Monday, April 29, 2013

Our Heritage a Firm Foundation

At the conclusion of "The Sermon on the Mount", Jesus gave a very important parable.  This is one that we need to be reminded of frequently lest the world dilute our faith with godless approaches to worship, prayer, and teaching.  In Matthew 7:24-27, we read:  "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on the house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell and great was the fall of it."   Jesus minces no words in this passage.  He plainly tells us that if we live in obedience to His Word we will be able to stand in the day of trouble.  If not, our "house" will collapse.  This is good advice not only for believers but also for the church in these turbulent times.
     Our heritage, then, is the foundation laid by the Lord and taught by the Apostles.  I personally believe that in our rush to be relevant, trendy and "seeker friendly" we often miss the important anchors of our faith which are found in God's Word and summarized for us in the various catechisms of the faith (i.e. The Heidelberg Catechism, The Westminster Long and Shorter Catechisms, The Belgic Confession).  Without teaching the doctrines essential to the Christian faith, we are shortchanging our children and young people who are unfortunately slipping away from church in their later years.  We also do a disservice to adults who have come to new found faith by not discipling them so that they are grounded and able to know what they believe and why they believe it.  I have been so grateful that our church recently has started to put Catechism questions and answers (Westminster Shorter Catechism) in our church bulletin to be read responsively.  Perhaps for some in our congregation, this may be the first time they have ever heard these summaries of our faith.  If so, then I am even more encouraged because we need a firm foundation.
     In my younger years, I remember thinking that traditional worship services were stuffy.  We needed to do away with all the old formalism and find new ways to express ourselves.  To that end, we joined a fellowship whose goal it was to seek out the Lord in new ways.  No more Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer, or other facets of the "old" worship services.  However, what happened was a lack of foundational teaching, accountability, and a dependence, instead, on feelings and emotions.  It became a house built on the sand for us.  When the storms of life came, the house crumbled.  Fortunately, this was not the end of the story for us because God restored us to a fellowship where we could be nurtured, healed, loved and come to worship the Lord on His terms within the safety of a solid foundation.  How many people do you know who have walked away from church because the foundation was shaky having been built on emotion and feelings rather than God's Word?  We come to church to worship Him according to His principles of worship not according to the dictates of our taste.
He is the One whose pleasure we desire, and in finding His delight, we also receive an abiding joy that does not diminish no matter what comes our way.
      During the era of the Puritans from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we find their strength was built on foundational teaching of God's Word as well as family devotions and private devotion.  The Puritans believed that the Bible should influence every area of life, and prayer was the key to remaining obedient to the Lord.   These believers greatly influenced the founding of our nation as they looked to God to direct their steps daily.  Their faith, toil, blood and tears form a heritage from which we can draw great strength.  In his book "The Valley of Vision", the editor Arthur Bennett, Cannon of St. Albans Cathedral, England, seeks to reprint some of the private prayers and devotions found in Puritan writing.  When reading these prayers and devotions, we see that what undergirds their words is a faith built solidly on the doctrines found in the Bible.  Here is an example of one such prayer:
           O Thou Giving God, My heart is drawn out in thankfulness to thee,
           for thy amazing grace and condescension to me
           in influences and assistances of thy Spirit,
           for special help in prayer,
           for the sweetness of Christian service,
           for the thoughts of arriving in heaven,
           for always sending me needful supplies,
           for raising me to new life when I am like a one dead.
        I want not the favour of man to lean upon
           for thy favour is infinitely better.
        Thou art eternal wisdom in dispensations towards me;
           and it matters not when, nor where, nor how I serve thee,
           nor what trials I am exercised with,
           if I might but be prepared for thy work and will.
        No poor creature stands in need of divine grace more than I do.
        And yet none abuses it more than I have done, and still do.
        How heartless and dull I am!
        Humble me in the dust for not loving thee more.
        Every time I exercise any grace renewedly
           I am renewedly indebted to thee,
           the God of all grace, for special assistance.
        I cannot boast when I think how dependent
           I am upon thee for the being and every act of grace;
        I never do anything else but depart from thee,
           and if ever I get to heaven it will be because thou willest it, and for no reason beside.
        I love, as a feeble, afflicted, despised creature,
           to cast myself on thy infinite grace and goodness,
           hoping for no happiness but from thee;
         Give me special grace to fit me for special services,
           and keep me calm and resigned at all times,
           humble, solemn, mortified, and conformed to thy will.
     There is such a simple beauty in this prayer which comes from a heart aware of great need for God's grace.  When we know who God is, we will understand much better who we are and how we fit into the plans our Lord has for us.  It begins with the foundation which was laid by our Savior Jesus Christ. It has been handed down by the Apostles as Paul stated in I Corinthians 11:23a:  "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you...."  Also Peter tells us in his letter (2 Peter 1:12-21) keying in on verse 16,19:  "For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power of coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.....And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts...."  Again, we hear  from Peter that he has passed on the eyewitness account of our Savior along with the teaching of our Lord.
     Dear Ones, we have a heritage that is rich, full and carries God's grace.  As I have grown older,
 I find such comfort in singing the Psalms, partaking of God's sacraments, participating in fellowship to worship God and spending time in prayer and study.  Through the ages, many have fought and died for the faith which has been handed down to us.  God has told us that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church".  When our fellowships are built upon the foundation laid by Jesus Christ, taught by the Apostles and passed on to faithful men, we can know that the storms may come, but our house will stand.  Feelings, emotions, fads, and worldly approaches will come and go, but they are built upon the sand.  May we never forget our heritage and may we be faithful to teach it to our children, our grandchildren and those new in the faith so they know what they believe and why they believe it.  Selah!

No comments: