Saturday, September 28, 2013

Time, Time, Time...

In my contemplation as of late one of the prevailing themes has been "time".  It just escapes me (quite literally).  For when I was young time seemed to go by so aggravatingly slow that I felt my energy overflowing into nothingness.  As I've matured over the years at times I long for those days.

Currently, I've been at my church for about a little over a year.  Yet, it seems like yesterday I moved from LA.  To think before that, I served two and a half years at a Korean church in downtown LA.  Which means I'm four years removed from seminary at this point.  I spent four glorious years of my life at Westminster Seminary... to this day I still find so many of those lessons helpful in what I do in the day to day.  However, the more I look back, the more years I see pile up behind me like a closet full of clothes I've been packing away in suitcases.  As of now, it's hard to believe but it's been 8 years since I first entered the halls of grad school.

Just this day too, some of my elementary school friends on Facebook started getting active again.  We're planning a reunion in December (I'm hoping I make it for that night).  To think, I've had those friends since first grade (Go class of 1991!).  

As I get older I realize that time slips by quicker with each passing moment.  In fact, it made me reflect on the wisdom of the teacher in his wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3.  Life goes through many seasons.  Yet those many seasons come and go.  It's a matter of how we use that time, how we focus it, and that's why our values are so important.

It's no wonder that guy (Qohelet) had so much angst over the brevity of his life and what he did with it.  For only in his aging wisdom did God show him that all that mattered was God Himself.  

With so much to today's "on the move" mentality it seems almost a far gone conclusion to me that we're losing our perspective on time even more.  We're like Qohelet (the teacher) in that sense, only more extreme.

Personally, I've been encouraged by the life God has granted me.  I'm privileged to serve Him as a pastor.  My purpose is clear... preach the gospel.  With moments like these I often rejoice.

In the past I've wasted man moments, but with no regrets.  In a sense, that's what I pray for the generations after me.  No regrets.  I pray for their focus to be on Christ in all things.  And in their wasted moments, I pray that God would bring value to them as He has to me.  I pray that they would continue to find God's grace, mercy, love, and presence as the constancy that walks with them in life.  I pray that they would realize their union with Christ is real at all times.

As for me, I pray that my wasted moments become wisdom moments.  I pray that I would grow to appreciate time, not as something that simply flees from me, but as something that pushes me to pursue Christ more.  I pray that the seasons of my life would continue to add unto me the character God desires.  

People often see time as an enemy... truth be told, time is a servant of God.  Maybe we ought to appreciate it a little more lest we treat it with the sinful prejudice.  

Monday, September 23, 2013

Religious... But Not Spiritual

Earlier this past year I ran into a news story which introduced the world to the first "atheist church" which started up in the UK.  Since then, I recently came across a sort of "follow up" story in which we see that the atheist church has grown and is growing... quite fast.

Started by two comedians in the UK it seems like a joke.  But upon closer inspection it seems as if it's one of the biggest (and probably cruelest) jokes being played upon the souls of men.  What do I mean?

The idea of the atheist church is like an archer who broadly aims at a target with no intention of hitting the bulls eye.  In many ways, it tries to mimic something spiritual that human beings innately recognize, and that is the need for worshiping God.  In other words, that which the atheist has abandoned is something they are seeking out subconsciously.

People were created to worship God.  That's why God gave us the Bible, a conscience, and a soul.  We were created in His image (Gen. 1: 25-28).  By the nature of God's lawful command to humanity to procreate and fill the earth we are to fill the earth with His image.  Furthermore, we were created distinctively apart from other creatures for this purpose.

As the theologian Meredith Kline also points out, the Garden of Eden itself functioned as a Temple for man to have communion with God.  The reason humanity was kicked out in the first place was because in sin, the priestly duties of cleaning the Temple could no longer be performed by Adam.  Instead it was up to God.  That's why every Tabernacle and Temple thereafter had a divide between the Holy of Holies where God's presence sat and the people of God.

So in essence, as humanity is created for worship it is only natural that we would gather together to do so.  We have the propensity to seek that which is beyond ourselves.  The atheists in this church community then in only trying to emulate something which they were designed to do by natural law.  Humanity has urges to worship.

This is apparent as it is no coincidence that one of the church's founders was a former Christian.  They admit that there is a sense of community within the church that atheists cannot have because there is no organized irreligious way for them to gather.  Thus, they have invented a gathering which in itself is religious though not "spiritual" in the sense that their object of worship is none other than themselves.

As their preacher says, "Just being alive; to be conscious that you are alive, and celebrate that, is just as transcendental as anyone's god."

The atheist, you see, does have a god.  It's the one in the mirror.  Their own celebration of life is their attempt at spiritualizing their hollow life experience.  They worship life itself as if it is a god.

