Imitative Theology

We are imitators by nature. God made us this way. We are, after all, image-bearers. To copy is human. We know this in a very profound way when we become parents. Children very early on begin to reflect our temperament and repeat our most cherished lines ( a frightening idea at times).

My daughter recently put diapers on her set of Curious George monkeys. She saw my wife changing our little one time and again, and of course, she did what she thought was normal: imitate. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, not always. Sometimes it is the sincerest form of idolatry.

Many have made fine contributions to the nature of idolatry in our day. Beale’s labors on a theology of idolatry is the most sophisticated demonstration of this. Professor Beale argues that idolatry is theological imitation. People become what they worship, and in this becoming, they are transformed into lifeless idols. They cease to hear and to see. They become imitators of death (Ps. 115:4-8). They transfer trust from Yahweh (life) to idols (death). And in this transfer, they become theologically de-humanized.

Imitation of the Triune God is the sincerest form of honor to that God. Other imitations are just cheap expressions of idolatry. You can only serve one master. Choose you this day.

Posted in The Attributes of God, Theological Thoughts, Tolle Lege, Trinity, Typology/Symbolism/Biblical Parallels, Update | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Christian Post publishes a few of my articles…

I came a cross an angry atheist’s website who mocked my last name. Something about burritos. As a result, he linked me to the evangelical and nationally acclaimed Christian news website,  The Christian PostAnd I was surprised to see that they have published five of my pieces. Here they are if you are interested.

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Confessing our Envy

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 73:3 that I “was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” It is clear that as we come into worship this morning, we all have this one sin to confess: envy. At some time this week, we have desired something that someone else has. Maybe you desired that luxury car, perhaps that dark desire you pray no one ever finds out, or the celebrity life, whatever it may have been, you and I are guilty of envy. We have worshiped at the altar of my wants, my needs, and my feelings. We have placed our desires at the center of the world, and we want the world to answer them. “Envy reveals that there is still a war of treasure raging in our hearts.”[1]

What is that consuming thing without which our lives have no meaning?  What is it? Ponder that in your hearts as you come to worship this morning.

The purpose of worship is to direct your attention to the priorities of the kingdom, and in order to change our priorities we need to confess our envy. As Paul Tripp writes: “Loving God above all else means submitting all I want, all that I think I need, and all that I feel to his good, wise, loving, and holy lordship.”[2]

Prepare your hearts to confess how you have desired other things before the kingdom of God; confess your self-centeredness, and then be assured that the kingdom of God is within you.

Prayer: O gracious God, our hearts are full of envy. We imagine ourselves with a different life, and when we do so we forget to give you thanks for the gracious life you have given us. Do not allow us to drift from your goodness. This we pray through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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The Ethics of Creation

When God made the world he made it in divine priority. He made all things with an agenda, and to use the oft-repeated line, “he saved the best for last.” He made man on day six, and at the end he breathed with the breath of perfection (Gen. 1:31): “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

Could God have created man on day one or day three? No. This was a divine priority. Man was created last purposefully. He made him on day six and then affirmed (Gen. 1:26-28) that he was to be over all things. Man receives a place of honor in creation because he is made in the image of God.

Under the Old Covenant he crawled in his infancy. He was unable to do much, and so God gave him tutors, angels to keep watch over him. But as he grew in maturity, man learned to walk. He walked with a limp (Gen. 32) to remind him of his humble beginnings, but he became more theologically civilized and warrior-like, capable of confronting bigger challenges. But God never left man alone. He was never made to be alone. In the New Covenant, God takes man from crawlers to inheritors (Rom. 4:13). As a promise, the ascended Lord gives man his Spirit. He provides mature and able man a comforter and a divine guidance counselor, namely, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

All of this was already symbolized in the creation account, but needed to wait until the New Creation to be put into place. Man was always meant to have a place of prominence in God’s world. This prominence is a not a blank check, it is conditioned on the faithfulness of redeemed man to serve and fear Yahweh with grace and truth (Rom. 12:11).

But when this divine creational pattern is broken, the world is also broken. When the order of creation is switched, the world suffers ethical consequences. When trees and living things are placed at greater prominence than man, then we have a disordered creation. This is largely the fruit of the environmentalist movement.

When day six is not prioritized, the sacredness of life is also not treasured. Abortion is the result of a disordered creation narrative. When God said “Let us make man in our image,” he was prioritizing the life of man over the life of other created things. Yahweh stamped on mankind his image; and that image needs to be treasured above all else. The taking of human life is a phase of disorientation in the created order. It is a direct violation of the way things were meant to be.

The ethical consequences also apply to marriage. When day six is taken out of its place, the joining of man and woman—which is a joining officiated by God himself—is misplaced, and the doors of polygamy and sexual deviance are open (Rom. 1). And when mankind and current social norms disrespect the created order, God gives them over to their mis-prioritized minds. This is God’s way of saying that that which he made he made orderly and purposefully, and that order cannot be tampered with.

Ultimately, man can choose to honor God’s creational pattern, or build a week of their own. But if they do so, they will never come to the seventh day of rest.

Posted in Random Thoughts, Reflections, Reformed Theology, Resurrection, Revelation, Theological Thoughts, Trinity, Typology/Symbolism/Biblical Parallels, Wedding Homily, Word/Sacrament | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sacramental Meditation: An Objective Meal

What we experience in this pluralistic culture is the death of objectivity. But in a world created by God and glorified by Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, we can say that this food is for us in an objective way; in a way that truly does accomplish its purpose. What does this meal do? It gives grace to those who eat and drink by faith, it encourages the broken-hearted, it offers hope to the doubter, and it strengthens the saint.

This is the objective reality given to us by an objective Christ; the only true Lord of history and the one who always provides for his children.

