indications that the crowd of that day was charged with hope and expectancy that this Jesus – with his mixed reviews, some thinking he was legitimate and others not – would actually pull it together and bring the rescue they all craved.

How about you, this morning?

Did we not crave rescue from our former lives of meaninglessness, hopelessness, lostness, emptiness, and sin before Jesus found us?

Do we still not crave rescue this day from a world, which is at times beautiful, but also at times very broken, and full of difficulty?

Jesus Christ, on that day over two-thousand years ago, rode into Jerusalem to affect an all-encompassing rescue. He didn’t come to rescue the people that day from their political overlords, in that case the Roman Empire.  That’s what many were expecting, that’s undoubtedly why many were frenzied and excited – their view of the Messiah was an earthly, geo-political one.  In fact, we know that the reason many in this initially joyful and welcoming crowd will also be in the crowd, just a week later, shouting “crucify him” is because it would be clear that Jesus’ conquest did not include an overthrow of their Roman occupiers like they expected.  But that’s because the conquest that Jesus came to affect was and remains so much bigger and brighter and everlasting than that.  It was and is the conquest over humanity’s greater oppressor – sin, death, and the evil one.  It was and is the breaking of sin’s curse, so that people could truly be set free.  Not just set free in the moment, not just set free for a generation, but set free from the eternal guilt and the debt we owe before the Holy God because of our sin.  Jesus came to ultimately defeat the dragon, the evil one, and ransom the damsel in distress, his bride, which was and is the church, comprised of believers then and believers still.  Earthly empires come and ago, but Jesus’ kingdom of peace and righteousness through the grace of the Father lasts forever.

Revelation 7:9-12
So, we know the Entry as recorded here in Matthew 21 was “triumphant” in its initial reception, but we also know Jesus was ultimately rejected by many just a week later who failed to understand his ultimate purpose.  This is still true today.  We also know that those who did accept him – not just his entry but his entire purpose – were initially mostly just those who resided in and around Jerusalem that day.  But thankfully, the story didn’t end there.  Just as this was the initial Entry, the fullness of the Story had just begun.  For when we flip ahead to the end, the final book of the New Testament – Revelation – we see in 7:9-12 another set of palm branches.  In these verses we see the crowd that recognizes and receives Jesus as Lord and Savior and Triumphant King has grown exponentially. It is now “a great multitude that no one could number” and it is not just those who dwelled long ago in Jerusalem but it is “from every nation, all tribes and peoples and languages.”  And so it is that this innumerable crowd “stands before the throne and before the Lamb clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”  And this crowd no longer has “Hosanna” or “save us” on their lips, but instead knows the fullness of that salvation and deliverance through Jesus Christ, the Risen One (more on that next week!) and so instead cries out jubilantly, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

For together – this was our hope before knowing Jesus, this was our hope once Jesus found us, and this is our hope even now until we are reunited with him – we join the chorus in Heaven that was already in motion as:

“All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Until, we too, are a part of that Heavenly, Eternal Palm Sunday.  Until, the world has been put right and fully made new.  We press on.   We wave our palm branches here and now.  We look to Jesus, who came once and is coming again.  We look to Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.

Prayer:

Thank you Lord, for coming to rescue humanity over two-thousand years ago.  We thank you that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ signaled the beginning of your plan to fully and finally set all things right, here on earth as in Heaven.  We thank you that your grace has come to us.  We pray Lord, that you would bless us and keep us now; that you would strengthen and encourage us until that final Day when all things are put right forever and when we join the multitude in Heaven praising your name.  Father, we ask for your mercy on this world, for your mercy on us your church, for your mercy on each of us individually.  We pray all of this in the strong name of Jesus, amen.

Benediction:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
(Numbers 6:24-26)

Doxology:

Midweek Encouragement – Psalm 84

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my king and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, 
in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs;
the early rain also covers it with pools.
They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.

O Lord of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob!
Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed!
For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.

