Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Thoughtful Response to God

God honoring and God pleasing worship cannot be manufactured by artificial means.  Whether you like formal music or more contemporary, whether you build a beautiful building and everyone dresses up or if you have a very liturgical order of service or even if you have a quiet atmosphere; these things aren't in themselves the worship of God.  They can aid in worship and should be addressed and have their place but potentially have nothing to do with worship.

As I was thinking through these things the expression that came to me was that worship is a thoughtful response to the revelation of God to our hearts and minds.  This is why Jesus told the Samaritan woman that those that worship God must do so in Spirit and Truth.  I believe the worship God seeks is for us to consider carefully his Word and respond properly to it out of a sincere love for his person.  If we do this properly his Truth will transform the way we think and live.  The atmosphere of the setting in which we hear his Word (church service) can either facilitate this or hinder it but the worship is when we hear from God and our hearts and minds are so struck by it that we can't leave the service the same as we came.

This happens all the time in the world when people read after their idols and seek to be like them.  Perhaps your idol is some business man who you want to pattern your business after and so you read everything you can from him.  Or suppose someone's idol is a movie star.  They are so consumed with that person that they study everything about him or her that they can; they watch every movie and they pattern their life after them or live vicariously through them.  This is what we were created to do towards the Lord.  To be so consumed with his person that we can't get enough of him, we can't hear enough of his Word and we can't do enough to please him.

When we sit in church or anywhere else and find fullness of life and satisfaction in learning of his glorious person and his glorious works and his redemption of sinners to the point that it transforms the way we think and live then we are giving him proper worship.  Emotion that comes from Truth is worshipful emotion.  Emotion that comes from man made music and atmospheres is not.  It might not be sinful but let's not confuse it with worshiping the Lord.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Jonathan Edwards on Guilt and Fear

I thought these words from Jonathan Edwards, expanded on by John Piper are not only good but especially so in our age in which we deny Hell and are afraid of guilt.  Piper says in "The Supremacy of God in Preaching":

"The use of threat or warning in preaching to the saints is rare today for at least two reasons:  It produces guilt and fear, which are considered to be unproductive, and it seems theologically inappropriate because the saints are secure and don't need to be warned or threatened.  Edwards rejected both reasons.  'When fear and guilt correspond with the true state of things it is reasonable and loving to stir them up.  And the saints are only as secure as they are willing to give heed to biblical warnings and persevere in godliness.'"  "Let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall", 1 Cor. 10:12.

But Edwards realized that love was the highest motivator.  "Holy love and hope are more efficacious to make the heart tender and to fill it with a dread of sin than is the slavish fear of Hell."  Then Piper makes a great statement:

"Preaching about hell is never an end in itself.  You can't frighten anyone into heaven.  Heaven is for people who love purity, not for people who simply loathe pain."  Edwards is then quoted for balance:

"Some talk of it as an unreasonable thing to think to fright persons to heaven; but I think is is a reasonable thing to endeavor to fright persons away from hell - tis a reasonable thing to fright a person out of a house on fire."

When we see thirty youth walking into convenience stores at a predetermined time to causally steal whatever they want and then leave daring anyone to stop them we can be pretty sure they aren't sitting under the preaching of Hell, Fire and Damnation!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills

The other day I was considering Jesus’ words in Matthew chapter 6.  Here Jesus says that we do not have to give ourselves over to taking care of the body or accumulating wealth for security since God is quite capable of providing for us.  This frees us up to focus on obeying and serving him even when it looks like doing so will put us into physical danger or need.

I was thinking of scriptures and songs that taught this and the song, “This Is My Father’s World” came to mind.  I also thought of the old song, “He Owns The Cattle On A Thousand Hills”.  But when I turned to Ps. 50 I noticed something interesting.  The context of this statement was not about God’s ability to provide for us but instead something equally if not more important.

Now to be sure, the fact that God owns all the earth and everything and everyone in it infers that we will be adequately provided for; so I don’t have a problem with this fact being used in the song to make this point.  But the context has to do with the silly and sinful notion that somehow we are impressing God or providing something for him when we bring a sacrifice to him.  The point is that some of the Israelites thought that the sacrifices were the end in themselves.  Evidently they thought that regardless of how sinful I am and how much my life is offensive to a holy God, as long as I bring him an animal he is happy. 

But God says in Ps. 50 that he already owns the animals.  They aren’t filling some need of his let alone pacifying his wrath against sin by offering a sacrifice to him that is already his to begin with.  He says, “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”  They were failing to realize that these sacrifices couldn’t be the main point but that they pointed to something else.  In other words, the very nature of God should have caused them to realize that such pitiful “gifts” couldn’t actually make things right with God. 

