Archives For March 2011

One of the great things about the seminary I attend is the chapel service conducted every Tuesday and Thursday morning.  We get to hear from great preachers of the word, whether it’s one of the professors, administration, or a guest like C.J. Mahaney.  This morning, I really enjoyed and benefitted from the preaching of Greg Gilbert, the pastor of the local Third Avenue Baptist Church.  Greg’s preaching was a model for me as I consider how to preach:  the main points of his message were the main points of the text that he preached from, he used great illustrations to make these points, he knew his audience and how to apply his points to them, he clearly outlined the passage in a way that was easy to follow, and he was dynamic and not boring.  Thank God for preachers like this.  Every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:00 EST, our chapel service is live-streamed, and the video is archived for later viewing as well.  I encourage you to check out Greg Gilbert’s message as it is archived.

 

Anyway, Greg’s text this morning was the story of Joseph.  While many consider the main point of this story to be a sort of “God can take you from rags to riches” application, Greg showed that the text is teaching differently.

There are three main points that Greg highlighted:

1)  The complete sovereignty of God in every detail of this story

2)  Joseph’s quiet trust in God despite what was happening around him.

3)  The fact that the story is not all about Joseph, it is about what God is accomplishing through Joseph.

 

I won’t go into each of those here, but I did want to share some of his insights on the first.  At no point are the events of the Joseph story outside of God’s control.  The dreams that Joseph has are from God, and he has basically shown Joseph what he will do before he does it, proof that God is in control.  In fact, Joseph’s telling his family of the dreams initiates the whole sequence of events that leads him to Egypt in the first place.  It “just so happens” that Joseph’s brothers decide not to kill him and to sell him into slavery instead, and it “just so happens” that the slave traders are heading to Egypt, and it “just so happens” that Joseph’s owner is one of Pharaoh’s high ranking officials, and it “just so happens” that he is thrown into a prison with two other high-ranking officials who “just so happened” to have had a dream.  God uses the brothers’ actions and all of the events that happen to Joseph to move him into a position of prominence in Egypt where he will be able to achieve safety for his family, the Israelites, and will bless the Egyptians through his wisdom.

One final nuance.  It’s not only that God just “uses” the things that happen to Joseph.  He says to his brothers at the end:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

God “meant” all of these things.  He didn’t just “use” them, as if they happened and God just made the best of it.  He intended for all of these things to happen to Joseph, even the awful things, in order to accomplish the good purpose that He had.

That was a source of comfort for Joseph, and it should be a source of comfort for us.  No matter what happens to us, God is in control, and it will eventually work out for our good if we love God.  Sometimes God’s good purpose will be beyond our lifetime – think of all the Israelite slaves who prayed to God their entire life and did not live to see the deliverance from Egypt.  But God’s good purposes will come to pass, and we will share in this goodness ultimately because we are united with Christ and share in everything good that God has given to Christ.  Even though it is beyond our point of view now and our circumstances may point in the opposite direction, God will in time give us the fullness of this promised inheritance.

 

 

I wanted to share something from my Systematic Theology class I had this morning.  We are currently discussing ecclesiology, which is what the Bible has to say about what the church is.  We were looking at how the church is “confessional” – both personally and corporately.  Personally, each individual in the church has confessed Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9).  There is also a community dimension to this, though.  The church, together, has a common confession of belief.  This has been expressed in various forms of church “creeds” throughout history, and many scholars agree that there are fragments of these church confessions in the NT (2 Tim 2:11-13 and elsewhere)

 

So that was the context.  Have you ever heard the phrase “speaking the truth in love”  from Ephesians 4:15?  What you tend to think of when you hear this phrase is a context where one believer is pointing out sin or a harsh reality in another believer’s life.  Maybe someone is being a jerk, or controlling, and they don’t realize it, and you want to lovingly confront them and point this out to them.  And although this is good and proper, this is actually not what this specific passage is referring to.  First,  here is Ephesians 4:15:

 

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…

 

