Friday, December 08, 2006


The vine dries up
And the fig tree fails;
The pomegranate, the palm also, and the apple tree,
All the trees of the field dry up.
Indeed, rejoicing dries up
From the sons of men. (Joel 1:12)

What’s eating you? What is devouring your substance, destroying your soul, and sucking the juice right out of you? If we could identify what consumes us, we might be able to identify with the plight of the people in the Book of Joel.

We live in a consumer culture. We consume for a living. We consume at a rate that is both astonishing and alarming. But we are also afflicted by consumers. We are under attack from the locusts of life.

The vivid imagery of Joel’s prophecy allows the reader to both see and hear the locusts in their destructive advance. What is left behind is destroyed, consumed, and stripped bare. The basic toolsfor living and rejoicing, grain and wine, have been devoured.

Joel presents a story in which God is able both to take away the basic blessings of life, and he is able to pour them out again in abundance. Blessing does not depend upon excellent agricultural practices, at least immediately. This does not excuse sloppiness or laziness on the part of the farmer. But blessing depends primarily upon God. God controls the weather, and commands the locusts. It all has to do with God. And God responds somewhat predictably. When the people do evil, God sends evil. When the people do good, God sends good. We don’t know why God waits to send evil until he does, or if he will ever relent and send good again. But we find a basic pattern.

It is interesting that the people are called to come together several times in the prophecy. But they do not come together to make a plan to deal with the locusts. They come and say, “What are we going to do about God?” It’s not the system, and the players in the system, that must be addressed. Our problem with God must be addressed. We are led into repentance.

Why does God act this way? Why does he send the pestilence that disrupts our worship and upsets our family life, that brings our employment to a standstill and removes gladness and pleasure from experience? Because God knows that we are consumers, and if he withholds (1:13) from us the goods of our consumption, then we will have to pause and look up. And if his people will not be consumed with their God, then they will surely not consume his blessing.

What Israel experienced agriculturally, affecting every other aspect of their life, we experience spiritually, affecting every other aspect of our lives. We tend, however, to portray our afflictions psychologically instead of spiritually. For instance, we feel “burned out” rather than “burned up” (Joel 1:19). But because of being trained toward therapy, we want advice in adjusting ourselves toward ourselves. But if we would understand these concepts spiritually, then we would know that what we need is not adjustment toward self, but adjustment toward God. The text gives clear advice on how to do this, but that is for another time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


I did not enter pastoral ministry out of admiration for the preacher on “Little House on the Prairie.” He, like many pastor figures portrayed on television, was a rather daft, clumsy character who had his fat dragged from the fire many times by the lead character of the show, Pa, who, by the way, had really great hair. We have come to picture the pastor/priest figure as passive, clueless, and misguided.

But there is another picture in the Bible. Whether it be Aaron’s running with his censer, taking his stand between the dead and the living to check the plague (Num 17), or Phinehas’ zeal in turning away God’s wrath by piercing the fornicators with a spear (Num 25), priests could also serve as God’s warriors.

My own definition of the function (don’t confuse this with office) of priest is one who serves by facilitating the relationship between God and man. Christ, as our high priest, is the ultimate fulfilment of this role. He goes to bat for God, speaking and serving honestly and truly, without compromise. And he goes to the mat for man, actually becoming the sacrifice that he offers for man’s atonement. He represents God to men, and he represents men to God. He fiercely battles the stubbornness of men’s hearts against God, and he bravely absorbs the wrath of God poured out against men. This is pictured graphically in Scripture by the sword: one which is thrust to his heart, confirming his death (Jn 19:34), and one which proceeds from his mouth, expressing his life and authority (Rev 1:16).

We, as priests (1 Pet 2:5), would do well to “cowboy-up” (to miserably mix metaphors). Whether we like it or not, we have a role in introducing God to man, and man to God, through the Gospel, that word which is “living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12). We need to engage in this activity with ferocity and bravery, even as we seek to serve like Christ, sacrificially.

Suffering Prophet

Classical theology has long referred to Christ as Prophet, Priest, and King. This provides a dependable and helpful outline to consider certain roles that Christ fulfilled. It occurred to me recently how strange these pictures are to us – or, how strangely we have come to construe these patterns. If we get these pictures wrong, we will have a faulty view of Christ. But we will also have a faulty view of our own discipleship, since we also are called to a fulfillment of these pictures, not in an ultimate sense, but functionally.

A Suffering Prophet
A prophet is a representative of some authority. He represents both in deed and in word. It would seem that a glorious authority would share his glory with his representative. In like manner, the scorn directed toward a despised despot would also be directed toward his prophet(s). We would have expected heaven’s representative to be highly revered. But because man is in rebellion against God, he actually responds with hostility against the Lord’s Christ, who is the perfect embodiment of the mind of God in both deed and in word, actually called “the Word” by John (1:1,14). We would expect God’s spokesman to have center stage, and to hold all people in rapturous attention. But we find Jesus on the edges of Galilean society, and only occasionally in the Judean Temple. He found little favor among the religious inner circle, though they claimed to know God’s word inside and out. But they proved that they did not when they rejected God’s living Word. Though charactized by surprising kindness and perceptive love, Jesus was hated. He was not what one would expect. He was the Suffering Prophet.

As you and I seek to accurately display the truth of the Gospel in deed and in word, we also should expect the same. People will not thank you when you kindly explain to them that they are sinners, and that they stand under God’s judgment nor when you make clear that they can not earn God’s favor, even though you are simply trying to relate the wonders of God’s grace. When you relate how you yourself have humbled yourself before God to receive the salvation that only he can give, they will often pity you and think you rather foolish. Aren’t we doing them a favor? That is not what we should expect.

Stay tuned for A Warrior Priest, and A Servant King.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Standing Aloof

“On the day that you stood aloof, … You too were as one of them. Obad. 11

Like me, what they did wasn’t all that bad. Though there were “strangers that carried off his wealth,” I didn’t do that. I didn’t steal. I took nothing that was not mine. And though there were “foreigners that entered his gate,” breaking and entering, that wasn’t me. I am not guilty of trespassing, of going where I do not belong. And though there were some who “cast lots for Jerusalem,” don’t lay that on me. I have no interest in them.

But the text is convicting. In standing aloof, “you too were as one of them.” It may not be so much what we do that convicts us. It may be what we don’t do.

One possible, positive response would be to stand up against that which is evil. That would certainly be in contrast to standing aloof. Be willing to protest. Speak up when you see a wrong. But let’s go a little further and examine this from a Gospel point of view.

With regard to wealth, the only real treasure is what God himself gives. The very best treasure is knowing God, a knowledge that God himself shares, and then sharing that knowledge of him. The greatest offense is not in carrying off wealth, but rather in hoarding it for ourselves. Though I do not take people’s money, I steal when I rob them of an opportunity to know God, when I stand aloof, and do not go to them with the Gospel.

With regard to trespassing, the definitions need to be reversed. I am not trespassing when I go visit my neighbor, just as he is not trespassing when he responds to an invitation to come over to my house. But I find myself guilty when I stay home alone, choosing my own isolation rather than interaction with needy neighbors, and when I prefer my own company to theirs. Trespassing is not the issue – but failing to make any kind of neighborly contact certainly is an issue.

Casting lots seems to be an effort to get what you can get. Take a chance. Maybe you will get lucky. But my responsibility is to sow seeds. I have not idea what will take root, what will spring up, or what will result in life that lasts forever. But I am a guilty soul when I fail to give what I can give, just as I would be guilty when I cast lots to get what I can get. And the first offense, having no interest at all, is at least as bad as the second.

I tend to look down on crooks. I think of myself as above them. And then this verse says, “you too (are) as one of them.”