For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
the Lord bestows favor and honor.
No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” 

It is said that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and that is a statement, I believe, we are all learning the truth of more and more during this time of COVID-19 social distancing.  Among other things, we long to be reunited with our normal routines, our friendships, our social gatherings, our vocational rhythms, and we long to be reunited in personal, public worship in our respective church sanctuaries.  We long to experience the warmth of a personal greeting at the door, the conversing chatter in the lobby over coffee, the welcoming hospitality of a sanctuary with its pews cast wide, ready to receive men, women, and children who’ve come to worship the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

This is a feeling, a sentiment that the Psalmist captures and expresses in Psalm 84.  It is a psalm written from the perspective of a traveller on his way to Zion, longing to once again be in the physical presence of the Lord’s house.  A faithful Hebrew then, just as a Christian today, would know that God is everywhere and not limited spatially, but at the same time, there was and is something special about “sacred space” – temples, sanctuaries, where God is intentionally adorned, focused upon, and worshipped.  As such, this traveller in Psalm 84, who has been worshipping God in spirit and truth wherever he finds himself, still longs (“my soul longs, yes, faints) to once again step foot into the Temple (“the courts of the Lord”).  That longing is rooted in the beauty of the place itself, the fellowship it allowed for with God’s people, the joy and fulfillment that came through worshipping (“blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!”), and of course the active presence of God Himself who chose to make such presence known and felt within those sanctuary walls.

That longing was further expressed as the traveller considered just how gracious it was of God to even allow His presence to be felt and experienced in an earthly dwelling, built by the hands of men, and home to even some of the smallest of earthly creatures – “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.”  What gracious condescension on the part of the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent God of the Universe to give a glimpse of His power and majesty, His mercy and grace, His beauty and splendor to finite, fallible humanity inside a building constructed from materials He himself made, and even allow flittering sparrows and oblivious swallows to build nests in the corners and crevices.  Truly, God desires the fellowship of His creation, truly His arms are open wide to all who will receive Him, truly He takes great joy in the sound of His saints gathered in chorus, and even His sparrows fluttering their wings in the dusty rafters.  This is a great picture, an unintentional foretaste even, here in the Psalms, of what will one day be true in the New Heavens and Earth, when even the animal kingdom is at peace and submission and worship – when the wolf shall lay down with the lamb…the calf and the lion together…(Isaiah 11:6).

This traveller, this worshipper of the Living God, here in Psalm 84, though he longs to once again be in the house of the Lord and though he feels the absence when he is not in the Lord’s house, still knows that since the Lord is not spatially bound, He is with us even when we are apart.  He is with us, even in those moments we cannot inhabit His sanctuary.  “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion” (v.5).  We may be prevented from being in the physical house of the Lord for various reasons and circumstances in life – this COVID-19 crisis being one of them – and yet though we may be prevented, the Lord is never prevented from being present with us.  He remains with us in our hearts.  When we go through the valleys, the deserts, the barren places of this life or world (“as they go through the Valley of Baca”), it is the always-with-us presence of the Lord that enables those places to be transformed into “a place of springs” (v.6).  This is true today, even as we find ourselves in isolation or at a distance from one another, it is the presence of the Lord which can transform these moments into moments of praise.  Whether in the sanctuary or kept far away, He still hears our prayer (v.8), He still remains our shield (v.9), and we still remain His beloved, His blessed, His “anointed” (v.9) because we have been found permanently and steadfastly in Christ, the true Temple.

At the end of the Psalm though, the author still reiterates his original sentiment, his original feeling of strong affection for the Lord’s house, and that’s OK if that is still us this day.  We are right to long for a return to normalcy, we are right to long for when this virus and period of distancing is overcome and we can once again worship together in the Lord’s house.  The absence likely has made our hearts grow more fond of our humble, sacred abode at Lake Osborne to the point where we too echo the psalmist and say, “a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere” (v.10) and all of that is appropriate, and even good.  Distance and absence have a way of reminding us of blessings, of reminding us what we have, of giving a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation.

So then, we are right in our longing to be back together – in fellowship with God and in fellowship with one another – in the sanctuary.  But until then, we take continued comfort in knowing that God is still with us, His presence leads us and remains by us just like the portable, Tabernacle of old, led God’s people through the wilderness.  And we take ultimate comfort in knowing that there is a day, at the end of time, in the New Jerusalem, when God’s people are forever in his physical presence never to be separated again, never to long for reunion again, because things like pandemics and brokenness will have been overcome, all will have been made new, all will have been set right – “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).  Until then we press on, we pray, we hope, we love our neighbor as ourself, we worship wherever He has placed us, and we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith.

