Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Self-Congratulatory Renaissance Humanism

Stark is bent on dispelling myths about Christendom, especially those which show it off as ignorant or barbaric.  And he does so quite convincingly.

In his chapter, "The Dark Ages and Other Mythical Eras," he begins by calling out Bertrand Russell and others who have written in college textbooks and other world histories as liars and frauds with agendas of their own.  According to them,

"To sum up:  Western history consists of four major eras:  1)  classical antiquity, then 2) the Dark Ages when the church dominated, followed by 3)  the Renaissance-Enlightenment which led the way to 4)  modern times."  

Stark then comments,

"For several centuries that has been the fundamental organizing scheme for every textbook devoted to Western history, despite the fact that serious historians have known for decades that this scheme is a complete fraud - an indestructible fossil of self-congratulatory Renaissance humanism.  It is appropriate to use the term renaissance to identify a particular period in the arts when there was renewed interest in classical styles, and to distinguish this period from the Gothic or the Baroque.  But it is inappropriate to apply this term to identify the rebirth of progress following the Dark Ages because there never were any Dark Ages." - Stark, TC, pp238-9.

He then goes on, but I'll wait for the next post.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Communing with the Weaker Parts

Paul describes the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 just like a human body.  There are strong parts and there are weaker parts.  There are honorable parts that we show everyone, and there are modest parts that have greater modesty. 

As we gather to partake in Communion, we are doing so as a body and not simply a bunch of individuals.  We are all being fed together – and we are all receiving these gifts on the same basis – by grace alone through faith alone.

One of the things that this does is the work of knitting us together in unity.  Notice it is not uniformity – we are not all becoming the same – but we are all becoming one.  There are many parts to this body – you do not have to be like those parts in many ways – but you do have to work with the Spirit in becoming one with those parts.  And here, at the Table, God is at that work.  Submit yourself to that Spirit of Grace.

A Defense of the Crusades

"Thus it is accepted myth that during the Crusades an expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam.  These claims have been utterly refuted by a group of distinguished contemporary historians.  They propose that the Crusades were precipitated by Islamic provocations, by many centuries of bloody attempts to colonize the West, and by sudden new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places." - Stark TC, p216.

Who is your history teacher?  What are his faith-assumptions?  Where did he study?  What were their faith-assumptions?

Stark notes that by the time of the First Crusade, Christendom had been fighting a defensive war with Islam for more than 450 years (p217).  After dispelling many myths of various heinous crimes of the Crusaders, Stark concludes:

"The Crusades were not unprovoked.  They were not the first round of European colonialism.  thew were not conducted for land, loot, or converts.  The crusaders were not barbarians who victimized the cultivated Muslims.  The Crusades are not a blot on the history of Christianity.  No apologies are required." - p234.

It was a very provocative chapter and worth reading in its entirety.

Monday, April 28, 2014

400 Years of Affliction Promised

In Genesis 15 God promises Abraham that his offspring will be afflicted for four hundred years.  Frame makes the point (ST, p70) that "this promise and its fulfillment indicates that the blessing will come about through God alone, for only he controls history over such a great expanse of time."  

I think it makes far greater claims about God than that.  For this prophecy to be fulfilled, God has to work in the hearts and minds of countless individuals, numerous kings and rulers, many of whom are never in an obedient relationship with Him - and yet He is never thwarted.

In addition, it makes clear that God brings forth afflictions.  Abraham's descendants would be afflicted for four hundred years.  Why?  Because God said so.  Yet another proof that all afflictions and trials brought on to a believer in Christ are personally attended to by a Sovereign God Who has a perfect plan that will come to pass.

In the midst of each affliction, we are tested to ask, "is this God good?"  The answer, of course, is the Cross.

Let the Little Children Come

This morning I want to address the children – especially all those children who came up to me last Lord’s Day and got an early Easter morning treat from me.  This call to worship is especially for you – so please take a moment and respectfully ask your mom and dad to sit quietly while I speak to you.

Jesus told His disciples to let the little children come to Him, and we believe here at Trinity Church that Jesus meant what He said – and that this service of worship is a special time when the people of God meet with Jesus – which is why we bring you with us into this service.  Part of celebrating with you is doing special little things on special Sundays like giving you the Palm-branch-crosses on Palm Sunday and the chocolate on Easter.

