Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Soul-Poisoning Naturalism or a Soul-Sustaining Sacramental Worldview


Luke 8:22-25 (ESV)

22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23 and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water and were in danger. 24 And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves, and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25 He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?”

Atheistic materialism (or material naturalism) is the idea that only matter exists. This view holds absolute sway in the sciences today. Our secular culture imbibes this soul-poisoning worldview and sees nature as independent from God. Even Christians in our culture have a hard time seeing the truth that the Lord is not only our Creator, but also the Sustainer of all things.

In our passage, Jesus shows that he is the Lord who commands nature. This is not difficult for him, for as the Lord, he sustains all things and all things derive their being and beauty from him. The New Testament even teaches that our Lord is mysteriously in all things, for as Colossians says of him, "in him [Jesus] all things hold together." John 1:4 says something similar, when it says, "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." While we certainly need to be cautious of pantheism, for the creature is never to be confused with the Creator, nevertheless, there is a sense in which the Lord participates in all things. The world is sacramental in a twofold sense, in terms of both representation and participation.

Jesus is also sacramentally present in the Old Testament (OT), in terms of representation and participation (see, for example, 1 Corinthians 10:1-5, which sees Jesus as both prefigured and present in the OT). Allusions to the OT are found in practically every passage of the Gospels. Through metalepsis, the idea that the Gospel writers understood the larger context of the text from which they drew their allusions, we see Jesus and his presence in the Old Testament, giving us a deeper understanding of who Jesus is, and who he is for us.

Our passage is filled with many allusions from the Psalms that refer to the Lord's command of the wind and waves. In a number of these the theme of the Lord as a refuge is also found (e.g., Psalm 32:6-7; 46:1-3; 124:1-5). The closest parallel is probably Psalm 107:23-32. Here is part of that passage:
For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits' end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.
Jesus promises to bring his disciples to "the other side" --- to the world beyond this one. He will bring us to our "desired haven." But even here in the midst of the journey, Jesus is that haven and refuge, who is present with us even in this troubled world, symbolized by the sea. By faith we see him and trust him as we travel with him and to him on the other side.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Fear of the Lord and His Presence or Absence

I went to a church service last night that made me wonder if professing Christians have lost the fear of the Lord Jesus Christ.  The Lord's glorious presence, his glory, majesty and beauty, can have different effects on us depending on our spiritual condition.  To those who are not walking with the Lord, his presence terrifies.  To those who are walking with him, his presence evokes wonder and awe, but also joy. 

The service I was at last night seemed to be missing his holy presence or at least most of the "worshipers" seemed removed from both terror on the one hand, and awe, wonder and delight, on the other. 

Psalm 97:1-7 speaks of the resurrected Lord's holy presence that ought to evoke terror to some and a reverent joy to others:

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
    let the many coastlands be glad!

2 Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
3 Fire goes before him
    and burns up his adversaries all around.
4 His lightnings light up the world;
    the earth sees and trembles.
5 The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of all the earth.

6 The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
    and all the peoples see his glory.
7 All worshipers of images are put to shame,
    who make their boast in worthless idols;
    worship him, all you gods!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Should We Forgive Ourselves Or Should We Receive His Forgiveness?

Given the fact that Christmas is only a couple days away and that Jesus sanctified the womb, I thought this testimony from Mary Poplin, from her book, "Is Reality Secular?" might be helpful to some:

"When I began to follow Christ, I grew deeply remorseful over my two abortions.  It was undeniable to me that I chose this solely to make my life more carefree.  I am certain problems remain in my body, soul and spirit that directly relate to those decisions.  Historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese wrote about the cultural mindsets that have led to an explosion in abortions worldwide.

'How have the advocates of abortion convinced vast numbers of people . . . that women's prospects for happiness and self-realization depend upon unrestricted access to abortion?  The simple answer lies in their success in convincing people that full personhood for women depends upon becoming truly equal to men---which effectively means securing freedom from their bodies and, especially, from children.  The more complicated answer arises from the assumptions of our culture as a whole, especially its escalating sexual permissiveness, its loss of spiritual direction, its pathological fear of human mortality and the related cult of youth, its dedication to instant gratification and disdain for sacrifice, and perhaps most portentously, its abandonment of children.'

