Eternally and Completely Satisfied

Psalm 17:15 describes what theologians call the beatific vision… that moment in your future when you shall see God. It reads: “As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.”

Think about what you will be in eternity. When you see the King in all of His glory, you will be like Him.  You will be eternally and completely satisfied.

C.S. Lewis describes this beautifully in his book The Weight of Glory:

God “will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into …
a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through
with such energy and joy and wisdom and love
as we cannot now imagine,
a bright stainless mirror
which reflects back to God perfectly…
His own boundless power and delight and goodness” (p. 176).

There are no ordinary people. You’ve never talked to a mere mortal.
Nations, cultures, arts, civilization, these are mortal and their life
is to ours as the life of a gnat.
It’s a serious thing to remember
that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to,
may one day be a creature which,
if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.

Facing Our Long Battle with Terrorism

20130712-141054This morning I was reading again a journal article by James I. Packer entitled “Wisdom in a Time of War: What Oswald Chambers and C.S. Lewis Teach Us about Living Through The Long Battle with Terrorism.” He wrote this for the January 2, 2002 edition of  the periodical Christianity Today.

One of the first points he makes is that Christians must think carefully and biblically about our own lives. I found his particular points very salient:

  • God gives us life to live for his glory.
  • Since the Fall of man (see Genesis 3), tragedy, distortion, frustration, and waste have been the regular marks of life in this world.
  • Reason (with a capital R) cannot save us, as its secular worshipers thought it could.
  • Knowing and serving Jesus Christ the Redeemer and his Father, who through Christ is now our Father, is the only thing that gives life meaning.
  • Death is inescapable and wisdom requires us to remember this and live our lives accordingly.
  • While God protects his people against spiritual shipwreck, he often puts them through pain for their spiritual progress and sometimes permits and uses war to that end.
  • Christians are called not to understand everything that God is doing but to be faithful to him.

C.S. Lewis: What Christians Do in Time of War

cs-lewis1Writing more than a half a century ago of nuclear war, C.S. Lewis risked sounding unfeeling in order to enforce the way of wisdom:

Believe me, dear sir or madam,

you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death

before the atomic bomb was invented;

and quite a high percentage of us

were going to die in unpleasant ways .

It is perfectly ridiculous to go about

whimpering and drawing long faces

because the scientists have added one more chance

of painful and premature death to a world

which already bristled with such chances

and in which death itself was not a chance but a certainty.

 

Let that bomb when it comes

find us doing sensible and human things—

praying, working, teaching, listening to music,

bathing the children, playing tennis,

chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—

not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.

They may break our bodies (any microbe can do that)

but they need not dominate our minds.

Our Journey to God in Some Poky Little Church

In chapter two of his book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis points out that nature, for all its staggering beauty, is limited for the seeker of God; natural beauty can’t communicate God’s truths about salvation and about the contemplative life of following Christ. “Nature cannot satisfy the desires she arouses nor answer theological questions nor sanctify us. Our real journey to God involves constantly turning our backs on her; passing from the dawn-lit fields into some poky little church, or (it might be) going to work in an East End Parish.”

For all of its foibles which at its worst include lousy preaching, political infighting, self-centeredness, stagnation, a gaggle of special-interest groups, the poky local church in suburbia is still the most fertile environment for spiritual development there is. Genuine spiritual progress doesn’t happen without a long-term attachment to a poky local church. I’m all for improving the organization of a local church to make it more biblically effective, but the maddening frustration that prompts someone to leave one church for another may be the precise thing that holds great potential for spiritual progress if one stays. “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together. “Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.”

Disillusionment with one’s church, then, is not a reason to leave but a reason to stay and see what God will create in one’s life and in the local church. What I perceive to be my needs “I need a church with a more biblical preacher who uses specific examples from real life” may not correspond to my true spiritual needs. Often I am not attuned to my true spiritual needs. Thinking that I know my true needs is arrogant and narcissistic. Staying put as a life practice allows God’s grace to work on the unsanded surfaces of my inner life. In the seventeenth-century Francois Fenelon wrote, “Slowly you will learn that all the troubles in your life, your job, your health, your inward failings are really cures to the poison of your old nature.”

