Friday, September 26, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
This past Sunday I suggested a hymn that no one seemed to know. The title of it is "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds," and it was written by John Newtwon (might remember him for another one he did). It made me sad because it's a great one with wonderful content that we sang from time to time during our college/young adult worship services at my home church. I have included the words, let me know what you think. Pray it encourages you to call the name of Jesus during your day.
How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear!
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away his fear.
It makes the wounded spirit whole,
And calms the troubled breast;
’Tis manna to the hungry soul,
And to the weary, rest.
Dear Name, the Rock on which I build,
My Shield and Hiding Place,
My never failing treasury, filled
With boundless stores of grace!
By Thee my prayers acceptance gain,
Although with sin defiled;
Satan accuses me in vain,
And I am owned a child.
Jesus! my Shepherd, Husband, Friend,
O Prophet, Priest and King,
My Lord, my Life, my Way, my End,
Accept the praise I bring.
Weak is the effort of my heart,
And cold my warmest thought;
But when I see Thee as Thou art,
I’ll praise Thee as I ought.
Till then I would Thy love proclaim
With every fleeting breath,
And may the music of Thy Name
Refresh my soul in death!
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I think our day promotes the self as the center of attention and focus. This is best reflected by TIME magazine saying "YOU" are the person of the year, with Apple coming out with the i-Line (iPod, iPhone, iMac, etc.) saying that "I" am the one who is most important and who determines what is best. Is there anything wrong with having any of these things? No, I do not believe so. I have an iPod, and I am a Mac convert, and one of the selling points for me was that I could choose what came on the computer. The problem I had with my previous machine was that it came full of stuff I didn't want or need and I spent a day deleting it all. Personal convenience is one of the best parts of living in 2008, I can go to the restaurant and order food as I would like it as opposed to a cookie-cutter menu. I work at Starbucks, and there personal choice rules the day (just ask the people who get a half-caf triple grande 2 pump vanilla soy no foam extra hot light whip latte).
So how does this apply to us in worship? Simply put, I think our worship in a lot circumstances is very selfish. Our focus is so much on "me" and "I" and "my Lord" and less and less on our corporate identity as the people of God. The subject of many of our songs is the first person singular singing towards God, and the first person singular reception from God. Before I continue, is there anything wrong with this? Certainly not, because the work of Christ personally applies to me and you and every individual believer on a very personal and deep level. I love to sing of what my Savior did for me, and how my words are inadequate to respond to Him.
Maybe I'm just blowing air, but I do wonder what it means for Christians to focus so much on the personal relationship with Christ and distance themselves from the corporate relationship we have with other believers in Christ. By isolating worship solely to the individual and God, I fear we lose some of the identity we have as a Church praising the Lord in one voice. Also, sometimes I think worship songs talk too much about "me" and not enough about God. Worship is ascribing worth to God, and we sing about Him, we sing to Him, we sing because of Him. Anyway, just tossing some thoughts out there.
We got to spend some considerable time with my mentor and dear friend, Scott Davis, who recently was called to serve full time at my home church. It was a sweet time of fellowship and discussion and encouragement. His thinking, preaching, writing, and influence I find often in my own ministry. I owe a dear amount of my personal growth to him and his mentoring during college and Seminary, even if his favorite team is nothing but felons and thugs :)
It was also fun to spend time with my sisters and the new additions to their house, Olivia and Norman, two cats with very different personalities.
So what is this message, that is called a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles; that will cause a division between father and son and brother and sister; that has the power to free the captives and institute the eschaton of Christ's Kingdom that is defined not by Law or ethnicity but by a commonly held faith that identifies us with other believers and as Christ's chosen people?
