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October 18, 2013, 11:24 AM

Clean Hands or Clean Hearts?

A meditation by Pastor Robert Warmath

We all know them.  They are the people we see at church or Christian functions that always say the right things or put forth the correct posture, but there is just something that is not quite right with the picture they present.  Then, as we get to know them better, we discover their actions and attitudes just don’t measure up to the image they project.

In Matthew 15 and Mark 7 we read where some from a group of religious leaders – the Pharisees – approached Jesus and asked why His followers didn’t observe the ritual hand washings prescribed by the Jewish elders before eating.  Then we notice something interesting.  Jesus didn’t answer their question; at least not immediately.  Instead He asked His own question in response:  “Why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3).  He then explains that in spite of God’s command to honor one’s parents, they have “dedicated” all their possessions to the temple in order to deny using their resources to care for their parents.  Jesus then quotes from the prophet Isaiah, applying the words of God shared by the prophet directly to the Pharisees:  “These people honor Me [God] with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  They worship Me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commands of men” (Matthew 15:8-9).

Jesus then answers the original question by addressing the entire crowd, saying, “Listen and understand:  It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:10-11).  When pressed for an explanation in private, Jesus explained to His disciples that food eaten with ritually unclean hands simply goes into the stomach and is processed and eliminated by the body.  It does not harm the purity of the person.  But what comes out of a person’s mouth reveals the condition of that one’s heart.  Our speech – and by implication, our behavior – reveal if we are pure and committed to God, or if we are motivated by sinful thoughts, attitudes and convictions. 

I have to wonder if the reason Jesus used only sinful examples as coming from a person’s lips rather than contrasting them with positive, godly examples is simply because we all struggle with sinful tendencies even after being forgiven by God and receiving Jesus as Savior.  I know I am far from perfect and don’t always successfully present the changed life God created in me at salvation.  But I don’t want to be that old person, bound by sin and sinful thoughts and attitudes and behaviors anymore.  We all struggle, but perhaps we ought to bring the fight spiritually to the forefront of our personal relationship with God more consistently. 

Perhaps the prayer I made as I contemplated the implications of these passages in Matthew and Mark’s gospels will help you express your genuine desire to have the Holy Spirit develop the character of Jesus Christ in you as well.  Consider making this prayer your own:  “Master, I want to be totally yielded to what you want to build in me.  I don’t want to be conformed to worldly standards, but be truly transformed by yours.  Help me to continually grow by your Holy Spirit.  Let me become in character what you desire, and genuinely have my thought and attitudes and even my motivations in line with yours.  Father, create me anew as a vessel of honor, suitable for use in your kingdom, I pray.  Amen.”

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September 10, 2013, 12:48 AM

National Back to Church Sunday

Who are You Going to Invite to National Back to Church Sunday?

It’s time to reach out and invite your neighbors to church!  People need to know that there is hope and a community of people like our church who will love them and do life with them.  Skyline Baptist Church is joining the National Back to Church Sunday movement to help "Invite America Back to Church” on Sunday September 15.

According to Lifeway Resources, 82% of unchurched people would attend church if someone invited them!  Yet fewer than 2% of Christians ever invite an unchurched person to come to church! Even if you have never tried inviting someone to church, we are going to make it easy this fall with a special service.

It’s not as hard as it may seem.  Did you know that most people who have dropped out of church haven’t lost their faith in God —they simply fell out of the habit of going to church? Some moved, had a change in life circumstances, or had a falling out with their former church and simply drifted away. Most often, life just became too busy. This means many of them could be open to returning to church.

We encourage you to step out in faith and invite someone to rediscover church. We are planning a special service on September 15th so that our new guests will feel welcome and comfortable. Inviting a friend is a simple gesture that could change someone’s life.

By participating in this national movement, we will be joining thousands of other churches across America in helping invite everyone to church. Last year, 13,150 churches from 42 denominations participated and together they gave out an estimated 7.5 million invitations to church. Our church is one of the 20,000 churches expected to participate this year.

There is still time to reach out to your friends, family and neighbors before Sunday.  Use one of the invitations you picked up at church or simply speak to them with a sincere invitation.  You'll be surprised at who will agree to come.

Need some inspiration?  Check out this promotional video for Back to Church Sunday:

August 13, 2013, 12:35 AM

Wrath of God or Love of Christ?

