Friday, April 25, 2008
Off to Pepperdine
Every year since 2002 I have made the pilgrimage to Malibu, California. It has sort of become a family tradition. We load the girls onto a plane or into a car and go off in the wild blue yonder to that place by the sea. For whatever reason Jerry Rushford has graciously asked me to participate in the lectures four or five times now. I think he has been getting desperate since he has asked me ... no really it has always been a great honor for me (and has been fun). Hooking up with friends from Japan, Canada, and all over the USA has been a joy. This year I will be traveling by myself but quite a few from Palo Verde will be coming over too.
Over the last three years or so 9 pm has become "Late Nite" with Hicks & Valentine. We have spoken on Kingdom Come and A Gathered People and this year we were to speak on a soon to be name subject. Unfortunately John Mark is not going to be able to be there this year but the Late Nite goes on.
I will be going solo for the talk and will try to do the subject justice. Our overall theme is "The Struggle for the Soul of Churches of Christ, 1884-1984.
1) Part One: Texas Vs Tennessee, 1880s-1920s
2) Part Two: Texas Triumps, 1930s-1950s
3) Part Three: Renewed Struggle, 1960s-1980s
On Friday I will be delivering the lecture for the Restoration Quarterly luncheon. Here I am speaking on "Jesus, Lipscomb and the Spanish-American War."
Besides taking in the great line up of keynote speakers I hope to learn from Doug Foster, Edward Robinson, Suzy Brown, Tom Olbricht, Danny Dodd and several more.
If you are in the area say "hi." Hope to see you.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Here it is a Tuesday evening. I had some hot wings for dinner and put off coming "home" as long as possible. Most evenings I am by myself these days and I do not do "alone" very well. When God said it was "not good for man to be alone" there are actually some mss that read "it is not good for Bobby to be alone!" ;-) But here I am. In the evenings I cannot watch TV so I read. I have been preparing for my Pepperdine Lectures and have just been reading. My interests tend to be fairly wide anyway but here are some titles that may be of interest to some of my readers that I have plunged into over the last two months that have nothing to do with my Pepperdine topic ... Jerry Rushford will be worried.
First and foremost I have revisited the wise sage Dr. Seuss. I bought Horton Hears A Who! (Party Edition) before seeing the movie. I read this book with my girls and we laughed and giggled. It is also productive of thought. It remains a great classic.
Baseball season is upon us and my friend Jerry gave me a copy of the 2008 Milwaukee Brewers Media Guide. One of the most delightful books I have read in a long time is Wayne Curtis' And a Bottle of Rum: A History of the New World in Ten Cocktails. I bought this book in the airport on the way to Philadelphia and had half read on the way there and finished it on the way back. Curtis not only loves rum but shows some delightfully interesting ways in which rum has actually played a "pivotal" role in the development of western culture ... including the American Revolution. For a good read I do recommend it.
I have been reading some books on divorce recovery as well. Suzy Brown, who has commented on this blog, has been an inspiration to me. Her book Radical Recovery: Transforming the Despair of Your Divorce Into an Unexpected Good had blessed me. I have not found the "unexpected good" yet but her book is so practical and so grounded in life. Her "Survival Six" back in December were the things that probably saved my life. I have talked with Suzy on the phone and fully hope to meet her at Pepperdine. The book has some gut wrenching poems at the back ... for those experiencing divorce or those who want to authentically minister to those in divorce this is a primary text. Thank you Suzy for your grace!! I have also worked my way through Dana Hood's I Will Change Your Name: Messages From the Father to a Heart Broken by Divorce. This book is a series of devotions for those going through divorce. I have been blessed by it. I bought both of these books at the ACU Press booth last year at the ACU lectures. Both sat on my desk for months waiting for me to read. On December 16 they became a priority. I have read Suzy's book 5x ... I almost have it memorized. She is wise ... when I read her I say she knows what she is talking about because she has mapped out my feelings almost to a T.