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Not a Primitive Philosophy

Will Willimon writing for the Christian Century asserts that truthfulness is most clearly seen in its practical force. “How shall they know you are my disciples? When you love one another.” This was Jesus’ simple response. At the same time we must not forget that truth is contextualized in history by the writer of history. Life cannot be divorced from truth. Life is formed and lived out by truth if it is to be lived out accordingly. Pagans may conform externally to the law, but manifest “enlightened self-interest” in their actions. The Christian faith, on the other hand, sees truth affecting both external and internal motivations. These motivations are self-less and are shaped by the God/Man who was the embodiment of truth Pilate wondered about. As Willimon concluded:

Christianity is not another philosophy  or some primitive system of belief; it is a community  of people who worship the Jew whom Pilate sent to the cross.

This devotion to the Jewish Messiah is what enlivens the Christian truth and what changes the world.

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It’s Worth Defending

Evangelicals overall do a fine job at defending the trivial but struggle to defend the hard things. Machen observed long ago in his monumental Christianity and Liberalism that “it appears that the things that are sometimes thought to be hardest to defend are also the things that are most worth defending (8).”

Machen was deeply concerned about where the lines were being drawn. He was sure that if we abandoned this battle, we would be swallowed up by heresy and forsake the tremendous work of our godly forefathers. He saw liberalism as another religion altogether; a totally different class of religious expression than Christianity (7). He saw the resurrection, virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus being threatened on a consistent basis. But, he argued, these are the battles worth fighting; they are the hard battles of the faith. Once we lose the creedal ground, we will sink into oblivion. For Machen, this was not an option.

Posted in Apologetics, Cults/JW's & Mormons, Random Thoughts, Reflections, Reformed Theology, Resurrection, Revelation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Affirming True Truth

Francis Schaeffer’s line true truth was coined as a result of the pluralistic culture he was a part of and which has in many ways engulfed our present society. Schaeffer was referring to a truth that is objective and not relativized by one’s preferences. The Gospel is true truth. The Church’s peculiarity stems from her unique message. It is indeed a message that is hardly embraced in the public square, but one which she must proudly proclaim: Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord.

Lesslie Newbigin’s classic work The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society addresses some of these  profound manifestations in the Christian world. He exposes the pluralistic and cowardly trends of the modern church a few decades ago and certainly still very much true in our own day. A Church can speak truth, but speak it so subtly and unwillingly that she permeates by her words a certain level of skepticism in her people. But there is also the type of belief that leaves the door open to other ideologies. Newbigin observed that,

As long as the church is content to offer its beliefs modestly as simply one of the many brands available in the ideological supermarket, no offense is taken. But the affirmation that the truth revealed in the gospel ought to govern public life is offensive (7).

Both are fatal. One slowly ceases to proclaim true truth, while the other leaves the door open for philosophical wolves. The Gospel is no longer that potent and offensive claim, but a powerless declaration that Jesus can be a lord, but is not necessarily interested in the job description.

True truth is declarational. Simple truth has its genesis in the One who claims to be the way, truth, and life. This three-fold declaration is not up for debate. Pluralism, religious pluralism, is doxologically impossible for you can only serve one master.

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What is Trinity Sunday?

Originally posted on Resurrectio et Vita:

The Church celebrates this Sunday the blessed, Holy Trinity. God is Three and One. In the calendar, Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost. Pentecost was the pouring of the Spirit (The Third Person of the Holy Trinity) upon an infant Church. Pentecost enabled the Bride of Christ to be the instrument of change in the world. She has become the fiery sword that conquers evil and puts foreign armies to flight. Pentecost was the undoing of Babel. The unclean lips of Babel have become–by the Spirit– the clean lips of the messengers of Yahweh going to all the ends of the earth.

The Trinity seals this mission with divine approval. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit have covenanted together to see that the divine promises are fulfilled. Trinity Sunday is the renewed call to go into the world not in the name of some unknown God, but in the Name…

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John Armstrong on the Influence of Leslie Newbigin in his Life

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All Truths are Relative and Partial

Newbigin writing in the 70′s saw the growing pluralistic trends and how they were going to affect the missionary enterprise. “Today,” he wrote, “the affirmation of the final authority of Jesus must be made amid the clash of rival claims to religious truth and in a society which has become saturated with the idea that all truths are relative and partial.”

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A Four-Year Old’s Reaction to the Abortion Industry

Originally published at Kuyperian Commentary

Response to Comments: I am pleased with the enormous response. As of now there have been over 500 views. The vast majority of responses were very supportive and expressed in one way or another the sadness, but also the hope that a new generation will turn this evil tide in our country.

As I expected there were a couple of negative responses. The response can be summarized in the following manner: “Abortion is such a difficult issue, and to expose a four year old to such an issue can be unhealthy.” One comment referred to the topic of abortion as “intense.” I do not wish to spend too much time with a lengthy response, except to say the following:

First, we have largely sanitized abortion in our evangelical culture. We looked at the Gosnell case with absolute horror, but then treated it as something completely different than what happens every single day in the abortion clinics of America. Approximately, 4,000 babies are suffering the same fate every day. Instead of sanitizing, we need to call it for what it is: barbarism. 

Secondly, we have also minimized the ability of our little children to understand big issues. My four year old has been raised in a covenant home where the gospel is brought to her attention every day through singing, Bible reading, discipline, and conversations that vary from the Trinity to tying shoes. Children can grasp more than we can imagine. During our lunch time today, my daughter called my wife to tell her something. She whispered to my wife: “Thank you for loving life.” Yes, there were some tears, but ultimately it was a confirmation that the covenant promises of God are yes and amen.

