Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Lift Up Your Hearts

Let us examine and probe our ways,

and let us return to the Lord.

We lift up our heart and hands toward God in heaven.

~ Lamentations 3:40-41

As I was saying, in our worship liturgy we are assuming God’s unearned favor and peaceful friendship toward us is a true reality.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’

After conferring on you the grace and peace of God, I will then tell you to, ‘Lift up your hearts.’

Firstly, this is an imperative.

I am not asking. I am not suggesting. I am commanding you, and by faith you ought to obey.

Lifting up your heart is the demeanor you are required to have, in response to the grace and peace God has given you.

His good gifts to you always come with strings attached.

Great privilege always requires great responsibility.

Salvation brings with itself the demands of submission and enslavement.

The God who comes to you with mercy and favor, expects you to come to him in humility and relinquishment.

The God who died for you calls you to die for him.

Lifting up your heart is the language of sacrifice.

Lifting up your heart is no less than offering yourself up to God in smoke and flame.

Lifting up your heart is dying to self, so you may be transformed by the God of grace and peace.

Secondly, lifting up your heart is an act of cheerfulness.

Is this a solemn moment? Yes it is.

But the solemnity of this kind of worship should be accompanied with gladness of heart.

God loves a cheerful giver.

And as you give yourself to him, offer yourself happily.

Don’t conjure up feelings of grief and remorse.

Lift your heart up and out of the slough of despond.

Leave it behind, and come to God in joy.

So, it’s time to die...and it’s time to smile about it.

Let us therefore worship the Triune God.

Curt Bakker February 13, 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

God Likes You

In a moment I will begin a religious, liturgical ritual with these words:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We join in this ritual every Lord’s Day, as we hear God calling us to worship him. The danger of every ritual is the temptation to forget what is being said or done, and therefore proceed through the motions of the ritual in a mindless trance.

But when this same ritual is participated in by faith, what could have been meaningless becomes for us words of life.

When I confer upon you the grace and peace of God, you should once again be amazed at what I am assuming. My assumption in pronouncing these words to the entire congregation is this:

God’s unearned favor and peaceful friendship toward you is a true reality.

God likes you, Terry.

God likes you, Matt and Matt and Matt and Matt and Matt.

God likes all of you as individuals, and he likes all of you as a connected people.

He views us as his children. He knows our frame. He knows our dustiness. He knows our weakness.

He knows our sin.

In spite of it all, he extends to us his kindness and mercy.

His face is toward us.

His ears are inclined in our direction.

His love is upon us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This is the context of our worship—the grace and peace of God, for us.

Let us therefore worship the Triune God.

~ February 6, 2011

Saturday, December 25, 2010

So, What's the Point of Christmas?

Once there was an older boy who was wondering to himself about Christmas: I wonder why we make such a big deal about the birth of Jesus when his birth really doesn’t save anyone?

The question was not going away, so he approached the theologian of his family, his father. Dad, since the birth of Jesus doesn’t really save anyone, why do we make such a big deal about it?

His father was very pleased with such a question, and he began to think of a helpful illustration. So he asked his son: Whenever you play a game of baseball, what do you need?

His son began listing all the components he could think of. A baseball, a bat, a glove, a playing field, four bases, 17 more players, and an umpire. He looked questioningly at his father.

You also need to know the history of the game, the rules, and baseball strategy. You need the skills to hit, throw, and field the ball. You need a scorekeeper, base coaches, a line-up, grandstands, a crowd, hot dogs, and coke. The father stopped there and looked at his son.

So, what’s your point? The boy asked. His father smiled–he loved that question most of all. If you only had a baseball, could you play the game?

Of course not, said the boy.

The father’s anticipation grew as he asked the clincher. If you had everything else, but no baseball, could you play the game?

The father stared at his son. He wanted him to figure this one out on his own. The boy was thinking hard.

Oh, I get it. If you had the whole plan of salvation without the birth of the Savior, you would not have any salvation!

Shazam! the father exclaimed.

Just like you need a baseball to play the game, the birth of Jesus is required for the salvation of the world.

So, when you look at the baseball sitting on your shelf, you automatically make connections–you hear the count, you see base hits, stolen bases, and strike outs, and you smell the snack shack.

When you see a nativity scene sitting on the coffee table, you should automatically hear Isaiah’s predictions of the Messiah, you should see Jesus living a sinless life, dying as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, rising from the dead in complete victory, and ascending to the right hand of the throne of God, ruling over the nations until all his enemies are made his footstool.

Christmas is therefore a crucial part of salvation’s story. Without Christmas there would be no salvation. Just like without a baseball there can be no game.


No, the father said, it's better than cool. The Incarnation is part of a perfect, no-hitter, shut-out game. It's one inning of an absolute blowout. And we get to stand in the 7th inning stretch and sing the Doxology.

~ Curt Bakker, December 18, 2005

Sunday, December 19, 2010

An Inconvenient Gospel

Decades before Jesus was born, Rome had already announced the arrival of their Messiah.  
Caesar Augustus–the holy king–was hailed as a son of God, a divine ruler, a Savior given to men from the gods, to rule over the whole world.  Salvation, according to the Roman political-religion, was found in no one else but Caesar.   

