Thursday, July 31, 2014

Jesus: A Metaphorical Theologian

"Today, Jesus is naturally seen by Christians as the Son of God and Savior of the world.  The New Testament also presents him as the perfect example of love and an effective storyteller for simple folk.  But have we thought of him as a serious theologian?

"Jesus was a metaphorical theologian.  That is, his primary method of creating meaning was through metaphor, simile, parable and dramatic action rather than through logic and reasoning.  He created meaning like a dramatist and a poet rather than like a philosopher."
  --Kenneth Bailey

If Bailey is right, and Jesus was a metaphorical theologian, then how out of touch with our Lord are western Christians!  The very thing we are poor at, and even scoff at, is seeing symbol and metaphor in the Gospels.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Table Fellowship and Discipleship

Mark 2:14-17:  14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Part of my devotions for today.  First, notice the word "rose" in verse 14.  I know many would disagree with this, but it is hard for me to think the word "rose" has no symbolic value.  The Gospel writers and Jesus chose their words carefully, and the fact is, we must rise from spiritual death if we are to follow Jesus.  No one can follow Jesus apart from a new birth that results from the hearing of his gospel word.

Second, notice the close connection between following Jesus and table fellowship with Jesus, particularly in verses 14 and 15.  Table fellowship with Jesus includes teaching and a meal.  Word and Supper are intimately tied to discipleship and walking with Jesus all of our lives.

Third, notice that the healing of sinners takes place through listening and eating (table fellowship), which was the exact way we became sick when we listened to the devil and ate of the one tree that was forbidden.  Now we are healed by listening to Jesus' words and partaking of his tree, the cross, partaking of his body and blood by faith.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Religion of Secularism

Seems to me that secularism is a religion. It deifies the state or self. It has two sacraments: abortion and homosexual "marriage," which point to and enable our right to be our own little gods. It considers the great problem of individuals to be guilt, which we should never have. It has a plan of salvation: to save the individual through self-esteem and to save the earth by fighting global warming. It hopes for an earthly utopia, where there is no religion, except secularism, of course!  It's way of living is self-grasping lust for power, wealth and pleasure. It is the exact opposite of Christianity, which it hates more than anything else, even Islam! 

On the other hand, Christianity worships the triune God, who is revealed supremely in Jesus Christ. It has two sacraments: baptism and the Lord's Supper, which point to and enable our union and communion with the crucified and risen Lord. It considers the great problem of individuals to be the objective guilt that has resulted from our sin. It has a plan of salvation: to save the individual through Jesus' objective saving work and the Spirit's subjective inward work of Christ-esteem. It hopes for the utopia of a new heaven and earth. It's way of living is self-giving love in every area of life.  While it is the opposite of secularism and hates the false religion of secularism, it loves those who are blinded by secularism and prays for the salvation of those suffering and reduced by it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Feeding the Children and a Return to Weekly Communion


One of the ways Christian churches in the Evangelical and Reformed traditions fail to follow the biblical pattern of worship is through their practice of the Lord's Supper.  The giving of the Supper is infrequent, even though the evidence of the New Testament is that the Supper was received weekly. This is more than a mere theoretical problem.  It deprives the household of God the bread our Lord promises to give (see Matthew 24:45-46 and Luke 12:42-43).

Denominational rules and traditions prevent churches from returning to the pattern Jesus gave us of teaching and a meal.  By tying the administration of the Supper to the pastor, it becomes impossible to ensure the Supper is received each Lord's Day for the blessing and strengthening of the people.  If the pastor is sick or the congregation does not have a pastor, then believers are not able to receive this means of grace and life from their Lord.

Mark Thompson writes of the inconsistency and unbiblical nature of the restriction of the administration of the Supper to the pastor, when he writes:

By virtue of ordination, the presbyter [pastor] is given a special authority which is necessary if the Lord’s Supper is to be authentic. The presbyter [pastor] or ‘priest’ stands in a special relation to God, able to stand before God on behalf of the people and before the people on behalf of God. When such arguments are mounted, it is hard to avoid a
sacerdotal view of the presbyterate [pastorate], an idea which undermines the unique priesthood of Christ and both the singularity and finality of his sacrifice on the cross. It is also hard to avoid the suggestion that this activity lies at the heart of presbyteral [pastoral] ministry. When others are permitted to share in every other form of ministry exercised by the presbyter [pastor] (preaching, pastoral care, parish administration, leading services and even baptism) but are prohibited from administering the Lord’s Supper, the conclusion seems obvious that this is the distinguishing mark of presbyteral [pastoral] ministry: this is the essence of what it means to be ordained. Yet in the New Testament the ministry of the presbyter [pastor] or elder is not in essence liturgical but pastoral. The end result of an insistence on this prohibition, then, is confusion, or even distortion, of the biblical pattern of ministry. (1)

