||Wednesday, October 19, 2005
O LORD, rebuke me not in thy anger,
nor chasten me in thy wrath!
For thy arrows have sunk into me,
and thy hand has come down on me.
There is no soundness in my flesh
because of thy indignation;
there is no health in my bones
because of my sin.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
they weigh like a burden too heavy for me.
My wounds grow foul and fester
because of my foolishness,
I am utterly bowed down and prostrate;
all the day I go about mourning.
For my loins are filled with burning,
and there is no soundness in my flesh.
I am utterly spent and crushed;
I groan because of the tumult of my heart.
Lord, all my longing is known to thee,
my sighing is not hidden from thee.
My heart throbs, my strength fails me;
and the light of my eyes -- it also has gone from me.
My friends and companions stand aloof from my plague,
and my kinsmen stand afar off.
Those who seek my life lay their snares,
those who seek my hurt speak of ruin,
and meditate treachery all the day long.
But I am like a deaf man, I do not hear,
like a dumb man who does not open his mouth.
Yea, I am like a man who does not hear,
and in whose mouth are no rebukes.
But for thee, O LORD, do I wait;
it is thou, O LORD my God, who wilt answer.
For I pray, "Only let them not rejoice over me,
who boast against me when my foot slips!"
For I am ready to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
I confess my iniquity,
I am sorry for my sin.
Those who are my foes without cause are mighty,
and many are those who hate me wrongfully.
Those who render me evil for good
are my adversaries because I follow after good.
Do not forsake me, O LORD!
O my God, be not far from me!
Make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation!
||Tuesday, October 18, 2005
The Power of Unity
- That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me. John 17:21
What is the greatest power that allows the unsaved to make a decision for Jesus Christ? It isn't prayer, though this is important. It isn't good deeds, though deeds indicate a fruitful relationship with God. It isn't good behavior, though Christ commands us to be obedient as sons. The greatest power God's children have over darkness is unity. Jesus talked a great deal about His oneness with the Father and the importance of unity in the Body of Christ. It is the most difficult command Jesus gave to the Church, because it wars against the most evil aspect of our sin nature-independence.
In the last days we are seeing God's Spirit convict His children of the lack of unity among His Church. We are seeing God move between blacks and whites, ethnic groups, denominations, and parachurch groups. There is much work to be done. The walls of division and competition among His Body are a stench in God's nostrils.
He sees the competition and the pride of ownership and weeps for the lost who cannot come to Him because they cannot see Him in His Body. When His Body is one, the unbelieving see that Jesus was sent by God. It is like a supernatural key that unlocks Heaven for the heathen soul. The key is in the hand of Christ's Church. When there is unity, there is power. Scripture tells us five will chase 100, but 100 will chase 10,000 (see Lev. 26:8). There is a dynamic multiplication factor in unity of numbers. We are a hundred times more effective when we are a unified group. Imagine what God could do with a unified Church.
Jesus prayed that we all might be one, as the Father and He are one. He wanted the same love God has for Jesus to be in each of us. When this love is in us, we are drawn to each other with a common mission. The walls fall down. The independent spirit is broken. Competition is destroyed. Satan's accusations are thwarted. Our love for each other is manifest to the world around us. Lost souls begin to seek this love that is so foreign to them.
Have you contributed to an independent spirit within His Body? Are you seeking to break down walls of competition among Christians, churches, denominations, and ethnic groups? Until we walk in the spirit of unity, we will hinder those in whom God has reserved a place in Heaven. Pray for His Church to be unified.
Too Big To Put Behind?
Disappointment and loss are a part of every life. Many times we can put them behind us and get on with the rest of our lives. But not everything is amenable to this approach. Some things are too big or too deep to do this, and we will have to leave important parts of ourselves behind if we treat them in this way. These are the places where wisdom begins to grow in us. It begins with suffering that we do not avoid or rationalize or put behind us. It starts with the realization that our loss, whatever it is, has become a part of us and has altered our lives so profoundly that we cannot go back to the way it was before.
The thing about the many strategies we use to shelter ourselves from feeling loss is that none of them leads to healing. Although denial, rationalization, substitution, avoidance, and the like may numb the pain of loss, every one of them hurts us in some far more fundamental ways. None is respectful toward life or toward process. None acknowledges our capacity for finding meaning or wisdom.
Every great loss demands that we choose life again. We need to grieve in order to do this. The pain we have not grieved over will always stand between us and life. When we don’t grieve, a part of us becomes caught in the past like Lot’s wife who, because she looked back, was turned into a pillar of salt.
Grieving is not about forgetting. Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain. It is a sorting process. One by one you let go of the things that are gone and you mourn for them. One by one you take hold of the things that have become a part of who you are and build again.
Disappointment and loss are a part of every life. Many times we can put such things behind us and get on with the rest of our lives. But not everything is amenable to this approach. Some things are too big or too deep to do this, and we will have to leave important parts of ourselves behind if we treat them in this way. These are the places where wisdom begins to grow in us. It begins with suffering that we do not avoid or rationalize or put behind us. It starts with the realization that our loss, whatever it is, has become a part of us and has altered our lives so profoundly that we cannot go back to the way it was before.
The important thing about the many strategies we use to shelter ourselves from feeling loss is that none of them leads to healing. Although denial, rationalization, substitution, avoidance, and the like may numb the pain of loss, every one of them hurts us in some far more fundamental ways. None is respectful toward life or toward process. None acknowledges our capacity for finding meaning or wisdom. Pain often marks the place where self-knowledge and growth can happen, much in the same way that fear does.
Grieving is the way that loss can heal. Yet many people do not know how to grieve and heal their losses. This makes it hard to find the courage to participate fully in life. At some deep level, it may make us unwilling to be openhearted or present, to become attached or intimate.
We trust our bodies to heal because of the gift of a billion years of biological evolution. But how might you live if you did not know that your body could heal?? Would you ride your bike, drive a car, use a knife to cut up your dinner? Or would you never get off the couch? Many people have become emotional couch potatoes because they do not know that they can heal their hearts.
Unless we learn to grieve, we may need to live life at a distance in order to protect ourselves from pain. We may not be able to risk having anything that really matters to us or allow ourselves to be touched, to be intimate, to care or be cared about. Untouched, we will suffer anyway. We just will not be transformed by our suffering.
Grieving may be one of the most fundamental of life skills. It is the way that the heart can heal from loss and go on to love again and grow wise.
Excerpted from the book My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging, by Rachel Naomi Remen, MD. Copyright 2000 Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. NY, NY 10014
Back From The Foreign Country
Much like the Prodigal Son, I am back from an extended blogging vacation - and excited to share the highs and lows experienced after careful reflection and consideration of some incredibly challenging events associated with taking a stand for one's beliefs, feeling incredibly abandoned as a result of that stand, rebelling against God as part of that feeling of abandonment, and being called back to God based on his incredibly patience.
A definition of patience - a patience demonstrated by Jesus - that truly made me realize both the reach of God's love and the futility of rebellion is as follows:
"Patience is the Ability to Endure Injury, Irritation, or Injustice without Complaint or Retaliation, Even Though You May Possess the Power to Do So."
We certainly do have a patient Father.
I hope you enjoy and benefit from the renewed postings.
||Wednesday, September 28, 2005
||Friday, September 23, 2005
The Stuff Of Scars
By Jill Carattini / Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
I have always found it immeasurably comforting that Jesus gave Simon the name "Cephas," or Peter, before Cephas had done much of anything. Before Peter had even determined to follow Jesus, let alone serve him and love him as the Christ, before Peter had muttered his denials of knowing Jesus or had one of his moments of blurted insight, before Jesus had reason to call Peter "Satan," Jesus called him the "rock" (John 1:42).
What does this say? First, I believe it shouts of God's sovereignty. God knows who we are before we know ourselves. He can use us in spite of ourselves. He is sovereign over our failures and our successes. But secondly, it reminds us that we are more than the sum of our blunders and failings, as well as our victories and our bright spots. As the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Before we had a chance to prove ourselves, before we had a chance to fall on our faces or say something smart, God knew He'd need to die for us, and did.
Peter is the disciple that makes many of us feel okay. He is a loud statement to the hopeless, to the skeptic, and to the guilt-ridden that God can take our doubt, our regret, the hopelessness of our past or our present, and create in us something solid by giving us Himself. In Peter we also find that pains of regret and faithlessness may leave scars, but that scars can be powerful reminders of the living hope we profess: the Word that will not wither. (See 1 Peter 24-25). Through Peter, God encourages the weary. Through our scars, He heartens us to see a God very much in control.
Even so, when we look at our own moments of faithlessness or foolishness, our scars of humiliation, or the bitter sting of missed and lost opportunities, it is hard to see much beyond regret and remorse, even if we know Christ has forgiven us. Can there be more to see in the weight of our past, the pains of childhood and the wounds of life, the glimpses of guilty motives and poor behavior? The testimony of Scripture is that yes, very definitely, there is.
For arguably, Peter's passion for Christ was largely shaped by that which the pain and humiliation of denying Jesus rightly reminded him: If we are faithless, God remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself. Our scars are similar. Some of my own scars simply remind me that I am alive, living within a fallen world, participating in this fragile thing called life. Some remind me that I am not an island, that I need people, that I desperately need a savior, that I need God in all that I face. Still others remind me that I am healed and being healed. But all of my scars can remind me, as they did Peter, of the sovereignty of God and the weight and responsibility of the hope which I profess. "Do you love me?" asks Jesus. "Yes, Lord," responds Peter. "Then feed my sheep."
When Jesus appeared to the gathered, frightened disciples after his resurrection, he said to them, "See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see" (Luke 24:39, ESV). The frightened disciples had gathered together to discuss the rumors some had heard that Christ was alive and out of the grave, risen from the cruel death they witnessed days ago. They were disoriented and afraid, and Jesus said to them, "Look at my hands and my feet." And to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side" (John 20:27, ESV). To his closest friends, Jesus said, "Look at my scars, see that it is me. Recognize me by my scars; they will point you to God."