Third, one comment addressed the fact that we need to show more love to these mothers. I agree. And I think that pregnancy centers like Safe Harbor in Pensacola do a marvelous job. Last year alone they–through their counsel–prevented over 150 women from taking the life of their unborn children. At the same time, when these women are walking into these abortion centers, they are mostly making a conscientious choice to take the life of their unborn child. This is tragic, and my daughter’s response was far more mature and pure than my own at times. Death is death. Death is a reality. We cannot keep our children from it, and when we see it we need to despise those who work iniquity (Psalm 5:5). 

May God grant this new generation courage and a fresh passion for the glory of God and the purity and value of human life.

———

It was a morning like any other, except my daughter was wide awake at 4:45 AM. I work hard at not being a morning person, but for her it came rather easily. I got dressed and made the quick decision to take my vivacious four-year old with me. It was an ordinary morning, but at the last abortion clinic in Pensacola it was a morbid morning. Young ladies full of life were entering the house of death.

I am an ordained minister. I have sat through a presbytery oral examination. After having studied for six months, I felt fairly confident as I sat before six other pastors. The Bible verses and the theology flowed from my lips with tremendous ease. This morning, however, I was examined by my four year old. Suddenly I found my rhetorical abilities being challenged as I tried to explain to this beautiful little girl just how un-beautiful this place was. “We are going to a place where mommies don’t want their babies,” I said. “Why do they not want their babies,” she asked. “Well, they simply don’t love life.” She paused and looked outside in silent wonder.

We arrived at the clinic and the signs were beautiful. The faces of lovely little children brought a temporary sanity to some of us. Another sign pictured a bloody and shattered body of an aborted image-bearer. She saw the image.

We joined the other saints. We read a psalm, prayed, and sang Psalm 92. They may not have heard us inside, but God did, and God acts through the prayers of his people. We sang of how the enemies of Yahweh grow like weed, but they are caught in their own evil schemes. Lord, hear our prayer.

We saw the vehicles as they drove by us. They reminded me of young college students flying through the college campus to get to class on time. In this case, they were young college students flying by in their expensive cars to terminate the life of their unborn children. It was a devastating sight to behold.

My daughter asked me to lower myself and quietly asked me: “Are the mommies going to kill their babies?” “They are, baby girl! That is why we are here. We don’t want them to make this horrible decision.” “But daddy, I don’t want them to kill their babies.” “We don’t either. We need to let them know that God loves life, and that He loves babies.” She was visibly shocked. In her world, mommies treasure babies, and daddies are not cowards. But in this world, mommies are bad characters in this unending movie, and daddies are participants in one of the most cowardly acts of history. “Daddy, I want to go home.” I excused myself and took my four year old to the car knowing that I was going to be examined again. “Are they really going to kill their babies?” Now she asked with greater conviction. Once again I said yes. We need to let them know that babies are gifts from God and that we cannot refuse his gifts. We then talked about how precious her baby brothers were. She told me she wanted to go home and kiss her 9 month old brother. Once again, she silently looked out the window in a contemplative manner. Then she burst into righteous anger: “I don’t like those mommies! They will never be able to kiss the babies! I don’t want to come back here.” I didn’t respond. She then pondered for a minute or two. “Maybe I will come back,” she said. “Just let daddy know, and I will bring you with me,” I said.

It was a morning like all others, but this morning my daughter learned that not everyone treasures life. And her heart was broken, and so was her father’s.

Uri Brito is a husband, and a father of three lovely children.

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Why am I Angry?

Why am I angry? Why do I lose control so often? How can I change?

These are all questions we have considered. We don’t have to ponder too long before we realize that anger has made a home in our hearts many times.

The first instance of anger in the Bible is in Genesis 4. Cain was angry because his offering was not accepted (Gen. 4:5). We can offer some theological insight into the nature of this offering, but for our purposes, the result of this offering/worship rejection was the murder of Abel. We can then conclude that unrighteous anger ( I argue that there is righteous anger, but that anger is rarely righteous) is a result of unacceptable worship. The first recorded sinful act in the fallen world was the result of anger. Uncontrolled anger is a result of false worship. The one who is angry and sins has made his desires and agenda the center of the universe. Anger is the definition of self-worship. It is the manifestation that one’s world is not where it should be and so everyone–or someone close– must conform his world to theirs.

If a person has a history of angry outbursts, then it might take more than a few sermons and counseling sessions to see change. Ultimately, Jesus is the model we are to follow. He was insulted, abused, and falsely accused, but yet he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly (I Pet. 2:23). Changing and conforming to the image of our Lord must be a priority. Anger cannot be moderated through self-determination, but through the power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the comforter of the afflicted and the One who calms the angry heart.

Changing then requires an initial affirmation that anger and its consequences is inconsistent with the Christian testimony. It elevates our agenda above others. It does not seek the kingdom of God first and his righteousness. But changing from angry outbursts to  a soft answer demands constant accountability with people who know you best. Your pastor or close friend may be wise choices in confronting you in this process. Anger destroys those closest to us and it can affect jobs, relationships, and our communion with the Triune God.

We need to be confronted by the peace of God daily. Jesus Christ is the shalom of God to the world. He disarms anger with love and grace. In this sense, a grateful heart is the most fundamental response to anger. The one who worships rightly is most grateful. Gratitude is anger’s worst enemy. Unrighteous anger is a denial of God’s gifts to his children.

If you are angry and your family has been on the receiving side of that anger for a long time, then it is time to change. The angry heart never takes a break. Seek Christ. Seek help from your community, and worship rightly.

