Wednesday, September 27, 2006

“Go to Church” or, “Go as Church”

It’s Sunday morning, and it’s time to go to church. What a devastating idea! It’s not devastating because you can’t sleep in, or enjoy the Sunday paper, or go play golf. It’s devastating because the very idea “go to church” is so theologically twisted.

“The Church,” as defined in the Bible, is the Body of believers, the fellowship of the redeemed. As such, local groups meet together, most often in a building. But the truth is, they are the church – they do not go to church. They are church when they are gathered, and they are just as much church when they are scattered. Frankly, it is impossible to “go to church,” because church is not an address. It is a calling and a life.

Our Gatherings are important. We meet for Worship and for Teaching and for Training. We come together for the healing of hurts through the repetition of God’s promises and the encouragements of God’s people. But even more, we come together for preparation for service, for engagement in our world as ambassadors and representatives of Jesus Christ. And so our Gatherings are only successful so far as believers are encouraged and equipped to serve Christ in all the aspects of their lives.

Are you ever relieved when church is over? Get rid of that thought! It’s not over at noon. It’s actually time to “go as church.”

Heart, Eyes, and Soul

“but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul.” (Deut 28:65 NAS95S)
God’s curse lays heavily upon the people of Israel, because “you would not obey” (28:45); “you did not serve” (28:47); “if you are not careful” (28:58). This curse was the promise of God for disobedience, just as blessing was God’s promise for obedience. Today, as participants, not in the Old Covenant, but in the New Covenant, Christ has borne the curse for us. And yet I believe that there may be a spiritual warning here, even as God saw fit to communicate aspects of this curse in figurative language. Is it possible that, even for believers, there are these internal, spiritual consequences for not properly paying attention and taking care?

A Trembling Heart – a sense of dread exerts tremendous pressure on every aspect of a person. What he fears in his mind is experienced in his body. What weighs heavily on his heart causes his strength to melt away. Habakkuk 3:16 shows the physical aspect inwardly.
I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
For the people to arise who will invade us.
Is this dreadfulness actually a gift from God, to lead us to acknowledge our powerlessness, and lean more totally on Him? Perhaps this trembling at dread can be replaced by trembling before the divine:
The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble;
He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! Psa. 99:1
Failing Of Eyes – the rarely used word can be found in the LXX, and indicates being used up, often in reference to death (my time is used up). The eyes no longer see as they once did – the horizon, the panorama, the grand vista is no longer available. One’s sense of hope is chained to the present, limited by loss of vision. It would be easy to run headlong into the whole “vision” thing at this point, but it may be helpful to think about what happens when we lose a vision of God’s glory, when we lose attentiveness to God’s Word, when our love grows cold and our endurance falters. Old Christians who are not constantly renewed are poor leaders, just as outdoor experts with poor eyesight have lost their ability to serve as guides.
Despair Of Soul – a soul that melts is one that has lost its internal pressure, the sustaining breath of God that is fundamental for life. It seeks to survive from poorer sources. He is no longer the satisfied soul that delights in God, but rather has become the shriveled soul that has forgotten God.
The remedy for any of these conditions is a return to God in humility, asking him to do what only he can do, bring revival of heart, eyes, and soul – of the whole person, as I return to him in repentance and trust. In so doing, I am thankful even for the unpleasant gifts, since their intent is to drive this sheep back to the Shepherd: “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” 1 Peter 2:25.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dedication to God's Will

I am taking my cue from 1 Peter 4:1 and Christ’s way of thinking. Let’s fly through Peter and try to learn about the mindset of Christ who suffered:

“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1Pet 2:4-5 NAS95S)

The living stones of the living temple must have a resemblance to the cornerstone. This is a tremendously high calling, though it will not be so in the eyes of unbelievers.

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1Pet 2:21-23 NAS95S)

The results and the reactions are not my responsibility: they are God’s. The goals will not be accomplished by forcefulness or persuasiveness of personality or words. It is the gentle approach; the suffering approach. Peter wants to bring this home to us as well by using nearly the same closing line with regard to Christian sufferers in 4:19 “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” (1Pet 3:18 NAS95S)

Divine purposes. That’s what Christ had in his heart as he suffered: God’s purpose “that he might bring us to God.” If I am to “sanctify Christ as Lord in (my) heart,” then perhaps a part of that is to sanctify also Christ’s purpose, which is to bring people to God, to gather more living stones by portraying and proclaiming the beauty of a suffering Christ to people around us.

“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” (1Pet 4:1 NAS95S)

Dedication to the will of God. That was the theme of Christ’s life. Peter is warning people like me that if I am not so dedicated, then I will indeed be dedicated to “the lusts of men.” I have to be honest and careful about sin. It is not only damaging and destructive; it is a red flag that I am not pursuing the will of God, which was the mind-set of Christ.

Errant Intentions

We talked a lot about “mindset’ last night. I’m trying to think about how the Bible talks of this subject.

Simon the sorcerer, in Acts 8, was an apparent convert. He seems to accept the message, and then wants to manipulate the means. Peter rebukes him and says:
“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right (straight) before God. “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Acts 8:20-22 NAS95S)

“Hearts not right” require repentance, repent being a common command in Acts. I also found interesting the phrase “the intention of your heart.” It contains a word that is rare:

e¶nnoia, f; e˙pi÷noia, f: that which is intended or purposed as the result of thinking — ‘intention, purpose.’
e¶nnoiaÚ ‘it judges the thoughts and purposes of the heart’ He 4:12.
e˙pi÷noiaÚ ‘perhaps he will forgive you for having such a purpose in your heart’ Ac 8:22.

The word is used in apocryphal literature – not inspired; but convicting.
For the thoughts of mortal men are miserable, and our devices are but uncertain. Wis. 9:14

The cross-reference of a related word with Heb 4:12 is familiar, and important.
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ”

And then there is this positive reference:
“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” (1Pet 4:1 NAS95S)

The dictionary article on this word collects some related words together, but gives some good things to think about:
nouvßb, noo/ß, noiŒ, nouvn m; dia¿noiab, aß f; e¶nnoiaa, aß f: a particular manner or way of thinking — ‘way of thinking, disposition, manner of thought, attitude.’
‘(such a person is) puffed up, for no reason at all, by his human way of thinking’ Col 2:18.
‘at that time you were strangers and enemies because of the manner in which you thought and the evil things you did’ Col 1:21.
‘you too must strengthen yourselves with the same way of thinking’ 1Pe 4:1.
In a number of languages it may be necessary to render ‘way of thinking’ by a clause, for example, ‘how people think.’ In the case of 1Pe 4:1, it may be necessary to translate ‘you too must strengthen yourselves by thinking just like Christ thought.’

So I’m thinking about errant intentions, which Peter calls “wickedness,” and associates with “gall” and “bond” (‘for I see that you are full of bitter envy (or ‘are bitterly envious’) and are a prisoner of sin’) I’m thinking about the need for repentance, and what is wrong, and what needs to change in my heart. I’m thinking about the Gospel, and it’s ability to cut to the quick. And I’m thinking about Christ, and his way of thinking [Phil 2 will have to be a stop on this journey (“Let this mind be in you”)]. I’m thinking about a world that is filled to the brim with wrong thinking, and the unlikelyhood of 4 guys sitting at a table conquering the problem, but that, if we submit to Christ’s Lordship, it just may happen.