Good Soil Hearers of the Word

Jean-François_Millet_-_The_Sower_-_Walters

The good soil represents those who hear and understand and accept the preaching of God’s Word (Matt.13:23; Mark 4:20). They have an open, receptive heart toward the Word of God. Furthermore, they seek not only to understand what it means, but also to strive to obey it, to put it into practice in their life. They are not just hearers of the Word but doers (James 1:22). As a result, the Word continually produces results in their life. They experience true, lasting change as a result of the sermons they listen to.

The presence of fruit is the only thing that sets the good soil apart from the other three soils in this parable. Every true Christian will consistently bear spiritual fruit in their lives (Matt.7:16; Gal.5:22-23). …There is no such thing as a fruitless Christian. Granted, not all Christians are as fruitful as others. The issue is not the amount of fruit in a person’s life, but the presence of it. Jesus said, ‘My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples’ (John 15:8 [NASB]). Does this describe your heart? Do you have a soft, receptive heart that produces the fruit of a true believer?

And then, after examining Jesus’ other teaching as recorded in Luke 8 – the entire context of the parable of the sower – the author ends with this:

In other words, the ultimate evidence that proves you are a Christian is that you hear and obey God’s Word. This entire portion of Luke was designed to emphasize the importance Jesus placed on listening to the Word (vv.8,18,21). Good soil yields the fruit of obedience from the Word of God. That fruitful life is a light that shines for all around to see, and it is the only real demonstration that you are spiritually identified with Jesus.

What kind of soil does the Word find when it falls on you? What kind of heart do you have for the Word of God?

Taken from Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word by Ken Ramey (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010), Chapter 2 – “Hearing with Your Heart” (pp.31-33). We are currently taking time to read and draw on some of the author’s good thoughts concerning our calling to listen believingly to God’s Word proclaimed.

How Can I Hear the Word Preached? Only Through the Holy Spirit!

The moment we are born again, it’s as if we are given a new set of hearing aids or a new pair of glasses that enable us to hear and see in God’s Word what we couldn’t before. From then on, not only are we able to comprehend what God has said, but the Holy Spirit who now indwells us also convicts us about what God’s Word says and convinces us of it, as well as conforming our lives to it. That’s why whenever we are exposed to the Word of God, we need to remember to ask the Spirit to illumine our minds and hearts so that we understand what it means and how it applies. Who better to ask to help us accurately interpret and practically implement the Word than the one who inspired it in the first place?

So we can’t hear and obey the Word of God without the regenerating and illuminating of the Holy Spirit. Remarkably, we don’t receive the Holy Spirit unless we receive Jesus Christ, and we can’t receive Jesus Christ unless we receive the Word of God, and we won’t receive the Word of God unless the Holy Spirit opens up our ears to hear.

…So while it’s true that our ability to hear the word of Christ is the link between the revelation of God and the salvation of your soul, it’s equally true that we are completely dependent on God’s sovereignty for the outcome. Sometimes God sends forth His Word for the purpose of hardening and damning people rather than softening , saving, and sanctifying them (Isa.55:10-11; 2 Cor.2:15-17). That’s why we must urgently cry out to Him to open our ears so we can hear and heed His Word (Isa.50:4-5), particularly in light of the fact that our very life and eternal destiny hinge on it. [pp.20-21]

expository-listening-ramey-2010Taken from Expository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word by Ken Ramey (Kress Biblical Resources, 2010), Chapter 1 – “Biblical Audiology: A Theology of Listening.”

We touched on the introduction in our first post and last time looked at another of the principles he sets forth in this first chapter. The quotation in this post comes from the section treating the third principle: “God grants us the ability to listen to and obey Him by His Holy Spirit, whom we receive through faith in Jesus Christ.” (p.19)

In the months ahead we will continue to draw on some of the author’s good thoughts concerning our calling to listen believingly to God’s Word proclaimed – an activity by which we receive God’s grace in Christ while also being entirely dependent on that grace to receive the Word and Christ found in it, as the above quotation makes plain.

