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.” (

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.