Saturday, December 29, 2012

Happy God, Cheerful Worshipers

In his discourse upon spiritual worship, Stephen Charnock writes,

God is a Spirit infinitely happy, therefore we must approach Him with cheerfulness.

It is a delight to worship a happy God!

Friday, December 28, 2012

With Great Joy

Life in Christ is rich, wonderful, and free. As we close out 2012, we will meditate upon what a joy it is to participate in God's work of blessing the world.

Holy, Holy, Holy (#3)
Great Is Thy Faithfulness (#22)
O God Our Help in Ages Past (#49)
Praise the Savior (#17)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 12:1-8; Psalm 135
New Testament: Luke 6:27-49

Blessing God - Luke 24:50-53

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Glory to God

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"

Luke 2:14

I wish you all great joy in Jesus today!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Food Offered to Christmas?

Despite what you are thinking, we will not be examining the phenomenon of over-eating at Christmas time. Actually, over the course of our study of 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1, we have had people bring up the question, "How does this apply to celebrating holidays like Christmas?" Since there is no better time than the present to take up that question, we will do so tomorrow. See you then, Lord willing!

Angels from the Realms of Glory (#111)
Away in a Manger (#112)
Silent Night! Holy Night! (#109)
The Savior of the World (#127)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 11:29-47; Psalm 81
New Testament: Luke 6:12-26

Corinth and Christmas: What Does 'Food Offered to Idols' Teach Us about Celebrating Christmas? - 1 Corinthians 8:1-11:1

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Critique of Free Will

John Frame (The Doctrine of God, pp. 138-145) gives a powerful critique of what is commonly thought of as "free will" (more specifically, libertarian free will, the idea that the will is not determined by anything outside of itself). Here are short excerpts from his points, with my emphasis added at the end.

1. The biblical data...about God's sovereign control over human decisions, even human sins, are incompatible with libertarianism. Scripture makes clear that our choices are governed by God's eternal plan, even though we are fully responsible for them.

2. Scripture does not explicitly teach the existence of libertarian freedom. There is no passage that can be construed to mean that the human will is independent of God's plan and of the rest of the human personality.

3. Scripture never grounds human responsibility (in the sense of accountability) in libertarian freedom, or, for that matter, in any other kind of freedom. We are responsible because God made us, owns us, and has a right to evaluate our conduct.

4. Nor does Scripture indicate that God places any positive value on libertarian freedom (even granting that it exists).

5. Indeed, on the contrary, Scripture teaches that in heaven, the consummate state of human existence, we will not be free to sin. So the highest state of human existence will be a state without libertarian freedom.

6. Scripture never judges anyone's conduct by reference to his libertarian freedom.

7. Indeed, Scripture condemns some people for acts that clearly were not free in a libertarian sense...such as Judas' betrayal of Jesus.

8. In civil courts, libertarian freedom is never assumed to be a condition of moral responsibility.... Libertarianism would make it impossible to prove the guilt of anybody at all.

9. Indeed, civil courts normally assume the opposite of libertarianism, namely, that the conduct of criminals arise from motives....We see, then, that rather than being the foundation of moral responsibility, libertarianism destroys it.

10. Scripture contradicts the proposition that only uncaused decisions are morally responsible.

11. Scripture denies that we have the independence demanded by libertarian theory. We are not independent of God, for he controls free human actions. Nor can we choose to act independently of our own character and desire. According to Matthew 7:15-20 and Luke 6:43-45, the good tree brings forth good fruit,and the evil tree brings forth evil fruit. If one's heart is right, his actions will be right; otherwise, they will be wrong.

12. Libertarianism, therefore, violates the biblical teaching concerning the unity of human personality in the heart....This integrity of human personality is not possible in a libertarian construction, for on that view the will must always be independent of the heart and all of our other faculties.

13. If libertarian freedom were necessary for moral responsibility, then God would not be morally responsible for his actions, since he does not have the freedom to act against his holy character.

