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By In Theology, Worship

Christ the King

Yesterday was the last Sunday of the church year; a Sunday that has come to be celebrated as “The Feast of Christ the King.” It is an appropriate end to the liturgical calendar as well as a transition into the calendrical beginning of the liturgical calendar which will begin next Sunday with Advent. “Christ the King” reflects the fact that history as we know it is moving toward a termination point; a point when all of the kingdom work is done and the Son delivers the kingdom to God the Father (1Cor 15.23-24). With faith-filled hope, we anticipate that day. Advent reminds us that we are not there yet.

This kingdom work is nothing more than the original mission that God gave man in the Garden. Man was to “take dominion,” develop a kingdom, in which all of life was ordered according to the word and will of God. Just as man was to follow the weekly pattern of six days of work followed by a Sabbath, so the whole earth was to be molded after the pattern of heaven. This project was frustrated because of sin. Man conformed himself and the creation to the word and will of the serpent. As a result “the kingdom” of man in the world began to be characterized by selfishness, tyranny, murder, and all manner of evil.

In his grace God did not allow death to completely overcome the world. Death was prominent and spread to all men (Rom 5.12), but there would be signs of life here and there. But God’s original kingdom work would not ultimately be undone for the earth. He would send another man to be king. This man would not have the same situation as the first Adam. He would first have to take dominion over sin and death, those hindrances to the world becoming fruitful. Once sin and death were decisively dealt with, then the kingdom work could begin in earnest.

Christ Jesus came and did just this. In his cross and resurrection he overcame sin and death. In doing so, he was granted the position by the Father to rule over the creation, to establish the kingdom, and complete the work the first Adam failed to do. After his resurrection, Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father to do this kingdom work. Jesus reigns now with all authority over heaven and earth (Mt 28.18). In and through his body, the church, by the power of the Spirit, Jesus continues this kingdom work until the day that it will be completed.

The reign of Christ is exercised in the world in and through his church. Jesus is completing his kingdom through what we, the church, are doing. As we go about our daily lives, serving others in our homes and jobs, seeking to bring Christ’s order wherever he has given us authority, we are participating in the kingdom work. In word and in deed we are proclaiming the gospel, the good news, that the world is under new management; the lordship of our benevolent King who has provided forgiveness and freedom from the bondage of sin and the power to live as we were created to live: as true image-bearers of God, growing up into his likeness. This message is not merely about my personal life. It is about how I am a part of God’s larger family and project for the entire creation. God has done in Christ for me what he has done so that I can be a member of his family and join him in his work.

Because Christ is King, we have a mission; a mission whose outcome is not in doubt. Jesus will have this world ordered by the word and will of God in every respect. Consequently, we work in certain hope. Dear kingdom citizen, work on. Don’t let discouragement overwhelm you. Christ is King.

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By In Theology, Worship

Gratitude: The Fight Against Idolatry

Ingratitude is no peccadillo. Along with the refusal to give glory to God, ingratitude is the fountainhead of idolatry that eventually inundates a person and a society in the most degrading sins. Before speaking about how people who think themselves to be wise become fools or how God gives people over to their sinful lusts, Paul tells us that they are first ungrateful (Rom 1.21). Ingratitude was evident in the first sin of Adam and Eve, and that story lies behind much of what Paul says in Romans 1. God gave the man and woman every tree of the field for food and even the Tree of Life at which they would meet with him. They had everything they needed and more. But God withheld one tree from them. Their ingratitude for all that God had given them stirred up discontent that focused their attention on that which God had withheld. The rest is history.

The basic posture of ingratitude is a pride that foolishly declares independence from God, despising him and his good gifts. You have decided that God doesn’t deserve gratitude. He is not really good in himself or good to you. You declare that you don’t need him while you breathe his air. He doesn’t deserve your respect or love. The rejection of God’s goodness is not without its severe consequences. To reject God’s goodness in ingratitude is to reject God’s design for you and the creation. It is the refusal to respond in agreement and submission to God’s own declaration that his design for creation is “good.” Consequently, you go your own way.

Ingratitude reveals the deep problem of sin in man of his hatred for the very life of God himself. God lives eternally as Father, Son, and Spirit, with each member of the Holy Trinity giving mutual respect and gratitude to one another. Jesus’ giving thanks to the Father on a number of occasions throughout his life revealed to us the eternal relationship of the Trinity. Each recognizes the gifts given by the others and responds to them with due honor and gratitude. Throughout eternity the Father gives to the Son and the Son responds by giving back to the Father his thanks. The Son gives to the Spirit, and the Spirit responds by giving back to the Son his thanks. On and on it goes. It is a community life characterized by gratitude.

Created in God’s image, man is called not only imitate this life with one another but to participate in the family of God himself. We are called to acknowledge the goodness of God to us and join in the eternal dance of gratitude. Our ingratitude is a revelation that we hate the life of God and want nothing to do with it.

We who have been brought into the family of God, united to Christ by the Spirit, are to be characterized as grateful people. It is one of our distinguishing marks as the people of God. Indeed, the meal that forms us into the body of Christ (1Cor 10.16-17) is a meal of thanksgiving. We are the thanksgiving family, bound together by our mutual gratitude for what God has done in Christ.

The discipline of gratitude is a perpetual guard against the idolatry that lingers in our hearts and is always looking for an opportunity to make another idol. Gratitude refocuses us on reality; the reality that our lives are dependent upon God at every moment. Gratitude cultivates contentment; we focus on what God has given us instead of that which he has withheld. Gratitude is a roadblock on the road of depravity.

It is not always easy to be grateful. We live in a world in which we are surrounded by the effects of sin. There are times that we hurt because of our sin or the sin of others. There are times that our mere mortality is evident in illness or death. We live with pain. Yet Paul tells us in Ephesians 5.10 that we are to be “giving thanks always for all things to the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul is in no way denying the hard realities, telling us to “put on a smile even though it hurts.” He is telling us to keep everything in the context of the larger narrative. We are those who trust that God is good and has good purposes even through evil. Though evil is not good and must never be declared good, we can give thanks even in the midst of difficult times because God has a good purpose for us.

So, this is the conclusion of the matter: give thanks.

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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. (more…)

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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. (more…)

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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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