By unbiblically tying the Supper to one person in the congregation, we deprive ourselves of the meal Jesus instituted for our strengthening and blessing.  We become like those Jesus spoke against, who raised their human traditions above the Word of God.  Instead of following our Lord's authoritative pattern of teaching and a meal/sign, we do our own unbiblical thing.  Thompson writes:

It is abundantly clear that in both the New Testament contexts in which the Lord’s Supper is mentioned (Luke 22 and 1 Corinthians 11) it is a congregational activity rather than a priestly activity. The validity of the Lord’s Supper does not depend on the person administering it but on the attitude of those participating in it towards each other and towards the atoning death of Jesus which is its proper focus. The proclamation of the gospel which Paul envisages as the meaning of the meal shared by the Corinthians, is a proclamation by the congregation, not just by the individual who is leading the prayers and distributing the loaf and the cup. A similar point is made in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, which insist that the efficacy of the sacrament depends not on the worthiness or otherwise of the minister but on ‘Christ’s institution and promise’ (Article 26).
This biblical focus is compromised by our preoccupation with the identity of the one who administers the Supper (or with the precise words spoken or actions performed at the right moment). Things about which the New Testament says little or nothing become central in our practice and the more important things fade into the background. The insistence on only presbyters administering the Supper runs the risk of changing the character of the Supper, from being a corporate act of remembrance in which the critical factor is the attitude and focus of the participants in the light of Christ’s promise, to being something done for or on behalf of the congregation by a particular person with distinctive qualifications and authority. It becomes an exercise in priestly ministry rather than an opportunity for all present to testify again of the mercy of Christ in which we trust for a full and complete salvation. The focus turns from the heart and mind of the recipients to the words and actions of the one administering. At this level too, the absolute prohibition of all but the ordained presbyter administering the Supper brings in its wake confusion and distortion.

Returning to the biblical pattern of Word and meal promises blessing and growth to our churches.  It holds the promise of democratizing ministry.  Part of the reason for the failure of churches to evangelize and grow is that churches have restricted the ministry to the pastor.  The only way to return to the weekly pattern of Word and meal in our churches is to take the administration out of the hands of the pastor.  His role is to supervise and oversee the church (including the Supper), making sure it is taught and fed.  By restricting the Supper to himself, he actually causes the children to go hungry.  Let us start to feed them once again.

May the Lord have mercy on us and return his meal to us on a regular basis. Amen.



(1) Both quotes from Mark Thompson's article in the book The Lord's Supper in Human Hands.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Learning to See the Beauty of the Person the Body Makes Visible

"Concupiscent [lustful] desire draws us away from affirming the person 'for his or her own sake' and makes of that person an object of selfish gratification.  This also obscures our perception of the beauty that the human body possesses as an expression of the spirit.  For the man of concupiscence [lust], 'beauty' is now determined not by the visibility of the person in and through his or her body, but by what type or kind of body satisfies or appeals to concupiscence [lust].  This concept of beauty is often totally divorced from the person."  --Christopher West

Learning to See and Live in a New Way

Probably not the easiest thing to understand if you do not understand all of West's terminology.  Still, it might be helpful to someone.  We looked at the Sermon on the Mount yesterday in our Bible study on Sunday night (here in Omaha).  No doubt, Christ's words condemn us as guilty before God.  But he also calls us to come to him for forgiveness and a new way of seeing ourselves and the world.

When West refers to the spousal meaning of the body, he refers to how our bodies as male and female are like a sacrament, making the invisible God visible.  Our bodies, and especially our sexuality as male and female, point us to the deepest meaning of life.  This deepest meaning is to mirror the communication of persons in the Trinity, who relate to one another in self-giving love, and further, to participate in this love of God through union and communion.  This union and communion is inscribed on our bodies, which image God.

West's words:

"In Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount, he appeals specifically to the experience of historical [fallen] man.  There is nothing abstract about 'looking with lust.’  We all know immediately what that means in our own experience, in our own 'hearts.'  That is why Christ's words sting so much.  We know we are guilty.  But Christ wants us to penetrate more deeply into our hearts where that 'echo' of God's original plan still resounds.  Tapping into that deeper heritage gives us the key to reconnecting the objective meaning of the body and sex with how we  experience the body and sex subjectively.    It gives us the key to 'living the body' according to its true meaning and thus fulfilling the very meaning of existence.