But the elders and your parents want you to grow in your participation in all parts of this service – even though we know that some of it is not easy when you cannot yet read or pay attention for that long.  But here are a couple of quick reminders for you.  There is much to join with us that you can do in worship.  You can stand with us when we stand and sing or pray.  You can shout your AMENs with us at the end of the corporate prayers and at the end of the singing – and you should.  When you shout your AMENs you are saying with all of us to God that you agree, that what we said or prayed or sang is something you are offering with all of us to God.  You can lift up your hands with us at the end of the service – offering yourself to God and opening your hands to receive from God all that He has for you. 

If you are baptized, you can join us at the Lord’s Table and partake of the bread and the wine – so that, along with hearing the Word, you can partake of God’s kindnesses at the Table – and do so as part of the body of Christ.  You must do both – listen to the Word and partake at the Table, by faith.  And faith is a gift of God; it doesn’t come only when you reach a particular size.

If you cannot yet read, or keep up with the psalms or the sermons – listen carefully – listen and see if you can catch a favorite phrase and let your mind think about these things throughout the worship time – and ask your parents later all the questions that you might have about what you heard. 

Finally, everything we do this morning should point you, each one of you, to Jesus Christ – over and over again.  Everything we say, even those things you don’t yet understand, can be summed up simply as this – Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.  Do you believe?  Welcome, child of the covenant.

Christianity and Women in Rome

"Because Jesus, the twelve apostles, Paul, and the prominent leaders in the early church in Jerusalem were all men, the impression prevails that early Christianity was primarily a male affair.  Not so.  From earliest days women predominated." - Stark, TC, p122.

Stark suggests that if Paul sent personal greetings to fifteen women and eighteen men in his letter to the Christians in Rome, and we assume that sufficient "sex bias" (his words) existed so that men were more likely than women to hold position of leadership, then the ratio suggest a congregation that was most likely disproportionately female.  Historians point out that it was often wives that penetrated the upper classes of society with message of the gospel first.  And one sample of the senatorial class who lived between 283 and 423 showed that  50 percent of the men, but 85 percent of the women, were Christians.

Stark goes on, in my opinion, to do some poor exegetical work on 1 Corinthians regarding the prohibition of women to speak in the public assembly.  That aside, I believe his best work (in sociology and history and not so much as a Bible expositor, pastor or theologian) on this topic is summarized well in his Conclusion to this chapter:

"The rise of Christianity depended upon women.  In response to the special appeal that the faith had for women, the early church drew substantially more female than male converts, and this in a world where women were in short supply.  Having an excess of women gave the church a remarkable advantage because it resulted in disproportionate Christian fertility and in a considerable number of secondary conversions." - p136.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Misery and Mercy - Conclusion

In his concluding paragraph on his chapter, Misery and Mercy, Stark writes:

"Some will object that to stress the importance of tangible, worldly benefits for Christian conversion is to wrongly downplay the religious motivations for the rise of Christianity.  This objection overlooks that these worldly benefits were religious in the fullest sense.  "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Matt 25:40).  It was by imitation of Christ that Christians were able to live longer and enjoy more comfortable lives." - Stark, TC, p119.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Tertullian on Christian Mercy

"Tertullian (155-222) explained how this welfare system functioned:

...On the monthly day, if he likes, each puts in a small donation; but only if it be his pleasure, and only if he is able; for there is no compulsion; all is voluntary.  These gifts are, as it were, piety's deposit fund.  For they are not taken thence and spent on feasts, and drinking bouts, and eating houses, but to support and bury poor people, to supply the wants of boys and girls of destitute means and parents, and of old persons confined now to the house; such, too, as have suffered shipwreck; and if there happen to be any in the mines, or banished to the islands, or shut up in prisons, for nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's Church, they become the nurslings of their confession." - Stark, TC, p113

For nothing but their fidelity to the cause of God's Church... - these acts of mercy become the nurslings of their confession.  How will the world know that we are a changed people, changed by the mercy of God?

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Christian Mercy

Stark writes that the growth of the Church in the first centuries of its existence was due to the tangible benefits that those who turned to the Church received.  The Jesus Movement was an urban phenomenon (p106), where there were incredible social issues to be dealt with (not unlike today) including Housing, filth, crime, and disease issues.

"In the midst of the squalor, misery, illness, and anonymity of ancient cities, Christianity provided an island of mercy and security.  Foremost was the Christian duty to alleviate want and suffering...In contrast, in the pagan world, and especially among the philosophers, mercy was regarded as a character defect and pity as a pathological emotion:  because mercy involves providing unearned help or relief, it is contrary to justice...This was the moral climate in which Christianity taught that mercy is one of the primary virtues - that a merciful God requires humans to be merciful." - Stark, TC, p112.