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Exhortation to Worship: The Trinity and Meaning

We have come a long way from those early centuries of the Church. Our society no doubt has fallen for the pluralistic trap. Those things which the Church fought so hard to maintain are things that the churches fear to talk about today. This is Trinity Sunday, so we are discussing a subject that is rarely talked about in churches across this country, unless it is in the context of arguing against a cultist at your front door. Even then, most people, to quote Flannery O’Connor find the Trinity so incomprehensible that it is not worth their time. But in a few moments when I call you to rise and worship God in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit, you will realize that the Trinity extends to you an invitation that is not incomprehensible to you. It is actually the only thing that makes sense.

The right question is not only what is the Trinity, but who is the Trinity. The Trinity is not just something to be explained, but someone to be adored. And when this Tri-unity calls us into worship, we are not being called by an abstract Being, but by a Personal God who reveals Himself in Father, Son, and Spirit.

On this Trinity Sunday, we are considering what it means to move, live, and have our Being in God himself. We are Trinitarians, and everything about being a Trinitarian matters to us this morning.

No matter what direction our society might take us, no matter how many gods they may offer us, we know that there is no other God, but the God revealed in the Scriptures: Father, Son, and Spirit. Apart from this God, our existence and our worship are meaningless. The Trinity is the only way the world contains any meaning, because the Trinity created the world with meaning, and to deny the Godhead is to deny meaning.

This is the God we worship; the God who gave our lives meaning, and the One who calls us into His presence on this Lord’s Day.

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Sacramental Meditation for Trinity Sunday

The God who is Three and One gives us Bread and Wine in the midst of the congregation. The Oneness of this local body is joined with the Many bodies worldwide forming the glorious body of Christ. We eat and drink as the one and the many.

As we eat and drink, remember our oneness in Christ, but also remember our diversity. We are not robots made the same way with the same personalities, rather we are image-bearers, or better, worshiping humanity, made differently, but one purpose: exalting the God who is One and Three and Three and One.

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Finality and Sufficiency of Jesus for Mankind

Leslie Newbigin, the remarkable missiologist and theologian, writes in his delightful little book Trinitarian Doctrine for Today’s Mission that there was a time when religions were observed from afar in the Western world as “objects of compassion and curiosity.” But now (writing in the 70′s), students have the opportunity to discuss them openly in universities.

Critics of the Christian missionary movement argue that humanity “is now in a new situation where it must learn to live as one community or perish… All parts of the human race are increasingly involved with one another in all phases of human activity.” But Newbigin argues that the greatest need of mankind is not some form of unity founded on pluralistic ideals, but rather mankind is dependent upon the sufficiency and finality of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and Savior of the world.

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Sacraments vs. Predestination

In his excellent introduction to M.F. Sadler’s The Second Adam & The New BirthRich Lusk tackles the unnecessary division within the modern Reformed movement, especially affirmed by B.B. Warfield that a view of sacramental efficacy contradicts a proper view of God’s sovereignty in salvation. Lusk observes that a healthy Reformed faith should be more Augustinian in orientation. The theological “combination of sovereign grace with a high view of sacramental efficacy” do not need to be divorced. They are fully compatible. We do not need to undermine one to rescue the other. We may not grasp how God uses the means to accomplish His sovereign purposes, but they are not to be at odds.

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Instrument and Agent

The Church is both the instrument and agent of applying Christ’s salvation, as well as the form that salvation takes in the world. –Rich Lusk, An Introduction to M.F. Sadler’s The Second Adam & The New Birth

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Meditation on the Lord’s Supper

God is filling the world with his glory. And we are called to make this glory known in word and deed. We do not attempt to make this glory known through our own strength, but by the strength of another, The Holy Spirit. It is He that makes our works fruitful; it is He that transforms and it is He that makes us ambassadors of the most High God.

At this table, Jesus provides us another reminder that God is filling his world with his glory as we partake of bread and wine in this new world. When we eat Jesus is present by His Spirit, and by His Spirit He nourishes and sustains us in all our earthly endeavors. Eat, drink, and rejoice, for the Spirit of God is among us.

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Why I am proud to be an American

In the best sense of the term, this has been a very patriotic weekend for me. It began on Thursday evening at the Banquet for Life hosted by Safe Harbor. Safe Harbor is a ministry the saints of Providence have invested in for quite a few years. It is more than just another pro-life ministry, it is a labor that saw 162 women this past year choose life rather than live with the blood of the innocent in their hands for the rest of their lives. They provide counseling, medical help, and the environment to best guide confused young women out of their present chaos.

At their annual fundraising banquet they invited Senator Rick Santorum. Santorum was still living off the energy of last year’s election. The Senator from Pennsylvania shocked the nation by losing to Mitt Romney by only eight votes in Iowa and going on to win several other primaries. Though Santorum was no match for the prosperous GOP establishment candidate, the Senator was still able to leave a lasting impression in the GOP Primary.

Santorum observed in his speech that though he had opined continuously on the state of the economy and on other pertinent matters, the media chose not to pursue the Senator’s opinion on these issues, but rather focus on some of his more “extreme” ideas. Ideas like opposition to abortion, which according to the general American public are far from extreme. Yet, we are at such a stage in the civil discourse that when anyone speaks passionately about any moral issue, he is already termed a radical. To hell with logic!

The Santorum event renewed my commitment to the life issue and my support for organizations like Safe Harbor in Pensacola, Fl. May they prosper!

Friday morning then was a continuation to this patriotic weekend. After 17 years in these United States, I have finally made official what many thought had been official for a long time. The reality is, I waited this long because I understood what this meant. In one sense, it meant that my allegiance to my birth country of Brazil would move to the passenger’s seat. Practically it has been that way, but a liturgy was needed to confirm this commitment. Though I love my country’s beauty and culture, I am and will be an American at heart. My commitment to the well-being of this nation is a deep part of who I am. Though my skepticism about our government’s actions will always prevail, I am deep inside an American by choice. I didn’t have to be, but I chose to be.

