Most gracious God, you crown the year with your goodness. We praise you that you have ever fulfilled your promise that, while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest shall not cease. We bless you for the order and constancy of nature, for the beauty of earth and sky and sea, and for the providence that year by year supplies our need.
We thank you for your blessing on the work of those who plowed the soil and sowed the seed, and have now gathered in the fruits of the earth. And with our thanksgiving for these blessings, accept our praise, O God, for the eternal riches of your grace in Christ our Lord; to whom, with you, O Father, and the Holy Spirit, be all glory and honor and worship, for ever and ever. Amen.
Taken from The United Methodist Book of Worship
One of the things that I love about Oden is that not only is he biblical, but that he doesn’t write as though he is the first (or only) person to have ever read the Bible. He draws (very thoroughly) from Christian history, especially the early Church. He understands what it means to read the Bible in community.
His three volume set on systematic theology is arranged in a Trinitarian fashion: Book 1: The Living God, Book 2: The Word of Life, and Book 3: Life in the Spirit. It’s not necessarily an easy read, but it is thorough and comes from a deep and abiding faith.
Oden is a United Methodist, but in this work his emphasis is focused more on what all (or at least “most”) Christians can and should agree on if we would call ourselves Christian.
Here’s a description of the series from Christianbook.com…
Covering the nature of God, the person of Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit, Oden’s masterful study emphasizes the ecumenical common ground of theological doctrine. Faithful to biblical teaching and classical tradition, his direct, provocative approach articulates the concerns of pastors, teachers, seminarians, and thoughtful laypersons. An indispensable reference at an irresistible price! 1561 pages total, three hardcovers from Hendrickson.
Click here to learn more about it or to order it.
You got it from your father
It was all he had to give
So it’s yours to use and cherish
For so long as you may live.
If you lose the watch he gave you
It can always be replaced
But a black mark on your name, son
Can never be erased.
It was clean the day you took it
And a worthy name to bear.
When he got it from his father
There was no dishonour there.
So make sure you guard it wisely,
After all is said and done
You’ll be glad the name is spotless
When you give it to your son.
I would agree that the poem above could provoke a great deal of stress and pressure in a young boy’s life (not to mention his father’s). No one’s “name” is that pure. And, to be sure, without God’s grace and the power and guidance of God’s Spirit, no one will go through life with an unblemished record. Still… I like the poem as something to bear in mind as I encourage and help my sons navigate their way through life. One day, as part of that instruction and encouragement, I will have to share a few times when their father got quite a few dark smudges on the family name. And then I shall remind them of the precious Gospel of Jesus Christ.
(By the way, if you want to see an incredibly powerful presentation on the significance of one’s name, watch this scene from The Crucible. In this scene, John Proctor accepts a death sentence for something for which he was innocent, rather than passing on a blemished name to his sons. After several years of searching for this scene, I finally found it. There is a short and helpful little commentary at the beginning… which is worth watching as well. But by all means, please watch the scene that follows it.)
And while I’m feeling like imparting some inspiration to my sons… here’s a great video-version of Rudyard Kipling’s “If.”
Selected verses from Deuteronomy 11
“Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, his laws and his commands always.”
With these words of the first verse of Deuteronomy 11, God, through Moses, gave Israel a purpose. Her purpose was to “keep his requirements.” Keep “his decrees, his laws and his commands…always.” That’s a pretty clear purpose.
But there’s more to it. It also included a “what that looks like” portion. If the Israelites would be obedient to God, they would take the land – the Promised Land – which God had set before them. Obedience would be tough, but God also let them know that it would be well worth their efforts. In verses 11-12 we read:
But the land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven.  It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.
The blessing of obedience to the covenant is that Israel would get all this and more. The curse of disobedience of the covenant was that she wouldn’t…and more.
Obedience is an essential part of purpose. What would be the point of knowing your purpose – what you were created for – if you didn’t pursue it? It’s only as we obey God, follow Christ, die to self, count others better than ourselves by serving them, extend God’s Kingdom into every sphere of life, etc., that we discover God’s blessing for our lives – which may take on different manifestations in our lives as we travel down the path... the right path.
But can any of us hope for more than the knowledge that the eyes of the Lord our God are continually on it [our purpose] from the beginning to the end?
Grace and Truth,
1 Corinthians 2:14, 16b
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. …But we have the mind of Christ.
The mannishness of man. That was a phrase that Francis Schaeffer used to describe man in his fallen state. I like to use the word, “worldling” to describe the same idea. Paul uses the phrase “natural man” or “the man without the Spirit.” All of these describe a basic antithesis between those who have eyes to see and those who don’t – those who love the foolishness of God and know that it’s actually unparalleled wisdom and those who see God’s foolishness and believe that it really is folly – an utter waste of time. Like the wicked described in Job 21, they say to God…‘Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?’ (vv. 14-15)
God’s wisdom is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.
Paul writes that natural man…
doesn’t accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned (v. 14).
It’s not simply that he chooses not to know God’s ways and prefers not to understand them. He cannot. He is unable. Such things are spiritually discerned and he does not have the Spirit. His heart is unregenerate. He is blind. It is impossible for him…for him.