Jesus said, "blessed are the merciful," and this is the characteristic of those who are loved by Christ.  May it be so more and more.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Privileged Christians

"Contrary to prevailing sociological dogmas, religious movements typically are launched by the privileged classes." - Rodney Stark, "The Triumph of Christianity," p88.

Stark will even go on to suggest that Jesus was not from a "poor" family. 

"...Jesus probably was not a carpenter, unless it was in keeping with the traditional Jewish practice that a rabbi always learned a trade to fall back on, since it seems extremely likely that Jesus was a well-educated rabbi.  It appears that his parents "occupied a prominent place in the community" and were sufficiently well-off to have had property in Capernaum as well as Nazareth.  They also were able to go to Jerusalem every year for Passover (Luke 2:41), something most families could not afford." p90.

While the claims of Christ and Christianity certainly provide great comfort and hope for the poor, Stark does not believe that the upper classes disregarded the claims.  In fact, he claims that part of the success of the growth of Christianity (and he writes as a sociologist without regard to the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit) was due to its acceptance, not among the slaves and poor, but among the masters, landholders, and social elite as well.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Gospel that Now Looks Back Once Looked Forward

"The good news that a child would be born to redeem mankind is the same gospel by which we today may be saved from God's wrath.  As Adam and Eve looked forward to that child, we look beck upon him, Jesus Christ, who died for our sin, rose again, and ever lives to intercede for us.  This is the gospel, the good news of God's grace.  Though we are doomed by our disobedience, and though we cannot save ourselves, God promises in Genesis 3 that he will give salvation as a gift, the gift of the child." - Frame, ST, p66.

I'm always looking for ways to see the connections between the Old and New Covenants.  Of course, the Covenant of Grace is the means by which we can do this; the gospel that now looks back once looked forward.  But it is the same gospel; the same good news.

Partaking of Word and Action

When Jesus broke bread with the disciples on the Road to Emmaus, something happened.  Jesus had spent much time explaining to them from the Scriptures why it was that the Son of Man had to come and die and on the third day be raised from the dead.  Jesus was giving, I’m sure, the perfect Bible study – but after the study, they still did not realize fully Who it was Who was teaching them. 

And then, following the Word, He gave thanks and broke the bread – and then and there they understood it was the Lord who was with them.

Word and Table.  Word and Sacrament.  Word and Action.  These are the two proofs that go together.  These are the means the Holy Spirit uses to impart faith and to strengthen that faith.  You have declared “Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.”  Now come and taste and see how good that resurrection is.  Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Easter and the End of Death

(HT – Toby Sumpter) – When John saw Jesus on the Island of Patmos and fell at his feet as though dead, Jesus laid His right hand on him, and said, “Do not be afraid, I am the First and the Last.  I am He who lives and was dead, and Behold I am alive forevermore.  And I have the keys of Hades and Death.”  Who holds the power of death?  Who is the Lord of Death?  The One who holds the keys holds the power.  Who holds the keys?  It is Jesus, our Jesus.

There once was a Grim Reaper, Satan the Accuser, the Dragon of Old, the Devil, who held all men in the power of death, through the fear of death.  But Jesus has suffered for our sin and now Satan has nothing – death has been exhausted.  Now, when the Great Accuser looks down at his list, every sin, every fault, every failure, every betrayal, every evil deed, every lustful thought, every backbiting word, every abusive act, every accusation has been blotted out with the precious blood of Jesus – and Satan has nothing on you.

And so, there is a reason that graveyards comfortably grew up around churches.  Christians are comfortable around the dead.  Because Christians are no longer afraid of death.  Jesus holds the keys of Hades and Death in His hand; our Savior has crushed the head of the Serpent on the Cross.  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Deep Thankfulness

I love our tradition of reading through the Passion of Christ and involving many members, and even the whole congregation, in this reading.  Pausing through the passages and singing many psalms and hymns that accentuate the themes of the Passion help us to all pause and reflect over the sober events that led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

But often a question comes up – as we pause and reflect – what are we to do?  Should this be a time of great remorse, of quiet introspection over one’s sins for which Christ had to go through such terrible suffering?  Should we re-enact the questioning, the ignorance, the fear and depression that the disciples felt as they watched the One they believed to be the Messiah actually die and be buried in a tomb?

