Monday, January 26, 2009

Old Testament Faith

Psalm 69:29-33 (NKJV)29 But I am poor and sorrowful; Let Your salvation, O God, set me up on high. 30 I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving. 31 This also shall please the Lord better than an ox or bull, Which has horns and hooves. 32 The humble shall see this and be glad; And you who seek God, your hearts shall live. 33 For the Lord hears the poor, And does not despise His prisoners.

Within the last two centuries much has been made of the supposed contrast between the faith of our fathers in the Old Testament and the faith of God’s people in the New Testament. It has been said that the Old Testament was an economy of works where our fathers were required to earn their salvation by their own merits whereas the New Testament is an economy of grace in which salvation is a free gift. Others have said that the Old Testament articulate an external religion, based wholly and entirely upon rituals and regulations whereas the New Testament is focused upon the heart and the inward attitude of the worshiper toward God. The Old Testament was focused upon the corporate deliverance of Israel whereas the New Testament focuses upon individual salvation.

What does David say to these supposed contrasts? Hog-wash. Well he doesn’t say it in quite those terms but notice what he does say – I am poor and sorrowful – me, individual me, not corporate Israel, but lonely old me – rescue me O Lord, set me on high. Was Israel poor and sorrowful as well? Yes. Did Israel too need to be set on high? Yes. Did this mean that David didn’t? No.

But notice that David goes on. “I will praise the name of God with a song, And will magnify Him with thanksgiving. This also shall please the LORD better than an ox or bull, Which has horns and hooves.”

Wait, David, you can’t say that. The Old Testament is all about ritual. How can you say that your songs of thanksgiving please God better than an ox or bull? I don’t remember reading that in Exodus! You must have missed the whole point of the law. O, but wait, the Holy Spirit inspired you to write this didn’t He? Hum. I guess you must be right. I guess I must have missed the whole point of Exodus. The Old Testament really is all about personal faith and trust in the Lord that manifests itself in godly worship.

Now don’t get things wrong. I’ve emphasized where the contrast between the Old and New Testaments does not lie. There is a contrast between the Old and New Testaments. But the contrast lies not in the God who is worshiped, not in the reverence He demands, not in the standards He maintains, not in the faith He expects, but in the fullness of the revelation now that the Christ has come. I have come, Jesus declares to us, to fulfill the law – to manifest the full extent of what My Father promised throughout the ages but has now manifested in My presence. He who has seen Me, he declares, has seen the Father, the very Father who redeemed Israel from Egypt, the very Father who spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, the very Father who overthrew the town of Jericho, the very Father who raised up Samson, Gideon, Deborah, and Jephthah to deliver our fathers from bondage, the very Father who inspired the prophet Elijah to contend with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, the very Father who raised up Nebuchadnezzar and then drove him mad – he who has seen Me, Jesus declares, has seen this Father.

And so whereas we once saw the Father dimly, through clouds and fire and vapors of smoke, we now have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.

And so having come into the presence of such an august company, let us kneel and confess our sins to God seeking His forgiveness for despising the first portion of our Bibles.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

All the Earth Shall Worship You

1 Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! 2 Sing out the honor of His name; make His praise glorious. 3 Say to God, “How awesome are Your works! Through the greatness of Your power Your enemies shall submit themselves to You. 4 All the earth shall worship You And sing praises to You; They shall sing praises to Your name.” Selah Psalm 66:1-4

When we look toward the future, what do we expect? And how does our expectation shape the decisions and investments which we are making with our time today?

For the last 100 years, the predominant Christian view of the future is what we might classify as pessimistic. It is believed that we are living in the last generation before Christ, that the world is destined to get worse and worse prior to His return, and that there is nothing Christians can, or even should, do to reverse this trend. Indeed, to attempt to reverse the trend would be to postpone the imminent return of our Lord, something no thinking believer should want to do.

The results of this particular vision of the future for the history of our nation have been deadly. Christians retreated from cultural involvement, downplayed the importance of future generations, and prepared for the rapture. The results of this retreat have been tragic. Violent crime has mushroomed, educational standards have plummeted as ignorance has spread, Christian kids have been abandoning the faith in droves, church buildings have been designed for utility as opposed to beauty. America has become, in many respects, an ugly place. And much of this is a result of the church’s view of the future.

