Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Absurdity of Seeking Political Power

"Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia...." (1 Peter 1:1)

"And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile...." (1 Peter 1:17)

If Christians are exiles during their time on earth as the Word above teaches, then is it not absurd for us as exiles to be obsessed with power and influence in the country of our exile? By definition, exiles are powerless to change the county of their sojourn.

Instead, we should be in prayer for the benefit, blessing and salvation of those with whom we come into contact, bringing them before the Father and Lord of our homeland, for he loves the fatherless, which is an apt description of people who are still unreconciled to God.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Our Foolish Use of Worship Language?

Increasingly Evangelical and Reformed churches are singing songs filled with I's, me's and mine's, and increasingly I am convinced this is a practice that needs to go.  Here are a few reasons:

  • The use of we, us, and our is more honest than I, me, and my.  For example, if we sing the words, "We praise you, Lord, and we give ourselves to you" no one in the congregation is lying.  The church is praising the Lord and committing themselves to the Lord, even if there are persons or members who are not.  But if we sing in the first person singular, "I praise you, Lord, and I give myself to you," many people are now lying if they sing without meaning it.  In fact, this may be the reason that people sing hymns louder in church with we, us, and our language than the I, me, and my  choruses.

  • The use of we, us, and our helps hearers of the gospel (catechumens) who have not yet committed themselves to Christ to grow into the language of commitment to Christ.  I, me, and my language forces and manipulates people into saying things that are not yet true for them.

  • The Old Testament had a place for individual thank offerings or offerings associated with vows. But in these individual offerings, the priests did not proscribe the words used.  The words came from the individual's own heart.  The same should hold for worship today.  There is a place for personal prayer using I, me, and mine (I think the most natural time is during the Lord's Supper and, of course, in private devotions), but no one can proscribe those words for another, because they must come from the heart of the person making the sacrifice of praise or commitment.

  • We instinctively know that in gathered worship our language to God should use the first person plural (we, us, and our).  The proof is to listen to those who lead in prayer.  Rarely do we hear I, me, and my in such prayers, and on the rare occasion we do, we cringe out of embarrassment for the one leading.

  • Jesus commanded us to use we, us, and our language in the Lord's Prayer.  He said, "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 one." Jesus was not merely giving us a pattern for prayer, but for all of our worship language when we meet together as a church.
  • The only examples of congregational singing in the New Testament follow the inclusive pattern of we, us, and our. These examples come from Revelation.  See, for example Revelation 4:11, 11:17, 15:3-4, and 19:1-2; 6-8.  I could find no example of I, me, or my congregational singing in Revelation.  See my post on that subject here.
The objection that people will undoubtedly have to leaving the first person singular (I's, me's and my's) behind in congregation worship will come from the Psalms.  People will argue that the Psalms were used in congregational singing in the Old Testament and in church history, therefore we can follow the pattern of the Psalms in using I, me, and mine.  This is wrong, I believe, for a couple reasons:
  • The main speaker in many of the Psalms is David, and through David, our Lord Jesus.  David was not just an individual, but a representative of all the people.  Jesus is the greater David and second Adam.  He represents us, and so when we sing the Psalms the true speaker is not us, but Jesus.  We do not make liars of people in singing the Psalms because we are singing the words and experience of David and our Lord.  But this is not the case when we sing hymns and choruses in the first person singular.

  • The Psalms are also Scripture.  There can be no sound objection to reading or singing Scripture.  Even if we cannot sometimes join in the commissive language (language in which we commit ourselves), we do not lie in saying those words just because it is Scripture.  On the other hand, if we sing commissive language in a hymn or chorus, we do lie if our hearts are not yet aligned with the language.

  • More than likely, not all the Psalms were used in the temple worship of Israel.  John Kleing has shown that the Levitical singers began their song at the moment of the morning and evening sacrifice, and that the purpose of the song was for praise and thanksgiving.  Not all the Psalms could be sung for that purpose.  In the synagogues, it seems clear that all the songs were used, but it is not certain whether they were read, sung, or chanted.  It is entirely possible that even in Israel, the Psalms were first and foremost a book used for private devotion.
The language that we use in worship, including our songs, is formative.  By this language we learn to be disciples and are edified.  By using the first person plural we allow catechumens and our children to grow into the language of worship and commitment without lying.  How tragic it would be if the language of I, me, and my was actually deformative and destructive of the actual purpose we desire, namely, making disciples for Jesus' sake.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Why Catechizing Is of Vital Importance

I read this recently from Christopher Ash's excellent book on Psalm 119. It explains why Christian families and churches need to catechize their people. The story comes from Melvin Tinker: 
 "Several years ago the famous economist E. F. Schumacher . . . gave a talk in London which began with an account of his recent trip to St. Petersburg, Russia, which then was under communist wraps as Leningrad. Despite having a map in hand which he followed painstakingly, he realized that he was lost.

 "What he saw on the paper didn't fit with what he saw right in front of his eyes, several huge Russian Orthodox churches. They weren't on the map and yet he was certain he knew which street he was on. 'Ah' said the Soviet tourist guide, "That's simple. We don't show churches on our maps.'