One of my Shepherd's loaned me a book edited by Elias Kopciowski titled Praying With the Jewish Tradition. I have prayed my way through this book and I have been enriched. In my time of crises it has been easy to slip into the "pray only about my crises" mode (and I have done that on MANY occasions!) but this book has helped me with a much more balanced prayer life at this point of my journey.
I picked up James A. Connor's Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother at Bookman's when I took Rachael and Talya to this used bookstore. It is a fascinating look into the world of 17th century Europe and a generally overlooked giant of science and faith ... Johannes Kepler. Connor weaves a brilliant narrative with all the things mentioned in the title. This book is of interest to those who love religion, science or pop culture ... I actually forgot the book had footnotes!!! It has been a good companion on several nights.
I just finished Thomas Cahill's Mysteries of the Middle Ages, And the Beginnings of the Modern World. I have thoroughly enjoyed Cahill's previous titles in his Hinges of History series, all of which have made it onto the best seller list. His How the Irish Saved Civilization won a fan in me. Cahill is not afraid to celebrate how faith has shaped western culture and he continues that in this volume. You certainly do not have to know anything about the middle ages to be enriched by this book ... a cup of java will do just fine. Lavishly illustrated for those who have to have pix and very well written ... he just might convince you that the "dark ages" are of critical importance to our lives today. Imagine that!
I have been rereading through the Apocryha over the last few weeks too. Don't know why but I have. I have made it back through Tobit, Judith, 1, 2, 3 and I am currently reading 4 Maccabees. I will come back to Sirach and the others shortly.
Over the last few days I have also reread my good friend John Mark Hicks book Yet Will I Trust Him: Understanding God in a Suffering World. There is not a person on the planet I respect more than John Mark. I have been in his classroom, stayed in his home, been with him as he buried a son and watched him as he went through a divorce on top of that. This book is not theory for the author. I have read this book before and thought it was brilliant and persuasive. Now I read the book with a completely different goal in mind ... I want to learn to trust God as he has. Being in the "circle of lamenters" has forever altered my view on many things.
And finally I have devoured the Psalms (in several different translations (The Hebrew-English Psalter, Robert Alter's The Book of Psalms, Peterson's Psalms - The Message, NRSV) I have read the Psalms regularly for years but now I live in the world of the Psalms. I set my alarm, and if I am not awake already, I get up at 4 am for Matins, come back to the Psalms for Lauds at 5 and Prime at 6 ... I visit them for Terce and Sext, None, Vespers and Compline. I cannot explain how this rhythm has helped me. I can either focus on my situation or pray the Psalms and sing Te Deum ... I have chosen the latter. I know God is there even when I do not get a word in response from him.
Well there you have it ... a few leaves from the codex. All these books are worthwhile in some respect. Perhaps you will find a title that intrigues you and you will take it up and let it bless you in some fashion. I am working on "gettin' a life ..." ;-) Make sure you watch the Weird Al
White & Nerdy" video in My Videos to the right ... it explains a lot!!
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Here are some late night thoughts ... so take them for what they are. My friend John Mark Hicks was providentially moved to post a series on What Divorced People Feel and How to Minister to Divorced People. I know God had a hand in that. I don’t think John Mark set out to write for me … but perhaps James A. Harding would say that he was lead to do so. Danny Dodd also has a very good reflection on this scourge.
You see I am divorced. Not by choice but I am divorced. I never dreamed nor imagined I would be ... but I am. I have no desire to humiliate my (ex)wife, my girls, my family, my congregation, my God … or myself. I have no desire to make those I have loved (and still do) for so many years look bad. I do not want to say it was “her” fault because the truth is more complicated than that. What I do know is that I participated in destroying that which was so fundamentally holy, sacred, and important to even me (much less God!). I did not want to and did not intend to and did not mean to. I have no explanation as to why. I can say with Paul “I have the desire to do what is good … but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Rom 7.18-19). I have come close to loathing myself for my failures … that is why I have said earlier that the song/video (One Last Breath) by Creed comes close to evoking the feelings of pain but even it falls short.
