The Westminster Confession of Funk

Talking about theology, but keeping it funky

I am a husband and father and pastor of Trinity Covenant Church and teacher as St. Abraham’s Classical Christian Academy in Santa Cruz, CA.

I married my Indian Princess just before Y2K. I am an old fashioned Protestant Christian Humanist who lives where people vacation. I love music, love to surf, coach soccer for a hoard of minions, play the drums, and read actual flesh and blood books. I enjoy theology and literature and history and philosophy (if Sophie is serving beer) and Anglo-Saxon Poetry.

If I could have lunch with any three living people, I would have buffalo ribs with a butter, mushroom, cream sauce, Roxy Ray would be singing with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and I’d be at table with Tom Wolfe, ?uestlove, and Adam Schlesinger (and Brad Bird, because it’s my fantasy, and no one can count in my fantasy).

If I could have dinner with any three dead people (and the TARDIS was there with its universal language translation circuit) I’d have slow smoked dry ribs with the author of Beowulf, Herodotus, Martin Bucer, and Polycarp (see the previous paragraph if you have questions about my ability to count). And Janis Joplin would be singing with Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars backed up by Parliament Funkadelic of course.

My carefully crafted internet persona is also much cooler than my actual person, but I can live with that.

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Shame and the Christian - Psalm 119:6

Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments (Ps. 119:6).

Shame is real. It is the experience that we something that we wanted hidden is revealed. It is what we feel when sins that we would rather have in the dark are brought out into the light. God knows everything. There is nothing that is hidden to him.

Nothing.

None of your sins are hidden from the eye of the Lord, which sees everything.

Everything.

Here the psalmist explains that the root of our shame is disobedience and a lack of single-hearted devotion to following after the life of God as it is laid out in the law. But the psalmist wants to not be ashamed, and he sees that one of the purposes of the law is to keep us from shame. God has not given us the law in order to shame us. He has given us his word in order to keep us from shame. When we respect and obey God’s commandments, we avoid shame.

Respecting God’s commandments means that we honor the fact that God has a right to tell us how this place works. He has the authority to define the world for us because he is the creator, not only of the world, but also the creator of us. Respecting the law is another way of saying that we believe that what God says about the world is true. It is another way of saying that we trust God’s word.

God’s word has the authority of God as the creator and sovereign king over creation. And the psalmist tells us here that, in his word, God has told us how to avoid shame. God has told us the way that he has created the world. There are mysterious things about the world.

There are things hidden and difficult to understand. Avoiding shame is not one of those things. God has plainly told us how to avoid shame. Live the life described and prescribed by the law of God. The life that is the life of the Triune God.

But we have sinned. We have done shameful things. We have lived lives that have uncovered ourselves before God and before one another. This would be the end if we had to fix ourselves. We would do no better than Adam and Eve  when they tried to hide their shame with fig leaves.

But God, who is rich in mercy, came to us in Christ Jesus. But God, who is rich in grace, sent his son to become one of us. But God, who is rich in mercy, sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for us. But God, who is rich in mercy, allowed his son Jesus to be stripped naked, taking our shame upon himself, so that his death could be the death of our shame. And not the death of our shame only, but he has taken the shame of all those that believe in him, those near and those far, and nailed it to the tree in his body. Though we were ashamed, we are now covered in the righteousness of Christ.

Confess all that you are ashamed of, and be covered by God’s mercy.

Blessed with Obedience - Psalm 119:5

O that my ways were directed; to keep thy statutes! (Ps. 119:5)

We all have those keys that we keep because we don't remember what they go too. And it is too risky to just toss them. Because when you find the lock and go looking for the key, it will be the one that you tossed. 

For many Christian's, obedience to the law is that lonely key, that we know that we shouldn't throw out, because we are sure that it goes to something. We just can't remember what it unlocks.  But the author of the 119th psalm comes to our rescue and reminds us that obedience to the law is a key that unlocks many of the gifts and blessings that God has hidden for us in the world. But the key that unlocks, the obedience itself, is also a gift. 

