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But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

 

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Psalm 84

Trinity VIII

July 26, 2015

St. Paul’s Anglican Church


“Worshiping the Living God”


In Psalm 84, the psalmist teaches us about public worship!


He begins by describing the place of worship – How amiable are thy dwellings!  In other words, how pleasant, how desirable is Thy meeting place.  What he is trying to say is this – How deeply I appreciate the privilege of entering Thy dwelling place!


So we immediately must ask ourselves, “What is it that makes a place of worship so special?  Is it cleanliness?  Yes.  Is it being well-maintained?  Yes.  Is it being surrounded by beautiful trees?  Yes.  Is it by worshippers dressing worthily?  Yes.  Is it the beauty of hangings and vestments?  Yes.  Lovely altar flowers?  Yes.  Reverence?  Yes.


But something else makes public worship the most special of all – God’s own presence!  My soul – my inner being, he states – has a strong yearning and craving to enter into the courts of the LORD.


He playfully envies the sparrows and the swallows… who have the privilege, he notes, of building their nests as close as they can to the place where Israel enjoys communion with the Almighty!


Then he pronounces a blessing… a beatitude – blessed are all who make the public worship of God a regular part of their lives!  They look forward to meeting the Ancient of Days in worship.  And the strength they receive from Him transforms even their heavy difficulties and burdens into refreshment and rejuvenation!


We must stop here and think for a moment.  With the recent spate of shootings and stabbings of Americans by Americans – perhaps we as a nation should reconsider the atheistic foundation of American public education.  Maybe the boys and girls of the land might benefit being taught how to worship the Almighty… and how to love their neighbors as themselves.  Maybe the problem is not so much the availability of weapons as it is the moral vacuum in which so many young people have been bound and tied!


Indeed, blessed are all – including you and me – who have the worship of God as a regular part of their lives!  


He then offers a prayer to Almighty God for His protection -- that He might preserve His dwelling place among them.  


He sums up his feelings with the observation that even one day of worship in God’s courts is better than a thousand days anywhere else.  He would rather be a doorkeeper at the temple than to dwell in the tents of those who revel in wickedness.


The LORD, he observes, bestows light and protection.  The LORD, he notes, will withhold no good thing from those who walk blamelessly before Him! 


And then he closes his inspired composition with the essence of his joy: How blessed are those who put their trust in God. 


This psalm has many lessons for God’s people!  It is filled with helpful counsel for all of us in the various challenges and difficulties we face daily.  But this morning, let us consider the second half of verse two: my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.  …my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.


Three observations we do well to consider this morning!


First, my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God, he states.  It is not just his contemplation that he offers the Almighty!  It is also his physical presence -- his voice… the bowing of his head… the bending of his knees… the reverence of his movements!


It was Plato who, like all good humanists, set forth his own worldview.  Unfortunately Platonism took root in Christ’s Church and is still wreaking havoc today!  Plato taught that ideas have precedence over actions.  The “spiritual,” he taught, has precedence over the “material.”   But please note the psalmist harnesses both heart and flesh in the worship of the Almighty.


I know it is difficult for all of us to gather here each Sunday morning – some more than others -- especially when compared to the comfort of “sleeping in” or the pleasantness of a leisurely breakfast or the relaxation of “doing nothing” for once.  But hear the testimony of the psalmist: my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.  


Many people say, “I can just as easily worship God out on the golf course or on the bike trail or while walking along the beach or while working in the garden!  But the question we must ask is this: Do they?  Do they really worship and rejoice in the LORD while doing these things?  And if so, can it in any way, shape, or form be construed as “public” worship with others?  The psalmist encourages us to physically meet with other siblings in the Faith to present ourselves in person before our Creator!


Second, the psalmist states: my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.  Someone once said tongue-in-cheek: There are those who spread joy wherever they go (that is, they pass on to others what they have received from the Almighty); but then there are others who spread joy whenever they go (for they are the farthest thing from what could be considered “joyful” people)! 


And this seems to be a pretty apt assessment.  We all have a relatively good idea just how we stack up in this regard.  “But I have a good reason to be bitter … I have a good reason to be upset or disgruntled or crabby,” a person might reply.  Even so, that is not an adequate reason to set aside the pattern established by God for us: my heart and my flesh rejoice.  This is healthy.  This is life-giving!


I have no doubt that God has many children the world over who face such physical problems, such financial difficulties, such great worries, such interpersonal concerns – that they let them squeeze all their joy in God right out of their being!  And they end up the net losers!  It reminds me of the comic showing a frenetic man saying to himself. “Why trust God when I can worry?”  The psalmist offers help to all of us at this point, if we will only hear and heed: my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.  


