Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Felicity and Dad


Monday, October 29, 2007

Eating the Suffering and the Glory

At the center of the requirement to honor God’s name is the requirement to worship God rightly. In Dt. 12, we saw last week that this meant gathering in the place where God has placed his name and eating and drinking and rejoicing there with the family of God. That is what we are doing here. We are gathered around this table to rejoice before the Lord as his family. We have just called upon the name of our God as ‘Our Father’ and now you are invited to sit down at this table as his children, his beloved sons and daughters. Rejoicing at this table does not mean that God is not also sanctifying you here at this table; in fact one of the central ways God is training you as his children, chastising you as his sons is by feeding you on the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Every week we gather here and rejoice, give thanks, and celebrate the lamb that was slain. We are here rejoicing in the greatest act of injustice in the history of the world, the greatest scandal, the most excruciating execution ever. We are here gathered around the table of Our Father, and he is serving up Christ Crucified for dinner. He is serving up the shed blood and torn flesh of his Beloved Son. This should cause us to pause. Jesus has called us to be his disciples, to follow him, to take up our cross, and we know that in Him, our salvation is already completely and unalterably accomplished and secure. He is the author and finisher of our faith. But this salvation that he has won for us is patterned after his life. We are called to follow him, and this means that rejoicing around this table is what we are called to. We are called to lives of joyful suffering. We are called to live with all the challenges, pains, hurts, disappointments of life and to offer thanks back to the goodness of God. This is a great mystery. But the cross is our pattern. We have been called to follow him who enduring great suffering for the joy set before him. Therefore as you come and eat this bread and drink this wine with joy; do not forget that you are eating and drinking the lamb that was slain and raised up to glory.


Twenty Second Sunday after Pentecost: Reformation Sunday: Third Commandment

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we come now to submit to your word, your name, to your lordship over all. We ask that you would teach us to honor your name, to disdain all vain uses of your name, and do all of this because we ask it in the mighty name of Jesus, Amen!

We have seen that the Third Commandment is concerned with worshipping God rightly. God’s name is his mighty works, his provision, and his faithfulness. We worship God rightly by bearing his name honorably, calling on his name, and confessing our faith in that Name.

Hallowed Be Thy Name
Jesus taught his disciples to keep the Third Commandment in the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…” We honor God and his name by praying to him, and when we pray to him we are to honor his name explicitly. This is one of the reasons why we begin worship with praise to God and to his name, following this pattern of prayer. Also notice the name that we are given to address God with: “Father.” This compliments what we have already said regarding God’s name being on those who have been baptized. To bear the name of God is to be part of God’s family, his covenant people, and therefore we honor that name when we call God “Our Father.” The fact that we pray “our” Father and not “my” Father should not be ignored either. This also emphasizes the corporate nature of prayer, worship, and the covenant.

Part of the Family
All of this means that honoring God’s name (and not taking it in vain) has a lot to do with recognizing where God has placed his name. He has placed his name on us as his family, his covenant people. This is what it means to have God as Father, and to honor the name of God as Father. This is what God has always intended (Lk. 3:38). But to honor our God as Father is also a call to receive his fatherly discipline. So much of the theology of Hebrews is grounded on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and therefore the true high priest. But if the true and perfect Son and High Priest was made perfect through suffering (2:10) and learned obedience through his sufferings (5:8), so too all those who have been made sons should not expect any different. If you endure suffering, then God deals with you as with sons (Heb. 12:7), and if you do not suffer then you are illegitimate sons. This is why you are not to despise the chastening of the Lord.

Suffering for the Name
But much of the “suffering” that the sons of God are called to endure is related to their confession of faith in the Name of Jesus (Acts 5:41, 1 Pet. 4:12ff). Peter says that this suffering in some mysterious way partakes of Christ’s sufferings (1 Pet. 4:13). And this means that it is in suffering in particular that we bear the name of Christ. This is why we should not suffer for being foolish, sinful, or wicked (4:15). It is when we suffer as Christians we are exhorted to glorify God and rejoice (4:16). This may mean physical martyrdom, but may also mean suffering the consequences of faithfulness at work, in your families, financially, etc. Refusing to send your children to government schools means assuming the cost of some alternative.

The Tower of Siloam, the Blind Man, and Job
As we consider bearing the name of God and honoring God’s name (“Father”), in the midst of suffering, it is also worth pointing out that God’s purposes in hardships vary. We know that the Scriptures teach the blessings and curses of the covenant: what a man sows he shall also reap (Prov. 22:8, Gal. 6:7). This is the general broad framework of God’s dealings in the world, but it does not exhaust God’s purposes. The story of Job, the blind man (Jn. 9:2ff), and the incident with the Tower of Siloam (Lk. 13:4-5) are all in Scripture to remind us that God’s purposes also include calling people to repentance, displaying God’s glory, and teaching us wisdom.

Conclusions & Applications
You have been called to bear the name of God, and this is a high and noble calling. But you must not forget what it means to be a Son of God, a christ, and Priestly People. All of these are titles for those who are called to die. A “christ” is literally an ‘anointed one’ which applies to both priests and kings (cf. Rev. 1:6). But the common element in this calling to be a ‘kingdom of priests’ is the calling to suffer and die. In the ordination of priests blood is put on the priests, signifying their sacrificial ministry to Israel and the world. To be a king (a son of God) is a call to battle which ultimately means a cross. The question is not whether you will suffer; the question is only when and how.

