Sunday, December 18, 2016

Advent Week Four: A Fire in the Belly of God

What motivated the Triune God to come to this dark world to win it back to himself? What was God seeing when he looked at the world prior the incarnation of his only-begotten Son? What was God feeling when he looked at the world? The first thing God sees is his creation, but not as he intended it. This world was created by a self-giving God to be a Temple where God dwells with us to give us life. As sons and daughters of Adam, however, we have refused God’s gracious presence and his gift of life. This is called sin. How does God respond to what he sees? Again, his response is to give himself because this is what God is like (see Philippians 2.5-11). C.B. Kruger writes: “In marked contrast to the gods of human imagination, the Christian God is not self-centered, not a taker at all, but a giver.” This generous, self-emptying nature of God is on display, not only the Story of Creation (Genesis 1-2), but also in the Story of Christmas (Luke 2). This self-emptying love motivated God to send the Savior. Remarkably, the labor pains that lead to the birth of Jesus, point to the fire in God’s belly that is an unquenchable love. This love stoops in humble service to absorb and exhaust the consequences of sin so that we might be raised to God. “Here in Christianity, we have a God who stoops, writes,” C.B. Kruger, “who wants to be united with us and who is prepared to humble Himself and even to suffer to accomplish such a union.”
An unquenchable love in the belly of God is the theological rationale for the Incarnation. It is the love of God come all the way down to us that we celebrate at Christmas. Thanks be to God!
Click here to download and listen to our message, Christmas and the Undoing of Adam.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16–17, ESV)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Advent Week Three: The Tender Mercy of Our God

“Love is the fundamental divine attribute in that God is love apart from the creation of the world, love characterizes God. Love is the eternal essence of the one God.” These words from the late Baptist Theologian, Stanley Grenz, capture the central truth of the songs that come from the lips of Mary and Zechariah. Jesus’ mother and his uncle declare that the saving deeds of God are driven by the inward compassion of God. Let’s take a closer look at the central section of Zechariah’s prophecy. 

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:76–79, ESV)

As Zechariah holds his promised firstborn son in his arms, he declares over him the plans our promise-keeping God has for him. Zechariah’s son will be the Most High’s prophet whose preaching will prepare God’s people to receive what the Lord is giving them. According to Zechariah the Lord is offering two gifts. First, the Lord is giving salvation. This salvation, announced and embodied by Jesus, includes an announcement of forgiveness. In other words, our debt has come due, but God is paying it it on our behalf. Secondly, the Lord is giving light. We who are rendered helpless by darkness and the shadow of death, are being given the Light of the world. What’s more the Light of the world came into the darkness but was not overcome by the darkness (John 1.5-9)  To summarize, the God of Christmas is a generous Giver who gives himself. 

Who is this generous God who gives himself? If we were to ask Zechariah to peal back the layers in search of the most fundamental essence of this generous God, he would show us the tender mercy of our God. This is similar to what Paul says in Romans 11.32. After exploring the mystery of Israel’s unbelief, the gracious in-grafting of Gentiles into God’s one vine, and the thorny issue of divine hardening, Paul states rather clearly, “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (ESV). The story of salvation is intended by God to display his mercy. This is who God is and what he wants to be known for. Jesus’ uncle proclaimed the tender mercy of God. Jesus’ mother sang the mercy of God. Jesus’ servant, Paul told the story of God’s mercy. 

Against the backdrop of God’s mercy we are prepared to understand the judgment of God, or more forcefully, God’s wrath. The most basic thing that can be said about God is: “God is love.” “There is no God but the Father and the Son throughout eternity bound together by love, a relationship concretized by the Holy Spirit” (Grenz). The answer to every question that starts with, “What was God doing” (Before creation? Before sin?) is experiencing divine love. Furthermore, the purpose and goal of creation is the formation of one human family to share in the eternal love of God. Sin (see Genesis 3) enters the scene and love demands a response. This is what we call the wrath of God. It is the loving response of God to preserve, protect, maintain, and avenge that which threatens his relationship with his beloved. Brothers and sisters the Bible has much to say about God’s wrath, just as it says much about his love. We must believe all that the Bible teaches about God’s love and God’s wrath. However, we must also speak the way the Bible speaks about God’s love and God’s wrath. With the Bible we must assert that the love of God is primary. The wrath of God is secondary. The wrath of God is temporary. The love of God is eternal. Brothers and sisters, if we are asked to describe what God is like, and if our answer claims to be biblical; we must declare without qualification that God is love. Love is God’s most basic disposition. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Advent Week Two: The Incarnation

Probably my favorite English speaking theologian is Thomas Torrance. His writing about the doctrines of Christ and the Trinity never cease to stimulate within me deep thought and sincere worship. Incarnation refers to the eternal Son becoming human, for us and our salvation. Referring to this incarnation, Torrance writes:
"The very fact that God became man in order to save us, declares that the humanity of Christ is absolutely essential to our salvation … The virgin birth tells us that here in the midst of our humanity God is recreating our humanity as an act of pure grace." 
Theologians call what Torrance is describing the hypostatic union. This ten-dollar word describes what the Bible teaches about Jesus. Jesus is "the miraculous bringing together of humanity and divinity in the same person, such that he is both fully divine and fully human" (Stanley Grenz). Brothers and sisters this is the beautiful miracle of Christmas. Jesus Christ is God coming all the way to us.

Jesus Christ is God coming all the way to us. 

Jesus is fully God. He is one with God in his God-ness. He fully possesses the divine essence. These statements attempt to declare what the Bible teaches. Jesus is visible display of the invisible God. 

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. ...  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Colossians 1.15, 19, NIV). 
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. ...  
But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom (Hebrews 1.3, 8, NIV).

Jesus Christ is God coming all the way to us.

Jesus is fully human. He is one with us in our humanity. He fully possess the human essence. These statements describe what the Bible teaches. Jesus fully possesses the human nature we possess.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1.14, NIV).
For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2.5, NIV).
Brothers and sisters, this is the theological reality that Christmas is. The baby in the manger is eternally begotten of the Father. He is fully God. This same baby, however, is a human descendant of Mary. From the Father he eternally receives his divine nature and from his mother he received his human nature. Jesus Christ is what God has planned for humanity forever - oneness between God and mankind forever. Joy to the world! The LORD has come.

Listen here to our exposition of Luke 1.26-56 in which we hear the narrative of the announcement to Mary that she would give birth to the eternal Son of God.

