Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: Joel

Here’s the deal about Joel. When we are threatened by the pain of waiting, the Father promises us the Holy Spirit to be the means by which we faithfully wait. Habakkuk proclaimed to us that because God is gracious, that means he’s patient, which is why he hasn’t eliminated all evil from the world. This means God’s people are called to bear God’s image by being patient too. The good news, however, is that God graciously equips us to be patient by promising us the Holy Spirit (Joel 2.28-32). John 14-16 recounts for us Jesus’ upper room discourse for his disciples. With these words, Jesus is preparing us for the reality that he is going away and we are going to have to patiently wait for his return. Because Jesus’ teaching in the upper room focuses on hearts that are troubled by his absence (14.1), this discourse contains Jesus’ most direct teaching on the Holy Spirit. Having described the work of the Holy Spirit to take what the Father and the Son share and share it with us (16.15), Jesus now raises the topic of, you guessed it, waiting. Just like Joel 2.28-32 and Romans 8.14-26, Jesus teaches us that the Holy Spirit is the generous gift of the Father to help his sons and daughters wait.

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about” (John 16.16-18, ESV).

At this point many of us can empathize with the disciples. “In a little while?” What does Jesus mean by “In a little while?” We do not know what he is talking about!” You see it’s in these moments of doubt expressed - It’s in the moment when we stop pretending like we don’t have any questions, that the ministry of the Holy Spirit opens up to us, or rather, we are opened up to the Holy Spirit’s ministry. When we are honest about our doubts, our loneliness, our questions, our pain, a gap emerges that we had previously sealed over with denial and pretend certainty, and that space is filled with the life of God communicated by the Spirit of God who testifies to our Spirit’s that we are God’s children (Rom. 8.16).

With whatever situation is making you feel lonely, go into your prayer closet and open up that situation to your loving Father. The promise of the Holy Spirit is not that the Father will necessarily shelter you from that situation. Rather, the Holy Spirit is the promise of the Father to be with you in that situation because he wants you to know you are not alone. Thanks be to God.

Take a listen to our exposition Joel.

Here's what I'm reading. 

Wendell Berry's unforgettable memoir of Port William's only Barber.

Timothy Keller's topical study of what he argues is the most important aspect of our life with God.

A small book about a big truth by Michael Reeves. Christ is the Christian life. 

A thick book about the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible that has much to commend about how the Bible's worldview can challenge our view of God, the world, and our responsibility as loyal bearers of God's image. This book led to our mini-series on Wednesdays about the divine council.   

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Thoughts About Sunday: Habakkuk

Here's the deal about Habakkuk. As I think back over what the Father was saying to us through the Prophet, four summaries occur to me. May the Spirit of God shape our desires throughout this week with these truths.

1) There is never a time when God is not acting.  

As Habakkuk surveyed the religious and international worlds of his day, it seemed as though God was doing nothing. Judah was acting with just as much injustice as Israel. They were being just as unfaithful to Torah as Israel. Yet, God had not sent Judah off into exile as he had with Israel at the hands of the Assyrians. Many of us have felt a similar emotion as Habakkuk and Israel. "Why do you idly look at wrong (1.3, ESV)," is a question many of us could have asked God at one time or another. With Habakkuk, and often with us, God changes our perspective when we direct our complaints toward him. "Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would believe if told" (1.5, ESV). Often when it seems God is doing nothing, that is when God is up to something. Indeed, there is never a time when God is not active. 

2) The saving power of God works in unexpected ways.      

What was God up to in Habakkuk's day? God says clearly to his prophet: "I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people" (1.6, NIV). "Wait! What?" must have been his response. Yes. God would prove faithful to judge Judah and Assyria. His method, however, was to cause the Babylonians to prosper and increase in power. Babylonian prosperity served a purpose greater than the Babylonians. Through the Babylonians, God had plans to discipline his people by sending all of them - both Israel and Judah into exile. At this point, we must remember that although God planned a difficult exile for his people, God also promised an even greater return to the land (Jeremiah 29.10-14). Furthermore, the exile and return of Israel is meant to point to an even more difficult exile, Jesus' crucifixion (Luke 9.31), and an even greater return, Jesus' resurrection, which will lead to all the earth becoming the promised land (Rom. 4.13). It is indeed strange that God would use the Babylonians to accomplish his will on earth. It is even more outlandish (some would say foolish, 1 Cor. 1.18ff) that God would use a Roman cross to accomplish our salvation. But the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ works his saving power in unexpected ways. 

3) The people of God are saved in hope.        

