Saturday, November 30, 2013

Two Mountains

“‘Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain,’ declares the LORD, ‘which destroys the whole earth; I will stretch out My hand against you, and roll you down from the crags, and make you a burnt mountain. No stone shall be taken from you for a corner and no stone for a foundation, but you shall be a perpetual waste,’ declares the LORD...‘Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify her strong height, yet destroyers would come from Me against her,’ declares the LORD...‘Who are you, O great shall become a plain’” (Jeremiah 51:25,26,53; Zechariah 4:7).

“Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised in the city of our God! His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth, Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King. Within her citadels God has made Himself known as a we have heard, so have we seen in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God will establish forever...let Mount Zion be shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem...they shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth” (Psalm 48:1-3,8; Isaiah 2:2,3; 11:9; Daniel 2:34,35).

Father of glory (Zechariah 2:5), by the grace found through Christ alone (Zechariah 4:7), call us from one mountain to the other by Your Holy Spirit (Zechariah 4:6). We long to behold Your beauty, to be taught to walk according to Your will, and to see Your Kingdom expand into eternity. In Your temple all cry, “Glory” (Psalm 29:9)!

Thursday, November 28, 2013


This Thanksgiving, remember the meal for which the Lord gave thanks. It was the meal He commanded His people to observe, the meal that showed His shed blood on the cross to be the seal of the new covenant. With Jesus, give thanks for this meal that fills for more than an afternoon. It leads us into the fullness of eternity with our Father. “‘Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,’ declares the LORD. ‘But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the LORD: ‘I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more’” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Give thanks in the Supper, for it leads us to the grace of belonging and forgiveness, purchased for us solely by the shed blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28).

“And as they were eating, He took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And He said to them, ‘This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many’” (Mark 14:22-24).

“And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood’” (Luke 22:17-20).

“For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

“May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:11-14).

Eucharist. We are eternally thankful to the Father through the accomplished saving work of the Son on the cross, which has redeemed us, propitiated us, and sealed us in relationship with the God of grace. Give thanks, the "memorial being accompanied by a spiritual oblation of all possible praise to God for Calvary" (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 30.2).
"The Sacrament of the Last Supper," Salvador Dali (1955)

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Two Songs, Two Adams

Two traditions go along with Psalm 90. First, authorship of the Psalm is ascribed to Moses (also the author of the first five books of the Bible, including Genesis). Second, the Psalm is a song of Adam, the first human being.

Adam begins by singing to the Creator-God, Who was eternally God before the Creation. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever You had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting You are God” (90:2). This is in accord with Paul’s teaching that the Creation should point us to the eternal God: “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). This is Adam’s reflection on the Creation, written through Moses in Genesis 1-2. We know from experience, however, that there is a Genesis 3. Adam’s song continues to reflect this reality.

“You return man to dust and say, ‘Return, O children of man!’” (90:3).

“For we are brought to an end by Your anger; by Your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence. For all our days pass away under Your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away” (90:7-10).

This is the curse of Adam and all those in Adam:
  • “And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return’” (Genesis 3:17-19).
  • “...sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned...many died through one man’s trespass...because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one trespass led to condemnation for all the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Romans 5:12-21).
  • “ a man came Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:21,22).
  • “The first man was from the earth, a man of was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust...we have borne the image of the man of dust” (1 Corinthians 15:47-59).

As Adam’s Psalm sings, we are familiar with God’s wrath and we are acquainted with the shortness of our lives before we return to the dust as a result of that wrath. We also have in this Psalm testimony to Adam’s post-Fall faith in the promise of salvation through Christ, however. It involves a repentant reflection on sin and the deserved wrath, but looks forward by faith to the fulfillment of the promised curse of the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). The woman’s “offspring” (literally, “seed”) is the promised Christ Who came into the world the first Advent through the virgin (Luke 1:28-37) to destroy the works of the serpent (1 John 3:8). From Noah’s father (Genesis 5:28,29) to Simeon (Luke 2:25), God’s elect awaited the coming of this serpent-crusher.