Here's what I'm reading. The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story by Brennan Manning.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Advent Week One: Zechariah and Elizabeth

The extraordinary story of redemption happens through ordinary people who believe the promises of God. This is what Luke emphasizes as he begins his account of what was fulfilled through Jesus. Throughout the story Luke tells, Jesus is the quintessential friend of sinners. In fact, more than any other Gospel, Luke describes Jesus as seeking and saving those who have been pushed to the fringe of society (Luke 19.10). What's more, the "all kinds of people," Jesus comes to save, include ordinary religious folk like elderly  Elizabeth and her aged husband, Zechariah. As this first week of Advent gets started, let's consider two appeals from their story.

We should follow faithful routines. 

Just like us, Zechariah and Elizabeth were waiting for the promises of God to be fulfilled. They were waiting for God to act - to do something about the oppressive Romans government. They were praying with the Psalmist, "How long, O LORD? How Long?" Can you relate to Zechariah and Elizabeth's longing? What emptiness leads to longing deep within your soul? What situation is causing the words, "How long?" to form in the back of your throat? The people of God have always been waiting for God to keep his promise. This is why God's people have always allowed their lives to be disciplined by routines that shape them to wait. Disciplines such as regular prayer, corporate worship, Scripture study, and fasting and feasting with God's people are designed to help us patiently wait for God to make good on his ancient promise. Even more, these regular routines are intended by God to help us discern what God is up to, even when it seems like he is doing nothing. Brian Zahnd is helpful when he writes: 
Waiting for God to act is actually waiting for your soul to become quiet enough and contemplative enough to discern what God is doing in the obscure and forgotten corners, far from the corridors of power or wherever you think the action is.
Brothers and sisters, there is never a time when God is not active. However, his action is not always easy to discern. May we learn with Elijah that God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire. Rather, the voice of God came as a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19.9-18). Zechariah and Elizabeth were disciplined by faithful routines so that when God acted in the "obscure and forgotten corners" they had ears to hear.

We must discern God's promises to the weak. 

The story of the eternal Word of God becoming human on our behalf is full of all kinds of people, the powerful and the weak. Throughout the Christmas story it is the weak and vulnerable who receive the good news of God's promise. In fact, it seems the ones who occupy the position of power are unable to receive the news of the birth of Israel's humble king. Brothers and sisters, we are preoccupied with power (at least I am). Within the past few days, I have spent mental energy contemplating Donald Trump's latest tweet, whether or not Hillary Clinton is calling for a recount of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, and whether or not the referees in the Ohio State-Michigan game were biased toward the Buckeyes. On the other hand, the story of the incarnation reveals that the mental energy of heaven is directed toward the weak, the humble, the empty, the downtrodden, the immigrant, the elderly, those regarded by the world as losers. In other words, the good news of Christmas according to Jesus' mother is that God is filling the hungry with good things and the rich are being sent away empty (Luke 1.53). May the same Spirit who brought God's Son into the world through Mary lead us to give our attention to those who occupy the mind of God.

Once again, Brian Zahnd helps us:
We have been seduced by an idolatry that deceives us into thinking that God is mostly found in the big and loud, when in fact, God is almost never found in the big and loud. The ways of God are predominantly small and quiet. The ways of God are about as loud as seed falling on the ground or bread rising in an oven. The ways of God are almost never found in the shouts of the crowd; the ways of God are more often found in trickling tears and whispered prayers. We want God to do a big thing, while God is planning to do a small thing. We are impressed by the big and loud. God is not. We are in a hurry. God is not. We want God to act fast, but Godspeed is almost always slow.
Listen to here our exposition of Luke 1.1-25.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: Pastoring toward Unity

How can the words of the Psalmist become our words?
I will walk before the LORD                                                                                              in the land of the living (Ps 116.9, ESV). 
In a world overflowing with "the snares of death ... the pangs of Sheol ... distress ... anguish ... death ... tears ... feet that stumble," how can we confidently assert that we will walk before the LORD in the land of the living? The world described by Psalm 116 is not some Pollyannaish vision of a life without struggle. Instead it is Gritty. Difficult. Painful. In the words of Eugene Peterson, the world of Psalm 116 "adds up to a lot of trouble. ... The land of the living is dangerous country. A lot goes wrong. There is a lot of trouble brewing out there and in here. Resurrection takes place in the country of death." This is good news because it is honest. The worldview of Psalm 116 is honest, but at that same time, hopeful. Resurrection will take place in the country of death! The concern of Ephesians 4 is how to walk with the hope of resurrection while we still call the country of death our home.

If our hope is resurrection, humility will be our reputation. 

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:1–3, ESV)
Paul has already gone to great lengths to describe the implications of Jesus' resurrection in the first three chapters of Ephesians. Specifically, Paul teaches us that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, is the same power he is working among us who believe (1.19-20). What's more, the God who is rich in mercy and love for helpless and hopeless sinners has "made us alive together with Christ ... and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (2.4-6). Within the context of the risen Christ wielding his power in the country of death, Paul describes the Church as a colony devoted to the risen Christ. Did you catch that? The Church exists to testify in word and deed to the risen Christ. We draw this responsibility from Paul's teaching in Ephesians 4.7ff. Here Paul tells the story of Jesus' life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Having accomplished his divine work, Jesus sat down at the right hand of the Father and immediately began sharing the rewards of his triumph. As the risen and ascended King, Jesus gave gifts and these gifts are people (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers) who are empowered to equip the saints for the work of ministry that will lead the Church to unity. For unity to be possible, we must live in humility. And as we express humility and patience by bearing with one another in love, we testify that the power of the risen Christ is enabling us to remain humble, patient, and tolerant. Brothers and sisters, if we truly believe Christ is the risen King, we will humbly draw near for Gospel ministry to all who are in him. This is how we walk before the LORD in the land of the living, in humility with each other.

In what relationship is the risen Christ inviting you to inject humility? Many of us have relationships in need of restoration. Brothers and sisters, the risen Christ is calling and equipping us to seek reconciliation and humility is the indispensable key. By the Spirit of Christ, may the risen Christ gently bring healing and unity to all that sin has torn asunder. In Jesus, may it be so.

Listen to our exposition of Ephesians 4.1-16, Pastoring toward Unity.

I'm reading, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ, by Timothy Keller .

Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: The Resurrection and the Gospel

As Gospel Christians we must see the world through the lenses of reality and hope. The tension between reality and hope is something the Gospel of Jesus helps us maintain.

The Lens of Reality

Without apology the Bible teaches that we are going to die. Because of the trespass of Adam and all who are in him, death spread to all men (see Romans 5.12). So if the Lord tarries, death is a reality each of us must face. Scriptures teaches us that this reality must shape they way we live. The wisdom of the Psalmist is quite clear. 
For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh (Psalm 90.9, ESV).  
So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90.12, ESV). 
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart (Ecclesiastes 7.2, NIV). 
Not only do these words teach us the reality that "death is the destiny of everyone," but these words also exhort us to take this reality to heart, that is, to allow the reality that death is our destiny to shape how we live each day.

Brothers and sisters life is short. We (the younger) can sometimes be tricked into living like we, or others are immortal. If we remember that life "is a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes" (James 4.14, ESV), we won't take ourselves too seriously, nor will we be enslaved to the fear of others. When we are tempted by pride, we must repeat to ourselves: "I am a mist that appears for a little time then vanishes." When we are overwhelmed by fear of our real or imagined enemies, we must repeat to ourselves: "They are a mist that appears for a little time then vanishes."

Brothers and sisters, in over 15 years of ministry in the local church, I have been present at the end of life for approximately 40 individuals. While death should always be considered an enemy (1 Corinthians 15.25-26Revelation 20.13), it seems that death is always surrounded by a mixture of regret and gifts. What's more, how the dying have loved always determines whether or not their death is more characterized by gift or regret. Beloved, if we are to take to heart that death is the destiny of everyone we will devote our lives to love.

The Lens of Hope

The false teachers Paul is calling Timothy to confront have been handing out heavy doses of reality. They believe strongly in the reality of death, but they are missing the Gospel necessity that death will not have the last word. The Apostle Paul describes them this way.
Their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened. They are upsetting the faith of some (2 Timothy 2.17-18, ESV).
These false teachers and those who followed them have swerved away from the Gospel by denying that death will one day be overthrown through resurrection to eternal life on an earth made new (1 Corinthians 15.20-23) We have fallen into the same false teaching when salvation is reduced to "going to heaven after we die." As Jesus reminds us when he teaches us to pray, our desire is for the Kingdom of God to come to earth.

Brothers and sisters, the lens of hope frees us to be honest about death. It is bad. It needs to go and one day, death will go to hell (Revelation 20.13)! Thanks be to God!

Listen to our exposition, Pastoring Toward Resurrection.

I'm reading, The Pastor as Minor Poet, by Craig Barnes.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: The Gentle Way to Transformation (2 Timothy 2.24-26)

Our approach to 2 Timothy 2.24-26 can be boiled down to two statements and one conclusion. 1) The way we represent Jesus must correspond to what Jesus is like. 2) Jesus is gentle. Therefore, we must be gentle in the way we represent Jesus.

How and why is Jesus gentle?   

Consider the approach Jesus took with the following characters. Zacchaeus was a Jewish man who worked for the enemy. Moreover, he used his friends' money for his own selfish gain (Think Bernie Madoff.) Before this surly character repented of his sin and made restitution, Jesus invited himself into Zacchaeus' home to share a meal. This was Jesus' way of saying to Zacchaeus, "I like you. I want us to be friends." The Roman Centurion would have been a Gentile, the commander of a division of the occupying imperial troops, theoretically one hundred in number" (Craig Blomberg). The Jews of Jesus' day would have considered this man unclean because he was a Gentile. What's more, this man was a powerful symbol of all that the Romans were doing to make life horrible for the Jews. Just like he was with Zacchaeus, Jesus was willing to enter this man's home to help meet a desperate need. This was Jesus' way of saying, "Just because the world tells us we should be enemies, I see your need and I want to help." The Syrophoenician woman was from Jezebel's hometown. Moreover, her daughter was possessed by a demon. Nonetheless, Jesus responds to her faith by miraculously, and from a distance delivering her daughter from the clutches of Satan. This was Jesus' way of saying, "the hospitality of the Kingdom of God will not be limited to a certain type of person from a certain type of place." Beloved, these narratives, and many others like them consistently describe Jesus as gentle toward and transforming of those different from him. In each of these scenarios, the recipients of Jesus' gentle hospitality encountered Jesus in a saving way. This is why Paul exhorts Timothy to correct his opponents "with gentleness," because it is through quarreling and disrespect that Satan accomplishes his goals. But when those who have been captured by the devil encounter the gentleness of Jesus on display through his servants, the enemy does not stand a chance. Do you want to see others transformed? It will not be through power, control, and winning arguments. It it will be through the gentleness of Jesus. 

Listen to Gentle Shepherd our exposition of 2 Timothy 2.24-26.

Here's what I'm reading. 

Death by Living: Life is Meant to Be Spent by N.D. Wilson

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: The Courage of a Shepherd (2 Timothy 2)

Here’s the deal with 2 Timothy 2. A leader is not the smartest person in the group. A leader is not the one with the most experience, or the most charisma, or the best communication skills. Rather, a leader has enough courage to take the first step into the unknown space into which the group must go. For the group to follow the leader, trust must exist between the team and the leader. Furthermore, the leader creates and maintains that atmosphere of trust. Paul is challenging Timothy to lead the Ephesian Church out of their difficulties and toward, “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” (Eph 4.13, ESV). For this change in direction to occur, trust must develop between Timothy and the congregation. Simon Sinek is correct when he writes: “Trust is like lubrication. It reduces friction and creates conditions much more conducive to performance.” When a group of people trust each other, they morph into more than just a group of people, they become a team. God has given the Spirit to the Church that we may trust each other as a team with one goal. These assumptions lie underneath much of what Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2. So that the Spirit may transform the Ephesian congregation into a unified team that exists for the purpose of declaring and displaying the Good News of Jesus, Paul gives Timothy multiple instructions, each of which is based upon one foundational reality. 

Timothy, know who you are.

