Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Christmas Gift Exchange (TBT)

My first Christmas as a Christian in 1996 is memorable for many reasons. But at this time of year, I am especially
reminded of my very first “White Elephant” gift exchange and how that experience taught me a little bit more about the Gospel. God’s gift to us in Christ came to us in an unassuming package, one which we esteemed not at all. He gave His cherished Son for us and we rejected Him. We have envied and stolen from our neighbor to avoid Him. Even worse when we crucified Him, we literally sent the gift back to the Giver. We said no thanks, God, you can have Him back; we've got our furry slippers right here. We're good. Then Lord goes further. He says, here, let me take your filthy rags. You give me your worst, and I will give you my cherished gift. By the ministry of His Holy Spirit, He reaches down and takes away our junk and sin and graciously, gently, lovingly gives us His most beloved possession, His only begotten son, Jesus Christ. And By His Spirit we now receive this most precious gift, which we neither deserved nor desired, apart from His mercy and grace. Thank you, Jesus.


Read the story here>>>

Friday, November 21, 2014

Have You Joined the Thanksgiving Parade?

In a blast from the past, Dr. Michael Horton writes at The White Horse Inn "Join in the Thanksgiving Parade":
"We need not wallow in our unworthiness, but join the thanksgiving parade that is already in progress, until one day we join our voices with the rest of redeemed creation. The vision of the heavenly kingdom in Revelation is a restored liturgy, with every part of creation performing its ordained role. It is a universal city without man-made walls or a man-made temple, for the Lord surrounds it in safety and the Lamb is its temple. At last, the symphony resounds throughout the empire: 'Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars!…Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the Lord (Ps 148:312-13).' " 

Read the entire article here>>> 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Joy in the Autumn of Life (God's Faithfulness in Every Season)

Being immersed in the "Autumn of Life" may bring a sense of an unexpected loss of identity, an uncertainty about the future, new responsibilities for aging family members, and even questions about finding new purpose and energy in life. For some this season may just feel a lot like a pile of fallen leaves, on the ground waiting either to be swept away or to decompose.

The temptation can be strong at this stage to just sit down in the middle of the pile, while looking back at the end of a life-long vocation, trying to examine every dry, shriveled leaf and wishing they were not all gone from the tree. We can doubt the goodness and sovereignty of God as loved ones may become terminally ill or incompetent. Perhaps we look around at all the empty nests of ours siblings and peers, wondering how we will all survive the sparseness of the seasons to come. After all, even if we make it through the winter, real spring time is still a long way off.

The autumn of life can also be a blessing to us, as our vulnerably and sense of brokenness reminds us of how very much in need we are for our Savior -- for the truth of the Word of God made flesh who dwelt among us.  When we read the account of the nativity in the gospels, the gentleness and pureness of the Christ’s birth speaks afresh of our newness of life. As newborn babe, Jesus came for us wrapped in the meekest and most precious of packages ever imagined. In our weakness and vulnerability, perhaps Christ is calling us to die once again to self, as He teaches us further about our utter dependency on Him. Perhaps in this season we are blessed with a closer walk and reliance on King Jesus, whose goal is to remake us more and more into His image as we seek His face in our time of need.

In the celebration of the first coming of Christ, we are reminded that our God is the Lord of new seasons and new birth. The one and only begotten Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, comes to make poor, old, tattered, naked, and vulnerable trees new with a growth bright and adorned with new beautiful leaves.

Jesus Christ takes the tatters of our broken lives and remakes them by covering us with His own righteousness, which is better than any of the leaves sewn in this world. Our leaves, even the best ones, will never be sufficient. It is only by Christ’s righteousness that the autumn of life always turns the corner to Advent for those who abide in Him.

Friday, November 14, 2014

What does the Bible actually teach about sexual orientation?