Christ was recognized by the scars that marked his body, and shouted of his love. The powerful lyrics of musician Michael Card exclaim, "The marks of death that God chose never to erase/ The wounds of love's eternal war/ When the kingdom comes with its perfected sons/ He will be known by the scars."
Like our own, but far beyond this, the scars of Christ point us to a sovereign God who goes great lengths to touch our disfigured world and scarred souls with his holy hands. As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed long ago, "He was crushed for our iniquities. By his stripes we are healed." No doubt, it was this piercing reality of Christ bearing the scars of our sin, carrying our pain, and taking our shame, that Peter bore in mind as he dynamically instructed, "Throw all your anxieties upon Him, because He cares about you" (1 Peter 5:7). For Peter, of all people, knew.
© 2005 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. All Rights Reserved.
||Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Have A Fear Of Stumbling?
Is it not great that we can have confidence as believers that if walk in step with God he promises that we will:
- Not Be Utterly Cast Down
- Not Be Hurled Headlong
- Not Down For Long
Check out the three translations of Psalms 37:23-24 below - as they each convey this promise in a unique way:
Psalm 37 (NIV)
23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.
24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.
Psalm 37 (NASB)
23 The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way.
24 When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.
Psalm 37 (The Message)
23Stalwart walks in step with GOD; his path blazed by GOD, he's happy.
24If he stumbles, he's not down for long; GOD has a grip on his hand.
||Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Do you have your "clothes" on?
Thoughts from Paul to the Church at Colosse
on the "clothes" we should wear as Christians.
- Colossians 3:12-14 :Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (New International Version)
What do clothes do?
What clothes should we wear to both display and protect the virtues provided to us by Christ in our new life?
- Compassion (vs. 12)
- Kindness (vs. 12)
- Humility (vs. 12)
- Gentleness (vs. 12)
- Patience (vs. 12)
- Love (vs. 14)
What might we sometimes cover up in our life?
- Grievances with one another. (vs. 13)
How can we uncover these grievances?
- Forgive each other - as the Lord forgave us. (vs. 13)
What portion of clothing binds these clothes together in perfect unity?
- Love (vs. 14 - love, which binds them all together in perfect unity).
Prayer: Lord, each day as I get dressed - please help me to remember that I need to put on not only my physical clothes - but the spiritual clothes you have provided me and enabled me to wear through the death and resurrection of your son Jesus Christ.
||Monday, September 19, 2005
Fathers Instruct Your Children
By Kim Riddlebarger.
Rev. Dr. Kim Riddlebarger is a graduate of California State University in Fullerton (B.A., Westminster Theological Seminary in California (M.A.R.), and Fuller Theological Seminary (Ph. D.). Kim is currently the pastor of Christ Reformed Church in Placentia, California.
Growing up in American fundamentalism, as I did, the very word "catechism" brought to my mind images of the liberalism of mainline Protestant denominations, or some mysterious Roman Catholic ritual that could have no biblical support whatsoever. As a "Bible church" person, I was taught from my earliest youth that "catechism" was at best a worthless practice, if not downright dangerous to the soul. But if you were to have asked me just what exactly "catechism" was, I'm not sure that I could have given you an answer. Growing up with such misconceptions, I often viewed my friends who attended "catechism" classes as people who could not possibly be "born again" and therefore, in desperate need of evangelization. For unlike their misguided and dead church, our church had no creed but Christ, and we needed no such "man-made" guides to faith since we depended upon the Bible alone. Whatever "catechism" was, I wanted no part of it!
The burgeoning evangelical men's movement, demonstrated by the huge amount of interest garnered by such groups as Promise Keepers, has raised a whole host of legitimate questions about the role of Christian men in society, the work-place and the home. This is certainly an important and indeed, a healthy trend. But I wonder if the answers to such questions are perhaps best found in the wisdom of earlier generations, rather than from among our own contemporaries. Many of these same questions have been asked before and the answers given to them by our predecessors and fathers in the faith were not only based upon a thorough knowledge of Scripture (which Gallup and Barna remind us is sadly lacking in our own age), but additionally, were forged through a kind of wisdom and life experience gained during an era in which Christians were less apt to simply react to the secular agenda and uncritically imitate its glitz, glamour and noise. Evangelical Protestants of previous generations, it seems, were often more careful about confusing the sacred and the secular than our own leaders, and they often dealt with such weighty issues theologically and historically. Inevitably, when we look to the theological wisdom of the previous generations regarding the role of men in society, the work-place and the home, we come back to the importance of the practice of catechism.
Catechism (from the Greek word catechesis) is simply instruction in the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. Instead of replacing or supplanting the role of the Bible in Christian education, catechism ideally serves as the basis for it. For the practice of catechism, as properly understood, is the Christian equivalent of looking at the box top of a jig-saw puzzle before one starts to put all of those hundreds of little pieces together. It is very important to look at the big picture and have it clearly in mind, so that we do not bog down in details, or get endlessly sidetracked by some unimportant or irrelevant issue. The theological categories given to us through catechism, help us to make sense out of the myriad of details found in the Scriptures themselves. Catechism serves as a guide to better understanding Scripture. That being noted however, we need to remind ourselves that Protestants have always argued that creeds, confessions and catechisms are authoritative only in so far as they faithfully reflect the teaching of Holy Scripture. This means that the use of catechisms, which correctly summarize biblical teaching, does not negate or remove the role of Holy Scripture. Instead, these same creeds, confessions and catechisms, as summary statements of what the Holy Scriptures themselves teach about a particular doctrine, should serve as a kind of spring-board to more effective Bible study. When this is the case, these confessions, creeds and catechisms are invaluable tools to help us learn about the important themes and doctrines that are in Scripture.
The practice of catechism also serves as an important safeguard against heresy and helps to mitigate some of the problems associated with the private interpretation of Scripture. How many times have you been forced to sit through a Bible study in which the goal was not to discover what the text actually says, but instead to discover what a particular verse means to each of the studies' participants? When we remember that virtually every cult in America began with an open Bible and a charismatic leader who could ensure his or her followers that they alone have discovered what everyone else, especially the creeds, confessions and catechisms, have missed, we see perhaps the greatest value of catechism. These guides protect us from such errors and self-deluded teachers. As American evangelicals have moved away from the practice of catechism for subjective and experiential modes of meaning, it is no accident that biblical illiteracy has risen to embarrassing levels and that false doctrines have rushed in like a flood. These important safeguards of basic doctrine have been removed, and since Satan is, of course, the fathers of all lies, we are most helpless against him when the truth is not known.
Protestant catechisms most often take the form of a series of questions and answers developed as summaries of biblical teaching. The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), for example, focuses upon the theme of the believer's comfort by asking "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" The Heidelberg Catechism is arranged around the three-fold distinction of guilt, grace and gratitude. The Westminster Shorter Catechism (1648), on the other hand, seeks to get right to the "big" question concerning the ultimate meaning of life, when it asks in question one, "What is the chief end of man?" Luther's Larger Catechism (1529) begins by setting forth the meaning of the Ten Commandments, and Luther attempts to set clearly in the catechumen's mind the proper relationship between Law and Gospel from the outset. Indeed, the primary purpose of all three of these catechisms is to instruct new Christians and our covenant children in the basics of the Christian faith. For in all of these great catechisms we are to learn about the content of the law and its relationship to the gospel, the Lord's Prayer as a pattern for our fellowship with God, the Apostle's Creed as a summation of Christian doctrine, and the sacraments as our means of spiritual nourishment. Thus these catechisms are all formulated to introduce catechumens to the basics of the Christian faith-things that all of us should know and believe.
The practice of catechism should ideally have a two-fold emphasis. The first of these emphases centers around the home. If Christian men are wondering about what their primary role should be as a father, in terms of their obligation to be priests of their own homes, I suggest that the practice of catechism occupy a major role. The Scriptures make it very clear that parents, especially fathers, are assigned the role of recounting to their children the mighty acts of God in redeeming his people (Exodus 13:8 ff). God commands us to teach his commandments "to your children and to their children after them" (Deuteronomy 4:9; cf. also Deuteronomy 6:6-9). In Joshua 8, we read that:
Joshua read all the words of the law-the blessings and the curses-just as it was written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read to the whole assembly of Israel, including women and children, and the aliens who lived among them (vv. 34-35).
The prophet Isaiah tells us that parents are to tell their children about God's faithfulness (Isaiah 38:19). In the New Testament, we discover that the young pastor Timothy, had known the Holy Scriptures from infancy (2 Timothy 3:16). Paul recounted how important his own religious instruction had been to him, even before he became a believer (Acts 22:3). It is Paul who instructs fathers not to exasperate their children, but to "bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord" (Eph 6:4).
Certainly it is important that every dad teach his children about the meaning of life. Yes, it is important to know who Larry, Moe and Curly are and every properly mannered child should know how to make various Stooge sounds and gestures despite their mother's objections. It is also important for dads to teach their sons why an F-15 is superior to a Mig-25, and to even build a model of it together if possible. It is a must to know what a "draw play" is, and why if your child does not learn from your mistakes and grows up to be a Rams fan, they too must learn to live with perennial disappointment and heartbreak, a very difficult but valuable lesson. It is important to learn how to tie a ball into a mitt to make a good pocket, to run a lawn mower properly so as to not leave streaks in the grass and to position the firewood precisely so that you get a good hot and clean fire. But while all of this is important, it certainly pales in the light of eternity, when we realize that our children must also come to know the unspeakable love of Jesus Christ, who declared over the objections of his disciples, "let the children come unto me." There is no doubt that the Scriptures themselves assign specifically to fathers the vital role of instructing their children in the Holy Scriptures and the great doctrines of the Christian faith. Let us never forget that our children come to Christ, many times, directly through instruction received in the home. But how can Mom or Dad best instruct their children in the faith? This can be done very effectively through regular Bible reading and catechism-practices that at one time were the distinguishing mark of a Christian home.
