Thursday, February 26

Sweet aromas.....

"But praise be to God who makes us strong to overcome in Christ, and makes clear through us in every place the value of the knowledge of him. For we are a sweet perfume of Christ to God in those who are getting salvation and in those who are going to destruction; To the one it is a perfume of death to death; to the other a perfume of life to life." 2 Corinthians 2:14-15 BBE

"The church exists in order to change the subject from us and our deeds to God and his deeds of salvation, from our various "missions" to save the world to Christ's mission that has already accomplished redemption." Michael Horton writes in his article "Christless Christianity" (Modern Reformation May/June, Vol. 16 No. 3 2007 pp 10-16) "If the message that the church proclaims makes sense without conversion; if it does not offend even lifelong believers from time to time, so that they too need to die more to themselves and live more to Christ, then it is not the gospel."

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of The White Horse Inn national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of several books, including Power Religion, A Better Way, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, God of Promise: Introducing Covenant Theology (Baker, 2006), and Too Good to be True: Finding Hope in a World of Hype (Zondervan, 2006).

We are called, by the authority of the Great Commission, to preach the Good News (read Gospel) to the ends of the Earth to every people, tribe and nation. But the more mankind takes 'charge' of his religion, the further from such 'preaching' or 'evangelizing' we wander. It is no wonder, in the complexities of our institutions of faith, that we are as unattractive as a wart on a hedge hog.

And the world, in its ignorance and blind sinful state, has the right and the logic to accuse us of being hypocrites. For the message of the Good News is lost in our 'painted faces' that we've put on in the churches throughout our land to attract the 'seeker'.

What is this Good News? Simply put, Christ came to Earth born of woman, fully God and Man, and was crucified upon the Cross, died. After three days, He rose again and ascended to Heaven. He will be coming back. The simplest of stories, lacking the complexities of human interpretation or desire that is often added to and subtracted from depending on our ability to 'read' the other person's level of interest.

And when the flame is put to the 'progressive, modernistic' form of Good News retelling, the odor is far from pleasing to anyone's nostrils, too often making them sick to their stomach with the malodorous stench of self-righteousness and believed authority. Doctrine becomes interchangeable with conviction and is as fleeting in its resoluteness. Absolute Truth becomes a manner of subjective interpretation and the battle lines, once so clearly drawn, have become hazy in the smoke screens of charismatic and energetic leaders.

As my mentor puts it, the main character in the telling of our 'story' is an indicator of our spiritual journey through this world. If God is the author and main character, then it is His larger story that ours is told in context with. If we are the main character, the woes and tribulations become an indictment against God's love and authority.

In the first context of 'story', when God is larger than we ourselves and His plan is of primary highlight within its borders….as a mountain top covered in the mist of the burning off of the darkness' deposited moisture by the dawning sun that we know is there despite the denial and inability of our eyes to see its contours.

In the context of our own 'story', not seeing the mountain top invokes anger and disillusionment within us. We walk around the mountain, denying its existence and its authority to block our path. When someone else tells us that 'there be a mountain', we argue and berate them into silence; for our acknowledgement of that mountain would invalidate our very existence and call into question the complexities of our lives.

We smell the 'sweet perfume' of Christ and gag; for His aroma is displeasing to our illusions, like the 'burning', heavy-laden and misty smell of the morning air from that imaginary mountain.

Humans are gifted story tellers, especially when it is a subject or experience by which they have personal acquaintance with. Be it horror, science fiction, or documentary in nature; mankind will not speak or reiterate that which it doesn't know and we often look down upon those who claim such ignorance. Many Christians, in an effort to be considered 'growing', find themselves overwhelmed by the various doctrinal and theological discussions out there.

It's simple, really……if God said it, God meant it and we're to follow it even if we don't understand it.

Even in our broken, sinful humanity we are to boldly go forth, tripping over our own feet that often want to go in the direction opposite of our LORD's which calls to our very souls with a sweet melody.

"The more we confess our sins and receive forgiveness, and pass this good news on to others, the more our lives will be authentically changed in the bargain." Horton says, "…..the gospel is only something that can be told (i.e., words), a story that can be declared. When our lives are told within that larger story, rather than vice versa, there is genuine salvation for sinners and mission to the world."

In the manipulation of activities worthy of Jesus' pleasure, tailoring 'worship' to suit the emotional strings of hearts yet spoken for by Christ and corporate-style leadership where the legalistic protection of the church is greater than the desire to bring ordinary ministries that express the Good News and the reception of Christ's salvation that is given to us by grace and grace alone.; we lose Christ as the sole answer to our condemnation through the commission and denial of sin's embrace. That we must suffer as Christ did, though realistically often far less than the suffering inflicted upon His human body on the Cross.