Update: It appears that some modifications have been made to Dr. Mohler's article which provide a fuller Biblical framework around the concepts of sin and desire. One of the updates includes the addition of an article he wrote from 2011, which says many of the same things I say here in my post. I'm leaving my post up, because I've had quite a few visits already and I hope it can be helpful to all of us as we think through these issues. Thanks! Soli Deo gloria!
--------------------------
Dr. Albert Mohler wrote at his blog yesterday:
"When it comes to a same-sex attraction, the orientation is sinful because it is defined by an improper object — someone of the same sex. Of course, those of us whose sexual orientation is directed toward the opposite sex are also sinners, but the sexual orientation is not itself sinful." - Albert Mohler
While it is certainly true that sinful attraction can be defined by the improper (illicit) object of desire, can we really say just because someone's sexual attraction is toward people of the opposite sex their orientation is automatically not sinful? My understanding of the Bible's teaching on this subject, as a single person, is that even if someone's sexual orientation is directed toward the opposite sex alone, they can be equally guilty in their orientation, if they view anyone to whom they are not married in a sexually oriented manner.  Someone might say, hold on just a second. Based on the position of Dr. Mohler (as well as many other popular contemporary writers on sexuality from the conservative viewpoint), it would seem like we are supposed to be "sexually oriented" toward the opposite sex.

But what does the Bible actually tell us about this? Let's see:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Matthew 5:27-28

Thus, to be sexually attracted to someone in such a way - even of the opposite sex to whom we are not married - is to sin and commit adultery in the heart. This is what the Bible says! I do think part of the confusion is that many people who teach on this subject fail to make the distinction between appreciating that someone is attractive and judging them to be attractive in a sexual way. Jesus is clear in Matthew 5 that if we believe that someone other than a spouse is sexually attractive to us (whether the feeling seems automatic or premeditated doesn't matter here), we have sinned because the nature of the desire is declared illicit.

Secondarily, we need to deal with the issue of coveting in the form of an inordinate desire as well. When we observe God's good creation, there is nothing sinful about giving Him the glory for His magnificent and beautiful creation. However, if we can not be satisfied to enjoy Him and give Him glory for His creation without selfishly desiring to violate it in some way (even if it is only with our eyes), then clearly we are in the domain of both illicit and idolatrous motives.

Likewise, when we look upon other human beings -- not only created by God as His good creation, but even more, created in His image -- we must not look upon them selfishly, but only to give God the glory for His good creation. To do otherwise is to move into the sinful territory of coveting and of trespassing (even if it is just with our eyes) against our neighbors.

1 Timothy 5:1-2 states that we are called to treat older men as fathers, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. If we see each other in Godly ways, as God commands us, there is no room for so-called sexual-orientation as a given or neutral disposition.

Has our culture become so overly sexualized that even the Church has compromised on our theology of sin in general and lust in particular? This question is at the heart of the debate that contemporary church leaders seem to be having with one another and I believe we would do well to consider this more fully. I also believe that the issue has significant bearing on fidelity within marriage as well. If we say and teach that being 'sexually oriented' toward the opposite sex generally is okay, then how much harder are we making it for those who actually are married, but still have continue to experience opposite sex attraction to those other than their spouses? Is this okay? I don't think it is.

If we are to remain faithful to the scriptures, while having compassion on those who struggle in these areas, and if we wish to value our single friends in the church and to help married people to avoid adultery and divorce, we must become much more precise in our speech and discerning in our listening with regard to these issues.

Recommended reading: Sex, Dating, and Relationships by Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas

Monday, November 10, 2014

On Single Women in the Church - Neither Pity Nor Envy (God's Faithfulness in Every Season)

As someone who has been single and without biological children all of my life and who will be turning 50 next month... {was that a gasp? }...I find that some of the messages being given about this station and season of life leads many of us to think about being single in at least a couple of unhelpful ways. Here are two:

1) Oh, you’re a single, older Christian woman! You get to do anything you want! or
2) Oh, you’re a single, older Christian woman... You don't get to do anything you want. You don't get to have fun.
Let me explain...

Envy for Singleness?
So the first fallacy goes something like this: "You're a single, self-sufficient, Christian woman -- you get to do anything you want!" "If you want to go out to the movies or the mall, you can do it anytime you want. Or if you want to travel or go on a missions trip halfway around the world. No one is holding you back. What a carefree life you must have."