The psalmist has established that God’s blessings begin by training us to keep God’s commands (vv. 1). God commands are in themselves blessings (vv. 2).  So he cries out to the Lord for the blessing of obedience.

He asks specifically that his ways be directed. He has already discussed how the ways in which the Lord lives are spelled out in God’s testimonies (vv. 3). The law of the Lord is a description of the way that God lives, and the psalmist begs that God would direct his own ways so that he would keep God’s statutes. The Psalmist wants the law to be his path.

He wants blessings, but unless the first blessing of obedience comes he will never reach the blessings that are further down the road

The life of God is true life. Those that are made in the image of God find life when their life is directed after the life of God. The law of God is like food. We cannot live without it. That is why Asaph writes “I am the Lord thy God, Which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). He quotes the opening statement of the ten commandments, and then writes, now open up, because you are about to be fed.

The Psalmist cries out to the Lord for the blessing of being able to follow after God, knowing what he has already told us. God’s pattern is to bless us with obedience. Whereas disobedience to God’s law is death-shaped, obedience is itself life-shaped. But then, through the obedience, more blessings come. So he is praying, Lord bless me with a way of living that leads to more blessings.

He is embracing the way of God, which is the way of building blessings over time. Everyone is either moving towards the fullness of blessings, or a fullness of cursing. Pleading for the blessing of obedience is pleading to be put on the path that leads to the fullness of blessings, all of the way into the resurrection.

Too often, we look to get the blessings directly without first looking for the gift of obedience. But God’s blessings are given in history, and the key that unlocks the blessings of the earth is obedience to God’s law. It is still all grace, we still have to say thank you for all of it as a gift, because the obedience was given as a gift in the first place, but one of the primary ways that the Lord God pours his blessings upon us is by means of obedience. So look to leave behind your sin, and ask the Lord that he would direct your ways to keep his statutes. 


Lent is Victorious

Lent means lengthening. It is named for the time of the year in which the days are lengthening. It is the season of the church year that counts down to Easter.

Liturgically speaking, it is the time of the church calendar that is focused upon the life of Christ from when he sets his face towards Jerusalem until his Crucifixion.

Lent is not always an easy thing to know what to do with. The five evangelical feast days of the church calendar, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Thursday, and Pentecost are easy to celebrate. They are memorializing the great victories that God himself has won in the work of Christ. The church seasons (Trinity Season, Advent, Lent) are different kinds of memorials. They are intended to remind us to continually live out of the Good News of what Jesus has already done. And they are the vestiges of the victories of the church.

Lent was established to fight a battle. Every festival of the Roman Empire is forgotten. Lent is still here. The gospel advances. The gospel transforms the world. And Lent is the evidence.

The gospel came into a world that had turned itself into an idol. In the ancient world power, strength, and control over the world and over other people were the ingredients of salvation.

In ancient paganism (and modern evolutionary mythology), violence was fundamental. In the beginning there was chaos. And everything is always threatening to revert to chaos. Mankind must be strong enough to fight back the chaos. We take control over the world with strength. We control other people in wars and battles. With power we fight back the chaos. Our hold on the world was idolatry. We claimed to have mastered the world. But really the world had a hold on us.

Lent was the early church’s denial that power gained over the world was the power save ourselves. Through self-denial, by turning away from power and turning to weakness, the church proved that in our weakness, God’s strength is shown. The weakness of a faithful people was stronger than the strength of all the empires that idolized strength.

Like the bronze serpent that Moses put up as a memorial in Israel, Lent began as a fight against idols, but later became itself as idol. And like Hezekiah cutting down and burning the bronze serpent (1 Kings 18:4) faithful people removed lent from the life of the church for a time.

But though it was misused and turned into an idol, Jesus later came and told us that the bronze serpent pointed to him in John 3:14. So Lent, which began as a time devoted to the setting aside of paganism, became itself a means of power mongering and self-righteous idolatry.

