Saturday, July 17, 2010

Vacation Highlights

I haven't posted here for a while due to lots of other things going on. Most notably, the past two weeks have been occupied with an epic family road trip, as I, my lovely wife, and our two teenagers traveled to northern California to spend some time with our oldest son Mike. Mike's in his second year as a pastoral intern at Meadow Valley Community Church in Quincy, up in the Sierras. It was a great trip, and after a few days of reflection, here are a few highlights.
  • Mountains - Though somewhat unintentional, our trip seemed to take on a mountain theme as we traveled through almost every range between Nebraska and northern California. That included the Badlands (OK, not really mountains, but tell that to my kids), Black Hills, Bighorns, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Sierra Nevadas, a few ranges in Utah, and the Colorado Rockies. I love mountains, and especially driving through them, so this was sweet.
  • The Numbers - We've never done a trip quite this long. The sheer numbers we racked up were impressive, according to our GPS. Like a total of 3,889 miles. Over 11 days. Covering 9 states. With 68 hours of drive time. At an average of 27.8 mpg from the Family Truckster, I mean the Taurus.
  • No Problems - Speaking of the Taurus, we had absolutely zero mechanical problems on the whole trip. I consider this a gift of God's grace. As well as getting stopped for speeding on I-80 in Nevada and not getting a ticket. Grace indeed.
  • The Sights - Our family was able to see some sights and experience some places that we'd never seen before, and hopefully begin to appreciate the diversity and grandeur of God's creation. Like the eerie landscape of the Badlands. The quiet beauty of the Black Hills. The patriotic feeling of visiting Mount Rushmore on the 4th of July. The close encounter of the third kind with Devil's Tower, and the prairie dogs there. The incredible sights and sounds and smells of Yellowstone, as well as the wildlife there. The splendor of the Grand Tetons. The desolation of the Utah salt flats. The ruggedness of the Sierra Nevadas. The amazing waters of Lake Tahoe. The high peaks and passes and deep valleys of the Rockies. And so much more.
  • Family Time - Packing the four of us in a car for 11 days could have been a real relational disaster. But again, by God's grace, we had a good time together. Especially the days we spent in Quincy with Mike as a whole family, and getting to see what his life is like there. And also spending some time getting to know Mike's girlfriend Rebekah, who came up from Redlands to meet us and who we came to love and view as part of the family.
  • The Church - While in Quincy, we got to know many of the people at MVCC. And I was blessed by their commitment to Christ, His gospel, and most visibly to each other. A small church truly being the body of Christ. We even got to witness the baptism of a young man that God had just saved out of a life of professed atheism - in a mountain stream. I'm convinced more than ever that God has our son Mike in the right place to learn and grow in being a shepherd. Thanks Terry, Curt, the Biddles, the Kroekers, and so many others who are modeling godly life and ministry for Mike.
  • The Funny Stuff - There were so many funny situations that kept coming up as we traveled. The most notable was the big red bus full of Asian tourists that stalked us for three days, across two states and multiple stops. We first encountered them at Mount Rushmore. The next day, they were at Devil's Tower when we stopped there. Later that day we stopped at a rest area on I-90 near Sheridan, Wyoming, and they pulled in as we were getting ready to leave. And the next day, as we stopped to view the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, there they were again. I think we lost them after that, but we kept on the lookout for red buses the rest of the trip.
Hopefully we also made a lot of memories as a family that will last. Thanks Lord, for being so gracious to us in this trip, and in an infinite number of ways in Christ every day.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Myth of Anonymity

Teaching at the Rescue Mission yesterday regarding each believer in Christ finding the function that God has gifted and purposed them for in the body of Christ, and then living that out. Of of the guys mentioned that he sees people who have the gift of giving, as they contribute to the mission in many ways, and very often anonymously, not wishing to gain any recognition for their service or giving. But only desiring that any and all glory be to God.

As I thought about this observation, Jesus' words in Matthew 6:1-4 came to mind. Lon was expressing just what Christ taught here in the Sermon on the Mount:

"Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

Jesus here commends anonymity before men for righteous deeds, so as not to be a hypocrite and seek commendation from men. In fact, He says if you receive honor from men for your good works, don't expect any reward from God, you've already had what you're going to get. But He also points out that the idea of doing any righteous work anonymously is a fallacy. While we may seek to do our deeds out of the sight of men, it's impossible to do them out of the sight of God. God is the One who "sees what is done in secret" and rewards faithfulness based on what he sees. So while we may seek to do good works anonymously, so as not to gain any honor or recognition from men, we do not, in fact cannot, do them anonymously before God. He sees every act of righteous obedience to Christ that we do, visible to men or not, and will reward His people for those acts with the words, "Well done, good and faithful slave." What a great motivation for seeking our recognition from Him then, not from others now.

But the corollary to this is that there are no anonymous sins, no unseen acts of disobedience to Christ. Just as God sees in secret our acts of obedience to His, He also sees in secret our acts of sin against Him. There's no such thing as a secret sin, when you factor God into the equation. Every thought, emotion, willful bent or act, even if never known of by another human being, is known by God. And this destroys the false idea of the victimless sin, since all sin is an affront against God, making Him the ultimate victim, the offended party. And God, who sees in secret, will righteously deal with our sin openly. What a frightening thought for those who would seek to hide their sin and think they're OK. The words of God in Numbers 32:23 were never truer: "...and be sure your sin will find you out."