Thoughts on Worship as Living Sacrifice – R. C. Sproul

…God’s feelings are not hurt by insincere praise, but neither is He honored by it. God is never honored by flattery. That is why true worship must be sincere.

…The central element of worship in the Bible involved honoring, blessings, esteeming, and reverencing God. A sacrifice was offered as an outward sign of a heart that was filled with awe, reverence, and respect toward God. When a sacrifice was not given in faith, it was nothing more than an external rite, a formal pattern of behavior that was not an expression of true faith that held God in the highest possible esteem and reverence. It lacked what the Wisdom Literature calls the fear of the Lord, that sense of awe by which the heart is inclined to adore and honor the Creator. The very heart of worship, as the Bible makes clear, is the business of expressing, from the depths of our spirits, the highest possible honor we can offer before God.

[In connection with Romans 12:1,2] …It is as if Paul said to the Romans: ‘Think of the gospel. What is your response to what Christ has done for you – Christ, who spared nothing, who gave His life for His people, who made the ultimate sacrifice for His sheep? How do we respond to that? What is the reasonable response?’ Paul said, ‘Here is your reasonable service or your spiritual worship.’

So we are to respond to the gospel with a sacrifice – not a sacrifice of money, of time, or of material goods, but a sacrifice of our lives. Paul said we are to present to God our bodies – that is, ourselves – as living sacrifices. …He is not asking for martyrdom or for us to give our blood. He wants something more. He wants our lives. The response of faith is a giving of oneself, body and soul, to Christ.

And then, finally, reflecting on the fact that none of us has ever given such a perfect sacrifice to God, he comments:

…He would tell me [on judgment day] that every sacrifice I have ever offered has been marred, sullied, and compromised by the sin I have brought with it. If He were to look at the sacrifice that I offered, even if I offered it in the name of Christ, He would reject it as radically as He rejected the offering of Cain. My only hope is the glorious truth that the offering I give to my Creator today is carried to His presence by the perfect Mediator, who takes our sacrifices of praise and presents them to the Father.

taste-of-heaven-sproulThis is another post following our Sunday discussion groups this year at our home church (Faith PRC), which met tonight. We are continuing a study of R.C. Sproul’s book on worship. It was originally published under the title A Taste of Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity (Reformation Trust, 2006 – the copy I have), but has been newly published under the title How Then Shall We Worship? (David C. Cook, 2013, the Kindle version of which I also have). The above quotation is taken from chapter 3, “Living Sacrifices” (pp.39-47).

A Prayer Before the Explanation of the [Heidelberg] Catechism

prayer-bible-1The 1934 edition of the Psalter Hymnal published by the Christian Reformed Church contains a section of “Christian Prayers” in the liturgical part in the back. Two of those prayers relate to the preaching of the Heidelberg Catechism.

Prof. B. Gritters referenced these in his first Interim course lecture last Friday (Jan.4). In this post we will quote the first one, posting the other at a later date during Interim 2019.

This first one has the heading “Prayer Before the Explanation of the Catechism.” And this is the prayer (slightly edited with paragraphs):

O heavenly Father, Thy Word is perfect, restoring the soul, making wise the simple, and enlightening the eyes of the blind, and a power of God unto salvation for everyone that believes. We, however, are by nature blind and incapable of doing anything good, and Thou wilt succor only those who have a broken and contrite heart and who revere Thy Word.
We beseech Thee, therefore, that Thou wilt illumine our darkened minds with Thy Holy Spirit and give is a humble heart, free from all haughtiness and carnal wisdom, in order that we, hearing Thy Word, may rightly understand it and may regulate our lives accordingly. Wilt Thou also graciously convert those who are straying from that truth, that we all in unity may serve Thee in true holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.
These things we crave of Thee only for the sake of Christ, who promised to hear us and also taught us to pray in His Name, saying:
‘Our Father who art in heaven, etc. AMEN

Posted earlier tonight on the PRC Seminary’s new website blog.

