Resurrecting Paul’s Gospel In Our Day

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I was recently invited to a Christmas “service” at a local megachurch. The performance was at a professional caliber, except with cheap ticket prices. The musical performances, dances, light show, and transitions are smooth and polished. It was choreographed to perfection.

And they also talked about Jesus.

I put service in quotes because I think it was a service in all but name. I didn’t leave thinking that I had worshipped God. I was entertained and hyped up but I wasn’t invited to the throne of grace.

The sermon I heard told me that I am “inadequate” for a “transformed” life without Jesus. One of the pastors did mention a survey of Americans’ inflated perceptions of self-worth, showing us that we are narcissists. But that’s about as bad as the description of our condition got.

Consequently, the gospel I heard was a message that God can give me a purpose in life that will fulfill me. If I put my faith in Him then there will be so many more things that I can do. Yessss!

I’m sure that I was especially sensitive because I had been listening to R. C. Sproul sermons all year. I felt like an Amish person sitting through mass. With bad news that good who needs the gospel? I realized that we need a bestseller book that redeems the doctrine of sin. As I thought about it more I realized that we need to resurrect Paul.

Paul gives us a comprehensive and concise understanding of the gospel, especially in his letter to the Romans. He gives us the bad news of our condemnation and he also gives us the good news of His salvation, justification, and sanctification. If twitter was a microcosm of the U.S. you’d think that half the church has never read Romans 1. God is more of a therapist rather than a judge.

The most popular gospel today is a message of reconciliation for a broken world. We’re supposed to speak to gays, drug addicts, and skeptics and stress God’s love for them. The idea is that they will cling to the cross because they are so desperate for healing, peace, meaning, etc. Like the sermon I heard, it was about what you stand to gain.

But how can the unbeliever be prepared to respond to the gospel if he does not become aware of his guilt? We do live in a broken world and part of what makes people broken is that they find the gospel offensive. That includes people who know that they’re hurting, not just those who are in no need of a religious crutch.

Moreover, how can the church speak prophetically if it decides to tickle the ear rather than prick the heart? The prologue to John’s gospel tells us that the world is condemned because it has rejected the light. The church’s most important responsibility is to bear witness to that light and remind people that God will hold them accountable.

We need this gospel: a balanced message that carries the bad news and the good.

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What Does Symmetry Reveal About God?

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In Ezekiel 40 God casts the prophet into a trance and shows him a vision of a new temple with its courts buildings. You can see the symmetry from diagrams of the floor plan. Knowing that every verse of the Bible is there for a reason we have to ask ourselves what this means. What does it say about God? Why did He make it symmetrical?

The unity and diversity in symmetry struck me. It was right there in front of me and I never realized it. The reason why I think this is so important is because it gets to the essence of who, and what, God is.

Philosophers have tried to find the right balance between unity and diversity for thousands of years. They tried to reduce the world down to one essence from which everything emanates but they could only get to four: earth, air, fire, water. What was the fifth essence that unified these? What was the quintessential essence?

University is a combination of the words unity and diversity. There are a diversity of disciplines, sciences, but what is the one truth that permeates them all. This is probably a foreign concept for most college students who simply pick classes like they order off the menu at a restaurant.

The unofficial motto of the U.S., e. pluribus unum, is Latin for “out of many, one.” Unity in diversity.

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We see unity and diversity everywhere in creation but only in the biblical worldview do we see unity and diversity in the creator. We see in the godhead unity and diversity within the community of the trinity. We worship a triune God, one in essence and three in person.

When I think about the symmetry of the temple that Ezekiel saw I now think of how it reflects God’s unity and diversity. When I think of the three sides of the temple I think of the three divine persons. I also see that God brings order out of chaos.

Now we are the temple of the Holy Spirit and God brings His holiness into us. He has brought peace and order to our chaos. Wherever we go we dwell in the holy sanctuary of the Most High.

Pew: Christians Believe Everyone Goes To Heaven

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Christians who are believe the Bible is the word of God and is “literally true word for word” make up 59% of evangelicals. However, 57% agreed with the notion that “many religions can lead to eternal life.” Among all religious Americans 70% hold that view.

Mind you, these are evangelical Christians who are saying this. Political correctness has penetrated the church as it has with the society as a whole. Nobody wants to be mean and imply that a lot of people will go to hell. How can my friend/coworker/relative go to hell? I don’t hate him.

Many Christians, myself included, fear that the coming years will bring greater hostility towards the church. Now is the time for believers to prepare for future persecution by establishing their faith in the word of God. Can the church face this challenge if the gospel is merely optional, one of many alternatives?

All worldviews have, at their core, a set of non-negotiable truth claims. Like Oprah, too many people think that they can avoid deciding which belief is true by affirming the conflicting claims. All paths lead to God and it’s silly to argue with each other about who’s right. You’re ok, I’m ok.

Tolerance and acceptance are not the same thing. Just because we are not responsible for creating a theocratic government doesn’t mean that we sanction unbiblical beliefs and practices. That’s what it means to be salt and light in the world, saying the unpopular things that no one wants to hear.

