Thursday, June 16, 2011

What If We Just Did What It Says?

When things are complicated, they are almost always confusing. Priorities become mere nagging urgencies. Mission becomes a collection of programs. Busyness crowds out reflection. Details take over prayer time. Deadlines erase God-given lifelines.
I would like to suggest that Isaiah 12:3,4 serves as an identity statement and a mission statement for God's rescued people. There have been hard, chastening times (chs 7-10), but God's comfort has returned (12:1). In this flush of relief, salvation and favor, there is a promise (the identity statement), and then instructions (the mission statement).
The promise reads: "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (12:3). This phrase embodies my main illustrations for the NT phrase, "out of the faith of Jesus Christ" (e.g., Galatians 3:22, "so that the promise flowing out of the faith of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."). Rather than seeking to draw the water-for-the-day from the well of the works of the Law, perpetually refreshing life is freely available from the well of faith in the faithful Christ. So long as we seek to gain favor with God by drawing water from the well of the Law, we can enjoy neither joy nor life, just pulling and straining and sweating and lugging that dead weight time and time again. But the divine and perfect Jesus brings a fountain of living waters to us. He is my "well of salvation." "With joy you will draw water" from Christ.
So the promise directs us to Jesus. It is all about knowing him, trusting him, following him. There really is nothing else. This should be neither complicated nor confusing.
So if you know Jesus, what do you do with others who know Jesus (the local church)? There are four phrases in Isaiah 12:4 
  1. Give thanks to the Lord
  2. Call upon his name
  3. make known his deeds among the peoples
  4. proclaim that his name is exalted 

Each of these implies some kind of verbalization (though "make known" can be done through deeds). Numbers 2 and 4 point to the Lord's (number 1) name, while number 3 refers to his deeds. 
Numbers 1 and 2 are things that believers do together. Number 3 is our service and witness. Number 4 is announcing or heralding the greatness of God that must take place in assemblies, in homes, and in the marketplace.
So what if we just did what it says? First, live the promise. Be your identity. Live life with Jesus as the fountain of life. Defer to him; depend on him.
Then, with other believers, obey and fulfill the mission. Spend time giving thanks (1) for the dramatic reversal of God's rescue in our lives. And pray (2). Confess sins; seek God's will and ways; pray for fresh expressions of the life of God in our lives and in the lives of others. Pray for mighty manifestations of His presence and power.
Next, make known his deeds (3) among the nations. The assembly of believers needs to learn together and from each other how to demonstrate the character of God in daily life, in front of neighbors and associates. Our commitments to truth and mercy and forgiveness must reflect God's truth, mercy and forgiveness.
But don't stop there. Our Scripture instruction includes "proclaim that his name is exalted." Boldly state your reason for living, and that for which you would die. Talk about someone instead of yourself, someone more interesting than your kids, and someone more worthy than your lastest purchase or vacation. He should be preached "in" church, and "as" church. This will begin to make sense as we obey the other instructions, and will make little sense if we neglect them.
The Book of Isaiah is called "the gospel of the Old Testament." This verse could be a version of "the Great Commission" of the Old Testament. Or maybe it is just a brief instruction to believers, directing them to just do what it says.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Baptism, and Boldness

