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O Come, All Ye Faithful (Matthew 2:1-2)

December 24, 2014

Reflecting on the Passage:

During this Christmas season, here at East Point Church, we have begun an Advent series entitled “Christ, God with Us“, to which we reflect on historical hymns in light of the Gospel. This week’s sermon invokes great emotion with “O Come, All Ye Faithful”. Pastor Carter cheerfully exclaims that the reason is Christ saving sinners. The focus of this sermon is on our need to come to Christ, for He is our King, He is our Salvation and He is our Satisfaction.

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Centerline New Media. Subtle Advent Christ. Digital image. The Skit Guys. SKIT GUYS™, INC., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Jesus Christ: Our King

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him (Matthew 2:1-2).”

Why do we come to Jesus Christ? The first reason is simply because He is our King. These wise men come to Jerusalem, to which King Herod was given authority. However, unlike those within this region, these men recognized that there was a King in Jerusalem and kings do not come to you, they do the inviting. How much greater was this King in Jerusalem, to whom even Gentiles come from different lands to worship Him?

Jesus Christ: Our Salvation

Secondly, we come to Christ because He is our Salvation. He did not come to give this world a holiday. He came into the world to save sinners (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15). He was born to die, so that those who are dead might live (John 12:23-28; Romans 5:8). Sin in the world and in us has no solution apart from Him (Acts 4:12).

Jesus Christ: Our Satisfaction

Not only is Christ our King and our Salvation, but He is also our Satisfaction. He is the truest friend ever known to man, providing a listening ear in the time of need while fully able to meet the need (cf. Proverbs 18:24; John 13:15). He is a faithful brother, who will bear with us even in the stormiest of times (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 2:10-13). Above all, He is a tender Lover, who is able to see the unlovely and proceed to love them unconditionally (Isaiah 1:18; Zephaniah 3:17; John 3:1 6-21, 17:23; 1 Corinthians 13).

Why do you come to Christ?

Christmas means nothing, if it is not Jesus saving from sin. Christmas was announced because of the ugliness of sin; and sin does not take a holiday. The promise of Christmas is Christ is coming again!

Listen to this week’s full sermon for free.

Hymn Writers and Their Hymns: Anne Steele

December 22, 2014
Hymnbooks

Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul

 Anne Steele (1717-1778) was one of the most widely published hymn writers in her time and almost a century after – maybe only 2nd to Isaac Watts – yet you probably don’t recall her name nor recognize many of her hymns. She originally wrote her hymns for personal devotion but her father (who was a wealthy timber merchant and also a lay pastor) began using them in his worship services and later helped get them published.They largely fell out of publication in the late 1800’s and no one really seems to know why. One speculation and likely cause is that the increasingly popular falsehood that a Christian ought not to experience any doubts or struggle with their beliefs stands in direct contradiction to many of Steele’s hymns which speak plainly about such experiences being part of the normal Christian life.

One such hymn is, Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul:

 

Dear refuge of my weary soul,
On thee when sorrows rise;
On thee, when waves of trouble roll,
My fainting hope relies.

While hope revives, though pressed with fears,
And I can say, “My God,”
Beneath thy feet I spread my cares,
And pour my woes abroad.

To thee I tell each rising grief,
For thou alone canst heal;
Thy word can bring a sweet relief,
For every pain I feel.

But oh! when gloomy doubts prevail
I fear to call thee mine;
The springs of comfort seem to fail|
And all my hopes decline. 

Yet gracious God, where shall I flee?
Thou art my only trust;
And still my soul would cleave to thee,
Though prostrate in the dust.

Hast thou not bid me seek thy face?
And shall I seek in vain?
And can the ear of sovereign grace
Be deaf when I complain?
 

No, still the ear of sovereign grace
Attends the mourner’s prayer;
O may I ever find access,
To breathe my sorrows there.

Thy mercy-seat is open still;
Here let my soul retreat,
With humble hope attend thy will,
And wait beneath thy feet.

