Monday, December 31, 2012

12/31/12- 21st Century Westminster Shorter Catechism

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Thoughts: Why memorize a catechism?  Above Paul was quoting the words of the Lord (also found in Luke 22:19) that obviously had been passed down orally through memorization.  "Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord that He may lift you up" (James 4:10; 1 Peter 5:6) seems to be a pre-catechism saying.  Remember, at the time, these words were not Old Testament canonized scripture- but important teachings passed down by memory from one Christian to another- seen as worth preserving.  That really is what a catechism is.  The Westminster Shorter Catechism is the most used catechism in Protestantism.  I have blogged on it all year.  At the end of this year I wanted to summarize my blogs by presenting the Westminster Shorter Catechism in a new, 21st century translation.  In 1986 Douglas Kelly (of Reformed Theological Seminary) and Phillip Rollinson re-translated the Westminater Shorter Catechism thus making it come alive again and easier to understand.  However, even since 1986, with the steep secularization of our society, some of the theological words used in that translation have lost their meaning.  As we all know from glancing at the King James Version, language changes. thus the need to keep things up to date is to keep the documents and thoughts alive. 

Prayer: Help me, O Lord, in the coming year, to grow in my knowledge of you and the teachings that have been passed down.  Give me grace to not break the chain of faith and teaching, but to be faithful to you.  

Introduction: In the early church, there was no standard curriculum for everyone to conform to.  Each church taught their children their beliefs.  In the Reformation, each reformer had his own catechism- Luther had his, Calvin had his.  In fact, it could be said that each language or large regional group had their own catechism.  Scripture and the memory of it, are much more essential a tool than the teaching of a catechism.  Yet, the catechism is not to be downplayed, as it summarizes and points to scripture, and helps us to strive for right belief.  No book, no human writing is a substitute for God’s Word.  Yet God also leads His people in smaller ways through the wisdom of the ages.  My hopes are to give this wisdom new life by this new translation of a catechism that is more up to date with the language and terms of our day.  Language changes.  We only have to look at the 1647 catechism (or the King James version) and the way we no longer use its words or pronouns to see that.   The translation and grammar rules were only means to relate the essence and concepts being conveyed.  If people turn away from ancient wisdom simply because it is hard to understand at first blush, then we have lost the wisdom of the ages- which we always need. This was written for the believers in the church, by a pastor of a church so that the teachings of the church would not be forgotten in the pressure of everyday life. 

Q. 1: "What is the main goal of human life?"
A: "The main goal of human life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever."

Q. 2-  What standard from God directs us how we might glorify and enjoy Him? 
A: The Word of God, which is found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only standard to direct us how we might glorify and enjoy Him. 

Q. 3- What is the main teaching of the scriptures?
A: The main teaching of the scriptures is we are to believe about God and what God requires us to do.

Q4- Define God.
A: God is a Spirit, whose being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth are all infinite, eternal, and unchangeable. 

Q. 5- How many God's are there?
A: There is only one, the living and true God.

Q. 6- In how many persons does this one God exist?
A: Three persons exist in the one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  These three are one God, the same in substance, and equal in power and glory.

Q. 7-What are the plans of God?
A: The plans of God are, his eternal purposes based on His will, which for His own glory, He foreordains everything that happens.

Q. 8- How does God carry out His plans?
A: He carries out His plans in the works of creation and providence.

Q. 9. What is creation?
A: Creation is God’s making everything out of nothing by His powerful word in six days – and all very good.  

Q. 10. How did God create human beings?
A: God created human beings, male and female, in His own image and in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, to rule over the other creatures.

Q. 11. What is God’s providence?
A: God’s providence is His completely holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing every creature and every action.

Q. 12- In God’s special providence, what did He do for the human beings He created?
A: After God created us, He made a covenant with us to give us life, if we perfectly obeyed Him;  God told the first humans not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, upon pain of death.

Q. 13- Did our first parents stay as they were created?
A: Left to the freedom of their own wills, our first parents sinned against God and fell from their original condition.

Q. 14- What is sin? 
A: Sin is not heeding or breaking God’s law in any way.

Q. 15- What sin caused our first parents to fall from how they were created?
A: Eating the forbidden fruit.

Q. 16- Did all human beings fall in our first parents’ sin?
A: Since the covenant was made not only with our first parents but also for those who naturally descended from them; all human beings, fell with them in their first sin.

