Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Psalm 148 Sons of Korah

Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
(Psalm 148:3-6 ESV)

Commenting on these verses, George Horne speaks of how we should imitate the inanimate creation for they declare the glory of God:

"...they call upon us to translate their actions into our language, and copy their obedience in our lives; that so we may, both by word and deed, glorify, with them, the Creator and Redeemer of the universe."

Monday, January 28, 2013

Coming to Church for the Right Reasons

But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:5)

We tend to think of prayer in a fairly narrow way, but because prayer includes praise and confession of sins as well as petitions, I think it is fair to think of prayer in a broader way as worship.  In worship we hear from God and then we respond, and all our response is included under the heading of prayer/worship.

Since this is the case, it seems to me that we can apply Jesus' words above to worship, and derive the most important principle of worship from his words, namely, that worship is first and foremost about receiving Christ and his gifts!  While this verse is directly applicable to individual prayer/worship, there is no reason to believe that the principle would not hold for prayer and worship together.

Most people tend to think worship is primarily about what we give to God.  But in these words Jesus teaches us that worship is first about receiving benefits from the Father.  We pray or worship, first of all, to receive a reward from our Father.  Although this may sound selfish, it is simply spiritual reality.  It is the simple recognition of the first words of the Sermon on the Mount, of which the words above are a part: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  Before God, his people are spiritually dependent and bankrupt.  We are like little infants who depend on their parents' care.  Spiritually, we cannot cleanse, feed or clothe ourselves.  Therefore, worship will always be first and foremost about receiving Christ and his gifts.

Does worship honor the Father and the Son?  Yes!  But it honors him by recognizing our need and coming to him in faith to meet our need.

Most of our worship in the contemporary church gets this wrong.  Ask 99% of believers and they will tell you that we come to worship to honor God and give him praise.  But this is a half truth, for our praise and worship of God are always a response to the gift of Christ and his blessing received afresh. We should come to church with the mindset of meeting with the crucified and risen Christ to receive him and his benefits once again because we are his poor, needy, and dependent people.

Enough of this strong Christianity that is self-congratulatory and self-sufficient.  Let us move to the spiritual reality that Jesus teaches, namely, worship is first of all about receiving Jesus Christ and his gifts.  And, naturally (or should I say supernaturally!), meeting with Christ to receive his forgiveness and life cannot help but produce thanks and praise.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

As the Church Worships, So It Believes

Lex orandi, lex credendi
is an ancient maxim of the church that teaches us the relation of worship to belief.  We might interpret this Latin phrase this way: As the church prays[1] or worships, so it believes.  In other words, the average Christian learns his theology through worship, not through reading a book on systematic theology.  Worship is formative.  Worship forms our beliefs about who God is and what he is like.

With this principle in mind, as the church worships so it believes, it is worth considering some of what we are doing today in our Evangelical and Reformed churches.  To do this I want to look at some of our worship through the lens of Jesus' words in Matthew 6:7:

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, 
for they think that they will be heard for their many words.
(Matthew 6:7 ESV)

While I think it if correct to apply this to Buddhists with their mantras that are repeated over and over, I think we would do well to ask ourselves if there are any ways that we as Evangelicals "heap up empty phrases?"  

There are two ways I see these words as applicable to our worship services.  First, we are guilty of speaking too much in our services.  By our singing, which is surely a form of prayer, we heap up words to the near exclusion of God's words!  When James wrote, "let every person be quick to hear and slow to speak" (James 1:19), he is probably addressing pastors who need to study more carefully the apostles' teaching, so that they correctly hear God before speaking to others.[2]  But if that is true of pastors, why would it not be true of the laity in their worship services?  Should we not be slow to speak and quick to hear God's Word in our worship services?  But are we?