  "Schumacher went on to say this: 'It then occurred to me that this is not the first time I had been given a map which failed to show things I could see right in front of my eyes. All through school and university I had been given maps of life and knowledge on which there was hardly a trace of many of the things that I most cared about and that seemed to me to be of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life.' In other words, what he had been taught at school and college and picked up from the media missed out issues of faith which were so vital to him." 
I don't think the lesson to be learned from this is that Christians demand that public schools become Christian! The world will always be the world and secular institutions will always be secular. The lesson is not for the world, but for Christian churches, families, and individuals. We must catechize our people (and ourselves), because we can be sure that the world is busy catechizing everyone through the schools and the media, where Christ is not given his rightful place.

 And one more lesson for individual Christians: just because you are a college graduate does not mean you are truly educated. You can be a Christian with a college degree, and yet be a pre-schooler in the school of Christ Jesus! Are you and I enrolled in the school of our Lord? Are we in His Word every day? Are we learning doctrine from the catechism? Are we reading sound Christian books? Are we attending a church that administers both the Word and the Supper faithfully and frequently?

One final note on the importance of both the Word and the Supper.  The Word is a means of grace to us.  It renews our minds.  It helps us to know God's will. Received by faith it gives us life.  But our faith is weak, and this is where the Supper comes in.  In the Supper we receive something beyond knowledge.  In the Supper we receive the cleansing and life of Jesus.  When we eat the bread and drink the wine, the body and the blood of Jesus is what is symbolized and given to us.  The Hebrew Scriptures teach us that the blood not only cleanses, but life is in the blood.  As we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus we are cleansed and given his life internally.  The Spirit joins us to Jesus in a closer and closer way.  

The kingdom does not just come to us in words, it also comes to us in power.  Word and meal complement one another.  The Word leads us to fellowship with the Father and the Son, and in that  table fellowship we find life.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Perils of American Citizenship?

I read this today from John Kleinig and I think he is right. Given the political climate in the United States, these are words Christians  need to consider, for we often think, speak and act in a way opposed to the way of Jesus, because we are thinking, speaking and acting as Americans rather than citizens of a higher kingdom:

"We need to fight against our real spiritual enemy. The danger that we all face is that we all too easily mistake our enemies. We imagine the people who do evil in the Church and in the world are our enemies. But that is not so! St. Paul stresses that fact. Our struggle is not against human flesh and blood. No political, social, ethnic, or religious group is our enemy. Our struggle is against Satan and his cosmic cronies. . . . They are our only spiritual enemies, even though they may use misguided human beings to attack us, and even though they may trick us into attacking our brothers and sisters in Christ. Satan bamboozles us by getting us to consider people as our enemies. That's his stock ruse! It's sad how often we fall for it, even in the church."

I would ask Kleinig, but what about the "world" as used in John's writings and Paul's writings to describe the anti-Christ nature of a world that crucified God's Son and is fleeing from God, like Adam and Eve and the prodigal?

I think the answer is that we are not to love the world as an anti-Christ system or love what the world loves. Our love is Jesus and we flee the lusts of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:15-17). But the spiritual separation of our heart from the world and its loves does not imply we are not to love those who are still in the world because of their enmity of heart to the triune God and his ways.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Hallowed Be Your Name

I was hitting some golf balls on the driving range in Arizona, and next to me was an older man, probably in his 70's. He starts talking with his buddy and out of his mouth comes a whole string of curses that included the misuse of God's name in practically every sentence. I am not sure why I found it so disconcerting to hear this man take God's name in vain. Maybe it was the contrast between the beauty of the Arizona scenery the Lord created and the ugliness of his words that dishonored their Maker. Maybe it was the contrast of seeing an older man, who one would expect to have some dignity, saying such vile things against the dignity and Majesty of the triune God. But it was so sad to see the name that Christians hallow used like that. 

But isn't it interesting how in the world in its current fashion, one can take God's name in vain and no one seems to care, but homosexual slurs will not be tolerated. While I never have used a homosexual slur in my life, it is worth noting exactly who is hallowed in our society. The world at this present time hallows the name of homosexuals, but not the name of the Father, who sent his Son in love to redeem us from this present evil age. May we learn to pray as Jesus taught us: “This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name."

 By the way, I am using the word "world" the way the apostle John uses it as a description of unregenerate society that will always be opposed to the triune God. Because that is the case, I am not in favor of trying to change the world, for the world in this sense will always have an anti-Christ attitude at its heart, and will always love the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. What I am simply pointing out is the difference between the two kingdoms, and hopefully showing that it is best to live in a kingdom that hallows God's name.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Christmas Hymn

Wake O Sleepers from Your Slumber

Suggested tune: REGENT SQUARE Angels from the Realms of Glory (  Based on Luke 2:1-20.  Meter: 878787.  Words: William Weber, 2013.

v. 1
Wake O sleepers from your slumber,
hear what God for man has done.
In His grace and in His mercy,
sent His one and only Son.
Praise the Father, Son, and Spirit,
praise the bless-ed Three in One.

v. 2
Though the world does not perceive it,
no one born of Adam can,
for the Father must reveal it:
Jesus, fully God and man.
Praise the Father for His mercy,
praise Him for His gracious plan.

v. 3
Born in humble circumstances,
is His just another birth?
Hear the word that comes from heaven,
angels speaking on the earth:
find the baby in a manger,
He is Christ the Lord from birth!

v. 4
Joy and peace to those awakened,
who the wondrous news receive.
Heaven’s testimony given,
blessed are those who will believe.
They are born above with Jesus,
in them is His life conceived.

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