But for the person who's placed their faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death on the cross, what an amazing thought, that God has already dealt righteously and openly with our sin, both the obvious and the secret. He place those sins, and all others for all who will trust in Him, past, present and future, on Jesus at the cross and forever settled the issue. And in place of our sin, He credits to us who believe the perfect righteousness of Christ, a position of right standing before Him for eternity. So that even when we continue to try to keep secret anonymous sin in our hearts and minds, God knows them, will lovingly discipline us to bring us to repentance from them, and continues to apply His gracious forgiveness to us in Christ.

Amazing grace, indeed.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Reasoning Together

While on a bike ride this afternoon, I was thinking about a recent comment made by a Facebook friend of mine. It was a quote of Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, and let us reason together," Says the LORD..." And then commentary lamenting that evangelicals don't do much thinking these days, in contrast to this command of God regarding reasoning.

I have to agree in a sense with what my young friend was saying in his comment. Modern, or should I say postmodern, American evangelicalism seems to have a real challenge thinking deeply about much of anything. But then, I'm not so sure this is limited to evangelicals. Just look at the urbane, banal, superficial, fantastic and fleeting subjects that seem to capture the attention of the American public at large, and it's evident that thinking deep thoughts and applying the laws of logic and reason in public and private discourse are rare commodities. Most evangelicals seem to be more shaped by this emotions-over-mind culture than by the words of God. And this affects so much in the life of the average Christian, who fails to think deep thoughts about God, the only One who is worthy of deep thinking, and indeed requires deep thoughts about Him to begin to comprehend Him as He's revealed Himself to us. So yeah, I'm with my friend in this sense.

But I also see another sense in which certain segments of the postmodern church violate this command as well. Not by not thinking or applying reason, but by doing so in the wrong manner. Just as anti-intellectualism is un-Biblical and un-Christian, so also is super-intellectualism. By that I mean overly embracing the deep thoughts and philosophies of those who are wise according to this world, but foolish towards the things of God. I see a tendency among some, especially the young, to become fascinated with the thinking and writings of man-centered philosophies, and seek in some way to reconcile or combine these views with Biblical Christianity.

But how does God say we should reason, in Isaiah 1:18? He commands us to reason "together," to think with Him. We are to apply the rational minds that God has given us to think along with Him, with our thinking and reasoning informed and transformed by His thoughts. To be sure, His thoughts are higher and deeper than ours can ever be (Isaiah 55:9). But at the same time, if we are in Christ then His Spirit dwells within us and leads to transformation in our thinking (Romans 12:1-2). In fact, we are told that we have the very mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:13). Therefore any thinking Christian needs to first and foremost be reasoning with the mind, will, purpose, nature and authority of God in view, as He's revealed these things to us. We must reason together with Him.

But if our starting point for thinking deep thoughts about spiritual things begins not with the mind of God and His revelation of that mind to us, but instead with the philosophies and ideas of men apart from Christ, we are not reasoning together with Him, but with them. Beginning our thinking with any philosophical system or worldview or metanarrative that is sourced in the reasoning of man cannot lead us to a deeper understanding of God, but will instead lead us away from Him. And try as hard as many might, it is impossible to reconcile these thought systems with the mind of God, since they're sourced elsewhere and are in fact in opposition to Him. How can one rationalize existential thought with the God who defines existence? OK, so Kierkegaard tried, but not so successfully. How can one make sense of postmodernism's claims to reject all metanarratives or "big stories" with the redemptive history of God revealed in His word? How can the meaninglessness of nihilism be of use in understanding or explaining the God who alone creates meaning by His purposes and actions?

There is, however, one sense in which studying the man-made philosophies and thoughts of deep thinkers according to the mind of man can and should be useful to the Christian. And that is to allow us to better understand the spiritual bankruptcy of these ideas and ideologies apart from God. Every one of these thinkers and thoughts are an expression of the depravity of man's mind in isolation from the mind of God. If we engage in reading the works of Hegel, Nietzsche, Sartre, Rorty, Lyotard, Foucault, and others, while at the same time reasoning together with God, we will gain insight into where the corrupted mind of man will go apart from the redeeming grace of Christ. And we'll gain deeper insight into the thoughts and views of those in the world around us, making the gospel of Christ shine even brighter. To the praise of His glorious grace.

So come, let's reason together...with God.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Otherwise Occupied

So yeah, the posting here at the Den has been pretty sparse of late. Well, life's like that sometimes. Seems I've been otherwise occupied with a number of time-consuming things that have precluded me from paying much attention to this blog. And what are those things? Well, thanks for asking.

The launch of a new ministry focus and vision at my church has involved me getting hands on with a new blog site intended to help communicate and engage members in the process. The whole thing is themed Even More, and is rooted in Jesus' words in John 15:2 - "Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit." God's done incredibly gracious things in our church over a number of years, and now we sense Him leading us to ask Him to do even more. Which is expressing itself in a number of ways, which will be rolled out as the plan unfolds. This really is an exciting time to be part of Highland Park Church, and I'm loving being able to play the role of content guy for this one component of the whole thing. So go check out the blog site at

Related to parts of the new ministry vision roll out are a couple other things keeping me occupied. As I've noted in previous posts, I'm developing a new in-depth study of Ephesians, 26 lessons worth, to begin teaching in one of our new flock groups launching this fall. Lots of exegesis and application left to do there (I'm working on lesson 3 now). And I'm also working on a sermon I'll be preaching in August as part of a series on the letters to the seven churches in Revelation. Got the exegesis done, now starting to think about homiletics. I'm expositing on Christ's words to the church at Philadelphia, the faithful church that needs to persevere to be overcomers. Great stuff.

