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By In Theology, Worship

Confessing Jesus as Lord

Writing into a Roman context to tell people that the proper response to the gospel was to confess “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10.9) would have been provocative. “Lord” was the designation given to Caesar. Caesar was Lord and all other loyalties were subservient to him. You may pray your prayers to the god of your choice, but at the end of the day, when push came to shove, your god must submit to the will of Caesar. Everything, including your loyalties to your gods, must serve the greater purpose of the Empire and, more particularly, Caesar himself. To declare that there was a loyalty that was higher than Caesar to which one must submit was subversive to the unity of the Empire. If one dared to challenge Caesar in this regard, the full weight of Rome would come down upon him. Many of our fathers and mothers who confessed Jesus as Lord endured the consequence of challenging Caesar.

But Paul’s call was much deeper than the present empire situation. Sure, this was the situation into which he wrote. The Caesar situation was the challenge of his day where the rubber met the road concerning the implications of allegiance to Christ. However, in the section of the letter to the Romans in which this call to confession is found, Paul is speaking concerning the Jewish situation and their allegiances. Caesars come and go. Empires rise and fall. But the Jews worshiped the one true and living God: YHWH. Echoing what he has already claimed in Romans 9.5–that Jesus is God over all, blessed forever–Paul attributes to Jesus the word commonly used to refer to YHWH in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint): kyrios. Jesus is YHWH, the one true and living God, and, therefore, Lord over all. Failure to worship him is to reject the God of Abraham.

Confession of Jesus as Lord in response to the gospel changes everything for Jew and Gentile. Jesus has been declared Lord of the world by God the Father. Every area of life–from my individual life to the structures of nations–belongs to him and is to be conscious submission to him.

Consequently, the call of the gospel is an all-or-nothing commitment. Either a person comes to submit to Jesus as the one true and living God, having his life arranged under his lordship, or he is an enemy of Christ. If you were a Jew living in the first century, that meant giving up the old distinctions of he Law, confessing that Christ was the end of the Law (Rom 10.4). If you were a pagan Gentile living in the first century, that meant giving up your idols and not merely adding Jesus to the pantheon of gods to be worshiped. For all in the first century it meant that Jesus’ lordship over your life superceded every other lordship in the world, including the lordship of Caesar.

For twenty-first century Americans, the call of the gospel remains the same though the situations have changed. Confessing Jesus as Lord means the re-ordering of the way that I think and live. It means that no other loyalty supercedes loyalty to Jesus. All other loyalties are subservient to and are to serve the cause of Christ and his kingdom. We cannot confess the American creed that we are all “Americans first” and then Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. Our allegiance to Jesus is not a slave to the “indivisible” nation. Friends and family, though good things, can never become idols that take my primary loyalty so that I will disobey Christ Jesus. Money or some position in the world cannot be the god that controls my life. I must have my thinking and the order of my life arranged under the lordship of Jesus.

Submitting to Jesus’ lordship is not an optional extra to the call of the gospel. It is the necessary response to the gospel. Because Jesus loves us and knows that any idol we serve as equal to or above him will destroy us, he cannot allow us to serve these other idols along side him. Though we all progress in different ways and at various rates in our growth in our understanding of Jesus’ lordship in our lives, submission to that lordship is not optional no matter our situation. Whether you are turning from a lifestyle of sexual immorality or covetousness, all idols must be forsaken. Idols of the lower class and idols of the upper class, idols of Africa or idols of America, must all be forsaken. If and when people forsake these idols, then and only then is the promise of salvation theirs.

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By In Theology

The Right Way To Be Right

All men long to be justified. That is, all men long to be in the right, to be vindicated. In our sin we seek this vindication in various ways and from different sources. We need approval. We need to know that we are accepted by someone. So we look to certain people to tell us that we are approved and accepted. It may be parents, friends, co-workers, or a myriad of other people. Whatever they tell us to do or we perceive that they want us to do, we will strive to do whatever it takes to gain their acceptance; to hear from them, “Well done.”

