"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hymn: Gospel in the Word

There are actually few hymns that specifically mention the Word, especially written. Isaac Watt's "Laden with Guilt and Full of Fears" is an exception. The hymn also includes what what is sought in Scripture: "Here I behold my Savior's face, in every page."

1. Laden with guilt and full of fears,
I fly to Thee, my Lord,
And not a glimpse of hope appears,
But in Thy written Word
The volumes of my Father’s grace
Does all my griefs assuage
Here I behold my Savior’s face
In every page.

2. This is the field where, hidden, lies
The pearl of price unknown
That merchant is divinely wise
Who makes the pearl his own
Here consecrated water flows
To quench my thirst of sin
Here the fair tree of knowledge grows,
No danger dwells within.

3. This is the judge that ends the strife,
Where wit and reason fail
My guide to everlasting life
Through all this gloomy vale
Oh may Thy counsels, mighty God,
My roving feet command,
Nor I forsake the happy road
That leads to Thy right hand.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Preaching Christ in Law and Gospel

The component parts of declaring what God has done in Christ are found in two concepts: Law and Gospel. Lutherans are known for this distinction, but is it just Luther that says things like:

"The law must be laid upon those that are to be justified, that they may shut up in the prison thereof until the righteousness of faith come-that, when they are cast down and humbled by the law, they should fly to Christ. The Lord humbles them, not to their destruction, but to their salvation. For God wounds, that he may heal again. He kills, that he may quicken again."
-Martin Luther

Nay, Consider:

"By the trumpet of the law he proclaims war with sinners; by the jubilee-trumpet of the gospel he publishes peace...The law condemns a sinner for his first offence; but the gospel offers him the forgiveness of all his offences...Both combine to 'bring the sinner to Christ, the law indirectly as a schoolmaster, showing his need of him: the Gospel directly, exhibiting him to all points suitable to his need."
- Charles Bridges (Anglican priest)

"By the term Law, Paul frequently understands that rule of holy living in which God exacts what is his due, giving no hope of life unless we obey in every respect; and, on the other hand, denouncing a curse for the slightest failure. This Paul does when showing that we are freely accepted of God, and accounted righteous by being pardoned, because that obedience of the Law to which the reward is promised is nowhere to be found. Hence he appropriately represents the righteousness of the Law and the Gospel as opposed to each other...Consequently, this Gospel does not impose any commands, but rather reveals God's goodness, his mercy and his benefits."
-John Calvin (Genevian Reformer)

"There is no point on which men make greater mistakes than on the relation which exists between the law and the gospel. Some men put the law instead of the gospel; others put gospel instead of the law. A certain class maintains that the law and the gospel are mixed...These men understand not the truth and are false teachers."
-Charles Spurgeon (Particular Baptist)

"We must know that the law is but one part of God’s word, and the gospel another, revealing another part of God’s will, besides that which the law made known; for it adds a qualification to the law, moderating the rigor thereof, after this manner: He is accursed (saith the law) that faileth in any commandment, except (saith the gospel) he be reconciled again in Christ, and in him have the pardon of his transgressions. And yet the law remains forever a rule of obedience to every child of God, though he be not bound to bring the same obedience for his justification before God.”
-William Perkins (English Puritan)

Christ is not preach'd in truth, but in disguise,
If his bright glory half absconded lies.
When gospel-soldiers, that divide the word,
Scarce brandish any but the legal sword.
Shaping the gospel to an easy law,
They build their tott'ring house with hay and straw;
With legal spade the gospel-field he delves,
Who thus drives sinners in unto themselves;
Halving the truth that should be all reveal'd,
The sweetest part of Christ is oft conceal'd

-Ralph Erskine (Scottish Presbyterian theologian)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Preached Word: What is required for a sermon?