What I am observing in our worship services these days is lots of singing, but little reading of Scripture.  The ratio is about 7 minutes of singing for every 1 minute of reading God's Word.  In our service today we sang 1400 words and read 500 words from Scripture.  But since we read at least twice as fast as we sing, the ratio is about 7 minutes of singing to 1 minute of reading.  We are talking a lot, but we are listening just a little!  Shouldn't things be reversed?  Were not our spiritual ancestors wiser than us when they regularly included an Old Testament, Psalms, Epistle and Gospel reading?  Yes, our spiritual fathers sang, but they sang in response to what they heard from God, and God spoke at least as often as us!

But, second, so many of the words we are singing are empty phrases or half truths.  We are learning our theology from contemporary Christian music rather than the Word of God.  We wonder sometimes why Evangelicalism is on the decline and why our people no longer believe Jesus is the only way to the Father.  Well, look closely at these words of a song sung today at the church I attend and ask yourself what sort of theology this song teaches.  It seems to me that Oprah or any Mormon or a Hallmark card would be quite comfortable with these lyrics:

                                "Not For A Moment (After All)"
[Verse 1]
You were reaching through the storm 
Walking on the water 
Even when I could not see 
In the middle of it all 
When I thought You were a thousand miles away 
Not for a moment did You forsake me 
Not for a moment did You forsake me 

After all You are constant 
After all You are only good 
After all You are sovereign 
Not for a moment will You forsake me 
Not for a moment will You forsake me 

[Verse 2]
You were singing in the dark 
Whispering Your promise 
Even when I could not hear 
I was held in Your arms 
Carried for a thousand miles to show 
Not for a moment did You forsake me 


And every step every breath you are there 
Every tear every cry every prayer 
In my hurt at my worst 
When my world falls down 
Not for a moment will You forsake me 
Even in the dark 
Even when it's hard 
You will never leave me 
After all 

Not for a moment will You forsake me

What is the problem with this song?  There are two problems: both the one addressed and the addressee are left unnamed and unspecified.  While it is true that Jesus promises never to forsake us or leave us, Jesus is not named in the song, and the us in the promise of Jesus is made to his people who hear his Word and trust in his name.  In a sappy, sentimental, and idolatrous culture, Christians need to be clear about these issues.  But when we sing songs like these, we should not be surprised that more and more people who call themselves Evangelicals, no longer believe that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man.  Lex orandi, lex credendi is still true---as the church worships, so it believes!  

Let us not be afraid of lyrics that closely echo the words of Scripture.  A true comfort that lays out the biblical promises faithfully and leads to heaven is better than a false comfort that makes people feel good but leads them to hell.


[1] The phrase literally rendered is the law of prayer is the law of belief.  But since prayer includes praise, prayer can be seen as a synonym for worship or our response to God and his salvation.

[2] David Scaer in his commentary on James gives some sound reasons for believing these words are addressed first to pastors.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bob Marley and the Christian Faith

I have always liked this tune from Bob Marley's song, Get Up, Stand Up, but the words are virulently anti-Christian.  In our society we hear lots about self-esteem and rights, and Marley echoes the culture.  Marley writes:
Most people think,
Great god will come from the skies,
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
And now you see the light,
You stand up for your rights. jah! 
We sick an' tired of-a your ism-skism game -
Dyin' 'n' goin' to heaven in-a Jesus' name, lord.
We know when we understand:
Almighty god is a living man.
You can fool some people sometimes,
But you can't fool all the people all the time.
So now we see the light (what you gonna do?),
We gonna stand up for our rights! (yeah, yeah, yeah! ) 

In the first verse, Marley counsels that this earth is all there is, so you need to "look for yours on earth."  His criticism of Christianity is that it is too focused on the future.

In the second verse, he seems to be denying Jesus' divine nature, again with the implication that this life is all there is.  He also seems to be glorifying man in a new age sort of way that sees divinity in everyone, therefore, you better stand up for your rights.  And so American of all stripes have been doing just that!