A couple of songs to pair with this devotional reflection:

“Better is One Day” by Matt Redman

“Traveler” by Fernando Ortega

Weekend Worship Guide :: Sunday March 29

Call to Worship:
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!  Serve the Lord with gladness!  Come into his presence with singing!  Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!  Give thanks to him; bless his name!  For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.”  (Psalm 100)

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, Holy God, Lord of all the earth, we honor and praise you this morning.  We come into your presence solely because your grace first came to us in Jesus Christ.  Father, we come into your presence this morning, separately in the quarantine of our own homes, away from our usual gathering place of physical sanctuary, yet still knowing we are as near to you as ever for you, God, are omnipresent.  Every square inch of the cosmos is yours, nothing is outside your purview, including us, and in that we take great comfort and for that we give you praise.  Lord, we thank and praise you for your goodness, your steadfast love, your faithfulness, and now ask through the power of your Holy Spirit, that these realities would animate and fuel our worship of you this day.  We pray all of this in the strong name of Jesus, who himself taught us to pray:

Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
For yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen.

Song:
God is For Us – CityAlight

Song:
The Father’s House – Cory Asbury

Call to Confession:
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.  But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
(James 1:19-25)

Prayer of Confession:
Heavenly Father, we confess to you that we are too often hearers of your word only, and not the doers of it that you have commanded us and enabled us through your Holy Spirit to be.  We are not quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, but have faltered at each point if in nowhere else but our hearts.  We confess that we have succumbed to filthiness and wickedness this week, again, in thought, word, and deed.  For this, we humbly seek your forgiveness.  Father, James reminds us and we confess in turn, that all our sinning, all our failure to keep your word, is ultimately a forgetting of who we really are as your children, who you’ve made us to be by your grace.  And so Lord, once again as your children, bought with the precious blood of Christ, we seek your forgiveness.  We claim no righteousness of our own but cling wholly to the righteousness of Jesus – the perfect Lawkeeper –  gifted to us by faith.  In Jesus name we pray, amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  (Romans 5:1-2)

Song:
Boldly I Approach – Rend Collective

Reflection Text:
Philippians 4:4-9
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worth of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

Reflection:

In last week’s reflection, we continued in our series from Acts titled, “Changing Times, Timeless Church” and looked at the conversion of Saul in Acts 9.  We remarked at how appropriate the series title is, in light of these unique, challenging, and yes, ever-changing times.  We will certainly return to our series very soon, perhaps even next Sunday, but for today, I did want to focus our attention a bit more intently on the present circumstances around us and particularly the emotion and reaction that we as Christians are encouraged toward in these verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

First, notice the “R” words that are present in verses 4 and 5 – we are called to “rejoice” and are called to evidence “reasonableness.”  Now, these are the words chosen in translation by the English Standard Version (ESV).  Nearly every English translation echoes “rejoice” but you may have a Bible that has chosen differently for the second “R” word, “reasonableness” and instead used something like, “gentleness” or “moderation.”  Remember, all translation requires educated decision making by the linguists, and remember that a given Greek word can have a wide range of meaning that several English words capture.  This is why I’ve often said one of the best ways to do Bible study is to take 3-4 English versions and read them side-by-side.  In doing so, you will likely get a good grasp on the overall intended meaning.

In either case though, notice the emotion and reaction we are called to as Christians in any circumstance, even the one we find ourselves in today – rejoicing and reasonableness.  What can we rejoice in as Christ-followers even in this moment of global pandemic?  We can rejoice in the fact that God is still on his throne and still sovereign.  We can rejoice in the fact that this did not catch him by surprise, but that he foreknew this moment before the foundation of the world.  We can rejoice in the fact that he has always been faithful to his people in every period of history, and that he is God With Us (Immanuel).  We can rejoice in how moments like this often cause people to turn to the Lord, often spark revival, often drive societies back towards what is most important.  We can rejoice even in the extended family time it has allowed for, the pause from the rat-race of life, the opportunity it has given for us to finally clean out our closets, pull weeds in the yard, or take that walk around the neighborhood we sorely miss.  We can rejoice in the fact that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

How about the call to reasonableness or gentleness?  Easy.  Have you been to the grocery store lately?  If your local grocer is anything like mine, it is full of people elbowing their way around, hoarding supplies at the expense of their neighbor, cutting others off with their carts, and generally behaving as if life truly is a survival of the fittest, or truly is “every man and woman for themselves,” and the apocalypse draweth nigh.