Q. 17- What was the condition of human beings brought by the fall?
A: Human beings fell into a condition of sin and misery.

Q 18- What is sinful about our fallen condition?
A: Our fallen condition is made up of two things: 1. Original sin which is the guilt of our first sin; the lack of original righteousness; and the corruption of our whole being; 2. and all specific acts of breaking God’s law that come from original sin. 

Q.19 What is the misery of our fallen condition?
A: By our fall, all human beings lost fellowship with God and are under His wrath and curse.  We are subjected to the miseries of this life, to death, and to the pains of hell forever.

Q.  20 - Did God leave all human beings to die in this condition of sin and misery?
A: It pleased God that from the beginning of time to choose some to have everlasting life.  He freed these from their condition of sin and misery by bringing them into a condition of salvation by a Redeemer and entering into a covenant of grace with them.

Q. 21- Who is this Redeemer of God’s chosen ones?
A: The only Redeemer of God’s chosen ones is the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the eternal Son of God.  He became a human being, and so He was and continues to be, God and human in two distinct natures and one person, forever.

Q. 22- How did Christ, the Son of God become a human being?
A: Christ, the Son of God, became a human being by assuming a real body and a reasoning soul.  He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary, who gave birth to Him; but He was sinless.

Q. 23- What positions does Christ hold as our Redeemer?
A: Christ, as our Redeemer, holds the positions of a prophet, a priest, and a king in His being humbled and being exalted.

Q. 24- How does Christ hold the office of a prophet?
A: Christ holds the office of a prophet  by revealing to us God’s will for our salvation by His Word and Spirit.

Q. 25- How does Christ hold the office of a priest?
A: Christ holds the office of a priest by offering Himself up as a one-time sacrifice to satisfy divine justice and to reconcile us to God, and by continuing to pray for us.

Q. 26- How does Christ hold the office of a king?
A: Christ holds the office of a king by bringing us under his power, in ruling and defending us, and in holding back and conquering all His and our enemies. 

Q. 27- How did Christ humble himself?
A: Christ humbled himself by being born as a person and born to a poor family; by being made subject to the law;  by suffering through the miseries of this life; the wrath of God; and the curse of death on the cross; and by being buried and by allowing himself to die.

Q. 28- How is Christ exalted?
A: Christ is exalted by rising on the third day; in ascending into heaven; sitting on the right hand of God the Father, and coming to judge the world in glory at the last day. 

Q. 29- How can we share in this redemption that Christ purchased for us?
A: The Holy Spirit makes real to us the redemption purchased by Christ.

Q 30- How does the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A: The Spirit applies our redemption by working faith in us, and so uniting us to Christ by our real and effective calling. 

Q. 31- What is the Real and Effective Call of God
A: The Real and effective Call of God is the work of God's Spirit by which he convinces us of our sin and misery, enlightens our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, and so persuades and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.

Q. 32- What rewards do those who are really called by God obtain in this life?
A: Those who are really and effectively called by God obtain justification, adoption, sanctification and the several other awards that come with or from them.

Q. 33- What is Justification?
A: Justification is a free gift of God by which He forgives all our sins, and accepts us as righteous before Him.  He does this only because He has given Christ's righteousness to us.  Justification is received by faith alone. 

Q. 34- What is adoption?
A: Adoption is a free act of God's grace, in which we are received into the family, and have a right to all the privileges of the children of God.

Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A: Sanctification is a free gift of God by which our whole person is made new in the
image of God, and we are made more and more able to become dead to sin and alive to righteousness.

Q. 36. What benefits in this life accompany or derive from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
A: The benefits that in this life accompany or derive from justification, adoption, and sanctification are: the assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Spirit, and growing and persevering in grace to the end of our lives.

Q. 37- What benefits do believers receive from Christ when they die?
A: When we die, the souls of believers are made perfect in holiness, and immediately pass into glory; their bodies, being still united to Christ, rest in their graves until the resurrection.

Q. 38- What benefits do believers receive from Christ at the end of time?
A: At the end of time, believers, being raised up in glory, shall be openly acknowledged and acquitted in the Day of Judgment, and are perfectly blessed in the complete enjoying of God to all eternity.

Q. 39- What does God require of us?
A: God requires us to obey His revealed will.

Q. 40- What was the first thing that God revealed to us as the standard for our obedience?
A: The first standard that God revealed to us was the moral law.

