Archive for the ‘Church’ Category
Let me begin this post by first showing you a couple of passages of Scripture that I believe fit very well together. First, from the Gospels; second, from Paul; third, from the book of Hebrews. Notice how all three passages speak to the the same ideas, peace, reconciliation, oneness.
“The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.”–Mark 15:38
“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace…”–Ephesians 2:14-15
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”–Hebrews 10:19-22
All three of these passages, in their context, speak of something that happened when and because Jesus died. He ripped and destroyed and opened. I like these verbs…they are action words par excellence. They speak of the violent nature of the problem he encountered. There were real, significant barriers in the way of peace, reconciliation, and oneness. They also speak to the way he saw them: these were not chicanes that stood in the way that could be spoken to nicely or dealt with in counseling or massaged out of existence. Rather, these were real chicanes that needed ripped, destroyed, and opened. They required a death in order to be destroyed.
They were real strongholds we erected. They separated us from one another, from God, and from God’s kingdom. But because he died, because he did something, the way was opened up, hostility was destroyed, peace has been made, and one new people have been created. This is the action of God. Peterson rightly notes, “When we are pulled into the action, it is God who pulls us in. We acquire our identity not by what we do but by what is done to us” (Practice Resurrection, 117). This destroying, ripping, and opening is God’s action, not ours. We just get to be a part of it and enjoy it. Still, we do play a part in their perpetuation even if the action rests solely in God’s hands.
I’d like to leave it at that. I’d like to leave it with a very simple: God made a way where there seemed to be no way. God opened up what we had closed. God ripped apart that which we sewed together. God destroyed that which divides us and enabled us to be one again. I find this refreshing and encouraging and it gives me hope. There are a million ways we humans try to ‘come together’ and ‘make peace’ and ‘live as one.’ And not one of them ever works. In Jesus, however, and because of his death, all those things which previously kept us apart have been destroyed.
There is only one way we will be one, at peace, and reconciled: In Jesus.
I did something this past week that I haven’t done for quite some time: I took some time off from life and went to Pittsburgh with my wife and sons. We have wanted to see the fireworks from Point State Park for quite a while and this year we were finally able to do so.
We stayed in a small hotel in Oakland, which is a few miles from downtown Pittsburgh, and where The University of Pittsburgh is located. We were in a fourth floor room that had one window with a spectacular view of the mountains and Monongahela River. It was quite exhilarating to look out the window and see the river, the mountains, the bridges, the freeways, and all the cars moving along without a thought to the fact that those roads are being held in the air by nothing but concrete and rebar.
On Sunday, July 4th, we walked from our hotel in Oakland down Forbes Avenue through downtown all the way to Point State Park where we joined in with thousands of people, scattered upon the grass and concrete, to watch the fireworks. We sat behind an family of Arabic descent who were sitting next to a young white couple who were sitting next to a black woman and five small children (all boys). We watched sky-divers make a dramatic descent to earth, putting all their faith in a thin piece of silk and a few ropes. We saw people watching from the safety of their hotel rooms behind us. We listened to the thump, thump, thump of the All-America music being played by a DJ a short way off in the distance, “Born in the USA, I was, Born in the USA!” We smelled the BBQ, sweat, cigarette smoke, popcorn, and smoke from expended fireworks.
We saw a stand where we could get our favorite Chinese dish, General Tso’s chicken and fried rice. Or, if we preferred, from another stand, popcorn or cotton candy. We watched people squeeze 15 people into a space suitable for maybe 5. We saw people talking on cell phones and others talking face to face. We saw some folks making out. We saw some women dressed like they were going to church and others dressed like they were opposed to the very idea of clothing. We saw men in suits and others in their biker get-up and children in pajamas. We saw entrepreneurs selling glow sticks and others selling bottles of water. There were booths with information and food. There were police and other safety people. There were…people, Americans…and we were all together.
The young white couple that sat in front of my family was especially interesting. Next to them there was a black woman who was tending to five small boys. I don’t know if they were all hers or not, it doesn’t matter. What was amazing is that this young white couple became fast friends with the five small black boys and before long all five boys were sitting on the young couple’s blanket. Then the boys also began partaking of the couple’s chips. They talked as if they had been friends forever but when the fireworks began the conversation abated and there was a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from the five boys and the young man and woman. It was a beautiful thing–these utter strangers sharing food and blanket space and a song of celebration.
When the fireworks were over, everyone stood up and began the long walk back to wherever they were living that night. Some undoubtedly went to their hotel and others went back to their house. Maybe some went to their cars and others went a walking (like us!). It could be that others went to nowhere as they had nowhere to go or back to their box under a bridge. But for those 25 minutes at Point State Park, we were altogether one people.
It’s sad, really, that it takes something like a colorful recreation of bombs bursting in air is required to bring a people together, as one.
That same Sunday, the fourth, we also attended a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. It was 9 innings of pure bliss (even my eldest son, who rather despises any and all sports, said the game was his favorite part of the trip.) There was so much going on that day–not least of which was the Pirates coming from behind to win the game against the Phillies. I can only think of one, maybe two, things that I enjoy more than sitting at a baseball game in hot, July heat, but not many more.
There we sat in a crowd of 28,000 people cheering for the home team Bucs! It seemed like the weight an entire city was riding on every pitch. It was so intense that I didn’t even mind the three year old sitting behind me who literally kicked the back of my chair for nine innings. There was the perogi race, the weiner toss, the t-shirt toss, and the perfect coordination of the ground’s crew who came out every three innings to drag the infield. There was the standing and singing of God Bless America in the seventh inning and the follow-up during the stretch of Take Me Out to the Ball Game. Have you ever heard 28,000 people singing Take Me out to the Ball Game? It is quite truthfully a sound to behold. There were the fireworks and the roar of 28,000 people in the seventh inning when Pirates rookie Pedro Alvarez walloped a homerun kicking off a rally that eventually gave the Bucs the win.
And of course let’s not forget the view. We sat in the upper deck along the third base line. From there we had a spectacular view of downtown Pittsburgh and the Allegheny River. The accompanying picture does no justice to how wonderful the view was that day–clear sky, downtown, baseball, and 28,000 people who cared about nothing but the outcome of a silly game. And yet I knew beyond doubt that I was automatically friends with everyone in that stadium–joined together by some mystical bond created by the crack of a bat. I was friends with Pirates fans and Phillies fans alike.
While I sat there I was thinking about Scripture. I was thinking about John who, by the end of the Revelation, is also thinking about a city that has come into his view.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)
And also I thought about this one from later on in the same chapter:
“The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. He measured its wall and it was 144 cubits thick, by man’s measurement, which the angel was using.” (Revelation 21:15-17)
I was thinking about all those people in that great city. I was thinking about all those squares and cubes and and geometry and the symmetry of the city. I was thinking about a river flowing through the city. I was thinking about God and whether or not he was King of that city too. I was thinking about that building right near the center that looks like the top of a castle (in the picture). It’s made entirely of glass and does it ever shine in the light. It’s called the Pittsburgh Plate Glass building. I was thinking about the city sparkling in the sunlight and glittering in the moonlight. It’s a veritable city on a hill whose light cannot be hidden.