The naturalization ceremony flowed with all its pomp and persistent commentary by the Judge. Her American pride was gallantly streaming. But in some ways the ceremony had to be slow for I had been waiting for a long time for this moment to come to pass, and the slow and tedious ceremony was just an symbol of how long this entire process took; thousands of dollars, the patience of a loving wife, and the trips…so many trips. So here I am: an American at last.

My religious and political propensity demands that I refrain from exalting too much this nation. But it is hard to remain silent about a nation that has done so much for me. It has nourished me in all the human luxuries imaginable. It has provided for me confirmation of my calling. It has romanced me into its beauty and culture, and then asked me to take part in it. It accepted me even when I declared from the mountain tops that this country needs repentance of the II Chronicles kind.

So this has been a patriotic past weekend. I have tasted officially of the American air with a flag pin to prove it. I indulged in corn dogs and French fries (yes, freedom fries), and no, I still do not have an appetite for country music. I entered into the fine company of what the Judge so repetitively described as the “melting pot.” I enter as one, but hope to impact many.

I am proud to be an American, but in a different way than the obnoxious tune. I am proud to be an American because I know that my loyalty is to the King of America, Jesus Christ. And though this blessed nation has deserted our Lord and Maker, I decided to use my mouth and vote to opine passionately and studiously about why this nation needs to pursue this Lord. She is lost without His care. I don’t want to only glory in her past; I want to glory in the future she will have if she turns, and repents, and bows down before the only One who can make her great.

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An Exhortation for Mother’s Day

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We cannot begin to think of mothers without speaking of our first mother, Eve. Eve was given the task of beautifying Eden. Her duty was to make Eden a place where God would dwell forever. The first task of a mother is to consider her actions in light of the future. In other words, in what ways am I preparing my home, my labors, and my offspring to exalt the name of Yahweh? The problem of Genesis 3 can be defined as a problem of a poor eschatology. The first lesson mothers need to understand is that the future matters. This is why mothers are called to live in such a way that influences her children and her children’s children.

On this Mother’s Day, Children must bless their mothers! Husbands must praise their wives! A good queen beautifies the home, and makes the king look respectable and honorable in his kingdom, and at the gates of the city. A good queen makes the name of Yahweh known in her garden. A good queen awakens to hear her children call her blessed!

As mothers get older and gain more and more biblical wisdom, they become wise matriarchs in communities. People begin to say: “Go to her. Seek her counsel.” But this does not come easily. Mothers need to be good theologians. They need the rhythm of resurrection to grow in wisdom. They need to be constantly reminded that God’s grace is strengthening and building them up in their darkest moments; when they are overwhelmed by their duties. Mothers as a New Eve need to embrace the resurrection as a model for life. They need to so cherish the empty tomb that they realize that their perspective on life now and the future is shaped by it.

Christian mothers in one way set the rhythm for the rest of the world. C.S. Lewis put it this way:

“To be a mother is a woman’s greatest vocation in life.  She is a partner with God.  No being has a position of such power and influence.  She holds in her hands the destiny of nations, for to her comes the responsibility and opportunity of molding the nation’s citizens.”

Mothers, do not ever allow someone to say that your role is not valued. You are co-heirs of grace. Your children are arrows that pierce the kingdoms of darkness, because you trained them to be great warriors. For every diaper you change, for every alphabet letter you teach, for every kiss, for every song, for every meal you make, for every joy you instill in your children and others in your community, therein is the testimony of God’s grace in the world. So on this day,

To those who gave birth this year to their first child—we celebrate with you

To those who lost a child this year – we mourn with you

To those who are in the trenches with little ones every day and wear the badge of food stains – we appreciate you

To those who experienced loss this year through miscarriage, failed adoptions, or running away—we mourn with you

To those who walk the hard path of infertility, we walk with you.

To those who are foster moms, mentor moms, and spiritual moms – we need you

To those who have disappointment, heart ache, and distance with your children – we sit with you

To those who lost their mothers this year – we grieve with you

To those who will have emptier nests in the upcoming year – we grieve and rejoice with you

And to those who are pregnant with new life, we anticipate with you.[1]

Moms, you are God’s gift to the Church, and to your families. Be encouraged in your calling. We need your wisdom, and the world needs it also. Happy Mother’s Day! And may the God of all peace sustain and nourish you with His grace now and forever. Amen.

Posted in Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, Tribute, Typology/Symbolism/Biblical Parallels | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ascension of our Lord: A Brief Introduction

The Church celebrates the Ascension of our Lord this Thursday. Since most churches are not able to have Thursday services, traditionally many of them celebrate Ascension on Sunday.

The Ascension of Jesus is barely mentioned in the evangelical vocabulary. We make room for his birth, death, and resurrection, but we tend to put a period where God puts a comma.

If the resurrection was the beginning of Jesus’ enthronement, then the ascension is the establishment of his enthronement. The Ascension activates Christ’s victory in history. The Great Commission is only relevant because of the Ascension. Without the Ascension the call to baptize and disciple would be meaningless. It is on the basis of Jesus’ enthronement at the right-hand of the Father, that we image-bearers can de-throne rulers through the power and authority of our Great Ruler, Jesus Christ.

The Ascension then is a joyful event, because it is the genesis of the Church’s triumph over the world. Further, it defines us as a people of glory and power, not of weakness and shame. As Jesus is ascended, we too enter into his ascension glory (Col. 3:1) This glory exhorts us to embrace full joy. As Alexander Schmemann once wrote:

“The Church was victorious over the world through joy…and she will lose the world when she loses its joy… Of all accusations against Christians, the most terrible one was uttered by Nietzsche when he said that Christians had no joy.”[1]

But this joy is given to us by a bodily Lord.

