Thursday, January 23, 2014

Faithfulness to the Story and its Author

“In the postmodern era, the overarching story is that out world is heading for political, economic, and ecological oblivion.  The only way we can save it is through a rescue; we need a savior, a state, who will end discrimination by enforcing diversity, who will deliver our economy by neo-Marxism, and who will rescue our environment with eco-legislation.  Then we will have complete equality, true diversity, and authentic community.  Just read philosophers like Peter Singer, Alain Badiou, or Slavoj Zizek, and you will get themes like this coming through.  Here religion, as an ideology of resistance to hyper-secularism, stands in the way of diversity and eco-responsibility; therefore, it must be exiled out of the public sphere. Sex can be publicized, but religions must be interiorized. Tolerance is not respect for the beliefs of others; it is the abandonment of beliefs that offend.  I suspect that when all is said and done, the postmodern vision will collapse in on itself in nihilism.  Its hope for a community-in-diversity can only be achieved by forcing faith communities to forfeit their truth claims, to deny the finality of their hopes, and to expunge themselves of anything offensive to others.  The irony of postmodernism is that its quest for absolute diversity can be only achieved by crushing dissenters.

“In contrast to all this, Christian theology claims that history is about the mission of God working out his purposes.  These purposes were promised to the patriarchs and to Israel, were summed up in Christ, flow into the church, and will climax at the appointed day.  We know how the story goes, we know who it is about, and we even know how it all ends---not with a whimper but a new creation.  We do not die; rather, we become alive at the great resurrection.  Christian eschatology represents a competing story, a story that dares challenge the dehumanizing ideologies of secularism and nihilism, for it tells us of a world without end, a benevolent Lord, a never-ending peace, and time without tears.  What is more, it is a world that has already begun in the context of this world, for that is the eschatological horizon of the gospel.”

---Michael Bird from his book, Evangelical Theology

I was particularly struck by the accuracy and reality of Bird's description of the direction of the world at this particular time in history and his description of the Christian faith as a competing story.  O how we need to be faithful to that story, and cling to its Author in what will become a more and more difficult time.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Olney Hymns | Challies Dot Com

The History of Christianity in 25 Objects: Olney Hymns | Challies Dot Com

Excellent article on the origin of Reformed and Evangelical hymns. I found this article to be encouraging as someone who tries to write hymns for the reasons articulated in this article. I try to write hymns based on the Gospels that communicate simply the truths of the faith, something I do not think a lot of our contemporary worship songs do, or even many of our hymns. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Jesus' Fulfillment of the Beatitudes

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

--------------------

The beatitudes are, first of all, about Jesus before they are about us.  Jesus is the blessed man in a way that no other person could be.  Jesus fulfills each of the beatitudes and gives the rewards he earned to his people as blessings.  

Paul puts the first beatitude like this in 2 Corinthians 8:9: "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."  Who else has left the riches of heaven to come to earth on an errand of mercy?  Who can fathom the condescension of the second person of the eternally blessed trinity taking to himself our human nature to be born of the virgin?  Who can comprehend the love of God that not only takes to himself our nature, but in that nature goes to the cross to reconcile sinners to himself and his Father?

Surely Jesus is the preeminently blessed man, for he became poor for our sake, because of sheer grace and love.  He is the fount in whom every blessing will be found.  No kingdom blessing or benediction can be found apart from him.

He above all others, hungered for righteousness.  As he said in John 4:34, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work."  And, accomplish it he did.  But the good news is that he freely gives his accomplishment to his believing people for our justification.

Similarly, our Lord wept for the human race.  He understood as no one else our spiritual poverty, enslavement, blindness and oppression (Luke 4:18-19).  Our pitiful condition moved him to prayer, compassion and ultimately, the cross.

And surely we see that Jesus was hated as no one else.  As John put it, "the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil" (John 3:19).  While the Father showed his heart of love through the cross, unregenerate men showed their heart of hatred for God by nailing him to that cross, and this is a hatred that only Jesus can root up by the gift of the indwelling Spirit.

So see, first, in these beatitudes the blessings the Son of God has earned for you in love, and may the Spirit cause us to respond with a poverty, hunger, and weeping, which we will look at in our evening devotion.

New Hymn Based on Luke 6:20-26

Luke 6:17-26

English Standard Version (ESV)
17 And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all.

20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

22 “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23 Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25 “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.

How Blessed is He, Our Lord and Christ

Suggested tune: GREAT WHITE HOST (http://www.lutheran-hymnal.com/online/aTLH_Hymns1.htm click on Behold a host, arrayed in white 656).  Meter: 8886.  Based on Luke 6:20-26.  Words: William Weber, 2014. (after sermon, beatitudes, blessings in Christ, union with Christ, persecution)

v. 1
How blessed is He, our Lord and Christ,
who came to us from heaven's height.
Though rich, made poor,
let us adore,
and all His deeds recite.

v. 2
He hungered, thirsted for God's will,
all righteousness He has fulfilled.
Our cov'nant Head,
who in our stead,
has done the Father's will.

v. 3
He wept and grieved and mourned our loss,
for fellowship with God was lost.
In cries and tears,
and rev'rent fear,
in love He bore the cross.

v. 4
The world despised and hated Him,
and cast Him out, reviling Him.
But we rejoice,
and lift our voice,
for He has borne our sin.

v. 5
And now the poor in Christ are blessed,
all blessings are in Him possessed.
The kingdom won,
by God the Son,
and now in Him we rest.

v. 6
And though we hunger, mourn and weep,
and men revile and insults heap.
Still we give praise,
and on that day,
in Him for joy we leap.




Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Top Five Theological Books Read in 2013

I read a lot of great books this year. In some ways, my reading broadened this year more than in the past, as I read more stuff from a non-Reformed perspective. My favorite books for the year came from a Missouri Synod Lutheran and a Methodist, who teaches at a Catholic institution. I am still Reformed in my theology holding to the Heidelberg Catechism, but I think there is value in learning from teachers beyond our little circles, for the Spirit teaches (blows) in places that surprise us!

Here are my top five for 2013:

1. The Concordia Commentary on Luke by Arthur Just. Sooooooo good! Every Christian would benefit from reading this commentary, not just pastors. 


2. "Jacob & the Prodigal: How Jesus RetoldIsrael'sStory" by Kenneth Bailey. If you want a fuller understanding of the Father's love for humanity, this is a must-read.

3. "The Everyday Gospel: A theology of washingthe dishes" by Tim Chester. Everything I've read from Tim Chester is excellent, but this little book (you can easily read it in a couple hours) should become a classic for Christians.

4. "Cruciformity: Paul's NarrativeSpirituality of the Cross" by Michael Gorman. Gorman's book helps show how the cross was the master story for Paul in all his letters, and how he uses the theology of the cross to correct the ills of the various churches to which he writes. Gorman's view of justification is not orthodox, so one does have to read with some discernment.

5. "Dictionary of Biblical Imagery" by Leland Ryken. I try to read an article a day from this excellent resource. As Westerners, most of us do not do well with the imagery and symbolism of the Bible. This book will help a person to see more in the biblical text, if the Spirit indwells him.

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