Saturday, February 25, 2006

Before it was about me

Before it was about me,
It was always about you.
When through sinful eyes I see
You on the old twisted tree
I see you making much of me.

But it’s you, displaying you!

Righteousness to be upheld,
For sin’s judgment was withheld.
Your Justice to be maintained,
Till the cross’ wood was stained
By Your Son dying on earth,
To display Your glory’s worth.

And it’s you, displaying you!

The bright center of the cross
Is the shining forth of you.

Wrath now is satisfied.
The door of mercy swings wide.
God haters now become sons
Of the Most High and Holy One.
And now we sing of your grace
As we look upon your face.

And it’s you, displaying you!

don't assume God, He doesn't like it

Suppose I were to ask President Bush who the most important person in his life was, and suppose he said Dick Cheney, or his dad, or his campaign manager. Now suppose I say, "what about your wife Laura?", to which he responds, "I assumed you knew that".

Let me ask you, do you think she would be honored by such a response. Would you? No. No one is honored by being assumed. Granted, we do assume some very important things, like oxygen. But oxygen, or our wives, our parents, our friends, are not honored by us assuming them. In fact, quite the opposite.

It is so much more the case with God than our wives. he mind. He is not honored by being assumed, and he does not like it very much at all. Why? Because it runs contrary to his eternal purposes. God wants to be, and deserves to be recognized. Throughout Scripture we see that God acts as he does so that people will know he is God and give him the glory due his name... You see this very clearly in the book of Exodus:

"Say therefore to the people of Israel, 'I am the LORD... and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment... and you shall know that I am the LORD your God." (Ex. 6:6-7)

"I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring forth my ... people ... out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD." (Ex. 7:4-5)

"[Tomorrow] the frogs will be destroyed from you and your houses ... that you may know that there is no one like the LORD our God." (Exodus 10:1-2)

"By now I could have put forth my hand . . . and you would have been cut off from the earth: but for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, so that my name may be declared throughout all the earth." (Exodus 9:15-16)

"As soon as I [Moses] have gone out of the city, I will stretch out my hands to the LORD; the thunder will cease, and there will be no more hail, that you may know that the earth is the LORD's." (Exodus 9:29)

"Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may show these signs of mine among them, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and of your son's son how I have made sport of the Egyptians and what signs I have done among them; that you may know that I am the LORD." (Exodus 10:1-2)

"In the time to come, when your son asks you, "What does this [Passover] mean?" you shall say to him, "By strength of hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of bondage."" (Exodus 13:14)

"Not a dog will growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast; that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between the Egyptians and Israel" (Exodus 11: 7).

Let me encourage you not to make God the foundation of your life - foundations are hidden and no one takes notice or praises the beauty of a foundation. Make God your everything. Make him your express purpose, make him your portion, the center of your conversations, your goal, your boast, your waking and lying down thought. When you talk about the warmth of the day, praise God for it. When you think about your health, thank God for it. Don't assume God. In the words of John Piper, "God does not like to be taken for granted. God wills to be central and supreme and celebrated in all of life, including the life of the mind."

Friday, February 17, 2006

the enduring glory of God

Last Sunday night Bob talked passionately about the church being an intergenerational institution. It is a beautiful thing indeed when children worship next to parents and grandparents, when college students serve next to young couples. I had to resist the urge to push Bob out of the way and do the benediction for him (I'm really glad I didn't - the reading for Revelation was so powerful at the time). Now that I think about it, that would've been very odd. The reason is that Ephesians 3:20-21 came to mind in a powerful way. Hear what Paul says, "Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen."...
This passage has long been one of my favorite doxologies. Paul says "to him be the glory". All glory is God's because he alone is worthy and created all things for his glory. There is no part of creation, no corner of the cosmos that does not sing of God’s glory – no part of it is not his, for he created every aspect, every electron and proton of suns and galaxies far away, and he created it all for his glory

But there is a special arena of God's glory - the church. Many people get glory for their accomplishments. To Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward be the glory on the football field. To Tom Hanks be the glory in the Academy of Motion Pictures. But to God, to God be the glory in the church! It is his special sphere of glory where he is willingly worshipped by his people.

