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Good Theology in the Strangest Places

Since we live in a world (even churches)  that tends to downplay “theology” and “doctrine” as something of a bother, it is good to run across it, even in the most unusual places.  A few weeks back I read an interview of one of the “new atheists”, Christopher Hinchens.  The interview was conducted by a Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell and was published in the Portland Monthly Magazine.  For most of the interview it was pretty much what you would expect — religion is not good, God is a tyrant, Christianity was not founded by Jesus but by Paul, etc.  But there was one very brief exchange that caught my eye.  In this Q&A the atheist schools the “minister” in a bit of truth:

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the Scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

I used this exchange to end my Easter sermon yesterday.  It applies . . . the Apostle Paul said in Romans 10:9, ” . . . if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;” He also told the Christians at Corinth, “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain . . . and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor 15:14, 17).

The resurrection of Christ is central to all Christian truth.  To deny it is to deny the atonement.  To deny these matters is of great peril to your soul.

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Crucifixion & Resurrection — A Puritan Prayer

More for  your preparation for this coming Sunday’s worship.  I shared this prayer (slightly modified) as the pastoral prayer this past Sunday at Grace Baptist.  It speaks the truth about what we should be seeking as we prepare to celebrate Christ’s atonement and resurrection:

Oh LORD,

We marvel that You should become incarnate,
be crucified, dead and buried.
The sepulcher calls forth our adoring wonder,
for it is empty and You are risen;
the Gospel attests it,
the living witnesses prove it,
our hearts’ experience know it.
Give us the grace to die with You that we may rise to new life,
for we wish to be as dead and buried
to sin, to selfishness, to the world;
that we might not hear the voice of the deceiver
and might be delivered from his lusts.
O LORD, there is much sin about us – crucify it,
much flesh within us – mortify it.
Purge us from selfishness, the fear of man, the love of man’s approval,
the shame of being thought old-fashioned,
the desire to be cultured or modern.
Let us reckon our old life dead because of crucifixion,
and never feed it as a living thing.
Grant us to stand with our dying Savior,
to be content to be rejected,
to be willing to take up unpopular truths,
and to hold fast despised teachings until death.
Help us to be resolute and Christ-contained,
Never let us wander from the path of obedience to Your will.
Strengthen us for the battles ahead.
Give us courage for all the trials, and grace for all the joys.
Help us to be a holy, happy people,
free from every wrong desire,
from everything contrary to Your mind.
Grant us more and more of the resurrection life:
may it rule us,
may we walk in its power, and be strengthened through its influence.

Worship Preparation for Easter Weekend

This week is celebrated as a special time by the Church of Jesus Christ.  I am aware of the fact that EVERY SUNDAY is, or should be, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, but the church has historically set this Sunday apart for special emphasis.  While we should prepare ourselves for worship each week and not just expect it to “happen” because we enter a door to a building, perhaps many of you will think even more about our Lord’s sacrifice and resurrection this week.  Here are two of my favorite songs related to this week.  I hope they minister to you and help you prepare to worship the Living King this week.

I love this quote from Mark Driscoll in Doctrine:  “If Jesus is dead, then Christianity is dead. If Jesus is alive, then Christianity is alive.”  JESUS IS ALIVE, SHOUT IT AND PROCLAIM IT THIS WEEK!!!

A Shocking Thing That We Should Forget

One of my favorite New Testament theologians is Donald Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.  Anything you can read that he has written will be well worth your time.  Lectures and sermons that you can find in simple Google searches on the internet can give you hours of rich nourishment in God’s word.

One thing that many “fans” of Carson don’t know is that he has also written a collection of hymns that are collected in the album “Shout for Delight.”  They are all very good and worshipful, but there is one in particular that always ministers to me and also brings just a bit of conviction.  It is a communion hymn entitled “A Shocking Thing.”  I give you the lyrics below for your edification. You can find the CD and some samples HERE.

A SHOCKING THING

A shocking thing, this, that we should forget
The Savior who gave up his life –
To turn from the cross, indifferent, and let
Our minds veer toward self-love and strife.
The table, this rite, is habit – and yet
Christ’s words pierce our shame like a knife:

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Enamored with power, surrounded with praise,
We set out our ecclesial plans.
Efficiency hums, and we spend our days
Defending, promoting our stands.
Techniques multiply, our structures amaze –
The gospel slips out of our hands.

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.
O remember, remember the cross.
From my side issued water and blood,
This was no accident,
I bore the wrath of my God.”

“Remember my bed, the dank cattle shed,
Though glory was all my domain.
Remember the years of service and tears
That climaxed in lashings of pain.
By God’s own decree, your guilt fell on me,
And all of my loss is your gain.”

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Remember my tears, Gethsemene’s fears;
Recall that my followers fled,
That I was betrayed, disowned and arraigned –
The Prince of Life crucified, dead.
Remember your shame, your sin and your blame;
Remember the blood that I shed.”

