Tuesday, November 25, 2008

King of Glory

As you celebrate Thanksgiving this week, here is a poem I composed for my congregation to get us thinking about the coming of our Savior. May the Lord bless it to encourage you to reflect on the magnificent wonder of His redemptive mission.

King of Glory

King of glory, Word eternal, dwells in perfect unity;
With the Father and the Spirit, long before the worlds were made.
Three-in-One, divine communion, blessed, holy Trinity;
With the Father and the Spirit, fellowship of love displayed.

King of glory, tiny baby, in a virgin’s womb He grows;
God with us, divine invasion of an unsuspecting earth.
With His advent, promised blessings of salvation He bestows;
God with us, the incarnation of the Son of matchless worth.

King of glory, suffering servant, battered, bloody, on the tree;
Crushed by God for our transgressions, dying in the sinners place.
The cup of wrath against sin’s treason, taken by Him willingly;
Crushed by God, our sins laid on Him, ransoming His own by grace.

King of glory, risen Savior, death could not His body keep;
Raised to life by heaven’s power, never more death’s grip to feel.
Like their Lord, all in Him trusting, will be raised from death’s cold sleep;
Raised to life by heaven’s power, all the curse of sin now healed.

King of glory, reigning Sovereign, seated on His throne on high;
All the nations bow before Him, praise Him, worship and adore.
Singing songs of His redemption, all His ransomed people cry;
Honor, power, and dominion to our King forevermore.

(See John 1:1-4; 2 Cor. 13:14; Matt.1:20-25; Isa. 7:14; Matt. 27:1-50; Rom. 3:21-25; Isa. 53; Matt. 28:1-10; 1 Cor. 15; Rev. 4-5)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Emergent Leader Sanctions Same-Sex Relationships

Tony Jones, once national coordinator for Emergent and a leading figure in the emerging church movement, has publicly stated that the church should sanction same-sex marriages. You can read his thoughts here. After describing his own personal ideological journey on this issue, Jones states,

In any case, I now believe that GLBTQ can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state.

GLBTQ stands for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, queer. A few years ago, Brian McLaren, another emerging church leader, suggested that we should have a moratorium on any statements from the church regarding homosexuality. We should wait five years, study the issue, and then, if we come to any conclusions, we can make a statement. To be sure, not everyone who would accept the label "emerging" would agree with Jones and McLaren on this issue. However, it is alarming that the avant garde of this movement has taken such a mushy, contra-biblical stance on an issue which is quite clear in both Old and New Testaments.

It is difficult to see how one can miss the clear testimony of the Scriptures regarding the issue of homosexuality. Genesis 2 presents the positive model given to us in the creative actions of God when He formed male and female and brought the two together to form one flesh. This model is then called upon by both Jesus (Matt. 19) and Paul (Eph. 5) as the divinely ordained pattern for human marriage and sexuality.

In addition to the positive model given in creation, there are numerous negative statements regarding homosexual acts in the Old and New Testaments. Genesis 19 records the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah because of the homosexual acts of its residents. Leviticus 20:13 refers to homosexual acts as detestable to God. Paul refers to homosexual acts as evidence of a society which has been given over to depravity. He refers to such acts as degrading, dishonorable, unnatural, and indecent (Romans 1:24-27).

If we follow the pattern of the church in the New Testament, the church always condemns behavior that violates the divinely ordained pattern for human sexuality and family relationships. We need no moratoriums. We do not need sociological studies on the matter. God has spoken. It is not up to the church to distort or deny what God clearly says.

At the same time, we recognize that people who are involved in homosexual lifestyles are human beings whom the church is commanded to love and care for. The hope for all sinners is Jesus Christ. The gospel changes and transforms all kinds of sinners - whether they be homosexual or heterosexual. When Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about various lifestyles which are incompatible with God's kingdom, he listed homosexuality among them (1 Cor. 6:9-10) along with adulterers, idolaters, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers, etc. Paul reminded them that though many of them were once living these lifestyles, they had been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (1 Cor. 6:11).

Redefining sin will not make it go away. Doing so will not improve the position of sinners in relation to God or the truth. But it has the potential to gravely damage the influence of the church.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

eHarmony to Launch Same Sex Dating Site

Reuters reports that the online dating site eHarmony will soon launch a new same-sex dating site as a result of a legal settlement. eHarmony was started by evangelical psychologist Neil Clark Warren. One can only imagine that this is the first of many such legal actions to be brought against companies that began with evangelical values.