But the truth is that life on earth has meaning and importance precisely because it points to heaven.  You can't know "what life is worth," as Marley writes, by divorcing heaven and earth.  Rather, by seeing that earth points to heaven, Christians seek to do God's will on earth just as it is done in heaven.  We take this life seriously, yet, we can also hold the things of earth loosely, unlike Bob Marley, because we know that we live in the shadowlands while on earth.

As for Jesus, we love him precisely because he joined heaven and earth, for he is fully God and fully man in one glorious person, the Son of God.  He gives us access to the reality to which the things of earth point.  In one sense, the whole world is sacramental, and that is glorious leading to the freedom that belongs to the children of God.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Devotions and Hymn Based on Luke 1:1-4

Luke 1:1-4

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.

Morning Devotion:

At two key times in my life, the heavenly Father has used Luke’s Gospel to create and strengthen faith in His Son.  The first time came as a young man in my early twenties.  I was struggling with doubts about the Christian faith I learned in my youth.  The lusts of my heart, the licentiousness of the world, and my own sinful behavior, clouded my mind, so that I doubted even God’s existence.  But, thankfully, I was miserable, and my misery drove me to pick up the Book and read.  I bought a self-study booklet and began to read and study Luke’s Gospel.  Then, a remarkable thing occurred.  As I neared the end of my study, I realized that I believed!  I believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and that He had died and risen for the forgiveness of my sins.

About thirty years later, I began another trek through Luke’s Gospel.  This time my goal was to write hymns based on each passage of Luke’s Gospel.  Again, it happened as I was nearing the end of my journey through Luke.  Without expecting it, and almost imperceptively, I realized I had a new and deeper understanding of Jesus’ person and work, his love for me, and an assurance of the presence of the risen Lord Jesus with me and I with Him.

My experience with Luke’s Gospel should not be surprising.  Luke’s purpose in writing is to give “certainty” or assurance about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus (v. 4).  In other words, Luke wrote to create and strengthen faith.  Luke, who was a close companion of the apostle Paul, probably heard Paul say many times, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).  The triune God can do marvelous things in your life as you read, meditate, chew, and digest the Gospel of Luke.  May He do it in your life for His glory and for your joy and blessing.

Evening Devotion:

Albert Moehler writes, “We are narrative creatures, and God made us this way. . . . We cannot even tell each other who we are without telling a story, nor should we try.”  Luke is going to tell us “a narrative about things that have been accomplished (or fulfilled) among us.”  This narrative, Luke tells, is about Jesus: who he is and what he has done. 

This narrative will include us as we journey with Jesus through the pages of Luke, for like all good stories there must be some trouble, problem, or difficulty to resolve.  We are the trouble in this story! for the gospel story is that we are sinners who need rescue.  God the Father sent His Son into the world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Whether we know it or not, feel it or not, believe it or not, all human being are involved in the story Luke is going to tell, for the human race is sick and needs a physician, lost and needs to be found, sinful and needs forgiveness.

Luke did not invent this story.  Rather, he received it from those who were “eyewitnesses” of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, and later became “ministers of the word,” as we see in the book of Acts, Luke’s second volume.  The Christian faith is unique among the world’s religions because it is grounded in the historical events of Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  Take away the historicity of these events, and the Christian faith is eviscerated.  It vanishes and becomes worthless.  The story is lost and our salvation is gone if the eyewitness testimony is untrue.

The world around us tries to catechize us into its various stories, whether stories of evolution, human utopia, technological progress, or moral and religious striving toward God.  Luke would have us be catechized (the word taught in verse 4 is the Greek word catecheo) and learn the story of Jesus Christ, whose gospel was proved to be true by the fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament and the eyewitness testimony of the apostles, who heard his teaching and saw his miracles, including the greatest miracle of all, his resurrection from the dead.