Robert L. Dabney wrote a book in the 1800s that many accepted across denominational lines as presenting what was required of all sermons preached to the church, every time a sermon was to be preached. These qualities included unity, textual fidelity, Instructiveness, Movement, Point, and Order as well as:

"The next property of the good sermon I have named evangelical tone. This is a gracious character, appropriate to the proclamation of that gospel where 'mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other.' ... We cannot better describe it than in the words of the apostles, when they so frequently speak of their work as 'preaching Christ,' or 'preaching Christ crucified.' We do not conceive that they mean to declare, the only facts they ever recited were those enacted on Calvary, or that they limited themselves exclusively to the one doctrine of vicarious satisfaction for sin. The abstracts of their sermons, recorded in the New Testament, show that this was not true. But we find that these facts and this doctrine were central to their teachings. They recurred perpetually with a prominence suitable to their importance. More than this, they were ever near at hand, as the focus to which every beam of divine truth must converge. The whole revealed system, with its doctrines and duties, was ever presented in gospel aspects. The law, when preached as a rule of conviction, led to the cross. The law, as a rule of obedience, drew its noblest sanctions from the cross. Such being the method of the inspired men, I would willingly define evangelical preaching by the term scriptural. Let the preacher present all doctrines and duties, not in the lights of philosophy or of human ethics, but of the New Testament. And for enforcement of this quality I cannot do better than refer you to the apostle's declaration, that when he came to preach among the Corinthians (1 Cor 2:2) he 'determined not to know anything among them, save Jesus Christ and him crucified.'"

-Robert Dabney. Sacred Rhetoric (renamed in reissue: Evangelical Eloquence) pg 114-115.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Ordinary Means: The Word

What do we mean by "the Word"?

We may mean various things by the "word." John calls Christ the Word of God. (John 1:1-17) Jonah is given a word to preach to Ninevah (Jonah 1:1). The message of Paul's gospel is called the word. In the church we call the Bible the Word of God. Do these all mean the same thing?

To some degree yes, to some degree no. There are typically three categories of the word, written, preached and incarnate. Yet, these three are all related in meaning.

Looking first at Jonah, we can see the basic meaning. Jonah is given a "word" to proclaim to Ninevah. Here, we can see that Jonah is not told to proclaim the Torah or Scriptures to Ninevah, but to relay God's message. The word, or message, is God's, but God uses Jonah to deliver the message. God speaks to Ninevah mediately, not immediately. God could merely speak Himself audably to Ninevah, He had no need of Jonah. Yet, God chose to include Jonah, not for Ninevah's sake, but for Jonah's sake and Jonah's privledge (even if he didn't see it as such).

The principle we derive from Jonah's story is that the ministry of the word, the way that God has chosen to relay his message, is mediately, not immediately. God does not ordinarily speak directly to a person, with Jonah, Moses and a few others being the exceptional cases, not the ordinary cases. This is why there is a division in the way we speak between the extraordinary means and the ordinary means. In the ordinary means, there is a mediator.

This is different from what we mean by Christ being mediator, for Christ mediates from us to God in prayer and sacrifice, but the ordinary means mediate the word of God to us, now that Christ is absent. Yet do we not have the Spirit as the mediator? Does the Spirit speak directly to us immediately?

No. Today, the Spirit is found accompanying the Word. Even throughout the events of the Spirit we might find strange in Acts, the Spirit was accompanying the Word in the mouths of the Apostles. Look at Acts 4:31 or Acts 10:44:

"While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. "

Conversion was never immediate, meaning: conversion happened by the Spirit accompanying the Word. There is never a wordless Spirit. People do not convert apart from the Word. The Spirit accompanies the Word.

This is why Paul writes in Romans 10:14:

"How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? "

Paul teaches that faith is created in the event of the preaching of the word. God condescends to use the word through human agents to communicate faith to the people. Without human agents, Paul sees no faith being cultivated by the Spirit. The Spirit does not work immediately (directly, without an intermediate means), but mediately through the word, especially preached.

This is the first form of the word: The Preached Word. The other two forms are the Word written (The Scriptures) and the Word Incarnate (The Lord Jesus Christ).

