Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It All Points to Him

Psalm 19 is divided into three main sections, each describing an aspect of the divine law being proclaimed.  The psalm can be outlined this way:

Law of Creation (1-6) The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their measuring line goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
    which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
    and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
    and its circuit to the end of them,
    and there is nothing hidden from its heat.
Law of Moses (7-11) The law of the Lᴏʀᴅ is perfect,
    reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lᴏʀᴅ is sure,
    making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lᴏʀᴅ are right,
    rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lᴏʀᴅ is pure,
    enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lᴏʀᴅ is clean,
    enduring forever;
the rules of the Lᴏʀᴅ are true,
    and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
    even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
    and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
    in keeping them there is great reward.
Law of Grace (12-14) Who can discern his errors?
    Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
    let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
    and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
    be acceptable in your sight,
    O Lᴏʀᴅ, my rock and my redeemer.

David gives a three-step description of how he knows who and what God is and what that means for the life of faith.  Theodoret of Cyrus comments on this psalm:
Blessed David in this psalm teaches men the harmony between these [divine laws]: firstly, the one the creator preaches in creation; then the one given through Moses, instilling a greater knowledge of the creator to those willing to attend; after that, the law of grace, perfectly purifying souls and freeing them from the present destruction.
Commentary on the Psalms, 19.1

These sections build from one to another.  As we take in the functioning of creation in its precision and recognizes there is someone or something keeping order.  From there, God’s law revealed through Moses and the prophets supplies details of that someone: there is a Creator, and He wants us to know of Him.  Though the revelation is marvelous to mankind, even this is not sufficient for David.  Beyond all that the Scriptures had within them—those things in which we could delight—still there was an understanding that more must be coming.  The Law is good, but David recognized his own shortcomings.  There was a universal need yet to be met, one which the psalmist longed to have applied to himself and, by extension, all who love the Lord.  We who love the Law know that it only reminds us that we are sinners.  We desire a permanent atoning sacrifice and a firm declaration of God that the guilt and condemnation is removed.

You may be thinking, “That sounds like an outline of Romans,” and you would be correct. Paul uses similar logic:

Law of Creation For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.  (Rom 1:19-20)
Law of Moses Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  (Rom 3:19-20)
Law of Grace There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  (Rom 8:1-2)

All that God has made and revealed declares who and what He is and where we stand in relation to Him.  A sufficient guilt-bearer and intermediary were required to reconcile God and man, and only Jesus, incarnate God, could provide a full satisfaction.  There is nothing more than to believe on that saving work and heap adoration on the source of salvation, as Paul put it:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
    For who has known the mind of the Lord,
        or who has been his counselor?
    Or who has given a gift to him
        that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.  Amen.  (Rom 11:33-36)

I end with Theodoret’s closing comments on Psalm 19:
[David is saying,] “I long to enjoy … presenting my soul to you completely free from blame.  On receipt of pardon from you for my past failings, may I offer to you everlasting hymn singing, giving my unwavering attention to your sayings.”… By way of supplying a finale to the psalm, he called him Lord insofar as he is maker and creator, and redeemer insofar as he frees us by the regeneration of holy baptism* from our former perdition, redeems us from enslavement to the demons, and bestows on us incorruptibility and immortality.  The psalm includes both former and latter subjects: it instructs us firstly on creation and providence; in the middle on the Law; and finally on grace.  Now, the New Testament provides these goods.
Commentary on the Psalms, 19.13-14


* Theodoret was a firm adherent of baptism as a means of grace.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Hymn on the Incarnation

As much as I rail against Contemporary Christian Music in worship, the responsible thing is to offer viable alternatives.  To that end I offer you—ta da!—hymns written recently.  Actually, hymn-writing never has gone out of practice, just out of vogue.  The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada was established to promote and assist in the effort of writing new hymns.  As part of membership, they publish a quarterly journal entitled The Hymn.  I joined the society for a year or two, and though their effort is laudable, the theological and doctrinal content of the published writings primarily contained themes of inclusiveness and a generic love of God and man.

All is not lost, however.  For instance, Mark Preus, a pastor in Wyoming, actively puts pen to paper (or keystrokes to digital device).  Just recently on his blog, he offered a hymn on the incarnation in Long Metre.  I pass it along here for your edification:

1  Let praise spring from our hearts today;
Our God has put His wrath away –
The fullness of the deity
Now dwells in Jesus bodily.

2  If God had hatred in His heart,
Why would He then Himself impart?
If God did not desire our good,
Why does He now wear flesh and blood?

 3  Though I of glory fall too short,
Yet here God’s glory shows his heart,
Since how can heaven’s mercy cease
While heaven sings to earth of peace?

4  If God were now my enemy,
Why does He condescend to me?
For us and our salvation Christ
Comes down here to be sacrificed.

5  Can my Creator not love me,
When He a creature deigns to be?
The Lord of Glory enters in
Beneath the Law to bear our sin.

6  Here Mary finds her Savior born,
And man from his despair is torn,
As God unites with man’s distress
Beneath the curse the cursed to bless.

7  What is there in your heart so grey,
That Jesus doesn’t take away
By joining all He is to you,
And making his creation new?

8  Humanity now enters God,
As God now tents in flesh and blood,
And our poor nature Jesus lifts
Above the heavens with his gifts.

9  Come, feast today on God made flesh!
This food shall cleanse you pure and fresh,
And keep you steadfast till the day
When all your sins are purged away.

10  For this our hearts their praise will voice,
And in our Lord and God rejoice,
And join the angel choir to sing
Sweet Alleluias to our King!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Only the Blameless May

O Lᴏʀᴅ, who shall sojourn in your tent?
    Who shall dwell on your holy hill?

He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
    and speaks truth in his heart;
who does not slander with his tongue
    and does no evil to his neighbor,
    nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
    but who honors those who fear the Lᴏʀᴅ;
who swears to his own hurt and does not change;
who does not put out his money at interest
    and does not take a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be moved.  (Ps 15:1-5)


King David begins this psalm with sobering questions: Who can abide with the Lord in His presence?  This can not be seen as a question of introspection.  David is not comparing himself with all those around and deduce that he is the only acceptable answer.  No, rather the question
is as though addressing an earnest inquiry to God…so that after the deliberate effort at inquiring, he may elicit a verdict from God in reply, and with its great authority he may prompt the Jews to a desire for virtue and maintenance of upright living.*
The answer given is both simple and profound being summarized in verse three: the one uncontaminated in character, deed, and speech.  Notice the characteristics of the blameless person: not a slanderer, reviler, or otherwise harmful to another; acts faithfully in every situation, condemns evil, honors the Lord’s people, suffers loss rather than harm another, steadfast, and more interested in doing right than in gaining wealth.  This list is formidable.  We ask, “who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Cor 2:16)  In one sense, nobody is able to maintain the pious life being described, yet this is not the only passage that sets such a high standard (see 1 Tim 3:1-7; Tit 1:5-9).

The truth is that we are not sufficient—not at all.  The overwhelming shortcoming on our part must be met by Another.  The Law was in place to show us our sin and need for forgiveness and redemption.  By faith the Israelite would offer the atoning sacrifice, trusting the Lord’s promise to cover the sin.  Yet this was not enough; the sin could never be removed entirely.