Adam, along with his repentant consideration of his sin before an offended God (Psalm 90), made a confession of faith in the promise of Genesis 3:15 in the naming of his wife: “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20). She cannot be said to be the “mother of all living” in a merely biological sense because both he and she were under a sentence of death (Genesis 2:16,17; consider also the repetition of “and he died” in chapter 5). Adam’s naming of his wife is a statement of faith in the promise of a Savior coming through her seed Who would bring life to God’s people. Psalm 90 also shows this faith in the coming One: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on Your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with Your steadfast love [חסד, or covenant-love], that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as You have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil” (90:12-15).

Man was created to work (Genesis 1:28); contrary to the view of our culture, in fact, the commission to work is introduced by the verb “blessed.” Adam still had this understanding, and it is reflected in his song: “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” (90:17). This same attitude of seeing God’s favor and blessing in daily work is also seen in Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:12,13,22; 5:18-20; 8:15; 9:7-9; 11:8,9. Sadly, it would not take long for humanity to stop singing a prayer for God’s blessing over daily labor. Soon they would begin worshiping the work of their hands (Deuteronomy 4:28; 2 Kings 19:18; 22:17; 2 Chronicles 32:19; Psalm 115:4; 135:15; Isaiah 2:8; 37:19; Jeremiah 25:6; Hosea 14:3; Micah 5:13; Revelation 9:20). And they haven’t stopped.

Psalm 90 is the song of Adam, which Moses was inspired by the Holy Spirit to record for us. This is not the end of this story, however, for there is another Adam, and He, too, has a song: Psalm 91.

The apostle Paul describes Christ, the serpent-crushing seed of the woman, as the second Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:45). Psalm 91 is the song of the second Adam. The serpent knew this as he tempted the second Adam, not in a garden, but in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11//Luke 4:1-13). The serpent mis-applies Psalm 91:11,12 (after all, twisting Scripture worked the first time – Genesis 3:1-6). It is about Christ, but the serpent’s application of it – God’s protection means a life with no trauma – is faulty, and Christ sees right through it.

“Then the devil took Him to the holy city and set Him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down, for it is written [in Psalm 90:11,12], “‘He will command His angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written [in Deuteronomy 6:16], “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test”’” (Matthew 4:5-7).

So how are we to apply Psalm 91? Applying it immediately to ourselves falls quickly into the serpent’s way of application, for God’s people do experience difficulty and trial in this world. In fact, we are promised this tribulation (John 15:19,20; 16:33; Acts 14:22; Romans 8:36; 2 Timothy 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12)! Claiming Psalm 91 for ourselves will lead us into conflict with the words of Jesus and the apostles.

Psalm 91 is the song of the second Adam. In the verse immediately following the ones the serpent mis-applied, we have the Singer identified in connection with the original Gospel promise of the first Adam’s faith: “...the serpent You will trample underfoot” (91:13).

It is the song of One Who eternally was one with the Father, enjoying His presence. In this world it was Christ’s focus – returning to the presence of the Father, even if it was through the cross: “Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

The Singer of Psalm 91, the second Adam, rejoices in this eternal fellowship and Presence as a Person of the Trinity: “He Who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and My fortress, My God, in Whom I trust’...You have made the LORD Your dwelling place - the Most High, Who is My refuge” (91:1,2,9).

In return, God promises the Singer deliverance: “For He will deliver You from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover You with His pinions, and under His wings You will find refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. A thousand may fall at Your side, ten thousand at Your right hand, but it will not come near You. You will only look with Your eyes and see the recompense of the evil shall be allowed to befall You, no plague come near Your tent. For He will command His angels concerning You to guard You in all Your ways. On their hands they will bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent You will trample underfoot” (91:3-8,10-13).

Reading the prayer of the grieved Soul in the garden of Gethsemane and then the torture and crucifixion, it may seem that the song was sung in vain. He wasn’t rescued or preserved, it seems.

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46//Mark 15:34). Another song of Christ (Psalm 22:1). After hearing Him sing this one through split lips with ragged breath, how can we believe that He sings Psalm 91, as well? How can we reconcile these two? The writer of Hebrews brings it together for us. “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him Who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). “He was heard”? Is this mockery? He prayed for deliverance from death and still died! How can the writer say that Christ’s prayer for deliverance “was heard”?