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Small Things

“Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
You are greatly despised.” (Obad 1:2 NAS95)

I normally look at promises as good things. But in this case, they are rather foreboding. “I will make you small.” There are at least a couple of others in the book of Obadiah that match the mood: “I will bring you down” (Obad 1:4 NAS95); “You will be covered with shame,”
(Obad 1:10 NAS95). Not good. And it is true, that these words are words of judgment on Edom, especially because of their treatment of Israel.

But I can also see a fulfilment of these words/promises by Christ. To the prince of the universe, God says, “I will make you small.” To the eternal Son, he says, “I will bring you down.” To the Glorious One, it is said, “You will be covered with shame.” Was it because he committed Edom’s sins. No. But because he bore Edom’s sins. He takes our punishment.

But here we must take another step. For as the apostles accepted Christ’s order of events - that is, suffering precedes glory - it seems that the church also must accept that same order. And so if Jesus was willing to accept these words as personal promises, then so should I. “I will make you small.” Insignificant. Invisible. Buried.

Being consigned to smallness renders conversation about size irrelevant. It’s a discussion from which you walk away. But smallness did not mark the end of Jesus’ ministry. It provided the context. Bethlehem. Nazareth. Galilee.

Philippians 2 offers a template of the Obadiah promises. Jesus left heaven’s glory for earth’s servitude. “I will bring you down.” Adoration will be followed by criticism. The audience of many will largely abandon him. One who had looked to him for guidance now betrays him to enemy soldiers. Should we expect any less? The leader will be lonely, not only because he is out front of the pack, but because the pack hates his guts. Crucify him.

Self-esteem must give way to God-esteem and Christ-esteem. Because once you are covered with shame, that self-esteem thing just doesn’t work very well. Not only do other people hate you; you hate yourself. You can’t stand to be you, living where you live, and doing what you do. But that is hardly the issue, is it? It is so much more about who God is, and where he makes his presence known, and what he wants to do.

2 Peter says “great and precious promises.” “I will make you small.” “I will bring you down.” “You will be covered with shame.” Am I sure that I want to be a follower of Christ?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Internal Speech

“(You) who say in your heart,
‘Who will bring me down to earth?’” (Obad 1:3 NAS95)

We say a lot of things under our breath, in our hearts. What we really, truly believe is contained more in this internal speech than in the public, churchy declarations of our faith. What will most influence our actions and reactions is this hidden world of thought.

Abraham is publicized in the Bible as the man of faith. But there was a time when he said in his heart, “Will a child be born to a man one hundred years old? And will Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gen 17:17 NAS95). The man of faith was afflicted with doubt.

Esau was committed to decency during the lifetime of his father. But “Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.”” (Gen 27:41 NAS95). We can put on a nice face while holding hate in our hearts.

David embarrassed Michal. He was “acting the fool” due to his love for God, and she was more concerned with how his actions reflected upon her than upon God. And so, “she despised him in her heart.” (2Sam 6:16 NAS95). Maybe no one else knew, but do we really think it did not affect their relationship?

We think we can get away with secret sins. These types (and more) of internal speech fit the category. But they have an affect. They color how we hear and interpret God and his Word. They shade our view of ourselves and of others. They can be the voice of the enemy on our shoulder, whispering in our ear. And all the time we think it is our own enlightened sense doing the talking.

“You felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’
Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you;
For you have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’”
(Is 47:10 NAS95)

I need to come to a place where I do not trust my own thoughts. “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But he who walks wisely will be delivered.” (Prov 28:26 NAS95) I may very well be the worst liar I know, or what I find in my heart may be the mouthpiece for the worst liar that the world has ever known. “Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44 NAS95)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


We’ve been asking people this past week, “What do you think God is like?” That has yielded some predictable, and surprising answers. But maybe a more thoughtful question is, “What do you think God thinks of you?”

Most people seem to think that God is kind and forgiving. But at the same time, I suspect a whole lot of people think God is mad at them. But that doesn’t make sense, does it? How can God be both kind, and mad at me? And here’s the point: our thoughts of God are a mess!

If people think God is mad at them, it is an evidence of God’s kindness in retaining in their sinful hearts a remnant of the truth. The holy God must, by nature, be angry at sin – and his wrath hangs over the heads of sinners. If he were not angry at sin, he would not be holy.

Man’s most pressing need is to be set right with God. We are at odds with God and with his holy character. We are in rebellion against God. We are his enemies. How can that situation be remedied?

A key word for our answer appears in our new memory verses: Justified. It means that, appearing before the bar of God’s judgment, we are represented by Christ, who has borne our sin and our sin’s punishment. Standing in or behind Christ, God declares us “not guilty” by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice.

Our relationship with God the Judge has changed. We no longer stand under his wrath. We are no longer regarded as rebels or enemies. We no longer need fear God’s anger.

Justification doesn’t change us – it changes our relationship with God. There are other words and concepts which describe the changes that occur within our hearts and lives – but this word – justified – is the verdict that brings relief to our fears and rest to our dread – and sets in motion a tremendous change in our attitude toward God.

Now we can’t wait to talk about God and what he thinks of us.

Blessed Be Me!

Peter begins his first paragraph, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” It sounds like the right thing to say. It sounds Biblical, and churchy. We might all agree that it was the right way to begin a book of the Bible. We just don’t want to actually live that way.

The way that we want to live is, “Blessed be Me!” We want things to work out well for ourselves. We want to be assured of happiness, and to be able to attain success and to be recognized for it. We want our health to remain strong, our jobs to be stable, and our salararies to increase. We want our kids to be at the top of their class, and our property taxes to stay low. If all those things, and a few more, could be in order, then we would have the ideal conditions: “Blessed be Me!”

We think like this for at least two reasons. One reason is that we are taught to think this way by our culture. We live in a “me-first” world, and the combination of tremendous freedom and opportunity means that we can greedily pursue our own desires without guilt or penalty. In fact, such actions are rewarded and admired.

The other reason that we so easily continue in a “me-first” vein is because we are sinners. Sinners do not want God to be on the throne. We want the crown for ourselves. And though those who profess faith in Christ should find themselves in a daily battle with this sin and others, we have somehow accepted the myth that it is OK to re-verse the order of royalty in the world and re-write the Bible, so that instead of saying, with Peter, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” we say “Blessed be Me!”, and scarcely give it a thought.

To those more sensitive than ourselves, we would be wary of such blasphemy, and fearful of the God from whom we are stealing glory. As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

More than “Showing Up”

Our Sunday gatherings are extremely important. They are important because believers need to worship together. We need to be taught and trained. We need to be encouraged and warned. I believe that your participation in our Sunday gatherings is critical for your own spiritual lives, and for the mission of our church.

But our Sunday gatherings are not the most important part of your relationship with Christ or our church’s mission. Rather, it is how we relate to Christ through the course of the week, and how we represent Christ in all our relationships, and how we rest in Christ in all our difficulties – that’s what is more important.

Prayerfully, our times together on Sunday (and whenever else we may gather) help to prepare you (and our church as a whole) to live the resurrection life in a dying world. Whether we see the gathering of the church as a time of re-fueling, or of healing hurts, or as a vocational training center, teaching skills to be lived in the real world – we still must reject the notion that we have fulfilled our religious duty at noon on Sunday.

I confess that I have a problem in this area. I still notice who doesn’t “show up” on any given Sunday. And while the gatherings are critical, we need to find ways to get beyond mere attendance, and to find ways to be sure that you are prepared to live life.

Lord, I’m Committing this Day to You

If the Lord Jesus is Lord of our lives, then each day should be committed to him. If we are his servants, or more accurately, his slaves, then he owns our days – not just Sunday, but every day.

