Friday, August 28, 2009

Random Thoughts

An eclectic collection of thoughts that have been roaming through the lonely corridors of my mind lately:

  • I am extraordinarily thankful for the sovereign grace of God over the auto accident that my 16 year old son Matt was involved in yesterday. A pretty major collision on a city street, likely totalled out the car, spun 180 degrees in the street after the wreck. Air bags deployed in the other car, front end smashed. A young girl (daughter of friends of ours) on a bicycle near the accident who left the scene unhurt. As did Matt and the driver of the other car. I keep thinking about potential "what ifs" that God saw fit not to allow to happen. What if Matt had one of his friends in the car with him, sitting on the passenger side where the impact was? What if the accident had happened a couple days ago when Matt took his sister shopping? What if all the glass on the passenger side had shattered all over Matt (none of it even cracked)? What if the driver of the other car had been seriously injured? What if Matt hadn't been able to avoid the girl on the bike? What if...? Praise God that He is graciously sovereign over all these and infinitely more details. God never has to deal with what ifs...
  • In the endless messages we keep hearing about the need for health care reform in the form of Obamacare, one common talking point is the need for increased competition among insurance companies. The fact that some insurance providers have virtual monopolies in some locations, driving costs up and limiting care options. But in doing some reading on this subject, it seems that one of the main reasons for lack of competition in some geographical areas is...government regulations. Regulations that limit insurance companies from providing coverage in multiple states, etc. In fact, I came across this recently while helping son Mike find a cheap but appropriate health insurance plan. The first question all of the insurance sites asked was: what's your zip code? So Mike, who's living in California right now but will be moving to Chicago next summer to start seminary, will need to cancel his current policy and apply for a new one when he relocates. Does that make sense? So why not remove some existing regulations and see how that changes things, rather than adding a couple trillion dollars more?
  • Feeling rather challenged as I begin working on developing a study of the epistle of Jude. Not challenged in what the letter says, or how to exegete its meaning or context or such. But challenged in how to bring the warnings against and condemnations of apostate and heretical teachers in the church into our postmodern 21st century, and do it faithfully. Without making up my own personal laundry list of popular apostates and telling people to avoid them, but instead giving them principles and tests to determine for themselves who is orthodox and who has left the tracks. Without offending those who are "likers" of certain pop-heretics and being labeled as a "hater", but still sounding the warning that God intended through Jude's letter. It's always the application that's the hard part...

See, I told you it was eclectic. Or maybe random is a better term.

Monday, August 24, 2009

ELCA Decision Revisited

As a followup to my last post, I would point readers to an excellent article by Dr Al Mohler. He makes the same point regarding authority of Scripture (although much better) and also the irreconcilable positions of the two camps in this "conversation."

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Scripture vs Pragmatism in the ELCA

So the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has voted to allow homosexuals to serve in pastoral positions. One more semi-mainstream denomination heading down the path of embracing political correctness rather than the plain teaching of the word of God. As I read a news story on this move today, I realized that what is really going on here is the logical consequences of what has been happening in the ELCA and other denominations and individual churches for many years now. And that is the transference of authority from Scripture to pragmatism. From what has been revealed and mandated by Christ to what "works" in today's amoral society.

Here's an example in the words of one of the supporters of this move: "I have seen these same-gender relationships function in the same way as heterosexual relationships — bringing joy and blessings as well as trials and hardships. The same-gender couples I know live in love and faithfulness and are called to proclaim the word of God as are all of us." Do you see the complete abandonment of submission to the authority of the Scriptures here, and the replacement of that with the submission to the spirit of this age? And how can those who are living in an arrangement that God calls an abomination in His word possibly be in a position to teach and preach that word? The truth is, they can't. They instead will teach and preach a pragmatic and corrupted version of that word, in submission to pragmatism and political correctness.

Another nod to the pragmatic is evident in statements by some of the supporters of this move. They appeal to the possibility of alienating many progressive-thinking young Lutherans by not taking a more homosexual-friendly stance. So here's a clear case of submission to the prevailing wisdom of this age, rather than to the plain teaching of Scripture. And rather than teach the truths of the word of God to these young people, it is seen as a pragmatic imperative to accommodate their un-Biblical views. When this kind of thing happens, Jesus Christ can no longer be claimed as the head of the church, at least not the ELCA.

As always, God has His faithful people in the ELCA who see this move as crossing a line that cannot be crossed and remain faithful to the Scriptures. Time will tell how they respond, whether to remain in the ELCA or separate themselves from this abomination. But in reality, this latest accommodation to pragmatic concerns is just another step in a process that's been going on for a long time. The ELCA a number of years ago took a step away from the authority of the word of God in allowing the ordination of women. Once the Scriptures authority is breached, it's a slippery slope towards Gomorrah.

The presiding bishop of the ELCA pleaded with those opposed to this move not to leave the denomination. "For those that did not prevail tonight, are you willing to stay engaged in the conversation? I'm pleading with people to stay in there with us in this conversation." Conversation? Sounds like the conversation is pretty one-sided at this point. And has he forgotten that God's word is not a conversation? It's a monologue, expressed in unequivocal terms to His world and His church, with all the authority of the One who spoke it. The question is not one of conversation, but rather one of submission. And in that the ELCA has clearly decided to submit to what works rather that to what has been spoken.