David, at one point in his life, would come to fully understand the sin lurking in our members.  He would grasp the depravity within his own heart.  Rather than making excuses, negotiating, or seeking the absolution that was not available, he confessed and threw himself on the mercy of the Lord—the place to which he had previously gone for repose as the victim of wrong was now the One wronged and David’s only hope.  And God was faithful.  Only the Lord is able to place us in proper standing and relationship with Himself.  To accomplish this, Jesus, the only begotten God and Son of the Father, made full atonement for our sin, so that we might no longer fear sin’s guilt and punishment.  It is through Jesus and His atoning work that we are made sufficient to dwell before the living God.  We stand blameless in Christ.  What long-suffering mercy and grace!

To the blameless, God gives David this promise: he shall not be moved.  And it is not as if the believer goes on through his own strength and determination, rather the source of strength is from above.
And now instead of closing in conformity with the description of character already given: such a man shall dwell, etc., the concluding sentence takes a different form, molded in accordance with the spiritual meaning of the opening question: he who does these things shall never be moved…, he stands fast, being upheld by YHWH, hidden in His fellowship; nothing from without, no misfortune, can cause his overthrow.†

What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  (Rom 8:31-32)


*  Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on Psalms 1-81
†  C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Unto You Is Born This Day a Savior



For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts will do this.  Isaiah 9:6-7

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”  Luke 2:10-12

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Great Reversal

He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.  (Luke 1:32-33)

God often does things in a way that is completely opposite to human expectations.  We sometimes call this the Great Reversal.  Evident too in the individual lament psalms is the Gospel theme of the Great Reversal.  Psalms 22, 31, and 69 are all psalms of David, and the life of David offers many examples of reversal: the eighth and last don of Jesse became his foremost son; the shepherd boy was anointed by Samuel to shepherd Israel; the lightly armed youth slew the fearsome giant; the young man unjustly hunted by King Saul succeeded him as king; and while King David wanted to build a house for God, instead God established David's house (dynasty) to endure forever through the Son of David who would rule on the throne of David for eternity (Luke 1:32-33; 2 Samuel 7).

Arthur A. Just, Heaven on Earth, 121

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Trust Me, I'm a Liar!

Image from The Peanut Gallery
Save, O Lᴏʀᴅ, for the godly one is gone;
    for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
    with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
 

May the Lᴏʀᴅ cut off all flattering lips,
    the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
    our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
 

“Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
    I will now arise,” says the Lᴏʀᴅ;
    “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
The words of the Lᴏʀᴅ are pure words,
    like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.
 

You, O Lᴏʀᴅ, will keep them;
    you will guard us from this generation forever.
On every side the wicked prowl,
    as vileness is exalted among the children of man.  (Psalm 12)


Men and women are forgetful.  They forget needful tasks, important dates, and where keys or glasses are laid; but most of all, they forget their God—forgetfulness from neglect.  In this psalm, King David lamented the widespread ruin in society.  Godly character was nonexistent.  People lied to one another regularly, even boasting of their own greatness, simultaneously deceiving and being deceived, and with inconsistency and instability holding opposing feelings towards the same object.  So degraded was the condition that
two people when talking to each other have exactly the same intention of deceiving the other.  In fact, both strive to get the better of the other by smooth and duplicitous speech: it is not that one tells lies and the other speaks in a trustworthy manner, nor that one party only is involved in deception—rather, the business of deceit is found equally in both.*
The people proudly declared themselves free from any authority that might be placed on them to curb their libertine use of language for self-interests.

Does this condition sound familiar?  We consider this conduct typical among political rivals.  Whether a congressional bill, a contract, or an international treaty or trade agreement, negotiators hammer out details to the advantage of the principal party represented.  However, the situation described in the psalm is much worse: it was occurring among God’s elect.  Those who knew the Law would have understood the Lawgiver’s standard of uprightness to be practiced among His people, yet here we have described what would apparently by those in authority performing the opposite.  David calls out to the Lord to cut off the language and the prideful condition behind it, and He responds.  In contradistinction to the false words of the haughty, the words of the Righteous One are pure and true.  Those abused and bereft because of the crafty, deceptive vocabulary are reassured by sure promises and faithful sayings: comfort and safety are found in them.  The haughty found strength in their own words; the humble found strength in God’s words, because they are founded in the Eternal One.

Evil men continue to decline as they follow after their own plans and pursuits.  Rather than running to the fount of forgiveness, they choose to pursue their own path and revel in their sin while maintaining a veneer of “religiousness.”†  The wicked seek to silence the righteous either by annihilation or assimilation into a man-made unity.  The Word of God, the second person of the Trinity, entered this world by taking on human flesh.  The living, active Word walked among us for a time and allowed sinful men to kill Him, so that He might redeem the world.  The One, whom a few attempted to expunge, became the very message proclaimed to the world: He died for your sin; believe it.  The world tried to eradicate righteousness personified and continue in its sin, but by the cross Jesus reconciled the world to God and God to the world.  They forgot the Word, but He did not forget them.  What men did from wicked motives, God worked for their salvation.


*  Theodore of Mopsuestia, Commentary on Psalms 1-81
†  Read the book of Malachi to see how this happened in Judah.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Significance of the Psalms

If we keep vigil in the Church, David comes first, last, and midst.  If early in the morning, we seek for the melody of hymns, first, last, and midst is David again.  If we are occupied with the funeral solemnities of the departed, if virgins sit at home and spin, David is first, last, and midst.  O marvelous wonder!  Many who have made but little progress in literature, nay, who have scarcely mastered its first principles, have the Psalter by heart.  Nor is it in cities and churches alone that, at all times, through every age, David is illustrious; in the midst of the forum, in the wilderness, and uninhabitable land, he excites the praises of God.  In monasteries, amongst those holy choirs of angelic armies, David is first, midst, and last.  In the convents of virgins, where are the bands of them that imitate Mary; in the deserts, where are men crucified to this world, and having their conversation with God, first, midst, and last is he.  All other men are at night overpowered by natural sleep: David alone is active; and, congregating the servants of God into seraphic bands, turns earth into heaven, and converts men into angels.

John Chrysostom

Friday, December 19, 2014

I Hate Christmas

Okay, I really do not hate Christmas.  I hate what commercialization and cultural expectation has done to the season that begins in late November after both the turkey and the Detroit Lions have been devoured, and then ends a month later when everyone goes home after exchanging gifts, food, and fun.  Stores begin stocking seasonal items immediately following Halloween.  From Black Friday (which now begins Thursday evening) through December 24, we are inundated and overloaded with donation requests, party invitations, and church activities.  December has become the month to do everything for everyone to promote good will amongst others.  Throw in the endless advertising jingles, shopping traffic, and corporate year-end needs for your employer, and we have the makings of a complete meltdown.  We build up this gigantic pre-Christmas time to a huge climax with the idea that the new year can start fresh.

