Thursday, July 29, 2010

God So (?) Loved the World

What does it mean to so love someone? It means, at least, to love someone with a peculiar comprehensive and fierce depth of quality, care, and action. Perhaps John Stott has explained this better than most. Commenting on the Lord's great commandments to love God without reserve and to love others like we love ourselves (Mt 22:34-40), he writes: "The love Jesus had in mind was neither sentimental nor selfish, but strong and sacrificial. What we call love is usually eros, the desire to obtain and possess, whereas God's love is agape, the desire to give and to enrich. To love is to sacrifice oneself in the service of others, and where there is neither sacrifice nor service there is no love. To love God is to become absorbed in his will and glory; to love others is to become engrossed in their welfare." Taken from Christian Basics by John Stott, page 73; Baker Books 1991.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Because We Are Guilty: A Prayer of Confession for the American Church

In the strong name of Jesus our Mediator I pray; as Job sacrificed for the sins of his family, and your priests confessed the sins of your people, and Daniel confessed the sins of his generation, and Isaiah his, and Moses his, so I confess the sins of our church and ask for cleansing and that you, mighty Father, would grant to us a deep repentance. You tell us that it is the humble and contrite heart that you will not despise. To you be glory in the church both now and forevermore.

Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven; give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses for they are many, and grievous, and offensive to your holiness, and demeaning of Your Name.
We are a people that has not gladly bowed to your precious Word of Truth. We have ignored it, dismissed it, trifled with it, and put our own thoughts and the ways of our denominations before it. We have not believed it as true though every man be a liar. And yet, we have expected your blessing and have not feared your judgment. Because of this we are not a healthy, gospel-driven, Christ-exalting, disciple-making people. We fear men and their rejection of us.

Because we have not known the worth of your Son revealed in your Word, we have numerous idols. We have sought, for decades, to think of you as we, in our sinfulness, would like you to be, because we don’t have the good sense to love you as you are in your manifold perfections.
We, like Nimrod and his descendants, have labored feverishly, yet vainly, to form a people in our own image and after our own likeness so that we might make a name for ourselves. We have tried to build a church on programs and personalities and have not trusted you to build it as you say you will by your gospel. We have horded the gospel, not giving it away freely and gladly.

Our men are weak men. We are not godly or strong in the Lord and the power of your might. We have abdicated headship in our homes to our wives and, in some cases, our children. Therefore we are an effeminate church. Our homes have not been marked with masculine holiness, so neither has the church. We have wasted countless hours piddling about the house. We have wasted more time on play, entertainment and over-eating, and have not known the fruit of your Spirit, including love for our families and control of ourselves.

Our women have accepted the headship role we have given them, though Lord you have never given it to them. As you told Eve she would be, so our women have been; not respecting and helping their husbands, but seeking to rule over them. Our women have not exhorted and encouraged and corrected one another as you have commanded.

We have sought, like the world, to raise moral children instead of godly children, being so biblically illiterate that we have believed the two are the same. We have taught them how to succeed in the world, but not in holiness. We have not trained them in righteousness as you define it. We have commanded them but not instructed them because we thought other work more important. Our children have not honored their parents through submission and obedience in love. They have exerted themselves against the rightful rule of father and mother, seeking to rule themselves by themselves.

We are not a loving church. We do not love one another as you love us or even as we love ourselves. We have refused to share time, space, meals, money and more. We have withheld these things from our Christian family which has rightful claim upon them. We believe the houses we live in are our houses, the schedule we keep is our schedule, not to be changed or interrupted, even by our Creator. We have idolized our comforts and routines, and have neglected one another. We have substituted works for faith, holding ourselves and others to our own human standards for righteousness and not to the standards of Scripture. We have exalted our own scruples to the place of law, attempting to bind the free consciences of your people. We have not believed that Christ plus nothing equals everything.

We are a divided church; refusing to fellowship each one with the others, to put love into action, mis-defining it as sentiment instead of sacrifice. We have failed to pray for each other, and with each other, and to grow in Christian wisdom and to serve in Christian kindness. With attitudes of pride and entitlement and suspicion, we boycott many occasions of genuine fellowship and Scripture learning. We have joined a body to which we are not committed. We have signed a covenant that we ignore, rejecting the biblical forms of participation described in it.
We have loved things and not people.

