Flag or no Flag

August 7, 2017

I greatly appreciate our country and those who have served in the military to secure our freedoms. I appreciate God’s generous providence in putting my family and me here.

That said, I wonder whether or not the American flag should be displayed where the visible expression of God’s Kingdom meets on the Lord’s day. I have no problems with a flag being displayed on the church grounds, however does it belong with the other symbols of our Christianity (e.g. crosses, Bibles, Lord’s Table). What do you think?

I mentioned in the past that I’m reading Block’s book on worship. This is his two cents:

Since worship involves reverential acts of homage before God, every detail of the sanctuary should evoke awe before him, rather than before the human architect of the decorations … Effects that distract from the worship of God should not be allowed to encroach on sacred space. If we must have a flag, then have flags of many nations, illustrating the transnational nature of the body of Christ; to display only an American flag borders on civil religion and is distracting and offensive especially to non-American visitors.

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A while back I mentioned that I was going to work through “For the Glory of God.” It is a book on the Biblical Theology of worship. I must confess that I haven’t made much progress in the book. I’ve been reading–just not this book. In the author’s chapter on the object of worship I did come across some interesting thoughts on the Holy Spirit and worship. I think that these truths should cause us to at least think about how we pray to, and worship the Spirit.

“Remarkably, the doxologies (in the Bible) never ascribe praise, honor, glory, dominion, or power to the Holy Spirit.”

In the Bible … “No one addresses the Holy Spirit in prayer, or bows down to the Holy Spirit, or serves him in a liturgical gesture. Put simply, in the Bible the Spirit is never the object of worship.”

“However, it seems that the Holy Spirit is most honored when we accept his conviction of sin, his transforming and sanctifying work within us, and his guidance in life and ministry, and when in response to his leading we prostrate ourselves before Jesus.”

I’m still reading Calvin’s Institutes (I will be for quite a while). I’m in the section dealing with the Apostles’ Creed. More specifically, I’m reading his comments on the church. For one’s FUTURE consideration (this is for the NEXT time someone might be considering a church family change), I’m going to mention three Calvin quotes about leaving a church. Obviously, there are reasons for leaving a church (distance being a main consideration), but frequently people leave for any and every reason. Here’s some of Calvin’s wisdom:

“How dangerous is the temptation—or rather, how ruinous (wow, a very strong word)—when in his heart a man decides to separate from a congregation which displays those signs (Calvin here is referring to the preaching of the Word and the sacraments) which our Lord thought sufficient to identify his church.”

And then for those who in the future might have doctrinal disagreements with a church:

“But I do say that we should not, through some difference of opinion, lightly forsake a church which fully safeguards the essential truths of our salvation and the sacraments, in a accordance with our Lord’s instructions”

Finally, for those who might consider leaving because of the scoundrels who attend a particular church:

“Since the Lord affirms that the church will suffer the misery of being burdened by the wicked until the judgment day, it is pointless for them to look for a church which is completely cleansed and pure.”

Good stuff to think about.

Recently, through no intention of my own, I’ve been grappling with the question of Biblical worship. This has happened because of a recently preached on text (Hebrews 12:28-29) and Sunday evening conversations dealing with a Ligonier Study called “Dust to Glory.” Also, our family recently attended an Easter service at a very evangelical church where beach balls were tossed during the sermon time. Along with the use of piñatas and other very out of place implements this service was completely out of the box for me.  These experiences have created a personal sense of intellectual vertigo. I feel confident about most of my theological positions, however, I’m not as grounded in the theology of worship as I should be. I can criticize, but I really don’t have the Biblical ammunition to be completely honest. Given that I “virtually” hang with Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians and Baptists, I’m typically surrounded by people whose worship preferences range from those who hold to exclusive psalmody sung a cappella all the way to those who think beach balls are fine during worship.

To rectify my ignorance, I pulled a book off the shelf that I think will help orient me to the Biblical landscape of worship. It is called, For the Glory of God: Recovering a Biblical Theology of Worshipby Daniel Block. If you’d like an edifying sneak peak into what I’ll be reading, watch to the video below. I think you will find it both stimulating and challenging.

Death Devoured

April 18, 2017

This morning part of my Bible reading included Psalm 90. Moses’ words in this Psalm are very sobering. He writes “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.” A few verses down he writes, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Both of these verses are rather jolting. I’m less than nine years away from seventy. I say that I’ve started my descent into the Celestial City (to use Bunyan’s moniker). More than this, I can see the lights running down the runway off in the distance.

The verse calling us to number our days that we may have a wise heart has always resonated with me. However, even at this point in my life, I’m not happy with my heart-wisdom. This coupled with the Celestial City off in the not too distant distance is somewhat troubling.