Q. 41- Where is the moral law summarized?
A: The moral law is summarized in the Ten Commandments .

Q. 42- What is the summary of the Ten Commandments? 
A: The summary of the Ten Commandments is: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind; and our neighbor as ourselves.

Q. 43- What is the introduction to the Ten Commandments?
A: The introduction to the Ten Commandments says, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

Q. 44- What does the introduction to the Ten Commandments teach us?
A: The introduction to the Ten Commandments teaches us that because God is our Lord God and Redeemer, we are bound to keep all his commandments.

Q. 45- What is the First Commandment?
A: The first commandment is: “You shall have no other gods before me.”

Q. 46- What is required by the First Commandment?
A: The First Commandment requires us to know and acknowledge God to be the only true God, and our God, and to worship and glorify Him as such.

Q. 47- What is forbidden by the First Commandment?
A: The First Commandment forbids the denial of God, or not worshiping or glorifying the true God as God, and our God.  It also forbids the giving of the worship and glory to any other which God alone deserves.

Q. 48- What are we specifically taught by the words “before me” in the First Commandment?
A: The words “before me” indicate that God who sees all things, cares and is especially displeased with the sin of having another god.

Q. 49- What is the Second Commandment?
A: The Second Commandment is “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to thousands who love me and keep my commandments.” 

Q. 50- What is required by the Second Commandment?
A: The Second Commandment requires the receiving, observing, and keeping pure and entire all such religious worship and ordinances that God has given in His Word.

Q. 51- What is forbidden by the Second Commandment?
A: The Second Commandment forbids the worship of God by images or any other way not appointed in His Word.

Q. 52- What reasons given for keeping the Second Commandment?
A: The reasons given for keeping the Second Commandment are: God’s sovereignty over us, that we belong to Him, and his eager concern for His own worship.

Q. 53- What is the Third Commandment?
A: The Third Commandment is, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord, your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”

Q. 54- What is required by the Third Commandment?
A: The Third Commandment requires the holy and reverent use of Gods names, titles, attributes,  laws, Word, and works.

Q. 55- What is forbidden by the Third Commandment?
A: The third commandment forbids treating anything as unholy or abusing anything God uses to make Himself known.

Q. 56- what are the reasons given for keeping the Third Commandment?
A: The reasons given for keeping the Third Commandment are that even if the breakers of this law escape human punishment, they will have to face God’s righteous judgment.

Q. 57: What is the Fourth Commandment?
A: The Fourth Commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days shall you 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, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the aliens within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” 

Q. 58- What is required by the Fourth Commandment?
A: The Fourth Commandment requires keeping the times God has set as holy in His Word; that is, one whole day in seven, to be a holy Sabbath to Himself.

Q. 59- Which of the seven days has God established to be the weekly Sabbath?
A: From the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ , God established the seventh day of the week to be the weekly Sabbath.  And the first day of the week since the resurrection to the end of the world as a weekly Sabbath.

Q. 60- How is the Sabbath to be kept holy?
A: The Sabbath is to be kept holy  by a holy resting all that day, even from work and play that are lawful on other days; spending the whole time publicly and privately in the worship of God, with the exception of necessary and merciful deeds.

Q. 61- What is forbidden in the Fourth Commandment?
A: The Fourth Commandment forbids the omission or careless keeping of the day as holy.  It also forbids laziness, or sinful acts, or by having unnecessary thoughts, words, or works about our worldly work or play.

Q. 62- What are the reasons for keeping the Fourth Commandment?
A: The reasons for keeping the Fourth Commandment are: God’s allowing us six days of the week for work, his claiming the seventh day as His own, His own example of keeping a Sabbath, and His blessing the Sabbath day.

