Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Meditation on Psalm 52:1

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
The steadfast love of God endures all the day. (Psalm 52:1)

I was thinking about this verse today. At first glance it appears as though the second line has nothing to do with the first. But what we have is antithetical parallelism, with the righteous man implied in the second line.

Those who boast in evil, make a foolish choice when they could be boasting in the steadfast love of God. This steadfast love will last forever, in contrast to evil, which will come to an end, either at the end of man's life or in the eschaton. In this sense, it seems that the verse pokes fun at the "mighty man," who is really not so mighty if he or she is mortal! How foolish of man, whose breath is in his nostrils (dependent on God for each breath), to consider himself mighty.

But what exactly is the "evil" in view in this verse? Based on the context of the rest of the psalm, at least two of the threefold lust of 1 John 2:15-17 are in view, namely, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

Lust, of course, excludes us from the love of God, for which we were made. It is something we need to put to death through Jesus' death and resurrection, for if we indulge our lusts, we cannot abide in our heavenly Father's love. May the Spirit teach us how to boast and abide in the love of the triune love, which Jesus has revealed to us and enables us to participate in.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is Lust Always Wrong?

The struggle with sexual lust is not just common to me, but I am in my 45th year of the struggle, and I've learned something new that I think is a big help.

For years I struggled with this dilemma: How can lust be wrong outside of marriage but right inside of marriage? This question always lurked in the back of my mind for years, and has given me much grief. The problem seemed insoluble. It seemed impossible to solve.

Then I began noticing verses like this:
Galatians 5:24: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
1 John 2:15-17: Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
2 Peter 1:4: For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. 
1 Peter 2:11: Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. 

The thought finally began to dawn that maybe lust in all its forms, whether for money or sex or whatever, was always wrong! Maybe there was no safe haven where lusts are ok to indulge, not even marriage!

That brought me to the words of Jesus, where I noticed he did not add the caveat, except your wife in marriage:
"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28).

A superficial reading of this verse seems to say lust is ok, because, of course, you cannot commit adultery with your own wife! But Jesus here is ruling out lust toward all women, and vice versa, by not adding the caveat that it is ok in marriage. He says this because lust is fundamentally wrong and the opposite of love. Lust is self-grasping, but love is self-giving. Lust uses the other person and turns them into an object, but love respects the other person as a subject/person, and gives.

Of course, there is much more to say on all of this (for example, how is marriage a remedy to lust if lust is not something we are to indulge?), and it doesn't end the battle with sexual lust. But it is a good first step to identify the enemy and to be clear intellectually that lust is always wrong, even in marriage. This truth will never fly in the world, but then Jesus' teaching never does in a world characterized by lust, not love.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Ultimate Concern for Christian Parents

"If there is any concern that lies close to the heart of godly parents, it is their children. And rightly so, for children are precious pledges that God will demand at the hands of parents.

"Now, if godly parents ponder this fact, the will earnestly commend their children to God in prayer before they are born, and later they will bring their children with them when they come before God. Godly parents pray in particular that God would give their children pious hearts and the Holy Spirit, who will sanctify, govern, and guide them. This is the true foundation of their happiness; compared with this, wealth, skill, and prudence are to be deemed nothing."
  
  --Johann Starck, from "Starck's Prayer Book"
Top of Form


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Lust and Hell

"Lust and hell can both be defined by the same five words: the 

absence of God's love. This is why lust is so serious. If God's love 

constitutes man's origin, vocation, and destiny, then lust constitutes

the antithesis of 
man's very existence." --Christopher West

Friday, August 15, 2014

Christianity-Lite in Doctrine and Worship

What we have in our time is Christian-lite. Christianity-lite avoids or soft pedals three doctrines. First, it avoids teaching about the world. In fact, most Christians today could not even define the world, as the apostle John describes it, but also Paul and Peter. Second, Christianity in our era avoids teaching the truth that following Christ makes one unpopular, leading to insults, hatred, and worse. Third, Christianity-lite soft pedals sin. Even if sin is mentioned, it is rarely preached or taught in such a way that drives us to Christ for refuge.

Christianity-lite then affects Christian worship by fostering worship-lite. We gather together but cannot be bored by Old and New Testament Scripture readings or congregational prayers that have characterized the historic Christian liturgy. All Christianity-lite tolerates is lots of singing, something Jesus and his disciples are recorded to have done only once. Even then our songs can only be happy, and must be sparse with regard to biblical truth.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

"Act as If the Tomb Already Enclosed You"

"Alms and faith must not leave you.  

Remember that every day death is near, 
and act as if the tomb already enclosed you.

Do not care for this world,
since anxiety for the world and 
the desire for riches are
thorns that choke the good seed." 

