Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Free Subject

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary," says James Madison (The Federalist Papers, No. 51).

"Wrong!" says Thomas Aquinas. "A man is the master of a free subject, by directing him either towards his proper welfare, or to the common good. Such a kind of mastership would have existed in the state of innocence between man and man." Thomas gives two reasons. First, man is a social being, and social life cannot exist if there is not someone to look after the common good. Second, it would not be fitting for one person to surpass another in knowledge and virtue unless the one with the greater gifts used them for the benefit of others, citing 1 Peter 4:10 (Summa Theologiae, I, Q. 96, Art. 4).

In the Christian view, government is not a result of the Fall. Proper order and authority is built right into God's design for creation.

How to Have Peace in Your Home

Augustine traces peace, or well-ordered concord, back to love of God and love of neighbor. The command to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbor as ourselves implies that we must try to get our neighbor to love God, since we are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves. This takes place first and foremost in the home as love directs both those who rule and those who obey.

But in the family of the just man who lives by faith and is as yet a pilgrim journeying on to the celestial city, even those who rule serve those whom they seem to command; for they rule not from a love of power, but from a sense of the duty they owe to others--not because they are proud of authority, but because they love mercy. (The City of God, 19.14)

In Christ, ruling becomes a service of love, laying down our lives for those under our care so that they might know God.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Secular Temples

Architecture matters.

Bruce Waltke writes,

On a tour through the campus of the University of Washington, I noted the architecture of its main library--a replica of a cathedral with three arches and three doors. There are also statues, visages of Voltaire, Rousseau, and other rationalists. It is a cathedral, a place of worship. But the god is Human Reason, its worldview is that of the Enlightenment, its prophets are atheists, its bible is Nature, and sanctification is by elitist learning. The function of this monumental architecture is unmistakable: to baptize students in the cult of Secular Enlightenment.

 An Old Testament Theology, 457

Not all structures are so obvious, of course. But the point still stands. Architecture matters. It communicates, and the wise pay attention to what it is saying.

Determines Everything Else

Our sermon last Lord's Day reminded me of this stirring conclusion to J. Gresham Machen's classic work, Christianity & Liberalism,

Is there no refuge from the strife? Is there no place of refreshing where a man can prepare for the battle of life? Is there no place where two or three can gather in Jesus' name, to forget for the moment all those things that divide nation from nation and race from race, to forget human pride, to forget the passions of war, to forget the puzzling problems of industrial strife, and to unite in overflowing gratitude at the foot of the Cross? If there be such a place, then that is the house of God and that the gate of heaven. And from under the threshold of that house will go forth a river that will revive the weary world.

Machen was speaking of the church. He was not advocating an escapist mentality. Rather, he was keeping life in its proper order. Christ, the Word of God, the church, our worship--these are the things that matter most and which will ultimately determine everything else.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Glory in this Place

We want God's glory to be evident in our church.

This Lord's Day we will take a look at the place where God manifested his glory among his people in the old covenant, and then see how that glory shines so much brighter in our day. But we do not simply want to look at it; we want to draw near. Those who behold the glory and beauty of the Lord cannot help but be changed from glory to glory. Join us in the transformation.

God Himself Is Present
Praise Ye the Lord (#42)
O Thou in Whose Presence (#451)
Our Great Savior (#434)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 14:1-20; Psalm 5
New Testament: Luke 8:1-18

Worship, Wisdom, and Work Series: The Tabernacle and Our Worship - Exodus 24-40; John 1:14; 2 Corinthians 6:16

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Main Reason People Leave a Church Is...

Thom Rainer answers.

Let's think about this for a second. To start the discussion, I suggest that our theology of a relationship with God tends to lead us to expect "our needs" to be met. We are not content with a word and sacrament kind of ministry, administered in the context of faulty human love in the church. We think we need something else, something better.

We must remember that we are living sacrifices. There is no other way to follow Christ than to die to ourselves.

But the glory of it is that as we lose our lives for Christ's sake, we find them. Our deepest needs truly are met as we surrender what we think we need. Like a seed, our lives fall into the ground and die, but lo and behold, they end up producing a hundred fold.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Drawing Near to God in Christ

The centerpiece of God’s presence in the world today is the church, and our gathered worship is the pinnacle of his presence. The songs you sing are more primary than the vote you cast for president. The preaching of the Word is more potent than Congress, for God is present and speaking when his word is proclaimed. The proper worship of God is much more significant to our health and social well-being than gun control laws or fiscal cliff deals. In short, worship drives culture. Worship directs our work. We need the wisdom to work out our worship into all of life, so that we consistently proclaim Jesus as Lord. We want to make the true God inescapable in our own lives and the lives of those around us. We want men to know that he is the Lord. That is our goal for this series of studies from the Scripture. We want to gather new insights from the Word of God about how to worship God aright, drive that deep into our hearts, and then work it out of our feet and our fingertips. 