This longing for justification or righteousness is woven into the fabric of who we are as images of God. God created us as his images to be “in the right” with him. We were created to be a part of his family; to love what he loves, hate what he hates, and to share his agenda. As we would participate in the Divine Family culture, working in love together with the Father, Son, and Spirit, we would hear from the Father, “This is my beloved child in whom I am well pleased.” Vindication.

But sin has caused us to seek our justification from other sources and in perverted ways. We still want justification from God, but we want it on our terms. We set up ways to be justified by God that are contrary to what he has revealed. Instead of submitting to what God has revealed in Christ Jesus, we have a better way to order our relationship with God and, consequently, with one another and the world around us. We have a way of justification of which God will surely approve.

These ways of justification take on many forms. There is that classic form with which many of us are probably familiar: merit-based justification. If our good works outweigh our bad works, then God will count us as his children. If we can go through the right motions, do the proper religious things, we will appease God and he will have to accept us.

Merit-based justification is one way people try to be justified by God, but this is not the only form that works righteousness (that is, justification by works) takes. Works righteousness is the establishment of any way of seeking vindication from God that runs contrary to and refuses to submit to what God has revealed. Works righteousness says, “I know better than God how to order my life and the world around me. I like my way better than his.” Works righteousness says, “All I need is to know right doctrines, but I don’t have to worry about loving my brothers.” Works righteousness says, “I can be sexually immoral and still be vindicated by God because I prayed the sinner’s prayer and have been baptized.” Works righteousness says, “I am right with God even though I haven’t forgiven my brothers.”

What is perverted about works righteousness as it appears in these ways is that it uses the word “grace” to cover its tracks. My life can be lived in total opposition to God’s revealed will, but God is gracious. “Grace” becomes a way to set up our own way of being righteous in rebellion against God.

In contrast to works righteousness is faith righteousness. Faith righteousness seeks vindication from God by fully submitting to what God has revealed. The righteousness which is by faith says, “Whatever God reveals will shape my thinking and the way I live my life.” If God says that forgiveness of my sins and right standing with him is in Christ alone, then I submit to that and know that I am accepted by God in Christ alone. If God says that I need to love my brothers, then I will strive to love my brothers. If God says to keep myself from sexual immorality, then I will strive to keep myself from sexual immorality. If God says, “Forgive,” then I will forgive. Faith righteousness accepts and submits to whatever God has revealed and pledges full allegiance to the Divine Family. The righteousness by faith is the faith that accepts God’s righteousness in total: forgiveness of sins and right standing in Christ alone as well as being in line with God’s agenda for my life.

We all long to be justified. But there is only one right way to be in the right: the righteousness by faith revealed in Christ Jesus.

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By In Theology

Loving the Idea of the Church or Loving the Church?

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this is the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. Celebrations are going on all around the world, and rightly so. Though the cause for and the consequences of the Reformation are sad in many respects, there is much for which we can be thankful. It is sad that the Western Church fell into such moral and doctrinal error that such a radical surgery had to occur. But we are grateful that God had mercy on us by delivering us from the errors that corrupted the church. It is sad that the unintended consequence of the Reformation was the splintering of the church into denominations. But we are grateful that God is sanctifying his church through our differences and will one day bring the entire church back together in perfect unity in accordance with the prayer of our Savior.

Much has been done. There is still much to do. As Protestant churches are infused once again with this sense of our historical identity, it can be a temptation to get into a “reformation mode” that is characterized by a zeal for what the church ought to be, falling in love with the idea or ideal of the church, but not loving the church as she is.

There is nothing wrong with ideals. They are necessary to keep us pressing forward. Through the history of the world God himself has laid out the standards for which his people ought to strive. Through his direct commands as well as imaging his people in the Tabernacle, Temple, and the New Jerusalem (Rev 21–22), we are given the standards, the ideals, for which we are to strive.

But sometimes we fall in love with the idea of the church instead of loving the church itself; the church as she is and not just what she ought to be. We imagine this place of perfect peace and harmony, where everyone is doing what is right, and we are laughing and joyful all the time. We love that place. But that is not the church we are a part of. It is out there somewhere, we are sure, but it is not the church of which I am presently a part.