What makes our lives acceptable to the Lord is that we live to honor him.    This is primarily shown in that we find our joy and fulfillment in knowing him.  To think that we can bribe him with something that is his just makes our sin more apparent; it does nothing to attain forgiveness and fellowship.  He goes on to say that while you are bribing me you continue to walk in ways that I hate. 

Unlike all false gods, the True God isn’t satisfied as long as we jump through a series of moral or ritualistic hoops that he has arbitrarily set up.  The only thing that proves that we love him is that we long to be like him.  These Israelites were not interested in hearing what God had to say since they "hated discipline and cast his words behind them"; they were pleased when they saw people doing evil; they spent their time with the wicked; they gossiped and slandered and threw God a dead animal now and then as if God was so low, petty and shallow that he would be satisfied with this.

But he gives us a weighty warning in vs. 21, “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. Psa 50:22  "Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! Psa 50:23  The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!"

First of all anything we do and say that suggests that God is like us is wrong.  This happens a lot in our day when people suggests that God is evil or unjust in some way because he doesn’t express his love and justice the way we think he should.  Railing against the providence of God is bringing his wrath upon you at worst and refusing to rejoice always at best. 

Then he says to get his next point because if you don’t you are in danger of his eternal wrath.  He is much more concerned with what is going on inside your heart than the religious activity.  The sacrifices he wants are the ones that arise from hearts full of thanksgiving and worship.  But then he balances this out.  He did not make humans with two parts, a body and a soul, that can be viewed separately as if they can live independently from each other.  What makes us human is that they cannot be independent.  We cannot let our body do what it wants and pretend that this doesn’t arise from within.  So he finishes by saying that the one who is right on the inside will be right on the outside. 

We cannot live an ungodly life and be clean on the inside.  On the other hand, good works and religious activity won’t clean up an evil heart.  When the Lord saves us he gives us a new heart or a new nature and this necessitates a new walk.  Perhaps Romans 6:4 says it as well as anywhere,  “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”  Lest we think salvation is just positional and doesn’t have to affect the way we live in vs. 6-7 he adds some commentary, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

There are two things that the Old and New Testaments teach exactly the same; salvation is by grace alone and it comes with a new heart.  Nowhere does it teach that we can earn it or continue to live as we did before once we have it.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Pristine Societies

The other day I came across a video on the internet about a Amazon tribe that was supposedly one of the last people on earth to be exposed to “civilization”.  Of course, the premise was that they were better off left alone and great care was being taken to leave them that way lest they be “corrupted” by modern civilization.  For this to be true certain presuppositions have to be true. 

First of all evolution and naturalism must be true.  One must suppose that the highest level of life is achieved by living close to nature and that having to live in a society that has pollution and is given over to greed and materialism is far worse than living in poverty and at least the air is clean and none of western civilization’s social mores are ruining your life.  Along with this is the presupposition that there is nothing after death and so if one can eke out a few peaceful years on earth nothing more can be hoped for.

What such presuppositions fail to take into consideration is that isolation from western society while protecting from a few things also quarantines one from the gospel.  Thus a society left alone condemns everyone to a Christless eternity.  We might also add that while modern society certainly has a lot to be ashamed of and is full of crime, avarice, pollution and all sorts of corruption, supposedly pristine societies are no better.  Watch any “nature” show and you will see them living in filth, poverty, rampant disease and as much violence and moral decay as seen anywhere.

The reason is obvious.  “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God”.  You can take a few godly souls and put them on a deserted island but soon their society will be as evil as any before it (read the American experience).  It is popular to depict the Native Americans as peaceful cultures that lived close to the earth and had a healthy respect for the land and that the White man spoiled it all.  For sure, the Europeans acting out their sinful ways treated them unfairly and in many cases cruel and inhumane, but their cultures treated themselves the same way.  But with all the bad that happened to them so also came the gospel. 

This won’t mean much to those who see religion as part of the problem and have no idea who God is but to those Indians who were saved, without the invasion of the Europeans they would have no hope of salvation.  Sin is sin and nothing can justify mistreating our fellow man but let’s be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that anyone is better off being left alone, isolated from the world.  If we hear of a tribe who has never seen anyone from the outside world then pray that the Lord of the Harvest would send the gospel to them.

Yes, in a few years they might be driving cars, dealing with smog and watching television but at least they have the opportunity to hear of Christ.  It is only after the world contacts these people that we have any hope that there is any elect among them.  Their greatest danger isn’t modernity with all its social ills; it is to never hear that Jesus Christ came to earth to save sinners.