Friday, September 23, 2016

The Charlotte Riots & The Gospel

Below is a link to the facebook page of Christ Central Church, in Charlotte, which is pastored by a faithful brother of mine from seminary, Howard Brown.

Howard is African-American, by the way.

Go to the post from September 22, and you'll see Howard being interviewed by a news anchor.

Howard just pointed the whole world to the gospel of Jesus Christ, from the very midst of enormous grief, bitterness, confusion, and panic.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Precede: go in front or ahead of

One of the prayers of Thomas Cranmer (leader of the English Reformation & Archbishop of Canterbury during the 1500's) begins with these words:

"Lord, we pray thee that thy grace may always prevent and follow us..."

Which sounds really weird to us today.  Prevent us?

But in the older English the word "prevent" actually means "precede."  In this prayer we're asking God to send his grace in front of us, ahead of us, before us, as we travel the path that God has given us to travel.

"And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people." ~Exodus 13

This is the great prayer from the midst of The Lorica, that wonderful song written by St. Patrick in the 5th century (the song sung after the baptism of each of my 5 children):

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me 
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I recently read of a pastor who was enjoying a sabbatical from a particularly difficult time in his pastoral ministry.  Back home, he had felt like everything was too overwhelming, too impossible, too crushing.  And he was too fragile, too frail, too weak.

As his sabbatical was nearing the end, he said to a friend: "I cannot face going back.  It is too much and too hard."

His friend replied: "Wait a minute.  Do you really think that the same Christ you adore here will not also be waiting for you there?"

What are your fears, your trials, your battles?  What future do you dread?

"Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us..."

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Victimization: A Waste of our Suffering

"Anything that tastes as good as anger should be taken in moderation and never on an empty stomach. But the problem with anger is that it makes us lose interest in the blessings of life because we can only think about the one infuriating thing. We obsess over it and become intoxicated with the hurt we feel. This is why the old saints claimed that victimization is a waste of our suffering. Once we take on the identity of victims, we are allowing nothing redemptive to occur, and since we have idolized the anger, how can we be open to such divine gifts as healing, forgiveness, and the gravitas that emerges through adversity?"

~M. Craig Barnes

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Some Thoughts On The Church, Part V

So... putting these last four posts together & coming up with some points of application or discussion:

  • Jesus has sent his church out into the world, in the same way that He Himself was sent out into the world by his Father.
  • He entered into this world; he invaded this world.  He did not seek to avoid this world or its messiness.  Part of what that means for us is seeking to enter into the lives of others... not avoiding them or their messiness.  Always remember: Jesus entered into our mess with us!
  • When was the last time we took the time to enter into someone's misunderstanding of the gospel?  When was the last time we entered into someone's trial or affliction or doubt or pain or tears or questions or loneliness with them?  
  • Of course, one reason we don't tend to do that very faithfully or very much is because it would be costly and sacrificial for us.  That's exactly what it was like for Jesus too.
  • And yet, he never, never, never entered into the world at the expense of his own holiness.  And never, never, never should we.  For example, it does not bring any glory to God when a Christian dates an unbeliever in order to bear a witness to them.  We are called to be holy, as he is holy.  If Jesus really is the center of our affections, we won't fall into the trap of forfeiting faithfulness for any "missional" rationalization.
  • To grow into this well, we need to look squarely at the reality that the church has normally had a difficult time with this.  We tend to either relinquish and neglect the mission in order to protect our own sense of being religious, by withdrawing from the world.  Or we tend to stray away from the holiness of our faith, becoming more and more conformed to this world, under the guise of being missional.
  • Faithful Presence.  Holy Worldliness.  In the World, but not of the World.  As the Father sent Jesus into the world, so Jesus has sent his church into the world.
  • If we lose our holiness, the church has nothing distinctive to say.  We are compromised.
  • If we are not living deeply in the world, being "present" with our neighbors, entering into their life and suffering with them, we have no one to serve.  We are so isolated, our gospel witness is absent.
  • Let us think on these things... 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Some Thoughts On The Church, Part IV

"Holy Worldliness."
"In the world, but not of the world."
"Faithful Presence."  

These are some of the ways we were thinking about the calling and nature of the church last time, and we ended that reflection by preparing ourselves to see a strong and clear and beautiful picture of this calling and nature, in the person of Jesus Christ.

After all... who demonstrated more "holy worldliness" than Jesus?  Who showed himself to be more "in the world, but not of the world" than Jesus?  Who exhibited a more "faithful presence" in this world than Jesus?

And if the church really is "the body of Christ" in this world, then the Christ-likeness of the church in these matters... matters.