"For several years after my conversion to Christianity, I repented over and over for my abortions, unsure whether this most merciful and brilliant God I was just learning to trust could really forgive me for what I now believed was a grievous sin.  When I arrived at Mother Teresa's, I was assigned to work with sick and handicapped infants; there are no coincidences in Judeo-Christian understandings.  After my return from Calcutta I was at a monastery where we were invited to write on a small index card the names of people we were promising to forgive on one side and the things for which we wanted to be forgiven on the other.  We would burn the cards on an altar outdoors during evening prayers.

"At the head of my list were my two abortions, on the other side of the card was a list of people I was committing to forgive.  I put the list in my pocket and began to walk along the river that runs through the monastery's land.  All at once I heard a male voice in my spirit clearly say, 'Who are "you" not to forgive someone "I" have forgiven?'  I stopped, stunned and confused by the question that had appeared in my spirit.  Not understanding, I walked further, and the same question came again.  I examined my list for missing persons and started forward when the voice recurred yet a third time.  Then I stopped, knelt in the grass, looked up at the sky and said aloud, 'Lord, I don't know what you are talking about.'  Into my spirit the Lord spoke one more time, '"I" forgave you the first time you asked me, and I do not want you to ask me again.'''

"Many people had suggested I just needed to confess and forgive myself, but that is not what the Lord was saying to me.  He was telling me 'Who do you think "you" are?  "You" do not have the authority to forgive yourself.  "I" have forgiven you; it is only "I" who can forgive you, and "I: have already done so.'  I did not need to continue rationalizing that abortion was not all that bad, or was legal, or that many people did it.  Nor did I need to remain guilty and try to work off some sort of self-designed penance.  I was forgiven and thus free; my staying bound was my choice, and it was limiting my life.  My many attempts to forgive myself were never really finished;  I always went back and tried again.  Things that are not true never completely work.

"For a year I searched the Scriptures testing the revelation and discovered there is not a single Judeo-Christian Scripture that suggests we can or should forgive ourselves.  Not one person in the Bible does this or is told to do it.  Working to forgive myself was an act of pride, a rejection of the free gift of grace already purchased by Christ, who had taken on the sins of the world that only a perfect life could bear.

"One of the first times I told this story in public, a young woman came up to me crying and said, 'Yes, but I had an abortion after I was a Christian.'  But David was forgiven for sleeping with Bathsheba and killing her husband Uriah long after he knew God.  Most of us unnecessarily carry our sin with us like a permanent companion or karma, something we anesthetize with our human reason.  But David simply cried out to God,

'Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin!' (Psalm 51:1-2)"

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Danger of Becoming too Positive

The influence of positive thinking is having a deleterious and negative effect on the mindset of many professing Christians.  I fear some believers have become so positive that they barely hear God's Word, which recognizes that we live in a fallen world dominated by sin and death.  If our advice, our teaching, and our "encouragement" does not deal with the reality of the fact that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23), our positivity and our "encouragement" may send us to the hell, we are all too positive to recognize or talk about!

An Invitation to Talk

"At the very start of the book [Isaiah], it is though Isaiah is saying to us, 'When did you last talk to God about your sin, about God's threat to punish it unless it is atoned for  by Jesus Christ, or about heaven and hell?  If you go on ignoring the problem for ever, you may find it is too late to talk!'

"God's invitation to talk is accompanied by a word of grace.  In unforgettable terms he uses the violent picture of a murder:

Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

"'Scarlet' and 'crimson' are the color of blood on a murderer's hands.  You may recall how Lady Macbeth's conscience at the murder of Duncan caused her to sleepwalk at night.  Wringing her hands in a gesture of washing, she lamented: 'Will all the perfumes of Arabia not cleanse this hand of mine?' Death is an appropriate metaphor; it is the wages of sin (Romans 6:23).  

--Derek Thomas from his commentary on Isaiah

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Independence or Dependence? Strength or Weakness?


