The Four Canons: “For the Glory of God (Part 3)”

4canonsgears2016

Jack Ketchum’s short story, “The Box,” is a haunting little story (the story is better than the movie). The premise is pretty straight-forward though the story is quite enigmatic. A man, his son, and his twin daughters are on a train. There is a man sitting near them who has a box on his lap. It is wrapped like a present. The son asks to see what is inside. The man agrees and cracks open the box just enough for only the boy to see inside. The boy’s grin fades to a look of quiet puzzlement. After that, the boy will not eat. For days he refuses to eat though his parents try desperately to get him to eat. He will not eat and he will not tell anybody what he saw in the box.

A doctor looks the boy over and can find nothing wrong. A psychoanalyst can find nothing wrong either. Some days later, the father catches the boy whispering to his twin sisters. They refuse to say what they are talking about. Now, they will not eat either. Next, they tell the mother. She will not eat. So the boy, the sisters, and their mother begin slowly to waste away. None of them will eat. Soon the man has to take his entire family to the hospital. They are all dying because they will not eat.

The man presses his son: “What did you see in the box that day? What did you see?” The boy says, “Nothing.” Shortly thereafter, the son, the daughters, and the mother all die. The story ends with the father spending his days on the trains trying desperately to find the man with the box.

The story has become something of a modern conversation piece. It is taught in many high schools and colleges. The great question, of course, is, “What was in the box?” Theories are rampant concerning what the boy saw. A popular one is that the boy saw quite literally nothing and that the story is a story about nihilism, the idea that the world has no meaning inside of it and, at its base, the world offers no compelling reason to go on. Others believe the boy did in fact see something and what he saw was so horrible that it made him utterly indifferent about survival. Who knows?

It is an effective little story. It makes one think. The idea that you could see something that would lead to the gradual and then ultimate loss of life itself is terrifying. As I watched and then read this story, it occurred to me that that story is the exact opposite of the Christian story.

Two thousand years ago a group of people claimed to have seen something. They caught a glimpse of something that suddenly gave them a reason to live, and only to live but to live in a way that nobody had ever lived before! They saw something that nourished them, that gave them a sense of vitality and growth and joy!

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Obadiah 1-4

obadiahObadiah

1 Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom: We have heard a report from the Lord, and a messenger has been sent among the nations: “Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!” 2 Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be utterly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” 4 Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.

I think the strongest lyric that Bob Dylan ever wrote can be found in his 1965 song, “Desolation Row.” The song is about the current and coming demise of Western culture and the line that I am referencing goes like this: “The Titanic sails at dawn.”

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The Four Canons: “For the Glory of God (Part 2)”

4canonsgears2016James 2

1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

In 1975, Calvin Miller wrote his amazing poetic retelling of the life of Jesus, The Singer. It would soon grow into a trilogy, The Singer Trilogy. It is viewed by many as a modern classic. I certainly see it as one. I will never forget reading it for the first time after my father gave me a copy. I return to it time and time again.

I thought of Calvin Miller’s Singer recently because the format of the story is so conducive to saying what must be said about the glory of Jesus Christ. In Miller’s poem, Jesus is “the Singer.” He awakes and realizes that Earthmaker (Miller’s name for God in the book) is calling Him to sing what Miller calls “the Ancient Star-Song.” He does not feel worthy to sing “the Ancient Star-Song” at first. He considers Himself a tradesman. But God tells Him that He is not a tradesman but a troubadour! What is more, the Singer alone on the earth knows the song and He knows it because He knew it with God before the world began.

So the Singer begins to sing. His song heals. His song brings hope. However, the world does not know the song. The world is under the spell of the evil song of World Hater. They do not know the Ancient Star-Song. What is more, the people of the earth are so deluded and deaf to it that there are laws forbidding the singing of new songs. The Singer knows that if He sings the Ancient Song he will likely be killed, but God has called Him to sing.

He does sing the Song. As a result, World Hater has Him killed. But the Singer rises again and the triumph of the Song goes out into the world. Now, we too are called to sing the Ancient Song, a song the world needs to hear but also a song that the world will initially hate because it threatens the song they know.

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The Four Canons: “For the Glory of God (Part 1)”

4canonsgears2016Romans 11

36b To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 16

27 to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Galatians 1

5 to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3

21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 4

20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Timothy 1

17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

2 Timothy 4

18b To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Hebrews 13

21c through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4

11 To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Jude 1

25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.

Revelation 1

6b God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Revelation 5

13b “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

Revelation 7

12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

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The Four Canons: “Around the Whole Gospel (Part 3)”

4canonsgears2016Romans 1

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

Jared Wilson has imagined what the label might say if each church were forced to have a Nutrition Facts label.

Paul writes in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”

Yet if we could label our churches with the Nutrition Facts found on your can of soup, I reckon many would say in the fine print, “Not a significant source of gospel.” Are we ashamed?

If the gospel is the power to save, shouldn’t it be the meat of the message, not saved for the add-on invitation or for a special service every few weeks?[1]

That is a valid question and a good one. I wonder: if our church had a Nutrition Facts label on the outside, what would it say? Regardless of what the answer is, this is what the answer should be: THE GOSPEL!

Romans 1:16-17 is a most fascinating passage. In it, Paul gives a helpful explanation of why the gospel was so prominent on his own label.

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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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