Category Archives: Doctrine/Theology

Death and True Life

Men fear death no matter what Donne may pen, and youth think little of it.  As one sees more sunsets and more hours turning into more funeral invitations, the ever-present elephant in the room becomes the inevitable end that awaits us all.

One day, someday, somehow, somewhere and for whatever reason, we will expire. Life will leave our sustained skeletal shell and we, as our friends and family know it, won’t be anymore. Our “I” will no longer exist.

We don’t last forever and ever since we were born we are dying, but have you ever wondered why?  Sometimes the most obvious is the most overlooked.

For all the theological discussions that are had each day by millions of people around the globe, very few ever ask the simple question: why do we die at all? What causes deterioration in the first place? Why can’t we be born and then live forever? Too many times we accept death itself as a sort of music of the spheres that generates a silent hum and looming dirge. As Emily Dickinson once wrote –

 As all the heavens were a bell,
And being, but an ear,
And I and Silence some strange Race
Wrecked, solitary, here.

Thankfully, God has given us the answer. The elephant’s mother gave birth to death and her name is SIN. She entered the world through one decision against God and so, too, did death.

“…through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men…” Romans 5:12

Ever since her appearance she has been mocked and coddled and ridiculed and denied, yet everyone knows her and feels the weight of her presence. Because of Adam’s transgression all of humanity died, first spiritually and then literally.  At the Fall in Eden, what was good became not-good and the inherited corruption and degradation spread generation to generation even through the other created orders so that even now, we see the effects.

Death is the punishment and just retribution for sin and all deterioration and decadence and destruction and disease are the parts and pieces of God’s curse upon this rebellious and self-glorifying world. We don’t like that answer. We kick against its implications. We fight and create idols to cope with our denial. It’s true anyway.

But God will redeem this wretched place and we are not without hope for He has provided a means of renewal and a way of reconciliation through the person of Jesus Christ. You will not escape the death of this life, but you can escape the final judgment in the next. It is all there by faith. Believing the message of the Cross frees us from the inevitable and brings us to true life.

Are you GOOD enough ?

“…There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” Romans 8:1-2

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On the Focus of Weekly Gatherings

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about church ontology or how we ‘do church’.  Most in our Western tradition have a mentality of church being the geographical presence of God on earth. This has always struck me as interestingly temple-oriented and not found anywhere in the New Testament record of early church life.  They gathered weekly to break bread, learn, pray and encourage one another and were constantly devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachings (Acts 2:42); however, the notion of a formalized ‘service’ as we know it today is not to found in Scripture as the mandated means of corporate gatherings.  We have submitted to a mode of corporate church gathering that has more to do with never getting out of an impersonal, passive audience, we’re-still-thinking-in-terms-of-the-temple type of worship and togetherness.  At least that’s how it seems to me.

I’m not trying to be a renegade nor do I think I can advocate for the dismal of other traditions that I deem as dregs of the not-yet-fully-reformed movement of early centuries.  What I’m after is a form and practice of weekly gathering that actually models what we see in the New Testament descriptions and prescriptions of New Covenant church life.  And I am convinced that we rarely see it.

Enter this article I recently found that actually puts into words where my head has been on this topic. It’s by Rick Owen and I don’t really know him, but I believe what he’s written expresses my current convictions.  Read it and let me know what you think.


The Regulative Principle of Ekklesia

By Rick Owen

Many who love Reformed theology have pointed out that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in its reformation of church practices. Its ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) perpetuated the distinction between the clergy and the laity of Roman Catholicism. The clergy were the ordained religious specialists (priests, clerics, preachers, ministers) who dispensed spiritual things to a largely passive laity (average church members). This was and continues to be unbiblical. The New Testament represents the church as one unified body under the headship of Christ — not two groups consisting of clergy and laity. (See “Building Up the Body — One Man or One Another?”) [1]

The word “clergy” comes from the Greek word kleros. The fundamental meaning of this word is “portion, lot, inheritance.” [2] In reference to God’s people, it may allude to the inheritance God has given to His people; or it may refer to God’s people as His own portion or inheritance who belong to Him and have been entrusted to the spiritual care of church leaders (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). This word never refers to ordained religious professionals who lead a church or its services, baptize people, dispense the Lord’s supper, or conduct weddings and funerals. This word applies to all God’s people.