"Through the previous analysis of man and woman's experience before sin, we have discerned the body's spousal meaning and rediscovered what it consist of as 'a measure of the human heart.'  The heart is still measured by this objective meaning of the body, that is, by the call to sincere self-giving.  Lust, however, attacks this sincere giving, depriving man and woman of the dignity of the gift inscribed in the beauty and mystery of sexual difference.  So when the man of concupiscence [lust] 'measures' his heart by the spousal meaning of the body, he condemns himself.  At this point he has three choices: normalize sin [this has what our society has done]; fall into despair; or turn to Christ who came not to condemn, but to save (see John 3:17). . . . Christ's words about lust do not so much condemn us but call us.  They call us not just to force a subjectively lustful heart to submit to an objective ethic.  They call us efficaciously to let the new ethos of redemption inform and transform our lustful hearts."

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Receptivity toward God and Entering into Christ's Suffering


Luke 7:36-50
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman,“Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
-------------------------------------------------

As we first begin to read Luke 7:36-50, things appear rather benign.  One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to dine with him, and he accepts.  But as we learn more, we see Jesus was walking into a hostile, cross-examination of his ministry by Pharisees, who were inclined to reject him and his message.

We learn this from the unthinkable lack of hospitality our Lord was shown by Simon.  Hospitality in Palestinian culture was a highly held value.  It was simply expected courtesy that an invited guest, much less a visiting rabbi, would receive the basic amenities of water to cleanse one's feet (v. 44), a kiss---equivalent to our handshake (v. 45), and olive oil to wash and anoint one's head (v. 46).  But Jesus, the Son of God come from heaven, is insulted by receiving none of these marks of hospitality and welcome!

From verse 39, we may also glean the probable purpose of this invitation.  The Pharisees were going to try and determine Jesus' credentials as a prophet, as though his public ministry in word and signs were not enough!  How hard and unreceptive were the hearts of these men!

How fitting, then, that a woman, whose body, like the bodies of all women, pictures the spiritual receptivity toward God the human race lost through original sin, should show us how we should once again respond to our gracious God.

At this display of fallen, hard-heartedness and insult for her Lord, the woman begins to weep.  Although she came with expensive ointment to anoint Jesus' head in gratitude for the gift of forgiveness, this lack of hospitality brings a change of plans.  Since the Pharisee will not provide water for her Lord's feet, she will use her tears; since the Pharisee will not provide a towel, she will use her hair; and since her Lord's head is not available to her, probably because the lack of hospitality has caused Jesus to recline more quickly than normal, she will use the ointment for his feet instead.[i]

Because of her new found identity in Christ as a forgiven sinner, the woman sides with Jesus, despite the animosity of the gathered Pharisees.  As Dietrich Bohoeffer so insightfully says, the woman "has been swept into the messianic suffering of God in Christ."[ii]  She publicly declares her loyalty to Jesus, though undoubtedly such loyalty will bring Pharisaical scorn.

This woman, who sometime before this occasion received forgiveness and entrance into our Lord's kingdom, is given insight into the beauty and glory of Christ.  Surely this insight will grow even greater, after the suffering and rejection of Christ on the cross, which this incident with the Pharisees already foreshadows.  May we, who live after the cross, pray to receive similar insight, so that we might display the same trust, loyalty, and love that leads this woman to identify with Jesus, even in his rejection and suffering at the hands of a fallen world.



[i] Bailey, Kenneth E.  Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels. p. 243-44.  Bailey explains how the omission of hospitality causes Jesus to enter and recline first at the meal.
[ii] Ibid. p. 247.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hymn Based on Luke 7:36-50

We Pour Out Our Heart's Affection

Suggested tune: WARUM SOLLT ICH MICH DENN GRAMEN (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=23).  Meter: 83368336.  Based on Luke 7:36-50.  Words: William Weber, 2014. (after sermon, God's love, forgiveness, love for God, after confession and assurance, devotion to Christ, suffering, persecution/insults)

v. 1
We pour out our heart's affection,
to our Lord,
who has bore,
all of our transgressions.
For His cross a demonstration,
of His love,
from above,
saves us from damnation.

v. 2
By God's grace we are forgiven,
on the cross,
paid the cost,
Jesus opens heaven.
For such love what can we offer?
Thanks and praise,
all our days,
love to no one other.

v. 3
In His love how much He suffered,
paid the debt,
by His death,
all to free His brothers.
For such love what can we offer?
Thanks and praise,
all our days,
love to one another.

v. 4
Jesus came but was rejected,
was denied,
in men's pride,                                    
to their hate subjected.
 Let us join our Lord in suff'ring,
let us side,
as the bride,
with our Savior's off'ring.


