Let your worship be your witness

Let Your Worship Be Your Witness

In a sermon I preached a few weeks ago, one of our application points was:

let your worship be your witness.

We didn’t have time to unpack this so in the next few paragraphs we’ll make an attempt at scratching a little deeper. If you want to catch the entire message for context we were studying was Acts 3:1-10. Throughout the morning, we asked ourselves the question: “do you see the lame beggar“? You can catch the recorded podcast on iTunes, or stream it from the CCCTO website, where the PowerPoint is also available for download.

Nowadays it seems that the Christian faith has been reduced to “right living”. We spend so much time talking about what you should do so that people will see God through you. After all, that is what it means to be “kingdom minded” right? Live according to the Bible, and other people will see Jesus. May I propose that that statement is not incorrect, but rather that it is incomplete. If we are to be kingdom minded, we must see Jesus first.

How does this relate to the story of the lame beggar in Acts? Starting in Acts 3:2 we see the beginning of the incredible transformation of a man who was lame from birth. This man had never walked a day in his life. However after the miracle performed through the hands of Peter, the man regained strength in his feet and ankles. He is transformed from being lame from birth to having the strength to stand for the very first time. But did this man only stand? In Acts 3:8 we see that he leaps up, begins to walk, and then enters the temple with Peter and John, “walking and leaping and praising God.” Realizing the incredible gift he has received, not only does he stand, but he walks and leaps to the praise and glory of God, the giver of the gift.

If you have placed your faith in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have received a gift that is incomparable to anything else. Remember that you were just like the lame beggar, lame from birth. It is only through Jesus’ death and resurrection for your sins that you could be reconciled to God.

The encouragement is simple.

Christian, if you have been saved, live like it.

Live like it in community with the local church, just as the lame beggar entered the temple gates with Peter and John (Acts 3:8). Live like it individually, just as the lame beggar leapt and danced.

And what is the result? As we continue on into verses 9 and 10 we see that, “all the people saw him walking and praising God; and they were taking note of him as being the one who used to sit at the Beautiful Gate of the temple to beg alms, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.” The lame beggar understood the depth of what had happened, and his joy was apparent to those around him. His worship was his witness. He did not just stand there.

Where every person is along that progression is different. Some may still be like the lame beggar sitting at the gate. Others may have received the gift at one time, but are simply standing. And others may be leaping and dancing.

We all were crippled by sin from birth, helpless to save ourselves from the penalty of sin, but God has shown us grace and mercy by sending His son to die on the cross as a substitutionary atonement. When we understand this and respond in faith, we will worship (we will leap and jump) and the world will see and come to know Jesus Christ is Lord.

Reading Scripture, Remythologizing Love

God is Love

I recently picked up a copy of Kevin Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action, Passion, and Authorship. As an amateur reader, I’m not qualified to comment at length about his argument (I’m also barely 1/3 of the way through). Vanhoozer’s remythologizing is actually a response against certain strands of liberal theology, which “demythologize” God, debunking the idea that God is some supernatural being “out there.” To quote Rudolf Bultmann: “The question of God and the question of myself are identical.” Thus, liberal theology collapses the God/world distinction. In contrast to the demythologizers, Vanhoozer starts with the fact that God speaks. God is a God who communicates to us and says things about Himself. But Vanhoozer is not only serious about what God says, but also about how God says what He says.

At least, that’s what I’ve gathered so far (my apologies if you stumbled onto this blog expecting a review/critique of Vanhoozer’s work).

Well, all that heavy theologizing got me thinking about the relationship between God’s Word and my main area of service (youth group). In particular, I wonder whether the conscience of our upcoming youth takes its cues from culture or from the sound doctrine of Scripture. There is evidence, I think, that we’ve been lulled into thinking about God on our terms, rather than thinking about ourselves on His terms.