The word “laity” comes from the Greek word laos. The basic meaning of this word is “people.” [3] In reference to the church, this includes all God’s people — those who lead as well as those who are led. Every believer is part of God’s people (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:17, 68, 77; Rom. 9:25-26; 2 Cor. 6:16; Titus 2:14; Heb. 8:10; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).

The Reformed “Regulative Principle of Worship” speaks of approaching God in the only way He has approved and appointed: through Christ alone, in spirit and truth. This part of the definition is important and essential. Unfortunately, there is more embedded historically in this concept than this. The underlying assumption is that a worship service consists of people in the pew (the laity) sitting in front of specialists in the pulpit (clergy) who preach to them, pray for them, pronounce certain blessings upon them, and then part from them, as each one considers his or her religious duty completed for the week. The specialist’s role is similar to that of an Old Testament priest standing before a congregation of Israelites. In addition to these underlying assumptions, it is considered a ‘given’ that the reason a church meets is to have such a worship service. These ideas are apparent in this fairly typical article on this topic: “The Regulative Principle of the Church.” [4]

Worship in the New Testament

The New Testament never states that the reason a church meets is to have a traditional worship service as we usually conceive of this and practice it in the modern church. This is not to deny that Christians should worship God in various ways when they come together. How can Jesus’ disciples help but honor and glorify God as they consider the amazing truths of Scripture together, sing His praises, fellowship in His Spirit, share the Lord’s table, encourage and exhort one another, and pray? Such collective activities clearly constitute meaningful spiritual sacrifices or expressions of worship (literally, “service,” Greek: latreuó) to God. God-centered devotion should be the overarching purpose and outcome of all we do in the Christian life (Rom. 12:1), including when we assemble as Christ’s church. But this is like saying a husband should love his wife all the time. Loving his wife is not (or should not be) limited to special occasions.

My point here is that the New Testament never states that a worship service (whether we conceive of this as an orthodox, traditional or contemporary service) is the reason for Christ’s brethren gathering as His church. As Daniel Thompson has written,

“There are few doctrines in the New Testament that give us as much surprise as the doctrine of worship. One might even say we are stunned. Although there are references to worship in the Gospels, the book of Acts and Revelation, the New Testament Epistles — the doctrinal/explanatory part of the New Testament — is completely silent as to worship. This is all the more incredible when we consider: First, 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 is an extensive treatment of church life and interaction with no mention of worship. Second, 1 Timothy was an epistle written to make known ‘how thou [Timothy] might behave thyself in the house of God.’ Surely one would expect a reference to worship here, yet there is none. Third, our Lord tells the Samaritan woman that ‘the hour is coming … and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him’ (Jn 4:21-23). With such a definitive statement of future devotion, it is inconceivable that worship would be passed over completely in the instructional part of the New Covenant, the Epistles, yet this is exactly what we find.” [5]

Old Covenant Model versus New Covenant Model

Advocates of the regulative principle often say we should not offer “strange fire” (or do unapproved things) in approaching God. (This is an illustration from the Old Testament cited in “The Regulative Principle of the Church” referenced above.) This imagery, however, applies primarily to the removal of sin in salvation. It is true that we cannot approach God any other way than He has appointed through Christ. But this paradigm was fulfilled by Christ through the offering of Himself once for all time (Heb. 10:10-14). We gather as Christ’s people on the other side of the Cross. The veil of the holy of holies in the earthly temple was split in two when Christ offered himself to God in the holy place of heaven (Heb. 9:11-12). The days of sacrifices are over. Christ is seated now at the right hand of God, ruling with all authority until His enemies are made His footstool (Heb. 10:12-13).

The Roman Catholic church re-sacrifices Christ in the mass as if an Old Testament priest were presenting an offering to God on behalf of a gathered assembly for the forgiveness of sins. This is an idolatrous misuse of an Old Covenant paradigm which became obsolete when Christ fulfilled it (Heb. 8:13). New Covenant believers gather together to remember, proclaim, celebrate and share in the New Covenant realities they now possess together in Christ (1 Cor. 3:21-23; Rom. 8:32), as God’s inheritance and chosen people, through the perfect and complete work of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:15-23). The church is not reenacting the Day of Atonement when it gathers as God’s people. It celebrates the blessings of Pentecost poured out by a risen Savior (Gal. 3:14). God’s people live now in light of the good news of an empty tomb and a reigning Lord (Heb. 12:22-24).

