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A Tongue and A Holy Hill

The title seems a bit vague doesn’t it?  But it is not.  Yesterday I wrote an introductory post on the nature of the noxious and notorious sin of gossip.  I used strong words because our Lord uses strong words.  One of the challenges of teaching and preaching is to not inadvertently reduce the impact of the Word of God’s terminology.  We must let it say what it says and deal with it there.  And when the bible talks about gossip, slander, tale-bearing, and accusations there is little kindness exhibited.

Hear first the Word of our Lord from Psalm 15):

O LORD, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart.
He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD;
He swears to his own hurt and does not change;
He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken.

David speaks of God’s tent and God’s holy hill and they refer to the tabernacle of God and Mount Zion where it would rest until the Temple was built.  It speaks to the presence of God and the ability to dwell with God.  Who is welcomed by God as a worshiper?  That is what is being asked.

To understand this rightly we must remember that it is written to people who belong to the covenant of Moses.  It is not written to those outside of Israel as an invitation to come and worship, but to those who are already “inside.”  But, of course, many in Israel were inside in name only for their hearts were far from God.  And so, in this Psalm, David gives clear instruction as to those whom God receives as worshipers.

Notice that it is focused on character and not position, wealth, power, poverty, or anything else external of the heart.  It is interested in the state of the heart and the overflow of that heart into their lives.  There are six couplets that define a person who is welcomed by God to come and worship:

  1. He approaches life with a seriousness about his works (2a)
  2. He uses speech for righteous reasons (2b-3)
  3. He treats his fellow man properly and respectfully (3b-c)
  4. He is known by those with whom he associates (4a-b)
  5. His word is good (4c)
  6. He is not a lover of money (5a-b)

Now all of these are worthy of expansion but I only will give my attention to the second point.  David deals with the internal speech first (2b).  It is a uprightness of speech and it is that hidden speech that is in his heart.  God despises hypocrisy.  Many a person can smile with his mouth and snarl in his heart.  Many can say the right thing because he is supposed to, but in his heart hate and despise.  But not one who wishes to worship.

Now David consider the external speech (3a). The slanderer’s tongue is a great evil. Slander is speaking that which is false with the intention to hurt.  It is different from gossip, which is speaking that which is true with the intention to hurt–though there is certainly overlap and usually both are present at the same event.

Gossip and slander has many great allies today to help them spread: Text messages, blogs, emails and the ubiquitous cell phone. It is interesting that alongside the grievous sins of sexual immorality and homosexuality listed in Romans 1, that Paul adds the slanderer and the gossip.  The KJV translates them as “whisperers and backbiters.”  J. B. Phillips does it even better by doing, “”whisperers-behind-doors, stabbers-in-the-back.”

Understand this and understand it well, you cannot come to God and worship if your tongue and your heart are filled with hate and evil speech.  You cannot get off the phone having shared your supposed prayer requests and then have a good quiet time with God.  Therefore it is worth one’s time to consider if their lack of spiritual growth is due to a mouth that causes them to be far from God.

The true worshiper has much in which to hope (5c).  He will never be shaken.  There is a depth and stability that comes with being a man or woman of faithfulness and righteousness.  The big talker is just that, a big talker; cheap, they are a dime a dozen. But a faithful person is a rare jewel who is to be treasured.

How are you approaching life?  Are you digging a deep foundation that is upon the Rock of Jesus Christ?  Are you preparing for the storms of life by storing up wisdom now? The promise is certain, you will never be shaken and you shall withstand all that this world shall hurl at you.

What about those who are caught up in gossip and slander?  Recognize that it is deadly and soul-destroying.  Recognize that you are not welcomed by God to come and worship.  You need to set aside your bible and your notes and go be reconciled.  You need to separate from fellow gossipers and you need to begin to put on good, grace-filled language that is timely and beautifully adorned by one established by the gospel of Jesus.

Thoughts for This Sunday

I have been recuperating for the last few days after a stay in the hospital.  The specifics are not important, those who know, know and those who don’t know, don’t need to know.  But today is Sunday, it is almost 9 am and I am preparing to dress and leave for my church.

Not “mine” in the sense that I own it or created it of course, but in the sense that it is the local manifestation of Christ’s body which I have oversight.  No blood of mine redeemed her.  Even if I were to shed the fulness of the blood within, it would change nothing.  But it is still mine as an under shepherd knows that the sheep of his master are his to care and to protect.

So what is this bit of rambling about?  Who knows.  I have many emotions flowing around going to church.  I am actually nervous, and I don’t get nervous.  I have a desire to draw away and use the excuse of the hospital to not go.  The basis for this thinking is nothing more than the sound of crickets.  It is just emotion and not my affections.