Q. 63- What is the Fifth Commandment?
A: The fifth Commandment is “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
Q. 64- What is required by the Fifth Commandment?
A: The Fifth Commandment requires the preserving of the honor, and performing the called duties to everyone regardless of their status or relationship to us.
Q. 65- What is forbidden by the Fifth Commandment? 
A: The Fifth Commandment forbids the neglect or abuse of our duty toward others regardless of their status or relationship to us.
Q. 66- What is the reason given for keeping the Fifth Commandment?
A: The reason given for keeping the Fifth Commandment is a promise of long life and prosperity if these glorify God and are for the good of those who keep this commandment.
Q. 67- What is the Sixth Commandment?
A: The Sixth Commandment is “You shall not murder.”
Q. 68- What is required by the Sixth Commandment?
A: The Sixth Commandment requires all lawful efforts to preserve our own lives and the lives of others.
Q. 69- What is forbidden by the Sixth Commandment?
A: The Sixth Commandment forbids the taking away of our own life, or the life of our neighbor unjustly, or doing anything that would lead to such acts.
Q. 70- What is the Seventh Commandment?
A: The Seventh Commandment is “You shall not commit adultery.”
Q. 71- What is required by the Seventh Commandment?
A: The Seventh Commandment requires the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s sexual purity- in heart, speech, and behavior.
Q. 72- What is forbidden by the Seventh Commandment?
A: The Seventh Commandment forbids all sexually impure thoughts, words, and actions.
Q. 73- What is the Eighth Commandment?
A: The Eighth Commandment is “You shall not steal.”

Q. 74- What is required by the Eighth Commandment?
A: The Eighth Commandment requires the legal acquiring and increasing of our own and other’s possessions.
Q. 75- What is forbidden in the Eighth Commandment?
A: The Eighth Commandment forbids whatever may unjustly hinder our own or our neighbor’s wealth or possessions.
Q. 76- What is the Ninth Commandment?
A: The Ninth Commandment is “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

Q. 77- What is required by the Ninth Commandment?
A: The Ninth Commandment requires the maintenance and promotion of truth between human beings, and of the good reputation of all, especially in court.
Q. 78- What is forbidden in the Ninth Commandment?
A: The Ninth Commandment forbids whatever is against truth, or harmful to the reputation of all concerned.
Q. 79 What is the Tenth Commandment?
A: The Tenth Commandment is, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse, or their male or female servant, their ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

Q. 80- What is required by the Tenth Commandment?
A: The Tenth Commandment requires being fully content with our own situation, and having a proper and kind attitude toward others and their possessions.
Q. 81- What is forbidden by the Tenth Commandment?
A: The Tenth Commandment forbids all dissatisfaction with our own situation, jealousy or grieving at our neighbor’s success, and all unbecoming emotions to anything that is our neighbors.
Q. 82- Is anyone able to perfectly keep the commandments of God?
A: No mere man, since the Fall, is able in this life, to perfectly keep the commandments of God; Instead, we daily break the commandments in thought, word, and deed.

Q. 83- Are all sins equally bad?
A: Some sins in their nature, and by their harmful effects on other people, are worse in the sight of God than other sins.

Q. 84- What does every sin deserve?
A: Every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and the next.

Q. 85- What does God require of us in order to escape the consequences of our sins- which are His wrath and curse?
A: To escape the consequences of our sins, God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and the faithful use of all tools that God uses to give us the benefits of salvation.

Q. 86- What is faith in Jesus Christ?
A: Faith in Jesus Christ is a redeeming gift of God by which we receive and rest upon Christ alone for for salvation, as He is portrayed to us in the gospel.

Q. 87- What is repentance?
A: Repentance is a redeeming gift of God by which sinners, clearly understanding their sin and the mercy of God in Christ, turns from their sin to God, with grief and hatred of their sin, striving after the goal of obeying Christ anew.

Q. 88- What are the ordinary, external tools by which Christ gives us the benefits of salvation?
A: The ordinary and external tools by which Christ gives us the benefits of salvation are his regulations, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer, all of which are made useful to the elect for salvation.

Q. 89- How is the Word made useful to salvation?
A: The Spirit of God makes the reading and especially the preaching of the Word a useful tool to convince and convert sinners.  The Spirit also strengthens believers with holiness and comfort through the Word heard in saving faith.

Q. 90- How is the Word to be read and heard that it may become useful to salvation?
A: In order to be useful to salvation, the Word must be heard with diligence, preparation, and prayer; it must be received with faith and love; treasured in our hearts, and practiced in our lives.

Q. 91- How are the sacraments made useful to salvation?
A: The sacraments are useful to our salvation not from anything in themselves, or in the ministers who conduct them, but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of His Spirit in those who receive them by faith.

Q. 92- What is a sacrament?
A: A sacrament is a holy regulation appointed by Christ, by which the blessings of the New Testament are represented, sealed, and given to believers by physical signs.