And outside of that, I've also been putting a lot of time and effort into some work-related things. Since I serve as a volunteer leader for the Utilities Community of the Americas SAP User Group (ASUG), I've been heavily involved in planning and prep for the ASUG Annual Conference coming up next week in Orlando. In fact, I just finished packing and am flying to Orlando in the morning, will be emceeing a group meeting all day Sunday and then helping with the rest of the conference the rest of the week. Expecting 15,000+ people. Yep, it's a big deal. The Amazing Algore is one of the keynote speakers, along with Colin Powell and others. Of course, the best part is the free Santana concert on Wednesday nite.

So sorry if you few readers out there, wherever you are, haven't had much silage to chew on here lately. I have been occupado, and will be for a bit more. But I promise eventually to get back to something of substance here. Someday...

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Blessings All Mine...I Mean Ours

Working on exegesis of Ephesians chapter one for teaching prep, and am taking apart verse 3. Paul here is opening up this long section outlining the blessings of God upon His people. A careful examination of this single verse gives some deep insight into these blessings, which we so often breeze over. And also gives us a much more Biblical understanding of what the term "blessing" really means in God's view.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.

First, we see that the blessings in view here are already ours. Note the past tense: "has blessed us." Not will, of might, or could, or is. The tense is in the past. God has already given these blessings to us. They are ours now.

Second, we see that the blessings are sufficient. We have been given "every" blessing. There are no good things the Father intends to bless us with that He has withheld. Every means complete, sufficient for all our needs.

Third, these blessings are not physical. They are in fact "spiritual." There are of course physical blessings from God, such as children, spouses, friends, employment, health, etc. But that's not what Paul has in view here. The focus is on the eternal spiritual good that God has done for us. This alone destroys the false ideas of the health and wealth gospel charlatans.

Fourth, the blessings are not of this world. They have their reality anchored "in the heavenly places." God's good to us finds its ultimate fulfillment not here and now, but there and then, for eternity.

Fifth, these blessings are available only through Jesus Christ. God the Father has given His blessings not arbitrarily, but specifically to those who are "in Christ." The goodwill of the Father has flowed to His people through their trust in and unions with His Son.

And lastly, these blessings are given to the church. Notice that Paul says God has "blessed us." The inclusive plural reference makes it clear that these blessings from God the Father are to us. To individuals, yes. Each person must embrace the gospel and Christ personally. But the blessings listed here are for us, corporately, the people who God has specifically chosen as His to receive His blessings, as a community of His people. In fact, verse 4 goes on to reinforce that intentionality of God in providing these blessings through His Son: "just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him."

This first opening verse of Paul's benediction serves as a gateway to the great truths contained in the rest of this section of the letter. All the details of those blessings -  chosen by the Father, adopted as children, redeemed by the Son, heirs of God, sealed in the Spirit - have to be linked back to these fundamental principles.

Blessings all mine,,,I mean ours. With ten thousand beside...

Monday, May 3, 2010

Hold On, It's Comin...

Wow, it's been almost a month since I last posted something here. Lots of stuff been happening, like the death of my wife's father, but I haven't been in the posting mood lately. But right now I have two projects going on. One the development of a large study (26 lessons) of the epistle to the Ephesians. The other preparation for preaching on Revelation 3:7-13, the letter to the church at Philadelphia, later this summer. Both of these are challenging texts for exegesis and homiletic study. And I intend to share some of these bits of insight with you couple of faithful readers in the near future. So hold on, it's comin'.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Second Nature

While having a great time yesterday morning teaching in the New Life disciple program at the local Rescue Mission, one of the guys made a comment that I found really insightful. God often teaches me more from the questions and comments from these men who are infants in the faith than I think I impart to them. Funny how that works, huh?

We were in the midst of a study of what the gospel of Christ says about slavery and freedom. This is a subject most of these guys can readily connect with, since they’ve lived the life of enslavement to all kinds of things – drugs, alcohol, sex, whatever. And they recognize (far better than most good people) that the root of that slavery was and is bondage to sin, to Satan as their spiritual father, and ultimately to their own selfish desires. So when they read Jesus’ words in John 8:31-36 about the truth of the Son making them free, they’re all over that. These are men who have been willing slaves to the cruelest master of all – their own sin – and want to really know and experience the freedom from that bondage that comes only in Christ.

And they also connect with Paul’s statement in Galatians 5:1 – “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” They feel every day the pull of their still-active sin nature that would take them captive to themselves again if they give it the chance. And they also experience the tendency we all have to substitute a list of man-made or self-imposed rules and laws for the freedom we’re given as believers in Christ to live by the Spirit. And that also means voluntarily submitting to those whom God has placed over us in spiritual leadership positions. In the case of these disciples, that’s the Rescue Mission staff.

