Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Secular Blindness and Nature: A Poem by Donald T. Williams


There was a time when men could see the sky,
   A grand cathedral vaulted and ablaze
   With myriad candles lifted up on high
   By nights for vespers; in the brighter days,
The great rose window eastward shed its rays
   For morning prayer, and each and every flame
   Burned elegant in litanies of praise,
   In fugues and canons to extol the Name.
But now the sky, though larger, is more tame,
   And modern man sees what he's taught to see:
   Though multiplied toward infinity;
And quarks and quasars cannot speak to us
   Except as agitated forms of dust.
Except as agitated forms of dust,
   We don't know how to know the thing we are:
   The biochemistry of love is lust
   As an atomic furnace is a star,
And all that's known is particles at war.
   And yet we do know love, and yet we know
   That it and lust are infinitely far
   Apart.  We know the stars and how they glow,
Though they know nothing of us here below.
   So, even while we're slogging through the mire,
   We cannot help ourselves, but as we go,
   We cock our heads to listen for the choir.
We know that half the truth is half a lie:
   There was a time when men could see the sky.

---Donald T. Williams

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Seeing Christ in the Proverbs: Proverbs 15:24

Proverbs 15:24 (ESV)

The path of life leads upward for the prudent,
that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.


Two paths in life. One path leads upward to heaven above. The other path leads to hell below. One path brings eternal life. The other eternal death.

The word "Sheol" cannot merely mean the grave in this verse. If that was the case, then the proverb is untrue, for the prudent or wise, though they avoid an untimely death, still end up in the grave. No, the idea is that they avoid hell and the second death, which is forever, and walk on the path of life, which is a path of eternal life.

The good path is one of eternal life, because it is walked with Jesus Christ, who first walked this upward path on our behalf. In Luke 9:51, our Lord's path to heaven above is described: "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." His path to be "taken up" to heaven went through the suffering of the cross on our behalf. Jesus Christ is the path finder, who alone can guide us to heaven. In the development of the United States, the Oregon Trail was a route that took families to the west. The man who found this trail through the mountains was Kit Carson, who was known as the "path finder." But Jesus Christ is the true Path Finder, who alone can bring us to our heavenly destination.

Jesus is also our Husband and the Lover of our souls. Walking with him in love is a delight. The second line in our proverb alludes to earlier proverbs and the downward path. This downward path is a path of idolatry, symbolized by adultery and the woman of folly:

for her house sinks down to death,and her paths to the departed; (2:18)
Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; (5:5)
Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death. (7:27)

Why is woman folly and idolatry associated with this downward path to hell? The answer is given in Proverbs 2:17 and 7:19 as woman folly is described:

who forsakes the companion of her youth and forgets the covenant of her God;
For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey;

The woman of folly in Proverbs has left her true husband, the Lord. Metaphorically, her true husband, the Lord, is not home and away on a long journey.

The path downward is a path away from the presence of Jesus Christ, humanity's true Husband. It is an estrangement from him, rather than a walking with him. It is a trust in and love for the gifts of life, rather than the Giver of the gifts and life. It is a path where we follow our lusts and feelings, rather than following Jesus and his words in love.

Two paths. Which path will we choose? Proverbs, the book that teaches us about wisdom, is clear that the wise choice that leads to eternal life and avoids hell, is the path walked with Jesus Christ, the Path Finder and our Husband, the Lover of our souls.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Miracle of Planting!

Another miraculous time of planting here in Nebraska!  We still really don't how a seed planted in the earth sprouts and grows.  Science can describe the process, but it is still a mystery why this happens and who or what is the power to bring this about.  As those whose hearts are enlightened and belong to the kingdom of God, we know that Jesus Christ is the power who brings about this miracle.  That same power can work in the human heart through the seed of the gospel planted in good soil and accompanied by the water/rain of the Holy Spirit.  The question we all need to ask is this: Are our hearts receptive to Jesus' good, gracious, and holy words?  Will his words meet with faith and understanding in our hearts?