I have some new insight (to me) into Scripture … not what it actually says but through a melding of its words with my own circumstance things now stand out in bold relief. I have known about the texts of Jeremiah 8-9 for a long time. I even did a presentation on them a few years ago at the Lake Geneva Family Encampment but now I read them with a vested interest.
It is not without providential irony that I was asked to teach Jeremiah last year for class called “Coffee with Bobby” with a group every Tuesday morning. Jeremiah is full of pain. He was a reluctant prophet! He reports that Yahweh himself went through the bitter pain of divorce (3.6-8). Those influenced by neo-Platonic views of God rarely think of the suffering of God in the Hebrew Bible but divine pathos is there in bold relief. The story of Jeremiah seems to be written with tears rather than ink!
The scroll of Jeremiah from 8.18-9.22 zeroes in on an image of God that has meant a great deal to me lately. God is King indeed … but he is a crying King! Yahweh is declared to be the speaker of these incredibly moving words (9.3, 6, 17, 22). The “death” of a relationship was intensely painful for Yahweh. The words of Yahweh border on radical,
“O my comforter in sorrow, my heart is faint within me” (8.18)
God’s heart is shattered ...
“Since my people are crushed, I am crushed; I mourn and horror grips me” (8.21).
The heart of Yahweh is so heavy that he bursts out in tears
“Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears!” (9.1)
Later Yahweh “confesses” that he does not have enough tears for the occasion so he calls for the professional mourners to come in to help supply the tears for the occasion … he invites them to shed tears not only for
“Consider now! Call the wailing women to come; send for the most skillful of them. Let them come quickly and wail over US till OUR eyes overflow with tears and water streams from OUR eyelids …” (9.17-18)
J. J. M. Roberts has shown that pagan deities were also known to shed tears for their people (see “The Motif of the Weeping God in Jeremiah and Its Background in the Lament Tradition of the Ancient Near East” from 1992). What the idols could never do, Yahweh does in reality. His marriage has ended in a heartbreaking divorce … so heartbreaking that God had hired the mourners to come in to make up the deficit in tears. This is pain. So much pain, in fact, one could almost describe Jer 8-9 as clinical depression!! God has an endless river of tears … God wishes (it seems to me) to escape the pain but “cannot.” His heart will not let him. For anyone who has gone through divorce this is all too true.
Though God has not chosen to reveal to me why hell has invaded my life he has shown me his own broken heart. The God of the cross is first the God of the broken heart. The God of judgment is first the God who weeps violently for his bride. This is an image of God I assuredly did not grow up with.
No answers to my questions. But I have fellowship in my tears. It is in the Bible,
“My tears have been my food day and night …” (Ps 42.3)
“Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record?” (Ps 56.8)
“You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowl full” (Ps 80.5)
“For I eat ashes as my food and mingle my drink with tears” (Ps 102.9)God cries because we have left him for other gods. We cry because we have willingly or unwillingly participated in the destruction of his creative intent. We cry a lamentation for what is wrong in this world. As we cry we find, ironically, intimate fellowship with the Creator himself. My tears are but a poor imitation of his own. It is here that we will one day find shalom and healing. It is here that we hope to find the new creation … which is simply that place where God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. A place where there will be no tears. Our Abba will wipe away our tears (Rev 21.4) because he has already shed a few of his own. God knows what a broken heart feels like ... to someone like me this is ... good news!
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
Monday, April 14, 2008
“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey, or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates, so that your manservant and maidservant may rest, as you do. Remember that you were slaves in
The Sabbath is the center of the Ten Words. It forms a bridge from the first half to the second half of the our responsibilities to God. It connects concern for God with our concern for our neighbor. In other words it deals with our relationship with our Redeemer and our responsibility to our neighbor. Thus it forms the gracious center of the Decalogue.