O Father, Heal Our Souls

To the tune: ST. THOMAS (  Based on Luke 1:1-4.  Words: William Weber, 2011. (Song of Illumination, Song after the Sermon).

v. 1
O Father, heal our souls,
as we approach Your book,
the Gospel of our Lord and Christ,
for life to Him we look.

v. 2
A testimony sure,
we have of Jesus’ life,
from witnesses who heard the Lord,
and saw Him with their eyes.

v. 3
Diseases harm our souls,
our faith is often weak,
but all who look to Jesus Christ
will find the health they seek.

v. 4
O Father, hear our prayer,
to know Your only Son,
the truth of who He really is,
and all that He has done.

v. 5
O Father, make us know,
that we are loved in Christ.
For we are His and He is ours,
we share His love and life.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

I have to admit I that I am a bit depressed about most of the worship services I see in the Evangelical and Reformed world these days.[1]  Jesus gave us a pattern for our worship of Word and meal.  The church from earliest times observed this pattern and developed what was called the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the table.  It is the departure from this pattern that is disheartening.

One problem is that we rarely observe the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the table together.  On the one hand, if you go to mainline Protestant services, the liturgy of the Word is eviscerated by the lack of sound teaching, even if communion is observed.  Sermons are extremely short and grace is not taught against the backdrop of God's holiness and judgment.  Thus, the glory of Christ is not seen, for God's glory is seen in Jesus when the gospel is proclaimed against the background of the law.[2]  We see this in Exodus 33:18-23 and 34:4-8 when Moses asks to see the Lord's glory.  The Lord shows him his glory by preaching a sermon, so to speak, that focuses on the Lord's grace against the background of his judgment.  The same truth is taught in the New Testament when we read, "and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14 ).  God's grace against the backdrop of God's justice or truth is what helps us to see God's glory by faith, but this missing in mainline services, as well as in other branches of the church that depart from the gospel. On the other hand, in Evangelical and Reformed churches, we rarely have the Supper, even when the teaching is true to the New Testament and God's glory is seen in Christ resulting in worship.

A second problem in the liturgies of our churches is that music is squeezing out, not only Scripture readings, but also prayer.  

Jesus gave us the pattern for worship: Word and meal.  He learned this pattern from Scripture and from his Jewish background and then developed it for his church.  The liturgy of the Word was patterned after the liturgy of the synagogue.[3]  It is amazing how much Scripture was read in the synagogue!  The reading of the Word in a synagogue service went like this:
  • Torah
  • Psalm
  • Prophets
  • Psalm
  • Historical Writings
  • Psalm
  • Preaching/Teaching known as Midrash
The early church adopted the synagogue's pattern, but pared the Old Testament reading down a little as they added the Gospels as they were written (personally I believe Matthew was written first in the mid to late 40's at the time of persecution following Stephen's martyrdom when the flock was scattered away from the apostles thus necessitating the need for the written Word) and then the letters of the apostles, as they became available.  The early church's reading of the New Testament writings in their liturgy showed that the churches received these apostolic writings as authoritative immediately without a long delay.

It is easy to see, then, that the early church truly had a liturgy of the Word!  The Word was read in big chunks from both Testaments.  In Augustine's church Scripture reading would last for an hour as would the sermon.  But, today in Evangelical and Reformed churches it is almost impossible to find a regular Old Testament reading.  Scripture reading as an element of the service has been reduced to what is necessary for preaching.

If music has squeezed out the Old and New Testament readings as separate elements, it has also squeezed out congregational prayer in many churches. The synagogue services made time for prayer.  Prayers were in the form of what was called The Eighteen Benedictions, which were similar to our collects.  But we just don't have time for a long pastoral prayer or what is sometimes called the prayers of the people.  No time for prayer, but lots of time for singing!  

But is this a good trade that we have made?  Can the words of our hymns and choruses really compare with the words of God in Scripture?  Can we really afford not to pray given the needy condition of our souls and the world around us?