But Paul doesn't stop there. He goes on, "to him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus...". This is an important statement because it reminds us of a couple of important things. First, Christ is what makes the church what it is. He is the head, we are the body. He is the cornerstone, we are the building. He is the shepherd, we are the sheep. We are a people for God's glory because Jesus is for God's glory. That was the goal of his life, his ministry, and his death - to glorify God his Father.

The next phrase is truly incredible. "To God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations." How long will you remember who won the Superbowl? Maybe a couple of years. How long will the hottest bands still be hot? Maybe a decade. Two if they are incredibly lucky and versatile. Most will wind up on VH1's "One Hit Wonders" or "Where are They Now" shows. How long will actors and actresses be celebrated for their work? Only as long as their beauty doesn't fade, which it will. Only God's glory is throughout all generations. Think about that for a minute. In every generation of people that have ever lived there have been faithful God worshippers - there has been a church. The number was incredibly small in some generations (i.e. Noah was the only one from his generation), but the truth holds - "TO GOD BE THE GLORY IN THE CHURCH AND IN CHRIST JESUS THROUGHOUT ALL GENERATIONS FOREVER AND EVER. AMEN".

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

What Constitutes the Local Church

Bob did a phenomenal job on Sunday night. I have an ongoing love affair with the church, as I hope you do also. Our theme for the semester has been "When Christ is Your Treasure", and we have tried to look at various aspects of our live's from this persepective - what does life look like when we truly treasure Christ. Well, I think it is safe to say that when we truly treasure Christ we will also love his church - which is his body (of which he is the head) and also his bride. It's hard to conceive of someone saying that they love Christ and hate his bride, or that they cherish Christ and don't highly esteem his body. To treasure Christ we must also treasure the church.

Bob did have a daunting task - to talk about the oldest, most influential, institution in the world - the only institution that is, in his words, both temporal and eternal. The approach he took was absolutely perfect - at least, its' what I needed to hear. It fueled my love affair. But any message on a huge topic like 'the church' will obviously speak to some things and not to others. One issue Bob didn't talk about is the issue of what constitutes a legimate local church. I think this is a crucial issue in our day and age and deserving of some thought...

I say that this is a crucial issue for our times because there is an increasing trend to think of spirituality and Christianity apart from the 'institutional church'. George Barna has published a book recently called Revolution, in which he details and praises the movement of many who profess to be fully devoted followers of Jesus away from a local body of believers. Barna argues, and too many agree, that it is possible to be a devoted disciple, a Bible believing Christian, someone passionately in love with God and have no connection to a local church. I couldn't disagree more.

Some may object and say, "I love the Church (the church universal) but don't care for the church (the local)". To me, that's like saying "I love humanity, it's people I don't like". I am going to do something dangerous and assume you agree that it is incredibly important to be attached to a local body of believers. But that raises a question - what turns a group of believers into a 'church'. Does me meeting with a group of friends at Starbucks to discuss some point of theology constitute a church? Are there minimum requirements for a group to be legitimate biblical church? Yes, I think there is.

In what follows I am drawing heavily on an article by Sam Storms in response to Barna's book. You can read it on his website (enjoyinggodministries.org) in the book review section.

First, I think for a gathering to be considered a church there must be godly leadership by those who are biblically qualified to lead. These leaders don't necessarily need to be paid, and they don't have to be called elders, but there must be some governing structure as per the Bible (Acts 20:28; Ephesians 4:11-13; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; 5:17-21; Titus 1:5-16; Hebrews 13:17; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1-4).

Second, right and faithful proclomation of the Word of God.

Third, right administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Fourth, "Commitment to both individual and corporate worship, praise, and celebration of the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ".

Fifth, a committment to Christian ministry for God's glory (ie. evangelizing the lost, winning the nations, etc.)

I'd love to know what you think of the idea of "minimum requirements to be a legitimate biblical church" and/or the list offered here. I'll be posting more soon.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Jesus and the Kingdom of God

This past Sunday night I talked in brief about the kingdom of God breaking into human history in the person of Jesus Chrsit. I think this is such an important concept that it should be fleshed out a bit more.

