Pastoral Backstory – February 18th, 2016

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February 18th, 2016

Daphne Mezereum

Daphne Mezereum

It’s scientific name is Daphne Mezereum but it’s most commonly known as “February Daphne.”

You may not find it on a walk anywhere around here, but amble through parts of Europe and Western Asia and its pink flowers or its rich, red berries may catch your eye. It certainly does for fruit-eating birds like thrushes, who delight in the fruit of its vine.

But break off a twig and it will trigger something like eczema. Ingest the berries and you will soon feel a choking sensation. Let a child swallow its fruit and it will likely prove fatal.

In other words, its beauty belies its danger. Let your senses rule your will–the berries have all the appearance of flavor and nourishment–and you will only court danger.

During Lent we’re looking at what’s been called the deadliest vices–those acts at odds with virtue that have become so patterned in us that we either have become insensible to their presence or feel helpless and hopeless about ever being disentangled from them.

wholechristRecently, we appealed to the newest book by Dr Sinclair Ferguson entitled The Whole Christ, which documents a three hundred year old controversy whose implications still reverberate today, both in the way ministers minister and the way believers believe. The controversy saw a collision of two counterfeit forms of piety, one that so championed grace that it ignored the call of obedience (known as “antinomianism”), and another that so underscored holiness that it nearly obscured grace (called “legalism”).

In his chapter on legalism Ferguson explains what’s at the root of this tendency to conceive of obedience as the means to our favor with God. He unearths that root by appealing to what transpired in Eden.

That forbidden tree had no discernible marks that would distinguish its character from the other trees of the garden. They all shared the same resemblance as fit for food. So the Couple were faced with a simple but immeasurably significant choice: whether to trust their senses or trust what they’d been told. Like D Mezereum, the fruit’s “delight to the eyes” offered a counterpoint to the prohibition.

"Adam and Eve under the apple tree," Edvard Munch

“Adam and Eve under the apple tree,” Edvard Munch

The choice wasn’t foisted upon them until an alternative way of seeing things had been offered them by the serpent. As Ferguson notes, both the clarity and authority of what God had said came into question in that moment: “Did God really say. . . ?  You won’t really die. . . .”

But moreover, and here’s where we get to how this moment relates to legalism, the very character of God was being made a matter of controversy. The command God had given to eat of all the trees save one was now being cast in a new and reductionistic light. Where in its fulness it should’ve been seen as a loving, protective mandate, now it was being characterized as the proscription of a cosmic killjoy:

Now all Eve saw was a negative command. One small object near the eye can make all larger objects invisible. Now it was the sight of the forbidden tree blocking her vision of a garden abounding in trees. Now she could not see the forest for the tree. Now her eyes were on God the negative lawgiver and judge. In both mind and affections God’s law was now divorced from God’s gracious person. Now she thought God wanted nothing for her. Everything was a myopic, distorted “now.”

 

The entail of that theology is that if you are to receive anything from this misanthrope deity, then it must be now paid for and earned.

Ferguson concedes this isn’t how we typically think of legalism. We tend to think of it like we think of getting a promotion at work, or a commendation in school: so long as I do well I shall be rewarded, and if I fail I shall be left out of goodness. My efforts determine my rewards.

But both that conventional way of understanding a right-standing before God through our good works, and what we see occurring in Eden proceed from a common posture of suspicion. Eve and Adam fell prey to the thought that God might not just be as good as He made Himself to be; they were suspicious of His concern for them if He was denying them something they had come to believe was for their good. But likewise, when we obey God in hopes that we will obtain the favor of God, it is deep down a suspicion of God that He will not be good to us unless we demonstrate our goodness to Him. To summarize nicely that underlying suspicion in our obedience, Ferguson quotes the theologian Geerhardus Vos:

Legalism is a peculiar kind of submission to God’s law, something that no longer feels the personal divine touch in the rule it submits to.