There is a temptation to retrograde into nostalgia of how simple and enjoyable childhood memories are.  That is a foolhardy endeavor, or to cite someone who knew better:
Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?”
    For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.  (Eccl 7:10)
My childhood Christmases were simple and enjoyable.  I shall treasure them.  (Except maybe for the one time I had a chance to stand in line to see Santa but wouldn’t.  I was terrified of him.)  I remember waiting anxiously in eager anticipation as the days following Thanksgiving went by so slowly, longing for the day.  And therein lies the problem—not the anticipation, mind you, but its object.  What are we waiting for?  Or what should we be waiting for?

Lectionaries have always been designed to follow the life of Jesus through the entire year.  The earliest of these began the Church Year on Christmas with the birth of the Lord Jesus and followed different stages of His life.  At the end of the calendar the focus changes, because we change from Jesus’ life to His coming—His Advent.  You remember Advent, don’t you?  Maybe not.  This time begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas* and ends on Christmas Eve.  This time originally looked forward to Jesus’ promised return when He will judge the living and the dead.  It was a time to remember that we are to be living in light of the final day.  If we had gotten off track, this was a chance to consider once again that the King of kings was coming as He promised.  We once freshly examine the question, “Am I living in the light of His return?”  A tension arose between the Lord coming again and the first coming remembered at Christmas.  By holding that tension in place, we remember the humiliation our Lord took on by coming into this world as a baby, but He will come again arrayed in glory and splendor to rule and reign.  We remember that what was true in history will certainly come to pass as promised.  And while the Church Year was changed to begin with Advent, the focus has not changed: our Lord comes.

Somehow, I do not believe that there is much reflection of Jesus’ return in the checkout lines at the big-box store with the gifts purchased for Christmas morning.  Unbelievers will not; believers may not either.  I realize there is no way to reverse the trend, but we Christians should understand that our Lord returns, as the hymn puts it:
O blessèd hope!  O blissful promise!
Filling our hearts with rapture divine;
O day of days!  Hail Thy appearing!
Thy transcendent glory forever shall shine.

He is coming again, He is coming again,
The very same Jesus, rejected of men;
He is coming again, He is coming again,
With power and great glory, He is coming again!†

*  Technically, Advent begins on the Sunday before St. Andrew’s day, which in the U.S.A. is the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day.
†  Accessed at http://cyberhymnal.org/htm/h/e/heiscoma.htm

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Dealing with Trolls

Photo courtesy of Wikia
Trolls.  Those who have been been on the internet long enough have witnessed their carnage.  Lurking silently, these denizens of the internet lay waste comment sections in forums, blogs, and Facebook groups expressing opinions, not because they are correct, but because they can.  Inflicting bitterness, emotional pain, and any form of instability, the only plan is to enter the conversation and spew contrary, hopefully stinging, remarks to decimate conversations and otherwise undermine any attempt at meaningful interaction.  Ogres, goblins, and orcs have more sophistication than this type.  Meet a troll on the street or in an elevator, and you might never take notice that something is different, but in private they reveal their true selves—something more akin to this cheerful fellow on the right.

Trolls feed on the chaos and confusion wrought through dissemination of hyperbole and misinformation.  Once the feeding frenzy begins, much damage is left behind with gaping wounds needing healed.  The way to stop a troll is to starve it.  This is difficult because the troll often aims for your weak spot in order to engender a response.  Wise counselors are useful for knowing how to do battle.  To this end I offer the following note from Albert Einstein to Marie Curie:
Prague, 23 November 1911

Highly esteemed Mrs. Curie,
    Do not laugh at me for writing you without having anything sensible to say.  But I am so enraged by the base manner in which the public is presently daring to concern itself with you that I absolutely must give vent to this feeling.  However, I am convinced that you consistently despise this rabble, whether it obsequiously lavishes respect on you or whether it attempts to satiate its lust for sensationalism!  I am impelled to tell you how much I have come to admire your intellect, your drive, and your honesty, and that I consider myself lucky to have made your personal acquaintance in Brussels.  Anyone who does not number among these reptiles is certainly happy, now as before, that we have such personages among us as you, and Langevin too, real people with whom one feels privileged to be in contact.  If the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don’t read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptile for whom it has been fabricated.
It is difficult to imagine that a noted scientist should need to be concerned with these “reptiles,” but Einstein is correct in his advice: Don’t feed the trolls; ignore them.  King Solomon took the response one step further.
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.  (Prov 26:4-5)
Engage the troll, but not in the same snarky way, but as is warranted and in a godly way with wisdom.  Let the Lord do the work by correctly using His word.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Whose Robes Are They?

My morning Bible reading in Isaiah 59 was behind a previous post drawing attention to the armor of God in Ephesians 6 being the same that Jesus wears.  Continuing on through chapter 62 (or more precisely 63:6), I noted that the section details God’s eschatological plan and how it is based solely on His promises according to His character: the Lord acts because of who He is, not because of who we are.

In the middle of the exhortation, there is an apparent break in thought:
I will greatly rejoice in the Lᴏʀᴅ;
    my soul shall exult in my God,
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;
    he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its sprouts,
    and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up,
so the Lord Gᴏᴅ will cause righteousness and praise
    to sprout up before all the nations.  (Isa 61:10-11)
These verses describe a response to God’s grace—righteousness and salvation growing within and adorning, but after my current reading of these chapters, I asked the same question as the Ethiopian eunuch:
About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?  (Acts 8:34)
In like manner as the armor mentioned previously, is this actually God the Son speaking to the Father?  Except for a point of view in the text that turns from direct address to a response (and afterward returns to direct address), there are no clear markers.  Should we not rather consider this primarily to be a glimpse of the inner communication within the Godhead?  This approach would maintain the continuity of the passage as coming from God alone.  Tertullian takes up the same theme as he describes Christ as a bridegroom:
I hold also that it is my Christ who is meant by the bridegroom, of whom the psalm says: “He is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and His return is back to the end of it again” [Psa 19:5-6].  By the mouth of Isaiah He also says exultingly of the Father: “Let my soul rejoice in the Lord; for He has clothed me with the garment of salvation and with the tunic of joy, as a bridegroom. He has put a miter round about my head, as a bride” [Isa 61:10].
Against Marcion, IV.11

Guercino - Return of the Prodigal
The passage can secondarily apply to us as those to whom benefits fall as sons and heirs.  Firstly, in the parable of the marriage feast (Matt 22:1-14), Jesus mentions the freely-provided wedding garments.  Those who accepted the garment were welcome to participate in the kingdom of heaven, while the one entering without the garment was cast out.  Secondly, we are given a picture of the Church as the Bride of the Lamb:
“Let us rejoice and exult
    and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
    and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
    with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
(Rev 19:7-8)
The Bride is clothed with the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith (Rom 3:21-22; Phil 3:9) and is of the same “stuff” as that borne by the Lord Jesus (2 Pet 1:1).  It is His righteousness that is displayed before the nations in worship, disciple-making, and occupying oneself in good works.  He who is our righteous (1 Cor 1:30) clothes us in a way that displays the glory of Almighty God inspiring praise worthy of the Lord of all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How Does Creation Worship?