They are all different, yet all work together. The guidance of the preached word is the Word written, for the messager must have the form of the Word given to him in order to faithfully communicate the Word. And the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, is the object, end and content of that message.

But what comes first, is there a primary Word? Temporally the question winds in circles. Christ came before the message of the church preached or written, but preaching existed before Christ came in the OT, yet also pointed to Christ. Our sake, it may be helpful to think of the order in this way. Christ is the eternal word of God, the word of creation and of redemption. From this reality, the word is given to be preached, to prophets and to apostles. From this received message, the word receives written form in Scripture.

The Word is given first to the apostles, then communicated by the preaching of the church and the book of the church. The word is found in and proclaimed in the church. The primary ground of the communication of God's word is the community of the church. This is different from what we as Americans usually think. We think firstly of an individual, having an immediate encounter with God, then freely associating with other Christians in a church body, in as much as that person can bring forward their assistance to other individuals. Conversion and spiritual growth are envisioned as individual tasks, with communal consequences. The pattern of the Christian life, however, is communal first. The message is proclaimed in the community in the church, from the church's book, of the church's Lord, and these are the means by which the word is communicated to us, that the Spirit uses to cause us to grow in grace and understanding.

The Spiritual Life is Churchly Life. It does not end in the church, and personal, private growth is essential. Yet this personal growth is feed by the corporate feeding. The Christian first encounters God in the church and then takes the Word into the world. That is why it is true that "there is no salvation apart from the church" for the church is the arena of the Word and salvation is both initial and growing, both justification and sanctification. They are indivisible, and where we go for one, we go for the other. We learn by the Church who Christ is and God's revelation from the church's book. For otherwise, "how then will they call on Him in Whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? " (Romans 10:14)

[Next: so why are the sacraments talked about with the word? Why is the church not just the ministry of the word rather than word and sacrament?]

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hymn: The Church

[adapted from earlier post, preparing for a series of posts on the word in the church]

Jesus, with Thy Church abide

If the church is body of Christ, we cannot have Christ without the Church. This moving hymn by Thomas Pollock (pictured right) is a prayer for the Church, to bring others into her for their salvation. Pollock ministered to the poor of London as a minister in the Church of England. Here are the better verses:

Jesus, with Thy Church abide,

Be her Savior, Lord, and Guide,

While on earth her faith is tried:

We beseech Thee, hear us.

Keep her life and doctrine pure,

Help her, patient, to endure,

Trusting in Thy promise sure:

We beseech Thee, hear us.

All her fettered powers release

Bid our strife and envy cease,

Grant the heav'nly gift of peace:

We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she guide the poor and blind,

Seek the lost until she find,

And the broken hearted bind:

We beseech Thee, hear us.

All that she has lost, restore,

May her strength and zeal be more

Than in brightest days of yore:

We beseech Thee, hear us.

May she holy triumphs win,

Overthrow the hosts of sin,

Gather all the nations in,

We beseech Thee, hear us.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Reformed Spirituality: The Community of Faith

The process of sanctification is inseparable from the context of the church community. Early Church Father Ignatius, on his way to martyrdom, recognized this reality. He would often speak of a desire that “my spirit be sanctified by yours”1 or “I require to be sanctified by your church of Ephesus.”2

I say this because I wish to submit that the christian life "happens" through the church, and I wish to explore those avenues. The means by which one is exposed to the word is by ministry of the word given to the church, in the preached word and the sacraments. The word cannot properly be applied outside of the church, for it was to those in the church that God through Paul commissioned those who equip the saints for service.3 The ministry of the word is not found outside of the church, therefore the church is a necessary vehicle by which Christians are sanctified, where salvation is realized.

In fact, Cyprian once wrote "there is no salvation out[side] of the Church." Catholics like to cite this quote, and with some consternation find a Protestant accepting of the concept:

"Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), ...[is] the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation."