{In this view we imagine that our freedom can be ultimately found in autonomy and independence. It's an individualistic, self-absorbed, immature view that single people can be especially prone to. I know I often find this false view alluring and tempting in my walk.}

Granted, this view is more commonly held by worldly people and the secular media than overtly in the church. And yet, when I interact with Christian women, sometimes faint hints emerge that would indicate an undercurrent of envy for the detached lives of single people in the church. Sometimes. 

Pity for Singleness? 
More and more often though, there is a predominant view that I seem to be hearing over and over again on the internet and in the church generally. It goes like this: 

Oh, you're a single, older woman without a romantic partner, your life is incomplete.  You can't be really fulfilled or get to do the things that you really WANT to do. You poor dear, you. You must be so repressed. 

Others are prone to pity us and when we buy this unhelpful view, we start to pity ourselves, too. In fact, The Gospel Coalition published an article recently that received a tremendous amount of attention and support because of the author's candid portrayal of the sacrifice and suffering in which she finds herself as a single woman. I think I might be the only person who read the article and felt compelled to provide a counterpoint.

{It's important to note that in this view we imagine that if we single people could just get married our most pressing desires could be met, including the end of loneliness and heartbreak. That somehow having a romantic relationship would make us more mature and complete.)

All of you married women can report back to us on that. I don't know, but would you say that now you have a spouse, has your life reached a whole new level of perfection? No more heart-ache or loneliness in marriage, right? I didn't think so.

In all of this - especially those of us who are single -- we are prone to these false views, but...


God's Word tells us that His truth is better! 

God's Faithfulness - An Introduction
God's faithfulness over the course of my life has been teaching me that these are merely temporal things. As important as they are, they either (in the case of marriage) merely foreshadow and point toward our ultimate reality or  (in the case of self-sufficiency) distort and point away from our ultimate reality and satisfaction, which is found in Christ alone.

God's faithfulness has been teaching me that my faith in Christ alone is not just a theory, but: -- He is the source and promise of my present and eternal status, substance, and security. Christ is the focal point for singles and all believers and He rallies us together to proclaim these excellencies to one another.

And so, rather than share my testimony, which is what I was asked to do, I want to share with you the Truth that I preach to myself on these matters. As Martin Lloyd Jones wrote in his book "Spiritual Depression", we need to take ourselves in hand and preach truth - the Word of God to ourselves when we find ourselves succombing to either pity or pride. We must wage Spiritual Warfare over falsehood and untruth by the Word of God.

So, as I prepared to share this today, I found myself slipping into discouragement and fear. As I immersed myself in the Word of God, 1 Peter Chapters 1 and 2, as well as Ephesians Chapter 5 pointed me to what I needed to hear and what I subsequently need to share with all of you. 

Our Status in Christ
a. First, with regard to Our Status - We belong to Christ - ekklesia - we are the called out ones, the assembly of God's chosen, Holy, privileged people - to know, love, and serve Him. Not out of arrogance, but in humility, we are saved, gathered, and knit together (John Murray) as one people. Called out of Egypt and the world. Called into covenantal relationship with the Lord and His people. Called to worship God in community and rejoice in our future inheritance with Him and His people. 

I am not my own, but I have been bought with a price, by His precious blood. All who are in Christ have this calling, and so we should not live as Lone Ranger Christians. Plus, we have deeper ties than biological family. By His promise and His purpose, we have been bought and brought together by His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:19) Paul says that Christ loved the church and gave himself for it. For us.

William Gurnall (the puritan author of The Christian in Complete Armor) stated, Jesus Christ's atoning death is the dowry that He paid for His bride, the Church. “The church is taken out of dying Jesus’ side, as Eve [was made] out of sleeping Adam’s” side. We must remember that incalculable dowry of suffering and blood when we are tempted to slight the church, take her for granted, or neglect our duties toward her. If the Lord Jesus Christ cherished the church so much that He died for her, is it too much for Him to ask His followers to cherish the church and live for her?

b. Our True Substance. Jesus is the Substance of our faith and our present reality as the Church is founded on Him.
Christ is the chief cornerstone of what we believe and who we are as His Body. 1 Peter 1.
He is the Rock on which the Church is built. He is the rock of our faith.