He is in charge of my agenda. He orders my appointments. He designs the things that go well, as well as the inconveniences.

He has the right of approval over all of my thoughts and my words. He has veto power over all of the things that I may think are bright or clever. I have no right to go out on my own authority, or to act as though I am merely representing my own thoughts or interests.

Yes, there are many times when I am not sure what I should do. And while, at times, I just take a stab at it, I also am in constant communication, asking, praying through, even discussing various issues.

But the ongoing communications may not be the most crucial. The most critical communication may be that first one, at the beginning of the day, before I even get out of bed. “Lord, I’m committing this day to you. I dedicate to you my energies and resources, all of which you have loaned to me in the first place. I pray for protection of my thoughts and words, that they would not be wayward, self-serving and sinful. I pray for opportunities to serve you in ways that will stretch me, and bring glory to you.”

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

“Go to Church” or, “Go as Church”

It’s Sunday morning, and it’s time to go to church. What a devastating idea! It’s not devastating because you can’t sleep in, or enjoy the Sunday paper, or go play golf. It’s devastating because the very idea “go to church” is so theologically twisted.

“The Church,” as defined in the Bible, is the Body of believers, the fellowship of the redeemed. As such, local groups meet together, most often in a building. But the truth is, they are the church – they do not go to church. They are church when they are gathered, and they are just as much church when they are scattered. Frankly, it is impossible to “go to church,” because church is not an address. It is a calling and a life.

Our Gatherings are important. We meet for Worship and for Teaching and for Training. We come together for the healing of hurts through the repetition of God’s promises and the encouragements of God’s people. But even more, we come together for preparation for service, for engagement in our world as ambassadors and representatives of Jesus Christ. And so our Gatherings are only successful so far as believers are encouraged and equipped to serve Christ in all the aspects of their lives.

Are you ever relieved when church is over? Get rid of that thought! It’s not over at noon. It’s actually time to “go as church.”

Heart, Eyes, and Soul

“but there the LORD will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul.” (Deut 28:65 NAS95S)
God’s curse lays heavily upon the people of Israel, because “you would not obey” (28:45); “you did not serve” (28:47); “if you are not careful” (28:58). This curse was the promise of God for disobedience, just as blessing was God’s promise for obedience. Today, as participants, not in the Old Covenant, but in the New Covenant, Christ has borne the curse for us. And yet I believe that there may be a spiritual warning here, even as God saw fit to communicate aspects of this curse in figurative language. Is it possible that, even for believers, there are these internal, spiritual consequences for not properly paying attention and taking care?

A Trembling Heart – a sense of dread exerts tremendous pressure on every aspect of a person. What he fears in his mind is experienced in his body. What weighs heavily on his heart causes his strength to melt away. Habakkuk 3:16 shows the physical aspect inwardly.
I heard and my inward parts trembled, At the sound my lips quivered.
Decay enters my bones, And in my place I tremble.
Because I must wait quietly for the day of distress,
For the people to arise who will invade us.
Is this dreadfulness actually a gift from God, to lead us to acknowledge our powerlessness, and lean more totally on Him? Perhaps this trembling at dread can be replaced by trembling before the divine:
The LORD reigns, let the peoples tremble;
He is enthroned above the cherubim, let the earth shake! Psa. 99:1
Failing Of Eyes – the rarely used word can be found in the LXX, and indicates being used up, often in reference to death (my time is used up). The eyes no longer see as they once did – the horizon, the panorama, the grand vista is no longer available. One’s sense of hope is chained to the present, limited by loss of vision. It would be easy to run headlong into the whole “vision” thing at this point, but it may be helpful to think about what happens when we lose a vision of God’s glory, when we lose attentiveness to God’s Word, when our love grows cold and our endurance falters. Old Christians who are not constantly renewed are poor leaders, just as outdoor experts with poor eyesight have lost their ability to serve as guides.
Despair Of Soul – a soul that melts is one that has lost its internal pressure, the sustaining breath of God that is fundamental for life. It seeks to survive from poorer sources. He is no longer the satisfied soul that delights in God, but rather has become the shriveled soul that has forgotten God.
The remedy for any of these conditions is a return to God in humility, asking him to do what only he can do, bring revival of heart, eyes, and soul – of the whole person, as I return to him in repentance and trust. In so doing, I am thankful even for the unpleasant gifts, since their intent is to drive this sheep back to the Shepherd: “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” 1 Peter 2:25.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Dedication to God's Will

I am taking my cue from 1 Peter 4:1 and Christ’s way of thinking. Let’s fly through Peter and try to learn about the mindset of Christ who suffered:

“And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1Pet 2:4-5 NAS95S)

The living stones of the living temple must have a resemblance to the cornerstone. This is a tremendously high calling, though it will not be so in the eyes of unbelievers.

“For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously;” (1Pet 2:21-23 NAS95S)

The results and the reactions are not my responsibility: they are God’s. The goals will not be accomplished by forcefulness or persuasiveness of personality or words. It is the gentle approach; the suffering approach. Peter wants to bring this home to us as well by using nearly the same closing line with regard to Christian sufferers in 4:19 “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;” (1Pet 3:18 NAS95S)

Divine purposes. That’s what Christ had in his heart as he suffered: God’s purpose “that he might bring us to God.” If I am to “sanctify Christ as Lord in (my) heart,” then perhaps a part of that is to sanctify also Christ’s purpose, which is to bring people to God, to gather more living stones by portraying and proclaiming the beauty of a suffering Christ to people around us.

“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” (1Pet 4:1 NAS95S)

Dedication to the will of God. That was the theme of Christ’s life. Peter is warning people like me that if I am not so dedicated, then I will indeed be dedicated to “the lusts of men.” I have to be honest and careful about sin. It is not only damaging and destructive; it is a red flag that I am not pursuing the will of God, which was the mind-set of Christ.

Errant Intentions

We talked a lot about “mindset’ last night. I’m trying to think about how the Bible talks of this subject.

Simon the sorcerer, in Acts 8, was an apparent convert. He seems to accept the message, and then wants to manipulate the means. Peter rebukes him and says:
“May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right (straight) before God. “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.” (Acts 8:20-22 NAS95S)

“Hearts not right” require repentance, repent being a common command in Acts. I also found interesting the phrase “the intention of your heart.” It contains a word that is rare:

e¶nnoia, f; e˙pi÷noia, f: that which is intended or purposed as the result of thinking — ‘intention, purpose.’
e¶nnoiaÚ ‘it judges the thoughts and purposes of the heart’ He 4:12.
e˙pi÷noiaÚ ‘perhaps he will forgive you for having such a purpose in your heart’ Ac 8:22.

The word is used in apocryphal literature – not inspired; but convicting.
For the thoughts of mortal men are miserable, and our devices are but uncertain. Wis. 9:14

The cross-reference of a related word with Heb 4:12 is familiar, and important.
“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. ”

And then there is this positive reference:
“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” (1Pet 4:1 NAS95S)

The dictionary article on this word collects some related words together, but gives some good things to think about:
nouvßb, noo/ß, noiŒ, nouvn m; dia¿noiab, aß f; e¶nnoiaa, aß f: a particular manner or way of thinking — ‘way of thinking, disposition, manner of thought, attitude.’
‘(such a person is) puffed up, for no reason at all, by his human way of thinking’ Col 2:18.
‘at that time you were strangers and enemies because of the manner in which you thought and the evil things you did’ Col 1:21.
‘you too must strengthen yourselves with the same way of thinking’ 1Pe 4:1.
In a number of languages it may be necessary to render ‘way of thinking’ by a clause, for example, ‘how people think.’ In the case of 1Pe 4:1, it may be necessary to translate ‘you too must strengthen yourselves by thinking just like Christ thought.’