But that is not the only certain thing. If the cross is the end of the story then we are of all people to be most pitied. No, the cross precedes resurrection. This is what it means to bear the name of Christ and to honor God’s name as Father as faithful sons. It means sharing in the sufferings of Christ, receiving his fatherly discipline with joy, and it means hoping and living in the light of the resurrection. Is the resurrection true? Then you are called to live this.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Almighty and Most Merciful Father, your ways are far above our ways. Your wisdom is deeper than our wisdom, and your goodness is far beyond what we can imagine. Give us faith that we might glory in your name and honor your name in our words and lives.


Giving Thanks for Division

This Sunday is celebrated throughout the Protestant Church as Reformation Sunday. It was on October 31st, 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the church door at Wittenberg. To celebrate the Reformation is to give God thanks for dividing his people. We are glorying in the faithfulness of Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Huss, John Wyclif, William Tyndale, Martin Bucer, and many other countless thousands. We are grateful that God took out his sledge hammer on the gross idolatries and wickedness that had crept into the Christian Church. We stand today among one of those shards. Of course we must insist that in an important sense the unity of the Christian church is not dependent on letterhead or popes or denominational affiliation. The unity of the body of Christ is centered on the fact that there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, and one Holy Spirit who is our bond of peace. This means that there is really only one bride, one church, and one body of Christ. At the same time, we are not Gnostics, and history has told a messy story of conflict within the church where brothers and sisters have divided and gone separate ways. But if we know our Bibles well, we know that division is how God always works to bring new and glorious blessing to his people. God divided a rib from Adam, and created Eve to be his bride and glory. God divided Joseph from his brothers and father and raised him to glory in Egypt to provide food for the world. God divided the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel in order that they might be scattered to the nations, forcing Israel to be a witness to the God of Abraham in exile. And finally, God took Jesus up into heaven, separating him from our sight, so that he might give us his Spirit to grow us up and lead us into all truth. Unless God divides we are not grown up, matured, or strengthened. Some people romantically think that the church is supposed to be a single piece of glass or pottery, all smooth and shiny and neat. But the church is a beautiful mosaic, a glorious work of art, pieced together over centuries with the lives of broken people, broken families, and even divided congregations. It is right to mourn over sin and all its ugliness, but today is a day of rejoicing in the goodness of God. “Come, and let us return to the LORD; for He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight. (Hos. 6:1-2)


Thursday, October 25, 2007

In Rainbows

While still reveling in God's goodness to me and my family... and trying desperately to concentrate on the three or four papers looming over me...

I've been enjoying the sounds of Radiohead's new album 'In Rainbows'.

It's available here for ... well ... you decide.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mark Knopfler and Johnny Cash


Monday, October 22, 2007

Fall Family

South Carolina clings to the summer like a screaming toddler. Even the trees look tired of being green, but the air keeps sweating well into October. Today has been the first real Fall day with cooler temperatures, a steady drizzle of rain, and leaves dancing on the breeze, the first wave of the annual deciduous blood letting.

My daughter understands her maternal calling. She is of course not yet a mother. But she is practicing, training for the day when the glorious calling of Motherhood descends upon her home. For now she has a brood of baby dolls, and she takes this very seriously. My wife tells me that a day ago, our daughter spotted her brother in the midst of a some sort of military campaign which included that bombardment of one her babies. With the powerful maternal instinct welling up inside she burst through the ranks of knights, airplanes, and several disoriented dragons to the rescue of her baby. Grasping the child in her arms, Felicity patted her baby gently, caressing her forehead and even giving her several small pecks to her checks. Carrying the baby doll to the nearest shelter, my daughter gently laid the doll on her back on the couch. Then with that same maternal fidelity lifted both hands in the air and struck down with two fingers directly in the eyes of the baby doll. It is for this reason that I fear for our next child.

My son has announced that our next child is a boy. Lo, he has also spoken and told us that his name is 'Mark'. When he first announced this, my wife and I were quite astonished and yet also fairly pleased. As it happens, my father's name is Mark, and we thought, huh, I guess he remembered that and wants to name the next baby after his Opa. Well, it wasn't long after when we were again on the subject of the baby and baby names, that we asked him what 'Mark's' middle name ought to be. My son, playing with knights and animals and other various weapons and accessories, with the most casual, matter-of-fact voice stated, 'Knopfler.' He went on to explain that it was his full expectation to have another brother after 'Mark Knopfler' whose name would be 'Johnny Cash.' Thus far the wisdom of our three year old son.


Taking the Name

The Lesson: “But now, thus says the LORD, who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior… ” (Is. 43:1-3)

In the Christian tradition baptism has always been considered a naming ceremony. In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We of course say the name as we put water on individuals, but this action is a formal way of putting that name on an individual. The name of the Trinity is not merely a decoration or something to say while we do this thing with water. It is actually the ritual of putting water on an individual which applies the name to them. Thus, it is customary to ask what a child’s Christian name is. In other words, we are asking who is this person who will in a moment have another name, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Your son’s name is Graceson, and you have indicated to me that you named your son for the grace that God has shown to you. He is your son of grace. And that grace that God has shown you already is continuing today. To be called by name, to be united to the body of Christ, for God to make promises to you and to your son is nothing but the kindness and favor of God. Often people try to make this complicated. They try to figure out how God is uniting people to himself or they make grace into some kind of substance that gets pumped into you like some kind of medicine or a drug. But grace is the free and personal kindness that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit show to individual people and their families.

In our sermon today we are going to consider the third commandment, the requirement to use God’s name honorably, not to take it in vain. One of the central places that God places his name is on us, his people. And he places his name on us in baptism. This means that one of the fundamental ways that we honor the name of God is by wearing it well. Thus, you must teach your son all of his days that he is not first and foremost a Henry; he is first and foremost a Christian. First, he is a son of the covenant, a son of the King, a priest in the house of God. And only secondarily is he a Henry. God takes our children and puts his name on them and then graciously gives them back for us to care for. But we must always remember that they only belong to us because they first belong to God. This is a great and high calling, and you can only fulfill this calling by faith. Believe the promises of God to you and to your children. His word to you is, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior… ” (Is. 43:1-3)

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!