In the past few years, I have come to develop a love of the richness of the hymns of the church (which is kind of odd, because I never really thought much about them before). But this one verse rings true to me all of the time:
"On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,  

All other ground is sinking sand."

When we speak of substance, we're not merely talking material/tangible reality, but "essense". Substance means the core of who we are - Identity. This is crucial because our identity is found first and last in Christ and Christ alone. He Is our Rock.

And collectively, we are His body and His bride. 

To me, to many of us, this concept of Jesus as our bridegroom and our ultimate reward can sometimes feel distant, out of reach, pie in the sky theory.. But this is exactly why the Church as the assembly of the saints is so important. The body of Christ is Jesus' hands and feet and members - the tangible, here and now representation of Him.

And our worship services point us together toward Him, our ultimate, substantial reality. In Worship our leaders administer the means of grace which have been appointed by God for our well-being and edification. We are a means of grace church.

During our Bible studies and fellowship times, God's Word works its way into our hearts and lives for His glory. In our one-on-one friendships, we grow in grace and both receive and give accountability to one another. 

All of these faith supplements remind me of a verse from last stanza from the great hymn "It is Well With My Soul": And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
One day, our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be made sight and all of the promises of God will be yes and Amen in Him.

Our familial relationships -- marriage, as important and sacred as it is, and children, who are ALWAYS a blessing from the Lord -- are only temporal relationships that point us toward a greater future reality in the family of God. Our human relationships find ultimate significance and value only when grounded in Christ and Christ alone.  He is the only one that can really satisfy and that will never fail us.

c. God's faithfulness continues to teach me about Our Security - As Christ's people, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that WE are His workmanship - that includes me, as I must often remind myself.   The perseverance of the saints rests on the fact that We are His workmanship.

And 1 Peter 2 - reiterates that Christ is the foundation and the chief cornerstone... But Peter goes on to say that we are the Church - living stones built up together in Him... a holy priesthood of believers.  We are the temple -- yes, individually we are the temple of the Holy Spirit, but Peter is saying that together with all the Church we make up God's Holy Temple built on Him as our foundation.

Jesus tells Peter in the Gospels that HE (Jesus) WILL build His Church and; the gates of hell will not prevail against it. 
Indeed, our Security is Sure, sisters!

Yet, many of us who are single know all too well from personal experience that a slow separation from the church can happen in us when we are discouraged or distracted. This is one of Satan's main strategies. When I make my faith individualistic and self-absorbed, it leads me away from the Lord and His people. 

But I have also learned that God's faithfulness, working through His people, continues to remind me of that JESUS will build HIS church - He will complete the work that He began in me - in us. This is an objective reality. It is true whether I believe it or not. Even when I don't feel like it's true, I know that it is. "The gates of hell will not prevail against Him."

And God's people -- you all -- remind me of His promise. You see, this is a community project and it is more important and more powerful from an eternal perspective than any biological family alone will ever be. It's true whether it seems like it right now or not.

Joel Beeke  has said that "The church, then, is .. like... a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. We dedicate our lives ...  to a work in progress: to what Christ has promised and paid for with His own blood; it IS worthwhile...  and (it) will be successful in the end, though there will always be (flaws along the way). The church’s work, therefore, is never in vain. It is the product of God’s sovereign grace in Christ, not the product of ... men.

"One day Christ’s work will also be finished in us, and our Bridegroom will present us to His Father in glory, sanctified and perfected by His work in us. ... all sorrow will be forgotten, all sighing will flee, and we will forever praise the Lamb who sits on the throne. John Murray wrote that, 'It is both the privilege and obligation of believers to appreciate more and more the complementarity of Christ and His church.'”

Marriage, sacred institution that it is, points us all to a greater reality - the relationship between our Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the Church.  Paul calls this a profound mystery in Ephesians 5:32, but it's one that everyone in the church should embrace - the married and the single. 