We know that Jesus is at the right hand of the Father. He is ruling and reigning from his heavenly throne. He has given the Father the kingdom, and now he is preserving, progressing, and perfecting his kingdom. He is bringing all things under subjection.

We know that when he was raised from the dead, Jesus was raised bodily. But Gnostic thinking would have us assume that since Jesus is in heaven he longer needs a physical body. But the same Father who raised Jesus physically, also has his Son sitting beside him in a physical body.  As one author observed:

Jesus has gone before us in a way we may follow through the Holy Spirit whom he has sent, because the way is in his flesh, in his humanity.[1]

Our Lord is in his incarnation body at the right hand of the Father. This has all sorts of implications for us in worship. We are worshipping a God/Man; one who descended in human flesh and who ascended in human flesh. He is not a disembodied spirit. He is truly God and truly man.

As we consider and celebrate the Ascension of our blessed Lord, remember that you are worshiping the One who understands your needs, because he has a body just like you; he understands your joy because he has a body just like you.

[1] Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World. Paraphrased

[2] Gerrit Dawson, see http://apologus.wordpress.com/2012/05/16/ascension-and-jesus-humanity/

Posted in Advent, Apologetics, Ascension, Atheism, Attributes of God, Augustine, Biblical and Theological Language, Christian Liberty, Christian Living, Covenant Renewal Worship, Covenant Theology, Dominion, Hospitality, Resurrection, Romans, Shorter Catechism, The Attributes of God | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Why Ministers Leave

The typical pastor stays in a church for 3.6 years. This does not seem to offer much hope for any long-term vision for a local parish. Planning ahead seems futile from the outset. This discouraging number stems from a variety of issues. Some pastors, fresh out of seminary, attempt to revive a church that has already died a thousand deaths. Their optimism suffers the same amount of deaths within the first twelve months. Other pastors eager to persuade a congregation of his theology immerse with psalmic zeal into the nuances of his dogmatic learning only to find that the congregation does not share the same interest or enthusiasm. In many cases pastoral conflicts ensue among staff ultimately leading to each one doing what is right in their own eyes. And the reasons for the 3.6 number can be multiplied.

In Dr. John Gilmore’s Pastoral Politics: Why Ministers Resign he observes the phenomenon of pastoral departure from various angles. In particular, he wants to offer hope to pastors who have gone through the terrible emotional pain of leaving or being forced to leave a congregation. He observes that “Both undergraduate Christian college and seminary courses should do a better job of proactively addressing the matter of pastoral closure.” Pastors usually leave their congregations under tremendous stress and uncertain about their future. If the numbers are right, “resignation” is a common word to the majority of congregations in this country.

When a pastor resigns he is not only leaving his job, he is leaving his life. The pastorate is not merely the exercising of rhetorical skills, but actually the exercising of life skills. No profession is so immersed in the lives of ordinary people than the pastorate. This past Sunday alone during our congregation’s fellowship time I engaged in over 10 different conversations in the space of 30 minutes. From children to older saints, each conversation was important to me because they were manifestations of what was important to my parishioners. As far as I am aware no profession (and I use that term broadly) is so engaged in the well-being of fellow men than the pastorate. And so when a pastor resigns, he resigns not just from a job, but from his life; the life he knew and invested in heart, mind, soul, and strength.

There is no doubt the ecclesiastical charlatans and wolves are out there, and to hell with them! But when the local pastor who sees his unique calling to shepherd and care for his flock resigns he loses more than just a salary, but in many ways his spirit.

Jonathan Edwards understood this. In his farewell sermon he prepared his congregants by saying that it was a matter of vast importance how a people treat their ministers, and in some ways the future of that minister is in the hands of how the sheep treat their shepherd, or as Edwards puts it, “how they receive and entertain a faithful minister of Christ.” Parishioners need to be aware that the implications of Hebrews 13:17 weighs heavily each day to the local minister.

As I stated in a homily delivered at a recent ordination service, no profession undergoes the ups and downs of life so quickly than that of a pastor. He may be rejoicing in the heavenly places on Sunday as he leads his congregation in adoration only to be confronted with a parishioner eager to seek a divorce after 20 years of marriage on Monday morning.

With that in mind, the 3.6 year average seems almost justifiable. But there is hope. And the hope lies not in some pastoral technique or on superb leadership skills, but in the Spirit of God through his intervening grace. The Third Person of the Trinity is the sustainer of the body through the Pentecostal fire poured in the church’s infancy and continued into the church’s maturity. It is by grace that those numbers are not lower and it is by grace that those numbers will increase and no longer reflect the evangelical scene.

May congregations learn to nourish their pastors in love and may pastors nourish their people in every spiritual blessing. And may pastors look with hope to the future of their parishes in the 20-30 years ahead and see the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and care bear much fruit in the lives of their people, their children, and their children’s children.

Posted in Ascension, Baptists, Children and Worship, Christian Liberty, Christian Living, Counseling/Pastoral Issues, Covenant Renewal Worship, Culture, Word/Sacrament | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Evangelical, the Damning Statistics, and What To Do About It, Part I

The results are in and they don’t look good. Christianity Today reports on the Sex Lives of Unmarried Evangelicals. The two surveys offer differing numbers, but the conclusion is summarized in this manner:

Bible Reading? Evangelicals who infrequently read the Bible were 70 percent more likely to have been recently sexually active than frequent Bible readers.

Church Attendance? Evangelicals who attend church less than weekly were more than twice as likely to have been recently sexually active than weekly attenders.

Conversion? Of the sexually active singles, 92 percent had sex after becoming“born again.” That’s largely because the average age when evangelicals under 40 became “born again” was 8.