It used to be that our congregational prayer/pastoral prayer/prayers of the people included the following:
  • praise to God for what he has done, including creation, redemption, and specific acts of faithfulness to our community; 
  • petitions for creation and its care, the nations, leaders in various areas of life;
  • our community and its leaders; 
  • the church universal and its mission; 
  • the local congregation(s) and its ministry;
  • those with particular needs in the church;
  • doxology
But apparently there is less need to pray in our day than in the days of our spiritual ancestors! Apparently we can now replace the Word and prayer with more singing!  

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this reduction of prayer and the elimination of Old and New Testament readings, is it a good thing?  We need to return to the two part structure of the divine service that included a service of the Word and a service of the table.[4]  If we returned to a service of the Word, with at minimum, Old and New Testament readings as a separate element, and a congregational prayer, it might force us into a more responsible use of music, so that each song would have a more specific liturgical function in the dialogue of worship, much like the the liturgical function of music in the temple worship that we see in Chronicles.[5] Returning to the pattern Jesus gave us cannot be a bad thing!  His pattern was Word and meal, not music, preaching and a meal or even worse, music and preaching apart from a meal.

[1]  This doesn't mean that I don't derive blessing and benefit from the worship services I attend!  God is gracious!

[2]  Seeing the glory of Christ by faith in our worship services is vital.  It is seeing the Lord by faith that transforms us according to 2 Corinthians 3 and 4.  Allen P. Ross' book on worship, entitled Recalling the Hope of Glory is good on this point.  James M. Hamilton's book, God's Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology makes a strong case for seeing God's glory through teaching grace against the background of judgment.

[3]  Jesus developed the liturgy of the table from the Passover Seder and the Sabbath evening Seder that took place in Jewish homes.  It was a ritual that looked back to the exodus and the Passover lamb and to the coming of the Christ or Messiah.  These Seders, both the Passover Seder and Sabbath Seders, revolved around a meal, and these became the pattern for Jesus' liturgy of the table, which he developed around himself as the Lamb of God and the Messiah who was promised to come.

[4]  Bryan Chapell has written a good book on worship entitled Christ-Centered Worship.  It shows the development of the liturgy of the church and its two part structure of Word and table.  My only caution with Chapell's book is his uncritical acceptance of songs with bad theology in the part of his book dealing with worship resources.  Augustine, Calvin, and Luther all recognized the danger involved in singing words that are not true or in singing without understanding the words we are singing or in being more moved by the music than the words the music accompanies.  On the benefits and dangers of music in the church see the article, Music, Singing and the Emotions: Exploring the Connections by Robert Smith in the book True Feelings: Perspectives on Emotions in Christian Life and Ministry edited by Michael P. Jensen.

[5]  See The Lord's Song: The Basis, Function and Significance of Choral Music in Chronicles by John Kleinig.  Kleinig shows from Chronicles that songs in the temple had a liturgical function that served the overall liturgical purpose.  Similarly, in our services our songs need to service the dialogical nature of the liturgy of Word and table.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

How Can the Gospel Be Good News to Gays? – The Gospel Coalition Blog

How Can the Gospel Be Good News to Gays? – The Gospel Coalition

All of us have a difficult time dying with Jesus, but unless we die with Him, we cannot rise with Him and live with him in this time before His coming.

The Blessedness of a a Heart Without Deceit

Today I was thinking/meditating on these verses and I became fearful about my salvation:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
(Psalm 32:1-2 ESV)

The reason for my fear was that last line: "in whose spirit there is no deceit."  The truth is, there is deceit in my heart.  The reason I fall to temptation is because my heart tends to believe lies.  The reason I don't trust in the Lord with all my heart or love him with all my heart is this deceit---this belief in particular lies---that seem to be wedged immovably in my heart.

Yet, these verse are talking about justification.  The apostle uses it in Romans 4 to teach that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone.  How could a passage about justification by faith alone cause me to fear?