And yet, Lent has survived. And it has survived as evidence that the good news of Jesus Christ has overcome idolatry, continues to overcome idolatry, and will overcome idolatry until every enemy is put under the feet of Jesus. And so, whether we celebrated it or ignored it, because Jesus overcame the strength of the idols of the world with his weakness, it has been Lent. Now let's have some Easter.

Living the Good Life - Psalm 119:4

Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently (Ps. 119:4).

God tells us how to live our life. This is a verse that the Devil has a problem with. There are precepts, principles, and instructions that God wants us to obey. And when we are being honest this verse that is difficult for us too. God’s commands and precepts are not just advice that we can take or leave. We are required to follow. We are required to submit. We are required to obey.

There is an ultimate chain of command. God has reserved his right, as our creator, to tell us what to do. God is the one that defines for us what is right and what is wrong.

There are three errors that are easy to slip into:

The first is to flatly disobey. God says do not get drunk, you get sloshed. God says do not steal. You stuff your pockets at the mall and run away. Straight forward disobedience is a sin, and the answer is straight forward repentance. Turning away from our sin and doing what we are told. Agreeing with God that we have sinned, asking for forgiveness, and then responding to God’s forgiveness with obedience.

The second is to see that there is a chain of command, that God gives commands, and then assume that whatever you believe is right and wrong is therefore a command from God. Because, of course, God wants us to do what is right. He has commanded us to do what is right. Therefore whatever I think is right and wrong must be a command from God. But God has commanded us, and it is his commands that are binding. Not what you think his commands are, or what you think would have also have been a good idea.

This is one of the sins that Jesus went after most often, the sin of treating your own commands as if they have the force and authority of God’s commands.

They do not.

We study the scriptures and discover God’s commands, and it is those commands that are binding.

And lastly, we see that God has given us commands, and so we grit our teeth, and obey, even though we think God’s commands are a heavy burden. We obey with a bad attitude. Or we obey and then act like we are martyrs because we are being kept back from something better by God’s commands. We obey the fourth verse of Ps. 119 while not believing the first three verses.

It is a blessing to be on the path of the Lord. It is a blessing to be able to walk in the law of the Lord (1). It is a blessing to be able to keep God’s testimonies. It is a blessing when our whole heart is trained on Jesus (2). Because when we know the Law, and are blessed by God with the ability to keep it, we are actually living the good life (3).

The law is not keeping us from the good life. The law is not an obstacle course that we have to get through before we can start living the good life. The law is a dissected description of the good life because it is a dissected description of the life of our Trinitarian God. The law is God saying, “Follow Me.”

God gives us commands because he wants us to know how to live. The law is only restrictive the way the string on a kite is restrictive. It is the restriction on the kite that makes it able to capture the wind.

But we have disobeyed. We have treated God’s law like a punishment. God commands us to stay out of the cage of sin. And we respond like some scrimpy and stingy god is abusing us. But God is not stingy or tight-fisted at all. Instead, he is merciful and generous. Confess your sin and taste his forgiving grace.

The Spider and the Starfish

There are certain kinds of spiders that do not have stomachs. When it is time for them to eat, they inject their digestive juices into their still living victim, secreting digestive enzymes that break down the body of their prey. She sucks up the liquefied flesh-pulp and then secretes another load of stomach acid, repeating the back and forth, in and out, with the digesting flesh until her victim is an emptied shell or the spider is full.

How often do we let bitterness take root and become like these spiders. We let our bitterness so color the way we see someone that in our harsh and selfish way of dealing with them we bite and devour them. We digest them while they sit in front of us, and all the while, because of our bitterness, we tell them that they deserve it.

When a starfish is going to eat a clam it wraps itself around the clam and begins prying open the shells. Even though a clam has one of the strongest muscles in the sea, once the starfish is attached, it relentlessly pulls and pries until it sneaks open the hard shell guardian. And then the starfish shoots its stomach into the clams, where the tongue and soft tissues are all snug and supple.

The starfish then wraps up the tender innards of the clam in its stomach and begins digesting. It grasps and absorbs the clam’s interiors by digesting and swallowing it until it is dead.