So as we were discussing this subject of being free to submit to Christ and to His leaders, one of the guys named Don made a comment about dealing with that. He said, “It’s second nature to me to want to rebel against authority.” That statement stopped me in my tracks. Because what he was expressing, even though I’m not sure he realized it at the time, was the reality that every Christian deals with in working out the battle of the two natures that are at work in us. That reality expressed in Galatians 5:17: “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.” The spiritual nature which is made alive in Christ and that frees us from bondage to self and sin, vs. the sinful fleshly nature that still seeks its own head.

But as this man stated, that rebellious, sinful, selfish nature is his second nature. As a redeemed person in Christ, that sinful nature has been crucified, robbed of its power and dominion over him, dethroned from the position of master (Romans 6). And therefore, our flesh is not our only nature, not even our first nature, but rather our second nature. A nature that’s still active and that we can and often do still allow to govern our thoughts and actions. But in a real sense it is our second nature. A nature that we are no longer slaves to. A nature that we are now free to subdue, by the power of Christ and His Spirit working in us synergistically with our own transformed mind and will.

So as I reminded Don, praise be to Jesus Christ that his rebellious nature is now truly his second nature. God has given him, and all who trust in Christ, a new and eternal and redeemed first nature intended to rule our lives and willingly submit to Him as our new Lord and Master.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

He IS Risen...Indeed

Haven't been able to focus on anything blog-worthy lately as my attention has been on my father in law's health issues. He's currently in hospice care as the last few days of his life pass. What a gift of God's grace to allow my wife's father Bud to have the time to gather with family and say goodbye, to make his wishes clear, to impart final words of wisdom. Once more showing the mercy and grace of our Lord.

But that's not what I'm thinking about right now. Approaching the culmination of this Holy Week, my mind is on the reality of the resurrection of Christ. The Christian's cry of celebration on Resurrection Sunday is this: "He is risen!" A clear, direct, unambiguous statement of fact. And not that He has risen, or that He was risen. He IS risen. Not just a past event, but a present reality. He rose from death to life, and He remains alive, in a resurrected state. Christ's resurrection isn't of the same category as those of Lazarus or others in the Biblical record who were raised from the dead. They didn't stay alive, they had to eventually die again. But Jesus Christ has risen, and is risen, never to suffer death again.

And all who have trusted in Him and His sacrificial death on the cross will likewise share in that resurrection. He not only resurrects us to spiritual life in regeneration so that we can respond to Him - He also guarantees that even though we may physically die, we have life eternal like His, and will ultimately be resurrected in a manner like His as well, never to perish again.

In fact, through personal faith in Jesus Christ, my father in law is facing the end of his physical life with the sure promise of eternal life and resurrection in Christ. How anyone can face death apart from that blessed hope and assurance, I can't imagine.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

I Am Not Ashamed

"Those who objected to the Christian gospel ridiculed it, mocking it because of its absurdity. For there is nothing more ridiculous than the word of someone who preaches that the Son of God was born and brought up by Jews, who rejects neither the cross nor death, who says moreover not only that Christ rose from the dead but that he ascended to heaven as Lord of all, that he will raise everyone else from the dead, and other things the apostles preached. The pagans mocked these things and ridiculed them, thinking that they would make the apostles shut up. Therefore Saint Paul, feeling obliged to reply to this opinion of the apostles, began his teaching thus: I am not ashamed of the gospel."
- Gennadius of Constantinople, Sermons

(From The City)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Portrait of an Unhealthy Church Attender

I've been teaching a series on being healthy church members. Came across this video on Dan Phillips' blog, and was really irritated by it. Irritated not just because "Ronnie" is so irritating, but because it points out all the stuff I've been teaching correctives to. Take a look and see if you can spot the marks of Ronnie's unhealthiness when it comes to church, and Jesus Christ for that matter.

Ever met a Ronnie?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Testing My Ministry Motivation

Been pondering this short snippet of a quote by Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
"This shall be an infallible test to you concerning anyone’s ministry. If it is man-praising, and man-honoring, it is not of God."
One of those statements that it's really easy to apply to others, isn't it? No problem looking at ministers and ministries, large and small, and pointing out just how man-centered they seem to be. Plenty of that kind of evangelical-in-name-only kind of stuff going on wherever one looks today. And to be fair (to all of us), that kind of evaluation of ministers and ministries is right an necessary. It's part and parcel of contending for the faith. As those who have received and been entrusted with the eternal truths of the gospel of Christ, to do less would be failing to fulfill our duty and calling.

But, on the other hand, what about me? This question that the prince of preachers poses goes to the heart of motivation in ministry.Why do I do what I do when it comes to my personal Christian ministry? I believe I've been gifted and called to be a teacher of God's word, a belief that has been confirmed many times over the years. I get great joy and personal reward in engaging in this ministry, in a variety of contexts. The most personally rewarding experience for me in the ministry of the word is when I see someone grasp a Biblical truth and the implications of that truth, and respond accordingly. You know, the so-called "aha moment", the light bulb going on, that sort of stuff. That's one thing that always stokes my fire for continuing to teach and disciple Biblically.

But along with that often comes some sort of response along the lines of "Wow, you are such a great teacher." Or "I really love your classes, I get so much out of them." Or some other adulatory utterance directed toward me. Now, this is not an everyday occurrence, for sure. I'm probably overstating the case even now. But it does happen. And the answer to the question Spurgeon poses come back to: is this what motivates me to teach the Bible? Is my motivation, at its root, sourced in this affirmation of those whom I minister to? Or is it based in faithfulness to The One whose name I minister in? Is it for the praise of men, or is it for the pleasing of my Lord?