This is what Paul getting at when he instructs Timothy, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2.1, ESV). Timothy must strive to be a leader who is distinguished by the Gospel, not by his failures or successes as a leader. This is critical because as a Christian leader, we must be connected in a healthy way with those we lead. Like Jesus we must dwell among those we lead (John 1.14). At the same time, however, our identity must be distinguishable from those we are charged to lead. In other words, when folks aren’t following so well, we must resist the identity crisis that can emerge when who we understand ourselves to be is wrapped up with how people respond to our leadership. Timothy’s most basic identity is not Pastor. His most essential understanding of himself must be one who is strengthened by the grace of being in fellowship with Jesus. No matter what our occupation, no matter what our task at the beginning of this week, we must allow our identity to not be determined by that task or occupation. Ironically, the freedom that comes from entrusting our identity to who we are in Christ, sets us free to perform well at the tasks we have been given. Before Timothy can engage the difficult task of Shepherding the Ephesians away from dangerous false teaching, he must be confident that identity is secure in Christ. No matter what Jesus requires of us this week, if you’ve been united to him by faith in the good news about him, your identity is secure in him. Thanks be to God. 

Listen here, to our exposition of 2 Timothy 2.1-13. 

Here’s what I’m reading. 

The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus, by Fleming Rutledge

Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church, by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin.   

Monday, October 24, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: The Shepherd and His Story (2 Timothy 1)

Stories are how we get to know each other. During my second year of Seminary Yulinda and I joined what DTS called a Spiritual Formation Group. In this group we forged deep friendships and experienced real community. During our second semester of that group each participant had to present their Life Story. The purpose of this exercise was two-fold. 1) The Life Story exercise helped the presenter come to grips with the reality of his or her own story. What events (good or bad) had the most influence on me? 2) The Life Story exercise created a sense of camaraderie within our community. We were more than just friends. In fact, Galen, my best friend aside from Yulinda, was in my Spiritual Formation group. Paul and Timothy were comrades. They knew each other's stories. What's more, they knew the dark sides of their stories. Paul knew that Timothy's father was not a believer (see Acts 16.1-3), and this likely contributed to some of the difficulties Timothy experienced leading the Ephesian community. With this aspect of Timothy's life story in mind, some aspects 2 Timothy 1 come alive. As the letter opens it seems that Paul is exhorting his young friend to leave behind the darkness of an absent father, and to pursue a new narrative that flows out of Timothy's relationship with Paul and his connection to Christ. 

Timothy, my beloved child   

Notice Paul's fatherly disposition toward Timothy. He begins the letter with a heartfelt description of Timothy as his "beloved child." With these words, Timothy perhaps hears something he had longed for but had never heard or seen from his biological father. Paul is not afraid to express his love for Timothy to Timothy.  Never underestimate the importance of telling your children you love them. Furthermore, Paul also strongly encourages his son in the faith. Without qualification, Paul affirms Timothy's faith. "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well." (2 Tim 1.5, ESV). With these words, Paul is encouraging Timothy. "You're the real deal, Timothy! I believe that you believe." Never underestimate the importance of affirming in others the faith you see in them. 

The faith and love that are in Christ Jesus 

Notice Paul's Gospel disposition toward Timothy. By "Gospel disposition" I mean that Paul encourages Timothy by pointing him to the resources that are in Christ. The main imperative in 1.3-7 is found in verse 6. Paul instructs Timothy to "fan into flame the gift of God." We must return again and again, not to what we have done for God, but to what he has done for us in Christ. It is only by the power of God, that Timothy can "share in suffering for the gospel" (2 Tim 1.8). Even more, it is only by the Holy Spirit that Timothy can "guard the good deposit entrusted to him" (2 Tim 1.14). By virtue of our union with Christ by the Spirit, we have been given the resources we need to stay faithfully on the task to which the Father has called us. In order to live out of our union with Christ this week consider with me two exhortations. 

Be one who is generous with affirmation. 

I'm sure there were things in Timothy Paul could have criticized. However, Paul was overwhelmingly generous with Timothy by expressing his love for him and affirming his faith and the gifts God had given him. It is not masculine to withhold expressions of affection. Every time the words of the Father are recorded in the Gospels, they include an affirmation of love for the Son. God is not a Father who withholds his love. May each of us, love others well and express our love well. 

Lean into union with Christ.

In our own lives and as we seek to affirm others, we must consistently point to Christ and what he offers us by the Spirit as what we truly need. In all that we say to all, we should be affirming that Christ is offering himself to all who will accept. Russell Moore puts it this way: 
For too long, we’ve called unbelievers to “invite Jesus into your life.” Jesus doesn’t want to be in your life. Your life is a wreck. Jesus calls you into his life. And his life isn’t boring or purposeless or static. It’s wild and exhilarating and unpredictable.
Listen here to our exposition of 2 Timothy 1.

Here's what I'm reading: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: Jesus as Mediator

Here's the deal about 1 Timothy 2.1-8. Something sinister lies within each of us that desires to personally negotiate all our relationships, especially our relationship with God. We imagine that no one, including God, could be as on our side as we ourselves are. Brothers and sisters, the powerful and extraordinarily good news of Jesus is that no one is for us as much as God. He knows us better than we know ourselves and his wise and unconditional love far exceeds any love we have known. Nevertheless, we often sneak other mediators into our life with God. Let's consider two false mediators to which we find ourselves attracted.


Each politician and the "movement" associated with him or her has a worldview that describes what is wrong with the world, how we got here, and a plan to restore the world to a particular vision of the good life. The Bible provides for its readers such a worldview. Genesis 3 describes what is wrong with the world and how we came to inhabit it. The Christ event (his life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the right hand of the Father) is the beginning of God's plan to restore the world to the vision described in Revelation 21-22. Brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ, who is fully God and fully man, is the mediator of this plan, representing both God and Humanity, he inaugurates, mediates, and carries to completion, God's plan to restore the world to the vision he intended. He is the One to whom our allegiance belongs. Please, do not look to politicians as the answer to what this world needs. May God grant us good and wise leaders. May God protect us, however, from the idolatry that places our ultimate hope for fixing what is wrong with the world in anyone other than Jesus and his vision for the Kingdom of God come to earth.


Religion assumes that God's default position. is less-than-satisfied. Like the Pharisee in Luke 18.9-14, we assume that God could never be content with how we're doing, so our practice of religion becomes an exercise in trying to impress him. This is such a subtle temptation for us. We love God and long to do what he says. We run into trouble, however, as we begin to believe that God's attention in our lives is mediated by our ability to faithfully pray, study the Scriptures, give to the poor, attend worship gatherings, etc. Like politics, none of these things is inherently bad. However, when we start to believe that our practice of the spiritual disciplines somehow causes God to be more satisfied with us, we have denied the effectiveness of Christ's work. Brothers and sisters, Christ is our satisfaction before the Father as we are united to the Son by the Spirit. Thus, our life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3.3). Beloved, the Father couldn't be more impressed with Jesus, and having been united to him, the impressive words the Father said over his Son are now proclaimed over us (Luke 3.21-22). Because you and I are united by the Spirit to Jesus, the Son of God, the Father says over us, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." 