We are selfish, which has bred complaints, gossip, slander and hurt feelings. We have failed to train ourselves to read and think as pathways to understanding, which you command us to acquire. We drop in and out as if the church is something other than the congregation of the saints, and a chief means of perseverance and sanctification. We have not known the significance and value of Baptism and the Lord’s Table, and so have forfeited the blessings of them. We have not valued, as you command and teach, the Lord’s Day. We believe the church gatherings to be optional, the church meals optional, fellowship in general – optional.
We don’t keep our promises. We begin and don’t finish. We show up if we feel like it, as if the gatherings are mostly about what we gain and not what we give. We have thought of our church as an aggregation of individuals and not as the proudly interdependent organism you tell us it is – even your own bride and body and family and temple. We behave as though the church has no claim on our time, energy, food, money, space and other resources. We, unlike the church described in your word, are not of one mind. We do not have all things in common. Instead we have been guarded, private, suspicious, stingy and even cold; the evidences of our pitiful grasp on the gospel of Your Son.

We have not, as you command, been submissive to our pastors, even when they are faithful to your Word. We have not made their work joyful, or trusted them, or esteemed them highly as those who watch over our souls. All these things you command in your Word. Instead we have made their work burdensome, and have blamed them for what we don’t like, as if what we like is the standard for the church. We pastors have feared and used our people, and have not loved and shepherded them faithfully. We have been without integrity. We have given ourselves to winning friends by living down to the senseless expectations of fallen men and women, instead of living up to our calling – to feed the flock of God among us.

We have been a hard-hearted people, refusing to own up to our own sins. We have pointed our fingers at others, but rarely, if ever, at ourselves. We are pompous; believing someone else is the problem with our church and country, while we ourselves are spiritually lazy, sick and stiff-necked.
In addition Lord, to my knowledge, we have confessed none of these sins as sins, neither have we disciplined Christians for sin. We have let them go, saying it’s none of our business. And in so doing we have failed to love and protect and restore them. We have not held those we’ve baptized to their public covenant pledge of faithfulness to Jesus and His church. We have been so dull of thought that we have not recognized this wicked rebellion. We have treated you as of no consequence, and so forfeited the joy and hope you give to those who love you.

Our church has been mostly concerned about its name, and has had little concern for yours. We have been very proud; proud of the music program, proud of our events, proud of our numbers, proud of our buildings – and so you have taken much of it away. Thank you! For it is as you say Lord, pride does go before a fall, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. And as King Nebuchadnezzar confessed following his demise, “Now I praise, exalt, and honor the King of Heaven, for all his works are true and his ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride”; so Lord may we now also be humbled and cured of our pride, and so praise, exalt and honor You, the King of Heaven.

Good Father, do as you will. If in your mercy you will forgive us and cleanse us and revive us and reform us, we ask this of you, and we pray for an outpouring of your super abounding redemptive grace. At the same time Lord, we will accept whatever you determine is good. If this church has had her time, and should now die, then by all means Father, kill it. Remove this lampstand and raise up in its place a Christ-centered, gospel-driven, Bible-saturated, praying, thinking, humble, confident and missional church. For your name, and your renown, are the desires of our heart. Amen.

He 2:9-18; Jn 14:14; Job 1:5; Lv 16; Da 9:1-19; Is 64; Ex 32:30-35; Ac 5:31; 2 Ti 2:25; Ps 51:17; Ep 3:20f; Mt 6:9-13; Ro 3:4; Ps 50:17, 22f; Mt 10:24-28; Ro 1:18-23; Ge 11:1-9; Mt 16:18; Ep 6:10-18; Ep 5:25-33; 1 Pe 3:1-6; Dt 6:1-9; Pr 22:6; Ep 6:4; Ep 6:1-3; Mt 22:35-40; 1 Jn 3:16-18; Ac 2:42-47; Dt 8; Ro 14; Ep 2:8f; 1 Pe 4:7; Mt 6:9-13; Re 3:17; Lk 12:13-34; 1 Pe 4:9; Php 2:1-16; 1 Co 14:20; Pr 6:16-19; He 3f, 10; Ac 2:38, 10:46ff; Mt 28:19; Mt 26:29; Ge 2:1-3; Mk 2:27; Lk 9:62; Mt 24:2; 1 Pe 2:4-10; He 13:17; 1 Pe 5:1-5; 1 Ti 3:1-1-7; Ja 5:16; 1 Co 5, 10f; Ep 6:1; Tit 1:10f; 2 Ti 2:25; Jos 7:1-9; Pr 16:18; Da 4; Ps 51; Je 29; Re 2:1-5; Is 26:8.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Choose Death. . .That You May Live.