Take, for example, the way we talk about God’s love. As a volunteer in my church’s youth group (myself being a graduate of evangelical youth culture), I have seen how middle-school, high-school, even college age students latch onto the idea of love as the preferred way of thinking about, talking about, and relating to God. God loves us, we say, and we ought to love God back. Love is the catch-all term. No doubt, “God is Love,” as 1 John 4:16 says. Unfortunately, I fear that our concept of love is derived not from Scripture, but from our favorite worship song/band, Christian book, or (even worse) pop culture. Instead of seeking to understand the covenant-keeping love proclaimed in the Word, we content ourselves with speaking of God’s love in romantically-driven, politically-correct, or moralistic terms.

  • Romantically-driven: For example, how many of our favorite worship songs might as well be love songs? It’s a problem when replacing every occurrence of “God” or “Jesus” with your girlfriend’s/boyfriend’s name doesn’t really make a difference in the song.
  • Politically-correct: When we, in the name of love, condone lifestyles (not just homosexuality, mind you, but also, say, premarital sex) that are clearly prohibited in Scripture, we can be sure that our concept of love comes more from culture rather than from Christ.
  • Moralistic: Too often, our practice of Christianity amounts to being “nice” to each other so that we can all be “happy.”

This will not do. To quote Vanhoozer (quoting another author), “Projecting even our best thoughts about love falls short of the divine reality: ‘When we equate God simply with anything that is true, good, or beautiful, then it is those things which define God, rather than God who defines them’ ” (176). We must not make God in our own image, constructing a bigger version – an idol – of ourselves. Romantic love blown up to superhuman proportions is not the love of God. This is to commit the mistake of the Greeks, whose gods were merely humans, super-sized. It is to demythologize God, collapsing the distinction between Creator and creature.

Humans are prone to idolatry. To counteract this tendency, our patterns of thought must always be renewed by Scripture. Vanhoozer puts it well (161-2):

The solution is to focus on the form of Jesus Christ. While human individuals and societies image God inconsistently, the person of Jesus – and this includes his way of relating to others – is the “image of the invisible God” (Cor 1:15). The New Testament fills out with specific content what would otherwise remain abstract, identifying the image that Jesus makes visible with “true righteousness and holiness” (Eph 4:24; cf. Col 3:10-15). Even these notions need to be “earthed,” and we do this by identifying them with the concrete pattern of action, reaction, and interaction that characterizes the life of Jesus. That means attending to the Biblical mythos that renders his identity.

To understand God’s love rightly, we must look at Jesus Christ, and this means paying attention to what God has said in the Bible. Again, this is not the Jesus of pop culture, the buddy Jesus, or anyone other than the Jesus attested to and revealed in Scripture. Vanhoozer takes God’s speaking seriously, and so should we. To speak truly of God, we must allow His way of speaking of Himself to shape our way of speaking of Him.

This is not to say that worship songs or other secondary sources are unhelpful. These should serve a ministerial (pointing us towards God) rather than a magisterial (defining God for us) function. Songs extolling God’s love will lead us into the heart of worship only if our knowledge of His love is constantly being informed and renewed by Scripture. There is no true worship without an understanding of His Word.

So I’ll end this post where Vanhoozer begins his book – with God speaking in the Scriptures. Working through Vanhoozer’s Remythologizing has reminded me of the importance of reading the Bible and reading it well. “All Scripture is God-breathed” and has the power to change the way we live, think, and act. That’s something we all need to hear. May God have mercy on us, for unless He first speaks to us, our best thoughts will still fall short of His glory.

Daily Bible Reading

Daily Bible Reading

One of the acronyms for the Bible is Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. It instructs us how to act: don’t lie, don’t cheat and so on and so forth. It instructs us how to interact with other people: love your neighbor as yourself and pray for your enemies. It instructs us how to pray: Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Yet, the Bible is more than basic instructions before leaving earth. In reading it, we get to know our God more. It is one of the ways to develop a deeper relationship with God. In reading it, we grow in holiness and we become transformed into the image of the only Begotten Son. We learn what it means to be a Christian.

Yet, the sad reality is daily Bible reading has ceased to exist in our lives. The Bible is forgotten throughout the week. The sad thing is we are okay with that attitude. We are okay with not reading our Bibles daily. We are okay with not communing with God daily. We are okay with not growing spiritually. We are okay, we are fine. That is scary, when our attitude towards not reading the Bible is we are okay with that.