This is what it means for Jesus Christ to be our mediator. He is our salvation. His story is our story. He ministers before God as one of us and does so perfectly. This is why Paul writes; "I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2.20, NET). Brothers and sisters, we have been set free from evaluating our own faithfulness. We live by the faithfulness of the Son of God. We can stop trying to make our story of conversion more impressive, because we do not live by our testimony. We live by the faithfulness of the Son of God. This is what it means to have Jesus as our mediator. Thanks be to God.

Listen to Jesus Our Mediator, an exposition of 1 Timothy 2.1-8.  

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: 1 Timothy 4

Here’s the deal with 1 Timothy 4. Having been shaped by the pattern of this world, we, along with those Timothy was leading, are tempted to place our hope in our ability to obey rather than Jesus’ obedience on our behalf. This does not mean our obedience is of no consequence. In the same chapter where Paul uses some of his strongest language against legalism, he still instructs Timothy to “train himself for godliness … because godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (4.7-8, ESV). This is critical for us to grasp. A commitment to reject legalism does not mean we can no longer emphasize godliness. So how do we emphasize godliness without falling off the horse into a big pile of stinky, gospel-contradicting legalism? Please consider this one truth as a way to stay lashed to godliness without become legalistic. 

The love of God for the sinner is not affected by the sinner’s sin

In some imbalanced presentations of the Gospel, the disposition of God toward the sinner is one of exclusive anger. This is where Jesus enters the scene for one reason only - to assuage the one emotion God is feeling - anger. Brothers and sisters, what makes this presentation of the Gospel so dangerous is the thin element of truth it contains. With all false teaching, this is the case. An element of truth is slanted out of proportion like a fun house mirror to the point of forgetting other, more basic truths. Here’s how this works. The Bible does teach that God is angry toward sin. This is the plain fact (See Rom 1.18). The above Gospel presentation, with which each of us is quite familiar, takes the fact that God is angry toward sin and emphasizes it to the exclusion of what other texts plainly teach. Texts such as Romans 5.6-8 teach that God’s disposition toward weak and ungodly sinners is one of love. So how is that these truths coexist? God’s anger toward sin is motivated by his love for the sinner. Much like an oncologist hates cancer - Much like a cardiologist hates heart disease, God hates sin for the havoc it wreaks on those he loves. Brothers and sisters, this is basic Gospel truth. God loves sinners. What’s more, the love of God for sinners is the only reality capable of rescuing sinners from sin. Consider another text from the Apostle Paul. 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Eph. 3.14-19), ESV) 

Through prayer Paul is transitioning from the Gospel reality of God rescuing sinners who are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph 1-3), to the Gospel implications of that rescue (Eph 4-6). More specifically, Ephesians 1-3 describes what God did for the world through the Christ event. He made us alive (2.1-10) together (Jews and Gentiles, 2.11-22) with Christ. Ephesians 4-6, on the other hand, command us to walk in a certain way as a response to the reality described in Ephesians 1-3. So how do we get from the glorious saving rescue described in Ephesians 1-3, to be able to hear and obey commands like the following? 
Let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor (4.25). 
Be angry and do not sin (4.26). 
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths (4.29). 
Be kind to one another (4.32). 
Forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you (4.32).  
These verses describe the type of godliness for which Timothy is commanded to train himself. How do we pursue this godliness without leaning in the direction of legalism? The answer is found in Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3.14-19. Only when we have been given “the strength to comprehend the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” will we be able to emphasize godliness without the threat of legalism. True godliness can only be a response to God’s love. All others forms of godliness are a cheap knockoff. So let us emphasize the love of God as the only effective means by which we can be trained to be godly, because: 
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.

As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103.11-14, ESV).  
Listen here to our exposition of 1 Timothy 4.   

Here’s what I’m reading. 

The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation by Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: 1 Timothy 1

Here's the deal with 1 Timothy 1. We have been squeezed into the pattern of the world when we desire the local church to focus on anything other than Christ. The principalities and powers endeavor to draw the church away from her true message - away from the content of the message that contains the power of God. The fallen wisdom of this age entices us away Christ - the One we need, the only hope for the world. This is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians.
And I, when I came to you brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor 2.1-2, ESV). 
Michael Horton writes the following in his book, Christless Christianity.
“What would things look like if Satan really took control of a city? Over half a century ago, Presbyterian minister Donald Grey Barnhouse offered his own scenario in his weekly sermon that was also broadcast nationwide on CBS radio. Barnhouse speculated that if Satan took over Philadelphia (the city where Barnhouse pastored), all of the bars would be closed, pornography banished, and pristine streets would be filled with tidy pedestrians who smiled at each other. There would be no swearing. The children would say "Yes, sir" and "No, ma'am," and the churches would be full every Sunday...where Christ was not preached.”
This emphasis on proclaiming Christ as what each individual and community needs is what we learned yesterday from 1 Timothy. According to Paul all the Ephesians need, everything for which we long, and the truth around which we must orient our lives is "the grace of our Lord overflowing with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus (1 Tim 1.14). Paul could never "get over" Jesus, nor should we. On the road to Damascus, Saul of Tarsus was ambushed by the risen Christ and he was never the same. What's more, it was the mercy of Jesus Christ that transformed him. See 1 Timothy 1.12-17 . Underestimating the power of Jesus' mercy was the essential error that had slithered its way into the Ephesian congregation. The Ephesians had been taught and had begun to believe that it was through something other than faith in Christ, that life could be found. Moreover, through an unlawful use of the Mosaic law, they were believing the lie that through myths, endless genealogies, and speculations, they could find the secret to life. Against this backdrop the letter we call 1 Timothy, is an extended exposition of how what we truly need is found in Christ. Indeed ...
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth (1 Tim 2.5-7, ESV).
What's the one thing you need? A spouse? A better marriage? A new job? To get out of debt? While these (and others) are good things, these are not the ultimate thing you need. The only ultimate thing each of needs is Christ.

