Monday, May 27, 2013

The cross and the crown

There is a declaration that Jesus made about our lives which we are hesitant to claim. Jesus, speaking to his disciples said, "In the world you will have tribulation." Trials, difficulties, and tribulations are part and parcel of the Christian life. Despite what the prosperity gospel promises and the word of faith movement wishes for, we should expect that our journey of faith will have rough patches.

Jonathan Edwards was no stranger to suffering, and in his book Charity and Its Fruit he writes candidly about the difficulties in Christianity:
The sufferings that are in the way of our duty, are among the difficulties that attend religion. They are part of the cost of being religious. He, therefore, that is not willing to meet this cost, never complies with the terms of religion. He is like the man that wishes his house was built, but is not willing to meet the cost of building it; and so, in effect, refuses to build it. He that does not receive the gospel with all its difficulties, does not receive it as it is proposed to him. He that does not receive Christ with his cross as well as his crown, does not truly receive him at all. It is true that Christ invites us to come to him to find rest, and to buy wine and milk: but then he also invites us to come and take up the cross, and that daily, that we may follow him; and if we come only to accept the former, we do not in truth accept the offer of the gospel, for both go together, the rest and the yoke, the cross and the crown: and it will signify nothing, that, in accepting only the one, we accept what God never offered. to us. They that receive only the easy part of Christianity, and not the difficult, at best are but almost Christians; while they that are wholly Christians receive the whole of Christianity, and thus shall be accepted and honored, and not cast out with shame, at the last day.
From where I stand, as I survey the landscape around me, I see many Christians going through hard places and tough times. I am encouraged by their resolve to serve their God through thick and thin. My prayer is that, when I have finished my time here on earth, it will not be said of me that refused to carry my cross.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Book Review – Rhythms of Grace

J. I. Packer, in the introduction to David Wells’ book God the Evangelist, declared that believers “need to discover all over again that worship is natural to the Christian.” Now, the word worship is certainly a deep and multi-faceted idea that stretches far beyond the music played at a church service. But it is exactly this, the music one hears and participates in on Sunday, which is most often meant by those using the word. And though I’d like to think that I am a worshipper, I must admit that the singing and music that occurs when we gather as Christians is not something that comes natural to me.

That is why a book like Rhythms of Grace by Mike Cosper is so valuable to me. It takes me into a realm that I am a little uneasy in, and makes me feel comfortable and even conversant in its concepts. I found Cosper’s book to be both poetical and practical. At one moment the pages would flow in a symphony of words conveying the wonder of worship. The next page would discuss helpful applications in a straightforward and simple manner. For someone like me, this presented worship in a way that was accessible and inspirational.

In my reading and analyzing of the book, I noticed three distinct sections: chapters 1-4 presents worship in a Biblical-historical framework; chapter 5 dealt with Cosper’s perspective on corporate worship; and chapters 6-10 focus on matters of application.

The first two sentences of chapter one delineates the approach the author will take in the first four chapters as he firmly anchors worship in history: “The gospel is a story about worship. It begins with promise and serenity, spins wildly and terribly off course, and is rescued in the most unexpected and surprising way possible” (25). With this course directing start, Cosper tells the story of worship in the Biblical narrative.
In chapter one Cosper presents the intra-Trinitarian worship of the Godhead as they ascribe worth to each other. He introduces us to humans in Eden who experience harmonious and blissful worship in the Garden before the Fall where sin makes worship a newly unnatural activity. Chapter two looks at worship in a context where separation from God has taken place and demonstrates that we humans are worshippers and our worship can mistakenly be directed towards idols or properly directed to God. Chapter three paints a picture of worship in Israel through the time of the patriarchs, the Exodus, and the development of the cultic rituals of the Jews. Cosper looks at how we relate to God in a fallen world. Chapter four proclaims the reordering of worship in the redemption wrought by Christ. He becomes our worship leader and priest and reconciles us to God.

This section of the book was very enjoyable to read as worship was eloquently weaved through the ages of redemptive history. These chapters were some of the most poetical, and I found them informative and inspiring.

Cosper’s Perspective
In chapter 5, a very helpful chapter for me, the author presents his perspective on worship in the here and now. He introduces a memorable construct he employs for understanding worship and church life. This framework can “answer a lot of the questions, confusion, and challenges” (75) that are part of church worship. For Cosper, Worship One, Two, Three is a paradigm that teaches the following: worship has one object and author, two contexts, and three audiences. The author and object of worship is God. The contexts are Worship Scattered (for the believer everything is worship) and Worship Gathered (worship occurs when the Church gathers). The three audiences are God, the Church, and the World. I found this chapter profoundly profitable. I will return to some of these ideas regularly.

Chapters six through ten delve into practical applications of the material the author has presented thus far. Chapter six looks at how worship is spiritual formation and how we work in and at worship. Worship is also war towards the world and the lies that we face every day. Chapter seven explains in practical terms how we arrived at our current state of worship in North American Christianity. Chapter eight entails insight into parts of the worship service and how they come together. The ninth chapter considers singing and music whereas chapter ten presents the pastoral aspects of leading worship. These chapters were very informative and interesting. They would be of particular importance to those directly involved in worship ministries.

The practicality of this book is enhanced by several appendices which include information on service orders, worship resources, and technical aspects.