It is disappointing that eHarmony took this action. I don't know any of the details of the legal settlement. However, it is sad to see a company begun by a high-profile evangelical pressured into taking an action which is diametrically opposed to long-standing biblical convictions which have characterized evangelicalism. I can only imagine the sadness Dr. Warren must feel over this outcome.

I am not certain who makes all the decisions at eHarmony. I don't know how much Dr. Warren is involved in the corporate decision making process. I don't want to come down too hard on him without knowing the details. Yet, personally, I think it would have been a victory if eHarmony just shut down rather than cave to the cultural pressure from the same-sex lobby.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Defender of the Faith? Or Faiths? Or Faith?

Al Mohler provides an intriguing look at how postmodernism has influenced the proposed change in titles for the British monarch. The title which was originally "Defender of the Faith" would be changed to "Defender of Faith" if the Prince of Wales gets his wish. Prince Charles actually wanted "Defender of the Faiths" but has settled for the previously mentioned "Defender of Faith" as a compromise.

The religious philosophy of the Prince was captured in statement he made a few years ago:

All the great prophets, all the great thinkers, all those who have achieved an awareness of the aspects of life which lie beneath the surface, all have showed the same understanding of the universe or the nature of God or the purpose of our existence--and that is why I think it is so important to understand the common threads which link us in one great and important tapestry.

This coronation language controversy is another sign of the inroads of postmodern thought into the religious fabric of the West. Language which once reflected the exclusivity of the Christian faith and the gospel must now give way to the nebulous phrases of religious pluralism. "Defender of Faith" - a coronation title which would make Oprah proud.

Read Dr. Mohler's analysis. As usual, it is excellent.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Worthy Reflection on Worldliness

I just picked up the new book called Worldliness edited by C.J. Mahaney. The foreword is written by John Piper. In the last paragraph Piper writes,

In the end, the sum of all beauty is Christ, and the sin of all worldliness is to diminish our capacity to see him and be satisfied in him and show him compellingly to a perishing world.

That sentence is shattering in its implications. As I read it, thoughts began to shoot through my mind like a bunch of gradeschoolers rushing out the door for recess. What am I currently doing in my life that diminishes my capacity to see the beauty of Christ? What habits, pleasures, preoccupations, or hobbies have diminished my capacity to be satisfied in Christ? What compromises with the world have I made which diminish my ability to show Christ to the perishing world?

I can't wait to read the rest of the book...I think. It could be a simultaneously painful and joyful process.

Monday, November 10, 2008

From the Ecclesiastical Wierdness Files

In what has to be one of the strangest stories of the day, rival monks had a brawl at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, revered as the site of Jesus' crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. The fight broke out between Armenian (not arminian) monks and Greek Orthodox monks when the Armenian clergymen marched in an annual procession commemorating the 4th-century discovery of the cross believed to have been used to crucify Jesus. The Greek Orthodox monks said the Armenian monks had no right to march through the church, so they blocked the group from marching. Israeli police rushed in to break up the fight.

OK, let me get this straight. Two groups of guys who supposedly revere Jesus Christ decided to beat each other up on the very site where Jesus is reported to have died for our sins and rose from the dead. And this fight broke out while one of the groups was celebrating the discovery of the cross that was used to crucify Jesus.

Silliness tends to break out when so-called Christians have more reverence for religious relics, holy sites, and ecclesiastical authority than they do for Jesus or the things He taught. Lest we think that this kind of nonsense only takes place among the Catholic groups, we need to remind ourselves that many a Baptist business meeting has broken out into verbal brawling over things as trivial as colors of carpet and who is going to be in charge of the potluck this month.

There are certainly times when Christians differ over substantial issues. Sometimes these disagreements are hotly debated. This is appropriate when gospel issues are on the table. But more often than not, Christians fight over things that have little biblical significance. Such arguments are driven more by personalities and power-grabs than by a passion for Christ's kingdom.

Sadly, the outcome of these brawls has devastating consequences for the testimony of the church in the world. The irony of clergymen fighting in the very place they celebrate as the empty tomb of the resurrection is not lost on a watching world. Let's not waste our energy fighting about silly, trivial things. We have real enemies to fight. Not least is the enemy of pride and self-importance which prods us to raise ourselves and our cause above everyone else.