I was thinking about the church. I was thinking about all those people and how many of them knew about Jesus. I was thinking that my experience in Pittsburgh was so unlike my experience in the church.
“I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:22-27)
I was thinking that I wish church could be like that baseball game–where everything we disagree about and hate each other for is forgotten because we are overwhelmed by what is right in front of us. Nothing else mattered that day except baseball. I wish I could say that in the church the only thing we truly cared about was Jesus–that we were truly overwhelmed by Him.
I was thinking that I wish church could be like those fireworks–where everyone from every different walk of life and culture is brought together under one banner and celebrates. I wish I could say that in the church the only banner we unite together under is Jesus. And I wish we didn’t have to wait so long for it to be a reality.
I was thinking that I wish church could be like that city–where everything is in balance and shines and sparkles and glows and radiates unity in the sun. Where strangers walk together and every tribe and tongue is united under one Name. I wish I could say that the church glows and shines in the Son. I wish I could say we truly were that City coming down from heaven.
I was thinking that I wish the church could be a place where…
I was thinking that I wish the church could be a place….
I was thinking that I wish the church could be…
I was thinking that I wish the church could…
I was thinking that I wish I could love the church, and all of the stupid people that make up the church, half as much as I loved the people in PNC Park that day or in Pittsburgh that night. I think if I could learn to love again the church then maybe I would see that I don’t need to spend so much time wishing the church was something other than what it is and instead I could concentrate on being what the church is: loved by God.
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church—for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:25-32)
I don’t know if that makes sense or not. I probably should have just said, at the outset, that I wish I had the intestinal fortitude to love the church the way Jesus does. Or, I wish I could love the church the way I love Pittsburgh–a city full of strangers.
I was thinking I spend too much time wishing and not enough time doing.
I am, and have been, reading Mere Churchianity by the late Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk. I really do not think it is possible at this point to write how much I love this book. Michael had a way with words and it continued in this book.
The funny thing about the world is what the church is and what the church does. Churches are strange creatures and, likely, more often reflect the character of the preacher than that of the Head, Jesus. Frankly, I do not know which I dislike more: the church or preachers. Having been a preacher myself for the better part of fifteen years I am erring on the side of caution and disliking the church more.
Preachers are not far behind though.
There’s a relatively new congregation in my community. They are putting the finishing touches on a nice, shiny new building. They are also having a big fair to attract new people–I’m assuming children who will be brought by their screaming parents. Whatever.
I know of another church that proudly announced on its marquee: New Contemporary Service–as if that is the honey needed for the flies. Whatever.
I know another church that, now that there’s a healthy and substantial flow of cash, is fixing a hole in a roof–as if fixing a hole in a roof will suddenly convert the world to Jesus. Whatever.
I can be critical of the church now–as if I was soft on it before. I haven’t had a church home for nearly a year. I’m not altogether happy about that; nor I am altogether sad either. Like I said, church is a funny thing and laying low for a while has given me an opportunity to spy. I’m not so sure I like Big Church (as in Big Oil, Big Money). Church is way too much of a chore, far too much aggravation, and not nearly enough of what I am looking for. That’s not arrogance; that’s reality. What I’m looking for is a church that has a big sign out front that simply says: Friends of Jesus, Friends of People. Welcome.
Here’s what Michael Spencer wrote, “There is little need for large churches stuffed with satisfied audiences. There is a great need for a movement of disciples going into the overlooked places of the world to see and serve the Kingdom of God” (101). I could not possibly agree more. But this will not be the experience of the church so long as the church is comfortable inside itself.
For far too many people church is what we do on Sunday with little regard for actual discipleship created by Jesus. Comfort is the key. The role of the preacher, at least so far as I can see, is to preach the world of God with such power of the Spirit that the comfortable people become agitated and the agitated people are comforted. The Scripture is, after all, a double-edged sword.
I’m still looking for a church that is all about Jesus–by that I mean, of course, that there is a deliberate focus on what Jesus is doing, who Jesus is, and how these two things collaborate and inform, shape and conform, empower and reform the steps we take as disciples of Jesus. I’m looking for a church that is not satisfied.
I am not looking for a church that ‘meets my needs.’ Only Jesus can meet my needs. I’m not looking for a church where I can get helpful hints for living a better life or having a better marriage or anything of that sort. I’m looking for a church where Jesus is the first and last word each week and where Jesus is the substance we meet in the middle. I’m looking for a church where the preacher insists and expects that I open my Bible when the Scripture is read. I’m looking for a church where the preacher, the elders, the communion, the worship–everything–says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” When I go to church I do not need to see myself, I need to see Jesus.
Well maybe I’m going on too much about this. It’s easy to be critical of the church and terribly difficult to jump in and be so much a part of the church that these complaints are overwhelmed with love. The church cannot be what I want the church to be, the church can only be what the church is and is becoming by the grace of God. And in this I believe is the lesson Jesus has been teaching me for the past year: love the church regardless of what the church may appear to be in your myopic vision. Love the church like Jesus does.
Simply put, what the church doesn’t need is me and all my bitterness, whatevers, and criticism. What the church needs is Jesus.
From time to time I like to feature a guest post here at Life Under the Blue Sky. This is one of those times. A member of the congregation I serve has been volunteering in the Church office. Part of her ‘duties’ is to help with the publication of the monthly church paper. She helps by filling out the content and this guest post is her most recent contribution. I think you will enjoy it very much.
I have been volunteering in my church’s office and part of that service is to write for the monthly newsletter. This is my column for May.
Reflections from the Secretary’s Desk – May 2009
A reflection is an image or a representation it also is a thought occurring in consideration or meditation. I have written my past columns as a reflection of what I was considering or meditating on each month. This column is more in line with the first definition. What is my image, my representation of Christ and His Church? I am stating that every member of this church needs to consider this question too.
Take this paper and go find a mirror. Look at yourself and ask yourself some of these hard questions. Is it easy to look yourself in the eye and answer them? How comfortable are you with your own truth?
What are you feeling? What have you done recently to restore order and peace to the congregation? Who are you accountable to for your behavior? Who are you listening to, the voice of dissension or the voice of God? Have you done anything to harm the reputation of this congregation? Who is in control of your actions and words? Who are you following?
In Proverbs 6, Solomon lists six things that the Lord hates. They include feet that are quick to rush into evil and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. What are your feet rushing to do each day? What are you stirring?
I have spent a long time agonizing over these questions and the issues behind them. I wanted to make sure I was without a plank in my eye before I asked. Your image of me may be completely different from mine of myself, but there you are. I want to be this woman: well known for her good deeds, showing hospitality, helping those in trouble. I never want to be accused of being this woman: being idle and going about from house to house, becoming a gossip or busybody and saying things I ought not to. These descriptions can be found in 1Timothy 5.
Whose image do you see in your reflection?
I hope you enjoy this. It caused me a great deal of…uh…well…reflection. I wrote to Beth (the author of the post) and told her, “It takes a great deal of courage to examine the self, and an even greater deal of courage to publish the results to the world. She gave me permission to make the results known to an even wider audience–that’s you.
I think in the church we have a lot to think about and much to learn. I pray you will grow in his grace even as I am, even as Beth is. Together, as we grow, we can create an environment in the church where people can be built up in their faith, by the Word of God, and not torn down because of bad judgments.
