A Messy Church

I’ve often thought that we have the wrong idea of church: not just we who are Christians, but also the world at large. All too often it is thought that churches are where people go who have it all together, who aren’t as messy as the rest of the world. Church is the place where everything is – we are told – supposed to be safe and warm and fuzzy. Because of this stereotype, I’ve spoken with many Christians who have been dismayed when a fellow church-member gossips, or folks say an unkind word after the service, or…fill in the blank. We’ve all been on the receiving end at some point, after all.

And while we must never excuse sin or become used to it in the church, we also must remember something that is so often forgotten: the church is more akin to a doctor’s waiting room than it is to a vacation destination. We must realize that the church is the place – the only place in this world! – where sinful people gather together and don’t have to hide how sinful they really are. They don’t have to strut about and put on a happy face and pretend that everything is ok. Church is where we don’t just acknowledge, but also openly expect, sinful people like you and I and everyone else to come together under the grace of Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Tim Challies – one of my favorite bloggers – had this to say recently:

“If God is in the business of saving sinners, we need to expect that church will be full of sinners—those who are still wandering and those who have only just been found. If our churches reflect God’s heart for the lost, they will be full of people with problems, full of people showing the consequences of a lifetime of wandering. And this means that church may not be a safe and easy place. It may not be a place full of people who have it all together. It may be messy. It should be messy. Thank God if it is messy.”

The rest of the article is a good reminder that Christ came not for the healthy, but the sick; that churches are not places of perfection, but refuges, hospitals, outposts, and embassies for those who desperately need Christ.

Speaking Clearly on Salvation

More often than I’d like to admit, I’ve heard Christians say that though Jesus is the only way to heaven, “we wish there were some other way.” Usually this seems to come up when Christians are asked questions about what will happen to “good people” from other religions or folks who don’t believe in anything at all. And even though we believe that there is no other way, by giving this sort of a response we act as if we are apologetic about this fact, as if we are apologizing on God’s behalf for a terrible inconvenience or injustice, as if we are somehow ashamed that God is so “intolerant” as to not make salvation a fill-in-the-blank answer that is graded on a curve.

But, dear friends, such thinking is influenced more by our culture than the Word of God. Isn’t it demeaning to God to act as if there could be some other way but that since He is so exclusive, His preferences are keeping people from heaven? The heart issue is that many in our society like to think of themselves as the true authority and believe that – to their way of thinking – any god who does exist should reflect our culture’s current ideas about tolerance and acceptance. But who are we to say that there even should be another way to heaven? Is not the God of the Bible the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Hebrews 1:1-4)? Is it not He who promises salvation to all who believe based upon His own goodness (Hebrews 4:1)? Isn’t it He who has sent His Son as our High Priest to atone for our sins (Hebrews 2:17)? And all of this was done out of God’s love – none of it was required of Him.

Instead, we should be praising God for His plans – it is a wondrous thing that God has made a way for us to join Him in heaven and we should be glad for it as a wonderful working out of His purposes in history. We should be absolutely unapologetic about this fact. It is to God’s glory that He has chosen but a single way for people to come into a proper salvation relationship with Himself and we would do well to respect, celebrate, and honor what the Father has planned since the beginning, what the Son died and rose again to secure, and what the Holy Spirit applies to the hearts of God’s people: our salvation for His glory and our everlasting joy.

The Authority of Scripture

I use a program called OneNote to keep track of all the interesting, challenging, and encouraging tidbits that I come across on blogs, emails, and the like. Just today, I was browsing through my archive when I came across an older post that I had saved from Kevin DeYoung on the authority of Scripture which challenged me once again on the priority of the Scriptures for faith and life:

“Give the Bible the Final Say In Every Matter On Which It Means to Speak

I sometimes hear people say that Scripture is a conversation starter. And I suppose that’s true in one sense. There can be a lot of good conversations after you read the Bible or hear an expositional sermon. But if the Bible is a conversation starter, it is to start a conversation about the God of the Bible who has the final word in all our conversations. Let’s reason together. Let’s not be afraid of honest dialogue. And let’s be sure to test all our songs, our books, our creeds, our blogs, our lectures, our sermons, and our science against the Bible.

One of the reasons different professing Christians and different churches come to such wildly different understandings of the Christian faith is because we approach the Bible so differently. The question: What is our ultimate authority? Every Christian and every church will say, in some way, that our theology must accord with Scripture. But what is our ultimate authority? How do we make our closing arguments? Do we give the final word to reason and experience, to sacred Tradition, or to the holy Scriptures?

All religion rests on authority. For that matter, every academic discipline and every sphere of human inquiry rests on authority. Whether we realize it or not, we all give someone or something the last word. You may give it to your parents or to your culture or to your community or to your feelings or to the government or to peer review journals or to opinion polls or to a holy book. We all have someone or something we turn to as the final arbiter of truth claims. For Christians, that authority must be the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

When interpreted correctly, the Bible is never wrong in what it affirms. It must never be marginalized as anything less than the last word of everything it means to say.”

