Thursday, December 27, 2012

From the Newsletter: Catechism

When you read the word catechism, or catechesis, what comes to mind? Something our Catholic friends do? Something people used to do back then… Have you even heard the word? Many of us rarely, if ever, heard the word catechesis or catechism but this has been part of the church since the very beginning. While we may not think of it as something that is part of the American church life, it is in the words of one of my old seminary professors Gary Parrett in the book he wrote with J.I. Packer, ‘Grounded in the Gospel’ “not only a biblical idea, but a very biblical idea”.
Let’s look at this subject under four headings. What is catechism (or catechesis, the act of instructing from the catechism)? What is the Bible foundation for this process? How did we lose it and why do we need it? And how do we go forward?
First, what is catechism or catechesis? It is a method of oral instruction involving question and answer techniques. The word catechesis comes from the Greek meaning "to echo the teaching" and it involves memorizing the concepts and then repeating them back. It’s been said that "Catechesis is nothing other than the process of transmitting the Gospel, as the Christian community has received it, understands it, celebrates it, lives it and communicates it( Parret defines it this way. “Catechesis is the churches ministry of grounding and growing God’s people in the gospel and its implications for doctrine, devotion, duty, and delight”. (From Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by Gary Parrett and J. I. Packer, published by Baker, 2010.)
The Commission of Jesus is to go and make disciples, but there is more than winning converts and baptizing them. We are to be “teaching them observe (meaning understand and obediently live out) all that I have commanded you” (Mat 28:20). This ministry of teaching and forming has traditionally been referred to as catechesis in the wide sense, as the church has sought to make disciples of all who are under our care. We don’t just become Christians to sit; we are to grow in the gospel. We want to help people believe, but then instruct and build them up to serve and share and be continually changed by the gospel.
But in a narrow sense it is this method, of learning through question and answer. This is, as it has been noted, “an intense way of doing instruction. The catechetical discipline of memorization drives concepts in deep, encouraging meditation on truth. It also holds students more accountable to master the material than do other forms of education”. It is different from listening to a sermon or lecture---or reading a book---in this way. Catechesis is deeply communal and participatory. The practice of question-answer recitation brings instructors and students into a naturally interactive, dialogical process of learning. The result is that “It creates true community as teachers help students---and students help each other---understand and remember material. Parents catechize their children. Church leaders catechize new members with shorter catechisms and new leaders with more extensive ones. All of this systematically builds relationships. In fact, because of the richness of the material, catechetical questions and answers may be incorporated into corporate worship itself, where the church as a body can confess their faith and respond to God with praise”. (http:/
Second, what is the biblical foundation for Catechesis? In the book of Galatians, Paul writes, "Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor" (Galatians 6:6). The Greek word for "anyone who receives instruction" is the word katechoumenos, one who is catechized. What Paul is saying is that there is a body of material, the basics of the faith, doctrine, how to pray, how to think and act, that was taught to them by an instructor (here the word "catechizer"). And the instructed was to share all good things, payment maybe, the all good things seems to be payment, but the sharing goes deeper than money. The Greek word koinonia, fellowship, is used for sharing, and it seems clear that catechesis is not just one more service to be paid for, but is a rich fellowship and mutual sharing of the gifts of God, as we seek to have God’s word dwell in us richly.
Now, how did we lose it and why do we need it? This process of catechizing all believers, but especially new believers, was something that the early church did rigorously. But, over time, it waned, as the Catholic Church and the feudal state merged in the middle ages. In this time, the mission of winning the lost and instructing believers in the faith grew dim, because it was assumed everyone living in Christendom was a Christian. But, with the reformation, it was reintroduced, and was used widely. The great reformers like Calvin and Luther all wrote catechisms, and sought to make sure all in their churches were catechized. The Catholic Church, which had lost the practice, even reintroduced it. Sadly, the practice of catechesis has been largely abandoned today, in part because of the rise of Sunday school, which taught stories but not the basics of  faith  and how to live as Christian. But again, it was a slow decline. Packer and Parret argue that the result of losing  the practice of catechesis is that today our churches have: "Superficial smatterings of truth, blurry notions about God and godliness, and thoughtlessness about the issues of living—career-wise, community-wise, family-wise, and church-wise.” These are “all too often the marks of evangelical congregations today." (From Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way, by Gary Parrett and J. I. Packer, published by Baker, 2010.)
Despite various programs, the church has not been able to regain its rich gospel roots, and the practice of grounding people in what it means to live as a Christian. And that’s on the American church. Most American Christians today don’t have a solid grasp on the basics of their faith, because the American church has failed to give it to them. Parrett notes that in many churches, if a newcomer starts coming to a church regularly, it’s a matter of time before they get asked to do any number of things, to get recruited to plug into this or that, and he say that this happens “what is unlikely to occurs is that anyone would make a serious inquiry into the newcomers spiritual condition, or offer the person a carefully conceived opportunity to be instructed in the Christian faith”. He goes on to say that an interesting phenomenon has happened when courses have been offered to introduce “seekers” to the Christian faith, the result is often that these classes attract a large number of church members as well, because many are hungry for the rudimentary of the Christian faith. That’s a sad and true analysis of where most American churches are at. Even the ones that work hard at building disciples.
Lastly, how do we go forward? So, how do we re-ground people in the gospel? Parrett and packer argue that the way forward is reintroducing Catechesis, and making sure that everyone has the basic foundation in place. And many are listening. I am. Since I became the pastor, I have been taking small steps where I could. When someone joins the church, they go through a six to 8 week class on the basics of Christianity and being in Christian community. All new members are required that read Basic Christianity by John Stott, and Doctrine: What Christians should believe, by Mark Driscoll (both are available in the library to read if you have not done so). Furthermore, I have sought to impress upon every believer the necessity of being fed by the word, both through private study and devotions, and through expository preaching of the word of God. This coming year, I would like to add another layer to this by going through the New City Catechism with all of you.  The New city Catechism was released in October by the Gospel Coalition; it is an updated catechism that draws on some of the great catechisms of the reformation, Calvin's Geneva Catechism, the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms, and especially the Heidelberg Catechism. It gives good exposure to some of the riches and insights across the spectrum of the great Reformation-era catechisms. The hope of the gospel coalition is that it “will encourage people to delve into the historic catechisms and continue the catechetical process throughout their lives”. I have brought this to the deacons, and we would like to have us learn this as a church. Its 52 questions, one for every week of the year. We will incorporate it into worship, put it in the bulletin, and seek to remind each other of it via social media. My hope is that together, we will push each other to learn it and be changed by it, as it seeks into our churches DNA. Furthermore, I would encourage everyone can use the interactive App and website that has bee put together to allow you to deepen your understanding of every subject addressed. There is video commentary, and deeper insight all made available at Check it out, and pray that as we incorporate this into our worship over the next year, that we will become more and more centered on the gospel and grounded in the gospel, growing deeper and deeper in the gospel.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Incarnataion: Odd Thomas