In our love for the ideal, we can lose sight of the fact that peace and harmony in a sinful world come through forgiveness of the sins of others and their forgiveness of my sins. Joy in the church comes through longsuffering with one another, bearing the pain and hurt of, with, and from others. We servants are not greater than our Lord. If he had to endure suffering for the joy that was set before him (Heb 12.1-2), how much more will we have to endure suffering in order to enter joy?

Loving the church involves loving both God’s ideal for the church and the church as she is right now in history. Loving God’s ideal for the church keeps us encouraging one another to press forward. Loving God’s church as she is right now keeps us remembering that this is a lifelong process. We must be patiently content with where we are but never satisfied.

If you find yourself always discontent with the church, restless, nothing is ever good enough, not satisfied with progress, always thinking that some other church situation must be better, it might be that you are more in love with the idea of the church rather than loving the church itself. Sure, there is always reformation that needs to take place in the church. Part of that reformation might just be learning contentment with and loving the people who sit with you in worship every Sunday.

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By In Culture

The Necessity of Beauty

We live in a terribly efficient world. Time and space must be practical, functional. All the frills that remove from the bottom line, that aren’t absolutely necessary to what we are producing, must be discarded. Consequently, many people sit in maximally utilized, monochrome office space just functioning. We are like machines putting out products. The last thing a functional machine needs is beauty. Beauty is not productive. Beauty is not efficient. It is wasteful; a luxury at best. Our money can be spent better elsewhere.We live in a terribly efficient world. Time and space must be practical, functional. All the frills that remove from the bottom line, that aren’t absolutely necessary to what we are producing, must be discarded. Consequently, many people sit in maximally utilized, monochrome office space just functioning. We are like machines putting out products. The last thing a functional machine needs is beauty. Beauty is not productive. Beauty is not efficient. It is wasteful; a luxury at best. Our money can be spent better elsewhere.

The church has not escaped this cultural trap. Many of us Protestants meet in warehouses and strip malls, sometimes out of necessity to be sure, but sometimes because it is efficient. The money we make is better used to feed the poor or send to foreign missionaries. Both inside and out our architecture and art scream that beauty is not important to us.

In the midst of a hungry and lost world, God is wasteful; or so it would seem from our generally accepted standards of wastefulness. In the middle of the wilderness, with a people who didn’t even have a permanent place to call “home,” God tells Moses to make his brother, Aaron, garments for glory and beauty (Exod 28.2). These garments were made of the most expensive fabrics, rare and carefully crafted stones, and woven throughout with gold threads. What a waste. Couldn’t these things have been sold and given to the poor? While the world is dying and going to hell, God has his people making a glorious tent and beautiful clothes for a high priest.

God doesn’t do anything that isn’t necessary. The beauty he prescribes is necessary for his people and the world. There is no waste in beauty.

We were created to make things beautiful. In the beginning God told man to take dominion over the earth, making it fruitful in every way. God gave man the pattern in creating a beautiful garden. Man, in turn, was to make the world a place of glory and beauty. We and the world were to move from glory to glory; from beauty to beauty. Beauty is the fruit of a people who are maturing in righteousness. The movement of the Scriptural story attests to this truth. In the beginning man is naked and in a relatively undeveloped world. The last images of Scripture are of a beautifully clothed people in a fully developed city, a city that is the product of the dominion of Christ and his people.

Jesus himself reveals this progress in his own life. We hear in Isaiah that he begins with “no beauty that we should desire him.” But in the Revelation, he is a glorious figure. We and the world are transformed in the likeness of Christ’s transformation. We are moving from beauty to beauty.

Transformation of the world into the beautiful is the calling of the Christian church as she matures. Developing beauty is non-optional for the faithful.

Beauty reflects our progress in time, but beauty also reflects our future, revealing our hope, what we will be. Beauty draws us into this future and gives us hope. If you have ever been overwhelmed by beauty, you know what I mean. Beauty overwhelms us; not in a condemning way or in a way that leaves us at a distance. Beauty draws us in and calls us up to be better than we are. We are inspired by beauty. In the midst of an ugly world, beauty is one aid among many to refresh the soul.