The Regulative Principle of Ekklesia

The first disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to be sent to them in a powerful way after Jesus’ ascension and session at the right hand of God. The outpouring of His Spirit resulted in specific Christ-magnifying practices which remain with us today as the core essentials for New Testament churches. We might call this the regulative principle of Christ’s ekklesia (the New Testament Greek word for God’s “called-out assembly”). This is the New Covenant model which the church should practice when it gathers as God’s people.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42 ESV). This is how Jesus began building His church (Matt. 16:18). And He continues the same work in the same powerful way today as His followers obey His command to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:18-20).

1. “the apostles’ teaching” = revealing Christ from Scripture

2. “the fellowship” = relinquishing our spiritual and material gifts to God and one another

3. “the breaking of bread” = remembering the Lord in His covenant meal

4. “the prayers” = relishing God (adoration, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession)

These elements represent an interactive matrix which connects us to God and one another. They form a cohesive process which nurtures us as the body of Christ toward spiritual maturity. These four areas are not strictly divided. Various activities mentioned in the New Testament easily intermingle and overlap.

For example, Ephesians 5:18-20 connects singing with being filled with the Spirit and fellowship. Colossians 3:16 connects it with the word of Christ dwelling in us richly as we teach and admonish one another. Romans 15:8-12 connects singing with praising and worshiping God in prayer (cf. Heb. 13:15; Rev. 5:9). Likewise, the Lord’s supper is connected to both symbolic and verbal proclamation of Christ (1 Cor. 11:26). Such proclamation could include Christ-centered teaching, singing, praying and conversation (1 Cor. 10:16-17; 5:8).

Jesus died to save people who would praise God (Rom. 15:8-12). Each activity of Jesus’ called-out assembly is meant to magnify the Lord and build up His body to God’s glory.

1. The apostles’ teaching

Teaching is obviously very important in the church. But this involves much more than preaching traditional sermons to a passive audience. The word of God is God’s gift to Christ’s entire body. The whole church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Every believer is to earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Therefore, not only should pastors and teachers encourage and instruct God’s people, as the apostles originally did. Each member of Christ’s body should encourage, instruct and admonish his or her brethren at some level according to sound doctrine — not necessarily as an appointed teacher, but — as a fully-functioning member of God’s royal priesthood who has been set apart by God to proclaim His excellencies (Acts 20:32; Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 14:1, 31; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:19-21; Titus 2:3-4; Heb. 5:12; 10:23-25; James 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:9).

Hermeneutically sound, Spirit-enlightened, Christ-revealing teaching is not limited to expository sermons. It can employ several kinds of speech and engage other believers in the body of Christ. We find the apostle Paul using three types of communication on the same occasion when addressing the church in Acts 20: lecture (Greek, logos) and dialogue (Greek, dialegomai) in verse 7, and personal conversation (Greek, homileo) in verse 11. The last two obviously include other people. All speaking and teaching, of course, should be done in a way which edifies the church (Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:12, 26; Eph. 4:15-16, 29; 1 Thess. 5:11). Wise and effective church leaders use a variety of methods in teaching; and they train others to do the same so that God is magnified through His word (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 4:10). Jesus gave us an example in making disciples as He walked, talked and served alongside His brethren.

2. The fellowship

Our fellowship connects with all we share together in Christ through His word, breaking bread and prayer. It includes loving and caring for one another by meeting both spiritual and physical needs (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). We see the early church doing this enthusiastically. Through a process of generous, loving hospitality and joyous fellowship, God added more people to the church (Acts 2:46-47). Jesus was building His church and expanding His kingdom as He said He would, and He was doing so in very personal and practical ways. Christian love proves that we are children of God as we care for even the least among Christ’s brethren according to His new commandment (Matt. 25:40; John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 11:22; 1 Jn 3:11-24).

