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

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Reflection on Luke 12:32-40

Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
You Must Be Ready

35 “Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! 39 But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have left his house to be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

Of Thieves and Treasure

Today's text offers enough metaphors and images that a passive listener will become easily lost in the quick flow of flocks, purses, thieves, treasure, weddings, masters, servants, banquets, houses and unexpected hours. Within this small section, however, there are a few phrases or images that unsettle us, and will certainly wake us up if we drifted off in the hearing.

“Sell your possessions.”
A master serving servants.
A thief, coming in the night.

There is much that is valuable to us that sends our lives into chaos if they are taken from us. Money, important documents, our reputations, our health, the lives of loved ones. We fear the loss of those things we value, those things we treasure, those things we love.

And Jesus says, “Fear not little flock”

Have you ever noticed how it doesn't seem to work to tell someone to not feel or think something? If I were to say to you “Don't think about purple elephants” what are you thinking about? Probably purple elephants. Merely saying “Don't fear” doesn't stop fear.

But Jesus does not merely tell us “Don't fear” like we say “no worries” and think that answers it. No, Instead our first verse in 32 says “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

But what are the riches that Jesus promises the faithful?

How do you measure the riches of God? Do you look around and say, I know I ought not to fear because I can look around at how God has blessed me with my house, bank statement, car, and even friends and family. Certainly these are things we might be thankful for, but if that is how we know God is good, what happens when those things become unstable? What happens when like in the past two years, many of our houses have been pulled out from under us, our retirement accounts are looking weak or two years has left us in poorer health? Some think that God's treasure and lavish riches are the abundance of tangible things and if that is true if they falter and when the rug comes out from underneath of us, we will turn to God and cry, “thief!”

A fellow chaplain friend of mine commented on interacting with someone years ago that had a shirt on that read “He who dies with the most stuff wins.” The obvious question is: Wins what? You can't take toys with you. The problem of our treasure that fades and rots is not to get more temporary treasure.

And “faith” can be used improperly as a way to attempt to avoid pain or suffering or loss. I cringe whenever I hear someone is going through a rough time or poor health or pain and someone says its because of their faith. That's Bull. Jesus had that question multiple times (with a building that collapsed, with a man born blind) and rejected that answer each time.

Faith here frames pain, suffering and loss. Faith brings us through pain, it does NOT exempt us from pain. Through real loss, faith is valuing the valuable, counting the temporary with its true limited worth, and the eternal with infinite worth. It as not as though we can do without the temporary. Food is here today and rots tomorrow, yet we still need food. Man cannot live on bread alone, but man needs bread. In verse 30, Jesus referring to food and clothing affirms “The Father knows you need them.” What we are challenged with here is: what do we think we gain by valuing the temporary as if were permanent?

The kingdom of God that is talked of here is not merely more perishable stuff. Christ points us towards “treasure in heaven” and “purses that do not grow old.”

You see, it is not just “Don't fear” but Christ replaces our treasure with something different.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish minister, once preached a sermon whose content has mostly been forgotten except the title. “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” We are not merely told to sell our possessions but to replace them with this new treasure. We spoke of this treasure in our confession of faith, Colossians 1: The riches of the mystery which is Christ (given even to us). Christ GIVES and even more than that, IS the treasure of the kingdom.

How great are the riches, the treasure, we have in Christ? That we were once under the burden of the Law, and Christ fulfilled the Law in our place. That we once were owing the penalty of everlasting death, and Christ paid our penalty. That we were once at war with God, and now Christ has given us peace with God. That Christ was the one, according to Paul, “through whom God created the world” so that we have the riches of creation but especially of creation's renewal in Christ, that is the hope of resurrection. That once we were far off strangers and enemies and now we are the children of God. That we have the benefits of community in the family of God, however dysfunctional that family of God may seem at times.