Re-naming and Re-creating

When Jesus said, “this is my body… this is my blood” he was in affect re-naming the bread and the wine. This meal is a New Creation meal, and just as our worship takes place already within the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so too does this meal. This is why Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Just as this bread has been renamed the body of the Lord and this wine renamed the blood of the Lord, so too you have been renamed with the name of God, and in Jesus Christ, you are new creations. The old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. This is the case because Jesus rose from the dead. He was raised for our justification, Paul says. This means that the same verdict which raised Jesus from the dead has been reckoned to you. This is a new creation meal, a feast of the first fruits of the new creation. Therefore understand and believe that God accepts you here in the righteousness of Christ. Have you screwed up? Then God calls you his Son, and invites you to the table. Have you made major mistakes? Then God calls you his Beloved Son in whom He is well pleased. Have you made the same mistakes over and over again like a fool? Then God rejoices over you with dancing, and promises to raise you up from the dead. Do not cling to any sin. Let it go. Confess it and forsake it completely and entirely. And come enter in to the joy of the Lord.


Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus XX: Third Commandment

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, so often we think we already know what you have said or what we’re supposed to do. We ask that you would empower your word now so that we might see new things in your word, and that you would give us strength, courage and joy to take up old things and be faithful in them. Through Jesus our King, Amen!

The first commandments are centered on the worship of God. Christians must worship the true God, and they must worship him the way that he asks us to. The worship of God is also to be in the Name of God.

Dt. 12
The Name of God is put in a particular place in the Promised Land which consequently prohibits the worship of God in other places (Dt. 12:5, 11). The name of God is concerned with the location of worship. There is also a focus on the relationship between the central sanctuary and the practices at home (Dt. 12:15-16, 21-24). This establishes the principle that worship flows out into all of life. Finally, honoring God’s Name means honoring his Word (Dt. 12:28). We are not to add to or take away from it (Dt. 12:32).

God begins the pattern of naming in Genesis 1. God’s word is the name of individual creations (Gen. 1). But as redemptive history goes on, it is clear that God’s name is what he does. Yahweh is the God who sees and provides (Gen. 16:13, 22:14). Yahweh is the God who wrestles with his chosen ones (Gen. 32:27-30). Yahweh is God Almighty who makes covenant promises, and he is the I Am who fulfills his promises and delivers his people from bondage (Ex. 3:14-15, 6:3). Yahweh is a man of war and banner over his people (Ex. 15:3, 17:15). Yahweh later declares his name to Moses when his glory passes by (Ex. 33:17-34:7). To name is to reveal, to promise, to tell a story. And therefore to honor God’s name is to honor his words, his works, and his story. This makes sense of the many Psalms which ascribe praise, honor, and power to the name of God.

We Believe in One God
Leviticus also insists that the way God’s name is profaned/honored has a lot to do with worship. People who worship false gods profane God’s name (Lev. 20:3). Aaron and his sons have to keep themselves holy because they offer the holy things of God and may not profane God’s name (Lev. 21:6, 22:2). Every week we confess our faith in the Trinity. We begin and end many aspects of our worship and prayer in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is not merely an affirmation that these things are true. Rather, we are confessing also that we can only believe them and affirm them from within the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To worship in the Name of the Trinity, is to join the communion of the Trinity. This is fundamentally true because that is the name that all Christians are baptized into (Mt. 28:19). It is to confess that all worship takes place within the Godhead. This means that faith is always a gift. To confess faith is to confess that we are already in the fellowship of this God we are affirming.

Where is the Name?
We saw in Dt. 12 that God was concerned that proper attention be given to the place where he put his name. The people of Israel were told in Exodus that the Angel of Yahweh had the Name of Yahweh in Him, and therefore he was to be feared and obeyed (Ex. 23:21). Thus we assume that when the sanctuary came to rest, the Angel of Yahweh took of residence in that place. We do not have a central sanctuary in the New Covenant, and that is because God has begun a New Creation. When God begins naming/re-naming things, we know that he is creating/re-creating the world. The first act of the New Creation was the incarnation where God the Son became man and was named Emmanuel, God With Us (Mt. 1:23). He was also called “wonderful, counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace.” All of these and all of the names of God (all of his acts) came together in the name Jesus which means savior (Mt. 1:21). In the incarnation God took upon himself the form of a servant even though he had every right to demand equality with God. And instead of grasping for that greatness, he waited for it to be given to him. And therefore God has exalted him and given him the Name that is above every Name (Phil. 2:9).

Conclusion & Applications
The gospel is that God has kept his promise to Abraham to make his name great and to bless the nations of the world through him. He has made Abraham’s name great by exalting one of his descendents, even Jesus, to the glory of the Father. And in his infinite kindness and wisdom, He has put his Name on individual believers and promised to be present where two or three are gathered in His Name. This was true in the Old Covenant (Num. 6:24-27), but we have been given an even better name. We gather as those named with his Name, and his name is the location of where we gather together. This is what it means to worship in Spirit and in the Truth (Jn. 4:24).

