Saturday, August 19, 2006

Another View from the Back of the Church

Fundamentalist thought concerning the back row can sometimes be interpreted as, “Back row means backslidden.” Teasing about the “Back Row Baptist” is fairly common. We have all wondered where that person in the second to last row disappeared to before the end of the service.

The question is, why does the back row have such a bad rap? Why such stigma and stereotype?

As my fellow blogger humorously elaborated upon, there are multitudes of distractions when you sit in the back. You can see every sleepy head nodding. You can see every moment of a parent’s disciplining. You can see, and maybe hear, those two teen girls whispering and giggling.

And all of these things are taking place between you and the pulpit. According to Ephesians 4:11-12, God has given His church pastors to perfect the saints and edify the body. These ministries of the pastor are certainly going to be hindered if the saint cannot focus on Word of God that the pastor is faithfully proclaiming. If that believer cannot block out all the activity going on in front of him and sincerely pay attention, it will certainly limit his spiritual growth. This giving and receiving of the Word is part of true worship. Worship can become more like work when one chooses to sit in the back.

Speaking of worship, have you ever tried to sing in the back? It is terrible. You can only hear yourself. It seems like no one around is singing at all. And for me, that is a very bad thing. Put me on the third row, left hand side, aisle seat, and I can sing praise to God with the glorious sounds of a congregation that loves God surrounding me.

But wait, that beautiful sound comes from behind me. So herein lies the problem. Not everyone can sit in the front four pews. Someone, unfortunately, has to sit in the back. Right?

The stigma and stereotype come from the people who choose to sit in the back. Let’s be honest, when was the last time you saw young people goofing around in the second row of the church? No, the ones who want to cause trouble sit in the back. If you want to sneak out during the invitation, where are you going to sit? Fourth row by the window? Nope, the back. If you do not really want to hear what your pastor has to say, it is much easier to ignore him from the back of the room. Part of fundamentalism is that we believe the Bible teaches that what is going on in our soul, in our spiritual life, is going to reflect itself in our actions. One of the actions that just might be affected by our spiritual condition is where we choose to sit in church. Maybe we should each examine ourselves to see if we are in the right seat.

The solution to the problem of the back row is this: everyone in the whole church building should behave as if they are sitting in the front row, even if they are sitting in the very back. All, young and old alike, should join together in a joyful sobriety that would make all seats in the house equally desirable. And then maybe, just maybe, we could all change seats every once in a while. But then we might have to give up “our pew.” Horrors! What if someone steals it while I am away! I know some would think that way, but really, if the whole congregation, from front to back and side to side, had the same earnest spirit, no messing around, no passing notes, no slipping out early, there would be no problem with the back row. The stereotype and stigma could be cast off, and all pews would be regarded with equal status.

But, this will not be accomplished without organization. Therefore, I call for a committee to revolutionize seating in the fundamentalist world. It will not be easy, but the battle for Pew Rights must start somewhere. Let it start with me. I call for all serious fundamentalists to remove themselves from the third row, left side, aisle seat (Where all good fundamentalists sit. It is a myth that they sit in the front row.), and go sit in the back! Maybe not the very back, but venture towards the back. And when you do so, behave yourself. And sing. And pay attention. And encourage others to do the same. Let The Pew Revolution begin!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

The Culture of Praise, Part Two

"The Sea of Joy": What Grace Sees and Where Praise Abounds

The grace of God, extended to the humble soul, makes such vistas as what Spurgeon calls the “sea of joy” daily and vital parts of our worship. Ephesians 1:11 reminds: "All things are yours, for ye are Christ's and Christ is God's.”

“Reach the bottom of Christ's sea of joy,” Spurgeon wrote in his Morning by Morning entry on this verse, “and then hope to understand the bliss which God hath prepared for them that love Him. Overleap the boundaries of Christ's possessions, and then dream of a limit to the fair inheritance of the elect.”

The Ocean of Joy: an Allegory

Jedediah swam on, passing estuaries laden with spawning fish; crossing uninhabited coral reefs glistening in the sunlight; and making his way amidst underground mountain ranges, their virgin rock jutting with magnificent carvings. This ocean’s undeniable splendor spelled victory for the young boy, who had searched high and low for some degree of imperfection. Though he had scoured the ocean floor, square inch by square inch, exploring night and day, regardless of weather conditions, Jedediah’s quest for equivocation ended in emptiness every time.

