Sunday, August 28, 2011

Triumphal Procession Part Two

Imagine the scene: Satan, Angel of light, Accuser of the brothers, Roaring lion, is led naked down the parade route of the universe with a hook in his nose. A train of henchmen, the hordes of hell, follow silently behind. The jangling of chains has replaced the jangling of weapons. A thousand battle cries have been replaced by a roar of victory from the crowds who line the road. The highest and lowest of angels and men join voices. Christ is King and the Troubler of men has gone to His doom.

Triumphal Procession

Effects of a Triumphal Procession!
1) To show the nation that the war was truly over
2) The nation releases their anxiety and fear as the enemy is permanently humiliated
3) Other enemies would be disheartened
4) Show how small the enemy truly was
5) To display the glory of the victor.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

May the Tribe of Micaiah Increase!

The experts gathered together to predict victory. The authors and the gurus, the church growth experts and ones versed in spiritual formation sent word to the prophet. "This is the way the spiritual wind is blowing. Join with us and we will celebrate the vast numerical victory that will be ours."
The church growth expert said, "The battle is sure. Look at the hordes who will flock to us. Victory is sure."
The Spiritual Formation expert said, "Self-esteem will lead the way. We can be confident when we are centered in our own understanding."
The Guru said, "We are predicting success. Let your word agree with ours."
But Micaiah said, "As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me... I saw all Israel scattered, like sheep without a shepherd..."

The Deception of Relevance

The church has made a grave mistake in ministry design. The cries for relevance over the last decade or two have led us to the edge of an abyss. If we peer over the edge, our knees may get weak.
*One church hired a pornography star to come and share about sex because of her wide experience.
*Another church made it popular to ask so many questions of scripture that they began to question scripture without settling on any of its answers
*Another church made selfishness its central concern so that Baby Boomers could feel relevant
*A final example was a church that made self-esteem its core value and redefined sin to be a lack of sufficient self-esteem.
All this was done at the altar of relevance. Here's my problems with the idea of relevance:
1. We make sinners and the weakest saints among us the arbiters of relevance. Whatever their felt need is at the time is where we park our ministry efforts and resources.
2. Relevance reflects a desire for a desire for a neat prescription for a felt need that takes away pain without touching the disease.
3. The heart, which is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, likes its answers in neat little tablets. The heart directs the Word and Spirit of God into only those areas of pain and forbids wider scope to the agents of real transformation.
4. Nothing is more relevant, ultimately and finally, than the Gospel. On Christ and His ministry among us hang all our hope and joy. To think something else is more relevant than forgiveness of sins and right standing with God is a damnable blindness.
The real question is not relevance but sufficiency. Are the things we teach and do in ministry sufficient for bringing a sinner to the cross and a saint safely home? Next time we meet with our ministry design team, let's ask the right question.

Monday, February 7, 2011

If the Salt Has Lost Its Savor

The Barna Group identified six major patterns emerging among Christians in America in their year end report:

1. The Christian Church is becoming less theologically literate.
2. Christians are becoming more ingrown and less outreach-oriented.
3. Growing numbers of people are less interested in spiritual principles and more desirous of learning pragmatic solutions for life.
4. Among Christians, interest in participating in community action is escalating.
5. The postmodern insistence on tolerance is winning over the Christian Church.
6. The influence of Christianity on culture and individual lives is largely invisible.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Questions to Ask as You Pursue God's Will (based on II Thessalonians 1:11-12)

1. Make your calling and election sure.
2. What's your motivation? What's your desire? Ask for conviction or assurance from the Holy Spirit.
3. How do you make decisions- Evaluation or Intuition? One is not better than the other, but finding a friend who decides issues in the other way can be helpful.
4. What has God said or promised concerning your desire or resolve? Are you willing to trust Him?
5. Does your desire fit with the corporate resolves of your local body of believers? Is it an individual resolve or part of a larger ministry?
6. Where are you in prayer concerning your resolve? Are you waiting on god? Wrestling? Can others join with you in prayer? Are you ready to step out?
7. Are there other resolves, related to your desire, that God is leading you to make? Begin a habit of continually seeking, testing, trusting, and trying.