The Sabbath Word is the only word that is significantly different here in the Deuteronomy passage than in Exodus 20. Those differences should not be slighted or passed over in silence but taken in light of the purpose of these respective books.
From a casual reading of the Ten Words it becomes apparent that God spends more time (and space) on the Sabbath than any of the other words. In this section God gives one explanation as to WHY
In Exodus the Sabbath is based on creation. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. In Deuteronomy, however, there is no reference to creation at all, instead the Sabbath is rooted and grounded in mighty redemptive act of Yahweh in rescuing
What this Word Expects from Us
This Word wants those in the believing community to:
1) on a regular basis set aside our normal routine and work activities to gain respite and refreshment. This gives us freedom to relax from the daily grind;
2) that time we take out on a routine basis is set aside in God’s honor, to worship and to simply enjoy what he has done. This is an important aspect of “rest” in Deuteronomy;
3) on that day we are to recall the redeeming work of God. In short we are to remember;
4) We show grace to others in gratitude for the rest and salvation to Yahweh has granted to the believing community. Toil is not our lot in life . . . the Sabbath reminds us of that.
We in Churches of Christ have had drilled into our heads that Sunday is the Lord’s Day, not Saturday. This is true, but we have allowed a shallow understanding of what the Sabbath was all about to rob us of the grace in this word from God. I have said before, and I will say it again, it is methodologically wrong to read Paul’s debates with legalists and Jesus’ debates with Pharisees back into the Hebrew Bible. Pharisees did not exist in Moses’ day and there were no legalists in his day either . . . this is very important to remember.
The Sabbath is a gift from God to man. Jesus said that God made the Sabbath for man. The Lord’s blessing of a Sabbath is a provision to rise above mere existence. It was meant to bless us . . . not condemn us. Perversion turned it into something it was never intended to be.
As a gift of grace the primary character of the Sabbath is rest. Rest from work and toil. It places in the cycle of life a provision for freedom from tyranny and the oppression of unrelenting labors. It places a check on our own driveness and increased pressure of unceasing demand to get ahead.
The Sabbath looks backwards to the grace of God in the Exodus . . . the single greatest miracle in history until the Incarnation of the Word. In breaking from our slavery to work (and dependence upon self), we will be reminded of God’s breaking us free . . . without our working contribution and the greater bondage to sin.
The Sabbath looks forward to our promised Rest with God. This theme is vital for understanding our promise of heaven. The Preacher of Hebrews states, that we Christians still honor the Sabbath, our goal is the real Sabbath . . . resting in God’s Presence (Hebrews 4).
The Year of Jubilee is the Sabbath on steroids. And this provides the food for thinking about heavenly rest in Hebrews 4. There is an old rabbinic legend that says,
“At on time when God was giving the Torah to
‘My Children! If you accept the Torah and observe my mitvot [i.e. commands] I will give you for all eternity a thing most precious that I have in my possession.’
‘And what,’ asked
‘The world to come!’
‘Show us in this world an example of the world to come,’ asked
‘The Sabbath,’ said the LORD, ‘is the example of the world to come.’”
(Quoted in Abraham Heschel, The Sabbath, p. 73)
Regularly setting apart time for the Lord checks the human inclination to justify oneself by job or work or human effort. The Sabbath is a concrete symbol of God’s saving grace that redeems human life rather than humans saving themselves by work and effort. The Sabbath is a regular time to STOP striving, to STOP trying to keep up with the Jones’, to STOP trying to gain approval by our success. The Sabbath is a chance to GIVE love, time and rest . . . in the name of him who grants us gracious rest.
The Sabbath is the great equalizer, for that day is a fore taste of the Kingdom when all – great or small – are reckoned to be exactly the same and equal. There are no masters and slaves on that day . . . only brothers and sisters!
There are many texts in the Hebrew Bible related to the Sabbath, find them and relish the images God puts in your mind’s eye. The Sabbath is that picture of the way a community redeemed by the blood will live both in relation to God and to each other.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
John Wycliff and William Tyndale are giants in Christian history. Both worked with great courage to bring the Word of God to English speaking people. They also had something else in common ... they were Outlaws!
