Sunday, 15 November 2015

Gratitude at the heart of True Worship

For Canadian Thanksgiving, I preached a sermon on gratitude being at the heart of true worship.  This is a recap of some of the thoughts from that sermon.

Paul says in Colossians 3:5, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry."

It is particularly the last item on his list of things to put to death that I want to focus on - putting to death covetousness.  Covetousness is desiring for ourselves what others have, desiring to have what God has not given to us rather than being content with and thankful for what he has given to us.  Covetousness is therefore directly opposed to thankfulness.  The covetous heart is not a thankful heart.  Where the thankful person looks at their life and is thankful for all God has done for them and given to them, the covetous person looks at their life and sees only what God has not done for them (and, in their opinion, ought to have) and what God has not given them (and, they think, should have). 

But covetousness is more than just not counting your blessings enough.  It is even more serious than that.  Paul says that covetousness is idolatry. 

Here, Psalm 106 is instructive.  This Psalm recounts Israel's history, specifically how God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt.  The people had groaned and complained and cried out to God to save them from slavery.  God heard their cries and, through Moses, lead them out of Egypt to freedom through his mighty works.  The Psalm goes on to recount how, even after such a great, awesome and very visible salvation, Israel repeatedly forgot the kindness and salvation of God and all the mighty deeds he performed to rescue them and provide for them.  Israel repeatedly grumbled and looked at the surrounding pagan nations and began to covet what those nations had rather than what God had given to them.  Rather than looking back at God's mercy and kindness to them in the past and his rescuing them from slavery, Israel started to look back and compare the leeks and onions and cucumbers they used to eat when they were in Egypt with the mana and quail God was miraculously sustaining them with now.  Where Israel should have seen God's faithful, steady, reliable provision, they saw monotony.  And when Israel grew covetous for what God wasn't currently giving them, they quit trusting him for the provision he had promised them in future - a land flowing with milk and honey, a land in which they would eat from orchards and crops they had not planted and sit under vines they had not cultivated.  As Israel grew covetous, they became idolatrous.  As they stopped being grateful to God for his salvation and provision, they stopped being faithful to God in their worship.  As they coveted what other nations had, they started to covet the gods of those nations also.  Turning from God's provision and coveting was simultaneous with turning from God himself and turning to idols.  In fact, it was more than just simultaneous, it was synonymous. 

As it was with Israel, so it is with the church, with Christians today, Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5.  Covetousness is idolatry, he says, and it is so serious that he tells us to put it to death.  It is pretty straightforward to see how covetousness is at the heart of idolatry, at the heart of false worship.  When we are discontent with God's provision for us, when we are discontent and unthankful for how God cares for us, what we are really doing is being discontent with God himself, unthankful for God himself.  We, like the Israelites, can look back and see how God saved us from slavery to sin, how he did mighty works of redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus, to rescue us from slavery sin, death and the judgment of hell.  Yet so often we forget all God has done for us and we instead look around us at the prosperity of the unbelieving world and we start to covet what they have.  We grow unthankful for all we have from God through Christ and we start to desire what the world has, be it money or things they have that we don't, or whatever it is.  And if we are honest, and if we look at it for what it truly is, we realize that we are actually discontent with God.  And when our eyes longingly look toward what others have that we don't, they are looking away from God.  And when our hearts covet what others have rather than finding contentment in what God has given and being thankful for it, our hearts are actually wandering away from God and turning to that which is not him.  This is the very definition of idolatry.  When we exchange what God has done for us and given to us for that which he has not, what we are actually doing is exchanging God himself for something else, and that something else has become an idol.  Covetousness is idolatry.

Time for a little logic experiment:  if covetousness is idolatry, doesn't it follow that true thankfulness is at the heart of right worship?  Seems logical, but is it biblical?  Let's test it.

Paul says to put to death covetousness, which is idolatry.  This is part of a list of things Christians are called to put to death, to put off, to put away (3:5-10).  A little further along Paul gives the Colossian church (and us) things to replace them with, things to put on.  Colossians 3:12 and following tells us we are to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, etc.  Above all these things we are to put on love, since it is love which binds all these other traits together in perfect harmony (3:14).  Then Paul says that the Colossians are to let the "peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  And be thankful" (3:15).  Then he says to, "let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (3:16).  And then Paul sums it all up by saying that "whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (3:17). 