The Glory of Duty
We have been brainwashed into believing that doing our duty is in someway less than glorious. Of course there is a way to perform one’s duty with bitterness, but there is glory in obedience, there is glory in doing what you’re supposed to do. Modern culture glorifies spontaneity because it worships the self. This is why we are taught that it is evil to teach obedience and we need to just let people ‘express themselves’ or ‘be authentic’. But if Jesus has been raised from the dead, then he is king, and we are bound to serve him with thanksgiving. This begins with worship in the Name of God, in the name of Jesus.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Closing Prayer: Almighty and merciful God, teach us to be faithful servants of Jesus. Give us hearts that are grateful to obey, and teach us to hate all idolatry and foolishness. Give us wisdom and grace to teach this to our children. And we plead with you to do this for the glory of your name; for your name is a strong tower and flee to you for refuge and strength.


Loyalty in a Food Processor

Once there was woman talking on the phone with a good friend. As it was her custom, she began sharing her latest concerns about her husband. Beginning with the fact that he hadn’t allowed her to do something recently that was very important to her, she began running her husband through the verbal equivalent of a food processor, all the while insisting, several times, that she really respected her husband, but just wanted to “share” because he just obviously needed a lot of prayer.

While she was still speaking, her young son began tugging at her pant leg and asking for something. When his mother shook her head and whispered “no”, the little man took the opportunity to display his feelings on the subject and threw himself (with a great deal of drama) on to the middle of the living room floor. Flailing arms, feet, and various guttural screams erupted in the house. The woman was obviously quite embarrassed for her friend to be witnessing this tantrum over the phone.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “He’s really tired right now, and I think he’s still teething. And well, he really isn’t usually like this.”
The good friend on the other end, being a good friend, inquired, “Would you like me to pray for your son too?”
The woman sputtered a little, “What do you mean?”
“Well, you just spent the last couple of minutes describing all of your husband’s faults, and asked me to pray for him, and now I’ve just witnessed your son’s breakdown over the phone maybe I should pray for him too.”
“Oh, well, sure…” She began, but her friend continued,
“The fact is that you just showed your great loyalty to your son by immediately assuming the best possible concerning him. I’m sure your husband would appreciate the same sort of loyalty from you.”


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Over the Rhine

My wife and I just went out to dinner and a concert last night. Downtown Greenville has a number of excellent restaurants, and Chicora Alley is no exception. It's right above Spill the Beans for those of you in the area.

We saw Rosie Thomas and Over the Rhine in concert at the Handlebar, a smallish venue on Stone Avenue. Rosie was an absolute kick, an accoustic folk vocalist with something of an alter ego between songs.

Over the Rhine was great. Fronted by husband and wife team Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist, Karin's vocals, the band's mix of americana, with touches of blues, soul, and jazz, Linford's storytelling between songs, the jam/solo fun during several songs, and the thoughtful song writing made for a very enjoyable show. The songs remind one of a number of different artists: Norah Jones, Sarah McLachlin, Sixpence None the Richer, Sheryl Crow, and hints of influences from the likes of Tom Waits, Bob Dillon, and others in that vein.

Plus they have an album titled "Till We Have Faces."

Anyway, check it out.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Icon of Christ

Throughout the history of the Church apart from the controversies surrounding pictures and images of Christ, most Christians, including the Reformers, have insisted that this meal is an authorized image of Christ. This does not mean that we are authorized to worship it or bow down to the bread and wine. Rather, as images are meant to do, we see here the body of Christ broken for us and the blood of Christ spilled out for the forgiveness of our sins. Seeing this reality portray before us and then consumed together we are called upon by the Apostle to discern the Body of Christ. This does not mean that you are called upon to squint really hard and try to see actual flesh and blood; nor does this mean that you ought to close your eyes and try to imagine those things either. The body of Christ is you. The Church is the body of Christ. And as we consume this bread and wine, we embody and enact that reality, we proclaim the Lord’s death by communing in the body and blood of the Lord. We are his body as the Church, as the family of God; therefore discerning the Body of Christ means seeing Christ in one another. Look at each other as the bread and wine is passed. Smile at each other. Give thanks to God for one another. This is why we pass the peace before the prayers and before this communion. We are embodying that peace, that shalom, which we celebrate and enact here with bread and wine and thankful hearts. Do not imagine some Jesus picture in your head. You don’t need to do that. God reveals himself to us here and now, week after week. He says do you want to know what I am like? Do you want to see what the Trinity is like? Then open your eyes, open your mouths, and rejoice together. This the body of Christ. This is the image of God, the icon of God, the bread of his presence. Therefore eat, drink, and rejoice.


Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus XX.4: Second Commandment

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you that in your great wisdom, your Word, the Logos, became flesh and dwelt among us. We thank you that you have manifested yourself to us in Jesus Christ, the very image of the invisible God. Teach us to worship you now in Spirit and in Truth and defend us from all error. Through Jesus, Amen!

We noted last week that all of the negative commands imply positive ones which means that keeping the law always requires a heart of love for God. And love implies wisdom: hearing the “no” will lead the heart of love to the “yes.” Central to the second commandment is to the commandment to worship God in the way he has prescribed. And central to this is the requirement that we not worship God through any created image. This is not the same thing as requiring direct apprehension of God to worship him. Nor is this commandment a prohibition against all pictures, images, or creativity.

Images of God
In order to understand this prohibition against making “carved images” we need to go back to the first images ever “carved”: human beings. The commandment actually prohibits worshipping “idols” that are in the “likeness” of anything in the created order (Ex. 20:4). God created human beings in his likeness and according to his image (Gen. 1:26-27). Men and women were created to picture the Trinity. Humans are the only authorized image of God, and after the Fall Christ is the only perfect picture of God (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3). In both of these NT passages it is important to note that the “image of God” in Christ is directly tied to his creative actions and power. To be an image of God is to be one who is graced with the gift of creativity, the power of creation, and beautification. This is one of the central problems with idols: They have eyes but cannot see, ears but they cannot hear, and mouths but they cannot speak (Ps. 115).