But nothing is impossible for God. Those of us who are now in Christ were once as blind as the worldlings that surround us today. There was a time when we did not understand the deep truths of God. But God is in the business of waking the dead, giving them (us) hearts that beat according to his Word, and providing eyes that see that which is invisible and eternal. This was not of ourselves, lest we should boast. It wasn’t because we were so smart, righteous, or born into the right family. It was the free and undeserved favor of a gracious God.
We now have the mind of Christ. We are able to discern the things of God. Flesh and blood do not reveal such things to us, but our heavenly Father does as he discloses himself – his good, pleasing, and perfect will. We receive it as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds through his Word.
So it is with humility that we plead with people who do not know Christ and who are under the influence of the spirit of the age. For where they are, we once were. We know they are in darkness, that they hurt, that they are broken, that they are looking for meaning and purpose, that they are confused, that they don’t know the Way, that they are on the road to the City of Destruction. We were once like them. It took the sovereign touch from the Lord of hosts to deliver us from our plight. And so we beg those without the Spirit to run to the narrow Gate. We intercede on their behalf and ask our Father to give them eyes to see, that they might enter in and walk the Way that leads to Life.
Romans 13:11B – 12 - The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.
These are the “last days.” Every one of us lives in the “end times.” Whether or not Jesus returns while I’m writing this, or I fall over dead while writing this, or I live to be as old as Methuselah, I (we) are in the midst of the darkness of the last days that must and will give way to Light.
Therefore. Therefore, we must wake up. For we are all in the land of the walking dead (literally, before our regeneration) and all too often in the land of sleepwalkers after our regeneration.
Fallen, unregenerate man assumes that because God hasn’t brought down judgement upon him yet, God therefore won’t. What contempt. The confused worldling refuses to see this “inaction” of the King as supreme patience and thus rejects the call to repentance (Romans 2:4). Tragic.
Sadly, the heirs of the covenant don’t appear to do much better. We look as though we are in a slumber…or perhaps a stupor. And so Paul commands us to – Awaken! Arise! He declares, “salvation is nearer now than when we first believed,” and that “the night is nearly over; the day is almost here.” And everything is exposed in the light of day. That’s why Paul says in verse 13, “Let us behave decently, as in the daytime…”
And so we must put aside the deeds of darkness. We must put off the old man. We must put to death the mind that is set on what the flesh desires (Romans 8:5ff). We must instead put on the armor of light for we are soldiers of the Light and we are at war (Ephesians 6:10ff). We must put on the armor of the King – his righteousness and salvation and mindset – for we now have the very mind of the King (1 Corinthians 2:16). We are called to be transformed by renewing our minds to the King’s standards (Romans 12:2), and by setting our minds on what his Spirit desires (Romans 8:5).
We are not guaranteed tomorrow. We must be on our guard out of loyalty to our King (Mathew 24:42-44; 25:12-13). If we would honor and glorify him then we must stand firm, remain vigilant and faithful to the end, whenever that end will be. This is how God has ordained that his Kingdom be advanced – by faithful, fruit-bearing subjects of the Crown. Of course, his subjects are impotent without the life-giving power of his Spirit coursing through their veins, but faithful they must be.
In Romans 9-11 Paul spoke at length on the sovereignty of this King we serve. Yet, Paul has no qualms about telling the believers at Rome to – WAKE UP! QUIT SINNING! OBEY CHRIST! LIVE! For the hour has come. It is almost day. May the church at Southside and beyond hear those same words today. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria,
A couple of years ago one of the men of our church shared with me a little about his Kairos Prison Ministry retreat that he had just been a part of. One of the things he told me was that since the prisoners don’t often get to eat any sweets in prison, many of them attend the Kairos weekend “for the cookies.” In other words, they want a less stressful weekend… some cookies and other good food… but not necessarily Jesus. Jesus just happens to be there with the cookies.
My friend then commented about how wonderful it is for the men who run the retreat to watch the transformation of these same prisoners over the course of the weekend. On the first day of the retreat the prisoners almost boastfully declare that they are there for the cookies. However, over the course of the weekend, as the Spirit moves in and through the men, the Word, prayer, fellowship, testimonies, etc., those same “cookie-seeking” men (at least many of them) really do encounter Christ and are truly changed by his Spirit.
For those who “come to Christ” and his church for dubious reasons, God often “stoops to conquer.” That is, God will often show up and lavish his grace upon a person, regardless of why that person “thinks” he or she is there. When a person, even unwittingly, puts himself or herself in the way of grace, Spirit-led change takes place.
Just think of these examples…
It’s easy to judge such people. We think we know what’s going on in their hearts. And it is true that some folks might do all of this and more, and then leave... only having eaten a few cookies. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we are too easily pleased. A holiday at the shore is offered us, but we’re content making mud pies in a mud puddle. Yet, instead of judging such folks, let our hope be that they brush up against God’s grace and that God’s grace will be filed away in that person’s heart for God to use at a later time. That should be our prayer.
So let folks come for the cookies. And let us pray that they genuinely meet our Lord and come to know, love, and follow him… and stay for the feast.
Grace and Truth,