Friday, November 18, 2011

Random thoughts Related to Reverence

“Establish Your Word to Your servant as that which produces reverence for You.” (Psalm 119:38)

One of the objections that I have had in the past regarding worship services is that there seems to be a lack of reverence in the worshipers or in the place of worship. This idea may have come from the laid back atmosphere in many churches where every 3rd person seems to have a cup of starbucks or caribou coffee or is too busy tweeting something to really put all of one’s focus on God.

When I was in college, our choir toured in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic and visited (and sang in) many cathedrals. It impressed me then, and still does today, that everything - from the design of the building itself to the interior art work - was done intentionally to communicate something about God, the parishioner, or something else important. Comparing that to the large multi-purpose facilities where the worship hall doubles for a basketball court makes for quite a stark contrast.

And while I think that it is a good idea, a very good idea, to ask the question of what our building (the actual structure), the layout of our services, the seating, or whatever says about God, about us, and about what we are doing, I don’t think that we need to burn down our current building and start over (well, not for this reason, anyway). I also don’t think that the answer is that we need to have Cathedral-ish buildings complete with statues and stained glass windows (although, those should make a comeback). Likewise, I don’t want to wholly dismiss or deride the idea of large multi-purpose facilities as houses of corporate worship. We need to be willing to both ask the question and then provide an answer to that question about what the building communicates about who we are, who God is, and what we’re doing. Because whether or not we intend to say anything by what we do or how we do it – we do.

As for reverence, well that is something that no building can instill in a person. A building may be able to the reverence that is already in a person, but I’m not sure how much it would truly detract from that same individual. True reverence comes from the Word as the Lord establishes it in us and to us. And it is that reverence that can transform any building - from a cramped and broken down barn in rural Russia or a Cathedral in the middle of Europe, to a multi-purpose building in the US – into a beautiful and reverential place of corporate worship.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Walking in Righteousness

“Oh, that my ways may be established to keep your statutes, then I will not be ashamed when I look upon all of Your commandments.” (Ps 119:5-6)

So many times in life, the choices that I face and the cares of the journey can consume and overwhelm me. The opportunity to bring shame to the name of my Savior in how I work through those times is very real, and while my desire is never to give mockers cause to profane the name of the Lord, sometimes my lack of action, or my foolish action, gives them that very opportunity.

I have been thinking about these verses in Psalm 119 for quite a while, and by God’s providence I am also studying/teaching through 1st John in Sunday school. One of the issues in 1 John is the discerning between those who walk in the darkness and those who walk in the light (1 John 1:6-10). John describes these two groups in various ways and he gives examples for characterizes either category. The consistent theme is the distinction between Christians and non-Christians; between possessors and mere-professors.

This distinction is key when, at the end of the 2nd chapter and continuing to the 3rd, John describes the various groups as those who practice righteousness or those who practice sin and lawlessness. While only Jesus truly practiced righteousness perfectly, the Christian is to be characterized by righteousness where as false professors are not. It was this idea of practicing, or habitually continuing in, righteousness that drew my attention to Psalm 119:5-6.

I will not ever perfectly practice righteousness, and while my status before God is not determined by that, it is very comforting to see and know that if my heart and desire is to be conformed to Christ then He will establish my ways. So even when I sin and do give cause for others to mock my savior, this will not be what characterizes my life. And more than that, my heart and mind will (hopefully) be quickly made aware of my sin so that I might run to my savior, who is my advocate and my propitiation, so that as I respond to my own sinful behavior, I might display the righteousness and glory of God in and through my own sin and failing.

“I shall give thanks to You with uprightness of heart, when I learn Your righteous judgments. I will keep your statutes; do not forsake me utterly.” (Psalm 119:7-8)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Night Reflections

We have been studying the gospel of John in the Sunday school class I teach, and this week we looked at John 15:19-27. In this text we are shown how the fallen world system and its people will relate to the disciples of Christ and that we can know what to expect because of the way that they treated Christ Himself. In my lesson preparation, I was struck by a few things that made this a very beneficial study for me.

The first thing that helped was outlining the passage according to the relationships between those in view. Now, this may not be the best outline, but it helped put things into perspective.

1. Disciples Relationship:

a. To the world (18-21)

b. To Christ (20-21,27)

2. Christ’s Relationship:

c. To the Father (21,23-24)

d. To the Spirit (26)

3. Unbeliever’s Relationship to the word and work of Christ (22,24-25)

a. Spoken to them (22)

b. Worked among them (24)

To say the least, the world was antagonistic to Christ. So a Christian following in the footsteps of Christ will be loving, kind, and Christ-like…and the world will be hostile towards the Christian to the degree that we are conformed to the image of Christ. This is not a reason to be cavalier and thoughtless about preaching the gospel which must have as its precursor a no-nonsense look at sin. We must be wise and sensitive in how we do this, but we must not be timid to the point of not bringing up sin.

This was a good reminder and encouragement to me.

The second thing that was really an encouragement was something that I had not seen in this text before. It came directly from outlining the section according to the relationships in view. Putting it simply: the descriptions of how the Christians relate to the world or the world relates to them are rooted in the intra-action of the Triune God.

The Trinity is not a theological issue that is divorced from everyday life and experience, it is essential for properly understanding our relationship to the world as it is laid out in this text.

To God alone be the Glory!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

humbled by an (almost) 8-year-old

“1 Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, 2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, 3 if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” (1 Peter 2:1-3)

In our home, nap time is a critically important time for everyone. With four children under eight (and one on the way), it is no understatement to say that it is almost more important for parental sanity than it is for the demeanor and physical needs of our younger children. A difficult situation presented itself about a year ago when our eldest no longer needed a regular nap in order to make it through the day.