Does it strike you that we have in Christ: the master sitting us down. Look at verse 37. It is meant to be a shocking image, as if the CEO of your company came and shined your shoes and served you lunch at your table. Christ is taking the posture of a servant, and serving us with this feast of benefits. That is the treasure and the riches we have by faith, which is Christ in us.

So an WE end, we must ask: Is that your treasure? Or do we have our heart and values set on things that will one day vanish. Do we value the temporary with everlasting hope. Then when they fade, it is as if Christ is a thief come in the middle of the night to steal what we value most.

Our selection of Scripture ends in verse 40 with the exhortation “Be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” It is a promise of end. It is the obvious reality that the temporary has an end. “End” is reality.

So why? Why do we put all our eternal hope in things temporal and temporary? Why do we become despondent when we see those temporary things do what temporary things do? When they disappear, when we get to the end, will Christ be our treasure we are reunited with - the odd master coming and serving and giving what is most valuable to us, his servants? or will he be the thief stealing what we really value most? You don't change what He does, but your faith and hope do change who He is to you in that moment.

So Who will Christ be? The thief of your fading treasure? Or will He be your everlasting treasure?

O Lord,
enable us to sell our possessions and the idols of our hearts
Enter in our resulting void and reveal to us the riches of salvation
And the glory of God shining in the face of Christ.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

White Horse Inn: On Justification

The latest episode of White Horse Inn was on justification. One of the best I've heard from them, they focus on the most important ignored doctrine in churches today:

On Justification and Imputation

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Torrance on Suffering and Incarnation

Lately I've been thinking about the problem of pain, suffering, and evil as related to God. In pastoral matters, it seems that God's sovereignty has a component, but left alone is insufficient when dealing with the topic. Ultimately, the answer to the problem of pain, suffering and evil is the Incarnation (and the Atonement). That lead me back again to Torrance's masterful work on the Incarnation which (despite its few errors) is so wonderful on the Incarnation:

"The agony of Jesus - and how he was constrained until it was accomplished - was that he was the judging God and the judged man at the same time, the electing God and the elected man at the same time, and in this unspeakable tension he remained absolutely faithful as the Son of God and Son of Man." (113)

"[Christ] stooped to shoulder our weakness, astheneia, and to bear it as our high priest, as our shepherd priest before God, so that by his stripes we are healed. The term astheneia on the pages of the New Testament is a profound term speaking of the disease of the body and of the soul, and so his compassion met the double need of the sick and the sinful." (134)

"'From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence'...How does the kingdom of God press in, how does it storm into the hearts of men and women? By the cross. But the cross is the kingdom of God suffering violence, and there we that the weakness of God is stronger than man, so that the preaching of this cross, where the kingdom suffers violence, is the power of God...like Elijah, John had misunderstood the violence of God and was offended at the weakness of Jesus, but in Jesus the still small voice of God has become flesh, and that was more powerful than all the imaginable forces of nature put together and unleashed in their fury" (149-150)

T.F. Torrance. Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Gospel of Divine Grace the Only Means of Converting Sinners

The Gospel of Divine Grace the Only Means of Converting Sinners; and Should be Preached Therefore Most Clearly, Fully, and Freely.

a Poem by Ralph Erkine

They ought, who royal grace's heralds be,
To trumpet loud salvation, full and free;
Nor safely can, to humour mortal pride,
In silence evangelic myst'ries hide.

What heav'n is pleas'd to give, dare we refuse;
Or under ground conceal, least men abuse?
Suppress the gospel-flow'r, upon pretence
That some vile spiders may suck poison thence?

Christ is a stumbling-block, shall we neglect
To preach him, lest the blind should break their neck?
That high he's for the fall of many set
As well as for the rise, must prove no let.

No grain of precious truth must be suppress'd,
Though reprobates should to their ruin wrest.
Shall heaven's corruscant lamb be dimm'd, that pays
Its daily tribute down in golden rays?

Because some, blinded with the blazing gleams,
Share not the pleasure of the lightning beams.
Let those be hardned, petrify'd, and harm'd,
The rest are mollify'd and kindly warm'd.