Psalm 86:1 (ESV)
A Prayer of David.

Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and needy.

Psalm 40 (ESV)
To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
but the Lord takes thought for me.

I am struck by the fact that David, a fabulously wealthy and powerful king sees himself as "poor and needy." Even more surprising, this is how Jesus, who was Lord from conception and birth, describes himself, for Psalm 40 is put on our Lord's lips in the New Testament, since David foreshadowed Christ.

We live in a culture that values strength and power. We prize independence and despise weakness and dependence. But just maybe the Word of God is telling us that this view of man as strong and independent is a faulty view that does not take into account our Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. Just maybe the truth is that all of us, no matter our age, are completely dependent on God for life, both physical and spiritual, for in him alone is life. Just maybe we are completely dependent on him for knowledge and wisdom, for he is the omniscient One and source of all wisdom.  Just maybe we are completely dependent on him for satisfaction, for he made us for himself, and seeking other "gods" can never succeed, including the lie that we are, or should seek to be, strong and independent!

The truth is not a maybe for we depend on the Lord who is the great "I AM."  From the One who alone is independent and self-existent comes our next breath, physically and spiritually, and when we learn that truth we will be in tune with the reality of his presence in his world.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Seeing Christ in the Proverbs: 13:7-8


Proverbs 13:7-8

7 One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
8 The ransom of a man's life is his wealth,
but a poor man hears no threat.

These two proverbs are observational, but point to a Christological reality beyond the observations they make. Their observations ought to lift our minds from earth to heaven.

Verse 7 describes the kind of thing we sometimes read about in the newspapers. A seemingly poor widow dies, and it is found that she was worth millions of dollars. Or the reverse, a man is seemingly rich, enjoying an extravagantly wealthy lifestyle, but all for the purpose of conning rich people out of their money. The proverb points to the fact that things are not always as they seem.

There was no pretending with Jesus, but the poverty of his incarnation belied his great wealth. Though he describes himself through David as poor and needy, and through Matthew as gentle and humble in heart, he was at the same time the eternal Son of God, who possessed all authority over heaven and earth. Jesus became poor for our sake, so that in him we might become rich. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

In Christ, we too are poor in spirit. Like little infants, we recognize our spiritual need that only the heavenly Father can meet. But despite our spiritual poverty, joined to Christ we are rich. We have spiritual wealth unavailable to those outside of Christ, things like forgiveness, adoption and eternal life. All of this is in contrast to those who have material wealth, but lack the true wealth of spiritual riches in Christ.

Ultimately, true wealth is found only in Christ, and this point is driven home in verse 8. While the rich are able to find the funds to answer a ransom demand, the poor are free from the threat of such a demand, since no kidnapper would choose to kidnap a son or daughter from a poor family.  Lifted to a spiritual level, this proverb shows the value of knowing Christ, for he alone can pay to God the price to deliver us from hell and damnation. He alone died to pay the debt/ransom we could not pay ourselves. Jesus says of himself in Mark 10:45, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Even the rich do not have the wealth to get themselves out of hell! Money and riches are worthless to pay the price of our sin. Only Jesus has the spiritual wealth to free us from God's judgment. He paid this price through his death on the cross for those who come to him by faith. Thus, the poor in Christ are free from the threat of hell, and have greater wealth than the rich of this world, who will not be able to avoid hell though they are rich.

Things are not always as they seem. If you think you are rich, but do not know Christ, then you are truly poor and headed for hell. But if you know Christ, then you are truly rich, because Jesus died and rose to lift you to the riches of heavenly fellowship, which can be enjoyed now and throughout eternity.
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Monday, December 1, 2014

Materialism, A Sacramental Worldview, and the Longing for God

I think a big reason we don't long for the Lord and seek him is that our secular culture has catechized us to see nature and the physical world as having nothing to do with God. We are materialists and we cannot see that created things point to the Lord and his beauty. Materialism causes our souls to wither.

But once we discover the world is sacramental and points to the Lord's beauty and glory, then a longing for Him begins to stir in our hearts. As we see him, desire him, and come to know God in Christ, then our souls begin to flourish. The Winter of materialism melts away and the Spring of a sacramental view of the world arrives.

