Monday, November 23, 2015

The Heart of Discipleship and Gospel Proclamation

The heart of discipleship and gospel ministry is the heart!  What or who do we love most of all?  Gospel proclamation and life are intimately connected.  Our task is to spread the message of the gospel to all people.  But if our hearts are not poured out as a drink offering to Jesus in love, how will the gospel be spread abroad?  Love for this world and its idols will betray the message that glories in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Love for this world and its lusts will betray the message of a God who showed his love in the self-giving love of his Son.  Love for this world and its passing pleasures and treasures will betray the message of immortality and life eternal found only in Jesus Christ, whom we love.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Be Cool or Be Faithful?

So often what happens in the Evangelical church is mirrored in our political life. Wanting to be cool is a bad motivation, but we see that motivation in the church, which corrupts worship by the desire to be cool. Interestingly, this seems to be the political motivation for being a Democrat rather than a Republican in so many people. When the truth becomes subordinate to being cool, and faithfulness to being hip, darkness ensues. Jesus put it like this, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness" (Matthew 6:22-23).

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hymn Based on 2 Timothy 4:1-8

I wrote a hymn this morning, which is based on 2 Timothy 4:1-8:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.

The hymn can be sung to Luther's familiar tune "Ein Feste Burg" or  "A Mighty Fortress is our God."  The hymn follows the shape of 2 Timothy 4:1-8, beginning as a prayer for pastors, but morphing into a prayer for ourselves (all disciples) as well:

Our Father, we for pastors pray,
please grant them faith and courage;
to boldly preach in these last days,
O may they be encouraged.
And may they heed the charge;
their hearts may You enlarge;
Christ's glory may they see,
and His authority,
for He is King forever.

Keep pastors faithful to the task,
that Christ the Lord has given.
And give the Spirit, this we ask,
that to this charge they listen.
The charge to preach the word,
about their risen Lord,
who for His people died,
and clothes His church and bride,
with power from the Spirit.
The time has come when few will hear,
the message of repentance.
For men have lost a godly fear,
from Christ they keep their distance.
But, Lord, it's You we love,
we long for You above.
Your Word, O help us keep,
and for lost sinners weep,
O hear the prayer we offer.

We praise You, Father, for our Lord,
whose love was shown in suff'ring.
Whose blood was shed and for us poured,
His death a fragrant off'ring.
May love be our reply,
to Christ our Lord who died.
And may His name we spread,
His will our daily bread,
till He returns from heaven.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Song/Prayer for Redirected Love

Jesus, in Your mercy free,
would You cleanse and pardon me?
Selfish is this heart of mine,
fill it with Your love divine.

When against me others sin,
and when vengeance wells within.
Please remind me of Your cross,
that You bore to save the lost.

For in love Your arms spread wide,
all in love to save Your bride.
For our sins You bled and died,
wondrous love: God crucified!

By Your blood that cleanses sin,
and Your Spirit breathed within,
in Your mercy redirect,
may my love on You be set.

Many loves have I pursued,
idols placed ahead of You.
Jesus, hear me as I pray,
from them would I turn away.

Father, You have sent in love,
Your Beloved from above.
Here's my heart, O God triune,
all its notes would You retune.
   ---William Weber, 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015

Let's Define Persecution Like Jesus

"This weekend, you may have been rudely interrupted by government officials barging into your home because they wanted to arrest you for Jesus fish on the back of your car in the driveway and the cross hanging on your front door. But that would require you to be persecuted, which if you're reading this, you probably aren't."  --Ed Stetzer

These words by Ed Stetzer begin an article in Christianity Today magazine. I had a difficult time reading the article after these opening words. The problem here is that Mr. Stetzer defines persecution differently than Jesus, who said in Matthew 5:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

Persecution includes reviling and malicious speech. Not every prophet was jailed or put to death, but the fact that they were hated and insulted still meant they were persecuted, according to Jesus. The word "persecution" envelops the passage as an inclusio, and it envelops the way that persecution normally takes place, which is through reviling and evil speaking.

Luke 6 is even more telling, for "blessed are the persecuted" becomes "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! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets."

Here there is no mention of jail or martyrdom, but only hatred, exclusion, reviling, and spurning. If Mr. Stetzer thinks that is not happening in America or any culture that has ever existed the last 2000 years, then he simply is not paying attention!

The truth is that Christians are always hated, insulted, excluded and spurned as evil if they live anything resembling a godly life, and this is why 2 Timothy 3:12 says that "ALL who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted."

One of the things that will happen when Jesus returns is prophesied in Isaiah 25:8:

"He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken."

Reproach is what will be taken away from the God's people when Jesus returns. Not all of Christ's people will be jailed or put to death in this life, but all faithful Christians will be persecuted as the New Testament teaches, because the essence of persecution is reproach and malice, which results in evil speaking, exclusion and sometimes even jail or martyrdom. When that sort of persecution (jail and death) occur it is simply the acting out of the reproach and malice that is always in the hearts of unregenerate men, who are the seed of the serpent and hate the seed of the woman, who is Jesus Christ and his people (Genesis 3:15).

