Are You Stumbling?

1 John 2:9–11 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

In John 8:12, Jesus says that he is the light of the world. Romans 6:12 says those who believe in Christ are alive in Christ. If we abide in Christ, we abide in the light. Love for your brothers and sisters is one of the primary ways that you know that you are abiding in the light, abiding in Christ. The one who is in darkness has no capacity to love because his eyes have been blinded by the darkness. If you are walking in the light, then you have no cause for stumbling.

On Good Friday I called our current circumstances a hearing test. Faith comes through hearing and so circumstances that test our faith are a test of our hearing. Likewise, if loving your brother is how you know you are abiding in Christ, then circumstances that test your love for the brotherhood are a test of your life in Christ. Grumbling, complaining, Judging, avoiding, back-biting your brothers and sisters to whom Christ as united to you in Himself? Are you stumbling over your brother’s theology? Over what he calls clean and unclean? Are you stumbling over what your Sister isn’t saying? Are you stumbling over your brother’s foolishness?

Whatever we may personally think of the social distancing standards, the six-foot rule really is too shallow a grave for our unity. If you are stumbling, then you are walking in the dark. You are not walking in the light of a Gracious God. You are not walking in the light of the love that you have received.

Love is not an emotional response to beauty, merit or kindness, but a moral attitude dedicated to another’s good, whether or not that other is lovable, deserving, or responsive. Divine love means to love the undeserving, despite disappointment, worthiness or rejection.

1 Corinthians 13:4–7 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

The circumstances we find ourselves in are the judgement of a good God. The chastisement of Christ. It is discipline for our lack of wisdom. As I said, long before Gov. Inslee said all Israel to her tents in division and confusion – we had already made it a way of life. What confirmation bias is being revealed in your brothers and sisters as these events unfold? Do you love them enough to say something about that confirmation bias? Do you love them despite it? What ignorance, presuppositions, foolishness and worldliness is being revealed in your brothers and sisters? What is likewise being revealed in you? Because your sin is showing.

Jesus associated with the foolish things of the world to humble the wise. That means you. So why are you looking across the aisle thanking God for not making you like that fool over there? The unity of every fool who is hearing my voice right now, and we are all of us fools – our Unity is Jesus Christ.

The moon reflects the light of the sun. It is the lesser light. In the dark of night, the moon is a guiding light. The church is the lesser light that reflects the light of the sun of righteousness. In these dark times are we fulfilling that role? That calling? Showing that we stand in the light of God’s unconditional love? Or is the sky clouded by the billows of our own judgements, preferences and suspicions. Our cumulus clouds of self-righteousness?

John says that those who walk the light know where they are going. Do we know where we are going?  Where we will stand together, eyes fixed, not on one another, but on Christ for eternity? Is there anything so vile, so foolish, so selfish, so unholy that your brother or sister can do – to fall from Christ in whom they abide? So how can they fall out of fellowship so easily with you?

Do we remember where we are headed?  Where we will stand together, eyes fixed, not on one another, but on Christ for eternity? John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Let us repent of our lack of love for one another, our lack of abiding in the light, our lack of abiding in Christ – and get started, together, today.

Trained by Grace

Grace appears, A Cornucopia of Blessings.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11–14 ESV)

 In verse 11 it says the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation for all people. The grace of God that brings salvation for all people is obviously Jesus Christ. God so loved the world, He gave us His son. God restores man through Jesus. Truly this is unmerited favor, which is what grace means.  This is Good news.

The grace of God that saves us has appeared. We need to look at what this word appear means. The word in Greek is where we get our English word epiphany, which means “a striking revelation.” This Greek word is most frequently used in reference to the sun, as in; when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned (Acts 27:20 ESV). 

But the word is also used poetically in reference to Jesus, as in; 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 1:78-79 ESV)

“To give” light, there is the same word translated as “appeared” in Titus 2:11. To appear is to spread light. This is predicated on John 8:12 when Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.”

So, going back to Titus 2, Paul is telling us something else that God’s grace does. The grace of God has dawned; it has lit up the world. The grace of God, in a sudden burst of illumination, has come onto the scene of human history like the sun at sunrise. The grace of God is the light we see by. Believers see by Grace. C.S. Lewis wrote at the end of his essay, Is Theology Poetry; I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”[1]

Lewis means that he sees the light of Christianity, but he also sees or understands everything else by that light. Continue reading “Trained by Grace”

I Believe So That I Know

A child is told their toy is a red car by their doting parents. The child has no frame of reference for either the words, the concepts or the significance. Reinforced by repetition, the child who loves and trusts his parents, believes the object is a red car. His belief is the basis of his knowledge about toys, red, cars and numerical values. Similarly, our Father places in us the seed of knowledge about himself. That seed takes root and reaches up toward Him, seeking Him out like a plant seeks the sun. Understanding the connection between faith and knowledge is essential to evangelism, apologetics and discipleship. Faith is the basis of knowledge, not the conclusion of it. A person’s knowledge begins with faith. We believe before we know. This presuppositional framework is a design feature.