Therefore one reason we turn to vice, even if we have an awareness of God’s commands of virtue, is that deep down we are suspicious that He really has our best interests at heart. We become enamored with the allure of certain things that we’ve been told are toxic to us. But because we tend to trust our own lights more than His (rather than the reverse), and because we wonder if the Way He outlines is really the way to the life of flourishing, we turn to what appears to be full but which really belies danger.

Lust was that striking but sinister fruit we considered last week. This week we consider what is perhaps the hardest vice to define but which also operates in the subtlest fashion. We’re talking about what the church has come to call sloth. But as we’ll see it’s not so simplistic as mere passivity. The excessive couch-sitting, channel-surfing, FunYun-popping mode of existence is the most common association we make with sloth, but that proverbial image is but one among many manifestations, and only a symptom of something deeper.

 

Michelangelo's Jonah, The Sistine Chapel--Vatican City

Michelangelo’s Jonah, The Sistine Chapel–Vatican City

He may not be the first person you think of when considering sloth, but Jonah’s narrative this Sunday will be both our window into the vice and our clue as to how it’s uprooted.

Here’s an old time gospel ditty on his story. (HT: Wikipedia)

 


Sloth notwithstanding, Sunday will be for the vigorous–or at least for the willing, even if the flesh is weak.

We’ll join in our typical 100-voice chorus, but we’ll sing one song that will be sung by countless more across the world all Sunday long.

It’s an old song, but an arrangement by Keith and Kristyn Getty entitled, “Facing the Task Unfinished.” The song means to remind and rouse us to renewed interest in making Him known in whatever ways we can. (It even references sloth!)

You can read all about the worldwide chorus here, but the lyrics are below, as well as a recording by the Gettys. Have a listen–the melody has a familiar ring to it–and then come and sing with us Sunday. (And for you musicians, here’s the piano sheet music, and guitar tablature.)

Facing a task unfinished
That drives us to our knees
A need that, undiminished
Rebukes our slothful ease
We, who rejoice to know Thee
Renew before Thy throne
The solemn pledge we owe Thee
To go and make Thee known

 

Where other lords beside Thee
Hold their unhindered sway
Where forces that defied Thee
Defy Thee still today
With none to heed their crying
For life, and love, and light
Unnumbered souls are dying
And pass into the night

 

We go to all the world
With kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

 

We bear the torch that flaming
Fell from the hands of those
Who gave their lives proclaiming
That Jesus died and rose
Ours is the same commission
The same glad message ours
Fired by the same ambition
To Thee we yield our powers

 

We go to all the world
With kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

 

O Father who sustained them
O Spirit who inspired
Saviour, whose love constrained them
To toil with zeal untired
From cowardice defend us
From lethargy awake!
Forth on Thine errands send us
To labour for Thy sake

 

We go to all the world
With kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

 

We go to all the world
His kingdom hope unfurled
No other name has power to save
But Jesus Christ The Lord

 

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 9.33.41 AMMeanwhile, we’ll divide 2nd hour into two segments. During the first, ruling elder Hugh Comer will make a brief presentation about the budget the session adopted for 2016. I’ll also share a document that highlights some of the efforts we were privileged and enabled to do during 2015. This will be our second time to give you a report on how the monies of the church are being spent, as we hope to establish an annual tradition of offering something akin to a “State of the Church.”

cityThen following that presentation, Jonathan Raikes will return in his role as our “City Consultant,” to acquaint our newest folks to this online tool as well as showcase some of its finer features for those who’ve been using it for a while. And, yes, he’ll speak to some of the technical issues the tool sometimes presents. There will be time for questions, but Jonathan will also end things a bit early so those with very specific issues can get some one-on-one tech-support.

 

 

Still want the Lenten devotional resources (or misplace yours)? Here’s the daily devotional packet, and here’s the morning/evening prayer resource.  Meanwhile, Biola has a Lenten series you can have emailed to you (just like during Advent).

Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 10.42.38 AM

 

Author: Patrick

Pastor of Christ the King Church (PCA)

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