Because - there are no lone rangers in the church - we do not live for ourselves. I am not my own, I have been bought with a price - Jesus precious blood.

We are made for relationships in this temporal, fleeting world, but all of those relationships - including marriage -- will pale in comparison when we are face to face at the wedding feast with the one who we've been longing to be with all along - our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Neither Pity, Nor Envy: Rather Praise God's Faithfulness in Every Season!
Because of this great truth, single Christian women need not be envied, nor pitied.

Rather we should be reminded and be reminding others that Jesus has given us and promised us greater things in Himself. He is our great reward. He is our eternal bridegroom who builds us up together as His Church, and we will ultimately be with Him in His heavenly home that he prepares for us. 

Believe it. Share it. Thank you, Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Servicemen Singing "Days of Elijah" (who said real men don't like to sing?)


I have often heard and read that men are prone not to be expressive or participatory during the worship singing. And I'll admit that in many services that I've attended in the past, a lot of the men do tend to be more reserved and not all that demonstrative. Well, I hope that you will be as energized and touched by all male worship after watching this video of Soldiers and it looks like Marines worshiping to the song "Days of Elijah". What a pleasant and God exalting thing to see - believers of the true and living God Jehovah worshiping together. And what a stark contrast to the enemies of the Lord who seek destruction and desolation. Dear Lord, please continue to bless our military.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

To Those Who Feel Disenfranchised from Church

A few years back, I heard a sermon preached by a friend who moved away, went to seminary, and then moved out west to plant a church. The sermon was dealing with one of the women in Jesus's lineage from Matthew 1: Rahab. In the Old Testament, we read that Rahab had not only risked her life, but she also had given up her entire culture, worldview, friends, and security to help God's people -- and to become part of their community.

And yet, Rahab was never allowed to become a full-fledged member of their covenant community. This part of her story can seem painfully familiar to single women in the church, who don't always experience the same depth of connection to the "covenant stuff" that the families are afforded in local churches.

I have often wondered whether Rahab sometimes felt pain and sorrow and darkness over being treated as a perpetual outsider among the Israelites? Did she ever think that maybe she had made a bad deal by joining and following God's people? Did she ever experience unbelief, wondering whether Yahweh was harsh and demanding? Did she ever feel tempted to return to things of the past which were comfortable and familiar to her? What kept her faith from sinking into the abyss? How did she avoid slipping off into oblivion?

I also wonder if there are people in our churches who sometimes feel like less than full covenant members because of their season or station in this life. Being aliens and pilgrims in the world and having cast their lot with the people of God, is there any place where they feel like they actually fit in? I know at times in my walk it has felt pretty desolate and lonely in this sin-struck world.

The Good News is that as we joyfully and faithfully seek the Lord and serve in the body of Christ, we experience our true hope which is found in Jesus Christ alone. In one sense, we know that, whether we are married or single, the full experience and consummation of the Lord's covenantal promise has been deferred until His return. However, we also know that the Word of God promises an eternal covenant of peace in which he is compelling us to participate now. 
The Eternal Covenant of Peace (Isaiah 54) “Sing, O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in labor! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. 
“Enlarge the place of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes. For you will spread abroad to the right and to the left, and your offspring will possess the nations and will people the desolate cities. “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. (Isaiah 54:1-5 ESV) Click here for entire chapter>>>
We take His covenantal promise by faith, realizing that the eternal impact of our lives and our participation in the body of Christ cannot be fully seen or understood in the here and now. Just think about Rahab. Did she have any idea that the lineage of the Messiah would come through her very own offspring? Not at all. And like her, we have no idea what the eternal impact of our lives and relationships will be. We are called to trust God with our obedience and know that by faith we have an eternal inheritance that is beyond what we can even ask or imagine. Think about what Isaiah goes on to write in Chapter 56 about foreigners and eunuchs:
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
    monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.”


