Thursday, November 27, 2008

A Thanksgiving Prayer from the BCP

Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all that you have done for us. We thank you for the splendor of the whole creation, for the beauty of this world, for the wonder of life, and for the mystery of love.

We thank you for the blessing of family and friends, and for the loving care which surrounds us on every side.

We thank you for setting us at tasks which demand our best efforts, and for leading us to accomplishments which satisfy and delight us.

We thank you also for those disappointments and failures that lead us to acknowledge our dependence on you alone.

Above all, we thank you for your Son Jesus Christ; for the truth of his Word and the example of his life; for his steadfast obedience, by which he overcame temptation; for his dying, through which he overcame death; and for his rising to life again, in which we are raised to the life of your kingdom. Grant us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know him and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, may give thanks to you in all things. Amen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Under the Impact Advent 2

As you celebrate Advent and prepare for the coming of our Lord, meditate on these words.

"Because Jesus Christ is God, he not only make God known but what he does is work of God. Hid word and deed is the word and deed of God. His love and compassion is the love and compassion of the Father. When he forgives that is the very forgiveness of God ... 'There is no God behind the back of Jesus.' In other words there is no other God than the one we see in Jesus and no act of God other than the act of Jesus. The word and act of Jesus and of the Father are identical. The deity of Jesus is therefore the guarantee that the reconciliation we see and receive in him is the reconciliation of God himself" (From the editor's introduction to Incarnation: The Person and Life of Christ by Thomas F. Torrance).

Under the Impact of Advent 1

In an effort to work ahead a bit, I am doing some reading to prepare for our Church's celebration of Christmas. I need a way to collect highlights from my reading. Here's the first knock-it-out-of-the-park quote. "And so Jesus was born, the Son of the Highest, born from above. Jesus Christ was born into this world, not from it. He did not evolve out of humanity. He came into humanity. Jesus is not the product of man, but the Creator of man. He is not just the best human being; He is the Being who cannot be accounted for by the human race at all. Jesus is not man becoming God, but God becoming man--God incarnate, God descending into human flesh, coming into it from outside and from above, in order to be one of us, and to be one with us" (Thomas Torrance, When Christ Comes and Comes Again, 32-33).

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Introducing the Blue Parakeet: On Reading the Bible Well

There are very few authors (presently two), who when they write a new book, I automatically pre-order it through Amazon. One such author is North Park University’s Scot McKnight. He is most widely known for The Jesus Creed, and his blog by the same, name I didn’t have to pre-order his latest book, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, thanks to an advance reader copy mailed to me by Zondervan (after the release date, by the way). As we review chapter two, we will discuss why he has titled the book, The Blue Parakeet. But now onto his presentation in chapter one of the problem that his book addresses, namely the complicated issue of HOW we go about reading and especially applying the Bible.

Have you ever considered the complexity of applying a document that was not written directly to you? Basically, evangelical Christians are united in their commitment to the authority of Scripture. “We believe the Bible.” “It has authority in my life.” All this sounds simple enough. But how that authority moves from what Moses and Jeremiah said to Israel or what Jesus said to the Pharisees or what Paul and Peter and James and John said to 1st Century Churches to us in a 21st Century Church in Northern Illinois is quite a sticky issue! Conservative evangelicals, who believe in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, often accuse “liberals” of picking and choosing which texts to follow. McKnight, however, demonstrates that all of us deal with the complexity of applying Scripture by taking some texts seriously and conveniently ignoring others, or at least stripping them of their direct authority on us today. For example…

Do you keep Sabbath in a way that is faithful to the biblical command (Exodus 20.9-10)? Keeping the Sabbath according to the OT Law meant not working from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday? Do you obey this command in this way? Do you obey this command in a modified way (e.g. Sunday morning through Monday morning)? Do you ignore the command entirely? What reasoning, if any, leads you to your conclusion?

Do you tithe in a way that is faithful to the biblical command (Deuteronomy 26.12)? Tithing according to Scripture is not giving 10% of your income to a local church or other religious organization. According to OT Law, tithes are supposed to be given to the Levitical Priests and furthermore, to the poor, alien, orphan, and widow. As a Baptist preacher I can’t believe, I’m about to write this but the NT doesn’t even mention the tithe. So how do you respond to the OT command to tithe in the way described above? Again, what is your reasoning?

Do you wash feet in a way that is faithful to Jesus’ command (John 13.14)? In this passage, Jesus tells his disciples that they should wash each other’s feet in the same way he has washed theirs. Do you obey this command? Why or why not (And aversion to others’ feet is not an option)?

