Creeds and Confessions

Add this to my list of reasons for why I am thrilled to have Tim Tennent as the president of Asbury Theological Seminary. Admittedly, I haven't done any thinking at all regarding the use of creeds, confessions, and affirmations in worship. When I arrived at my current appointment four years ago, the church did not employ creeds, confessions, or affirmations but I wanted to make sure we did in our traditional worship service. I started a rotation that would begin at UMH 800 - the Nicene Creed and would go to UMH 889 - Affirmation from I Timothy 2:5-6; 1:15; 3:16. My rotation skips the Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada and The World Methodist Social Affirmation. Dr. Tennent has made me rethink my pattern.

I'll add that the most important thing that this post has illuminated for me is how uncritically I've led worship and planned the elements of worship. I mean, for crying out loud, I've not even noticed that the Confession from the Korean Methodist Church or the Modern Affirmation lack statements about the crucifixion and resurrection! I've been saying these creeds since I was a kid and they don't mention the two most important pieces of the gospel proclamation.

Thanks, Dr. Tennent, for helping me to pay attention.

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, before our candlelight service, I’m listening to the BBC broadcast A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. It's stuff like this that really makes me want to be an Anglican.

From the Bidding Prayer:
And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed; the sick in body and in mind and them that mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; all who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.

Lastly let us remember before God all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom, in this Lord Jesus, we for evermore are one.

Service Sheet here

Merry Christmas!

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)

One of the things that stirred my heart as a college student was a gift that a friend and fellow Wesley Foundation student gave me in my last semester of college. It was a tape of a plenary address that John Piper gave to the Evangelical Theological Society in 1998. Few ideas have stuck with me as much as  his exhortation to those professors, that the greatest need in training the next generation of pastors and missionaries is "to know God and to find in him a Treasure more satisfying than any other person or thing or relationship or experience or accomplishment in the world."

I've had a copy of that message both in audio and in print for 12 years and it wasn't until recently that I listened to it again and gleaned another gem which has been a part of my spiritual life or growth or whatever you want to call it for the last few months.
Plead with God that he not leave you unmoved by the glories revealed every day in the sky and in the Scriptures.

Make that your prayer as you watch this video (via my friend Geoffrey who retweeted Alan Hirsch)

The Head is Meant to Serve the Heart

I’m reading The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor right now and this quote from John Piper absolutely nails it:
Right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God. Logic exists for the sake of love. Reasoning exists for the sake of rejoicing. Doctrine exists for the sake of delight. Reflection about God exists for the sake of delight. Reflection about God exists for the sake of affection for God. The head is meant to serve the heart.

O, yes! If theology doesn’t end up in worship, it’s a waste of time.

What is a Good Christian?

This could probably be a much better post but I've never met a first draft I didn't love. No, wait. I've never met a first draft that I didn't submit. Maybe that'll change.

You don't care about that, though. Here's the question of the day: What is a good Christian? Is it someone who prays a lot? Someone who knows their Bible forward and backward? Is it someone who is at the church every time the doors are open? Is it someone who serves the poor? Someone who goes overseas to preach the gospel to unreached people?

I bet if you took some time to think about it and wrote some characteristics down on a piece of paper, you'd come up with some pretty standard attributes. Devotionally consistent, compassionate, servant-hearted, evangelistic, and ministry-committed. That would about sum up Sam the Super Christian who is our good ole American, Good Christian poster child.

Comedian Ricky Gervais shares the same perspective. By that I mean he thinks what makes someone a Good Christian is their ability to live up to something whether the Ten Commandments or our gold standard of Christian goodness. Mr Gervais shares his thoughts on how he considers himself to be a good Christian in this link I found by way of my friend Sam.

Here's the thing - and I know I'm on a Gospel Coalition high - Ricky starting point is just flat out wrong. So is ours when we start with the deeds of a good Christian. We're all wrong for two reasons.

First, we are not good. At all. Psalm 14 and 53 (quoted in Romans 3:10) remind us that we are not good. No one is. In reading a passage about prevenient grace recently it was asserted by the writer of the book that John Wesley almost went so far to say that in our depravity we bear the image of Satan. While Ricky is trying to be funny, he's clearly not obeying the ten commandments all the time. "You shall have no other gods before me." Ricky, you are your own god. Your point for that one is deducted. That's just the first commandment without going through and finding the holes in the rest.

