Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Church is Packing Heat

News stories frequently highlight the twists and turns of sin in a hundred variations, and, on occasion, shed light on how the evangelical community is seeking to operate with regard to sin’s influence.

On a recent Sunday (Dec 9, 07), there was another shooting by a crazed gunman, this time targetting Christians in Colorado, at the YWAM training center in Arvada, and then at the New Life Church in Colorado Springs. This event, like the others, are tragic and troubling. There are so many issues upon which we as a society should reflect.

But the aspect of the story that caught my attention was the fact that the gunman was stopped by an armed security guard at a Sunday morning church gathering. I will be watching closely this coming Sunday to see if our ushers are packing heat.

Leaving aside the propriety of guns at worship gatherings, I would like to take the theme and run with it. The Church of Jesus Christ is indeed “packing heat,” though not the kind for which news reporters and paranoid pastors will be watching.

The Holy Spirit
When Christ ascended, He poured out His Spirit upon His Church, and we serve, pray and worship only in this Spirit. Every activity undertaken without the Spirit’s guidance and enablement is destined to be merely temporal, and actually detracts from the mission. We “pack heat” in that the Spirit of God is the One who provides the Church with power.

The Gospel
What message can change a life, and bring about the most dramatic reversal “from death to life?” What news is so good, that it drives all others stories, no matter how troubling or tragic, into the background? Only the Gospel. It is the “power of God for salvation to all who believe” (Rom 1:16).

The holiness of God is so overwhelming, that sinful humanity cannot stand in its glory. And yet, redeemed sinners are declared holy, and progressively transformed into holiness by the sanctifying (holi-fying) work of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. This is “packing heat” in the sense of bringing white-hot, out-of-this-world sunshine into human experience.

What can melt the heart of stone? God’s love. And God has demonstrated His love in sending His Son, Jesus, as sacrifice for our sins (Romans 5:8). That is a very hot love. And now, followers of Jesus Christ are to be the carriers of that very same kind of love, by which other hearts may be melted so they can be changed toward holiness through the Gospel administered by the Holy Spirit.

I am thankful that more lives were not taken last weekend as the gunman was stopped in that confrontation by the security guard. But I desire a Church that packs the kind of heat specifically ordained by God to reach a very cold world.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sacred Scriptures

Sacred Scriptures: 2 Timothy 3:15-17

1. There is a mystery to the mind of God; and a hiddenness to the heart of man.

There is a mystery to the mind of God, and a hiddenness to the heart of man. The chasm between these two seems insurmountable. Yet somehow, God reveals, and some men and women are regenerated. I would not say that there is a meeting of the minds, but there is the creation of children of God who share in the character and program, that is, the mind, of God.

2. God clearly desires that His Word finds its home in our hearts, that we might delight in Him; and love and glorify Him

God clearly desires that His Word finds its home in our hearts, that we might delight in Him; and love and glorify Him. And so He communicates. Somehow, the God who is spirit puts His truth into human thought-form and language. He speaks to Abraham, though how we do not know. He summons Moses from the burning bush. He pushes His poetry through the fingers of David using pen and paper. And then He sends His Son, Jesus, the incarnation of the character and purpose of God, so that we can hear, see and touch in human flesh what God is about. The manner and ministry of this Savior have been written down as well, so that today we hold in our hands and on our laps a written revelation of the mind of God in Old and New Testaments, which 2 Timothy 3:15,16 are holy writings able to make us wise to salvation and Scriptures that are able to qualify and equip us to do God’s bidding. We have a written Word that does not evaporate into the air, and that, though quickly forgotten, can be reviewed and relearned again and again.

3. God’s written Word is profitable and effective in bringing about life change.

When God’s Word hits not just our ears, but the hard surfaces of our hearts, we are changed. Nothing stays the same when penetrated by God’s Word. We become what we never could be – men and women of God. We do what we never even wanted to do – serve God. It is the inspired Word of God that is able to take a life and transform it into a tool for God’s use. And so we must clearly confess our need for exposure and acceptance of the Scriptures.

4. God’s holy Word is opposed by a multitude of profane communications.

But as we come to consider the context of 2 Timothy 3:15-17, we must recognize that there are many profane communications that stand in opposition to God’s holy Word. The contrasts are found readily in the surrounding text:

a. the profitable Word (3:16) opposed by deceivers and deceptions (3:13)

3:16 says God’s Word is profitable to improve a life, but 3:13 says that “evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” Now it’s easy to say, “Don’t be deceived.” But how do you know? By tracing the words of Scripture with your crooked finger, lest crooked hearts lead you away into lies!

b. a commitment to a pattern (3:10) opposed by cycles without change (3:7)

3:10 says that Timothy followed or tracked Paul’s “teaching, conduct, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions and sufferings.” The apostolic testimony, and the life that was in accordance with that testimony, served as a roadmap for Timothy’s life. But there were others (3:7) who were “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” They are not becoming more like Christ because they are not committed to “the standard of sound teaching” (1:13,14).

c. the word of truth (4:2,4) opposed by myths (4:4)

4:2 commands Timothy to “preach the Word.” This Word is called “the truth” in 4:4, from which some have turned aside. The verb “turn aside” is used elsewhere in the Pastorals with reference to fruitless discussion (1 Tim 1:6); Satan’s lies (1 Tim 5:15); and worldly and empty chatter and opposing arguments (ESV, irreverant babble and contradictions) (1 Tim 6:20). In this passage, we find that we are tempted to turn aside from the truth of Scripture to myths.

I will suggest some contemporary myths based on these previous three paragraphs.

1. The Myth in the Message - those whose message is not tied to the written Word and who espouse human-centered or humanistic messages (e.g., public school psychology; and leading popular public personalities, both secular and religious)

2. The Myth in the Messenger - those whose lives are not conformed to the pattern of sound teaching. Their lives are marked by areas of disobedienc, which either disqualifies from serving as a messenger, or at least should warn off those tempted to follow their teaching. If they are not even able to teach themselves, then why should we listen to them (e.g., non-suffering servants who live like kings; women preachers, including husband-wife pastoral teams; those who play to the camera)

3. The Myth in the Masses - those whose desires dictate what they hear (e.g., shopping for a message; searching for an experience)

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Enlivening Spirit

The second chapter creation account in Genesis reveals provocative insights into the nature of man: “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7 ESV). Man in his material constitution has a correspondence or affinity to the ground (Psalm 103:14), adam to adamah (Hebrew). From dust we were taken, and to dust we return (Genesis 3:19). But this is not all that man is. God breathed into Adam the breath of life. Adam became a living soul. We rely not on the dust for our life, but upon God, and upon His breath, or spirit.

In both the Old Testament (Hebrew) and New (Greek), “spirit” is a word that can also be translated “breath” or “wind.” When God breathed into Adam the breath or spirit of life, He “in-spirited” him. Apart from this breath or spirit, man was yet dead. (You might also re-read John 3, and think about Jesus’ illustration of “wind” and “Spirit.”)

Ezekiel 37 and the valley of dry bones also powerfully communicates this theme. What a place of waste and death! Nothing good can happen here. Life is long gone. But Ezekiel is commanded to prophesy, the wind (spirit) blows, and life returns.

Have you ever had the wind knocked out of you? How about the Spirit? I’m not saying that we ever completely lose the Spirit, but are you ever de-vitalized, dis-spirited? We pray for the enlivening Spirit to properly inflate our souls and the souls of those to whom we minister, as only God can do. No false inflations – only the real thing will do.

And when will the Spirit act? We do not know. But we do know that He acts in conjunction with the Word (of which Ezekiel was the mouthpiece), and we speak the Word to ourselves, and to others, with the expectant hope that the Spirit will soon revitalize and revive. No place of ministry or sin-stained life is too far gone. God can raise the dead, give life to dry bones, cause the desert to bloom, bring stubborn souls to repentance and revive lifeless churches.

In a deflated world, what a difference a “filled” Christian can make! That would be spiritual power.

Reading Assignment: Psalm 51

The Ordering Spirit

Scripture continues immediately after her opening line with a non-picture of the un-created: “ “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2 ESV)

We as a group of fellow-ministers are meeting to encourage one another, and to think about spiritual power. We desire to see God at work, and yet realize that there is a lack of spiritual power in our spheres of ministry, including in our own lives. This is not a new problem: Paul describes people in the last days as “ “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2Timothy 3:5 ESV) And so we are reflecting on how the Spirit of God is pleased to operate in order to bring about God’s good work.

If it is true that the Spirit was operative in creation in bringing order out of disorder, then may we entertain the thought that the same Spirit may also work in our lives and ministries to bring order out of chaos? It seems that this is at least similar to His activity described in Galatians 5:17: “ “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” My flesh is not re-formed or restrained of itself, but only as the forceful Spirit is engaged in the battle.

As to the Spirit’s “ “hovering, ” I am thankful for the Spirit’s attentive presence. Peter puts it like this: “ “If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.” (1Peter 4:14 ESV) That hovering Spirit is creating order in a world that pursues disorder.

