The Way to a Positive Alternative

2589059730_be5d058882_mIn a culture that is hostile to Christians one has to admit to asking the question, why engage in the social issues of the day? The price is high, victories are few and far between and the culture at large seems to continue its inexorable slide each day. When the Christian stops to consider the definition of a “win” there is often silence. If our goal is to bend people to our will we find ourselves woefully off track and defeated.

Perhaps our objective should be colored with more humility. Rather than being seen as attempting to enforce a moral code at the end of a pointing finger we can be known for presenting a positive alternative. Painting a different picture of the good life, liberty and freedom that is winsome to those who stand in opposition to your beliefs, moral code and ethics. It will gain you an audience faster than vitriol and accusation and even if the recipient ultimately rejects your positive alternative they will have bared—if only to themselves—their true reason for choosing the social path that they are living.

Consider St. Paul’s imperative in the fifth chapter of Ephesians – “Be imitators of God”. The imitator takes on the characteristics of the original in such a way that the viewer gains the impression that they are seeing the real thing. Paul is certainly not recommending an idolatrous path to making ourselves into little-G gods. Rather, he compels us to model the attributes of God as He has revealed them to us in forming a positive alternative to share with the world at large.

If we recognize that God is patient [trusting in His Spirit to be work] and He does not want anyone to perish (2 Pet 3:8-9) and God’s kindness in this respect leads to repentance (Rom 2:4), we will also discover that He wants all men to be saved and to come to know the truth (1 Tim 2:3-4). If we further come to know that God is compassionate towards even those who are His enemies (Rom 5:6-8) and that His love for the world (John 3:16), we will better comprehend this love in terms of Christ dying for the ungodly (Rom 5:6) and that Christ had the same compassion for people (Mt 9:36-38). We can marinate in these twin threads of compassionate desire for the salvation of all people and develop from it a powerful positive social alternative.

If we are to be imitators of God then we must reflect to all we encounter the desire for their ultimate redemption and do so with compassion.

Image by Loreen Liberty

Church is Not a Spectator Sport

Why Church Matters by Joshua Harris

image“…When your heart begins to beat for God’s glory and God’s people and you begin to glimpse His longing to visit you, Sunday changes. Actually, it becomes something extraordinary. Something sacred. Something essential.”

Let’s get this out of the way right up front; this is a delightful gem of a book that belongs in the hands of every person sitting in the pews on Sunday. Distracted by something that happened at home. Bored by the preacher. Perturbed at the fact that the praise team went astray from the hymnal again. All of these feelings and more are brought into the church for the most important hours of the week, and we wonder why our body doesn’t seem to be more dynamic, activist or interesting.

Could it be us?

It is far too easy for modern Christians to view church from the perspective of a shopper or spectator says Joshua Harris. Our attitude is what can the church do for me or does this church serve my needs. With a little review of the Bible and our hearts, he says, we can ask different questions: what can I contribute to this church or for what purpose did God place me and my family in this church? In seven brief chapters, Harris provokes Christians to view the bride of Christ in a different light, understanding how important the privilege of worshipping and serving together is.

There are a number of volumes that delve into this same topic in much greater depth but that is not the purpose of this volume. Harris has written a conversational book, quick to read and digest that will get the reader thinking. If you don’t see yourself on one page, read a few more paragraphs and you will see something that reminds you of an attitude that may have flirted with. Pastor Harris is looking you in the eye and asking you to think differently. Think about what it means to be a part of a family where you are important, missed when you are absent and cared for when infirm.

I am grateful to Waterbrook Multnomah who provided this book for review.

The Ordinance of Baptism

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Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

With this commission our Lord instituted the rite of baptism as practiced by the Church since. In the centuries that have passed, the Church has interpreted the rite’s meaning, effect and administration in myriad ways. It has provided moments of unmatched joy for participants and their beloved, and it has also evoked bitter division within the Body.

Christian discuss and divide over the mode and meaning of baptism, over who the appropriate subjects of the rite are and even what the effect of the baptism is. Catholic theology insists that the rite of baptism causes regeneration, making it a necessity for salvation. The Reformation division is rooted in these sacramental ideas and insistence that salvation is by faith alone. Therefore, the predominant belief in the Protestant church is that the rite is symbolic in nature and that it is practiced out of obedience to the command of the Lord.

Understanding the practice of baptism requires careful research and exegesis. Other than the command to practice the ordinance, there are no explicit instructions for administration, purpose or effect in the New Testament. The doctrine of a church is therefore devised from existing belief, historical practice and what can be understood in the text. Understanding this, baptism should be looked at as a non-critical doctrine and one that should not be a cause of division, though it remains so.

A series of posts will follow this in the coming weeks. The first will explore the predominant Protestant position of a believer’s only baptism, administered by immersion. A word study of Baptizo is a necessary component for understanding the practice of immersion versus affussion, and that will follow these initial posts. We will then explore infant baptism and the theology behind that doctrine. The objective of these posts is not to advocate for a single position but to explore and discuss the theology behind a doctrine that we often take for granted. I’ll look forward to interacting with readers on this topic.

Grace and peace to you..

image Lawrence OP

Psalm 76 – He Is Feared By The Kings Of The Earth

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From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet–

when you, O God, rose up to judge, to save all the afflicted of the land.