Here are two of God's Outlaws on the staff of Palo Verde. One is on a miniature pony and the other is on an Iron Horse, ;-) We won't say which is which though ... But these outlaws are good friends . . .
Here they are again enjoying a break in the desert sun ...
One of God's Outlaws is the luckiest dad in the world
Blessings on all God's People,
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Sometime in 2007 I accepted an invitation to do a seminar on the Psalms for a mid-Atlantic state. Psalms has always been among a handful of "favorite" books of mine in the Bible. I have read them and prayed them and studied them ... not always in that order. I was caught by the grittiness of the Psalms. But more often than not, I wasn't quite brave enough to embrace their white-hot passion. Still they appealed to me.
It is ironic that one of the planned talks received the title "Night: Finding God in the Darkness." I have had a few tough moments in my life but for the most part I have had a rather "easy" life comparatively speaking. But I have completely new "insight" into the Psalms that I never had before. When hell decided to nuke that which was by far the most important thing in my life I suddenly experienced something I had never experienced before. Suddenly I understand why nearly half of the "Book of Praises" is really laments! If God is King then why all the bs in the world and in our lives?? Do we really grasp what it means to "praise Yahweh?"
Some feel that to acknowledge pain and suffering is actually to deny faith. Brueggemann confesses: "I think that serious religious use of the lament psalms has been minimal because we have believed that faith does not mean to acknowledge and embrace negativity. We have thought that acknowledgment of negativity was somehow an act of unfaith ..." But life is full of disequilibrium and incoherence.
Sometimes insight can come from the most unlikely of places. I have been a fan of U2 since 1983. They used to just have great music, now I know they have substance. Bono, lead singer of the band, wrote an Introduction to the book of Psalms. For him David is the "Elvis of the Bible." After being jaded by both "religion" and life Bono makes this statement about the Psalms,,
Abandonment and displacement are the stuff of my favourite psalms. The Psalter may be a font of gospel music, but for me it's despair that the psalmist really reveals and the nature of his special relationship with God. Honesty, even to the point of anger. "How long, Lord? Wilt thou hide thyself forever?" (Psalm 89), or "Answer me when I call" (Psalm 5).
Bono confesses that it was the Psalms that helped save his faith in God. Not because of content but through experiencing them..
Words and music did for me what solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do -- they introduced me to God, not belief in God, more an experiential sense of GOD. Over art, literature, girls, my mates, the way in to my spirit was a combination of words and music. As a result, the Book of Psalms always felt open to me and led me to the poetry of Ecclesiastes, the Song of Solomon, the book of John...My religion could not be fiction, but it had to transcend facts. It could be mystical, but not mythical."
The Psalms are the Blues. Hear the Blues from Psalm 80
Stir up your might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O LORD God of hosts, how long will you be angry
with your people's prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies
laugh among themselves. (80. 2b-6)
Do you hear it? Can you feel it? I have lived it! They give God's people the language to express rage, frustration and dismay over the vandalism of shalom experienced in our lives, our churches, and our families. The Psalms do what "solid, even rigorous, religious argument could never do -- they introduced me to God." Perhaps this is the greatest treasure of all from the Psalms. We are not introduced to more doctrine but to God himself. Through the Psalms we experience truth that exceeds logic! The Psalms are one of the great treasures of the Hebrew Bible.
Read more of Bono here
Just some ramblings today ...
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
The Irony of Moses E. Lard: In Light of Contemporary Questions
Irony surrounds Moses Lard’s place in Stone-Campbell history. He is idolized by some and vilified by others. Richard Hughes calls him the “rationalist par excellence” and a brother a few years ago told me he was the "soundest man" ever produced in Churches of Christ. Some ignore him totally, James North’s history Union in Truth never even mentions Lard! I believe that both of these perspectives oversimplify just how complex a character Moses Lard really is and chooses to see or ignore those aspects that do not fit well into a chosen grid. Though he can come off sounding “ultra” on the right he can also sound “progressive” in areas that would still make many squirm today.