So can we pray together that the Spirit of God would continue his activity of bringing order into our disordered world? I cannot order my own soul aright. I need spiritual assistance if I ever am to know spiritual power.

Reading Assignment: Ezekiel 37

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Preach the Word!

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:16 ESV)

These same prophets are described earlier in Jeremiah as offering up “false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds” (14:14). This assures a future in which people will have nothing solid on which to stand (16:19); nothing of substance on which to build their faith.

The chief motivation of these false prophets must be the desire to give the people what they want. They desire the acclaim of the crowds, and the illusion of success that this brings. This may bring to the prophets the benefits of personal peace, power and prosperity. But the Bible so clearly warns against such behavior, both in the Old Testament (so often in Jeremiah) and in the New Testament (e.g., “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,” (2Timothy 4:3 ESV).

Is it true that every preacher with a big crowd is a false prophet? No, thank the Lord, we cannot and will not make that claim. But should we be careful to examine why there is such public appeal – is it because he is giving people a taste of the crystal-clear water of the Word of God? Perhaps. But both Scripture and experience teach us that the crowds prefer the syrupy-sweet as opposed to the crystal-clear.

So what are we to do? In the general context of Jeremiah, there is an interesting phrase that gives the singular, suffering prophet some advice: “if you extract the precious from the worthless” (Jer 15:19). Preach the truth. Agree that there are shards of truth contained in the drivel of popular preaching. But let the truth shine in its proper context. Remove the sugar-coating.

Preach not to the response of crowds, but rather to the repentance of souls.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Judas and Jesus in Amos

As I read through the Bible, I try and keep my eyes open for connections with other parts of Scripture. Though written by many different human authors separated by centuries, the Bible really is a single book with a single message. Therefore, catching rays of light from different angles in our reading can enrich the spectrum of our understanding.

I’ve been reading and re-reading through the Minor Prophets, and have been stuck on Amos for a while. In a couple of different places, Amos made me think about Judas, and Jesus.

Amos 2:7 (NAS) occurs within the eight-fold address to the nations, and then to Judah and Israel concerning their offenses and punishments. Concerning Israel, God says “I will not revoke its punishment, Because they sell the righteous for money, And the needy for a pair of sandals.” The phrase, “the righteous” can refer to “the company of the righteous,” or, “all those identified as being righteous.” But it is singular. And so it could be translated and read as “the Righteous One.” “They sell the Righteous One for money.”

Matthew 26:14-15 (NAS): “Then one of the twelve, named Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me to betray Him to you?” And they weighted out thirty pieces of silver to him.”

It seems that Judas, rather than entering into covenant with Jesus, entered into covenant with the unbelieving Jewish leaders. The Book of Ruth (4:7-8) shows the use of a sandal in enacting a legal decision, and Amos follows his reference of selling the righteous with selling “the needy for a pair of sandals.”

The other Amos reference is in 5:12: “For I know your transgressions are many and your sins are great, You who distress the righteous (the Righteous One) and accept bribes And turn aside the poor in the gate.” This distress is recorded in the John 13:18, which quotes from Psalm 41:9: account, as shown in Psalm 41:9 “Even my close friend in whom I trusted, Who ate my bread, Has lifted up his heel against me.”

Judas did nothing new. His fathers had practiced the behaviors of betrayal for lifetimes, readying Judas to do the unthinkable, joining forces with the devil as opposed to submitting to the Lordship of Christ. We break free from this heritage and pattern only through the in breaking of God’s grace, who turns us toward Jesus.

Willow Creek Repents

I’ve been trying to absorb the impact of the “Out of Ur” article entitled “Willow Creek Repents.” (http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2007/10/

Yes, it is commendable that Willow Creek performed the evaluation and considered its findings carefully. And it is also commendable that the admission was made public. But the scope of this mistake is huge. It applies not merely to one man’s ministry, or to just one local church’s operation. The mistake has been perpetuated throughout a whole network of imitators, many of whom have been trained and resourced by Willow Creek ministries. This is no personal and private mistake. It has been confidently exported using the most efficient means possible.

And why is it so damaging? I think for at least two reasons. One is because of the spiritual effect on people. Many were drawn through the power of programs to participate in religious activity. Many people got a taste of religion, of church, even of the gospel. But when the program did not produce the kind of life change offered in the pure gospel, they are then inoculated against the truth of the gospel. They can never hear it for the first time again. Their hearing has been tainted by an approach that was “a mistake.” Just as taking a poor, unsuitable antibiotic that is not fit to fight the disease can actually build resistance against the proper medicine, should it be administered in the future, so I fear that a mistaken approach to introduciing people to Christ may have a similar effect.

Secondly, I don’t believe that the Bible is being taken seriously. “We made a mistake” is an admission that was made, not because they saw that their actions were not in keeping with Scripture, but because they found that they were not producing the desired results. And so they are now concocting an approach that they are sure will produce better results. And I am sure that they are confident that their new methods will accomplish what they desire, though they were formerly quite confident in the old methods.

Ironically, the very Scripture to which they are paying insufficient attention describes what seems to be going on. Jeremiah 5:31 (NAS) seems to me to apply (rather prophetically): a) “The prophets prophesy falsely, b) And the priests rule on their own authority; c) And My people love it so! d) But what will you do at the end of it?” A) They make confident assertions. B) They design their own model for doing church. C) They are affirmed by the responses of many people. D) And they are surprised that it doesn’t work out the way they projected.

I began this article with a couple of positive statements, and let me end with a couple more. I believe that these people desire to serve God in the best way possible. They have found ways to minister to more people in a week then I may in a lifetime. But, following 1 Corinthians 3, we must be very carefully to build with gold, silver, and precious stones as opposed to wood, hay, and stubble.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

What the Gospel Is: A Brief Statement

Book Report: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. Mark Dever. Crossway, 2007

"Here’s what I understand the good news to be:"

"The good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God." (p.43)

What the Gospel Is Not

Book Report: The Gospel and Personal Evangelism. Mark Dever. Crossway, 2007
from the chapter, "What Is the Gospel"

“That which passes for the gospel too often becomes a very thin veneer spread lightly over our culture’s values, becoming shaped and formed to its contours rather thant to the truth about God.” (p.32)

The Good News is not simply that we are OK. (Romans 6:23; James 2:10-11) The Bible presents God not simply as our creator but as our jealous love. He wants us – every part of us. For us to think that we can disregard him sometimes, to set aside his ways when it suits us, is to show that we haven’t understood the nature of the relationship at all.

The Good News is not simply that God is love. (1 John 4:8; Hebrews 12:14) God reveals himself as the God who requires holiness of all who would be in loving relationship with him.

The Good News is not simply that Jesus wants to be our friend. (Mark 10:45; Revelation 5:5-9) Christ isn’t just our friend… He is our friend, but he is so much more! By his death on the cross Christ has become the lamb that was slain for us, our redeemer, the one who has made peace between us and God, who has taken our guilt on himself, who has conquered our most deadly enemies and has assuaged the personal, just wrath of God.

The Good News is not that we should live rightly. (Acts 20:21; Mark 1:15) The gospel, you see, is not simply an additive that comes to make our already good lives better. No! The gospel is a message of wonderful good news that comes to those who realize their just desperation before God.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Now and Forever: 1 Peter 4:7-11

As I have studied Peter’s first letter, I have been thinking a lot about where we live, as strangers – people who have a different sence of place. But this paragraph and the next are reminding me that Christians also have a very different sense of time.

Life is not merely cyclical. God has a plan, and He is bringing His plan towards a conclusion. So when Peter says in 4:7, “The end of all things is at hand;” people who subscribe to the “on and on” view of life must think his words very strange. Do we really stand on the precipice of change, in which a new world will dawn whose look and operation will differ significantly from the world in which we now life? Are we living our lives with that kind of hope and expectation?

If this is true, then how should we live? Several options are possible: 1) run and hide; 2) eat, drink and be merry; or, 3) make the most of the time that we have. The third option is the one that Peter advocates. He admonishes these mis-placed, yet God-placed believers to spend themselves completely, and joyfully, for others in the remaining, difficult days.

Why? For God’s glory. And when we serve for God’s glory, we are not investing in a dying world or in an uncertain future. We are banking on the one thing that is more sure than anything else, that God is real, and that He is glorious.

At one time there was such a thing as the “gold standard” – that every dollar was backed up by gold. Peter is advocating a “glory standard” – that every act of every pilgrim life is to be done for God’s glory. That’s a good investment, both now and forever.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Partnership in the Local Church

Our Union with Christ is part of a Cosmic Communion. It includes believers from past and present; from far and near. Our Union with Christ is expressed by our participation and partnership with a local body of believers, a local church. The local church keeps in mind and serves the interests of this Invisible Church.

In the Bible, the term “Invisible Church” is never used. The Bible uses the word “church” both when speaking of that communion that surpasses location and date, and when speaking of the local church, which has a specific location and time.