Have you flipped on your TV lately?  It’s a never-ending blame game for the pandemic, an ever-escalating shouting match, and yet again, another opportunity for polarizing and polemical political jockeying.  How can the Christian respond instead?  Again, with a measure of reasonableness and gentleness.  That doesn’t mean we can’t be greatly concerned about this issue, that doesn’t mean we can’t have our own fears and anxieties, that doesn’t mean we too can’t be bothered or worked up about certain factors in this cultural moment and have our strong opinions, but we don’t succumb to all of that.  We don’t allow it to overcome and overwhelm us.  We don’t allow it to overshadow what we know to be true – that God is in control and working out his plan in Christ Jesus – and as a result we can face this with a reasonable and gentle spirit.  Most importantly, we can respond in this way to the situation around us, because Paul tells us at the end of verse 5 that “the Lord is at hand.”  Like a child can face the first day of Kindergarten, or their first day on a new ball team, because their parent holds their hand and walks with them, so it is with us and the Lord.  He is at hand, he is with us.  We can face our fears, with each of us being an oasis of reasonableness and gentleness in the vast desert of anxiety and commotion.

Secondly, in verse 6, we are given a specific and potent weapon with which we can wage war against anxiety.  In C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Peter, Susan, and Lucy are given gifts (tools, Aslan calls them) to fortify them in their battle against the White Witch for the fate of Narnia.  A sword and shield for Peter; a horn, bow and arrows for Susan; and a cordial and dagger for Lucy.  Here, Paul reminds us of the gift God has given us in our battle against fear and worry – prayer.  The powerful privilege, at any moment and any place in life, to sound the horn of alarm (like Susan).  To raise a shout or cry of prayer (no matter how inarticulate, incomplete, or guttural) and know that the Lord of all Heaven hears and comes running.  The powerful privilege, at any moment and any place in life, of raising that shield of prayer (like Peter) against the onslaught of doubt and despair from the evil one.  The powerful privilege, at any moment and any place in life, of seeking out the cordial of healing and rejuvenation (like Lucy) that prayer can offer as it doesn’t necessarily remedy all ills immediately, but it does place them in the hand of the Living God, the Great Physician, who if he wills, can calm raging storms with just a word.

Prayer is the chief weapon against the pandemic or at least the panic surrounding it, the chief focus we can all center around, wherever God has placed us, during this time of uncertainty and during this time of extended isolation.  We can, and are even encouraged by Paul, to lift up our voices in honest prayer – giving God our long-list of requests – a list which undoubtedly includes healing for the world, protection from sickness, and a return to normalcy and prosperity.  We need not sugar-coat these, or try to spiritualize them away.  God desires our honest prayers of requests.  And yet, there is something profoundly and existentially impactful, transformational even, when we articulate our needs in prayer and place them in the hands of God.  It unburdens us, it fortifies us, it encourages and strengthens us.

And, so we do lift up our requests, but we do so also finding things to thank God for here and now; things he has already done even in the face of yet-to-be-answered prayers – “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God…”  This goes back to what we mentioned in the beginning.  Oh, how we can thank God for some of the silver linings in this mess.  Thankfulness for renewed perspectives, additional family time, renewed devotion, even thankfulness for the world placing renewed emphasis on personal hygiene and perhaps for us all, a renewed prayer life.  C.S. Lewis remarks elsewhere in his writings that prayer doesn’t “change” God but it does “change” the one praying.  God knows what we need before we even ask.  God foreknew this day before the foundation of the world.  But when we pause to converse and commune with him, we begin even if we don’t realize it immediately to receive his peace, a peace which surpasses all understanding, a peace with guards us and guides us.

Thirdly and finally, just as the start of our passage exhorts us to be a people of rejoicing and reasonableness, the end of our passage reinforces that again as Paul directs us where to aim our thoughts in verse 8:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

There is much we can be tempted to dwell on during this anxious, unprecedented, and most unusual of times.  Our default worries and human frailty will direct us one way.  Our friends, acquaintances, or the general public will direct us another.  The 24-hour news cycle and pundits will direct us yet another still.  Yet it is the timeless word of God – a word written thousands of years ago, a word that has been with the saints throughout the ages, throughout the swirling winds of history – that directs us to where our focus, our aim, our thoughts should spend the bulk of their time: on that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