The first verse is a confession that is rare to find these days, acknowledging that her soul is weary and her hope is fainting. Steele faced many difficulties during her life. Her mother died when she was at the age of three and by age 14 began to be bothered by chronic malaria. Her health then was never very good. A young man she was courting drowned, and though she received numerous wedding proposals after that, chose a life of singleness. Yes, she experienced frequent joys and many of her hymns and poems reflect her “cheerful and helpful” disposition described of her, but it’s good to know that she did not write these words glibly.

Have you ever felt soul-weary? Did you tell God? He is the only refuge for a troubled mind. Look back to verse three that begins, “To thee I tell each rising grief.” We often associate hymns with a lack of emotion and modern choruses with emotional excess at times. But a careful study will reveal that the emotional range touched on by modern choruses is really rather narrow compared to hymns. Why does that even matter? What should we feel about the way we feel? As Calvin says in his commentary on the Psalms, “there is not an emotion of which one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror…[and] they call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of ourselves in particular so that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and the vices with which we abound, may remain concealed.” Because of the idol factory that is our heart, feelings are often quite deceptive. Steele is here reminding us to bring whatever emotions we have to Him so that His word will stand us aright.

Steele also shows us that we must not wait for “right” emotions or thoughts before telling them to God. Many of her hymns are a model of what it is to “gospel argue” with the soul. Look at verse four. Her doubts that she is beloved by God don’t just seem to poke at her – they prevail. Yet in the following verses she asks the questions, “Where shall I flee? Hast thou not bid me seek thy face? Can the ear of sovereign grace be deaf?” And the answer, “NO! The ear of sovereign grace attends the mourner’s prayer and his mercy-seat is open!” Arguing with the soul is a vital discipline that is lost on many people; and oh, how we all need reminding of our refuge! It really is a shame, in my opinion, that many hymns and devotions that show us how to do it are so often neglected and even criticized for their “negative tone”.

I encourage you to read the hymns of Steele and hope that in doing so you would be comforted and moved to worship! You can find them here.

A Child is Born (Isaiah 9:2-7)

December 21, 2014

Reflecting on the Passage:

During this Christmas season, here at East Point Church, we have begun an Advent series entitled “Christ, God with Us”, to which we reflect on historical hymns in light of the Gospel. This week’s sermon invokes great emotion with “Hark! The Herald Angel Sing”. Pastor Duncanson joyfully explains why the angels rejoice at the coming of Jesus Christ. The focus of this sermon is on the reason for rejoicing at the coming of Christ.

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Centerline New Media. Subtle Advent Christ. Digital image. The Skit Guys. SKIT GUYS™, INC., n.d. Web. 19 Dec. 2014.

Reason for Rejoicing: Nature of Christ

The people who walked in darkness

      have seen a great light;

those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,

      on them has light shone.

You have multiplied the nation;

      you have increased its joy;

they rejoice before you

      as with joy at the harvest,

      as they are glad when they divide the spoil (Isaiah 9:2-3;ESV).

Kings are not born, princes are. However, Jesus came into the world as King not prince, which is why the angels appropriately sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” This is important to understand because the good news is the Creator of the Universe came humbly to earth not to judge or condemn humanity, but to serve humanity (Matthew 10:45). Instead of giving up on sinful humanity, He gave His Eternal Son, Jesus Christ to redeem His people from the wrath to come (John 3:15-21).

Reason for Rejoicing: Need of Christ

For the yoke of his burden,

     and the staff for his shoulder,

      the rod of his oppressor,

      you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult

      and every garment rolled in blood

      will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,

      to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

      and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace

      there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

      to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

      from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this (Isaiah 9:4-7; ESV).”

This Jesus, “Christ born in Bethlehem”, our Emmanuel was, is and will forever be the King we all need. We were created to love authority, but because of sin, we do not want to submit to kingly rule (cf. Genesis 3; Romans 5:12-21). The angels rejoice knowing this King was coming to make things right, for He was not like any other king who came before Him, so He had to come Himself, to heal, forgive sins, and show that he was no ordinary man; He was God in the flesh. Truly, we need a Savior who can sympathize with us yet remain sinless, providing a righteousness we cannot and forgiveness that we do not deserve (Hebrews 2:17-18)!