How often are we the starfish, limbs of suckers wrapped and pulling in order to crack open and fill our family and friends and neighbors and coworkers with our digestive guile. And all in the name of what they have done to us.

But bitterness is a canker. Bitterness has tentacles that sprawl into everything. Bitterness has fangs full of poison, and when allowed to mature, it bites indiscriminately. That is why Paul tells us to get rid of all bitterness.

Have you been bitter? Bring it to the Lord right now. Lay it down. God is not bitter at you, so you will find grace and mercy. Have you been biting and devouring, digesting people alive. Lay down your God’s is gracious and merciful, glad to forgive.

The only way to become someone who gives grace and mercy is to live before God as someone in need of grace and mercy.

Working off of different scripts

How often have you said, “What are we even fighting about?” You are in the midst of conflict and you don’t even really understand why.

Sol Stein, in his book 'On Writing,' tells the story of his early work in theater. In rehearsals of plays still being written, he would take two actors, give them two different setups, and then tell them to improvise once they got to the end of their script.

To one he would say, "You are a school principal meeting with the mother of a recently expelled child. He is a little terror. If this student stays he will sink the entire school into primordial chaos."

To the other he would say, "You are the mother of a sweet child. A brilliant child. He has just been expelled for a misunderstanding. The principle of the school is a jaded old man who ceased liking any children three decades ago. You must convince him to allow your child to stay."

And then he would sit back and see where the scene went. As a writer he was merely doing research. Trying to prime the pump of creative juices. But Stein is really onto something. Because how often is conflict in our lives a matter of two people working off of different scripts. We have different ideas about the kind of scene we are in, thus, the tensions rise.

There is not much to it. One thinks they are the hero of a scene, defending the honor of a friend. The other thinks they are the thoughtfully pious in a scene, talking about staying modest yet fashionable. Each thinks themselves the strong one. Each thinks themselves in the right.

Maybe one is right, maybe both are right, maybe both are wrong. Either way, the ingredients of the conflict are on a slow boil.

If we are in different scenes in our head, casting ourselves into different roles, we need to stop and listen. When you find yourself in conflict, stop and listen. This is the time to remind yourself of James 1:19. "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19b). Because a lot of words lead to a lot of sin. "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent" (Prov. 10:19). 

But what are you listening for? You are listening to understand. Specifically, you are trying to understand what they think the conflict is about. You are restraining your lips so that you can find the differences between your scripts. Look for the ways you are being cast as the villain, and decide if there is truth to it.  

We should, as far as we are able, work to be at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18). And learning to listen carefully is the beginning of peacemaking.

The shape of a blessed life - Psalm 119:3

They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways (Ps. 119:3).

As the psalmist continues (v. 1, v. 2) to explain what a blessed life looks like, the psalmist writes that a blessed person does no iniquity. Being given over to sin is the opposite of a blessing. Sin is death. Sin is the opposite of life. Turning to sin is to turn away from living. One of the central ways that God blesses us is by changing our desires. He turns our hearts away from sin and towards righteousness. When we are under the blessing of God, our desires for sin begin to be undone. God is changing our desires so that we no longer find ourselves slaves to sin, no longer slaves to death. Instead we are slaves to life, slaves to righteousness.

Doing right is in itself a blessing. Doing right is a description of living. Real living. But notice what else it is. Those that are blessed, do not sin. They walk in God’s ways. They follow after God. The opposite of sin is to walk in God’s ways. Those that do not sin are the ones that do the kind of things that God does. They follow after God and imitate him. They do what He would do.

The law is a description of life because it is a description of the living God. The law is the ‘come follow me’ discipleship of the Old Testament. God gives us the law so that we can be like him. He tells us what he is like, He tells us the shape of his life, by giving us the law. That is why the scriptures are called the word of God, and when Jesus comes he is called the Word dwelling among us. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . 14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14).