Soli Deo Gloria!
I have been posting a lot lately about the essential oneness of the church and why it is so important for us to be one in the Spirit of peace. I have also been preaching such sermons to my congregation on Sundays during Lent.
Last week, as I prepared for my last sermon in the series, I came across the following article by David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University. The essay is brilliant and lays out our motivation for Christian Oneness quite succinctly.
He begins by talking about some things that are not the glue of our unity:
In a 1910 lecture at Yale, Charles E. Jefferson described the difference between a church and an audience,
It is to be regretted that we have come to judge preachers by the number of persons who listen to their sermons. A superficial man is consequently tempted to work, not for a church, but for an audience.
An audience, however, is not worth working for. An audience is a group of unrelated people drawn together by a short-lived attraction. . . . It is a fortuitous concourse of human atoms, scattering as soon as a certain performance has ended. It is a pile of leaves to be blown away by the wind, a handful of sand lacking consistency and cohesion, a number of human filings drawn into position by a pulpit magnet, which will drop away as soon as the magnet is removed.
An audience is a crowd, a church is a family. An audience is a gathering, a church is a fellowship. An audience is a collection, a church is an organism. An audience is a heap of stones, a church is a temple. Preachers are ordained, not to attract an audience, but to build a church. Coarse and ambitious and worldly men, if richly gifted, can draw audiences. Only a disciple of the Lord can build a church.
If strong personalities don’t hold God’s people together, what does? To ask the question more narrowly, what holds the Christian churches and churches of Christ together? (My emphasis
Faust goes on with an important reminder:
Maybe we have been looking for glue in the wrong places. I love our colleges and conventions, our camps and conferences, and I hold our publishing houses in high esteem. I admire the founders of these ministries, and I’m thankful for the faithful believers who have led and supported them, often at considerable personal sacrifice. I don’t want any of them to go away.
Years ago I worked for Christ In Youth. Today I serve as president of a Christian university and write a weekly column as executive editor of The Lookout, published by Standard Publishing. My life has been powerfully impacted by these and other parachurch groups. I want these ministries and others like them to thrive and grow—as long as they clearly fulfill God’s will.
None of these worthwhile endeavors, though, can hold all of God’s people together. As important as our favorite parachurch organizations seem to us, they aren’t essential to the body of Christ. The church is God’s forever family, not our colleges and conventions.
Can we find within ourselves the humility to admit that, good as they are, these institutions we hold dear are human expediencies, not biblical necessities? Even more, are we willing to boldly declare that if God so willed, and all of our favorite manmade organizations suddenly disappeared, we would still possess everything that matters most as long as we have the Lord? Can we see through the fog of the familiar and recognize that God’s kingdom and his reign, his gospel and his grace, will remain intact and unmoved no matter what happens to our favorite ministries?
Despite all the good they have done and no matter how much we value them, manmade institutions can never hold us all together. We need to look to a higher place to find the glue.
So where does Faust suggest that we find the glue that holds us together? How can we recognize it? What will it be?
What really pulls us together? It’s simple, really. So simple that we tend to miss it altogether.
The Savior sticks us together. We are one in Christ—stuck to him like branches on a vine, like skin on a body, like flames on a candlewick. Unity finds its focus in him.
The Spirit sticks us together. We aren’t united because we share the same political views or personality types, the same opinions and preferences, the same nationality or language or skin color. We’re one because “we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Holy Spirit’s “bond of peace” is strong glue indeed (Ephesians 4:3).
Scripture sticks us together. Not that we all understand every verse exactly the same way. But Scripture gives us a common starting point, a common language, a common compass. The Bible pulls us together when we read it personally, preach it powerfully, teach it faithfully, interpret it carefully, and apply it practically. Sound doctrine is manna for the hungry heart. It makes the church healthy and strong.
Service sticks us together. Mission trips and new church plants prove it. Benevolence projects demonstrate it. It’s hard to fight when you’re working side by side to serve someone in need. It’s hard to put your brother down when you’re already down there with him, praying together on your knees. Unity becomes visible, even tangible, when we “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).
Do you want your favorite college, convention, camp, or other cause to thrive and grow? Then make sure it’s subservient to the mission of the church! Make sure it’s helping people connect with the Savior, the Spirit, and the Scriptures, and engaging them in meaningful service. A parachurch ministry that does those things will thrive. If it doesn’t do those things, we’re probably better off without it anyway.
What is the glue? Savior, Spirit, Scripture, Service—not a flashy formula, but somehow it kept us glued together in the past.
I suggest we stick with it.
Well, I’ll probably get in trouble for quoting so much of his essay here, but I’m willing to risk it just in case you don’t follow the link. These are beautiful words. There is too much that divides the body of Christ, too much that separates us, too much that effectively ruins whatever witness we may have for him and his grace.
We should continue to fan the flame of Christian unity and essential oneness. We must continue to work to preserve the unity already forged for us at the cross.
Be blessed this Resurrection season. Ask yourself: Am I the answer to Jesus’ prayer for Christian Unity or am I the problem? Am I working for peace or fostering division? Am I part of the solution or creating more problems?
Soli Deo Gloria!
This is a podcast of the sermon I preached this past Sunday evening from Hebrews 10:19-25. It is the fourth part of a series I am preaching through Hebrews. I have been posting the manuscript links here and I will publish this manuscript too and also upload it to my box.net. Here are the links to the first three sermons:
Sermon one is: Listening to and Thinking about Jesus
Sermon two is: Resting in and Holding Fast to Faith
Sermon three is: Growing in Jesus and our Understanding of His Work
Sermon four is: Drawing, Holding, Considering Because of Jesus
Download Podcast here: Hebrews 10:19-25
Or us the inline player below:
Sunday, March 22, 2009 (PM)
The Imperatives of Hebrews, 4
The Book of Hebrews
I suggested to you last week that chapter 5:11 through chapter 6:12 was a parenthesis. That is, the author interrupted his argument about the superiority of Jesus’ high priesthood which began in chapter 4:14 (which actually began in 2:17 & 3:1) and reminded us yet again about the need to persevere in the faith.
In last week’s imperative, he said that we need to grow up in the faith-we need to grow up in the Word of God. Paul said similar things to the Church in Corinth; things we looked at this morning. A little maturity will go a long way towards Christian unity. This was the interruption in the book of Hebrews 5:11ff. Grow up!
Now he brings it back around to his earlier discussion on the High Priesthood of Jesus. And this discussion is not a short discussion. And the author is not willing to spare a single detail of this conversation-however hard or complicated it might be for the babes on milk to understand. Thus there is a lull, so to speak, in his imperatives from 6:13-10:18. When the author is all done, we sense a deep breath before he finally utters, “Therefore…”
This high priesthood of Jesus carries with it powerful consequences to all who know of it and are blessed enough to participate in it. When we begin engaging in the 90 Days with Jesus in May, we will explore deeply this priesthood because I think it is probably one of the more unexplored aspects of the Christian faith. Still, we can say this much: Everything said in Hebrews 10:19-25 is predicated on the substantial idea of Jesus’ high priesthood being sufficient, and, what’s more, on the idea that he is not only He the High Priest over the House, but He is also the sacrifice that was offered. Both aspects are important when considering what he says in this sixth ‘therefore.’