A various favour, flowers in grace's field,
Of life to some, of deat to others yield.
Must then the rose be vail'd, the lily hid,
The fragrant favour stifled? God forbid.

The revelation of the gospel-flow'r,
Is still the organ fram'd of saving pow'r
Most justly then are legal minds condemn'd,
That of the glorious gospel are asham'd:

For this the divine arm, and only this,
The pow'r of God unto salvation is.
For therein is reveal'd, to screen from wrath,
The righteousness of God, from faith to faith!

The happy change in guilty sinners case
They owe to free displays of sov'reign grace;
Whose joyful tidings of amazing love
The ministration of the Spirit prove.

The glorious vent of the gospel-news express,
Of God's free grace, thro' Christ's full righteousness,
Is Heaven's gay chariot, where the Spirit bides,
And in his conqu'ring pow'r triumphant rides.

The gospel-field is still the Spirit's soil,
The golden pipe that bears the holy oil;
The orb where he outshines the radiant sun,
The silver channel where his graces run.

Within the gospel-banks his flowing tide
Of lightning, quickning motions sweetly glide.
Received ye the Spirit, scripture saith,
By legal works, or by the word of faith?
If by the gospel only then let none
Dare to be wiser than the wisest one.

We must, who freely get, as freely give
The vital word that makes the dead to live.
For ev'n to sinners dead within our reach
We in his living name may most successful preach.

The Spirit and the scripture both agree
Jointly (says Christ) to testify of me.
The preacher then will from his text decline,
That scorns to harmonize with this design.

Press moral duties to the last degree;
Why not? but mind, lest we successless be,
No light, no hope, no strength for duties spring,
Where Jesus is not Prophet, Priest, and King.

No light to see the way, unless he teach;
No joyful hope, save in his blood we reach;
No strength, unless his royal arm he stretch
Then from our leading scope how gross we fall,
If, like his name, in ev'ry gospel-call,
We make not him the First, the Last, the All!

Our office is to bear the radiant torch,
Of gospel-light, into the darkened porch
Of human understandings, and display
The joyful dawn of everlasting day;

To draw the golden chariot of free grace,
The darkned shades with shining rays to chase,
'Till Heaven's bright lamp on circling wheels be hurl'd,
With spark'ling grandeur round the dusky world;

And thus to bring, in dying mortals sight,
New life and immortality to light.
We're charg'd to preach the gospel, unconfin'd,
To ev'ry creature of the human kind;

To call, with tenders of salvation free,
All corners of the earth to come and see:
And ev'ry sinner must excuseless make,
By urging rich and poor to come and take:

Ho, ev'ry one that thirsts, is grace's call
Direct to needy sinners great and small;
Not meaning those alone, whose holy thirst
Denominates their souls already blest.

If only those were call'd, then none but saints;
Nor would the gospel suit the sinner's wants.
But here the call does signally import
Sinners and thirsty souls of every sort;

And mainly to their door the message brings,
Who yet are thirsting after empty things;
Who spend their means no living bread to buy,
And pains for that which cannot satisfy.

Such thirsty sinners here invited are,
Who vainly spend their money, thought, and care,
On passing shades, vile lusts and trash, so base
As yeilds the immortal souls no true solace.

The call directs them, as they would be blest,
To choose a purer object of their thirst.
All are invited by the joyful sound
To drink who need, as does the parched ground,
Whose wide-mouth'd clefts speak to the brazen sky
Its passive thirst, without an active cry.

The gospel-preacher then with holy skill
Must offer Christ to whosoever will,
To sinners of all sorts that can be nam'd;
The blind, the lame, the poor, the halt, the maim'd,

Not daring to restrict th' extensive call,
But op'ning wide the net to catch 'em all
No soul must be excluded that will come,
Nor right of access be confined to some,

Though none will come till conscious of their want,
Yet right to come they have by sov'reign grant;
Such right to Christ, his promise, and his grace,
That all are damn'd who hear and don't embrace:

So freely is th' unbounded call dispen'd,
We therein find ev'n sinners unconvinc'd;
Who know not they are naked, blind, and poor,
Counsell'd to by, or beg at Jesus door,
And take the glorious robe, eye-salve, and golden store.