For example when I read through Lard’s essay “Do the Unimmersed Commune?” I think there are continuities with Alexander Campbell’s Lunenberg Letter. True, AC wrote with considerable elegance and sensitivity but he still, at that point, did not allow open communion with the unimmersed. Nor did he advocate a place in the visible church for the unimmersed. Yet he did not say, as a good friend of mine did recently, "be dipped or burn!” Lard has clear connections with
Lard clearly rejects the name Christian for the unimmersed. He drives his point home with the provocative example of Martin Luther:
“What! Will retort the astounded opponent, utterly shocked and scandalized at the boldness of what is here said, do you mean to say that Martin Luther was not a Christian? I mean to say distinctly and emphatically that Martin Luther, if not immersed, was not a Christian - this I mean to say. I do not mean to deny that Martin Luther was eminently a good and pious man; neither do I mean to deny that God took him when he died - I deny that he was a Christian” (Lard’s Quarterly [September 1863], 44).
This sounds fairly “ultra” to some (or "familiar" to others). But Lard here clearly does not make immersion absolutely essential to salvation and has no qualms in the slightest of saying that Luther was saved. Immersion was not absolutely essential to salvation. This I could never have imagined hearing in my home congregation.
There is a contemporary parallel though involving C. S. Lewis. In December 2004 an article appeared bearing the title “Did C. S. Lewis Go to Heaven?” The author confesses a great debt to Lewis, but Lewis was not baptized/immersed. This author could not, seemingly, find the grace for Lewis that Lard found for the unimmersed Luther (I omit the name because I am not attacking this brother)
Though Lard hedges the Table regarding the unimmersed he says some radical things regarding the Baptists. Indeed one is caught by surprise by Lard’s equally passionate plea to have “open” communion with the Baptists. He is worth quoting:
“If a man be a Christian, that is enough for me; I am ready to commune with him. In error he may be in some points, but this shall not cause me to reject him. Yet I should delight to see the day come when the Baptists would relax a little their austere and unhallowed rules on this point, and when we and they at least should enjoy the pleasure of cultivating more fraternal relations over the loaf and cup. I am not ashamed to avow that I seek this . . . I seek it because it is right in itself” (ibid, p. 50).
This is a remarkable statement and certainly does not sound anything like “ultra.” One wonders what Lard’s admonition would be to his spiritual offspring’s “austere and unhallowed rules” on this point? When I shared this quote with the brother mentioned above he charged me with “revisionism.” I wonder? Or have we taken the life out of Lard making him into a flannel board character?
One thing I admire about Lard is his willingness to state his belief with conviction and his willingness to change. Plotting his life from “Review of Campbellism Examined” through the Quarterly to his Commentary on Romans and beyond there is a noticeable change in Lard. Perhaps he was growing in the Spirit. In the third issue of the Quarterly Lard wrote articles on “Spiritual Influence as it Relates to Christians” and “Baptism in One Spirit into One Body.” In these articles he advocated not only a literal and active indwelling of the Spirit but that all Christians, not just apostles, receive Holy Spirit baptism. The Spirit works and ministers in and on behalf of the Christian, indeed the Christian can even “feel” the Spirit living within. For the life of the Quarterly Lard took on such luminaries as J. W. McGarvey, Hyram Christopher and George Longan defending his views. Though traditional in his theology of Spirit in conversion he was hardly so on the indwelling. I do not see him as “rationalist par excellence” on this. One could only wish more of his descendants could embrace similar views.
Two more matters are of interest in light of contemporary concerns. First concerns the role of women. As one works through Lard’s Commentary on Romans we come to Romans 16.1-2 and find arguments favoring Phoebe being an official deacon of the church (no Lard was not a feminist either!). Second, which is ironic in light of a recent SS (that I received in the mail as a present) is in his last published book (like Homer Hailey) Lard rejects eternal torment in hell. The book published in 1879 called Do the Holy Scriptures Teach the Endlessness of Future Torment? Lard’s studied conclusion is that no such doctrine is taught in the NT. Considerable furor was aroused by his views, as is true even today.