Photo courtesy of Stephen Pohl
Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,

    stormy wind fulfilling his word!  (Psa 148:7-8)

Louis McBride at Baker Book House has opportunity to read many of the works that are published by Baker and shares book nuggets.  Recently, he mentioned A New Heaven and a New Earth by J. Richard Middleton, which addresses biblical eschatology.  As part of the discussion, Middleton looks at Psalm 148 and posits that we improperly define worship.  I will quote what Louis McBride observed in his blog post:
“First of all, we should not reduce human worship of God to verbal, emotionally charged expressions of praise (which is what we usually mean by the term).  Rather, our worship consists in all that we do.” (p. 40)  Looking at Psalm 148 he notes that all sorts of things from creation are called on to “praise” God.  “In fact, humans are mentioned in only two of the eleven verses (vv. 1-4, 6-12) that call on God’s heavenly and earthly creatures to worship him.” (p. 40)  According to this Psalm “mountains and stars worship God just as much as humans do. . .  But how do mountains and stars worship God?  Certainly not verbally or with emotions.  Rather, mountains worship God simply by being mountains, covered with vegetation or with steep crags or glaciers, depending on their elevation.  And stars worship God by beings stars, burning with nuclear energy according to their sizes and their life cycles, ranging from those like our own sun to the red giants, white dwarfs, pulsars, and black holes.  If mountains worship God by being mountains and stars worship God by being stars, how do humans worship God?  By being human, in the full glory of what that means.” (pp. 40-41)
Photo courtesy of Stephen Pohl



Mountains and all hills,
     fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
    creeping things and flying birds!

(Psa 148:9-10)








Middleton goes on to make what I consider to be an invalid conclusion, but I was struck by the argument thus far: a created thing properly worships when it does what it was created to do.  (So much for glitz, sparkle, and showmanship on Sunday mornings.)  But therein lies the rub.  Adam disobeyed, and as a result, all creation groans because of sin.  Only in the Lord Jesus can you and I worship rightly.

In one sense, Psalm 148 is a grand picture of all creation praising the person and work of God, yet on the other hand, it is not realized, because creation still suffers from the Fall.  In that regard, the psalm looks forward to the consummation of all things in Christ.

I doubt that the book will be on my Wish List, but this particular subject needs a second look.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Blessed Thanksgiving Day to You!









The Lᴏʀᴅ is my strength and my shield;
    in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
    and with my song I give thanks to him.  (Psalm 28:7)


On this day remember the Giver of all good gifts, especially His Son,
the Lord Jesus, who revealed the Father and by which we have access
to the throne of grace.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Audacious or Ordinary?

In recent years I have noted an increasing emphasis by pastors and other teachers to express that the normal Christian lives in a gregarious or extrovert manner: anything less is missing God’s plan for your life.  Terms such as radical, audacious, and outrageous are freely (and overly) used to spur believers from a place of lethargy to a state of high alert to make the gospel known to every other person by whatever means necessary, or spur them into being crowning examples of how the Christian life is to be lived in the fullness of the Spirit.  Heroes of the faith—the first disciples or those who gave all on the mission field—are brought out as examples to mimic.  The hype replaces the work being done by the Holy Spirit, so that zeal is mistaken for Spirit-filling.  Inflamed by a holy desire to win every person for Christ, believers pour forth initial boundless energy until finally strength wanes because of self-reliance or overwork.  Stumbling dazed and confused, they wonder why the Lord would allow such a thing in this holy pursuit.  The problem is that not every Christian is called to be the apostle Paul or Hudson Taylor.  Usually, we are called to be more like Aquila and Priscilla: ordinary, boring followers of Christ.

Of those believers mentioned in the New Testament, few would have a more mundane existence that Aquila and Priscilla.  This Jewish couple were tentmakers, originally living in Rome.  When Claudius commanded all Jews to leave, they moved to Corinth where they plied their trade and met up with Paul on his second missionary journey, then finally to Ephesus where they met Apollos and instructed him of Christ more correctly (Acts 18:1-26).  Maybe this seems to be a big deal, but when you look closely, there is nothing to see.  As opposed to Paul, who received an apostolic commission from the Lord Jesus Himself on the way to Damascus and was later confirmed by the Holy Spirit at Antioch, Aquila and Priscilla were normal people with a family business who found ways to share the gospel while in their vocations.  No great call was received, no great vision to evangelize the world, no impassioned message to be outrageous for Christ.  All they had was an everyday existence lived in the gospel.

There are two epistles written early in the apostolic era that explain how the typical believer is to be and act.  The first comes from James:
Who is wise and understanding among you?  By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.  But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.  This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.  For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.  But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.  And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  (Jas 3:13-18)
Do you understand things better than everyone else on the planet?  Fine.  Show it by your good, peaceable, gentle conduct.  The wise man does not get into someone’s face or try to convince against the will, rather there is reason and sincerity.  Maybe you are smarter and wiser than the person breathing your air, but the Lord has made known that He desires you to sow in peace, and that yields the harvest of righteousness.

The next epistle text comes from Paul:
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia.  But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.  (1 Thess 4:9-12)
Paul desires the zealous believers in Thessalonica who have made a name for themselves by their zeal in the gospel to live quietly and mind your own affairs.  That is how one lives properly before their neighbor.

There are multiple sources that call for us to tout the audacious Christian life; God works through ordinary means.  He may exalt any one of his children depending on the circumstance and need, but until that happens, be ordinary, be true.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Armor of God

Put on the whole armor of God….  Therefore take up the whole armor of God… (Eph 6:11-13)

Near the end of his epistle to Ephesus, Paul spends time admonishing the believers to “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” and put on the armor of God.  I have enjoyed much good teaching on this section, but just recently a question popped into my head.  Why does Paul pull these together and refer to them as the armor of God?  Does he do so because they are derived or received from the Lord (and it is), or is something else also involved?  Take note of this table comparing the armor pieces with Old Testament passages:

Belt of truth Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt of his loins.  (Is 11:5)
Breastplate of righteousness He put on righteousness as a breastplate  (Is 59:17)
Feet shod with the preparation
    of the gospel of peace
How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”  (Is 52:7)
Shield of faith I will say to the Lᴏʀᴅ, “My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.”
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.  (Ps 91:2-4)
Helmet of salvation He put…a helmet of salvation on his head  (Is 59:17)
Sword of the Spirit He made my mouth like a sharp sword  (Is 49:2)

Paul drew heavily from the prophet Isaiah to complete his list and for good reason: all these passages deal with the Servant of the Lord (i.e., Messiah).*  The place where this is most clearly portrayed is the description John gives of the One riding a white horse:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!  The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.  His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself.  He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God.  And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses.  From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron.  He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.  On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. (Rev 19:11-16)
Jesus is described as great warrior-king dressed in battle regalia for a war which he himself will lead and win.  The final battle will completely conquer all who are opposed to God.

Christians are called to stand against spiritual foes.  The armor that we are to put on is same type which the Lord Jesus takes for Himself: no other will suffice.  Many teachers have attempted to convince the naïve that types of protection are needed through self-perseverance, but the above demonstrates that the believer puts on Christ in baptism (Gal 3:27) and subsequently continues to put on “the armor of light” and “the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:12, 14) as he or she would “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18).  It is this continual return to the place of cleansing by which we, though certainly washed clean by the blood of the Lamb, we go for the cleansing that occurs when we confess our sins (Jas 5:16; 1 Jo 1:9) and forgive one another (Col 3:12-13).