So, here's the wonderful, amazing truth about life in the Church, this side of the Cross -- we who are in Christ are full covenant members of the church!  Jew/Gentile, Free/Slave, Man/Woman, Married/Single? It makes no difference. Christ came to reconcile us - to repair our "disenfranchisement" from Him and His people. 


Let us not believe the lies of the world, the flesh, and the devil that would try to hold us in bondage to the idea that His atoning blood was not sufficient to fully in-graft us into his family of believers. And let us encourage each other with this truth!


"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise." (Galatians 3:27-29 ESV)

And for anyone who feels discouraged about the Church or who needs to hear the Truth about God's plan for His Church, I recommend this excellent audio teaching called "Cherishing the Church". It is a powerful message by Joel Beeke which he preached at the Calvin500 Conference in Geneva in 2009. And here is the text. Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Legalism and the Weaker Brother

Interpreting Paul's discussion of the weaker brother in Romans 14 has taken an interesting direction in recent years. Some of the younger Calvinists have tended to characterize the proverbial weaker brother as representative of a legalist perspective. In fact, in some circles the point is all but assumed as a settled matter. However, I'm not sure that this position squares with the original context or the text itself. Ever since first studying this portion of scripture, I've had a different take on the role of the weaker brother, namely that the believers represented are not legalists at all, but rather that Paul seems to be saying almost the exact opposite.

So, are some people who use the weaker brother argument legalists? Possibly.
... Although, Paul used it, and we know about as anti-legalistic an apostle as he could be.
In fact, legalists are typically in no danger of violating their consciences and are not tempted to participate in the action from which they are refraining and are urging others to refrain. 

But is the weaker brother that Paul is talking about in Romans 14 a legalist? Absolutely not!
In scripture, legalists include folks like the Pharisees, the Galatian Judiazers, and the older brother in Luke 15. 
They are almost always the prideful, "stronger" brothers or sisters.
Rather, Paul describes weaker brothers as tender souls who are entrusted to the care of the shepherds of the church in Rome.

In Romans14, Paul was exhorting those of stronger faith to not exercise their Christian liberty in a way that would cause those of weaker conscience to sin - don't flaunt your freedom.

This matter of exercising Christian liberty was NOT about proving wrong a bunch of legalists who were trying to impose their viewpoints on a bunch of young, idealistic pastors in the emerging New Testament church.

This was the well-seasoned, mature, founder of many early churches, Paul, looking out for new converts from a Gentile culture, riddled with extreme idol worship, passing into the holy communion of Christ-worshipping believers.

While I'm quite sure that converts from Judaism in Paul's day (much like the millennial/ emerging pastors of today who are rebelling against the legalism of fundamentalist churches), would have greatly desired to celebrate their liberty in Christ, Paul is pretty up front about how and why those of stronger faith should not give occasion for more tender believers to sin.

Paul also does not state, as some are inclined to believe, that we should 'teach Christian liberty' to weaker believers. While the knowledge and understanding of who we are in Christ can turn us away from false beliefs, it in no way validates teaching moderation when it comes to matters of conscience, which would amount to giving license to sin.

Those believers who have offered themselves as living sacrifices, to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, and to no longer be conformed to the pattern of this world, have little need for moderation when it comes to things of the world. And let's not forget, leaders will be held to a higher account.

Meanwhile, I grant, those of us concerned for our newer or more tender of faith members should be gracious toward stronger brothers or sisters whose consciences have not been as seared and wounded from being intensely immersed in worldly ways. And we cannot allow the weaker brothers and sisters to believe that their righteousness rests in abstaining from that certain thing about which they are convicted not to partake.

In either case, the principle take away from Romans 14 is that love takes precedence over personal liberty and matters of conscience. Guarding against legalism - earning salvation by works - is not really the point of the passage. We're called to sacrifice for one another and sometimes that means not exercising our liberty for the sake of others. Other times it means being genuinely glad for the freedom that others have to enjoy the things of the God's good creation. 

 Psalm 51:10 comes to mind, "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" -- Amen.