In 1880 not long before his death Lard commented on his life journey. He stated that he would “preach the same gospel but more loving” and with “more understanding toward those” with whom he disagreed. The gospel is after all good news.
Lard is an interesting and ironic figure. He rejected the sectarian (rebaptism, etc) positions of the Firm Foundation. He was a passionate supporter of the Missionary Society. He rejected instrumental music but was an ardent premillennialist. He wanted to protect the table from the unimmersed but longed for an end of closed communion with the Baptists. He was traditional concerning the Spirit in conversion but advocated Spirit baptism for Christians. He advocated a place for women among deacons but rejected eternal torment. Moses Lard was certainly not boring! One wonders if the real Lard showed up if those who call him the “pillar of soundness” if they would let him preach in their congregation? Revisionism cuts BOTH ways . . .
Monday, April 07, 2008
On the other hand my friend John Mark Hicks has been blogging on What Divorced People feel. Those feelings cannot be put in words. But Creed does a good job of evoking something like them in their great video and song, note the tears of blood ...
Friday, April 04, 2008
Ten Commandments of True Worship: Thoughts on Ps 15
He (we'll call him Jeff) had never gone to church in his life, but after six weeks of attending our congregation, he told me that while he didn't understand the language we used and often failed to grasp the significance of what we did, one thing was clear to him. The more he came to "worship" the more he felt his life was wrong. He concluded either his life must change or stop coming to worship. He changed his life.
She (we'll call her Tina) had attended 'church' all her life. She came to me to tell me she would not be back. Sunday offered her no connection with the rest of the week. It seemed remote from the realities of Monday morning. What especially appalled her were people who talked about one kind of life and lived another. The hypocrisy, in others and herself, was too much. She left.
One drawn, the other repelled. One convicted to change. Another to leave. One saw the connection between worship assembly and the other six days. The other saw no connection at all. These experiences raise significant questions in my mind and probably yours too. What relationship does the worship assembly have to ethics, or discipleship (also a form of worship). Does one effect the other?. What does the Bible teach us about worship? How does my life qualify me for the worship assembly before God? And is the reverse also true?
THE QUESTION (15: 1)
We begin our study with Psalm 15. Ps. 15 is sometimes called "The Ten Commandments of True Worship" and the title fits. In ancient
LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous who speaks the truth from the heart and has no slander on his tongue,who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
The psalm asks and answers one of the most important questions of our lives. "Who may worship God, who may come into his presence?" Coming into the presence of the LORD is not a right! It is an awesome privilege! The psalmist's question then is crucial -- WHO may come into the glory of God's throne and worship? We know that God is everywhere so there is a sense in which we are always in God's presence. But the Bible teaches there are times when people come into the presence of God in a very unique and special way. Moses at the burning bush entered the presence of God and the ground became holy (Ex. 3). Adam and Eve hid from the presence of God. Isaiah entered the presence as did Ezekiel (1-2). When we gather together as a Body and worship we enter into the LORD'S presence in that special way (cf. Rev. 4-5). Something special is taking place as God's people assembly in his presence. Something that is not taking place in the world. We are entering in to a new dimension so to speak. We sing the song 'Holy Ground" that captures what we are talking about graphically. We are doing holy business, in the presence of a holy God. Entering into Yahweh's presence is not to be taken lightly and indeed that is why Ps. 15 was written. Who can enter that presence? Who can worship the LORD? Who can enter into his Presence?
THE ANSWER (15: 2-5a)
The answer to the question is not in terms of a certain race or a certain class of people. Instead we have a sketch of the character of a person who has been transformed by God, someone who like Jeff knew he needed to change after coming to worship God.