A History Lesson
The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church openly teach the importance of using images in the worship of the true God. In order to understand how they could think this it is helpful to remember the early Christian heresies of Nestorianism and Docetism. Nestorianism taught that Christ was a mere man who was uniquely blessed by the Logos while Docetism taught that it was truly God the Son who appeared but he merely seemed to be human and was not really. These opposite heresies have very practical ramifications. Nestorianism and Docetism both leave men in their sins and require Pelagian gospels. The Orthodox faith has always insisted that Christ must be fully God and fully man in order to obtain salvation for us. When it comes to pictures of Christ they insist that images must be used to avoid Docetism, while Protestants have tended to argue that to worship the mere ‘humanity’ portrayed in an icon is Nestorian: how can the humanity be separated from the divinity? But they do have a point: a complete refusal to picture Christ in any way does suggest that he is something less than fully human. But to insist then that his pictures ought to be worshipped and prayed to or through is still a breach of the Second Commandment. Thus, we must join the reformers in denouncing the worship or service of man made objects of any sort. At the same time, wisdom (and a certain skepticism of human nature) must be used here.

Not Anti-Art
We know that the prohibition of worshipping images did not outlaw pictures altogether. There were, after all, images and statues in the Tabernacle and Temple (Ex. 26:1, 1 Kgs. 6:29, 7:25, 29, 36). But of course these images were not for worshipping or serving and neither were these images meant to represent the invisible God. These symbols were meant to glorify the worship of the invisible God who dwells above the cherubim. The fact that Christ was really and truly incarnate does not change this (Acts 17:24-25, 29), and this is actually a safeguard for real human creativity.

Conclusions and Applications
These two verbs (“bowing” and “serving”) mean that we may not outwardly offer worship to images or carved statues, and we may not serve them mentally or any other way. And distinctions between “honor” and “worship” must be made a mile wide and not allowed to degenerate into popular idolatry and superstition (2 Kgs. 18:4). Central to the Biblical critique of images and idols is that those who serve them become like them (Ps. 115:8). Therefore, when Jesus arrives in Israel and the people are deaf, dumb, and blind, the implication is that they have been worshipping idols. This is the great danger of worshipping what human imaginations dream up and invent. We run the risk of ending up as less than the glory God intends for us. Worshipping the Creator God (as he commands) means that we will become like that Creator God, equipped by His Spirit to creatively take dominion.

God created humans to be his images in the world. He created us to be conformed to the image of Christ, the perfect picture of the invisible God. This image and picture is one that is not static. It is not lifeless like stone, paper, or precious metals. It is alive. It moves, it breathes, it acts, and it creates. This is the Triune God. Yet this does not mean that people are to be worshipped or served as idols either. Pictures and images always point away from themselves. This is why Christian worship centers on word and sacrament, Spirit and Truth. This does not pit word against image; it is obedience.

Therefore love your neighbor: how can you say that you love God whom you have not seen if you do not love your brother whom you have seen? In as much as you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto Him. The reason we serve and give ourselves away for husbands, wives, children, family, friends, and the world is because we believe in both the incarnation and the resurrection. Christ means that we shall indeed one day awake and see his face in righteousness and be in his likeness (Ps. 17:15).

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we know that there is danger on all sides here. We know that we need wisdom, and we need your Spirit. You promise in your word to give wisdom to those who ask, and therefore we ask you now to give us the mind of Christ that we might serve you and worship you faithfully and fully.


Loyalty to the Image of God

In Mark’s gospel we read that Jesus Mother and brothers came to send for him, but when he is told they are looking for him, he answered looking at the multitude around him, ‘Who is my mother or my brothers? Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother.’ There are two important points to learn from this. First: water is thicker than blood. The family that you joined in your baptism is more important than your biological family. Of course in God’s kindness, you biological family is often included in the family of Christ. In such cases there is no need to chose between one and the other, but when your family rejects the faith or requires you to disobey the clear Word of God, you are under the obligation to obey God rather than man. Your family is here and everywhere the people of God gather around the table of God to do God’s will in word an deed. But secondly, this also means that the family of Christ is just that: Christ’s family. Being a Christian is not about personalities, individual teachers or pastors, or even denominations. To be a Christian is to have Christ’s name as your last name. To be a Christian is be a child of our Father in heaven, a younger brother or sister of Christ our elder brother. Your loyalty is to Christ first and foremost, your loyalty is to those all around you who do the will of God. You are not of Paul or Apollos or Luther or Calvin or the CREC or Wilson or Jordan or Leithart and certainly not Sumpter. You are of Christ and Christ is of God. Therefore put away any pride and put on gratitude. Put away competition and put on thankfulness. Put away fear and worry and put on a deep joy. This is the new humanity of God; you are new Adams and new Eves in Christ. You are the images of God refashioned, remade. Give thanks and rejoice.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Faith and Union with the Trinity

One of the complaints of FV critics is that 'Union with Christ' puts the cart before the horse. If we posit Union with Christ as the center and justification, sanctification, etc. flow from that central covenantal/mystical union then, they say, God is having fellowship with sinners. How can a just God join himself to sin? How can a righteous and holy God have a relationship with the unclean, the unrighteous? These critics march their Ordo Salutis out and point triumphantly to the doctrine of justification and say looky here, mister FV Guy, quit messing with the truth. You've gotta be justified first then you can be joined to Christ. This is where sanctification comes. And of course, this "then" is only logically speaking and not (I hope)an actual stopwatch sort of formulation. This sounds all high and pious and holy: who could deny that?