While lifting the cup, the Savior spoke up,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

So now when we eat this feast simply spread
I blush I forget to recall.
For this quiet rite means once more I have fed
On bread that gave life once for all;
Memorial feast—just wine, broken bread—
And time to reflect on Christ’s call:

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

The Grace of the Cross — Puritan Prayer

O my Savior, I thank You from the depths of my being
for Your wondrous grace and love
in bearing my sin in Your own body on the tree.

May Your cross be to me
as the tree that sweetens my bitter Marahs,
as the rod that blossoms with life and beauty,
as the brazen serpent that calls forth the look of faith.

By Your cross crucify my every sin;

Use it to increase my intimacy with Yourself;

Make it the ground of all my comfort,
the liveliness of all my duties,
the sum of all Your gospel promises,
the comfort of all my afflictions,
the vigor of my love, thankfulness, graces,
the very essence of my religion;

And by it give me that rest without rest,
the rest of ceaseless praise.

O my Lord and Savior,

You have also appointed a cross for me to take up and carry,
a cross before You give me a crown.

You have appointed it to be my portion,
but self-love hates it,
carnal reason is unreconciled to it;
without the grace of patience I cannot bear it,
walk with it, profit by it.

O blessed cross, what mercies do you bring with you!

You are only esteemed hateful by my rebel will,
heavy because I shirk your load.

Teach me, gracious Lord and Savior,
that with my cross You send promised grace
so that I may bear it patiently,
that my cross is Your yoke which is easy,
and Your burden which is light.

When Church is Mundane & Truth is Not Central

Peter,_Paul_and_Mary_2006When I was in high school and college I loved the music of the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary.  I still think they had one of the purest sounds ever recorded.  While they didn’t share many of my political views they wrote and sang some incredible music.

One of my favorite songs by them was not one of their most popular.  It was simply entitled “Hymn.”  It spoke of institutional religion without any reality in faith.  It was sung from the perspective of a young boy as he went and observed the hypocrisy of ritualism without truth.  I have often wondered if it were not a song written before its time.  Because the lyrics speak volumes to the contemporary church, I’m afraid.   Below I will print the lyrics and you can hear Paul Stookey sing it HERE.

It certainly gives us pause to think:

Sunday morning, very bright, I read Your book by colored light
That came in through the pretty window picture.

I visited some houses where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving.
The passed a basket with some envelopes;
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was “I believe in You.”

Passing conversations where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that You had been replaced by Your assistants.
The discussion was theology,
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was “I believe in You.”

I visited Your house again on Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead,
But the house would go on living.
He recited poetry and as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I’d never find You.

My mother used to dress me up,
And while my dad was sleeping
We would walk down to Your house without speaking.

We must be certain that our churches are filled with truth and love, and be able to point them to the One who is not dead . . . but is alive!!!

Awesome? Is it Really???

Last week I led a Bible Conference in North Carolina on the theme of “The Eclipse of God.” The general idea is that we allow things, or stuff, to come between us and God thus making Him appear to not be present.  Much like in a solar eclipse, when the moon gets between the earth and the sun and casts a shadow across the earth, it appears that the sun disappears or loses its power.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The sun remains just as bright, just as hot and just as powerful as when it is shining at noon day.  But it just doesn’t appear to be so.

In our lives we allow “stuff” to cast a shadow on our lives that makes God seem to be weaker or not as glorious.  Who at times hasn’t made a comment to the effect, it just seems my prayers don’t get past the ceiling and seems as if God is not there or doesn’t care.  Again, nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, there are obvious things that can “eclipse” God in your life.  Known purposeful sin is the most obvious, and so are the things that David, in Psalm 19, called, “presumptive sins” which are those we tend to excuse as only being “little sins.”

One of the things that I mentioned in one of the sessions was that we can also “eclipse” God with the language we use.  I was speaking with someone this week who was told that a friend’s dog had just had puppies.  This person responded, “that’s awesome.”  I was walking down the street with someone and they saw a new corvette parked on the curb and again their response was, “wow, that’s awesome.”  I was even eating with someone the other day, we were having burgers (and good ones no doubt) and my friend said, “this hamburger is awesome.”  Do you see where I am going?

The word “awesome” is a word that means to see something and stand in awe of it.  It is a word that when applied to something means that it causes me to want to fall down and worship it, I am so struck by it.  I don’t know about you but I have never seen a car (even a vette) or a puppy (even a litter) or a food product (though I love to eat) that made me want to fall down and worship it.

It just appears to me that we do serve an awesome God.  When I think of His character and attributes and glory I want to fall down and worship Him.  But when we speak in the same way about everything else in the world, do we not lessen His glory in the eyes of those who know we are Christians?  If the same word is used to describe God and a car, or a dog, or food . . . well, you get my picture.

I know I am probably going to be viewed as out of step with this post-modern culture we live in.  But that’s OK.  I once had a staff member who accused me of trying to be controlling of other people, simply because I thought this word ought to be reserved for God, and I said so in a sermon.

I don’t want my language eclipsing God in my life or in other’s lives. It just seems to me to be prudent that we reserve one descriptive word for God alone.  Awesome seems to be that word, in my humble opinion.  What do you think?