Q. 93- What are the sacraments of the New Testament?
A: The sacraments of the New Testament are Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Q. 94- What is Baptism?
A: Baptism is a sacrament, by which the washing with water in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, represents and seals our being brought in Christ, and that we take part in the blessings of the covenant of grace, and our engagement to be the Lord’s.

Q. 95 Who ought to be baptized?
A: Those who are not members of the visible church ought not to be baptized, until they state they believe and will follow Him in obedience; But the infant children of church members ought to be baptized.

Q. 96- What is the Lord’s Supper?
A: The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, by which the giving and receiving of bread and wine, his death is proclaimed as Christ directed.  Those who take part in the prescribed way, made sharers in His body and blood (not physically but spiritually), with all His blessings so that they may grow spiritually and in the grace of God.

Q. 97- How do we receive the Lord’s Supper in the prescribed way?
A: The prescribed way to receive the Lord’s Supper is by searching ourselves of our ability to perceive the presence of the Lord in the sacrament; feeding on Him in faith, love, repentance, and seeking to obey Him anew so that we do not bring God’s displeasure upon us.

Q. 98- What is prayer?
A: Prayer is telling our desires to God for things that agree with His will, in the name of Christ, confessing our sins, and thankfully acknowledging His merciful answers to prayer. 

Q. 99- What standard has God given to direct our prayers?
A: The Word of God is a standard for our prayers, but especially the prayer Jesus taught His disciples called, “The Lord’s Prayer.” 

Q. 100- What does the introduction of the Lord's Prayer teach us? 
A: The introduction of the Lord's Prayer, which is "Our Father who art in heaven" teaches us to draw near to God with holy reverence and confidence, as children draw close to a father who is able and ready to help us, and that we should pray with and for others. 

Q. 101. For what do we pray in the first request?
A: In the first request (hallowed by your name) we pray that God will enable us and others to glorify Him through His means of revelation and that He will work out everything to His own glory.

Q. 102. For what do we pray in the second request?
A: In the second request (your kingdom come) we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed, that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, with ourselves and others brought into and kept in it, and that the kingdom of glory may come quickly.

Q. 103- What do we pray for in the third request?
A: The third request, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we ask that God would be gracious to make us have the ability to know, obey, and to submit to His will in everything as the angels do in heaven.

Q. 104- What do we pray for in the fourth request of the Lord's Prayer?
A: In the fourth request, which is "Give us this day our daily bread", we pray that we may receive a necessary portion of the good things of this life- given freely by God- and enjoy His blessings with them.

Q. 105- What do we pray for in the fifth request of the Lord's Prayer?
A: In the fifth request which is "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors", we pray that God (for Christ's sake) would freely pardon all our sins, which makes it possible for us to forgive others.

Q. 106- What do we pray for in the sixth request? 
A: In the sixth request, which is "and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and delivers us when we are tempted.

Q. 107- What does the conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?
A: The conclusion of the Lord’s Prayer which is, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen,” teaches us to take our encouragement and prayer from God only.  It also teaches us to praise Him, crediting Kingdom, power, and glory to Him, and in witnessing to our desire and assurance to be heard, we say, “Amen.”  

Sunday, December 30, 2012

12/30/12- Abraham and Jesus

 Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. (Romans 9:5)

16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)

Thoughts: Here are two Christmas verses from Paul that speak of the incarnation of Christ.  Both see the coming of God into flesh as a promise fulfilled to the very beginning of Judaism- the patriarchs.  Here Paul sees Jesus as the seed or the human descendant of Abraham.  An older-time theologian once talked about "the scarlet thread" woven throughout scripture from Genesis to Revelation- pointing to the sacrifice of Christ.  But another thread woven throughout scripture is the white thread that forthtells (to the future and to the present) that God comes to us.  God comes spiritually- yes.  But the ultimate sign of God's promise being fulfilled is that He comes physically.  God did not just create the spiritual realm and restrict His actions to that area.  When Jesus came He healed people physically as a sign of His coming physically.  The physical coming- through the ancestry of real people- is a sign of God's care about every realm of life.  

Prayer: Lord, may I be aware today of your plan to come to us.  You are of human ancestry and yet you are also "God over all"- for that I praise you this day.  

(Abraham and his son Isaac- being told that "God will provide a lamb."  The lamb of God is Jesus- the descendant of Abraham and Isaac). 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

12/29/12- This is my Body- Christmas

Luke 22:19- And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."
I Corinthians 11:24- and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me."