What's the one thing our local church needs? New and better parking? More young families? A different form of church government? Numeric growth? While these (and others) are good things for which we pray,  the only ultimate thing our local church needs is something we already have - Christ. This is the one necessary thing for the church - to pursue Christ together as the ultimate thing.

Listen here to our exposition of 1 Timothy.  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts About Sunday: The Church as an End Times Family

Here's the deal about 1 Peter 5.1-5. In order to understand what Peter teaches about elders/shepherds/pastors, we must first understand the world in which Peter imagines the Church.

The Church is an end times family. 

In 1 Peter 5.1 Peter describes himself to his fellow-elders as a fellow-partaker of "the glory that is going to be revealed." This is a provocative statement because Peter has taught not many verses ago about this future reality. "Rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (1 Peter 4.13, ESV). In this verse the revelation of Jesus' glory is future. In 5.1 however, Peter can describe himself along with his fellow-elders as present partakers of the glory that will be revealed. This means, among other things, that the Church is a family that presently partakes of Jesus' future glory. More specifically, the Church offers the world an advance foretaste, an appetizer so to speak, of what the world made new will be like. So the world to come sets the tone for the present life of the Church. 

Because everyone in the world to come will bow the knee to Jesus, we gather as the Church to confess Jesus is Lord. 

Because everyone in the world to come will have their sins forgiven, we gather as the Church to proclaim and extend forgiveness. 

Because everyone in the world to come will have their needs sufficiently met, we gather as the Church to share resources that provide for the poor. 

Because everyone in the world to come will freely communicate with God as Father, we gather as the Church for the sake of prayer. 

Because everyone in the world to come will believe only truth, we gather as the Church to be shaped by the truth of the Word from God. 

Because everyone in the world to come, regardless of race, gender, socio-economic status, etc. will be reconciled to God and each other, we gather as the Church to celebrate the meal that anticipates that reconciliation. 

This description of why we gather could go on and on, but you get the idea. When we gather together as an end times family, everything we do must point to the hope that will characterize eternity. 

This is why Stanley Grenz writes: 
Our corporate identity lies in the future. What the church is, is determined by what the church is destined to become. And the church is destined to be nothing less than a new humanity, the glorious company of God's redeemed people who inhabit the renewed creation and enjoy the presence of the Triune God. ... Our task is to live according to the principles that characterize God's future goal for creation. Our purpose is to be a foretaste of the glorious eternity that God will one day graciously give us in its fullness. ... In short, the church is a sign of the kingdom. We are to point the way toward the future (Stanley Grenz, Created for Community, 213).      
Does that describe your understanding of "Church?" How about your experience of Church? Brothers and sisters our weekly gatherings, and our mid-week gathering for that matter, are shaped by the Spirit of God to whet our appetites for the age to come. Moreover, they are intended by the Spirit of God to reveal the quality of the age to come. My grandmother used to comment after the Sunday morning service, "I feel like I've been to Church." I always wondered what that feeling was like or was supposed to be like. 1 Peter helps me understand that feeling a little bit more. May the Spirit of God grant that after we have gathered, each of might say, "I feel like I've been to the future."

Listen here to our exposition of 1 Peter 5.1-5

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: Communion

Here’s the deal about Communion.

As a teenager and “young” adult, I was often disappointed to learn we were “celebrating” communion. In fact, celebration would never have been a word I associated with communion. It seemed back then the Lord’s Supper was usually offered during the evening service. Our family always arrived early to every Church service, and we would walk into the sanctuary with plenty of time to spare. Often times the Deacons would still be preparing the Table by setting out the shiny silver trays that contained the tiny shot glasses of Welch’s and the plates of tiny, tasteless communion wafers. I usually felt an inner exhale of disappointment when I noticed the stacked trays, because they symbolized one thing and one thing only - guilt. Think about the irony of that for a moment. Paul writes that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Cor 11.26). Something that proclaims the means of our atonement is something that makes us feel guilty? Houston, we have a theological problem!

As Baptists, we didn’t officially believe in anything that resembled what the Romans Catholics describe as penance. However, at Sunday evening Communion services, that’s basically what we practiced. My overly-general understanding of penance goes something like this. You’ve done something wrong. You’ve acknowledged the error of your ways and requested forgiveness. At this point a spiritual leader - call him priest, pastor, or brother so and so - tells you all is forgiven, just go do thus and so and “It’s all good!” Now, for Roman Catholics this exchange takes place in a confessional, on Saturday afternoon. For Baptists, on the other hand, this exact same deal is cut, albeit not in a confessional. It happens in the Sanctuary at 6:55 on Sunday evening. Even though we didn’t call it penance, the result was the same. The time of self-examination revealed some inward sin and we had work to do before we could experience the hospitality of God at the Table of the Lord. The Gospel, on the other hand, is quite different than both scenarios. The good news is this: God unconditionally accepts the Gospel-believing sinner. James Torrance captures this provocative truth this way:
In the New Testament forgiveness is logically prior to repentance. Because Christ has borne our sin on the cross, we are invited to repent - to receive his forgiveness in repentance. That is, repentance is our response to grace, not a condition of grace. The goodness of God leads us to repentance.
This is the truth of the Gospel and this has chaperoned our reading of 1 Corinthians 11.17-34. Without submitting our interpretation to the Gospel, we have sometimes used this passage to keep forgiven sinners from coming to Table of the Lord. After considering the historical context of 1 Corinthians 11, and looking closely at what the text actually says, we have learned that Paul is not discouraging us from coming to the Table because of some unresolved issue in our Spiritual lives. Rather, this text invites us to see the Table as Jesus’ gift to us, to help us come together in Gospel unity as the one Body of Christ partaking of the one loaf. How we approach the Lord’s Supper must be faithful to the Gospel.

Thus, as our week begins let us meditate on two Gospel Realities.

  1. The mercies of God in Jesus have made us worthy family members at God’s table.
  2. The Lord’s Supper has reminded us of the reality of us.

