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By In Worship

God For Us: A Baptismal Exhortation

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8.31)

Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, who of your great mercy saved Noah and his family in the ark from perishing by water; and also safely led the children of Israel, your people, through the Red Sea, which was a type of holy Baptism; and by the Baptism of your well-beloved Son Jesus Christ, in the river Jordan, sanctified water to the mystical washing away of sin: We beseech you, for your infinite mercies, that you would mercifully look upon this Child; wash her and sanctify her with the Holy Spirit; that she, being delivered from your wrath, may be received into the ark of Christ’s Church; and being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in charity, may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally she may come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with you age after age, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

“God for us” is the promise and comfort of the gospel of Jesus Christ to all those who love God.

“God for us” is the assurance that we have that no matter what happens in this life all of it must be working together for our good.

“God for us” means that God has fully invested himself in those who are in Christ Jesus to see the work started in us completed.

“God for us” is the assurance that before the foundations of the world, God set his love upon us, determining that we would be his.

“God for us” means that even with the entrance of sin into the world, with all of the pain, heartache, and trouble that it brings, God is still at work on our behalf.

“God for us” is his giving himself to us fully in love, demonstrated preeminently at the cross, where he definitively suffered the penalty for our sins in Christ Jesus.

“God for us” is his victory over the grave, declaring that in Christ Jesus we are fully forgiven and stand righteous before him.

“God for us” is his giving us the gift of the Spirit so that we would be joined to him in the Son, bound in love to the eternal Trinity.

“God for us” means that he makes promises to us in the waters of baptism, and he will not fail to keep those promises.

“God for us” means that, empowered by his Spirit, he has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness; there is nothing that we lack to live a faithful life.

This morning God declares to Elizabeth Archer that he is for her. He lives and does all that he does for her.

In the weakness of her infancy, he is for her, demonstrating that by joining her to himself through the waters of baptism.

Even when she is powerless, he is powerful for her; embracing her and protecting her. God is for her.

And if God is for her–if God is for us–then who can be against us? Who can withstand the power of his protection over us?

Who can come against us and penetrate that love so as to pry her loose from the love of God? There is nothing that can defeat the love of God that we enjoy in Christ Jesus.

This love that God is promising to Elizabeth this morning, this love that he has promised to all of us in baptism, is love that demands a response.

This love is only found in Christ Jesus. God is for us in Christ. He is only for us in Christ.

God is for those who love him, and those who love him are those who love his Son and have pledged their allegiance to him.

The promises of God should never be presumed upon. Never should we think that God is for us if we have set ourselves up as his enemies by living contrary to his will.

Elizabeth must lay hold of the promises of God for her by faith throughout the rest of her life.

Caleb and Rachel, by virtue of her birth in your family, God has given you the stewardship of his child.

As ministers of his church and for the sake of his church, you must be faithful in discipling her. She must grow up in her faith.

God has given you everything you need to do this. He has given you the church, and through the church, the Word, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship to strengthen you in your duty.

Stay faithful. Demonstrate the beauty of love for God to Elizabeth so that she will desire it with all of her heart.

Teach her that God is for her, and that as she perseveres in the faith, there will be nothing that can come between her and the love of her God.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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By In Worship

Prayer: Our Words In The Word

In the beginning the Speaker spoke the Word. The Word went out from the Speaker, carried along by the Breath, and the world was created, formed, and filled. Speaker, Word, and Breath working in loving, powerful union with one another to create from nothing everything that is.

The height of this creative activity was the creation of man himself, the image of God. He is a creaturely word; a revelation of God within the creation. This form fashioned from the dust of the ground was himself filled with the Spirit-Breath of God. This Spirit empowered him to take the creation given to him and, by word and deed, follow in the image of God to create, arrange, form, and fill this creation so that it will one day reflect God’s own heavenly throne room. This is his dominion task.

The dominion man is to take over the world is not some impersonal job handed down to him from a distant God. The man is a part of the divine family. God has called him into the family business of creating. He can’t do this apart from the rest of the family. He is not God himself after all. He, like the Triune God, must work in concert with the family. Man is dependent upon Father, Son, and Spirit–Speaker, Word, and Breath–to take the dominion over the creation.

Central to this mission, therefore, is to be in prayerful communion with the Triune God. Man is a co-laborer with God. God doesn’t do the work apart from man, and man doesn’t do the work apart from God. God has sovereignly chosen to act in this way.

