Is there a purpose to life? Is there a bigger picture? Is everything just a “chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)? What’s the grand story told in scripture? Let me tell you, it’s Spectacular!
June 11-July 2 I preached on the view of the world, history, humanity, and our future as pictured in the grand narrative of Scripture. If you weren’t here on those Sundays, I invite you to listen to the Sermon recordings on our website under the "Sunday Worship" tab.
In brief, just like any good story, the overarching “story” in the Holy Bible has a Setting, Conflict, Climax, and Denouement.
The Setting in Scripture is Creation. “In the beginning God created…[and] God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:1, 31). This includes humanity, made “in the image and likeness” of God (Gen. 1:26, 27). Humanity was in unhindered relationship with God, each other, the earth, and even with their own selves! They were “naked and they felt no shame” (Gen. 2:25, NIV). But then we sought wisdom, life and fulfillment outside of the Lord’s will, eating the forbidden fruit, those four relationships quickly deteriorated: fear, shame, blame, and toil enter the world. The biblical Conflict is called “the Fall,” when we let Death and sin shape our lives and all our relationships. In the Lord’s mercy, he is unwilling to let us stay stuck in this new, deadly status quo, and so the Climax of the story is Redemption. “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:20, NIV). This is huge! Of course, we see that there is still brokenness, disease, and death. Things are not yet perfected. But the Denouement is the Consummation of all things, bringing to fruition and complete fulfillment all God’s promises in Christ, when the final enemy, Death, will be destroyed once and for all (see 1 Cor. 15:26). In the end, Jesus will return to make all things new, the dead in Christ will be raised imperishable, God will dwell on earth with humanity, and “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:4, NIV), and our relationship with God, each other, the earth, and ourselves will be as they are meant to be.
Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. CFRC. To me, this is the most helpful framework for understanding the full picture of Scripture. And even more importantly, this is our framework for understanding humanity, the world, God’s purposes, and our place in the story.
As we follow Jesus, having been Redeemed but awaiting the Consummation, we are to grow in faith and become more and more Christ-like. This takes intentionality on our part as disciples—students, learners, followers of our Lord Jesus Christ. So, in this Newsletter, you can learn about one of the opportunities for discipleship offered this year: Disciple One. With the CFRC framework of Scripture and life in mind, through Disciple we will dig deep into Scripture and let it work in our lives to the glory of God and for the life of the world. As we enter the last month of summer and begin to prepare for our regular schedule, I invite you to consider how the Lord wants you to grow this year, embracing more fully the Redeemed life Jesus has given us.
Grace and Peace in Christ,
Grace to you and peace, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Over the past few weeks I’ve been reflecting a lot on the Sacraments. The Reformed tradition recognizes two: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (aka Communion, the Eucharist). I’ve been wrestling with them as the Directory for Worship in the Book of Order will be revised and replaced at the end of June, including the discussion of the Sacraments. Rather than trying to present some kind of systematic theology on the Sacraments, I’ve written a poem, and it’s included below for your consideration.
I pray that we would all be blessed as we reflect together on the Sacraments—these “gracious acts of God, by which Christ Jesus offers his life to us in the power of the Holy Spirit…[and] by which we offer our lives to God in love and service” (W-3.0401, forthcoming edition of the Book of Order).
Grace and Peace in Christ,
“Why do we do it this way?” Every denomination and congregation has their own particular way of doing things. Even if it’s not formal or intentional, every church has their own rhythms, their own rituals, their own liturgy (i.e. public service). Visit another congregation, especially within a different Christian tradition, and you may be struck by the differences in “how they do it,” and realize that there are particular rhythms of worship that you’re used to. John Burgess observes that our own “ritual is so well established that no one even notices it—until it is broken. Only then do people sit up and sense that something is not quite right” (Encounters with Orthodoxy: How Protestant Churches Can Reform Themselves Again, WJK Press, 2013, p. 48). So…how is our worship service ordered; why do we do it this way?
Our liturgy has four basic movements: 1) Gathering, 2) Hearing and Proclaiming the Word, 3) Responding, 4) Being Sent Out.
Gathering to the Word is the first movement. The Church is the people of God in Christ. So we don’t “go to church” or “have church,” rather, the Church gathers together. The Church—the people of God—gathers to worship the Lord. We are gathered to the Word—that is, Jesus Christ. Before even saying “good morning” or announcing ministry opportunities, a brief Scripture is heard. In our Call to Worship we recognize that God calls us to worship. We pray to the Lord, sing our praises, confess how we “miss the mark” of living faithfully, we are declared forgiven, sing Glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and share the Peace of Christ with each other. All of this prepares us and gathers us in for the next movement of worship…
Hearing and Proclaiming the Word. Jesus commands us to “change and become like little children” so that we may “enter” and “receive the kingdom of God” (see Matt 18:3; Luke 18:17). So, in this movement, adults get to “listen in” as the youngest disciples of the church lead us all in listening for, recognizing, and following Jesus Christ—the Living Word. Then we pray for the Holy Spirit to illuminate—light up, brighten—our hearts and minds as we listen intently for the Word of the Lord read and proclaimed from the Holy Bible and in a sermon. This part of the service includes proclaiming and hearing. This double-emphasis goes back to the Reformation and John Calvin who says that a church of God exists and is recognizable, in part, wherever the Word of God is sincerely preached and sincerely heard by those gathered (see Institutes, 4.1.9, and Book of Order, F-1.0303). So preparing to hear the Word of God rightly is just as important as preparing to proclaim the Word of God rightly. The first movement of our liturgy is meant to help us prepare to preach and hear the Word, but we would all do well throughout the week to prepare ourselves to encounter the Living Word of God in worship.
Responding to the Word comes next. Sometimes we respond in song or by affirming our faith. But as an act of worship, we always respond to the Word of God proclaimed and heard by praying together and offering our gifts—and ultimately our very selves—to the Lord. This is how we respond rightly: with lives lived in praise to God—in Doxology! Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are each a “sign and seal” of God’s grace to us in Jesus Christ by the presence of the Holy Spirit. So, at least monthly, we respond to the Word by Sealing the Word in a Sacrament. Each of these responses to the Word is an act of worship and a (re-)commitment of discipleship.
Bearing and Following the Word into the World ‘concludes’ our liturgy. We are now sent back out into the world by the Word and with the Word—Jesus Christ—renewed within us, with a song on our lips and in our hearts. With a Charge and Blessing to bear and follow Christ, we re-enter the world so that others might see the Word of the Lord reflected in our lives. So, while our church’s weekly gathering ends at this point, our liturgy actually continues as we both bear Christ within us—offering him to the world—and we follow Christ into the world—going wherever the Holy Spirit leads us, by the grace of the Son, and to the glory of the Father. Amen!
Grace & Peace