3. The breaking of bread

The Lord ’s Supper is called “breaking bread” and “the Lord’s table” in the Bible. To break bread meant and still means to share a real meal. The Greek word deipnon is used to describe the Lord’s supper. [6] This word consistently refers to the evening meal (dinner or supper), or a banquet or feast. Breaking bread (or the Lord’s supper) was a primary reason — in fact, the only reason stated as a purpose clause in the Greek — for meeting on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). Most churches need to learn how to make a church meal of the Lord’s supper — as a Christ-centered covenant feast — and make the Lord’s supper of their church meals. (See “The Table of the Lord” for more on this.) [7]

We see from Scripture that the meal begins by breaking and distributing one loaf representing the sacrificed body of Christ which brings us eternal life. This is followed by eating the bread and meal together. Then “after eating supper” (from the Greek deipneo), the meal is completed and concluded by dividing and distributing the cup which represents the New Covenant which was signed, sealed and delivered in Jesus’ blood (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). So the biblical pattern is bread > meal > cup. On whose authority or by what better tradition than that of Jesus and Paul should the church vary from this?

4. The prayers

Christians are to pray not only in their daily walk with God (1 Thess. 5:17), but especially when gathered as His people (1 Thess. 5:25). This is because believers in Christ — all believers — are fellow priests who should praise and petition God and intercede for one another (2 Thess. 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:8; Heb. 13:18; James 5;16). God delights to answer prayer (Luke 11:9-13). He brings glory to Himself as we rely upon Him to do what we are unable to do (2 Cor. 1:11; cf. John 17; Heb. 5:7).

Prayer should never make a spectacle of us (Matt. 6:5). It should focus on God’s greatness and goodness (Luke 11:2). God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). Therefore, we should humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God when we pray (1 Pet. 5:6-7). We gather to call attention to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27; 15:6; Eph. 1:18-19; 3:14-19; 6:18; Jude 20).

Putting This Into Practice

The New Testament does not give us a specific meeting agenda to follow — only the various elements of what happens when the church gathers. Here are a few suggestions for encouraging the church to function as a body instead of an audience in front of a platform with a keynote speaker.

An average-size congregation (anywhere from 50-150 people) can implement these core church practices very simply, but it will take commitment from the whole body to follow through with this and learn how to do it well over it time. The biblical role of elders is to encourage and cultivate these practices as mentors and co-participants in (not substitutes or proxies for) the New Covenant priesthood. [8] They are to be examples to the flock, showing God’s people how to do these things (1 Pet. 5:2-3).

Instead of setting up the church meeting with conventional auditorium seating, try using an arrangement similar to a prayer breakfast, business luncheon, or wedding banquet. This creates a clear visual for what the New Testaments states is our purpose in gathering as Christ’s people. We “come together to eat” (1 Cor. 11:33, ESV) or “break bread” (Acts 20:7) in Jesus’ name — to remember, celebrate and proclaim Him, as we feed by faith upon Him as the true Bread from heaven. A room full of tables highlights Christ’s gathering as a time of mutual participation in Him (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The entire group can be addressed by elders, teachers, and any others who might speak, while everyone is seated comfortably at each table. Singing, prayer and the Lord ’s Supper can flow in any order which works best. Instruction, discussion, fellowship, prayer and praise can easily precede the Lord’s supper or follow it to the conclusion of the meeting. Children can be included and the whole process can flow as naturally and simply as a family gathering.

May the Lord give us wisdom, discernment and grace as we seek to understand and follow His will.

—————————-

FOOTNOTES:

[1] http://www.searchingtogether.org/articles/zens/bodybldg.htm

[2] http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=2819

[3] http://www.searchgodsword.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=2992

[4] http://www.apuritansmind.com/puritanworship/mcmahonregulativeprinciple.htm

[5] http://www.solidrock.net/library/thompson/worship.php

[6] http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=1173

[7] http://comingintheclouds.org/church/basics/table_of_lord.pdf

[8] http://www.bible-researcher.com/knaub.html

Absolute Jesus

In our current societal range, those who hunt for truth usually come back to the lodge with an empty rack. Emoticons and experiential propositions rule the day. “I feel” and “I think” are the royal guideposts that overlook “I know” and “It is”.  When one dares to speak in absolute terms they are inevitably called opinionated and arrogant or just plain out of touch. They are branded as intolerance purveyors and relegated to the old school cage. The problem for believers, however, is that the gospel itself is an absolute and Christ is completely exclusive.

