Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mister, can you spare some change?

It's a paradox: we want change and we need change, but we fear changing and we avoid changes. The reason for this paradox is simple; humans beings are not simple. The human soul is a complex combination of impulses, experiences, needs, and choices. Change is a paradox because it touches two of our most basic needs. We need hope, the expectation that our situation can change for the better. But we also have a deep, abiding need to fit in, to be part of something larger than ourselves that tells us who we are. The same force that makes hope possible, change, unsettles us and makes us doubt that we can fit into a changed world.The believer comes to terms with this paradox by faith, by trusting in what the God of the Bible has said in the Word about who we are: We are His workmanship, created for works which God has prepared beforehand (Eph 2:10). Significantly, the Bible does not have a lot to say about why things change. Faith and hope (expectation that God will work all things together) replace explanation. The need for explanation pales beside the recognition of God and His authority. We can deal with change because it is the tool of the One who tells us who we are and where we fit.But what about the rest of the world? How will they deal with the paradox of change? Harold Bloom, a great mind and a prolific author (though no friend to the authority of God or of the Bible) suggests that our society is in peril because, "Authority ... has vanished from Western culture ...." (Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds, Warner, 2002, p.2.) Authority, which links us to other people and makes us value things like genius, precisely because it brings about change, has been replaced by a thoughtless egalitarianism: everyone is equal, every idea has equal merit. Human authority, even the authority that comes from recognizing superior thought, superior ideals, superior achievement, is being lost.If we are right, and authority is necessary for humans to come to grips with change, then what will happen in a postmodern world in which authority is lost? For the unbeliever, the answer is that change is its own authority. The Darwinist sees change as the single Law of the Universe. Isaac Asimov said, "It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today," (from "My Own View," published in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ed. by Robert Holdstock, 1978). The postmodernist labels the Darwinist a "modernist" and rejects all of his conclusions, but retains his basic law. Even Christians in a postmodern age are adopting this new outlook. In place of the the "solas" of the reformers, the Emergent church is embracing sola mutatio "change alone." Anything that is new, any kind of change, has some kind of value that we must discover. The kindest and most congenial of the Emergent writers make no attempt to hide their scorn for any Christian 'brother' who questions change.The Good News is that the one thing that never changes, the Word of God, is the most effective agent for changing the world. When we live under the Authority of the Bible we are changed by the Bible and the changes in the world around become dim and pale. This is what the Bible calls hope: the expectation that one day we will be changed into the image of Christ. While we wait expectantly, the Word of God changes us to suit the world in which we live:
I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth. John 17:15-17 (NKJV)We used to call this sola scriptura :-)Pastor Colin Smith

How to use your worship folder [Part I]

There is a difference, in my way of thinking, between a church bulletin and a worship folder. A church bulletin may contain an order of service; however it's often cluttered with clip art, announcements from nearly every conceivable church ministry, and distracts the corporate worshipper from "seeing and savoring] the one thing that is needful.That's why our folder conforms itself to the logocentric [Word-centered] nature of an acceptable corporate worship service. It is a written affirmation that we are praying the Word [opening prayer, pastoral prayer, prayer for the gifts and offerings taken], singing the Word [hymns, modern hymns, and worship songs], reading the Word [this morning Revelation 6] and preaching the Word [everything points to the preaching of the Word heard by faith from the brothers and sisters in the congregation].So how can the worship folder help us to prepare our hearts for corporate worship, even for the few moments you have before the service begins?First, look at the Scripture or sometimes the quotation on the front of the folder. Pray the message of the content to your own heart. For instance, this morning [January 28, 2006] I might pray, "Yes, Lord! I desire to glorify and enjoy your forever! Yes, Father! I enjoy so many things more intensely than I should. I know that at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. At your right hand is where I desire to be!"Praying like this might be a great first step in learning how to use your worship folder.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Focusing on people and their deeds, and not on what God says and does

I'm enjoying [along with John Piper's What Jesus Demands from the World and David Wells's Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World] a book by Graeme Goldsworthy entitled Prayer and the Knowledge of God: What the whole Bible Teaches [2003].Goldsworthy mentions that a popular strategy for teaching prayer is the “exemplary approach” [Jesus got up before sunrise to pray, Martin Luther, John Wesley, and C.H. Spurgeon all regarded two hours of prayer a day as normal]. Rather than encouraging us, the “exemplary approach” often does quite the opposite. It makes us want to give up completely.The danger of the exemplary approach "is that it focuses on people and their deeds, and not what God says and does." This, of course, is a grave danger of the church growth movement where growth, rather than the fruit of what Christ has done for us in Christ, becomes confused with the vine or becomes the focus of why the church is successful.So the modern evangelical church is quite like the medieval Roman Catholic Church in that sanctification [personal holiness or deeds and exploits] becomes the ground for justification [right standing with God or the basis of approval]. This is legalism which Goldsworthy describes as "the attempt to achieve righteousness by our own efforts in fulfilling the requirements of God."Goldsworthy mentions that Jesus did not come primarily to set an example: "It was first of all a matter of believing in him as the unique fulfiller of the Old Testament prophecies of the Christ, the Savior who was to come to do for them what they were powerless to do for themselves.”Goldsworthy’s answer is to "keep reminding ourselves of what God has done for us as the central focus of the Bible. It is true that the Bible contains many commands and exhortations to Christian behavior. However when a biblical text dealing with the things we ought to do is appropriated apart from its wider context of the good news that God has first acted for us, legalism will begin to manifest itself."I’m curious to know what you are reading. Let's talk. By the way, and excellent blog to connect with is Justin Taylor's Between Two Worlds: A Mix of Theology, Philosophy, Politics, and Culture Justin is the executive director of Desiring God Ministries. I’m excited that tomorrow we’ll be seated around the Lord’s Table. Pray that we'll be hungry and thirsty for heavenly food and drink.Pastor David