Second, here's what makes me a good Christian - Jesus. Not my inability to keep the commandments, love my neighbor, or love God, but Jesus. This is imputed righteousness. It is Christ's goodness, not ours, that declares us good in our sinfulness. It is Christ's goodness, not ours, that is our basis for hope as we stand in judgment. If I do anything good in this world it is the work of the Holy Spirit for God's glory and not my own.

I'm not a good Christian the way Gervais defines it, but I have a good Christ and that is all I need.

Your To Do List Just Got Awesome

Here’s what you need to do today. You need to go to this web page, download those four mp3s, and listen to them. Sooner rather than later. If you’ve only got time for one today, listen to the second one.

For reasons I’m not going into here - for today at least - I nearly started hyperventilating in my truck yesterday while listening to that second talk. I believe the topic of gospel wakefulness to be a pretty significant one. We’ll talk more about that later, though.

For more information just read Jared’s blog and pick up his book which comes out this fall.

Very Proud

My sermon this morning began with me telling about a Jehovah's Witness lady who rang the doorbell at the house and handed me a tract - nice lady and she didn't stay long which was a plus. After she left I started to read through the tract she handed me. The paragraph contained one truth and one untruth. The truth was that John the Baptist did say that Jesus came to take away the sin of the world in John 1:29. The untruth was that Jesus died to rescue "obedient mankind." There really is a logic problem in combining both statements. If humanity were obedient, we'd have no need for anyone to take away our sin. Also, we are sinners - our genus and species would be better described as homo peccator rather than homo sapiens.

I read the two sentence paragraph to those gathered in worship this morning and asked the question, "What is wrong with that statement?" Several, at the same time, called out "obedient." It didn't strike me until later this evening, but they get it! They are getting the gospel! They know that we can't rescue ourselves, that we are lost sheep (Isa. 53:6), that we are sinners (Rom. 3:23)! I am so proud of my church. I pray our the depth of our gospel understanding continues to grow.

P.S. I may have to write up our Sunday School discussion which diverted away from Ecclesiastes toward evangelism and why we are so hesitant to strike up a gospel conversation, knock on a door, or proclaim the gospel in a public place. That was awesome, too.

It's the End of the World as We Know it - So Go Make a Disciple

I jokingly wrote on Twitter earlier that if I were a lying opportunist with no conscience, this would be a good week to write an end-times e-book for $50 a pop. In the last week we've seen a huge earthquake in New Zealand, continued protests, unrest, and revolution in the Middle East, one of the weirdest political stories of my lifetime unfolding in Wisconsin, and oil prices shooting up 9% in one day. I'd almost bet Tim LaHaye was busy working on a new bestseller as I write.

Someone loaned me some of the end-times novels that were popular in the late 90's when I was in college and seminary. It didn't take me long to grow in my disdain for both the quality of writing and the theology behind the book series. One of the first questions I had was a practical one: "Could I look in the eyes of a brother in Christ from a persecuted part of the world and tell him, 'It's okay. Before persecution comes, Jesus will vacuum you up and let everyone else suffer.'"? This kind of thinking could only appeal to comfortable, middle-class white people who can't tell the difference between persecution and having their feelings hurt.

For some reason, our little bubble of Christendom is caught up in second-coming fever - when is Jesus coming back? I get asked this a lot. How do I answer? Easy. It's in the Bible. Jesus says in Acts 1:7 "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority." I know this isn't a satisfactory answer for folks who turn on the television and see the events I've already mentioned. "Surely the time is near!" they say. Back in the Bible, however, I make it a point to look at Matthew 24:3-14
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains. “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Here are some of the questions I ask folks who are so ready to turn the events in the news into Jesus' coming:

  • Has there ever been a time in which there wasn't a war of some sort, or at least the possibility that one was coming?

  • Has there ever been a time in which one nation or kingdom didn't rise against another?

  • Has there ever been a time in which there were no famines?

  • Has there ever been a time devoid of earthquakes in various places?

Since, as best as I can tell, the answer to those questions is "no", I like to point to the end of that passage. If you are so intent on knowing when Jesus might come back, then do something to address the fact that there are 2,000 people groups in this world that do not have a witness of Jesus Christ among them. Since the risen Jesus gave a command to make disciples, maybe we should do what he said and make sure we spend ourselves in that and leave his return to the appointed time of which we do not know.