John

Creating our Idols

John CalvinHuman beings are a marketable people. Those who shop around for us see our lifestyles and develop an entire strategy aimed at purchasing our wants at an exceedingly rapid speed. But not only are we easily bought, we are also very creative. We are idol-makers, to quote Calvin’s famous line. We are industrious, and the consequences of our hard work are a boost to the Baal factories and stock.

Unfortunately, this type of productivity is not encouraging. St. John quietly, but forcefully exhorted us in the last verse of I John to keep ourselves from idols. We have not heeded the apostle’s words. We have approached the idols and bargained with them about producing an entire new line of idol fashion and idol currency. We take the idol money and invest it into our own companies. We are good at what we do. In fact, we produce the best idols in town. We make them in all colors and shapes. We sell them at a discount during the Christmas holidays. All we want is for everyone to share in our pleasures. We make idols and the idols make us. We are what we worship. The more we consume the more marketable we become for the more sophisticated idol seller. We become like the gods. We treasure their style. They roam around speechless and blind, and we perceive that to be the new fad.

We are what we worship, and our worship reflects the grandeur of our god.

Our productivity reflects our allegiance to this god. What is the chief end of our productivity? To doxologize idols forever.

Dagon

Our society mirrors the deadness of the gods we produce and consequently buy. We are a buyer-seller market. We become so easily dissatisfied with the gods we carve that we crave classier gods.

This is our nature…but not who we were intended to be.

God calls us into a different profession. He says: “Abandon your ways!” He wants us to invest in heavenly things that are not corruptible. Yahweh wants us fired from our idol producing factories. He delights when we say to ourselves “We’re fired!” He delights when we turn from the business of idol production and embrace a cosmic demolition project.

The idol fashions and fads are not lasting. They appear to be the latest trend. It seems to be trending on twitter. People are sharing it all over facebook. But they are not lasting. “Keep yourselves from idols,” says the Lord our God. He is God, and there is no other. He is jealous for his glory. Doxology is only right and true when applied to Him. Repent! Put your tool down. Forsake your jobs. God is looking for a few good men, and lots of babies to start shattering the temples of Dagon.

We are what we worship. I prefer to worship an idol-crushing God.

Not a Primitive Philosophy

Will Willimon writing for the Christian Century asserts that truthfulness is most clearly seen in its practical force. “How shall they know you are my disciples? When you love one another.” This was Jesus’ simple response. At the same time we must not forget that truth is contextualized in history by the writer of history. Life cannot be divorced from truth. Life is formed and lived out by truth if it is to be lived out accordingly. Pagans may conform externally to the law, but manifest “enlightened self-interest” in their actions. The Christian faith, on the other hand, sees truth affecting both external and internal motivations. These motivations are self-less and are shaped by the God/Man who was the embodiment of truth Pilate wondered about. As Willimon concluded:

Christianity is not another philosophy  or some primitive system of belief; it is a community  of people who worship the Jew whom Pilate sent to the cross.

This devotion to the Jewish Messiah is what enlivens the Christian truth and what changes the world.

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Lent, Ligon Duncan, and Legalism

Collin Hansen wrote an article for the Gospel Coalition entitled Should You Cancel Good Friday? which has brought to the attention of many a conversation they have never had before. What is Lent? Why celebrate it?

As a committed Protestant, I am committed to the Church Calendar, not because I want to be a slave to it, but because I am aware of its inevitability. We all follow some calendar. The question is which calendar? I ask that question because Protestantism is grounded in a Trinitarian view of the world. In its best expression it does not isolate ideas; it brings ideas together to form a coherent system.

I suggest that Lent is highly Trinitarian. As the Trinity is a communion of love, so Lent provides a means to express that love to one another in the community. Where sins are confronted and battled, there you find a vigorous Trinitarian community and vision. Lent is service to the community by giving us a season of determined battle against sin for the sake of our neighbors.

It offers a vision of history that undergirds the biblical history and that reflects the normal routines, liturgies, and rituals of human beings. Lent is a form of restructuring our lives. All Christians need a re-structuring of order in their own lives. All Christians need to re-balance and re-form areas where there is disproportionate indifference. We all undergo a Psalmic journey of lamentation and feasting. Lent draws us into this journey.

In essence, Lent reveals the God who suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ. God’s image-bearers are formed from the dust of a fallen Adam to the glorification of the risen Final Adam. To disconnect Lent from the Church Calendar is to disparage history.