December “Tabletalk”: Jesus is the Promised Messiah (and Paying Attention in Worship)

We are midway through this last month of 2018 and I have not yet referenced the December issue of Tabletalk, so tonight I will. I was able to get a lot of reading in it done today, and this new issue is once again packed with beneficial articles.

As you will see from the cover, the appropriate theme is “The Promised Messiah,” and there twelve articles based on OT passages showing how Jesus is the true Christ of God (Messiah). Editor Burk Parsons introduces the theme with his editorial “The True Israel of God,” part of which includes these important comments:

Jesus repeated, advanced, and fulfilled the history of Israel in the climax of His work. He suffered the exile of His death on the cross (Matt. 27:32–50), where He also fulfilled His role as the greater High Priest and the sacrificed Passover Lamb (26:1–13; 27:51). There, the temple of His body was destroyed (26:61; 27:40), but on the third day He was restored from the exile of death in His resurrection, raising up the temple of His body (28:1–10) and becoming the cornerstone of the new temple, His church, which is the fulfillment of God’s plan for His true people Israel (1 Peter 2:4–8). God’s sovereign plan and promise could not be thwarted, for now Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and earth, and is with us to the end of the age, and He will return as our King and take us to the heavenly Promised Land.

The article I focus on tonight, however, is one written by John R. Muether for one of the regular rubrics – “For the Church.” His title forms part of the title of this blog – “Paying Attention in Worship” – and follows nicely on my blog post of last night. The author has some helpful thoughts about avoiding distractions in worship and being focused on our main purpose for being present – fellowship with and adoration of our God. Here are some of his closing words – good for the end of this sabbath day (read the rest at the link below):

Single-minded attention is strange to us, even in worship, because we take pride in our ability to navigate our busyness with speed and nimbleness. In a multitasking world, Marva Dawn rightly concedes that worship is a “royal waste of time” because we are focused on something that our frenetic culture dismisses as inefficient. And yet, neuroscientists have come to the consensus that multitasking is a myth. We accomplish far less when we juggle several tasks than when we focus on one thing at a time. What is worse, our digitally enhanced distractions are becoming addictive: our brains crave constant stimulation and instant gratification. How ironic, then, that we program our phones with “alerts” and “notifications” for so-called breaking news when they have the effect of diminishing our alertness, prompting thoughtlessness and negligence to the task at hand. In sum, the spirit of our age is inimical to the careful and sustained attention that public worship demands.

Is it possible anymore to resist the persistent distractions of our digital age that obscure the message of the gospel? We need not abandon such a hope. Traditional church practices refocus our attention on the gospel and enable our worship of the transcendent God. Public worship and Sabbath keeping are the most culturally disruptive witnesses for Christians to practice. On a day designed for the soul to feast, we must resist habits that distract us and others. I am trying to go completely offline during the day. It is proving to be a great struggle, but I trust that it will awaken me from the stupor that can come from living in a culture that prizes distraction.

The stakes may be higher than we think. As distraction dulls our senses, it can lead even believers to indifference about heavenly matters. The book of Hebrews (which many commentators believe was originally a sermon) speaks powerfully to our digital age when it warns, “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Heb. 2:1).

Source: Paying Attention in Worship

” You never come to God’s church, come to the Lord’s Table, thinking that God owes you something. …Arrogant worship is an oxymoron….” – R. C. Sproul

It was presumptuous of Cain to be angry when God did not respect his offering. Perhaps nothing proves more vividly the state of Cain’s heart than his reaction to God’s judgment.

If we’re children of Christ and we stand before the judgment seat of God on the last day and God says to us, ‘You’re covered by the blood of my Son, and it’s a good thing, because you did this, this, this, this, and this,’ we won’t say, ‘But, Lord, I did this in Your name, I did that in Your name. You really aren’t being fair.’ However, there will be many who will respond in just that manner.  Jesus is going to say to those people, ‘Please leave, I don’t know who you are.’