As we stand on the Eve of Christmas, check out Odd Thomas on the Incarnation.  Enjoy and Merry Christmas. For those of you that went as crazy hunting for the lyrics to this song as I did, the lyrics are below, thanks to Mike Sullivan at the Gospel Alliance.
“What good is the Christmas story if it’s void of God and His glory?
What’s the worth of the words ‘peace on earth’ if it’s not rooted in the Truth of Christ’s birth?
What benefit is it for us to discuss the joy of the season unless we fix our hearts and minds on the principal reason that Christ has atoned for us?
See Christmas is more than just a story of a baby born in a manger,
More than a poor fiancé engaged to a humble virgin teenager,
More than a Magi, more than gold, frankincense and myrrh.
It’s more than a narrative of a Nativity scene, it was so much more that occurred.
It’s the coming of the Messiah, the fulfillment of all Old Testament promises,
The prophecy of the suffering Servant and all of His accomplishments,
The second Person of the Trinity commissioned to abandon His position,
And literally set aside the independent exercise of His attributes in full submission,
The Word manifested in the flesh, the fullness of God expressed,
The self-emptying Jesus poured out at the Father’s request,
The image of the invisible God, the radiance of the Father’s fame,
Holy, but retained His humanness to empathize with our pain.
He was unjustly crushed, chastised, cursed and shamed,
Mocked and adorned with a crown of thorns, disgraced but He still faced the grave,
To fulfill the Father’s will, to come and die in the place of sinful men,
And receive the fully fury of God’s judgment upon Himself instead,
The most monumental mark for mankind made in human history,
Wretched sinners being made righteous only by the wounds of the risen King,
The condescending of a holy God made in the likeness of men,
A child born to be the Savior that would save the world from their sins,
The offspring of the virgin’s womb,
The Christ, God’s own Son, fully God, yet fully man, the only theanthropic One.
This is what we celebrate, Christ the newborn King, veiled in flesh, the Godhead seen,
Hailed incarnate Deity.”