But the toughest part of this statement is Spurgeon's conclusion. For if my motivation, my focus, my whole reason for doing what I do comes back to seeking praise and honor for me rather than for Him, then the so-called ministry I engage in is mine alone, and devoid of any power or blessing from God. And if that's the case, then it's really not a "ministry" at all, is it? Ministry is serving Christ's people for His glory, not for mine.

This is something that I have to constantly pay attention to. And I'm sure most of us engaged in any kind of service to Christ do too. Our hearts are so easily deceived, and our need for affirmation so strong. I need to continually check my motives, and be seeking my affirmation not from any man or woman, but from the God Man, and only Him. Faithfulness demands it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"We Are Not Figure Skaters"

An excerpt from Phil Johnson's message at the recent Shepherd's Conference. (You can find the whole sermon here):

Pulpit Highlights - Phil Johnson from Grace Community Church on Vimeo.

Phil's comments regarding the expectations of postmodern evangelicals of their pastors is right on. So many in today's congregations want a man who is primarily "relational", while others are rightly most concerned with finding a strong Biblical leader. But the need and calling is for a man who is a solid Biblical shepherd leader and expositor, as well as a man of compassion and who cares for the flock. Too often these are seen as mutually exclusive traits, when in fact they are the picture of the complete man of God.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Biblical Evangelism Anyone?

Working on a lesson about healthy church members being Biblical evangelists, I posed a question: “How does a Biblical understanding of the gospel and a Biblical understanding of conversion impact our understanding of evangelism?” The last two lessons in this series have been addressing just these two themes – a Biblical understanding of the gospel of Christ, and a Biblical understanding of conversion. So just how do these two foundational building blocks of gospel ministry affect the way we understand our mission as ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20)?

What is evangelism? It’s the heralding of the message of reconciliation of lost sinners to a holy and righteous God through faith in a perfectly substitutionary sacrificed Son and expressed in a life of obedience to Him. That in a nutshell is the evangel, the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ. That, and only that, and all of that, is the propositional truth that must be communicated. There are many methods, approaches, tactics and strategies for doing so, but all of those methods must include a clear communication of these core gospel truths or they are not evangelism. This is why so-called lifestyle evangelism or “witnessing with our lives” may be helpful, but is not evangelism. Sharing our testimonies of God’s grace in our lives through Christ is a good and right thing to do, but it’s not evangelism. A Biblical understanding of the gospel requires that those objective gospel truths be clearly communicated. A Biblical understanding of the gospel, then, impacts the content of our evangelism. It defines the message to be proclaimed.

So what then about conversion? How does a Biblical understanding of conversion impact how we do evangelism? When we understand that conversion, in Scriptural terms, is far more than what we often strive for today, it transforms our view of what the objective of our evangelism is. Praying to “accept Jesus into your heart”, signing a card, walking an aisle, “making a decision”, are all too often viewed as the sign of successful evangelism. But none of these popular ideas and terms are even close to being found in the Scriptures. They tend to put our focus on closing the deal and getting a name on a card or a profession of faith. But the Biblical model of conversion is far, far more demanding. A profession of faith without a corresponding confession of life is in fact a dead profession, according to James chapter 2. The Scriptures constantly use terms of repentance (metanoia) and conversion (strepho) when referring to coming to saving belief in Christ. Not just profession with the mouth, but confession with the life through surrender to Him as Lord (Romans 10:9-10). So then, a Biblical understanding of conversion impacts the objective of our evangelism. We seek to see God make converted disciples, not simply gain professions of faith.

Does this Biblical informing of the content and objective of evangelism match what’s seen in much of postmodern American evangelicalism? Sadly, no it does not. A widespread superficial understanding and communication of the gospel, combined with a decision-focused objective in conversion, is producing generations of professed Christians who at best have a tenuous hold on eternity, and at worst (and more likely) are still in their sin and given false assurance of salvation.

As Thabiti Anyabwile states in his excellent little book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, “Apart from a Biblical understanding of conversion and evangelism, a church member will be most unhelpful in completing the churches mission of making disciples.” God, save us from being unhelpful to your work in building Your church and Your kingdom. Give us a solid reliance on the understandings of the gospel of Christ and the nature of true conversion that You reveal to us in Your word. And give us unwavering confidence in Your power to save Your elect by Your gospel. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” – Romans 1:16.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Survey Says...

I try to avoid using The Den as a forum for my political views, preferring to keep true to the theological and Biblical content that I started this little nondescript blog to present. My political leanings are decidedly conservative, both socially and especially economically. And I am increasingly concerned that President Obama and the Democrat leadership are leading this country to the brink of economic ruin that will take decades to recover from - if ever. And I also believe that this is a moral issue, in that it affects the quality of life and opportunity for millions of Americans, now and yet unborn.

But I am also concerned with the seemingly willful loss of our government's accountability to the people who they are ostensibly there to serve. The will of the people seems to matter little to the current adminisration, even to the point of sacrificing political party numerical advantage on the altar of pursuing some sort of achievement - even if that 'achievement' is one that the American people do not want.