In this section of Colossians 3, Paul speaks of 3 ways that the church is to practice the presence of Christ in us.  We are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, we are to let the word of Christ dwell in us richly, and in everything we do and say we are to do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.  The peace of Christ, the word of Christ, and the name of Christ.  And what comes with all these things, all these practices for the life of the church?  Thankfulness.  Look at it again.  Along with letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, Paul calls us to be thankful.  And as we are to let the word of Christ richly dwell in us, which is done by teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom and by singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, this is all to be done with thankfulness in our hearts to God.  And when he calls the church to do whatever we do in word or deed in the name of Christ, he says that it is all to be done while giving thanks in our hearts to God the Father through Jesus.  In other words, the body life of the church is to be saturated with thankfulness.  Gratitude is to permeate the life of Christians and our corporate life as the body of Christ.  Letting Christ rule in us, letting his word dwell in us richly, doing all we do and saying all we say in the name of the Lord Jesus, all this is to be done from a posture of thankfulness. 

Thankfulness is key to letting Christ rule in our hearts rather than allowing our allegiance to become divided by covetousness, which is idolatry.  Thankfulness is key to letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly, rather than allowing alternative "truths" to push God's word out.  As we teach and admonish and encourage and exhort one another, as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, in other words as we worship, these are all to be done with thankfulness in our hearts to God.  Why?  Because, like Israel, if our hearts aren't thankful, then they are covetous.  And if our hearts are covetous, then like Israel our hearts are wandering away from the true God and seeking after false gods.  When our worship is no longer springing from a heart of gratitude, it is coming from a heart of discontent and covetousness and pretty soon we are fashioning false gods so we can bow to them instead. 

Like Israel, we are always in danger of taking the gifts God gives us and melting them down and forming them into idols.  After all the plagues and the passover and the angel of death, as the Israelites were finally leaving Egypt, God moved their Egyptian neighbours to give them articles of gold and silver.  A faithful Israel would have thanked God for these things and would have saved up all these treasures to be used to fashion the articles of the Tabernacle, when the time came to make it.  But a discontent and covetous Israel instead melted them down and fashioned a golden calf out of them, because covetous people are idolatrous people.

Later in Colossians, Paul points out that thankfulness ought to permeate the church's prayer (4:2).  Thankfulness as the peace of Christ reigns in the heart of Christians and in the life of the church, thankfulness at the center of the church wisely teaching and admonishing one another, thankfulness in the church's worship in song, thankfulness in the church's prayer.  This sounds like thankfulness is at the heart of the true worship.  And thankfulness to God through Christ as the church does all that it does in Jesus' name means that thankfulness to God is ultimately at the heart of the Christian life. 

In Colossians 3:1-3, Paul tells the church not to set our minds on things that are worldly, on things that are of the earth.  Rather, we are to set our minds on things that are above, things that are where Christ is seated at God's right hand.  When we set our minds and hearts on earthly things, our focus is worldly, idolatrous.  Therefore, we are called to set our minds on that which is above, that which is of Christ, that which is in submission to the reign of Christ.  When we do this, we are in a right orientation not only to God through Christ, but we are then in a right orientation to the earthly things as well.  God gives us many things in this life, and they are gifts which we are to receive with thankfulness.  But when we set our hearts on things, we find that they go from being good gifts to being bad gods. 

A bit ago, we did a logic exercise:  If covetousness is idolatry, then thankfulness ought to be found at the heart of true worship.  It certainly seems to be one of the things the Holy Spirit is teaching the church through the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3.  But if this is indeed the case, we really ought to expect to find this elsewhere in Scripture as well.  And, in fact, this is exactly what we find.

Psalm 107 speaks of God's works of redeeming people from their various difficult situations and circumstances, from being lost and without hope.  The Psalm begins with a call to give thanks to the LORD, to YHWH God, for he is good and his steadfast love endures forever.  Then it goes on to describe the plight of various peoples whom God has rescued.  After each particular example of someone God has saved from their trouble, the Psalmist repeats the regular refrain, "Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men", along with the particular thing the Lord has done for them.  This is repeated in Psalm 107:8-9, 15-16, especially 21-22 which puts thankfulness in the context of worship (the very middle of the Psalm), and 31-32.

Psalm 108 shows us an example of the frequent parallelism we find in Hebrew poetry.  In verses 3 and 4 we see truths stated in two ways in order to magnify and draw attention to them. Both verse 3 and verse 4 are sets of parallel and equivalent statements. 
"I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples;
      I will sing praises to you among the nations.      
For your steadfast love is great above the heavens;       
      your faithfulness reaches to the clouds."
It is easy to see in verse 4 that "steadfast love" in the first line is equivalent to "faithfulness" in the second line, and "above the heavens" is equivalent to "reaches to the clouds".  But look at the equivalent statements in verse 3.  There, "among the peoples" is equivalent to "among the nations", but for our present contemplation, just as clearly we see that "I will give thanks to you" is equivalent to "I will sing praises to you". 