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent Reading: Christ

Here in the week before Christmas, I am posting the advent Readings that we have been using this year at First Baptist Church. Here is the fnal reading that I have written, it is the reading for the Christ Candle to be lit on Christmas Eve.
Leaders: In the season of Advent we have used the Advent wreath and its candles to focus our minds on the truth that Christ will return in glory, and to help us get ready for this great celebration of the birth of Christ, the light of the world. Today, we light all the candles of the Advent wreath. We light the candle for HOPE because Jesus is our ultimate source of hope. We light the candle for peace because Jesus is our prince of peace. We light the candle for joy because Jesus brings everlasting joy. We light the candle for love because Jesus is God’s love incarnate. Lastly we light the Christ candle, as we celebrate the wonderful reality that Jesus the Christ, the light of the world, our glorious redeeming savior, is born
People: As we light the candles, we celebrate the birth of Christ, the light of the world, rejoicing in the incarnation of our Savior and Lord, and anticipating his glorious return. As we do this, we remember:
[Light all five candles]
Leaders: We remember the that in Christ, the infinite became finite, the one who was in very nature God, the holiest of holies, the sovereign light of the world and the one in whom the fullness of deity dwells, took on flesh and came as a helpless babe. Jesus is the image of the invisible God, holy God made flesh
People: We remember our need for a Savior who will redeem us from our sins, and that in Christ, God’s promise is fulfilled. Christ is born! We have complete victory through the birth of Christ. Eternal victory is ours both now and forever because of Christ! He alone is our ultimate source of hope, peace, joy, and love in this life, and the next. He is the savior of the world to whom all scripture points. Someday, he wills come again and bring us to his kingdom to enjoy life with him forever.
Leaders: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
People: He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.(John 1:1-5, 9-13)
Leaders: Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth. (Isaiah 42:1-4)
People: he people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2,6)
Leaders: I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. (John 8:12. Ps 145:3-4)
People: As we remember Christ’s birth, and anticipate Christ’s Glorious return, may God fill our hearts with His light and life.
Together: Great God of love and light, who revealed your light gloriously through the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we light these advent candles, remembering His birth and anticipating His return, we thank you that the light of life has entered our broken world to bring victory over evil, suffering, and death. Fill us now with the light of your love, so that we may live for your glory, and as we rejoice in the birth of your son, may we worship him, welcome him, and make room for him in our hearts. O come, let us adore him! Amen!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Advent Reading: Love

Here in the week before Christmas, I am posting the advent Readings that we have been using this year at First Baptist Church. Here is Love.
Leaders: Advent is a word that means “coming” or “visit”. In the Christian season of Advent, we prepare for the “advent” of Christ at Christmas. This morning, we continue to light the advent candles as we move towards Christmas and the birth of Christ, Holy God made flesh.
People: As we light the candles, we continue our journey to Christmas, in anticipation of celebrating his birth, and in anticipation of the day when our loving savior will return in glory.

[Light three purple candles, and one pink candle.]

Leaders: Today we re-light the candles of hope, peace, and joy. Now, we light the candle of love, and as we do, we remember:
People: We remember that Christ alone is our ultimate source of hope, peace, joy, and love, and that he is God’s perfect love incarnate.
Leaders: We remember Gods promise to Israel of a loving messiah who will demonstrate Gods love completely, and rejoice that God demonstrated his perfect love in the sending his Son, Jesus Christ.
People: We remember our need for a Savior who will save us from our sins, and bring the love of God into our lives.
Leaders: We remember that Christ demonstrated self-giving love in his ministry as the Good Shepherd. Advent is a time for kindness, thinking of others, and sharing with others. It is a time to love as God loved us by giving us his most precious gift. As God is love, we are also to love.
People: We remember that out of darkness light shines. The true light of life whose love overcame darkness, and whose love is our light, both now and forevermore.
Leaders: Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. (Psalm 33:18-20)
People: The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.(Zephaniah 3:17-18) God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:5-8) No one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. (John 15:13)  
Leaders: God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:39) I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.(John 13:34-35) We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
People: As we remember Christ’s birth, and anticipate Christ’s Glorious return, may God fill our hearts with His love.
Together: Redeeming God, who revealed your love to humble servants like Mary and Joseph, and demonstrated your love through the life, death, and resurrection of your son, as we light these advent candles, remembering his birth, and anticipating his return, we ask that you teach us to love, may we know and grow in your love. May our hearts be filled with your love, a love for each other as a church, and a love for the world around, and may we demonstrate your love in such a way that the world may see our love and glorify our father who is in heaven. Amen!
Here are the sources that I used to generate ideas, in addition to the advent readings that the church had used for the last several years, which came from an article called What to expect when your expecting: six service plans for advent and Christmas. An series of Advent readings by Mark Roberts of Pathoes. An article by from Reformed worship called, I'm Waiting: A thoughtfull appraoch to using the advent wreath in worship. An Advent devotional guide done by Covenant Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and most helpfully, a  sereis on Advent Readings and Lightings done by Mike Milton of Reformed Theological Seminary.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advent Reading: Joy