In 1 Corinthians 15, we see a short statement from Paul about the Gospel. The chapter talks about the bodily resurrection of believers and likens that to the bodily resurrection of Christ which serves as a foretaste of what ours will be like. The historicity of the Resurrection is incredibly important because without that we have no hope as believers (v. 17), because our hope is found in the bodily resurrection and the reality that it really did happen. Paul's words as found in the Scripture are:
So much is said that this happened "in accordance with the Scriptures," which refers to the many OT prophecies regarding the person of the Messiah who would come as the Suffering Servant (cf. Isaiah 53, etc.) and would be the propitiation for sin (1 John 2:2). Our hope in the Gospel is found in the fact that it was prophesied about long before the actual event and that it was done as the Scripture said. Our hope in the Gospel is rooted in the truth of Scripture and in it's reliability.
Christ died for our sins - There was a purpose for the death of Christ, He did not get the short straw or a raw deal (Week 1 Chargers vs. Broncos) that led to His innocent death on the cross. No, we see from this that the Savior died for a reason, our sins. On the cross He bore our sins in His body and bore the wrath of God against the thing He hates. The image of sin (man) became the image of the liberation (The God-Man), and in Him our sins can be atoned for because He is the perfect sacrificial Lamb, the sacrifice made once for all.
That He was buried - Jesus' death was really real, contrary to many skeptics who would say that He passed out and woke up and that is why He "resurrected." The description of the Passion, supplemented by our understanding of Roman punishment, and the fact that in His body He took the full wrath of God towards sin (which if you have heard me preach about this I have said that I think Mel Gibson took it easy on Him in the Passion movie). This is the stumbling block to Jews, that the Messiah would die (as a humiliated criminal no less).
That He rose again on the third day - This is the part that we struggle with, that a dead person could come back from the grave. This is the foolishness to the Gentiles, and it is foolishness to many who are in our day. But to us who believe, it is the power of the Hope of the Gospel. It is through this Resurrection that death has been conquered, sin no longer has power. The action taken in the Resurrection was the destruction of the Curse found in Genesis 3. Not only are we forgiven and have God as Father (which is where we stop so often), the Curse that afflicted the whole Creation has been lifted! By conquering death Jesus does what only He could as the Second Adam, to inaugurate a whole new people who are free from this.
It is such a simple message, but it causes people to make several assumptions that because of Sin we are not comfortable making. 1) We do not have the power to fix the problem, 2) We have a problem to start with, 3) There is payment for the problem of sin, 4) Someone else took our punishment, 5) The hope of the universe is found in Christ alone, 6) By aligning with Christ it may cause alienation from others, 7) The key to attaining this is not found in ritual but confession and repentance.
The reason why churches have struggled is that we have gotten away from the simple message of the Gospel and have chosen to dress it up or cater it to the culture instead of preachers standing as prophets in the valley calling for people to repent and draw near to Christ. The mission of the Church is the proclamation of this Gospel message, as preachers we must be faithful to the Word and leave the results up to God. This is a list of affirmations that were put out by a group called "Together for the Gospel" which seeks to reclaim the Gospel in churches and the sufficiency of the Word for the conversion of sinners to repentance and faith in Christ.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
1) Everyone has a story. There is no way to be around people without finding out something about them. Each person has had unique experiences and life events that have shaped them into who they are today. Maybe they were in a war, traveled the world, survived a disease, etc. All people, regardless of background and behavior, have something to say.
2) I don't think I can ever get used to being at work at 5:00 in the morning. I know some people can, but it's just not for me. However, it is pretty awesome to be half asleep and at work and not really know where I am until about 9 or 10.
3) There is a real difference in Starbucks coffee and the stuff they sell for a couple bucks per bucket at the grocery store. Call me a coffee snob, I don't care. I have gotten used to what fresh beans taste like, and I don't think I will ever pre-grind my coffee again. The few extra bucks per bag is well worth not having that nasty aftertaste in my mouth.