In The Light of the Mind, author Ronald H. Nash asserts that “Augustine makes it clear that man can know this present temporal, corporeal world only because he first knows the eternal, incorporeal, intelligible world of ideas that exists in the mind of God.”[1]

Man is born with seed-knowledge of God which sprouts upward within him searching for God, just as a plant shoots up in search of light while pressing roots down searching for living water. We see these concepts reflected in our pursuit of understanding in Jesus (2 Cor. 4:6; Psalm 1:3; Ephesians 3:17). The possibility for learning of the eternal God is only possible because human beings are born in possession of a seed of this truth (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

Augustine argues that “before an architect builds an edifice, he must first have a model of what he intends to build. Similarly, God had a plan before he created the universe. His creation is patterned or copied after the divine ideas[2]…these rationes[3]subsist in God’s intellect.”

Marriage is one example of a created relationship that teaches eternal truths about the unity and diversity of the Triune God (Ephesians 5:32). But the idea that God creates things on earth based on a “copy,” in heaven is also seen in the building of the Tabernacle and the Temple which were copies of the true temple in Heaven (Hebrews 8:2, 9:24; Exodus 25:9, 40). Jesus is the greatest example of this poetic revelation. Jesus is the greater Adam, Moses and David. Kingship, priesthood and the prophetic office – are all types and shadows of the second person of the Trinity.

In Augustine’s theology, truth does not consist of abstract platonic concepts. Truth is personal; the person of God as revealed in Jesus Christ (John 14:6), the Logos of John 1. “Knowledge occurs when the personal God illuminates the minds of human persons to understand him and to understand the world he has made. So, Augustine maintains the Creator-creature distinction and makes our thoughts a servant knowledge, part of our discipleship.”[4]

In Anselm’s Prayer, the Proslogion, we see this connection between faith and knowledge expanded; “For I do not seek to understand so that I may believe; but I believe so that I may understand. For I believe this also, that ‘unless I believe, I shall not understand’ [Isa. 7: 9].”[5]

Thus our faith is the basis or presupposition of all rational study.

How does this work? Faith is ontological. Luther wrote in The Babylonian Captivity of the Church, “Where there is the word of God, who makes promises, there must necessarily be the faith of the person who accepts those promises.”

Faith lays hold of the promises of God, as if they are solid objects and historical dates within human history. Assurance is not established on reason, or science, but on the apprehension and acceptance of the word of God. Continue reading “I Believe So That I Know”

You Get as Much as You Need

Ephesians 3:16 and 19 “that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being…. to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

The ultimate goal of Christ indwelling His people is that they might experience the fullness of God.

But we don’t experience the fullness of God, do we? So, is God a liar? Is His spirit weak and ineffectual? Or, do we experience all of God that we need?

We don’t need him much, so we don’t experience Him much. How much we know of Him, how much His fullness fills us is proportional to our need of Him. We all fall into the need trap. We all know how much we needed Jesus for salvation. To enter the narrow gate. To draw near the Father. In the bloom of our first awakening to God we were all magnificently aware of our need, but now that we are through that narrow gate we get along on our own strength and understanding. The less of Him we need the less of Him we experience.Then we wonder why we lack the kind of fullness described in the New Testament.

Remember Matthew 13:58 “And [Jesus] did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.” 

God’s presence in your day to day life is directly proportional to your need of and belief in Him. Do you need Him to get up in the morning? Do you need Him at work? At the water cooler? In the laundry room and at the homeschooling table? Do you need Him to get your homework done and read to the kids? Do you need Him in the front yard? Do you need Him at the kitchen table and in the marriage bed? Do you need Him to pay the bills?

Do you need Jesus? His power. His dependence on the Father and the Holy Spirit? Do you need His Love? The Fruit of His spirit?

We are the community of need living at the foot of the throne of Grace. Aren’t we? We act self-sufficient, self-willed, all-wise, strong and good. And in that pride of life we draw farther from grace and farther from God Himself.

In reality we are bound together by our need. We are united in our need of Him and our need of one another, because His fullness lives in His Body. We receive as much as we need. So, remember every day how much you need Him.

Every day pray Proverbs 30:8-9 “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.”

Come to Christ in your need. The more of Him you need, the more of Him you will recieve.

Preaching 101

I

Like any work, preaching is a craft that requires time and failure to get really good at. This thread will discuss what preaching is, what it ought to accomplish and how to develop it as a craft.

Of course, we turn to the Bible to discover what it is preachers are doing.

Nehemiah 8:1–8 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. And Ezra the scribe stood on a wooden platform that they had made for the purpose…They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading. (ESV)

So how did it work? The preacher stood on a platform before both men and women. He read the word and the people of God listened attentively. The preacher gave the sense of the words and the people understood the words.

This is preaching in a nutshell. Read the text. Explain the text clearly and the audience receives understanding.

Now let’s move into the NT. Let’s look at the master preacher.