Here in the week before Christmas, I am posting the advent Readings that we have been using this year at First Baptist Church. Here is Joy.
Leaders: Advent is a word that means “coming” or “visit”. In the Christian season of Advent, we prepare for the “advent” of Christ at Christmas. This morning, we continue to light the advent candles as we move towards Chrsitmas and the birth of Christ, Holy God made flesh.
People: As we light the candles, we continue our journey to Christmas, in anticipation his birth, and in anticipation of the day when Christ will return and bring his ultimate, everlasting joy for all eternity.
 [Light two purple candles, and one pink candle.]
Leaders: Today we re-light the candles of hope and peace. Now, we light the candle of joy, and as we do, we remember:
People: We remember that Christ alone is our ultimate source of hope, peace, and unimaginable and everlasting joy.
Leaders: We remember Gods promise to Israel of a messiah who will judge evil, make all sorrow and sadness cease, and bring his everlasting joy forever.
People: We remember our need for a Savior who will save us from our sins, and that Chris’s birth is good news of great joy for all people because it is news of that promised savior.
Leaders: We remember that in a world that finds pleasure in the abundance of material possessions, we are called to find our true joy in Christ, the image of the invisible God made visible, as we look back on his birth, and look forward to his glorious return.
People: We remember that as we press forward in our world of sorrow and sadness, we can do so with confidence knowing that in Christ, we have a source of incomparable joy in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Leaders: I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow. (Jeremiah 31:13)Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. (1 Chron. 16:33) I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:18-19)
People: Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12) He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelations 21:4)
Leaders: When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. (Philippians 4:4-5)
People: As we remember Christ's birth, and anticipate Christ's Glorious Return, may God grant us his everlasting joy! 
Together: Holy God, who announced your news of great joy for all people to lowly shepherds, as we light these candles this Advent season, we rejoice, for we know how the first act of the story ended with the birth of Jesus the Messiah, and we know that the second act will end when he comes again in glory. Fix our hearts and our minds on those things you have done and will do, and fill us always with your joy as we hope in our savior who has come, and will come again! Amen.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Reading: Peace

Here in the week before Christmas, I am posting the advent Readings that we have been using this year at First Baptist Church. Here is Peace.
Leader: Advent is a word that means “coming” or “visit”. In the Christian season of Advent, we prepare for the “advent” of Christ at Christmas. This morning, we continue to light the advent candles as we move towards Christmas and the birth of Christ, Holy God made flesh.
People: As we light the candles, we continue our journey to Christmas in anticipation of the day when Christ will bring his perfect peace that passes all understanding.
[Light two purple candles.]
Leaders: Today we re-light the candle of hope. Now, we light the candle of peace, and as we do, we remember:
People: We remember that Christ alone is our ultimate source hope, and our source of true and ultimate peace.
Leaders: We remember Gods promise to Israel of a messiah who will bring everlasting peace when he restores all creation at the end of time.
People: We remember our need for a Savior to save us from our sins, and give us the peace with God that our hearts were designed for.
Leaders: We remember that in Christ, the God of peace became our prince of peace. The one who was forever in very nature God, in whom the fullness of deity dwells, came not as a destroying conquer, but a peaceful babe.
People: We remember that as we press forward in our world of chaos and conflict, we can do so with confidence knowing that he is the source of ultimate and everlasting peace, and the one who calms our hearts as we await his second coming.
Leaders: In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.(Psalm 4:8) The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:1-2, 13-14)
People: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14). Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end (Isaiah 9:7). Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men (Luke 2:14). Now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himslef is our peace (Ephesians 2:13-14).
Leaders: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.(John 14:27) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:6-7)
People: As we remember Christ's birth, and anticipate Christ's Glorious Return, may God grant us his perfect peace.
Together: Gracious God, who sent your Servants the Angels to announce the birth of Christ, our ultimate source of peace with God, as we light these candles this Advent season, we ask you to bring your peace into our hearts, our lives, our families, our communities, and our world, heal the division around us, and use us to bring your peace your broken world. And at all times, may we remember that you alone are the giver of lasting peace, both now, and forever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent Readings: Hope