That wording is from the Westminster Confession on the Church. But how can Protestants say this? Do they mean it? They mean it because the church is the arena of the means of grace in the ministry of the word, and the means of grace do not only convert, but sanctify.

The ministry of the word can be expressed alternatively as the ministry of word and sacrament. Primary in this formulation is the word. Paul expressly teaches that God condescends to use preaching as the means by which the message is conveyed in Romans 10:13-15. In using the term “word” we mean primarily what Paul means in telling Timothy to “preach the word.”4 This is how Paul sees Timothy fulfilling his ministry to the church.5 The “word” to Paul stands in for his other phrases he uses, such as gospel, or preaching Christ crucified.6 Paul means by “word” the message of Christ, his Person and work. This gospel message is not merely for unbelievers, but as Christ said, the means by which God sanctifies his people.7

So looking at the sanctifying mission of the church, we look to word and sacrament. To look at the means of spirituality and growth, we look at the means of grace. As the Larger Catechism puts it:

Q. 154. What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?

A. The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation, are all his ordinances; especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation .

Thus, I wish to take a look at the Word, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, tackling some thoughts on the main doctrine on Monday at the beginning of the week for each, then moving on to some reflections, implications and perhaps just worship thoughts through the rest of the week. This is for myself, mostly, in simply organizing doctrine in way that can be communicated for others to understand.

1 Ignatius Epistle to the Trallians. Chapter 13. (as translated in A.Cleveland Coxe. Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume 1, The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus. Ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.
2 Ignatius Epistle to the Ephesians. Chapter 8 (as translated Ibid.)
3 Ephesians 4:11-13
4 2 Tim 4:2 ESV
5 2 Tim 4:5
6 cf. Romans 1:15, 1 Cor 1:23
7 cf. John 17:17

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Hymns and Psalms?

Why bother with dusty hymns and psalms? What's the difference between hymns, gospel tunes and praise choruses? Why does it matter?

Kevin Twit, the pastor behind the "Indelible Grace" CDs that put many old hymns to new music, gave these two talks below at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville KY, asking: Why Hymns? And why are young people connecting with hymns?

These are great talks on why we should sing more psalms and hymns, not because they are old, but because of what they teach us:

Part 1 audio mp3

Part 2 audio mp3

Monday, May 18, 2009

Christ in Job

A friend of mine, after completing a degree in Theology, found an element missing from his education in reading the Bible. Certainly the degree he received had a course in Bible Study Methods, and several classes where Biblical historical and language skills were cultivated. Yet, as he explained, it was outside of those classes where he learned the most important aspect of Bible Study that he was missing: the point. The point or end or goal of all Scripture was the story of Redemption as accomplished in Christ. Post-graduation, he started personal study to see this in particular books in the Old Testament, such as Jonah and Habakkuk.

I have had a similar feeling of something missing, especially heightened over the past semester, if a previous post was not enough of a clue. I spent 3 and a half hours listening to lectures on the book of Job and at the end, Christ had not been mentioned once.

When I came to a more Reformation understanding of salvation years ago, besides Ephesians, one of my favorite books became Job. Such a statement seems strange, I have heard few say that Job is a favorite Biblical book. I had read the book before and not loved it, yet after understanding salvation, I now loved it. Why?

Job is a story of suffering and conversation. After Job's possessions are taken away, his children are dead and his health goes bad, Job has three friends that come to comfort him. Job opens his mouth and airs his complaint. He did not deserve this. He was righteous and worshiped God, so why does he get this in repayment? But not only that. Job has lived long enough to see that life is not fair. Justice seems thwarted when evil men succeed in life and honest men are robbed and die young.

Job's friends have horrible answers. They basically deny that anything bad does happen to righteous men. They are like the friend that, when something bad happens to you, asks you how you sinned to cause it. Or like the disciples in John 9:2 that ask whose sin caused the blind man to lose his sight. Their words are met with perhaps the best rebuke from Job in the book: "No doubt you are the people, and wisdom will die with you." (Job 12:2) Sarcasm must be Job's spiritual gift. The answer deserves a punch in the eye, it has no grip on reality. Righteous people do suffer, evil men do prosper.