A person who trusts God trusts not only His promises but His judgment. Even in a prayer of contrition, such a person acknowledges that God would be absolutely justified to destroy him for his sin. You never come to God’s church, come to the Lord’s Table, thinking that God owes you something. If you do, you’re better off not to pray, not to commune, because you are blaspheming and slandering the Giver of every good and perfect gift, Who has treated you only with mercy.

Unlike Cain, Abel was humble in his worship, which is the only possible posture for a fallen human being to have in the context of worship. Arrogant worship is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms

…The single most important thing to understand about worship is that the only worship that is acceptable to God is worship that proceeds from a heart that is trusting in God, and in God alone.

taste-of-heaven-sproulThis is another follow-up post to our Sunday discussion groups this year at our home church (Faith PRC), which met last night. We are beginning a study of R.C. Sproul’s book on worship. It was originally published under the title A Taste of Heaven: Worship in the Light of Eternity (Reformation Trust, 2006 – the copy I have), but has been newly published under the title How Then Shall We Worship? (David C. Cook, 2013). The above quotation is taken from chapter 2, “Sacrifices in Faith,” (pp.34-38) where the author draws out his main point from the history of the offerings of Cain and Abel (Gen.4, in the light of Heb.11:4).

Children in the Worship Service: Parental Chore and Blessed Calling

ordinary-MHorton-2014Once more I am going to pull a quotation from the ninth chapter  of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014). That chapter, from which I have quoted twice already, is titled, you may remember, “God’s ecosystem.”

In that chapter Horton is stressing the organic idea of the church – the saints’ spiritual life together in Christ – which is ever being sustained and growing in God’s garden, through the “ordinary” means of grace, especially the preaching of the gospel and the sacraments.

Toward the end of this chapter, the author focuses on the important calling the church has to make sure her children are growing up in Christ too. Critical of what the modern church through her “youth ministries” has done, Horton calls for a return to the “ordinary” in this area too – instructing the youth through catechism and bringing them into the regular worship of the church.

Tonight I give you some of his thoughts on this, and I truly hope it is an encouragement to our younger couples with little children whom they may dread to take into the worship service or despair of taking to church. Listen carefully to these words:

Having four of my own, I understand the difficulty of having children in church. Our church has a cry room, where parents can still participate in the service to some extent, but it is a chore. Yet isn’t it a chore of parenthood? Eventually the parents decide when they will move out of the cry room. It is remarkable how early children learn habits of sitting and listening. Even if they doodle and daydream for a couple of years, these habits of participation in the communion of saints are like a trellis. These habits do not guarantee that everyone will eventually respond in faith, but they do make for better hearing of that gospel through which faith takes root and grows in our hearts.

Besides the concern for parents, many Christians wonder if it is good for children to have them in the regular service. After all, they cannot understand what is going on. But imagine saying that you’re not going to have toddlers at the table for meals with the family because they do not understand the rituals or manners. Or keeping infants isolated in a nursery with nothing but mobiles and squeaky toys because they cannot understand the dialogue of the rest of the family around them. We know, instinctively, that it’s important for our children to acquire language and the ordinary rituals of their family environment in order to become mature. Or imagine keeping our teens from their grandparents’ funerals because they don’t understand it. We take them precisely so they will, knowing that our patience (and theirs) will be rewarded in later years and that the event will itself be an opportunity for maturity. Jesus grew in wisdom and knowledge. He learned the Psalter and the rhythms of the synagogue liturgy. When, as a young adult, he took up the Isaiah scroll to read about himself, he knew exactly where to roll it.

At the grammar stage, children are simply absorbing the language of Zion: the terms and ‘the pattern of the sound words’ (2 Tim 1:13) that we share with the wider body of Christ through the ages. I think that we are sometimes too worried about ‘imposing’ our faith on our children. After all, it’s a personal relationship with Jesus, and we do not want to interfere with their free will. [I hope you sense the author’s rightful use of sarcasm here.] We don’t think this way about the other things that they are learning by rote at this stage. We do not upbraid teachers for ‘imposing’ the alphabet or multiplication table. Our moral sentiments are not offended when parents correct poor grammar.