 The law is a description of Jesus before he comes because the law is a description of the life of God, and Jesus is the full revelation of God. If you want to be like God, then follow the law. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. He is the most alive. He always does what was right. In fact, because he had never sinned, that when he was crucified, he was so alive that he came back from the dead. Death could not hold that much life without bursting at the seams. The grave could not hold someone so full of the delight of living. The strength of the life of Jesus was too much for the grave.

David, prophetically describing the mockers surrounding Jesus while he was being crucified wrote, All they that see me laugh me to scorn: They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: Let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.” (Psalm 22:7–8). And as the Chief Priests and scribes and Pharisees mocked the naked and hanging Jesus, one of them shouted out, “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:43). Jesus delighted in God and called himself the Son of God. And as the Son of God, he walked without sin because he was born of God (1 John 3:9; 5:18). He walked in the way of God because well-loved sons delight in their Father. “Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.” (John 8:28–29).

So when Jesus was raised from the dead, life was vindicated, living in the way of God was vindicated, and living without sin was vindicated.

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Saying Thank You For Your Obedience - Psalm 119:2

Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart (Ps. 119:2).

Here we have a description of someone who is blessed. Those that keep God's testimony are those that are blessed. Those that seek God with their whole heart are blessed people. These two things are descriptions of a blessing. You are really a blessed person, God has been very kind to you, if you find yourself keeping God's testimonies and seeking God with your whole heart. Even our obedience is something to say ‘thank you’ for.

God's testimonies are a description of a blessed life. God's law is where we find a description of a life full of blessings. And keeping of God's testimonies, obeying God’s law, is the way that we find God’s blessings. God has hidden many wonderful blessings in the world, and the treasure map that he has given us to hunt out those blessings is his law. Obeying the law keeps the piano strings of our life in tune so that we can produce beautiful music. The God who made the piano understands how to tune it. So when God wants to bless us, he begins by blessing us with obedience, because so many other blessings are hidden in little cupboard doors that obedience opens.

Christianity is not a Gnostic mystery religion full of secret and invisible blessings. The God of the Bible gave us the Bible in order to be clear about where the blessing were. And a blessed is shaped like obeying God's law.

A blessed life is also marked by an undivided heart. Blessed are they that are seeking God with their whole heart. A divided heart is a heavy burden. Paul calls us to live our lives unto the Lord with our whole heart. Simplicity of heart, single-heartedness, where our whole heart is focused on serving Christ is a blessing that we should be seeking and saying thank you for when it is given us.

“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Act 2:46). “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you” (2 Cor. 1:12).But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).

Following Jesus is not generally complicated. It is a matter of not letting our devotion get divided between Jesus and anything else. Blessings are obedience shaped. Obedience to God's law is what it looks like to seek God with your whole heart. Since Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15) a heart that is focused upon Jesus will keep his commandments. And when we obey, we can then say thank you for that gift of obedience.

Tackling the Evil Squid Bot of Sin

Sin needs to be dealt with. That is the perpetual truth that everyone everywhere agrees on. People disagree about what sin is. People will disagree on how to deal with it. But everyone agrees that it needs to be dealt with. It is what makes us as easy to manipulate as Silly Putty left in the September sun. And why we have the sales resistance of a junior high boy at July fireworks stand on a Redbull jacked spending spree. Because we are looking for solutions to sin.

Some people will try to deal with it with community force. The force of law, the force of coercion, the force of tax and penalty, the force of social pressure and mockery, the force of economic sanctions, the force of propaganda.

Some people want to deal with it through individual self-improvement plans, where each person takes up the problem of their own sin and deals with themselves within themselves. Where personal trainers, and life coaches, and counselors that help you find your triggers, teach you to avoid yourself, and separate yourself from your self.

Some people will try to deal with it by telling lies about it, thinking that if people do not know the truth about them, then it maybe becomes less true. If their regrets remain a secret, if what I know about me never colors the way everyone around me sees me, then I can keep it buried.

People disagree about what is sin and how to best tackle that abominable squidbot of sin, but there is worldwide solidarity that it needs to be tackled.