Both Matthew and Luke record an account of John the Baptist sending messengers to Jesus to ask him a very important question - "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" (Luke 7:19). Think about this for a minute. John was in prison. He was about to loose his head at the hands of Herod. He had proclaimed some time earlier that Jesus was the Lamb who would take away the sins of the world. Why now does he question that Jesus is the "one who was to come"? I think the answer has to do with John's situation. He is in prison, about to die. And that puzzles him a little bit. John must have wondered "how could I be in this situation if Jesus really is the One, the Messiah, the King of the Jews. Certainly, if he was, then he wouldn't let a faithful servant like me suffer like this". I can empathize with the Baptists thoughts here.

What is very important is that we understand Jesus' answer to this question. Let me quote Luke 7:22-23 "...Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." (NIV).

What does this mean? Why didn't Jesus just say, "yes, I am the one to come"? Jesus, in this passage was quoting from Isaiah 35:5-6 and Isaiah 61:1. What is important about these passages is that they are about the Kingdom of God coming. In chapter 35 Isaiah speaks of Zion being a place Eden like. The blind see, the mute talk, the lame jump, the deaf hear - but more than that, the desert blooms, the glory of God is present, no ferocious beasts are in it, the Way of Holiness runs through it, and everlasting joy replaces morning and weeping. In chapter 61 the prophet speaks of the "year of the Lord's favor". He speaks of the good news being proclaimed to the poor, the binding up of the broken hearted and freedom for captives. In the same context he talks of it as a day of God's vengeance on his enemies, but also of the everlasting joy of the redeemed.

So why would Jesus quote these passages in response to John's question? Because Jesus was showing John that, yes, he was the one that was to be expected and that in his person, the Kingdom of God that Isaiah spoke of had broke in to human history. The age to come was now present, not in its full and consummated form, but really and truly present in the ministry of Jesus and his followers.

Jesus likened the kingdom to a mustard seed. Though small, it grows into a large tree. The kingdom, though it started small has been advancing and growing. We are then, citizens of this kingdom, but alien residence in the world. We live both in this age and in the age to come. But what is tremendous is that we have tasted and experienced the power of the age to come.

I challenge you to think with me about what kingdom power and kingdom living looks like in the 21st century. What should we look for? What should we expect? What should we do? These aren't just theological questions - they are questions about what the Christian life looks like - what our lives are suppose to look like!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Did Jesus Descend Into Hell

Two weeks ago we read the Apostles Creed together. This ancienct creed declares that Jesus "suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell". I had at least one person ask my about my views on this, the phrase "He descended into hell", so I thought a post might help.

Right up front, let me tell you that I do not believe that Jesus literally descended into hell after his death. Nor do I believe the Bible supports this view.

The actual phrase "descended into hell" did not appear in any form of the creed until 390AD, and then only in a copy made by Rufinus (and not the one he preserved as official). Even then, Rufinus did not believe that Jesus descended into hell like we use the phrase, but into the grave (the word Hades can mean hell or grave). It did not again appear in a copy of the creed until 650AD.

Most Protestant Christians have rejected the idea that Jesus descended literally into hell. Most have chosen to interpret this dubious phrase in one of two ways. Some follow Rufinus and believe it to mean that he was placed in the grave, emphasizing that he was truly dead. Others follow Calvin and believe that it refers to the period of time when Jesus suffered God's wrath and separation from Him on the cross. This is the view of Calvin, the view expressed in the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Larger Catechism and other reformed doctrinal confessions.

I know some where wondering where I stood on this, and I tend to follow Calvin (surprise, surprise) - believing that it refers to that period when Jesus was suffering not just physically, but suffering spiritual separation from the love of God as he was made sin for us. Hope this helps.

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Sex and the City of God

Wow, the Superbowl was awesome. Ok, it wasn't awesome. It was good. Saturday night here worshipping with everyone was awesome. We hope you remembered and didn't show up Sunday night. If you did, I'm sure you had a great time of personal prayer and meditating on God's Word.

