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Okay, so I said that “Mockingbird” was my favorite song on the album. I have changed my mind. “A New Law” has been the most thought-provoking and soul-nourishing song and catchy tune so far.

I think this song hits the nail on the head for modern-day evangelicalism – from health, wealth, prosperity preaching to old-school legalism in the country. People have not done the hard work of reading and thinking about the teachings in the Scripture. Instead, we have become lazy in our religion. We have opted for the “Just tell me what I need to do to get to heaven” instead of the “What does the Lord require of me” (Micah 6.8). And so we see the slow of heart and mind pointing fingers at those who push the boundaries of what is okay for a Christian to do (i.e. drinking, smoking, and swearing) – calling them heretics – without rigorous thought as to why it is wrong.

I have tried in this blog to push those buttons and think afresh why Christians should live a certain way. I want all of us – smoker and non-smoker – to think deeply how the Bible calls us to live. On to the song…

————–
(vs. 1)
don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music
don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

————–

I am reminded of the situation in North Carolina where a man was disciplined because he voted for a Democrat instead of Republican. Too many times we have equated Christian with Republican (more on this when we get to “A King & A Kingdom”). We need to ask deeper questions of who I should vote for and why I should vote.

Regarding music, many have sought to label various music so they can write it off or ascribe to it…Rather, shouldn’t we be asking what makes a particular song edifying?

((Side Question: Are there certain genres of music that should not be used to edify the Christian?))

Freedom has been the cry of the Christian from the day of his conversion. It has not become the cry of those who want to drink alcohol. Have we belittled “freedom” to just being able to do as we please. I am not a teetotaler, neither do I claim “freedom” where we may be called to be our neighbor’s slave. In some cases, has “freedom” been our new law? These questions might be where I would divert from Webb’s agenda in this song.

——————
(pre-chorus)
i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me
(chorus)
i want a new law
i want a new law
gimme that new law

——————

It is much easier to have a Mosaic Law than it is to be indwelt with the Spirit of God. We can strive in our own energies to be obedient to the letter of the law so that we can miss the more pervasive problem of being transformed in our minds and hearts. The answers are not easy because we live in a world full of sin, sinners, and self. We have a mind that has been corrupted by our own elections in entertainment and thought. We have given ourselves to sensual pleasures rather than renovation of the soul.

—————
(vs. 2)
don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice
don’t teach me about loving my enemies
don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
just give me a new law
(pre-chorus/chorus)
(bridge)
what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid
—————-

While I don’t think Webb’s agenda is to have everyone drink alcohol, we must not stop with such an arbitrary and subjective example of Christian freedom – nor do I think Webb is wanting us to stop here. I think it would be great if we re-thought the use of grape juice at the Lord’s Table. The new wine that will be offered at the Fellowship of every tribe and tongue will be refreshing and good. It will flow from the spiggot of God’s love and mercy and joy. Yes, Jesus blessed the Wedding at Cana not with a picture frame for the lovely couple but with vats of wine! He is the Lord of the feast (please listen to this excellent sermon by Tim Keller). I went to a Communion Service at a Lutheran Seminary some years ago where they served wine for the Supper. It burne when it went down. Nothing special about the wine, mind you, but it has much more powerful sensory results than grape juice. Could it be that we would be reminded of the power and taste of the Kingdom with wine? I can already hear some of my friends wondering if I have gone off the deep end.

No, I am still where I am…not advocating cracking open some brews and peanuts for the Lord’s Supper. What I am doing is asking (albeit, stream-of-consciousness) genuine questions about the things we have taken for granted. This is meant to be a discussion so I’d love to hear your feedback.

“Listening to the Spirit” could be replaced by a more theologically true concept of listening to the Word of God. The Spirit is too often reduced to a nebulous feeling for the Christian. The Spirit inspired the writers of the Bible so that we might exalt the Son (and be comformed into his image). Evangelicalism has become very fluffy (see my post Fluffy Faith). We have equated the rock solid truth of the Gospel for a search for pearls of wisdom offered by the emotions. We have gone on a journey like Pilgrim not to our Home but to a good feeling when we’re singing with a thousand people. We have become mushy in our convictions – trading in truth for “I feel”). I am not a stoic, but I am not an Epicurean either!