This dual sense of “church” renders other terms a bit confusing. We often use the word “member” with regard to the local church. But the Bible, so far as I can tell, never does. It speaks of individuals being members, or parts, of the larger Body of Christ. Also, it is now common to hear of the local church being a “covenant community.” But the New Covenant is that which centers in Christ’s shed blood, for all believers in all places. Just as there are not numerous Bodies of Christ, so there are not a multiple of covenants with Christ. And so, when we use the words “membership” or “covenant” in relation to the local church, we are actually stealing, or borrowing, terms that the Bible reserves for a grander relationship.

This is not to reduce the importance of the local church or one’s participation and partnership in the local church. We just struggle to state that connection properly, in a way that does not make the local church an end in itself, or an entity that overshadows the fellowship for which we await. To be fair, the local church is to take seriously Body membership and Covenant inclusion. We say as much when we baptize with water, with reference to the Spirit’s baptism into the Body of Christ; and when we extend invitation to the Lord’s Table, enacting a kind of covenant renewal. There can be an analogy between one’s immersion into the Body of Christ, and one’s participation in a local church; in one’s renewal of covenant enjoyment and commitment to Christ, and one’s partnership with a local church. But these are analogous. They are not identical. And I fear that often, the visible overshadows the invisible; the local outstrips the cosmic.

And so I am working with the terms “participation” and “partnership.” And these are not without difficulty. Some participate in aspects of the local church without showing many characteristics of partnership. And the definition of partnership is changing, some for the better. We have to ask questions about the degree to which one should participate without partnering. And we have to ask what expressions of partnership are necessary to be considered a partner in the local church.

I suggest that there are three areas where we ought to expect agreement if we are to be in partnership together at a local church level:

1. Conversion and baptism –

2. Doctrine and life –

3. Prayer and service -

1. We hold to a believers’ church. Therefore, you must have begun in the Christian life. You must be born again. We rely on your profession of faith, as expressed in believers’ baptism.

2. Also, we need to stand in large (but not complete) agreement on the teachings of Scripture. Local churches take particular doctrinal stances as they seek to understand the Scriptures. The Bible is not ambiguous. It gives clear, though not complete, knowledge. This doctrine assumes an application that shapes one’s life in a godly or Christlike way. We partner as we live lives that behave according to our beliefs.

3. And third, we partner as we pray and serve together. We are not partners together merely to have names on a list. We are not partners together merely to exist. We are here to serve God’s interests, which depends upon the Spirit’s leading in our midst. This means that, alongside Scripture, we must pray, and then serve. If you are not praying and serving, then you are not partnering.

There are several Biblical words that underlie a concept of partnership in the local church. I hope to develop these further in another paper or post. They include ideas of fellowship, or, koinonia; and being of one mind. These include ideas of relationship, and of agreement. And such issues are never finished projects. We work together, by God’s grace, serving the high calling of Christ’s Church and God’s Kingdom.

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Church’s View of Discipleship

In the 1st century church, a few disciples were known as Christians. But there were no Christians who were not also disciples. In the 21st century church, there are a few Christians who are known as disciples. But discipleship is not the norm.

Acts 11:26 – not all disciples were known as Christians, but all Christians were disciples

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.

Nominal Christianity (Christianity in name only) is dead. This is true in at least three senses:

1. Christians in name only are really not Christians at all, and so are spiritually dead

2. Our culture has lost patience and respect with this kind of “casual” Christianity, which is betrayed by the shallowness of its beliefs and commitments, and by the absence of life change.

3. It is dead in that it has no spiritual power associated with it. It has institutions and patterns which have created a kind of Christian sub-culture, but it is dead and dying, and such churches are drying up and closing down. This is supported both by the text of 2 Timothy 3, and by the statistics related to dying churches, found in a variety of sources, such as Harry Reeder’s book, From Embers to Flame: How God Can Revitalize Your Church, P&R, 2004.

Discipleship Christianity is alive and well

1. These Christians are related primarily to Christ, and secondarily to a local church.

a. It is Christianity; not church-ianity

b. Their Christianity is personal, a real relationship with a living person.

2. These followers of Jesus are consistently seeking how to live Jesus’ life in every arena of their lives.

a. It is not Sabbath or Sunday Christianity; it is everyday

b. Their Christianity is universal, pervasive

3. These disciples accept responsibility for representing Jesus to their families, friends and associates; and they accept the consequences

a. They do not rely on pastors, missionaries, or churches to take care of their Christ-representation

b. Their Christianity is missional, persecutional

The Shape of New Covenant Discipleship

New Covenant discipleship is not an effort to behave better, but to follow Jesus as fully as possible, to have his character stamped on our hearts, so that we resemble him. NC discipleship is not primarily performance-oriented, and it certainly is not a superficial conformity to a set of rules for appeance’ sake. It is transformational, as the Spirit of promise establishes ownership and control in our lives, including our minds, our affections, and our will.

New Covenant discipleship is representative. As I am fully and completely represented before God by Christ, I in turn seek to fully and completely represent Christ in the world.

New Covenant disciples have:

• A new Captain under a gracious administration

• A new identity and a blood-bought fellowship

• A new mission that cannot be measured in dollars, or numbers, or status

• A new worldview that drastically changes the definitions

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Church’s Leadership

A Note on Biblical Terms:

Elders in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, are a fact of life. In some cases they are there because people grow old enough to be elders. In other cases, they are present because certain ones have been appointed to leadership. The term seems to have significant overlap with the position of pastor/shepherd and that of overseers. It seems that all pastors are elders. It would also seem that all elders have pastoring/shepherding and oversight functions. But not all elders are teachers, though pastors must teach. The purpose of this study is not to re-construct leadership polity, but rather to notice what Scripture teaches about the functioning of church leaders, known as elders, overseers and pastors.

I will add a note after each selected text reference, with the verse following on the next line.

Acts 14:23 – emphasis on carefulness of selection

And when they had appointed elders for them in every church (acc. to church), with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

Acts 20:17 – multiple elders, though it is possible there are also multiple congregations

Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.

1Tim. 4:14 – carefulness in setting apart young leadership

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.

1Tim. 5:17 – not all elders preach and teach; also, the translation “rule” is unfortunate. A better translation would be “lead.” Elders are not kings; they are leaders.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.

Titus 1:5 -

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town (acc. to town) as I directed you—

The main point of this lesson is to emphasize the need for church leadership, and for a kind of church leadership that is pointedly involved in the lives of people. Church leaders must lead by example, but example alone is not leadership. Therefore, I have zeroed in on the use of “rebuke, reprove” as one of the functions of church leadership (Titus especially helps us here). Certainly there are a whole array of pastoral functions when dealing with people. Rebuking is only one of the them. But it is certainly one of them.

Selected verses using “rebuke”

Matt. 18:15

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.

Luke 3:19

But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done,

John 3:20

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.

John 16:8 – we rebuke now, to save from rebuke on the Day of Judgment

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment:

Eph. 5:11

Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.

Eph. 5:13

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible,

1Tim. 5:20

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

2Tim. 4:2

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.

Titus 1:9

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

Titus 1:13

This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,

Titus 2:15

Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.

Noun form

2Tim. 3:16

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

Summary Notes:

1. We will not meet the leadership challenge without meeting the prayer challenge. (Cf the previous post on the church's direction and enablement.)

2. We live in a world that tends toward disorder, especially spirit and soul disorder. Christian maturity will not happen on its own. Leadership is needed.

3. Faithful and willing men who meet the qualifications for church leadership are increasingly rare.

4. Honest confrontation is not inconsistent with a loving and caring Christianity.

5. One should notice what things are not included in the Bible’s description of the roles of elders/overseers/pastors.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Church’s Direction and Enablement

Key Verse: Eph. 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, (the rolling of the dice; experimentation), by craftiness in deceitful schemes (rationalizations)

Too many churches and too many times, we (and people like us) have resorted to experimentation (or imitation of the experiments of others) that is a pragmatic attempt to find what works as opposed to a determination to follow the Spirit’s leading. We also can hide behind an approach that elevates human reason. This may be an excuse to retreat into a dead but comfortable traditionalism, which also is not responsive to the Spirit’s leading. The following verses include warnings and determinations which apply to this subject. I have underlined phrases that should prompt reflection.

2Cor. 11:3
But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

2Cor. 4:2
But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

1Cor. 3:19
For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

Paul’s selection of images in Ephesians offer further food for thought. As a local assembly, we must seek proper alignment with the Cornerstone (Eph 2:20-22). Only the Spirit can create the environment where this proper alignment is achieved. Also, the Body is to live and move in coordination with the Head (Eph 4:15-16). Again, only the Spirit can coordinate proper expression.

The Church’s Direction and Enablement are ultimately from Christ, through the Spirit. Our seeking of Christ’s direction and enablement through the Spirit are pursued, not through the imitation of the church-down-the-street’s latest experimentations, and not by an independent reliance on our own good sense, - but through careful attention to Scripture (Job 23:8-14), and through the practice of prayer (cf prayer in Acts).

The texts mentioned above are highly instructive. Job is poetic, and powerful. You can read it yourself. I provided a sheet with all the references to prayer in the Book of Acts. It is a very easy search to do – but a more difficult practice to follow.