At the boy’s request, Jedediah’s father had even sent out search teams—parties of ten to twelve who left every hour on the hour—to examine this amazing phenomenon of nature. They, too, arrived at the same conclusion: this ocean was magnificent, abounding in perfect bliss, where any of the Master’s servants might come to refresh themselves in its flawless splendor.

The ocean, over-laden as it was in wondrous beauty, had its counterfeits, masked behind all sorts of lovely facades, which tempted unwary ocean-going travelers, causing them to wonder about the ocean’s own authenticity; hence, Jedediah’s search. The boy now passed another swimmer and yelled, “Imagine, this is all ours, for our Master owns it!”

The other swimmer gave him a thumbs-up, saying, “I got a little hung up in that crazy lake back there.”

Jedediah looked back to where the young man pointed. A green lake, sparkling like a thousand diamonds in the sunlight, with the most lovely of plants at the water’s edge, offered refreshment, like the ocean. Jedediah squinted to read the sign posted in front: “Come and enjoy the Lake of Luring,” it read. “Don’t battle giant waves! See for yourself this wonder of nature.”

“I was very attracted to the sweet-smelling flowers outside the Lake,” the boy said. “And I really liked the part about not fighting giant waves. Even though I’d heard there were counterfeits in these parts, I didn’t expect any to be so close to the Ocean of Joy. This one seemed real, so I tried it.”

“What happened?” asked Jedediah, who was now treading water.

“A lot,” answered the boy, pushing wet hair back from his face. “The sweet smell seemed to lull me to sleep while I was swimming. Before I knew, it, I was gasping for water, choking for air. That’s when I cried to the Master of the Seas. Before I knew it, He had deposited me back onto dry land, and there I sat for what seemed like hours pulling out of my arm jelly-fish tentacles and sea urchin needles that my enemies had left behind.”

“Those animals were--in a lake?” Jedediah asked.

“Hard as it is to believe, yes. It was really a salty sea, you know.” Here the boy showed Jedediah the damage that had been done to his arm. There was no doubt: something very real had attacked him.

Jedediah’s new friend continued: “The sweetness I smelled actually led to poison tentacles in my arm, but the Master saved me from complete ruination. You know, as I was sitting on the beach, pulling out those prickly things, I looked up into the sky and noticed the Faithfulness Stack—you know when all those clouds pile high, one on top of the other and remind us of how our Master is just waiting to shower His servants with blessings? Well, it was just the encouragement I needed.”

“The Master encouraged me today, too,” Jedediah said, as he and his new friend walked across the sandy shoreline and sat down. Slowly, Jedediah opened his closed fist. The sunlight above caught a reflection of the glistening gem he held and scattered its beauty in several directions.

“The pearl of perfect peace!” his new friend exclaimed.

“It was in a clam I located just outside the coral sands,” Jedediah said. “If you want one, you can get as many as you like: there were several more where this comes from.”

“Isn’t it awesome to think we have such riches available to us at all times?” Jedediah’s new friend, whose name he learned was Jacob, said. “We can be right near Luring Lake”

“Or Desert Depression—“ added Jedediah.

“Or Vanity Valley,” said Jacob,

“Or Faithlessness Fort,” they said, looking at each other knowingly, “And simply call to the Master in humility."
Within milliseconds, we can be right here, basking in the glory of the riches of His grace, claiming His promise of the Ocean of Joy,” Jacob finished.

“Yes, thanks for the reminder,” Jedediah said. We’re only a fraction of a second away from what is rightfully ours, through Christ. What riches are ours because of our inheritance in Christ!”

“Well, let’s go get those pearls!” Jacob said, heading for the ocean.

“Make it there first!” Jedediah challenged.

And they were off, diving into the Ocean of Joy once again for yet another glimpse of the riches of the glory of their inheritance as saints in Christ.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Culture of Praise: Part One

Praise: An Overclouded Issue in Fundamental Christianity

So often we in fundamental Christianity are viewed as “problem-spotters.” I suppose this is the case because we are known to take definitive stands on many issues. Because of a very “black-and-white” approach to what is truth, fundamentalists can tend to disagree with many people. This tendency can turn into what is viewed as contentious behavior. Whether “contentiousness” is a label or a tendency, it seems that this description often overshadows the culture of praise among fundamental Christians.