The Door to a New World of Meaning and Beauty


Proverbs 13:4 (ESV)

4 The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.

The parallelism of the Hebrew poetry contrasts "the sluggard" and "the diligent;" "gets nothing" and "is richly supplied." But missing is the parallel to the word "craves." What is implied by this missing element?

Obviously the soul of the diligent desires, since it is richly supplied. So the question is, what does the soul of the diligent desire that results in it being richly supplied, rather than receiving nothing?

One key to answering this question is the "divine passive," we have in each sentence. God is the one who richly supplies the soul in the one case, and gives nothing in the other. What we can conclude, then, is that the soul of the diligent desires something different than the soul of the sluggard. What this proverb points to is that the ultimate desire of the righteous/diligent soul is for the Lord himself, and the Lord will come to those who diligently seek and desire him.

The righteous/diligent soul uses the creature sacramentally and finds fellowship and delight in the triune God by the right use of created things, including other people. The only way to truly understand what is taught here is to understand what the psalmist means in Psalm 73:25: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."

We live in a universe where all created reality points to and participates in Jesus Christ. Therefore, all created reality is sacramental. Just as we eat the bread and drink the wine (earthly elements), and through them see Jesus, and have fellowship with Him, so we are to do the same with every good gift of the Father. All things derive their being, meaning and beauty from Christ, and are means of grace to those who believe and seek the Lord in all things.

The world is sacramental and wherever we look we are summoned to fellowship with God through his Son! Ask, seek, and knock and a new world will be opened up to you!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Excerpt from Mary Poplin's chapter on Materialist Naturalism

Two interesting paragraphs from Mary Poplin in her chapter on material naturalism:
"For decades, secular education and media have shaped us to think to a large degree as material-naturalists. Most of us can still remember watching popular astronomer Carl Sagan standing in front of a picture of the universe, always beginning his long-running "Cosmos" television series proclaiming, "The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be!" Even preschoolers are taught the same materialist-naturalist sentiments when they encounter the Berenstein Bears proclaiming, "Nature is all that is or was or ever will be." Recently I saw a T-shirt emblazoned with an extreme sentiment of naturalism: "I used to care but I take a pill for that now.
"When something is wrong inside us, we often first seek a medication to alter our body chemistry. Only secondarily do most of us stop to consider that what might be wrong could have first originated in our soul or spirit (the ultimate site of transformation). When I suffered from depression, medication was the only remedy I wanted. However, the origin of my depression was an intense inward focus, self-absorption, which was only exacerbated by the secular counseling that encouraged wallowing in my pride, which was oddly diagnosed as low self-esteem---two sides of the same coin. Medication can be a tremendous aid as one struggles to right one's thought life, just as a bandage can help a wound heal more effectively even though it is the work of the material inside one's cells that actually accomplishes the healing."

http://www.amazon.com/Reality-Secular-Testing-Assumptions-Worldviews/dp/0830844066/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1417150819&sr=1-1

Monday, November 24, 2014

New Hymn Based on Scarborough Fair Tune



I've always loved this tune, and I was listening to it last night, so I decided to attempt to write some lyrics for it this morning:

Do you know the God who is love?
Sent His Son in grace from above.
In Him all things find beauty and meaning,
in Him our souls have more than enough.

See His pow'r, the storm He can still,
for all things must follow His will.
His presence with you is your assurance,
to guide you with His wisdom and skill.

Who's this man who speaks to the sea?
Waves obey immediately.
By faith behold the glorious myst'ry:
for God has come to humanity.