This doesn’t mean that we close ourselves off from the television (thought it may at times!), the newspaper, or the world.  This doesn’t mean that we put our proverbial heads in the sand.  This doesn’t even mean that we don’t seek out information, seek out the worldly wisdom that God has given to his creation through his common grace – the wisdom of doctors, governing officials, health organizations, etc. In fact, the postponing of our public church services and our submission to the requests from on high to socially-distance, retreat online, etc. are based squarely on the fact that we have sought out and followed the worldly wisdom God has bestowed on those in authority above us, through his common grace.  But it does mean that when it comes to where we find our identity, our hope, and where we aim our hearts in worship these coming days and weeks – that remains none other than He who alone is the source of Truth, Honor, Justice, Purity, Love, Commendation, Excellence, and Praise – Jesus Christ himself.  He was with us before this all began, he is with us still, and he will see us through to the other side.  May we continue to fix our eyes on him, the author and perfector of our faith.

Prayer:
Our Father and our God, we do indeed rejoice in you this day.  We rejoice in your goodness and faithfulness.  We rejoice in your sovereignty and power.  Father, we pray that you would supernaturally enable us to remain beacons of joy and reasonableness through whatever we encounter in this life and in this broken world.  God, we admit those places where we do remain anxious and worried, and we pray that you would soothe us with your grace.  We thank you that you always hear us, that you are always with us, and that you are with us even now.  We even thank you for some of the silver lining that has come through this ordeal – that of renewed perspectives, time with family, and many other unseen blessings.  Yet, Lord, we do mourn for those who mourn this day, we mourn for those places in our world that have been ravaged by this pandemic, and to that end Lord, we do pray for your swift compassion and healing to take root.  Just as you tell the boundaries of the ocean and the waves to stop and go no farther than their allotted place, we pray that you would tell this pandemic to “stop”; that your peace, your shalom would settle on the earth, as it is in heaven.  Lord, thank you for this time “together” though we are apart as a church family, thank you for your word.  We pray for your blessing on us, wherever we are found.  In Jesus name, amen.

Benediction:
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”
(Numbers 6:24-26)

Doxology:

The Best Way To Watch the Miami Marlins

On a far less serious note (but perhaps we could use a little light-heartedness these days), folks from Lake Osborne know very well that I am a dedicated (obsessed?) yet pitiable Miami Marlins fan (all things baseball for that matter).  I’m embarrassed at how often they work themselves into my sermon illustrations.  During these special circumstances though, Major League Baseball like many other things is on hold.  However, on the bright side that has resulted in Fox Sports Florida (check your cable listings) broadcasting replays of 2019 Miami Marlins games at 12 noon and 8pm most weekdays.  But here’s the best part – they’re only broadcasting wins!  Admittedly, this means it will be a short series of broadcasts, but now’s the best time to try out becoming a Marlins fan!  They can’t lose!  Just don’t get too used to the winning, once the real 2020 regular season starts…

Midweek Encouragement – Psalm 121

Psalm 121
“I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.”

We’ve had the privilege, at Lake Osborne, of spending some previous time in what are known as the Songs of Ascent (Psalm 120-134) of which Psalm 121 is a part.  These psalms are titled the Songs of Ascent due to the fact that they were the choruses song by Hebrew pilgrims as they journeyed to Jerusalem for special days of worship.  If you recall, Jerusalem was an elevated city, on a naturally fortified plateau, and so pilgrims would literally ascend topographically all the while ascending spiritually as well.

This particular psalm rhetorically asks, “from where does my help come from?”  Indeed, a timeless question.  When trouble arises, where can one turn?  To a friend?  To personal grit and determination?  To physical resources?  Yes, there are times where we turn to all of those things, and unfortunately there are other times where we may turn to lesser options – vices, substances, illicit schemes, etc. – but the first two verses remind us that all true help ultimately stems from no other place or person or power but God Himself.  We may lift our eyes to the hills, an expression in the original context that could have referred to when a warrior in the heat of battle looks and waits longingly for reinforcements to crest the hill.  It is also an expression that could have referred to the “high places” mentioned in the Old Testament – those places where pagan shrines and places of worship to false gods were set up.  A place tempting to look toward, but empty of power.  In either instance, it was the psalmists way of saying that there’s only one place where True Help comes from, and it is from the hand of Almighty God, the Lord, who made heaven and earth.  This is a powerful reminder for us today in our time of difficulty and uncertainty on a global scale.  We do our best to avail ourselves of help and resources; we do our best to pursue what God’s common grace has provided in the way of government, health care systems, world health organizations, etc., but ultimately we know behind all of the help, lies the true source of help itself, the Lord who made heaven and earth.