So I’m thinking about errant intentions, which Peter calls “wickedness,” and associates with “gall” and “bond” (‘for I see that you are full of bitter envy (or ‘are bitterly envious’) and are a prisoner of sin’) I’m thinking about the need for repentance, and what is wrong, and what needs to change in my heart. I’m thinking about the Gospel, and it’s ability to cut to the quick. And I’m thinking about Christ, and his way of thinking [Phil 2 will have to be a stop on this journey (“Let this mind be in you”)]. I’m thinking about a world that is filled to the brim with wrong thinking, and the unlikelyhood of 4 guys sitting at a table conquering the problem, but that, if we submit to Christ’s Lordship, it just may happen.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Belong, in 1 Corinthians

What Does It Mean to Belong? 1 Corinthians

A. It means that we have been called, or summoned, by God, to participate in a new fellowship, centered in Christ, which will re-shape our intellectual framework (2:5); our relationships, both with others in the fellowship, and with those in the world; and our practices and our behaviors. (See list of verses on “call”).

B. It means that we have been set in spiritual relationship with one another as a brotherhood, with responsibility to and for one another, and with the shared privilege of one day enjoying the inheritance (6:9; 15:50). (See list of verses).

C. It means that a drastic change has happened (is happening) in our lives (6:11), containing both an inward and outward dimension. The church is pleased to accept, on the basis of a sincere outward expression, the reality of a spiritual inner operation (see chart below).

D. It means that we participate together in fellowship activity for the edification of the assembly and for cooperative service and witness. This is to be done in ways that honors Christ as opposed to other individuals, and that upholds Christ’s character as opposed to accomodating conduct which is dishonoring to Christ’s name (reputation). (See list of verses on “come together” and just a few other instances of “together”-type words).

E. The church has both a universal aspect (throughout the world and a local aspect. While being mindful of and active in our partnership with the universal church (16:1), our practical exercises and disciplines take place in a local setting (see list of verses on “church” and “churches”).


The Savior of the World
John 4:42; 1 Jn 4:14

God our Savior
1 Tim 1:1; Jude 25

God my Savior
Luke 1:47

Our Savior God
1 Tim 2:3; Titus 1:3; 2:10; 3:4

Savior (God)
1 Tim 4:10

Savior (Christ)
Eph 5:23

Leader and Savior (Jesus)
Acts 5:31

A Savior, Jesus
Acts 13:23

Our Savior, Christ Jesus
2 Tim 1:10

Christ Jesus, our Savior
Titus 1:4; 3:6

A Savior, who is Christ, the Lord
Luke 2:11

A Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ
Phil 3:20

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
2 Peter 1:11; 2:20; 3:18

Lord and Savior
2 Pet 3:2

Our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ
Titus 2:13

Grace Appearing

Grace has appeared, time and time again. In fact, every time God shows His hand, every time God reveals Himself, it is an act of grace. Since the highest possible good is to have a glimpse of God, then for God to pull back the curtain just a bit, it is an act of grace.

God has done this is creation. We can see God’s grace as we use the senses built into our own frames. Through our own eyes, created by God, we have a window on the world that is, in large part, an expression of God’s grace.

Why do I say, “in large part?” Is not all the world completely an expression of God’s grace? No, because it has been marred by sin. And so what we see, and the very eyes with which we see, hold deceptions and hide glory. And so we stand in need of God’s grace again – not as uncreated ones – He has already done that – but now as unredeemed ones. We stand in need of the grace of redemption so that we might one day enjoy fully the grace revealed in the new creation.

But – and there seems always to be a “but” – we resist His redeeming grace. We think we can fix things ourselves, or we prefer to live independently, foolishly thinking that we can live better apart from His grace.

And then, God’s grace appears anyway. He keeps working, often so subtly, in ways that we would not expect. He softens our heart with a trial. He invades our thoughts through a poem or a song. He corrects our thinking through a children’s lesson, and chastises our stubbornness with a memory from the distant past. In surprising ways, when we least expect it, God’s grace appears.

This is analogous to grace’s greatest appearing, when Jesus was born and placed in a feed trough. The Savior came as a Servant, and the King was treated as a criminal. The power of God’s grace was manifested in great weakness, and when we saw the glory of God’s grace in the sacrifice of His Son, and our pride was busted, our hearts were melted. We became captives, no longer of sin, but of God’s great grace.

“Grace, grace – God’s grace;
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt . .”

Believing in Jesus: Neither Minimalist nor Maximalist

Alistair Begg (last 2 weeks recordings) objected to a minimalist definition of what it means to be a Christian: just believe in Jesus. That could apply to most anyone, with no commitment, and no life change. On the other hand, a maximalist definition might say that to be a Christian means to be perfectly Christ-like. We all have a long way to go on that one. What does the Bible say is involved in true saving faith?

An illustration of this comes from being clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Otherwise, the best we can do “filthy rags.” For the minimalist, maybe that means taking the “righteous robe” from Jesus and simply hanging it in the closet. One could make the argument that such “closet Christians” are not Christians at all. On the other hand, one might expect that if you are dressed in Christ’s righteousness, that you will be mistaken for Jesus. And that simply does not happen, though we would expect that, once saved, we are not just like our old selves. People say, “there’s something different about you.”

We are going to study today in the first half of the Gospel of John. He uses an interesting phrase – we believe into Jesus. Let’s see if we can figure out what this involves.

1. to believe means to receive.
“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12 ESV)
Think of a receiver on a car, that accepts a trailer hitch. What would it mean, if to believe in Jesus meant to “get hitched” to him. Can you think of other, maybe better illustrations of “receiving?”
Q: can we be confident that we are believers when there seems to be little connection, little reception, between ourselves and the Lord?

2. To believe means to “see his glory.”
“This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11 ESV)
Before that, it is like drinking water. But for those who see Jesus in His heavenly dimension, as the Ultimate Fulfilment and Absolute Satisfaction, it is as different as water is from wine.
Q: can we be confident that we are believers when we treat Jesus as though he were just “another guy”?

3. to believe means to understand what is at stake.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:16-19 ESV)

Perish - that is the penalty for sin. You embrace that fact that you are a sinner. You come to terms with the fact that you stand under the sentence of condemnation, and that your future is summed up in the word, “perish.” To believe means to understand the terrible problem that exists because of sin.
Q: can we be confident that we are believers when we never admit that we have a problem?

4. to believe means to obey the Son.
“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36 ESV)

It implies that you see the Son as an authority in your life. What is implied in this obedience?
Q: can we be confident that we are believers when we do not respond to Christ’s authority?

5. to believe means to “come to Jesus” for your daily (spiritual) sustenance.
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35-36 ESV)

No one eats just once, and anyone who says they believe, and yet does not continually keep coming to Jesus does not seem to have truly believed. This, of course, is the idea behind “Daily Bread,” which implies that true Christians will desire a daily relationship with the Lord.
Q: can we be confident that we are believers when we have only a 1-time experience of coming to Christ?

6. to believe means to have the Spirit,
“Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:38-39 ESV)

It is the Spirit within us who produces a “heavenly flow.” His presence will be expressed. How does this show itself?
Q: can we be confident that we are believers when evidence of the Spirit’s presence is absent?

7. to believe means to expect (hope)
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV)

We believe, in the face of earth’s impossibilities, that there is absolutely nothing that Jesus cannot do, even if it means raising the dead. What do we expect Jesus to do? What is our hope?
Q: can we be confident that we are believers when we live as though this is all there is?