After citing several more examples, Scot encourages us to think about and ask questions about how we read the Bible and what method we follow in understanding Scripture and applying it to our context. This is why I have such an appreciation for his ministry. His overarching concern is for the Church to live out the Bible in our day. Because I have the same concern, I encourage you to think about and ask yourself the above three questions. Think about the way you read and apply the Bible. I’d love to hear what you learn about yourself and the story God is telling in Scripture.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

On Teresa of Avila's "Interior Castle"

Evangelicals have a one-sided view of salvation. Our understanding of the Gospel is so overly shaped by Pauline justification and his legal metaphor that we often have no room for what Jesus or the author/preacher of Hebrews or the Beloved Disciple has to say about salvation. How does the typical "Romans Road" presentation of the Gospel account for Jesus' response to the Rich Young Ruler? We need a much more biblically nuanced understanding of the Gospel that allows the many metaphors used in Scripture to reflect fully the reality they represent. Basically, I believe we need a more eschatological understanding of salvation. It is imperative that we read the Scriptures to say that salvation is a process that begins at conversion and will not be complete until resurrection. As a 16th-century member of the Spanish Carmelite Order, Theresa of Avila captured the NT orientation of Salvation as a process in her book, The Interior Castle. She understood the soul, when it is united to Christ, as analogous to a great castle with many rooms. Thus, the process of salvation is the gracious movement through each of the rooms until arrival at the center room where the Triune God fully dwells in unhindered love. The presence of God and his grace is evident in each of the rooms ever compelling his child to the center room as the climax of salvation’s process.

Within this castle metaphor, she also compares the process of salvation to the lifecycle of a silkworm. Listen to these words from our amazing sister.
…after the soul has received these favours (God’s gracious gifts that result in saving and transforming grace), it strives to make still farther progress, it will experience great things. Oh, to see the restlessness of this charming butterfly, although never in its life has it been more tranquil and at peace! May God be praised! It knows not where to stay nor take its rest; everything on earth disgusts it after what it has experienced, particularly when God has often given it this wine which leaves fresh graces behind it at every draught.

May God compel in us the grace to engage the restlessness of salvation’s process and to also show mercy to those in our Church community who restlessly struggle with God’s saving grace.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The World According to Andrew Peterson

One of my favorite artists of all time is Andrew Peterson. His ability as a lyricist to walk the fine distinctively Christian line between lament and exaltation, between reality and hope, is unparalleled. In October he will release a new album entitled Resurrection Letters, Volume 2. The first single is “All Things New,” and is available for download on iTunes. I absolutely love the lyrics in the bridge to the final chorus.
“The world was good. The world is fallen. The world will be redeemed.”

This is the entire Metanarrative of the Holy Scriptures. The one God’s original creation was good (Genesis 1-2). The Fall sent all creation (human and non-human) into exile away from God’s presence (Genesis 3, Romans 5). But the good Creator God promises to save His world by New Creation through His only begotten Son, Jesus. Jesus went into exile (death, separation from God), experienced a New Exodus (resurrection, ascension, and sending the Spirit), and promises to make all creation the Promised Land (at his Second Coming) for God’s people when God’s work of New Creation is complete.
“The world was good. The world is fallen. The world will be redeemed.”

Thanks AP.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Being Drawn to the Old Testament Part 2

As I concluded chapter 1 of Goldingay's weighty book, I was struck by these words.
“The Old Testament tells us who God is and who we are through the ongoing story of God’s relationship with Israel” (30).

“The specific OT story is of unique and decisive importance for the whole world, not least because it is the story that leads up to Jesus” (31)

This last quote was frustrating for me at first. Why is the OT story of unique and decisive important for the whole world? What does the story of a seemingly insignificant nation from the Ancient Near East have to do with us in 21st Century Northern Illinois? The answer, I think, is found in the first quote. The account of Yahweh's dealings with Israel in the OT tells us who God is and who we are. It seems clear from the NT and from Christian Theology that Israel has a revelatory purpose in God's plan. As the nations look at Israel, they learn how to understand God and they also look into a mirror. The story of Israel describes for us our condition when we are born into this broken world. As broken image-bearers we are born in "Egypt" under the wicked task-masters, sin, death, and Satan. We are born in exile, unable to serve and worship our Creator. Our need is Exodus. We must be graciously and miraculously redeemed out of Egypt by the mighty hand of God through the death of his "firstborn" Son. We need to learn how to pray for our daily bread in the wilderness while we wait for God to defeat our remaining enemies and give us the Promised Land. Indeed, the story of Israel is of unique and decisive importance because it tells us who God is and who we are.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Being Drawn to the Old Testament