It is true we live in the age of an ascended Lord, but this same Lord guides a Church that is still broken, suffering, and healing from brokenness and suffering again and again. The removal of Lent is to proclaim an over-realized eschatology.

It is true that Lent can be abused, and history teaches us that it has. But it is also true, as Luther so memorably stated, “the abuse of something is not an argument against its proper use.” So if Lent can be proven to be profitable, then is there a legitimate way to benefit from it without falling into some its former abuses. Protestant Christians are not bound by Romish structures of food or rituals. We use wisdom in forming healthy habits for a Church and individuals while not binding the Church or the individual to a particular habit.

Lent and Wilderness

Lent teaches us that Satan’s gifts are easy to master. They come with first grade instruction manuals. They are made to be mastered quickly and enjoyed rapidly (fornication, drugs, alcohol; various temptations). God’s gifts are a little harder to master. They require self-control and patience. They anticipate spiritual growth; they demand a kingly attitude to grasp kingly wisdom. God’s instructions mean you have to seek others in the community to understand them properly. You have to exercise and express a theology of patience built into a theology of blessings.

In the wilderness, a garden stripped of colors, fruit, and water, Jesus faced the devil again in a re-match. He knew well that temptation had a triumphant history of subtly winning arguments. Jesus wasted no time and rebuked temptation. just like He would do with the demons and the demonic-like religious teachers of the day.

We are not to sit in temptation’s classroom. God already said we are to flee it; to rebuke it with the only source of authority that is permanent and stamped with divine truth.

The Church finds herself in a wilderness scenario. She is stripped of her former glory. But she is destined to journey from glory to glory like her Lord and Master. As in Luke four, we need to sit in Yahweh’s school house. We need to be instructed by the two-edged sword that muzzles the Tempter and tells him to not come back again. He is not welcome and neither are his offers.

Lent offers us a 40 day class on temptations and the glories and rewards of resisting it.

But Why 40 Days?

Lent follows the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness. His fasting for 40 days speaks to the evil and the hardness of heart of the Israelites who succumbed to the Serpent’s whispers. So as the Church walks with Jesus from wilderness to Golgotha she re-lives the messianic journey. The 40 days are symbolic for that wilderness testing, and as a result it is chronologically set before the Great Paschal Feast, commonly referred to as Easter.

Should Lent be Observed?

Ligon Duncan and others in the Southern Presbyterian tradition argue that Lent has a history based on merit. Lent was a way to earn something. The Reformation fixed this soteriological error, and therefore Lent is no longer to be observed.

Duncan and others also go on to say that celebrating Easter and Christmas offer no such harm (he also believes that a National Holiday like Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American holiday to be celebrated). There is no doubt Easter and Christmas, and even Thanksgiving–to a lesser degree–offer wonderful benefits. But the question and the opening presupposition is that Lent is not biblical therefore it should not be practiced in the Church. If that is the case, then the question is not whether one day (or Season) is more beneficial than the other, but rather is it explicitly stated in the Bible or not? If the “explicit reference” argument is used, then Duncan will have to conclude that this is faulty reasoning.

I concur with Vance Freeman that “each of his (Duncan’s) reasons for not observing Lent are undercut by the observance of Christmas and Easter.” Mr. Freeman also concludes:

The biggest threat to Christianity today is not the church in Rome, or that Americans are prone to elevate traditional Christian rituals, like Lent, over discipleship. The biggest threat to the church is that our rituals are increasingly only secular ones. We are Americans before we are Christians. Super Bowl Sunday not only competes with the Lord’s Day, it dominants it. And when we relegate the Christian life to a mere facet of our American lives we fall into Moral Therapeutic Deism.

The formation of godly habits is the issue at hand. In other words, is there an adequate time of the year where the Church should have an explicit focus on the cross of Jesus and how that cross must shape our understanding of sin? Is there room for setting aside a season for a cruciform hermeneutic? I believe there is.

As Peter Leithart so ably summarizes:

Lent is a season for taking stock and cleaning house, a time of self-examination, confession and repentance.  But we need to remind ourselves constantly what true repentance looks like.  “Giving up” something for Lent is fine, but you keep Lent best by making war on all the evil habits and sinful desires that prevent you from running the race with patience.

If this is true, then Lent serves an enormously important role in the life of the Christian. Naturally, to quote Luther’s first thesis, “the Christian life is a life of daily repentance.” A faithful understanding of the Lord’s Service provides that for us weekly. However, an extended period where our sins are deeply brought to our attention by the preaching of the Word and prayer (and fasting) are regularly considered, practiced and meditated upon can provide great benefits for all Christians on each Lord’s Day and throughout the week.

