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Archive for July, 2010

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, . . .” (Ephesians 6:16-18, ESV)

We see in Genesis 3, that Adam’s fall resulted from a failure to believe God’s Word.  God promised to provide Adam everything, including wisdom and knowledge, but instead, Adam with Eve, turned away from God and turned to Satan and his promise for satisfaction.  Thus, the battle against sin is a battle against unbelief; it is a battle of faith.  Will we believe God’s promise to be everything for us in Jesus Christ, or will we turn away from God to Satan and believe his promises that sin will satisfy our seemingly frustrated, unmet, selfish desires (James 4:1-3)?

The apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 6:16, that the battle against Satan is a battle of faith.  In battling Satan and his minions, he reminds us that “in ALL circumstances,” we are to take up the shield of faith.  Why?  Because with it we can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.  What a promise!  In other words, when Satan throws his flaming darts at us, we have a weapon at our disposal with which to extinguish his darts.  That weapon is the shield which is faith.  Again, the weapon to use against Satan is faith, for faith functions as a shield against Satan’s seductions and deceptions.  But faith in what?

Again, Paul helps us.  The picture is one of a warrior in full armor.  As Satan is attacking, the warrior holds up the shield of faith, and Satan’s darts cannot penetrate.  At our disposal we also have the helmet of salvation; in other words, by faith we know and understand the great salvation that has been granted to us through Christ, and we know and believe that nothing shall separate us from the love God has for us, His children, in Jesus Christ (Romans 8).  Note, these are defensive weapons; these are the weapons that we hold up to Satan to battle unbelief.  But there is an offensive weapon—the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.  When we wield this sword of the Spirit against Satan, he must flee, for He is under the authority of the God of the Word.

As we put on the whole armor of God, we will be able to withstand the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:11).  By submitting ourselves to God and standing firm on God’s Word by faith, we will resist the devil, and he will flee from us (James 4:7).  So if we are going to fight sin and Satan, standing firm in faith, we must . . .

Know the Word of God—This is a weakness of too many Christians; they don’t know the Word.  If you don’t know the Word of God, then you will not be able to wield the sword of the Spirit against Satan.  You will not be able to recall to mind all the promises of God that are yours and which you can hold up as a shield of faith against the fiery darts of the evil one.  Therefore, you should do what you can by God’s grace to know the Word.  What you must do is choose a plan, a time and a place and be disciplined.  If reading is difficult for you, use a Bible translation that is simple to understand (i.e., The New Living Translation), and read small portions of Scripture, praying for the Holy Spirit’s illumination.  One option for non-readers is to use a version of the Bible on cassette or compact disc.

Treasure the Word—Let God’s Word become honey to your lips, a joy to your soul.  Study it; memorize it; meditate on it.  Pray that God’s Word would become more satisfying to you than food or drink.

Trust the Word—Finally, we must take God at His Word; this is the fight of faith and the fight against unbelief.  Only God is trustworthy, so believe Him and His Word and be satisfied.  This is true joy.

Categories : Church, Theology
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I don’t know how much you have thought about the concept of hearing, but the other day I was meditating on Luke 8, and this very concept was brought to bear upon my own mind and heart.

In Luke 8, Jesus is preaching the good news of the kingdom, speaking in a parable: the parable of the sower (8:1, 4).  After sharing the parable, Jesus declared, “He who has ears, let him hear” (8:8).  Clearly, all have ears and all heard, but Jesus means something more, for He goes on to explain that the seed that landed on the good soil “are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (8:15).

Then in a seeming non-sequitur, Jesus talks about not hiding a lamp with a jar or under a bed but instead putting it on a stand for all to see, then Jesus follows with a warning: “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (8:18).

What Jesus is doing is making a connection between hearing and doing.  We know this because he explain it when someone alerts Him that His mother and brothers have arrived (8:20).  Jesus responds: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (8:21).

James, the Lord’s brother, would later write,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing (James 1:22-25).

So then, be careful how you hear.  Allow me to apply this one truth to preaching and hearing sermons.

Be Careful How You Preach!

The preacher of the gospel, has a great and glorious burden to proclaim the Word which is able to save.  In this sense, preachers must bear in mind that every time they preach, people’s lives, both for now and eternity, truly depend on it.  I do not understand it completely, but God in His wisdom has chosen “the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21); the gospel “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

Salvation comes to those who hear and believe this gospel with their whole heart (Romans 10:9-10), and those who do believe will not be disappointed (Romans 10:11).  “How then,” the Bible asks, “will they call on Him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher” (Romans 10:14).  Thus, since “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17), salvation does not take place apart from God’s Word.  Further, God has ordained preaching as the primary means by which this Word is declared (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).  The implications of these biblical truths are staggering and numerous—preaching is the central and most important aspect of corporate worship gatherings; we should long for more preaching, not less; we should demand biblical preaching, not self-help psychology, storytelling or comedy routines.