4) Rude knows no color, economic status, race, gender, etc. It's not just obviously rich people who can be nasty and mean. I've come to grips with the fact most people just don't know or care how hard the people work. People will get mad and upset over so many things, and I've gotten to where it just doesn't surprise me anymore. Next time you go to Starbucks, make sure you're nice to them, they work awful hard for fairly low wages and are under constant stress.
5) My favorite customers are the ones who come in because they enjoy it, appreciate a good product, and who are interested in trying new things. Typically, they are the easiest to please, in the best moods, and the most understanding when things go wrong. Thank you.
6) People who are on their cell phones have no clue how obnoxious they are and how much we as employees hate that. The only person important enough to be on their phone 24/7 is the President, get over yourself, your brunch appointment can wait 5 minutes while you place your order. That's why I make extra noise working the bar when someone comes in on their phone, stop it, we hate it.
7) Instead of getting mad at people who are easily angered by everything at Starbucks, I have developed a new sense of pity for them. With all the things that could go on in someone's life to cause them grief and stress, blowing up over your latte is quite childish and petty. I understand you pay a lot for it, and sadly mistakes do happen. It's no excuse to be a jerk, speak politely, and I won't blog about you later. :-)
8) Benefits outweigh job enjoyment. The situation we are in as a nation with health care being so outrageous causes many people to make sacrifices of sanity and satisfaction to be able to take care of their family with good medical insurance.
9) Some of the people I've worked with have been very unique and been able to offer great insight and wisdom during some weird and rocky times in my life. One advantage to working so early or so late is low customer traffic during those times, and it affords a great opportunity to talk about more than coffee tastings, promo numbers, and all the other stuff that goes into the job.
10) While I think it is a great company to work for, I think that profitability and falling sales have prompted the company to make some wacky decisions lately. There was a push to "get back to the coffee" which was quickly followed up by several non-coffee drinks and a new breakfast line. I guess the almighty dollar outweighs corporate image and standards.
11) I can say a lot of quasi-Italian words and phrases, and it always works pretty cool to impress people to be able to speak Starbuckseanese.
12) I've learned that white and black polo shirts will never go out of style and can always be gotten cheaply during school uniform season.
13) Comfortable shoes are very important to doing a job well. If you're on your feet for 8+ hours a day, you learn to find good shoes that give both comfort and support (highly recommend slip resistant shoes too).
14) 30% discounts on top of 10% extra during Christmas means automatic gift ideas for everybody I know.
15) Old, returned, or chipped coffee cups given to me by my old boss are some of the best cups I've ever used. And for travel mugs, I've learned a metal thermal cup will keep coffee hot for almost 10 hours!
16) People automatically like you more when you give them a pound of beans or offer to pick something up for them.
17) Sometimes hiring practices confuse me, especially when it comes to supervisors and managers. It should go to the best candidate, not the biggest kiss-up or because they're "available."
18) I think I will always hear the coffee timer beeping for the rest of my life, every hour... er... 30 minutes now.
19) People will overpay any amount to get some cheap piece of crap as long as it says "Starbucks" on it, especially during Christmas. The same coffee maker at Wal-Mart for 1/2 the price, go figure...
20) The company went from being a unique commodity to becoming the McDonalds-Abercrombie of coffee, and sadly it is taking store closings to get back to being something less ubiquitous.
21) Store performance is top down, without good management and direction, no amount of suggestive selling or lame gimmicks will help people do their job better.
22) People don't know how little we make, and therefore do not tip. I know it doesn't look like we work hard, but it's nonstop for hours. It is quite exhausting to work a full 8 hour shift. Leave some change in the jar, for most of us those tips are our gas money.
23) 99% of the customers don't care about growing regions, taste profiles, pastry pairings, etc. They just want something good, delivered to them in a timely fashion from a smiling partner.
24) People who call in 30 drink orders have no idea how much we dislike them. Keep in mind before faxing it in that most of them will get cold by the time they get back to the office or the whipped cream will melt.
25) It still ranks as one of the better jobs I have worked, for any number of reasons.