Evangelical statistics have a way of increasing our national Christian guilt, which is something that usually is already mighty high. Furthermore, the numbers usually paint a more pessimistic picture than what is actually taking place. My general principle when dealing with these statistics is to cut the percentage by a third. When the oft-cited “50% of Christian married couples end in divorce” statistic is referenced, this usually means about 35% of Christian married couples divorce. Those original statistics also included Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. A Non-Trinitarian marriage is anything but a Christian marriage.

But however you do the math, the numbers are still frightening. No one can deny that they reflect a weak evangelicalism. It is not that evangelical churches are fully entertainment driven without any substance, but that the substance they offer is not sustaining, and therefore leading our young generations to find pleasure is worldly entertainment. Part of this worldly entertainment is the casualness of the sex culture.

Since this is the case we have responded in the way we evangelical do best: we have over-reacted. We have bought into the “world is against us” slogan and we have acted upon it with zealous fury. We have sheltered our children to the point of stifling their rhetoric and making them miserable spokesmen for the Lordship of King Jesus. On the other hand, we have overly exposed them to the vastness of sexualized culture. By the age of ten they all have their Lady Gaga lyrics as accurately as a Puritan boy his catechism memorized.

What can evangelical churches do to provide a culture that despises impurity and treasures purity?

The remarkable response–according to the statistics– is by focusing on the simple means of grace of Church attendance, Prayer, and Bible reading one reduces dramatically the chances of engaging in fornication. I have stated many times that the evangelical problem is one of prioritization. And what does priority look like in the church? The damning news is that conversion is not enough. For many parents conversion serves as a perpetual moral babysitter. As long as words are spoken affirming the X,Y, and Z of Christian conversion then we are on our way to bringing up pure children. But conversion or its vocabulary are not enough! The evangelical culture has evangelized their children to death, and then they are left wondering where did we go wrong.

Here is a sample quoted above:

Evangelicals who infrequently read the Bible were 70 percent more likely to have been recently sexually active than frequent Bible readers.

Let’s say 50% of this is true. Without going into detail of what this “Bible-Reading” should look like–a worthy discussion to be had–in what ways are churches inculcating their children with the Sacred Scriptures? In other words, what are they doing to instill a desire in our children to drink deeply of the Biblical narrative? Have churches made the Bible so one-sided and narrowly explicated that our children long to escape to a different narrative of the world?

As we affirm Sola-Scriptura, let us also delve into the Scriptures in a transformative way. “Your word is life,” says Yahweh. And this alone is enough to make the point of the study. When one saturates himself in life, then he will find death-like practices abominable.

To echo N.T. Wright, let’s return to a simply Christian view of life. Our understanding of sexuality needs to be transformed by a new understanding of who we are in Christ. Our new creation life is a life that treasures sex in its right context. Further, it sees the life of another human being as sacred, and therefore violating that sacredness–which is what pre-marital sex is–is a violation of life; a profound misunderstanding of the Imago Dei.

The Scriptures and its reading will help us re-shape our view of ourselves and others, but it must be done in a context that perpetuates the reality that the new world brings a new light and this light is filled with redemptive and ethical consequences. Therefore, forsake the works of darkness and drink deeply of the words of life.

*An additional post on “How to read Bible” will soon follow.

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Truth is Truth

Flannery O’Connor once wrote: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” This is something we need to keep in mind in our day. What God has defined let no man put asunder. God provides the world with a divinely inspired dictionary, and in this dictionary there are no second editions.

In the modern day frenzy to discredit God’s creation and His purposes for Creation, we need to always come back to this simple reality: Truth is truth whether we can stomach it or not. This world may not be prepared for biblical authority, but it is our role to let them know that whether they are ready or not truth is truth.

And since this is the case, worship becomes even more central. Worship is God’s word spoken to us in a definitive and authoritative way. Our response to this word is to allow it to shape us to be the people who can communicate that word with and grace and truth. Let us prepare our hearts to receive this divine word.

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Communion Meditation: Our Story

The Story of redemption is written only in the mind of God. We know the end of the story, but we do not know what is to transpire before that end. In the same manner, our stories are not fully written. Everything we are going through is part of God’s writing process. And God is not only a good writer, but a perfect director. Nothing in our lives catch God by surprise. Our doubts, concerns, and pain are not what define us, but rather trust, hope, and comfort define us.

At this table, God is providing that for us. If you eat and drink trusting in God and believing that he is writing our stories with His good in mind, then we can begin to find relief in our narratives. This meal is a means of grace for us, and is part of the way God writes our story.

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The Psalter and Its Purposes

With the resurgence of the psalms in many evangelicals circles, I thought I’d re-state some basic themes of the psalms and a couple of thoughts on how they can be used. As a general introduction, the Psalter offers its rich application to us in two central ways:
a) It is all Christological. As Augustine wrote, the psalms speak of the totus Christus. In this sense, it is the most profound way in which the Psalms are applicable. They all speak of Jesus. They all have Jesus as the center of the narrative. Just as Jesus endured human trial and suffered in death and abandonment, so too, the Psalter (though David and others) speak to these experiences. Nothing the Psalmist underwent is outside the general experiences we go through daily and in our lifetimes. Since we all suffer, since we all are called to endure the journey, therefore God provides a means of expressing ourselves. Notice also that the Psalms are not feel-good songs for the comfortable; many are psalms of lament; prayers for us to pray when we do not believe God is answering us as we would like.
b) The Psalms are personalized narratives. They are not meant to be abstract or passionate-less  Psalm 55-57, for example, speak to the suffering and the honesty of the Psalmist towards God. God wants us to cry to him as children and He treats us as His own. This is precisely why I advocate specific prayers, rather than generic ones. Rather than looking at these Psalms as distant and foreign songs, we are to personalize them and apply them to our own experiences: “O God, why do you not answer me when I am in despair. For your sake, answer me Lord according to your steadfast love.” The Psalms are prayers for us to use when we do not have words to say. When are mouths are shut due to the pain, the Psalms are songs (prayers) that instruct and provide an outline for us to pray.
So, where to begin?
At the beginning. Take a new translation and choose a particular psalm to meditate on for a while.
Read through Psalm seven as an example for 30 days. Make its verses a part of your daily song.
The Psalter belongs to the church, because they were written for the church to sing. The Old Covenant church (the Jewish church) instead of making it only a matter for the mind actually embodied and lived by the psalter. When a loved one died they sang a psalm, when they were persecuted and feeling like there was no where to go they sang a psalm. This is why the saints who have called upon me in their deathbed knew that Psalm 23 would be appropriate for them minutes before death. They knew, though not in a sophisticated way, that God was their Shepherd and they were the sheep of His pasture.
You cannot understand or even begin to sense the profound nature and power of the psalms until they become a part of who you are; your daily liturgy, and this one thing I guarantee: once they become familiar songs to you the questions you pose will begin to be answered and also shape your view of the world.
God is my shield,
saving those whose hearts are true and right.
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One Additional Thought on Paedocommunion