I know that for centuries the church has been divided over baptism battles. As a Baptist, I understand baptism to be the ordinance by which the believer expresses outwardly that which has been worked by the Spirit inwardly. The testimony powerfully pictures both identification with Christ in his crucifixion, burial and resurrection, and also the cleansing associated with forgiveness of sins. Believers' baptism, then, signals to the gathered church that this person is to be accepted as a brother/sister in Christ. 
Baptism is a testimony to the Spirit's work. And yet, there are baptized unbelievers. The testimony can be false. So also with the testimony of boldness, though in different cases.
It seems that an evidence of an apostle's authenticity was in his willingness to boldly proclaim the gospel (Acts 9:27,28; 1 Thessalonians 2:2). An apostle's speech was critical to the fulfillment of his role, and the willingness to boldly speak for Christ in the face of dangerous and deadly opposition was an indication that he was fully committed to the cause of Christ, that he was truly Christ's apostle. Yes, there can be bold-speaking charlatans. But few will risk the damage if their soul is not wrapped up in Christ.
So, I've been baptized, but am I a bold proclaimer of the Gospel (not just in the safety of the church service, but in the mixed-up marketplace)? What if authenticity as a Christian were not just evidenced by baptism, but by boldness? Would you or I have convincing testimony that we are truly living under the claim of Christ?
Some would argue that, since the apostolic function has ceased with the completing of the New Testament, ordinary believers should not be challenged to follow the apostolic example. I am a cessationist, I suppose (though I'm not sure the categories will fit forever), but I don't believe that refraining from tongues and healings allows us to ignore all of Paul's example. 
I believe that one's testimony of bold proclamation should match his/her testimony of baptism's profession.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Not a Superficial Faith (2 Peter 1:5,6)

Our faith is to be supplied with knowledge (2 Peter 1:5,6). That is, our faith is pinned at the corners with truthful insights whose implications are being worked out in our lives. A failure to do so leaves us dangerously close to the "fool" of Proverbs - ones who have truth available to them, but who choose to ignore it.
Paul helps us with this subject of an informed faith when he writes 1 Corinthians - to believers who should know better. Several times through the letter he says, "Don't you know?" And they did, but they didn't. They know the words on the page, but the integration into decisions and behaviors had not penetrated. The following three "don't you know's" are illustrations of paper-truths that need to be made heart-truths.
"Don't you know that you (plural) are the temple of the living God?" (1 Cor 3:16). There are probably many applications, but here are two. First, the church, and the local church, is not first of all a human operation, but a divine operation. It is God's plan, God's initiative, God's transformation, God's instruction. As you look through the context of 1 Corinthians 3, notice how many times it says "God's," "God's," "God's." It is not ours. So the search for the perfect pastor/elder/deacon/drummer is not the highest priority. There ought to be a search committee looking for the leading of God's Spirit. And I'm sure that in many churches, there are people banding together to do just that. The church is not primarily about winsome personalities and compelling programs. It is people moved by the Spirit of God for the sake of Christ doing the things that Christians do - praying, serving, sharing Christ.
A second application is that we must stop trashing the church, even (or especially) the local church. Yes, it is indeed a group of bumbling people who would have a hard time finding their way across a bridge. But these idiots (lovingly so called) are God's idiots. And they probably know that they don't "get it" in large degree. I've marked Agur's statement in my Bible: "Surely I am more stupid than any man," (Proverbs 30:2). But still God loves us. He loves His church. We should talk about the church like God does, not failing to tell the truth, but to do so with love and affection.
"Don't you know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?" (1 Corinthians 6:19). While food may not be a big deal, how you treat your body is a big deal, and sexual relationships are a big deal. Let me be quick. If you are single, you should not act as though you were married. No sexual activity. If you are married, you should not act as though you weren't. Be a couple. I should have been this brief when I preached this.
"Don't you know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?" (1 Corinthians 9:24). I don't think Paul's point is that he wants to beat out all other Christians. I think he is making the point that he is "all in" in this race, and that we should be as well. There is no such thing as "casual Christianity." To be a believer in Christ means to be a follower of Christ. It means to walk with/by the Spirit. It means to be adopted into a new family, engaged in a new covenant, and being part of a rigorous, sanctifying process that fits us for a new creation. Paul is a competitive Christian. He wants to win. He wants the team to win. He doesn't like it when a team member is distracted and misses an opportunity and let's the team down. Let's get involved.
Scripture is full of truth - many truths, that need to penetrate deep in our lives so that our actions and reactions are transformed. Peter wants your faith to be shaped by a penetrating, transforming knowledge. It will take the rest of your life. There is no time to waste.