The second emphasis of catechism centers on the role of the local church. Here the role of the pastor and elders, as well as the goal of the Sunday school program, should be to further and support those efforts at catechism ideally begun in the home. Parents should not assume that the church's role is to supply the catechetical instruction that they as parents make little or no effort to provide at home. Too many times Christians labor under the false assumption that the church and its various youth programs, will make up for a lack of instruction in the home. Just as you cannot expect your children to do well in school without the active involvement of the parents at home after school, so too, parents cannot expect their children to grow in faith as they should apart from concerted effort to provide regular catechism in the home. Sunday schools and youth programs are wonderful reinforcements to what the parents undertake in the home. But these can never replace the value of instructing one's children in the basics of Christian faith. Certainly we are all too busy, and this seems so difficult to do. But even a little time spent in catechism pays great dividends, and a discerning parent can find plenty of object lessons with which to illustrate the truths of the catechism from virtually every family discussion, newscast, situation comedy, or feature film. One of the best by-products of parents taking an active role in catechizing their kids, is that they also catechize themselves in the process! In order to teach your kids and to be able to answer their questions, which are often more direct and difficult than those asked by many adults, you must learn the material for yourself. In order to teach, you have to learn!
There are surprising practical ramifications that result from the practice of catechism as well. Many people who hear the White Horse Inn and are suddenly intrigued by Reformation theology frequently inquire about the best way to learn Reformation theology for themselves. There is no doubt that getting one of the Reformation catechisms, and working your way through it, is a great place to start. Too people assume that the place to start learning theology is through tackling technical theological writing, when in fact the creeds and catechisms of the Reformation were designed to instruct novices in the faith. Starting with the catechism and confessions is really a better way to go.
There are other practical results as well. When I first entered the ministry, I was quite surprised at how many times I heard from people how the catechism questions and answers they memorized in childhood kept coming to mind when temptation or doubt would assail them later in life. Many were able to recount how catechism in their youth kept them from joining cults, because they knew enough doctrine to know that you must believe in the Trinity to be a Christian, or how catechism kept them from marrying people from non-Christian religions, since they knew enough biblical teaching to tell the difference. Indeed, several who were on the verge of leaving the faith altogether simply could not escape what had become such an important part of their subconscious. The catechism questions and answers they had memorized many years before simply would not leave them when the going became difficult. It was a part of their life history that they could not escape no matter how hard they tried.
In conclusion, there is one story that wonderfully captures the importance of catechism, perhaps more than all others. The great Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield, in an article defending the worth of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, recounts a wonderful story that demonstrates what he describes as the "indelible mark of the Shorter Catechism."
We have the following bit of experience from a general officer of the United States Army. He was in a great western city at a time of intense excitement and violent rioting. The streets were over-run daily by a dangerous crowd. One day he observed approaching him a man of singularly combined calmness and firmness of mien [bearing], whose very demeanor inspired confidence. So impressed was he with his bearing amid the surrounding uproar that when he had passed he turned to look back at him, only to find that the stranger had done the same. On observing his turning the stranger at once came back to him, and touching his chest with his forefinger, demanded without preface: "What is the chief end of man?" On receiving the countersign, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever"-"Ah!" said he, "I knew you were a Shorter Catechism boy by your looks!" "Why that is just what I was thinking of you," was the rejoinder.1
Concludes Warfield, "It is worthwhile to be a Shorter Catechism boy. They grow up to be men. And better than that, they are exceedingly apt to grow to be men of God."2 If we want our children to grow up to be men and women of God, one of the best possible ways for this to happen is to recover the practice of catechism!
1. B. B. Warfield, "Is the Shorter Catechism Worth While?" in Selected Shorter Writings of Benjamin B. Warfield, Vol. 1, ed., John E. Meeter (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980), pp. 383-84.
2. Ibid., p. 384.
For Further Reading...
1. An End to Generational Segregation in the Church, by Michael Glodo
2. Reforming Youth Ministry, by David Fields
3. Critique of Youth Ministry, by Chris Schlect (offsite link)
© 1995, Modern Reformation Magazine, (March / April 1995 Issue, Vol. 4.2). All Rights Reserved.
Taken From Modern Reformation Magazine.
||Sunday, September 18, 2005
Luther Lite and Reformation Schmooze
By Craig Parton
Craig Parton, a graduate of California Polytechnic University, Simon Greenleaf School of Law and Hastings College of Law, is a member of the law firm Price, Postal and Parna in Santa Barbara, California. He has written, lectured and debated on United States constitutional law.
C. S. Lewis, we all know, came "kicking and screaming" into the kingdom. My family has recently also come "kicking and screaming" into the Reformation. It has been a long and arduous journey which included an extended desert experience in evangelical pietism mixed with many years as missionaries with a high energy parachurch organization. These experiences left my wife and I in T.S. Eliot's "Wasteland"--a spiritual black hole which ultimately forced us to seek the fresh stream of the Reformation.
Now that I have come to the Reformation, questions abound. What is the commitment of the Reformation churches to their distinctives? Why are many Reformation churches looking to evangelical Bible churches for the critical "recipe" necessary to generate vibrancy and good attendance numbers? Evangelical churches apparently have the numbers, the exuberant youth groups with equally exuberant youth group leaders, high rates of conversion, and plenty of money for the new gymnasium. The question arises: Does a "successful" church really need to be presenting Law and Gospel every week? Is the Reformation emphasis on an informed confessionalism, as opposed to an emphasis on conversion, really necessary?
Reformation churches could easily conclude that God is doing his real work elsewhere. After all, Reformation churches are not growing at exponential rates, many contain largely senior congregants, and may be struggling to attract the young people who have likely gone off to the evangelical churches that highlight a more entertaining "Saturday Night Live" format. As one evangelical pastor of a mega-church recently told me: "Give me a large auditorium and let me do a 'David Letterman' format, and I'll pack the place out." No doubt he would. But is Hell yawning?
The careful preaching of the text of scripture, the presentation of the Cross as sufficient for the sins of Christians, the administration of the Lord's Supper, scriptural liturgy, theologically literate music--in short, a mature presentation of sin and grace apparently is no longer sufficient to light the fire of Mr. John Doe Christian.
Reformation churches are increasingly tempted to experiment with so-called evangelical "schmooze"--a frothy mug of "God Lite" incapable of being harmonized with a serious theology of the Cross as articulated by the Reformers. An emphasis on marketing the "Product" to outsiders, the use of weak musical media and equally vacuous "worship teams," the devaluing of a detailed knowledge of the confessional guides, all appear with increasing frequency in historic Reformation churches. Sunday school material is now reviewed for its "relevance" and ability to entertain the MTV generation. Some Reformation churches now debate whether confirmation classes are really "sellable" to junior high students anymore.
I wish to offer three warnings to Reformation pastors and their congregants who may be tempted to engage in the new art of "Reformation Schmooze": Schmooze seeks to entertain. Do not mimic the "Saturday Night Live" Christianity of many of the leading Evangelical Temples. You will not do it as well and it is truly embarrassing hearing it in churches supposedly dedicated to the teachings of the Reformers.
During a discussion this past summer at the Institute for Jurisprudence and Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, one of the students in my class argued with great passion that the use of a guitar in a Reformation service is not, by definition, wrong. This is undoubtedly true. However, I'm still searching for guitar music with weight to support a worship service with a serious emphasis on the Law and the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments.
As Jaroslav Pelikan points out in Bach Among the Theologians, the God of the Reformers motivated artistic works of enormous majesty, power and perfection. In the area of musical composition, this certainly culminated in the St. Matthew Passion of J. S. Bach with its clear reliance on a majesty of the theology of the Cross. The Christian who cannot discern the superiority of Bach's arrangement of "O Sacred Head, Now Wounded" from "I've Got Peace Like a River" is not only impoverished but enslaved. Life is too short to have to suffer through innumerable variations of "You Ask Me How I Know He Lives? He Lives Within My Heart" as a regular diet on Sunday morning while the varsity worship team avoids "And Can It Be That I Should Gain?", "Holy, Holy, Holy" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." Simply put, mantra music to us by the purveyors of schmooze fits with the worship style of another religion.
If you seek to schmooze, the preaching of the Law and the use of theologically literate music will be among the first things to go. You will end up with either a Christian VFW group or a youth rally, but not with a Christian church that has the Gospel. Schmooze seeks to be trendy. Instead, present the liturgy, preach the text of Scripture, and administer the Sacraments with excellence every single Sunday.
Evangelicals coming to the Reformation are nauseated over moralistic sermons where Christ, portrayed as a second law-giver, is presented only in the evangelism of unbelievers. They are nauseated over Arminian Sunday school curricula that instruct their children (as, of course, does Zen Buddhism) to look within themselves for that divine glow that yearns to cooperate with God in doing good deeds. They are nauseated over the Lord's Supper being presented as "crackers and juice" time. They are nauseated over churches where a person's level of involvement in a particular social cause appears to be a confessional requirement akin to affirming the two natures of Christ. Seeking evangelicals are looking for serious, intelligent, thoughtful worship that seizes the high ground. Sermons and Sunday school classes devoted to trendy People magazine-type topics are not the strong point of the Reformation.
A Reformation church should be a place where you find Christ and the forgiveness of sins every Sunday. A Reformation church should be a place where you find doctrinal sermons. A Reformation church should be a place where the catechetical instruction of the young (leading to confirmation and an informed partaking in the Lord's Supper) is placarded as one of the great strengths of the church. A Reformation church should be a place where people are unashamedly taught the creeds and confessions of that denomination that were worked out with exacting care and clarity.
Reformation churches likely will grow as they emphasize their distinctives. But if they do not grow, that is the Lord's concern, not ours. Evangelicals coming to the Reformation seek the strong drink of the Gospel which the Reformation has as its great treasure. To relegate this God-given distinctive to the back of the church bus will ultimately confuse, discourage, and exasperate seeking evangelicals. Evangelicals will realize, with horror, that the worship team performing at the local evangelical temple is actually doing all the schmooze better than this Reformation church that is, apparently, embarrassed of its heritage.
Evangelicals going to the Reformation expect to drink the cup of theology and doctrine to the dregs. They will not be drawn to Reformation churches because you offer a "contemporary service." For heaven's sake, they will come to the Reformation to get away from that! If I had only wanted a "little dab of Luther," I would have stayed put. It certainly would not have been worth the discombobulation involved in moving my family to the Reformation if the only result was that we got Arminian theology supported by a nice pipe organ.
Leave head-counting to the domain of schmooze.
Reformation churches see the excitement, the numbers, the budget, the prestige that evangelical churches and pastors have in the community. Young people appear to be flocking into these "user friendly" environments. "God Lite" works, so it seems. Sermons emphasizing social involvement and Jesus As Therapist keep the attention of the Phil and Oprah generation that supposedly is disinterested in the mundane issues of sin and salvation.
Numbers deceive. In fact, a biblical church could actually be losing numbers. I am convinced that many churches would actually be displaying a renewed obedience to the inerrant Word of God by engaging in a vibrant ministry of subtraction.
In any event, a church with ten people that is preaching the text of Scripture, presenting Christ each week as if the Cross is the answer for Christian failure too, and is properly administering the Sacraments, is doing it right. Reformation churches must do what they have been blessed by God in doing for over 450 years. Rest assured, evangelicals that come in will be supremely enthused to proselytize those outside the camp. After all, that is what we evangelicals do best.
If Reformation churches fail to placard their distinctives but instead create Reformation Schmooze, they may well grow in numbers. However, they will no longer be Reformation churches. More likely than not, though, such churches will fail to grow in numbers since their clergy and their services are not adept at promoting entertainment without a fundamental change in theology. One thing is certain: such churches will repulse the legion of seriously seeking evangelicals who are turning to the Reformation at this historic moment.
Reformation churches have the great treasure of the Church--the Gospel in word, water, bread and wine. The haunting question facing serious evangelicals who have wallowed through the theological pig-pen to get back to their Father's house is now this: Will the light still be on? And if it is on, tell me it's not neon.
© 1995, Modern Reformation Magazine, ((January / February 1995 Issue, Vol. 4.1)). All Rights Reserved.
Taken From Modern Reformation Magazine.
||Friday, September 16, 2005
The Wheat & The Tares
By Martin Luther (1483-1546) The Parable of the Tares Which An Enemy Sowed in the Field:
The following short sermon is taken from volume II of, The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI). It was originally published in 1906 in english by Lutherans In All Lands (Minneapolis, MN), in a series titled The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, vol. 11. The original title of this sermon appears below.
Matt. 13:24-30: Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.
1. The Saviour himself explained this parable in the same chapter upon the request of his disciples and says: He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; and the field is the world; and the good seed, these are the children of the kingdom; and the tares are the sons of the evil one; and the enemy that sowed them is the devil; and the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. These seven points of explanation comprehend and clearly set forth what Christ meant by this parable. But who could have discovered such an interpretation, seeing that in this parable he calls people the seed and the world the field; although in the parable preceding this one he defines the seed to be the Word of God and the field the people or the hearts of the people. If Christ himself had not here interpreted this parable every one would have imitated his explanation of the preceding parable and considered the seed to be the Word of God, and thus the Saviour's object and understanding of it would have been lost.
2. Permit me to make an observation here for the benefit of the wise and learned who study the Scriptures. Imitating or guessing is not to be allowed in the explanation of Scripture; but one should and must be sure and firm. Just like Joseph in Gen. 40:12f. interpreted the two dreams of the butler and baker so differently, although they resembled each other, and he did not make the one a copy of the other. True, the danger would not have been great if the seed had been interpreted to be the Word of God; still had this been the case the parable would not have been thus understood correctly.
3. Now this Gospel teaches us how the kingdom of God or Christianity fares in the world, especially on account of its teaching, namely, that we are not to think that only true Christians and the pure doctrine of God are to dwell upon the earth; but that there must be also false Christians and heretics in order that the true Christians may be approved, as St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 2:19. For this parable treats not of false Christians, who are so only outwardly in their lives, but of those who are unchristian in their doctrine and faith under the name Christian, who beautifully play the hypocrite and work harm. It is a matter of the conscience and not of the hand. And they must be very spiritual servants to be able to identify the tares among the wheat. And the sum of all is that we should not marvel nor be terrified if there spring up among us many different false teachings and false faiths. Satan is constantly among the children of God. (Job 1:6).
4. Again this Gospel teaches how we should conduct ourselves toward these heretics and false teachers. We are not to uproot nor destroy them. Here he says publicly let both grow together. We have to do here with God's Word alone; for in this matter he who errs today may find the truth tomorrow. Who knows when the Word of God may touch his heart? But if he be burned at the stake, or otherwise destroyed, it is thereby assured that he can never find the truth; and thus the Word of God is snatched from him, and he must be lost, who otherwise might have been saved. Hence the Lord says here, that the wheat also will be uprooted if we weed out the tares. That is something awful in the eyes of God and never to be justified.
5. From this observe what raging and furious people we have been these many years, in that we desired to force others to believe; the Turks with the sword, heretics with fire, the Jews with death, and thus outroot the tares by our own power, as if we were the ones who could reign over hearts and spirits, and make them pious and right, which God's Word alone must do. But by murder we separate the people from the Word, so that it cannot possibly work upon them and we bring thus, with one stroke a double murder upon ourselves, as far as it lies in our power, namely, in that we murder the body for time and the soul for eternity, and afterwards say we did God a service by our actions, and wish to merit something special in heaven.
6. Therefore this passage should in all reason terrify the grand inquisitors and murderers of the people, where they are not brazened faced, even if they have to deal with true heretics. But at present they burn the true saints and are themselves heretics. What is that but uprooting the wheat, and pretending to exterminate the tares, like insane people?
7. Today's Gospel also teaches by this parable that our free will amounts to nothing, since the good seed is sowed only by Christ, and Satan can sow nothing but evil Seed; as we also see that the field of itself yields nothing but tares, which the cattle eat, although the field receives them and they make the field green as if they were wheat. In the same way the false Christians among the true Christians are of no use but to feed the world and be food for Satan, and they are so beautifully green and hypocritical, as if they alone were the saints, and hold the place in Christendom as if they were lords there, and the government and highest places belonged to them; and for no other reason than that they glory that they are Christians and are among Christians in the church of Christ, although they see and confess that they live unchristian lives.
8. In that the Saviour pictures here also Satan scattering his seed while the people sleep and no one sees who did it, he shows how Satan adorns and disguises himself so that he cannot be taken for Satan. As we experienced when Christianity was planted in the world Satan thrust into its midst false teachers. People securely think here God is enthroned without a rival and Satan is a thousand miles away, and no one sees anything except how they parade the Word, name and work of God. That course proves beautifully effective. But when the wheat springs up, then we see the tares, that is, if we are conscientious with Gods Word and teach faith, we see that it brings forth fruit, then they go about and antagonize it, and wish to be masters of the field and fear lest only wheat grows in the field, and their interests be overlooked.
9. Then the church and pastor marvel; but they are not allowed to pass judgment, and eagerly wish to interpret all for the best, since such persons bear the Christian name. But it is apparent they are tares and evil seed, have strayed from the faith and fallen to trust in works, and think of rooting out the tares. They lament because of it before the Lord, in the heartfelt prayer of their spirit. For the sower of the good seed says again, they should not uproot it, that is, they should have patience, and suffer such blasphemy, and commend all to God; for although the tares hinder the wheat, yet they make it the more beautiful to behold, compared with the tares, as St. Paul also says in 1 Cor. 2:19: "For there must be false factions among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you." This is sufficient on today's text.
The Golden Yak.
The Sin of the Golden Calf (New English Translation Of Exodus Chapter 32)
32:1 When the people saw that Moses delayed in coming down from the mountain, they gathered together around Aaron and said to him, “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!”
32:2 So Aaron said to them, “Break off the gold earrings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.”
32:3 So all the people broke off the gold earrings that were on their ears, and they brought them to Aaron.
32:4 And he received them from their hand, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
32:5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it, and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow will be a feast to the Lord.”
32:6 So they got up early on the next day and offered up burnt offerings, and they brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.
32:7 And the Lord spoke to Moses: “Go, descend, because your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly.
32:8 They have turned aside quickly from the way that I commanded them—they have made for themselves a molten calf, and have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt.’”
32:9 Then the Lord said to Moses: “I have seen this people, that they are a stiff-necked people.
32:10 So now, leave me alone so that my anger can burn against them and that I may consume them; and I will make from you a great nation.”
32:11 But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. And he said, “O Lord, why does your anger burn against your people, whom you have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?
32:12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘For evil he led them out to kill them in the mountains, and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger, and relent of this evil against your people.
32:13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel your servants, to whom you swore by yourself, and spoke to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of the heavens, and all this land that I have spoken about I will give to your descendants, and they will inherit it forever.’”
32:14 Then the Lord relented over the evil that he had said he was going to do to his people.
32:15 And Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hands. The tablets were written on both sides—on the one side and on the other they were written.
32:16 Now the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.
32:17 When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “It is the sound of war in the camp.”
32:18 And Moses said, “It is not the sound of those who shout for victory, nor is it the sound of those who cry because they are overcome, but the sound of singing I hear.”
32:19 And when he drew near the camp he saw the calf and the dancing, and Moses became extremely angry. He threw the tablets from his hands and broke them to pieces at the bottom of the mountain.
32:20 And then he took the calf they had made and burned it in the fire, and ground it to powder, and poured it out on the water and made the Israelites drink it.
32:21 And Moses said to Aaron, “What did this people do to you, that you have brought on them so great a sin?”
32:22 And Aaron said, “Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they tend to evil.
32:23 And they said to me, ‘Make us gods that will go before us, for as for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has happened to him.’
32:24 So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and this calf came out.”
32:25 And Moses saw that the people were running wild, for Aaron had let them get out of control, to the derision from their enemies.
32:26 So Moses stood at the entrance of the camp, and said, “Whoever is for the Lord, come to me.” And all the Levites gathered themselves to him.
32:27 And he said to them, “Thus says the Lord the God of Israel, ‘Each man fasten his sword on his side, and go in and out from entrance to entrance throughout the camp, and each one kill his brother, his friend and neighbor.’”