8. to believe means to have been changed
“While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.” (John 12:36 ESV)
“I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46 ESV)

We have changed from one sphere (darkness) to another (light); and to be related to the King of the new kingdom (sons of light) as opposed to being related to the Tyrant of the old kingdom.
Q: can we be confident that we are believers when when there is no distinguishable difference between our lifestyles and those of the world around us.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Mere Mortals?

We are mere mortals. Or are we?

From a biological point of view, we are indeed mere mortals. We are involved in a cycle of life and death. We can take no credit for our lives, and we are not able to evade death. The biology and the chemistry is determinative for the beginning and the end, and some people say for all that happens in the middle, even our passions and decisions.

But from a theological point of view, we are immortal. We are more than mortal. Yes, we stand under humanity’s sentence of death, but our soul, and our bodies, due to resurrection, will live forever. We deal with death, but we are not defined by death.

If we are not defined by death, then what defines us? I believe the Biblical answer, though hugely profound, is quite simple. What is our standing with regard to God? Are we with Him, or apart from Him? After all, He is the Creator and the final Arbiter, the Beginning and the End. When the drama of Creation, Redemption and Consummation are finally completed, it will be a reflection of who He is much more than who we are.

So the largest issue for each baby, teen and adult is this: what is your standing with regard to God? This issue is more critical than health and nutrition; than education and life/social skills; than money and property. On that day when we make the amazing transition from this world as we know it to an eternal future lived either in God’s eternal favor or God’s eternal approbation, all these other issues will be insignificant. The life lived for a few years in this arena will be only a speck compared with the times of our eternal destiny.

So why do we often choose to live as though we were are mortals? Why do we live as though biology and chemistry are determinative? Why do we invest so heavily in a passing world, and so little in an eternal one? Is it because we do not believe in God’s future, but only in our present? Is it because we take the gods of this world seriously, but not the God who made heaven and earth?

There is a stupid saying that goes, “If you have your health, you have everything.” No, if you have God, then you have everything. And if you do not have God, then everything you have will not be nearly enough.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Sin’s Execution

Depending on what books you read, the word “execution” can mean different things. Brian White and I read the business book, “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done” by Bossidy and Charan. They insist that our plans result in action, in active execution. We hear this meaning in the cliches repeated by sports team members: “we just need to execute better.”

That wouldn’t be a very nice game if they meant another meaning of the word “execute,” which is “to carry out a sentence of death.” Readers of history will come across many instances of both executioners and martyrs.

So which meaning do I intend by my title, “Sin’s Execution?” Both! First of all, sin works – it is active and it is productive, and it keeps on working in your life and mine. The trouble often is that our sin is more diligent than we are in our own spiritual watchcare. And so, the conclusion is, sin executes; it works.

But sin is, in the other sense, in the process of being executed. The sentence of death has been rendered on sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and sin is making it’s long, slow march to the gallows. The trouble is, it still wreaks havoc in the lives of passers-by, which includes all of us.

We would like to jump forward from the throng and stab sin to death. But – and this is very important – we cannot. It is beyond our power. In a strange sense, we have to say, sin is better than we are.

So what are we to do with Paul’s admonition in our memory verse to “put to death the deeds of the body” (Rom 8:13)? Here, we must put to death the various expressions of sin’s activity in our lives. We must keep pulling the weeds. But if we think that having once pulled the weeds, we have put an end to all that is wild and unwanted, we are dangerously fooling ourselves. I must conclude that I am not sin’s final executioner, but thankfully, Jesus is.

Monday, May 01, 2006

What Does it Mean to Belong (a study in Acts)

What Does It Mean to Belong?
A Study in the Book of Acts
Monday, May 1, 2006

Review from last month’s study on “joining”: we looked broadly at "cleaving and leaving" (Gen 2:24) and at "clinging" to right things and the wrong things, along with "holding fast." These references were not about "joining the church", but rather God being joined with His people and individuals' participation in that people. An excellent illustration is a husband and wife being joined together.

Acts 9:26
And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.

Note: “Joining” in the Bible is not an organizational term, even though we use it that way. The Bible does not speak of “joining the church” (at least so far in our study) in a formal way. Rather, it seems to speak of a “mystical” or “organic” union the is created between God and His people, and individuals as “joined” to that people, even as a husband and wife find “oneness” when they become married. It is not organizational; some have said “organic” is a good word.

Definition of a Disciple: (note what is visible, and what is not)

Acts 2:21
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Acts 2:38
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Acts 3:19
Repent therefore, and turn again (a changed life?), that your sins may be blotted out,

Acts 11:26 (an interesting combination of terms)
and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.

What Kind of Gatherings?

Acts 2:44
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. (Who else would have even wanted to be there?)

Acts 13:44
The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. (obviously not just believers)

Acts 14:22
strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Note: it seems that there is a very great danger is sharing a message designed for believers with unbelievers, in that it may hide the fact that what is most desperately needed is to be saved in the first place. Encouraging someone to continue in the faith who is not yet even in the faith may be a huge dis-service.

Acts 14:27
And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.

Note: this hits on the aim of our study. Did they know who was part of the church and who was not? Did they tabulate, keep records, develop a system? Does the Bible describe such a system?

Acts 15:30
So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. (Who did they call? Was their contact list their membership list?)

Acts 20:7
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.

Note: Were there precautions to be sure that only believers were participating in the Lord’s Supper? I think this would almost amount to “church membership. Are the careful use of the ordinances an appropriate way to oversee the makeup of the congregation: clear testimony that is consistent with Christlike conduct; and regular participation in the Lord’s table? This would be a more “pastoral” type of oversight as opposed to an organizational system or program. Cf. the next reference.

Acts 10:47
“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Word Study: “Added”

Acts 2:41
So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. (who did the adding? Cf. The next reference.)

Acts 2:47
praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

Acts 5:14
And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women,

Note: but can we conclude the same thing here, that the congregation or the leaders were not the ones doing the adding? But note that this verb is always passive (were added) as opposed to active (they added) except where it says that “the Lord added” (2:47)

Acts 11:24
for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

Word Study: “Number(s)” (Greek word looks like “arithmetic”)

Acts 4:4
But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. (if they were numbering, weren’t they counting; and if they were counting, isn’t likely that they were writing it down, kind of like a membership list? Or was only God keeping track?)

Acts 4:32
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (I guess if you weren’t “of one heart and soul,” you must not have been a believer)

Acts 6:7
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

Acts 11:21
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.

Acts 16:5
So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.

Expectations for Growth:

Acts 9:31
So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.

Some thoughts on and quotes from Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, in his chapter on “A Biblical Understanding of Church Membership”

What is the Church? “The church is the body of Christ, the local collection of Christians committed to Christ and to each other?” (p.150)
Why Join a Church? In this section, Dever gives many logical and sensible arguments for being part of a church. But his treatment does not give a Biblical basis for the mechanics of membership. Can you be part of the family with or without the use of an organizational tool?
What Does Church Membership Entail? There is to be both an expression of faith (baptism) and a commitment to “the faith,” that is, an agreement with the doctrine of the church, and further, an agreement to membership responsibilities. These responsibilities are largely Bible-based, but are selective, and codified form. They have become an organizational tool rather than the organic description that we find in the NT.

Note: Dever’s conclusions are based on his study of the whole of Scripture, and then fleshed out practically in organizational terms. I believe that he is godly, wise, and intelligent. He is also a very strong leader, perhaps with a strong bent toward organization. And so I am not saying this is wrong. We are simply involved in an ongoing study of what the Bible clearly presents, and then will strive to adopt a practice the re-presents the Bible’s teaching.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Walking in the Spirit - Alternative Living

If we do not live by the Spirit, what are the alternatives? If we do not live by the Spirit, what are the dynamic principles of life to which we will turn? Answers are easily at hand.