Many churches celebrate Advent by lighting candles and reading liturgies together as we remind ourselves that we live between two advents, the first advent that we celebrate as Christmas, and the second coming that we long for. The emphasis and manner of celebration of this varies greatly. One of my Episcopal friends told me that they are not allowed to make a big deal of the advent candle lighting, while others, have responsive readings and make a huge deal of it. First Baptist is the later. Additionally, there is no one way to "do Advent" something I have been learning. Some celebrate the candle lightings as hope, peace, love, joy, while others do themes of light, or prophets, angels, shepherds, and so on... there is a great deal of difference in the significance of the candles.
I learned this, because I decided I needed new readings. I have not been happy with the readings we have used for the last few years, and not having a book of common prayer like my Episcopal friend, I went to google, and found lots of good readings, but none that felt right. None of the readings seemed like they fit First Baptist.
So, I decided to write my own. I will be posting them in the week leading up to Christmas . I have used a variety of sources to get ideas and wording from (if you want them, I'll send you a list), I take no credit for original genuis. I hope they encourage you as walk through advent. Here is Hope. The first instalment.
Leaders: Advent is a word that means “coming” or “visit”. In the Christian season of Advent, we prepare for the “advent” of Christ at Christmas. This morning, we begin to light the advent candles as we move towards Chrsitmas and the Birth of Christ, Holy God made flesh.
People: As we light the candle, we begin our journey to Christmas in anticipation of the day when Christ will return in glory.
[Light one purple candle.]
Leaders: Today we light the candle of hope, and we remember:
People: We remember the hope that the prophets foretold, and that scripture declares.
Leaders: We remember Israel’s hope for the coming of God’s Messiah to save, to forgive, and to restore.
People: We remember our need for a Savior to save us from our sins, and our hope for the second coming of Jesus to restore all things.
Leaders: We remember the that in Christ, the infinite became finite, the one who was in very nature God, the unimaginable liberator of whom the prophets spoke, the holiest of holies, the sovereign light of the world and the one in whom the fullness of deity dwells, took on flesh and came as a helpless babe.
People: We remember that as we press forward in our world of struggles and hardship, we can do so with confidence as we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the source of our true and ultimate hope now and forever.
Leaders: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.. (Ps. 130:5) Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:31) The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lam. 3:22-23)
People: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them the light has shined. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given. And the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2, 6)
Leaders: “Blessed be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope”. (1 Peter. 1:3). May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans15:13)
People: In our hope of Christ’s return we find our strength for each new day as we prepare to welcome Christ into our world and into our hearts here at Christmas.
Together: Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation, as we light this candle and begin this new Advent season, shine the light of your hope into our hearts and into our world, give us grace to heed the warnings of the prophets, and of our savior and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

My response to the Newtown CT tragedy

Here is what I am saying to my church on the Sandy hook shooting today.
Like most of you, I read of a shooter going into a school and killing 20 kids, and I was shocked and horrified and angered. And we should be shocked and horrified and angered. If the world was made to reflect God’s good design, his, love, his joy, his peace, his shalom where there is no evil, the world as it was designed to be, this is not it. And we should be shocked and horrified and angered. But how do we respond to this? Whats the Christian response? Let me attempt to answer that, I’ve been reading and thinking about this all weekend. And here's some of my thoughts. There are seven things we must do.
First, we must affirm the sinfulness of sin, and the full reality of human evil, and stand against it. As theologian Albert Mohler wrote this weekend, his thoughts undergird my thoughts (you can read his piece that I leaned on here), “we must recognize that this tragedy is just as evil, horrible, and ugly as it appears. Christianity does not deny the reality and power of evil, but instead calls evil by its necessary names — murder, massacre, killing, homicide, slaughter. The closer we look at this tragedy, the more it will appear unfathomable and more grotesque than the human imagination can take in. We should not sugar coat it”… We should call it what it is, and then we stand against it. We should have visceral reaction to it, we should hate it.
As followers of Christ, we’re to love what God loves, and hate what God hates...and that means we should hate evil, because God hates evil. All through scripture we're told that God hates evils. In Deuteronomy 12:31 we're told "You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods." Proverbs 6:16-19 says " There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.
As followed of Christ, it's legitimate and warranted to love what God loves, and hate what God hates. In fact, God says we should hate evil. God says, in Amos, Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you… Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph."(Amos 5:14-15) It’s legitimate to hate this kind of sin, not a person but a sin, and to name it as evil, and stand against it. This kind of evil is straight from the pit. We must affirm the sinfulness of sin, and the full reality of human evil, and stand against it.

