Saturday, June 6, 2009

Inscriptions for Your Doorposts: Intro to the 10 Commandments

This Sunday I'll be starting a new series for the quarter on the 10 commandments. Being a marketer by trade, however, I'm always thinking of creative names for classes. We've chosen to title this "Inscriptions for Your Doorposts"--a reflection of Deuteronomy 6:9, where God tells Israel just how close these commands should be to their everyday life.

Over the next 12 weeks, you'll see me writing and posting Mp3 Lectures on the 10 Commandments. But, this week is the introductory class. What many Christians struggle to understand as they look at the commands is how they apply to our lives today.

Sure, we should behave well. We should follow a moral standard. We should obey God. But once anyone starts contemplating the Law on a theological level, it can get to be a sticking point of legalism vs. justification by faith. Why do I follow these laws? Why do I observe religious code in obedience to God? What do I write them on my doorposts? Aren't I forgiven--freed from the Law?

As we'll discuss in detail this Sunday (and my readers can enjoy via Mp3 when it's uploaded by Monday) the Law of the Old Covenant was a covenant of identity. So often, we focus on the justification and forgiveness of sin as the sole end of God's covenant with Man, we forget that Christ died to set us apart; to make us holy and worthy of serving God.

God introduces the 10 commandments in Exodus 19:4-6 describing how He'd freed them from bondage in Egypt. He turned a helpless tribe into a great nation by His power so they might be His treasured possession. The correlation, then, should be very clear as He later speaks through Peter to the church under the New Covenant saying,
"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God" (1 Peter 2:9-10).

So, as we consider our identity--the Church chosen by God to be His people and declare His praises on earth--we should study with great interest the holy standards by which God commanded His covenant nation Israel to live.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

So the World May Know You Reign... You Reign in Us.

One of the less fortunate effects of God having placed in me a deep reverence for His sovereignty and the doctrines that acknowledge it has been the thought process that now accompanies any worship experience. Operating out of a deeply rooted understanding that God is wholly and totally sovereign over all things, salvation included, has prompted some questioning over certain worship songs. However, rather than digress into a philosophical conundrum over the phrasing of this lyric or that, I am compelled to write today about a song that I sang yesterday to my God with incredible joy.

In the song, "Reign in Us" by Starfield, the ending chorus says,
"Come cleanse us like a flood and send us out
So the world may know you reign, you reign in us."
As I sang this song aloud it struck me how great a picture this truly is of Jesus' command to tell the whole world about the good news of the Kingdom. That the world may know God reigns, and specifically that He reigns in His people, is exactly how He has purposed for His name to be glorified from as early as His covenant with Abraham. God's reign in Israel was to cause other nations to say, "What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them" (Deut. 4:7).

In the same way, we are all to reflect the "Kingdom Values"--as our pastor has been calling it in his sermon "Jesus Speaks" series from the Sermon on the Mount. Our message to the world is to be that of proclamation of God's reign, His praiseworthy personhood, and His covenant of love with His church.

Yet, just as I do desire to go out into the world and proclaim that He reigns, and as we the Church are sent out to show that He reigns in us as a body, none of this can be shown without first the cleansing through Christ. The song declares first, "Come cleanse us." That is the prerequisite for His sending us out. When we declare His reign, it is not that we are declaring our choice to allow Him to reign. No, instead, we declare that it is He who re-created us anew, purchased us at a price, adopted us as sons, and now reigns supreme in our lives.

"But, Nick!" someone will exclaim, "The world will hear that as an undesirable dictator-god and not respond." But I ask, for whom do you proclaim? It is for God that we proclaim; it is in adoration of His son that we obey the command to go into all nations; We baptize in the name of the Father, Spirit, and Son; we teach them everything that Christ taught us; indeed it is Christ who is with us always.

So, as our desires are brought in line with God's (a nice plug for compatibalism), we pray "please reign." And, having the cleansing of His blood we are sent out to proclaim that He reigns... He reigns in us.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Secularization of Prayer

I was in a print shop the other day and while I waited for my order to be completed, I stood in the lobby amidst several examples of this shop's work. One particular vinyl banner caught my eye. Although I have no idea what Eliza's Wish Foundation is, what struck me was the obvious prayer connotations on this banner. She is looking up, hands together under her chin, just as every child learns to pray at a very young age. So what's missing in this picture? For starters, Christ. Beyond that, how about any mention of prayer or God at all.

We live in a world where prayer is viewed as tantamount to wishing upon a star, as the little girl in this photo is doing. Eliza's Wish Foundation may indeed be a wonderfully helpful organization, but what glory is there to God when the world wishes for hope yet has no Savior to hope in. What hope is left when the world wishes upon a star, but never prays in the name of the Son. Most importantly, why is there still a world of lost people still wishing on stars (i.e. praying to idols) while the church sits stoic in it's four walls on the corner.