Be Careful How You Hear!

We could go on and on; however, I want to emphasize just one implication which stems from these biblical truths.  If you do believe what the Bible says about salvation through faith in Christ, according to His Word, then how do you listen to sermons?  Do you listen to them as if your life truly depended on them?

Being convinced of the Bible’s authority and the importance of God’s Word and preaching, allow me to give you some words of counsel and encouragement as to how to approach the sermon:

BEFORE THE SERMON prepare your heart to receive God’s Word.  Pray for the preacher of the Word that he will have spent time with God during the week, so that you will hear what he has already preached to himself.  When you enter to worship, dwell on the things of God, not on the things of this world.

DURING THE SERMON listen as if your life depends on it because it does.  Take notes if this helps you remember.  Pray for understanding.  Listen as the Bereans did; they received the Word of God eagerly, but looked to the Scriptures to make sure what was being preached was according to God’s Word (Acts 17:11).

AFTER THE SERMON receive the Word of God with humility and act on it.  Don’t delude yourself by being a mere hearer of the Word; take action and do what God’s Word says you should do!  Truth that is not applied is truth that is lost.

Categories : Church, Commentary
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In a culture where evangelicals are at odds as to how to relate to culture, James Davidson Hunter’s To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, & Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, has set off a perfect storm, and I highly recommend you pick up a copy and read for yourself.

See Christianity Today’s Interview with Hunter.

See Chuck Colson’s Response.

See Andy Crouch’s Response.

See Hunter’s Counter-Response to Both.

Hunter’s work comes to us in three essays.  You may see abstracts of each chapter on Hunter’s website.  In Essay I, Hunter argues that the way Christians have gone about engaging culture is all wrong.  Wrong approaches include both the idealism of Christians who believe that if we simply change the hearts and minds of people (through evangelism, politics, social reform), then we will re-Christianize culture (a la Chuck Colson) AND the cultural materialism of Christians who believe that if we simply produce enough “new cultural goods, concrete, tangible artifacts, whether books or tools or buildings” (28), then we will change culture (a la Andy Crouch).  Instead, Hunter argues that cultural change is more complex than either just changing ideas 0r producing new artifacts.  Culture includes both ideas and artifacts, to be sure, but what both approaches fail to account for is the institutional nature of culture.  Hunter argues that “cultural change at its most profound level occurs through dense networks of elites operating in common purpose within institutions at the high-prestige centers of cultural production” (274).  Of course, this is an oversimplification of his argument in Essay I; however, it provides the big idea that underlies his argument: culture change does not occur at the grass roots as Christians have thought; it happens from the top down.

In Essay II, Hunter argues that “world-changing implies power and the implicit theories of power that have long guided their exercise of power are also deeply problematic” (274), for “the working theory of power (whether from religious right or left) is still influenced by Constantinian tendencies toward conquest and domination” (274).  All one has to do is see how both the religious right and left have approached contemporary politics t0 see how both seek power to impose their particular brand of evangelicalism on culture.

Finally, in Essay III, Hunter argues against the paradigms of cultural engagement of the Christian right (“defensive against” – i.e., cultural secularism), the Christian left (“relevance to” – i.e., contemporary culture) and the Neo-Anabaptists (“purity from” – i.e., the world), and instead proposes what he calls the idea of “faithful presence within” this world in which we are exiles and sojourners.  In other words, Hunter argues that our calling is not to change the world, but to be faithfully present in this world in every sphere of life, as the incarnate people of God who point to the God who became faithfully present into this world through Jesus Christ, who forever remains faithfully present with His people.

It is essential, in my view, to abandon altogether talk of “redeeming the culture,” “advancing the kingdom,” “building the kingdom,” “transforming the world,” “reclaiming the culture,” and “changing the world.”  Christians need to leave such language behind them because it carries too much weight.  It implies conquest, take-over, or dominion, which in my view is precisely what God does not call us to pursue — at least not in any conventional, twentieth- or twenty-first century way of understanding these terms (280).

We are not to change culture, for this world is not our home; we are to be faithfully present in this world as Israel was faithfully present in Babylon: as exiles who were seeking the welfare of that culture.  For, like Israel who was looking to be restored to the land, the earthly Jerusalem, we are exiles in this foreign land looking for the new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells.  Until then, we are to live out the Shalom of God in every sphere of life, pointing to the promise of future Shalom at the consummation of the kingdom.