14. Libertarianism is essentially a highly abstract generalization of the principle that inability limits responsibility.

15. Libertarianism is inconsistent, not only with God's foreordination of all things, but also with his knowledge of future events.

16. Libertarians...tend to make their view of free will a nonnegotiable, central truth, with which all other theological statements must be made consistent. Libertarian freedom thus takes on a kind of paradigmatic or presuppositional status. But, as we have seen, libertarianism is unscriptural. It would be bad enough merely to assert libertarianism contrary to the Bible. But making it a central truth or governing perspective is very dangerous indeed.

17. Philosophical defenses of libertarianism often appeal to intuition as the basis for believing in free appeal to intuition can never the basis for a universal negative....Intuition never reveals to us whether or not we are determined by causes outside ourselves.

18. If libertarianism is true, then God has somehow limited his sovereignty so that he does not bring all things to pass. But Scripture contains no hint that God has limited his sovereignty in any degree. God is the Lord, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. He is always completely sovereign. He does whatever pleases him (Ps. 115:3). He works everything out according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). Furthermore, God's very nature is to be sovereign. Sovereignty is his name, the very meaning of the name Yahweh, in terms of both control and authority. If God limited his sovereignty, he would become something less than Lord of all, something less than God. And if God became something less than God, he would destroy himself. He would no longer exist. We can see that the consequences of libertarianism are serious indeed.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Overflowing with a Pleasing Theme

I am truly anticipating our celebration of the incarnation of the Son this Lord's Day. The choir has prepared a sacrifice of skillful praise, and this will be a program in which we can all participate with heart and soul and voice. I urge you to come this Lord's Day with a heart ready to overflow with a pleasing theme as we address our verses to the king!

Invite one and all to come, and join us at 10:30 a.m. Here's a bit of what we have to look forward to.

"Once in Royal David’s City”    Hymn 91
Choir in unison on first verse.
Congregation joins on verses 2-4
(Congregation Seated)

Isaiah 9:2-7 (ESV) Read by Pastor Parker

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel”   Hymn 87
Congregation (Standing)

John 1:1 (ESV) Read by Pastor Parker

“What Child is This?”
arr. by Richard Barber
Treble Choir with Cello and Percussion

Luke 1:26-38 (ESV) Read by Pastor Parker

“I Wonder as I Wander”
arr. by Richard Barber
Nancy Barber, Cello

Luke 1:39-56 (ESV) Read by Pastor Parker

“My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord”
Richard Barber
Monica Parker

Luke 2:1-7 (ESV) Read by Pastor Parker

“Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne”                          Hymn 93
Congregation (Seated)

Luke 2:8-15 (ESV) Read by Pastor Parker

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night”
                                                            Hymn 107 (to melody 106)
Congregation (Standing)

Luke 2:16-18 (ESV) Read by Pastor Parker

“Good Christian Men, Rejoice!”
arr. By Richard Barber

Luke 2:19-20 (ESV) Read by Pastor Parker

A Tender Mother”
Richard Barber

Matthew 2:1-12 (ESV) Read by Pastor Parker

We Three Kings”                      Hymn 108
Congregation (Seated)

Matthew 1:22-23, 21 (ESV)

“Cold December’s Winds Were Stilled”
arr. Donna Gartman Schultz

“Joy to the World!”                      Hymn 92
Congregation (Standing)

Sermon                                       Pastor Jason Parker
The Second Christmas Carol
Luke 1:67-79

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Photographing Idolatry?

Since we have been studying 1 Corinthians 8-10, I want to draw your attention to this perceptive application of that text by Russell Moore. In answer to a photographer's question about whether or not to photograph a same-sex 'wedding ceremony', Dr. Moore astutely points out that this question has parallels with the Corinthian dilemma regarding food offered to idols.