Elihu, starting in chapter 32, begins his response. Elihu gives several possible answers to why suffering might occur. But Elihu himself does not have an answer for why Job personally suffers. In chapters 38-41, God Himself questions Job, asking Job if he has done what God has done or knows what God knows. Then Job shuts his mouth, and has some degree of restoration.

What was the book of Job's answer? When Job asks why good men suffer and bad men prosper, why death reigns and pain affects all men, what is the answer to Job's question?

There are two main possibilities:

1. Elihu - This view says Job has sinned in his reaction to his pain. And so Elihu is the mediator that Job was longing for (Job 9:32-33). Elihu thus gives many possibilities for why suffering occurs:

Suffering can be for the purpose of education, preventing something else, corrective, for God's glory, to change one's priorities, a stimulus to prayer, or it can be judgment.

So while Job was righteous before the pain, Job is seen to have sinned in his response to pain. Elihu is seen as the rebuker of Job's sin in pain and introduces God who then continues the rebuke of Job's unrighteousness in pain. Job's fault is that he didn't take it like a man.

I do not take this view for a few reasons. One, it shows Satan was right. In the beginning of the book the whole point of the trials of Job was for God to demonstrate to Satan that indeed Job trusted God, and not merely because God had given Job much. If Job was sinning in offering his complaints (though obviously in some of the hyperbolic ways he says it), then Satan was right.

Two, it would make Job 42:7 a very odd verse indeed:

Job 42:7 - After the LORD had spoken these words to Job, the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite: "My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has."

How has Job spoken rightly? Let's look at the second possibility:

2. The book of Job gives no final answer.

This answer seems to be wrong on its face. I will, however, try to explain why I think it is the right answer. Certainly, Elihu does give many good possibilities for what God may be doing in the midst of suffering. Elihu's answers are certainly possibilities. Yet, they are not sufficient.

To merely look for fault in Job, and say that Job sinned and the point of the book is to shut up when you experience pain, ignores the seriousness of Job's case and why this book would bother with 30 chapters exploring Job's complaint. Job states his problems directly and with a true resonating force:

The evil prosper:

Job 21:29-34: "Have you not asked those who travel the roads, and do you not accept their testimony that the evil man is spared in the day of calamity, that he is rescued in the day of wrath? Who declares his way to His face, and who repays him for what he has done? When he is carried to the grave, watch is kept over his tomb. The clods of the valley are sweet to him; all mankind follows after him, and those who go before him are innumerable. How then will you comfort me with empty nothings? There is nothing left of your answers but falsehood."

The problem of death

Job 14:10-12: "But a man dies and is laid low; man breathes his last, and where is he? As waters fail from a lake and a river wastes away and dries up, so a man lies down and rises not again; till the heavens are no more he will not awake or be roused out of his sleep."

The problem of cleansing

Job 14:4 "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? There is not one."

The problem of a distant God.

Job 23:3 "Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come even to His seat!"

The problems of the people of God

Job 16:2 "I have heard many such things; miserable comforters are you all."

Job 12:4 - "I am one mocked by his friends."

The problem of Revelation

Job 28:12 "But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?

The problem of mediation

Job 9:32-33 "For He is not a man, as I am, that I might answer Him, that we should come to trial together. There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both."

The problem of wisdom not answering the problem of pain

Job 13:12 "Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay. "

But how has Job spoken rightly? (Job 42:7) Was it merely the repentance? No, God is evaluating the conversation between Job and his friends. Thus, what Job's friends said on whole is not what was true, but what Job said on whole was. Job's friends had looked at Job as having to have done something particularly wrong himself that now Job was getting his due punishment for. It is much like the disciples in John 9:2 asking who sinned to make the man be blind. Instead, Job says the way the world works right now has something deeply wrong with it.