I think Hunter helps us greatly in advancing the discussion concerning culture in that he exposes and critiques historically faulty approaches, yet he does not merely leave us with a critique.  Hunter provides a helpful proposal that hopefully will propel the conversation forward in the right directions.

Be sure to check out Justin Taylor’s site for helpful chapter summaries on To Change the World.

Finally, here is Greg Gilbert on To Change the World.

Categories : Church, Commentary, Politics
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A few years ago, we had some family who traveled to be with us over Christmas and New Year.  Our family members strongly desired to watch the post-season football bowl games but could not believe we did not have a television suitable to meet their needs.  So, they went out and bought a big screen TV (and left it at our house).  Actually, we didn’t (and still don’t) subscribe to cable or satellite; I am sure that had they had sufficient time, they would have ordered that too.  Needless to say, we were able to watch whatever bowl games were on network television that year.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  We have enjoyed the television in our home.  We will, on certain occasions, watch family movies together; Jeanine and I will often have weekly movie dates at home; and, yes, I do enjoy watching sporting events on a big screen TV.  However, with such a blessing there is the temptation to allow this technology to run our lives.  For this reason we have to plan with purpose what we do as a family at home.

With summer here, there is an even greater temptation to sit in front of the television and waste our summer.  One of the ways we seek not to waste our summer is by purposely planning family activities together.  One fun thing we do as a family is play board games.  Board games bring out the different characteristics of our personalities.  It is especially interesting to play a game like Monopoly and see the natural, instinctive greed come out in each of us.  This allows us the opportunity to speak truth to one another about what is most important in life.  On a practical level, it helps us teach our younger girls how to count money and how to deal with people (i.e., sisters) who are trying to take advantage of them.

Of course, there are other types of games we like to play.  We are a big cards family.  Whether it’s Dutch Blitz or Skip Bo or just plain Rummy, we like playing cards.

Along with cards and board games, we like thinking games.  Just last night we sat around the supper table and took turns asking questions from the game Mindtrap.  Some of the questions are murder scene scenarios where you try to solve the case; others are more mathematical type problems.  Regardless, these help develop the girls (and our) thinking skills.  While the older girls asked the Mindtrap questions, the younger girls asked questions from Trivial Pursuit Junior.  We just sat around the table, racking our brains, and most importantly, laughing!

Don’t waste your summer in front of the television.  When you do watch television make it intentional, not accidental.  Plan for your family time, and you will discover just how creative, funny, smart, witty and crazy your children are.

Categories : Commentary, Resources
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They Testify About Me:
Preaching Jesus and the Gospel from the Old Testament

April 12-14, 2011 :: Chicago, Illinois

Here are D. A. Carson and Tim Keller on the conference:

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Jul
09

Worship in Spirit and Truth

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But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  (John 4:23, ESV)

The following are some of the basic principles by which we seek to plan and practice corporate worship at High Pointe Baptist Church.  As best as I can remember, these principles were influenced by a sermon series I listened to by John Piper on worship titled, Worship God.

1.  True worship is God-centered. We were created to worship, and we are commanded to worship God alone (Exodus 20:3-5; Revelation 22:9) in the ways that He has outlined in Scripture (Ecclesiates 5:1-7).  Therefore, as we prepare our hearts for worship let’s remember that worship is about God, not us.

2.  True worship is Christ-focused. Jesus Christ is the image of God, the creator, sustainer, and reconciler of creation, and the head of the church (Colossians 1:15-20).  It pleased God to reveal Himself through the Son and to reconcile us to Himself through Jesus’ death.  So with the disciples, we worship Jesus (John 20:28); Jesus is the focus of worship because He’s the focus of the Father’s work.

3.  True worship is Spirit-empowered.  The Bible makes it clear that we are born into this world as children of wrath and dead to God.  However, by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:1-10), we are made alive to God and dead to sin (Romans 6:1-14).  Only those who have been made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit can truly worship God; these are the true worshipers God seeks (John 4:21-24).