I would add “your church” to his list; that is, all the troubles in one’s church are really cures to the poison of one’s old nature, or, as the Apostle Paul put it in Romans 7, the “sinful nature.” The biggest problem in any church I attend is myself and my love of self and my penchant to roam when I sense my needs aren’t being met.

Staying put and immersing oneself in the life of a gathered community forces one into eventual conflict with other church members, with church leadership, or with both. Frustration and conflict are the raw materials of spiritual development. All the popular reasons given for shopping for another church are actually spiritual reasons for staying put. They are a means of grace, preventing talk of spirituality from becoming sentimental or philosophical. Biblical spirituality is earthy, face-to-face, and often messy.

A Worship Service – Celebrating the Ascension of our Lord

PREPARATION FOR WORSHIP
Today is Ascension Day, and that means that it is a day of great joy for all who believe that Christ rules the world and our lives. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison

Christ’s ascension means that in heaven there is one who, knowing firsthand the experience of suffering and temptation, prays for us and perfects our prayers. The ascension is a witness and guarantee of our own bodily resurrection, as well as an invitation for us to set our hearts and minds “on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God” …

The Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. It is since Christians have begun thinking less of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you get neither. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Let me say with tears that as far as material possessions, time, energy and talents are concerned, all too many Bible-believing Christians live as though their entire existence is limited to this side of the grave.
— Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, “Ash Heap Lives”

CALL TO WORSHIP Hebrews 4:14-16
Leader: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
People: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.
Leader: Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence,
People: So that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

HYMNS OF PRAISE

COME, CHRISTIANS, JOIN TO SING – Trinity Hymnal (TH) #302

Come, Christians, join to sing–Alleluia! Amen!
Loud praise to Christ our King–Alleluia! Amen!
Let all, with heart and voice, before His throne rejoice;
Praise is His gracious choice–Alleluia! Amen!

Come, lift your hearts on high–Alleluia! Amen!
Let praises fill the sky–Alleluia! Amen!
He is our Guide and Friend; to us He’ll condescend;
His love shall never end–Alleluia! Amen!

Praise yet our Christ again–Alleluia! Amen!
Life shall not end the strain–Alleluia! Amen!
On heaven’s blissful shore His goodness we’ll adore,
Singing forevermore, “Alleluia! Amen!”

COME YE SINNERS, POOR AND NEEDY—HYMN #472
Come, ye sinners poor and needy, bruised and broken by the Fall
Jesus ready stands to save you full of pardoning love for all
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more

Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream
All the fitness he requires is to feel your need of Him
He will save you, He will save you ‘tis the gospel’s constant theme
He will save you, He will save you ‘tis the gospel’s constant theme

Come ye weary, heavy laden, lost and ruined by the fall
If you tarry ‘till you’re better, you will never come at all
He is waiting, He is waiting to embrace you in His arms
He is waiting, He is waiting to embrace you in His arms

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended pleads the merit of His blood
Venture on Him, venture wholly let no other trust intrude
None but Jesus, none but Jesus can do helpless sinners good
None but Jesus, none but Jesus can do helpless sinners good

[Repeat All]

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH Heidelberg Catechism (Qs 46 & 49, 1563 AD)
What do we mean by saying, “He ascended into heaven?”
That Christ, while his disciples watched, was lifted up from the earth to heaven and will be there for our good until he comes again to judge the living and the dead.
How does Christ’s ascension to heaven benefit us?
First, he pleads our cause in heaven in the presence of his Father. Second, we have our own flesh in heaven – a guarantee that Christ our head will take us, his members, to himself in heaven. Third, he sends his Spirit to us on earth as a further guarantee. By the Spirit’s power we make a goal of our lives, not earthly things, but the things above where Christ is, sitting at God’s right hand.
CORPORATE CONFESSION OF SIN
Almighty Father, You raised Jesus from death to life and crowned him Lord of all. We confess that we have not bowed before him or acknowledged his rule in our lives. We have embraced and been led by the false values, priorities, and commitments of this present world that is hostile to you. We have failed to set our minds on heaven and give our ascended King the honor and homage that He deserves. Forgive us and free us from the bondage of sin so that we may live as your faithful people, obeying the commands of our King who rules the world and is head of the church, his body. Amen.