Many traditions encourage this kind of honest reflection, even encouraging a season of penance to be sorry for all you did to cause this dark day to happen.  But we tend to not do so and, I believe for good reason.

Philippians 2:5-8 says   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”

When Paul writes this, He is commanding the church at Philippi to have the same mentality that Christ had when treating others – especially those who cause you trouble in life – and especially those who are in the covenant of grace with you – those who are your brothers and sisters in Christ – those who are your fellow church members – and most likely those who are your family members as well.  He said that we are to have the same lowliness of mind, that we are to esteem others better than ourselves – that we are to esteem other’s lives and well being as more important than our own – and that we are to consider the interests of others as important, even more important, than our own.

We are to do this looking at Christ – considering what He did for us.  And so these verses remind us of what Christ did for us, of the attitude of love He had in doing so.  We are to recall His death not to feel guilty for His death, but to marvel at His love and sacrifice for us in that love by His death.

If Paul’s point was to make us feel bad for what Jesus had to go through for us, he would have continued by saying – “and so, you owe Him big time.  You should feel really bad and guilty for what He did for you.  You are worthless and yet Christ died for you.  I want you to meditate on that…” –
Instead, he follows up in vv9-11 with this –

9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In other words, what should we remember as we remember Good Friday?  We should remember all that Good Friday, all that His crucifixion and death and burial accomplished.  The emphasis becomes not on our sin, but on Christ’s victory – not on God’s wrath, but on the propitiation of that wrath by Christ, not simply on the atonement for our sin, but for the reconciliation that atonement accomplished for us in Christ.

Simply stated, every biblical meditation over the death of Jesus Christ must lead us to thankfulness – deep thankfulness – deep and profound thankfulness that spills over into unspeakable joy and a peace that passes understanding.  We practice this every time we participate together in the Lord’s Supper each Lord’s Day.  That is a celebration based on the remembrance of what took place yesterday, what is called Maundy Thursday – the night of the Last Supper.

When Jesus had that meal, knowing it was His last meal with his disciples before the betrayal, the arrest, and the coming sufferings on the cross – Jesus said, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”  Listen to that closely again – “with fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.”

When He takes bread – the bread He will declare to be His body given for us – He does two things.  He gives thanks and He breaks the bread.  He gives thanks that His body is going to be broken.  He gives thanks that He is going to suffer and die – and He does so before the very ones that He is going to suffer and die for.

Hear the good news!  Jesus Christ is your Savior; He is the Savior of the World – and He loves being the Savior of the world.  Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world – and He loves being the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.  When we remember the death of Christ rightly, we are to join with Him in Eucharist – in Thanksgiving – in Joyful, overwhelming thankfulness.

Yes – the cost was terrible, enormous, dark – and yes, the One Who knew no sin took on sin for us – Yes Jesus Christ had to die to pay for our sins.  And Yes – Jesus, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured it all – and cried out “It is Finished” before He died.  What we just remembered was the greatest act of love the world has ever known.  What we are left with – is to receive this as a gift and to do so with great awe and with deep thankfulness.

The last two verses of Isaac Watts hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” bears out what is being said here.
Verse three reminds us of the great suffering Jesus experienced that day on the Cross.
See from His head, His hands, His feet
Sorrow and love flow mingled down
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Which is followed by the Hymnist’s response – not a response of feeling really, really bad for what Christ had to go through.  Rather, overwhelmed at the great love of God and of our Savior, Jesus, he writes,

Were the whole realm of nature mine
That were a present far too small
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

A service of worship on Good Friday is not to be a re-enactment of the sorrow which the disciples experienced that day because of their lack of understanding of the coming resurrection on first day of the week.  Nor is it to be used to make everyone feel bad that Jesus had to die for their sins.  It is to draw attention to the Passion of Christ, to the great and terrible price He paid out of His great and immeasurable love for us – for you.  And it is to create in us, recreate in us, and renew in us, great and deep thankfulness over what is ours, what is fully accomplished, and what is freely given without any constraints to feel guilty.  God so loved the world – and so welcome to life in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Adam's Boasting

"So if Adam had passed his test successfully, he would not have boasted as if he had done it all on his own.  He would have praised God for his unmerited favor.  The term covenant of works, therefore, may mislead us by suggesting that Adam possessed an autonomy that no other creature has ever possessed.  Best to regard this covenant, like the others, as a sovereign blessing of God, calling Adam and Eve to respond in obedient faith." - Frame, ST, p65.

