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...