Of course, when any believer evaluates his or her life, he or she will be somewhat disappointed. We know that we’ve frittered away many, many opportunities to grow and serve. When this happens, we need to be reminded of the gospel. After my Psalms reading this morning I read some Calvin. I’m working my way through the English translation of his 1541 French edition of the Institutes. I’m reading the section where he is explicating and supporting the Apostles’ Creed, and I ran across these sentences talking about Christ’s death:

By dying he ensured that we would not die; in other words, by his death he obtained life for us. He differed from us, however, in this respect: he chose death as if it should consume him; yet not to be devoured by it but to devour it was his purpose, so that it should cease to have dominion over us. He chose to be overcome by death, not to be crushed and oppressed by it but to destroy the rule it wielded over us. Finally he died, that in dying he might destroy him who had lordship over death, that is, the devil, and might deliver those who all their lives were captive to the fear of death (Heb. 2:14-15).

Great truth, huh? Christ’s purpose in dying was to devour death. He died to destroy the rule death had over us. He died so that he might destroy the devil. Unless Jesus returns soon, your death is a certainty. However, because of Christ’s death, death for the believer is simply that instant when the wheels touch down and we wake up in the Celestial City. As Calvin writes, “We will not die.” Jesus has devoured death for us. I want that heart of wisdom. I will keep pushing for it. The good news is that even the believer with a heart that is marbled with a great deal of folly will still land in the Celestial City simply because Jesus devoured death. The Good News is truly good news!

Recently I listened to a This American Life podcast entitled Switched at Birth. As you might think, this episode is about two baby girls who went home with the wrong mothers. I found the story that was told to be very intriguing. How can a mess like this be cleaned up, especially when one of the mothers was pretty certain as to what had happened right from the very beginning?

My purpose isn’t to retell the story; rather, I’d like to focus on one very interesting dynamic. Even though the girls weren’t raised with their biological families, they still retained many of the characteristics of the gene pool from which they came. One girl came from a family that was nervous, studious, and serious. Even though she was raised in a family that was much more lighthearted and given to jokes, this girl didn’t adopt the other family’s characteristics. She remained serious. The baby from the more lighthearted family retained her biological family’s jokester personality. Her parents never could tell when she was being sarcastic and couldn’t understand her interest in athletics. It goes without saying that the each girl retained the physical looks of the family from which she came. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The chip retains the block’s characteristics even if the block has been removed. Depending on our own struggles with sin, this might, or might not, be a good thing.

Think of the story of Joash. I’m referring to the Joash from Judah. He wasn’t raised by his father Ahaziah, who had been killed by Jehu. Rather he was instructed by a priest named Jehoiada. However, after Jehoiada died, Joash revived Baal and the Asherah worship that his father, Ahaziah, had promoted. In the end, he had the prophet Zechariah, the son of his mentor, Jehoiada, put to death. Even though Dad had been dead for nearly 50 years, and Joash never had a conversation with him, his influence was inescapable.

I’d like to apply this experience to several situations. First, there is application for those who adopt. Even it one were to adopt a completely healthy newborn, more than likely, that newborn is going to retain some of the personality traits and proclivities from the birth parents. In a way, there are four (assuming a man and a woman did the adopting) people who have a hand in how the adopted child will turn out. Just as intelligence and physical appearance is passed to one’s children, so are other proclivities and tendencies. Therefore, parents who adopt even an infant might be in for an interesting ride, especially if the biological parents of the adopted child are very different from those doing the adopting. I mention this to explain why adopted children can be a challenge to raise.

Second, Christians are adopted children. We’ve been adopted into God’s family. We all start out with the devil being our father (John 8:44). We are born children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). This to say, just as adopted children retain some of their parents’ tendencies, so do believers. We can all look like our diabolical father at times. But then, I don’t need to tell you this.

Here’s the good news: grace is stronger than family ties. This is why, if you are a believer, you are in the family of God. Not only is grace stronger than family ties, but it is stronger than sin. Jeremiah 31:29 says, “In those days they shall no longer say: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’” You get the point. A parent’s sin and its consequences aren’t necessarily passed on. Grace is stronger than sin. Then there is that wonderful verse in the same passage (34) that says “I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” God’s grace can overcome anything, both family and personal sin.

So, we raise our children whether adopted or not, trusting that God’s grace can and will overcome parental sin. After all, God’s grace not only forgives but it also conforms us into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). In this life, we, nor our children, will ever completely look like Jesus. This is why we’re always “groaning,” looking forward to the next life. Rom. 8:23 says, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” One day, we’ll no longer be chips off the old block.

“90 Days in John 14-17, Romans & James” is a helpful resource in a number of ways. First, the authors walk one through the interpretation of the text. This is facilitated by the use of both probing questions and insightful interpretation. While there are certainly remaining questions related to the text, overall the readers are left with a good sense of what is being said.

Second, not only is the text explained but it is also engaged. Put differently, questions are asked that are designed to help the reader think though the impact of the text. This is very helpful. It is one thing to understand what the Bible is saying, it is another to understand how the truth of the text should impact one’s heart.

Finally, help is offered in the area of prayer. As the text is unfolded challenges are exposed. The authors help readers think about how one should request the Father’s aid in applying His word.

In summary the book aids in understanding the Biblical text. Help is offered in the area of application and prayer. Perhaps the greatest value of the book is the help it offers in thinking about how scripture should be understood and applied. The model employed might be applied to any Biblical text. In other words, the book helps one understand how to take the raw Biblical text and think about how it should look in one’s life.