Children belong at the table. I have argued for a decade that children of the covenant are recipients of all the covenant benefits. One significant benefit is the means of grace we call the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. Baptism opens the ecclesiastical doors to the Lord’s Table.

I have for so long agreed with those simple statements that the more I interact with Reformation-minded Christians on this issue, the stranger and stranger it becomes. Yes, there are those confessional issues at hand, and there is the most famous Pauline passage in I Corinthians 11:17-34 that is used as an argument for opposing paedocommunion, but if the Reformed paedobaptist is open to considering the Bible afresh without his preconceived notions of what Paul meant, or allowing the text to take precedence over our cherished confessions, then I believe there is an opportunity to re-consider this important matter. As Tim Gallant observes, “no tradition and no confession may be treated as irreformable.”

I do not wish here to elaborate on the many exegetical issues involved. Some books like Tim Gallant’s Feed my Lambs and Strawbridge’s The Case for Covenant Communion do a fine job elaborating on the more technical discussions surrounding the issue at hand. My desire is to add just one theological point about the inclusion of children in the Psalter.

The Paedocommunionist position argues that children are to be not only included in the worship of the saints, but also that they are to be participants in the worship of the saints. And part of this participation means eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table with the body. To be in the body means to partake of the body. The Paedocommunion position is the natural consequence of paedobaptism. In fact, many come to paedocommunion by considering the logical necessities of paedobaptism.

The Psalter makes a fine case for the inclusion of little children in the ecclesiastical community of the Old Testament. Those of us who wish to apply a covenantal hermeneutic consistently conclude that they are to be also included in the New Covenant promises. If the New Covenant is more glorious and greater, then the NC continues to show favor to children of believers, and not take away that favor. Assuming that to be the case (and certainly this is a limited discussion among paedobaptists), then it is safe to conclude that the Psalter establishes a model of inclusion and not exclusion.

One text that is often overlooked in this discussion is Psalm 148. Psalm 148 is a doxological description of the celestial and earthly praise. God designs creation to display His excellencies and glory. But this glory can only be complete if children are in the picture. Children are also part of this great choir. Children, then, are involved participants in this cosmic refrain of praise. Creation is also involved and is sacramentally nourished by the hands of God. Far from an uninterested and uninvolved God, our God is deeply invested in the affairs of creation and so He sustains them with every good thing.

But at the heart of this chorus are old men and children (na`ar). Man plays a pivotal role in this worship scene. He is the homo adorans (worshiping being). 

We can then conclude that the Psalmist engages all sorts of people in the responsibility of praise. And if children are called to praise (Psalm 8:2-3), then they are called to be nourished as participants in that praise. In the Bible everyone who praises eats at some time. I am arguing that those who praise eat very early. When? At the moment they can eat and drink at their earthly father’s table, they should be able to eat at their heavenly father’s table. Simple in my estimation.

Posted in Children and Worship, Covenant Renewal Worship, Covenant Theology, CREC, Ecclesiology, I Corinthians, Infant Baptism/Biblical and Early Church Practices, Infant Faith | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Exhortation: Good vs. Evil

The harsh reality of this fallen world sometimes causes us to lose hope of its restoration. The mass murders at the Gosnell abortion facility—which biblically is not to be differentiated from the actions of any abortion clinic in the country,– the evil protagonist of the Boston Marathon bombing are just for many confirmations of a hopeless philosophy that Christians cannot refuse. And there would be legitimacy to this philosophy were it not for this one event in history: we Christians refer to it as The Resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.

In the Resurrection of Jesus, creation itself begins to expect a renewed world. In the resurrection, the saints of God are given true hope to fight the good fight and to not allow one square inch of creation to act as if it is neutral.

When evil is perpetrated, we have the opportunity to either allow it to dominate the way we think of God’s world or we can begin to think Resurrection-like knowing that God is changing the world and laughing at the plans of evil men. Christians are called to believe that the Resurrection confronts evil in the Person of Jesus Christ and Christ has already won the victory. Let us celebrate that victory in worship this morning!

Prayer: O Lord God, cause our hearts to grieve over the calamities of our culture, but also to hope in the promises of your Risen Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Communion Meditation: A Table of Life

The promises of the Gospel fill us with joy this morning. It is a tasteful reminder that our Shepherd does not leave us in want. He prepares for us a table in the presence of our enemies, because food is the way He brings the world to Himself. Jesus is the bread of life who descended from heaven, was crushed, and rose again as a full loaf to the world. He is wine who descended to bring abundant joy to the world, was poured, but raised as renewed wine to bless the nations. This is our table: it is for the weak, hungry, doubting, and thirsting. Come and eat and drink and be renewed in Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

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