So often in our day we try to make Jesus into something that He is not, whether it be this loving do-good guy or as a weakling who could not stick up for Himself and that's why He got nailed to the cross. I'm really glad Scripture paints Jesus as King. Even in His earthly life, He was a carpenter, someone who did manual labor. Jesus was strong, able to go days without food or rest, and on Good Friday He was able to endure great suffering and flogging and still was able to carry His cross for a good part of the way.
Just some thoughts for today as we celebrate the Lord's Day. Who are you worshiping, the Hippie or the King?
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I was to report there at 1:30, and I got there early of course. I proceeded to wait in a line that seemed like it would never end, sandwiched between two ladies with the foulest mouths I've ever seen and a guy who had not appeared at his previous court dates. The immediate thought that came to mind was the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation, where everyone appears before the Lord and are judged. Hopefully, that Judgment won't take as long as my trip did today (not that it matters, in eternity I believe time will pass as nothing because we won't be bound by the constraints we have here on earth), and if it does hopefully there will be a magazine rack. :)
The reason why this was a firsthand lesson is that I was going to appear before a bench and have a decision made regarding my ticket. Did I break the law? Yes, I did, 5 over. Did I get caught? Yes, and those cruisers are quick! Did I have any good excuse? No, I was driving home. Did I deserve to be punished and fined for what I did? Yes, I was guilty as charged. In the same way, we as sinners have no excuse for our crimes, and have been found guilty by a Holy God who has pronounced a sentence of death and condemnation upon us because of our sin.
That is the scenario we face, sinners guilty before the sight of God. Now, here comes the amazing part. When I got to the bench, the lady said "Your 5 over is dismissed, have a good day." In that simple sentence, my offense against the city of Memphis was pardoned, forgiven, and I was free to go. Mercy had been shown, mercy I did not deserve and have any right to claim. Some people there had an argument for their offense, they didn't have their current insurance card with them but brought it to court. I didn't have any excuse, I was guilty, but I was shown mercy.
Just like that, in Christ we have a pardon before the Father. But it is a pardon far greater than having a speeding ticket expunged, it is the forgiveness of a Holy God towards a guilty sinner. How awesome is it that in Christ we are forgiven our debts and set free to live a life devoted to Him, in His mercy, in His grace, in His power and in His presence.
Know it's cheesy, but I thought it was pretty cool. Laying on the couch with an ice pack on watching Jim Rome, so I'll close it like Romey would do.
War UofL making sandwiches out of Kansas State's defense next week, War the Douglas Dundees running the table in the Shine Jesus Shine fantasy football league.
The principle is simply this, that Christians, as the Redeemed people of God, should always seek to do their best in everything they do, because they work for Christ primarily and should therefore seek to honor Him in everything they do by offering their best.
In my life this has meant that I never settle for second best, and never settle for mediocrity. It has meant to me personally to always seek to be the best at what I do, not to my credit, but for the Glory of God. For my marathon training, it means I never settle for complacency, but always am after faster times, longer distances, better conditioning, running hard when things hurt and when I'm tired because I run to God's glory that I might make Him known through my efforts. It means that at Starbucks, I seek to be the best at what I do there, not to pat myself on the back, but because I work for Christ and He deserves my best effort. It means that at the church, I pour myself into my work, putting in hours above what is expected of me because I want to give my best and my all to the Lord, to give many hours to study for our Wednesday night service so that I may rightly divide the Word of Truth and present the Scripture accurately to the students. It means I put hours into planning events and preparing things for them regardless of how many of them actually come or care. It means I labor as a farmer in his field to see a harvest of mature, Christ-honoring young men and women ready to take on a world that seeks to destroy their faith and their Christian worldview. My ministry to them will not see fruit for years, but it is one I believe strongly in and will work my best at.