Mark 4:26-29

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. 27 He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. 28 The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Seeing Christ in the Psalms: Psalm 117

1] Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
[2] For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!
(Psalm 117 ESV)

This shortest of all Psalms makes a promise that seems way too large to accomplish:  somehow the gentiles will become part of the "us" of Israel.  Somehow the gentiles, who have been hostile to Israel through the centuries, will join with Israel in praising in Israel's LORD for his covenant love and faithfulness.  How will this conversion take place?

It took place because God so loved the world that he sent his one and only Son, whom he loved, for the world's salvation.  When the Son became flesh and dwelt among us, then truly we knew that the Father's love was great toward us, and we knew that his love and faithfulness would endure forever.  Forever, Jesus Christ, will share our humanity as the God-man.

Jesus died for our sins and was raised in our nature to the Father's right hand.  If we needed proof of his love and faithfulness, this is it.  The Father sent his Son.  The Son became one of us, without losing his divinity.  Forever our humanity is united to our God, and by his sacrificial love, and through faith, we too are in the Son and in the Father.

Contained within this smallest of Psalms is the greatest of God's acts: the incarnation, death and resurrection of his beloved Son.  Surely his love is great and his truth endures forever.  Praise the LORD!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Seeing Christ in the Psalms: Psalm 116

I am going through the Psalms, looking for Christ in them.  Psalm 116 is a psalm of 
thanksgiving for individual deliverance.  The speaker in this psalm does not appear to be Jesus, but so many of the words of this psalm remind us of his words and deliverance.  For example, verse 3 reminds us of our Lord's suffering:

The snares of death encompassed me;
    the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
    I suffered distress and anguish.

Verse 4 and verse 10 remind us of his trust in the Father for deliverance, for Jesus went to the cross trusting that his Father would deliver him from death:

Then I called on the name of the Lord:
    “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!”

I believed, even when I spoke:
    “I am greatly afflicted”;

In Psalm 22, Jesus gives praise and thanks for his deliverance from death by his resurrection from the dead in the midst of the church.  Listen to his words in verses 22 and 24:

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
    in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

For he has not despised or abhorred
    the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
    but has heard, when he cried to him.

This same thanks in the midst of the congregation is echoed in Psalm 116.  Note how both Jesus and the disciple in Psalm 116 promise obedience to the Lord. First, Jesus in Psalm 22, whose suffering enables the congregation to eat and worship:

From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
    my vows I will perform before those who fear him.
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied;
    those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
    May your hearts live forever! (v. 25-26)
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship; (v. 29)

Here the "prosperous" are those who are spiritually prosperous or rich in Christ. Christ enables his people to eat and worship by his death and resurrection, and in Psalm 116, we see one of his people doing just that.  Again, notice the similarity between Christ's words and the words of one of his people:

What shall I render to the Lord
    for all his benefits to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the Lord,
I will pay my vows to the Lord
    in the presence of all his people. (v. 12-14)

In summary, the reason the individual in Psalm 116 sounds so much like his Lord is that Christ's people become like the one they worship.  The previous psalm (115) has taught us the truth that we become like the "god" we worship, whether that be the true God or a false god. As the members of Christ's church trust and worship their Lord, they become like him in his suffering and in his deliverance.  As redeemed sinners, we have great reason to give thanks, and to joyfully drink the cup of salvation filled with the blood our sins caused our Lord to pour out at the cross.  In drinking that cup, we acknowledge our guilt, receive forgiveness and newness of life in thanksgiving and worship. (1)

(1)  Note, also, how worship is connected with eating and drinking in these two psalms!  Worship in the Bible follows the pattern of teaching and a meal, not singing and then a sermon!  Singing fits under the category of prayer.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Seeing Christ in the Psalms: Psalm 115

Psalm 115 begins with our purpose in life, to bring glory to the Lord: "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory." In order to bring him glory, the triune God created us to reflect his image on the earth.  While all other nations put images in their temples, in the Lord's temple there were no images, for human beings were created to reflect his image throughout the temple of the earth.

With the entrance of sin into the world, man no longer reflects God's image on the earth as he ought.  Our independence from the Lord actually brings slavery to "gods" who cannot see, hear, smell, feel or act, and those who rely on such false gods become like the evil one who is behind all idolatry and was a liar and murderer from the beginning.