Because of the resurrection. The apostle Peter tells us that David pens another Psalm which prophetically saw the resurrection: “...this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it. For David says concerning Him [in Psalm 16:8-11], ‘I saw the Lord always before Me, for He is at My right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore My heart was glad, and My tongue rejoiced; My flesh also will dwell in hope. For You will not abandon My soul to Hades, or let Your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to Me the paths of life; You will make Me full of gladness with Your presence.’ Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that He would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God...” (Acts 2:23-33).

This is not the song of a problem-free life, but the song of the eternal Son of God Who added humanity to His eternal deity and became the promised serpent-crusher, the Awaited One. This is not the song of health and wealth in this broken world, but the song of the One Whose heel was bruised by the serpent even as He crushed that serpent’s head. This is not the song of terrestrial utopia, but of a passing through death into eternal life in the presence of Joy Himself.

“We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over Him” (Romans 6:9).

“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living One. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (Revelation 1:17,18).

Psalm 91 is the song of the second Adam, Who enters the world to save us from the curse through His death and returns to the presence of God after the resurrection: “Because He holds fast to Me in love, I will deliver Him; I will protect Him, because He knows My name. When He calls to Me, I will answer Him; I will be with Him in trouble; I will rescue Him and honor Him. With long life I will satisfy Him and show Him My salvation” (91:14-16).

Sing Psalm 90, Church. In repentance sing of the curse of a temporary life under wrath that soon enough will return to dust. Sing of the gracious mercy of the covenant-God, Who calls us to faith in Him the days of the labor and toil which He has given us.

Sing Psalm 91, Church. Sing of the One Who left the eternal Presence of God and came to crush the serpent’s head. Sing of the One Who did not yield to a world-loving mis-application of Scripture, but kept His faith placed on God alone even through death unto resurrection. Put your faith in Him alone for your salvation, for He does not go to the Presence of God for Himself alone. He goes to lead us home. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).

Sing the songs of Adam, Church.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Desolation at the Waning of the Year

“They were come to the Desolation of the Dragon, and they were come at the waning of the year.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Hobbit”

It can be overwhelming. Before this Tolkien wrote, “it was a weary journey...there was no laughter or song or sound of harps...they knew that they were drawing near to the end of their journey, and that it might be a very horrible end. The land about them grew bleak and barren...” A lot of believers have this perspective as they look at sin’s effects in the world and in their own lives. However, the “desolation” is not the whole of the picture, especially for believers. Let’s sit at the feet of the apostle who himself saw the dragon in vision (Revelation 12:1-17; 20:1-3).

This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all...if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin...I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for His name's sake. I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him Who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I write to you, children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know Him Who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions - is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us...whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil...beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He Who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error...we know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 1:5,7; 2:12-19; 3:8; 4:1-6; 5:18,19).

Yes, John saw the dragon and his effects on the world. That wicked serpent has been lying and producing offspring in the world from the beginning (Genesis 3:1-15; John 8:44) – his work is not limited to the “end times” (did you notice that John said it was the “last hour” two millennia ago?). Throughout human history the desolation of the dragon has been wrought in every generation, every corner of the earth, every place in the human heart and mind. But this is not the whole of the story. As we walk through the Desolation of the Dragon in the waning of the year, may we walk in fellowship with the Father and the Son (and therefore each other). Let us walk in Christ’s victory over the works of the dragon. Let us walk in His light, His forgiveness. Let us walk in His protection from the love of the world, the false prophets, and the antichrists who rise up within the congregation and then go forth, cringing under the bright light of the truth of the Word of God. The song-less gloom is not the spirit of the saint redeemed and re-born in Christ, no matter how loudly the spin doctors of darkness tell us to be in fear.

Rejoice in the Father through the Lord Jesus Christ, walking in the light by the power of the Spirit of truth, walking together as the Church, walking in victory over the Desolation of the Dragon at the waning of the year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

First and Second Causes: a Brief Illustration

God has decreed in Himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things which shall ever come to pass. Yet in such a way that God is neither the author of sin nor does He have fellowship with any in the committing of sins, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established...although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, Who is the First Cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that nothing happens to anyone by chance, or outside His providence, yet by His providence He orders events to occur according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently” (1689 Baptist Confession, 3.1; 5.2).