Brit Hume and Following Christ

Brit Hume is resigning his position as managing editor in the Fox News Washington bureau. His reasons are interesting and revealing. Hume stated,

I certainly want to pursue my faith more ardently than I have done. I'm not claiming it's impossible to do when you work in this business. I was kind of a nominal Christian for the longest time. When my son died (by suicide in 1998), I came to Christ in a way that was very meaningful to me. If a person is a Christian and tries to face up to the implications of what you say you believe, it's a pretty big thing. If you do it part time, you're not really living it.

Facing up to the implications of what we believe is a daily issue for followers of Jesus. Hume is certainly correct in saying that if you are a part-time disciple, you're not really living it. Part time disciples are like (in the words of Lou Holtz) the kamikaze pilot who flew 50 missions - involved but not committed.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Cast Your Vote But Trust Your God

Thirty feet or so away from my office a steady stream of people are casting their votes today. Our church has long been a polling site on election day. The media talking heads are forecasting record voter turnout for this election. It has been one of the most hotly contested elections in a long time. Certainly much is at stake for the direction of our country. Two very different visions for America have been presented by the candidates. People across our nation are exercising the precious freedom of participating in their government by casting their vote according to their conscience.

Within the church, this election also represents some new challenges regarding the role of the church in politics. For more than a quarter of a century, there has been a strong movement of evangelicals to energize and encourage the church toward political involvement - the so-called religious right. Issues such as abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and school choice have dominated this conversation among evangelicals. Today there is a new stream of evangelical influence which is seeking to raise to the forefront issues like social justice and ecological concerns. The outcome of this election will also be a sort of referendum on the direction of evangelical politics. Which issues will take center stage for evangelical politics in the years to come?

As important as these questions are, there is a deeper issue here for Christians and the church. It is the issue of where we place our ultimate trust. To hear some Christians talk, you would think that the rise and fall of the church hinges on who sits in the oval office. Biblically speaking, this is dead wrong. Governments certainly exercise power and the decisions of governments do influence and affect people and nations. But behind the movements of governments is the sovereign hand of God (Isaiah 44:24-28). The people of God are never directed to put their trust in governments. They are consistently directed to put their trust in God who ultimately governs the affairs of men and nations. God rebukes His people when they put their trust in man instead of Him (Jeremiah 37).

God often uses ungodly leaders to accomplish His purposes. Habakkuk lived in a time when injustice and wickedness surrounded him. The people of God were rebellious and careless in their covenant duties. Habakkuk complained that God wasn't doing anything. God said, in effect, "Oh yes I am. In fact, you won't believe it when I tell you." God told Habakkuk he was raising up the Babylonians as a scourge of judgment against Judah. Yes, God had raised up a wicked ruler to accomplish His ultimate purposes for the world and for His people (Habbakuk 1:1-11).

I am not suggesting that believers should shirk their civic responsibilities and hide behind the doctrine of God's sovereignty. We should never take an approach that says, "God is in control so it doesn't matter what I do." God's sovereignty never excuses laziness or disobedience.

However, I am saying that no matter who wins the White House today, God's purposes will be accomplished. The early Christians never excused the culpability of Pilate or the Jewish leaders (or themselves for that matter) in the execution of Jesus Christ. At the same time, they realized that the events of Jesus' trial and crucifixion were under the ultimate control of God who was working out His eternal purposes through the most heinous of crimes (Acts 4:23-28). It was Jesus Himself who told Pilate that his authority was ultimately delegated from God (John 19:11).

Cast your vote today. But don't rest your ultimate confidence in any party, platform, or politician. The welfare of the church is not in the hands of politicians. It is in the mighty hand of God. The same could be said for you as an individual. As the Psalmist said, "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2)."

Monday, November 03, 2008

Al Mohler on Preaching and Worship

I am currently reading Dr. Albert Mohler's book He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World. I thought I'd share a couple of nuggets with you that resonated with my heart.

On the issue of felt-need preaching...

Urged on by devotees of "needs-based preaching," many evangelicals have abandoned the text without recognizing that they have done so. These preachers may eventually get to the text in the course of the sermon, but the text does not set the agenda or establish the shape of the message. The sacred desk has become an advice center, and the pew has become the therapist's couch. Psychological and practical concerns have displaced theological exegesis, and the preacher directs his sermon to the congregation's perceived needs rather than to their need for a Savior.

On the issue of evangelical worship practice...

I am haunted by the thought that in the average evangelical church, the God of the Bible would never be known by watching us worship. Instead, what we have in so many churches is "McWorship" of a "McDeity." But what kind of God is that superficial, that weightless, and that insignificant? Would an observer have any idea of the God of the Bible from our worship? I wonder at times if this is an accidental development, or if it is an intentional evasion.