My wife did a few things to augment Micah’s (my eldest child) nap time, one of which was to make sure that he would read his Bible for either a certain length of time or until he finished a full chapter before reading other books, playing Angry Birds on my iPod, or whatever. So this has been his pattern for quite some time. For a while he was trying to read through the Bible in a year, but he found that too big of a challenge for his reading abilities. But rather than get discouraged, he continued to read and usually chose his sections on his own.

I began noticing that he would tell us that he read Psalm 117 quite regularly. It wasn’t until he informed me that Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the whole Bible (only two verses) that I began to get a little suspicious.

“Hey, if I’ve got to read one chapter (even a few times each day), why not make it the shortest one so that I can do other fun stuff.” That was what I imagined his thought process to be – it would likely have been my own in his position. So, one day last week I decided to talk to Micah about it and told him that he should read more than the shortest chapter.

To my shock – and my extreme joy – he said that he’s been memorizing it. So, I opened up his Bible, and asked him to recite it for me. And he did. And he did it almost word for word perfectly. Not for Awana shares, trips to the kids’ prize box, or any other external reward offered to him – but because he wanted to.

Praise the LORD, all nations; Laud Him, all peoples! For His lovingkindness is great toward us, And the truth of the LORD is everlasting. Praise the LORD! (Psalm 117)

And when I asked him about this, he said that he’d already moved on to the next shortest chapter (another Psalm) and was working to memorize it.

What sheer joy this brings to my heart.

As a father, my hope and desire is for my children’s salvation. My hope and desire is that their new birth would be evident by many things, one of which is their desire to know God, His Word, and to serve Him.

I am overjoyed at my son’s initiative, implementation, and continuation of his own devotional plan that fits his personality and his abilities.

I am deeply humbled and challenged by my son’s initiative, implementation, and continuation of his own devotional plan – especially as it comes to memorization – because it shows me just how much better I could be doing.

Soli Deo Gloria

Friday, March 18, 2011

why my ministry will never be relevant for ‘today’s’ pop culture

relevant – as I understand the cultural/Christian working definition it is the assertion that for a church to be relevant the messages need to be sound-bitable and have catchy titles that relate to the people while using movies, TV shows, sports events, or current events as spring boards to communicate them.

Here are a few reasons for why I can’t imagine ever being able to be relevant like that:

1. Quite frankly – simply thinking about trying to keep up with all of the stuff that’s out there makes me tired. But I’d not only have to keep up with what’s out there, I’d have to do that and be able to craft a Bible study, sermon, or Sunday school lesson out of what was going on. With the time and effort that I (try to) put in to any given lesson for pre-school kids, college students, or whomever, I can’t imagine adding a whole other critical process into the mix.
2. $$$ Cha-ching $$$ - To be up on the culture like that, and to truly be relevant, I’d have to:
a. watch movies the week they come out (or at worst, in the first two weeks), and that’s $10 or so if I go by myself and don’t have any snacks
b. watch some (if not all) of the popular shows on TV, and to do that I’d need to have some high-end TV package…and they aren’t cheap
c. listen to the current most popular music in who knows how many genre’s (I’m sure that even my genre category titles are a decade out of date), and downloading songs gets expensive even at $0.99 or $1.99 each
d. read all of the books, papers, blogs, that come out on any number of subjects (tech, theology, philosophy, current events, etc). Even with a Kindle, that’s very pricey and time consuming.
e. listen/watch all of the popular to the talking heads (serious or satire) who keep me up to date with current events around the globe and what I should think about them
f. keep track of which celebrity was arrested for doing what, or which one yelled at their kids on a voice mail, or who is getting a divorce and why, or whatever…and that costs me ounces of sanity with each dumb story

I’m sure I missed some, but I couldn’t afford one or two of those, much less all of them.

3. Time? Who’s got the time? – I’m a husband, a father, a committed member of my church, a deacon, a (part-time) seminary student, and…oh yeah, I work full time too. And that’s just the stuff that I’m obligated to do – privileged to do too, yes, but if I don’t work hard on any one of those things up there, there are pretty serious consequences.

Now you may agree or disagree with the lists that I’ve given above, and you likely have things you could add to them. Some might say that I’m stretching ‘being relevant’ to an extreme, but I don’t think so. In order to be relevant in my ministry I would have to be very diverse in what I take in. There’s not just one stream of modern pop-culture in my world, country, city, or area. What’s relevant to the single-mom who’s a new Christian is different from what’s relevant to the 80-year-old widow who has been a Christian longer than I’ve been alive. What’s relevant to the out-of-work father is different than what’s relevant to his teen-age kids who always have their iPod headphones on. And not everyone is interested in or will watch every TV show or movie (or any TV show or movie), so I need to know what is going on in the romantic comedies, the sit coms, the adventure stories, the sci-fi epics, the family programming, and the sports events.

Because the moment I claim to be relevant but I miss where group A or person B is at or what they like – I’ve lost them. Or if I get them the next time, I’ve lost another group who could care less about this other thing.

The only way to be relevant to the hippie, the druggie, the church choir member, the pastor, the child, the father, the president of the United States, Ghengis Kahn, Stalin, Hitler, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, the Pope, or whoever is to get to the root that everyone has in common. And that’s not found in pop culture. That’s not the latest gadget. That’s not the latest book. That’s not the economic crisis or a natural disaster. It’s this: man is sinful and wretched, God completely holy and loving, and sinful man deserves God’s wrath, so the God Jesus lived and died as a sinless man and bore the wrath of God for sinners. And by repentance of sin and faith in Christ, a sinful man’s unrighteousness is replaced with the perfect righteousness of Christ Jesus, and now the redeemed sinner lives in light of God’s grace and love and imperfectly strives to honor the one who saved him.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson