Monday, December 30, 2013

From the Newsletter: Holiness and Resolutions

For a long time, I have been a fan of the resolutions of Jonathan Edwards. At a young age, he committed himself to live for God. He starts his list of resolutions with the words, “Being sensible that I am unable to do any thing without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him, by his grace, to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake. Resolved, That I will do whatsoever I think to be most to the glory of God, and my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration; without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of man-kind in general. Resolved, so to do, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many soever, and how great soever. The list includes 70 resolutions that he makes, and taken as a whole, it’s a commitment to personal holiness, to living for God and the furthering of God’s kingdom with his face turned away from sin.


Time and again, scripture calls us to holiness. Paul writes, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:3-4). Peter says, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil de-sires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy (1Peter 1:14-16)”. Most importantly, all the way back at the exodus, God declares, 'Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2).


From start to finish, the holy creator of the universe says, “I am holy, and you are to reflect My holiness”. This goes way beyond clean television and keeping our noses clean. It goes beyond being nice and kind. It is those things, but it’s way more. It’s a call to live lives that are turned away from sin, and to God. Its living lives that are marked by a deep de-sire to reflect the goodness and perfection, the rightness of the heart of our creator. This is the call that lays before us. This realization led Jonathan Edwards to write “As God delights in His own beauty, He must necessarily delight in the creature’s holiness which is a conformity to and participation of it”


Unfortunately, our lives are not marked by this kind of commitment to the things of God. I found myself thinking about the contrast between Edwards’s resolutions to live as one holy and commit-ted to God with a heart saturated in the gospel, and the observation that writer and theologian Os Guinness made in passing during his recent trip to Med-way. He commented that one of the main problems that the American church has is that “we are worldly”. We should be holy. But we are worldly. It’s a hard and true word. Unfortunately, there’s all kinds of evidence to back that up. That’s another article.


But why is that the case? I think in part, it’s because we often expect that things of faith, and the life of faith will come easy, and holiness is hard. We tend to like the path of least resistance, and the comfortable path. But you don’t just end up holy. Theologian D.A. Carson observes in his book, “The God of Promise and the Life of Faith” that “People do not drift toward Holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.” (D.A. Carson. The God of Promise and the Life of Faith. Crossway Books, 2001, p. 99.)


So what does this mean for us? As people who seek to live for the glory of God in this world, and to obey everything that Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:20). It means that the resolution of our hearts must be to delight in God’s beauty, and seek to conform our nature to the nature of the God we love and serve, remembering the words of 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”. It means that we must seek to continue the struggle for holiness, looking to the cross, and remembering that our deepest motivation for holiness come from seeing what God has done for us in Christ. And, it means that as we gaze upon the cross, we must continue to see the invitation of the cross to live holy before the Lord. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, the writer of Hebrews says, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Holiness requires great effort. You don’t drift into holiness; you don’t drift into living for God. You drift into worldliness. We must be resolute in our commitment to being people who are holy to the Lord.


Every year, millions of Americans make resolutions. “I will do this, or that. Lose weight, read that book, accomplish that mission. Be a better parent, husband, wife, employee… this is the year I will…” As you face the coming year, and think about what you hope to see happen, and make your own resolutions, my invitation to you is, take stock of your life and resolve to live a life committed to living a life of holiness, a life that seeks first the kingdom of God and the things of God, and runs from the things that don’t honor God. Look at your life, look at scripture, and say, how, in 2014, can my life reflect a heart for the things that God loves, and an abhorrence for the things he hates? How can I be seeking His kingdom and His righteousness, and living for His glory? How can I be furthering the kingdom of God, and not living for the fading pleasures of this world, but for “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:4)”? How can I be living such a good life here in this post-Christian culture that they may see my “good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12)? How can my life be marked by a commitment to live holy to the Lord? Be pondering these and many other questions.


In this season of resolutions in the face of a new year, my call to you is be holy. Make that your resolution. Live holy to the Lord. Seek to honor him with your all. As you do, remember that you cannot do this without God’s strength. Don’t forget that Ed-wards starts the resolutions by writing, “being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help.” But as you ponder the great salvation God has provided in Christ, may you hear the words of scripture  calling you to holiness, and resolve to live holy to the Lord. And when you stumble, as we are all often prone to do, may these words by America’s greatest theologian echo in your mind. “Resolved, Never to give over, nor in the least to slacken, my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” Pastor Jonathan

