Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Tin Hill Wine Bar & Bistro, The White Rabbit at Dempsey, Dim Joy, True Worship and Romans 12:1-2

Veggie Dinosaur
At the birthday party of a three year old, there were veggie dinosaurs and chicken patties made to look like teddy bear faces, fancy balloons that got little hands entangled, abandoned drumsets, new electronic keyboards for drumming on, a back-patio barbecue, toy cars running over adult toes, chatter and laughter, and a bit of fighting.

In another time, in another place, these little ones running around so free and (mostly) happy might have been laid struggling and crying upon cold stone and sacrificed by their desperate parents in a fruitless bid to win the favour of their gods. We remember sick account of the time the king of Moab was beseiged by Israel and could not break through their ranks, and how, in a vain attempt to bribe his god to give him victory, he took his eldest son and sacrificed him as a burnt offering on the wall (2 Kings 3:26 - 27).

Behold the gods of human invention: we make them in our own fallen image but assign them more power. So it follows that pagan worship is like curry-favouring a corrupt official; it is all about twisting the arm of a reluctant deity who has better things to do with his time and apparent power.

And so how immensely sweet and wonderful the true God is, who (as we have seen from Romans 1 - 11) is not only a good God but has willingly worked for the good of his people even before they knew what help to ask for: despite man deliberately sinning, God saved them from his own righteous wrath; he grafted Gentile who were not his people into his own family tree; he delayed judgement so that people could be saved; he proved the Law so that blind, conscience-challenged humans might have some idea of how far wrong they'd gone in the first place; and he provided his only son to pay for the sins of the world.

So what is it like to be engaged in true worship that the true God desires?

(Why would we want to worship God? Because that is the precise reason for which we were made. Until we live under his loving rule, we will never achieve our "potential". If we do not worship God, we are missing the whole point of our existence. Plus, refusing to worship God is the heart of sin.)

True worship is a response (Romans 12:1)
If it is God that always takes the initiative in saving us and making us his children, then true worship must always a response. This is what the "therefore" in Romans 12:1 is there for. In light of what God has done as spelt out by Paul in the preceding 11 chapters, true worship cannot be about us seeking to secure God's favour, for that is the basis of pagan worship. It is about us responding to God's favour already given; it is about living in the light of what God has already done for us: we are already justified, we are already holy and acceptable to him. No amount of fasts or prayers or pilgrimages will bring us closer to God...if we are Christian, we are already children of God. That is the marvellous difference between Christian and pagan worship.

Therefore, no church leader or song leader or holiness retreat can bring us closer to God than we already are. Nothing will bring us into the holy of holies because when we believe in Christ and are granted access to God through his blood, we are already in the holy of holies (Romans 5:1 - 2). When we lead a meeting of Christians we are not leading worship but giving clear statements of what God has already done for us so that people can respond appropriately.

(Singing in church then is about us responding to God in thanksgving and praise. It is also us encouraging each other and filling our minds with the truth of what God has done. All the psalms give a reason for why we are praising God. The purpose of us singing songs is to remind and share with one another what God has done for us so that we can worship acceptably - here and when we go out. Bad singing (not tuneless singing) is singing that is not biblical, that does not draw on the promises of God, or singing that is all about me. Good singing should reflect on the goodness of God.)

And do we think we can offering God anything? We have nothing we can offer to God except what he has already given, in response to what he has already done.
Compared to Knowing Jesus
Nothing I can offer to heaven
Nothing I can bring to make peace
Nothing in the way that I sing his songs
Nothing in the way that I pray

Though I can say that I love him
Though I can lift up my hands
Though I have actions and words of grace
Though I hold my head up high

There's nothing in the world or in my life
That doesn't disappear or fade away
Everything I've come to know I count as loss
Compared to knowing Jesus, my Lord
Compared to knowing Jesus, my Lord

If I am right with my maker
It is through faith in my Lord
If I have goodness it comes from him
If I am pure I give thanks

I want to know Jesus my saviour
I want to know his power to rise from the dead
I want to have fellowship in his grief
I want to be raised up with him!
© Mark Peterson
True worship is everywhere, all the time (Romans 12:1)
Futsal Cage, Sports Planet, East Coast Park
Even in the futsal cages of Sports Planet, East Coast Park

True worship is not confined to a particular place and particular time. God does not insist that it be done in a "holy" place or in a church building nor through a specially consecrated priesthood/pastor-hood/anointed few. In fact, to think so would be a denial of Jesus' work on the cross.

True worship is everywhere, all of the time, in all of life. Presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1) consists of 3 different ideas.

