Tuesday, September 27, 2011

We Are Over-Cautious

Why do we not confess, that everything is so governed and ordered by the providence of God, that nothing happens apart from His will or command? We are over-cautious; for we are afraid lest we be compelled to confess that God is the author of evil also.
--Ulrich Zwingli as quoted by Steven Lawson in Pillars of Grace, p.437
Let's not undermine the absolute sovereignty of God by denying His control over sin and evil because of the limitations of our fallen human minds and our desire to get God "off the hook." It really is possible for God to ordain and plan every sin and calamity and yet to be a God who never commits or participates in sin. Why? Because the Bible says so (Ephesians 1:11, Genesis 50:20, Proverbs 21:1, Jeremiah 10:23, Acts 2:23, Acts 4:27-28, Matthew 26:24, Romans 9:17-23, Job 2:9-10, Isaiah 45:7, Amos 3:6, Lamentations 3:38, Psalm 105:23-25, James 1:13, 1 John 1:5, Deuteronomy 29:29).

God is sovereign over all things, including sin and evil. Human beings are responsible for the sins they commit.

The Bible never tries to reconcile these two truths. So there's no need for us to try to, which is what many people attempt to do when they remove the second clause from the first sentence.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nothing In My Hand I Bring...

Yesterday, as part of a ministry assignment I was participating in with some classmates from seminary, I attended a different local church here in Nairobi for Sunday morning corporate worship.

The lead pastor was concluding what appeared to be an exhortation to prayer as I walked in and took my seat before any of my other classmates had arrived, about quarter to nine. No sooner had I sat down than the pastor stepped down from the pulpit (which had no Bible in it) and began to passionately exhort the congregation:
Think of some good work that you've done and then take that to the Lord in prayer and demand that you deserve a blessing. You deserve a better position. You deserve a better job. You deserve a better home. You deserve a better spouse...
As I sat there and listened to this pastor's rant, I felt myself becoming choked up. This was clearly prosperity theology. But that's not what broke my heart the most. What moved me in that moment was the fact that I couldn't think of any good work I had done that I could possibly bring before the Lord. All I could think about was the loveless, sarcastic comment that I had made about a fellow brother in Christ the night before. All I could think about was how often my speech is careless and corrupting rather than that which gives grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).

If I were to take anything before the Lord in that moment, it wouldn't be a good work. All I could possibly bring in that moment was a sinful deed, a deed which grieves the Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30).

I don't deserve a blessing. I don't deserve a better position. I don't deserve a better job. I don't deserve a better home. I don't deserve a spouse. I deserve the righteous condemnation of God because of the works I've done.

So what the pastor was saying to us was not good news. I'm not sure why the entire congregation was cheering when in my heart I was grieving. Perhaps if we had good works of our own to bring before God, we might deserve a blessing. But I didn't. And I know for a fact that no one else in that room did (Romans 3:10-18).

And yet, ironically, it was in that very same moment that the Holy Spirit quietly applied the true good news to my heart, lifting my burden and filling me with peace and joy:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32
As God in Christ forgave you.

God forgave me. He took my sinful deeds from my hand and gave them to Jesus. At the cross, He punished Jesus mercilessly so that He could forgive me tenderheartedly. Having taken my sinful deeds from my hands and borne them in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), Jesus has left me with nothing in my hands. There's nothing left to condemn me.

So nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling. Before the Lord in prayer, this is my only plea.

That's the good news that this particular pastor (and, even sadder, this cheering congregation) seemed to know absolutely nothing about.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Progress Is Possible

Thank you Jesus. Amen.

Plant? Or Revitalize?

...there are a number of strategic benefits to revitalizing a dead church. First, revitalizing provides a kingdom two-for-one. Like church plants, revitalization efforts establish a new gospel presence in a town, but they also remove a bad witness. People in Sterling, Virginia, no longer see our church like a billboard that reads, "Jesus and his people are irrelevant. Keep driving." Instead they increasingly see a lighthouse on the hill. They increasingly see a vibrant and dynamic witness for the Truth. Yes, it's harder to mosey into town on your horse to set up a new general store while playing sheriff, but doing so benefits everyone, both the kingdom and the onlooking world.

Also, church revitalization encourages the saints in the dead congregation. Dead churches are often populated by faithful believers who are deeply committed to their congregation. They have hung in through lean times. They have shown up Sunday after Sunday even though little was happening. These dear sheep are loved by the Savior, but they usually do not have a pastor who can care for them. When we were considering our options in Sterling, it seemed wrong to begin a new church in Guilford's backyard while the people there struggled.

When a church is revitalized, these saints are encouraged and shepherded in a new way. One of my chief joys as a pastor has been to hear some of the older women in our congregation recount stories of praying faithfully for this church for years. Now they are delighted by what God has done. Their faith is refreshed, and they are encouraged anew as they serve the growing body.

Finally, church revitalization enables us to harness resources for the gospel. Oftentimes dead churches are sitting on a treasure trove of resources (land, money, equipment) that can be leveraged for the spread of the gospel (Luke 16:9). Guilford Fellowship had a building. It had land worth millions of dollars. And it had over one hundred thousand dollars in the bank. All of those resources were just sitting around, doing almost nothing for the kingdom. Simply as a matter of good stewardship, evangelical churches interested in planting should consider revitalizing as well. Our work at Guilford has allowed us to leverage those resources to revitalize one church, plant another, evangelize our community, and support missions. If we had planted a new church instead, we would be broke, and Guilford's money would probably still be sitting in the bank.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Holiness and the Gospel

19 minutes. Very helpful. Looking forward to the next.

