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)

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."