Broad and wide is the path that leads to destruction. There’s no room for a bandwagon on the straight and narrow.

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The Story Behind “Angels We Have Heard On High”

Adoration of the Sheperds, by Carlo Maratti (1625-1713)

Today’s selection is a bit long but this hymn, “Angels We Have Heard On High,” has a long history that may go back to the apostolic age. This song reaches back to a time when Christmas was a holiday celebrated by monks in a very austere manner. They sung their songs to the neglect of the world from their monastic bubbles. Yet this song also does a great service to us by taking scriptures and masterfully transforming them into verse.

Angels We Have Heard on High” was first published in 1855 in the French songbook Nouveau recueil de cantiques, and records indicate that the song had been used in church masses for more than fifty years before that publication. During those five decades the lyrics were coupled with the melody that is still used today. Except for the verses translated into languages other than French, today the song is sung just as it was a hundred and fifty years ago. Yet for maybe a thousand years or more before that, monks probably sang this same song as they celebrated the birth of the Savior. The story may well be as old as the church itself.

The song’s four verses embrace the angels’ visit to the lowly shepherds and the shepherds’ response. For many biblical scholars, the angels coming to men who worked menial jobs in the fields and informing them of the birth of the Son of God symbolizes that Christ came for all people, rich or poor, humble or powerful. The angels’ words in Luke 2, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people,” paired with Jesus’ own parables concerning shepherds and their flocks, symbolizes that it would be the common man and not kings or religious leaders who would first carry the story of Jesus’ life to the masses.

But while the shepherds’ story of why they came to see the babe in the manger is easily identified in all the stanzas, for many who sing this old song, the chorus is an enigma. “Gloria in excelsis Deo” means, in English, “Glory to God in the highest,” a phrase that played an important part of worship at church masses dating back to 130 A.D. During that period, Pope Telesphorus issued a decree that on the day of the Lord’s birth all churches should have special evening services. He also ordered that, at these masses, after the reading of certain Scripture or the conclusion of specific prayers, the congregation should always sing the words “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” Historical church documents reveal that monks carried this executive order throughout the land and that by the third century it was a practice used by most churches at Christmas services.

It can be argued that if the chorus was written within a hundred years of Christ’s birth, the roots of “Angels We Have Heard on High” might go back to someone who actually knew Jesus when he walked on earth. Though unproved, it is a very interesting and inspiring idea and ties in to the selfless image of a called member of the clergy bringing faith alive in order to spread the message of Jesus Christ’s birth, life, and death.

Another facet of this carol that would seem to tie at least its chorus to the very early Catholic church is the range of notes found in the chorus. While most modern carols move up and down and cover at least an octave and a half, thus testing the upper or lower limits of the average singer, the phrase “Gloria in excelsis Deo” barely moves at all. In addition, the melody used by the song never strays more than one octave and the verse moves through only six notes. This simplicity seems to tie the melody to early chants used by monks and taught to their congregations…

So why has this carol of unknown origin remained so popular for so long? Though the tune may be considered monotonous, when the simple text is read it becomes obvious that few Christmas songs so fully describe the joy that the world felt when a Savior was born in Bethlehem. The lyrics don’t just ask the singer to lift up his or her eyes and heart in wonder and observe the beauty of what God has given the world, they demand it. There can be no doubt that whoever wrote “Angels We Have Heard on High” not only believed the words found in the Bible, but relished that belief.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” Doesn’t Mean What You Think

A few years ago I downloaded a free ebook on my nook while sitting in a Barnes and Noble that has turned out to be a great resource that I go back to every year. The book is called Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas by Ace Collins and it’s been a treat to own. Over the next few weeks I’ll share excerpts from the book.

More likely than not you probably didn’t know the true meaning of the hymn “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or that a comma has vanished from the title over time.

When people today say “Merry Christmas!” the word merry means “happy.” When “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” was written, merry had a very different meaning. Robin Hood’s Merry Men might have been happy, but the merry that described them meant “great” and “mighty.” Thus, in the Middle Ages, a strong army was a merry army, a great singer was a merry singer, and a mighty ruler was a merry ruler.

So when the English carolers of the Victorian era sang the words “merry gentlemen,” they meant great or mighty men. Ye means “you,” but even when translated to “God rest you mighty gentlemen,” the song still makes very little sense. This is due to one last word that has a much different meaning in today’s world, as well as a lost punctuation mark.

The word rest in “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” simply means “keep” or “make.” And to completely uncover the final key to solving this mystery of meaning, a comma needs to be placed after the word merry. Therefore, in modern English, the first line of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” should read, “God make you mighty, gentlemen.” Using this translation, the old carol suddenly makes perfect sense, as does the most common saying of the holidays, “Merry Christmas!”

You might wonder why, when most don’t fully understand the real meaning of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” the old carol has remained popular. The world’s love for this song is probably due to its upbeat melody paired with the telling of the most upbeat story the world has ever known. Those who sing it naturally get caught up in the celebratory mood of the message, embracing the same emotions that those first to visit the baby Jesus must have felt. As the angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy.” That joy and the power of faith can be felt and experienced in every note and word of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.” You just have to know how to translate the words into the language of the day in order to have a very “Mighty Christmas!”

