Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Conviviality

Convivial. I like that word. It is derived from the Latin convivium, which was a feast or a banquet, and it suggests a joyful sharing of life together. It's a good way to think of our meetings - joyfully sharing together in the life of God.

Seeking God

Confluents

Christina Rossetti

As rivers seek the sea,
Much more deep than they,
So my soul seeks thee,
Far away:
As running rivers moan
On their course alone,
So I moan,
Left alone.

As the delicate rose
To the sun's sweet strength
Doth herself unclose,
Breadth and length;
So spreads my heart to thee
Unveiled utterly,
I to thee,
Utterly.

As morning dew exhales
Sunwards pure and free,
So my spirit fails
After thee:
As dew leaves not a trace
On the green earth's face;
I, no trace
On thy face.

Its goal the river knows,
Dewdrops find a way,
Sunlight cheers the rose
In her day:
Shall I, lone sorrow past,
Find thee at last?
Sorrow past,
Thee at last?

Why Practice Church Discipline?

Jonathan Edwards gives five motivations to practice church discipline.



Read the whole sermon, "The Nature and Ends of Excommunication," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M.

Clothed and In Our Right Minds

You used to think that the story of the emperor's new clothes was a fairy tale reworked and popularized by Hans Christian Andersen, but it is being literally enacted today before our very eyes.

Earlier this month, a cross-dressing man flew from Ft. Lauderdale to Phoenix wearing only women's undergarments. Dennis Prager commented on the airline's response.

U.S. Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder was asked how the airline allowed a nearly naked cross-dresser to board a plane and sit next to other passengers who, one assumes, did not appreciate being seated next to an exhibitionist.
As reported by the San Francisco Examiner, she “said employees had been correct not to ask the man to cover himself. ‘We don’t have a dress code policy. Obviously, if their private parts are exposed, that’s not appropriate. . . . So if they’re not exposing their private parts, they’re allowed to fly.’”
The decline of American civilization since the 1960s has been so fast and so dramatic that it takes one’s breath away. That a woman speaking on behalf of a major airline can say with a straight face that her airline allows anyone dressed or undressed to fly on its airplanes, so long as they do not expose their genitals, perfectly encapsulates this decline.

How do functioning adults become so absurd?  Why do we feel powerless to challenge outrageous behavior? There is no publicly accepted standard of judgment to which we can appeal. In the name of freedom, we have asserted personal autonomy. Personal autonomy can seem reasonable at first; however, it ends in lunacy.

Proverbs 11:14 states, "Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety." Proverbs 29:18 says, "Where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law." This is simply to say, when God's Word does not provide authoritative wisdom, men will become collectively stupid. Even if they do not personally parade about in their undergarments, they will have nothing to say to those who do.

One reason our society is powerless to challenge outrageous behavior is that we recognize if we open up the question of what is decent behavior, we will be forced to deal with another question, "By what standard?" We don't want to have to admit that there is an overarching moral standard to which we are all accountable. We will go to almost any length to avoid having to admit that we are accountable to the one true God. We will even tear out our reasoning apparatus and become mute mules entertained by a parade of insanity (Rom 1:18-32).

The entrance of God's Word gives light. Without it, we will end up naked and stupid. May we uphold God's Word as our clear authority, and thus be found clothed and in our right minds.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Every Tongue

God the Father sent Christ on a mission. Christ sends his followers on the same mission. That mission includes preaching the gospel to everyone, no matter what language they speak. It includes making disciples of people from every tongue. This Lord's Day we will be challenged and encourage with that mission. Join us!

Songs
Chosen of God (#290)
Doxology
Salvation! O My Soul, Rejoice! (#291)
And Can It Be? (#335)
Hark, the Gospel News Is Sounding (#293)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Genesis 47; Psalm 67
New Testament: Matthew 26:57-75

Sermon
Herb Taylor

Fornication Is a Lie

This is a powerful piece exposing the lies inherent in sex outside of marriage.

“If you’re not with the one you love,” they sang at Woodstock, cheering the evil of fornication, “love the one you’re with.” A lie on both ends, that, and cold to the core.