Saturday, January 13, 2007

100 Yards, Four Downs, Goalposts, and a Football

America's preoccupation with football is, in part, a preoccupation because of football's adherence to the grand tradition of the game. Of course in any given year there be variations made to the game [even these slight changes are vigorously discussed and often ignored after one season of use]; however the infinite variety, excitement, and creativity of the game is preserved because of and not in spite of its grand traditions. Boise State's 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma was exhilarating because we knew that fourth down meant "last chance." Creating a fifth down or deciding to throw a basketball instead, or playing the game on a golf course would inevitably change its nature, rendering football something else. Football's form [it's adherence to traditional structure] ensures the almost limitless excitement of its content.Worship's form [logocentrism or singing, praying, reading, and preaching the Word] ensures the limitless beauty of our "seeing and savoring" its content [God]. The tragedy of the worshipping 21st century American church is that she is changing the rules of the game. The game is now about her whims and not about that great Being worthy of infinite admiration. The church's singing and preaching have become humanly preoccupied. Her praying and reading the Word have almost ceased to exist. And in its place [our pastor instructed us last Sunday that nature abhors a vacuum] she has created shiny new methodologies - fifth downs, new playing fields, and odd looking game balls that render the worship of God something other than God's Worship. This is syncretism, the mixing of the worship of God with something else. This was the nation of Israel's sin. They worshipped the true God falsely [Exodus 32.5].This morning my Bible reading plan led me to Psalm 12. The Psalmist writes, "The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times." Oh, that our worship [corporate and personal] will continue to be in accordance with the words of the LORD!Pastor David

Monday, January 8, 2007

Revelation vs. Dialogue

The need to communicate and the ability to communicate freely may be the most telling characteristics of our our generation. Technology has given us the ability to communicate with almost anyone, anywhere and at anytime. For our generation, communication itself, regardless of the content, has a virtue of its own. We love the media (television, phones, the Internet) because they inform us, they amuse us and they meet our needs.Our world is experiencing a new sense of 'connectedness.' We don't talk about living in our world; we talk about interacting with our world. We don't speak and listen, these are individual actions; we dialogue. Dialogue is the great leveler, making us all peers, making us all equal participants in conversation with one another.And ... herein lies the problem. For believers, born again by the Word of God, communication not a right, it is an act of grace. The Creator reveals himself to the world. He reveals the truth (an unpopular word) about Himself, about ourselves, and about our condition. In the premodern world, humans believed that they needed revelation. In the modern world, humans rejected the possibility that there was a God who could reveal himself. In the 'postmodern world,' humans reject the possibility of revelation from any source: facts are discovered, life is experienced, and each man communicates based upon his own internal language.The psalmist who composed Psalm 119 would have recognized this philosophy à la mode. He said, "My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to Your word. I recounted my ways, and You answered me; teach me Your statutes." Psa 119:25, 26 He understood that, as humans, we want to hold on to the things of this life, the things of this ephemeral, dying world. Real life, eternal life, is given by God through the words revealed in the Bible. We do talk to God and He responds, but, more importantly, He makes us understand His statutes, the established order by which men must live.Psalm 119 speaks of precepts, instruction of law, statutes, and commandments. This kind of communication is not dialogue. It is a sinner (another unpopular word) saved by grace receiving the truth about the life that he or she must live. These words are not about information or amusement nor are they about meeting the needs of man. Precepts are heeded, instruction is followed, statutes are observed, and commandments are obeyed.The reader of the Bible is not a peer of the author nor is he a participant in a conversation. He is either a 'hearer' or a fool. Much of modern communication is foolishness, but we crave it anyway. Even the best communicators, Shakespeare, Donatelli, Charlie Chaplin, can only speak about things that humans share in common. The psalmist craved something better, "Make me understand the way of your precepts so that I can meditate on your wonderful works." Psa 119:27If it is true that bread is the staff of life, then dialogue is the stuff of life. We communicate with humans about our humanness, and we pull ourselves deeper into our human condition - we cling to dust. We might ask, with the psalmist, that God will revive us according to His Word.Just some things on my mind and in my heart, this first week of 2007.