But the problem is, sinners trying to deal with their own sin are like little kids trying to wipe their face clean with dirty hands. No one would do the laundry and expect it to get clean in a washing machine that was drawing water from the sewer. Sinful people with plans, be they religious, self-help, political, sociological, or psychological, will never do anything but make it worse.

When the problem turns out to be us trying to rescue ourselves, we discover that we need to be rescued from the outside. The beginning of any return to sanity is the realization of the complete inability for a sinner to deal with their own sin.

And that is where Jesus comes in. He came from outside, born of a virgin, out of the line of Adam, the Son of God from all eternity becoming like us in every way except sin. And he came himself distinctly because no son of Adam could rescue us (Is. 59:16).

So give up. Declare your own incompetence. Your real need is a savior. And no one else can do it. Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead because we could not save ourselves. So go ahead and give up and come to Jesus. Confess your sin, and ask for help. Our sin is stronger than us. But God's grace is stronger than our sin.

Dealing with Guilt and Shame in the New Year

Guilt and Shame. Guilt and Shame. Guilt and Shame. The plague of the modern disassociated self is a sense of guilt and a life of shame. Everyone has emotional ailments and psychoses galore. And a whole heap of them are compensations for the feelings of guilt and shame. Guilt and shame plague and follow us like seagulls with a crab boat. And every time that we think that we have escaped them, they bound from behind the dumpster of the alley of life and mug us all over again.

There are whole industries devoted to dealing with the guilt and shame. We explain it away as a personal hang up. ‘I just gotta’ get over it.’ We convince ourselves that (despite the evidence to the contrary) ‘I am better than this.’ We blame our parents or teachers or the rassafrassin politicians that are screwing up this country. We attack those closest to us as if they are root from which our guilt and shame grow. We go to psychologists and counselors or talk to random people on the street (or as just recently happened to me, in line at the grocery store) to find someone that can help us get rid of the feelings, because they don’t seem in the least bit interested in leaving us alone.

But what always seems to be assumed is that the feelings of guilt and shame are unfounded. It never seems to cross our minds that the feelings of guilt might come from the fact that we are guilty, that the feelings of shame might come from the truth that what we have been doing is shameful. In short, what if our guilt and shame actually come from sin? Because the modern world has gone way out of its way to deny the reality of sin, guilt and shame seem like alien invaders, living in our lives as if they don’t belong.

But the reality is that the banishing of the reality or possibility of sin is the reason that we don’t know what to do with our guilt and our shame. If we are sinners, then guilt and shame are fit for us. They make sense. They are proper. And there is something to do with sin.

If our problem is that we feel guilt and shame, there is nothing to do but practice psychological gymnastics. If our problem is sin then the solution is forgiveness. Sin can be dealt with. Jesus died for sin. If we are guilty of sin then Jesus, the incarnate son of God came and died it. Jesus was crucified for the guilt of sin. And he was crucified naked for the shame of sin. And because Jesus died for our sin, when God forgives us of our sin, the root of our guilt and shame has been eliminated. Sin can be forgiven. And when God forgives sin, he forgets it. The sin is gone and the guilt and shamefulness are forgotten.

So this year, be a sinner. Come and agree with God that you are guilty of sin and that it is shameful. And then trust that Jesus took your sin and shame and nailed it the cross. Make 2014 a year full of the freedom of confession and forgiveness.

 

Don't be Like Lando: Leadership that is a Blessing

At all events the victory of Constantine over Maxententius was a military and political victory of Christianity over heathenism; the intellectual and moral victory having been already accomplished by the literature and life of the church in the preceding period. (Phillip Schaff, History of Church Vol. 3, p. 28)        

Schaff, describing the first of a series of events that ended in the official persecution of the imperial persecution of the Christian Church in the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. For the first time since Nero began persecuting the church in 65 AD it was not illegal to be a Christian.

There had been generations of faithful Christians worshipping and writing and living that hoped for that day, but never saw it. But Schaff is right that this new found freedom to worship was the fruit of those previous generations living well, dying bravely as martyrs, and writing defenses of the faith. Because while the rest of the empire was growing weaker in its connections, both to one another and to previous generations, the church was remaining connected in its resolve.