We can live by the flesh – raw human energy. In fact, that is our habit from birth. And our flesh has a certain vitality to it, especially when we are young. We can run, jump and dash about, though as we age, we find that such activities require recovery time, and we begin to face the fact that the flesh has a diminishing vitality. It ends in death. “All flesh is like grass, and all it’s glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers; the flower fades…”

We can also attempt to live by the Law – performance energy that desires to meet and exceed standards, gain approval and merit reward. In Jewish life, this Law took the form of Torah; in our secular society, we can see it in the ladder-climbing of the
corporation (lessons learned on college campuses) and in the one-upmanship that causes us to over-reach for the latest clothes, the bigger house, and the fancier cars. But these rat races are cruel, cut-throat, and often laced with lies. The profit professed doesn’t disclose the hidden costs, and the acquisitions, in the end, do not satisfy. As we proudly clutch today’s prize, we realize that tomorrow’s race has already begun, and that these games will go on until we give up, or die trying.

And so Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers invites us to embrace Christ; and in so doing, our memory verse (Gal. 5:25-26) instructs us concerning this brand new principle of living that, unlike all others, delivers what it promises – the Spirit gives life! Commit to walking (living) by this rule, by the Divine Third Person who right now, right in here (tap your heart) creates resurrection life that becomes ever more lively and Who helps us lay aside silly, human habits of preening and pride.

Walking in the Spirit - Footsteps

We are challenged to “walk in the footsteps” in two passages, one dealing with Abraham, and another with Christ, but both helping us understand what it means to walk in the Spirit.

Abraham is our founding father in the faith according to Paul in Romans 4. He is not only the father of the Jewish people, biologically, but the father of all other believers as well (the uncircumcised). He is the representative figure of faith in the Bible, as Adam is the representative figure of flesh (living independently from God). As humans, we stand in Adam’s shadow, and share in his character(istics). As believers, we stand in Abraham’s shadow, and share in his character (istics). And so we “walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had” (Rom 4:12).

But Abraham is not only a shadow-caster. He also pre-figures our Savior, Jesus Christ. As David, the great Israelite king, pre-figured the greater King,

Christ (though imperfectly), so also Abraham, the father of faith, pre-figures the perfectly Faithful One, (even though Abraham was not perfectly faithful). Abraham teaches us 1) to be faithful, and to take God at His Word. He also taught us 2) to look forward to the One who would be perfectly faithful –

This takes us to Peter’s reference to Christ, who “also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21). Peter has just said that suffering for doing good “is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” As we march in Jesus’ parade, following in his steps, we share in the grace that is His, and which he shares, and which we also should share.

So what does it mean to walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:25-26)? It means to take God at His Word, and allow our lives to be shaped by that Word. It means to accept rejection even as we serve others sacrificially. May the Spirit help us become faithful servants.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Associations of Ideas

Trilogies have long been useful to me in thinking about life and ministry. Certainly, meditating on the Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit, is valuable and needed for us all. From Dorothy Sayers, this thought was enriched by her discussion of Idea, Word, and Expression. And then theology has long suggested the trilogy of roles for the Son: Prophet, Priest and King. Also, I grabbed hold of Richard Hays’ use of Cross, Community and New Creation in his book, The Moral Vision of the New Testament. This led me to realize that my own discipleship must be characterized by courage, compassion, and creativity. Admittedly, I probably missed major portions of his argument in the book, but I co-opted the trilogy, nonetheless. Eugene Peterson, in his books on the pastorate, defines the role as being a combination of theologian, pastor and poet, even as he is involved in the functions of student of Scripture, servant in prayer, and spiritual director. I have taken this further in the life of our church with a commitment to thought-ful understanding of the Gospel, a care-ful attention to one another in ministry, and a meaning-ful participation in kingdom living which must be, by definition, counter-cultural. Finally, in recently reading Will Metzer’s book on evangelism, Tell the Truth, I have been thinking about the makeup of the human individual, and the familiar trilogy of intellect, emotions and will, though I feel more comfortable using Bible terms like heart and spirit than those used in popular psychology.

Like the old, three-legged stool, I find a certain stability in these collections of words and ideas. The test, I suppose, is if they actually help me to understand important concepts accurately, and then implement the truths properly. The tools can be used to spot weaknessess, areas of neglect that would produce an imbalance, and therefore, sin. They prod my mind to look for new associations, like working a puzzle, without irresponsibly taking hold of every new idea that flies about.

What patterns and outlines are important in the way that your mind works? And in all of our thinking, what walls or fences need to be moved or torn down, since, instead of corraling complementary concepts, they obstruct the free flow and proper association of ideas that are now segregated in our minds? Also vitally important, are our formulations helping us to not only hold correct beliefs, but to also put our beliefs into godly (and Christ-like, and spiritual) practice.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

No Such Thing as a Village Pastor

Villages may have Supervisors, but they do not have Pastors. It is Churches that have Pastors, and it is best of Churches do not have Supervisors or other Politicians.

This thought, easily misunderstood, came to me this week due to several civic appearances offered me. I was offered to speak at the kickoff meeting for the American Cancer Society walk-a-thon. Then a phone call came asking if I would give an invocation at the beginning of a triathlon at 7 a.m. this Sunday morning. Two messages were left this past week on the answering machine from unknown ladies, seeking a venue and (I assume) an official for Spring and Summer weddings.

On the one hand, I am thankful for various opportunities to minister and serve. But holding firmly in mind that my first responsibility is to serve Christ, not just the public, my message in each instance may come across as a bit im-politic.

I believe that the fight against cancer is a worthy pursuit. I also want to say that escaping cancer is not near so important as knowing the One who has defeated death, and that to survive cancer only to experience hell is a very small victory.

I admire those who train and endure great pain in order to compete in a triathlon (though I don’t understand these people). As I think about how to compose a prayer to serve as an invocation (invoking the name, presence and help of God) for this situation, I am compelled to ask that these individuals may somehow be moved to take at least a measure of the drastic steps to improve their souls as they have their bodies, and that this Lord’s Day event might be given over to some consideration of the Holy Trinity even as they immerse themselves in a machoistic, masochistic trilogy of competition.

And as I talk with currently unknown-to-me couples who want to get married, I undersand that they are under great stress and pressure to put together an event that is made of up of countless, critical details. And with all this on their minds, they have little patience to listen to me say what is most on my mind, that the very best preparation for their marriage is to deal with their current divorce from God, and that the love and submission patterns described in the Bible do not make much sense if one is not a follower of Christ.

No, villages do not have pastors. Nor do they really want them, at least not this kind. But it is partly up to you, congregation, to make sure that this pastor doesn’t backslide into being a politician.

Monday, January 30, 2006

What Does It Mean to Endure?

We are admonished in Scripture “to endure.” But what does endurance look like? Your answer will depend partly on your view of the world and the nature of sin. Your view of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus will define “endurance,” as well as your future expectations for the fulfilment of the plan of God.

I’ve been thinking about endurance from three categorical positions. In order to draw out distinctions, I have described the more extreme elements of these religious positions, so the reader should understand my usage and be careful not to take offense.