One final note, it is important to see that the enmity goes only in one direction in Genesis 3:15, and that is from the seed of the serpent toward the seed of the woman. This is illustrated in Acts at the martyrdom of Stephen. The hatred and enmity of Stephen's persecutors, which was always there, came out in a murderous rage. But this does not move Stephen to a similar enmity in return, but to a loving prayer on behalf of those who were murdering him. We do have to be careful that we do not return the world's enmity and malice with an enmity and malice of our own! We evangelize and speak the gospel out of love in our desire to save a corrupt humanity from the wrath and righteous judgment of God.  That is a mark of love, not enmity.

Evangelical Worship: Celebrating Ourselves?

When I was a senior in high school I took a class that taught us how to do a term paper. For the term paper, we could choose any topic we wanted. For some odd, but providential reason, I chose to do a paper on the poetry of Walt Whitman. Whitman's most famous poem is probably "Song of Myself." In this poem Whitman exalts self. The narcissism of American culture is not a new thing, for Whitman was "the" American poet in the time of Abraham Lincoln!

I fear there is a tendency for the Evangelical church, like Whitman, to sing songs about ourselves. We fall into this error by making ourselves the subject of so many of our lines and sentences. While we may want to be God-centered and Christ-centered in our singing, it is hard to avoid singing about ourselves if we are the subject of our sentences!

Just as the Pharisee in the temple prayed about himself, so many of our song lyrics (which ought to fit the general category of prayer) become about ourselves because we make ourselves the subject of our words/lyrics. We pray/sing about ourselves as we sing about our devotion: "God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." Notice, how "I" is the subject of his sentences: "I thank . . . I am not . . . I fast . . . [I] give . . ."

Now look at how we tend to make the same mistake in our songs in the Evangelical Church. Here is a song with somewhat decent lyrics:

My life flows on in endless song,
above earth's lamentation.
I hear the clear, though faroff hymn
that hails a new creation.

Through all the tumult and the strife,
I hear that music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

What though the tempest 'round me roar,
I hear the truth it liveth;
What though the darkness 'round me close,
songs in the night it giveth.

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death knells ringing;
when friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
a fountain ever springing.
All things are mine since I am his;
How can I keep from singing?
No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I'm clinging.
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth,
how can I keep from singing?

But notice how this song is a song about myself---a song about my devotion:

"My life flows on in endless song . . . I hear the real though far-off hymn . . . I hear . . . How can I keep from singing . . . I'm clinging . . . How can I keep . . . I hear . . . How can I keep . . . I'm clinging . . . How can I keep . . . How can I keep . . . I'm clinging . . . How can I keep . . . How can I keep . . . How can I keep . . . ."

Should our prayers, which are really what songs are supposed to be in congregational worship, be about our devotion? Are we not imitating one of the worst examples we could possibly find in Scripture when it comes to the prayers we sing? The present day song I picked out is pretty typical and is far from the most offensive example I could find. But it illustrates the danger, that even if what we are singing about is good: thanking, fasting and giving or hearing, singing and clinging, if we are the subjects of the lines we sing/pray, we run the risk of singing the Song of Ourselves this world sings, rather than the Song of the Lamb that heaven sings.

Below is my reworking of the song, How Can I keep from Singing that keeps us from singing about ourselves, while keeping some of the good themes in the song intact:

O Jesus, risen from the dead,
the Author of salvation,
The Lamb has conquered by His death,
and brought a new creation.

Though on the earth men fight against
Your rule and Your position,
They won't succeed, nor overturn,
Your reign and heav'nly session.
The Father has installed His King;
the wise kneel in submission.
To Him who loved and gave His life,
give reverent recognition.

Though storms will toss and shake our lives,
and sin and death cause weeping,
The Lamb has loved us unto death,
He reigns and is not sleeping.

In Christ is mercy, grace and peace,
a fountain ever springing.
His blood can cleanse, His Spirit give
a heart of joy and singing.
So turn from sin, repent, believe,
and Christ will give refreshment.
Our hearts were made for Jesus Christ,
He gives us true contentment.

A Day will come when all will stand,
before our Lord in judgment;
and Christ the Judge will sift His world
in wisdom and discernment.
The unbeliever will depart
to weeping and bereavement,
but those who know and love the Lord,
will enter life abundant.
Top of Form

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Daily Walk/Meditation: Listening to Lies

Was a brisk 50 degrees for my walk this evening. My meditation was on Proverbs 17:4:
         An evildoer listens to wicked lips, 
         and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.

We usually think of liars as those who tell lies. But startlingly this verse tells us that liars are also those who listen to and believe lies!

Of course, all of humanity has fallen and believed various lies of the evil one. Therefore, all people are liars and need to be saved. But if listening to and believing lies makes one a liar, then it is also true that listening to and believing the gospel of truth will make one honest. Thus, Jesus speaks of those who listen to and receive the gospel as people with an honest heart: "As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience."

We are all liars by nature. Our only hope is to listen to the only man who never lied, told us the truth, and embodied that truth, Jesus Christ. When we listen to and believe him who is God incarnate, then we can move from lies to truth, from dishonesty to honesty, from wickedness to righteousness.

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