If we are to commit to a) Scripture-attentiveness and b) prayer-practice, then we must set aside significant and quality times for these activities. They need not be whole-congregational, but small-groupish, in order that they can be conversational. The emphasis in these gatherings is to seek the Spirit’s direction and enablement.

The need for these kinds of activities is not an argument for a rejection of preaching and teaching. We actually need more teaching and better preaching. But the activities mentioned above allow the congregation in smaller units to respond to preaching and teaching, in conjunction with reflection and listening.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Your Grace is Showing

“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.” (1Peter 2:19 ESV)

And there’s the rub – Christians who are not “mindful of God.” Having been saved by grace, we resort to living by our wits, trying to figure out how not to get beat by the system. We’ve got our ticket to heaven. Now we must find our way in the world.

But there is such a thing as a Christian calling, and that is to be a Christ-follower. When Jesus submitted to suffering, he introduced to the world a scent from heaven – grace, that must be dispersed again and again by scattered people.

So here you are, caught in a system that you did not create, a slave to a master you did not choose. So long as it works well for you, it is tolerable. But when it pinches, then we are trained (by the world, not God) to cry and complain. “This is not right. It is not fair. I don’t deserve this.”

That’s what Jesus did, right? When he was reviled, he whined. When he suffered, he protested. When he was nailed to the cross, he vowed to retaliate. No, he submitted, in order that the grace of God could do it’s powerful work in a sinful world, in sinful people who in no way deserve God’s grace.

I think of Naaman’s servant in 1 Kings, an Israelite captured in a Syrian raid and now working in a foreign captain’s home. When he contracted leprosy, she could have wished that he would rot in hell. Have you ever wished that on a boss? But what showed was not her resentment, but her grace. “There is a prophet in Israel. He can help.” Why stick out her neck? Why bother? Because grace was a powerful force in her life, and she was “mindful” not merely of her self and her own situation, but “of God.”

Don’t Fear What They Fear: Fear Christ

There is more than meets the eye in Peter’s famous evangelism text: “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1Peter 3:15 ESV). The verse begins with the tail end of a quotation from Isaiah 8:12,13 “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy.” “The last part of the verse (underlined) has been recast by Peter as “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”

If we begin to circle out from this quotation, we find materials to form a chiasm, a literary structure that may have been in Peter’s mind, and not just in my own imagination. Even so, I find it helpful in relating ideas to one another. Here is my outline.

A. Evildoers are Active (13)

B. Good Cause (13)

C. Zealous (13)

D. Suffer for righteousness sake (14)

E. Blessed (14)

Don’t fear what they fear: Fear Christ! (14,15)

E’ Prepared (15)

D’ Speak concerning hope (15)

C’ Gentleness and Respect (15)

B’ Good Conscience and Conduct (16)

A’ Evildoers are Ashamed (16)

Let me give you just a few thoughts on the matching points:

Concerning “A. and A’”, sure, evildoers are active. But in the end, they will be reduced to humiliation. See many of the Psalms with regard to this theme.

Concerning “C. and C’”, I think you can find the materials for “How to be a Zealot, but not a Terrorist,” or, “How to Share the Gospel Graciously.”

Concerning “E. and E’”, the Greek words actually match up better (visually) than the English (and also, word order in Greek supports this outline better than the English word order). To be “blessed” means that we don’t have to worry about securing our place in the world, or getting the “stuff” of the world. But the other word, “prepared, ready,” shows that we are not to be at ease, apathetic. We are filled with sense of urgency and expectation, even as we are marked by a sense of blessed security.

I wouldn’t die for this outline. But I am thankful for the cross-germination of thoughts that it fosters.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Jonah and Jesus (4)

A Creature made Sick; or Creation Saved

One of the most obvious parallels between Jonah and Jesus is the sojourn of three days, one in the belly of the fish, and the other in the bowels of the earth. On the third day, the fish’s digestive system was sick of Jonah, , and God’s wrath was satisfied with Jesus, , so that they both emerged from their cages.

1A. Concerning Jonah:
“So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging.” (Jonah 1:15 ESV)

1B. Concerning Jesus:
“And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.” (Matthew 27:31 ESV)

But still there are differences, many more than I will mention. The sailors tossed Jonah as a last resort. The soldiers nailed Jesus with delight and a sense of entertainment. The sailors are seeking to appease an angry God. , The soldiers are seeking to please the maddening crowd , of religious leaders.

2A. Concerning Jonah:
“Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.” (Jonah 1:16 ESV)

2B. Concerning Jesus:
“And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”” (Mark 15:39 ESV)

In the wake of Jonah being thrown overboard, and Jesus being crucified, there is an awareness of a sea change, so to speak. The storm ceases, the veil is torn; the sun comes out, and the sky grows dark. The sailors, all of them, , in the calm after the storm, worship God. And the truth dawns on the centurion, all alone, in the darkness, as he witnesses the death of the Lord of glory.

3A. Concerning Jonah:
“And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 1:17 ESV)

3B. Concerning Jesus:
“For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40 ESV)

God “appointed” a fish for Jonah, a place of prayer, if not confession. And God prepared a tomb for Jesus. I confess I do not understand all that Jesus accomplished during his time in the tomb. Peter alludes to testimony given to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19), perhaps announcing the justice and righteousness of God in condemning sin and forgiving sinners. Jonah’s isolation found its focus in an individual humbling that failed to reach the standard of real repentance. Jesus’ burial sealed the successful sacrifice necessary for eternal salvation. Jonah’s emergence from the fish awarded him , a second chance. , Jesus’ appearance from the grave announced , a new creation. ,

So the Book of Jonah confronts us with a recalcitrant prophet, but also makes us think of the redeeming servant. And though we will never be redeemers, we may, by God’s grace, seek to be more like Jesus than like Jonah.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jonah and Jesus (3)

Creating Confusion, not Clarity

(Jonah 1:11 ESV) “What shall we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us?”

Jonah figures heavily into the predicament of the sailors (cf. Jonah and Jesus, 2). The sailors grasp something of this, but Jonah’s role contributes not to clarity of understanding, but rather confusion.

The are confused about their predicament, and they were also confused about the identity of the solution. As we clearly know from Scripture and from the teaching of Jesus, and what the sailors should have known from the prophet Jonah had he spoken for God as he should, their primary predicament was not a weather event, but the wrath of God. And the solution to the propitiation of the wrath of God was not something that they themselves could do, but something that must be done for them.

Jesus, contrary to Jonah, was clear, not confusing about the predicament in which mankind stands. One of his many sayings is: “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (John 8:24 ESV)

(Jonah 1:12 ESV) “for I know it is because of me that this great tempest has come upon you.”

Jonah was aware that his rebellious conduct was bringing its ugly consequences upon the sailors. At this point, Jonah could hardly stand in greater contrast to Jesus, since it is because of us (sinful humanity) that this great tempest came upon him (Jesus). We implicate others with the stench and stain of our sin. The consequences of our sin rarely, if ever, affect only our own selves. And our sins have had grave effects on the Servant of God, even as Jonah’s sins put the sailors in grave danger.

The sad fact of this story is that Jonah missed the opportunity to bring clarity, and instead brought confusion. The sailors thought that if they got rid of Jonah, they would get rid of their problems, as did those who crucified Jesus (“So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”” (John 11:47-48 ESV). In limited scope, they were correct. But they needed to be pointed to the Messenger of God who, in faithfulness to his mission, would bear away their sins. Instead they were confronted by a rebellious messenger who imported the consequences of his sin on them, and they could only throw him away to avoid destruction.

(Jonah 1:14 ESV) “let us not perish for this man’s life, and lay not on us innocent blood,”

Just about all the words of these phrases need to be reversed in order to come to clarity rather than confusion. Yes, there is the concern that we not perish (John 3:16), but not for “this man’s life,” but rather for our own sin. Innocent blood is not held against us, but rather, guilty blood was attributed to Christ (“But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities;” Isaiah 53:5 ESV). Due to the unfaithfulness of Jonah, many of the Gospel concepts and categories were present, but were hopelessly confused rather than clarified.

And so, when I am more like unfaithful Jonah than faithful Jesus, I also contribute to the confusion of those who are perishing. They will remain confused about the true nature of the problem, the true identity of the solution, and the way to find enduring calm in the eschatological tempest. If we would be more like Jesus than Jonah, then perhaps God would be pleased to use us to rescue the perishing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Jonah and Jesus (2)

Aloof, or Alongside in the Storm

I am writing, once again, about Jonah and Jesus, not because they are so much alike, but rather, because they are so different. Let me say again that this study is convicting to me personally, not because I am so much like Jesus, but rather, because I am so much like Jonah.

Jonah is fleeing the mission of the God, and boards a ship to Tarshish. The Lord “hurled” a storm upon him (Jonah) and them (the captain and crew) that threatened to break up the ship. The crew resorted to desperate measures, even throwing the cargo overboard, in order to stay afloat. “But Jonah had gone below in the hold of the ship, lain down and fallen sound asleep” (Jonah 1:5)

Jesus is fulfilling the mission of God, traversing the Sea of Galilee with his disciples when a “fierce gale” arises upon them. “The waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion” (Mk 4:37-38).