Then I thought, what if this last line, "in whose spirit there is no deceit," might be talking about sanctification?  Then this line would mean that getting rid of lies and deceit in our hearts is a life-long process.  Then this last line would be an incentive to put off lies and to trust in the Lord, for such a person is blessed!

Then I wondered, didn't the apostle end his quote of Psalm 32 in Romans 4 just before he got to this last line of verse 2?  I went to Romans 4, and sure enough, he quoted just the first three lines to prove justification by faith alone, but not this last line that troubled me when I thought about it in terms of justification.

Justification is instantaneous.  When we believe in Christ we are forgiven and credited with the righteousness of Jesus.  But sanctification, at least in one sense of the word, is a process.  This process of sanctification is a process of getting rid of deceit and lies, replacing it with truth, and learning to trust in the words of our Father given to us in his book.

Monday, January 7, 2013

No I's, Me's, or My's in Heaven

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
(Luke 11:1-4 ESV)

Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
(Matthew 6:9-13 ESV)

Where are all the I's, me's, and my's in Jesus' prayer?  We get we's, us's, and our's, but no I's, me's  and my's.  How different this is than our contemporary services.  Our songs and hymns are filled with the language of I, me, and my.

It seems to me that this is another place where we need to heed Jesus' words in our worship services.  Our praises and songs fit under the  broader category of prayer.  When Jesus taught his disciples as a group to pray he told them to use we, us, and our, not I, me, and my.  Are we really putting Jesus' words into practice when our praise, songs, and prayers are more characterized by I, me, and my, than we, us, and our?

One of the places in the Bible where we see worship in heaven is the book of Revelation.  Here we see the church in heaven singing.  Is the church in heaven following the contemporary pattern of I, me,  and my or following Jesus' pattern given to his disciples of we, us, and our? 

The glimpse we are given in Revelation into the worship of heaven shows us that heaven follows Jesus' command of we, us, and our language.  If there is a single instance of I, me, and my language in the corporate worship of heaven, I am not yet aware of it.  Furthermore, if heaven uses we, us, and our language in its prayer and praise, then shouldn't earth do the same, for Jesus said, "Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

Here is a sample of the we, us, and our language of heaven's worship:

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.”
(Revelation 4:11 ESV)

We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
and begun to reign.
(Revelation 11:17 ESV)

“Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”
(Revelation 15:3-4 ESV)

Salvation and glory and power belong to our God,
for his judgments are true and just;
for he has judged the great prostitute
who corrupted the earth with her immorality,
and has avenged on her the blood of his servants.”
(Revelation 19:1-2 ESV)

“Praise our God,
all you his servants,
you who fear him,
small and great.”
(Revelation 19:4-5 ESV)

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
(Revelation 19:6-8 ESV)

Dear church of Jesus Christ, isn't it about time that we started obeying Jesus in our worship together?  

I know that the argument from the Psalms will be brought up as an objection.  Aren't the Psalms full of I, me, and my language?  The answer is yes, of course, but what many fail to see is that Jesus is the main speaker of the Psalms.  The greater David speaks as our second Adam and representative whose suffering and consequent glory brings us salvation and blessing.  If we want to sing the Psalms, we should sing them realizing that it is Jesus' voice we hear first and primarily in them.  The I, me, and my language of the Psalms is not to be our pattern for our worship together, even if it is an appropriate pattern for our individual prayer and praise.

We live in a culture where individualism reigns, and so it is natural for us to want to use individualistic language when we worship.  But our inclinations or our society's inclinations should not have the final word in how we worship together.  That final word belongs to the Lord of the church who purchased us with his precious blood.  How much more blessed we would be in our worship together if we listened to Him.  Let us  hear his word and place it ahead of our own.  Our Lord says, "When you pray say," and "pray then like this." 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Image Bearing Nature of Reality