Caesar is Lord was inscribed on everything from government buildings to religious temples to Roman coinage.  The Roman poet Virgil described the Roman empire as the imperium sine fine–the empire without end, the last monarchy, the final eschatological order of things.  The world, according to Roman gospel, had received her Messiah, had been saved by him, was being ruled by him, and had finally entered the golden age of all ages.  

But when the Church began to inconveniently proclaim her gospel, virtually every claim it announced, challenged the political correctness of the day.  The Apostles spoke a treasonous word when they hijacked Roman terminology, turned it upside down, and applied it to Jesus Christ. 

Caesar was not the son of God–Jesus was. 

Caesar was not the savior of the world–Jesus was.   

Caesar was not a divine king–Jesus was.   

Rome was not the final empire of humanity–the kingdom of Jesus was.  

When Peter boldly proclaimed that Jesus was Lord and salvation was found in no one else, he was doing nothing less than declaring war against the Roman empire.  Those who defied the rule of Jesus would perish.  Those who submitted to his authority would be forever blessed.   

Rome would fall.   

But Jesus’ kingdom was the culminating age of all ages, world without end.   

It was Caesar’s word against the word of Jesus.   

And by Jesus’ word you have come into his kingdom, and by Jesus’ word you have learned of a ruined Roman empire.  Jesus did it.  He wrecked it.   

See to it you do not refuse him who speaks, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.   

Let us be thankful, and worship God acceptably, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  

~ Curt Bakker, July 2005

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Take a Nap, Do the Dishes

You who bring good tidings to Zion, go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good tidings to Jerusalem,

lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and his arm rules for him.

See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.

Isaiah 40:9-10

In a certain family somewhere there were two children, a boy and a girl. Their father was concerned that as they had been growing up, they were not understanding the gospel properly.

The sister, who was the oldest, always did everything her parents asked of her, and even more. She excelled in all of her endeavors, which was a good thing. But she was always trying to impress those around her with all of her accomplishments.

The brother, who was the youngest and a bit spoiled by the family, was content to entertain himself, and avoided his chores and assignments.

One day, when the sister and brother were having one of their regular arguments, their father sat them down and asked each of them what their complaints were. The girl complained that her brother did nothing and she always did everything for dad and mom. The boy complained that his sister constantly picked on him for no reason, and he was really OK.

The father listened to all of this, and then asked them a strange question: Why was Jesus Born?

To this the girl immediately responded, Jesus was born to save the world.

The boy thought for a moment and said, Jesus was born to save me.

The father took a deep breath and then said, You are both right, and you are both wrong.

Looking at his daughter he began, Jesus did come to save the world, so why are you trying to save it all over again? Why do you demand that everyone be just like you, busy and impressive, and then you get angry when others don’t measure up? Your gospel has the cart before the horse. You do good works, but the love of Jesus for the world is not in your heart. Your hard work has made you a Pharisee. Your gospel is all law without love. The daughter’s mouth was open, but no words were coming out.

And then looking at his son he began again, Jesus did come to save you. So why will you not be saved? You cling to your salvation with your mouth, but your hands and feet are lame. Your gospel has nothing in the cart. You say you believe and trust in Jesus, but you do not do as Jesus did. Your loud profession has made you a hypocrite. Your gospel is all talk with no action. The son’s mouth was stuck in the same position as his sister’s.

The father then said, These will be your first acts of repentance. Looking at his daughter he said, I want you to go to your bedroom and take a nap–resting in your salvation. Then, looking at his son he said, I want you to do the dishes, sacrificially–working out your salvation with fear and trembling. Neither of them was completely happy yet, but their mouths did finally close.

~ Curt Bakker, December 16, 2007

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mixed-Bag Celebrations

Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants,

and our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace.

Let our garners be full, furnishing every kind of produce.

And our flocks bring forth thousands and ten-thousands in our fields.

Let our cattle bear, without mishap and without loss.

Let there be no outcry in our streets.

How blessed are the people who are so situated.

How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!

Psalm 144:12-15

The holiday season is upon us.

And along with our many celebrations comes a higher concentration of human beings in limited spaces. Homes that usually house one family, will receive extra visitors.

Grandparents will join their children and grand children for meals and games. Uncles and aunts and cousins will arrive from far-away places.

Bedrooms will swell with overnight guests.

Showers will require more hot water than is available.

Dishes will pile up.

Toilets will plug.

Diapers will stink.

Toddlers will make watching a good movie almost impossible.

Glasses will break.

Toys will become tug-of-war victims.

Along with all the laughter, memories, jokes, conversations, and good food, offenses will come.

Patience will run short.

Fatigue will settle in.

Someone will most likely get sick.

Loud crying will echo throughout the house.

There will be spankings and rumors of spankings.

And then the end will come.

We tend to anticipate the joys of Thanksgiving and Christmas, without remembering the tensions that accompany sinners wherever we go.

Our celebrations always bring with them difficulties, because we by nature are difficult to get along with.

So, how shall we then live, given our own weaknesses and failures?

By faith.

By faith we must trust that our mixed-bag celebrations are the context God is using to grow strong sons and grandsons.

By faith we must trust that these sorts of tensions are fashioning our daughters and granddaughters into beautiful palatial pillars.

By faith we must believe God is re-making us into his own image through our flawed efforts to please him.

And that is exactly what we are endeavoring to do here this morning.

We are trusting he will change us as we seek to please him.

How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord.

Let us therefore worship the Triune God.

~ Curt Bakker, Christ Covenant Church