Last week I wrote a blog that was prompted by the recent exchange of thoughts, comments and theological views that have occurred and are still on-going as a result of the decision of the committee selecting songs for a new Presbyterian (USA) hymnal.  They decided to exclude the modern hymn “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend because they felt a phrase that referenced the wrath of God in the lyrics would be offensive to many.  The committee proposed changing a line in the second verse that says “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied” to read “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The love of God was magnified.”  The proposed change was rejected by the hymn’s writers, and the committee voted 9-6 to not include the hymn in their new hymnal.  The point I took from this current controversy in my blog last week was the benefit of modern hymns to the church which provide deep theological teaching.

Two days later I was made aware of another article addressing this issue.  This time it was an editorial posted August 8 entitled “Why Disagree About the Words of a Hymn?”  It was written by Dr. Bobby S. (Bob) Terry, president and editor of The Alabama Baptist, the newspaper of the Alabama Baptist State Convention and posted on their online edition.  Like many others, I wrote a comment on the editorial, but when I checked later I discovered my comment was not included following the article on the website.  I had not intended to wade into the issue personally.  But as I read Dr. Terry’s editorial, I felt I had to respond. 

In fairness, I must note that Dr. Terry posted a clarification that now leads the original editorial on The Alabama Baptist website.  Yet the reason I felt the need to comment was because Dr. Terry wrote the following: 

“Yet there remains a question about whether God was an angry God at Golgotha whose wrath had to be appeased by the suffering of the innocent Jesus.  Sometimes Christians carelessly make God out to be some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down.  It is the ultimate ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine where God is against us but Jesus is for us.  

“Some popular theologies do hold that Jesus’ suffering appeased God’s wrath.  That is not how I understand the Bible and that is why I do not sing the phrase ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ even though I love the song ‘In Christ Alone.’”

A few paragraphs later he opined:  “Scholars will continue arguing about whether the sacrificial system of the Bible, of which Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, had God as its subject or its object.  If He is the subject then God acted to cover and forgive sins through the sacrificial system.  If He is the object then God received the offerings for sin that in some ways pacified His anger and need for justice.” 

Then two paragraphs later added, “That is the essence between the disputed phrases in the song “In Christ Alone.”  One emphasizes “the love of God was magnified” (subject); the other “the wrath of God was satisfied” (object).  Whichever phrase one chooses to sing it must be remembered that it is God’s grace that initiated the sacrifice of Jesus to provide covering and forgiveness for our sin and that His sacrifice satisfied the holy demands of God’s righteousness for sin to be punished.

“But God is not the enemy.  He is our seeking Friend (Luke 15).  That is why I prefer to focus on His love evidenced at Calvary rather than on His wrath.”

I have already devoted much space to setting up the reason for giving my views, so I will try to be succinct (which admittedly is extremely hard for a Baptist preacher!).  Dr. Terry took pains to affirm the historic view of the atonement of Jesus Christ, and that salvation is completely an act of God’s grace that is received by faith in Jesus alone.  I have no dispute with this biblical truth at all – it is the clear teaching of Scripture.  But Dr. Terry seems to agree with those he states view God as “some kind of ogre whose angry wrath overflowed until the innocent Jesus suffered enough to calm Him down.  It is the ultimate ‘good cop/bad cop’ routine where God is against us but Jesus is for us.”  He says he chooses to emphasize the subject of God’s love in Jesus’ sacrificial death and not the object of God’s wrath.

I must flatly state that we do not have the right to select one over the other.  If it were not for God’s holiness, righteousness and perfect justice, God’s nature would never require him to unleash his wrath against our sin and rejection of him as sovereign God and Lord.  Consequently, there would never have been a need for the substitutionary death of Jesus on behalf of humanity, for there would be no wrath that must punish sin!  In Dr. Terry’s logic, without the object of God’s wrath, there would not be any reason for the subject of God’s love in Jesus’ death on the cross.