Sunday, September 7, 2014

All Things New: The Lifestyle

This excerpt from Sex and Supremacy of God (pp. 83-84) essay by David Powlison is the explanation for the title of my blog. (this first appeared on my blog November 2008):

Making All Things New: The Lifestyle

by David Powlison
"What was the first trumpet call of the Reformation?

"It was not the authority of scripture, foundational as that is. Scripture is the very voice, face, and revelation of God. A Person presses through the pages. You learn how He thinks. How He acts. Who He is. What He's up to. But "Scripture alone" did not stand first in line.

"It was not justification by faith alone, crucial as that is. We are oily-rag people. Christ is the garden of light. We are saved by His doing, His dying, His goodness. We are saved from ourselves outside of ourselves. No religious hocus-pocus. No climbing up a ladder of good works, or religious knowledge, or mystical experience. He came down, full of grace and truth, Word made flesh, Lamb of God. We receive. That's crucial. But "faith alone" wasn't actually where it all started.

"It was not the priesthood of all believers, revolutionary as that is. Imagine, there aren't two classes of people, the religious people who do holy things by a special call from God, and the masses of laity toiling in the slums of secular reality. The "man of God" is not doing God's show before an audience of bystanders. We all assemble as God's people, doing the work and worshiping together, with differing gifts. The one Lord, our common King and attentive audience, powerfully enables faith and love. Yes and amen, but this radical revision of church didn't come first.

The trumpet call, Thesis Number One of Luther's Ninety-five Theses, was this:
"When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said 'Repent,' He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."

"That first of Luther's theses dismantled all the machinery of religiosity and called us back to human reality. Luther glimpsed and aimed to recover the essential inner dynamic of the Christian life. It is an ongoing change process. It involves a continual turning motion, turning toward God, and turning away from the riot of other voices, other desires, other loves. We tend to use the word repentance in its more narrow sense, for decisive moments of realization, conviction, confession, turning. But Luther uses the word in its wider, more inclusive sense. If we are living in Christ, we are living from-to.

"John Calvin put it in a similar way: "This restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year... In order that believers may reach this goal (the shining image of God), God assigns to them a race of repentance, which they are to run throughout their lives." The entire Christian life (including the more specific moments) follows a pattern of turning from things and turning to the Lord...

"Lifelong, progressive sanctification was the trumpet call back to biblical faith."

Monday, August 25, 2014

JEHOVAH NISSI - The LORD is my Banner

JEHOVAH NISSI - The LORD is my Banner: Reflections from Names and Attributes of God.

Introduction: Historically and even today a banner signifies that by which military troops or citizens of a country, tribe or group are identified or around which the troops or citizens rally. The banner is also often carried by people leading a band and behind which all of the musicians follow and fall in line. So, by recognizing and praying this name of God, we are saying we rally behind Jehovah. He is our banner, to whom we look and it is He whom we follow. I’ve taken a moment to study scriptural references to the LORD as our banner and I have found the Word to be amazing on this subject.

1. THE WAR: ENMITY WITH AMALEKITES - (also: Sin, the world, the devil)
Exodus 17:14 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."
15 Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. 16 He said, "For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation." emphasis added
The Amalekites represent three things that are always warring against the children of God: Sin, the world, and the devil. Ever since the fall, God said there will be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15). The battle with the Amalekites is a picture of this battle. We know that one day the memory of Amalek-sin, satan, and the world - will be completely blotted out, but until then, there is this war.

We also see that it is the LORD who will be at war against the Amalekites. Joshua led the army against the Amalekites while Moses, with help and encouragement from Aaron and Hur, lifted up his hands to the throne of the LORD.

2. CONVICTION: GOD'S GRACIOUS GIFT, LEADING TO REPENTENCE

Deliverence begins with conviction. When Israel sinned against God in the wilderness, He sent serpents to drive them back to Him. And His provision provided healing and life:

Numbers 21:4 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; 5 they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!"

6 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. 7 The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people.

8 The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." 9 So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived. emphasis added

At its core, the Fall consisted of rebellion and insubordination to the claims and rights of the Creator over the creature. Adam and Eve opted for an independent and irreligious existence from God. After making themselves enemies of God, Adam and Eve were immediately stricken with guilt and shame associated with their sin. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. " (Gen. 3:7) and "He (Adam) answered, "I heard you (God) in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid."