According to Grace

We began this series by saying that the whole passage is held together by the structure of Paul's prayer. It ends by reminding us that the whole of our lives, the ability to make resolutions, the ability to act by faith, the chance to access the power of God to vindicate our cause and His, comes to us by grace. Grace calls us, equips us, empowers us, then rewards us with great honor for our loyalty. And we have done only what it was our duty to do. To whom much is given, much is required.

Reciprocal Glorification

"So that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him." One commentator writes that the result of our resolves, our acts of faith, when they are combined with the power of God, bring "reciprocal glorification." We are not to presume that we can share the glory that belongs to God alone, for He will not share His glory with another. So, in what sense do we share His glory?
A long time ago, I read Matthew Henry's wonderful phrase "God has twisted interests with us." For the modern Ozymandias, their selfish pursuit for glory will end in eternal ruin. However, for the lover of God, we want nothing more than to marvel at the glory of Christ when He is revealed. The vindication of His justice and sovereign rule is also vindication of our own faith in Jesus. It is the vindication of our loyalty to Christ. It is our glory to have remained faithful and it is His glory to be marveled at by those who count it joy to have held on to Him. Sun and moon, we shine with the glory of Christ.

Friday, February 4, 2011

God's Will By God's Power

Paul's prayer for God's will on the part of the Thessalonians is that God will add his power to their resolves, their acts of faith, so that He is glorified. We might make an assumption here that God's power is on the other side of the equation- that there is God's part and our part.
Here is where I have fallen down all too often in my resolves and my acts of faith. I have assumed that when they came with no power, God had decided to say no. I forgot the lesson of the widow and the unjust judge. I gave up. I stopped wrestling. I let go before he blessed me.
"As the people of God, we must never be content with unanswered prayer. We cry out to the Lord, and we do not do this because we merely want to hear ourselves talking in a religious way. We do this because we seek deliverance and salvation." -Doug Wilson
"It is atheism to pray and not to wait in hope" -Richard Sibbes
Wrestling. Waiting on God. Abiding under. Time to beg God for fullness, for power. We have lived too long in emptiness.

Every Act Prompted By Faith

The parallel term for our resolve to do good for the glory of God in the text is "every act prompted by faith." I've already mentioned that Paul assumes we are not running out with God's credit card to pursue our own desires. What we want to do is guided by our faith. Two observations are helpful for me here:
1. My faith grows, not by focusing on the size of my faith, but upon the object of my faith. Books like "The Holiness of God" by A. W. Tozer, "Desiring God" and "The Pleasures of God" by John Piper can be huge in helping us to know God better. Large amounts of scripture reading can show us how God works and desires to work with His people.
2. My acts of faith should be grounded in the promises of God. "Pleading the promises" means connecting the concerns of God and the promises of God to our own petitions in prayer. I want to do X because it addresses a concern of God in the world (like caring for widows and orphans) and God promises to help (I can do all things..., Ask anything in my name..., ).
As James declares, true faith is never alone. It is trusting God and stepping out. The proof of our faith is in our actions. May God help us, as we seek to do His will, to resolve great things and to trust Him for the results of our actions.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Every Good Resolve

What started this series of blogs was a small textual question in v. 11. The KJV says that the purpose or resolve that is good is God's. The NIV says that the purpose or resolve that is good is mine. Who's right? It turns out the "his" is added in the KJV. Since the good resolve or purpose is parallel to an act prompted by faith, most modern translations, including the ESV, make the resolve or purpose relate to the believer rather than God.
Wow! My good purpose. Paul does not assume that the believer will rush out, promise in hand to pursue selfish ends. He assumes the believer has a desire and passion to see the glory of God. It is the glory of God that begins and ends this prayer. What Paul does see is a holy desire to have a specific role in the accomplishment of God's glory. That desire, that resolve, is the beginning of pursuing God's will.
How do I arrive at that resolve? Ask the Holy Spirit. Study your personality, gifts and abilities. Ask the leadership in your church. Then, when you have an idea that excites or burdens you, check your motivation against the glory of God. Finally, scour the scriptures for instruction and promises on the idea you have in mind. The Holy Spirit may convict you of a selfish or sinful goal or obstacle. He may give assurance that your idea could help reach the goal of the glory of God.
The good steward is always looking to make a profit for his Master. A good resolve is nothing but a good idea with feet on it.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Worthy of His Calling