The idea of presenting one's body is taken from the command to the priestly family of Levites to present themselves to God at the temple. It is to minister and serve...as a priest! We do not need a pastor or a priest to bring us into the holy of holies because we have gained access through the blood of Christ!

The idea of a living sacrifice appears rather ironic since a sacrifice was an animal that gave its life so that the Jews could approach God. But now that Jesus has died as a sacrifice for our sins, there is no more sacrifice to be made.

A sacrifice had to be unblemished or else it would not be acceptable to God. But what Paul is saying is not try to be holy and try to be blameless. He is saying that in view of what God has done for us, we are already holy and blameless! We can do what the high priest could only do once a year after elaborately purifying himself could do, appear before God himself. Now Christ's death has washed us clean, now God already sees us as holy. We don't swish in and out of the presence of God trailing the scent of frankinsence and myrrh. We live in the presence of God 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, every year, in every situation. 360 degrees.

The implication of this is that everywhere is a place of worship: our office, the driving seat of our cars, the family meal table, tennis court and even the side of the goal post in a futsal cage. The view of worship only taking place in the austerity of a monastic retreat in the cool mountains or in a consecrated space vehemently denies the Christian faith altogether.

And true worship is immensely earthy - it is in driving the car, in honouring marriage, in giving someone a meal, in leading our Christian families...all in response to what God has already done for us.

Do we trust in Jesus to save us from our sins? Then we have been justified by God and we are part of God's family. You are a priest as much as another Christian. Now that you are finally freed from the shackles of the consequences of your sins, now that you can see and hear, worship God.

(The Monday after spending a weekend stuck into Romans 12 when, after I'd told my Christian colleagues that Don Carson was in Singapore for the Living Word series organised by the Anglican Diocese of Singapore at St. Andrew's Cathedral and they'd expressed complete ignorance of his person, we got into a good discussion about why we believed in the Christian faith in the first place, the interpretation of the Bible, dinosaurs and intelligent design and the 7 days of creation, and then there was a beautiful sunset - a glowing red orb sinking behind the silhouettes of, erm, oil refineries, and I wanted to burst out singing:
All Heaven Declares
All heaven declares the glory of the Risen Lord;
Who can compare with the beauty of the Lord?
Forever He will be the Lamb upon the throne;
I gladly bow the knee and worship Him alone.

I will proclaim the glory of the Risen Lord;
Who once was slain to reconcile man to God.
Forever You will be the Lamb upon the throne;
I gladly bow the knee and worship You alone.
© Noel and Tricia Richards
Fortunately, I remembered that my life was not a musical and stopped in time. But, maaan, the joy of proclamation of the good things of God in a situation so unused to the sound of his name. Yet not just this time but every minute should be lived in light of the reality of this marvellous God.)

True worship is mindful and not mindless
"Spiritual worship" in the ESV is a strange translation. The Greek word is logicos - we get the word "logical" from it. So the NIV translation of "reasonable worship" or "rational worship" is better. As we fill our minds with all that God has done for us, then the response we make is a rational, reasonable one. Falling over and making animal noises or whatever the current fashion of the age is, is not the worship God requires.

True worship comes from a mind, a changed mind, the mind that God has renewed or changed in a Christian. Without a changed mind, we cannot worship God pleasingly.

In the Bible, the mind does not simply mean the intellect. The mind points to what we think about things and feel about things. The heart is used to mean almost the same thing. The heart is not just about feeling but also the control centre. Both are metaphors for what we are on the inside, the core of our being.

True worship can only come from a renewal of the mind
Chinese Chiropractor, Banda Street
Things needing straightening out

Some things need only a bit of painful straightening out, but what true worship requires is for the worshipper's old mind to be completely recreated.

The renewal of the Christian's mind is a one-off event when God breaks into a person's life and renews what we are on the inside. It is our conversion and it is not on-going. What is on-going is the work of God by the power of his Spirit which he has given us and the Spirit's work has life-long implications.

We know from Romans 1:28 that the action of God as judgement for our non-worship of him is to deaden what we are on the inside so that we cannot truly worship him. From this debased mind which God gives us up to comes all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. It is because of our debased minds that we are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness; that we are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless (Romans 1:29 - 31). This means that any of us having a debased mind and given the right opportunity would have been an Austrian dungeon dad, a corrupt politician or a maniacal tyrant. This is what anybody could be if we were not with God. No amount of policing or laws or education would help that. It is only by washing us clean and literally recreating our minds from the inside that God gives us new desires and ambitions. We are literally a new creation; born again. And Jesus says that unless a man is born again, unless God's Spirit breaks in and renews the mind, then that person can never enter the kingdom of god.