In verses 2-5a we have a series of six positive statements and four negative ones. Six things we are to be doing and four we are not to be doing. The most interesting aspect of this description is that it is not `doctrinal' as we have traditionally used the word. Instead the list has to do with the way I've lived my life during the week and especially the way I've used my mouth!
A. Positive Conditions (v.2) ........................B. Negative Conditions v.3
1) blameless walk ......................................4) no slander on tongue
2) does what is right .................................5) no wrong to neighbor
3) speaks truthfully from heart ..............6) casts no slur
C. Positive Conditions (v.4) ....................D. Negative Conditions v.5
7) despises evil .........................................9) no usury
8) keeps word even when it hurts .......10) takes no bribes
What the psalmist is describing here is an upright or just person. That is person who respects his neighbor with his/her heart and tongue. The psalm lays out some general conditions and then explains further what those conditions mean. Like what does it mean to walk blamelessly? It means to speak truthfully, it means not using our mouths in damaging ways against others, it means not gossiping against my neighbor or sister in Christ. It means to keep my word -- even when it hurts. It means to uphold justice in the community with fair and equitable business practices especially in regard to the poor. These are all conditions of coming into the presence of God because the LORD is a God of truthfulness and integrity. He is a God of justice and those who come into his presence will mirror those traits.
We see that God is concerned with our lives. He wants holy people, not just saved people. Holy people will look like, act like and think like Yahweh. Take the emphasis on the uses of the tongue in this psalm. Fully half (five of the conditions) are related to the mouth -- sort of lopsided. But God speaks the truth, he always seeks to lift us up in his arms -- not tear us down. He has given us the gift of speech to encourage one another and praise him. James wrote that the tongue is hardest of all things to control with it we murder our brother and then turn and worship the LORD. The psalmist says it can not be! God will not accept worship from the tongue that slanders, slurs and gossips about a fellow traveler. Because that tongue is a lying tongue, lying to God and to its fellow traveler. So David says if you want to enter God's presence keep your heart clean. If you do that your tongue will be clean and your worship will please the LORD. He says watch you life make sure what makes you hot is what makes God hot -- have the courage to stand up for what is right. Keep you word -- even when it hurts! God did. He promised Eve he would find a way to heal the chasm between our sin and his holiness. God's word cost him his only Son -- I imagine that hurt, don't you.
THE PROMISE (15:5b)
Our instructor in true worship tells us that if we strive to live out our age of God we will always be welcome in worship, if we are transformed into his image. "He who does these things will never be shaken."' We have a standing invitation to come into the holy of holies. Basking in the presence depends on my life during the week.
For some Psalm 15 is bad news! We should rather see it as a challenge from God to be what he knows we are capable of being through the power of his Spirit. The psalm tells us what is possible. God's presence intends for us to be holy people, but it is also the power to make us into holy people. Like Jeff when he entered God's Presence he was changed. Corporate Worship illuminated the areas of life that needed to be radically altered. So yes we must live in such a way that prepares us for that encounter with God as we gather with his people. On the other hand when we examine ourselves we see how badly we have failed and stand in need of forgiveness. Failing to fulfill the Ten Commandments of True Worship; we realize we must come before God in assembly and find forgiveness through his Son's blood. So worship changes our lives. The longer we are in his presence the more like him we become. The longer we are here the more we realize how sinful we really are and we humbly bow before his throne and he in his magnificent mercy grants grace to us.So take the gathering seriously! Take your life seriously! They go hand in hand! I still haven't figured out which comes first -- but you can't have one without the other.
Wednesday, April 02, 2008
My good friend and teacher, John Mark Hicks, has a new blog on word press. I want to encourage all my readers ... all four of you ... ;-) to check it out. John Mark is one of those guys who has formed his theology not simply in a library but rather with a journey through the dark places that many can't even imagine. And he is usually a reliable guide except for his misguided devotion to the Chicago Cubs. Here is a link to his new spot on the web: Theologian. I think you will be blessed.