Second, we must look to the cross. Right now, some are saying, in this, what we need is more love. But that is not enough. Love is not all we need. We are not only for something, God's shalom, but against evil, sin and suffering, these things are all results of the fall, and it is valid to see them as something that is worthy of standing against with everything in us.
And in this, there is real evil...something is going on in our culture, there's a pure evil from the pit. It’s unmasked itself, here, in Colorado, in Toronto, and on and on. It feels like the restrainer has been taken away, and the hour of the man of lawlessness is at hand. There is a battle, powers and principalities, spiritual powers fight against God's good, and we’re watching what happens when evil is loosed.
The only thing that will right this is revival. No human love will do it. We need revival because there’s only one solution to evil...the cross... because of the fall, we are all wicked and sinful by nature, rebels like Adam and Eve, and only God’s actions will right the world. Only God’s actions will make us love rightly, only God’s actions will end evil and injustice, through the cross he took our place, so that he can end evil and injustice someday, without ending us...  and only God’s actions through the cross can make us love rightly. Evil will not have the last word, because evil, sin, death, and the devil were defeated at the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. There they were defeated conclusively, comprehensively, and publicly. On the cross, Christ bore our sins, dying in our place, offering himself freely as the perfect sacrifice for sin. As Mohler noted,  The devil delighted in Christ’s agony and death on the cross, realizing too late that Christ’s substitutionary atonement spelled the devil’s own defeat and utter destruction. Christ’s victory over sin, evil, and death was declared by the Father in raising Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Christ is the ground of our hope and the assurance of the final and total victory of Christ over all powers, principalities, and perpetrators.”
And here’s the thing. Mohler continues, “A tragedy like this cannot be answered with superficial and sentimental Christian emotivism, nor with glib dismissals of the enormity and transience of this crime. Such a tragedy calls for the most Gospel-centered Christian thinking, for the substance of biblical theology, and the solace that only the full wealth of Christian conviction can provide. In the face of such horror, we are driven again and again to the cross and resurrection of Christ, knowing that the reconciling power of God in Christ is the only adequate answer to such a depraved and diabolical power.”
Third, we must remember that God is with us, and he knows our pain. In Christ, God is with us…and all through the bible we see, he knows what it is to suffer. The bible doesn’t tell us why evil endure. But it does tell us something wonderful, a truth we celebrate here at Christmas. God is with us. We see in Matthew that Joseph is told, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel" (which means, God with us). Jesus is God, he’s God stepped out of heaven. He’s God come to, to be with us. To be present with us. That’s the whole story of the incarnation. And here’s the thing, the God that is with us is not a savoir who stands high and aloof. He’s not a God far away who doesn’t’ know our sorrow and suffering. He is God with us. Immanuel. He’s the god who drew near, and he endured hardship and sorrow. He experienced the full range of the human experience. Hebrews tells us that “it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:16-18) And We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.(Hebrews 4:15-16). John tells us that he went to his friend’s grave, and wept. He died and excruciating death. Our savior knows sorrow and suffering. He was tempted. He was tried. And then he endured the greatest suffering imaginable, the cross. And that means that while we don’t know why evil and suffering happens. We’re not alone in it. He is God with us, in the good, and in the bad… and we can go to him with our tears and fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We can collapse in his presence, with the assurance of his welcome when we need the mercies of his heart. He is with us… he will never leave us, or forsake us… he is God with us… Immanuel.
Fourth, we should long for the day when God will end evil and injustice… our cry should be, Come lord quickly… we should cry out this day, with all the saints, how long our Lord, when will you come and end evil... how long o lord, as we look back on the first advent, we say, come quickly…in this life, it’s legitimate to say that justice must be done to evildoers, the sword is put in the hands of the state, in the hand of the king, Romans says, He is God's servant for your good, but if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer. (Rom 13:4)