The Divine Family is still working as they did in the original creation, and we who belong to the family now participate in this creation project. We have been united to God the Father–the Speaker–in the Son–the Word–by the Spirit–the Breath. Now being “in the Word” we are “words of God.” Being given the Spirit at Pentecost, we are words of the Speaker being carried along by the Breath of God to create, arrange, form, and fill the world so that it comes to look like the kingdom of God. Our words do this, not because they are mechanical, not because they are always theologically precise, but because we share the life of God himself, the Creator of all. The Spirit helps our weaknesses; when we don’t have just the right words or we haven’t done things just right. Because we share life with him, he is more than making up for our weaknesses.

Within this creation project we share with God, prayer is indispensable. In prayer we are caught up in the Trinity to participate in this power that God himself exercises over and in the world. There are other activities that are necessary to our taking of dominion, but nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important than prayer. Nothing can replace it. While we all have different gifts of the Spirit to accomplish the mission of the church, we all share the ability and responsibility to pray.

If the church is to accomplish her mission, then prayer will need to be central to her life together. Prayer cannot be subordinate to all of the other activities that go on in the church. We are not a “house of social gatherings,” or a “house of support groups.” We are first and foremost a house of prayer (Isa 56.7). If the church forgets this most fundamental activity in her life together, we have become only another civic organization. Yes, we may grow great crowds because people “feel connected” or there is so much for them to do. But if prayer is not central to the life of that group of people, the church is not being what she was called to be and her mission cannot be accomplished.

In love our God bids us to join him in his creative work through prayer. He desires that we share the fullness of his life. What could be a higher and more beautiful privilege? Why would we let ourselves be distracted from the disciplines of prayer by lesser things?

You, dear Christian, are imbued with power because of your membership in the divine family. Though many times imperceptible to you, when you pray, the world is changing. Give yourself to prayer. Pray individually. Pray with your family. Pray with the church. Pray.

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By In Worship

What To Pray?

What the world needs now is a crazed Muslim leader in the Middle East who has nuclear capabilities to launch a nuclear weapon at the USA. The world needs Christians to suffer and die at the hands of atheistic Communists and rabid Muslims. America needs abortion to continue to be legal for decades to come. Aunt Lucy needs to be diagnosed with stage four cancer. Uncle Joe needs to be in an accident so that he loses a leg. Henrietta needs to lose her child to leukemia. We and the rest of creation need these horrible things.

Who would ever think such things? Who would ever pray for such things? No one that I know.

However, in the infinite wisdom of God, situations like these may indeed be necessities. I know it is repulsive to you. It churns my stomach as well. But so does the cross, yet it was a necessity. Jesus told his disciples on a number of occasions that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem to suffer and die at the hands of Israel’s leaders (cf. e.g., Matthew 16.21). They couldn’t grasp it at the time because it was a category mistake. Messiah doesn’t suffer defeat. He wins. How could this be necessary? To kill the Messiah would be sin. How is sin necessary?

I’m not telling you that I understand why these are necessities. I’m only telling you that they are. God raises up Pharaohs, Assyrians, and Babylonians to oppress his people, and prophets such as Habbakuk have problems with it too. He turns the devil loose on his faithful servant Job to bring him to the point of death. He raises up scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Roman governors to kill his Son. These are all necessities.

But would you pray for such things? No. But then again, you don’t know what to pray for as you ought; you don’t know what the world needs. So says Paul in Romans 8.26. We see the creation groaning. We groan when we participate in the suffering and see others suffering. We pray for deliverance. And we should. We know that this is not the way things ultimately ought to be. The created order is in disarray, and we want it set right. That’s proper. Praying toward that end is the right thing to do. Jesus taught us to pray that way.

But how God is getting us there is just as mysterious to us as it was for the disciples when Jesus told them that it was necessary for him to suffer and die. We don’t know what the world needs exactly in this or that situation. We don’t know what we need. Our perspective is limited, not only because we’re sinners, but because we’re creatures. God has not afforded us the perspective that he has on the world. He is the wise one who knows how everything–even sin–fits together and is working toward the good of his people and the rest of creation. No matter how much wisdom we mature into in our lifetimes, our wisdom will never be God’s wisdom. There will never be a time when we know exactly what to pray; when we know precisely what is needed in every situation.

The Spirit helps us in this weakness (Rom 8.26). However, he doesn’t help us by giving us the exact words to pray so that we can get a grasp on the situation and fix it. The Spirit groans with us, never giving us the relief of putting it into words. He never gives us that leverage over the world. We are called to suffer in prayer with the world, and the Spirit comes and suffers with us, interceding for us.

And the Father understands the Spirit’s groanings. He knows the mind of the Spirit, and he will give us and the creation what we need. We can be assured of that.

