The Four Canons – “Around the Whole Gospel (Part 2)”

4canonsgears2016Acts 20

24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Francis Chan tells an interesting but sad story about a particular guy who started attending their church.

A while back a former gang member came to our church. He was heavily tattooed and rough around the edges, but he was curious to see what church was like. He had a relationship with Jesus and seemed to get fairly involved with the church.

After a few months, I found out the guy was no longer coming to the church. When asked why he didn’t come anymore, he gave the following explanation: “I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like. When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang. You see, in the gangs we weren’t just nice to each other once a week-we were family.” That killed me because I knew that what he expected is what the church is intended to be. It saddened me to think that a gang could paint a better picture of commitment, loyalty, and family than the local church body.[1]

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The Four Canons – “Around the Whole Gospel (Part 1)”

4canonsgears20162 John

1 The elder to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 because of the truth that abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love. 4 I rejoiced greatly to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as we were commanded by the Father. 5 And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it.

Some years back, I read a Los Angeles Times article entitled, “Church Welcomes an Atheist as Teacher.” It was about a church in Simi Valley, California, who had a popular Sunday School teacher. He was popular but also controversial. Why? Because he does not believe in God.

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The Four Canons – “Authentic Family (Part 4)”

4canonsgears2016Matthew 5

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Makoto Fujimura is a Japanese-American artist who is also a Christian. In his very insightful book, Beauty and Silence, he tells the story of another Japanese artist, Sen no Rikyu.

Sen no Rikyu (1522–1591) was one of the greatest innovators to come out of Japanese soil. Rikyu lived in the era leading up to Christian persecution. He was born to a merchant in Osaka (Sakai) in the early sixteenth century. His given name was Yoshiro Tanaka; he later was named Sen no Rikyu in a Buddhist rite. He studied the traditional form of tea under several masters in Sakai, then at Daitoku-ji Temple in Kyoto. He had a close relationship with the warlord Hideyoshi (who eventually ordered Rikyu’s seppuku demise and ordered the official persecution of Christians to begin) and with Christian missionaries at the same time. His wife Oriki (one of two wives), who was present when he was forced to end his life at the age of seventy-one, was one of the early converts to Christianity when the capital of Kyoto took hold of the Christian message….

Rikyu gave an architectural structure to this refinement of hiddenness in his design of tea rooms. Through Rikyu’s architecture of tea the missionaries of the sixteenth century learned of tea. His were much smaller in size than most; traditionally, tea was part of a banquet culture in China, and consequently many tea rooms were quite large. The smaller size of Rikyu’s tea rooms allowed particular focus on the minute particulars of the movement of hands, subtle gestures of the placement of flowers, and often hidden messages behind the choice of utensils or paintings in the room. Rikyu was first linked with an ostentatiously ornate golden room in Osaka that Hideyoshi desired, but he began to move toward wabi simplicity as he matured in his aesthetics. His most distinct contribution is in the creation of nijiri-guchi, a small square entry port designed for the guest to enter the tea house. Rikyu’s nijiri-guchi were so small that they forced everyone to bow and remove their swords in order to enter the tea room.

Rikyu created a space dedicated to repose, communication and peace. Deep communication can only take place through a path of vulnerability. In other words, the only way to escape the violent cycle of the age of feudal struggles is to remove one’s sword; then, in safety, one can communicate truly.[1]

It is a provocative image, and one that I think is essential to the New Testament vision of relationships within the body of Christ: humble yourself and remove your swords before engaging with others. What Sen no Rikyu was doing was creating an environment for peace in which actual conversation and authentic relationship could happen. He was, in other words, being a peacemaker.

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The Four Canons – “Authentic Family (Part 3)”

4canonsgears2016Matthew 5

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Chuck Lawless has written about Cottonwood Church of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and their process of accepting new members. In the process, the church does something interesting. It communicates a commitment to peacemaking. Here is what they say:

Since we are all sinners saved by grace, we hurt each other. Successful church members make a habit of taking the initiative to clear up hurt feelings and damaged relationships. By so doing, they keep their friendships intact and their emotions healthy through the years…All the leaders at Cottonwood Church commit to reconciling relationships in harmony with Christian principles found in Matthew 5:21-26 and Matthew 18:15-20. At Cottonwood, we’ve made a commitment to being a peacemaking church![1]

This is a very interesting statement containing some intriguing elements. One is the assumption that human beings will inevitably hurt one another in certain ways, even in the context of the Church. Another is that combating this takes initiative and deliberate care. Another assumption is that Jesus has shown us how to do life together and how to handle offenses when they occur. Finally there is a clear commitment to peacemaking.