Where is your hope?

The hope of all humanity came to earth, both fully God and fully man, to rescue His people. Think about that for a moment, Christ laid in a manager as an infant, washed the feet of men who would betray and abandon Him, and gave His life (and picked it up again), in order to save sinners (Luke 2; John 13; Philippians 2:5-11). Believe in Him and you shall have everlasting life!

Listen to this week’s full sermon for free.

Gathered Worship as Formation and The Gift of Hymns

December 17, 2014

Lex Orandi Lex Credendi (The law of prayer is the law of belief)

And we, who with unveiled faces all gaze upon the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” 2 Corinthians 3:18

What we hear, see, do, and sing really matters. Corporate worship shapes and molds our beliefs of who God is and what the Christian life is like, whether we realize it or not. What happens in worship has the “expulsive power of a new affection”. By that phrase, Thomas Chalmers means that we never really get over one love until a new one comes along. This gets at the root of our problem with worship – idolatry. Being conscience of the way corporate worship is formative has been significantly helpful in my understanding of what is really happening during worship and why the actions we participate in are so vital to our well-being. The scripture readings, confessions, prayers, the sermon, singing, and sacraments are not activities we participate in so that the Sunday worship time will feel “churchy” enough. No, they are carefully placed and administered to facilitate the public worship of God and the feeding of his people according to scripture.

A practical example at EPC is from our reciting of Philippians 2:5-11 as our common confession. Paul wrote to the church in Philippi to encourage unity and in this particular passage he is using Christ’s humiliation of willingly being born in the likeness of men, taking the form of a servant, and becoming obedient to the point of death as an example of how unity is created. When we read this passage aloud together, the desired result is that we would seek unity by serving one another faithfully because Christ has lead us to worship this way. It ought to change our desires from seeking to serve ourselves toward serving others. If it doesn’t do that, it at least should change our idea of what actually causes unity: humility. I believe our corporate worship planners were careful to have the church participate in this reading as a service to the church.

I give that example to drive the point that what we do in gathered worship is formative whether we realize or not. In particular, I have been wrestling deeply about how the songs we sing have this formative effect. Songs bare a special testimony of shaping people’s beliefs, and thus their living, in such ways that it would be foolish to neglect them. In fact, it was said of Martin Luther by a Catholic Cardinal, shortly after the reformation, “By his songs he has conquered us,” and a Jesuit declared, “Luther’s songs have damned more souls than all his books and speeches.” Of course we take a different view, but pardon the expression and don’t miss the point.

But wait… Did you already know that Martin Luther wrote songs?? Hymns, technically. He had a huge influence in re-introducing congregational singing (prior to the reformation, singing was done by professional musicians and in Latin only). He also compiled and published many hymn books. In fact, there are many giants of the faith who, though most famous for their preaching, compiled hymn books for their congregations and for publishing. Charles Spurgeon, George Whitefield, and J. C. Ryle for example. We know them for their preaching, but they also took great care of what churches were singing because they knew the songs supplemented so much of their spiritual diet.

To help witness this, I plan to share some follow-up posts on the topic of hymn writers and their hymns. Hymns excel in covering a large scope of Biblical themes and Christian experiences. Reflecting on them is a great way to wrestle with theology because they connect theology to life and worship rather than allowing theology to just puff us up as disconnected truths that we memorize to impress our friends. It’s vital for us to turn what we know about God into a basis for praising Him and hymns are wonderful vehicles for this. So I hope the following series of posts on hymn writers and their hymns will be helpful for us to see why, for generations, our brothers and sisters carried their hymn book with their Bible.

Guarding the Gospel (Acts 15:1-21)

December 13, 2014

Reflecting on the Passage:

Here at East Point Church, we have begun a new sermon series entitled “Acts: The Spirit and the Church in the World“. This week’s sermon unfolds with a dispute over the essentials of the Christian faith. Pastor Carter explains why the Church should earnestly contend for the faith, which was once delivered to the saints. The focus of this sermon is on how the Apostles and elders gathered together to consider the most important issue, which is who can be saved?

Saved by Works

But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question (Acts 15:1, 2;ESV).