The first request Paul mentions in his prayer for the Thessalonians is that God might count them worthy of His calling. This idea of worthiness is used several times in Paul's writings to indicate a transformed character. The believer has given equal weight to both calling and conduct. For example:
*In Ephesians 4:1, Paul exhorts the church to live a life worthy of the calling they had received. Then, he tells them to be completely humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, and to keep in step with the Holy Spirit's direction.
*In Philippians 1:27, our manner of life- how we conduct ourselves should be, Paul says, worthy of the gospel of Christ.
*In Colossians 1:10, Paul exhorts us to live a life worthy of the Lord so that we may please him in every way and bear fruit in every good work. Such fruitfulness is evidence that someone is a genuine believer.
*In I Thessalonians (2:12), Paul shares the urgency of developing true Christian character: Encouraging, comforting, urging us to live lives worthy of God. Why? Because He has a kingdom and glory planned for us.
*Earlier in II Thessalonians, Paul says that the perseverance and love that the church showed during times of persecution and trial proved that God's universal rule was just and that He counted them worthy of His kingdom (1:4-5)
So what does it mean to be worthy? There are three possibilities:
1. Merit- our efforts make us worthy. The problem with this position is we all fall short of the glory of God. Our efforts at righteousness in and of ourselves are as filthy rags.
2. Position- Paul may mean that we are only worthy when we have received the forgiveness of Christ and are brought into a position of peace and friendship with god. The question here is why Paul would speak in a positional way concerning worthiness to the Church.
3. Fitting or Appropriate- Here the idea is that our character and conduct are becoming what is fitting for the gospel, for Christ, and for His kingdom. John Piper illustrates by describing a newly-remodeled kitchen: Shiny faucets, new flooring, expensive cabinetry, and custom refrigerator. However, the stove is an olive green seventy's era appliance. It is totally out of sync with the rest of the kitchen. It's place in this kitchen is inappropriate. God's Spirit is working in us and through us now to prepare us for a new world where there is neither sickness or crying or death. No one wants to stick out like a sore thumb there. May God count us worthy of His calling.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Pursuit of God's Will is Held Together by Prayer

The fulfillment of God's Will in the lives of Thessalonian believers is a constant burden for Paul in his prayers. He has three requests with regard to this church:
1. That God may count you worthy of His calling
2. That God may fulfill every good resolve of yours (see later discussion) by His power
3. That God may glorify the name of Christ in the believers.
Our discussion of God's will centers on the second request, but notice how the spiritual lives of the Thessalonians are held together by the corporate prayer of the apostle Paul, with Silas- Paul's traveling and ministry companion, and the young disciple, Timothy. The desire of God to get the Thessalonian believers safely home and to display the wonder of His Son, is seconded in prayer by Paul and others in the faith.
Paul's prayer is both corporate and persistent. It was a comfort and an encouragement for the Thessalonian believers to know that Paul constantly wrestled in prayer for their maturity, their sanctification, their readiness to see the revelation of Christ.
The will of God for the believer, then, is birthed and nurtured in the persistent, corporate prayer of a caring body of believers. Woe to the one who goes it alone.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pursuing God's Will in Light of His Return