Old Testament Quotes in the New Testament

I mentioned in yesterday’s sermon that Psalm 110 is – to my knowledge – the passage of the OT that is most quoted by NT authors. To add to that, here are a few other interesting tidbits that we should be aware of:

1) Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy and the Psalms more than any other books. Isaiah is #3.

2) Oftentimes, Jesus quotes the OT in a grammatical way. For example, in Matthew 22, Jesus quotes from Exodus 3:6 to make the point that there is indeed a resurrection. How does He arrive at His point? Because of the present tense words of Exodus 3:6. He does the same with words that have double-meanings and the like. It’s not just the words that have meaning, but the very grammar (voice, tense, etc.) that is inspired as well.

What do I gather from these two observation? First, we must pay much closer attention (to paraphrase Hebrews!) to the Old Testament. Knowing the stories is good, paying attention to the precise details is even better. The Bible doesn’t readily lend itself to speedreading.

Secondly, I find it stunning that what most of us would consider to be the important parts of the Old Testament (Genesis, maybe 1-2 Samuel, etc.) are not the places that Jesus – or the other New Testament authors, for that matter – quote from the most. Now of course number of quotes does not equal importance, but it does show us the need to be careful about overlooking any of the Scriptures. Let us always remember that “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)”

Jesus: Like Us and Yet Greater Than Us

This fall, we will be working through the New Testament book of Hebrews. As part of my preparations, I like to take the time to read through an entire book repeatedly both before and in the midst of preaching it. To this end, I was recently reading through Hebrews once more and something caught my eye:

The primary point and purpose of the first several chapters of Hebrews is to establish that Christ is supreme over all. Chapter 1, for example, tells us that He is supreme over the angels. Chapter 3 tells us that Christ is superior to Moses. Later, we see that Christ is superior to Melchizedek (chapters 7-8). In short, it’s as if the bulk of Hebrews spends time exalting Christ over everyone and everything. He is the better High Priest. He is the coming King. We can’t help but be in awe of Him because He is so different than even the best of us.

And then, the turn comes: it’s not just that Christ is different and better than anyone else, it’s that He is different and better and then He dies FOR everyone else. “For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:13-14)” The Priest literally atones for all who trust Him – for those who are, if nothing else, are very unworthy of atonement.
Jesus Christ is not like us in so many ways – we dare not simply think of Him as a good teacher or as simply a buddy. And yet, Jesus IS also like us in so many ways – He gets tired, needs to eat, rests, laughs, bleeds, and dies.

Hebrews proclaims the Gospel loud and clear: salvation comes from God Himself, through His Son, who is higher and better and more absolutely perfect than anyone else. And yet this very same Savior walks and talks and lives amongst us, both back then and someday coming soon. What a Savior! What a Lord! The exalted King walks amongst and dies on behalf of His people! He rises to new life and promises that for all who trust in Him, they too shall inherit new life in His coming kingdom.

God the Father

I read an article recently (though I cannot recall where, unfortunately) that made a hopeful point for parents everywhere: God, in a very serious sense, was the perfect Father – the perfect parent – for Old Testament Israel, and yet they rebelled repeatedly. The same is true, in a spiritual sense, for Christians in this day and age. This is confirmed by Old Testament references to God as Father of Israel (Isaiah 63:7-19 comes to mind) as well as in the New Testament, where we also see this idea in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, Galatians 4:6, etc.

Let that sink in for a minute, because I think that this is one area that we Christians tend to be overly legalistic and judgmental on. I have heard numerous sermons and talks on how if you would just do A, B, and C as a Christian parent, then your children will turn out maybe not perfect, but certainly faithful. Most definitely not rebellious. And then, since this message is so prevalent throughout Christian parenting literature, if you have a child who does reject the faith or otherwise causes the family grief, your parenting practices – sometimes even your faith – are called into question.

Let it not be so! Yes, the Bible gives mountains of wisdom when it comes to parenting and yes, many parents need to get their priorities in order: what your kids need most isn’t a nicer house, more money, better vacations, or more selective schools. Rather, we must also and always remember that sin runs deep – even in the best of parents and the most obedient of children. That the law can never save, but only reveal sin. And that it is only by grace alone – the grace given to us by Christ on the cross – that any of us, not to mention any of our children, walk as disciples after Him.

Is there hard work for parents to do in bringing up their children? Yes, of course. We dare not be lazy at this most important of discipleship tasks. We must begin to see Christian parenting as no less (and perhaps more) important than our efforts at evangelism and discipleship outside of the home. But does that hard work occasionally not bring forth the desired result? Yes, sadly, this is a possible result as well.

It was often the result for God with His wayward nation of Israel. But there is also hope, because we know at the end of time that God’s Kingdom, filled with all of His children saved by Christ, will someday come into it’s own and there will not only be no more tears or sickness or crying, but no rebellion or heartbreak as well. God the Father is bringing this about. Your and my role this side of heaven is faithfulness in word and example. Prayer for our children. And trust in God’s plan for the ages.