As one commentator notes:
As Paul often does, the writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers on the basis of the doctrine he has made so clear. Because the great teachings he has set forth are true, it follows that those who profess them should live in a manner befitting them. There are resemblances between the exhortation in this paragraph and that in 4:14-16. But we must not forget that the intervening discussion has made clear what Christ’s high priestly work has done for his people. On the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, the writer exhorts his readers to make the utmost use of the blessing that has been won for them.
So, again, the great teaching he has made clear is the High Priestly work of Christ and the perfection of the sacrifice He offered. So, imperative section number 6:
6. The sixth marker is found in Hebrews 10:19-25: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Now, as you heard, and as you can see, he actually includes within this ‘therefore’ three distinct imperatives that we should be concerned about because Christ has opened up a ‘new and living way for us’. I don’t think it would be unhelpful at this point to visit the book of Leviticus, chapter 16, and see exactly what all this entails-this ‘entrance’:
1 The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
3 “This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. 4 He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. 5 From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
6 “Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. 7 Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the LORD at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 8 He is to cast lots for the two goats-one lot for the LORD and the other for the scapegoat. 9 Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the LORD and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD to be used for making atonement by sending it into the desert as a scapegoat.
11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the LORD and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the LORD, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the Testimony, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.
15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the Tent of Meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the Tent of Meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.
20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the Tent of Meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins-and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.
23 “Then Aaron is to go into the Tent of Meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in a holy place and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.
26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and offal are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.
29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work-whether native-born or an alien living among you- 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a sabbath of rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance. 32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the people of the community.
34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.” And it was done, as the LORD commanded Moses.
So you can see what a terribly complicated situation this was. Jesus not only simplified this matter of entering in, but he also opened it up for people outside the priestly caste and people outside the Jewish population.
33At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”-which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
35When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.” 36One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. 38The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. 39And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” 40Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
This is what he is talking about: Jesus, at his death, opened things up for people. Those who enter the temple, the part opened up for us, enter in as priests (‘let us hold unswervingly to what we profess’), as companions (‘let us consider how’), and as people who have the right and authority to commune with the living God, that is, worshipers (‘let us draw near’). It is in this context then that the author of Hebrews offers up his imperatives in verses 19-25. Let’s look at each one briefly.
First, he says, “Therefore…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” This is the authority to commune with the living God. Jesus has opened up the way, and he has clothed us with the proper wedding clothes. I happen to think here he is talking about baptism in some way. We might debate over the issue of baptism a great deal, but the Scripture seems fairly consistent in its presentation of the important things that happen at baptism.
So we can draw near to God. The work of Jesus at the cross makes worshiping such a God even possible. There is a cost. Jesus paid it. So we should draw near. Get close. Get to know. Worship. Offer ourselves up to him. He is not for us to fear in the sense that we stay away. We come before him in sincerity because he knows we don’t have to fake it. We come before him with assurance. What I wonder, for those who have not experienced the outward sign of baptism is: Can they have the full assurance? If it is merely an outward symbol of an inward work, can we be certain of the inward work if we have not experienced the outward symbol?
Second, he says, “Therefore…let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised us is faithful.” We have hope. We have hope precisely because hope does not depend on us. Somewhere in all the mix is a mustard seed of faith that the story we have believed and the Messiah we have followed is true. Frankly, sometimes that’s all we have; sometimes less. But there it is: hope does not lie within us. If it did, it would be destroyed in a minute. Our hope, Peter says, is stored up for us in heaven; it is precious; it is resurrection hope in Christ; it can never perish, spoil, or fade; it is protected by God’s power (1 Peter 1:3-5). Praise God.
Our hope depends upon the one who is faithful and therein is our hope. Again, it is important to remember that our hope is not in a dream, or an idea, or a concept, or a religion or anything of the sort. The author of Hebrews says that we have hope because he who promised it is faithful. He is faithful. We hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. This is the same thing he said back in 4:14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.” Profess is also confess or announce to declare. As priests, we have a confession to make; we announce to others this hope. We must hold unswervingly to this hope.
Third, he says, “Therefore…let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another-and all the more as you see the day approaching.” The danger, of course, is in trying to hold on to this course alone. As I have been emphasizing in our Sunday morning messages from Corinthians, we are best served and best when we are together. So we must encourage one another which means that this is a responsibility for everyone in the body towards everyone in the body. These are words we ought to be sharing with one another constantly. But I think it is critically important that these words rest not on a single person, but that the responsibility falls to all of us.
If this is but the responsibility of one person the words can grow weak, the person can grow weary, the warning can be wasted. I think if I am reading this correctly and all of us have been invited into the priestly class, then all of us have a confession to make, a worship to offer, and encouragement to give. How can we do this? Well, it means we have to talk to one another, share with one another, be involved in one another’s lives. We have to love one another enough to care about them. We have to know enough about one another to do the spurring. Frankly, as I have said elsewhere, some people have more access to others than some others do. We all must share in this responsibility so that people know they are loved and cared about and that people are concerned for them. We are companions on this journey. We move at the rate of everyone, neither speeding ahead nor lagging behind. We journey together.
Let us draw near is an exhortation to worship, fellowship, communion, confidence, faith, and trust. We enter as worshipers.
Let us hold fast is an exhortation to our priestly responsibilities inside our confession. Our confession is not something we keep secret. We enter as priests.
Let us encourage one another is an exhortation to fellowship, communion, companionship, and love. We enter as companions.
The profoundest part of these verses is that they are even possible. But Jesus had made it so. We no longer exist in solitude, we no longer live in isolation, we no longer walk alone.
The profoundest part of these verses is surely that Jesus’ work does not compel us laziness and complacency, but rather to work and energy and fellowship. We are together.
We are called together in a fellowship in God’s presence. He has opened the way for us not to enter singly, on our own, but together; as one. We come before him together. We draw near together. We hold fast together. We encourage one another together. We. Together.
Soli Deo Gloria!
There’s been a lot of hubbub lately because one of the most successful and popular and theologically proper bands of our generation released a new record. That band is, of course, U2. I confess that I haven’t listened to the new record yet, but I hope at some point to listen to it. Frankly, I’m still listening to the last record (How to Dismantle and Atomic Bomb) and discovering some of the pictures Bono created on it.
Anyhow, all the hoopla caused me to break out some old-school U2 the other day and rock out a little bit. Honestly, I enjoy the listening experience and even more the unraveling Bono’s lyrics. One of my favorite records of all U2′s work is the Zooropa project. I heard a story once, perhaps it is a bit apocryphal, that the music was written so quickly (I believe during the Achtung Baby! tour) that in concerts they at times had the lyrics written on paper. I don’t know if its true or not, but it sounds kind of U2ish.
In particular, I like the song The Wanderer which was written by Bono and sung by Johnny Cash. Here’s part of the lyrics:
I went drifting
Through the capitals of tin
Where men can’t walk
Or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don’t want God in it.