Indeed, a lot of eastern meditation seeks this kind of subjective experience of the divine within themselves.  This however can go nowhere outside of oneself.  It contains no objective truth.  It has no redeemer for their sin problem.  It does not deal with injustice in the world or cosmically.  It only seeks to falsely elevate their own sense of superiority over others who have faith outside of themselves.

I doubt this was what Nietzsche had in mind when he said that God was dead.

Even the great French postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida said that after post modernity the next big thing was "religion".  It seems that the atheist has finally found it.

But that's the cruelty of the joke.  For there may be temporal pleasures in the things of this world, but there is nothing for them after the experience.  Their momentary sense of gratification slips through their fingers like sand and their deepest needs still need to be addressed.  Sadly, there is no peace found in the atheist church, it's just smoke and mirrors.    

Saturday, September 21, 2013

This Isn't Right...

Some time ago I had heard of a tragic story of a teenage girl who had committed suicide.  What struck me most about this particular case more so than other such tragic stories was that it happened no more than 10 miles away from where I live.  Even more so, it really hit home when I got a chance to read Nina Burleigh's account in Rolling Stone and realized how I could see the same thing happening at every high school across America.

That's because everyone from the parents of these teenagers, the administration of the school, and the students reminded me so much of my own experiences some 15+ years ago in high school.

Granted, sex, drugs, image issues, and popularity contests are nothing new to high school.  I shouldn't expect much else considering my high school was no different.  Hearing stories of girls giving up their virginity to rumors of abortions and rampant drug use among the popular students isn't anything new... especially in affluent areas.  But something about the particular focus of the cruelty really churned my stomach and fueled the fire of anger within me.

It was the barbarism.  It was barbarism masked in the adolescent proving ground of manhood and pranks. Wickedness without boundaries is a cancer with no defense.

There need not be any proof of human depravity for we see it even today.  People easily forget their place before God and become butchers.  It's been happening for thousands of years.

In the climax of the book in Judges 19-20 we see the callous nature of a Levite when he sends his faithful concubine to the horde of Gibeanites to violate (instead of himself).  After which, the Levite wakes up from a nights rest to find this woman violated beyond his "use".  As a result, he cuts her up into 12 pieces sending them to the 12 tribes of Israel to rally them into retribution for this act.

The problem is, there was no justice done.  The Levite sought to protect his pride.  So he manipulated Israel into civil war over it failing to mention that it was he who offered this women to the savages.

Sin affects a community in profound ways.  Wretchedness like this cries out for justice yet where do you go for justice when those who holding responsibility, respect, and religious authority are so corrupt?

That's the parallel we see here in this modern day tragedy.  Where was the administration in all this?  Where were the teachers who heard whispers of rumors?  Where were the upright Christian students?  Where were the parents?  Where were the consciences of these boys?  Where was the sensibility of this girl to stay away from drunkenness?  The more questions we ask the greater the anger for we know there is something not right with this world...

In the end the greatest questions we must ask is, "How much can one pay until they've paid enough?  What can be done to repair that which cannot?"  Is there really such a thing as "an eye for an eye"?

I would gather not.  There isn't enough justice in this world to satisfy such crimes.  And if there is not enough justice in this world there isn't enough hope in the world to get us out of the holes we dig for ourselves.

That's why we need the Kingdom of God.  I need a hope that comes form something greater than humanity.  That hope can only be found in Christ.

Only one who was fully divine and human can pay for sins.  We need a mediator of such quality to pay such a high price.  The Heidelberg Catechism reminds us as much in Q&A 14-18.

Jesus brings something we need.  He's the solution for sin and such evil in the world.  And that's insulting to many to think that His forgiveness can extend so far.  Yet I tell you it extends even further than that... much further.

At the end of the day that gives me comfort, but more importantly it gives me purpose and a message to preach.  It's a message of identity in Christ.  To know thyself in our sins, but to also see thyself in the light of Christ.  That is what our young people really need.  It's what our parents need to teach in their homes.  It's what our administration needs to embody in the form of intolerance of injustice.

All this to say, I can't save that little girl and I can't forgive those boys or anyone else involved... but I'm not supposed to.  I just point to the one who can.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Church of Many Tongues

I recently came upon a blog from "The Gospel Coalition" website written by David Wright.  In this article, Wright points out the disjointed nature of Christian education in many churches across North America.  For the most part Wright sticks to the segregation of age groups in churches as a primary cause that leads to throngs of young people leaving our churches.

Being a 2nd generation pastor I totally hear what Wright is saying.  For sure, this is one of the main issues of American Evangelical Christendom.  Covenant worship (AKA "Family worship") is not practiced as regularly today as it used to be (I would argue, the way God meant it to be).  We have become a religious segment which specializes in meeting needs.  Though meeting needs is a good thing, the question is whether or not we're doing a good job and if this is how God desires us worship.