There is no negotiating with the Word of Reconciliation. There is no deal making at a back room conference table.  He is THE way, THE truth and THE life and no one comes to the Father but through Him. (John 14:6)  This is a non-negotiable fact straight from the mouth of God Himself; Christ is not a “life choice that works for me”.  By the prerogative of His unstoppable grace, God seeks His own (John 10:27-28). By faith alone, they believe and trust in the completed work of Christ for His sheep hear His voice and they follow him.  There is no alternative plan. There is no broad road. There is only a narrow gate. (Matt. 7:13-14)

Some would like to believe that perhaps zeal and passion can circumvent this singular faith and its object, but deep devotion and unwavering sincerity to the wrong cause only ensure error, destruction and condemnation. Fixate on truth, not fiction.  No matter how zealous you are, if your sincere commitment is to a lie, you will be responsible for your misplaced trust.  If your Jesus is not the Christ of Scripture, you are believing in and following the wrong One.

“He is so devout” means nothing if that devotion is to a different Jesus or to no-Jesus at all. Remember who it is that you claim to worship.  Seek Him and you shall be saved.

A Prayer for Pulpits

I’d like to call all believers to pray for a simple request – that the Word of God be preached clearly and precisely in our churches.

Pray that those men whom the Lord has entrusted with the privilege, duty and honor of preaching the Word of God on a weekly basis, will actually do just that.

Pray that the lure of personal story and staged humor will be replaced with a desire for pure milk and solid meat.

Pray that proof texting to prove a predetermined point will be substituted with carefully derived truth.

Pray that sermons will come from dedicated effort in exegetical study done to the glory of God and not from psycho-pop drivel and mystic self-help manuals.

Pray that pulpit words will be fueled by the Holy Spirit and derived from what God has said and not from what they wish God would say.

Pray for the dismantling of tradition-blinders when it becomes an affront to hard and simple biblical truths.

Pray for the heralding of Christ as a real savior who really does rescue sinners from hell without fail.

Pray that pastors are not afraid to say the H-word.  Pray for their courage. Pray for their humility. Pray for wisdom. Pray for your hearing.

May your weekly church gathering be filled with the power of the Trinity through the purposed preaching of the Scriptures.  Amen.

Pressing On

I haven’t written on this page in quite some time. For a little bit over a year now I have been readjusting my entire life’s routine around the infiltration of chronic illness. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my wife has an autoimmune disease (polymyositis) that has sent familial shockwaves throughout our household.  The task of coping has been sketchy as schedules and everyday habits have had to change and uncertainty stares at us like a puzzled thief waiting for the next opportunity.

However, as only God can do, beyond the stressful change has come goodness. Through her misery as I watch my wife struggle, I see my own limitations and flaws and absolute need for His grace and divine strength. Sometimes I feel like I’m being beaten with a disappointment stick. Sometimes I can’t believe that yet one more thing has gone wrong. Sometimes I can’t believe that my life is what it is when this is not what I had planned. Not even close. Sometimes I want out.

But it is here in the recess between my own wisdom and the One who made me, where humility is bred.  He alone knows what is best and without the challenges set before me, I will always come back to a wrong position.  The pride of life is a vicious weed and we can’t always trust our feelings.  As Luther wrote, “Feelings come and feelings go, but feelings are deceiving… my warrant is the Word of God, naught else is worth believing.”

So, I will pray and I will believe, but not because I always believe and not because I always obey or rest in His understanding.  I will live by faith because there is no other option.  Faith is a gift that overrides our sinful desires to ignore it.  He intercedes for me and He sustains me in spite of my empty tank for as the Word of God reveals, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” and in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.  In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;  and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” ( 2 Timothy 2:13; Romans 8:24-27) Amen.

Heaven is our final place

Heaven is God’s abode and those who endure to the end will be with their Creator, Savior and Friend forever, continually basking in perfected glory. Those who, by faith, completely trust in the completed works of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins will be made whole. There will be no more need of the sun or stars or moon for Christ will illuminate each moment. Day and night will cease and all tears shall be gone, evil erased and punished and this present life forgotten.  Nothing will remain as it is for Christ will make all things new. (Revelation 21:5)  God’s elect sin no more and the Israel of God will sing songs of beauty and praise in harmony with angelic choruses.

The scene of heaven given to us from Scripture is both brilliant and vague as John’s visions at Patmos were recorded mostly as similes. We are told of the erasure of the old and the inauguration of the new; each symbol referencing capstone completions of Old Testament prophetic visions. These symbols in motion point us to the victory of the Lamb of God over sin and death and the final security of each member of the New Covenant.