--Paschasius of Dumium

Friday, August 1, 2014

Two Tragic Developments in the Public Worship of Jesus Christ's Church


This article is about two bad developments I have observed in Evangelical and Reformed worship services, which I believe are in keeping with a general trend, at least in North America.  Both developments are difficult to justify biblically, and both show a lack of wisdom.


The first development/trend is that we are jettisoning the reading of the Scriptures in our services.  Not only is this disobedience to the explicit command of the apostle (1 Timothy 4:13), it also is at odds with the practice of the early church, which was modeled after the reading of Scripture in the synagogue, where Scripture was read extensively. Our lack of devotion to reading Scripture in our services is unbiblical and a departure from the tradition of the synagogue and early church, but it is also unwise because it will do great damage to the next generation of Christians by promoting biblical illiteracy.

In his book entitled, Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice, Bryan Chapell gives us five sample worship services that have characterized Christian worship through the centuries.  The five are:

  1. Rome (pre-1570)
  2. Luther (ca, 1526)
  3. Calvin (ca. 1542)
  4. Westminster (ca. 1645)
  5. Robert Rayburn (from the Reformed tradition ca. 1980)
  • The Roman service had an Old Testament reading, a Gradual (a Psalm that was sung), an Epistle reading, and a Gospel reading.
  • Luther's service had a Gradual, an Epistle reading and a Gospel reading.
  • Calvin's service had a Gradual, the Ten Commandments, and the Sermon Scripture from the Gospels.  Sermons in the morning services throughout Geneva were always from the Gospels, because the Gospels were thought too important and too valuable for the people not to be read and preached from! They recognized that the high point of the reading of God's Word came from hearing Christ's words, something the other traditions recognized by reading the Gospels last.  If one wanted to hear a sermon from something other than the Gospels, one would have to go to an evening or weekday service.
  • The Westminster service had an Old Testament reading, a Gradual, a New Testament reading, and the Sermon Scripture. 
  • Robert Raymond's service had an Old Testament reading, New Testament reading, and the Sermon Scripture.
In today's church, we have abandoned the practice of an Old Testament and New Testament reading. All we have is the Scripture before the Sermon.  The idea of separate Old Testament, Psalms, Epistle and Gospel readings is abandoned usually with one of two justifications.  Some argue that people find it too dull and too long. Others argue that our services must conform to a theme, and reading through the Old and New Testaments will obscure the chosen theme for the worship service.

But these excuses do not hold up.  We are not wiser than God, who desires us to be devoted to the public reading of God's Word. Again, 1 Timothy 4:13 says, "devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture."  In Augustine's church, Scripture was read for one hour each Lord's Day!  Now that is devotion, but our reading of merely the Sermon Scripture cannot be called devotion. 

Some will argue that this public reading of Scripture was necessary then, but not now, because more people are able to read now than in earlier times.  While there may be some truth in this argument, although Jewish males were almost all able to read in Jesus' day, we fool ourselves if we think we are off the hook because people can read the Bible on their own:
  1. While people may be able to read the Bible on their own, the statistics show they often do not.
  2. More people than we are aware of have difficulty reading. What a shame if these poor readers attend our churches, but never become acquainted with God's Word directly, rather than only through a sermon.
  3. Should we not set an example for our people by reading the Word extensively in church?  Much of what the worship service is intended to do is teach us how to be disciples by modeling practices of discipleship like the regular reading of God's Word, as well as prayer.
  4. If God's Word is truly a means of grace, why would we want to withhold this means of grace from people?  Unlike music (which is a large part of why we no longer read the Word as we once did!) the Word is actually a means of grace.  

The second development/trend is the lack of a pastoral prayer.  In some circles, this was called the prayers of the people, the congregational prayer or the long prayer.  I rarely see this prayer in churches today, even though it was a staple in Luther's service, Calvin's Service, the Westminster service, and the Rayburn service.

The loss of this prayer is a great tragedy.  It means that the world goes unprayed for when Christians gather together!  When we see the great spiritual need all around us, how can we sing so much and pray so little?

James says, "Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise."  By not praying in our worship services for our needs and the needs of the world, we act as if we and the world do not suffer and are without need!  But if we truly saw ourselves in our great spiritual need, and the world in its desperate need apart from Christ, it would be unthinkable to abandon the congregational prayer.

Brothers and sisters, and whoever might stumble upon these thoughts, let's do what we can to move the church back to the public reading of Scripture, and let's restore the prayers of the people when we gather together.  Is it unreasonable to want to hear more from God when we gather together, and less from ourselves (see James 1:19)?  Is it unreasonable to pray for the great spiritual needs of ourselves and the world when we gather as Christ's people?  Are we not guilty in this generation for getting rid of these good things in the worship of God's people?

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