One article of clothing Jesus wears on the white horse is His alone—the robe.  Isaiah 59:17-18 reads:
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
According to their deeds, so will he repay,
    wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
    to the coastlands he will render repayment.
The robe or cloak is not meant for the Christian to take for himself.  The Lord Jesus alone is the one who uniquely exercises both vengeance and zeal (John 2:17).  Christians are called to stand firm.  Jesus has won our salvation, and He clothes us for what lies ahead.  We are called to stand in Him dressed in what He has provided and  to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph 6:18).  There the daily skirmish is fought.  There we “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Tim 6:12).


*  Psalm 91 is widely regarded as Messianic because a portion was used by Satan in the wilderness as if it was directly applicable to Jesus (Matt 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).  A reading of the complete psalm seems to support this.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Choices

Below is an image I found which gives a humorous flowchart for picking a religion.


Do you see that box in the bottom right corner?  If it read “Be a pseudo-Christian,” this flowchart would be 100% accurate.  What the creator may not have realized is that none of these leads to the God of the Bible, sovereign creator of heaven and earth.  This is because every attempt we make to choose Him, we fail and end up with something far less.  God chooses us.  How that happens is a mystery, but that is what scripture says:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.  (Eph 1:3-4)

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.  (1 Thess 1:4-5)

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. (2 Thess 2:13)
I bring this up because our lives demonstrate who makes the choice—God or me.  Chad Bird has a post that explores an interesting comparison concerning God’s election, which can be summed up in his words:
It is simply this: everyone who’s in heaven is there because God chose them to be, and everyone who’s in hell is there because they chose to be.
Those who choose their own way have a worldview at complete odds with what the Lord requires of a holy people.  King David provided in Psalm 5 a definite dichotomy of worldview as he compared conduct  giving a direct relation to the one (or One) who has chosen the path for the individual.

God chose me I chose me
1-3 Give ear to my words, O Lᴏʀᴅ;
    consider my groaning.
Give attention to the sound of my cry,
    my King and my God,
    for to you do I pray.
O Lᴏʀᴅ, in the morning you hear my voice;
    in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.
4-6 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;
    evil may not dwell with you.
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;
    you hate all evildoers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
    the Lᴏʀᴅ abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
7-8 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love,
    will enter your house.
I will bow down toward your holy temple
    in the fear of you.
Lead me, O Lᴏʀᴅ, in your righteousness
    because of my enemies;
    make your way straight before me.
9-10 For there is no truth in their mouth;
    their inmost self is destruction;
their throat is an open grave;
    they flatter with their tongue.
Make them bear their guilt, O God;
    let them fall by their own counsels;
because of the abundance of their transgressions cast them out,
    for they have rebelled against you.
11-12 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
    let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
    that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lᴏʀᴅ;
    you cover him with favor as with a shield.

Notice the tremendous difference.  David places himself fully within a class of individuals who realize that all they have is derived from God.  Family, life, vocation, position, abilities, etc. are all gifts from the Almighty.  As a result of this realization, the response is a longing to engage in prayer, thanksgiving, rejoicing, exaltation, and every good thing offered in return as appreciation for the Lord’s goodness demonstrated through His wondrous promises and deeds.

On the other end of the spectrum are those who have chosen to remain as they are and go on in willful determination to take what they feel is due while cursing the One who was supplying the good things they did receive.  Convinced they are “getting by just fine” or are bending the system their way through whatever means, these people boast in their achievements either not realizing or not caring it will vanish quickly away and be for naught before God.

At this point, someone will complain that he or she is more in the middle.  They are not “sold out for God” but neither are they as bad as those wicked ones who David mentions.  The ugly truth is that there is no middle.  Those not believing in the Lord of glory are unrighteous, worthless, deceitful, bitter, bloodthirsty, and ruinous (Rom 3:10-18).  For them, this becomes a matter of what manner and to what degree the wickedness manifests itself.

How do we know or can be assured that we are chosen or elect?  Believe on the Lord: there is none else:
Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.  (Isa 45:22)
You are included in that number “all the ends of the earth.”  Lay hold of the sure promise of God’s Word that Jesus died for your sin (Rom 3:21-25).  Come to the water and be buried with Christ into death by baptism and walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4), receiving the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt 28:19).

Election is strange: we do not realize that God chose us until after we “chose” Him.  We look back and rest in the assurance of a wondrous plan of salvation that began in our favor before the worlds were laid.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.  (Rom 8:28-30)
The work of redemption is done in Christ.  We rest in that.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The More Things Change …

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.  (1 Tim 1:15)

While reading more of Arnobius of Sicca, I was struck by a comment he makes about pagan reaction to Christianity:
These are your ideas, these are your sentiments, impiously conceived, and more impiously believed.  No, rather, to speak out more truly, the diviners, the dream interpreters, the soothsayers, the prophets, and the custodians of shrines, ever vain, have devised these fables.  For they, fearing that their own arts be brought to nothing, and that they may extort but paltry fees from the devotees, now few and infrequent, whenever they have found you to be willing that their craft should come into disrepute, cry aloud:
“The gods are neglected, and in the temples there is now a very thin attendance.  Former ceremonies are exposed to derision, and the time-honored rites of institutions once sacred have sunk before the superstitions of new religions.  Justly is the human race afflicted by so many pressing calamities, justly is it racked by the hardships of so many toils.  And men—a senseless race—being unable, from their inborn blindness, to see even that which is placed in open light, dare to assert in their frenzy what you in your sane mind do not blush to believe.”
The Case against the Pagans, I.24

Wait a minute!  Am I reading of early fourth-century pagans against Christians, or am I reading the transcript from a twenty-first-century news show discussing politics and economics?  The objections and underlying arguments are nearly identical: speculative prognostication is challenged, and in an effort to secure funding, the pundits cry out in a shrill voice that the truth-tellers are spewing superstitious nonsense—this in an effort to maintain income for pontificating ideas based more on predilection than fact.

Or could be I reading of a response from a recent church body gathering that has chosen to adhere more to cultural norms than scripture and have decided to distance themselves from those troglodytes who actually believe that the Bible means what it says?  The same shrill tone, reasoning, and conclusions can be found in an effort to maintain the shoddy foundation and rickety infrastructure upholding the organization.

Whether in politics, economics, or the church, why would people vigorously oppose the truth?  It is because they love the lie and the system upholding it.  In order to properly build God’s house, the apostle Paul relied on the foundation given him, Jesus Christ (1 Cor 3:10-11), to lay a foundation for the assembly in Corinth.  To the church in Ephesus, he referred to Jesus as the cornerstone by which the foundational Church offices would be properly aligned and the structure joined together (Eph 2:19-21).  All attempts to reshape or refine the scandal of the gospel to make it palatable leave the life and work of Christ as no more than exemplary human drama or the zenith of spiritual achievement.  Whatever creative way Jesus may be presented which removes the sin problem leaves us with nice guy, not the Savior we need.

Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  We do not want to admit the need, but when we do and believe on Him, there is reconciliation between God and us and rest in knowing that we are accepted in the beloved.  May we keep that message central.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Special Delivery

From 1885 to 1997, the U.S. Postal Service offered Special Delivery for mailed items.  When a posted item arrived at the destination office, it would immediately be sent by courier to the intended recipient.  This special service cost extra and would generally be reserved for items of great import deemed to require great care for a prompt, safe delivery.  The item would be received with due regard and acted on accordingly.

In ancient Israel, the prophet Isaiah painted a similar picture: a message was being delivered and needed attention:
How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
    who publishes salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”  (Isa 52:7)
The God who the nation had forsaken now was delivering the wonderful message of salvation. Isaiah, as the courier of this communiqué, had news that could scarcely be conceived, much less brought to pass: the Servant of the Lord was coming willingly to bear the sin of the world.  All our transgressions were laid on Him (Isa 52:13-53:12).  Now all the world could rejoice by turning to the Lord and entering into the blessings promised through Abraham (Isa 54-55).  The centuries of promise would be realized in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice.

After the Servant had paid the price for all sin, a Pharisee was chosen by the Lord to carry this message beyond the borders of Israel to the Gentiles.  Paul delivered the glories of what God’s Messiah had accomplished on their behalf to deal with sin:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  (1 Cor 15:3-5)
Pagans, who were without hope in the world, now had access to the throne of grace through as their Intercessor stood before the Father on their behalf.  And if this was not sufficient, Paul delivered a pattern for approaching and worshiping this God that they had not known.
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.… For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (1 Cor 11:2, 23-24)
This message of the gospel, Christ crucified, was the center of all that Paul proclaimed as he reasoned with men and women of their sin and need of the Savior.  All that the scriptures had described, typified, and prophesied was brought together in Christ.  It was this body of faith which was handed to the new believers and entrusted to faithful men to pass on to others (2 Tim 2:1-2).  The same message was delivered in every place: each city received the same message, the same body of teaching.  It was this truth and foundation on which believers rested as authoritative as having coming from God Himself.
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  (Jude 1:3)
What had been received through the apostles was recognized as certain, being established on the promises given through Moses and the prophets and fulfilled in Jesus.  There is no alternative truth concerning man’s sin or need of redemption.  To turn from or ignore the apostolic witness freely and gladly delivered is to turn from the Lord of Glory and to spit on His immeasurable gift wrought through the shedding of most precious blood:
For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.  (2 Pet 2:21)
Those who turn away are doomed to everlasting destruction, because they refuse the most wonderful of gifts.  Good news has been delivered via special delivery: God Himself delivered the message by taking on human nature, guaranteed it by delivering Himself up, and gave his apostles charge to continue the proclamation and teaching.

What a blessing we have to tell others this specially delivered news.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Jesus Makes Access Possible

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  (Heb 10:19-22)

Israel’s worship was centered in God’s presence and therefore God’s holiness.  This holy presence attracted the people of God because it was the source of their salvation, but it also repelled them because they knew how dangerous God’s holy presence was for those who were not worthy to enter it.  Moses understood the consequences: no one could look upon God without the risk of death.…

The presence in the world of the Word made flesh (John 1) marks the redemption of the world.  With the incarnation, worship is no longer the people of God gathered in expectation and hope for the salvation soon to be revealed.  Rather, worship is the celebration of the presence of salvation that has broken through in Jesus Christ and now permanently resides in the world.  Salvation has come now—it is here today.  The entire creation receives now the benefits of the new, greater, Second Adam who has come to re-create, renew, and redeem.

Arthur Just, Heaven on Earth, 17-18

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blame and Suffering

Christians are increasingly being marginalized in an attempt to silence the truth of man’s sinfulness and need of the Savior.  How do I know that this is the reason?  First, though I am a sinner saved by grace, my defensive reaction when confronted belies a knowledge to the truth; and second, the general public is surprised that Christians would not at least “live and let live.” while the most virulent attacks come from those who are most aggressive in the promotion of their personal sins.  The apostle Peter warned that the world would be surprised that we do not join in with the same level of “sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry” (1 Pet 4:3-4) for which we are maligned.

We should not be surprised that simply expressing opinions on matters of morality brings out the worst.  The apostle Paul tells us that we are: “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor 2:15-16).  Christ-likeness is exuded from the Holy Spirit working through in our activities as ambassadors for Christ.  In a sense, Christians have “grown up” from childish and selfish longing and now “ live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God” (1 Pet 4:2).

In order to increase the intensity level of the attack, unbelievers have blamed Christians for any number of societal ills.  Over the centuries, the Church has been accused of inciting political upheaval, economic decline, flood, drought, famine, infestation, pestilence, war, and even climate change.  Fourth-century apologist Arnobius of Sicca relates these very arguments from his day: “But pestilences,” say my opponents, “and droughts, wars, famines, locusts, mice, and hailstones, and other hurtful things, by which the property of men is assailed...are brought upon us” (The Case Against the Pagans, I.3).  Who knew we yielded such influence?  Today, the attack is often more nuanced, though no less intentional.  So-called global warming can be considered an indirect assault since the the blame is placed on industrialized nations wherein Christianity has had the greatest influence and created an atmosphere of mankind operating freely for mutual benefit, while acknowledging the necessity of self-imposed biblical moral strictures.

Battles involving Al Qaeda and Islamic State have renewed writers to postulate once again that religion is the cause of war, rather than looking deeper—and Christianity gets blamed.  Arnobius has already retorted, “Wait a minute.  Things are more stable because of us.”
Although you allege that those wars which you speak of were excited through hatred of our religion, it would not be difficult to prove, that after the name of Christ was heard in the world, not only were they not increased, but they were even in great measure diminished by the restraining of furious passions.  For since we, a numerous band of men as we are, have learned from His teaching and His laws that evil ought not to be repaid with evil, that it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it, that we should rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another, an ungrateful world is now for a long period enjoying a benefit from Christ, inasmuch as by His means the rage of savage ferocity has been softened, and has begun to withhold hostile hands from the blood of a fellow-creature.
The Case Against the Pagans, I.6

He concludes that if all would turn from their “pride and arrogance of enlightenment” and adhere to God's admonitions life would be more tranquil between nations.  Tertullian, writing to Roman authorities one hundred years prior, agreed and pointed to the true culprit—sinful man:
[A]s the result of their willing ignorance of the Teacher of righteousness, the Judge and Avenger of sin, all vices and crimes grew and flourished.  But had men sought, they would have come to know the glorious object of their seeking; and knowledge would have produced obedience, and obedience would have found a gracious instead of an angry God.  They ought then to see that the very same God is angry with them now as in ancient times, before Christians were so much as spoken of.  It was His blessings they enjoyed—created before they made any of their deities: and why can they not take it in, that their evils come from the Being whose goodness they have failed to recognize?  They suffer at the hands of Him to whom they have been ungrateful.  And, for all that is said, if we compare the calamities of former times, they fall on us more lightly now, since God gave Christians to the world; for from that time virtue put some restraint on the world’s wickedness, and men began to pray for the averting of God’s wrath.
Apology, 40

Fallen people look for any excuse to shift blame for their conduct, thinking that if they would be left alone, everything would work out.  This cannot be either at an individual or societal level.  This world is worsening in the downward slide, and Christians receive both the blame and unjust punishment for pointing out the obvious.  And just as the apostles were promised by Jesus in the Upper Room that they would be killed as an act of divine service (John 16:2), so believers in this country will feel an increasing pressure and attack.