Read the whole piece.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Fear of the Lord

What or whom we worship determines our behavior.

John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 231

Vapid Emotionalism and Egocentrism

Christians should not allow themselves to develop sloppy aesthetic judgment by accepting low-quality religious kitsch just because they agree with the message. When I was growing up, the typical religious art exhibited a saccharine Victorian sentimentalism.


What makes this sentimentalized art and music so insipid? It equates Christianity with sugar and spice and everything nice. The poet Paul Claudel pilloried the sweet-and-light style by asking, "If the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? With sugar!"


When generations of children are nourished on these sugary images, they lose a sense of Jesus' true character. In the words of Dorothy Sayers, "We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah"....


Today's parallel to Victorianism would include praise music that mirrors the vapid emotionalism and egocentrism of pop culture. I once visited a church where I was startled to hear the congregation sing lines like "You are all my desire," and "I want to feel the warmth of your embrace." The lyrics made no mention of God or Jesus. No reference to salvation or justification or any other theological theme. Nothing to suggest that the song was anything but a love song to someone's girlfriend. The lyrics were such an extreme example of the Jesus-is-my-girlfriend genre that I wondered how any man could sing it with a straight face--though as I looked around the room, I saw several men with their eyes closed, arms raised.

Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo, 270-1

My two cents: The music itself is part of the problem, not merely the lyrics. I also think the problem goes deeper than making Christianity sugary sweet. It is a problem of distorted loves. Many church-goers are incapable of loving God rightly in their present spiritual condition.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Aim of Our Charge is Love

Augustine on the interpretation of Scripture which builds up love....

Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbour, does not yet understand them as he ought. If, on the other hand, a man draws a meaning from them that may be used for the building up of love, even though he does not happen upon the precise meaning which the author whom he reads intended to express in that place, his error is not pernicious, and he is wholly clear from the charge of deception. For there is involved in deception the intention to say what is false; and we find plenty of people who intend to deceive, but nobody who wishes to be deceived. Since, then, the man who knows practices deceit, and the ignorant man is practiced upon, it is quite clear that in any particular case the man who is deceived is a better man than he who deceives, seeing that it is better to suffer than to commit injustice. Now every man who lies commits an injustice; and if any man thinks that a lie is ever useful, he must think that injustice is sometimes useful. For no liar keeps faith in the matter about which he lies. He wishes, of course, that the man to whom he lies should place confidence in him; and yet he betrays his confidence by lying to him. Now every man who breaks faith is unjust. Either, then, injustice is sometimes useful (which is impossible), or a lie is never useful.

Whoever takes another meaning out of Scripture than the writer intended, goes astray, but not through any falsehood in Scripture. Nevertheless, as I was going to say, if his mistaken interpretation tends to build up love, which is the end of the commandment, he goes astray in much the same way as a man who by mistake quits the high road, but yet reaches through the fields the same place to which the road leads. He is to be corrected, however, and to be shown how much better it is not to quit the straight road, lest, if he get into a habit of going astray, he may sometimes take cross roads, or even go in the wrong direction altogether.

On Christian Doctrine, Book 1, Chapter 36

Friday, June 17, 2011

Truth Matters

  • The true light, which enlightens every man, was coming into the world.
  • The Word became flesh, and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.
  • The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
  • The one who practices the truth comes to the light.
  • God is true.
  • Those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.
  • My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.
  • You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
  • Because I speak the truth, you do not believe me.
  • The Spirit of truth proceeds from the Father.
  • Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
  • What is truth?
 This smattering of statements from the Gospel of John reveals that truth truly matters. To top it all off, Jesus says, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." If you want to practice the truth and to know God, join us this Lord's Day as we worship the one who is the way, the truth, and the life.

Songs
All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name (#36)
Doxology
The Name High Over All (#31)
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness (#400)
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Genesis 46; Psalm 46
New Testament: Matthew 26:31-56

Sermon
I Am the Truth - John 14:6

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bold as Lions, Meek as Lambs

Some of the boldest gospel witnesses I know are not missionaries facing man-eating lions. They are mothers. To see why, you need to read this.