An illustration:
  • Second Causes: “Now the Philistines fought against Israel, and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. And the Philistines overtook Saul and his sons, and the Philistines struck down Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchi-shua, the sons of Saul. The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, ‘Draw your sword and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and mistreat me.’ But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died. Thus Saul died; he and his three sons and all his house died together” (1 Chronicles 10:1-6).
  • First Cause: “So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. He did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse” (1 Chronicles 10:13,14).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Congregationalism and the Head of the Church

“Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord” (Baptist Faith & Message 2000, VI).

I was thinking about our congregational polity this morning in the shower (don’t judge!). Two brief flashbacks came into my mind:
  • First is that of being grilled by a Presbyterian professor in a DMin seminar. “Isn’t that just mob rule?” he asked me (he was a pretty aggressive guy...the most aggressive of any professor I’ve had). I wasn’t sure how to answer that honestly...because I’ve seen decisions made by congregations that certainly seemed that way.
  • Second, a few years ago we were in the process of hiring an associate minister. This congregation where I serve had a conflict in its past between ministers. Several people came up to me and said, “be careful not to hire anyone who will want your job.” Honestly, that statement amused me – because we have congregational polity! I was hired by a majority vote from the congregation, and it would take a majority vote of the congregation to remove me and replace me! I’m not sure the ambitions of a potential new staff member should be my greatest concern if I was worried about job security (which I was not).

Congregational polity’s an interesting thing. While it seems – on the surface – to put a heavy emphasis on the free will of man, a biblically accurate understanding of Christ as the Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22; 5:23; Colossians 1:18) means that it lifts up the sovereignty of God as He manifests it through the free decisions of human beings! We say things like, “the Lord speaks through the majority vote.” A dubious assertion (how many understand it), but still a common one.

I get asked about how we are supposed to reconcile the sovereignty of God and the free will of man at least once a month (usually more), and all the while our congregational polity (as we ideally confess and understand it) is a picture of that theological reconciliation. I’m assuming here that congregationalists don’t think they are the head of the church through their democratic voting...I’ll speak to these “practical atheists” in a moment.

Christ is the Head of the Church + congregational polity = a strong understanding of the providence of God! Who knew?!

“Although in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, Who is the First Cause, all things come to pass immutably and infallibly; so that nothing happens to anyone by chance, or outside His providence [including democratic church votes], yet by His providence He orders events to occur according to the nature of second causes [including democratic church votes], either necessarily, freely, or the providence of God in general reaches to all creatures, so, in a more special manner, it takes care of His church, and governs all things to the good of His church” (1689 Baptist Confession 5.2,7). God the Son manifests His sovereignty (the First Cause) through the democratic votes (the second causes) of His Church to their ultimate good.

Anything less than this understanding seems to place the decisions of the congregation above (or, at best, on equal footing) with the authority of Christ the Head of the Church! A church member casting a vote outside of a prayerful, Scripture-searching, fear-of-God, Kingdom-centered attitude is a rebellious insurrectionist against the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ! Think about that next time you’re grumbling that the vote on carpet color didn’t go your way!

What about the votes that are wrong (and by that I mean that my view ended up being the minority)? That happens, I know. It’s happened to me a few times (in a congregational polity the pastor only gets one vote, too, you know). Well, I have a high view of the sovereignty of God and understand that He uses second causes (like votes) to accomplish His purpose – even if that purpose is to discipline a congregation for its narrow-minded worldliness or to humble a pastor who thinks his influence over the people is bigger than it is. So often He confounds us to humble us, teach us, correct us, or draw us closer to Himself (and further away from our stubborn desire to be in charge). Let me switch gears a little by way of illustration. It’s always fascinating and amazing to me how God assembles this congregation. We’ve have emergent types come (voluntarily) to sit for years under the teaching of this Reformed Baptist preacher. Folks have joined who are more politically-active than I am, like church programs more than I do, prefer different music, have different eschatological views, are non-Calvinist, etc. I’m never threatened by them, and don’t insist Darth Vader-style that they join me on the dark side or anything. When folks very different from myself willingly and even joyfully sit under teaching they shouldn’t like at all for long periods of time (and maybe even join the church), I ask God, “what are you teaching me in this season? How are they guiding us as a congregation into more perfect Christ-likeness?” You see, I trust His sovereignty. When an emergent, or politically-passionate, or dispensationalist is brought by God into this covenant community, I look to the Head of the Church for wisdom, guidance, and vision. He’s building His Church, and His sovereignty shines especially when she’s not made up of clones of myself! I’m not going to compromise my preaching/teaching to accommodate these different flavors, but I’m not going to argue them into submission, either. I’ll keep preaching/teaching the way I have been and trust the power of the Spirit through His Word. He is the Head of the Church. I am not. He – through the democratic vote of a richly varied congregation – has placed me in the pulpit for this season of the life of this congregation, and I will serve Him with as much faithfulness to His Word as I possibly can, being the chief of sinners in this family of faith.