At first, I was annoyed by Webb’s repition of “do not be afraid.” But then I just let it ride the second and eith time I listened to it. I appreciate the repetition now. I am reminded of “Good Will Hunting” where Robin Williams gets in Matt Damon’s face and repeats ad nauseum “It’s not your fault.” Let the refrain seep into your thinking.

What does that mean, Matthew? Well, dwell on the fact that Evangelicals have opted for their new laws because they are afraid of something. What do you think we are afraid of?

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This post has 4 Comments

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  1. We are afraid of loosing power, having to be a spectacle like Paul, having to truly suffer for his name sake, and do something outside of the mainstream Americanism that we all so easily subscribe. I think we are afraid of following Jesus.

  2. this is probably my favorite song on the album.

    to answer your last question there, i hate to use an overused example, but i guess it’s overused for a reason – it’s a good one. i can’t help but think of the dude from the movie The Shawshank Redemption who was ‘institutionalized’ – absolutely terrified to live as a free man, because all he knew was prison.

    Paul starts off Galations 5 with a beautifully simple statement – “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” That seems almost like a ridiculously self-evident thing to say… yet it is a sentiment that he seems to repeat often.

    Probably because we need to hear it, and probably often, to help us get away from our ‘institutionalized’ old selves.

  3. That last sentence was insightful, Reid. We are afraid of following Jesus and having our lives conformed to the Word of God. We labor to try and set up our list of to-dos to be theologically accurate and holy. While it is much-needed in our culture, we need to put our work in perspective. We can read all the magnum opus we can wrap our eyes around, but we must be on our knees – asking God to make our eyes be lifted upon the Christ.

    I will say that some people are afraid of following Jesus because they have this whimsical idea of what it means to walk in the Spirit. They have equated a feeling for the Holy Spirit – “I felt like I needed to walk up to you and say something really wild…” It is true, the Holy Spirit may prompt us to do something extra-ordinary – but this is not ordinary. Walking in the Spirit is more oftentimes in the smaller things – which are huge – like plucking out my own lustful eyes, conforming my own mind, praying for justice and mercy to rain on us…

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What Is Sunday Worship?

I’m gonna keep this simple, but hopefully not simplistic. As you consider your corporate gathering of believers (typically on the first day of the week), there are three ways to think about it. You can think of it as an event, a participation, or a transformation.

The Event Model can take on two modes: emotionally-driven or cognitively-driven. The emotionally-driven mindset, of course, could baldly mean that you show up to hear some great music and hear a message. You go to watch and experience something. The cognitively-driven mindset could mean that you highlight the sermon so much that it becomes the point of your showing up. You hear this a lot in evangelical churches that the sermon is the most important aspect of the worship experience. The problem with such thinking, though, betrays an onlooker mentality. That is, I go to church to observe and consider and think and have my thinking changed.

In this model, there is an I-Thou expectation of the worship service. I go to that. I consider that. I am separate from and participate in that. In other words, this kind of approach to the corporate gathering is apart from who I am. I go to there. I leave from there. Sure, we talk about taking the message home with us…but come on! You and I both know we forget what was said within 10 minutes of leaving the building. When we are confronted with traffic on the way to the buffet. And then, we get bored. Bored with our lives. Bored with our faith. We find greater joy in our team winning the game than in our eternal salvation won at the cost of the Son of God.

The Participation Model is a little bit better than the event model. This puts the onus on the believer to come to the service seeking to be engaged in other people at church. For all the talk about this being a need in churches, and people nodding their heads in agreement…this does not happen in reality. People cognitively ascend to this truth, but they don’t fully grasp this truth.

If they do grasp a hold of this participation model, it often devolves into judgmentalism (others aren’t as serious about their faith as you are) or complacency (I asked someone how their walk with God is going and they gave me the cold shoulder). So what’s the problem with this model? Write simply it remains in the realm of I-Thou. That is, I bring something to you. I come to serve you. I am apart from and wholly different from you. At its root, it is simply another (albeit more spiritual rendition) of the event model. 

The third, and I believe more biblical model (of course!), is the Tranformational Model. This way of approaching the Sunday morning gathering sheds itself of the event. It doesn’t come in judgment of the service–I didn’t like that song. I liked the sermon. I really engaged with God this morning. Wow, what a wonderful time. Instead, it views Sunday morning as another step in my being conformed into the image of Jesus. It does see it as an event you come to. It is something we participate in. But preeminently it embraces the fact that over time we are being changed by the service itself. 