Well, that makes pretty good sense, doesn’t it? I got to thinking: What sort of Kingdom have I hoped for? Do you ever really consider the Kingdom? When you think of Kingdom it is impossible to not think of Jesus, so when you think of Kingdom do you include a New Testament picture of Jesus? Have you ever thought about the things Jesus said and did? I mean, have you ever really thought about the manner in which God in the Flesh participated in this life, waged war against the power-brokers, and began the process of redemption?
We cannot have the Kingdom apart from the God who inhabits and creates the Kingdom. “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrated” (1 Corinthians 1:19). That’s the substance of the Kingdom. And this Jesus? He went around upsetting people, calling them names (like ‘whitewashed tombs’ and ‘dogs’ or ‘rocky’ or ‘boanerges’), and throwing people into mass hysteria (“Hosanna!” one day; “Crucify!” the next). He didn’t seem to care too much about the sanctity of holy days (like Sabbath) or the holiness of sanctified places (like the temple).
He wrecked the pig-economy of the people in the Decapolis in order to save one man who had been written off as dead by the entire community. He slept during a storm while his followers worked at the oars. He made a whole bunch of wine at the very outset of his ministry (!). He even went so far as to defy Roman law by resurrecting from the dead. He hung around with ruffians and hookers. “The whores all seem to love him, and the drunks propose a toast” (Rich Mullins). And what’s worse than all this? Well, read the Sermon on the Mount. This Kingdom we are called to is one that will not survive apart from God. At the same time, we are not free to create a Kingdom in the image of any other God than the one who created it. Jesus is not for wimps. Mark Buchanan wrote the book: Your God is too Safe. He’s right.
Anyone who hung around Jesus was, at any moment, in mortal danger. He is the one who said ‘the Spirit blows wherever it wants to blow and you cannot control it.’ Jesus chose to demonstrate a reckless abandon for the things we hold so precious. “I thank you God I am not like that fellow over there. I do all the right things, at the times, and in the right ways.” “God have mercy on me a sinner.” Do you remember which one went home justified that day? We like rules because they help us control others; we enforce them because they give us power over others. Jesus poured out grace on all rule-breakers. We are not fond of grace. He had the nerve to forgive a man hanging on the cross next to him and, as many are fond of pointing out, that man had not even been baptized. Jesus–who can hold on to the Jesus of the New Testament?
They say they want the kingdom, but they don’t want God in it.
Of course we don’t want God in it. If God acts anything like Jesus (*smile*), then we would be thoroughly uncomfortable, totally out of sorts, totally beside ourselves with anger that such a God would act so undignified, so gracious towards those who flout the rules, so loving towards those whom we despise. Of course we want the kingdom. Of course we don’t want God in it.
“Don’t things get dangerous only if and because God is?”–Karl Barth, in a letter to his brother Peter, 1932 as quoted by William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, 197
Of course we don’t want God in the kingdom.
I learned about this website in the latest issue of Touchstone. I’ll post it here so that more people can know of the struggle that is going on for the heart and soul of Europe. There is a faith alive in Europe and there are many who are still faithful to Christ. We can help them by praying for them and with them and standing with them in their struggle to remain faithful.
The site is called europe4christ. From their charter:
Europe stands before a crossroads. Europe owes much of its culture to the Gospel lived by Christians: Solidarity and human rights, universities, hospitals and cathedrals. Today, however, we risk betraying the soul of Europe. A dictatorship of relativism and a culture of death are omnipresent. Christians are increasingly discriminated against and watch a political tendency in which a humanism inspired by the Gospel is ever increasingly banned into the private sphere. And yet we have also understood that when God is not our Father, that we are no longer brothers and sisters! For this reason it is important for the future of this continent that we base our culture again on Christ. We seek a Europe in which freedom of religion and conscience is respected, a young and dynamic Europe, one that is a sign of hope for the world.
For this we pray and work.
A sister website, linked to at the europe4christ site is christianophobia. From their site:
It consists of a negative categorical bias against Christians — both individually and collectively —, against Christianity as a whole, or positions intrinsically part of the Christian faith. Such prejudice is a form of religious intolerance; it may be simply a mental or emotional attitude, or it may lead to stereotyping, discrimination, or even – in extreme cases – to persecution of Christians.
I will add these links to my permanent blogroll and I encourage you to visit them that you may keep abreast of how Christ is still working in Europe. You might also wish to encourage brothers and sisters in Christ who are working hard to keep the church in Europe as a vital light shining in an increasingly dark place.
I normally stay away from the absurd, but this story is, to be sure, not at all that absurd. It is almost beyond comprehension, but that’s just me.
All those old sayings about Christians being terrified of sex are out the window. There is a new trend going on in churches that involves preachers talking to congregations about sex. (Imagine the irony! Catholic priests can’t talk about it; Protestant do nothing but talk about it! Maybe only husbands and wives ought to talk about it? Do any of you want to hear your preacher talk about your sex life let alone his own?) Oh, it is all the rage. From large billboards, to television spots, to several week long sermon series–wow, what a great time to be involved in church!
Just imagine for a moment the Christians around the world who this very day will be persecuted for their faith in Jesus Christ as the Only Way. Imagine their suffering, their loss of dignity, their loss of property, and for many the loss of their lives. Now imagine the church here in America. This week’s sermon: Sex: Indulgence and Abstinence.
Take for example this church in FLA and the recent challenge offered up by their ‘pastor’:
TAMPA, Fla. — A Florida pastor has a new challenge for his parishioners. It involves sex – a subject that may be taboo in many congregations.
The Relevant Church in Tampa’s Ybor City has issued a 30-day sex challenge.
“It’s going to be tempting and awkward at the same time for sure,” said parishioner Brent Cayson.
Single men and women can’t have sex for 30 days, and married couples are urged to have it every day.
“If you look at studies, studies say in 30 days you can develop a habit,” said Pastor Paul Wirth.
It definitely caught wives in the church by surprise.
“Our married people are far more fearful than our single people,” said Wirth.
In a more detailed version of the story we learn of the pastor’s point of view on how to ‘connect with God’:
Wirth has found biblical references that he says suggest Jesus disapproved of pre-marital sex and promoted sex in marriage. So, he believes people connect to God through life-long commitment.
30 straight days of sex or no sex? I’m trying hard to understand what this is supposed to prove about a ‘connection’ with God. (So, does 30 days of no-sex teach us that a vital connection with God begins with a vital commitment to, uh, no one?) Forgive me, but what sort of connection would that be? Also, ‘Wirth has found biblical references…’? Isn’t the Bible about Jesus? (Oh, I know, Jesus talked more about sex and money than anything else in the Bible, right?) It ‘caught the wives by surprise…’? That just tells me that there were no women involved in the planning of this of this charade. Of course it caught the wives by surprise! I don’t know a woman on the planet who would agree to such an absurd proposition. This is the height of American self-indulgence!
I normally stay away from these sorts of posts, but this is so absurd that I had to weigh in on it. Even personal holiness, if that is what this ‘pastor’ is driving at isn’t merely about developing a habit. Seriously, holiness is about becoming like Christ for the sake of Christ and the glory of God. It is about being set apart from the culture, from the world, from sin. It is not merely about habits. This demonstration shows me two things. First, it shows me that this is really about publicity (as in ‘Yea! I got my name on Foxnews.com). Second, it shows me that level of biblical understanding is profoundly pathetic in churches in America.