God, preserve a remnant from this denomination, and glorify yourself even in this apostasy. And protect other churches and affiliations from departing from your revealed word, by your grace.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Passing of the Baton

Today saw a significant moment in the history of Highland Park Evangelical Free Church. We celebrated the formal installation of our new senior pastor, Justin Erickson. Our previous senior pastor of 14 years had been called by the Lord to another church almost a year ago, and we have been under the leadership of an interim pastor, Lynn Kent, during the past 10 months. It was a well done service, with words from our Elders, from our interim pastor, from new pastor Justin, and also from Justin's long-time personal mentor Jay Letey. And there was even an actual baton passed from interim pastor Lynn to Justin. A baton aptly engraved with the words of 2 Timothy 2:2 - "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also."

I am greatly looking forward to seeing how God unfolds this next chapter in the life and history of our church. Justin is an incredible man of God, gifted and equipped and passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ, His word, and His church. He is a great expositional proclaimer of the word. And he is a man with a shepherd's heart. I don't know what ministry at HPEFC will look like a few years from now, but I have a feeling that it will be even more Christ-centered and word-centered than it ever has been.

And I also want to express thanks to Christ for interim pastor Lynn Kent. I admit that I've have been somewhat critical of Lynn's preaching over these past 10 months, as he clearly is not an exegetical-expositional preacher, and he readily admits that. He also holds to a philosophy of ministry that is much different than that which our church is based on and has followed in the past. But despite this, he has done an admirable job of shepherding the body of Christ at HPEFC during this transitional time, and helped our Elders to assess some ministry areas where we need strengthening. And I believe that he has fulfilled the purpose that God had for him here, to give us an even greater thirst and hunger for the rich preaching of the word and prepare us for the next stage in our church's life. He is, after all, the man that God sovereignly purposed to fill this role for this season. And as 1 Timothy 5:17 says, he is worthy of honor: "The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor..."

So we press on with new pastoral leadership, but with the same mission and purpose that Jesus Christ has had for His church since before the foundation of the world. To glorify Him by making disciples. Or as HPEFC's mission statement puts it: Exalting Jesus Christ, Loving One Another. And as Justin adds to this: Giving Ourselves Away.

Soli Deo Gloria...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Living in Light of the Supremacy of Christ

I've heard many lessons and sermons on the commands contained in Colossians chapter 3 regarding how the Christian is to conduct themselves in their family and social relationships. You know, the section that says things like this:

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. (Colossians 3:18-22)
In fact, I heard another one of these sermons today, the last one from our interim pastor, focusing again as most do on the whats and the hows of these commands. What does a wife being subject look like, and what does it not look like? What does it mean to be obedient to parents, and who does this include? More marriage advice for husbands to be more sensitive to their wives, etc, etc. None of which are necessarily bad things, or wrong application. But as I listened and I read the context that came before in this letter, I realized that there was a huge point missing in this sermon and in most others I've heard on these commands. Why? Why should I or anyone else live like this, in a manner that is so contrary to our nature? What's the reason, the motivation? Just because Paul says so?

Step back and look at the whole flow of this letter to the church at Colosse. The major focus from the start has been the superiority and the supremacy of Jesus Christ. Superior to any other person, supposed deity, system of philosophy or belief, man made religious system, or false teaching that would diminish the person and work of Christ as revealed in the Gospel. That is the content and focus of the first two chapters of the letter. And the third chapter begins with a corner turn, a change from establishing the supremacy of Christ, to laying out the realities of living in light of that supremacy and the changes His Gospel has brought about in His people. Look at that transitional passage:
Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)
Here's the point - we are new men and women in Christ, the old is dead, so we must raise our minds and life to focus on Him. And Paul goes on then to explain what that looks like, the practical application of that new identity, as he starts to expound in v. 5:
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)
See that? Another "therefore." Continued progression of application of the previous truths. And where does this lead? To a whole series of commands in principle to live in light of the supremacy of our Savior who has killed our old self and given us a new life. We're commanded to live out that new self (3:9-14), to allow Christ's peace reign in us (3:15), to allow Christ's words to abide in us and enrich us (3:16). And finally to do all we do or say for Christ's glory (3:17), in view of His surpassing supremacy.

Then, and only then, does the application of those principles of living out the new life make sense. Once we have these new life principles of conduct based on Christ's supremacy down, we are ready to hear more commands regarding specifics of how to live them out in our relationships with spouses, children, employers and employees, etc. And therein lies the why. Why should I live out these relationships in this manner? Because of the surpassing superiority of Christ in all He is, in all He has made me, in all His glory.

When we understand as much as we can about the person and offices and work of Jesus Christ as Paul explains so clearly in the first half of the letter to the Colossians, we have a solid foundation to base our living on as Paul commands in the last half of the letter. But separate the two, and we lose both the supremacy of Christ and the right motivation to live righteously in our personal relationships.

Once again, orthodoxy must precede orthopraxy. Don't forget that next time someone wants to just get to the practical application. Without the doctrinal truth, what do you have to apply? Lots of whats and hows maybe, but the whys? Not so much...