The Church is a Community of the Cross

John Stott wrote a well known book on The Cross of Christ, in it he speaks about the cross as the shape and focus of the church. The strands he pulls from in the quote below are helpful for centering our understanding of the body of believers on the cross.

“The Christian community is a community of the cross, for it has been brought into being by the cross, and the focus of its worship is the Lamb once slain, now glorified. So the community of the cross is a community of celebration, a eucharistic community, ceaselessly offering to God through Christ the sacrifice of our praise and thanksgiving. The Christian life is an unending festival. And the festival we keep, now that our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us, is a joyful celebration of his sacrifice, together with a spiritual feasting upon it.”

 

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The Mechanics of Hope

Hope. Equal to faith, second only to love (1 Cor 13:13). This interior dimension to our existence is crucial. I have underestimated its importance in my experience, the lives of others and my theology. To put it another way, hopelessness is alive and well. I know its insidious power in my own soul and I see it in those around me. Hope is a need. It’s on the same footing as faith. Just as I need faith, I need hope. You do too.

There are many entry points to a discussion on hope from Scripture, I have chosen one verse that opens a window into its source and even its mechanics. The text is Romans 15:13. In the context Paul is urging both Jew and Gentile to welcome one another based upon the hospitality of God in Christ…the good news of a Savior for all, without distinction. In that flow comes this prayer for all Roman believers.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

There are a number of observations that can be made from this passage on hope…all very important for both our thinking and experience. We need hope. We know hopelessness. This is God’s word to us on the source of our hope and the means of experiencing it.

  • The God of hope is the source of all hope. The Trinity is by nature hope-giving. This is critical to any and all discussions on hope—it all ultimately flows from God himself. We would do well to think through how each person of the Trinity is committed and passionate in providing us hope.
  • Joy and peace are connected to hope as the experience that flows from the God of hope. The text makes this link clear, where there is hope there is also joy and peace.
  • Believing is the mechanism that connects us to hope. In the context, it is a believing of the gospel of hope found in Scripture that ultimately links us to the God of hope.
  • The Holy Spirit is explicitly identified as the power of hope, the one who brings the experience of hope within. He is the one who connects us to our objective hope without, that is Christ himself and the gospel we believe.
  • Abounding in hope is the result of the text, it is the aim of the God of hope for us as we believe the gospel of hope which is worked into us by the Spirit of hope.

The Divine Definition of Excellence

Andreas Kostenberger wrote a book on Excellence in scholarship. He argues that a theology of God’s excellence is the foundation of any practical theology of excellence. His thoughts are very helpful and challenging. I encourage you to take a moment and reflect on what he suggests here. A link to the first chapter of the book is included below.

God is the grounds of all true excellence. He is the one who fills any definition of excellence with meaning, and he is the reason why we cannot be content with lackluster mediocrity, halfhearted effort, or substandard scholarship. Excellence starts and ends with God and is first and foremost a hallmark and attribute of God. Without God as our starting point and continual frame of reference, our discussion of excellence would be hopelessly inadequate.

Systematic theologies generally do not list “excellence” as one of God’s attributes. For this reason it may appear at first glance that excellence is not all that important. This conclusion would be premature, however, for excellence can be viewed as an overarching divine attribute that encompasses all the others. Everything God is and does is marked by excellence. Wayne Grudem discusses God’s summary attributes of perfection, blessedness, beauty, and glory as “attributes that summarize his excellence.”

Perfection indicates that “God lacks nothing in his excellence.” Blessedness points to the fact that “God takes pleasure in everything in creation that mirrors his own excellence.” Beauty is a reflection of God’s excellence, and “God’s glory is something that belongs to him alone and is the appropriate outward expression of his own excellence.”6 Understanding excellence as an all-encompassing attribute of God also means that the concept is not exhausted by the word “excellence.” Other descriptions of the uniqueness, greatness, glory, or perfection of God are pertinent as well.

As we have seen, God truly excels in the sense that he stands out from all the rest. His excellence is evident in his unmatched superiority to everyone and everything else. Because God is the proper standard of excellence, we should not measure our achievements by comparing ourselves with others. Our pursuit of excellence should not take place in the kind of competitive spirit according to which only few can participate and where in the end there is only one winner. Since we are all created in God’s image, everyone can be truly excellent. God is unique, and we are made uniquely in his image as distinct creatures. We can each achieve excellence as we are increasingly fulfilling the potential God has built into us.

Since excellence, then, is an all-encompassing attribute of God, and since we are exhorted in Scripture to imitate God, having been made in his likeness, excellence should mark our lives as his children, extending both to who we are (our character and our relationships) and what we do (our work or vocation). Excellence should characterize every thought we have, every paper we write, every relationship we pursue, every assignment we undertake, and every word we speak (see, e.g., Matt. 12:36–37; Eph. 4:29; James 3:1–12). Excellence should describe our lives in their totality and encompass every area of our lives, no matter how large or small.

http://static.crossway.org/excerpt/excellence/excellence-download.pdf

 

Why Weakness Should Drive us Godward

Weakness, moral and otherwise has a way of pushing us away from God. It certainly does not serve as a confidence builder when approaching the holy God of the universe.