We are at enmity with God because of our sin nature, yet peace and contentment are found in a Savior who willing died to redeem and reconcile us.  In the face of affliction, He is our rest and solace.
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.  If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.  (1 Pet 4:12-14)
Yes, we will assuredly suffer, but we can assuredly rest in our Lord.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Unsung Spiritual Discipline

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.  (Col 3:16)

Guest writer Sean Palmer has written a piece on Scot McKnight’s blog to advocate corporate singing as a spiritual discipline.  His thesis is solid: Sunday morning singing is not an individual event and must be recognized for its corporate nature and purpose.  Palmer ends with five expectations for the local assembly with which I want to interact.
  1. We Wouldn’t Expect Immediate Results.  As the old joke goes: Lord give me patience, and give it to me now.  We want what we want when we want it.  If I can’t get the commodity at my time and place convenience, I’ll take my loyalties elsewhere.  This approach flies in the face of the disciplined life described in scripture.  The entirety of God’s word describes the life of faith as a repetitive process of worship, renewal, instruction, fellowship, etc. in regular daily, weekly, and yearly cycles.  The cumulative effect of this life is growth in faith and Christ-likeness through the Holy Spirit.  Why do we think that decades of repeated, disciplined practice and effort can be condensed into Sunday morning music?
  2. We Could Sing on Behalf of Others.  I assume most everybody who reads this blog has read a psalm, and possibly you have read through all of them.  Ever notice the encouragement to interact with the psalmist or with one another?  It’s everywhere: praise the Lord; magnify the Lord with me; give thanks to the Lord; and many more.  The next time you read Psalms, look for those communal markers.  And for New Testament references, Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16 both address the interactive and communal nature of song as a teaching and encouragement tool.
  3. We Could Be Less Manipulative.  Let’s face the truth.  We want the music to give us a buzz.  Who cares about lyrical content?  Take me to the mountain top.  And therein lies the problem.  Those in charge of this “worship” manipulate the tempo, volume, and instrumentation to evoke the anticipated emotional response.  It’s a win-win situation—or is it?  This makes the experience the goal of worship.  (And, boy howdy, could I go off on a rant about all the contemporary “worship” music focusing on the individual.)  We should not go into worship for this emotional uplift.  Shift the focus from me to the Lord of glory.
  4. We Could Hear the God of the Desert.  Let me return to the Psalms once again.  Have you noticed the preponderant number of laments found there?  Worship expresses the full range of life’s circumstances and emotions with full view that God over all, though we may not see or understand the result.  There is pain, grief, sorrow, and longing.  We are ministered by song that expresses those things and focuses our attention on the One who is over all, knowing that “the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:3).
  5. We Could Actually Praise God.  We are not worshiping if the point of the music is to manipulate the audience into a certain mindset or experience.  What is intended for the mutual building of the body and glorification of Christ becomes just another tool for keeping the sheep happy.  While I disagree with the author that style does not matter, I commend his attempt to get us turned away from ourselves.
Sean Palmer has tried to address a problem recognized by many in the Evangelical community.  I thank him for that.  A biblical understanding of worship and its many facets would go a long way to correct the shortcomings.

Remember—it’s not about you; it’s about Jesus for you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Not Because of My Merit or Work

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.  (Col 1:13-14)

It is very certain that even though all the gates of hell contradict us, yet the remission of sins cannot be received except by faith alone, which believes that sins are remitted for Christ’s sake, according to Romans 3:25, “Whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.”  Likewise Romans 5:2, “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace, etc.”  For a terrified conscience cannot set against God’s wrath our works or our love, but it is at length pacified when it apprehends Christ as Mediator, and believes the promises given for His sake.  For those who dream that without faith in Christ hearts become pacified, do not understand what the remission of sins is, or how it came to us.  1 Peter 2:6, cites from Isaiah 49:23 and 28:16, “Whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame.”  It is necessary, therefore, that hypocrites be confounded, who are confident that they receive the remission of sins because of their own works, and not because of Christ.  Peter also says in Acts 10:43, “To Him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.”  What he says, through His name, could not be expressed more clearly, and he adds, “everyone who believes in Him.”  Thus, therefore, we receive the remission of sins only through the name of Christ, i.e., for Christ’s sake, and not for the sake of any merits and works of our own.  And this occurs when we believe that sins are remitted to us for Christ’s sake.

Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XIIa: Repentance, 63-5

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Miscellany

I do not often provide an anthology of other blog posts, but there are some recently that have piqued my interest.

Let’s begin with Australian Bill Muehlenberg who offers a look at how a commitment to relevance, using as Brian Houston and Hillsong as example, greatly weakens the message and mission of the gospel.

Online acquaintance, Vanessa Rasanen, wrote a piece for The Federalist looking at the double standard culture conveys in cases of suicide, comparing reactions to the death of Robin Williams with the intentions of Brittany Maynard.

In addition, Vanessa shares in her personal blog why she is a lousy mom—mainly because she acts like a parent.  (Radical, I know.)

Closer to my home, Glenn Chatfield shares an anonymous poem on the steadfastness of God’s Word.

Another local acquaintance speaking of Holy Writ, Sean Lillis, offers his thoughts on the benefits of Bible software, but the necessity for prayerful diligence in studying the Scriptures.

Lastly, there is this humorous post from Larry Peters. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Aesthetics: More Than Personal Taste

Ascribe to the Lᴏʀᴅ the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!  (Psa 96:8)

In the current situation, one of the most frequently repeated errors regarding our evaluation of contemporary worship music is that it is “merely” a matter of taste.  Such dismissive comments should be resisted.  When arguments are made (on any side of the discussion), they should be seriously entertained, weighed, and rebutted, not merely dismissed on the erroneous ground that human creativity is “merely” a matter of taste.  Human creativity is a matter of imitating God the Creator; it may very well be the most significant thing humans do, so it is not “merely a matter of taste.”  Indeed, in the current situation, for some individuals the only aesthetic criterion the recognize is contemporaneity.  Think of it: A church has a sign that reads “Contemporary Worship,” as though sounding contemporary were the only criterion that mattered.  All the criteria by which previous hymns were previously evaluated are set aside, and this new criterion replaces them all (or moves to the top of the list of criteria).  But why?  Why does this criterion trump the other criteria?  Some of the things God makes are new, such as a newborn child; but other things God has made are old, such as the Grand Canyon, the earth itself, and the universe.  So … creativity is not measured by the time in which the creativity took place; it must satisfy other criteria.