The faithful Bible commentator, Matthew Henry, was once robbed!  He later would write that though he was robbed, the robbers did not take all that he had!  And furthermore that though he was robbed, they did not take his life!  Can we see the difference!


God deserves an expression of joy from His Family.  In fact, stepping outside of our problems just long enough to rejoice in our Heavenly Father’s loving care and providence just might be the elixir we need!  It certainly was for the 14th-century John Wycliffe when he was wrongfully dismissed from the Board of Regents at Oxford.  It was precisely when he was afterwards looking to God for direction… imploring God for guidance… seeking God’s purposes in his dismissal – and not nurturing his wounds and resentment – that the Almighty directed him to begin translating the Bible into English!  And in this he truly rejoiced! It literally buoyed him and carried him to the end of his days!  He is known today as the “Morning Star” of the Reformation! 


Third, and last, the psalmist states: my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.  


Last Sunday while vacationing in Michigan, we had the privilege of worshipping at a local church camp with family, grandchildren, and extended relatives.  The visiting preacher – a member of the CRC (Christian Reformed Church) gave a great sermon!  In it he pointed out that man’s fallen nature (even in Christians) is so deep and so strong that it will twist and corrupt Christian doctrine!


Under its unrelenting influence, modern man all too often now turns to God – not to escape the power of sin… the strength of evil… the grip of lawlessness – but to acquire fulfillment… obtain self-realization… procure prosperity!  If we look long enough, we can see the malady of self-centeredness has not lessened in the least.  It has rather expressed itself in a new form.  Of such people we might say: their hearts and their flesh rejoice in themselves!


Clement of Rome wrote very clearly and candidly because of his understanding of the conflict of their day.  They were looking to the Ancient of Days continually for survival.  Hear his writing…


(Quote) “Beware, beloved, lest his many benefits turn out to be our condemnation, as will happen if we do not conduct ourselves worthily of him and accomplish in harmony that which is excellent and well pleasing in his sight.  For as it says somewhere, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is a lamp searching out the hidden chambers of the heart.’  Let us realize how near he is, and that none of our thoughts nor any of the rationalizations in which we indulge escape him.  Hence it is right that we should not desert from his will.  Far better to offend foolish and thoughtless men who exalt themselves and take pride in their pretentious utterance than to offend God.  Let us revere the Lord Jesus Christ whose blood was given for us…” (Unquote).


As the psalmist said, my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.  


Let us not soon forget the insightful words of the psalmist set before us this sacred morning.  They will always be of help us in our public worship of God!  my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.  


This is the Word of the LORD.  Amen.

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Psalm 18:1-20

Trinity VII

July 19, 2015


“I Will Love Thee, O LORD”


Life is full of decisions!  They clamor for our attention from the moment we wake up until we retire for the night. 


Decisions with too little information to go on.  Decisions touching life and death.  Decisions concerning the health and well-being of others.


Deminimus decisions -- those with little in the way of consequences.  And absolutely critical decisions which touch upon the fate of nations and civilization itself!  


Life is full of decisions!  We are, as one dear poet put it so well, essentially “infinite decision makers.”  At every fork in the road of life, we must make decisions before we may proceed – and these decisions, individually and collectively, shape our lives and our very existence!


Life can’t give us joy and peace;

It’s up to us to will it.

Life just gives us time and space;

It’s up to us to fill it.


The Bible furnishes us a wealth of information about decisions and concerning how to make them.  God details bad decisions for us -- such as when our first parents decided they were ultimate with God and chose to partake of the forbidden fruit.  God also details good decisions for us, such as when Solomon asked for an understanding mind and the gift to discern between good and evil.  


Life is, indeed, full of decisions!


We must remember that man is not entirely free in this decision-making process!  He is limited.  One of the great contributions of the Reformers in this regard deals with man’s limitations.  It was Martin Luther who wrote his great work, Bondage of the Will in which he reminds us that we are all bound by our natures.  The unregenerate are free to act and decide – humanly speaking -- only according to their fallen nature.  The regenerate are free to act – indeed they are reminded and encouraged to act – in the power and development of their new natures!  


And this morning, you and I are very, very privileged to learn from King David, the psalmist of Israel, an inspired lesson regarding decision making!


The ordeals of his life and of his “ministry,” if you will, were so real, so difficult, but also so beneficial!  And they can be so helpful to us, as well, if we will listen and learn!