That being said, I fear that in this day we have accepted being C students as being acceptable, that we shouldn't put forth our best effort and give our all in everything we do. That, friends, is laziness. To not pour your all into every task, every course, every program, anything you do in life is simply laziness. God desires our best, and we should always seek to be a people and a Church Universal to strives to do all things with excellence, because we serve an Excellent God who expects nothing less and deserves nothing more. Churches who settle for second best are like the people of Israel who gave sick and lame animals to the Lord in sacrifice. All churches who do not seek excellence in programming, preaching, music, worship, organization, etc. are churches who are not fully seeking the Lord and are not honoring Him as they should.
May our double love for God and Neighbor draw us to work as hard as possible for the Lord, and may we never take our eyes off the cross as we seek to make the glories of His Name known throughout the world. My challenge as you read this is simple, where are you selling God short on your effort, and what can you do to glorify Him more in your life? Pastors who read this, give your all in your work, pour yourself into the task, it will make you depend more on Christ to give you strength, and NEVER settle for being second best and not desiring to have excellent sermons, music, programming, etc. Glorify the Lord in your ministry, and He will bless you.
We got to go to the Civil Rights Museum, which was an awesome lesson in history. History is so important to study because those who do not learn from it are doomed to repeat its mistakes. I must confess that even as a white person, I was struck by the courage and determination of those who battled injustice and simply wanted to be considered equal in terms of value, worth, and dignity as a person. As a Christian, I must affirm that every human being is created imago Dei, and that color is simply pigmentation and not a determination of value or dignity. This is a lesson we still must learn as a society though, and I pray that soon the mistakes of the past will be something that is looked upon by students as events of a bygone era.
We also got to go to Graceland, but we weren't about to pay $30 just to walk through the house and see how lavish Elvis was in his life. So instead, we took pictures of the house, and saw the wall which is covered in writing by fans and passers-by.
Beale Street was also a really neat experience, as we got to eat at BB King's restaurant, and were entertained by a live blues band. The food, less than desirable, but it was still pretty good and more about the atmosphere.
Pictures coming soon, whenever my sister gets around to putting them on Facebook.
Monday, September 8, 2008
Now to address my title, which I am sure you have been wondering about. Dictionary.com would define coincidence as "a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time apparently by mere chance," with other words like luck, fate, chance, accident, serendipity, etc. being used synonymously to describe the concept of coincidence. While this may seem like a silly argument to make, I believe it is of utmost importance if we are to understand the nature of God as He has revealed Himself to be. I have often asked myself the question, "Can't things just happen?" Every time I have asked that question, I have had to consider my theology and from that draw a conclusion one way or another. When I have asked if things can just happen, I am making an assumption that God is either not fully involved in Creation or that He does not care enough to be involved in every aspect of Creation. In essence, by making the assumption that things happen by random chance, I am making a bold theological statement that God is not in control of all things.
How must we address this issue? Simply put, we must recognize that nothing happens outside the control, decree, ordination, and will of God. God is presented in Scripture as being both powerful and intimate, and we must always remember both of these things when asking ourselves questions about our circumstances and the role God plays in everyday life. I propose the concept of meticulous and total providence, the idea that all things are under the hand of God and that He is both the architect and designer of all things. This may sound like fatalism, which I do not hold to, and I will address that later in this post.
The idea of God being sovereign over all things and in control of all things must impact our worship, prayer, devotional life, preaching, and every other aspect of life. We must always remember who it is we pray to, the One who holds the cattle on 1000 hills (obviously meant as a comparitive statement to Rome, the city built on seven hills), who control the weather and storms and causes rain to fall or the sun to scorch, who draws men and women to Himself as He sees fit (Romans 8-10), and who causes nations to rise and fall based on His good pleasure to act as He sees fit (i.e. the Assyrians, Babylonians, Romans, etc.). This is not the God so often portrayed in our churches, where the concept of making God more like "one of us" as Joan Osbourne sang has caused us to see God as a buddy, as someone who wants a friend to sit with Him because He is lonely and needs us to feel better. That concept of God is heresy and an insult to the witness of Scripture.