How does this pessimistic view of the future mesh with David’s view in the psalm before us today? It is the exact opposite. Notice that David’s describes his anticipation for the future like this:

“Through the greatness of Your power God
Your enemies shall submit themselves to You.
All the earth shall worship You
And sing praises to You;
They shall sing praises to Your name.”

In light of the power of God, David sees the future full of the worship of God, full of the knowledge of God, full of the praise of God. All the earth shall worship, all shall sing praises, even the enemies of God shall submit themselves to Him. Why? Because God is Almighty.

How does this vision of the future shape David’s exhortations in this passage? Notice that David is issuing an exhortation to the nations – make a joyful sound to God, all the earth! David calls upon all creation to worship and serve the Lord; to join him as he praises God for His might and power. And this, friends, is what we do every Lord’s Day.

As we come into God’s presence and sing His praises, we are invoking the nations to come and to join us; smell the fragrant aroma, behold the goodness of God, come see the glory of our King and join us in praising Him. And this praise, which starts here each Lord’s Day, is to eek out of here and make its way into our lives during the week so that folks can’t help but declare – how good and how pleasant it must be to know the Lord.

This morning, then, as we enter the presence of the Lord to sing let us consider the exhortations that David gives us:
· We are to sing joyfully – Make a joyful shout to the Lord
· We are to sing loudly – Make a joyful shout
· We are to sing beautifully – make His praise glorious

And so let us fill this building with the praise of God – but let us begin by seeking His forgiveness for failing to live now in light of the glorious future that He has promised – let us kneel and confess our pessimism and doubt to Him.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Old Fashioned Good Manners

Colossians 4:5-6 (NKJV)5 Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.

In closing his letter to the Colossians, Paul urges a number of common graces upon the believers in Colossae. Knowing that they would be tempted in the cosmopolitan and corrupt city of Colossae to retreat into a holy huddle and be cranky and uptight, Paul imparts to them, and to us, some closing words of counsel, directing both our actions and our speech.

In regard to our actions, Paul urges us to “walk in wisdom” and to “redeem the time.” In other words, Paul commands us to follow the exhortations to wisdom found in Proverbs and other books, particularly in light of the brevity of our lives and the time that the Lord has allotted to each of us on earth. We are to use the gifts and talents that the Lord has afforded us to the best of our ability and for the benefit of others.

This other oriented focus continues in Paul’s exhortation regarding our speech. “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.” Elsewhere he gives the same basic command urging us to speak in such a way that it “gives grace to those who hear.” Our speech, Paul tells us, is not primarily to serve ourselves but to serve others.

And so, what do these exhortations mean for us? First, they remind us that Paul saw no contrast between the Proverbs of Solomon and the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. So let us be diligent to have these proverbs dwell in our hearts and minds. Let us teach them to our children and grandchildren that they might learn what it means to walk in wisdom.

Second, in this passage Paul is endorsing the old-fashioned concept of good manners. Manners are simply patterns of behavior that attempt to put others at ease and consider their well-being as more important than our own. Opening the doors for ladies, saying hello and goodbye, saying thank you and you’re welcome – we should view all these trifles as attempts to incarnate Paul’s admonition to let our conduct be characterized by wisdom and our speech be seasoned with salt.

And so let me make sure that we understand the very practical implications of these good manners. Today we find ourselves in a new facility that, Lord willing, we will be able to enjoy for some time to come. As guests in this facility, we need to demonstrate good manners. And so, children, you shouldn’t be climbing on the furniture, intruding into office space, or playing on the stage or in the kitchen. Don’t touch things that aren’t yours and be careful to treat everything as though it were quite precious. We are being given the privilege of meeting here and need to exercise good manners in the way we use the facility.

And you, parents, take responsibility for your children. Watch over them with all diligence and teach them the importance of manifesting good manners in their treatment of our new home. But don’t do this in such a way that you too violate the stricture to have your speech seasoned with grace. Don’t yell and scream at your children because you have failed to train them in good manners. Instilling manners into our children is not done on Sunday morning – it must be happening all week so that Sunday morning is nothing new. And so the exhortation to you parents is – impart the grace of good manners to your children – don’t rob them. “He also who is slack in his work,” Solomon tells us, “Is brother to him who destroys.” Take the time to impart these courtesies to your kids.

Walk in wisdom, redeem the time, speak with grace – these are the reminders that Paul gives to the Colossians and to us. Reminded how we as a people have failed to fulfill these things, let us kneel and confess this to our Father seeking His forgiveness.