His troubles, when in hiding from his father-in-law, King Saul, and the entire military apparatus of Israel that hunted him down as a criminal, he likens unto an overflowing flood.  Like a huge wave that would bury him… a tsunami!


David had unending concerns whether or not he would even live to see the next day!  And he knew he must follow a wise course if he were to survive!  So what did he do?  What was his solution?  What was his path to maintain sanity?  Hear the first six words of this morning’s psalm. They reveal it to you and to me!


I will love thee, O LORD.

I will love thee, O LORD.


This was his pathway to emotional health when traveling through deep waters!  He does not say, “I love thee, O LORD.”  He does not say “I desire to love thee, O LORD.”  He does not even say, “I would like to love thee, O LORD.”  No.  He makes a decision – the all-important decision – and then he articulates it, I will love thee, O LORD.  


I will love thee day and night!  I will love thee through thick and thin.  I will love thee when things go well!  I will love thee when things go from bad to worse!  I will love thee when I have no control of the situations around me!  I will love thee when I have full control of the situations around me!  I will love thee, O LORD.


This was his first and foremost decision of all!  I will love thee, O LORD!  The love he mentions is not a syrupy, saccharine, sentimental love.  It is a robust love of mind, emotions, and volition.  


Like a rope tied to God, the only immovable reference point in life, his prayer offered sanity and psychological well-being when all other human resources failed him.  


To pull himself out of the slew of despair and the quicksand of despondency and the mire of bitterness, he repeated the healing words, I will love thee, O LORD.  When he gasped for the breath of life and for comfort of soul and for the assurance that someone cared for him, he intoned the words, I will love thee, O LORD.  And in so doing, he soon found that he had pulled himself back to safe and solid ground!


Many elements in life are truly out of our control!  But we should remember that our response to each of them is fully in our control!  Many people and events and trials and vicissitudes of live – which bring us difficult and painful and demanding lessons – we cannot control.  But it is fully given to each of us to control how we respond to them, and to wring victory from them for us and for those around us.  


I will love thee, O LORD was the touchstone of David’s life!  And it should be ours as well!  It reflects the first and great commandment given us by Christ: to love God with all of our hearts and all of our souls and all of our minds and all of our strength.  Are we surprised then to find them at the forefront of David’s life?  I will love thee, O LORD.  


The story is told of a very dear, old, and wise man who was once approached by a group of nasty teenagers who approached him to have some fun with him!  One of the boys had caught a small bird and was holding it in his hand.  All that could be seen was its frightened face and beak!


“Old man, is the bird dead or alive?” he asked.  The old man looked, trying to figure out what was happening.


“Old man, is the bird dead or alive?” he taunted.  And then finally the old man figured out the nature of the game they were playing.  


If he were to say, “The bird is dead,” then the boy would simply open his hand and let the bird fly into the sky – and he would be made to look foolish. If he were to say, “The bird is alive,” then the boy would simply break the bird’s neck and drop it on the ground in front of the old man, again making him to appear ignorant.  Either way, he would be the loser.


“Old man, is the bird dead or alive?” came the final taunt.  


He carefully and slowly and gently replied, “The fate of the bird is with you!  It is you who will decide whether he lives or dies!  His outcome will be as you choose!”  And with that, he walked away.


And so it is with us!  All matters will be – humanly speaking -- as we decide.  They will end up as we decide – for good or for evil.  For righteousness or for wickedness.  For faith or for folly.


He has placed our response to the issues of life in our hands.  It is a great privilege.  But it is also a terrible responsibility.  It will be as we decide.


There are many decisions in life!  May they all be colored by the primary decision always before us – stated so well by King David, of old: I will love thee, O LORD.


Amen.

Psalm 71

Trinity VI

August 12, 2015

St. Paul’s Anglican Church


“A Safe Place”

Everyone needs a safe place in life.  To sleep.  To work.  To worship.  To think.  And we should thank the Almighty that we have all been entrusted with such safe places -- for we all too often take them for granted.


I recently read the endearing and spellbinding story of a dear woman named Renata Calverly who escaped Nazi Germany when she was two years old – because of a safe place offered her by her Christian nanny after her mother and grandmother had died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.


“Where was the hiding place?” you ask.  You would never guess… not in a thousand years!  Her hiding place was located under her nanny’s long, loose skirts!  It was an audacious plan from the start that worked to perfection because the little girl had been taught to obey!  O-B-E-Y.  And not to be afraid!  And to follow instructions promptly!  They practiced walking together as one… silently – and little Renata learned to feel warm and safe and secure in her dark little hiding place under her nanny’s skirts!  And thereby she found freedom!  She still dreams today about those hard days 74 years ago permanently tucked away in the early cells of her memory bank!