Affections are deeper.  They are borne out of conviction and covenant; where a person has made certain decisions and has also decided that he shall be firm in those decisions.  Affections are beautiful and glorious because they remind us of Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.  Who came never to do his will but the will of his Father.  See, those are affections driving him forward and upward to the calling of his Father.  Emotions exist, but they are then left behind in the garden among the sweat and agony.

My affections drive me to church.  They drive me to go and smile to those I love and have given my heart to.  They prompt me to hug a couple of the older ladies and to kiss them on their forehead. My calling is to follow my Lord.  Not really a hard thing in many ways.  I ask, “What am I to be doing?” The Word supplies my answer and then it is merely an issue of faithfulness and obedience.

I am called to bring and to preach the Word, but today it will be preached to me.  So I will submit myself to it and the teacher.  I am called to shepherd the flock, but I suspect that mostly I will just be shepherded by the sheep.  And I will submit to it.  I am call to be an example to follow and that I can still do.  I can show all the love for the Body.  I can show how to come with a heart to serve and and desire to bless.  I can still pray with my brothers and sisters, and fully intend to.  I can still sing my heart out to my Triune God and hear my friends around me sing as well.  And that is what my affections, not my emotions, drive me to do.

So if you will excuse me, I have to figure out what clothes I am going to wear and do a bit of shaving.  I am going to church in a bit.

Pastoral Prayer from Psalm 5

Our Father, it is with hearts that have great need that we come to you today.

Hearts that have sadness.
Hearts that have discouragement.
Hearts that have bitterness or envy.
Hearts that are under great temptation.

So we come today to you as our King and our God.

Oh Father, rise up and strengthen our hearts to trust you fully.
Let us dwell upon your great works and your mercy that is everlasting.
Let us learn to pray with a mind that is expectant, looking for your answer and knowing of your great love for your children.

My Lord and Maker, the words of this Psalm both encourages me and causes me to fear. It is a true statement that

you hate all who sin;
you abhor the murderer and the liar;
you shall destroy all who are not holy and righteous.

And with this in mind, I can only come to you because I have been cleansed by the blood of your own precious Son.

It is through His death and resurrection that any of us can come and let
our needs,
our joys,
our burdens,
and our desires be known to you.

And with that I am eternally grateful.

I give thanks for a salvation that is so complete and so full.
I give thanks that you loved me with an everlasting love that was before I was even created.
I give thanks that you perfectly draw people to yourself through your Son.
I give thanks that none who are saved by Jesus Christ shall be lost.
I give thanks that you have given us the Holy Spirit to guide us, to strengthen us, to teach us, to open our minds to your beauty and your greatness.

Father, we are all guilty sinners here today.

Let those who have trusted in your Son rejoices that they are forgiven and made anew.
And dear Father, will you I ask that you be pleased to bring those here today who are not saved to your Son.
That they would believe in Him and be saved.
That they would finally rest from their own efforts to save themselves and simply find rest and salvation at the Cross of Christ.

What Does It Mean to Worship God?

My Sunday sermon is preached, people through Kenosha from our church are gathering throughout the day to discuss the sermon, encourage and pray for one another, and just relax. But in all of this did worship occur?  John Owen, an old divine from the 1600’s (and also way smart) wrote a treatise entitled Brief Instruction in the Worship of God.  Question 17 (the work is done in a catechism style) is which institutions of the gospel are to be observed in the worship of God?  Here is his answer:

The calling, gathering, and settling of churches, with their officers, as the seat and subject of all other solemn instituted worship; prayer, with thanksgiving; singing of psalms; preaching the word; administration of the sacraments of baptism and the supper of the Lord; discipline and rule of the church collected and settled; most of which have also sundry particular duties relating unto them, and subservient unto their due observation.

Simple, straightforward and easy to follow.  If you go to this link you can read this for yourself and then see all of the bible passages that he connects to this answer to ground it in the Word.  In a word though, yes, we worshiped.

Twizzlers and Lotteries

“We don’t give them [our children] a pound of twizzlers, it will make them sick.

Likewise, I believe it is usually the grace of God to withhold this kind of money from his children.”

The above is my take away quote from this article by Tim Kimberley on whether he should buy a lottery ticket.  I think he is right, though I confess I have bought a few over my life, six to be exact, five of which were bought at one sitting at the request of a relative who gave me the money. And to be honest I knew it was not right.  Sounds sort of judgmental and self-righteous doesn’t it? Let me explain just a tad.