Jonah is himself the troublesome cargo, untouched by the sailors, and seemingly, himself untouched by their predicament. The sailors “touched” everything else, throwing it overboard, but it is not until later that the one final piece of cargo, Jonah, is thrown over, when they will find relief. At this point in the story, he is untouched by the sailors, and he himself is untouched by their problem, even as he is untouched by the peril threatening the sinful city, Nineveh. Jesus, on the other hand, is subject to the rising water in the boat. The detail in the text “the boat was already filling up” makes this conclusion reasonable. He is, indeed, touched by the rising water, even as he is touched by the needs of a sinful world. He is not the source of the problem, but rather of the solution, and he is not aloof, but alongside them in their predicament.

Jesus is so different from Jonah. The following trilogy of verses from Matthew highlights his compassion for people, even as the story of Jonah highlights his lack of compassion for such people. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 ESV). “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” (Matthew 14:14 ESV) “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” (Matthew 15:32 ESV). We must ask ourselves if we are touched by the physical and spiritual needs of people, as Jesus is, or untouched, as was Jonah.

The sailors approach Jonah and say, “How is it that you are sleeping? Get up, call on your god. Perhaps your god will be concerned about us so that we will not perish” (Jonah 1:6). Similarly, the disciples awaken Jesus and say, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38). Ironically, the sailors approach the unconcerned prophet who is on the run from God, appealing to him to seek the concern of his god. The disciples approach their trusted teacher, who is himself God, and whose very presence is the signal of the concern of God, and accuse him of lack of concern. The contrast plays out as Jonah identies himself as a worshipper of “the Lord God of heaven who made the sea and the dry land.” Jesus, himself the creator of heaven, sea and dry land, simply speaks the words “Hush, be still,” and the storm abates. The disciples are afraid as they exclaim, “who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”

When we operate in Jonah-like fashion, we do not fear whom we say we fear. We do not serve whom we say we serve. God’s love and compassion do not properly and adequately infect and motivate us. We are terrible witnesses to the reality of God. If we were follow the “mind of Christ” (Phil 2:5), our perspectives and ministries would be much different. Our regard for God would be accompanied by our presence among the very people that Jesus intends to save. We would be not aloof, but alongside. We would be not the source of their troubles, but an instrument in the solution. We would be willing to be immersed in their predicament, resting by faith in the persistent presence of our Lord who is able to simply speak the word and change the shape of the world.

Concerning Jesus, the author of Hebrews says the following: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15 ESV). Both Jonah and Jesus were asleep in their respective boats, but with amazingly different approaches to people, the one aloof, the other, alongside.

Jonah makes me think about Jesus, not because they are so much alike, but because they are so different.

What Is Baptism?

What is Baptism?

Baptism generally denotes the external, visible rite that demonstrates the spiritual reality of a believer’s identification with the Person and Work of Christ. Therefore, we often refer to “water baptism” to designate that which is external and visible. This helps to differentiate from “Spirit baptism,” which is the internal, invisible operation of the Spirit of God when He takes up residence in the believer’s life and incorporates him/her into the Body of Christ (Romans 6:3,4).

Who can or should be baptized?

Since water baptism points to a spiritual reality, only those who have experienced “Spirit baptism” should be baptized with water. Spirit baptism occurs in conjunction with a person’s spiritual birth, or regeneration, and in the experience of that person, is marked by repentance (turning from other saviors) and faith (turning to Jesus Christ as the only sufficient Savior). Therefore, only those who have placed personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ, and are willing to certify that faith publicly, will be baptized. Obviously then, in our understanding, it is improper to baptize infants, who have not placed personal faith in Christ, much less rejected other saviors in repentance.

How is baptism to be performed?

Bible scholars and theologians have argued about the mode of baptism for centuries. While there is good linguistic evidence for “to baptize” to mean “to dip, immerse,” I think the stronger argument has to do with what the external rite is intended to picture. Spirit baptism involves the new believer being “swallowed up” by the Spirit, taken over, in a large sense, and immersed in the Body of Christ. In a sense, the new believer is understood to be “wet all over, inside and out” with the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 12:13). Therefore, baptism by immersion best pictures the invisible, spiritual operation. This picture also fits well with what we are trying to say in baptism, that the new believer is identifying with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. When baptized by immersion, the new believer stands and affirms his/her faith in Christ in his death, is “buried” in the water, and rises again to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).

Also, since baptism is the visible testimony of a spiritual reality, baptism should be done publicly, as a testimony to a local body of believers, if possible (the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 being an exception), and comprises part of the “confession with the mouth” of the new believer (Romans 10:9,10).

What results from baptism?

Water baptism results in a believer being identified and accepted by a local congregation of believers, even as he/she has been identified and accepted by Christ by virtue of Spirit baptism. It is an early step of obedience that should lead to many other steps of obedience in the believer’s life, and serves as a reminder that, though we have no need to baptized over and over again, we do stand in need of continued association with, dependence upon, and filling with the Spirit as opposed to life lived in the flesh.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Solid Citizens for the Gospel

1 Peter 2:13 - "Be subject, for the Lord's sake, to every human authority."
(notes from the message)

Granted, no system is perfect, including our own.

Granted, leaders are sinners, and they often are cruel and/or corrupt

Granted, this system may abuse you personally, as Jesus’ government abused Him

Nonetheless, the Grace of the Gospel Shines in Submission

Not in lordship – co-opting government position to enforce one’s point of view. Christian politicians must be public servants.

Not in belligerence – opposing the government with legitimate concerns, but using ungracious means

Not best even in protest or resistance – though citizens hold these as rights. But if Christians use these rights, they must accompany their words by gracious actions consistent with the measures that they advocate.

Grace Shines in Doing Good

While temporal praise is arbitrary, doing good will shine as it is seen in the many-colored shades of kindness

Eternal praise is authentic, and, in addition, the glad-hearted doing of good produces both joy and peace

Am I a Solid Gospel-Citizen?

Solid Gospel-Citizens are not measured by their vote, nor are they measured by their political action

Submission is a constant theme for Solid Gospel-Citizens, rendering obedience to God-appointed authorities, even as they await God’s “kingdom” resolution.

Doing Good always outweighs talking politics. It is Doing Good that constitutes the praiseworthy expressions of obedience, kindness and service.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Virginia Tech

The killings at Virginia Tech give rise to the question: How can such a person (the killer) exist? But, in light of the Bible’s teaching on the seriousness of sin, a better question might be: Why are there not more such persons?

Samuel Bolton, a Puritan writing in the early 1600’s in England, gives some perspective as he writes about the mercy of God in giving the law which restrains sin, in “The True bounds of Christian Freedom” (Banner of Truth, 1964 (first published in 1645), p.79.

If God had not given a severe and terrible law against sin, such is the vileness of men’s spirits, they would have acted all villainy. The Devil would not only have reigned, but raged in all the sons of men.

And therefore, as we do with wild beasts, wolves, lions, and others, binding them in chains that they may be kept from doing the mischief which their inclinations carry them to, so the law chains up the wickedness of the hearts of men, that they dare not fulfil those lustful inclinations which are found in their hearts.

Blessed be God that there is this fear upon the spirits of wicked men; otherwise we could not well live in the world. One man would be a devil to another. Every man would be a Cain to his brother, an Amnon to his sister, an Absolom to his father, a Saul to himself, a Judas to his master; for what one man does, all men would do, were it not for a restraint upon their spirits.

Therefore we have cause to bless God that he has given a law to restrain transgression, that if men will not be so good as they should be, yet, being restrained, they become not so bad as they would be.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Who Is Watching?

Peter tells that two parties are watching (1 Peter 2:12). The “nations” or “Gentiles” are observing. And God is watching (day of visitation). We need to think about both of these from a Gospel perspective.

In Bible translations, the “Gentiles” are all those nations who are not Jews. They were, from an OT perspective, in large part, not the people of God. In the NT, since the Church is not identified with the Jewish people, it seems that a better translation is the “nations.”

In 1 Peter 2:9, the Church is called, among other things, “a holy nation.” The nations mentioned in v.12 then, are the “unholy” nations. The one has an interest in the holiness of God. The other has no interest in His holiness.

Now why is it that the nations are observing the lives and conduct of Christians? Normally, we don’t even notice, unless, of course, there is something interesting. That is, there is something distinctive, unique, or strange (as in “strangers,” 1 Pet 1:1).

1 Peter 4:4 says that the Gentiles, or nations, are “surprised when you do not join them” in their ungodly activities. There is a contrast in the lives of those without God, and those who are children of God. Other differences become apparent as we review 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7 and Ephesians 4:17ff. In fact, I think it is a beneficial exercise to actually think what the contrast would be to the miserable conditions or ungodly behaviors mentioned in relations to the nations. For instance, in Eph 2: 1-4, they are described as:

Dead – we have been “made alive” (1 Pet 1:3)

They belong to “the course of this world.” We understand that the course has been changed “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet 1:3)

They have a prince (small “p”). We have a Prince (capital “P”) (I know that there are not caps in the original, but the little “p” only bruised His heel, while the capital “P” crushed his head (Gen 3:15).