Our plan in this series of sermons is to learn from old covenant worship about how we ought to worship in the new covenant. Of course, in order to do this, we need to pay careful attention to the work that Jesus has done. As always, the good news of Jesus is central to our worship and our work. So, we are going to start with some studies in the epistle to the Hebrews in the NT, then we are going to go back to the book of Leviticus to give a fully biblical structure to our worship. Once that is done, I believe we will be better prepared to wisely live according to our new covenant relationship with God in our present day. We will study some of this on a very practical level from the book of Proverbs. 

We are like pioneers, clearing ‘new’ ground in order to become productive for the Lord. We want to build a culture of faithfulness, making the church the city of God that it is designed to be, calling the city of man to repent and trust in Jesus as Lord. Join us as we draw near to God in Christ!

God Himself Is Present
Amazing Grace (#247)
There Is a Fountain (#267)
Thine Be the Glory (#162)   

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 13:40-59; Psalm 65
New Testament: Luke 7:36-50

Worship, Wisdom, and Work Series: Jesus' Work and Our Worship - The Epistle to the Hebrews    

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Free to Share

The Philanthropic Enterprise recently ran an article about Samaritan Ministries, a Christian medical cost-sharing program that I am happy to recommend to you.

In "Free to Share: Non-regulated Health Care Sharing Proves Affordable and Compassionate," Zoe Erler writes,

When SueAnne Bassett learned that she had stage four cervical cancer eight years ago, her doctors gave her a 20 percent chance that she would live five years, and that was with full-blown chemo and radiation treatment. Then she learned about a hospital in Tijuana, Mexico that provided alternative treatment for cancer, and she knew immediately that that’s where she wanted to be treated. Although Georgia natives SueAnne and her husband, Mike, didn’t have health insurance to pay for the specialized treatment, they weren’t worried. They knew their needs would be met.

In 1999, the Bassett family joined Samaritan Ministries, a Christian-based network in which members pay for each other’s health expenses....

I am grateful that the financial crisis, among many other things, has provoked a good conversation among thoughtful Christians, as well as reinvigorated efforts to avoid serving mammon in our financial systems and to start serving our neighbor.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Convincing Evangelism

Biblical evangelism has always been about being like Jesus and speaking the truth of Jesus in order to make followers of Jesus. We don't have to put the rhetorical gun to anybody's head. We simply have to unveil the Truth and let him work. The Spirit of Jesus is the ultimate Convincer. The testimony of Rosaria Butterfield illustrates one way that one pastor and one church did just that.

John H. Leith wrote,

Evangelism in the Reformed tradition can only be conceived in simple, direct, and unadorned fashion....[A]ny attempt to overwhelm is off-limits. The rhetoric of Reformed evangelism will be primarily its content, not the medium of its expression. The medium will express, not obscure, the content. It will seek to convince, not to beguile.

Leith could have just dropped talk of the "reformed tradition," for he is describing evangelism as the Bible describes it (1 Cor 2:1-5).

I'm sure Rosaria could teach us a great deal about evangelism, but more importantly, we have the Spirit of Christ to enable us to proclaim Christ and to draw others to the life of Christ. May the Spirit do his convincing work through us this year!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A New Community of Enculturization

Patristics scholar Paul Hartog on "Lessons from Pre-Christian Culture for Post-Christian Culture":

"The early churches saw themselves as new communities of enculturalization, actually trying to form a new culture among the young people. And those who deal with issues of culture would stress the trans-generational nature of enculturalization. It takes older generations enculturalizing younger generations in the culture of a specific value system, in this case, the church....Otherwise when we lose a culture, it takes a lot of work to rebuild a value system."

This is precisely the approach of High Country Baptist Church. I'd encourage you to listen thoughtfully to the whole presentation, which can be found here. (The quote above comes from approximately the 56:30 mark in the recording.)

Christianity and Art

In judgment of historian Paul Johnson,

Christianity can thus be called the greatest single historic fact in the whole story of human art.