True christian worship flows out of this renewed mind.

Romans 8 reminds us that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. For so long as we fail to recognise Jesus as Lord, we are not born again. Our inability to see his kingly rule means that we are conformed to the false advertising of this world, unable to break out of its mould, and cannot worship God acceptably, no matter what we do or how hard we try or how creative we get. We could be the archbishop or the pope or Mother Teresa or the winner of the Nobel Peace prize but we would not be able to worship God acceptably if we were not born again.

True worship requires careful prayerful consideration
We are told to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. The transformation is something that happens to us, Paul is not telling us to get out there and transform ourselves. For if it is the Spirit that renews our mind and thus transforms us, then we would not be able to do anything on our own. We could not force ourselves or screw up our eyes and think we can, think we can.

Yet this transformation is also a command. It does not say just lie back, let go and let God; hot-tub holiness. Instead, we are to take action. The tense is present continuous - go on being transformed for 6 months, 6 years, 6 decades.

God expects us to be so transformed and renewed to go on working on this project of transformation. Once we were so depraved, we couldn't and wouldn't think of how to please God. So now that we have a renewed mind, how we will change to please God! In our personal thought, in our careful application of his word, in our prayerful activity.

There is no set pattern, no rule book, no route to follow. If we have renewed minds, if we are truly Christian, God expects us to set our new minds to work to figure out how to truly worship him.

True worship is the proof of the pudding

Tin Hill Bistro Winebar
Happy reviews of TinHill were not proved right in the snapper bouillabaisse pie which was thin and fishy, nor the pork which was smelly and bland (though the blachan made it edible), nor the nutella cupcake which had the taste and consistency of cardboard until we got them to nuke it, nor the passable sticky date pudding which wasn't terribly tasty even with the toffee sauce.

The White Rabbit, Dempsey
Unhappy reviews of The White Rabbit were not proved right either at least in the post-dinner drinks department. The enjoyable makeover of the gin fizz has made the old cocktail shaking hand tingle. Now to find guinea pigs for experiments before I bust a liver.

Dim Joy, Neil Road
But Dim Joy (despite the omnious name, lack of central air-conditioning and the long wait) lived mostly up to the hype. The pork and chives wo tie were delicate and tasty, and the prawns in the har gow were fresh with the right crunch. Opinions on the char siew baos and grilled pork porridge however, differed.

Unlike the uncertainty (or rather, certain inconsistency) of food/restaurant reviews which may depend on whether the cook or waitstaff or customer had a bad day or their different tastes, Paul says with great assurance that a Christian may taste and approve/prove the will of God. We can prove the will of God in the same way we prove metal or a second car; we see that it is what it says it is.

This is not the arrogant judgement of a mere human on the work of God. It is God's intention is the ordinary Christian be so transformed by the renewal of his mind, as to be able themselves responsibly, in light of gospel and fellowship of the faithful, to prove that God is doing what he had always said he would do - to make for himself a people, to both save mercifully and judge righteously. It is not that we find out his specific will/calling for us but that in our lives we demonstrate that what God has said is true. God's great will is that people will be like his son Jesus in how they think and behave.

And what about Christians who still sin terribly? Christians have renewed minds and it is the renewed mind that keeps transforming the Christian. He is not yet perfect. And how do we know the mind is renewed? Because we keep coming back in repentance.


Tin Hill Wine Bar & Bistro
797 Bukit Timah Road
Tel: 6463 3811

The White Rabbit
39C Harding Road, Dempsey
Tel: 6473 9965

Dim Joy
80 Neil Road
Tel: 6220 6986

Sports Planet, East Coast Park
1020 East Coast Parkway
Tel: 9326 6635

Lee Thian Kay Medical Hall
Blk 5 Banda Street, #02-80

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Working through current series on Romans:
First Thai, Jay Chou's Birthday Concert and Romans 1
Feasting and Larval Thoughts on Faith and Romans 4
Privé, Cilantro and the Marvellous Comfort of Romans 8:1 - 16
Basil Alcove and the Pre-destination-based Comfort of Romans 8:17 - 39
Kapok at Newton and Romans 9 - 11
Tin Hill Wine Bar & Bistro, The White Rabbit at Dempsey, Dim Joy, True Worship and Romans 12:1 - 2
Sodagreen 苏打绿 Sing With Me 陪我歌唱 Concert, Futsal Tournament, Romans 13

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