Women and the Receptive Posture toward God


The body of the woman with its receptive nature is an icon of what ought to be our spiritual stance toward God.  Women have the great privilege of representing in their bodies what it truly means to be human in relation to God.  Jesus taught the same truth when he said, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven," or, when he pointed to helpless, little infants as a picture of those who are in his kingdom.  Receptivity is the only stance possible before the true God, who alone is self-existent and independent.

But this great privilege of women, sadly, leads to misogyny, for it reminds the world of its sin and rebellion against God.  Rather than a receptive attitude toward the Lord, the world opts for an independence and lust-filled grasping, that wants to be like God, without God.  Thus, the world opts for masculine idols that encourage independence, self-assertiveness, and self-gratification.  Thus, in fighting against God, we also fight against what it means to be truly human, with a receptive attitude toward the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Do You See This Woman?" --- Devotion and Hymn Based on Luke 7:36-50

Luke 7:36-50
                        
36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at the table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Morning Devotion

"Do you see this woman?" our Lord asks Simon.  After the entrance of sin into the world, all of us have difficulty seeing.  We no longer see things as God or his Son sees them.  This is particularly true when it comes to our sexuality --- our creation in God's image as male and female.

The Lord created man to live in a temple/garden.  Ancient cultures filled their temples with images of the gods.  Our Lord did the same thing in his temple, but the man and the woman were his images, meant to reflect and display his character in the temple of the earth.

Vital to bearing God's image is our sexuality as male and female.  In the marital union between husband and wife, God inscribed the deepest purpose of our lives on our bodies.  Man was not created to be alone.  Rather, he was created for relationship. 

The marital union, is a picture of our deepest purpose, namely, fellowship with God and then one another.  The spousal union was supposed to reflect the self-giving love that characterizes God's triune life, as each person of the trinity lives in a wonderful exchange of self-giving love.  The marital union also was supposed to picture the union of the Lord our bridegroom with his bride, the church. 

In Jesus, our bridegroom, self-giving love, which is the opposite of self-grasping lust, was expressed by our husband's incarnation, who did not grasp for equality with God, but took the form of a servant.  This self-giving love was ultimately expressed when he gave his life in love for his bride on the cross.

"Do you see this woman?"  "This woman" is not mentioned by name, so that she might serve as an emblem of the intimate fellowship with God all of us were created for.  In her response to our husband's self-giving love on the cross, which restores forgiveness and intimacy with God, we see the way things were meant to be from the beginning, and can be again through the redemption Jesus accomplished, and will consummate at his return, when his wedding supper will be celebrated with his bride.

There is a sexual component in the woman's actions, though it is not out of place given who Jesus is, the archetypal bridegroom, and given who she had become, a forgiven sinner.  In that culture, a woman unloosening her hair, was a spousal act reserved for a husband.  The word for "touching" Simon uses in verse 39 is used in 1 Corinthians 7 to refer to the sexual act. 

"Do you see this woman?" If we see this woman as Jesus sees her, we will see that she has been restored to the place of fellowship and intimacy with God for which all of us were created.  May we enter by faith into our Lord and husband's love and joy.  Amen.

O Lord, You Gave Your Body

Suggested tune: LANCASHIRE Lead On, O King, Eternal (http://www.opc.org/hymn.html?hymn_id=403).  Meter: 7676D.  Based on Luke 7:36-50; Romans 12:1-2.  Words: William Weber, 2014.  (after sermon, Christ as bridegroom, God's love, sanctification)

v. 1
O Lord, You gave Your body,
it was the wedding price.
For we could not come to You,
without Your sacrifice.
How great beyond all measure
is Your redeeming love,
that raises earthly sinners
to You in courts above.

v. 2
Our Husband came from heaven,
He left His Father's home.
He came to pay the bride price,
for sin must be atoned.
This love for us is wondrous,
for Jesus came to serve.
He gave for us His body,
such grace we don't deserve.

v. 3
So give Your body to Him,
for all He's done for you;
and let His Word transform you,
that you may be renewed.
He is your Lord and Husband,
the Lover of your soul.
For at the cross He bought you,
and He will make you whole.