PERSONAL CONFESSION OF SIN

ASSURANCE OF PARDON 1 John 2:1-2
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

SONGS OF ASSURANCE

Before the Throne of God Above (Charitie Lees Bancroft and Vikki Cook)

1.  Before the throne of God above I have a strong and perfect plea,
A great High Priest whose name is Love, Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart—
I know that while in heaven He stands, [no tongue can bid me thence depart.]

2.  When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died my sinful soul is counted free—
For God the just, is satisfied, [to look on Him and pardon me.]

3.  Behold Him there!  The Risen Lamb, my perfect, spotless Righteousness!
The great unchangeable I AM, the King of glory and of grace.
One with Himself I cannot die, my soul is purchased with His blood—
My life is hid with Christ on high, [with Christ my Savior and my God.]

GREETING & ANNOUNCEMENTS

GIVING OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS
OFFERTORY
SCRIPTURE READING Philippians 2:9-11; 3:17-21

2:9 – Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is
above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in
heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus
Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
3:17 – Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk
according to the example you have in us. 18For many, of whom I have often told
you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19
Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame,
with minds set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it
we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21who will transform our lowly body to
be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things
to himself.

THE SERMON Longing for Heaven: Our Heart’s True Home
#1 in the series – Jesus Ascended into Heaven

I. The ascension of Jesus galvanizes us to resist accommodation to our culture (3:17-19).

II. The ascension of Jesus prompts a change in our citizenship. This prompts us to long for heaven  (3:30-21).

III. The ascension of Jesus guarantees our own bodily resurrection. This enables us to affirm the goodness of this world
and of our bodies (3:21).

PRAYER OF COMMITMENT

SENDING HYMN

WHO SHALL ASCEND THE MOUNTAIN OF THE LORD – TH #292
Who shall ascend the mountain of the Lord,
To search the mystery in heaven stored,
The knowledge of the Holy One adored? Alleluia! Alleluia!

One King alone, whose hands and heart are pure,
One servant of the Lord with purpose sure,
Can enter in that glory to endure. Alleluia! Alleluia!

He only can ascend to God’s right hand
Who first came down as His high mercy planned,
True God and man has earth and heaven spanned. Alleluia! Alleluia!

Before the clouds receive the King on high,
A cross lifts up His form against the sky;
The Framer of the worlds has come to die. Alleluia! Alleluia!

He shall ascend the mountain of the Lord,
The King of glory, whose own blood outpoured
Paid that dear price that mercy did afford. Alleluia! Alleluia!
BENEDICTION Ephesians 1:18-19

May you know the hope to which God has called you, experience the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
and trust his incomparably great power for us who believe. Amen.

Receiving the Riches of Glory – 2 Corinthians 8:9

Dr. James Montgomery Boice, the late pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, captures the essence of Advent: “Jesus descended from the peak of glory to this lowly position in order that He might raise us from our lowly position to His glory.” The significance of the incarnation is not only that we know the grace of Christ now, but that we will share His glory in the hereafter. Jesus was made lower than the angels and tasted death for everyone in order to bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:9-10).

Of what do the riches of Jesus’ glory consist? Hear how the Apostle Paul describes the riches of His glory from 2 Corinthians 5:

First of all, it involves receiving an eternal house. 2 Corinthians 5:1 says, “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”

The picture of a tent suggests a lack of permanence and insecurity and is a common symbol of earthly life and its setting in the body. Our earthly house is compared to a tent, which serves as a temporary dwelling. Our eternal house is compared to a permanent building constructed by God Himself. Many people wager their lives on death being
the end, but a Christian knows he will live forever with a glorified body in perfect communion with his Lord.

