30 January, 2011

Why Are We Here? A Congregational Meeting Meditation on Ephesians 3:14-21

Ephesians 3:14-21
Why Are We Here?

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, [15] from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, [16] that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, [17] so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, [18] may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, [19] and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. [20] Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, [21] to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Why are We Here? Now that question could be asked in a couple of different ways- but my question is: why are we are here at a congregational meeting of the Los Angeles Reformed Presbyterian Church? And what are we doing here?

Are we just having a business meeting where we will talk about the budget- maybe have a bit of discussion about what we like or don’t like in the budget? Maybe have a few questions or comments about the reports that we will hear from the various reporters in the church.

Well, sure, we are here for that- we need to do this once a year as a part of our doing all things decently and in order- but what is at the core of what is really going on here? Why really are we here?

I would like to very briefly look at Ephesians 3:14-21 and divide the text into two areas that will help us to answer this question. The first division will be theological or historical redemptive. And the second division will be doxological, and contemporary to our particular congregation.

So why are we here? Let's start with the theological.

In verse 14 we have Paul giving praise and prayer that the mystery of the Gospel has been revealed and this is part of why we are here. The mystery of the Gospel was that it was going to be a world-wide phenomeon that would start in a tiny centralized slice of land, and it would spread throughout the ancient world and make its way into Spain in the time of the NT and into Europe and eventually North and South America and throughout all of the continents of the worlds.

We are here because we are part of this inheritance of the mystery of the Gospel.

From this world-wide revelation of the mystery, Paul applies it specifically to the lives of individual believers. Give glory, in verse 16, that the Spirit has applied this Gospel to the nations to us as individuals if we are in Christ. Then verse 17 shows that this personal application has an organic nature and that we are not here just because we are connected to some world wide movement called the mystery revealed to the nations. We are not just here because we have had this individual application of that Gospel.

We are here because we have been made a part of something bigger. Notice verse 17 shows that we have been rooted and grounded in love and then in verse 18- we comprehend this with ALL the saints.

Connectedness, organic, being a part of something bigger- the church. So we are not just a bunch of individuals who are here today who have our own agenda- we are part of an organic union called the church- and we are rooted and grounded together in this.

So why are we here- Because the love of God extends high and low and east and west and it must be applied to you specifically and to us as a congregation- and when people look onto our fellowship they should not even be able to describe what they are experiencing because the love of God in Christ that is applied within the church passes knowledge. And we are called to be filled with the love of God.

This is the theological foundation of why we are here. This should be good enough right? Why are you sitting in that chair with that packet of reports in your hand? Why are you a member of this church? Well, these were good enough reasons:

The Gospel has been revealed to the nations and God, in his providence has revealed it to our lands. Because the power of the Spirit has applied this Gospel to individuals and if you have received that- you are here because of that. Because we have been made a part of the church of Christ- and we are no longer individuals- we are a people rooted together and grounded together in Christ.

But what else? Look at verse 20 and 21. This has been the focus of much of meditation this week. Here we see the doxological aspect of the question, “Why are we here?”

And what do we see? In this doxology or word of praise and glory to God- we see some absolutely amazing words. “Him who is able to do far more abundanty than all that we ask or think.” That is why we are here- we are here because the Lord Jesus does far more than we are able to do, ask, or think.

We are here because about 130 years ago a seminary student from Southfield Michigan had the vision to go to the wild west and to plant churches. This was in a time when the RPCNA did not have established churches past Kansas. We are here because someone knew that God was able to do far abundantly than he could ask or think.

Why are we here?

We are here because people from our churches had the vision to come out to Los Angeles when it was still orange groves, missions, and a midwest sized city. We are here because in God’s providence he drove people West with a desire to see the Reformed faith expanded and grow in places where the Reformed faith had not gone.

We are here because they knew that God was able to do far more abundantly than all they asked or thought.

We are here because as the city of Los Angeles exploded in a population boom- men and woman with vision saw this as a way to expand the work of the Gospel beyond those whose last names originated in the moors and hills of Scotland and Ireland. We are here because these men and woman had the vision the God could be glorified in the RP Church through those with various backgrounds. They believed that God could do far more abundantly than all they asked or thought.

This is why we are here.

We are here because as the city became a city dependant on the motor vehicle and people packed up and moved to the newer parts of the city- Highland Park, Eagle Rock, and to the suburbs of Pasadena and Glendale- there were those that had a vision that God was not calling a church to close, but to expand into a new area- because God is able to do far more abundantly than all that they asked or thought.

This is why we are here.

We are here because a generation of saints that have been going into glory in the past two years, we are here because they lived lives that were radically committed to building the kingdom and sustaining the work that God had been doing here for a number of generations. We are here because of their prayers and their gifts and their devotion to Christ and their radical commitment to the kingdom- we are here because they, many of whom you knew- knew that God was able to do far more abundantly than they could ask or think.

This is why we are here.