I believe this church is on the right track and is doing something we should seriously consider. We too should “make a commitment to being a peacemaking church!”

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2 John 7-13

2_John_Title2 John

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not confess the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. Such a one is the deceiver and the antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose what we have worked for, but may win a full reward. 9 Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, 11 for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works. 12 Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete. 13 The children of your elect sister greet you.

The great theologian Thomas Oden died a couple of months ago. His passing is a great loss. One of the interesting things about Oden is his testimony, a testimony I first heard when he came to lecture at Southwestern Seminary when I was a student there in 1997. Oden’s story was one that saw him go from a Christian upbringing to becoming a radically liberal and skeptical movement theologian to coming back to orthodox, biblical Christianity. As a result, Oden had a deep understanding of the seductive power of heresy and how otherwise faithful Christians can be pulled into it. One of the observations that he made was the perceptive point that modern theological liberalism has simply gotten rid of heresy as a category. In other words, it is impossible to be called a heretic in the modern leftist seminary or university because heresy is simply not seen to exist in that world. Here is how Oden put it:

It seems worth noting that the liberated seminary at its zenith has finally achieved a condition that has never before prevailed in Christian history: Heresy simply does not exist. Christian doctrine and catechesis after long centuries of struggle against heresy, have finally found a way of overcoming heterodoxy altogether, by banishing it as a concept legitimately teachable within the hallowed walls of the inclusive multicultural, doctrinally experimental institution. This is an unexcelled accomplishment in all the annals of Christian history. It seems to give final expression to the quest for the flawless community.

            No heresy of any kind any longer exists. You cannot find one anywhere in the liberated seminary – unless, perhaps, you might consider offenses against inclusivism. There is absolutely no corruption of Christian teaching if under the present rules all notions of corruption are radically relativized. Not only is there no concept of heresy, but also there is no way even to raise the question of where the boundaries of legitimate Christian belief lie, when absolute relativism holds sway.

            It is like trying to have a baseball game with no rules, no umpire, and no connection with historic baseball. Yet we insist on calling it baseball, because a game by that name is what most people still want to see played.”[1]

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The Four Canons – “Authentic Family (Part 2)”

4canonsgears2016John 13

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Kent Hughes has told the fascinating story of Johanne Lukasse’s efforts to get Christians on the mission field to love one another.

            A number of years ago Johanne Lukasse of the Belgian Evangelical Mission came to the realization that evangelism in Belgium was getting nowhere. The nation’s long history of traditional Catholicism, the subsequent disillusionment resulting from Vatican II, and the aggression of the cults had left the land seemingly impervious to the gospel. Driven to the Scriptures, he read John 13 and devised a plan. First, he gathered together a heterogeneous group – Belgian, Dutch, American – whoever would come. Second, he had them rent a house and live together for seven months. As is natural, frictions developed as the believers rubbed against one another. This, in turn, sent them to prayer for love and victory. Finally, they went out to witness to others, and they began to see amazing fruit. Outsiders called them “the people who love each other.”[1]

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The Four Canons – “Authentic Family (Part 1)”

4canonsgears2016Romans 8

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Some years ago an article appeared in the British paper The Mirror about a family that had so terrorized the village in which they lived that they had been essentially banned from the entire village. They are called the “Terrible Thompsons.” They are accused of harassing the village, intimidating its other inhabitants, assaulting their neighbors, and, in general, being a family of complete nuisances and menaces.

I thought about the Terrible Thompsons recently and went online to see what the latest was. Sure enough, there they were, in an article from last year, still causing trouble, now banished yet again and living on the streets. They have been hauled before the authorities constantly over the years for the same old things: fighting, public disturbances, threatening their neighbors, cursing, and, in general, demonstrating a continuing inability to function in society.

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Mark 8:31-38

MarkSeriesTitleSlide1Mark 8

31 And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

In Pat Conroy’s novel, The Prince of Tides, Tom Wingo describes his grandfather’s strange ritual that he would perform every Friday in their little town.