Regarding this second reality, I believe the Spirit is reminding us of the horizontal dimension of being reconciled to God. In other words, when God reconciles us to himself, that upward movement also propels us to live in reconciled relationships with all who have been reconciled to God. Paul teaches this clearly in Ephesians 2. Verses 1-10 describe our reconciliation to God by grace through faith (2.8-10). Verses 11-22 describe the horizontal result of our vertical movement toward God. Describing the two groups of Jews and Gentiles, Paul writes:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace (2.14-15, NIV).
To summarize: When God broke down the barrier between him and humans, he also broke down barriers that divide humans. This helps us make sense of why God requires us to live in reconciled relationships with others, because those relationships are the necessary result of living in a reconciled relationship with God (see Matt. 6.14-15). This is why communion is not about me and my overly-individualized relationship with God. Instead, communion is a gift from Jesus to sustain us within the family of Jesus, because communion is a time for me to discern the body (1 Cor. 11.29), and an opportunity to extend hospitality to all members of the Body who share the one loaf (1 Cor. 10.17).

So thanks be to God that his mercy has made us one with him and with each other.
Take a listen to our exposition of 1 Corinthians 11.17-34.

Here’s what I’m reading.

The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision, by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: Malachi

Here's the deal with Malachi. The kingdom of God is present and the kingdom of God is not yet present. During Malachi's ministry, God's people were doubting the love of God and what the prophet's preaching was designed to do was to get the Jews to look ahead to the promise of God's future in order to nurture present trust in God's unfailing love. Let's unpack this a bit, by describing two kingdom realities.

The kingdom of God is present. 

During Jesus' earthly ministry he taught that with his incarnation the long-awaited kingdom of God had come. The most basic definition of the kingdom/reign of God is "the sphere where God's desired will is obeyed." Jesus most clearly teaches that with him God's reign has come, in texts like Matthew 12.28. After healing a demon-possessed man and being accused by the Pharisees that he cast out demons by the prince of demons, Jesus responds that the reign of God has come and that is why the demons are fleeing. "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt. 12.28, ESV). Jesus teaches the same in Luke 17.20-21. 
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (ESV).  

Here Jesus teaches that with his coming, the kingdom of God has also come. However, Jesus includes an important nuance. In the initial stage, the coming of God's reign will not be observable. It will not be visible. The kingdom of God will not at first displace the kingdoms of this world like Rome. Instead, for an unknown period of time, the kingdom of God will coexist with other kingdoms. This leads to our second kingdom reality.

The kingdom of God is not yet present. 

The not yet aspect of the kingdom is also illustrated by Jesus' teaching. In Matthew 13.31-32 he compares the reign of God to a grain of mustard seed that a man sowed in his field. The point of Jesus' parable is to teach the initial hiddenness - the present smallness of the kingdom. There is coming a future day then the kingdom will grow so that it is "larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches" (ESV).

Summary: The kingdom is already and not yet. 

This is not only taught by Jesus in the Gospels, but also by his servant Paul, in the Epistles. Paul tells the Colossians that King Jesus "has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1.13-14, ESV). By virtue of our union with Christ by the Spirit, the Kingdom of God's Son is a sphere in which forgiveness of sins is found. Furthermore, it is a sphere into which Paul says we have been transferred. The kingdom is already. On the other hand, Paul can tell the Corinthians that the risen Christ is the firstfruits, and then only at his coming will those who belong to him be raised to a life like his. "Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power" (1 Cor. 15.24, ESV). The kingdom is not yet. The New Testament holds these two realities in tension, and so should we.

What does this have to with Malachi? 

The people of Malachi's day lived in a similar already/not yet tension. In obedience to God, they built the Temple. But all the glorious realities to which the Temple pointed as a sign, would not come until the time of Jesus. They were challenged by Malachi to live in light of the glorious future and not to let the disappointments of the present turn them into a herd of Eeyores who deny God's love. Like a child who wants to unwrap all her gifts before Christmas has arrived, we often fall into the selfish trap of wanting all of God's good gifts now. Instead, we are called by God to wait. Oftentimes what it is we want (healing, peace, all suffering to end) refers to a reality we are only guaranteed at the Second Coming of Jesus. These are good desires. These are godly desires. However, because God is graciously patient, our message from Malachi is to patiently wait. This means we shouldn't be surprised when we get bad news from the doctor, when a relationship falls apart, when we remain beset by a certain sin over which we can't seem to gain victory. Don't ever forget, it isn't until the day of Jesus Christ that God will bring his good work to completion (Phil. 1.6). Until then, be patient with the world as it is, with others as they are, and with yourself as you are.

Take a listen to our exposition of Malachi.

I am currently reading The Signature of Jesus: The Call to a Life Marked by Holy Passion and Relentless Faith by Brennan Manning.

Don't forget we are studying Deuteronomy each Wednesday at 6 PM in room 104.


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Tuesday Morning Thoughts about Sunday: Haggai

The story of how Christianity first appeared in Russia is compelling. Indeed, the narrative demonstrates the apologetic power of beauty. Around the year 988, Vladimir the Great was looking for ways to unify his Russian Empire. History taught him that religion is a powerful force that can bring citizens together. So the Russian Emperor assembled an envoy to research the great world religions. They travelled to all the holy places of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. As the group reported to Vladimir the results of their research, the Grand Prince was drawn to their description of the Christian worship they encountered at the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.
We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth, for surely there is no such splendor or beauty anywhere upon earth. We cannot describe it to you. Only we know that God dwells there among men, and that their service surpasses the worship of all other places. We cannot forget that beauty.
Beauty is what God the Spirit used to draw a powerful Russian Emperor to faith in Christ. Another Russian, this one, a renowned author, understood the power of beauty.
Beauty will save the world (Fyodor Dostoyevsky). 
I fear we underestimate the potential power of beauty to convince others and ourselves of truth - truth about God, truth about the Gospel, truth about the origin of this strange and beautiful world we call home. According to Scripture, the faith by which the righteous live, is also a reality that is often mixed with doubt. In other words, faith by its very nature is “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11.1). That means faith and certainty are not the same thing. This is good news!! We are not saved by grace, through certainty. We are saved by grace through faith. This side of resurrection, faith and doubt will coexist. But thanks be to God there is coming a day when we will see the Object of our faith and hope, and hope and faith will no longer be necessary.