Notice the “rather” that this phrase begins with.  The author is contrasting this with what immediately came before, and what is that?  Here it is:

 

until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 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, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ

 

This “speaking the truth in love” in context is in contrast to the community of believers being misled by false beliefs about God and Christ.  Instead of being misled, they should as a group “speak the truth in love”.  This is the truth about Christ – who He is, what He has done, what He has charged us to do.  This is the community “confessional” aspect of the church.  One great example is through the songs that many churches sing – many songs contain rich theological truths about God, and as the community sings them together they are expressing their common belief about God, “speaking the truth in love.”  Of course, one application of this could be a believer lovingly confronting another believer and reminding them of the truth about Christ and the gospel.  But the primary sense of the passage is describing the truth about God that is spoken together as a community in contrast to being misled by false ideas about God.

 

It’s good to be reminded that our faith is not merely an isolated, individualistic faith, but is a faith that is in common with the specific body of believers we belong to and that is connected to the faith of all believers everywhere, both past and present.

Romans 8 Update

March 21, 2011 — 1 Comment

Our church is memorizing Romans 8 for the Lent / Easter season.  I’ve basically just been memorizing / meditating on these verses for my devotional time.  One thing about this is that you definitely start to understand more of the flow of thought and connections in the passage.

 

I have never seen more clearly how Romans 7 / 8 present two sets of desires in Christians:  the desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit.  The desires of the flesh (not meaning material or physical, but referring to the “old sinful nature”) cause us to desire independence from God and God’s law.  So when we are faced with a moral choice, we are drawn to doing the opposite of what is right because it establishes ourselves as independent from and not needing God.  Non-Christians have only this nature; they are trapped in it.  This does not mean that they never do “good” things; in fact, they may devote their life to doing good.  But it means that even this doing of good is done from a heart, from a nature, the flesh, that desires to establish independence from God.  What is ironic about this is that everyone is dependent on God for their very existence; it is impossible for them to exist independently of God, because he made them and sustains their life.

 

Christians, however, have a second set of desires that comes from a transformed nature.

Romans 8:2 – “The power of the Spirit of life has set you free from the power of sin and death.”

When a person becomes a Christian (through repenting of their pursuit of independence from God and placing all of their trust in the work of Jesus Christ to forgive their sins) they receive the gift of God’s Holy Spirit; God’s personal presence lives within them.  And with this presence comes new desires; God’s own desires.  Christians desire to follow God’s law; to love God and love others as God loves us.

These two sets of desires – the desires of the flesh and the new desires of the Spirit, are constantly at war with each other in the Christian.  You want to do what is right, but you also want to do what isn’t right.  The key is that you have a choice of which set of desires you will choose to live by in any given moment. You do not have to sin in any given situation.  You will, if only because the desires of the flesh that remain are still very powerful.  But you can also grow in the ability to walk in the desires of the Spirit as opposed to the flesh, so that these desires come to overpower the desires of the flesh.  How do we grow in this?  How do you learn to walk?  Take steps at a time.  Choose, in a particular moment, to believe that by the Spirit’s help you can do what is right.

 

The author of the book of Hebrews encourages us in this struggle so well:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every encumbrance and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with endurance the race set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.”

 

There is great joy in learning how to walk by the Spirit, and in putting to death the desires of the old nature! You can’t do this by yourself, but if you trust in Christ and rely on His Spirit within you, you can do all things through Him.

 

Winning

March 8, 2011 — Leave a comment

Dr. Hamilton has a great post on his blog on the desire for excellence in sports and honoring God.

Fantastic analogy

March 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

From Byron Straughn’s article in the new 9Marks Journal on Church-Parachurch relationship:

 

The gospel is the good news that sinners like us can be reconciled to God through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Read Ephesians 2:1-10 for a picture of this vertical reconciliation. But another set of relationships follows. Being reconciled to God means we’re reconciled to God’s people. Read Ephesians 2:11-22 for this picture. Becoming a Christian means being adopted into God’s family. And joining a local church is like showing up at the family dinner table. Don’t tell me you belong to God’s “universal church” if you don’t prove it on earth by binding yourself to a local church. That’s like saying you belong to the family but never showing up at family events.