A Humble and Humbling Prayer

Over at Jubilate Deo, Chuck Bumgardner posted a humble and humbling prayer by John Newton.

My Father, and my God,
Look upon Thy helpless child!
Thou hast laid aside Thy rod,
Thou in Christ art reconcil’d.
Hear me then, my Father, hear,
Good, and gracious, as Thou art,
Fill me with a holy fear,
Give me, Lord, a humble heart.

(Please read the whole thing here.)

This prayer cuts to the quick. May the Lord grant us humility.

Be Sure Your Logic Will Find You Out

When we seek to advance the cause of Christ, we should expect that our Adversary will act in keeping with his nature. He is a liar and the father of lies, so naturally he uses deception skillfully, to the point where that which is wrong can seem quite natural. In the barrage of lies against the truth, we have lost our footing in the realm of the family. It is not only that we have to publicly debate such inanities as "homosexual marriage." It is that we have lost the logic of the family in all of its dimensions, as God created and revealed it, which loss makes it difficult to make sense of our traditions regarding the family.

Recently, Scott Yenor argued that "the logic of contract and the movement to conquer nature have resulted in a triumph of autonomy and the demise of family." When we no longer recognize that marriage is a covenant before God and that God's created order functioning within God's ordained plan gives us direction and obligation, we will not be able to understand old-fashioned notions such as husbands should provide for their wives, children are a blessing, sex is only proper within the marriage covenant, sex is inherently procreative in purpose, and the pill is morally wrong. By the way, try explaining that last point to many Christians and you will have an immediate epiphany on how much Christians have swallowed the falsehoods so prevalent today. When they tear open the package and pop in the pill while in a marriage relationship, they are swallowing much more than a few hormones. They are acquiescing to a whole philosophy of sex and marriage which is incompatible with the biblical logic of the family.

So the next time you are frustrated by the stupidity of much that is debated in the public square today regarding sex and marriage, remember that we Christians privately gave up important logical ground a long time ago. We accepted lies. Be sure your logic will find you out.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Going Home

We pity the poor person who is homeless, not in the shallow sense of having no physical structure in which to reside, but in the much more profound sense of having nowhere to rest his heart. We delight in a good homecoming story, well told. We know from experience the hollowness of being away from home and the fullness of coming home.

Imagine what it would be like to long for home but have no idea how to get there. Actually, that scenario is not imaginary, is it? Join us this Lord's Day as we hear Jesus teach us where home is and how to get there.

Songs
On Jordan's Stormy Banks (#649)
Doxology
Art Thou Afraid? (#628)
Psalm 23b
To God Be the Glory (#16)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Genesis 45; Psalm 42
New Testament: Matthew 26:1-30

Sermon
Going Home - John 14:1-14

All the Humble May Come

Charles Bridges, in his justly celebrated work The Christian Ministry, gives some advice from Philip Henry on the administration of the Lord's Supper.

Philip Henry's was an admirable rule relative to this sacrament - 'so to manage it that the weak might not be discouraged and yet the ordinance might not be profaned.' Our instructions should have a direct reference to both these objects. We must not raise the standard too high for the humble, contrite, or scrupulous. Nor must we open the door for the admission of all.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Awe in Our Worship

More from the conference...

On Monday evening Pastor Todd Mitchell preached a soul-searching message from Hebrews 12:28-29. He made a very good point about awe in our worship. I want to remember this point, so I'll share it with you here.

Awe is the fear of something we admire.
Horror is the fear of something we hate.

We offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe.

Friday, June 03, 2011

What Love Is This?

The love that Christ commands us to demonstrate to one another is a kind of love unknown to the world. Join us this Lord's Day to see the stunning picture which the Scriptures paint for us of this kind of love.

Songs
I Sing the Mighty Power of God (#19)
Doxology
Fairest Lord Jesus (#21)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (#22)
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross (#137)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Genesis 44; Psalm 115
New Testament: Matthew 25:31-46

Sermon
What Love Is This? True, Christ-Like Love - John 13:34-35, et al.