Perhaps we don’t make Bible reading a normal part of our lives is because it is hard to understand. If we find that the Bible is hard to understand then we are in good company. The apostle Peter declared that the apostle Paul’s writings are hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:16b). Just because it is hard to understand, it does not mean that it cannot be understood.

There is no doubt that there are some secret things in Scripture (Deut. 29:29), but the words of Augustine are suitable for the mysteries of Scripture. Augustine writes, “Although many things in the scripture be spoken in obscure mysteries, yet there is nothing spoken under dark mysteries in one place, but the selfsame thing in other places is spoken more familiarly and plainly, to the capacity both of learned and unlearned.  And those things in the scripture that be plain to understand, and necessary for salvation, every man’s duty is to learn them, to print them into memory, and effectually to exercise them.  and as for the dark mysteries, to be contented to be ignorant in them until such time as it shall please God to open those things unto him.  In the mean season, if he lack either aptness or opportunity, God will not impute it to his folly.” Too often, we declare Scripture too hard and mysterious because we don’t read other parts of the Bible. In others words, if one part of the Bible is hard to understand and mysterious then there are other parts of the Bible that might explain the hard and mysterious verses, chapters, or subjects.

Another factor that should encourage us to make Bible reading a part of our daily routine is we have the Holy Spirit. One of the tasks of the Spirit is to teach and instruct believers in the Word. We are not left alone to understand God’s Word when we read. We are not left to resources, human wisdom. We have the Author of the Scripture to help us understand the Word. We need to read prayerful and meditatively if we want to get anything out of God’s Word.

The question at the end of the day is do we want to know God more intimately? If so, make Bible reading a part of your life. It is okay if the Bible is hard to understand and has mysteries because we have the Spirit to guide us through it all.

Doxology

Philippians 4:20

Every week in Thousand Oaks a group of young adults meet to study the word and pray with one another. We jokingly named ourselves “Semi Pro” two years ago. How God brought us together and how he has grown and challenged us is an encouraging story I enjoy telling to whoever will listen. But that is something I’ll save for another post.

This past week we finished our series on the book of Philippians. As we stepped through Paul’s letter verse by verse, we came across verses that many of us are familiar with.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Phil. 1:21

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… – Phil. 3:7-8

12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of byChrist Jesus. – Phil. 3:12

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Phil. 4:4-7

The book of Philippians, like many other epistles, is rich with memorable verses like these. We underline them in our Bibles, and commit them to memory. They become the “meat” of the book and everything else around it becomes some sort of “filler”. As I prepared for our final study, I struggled with the last set of verses. They read:

20 Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Should I have just bundled Philippians 4:20-23 with the previous study? Verse 20 sounded great, but it almost seemed like it was randomly inserted in the letter. We find other similar verses “plopped” into some of Paul’s other letters:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. -Rom. 11:33-36

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. -Eph. 3:20-21

These all fall into the category of “doxology”. Whenever I used hear the word doxology I thought a song in a hymn book. It was something I remembered singing at the end of a church service. Lots of words that I didn’t ever bother thinking twice about. Words sang to a melody without an understanding of the reason why it was being sung.

So what is doxology? It literally means word of glory. It is words that offer praise to God. When we look at these examples, we find that each of these follows after Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has penned truths about God.

In the example from Philippians chapter 4, Paul explodes into doxology after the statement that HIS God will supply all needs. This is not a distant God that he has heard a thing or two about. This is HIS God. The God who turned a murderer into a missionary on the road to Damascus. The God who demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, sent Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:8). This is the God that Paul knows intimately. This is HIS God. And at this point Paul is absolutely confident. There is no condition. He does not say, “If you do this; if you do that; if you make sure you follow this”. He says, “You are His. He will supply all your needs.” Everything in his letter to the Philippians has been building up to this. Christ is my life (chapter 1), Christ is my example (chapter 2), Christ is my goal and prize (chapter 3). And as he instructs them on how to stand firm in the Lord and how to be content he finds the truth to be so overwhelming that he just can’t stop himself from praising God.

But where many of us find ourselves is at a point of frustration because we constantly let God down. We don’t measure up to His expectations. We must be “doing it wrong”, because we don’t skip down the road reciting doxologies like Paul.