Yet there is a problem. How is one justified? By faith alone, of course. And where did that faith come from. It's a gift of God, so that no one can boast. Right. So God, in his infinite kindness effectually calls sinners, enlivens them, regenerates them, and gives them this brand new present called faith which enables them to call on the Lord Jesus for mercy, salvation, and grace. In other words, in order for anyone to be saved they must be drawn to the Father, by the Spirit, through the Son. Whenever anyone is justified they have always already been brought into the fellowship of the Trinity. Otherwise, we end up with something other than the historic, Reformed doctrine of justification. Where did that faith come from? The fact that joe-filthy-sinner suddenly looks down and sees his filthy rags exchanged for the righteousness of Christ is always due to having been brought into the family of God, the fellowship of the Trinity, through being united to Christ.

Does this mean that the good, holy, and righteousous God has fellowship with sinners? Absolutely. Does this mean that sinners are united to Christ by grace? Absolutely. Does this mean that there is a moment when God has fellowship with sinners apart from Christ? Absolutely not. This is not a description of a temporal chemical reaction. This is the description of how God does what he does. It's all of grace, it's all of kindness, and undeserved mercy. This means that union with Christ is the center of that kindness, and justification, sanctification, and all the benefits of Christ flow from that central act of grace and only because of the righteous life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Righteous One.

One last illustration of this is found in the historic symbols of the Church. We do not say "I believe that there is one God..." We always confess the faith saying, "I believe in one God...," "I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ," "I believe in the Holy Spirit..." And this linguistic point is more clear in the original language and somewhat obscured by the ubiquity of the use of the word "in" in modern parlance. But the point is that with the historic church, we perform the action of believing and utilize the instrument of faith from within God, from within the One Creator God, the One Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Faith is the result of being raised from the death of sin, and there is only one life outside of that death. There is only one way to be alive in this universe. There is only one Life to be joined to. To be made alive means to be joined to the life breath of the Trinity.

It would not have done for Adam to have claimed that he was righteous before the Spirit of God was breathed into his nostrils. Neither of course would it makes sense to say that he became righteous at some point after he was alive either. The point is that when people are made alive, they live. When Adam became a living being, he was a righteous living being. Likewise, when we are re-created, reborn, re-generated to new life in Christ, we live through the power of the Spirit, we believe with the strength of the Spirit, we have faith and are justified through the life-giving power the Spirit, through the work of Christ, all to the praise and glory of God the Father.


Already Saved

As we consider the second commandment and the requirement not only to worship the true God but to worship in the right way, it is important to point out that “doing things the right way” is not a code word for “trying harder” or “if you just get this right, God will like you.” Remember the context of the law: the law begins with the declaration of God’s grace. He is the God who brought his people out of Egypt, and the same is true for. It is the God who has already saved us, who has already received us, accepted us, the God who has already declared his love for us and promises to never leave us or forsake us, it is that God who invites us here and graciously gives us his life in word and sacrament that we might walk in it. Doing the right things in the right way is not code word for “try harder”; it’s actually just short hand for ‘trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.’ Believe that God has forgiven you and is at work blessing you and your children through the work of the Spirit. Believe that. Come to this table believing. Eat this bread and drink this wine believing that you are already accepted, you are already pleasing in God’s sight because of Jesus. This is the grace of God. And he promises this same kindness to your children. Believe this now, and come, eat, drink, and rejoice.


Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus XX.3: Dt. 9:1 – 29

Opening Prayer: Almighty God, you know that we are no better than the children of Israel who were so quick to forget you. You know that left to ourselves we are quick to devise ways by which we think we can manipulate you. We justify our sin and make excuses. But we know that you are faithful to your promises, and therefore we bow before you and your word, and we ask that you would speak to us and heal us. Amen!

Where the first commandment focuses our attention on who we are to worship, the second commandment focuses on how we are to worship. As with the first commandment, we will take two weeks considering this law.

Negatives Always Imply Positives
One of the things that we need to recognize is that all of the negative prohibitions of the ten commandments have implied positive commands, and the two positive commands (forth and fifth commandments) have implied negative commands. We already assumed this when we considered the first commandment. One of the implications of this kind of hermeneutic is that ‘nature abhors a vacuum.’ This means natural, fallen man always reveals his heart when the law comes. When the law is received with faith as gospel grace, then the prohibition is received and the positive command comes naturally. When we see the emptiness of all other gods, we do not need to be told twice to worship the God who brought Israel out of Egypt, the Triune God who reveals himself to us in Jesus. The same is true of all the other commands, but this is something which doesn’t happen automatically, it happens by the grace of God and the working of his Spirit. This is why it is so important to teach this to our children early on. It is not enough merely to say no or yes; every no has an implied yes, and every yes has an implied no. This is teaching our children wisdom.

The Right Thing the Right Way
There is an old discussion in the history of the church regarding how worship ought to be conducted. The second commandment is particularly concerned with images, but it also establishes the principle that God does not leave worship up to our own imaginations. It is not good enough to identify the true God and then offer up whatever comes to your mind. Cain and Able is at least an example of this truth. And this also establishes the principle of ‘what and how’. Both of these aspects are important to God. It not only matters what you are doing but how you are doing it. In other words, it’s always possible to screw good things up in a fallen world. Sometimes we think there are only two options in life: doing the right thing or the wrong thing. But there are actually two more hidden options: doing the right thing the wrong way or doing the wrong thing meaning well. Ideally, we are aiming to do the right thing the right way. But this takes wisdom and patience. Another way to say all of this is that there are no automatic blessings in life. It is a great blessing to be shown the truth; but it is a great curse to take that truth and beginning walloping everyone around you over the head with it.