I doubt anyone from that congregation will read my post, but if they do I hope they will enlighten me as to what exactly this has to do with anything even remotely connected with the Scripture? What sort of mangled exegesis was produced by such a self-centered hermeneutic? What sort of training must one go through in Bible College in order to produce sermons of this nature? I couldn’t do this if I tried. Seriously folks, the church really needs to wake up! The church, if the church would just preach Christ Jesus and Him Crucified all this other stuff would be common sense. I know that is naive.
I’d like to issue a little challenge of my own. To any preachers who happen to read this or parishioners who happen to know a preacher, here’s a challenge: Challenge your preacher to spend 1 month, 4 weeks, 4 straight Sundays, preaching nothing but Jesus Christ. I’m not talking fluffy ‘Jesus loves me this I know’ stuff. I’m talking hard-core, deeply exegetical, thought provoking, God-honoring, Scriptural sermons. Challenge him (or, God-forbid, her) to preach nothing but the cross for one month. No 50 days of adventure. No 40 days purpose. No 30 days to live. No 12 steps to better hair, family, and finances. Just Jesus. Preach on sin, justification by grace, propitiation, the coming wrath, sanctification, the cross. Preach Jesus Christ who took the weight of the world of sin on his shoulders. Preach it for one month. Forget about sex. Forget about purpose. Forget about your best life now (which, truthfully speaking, in Christ, won’t be our best life because our best life is yet to come). Forget about all that you have been taught to preach in order to be relevant and preach Christ; preach the Word in season and out of season. Preach the Word.
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS-if you need help getting started, I have 90 Days with Jesus right here at this blog. Have at ‘em free of charge.
PPS–I don’t know why people are so convinced that the straightforward proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is so irrelevant that they have to preach all sorts of nonsense and issue all sorts of challenges like this. I cannot hail this sort of relevance at all. I think if this pastor really understood his call to preach, he would search the Scriptures for something more than ‘what did Jesus say about sex.’ Instead, he would search the Scriptures for what they say about Jesus (See Luke 24, John 5, John 20, Revelation 1). What could be more relevant, more radical that preaching a message that 95% of the world hates, disagrees with, and actively works to destroy? Preachers really need to open their eyes and see the world that is dying in its sin because they are more interested in sex than they are in Christ.
It is now post-Christmas 2007. The mail was back up today and I received my Dec 26-January 26 edition of the Family Christian Stores catalog. I do appreciate the inclusion of generous coupons each month; I detest the selection of ‘Christian’ products they hawk for profit.
I love to read. I have written here before about the nature of my reading habits and I try to include any updates on books that I find particularly helpful or meaningful. So when I opened my newest edition of the catalog, I have to say, I was terribly disappointed but not terribly surprised. Here is a selection of the titles being offered in the newest edition sans authors’ names (in order to prevent any unnecessary advertising):
Conflict Free Living (is such a thing possible if one claims to follow the Jesus who said he came bearing a sword? Matthew 10:34-39.)
What the Bible Says about Living Healthy (uh, does the Bible say anything about living healthy? I always thought the Bible was God’s revelation to man about such (evidently unimportant things) as sin, salvation, and Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1-4. 2 Timothy 3:16-17.)
Self Talk, Soul Talk (I’m speechless. Really. Maybe this is why we only need Ten-Second prayer tutorials.)
Red Letter Christians (Despite the author’s undoubtedly good intentions, Christians are not called to live simply ‘by the red letters.’ We are called to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Matthew 4:4. The devil too was fond of quoting only portions of Scripture.)
Do I Know God? (I sincerely doubt that any book will do it if the Bible cannot. I don’t care whose grandchild you are.)
8 Steps to Create the Life You Want. (The Dr. author of this book has a flashy smile and nice cuff-links. I don’t imagine for a minute he has any biblical theology. I thought Scripture said that God was remaking us into the image of Christ. That he determines the life we should want. Colossians 3:85-10; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.)
Destined to Reign. (“The Secret to effortless success, wholeness and victorious living.” All you need to know.)
Become a Better You.(Joel Osteen. ‘Nuff said.)
Detox Your Spiritual Life in 40 Days. (Only 40 more days? Really?)
Church is a Team Sport. (Whatever.)
The Ten Second Prayer Principle. (Nice. Maybe it’s because we are spending too much time talking to ourselves that we only have ten-seconds to pray.)
The Elephant in the Room. (“Sharing the secrets for pursuing real Financial success.” The Son of Man had not place to lay his head.)
My new catalog is now in the garbage. Sadly, this is the sort of garbage that Christians are reading. How do I know? Because people are writing it, publishing it, and selling it. This means there must be a market for it. I didn’t see one single theology book in the entire catalog. Not one commentary. Not one classic book of Christian devotion. Nothing. Plenty of Veggie Tales and figurines. Plenty of other crap. Not much worth the church’s time.
And sadly these are the type of disciples that the world is meeting every day too. These are the types of disciples that are living in churches and firing preachers who are not ‘feeding’ them. “I just don’t don’t get anything out of his sermons,” they say.
Sadly, this is the sort of drivel that is being pawned off as good literature, ‘Christian reading,’ and time well-spent. What really happened to the discipline of reading? Let me conclude with these titles:
Never Say Diet
Empowering Your Health
Raising Fit Kids in a Fat World
Don’t Bet Against Me
A New Kind of Conservative
Get Out of that Pit
Wow. That is deep, deep stuff. Like I heard someone else say, “The modern church is ten-miles wide, and a half an inch deep.” This is truly pathetic, mind-boggling. I cannot believe FCS is not embarrassed to publish this catalog. Will someone please publish a book worth reading already?
The other day, I posted some thoughts on the Joy of Jesus. In that post, I wrote:
What I would like Christians to do is recover. We need to recover from our sense of seriousness. We need to recover from our sense of dignity. We need to recover from our sense of pride and self-importance and sing and dance and run around with our arms flailing about like a the tentacles on a slimy octopus. You understand don’t you? David said, “I’ll become even more undignified than this,” after someone despised him for dancing naked before the Ark of the Covenant. You understand don’t you? We think we are better Christians if we have a sense of dignity and seriousness and if we act like adults. But we have a joy that is indestructible and Peter says is inexpressible.
Don’t you think it would be a good idea to spend a lifetime trying to express that which is inexpressible? Don’t you think it would be a valuable use of time trying to discover words that express what we currently have no vocabulary for? Don’t you think it would be a valuable way to expend our daily energy engaged in a non-stop pursuit of ways to express this joy that we have because Jesus has triumphed over evil, over suffering, and over the prince of this world? Don’t you think it is rather a waste of time sitting around clinging tightly to our grief? Don’t you think it would be better to dwell in joy than in Meshek? (Psalm 120)
Why do you think the world continues to gloat over us in their apparent victory? The world has no victory over us. The victory belongs to Jesus and therein we rejoice. The Lamb has triumphed!
I’m still thinking about these thoughts because it is hard to reconcile what I wrote with what you about to watch unless I really meant what I said. You judge:
The Curator at A Little Leaven,with whom I normally agree, posted this clip without comment. I assume that the Curator doesn’t approve, but does that mean what we see in this video is necessarily unbiblical? Does this mean that what we see in this video isn’t Holy Spirit driven and induced? What better thing to do when the enemy roars, when the world spews, than to laugh? Isn’t the fruit of the Spirit Love, joy…? (Yes, and self-control!)