4.  True worship is Word-based. God’s Word (the Bible) is the basis of everything we do in worship (announcements, welcome, singing, praying, preaching, etc.).  Why?  Because God works by His Word.  He created by His Word (Genesis 1); He sustains His creation by the Word of His power (Hebrews 1:3); He came into this world as the Word (John 1:1); He saves us by the power of His Word (Romans 1:16).  Preaching is the primary form of the Word in our worship because this is the model Jesus and His disciples left us (Luke 4:43; Romans 10:14-15) and because we are commanded to preach the Word until Christ returns (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

5.  True worship engages both mind and heart. True worship requires that we engage God with our minds as we study His Word and seek to grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.  At the same time, it requires that we engage God with our hearts as the fullness of the Holy Spirit in our lives overflows and causes us to praise God in complete delight. This means that our worship will be passionate and Spirit-filled because it is based on the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ.  This is what it means to worship God in spirit and truth (John 4:24).

6.  True worship is edifying. Though worship is about God and not us, true worship will build up believers in both mind and heart “until we all attain the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man” (Ephesians 4:11-13).  In other words, though worship is all about God, it will benefit us and cause us to grow in our love for Him and one another, for worship has both a vertical (Godward) and a horizontal (corporate) direction.

7.  True worship is more than Sunday. As believers in Christ, we are not to neglect gathering together (Hebrews 10:24-25).  However, true worship is an everyday matter.  We are to give our entire lives over to God as living and holy sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2).  That means we worship God in how we live, work and play every single day of our lives.

Categories : Church, Theology
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I have been having an ongoing, on-line conversation with some sweet folks who are not Jewish but who have left “the church” in order to become a part of a messianic Jewish congregation.  I think the whole concept of gathering around a particular ethnicity 0r tradition actually works against the gospel, but don’t take my word for it.  Here is what the apostle Paul says:

Ephesians 2:11-22

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, [3] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by [4] the Spirit.

In other words, through Christ, we are now one – there is no longer any distinction.  Again, here’s Paul:

Galatians 3:23-29

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave [7] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Now, what are we to make of this?  Again, don’t take my word for it, but listen to a Jewish believer who has thought through these things.  Here is Steve Kreloff, pastor of Lakeside Community Chapel in Clearwater, Florida.  The following is an excerpt from a post on the Pyromaniacs blog, dated July 10, 2007:

A Theological Danger

The greatest menace posed by Messianic Judaism is that, by encouraging its followers to diligently observe Old Testament laws, it obscures the foundational truth of Christianity, which is justification by faith in Christ. Though many within this movement are born again and would affirm that their salvation is based upon Christ’s substitutionary atonement, yet their emphasis upon Old Testament ceremonial laws gives the distinct impression that the observing of these laws are necessary for salvation.

Indeed, there are some within the messianic movement who teach that Jewish believers are obligated to observe all the Old Testament laws. They would in fact associate their salvation with keeping these laws. Yet, this was the very problem that Paul addressed in his letter to the Galatians. He sternly rebuked them for replacing the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith with a false gospel of salvation by law. He called their rejection of grace for law “a different gospel” (1:6) and a distortion of the gospel of Christ (1:7). For receiving such a perverted message he referred to them as “foolish and bewitched” (3:1). And those who preached such an erroneous message he called “accursed” (1:8, 9). He wrote, ” . . . knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified”(Gal. 3:16).

Those within the messianic camp must consider the critical importance of affirming the doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ. In keeping with the message of the New Testament, they should stop clinging to laws and practices that can never justify them before God.

Read the entire post here.

Categories : Church, Theology
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My lovely bride, Jeanine, has just posted her first blog post.

Growing up, my grandfather had a fondness for Norman Rockwell. He had books of his drawings around his house, and when he died, I received several of them. I remember several of Rockwell’s drawings depicted people looking into someone’s home from outside a window. Wouldn’t you like to do that? I would! I think we as women often wonder what life is like inside someone else’s home.

Read the rest here.  Enjoy!

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Jonathan Dodson, lead pastor of Austin City Life has a great post on gospel community and friendship.  Here’s just a taste:

There have been a lot of attempts to cultivate community in the local church–small groups, accountability groups, cell groups, missional communities, gospel communities. The problem with a lot of these structures is that they make the wrong the central. The glue is all wrong. Small groups make community the glue. Accountability groups make holiness the glue. Cell groups make evangelism the glue. Missional communities make mission the glue. All of these get stuck on the wrong things.

Read entire post.

Categories : Church
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The new 9Marks e-journal just went up this afternoon.  Be sure to check it out.  It has some helpful information on women in the church/ministry, women discipling women and some reviews of helpful resources for women.

Here’s just a taste to whet your appetite:

Wanted: Older Women Discipling Younger Women
by Susan Hunt

For the Young Mother: Ministry, Guilt and Seasons of Life
by Jani Ortlund

Book Review: Radical Womanhood

Book Review: Womanly Dominion: More than a Gentle and Quiet Spirit

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