The greatest temptation with the Gospel is to add to or take away from what God has made explicitly clear (cf. Genesis 3:1-5; 2 Corinthians 11:3). These men from Judea, probably with good intention, sincerely believed that the Gentiles had to be circumcised according to the custom of Moses in order to be saved. However, they did not understand the magnitude of the issue at hand, namely, how one receives salvation. Thankfully, Paul and Barnabas held fast to the core teaching of the Gospel, mainly, salvation is not by works, but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone (cf. Matthew 19:16-22).

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Saved by Grace Alone

And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will (Acts 15:7-11; ESV).”

Furthermore, what these men misunderstood was that circumcision was merely a sign pointing to a greater reality, which was the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 30:6). By doing this, these men were laying heavy burdens on those under their teaching by the implicit, misuse, and abuse of the law of God (cf. Matthew 23:2-4, 13). On the other hand, the Apostles remembered the teachings of Christ. He gave them the charge to make disciples according to His teachings, not laying heavy burdens on others, but declaring that He is able to set them free to live for Him and trust Him freely (Matthew 11:25-30, 28:18-20; Luke 4:14-19; John 8:31-36).

Do you see your need of Jesus?

Salvation is the one thing in this world that you and I cannot earn. If you admit that you need Jesus, then you can be saved.

Listen to this week’s full sermon for free.

Trouble & Triumph in Christ (Acts 14:19-28)

December 4, 2014

Read more…

Miracles and Mere Men (Acts 14:8-18)

November 28, 2014

Reflecting on the Passage:

Here at East Point Church, we have begun a new sermon series entitled “Acts: The Spirit and the Church in the World“. This week’s sermon communicates the sufficiency, power, and glory of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Pastor Carter expounds on the amazing truth that God has the power to enable what sin has disabled. The focus of this sermon is on the ministry of the Gospel in Lystra, where Paul and Barnabas experienced the satisfaction of seeing a man turn to Christ in faith and the sorrow of the futility of the praise of men.

The Gospel: Turning from Idols to Christ

Now at Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet. He was crippled from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking. And Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, Stand upright on your feet. And he sprang up and began walking (Acts 14:8-10;ESV).

There was a man present, who had been disabled from birth and unable to walk. Pastor Carter emphasizes that feet were made for standing and walking that is the purpose for which God created them. These feet, therefore, were unable to do that for which they had been created, and this was a problem. With this in mind, as we understand the problem, we can understand the purpose of the miracle. This man’s disability pointed to his inability, and for this reason, the Lord delighted in displaying His power to enable what sin had disabled (cf. Matthew 9:6; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24; John 9:3, 11:4). When Paul saw that the power of God had changed this crippled man’s life, he commands him to do what he was unable to do. Likewise, notice that what God commands, He also grants.

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The Futility of Man: Turning from Christ to Idols

And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men! Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was at the entrance to the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds. But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out into the crowd, crying out, Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness. Even with these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them (Acts 14:11-18; ESV).”

Whatever joy that Paul and Barnabas had experienced at the sight of God bringing yet another sinner to repentance, was soon turned into sorrow at the sight of men idolizing men (cf. Luke 15:7, 10; Jeremiah 17:5). The crowd was so fixated on the sign, that they misread the sign and attributed praise to Paul and Barnabas instead of God. Thankfully, Paul and Barnabas understood that they were not the message. They deflected and corrected the praise of men by explaining the Gospel in such a way that the crowd could understand their sin, regardless of their non-Jewish religious background (cf. Psalm 8, 19; Romans 2). The amazing thing is that God is gracious to believers and unbelievers, but the time is coming when every person will give account to whether they followed Christ or the idols of their hearts (cf. Deuteronomy 31:27; Joshua 24:14-20; Matthew 6:24; 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

Are you really worshipping Christ?

Do not be deceived, you can be in the presence of the Word of Christ, hear the message of salvation, sit under the preached word, and still be in idolatry because you make it about everything and everyone else except Jesus Christ. We must search our hearts today and pray that He would remove the idols that hinder us from receiving Him.

Listen to this week’s full sermon for free.

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