What does this look like? Well, it understands that every time we attend an event or participate in a service, we are slowly changing. You are much more different from the fifth football game you attended, than the first. You understand the language, the traditions, the cheers. 

So it is with a church service…and this is where it gets a bit thorny. With the typical evangelical liturgy (and it is a liturgy) of two fast songs, two slow songs, a sermon, and dismissal, we are slowly becoming consumers. Or better put, our already-ingrained consumer mentality is reinforced as we observe (and maybe participate). We watch the stage. We critique the songs–or what the song leader was wearing. We sit down and hear someone wax eloquently–or not. 

I fear that much of the problems we see in modern evangelicalism stem from us offering goods and services to people and not inviting them into be transformed. This fact is betrayed in much of the assumptions underlying decisions made on how the liturgy ought to roll. For example, since we need to be engaging and winsome in our communication of the Gospel, we need to play this popular radio song and do a Jesus juke to talk about how real love is only found in Jesus. Of course I’m not saying messages and songs ought to be fuddy-duddy and boring! Stop putting baby in the corner. 

What I am saying is that churches ought to be very clear in what they are shaping their people into becoming. We ought to understand that we are in the business of transformation–from one degree of glory to another. Not filling seats. Not being entertaining and relevant at the cost of depth. 

This is why at Christ the Redeemer, we have been intentional in our liturgy. We believe that the primary purpose of the Sunday morning gathering is the transformation of people. We have an explicit order to our service that follows the biblical storyline of Creation>Fall>Redemption>Consummation. Over time, people’s being is changed. It unwittingly becomes easier to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me” because you are trained to confess your sin every week. You more readily accept forgiveness because you are trained to hear God’s Word of Forgiveness to you after confessing. You more readily come to fellowship with God in spite of and because of your sin because you are trained that at the Lord’s Table you find satisfaction and rest for your souls.

Yes, Sunday morning is an event. But not merely so. It is something we participate in. But not merely so. It is preeminently another step in our being transformed into the likeness of Jesus. The primary goal of Sunday morning is our transformation through intentional liturgies.

Sanitized Christianity

Below is a letter I just sent out to our church. I believe it might encourage and enliven your own faith, and share it with you to that end.

Redeemer,

What a gift yesterday was as we celebrated Pentecost Sunday. As I shared in my opening comments, it is a sad state when the Church doesn’t even know about the glorious celebration of the Spirit’s filling of believers. This is not to chastise other churches. Rather, it is a stiff reminder of why we do what we do when it comes to the church calendar and liturgy. It roots us deep in the rich history of the church. While so many believe they are searching for the new and fresh, it is actually the firm and tried forms the church has been practicing for millennia. Surely, there are dead expressions of this beautiful liturgy. Therefore, we want to know what and why we are doing what we do to safeguard from form without substance. We want to have the skeletal work of the liturgy with the breath of life (read “Spirit”) and muscular reflex (read “walking in the light”).
With that said, as I was preaching I was struck by the beauty of considering the utter power and creative work of the Spirit. As I looked out on our fledgling congregation, it was as if I could see the small band of disciples at Pentecost—only eleven. Yet, being filled with the same Spirit who created the world. The same Spirit who filled the Apostles to speak fervently and with full conviction. This same Spirit lives within us! Have you considered the sheer magnitude of that? Your life is not a mere appendix to the story of redemption. It is a continuation of this magnificent work to go and tell other to come and see. Every conversation you have is alive with opportunity and grace. Every glance. Every moment is resplendent with the glory and presence of God. What would our lives and our world look like with a band of disciples whose lives and decisions revolve around Jesus? Not around vacations and job promotions and being thought highly of by those we so diligently seek approval from.
So much of our Christianity in Greenville is sanitized. That is, we put the Spirit’s work in a box or in a moment. We minimize him. We relegate him to private moments. In fact, he is constantly at work. He gives us every breath we have (remember Psalm 104.29-30?). What our city needs is less concern for our preening and being made much of in the eyes of others. What our city. What our world needs is Christians who really believe, and who live in accord with that belief, that Jesus is always enough. He’s enough for our pain and suffering. He’s enough for our excitement and comfort. He’s enough for my job. He’s enough for my neighbors. He’s enough for my family. He’s enough for me.
May God fill our church with his Spirit so that the watching world will indeed say, “See what way they love one another!”
May the Lord open your eyes to the beauty of his work this week,
Matt

Abiding in Christ?