Working for a parachurch ministry, on the other hand, is like playing for a soccer team. (But wait, Byron, I know you. You’ve never played soccer. Yes, it’s true, but I have friends who play soccer, so hear me out.) You know how soccer teams work. Team members are selected, and then they gather to play soccer. They don’t gather to receive math tutoring, to brush their teeth, to give and receive family love, or to care for the elderly. They gather for one purpose and for a limited season of involvement: to play soccer. What’s more, everyone on the team usually belongs to the same gender and is approximately the same age.

But a family is different. It’s broader and deeper. Whether you’re adopted into a family or are born into one, your family is responsible for your entire nurture, growth, and education. Your family is the group of people you live with and learn to love. The relationships are permanent and all-defining. There’s no such thing as a “family season” which ends after the championship game, like there is a “soccer season.” And “family practice” doesn’t end at 5:30, even if soccer practice does. What’s more, the family is where you learn to love people who are very different from you in age and gender—siblings, parents, grandparents, crazy uncles. Though you might be disappointed if your soccer league dissolved, you would be devastated if your family disappeared.

As I said before, the gospel makes us members of the family of Christ, a membership made concrete through joining the church on earth, the local church. We “put on” our membership in Christ’s body by putting on that membership in a local church, just like we “put on” our righteousness in Christ by walking in righteousness. But as family members, we still have the freedom to pursue all kinds of specific kingdom purposes and activities. Maybe that’s playing soccer. Maybe that’s working for a parachurch ministry.

 

You can read the rest of the article here.

 

The Gap

March 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

From Dr. Gregg Allison’s footnotes in the upcoming book on ecclesiology (doctrine of the church):

 

D. Michael Lindsay highlights a particular example of [separating from the local church]. Having interviewed hundreds of America’s most important leaders, he explained “Many of the nation’s most powerful believers—presidents, CEOs, entertainers and athletes—won’t be found in the pews on Sundays, thus creating a growing gap between them and ‘the people.’” For example, (then) President George W. Bush, politician David Kuo, NFL quarterback Kurt Warner, and Continental Airline senior executive David Grizzle, while being quite outspoken about their Christian faith, rarely attended church. They preferred to be involved in exclusive Bible studies, invitation-only programs, the National Prayer Breakfast, and other parachurch gatherings. Indeed, according to Lindsay, “Nearly three-fourths of the leaders I interviewed serve on the board of at least one parachurch organization, such as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. They prefer these groups because they have a broader reach and bigger impact.” Lindsay finds this trend of loosening “ties to churches in their own communities…deeply troubling. It signals the loss of one of the few social settings where average ‘Joes’ used to rub elbows with the powerful, and where the powerful kept in touch with the concerns of average folks.” He calls for a halt to this trend and warns: “Otherwise, affluent believers will continue to leave their congregations—and their fellow believers—behind in their ascent, creating a gated community of the soul.” D. Michael Lindsay, “A gated community in the evangelical world,” USA Today, Monday, February 11, 2008, p. 13A.

 

Memorization

March 4, 2011 — Leave a comment

Our church is attempting to memorize Romans 8 soon.  I was working on it this morning, and I realized how valuable memorization is as an act of meditation on Scripture.  In fact, I think the value is so great that you could effectively substitute your normal devotional reading for a season with scripture memorization.  So if you’ve ever had a desire to start memorizing Scripture but always felt you didn’t have the extra time, try just doing it for your normal Scripture-reading time.  I think you’ll find that, if you continue to think about what you are memorizing, it will be a valuable time full of good insight.

 

You could even do a sort of “every other day” alternating between Scripture memory and devotional reading.  Or you could do some reading in the evening and Scripture memory in the morning, etc…

 

And Romans 8 is a great place to start.