Art: A New History, 141

Friday, January 11, 2013

God Himself Is Present

Last week we embarked on a journey through the whole Bible to discover what it means for God to be with us. We saw that God created mankind to have fellowship with him and that godly men throughout the OT longed for and prayed for the presence of God! We also formulated a definition of what it means to say that God is with someone: God has entered into a covenant relationship with men, on the basis of a sacrificial blood atonement, in which he will be their God and they will be his people. God makes promises to them to which they respond in obedient faith, and God works in and through them (i.e. he delivers them; he blesses them; he provides for, protects, and prospers them) to fulfill his promises in order to accomplish his purposes. Those OT saints desired to enjoy a relationship with God in which he would actively accomplish his good purposes in and through them. And we see that God did work with these believers, and they enjoyed their relationship with God. 

This is what we want, too. High Country Baptist Church exists to glorify and enjoy God by knowing him and making him known. This is our raison d’ĂȘtre. It is our summum bonum, our highest good. It is our true joy and purpose in life. God with us is life itself! Join us this Lord's Day on our quest.

Come, Holy Spirit, Heavenly Dove (#211)
How Sad Our State (#333)
And Can It Be? (#335)
The King of Love My Shepherd Is (#336)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 13:18-39; Psalm 42
New Testament: Luke 7:18-35

God with Us (Part 2) - John 1:14, 18        

Saturday, January 05, 2013

"Of Thine Own Have We Given Thee"

Gerald H. Wilson observes that translating 'abarek as "I will praise" instead of "I will bless" may show "a hesitancy to accept that humans are able to bless God, who is complete and ineffable in himself."

He goes on,

The Hebrews, however, frequently speak of humans doing just that--blessing God. They had no difficulty in conceiving that humans could do more than simply express the awe and wonder of God's person and deeds that constitute the heart of praise. The Israelites understood that grateful humans desire to give to God something more than laudatory praise, and that is what blessing is all about--the desire to heap good and benefit on the one blessed.

We may debate theologically over whether these expressions of blessing have any effect on the complete, immutable God, but we cannot deny the ardent desire to give good to God that these expressions represent. To translate brk as "praise" deflects and obscures the issue and ultimately waters down the intent and purpose of the original Hebrew (Psalms: Volume 1, NIV Application Commentary, 310-11).

Does the sovereign, simple, immutable, impassable God receive anything from us when we bless him? Yes. Ultimately, what we give to him is what he has given to us. Yet it is not simply what he has given to us. We do not received gifts from God, say "thank you," and then turn around and hand it back to God still in its packaging. We bless God with what he has given to us with our lives poured into it. We give to him what he has given to us planted, watered, and bearing fruit. We give what he has given to us with more of the glory unpacked and revealed through us.Yes, we do bless God, and that, too, is amazing grace.

Knowing God and Making Him Known

As we launch into 2013, we intend to go further up and further in in our quest to know God and to make him known. Spearheading that effort will be a series of sermons on "Worship, Wisdom, and Work," gleaning lessons from the Old Testament on how to worship God and how that translates into the lives we lead. We want to open our eyes to see God with us and then to live appropriately before his face.We want to make him known through both our worship and our work. If we are going to make God known in our community and beyond, then we must know him in ways that we do not yet know him. Join us on our quest this Lord's Day and beyond.

Rejoice, the Lord Is King! (#13)
O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing (#69)
Come, Christians Join to Sing (#67)
O Worship the King (#46)

Scripture Reading
Old Testament: Leviticus 13:1-17; Psalm 47
New Testament: Luke 7:1-17

God with Us - Psalm 63:1

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Why We Should Love God in 2013 and Forever

You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love....

We are to love God for Himself, because of a twofold reason; nothing is more reasonable, nothing more profitable. When one asks, Why should I love God? he may mean, What is lovely in God? or What shall I gain by loving God? In either case, the same sufficient cause of love exists, namely, God Himself.

And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God’s claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4.19).

Ought He not to be loved in return, when we think who loved, whom He loved, and how much He loved? For who is He that loved? The same of whom every spirit testifies: ‘Thou art my God: my goods are nothing unto Thee’ (Ps. 16.2, Vulg.). And is not His love that wonderful charity which ‘seeketh not her own’? (I Cor.13.5). But for whom was such unutterable love made manifest? The apostle tells us: ‘When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son’ (Rom. 5.10). So it was God who loved us, loved us freely, and loved us while yet we were enemies. And how great was this love of His? St. John answers: ‘God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life’ (John 3.16). St. Paul adds: ‘He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all’ (Rom. 8.32); and the son says of Himself, ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15.13).

This is the claim which God the holy, the supreme, the omnipotent, has upon men, defiled and base and weak....

Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Love of God