Would that churches were overflowing with joy (any joy?) on Sundays instead of that pathetic, moribund, tired dullness that suffuses most congregations. Wouldn’t want anyone in this world to think we are out of our minds now would we?
If you get the chance today or tomorrow, should the Lord tarry, please pay a visit to Jeff at atheocracy. I confess that sometimes Jeff misses the mark, but I think in this instance his blog post is on the mark: Atheists Should Really Put Together Gift Baskets. This post contains some of Jeff’s most lucid thoughts yet on the benefits of atheism and on the point of Christianity. I wish I could post the entire post here, but I’ll settle for a couple tantalizing morsels–but please read the entire post so that I’m not accused of taking him out of context. It will be worth your 5 minutes or so.
First, concerning what the benefits of atheism are, Jeff writes:
I can’t imagine a better way to express it, but Jeff is a little more complete than that:
Beyond that, you get nothing for becoming an Atheist. You don’t get comfort from believing your loved ones go to “a better place” when they die. You don’t get to believe there is someone in control of events on Earth, even in the worst of times. And you don’t get to thank God for your athletic achievements in order to make yourself appear humble, even while referring to yourself in the third-person.
But that is not all Jeff wrote that struck me as dead-on. In fact, I actually appreciated his thoughts concerning why Christians believe or why they should believe or what motivates them to believe in the first place even more:
The Tongan, of course, misses what should be the point of Christianity and faith. It’s the faith itself, and the love of God, etc., etc., not the benefits therein. That’s putting the proverbial cart before the even more proverbial horse. The faith comes first and independently. Christianity is not a health club. Choosing it because you like the benefits better than another faith (or lack thereof) cheapens both your own faith and the religion as a whole. (emphasis mine.)
Here I think Jeff nails it and is, in fact, far more insightful than many preachers who mock the pulpit each week. Fact is, Christianity is not a health club. The Church is about Jesus Christ–a not too subtle fact that health and wealth, therapeutic feel-goodism, and psychological well-beingism preaching misses. The claim by many American ‘preachers’ that God wants us to be wealthy or ‘have our best life’ (I was at the ‘Christian’ bookstore last night and I couldn’t believe how many books are on the shelf that were written by Joel O) or be fulfilled by finding our ‘purpose’ really is a mockery and a slap in the face to those Christians in the world who are being mercilessly persecuted because of their faith. I wonder if those who really suffer for their faith would dispute the Hinn’s, Osteens, and Warren’s of American Christianity?
Jeff is right on the mark on this one. I’m sad that some of those who replied to his post have disagreed with his assessment. Being a Christian in America is not the same as being a Christian in, say, Iraq or Egypt. I sometimes think that too many American preachers do, in fact, ‘cheapen’ the Christian faith because they have made Jesus Christ and the Cross a mere marketing tool or a business venture, and the Bible a mere manual for self-help (see my review of Dallas Willard’s book The Great Omission.) Christian faith is not merely about heaven, being better, being safe, or anything of that sort. I think those are things that go along with it; benefits, Jeff calls them. They are not the reason why we believe.
The reason we believe is the cross. I will be happy to continue preaching the Gospel of the Cross and pointing out the utter ignorance and stupidity of any other Gospel. I’m also thankful that even Jeff, my atheist friend, is preaching that same thing. Good job, Jeff.
I have been discussing how one properly uses the Bible with my friend Jeff at atheocracy. He has this happy little post concerning the recent lawsuit filed by a father against the Westboro ‘Baptist’ ‘Church’ who protested his son’s funeral. Jeff seems to think that all Christians who elevate the Bible to the place of infallible will end up with a message similar to those at the WBC. He wrote:
A couple of days ago, one Christian commenter didn’t agree with my assertion that all Christians who elevate the Bible to “unquestionable” status bear some responsibility for people like the ones at this church, but I’m holding to that statement unless someone can explain why I’m wrong.
You can read his entire post and the numerous responses by clicking: If there’s a God, He Hates these people.
Well, I wondered why Jeff would come up with such lousy logic. Then I stopped by A Little Leaven and read this post: You are a Hero… This post is about a church in Corona, California where a new sermon series is about to begin (or has already). Some topics include:
• How courage can help YOU conquer a storm (Noah)
• How faithfulness can keep YOU from quitting (Abraham)
• How generosity can multiply YOUR impact (Rebekkah)
• How commitment can take YOU beyond YOUR limitations (David)
The Curator at Leaven wrote:
Reducing these Biblical stories down to morals or virtues (like Aesops fables) that we can somehow apply to our lives so that we can be heroic completely misses the point. The thing that we all have in common with Noah, Abraham, Rebekah, and David is that we are all wicked sinners. We are not virtuous, courageous and faithful. Instead we are faithless, heartless and ruthless. We are not heroes we are all villians (sic). The Bible tells us that all of us are sinners in need of a savior. In other words, NONE of us ‘has what it takes’. We, like Noah, Abraham, Rebekah and David NEED a hero and a savior to redeem us and save us. That’s why those Biblical stories are NOT about Noah, Abraham, Rebekah or David, they are ultimately about Jesus Christ.
I don’t think I could possible agree more with that statement. And the truth is, if this is the sort of slop that Christians are being fed by preachers on Sunday mornings, is it any wonder Jeff thinks that all Christians are of the same pattern as those at the WBC? Is it any wonder he thinks the Bible only creates people who do the things that WBC does? You may not see the connection, but it is this: What happens when the message of Scripture (viz., Jesus Christ) is ignored? What happens when theology goes unchecked? What happens is the WBC, and sermon series like that at the Corona church: Stupidity.
I don’t agree with Jeff’s assessment of Christianity, but, even though I argue with him, I do think perhaps there is a point: What is the Church preaching? It is horrifying the things I read at Leaven that are being preached on Sundays at churches around this country. WBC has been saying that God is judging America because of things like homosexuality. I want to correct that: I think God is judging the Church because we have dumbed down Scripture, we have inoculated people against the Gospel, because we have assumed favored people status, because we (the church) are not preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have settled for some sort of pseudo-relevance (see 4 Weeks of Sex) instead of the faith once delivered. We are more interested in numbers than we are in truth.
God is not judging the United States because of homosexuality any more than he is judging the United States because of global warming. God is judging the Church because of her failure to preach the whole council of God, the truth without compromise; for her failure to be One as He is One; for her failure to love one another and thus demonstrate our allegiance to His Son; and for her failure, her utter failure, to be the Church, the Body of Christ. (And don’t even get me started on pedophile priests, adulterers, thieves, Ted Haggard, The Inspiration Network, Benny Hinn, Brian McClaren and Joel Osteen.) Let me remind you of what Peter wrote to the Church:
“For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)
WBC has it very, very wrong. In their arrogance, they have neglected the Word of God, they have failed to love their neighbor, they have forgotten to take the log out of their own eye before they presumed to remove the speck from that of others. But so also has the Eastlake Community Church and the South Hills Church. And, lest I forget: So have I. So, to the Church, if you really think we are being judged because of sin, I suggest that you examine the sin in your own backyard before you presume to dump the entire load of s*** on the doorstep of your neighbor: Christians are without excuse!