The Apostle Paul says, first of all, that the idols don’t represent real gods (1 Cor. 8:4), in the same way that you would argue that a wedding without a bride or a groom isn’t really a marriage. If something’s put before you, the apostle writes, eat it to the glory of God, no questions asked.
But, the apostle says, if the food is advertised as sacrificed to idols abstain from it for the sake of the consciences of those around you (1 Cor. 8:7-9).  This is the difference between investigating a doughnut shop owner’s buying habits before eating there and stopping in for doughnuts when the sign out front flashes: “Eat here and support our owner’s cocaine and prostitutes habit.”
You need not investigate as a wedding photographer whether the wedding you are photographing is Christ-honoring. But when there is an obvious deviation from the biblical reality, sacrifice the business for conscience, your own and those of the ones in your orbit who would be confused.

Dr. Moore closes with a challenge to love those involved in this sin and to show kindness with conviction.

Tell the couple that you wish them well, but that you have beliefs about marriage that won’t allow your conscience to participate in this way. Thank them for asking you but recommend a photographer who can click away with a clear conscience.

This advice is helpful, and the reminder to love is so appreciated. Yet I believe the advice could be much more helpful if it clearly represented the teaching of 1 Corinthians 8-10. In that text, the apostle teaches us that participation in idolatry is always and everywhere wrong. We must flee idolatry, both for the sake of saving others and for the sake of saving our own souls. Now, he also makes clear that mere association with idolatry is not necessarily a problem, for the earth is the Lord's. The mere fact that something has been used in idolatry or is associated with idolatry does not make it off-limits for Christians. But as soon as we cross the line into participation with idolatry in any given situation, then we must abstain.

I would argue that photographing a same-sex wedding ceremony is participation in idolatry, for a same-sex wedding ceremony is by definition clear-cut, in your face, public idol worship (Rom 1:18-32). It carries this meaning no matter what anyone's conscience says about it. Why is this so? Marriage is by definition a public, not a private, institution.

In this regard, photographing a wedding ceremony of any kind is not analogous to a Christian restaurant owner serving a gay couple who came into his restaurant. Eating a meal is a good and right act, and a Christian does no sin in helping others to eat. In fact, it is a good way to show love even to our enemies (Rom 12:20-21). A same-sex wedding is a sinful act. Period. Always. No possibility of it being anything other than sinful. Moreover, it is a sinful act which is by its very nature demands public support and approval. Christians must never support, condone, or encourage such things.

Participating in any way in a same-sex wedding ceremony is a good contemporary equivalent to "reclining at table in an idol's temple" (1 Cor 8:7). We ought not to do for the sake of fellow Christians with weak consciences (1 Cor 8:9-13), and we ought not to do it because we cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons (1 Cor 10:14-22). If the law of the land tells us that we have to do it, we must simply obey God rather than men and take what comes.

Speaking of consciences, I suspect that Dr. Moore's piece misconstrues what Paul is talking about with regard to conscience in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10. In particular, 1 Corinthians 8:7 is not talking about what someone thinks is wrong but is actually right. Paul says that some "through a pattern of behavior fixed by tradition and sanctioned by society eat food as offered to an idol." By doing this, their moral self-awareness is rendered unfit for the presence of God. Advocates and practitioners of same-sex 'marriage' are trying to make their practice fixed by tradition and sanctioned by society. Christians with weak consciences may be swayed by such community recognition into thinking that it is okay. This would be a real stumbling block for them, and it could lead to their falling away from Christ. If you wish, you can hear more about this in this sermon "Love Your Brother."

Dr. Moore's last piece of advice is not wise. The reason you will not photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony is not that "you personally would feel guilty about doing it but you refrain from making any public moral judgment about it" (which is how "you have beliefs about marriage that won’t allow your conscience to participate in this way" translates in today's society). The reason you will not photograph a same-sex wedding ceremony is because you want to rescue those involved in this sin from the wrath of God (Gal 5:19-21; Heb 13:4). You thus should not recommend another photographer to participate in the idolatry. By doing this, you have condoned the evil. You have also missed a tremendous gospel opportunity. Only by dealing honestly with their sin can homosexuals come to repentance and salvation, as is true of each and every one of us. Better to lose your photography business honestly pointing people to Christ than to keep your business preaching "Peace, peace" when there is no peace. This is real love.