When my life “lacks doxology”, I’ve forgotten the very truth of the gospel. Instead of a thankful heart in light of the gift of the cross, I try to “fix the situation” by doing this, doing that.

George Herbert wrote,

“Thou that hast given so much to me give one thing more, a grateful heart. Not thankful when it pleases me as if thy blessings had some spare days, but such a heart who’s pulse may be thy praise.”

I need to be reminded of the truth throughout each and every day. The truth that I am a sinner and that my sin demands payment. The truth that I cannot pay this debt alone. The truth that it is by grace I am saved, through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross. The same truth that lead Paul to a real and authentic worship of our God.

Don’t get distracted trying to create an appearance of a worshipful life. Don’t only focus on the fruit. Saturate yourself in the truth. Spend time making sure that the water which feeds the tree is pure. The writer of Psalm 1 understood this:

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither; -Psalm 1:2-3

And so what we find at the end of the book of Philippians deserves our attention. It’s a heartfelt response to the truth. There is no filler in the Bible.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. -2 Tim. 3:16-17

Love God, Love Others

I have a thesis that the command to love God and the command to love your neighbor as yourself are fundamentally the same thing. As Christians, we struggle with the fact that God demands 100% of our love, and yet He commands us to love others. As humans, we struggle with the fact that we find things closer to us—people, hobbies, stuff—far easier to love than God, Who seems so distant at times. I believe that truly loving your neighbor (or anything for that matter) means that you first love God, and that loving God inevitably means that you will love your neighbor. You cannot claim to love anything unless you first love God.

My thesis begins with the assumption of creation ex nihilo. God, we believe, created everything out of nothing and, as Genesis says, He created everything good, because God Himself is Good. Things exist and are good only because God has caused them to be. In terms of existence, apart from God, there is nothing, non-existence, nada. Outside of God, nothing exists on its own.

What of evil then? Evil exists; are we to say that it exists in God, that God is evil? Of course not. Existence is itself a good; therefore, evil cannot be said to exist apart from good, because evil is the deprivation of good, the lack of goodness. When a good thing becomes evil, it suffers loss of what it once was. Evil is the nothingness which once was good; it is the subtraction of goodness. But what remains is still good, if only because what remains still exists. Evil, then, does not exist in and of itself.

Thus, even though evil is nothing, God did not create from evil by creating from nothing. Before creation, only God exists. God cannot suffer evil, because He is incorruptible, undergoing no change in His Being; He is the Supreme Good. But created things like humans, although they are good, can suffer evil by becoming less good. By choosing to turn away from God, the source of existence, we are turning towards nothingness, and we suffer the loss of our goodness and existence, which comes from God. That is what it means to be evil.

And so we come to the problem of loving God and others, and we see that if we are to love one another, then we must love God. Any good that exists in a human being comes from God. If we do not love God in them, then it turns out that we do not love at all, for apart from God, a human being is nothing. Hatred, which is the refusal to love a human being who exists, is also the refusal to love God, who is the source of existence. It is the love of nothing. By the same token, idolatry is loving something in a human other than God, but outside of God, there is nothing to love! Idolatry, then, is also the love of nothing, and the love of nothing is more properly called the lack of love.

I hope it is clear by now that the only way to truly love a human, to truly love anything, is to wholly and completely love God. Let us recognize that when we love another person, we actually love God in them. Some may say that this is abusive, treating humans as a means to God, rather than ends in themselves. But isn’t obvious that the only way to love humans as ends, is to love God, the end? In fact, if we do not love God, we always end up abusing other people, either hating them or making them into idols. It is only when we are fully loving God that we are properly loving everything else.

This is why the mystery of the Gospel is so, so important. As evil, sinful people, we are broken lovers, lovers of nothing, lacking true love. The incarnate Christ, however, by His life, death, and resurrection, has redeemed us from the depths. His mission is to give us Himself, to restore our relationship with Him, true God from true God. In Christ, we become complete lovers of God, and it is because of this that we become right lovers of everything else.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? – Matthew 18:24-26.