Obedient faith.  Sola Fide excludes any works for any basis of salvation.  But faith without works is a dead faith.  Life-giving faith always brings forth works.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

God Would Have Been the Source of Adam's Obedience

"Certainly the focus of the Edenic covenant (Frame's term for "covenant of works" or "covenant of creation") is on what Adam does rather than on God's action as the ground of Adam's blessing or curse.  And certainly whatever blessing Adam received would have been appropriate to his obedience:  he would have deserved the blessing.  But it would be wrong to claim...that had Adam successfully resisted temptation, God would have had nothing to do with it." - Frame, ST, p65.

And this teaches us quite a bit about the work of progressive sanctification and the obedience of the believer today.  We are certainly told to obey, and we are promised discipline and blessings according to our works.  At the same time, we are not to obey outside of Spirit-filled lives.  We are to bear the fruit of the Spirit by means of our indwelling by the Spirit and our participation in that mutual indwelling.

Calvin on Faith and Confidence

Faith produces confidence, which again, in its turn, produces boldness. There are three stages in our progress. First, we believe the promises of God; next, by relying on them, we obtain that confidence, which is accompanied by holiness and peace of mind; and, last of all, comes boldness, which enables us to banish fear, and to come with firmness and steadiness into the presence of God.
To separate faith from confidence would be an attempt to take away heat and light from the sun. I acknowledge, indeed, that, in proportion to the measure of faith, confidence is small in some and greater in others; but faith will never be found unaccompanied by these effects or fruits. A trembling, hesitating, doubting conscience, will always be a sure evidence of unbelief; but a firm, steady faith, will prove to be invincible against the gates of hell. To trust in Christ as Mediator, and to entertain a firm conviction of our heavenly Father’s love, — to venture boldly to promise to ourselves eternal life, and not to tremble at death or hell, — is, to use a common phrase, a holy presumption. (Commentary on Ephesians 3:12) 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

To the Fearful Hearted

We focused on Isaiah 35:5-6 and now as we come to the Table, hear the verses just preceding it.  “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who are fearful hearted, “Be strong, do not fear!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.”

That is what we celebrate at the Table.  This is not a morose time of introspection.  It is a time to say, “God saved me.  Jesus loves me.  I am a part of the family of God because He came with a vengeance and freed me.”  It is a precious time for all who are in Christ, marked by their baptism, to come and sing with joy using lips that never would have enjoyed such giving of praise – to do so at the Table of Grace, the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving, the Body and Blood of the Son of God.  Let Him come again, anew, to you, to us, and strengthen weak hands, firm feeble knees, and calm the fearful hearted.  He has saved you.  Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.

The Problem with the Phrase, "Covenant of Works"

"The disadvantage of the phrase 'covenant of works' is that it has led to a controversy over the nature of the covenant agreement between God and Adam.  Two problems especially have entered the discussion:  (1) The terminology is reminiscent of a commercial exchange.  This suggests that eternal life is a kind of commodity... (2)  The works are Adam's works, not God's so one gets the impression that Adam is left entirely on his own.  These two contentions are used to maintain a clear contrast between works and grace." - Frame, ST, p65

Monday, April 14, 2014

When the New Jerusalem Came to Jerusalem

The entry of triumph of the Son of God into Jerusalem marked the beginning of the end.  The end of the old order.  The end of the old Jerusalem.  The end of the old administrations of the covenant.  The end of the old temple.  The end of shadows and types.

The New Jerusalem had come to Jerusalem.  The New High Priest had come to replace all old priestly types.  The True Sacrifice had come, the Lamb of God, to replace all shadows in lambs and bulls and goats.  The Blood of the Son of Man had come and would be shed for His people and the Atonement so longed for had come to replace the atonements that only pointed to something greater.  The new Man had come, replacing the old humanity, the New Adam for the old, first, fallen Adam.  The new Temple had come and when the old temple destroyed it, God rebuilt it in only three days, and then destroyed the old.

The celebration of Palm Sunday is a celebration of victory – victory over death through death.  Victory over sin by One who had no sin taking all of our sin upon Himself.  Victory over the curses of God by becoming the curse of God and hanging on a Tree.  Victory from the Tree of God’s curse to the Tree of Life – tearing the veil in two and lifting the prohibition – now all men could come and partake – but only through the cross, only covered in the blood, only washed in the waters of His Spirit-baptism.