David was clearly looking for such a safe place in the psalm read together this morning!  Several clues are woven into the text which lead us to conclude it was written when he was being pursued by his own son, Absalom.  David tells us twice that he was then old, which accords well with the chronology of the detailed events leading up to what has come to be known as “Absalom’s Rebellion.”  And David mentions his own enemies, who presumably took advantage of the situation to lead Absalom in such a dark and daring deed – and thus satisfy their hatred against King David!


In verse two King David cries out to God for a “safe place” in life!  He employs three key words.  First…  Be thou my stronghold, whereunto I may always resort.  Not a weak “fall apart” place, but a strong “hold together” place!  A stronghold!   Second and third… Thou hast promised to help me, for thou art my house of defenceand my castle.


So there you have it – strongholdhouse of defencecastle.  This to me is absolutely spellbinding… fascinating… incredibly attractive, if you will… to see the aged King David on the run figuring out “Plan A”… “Plan B”… Plan “C” – while calling upon the Ancient of Days to be to him what rulers today sneer and scoff at – a stronghold… a house of defence… a castle of protection!  It is inspiring… it is humbling… it is inviting… it is appealing… it is absolutely priceless!


It is David at his finest under God’s providence!  


These words all fall under the reach of the term “sanctuary” – a place of refuge or safety.  Today we have bird sanctuaries, animal sanctuaries, and even plant sanctuaries!  From the Latin sanctuarium… which comes from sanctus --  holy!  A holy place of protection.  A holy place where those accused of crimes are protected from injustice.


This most assuredly is shaped to a large degree by God’s provision in the Old Testament of six Cities of Refuge which He commanded for the Promised Land where those guilty of manslaughter could escape “blood vengeance” and obtain the right of asylum – a place of safety -- until their case could be heard by the city elders in the gate.  This also shaped America’s practice of guaranteeing her citizens a fair trial by a jury of peers. 


The Medieval Church continued this practice of furnishing sanctuary toward the establishment of justice for hundreds of years until it was finally abolished in Europe at the end of the 17th century.


This has once again been in the news of late – except this time churches are not furnishing the sanctuary – but cities… American cities (roughly 200 of them) – are furnishing sanctuary… immunity from what?  Immunity from United States immigration laws.  Instead of the Biblical emphasis on preserving justice, the humanistic imitation emphasizes lawlessness.  And a very sad brand at that!  Its lawless nature – and lawless outcome -- were recently on display in San Francisco when a young woman walking with her father on Pier 14 was shot dead by a felon who was protected by San Francisco’s sanctuary policy.   


How far we have -- regrettably -- wandered from the Biblical model.


It is most interesting to me that the heart of a church is called the “sanctuary.”  We enter in through the “narthex” of the church  We sit in the “nave” of the church.  But at the heart of the worship service we approach the Lord our God at the sanctuary at its chancel rail.


This is based, of course, upon the Holy of Holies located first in the Old Testament Tabernacle, and then also in the Solomonic Temple!


Each Sunday we come to this holy place where we are granted immunity – sanctuary… safety… a safe place – from our sins through repentance.  And instead of fearing God as One bringing us punishment  (for His justice has been met by Christ’s atonement)… we commune with Him at the rail in confidential silent conversation.  And instead of receiving judgment and retribution we communicate with Him -- the older sense of the word communicate means to “receive” from Him – grace and support and help and assistance.  The very selfsame things God granted to David in his day when he petitioned the Almighty for sanctuary.


The Eucharist – or Holy Communion – is a sacrament… which means “sacred thing.” It is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace ordained by Christ Himself – which we receive by faith.


The civil ruler according to the Bible is to be God’s minister of justice – His justice -- not a sanctuary from justice.


Christ’s Church is to be God’s minister of reconciliation (between man and God… and between man and man)… a ministry of regeneration and reconstruction of life!  


With King David, of old, we are wise to ask the LORD to be our stronghold… our house of defence… our castle!


We all need a safe place in life!  And this He gladly gives us as we follow Him!


World without end. Amen. 

Psalm 1

Trinity V

July 5, 2015

St. Paul’s Anglican Church


“Identity Confusion and Its Cure”


This morning, let us address briefly the subject of “identity confusion.”


“Identity confusion”?  “What in the world are you talking about?  Now I am confused,” you say.  “Are you sure you didn’t mean ‘identity theft’”?  