I don’t agree with Jeff’s assessment of the Church because I don’t think he understands theology, I’m certain he knows nothing of grace (and I might also question his logic ), and because I don’t think someone outside the church has a right to make judgments about what goes on inside the church, but I do agree that Christians and ‘christians’ have thoroughly misrepresented the Word of God and that to that end, I agree with Jeff that the Church needs to examine why it preaches, what it preaches, and how it preaches the Gospel–that might mean that we need to know what the Gospel is in the first place. In short, we need to examine ourselves and see if we are in the faith we profess because I have a suspicion that it is folk like the WBC who are keeping folk like Jeff from the Gospel, the true Gospel of Christ Crucified.
And I think more Christians ought to condemn the actions and theology of WBC so that Jeff won’t have to take up valuable blogging space doing so.
And I think more Christians ought to ‘examine themselves’ before they ‘eat of the bread and drink of the cup.’
This is a must watch. D A Carson discusses sin, grace, the Cross and how misunderstanding of these can be threats faced by the church.
John 15:26-16:4 (Day 72, 90 Days with Jesus)
“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when the time comes you will remember that I warned you. I did not tell you this at first because I was with you.
I mentioned in a post a few minutes ago that I am reading a book by William Willimon called Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized. This book is quite amazing and I am glad that I listened to White Horse Inn the other day (an older podcast) and heard them interview Willimon and reference the book. The book is about preaching and the peculiar language that preachers mustuse when preaching to those Willimon calls the baptized by which I think it is safe to assume he means Christians or, at least, those who are the church but something more than mere pew sitters. Consider well his words:
We are born, drowned, adopted, clothed, gifted so that we might be a people worthy of listening to a peculiar account of human life called Scripture…To begin to preach from the perspective of baptism, assuming that these words are not meant for everyone but only for those who have been or who are to be baptized, is to speak in a new key. It is to listen to Scripture with the expectation that we may well hear the unexpected. It is to preach to a congregation with the assumption that no conventional human gathering will be adequate to hear such words, that a new gathering will be necessitated by such language. Too much of our theology and preaching has acted as if we need new language in order to maintain our old, conventional means of human gatherings. Biblical language has shown, time and time again, that it has power, like the sacrament of baptism itself, to evoke that of which it speaks. The Bible is able to create, re-create the people it desires” (Willimon, 22-23).
My interest in Willimon’s comments is very simple. He sees a necessary connection between the baptized and the preached Word of God—assuming, that is, that the Word of God is being preached. I think he is right that congregations have lost, or at least do not listen, with any sort of expectancy when the Word of God is proclaimed. Preachers are thus ‘forced’ to dip into the thesaurus of modern pop-psychology or the dictionary modern pulp-fiction and find new ways and new words (read: exciting) in order that the congregation may be kept awake. Willimon’s contention, I gather, is that the language of Scripture is adequate enough to the task if the preacher will trust it.
This is not to say there are no boring preachers. This is not to say that we shouldn’t use dictionaries and a thesaurus. This is certainly not to say that we should deliver our Sunday sermons in the stout language of good ole King James himself. It is to say that the baptized, the Church, Christians, the Body of Christ, a peculiar people, strangers all, should be expectant when it comes to the word of God. But I suppose that Willimon’s book is directed towards the preacherand it is decidedly his responsibility first to have confidence in the Word of God. If the preacher doesn’t have such confidence, how on earth can the congregation be expected to? Willimon writes, “A distinctive community is being formed here by this reading and listening” (20).
It is to this ‘distinctive community’ that the Word of God has been given. It is to this ‘disctinctive community,’ this ‘community of the baptized’ that the Word of God has been entrusted. It is within this ‘distinctive community’ that the Spirit of Truth, who proceeds from the Father, ‘bears witness to Jesus.’ And, further, it is within this distinctive community that Jesus says that we ‘will bear witness also.’ At some point the words that Jesus spoke to the disciples that night, the words revealed and clarified by the Spirit of Truth, the words that were given to us to keep us from stumbling, these words he expects us to remember came from him, were written down and became Scripture (in the written sense). They were always the Word of God. These words were then preserved for generation after generation, and at the same time, these words shaped generation after generation of Christians. This is yet another important reason why the Word of God must not be shoved aside in favor of, well, not the Word of God or, worse, something other than the Word of God.
It is these words of the Spirit of truth that define and shape this distinctive community of the baptized. I say we are a peculiar people, a strange people, who have our own language and ways of understanding what is going on around us. So later Paul can write things like, ‘We do not grieve like the rest of men who have no hope’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13), and Jesus can say things like ‘Blessed are you when you are persecuted because of me’ (Matthew 5:10), and Peter can write things like ‘Be hospitable to one another without complaint’ (1 Peter 4:9) and they make sense. I don’t suppose though for a minute that all of our unique language will have any meaning for those who are not part of this peculiar body. This is a significant reason why I get so distressed when Christians try to impose certain moral standards on not-Christians and use the Bible as their justification for doing so. There is a place for Scripture in the ‘world,’ but it is not the same shaping, defining, and distinctive place that it has in the Body of Christ.
Finally, I note that these word of Jesus were entrusted to the disciples, they were confirmed by the Spirit of Truth who came from the Father. I also note that the Spirit’s main intent in confirming these words is to ‘testify to Jesus.’ There are, to be sure, a lot of different ideas floating about the church as to the nature of the Spirit. But here Jesus makes it rather clear that the primary role of the Spirit is to Testify concerning Jesus. To that end, He will lead us into truth. Furthermore, the Spirit will not lead us into lies and the Spirit will not testify to anyone but Jesus. The work of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit is the same and does not contradict itself, nor is it counterproductive.
The problem is that too much of our contemporary preaching has gotten off the beaten path. We are no longer content to preach the Scripture and mostly because we simply don’t trust the Scripture. There are too many preachers who are terrified of the words of Scripture. There are too many who are embarrassed of the language of the Scripture. There are too many who do not even know the Scripture. There are too many who are horrified that the Spirit of God might just lead people into the truth if the Scripture is preached! But if the Spirit is to remind us of Jesus’ Words, confirm them, and testify to Jesus Christ, then don’t you agree that it is the Words of Jesus that preachers ought to be preaching? How can the Spirit confirm words that are not the words of Jesus? How can the Spirit lead us into a truth that is not the truth he desires to lead us into? How can the Spirit testify to Jesus when the preacher won’t testify to Jesus? Even when it comes to so-called miracles and signs and wonders I have to ask: Are not those things done by the Spirit to confirm the Word of God? Is the Spirit, in those acts, testifying to Jesus Christ? And yet often those things are merely a means to their own ends.
I think the church, that strange peculiar people, needs a real introduction by her preachers, those strange, peculiar talkers, to the Word of God. Then again, many preachers themselves need an introduction the Word of God. Can we agree with Willimon that the Word of God can do it’s work of creating and re-creating as it desires? If we agree, then we need to preach it. If we don’t agree, we need to preach it so that we can be proven wrong.
Soli Deo Gloria!