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