Like most biblical truths, our heavenly estate is frequently misrepresented. More people seem to find their theology in jokes and bubble gum wrappers than they do from the Word of God. For example, no where in Scripture are angels ever described as anything but male yet buttons, medals, plagues and other supposed depictions present them constantly as female beings or chubby little babies.  The same type of fiction is true for heaven.

The truth of the matter is that there is much talk about heaven in the bible, but those discussions are described to us through intense symbolism.  One must first know the Old Testament well before they dare dip their sensibilities into John’s final bookend epistle lest they end up in a deep vat of fantasy and false presumption.  Another added dimension is the complete disconnect between this life and the next, the finite and the infinite, material to immaterial. Our entire earthly construct including our language and cognition is wrapped and forged through a sin-cursed veil.  We cannot understand this side of glory what awaits us in a perfected state.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “…EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” 1Co 2:9

What we do know is that we will be in a “place of utter felicity that is filled with the radiant majesty and glory of God.[1] Justice will have been rendered and His people will have been vindicated. All blasphemy and mockery and deceit and danger is gone. There will be no more sickness, hatred or anxiety.  The curse of sin has been reversed. Isn’t that enough for us?


[1] R.C. Sproul, “Now, That’s a Good Question!”, p. 285

The Goodness of Victory

The Who Dat buzz is still humming, albeit a bit softer now. Mardi Gras has ended and the French Quarter vibe is a little slower, but we can rest assured that even though the celebrating is diminished, it is not over.

Several of us in our fellowship along with thousands of other eager fans attended the historic Saints Superbowl Victory parade in the city to relish in a long-awaited and significant triumph. Marching bands, brightly lit floats and wall to wall black and gold shirts filled the sidewalks and curbs and barricades held in the masses of onlookers as the team’s players and coaches rolled out from the Dome to the Convention Center. We finally did it.

In the chill of a uniquely-frigid February evening the city forgot her woes and the sounds of jubilation rang out from every street.  It was a bit surreal, not only because of the incredible ending to a miraculous Saints football season, but because of a special unity weaving throughout every social class. It’s as if each person has grabbed on to the hope found in victory and the struggle it takes to achieve it.  Even non-football fanatics, like me, are showing up and buying hats and shirts and stickers to join in the first-of-a-lifetime fun; chanting and singing and sitting on our car horns.

Interestingly, concurrent with the feasting and celebrating has been the criticism – criticism of making a big deal out of ‘just a game’ and criticism by believers of making an idol of sports. To the former point, those who claim that our merrymaking is overboard are simply speaking from a foreign hill. They are making observations from a remote tower looking down on something they just don’t understand. The Saints incredible season is a live and direct Rocky and Rudy storyline being acted out before our eyes except that these main characters are not acting. This is not a production based on a true story. This IS the true story – one of sacrifice, regional pride, love for the underdogs, hope amidst trial and devastation, courage, dedication and support. Every final victory you have ever been excited about in any and every story, play or film grew and blossomed for us right before our eyes. This is about a life-long dream finally appearing; why wouldn’t we be feasting?

To the latter point of idolatry, one must back up a few feet.  Sure the country is obsessed about many things including sports and sure many in the midst of this Saints ‘madness’ are overly-consumed by professional and collegiate athletics all year long, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any and everyone who loves competition and victory is making it their god.  It is the same fallacious argument as saying that if one drinks wine then they are a drunkard. Christ Himself had to deal with the same false accusations when they labeled him a winebibber and a glutton. (Matthew 11:19)

I pray that we recognize that God’s goodness extends to many things both earthly and eternal. Our NFL success is not salvation, but we must be careful not to miss the opportunity to praise Him in all things and that includes great victories.

Purifying Grace

I got sideswiped. I was hit by a collision so violent that it weakened the walls of my lower intestines, but it wasn’t an impact by a drunken driver or a distracted teenager trying to find their last text message while taking a left turn. Instead, it was the unpredictable juggernaut called life.

It’s the ninth month of adjusting our family to life with chronic illness and the Lord has once again shown us lessons only learned while on the grill. Heat alone refines.

The news of my wife’s chronic auto-immune disease and skin cancer troubles felt like tires bending and my fender buckling, but I couldn’t quite identify the noise. A sudden sense of tremendous weight grinds into every pore of your skeleton. It’s a pressure melded with fearful gravity and so much heaviness that its true impact takes weeks and months to set in, and yet on the other side of the blistering flames, vise grips and frightful walls we find greater compassion. Genuine empathy is an acquired virtue and its classes are held in the pit.

