Monday, August 31, 2009

The Best Bargain

There are many things we want that we are not willing to pay for. Soon, we start settling for the cheap version. We never really wanted the other one anyway. This one is good enough. Lots of others have done just fine with the common variety, so I can as well.

Jesus set high standards for His followers. No doubt, He was considered by some to be unbending in His demands, as the rich young ruler discovered and left with his head cast down. Nevertheless, Jesus never lowered the bar of discipleship; to do so would have been a failure to love.

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” ― Luke 9:23-26

The disciples of Jesus were accused of many things, of being overly zealous, of being drunkards, of false teaching and even blasphemy; all of which were things that Jesus Himself was accused of. To faithfully follow Him would mean enduring similar kinds of hasty and unjust judgments; not being ashamed of Him or His words in the face of such opposition. To truly follow Him, therefore, would mean bucking the system and going against the grain. Following Him all the way would come at a considerable expense, and thus Jesus warns those who express a desire to follow Him that they need to count the costs (Luke 14:28-29). Multitudes started to follow Him, but the Scriptures tell us that after hearing the “hard sayings of Jesus” (John 6:60), “From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more” (John 6:66).

Jesus loves His people. He tells us the truth as He nurtures us with His Word and Spirit; giving us the church, wherein we are nurtured in the Lord. While following Him is difficult, it is worth all that it costs. He gives us what we need (at the moment), not necessarily what we want (at the moment). However, we, like all children, come to see that what He gave us was indeed what we should have wanted in the first place. Following Him turns out to be the best bargain; the grace of God covers all the costs.

Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 59Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” 60Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.” 61And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” 62But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” ―Luke 9:57-62

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lurking for Jesus?

To be in Christ is to be in the Church (i.e., the Body of Christ); these are not separate propositions. Moreover, being in Christ means we are members of a particular visible church with real relationships and real people. While the visible church (like individual human beings), has invisible attributes, there is no mythical “invisible church” that exists apart from the visible church. Such a false dichotomy leads to a serious devaluing of the church and offers false consolations to many who see themselves as “members in good standing” in the invisible church. But we should never separate what God has joined together.

All “those people” in the visible church now become the objects of my affection, just as we are all objects of Christ’s affection. It is now our duty to know them and learn to love them; and we love first; we are not waiting on them. Our obligation is to Jesus and He tells me to fervently love the brethrenthose particular brethrenthe ones that are not like me. Since we are now a part of Christ’s Body, this is one of the primary ways the love of Jesus is shown to His people.

The first step in following Jesus is to abandon ourselves, our relationships and our possessions (Luke 14:25-35); these are the costs of discipleship. The terms are radical. Jesus is not looking for half-hearted followers who dictate the terms of their relationship to Him. After coming to Him, He sends us back to ourselves, our personal relationships and our possessions to relate to them in a new way―in the context of being new men in Jesus Christ―new men in His church. We are now in a place where we live sacrificial lives toward our neighbors and learn to love the unlovely. We become part of something bigger than ourselves.

As we enter into a covenant with our local church we make public vows before God and the community. He takes our word seriously even when we don’t. Initially, we enter the Church by our baptism. If we transfer our membership to another local church, we do so by public vow. “It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (Eccl. 5:5). To become a part of the Body of Christ is an enormous and serious commitment. We promise to God and others to sacrifice for the sake of the Bodyto get involved in the life of the church.

Lurking on the edges is not an option. Being a church member is not a spectator sport. There is no class of members called “critics.” It is only “us” and “we.” Crowds shadowed Jesus throughout His ministrythe curious but uncommitted. These crowds are still lurking, still observing, still uncommitted to Christ and His Church; wanting the benefits without the costs. Laying down our lives to follow Jesus means sacrificing our time, our money, and our labor for His church, which He purchased with His own blood.

As a summary, this is the oath we have taken before God and His people:

As followers of Jesus Christ and as a believing covenant household do you pledge to uphold your duty to God, to your neighbor, and to this congregation by the following:

  1. To seek to live your lives in such a manner so as to bring honor to Christ and His church through the pursuit of holiness and peace with all men?
  2. To diligently make use of the means God has provided for growth in your Christian life, such as, regular Bible study and reading, prayer, fellowship, church attendance and the Lord’s Supper.
  3. To discover, improve and make use of your God-given gifts for the service of others, especially those who are of the household of faith.
  4. To willingly embrace the doctrines of our faith, expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, as described in the church constitution.
  5. To submit yourself to the discipline of this church and its elders, as the Scriptures require, and as expressed in the church constitution, graciously receiving both instruction and correction as well as submitting to the judicial sanctions of the church.
  6. To support this congregation by your prayers, attendance, tithing and labor, and by the spreading of the gospel to those outside the faith.
  7. To commit yourself to the establishment and maintenance of a covenant Christian household in the way of our Christian faith.