If someone wanted to be a leading farmer, he could drive his tractor out to all of his neighbors and give them advice on fertilizer, crop rotation, planting times, and the merits of all the newest equipment. If he is slick, he might be able to sell them on it, but he is selling them on ideas that he has not tested and tried himself.

The other option is to get at the work of plowing and planting and harvesting your own field. If we really do have the best methods, then it will show in our harvests. If our harvests really are the best, then we will have other farmers coming and looking for our methods. Admittedly, this methods looks suspiciously like hard work. And it will take patience. And having our results judged is much more uncomfortable than explaining ideas. But leadership that leads the way is better than leadership that points the way. Jesus said, “Come this way,” not “Go that way.”

But we are in the reverse situation. As the revolutions of the 60’s raged, the leadership of the left understood this principle better than anyone. Todd Gitlin, former president of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) wrote that, the Left began by “marching on the English Department while the Right took the White House” (p. 12, Nancy Pearcy, ‘Saving Leonardo’). They saw that winning the argument was more important than winning the power. At the time, the Christian Church was barely even engaged in the argument.

In spite of the fact that we lost the intellectual, literary, poetic, artistic, and moral arguments of the previous century, (mostly by not even showing up) much of the church is still attempting to fight for political victories. But God’s pattern has always been that his people first win with literature and life. God’s habit is to first fill the church with truth and grace until it is billowing out the doors of the foyer every time they are opened. Only later are there any victories outside the church. Because only then would we be a blessing.

Only when the church has minds, souls, and hands dripping with grace, mercy, and righteousness is it a blessing to the world. Only when our own field is overflowing is it a blessing to let us plow outside our own field. And God is not concerned with his people having power. He is concerned with the families and nations of the earth being blessed. When it would not be a blessing for his people to lead, then ten enemies chase away his ten thousand.

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In the meantime, plow and plant and harvest your own field. Drop all of the envious sidelong glances at the power of the powerful. It just makes you look like Lando Calrissian just before you turn the Rebel Alliance over to the Empire, more concerned with your own power and influence than being a blessing. Care for the field that you already have. Whether it is your family, your job, your church, your kid’s soccer team, your high school’s surf team or chess club, or even just your little dorm room empire, prove that you know how to be fruitful where you are.

The communication revolution that we are living through is opening opportunities that are still stretching the imagination further than a circus contortionist could dream. It appears as if the stage is being set for something. The church needs to be faithful in the place that it already has and learn to speak, write, explain, declare, and live the Good News of the grace of God there. And then remember and believe that God is righteous. He is always faithful to his promises.

The What and Why of Advent?

Advent means ‘coming’. The season of Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is the beginning of the church calendar, and as such, it is the season that is traditionally set aside to celebrate and remember the anticipation inherent in the way that God is telling the story of history. In the Old Covenant, they were always anticipating the first advent of the Messiah.

From the first promise of the Gospel, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel” (Gen. 3:15), to the last promise of the Old Covenant, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5–6), the people of God were looking forward to God acting. They looked forward to God rescuing them from the mess that they had gotten themselves into. God was gracious, had always been gracious, and they looked forward to the day that God would fulfill his promise to be gracious to them.

And in the same way that their sin had caused the whole earth to groan under the weight and pressure of sin, the coming (or advent) of the Messiah was seen as freedom for the whole world, with all creation, and all of humanity being brought into the freedom from the slavery of sin and the death that follows on sins heels.

1Arise, shine; for thy light is come, And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. 2For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, And gross darkness the people: But the Lord shall arise upon thee, And his glory shall be seen upon thee. 3And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, And kings to the brightness of thy rising.” (Isaiah 60:1–3).

22For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, Shall remain before me, saith the Lord, So shall your seed and your name remain. 23And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, And from one sabbath to another, Shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the Lord.” (Isaiah 66:22–23).

But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24).