Thus, the Lord in his love and faithfulness (v. 1), sent his Son to the earth, who is the exact image or representation of the Father (Hebrews 1:3).  He came in our flesh and perfectly reflected the Father's character in his humanity.  Through his perfect trust of the Father and his instruction, Jesus brought glory to God and salvation to man.

The Father desires to restore man to the dependent and delightful fellowship that brings him glory as we are conformed to the image of his Son.  We become like the gods we choose to trust and rely on.  Sadly, the choice of idols makes us less and less human as we become as blind, deaf, dumb and incompetent to do good as the false gods we choose.  But happily, we are invited to choose the true God by receiving his Son, who will bring us into the trusting fellowship we were created for.  By learning to trust and rely on our triune God, we are being restored into his image so that we might bring glory to our Father and to His Son.  Not to us, not to us, but to his name be glory, for he redeems and restores his people in his love.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Liturgical Function of Congregational Singing

The liturgical function of congregational singing is prayer. It is our response to God's words to us in the context of Christ's service to us in Word and Meal.

When people pray in church, most of the time they almost instinctively use "we," "us" and "our" language, not "I," "me" and "my" language. We should follow this same practice in congregational singing, simply because congregational singing functions as our prayer response to our triune God and his Word and grace.

In the Gospel narratives, there are examples of characters who use "I," "me" and "my" language, showing their true state. For example, the devil's language is filled with "I," "me" and "my" language in Luke 4 as he tempts the Lord to worship him. The rich farmer in Luke 12, who is not rich toward God, also exalts himself and exposes his heart with his use of "I," "me" and "my" language. These negative examples, and others, should give us pause before singing the song of self in church. When we sing about our praise or devotion in "I," "me" and "my" language one has to wonder if our self-referential language is not a giveaway to our soul's condition.

In response to this criticism, people often point to the Psalms. The Psalms, they say, are filled with "I," "me" and "my" language, so doesn't this give us license to use "I," "me" and "my" language however we like? The answer is no, for a couple of reasons. First, the Psalms were sometimes individual prayers, and not all the Psalms were used in a corporate setting. But, second, and more importantly, the true speaker of the Psalms is Jesus Christ, who speaks as our representative. Jesus Christ our King, fully man and fully God, represents us before the Father and the Psalms are a record of his prayers, praises, instruction and laments. He is the true worshiper in whom our worship is accepted.

"I," "me" and "my" language is not the only problem with congregational singing in Evangelical churches today. There is also the problem of unbiblical and false theology in so many of our contemporary praise songs. It used to be that at least the "I," "me" and "my" language was followed by sound theology from the pens of people like Watts, Wesley or Crosby, but this is no longer the case, and one of the reasons we don't see it is that most people learn their theology, not from the Bible, but from congregational singing, which has been faulty for a few decades now. Frankly, we have just gotten used to bad theology when we sing, and the only cure for our blindness is a Berean attitude that checks our lyrics/prayers against Scripture.

Not everyone will agree with my assessment of the sad state of congregational singing in Evangelical churches. Some will criticize me for being unloving, legalistic and judgmental. But for those who think that Jesus should guide us when we pray/sing in church ("When you (plural) pray, say, "our" Father...give "us" this day...lead "us" not into temptation...deliver "us" from evil," --- not a single "I," "me" and "my"), then, what should we do, given this situation we cannot avoid? 

My own answer is to do one of three things when I am in church, and I would recommend these steps if you hold the same position as me:

1) If the "I," "me" and "my" language is accompanied by sound theology, sometimes I will sing along.

2) Sometimes I will sing and replace the "I," "me" and "my" with "we," "us" and "our."

3) Sometimes, especially if the "I," "me" and "my" is accompanied by faulty theology, I will just use the time to read a Psalm or bow my head to pray individually. But, you say, in reading or praying individually, aren't you doing the very thing you criticize? In the case of reading Scripture, we read so little of it these days in church that it is probably what we should be doing in greater measure! In the case of praying, I am not against an inner dialogue to accompany the corporate dialogue of worship. Besides, what other choice do I have if the self-language is accompanied by bad theology? Should one lie in the presence of Christ as he dwells among his people?

May the Lord Jesus take note of one poor sinner's lament for a more biblical worship. If it be his will, in mercy may he grant the return of congregational singing to its proper liturgical function.

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