Today I came across some results of the latest CNN/Opinion research poll that points this out with shocking clarity. Consider these numbers:

  • Only 25% of Americans want the current Obama health care bills (either one of them) to be passed and turned into law.
  • 48% of Americans wish the President and Congress would scrap the current bills and start the discussion and process on health care reform all over again.
  • 25% of Americans wished the federal government would drop health care reform for the time being - altogether.
  • 56% of the American people believe the government is intruding upon the basic rights of its citizens. The survey shows that 4 in 10 Democrats feel that way as well as 6 in 10 independents.
Note that this isn't a 'biased' right-wing Fox News poll, it's from CNN. Any way you look at it, the majority of Americans do not want what Pres. Obama and the Senate and House majorities are working overtime to find a way to get passed. And all the while referring to Republicans and Independents who oppose these bills as 'obstructionists', while at the same time barely able to scrape together enough Democrat congressional votes to get the bills passed, even by using the reconciliation 'nuclear option.'

OK, I'm done now. I could say much more, but I'll leave the interpretation and application of these survey results to you, my one of two astute readers. But I'll close with this statement: a representative government that ignores the will and consent of the governed has lost its moral authority to lead.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Eagerly Expositing Ephesians

I've been exploring the beginnings of writing a study of the epistle to the Ephesians for the past couple of months. I have always been fascinated by this letter, as it is both a supremely doctrinal epistle as well as intensely practical. (Not that I'm making a distinction between doctrine and practice, mind you. Orthodoxy is necessary for orthopraxy. But I digress.) Since Paul wasn't writing the letter to correct any issues in the Ephesian church, he was free, as inspired by the Spirit, to explain the mystery of the church and many key doctrines surrounding the nature of the church. And the letter also makes the "so that" connection between the doctrines and the impacts those truths have on the way we as believers in Jesus Christ and members of His church must then walk.

As I've explored writing this study, I keep seeing more and more need for this wide-ranging doctrinal and practical epistle that has something to say to every believer at whatever stage of maturity of life they’re at. And I seem to keep getting further confirmation in this from God as I read and pray. The letter seems to speak to so many areas that I am passionate about, including the doctrine of the church, the Christian’s identity and position, the glory and grace of God, and the doctrines of grace. So far I’ve developed an outline for the study, which is detailed below. I'm titling the study Ephesians – The Church Revealed.

  1. Background and Salutations (1:1-2)
  2. The Blessings of the Church – Chosen by the Father (1:3-6)
  3. The Blessings of the Church – Redeemed by the Son (1:7-10)
  4. The Blessings of the Church – Sealed in the Spirit (1:11-14)
  5. A Prayer for the Church (1:15-23)
  6. The Position of the Church – Reconciled to God (2:1-10)
  7. The Position of the Church – Unified in Christ (2:11-22)
  8. The Mystery of the Church Revealed (3:1-13)
  9. The Strength of the Church (3:14-21)
  10. The Walk of the Church – Unity (4:1-16)
  11. The Walk of the Church – Renewed Minds (4:17-24)
  12. The Walk of the Church – Truth and Purity (4:25-5:14)
  13. The Walk of the Church – Spirit-filled (5:15-21)
  14. The Walk of the Church – Submissive (5:22-6:9)
  15. The Battle of the Church (6:10-20)
  16. Closing and Summary (6:21-24)

In starting to work on this study, my problem is that I can't seem to get past the richness and majesty of chapter 1, where Paul, in one long breathless sentence expresses a string of truths regarding the blessings and identity of the Christian and the church. So pray for me, that I would be able to capture and communicate the depth of God's revelation in this powerful letter, without getting lost in the depths. I plan on sharing some of my exposition of Ephesians here at The Den as I work through this, so stay tuned.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ... - Ephesians 1:3

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What the Church Needs to be Overcomers

I and the rest of the Bible teaching team at our church met with our senior pastor last evening, focused on determining future teaching plans for our adult Bible classes. As part of this, he led us through an incredible examination of the letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2-3. These letters contain striking words from Christ, the Lord of the church, and reveal much about what He holds as signs of a successful church. And also what He considers as indicators of an unfaithful church, and what He will do to such churches if they don't repent. It's somewhat chilling to read Jesus' words to these pastors, to hear His stern warnings to five of them, and to think of these warnings in the context of our postmodern evangelical church. And even more so, to evaluate our own church and ministry in light of Christ's words.

For example, consider the church at Ephesus starting in Revelation 2:1. Christ commends them because they had great doctrine, exercised Biblical discipline, didn't tolerate false teachers, and had endurance in these things. They had the ministry of the Word down. They were faithful in their proclamation of the Bible and keeping it at the center of their church life. Sounds like the kind of church I want to be part of, right? None of this 'Bible-lite" Christianity for me. In fact, it reminds me a lot of the church that I am part of.