32:28 And the Levites did what Moses ordered, and that day about three thousand men of the people died.
32:29 And Moses said, “Your hand was filled today to the Lord, for each of you was against his son or against his brother, so he has given a blessing to you today.
32:30 And on the next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a very serious sin; but now I will go up to the Lord—perhaps I can make atonement on behalf of your sin.”
32:31 So Moses returned to the Lord, and he said, “Alas, this people has committed a very serious sin, and they have made for themselves gods of gold.
32:32 But now, if you will forgive their sin…, but if not, blot me out from your book that you have written.”
32:33 And the Lord said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me—that person I will blot out of my book.
32:34 So now go, lead the people to the place I have spoken to you about. See, my angel will go before you. But on the day that I visit, then I will visit their sin on them.”
32:35 And the Lord plagued the people because they had made the calf—the one Aaron made.
Imagination v. Inspiration
- The simplicity that is in Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:3
Simplicity is the secret of seeing things clearly. A saint does not think clearly for a long while, but a saint ought to see clearly without any difficulty. You cannot think a spiritual muddle clear, you have to obey it clear. In intellectual matters you can think things out, but in spiritual matters you will think yourself into cotton wool. If there is something upon which God has put His pressure, obey in that matter, bring your imagination into captivity to the obedience of Christ with regard to it and everything will become as clear as daylight. The reasoning capacity comes afterwards, but we never see along that line, we see like children; when we try to be wise we see nothing (Matthew 11:25).
The tiniest thing we allow in our lives that is not under the control of the Holy Spirit is quite sufficient to account for spiritual muddle, and all the thinking we like to spend on it will never make it clear. Spiritual muddle is only made plain by obedience.
Immediately we obey, we discern. This is humiliating, because when we are muddled we know the reason is in the temper of our mind. When the natural power of vision is devoted to the Holy Spirit, it becomes the power of perceiving God's will and the whole life is kept in simplicity.
Taken From My Utmost For His Highest By Oswald Chambers.
||Thursday, September 15, 2005
King Saul - A Case Study In Apostasy
Saul, son of Kish, Israel’s first king, stands as a solemn warning to all who followed thereafter. He was the ruler born of Israel’s wishes – that the Hebrews might “be like” the heathen nations nearby (1 Samuel 8:5). In the providence of God, he was appointed their king. Yes, allowed by the Lord, but later removed by the same Sovereign (Hosea 13:11).
A consideration of the forty-year career of the striking young ruler (1 Samuel 9:1-2; Acts 13:21) represents a case study in how not to behave. From the Old Testament narrative regarding this man, the Bible student can learn much (Romans 15:4).
The administration of Saul was marked by four major steps in spiritual degeneration. Let us briefly note each of them.
- Unauthorized Worship – After he anointed Saul as king, Samuel instructed the young ruler to travel to Gilgal; there he was to wait (seven days) for the prophet’s arrival and the subsequent offering of sacrifices.
Saul partially obeyed; he went to the appointed place, but he grew impatient when Samuel had not arrived on the seventh day. He thus offered the sacrifices himself (1 Samuel 13:8), and then proceeded to justify his transgression when the prophet presently arrived. In rejecting Samuel’s charge, Saul had, in point of fact, disobeyed God (13:13). Partial obedience is full disobedience!
As a consequence, Saul’s regime was not to be genealogically extended. Rather, another ruler – one “after [God's] own heart” would replace him eventually (13:14; Acts 13:22). There are consequences to disobeying the Lord. Can we learn from this that there are right and wrong ways to approach God in worship?
- Failure to Destroy Amalek – The Amalekites were long-standing enemies of Israel, being distantly related by their ancestry in Esau (Genesis 36:12). They attacked Israel shortly after the exodus of the nation from Egypt, and their eventual destruction was foretold by Moses (Exodus 17:8-16).
Saul was commanded to “utterly destroy” these heathen people, along with their livestock, for, in a manner of speaking, they were all to be “devoted” to God. The Hebrew term harem, indicated that which was dedicated to Jehovah, and could not be used otherwise (Joshua 6:18-19; 7:10-15).
Again, though, Saul failed the obedience test. He spared the king, Agag, who was described as a noble specimen of humanity “worthy of preservation” (Josephus, Antiquities, 6.7.2), and also the best of the livestock. When Samuel arrived on the scene, the king boasted: “I have performed the commandment of Jehovah.” But, as N.B. Hardeman once quipped, “A cow mooed and called him a liar.” To phrase it literally, the prophet inquired: “What means then this bleating of the sheep in my ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?”
Samuel then uttered the famous declaration: “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). God has no delight with superficial sacrifices which are designed to be a substitute for humble obedience. Human wisdom is not a proper exchange for divine revelation. Saul’s actions were beginning to be a real index to the man’s character.
- Obsessed by Jealousy – A key passage relative to Saul’s life is found in 1 Samuel 16:14. “Now the Spirit of Jehovah departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from Jehovah troubled him.” We are convinced that this important passage is misunderstood by many expositors.
Some suggest that Saul became demon possessed. That does not appear likely, for when David played soothing music in the king’s presence, the “evil spirit” left him. Such is not characteristic of the sort of demon possession one encounters in the New Testament record.
More likely is the explanation that he became emotionally demented, with serious mood swings. The condition clearly resulted from his deliberate rebellion against God, which was sorely antagonistic to his own conscience. The fact that the “evil spirit” was said to be “from God” is explained by a common Hebrew idiom, by which Jehovah’s permissive will is expressed in active terms (Jeremiah 4:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:11).
After young David achieved his heroic victory against the pagan Philistine, Goliath, his fame spread throughout the territory. The women of Israel composed lyrics that cast Saul into the shadow of the shepherd lad. “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” The king was infuriated and “from that day and forward” he “eyed David” (1 Samuel 18:9).
Saul became insane with jealousy. On several occasions, he sought to kill the young man directly (1 Samuel 18:11; 19:10); at other times, his method was more devious (1 Samuel 18:21,25). Finally, David was forced into a life of flight and hiding.
Stubbornness, egotism, and jealousy constitute an unholy alliance that will destroy anyone. If we cannot control our thoughts; if we cannot appreciate the accomplishments of others; if we are envious and vindictive – only disaster can follow.
- Consulting the Necromancer – The crowning act of Saul’s insolence was his consultation of the woman of Endor.
Under Old Testament law, attempts to communicate with the dead were prohibited (Deuteronomy 18:10-11), and Saul had eradicated the land of most of these charlatans (1 Samuel 28:3). At the zenith of his apostasy, however, when God would no longer speak to him (v. 6), he traveled to Endor to consult with a “witch” (KJV) who reputedly had access to a “familiar spirit” (a medium).
Disguising himself, Saul asked the woman to “bring me up Samuel” (v. 11). Much to the woman’s surprise (“she screamed”), Samuel appeared. The prophet’s appearance, of course, was not the result of the woman’s powers; rather, apparently, God effected this miracle for the purpose of pronouncing a final judgment upon the wayward king. Samuel informed Saul that God had totally rejected him due to his disobedience, and that presently, both he and his sons would be dead.
The sad conclusion to this story is found in the final chapter of 1 Samuel. The hostile Philistines mounted a formidable attack against Israel. The cause appeared hopeless. During the fray, Saul was wounded by an arrow. Fearful that he would be captured and abused, he drew his sword and fell upon it, ending his tragic life in suicide.
How important it is to keep one’s heart pure and sincere in the service of God, in spite of mistakes. When one falls from Heaven’s favor, as a result of sin, he must pick himself up, and, in genuine contrition, return to the Creator’s arms, tearfully seeking pardon. That was the difference between Saul and David (Psalm 32; 51). If we ignore our sins, they can, like a foreboding whirlpool, suck us into the depths of destruction. So it was with Israel’s first king.
Taken With Permission From Christian Courier / Wayne Jackson
||Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Start a Revolution -- Eat Dinner With Your Family
By R. Albert Mohler Jr.
"What if I told you that there was a magic bullet--something that would improve the quality of your daily life, your children's chances of success in the world, your family's health, our values as a society? Something that is inexpensive, simple to produce and within the reach of pretty much anyone?"
Miriam Weinstein begins her book The Surprising Power of Family Meals (Steer Forth Press, 2005) with those two questions and then suggests that the "magic bullet" missed by so many families is as simple as a shared meal.
Weinstein, a filmmaker and journalist, has collected an impressive body of data in order to make her case that the institution of the shared family meal represents something of vital importance for human life. Even as the family meal is fast disappearing, Weinstein has issued an eloquent call for its recovery.
As she explains, the research indicates that a shared family meal leads to the strengthening of family bonds, the deepening of relationships, and higher levels of satisfaction and effectiveness among family members. According to Weinstein, the research shows how eating ordinary, average, everyday supper with your family is strongly linked to lower incidents of bad outcomes such as teenage drug and alcohol use, and to good qualities like emotional stability. It correlates with kindergartners being better prepared to learn to read. (It even trumps getting read to.) Regular family supper helps keep kids out of hospitals. It discourages both obesity and eating disorders. It supports your staying more connected to your extended family, your ethnic heritage, your community of faith.
That's not all. Weinstein also argues that the regular rhythm of family meals will "help children and families to be more resilient, reacting positively to those curves and arrows that life throws our way. It will certainly keep you better nourished. The things we are likely to discuss at the supper table will anchor our children more firmly in the world. Of course eating together teaches manners both trivial and momentous, putting you in touch with the deeper springs of human relations."
Weinstein makes a compelling case, and her book is sure to prompt many parents to think about what has been lost as the family meal has been eclipsed by other activities and by the cult of individualism that has undermined our communal life.
At the same time, Weinstein understands the complexities of modern family life. She does point back to a golden age of shared family meals in the past, but she acknowledges that families now find themselves drawn in too many directions all at once. In once sense this is the larger problem, and the eclipse of the family meal is only a symptom of what has gone badly wrong.