They have a spirit. We have the Holy Spirit

They are driven by lusts. We are characterized by love for God and neighbor. (It strikes me as I write this how far we fall short, which is why the nations find us so un-interesting.

They are given over to self- indulgence. We are to be known for sacrificial service.

They are called “children of wrath.” We are children of mercy (1 Pet 1:3; 2:10).

The list then is continued in Eph 4:17-24:

They are characterized by sensuality. We are to be known for a spirituality that is due to the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Drunkenness is countered by a sobriety and seriousness that is taken up with eternal and ultimate issues.

Carousing and drinking parties that end up in disgrace are contrasted with gatherings in which grace is given and blessings are shared.

Abominable idolatries bespeak a continual search to find that which is worth living for – while Christians are linked and locked in to “the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom (He) has sent (John 17:3).

We are to be “a light to the Gentiles (or nations)” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23). Our light is dim in that we have sunk to many practices that look suspiciously like the nations who do not know God. We aren’t all that interesting.

The second point is that God is “visiting” or “overseeing.” Jesus, in 1 Peter 2:25, is called “the Shepherd and Overseer (or Guardian) of our souls.” He is watching.

But many people have erroneous views of God’s oversight. Some think that He is watching, waiting to pound us when we mess up. But they miss the all-important point that, in Christ, we are “accepted in the Beloved.” There are no paybacks for Christians. Our punishment has been meted out to Christ, and it found satisfaction in the righteous judgment of God. He is not watching us to catch us, but because He delights in us.

On the other hand, some view God’s interest in His children as inconsequential. They suppose that, now forgiven, they should give no thought to what God thinks of their conduct. This is a denial of authentic faith. Faith in God is a dynamic presence in the life of a man that manifests itself in expressions of faith, one of which is fear and love for God. Luke 12 reminds us that if God has His eye on the sparrow, then He certainly will observe and care for His children far more.

We sometimes live as though no one is watching, neither the world around us, or God. We live as though there is nothing or no one to life for. How can we miss the point so badly?

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Cure for a Sick Soul

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” (1Peter 2:11 ESV)

When we go to the medical doctor for examination or surgery, he can find our brains, but she cannot repair our minds.

When the doctor opens our chests to do surgery on the heart, he is unable to do anything about our character.

When we receive a physical, there are no reports given on the state of our souls.

The Bible diagnosis for man in general is that we have great sickness of soul.

Mankind tends to ignore the soul, and thus to misunderstand the most weighty issues of life. Mankind places great emphasis on what the Bible calls the flesh. They may speak of human nature, human condition, wholistic health, etc. – but when considered apart from God, man is flesh – independent and temporary; willful, but weak.

The soul, in Biblical language, is the organ for relationship with God. When God formed Adam (Gen 2:7), he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man, a-dam, became a living soul – a creature made to correspond with the Creator in faith and fellowship.

But a dead or dormant soul does not have faith. We cannot enjoy fellowship with God with a captivated or collapsed soul. And it is not only God who desires your soul, but also the devil (1 Pet 5:8).

I am going to allow the context of 1 Peter 2:11 to control our thinking about the soul. In addition to the reference to “soul” in our text, Peter also refers to the soul in 1:9; 1:22, and 2:25.

Nothing to Look Forward to

1 Peter 1:9 speaks of “the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” This is followed, after a brief (but important) aside in vv. 10-12, with the admonition to “set youre hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (v.13). A sick soul has nothing to which it can look forward.

A sick soul has no dream of a future revelation (v.13), but is instead stuck in the present or perhaps the past. A sick soul has no sense of the holiness (vv. 15-16) of God which is above, beyond and behind all that we can see with our senses. The sick soul is then unable to respond to God with a proper fear (v. 17) that is due Him. He is left, by default, in the futility (v. 14) of a short-sighted, mortal and mundane existence.

Nothing to Act as Its Guide

The soul, by God’s gracious revealing, is broken free from its prison of blindness and ignorance to a whole new kind of life. This new life includes a consecration to God (1:22) which frees us from self-indulgence. God is gracious in that He has given our souls a guide in what is a trackless wilderness of life for those who are sick of soul.

This guide for the soul directs toward self-sacrifice rather than self-indulgence. We are to practice a brotherly kindness which is strenuous and which arises from only the purest of motives (v.22). Further, this kind of energetic direction does not allow for the crippling distractions mentioned in 2:1. These are to be put away so that our lives, as living stones (2:5), might be properly aligned with the Cornerstone, Jesus Christ (2:4,6). He is the Guide for our lives, and the Director of our souls.

Word studies lead toward to Biblical illustrations. The first is Joseph (Gen 39:8-9), who, in submission to his master and allegiance to God, endured false accusation and affliction. The second is Moses, recorded in Hebrews 11:24-26, who “refused,” “chose,” “considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt.” These men had a guide from above that remained unaffected by the circumstances taking place here below.

No One to Look Up to

Jesus is called by Peter the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (2:25). For those with sick souls, we have no one to look up to. For those who are wandering, their goal must be to either remain anonymous in the room, or strive to be the biggest person in the room. And when I try to “enlarge” myself, I cannot admit to a Leader or a Captain. But Jesus is the one who has blazed a path for us, “leaving you an example” (v.22). He suffered and died, and now serves as the One to whom we look (Heb 12:2), the Author and Finisher of our faith, for those with souls that are being healed.

The Cure for a Sick Soul is not education for our ignorance, but rather God’s gracious revealing of things that we cannot see with our eyes. The Cure is not moral improvement in order to overcome self-indulgence, but is rather the Call to become part of something that is bigger than us and our private dreams, and that will last eternally longer than a temple made with stone. The Cure for my soul is not heroism, unless that means that I finally find in Jesus what I can never be in myself.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Perhaps this is the message that the Church of Jesus Christ needs more than any other: “Be strong and courageous.” If this is indeed the needed message, why?

Because the Church is weak, and we are weak for a number of reasons. Our strength comes from the Lord, and yet the Church insists on trying to find its strength in the world’s wisdom and strategies. Our first reflex is to consistently imitate the behaviors of business in terms of planning and management and marketing, as opposed to the key behaviors of the Church, which are prayer and careful and thoughtful obedience to the Word.

Why is the needed message “Be strong and courageous?” Because we are afraid. No, not with a fear of the Lord, but afraid of the world. Afraid of being different and of falling out of favor. Afraid of risking our prosperity and afraid of being considered irrelevant.

Ironically, our fear of these very things actually ensures that we will lose the things to which we want to hold. The world wants nothing to do with a church that is not different and only acts to curry favor. The church cannot secure its own prosperity, and if it does secure financial gain, it is instantly in danger of spiritual impoverishment. A church that seeks to find its fit with the world becomes by definition “irrelevant,” since the church is not to act as a mirror for the world, so that when the world looks at us, it only sees itself. Rather, the church is to serve as a reflection of God as revealed in His Son. And we cannot at the same time reflect both, just as we cannot both seek God’s favor and the world’s. It is time to “be strong and courageous.”

Jonah and Jesus (1)

Appointments Broken and Kept; Mission Aborted and Fulfilled

I am writing about Jonah and Jesus, not because they are so much alike, but rather, because they are so different. Let me say at the beginning that this study is convicting to me personally, not because I am so much like Jesus, but rather, because I am so much like Jonah.

Both Jonah and Jesus are sent “from the presence of the Lord” (1:3,10). This is a difficult concept in view of God’s omnipresence. After all, where does the presence of the Lord start and stop? The phrase describes not so much one’s location as one’s relation to God’s mission. And here we find a key to the difference between Jonah and Jesus: Jonah left the presence of the Lord in order to “flee” mission; Jesus left the Father’s glory in order to “fulfill” mission.

The reader of this little narrative describing the recalcitrant prophet must grapple with the issue of how we ourselves avoid God’s mission. “Fleeing” can be translated in our lives as avoiding the glare of God’s expectations, isolating one’s self from that which is unpleasant and distasteful, distracting oneself with any number of pursuits (which may better be called “flights,’ as in “fleeing,” rather than “pursuits,” which denotes some kind of legitimate engagement). For whom would God have me pray today? With whom would God have me share both spiritual and physical blessings with which I have been favored? To whom would God have me speak words of grace and truth? What stands in the way of my involvement in these engagements? Is it the attitude of the reluctant priest and the recalcitrant prophet? Is the story of my life one of flight, avoidance, isolation, evasion, and distraction?

We happily enter into debates both great and small about issues of divine sovereignty and human freedom. This story displays for us the amazing amplitude that God allows in His servants – His servants who willfully refuse to serve. God commands the weather, and it instantly responds. God appoints the fish, and it does His will? He appoints the plant, and the scorching wind, and they instantly appear? But Jonah – he disappears.

Jesus is so different from Jonah. “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God” (Hebrews 10:7,8). “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43). Jesus left the throne room of heaven in order to fulfill and accomplish the appointed mission. Jonah removed himself from before the face of God in order to flee and avoid the appointed mission.