If you missed Saturday night, it was a great time of worship and fellowship. We continued to think about sex as a gift from God, this week focusing on how to protect the beauty of that gift. Unfortunately, the wireless microphone had some technical issues, so the message wasn't recorded. I have, however, turned my notes into a full manuscript of what we discussed Saturday night. You can download it here (Sex and the City of God). I would encourage you to do so if you weren't here - not because I think my handling of the topic was so profound, but because the topic itself is of vital importance.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Thoughts from Psalm 105:1-6

Next time you come to church, take a few minutes and read Psalm 105, especially verses 1-6 and use it to prepare for worship. This is a very instructive Psalm about what is necessary to worship well.

Psalm 105:1 "Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;
make known his deeds among the peoples!
2 Sing to him, sing praises to him;
tell of all his wondrous works!
3 Glory in his holy name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!
4 Seek the Lord and his strength;
seek his presence continually!
5 Remember the wondrous works that he has done,
his miracles, and the judgments he uttered,
6 O offspring of Abraham, his servant,
children of Jacob, his chosen ones!"
ESV

First, we must "give thanks" (v. 1a). An ungrateful heart is most clearly a sin (Romans 1:21) and dishonoring to God. We must come into worship understanding that all we have is from God, all physical and spiritual gifts come from him, all that is good in our lives and in the universe find their source in God, the fount of all blessings. We must come to God with grateful, thankful hearts.

Second, we are to "call upon his name". In large part, our worship is again and again calling upon the name of the Lord. We continually come as recipient, and never giver. What we have, we have been given. What we give is a gifted response. Do you want to give more? Then call upon his name, asking that he would give you more to give back!

Third, we "make known his deeds among the peoples". This is a somewhat new concept for me, but what this psalm makes clear is that there is an evangelistic component to our worship. This is not the goal (God's glory is the goal), but it is certainly a byproduct of genuine, passionate, God centered worship. In our worship, we are telling of the mighty deeds of God on behalf of his people, and we tell them not just to each other, but to the peoples.

Fourth, we are called to "sing to him, sing praise to him". Have you ever just sat or stood there, not participating in the worship? Do you realize that is disobedience?! We are commanded to sing. Singing not your thing? It is now! We cannot be spectators in worship, but are called to lift our voices and sing praises to our great God.

Fifth, again we are called to "tell of all his wondrous works". We are to worship God for who he AND what He has done.

Sixth, we are to "Glory in his name". "His name" is another way of saying "who he is". In the Bible, someone's name was more than just a way of identifying them - it was a summary of who they were. This is particularly true of God. We are told to glory, or exult and rejoice in his name. Our boasting is about who God is!

Seventh, we are commanded to let our hearts rejoice! Consider this - there is no such thing as unhappy praise. It is an oxymoron, a contradiction. You can not sit back and glumly sing God's praises. If you do, it is hypocrisy, not worship. You can not stand and sing "you're altogether lovely, altogether worthy, altogether wonderful to me" if you don't mean it and aren't consumed by joy at the thought of it!

Eighth, (this is getting kinda long, huh), we are told to "Seek the Lord". This is so essential in worship. If we go through all the motions but God isn't present, if we do not experience him anew, what is the point. In fact, our worship springs from joy in the revelation of God. To worship, we must know God. So to go deeper into worship, we must seek to know him more (not just about him, but to know him in relationship). Now there will be times where God seems distant, but we cannot allow ourselves to be content with this anymore than we would allow ourselves to be content with a distant relationship with our wives. We must continually seek a deeper relationship with God.

Finally, we must remember. How much joy do we forfeit simply because we do not take time to remember all that God has done for us? Remembering is a major theme in the Bible. The Israelites set up altars to remember. God told the people to pass on to their children all that God had done for them so that his deeds would be remembered. We celebrate the Lord's Supper to remember what God has done on the cross (it is shocking that we would ever forget this, but God knows how fickle and short of memory we are). Remember.

Hope this is helpful as we strive to be a deep worshipping community.