Thoughts: "This is my body" is something we say (from clearly early tradition- the very words of Christ) every time we celebrate the Lord's Supper.  But the Lord's Supper is contingent on Christmas- the incarnation of Christ in human form.  "This is my body" would be meaningless unless Christ came in a body.  We remember His sacrifice when we take communion, but there would be no sacrifice without pain and death- and there would have been no pain or death without His coming down.  This is the human side of Christmas.
     For Zwingli and for some Reformed and Baptists this is just a commandment that we fulfill.  But for most who believe the Lord's Supper is a sacrament in which He is present in some way.  Most recognize that when we take communion it is a spiritually moving experience with a special sense of Christ's being with us.  That Christ is able to be present all over the world to millions, is the divine side of Christmas.
    When we celebrate communion during the Christmas season we are reminded that Christ has come- God has come.  He is Immanuel, God with us.  Christ speaks of his being able to be present with His disciples wherever they went.  He said, "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt. 18:20).  He said to His disciples "Go into all the world... and Lo I am with you always even to the end of the world" (Mt. 28:19-20).  Christ and the early church clearly believed that Jesus is able to be with His followers in a special way.  But this divine presence is seen clearest in His being with us in becoming human.  It is one thing to have a philosophy that God cares enough to be with us.  But it is another to have eyewitnesses "see and hear and touch" (1 John 1:1,2) the person of God in the flesh.  God came in the person of Jesus to show us that He cares about us enough to physically be with us.  He was in the flesh when he said, "This is my body."  It was not just a mystical theory- Christ really came in a real body.  Christmas makes communion that much more meaningful.  That is one reason why those Christmas Eve communion services are so very special. 

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your love that came down for me.  Help me to desire to worship you with others and to go into my world proclaiming your love- knowing you are with me. 

Below- The Last Supper by Salvador Dali 1955- emphasizing the mystical presence of Christ. 

"Yet the Lord is not absent from his Church when she celebrates the Supper. The sun, which is absent from us in the heavens, is notwithstanding effectually present among us. How much more is the Sun of Righteousness, Christ, although in his body he is absent from us in heaven, present with us, not corporeally, but spiritually, by his vivfying operation, and as he himself explained at his Last Supper that he world be present with us (John, chs. 14; 15; and 16). Whence it follows that we do not have the Supper without Christ, and yet at the same time have an unbloody and mystical Supper, as it was universally called by antiquity." (Second Helvetic Confession Chapter 21). 

Friday, December 28, 2012

4/1/12- Christ as King- Palm Sunday

40- 4/1- Palm Sunday- WSC- 26
Q. 26- How does Christ hold the office of a king?
A. Christ holds the office of a king by bringing us under his power, in ruling and defending us, and in holding back and conquering all His and our enemies. 

 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt. 28:18-20)

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, (Col. 3:13)

Thoughts: On Palm Sunday, we recognize that the King has come to His city, and His Temple.  He rode in as a Jewish King being proclaimed as the “Son of David” and he accepted their praise – even when other said he should not.  There was a time when Christ refused the kingship- but in the end- though he admitted it was not of this world, he accepted the kingship.

Prayer: You are my King O Lord, and you are worthy of my worship. 

(Palm Sunday- Tissot)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

12/28/12- Two natures in one person

regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thoughts: This passage sounds like some of the councils debating the nature of Christ- his humanity and divinity (like Chalcedon below).  Here Paul speaks of the human nature (of David) and the divine nature (declared by the Spirit and the resurrection).  Paul is explaining the theology of Christmas- God becoming man.  Jesus went to Bethlehem because he was a descendant of David. He was declared divine by the angels who appeared to Joseph, Mary, and the shepherds, and the guidance of the magi to Jesus.  Jesus was not just divine- he was born in all too human a fashion- left out- in poverty.  He later showed his humanity in weeping, suffering, hungering and thirsting, and the most human thing of all- dying. Jesus was not just human- with no supernatural signs of his divinity.  We follow Jesus' example of love and service as a human.
        We believe and trust in his ability to help us because he is not just human but divine.  Today some have no problem with Jesus being an angel-like being (Jehovah's Witnesses and Muslims).  Others have no problem with his humanity- but think anything supernatural is just made up/myth (Marcus Borg, John Shelby Spong, Jesus Seminar leaders, deists, et al. ).  If God is God, we would and should expect Him to act and interact with His creation.  To say that this is unnecessary or impossible is to put ourselves in God's place.  On the other hand those who say that Jesus could not have become human because this is too mundane for God are unable to appreciate the great humility, servitude, and love of God.  We really need both to appreciate the richness of God.  