This prize they are oblig'd by faith to win,
Else unbelief would never be their sin.
Yes, gospel-offers but a sham we make,
If ev'ry sinner has not right to take.

Be gospel-heralds fortify'd from this
To trumpet grace, howe'er the serpent hiss.
Did hell's malicious mouth in dreadful shape
'Gainst innocence itself malignant gape;

Then sacred truth's devoted vouchers may
For dire reproach their measures constant lay.
With cruel calumny of old commence'd,
This sect will ev'ry where be spoke against.

While to and fro he runs the earth across
In spite of hell be then our constant strife
To win the glorious Lamb a virgin wife.

* The Accuser of the Brethren (Rev. 12:10)

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Reflection: The Pastor and the Theologian

Problem: An Academic Theologian chaffing under the requirement to be confessionally, theologically orthodox at a Christian Seminary when studying academic subjects.

Problem: A pastor that sentimentalizes his sermons with no regard to theological content.

Attempted Answer in Axiom: Every theologian must be a pastor, and every pastor must be a theologian.

Both of these problems are weeds from the same rotten soil: The loss of the concept of the pastor-theologian. Today, seminaries and Christians will divorce the academy and the church. One can argue that one is academically focused, and therefore should be free from the limits of orthodoxy. Another can argue they are going into ministry and thus are not as concerned with theology as they are with people.

Both of these people have divorced what should not be divorced. Every theologian should be a pastor, and every pastor should be a theologian. The theologian has a responsibility to orthodoxy, not mere learning. The pastor has a responsibility to right teaching, not merely people.

The theologian who is not a pastor is often arrogant, self-directed, and enamored with novelty and notoriety. The pastor who is not a theologian is often intellectually lazy, a poor shepherd of the mind and injurious as often as nurturing to his flock. The academic-only has no regard for the spiritual life of the flock, and kicks at all authority put over them, be it the confines of orthodoxy or the severe judgment that awaits them from God. The pastor-only chaffs at real authority that is given to them, rejecting their authority over the flock and thrives on sentimentality, taking offense at any challenge to the rightness of their feelings.

However, the academic theologian will always be too proud to submit to the authority of Scripture and the church, and the pastor-only will always be too proud to admit their deficiencies in feeding the flock. Both can only be changed by the humiliation and convicting work of the Spirit. May they both be brought to repentance that we might worship God truly with our mind. May we be brought to repentance when we reject correction of our hubris against the limits of orthodoxy and the high call to the office of pastor-elder.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

In Our Own Image

Can we make images of God? Many (heck, most) Christians do. We make images of God for art, worship and teaching. But are we supposed to? The Second Commandment is:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God"

Wes White has a thought-provoking reflection on this problem:

"God cannot be pictured. Such an attempt is a breaking of the second commandment. It is not only wrong to worship images of God, we need to understand that we are forbidden from making images of God."

I think he makes a pretty good case from Scripture. I would be interested in a conversation that engaged this interpretation from Scripture. Most interaction and objection I have seen and I tend to have come from personal preference and feeling, which is not a good objection. And if it is true, I think we need to rethink our piety:


Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Hurtfulness of Not Preaching Christ

The Hurtfulness of Not Preaching Christ, and Distinguishing Duly Between Law and Gospel

a Poem by Ralph Erkine

Hell cares not how crude holiness be preach'd,
If sinner's match with Christ be never reach'd;
Knowing their holiness is but a sham,
Who ne'er are marry'd to the holy Lamb.