But there is an eternal justice for evildoers. No amount of justice in this life is enough, a lifetime in prison is not enough. In this case, we can have no justice, this man took his life, after taking the lives of 20 kids. But the day is coming, when God will judge evil. As Isaiah 11 tells us of the messiah, “his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. (Isa 11:2-5).
There is a day coming when God will end evil and injustice. He died so that we might not face his wrath towards evil…He went to the cross so he could end evil and injustice, without ending his children. But someday, he will end evil forever. He will come back, and judge the world with righteousness. Then, and only then, will we have true peace… then and only then, will we know true joy, then, and only then, will the world be put right. On a day like this, more than ever, we should long for that day.
Fifth, we should mourn with those who mourn and greive, in the midst of this national mourning, and give what comfort we can. As Albert Mohler wrote yesterday, For now, even as we yearn for the Day of the Lord, we grieve with those who grieve. We sit with them and pray for them and acknowledge that their loss is truly unspeakable and that their tears are unspeakably true. We pray and look for openings for grace and the hope of the gospel. We do our best to speak words of truth, love, grace, and comfort. What of the eternal destiny of these sweet children? There is no specific text of Scripture that gives us a clear and direct answer.
We must affirm with the Bible that we are conceived in sin and, as sons and daughters of Adam, will face eternal damnation unless we are found in Christ. So many of these little victims died before reaching any real knowledge of their own sinfulness and need for Christ. They, like those who die in infancy and those who suffer severe mental incapacitation, never really have the opportunity to know their need as sinners and the provision of Christ as Savior. They are in a categorically different position than that of the person of adult consciousness who never responds in faith to the message of the Gospel. In the book of Deuteronomy, God tells the adults among the Children of Israel that, due to their sin and rebellion, they would not enter the land of promise. But the Lord then said this: “And as for your little ones, who you said would become a prey, and your children, who today have no knowledge of good or evil, they shall go in there. And to them I will give it, and they shall possess it.” [Deuteronomy 1:39]
Many, if not all, of the little children who died in Newtown were so young that they certainly would be included among those who, like the little Israelites, “have no knowledge of good or evil.” God is sovereign, and he was not surprised that these little ones died so soon. There is biblical precedent for believing that the Lord made provision for them in the atonement accomplished by Christ, and that they are safe with Jesus.

Sixth, we must remember that this story reminds us of the events of the first Christmas. In Jeremiah we read “Thus says the LORD: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” [Jeremiah 31:15] and in Matthew, we read of an event that fulfilled it, an event just as heartbreaking as this.
The First Christmas, was not all joy. This tragedy is compounded in emotional force by the fact that it comes in such close proximity to Christmas, but we shouldn’t forget that there was the mass murder of children in the Christmas story as well. King Herod’s murderous decree that all baby boys under two years of age should be killed prompted Matthew to cite this very verse from Jeremiah. Rachel again was weeping for her children. But this is not where either Jeremiah or Matthew leaves us. By God’s mercy, there is hope and the promise of full restoration in Christ.
The Lord continued to speak through Jeremiah: Thus says the LORD: “Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, declares the LORD, and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future, declares the LORD, and your children shall come back to their own country.” (Jeremiah 31:16-17) God, not the murderer, has the final say. For those in Christ, there is the promise of full restoration. Even in the face of such unmitigated horror, there is hope. “There is hope for your future, declares the Lord, and your children shall come back to your own country.”
Finally, on this Sunday that is the advent Sunday of joy, and today, of tears, and of joy, where do we find the joy? We find joy, in knowing that no matter what, the gospel is true. The hope of the gospel, gives us an inner joy that no circumstances or evil can destroy. We know that our savor has come, and died, and rose victoriously. Evil will not win, he died, so that someday, he can end evil and injustice without ending us. We can find joy, know that our light and momentary afflictions, will result in praise, glory and honor… we can find joy, knowing that, as Romans tells us, suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4), and we rejoice, knowing that nothing, nothing, in all creation, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? And I might add, “Shall madmen murdering children, shall shooters in malls and movie theaters? Shall fiscal cliffs and hurricanes? I don’t think so”. As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39) And so I say to you finally, be joyful, even in this moment of national mourning, the savior who lived and died, and rose again promises to be with you always… and is with you always…He is God… WITH …US… In the good, and the bad. GOD WITH US. Both now and forever, he is with us always. Immanuel has come. He died that we might live, nothing can separate us from him. God is with us always, even to the end of the age.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Prayer in Response to the Newtown, CT Tragedy

From the gospel coalition: A Prayer in Response to the Newtown, CT Tragedy

Jesus wept Jn 11:35

Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart.

Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait.

But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.

We cry out on behalf of the children of Newtown, those most directly affected by this evil, and for children throughout our country and the world, whose little hearts are reeling with fear and terror. Give parents wisdom and kindness, as they seek to love their children well, this night and in the coming days. Raise up gifted counselors and care givers to serve those most traumatized.

Lastly, Lord Jesus, we cry out with a loud voice, How long, O, Lord? How long before you return to eradicate all evil, redeem all tragedies, and make all things new? How long, O, Lord, how long? Your Bride weeps and waits for you. In your merciful and mighty name we pray.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

From the Newsletter: Christmas and the hope of restoration

The Christmas season is upon us already. For some, it feels like it could never get here, for some, it arrived like a thief in the night; you blinked and suddenly it was here. As I found myself thinking about Christmas and all that goes into the Christmas season, I found myself thinking about the hope of the restoration of the world that is imbedded in Christmas.
You feel it pulsing in the great hymns of Christmas. “No more let sin and sorrow reign, and thorns, infest the ground’, declares ‘Joy to the World’ “His law is love and his gospel peace, chains he shall break, and in his name, oppression shall cease” ‘O Holy Night’ reminds us. “Peace on earth and mercy mild God and sinners reconciled. Light and life to all he brings ris’n with healing in his wings Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth born to give them second birth” announces ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’.
This hope is announced in many of the great Christmas prophecies, and is seen most clearly in Isaiah 11, where we are told,there shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him”. We’re told that He will be the perfect judge who will set everything right, and in that day “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb. I find myself longing for that day when everything is put right. But here’s a question. Why is it that we instinctively look forward to this restoration? Man has been living for millennia, and the cycle is the same, you live, you struggle, you die, you become fertilizer for the plants, the animals eat the plants, and so on; it’s the “circle of life”. But, when we look around, we know instinctively that this isn’t the way things are supposed to be. My grandfather is nearing his death, he’s in hospice now, and I’ve been going to Vermont to visit him, and as I have, I’ve been faced with this painful reminder, this is not how God designed things to be. We were not designed to live 50, 60, 70, 80 or so years, and then fade. We weren’t designed to pass away, and be lost in the sands of time. We were made to know God, and bear his image to the ends of the earth, living forever in his presence. But since we rebelled in the garden and turned to our own way, losing our true home, that place of perfect relationship with God; everything has been broken. We look around and know that something is wrong, we feel it in our bones. Something is wrong with every one of us, and the world we live in. Romans 8 tells us that all creation has been groaning, it is subject to futility and it longs for the day it is set free.
And the hope of Christmas is that all will be put right. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the one who can and will put everything right. At Christmas, what we celebrate is the birth of the king of kings and lord of Lords. Holy God became man. The baby in the manger is not just a baby, he’s God enflseshed, "Veiled in flesh the Godhead see hail the incarnate deity". Christmas represents the beginning of this restoration. He came, to take our place before the wrath of God, breaking the chains of sin, and restoring us to relationship with God if we place our faith in Him. And he did this so that someday, he can come and destroy sin and death, without destroying us. This is the promise of Christmas for all, if we place our faith in him. As his people, we can look forward to the reality that someday, he will right the world completely. He will come again not as a baby, but as Lord before whom all creation will bow, and he will set the world right. In that day, the wolf and lamb will lie together, there will be no more sorrow, or sin, no more decay, and sickness and death, instead, what we will find is joy unimaginable as we live in the presence of king, and live and work in his restored, perfected world, knowing God, and being known by God. The creation will groan no more, the horrible broken circle will be destroyed, and we will live for all eternity in the presence of the one before whom no brokenness stands.   
When you think about Christmas, think on this, remember this! At Christmas, we look back, but we look forward too, remembering what it means for our lives, and for our eternity. Christ has come, and Christ will come again, and on that day, he will restore the world, and we will find that forever, we have the true home we have always longed for. This Christmas, as you go about your business, keep this at the forefront of your mind.