But the Church wants to be 'relevant' to the seekers, progressives, liberals, lost and disenfranchised of the world and can only promote such an agenda through a gospel retooled to offer Christ as the answer to everything else and a lifestyle of prosperity of all too-human desires.

"Our only true triumphs are God's triumphs over us." Henry Alford, the English Churchman and theologian said, "His defeats of us are our only true victories." God is 'made manifest by us', that is; His triumph lies within the 'catching' of us and preserving us 'alive in Christ' so that the sweet aroma of that triumph over the wages of our sins is manifested in the Triumphant Conqueror's victory.

That sweet smell of Christ's triumph assaults the eyes, invades the nostrils and overwhelms all of our senses. And it is that righteous, holy incense that brings attacks from those who would promote an alternative offering of what the Good News is. To those who find delight and profitability within preached Word of God, such a smell is sweeter than the finest offerings of our finest cooks, and brings life within the dead flesh of our broken bodies within our spirits that cling to the realized hope of eternity.

It is those, willingly ignorant and obstinate, that have their corruption heighten by this aroma of Christ, and reject through the alteration, manipulation or simple denial the Good News; creating in their limited capacities the 'humanistic' gospel of survival and make-up perfumes in the form of a 'god' to cover the stench of their sin.

Josh Graves, Teaching and Young Adult minister of Rochester Church of Christ and author, writes about Phyllis Tickle's new book The Great Emergence, in his blog "Jesus Feast: Spirituality for the Hungry" ( Tickle, Graves mentions, categories the types of Christianity that exist in an "emerging world landscape." (141-143) that I have placed unaltered here:

• Traditionalists: "Like those who have fallen heir to Grandpa's old home place and who still like things just the way he had them, they see no need either to fight with the neighbors or to change the furniture." This group is content, fine with business as usual.

• Re-traditioning: This group has chosen to stay with their inherited group, but unlike the Traditionalists "they energetically wish to make it [the church] more fully what it originally was." These folks want to keep the house, but make major interior changes and modifications: create a new kitchen, update the plumbing, drop new floors.

• Progressives: "[W]hile wanting to maintain their position in institutional Christianity, they want also to wrestle with what they see as the fool heartedness of holding on to dogma based ideas and doctrinally restricted governance and praxis." This group will knock out some walls, extend favorite rooms, even build additions if need be.

• Hyphenateds: "[T]hey recognize theirs is the most schizophrenic of the encompassing circles . . . householders who have fallen heir to Grandpa's old home place, feel a compelling need to honor the land it sits upon and the trees that surround it, but no need to retain its structural shape. Imaginatively enough, though, while they may tear down the house, they will savage some of the material out of which it was built and incorporate those honored bricks and columns, plinths and antique doors into the new thing they are building."

I haven't read Tickle's material, but I would offer (based on these categories) one more to add to the list.

Pilgrim: Those who, through no appreciative ability or reasoning of their own, have been told that they are being given inheritance in the form of a homestead from an forgotten Grandfather to whom they were estranged from. And as they walk upon the grounds of their inheritance, amid the majesty and beauty of the landscape, they realize that it is far more than they could ever be capable of comprehending its uniqueness to the point where they feel comfortable enough to attempt alternations. For any alteration that they could do would diminish and tarnish the glory and scope of the original.

Far from maintaining status quo like the "Traditionalists", returning to remembered comforts like the "Re-Traditionalists", or listening to the yammering of the latest contractors to loose this or that like the "Progressives" or the self-justifying 'honoring' of the homestead while dismantling the structure standing upon it to morph into their own expression of 'inheritance' the 'modern homestead' like the "Hyphenateds", the pilgrim realizes that all they will ever need is already built and lies simply- as yet- undiscovered within the rooms of Grandpa's old home and scattered throughout the trees and fields of the landscape.

And they realize within the context of the inheritance that they won't be there long enough to fully explore the power and strength of the foundation or the craftsmanship of the builder, for the inheritance is of a temporary nature and they will, in the fullness of time, move on as their Grandpa did, to a more permanent homestead to which their Grandpa went to prepare. It is that to which the inheritance has been obtained.

It is that, to me, which is the truest expression of what we have in Christ and it is the aroma given off by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within the lives of those who have embraced the sweetness of salvation in its full reality that attracts others into our sphere where we, as commissioned story-tellers in God's epic adventure, are compelled beyond the utterance of a doctrinal formula or formal declaration to speak the "Good News" that has been brought into our own lives so that others may see the grace of God and His love for those who would turn to Him.

Living life in a realized outlook of an eternal future, bringing joy and peace within the storms of our lives to attract the wonder of those who are rocked in the same stormy seas as we are.

Living in the context of the inscription on Alford's tomb;

" Diversorium Viatoris Hierosolymam Proficiscentis"

("The inn of a traveler on his way to Jerusalem")

Journey on........

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