On this past Wednesday evening, while leading a small group of Christians through lesson 5 of Tim Keller's Gospel in Life (I highly recommend it), I found myself in a discussion of the death penalty. There were some in the group against it. Their thought, as I understood it, was that sending murderers to prison for life increases the chances of them embracing repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Ac 20:20). The problem is that this simply is not so. Nor is it biblical. If it were biblical, it would be so. Here is my brief argument:

1. God, in His Word, commands that whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed. For in the image of God He made man. As for you (Noah), be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply upon it (Ge 9:6f). This is not unclear. God is pro-life, pro-multiplication, pro-populating. And while this may seem strange to some, it is His pro-life stance that moves Him to command the killing of murderers. Following the great flood of God's wrath, and the subsequent release of Noah and his family from the ark, God established a government to protect the few remaining humans and their posterity. In Ge 9 God puts the fear and terror of man onto the animal world. The animals heavily outnumber Noah's family. Some of them are meat-eaters. Some of them are quite powerful. Therefore, God in his kindness protects humanity. This is why I don't see bears, crocodiles, porcupines, leopards, etc on the streets of . Since the flood, it is normal for animals to fear man. This is why when you startle one, it will usually run from you, or attack you. God also, to protect man from God, covenants with man and nature to never destroy the earth again by a flood. For the intent of man's heart is evil from his youth; and I will never again destroy every living thing, as I have done (8:21). The deluge had destroyed most of the sinners, but not the sin. Sin lived, in the hearts and minds of Noah and his family. God, being holy, is forever provoked against sinners (i.e. Ps 2:12 & 7:11). So to protect us from Himself, He covenants with us in grace. Yet there is still a threat - man. To protect man from man God institutes what we might call the death penalty, as a vindication of the image of God within man, and as a deterrent to murder. In murder, the image of God in man is destroyed. And God takes this personally.

By the way, this law of death is given within the laws of re-creation. It is not given in the law of Moses. In the law of Moses it is expanded. In the OT God repeatedly commands the extermination of corrupt murderous people. Also, the Apostle Paul clearly saw a place for the death penalty administered by civil government (Ro 13:1-4). The killing of murderers is not murder. It's judgment.

2. More time does not equal better odds. As a matter of fact, more time has nothing to do with the odds of redemption. Redemption is set. God has chosen. He does employ means and He does redeem murderers in prison (I imagine). But to argue that the longer they live in prison the better their odds that God will save them is not true. God's activity is what it is. There isn't anything else. To teach us the depravity of man, Jesus said that if people will not listen to the gospel of Moses and the Prophets (the Scriptures), these same people will not be persuaded of the truth of the gospel even if someone rises from the dead (Lu 16:31), which Jesus actually did. The issue is not a person's length of life, but depth of depravity, which, in fallen man, is a constant. God does grant opportunity for repentance. Many people get decades. But when a murderer murders, and is sentenced to death, still unbelieving, he has until the executioner does his work. That's it. His window of opportunity has become much more narrow. To send him/her to prison for life is rank disobedience to the command of God. As long as there is wicked violence on the earth, a corrective righteous violence will be needed.

God has never blessed disobedience. Even the disobedience of those disobeying for the sake of evangelism. The call of the death penalty is to trust God enough to govern His way. If the murderer is elect, he will, in the end, be saved, as was King David. This doesn't mean we shouldn't evangelize murderers. It means that we should trust God; that He is more loving, more merciful, and more patient than we are; and that the Lord knows those who are His (2 Ti 2:19). Therefore we carry on in obedience with the faithful execution of the guilty. So, convicted murderers should be executed within hours, not days, of sentencing. The execution, to be a deterrent, should be public and violent. The way of God was a swift stoning. Murderers don't normally load needles with sleeping serum and Valium, then murder you once you're comfortable and unconscious. Neither should the state. If this seems harsh, or even un-Christian, I suggest three things: First, ask if this position is biblical. If it is, case closed. We must adjust to God, not God to us. Second, imagine it's your loved one who has been unjustly robbed of life. That might change your perspective. Third, consider the worth of the image of God in man. That's what God is vindicating. It's not that human life is so precious. It's that God is precious, and His laws are sacred.