1. Fundamentalism
a. the world is evil and headed for hell
b. separation and isolation are marks of discipleship
c. evangelism is quick and pointed, like a tract (black and white; get in and out quickly)
d. often leads to self-righteousness and hatefulness, since a key fundamentalist skill is pointing out evil and error. Because of the priority of separation, this is a religion that is largely invisible to and misunderstood by the world
e. endurance means being different, and staying different

2. Liberalism
a. the world is basically good, and, incrementally, becoming more heavenly
b. social actions are the marks of discipleship
c. evangelism is love in deed, and non-judgmental (many moral issues are psychologized, except, of course, judgmentalism)
d. often leads to a religion that makes no difference, since it looks exactly like the world
e. endurance means continuing to love and share, to be continually more open-minded and ultimately a-moral

3. Evangelicalism
a. the world is both good, as created by God, and evil, as fallen
b. there is a pattern of both separation from the world, and engagement with the world; our lives in the world are filled with both attachments and detachments in ways that often lead to painful decisions. The mark of discipleship is being a follower/learner of Jesus as guided by Word and Spirit.
c. evangelism is an invitation to an impossibility – to die in order to live; to join a new family; to step into a new humanity that has a divine history and an eternal destiny
d. often leads to waywardness, since the paradoxical nature of the Christian life and the Church can only be discerned spiritually – and if the Word is not obeyed, and the Spirit is not present and active, then this religion becomes only pretense and play-acting
e. endurance, then, means living lives of obedience, sensitive to the leading of the Spirit so as to be guided through the difficult decisions of service and sacrifice the call for dying to sin and self in order to live to God.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

God: Both Immanent and Transcendent

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Lousville and an outspoken Christian commentator on cultural issues, appeared on Larry King’s program this past week, opposed by a homosexual actor. Mohler referred to the enduring standards of the transcendent God, which establish marriage as being between a man and a woman, and which condemn homosexual activity. His opponent replied that he also talked to this transcendent God, and that this God had told him in his heart that what he was doing was just fine.

You know how those talk shows work – you can never explain anything fully. I’m sure Mohler would have liked to critique the young man’s answer, because he had traded the transcendence of God for immanence. What we must learn to do is hold both in a balanced tension.

Transcendence means that God is “out there.” He is beyond the constraints of time and space and individual situations. He is above the fray; He is sovereign. But a problem arises when we remove transcendence from its tension with immanence. We begin to think of God as being so far away, He can be ignored, and we are left to live our lives as we please.

Immmanence means that God is “in here.” He has come close to us by revealing Himself to us, by sending His Son for our sakes, and by giving His Spirit to all who receive His Son in faith. But this does not mean that we can privatize God, individualize Him, or tailor Him to our own views and desires. He still remains the transcendent God whose morality is fixed eternally according to His righteousness.

One of the comforts of the truth of transcendence is that God is big enough to handle the biggest problems of the universe. One of the comforts of immanence is that God cares even about the smallest details of our lives. Our prayers often indicate that we are making the same mistake as the young man on Larry King, when it is all about “me, me, me.” Let’s try and stay in balance.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

What Are We To Do With an Angry God?

“What Are We To Do with an Angry God?
Judges 1:1-3:6

First Introduction: Israel’s Decreasing Influence; Increasingly Influenced (1:1-2:10)
A. The Trend – as the tribes begin to conquer, we see a trend from overpowering influence on the ungodly culture to lessening influence (Judg. 1:19,21,27-30). The tipping point occurs at v.31, where it is not now a question of how much influence the people of God will exert, but rather, to what degree they will be influenced by the ungodly culture. In v.34, it degenerates to the point of the tribe of Dan being pressed. As we look at our contemporary situation, I believe that we are on the latter side of this tipping point, more influenced by our ungodly culture than exerting a godly influence.

B. The Consequence (Judg. 2:2-3, ESV) – Ben told me a story following our meeting about a coyote that he found being harried by their dogs. It had been caught in a trap (a snare), and therefore one of its “wrists” was broken. He skinned the animal, and found some rather large thorns embedded. The “snares” and “thorns” had rendered the animal unable to defend itself – and so do we when we expose ourselves to the influence of an ungodly culture.

C. The Result (Judg. 2:10, ESV) – we no longer know the Lord in the fullness of His Biblical self-revelation, and we have twisted expectations for what He can do or what He should do.

The Story of Adoni-Bezek (1:1-7)
• He at one time had subjected 70 kings to servitude – they had been placed “under his feet”
• He suffered a similar fate, and had his thumbs and big toes cut off, meaning that he lost the ability to wield weapons and to take an aggressive stance
• He found it only reasonable that “as I have done, the Lord has repaid me” – a conclusion that we miss today, in spite of the fact the truth of God's "repayment" is found throughout the Scriptures

A Review of the “Repayment” theme in Scripture
Here are a selection of just 10 texts: Job 34:10-12; Ps 27:4; Rev 22:12; 2 Cor 5:10; 1 Pet 1:17; Jer 17:10; Rev 2:23; Acts 10:42; Eccl 11:9; Jer 51:56

Second Introduction: Specific Offenses and God’s Response (2:11-3:6) – these 4 terms, from 2:12-14, can be illustrated by the pain of a family in the process of breaking up. It is we who have cheated on God.
A. Abandonment – you cheated on me
B. Provocation – and you have thrown you betrayal in my face
B’ Kindled anger – I’ve had it up to here – I can’t take any more of your unfaithfulness
A’ Withdrawal – you’re going to have to leave

Analysis of a Divine “Lawsuit” (Hos 4:1; 12:2; Mic 6:1,2)
Decide, who the different key players are in this lawsuit:
a. Plaintiff; the Accused;
b. the Judge; the Jury;
c. the Prosecuting Attorney; the Defense
If you see it the same way I do, God is the Plaintiff, we are the Accused. God is the Judge, and He is the jury. What is more, He is the prosecuting attorney, and we stand before Him with virtually no defense.

Application: What Defense?
But what God has done is to give His Son, first in our place, and then as our defense. He poured out His wrath or vengeance on our sin, but since Jesus bore our sin, this punishment fell upon him. Secondly, He is now our defense attorney, so that when God looks at us, He sees us through our defense attorney, and finds that thepenalty for our sin has been paid.

This truth is laid out in the hymn, “Jesus Paid It All.” The first line of the third verse goes like this:
For nothing good have I Whereby Thy grace to claim;

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Church - and the Need for Renewal

“the church is the front where all of these other battles are joined simultaneously—
1. our view of ourselves as consumers who are sovereign rather than seeing that sovereignty in God,
2. ourselves as unique selves rather than as those sharing the same human nature,
3. as those who are only wounded or maybe deficient rather than sinful,
4. as those who find God within rather than as those who are addressed from without,
5. as those who shape reality rather than respond to it,
6. those who choose rather than those who are chosen,
7. those who see in Christ only a source of therapeutic aid rather than the One who holds all of reality together. “

These words belong to David Wells, written in a response to a Roundtable discussion on the Reformation21 website. He is responding to those reviewing his new book, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ In A Postmodern World. He responds to critique with a more penetrating self-critique, and then goes on to write about what is prohibiting the church from taking Scripture, God, sin, and Christ seriously.

Of these seven points listed above, we have been addressing several in some ways, and some points have been neglected.

Concerning #1, we speak of our consumer culture often, and we have suggested that it will take serious activity in at least three different spheres to help one move the center from self to God: corporate worship in which the Word of God is seriously preached; personal devotion in which the heart is laid bare and serious thinking takes place; and group interaction where one is called upon to express their faith in word and deed.

Concerning #2, it seems to me that the Martin Luther King, Jr. observances point to this truth. How is it that it was so deeply ingrained into a white person’s thinking that a black person was less than human, or less human, or of less value? How could that thought exist in a Christian? And the question for today, how does it continue to exist, not only with regard to those who have black skin, but those who are different in other ways?

Concerning #3, I do not know precisely what other preachers in town preach, but I wonder if there is any other church that addresses seriously the subject of sin.

Concerning #4, “God-within” seems to be the major trend of evangelicalism today, and the popular movements, whether mega- or emergent, are drifting this direction.