Deuteronomy 6: 4ff seems to tell us the role of parents and the church is to bring up our children in the faith.

Ephesians 6: 1-4 rests the role of being discipled and discipling in parenting.  But, the greater context of Ephesians does point us to the church is unified in its efforts.  We are not alone, but rather one body in Christ.

Matthew 19: 13-15 supports the attitude we are to have with children.  They are not to be denied Christ.

Yet, interestingly enough the attitudes of adults and church leadership today are very much reflected here.  We often know how to say that Christian education is important to the little ones of our church.  We confess we fall short and that we want our children to be believers.  But, at the same time we do little to nothing about this truth.  Instead we focus on growing adult ministries and people because those are "our people" while perhaps some of us may also be thinking, "That's where the money comes from."

In the book "Already Gone" by Ken Ham, Brit Breemer, and Todd Hillard, we are told that as churches we are failing our children.  They already decide by the time they are in 6th grade whether or not they would return to church when they have become adults.  Mostly with no's.  And why not?  On average, every year churched children get less than 5% of Biblical teaching time than they would instruction in their schools.  That's not even counting homework time, sports, music, or any other extracurricular activities.

In many Asian and other bilingual churches it's more of the same.  Our kids are too busied with the things of the world to ponder the spiritual reality they are part of.  What's worse is that in bilingual churches we are left with a great cultural and linguistic divide.

On both sides there is a lingering tension which snaps by the time the kids enter college.  Many young people do not return to their home churches because that is their "parent's" church.  Yet, often efforts to address this flight lead to much discussion and argument.  Parents don't want to be embarrassed and uncomfortable in a cultural setting that they're unfamiliar with just as much as their children.

So where is the hope for these churches?  That's where Wright doesn't go far enough in his blog.  Quite simply it comes from the top down.

When we read the book of Acts 2: 5-13 it describes how the Holy Spirit leads men to speak in the native tongues of those around them.  Peter subsequently preaches the gospel and there are masses moved by the Spirit to come and believe in Christ.

For church leaders today we must see this as an inspiration for us.  There is no task too hard, no divide too wide which the gospel of Christ cannot bridge.  That means that for people like me, 2nd generation pastors, our job is to reach across the isle and tell others to follow suit.  That also means that the 1st generation also be pliable to reach across that divide as well.

It also means that church leadership always seeks to promote the peace, purity, and unity of the church.  That is a call for all pastors.  For it is not their church, but the head of the church is Christ.  Sometimes that means that we give up things in order to bring people together.  Certainly, I have had my share of disagreements with leadership, but at the end of the day I submit to what the majority desires... because I can.  Submission and love are two key hallmarks to a healthy relationship because they promote unity.

Granted, it is not an easy path, but it is a path worth taking... because it's the call of God to serve Christ's church.  Leaders must always think like parents.  For when the kids see their parents they learn.  In the same way, we as pastors and lay leaders are seen as examples to our people.  We must stay united and rejoice in our points of agreement and encourage others to do the same.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Field of Kingdom Hope

Today I was sitting at home reflecting on the nature of the Kingdom of God.  Most particularly on the passage of Daniel 1: 1-21.  For those of you unfamiliar, Daniel and his friends were taken away from their homeland and families.  The Jews of Judah were a conquered people and Jerusalem, the center of their faith, the city of David, and the location of the Temple were plundered and pillaged of their best and now they're an exiled people.

Most particularly, I noted that even then Daniel and his friends remained faithful to God in recognizing how faithful He was to them.  Daniel had refused to eat of their best food and drink because they did not wish to be "defiled".  But their defiling was not in the physical food or drink.  Their dietary restrictions had nothing to do with their laws.  Jewish people do eat and drink wine.

So what are we to gather from this?  Upon further investigation we understand that the word translated "defiled" is actually the negative form of the word we would translate as "redeem" from the Hebrew.  See, it was Daniel's denial of Nebuchadnezzar as their king.

To quote the eunuch, "I fear the lord my king..." (Dan. 1: 10).  Daniel on the other hand feared The LORD his king.  He held on to God's provision.  For instead of taking the daily bread of the Babylonians, Daniel sought the daily bread of God which was raised from the ground... from seeds.

And the word "seed" has a great connotation as an Old Testament concept.  It represents a redeeming hope in the coming of Christ.  It's a shadow of what was to come.  Daniel held on to that hope.

In any event, I pondered this as I got home and caught the movie "The Field of Dreams".  A movie in which the main character Ray Kinsella is dealing with the harsh realities of the world while wrestling with past regrets in his relationship with his father John.

As Ray deals with the seemingly immanent loss of his land and his past sins against his father there came the final scene in which they meet on that field of dreams.  Here is the scene...