Secondly, it involves receiving an eternal home. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8: “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

As believers, we enjoy a most wonderful relationship with our Lord that will never end. We will be perfectly known and perfectly loved forever and ever. The phrase “with the Lord” suggests a dynamic, intimate communion with Jesus Christ. The riches of His glory consist in having an eternal home to go to at the end of our days. What a comfort this is! Jesus assures His followers in the Upper Room: “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).

Finally, it involves receiving an eternal weight. 2 Corinthians 4:17 is a reminder of what suffering and affliction produce in the life of a Christian: “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.”

We ought to commit ourselves to read at least once a year C.S. Lewis’ essay, The Weight of Glory. It can lift us from the harsh and stark realities of this world and renew our vision for what is ultimately in store for us in the coming kingdom of our Lord.

“Apparently, then,” Lewis concludes, “our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.”

Ultimately, what we all are truly longing for is GLORY – inexpressible glory. We want
to be welcomed, received, acknowledged by, and taken in by God into His dwelling
place. This is exactly our future because the only-begotten Son of God became a man to take upon Himself our rags of sin, condemnation, rejection, guilt, shame, brokenness, isolation, and insecurity. He has granted us His favor, smile, and righteousness. The words of the prophet Isaiah summarize how we should respond this Advent:

“I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).

Advent Devotional #1: A Riches to Rags Story

van_hornthorst_adoration_children_800x583During Advent we remember and celebrate Jesus’s first coming when “the Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.”(C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). We also look forward to our Lord’s second coming when He fully establishes His peaceable kingdom.

To grasp more fully the magnitude of Advent, we want to digest over the next month one verse: 2 Corinthians 8:9. It reads: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” I would encourage you to memorize and meditate upon this verse.

In J.I. Packer’s spiritual classic, Knowing God, he reminds us that this is the key text in all the New Testament for rightly understanding the incarnation. Reading this verse is comparable to the experience of stepping suddenly into a deep pool while wading in a stream. He writes: “Here is stated not only the fact of the incarnation but also its meaning. The taking of manhood by the Son is not only a marvel of nature, but a wonder of grace.”

Everybody loves a rags to riches story. Think about Cinderella—here’s a young woman who’s literally dressed in rags, belittled and treated harshly. Her life takes a turn into remarkable fortune: she is dressed in a royal gown and made exquisitely beautiful by her fairy godmother; she becomes the focus of the prince’s affections; and she unexpectedly achieves the riches of profound admiration and love after a long period of obscurity and neglect. How inspiring and moving are all rags to riches stories.

The story of Advent is even more inspiring and moving because it starts with riches and then moves to rags so that those of us who are dressed in the spiritual rags of our own self-righteousness (Isaiah 64:4) might personally experience and enjoy the spiritual riches of our Lord.

During Advent, we recall why the eternally rich God became poor in His incarnation and humiliation for us. The Apostle Paul speaks very succinctly: Jesus became poor so that we might possess an experiential knowledge of His grace (8:9a).

What is grace? It is undeserved favor from an unobligated giver.

Do you personally know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ? How important is it to you? How much do you value it? In the light of such grace, how can we who believe it be content to be anything less than His gracious and generous people?

Verse 9 moves us toward generosity by debunking the notion that giving less away and keeping more for ourselves will provide more happiness and fulfillment. It shows that God’s purpose in sending His Son was to create gracious, joyful, and generous givers.

The degree to which we personally experience God’s generosity and grace in Christ will be the degree to which we are open-hearted and open-handed with others with all of His resources – time, talents, and treasures.

E. Stanley Jones, a missionary to India, reminds us what the Lord’s grace does in our lives: “Grace binds you with far stronger cords than the cords of duty or obligation can bind you. Grace is free, but when once you take it, you are bound forever to the Giver and bound to catch the spirit of the Giver. Like produces like. Grace makes you gracious, the Giver makes you give” (Joni Eareckson Tada, Diamonds in the Dust).

Why not pray the following for yourself and your family this Advent?

Lord, make us more like You.

Make us givers rather than takers in our relationships.

Cause us to marvel at Your grace and generosity lavished on us

at Jesus’ cradle, cross, and empty tomb.

Transform us into gracious and generous people by Your Spirit.

For we pray in Jesus’ name, AMEN.