In Psalm 100:4, we have another example of parallel exhortations which are equivalent, restatements of the same call to God's people but stated slightly differently.
"Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise!  
      Give thanks to him; bless his name!"
Here we see that the way to approach God in worship is to come into his courts with praise, and to enter his gates with thanksgiving.  In the act of worship, we are called to bless God's name, to give thanks to him.  Entering God presence with thanksgiving is at the heart of coming into his presence with praise.  Blessing the name of the Lord is done, at least in large part, by giving thanks to him.

These are just a few scattered examples.  But it is enough to see that true and right, biblical and godly worship has thanksgiving at its very heart.  Gratitude is at the center of true worship and praise.  And if that is so, it is no wonder that Paul says that covetousness is idolatry.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Living in Gratitude

Peter Leithart has some good thoughts about gratitude being at the center of the "good life".  He says,
Discontent is one of life's most corrosive vices. When we wish we lived then, when we want our life to be taking place over therewe take no joy in what's here and the now. We cannot enjoy the present without receiving it, and we cannot receive it well unless we receive it gratefully.
All of life must be seen as the gracious gift of God that it in fact is.  When things aren't going according to our plan, it is beneficial for us to remember and to be thankful that it is going according to God's plan.  To live the good life, the content, peaceful, joyful life, one must receive all of life and all that comes with a thankful heart. 

Leithart's thoughts can be found here.  His recent theological study on this all too neglected topic may be found here.

Friday, 28 August 2015

How do you use the tool of Scripture?

There are two ways to read the Bible. 

One is to read the Bible looking for passages and verses that confirm, bolster, strengthen, prove or otherwise seem to support our already held ideas and beliefs.  Someone who reads Scripture this way usually has a concrete stance on something and is looking for ways to argue their personal perspective in a more effective, powerful and authoritative way, so they seek to rally God’s Word to their pet cause.  This is using the Bible as a tool to accomplish their own ends, which is an unbelieving and unfaithful way to employ the Scriptures.  Reading the Bible in this way is reading it the wrong way. 

The other way to read the Bible is to receive it.  The Bible is a tool (though not merely a tool), but it is one that God wields on us long before we can turn around and wield it for any outward focus or goal.  The Bible is a gift which God has given to his people to be received.  It is a sword to be wielded, certainly, but before anyone can draw this sword and point it at anything, they themselves must first be worked upon by the sword in the hands of the Spirit.  Rather than using the Bible to prove our preconceived ideas and pet interpretations, we must submit all those ideas and understandings to the scrutiny of the Word itself.  The Holy Scriptures are what is true, what is first, what is foundational, what is ultimate, what is absolute.  We are the works in progress.  We submit to God’s Word, not it to us.  We must not seek to bend the Scriptures to our preferences or employ them to our purposes.  We must seek to be formed and shaped by them, for that is God’s purpose in the Scriptures for us.  Only when we are first shaped by the Scriptures can we hope to be used by the Spirit to employ the Scriptures to shape anything else.

Too often Christians handle the Bible as though it were a block of marble and we go to work on it with hammer and chisel, hoping to show everyone else that it is shaped the way we imagine it to be.  Instead, we must approach Scripture as though it is the tool in the hands of the Sculptor and we are the slab of marble which that tool is forming into a shape that conforms to the vision and purpose the Sculptor has for us.  Holy Scripture is a tool not to be worked by us until it has first worked on us.

Planned Parenthood update round-up

See Justin Taylor's post on the 7th PP video here as well as his post on the 8th PP video here. 

Be sure to scroll down each post to see further solid and helpful additional material that Justin Taylor has pulled together, some of which informs on the scope of the abortion issue and some of which helps to form a biblical response to it.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Planned Parenthood update...

Justin Taylor at The Gospel Coalition has a round-up of Planned Parenthood related news, including the lastest videos to be released.

Doug Wilson has more clear thinking on this unfolding moral drama.

Also, I want to encourage you to encourage every pro-lifer you know to get in touch with the various corporate sponsors of Planned Parenthood.  You can find a list of them HERE.  Every one of them has a website with a "contact" tab.  Corporations make decisions based on the market (what sells) or direct pressure from consumers (why people will no longer be customers).  Hit them in the bottom line.  Tell them that if they continue to sponsor PP, you will no longer spend your money on their products and you will be sure to share the fact of their sponsorship of PP with other pro-lifers you know.  I contacted both the Canadian & American Cancer Societies as well as Starbucks to let them know of my opposition to their support of PP.  From what I've heard, many others have put pressure on them as well and both have stated that do not support or no longer support PP.  Lets make sure all on this list hear from us.  United Way is one that really needs to hear loud and clear that they won't see any more money from pro-lifers if their support for PP continues.