Children would sing.  Infants would declare the Good News.  Demons would tremble and religious types would try to keep those little ones away.  But Jesus would declare “let the children come to me” and children, you are all welcome – welcome to come to Jesus with us – to confess Him and worship with us.  We are told to have faith like you have.  We are told to come with you and worship.  “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants, you have ordained strength because of your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger.”  With the coming of Jesus – everything is turned on its head.  The world is turned upside down.

Monday, April 7, 2014

They Have Little Because They Ask Little

"Might it not rather be feared that many believers in this generation pray too little?  Is it not the actual amount of time that many Christians give to prayer, in the aggregate, very small?  I am afraid these questions cannot be answered satisfactorily.  I am afraid the private devotions of many are most painfully scanty and limited; just enough to prove they are alive and no more.  They really seem to want little from God.  They seem to have little to confess, little to ask for, and little to thank him for.  Alas, this is altogether wrong.  Nothing is more common than to hear believers complaining that they do not get on.  They tell us that they do not grow in grace as they could desire.  Is it not rather to be suspected that many have quite as much grace as they ask for?  Is it not the true account of many, that they have little, because they ask little?" - Ryle, A Call to Prayer

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Diligent Private Prayer

"And I assert confidently that the principal means by which most believers have become great in the church of Christ is the habit of diligent private prayer." - Ryle, A Call to Prayer

Friday, April 4, 2014

Creation Obeys

"Anything God creates is necessarily under his lordship:  under his control, subject to his authority, confronted by his presence...There is no struggle in Genesis 1, as there is in the creation accounts of other nations.  In Genesis 1:3, God simply commands, and the light appears." - Frame, ST , p61

Look around and what do you see?  Creation.  Look around and what do you see?  Obedience.  Light, Darkness, waters and earth, stars and planets, flowers and squirrels.  Obedience.  They exist, they do what they do and not what they don't, out of sheer obedience to the One Who spoke them all into existence.

The beauty of creation is a reflection of obedience to Yahweh and to His universal covenant with creation.  There is no struggle, except for the curse which all creation groans over, the curse because of the fall of the vice-regent who was to operate under God's law over all of that creation.

But Man is being put back and creation is being renewed.  Obedience is growing, manifesting itself here and there in ways it had been lost before.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Aroma of Sacrifice

In Ephesians 5 we are instructed to be imitators of God as dear children, to walk in love as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.

Sacrifice before God is never unnoticed by God.  All that Christ did, in His suffering and death, could have appeared to some in those moments that God had forgotten Jesus – or that His sufferings were not noticed.  Even Jesus crying out on the cross, “Why have you forsaken Me?” leads us to wonder.

But here we are, recipients of that sacrifice.  Nothing went unnoticed by the Father.  And in Christ, this Table also teaches and seals for us this truth – no suffering of His children ever goes unnoticed – all suffering for Christ – all obedience to the Father, and especially obedience that pays a price, goes unnoticed.  It is before Him a sweet-smelling aroma.  In Christ, nothing, absolutely nothing, in our lives, goes unnoticed.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Kingdom of Leaven

The kingdom of heaven is like leaven which a woman put into three measures of meal till it was all leavened.  The kingdom of heaven is not an alternative way of life in the world. The kingdom – that is, the church – is the New Way of living.  We are the new society, the new citizenship, the new kingdom.

We do not gather primarily as a refuge for those escaping from the world – although the church is that for some when they do flee.  But here, in the midst of the assembly, ministered to by Word and Sacrament in the fellowship of the saints and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are the new polis – living before God and with one another.

And this worship service instructs us in that.  We are summoned here to be renewed in covenant with God.  We are washed as we confess our sins.  We are lifted up and evaluated, re-arranged, equipped, remade, through the Word.  We lift our prayers and supplications for all aspects of life around us, calling on God to change not only us but the world.  We gather for a meal of Peace and Thanksgiving with our God – and we are sent – out with His blessing to conquer with more grace, more mercy, and more love.

And so the kingdom of heaven is like leaven.  It naturally expands – it naturally grows out and affects more and more of what it is in – and we are here – in the world.  Even this time of worship is taking place here, upon the earth – and so this is leaven – this service of worship is not only for us – it is for the world.  It is leavening the world.  Come and worship Your conquering King.