Worshipping God’s Way
The Second Commandment establishes that we must worship the True God in the way that is pleasing to Him. This has already been suggested previously where we insisted that having no other god’s before the living and true God means appearing before this God where and when he calls us. This principally occurs on the Lord’s Day when God’s people gather together to renew covenant. But the question naturally arises: how is the worship service to be conducted? It takes no more than a couple of minutes for even new Christians to recognize that not all churches worship the same way. At the same time, this should not be cause for apathy or consternation. The Reformers, following the early church before them, insisted that the marks of the church were centrally the word and sacrament (and often a particular application of the word being church discipline). This is derived from all of Scripture, but specifically can be found in the Great Commission. This commission is the marching orders of the church and includes the command to baptize (sacrament) and to teach (word). All of this means that we are not to devise our own methods for worship. Rather we are to do those things that God has asked us to do: pray, read and search the Scriptures, preach and hear the Scriptures declared, sing psalms, receive the sacraments, fasting, instructing our children, talk about the things of God, meditation, keeping our vows, and swearing lawfully.

Conclusions and Applications
At the center of Dt. 9 is a recounting of the golden calf incident (9:12-21). One of the important things to remember about this episode is that Aaron and Israel are primarily breaking the second commandment, worshiping the true God with an image (Ex. 32:4-6). But the focus of Moses’ sermon is on the hard hearts of the people. The point of this review of Israel’s sin is to teach Israel to trust and fear. You’ve blown it before and there’s no reason why you can’t blow it again apart from God’s kindness. There is a kind of introspection that is morbid and unbelieving because it does not believe in God’s forgiveness, but there is an equally dangerous way of glibly confessing sins that does not begin to fathom the horror of them. The fear of the Lord believes the promises of forgiveness and walks circumspectly, having learned wisdom and discernment.

Finally, notice that this is the one command that God ties to generations. We must not only teach our children who to worship; we must teach them how to worship. This is why children are welcome and encouraged to be here in our service. This presents its own sets of challenges: we want to avoid the stuffiness that gives cranky looks every time a youngster squawks on the one hand, and on the other, we want to be teaching our children to worship with us, not merely keep quiet, not merely sit still. This calls for a certain amount of love and grace be extended to one another. But when we teach our children to worship the true God in the right way, we are teaching them that they are Christians.

In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Almighty and most merciful God, you have blessed us beyond measure, and we know that eye has not seen and ear has not heard what you have planned for your people. We thank for the great privilege of worshipping you and that you are teaching us to do this rightly.


The Fathead Rule

Once there was a boy who came to his father and asked, “Dad, some of my friends are getting together next weekend. They said they’re going to stay up all night watching movies and playing video games and invited me to come. I was wondering what you thought.” His father looked at his son,
“What do you think?”
“Well, I know there’s nothing sinful about watching a movie or playing a video game or even staying up all night, but I’m still not sure about it.” His father nodded,
“Let me ask you this, son: is it a sin to eat dirt?” His son grinned and shook his head,
“Is it a sin to repeatedly slam your finger in a car door?”
“Is it a sin to wear a snow suit to the beach in the middle of the summer?”
“No, Dad. So you’re saying that it might not be a sin, but it may very well be stupid.”
“Something like that. It’s the fathead rule, son. Somewhere in Proverbs it says, my son, look at all those fatheads doing fathead things. Don’t be a fathead.”
“What should I tell my friends?”
“Tell them you already have plans. Tell them that you were already planning to have a big bowl of dirt for dinner and you won’t be feeling up to it.”
“Thanks, Dad.”
“Sure. And son?”
“Thanks for not being a fathead.”


Monday, October 01, 2007

Neither Magic Trick Nor Post-It Note

What do we believe happens at this table? Many of you know that there has been a long and (in some ways) frustrating conversation regarding this question. Some have taken Jesus words: “This is my body, this is my blood” or “Unless you eat of the flesh and drink of the blood of the son of man, you have no life within you…,” and they have sought out chemical equations and philosophical gymnastics to explain and defend some sort of doctrine of transformation in the elements of bread and wine. Sometimes there are even special bells rung in churches so that the congregation knows when that magic trick has taken place. In other traditions, this meal is nothing more than a mental reminder, a big, fancy post-it note. These are rather simplistic caricatures, and there is far more to this conversation. But as Reformed and Biblical Christians we reject both of these errors, and insist on the one hand that salvation and eternal life are found in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus and that Jesus gave us this bread and wine to feast upon that life. But Jesus did not teach any kind of transformation of the elements; he did not say: do this magic trick. He merely said eat this bread and drink this wine, and you will feast upon my body and blood. Therefore we believe his word, and trust that he is able to do all of this and more through his word and the working of his Holy Spirit. And therefore we also reject the post-it note memorialists; for we insist with Paul that this meal is not just a reminder (it is that), but it is also the communion in the body and blood of the Lord Jesus and the communion of the body of Christ, the Church, and that it proclaims to God the Father and the entire watching world the death of Jesus till he comes. John says that eternal life is found in the Son which is the life of the Trinity. This meal then must be at the center of a recovery of biblical evangelism. If the gospel is to be proclaimed to the lost world around us, then we must at least proclaim the gospel in the way that Jesus taught us to. And one of the important ways we do that is by celebrating the life of the Trinity revealed in Jesus Christ. We celebrate and feed upon the Triune Life here with bread and wine and thankful hearts.


Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Exodus XXII: Dt. 8:1-20

Opening Prayer: Almighty and everlasting God, we come now before your word, your law, your judgments, and we thank you for them. We ask that you would write these words on our hearts, and that we would not merely hear these words and agree mentally with these words, but that by your Holy Spirit you would perform reconstructive surgery on us. Tear out all that still remains of Adam in our bodies and souls, and remake us according to the image of your beloved Son, in whose name we pray, Amen!