Let me say this about those who think votes don’t require prayer, Scripture meditation, consistent attendance in corporate worship or Bible studies, Kingdom focus, or submission to Jesus Christ the Head. You may have a right to vote, but I don’t condone it or respect it. Your opinion on the state of things and the direction we should be going is merely that: your little opinion. When I called you a “practical atheist” or “rebellious insurrectionist” above, I meant it fully. Be warned: God may use your godless vote to discipline or mature His people for His glory, but He’ll still judge you for your paganism. The Bible’s full of examples of how God’s used this double-edged means of working through second causes. I don’t know of any specific examples of this in our congregation these pleasant days of unity, but for anyone else out there, the warning’s been issued. You are "responsible and accountable Christ as Lord," and He loves His Bride enough to die for her. He is wholly dedicated to her holiness (Ephesians 5:27). Don't think you can use her to build your own little kingdom without consequence.

I’m glad to hear the congregation vote on things. Recently my “Sunday afternoon” congregation 98 miles south of here voted to be far more generous to our state convention’s children’s home than I would have ever suggested. I rejoiced and marveled at their willingness to be more generous than myself. I wasn’t resistant to the idea – I just wasn’t thinking as big as they were and needed to get a larger vision! That sort of thing happens often. God fills His congregations with people and then speaks through them in ways, approaches, ideas, and visions greater than those I have as a limited little man. And I give Him glory and thanks every time it happens.

Congregational polity. Just like the democratic process in this country, it’s easy to unceasingly complain about those in office (elected by the majority of our neighbors!) and the current state of things. Unless you look to Who’s actually in charge. May we in democratically-guided congregations learn to be teachable, humble, and thankful to the First Cause Who is working through the second-cause votes, even when they seem to run counter to His revealed wisdom at first glance. The voice of the glorified Jesus speaks in Revelation 2-3 to problem congregations, and we benefit from the warnings...but He also speaks to congregations right on track, and we benefit from their examples. Christ the Head speaks to and through His Church. Are you prayerfully seeking Him in the minutes of the business meeting? He’s speaking. It’s either encouragement and vision or warning and correction, but He’s speaking.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Re-Posting on Rest

I wrote this post on the church's blog earlier this year and had it on my mind this morning - it compares the de-volution of Southern Baptists' confession about the holiness of the Lord's Day over the last century.

I'm reading Walt Chantry's great work Today's Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic, and came across this comment on the evangelistic preaching of the Law of God:
"The present moment of history finds more ignorance of God's Law than in many previous generations. The pulpit ignores Exodus 20. Even church members despise the fourth command, 'Remember the Sabbath day.' How can the world feel guilty in the neglect of worship?" (pg. 29).

"The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:8//Mark 2:28//Luke 6:5). In addition to being a clear statement of Jesus' self-identification as God Himself, the Lord's confession ought to make His followers take the Sabbath seriously. While the Sabbath command is part of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:8-11//Deuteronomy 5:12-15), it is even more fundamentally a Creation ordinance (Genesis 2:1-3). The mandate of Sabbath is, in a sense, the meeting point of general revelation (how God reveals Himself through Creation - Romans 1:20) and special revelation (the Bible). We would do well not to live dismissively of this idea!

Have you considered the Sabbath? Have you searched the Word to see how we are called to live this command out in light of the new covenant in Jesus Christ? If the old covenant shadow was taken very seriously, how much more reverently should we regard the day that now marks the beginning of our eternal peace and rest because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, the firstfruits of all those who will follow Him by faith (Acts 26:23; 1 Corinthians 15:20,23; Colossians 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3; Revelation 1:5)? How do you hallow the new covenant Sabbath in your life?