In reality, families did not merely decide to stop eating together. The rhythms, complexities, and chaos of today's lifestyles simply produced a reality that made shared family meals almost impossible.
Any number of factors play a role in marginalizing shared family meals, but Weinstein points to some of the most easily identifiable among these factors. For parents, the issue is often work schedules and fatigue. As millions of mothers have moved into the workforce, the elaborate ritual of the nightly family meal has often given way to the urgency of getting family members fed as a necessity of human need--rather than as the focus of a shared event. For adults, evening hours are often filled with extended work, social commitments, and the practicalities of keeping life together in the midst of frenzied lifestyles.
For kids, the enemies of shared family meals include burdensome homework and extracurricular activities--especially teen sports. A study conducted by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center indicates that between 1981 and 1997, the amount of time that children spent watching other people play sports rose five-fold. This study doesn't even take into account all the time children now spend playing sports themselves.
"We are living in a time of intense individualism in a culture defined by competition and consumption," Weinstein observes. "It has become an article of faith that a parent's job is to provide every child with every opportunity to find his particular talent, interest, or bliss. But somehow, as we drive-thru our lives, we have given up something so modest, so humble, so available, that we never realized its worth. Family supper can be a bulwark against the pressures we all face everyday."
The shared family meal fulfills more than the function of feeding the family. In the intimate sphere of the shared meal, children learned how to engage in conversation and how to enjoy the experience of hearing others talk. The family meal became the context for sharing the events of the day, for dealing with family crises, and for building the bonds that facilitate family intimacy. Parents taught children how to think about the issues of the day by making these a part of the conversation that was shared around the table. Gentle admonitions and direct correction taught children how to respect others while eating, instilling an understanding of the basic habits that encourage mutual respect and make civilization possible.
Weinstein may hold what some view to be a rather romantic understanding of the shared meal, but she defends her argument by asking readers to remember the family meal times of their own childhood. For most of today's adults, there is still at least some memory of shared family meals and the experience of respecting meal times as a priority.
Something even more fundamental is at work here. Throughout human history, meals have been important opportunities for the establishment and maintenance of relationships--for the forging of bonds and the deepening of intimacies. The shared family meal--especially the shared supper--is one of the few opportunities when parents and children look each other in the face for a sustained amount of time and have the kind of contact, matched with conversation, that they desperately need.
On this point, Weinstein marshals a considerable body of empirical data. In 1996, the national Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University [CASA] ran a study intending to see what differentiated kids involved in substance abuse from those who were not. CASA has repeated the surveys every year since. "And every year, eating supper together regularly as a family tops the list of variables that are within our control," Weinstein reports. "Kids who eat more family dinners do better than those who eat a few. Kids who share a few dinners weekly do better than the ones who have none at all."
The 2003 survey indicated that children and teens who share dinner with their families five or more nights a week were 32% likelier never to have tried cigarettes, 45% likelier to have never tried alcohol, and 24% likelier never to have smoked marijuana. "Those who eat lots of family dinners are almost twice as likely to get A's in school as their classmates who rarely eat as a family," Weinstein adds.
These days, many families find themselves eating in the car, scattered throughout the house, or facing a television set. Weinstein interviewed Witold Rybcezynsky, author of some of the most influential recent books on architecture and community, and asked him about the most beneficial setting for a shared family meal. In a fascinating response, Rybcezynsky largely ignored the question of place, but pointed to a more urgent issue. "We eat facing each other," he insisted. "It's the facing each other that's important."
Writing from a Jewish perspective, Weinstein understands the importance of ritual and structure in the lives of families. She is undoubtedly correct that the shared family meal becomes a barometer of family life and priorities. Her encouragement to restructure family schedules and priorities in order to recover the shared family meal is eloquently and convincingly sustained by her argument.
Christians recognize an even deeper dimension of what Weinstein observes. Christian parents should understand that the shared family meal takes on an increased significance given our responsibility to teach our children faithfully, to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and to inculcate in them a respect for family life that focuses ultimately on the glory of God.
Parents in this generation now face the opportunity--and the responsibility--of recovering shared family meals as a way of recovering sanity and security in family life. Oddly enough, recovering the priority of a shared family meal represents something of a revolutionary stance against the individualism and immediacy of the larger culture. Now is the time to start a revolution--and determining to share family supper together is an important place to start.
||Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Cases And Directions About Confessing Sins And Injuries To Others.
By Richard Baxter (1615-1691)
Tit. I. Cases about Confessing Sins and Injuries to others.
Quest. I In what cases is it a duty to confess wrongs to those that we have wronged?
Answer. 1. When in real injuries you are unable to make any restitution, and therefore must desire forgiveness, you cannot well do it without confession. 2. When you have wronged a man by a lie, or by false witness, or that he cannot be righted till you confess the truth. 3. When you have wronged a man in his honour or fame, where the natural remedy is to speak the contrary, and confess the wrong. 4. When it is necessary to cure the revengeful inclination of him whom you have wronged, or to keep up his charity, and so to enable him to love you and forgive you. 5. Therefore all known wrongs to another must he confessed, except when impossibility, or some in effect which is greater than the good, be like to follow. Because all men are apt to abate their love to those that injure them, and therefore all have need of this remedy. And we must do our part to be forgiven by all whom we have wronged.
Quest. II. What causes will excuse us from confessing wrongs to others?
Answer. 1. When full recompense may be made without it and no forgiveness of the wrong is necessary from the injured, nor any of the aforesaid causes require it. 2. When the wrong is secret and not known to the injured party, and the confessing of it would but trouble his mind, and do him more harm than good. 3. When the injured party is so implacable and inhumane that he would make use of the confession to the ruin of the penitent, or to bring upon him greater penalty than he deserveth. 4. When it would injure a third person who is Interested in the business, or bring them under oppression and undeserved misery. 5. When it tendeth to the dishonour of religion, and to make it scorned because of the fault of the penitent confessor. 6. When it tendeth to set people together by the ears, and breed dissension, or otherwise injure the commonwealth or government. 7. In general, it is no duty to confess our sin to him that we have wronged, when, all things considered, it is like in the judgment of the truly wise, to do more hurt than good for it is appointed as a means to good, and not to do evil.
Quest. III. If I have had a secret thought or purpose to wrong another, am I bound to confess it, when it was never executed?
Answer. 1. You are not bound to confess it to the party whom you intended to wrong, as any act of justice to make him reparation; nor to procure his forgiveness to yourself: because it was no wrong to him indeed, nor do thoughts and things secret come under his judgment, and therefore need not his pardon. 2. But it is a sin against God, and to him you must confess it. 3. And by accident, finis gratia, you must confess it to men, in case it be necessary to be a warning to others, or to the increase of their hatred of sin, or their watchfulness, or to exercise your own humiliation, or prevent a relapse, or to quiet your conscience, or in a word, when it is like to do more good than hurt.
Quest. IV. To whom, and in what cases, must I confess to men my sins against God, and when not?
Answer. The cases about that confession which belongeth to church discipline, belongeth to the second part; and therefore shall here be passed by. But briefly and in general, I may answer the question thus There are conveniences and inconveniences to be compared together, and you must make your choice accordingly. The reasons which may move you to confess your sins to another are these: 1. When another hath sinned with you, or persuaded or drawn you to it, and must be brought to repentance with you. 2. When your conscience hath in vain tried all other fit means for peace or comfort, and cannot obtain it, and there is any probability of such advice from others as may procure it. 3. When you have need of advice to resolve your conscience, whether it be sin or not, or of what degree, or what you are obliged to in order to forgiveness. 4. When you have need of counsel to prevent the sin for the time to come, and mortify the habit of it.
The inconveniences which may attend it, are such as these: 1. You are not certain of another's secrecy; his mind may change, or his understanding fail, or he may fall out with you, or some great necessity may befall him to drive him to open what you tried him. 2. Then whether your shame or loss will not make you repent it, should be foreseen. 3. And how far others may suffer in it. 4. And how far it will reflect dishonour on religion. All things being considered on both sides, the preponderating reasons must prevail.
Tit. 2 Directions about Confessing Sin to others.
Direct. I. Do nothing which you are not willing to confess, or which may trouble you much, if your confession should be opened. Prevention is the easiest way: and foresight of the consequents should make a wise man still take heed.
Direct. II. When you have sinned or wronged any, weigh well the consequents on both sides before you make your confession: that you may neither do that which you may wish undone again, nor causelessly refuse your duty: and that inconveniences foreseen may be the better undergone when they cannot be avoided.
Direct. III. When a well-informed conscience telleth you that confession is your duty, let not self-respects detain you from it, but do it whatever it may cost you. Be true to conscience, and do not willfully put off your duty. To live in the neglect of a known duty, is to live in a known sin: which will give you cause to question your sincerity, and cause more terrible effects in your souls, than the inconveniences of confession could ever have been.
Direct. IV. Look to your repentance that it be deep and absolute, and free from hypocritical exceptions and reserves. For half and hollow repentance will not carry you through hard and costly duties. but that which is sincere, will break over all it will make you so angry with yourselves and sins, that you will he as inclined to take shame to yourselves in an honest revenge, as an angry man is to bring shame upon his adversary. We are seldom over-tender of a man's reputation whom we fall out with: and repentance is a falling out with ourselves. We can bear sharp remedies, when we feel the pain, and perceive the mortal danger of the disease: and repentance is such a perception of our pain and danger. We will not tenderly hide a mortal enemy, but bring him to the most open shame: and repentance causeth us to hate sin as our mortal enemy. It is lack of repentance that maketh men so unwilling to make a just confession.
Direct. V. Take heed of pride, which maketh men so tender of their reputation, that they will venture their souls to save their honour: men call it bashfulness, and say they cannot confess for shame; but it is pride that maketh them so much ashamed to be known by men to be offenders, while they less fear the eye and judgment of the Almighty. Impudence is a mark of a profligate sinner; but he that pretendeth shame against his duty, is foolishly proud; and should be more ashamed to neglect his duty, and continue impenitent in his sin. A humble person can perform a self-abasing, humbling duty.