When looking at Scripture, we see that there are many times where life seems to not make sense, where God's servants are treated unfairly and punished wrongly. Last night in DIVE time with the Youth, we looked at the life of Joseph. Joseph could look at his situation in life (his sitz im leben for you German scholars) and see it as either conicidence, that things have just happened and he has been dealt a bad hand of cards, or that it falls together under this universal application of all things we commonly refer to as the "Will of God." Our response to his circumstances reflects how we interpret our own circumstances. Do things just happen, or is there a purpose, a meaning behind them? If we are honest with ourselves and honest with Scripture, we have to come to the conclusion that all things do indeed work together for the good of those who are called of God. There is purpose, there is meaning, like in Job suffering is not experienced in a vacuum but is all part of the plan of God.
Then you ask, how is this not fatalism? Simply put, there is a complex paradox involving the will of God and the decisions of men that enables it to be both predetermined and part of God's sovereign will and to be a very real and conscious decision for us. I do not believe we have libertarian freedom, but that we choose to do that which is most appealing to us and of our greatest desire. We make real decisions on what to do, where to go, who to follow, how to respond to the witness of Scripture as to the identity and reality of Christ and the Gospel. An honest reading of Scripture should lead you to this balanced view. It is not a contradiction of wills or of logic, because God exists on a plane of existence that is not bound by time, space, or other limitations, whereas we are. Therefore, our conceptual understanding of the nature of God is limited to what He has revealed about Himself and is bound by our time-space limits. He exists outside of our understanding, and much like the clay is not allowed to question the potter, we must never consider the wisdom and decrees of God to be "unfair." Fairness is something we perceive, but we must remember that God is faithful to His word and when He says that He will work all for good and for His Glory, we must trust Him at His word axiomatically.
Let's never put God in a box and limit Him and what He is capable of. As the Church, we must seek His face, repent where we have failed Him, and pursue Him unashamedly towards the glorious end that He is, to the glory of the Father through the Son by the Spirit. May I never have a small view of God or perceive Him as a buddy or as a lonely friend, but as the sovereign King of the universe who through the purchase of His Son has permitted a sinner such as I the oppportunity to share in the glories of His Kingdom.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
At one extreme are the emergents who just want to do church differently, and these are our dear brothers in the faith, who may just be a little frustrated with how things happen (trust me, we've all been there before). The danger doesn't come from methodology, if anything methodology is clearly up for debate, though there are theological ramifications. The "seeker-sensitive" movement, while with the best of intentions, is so faulty in its presuppositions and attitude towards unregenerate people that it caused a generation of Christians to have to listen to the same sermon every week and have their services geared towards people who (if they are honest with themselves) want nothing to do with Christ or the things of God. The danger is in theological liberalism, in creating a new kind of Christianity, not the "faith handed down to the saints" (Jude 3). The dangers are numerous and problematic, most notably when you reduce Christianity to nothing more than a "way of life," you lose sight of the fact that humanity is fallen and in need of a Redeemer; you lose the reality of the Resurrection, which is the blessed hope of the church; and you lose the promise of Scripture being a unified, reliable, inerrant document speaking through the ages to us from the mouth of God.
The only thing "new" in Christianity is heresy, and any teaching that counters the witness of Scripture and the regula fide should be investigated at least, most likely to be cast aside as garbage. Driscoll does a great job picking apart the Emergent Highway and pointing out the theological inconsistencies and at times, departures from anything Christian.
Anyone who wants to repackage Christianity according to our enlightenment as a people and our cultural understandings of truth being reader-based and subjective, is promoting a Gospel not in accordance with Scripture. It is a shame that prominent figures in this movement are filling churches and getting on TV and promoting their watered-down false gospel.
If you're interested in reading this article, I'd be happy to run a copy of it for you. Let me know! Thanks for reading!