In 2.3, Yahweh says to Habakkuk: "For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end - it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay" (ESV). Patient hope is the posture to which God though Habakkuk calls us. While the Israelites wait for God to judge Assyria through Babylon, their responsibility is to keep waiting. Instead of choosing to center their vision on the iniquity of Judah and Assyria, the Israelites can gaze with hope into the future. In the same way God challenges us "to wait expectantly for Him; do not be agitated by one who prospers in his way, by the man who carries out evil plans. Refrain from anger and give up your rage; do not be agitated—it can only bring harm. For evildoers will be destroyed, but those who put their hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked person will be no more; though you look for him, he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land and will enjoy abundant prosperity" (Ps. 37.7-11, HCSB). Where does your mind wonder these days? When my mind is idle, I am faced with a choice. Do I pick up my phone and check for more political rhetoric? Instead, let us choose to invest our idle thoughts in imagining how glorious the new earth will be when all wickedness has been judged and transformed by the "restless raging fury that they call the love of God" (Rich Mullins).

4) Hope rests on the foundation of God's faithfulness. 

Hebrews defines faith as "the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Because faith and hope are inseparably linked to the absence of sight, they can be difficult to endure. Andrew Peterson puts it this way:
I say faith is a burden
It's a weight to bear
It's brave and bittersweet
And hope is hard to hold to
Lord, I believe
Only help my unbelief.
From the beginning, our life with God has been fueled by faith. The Bible is clear about this. God has always required faith of his people. It is by faith "the people of old received their commendation" (Heb. 11.2). The Bible is also honest about this. The life of faith is filled with ups and downs, detours and breakdowns, grit and grace. Faith, in its essence, is trust in God's ability and promise to save. You see, during times of weak faith, God does not call us to become what Bonhoeffer called "spiritual navel gazers." Instead, when our faith grows weak, instead of turning inward, we turn to Christ and ask for him to cling to us. I've heard both D.A. Carson and Tim Keller express it this way: "It is not the quality of our faith that saves. It is the object of our faith who saves." This is how our hope can begin to be described as confident. Our hope does not rest on our faith. Rather, our hope rests on the faithfulness of God in Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, many of us are facing situations that require faith. As we look upon these circumstances we are tempted to think God is idly watching. That is not true. God is active, in albeit mysterious ways, and in those moments he is calling us to believe and to hope - to rest on the foundation of his faithfulness on our behalf. Thanks be to God.

Take a listen to our exposition of Habakkuk from Somonauk Baptist Church.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Introducing the Revelation: Part One


Last week we began our introduction to our series that will take us through the book of Revelation. We are calling it, A Humble and Historic Wrestling with the Revelation. We chose this title for a number of reasons. Humble – because we will endeavor to refrain from being people who read the Revelation to figure it out! Historic –because we will strive to be sensitive to the historical context of John and the seven churches to whom he writes.

For introductory purposes, we are asking four questions. 1) What is the Revelation?2) How has the Revelation been read? 3) What is the overall message of the Revelation? 4) What is the goal of the Revelation?

During our first study we explored what is means for the Revelation to be an apocalypse and a prophecy.

Here’s our recap.

o     The Revelation is an apocalypse.

An apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisions eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world (John Collins).

o    Apocalyptic literature is born out of great oppression and persecution.

Far from looking for the end of the world, they (Jewish apocalyptic writers) were looking for the end of empire. And far from living under the shadow of an anticipated cosmic dissolution, they looked for the renewal of the earth on which a humane societal life could be renewed (Richard Horsley).

o    Apocalyptic literature is presented in the forms of visions and dreams and language that is cryptic and symbolic.

The most important of these devices was pseudonymity, that is, they were given the appearance of having been written by ancient worthies(Enoch, Baruch, et al.), who were told to “seal it up” for a later day, the “later day” of course being the age in which the book was now being written(Fee and Stuart). 

o    Images from apocalyptic literature are often forms of fantasy, rather than of reality. Apocalyptic writes combine earthly and other-earthly images (i.e. a woman clothed with the sun [12.1], locusts with scorpions’ tails and human heads [9.10]).

o    Apocalyptic literature is formally stylized. Writers divide time into neat packages and symbolically use numbers for the purpose of expressing one big truth when the sets are put together.

o    Apocalyptic literature enables hope and resistance by unveiling the heavenly perspective about present realities.           

o     The Revelation is a prophecy (1.3; 22.7, 10, 18, 19).

“To prophesy” does not primarily mean to foretell the future but rather to speak forth God’s Word in the present, a word that usually had as its content coming judgment or salvation (Fee and Stuart).

o   Prophets speak words of comfort and/or challenge, on behalf of God, to the people of God in their historical situation.

Since Revelation is a word of prophecy in the biblical tradition, we must take care to understand that its primary purpose is to give words of comfort and challenge to God’s people then and now, not to predict the future(Gorman).

o   Prophets speaks words of warning to reject cooperation with the object of God’s coming wrath (cf. 18.4).