And don't just fight PP.  Make sure that as you take the fight to them with one hand, you take the care to your local Pregnancy Care Centre with the other. 

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Panned Parenthood update

Yes, the title of this post is intentional - read on.  Here is a post by Tim Challies about how to respond to the current Planned Parenthood outrage over the sale of aborted baby's body parts.  If you watch the fourth video released by the Centre for Medical Progress, you will see Planned Parenthood staff dissecting, identifying, sorting and discussing the body parts of an aborted baby while they discuss the relative demand for the various parts.  You will also hear a lab tech declare that, "it's a boy", while sorting through the dead child's remains in a Pyrex pie plate (hence my blog post title - and I'm not intending this pun to be remotely funny).

Beyond the obvious fact of the atrocities being committed by Planned Parenthood as they murder hundreds of thousands of babies a year, the thing that strikes me so strongly as I watch these videos is the casual nature of the people participating in this baby holocaust.  The atmosphere is so sterile, the conversations so matter-of-fact, the manner so casual, the evil so clinical, so efficient, so bureaucratic.  This is convenient slaughter, this is murder and dismemberment where customer service is their specialty, whether you are a mother looking to have an abortion (80% of women who come to Planned Parenthood facilities for an abortion are simply seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy, rather than wanting an abortion due to medical reasons), or a "tissue sourcing" firm looking to purchase body parts, Planned Parenthood wants your experience to be efficient and satisfactory.  They want your future business. 

I encourage anyone who reads Challies' post above to read the other articles he's linked to as well.  For some further clear thinking on this issue and how best to respond in a way that will help end this tragedy, see also these posts:

Ross Douthat at the NY Times says that there is no pro-life case for Planned Parenthood, as some liberals have attempted to argue.

Justin Taylor also links to the 4th video and notes that a senior PP staffer says their doctors often save specimens for their own projects so she knows that it is possible to conduct abortions in such a way as to save whole, intact babies for sale.  You can see this here.

Kevin DeYoung reminds us why unborn babies have inherent value and why they are, in fact, people, and why their value or viability does not depend on size, independence, intelligence, or any of the other factors that pro-abortion advocates say render them not yet human.  You can read Kevin's thoughts here.

Over at Desiring God there is a convicting post which asks if the evangelical church's stance against abortion is too weak, pointing to the estimate that of the 1.2 million abortions every year in the US, approximately 156,000 of them are evangelical women getting abortions (if the stats are correct, which they probably are - compare them with the divorce stats, after all, which is something else evangelicals are supposed to be against).  You can read that here.  And while your there, you should read this article as well.

No one I know of is doing more online to help the church think this whole thing through, and fire up the church to seize this moment as a strategic opportunity to deal a crushing blow to the abortion lobby than Doug Wilson.  Lets hope he is widely read and heard on this.  He has had so many posts about the PP outrages lately that I will just link to his blog and you can scroll down and read the applicable posts.  Doug's blog is here.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Loving thy neighbour without condoning their sin

Doug Wilson has a great post about how to love our homosexual family, friends and coworkers without celebrating and condoning their sin.  There is a biblically faithful way to love and accept them as people made in God's image without at the same time accepting their sinful lifestyle.  This is a very important topic.  The church (or at least those most often heard in public discourse) seems to divide on this subject along the lines of either avoiding relationships with homosexual folks altogether or accepting their lifestyle wholeheartedly.  In actual fact, neither of these ways is godly love and neither is biblical. 

Here are a couple of quotes from Doug's post that I hope make you want to read the whole thing:
"...taking Scripture with Scripture, we can plainly see that there is a type of interaction with sinners that is not only permissible, but considered as a general pattern in the church, is actually required. In other words, it ought to be normal. There are other instances when Christians should have nothing to do with it."
"This is why wise Christian bakers will never bake a cake for a homosexual wedding reception, and they should always bake a cake for a homosexual’s birthday party. This is why families must not attend a homosexual wedding reception, and why they certainly should attend a homosexual’s birthday party — the one that the evangelical baker made a cake for."
While it is certainly true that biblical truth is always true at all times and in all circumstances, very often the two sides of a particular debate are taking only certain truths and applying them to a situation and the other side is using a different set of passages to justify exactly the opposite actions.  When forming a position on a particular issue, it is important to consider all of the applicable Scripture and the same is true when determining how to live out that truth.  Check out Doug's very wise biblical exposition and application here.