Direct. VI. Know the true uses of confession of sin, and use it accordingly. Do it with a hatred of sin, to express yourselves implacable enemies to it: do it to repair the wrong which you have done to others, and the dishonour you have done to the Christian religion, and to warn the hearers to take heed of sin and temptation by your fall; it is worth ail your shame, if you save one sinner by it from his sin: do it to lay the greater obligation upon yourselves for the future, to avoid the sin and live more carefully; for it is a double shame to sin after such humbling confessions.
Taken From PuritanSermons.
||Monday, September 12, 2005
How To Spend The Day With God
By Richard Baxter (1615-1691)
A holy life is inclined to be made easier when we know the usual sequence and method of our duties - with everything falling into its proper place. Therefore, I shall give some brief directions for spending the day in a holy manner.
Measure the time of your sleep appropriately so that you do not waste your precious morning hours sluggishly in your bed. Let the time of your sleep be matched to your health and labour, and not to slothful pleasure.
Let God have your first awaking thoughts; lift up your hearts to Him reverently and thankfully for the rest enjoyed the night before and cast yourself upon Him for the day which follows.
Familiarise yourself so consistently to this that your conscience may check you when common thoughts shall first intrude. Think of the mercy of a night's rest and of how many that have spent that night in Hell; how many in prison; how many in cold, hard lodgings; how many suffering from agonising pains and sickness, weary of their beds and of their lives.
Think of how many souls were that night called from their bodies terrifyingly to appear before God and think how quickly days and nights are rolling on! How speedily your last night and day will come! Observe that which is lacking in the preparedness of your soul for such a time and seek it without delay.
Let prayer by yourself alone (or with your partner) take place before the collective prayer of the family. If possible let it be first, before any work of the day.
Let family worship be performed consistently and at a time when it is most likely for the family to be free of interruptions.
Remember your ultimate purpose, and when you set yourself to your day's work or approach any activity in the world, let holiness to the Lord be written upon your hearts in all that you do.
Do no activity which you cannot entitle God to, and truly say that he set you about it, and do nothing in the world for any other ultimate purpose than to please, glorify and enjoy Him. "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." - 1 Corinthians 10:31.
Diligence in Your Calling
Follow the tasks of your calling carefully and diligently. Thus:
(a) You will show that you are not sluggish and servants to your flesh (as those that cannot deny it ease), and you will further the putting to death of all the fleshly lusts and desires that are fed by ease and idleness.
(b) You will keep out idle thoughts from your mind, that swarm in the minds of idle persons.
(c) You will not lose precious time, something that idle persons are daily guilty of.
(d) You will be in a way of obedience to God when the slothful are in constant sins of omission.
(e) You may have more time to spend in holy duties if you follow your occupation diligently. Idle persons have no time for praying and reading because they lose time by loitering at their work.
(f) You may expect God's blessing and comfortable provision for both yourself and your families.
(g) it may also encourage the health of your body which will increase its competence for the service of your soul.
Temptations and Things That Corrupt
Be thoroughly acquainted with your temptations and the things that may corrupt you - and watch against them all day long. You should watch especially the most dangerous of the things that corrupt, and those temptations that either your company or business will unavoidably lay before you.
Watch against the master sins of unbelief: hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, flesh pleasing and the excessive love of earthly things. Take care against being drawn into earthly mindedness and excessive cares, or covetous designs for rising in the world, under the pretence of diligence in your calling.
If you are to trade or deal with others, be vigilant against selfishness and all that smacks of injustice or uncharitableness. In all your dealings with others, watch against the temptation of empty and idle talking. Watch also against those persons who would tempt you to anger. Maintain that modesty and cleanness of speech that the laws of purity require. If you converse with flatterers, be on your guard against swelling pride.
If you converse with those that despise and injure you, strengthen yourself against impatient, revengeful pride.
At first these things will be very difficult, while sin has any strength in you, but once you have grasped a continual awareness of the poisonous danger of any one of these sins, your heart will readily and easily avoid them.
When alone in your occupations, improve the time in practical and beneficial meditations. Meditate upon the infinite goodness and perfections of God; Christ and redemption; Heaven and how unworthy you are of going there and how you deserve eternal misery in Hell.
The Only Motive
Whatever you are doing, in company or alone, do it all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Otherwise, it is unacceptable to God.
Redeeming The Time
Place a high value upon your time, be more careful of not losing it than you would of losing your money. Do not let worthless recreations, idle talk, unprofitable company, or sleep rob you of your precious time.
Be more careful to escape that person, action or course of life that would rob you of your time than you would be to escape thieves and robbers.
Make sure that you are not merely never idle, but rather that you are using your time in the most profitable way that you can and do not prefer a less profitable way before one of greater profit.
Eating and Drinking
Eat and drink with moderation and thankfulness for health, not for unprofitable pleasure. Never please your appetite in food or drink when it is prone to be detrimental to your health.
Remember the sin of Sodom: "Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food and abundance of idleness" - Ezekiel 16:49.
The Apostle Paul wept when he mentioned those "whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame -- who set their minds on earthly things, being enemies to the cross of Christ" - Philippians 3:18-19. O then do not live according to the flesh lest you die (Romans 8:13).
If any temptation prevails against you and you fall into any sins in addition to habitual failures, immediately lament it and confess it to God; repent quickly whatever the cost. It will certainly cost you more if you continue in sin and remain unrepentant.
Do not make light of your habitual failures, but confess them and daily strive against them, taking care not to aggravate them by unrepentance and contempt.
Remember every day the special duties of various relationships: whether as husbands, wives, children, masters, servants, pastors, people, magistrates, subjects.
Remember every relationship has its special duty and its advantage for the doing of some good. God requires your faithfulness in this matter as well as in any other duty.
Closing the Day
Before returning to sleep, it is wise and necessary to review the actions and mercies of the day past, so that you may be thankful for all the special mercies and humbled for all your sins.
This is necessary in order that you might renew your repentance as well as your resolve for obedience, and in order that you may examine yourself to see whether your soul grew better or worse, whether sin goes down and grace goes up and whether you are better prepared for suffering, death and eternity.
May these directions be engraven upon your mind and be made the daily practice of your life.
If sincerely adhered to, these will be conducive to the holiness, fruitfulness and quietness of your life and add to you a comfortable and peaceful death.
Taken From The Reformed Theology Source.
||Sunday, September 11, 2005
Are You Comfortable?
- "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. 4And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing," (James 1:2-4, NASB).
Are you comfortable? Do you feel safe in the Lord? I hope so. You should. Comfort and peace are great blessings from the Lord. He loves us so much that He gave His Son and sent the Holy Spirit who is called The Comforter (John 14:26, KJV). We are secure in Him (John 10:27-28), can rest in Him (Matt. 11:28), and don't need to be anxious for anything (Phil. 4:6). We have a great and awesome God who has made all this possible.
However, sometimes comfort can be a stumbling block. Sometimes comfort can rob us of our strength and dependence on God. Think of a man who is so comfortable in his life with so few problems that he doesn't do much of anything let alone worry about anything. He relaxes and enjoys life. He also becomes weak and dependent upon his routine and life. So too the Christian who is very comfortable in his life, can also become weak and dependent upon the securities of life instead of the Lord. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, unless that comfort makes us depend on God less and cause us to become complacent about the lost around us.
Where the early Christians had to rely on God for their every need, today in America and much of the modern world, creature-comforts and drive-through churches have made many Christians complacent and sluggish. Most (I hope) are saved, but it seems that far too many have settled into the church routine: Sunday service; maybe Wednesday, too; don't share their faith much; pray when a need arises; enjoy life; tithe occasionally; let pastors and missionaries do the hard spiritual work, etc. In this mode, the call of God to make disciples of every nation is a faint whisper that if listened to, can only cause inconvenience and a disruption of Christian comforts. Are you one of those Christians? Are you so comfortable in your life that you aren't concerned about the lost, don't depend on God, tithe infrequently, and hardly seek God's face?
God has blessed us in America. We have the best of everything and only need to put on credit what our whims demand. We have our VCR’s, air-conditioning, remote controls, and fast food restaurants. We have churches with central air, great sound systems, well educated preachers, plush pews, and fine-tuned choirs, pianos, and organs. We are blessed with committees, plans, and money. In fact, we have so many churches we are guaranteed we can find one to suit any whim or preference. Unfortunately, all too often, the messages are pleasant and don’t make our hearts ache for the lost or for our Lord. This is a recipe for danger. We are truly blessed. But, those blessings can become curses if they weaken our desires to live for God and reach the lost.
God sometimes allows trials and tribulations in our lives in order to get us to look to Him. Struggle tends to strengthen faith because in struggle we turn to God. He answers our prayers and provides our needs and we in turn praise Him. In this process, the Holy Spirit is alive in us, working mightily, and we sense Him teaching us, guiding us, shaping us. That is why whenever we are close to God, we are far from sin. Whenever we are close to God, we are aware of our ungodliness. Whenever we are close to God, we are concerned for the lost--because He is. Are you far from sin? Are you aware of your ungodliness? Are you concerned for the lost?
Therefore, I ask you. Have you become distracted from the calling of God to grow in grace and make disciples of all nations? I am not talking about doing your duty of going to church on Sunday and reading your Bible occasionally. I'm talking about making headway, actively seeking God, being willing take risks for Him, asking to be used, asking to be shaped, etc. Are you doing that? If not, maybe you are too comfortable.
So what should we do?
Please understand that I am not advocating poverty and misery as a way of measuring the Christian life. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, having money, or remote control TV's, and air conditioned cars. We should praise God for these. But, you need to ask yourself if your life has become filled with a familiarity with comfort and with the "Christian life" that you are simply in a routine that has unwittingly numbed you to the spiritual realities of life. If you think that maybe you have backslidden in this way, then I have some suggestions.
First of all, pray to the Lord and ask Him to reveal your sins to you. Confess them and do your best to repent as you continue to rely on His grace. Second, read your Bible regularly and ask the Lord to apply to your heart what you read. Third, ask God to put a desire on your heart that is in accordance with your spiritual giftings so that you may not only grow and edify the body of Christ, but also to reach out to the lost. If you don't know what your spiritual gifts are, that's okay. God will show you. Fourth, don't be afraid to take risks for the Lord. Don't be afraid to become a little un-comfortable. Tithe. Pray. Intercede. Read the Word. Confess your sins. Speak the gospel.