Verses three and four of the psalm go into further detail of why the Lord is the ultimate source of help and why, in turn, we can trust him with certainty.  The God who keeps us and watches over us, never tires, in fact, he never slumbers, never takes a break, never needs a nap, never sleeps or is off the clock.  Think about that for a moment!  Think about how many men, women, politicians, doctors, first responders, volunteers, and people of all kinds have been courageously and diligently putting in countless hours during this crisis.  The response has been awe-inspiring and humbling.  And yet, for amazing as it is, we are still reminded of human limitations.  Even the strongest people tire, grow weary, need breaks, need sleep, need a day off.  Yet thankfully, and amazingly, this is not true of God.  He watches over us, he guides and directs us, he doesn’t allow a single step in our life to stray outside of his plan, and he maintains perfect, sovereign and providential order as one who never needs to take his eyes off the wheel, even for a moment!  Every molecule of the created order continues in perfect, sovereign, symphony, under the perpetually watchful gaze of the maestro, the master, the Lord God Himself.

As the psalm continues into verses five and six the Lord’s careful guidance is illustrated further.  As our “keeper” he acts as a shade (v. 5) to both the sun’s scorching rays (v. 6) and the moon’s intrusion (v. 6).  This is especially illustrative and applicable to our current situation.  We are promised here that the Lord will shade us from the withering heat of external threats.  Now of course, how he does that and through what means, are different for each person and ultimately up to his unsearchable will, but we are nevertheless promised that he is with us.  He is guarding us from what tries to assail us from the outside.  This is a picture we are given through mention of the sun’s scorching rays.  And yet, he also protects us from the intrusion of the moon – “…the sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.”  This not only reassures us that God watches over us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week (morning and night), but it tells us God will prevent us from becoming moonstruck, the concept and term from which the English word “lunacy” literally derives its name (lunar, lunatic, etc.).  In other words, God will also protect us from the internal threat of going crazy, of literally losing our minds during times of crisis, isolation, disturbed routines, loneliness, just sheer boredom, or whatever emotion we feel during this unusual time.
He is our sanity and peace.

Finally, in the closing verses of the psalm, verses seven through eight, we are told that the Lord will ultimately keep us from all evil, he will keep our lives, he will guard our going out and our coming in now and forevermore.  Recall that these were songs sung by people living real lives, just like us, and who themselves experienced real hardship, just like we can in this earthly life. Therefore, these are not empty promises, nor are they pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking. Rather, it is another Biblical reminder that even when evil and danger prowl, even when they appear to have the final word, they ultimately do not happen outside of God’s providence and that for the child of God, the Christian, they are never the final word.  God will indeed keep us from all evil, and keep our very lives, as we have been found in Christ, and ultimately a day is coming when God will once and for all put down all disease, all decay, all death, he will wipe every tear from every eye in that new city, the New Jerusalem.  In the meantime, may we fix our eyes on him and press ahead in our journey, in our worship of the same, Living God, the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

FREE Ligonier Ministries Resources

During this time of COVID-19 social distancing, prolonged time at home, and churches moving online for worship and discipleship – Ligonier Ministries (the ministry home of the late, great, R.C. Sproul) is offering all of their streaming content free of charge.  Not only does that give you access to tons of great, Reformed theological content, it also give you access to Dust to Glory, the series that was being viewed and discussed at Lake Osborne Presbyterian Church on Wednesday evenings.

Click above on “Dust to Glory” or here.

Click here for the entire Ligonier teaching library.

Blessings!

A Monday Morning Prayer – 3.23

Friends,

Scotty Smith – a long-time pastor, author, and someone I had the privilege of getting to know when I was serving at Coral Ridge – posted this (click) today.   A good, encouraging reminder.  The post also includes his sermon from yesterday and, as I mentioned before, his is a good blog to follow as he posts daily prayers.

Blessings to you all.