One last thought. As we evaluate our actions, we can never reduce them to an amoral "providing a service." If 1 Corinthians 8-10 makes anything plain, it is that we are responsible moral agents acting in real social contexts with real responsibilities both to the Lord and to others. I am grateful that the photographer who prompted these thoughts declined to participate in idolatry, and I hope he or she never feels guilty about it again. I also hope that we as Christians will gain the moral clarity we need to glorify God and advance the gospel while living in a land of false gods. Dr. Moore brought a perfect text to bear on this discussion. We need to take its full weight seriously.

Gospel-less Gospel-Centeredness

With all the talk about being "gospel-centered" these days, it is important that we keep a clear head about what this does and does not mean biblically. Mark Snoeberger addresses "The Problem of 'Gospel-Centered' Sanctification" with accuracy here.

Mark writes,

Some have seized the “Gospel-Centered” banner and have used it to wage general war on law and works—after all, they argue,
Major Premise: The Gospel is Justification.
Minor Premise: Justification is destroyed by law and works.
Conclusion: The Gospel is destroyed by law and works.
So what’s wrong with the syllogism? Well, the logical structure is fine, so if an error is to be found, it has to be in one of the premises. In this case, it is the major premise.

For his explanation, read the whole post.

What a Goal!

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord.


Friday, December 07, 2012

A Genuine Imitation

I assume that all of you want to be the genuine article - followers of Christ who faithfully glorify God and advance the gospel in a land of false gods. But in order to be real, you have to learn to be imitations. Join us this Lord's Day to learn how.

O Come, All Ye Faithful (#88)
Angels We Have Heard on High (#89)
The First Noel (#98)
Angels from the Realms of Glory (#111)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 11:1-28; Psalm 24
New Testament: Luke 6:1-11

A Genuine Imitation - 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

High Country Baptist Church of Colorado Springs

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Pagan Empire Went Down Fighting

Peter Brown acknowledges that "it is still difficult to discover [Constantine's] intentions" for his conversion as well as "the extent of his ambition on behalf of the Christian faith" (Through the Eye of a Needle, 32). Nevertheless, he gives what seems to me to be a judicious and accurate assessment.

Constantine did not act out of political calculation. He did not perceive that Christianity was on its way to becoming a majority religion in any part of his empire--not even in the more densely Christianized East and certainly not in the Latin West, where Christianity seems to have made considerably less progress (32).

Constantine was prepared to devote great pains to keeping the worship of [the Christian] God immune from error and division....[He]patrolled the Christian episcopate ceaselessly to make sure that the worship they offered to God was correct and pleasing to Him.

But that was almost all Constantine was prepared to do. The non-Christian subjects of his empire were left largely to themselves; the Roman West remained a predominantly pagan world.

Thus Brown says,

Constantine certainly thought of himself as a Christian. But he was not a Christian of the middle ages, nor was he even a Christian of the late fourth century. It was enough for him that the Christian God should be recognized, that Christians should no longer be persecuted, and, above all, that the Christian clergy should be privileged and protected (33).

Constantine was not the angel that Eusebius made him out to be. Nevertheless, it is historically inaccurate to assume that Constantine magically made Christianity into an easy and attractive religion for the Roman Empire. In fact, at the end of this deep study, Brown concludes,

Faced with massive losses of income and by a widespread weakening of its authority in large areas of the West, the imperial structure inherited from the fourth century showed no intention of surrendering. Instead, the empire--the Respublica--went down fighting. And it went down fighting as a frankly secular institution. Government circles made plain that they would not yield any of the prerogatives of the Roman state to the Christian bishops (529).

This is instructive for Christians of all political persuasions today.