Through a variety of recent circumstances my interest in Old Testament has been enhanced. One of these circumstances has been our community's exploration of God's Vision for a Local Church. Out of our desire to be faithful to the canonical text, I decided to spend significant time investigating God's intention for Old Testament Israel. One of the "thematic" verses to which we were drawn was Exodus 19.5-6
Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (NASB).
The words of Yahweh that seemed especially critical to our study were, " shall be to me a kingdom of priests..." What does this mean for Israel and God's plan for her as a nation? Did Israel ever fulfill her calling? Furthermore, what does God's plan for Israel have to do with a local church in Northern Illinois? These are complex questions that ought to be taken seriously. We don’t want to appeal for authority to the OT in a way the compromises the authority of the entire Canonical Story. This complexity drove me to Amazon to purchase two recommended OT Theology volumes by John Goldingay of Fuller Seminary: (1) Israel’s Gospel and (2) Israel’s Faith. My desire is to grasp with confidence how the Story of Israel in the OT can contribute to the community life of our church. I was not disappointed as I read the introduction. These words from volume 1 especially made me smile.
In principle I am not interested in OT theology as a merely theoretical discipline. I am interested in it because I have found that the OT has a capacity to speak with illumination and power to the lives of communities and individuals (18).
My reading will be driven by a prayerful desire to learn how the OT does speak with power and authority and illumination to a local church in Northern Illinois. Perhaps this is one means by which Israel functions as a priestly kingdom. Maybe her story in the OT functions as a revelatory sacrifice offered on behalf of the nations. May we as a church learn what God has for us contained within her offering. So here's a question for you to ponder. What authority does the OT Story of Israel exercise in your life? By the way, Scot McKnight is also blogging through these 2 volumes. His insights will far outweigh mine!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Trinitarian Center of Christian Worship

This Sunday we will be continuing our mini-series, "Critical Confessions for the Mission-shaped Church." As a we become more and more shaped by mission, the danger of losing our commitment to distinctively Christian doctrine rises. This is why I have chosen to focus on two central Christian confessions to which we must be tethered as we explore how to engage in mission. The second of these confessions is "The Trinitarian Center of Christian Worship." I believe that true Christian Worship forms us for real Christian mission. For this formation to take place I believe our worship must be explicitly Trinitarian. Here's a quote that defines Christian worship well and summarizes the direction for the sermon.

"Worship is the gift of participating through the Spirit in the incarnate Son's communion with the Father" (James B. Torrance).

Here's where I could use your help. What stands out to you about this quote? What surprises you? What do you like? What do you dislike? Your feedback well help sermon preparation! Thanks a bunch! I love my church family!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

A Mission Shaped by Hope

Presently, I am reading the insightful book by N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. In the final chapter, he argues that the hope that he has described in the book (a hope that is rooted in God's promise to recreate all things, including the physical bodies of his children) is intended to shape the mission of the Church. He writes:

"A mission-shaped church must have its mission shaped by its hope; that the genuine Christian hope, rooted in Jesus' resurrection, is the hope for God's renewal of all things, for his overcoming of corruption, decay, and death, for his filling of the whole cosmos with his love and grace, his power and glory ... Think through the hope that is ours in the gospel; recognize the renewal of creation as both the goal of all things in Christ and the achievement that has already been accomplished in the resurrection and go to the work of justice, beauty, evangelism, the renewal of space, time, and matter as the anticipation of the eventual goal and the implementation of what Jesus achieved in his death and resurrection."

I could not agree more heartily with Dr. Wright. Here is what I want to explore though. How does the NT link the hope of new creation to the mission of the church? I can already think of several times that the Apostle Paul makes the link. For example, after a lengthy exposition for the Corinthians of our hope of resurrection that is rooted in the resurrection of Christ, the second Adam, he concludes with this commission.

"Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor 15.58, NIV).

Thus, I would like to pose this question. "How does the NT root the mission of the Church in our hope that was secured by Easter?" This is especially relevant for our church as in God's providence, we prepare for Mission Month in April, right after we celebrate Easter!!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Confessions of a Small Gospel

Many are writing today about the smallness of the Gospel that many evangelicals are preaching. For example, Scot McKnight wrote an excellent article in Christianity Today this month on the need for "A More Robust Gospel."

One of the weaknesses of the gospel many are preaching today is that the Church is no where to be found. All too often it is never mentioned that a commitment to Christ also includes a commitment to his people. The Apostle Paul did not separate these two commitments. Rather he saw them as one and the same.

"... while we wait for the blessed hope--the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what it good" (Titus 2.14, NIV).

The Anglican theologian, John Stott, agrees. "From the Day of Pentecost onward it has been clear that conversion to Christ means also conversion to the community of Christ, as people turn from themselves to him, and from 'this corrupt generation' to the alternative society which he is gathering around himself. These two transfers--of personal allegiance and social membership--cannot be separated" (The Cross of Christ, pg. 249).

Therefore, brothers and sisters, let us love and proclaim the gospel that is as large as the one proclaimed by the Apostles!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

For the Victims of NIU Tragedy

O merciful Father, who hast taught us in thy holy Word that thou dost not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men: Look with pity upon the sorrows of thy servants for whom our prayers are offered. Remember the victims of the tragedy at Northern Illinois University and their families and loved ones, O Lord, in mercy, nourish their souls with patience, comfort them with a sense of thy goodness, lift up thy countenance upon them, and give them peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.