How do you abide in someone you can’t see or touch or audibly listen to? When Jesus told his disciples to abide in him, was it merely for them or is it something we are called to emulate?

To the first question, Jesus most certainly expected his disciples to abide in him despite not being able to touch him and hear him and see him. After all, John 15 (where the speech comes from) is right before his crucifixion. Too often our faith is wedded to too much wooden-ness in understanding. We veer toward, “Yes, but…” Like Thomas who would not believe unless he put his hand in Jesus’ side, so also our faith is not expansive enough. Blessed are those that have not seen and yet believe–which leads to the second question.

Jesus prayed not only for his disciples in the Garden, but for all those who would hear the Good News from his disciples testimony. When he responded to Thomas that those who have not seen and yet believe are makarios (“blessed”), he had you and me in mind. What we see unfold in Scripture after the Resurrection is the kind of effulgent life he wants us to live…and abiding life.

So how do we abide?

I would suggest three ways.

Keeping His Word

Throughout John’s Gospel and his epistles, Jesus tells us that if we love him we will keep his commands. Like a father who loves his child, like an older brother looking out for his younger brother, Jesus tells us how to navigate God’s world. Do we trust him enough to actually follow his steps?

This explicit teaching is what is called the Revealed Will of God. While God is constantly working in his world for his own purposes, part of that working is his condescension to tell us how to understand his world. That is, unlike the gods of the Ancient Near East, Yahweh determined to tell his people how to live. His Law is gracious and kind to reveal his ways to us.

All the Law hangs on Jesus’ admonition to love God and people.

Throughout the New Testament we see what it looks like to abide in Christ when we hear the Apostles telling people to put others before their own whims and preferences. We see this worked out as the Spirit comes at Pentecost and the Church extends to the uttermost parts of the world.

Led By the Spirit

It is no accident that John 16’s (continued) discourse on the preferment of the Spirit’s coming follows on the heels of Jesus’ command to abide in him. While the Law is gracious and good, we botch it up with our self-seeking and short-sightedness. We need the Spirit of God to guide us into all truth.

As I shared in my sermon on Sunday, there are three witnesses: water, blood, and Spirit. The first two speak to the doctrinal clarity and objective reality of who Jesus is. The third is the subjective application of these truths into the life of the believer.

Unfortunately the Spirit is equated with emotionalism and awkward and outlandish activity by those claiming to be Spirit-led. This is an unfortunate state of affairs, indeed. While the Spirit blows where he will, and does things outside our meager understanding, this does not necessarily mean that his working in incomprehensible or outlandish or alien (more on this in the third point).

What are some ways we can be led by the Spirit?

Well, he inspired the text of Scripture and has clearly spoken there. Go there.

In Ephesians 5.18, we are told to be filled with the Spirit. How? The participles that follow this command tell us how: Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. The Spirit is guiding and directing God’s people. Go there.

It would be good to reflect on each of these four participles and consider how you might be filled with the Spirit in ever-increasing measure. Are you speaking God’s songs over people? Are you singing to soothe the angst in your own heart? Are you grateful? Are you putting others’ needs before your own–considering them more significant than yourself?

Being Attune to God’s Working

One of my charges as a pastor is to help us see God’s continual work in the world. It is easy to wax on about God’s omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence but to deny his power and that this means right here right now. He is not all these characteristics merely in heaven. While you may say, “Obviously!” In fact, many of us affirm these aspects of God yet we live life as though he is not at work in the mundane stuff of life. We talk about him and his superintendent work int he world…but we fail to see his work in my making coffee or standing in line or talking to a stranger.

The shift in our lives happens when we see him always at work. Always. In the mundane. In the suffering and pain. In the exciting. That is God working and shaping you.

Every conversation. Every. Conversation. Is opportunity to hear God speak to you. For him to shape you. Every appointment is a “divine appointment.” He graciously guides our footsteps. The person in the checkout line needs to hear of God’s grace. Your co-worker needs to know that God loves him. The annoying neighbor needs to see God’s mercy. Your family needs to experience peace in your words and actions. These are all God’s ever-present work. His beckoning us to abide in his word and his world.