Truth is a very important aspect to biblical Christianity. We cannot forego aspects of the truth and “compromise” just to get along. But a very vital part of standing for this truth is practicing it, living it out in our daily lives. One truth that seems to be eclipsed in fundamental Christianity today is the command to praise—given literally hundreds of times in the Word of God. I wonder how many of us that term ourselves “fundamental Christians” could be viewed as those who regularly and habitually offer praise to God?

The Bible makes clear that praise is important to God. Hebrews 13:5 states: “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.” I find it interesting that praise is considered a sacrifice. Fundamental Christians often hear much about self-sacrifice and surrender (of our bodies, the temple of God’s Holy Spirit, for example). While surrender is profitable, we cannot forego the sacrifice of our spirits (attitudes), which are God’s, as well.

Our attitude may say, “Forget it.”

Praise says, “Embrace it.”

Our attitude may say, “No thanks.”

Praise says, “Thanks.”

When I praise God, I am sacrificing my right to myself to respond how I FEEL like responding and am instead submitting to the way of God, which is “perfect.”

One of the numerous praise psalms in the Word of God is Psalm 113, which begins with this rousing call: “Praise ye the LORD. Praise, O ye servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.”

In his commentary on Psalm 113, Matthew Henry says, “This psalm…is designed to promote the great and good work of praising God.” In the next few paragraphs, then, I’d like to take a moment to discuss this “great and good work.”

Imagine making the “work of praising God” an integral part of our moment-by-moment experience with Him! The old hymn says, “Sing praise to God, Who reigns above, the God of all creation…” What a testimony we could be to the world, simply by embracing the attitude of praise!

Matthew Henry discusses another beautiful result of praising God when he states: “…Those who are much in praising God themselves will court others to it, both because they find the weight of the work, and that there is need of all the help they can fetch in (there is employment for all hearts, all hands, and all little enough), and because they find the pleasure of it, which they wish all their friends may share in.”

Praise God for His Humility

The psalm reminds us that we should praise God because of Who He is. “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.” The psalmist rhetorically questions: “Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high, Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!” Our high God, Creator of Heaven and earth, humbles Himself to look upon us, to attend to all that is in Heaven and earth and many times over, too! (See Psalm 40:5.)

Next are articulated our God’s humble acts: “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people. He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.”

The fact that my God should so humble Himself as to behold my life reminds me of the principle from James that God gives grace to the humble. It’s a simple principle so hard to embrace for the carnal mind. When God gives grace, we, in turn, get His perspective. When we have His perspective, we are enabled to see EVERY aspect of life as emanating from His own gracious hand. We are suddenly enlightened to see His humility in working in divine providence on our behalf. We quickly remove “Chance” or “Self” or “Humanism” from the pedestal and replace “Jesus Christ,” the only true God, as Lord of our every moment. As at salvation, we crown Him the Lord of each second of the day, and He supplies continued grace to walk with Him as we habitually humble ourselves before Him.

Grace: The Means Whereby We Can Praise

At salvation was the first extension of God’s eternal grace to my soul. Now I can live experiencing this grace daily as I moment by moment humble myself before the Great God of Heaven, Who humbled Himself to come to live on earth and die for me, the Great God Who humbles Himself to look at things in my life, Who blesses me above measure and delights in fulfilling the desire of the righteous!

Note the reason He helps the poor and needy (seen in verse 8): “that He might set them as kings and princes before His people.” This is so beautiful! Every salvation experience is a “rags to riches” story, for in humility, we recognize our fallen state, make Christ Lord of our lives, and He lifts us up to be kings and priests with His own dear Son!

We deserve nothing so amazing and should hence show forth His praises at all times! Look around! We are kings and priests with Christ! We have ALL of the riches of His grace! May we as fundamental Christians glory in His indescribable, priceless treasures that are available to us each moment!

Claiming to live and practice all of the Bible, to defend it, to uphold its words and commandments, fundamental Christians should find as an integral part of our lives this aspect of praise. Not only are there hundreds of commands to praise God in the Bible, but praise is the [super]natural response of regeneration and the evidence of God’s sanctifying grace in our lives!