v. 4
O Lord, our lives are broken,
we mourn our sinful state.
We long for You in heaven,
exceeding joy awaits.
'Til then we pray Your Spirit
will work in us in might,
that we may turn from darkness,
to live in You our Light.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Sacrament of Our Bodies

Isn't it amazing that in making us male and female in his image, God inscribed on our bodies the deepest purpose of our being. Man was created, not to be alone, but to live in fellowship with God, and that fellowship is inscribed on our bodies, as male and female. For when the man and woman come together, their very bodies picture the union, first, of the trinity in its self-giving love, and second, of man's union with Jesus Christ, the God-man. Furthermore, the reason the first couple was "naked and not ashamed" in Genesis 2, is that the first couple viewed one another, not in lust which brings shame, but saw the theological meaning of their bodies, which is to give oneself in love, rather than grasping in lust the other person as an object. The world is corrupt through lust of self-grasping (see 2 Peter 1:3-4), but transformation comes through the self-giving of love, first, of the Son of God who gave himself for us in love on the cross, and then in the self-giving of our bodies in love to him in worship (see Romans 12:1). Our sexuality as male and female made in God's image, points to the truth that the body is a sacrament, making that which is invisible, visible to the world, for those with eyes to see.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Two Postures Before God

"Man determines his fundamental disposition in life with one of two irreconcilable postures: receptivity or grasping. The posture each person assumes depends on his concept of God. If God is love and the giver of all good things, then to attain the happiness we long for, we need only to receive. If God is a tyrant, then we will see him as a threat to our happiness, turn from our natural posture of receptivity, and seek to grasp life for ourselves." --Christopher West

Corruption by Lust and Transformation by Love

His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 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. (2 Peter 1:3-4)

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. 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. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)



Before the fall of man into sin, the first man and woman lived in self-giving love, not self-grasping lust. But when sin entered the world, so also did lust. Instead of offering ourselves to God the Father in response to his love, and then to others in self-giving love, lust became our way of life. Instead of viewing others as persons to love in self-giving, lust entered our hearts, and we began to view others as objects to use for our own gratification.

If you want to know what is wrong with the world, the answer is lust. Lust is self-grasping, rather than self-giving. Defined negatively, lust is a lack of love for God in our hearts. 

If you want to know the solution to the problem of lust, it is found in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who came not in self-grasping, but in self-giving: "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).


The heavenly Father offers his beloved Son to us as a gift---a gift that reunites us with the Father, so that we might once again know the love of God that chases away the darkness of lust. To live in the love of God is to live in increasing joy and light. To live in lust, away from God, is to live in increasing unhappiness and darkness. Let us ask the Father to fill us with Jesus' faith and love within our hearts, through the gift of his Spirit. Faith will unite us to Jesus and save us by rejoining us to the love of the Father. This love will transform our attitudes, so that we will begin to see the world and live in the world, in a new way, not in self-grasping lust, but in self-giving love generated by the love of the Father in Christ for us, his adopted children. Amen.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Living in the Shallow Waters



I'm not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean
Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box
Religion is the smile on a dog
I'm not aware of too many things
I know what I know, if you know what I mean, d-doo yeah

Choke me in the shallow waters
Before I get too deep
 --Edie Brickell and New Bohemians

More and more I run into the attitude that would prefer to live life without confronting the deeper issues of life, like: Why are we here? What is my purpose in life?  Who is God?  What is he like? How can I know his favor?  It is almost as though people are afraid of even thinking about those questions, fearing the questions might bring them discomfort and pain.  Therefore, it is best not to think about anything too deeply and live shallow lives free of discomfort without the painful search for meaning.

The problem, however, is that we were were created as image bearers of the triune God, made for fellowship with Him.  We were not created to live superficial, shallow lives, but to live with an understanding of our purpose, in communion with the One who made us and wants to redeem us from our lost and sinful condition.  Seeking him involves short-term pain, things like repentance and faith in the light of his Word, leading to a clean conscience.  The shallow mindset seems to dread the pain of reflection involved in repentance and faith, but fails to see that this pain leads to the deep joy of knowing God --- a knowing that brings eternal life --- the life of the age to come here in the present, a life that is anything but superficial!

Friday, July 11, 2014

A New Hymn that Defines God's Kingdom



What is the kingdom of God?  This hymn defines it as God's king, Jesus, and his believing people, gathered to his place, ruled by his Word for their blessing. In verse one, the king is emphasized.  In verse two, his people are the emphasis.  In verse three, his place is the emphasis. In verse four, his rule is the emphasis. In verse five, his blessings are the emphasis.  In verse six, there is a warning that the king is also the judge.