In his excellent article (which by now you should have read) Tim gives several ways he worked through the process of making his decision.  The two key ones were that he did not trust himself to simply give it away to the cause of Christ and second, the massive cost in joy and life that past winners have suffered.  And he is right.  I don’t trust myself further than I can spit (and when I spit it tends to just dribble down my chin three out of four tries).  Money is the great idol of my country, we spend an inordinate amount of time believing that it is what will fix things.  Our decision-making about world crises? Money.  The cause of  violence in our cities? Poverty.  The reason our children come out of school dumber than when they went in? Not enough money spent on teachers.

This hope in the power of money is so much part of what we are that we reveal daily the truth of Jesus’ words, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matt. 6:21 NASB)  But sadly it is so easy to not believe this is true in my heart, no I would be different.  And this is because we do not have a hefty, rich, well-rounded understanding of the biblical description of our hearts and the propensity for idolatry that flows in our hearts even as though redeemed in Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn’t tell us to hope in money, he tells us (commands) to trust in God and keep our eyes on the age to come that will not pass away and where we shall be joint heirs with Jesus. And to the person who says, “If I win the lottery I will give it all away to missions,” I would say that it is better to take the dollar you would spend on it and give that to missions. And every time you are tempted to buy something that is to bring you riches, give the money needed to participate away to missions. And trust in Him who is Lord over all creation to extend His work through His power and might.

Do we believe the words of Jesus that we cannot serve both money and God at the same time? Do we believe the Spirit who tells us that money is the root of all sorts of evil? Solomon said it bluntly, “Riches do not deliver in the day of wrath. . . .” (Prov. 11:4) so why would you pursue it? And finally, does our Lord speak in jest when He says, “A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished.” (Prov 28:20)

Simple Church–Old School

I was born into a Christian home.  My father and mother were first generation believers, both having been gloriously saved by the grace of God and the faithful efforts of a man who belonged to a Plymouth Brethren church.  The result was from my earliest beginnings I was in church.

My church was a Brethren church, which emphasized so many things that today we hear about in missional churches.  Simplicity of worship was central to the church.  And at the very core was a celebration of the Lord’s Supper every week.  We were an Open Brethren church (meaning and professing Christian could partake of the Lord’s Supper), not that I knew what that meant at the time.  For those who have never met a Plymouth Brethren you can read a bit about them here.   They are better at church splits than even the Baptists, which is a pretty impressive (or sad) accomplishment.

However for me, I was raised in a loving church where Jesus was delighted in and trusted fully.  My father was one of the men who helped found that little church and they met in a local YMCA in Littleton, CO.  Today it is a healthy church still preaching the Word and reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  It was led by a small group of elders, my father being one of them.  Out of that group, one eventually came on full time to preach.  This was something very unique in the Brethren world where full time pastors were simply not known.  What may be of interest is who that man is, Alexander Strauch, perhaps best known for his book Biblical Eldership.  He is a man of uncommon grace and kindness and I was blessed to be a part of his ministry, even as a young boy.

At an early age I came to realize that I was excluded from the Lord’s Supper each week.  It was my father who explained the gospel to me and why I could not yet partake of the Lord’s Supper.  Around five years of age I remember waking my father from a nap (which was seldom wise) and told him I wanted to be saved.  I never saw a man roll off a couch so fast.  Kneeling with me beside that couch he asked me many questions related to the gospel and then led me in a simple prayer of trust.  I remember walking away to play puzzled by the tears that were in my father’s eyes, 25 years later I understood them.  The next week in the shallow end of the indoor pool at the YMCA I was baptized by my father as the people sang hymns of thanksgiving.  The week after that, I was given the bread and the cup and remembered my Lord.

Church was a place that you gathered with the saints.  You went to Sunday School and heard bible stories from very nice ladies.  You memorized tons of bible verses and the whole church would gather regularly just to listen to the children recite their verses.  One year I won an inflatable alligator for memorizing the most verses in my age group, I think it was forty-three thousand, but maybe not.

Women in the church were not allowed to speak during the main service.  They all had their heads covered, usually by hats.  In fact some of my worst memories are connected to my mother taking me hat shopping, which was only slightly better than fabric shopping or standing in the dressing room with her while she tried on clothes.  Men, all men who were members, could and would rise and share a devotional thought, a bible passage, a song or a prayer.  An elder would lead that portion, acknowledging them one by one.  There was always two songs reserved for the young kids to pick, and my favorite was Heavenly Sunshine (only the Lord knows why).  At some point, and this is vague in my memory, one elder would bring the message for the day.  Apparently this would occur in a separate service from the Lord’s Supper, but I can’t remember, to me it was all just church.

I look back and realize that the simplicity in worship, the commitment to the Word of God and the love of the gospel is the same as where I am at now.  But such a path to get here.

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