Monday, January 02, 2006

To Justify or Condemn: A Forest Fable

Flying high above the Wisconsin prairie, a lone crow directed its course. From his mouth hung a brilliant cluster of orange berries, accentuated colorfully against the dismal autumn landscape. A sugar maple, dressed in its yearly multi-hued coat, welcomed the bird as he approached; but the energetic creature, far too busy for such niceties, merely deposited his cargo in his home on Maple Branch and departed for another round trip.

When the last streaks of daylight faded from the western sky, a veritable heap of mountain ash berries dotted the otherwise homely nest, adding a jewel-like radiance to the little abode; but later that night, howling winds and pelting rain disturbed the bird's cozy home. Three-dimensional orange dots, once safely imbedded hours before, cascaded to the ground below, joining the fury that was Rain in its gravity-aided race downward.

In the days and months that followed, the tiny mountain ash berries took different routes to their final destinations. Several, blown far from the crow's nest, were found by woodland animals and eaten. Others lay scattered about the forest floor like dispersed gemstones, adding welcome radiance to the otherwise dim woodland. Yet others the bird meticulously located, determinedly affixing them to their proper positions in his nest home, where he would later treat himself to such edible wall fixtures. Amongst the many that were transported by the crow that autumn day, only one seed survived to tell its adventures.

I found that seed (now a magnificent tree) but twenty paces from my Wisconsin cabin. The wooded lot, in desperate need of sunlight at the time, caused me to be sorely tempted to end the life of this now stately Mountain Ash. But its colorful springtime blossoms and bewitching fall fruit cautioned me against such a deed. And on winter evenings, when the air is perfectly frigid and oxygen in my cabin is at a minimum because of the depleting force of my blazing fireplace, I often meander out of doors to catch sight of that tree which was, long ago, only a possibility.

It was upon these things that I meditated one winter’s afternoon and, happening upon Matthew 12 in my New Testament, proceeded to embrace in the corridors of conscience: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.”—Matthew 12:35-37 (KJV).

Like the tree’s magnificent manufacture of thousands of berries each autumn, I produce dozens of word-seeds every day and am, in fact, responsible for each of them. As the crow’s mountain ash berries had been absconded, some by beasts and others by birds and the natural process of decomposition, my words, also, are often lost to the elements. But unlike them, each will one day require reckoning. The day will come when I shall stand before the Almighty Judge, accounting for every word, whether spoken or written.

And I prayed, “Lord, let my words be only those which justify, evidencing Thy work, which has made me righteous by no cause of my own. Amen.”

Congruity: What Really Counts

What is congruity? According to Webster’s, it is primarily “the condition, quality, or fact of being congruous; specifically, (a) agreement; harmony; (b) fitness; appropriateness” and, “in geometry, exact coincidence; said of two or more figures.”

Congruity to the Word of God and to the Son of God is, or should be, the goal of every proclaimed biblical fundamentalist. In the study and use of geometry, congruity is both significant and useful. Many truths can be derived about figures, lines, and angles based on their relative congruity. Segment lengths and angle measures can be known, sometimes only by likeness, when statements regarding congruity are made. The side-angle-side axiom is a perfect example of this. It is really quite simple and logically beautiful. Yet this principle can be basically explained thus: if two geometric figures that are exactly the same are laid atop one another, then they are congruent. If they are not the same, then they cannot be congruent.

Of course, the Bible does not use the word “congruity.” However, I believe the idea of congruity fits well with a few biblical principles. One is the idea of conformity. Romans 8:29 states that believers are to be “conformed (similar, made like to) to the image of His Son.” The well-known passage in Romans 12:1-2 tells the saints not to be similar to the world but to be changed by a constant renewing of the mind. This thought is also presented in 2 Corinthians 3:18. Paul writes, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the LORD.” It is clear from examining these passages that the Spirit works transformation to the likeness of Christ as we behold the Son in His Word. I think that aiming for congruity to Christ is biblical. What joy it would be to, in the geometric sense, lay my life on Christ’s and have it be exactly the same--congruent.

Therefore, let every fundamentalist “behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” Let us focus on the things Jesus focused on, setting aside our own ideas and desires. Let us abide in and love Him by keeping His commandments, setting aside thwarting sin. Let us show the world true discipleship through fervent love for and service to the brethren, laying aside enmity and strife. Let us aim for congruity to Christ.