With all nature bow to your Lord,
in submission learn from His Word.
Your Teacher, Savior, Lord and Provider,
your God enfleshed of ultimate worth.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Music Is Destroying the Church" --Daniel I. Block

Best sentence I've read this week:

"Although the songs we sing should bind us together, in our day music is destroying the church."  --Daniel Block, Guenther H. Knoedler professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College

Block is one of the few people that understand what is happening with worship today, and how resemblance to the biblical pattern of worship has been eviscerated.  Sadly, we are following our own understanding in worship, not the Scriptures.  Singing in the church has been turned into a sacrament, a liturgical function the Word of God does not give it.  No longer do we have a service of the Word and a service of the table.  Contemporary Evangelicalism has replaced Word and table with a service of singing and a service of preaching.  The service of the Word has been corrupted, and the service of the table removed except for its infrequent observance.  It is a sad state of affairs that is corrupting Christians and hurting our society as we cease to be salt and light.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Missing Out by a Failure to Listen and Submit

Psalm 81:10-12 (ESV)

10 I am the Lord your God,
    who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
    Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.
11 “But my people did not listen to my voice;
    Israel would not submit to me.
12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts,
    to follow their own counsels.

Notice the Lord's good intentions for us in verse 10.  He wants to satisfy our hearts.  He wants to fill us and give us grace, joy, peace, and himself as our portion.

But notice also the proper response to his offer of grace and salvation in verse 11.  We must hear his Word and submit to Him and his good and gracious will.

Finally, notice what happens when we refuse to hear his instruction and submit to him.  He judges us by letting us go our own way.  He lets us follow what we think is best, rather than his way, and it leads to a lack of inward satisfaction and the joy of knowing the Lord.  We miss the highest purpose of our creation, which is to be in fellowship with the Father and the Son, a fellowship that provides a continual inward feast and delight.  The Lord points to the fellowship/feast that satisfies the soul in the last verse of the psalm: "But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

Don't miss out on the feast/fellowship you and I were created for.  Listen and submit to the Lord.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Paradigm Shift: A Sacramental Worldview

I feel like I have experienced a paradigm shift in my view of the world the last couple years.  The best way I can describe it is that I now hold to a sacramental view of the world.

A sacramental view of the world is a view that sees all created things as pointing to a higher, heavenly reality.   What is a sacrament? A sacrament is a sign that points to and participates in a higher reality.  So, for example, the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper point to, but also participate in, the body and blood of Christ.  When we take the bread and the wine as Christians, we not only see Christ, but we also participate in Him, and receive his life.

But the sacrament of the Supper is based on the ultimate sacrament of Jesus Christ, whose incarnation joins God and man, heaven and earth, and whose death and resurrection enable his people to move from death to life, from earth to heaven, to participation in the triune life of God. 

In using common and universal elements like water, bread, and wine, the sacraments, but particularly the Supper, show us how to view all of God's creation and how to use and enjoy it in a manner pleasing to our Creator and Redeemer.  In our Lord's actions before the Supper, we have a picture of how humanity is meant to live:

First, Jesus receives the bread and wine.  All things are a good gift from God the Father.  Lust is about self-grasping, but trust is about receiving all things from the Father.

Second, Jesus looks to heaven and gives thanks.  The God and Father of Jesus is good and generous and deserving of continual thanksgiving.

Third, Jesus breaks the bread.  We offer what we receive from the Father back to him, including ourselves.  This self-offering is our reasonable worship, and it imitates the self-giving of each member of the trinity to one another, and the self-giving of Jesus on the cross.

Fourth, the bread is given and eaten, a bread which points to and participates in the body and blood of Jesus.  In all created things we are given, we can see Jesus in them if our eyes are opened, and we are able to use them to share in his life, that is, to enjoy satisfying fellowship with the Father and the Son.  Truly Jesus is our true portion and daily bread.

In using the creation this way, we see its true meaning and beauty, which is derived from Jesus, in whom all things hold together.  In using creation this way, we avoid the idolatry that ends in death and lack of satisfaction.  In using creation this way, we have a continual feast as we live in fellowship with the Father and the Son through the Spirit, as we walk in a world that speaks to us about God's glory, mediated through the Son, continuously.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Christ the Key to Understanding All Reality

Psalm 78:67-70 (ESV)
67 He rejected the tent of Joseph;
he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,
68 but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loves.
69 He built his sanctuary like the high heavens,
like the earth, which he has founded forever.
70 He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;


Verse 69 in context teaches us the truth we learn in John 2 that Jesus' body is the temple/sanctuary. The human body is remarkably patterned after the sanctuary/temple of the earth, which was patterned in the Old Testament after the heavenly temple. In the incarnation, Jesus brings heaven and earth together, and in him we see the sacramental ontology built into creation itself, which points to higher realities and participates in them because in Christ all things hold together.
Christ is the key to understanding all reality and the way human beings are to live. He opens our eyes to see that all created things, including our bodies, are sacramental and are to be used in such a way that we see Jesus in all things, offer them to them to him, and participate in his life by faith.