While we wait, however, we must understand the power of beauty, because I believe beauty has the power to overcome the doubts that trouble us until we see Jesus. Think of the last time you experienced true beauty. I realize this is a bit subjective, but one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen is Wrigley Field on an early summer day. Walking in underneath that historic red sign at Clark and Addison with my oldest son, finding our seats and beholding one of the bluest skies I can remember, gazing at the freshly manicured grass that was an indescribable shade of green, and those ivy-covered brick walls - all of these images and especially the profile of my son as I watched him inspect the same images with me, both for the first time, is something I will never ever forget. Each of these images, in its own way can only be described as, ... beautiful. I can tell you that in those moments my faith was likely more strong than it had been in quite a while. Troubles had energized doubt in a way that began to sabotage my life with God. In fact, the decision to take Silas to that game emerged out of deeply felt need to take a break from some the issues that were causing stress and anxiety in my life. That time at Wrigley Field with my son reminded me that God was good, that he loved me, and that he had graced my life with unimaginable blessings. You see, in those moments of stress and anxiety, truth alone was not able to defeat my doubt. Difficult times had moved my gaze away from the many beautiful gifts in my life.  But with every beautiful image of that day - that beautiful sign, the green of the grass, the blue of the sky, the sound of my son saying to me, “Dad, that’s Anthony Rizzo!” , and then concluding the day with a trip to the food court of a suburban mall so we each could get our favorite food - with each of these images it was "beauty that trumped my doubt" (Marcus Mumford).

All of this directly relates to our study of Haggai. During the time of the prophet’s ministry, the people had been lulled into apathy by the ugly difficulty of returning home from Babylon. And it was the call of Haggai the prophet for God’s people to come together to make something beautiful to honor God’s presence among them. The ugliness of the ruins of the Temple and the City had allowed doubt to come to life and overtake the corporate faith of God’s people. In sending the prophet Haggai, God was faithful to his promise, for it was through Haggai that the people were made alive by the Spirit to make something beautiful for the glory of God’s name. It was through coming together to make something beautiful that God did a work of revival in Haggai’s day.

So that we can continue to be shaped by the message of Haggai, let us heed these two exhortations.
  1. Let us devote ourselves to making beautiful things for the glory of God. Music. Harvest. Stairs. Quilts. Meals. Poems. Carvings. Letters. Classrooms. Whatever we find ourselves making this week, let us seek the life and wisdom of the Spirit of God to make these “things” beautiful for God’s sake. 
  2. Let us commit to praying before every thing we do. If God is in the business of filling Bezalel and Oholiab (see Exod. 31) with his Spirit so that they can construct a beautiful tabernacle, perhaps God wants to energize you for your work today, no matter what it is. By the way, here is the prayer I mentioned during yesterday’s sermon.
A Prayer Before Commencing Any Task
Almighty God, our Help and Refuge, Fountain of wisdom and Tower of strength, who knows that I can do nothing without Your guidance and help; assist me, as I pray to you, and direct me to divine wisdom and power, that I may accomplish this task, and whatever I may undertake to do, faithfully and diligently according to Your will, so that it may be profitable to myself and others, and to the glory of Your Holy Name. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
This prayer serves to remind us, that no matter what we are doing, we can choose to do it for the glory of God and thereby be empowered by God for the task. Brothers and sisters, let us break down the imaginary wall between the sacred and the secular and invite the presence of God to invade all aspects of our lives. I love you all! I thank God that I am blessed to serve as your pastor for it is through your lives that I regularly encounter beauty! Thanks be to God.

Take a listen to our exposition of Haggai.

Also, here’s the beautiful picture sketched by my new friend Trevor.

We hope you can make it to Wednesday evening Bible study. This Wednesday we begin a new study of Deuteronomy in room 104 at 6 PM.

Here's what I'm reading.

How I Love Your Torah, O LORD: Studies in the Book of Deuteronomy by Daniel Block.

Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore.              

Monday, August 29, 2016

Monday Morning Thoughts About Sunday: Obadiah

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” (The Princess Bride,  1987).

"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next” (The Gladiator, 2000).

Yes!! There’s nothing like a good revenge story. The scenes described above are among my all-time favorite cinematic moments. However, they do not narrate an approach to life that is helpful for the follower of Jesus. For Esau, Cain, Joseph’s brothers, King Saul, and even Inigo Montoya, a life bent on revenge did not lead toward life. Revenge took these characters down a road littered with sadness, violence, addiction, conflict, and even death.

Here’s the deal with Obadiah. The people of Edom followed the sins of their Father, Esau. Esau started down the road toward getting even when he began comparing himself with Jacob, his twin brother. Although they were twins, these characters could not be more different. Jacob’s natural bent caused his Momma to love him more than Esau, who was naturally drawn to his Father’s love (See Gen. 25.27-28). These differences, that don’t necessarily have to be divisive, proved to be more than the twins could handle. They made the choice to allow their differences to define them. Furthermore, their differences began to define their relationship. When Jacob looked at Esau, he was always the one daddy loved best! When Esau looked at Jacob, he was always the one who received the blessing that belonged to him!. The same was true for Saul who always eyed David as the one who stole his kingdom. A similar tune was sung by Cain who looked at his brother, Abel, as the one who stole God’s favor from him! Each of these stories ends in tragedy for the ones who followed comparison down the road of revenge. Brothers and sisters, comparison is dangerous. Stop playing with it! Only when we have said no to the temptation to compare, are we prepared to listen to and obey Jesus’ words. 
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6.27-28, ESV).  
Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you (Luke 6.37-38, ESV).
Brothers and sisters, not only has Jesus been given all authority in heaven and on earth, he also created you. He knows you better than you know yourself. He also proved through his life that he knows how to navigate this broken world bent on getting even. According to Jesus, revenge and getting even lead to destruction - to a life that is not worth living.  

What situations are causing you to compare yourself with others? It’s likely these situations are causing the blackness of pride or envy to dwell in your heart. Please, say no to comparison. Please, listen to Jesus, the one who knows you best and loves you most!! When we listen to Jesus, the words of the Six-Fingered Man from The Princess Bride might begin to make sense.       
“Good heavens! Are you still trying to win? You’ve got an over-developed sense of vengeance. It’s going to get you into trouble some day” (Count Rugen)!
Take a listen to our exposition of Obadiah

Here’s what I’m reading. 

Participating In God: A Pastoral Doctrine of the Trinity by Paul S. Fiddes. This book explores the how the topics of prayer, suffering, forgiveness, death, the spiritual gifts, and the sacraments, intersect with the doctrine of the Trinity.   

Deuteronomy: NIV Application Commentary by Daniel Block. This book will form the foundation for our new exploration of Deuteronomy on Wednesday nights at 6pm in room 104. Please join us!