I only wish I were addressing “identity theft.”  But you heard right -- “identity confusion.”  “Identity confusion” is prevalent now in the news.  It is the subject of an incredible amount of discussion and debate!


It was in a sense made famous by California Assembly Bill 1266 which became law and went into effect last year – dealing with students who supposedly have confusion regarding their gender identity (that is why it is called “identity confusion”).  The new California law allows “transgender” students to use public school facilities such as bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms corresponding to their “gender identities.”


I know this sounds unreal, but what I have just described is true.  The reason I know it is true is because incoming Canterbury families tell us they are trying to shield their children from this moral quagmire.  They seek a school where teaching and restroom usage reflect the good old fashioned teachings of the Bible!  Boys.  And girls.


But before God this morning we must discuss an equally serious “identity confusion” found inside Christ’s Church.  Not necessarily here at St. Paul’s, but certainly at other churches in our own community.  We might term these individuals “trans-spiritual Christians” for they are in the grip of a serious confusion in their spiritual identity and spiritual orientation.  


What does that mean?  It means there are Christians… who are truly confused regarding who they are as Christians… regarding what they believe as Christians… and regarding why as Christians they are here on God’s earth!


When confronted with issues demanding a robust Biblical faith on their part, they immediately switch identities and “blend in” with the world just like the proverbial chameleon.  Their foundations are so small and so unstable that when called upon to emulate the life of Jesus Christ in some difficulty, all too many become trans-spiritual and slide into the ways of the world.


When trans-spiritual Christians participate in public opinion polls, their responses are hauntingly close to those of the worldlings of our day!  Their outlook is similar to the conversation I had with a visitor at St. Paul’s earlier this year regarding the “marriage debate” recently settled by the Supreme Court.  The visitor said, “I may not myself want to participate in it, but I believe everyone else should be free to participate in it.” 


When you let go of God and the Bible, there is no telling where you will end up – because you have lost your reference point!  The older I get and the more I see – the more serious do I understand Christ’s mandate to His Church… to be the light of the world and the salt of this earth!


Good thing the Bible gives us a pathway to healing for all who are in any way challenged by “identity confusion”!  Please consider the following…


First, we are told there are only two pathways in life – which lead to two different and opposite destinies!  The way of the ungodly.  And the way of the LORD.  There is a dangerous outcome for those who walk according to the counsel of the ungodly, which at times seems so rational and promising.  They soon find themselves standing in the way of sinners.  And if they do not start walking away, their last and final state is where they perish – seated among the scornful (converted to the cynical worldview of those who can only mock what they observe)!  The words “cynic” and “canine” come from the same root word.  In the end, both can see only the same thing – as they together look down into the dirt which is all around them!  So you see the progression – walking… standing… sitting!  If we would find our true identity, we need to get up and walk away from ungodliness!  Follow me, our Lord still commands today.


I am reminded of the life of Malcolm Muggeridge (1903-1990) – one of the greatest communicators I have ever heard or read -- who in his youth was enamored with socialism and communism and the glowing reports of utopia coming out of the Soviet Union in the 1920s!  He and his wife, Kitty lived there in the 1930s for some time in order to report for the British newspaper, Manchester Guardian.  Someone there told him they were only seeing what the authorities wanted them to see; they needed to visit the Ukraine to see the real outcome of communism.  This they did, without permission, and seeing the genocide of ten million or so people through starvation, they returned to Britain where they became Christians -- never to return to the Soviet Union again.  They put their talents to good use for God!  But the point is that they got up and left the seat of the scornful.  This is something we are all called to do.


Our true identity is made possible only by first of all rejecting the ways of this world.  By getting up and fleeing to Christ.


Second, our true identity comes from knowing the One who created us.


Verse two speaks of delighting in the law of the LORD and meditating in His laws – which reflect His mind, His heart, His will, and His designs for His earth and those who inhabit it! 


The Apostle John tells us in the Gospel account bearing his name (17:3): And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. 


Colossians 3:3 reminds us:  …your life is hid with Christ in God.


It was St. Augustine who so famously summarized his conversion and transformation – and found his identity at the age of 31-years:


Late have I loved Thee, O Lord; and behold,
Thou wast within and I without, and there I sought Thee.
Thou was with me when I was not with Thee.
Thou didst call, and cry, and burst my deafness.
Thou didst gleam, and glow, and dispell my blindness.
Thou didst touch me, and I burned for Thy peace.
For Thyself Thou hast made us,
And restless our hearts until in Thee they find their ease.
Late have I loved Thee, Thou Beauty ever old and ever new.
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