T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns, 55-6

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Know the Difference

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  (Col 2:8)

Vice mimics virtue, and the tares strive to be thought wheat, growing like the wheat in appearance, but being detected by good judges from the taste.  The devil also transfigures himself into an angel of light [2 Cor 11:14]; not that he may re-ascend to where he was, for having made his heart hard as an anvil, he henceforth has a will that cannot repent; but in order that he may envelope those who are living an Angelic life in a mist of blindness, and a pestilent condition of unbelief.  Many wolves are going about in sheep’s clothing [Matt 7:15], their clothing being that of sheep, not so their claws and teeth: but clad in their soft skin, and deceiving the innocent by their appearance, they shed upon them from their fangs the destructive poison of ungodliness.  We have need therefore of divine grace, and of a sober mind, and of eyes that see, lest from eating tares as wheat we suffer harm from ignorance, and lest from taking the wolf to be a sheep we become his prey, and from supposing the destroying Devil to be a beneficent Angel we be devoured, for as the Scripture says: he goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour [1 Pet 5:8].  This is the cause of the Church’s admonitions, the cause of the present instructions, and of the lessons which are read.

Cyril of Jerusalem, On the Ten Points of Doctrine, 1

Friday, October 17, 2014

We Worship What We Know

The secret things belong to the Lᴏʀᴅ our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.  (Deut 29:29)

If a definition must explain the nature of the thing defined so as to lead the mind, as it were, into the very thing itself, how then can God be defined?  The reply is easy: It is indeed true, concerning our knowledge of God in this life (1 Cor 13:12), that ‘we see in a mirror dimly;’ and so in the definition it is said, ‘He is of immense wisdom and power,’ i. e., God is greater than we can imagine or declare.… But in examining the definition we do not scrutinize those mysteries of the essence and will of God which He wishes us to be ignorant of; but we gather a brief statement from what God has Himself revealed to us in His Word concerning His essence and will.  And, since God surely wishes to be recognized and worshiped as He has revealed Himself, that description of God is to be held, to which the mind reverts in prayer; for adoration is nothing but a confession, whereby we ascribe to the essence addressed in prayer all the attributes comprised in the definition.  There is, therefore, a name of God, occult and hidden, which is not to be searched out.  There is, however, also a name of God made known that He wishes to be recognized, spoken about, praised, and worshiped.

Martin Chemnitz, Loci Theologici, I.25

Friday, October 10, 2014

How the Mighty Fall!

And a word of the Lord came to me: And you, son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre, “This is what the Lord says:

Because your heart was exalted,
    and you have said, ‘I am a god,
I have inhabited a habitation of a god,
    in the heart of the sea,’
yet you are human, and not a god,
    and you rendered your heart as a god
’s heart.”  (Ezek 28:1-2 LXX)

The high priest had twelve stones adorning him on his shoulders* so as to serve as high priest for God.  The virtuous person builds on the unshaken foundation with these stones, which the fire does not have the power to burn up; and he builds with them upon his own shoulders, that is. upon his own labors.  And the one who possesses these holds the precious stone of showing and of truth between them on his chest.  And the twelve stones are on the one hand figures of the children of Israel, in which stones you will perceive the spiritual trees of Paradise, and the tree of life—the one who acquires this will have his head marked with the words “holiness of the Lord.”  From holy stones of this sort the gates of Jerusalem were composed†—and indeed, all of Jerusalem.  The “ruler of Tyre” had once clothed himself with all these stones, not by his own labors but by grace, as in the account of Jerusalem, and like the priest of God.  But he has fallen from all these, since he said in his heart, “I am God; I have inhabited God's habitation in the heart of the sea.”

Origen of Alexandria, “Fragments”, 28

*  Origen conflates the shoulder pieces (Exodus 28:9-12) and breast plate (Exodus 28:15-21).
†  Cf. Revelation 21:19-21.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Getting Back in Time

Through Glenn Chatfield, I learned of this post from The Cripplegate aimed at those who wish to repristinate the Church—or at least their own assembly—into a New Testament likeness.  Those desiring the “bliss” of the infant church are actually cherry-picking to create a sentimental caricature.  I especially liked some points made at the end:

I rarely hear people saying, “Hey, let’s not forget that in Acts 14:1, Paul and Barnabas spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.  Let’s make sure our pastors are trained in expository preaching!”

I rarely hear “Hey guys, we need to get back to proclaiming an exclusive gospel like Peter did in Jerusalem in Acts 4:12!”

I never hear “You know, Acts 17:11 teaches us that the church in Berea checked everything by the standard of the scriptures; we need to really cultivate a systematic theological and biblical training program in our church to better equip us to do that!”
Whether or not your assembly is not leaning towards a “return to Acts,” you can glean some things to consider.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Great Commission: It Just Adds Up

I would dare say that most evangelical Christians have heard of the “Great Commission” and could give one or two points from it—go, make disciples, maybe something about baptism and teaching, but probably nothing else.  I dare say that very few know the entire passage:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  (Matt 28:18-20)
These instructions given in Galilee are not the entirety of all of Jesus’ final commissioning.  Luke will write of later occurrences wherein Jesus gives more detail, first in Jerusalem:
Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.  But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  (Luke 24:45-49)
then in the proximity of Mount Olivet:
He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  (Acts 1:7-8)
These three passages comprise the fullness of the Great Commission,† each passage giving important information regarding the task given to the apostles. Moving chronologically, notice where Jesus begins—he is the seat of authority.  From this basis, he laid down a definite ongoing plan to the apostles for growth of the Kingdom of God.  There is a call to go, and a command to make disciples through his authority by baptizing and teaching* with an assurance of his ongoing presence.  These men were given an outline for what their lives would be like as they lived before others in the power of the Holy Spirit without explicit instruction as far as the extent of their travel or the practical manifestation of Jesus’ presence.  This passage could be assigned the designation “Great Result” of the faithful proclamation of the gospel.

Moving to the Jerusalem account, Jesus opened their understanding of his death and resurrection and explained that they would be empowered to take his message of repentance and forgiveness to all ethnic groups.  This was not a new concept to the Jews, since the scriptures state that the nations would praise God (Psa 67:3-4; 72:11-17), but the expectation was that the nations would come to Jerusalem (2 Chr 6:32-33).  Jesus now points the apostles outward: Jerusalem is the epicenter of the movement, not the hub.  We can refer to this passage as the “Great Message.”

Lastly, just before he was taken up, Jesus tells the apostles near Olivet that they will finally receive the promised empowerment through the Holy Spirit in order to perform the task he gave them.  The plan was to start from where they were and move out gradually, and thus not overlook any people group.  All would hear the message of the gospel in this controlled thrust.  This passage can be described as the “Great Empowerment.”

Taken together, we can ascertain the Lord’s plan in preparing his disciples to carry the gospel out.  To sum up in mathematical terms, we have:
Great Result + Great Message + Great Empowerment = Great Commission
Jesus gives his Church the task, message, empowerment, authority, and target audience to announce his remedy for sin.  May his glorious gospel go forth as his people make it known.


*  While the Greek word poreuthentes is a participle that can be translated “going / as you go,” Robert H. Mounce makes a case that “Jesus’ instructions are proactive; we are to move out into the world, not simple [sic] make disciples when we happen to be there.”  In other words, Jesus was telling the apostles that they would certainly be going out and, as they went, would make disciples.  See http://zondervan.typepad.com/koinonia/2008/10/the-participle-as-imperative.html.
†  I am reticent to use Mark 16:15-18.  Though verses 9-20 are entirely accurate in the information they convey, it was most likely added later and is nothing more than a brief synopsis of Jesus’ post-resurrection ministry and the later apostolic era.