We are here because as the prices in LA increased and people migrated back East for cheaper housing and to be closer to the center of the denomination, there were those of you who didn’t give up. We are here because despite some predicting the death of what Christ was doing here, there were those who persevered and prayed and knew that God was able to do far more abundantly than all you could ask or think.

That is why we are here.

We are here because a number of you had a vision for renewal that included many hard things- things that would require change, prayer, intense discipleship, and fellowship. We are here because those who were committed to renewal believed that God was able to do far more abundantly than they could ask or think.

That is why we are here.

We are here because last year we adopted a budget by faith that was somewhat obscene- and we are here because last year the Session challenged us all to pray for three new families- and what have we seen?
We have seen that God is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or think.

So why are we are here?

We are here for normal church business, yes. But we are here because we have a vision for what God can do in this city, in Orange County, and even in the Pacific Coast Presbytery.

And today the Lord Jesus challenges us to think big thoughts, and to have big visions, and dream big dreams, and to expect great expectations from him- because he is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.

That is why we are here.

And what should this do for us? Look how verse 21 ends: To him be the glory in the church and in Christ- throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

17 January, 2011

Revive Us! ....But How?

This past week Timothy Keller wrote a blog post on revival and the means in which biblical revival comes. He used the classic book, Sprague's Lectures on Revival of Religion from 1832 to glean five things that are present in genuine revival:

1. Extra-ordinary Prayer
2. Recovery of the Grace in the Gospel
3. Renewed individuals who experience the presence of God
4. Gospel application (counseling) on individuals and and groups
5. The means of grace communicated in a new way.

As helpful as Keller's post was in considering some of the factors that are in involved when God spreads his grace through a congregation, city, or nation in a renewed way; I could not help but think of preaching as the central means that God uses for revival.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "Is it not clear, as you take a bird's eye view of Church history, that the decadent periods in and eras in the history of the Church have always been those periods where preaching has declined? What is it that always heralds the new dawn of a Reformation or a revival? It is renewed preaching. Not only a new interest in preaching but a new kind of preaching. A revival of true preaching has always heralded these great movements in the history of the Church. And of course, when the Reformation and Revival come they have always led to great and notable periods of the greatest preaching that the Church has ever known." Preachers and Preaching, 24.

Does the Church of Christ want revival? If she does then she needs to invest in good preachers. She needs to be committed to equipping and raising up men who have been called to preach with passion, unction, and clarity. And again- this drives us full circle- to prayer. Pray that Christ would raise up men to proclaim the Word in extraordinary ways. Pray that God would revive and reform- and equip our preachers.

06 January, 2011

The Christian and the Sabbath Day (Lord's Day)

A number of Christians today struggle with the principle called Sabbath keeping. Many see the Sabbath as an ordinance that was connected to the Mosaic Ceremonies and as a result deny the binding nature of the Sabbath Day on the New Testament Church.

The problem though is not a problem with the text of the Scriptures though. The problem is in the way that we understand the Scriptures. The Christian Sabbath is binding upon the Church and it is both supported by the historical documents of the Church as well as the Scriptures themselves.

Take for instance the Westminster Standards (WCF, WSC, WLC) and the Reformed Presbyterian Testimony (RPT). These documents defend the Sabbath as a perpetually binding obligation to the New Testament Church. Notice the words of our Confessional documents:

As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in His Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment, binding all men, in all ages, He hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto Him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord’s Day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath. (WCF 21.7)

We reject the teaching that the Fourth Commandment is no longer binding under the New Testament. (RPT 21.11)

Q. What is required in the fourth commandment?
A. The fourth commandment requireth of all men the sanctifying or keeping holy to God such set times as he hath appointed in his word, expressly one whole day in seven; which was the seventh from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, and the first day of the week ever since, and so to continue to the end of the world; which is the Christian sabbath, and in the New Testament called The Lord’s Day. (WLC 116)

Of course, these are only subordinate standards. These documents are not the Word of God. What does the Word of God say in regard to the Sabbath Day?

The Sabbath shows up in the Scriptures long before Moses was ever on the scene. The pattern of six days of work and one day of rest is on the first pages of the Scriptures. God did not need rest, but he was setting up a pattern that was to be followed through-out time. We call this a "creation ordinance." This was not something that was connected to ceremonies, but something that God intended BEFORE sin ever came into the story of mankind.

Genesis 2.1-3 records, "Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation."

Notice here that God rested after the work was created. What was the reason for God resting? It was so that he could set up the pattern for man to follow. Notice that Moses records that because God rested he blessed Sabbath rest and he made Sabbath rest holy. How is that connected to ceremonial law when sin has not entered the world? The answer is that it is not connected to ceremony, but to creation.

We see this again in the 10 commandments. When God gave the moral law to Moses he did so as a way to reflect His own character and to give a visible representation of what expectations he had on his creatures. Who argues that in the New Testament Church that people are now free to commit adultery or free to steal or free to worship other gods? No Christian would argue that these things are allowed in the Church. How is it that the fourth commandment is ripped out of the text of God's moral and perpetual law?