Let words have never such a pious shew,
And blaze aloft in rude professor's view,
With sacred aromatics richly spic'd,
If they but drown in silence glorious Christ;

Or, if he may some vacant room supply,
Make him a subject only by the by;
They mar true holiness with tickling chat,
To breed a bastard Pharisaic brat.

They wofully the gospel message-broke,
Make fearful havock of their Master's flock;
Yet please themselves and the blind multitude,
By whom the gospel's little understood.

Rude souls, perhaps, imagine little odds
Between the legal and the gospel roads:
But vainly men attempt to blend the two;
They differ more than Christ and Moses do.

Moses, evangelizing in a shade,
By types the news of light approaching spread;
But from the law of works, by him proclaim'd,
No ray of gospel-grace or mercy gleam'd.

By nature's light the law to all is known,
But lightsome news of gospel-grace to none.
The doing cov'nant now, in part or whole,
Is strong to damn, but weak to save a soul.

It hurts, and cannot help, but as it tends
Through mercy to subserve some gospel-ends.
Law-thunder roughly to the gospel tames,
The gospel mildly to the law reclaims.

The fiery law, as 'tis a covenant,
Schools men to see the gospel-aid they want;
Then gospel-aid does sweetly them incline
Back to the law, as 'tis a rule divine.

Heaven's healing work is oft commenc'd with wounds,
Terror begins what loving-kindness crowns.
Preachers may therefore press the fiery law,
To strike the Christless men with dreadful awe.

Law-threats which for his sins to hell depress.
Yea, damn him for his rotten righteousness;
That while he views the law exceeding broad,
He fain may wed the righteousness of God.

But, ah! to press the law-works as terms of life,
was ne'er the way to court the Lamb a wife.
To urge conditions in the legal frame,
Is to renew the vain old cov'nant game.

The law is good, when lawfully 'tis used,
But most destructive, when it is abused.
They set not duties in the proper sphere,
Who duly law and gospel don't sever;

But under many chains let sinners lie,
As tributaries, or to DO or DIE.
Nor make the law a squaring rule of life,
But in the gospel-throat a bloody knife.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Why I am not Psalms-only acapella

I have been in a few churches that are Psalms-only or acapella (no instruments). While I think the Psalms-only churches may have a leg up on other churches in that their learned worship music is all Scriptural and an aid to learning large chunks of Scripture, I don't believe you can demand from Scripture that everyone conform to that in worship. If I did, I would have to:

1. Ignore Paul's adoption (and implicit support) of early hymns

Any New Testament Greek scholar will tell you the form of Phil 2:5-11 and Col 1:15-20 are in the form of early hymns in the early church, most likely that Paul quotes to affirm their accuracy and help him remind his readers of their truth. The NA27 text arranges it that way. So I would have to get an older Greek text that doesn't do that.

2. Change Col 3:16 and Eph 5:19

These seem to suggest the psalms are in the corpus, rather than the exclusive corpus, of the songs of the church. It has been suggested that these refer to three types of psalms, so to have it make more sense, I would have to change them like so:

Col 3:16- Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns psalms and spiritual songs more psalms, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

3. Edit the Psalms

Now that you are singing the Psalms, you will run into a little problem in that they tell you to use instruments and to sing new songs. So to be super true to the word of God, as it seems David was not, I would have to edit these to:

Psalm 150:3-6 -Praise him with trumpet sound; your voice
praise him with lute and harp! your voice
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; your voice
praise him with strings and pipe! your voice
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals; your voice
praise him with loud clashing cymbals! your voice
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

Psalm 149:1-4- Praise the Lord!
Sing to the Lord a new song, psalm
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
2 Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
3 Let them praise his name with dancing, standing still,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre! your voice
4 For the Lord takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.

Thus, I cannot be of the camp that submits that all worship music is to be sung without instruments and only from the Psalms. That said, it wouldn't be a bad idea to sing a Psalm every now and again in worship, especially the whole psalm (not just the praise section) and all the types of psalms (praise, lament, etc).