Concerning #5, we are oblivious to our vulnerability in the shaping and defining of our view of the world. We think we are masters of our minds and affections, even as we sit in front of our televisions and let programmers and advertisers shape reality for us.

Concerning #6, this seems to be a rewording of #1 – “let God be God, and every man a liar”

Concerning #7, “holding all things together” is a translation of the title of this blog, anakephalaiosasthai, the form of the Greek word found in Ephesians 1:10. I must do a better job in the ways that I habitually use language to describe the importance of Christ. We, in our culture, too easily interpret what we hear as, “what’s in it for me?” That is not the kind of leap that leads one to fly to Christ or to cling to Christ, as one finds in the verbiage of Charles Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Nowhere to hide - No safe place to stand

I have been thinking about Paul’s “boast .. in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Gal 6:14) and about its opposite – shame, or to be ashamed. A couple of images are useful in describing their difference in Biblical usage: one’s foundation, and one’s covering.

If you are standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, you want the ground to be firm, lest you take the big slide into the big ditch. If you are on firm ground, you have good reason to feel confident, and you can boast in your solid position, and you can enjoy the view. No worries.

In Paul’s experience, he has exchanged his boasts for his shames. All that gave him solid footing in his social/religious/political world was stripped away, and once those garments that denoted success and acceptance and honor were rendered useless, he was left with his shame. And the Bible uses this ugly picture of exposed nakedness as a way of conveying shame.

That will be the experience of many when they stand before God. If a person seeks to present himself in the garb of human achievement of any kind, he will suffer complete humiliation even as he receives the penalty that he deserves. There will be nowhere to hide, no safe place to stand.

Paul had witnessed this truth from at least a couple of different perspectives. In his youth, as he held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, he was taking part in a shaming activity. From Old Testament times, stoning was an extreme way of proclaiming that this person was not worthy to be a part of the covenant community, and that the members of that community could only show their faithfulness by punishing his faithlessness. So do your part, and pick up a stone.

Paul also was confronted with the risen Lord on the Damascus road. His previous, mental image consisted of Jesus, affixed to a cross, suffering the shame of exclusion a by temple and religious authority, sentenced to death by political authority, and abandoned by his own social circle - humiliated, in every way. But now, the stone that was rolled up tight as the seal of his humiliation was rolled away, and Paul was confronted with a crisis. “The stone rejected by the builders has now been made the head of the corner.” Jesus, and him crucified, is no longer the definition of shame, but rather of God’s vindication. For Paul, it was time to step to a whole new foundation, where the definitions are changed, even reversed.

And so we trust in Christ that we might be clothed in Christ, so that when we stand in judgment, we will not be ashamed. The guilt of our rebellion as been washed away, and we stand in the righteousness of Christ.

So do I now embrace my new boast, and flee from my current shame? Or do I wallow in things which I claim are things of shame, Am I guilty of dressing myself in filthy rags, even under the outer clothing of Jesus Himself, seeking to have a bit of both worlds? And do I think that Christ does not know when I make a compromised boast, or harbor a hidden shame?

You see, doctrine is practical. And the wonderful doctrine of imputed righteousness is to be complemented by a hunger and thirst for experiential righteousness. And I call into question the former when I deny through my actions the latter.

Let me give you for your own reflection the references to at least some of the verses on “shame”, in various verbal forms:

Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; 13:17; 14:9; 16:3; Rom. 1:16,27; 5:5; 6:21; 9:33; 10:11; 1Cor. 1:27; 7:36; 11:4-5,22; 12:23; 13:5; 2Cor. 4:2; 7:14; 9:4; 10:8; Phil. 1:20; 3:19; 2Tim. 1:8,12,16; 2:15; Heb. 2:11; 11:16; 12:2; 1Pet. 2:6; 3:16; 4:16; 1John 2:28; Jude 1:13; Rev. 3:18; 16:15

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Preaching Over the Dead

Death Certificates are bare facts typewritten on a form. They are used for legal and formal purposes, and convey “vital” information about the person deceased. Actually, the facts and the information are from “vital,” They hide more than they reveal. Do not ever think you know a person based on a death certificate.

There are, thankfully, other forms of information. Personal information is gleaned from such things as one’s personal effects, job records, and insurance policies. One is able to know more of the interests and struggles in which the deceased was involved, perhaps through club records and health reports. Writings, hobby products, and artistic expressions give evidence of an inner person that others could know and with whom they could engage.

Another form of personal information is the memories that family, friends, neighbors and associates have of the deceased. I would argue that their memories are personal in a different sense, in that they reveal as much about the person with the memories as they do about the person being remembered. Nevertheless, one is able to begin to see the deceased actually involved in personal relationships, whether those relationships were healthy or lousy. And because of the “final” setting, the memories shared are skewed to the congenial. One must not speak evil of the one that she could hardly bear when alive.

And so I preach over the dead. I don’t preach to the dead, and I am able to say relatively little about the dead. I preach with the realization that here is a person that I hardly knew, and barely know. I preach to the living, to the hurting. I preach about ultimate, not temporal, realities. And I preach about Christ.

One might argue that I know this Christ only from his death certificate. They would maintain that the Scriptures contain only a few, verifiable facts that establish approximate bookends to a historically distant life. They would say that the personal information is of the form of legends, and that the memories have been exaggerated and edited. They would say that I speak of that which I could not possibly know, and that is permitted, because one is allowed such liberties at times like this.

But I am a pastor – a helper and a healer. And one does not help by circulating myths and mistakes. One does not heal by serving up legends and lies. There is more to this than reciting meaningless facts and trying to make those who remain feel better. If that’s all there is, then I would rather go make something, or do something – something more than fill an empty space with empty words.

The preacher seeks to articulate an unseen truth about a person that is alive, who has experienced death and has come to life again, offering hope that there is a resurrection for those who would link their dying lives to his living one. He must speak about a person that he knows, personally, and presently. He speaks to those in the assembly, and, at the same time, is engaged in conversation with the one about whom he is preaching. Peter’s words must be true for the one who preaches over the dead:

“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,”
(1Pet. 1:8, ESV)

Monday, January 02, 2006

Whatever Happened to Cowboys

Remember the “good old days?” The truth is, the good old days were probably not that good. And yesterday’s cowboys were not exactly models of virtue.

I grew up seeing billboards of the Marlboro man. He was tall, lean, and self-assured. He wasn’t much like any of the deacons in the church where I grew up.

But America’s love affair with cowboys is taking a strange turn. We love our cowboys, but they aren’t supposed to be in love with each other. From what I remember from some of the old, B-westerns, they spent most of their time shooting each other. Evidently, we’ve come a long way.

I enjoy a movie with great scenery. A couple that come to mind are “Out of Africa” and “A River Runs Through It.” But I have no desire to see the scenery in the new, ridiculously promoted movie that features cowboys in love.

Let’s be clear about a couple of things. Love is a wonderful thing, and love between friends of the same gender is a good thing. But can we stop believing the lie that is told every day in our schools and on the streets that love finds its ultimate expression in some kind of sexual act? By all means, love, love sincerely, and love earnestly (1 Peter 1:22), but love expressed sexually is only to occur between a man and a woman who are involved in a “’til death do us part” relationship known as marriage.

Secondly, let’s be clear about cowboys. God is no more pleased by a philandering heterosexual than he is a “trying-to-find-out-who-I-am” homosexual. God is not pleased by a strong independence that has no room for one’s Creator/Redeemer; He is not pleased by crudeness or cruelty. Somehow, we have come to excuse some sins on the screen and exhibit outrage at others. We should put up with none of it.

But I still wouldn’t mind looking a little more like the Marlboro man.