The Kingdom that Our Lord Proclaims

Suggested tune: DUNDEE.  Meter: CM.  Based on Luke 4:43.  Words: William Weber, 2013. (after sermon, kingdom, Christ as king, blessings in Christ, God's Word, judgment, justification/forgiveness)

v. 1
The kingdom that our Lord proclaims
is gracious news indeed.
He bids us enter to be saved,
and own Him as our King.

v. 2
How blessed the people of the King,
for they are justified.
With sins forgiven do they sing
of Him who for them died.

v. 3
How blessed the place where Christians live,
for they are raised with Christ.
He is the Fount that ever gives
His people grace and life.

v. 4
How blessed are those who hear Christ’s Word,
His Word their rule, their way.
For He is King, the risen Lord,
His Word all must obey.

v. 5
How blessed are those who are in Christ,
for blessings He imparts.
For only Jesus satisfies
our barren, restless hearts.

v. 6
Our Lord and King will come again
to judge both great and small.
And men will hear their sentence then,
from Christ the Judge of all.

The Pattern of Worship Comes from Heaven, Not this World

My daughter, Ella, wrote to me: "I just did a google image search for "worship" and then a google image search for "concert crowds" and the images are eerily similar. Both of them out of context appear almost creepy. Do you think church worship services copy concerts or concerts copy church? Or both?""

I answered, "It seems to me to be a clear case of churches copying concerts, since the concerts predate the kinds of worship services now common."

Worship in the Bible is never about copying the world. The copy on earth comes from heaven, and in the New Testament, heaven came down to earth in Jesus Christ. He gives us the pattern of worship in his ministry of teaching and a meal/sign.

An Ancillary Reason for Believing in Hell

Some people have a hard time believing in hell. It is something no one really wants to believe, but it is clearly taught in the Bible, and Jesus taught about it often. So as a Christian, we must believe what our Lord taught.
But there is an ancillary reason I believe in hell, and that is my experience of hell when I walk in my own selfish ways apart from the Lord. I find after a couple days of being away from the Lord my heart is sad, depressed, darkened, and in an anguish that seems near to the description of hell in the Bible.
"But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn,
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
The way of the wicked is like deep darkness;
they do not know over what they stumble." (Proverbs 4:19-19)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Evangelical and Reformed Churches and the Loss of our Children

There is a way that seems right to a man,
    but its end is the way to death.

Randy Alcorn has identified two reasons why children who grow up in Evangelical homes often abandon the Christian faith (here is his article). While I think he has rightly identified the two issues, namely, the problem of suffering and pain and the problem of sexual impurity, I am not sure he sees how churches contribute to the problem, rather than addressing the problem.

Issue number one, the problem of suffering and pain, points to an inadequate understanding of the consequences of man's rebellion, and the suffering involved in following Christ in the world. The modern church avoids teaching sin and grace, law and gospel, and the truth that we have enemies, namely, the world, the flesh and the devil.

Furthermore, churches devalue the Word of God by falsely believing intimacy with God comes through music/feelings rather than through Word and meal, so that music replaces, in most churches, the public reading of God's Word, pastoral prayer, and the Supper, and introduces a subtle form of idolatry in our worship.

Issue number two, the problem of sexual impurity, points to our need of a better understanding of sexuality. I have had to turn to John Paul II's theology of the body for a deeper understanding of sexuality. Reformed and Evangelical people seem to be content to baptize lust, while containing it within marriage. But it is hard to contain lust within the bounds of marriage.

What is needed is a more biblical and deeper view of sexuality. Once we begin to see our bodies as a sacrament, inscribing the mystery of fellowship with God in our creation as as male and female, then we are in a better position to forsake a lust-filled world and our lust-filled hearts that destroy the self-giving intimacy we were made for in relation to God and others. If we have eyes to see it, the sexual union is about self-giving, not lust or self-grasping. Only the beauty of God's original intention inscribed in our bodies as male and female can overcome the lust that corrupts the world and our hearts.

I agree with the author that we need to better equip our children in these two areas, but we are not doing it because of our inadequate understanding of Scripture. We have abandoned the bad news of suffering, sin, the flesh, the world and the devil in our preaching, resulting in a different gospel/Jesus. This different, gentler, kinder, "happier" gospel demands music rather than Word and meal and prayer, falsely believing music is the way to intimacy with God, as opposed to Word and meal. And we have baptized lust in marriage and are surprised when lust overflows the bounds of marriage.


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