As believers, do we see the parody? Does the sight of a seemingly innocent little girl praying to a star for the hope of needy people everywhere give us any conviction that God is being robbed of His due glory. If anywhere the power of prayer is unknown, the problem begins in the Church. Do we know the power of prayer? Do we employ the power of prayer? As I myself am admittedly weak in the discipline of prayer, my wife and I have started reading "With Christ in the School of Prayer" by Andrew Murray. My prayer for my wife and I is that we learn from Christ Himself how to pray, how to remain confident in the Father's goodness, and how to use prayer to glorify His name in our lives.

What struck me in this photo is not the connotation to prayer itself, that much is not surprising at all, but it's the belief that a little girl's wish on a star is more effectual for meeting the needs of the world than the prayer of God's children to their Father. My concern is not that Eliza's Wish Foundation is doing too little prayer, it's that the Church is. My charge is not to Eliza's Wish Foundation to pray more and convert to a Christian mission, it's for the Church to meet the needs of the world in such a powerful way that those in need would have one true hope in God.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

1 Peter 4:7-11 - Love That's Out of This World

This Sunday we'll be studying a small passage from 1 Peter that follows-up on the last lesson, Christ's Vindication. When you read the Bible in snippets, as most people do, you sometimes fail to find the connectivity and lose context from the topics that led up to the text at hand. That is the case with this text. Taken by themselves, they're very helpful instructions for day-to-day living as a loving Christian. When linked to the concepts of Christ's second coming and the much-prophesied days leading up to that event, this text becomes all the more poignant.

In prep for this Sunday's lesson, I've been reading Mark 13. I've just been pondering what these times will feel like. What it would be like to live in a day where being a Christian was an open invitation to discrimination, ridicule, torture or death. Sadly, many places in the world are already in this state of existence. If we take Mark 13 literally, I believe all places on earth will one day present this same unfavorable climate for believers.

I'm reminded of an observation that one of my friends made many years ago. The husband of a professional child-birthing coach, Chip cited Romans 8:22 and commented that every minute of labor, the mother-to-be thinks it's the worst pain she's ever had. Then the next minute, it's even worse. He then added his observation that the generations of mankind have been the same way. Every generation there are preachers that talk about how awful and sinful our generation has become, and therefore conclude that the end must be near. I cannot think of a more crystal-clear way to understand this metaphor.

So, are we in the last days? As a mother in labor, we may certainly feel that this generation is the worst the world has ever seen. Maybe the next will top it, who knows. What we do know is how Scripture tells us to deal with the ever-increasing pressures against our faith and difficulties of this world, and it's not to worry or speculate. It's to love!

We are told in this passage and elsewhere that our love should be out of this world... literally. It should come from the strength of God. Which is convenient because as I read the instructions in 1 Peter 4:7-11, I'm struck at how unable I am in my own strength to accomplish it. But, so God may be praised, He empowers us to live in loving community so great that it's out of this world.

By God's strength, we're to face the adversity this fallen world has for the Church with open hospitality, taking care of brothers in more dire need than us. We're to take on an attitude of love toward others, which will cover the rough edges that our sin one-to-another creates. We are to serve one another and speak to one another as though we were representing God to them—the God of mercy and love who has poured out His grace on His elect.

Because after all, Christ for whose name we suffer will be vindicated, the first born among many brothers. "To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:11)

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Friday, October 24, 2008

1 Peter 2:8-12 - His Chosen People

Last week, we looked at the identity of Christ in verses 4-7. In verse 8 Peter continues with a description of who we, members of the Church and stones in this figurative temple, are as a result. He begins by stating that those who disobey are recieving just what God had appointed for them. By sharp contrast, Peter goes on to name 4 things, none of which are things we could ever become by our own doing, that describe the Church.

The church is, first of all, chosen from what was once a hopeless and Godless existence (see Eph 2:11-22). Not only chosen to simply escape damnation, but to be a royal priesthood worthy of God's service. He sets the Church apart like a holy nation, similar to Israel. And finally, the church belongs to God.

The end result is praise. Praise for God calling us out of darkness. Praise for God making us into something ("a people") when we were once nothing. Praise for God making us objects of mercy rather than objects of wrath. Then, this overwhelming praise manifests itself in daily living, as we see in verses 11-12.

As I mentioned in last week's post, Scripture is God-centric. We see that theme once again here. This passage begins explaining His plan for Christ, His authority to justify, and His authority to judge, then moves on to reiterate Peter's opening from 1:1-2 regarding His choice, and finally concludes with the intended result: glory and honor to.... drum role please... God Himeself!

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

1 Peter 2:4-8 - The Chosen Cornerstone

In this passage, Peter uses a combination of metaphors as well as Old Testament quotations to show us (1) who Jesus was and then (2) who his readers, and all of the Church, is as a result. Let's begin with the identity of Jesus:

• Though rejected by men, Jesus was shown to be chosen with a purpose (verse 4; see also Matt. 21:33-44; Acts 2:22-35)...
• To be our High Priest, consecrating us in order that we too
can make spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God (verse 5; see also Hebrews 8:11-14)...
• And to be the cornerstone, providing a pattern and foundation upon which the rest of the Church would be built (verse 6; see also Ephesians 2:19-22)...
• Of which he is the Savior, and the "one who trusts in Him" is saved by faith (verse 6; see also John 3:16)...
• From the wrath of God Himself and no other (see context of quote in verse 6 and 8 - Isaiah 28:14-19; 8:12-15).