Revelation is prophetic in its words of challenge as much as it is in its words of comfort. That is, Revelation as prophecy should probably be understood as anti-assimilationist, or anti-accomodationist, literature. It is also in this sense that Revelation is resistance literature –“a thorough-going prophetic critique of the system of Roman power” and “the most powerful piece of political resistance literature from the period of the early Empire (Gorman).

Big Idea: As we introduce our study of the Revelation we have learned to take seriously the nature of the Revelation as an apocalyptic and prophetic document. Both of these types of documents are written with the specific purpose of addressing the immediate needs of the original author and audience. Our study, therefore, will pay special attention to the suffering John and Antipas (2.13) are enduring and the suffering that is soon to descend upon the seven churches who originally received the Revelation.  

Works Cited

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible. Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 1993.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011.

Gorman, Michael J. Reading Revelation Responsibly Uncivil Worship and Witness, Following the Lamb into the New Creation. Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011.

Kraybill, J. Nelson. Apocalypse and Allegiance: Worship, Politics, and Devotion in the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press,2010.

Peterson, Eugene H. Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination. New York: Harper One, 1988.

Poythress, Vern S. The Returning King: A Guidebook to the Book of Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 2000.  

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Anxiety and the Kingdom of God


Look at the birds of the air . . . Consider the lilies of the field ~ Jesus Christ

Aside from the fact we now have to mow our lawns more than once a week, most of us have welcomed the refreshment that comes with the warm weather of May. Hasn’t it been nice to be outside for a change? To spend the sunset hours on the back porch – to spend Sunday afternoon throwing and batting the ball around the yard – to go for a Saturday afternoon bike ride has been a welcome relief from being “cooped up” indoors!

Because there wasn’t much “indoors” to go around in the First-Century Middle East, Jesus spent most of his time outdoors. What he noticed outdoors was a resource that would help us deal with one thing that distracts us from the main thing. For Jesus, the main thing is described in Matthew 6.33.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Jesus “left the splendor of heaven” in order to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. God created the earth to be a place where peace and justice reign – a place where the will of God is done by everyone and everything – a place where God and humans would dwell together in unhindered unity. Obviously, the world as it is, is not the world that God desires. The Bible says sin is the reason for the disparity between the world God created and the world that is. The good news, however, is that God loves the world that is and will restore it back to the world that was. In fact, the Bible seems to indicate the restored world will be even better than the original. The plan of God to restore his world came to fulfillment and is coming to fulfillment in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who came into this world preaching the kingdom of God. Jesus desires us to seek that kingdom above all other pursuits. The main thing, according to Jesus, is seeking first the kingdom of God and the righteousness of God.

One thing, according to Jesus, distracts us from the main thing. The one distracting thing is worry. When we are anxious, we stop seeking the kingdom of God. When I am anxious – when I am overwhelmed by worry, all my energy is transferred to the kingdom of David. I become enamored with my finances, my possessions and my reputation. When I am overwhelmed with concern, which is just a less threatening word than worry or anxiety, I lie awake at night wondering how I will pay for it all – how I will get it all done.

It is that this moment Jesus comes to us and says, “Calm down.” To which I scream, “How?” Jesus’ answer is simple. Go outside. That’s right. Jesus tells us, in our anxiety to go outside. Shut down your computer. Put away your phone and go to where the birds and the flowers can be found. And once we find some birds and flowers, Jesus says, “Watch.” Presently, I am reading a book on stress, entitled, Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers. Although the author is not a believer in Jesus, his premise about worry/stress/anxiety is similar to what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6.25-34. What Jesus wants us to notice about birds and lilies and what Robert Sapolsky wants us to notice about zebras is that they don’t worry. Furthermore, they seem to get along just fine without the thing to which many of us devote much energy, namely, worry.

So may each of us be encouraged to walk away from worry. May each of us be wise enough to walk away from the sources of anxiety in our lives. And it just might be the case, that to walk away from worry will involve taking a walk outside and considering the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. So now that you've read this, put your computer to sleep and go outside to watch these living things do quite well without worry.  

Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble (Matthew 6.34, ESV). 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Leaders...


This morning we read Hebrews 13.7-16, but I usually find myself reading the passages that precede and follow. Three times in Hebrews 13 the author mentions church leaders (Hebrews 13.7, 17 and 24). 

I was struck by this first appearance.

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (Heb 13.7, NIV).