I didn't plan this, but it just so happens that much of what is expressed in this discussion as a desire to place more emphasis on the imperatives of Scripture is a response to the whole thrust of the book and author in the last post: a desire to place more emphasis on the indicatives of Scripture (see here).

I love both. We need both. Depends on who you are. Perhaps what season of life the Lord has you in. It could be that in one season of life you need to place more emphasis on the imperatives of Scripture (without forgetting the indicatives!) because you are more inclined to laziness. And in another season of life you need to place more emphasis on the indicatives of Scripture (without forgetting the imperatives!) because you are more inclined to legalism and works-righteousness.

Or perhaps it depends on the day.

What is the Holy Spirit leading you to emphasize today? It may not be the same thing He was leading you to emphasize yesterday. It may not be the same thing He will lead you to emphasize tomorrow.

He may lead you to emphasize indicative today:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.
Romans 8:1-3
But then He may lead you to emphasize imperative tomorrow:
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Romans 8:13
The only way that I've found to hold these truths in tension is to consistently and regularly be reading through all of Scripture and to submit to all that it teaches, trusting that the Holy Spirit knows exactly what truths I need to be reminded of at any given moment, even when today's truth may feel like it contradicts yesterday's truth. It's not possible to respond to the truth of all of Scripture in any one moment. Even during His life, the teachings of Jesus were almost never balanced in any one moment. And if you're not consistently and regularly reading through all of Scripture, you'll just avoid the tension altogether by gravitating toward the truths that are most comfortable for you.

There's a good reason why the Bible doesn't say the same thing on every page. The Holy Spirit knows the depth of your need and the complexities of your heart in a way that you'll never be able to. He knows what you needed yesterday. He knows what you need today. And He knows what you'll need tomorrow. You don't need to figure out how it all fits together. Just trust Him moment by moment. After all, it's what the fishermen had to do when Jesus told them to leave their day jobs and follow Him (Mark 1:17).

That's why we need the Holy Spirit and that's why the Father has given Him to dwell in us.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

God Gives New Beginnings

What does God have for us after we've squandered His grace in the past?

The answer from Psalm 85: more grace.

God Gives New Beginnings from Covenant Life Church on Vimeo.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Center of Sound Christian Teaching

In the third and fourth centuries, Africa became a fertile field for the progress of the church. The North African coast of the Mediterranean Sea witnessed significant advances in the development of Christian doctrine. Many of the greatest theologians of the early church lived and ministered in cities along this coast. It was there that the first center for Christian learning was established in Alexandria, Egypt.


Among the highly esteemed theologians who comprised the body of teachers known as the African Fathers were Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-ca. 215), Tertullian of Carthage (ca. 160/170-ca. 215/220), Cyprian of Carthage (ca. 200-258), and Athanasius of Alexandria (ca. 298-373). In later years, even the greatest of all theologians of the early church, Augustine of Hippo, would arise from African soil.

Concerning the contribution of the African Fathers to the larger body of Christ, Thomas C. Oden comments:
These African exegetes powerfully affected the dogmatic formulations of the orthodoxy of the East and the West. Dogmatic definitions [worked] off of textual interpretations hammered out chiefly in Africa, the Maghreb and the Nile Valley. [Later] definitions of Christology and the Trinity were profoundly shaped by definitions and concepts that were defined decades earlier in Africa by Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, Augustine and Cyril.... The major battles with heresy were fought in Africa before they were received ecumenically. Gnosticism, Arianism, Montanism, Marcionism, and Manichaeism were all thoroughly argued as problems of biblical interpretation in Africa before these arguments reached clear definitions in the Rhone and Rhine and Orontes Valleys.
This is to say, the African church became, for a time, the center of sound Christian teaching for the body of Christ.

--Steven Lawson, Pillars of Grace, p.110-111
For the sake of Your fame among the nations and for the sake of Your Son and His bride, do it again, Father. Do it again. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian

And they sang a new song, saying, "Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth."
Revelation 5:9-10

Monday, September 12, 2011

In Proportion Then As We Value the Gospel...

"In proportion then as we value the gospel, let us zealously hold to the languages. For it was not without purpose that God caused his Scriptures to be set down in these two languages alone – the Old Testament in Hebrew, the New in Greek. Now if God did not despise them but chose them above all others for his Word, then we too ought to honor them above all others. . . . Let us be sure of this: we will not long preserve the gospel without the languages. The languages are the sheath in which this sword of the Spirit is contained; they are the casket in which this jewel is enshrined; they are the vessel in which this wine is held."
--Martin Luther, 1524
A timely word as I take my first Hebrew quiz tomorrow morning and a great perspective-setter as I begin my study of biblical Hebrew.

Lord, please remind me again and again. For Jesus' sake, Amen.

HT: Christ Is Deeper Still

Thursday, September 08, 2011

What Jesus Calls Us To Do

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
Luke 19:10

As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.
John 20:21

Father, please make this my all-absorbing passion as well. For Jesus' sake, Amen.

HT: Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology

Monday, September 05, 2011