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10/31 Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Chalk it up to the subject matter of the Reformation, but I felt like I couldn’t fit all my Monday morning quarterbacking in one installment. So here’s part 1, and part 2 is on the way. Today I wanted to talk a little bit about tradition’s role in the life of a believer, and the second installment I wanted to give a few statements about the necessity God’s initiative in salvation.

Deeds not Creeds” is an old motto that has some popularity today. In some circles, there is a desire to be ‘Biblical’, and by that they mean no one should have a statement of faith since the Bible is all you need. (I was told once by my mailman, who came from this perspective, that going to seminary was a waste!) So the fact that our church uses the Westminster Confession, Larger and Shorter catechisms (i.e. our ‘tradition’) as the basic statement of our theology is a problem to that sort of philosophy. Is reciting the Nicene Creed or Apostle’s Creed going against being ‘Scripture alone’? Is this really just Roman Catholicism? I think not.

First of all, creeds and confessions are properly put under the authority of Scripture, not equal to it. In other words, if there is an apparent contradiction, Scripture takes precedence. Creeds and confessions are not made independently of Scripture or overlaid on top of Scripture, but are aimed at summarizing and systematizing Scripture (at least the good ones are!).

Second, it is helpful to the further spread of the Gospel that every generation of Christians doesn’t have to rehash the basics like the doctrine of the Trinity or the nature of Christ’s divinity. It is true that about every year some Christian writer comes out with a book or blog post about ‘revisiting _____ doctrine’, overturning some basic of the faith in favor of a new view. CS Lewis would call this, ‘chronological snobbery’ to think that after 2,000 years of church history, some blogger today has a better handle on say the nature of God.  Tradition doesn’t trump all, but there are many great helps and insights from these summaries of Scripture with polished sentences that have stood the test of time.

Third, creeds and confessions spell out for the world clearly what we stand for as a church, and keeps us accountable to the Word. And furthermore, confessions, catechisms, and creeds can be very pastoral. For example, one of my personal favorites: Westminster Shorter Catechism #87: What is repentance unto life? A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience. Saying your sorry is not enough: repentance means sorry, grief, turning to the Gospel, AND striving to change. This helps me to parent my kids better; it helps me to assess my own repentance.

Far from being a hindrance to being biblical, creeds, confessions and catechisms—or our tradition—ought to be making us plunge more deeply into the word as we read along with the voices of the past the eternal Word which contains our hope in Christ.

10/20 Repent!

As I have been doing some research this week for my sermon on October 30th or Reformation Sunday, I was struck by the first three theses of the famous 95 Theses* Martin Luther nearly 500 years ago (Oct 31, 1517) nailed to the doors of Wittenberg Chapel. Here they are:

  1. When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.
  2. This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.
  3. Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh.

What a beautiful little summary of repentance! For starters, Luther says repentance is a life-time action; it is a way of life rather than a momentary event. If you want to know what the Christian life should look like, it is not necessarily an ever growing theological library, nor is it greater social engagement, it is seeing our sins and turning to Jesus constantly. Second, Luther dislodges repentance from the formalized structure of his time. I think what Luther is getting at here is that repentance is between us and God, it is not a thing we do so we can check a box. It is a matter of the heart. Finally, Luther describes how repentance is not repentance without outward action, crucifying the flesh, learning to hate our sin and trusting in Christ more AND striving for a renewed following after Christ. Contrary to many caricatures of Luther, he believed that true faith is never alone, that good works always accompanied true faith (and even those are a gift!) since it is the Holy Spirit who is bearing fruit in our lives.

*In case you are not very familiar, here is a very brief description of the 95 Theses’ origin:

The 95 Theses were 95 propositions or areas the Professor Martin Luther wanted to debate. When any doctor of theology wanted a public discussion, he would post his thesis or theses to the doors of the chapel (kind of like a seminary blog post today that invites responders to write in). What Luther did wasn’t absolutely out of the question for his day in a college town (plenty of professors had nailed things to the doors of Wittenberg Chapel). What was surprising was the content of some of his theses went after the sale of indulgences (little slips of paper the church was selling that granted forgiveness for a particular sin, even a future one). Luther created a debate in the larger culture outside academia about the abuses of the church and a desire to return to something that more resembled true biblical faith. And that is where the Reformation caught fire.


10/17 Monday Morning Quarterbacking

If there was one point I would have liked to spend a whole new sermon on, it would have been something along the lines of what restoration with gentleness looks like practically. Here’s some more of my thoughts on what gentleness looks like practically:

  1. It is not gentle to avoid saying hard things. Gentleness is not the absence of difficulty, but rather gentleness is measured by how a hard thing is done in a loving way. We know this when we get our blood drawn. There are the blood techs do the little things to make giving blood a little less stressful. It’s still painful, but nearly as bad as a nurse who treats us like we’re a pin cushion. Sometimes we try to avoid hard saying hard things and hide behind ‘gentleness’, when in fact we are evading the process because we are afraid we will lose a friendship. God tells us correction is a mark of love, not an absence of it. (Heb 12:5-8) [*and the best way to learn how to do this is to accept correction from others!]
  2. Gentleness requires patience with the process. It’s very rare that someone ‘gets it’ the first time. Think about some hard biblical truth that you now believe with all your heart: did you hear it the first time and believe it, or did it take you a while to search, struggle, or question? Restoration is an equally daunting task; it can be easy to become angry with an offender for their lack of progress. But trusting that person with Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit means that person’s change is not in your hands. Lack of patience with someone is often a symptom of lack of patience with God and His work. (Rom 2:4; God’s gentleness and forbearance leads to our repentance)
  3. Gentleness requires choosing your battles. This a similar theme of #2; what priorities as defined by the gospel must they get first and what are important things that must be dealt with later? If a child has disobeyed her parents by doing something she shouldn’t, AND tried to cover it up, the priority is her heart attitude that wants to cover up sin, and not the original offense (though still important). Understanding the Gospel is priority number one for everyone, everything else falls in line after that. Heart attitudes (what God looks at;1 Sam 16:7) are a greater priority than outward behaviors.
  4. Gentleness in restoration means having a vision for what it would look like for the damage of sin to be totally repaired. What has been broken a) in the heart of the offender; b) in the heart of the offended; c) in community? What would it look like for there to be peace and joy among all those involved?  Of course there is always the now-not-yet to all of life. We can’t expect perfect results in a fallen world with fallen people, but we can be faithful in our responses.

Sid Druen Preaching this Week

This week we have the privilege of welcoming back Pastor Sid Druen from Reformed University Fellowship – Davidson to preach for us this Sunday morning (10/23).  Sid will be preaching on Gen 13:1-18:  “Faith Is a Verb That Moves towards Someone”. Pastor Michael will be out of town for a family gathering this weekend.

Here’s a quick bio of Sid.

10/10 Monday Morning Quarterbacking

I am not a very decisive person. Maybe you’re like me, but I hate choosing the movie or the place to go for dinner. For me it is about a lack of information. You can’t know the future, right? So how can you really know what is THE best choice? Maybe I’ll make a decision that’s disastrous! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve decided where to eat, onlyl to find out they are closed, or the wait is two hours. Of course that type of indecision floods into more important decisions about life and ministry. And if I am honest, the specter of failure paralyzes me. As I reflected yesterday afternoon about the sermon passage (Gal 5:24-26) and the implications of ‘keeping in step with the Spirit’ with my indecisiveness, I was convicted about my often lack of trust in God for the future. Kevin DeYoung wrote once:

“We walk into the future in God-glorifying confidence, not because the future is known to us but because it is known to God. And that’s all we need to know”.

– (Kevin DeYoung Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will)

A God-glorifying confidence is not a ‘cowboy’ mentality, but a humble reliance on Christ knowing that He who formed the world and arranged all of history can surely trusted for what is to come. There can be no fear when God’s strong hands are on the situation. Our worry and anxiety about the things to come can be placed in the arms of the master carpenter whose nail-pierced hands are shaping all time in grooves I cannot anticipate. I want to know in order to decide; what I need is trust to move forward fearlessly.

Congregational Meeting Oct 30th

At the congregational meeting during the Sunday school hour we are going to be having an election for the following offices: Ron McMillan for the office of deacon; Clark Moore to roll on to the Session (as an elder). After that we are going to be going through a presentation on the results of the Spiritual Gifts and Ministry Style survey from this Summer with analysis and some ways forward. Be sure to be there because much of what we will discuss will have an impact what we do as a church going forward!

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

I was thinking about the quote I read from the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs classic, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment this past sermon and I thought I should share the extended quote below. If you are not familiar with them, Puritans like Burroughs get a bad rap as ‘stodgy, judgmental’ folks, but if you read dig into them, there is a lot of wisdom to be found in their writings. The writing style is not modern, which turns some people away, but if you stick with them I find they have a lot to say to us today. That’s certainly true of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, which is a much needed corrective to our over-saturated, over-entertained, and dis-contented culture. To be happy and content no matter what is going on in life because we are resting on Christ is an enormous gift of God’s grace in this life. Enjoy! 

So he comes to this contentment by way of subtraction, and not addition.

Another man is in a mean position, his circumstances are low and his heart is low too, so that his heart and his circumstances are even. This man walks with abundantly more ease than the other. Thus a gracious heart thinks in this way: ‘The Lord has been pleased to bring down my circumstances; now if the Lord brings down my heart and makes it equal to my circumstances, then I am well enough.’ So when God brings down his circumstances, he does not so much labor to raise up his circumstances again as to bring his heart down to his circumstances. Even the heathen philosophers had a little glimpse of this: they could say that the best riches is poverty of desires-those are the words of a heathen. That is, if a man or woman have their desires cut short, and have no large desires, that man or woman is rich. So this is the art of contentment: not to seek to add to our circumstances, but to subtract form our desires. Another author has said, “The way to be rich is not by increasing wealth, but by diminishing our desires”. Certainly that man or woman is rich, who have their desires satisfied. Now a contented man has his desires satisfied, God satisfies them, that is, all considered, he is satisfied that his circumstances are for the present the best circumstances. So he comes to this contentment by way of subtraction, and not addition.

Interested in more? You can browse for free the pdf, or here is a link to the book