Here we are instructed to remember our leaders, to call them to mind and consider the nature of their lives. Who are these leaders? They are those who spoke the Word of God to us and whose way of life and faith is worthy of imitation. Are we speaking God’s Word to people? Are we listening to leaders who speak God’s Word? These are questions with which we are familiar. The relationships that are described here are simply relationships of speaking and listening and tend to stay relatively safe. The author of Hebrews, however, will not allow us only to relate to each other through speaking and hearing – preaching and sitting – teaching and learning. This leader/follower dynamic is one that assumes are lives will be open to each other. We will know about each other’s faith … our struggles … our lifestyles … our disciplines … our sins … our victories. He encourages us to welcome leaders into our lives, to not keep them at a distance and to know them so well that we recognize  the outcome of their lives, that is, the destination to which their lives are headed. This means we will know each other so well that we will know the results of the consistent or inconsistent choices that are made.

Are we speaking God’s Word to each other?

Are we investing in relationships where God’s Word is consistently spoken?

Are our lives open to each other in such a way that our unique life of faith is recognizable?

May the Spirit of God convince us to speak the Word of God to each other and to live lives of transparent faith that is worthy of imitation.          

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

GSI always precede BI


Understanding ourselves is one of the most important things about us. Many of our brothers and sisters in the faith understood well this biblical reality. Near A.D. 400, Augustine wrote these words.

How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self? Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.

In the Sixteenth Century, Teresa of Avila wrote, The Way of Perfection. In this classic document she wrote:

Almost all problems in the spiritual life stem from a lack of self-knowledge.

Furthermore, in 1530, John Calvin said this:

Our wisdom … consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.

Most of us, however, spend our entire lives without seriously reflecting upon who we are and who we understand ourselves to be. If we are serious about ordering our lives in light of the truth we find within the Bible, this would be a tremendous mistake. The Apostle Paul devotes much space in his letters to telling the reader what to do. Before giving us an ethical imperative, however, Paul always tells us who we are and that identity is always rooted in what God has graciously done for us in Christ. In other words, what we do is inseparably connected to who we understand ourselves to be. For example, we were encouraged from Colossians 3 on January 27. This text contains numerous behavioral imperatives (BI) and if we are not careful we can land squarely on those commands and neglect what I like to call the “Grace Statements of Identity” (GSI). Here’s how this works. In Colossians 3.1, Paul commands us, “set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Before the command, however, Paul tells us what God has done for us, “you have been raised with Christ.” GSI always precedes BI. Verses 5-11 contain a litany of ethical imperatives – “Put to death . . . rid yourselves of … anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language …” All of the commands are rooted within the profound statement in verse 3. “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. GSI always precedes BI. If we fail to keep this truth in mind we will fall into Pharisaic Legalism in our attempt to obey the Bible. We cannot obey the commands of Scripture without first understanding what God has done for us in Christ, enabling us to obey. Therefore, when we disobey God’s commands it’s not a problem of discipline or will power. The answer is found in a greater understanding of who we have been made through the death and resurrection of Christ. What we do is inseparably connected to who we understand ourselves to be.         

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Are you a child of God?


What does it mean to be a child of God? What does a Son or Daughter of God do? What does one look like? Jesus Christ is the incarnate, eternal Son of God and defines for all time what the Sonship of God looks like on earth.  One of daily readings today was Hebrews 5.7-6.8, in which the author describes what Sonship of God looked like during the incarnation.

Divine Sonship offers prayers that are born out of pain.

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5.7a, ESV), …

Satan want us to assume that being a child of God should mean life comes easy. He plays this trick on us because he believes the promise of Genesis 3.15 that the serpent’s head will be crushes when heels of God’s people are bruised (cf. Romans 16.20). When things are not going well we often believe Satan and question our status as God’s children. The pain of an approaching surgery and the long arduous recovery to follow – the breathless feeling that comes when your doctor uses “that word” to describe your condition – the lonely feeling of a burdensome life that goes on without a loved long after everyone seems to have forgotten your pain. Times like these cause us to wonder if God really is our Father. But when Jesus defines Sonship for us, we know that to be God’s Son does not mean to be spared from all suffering.

Divine Sonship gains strength from the one who can deliver us from death.

… to him who was able to save him from death (Hebrews 5.7b, ESV), …

In the midst of his pain, Jesus was not left to his own resources. He turned to God in prayer with loud cries and tears. When life hurts we endure the temptation to take life into our own hands and not trust God. Jesus, however, reverently turned to God for strength, received it, and offered up his life in faithfulness as a faithful Son and High Priest. He laid his life in the hands of his Father and trusted in the promise and power of resurrection. As the faithful Son of God, Jesus trusted God, not to spare him from suffering, but to resurrect him, having suffered.

So in the midst of our suffering, when our minds are tortured by doubts that lead us to wonder about our status before God, let us look “unto Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12.2).