Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"You Are The Christ"

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
All too often, I fear, we can repeat the words but do not have a good grasp of the meaning. What did it mean to Peter when he confessed "you are the Christ"?

The term Christos occurs about 85 times in the Greek Old Testament. We do not notice it when we read the Old Testament because in the Old Testament the translators translate the term, whereas in the New Testament they transliterate it. Basically, whenever we read the word "anointed" in the Old Testament, it is the equivalent of reading "Christ" in the New Testament.

When Peter confessed Jesus as the Christos, he was identifying Jesus with the Old Testament figure who fulfilled the functions of priest and king, a figure who was always to be respected and always to be obeyed. Those who opposed the Christos would suffer for it (Psalm 2). In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter who emphasized the greatness of Jesus by saying, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). Lord is a strong word, indicating that we must obey, but Christ is an even stronger one.

Before our baptism, when we made the confession "I believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God", we were committing ourselves to live in absolute obedience to the teachings of Jesus. When we were lowered into the water it was symbolic of death to ourselves, of burial of our old life. When we were raised up out of the water it was symbolic of our rising to live a new life -- not a life for ourselves but for him (Rom 6:1-4; Gal 2:20).

Let us strive to be more true to our confession.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Footstompers or Classics of Hymnology

My brother never became rich. Maybe it is a good thing. He liked the "footstompers", the hymns of the 1930s and 1940s with jazzy tunes. He used to say that, when he was rich, he would buy the copyright to Great Songs of the Church, all the copies he could find, and then destroy them. He wanted to rid the earth of the classic hymns in that book (he was, of course, joking).

I am confident that the New Testament church used no footstompers, and nothing like the classical tunes of Bach, Handel, or Haydn. Their tunes were likely very simple. Their songs probably would seem monotone chants to us.

So long as the music is not so complex that it distracts our attention from the words, I sing all kinds of music. Some of my favorite hymns are set to classical music, some to African music, a few are footstompers. I rarely get to lead singing. Looking back at the last two times I led, I find that the dates of the songs I chose were as follows -- 1995, 2001, 1980, 1825, 1976, 1752 (but led to an unwritten African tune), 1958, 1250, unknown, 1862, 1966.

One of the most popular songs among college students these days is "And Can It Be." That song was written in 1739. When we lived in Indiana we used to take song requests pretty often. The couple who most often requested recent songs was Harry and Opal Dill. They were both in their 80s.

We are blessed with several song leaders in the congregation I serve. They do not all know the same songs. On a given Sunday we may have a prevalence of songs from one era. But over time, as we use different song leaders, a wide variety of songs will be used. The only songs we should not use are those with unscriptural messages and those so difficult that we cannot manage them without distracting from the message.

Within the congregation I serve, I do not hear complaints about the date of the songs we sing; but I do hear such complaints from people in other churches. That is sad. What matters is the message. If the songs we sing have a good scriptural message, and are set to a tune we can sing without distracting from that message, that is all that matters.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We Take The Easy Parts

Someone has said that the government has ruined our economy because for years they have taken easy sounding parts out of two contradictory theories of government and combined them. That may not be a perfect explanation of our economic mess, but it sounds like a very good explanation of the spiritual, emotional, and moral mess we are in.

Christianity (I mean biblical Christianity, not the artificial modern substitute) calls on us to die to our old life, to die to sin and to live by new standards (Rom 6:1-6, for example). We do not change our ways in order to gain salvation, we change our ways out of thankfulness for salvation already gained (Eph 2:8-10), BUT WE DO CHANGE OUR WAYS. That is the teaching of scripture.

We like part of that teaching. The part about how we are saved not by what we do but by what Christ did sounds good. We like that. We will keep that. But we do not like the part about how, in thankfulness for his great mercy, we must allow him to transform our lives. That sounds hard. We ignore that part. We call ourselves Christians because we cling to a part of Christianity, salvation by grace. But we reject another part of Christianity, the call to live a new life.

Flour is a fundamental ingredient in cake, but flour does not a cake make. God's grace is the fundamental of Christianity. His gracious love is what creates not only our salvation but even the possibility of our loving him in return. Christianity begins with God's grace and ends in God's glory. He, not we, is fundamental to Christianity. But we are supposed to respond in submission. Our lives are supposed to change. We do not create the change, but neither are we to resist the transformation he intends for our lives.

Do we really embrace God's grace? Do we really believe that he, in the person of Jesus, died for us? Does that belief demonstrate itself in a transformed life? Or are we just taking a part of Christianity and calling that part the whole?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Lesson Of Uganda

The only country in Africa that has ever significantly reduced its level of HIV infection is Uganda. In the 1990s Uganda's HIV/AIDS rates dropped dramatically. How did they do this?

I was in Zambia when the program to reduce AIDS in Uganda was begun. I remember the statement released by the president of Uganda vividly. He said, "Uganda has an AIDS problem because it has a morality problem." With those words he began an HIV/AIDS program stressing faithfulness and monogamy. It worked. Uganda's rate of infection fell dramatically from that time until recently.

In 2002 the promoters of condoms were again allowed into Uganda. The predictable result has been that Uganda's rate of infection is once again climbing. Today it is not much different than anywhere else in Sub-Saharan Africa. The gains made between 1990 and 2001 have largely been wiped out.

Everybody wants a way to eat cake without gaining weight, but it does not work. Everybody wants a way to engage in immorality without suffering the consequences, but it does not exist. Even if one is fortunate enough to escape the physical results of sin, the spiritual and emotional devastation remains.

These days, everybody says that immorality is OK, everybody except the only one who matters. God still says it is sin and it is therefore still sin -- no matter what anyone says. It is often deadly to the body. It is always deadly to the soul.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thes. 4:3

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Cor. 6:9-10

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Cor. 6:18-20

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Won Or Lost Before It Begins

Jimmy Allen was one of the most successful evangelists of the 20th century. He held gospel meetings all over the country. Tens of thousands responded at these meetings. Thousands were baptized.

Toward the close of his autobiography, Fire In My Bones, Brother Allen comments that the success or failure of the meetings was decided before he ever appeared in town. Some of his meetings were a disappointment. In some cities the preliminary work was not done -- arrangements were not made, people were not invited, and the meeting was unproductive. In other places, the work was prayerfully organized and enthusiastically carried out. In those places the meetings were productive. The success of Brother Allen's campaigns depended on the work of ordinary members.

The same is true today.

The growth or stagnation of the church is always in the hands of the members. I have known churches that grew while receiving mediocre preaching, and churches that were stagnant while receiving very good preaching. The churches that grew while receiving so-so preaching did so because the people loved the Lord so much that they made the best of what they had. The churches that stagnated under good preaching did so because people came to worship unenthused and tended not to invite others as they should have.

How healthy is the church where you worship? What might you do to make things better? Do you pray for the work? Are you involved in the work? Do you invite others to participate in the work and worship of the church?