But also consider where the focus of God’s wrath is placed.  Is it because of a petty vindictiveness on the part of God that he could not be satisfied without merciless punishment being poured out upon persons – or in the instance of the crucifixion, his own son, Jesus?  Please understand that God is the perfect Father with unlimited love for Jesus.  He took absolutely no pleasure at all in Jesus’ suffering either in Gethsemane prior to being arrested or in the agonizing torture involved in the crucifixion.  His holy wrath had to be exerted upon the sin of humanity.  It was the love of God that caused him to come bodily as Jesus Christ, and take upon himself the punishment – the wrath against sin – that all humanity has earned.  God’s wrath was unleashed upon sin personified in Jesus.  Second Corinthians 5:21 proclaims, “He [God] made Him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him [Jesus] (NASB).  It was not hatred against Jesus that caused him to be the recipient of God’s wrath on the cross, but the love of the Father to take our punishment personally so that we could be forgiven if we will but accept it!  In the crucifixion we see both the “object” and “subject” operating equally – we cannot biblically choose one over the other.  Sorry, Dr. Terry.  God has not given you that choice.  That is why we must sing along with Getty and Townend, “Till on that cross as Jesus died/The wrath of God was satisfied.”  It does not diminish God’s love and grace one iota.  It is the very reason God chose to save us by his grace.

August 5, 2013, 4:03 PM

Music of Worship

It is amazing to me that we still seem to fight within the church about the music we sing.  Thanks to Christian leaders I follow through social media, I learned that just recently the Presbyterian Committee on Congregational Song of the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently determined to exclude the modern Christian hymn, “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend in their new hymnal because it references the wrath of God.  (For background and a great discussion of its implications, please see Thom Rainer’s blog post, Evangelism and the Wrath of God.  From his blog you can follow links to great insights by Dr. Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, published in the Washington Post.)  I love both hearing and singing “In Christ Alone,” and am so grateful it was included in the 2008 edition of the Baptist Hymnal used by the church I serve.

The men I referenced above have covered this recent controversy so well it would be pointless for me to restate their comments here when I can simply refer you to their writings.  What I wanted to emphasize is the incredible worth of hymns and focus on what I feel is a marvelous trend in modern Christian music with the writing of new hymns.  Having said that, I must also hasten to say how much I value and enjoy hearing and singing many of the modern choruses and praise and worship music that is being written as well.  All these styles of music have benefit and can richly enhance our worship in the 21st century church in my opinion.  That is why I am still amazed at the divisions some Christians make in denouncing one type of music over another and advocating exclusive use of either “traditional hymns” (by which they often mean only those written over 80-100 years ago or older) or “contemporary Christian music” (which for some would include such “old” songs as those written in the 1960s and 70s as well as what has been written in the past 5-10 years).

Traditionally, a hymn is a multiple verse song written to be sung by a large group, such as a congregation in public worship.  The texts of each verse build upon the truths of the preceding verses and often tell a complete story.  Early in the spread and development of churches with the spread of the gospel, Bibles were either not available to the common people (many of whom could not read) or were simply too expensive for most to purchase and own.  Therefore, the hymnody of the church in worship became a major method of teaching biblical truth.  Songs were easily memorable and the contents of the verses reinforced the teaching and preaching that was presented by the church leaders.  That is also why many of the older, familiar music sung in some churches contain biblical terms and allusions that people today, unfamiliar with the Bible, find impossible or difficult to understand at best.  For example, consider the references to the cherubim and seraphim and the “glassy sea” in the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy” or the phrase “here I raise mine Ebenezer” in the hymn “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.”

Perhaps the most common criticism of popular, contemporary music in the church today is that it is all emotionally driven and has little theological depth, repeating simple phrases over and over.  While this may be a valid criticism for some music, there is also a trend for writing powerful, intelligent lyrics that – much like the hymns of old – tells the complete gospel story or communicates more complex truth.  A great example is the song that stirred the recent controversy among those selecting music for the new Presbyterian hymnal - “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend.  It was the writers’ commitment to the scriptural truth expressed in the song that prevented their allowing the committee selecting the music for their new hymnal from altering the lyrics.  This marvelous modern hymn consists of four verses that present the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and the eternal security of we who have placed faith in Jesus have.  What rich, biblical truth is contained in a song that is very easy to learn and sing together in meaningful worship corporately.  You can read the lyrics and view a video of Keith Getty’s wife, Kristyn, leading the song in worship here.  Many of the Getty’s compositions fall into this category of modern hymns, as do those of other contemporary Christian songwriters. 

We are also blessed that there are also great examples of music loved by the church today that express our heart of worship, even if they may not be seeking to present as complete a theological point as they are simply offering a vehicle for sincere praise, adoration and worship.  Let’s embrace all styles as we worship together, for there is only one God worthy of worship!

Robert Warmath, Pastor

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