Do you so pledge?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Marriage is Honorable Among All

Marriage Exhortation to Daniel and Joanna

Hebrews 13:4-6:

Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say:

“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

The world is lost and confused when it comes to the subject of marriage. It has taken what is lovely and turned it into something cheap and ugly. Having been devalued, it is easily discarded. Daniel and Joanna, you stand apart in the midst of a culture―husband and wife made holy before God and man―united in covenant before a watching world.

Everyone wants to know if you really mean what you say. Everyone wants to see if it really works. Try, as our culture does, to erode and dilute marriage, Christian marriage is a thing to be admired, and even envied. Indeed, as our text tells us, it is “honorable.” All the counterfeits fall short. Free love turns out not to be so free after all. Only a sexual relationship between a man and a woman, in the context of a covenant, is honorable and undefiled. The Church has to speak up. The Word of God has much to say about this.

However, the Church is not nearly so concerned with why the bride and groom think they want to get married as she is with what they intend to do about it from here on out. You are making a solemn promise. You’re taking an oath of loyalty to one another and to God, and you do so before all these witnesses. The wedding is about the beginning of a marriage. A marriage is about a lifelong commitment, and the nurturing of that commitment in the face of a hostile world.

You stand here today as representatives of Christ and His Church: a husband who gives―who sacrifices for his wife to make her eternally lovely, a wife who submits―that is, who joyfully comes under the mission of the household. Together you subdue the earth―you multiply and fill the earth with godly seed. This is why, as our text says, God will judge “fornicators and adulterers”; because they defile the marriage bed. They attempt to thwarts the purposes of marriage.

The marriage bed (which in this text is a metaphor for marriage) is the daily meeting place. It marks the boundaries of your freedom. Like the tracks of a train, only as you are bound can you really be free. To leave the track or to betray the marriage bed is to invite disaster. Your life with one another as husband and wife is the picture of your life with Christ. Your love for one another―your sacrifice― is to permeate every room of your house. Indeed, in every place your unity is to be felt.

The vow of lifelong fidelity to one man―one woman―to one bed, becomes the wall at the edge of the cliff. Marriage is a place―a piece of geography―a constant point of meeting. It is headquarters; where you plan and resupply and rest. Before the sun goes down on your anger, you will forgive and start again.

The undefiled marriage bed is not unlike the Communion Table. This is where bride meets groom in intimacy. A picture of what ought to be true all the time and in every place. You are to always commune and thus show forth the honor of your marriage. The marriage bed is the birthplace of your little subdivision of the City of God. It is your foxhole in the Grand Battle. At times, it will be your trench where adversity makes you bedfellows. And sometimes, it will seem that you have only each other. And so, you talk and pray and love and rest and go forth to conquer and build. The marriage bed, like all sacraments, is full of mystery. It is an outward act, full of grace and truth, where God takes an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and binds their soul’s together into one.

So, why to so many marriages contradict this? Why is there so little communion? Why so much rancor? Why is marriage so often dishonorable? The answer is in our text: because of “fornication and adultery.” Not simply the overt and obvious―there’s plenty of that. But even that had its beginning in a more fundamental infidelity. Many come to the Lord’s Table week-by-week, engaging in the image of love, communion and covenant-renewal. But as God said of Israel: “Though they say, ‘As the Lord Lives,’ surely they swear falsely’” (Jer. 5:2). Anyone can eat bread and drink wine. Anyone can pretend to love Jesus. But the pretender is not telling the truth; he is perjuring himself as he eats and drinks. He is unfaithful and God is already judging him. His very eating and drinking becomes a curse rather than a blessing.

The sacrament is to be a picture of what is true. When we turn it into a lie we are on our way to spiritual fornication and adultery. We are already flirting with other gods. So too, anyone can go to bed and pretend to love―anyone can get marriedthe world is full of such pretenders and hypocrites. But remember, a sacrament is an oath of fealty and the Scriptures say that “It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay.” If it is merely form without substance then we have denied its power―we have defiled its holiness―we have begun to undermine the foundation. It is now only a matter of time before it crumbles and falls in ruin. It turns out that it is hard to pray and it is also hard to truly make love, but both need to be done without ceasing.

The honorable and undefiled marriage bed builds the City because it walks by faith, not by sight. We go the marriage with promises―promises from God―promises to one another. In the context of these promises the covenant is established and reaffirmed. The mystery does its work and the building takes shape―day-by-day―stone-by-stone. The Church has taught us that marriage was instituted for three reasons: the procreation of children, as a remedy for sin, and for a mutual society, help and comfort. If this is to be case for you, Daniel and Joanna, then the instruction of Hebrews 13:5-6 will direct you safely:

Let your conduct be without covetousness; [Selflessness is the essence of love and maturity.]

Be content with such things as you have. [Thankfulness and gratitude for what you have been given is essential.]

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” [Trusting God through life’s ups and downs, walking by faith must be at the core of your household.]

So we may boldly say: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”