When true saving faith meets adversity it produces persevering joy just as God said it would in James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

It isn’t that the trials themselves are joyful; they are always loaded with confusion and pain. What we must see is that the end result is our purification and the difficulties and overwhelming circumstances are the means that God has sovereignly orchestrated for the development of Christ-likeness in us. You won’t become like Christ while riding a comfort wave on a golden surfboard. Anyone who tells you that God doesn’t want His servants to suffer has a misplaced gospel and a closed bible. You only grow in your faith when you actually have to use it for as Scripture plainly teaches us we shall enter the kingdom through many tribulations. (Acts 14:22)

Suffering exposes our weaknesses and dispels the myth of self-reliance. We need our church family and local Body to bear our burdens with us. (Gal. 6:2) We need more times of communal weeping.  In our moments of great despondence the light of faithful friends carrying the Savior’s voice becomes a tender balm to a weary soul.

Have you spoken the wonderful Words of Life to your brothers and sisters lately? Who around you needs you right now? Let us not forget our own family of God and remember that it is not a part-time commitment. We are familial forever.

Experience and emotion do not real doctrine make

Experientialism is a mighty juggernaut plowing through contemporary religion. Its attractive helmet hits headlong into foundational truth where God’s revelation trumps perceived notions of His actions through and around the church.  These two candidates stand in great opposition to one another for those seeking a guidepost in determining their way, for not all things experienced are all things true.  We are warned about false teachers and false teachings (2Peter 2:1) and we are told to test the spirits (1John 4:1) and exercise discernment for false prophets and wolves live and breathe among us. Unfortunately, few actually heed this caution.

Felt-needs and personal preferences are main highways where experience travels at high speeds regardless of what the Word of God might have to say.  One can hear the cries of exasperation, “Surely what I feel can’t be wrong! What do you mean it doesn’t matter what I saw?!”  Sensory theology trumps real doctrine as “what I feel” has become “what I know”, never mind that it goes against Scripture. We would do well to remember the warnings found in the book of Colossians – “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” And “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen…” (Col.2:8,18) Many professed believers love to talk on and on about their spiritual experiences through dreams and visions but these claims must always pass the scrutiny of Scripture, not merely experience.

Those who have much invested in their experiential theology are usually not open to being challenged.  To question their experience is, in their minds, to question their spirituality.  If one were to dismantle an experience that they’ve put so much hope and joy into, it is tantamount to calling them an unbeliever. At least that’s mostly how they react.

However, Scripture alone should be our ultimate authority in determining truth and truth should help us organize our practice and become a filter through which we view what has happened.  To do otherwise is to lean into the mystic camp and build bonfires around Gnostic ceremonies.

May we flee what is of self and cling to what is truly of Him.

The Judgment Feast

judgment feastFrom the preaching of the text in Revelation 19, verses 17 – 21:

The graciousness of God’s love, even in merely not casting us away into darkness immediately, only becomes amazing in front of a canvas of understood evil. His purposed affections towards mankind are made ever beautiful only when displayed before a backdrop of hopelessness… before a canvas of coming wrath and right judgment.

The Babylonian mural galleries, where snapshots and paintings dishonor the imago dei, capture and promote our vanity, rebellion and utter helplessness. This exhibit provides a vivid outline of worldliness for the light of grace to reveal. Without the contrasting balance of shade and tone and scaled character, God’s love becomes mere duty and the gospel’s radiant purity and shalom becomes simply another option on a religious Ferris wheel; carrying off visitors in pretty circles and lights.

However, the cross of Christ envelopes the darkness and destroys death and hopelessness for it is the Father’s decreed desire to save His people for His own glory and pleasure.

It is the truth of this display of judgment, the truth of this carnage, the truth of this destruction, the truth of righteous repayment; the truth of awaiting birds of prey… it is the truth of a real hell and just punishment that should reinforce for us the need to speak the Words of Life to all men from every nation, tribe and tongue…to speak them loudly and to speak them well, to speak them often, to tell the world of its fate, to call all men to repentance and pray that the Spirit opens their blind eyes.

Hear the full sermon here. Click this.