Prayer: Help me, O Lord to appreciate both your humanity and your divinity.  Help me to follow in your footsteps but also rely on you each step of the journey. 

Chalcedon's Definition of 451 says in part: 

"one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably;
the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten God (μονογενῆ Θεὸν), the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ;"

[There was a time when the Coptic churches (mainly of Egypt), and the Jacobite churches (mainly of Syria and Armenia) rejected this definition entirely following Cyril of Alexandria's idea of oneness-miaphysite.  In recent times Pope John Paul II and Patriarch Batholomew I have restatted this position to include Cyril's and the miaphysite poisiton as part of orthodoxy].

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

12/27/12- The Life That Touched Us

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.  (1 John 1:1-3)

Thoughts: This passage reminds us that Jesus Christ didn't come to earth in a vacuum without witnesses.  He was seen with eyes and touched with hands.  The life that was "from the beginning" came and those writing experienced God  in the flesh and testify that they did.  The purpose of the proclamation of the good news is not just that people will be informed, but that they would have fellowship with other believers.  Christ came to draw us together in love to Him.  We proclaim the good news that we might be drawn together to serve Him.  

Prayer: Thank you for your witnesses.  Give us grace to believe them.  Give us grace to draw closer to each other.  

12/26/12- To Serve and to Give

"For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. (Phil. 2:3) 

Thoughts: As a child the first question after Christmas was, "What did you get?"  We would compare toys, clothes, and games.  Adults still do this throughout the year.  For adults in our day, there is the interesting pain and joy combination found in family gatherings.  The divorced father who has to swallow his pride to go see his children at Christmas- knowing he will be criticized no matter what he does.  The divorced mother who is wondering how she will be able to pay the bills she incurred for the presents.  There is the uncle or aunt who just didn't seem to make it in life- making bad choices for drugs and alcohol or who always causes a fuss.  How do we react to the heartache around us at Christmas?
     Christmas is about Jesus coming into our heartache, and staying there despite great cost to himself.  Christ came not to be served, but to serve.  For believers our greatest gift has already been given to us.  No car, no house, no trip, no amount of money can begin to compare to this great gift- our ransom from death- from the grave- from hell.  In the security and gratitude of this greatest gift, it is even more important that we continue to give of ourselves.
     Christ came to serve, and valued us sinners above Himself.  So we should seek to give ourselves away this post-Christmas.  Instead of seeking to be offended, seek to serve- even if your service is taken for granted.  The way of Christ is not seeking our own comfort or blessing here, but finding our blessing and joy here in serving Christ and others.  Things will go better with the relatives if you do so.  And even if there are no relatives to serve, doing something for a neighbor will put a smile on your heart.

Prayer: Today may I seek to serve my hurting lonely neighbors in the Spirit of your coming, O Lord.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

12-25-12 Simeon and Hope

Christmas Day- 12/25- Luke 2:30-32- Mine eyes have seen your salvation…

Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God saying, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Thoughts: When we have our hopes fulfilled, it is easier to let go of this life.  So an older person will wait until a wedding or the birth of a grandbaby before letting go of this life.  But it shows in other ways- there is a sense of fulfillment when a baby is born, or someone graduates or gets married.  But the coming of the Messiah in the form of a baby was the ultimate fulfillment for the world.  Getting that present we wanted doesn’t always fulfill our hopes the way we think it should.  No present can ultimately fulfill us.  Sometimes people or kids get cranky when their expectations are not what they thought.  Putting our hope in getting things for Christmas- or even the idealistic image of everyone sitting around the Christmas table singing “Joy to the World” in perfect harmony might need adjusting.  The good news for those without family- the orphan, the widow or widower is that Christ comes to be the ultimate fulfillment of hope.  The good news for the child who gets no present or doesn’t have enough food- is that a baby was born- homeless, poor, but still to give us hope and life. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, my hopes are fulfilled in you this Christmas.  Help me to place my hope in you as an anchor for my soul.

Application: Before you open your presents today pray (silently or out loud), thanking God for His greatest present: Himself.