So, do not hesitate to take your young children to church tomorrow. And if necessary, to take them out when they are noisy or misbehave. Just remember to take them back in. They are learning to live in the presence of God and worship Him just as you did when you were taken by your parents. They are soaking up the words of the church and of Jesus their Savior. They are growing roots and growing up as tender shoots in God’s garden. What better place could they possibly be? Never minimize what God is at working doing in them through His “ordinary” means of grace.

Besides, those cries of distress (or for mercy!) as you take them out are music to the hearts of their fellow, older saints. We support you, parents, in this “chore” that is also a marvelous duty.

How does God’s garden grow? “By ordinary, daily, habitual practices.” – M. Horton

Even the ordinary disciplines of family devotions seem to be vanishing. For centuries, believers were raised with prayer, singing, instruction, and Bible reading with the family each morning and evening. The Reformers and their spiritual heirs not only wrote catechisms for this purpose, but books with each day’s readings, prayers, and songs. They knew that, as central as it was, the public ministry was weekly, and it needed to be supplemented and supported by daily habits.

As church and family disciplines were subordinated to private disciplines, the burden of growing in the faith was placed almost exclusively on the individual. If do-it-yourself discipleship was the order of the day not that long ago, what is striking today is the extent to which even personal disciplines seem to be receding. It seems to me that there is increasingly less interest in personal prayer and meditation on God’s Word than in any time since the Middle Ages. It suggests that when public disciplines (especially the weekly service) lose their hold on us, family and private disciplines are sure to follow.

We need to rethink our priorities here, and recovering an appreciation for the ordinary is at least one step in that direction. We grow by ordinary, daily, habitual practices. The weekly service of the Word and sacrament, along with its public confession of sin and faith, the prayers, and praise, are the fountain that flows into our homes and private rooms throughout the week. It is all of these disciplines – public, family, and private – that we need to recover. They seem so ordinary. In fact, they are! But that is precisely how God’s garden grows each day.

ordinary-MHorton-2014Taken from chapter 9,  “God’s ecosystem,” (p.181) of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I continue to read with great profit and deep appreciation.

In this chapter, Horton teaches and applies the beautiful organic idea of the church (especially as God’s living, growing garden) found throughout the Word of God. In the section from which I quote above, Horton is treating “Personal Disciplines.” But, as you will see, he ties together the vital public means of grace (in our public services) with the vital private means of grace (what we practice in our homes).

And we should be able to see how they feed off one another. Stop worshiping at home and in private, and soon your desire for the house of God on the Lord’s Day will dry up. If we don’t have time for God and His Word at home, we won’t take time for them on Sunday either. But conversely, if we stop attending the public worship of God with His people on the Lord’s Day, we will soon stop our times of family and private worship too. If we don’t value time with God on His special day, we won’t value time with Him each day either.

I trust we are committed to God’s ordinary public means of grace in His church each week. But how committed are we to those ordinary private and personal disciplines each day? Are you and am I seeking to grow by God’s “ordinary, daily, habitual practices” of reading His Word, singing His praises, and praying?

Perhaps, we too need to “rethink our priorities here.” Good food for thought once again. It’s only Monday. Not too late to reset those priorities. You do remember how vibrant you felt yesterday in God’s house, right? Let that feed our souls at home the rest of this week.

No Heros, Just Ordinary People

ordinary-MHorton-2014…Ordinary lives have an ordinary impact that is beautiful in its own right. The choice has to be made, hardly earth-shattering at the moment, between ignoring a child’s complaint or taking her to the doctor. By choosing the latter, the busy mother saved her daughter’s life.