Arguing for Biblical Conservatism

More from the conference...

One of the most common objections to conservative Christianity from other Christians is the "sola scriptura objection." It usually goes something like this. The Bible does not say anything about worship styles; therefore, when conservatives argue that some styles of worship are acceptable and some are not, they are denying the ultimate authority of the Bible.

Michael Riley presented a session which gave two arguments in response to this objection. (Note that what is written here is my wording. Michael said it much better than this.)

First, the aseity of God demands that we not only believe as we ought to believe but also love as we ought to love. God's own nature means that there are real standards for how we ought to worship him. Now, you need to get this argument down pat so that you can whip it out the next time someone derides your conservative worship. As you as you start talking about the aseity of God, you will sound really smart, and your opponent will just be frozen without anything to say in response. Actually, I made that up. That is not a good reason to use this argument. This argument truly puts forward something very important.

What is God's aseity? "A se" is a Latin phrase that basically means "from himself" or "of himself." A more common way to speak of God's aseity today is to talk about his self-existence or independence. God exists necessarily from himself, and he does not depend upon anyone or anything outside of himself. In reality, everything else depends upon him. He makes it what it is. Since God makes everything what it is, all truth depends upon him. The meaning of everything depends upon God. Likewise, since God makes everything what it is, all beauty depends upon him. The value of everything depends upon God. All of creation comes to us pre-valued by God, and it is our obligation to value it the same way that God values it.

Here is an example. When God created this world and put Adam in the garden of Eden, God said that it was good. This is a value judgment. What if Adam would have looked around after he was created and said, "This place is a dump"? Adam would have been guilty of not valuing the creation as God valued it.

The long and short of this argument is that even our affections and value judgments must match with God's affections and value judgment. We all know that our worship expresses our affections and value judgments. Thus, we are responsible to strive to make our worship compatible with God's loves.

The second argument Michael expressed was that if we truly believe that the Bible is our final authority, then we must take seriously the forms of Scripture as well as its propositional content. In other words, the way that the Bible says things ought to matter to us, and we ought to respect those forms in the way we communicate the content of the Bible. For example, the Bible does not communicate the truth of the resurrection of Christ to us in the form of a comedy routine. It does not use trivial forms of artistic media to get us to learn our spiritual ABCs. The form matches the content. Those who claim to hold to "sola scriptura" but ignore all appropriate ways in which the Bible communicates to us are actually falling far short of holding to the full authority of Scripture.

I believe these arguments need to be given full weight, and I'm glad that Michael articulated them. More arguments could be given directly from the Scriptures themselves which show that ignoring matters of style or matters of affection is not the way to stay true to the Scripture. Conservatives want to take seriously the whole counsel of God.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

The Pointless Church

At the conference in which I participated this week, Pastor Steve Thomas gave an address entitled "The Legacy of the Satisfied Shepherd." Pastor Thomas' primary point was that "we express our love for God by seeking contentment in His church." In the course of his address, he noted some errant approaches which marginalize the church. Note these two quotes he provided.

The visible church, as such, is charged with no mission. The Commission to evangelize the world is personal, and not corporate….So far as the Scripture goes, the work of evangelization was done by individuals called directly by the Spirit to that work. (C. I. Scofield, as cited in Michael D. Williams, “Where’s the Church? The Church as the Unfinished Business of Dispensational Theology,” GTJ, vol. 10, no. 2 (Fall 1989), 175)

No responsibility or service is imposed on the church per se. Service, like the gifts of the Spirit by whom service is wrought, is individual. It could not be otherwise. The common phrase, ‘the church’s task,’ is, therefore, without biblical foundation. It is only when the individuals sense their personal responsibility and claim personal divine enablement that Christian work is done. (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993) 4:149)

These are astounding assertions. One wonders how they could be made with a straight face! But it also helps us to realize why many professing Christians see no point to the church. They have been discipled that way.