I’m sure this hymn will now have a new, deeper meaning for you. If you haven’t read the lyrics recently I’d invite you to revisit them again because it so beautifully includes the important points of the gospel.

Can The Pope Assure Atheists Into Heaven?

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Pope Francis has caused another controversy last week due to answer he gave to a journalist’s question about whether nonbelievers can be forgiven. Part of the Roman Pontiff’s response:

You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience…

Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.

The more you read the Pope’s response the more confusing it sounds. While I do not think he went so far as to say that atheists can be forgiven apart from faith I do still take issue with how he misled the public about the nature of sin. He watered it down so much that it does not seem very serious, which then raises the question of why it’s even a big deal. It’s important to keep in mind that he wrote a long letter and the part that is getting the most attention is only a couple of sentences long, so we need to reserve judgment until we know what the context is.

If all we had to go on were these remarks then it wouldn’t be much help. It’s too ambiguous and vague, and there’s good reason to be concerned about just that. But I don’t believe that the press is misrepresenting the Pope because he has made the same point in more direct language in the past. Here is what he said last May in a homily:

“The Lord created us in His image and likeness, and we are the image of the Lord, and He does good and all of us have this commandment at heart: do good and do not do evil. All of us. ‘But, Father, this is not Catholic! He cannot do good.’ Yes, he can… “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone! ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”.. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.”

It seems that the Pope believes in something of a social gospel in which your good works are given such weight that it overshadows doctrine. Throughout the centuries the pendulum has swung from one to another and many people create a false dichotomy between doctrine and behavior. Sound biblical doctrine teaches us that what we believe and how we treat others are equally important and must be balanced.

When we read 1 John we see that there is a threefold test to distinguish true believers: confessing your sins and walking in the light; love for the brethren; and confessing that Jesus is the Son of God who has come in the flesh. Truth and love cannot be separated and made to stand on their own.

Of course, most important of all is that the Bible teaches us that only those who believe in Jesus Christ will have everlasting life in the kingdom of heaven and they are saved by grace through faith alone, not by their works. So, just because an atheist does good works does not mean that he will then enter the kingdom. That is because the problem with mankind is that we are enemies of God and we are in need of redemption. Our problem is not fundamentally a moral one but a spiritual one.

What Was Jesus’ Calling?

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Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The Lord hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.

And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;

And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.

Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God.

And now, saith the Lord that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the Lord, and my God shall be my strength.

And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.

Isaiah 49:1-6

God ultimately called Jesus to glorify Him. He was supposed to restore Israel but that nation despised and rejected Him. The Lord then used Jesus to go out to the Gentiles and bring them into the fold. They who were considered dogs are now blessed to receive the salvation that Israel abandoned.

Paul alludes to this verse in reference to Barnabas and himself in Acts 13:47. He saw himself as sharing in the work of the Jesus as he brought the light of the gospel to the gentiles. I believe that we too can also share in that same work. Jesus did say that we are the salt and light of the world.

Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.

John 20:21

 

 

 

Is Preaching The Gospel Still Relevant?

In this video Voddie Baucham, John Piper, and Miguel Nunez discuss the nature and uniqueness of preaching. They talk about what it is and how it’s done. One insight about preaching is that it is concerned with calling forth a response from the hearer. The response can be either acceptance or rebellion, but preachers must proclaim the gospel at all times. I believe the rebellion that we see in some people to the message is an evidence of the authority that underlies preaching. 

Every Christian’s Purpose In Life

Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me. I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour. I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you: therefore ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, that I am God. Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it?

(Isaiah 43:10-13)

Prior to this passage Isaiah is prophesying about God delivering Israel from exile. As a result of this deliverance Israel is supposed to be a witness of God’s work of redemption to the world. They will tell the world that their deliverance was prophesied to them long before it ever happened, which is precisely what they did with Cyrus when they showed him that they were expecting him. The Lord is reassuring them of His faithfulness by doing what none of their idols can do. He proves that He alone is their savior and no one else.

As Christians we also have a unique testimony of God’s redemption in our lives. We are witnesses for Jesus Christ in this world and we are meant to tell others of what He has done for us. We were also living in exile, under the oppression of sin, and He delivered us from the grip of Satan. And Jesus definitely made it clear that there is no other savior besides Him, no other remission for sins than the shedding of His blood.

Our ultimate purpose in life is to be a witness of God’s saving work in our lives through Jesus. In verse 7 of this chapter God says that we were created for His glory. There is no higher purpose we could ever fulfill but to bring glory and honor to The Lord for saving us. Everything else is superfluous, unnecessary. It’s background noise. This is the only thing, and it is everything. Life only gets complicated when we forget this and try to move on from it. We start to think more about what we don’t have and complain. The pressure of meeting goals that God never set for us bears down on us and we may run to God to help us live a life He never intended for us. If you’re beat down and struggling to endure then come back to this basic principle: Jesus died to atone for your sins and justify you before God.