Less catastrophic but no less dangerous is the choice to do something big when something small is exactly what’s called for in the moment. The habit of reading stories to children at bedtime is often tedious. Family and private devotions can be tedious as well. So too can daily homework be a chore for students, along with grading for teachers. Making rounds is often tedious for doctors and nurses. yet daily faithfulness to these callings – more accurately, to God and the neighbors he has called us to serve – is precisely what enriches life.

We don’t need another hero. We need a Savior, who possessed ‘no form or majesty that we should look at him,’ and yet bore our sins (Isa 53:2-3). In fact, we need to be saved from our own hero worship, whether of ourselves or others. Jesus Christ never disappoints us because he is not simply someone to look up to because of his achievements, but is someone to trust because everything that he achieved was for us. And we need a communion of saints he has chosen and redeemed with us and for us. We need ordinary believers of every generation, race, and socioeconomic background to whom we’re united by baptism to one Lord and one faith by one Spirit. We simply need ordinary pastors to deliver the word of life and its sacraments faithfully, elders to guide us to maturity, and deacons to help keep the temporal gifts circulating in the body.

The actual churches we know are often the most difficult places in the world, especially if we are creative, ambitious, and drawn toward novelty. The patient discipline of belonging to a community (preferably, the same local community) over a long period of time is difficult for those of us born after 1964. Church growth analysts often tell us that ‘brand loyalty’ is a thing of the past and that churches will just have to catch up with that fact…. We have Corinth written all over us.

…Contentment comes from knowing that the body of Christ is far greater than any of its members by itself. Even Christ considers himself incomplete until his whole body shares in his risen glory.

With that realization, what seemed like boring routine with boring people may actually take on a different aspect. Like a vast field, we are growing together into a harvest whose glory will only appear fully at the end of the age.

Taken from chapter 8 of Michael Horton’s Or-di-nar-y: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), which I continue to read with great benefit. The chapter is strikingly titled “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” The paragraphs I have quoted are found on pp.165-67. Next time we will go into chapter 9, “God’s ecosystem.”

“How was church today?” Ordinary is “quite extraordinary indeed.” – M. Horton

ordinary-MHorton-2014I continue to read Michael Horton’s Or-di-nary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Zondervan, 2014), taking in chapter 4 today – “The Next  Big Thing.” In this chapter Horton takes on the contemporary church’s craving for the new and novel, while ignoring and shunning God’s ordinary means of grace for His church and people.

Toward the end of the chapter the author has a section headed by those words “How was church today?” Here’s what he has to say in response to that common question raised in our day:

…In most times and places of the church, this would have been an unlikely question. In fact, the hearer might have been confused. Why? Because it’s like asking how the meals at home have been this week or asking a farmer how the crops did this week. ‘How was the sermon” ‘Was it a good service?’ Same blank stare from the ancestors. In those days, churches didn’t have to be rockin’ it, nobody expected the preacher to hit it out of the park, and the service was, well, a service.

Now, that doesn’t mean that what happens at church through these ordinary means in ordinary services of ordinary churches on ordinary weeks is itself ordinary. What happens is quite extraordinary indeed. First and foremost, God shows up. He judges and justifies, draws sinners and gathers his sheep to his Son by his Word and Spirit. He unites them to Christ, bathes them and feeds them, teaches and tends them along their pilgrim way. He expands his empire even as he deepens it. It is through this divinely ordained event that ‘the powers of the age to come’ penetrate into the darkest crevices of this passing evil age (Heb 6:3-6).

Which leads Horton to add these thoughts:

So one way people might have responded in times past, at least in churches of the Reformation, would have been something like these expressions: ‘Well, it was one more nail in the coffin of the old Adam’ or ‘God absolved me’ or maybe something as simple as, ‘It’s been good to understand the Gospel of John a little better over these past few months.’ [p.83]

How will we answer that question after we have been to our “ordinary” houses of worship and prayer tomorrow? May we realize again how “quite extraordinary” God’s good way of feeding us and caring for us in His church is.