My heart became hot within me. As I mused, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue: "O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am!"

20 November 2005

Sunday Hello's

Pastor James Faris came and spoke to our college group Friday night on the appropriate topic of thanksgiving. Out of the whole talk, what got me thinking the most was a reminder of my vows to obey our public leaders. The Westminster Confession of Faith (a belief in which I swore before God) says this:

  • It is the duty of people to pray for magistrates, to honor their persons, to pay them tribute or other dues, to obey their lawful commands, and to be subject to their authority, for conscience' sake. Infidelity, or difference in religion, doth not make void the magistrates' just and legal authority, nor free the people from their due obedience to them: from which ecclesiastical persons are not exempted, much less hath the pope any power and jurisdiction over them in their dominions, or over any of their people; and, least of all, to deprive them of their dominions, or lives, if he shall judge them to be heretics, or upon any other pretense whatsoever. WCF 23:4 [emphasis mine]
And then James went and posted President Bush's proclamation of November 24th (dad's birthday!) as our national day of thanksgiving. What the Confession says, and what Scripture teaches, is that we are bound to obey all of our President's "lawful commands", which this proclamation certainly is. So observing Thanksgiving is a matter of dutiful, Christ-honoring submission to our authorities and thus submission to God. How should we observe this day? President Bush: I encourage all Americans to gather together in their homes and places of worship with family, friends, and loved ones to reinforce the ties that bind us and give thanks for the freedoms and many blessings we enjoy. We could do much worse than his plan: we do Thanksgiving by (1) gathering together in (2) homes or places of worship (how about both?), and (3) giving thanks for our freedoms and blessing.

Of all people, Christians ought to party the hardest on Thanksgiving. Not necessarily with football (though a little isn't bad, is it, James?) or feasts or alcohol, but by acknowledging to God His great mercies. When the President speaks of our freedoms, he likely means our political freedoms - but how much more do the sons of Jacob know of freedom? How much more does the church know of blessing and the giver of blessing? It's a day for singing and praying and confessing with a loud voice that our God is very good.

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Last night was our annual talent night at church, complete with juggling and singing and dancing and knitting and a Maori war dance (by our favorite Australian intern). If you missed it, boy did you miss it. Perhaps what will stick with me the longest is the most senior pastor's youngest son doing a scene from
The Two Towers, impersonating a couple hungry orcs and a couple frightened hobbits. It was the most convincing and frightening display of acting I've seen in a while. Well done, J. If only they had mini-orcs.

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This morning I preached from Proverbs 18 on peace & conflict. The first verse says this:
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. This is one of the verses in Proverbs that's been pleasantly stuck in my craw for quite a while. (What exactly is a craw? Either the crop of a bird or insect or the stomach of an animal. Betcha didn't really want to know.)

Isolation & separation are clues into the heart of men and women. To escape conviction or any possible mention of our wrongdoings, we are natural retreaters, isolating ourselves in order to continue self-idolatrous pursuits without roadblock. I do this; when I'm refusing to repent and fight against sin, I persistently avoid those brothers and sisters who are more straightforward and likely to ask me hard questions; I skillfully steer conversations away from spiritual topics. Others do this, when elders come knocking, there's a big smile and welcome, but when the topic turns to obedience versus their own desires, things get cold and separated-like real quick.

Thing is, isolation works...for a time. Those who want to really distance themselves from the church can do so quite effectively. In fact, if you fall into grievous sin you could conceivably keep the church from finding out for years, decades, maybe even a whole lifetime. But...sin usually will come to the surface in this lifetime. Our sin has a habit of laying a trap for our feet to fall into sooner or later (Pro. 18:7); but
even if it doesn't, God still knows. Isolationism is sinful not just because it seeks sin without consequences (which is like cheesecake without calories), but because it denies in practice God's omniscience. Separating ourselves to continue pursuing our own desires is, in essence, telling God, "I don't believe you exist. And if you do, I don't believe you see everything. And if you do, I don't believe you can do anything about it." Separationism, therefore, is a rather perverse form of idolatry: not just worshipping ourselves by pursuing our own desires, but denying God's character by thinking that because we avoid the eyes of men, we are avoiding the eyes of God.

6 comments:

Tamara said...

I would agree with you that it is vital that people do not separate from the church. Our world is quickly running to rebellion for comfort. Many people think by rebelling against authorities or hiding they will find peace. Eventually they find that they are utterly selfish and in desperate need of leadership. However, I don't think separation always has to do with sin. I think at times we run from the church because we have felt rejected. We run because we see hypocrisy and division. There are people in the Bible who separated themselves from establishments of religion. These people had a calling to get a message of reform out. John the Baptist and Jesus are prime examples. Even in church history you can see these people. Luther, Calvin…. need I go on? But, you have to know that you know that is what God desires. A desert experience can be pressing and can form you into who God wants you to be. But, again I agree that Christians need to submit to their authorities as unto Christ. Actually I think the fact that we haven't is the very reason the church is so divided in belief. Actually I shouldn’t be telling you this because God knows submission is the one thing I struggle with the most.

Micah & Emily said...

I like the idea of gathering at both home and church to give thanks.

Josh said...

that whole part about the magistrates and lawful commands~ does it mean that we don't have to obey the speed limit since it is an unlawful command?

James I. Faris said...

Yeah, Thursday I'll be keeping track of my opponent's players in my fantasy football league. A day of thanksgiving is not the Lord's Day.

Jared said...

Josh - Who says the speed limit is an unlawful command?

A Christian Prophet said...

Speaking of joining, I noticed over on the Holy Inheritance blog there is a very related and inspirational message regarding making Thanksgiving a real spiritual blessing.