Honestly, it hit me.  As John asks Ray, "Is this heaven?"  Ray sheepishly replies, "It's Iowa..."  and then Ray asks, "Is there a heaven?"  Of course, John emphatically replies, "Oh yeah, it's the place dreams come true."

And Ray replies, "Maybe this is heaven." Then they play catch, symbolically washing away the sins of his past and living in the moment of perfect harmony.

In many ways, that one scene reflects the hope of heaven which Christ secures.  It's a place where our sins don't matter any more and as we are reconciled to God we live there with Him in that perfect moment where the Kingdom of God intrudes into this world.

And in fact, the Kingdom of God is better.  There will be no looming mortgages or debts to be paid.  There will be no more suffering, pain, or self-loathing.  There will be only everlasting perfect moments of joy and peace away from the savagery of our pilgrim/exilic life.  And that's a powerful thing.  We need to yearn for it.  We need to chase after it, even in the face of being counter-cultural.

That convicts me and brings tears to my soul.  For in that, I find my faults and see them replaced by hope.  Just as we see Daniel's hope in Christ as everlasting.  Daniel went on to live and extol the virtues of that hope as a witness beyond Jerusalem, beyond Babylon, and beyond time as we read about it today.

Such is the lasting witness of Christ.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Much Ado About Something

As of late there have been many discussions on the internet in regards to transformational Christianity.  Much of the discussion has been circulating around comments from renowned Church historians and theologians such as D.G Hart, Carl Trueman, and Anthony Bradley over the consequences of ministries such as Tim Keller's in New York.  

Truly, something as esoteric and academic as this seems all much ado about nothing.  All of them have their points.  Hart and Trueman speak in terms of what is called 2-kingdom theology.  And yes, Bradley has his reasons to critique this view and I empathize with his bias against the likes of Hart and Trueman.  But what is really going on here?  

It seems to me everyone here is fighting over scraps.  The 2-kingdom people are made out to be caricatures of cold hearted Presbyterianism while Bradley is seeking to defend his PCA brethren with warm and socially conscious Presbyterianism.  And I'm here to say they're both a little wrong and a little right.  They're pushing and pulling around the X-factor in both their ideologies... human sin.

Hart and Trueman call for the church to cease and desist from pursuing this desire to "transform culture" on the basis of church identity.  The church is not a civic institution nor should it be run as such.  Social justice should be mitigated by the fact that the true nature of the church is spiritual, not physical.  

Bradley on the other hand feels that the distinction does not exist in such a robust manner.  In fact, he takes it a step further to say that if it were not for organized Christian movements in culture devastating repercussions may have been allowed in society.

But for any serious 2-kingdom minded individual it should be recognized here that both sides nick the mark without hitting it.  Our citizenship is a dual citizenship.  We live in this world though we are not of it.  We are physical corporeal beings that knows there is a spiritual reality.

And it's by simple virtue that the spiritual has an affect on the physical by which we pursue justice in the world, though the degree of change is subject to the limitations of the flesh.  

Kuyper had to step down from the pulpit to step up to reform Amsterdam.  Also it wasn't the church that stopped the slave trade, it was a Christian man in England convicted of his conscience.  It was a coordinated movement by God through the spiritual and sovereign force of His will.  It is no different than today's widespread movement towards social justice by Christians.

For example, I know of an organization (hereby: "X") which seeks justice and the social well being of North Koreans who are refugees trying to escape in China.  They are Christians, but they cannot simply call themselves a Christian organization.

Why is that?  It's partly practical as much as it is a spiritual witness to Christ.  They can't do it themselves.  They need help.  And it's because of this precious gift of common grace that those of saving grace can work together to better society along side of those who do not love Christ as we do.  

In fact, it's not just these figures of history either... there are many Biblical figures of which this is true.  Joseph and Daniel, among others are among the believers of history which worked with secular people and secular institutions to better society.  And that should answer Hart and Trueman's gripe about the affects of transformationalism for it points to the need of Christ in so many ways.  We are fallen creatures who live and die.  Christ is eternal and though the measure of justice here is nominal, it is a shadow of that which is to come from Jesus.  

Likewise, Bradley should recognize that these weren't organized movements by man's will, but rather common grace.  For when these movements of positive cultural change take mass effect religion becomes neutered.  The gospel will eventually take a back seat to social justice itself.  And then, as we sinners often do, we will lose our way from the purpose of our reforms.  Hence the trap of seeking an over-realized eschatology.

I was in fact discussing these issues with a friend of mine today and he's right to say there needs to be more work done in the realm of academia towards understanding common grace.  For in it we will never be satisfied... and that's kind of the point.  For the Kingdom of God is the greater spiritual and corporeal reality (prophetically speaking) we look forward to.  So I say seek it... however you're led by God to do so.