But keep reading Jesus' words in 2:4-5: "But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent." Did you catch that? Christ says they're doing all the right stuff, remaining faithful and true to the Biblical doctrines and exercising them rightly. But they are doing so out of a cold sense of obligation and duty, because the love for Him that they had at first is not there anymore. They have abandoned it, walked away from it, lost it. Their motivation for doing Christ's ministry Christ's way had originally been based out of a fervent and passionate love for the Savior. But they had since fallen from that motivation, to something else, something less. And is this important? Obviously so important to Jesus that He commands them to remember the love for Him that was their motivation in the past, repent of their state of cold-heartedness, and return to doing His ministry motivated by a love for Him. Or else He will personally come and take them out. Christ says that if their ministry isn't flowing out of a holy love for Him, then He doesn't need them, doesn't want them. The implications are obvious. If we are doing the ministry of the Word well, we must also see to it that we are doing it motivated by a passionate love for Christ, for His glory, for His name, for His gospel.

Then look at what Jesus says at the end of this letter to the Ephesian pastor, a pattern repeated in each of the seven letters. First, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." Translation: "Listen up." Then He says "To the one who conquers I will..." Over and over He echoes different promises to those who conquer, to those who overcome. The Greek is νικάω, to prevail or to gain victory. The context makes it clear that He's making these promises to those who respond to His warnings and repent, return and endure in that repentance until the end. In the case of the Ephesians, His promise is to those who return to the love they had for Him at first.

This pattern is repeated in each of the seven letters. Affirmation (well, not to all of them), warnings against what Christ sees needing corrected, and promises to those who overcome through those corrections. So putting all these things together, we get a picture of what Jesus wants His church to be and do to be conquerors and overcomers. And as we learned through this study last night, what we as the stewards and undershepherds and teachers of His church need to be focusing on imparting to His people to enable them to be overcomers. And not just what we teach, but why we teach it and how we teach it.

  • We need to impart a passionate love for Christ, as the Ephesians needed.
  • We must help believers develop endurance and perseverance in the face of suffering and persecution, as the church at Smyrna needed.
  • We must teach and promote sound doctrine, as the church at Pergamum was warned.
  • We must promote holiness, purity and right worship as needed in the church at Thyatira.
  • We must seek to develop spiritual vitality and life like the church at Sardis needed.
  • We must teach and model faithfulness like the Philadelphian church needed.
  • And we must foster a Christ-dependency rather than a self-sufficiency as Jesus warned the Laodiceans.
A tall order for Christ's churches, to be sure. But imperative if the church is to be the church that Jesus Christ has called us to be, saved us to be, empowered us to be, commanded us to be and warned us against not being.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Defining Christian Buzzwords

I've been kicking around the idea of creating a Bible study on what I'm calling "Christian buzzwords." By that I mean all those words we throw around within Christian circles but often fail to think clearly about or define well. And also some of those words that we as Biblical Christians should be able to define and use, but often can't. Listening to a recent episode of The White Horse Inn today got me more stirred up about pursuing this study. They were playing comments from students at a Christian college, in response to being asked what the term justification means. And the responses were...well, not encouraging. All the way from "I have no idea what that means," to "living right so as to justify God letting us into heaven," to "I'm not into that, I'm just trying to find out what God wants of me every day." These are students at a Christian college, mind you. The Reformers, who gave their very lives for the truth of justification by faith alone, would be tearing their garments at hearing these responses from self-professed Christian young people.

This really got me cranked up. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the church is losing her ability to speak in the language of Christian faith. That we are losing our understanding of the meaning of so many words that have been the common tongue of the faith once for all delivered to the saints for two millennium. And not just our young people, but at all levels of the church. As I teach other studies to adults in our church, I'm discovering that I can't use many terms like justification, sanctification, righteousness, etc without first defining them, because people have such superficial understandings of the Biblical meaning of these words. The terms that are the building blocks of Biblical faith and doctrine need to be relcaimed so that the church of Jesus Christ can communicate these essential truths first among ourselves, and then to the lost world we live in.

So here's my starting list of Christian buzzwords and terms that I am looking to build a study around, in no particular order. Can you Biblically and clearly define these terms? Comments and suggestions for others are welcome.

  • Salvation
  • Justification
  • Sanctification
  • Grace
  • Faith
  • Church
  • Theology
  • Gospel
  • Law
  • Sin
  • Regeneration
  • Propitiation
  • Atonement
  • Redemption

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Walking Circumspectly

This morning we were greeted with a shiny coating of ice from freezing rain that had fallen overnight, making everything rather slick. It was by the providence of God that I made it to the parking lot at work without a collision. And the walk across the icy parking lot was no piece of cake either. I found myself taking very deliberate, slow steps as I made my way to the door.

As I picked my steps from the car to the door, a snippet of a verse (Ephesians 5:15) popped into my head, in the old KJV vernacular: "See then that ye walk circumspectly..." That's what I was doing, for sure. Being extraordinarily careful how I walked on that icy ground, lest I slip and fall and cause myself harm. But since "circumspectly" isn't an everyday word for most of us, what's the NASB say? "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise." Be careful how you walk. Man, that's exactly what I was doing.

Looking closer at the Greek, though, gives more insight into the meaning of this command that Paul gives to us as believers in Christ. The words first refer to watching, Greek βλεπετε, meaning to look at, to see and take care. As I was walking on the ice that's what I was doing - looking down at where my feet were going with each step. Making sure that I was stepping on a firm place that wouldn't cause me to slip or trip. And the Greek word for walk here is περιπατειτε, literally meaning to walk all around. The most common translation of this term in the NASB is "walk about". Notwithstanding the Australian use of the phrase, it refers to everywhere you walk.