Weekend Worship Guide :: Sunday March 22

Call to Worship:
“For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”  (2 Corinthians 4:6)

Prayer:
Awesome and Holy God, you are the one who spoke light into the empty void and all heaven and earth were made.  You are the one who spoke the light of your grace and salvation into the darkness of our sinful hearts, and we were made new.  God, nothing is impossible for you, nothing is impossible with you, and because you have drawn near to us in the person of Jesus Christ, your Son and our Savior, we draw our hearts near to you in worship this day.  In this season of anxiety, please encourage us.  In this season of isolation, please comfort us.  In this unusual season of worshipping apart, remind us again that we are yours, we are your beloved, and that no matter where we find ourselves, you are Immanuel, God with us.  We pray all this in the name of Jesus Christ, who himself, taught us to pray:

Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be your name
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
For yours in the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever, amen.

Song:
“Our God is Greater” by Chris Tomlin

Call to Confession:
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

Prayer:
Our God and Father, we do indeed praise you for your mercy and comfort in any and all affliction.  God, we know that we can look to your mercy at all times and in all situations, because you showed yourself merciful to us in the most dire of situations – that of our alienation from you and in our sin against you.  God, you met our sin with the forgiveness and pardon, the salvation found in your Son, Jesus Christ.  So it is, Lord, that we come before you again, casting ourselves anew upon your grace.  We ask you to forgive our sins against you, this week, in thought, word, and deed; in the things we have done and the things we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole hearts, we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves, and so once again we humbly seek your mercy, your comfort in our affliction.  We pray all this in the strong name of Jesus, amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.  He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”  (Psalm 103:8-12) 

Song:
“Thy Mercy My God” by Caedmon’s Call

Reflection Text:
Acts 9:1-19

Reflection:
Changing Times, Timeless Church (Part 11)

I must admit – when I was titling this sermon series from the Book of Acts, eleven weeks ago, my main concerns were that it was accurate to the book itself, and that it was concise and memorable.  I had no way of knowing then, that just a couple months later, we would all come to know the truth of the series title in the profoundly personal way we have now, as we find ourselves in times changing so abruptly, we are unable to meet together in public worship.  Indeed, the times are changing.

What began as a news headline clumped together in a long list with others – a virus of some concern originating in China, evolved into news headlines about that same virus spreading beyond the Chinese borders, but unlikely to affect the U.S., only to evolve yet again to what it is today: a virus that has affected our country too, and has dramatically altered the course of our daily lives and routines in unprecedented ways as everyone strives to make heads and tails of it and what it means.  The times are changing – daily it seems – and yet, if we’re honest, times have always changed.  The only Being in all of History who isn’t ever caught off guard, or surprised, or has plans altered, is God Himself, and thankfully He is Lord of the Church and has promised that He will build his Church, and not even the gates of hell will prevail against it (Matt. 16:8).  So while the times do change, and our current situation is a powerful reminder of that, we continue to take solace in knowing the Church remains.  The Church has looked differently at different times – its gatherings, it structure, its expression – and this is no exception.  We will continue to “gather” the way we have been asked to for now – virtually, through the words of this page – all the while knowing that God is in control, and He will be glorified, for while the times change, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8).

Acts 9:1-2
As we reflect upon our place in the timeless Church, today’s passage brought us back around to Saul, the man we know later becomes Paul the Apostle, but was last mentioned at the end of chapter 7 as being a supportive by-stander at Stephen’s martyrdom and mentioned at the beginning of chapter 8 as a ravaging persecutor of the early Christian movement.  We encounter him again here in chapter 9 as he seeks to go to the city of Damascus, located in Syria and home to a large Jewish population then, and continue the persecution he relished in Jerusalem.  Damascus is some 150 miles from Jerusalem, no small journey then, and shows the depths of Saul’s hatred and the depths of his misguided zeal.  His desire was to continue his attempt at stamping out followers of “The Way”- a term unique to Acts, and the early name associated with followers of Christ.  The term “Christian” won’t be used until later in the city of Antioch in Acts 11:26.

