27 February, 2010

The Gospel According to... Bono?

Sometimes the Gospel message comes out in the most unusual of places. I don't know where Bono's heart is, of course, but I do think that I could sign my name to this statement.

Here is Bono's take on grace.

At the center of all religions is this idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you... Yet along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that... Love interrupts the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I have done a lot of stupid stuff... It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins on the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity. -Interview from 2005. Quoted by Gene Edward Veith, 'Salty Dogma'.

And so that you have some praise to go with a good quote: Here is Bono's rendition of Psalm 40:

25 February, 2010

Black and Reformed History Makers

Selma, Alabama, May 21, 1875: A congregation of black Reformed Presbyterians was organized due to the work of the Central Board of Missions. Twenty-Five members took the covenant of Church membership. This was the outworking of the social justice that Reformed Presbyterian pastors and members sought for the previous 71 years.

This congregation was originally a mission to 'free men'; something that the RP Church worked very hard at through its involvement in the underground railroad, the training of African Americans, even at the collegiate level, and all stemming from the belief that God made the races of the world 'of one blood'.

This congregation would prove to be on the forefront of social justice. In the 1960s, the Marches through Selma were organized out of the manse (Pastor Claude Brown was pastor then). Martin Luther King Jr. was a close friend to this congregation of Psalm singing warriors for civil rights.

But why did the RP Church care? Why did a small denomination of psalm singing Presbyterians care about social justice and care about the plight of the African American? The reason is because in biblical history- we were slaves in the land and God delivered us. The reason is that during the Killing Times in Scotland- the RP Church understood persecution and injustice. The reason is because man is made in the image of God- and in Christ freedom is offered to all men. How can we preach freedom in Christ while enslaving and dehumanizing our neighbors?

The RP Church began fighting for equality of the black man as early as 1802 in this country. We were the second denomination in the United States to denounce the practice of enslaving the African race (the Quakers were the first). Watch this 27 minute video to hear some of that history.

And pray for justice. There are many more battles to fight. We cannot live off of our laurels.

Documentary of McLeod's 1802 "Negro Slavery Unjustifiable" by RPTS from RPTS on Vimeo.

15 February, 2010

The Year of the Tiger and the Gospel

I have been thinking about the Chinese people a lot lately. This week with Chinese New Year, and over the past several weeks as I have been reading about the RPCNA mission in China (1886-c.1949)

My prayer is that the Lord would open the doors (Hoi Moon) to once again allow the Gospel to flourish in China. You see, my desire is not 'that we would see people converted in China', although I do desire to see converts. My prayer is that we SEE those converted in China. I believe that the Lord has been busy in China for many generations- and that we will see the fruit of that work. Someday the doors will be open again, and the light of the Gospel will shine with radiance as the sun of righteousness rises!

As I reflect on the year of the Tiger- I pray that the Gospel would go forth in the strength and beauty of the tiger. Even in the early 1900s, the beauty of Chinese Reformed Presbyterians was being seen. Beginning with one woman in her 70s- and from there flourishing as a mission. Hear this account of the first celebration of the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper at the Chinese RP Mission:

July 6, 1902

As our Psalter is incomplete in Chinese we used the twenty-third psalm in going to the table and leaving it. As there was no session and no assistant, some forethought was necessary in planning, but all was done decently and in order. The observers were quiet and attentive, and we knew we were not alone. We find great comfort in the manifest growth of our one convert... Sabbath morning she said people were asking her why we were having a three day memorial service! Some time ago I gave her a little prayer to be used in asking a blessing at her meals. She eats alone at home, and evidently does not know that where numbers are eating together one asks the blessing for all, and so on yesterday when the bread was being passed to her, she closed her eyes and audibly repeated her little prayer, then broke off the bread and passed it. It is the first time I have heard a Chinese woman utter prayer in public , and her courage in doing what she thought her duty in the presence of so many others, was to us a very beautiful thing. (Hoi Moon)

It must have been a beautiful thing to see the first convert of the RP mission in China. May this year of the Tiger bring many new converts and many praises and blessings to Jesus Christ! May he throw open the doors of that wonderful country so that the Church of Christ may see her brothers and sisters who have suffered so much in the past generations!

13 February, 2010

Count the Cost of Following Christ

As followers of Jesus Christ we need to count the cost of discipleship. Each one of us need to ask ourselves theses questions:

1. Is it worth following Christ?
2. How far will I go in following Christ?

The answer to the second question is this- if you are not willing to die for Christ; you are not willing to live for him.

In the 1660s Hugh Mackail was tortured and eventually murdered for his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. As a disciple that had weighed the cost of discipleship, Mackill was ready to die for the Lord Jesus. He last words were:

"Now I leave off to speak any more to creatures, and turn my speech to thee, O Lord. Now I begin my intercourse with God, which shall never be broken off. Farewell, father and mother, friends and relations! Farewell, the world and all delights! Farewell meat and drink! Farewell, sun, moon, and stars!