In light of this, praying in faith is not claiming this healing or really believing that God will remove this oppressor if you pray long enough. Praying in faith is following the prayer life of our Lord himself who prays, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” Praying in faith is submitting all those things we think are necessities to the wisdom of the Father. Yes, we ask him for the things we think we need. But we trust the will of our loving heavenly Father to do what is best for us and the creation. We know that our Father will not give us a serpent when we ask for a fish. He will not give us a scorpion when we ask for an egg (Luke 11.11-12). He will give us good gifts, even when they come in packages of suffering.

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By In Music, Podcast, Worship

Episode 8b, Fighting Musical Relativism in the Church with James B. Jordan

In part two of this series on music, Jarrod Richey again interviews James B. Jordan, scholar in residence at the Theopolis Institute (Birmingham, Alabama) and founder of Biblical Horizons.

On this podcast, Jordan addresses the question of the appropriateness of music in worship, the use of chant in the Protestant tradition, and musical instruments.

Jordan makes the argument that “worship shouldn’t sound like the rest of the week.” He acknowledges that this often makes modern worshippers uncomfortable, but points to John Calvin’s example of teaching the Genevan Psalter, then strange and unfamiliar to the adults, to children. “Do you want you children growing up not knowing the psalms?” asks Jordan. “Or are you willing to set aside what makes you feel good for the sake of your kids?”

Demystifying chant, Jordan points out that part of the problem is the English language itself. He explains that “other languages don’t have two different words for sing and chant.” Jordan surveys the various Protestant uses of chant and explains the surprisingly recent history of what we think chanting sounds like.

Finally, James B. Jordan offers practical wisdom for pastors and worship leaders on how to develop music in their local congregations. “Don’t do anything that calls attention to yourself,” says Jordan, who prefers to see the leaders in worship as servants, not performers. On the issue of instruments in Worship, Jordan playfully tackles to the controversy of guitars and explains how the pipe organ most fully respects the orchestral dignity of the worship service.

Subscribe to the Kuyperian Commentary Podcast on iTunes and Google Play.

About James B. Jordan

James B. Jordan Theopolis Biblical Horizons His father was a professor of French Literature and his mother a piano teacher and a poetess. Jordan graduated from the University of Georgia in 1971 with a degree in Comparative Literature and studies in music and political philosophy. He finished his master’s degree in systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia and was awarded the D. Litt. degree from the Central School of Religion, England, in 1993.

Jordan is the author of several books, including The Sociology of the Church (1986); Through New Eyes: Developing a Biblical View of the World (1988); Creation in Six Days (1999); and several books of Bible exposition, worship, and liturgy.

Music:

Psalm 119 – Psalm Sing, Christ Church, Moscow, ID.
Rendition of Psalm 119 by Dr. David Erb.

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By In Theology, Worship

Sola Scriptura is the Church’s Language, Part 1

As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 1517, I would like to offer some thoughts on the implications of Sola Scriptura in the Christian experience. In these two short articles, I’d like to elaborate on at least three consequences of this doctrine:

First, Sola Scriptura is the Church’s language. Second, Sola Scriptura is God’s language. And finally, Sola Scriptura unites our language.

The Church’s Language

In the late medieval era, Sola Scriptura was the rallying cry of this new movement called the Reformation. The Reformers, led by Luther and Calvin and many others, expressed their gratitude to the God who made the heavens and the earth for His revealed word. The Apostle Paul says in I Thessalonians 2:13:

We thank God continually for this, that when you received the message of God from us, you welcomed it not as the word of [mere] men, but as it truly is, the Word of God, which is effectually at work in you who believe.

The Church of our Lord has since its early days feasted on the richness of God’s word. As Van Til once wrote: “The Bible is God’s love letter to his bride.” This love letter, through the body of Christ, has saved orphans, built hospitals, adopted, and contributed for the good of society because the Church believed what God commanded. The city of Geneva where Calvin pastored and where the Scriptures were taught faithfully was known all over the world for its generosity to the poor and needy. It is true that Christians have ignored biblical truth leading to some damaging practices, but the vast majority of the Christian population led by the authority of the Bible and the ministry of the Church has served this world in beautiful ways since the Early Church. Paul says that this word which you have received and welcomed is truly the Word of God. These are not the words of uninspired men, but the very words of God working in men and women in the Church to change and transform not only themselves but their surroundings.

The Roots of Sola Scriptura

In the Reformation, the Scriptures returned to their proper place, shaping the language, liturgy, and life of the Church. The classical and historical Christian worship found in many Reformed churches today reminds us weekly from where our language comes. It originated from an early church that believed in the authority and sufficiency of the Bible.