A "Sweet and Infinitely Inclusive Jesus?"

I read this today and it was a good warning for me, and maybe it will be a good warning for others too:

"Those who devote their lives to idolatry while offering facile and superficial worship will come under the sentence of destruction and exile.  Jesus does not defuse such judgment: he repeats and re-enacts it.  The Old Testament focuses our understanding of Jesus' role as an eschatological prophet of God's judgment.  The sweet, infinitely inclusive Jesus meek and mild, so beloved by modern Protestantism, is a Jesus cut loose from his Old Testament roots."  --Richard B. Hays in "Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness"

Said in a more blunt way, we are fooling ourselves if we think Jesus will accept us and save us if we do not seek to follow him as our Lord and Teacher.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

New Hymn for the Opening of Worship

These lyrics are sort of my alternative to "Shine, Jesus, Shine," a truly awful "worship" song that has happily receded in use. It is based on Luke 8:16-18, in which Jesus teaches what we should do when we gather in church, which originally met in houses.  Thus the house setting of the parable in verse 16 points to a church setting. Here are the words and tune if you want to try singing it:

Shine, O Jesus, In Our Midst

Suggested tune: SONG 13 (http://www.hymnary.org/tune/song_13_gibbons). Based on Luke8:16-18. Meter: 7777. Words: William Weber, 2014. (after sermon, beginning of worship, song of illumination, church and its mission)

v. 1
Shine, O Jesus, in our midst,
send Your Spirit to assist.
We would seek to lift You high,
and Your name to glorify.

v. 2
As we gather 'round Your Word,
may we see Your glory, Lord.
Make Your kingdom myst'ries known,
to Your children, to Your own.

v. 3
Gather those who do not know,
grace and truth and glory show.
May they come into the light,
leave the darkness of the night.

v. 4
Lord, if we profess Your name,
children of the Light our claim,
may our Father we obey,
hear and do His Word each day.

v. 5
On the final judgment day,
Christ the hearts of men will weigh.
So be careful how you hear,
ready when your Lord appears.

v. 6
In our hearts and all we do,
Jesus, we would honor You.
Light and life on us bestow,
may it increase, may it grow.

Lord and Savior, but not Teacher?

Jesus is Lord, Savior, and Teacher. These three offices correspond to the Old Testament offices of king, priest, and prophet. More and more I think the office that gets short shrift in our day is teacher. While some people falsely think Jesus can be their Savior without being their Lord, there seem to be lots of professing Christians who say Jesus is their Lord and Savior, but care little about learning from him as their teacher. How can we claim to be his disciples and pay no attention to his teaching? As Christians we should immerse ourselves in the Gospels everyday, but do we? Jesus should be our sole teacher. Every other teacher in our lives should be judged in relation to Jesus' teaching. But if we barely know what Jesus says, how will this discernment take place? We need to return to the Gospels day after day to learn from our teacher, if we claim to be his.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Hymn Based on Luke 8:19-21

Wondrous Priv'lege to Us Granted
                                                             
Suggested tune: REGENT SQUARE (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=44).  Meter: 878787.  Based on Luke 8:19-21.  Words: William Weber, 2014.  (song after sermon, adoption, union with Christ, family of God, the church, incarnation, new birth/regeneration, God's love, trinity)
                  
                                         
v. 1
Wondrous priv'lege to us granted,
if to Jesus we belong.
Into Him are we engrafted,
if His name we call upon.
Blessed to be in Jesus' fam'ly,
give Him praise in joyful song.

v. 2
Jesus is our older brother,
in His mercy came to earth.
On an errand from the Father,
to bring many sons to birth.
Blessed are we in Jesus' fam'ly,
praise the Son of matchless worth.

v. 3
Father, You in love adopted,
rebel orphans sought to bless.
We were barred from Your blessed presence,
now in Jesus, free access.
God our Father, Christ our brother,
In His fam'ly we are blessed.