Certainly, we can all share this observation. G.K. Chesterton compared the human condition to a man ship wrecked on an island, yet with him has washed up artifacts from his civilized world. We are in a primitive and harsh world, yet we have things that tell us this is not how it was supposed to be. We have moments of beauty and love that make pain, suffering and injustice a problem. They are evidences that something is deeply wrong.

Job speaks rightly because Job diagnoses the problem of the fallen world. All the things Job cites ARE problems, not things to be ignored or said don't really affect the righteous. They do affect the righteous. They are problems in this world begging for an answer.

In the midst of Job's suffering, even though he cites all these real problems, Job also declares,

Job 19:25-27 - "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me!"

Job doesn't know exactly how, but Job knows in his frustrations that the problems he cites will be addressed, and not just spiritually, but "in the flesh."

We know more fully now how that problem is addressed, and Who Job's Redeemer is. To the problem of death, Christ brings resurrection. To the problem of injustice, Christ will bring final judgment with the sword. To the problem of the poor comforts of the people of God, Christ is born under the Law, into the people of God, bringing perfect comfort and bringing the Comforter, the Spirit. To the problem of mediation between God and man, Christ, the God-man, brings Himself. To the problem of the defects of wisdom in answering the problem of pain, Christ Himself is the wisdom of God revealed and vindicated. To the problem of a distant God, Christ Himself is Immanuel, God with us. And to the problem of cleansing, Christ Himself comes to "wash us in water with the word."

Ultimately, the book of Job is unsatisfactory unless Christ is applied. To merely say that suffering is corrective or educational does not suffice. The world is not as it should be, and the existence of love and beauty and truth in the world point beyond themselves to restoration, not to become satisfactory in the present. Job is discontent with the world as it is, his friends try to justify it rather than look to its redemption. Job is truer in that Job's words beg for the Redeemer, while his friends words are false because they fail to recognize the need of a Redeemer.

Job's friends stand condemned. Elihu may offer helpful rebuke to the over-reaction of Job, yet we cannot look to him as the ultimate mediator between God and man. And God's dialogue does not just tell Job to shut up, but tells Job that He is the God of Creation, and so to trust Him that he can be the God of re-creation. In this way, the book of Job gives no final answer to the problem of pain. The book of Job and Job himself speaks truly because he asks the right questions. Job's questions wait for a further revelation. Job speaks rightly to identify the problems of a fallen world, and speaks even more rightly to identify the only thing he can hold onto, "I know that my Redeemer lives."

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What strikes you about Christ?

I value objectivity. I dislike Christianity being turned into mere emotion and personal opinion and subjectivity. Yet, when objectivity is present, there is an element of subjectivity that is necessary for Christian life. That said, I have a simple question to any readers who might feel like commenting, with no specific answer being looked for:

What moves you about Christ?

By that I mean, what makes Him important and emotionally moving to you? Why do you love Him? Not a full confessional exhaustive list, but an aspect. What part of who Christ is or what He has done hits you in the affections? (at least currently, usually, or lately)

Please share in the comments.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Three signs

Explaning what a "sign of the covenant" is can be difficult and confusing. After a storm in Dallas, I saw a rainbow and began to think about the similarity of the rainbow as a sign along with circumcision and baptism. The similarities may help us understand what a sign is.

The Rainbow: In Genesis 9, God makes a covenant with Noah. God promises never to destroy the earth by water again, and gives Noah a sign. This sign points to God' promises, (Gen 9:14-16) not anything in Noah. The purpose of the sing for Noah is as a reminder of God's promises.

Circumcision: In Genesis 17, after God has promised many things to Abraham. To assure Abraham of His promises, God gives him the sign of circumcision. Paul tells us that circumcision is a "sign of the righteousness that comes by faith" (Rom 4:11). The sign is not of what Abraham does, but of God's righteousness to keep his word and promises to Abraham. Not Abraham's righteousness, for "the Lord is our righeousness" (Jer 23:6). Not Abraham's faith, but the righteousness that comes by means of faith.