Welcome God and Father! Welcome sweet Lord Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant! Welcome, blessed Spirit of grace, God of all consolation! Welcome, glory! Welcome, eternal life!

Welcome death!"

Friend, Have you counted the cost of following Christ? Is He worth it?

09 February, 2010

Daily Cleansing or Moldy Bread?

Simon Peter was unable to comprehend the condescension that Jesus Christ would go to for him. He was torn with emotional turmoil as Jesus stooped to wash his feet? Simon asked him, "Lord do you wash my feet?" And Jesus answered that he must and that Peter would not understand it until later.

Peter was a man who knew his own sinfulness. He was a man who understood that he was vile and hell-worthy apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ. When he answered Jesus he said the equivalent of, "Not in a million years will you wash my feet!" "No, eternally no, Lord!"

Jesus told him that if he would allow him to wash- then he had no part with Christ. Peter could not imagine life without Christ, even though later that evening he would deny him. Peter cries out, "Not my feet only, but my hands and my head!"

Peter was a man who despite his own sinfulness- was a man that would storm the throne room for grace- he would pursue Christ at all costs, even if he had to appear to be a double-minded man. Peter is an example for all of us. We are to detest the sin within us; and we are to pursue Christ with a fervent pursuit. We are to desire his cleansing daily.

Krummacher, an old German Reformed pastor, noted in 1856, "There are many Christians who know of no other nourishment for their inward life than the moldy bread of long past experience. But no true peace results from this. Inward religion does not consist in a life of morbid security, arising from the recollection of having once received the forgiveness of sins. Where a real spiritual life exists, there is also a constant activity, unceasing striving against sin, repeated humiliation before God, and renewed experience of his favor. Were it otherwise, why should the Lord put into his children's lips that daily petition 'forgive our trespasses'. He that is washed need not be again entirely washed, but only his feet, and that continually."

06 February, 2010

For Bread and Wine: Prepare Your Hearts

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper will be administered tomorrow during morning worship. As I prepare to (administer and) commune on the body and blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, I have been thinking about the elements of bread and wine. We do not consider the elements in themselves that often- we spend more time thinking about what they represent (blood and flesh). But each aspect of the Lord's Supper is intended to communicate a great truth about the mystery of the Gospel.

John Willson wrote a very useful catechism on the Sacraments in the late 18th century. Here is just a small sampling of what he says about common bread and table wine:

Bread, in order to nourish us must first be sown, and die in the earth; so Christ's body behoved to die, and be buried in the earth, in order to feed and nourish our souls. Bread must be prepared by threshing, bruising, and grinding in the mill and baking in the oven; so Christ, that he might be a fit savior to us, was content to be bruised between the millstones of God's justice and our sins, and to be scorched in the oven of his father's wrath.

Wine, in order to prepare it for our use, must be squeezed out of the grape, which for that end is crushed and bruised in the wine press; so our blessed savior was crushed in the wine press of his father's justice, till the precious juice of his sacred body did gush out, for the saving of our souls. None could afford our perishing souls for this remedy, but Christ alone: hence it is said, 'he has trodden the wine press alone'.

Wine does refresh and cheer the heart of man- Christ's blood does much more cheer and refresh the soul of a humble penitent sinner, that makes application of it by faith.

As you come to the table this Lord's Day- think about all that was ordained to make up this wonderful visual description of the Gospel. Blood poured out. Flesh broken. Sinners reconciled.

01 February, 2010

God's Hope for the City

Roger Greenway notes that the early history of redemption is the 'pastoral origins of humanity'. He goes on to say that, "The cultural mandate given to Adam and Eve in the garden to fill, rule, and subdue the earth was nothing more than a mandate to build the city.

The couple was to multiply, so providing the citizens of the city. Their cultivation of earth's resources as they extended their control over their territorial environment through the fabrication of sheltering structures would produce the physical architecture of the city. And the authority structure of the human family engaged in the cultural process would constitute the centralized government by which the life and functioning of the city, would be organized, under God. The cultural mandate given at creation was thus a mandate to build the city, and it would be through the blessing of God on man's faithfulness in the covenanted task that the construction of the city would be completed. Urban culture built in perfect obedience to God, would typify our hope in Jehovah."

Of course, we all know that this original design fell under the power of sin. But that did not thwart God's intentions for building a city. There was a promise that one would come from the seed of the woman and crush the head of the serpent. And the history of redemption, up to this point, has been the achieving of that redemptive goal.

So where is the hope for our cities? What is the hope for LA, New York, Seattle, Miami, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Philadelphia, and all of the other urban centers that we speak of? It is the hope that Jesus Christ has come to restore and redeem a people unto himself. Of course, that may sound like hope for individuals and not for cities- but we must end with the fact that the Scriptures speak of a day when a New Jerusalem, the city of God, would come down, and all of her citizens would live under the eternal rule of a just, gracious, and merciful King- the Lord Jesus Christ.

The message that we bring to our cities needs to be this: This is the way God has intended it; and this is not the way that God has intended it. God believes in urban renewal- but only under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lord, restore our cities.