I found this to be a book that was informative and inspiring, poetical and practical. I plan on lending it to friends who serve in worship ministries and recommend it to anyone who aspires to understand and appreciate worship in the church and in our lives.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Image and likeness

There has been much study and discussion about what it means to be made in God's image. Surely this is a concept that we will continue to study, develop, and grasp until the current world is no more. Wellum and Gentry, in their masterful book Kingdom Through Covenant, add some helpful points to the concept of image and likeness to God:
Given the normal meanings of “image” and “likeness” in the cultural and linguistic setting of the Old Testament and the ancient Near East, “likeness” specifies a relationship between God and humans such that ’ādām can be described as the son of God, and “image” describes a relationship between God and humans such that ’ādām can be described as a servant king. Although both terms specify the divine-human relationship, the first focuses on the human in relation to God and the second focuses on the human in relation to the world. These would be understood to be relationships characterised by faithfulness and loyal love, obedience and trust—exactly the character of relationships specified by covenants after the Fall. In this sense the divine image entails a covenant relationship between God and humans on the one hand, and between humans and the world on the other.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

He will not be shut out of His world

Along with a few other books of substance, I am currently working through John Frame's The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Can we know God? Really and truly? These are legitimate questions in this day of subjective truth and post-modern sensibilities. Frame responds in the affirmative:
Scripture, at any rate, is clear: God is both knowable and known. He is known truly, known as He really is. Some people have argued that because our knowledge of God comes through revelation and then through our senses, reason, and imagination, it cannot be a knowledge of God as He really is but only of how He appears to us . . . In Scripture, reality (God in particular) is known, and our sense, reason, and imagination are themselves revelations of God-means that God uses to drive His truth home to us. God is Lord; He will not be shut out of His world. (33, emphasis mine)

Monday, May 13, 2013

A totally self-sufficient community of love and glory

Shortly I will be posting a book review for the book written by Mike Cosper called Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel. For now, consider this excerpt from the book which discusses the existence of worship in eternity-past before the creation of the universe:
So before the world began, there was love. It flowed-perfect, complete, and constant-between the three persons of the Trinity. This love was an unending appreciation, a perpetual beholding and rejoicing in the goodness and perfection of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The scene was what theologian Fred Sanders calls the "happy land of the Trinity." It was, and is, a totally self-sufficient community of love and glory. 
At its heart, worship is rooted in this love. The Trinitarian community is, in a sense, perpetually beholding one another with love and amazement . . . The word worship comes from the Old English weorthscipe, which combines two words meaning "ascribe worth." The Trinity can be said to be always at worship because the three persons of the Godhead perfectly behold the worth and wonder of one another. (26-7)

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Their practice will be according to their convictions

This is great stuff by Edwards. In the 11th lecture of Charity and Its Fruit, Edwards convincingly declares that men's practice will be according to their convictions. That is, if a man truly believes something, he will act on it and if he does not act on it, it seems that he is not really and entirely convinced of that truth.

Nowhere is this more true than in man's dealings with the gospel. Gospel-truth is efficacious truth; if you believe it sincerely, your life is changed and this results in a change in the manner in which you live your life.
If a man hears important news that concerns himself, and we do not see that he alters at all for it in his practice, we at once conclude that he does not give heed to it as true; for we know the nature of man is such, that he will govern his actions by what he believes and is convinced of. And so if men are really convinced of the truth of the things they are told in the gospel, about an eternal world, and the everlasting salvation that Christ has purchased for all that will accept it, it will influence their practice. They will regulate their behavior according to such a belief, and will act in such a manner as will tend to their obtaining this eternal salvation. If men are convinced of the certain truth of the promises of the gospel, which promise eternal riches, and honors, and pleasures, and if they really believe that those are immensely more valuable than all the riches, and honors, and pleasures of the world, they will, for these, forsake the things of the world, and, if need be, sell all and follow Christ. If they are fully convinced of the truth of the promise, that Christ will indeed bestow all these things upon his people, and if all this appears real to them, it will have influence on their practice, and it will induce them to live accordingly. Their practice will be according to their convictions.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Similarities between covenants

Hello all!

Sorry for the slim pickings at the blog this past while. Lots of things going on around here keeping me busy and somewhat distracted. Hopefully I'll be back on track now.

I continue to find Kingdom Through Covenant intriguing and enriching. It is full of helpful commentary on sundry topics concerning the covenants in the Bible. The following excerpt touches upon the connection between the various covenants and how they should be approached.

ISAIAH 54:9–10
[9] “To me this is like the days of Noah,
when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth.
So now I have sworn not to be angry with you,
never to rebuke you again.
[10] Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the LORD, who has compassion on you. (NIV)
This passage is extremely important for letting the biblical text define in its own terms the relationships between the various covenants; it will be considered at length later. Nonetheless, Isaiah compares here the new covenant with the covenant with Noah. What is precisely similar between both covenants is the undeterred, unswerving commitment of Yahweh to carry out the promises enshrined in them. Just as he promised never again to cover the entire earth with floodwaters as a judgement, so he will never be angry with his people and so withdraw his loyal love in the covenant of peace.

I love the suggestion above that the similarity between an older covenant, like the Noahic, and the new covenant is "the undeterred, unswerving commitment of Yahweh to carry out the promises enshrined in them." We serve an awesome God!