Luke 4:16–22 …[Jesus] stood up to read. [17] And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.  And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”  And all spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth. (ESV)

What pattern do we see in Luke 4? Jesus is handed the Scriptures from the attendant while standing. Jesus reads the Scripture. Jesus closes the book and hands it back to the attendant. Jesus sits down and begins to preach to them. At first they marvel but Jesus continues even thought he has already dazzled them. He isn’t satisfied with tickling their ears. He preaches the kingdom of God and repentance. Then we read,

Luke 4:28–29 When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. (ESV)

The main thing we need to notice in these examples is how the sermon worked. The Word would be read, and then the preacher would teach the sense of the words, and preach an exhortation based on them.

But notice that Jesus’ conclusion infuriated the crowd, and they sought to kill him. That is why preaching takes a ton of prayer for boldness and wisdom. If it takes no courage to preach then you are doing it wrong, because if you go to the front lines, you can’t be surprised when the enemy starts shooting back at you. Sermons ought to ruffle feathers and mess up hair, because the preacher is a weapon in the hand of God.

Likewise, at the conclusion of Peter’s Sermon on Pentecost, we read,

Acts 2:37–38 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (ESV)

Read the word. Give the sense or the meaning of the word directed toward understanding, so that the crowd responds.

R.L Dabney, in Evangelical Eloquence, says of preaching, “its design is to evoke an act.”

Reading the word of God. Explaining the word of God. Giving an understanding of the word of God. Acting on the word of God.

This is preaching 101.

Plowing In A Straight Line

Luke 9:57–62 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

These verses are the conclusion of Jesus’ lesson that takes place throughout chapter nine. In Luke 9:1-6, Jesus sends the twelve out on a mission after giving them very specific orders and encouragement. In Luke 10:1-12 Jesus sends out seventy-two on a mission. Jesus wants the disciples to lead His people. Jesus wants them to feed His sheep and be examples of good discipleship, but the Apostles are not yet fully committed. They are not “all in.”

Jesus needs them to learn about devotion and focused obedience. Jesus needs them to internalize this lesson. He needs them to plow in a straight line. The Christian life is a long obedience in the same direction, but there is a lot that can distract us from Jesus – a lot that can keep us from being faithful and fruitful farmers.

Jesus needs the disciples to comprehend this. So, throughout Luke 9 Jesus drives this point home using varied and stark examples.

Luke 9:2–3 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.

Jesus commands the apostles to go on a preaching tour and tells them not to worry about anything; not clothing or food or where they will lay their head. He tells them how to handle rejection.

They find immediate success but very quickly we see how distractible and unfocused they can be. Continue reading “Plowing In A Straight Line”

Spiritual leadership 

Being spiritual leaders can be very difficult. What does it look like? Consist of? How do we do it? What are some fundamental principles that constitute good biblical leadership?

The basic idea of discipling anyone, in the biblical model, is to explain and model proper behavior and then allow the student to attempt to imitate it, giving correction as needed.

If you were teaching your child how to throw a baseball, you would show them how to hold the ball and rotate the arm. Then you would have them demonstrate the proper technique. Once they tried it, you would praise proper throwing while instructing them in the details that need correction. Think about how you learned to drive. Learned to dance. Learn to read. It was always instruction, modeling and imitation followed by correction.

Spiritual leadership is the same. Let your wife and children see you reading the scriptures. Let them see you quoting it and discussing it. Let them see you praying. Let them see you giving thanks, singing, confessing, etc. Under duress let them see joy. Let them see virtue. Let them hear you speaking well of your wife, your masters and authorities. Let them hear you explain your fears. Let them hear you discussing the sermon from Sunday with your wife and asking your wife questions about what she is reading or listening to. When you watch a movie, let them hear you judge it.

Then have them imitate you. Have them read the bible aloud and say the family prayers. Let them repent and praise. Correct as they go. Let them comment on movies. Let them explain their fears, ask questions and judge.

Its ok to give a child feedback on their prayers – when is it OK to pray about the Seahawks and Christmas presents? Don’t teach them not to pray about the things that they are really concerned about, instead instruct them in how to do it properly in a Godly way.

Over spiritualizing our spiritual life leads to hypocrisy. God is concerned with the care of sparrows, how much more the free safety on the Seahawks D? And if that is what your son is concerned with, how should they pray about it? How might God be using a pulled hamstring? or the Second string guy? Don’t tell your children not to pray about the things that matter to them, even if those things don’t seem very spiritual – teach them how!!  If your daughter is concerned about what she is dreaming about, then let that be on the agenda. What causes bad dreams? What does praying for the protection of her imagination sound like?

Never turn your kids down when they request you to pray. Never. When you hear a siren, pray for the first responders and person who summoned the sirens – God knows the details even if you don’t – this encourages your children in their trust over His overwhelming sovereignty. When you see a policeman, pray for him. Let your children hear you giving thanks to God for them in prayer.

In homes where male leadership is emphasized, the overreaction is that the man does everything, or sons do everything. And sometimes we fail to lead because it’s a lot to do all by ourselves.  But how will your wife know how to lead the children in prayer when you’re not there? How do you know she is doing it right? Or how will your daughter lead her children, if she doesn’t start to see how a mommy or even Christians, for that matter, pray regularly?

If your children are not participating in their own faith at 8, they won’t at 18. Leading is not micromanaging. Continue reading “Spiritual leadership “