Friday, February 22, 2013

Daddy Help Me

I was on the playgound with my one year old when he came to a part in the play structure that he felt he needed my help on. He reached up his hands and I let him take hold of my index fingers, and helped him walk the little step and bridge section.
Then it occurred to me that we were doing this together, which is like how God helps us in our works.
But then it occurred to me that this is what Jesus did when people came and asked things of Him, He demanded faith. I used to think that Jesus was being pushy or unhelpful, or at least hesitant to help, because He's demanding they do something. Go wash, go tell, stretch out your arm, pick up your mat, that sort of thing. But then I thought about it, and in all the instances (as much as I can remember) they are asking Him. So He's having them do it with Him.
There are miracles where Jesus takes the initiative, walking on water, feeding the multitudes, healing the man lowered on the mat, and it does not seem that He asks anything of them. But there are others where He does demand something in return, some act of faith.
I think of my son reaching his fingers up to mine. So I make him help me rather than do it for him- isn't that just what he asked for? Why should our heavenly Father be any different than that?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Insightful CoC Article

One of my facebook friends pointed me to this article here: Why are Churches of Christ shrinking?
which is very insightful on why they are in decline.
The gist of it is that the CoC is a cultural movement, born out of the early 1800s, and since Romanticism and Modernism have run out of steam so has the churches of Christ. Post Modernism has ushered in people who don't care anything about preserving the existing culture, and if they are to survive it must be by changing everything. You will notice that their rational is a secular one, that their focus in not on "have we been unfaithful to Scripture and brought this sin on ourselves" but "how can we entice the culture to be friends with us to grow again?"
Part two takes the consequences of this and offers the cure: stop focus on teaching and discussing ideas, junk the existing culture, and offer them an experience they want. In so doing you can recapture the next generation.

This perfectly matches what I have been saying about the movement for some time. They are standing at a crossroads, to the left is a more relevant, less teaching focused direction. To tread down this path means the death of the current culture and the current members of the country club will be booted and have no place there. It's not clear that this would work to attract them anyway. Lots of risk, lots of problems, saves the institution.
To the right is a more biblical model, should they walk it they will be faithful to the God of the Scripture, they believe in all the great doctrinal truths, and they dedicate themselves to serving Him. But only real Christians are going to want to take this road, and it's not clear if they have the numbers of true believers to make this happen. I'm sure a handful of churches will make this transition, I strongly doubt most will.
The other only option is to take neither path, and to reject the future completely. To stand at the fork until death - this is what I predict will happen. The older people will simply clutch their traditions to their chest and die holding on to them, and with them will go the bulk of the CoC.
May God do what pleases Him.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The fourfold purpose of the law

Calvin taught on the threefold use of the law:

1. The law teaches us.
It teaches us about ourselves, by acting as a mirror to show us our nature.
Romans 3:20b "For by the law [is] the knowledge of sin"
Romans 4:15 "For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression"
Romans 7:7-11 "What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me."
It acts in fact, like an instructor. This is what Paul says in Galatians 3:19a- "What purpose then [does] the law [serve]?" He answers it in v23-24 "But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor [to bring us] to Christ, that we might be justified by faith."

The law also teaches us about God. Being the one who gave the law, the law comes from Him. The law is good, and pure, and right, "Therefore the law [is] holy, and the commandment holy and just and good." Romans 7:12. By studying the law we can learn about God's character. He gave us the law from His character, and by learning the law, we  learn about Him.

2. The law restrains evil.
Romans 13:3 "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same."
Deuteronomy 13:10-11 "And you shall stone him with stones until he dies, because he sought to entice you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage. "So all Israel shall hear and fear, and not again do such wickedness as this among you"

When faithfully practiced the preserved society, making it harmonious to live in. We are blessed to have rules and order, good conduct, and a well oiled machinery to support us. It makes life pleasant not to be stabbed, when trying to get groceries, after all.

3. The law teaches Christians how to please God.
1 John 2:4 "He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him."
1 John 3:22 "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
1 John 5:2 "By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments."
1 John 5:3 "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome."
John 15:10 "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love."