I find it very important to realize the God-centric emphasis from beginning to end of this section. As I look through Scripture seeking instruction, truth, etc. I find constant reminders that God wants us to begin by acknowledging His supremacy. Here He begins by reiterating that Christ was His chosen one, and concludes letting us know that He is the one who judges. No one else can be compared to God. No one shares His powers to justify, to sanctify, and to judge.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Function, Order, & Ordinances of the Church

Why in the world would we want to combine these three topics, each of which could easily constitute a semester of study by themeselves, into one Sunday morning lesson? The order and ordinances (also called the Sacraments) of the Church are the topic of more controversy and debate between believers than any other doctrinal topics. So, not only do they seem disconnected one from another, but wouldn't it be madness to try and cover them both in one hour?

The focal point of all these issues, however, is the function of the Church. The topic of which ordinances to observe, how to observe them, and when to observe them hinges on what the Church is seeking to accomplish in the first place. Likewise, the topic of how to order the church, who should lead, who should teach, who should serve and how the group should be structured also revolve around the simple matter of the Church's function in this world.

Our ultimate purpose as the Church is to glorify Christ. Whether it be through evangelism, benevolence, mutual edification, or simply corporate worship—all of which we will discuss next week—the ultimate FUNCTION of the church is to glorify and exalt Christ on earth until His return and thereafter.

So, we will look at ordinances and order of the Church through a dramatically simplified lense: how does this doctrine glorify Christ? In so doing, other questions such as tradition, cultural contextualization, and spiritual experiences all disappear. Is that too much of a narrow view? Can we really ignore matters that appear so relevant to our culture today? A disciplined focus on Christ alone does indeed earn the label "narrow-minded" in today's culture. "But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Matthew 7:14).

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Does it matter what we believe?

Does it matter what we believe? Are there fundamental theological truths that are essential to what it means to be a Christian? And, if so, why do we have to write out an official statement that details what we believe in? Aren't we Christians who believe in the Bible?

Indeed, we are. But as such, we as the Church have a great burden to carry out Paul's charge to "encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:9). So how do we define what is "sound doctrine" and what we must "refute?"

Our church and the larger group of Evangelical Free Churches of which we are a part, has a 12 point Statement of Faith that was adopted 58 years ago. Over the past four years, it has been reviewed and a new proposal is on the table to make some changes.

Pastor Tom will meet with us this Sunday to discuss the background of this proposal and share the details as well as take questions and hear your thoughts. I encourage you to visit http://www.efca.org/about/doctrine/ to see the existing statement and come ready to learn the reasons and call to make modifications.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

Head, Hands, Heart... What's the 4th one?

Ok, so maybe Justin and Chelsea are going to be the only ones that get the joke, but whenever I try to list the metaphors for the Church from memory, I end up saying the 4H pledge.

This Sunday, we're going to go through as many metaphors as we have time for. The New Testament writers, and Jesus Himself, were incredibly adept at using imagery to communicate their point. So much so that literature classes often still use Biblical examples for a technique called a "Word Picture."

The metaphors are much deeper than what's on the surface, however. Examples of the Church as a building, for example, were intended to have a very significant and powerful reference for 1st century Jews thinking of their sacred temple. The bride metaphor reveals beautiful truths about the Old Testament laws for marriage and, in turn, reveals God's intent for our own marriages today as well.

Let's see how many we can come up with. What are some of the metaphors for the Church that you can remember... and what do you think they mean?
(Post 'em here)

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Church

From 9:00 to Noon on Sunday mornings, an hour and half out to eat for lunch with the group, 2 hours Wednesday night, and 2 hours Monday night... we could spend up to 8.5 hours each week "at church" in one way or another. Add in meetings, caring for other members, one-on-one accountability, Bible studies, personal quiet time, and before you know it you've got a part-time job just being a church member. So, for something that consumes so much of our lives (ideally, all of it) I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at what "the Church" really is.

For the next 5 weeks, leading up to Kendra's and my departure to Southeast Asia, we will be going through a study of the Church. This Sunday, we'll start with the identiy of the church. What makes the church, why is it special, how did it come to be, and what does that mean to you?

To begin, we must start at the beginning. God's covenant with the Church is called a "new covenant," so what happened to the old one? What relation (if any) exists between Israel and the Church? How is the Church identified today... is it similar to Israel in it's identity, or not? How so?

In the weeks to come, we'll explore several major topics on the Church:

  1. Metaphors for the Church that are found in the New Testament
  2. The function, order, and ordinances of the Church
  3. The role of the Church in the world and your role in the Church

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