So Paul's command is to watch very closely each step that we take as we conduct ourselves in this fallen world, wherever and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. We are not to be like so many unwise and foolish people who blunder on through life, with their feet taking them down whatever path they find themselves on. Proverbs has a lot to say about the paths that we take, and the consequences of those steps. We are to keep our eyes watching where we are walking, making each step in life an act of righteous worship to Christ. We are to look around as we walk, keeping away from those obstacles that would trip us or slippery spots that would cause us to fall. We are to remember that the world we walk through is far, far more treacherous than any icy sidewalk, because as Paul says, "the days are evil."

So watch closely how you walk, Christian, wherever you walk. Walk circumspectly, taking deliberate steps that keep you on the path of righteousness. Because as Paul says, "you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light." (Ephesians 5:8)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"You", "They" and "We" in Worship and Confession

Been reading through Nehemiah as part of our current sermon series on the book. I hit chapter 9 yesterday and was struck by the prayer of confession and worship spoken by the priests and Levites before the people, after their marathon session of reading God's word to the people. And an incredible prayer it is. The thing that struck me is the repeated use of "You", as the Levites refer over and over and over again to the mighty works of their faithful God. Starting in verse 6 and continuing through the end of the chapter, they recite back to the Lord an historical account of His faithfulness to His people. You alone are God, You are the creator, You sovereignly chose Abram and made a covenant with him. You delivered Your people from bondage in Egypt and brought them out. You were faithful to sustain them even when they were rebellious, on repeated occasions. You sent prophets to warn them of Your impending judgments, and You graciously restored them again and again when they repented. The prayer refers to what "You" have done at least 45 times. The central focus and the hero of this prayer of worship and confession is clear: it is You, the Lord God of Israel.

Also noteworthy in this long public prayer is the use of the term "they." As the Levites recount the many sins and apostasies of the people of Israel against their God, over and over the term "they" is invoked. They were unfaithful, they were rebellious, they would not listen to God's prophets or heed His warnings. They were arrogant and stubborn and acted wickedly. The prayer is one not just of worship in ascribing glory to God for all His power and faithfulness, but also one of corporate confession of all the sins of the people of God to Him. In fact, God's faithfulness and compassion towards His people is portrayed even more starkly against this backdrop of rebellion and sin. God's glory shines more bright in contrast to the sin of His people.

But there's one further term used by the Levites that takes this prayer of worship and confession even deeper. That word is "we." The Levites make it clear that the "they" is not a distant indictment of their forefathers, but rather an identification of their own sin and guilt and rebellion with that of their ancestors. They state in v. 33 that "You are just in all that has come upon us; For You have dealt faithfully, but we have acted wickedly." The confession here is personal, not abstract. And it's tied up within an attitude of worship and repentance. In fact, the whole prayer is a lead in to a covenant that the people are making back to God, to turn from their rebeliion and serve Him as He deserves and has prescribed.

Seems to me this is a pattern to consider in our worship and confession. First focus must be on "You", God alone, as we declare His worth and faithfulness and mercy. Then an identification with "they", as we corporately confess our unfaithfulness to Him in the past, and His repeated gracious response to our rebellion. And finally "we", as we acknowledge our personal participation in that rebellion and sin with our own acts against God, and as we desire to turn from them and serve Him fullly and rightly.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's Wishes for 2010

I've been having an issue with the whole "Happy New Year" thing. As I've heard it and said it the past few days, it just seems so...shallow, superficial, and generally self-centered. Is the best we can wish for someone or for ourselves in the year ahead is to be happy? Happiness is such a fleeting, circumstantial and external state of emotional feeling. Is happiness the be-all and end-all of human existence? It seems that it is for most of the unbelieving world. Personal gratification and satisfaction, a state of happiness in the here and now, I guess is all the person apart from Jesus Christ can hope for. But can't we people of God, who have been given a new birth and a new nature and a new purpose to our existence through the grace of God in Christ, come up with a more substantial wish for our friends and family in the new year? I think we must.

Don't misunderstand me - I like being happy as much as the next guy. I'm not one of those dour-faced self-flagellating ascetic legalist types who think the most devout Christians should be the most miserable people on the face of the earth. There's enough of those people around to last a lifetime and more. But putting the focus on happiness, rather than on the One who is the source of happiness and joy and life and peace and righteousness for the believer, is just missing the point.

So my wish for my friends and family and the few readers of this blog, Christian and otherwise, is this: to have a Christ-centered and God-glorifying 2010. To have a year in which Jesus Christ is at the center of every facet of your life. Twelve months of being fully engrossed in and satisfied with all the He is. If that means receiving His grace in salvation, more the better. A year that is fully gospel-saturated with the person and work and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And as a result of that, a year that is fully glorifying to God. Three hundred sixty five days of words, actions, thoughts, deeds, emotions and disciplines that reflect the holiness and worthiness of our Lord and Savior. A year of living out the purpose that He created you for and redeemed you to fulfill.

And as an outcome of these two God-focused wishes for your new year, I wish you not just happiness, but joy. The joy that goes deeper and further and wider than any circumstantial happiness, and that flows from a life lived for and satisfied with the presence of Christ and the glory of God. A joy that transcends all else, and that can and will produce a happiness in Him that will last far beyond 2010.

Next time you hear someone wish you "Happy New Year" - translate that slogan into these terms, and anticipate how He will fulfill them.