The law exists so we can obey God, and by submitting to Him and following His rules. We might like to say that we love God, or we love His church, or we love His doctrines, but if we do not obey His commandments, we have not actually loved God. If there is a Christian who reads the Bible and says "Well okay, but I don't want to do any of that." that person is not a Christian.

Now all this is well tread and nothing new. But I think, as I consider the sermon on the mount, that the law has another purpose - it's to reveal Christ.
This is the same as John's purpose. If you remember, his job was simply to baptize everyone, so that when the messiah came John would baptize him and something would happen to make him known, to mark him out as special. That's what happened, and in that moment the purpose of John - to reveal Christ - was fulfilled. John 1:31 "I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water."
The law was not just pointing people on to Christ indirectly because it shows them they are too small to keep it, it is itself testifying to Christ.
The law was holding back, waiting, biding time, uniformly condemning everyone so that the person who was not not condemned would stand out like a sore thumb. The law itself magnifies and lifts Christ up above everyone else in the same way John the Baptist did.
And that I think is the fourth purpose of the law.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Sermon on the Mount

When Israel came into the promised land they were to set themselves upon the two mountains, Ebal and Gerizim, which stood over Shechem where the tabernacle was to dwell, and the congregation would stand half on one side, half on the other, and they would shout the words of the Lord at each other. 
Deut 11:29 "And it shall come to pass, when the LORD your God has brought you in unto the land where you go to possess it, that you shall put the blessing upon mount Gerizim, and the curse upon mount Ebal."-
Joshua 8:33 has the record of them carrying this out:
And all Israel, sojourner as well as native born, with their elders and officers and their judges, stood on opposite sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, half of them in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of the LORD had commanded at the first, to bless the people of Israel. 
 In Deut chapter 27 this is more fully explained, they were to put an alter on the cursing mountain, and ask God for peace.
4-7a "Therefore it shall be when all of you be gone over Jordan, that all of you shall set up these stones, which I command you this day, in mount Ebal, and you shall smear them with plaster. And there shall you build an altar unto the LORD your God, an altar of stones: you shall not lift up any iron tool upon them. You shall build the altar of the LORD your God of whole stones: and you shall offer burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD your God: And you shall offer peace offerings."
 Verses 15-26 has the record of what they shouted from Ebal
Cursed be the man that makes any graven or molten image, an abomination unto the LORD, the work of the hands of the craftsman, and puts it in a secret place. And all the people shall answer and say, Amen. 16 Cursed be he that sets light by his father or his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that removes his neighbour's landmark. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that makes the blind to wander out of the way. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that perverts the judgment of the stranger, fatherless, and widow. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lies with his father's wife; because he uncovers his father's skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lies with any manner of beast. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lies with his sister, the daughter of his father, or the daughter of his mother. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that lies with his mother in law. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that strikes his neighbour secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that takes reward to slay an innocent person. And all the people shall say, Amen.
Cursed be he that confirms not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen.  
Then the chapter ends. Where is the record of what they shouted from Gerizim? Where is the other half of the account? Why is the scale loaded with bricks on one side and nothing on the other? The account is so off balanced because blessing they shouted is conspicuously, hugely, glaringly absent from the record.
Ultimately we know that they as a people were never entitled to any blessing, and so were to remember their failure, and so they were only entitled to the curses.
No Gerizim. No blessedness.

Having this in mind is the only way to understand this:
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was set, His disciples came to Him:
And He opened His mouth, and taught them, saying,
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are all of you, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Here is the One who balances the cursing that comes from the law, the blessings that were shouted from the mountain. They were held back, kept mysterious, waiting until they would be found in Christ. And here is the one who does not need an alter to ask for forgiveness and peace, He is their peace, He is giving them forgiveness. It's the difference between asking and giving. It marks an entirely new epoch in the Bible's narrative.
This text, it's more than just a guidebook on how to be happy, it's the end of the law, the end of the cursings, the fulfillment of the promise. As John said, the law came through Moses, but grace and truth came through Christ.