Hebrews introduces us to a different perspective, an incarnational logic. Take a look at Hebrews 4:14-16.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The call in this passage is to “hold fast our confession” and to “draw near” to God with confidence that we might know the help of grace when in need. Note what grounds  the call, what forms the foundation of this confidence.

Incredibly, it’s how God engages our weakness. The “for” and “then” of the text drive us to the central confidence giver in the face of weakness—a sympathetic Savior.

We do not have a mediator who lacks understanding, a stand-between ignorant of suffering, a high priest incapable of meeting weakness with grace. He is sympathetic (συμπαθῆσαι). This is a description of the God-man. This is the fruit of  the incarnation and cross—understanding and sympathy.

The NIGTC commentary on Hebrews states that “Christ’s earthly life gives him inner understanding of human experience, and thus makes him ready and able to give active help.”

The very thing that drives us away from God should push us toward him. Our weakness is always met by a gracious, understanding Savior who desires to provide help. He does not engage our weakness with condemnation, but kindness.

Through Christ even our weaknesses are transformed into an invitation to know his grace and mercy. They are the occasion for experiencing God’s help.

Gregory of Nazianzus

Gregory of Nazianzus was one of the early church fathers. Here are a few thoughts of his for your encouragement.

We are not made for ourselves alone, we are made for the good of all our fellow creatures.

I cannot think on the one without quickly being encircled by the splendor of the three; nor can I discern the three without being straightway carried back to the one.

That which He has not assumed He has not healed.

Worship the Trinity, which I call the only true devotion and saving doctrine.

Let us quake before the great Spirit, Who is my God, Who has made me know God, Who is God there above, and Who forms God here: almighty, imparting manifold gifts, Him Whom the holy choir hymns, Who brings life to those in heaven and on earth, and is enthroned on high, coming from the Father, the divine force, self-commandeered; He is not a Child (for there is one worthy Child of the One who is best), nor is He outside the unseen Godhead, but of identical honor.

Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague

Here is a must read gem from Martin Luther’s life and ministry. This entire post is taken from T.F. Lull’s book Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings.

Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague (1527)

On August 2, 1527 a case of the plague was discovered in Wittenberg. The university was closed and the students sent home, but Luther remained in the city and was busy with the pastoral and practical care of the sick. He was urged by correspondents from various places to give advice on what a Christian’s responsibility is at such a time. In November Luther finally got around to responding to a pastor in Breslau in what was published as an open letter to all.

Luther fought against the notion that faith would protect one against the plague, and he urged those who could rightly do so to leave. But some must stay, including doctors, pastors, public officials, and any person on whom an afflicted person is dependent.

Luther also shows a great deal of interest in practical reforms that could help the situation from locating cemeteries outside the town to the provision of hospitals for the care of the sick to cautious behavior on the part of those who have been exposed to the plague.

But the note that sounds most clearly is his appeal for Christians to care for the sick despite any aversion to them and fear of disease. In his typical blunt way Luther says:

This I well know, that if it were Christ or his mother who were laid low by illness everybody would be so solicitous and would gladly become a servant or helper. Everyone would want to be bold and fearless; nobody would flee but everyone would come running.…If you wish to serve Christ and to wait on him, very well, you have your sick neighbor close at hand. Go to him and serve him, and you will surely find Christ in him….

The Remedy for Fear

If there is one thing that should strike fear in a heart it is the certainty of divine judgment and the potential of eternal punishment. In a sane person every other fear bows to this great terror. Accountability in the face of omniscience and holiness is a sobering reality.

The gospel of God is tremendous news as it drives to the heart of this deep concern. Judgment day is ripped out of the future and brought into the present when Christ goes to the cross in our stead. The cross is the courtroom. The verdict is condemnation for Jesus and righteousness for us. This is the gospel. He was our substitute. Judgement has happened.

Love motivated this saving work. It is God’s love that dispels all fear and replaces it with joyful confidence. Hear what John says about the matter in his first letter.

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:16-19).

Fear is the prey of love. There is no peaceful co-existence between the two. Love attacks, fear runs. How mighty is the love of God! It assaults our fear and instills us with confidence for the day we fear most.

The love of God ensures that punishment is not in our future. His love is a static reality, it is fixed and unmoving. The cross stands as the objective reminder of God’s enduring love. Our grasp of that love, however, is often unstable and moving.

This is why John articulates the need to be “perfected” in our grasp of God’s love for us. The idea of perfection here is development, maturity or completion. As we grow into our grasp of God’s love in Christ our confidence also increases.

We must always distinguish between objective reality and our subjective experience. There is no condemnation present or future for those in Christ, judgement day has happened. That is a fixed reality, whether I feel like it or not.

I waiver in my faith. I doubt God’s promises. I question God’s love. My obedience is flawed. I do not always feel confident about judgement day. These are all part of my subjective experiences of faith. I waiver and how I feel about the gospel and judgement day moves. This does not change the settled reality, it simply speaks to my interaction with it.

The goal: move the subjective experience closer and closer to the objective reality. Confidence in coming day of judgement is an indicator that the objective and subjective are converging.