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


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