Spiritual Weapons for the Right and and the Left

1 Samuel 11:6–7 And the Spirit of God rushed upon Saul when he heard these words, and his anger was greatly kindled. [7] He took a yoke of oxen and cut them in pieces and sent them throughout all the territory of Israel by the hand of the messengers, saying, “Whoever does not come out after Saul and Samuel, so shall it be done to his oxen!” Then the dread of the LORD fell upon the people, and they came out as one man. 

Haven’t we all been asking, like those worthless men in 1 Samuel 10:27; “How Can this man save us?”  Haven’t we been overrun by dragons? Internal and external dragons.

God’s answer for us, is the same as it was to Israel, “by the power of the Holy spirit.” The Spirit’s descent was always a prelude to holy war, just as the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost to equip the church to prosecute its holy war against unbelief in the great commission. Salvation comes down out of heaven to rest upon us and equips us to slay dragons. 

We need the whole counsel of God on this subject. “For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7).  We are used to hearing about the Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control from Galatians 5. And amen. But these attributes, worked into us through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, prepare us for wielding a mighty sword. Only a well-trained arm can wield a sword effectively. We need the right training to wield the sword of the spirit to slay dragons; “and take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). 

How do we slay dragons? With the word of God. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). This is the prophetic voice. “He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away” (Isaiah 49:2). “Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth, and my judgment goes forth as the light” (Hosea 6:5). The Word of God is the Sword of the Spirit. This is the weapon of our warfare. “By truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left” (2 Corinthians 6:7).

We are in great need of a sword and a Christ-like character to wield it. The Spirit provides us with both. The mission of the church is confrontation with the dragons of this world – the sons of that ancient serpent, Satan, as he is called in Revelation 20:2. 

Jesus said to the Pharisees; 

“Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. [32] Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. [33] You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? [34] Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town” (Matthew 23:31–34).

Jesus slew the great serpent Satan, but his children still walk the earth. They still lie and devour and steal and cheat and corrupt. “And such were some of you.” Jesus ascended, knowing there were still dragons to be slain. So, He poured out his power on us in the Holy Spirit. He filled his Apostles’ with the words and they delivered His book into our hands. We are sent now – the prophets and wisemen and scribes – even to be killed, crucified, flogged and persecuted, by obeying god’s will unto death. To pour out our lives fighting the dragons in our hearts and in one another’s hearts. To proclaim Christ’s death and resurrection till he returns, teaching the nations the words of Christ. 

In this mission we are not left defenseless. But the sword we wield is held in hands that are shaped by the fruit of the spirit. We are given weapons with which to fight. Swords and arrows, too. We are called by God to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord; to fill our quiver with Gospel arrows. The reason for this is that to fulfill the great commission mission, we must be dragon slayers. One of the things I keep hearing among Christians is a concern over the current of culture, and how it threatens to devour our children. Part of the general fear is a fear over the rise of dragons in the land. But what concern is that to dragon slayers? We need to be and we need to raise broad shouldered swordsmen and mighty shield maidens. 

Jesus told Peter, as the first leader of the Apostles “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).

Gates are a defensive position. The gates of hell shall not prevail against us. I don’t care what your eyes of flesh show you, we are on the offensive, if we are wielding the Word of God. No matter what you see on the evening news, the Lord has the enemy right where He wants them. Out in the open, no longer hiding in the dark. Take up the sword, Church, for there be dragons in your hearts and in the land. 

And remember that we are raising dragon slayers who must be armed with the sword of the Spirit; weapons for the right hand and the left. The word of God wielded by the sons and daughters of God – who are loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled – because it is not the spirit of the World, but of God that is the seal of our inheritance in Christ. We do not fight like the world. We fight like Christ, in whose scarred hands rests the scepter of the Messiah King, a rod of iron. The Lord equipped Saul by the power of His own spirit and Saul fought with the tactics of his fathers, zealous, wise, forgiving, humble, fierce. And he slew dragons. 

Let us take up the sword, church, and cry to the thrice Holy God – “rend heaven and pour out your spirit again! Give us a deep love and understanding of your word, that we might be strong and well-equipped to slay dragons.” 

Let us attend the Lord’s Service this Sunday and renew our covenant with God – for that is what our worship service is – Covenant renewal. Let us be clothed in Christ’s righteousness and feed at His table.  “For an army marches on its stomach,” Napoleon said.  Let us take up the Sword of the Spirit – weapons enough for both hands – and slay the dragons in our hearts, our homes, our church and our communities. Go. Fight. Win. In the name and power of The Lord Jesus Christ.

