Monday, February 27, 2006

A Tale of Two Churches -- Part 1

Rielly’s comments to my last outbreak of praise of Christ’s church got me to thinking. Do I love the ‘C’hurch or the ‘c’hurch? Which is it that holds my affections? As I’ve reflected on the reasons why so many people seem so eager to ‘re-invent’ church these days, I’ve discovered that I have much in common with them.

My first exposure to church was through my childhood. Raised in a ‘Sunday school’ generation, I spent years hearing stories of Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Samson, Gideon, et al. Typically these stories were truncated, leaving out the real point of the story. To think… it wasn’t until I got to Bible College that I realized that David and Goliath really wasn’t about David and Goliath!

The church I grew up in was ineffective in reaching its surrounding area. It was made up of older people who had known each other a long time. They liked to sing the good old hymns, keep up with whose kids are getting married, and whose arthritis is kicking up this week. The preacher had to make sure the service was done by 12 noon, even if it started late, and there’d be trouble if he wasn’t.

I can remember, the only two times excitement I saw out of anyone there was when they made it legal for stores to open on Sunday (how could a 'Christian nation' turn its back on the 'Sabbath 'like that?) and when I played with the lights in the hallway one time (this wasted electricity, I quickly learned).

A dear old man I know spent years in the church serving in any number of roles of leadership and in various capacities on countless committees. He’s not even a believer. You think anyone ever took the time to ask him about his soul? Why would anyone expect any spiritual life out of a church that willingly and carelessly puts unregenerate people in roles of leadership?

Well, that same old man now has cancer and is facing death. He’s terribly afraid of it, and he’s in denial that it will ever even happen to him. He outright rejects the faith. But he still goes to that church and week after week people still say hi, ask how the chemo’s going, and what about his grandkids. Like that’s important.

That’s the ‘church’ I grew up with. If I had never left that church, I never would have heard the gospel. Funny how that works. I hold that pastor and that church responsible for the blood of countless souls who have come faithfully, week after week after week, never hearing the gospel, and never having anyone inquire into the state of their soul.

If anyone has reason to ‘go emergent’ and bash the church, it’s me. But I won’t. I love Christ’s church. If there is one thing I’ve learned, it’s that church can be done so as to violently oppose the cause of Christ’s kingdom, or it can work to vigorously advance the cause of Christ’s kingdom. Simply put, ‘church’ has to be redeemed.

But that is for part two.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A 'Fulfillment' Devotion

By his power he stilled the sea; by his understanding he shattered Rahab.
By his wind the heavens were made fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent.
Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him!
But the thunder of his power who can understand?
-- Job 26:12-14

By incredible power, our Lord and our Christ stilled the sea with a word. All of creation bows in obedience to our Master and our God. While the disciples were afraid, Jesus was in control, and the seas in submission.

By Christ, the breath of God created the heavens and the earth. He was in the beginning; he was with God and was God from eternity past. By him were all things created, for his glory; in him all things live and move and have their being; in him all things are being held together, and are working together for our good, that we might be conformed to his own image. By his goodness, the creation is indeed made fair.

His hand was not only pierced, but inasmuch as he has our names engraved on his heart and hands, so also he was stricken, smitten and betrayed. He willingly took on our transgressions, in order that he might exercise his great power over Hades for us, whom he has loved. In so conquering he has sent death, our greatest enemy, and the serpent who wielded its power fleeing. That man has done what no man could do; he did not believe the lie, but in truth and power, sent the serpent fleeing.

Behold, Christian, these are but the outskirts of his ways. Imagine! How small a whisper do you hear of him! Behold him in creation! Behold his power over all things! Behold his victory over death! Behold… these are but the outskirts of his ways. And now, how small a whisper…

The thunder of his power, who can understand? His thoughts are not like our thoughts, nor are his ways like our ways; inasmuch as his thoughts are higher than our thoughts, so his ways are higher than our ways. In an infinite, qualitative manner, God stands over against humanity and all created things, in such a way as he could never, ever be compared with anything our eyes may see, our ears may hear, or our minds may conceive. Now we see but the outskirts of his ways, and hear but a whisper of his voice.

In much the same way as Job could not yet see the full revelation of Christ, but spoke of him better than he knew, so now, we too speak of God Almighty, Sovereign Creator of all the earth, and all things below, and all things above. How our minds should long for that day when we will see him! How our hearts should cry out in a desperate voice, “Lord, let me know you! Let me hear you!”

Yet we are here on earth, and my heart is sinful, I know. Behold, this life and this mind knows only of the outskirts of his ways. This sinful soul may only now hear but a small whisper of him. How my heart and flesh yearn and long, cry out and moan, “Even so, Lord Jesus, come!”

Friday, February 17, 2006

Oh, how I love church!

It may seem funny, but I've been thinking a lot about the church lately: what it is and what it's purpose is... or, what it should be and what's it's purpose should be. Kirk Wellum is my professor of systematics at school and he's been teaching us about the church as an "outpost of heaven" here on earth.

Now that got me to thinking...

How do I think about the church? In listening to many of my friends and in reading many of the books put out in the past little while, it seems that there is a very negative / cynical view of the church out there. We tend to view the church more as "Israel all over again" than we do as an "inbreaking" of the kingdom of heaven.

The church is the bride of Christ, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Sure there are problems in the church as it exists, but the truth of the matter is that the church is a people foreknown and foreloved by God, redeemed and made alive by God, being sustained and purified by God, in order that she might one day be presented pure and spotless to God, to the great glory of God!

All that to say, think good things of the church! She is not lost. She is not yours. She is Christ's bride and he loves her. She is his great treasure! As one who hopes to be an undershepherd for my Lord one day, may it never be said of me that I underestimated the power and value of the Holy Spirit's ability to work in the Son's bride.

If someone had nothing but bad things to say about my bride, I'd have some serious issues to take up with them.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Primacy of the Love of God

Recently I was convicted again of my prayerlessness. "How could a seminarian like me, who studies great things of God all day, go without praying, and be okay with that?" It seems I just grow dull to prayer... and I know I'm not alone on this one.

But then, it seems God brings me through great seasons of prayer and I realize again the importance of praying. Just today I was thinking, "Why do I need to learn these lessons so many times? Why can't I just learn it once?"

And then it hit me.

I don't have to learn lessons on prayer. I don't have to learn lessons about reading my Bible. I don't have to learn lessons on the benefits of the other spiritual disciplines. I just need to grow in my love for God. Period.

If I know God, then I will love God. If I love God then it will be the constant desire of my heart to be in his presence and seeking his favour; so I will pray. It will be the passion of my life to know him and be known by him; so I will read his word with desperation and longing.

I don't need to learn to pray. I need to love my God more.

And how can I love him more? Only by knowing him better. But how can I know him better? I can't open my eyes and see him... I can't reach out and touch him... I can't taste or smell him... I can't hear his voice...

To know God, I am entirely dependent on him. Like Jesus told Peter, only the Spirit of God can reveal the nature of God to men. And like Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, the natural man cannot understand things which are spiritually discerned.

Even if I tried to obey on my own strength, without the love of God, my works would count for nothing. I would be a hopeless pharisee.

So I am dependent on God to reveal himself to me, so that I will know him, which will lead to increased love of him, which will lead to prayer and obedience. So I must pray that God would reveal himself to me!

And in all this where is my pride? It is telling me that I can live on my own strength. Satan knows that if I am prayerless, I cannot know God. If I don't know God I won't love God. If I don't love God I won't pray and I won't obey.

How desperately dependent I am! And that is the one lesson I need to learn.