Sunday, December 1, 2013

For Such A Time As This

In the last few weeks, I’ve gone to two different training sessions, and heard the same message, told in different ways. The first came a few weeks ago, when writer, theologian, and public intellectual Dr. Os Guinness came to Metrowest. He spoke at Medway Village church in the evening, but earlier in the day he spoke at a luncheon that Dan, Bill, and I were able to attend. He spoke about how we live in an Augustinian moment, a period very similar to the end of the Roman Empire, where the old age is passing away, and the direction of culture turns, and a new cultural reality arises. After a 500 year era of Christian western domination, the old age is breaking down, and something new is arising. We know this, every day we are being reminded that the ground of culture is changing. We feel it all the time and we’ve talked about this as a church. Dr. Guinness went on to argue that we need to be teaching Christians how to wrestle with the big questions, the abstract questions of “how then shall we live”, and raising up followers of Christ who can speak to the great questions and think through how we should think about these new cultural realities as Christians. And we need to be raising up Christians who can move to the centers of culture and be leaders who create networks that impact the world, while at the same time approaching things as Christians who remember that God works in His own ways, leads through the Spirit, works through surprising reversals (such as the one we see in the life of Paul), and works as we aim for His glory (The glory of God is always our goal). He said much, much more, but this was the key thing that stuck with me. By and large, I think he’s right.
The next meeting came a week and a half later, with Glynis LaBarre, the coordinator of the Missional Church Learning Experience (MCLE) that our church has been invited to take part in. She too spoke about the fact that the world is going through change, rapid change. She got at things differently than Dr. Guinness. She looked at things through more of a technological lens to explain why it has happened. She spoke about the fact that we have seen more technological innovation since 1900 than in all of recorded history before, and all of this has changed the way that we think and live and interact as a society. Coupled with changes in societal changes, it’s been a potent mix of culture shock for many, and certainly for the church. And she pointed out, it’s speeding up, the rate of change is increasing. She gave many examples, including the rise of nanotechnology and the exponential advances in medicine (for example we can take stem cells, and grow back lost organs). The rate is increasing. She said other things, but you see the point, considering that we now have cars that stop themselves to keep you out of an accident.
Just as the world shifted in the period of Augustine with the fall of the Roman Empire, the world is shifting and changing, and no one knows what will be birthed. But in some ways, it doesn’t matter. That’s for the historians to sort out. Our duty is to be at work for God in this time and in this place. I’ve been thinking about the Esther story lately. If you look in the book of Esther, you see a series of chaotic events lead to this unknown woman getting made queen, at the same time that Haman (a man who hates her uncle and all the Jews), comes to power. And as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that all along God was preparing her for “such a time as this" He orchestrated things so that she might work for His aims and His glory. And it’s not easy. She flinches as she faces the challenge, because of its immense risk; she’s risking her very life for this. But in the end, she dives in, saying “if I perish, I perish”. Behind that is a resolution to face the —> challenge, and do what she has to do, laying every-thing on the line and taking the risks that she needs to take so that God’s will may be done. The result is something completely beyond her own power; through her, her people are saved.
The same call lays before us. If God truly governs the affairs of men, and if God is truly sovereign, it is fair and right to say that God is behind this massive shift, and that He is working in and through it, and therefore it is also fair to say that this means something truly profound for us. We are not here by accident. Just as God called Esther for such a time as this, He has called us for such a time as this.
Now what does that mean for us, residents of New England, the Boston Metropolitan area, and Medfield? First, it means that we need to stop lamenting the good old days, embrace this reality, hug it tight and truly rejoice in the fact that He put us here and called us for this great and glorious moment. Glynis took time during her workshop, and had all of us say “congratulations you have been chosen to live during the most accelerated rate of change in human history”. We need to do more than pay lip service to this, we need to do it. Yes the numbers are ugly. Yes, less than 2% of new Englanders are evangelical, Bible believing Christians, people whose life and doctrine line up with what we see in the Bible. Yes, the ground is hard. But those He calls, He equips. And those He equips, He uses. He has called you, me, First Baptist, to risk all and live for the glory of God in “such a time as this”. He has called us to love and serve our community and those around us. He has called us to lovingly share our faith, to call men and women to Christ, to repentance, to faith in his saving work, in (such a time as this,) even if it means risking our standing and credibility with our non-Christians friends and family members, and even when it brings disdain or reproach from them. He has called us to be people who use our funds to further the kingdom, even though times are tight. He has called us to live holy lives in the midst of a secular culture, and to speak the truth in love. He has called us to wrestle with big ideas, and live in such a distinctly Christian way that the world is attracted even as it is put off. He has called us to engage our minds, to be thinking most clearly about the good of the world around us, rather than our interests, because that is how Christ acted towards us.
But second, it means that we need to see that God has called us not only for this time, but this place. We need to look around and recognize the unique opportunity that God has given us to make a disproportionate impact for the kingdom of God. We live in one of the most strategic places in the world. There are few places on the globe that are more strategic for the kingdom of God. When you look at the country, there are 5 or 6 cities, depending on how you count, that disproportionately affect the culture of America: San Francisco- Silicon Valley [Technology], New York [Money], LA [Film and Art], Miami [fashion], Washington [political power], and Boston [education]. Which one disproportionately affects the others? Which one could lead to a slow transformation of all the others as student come then go home? God has called us here, to this town filled with driven type A professionals, who, if they come to Christ, could have a huge impact across the region, and therefore, across the world.
How awesome is this? In moments like these things are harder. But they are also are more glorious. Heroes are forged in the fire of hardship and battle, and saints are remembered for standing up when the fires get hot. But most importantly, God’s name is made most glorious when things are harder, because His power is made perfect in our weakness. As we come to the holiday season, let’s rejoice in the hope of the gospel. Let’s rejoice that God has called us in this time and place. The challenge is great. We live in a turbulent moment, and many churches, including ours, are struggling and weak. But we have a God who likes to take the weak things of the world, and use them for His glory, because His glory shines out all the brighter when it’s clear that it was all His work. God is not done with us yet. He has called us, you and I, the fallible people that make up First Baptist, to Medfield, to Boston Metrowest, in such a time as this, to proclaim the gospel, to spread the word of God, to help people connect to the gospel, grow in the gospel, serve from the gospel, share the gospel, and be changed by the gospel, so that they, and we, might live for his glory as He calls people out of darkness and into His marvelous light.