3And he shall judge among many people, And rebuke strong nations afar off; And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into pruninghooks: Nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Micah 4:3).

So we set aside a season to celebrate the anticipation that was inherent in the Old Covenant, as well as the anticipation inherent in the New Covenant while we wait for the return of Christ and the resurrection from the dead. The anticipation has been celebrated in many ways, with Advent being used as a time of penitence, a time of preparation, a time of reflection, but it has always been a time of purposely subdued festivities. It is a time to slow down and remember that there were 4000 years of Old Covenant in which Jesus was promised, but had not yet come. This is meant to bring about humility and gratefulness so that we are prepared for the all out celebration of Christmas (which is a 12 day festival on the church calendar).

We live in a culture of hurry. We do not even have the patience to wait until after thanksgiving to put the Christmas lights out. By the time thanksgiving arrives, our culture has already moved onto the next thing. Thanksgiving is a thing of the past before it has even happened.

When Christmas finally rolls in we are celebrated out. If anyone were to seriously suggest a 12 day festival the tar would be heated and the turkey feathers gathered. Any glutton for such punishment would be shouted down with accusations of cruelty.

The arts of anticipation and subjugation have been completely lost. The ability to patiently pace ourselves has fallen by the wayside. We live our lives like a train going 198 miles an hour on a straight track. When a turn in the track comes into view, we speed up if we can. We try and live everyday to its absolute fullest, never taking into account the changing of the seasons or the passing of the year.

Wisdom, though, is skill in living in the world God made. We have the freedom to set our own calendar (Col. 2:16), but we should learn wisdom from those that ruled the calendar before us (Gen. 1:14-16). If we lived in a world that never changed, then living every day the same would make sense. But gave us a world in motion. A world of cycles within cycles. Every year the world gets cold and wet and then is born again in the spring, grows up in the summer, and then grows old in the fall, drops its fruit almost all at once and then dies again. The stars turn in their courses and the planets turn in different courses and a different rates. There are large cycles of 700 years as the average temperatures slowly shift and change. The winds and tides and the currents of the oceans shift and change in calendrical cycles. And godliness means living consistently well in this world of regular change.

And the church has responded with the creation of liturgical seasons. Advent is a wonderful bit of the inherited wisdom of the church. In Advent we celebrate God the storyteller. We celebrate the anticipation inherent in God’s story by partaking in it. Advent generally involves a countdown of days until Christmas (with the recent invention of the advent Calendar as a helpful tool) as well as a purposeful attempt to build anticipation for the celebration of Christmas and the final advent of Christ at the second coming.

Sometimes we enact the anticipation through emptying the house of decorations and then slowly filling it up with the new sights and smells of Christmas decorations. Or through small gifts and treats that are reminders that we are getting ready for a big celebration. But the fun of advent is the anticipation. So put some thought into how your family can celebrate the anticipation that God has built into His story. 

Evicting the Heart's Accountant

When we come to God to worship him, we come as people in need. We never come as uninterested parties, hoping to worship the Lord thinking that we need nothing. We are completely dependent upon Him for everything.

But how often do we think we can make an exchange with God? I will give you worship, you give me an easy life, with money and a good job. I will give you the awesome things I do and you take care of my kids. We think we are interacting with God on a spiritual stock exchange. In other situations, this would be called, "temporary insanity."

Our heart has an apartment where a little accountant lives, always keeping track of who owes us what. But there is nothing that we can give to the Lord that is not already owed to him. There is nothing that we can give to him that is not already his. There is no way to end up with God in your debt. With God, there is only pure and free gift.

Not only is God never going to be in our debt, we begin in his debt. Because of our sin, we owe God more than we have to give. And because everything we have and every minute we live is owed to God, there will never be anything extra that we can do or give to make up the difference.

We come to God needing forgiveness, and provision, and blessing. He gives those things as gifts. We never make market exchanges with God. We need to evict the accountant that keeps the books in our heart and end the distracting little shuttle and clang of his adding machine. Then we will be freed to say thank you. Then we will be freed to worship.