Surely your wrath against men brings you praise, and the survivors of your wrath are restrained. (Ps 76:8-10)

Political correctness would tear psalms such as this one from the pages of the Bible. A cheer for the God who destroys enemies and brings rulers to heel? This sounds so foreign because we want a God who stands off at a distance and rolls His eyes at our interpersonal and international battles. No longer does God favor one nation over another or even condone the exclusivity of one religious path.

In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel.

His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.

There he broke the flashing arrows, the shields and the swords, the weapons of war. (vv 1-3)

Modern Christianity is personal. We call it our faith but do not extol its superiority over all others. Why not? We have here in the scriptures proclamations of God’s choice of Israel as His people and the Temple as His dwelling place. Dare we not say the same thing? God has chosen us in Christ and our soul is His dwelling place? Is this defeat for all competing belief systems?

Grace and peace to you..

 

image by musumemiyuki

Predestinarians Make Exceptions

imageFriends of irony: check out the discussion here as the Predestinarian Tribe talks about choosing a church. Hasn’t God already determined all actions that we will take? Why is the choice of a church somehow outside of this predestined course?

Note: notice that all of the requirements have to do with finding a church with the “proper” theological framework. Shouldn’t requirement number one be to find a church where God is present?

Ted Haggard (mis)Interprets James

imageAfter doing immeasurable harm to the brothers and sisters of New Life Church, the members of the National Association of Evangelicals, and to the Church of Jesus Christ at large, Ted Haggard is again placing himself into a leadership position as he plants the new St. James church in Colorado Springs. The new body draws its name from the Epistle of James from which Haggard quotes verse 2:17 “..faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” and witnesses to the number of times in the past three years that he and wife Gayle have been the recipients of love in action. This is a noble application of the verse Ted, but what is the definition of faith? Is it to sin boldly so as to receive more grace?

Apparently he didn’t read any further in the book. Verse 3:1 of this practical letter says “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” There’s a higher standard Ted, a standard for those who influence the lives of so many others. “We all stumble in many ways.” (3:2) How true! None of us is sinless but we pursue holiness with a vigor that is unmatched.

And we do it every day to the furthest extent of our Spirit-led abilities so that when we step up to pulpit we have the integrity to look into the eyes of those that God has seated before us and to speak the Gospel into their lives…

…without having to worry about our hidden lives being revealed.

Are those who take to seats in St. James church going to know that Haggard has been pursuing holiness rather than drugs and sexual liaisons? What accountability will he have this time that he did not before? The nagging question that burns in the minds of many right now is whether or not the standards of holiness will be relaxed to accommodate the very behaviors that precipitated his previous fall. Will the standards be such that God will be present when the body is gathered?

As a brother in Christ I take seriously my responsibility to Ted. I love him and extend all measure of grace to him and his family and pray for nothing but redemption in his life. I believe that the Lord’s grace has blanketed and forgiven his sin and worked to knit together the Haggard family and make it whole. On the other hand, I don’t believe that he should be stepping back into the pulpit and leading a new body at this time. Had he placed himself under the leadership of another pastor and the accountability of another Elder board for some time to demonstrate a restored soul and measure of integrity this move would make sense but not this way. If God has called him back to the pulpit then I’m moving out of the way as fast as I can. If Ted has called himself back to preaching, it’s my responsibility to take his measure in accordance with the scriptures.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Strength Training for Worship

imageWhat were you thinking about on the way to church last Sunday? Was it the songs you were going to sing? The topic of the sermon for that day? Were you even thinking about the service or were you busy listening to the radio, talking to the family or embroiled in an argument that started back at home? Don’t feel bad, you’re no different from the majority of modern day churchgoers. Going to worship on Sunday morning is a habit that practice as Christians but for most, we have lost the anticipation factor of the event. If God actually condescended to descend into the midst of our casual worship, most present would run in horror to the exits.

Worship is a part of our lives but it is not a priority in our lives.

“If the Lord is to be Lord, worship must have priority in our lives. The first commandment of Jesus is, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:30) “ Foster. If worship becomes a priority, that is, our first love, we will be in a state of anticipation believing with all of our strength that God will make His presence known, felt, and real when we worship alone or with our community. Appearing before the altar unprepared will no more cross our mind than we would take the starting line of a marathon after sitting in our offices all winter.

To prepare ourselves for worship is to worship individually. We need to know the Shekinah in the our hearts. Start now. Stop reading and open your heart to God’s presence. Praise Him for this moment and the next breath and seek His presence. Don’t give up until it is real. God does not want half-hearted seekers. He wants His people to desire to know Him above all else. Make this a habit so that you know when the Lord is present. Build up the ability to wait for the Glory to descend on your waiting heart, whatever it takes.

If each member of the community worships on their own, the expectancy of God’s presence on the corporate gathering will grow in our hearts. We will seek to be with others who are prepared to know the Glory together, to have it multiplied by all of the hearts open and ready to receive it. The Glory will be manifest in the Church and Jesus can use it to draw others to himself. People will come from far and wide to see what the fuss is about.

Going to church is not the same going to worship. We can continue to go for social purposes, to hear a nice talk, and to go through the motions of watching as someone else sings some songs. Or we can move worship into a priority position in our lives and commit ourselves to a program of intentional worship, always wanting to know a greater and greater presence of His unmatchable Glory.

Grace and peace to you.

image Stephen Burch