The authority of the Bible causes the church to develop habits of gratitude. One way the liturgical church makes this clear is that at the end of every Scripture reading the people respond together by saying, “Thanks be to God.” This is our way of expressing thanks for Sola Scriptura. When our children are nurtured in this environment each Sunday, they have no other option but to contemplate the Bible. The Church’s language ought to be scriptural language. It’s precisely when we abandon the church’s language that the Church abandons the authority of the Bible.

One of the most important studies on why people return to church after years of being away from church was done by Dr. Tom Rhainer. He observed that the main reason people once unchurched came back to church and stayed in the church was not primarily for the music—which by the way, out of the ten reasons, music was #8—but because churches taught the Bible. The second reason people come back to church after not being in church for many years is when churches hold firmly to their convictions. This explains the phenomenon of why mainline churches—that is, historic denominations that no longer believe in the authority of the Bible– are declining rapidly in the last two decades. The Church must proclaim in Word and Sacrament the authority of the Bible. Sola Scriptura must form our language.

Spurgeon once expressed marvel at a pastor who was saturated in the Bible and said:

“Why, this man is a living Bible! Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him.”

Similarly, the Church needs to be bibline; living and singing God’s revelation as a demonstration of submission to God’s inspired Word.

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By In Worship

What is Pentecost?

Many Christians know little about the Church Calendar, which means that many evangelicals will treat this Sunday like any other day. This Sunday marks the beginning of the Ordinary Season (not in the mundane or common sense, but the term comes from the word “ordinal,” which probably means “counted time”). This season is composed of 23-28 Sundays, and it fleshes out the mission of the Church. To put it simply, Pentecost is the out-working of the mission of Jesus through his people.

Some pastors–myself included–usually take these few months to focus on passages and topics pertaining to the specific life of the Church, and how the Church can be more faithful and active in the affairs of the world. The Pentecost Season emphasizes the unleashing of the Spirit’s work and power through the Bride of Jesus Christ, the Church.

Liturgically, many congregations wear red as a symbol of the fiery-Spirit that befell the Church. The Season brings with it a renewed emphasis on the Church as the central institution to the fulfillment of God’s plans in history. As such, it brings out the practical nature of Christian theology. Joan Chittister defines Pentecost as “the period of unmitigated joy, of total immersion in the implications of what it means to be a Christian, to live a Christian life” (The Liturgical Year, 171).

Pentecost as Spirit-Work

There is a Spiritlessness in Reformed teaching and worship today. Pentecost exhorts us to be spiritual (Spirit-led) while emphasizing the titanic involvement of the Third Person of the Trinity in beautifying the world to reflect the glory of the Father and the Son.

Calvin was known as the “Theologian of the Spirit.” This is hardly manifested in many of his followers who tend to flee from the implications of a Spirit-led anything, choosing a mental overdose of theological categories. However, the Spirit is crucial to the forming and re-forming of any environment. It communicates our thoughts, emotions, and prayers to our Meditator. The Third Person of the Trinity emotionalizes and intercedes on our behalf in the midst of our ignorance (Rom. 8:26-30).

Further, the Spirit draws individuals (John 6:44) to enter into one baptized community of faith. The Spirit, in the words of James Jordan, is the “divine match-maker.” He brings isolated individuals into a Pentecostalized body, a body that has many parts, but one Head.

So, let us embrace this Season! Let us join this cosmic Pentecostal movement and embrace the mission of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

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By In Family and Children, Worship

10 Ways to Keep Easter this Easter Season!

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Is Easter over?

Theologically, we know that the earthquake of Easter will reverberate until the Second Coming of Messiah. And liturgically, Easter is in no way over. In fact, Easter has just begun. The joy of Easter carries on until June 3rd, which means we still have 49 days of Eastertide. Easter is far from over and there is much more rejoicing to do in the next seven weeks.

The difficulty for many of us is keeping this Easter enthusiasm for such a lengthy period. The reason many evangelicals are ready to get to the next thing is because they lack a sense of liturgical rhythm. Lent took us through a 40-day journey, but the Easter joy takes us through a 50-day journey. Easter is superior to Lent not only in length of days but also in the quality of its mood. Lent prepares us to a journey towards Calvary, while Easter takes us through a victory march. Through Easter, we are reminded to put away our sadness and embrace the heavenly trumpet sound to all the corners of the earth. “He is risen!, He is risen!, He is risen!” The devil trembles, the enemies fear, the forces of evil shake, the sound of sin is silenced when death was defeated.

What does this mean? It means we must be busy in the business of celebrating. For dads and moms, young and old, we have much to do to preserve and pervade this season with jubilance. I want to offer ten ways we can do that in the remaining 49 days of Easter. a (more…)

  1. I unashamedly used some of the options from this great resource  (back)

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