Making things beautiful is an exercise in faith. Creating beauty declares that there is more to this life than an efficient, machine-like existence. Creating beauty says that we serve a beautiful God, and we are becoming more and more like him.

Though beautiful art and architecture can never do it by itself, beauty is integral in calling the Christian community to faith. God creates garments of glory and beauty for Aaron so that he and the people he represents will “live up to them.” Beauty says, “This is who you were made to be. Now, live beautifully.” Show the world this beauty, and they will be drawn to it.

Charles Klamut summarizes all of this very well when he writes:

‘Beauty will save the world.’ That remains to be seen. But beauty has saved me, and continues to do so. My experience is that I need saving; it is not a luxury. Beauty saves. Or, to put it more precisely, beauty points me to the One who saves, who is Beauty itself. Beauty is a necessity, not a luxury. Beauty moves us, awakens us, provokes us, bringing freshness and newness to hearts that have too easily grown old and stale. A luxury is something extra, added on after duties are complete. But beauty is not something extra, it is what comes first. Because without beauty, the duties prove too hard and, eventually, seem pointless. An old, tired soul cannot move itself, cannot sustain itself. It ultimately fails in its tasks.  Beauty renews the soul, pointing us ever back to our origins and our destiny, making life begin again. May God never leave us bereft of anointed artists, prophets, and poets of the transcendent, who will keep wounding our hearts with nostalgia for the infinite destiny which alone matches the proportions of our great hearts.(Fr. Charles Klamut; http://www.hprweb.com/2013/01/beauty-a-necessity-not-a-luxury/ )

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By In Theology

Look To Your Baptism

Martin Luther is often quoted as using his baptism as a weapon in his battles with the devil. “I have been baptized,” he would tell the devil in order to make him flee. Who God told him he was and what God promised him in his baptism was Luther’s anchor that kept him moored so that he would not be ultimately dashed to pieces by the virulent waves of doubt that assaulted his soul.

We may not generally resort to our baptism as Luther did, but we should. We shouldn’t be afraid of the water. In baptism God told us that we belong to him. In baptism God united us to his Son in the church. We have been anointed with the Spirit with whom Jesus, our Head, was anointed in his baptism and ultimately his coronation. Luther was doing nothing that Paul himself didn’t do when dealing with the churches. In 1Corinthians 12 Paul appeals to their baptism to fight the factionalism in the church. Similarly in Galatians 3 Paul tells the Christians of Galatia that all those who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ–whether Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female–and all are the seed of Abraham and heirs according to God’s promise. In Romans 6 Paul uses baptism to encourage the Roman Christians that sin no longer has dominion over them. Peter also uses baptism to assure the Christians scattered throughout the Empire that they have a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus (1Pt 3.21). The writer of Hebrews speaks about us being washed with pure water and, therefore, having boldness to draw near to God (Heb 10.22). When we look to our baptism, we are not looking to mere water or believing in some sort of hocus pocus. We are looking to what God said about us. We are looking to his Word that he sealed to us in the water by his Spirit. This is why the writers of the Scriptures can appeal to it the way they do and exhort people to walk in faithfulness according to their baptism.

This week as you go through the daily routines of life and/or face some unusual circumstances, you do so as a person who has been baptized into the Triune name. You face whatever you face as someone whom God has claimed for himself and promised that he is working every circumstance for your salvation. You know, therefore, that whatever you face, whether it be good or ill, God is in it working for you and not against you. The call to you is to walk in faith, trusting what God said about you. The call to you is to live like a baptized person ought to live; whether in unity with your brothers and sisters in Christ or resisting the other sins that no longer have dominion over you. Whatever it is, you can stand firm in the waters of your baptism because there God has given you his word.

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By In Worship

Altar Wars

It had happened again. After God delivered the children of Israel from the Jabin, king of Canaan, and his right-hand man, Sisera, through the hand of Barak, Israel did what was evil in the sight of YHWH. Instead of tearing down the altars of the gods of the land and establishing the altar of YHWH (which was the mandate given to them after the death of Joshua) Israel began to worship the gods of the land. The altars of Baal became central to the life of Israel. They allowed Baal to tell them who they were and how they were to live together. Baal was their judge, not YHWH.