Ultimately, Ninevah’s fate was not bound up with Jonah’s faithfulness. It was secured by God’s amazing mercy which brought about a miraculous repentance in that great city. The fate of our families and churches likewise are not fettered by our own feeble faithfulness, but with Christ’s perfect fulfillment. But the call of God remains. And the questions still stands: will I flee from the mission in Jonah-like fashion, or will I fulfill its call as a faithful follower of Jesus.

Jonah prays in 2:4: “I have been expelled from Your sight.” It is perhaps impossible to discern what is faith and what is fake in this prayer. Is Jonah saying that, having fled from the face of God, it is now God’s fault that there is great distance between them? Or is there a great truth, that when I avoid the mission that God has placed upon my life, that there will necessarily be a break of fellowship with God. Somehow, it seems that God allows us to do what we want, and then brings to bear the consequences that we ourselves have chosen. “I have been expelled,” and that is pretty much what I wanted, though it looks a little uglier right now as fish food than it did when I was on a cruise ship.

Jesus prays in Matt 27:46, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Was Jesus expelled from the presence of God? Yes. Was it because he was fleeing from God’s mission? No. Rather, he was expelled from God’s presence in the very fulfillment of God’s mission, as the sinbearer for a rebellious people.

Jonah makes me think about Jesus, not because they are so much alike, but because they are so different.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Treasure for Treasure

Comfort for Comfort

2 Samuel 12:3 uses our word for “special possession” of a pet, a little lamb, bought and nourished. We can relate, can’t we, nuts about pets as we are. There’s just something about the way a pet conforms to the shape of your lap, adjusting itself to you. And that’s how we are to be with God, adjusting our shape to Him.

But some of your pets are not quite that way. They are demanding, and they master you. You quickly find that you are the one adjusting to them, rather than the other way around. And that’s what we often do with God, in our minds at least, adjusting Him for our comfort.

For instance, some aspects of the being of God are uncomfortable for us. We struggle with His sovereignty, since it rubs hard against ours. We can fix that, right? Just adjust (g)od to what your sense of (g)od should be, and the pet is happy, even though the house is in ruins.

Good for Good

Malachi 3:17 refers to the son who is joined to the father’s inheritance by virtue of relationship. The son is his pride and possession. And the son seeks the good of the father. Sure, the son realizes that, since everything that the father has will one day be his, when he serves the father, he is serving his own interests as well. But the interests of the father come first.

So the son does not ask, “what is good for me?” Rather, he asks, “what is good for the father?” He is not focusing on feathering his nest, but on serving the interests of the father.

We sometimes leave a church service and ask, “was it good for me?” “Do I feel better?” “Was I entertained?” We ask these questions in dozens of life situations. But shouldn’t the question be, “was it good for God?” Isn’t He the Father to be served, even as we realize that the path to an experience of indescribable goodness leads first through “seeking first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt 6:33).

And the father, says Malachi, has compassion on the son who serves him. God delights to shower love upon His children as they serve the interests of their Father.

Treasure for Treasure

Matthew 13:44-45 speaks of men, one finding buried treasure, the other finding a pearl of great value. One goes and buys the field in order to have the treasure. The other sells all he has in order to obtain the pearl.

We are God’s treasure. That’s what our verse, 1 Peter 2:9, and our phrase, “a people for His own possession,” indicates. And He has “bought the field” and “sold all he had” for us. And we are to reach out to him like two-year-olds when daddy comes home, and treasure Him.

Our world is full of so many lonely people who do not have the experience of being treasured by God. They may have many comfortable, good treasures. But they are still empty. Why in the world would we trade this blessing of being God’s treasured people for mere bubbles?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Priests with a Royal Bearing; People with a Holy Calling

The Spirit guided Peter to write “royal priests” in 1 Peter 2:9 (adjective followed by verb), quoting from Exodus 19:6, the LXX (Greek), not the Hebrew. In Revelation 1:6, John quotes the same verse, but evidently from the Hebrew, which shows two nouns, “a kingdom and priests.”

Why? I think it fits with Peter’s point, which is that we are priests with a royal bearing, rather than kings with some added priestly duties. After all, Peter has made clear right at the beginning that we are outsiders, sojourners, and he will do so again in 2:12. We are related to the King, but we do not live life here as kings. We are servants, priests.

A priestly people is a little strange. From the Old Testament, we are used to have a priestly class within the people. Isn’t that what pastors are supposed to do today? Peter doesn’t think so. We all are priests.

Priests are blood-spattered. In New Covenant terms, this certainly does not involved animal sacrifice. But it certainly does involve Christ’s sacrifice. We show our blood-sprinkled (1:2) condition when we do two things: when we think often of our sin; and when we think often of our Savior.

When we emphasize how good we are, either trying to convince ourselves or others, we are not functionging as priests, or as Christians. One of the key differences between non-believers and believers is that the former often work hard at justifying self, while the believer finds his/her justification in Christ. The one covers and excuses sin and sins; the other confesses sin(s) and hates that which caused the death of Christ. If you are unaware of any struggle with sin, then I wonder if you even have a Savior.

Priests also are teachers of the ways of God. They take the hand of God with one hand, and the hand of man with the other, and seek to see them reconciled in Christ. If I let go of God and embrace man alone, I am no longer functioning as a priest. And if I forget about men and isolate myself in God, I also am no priest. Priests are continually concerned with a right relationship with God, for themselves, and for others.

Remember, we are priests, with a card in our wallet or a truth in our hearts that we belong to the King. We are not kings who practice religion on the side.

The other term under consideration is “holy nation.” The Greek word transliterates to a kind of “ethnicity,” leading me to think that this is about a distinctive group of people (as in the first term, “chosen race,) in whom an appreciation and hunger for holiness is evident and obvious.

God’s holiness speaks of His “otherness.” He is, so to speak, “out of this world.” That is, this world cannot contain Him, nor even describe Him, because He stands apart in key ways from anything that is known in the world or by the world. For God’s people to know God, they have, in a sense, their “head in the clouds,” not in the sense of being aloof, but rather, they can see or sense horizons that are beyond what we see and experience in this physical world. His holiness is not to be profaned, that is, made common or coarse. He is not ordinary. We should not treat Him, or His name, as such.

Of course, holiness also includes a concern of moral purity. It is the desire to see reflected in human terms what it means to be pure. We are not animals, and we are not to live like animals. The image of the holy God has been impressed upon us, though far from distinct as it once was.

In the OT, we were acquainted with the idea of holy “territory.” The burning bush, Mt. Sinai, the Tabernacle, the Temple, the Holy of Holies – had borders and boundaries. This seems to no longer be the case. The “holy nation” scatters with itself the holiness of God throughout the world. Our own “otherness” and striving for purity; our appreciation of the eternal dimension sets us apart, for God.

We are accustomed to driving past small towns or driving into large cities and seeing the spires of churches, pointing to heaven, reminding us that there is a God. This may be an excellent architectural feature, but it is not what God designed as testimony to His holiness. Rather, he is forming a people with a high calling, a holy nation, to point the world to a God that they do not know.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Gene Selection

(1 Peter 2:9, “a chosen race”)

Racism is a highly charged subject in our society. We struggle with properly admitting that there are different “kinds” of people, and then with ensuring that all “kinds” of people are treated equitably.

The Bible also speaks of “kinds.” It is the prerogative of God to establish kinds of plants (Genesis 1:11-12), and kinds of people (Gen 11). In the Bible, a “race” of people seems to designate a line of descendants from a particular father. Part of the reason for this may be because God delights in variety.

So when God chooses to designate “a chosen race,” He does so by selecting out Abraham to be the father of a new people (Gen 12). A major reason that God chooses is that He desires to accomplish His wider purposes (blessing all the families of the earth) through His particular choices (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob). Over time, this people is redeemed by God from slavery in Egypt, and formed into a covenant people at Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19-24). They are to be characterized, as was their father, Abraham, by a strong attachment to and dependence upon God (Deuteronomy 10:12-22). This distinctiveness of people, if not strong attachment and dependence, continue even into the captivity, where the apocryphal addition to Esther speaks again of the distinctiveness of God’s chosen race: “For Almighty God hath turned to joy unto them the day, wherein the chosen people should have perished.” (Esther 16:21 KJVA)

Again, “race” in the Bible speaks of a distinctive “kind” of people, descendants of a common father. Peter seems to show this in advance of 1 Pet 2:9 with his comment in 1:17, “and if you call on Him as Father, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.” We are a chosen race if we have in common this heavenly Father.

Let me make three points of application with illustration:

1. Until we fully embrace our identity as a part of God’s chosen race as obedient children, we will never make sense of the Christian life. We continue to be painfully aware of racial differences as determined sociologically, but painfully unaware of the kind of distinctiveness that ought to be honored and preserved as God’s people. We show this in our marriage patterns, where more consternation arises from the joining of people with different skin color than does the joining of two people whose spiritual fathers are antithetically opposed to one another.