A facebook friend posted this quote recently that I was not too enthralled with:
"The unbiblical idea of "spirituality" is that the truly "spiritual" man is the person who is sort of "non-physical," who doesn't get involved in "earthly" things, who doesn't work very much or think very hard, and who spends most of his time meditating about how he'd rather be in heaven. As long as he's on earth, though, he has one main duty in life: Get stepped on for Jesus. The "spiritual" man, in this view, is a wimp. A Loser. But at least he's a Good Loser." - David Chilton, Paradise Restored
Here is my response:

The spiritual man is heavenly minded as Colossians 3 teaches and many other places:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. (Colossians 3:1-6 ESV)

This heavenly-mindedness does not mean that the spiritual man does not see any worth in physical things, but he sees that physical things image heavenly realities. For example, the human body images God, earthly bread points to Christ as the bread from heaven, physical birth points to the new birth from above, earthly wealth points to heavenly wealth, etc.

It is precisely because of this image bearing nature of reality, that all things have meaning, including life on this earth lived between Christ's first and second comings. In fact, it is the lack of seeing the image-bearing quality of the world that has given us the secularism that sees meaning in nothing at all and leads to the despair, hopelessness, and utopia building we see in our culture.

Closely related to this heavenly-mindedness is suffering with Christ.  Because we live in a world that crucified the Lord of glory, we cannot expect such a world to love Christ's people.  Our heavenly-mindedness that flows from our being raised with Christ leads us to seek Christ and his heavenly kingdom above all else.  Because of our identification with Jesus we too will suffer with Christ for our testimony to Him, just as Christ was hated for his testimony of the Father.

So, overall, I would disagree with the quote above because of its mischaracterization of the the biblical position, which, indeed, calls for a true spiritual-mindedness or heavenly-mindedness, which also brings with it suffering for its testimony to Jesus.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy Birthday to the Heidelberger! | Heidelblog

Happy Birthday to the Heidelberger! | Heidelblog

I had no idea that Scott Clark's blog was back, but am glad it is!

Parody Of Our Modern Church Service

We all have a liturgy, the only question is whether it is faithful or unfaithful, wise or foolish.  Form and content need to be joined together.  

Think about this: Death is the dissolution of form and content.  The body (the form) is separated from the spirit (the content) and death results.  Churches who say that form does not matter, therefore, are fooling themselves.  On the other hand, churches can have the right form, that is, a sound liturgy, but the content or message of the gospel is missing.  What we need is a union of form and content, for only this will bring life.  Jesus gave us the form with his teaching and meal pattern.  Jesus also gives us the content, which is Himself, the Bread who came down from heaven to give life to a sinful and needy world.  We need both if our services are going to be life-giving.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Let's Listen to Him in this Coming Year!

One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor,
but the way of the wicked leads them astray.
(Proverbs 12:26 ESV)

Hebrew poetry uses parallelism.  This is an example of antithetical parallelism.  It contrasts the righteous and the wicked.

Not everyone agrees with this way of interpreting, but I think we are justified in beginning the interpretation of this verse with Jesus, because he alone is the righteous one, and the rest of us who belong to him are only righteous derivatively.  This means that Jesus is the preeminent guide to the world as to how to live.  He guides us with both his life and his words.  He is the promised prophet like Moses that we read about in Deuteronomy 18:15: "The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen."

In contrast to the righteous, who listen to Jesus, learning from both his words and example, this proverb speaks of "the way of the wicked," which "leads them astray."  It leads them astray precisely because it is a way that pays no attention to the words of God.  Man was meant to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4), but the wicked live according to their own inclinations and what they think is best.  In other words, our natural tendency is to follow our hearts, but this is the path or way that got us into trouble in the garden and leads us away from God..

Therefore, the Christian, who is righteous because he is united by faith to Christ, whose righteousness is imputed to us to cover our sinfulness, is the person who is learning to listen to Jesus and not to his own heart.  This is very counter-intuitive to the fallen heart, but it is the way that leads to life.  As the Father taught us, "This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!"  May the Spirit help us to listen to Jesus in the new year ahead.

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