Similarly, Israel developed a serious pattern of rebelling and complaining against God and the servants of God while they wondered in the wilderness. So often I do the same today as a meander thru this pilgrimage. But God, in His mercy, usually does not strike us dead right on the spot (as we deserve) nor does He leave us dead in our trespasses forever. He sends a spirit of conviction so that we might repent. The people in Moses day prayed that the snakes would be taken away, instead the LORD provided a banner - the bronze snake on the pole. All who looked it were healed and lived. That is a picture of redemption, as we will see.

3. REDEMPTION: GOD’S PLAN IN HISTORY, CULMINATING IN CHRIST

The Redeemer's work is continuous and prophesied:

Isaiah 11: 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea.

12 He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth. emphasis added

Victory arrives in Christ - the seed of the woman

John 3: 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
The only thing more persistent than or continuous as our rebellion against God through the ages is His gracious provision, culminating in the Messiah. His redemption was foretold in Genesis 3:15, typified in Moses' bronze serpent, and prophesied throughout the old testament. The thoroughly obedient God-Man, who knew no sin, became our mediator and offered himself as a ransom for our continued disobedience. Praise Him for His faithfulness.


4. THE BRIDE OF CHRIST: BETROTHED TO OUR TRUE HUSBAND.

Let us not stop at justification. We've also been adopted as children of God and grafted into His body. Not only this. We have been bethrothed to our redeemer. He has made the unlovable lovely in His sight and has taken us unto Himself to be His own.
Song 2:1 I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.
He
2 As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among the young women.
She
3 As an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
so is my beloved among the young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste,
4 He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.
Because of God's great love for us through redemption, adoption and in Him calling us to Himself, we are now free to Love Him and glorify Him in our very lives. So we worship Him in Spirit and in Truth.

We lift our hands to His throne, singing and saying "the LORD is our banner" and none other. 

We have absolutely nothing in our hands to commend ourselves to Him, except His very own banner of love. And although we have no dowry to offer Him, He has prepared for us a feast in His banqueting house to be cherished. His banner over us is love. Believe it.

5. HIS BANQUET FEAST: AND OUR THREE-FOLD MISSION

Christ's banner of love over us ought to motivate us to encourage one another to not forsake meeting together as an assembly, to sit under the preaching of the Word, and to partake of the sacraments, given as a means of Grace for HIs Bride until He returns.  Let us not be like those in Jesus' parable who were invited to the Great Banquet, but who were too busy to attend, having just bought a field, or embarked upon a new vocation, or gotten married. 

As a key means of grace, we see through The Lord's Supper the past, the already, and the not-yet of life under His banner.

a. In the Lord's Supper, we celebrate what Christ has already done for us:
As He broke it and gave it to His disciples, He said, “’This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’” (Luke 22:19-21) 
b. We also consider our present relationship with Him and His body:

In the Lord's Supper, we continue to participate in Christ's death and in the new covenant because we participate in His life through the Church. Paul wrote: 
"Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Corinthians 10:16). 
In the Lord’s Supper, we show that we share in Jesus Christ. We commune with him. We are united in him through the body, and when we partake, we examine ourselves so as to continue to walk in the light.

c. The Lord's Supper reminds of Christ's return:

Whenever we participate, we are reminded of Jesus’ promise. There will be a great messianic "banquet," a "wedding supper" of celebration. The bread and wine are miniature rehearsals of what will be the greatest victory celebration in all history. Paul wrote that "For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes" (1 Corinthians 11:26). In that day, we will come as those who came to the banquet in the parable, thirsty and needy.  


In summary:
God as Jehovah Nissi reminds us who we were, who we are, and what we're called to be. 

Let us hold up Christ's Banner and call others to salvation, just as Jesus had the servant do in His parable:
‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.'
Rally around His Banner of Love only. And let us call all ethnē to do the same in love to serve as one body in Christ!