I grew up loathing Good Fridays. It was a seasonal aversion that had little to do with theology but everything to do with the rites of worship and the odd slant my grandfather brought to his overenthusiastic commemoration of Christ’s passion.

Good Friday was the day when Amos Wingo each year walked to the shed behind his house in Colleton proper and dusted off the ninety-pound wooden cross he had made in a violent seizure of religious extravagance when he was a boy of fourteen. From noon to three on that commemorative day he would walk up and down the length of the Street of Tides to remind the backsliding, sinful citizenry of my hometown of the unimaginable suffering of Jesus Christ on that melancholy hill above Jerusalem so long ago. It was the summit and the Grand Guignol of my grandfather’s liturgical year; it embodied characteristics of both the saints and the asylum. There was always a lunatic beauty to his walk.

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Karl Josef Friedrich’s Rachoff

8bd596620fc0be671918eada2daff0a3It was only recently that I heard the name “Rachoff.”  Rachoff was a Russian Christian who had a powerful vision of Jesus that led him to make a radical break with the comfortable life he had previously known.  In its place, he devoted himself to the cause of Christ with complete abandon.  There are lots of similarities here with the story of Francis of Assisi.  Both made a radical and controversial break with their past lives.  Both took the words of Jesus very literally.  Both were beloved by the poor and despised by many of the wealthy and powerful.  Both rejected efforts by well-meaning disciples to adore or exalt them.  Both saw themselves as utterly dependent upon Jesus.

I was thrilled to see that Plough Publishing offers for free Karl Josef Friedrich’s little biography of Rachoff as an ebook.  If you would like to read something that is very inspiring and that will challenge you where you are in your walk with Jesus, download the book and read it.  It’s a truly amazing story.

1 John 5:16-21

1john_title1 John 5

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. 18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Are all sins equal? Some say they are. Others say they are not. Perhaps, for instance, you have heard of the Roman Catholic idea of “mortal” and “venial” sins. Here is how The Catechism of the Catholic Church delineates these two concepts of sin:


1854 Sins are rightly evaluated according to their gravity. The distinction between mortal and venial sin, already evident in Scripture, became part of the tradition of the Church. It is corroborated by human experience.

1855 Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man by a grave violation of God’s law; it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude, by preferring an inferior good to him.

Venial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it.

1856 Mortal sin, by attacking the vital principle within us – that is, charity – necessitates a new initiative of God’s mercy and a conversion of heart which is normally accomplished within the setting of the sacrament of reconciliation:

When the will sets itself upon something that is of its nature incompatible with the charity that orients man toward his ultimate end, then the sin is mortal by its very object . . . whether it contradicts the love of God, such as blasphemy or perjury, or the love of neighbor, such as homicide or adultery. . . . But when the sinner’s will is set upon something that of its nature involves a disorder, but is not opposed to the love of God and neighbor, such as thoughtless chatter or immoderate laughter and the like, such sins are venial.

1857 For a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: “Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.”…

1862 One commits venial sin when, in a less serious matter, he does not observe the standard prescribed by the moral law, or when he disobeys the moral law in a grave matter, but without full knowledge or without complete consent.

1863 Venial sin weakens charity; it manifests a disordered affection for created goods; it impedes the soul’s progress in the exercise of the virtues and the practice of the moral good; it merits temporal punishment. Deliberate and unrepented venial sin disposes us little by little to commit mortal sin. However venial sin does not break the covenant with God. With God’s grace it is humanly reparable. “Venial sin does not deprive the sinner of sanctifying grace, friendship with God, charity, and consequently eternal happiness.”

While he is in the flesh, man cannot help but have at least some light sins. But do not despise these sins which we call “light”: if you take them for light when you weigh them, tremble when you count them. A number of light objects makes a great mass; a number of drops fills a river; a number of grains makes a heap. What then is our hope? Above all, confession.[1]

Many Protestants have tended to reject such notions and to suggest that all sins are equal in the eyes of God. But is this so? And if it is not so, must we hold to some idea of mortal/venial sins? Or is possible to reject both the Roman Catholic concept of mortal/venial sin on the one hand and the idea that all sins are equal on the other?

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