Because they wanted the culture of Baal, YHWH turned them over to what they wanted, giving them into the hand of the Midianites for seven years. Like the locusts that consumed Egypt when God was destroying that culture, the Midianites were like locusts consuming Israel (Jdg 6.5) . Israel had been warned that, if they weren’t obedient, God would bring upon them the plagues of Egypt (cf. e.g., Deut 28.27, 60). If they acted like Egypt, they would be destroyed like Egypt. That is what happened.

Under the severe oppression of the Midianites, Israel cries for mercy. YHWH, in his mercy, raises up Gideon. The Angel of YHWH comes to Gideon while he is in a winepress threshing wheat. YHWH tells Gideon his mission: he will save Israel from the hand of the Midianites (Jdg 6.14). Gideon wants assurance that this is YHWH’s word, so he asks him to stay and accept an offering from him. Gideon brings a goat and unleavened bread and presents them to YHWH, and YHWH consumes them in fire. In this act, YHWH establishes peace with Israel through Gideon (Jdg 6.24).

The nature of the war is established from the beginning. This is an altar war. We might say it is a sacramental war.

From the establishment of the peace through building an altar to YHWH, Gideon goes out and tears down the altar of Baal, a feat that gets him the name “Baal-fighter,” Jerubbaal. Only now is Israel in a position to engage war with their oppressive cultural lords.

Through a threshing process, Gideon’s army is reduced from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men. Gideon is, understandably, afraid. He needs assurance. So YHWH tells him to take his servant and go to the camp of Midian. There Gideon overhears a dream that one of the Midianites had about a barly loaf rolling down into the camp and destroying the tent-house of Midian. They know that this is Gideon and that God has delivered them into his hand.

It does seem strange that they would be scared of a loaf of bread. Was this some type of weaponized bread? A militaristic culinary creation? This was the new loaf of Israel embodied in Gideon that had been created by God. This was a worship war; our bread against your house. Our bread wins.

The war continues today, and the fundamentals of the war remain the same: our bread against their house. Each Lord’s day when we come to the Table, eating the bread that is Christ’s body, we are formed anew into one loaf. We are one body, Paul says, because we all partake of that one bread (1Cor 10.17). Each week as we are dismissed, this new loaf rolls out to destroy the house of the false gods in our culture.

Our battles aren’t over family values or generic morality. Our wars are altar wars: will Jesus be acknowledged as our King, or will we worship some other Baal? We must understand that this is where the enmity lies. It is not merely in differences in economic policies or foreign relations (though each of these is affected). How we form our economic policies or foreign relations, for example, are consequences of the altar at which we worship.

Only as we are formed into one loaf at the Table of the Lord on the Lord’s Day are we able to fight the six-day battle with the culture the rest of the week. But as we faithfully attend to Jesus’ altar, eating at his Table, being formed up by the Spirit, he will make us a loaf that will tear down the house of our enemies.

 

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By In Culture, Theology

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt 5.4)

As I write this, news is still coming in from Las Vegas, Nevada about a mass shooting at a Country Music Festival. Dozens are dead. Hundreds are injured. Not too many days ago there was a shooting at a church in Nashville, Tennessee. Every day in Chicago, Los Angeles, and other major cities the number of murders dwarf these mass slaughters. And this is only in the United States. Around the world people are being murdered by the thousands for seemingly senseless reasons.

With the rest of our country and the world in these times we Christians mourn. Like others we mourn at being ripped apart from those we love, empathizing with others who have lost loved ones, or even realizing that these acts of violence continue to tear apart the fabric of our society. Unlike others who are not Christians we mourn because all of these tragedies are signs that sin still has a strong hold on the world and the kingdom of God has not yet been consummated. We desire for the Lordship of Jesus Christ to be acknowledged in every area of life and so bring peace where there is enmity, love where there is hate, and life where there is death. That has not yet happened, so we mourn. (more…)

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