Lord, bid your servant go in peace, Your word is now fulfilled.
These eyes have seen salvation’s dawn, This child so long foretold.
This is the savior of the world, The Gentile’s promised light,
God’s glory dwelling in our midst, The joy of Israel.
(From “Song of Simeon” p. 603 Presbyterian Hymnal)

(Simeon the Righteous- Yegoov 1830-40)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

12-24-12 The King of kings Fulfills Hope

Christmas Eve- 12/24-Luke 2:30-33- 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Christmas Eve Services (5:00- children; 7:00-candlelight-full choir; 11:00 candlelight communion)

Thoughts:  In the end, Christ wins and our hopes will be fulfilled in His victory.   He will reign- not just for a little while, but forever.  Earthly Jewish rule ended during Christ’s life time when the Romans took away the ability of the Jewish politicians to impose the death penalty or to raise an army.  But the promise to King David was that “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16).  This is fulfilled in Jesus a descendant of David who reigns with all authority forever and ever.  Christmas in part means that our hopes are fulfilled and the just king has come to claim His throne. 

Prayer: Lord, be my King today.  Protect me, provide for me, but also guide me with your Spirit and your Law.

Application: Invite one family member or neighbor to join you for Christmas Eve services.

 (King of kings- Greg Olson)

Glorious Now, Behold Him arise…
King and God and sacrifice.
Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Sounds through the earth and skies!

(PH. #66- “We Three Kings”)

12-23-12- Replacing Fear with Hope

4th Sunday in Advent- 12/23- Luke 1:30, 38- Replacing Fear with Hope

“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son and you will give him the name Jesus…”I am the Lord’s servant, Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Luke  2:10The angel said [to the shepherds], “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all peoples.”

Thoughts: “Good news of great joy”- these are hopeful words.  Instead of fear, we have good- even great news.  Instead of the angel of death, we hear the angel of life proclaiming hope.  The angel was telling Mary that she was pregnant and about to have the Messiah.  She could have been afraid.  She could have been afraid of how she was going to provide for the child- especially if Joseph left her for being pregnant.  She could have been afraid of losing the man of her dreams.  She could have been afraid of what the people in the village thought.  Mary is a lesson of trust.  Instead of giving into fear she said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord may it be to me as you have said.”  The shepherds were also told, not to be afraid for God is opening up his hope for the whole earth.  We do not need to be afraid of God’s coming into our lives.  When He comes, He brings hope, strength, courage and life.   Let Christ in anew this Christmas- and do not be afraid of what others may think.  Christmas in part means we can replace fear with hope in Christ.

Prayer: Give me grace, O Lord, to not be afraid.  Help me to be a hopeful person.

Application: Come to worship and bring a friend.  Tell someone of your great joy in Christ.

 (Annunciation- Ossawa Tanner)

Shepherds in the fields abiding, watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with us is now residing, yonder shines the infant light;
Come and worship, come and worship, Worship Christ the newborn King!

 (From “Angels from the Realms of Glory” #22)

Friday, December 21, 2012

12/22/12- Walking in Darkness

Saturday- 12/22-Isaiah 9:2-4,6- The people walking in darkness have seen a light
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those liv ing in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder…. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.(Is. 9)

 (Galilee Sunrise 2- Taken by Ben Sloan)

Thoughts: If you have ever really walked in darkness- total darkness, then you know that any light at all is appreciated.  Here Isaiah says “a great light” has come.  Light brings hope of finding your way- of not being lost- seeing landmarks and trail markers.  Sometimes when I drive up at night at someone’s house the light is not on, and it is hard to see on the sidewalk, steps and porch.  But when a thoughtful someone sees me in darkness, and they turn on their porchlight or floodlight, it makes a huge difference.  God sees that we are in darkness and lost.  He has come- in the hopeful form of a child- to light our way.  In the TV show “Revolution” one of the opening lines is “we hope that someone will come and light the way.”  That is what Jesus does- He lights the way to life, to hope, to heaven.  We need to trust His directions by going on His path.

Prayer:  Help me, Lord, to trust your light, and put my hope in your direction. 

Application: Tonight, go outside your house with the lights off.  Think of how you appreciate the light of God.

Hail the heaven born Prince of Peace!  Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings- risen with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by, Born that we no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, Born to give us second birth;
Hark!  The herald angels sing, “Glory to the Newborn King!”
  (PH #31)