Consider this description of Jesus our Lord, from John Stott:
"Nobody has ever exhibited the meaning of 'holy worldliness' better than our Lord Jesus Christ himself.  His incarnation is the perfect embodiment of it.  On the one hand he came to us in our world, and assumed the full reality of our humanness.  He made himself one with us in our frailty, and exposed himself to our temptations.  He fraternized with the common people, and they flocked round him eagerly.  He welcomed everybody and shunned nobody.  He identified himself with our sorrows, our sins and our death.  On the other hand, in mixing freely with people like us, he never sacrificed, or even for one moment compromised, his own unique identity.  His was the perfection of 'holy worldliness.'"
This is what God the Father "sent" Jesus into the world to be.

And now, this is what Jesus is sending the church into the world to be...

"As you sent me into the world,
so I have sent them into the world."
John 17.18

"Jesus said to them again,
'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,
even so I am sending you.'”
John 20.21

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Some Thoughts On The Church, Part III

There is another way to understand and participate in the life and work of the church... and we might think of this way as proceeding along a set of train tracks.

One rail is loving and worshiping God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.  The other rail, of course, is loving and serving your neighbor as you yourself would want to be loved and served (Luke 10.27).

These separate but united rails (or tracks) of the church's life are witnessed every Lord's Day morning, in the opening and closing rituals of worship.

In the Call to Worship, the church is called out of the world, that it might worship God together, as one body.  Word, sacrament, song, confession, prayer, giving, communion, sermon, repentance, the assurance of the gospel, fellowship, etc... We answer this sacred call and come together in one assembly, loving and worshiping God.

But in the Benediction, the church is sent back out into the world, bearing God's blessing and God's Name, that we might lay down our lives as the salt and light of this world, in witness and service.

In the one image we see the holiness of the church—we are the ones who have been "called out" from the world, to belong to God and worship him.

In the other image we see the apostolic nature of the church—we are the ones who have also been "sent out" on God's mission in this world.

Putting both images together, we might speak of what some have called the "holy worldliness" of Christ's church.

We are called to be morally distinct and spiritually separate from the world:  holy.

But we are simultaneously called to be absolutely immersed in the life of the world: worldly.

As some would say, "in the world, but not of the world."  As others would say, "faithful presence."

If you want to meditate on the meaning of all this by contemplating a strong and clear and beautiful picture of holy worldliness... (of being in the world, but not of the world—of faithful presence)... God has certainly given us one.

Any guesses as to whom it might be?

We'll start with him next time...

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Some Thoughts On The Church, Part II

"Not for yourself, O church, do you exist,
any more than Christ existed for himself."

C.H. Spurgeon

 "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you."

Jesus, to his church

Identity and vocation.  Who (or what) is the church?  And what are we called to do?  Those are the questions we raised in Part I of this series of reflections.

But before attempting a faithful answer, let's erase a couple of bad answers from the board.

BAD ANSWER #1... The church is a club for religiously-minded people who like to get together and do religiousy things.  Some people join a chess club because they like chess.  Others join golf clubs or bridge clubs or sewing clubs or motorcycle clubs or reading clubs, etc.

One common denominator in these sorts of clubs is that the club exists to serve you, the one joining it.  You get to enjoy a reservoir of people very much like you!  You all have a common interest, and you all pay your dues, and now you are all entitled to reap the benefits of being in the club.

In the "religious club" church, the common interest is mere religion.  And your focus is on the status your membership in the club affords you, personally.  You are one of the religious ones, and you should feel quite good about that.  The very club itself exists to congratulate you on your accomplishment.

It has been attributed to many, but I think this quote belongs first to William Temple (1881-1944): “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members."

That's perhaps an overstatement, but overstatements can make a strong point.  We don't need more religious-club churches, turning in on themselves and retreating into self-righteous self-absorption.

Let's erase that answer from the board.

BAD ANSWER #2... The church is merely an organization for serving social causes of various sorts.  The church does not need to be so centered on theology or worship or the gospel... or even Jesus, for that matter.  These things mostly just divide us or restrain us or make us annoyingly offensive to the world.

Church should be more about us getting out there and helping people.  Different kinds of people may express their spirituality differently; let's just celebrate that and get on with the big-picture mission of... being on a mission... after all, that's what it means to be Christian... it means that you're on a mission to help people.  And you should feel quite good about that.

Let's erase that answer from the board as well.  Because while the church is most definitely on a mission, the mere fact that you are on some mission does not mean that you're worshipping God.  Nor does it necessarily mean that you're loving God (or people) in the way that God commands.

True worship and true mission inform one another and flow into one another richly... but they are not interchangeable.

We do not have the right to reinterpret worship as mission.  Christian mission is both a result of worship and the joyful hope of more worship.  But let's stop confusing and conflating these categories.

There is another way.