The second coming of Christ is not the expected place to begin a discussion on God's Will, but since Paul did, I guess I should. I Thessalonians 1:11-12 begins: "With this in mind..." "This" refers to the passage before, which describes in both glorious and terrible terms the second coming of Christ. His return speaks devastation to those who do not obey the gospel of Christ. For them, it is everlasting punishment. Worse, it is being shut out from the presence of God for eternity. To those who believe, the return of Christ will be glorious. It is a day when he will be marveled at by those who believe.
God's will, then, is that one day His Son will be marveled at, seen as the treasure, fulfillment, satisfaction, and wonder that only God's unique Son could be. At this permanent transfiguration, every knee bows, every tongue confesses, and believers "marvel."
C. S. Lewis asks an interesting question with regard to belief. He tells the story of a man arrested and tried for a horrible crime. One friend believes or disbelieves according to the evidence presented at trial. Another friend stands by Him every day until his innocence is proved. Which friend will be honored? The steadfast friend, of course!
The Second Coming of Christ is both the universal display of the justice of God's sovereign reign and the vindication of the day to day faithfulness of those who put their trust in Christ. Paul says we share in that. Glory!
So what does that have to do with God's will? Simply this- if universal acknowledgment of the beauty and holiness of Christ is how the world wraps up, then it is wise that we bend our will and desires to pursue His glory. Pursuing God's will- and being found worthy of His calling- is the only rational way to live in light of His return.

Pursuing God's Will- part 1

To those who love Jesus, the subject of God's Will is exciting, intimate, and frustrating. We desire to do the will of God with regard to this or that decision- usually the major ones (Vocation and Marriage)but we have no specific direction. If only God would tell us what to do!
There are some good books on the subject, including:
*Gary Friessen- Decision-making and the Will of God
*Bruce Waltke- Finding the Will of God- a pagan notion?
Perhaps the thing I found most helpful was a little book by John MacArthur, "God's Will is Not Lost." In it, he describes what scripture plainly says IS the will of God. We are to pursue that- whether it is our sanctification, the cultivation of thankfulness, or persevering in suffering. Then, his last point is "You're it!"
My own approach to God's Will has often been the blunt advice of friends, rather like Farel convincing Calvin to return to Geneva. In preaching through the epistles to the Thessalonians, however, I have found a great treasure in II Thess. 1:11-12. The passage is slowly unpacking for me a specific understanding of the pursuit of God's Will. It began with a linguistic puzzle: Whose good purpose is described in v. 11? Ours or God's? The next 9 posts will explain my understanding- and I'd love to get your input.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Flat-faced Prophet

To fall on your face before God is to cast yourself upon His mercy and beg forgiveness. To fall prostrate before Him is to sue for grace or everything is lost. This dramatic position was to recognize the danger of sin and to repent with great zeal.
Moses fell on his face many times, not for his own situation, but for the hazards into which the people of Israel had wandered. In at least four situations, God's people seem clueless about the danger of judgment. They are blind to the nearness of disaster:
*When they fall into golden calf idolatry (Deu. 9). Moses' face shines with the holiness of God as he watches with wonder as God carves His holy law into stone. Meanwhile, God's people celebrate a golden calf with great religious ferocity. Moses falls facedown and lies prostrate for 40 days.
*When they fear the obstacles to God's promised blessing. "Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt" (Numbers 14). The people rebel and Moses falls facedown.
*When they do not recognize the authority of God in their legitimate leader, Moses. They ask, "Why do you exalt yourself above the assembly?" Only Moses sees that Korah's rebellion (Numbers 16) against God and God's leader brings them to the brink of disaster.
*When the people of Israel murmur against God's direction (Numbers 20). "Why did you bring us to this evil place?" The clueless Israelites slander God and Moses falls facedown.
An important ministry of the pastor and leader is to know when God's people wander into impending judgment: to confront the sin and to intercede for the sinner. Without Moses, Israel would have, more than once, walked cluelessly into destruction.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Rise of the Black Regiment

Of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, a full third held Theology degrees. The words and ministry of these men provided such moral courage to the Revolution that our English opponents referred to pastors as "The Black Regiment." David Barton describes those pastors as the most influential people in the community.
What would America look like if pastors returned to the position of influence that their predecessors once held? What if pastors were the chief educators, the intellectual leaders, the moral backbone of a community? A few years ago, a Jackson Citizen Patriot article lamented the lack of leadership in Jackson county like the industrial and political barons of the past. I propose the rise of a new black regiment...