2. Until we accept our God-given place as God-redeemed outsiders, elect exiles (1 Pet 1:1), we will never adequately proclaim His praises. When Muslims become our next-door neighbors, we wonder what “they” are doing “here.” But Peter’s truth expressed several times is that they are not the outsiders; we are. We are the aliens, the strangers, the sojourners who are seeking to share our way of life with the insiders of this world. We are not to resist the infiltration of “different” people into our cocoons. We are, by race, the infiltrators.

3. Until we understand that we are no more “children of men,” but rather “children of the Heavenly Father,” we will not experience our greatest comfort. Others have no Father like ours. By comparison, it is as though all the world is orphaned, going to bed at night untucked with no story told and no prayers prayed. But we have a Father who never leaves us alone. What a blessed comfort to be a chosen race that can rightfully claim to be “children of the heavenly Father.”

Friday, February 02, 2007

Faith’s Friends

The subject of faith can be difficult. What does it mean to “have faith?” Perhaps we can learn from faith’s friends.

Faith and Grace are not equal partners. God shows gracious initiative in setting the table for us and in providing the meal. Faith’s role is to simply “taste” the Lord’s goodness (1 Pet 2:3) in his person and in his provision for us. Faith savors what God provides. Faith is not even responsible for the digesting of divine delicacy and its conversion to spiritual energies. God’s sanctifying grace accomplishes that as well. Faith simply savors (Eph 2:8,9).

Faith and Repentance are never-failing friends. If faith is an open-handed acceptance of the gifts that God graciously provides, then repentance is the emptying of the hands in preparation for the reception of the gift. To go back to the earlier illustration, to come to God’s table already made full by the junk food shoved down our throats by the world and greedily gobbled up by our own lusts is to preclude the experience of tasting God’s goodness and grace. There is no hunger for God without repentance. We are more apt to pass out into a sated stupor, or to be sick. Faith’s friend, repentance, is our turning from what is cheap to what is priceless, the forerunner of faith in our lives (Acts 20:21).

Faith and Love are never strangers. When Paul looks for evidence of faith in the lives of believers, he looks for love – love for God, and also love for others (1 Thes 3:6). For a self-centered and preoccupied person to claim faith is to make a statement that can be supported by no evidence. Faith in our lives, the savoring of the goodness and grace of God, becomes a dynamic force, through the operation of the grace of God, that will most definitely result in loving activity.

Faith and Works? We often think of these as enemies, since faith is not a work, and we can work to earn our salvation (Rom 4:5). But, having faith, we must expect that faith will work – because it is not a static force, but a dynamic element in our lives – as Paul says, faith working in love (Gal 6:5).

No Faith? Then you are missing out on faith’s friends as well. The absence of faith reveals a want of grace. The diminishing of faith’s vibrancy points to a desertion of the hard by happy work of repentance. Faith without love is mere marketing, and faith without works, as James reminds us (Jas 2:26), is dead.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Why Do People Stumble Over Jesus?

“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense” (1Peter 2:8 ESV)

We stumble over things that we do not see. People stumble over Jesus because they do not see him. People stumble because they do not see the beauty of Jesus.

Some people do not see him because they are distracted. In chapter 2, Peter quotes Isaiah 28, describing the northern kingdom, distracted by their prosperity. People today, prosperous as we are, find themselves generally distracted. In fact, the busier we are, the more healthy lives we think we are living.

Our lives are filled with beautiful and attractive things. They attract our attention to the degree that we cannot see the most beautiful thing ever presented to humanity, Jesus. If only we could stop and think, and answer the penetrating question – what is really important? What will last for eternity?

We need to learn to ask people questions that stop them in their tracks. What do you think God is like? Really? What do you think God thinks of you? Could you take the time to find out what He is really like, and what He really thinks?

Some people do not see him because they are misdirected. They are looking for something else. And so they miss Jesus. Two stories can help us with this.

Saul/Paul held a vision of religion that was pleasing to God that excluded Jesus. Keeping the Law was central, and faith in Christ was leading many Jews away from the “beauty” of Judaism. He hated Christians and their way of life. But on that road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Saul, and all of a sudden, God caused Paul to see the beauty of Christ (Acts 9). And his life was changed. He no longer stumbled over Jesus. He embraced him.

For years, even centuries, the Temple was the place where God’s people, Israel, could meet with their God. Never mind that Temple-worship was compromised by Roman government, Herod’s crooked benevolence, and priestly political compromise. The Temple was central. But the apostles, confronted by the risen Lord, realized the significance of Jesus’ words, that the Temple would be destroyed, and that they would be build around him, the Living Stone (1 Pet 2:4) as living stones (2:5).

Stories can help people see a reality that has been invisible to them to this point. The Bible is one, grand, dramatic story filled with many smaller stories. Jesus told stories, parables to help people see his beauty.

We need to listen to the stories of the Bible to have our own view of reality shaped and re-shaped. We need to be able to relate stories to people stumbling over Jesus, that they might see him for the first time.

Some people do not see him because they are disobedient. The testimony of the prophets, from whom Peter draws (Isaiah 8) is that God’s people consistently rejected light. It seems to be one of the ways of God that, when we choose our own way, he allows us to have what we say we want. Romans 1 shows this three times (24,26,28), that when man rejected God’s way, He “hands them over” to the consequences of their actions.

So if people reject the light of God’s beauty, why should God favor them with the beauty of Christ? If people prefer darkness, why not allow them to stay where they want to be?

And so, if the light of the beauty of Christ has become evident to you, do not be so wicked as to turn your back on him? And do not presume that, if that light is available to you today, that it will be tomorrow.

As we talk with people who are stumbling over Jesus out of disobedience, we must warn, and confront. God issues a summons through His witnesses: “Repent, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.” And for believers, we also must pay full attention to the warnings. Do not allow sin to cloud the beauty of Christ in your life.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I Will Build My Church

According to 1 Peter, God takes the initiative. He gives us birth that allows us to love and believe in Jesus (1:3, 8); He plants the seed that has its fruit in it (1:23); He builds the Temple, the residence of His glory, by incorporating people like you and I, living stones, which, by the way, are practical impossibilities apart from His initiative (2:5).

We believe in this God, but we also show by our practice that we believe something else. The initiative of yesterday may belong to God, but the initiative of today belongs with us, with me. We read and write books, we attend and conduct training seminars, and we build like the Babelites (Gen 11), constructing our human significance, demonstrating our own importance and success, because, of course, we are the initiators of all good things that really matter. Good ideas. Great plans. Monumental projects.

We have growing confidence in technological manipulation – even to create life. God is the author of life, but we are learning how to produce it without him, though confronting us with haunting ethical issues. We contribute unceasing energies to a management control that will leverage better results this year than last, pressuring the perishable seed (1:23) to see what can be wrung from it, and leaving behind bruised and burned-out casualties. We tear down our barns to build bigger ones (Luke 12:18), hoping that that the bigger church building will compensate for the disciples’ immaturity, or the bigger house will make one feel better about the family’s dysfunctionality.

But being practically involved in God’s temple has not only to do with recognizing God’s initiative in its construction. It also demands that we be properly aligned with God’s select Cornerstone, Christ. The question is really not, “Do I feel good about myself” but "Is my life correctly aligned with Jesus Christ?” That question is more difficult than merely saying, “Follow Jesus.” Due to the distance caused by centuries and cultures, let alone sin and selfishness, we often have a hard time answering how it is that we are to align our lives with Christ.

And so when we face “life” questions, we tend to take the initiative and resort to our most trusted resources. They are doctors, psychologists, financial advisors, and school counselors. Most have no regard for God, or your faith, or the Cornerstone. They advise according to their own faith – faith in science, or faith in proven principles of (temporal) investment, or the secret of happiness as found in prescription drugs.

Does science, medicine, etc., have a role? Of course. We ought to thank God for what has been learned about how His creation works. But these things must be applied spiritually. They will not – they cannot – be applied spiritually by these people alone.

Our present and usual course of actions denies a practical faith in God. Our handling of life’s biggest and most painful issues denies full confidence in pursuing Christlikeness (Hebrews 3). We shortcut the Spirit’s guidance in our lives by resorting to other guides who will not direct us to the Cornerstone or give God His due.

How do we expect the Spirit to work? Through God’s Word. And how is God’s Word brought to bear upon one’s life? Through reading, study and meditation. Have you submitted yourself to that kind of investment in God’s Word? Also, through various individuals’ teaching of the Word. But also through the discernment of life issues as evaluated in light of Scripture and as lovingly handled by trusted Christian brothers and sisters.

God’s House is built upon the Cornerstone, and with many living stones. The Christian life is not to be lived alone, but in community. We find our proper alignment with the Cornerstone by the help of other living stones, other believers who are handlers of God’s Word and bearers of God’s Spirit, (being) equipped to hear and to help.

Is there another believer whom you trust? Are there others with whom you could share your heart, and allow them to ask questions, and understand? The sad reality is that many of us are more likely to reveal our doubts, questions and hurts to an unbeliever. Is it because we don’t really believe in God, we don’t really care about Christlikeness, and we simply cannot trust the Spirit to use other believers spiritually in my life?

What God builds will last forever, for His glory. What is built without faith (Hebrews 11:6) and apart from Him (John 15:5) will be destroyed, to our shame.