Acts 9:3-9
We know that Saul had his bags packed, his alarm clock set, and his ticket booked for Damascus – his misguided zeal fueling the journey – and yet we also know in the Old Testament that a man named Jonah had his bags packed, his alarm clock set, and his ticket booked for anywhere but Nineveh, and yet how did that turn out?  So it is, that we see the same intervening sovereignty of God here.  The man aspiring to capture Christians, would here himself be captured by the grace of Christ.  The man aspiring to silence the followers of Jesus Christ, would here himself be spoken to by the risen Jesus.  The one aspiring to snuff out what he perceived to be the flickering light of a fledgling, new movement, would be overcome, overwhelmed, literally stopped in his tracks and blinded by the white, hot light of God’s severe mercy.  “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  The words of the risen, unseen Jesus that day on the road to Damascus remind us that we are indeed, part of the body, the church, of which he is the head.  When the body is persecuted or troubled, so too is Jesus its head and he is with us in our affliction.  And yet, in spite of Saul’s misguided zeal, and in spite of him persecuting the church of Christ, he was Jesus’ man.  And just like Jonah would get to Nineveh, one way or the other because it was God’s will, and just like that way ended up being through the dark belly of a whale three days and nights, so here Saul would be in a darkness of his own three days.

Acts 9:10-19
Abraham and Isaac journeyed three days in the wilderness before the encounter at Mount Moriah; Israel was consecrated three days before they encountered God on Mount Sinai; after three days of preparation Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land; Esther prayed for three days before appearing before the king in her day and intervening for her people; Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days; Jesus was in the tomb three days; and so it is that after his three days of darkness, Saul is “resurrected” through the laying on of hands by Ananias and the reception of the Holy Spirit.

Can you imagine the fear and confusion of Saul?
Can you imagine the fear and confusion of Ananias?

And yet, God had his man, he had his “chosen instrument” to carry his name to the known world.  Saul – a man of uncommon learning, a man of uncommon pedigree, a man with Roman citizenship able to travel easily throughout the empire, a man of uncommon zeal when directed toward the proper aims – that of the glory of Christ Jesus – literally changed the course of history, spreading the Gospel to any and all who would listen, becoming the greatest evangelist of the Christian movement.

Yet, on second thought, did Saul change the course of history…or, was Saul changed in order to fit His Story – that of God’s?

For you see, it will be Saul who later writes in his letters as the Apostle Paul of the God so gracious, so in control, so providential and incomprehensibly sovereign, that he foreknew and predestined all things before the foundation of the world to work together for good and for his glory.  That included the amazing, darkness to light, Damascus-road-conversion of Saul.

Turning a persecutor into a preacher.  Turning a sinner into a saint.

For in Christ, Saul had met someone whose zeal ran deeper than his.  It is the zeal of Christ Jesus to forgive, to transform, to make all things new.

This is the same risen Christ we worship today.  This is the same risen Christ who stands over all history, all stories, all of what we think are unforeseen circumstances and continues to order them and guide them according to His Story…again, all for our good, all for his glory.

Prayer:
Gracious Heavenly Father, thank you for the mercy and the grace and the providence that transforms those like Saul, which transforms us as well.  Thank you for the mercy and the grace and the providence which governs all history.  Please remind us and encourage us with that reality again, this day and in the days to come during these changing times.  May you continue to guide us, direct us, strengthen us, all for your glory.  Finally, Lord, would you as the Great Physician, be merciful and compassionate and would you put an end to the COVID-19 virus we pray, as only you can, in Jesus name, amen.

Doxology:

 

 

 

 

 

COVID-19 Church Update

As mentioned in the email that went out to the congregation on Tuesday March 17th, the elders and I decided to cancel all church gatherings for the next two weeks in light of the requests and recommendations of the local, state, and federal governments.  We believe this decision to be the best form of obedience to what we are called to in Romans 13:1 and Jeremiah 29:7.  The church is not being singled out as an institution, rather, she is being asked along with many other institutions to act in the best interest of her neighbors, a sentiment rooted firmly in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As such, we will continue to be the “church” just distributed into our various homes and locations, and we will continue to worship privately as we are called to do anyways, and we will still worship collectively through the means provided on this site – a worship guide for your home, each week.  In addition to that, many of our larger, more technologically sophisticated brothers and sisters are live-streaming services and I would encourage you to avail yourselves of those too, should you choose.

Every Friday, I will endeavor to post the weekly worship guide for your use in the home.  Lord willing, we will continue our journey through the Book of Acts.  We will pick things up in chapter 9 (part 11 of the series).  What I post in the worship guide will be more of a meditation/reflection than a full-blown sermon, as I believe that will work better for use in the home, but the guide will be complete with accompanying liturgy and prayers.  The previous, fuller, sermons from the series can be found here:

Sermon Audio

Grace and Peace,

Adam