The legalism concern is legitimate. We are all tempted to fall into this trap, but it does not have to be so. If we view Lent as a time to additionally focus our attention on mortifying our sins and killing those habits that so easily entangle us, we can then consider the cross in light of the resurrection, not apart from it. If we do so, Lent will become legalism’s greatest enemy and repentance’s best friend.

In Defiance of God: Inhaling the Poisonous Gas

This morning a group of us from Micah 6:8 joined to read Scriptures and pray at the only abortion clinic in Pensacola. It was a short time of reading and prayer. As the cold weather froze our bodies we realized that we were witnessing young women entering what I would assume was a pleasantly heated building. As they entered they were most likely treated kindly. As they waited they were most likely reflecting on the freedoms they would enjoy with this thing called “a human being” out of the way. Perhaps they were struggling with their decision. Perhaps they were forced into this concentration camp. And like a concentration camp they were led to a place that they thought was a refreshing shower, but instead turned out to be poisonous gas. As a “doctor” performed his surgery, the patient was slowly being seduced by the gas of death. “The right-winger and evangelicals can’t be right about this. They just want to take away our ability to choose over our bodies,” they rationalize. “My boyfriend will leave me if I decide to keep this child.” Whatever reasons they choose, and however detailed they may be, the telos is still the same: a living, breathing, God-formed human being was being obliterated without a chance.

I was struck while listening to the reading of Psalm 10 that  “in secret places he doth slay the innocent.” How appropriate to our situation. This building is well-hidden to those who pass by. The Psalter says also that “they lie in wait to catch the poor.” Those in poverty are those who have relinquished their roles as mothers. In this case, the one in poverty of heart comes willingly to the trap set before them.

When that woman raised her fist at a pro-life activist this morning she was in defiance of God. “Those who defy verbally still have a chance,” opined the experienced activist near us. They are actually fighting with their decision was the implication. The ones who walk in quietly inhaling their first cigarette of the morning is set on their duty. Just as they puffed away on the cigarette, they were about to experience that unborn child puffed away from planet earth.

There is much work to do. I don’t do enough. I don’t pray enough. There is so much I can learn from those who have given their lives to declaring the message of life. To them I am grateful. John tells us that men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil. In this clinic, it is in the darkness of the early morning that evil operates. As these ex-moms recover from their surgery, their consciences will never recover. May they never recover until God grants them repentance and their hearts find rest in the God of life.

Got Wine?

According to J. Duncan M. Derrett in “Water into Wine,” (Biblische Zeitschrift, Neue Folge, 7 (1963), pp. 84-85,89) Mary was deeply concerned about the shortage of wine in John two for a few reasons:

First, she was deeply involved in the preparation for the festivities.

Secondly, the lack of wine at the wedding would be the cause of general disruption.

Thirdly, there would be obvious embarrassment to the host family.

Finally, there was a possibility of legal action against the family.

The lack of wine could be the source of legal action!  Not only does wine cheer the heart, but it also keeps you out of legal problems. To not provide for the guests of the wedding would be the ultimate insult. But we also know that wine is a sign of kingship. When one is invited to the feast, he joins the royal gathering and drinks what kings drink. Finally, we must keep in mind that in God’s house wine is never lacking, for He prepares a feast for kings and queens every time we gather to praise Him.

Sermon: John 16:23-33, Prioritizing Prayer and Peace

Audio Sermon

Sermon: People of God, Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! As we come to the last two Sundays of the Easter Season, we begin to get a sense of the surpassing greatness of the resurrection. In our passage, Jesus is preparing His disciples, so they may persevere and believe.[1]

Jesus has been with them throughout His ministry and now He promises not to abandon them. This preparation is precisely what they will need when Jesus dies at the cross. This Upper Room Discourse is filled with contrasting language. The language of going and coming, grief and joy, tribulation and peace, asking and receiving, seeing and not seeing, parable and open speech, unbelief and faith, the world and God.[2] This language is used to describe precisely the emotional state and the response of the disciples when Jesus would depart from them, but at the same time it would reflect the disciples’ response when Jesus would be with them “in a little while.”

The Lord Jesus will be arrested and betrayed. It is important that they grasp what our Lord is about to say, so their faith will not falter; that they will be strengthened to endure what is ahead. More