Baptism: The image of Baptism is throughout the Bible. God promises many things to His people, including: his ingrafting into Christ (Rom 6:5; Gal 3:27), of regeneration (Tit 3:5), of remission of sins (Mar 1:4), and of his giving up unto God through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3, Rom 6:4). Like circumcision, baptism points to the promises of God, a righteousness that comes by faith, it does not point to faith but the righteousness.

What do these three signs together tell us of signs in God's covenant? The Rainbow points to the promises of God. Circumcision points to the promises of God. Baptism points to the promises of God. So the next time we reflect on our baptism, see the baptism of another, or think of what to say to someone about their baptism, let us remember that baptism is not about the person or what they can or did or do, but about God, what He did in Christ for them and does by the Spirit in them and the promises He makes to the believer, promises of His righteousness to be received by faith.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The heart journey of worship

I was asked not too long ago, "Did you feel like you worshiped today?" I think if these verses can be my words, then I have:

“Woe is me! for I am undone! because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, (Psalms 51:1-4)

"Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28-29)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Our Schizophrenic Response to Christ

How quickly we change in a chapter:

Matt 7:28-29 : "And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes."

Matt 8:34 : "And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus, and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region."

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Learning to pray the Lord's Prayer

Someone once made a satire of fundamentalist eccentricities in Catechism form. Among the questions was included this:

25. Q: What doth the Lord's Prayer teach us?
A: The Lord's Prayer teacheth us that we must never memorize a prayer, or use one that hath been written down.

Though many Christians may see the Lord's Prayer as a "vain repetition" it was originally given as an "anti-vain repetition" prayer. It is the example prayer given by Jesus when asked for a way to pray. Study of it, therefore, should not be ridiculed as silly, but studied as instructive and edifying. An impediment to that, however, is that we often recite the KJV wording, which is fine for corporate knowledge and worship, but a new wording and translation can be helpful for seeing what is being communicated and petitioned. For my Sunday School class, I offered my own translation to accompany a study of the seven petitions of the Lord’s prayer. What we may not realize, due to the archaic wording, is that the Lord’s prayer contains seven imperatives directed towards God the Father. Imperatives are used not because God is commanded to do something, but are used as seven requests it is appropriate to ask God for. Here is a my translation to help:

Our Father, Who is in the heavens

Cause your name to be treated as Holy
Bring your Kingdom
Make it come to pass that Your will is done on earth, like it is in heaven
Give us bread for today
Forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those in debt to us
Do not bring us into temptation
But Rescue us from the evil one

As we now see the seven requests, we may be aided further in reading Questions 100-106 on the Lord’s Prayer in the Smaller Catechism (the SC combines the sixth and seventh due to their similarity):

Q. 100. What doth the preface of the Lord’s Prayer teach us?
A. The preface of the Lord’s Prayer, which is, Our Father which art in heaven, teacheth us to draw near to God with all holy reverence and confidence, as children to a father, able and ready to help us; and that we should pray with and for others.

Q. 101. What do we pray for in the first petition?
A. In the first petition, which is, Hallowed be thy name, we pray that God would enable us, and others, to glorify him in all that whereby he maketh himself known; and that he would dispose all things to his own glory.

Q. 102. What do we pray for in the second petition?
A. In the second petition, which is, Thy kingdom come, we pray that Satan’s kingdom may be destroyed; and that the kingdom of grace may be advanced, ourselves and others brought into it, and kept in it; and that the kingdom of glory may be hastened.

Q. 103. What do we pray for in the third petition?
A. In the third petition, which is, Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven, we pray that God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.

Q. 104. What do we pray for in the fourth petition?
A. In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God’s free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them.

Q. 105. What do we pray for in the fifth petition?
A. In the fifth petition, which is, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors, we pray that God, for Christ’s sake, would freely pardon all our sins; which we are the rather encouraged to ask, because by his grace we are enabled from the heart to forgive others.

Q. 106. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
A. In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.