Remember, our life is not about our comforts. It is about loving God, loving others, and spreading the word of God.
||Friday, September 09, 2005
Keys to Vital Churches
The following ten “Theses on Renewal” from Liberating the Church summarize my most basic convictions about the nature and calling of the church—and what is needed for its renewal. In more recent books I have amplified some of these points and added other accents (for instance, the importance of a Trinitarian perspective), but virtually everything I have written on the church and the Kingdom of God is contained at least embryonically in these ten theses:
- The fundamental crisis of the church today is a crisis of the Word of God. The church must recover the full dynamic of the Word, not just as Scripture, but as God-in-communication, especially through the written Word of Scripture and supremely through the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. This is another way of saying the church must recover a consciousness of who God is.
- Behaviors and structures in the church reflect fundamental concepts in the church’s self-understanding which often remain unarticulated.
- The church is essentially the community of God’s people, not primarily an organization, institution, program, or building. This is a distinction of fundamental importance because it is linked to the basic models of the church which Christians employ.
- The experience of salvation is incomplete and not fully biblical without genuine experience of the church as the community of God’s people and agent of the Kingdom.
- The most dynamic and prophetic thing the church can do is first of all to be a worshiping and serving community.
- Every believer is a minister, servant and priest of God. Every believer is called to ministry, and all God’s people must be equipped to minister.
- Every believer receives grace for ministry. Therefore spiritual gifts must be identified and employed to God’s glory.
- Leadership grows out of discipleship. Where careful discipling is lacking, leadership cannot be biblical and a crisis of spiritual leadership results. Worldly qualifications for leadership replace biblical ones.
- The church’s concern for and identification with the poor are sure signs of its faithfulness to the Kingdom and are often signs of fundamental renewal.
- In North America today a vital, biblically faithful church will be a countercultural community living in tension with the non-Christian elements of society and marked by a lifestyle that is distinctively Christ-like and Kingdom oriented.
From Howard A. Snyder
, Liberating the Church: The Ecology of Church and Kingdom
(InterVarsity Press, 1983), 17-18.
Jesus As The Only Way.
Interesting article on considering Jesus as the only way to salvation. By Dr. Howard Snyder, Professor of the History & Theology of Mission, Asbury Theological Seminary.
The Way of God
- If My people would but listen to Me.... Psalm 81:13
God has a specific training ground for leaders. There are three patterns of preparation that have been common among most of God's leaders. First, there is a time when the leader is separated from his old life. Consider Moses, Joseph, Abraham, and Paul. In order for God to mold and shape them into His nature, it appears that He had to remove them from the life of comfort. A teacher once said, "You cannot go with God and remain where you are."
Next, there is usually a time of solitude. God often brings leaders into a time of solitude in order to speak to them without other distractions. Hosea 2:14b says, "I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her." Paul was sent to Arabia for two years for a time of solitude. Joseph spent years in the solitude of prison. Moses spent 40 years in the desert herding sheep.
The third characteristic of God's preparation for leaders is discomfort. The setting in which the preparation takes place usually is not a place of comfort. Abraham traveled through the difficult deserts. David lived in caves fleeing Saul. Paul was frequently persecuted.
Are you ready for the classroom of leadership preparation? If God chooses to bring you into this class, you may have one of three reactions to the events. First, you may say, "I don't need it." Perhaps you know intellectually that you do need this, but God wants you to know it in your heart. Pride prevents us from entering this classroom. The second reaction may be, "I'm tired of it." You decide you've had enough. If so, this will disqualify you from leadership. Finally, God's desired response from us in this preparation is, "I accept it." To accept it with joy is the place of maturity in Christ. God often keeps us in these places until we come to accept and agree that Jesus is enough. Is He all you need?
Like the people of Israel, I think we have something to do with the timetable of our education. "If My people would but listen to Me, if Israel would follow My ways, how quickly would I subdue their enemies and turn My hand against their foes!" (Ps. 81:13-14)
Are you ready for the process required for being a godly leader? Ask for His grace to willingly embrace these times of preparation.
Facing a firing squad is a pretty good test, I guess, of your theology of death. I didn't exactly pass the test with flying colors. Perhaps it all just happened too quickly, without any warning. There had been a revolt of the prisoners at Camp 5 in Norilsk, and when troops were called in to put down the revolt they divided the prisoners up into small groups and marched them off. I was rounded up in a group of thirty, one of the first groups herded out of the camp and led down to a sandpit about a mile away. We had no idea what disciplinary measures would be taken against us, but we never for a moment thought we would see the soldiers line up five yards in front of us with rifles ready, waiting only for the command to shoot. The command was given, the rifles raised, cocked on another command, and leveled at our heads. For a moment, as if in a dream, none of us really understood what was happening. Then the realization that we were actually looking into gun barrels awaiting only the command to fire came crashing into my consciousness with a force that stopped everything. My stomach turned once and went numb; my heart stopped; I'm sure I forgot to breathe; I couldn't move a muscle in my body; my mind went blank.
The first thought I actually remember thinking was a question: "Is this the end, Lord?" I know I started the act of contrition, but I remember the sensation of realizing that another part of me could not understand the words I was mumbling. The other part of me focused on the fact that in a fraction of a second I would stand before God, dumbfounded and unprepared, unable in the suddenness of my confusion and total terror to feel sorry for my sins, numbed into absolute inactivity, unable so much as to elicit a simple act of faith in the God I had learned to trust implicitly in every action of every day, let alone think with anticipation of meeting him face to face at last.
I can still remember vividly my awareness of the moment, and the second fear that gripped me, when I realized I was incapable of performing any Christian act to redeem myself, paralyzed and terrified and yet conscious of what I should be doing - indeed was trying to do by rotely reciting the act of contrition without comprehension or meaning - in the last moment of life left to me before the veil parted and I would stand before God.
I have no idea how long that one moment lasted. Suddenly there was a shot in the distance, shouts, and a group of officers dashed out to stop our execution. All I know is that when the moment passed, my heart was pounding, every nerve and muscle shaking, my knees weak and trembling, my mind once again able to follow the sequence of events in a coherent way.
When we were finally marched off again, I tried to figure out what had happened to me.
Often enough, during the years of prison, of interrogations, of life in the camps, I had lived with the thought of death. On more than one occasion, I had been told I would be shot and I knew those threats were truly meant. I had seen men die around me of starvation, or illness, or sometimes just out of a lack of wanting to live any longer. I had faced death in my mind time and time again, had helped others in their final moments, had lived with the talk and presence of death. I had thought about it and reflected on it, had no fear of it, sometimes looked forward to it. What was there, then, about this moment that so terrified me, so completely unstrung me and made me incapable of functioning, of praying, even of thinking? Was it just the suddenness, the surprise, that had betrayed me?
That had to be part of it. Then, too, there was the physical fear. Everyone, sometime in his life, has experienced the effects of a sudden fright, a bad scare - a close call in an accident, perhaps, or an unexpected fall, maybe just a sudden, loud, strange noise. Animal instinct takes over at such moments; the mind goes blank, the body reacts: muscles tense, the heart quickens, the stomach tightens, nerves tingle. And when the moment passes, if it passes without physical contact or bodily harm, a reaction sets in as the body grows limp. Those are simply the physical signs of fear, and it is not surprising that the body should fear injury or even death. I cannot be sure - perhaps I will never know for certain until the moment of death approaches again - but I suspect that most of my panic before the firing squad in that sandpit outside Norilsk was due to such animal instinct in the face of a sudden and totally unexpected physical danger.
For the thought of death itself does not terrify me, had not terrified me all through the war, or prison, or the prison camps. Death must come to everyone at the end of this earthly life, but it is not therefore an absolute evil. If the good news of Christianity is anything, it is this: that death has no hidden terror, has no mystery, is not something we must fear. It is not the end of life, of the soul, of the person. Christ's death on Calvary was not in itself the central act of salvation, but his death and resurrection; it was the resurrection that completed his victory over sin and death, the heritage of humankind's original sin that made a Redeemer and redemption necessary. This was the "good news" of salvation, meant to remove our last doubts, last fears, about the nature of death.
For the resurrection was a fact, a fact as certain and as sure as death itself, and it meant that death held no victory over men, that life beyond death is a certainty and not just a human hope or fable. This was the fact that made new men of his once fearful disciples, this was the "good news" they preached. The little sermons recorded in the Acts of the Apostles center on this theme: God has raised Christ up from the dead, he has risen, and of that fact we are witnesses.
From the fall of Adam, God had promised a Redeemer. From the day death came into the world, God has promised a conqueror of death. And the good news to be preached throughout the world was that the Redeemer had come, death had been conquered! This is the joy of Easter, this is the peace it brings. "O foolish and slow of heart to believe," he said to the two disciples on their way to Emmaus, "ought not the Christ to have suffered these things, and so entered into his glory?" The victory of God's "anointed one," the Messiah, was to be over the "kingdom" of death and of sin, but how could he triumph unless he first suffered death and then broke its chains? Easter was the victory, Easter was the "good news." The peace of Easter is the peace that comes from knowing that the thing men had feared most - the end of life, annihilation, death - really holds no fear at all.
That is not a Christian fable; it is a fact, and the proof of it is the resurrection. "If Christ be not risen," said St. Paul to his Christians, "then your faith is in vain." You cannot be a Christian and doubt that fact. Christ's coming upon earth, his taking on of human flesh, had no purpose if it was not to die and then to triumph over death. People had lived in expectation of his coming and his victory over death, until at last he came; since then, the "good news" of his victory over death has been proclaimed everywhere and has sustained in peace and joy those who have believed.
Walter J. Ciszek, “Fear Not,” from He Leadeth Me, by Walter J. Ciszek with Daniel Flaherty, copyright © 1973 by Walter J. Ciszek. Used by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc.
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