D v. 4
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
love from all eternity.
Father, help your church to model,
triune love for all to see.
Through the Son and by the Spirit,
form a loving family.
                                         

Monday, November 10, 2014

Daniel Block on the Place of Scripture Reading in Worship

"Evangelicals must rediscover that the Scriptures were written to be heard; they were not written primarily to be preached. Whether we are reading the book of Judges, the prophecies of Ezekiel, the Gospel of Mark, or the Epistle of James, the texts come to us as preaching.  Despite creedal statements to the contrary, the relative absence of the Scriptures marks contemporary evangelical worship and reflects a very low view of Scripture.  At best, the Scriptures are read piecemeal and impatiently, that we might get to the sermon---for our voice and our interpretation have become more important than the sacred  Word of God. At worst, determined to be contemporary and relevant, we do not open the Scriptures at all, dismissing the practice as a fossil without vitality and usefulness.  In so doing we displace the voice of God with the foolish babbling of mortals, foreclose the possibility of true worship, and intensify the famine for the Word of God in the land (Amos 8:11-14).  If true worship involves an audience with God, then the health of the church depends upon hearing the voice of God in the Scriptures."  

--Daniel Block, Wheaton College Old Testament professor, from his book, "For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worship"

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Being Real in Church?

I've been thinking about something I heard tonight. A statement to the effect that "I want to go to a church where I can be real."
On the one hand, I agree. Church is the place where we go to confess we are sinners, who are without hope apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ. We confess we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. We confess we have not loved God and his Son with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength. We confess we have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. We even confess we have left undone things we should have done. Being real is confessing our true state before God and others.
But on the other hand, I disagree with going to church to be real if this becomes an excuse not to pursue what is truly real. For what is truly real, from the biblical standpoint, is Jesus Christ, the one who is the great I AM, from whom all things derive their being. We come to church to get in touch with what is truly real, and what is real is Jesus Christ to whom all things ultimately point. Being real in church means receiving his life, his being, his "realness" through Word and sacrament.
True Christianity goes beyond the confession of sins, and even knowing the truth. True Christianity is about seeing Christ, participating in Christ's life, and learning to be Christ to one another.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Value of Hebrew Poetry in a Sacramental World

Proverbs 12:9 (ESV)

9 Better to be lowly and have a servant
    than to play the great man and lack bread.

The parallelism of Hebrew poetry teaches us to make comparisons, which is a valuable skill in a sacramental world where created things point to higher realities that find their fulfillment and being in Christ.  The parallelism in this verse leads us to an interesting place.

The main comparison in this verse is between the lowly and the supposed "great man."  The contrast is therefore between pride and humility.  No human being is truly good or great, for all human beings derive their life, meaning and goodness from their Creator.  Therefore, anyone who thinks he is great is playing a part that is farcical.  Humans by nature are dependent on God physically and spiritually, and when we recognize our lowly, poor estate, we play the role that rightly belongs to us as dependent creatures.

What is odd about this verse is that in a literal sense the lowly or poor would not have a servant, and the great or rich would never lack bread.  Therefore the literal sense in this verse drives us to the spiritual sense, and this is the way a sacramental world works as we move from the literal to the spiritual.

I would suggest that the proud lack, not physical bread, but the bread of life, who the New Testament reveals to be Jesus Christ, the God/man, who joins heaven to earth, and is, therefore, the ultimate sacrament.  God opposes the proud so that the proud miss the life-giving communion they could have with the triune God.