Last week we considered the myth of neutrality and the necessity and centrality of Christian worship. Another important aspect of the First Commandment is identifying who this God is.

The God Who Frees
Yahweh identifies himself as the God who brought Israel out of Egypt. God is known by what he has done and what he does. Central to our understanding of our God is the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is not a thinly veiled form of tri-Theism. We do not worship three gods, but one God in three persons. This doctrine is not some hidden, secondary truth. Throughout Scripture there is a plurality within the one, true God of heaven. The “angel of the Lord” and the “spirit of the Lord” act as God and are recognized to be the one, true God (Gen. 18, 32, Ex. 3:2-4, Jdg. 6, 13, Is. 63). This reality is present in the Old Testament, but it is supremely manifest in the New Testament (e.g. Mt. 3, 28, 2 Cor. 13:14, 1 Pet. 1:1-2, Jn. 1:1, Phil. 2, Heb. 1). Jesus comes as God in the flesh, anointed with the Spirit of God above all his brethren to set the captives free (Lk. 4:18). Jesus is the Angel of Yahweh who brought Israel up out of Egypt (Acts 7). We serve the God who frees.

The Tyranny of Humanism vs. The Love of the Trinity
Ultimately, when the true God is not worshipped and served, humanism fills the void. Humanism may take many forms. It may include lots of religious trappings or very few. Humanists worship human emotions (“what feels right/good”), human reason (“what makes sense”), human taste (“hunger, thirst, lust, beauty”), etc. What must be recognized is that all idolatry (which is some form of humanism) is tyrannical. Why is this? Humanism must always necessarily be relativistic. “Question Authority” – says who? But if there is no absolute standard of truth, goodness, or beauty, who must decide? Finally, what is progress and how will it be accomplished? Humanism and all other gods cannot affect change through love and grace; therefore they must always resort to force, coercion, and violence. Apart from the Trinity all other gods are tyrants. But the Triune God is love, loyalty, and faithfulness (e.g. Gen. 3, 6, Is. 63, Mt. 17, Phi. 2, Jn. 16-17). The persons of the Trinity eternally love and defend the glory of the others. All other unitarian perversions are ultimately impotent, self centered, or both. This means that we cannot be surprised when Muslims resort to violence. They just happen to be more consistent than most Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Jews.

The Danger of a Triune God
Dt. 8 continues Moses’ application of the first commandment. Moses commands the people in particular to “remember” (8:2ff) and not to “forget” (8:11ff). Central to this command to remember and not to forget is being able to handle the blessings of God. God’s blessings are dangerous: the proper response is to bless God in return (8:7-10), but the temptation is always to think that you have done something to deserve it (8:12-17). And for Moses, these exhortations have everything to do with the first commandment (8:19-20). To serve the Trinity is to serve the God of excess, the God who overflows with love and goodness. But sinful hearts cannot handle the goodness. The glory is too heavy for mere man, and that is why we need the Holy Spirit to lift us up and empower us. Serving the Triune God is dangerous because it always dangerous to come into contact with life itself.

Conclusions and Applications
We need to remember godly fear. The danger of apostasy is not hypothetical. The covenant is real and requires loyalty, faith, and obedience (e.g. Heb. 4, 6, 10:29ff, 2 Pet. 2:21).

The answer is faith. But faith is not death. It lives. It enters the life of the Trinity; it receives the blessings of God and returns blessings to God. Thankfulness and gratitude must be central to Trinitarian living and teaching our children to do the same. This means that we must pursue Trinitarian education, learning gratitude. We must pursue Trinitarian love, learning gratitude for our spouses, children, and parents.

Finally, we need to cultivate a culture of joyful duty. Duty has become a bad word, because we have believed the lies of humanism. But if we serve the Triune God, we are the armies of God and our duty to God is nothing but glory and honor for us if we receive his word in faith. If we receive his word with suspicion, doubt, or contempt, it will crush us; faith is the only mouth big enough to take it all in.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!

Closing Prayer: Almighty God, we have believed so many lies, and therefore we ask that you would fight for us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Often, we cannot even tell which lies we have bought, and therefore we need your grace and mercy to see clearly, to think clearly, and then to repent truly and fully. Teach us to live, to think, and to worship as Trinitarian Christians, and enable us to repent of every Unitarian and humanistic inclination in our hearts that we may worship you with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength today and every day.


The Law of Yahweh is Better than Winning the Lottery

In 1 John, we are told that eternal life is found in having fellowship with the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words salvation means being in communion with the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. John goes on to say that this is how we know what love is that the Father sent the Son for us, and furthermore, he says that we know that we have fellowship with the love of the Father and the Son because he has given us the Spirit. Salvation is entering the loving community of the Trinity, and this is why John says that if anyone says they love God and do not love their brother he is a liar. This is salvation: loving God and our neighbor. But how are we to love God and our neighbor? John answers that question also: “this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” Love, John says, is not a butterfly feeling in your belly. Love is not following your heart. Love is not a one night stand. Love is not an emotion, a feeling, a force, or any other modern lie. Love is keeping the commandments of God. And John says that this is the romance of the Trinity. This is the adventure of the Christian faith, the call of the gospel to enter the life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the ultimate rebellion; this is the ultimate revolution. Dare to follow the Spirit, dare to believe in the Son, dare to have fellowship with the Father. We live in a society that is afraid of real life, afraid of real love, and afraid of real glory. But you have been baptized and adopted into the family of the Trinity. You have been called into this love, into this life, into this glory. Therefore keep his commands. The law of the Lord is perfect; and it is far better than winning the lottery.