Also notice in the giving of the fourth commandment that God does not say that the law is connected to ceremony. God himself argues that Sabbath rest is a perpetual obligation on all men because of the pattern that He has set. This is BEFORE sin.

Exodus 20:8-11: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." Again, Moses is arguing that the Sabbath is not connected to ceremony, but to morality. God set this pattern up at creation, and God himself argues from the fact that this is a pre-fall moral obligation that is connected to blessedness and holiness.

The Sabbath principle is found through-out the law, the writings, and the prophets as well. A high point in the prophetic writings argue that Sabbath keeping is connected to the well-being of the Church in the Old Testament. Isaiah 58: 13-14 states, “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath, from doing your pleasure on my holy day, and call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

In this text we see that the Sabbath is not connected so much with ceremony either, but with spiritual well-being. The prophets constantly were pointing towards a relationship with God and reminding the people that the ceremonies were only to point towards something better. You would think that Isaiah would use this opportunity to say that the Sabbath only represented something, but he doesn't. Instead he says that the well-being of the Church is connected to the keeping of this moral law. Notice some of the benefits that Isaiah points towards: 1. Taking delight in the Lord. 2. Riding on the heights of the earth. 3. Being fed with a spiritual inheritance.

Has the Church turned from this inheritance? Has the Church stopped delighting in the Lord? Has the Church stopped "riding high" in their relationship with God? If you answer yes, then Isaiah tells us to reexamine our principle of Sabbath keeping. He associates it with revival in the Church, doesn't he?

You may think. Well, Presbyterian Thinker, that is all well and good- but these are Old Testament things. What about the New Testament? Besides the fact that we see the Church in Acts worshiping on the first day of the week, the Lord's Day, as it is called by John, we also see that the principle of Sabbath keeping, or Sabbath rest remains in the Church. Remember this is a moral obligation, not a ceremonial one. The author to Hebrews writes his epistle (or sermon) to defend that Christ is better than all of the ceremonies that were part of the "types and shadows" of the Old Covenant. What an opportunity to let the Church know that the Sabbath keeping is no longer a part of Christian worship.

But he doesn't do that. He actually does quite the opposite- and tells them that despite the fact that all of these ceremonies and types and shadows have gone away- the Sabbath, a Christ-centered, Sabbath rest remains. Hebrews 4.9 argues, "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God." If the author of Hebrews saw Sabbath keeping as something that was done away with as a type or shadow of Christ, then he absolutely fails at this point. Instead of arguing that it is no longer binding, he actually argues that it remains! It is an obligation in the New Testament era.

Now these texts merely scratch the surface of the whole body of texts that deal with Sabbath rest and the Lord's Day. The depth of biblical evidence and historical evidence is overwhelming when one opens their heart and mind to the teaching of the Word of God.

So what's the problem? If the biblical evidence is clear, the Confessional material is clear, and the history of the Church points us to Sabbath keeping, then why does so much of the American Church reject the fourth commandment as a part of God's moral law?

Joel Beeke says it best in the book, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, "The forces of secularization and the rise of the leisure culture, obsessed with pursuing recreations of all kinds, have extinguished concern for Sabbath observance in the general population. Even more tragic is the steady erosion of conviction on the part of Christians. The great damage was done by modernism’s attack on the authority of Scripture, thus undermining and overthrowing all biblical norms for living. However, Fundamentalism must also bear its share of the blame.

Under the influence of Dispensationalism, a growing antinomianism developed in the most conservative circles of American Christians. The Old Testament in general, and the moral law in particular, came to be regarded as monuments of a bygone era. The result has been wholesale destruction of conviction regarding the Sabbath, even among Presbyterians who subscribe to the Westminster Standards–notwithstanding the jarring inconsistency involved! p.112"

Wow! This should really make us do some self-examination! What about today's culture influence the way that we are reading the Scriptures? What about the milieu of modern evangelicalism has actually caused God's law, and the way in which he would have us live, has actually trampled the Word of God? Now a single blog post is not going to change any hearts, but I believe that Christians do need to stop and reflect and ask ourselves whether we have bought into the errors that our culture, and even our church culture has imposed on the Word of God. Is this worth reflecting on? Yes! The Sabbath holds great spiritual freedoms and blessings for the Church- are we putting ourselves in bondage by not walking in this freedom?

Beeke goes on to conclude, "The Sabbath stands as an institution as one as creation itself. It belongs to the order of things as they were at the beginning, before man’s fall into sin. It is as universal as any other creation ordinance, holding the promise of blessing for all mankind. The promise of redemption and its fulfillment only add to the significance of the Sabbath as a day to be observed by the redeemed of the Lord. The Sabbath is a sign of the promise of redemption, both in its fulfillment now, and also the consummation which is yet to be. It is God’s day, a holy day–a day for Christians to keep holy p.115."

Will you reconsider what the Scriptures teach as we walk together towards that Great Day of eternal Sabbath rest?