But how does the humble, lowly person have a servant?  Literally this cannot be true, so who or what is this servant of the poor man?  I would suggest that the servant is his body, which through repentance and faith becomes subservient to his spirit.  By putting to death the sinful cravings and deeds of the sinful nature, the lowly are able to turn away from the slavery involved in the idolatry of created things.  Instead of idolizing creation, the humble begin to see God in created things, and are lifted  from those earthly things to Jesus Christ and heavenly things, so that they might participate in the life of God.  Thus, the humble, through their fight against the threefold lust of 1 John 2:15-17, by faith are able to eat the Bread which the proud know nothing about. Amazingly enough, this little proverb is teaching us how to have communion with God, which is only possible through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Sacramental World and the Sursum Corda

Psalm 73:24-25 (ESV)

24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.

Two important truths are found in these verses:

First, from verse 24, we learn that if we want to be received into glory in heaven after our life is over, we would do well to follow the Lord's counsel here on earth.  We fool ourselves if we ignore or care nothing for Jesus' teaching as found in God's Word, and then expect to enter his heaven.

Second, from verse 25, we are taught that the creation or material world is sacramental.  In other words, all of creation points to the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom all things derive their being, beauty, and meaning.  The reason the psalmist can say that he desires nothing but the Lord on earth, is that created things are penultimate, not ultimate, secondary, not primary.

Do we desire our daily bread?  Yes, but Jesus is the bread of life and is our true portion.  Do we desire friendship with others?  Yes, but Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother.  Do we delight in the beauty of nature?  Yes, but nature derives its beauty and glory from Jesus.  Do we desire that closest communion of a husband or wife?  Yes, but we are the bride of Christ, and our fellowship is with the Father and the Son, by the Spirit.  In other words, our earthly desires, rightly understood, point us to the Lord himself.  And, if we use created things rightly in a sacramental way that finds the Lord in all things, we can find true satisfaction as we look to heaven and lift our hearts to him (in the historic Christian liturgy, this lifting up of our hearts during the Supper is known as the sursum corda).  

Therefore, let us follow our Lord's regular pattern as we partake and make use of created things: "And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves . . . . and they all ate and were [truly] satisfied."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Jesus Our Only Teacher



I was struck in my devotions today by this verse from Luke 9:26:
"For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels."
Of course, all the words of Jesus come to us via his apostles and the associates of the apostles, who wrote the New Testament. Therefore, we are not allowed to separate the Gospels from the Epistles or Jesus and Paul, as some are prone to do. We have an apostolic faith, and we must be committed as Christians to all of the apostolic writings.
There is lots of pressure on us to be ashamed of Jesus and his words, as mediated to us by the apostles. Especially on the issue of homosexuality, marriage, and sexual immorality, our culture wants us to ignore and reject Jesus' teaching via his apostles. But to do this would be to be ashamed of Jesus and his words, when he returns. Sadly, this is what millions of professing Christians are doing.
Part of the problem is that these nominal Christians rarely, if ever, read the New Testament. They do not know what Jesus taught through the Gospels and Epistles, because if they have devotions at all, they consist of one Bible verse and some sentimental, sappy comments. We need to recover the truth that Jesus is our sole teacher, who transforms and challenges our beliefs, worldviews, and lives, for our good and his glory.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hymn About Jesus' Family

Wondrous Priv'lege to Us Granted
                                                             
Suggested tune: REGENT SQUARE (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=44).  Meter: 878787.  Based on Luke 8:19-21.  Words: William Weber, 2014. (song after sermon, adoption, union with Christ, family of God, the church, incarnation, new birth/regeneration, God's love, trinity)

v. 1
Wondrous priv'lege to us granted,
if to Jesus we belong.
Into Him are we engrafted,
if His name we call upon.
Blessed to be in Jesus' fam'ly,
give Him praise in joyful song.

v. 2
Jesus is our older brother,
in His mercy came to earth.
On an errand from the Father,
to bring many sons to birth.
Blessed are we in Jesus' fam'ly,
praise the Son of matchless worth.

v. 3
Father, You in love adopted,
rebel orphans sought to bless.
We were barred from Your blessed presence,
now in Jesus, free access.
God our Father, Christ our brother,
In His fam'ly we are blessed.

D v. 4
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
love from all eternity.
Father, help your church to model,
triune love for all to see.
Through the Son and by the Spirit,
form a loving family.
                                        


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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