And Amen.

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”

Be a Whole Burnt Offering

Leviticus 1:3-9 “If his gift for a burnt offering is from the flock, from the sheep or goats, he shall bring a male without blemish, shall lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. and he shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the LORD, and Aaron’s sons the priests shall throw its blood against the sides of the altar. And the priest shall offer all of it and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt offering, a food offering with a pleasing aroma to the LORD.

We’ve all experienced it.

Mom is cooking the London broil or the meatloaf and has to run after a toddler, then break up a fight, then answer the phone, apply bandaids, get batteries for the gaming controller and before you know it the pleasing aroma of dinner turns into the the unpleasant smell of burnt flesh.

We’ve all been to, or hosted, the BBQ where the host is flipping burgers, but has to step away to get more ice, then clean up purple soda on the carpet and fill the chip bowl and when he returns to the grill, his beautiful burgers are all hockey pucks that fill the air with the putrid smell of char.

No one likes the smell of burned meat. But in the passage read for us this morning, the whole burnt offering is a pleasing aroma to the Lord. Continue reading “Be a Whole Burnt Offering”

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.

Sifting the Sons of God

Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”  

Now a few things to note. Jesus uses Peter’s pre-Christian name foreshadowing Peter’s fall back to old ways of thinking. He also says Simon twice which is a Jewish rhetorical device signifying emphasis and sorrow like when Jesus laments “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” in Matthew 23:37.

The circumstances of our life that result from sin and the necessity of its cure, grieves Jesus. He is not a doctor working on lab rats. He is a wholehearted and invested physician.

Also, the “you,” is plural. Satan desires to sift all the disciples, not just Peter.

Furthermore, Satan asks permission. Satan is God’s instrument. Satan only has the authority granted to Him by God. That should put our spiritual warfare against Satan into some much needed perspective. Dualism is a modern sin common in Modern Christianity. Satan is not God’s equal. Satan is God’s errand boy. Also, Jesus grants permission. Why would He do that? Why would a good God allow bad things to happen?

To sift wheat means to shake it violently, so that the chaff flows away on the wind and the wheat remains. Now, to be shaken violently does not feel good, but it does purify the wheat.

So here is the set up. Jesus tells Peter what is going to happen to Him and what the result will be. But does Peter take it to heart? Does it prevent Peter from going through it?

Satan asks to sift Jesus’ disciples and Jesus allows it because He wants us to be shaken, so that we will learn to cling to Him, the immovable rock, the solid cornerstone. That we might experience and know what we are incapable of and what He is capable of.

Cancer asks to sift us. Infertility asks to sift us. Doubt asks to sift us. The election asks to sift us. And God grants to them the opportunity to show us our weakness and show us His strength.

Most astoundingly, Jesus foretells Peter’s fall but also His return. Jesus knows that Peter will be sifted, will fall for a time but ultimately will prevail, he will “turn again” which means repent. Peter will be shaken to His very core but will stand strong.   Continue reading “Sifting the Sons of God”

Only Good Christians make Good Pastors

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. – 1 Timothy 4:6-11

The passage before us is about practicing what you preach. It casts a light on what we practice and exposes the idols and sins so common among Christ’s ministers. Paul exhorts Timothy to “put these things before the brothers” in v. 6. What things? 1 Tim. 3:15 “how one ought to behave in the household of God.” That’s what the whole book is about – the aim of our charge in 1:5.

How do God’s children behave? Those nourished and trained in the words of faith and good doctrine? Paul says put the answer before the flock, which is a matter of both word and deed. This is a theme for Paul throughout his letter to Timothy.

Chapter 1, verse 16 says Paul received mercy from Christ so that Christ might demonstrate His transformative and saving work in Paul’s life, as an example for the flock. Jesus puts Paul and Timothy and you before the flock so that you can put Jesus before the flock.

We are messengers who are the message. God is love. God’s loving kindness and faithfulness are certainties. The minister’s life ought to be his primary example. How do you overcome sin? How are we healed? What is the aim of our charge? How do we love our wives as Christ loved the Church? What is submission? What is selflessness? What is service?

 

Behold the ministers who say, “behold the Lamb of God!”

Continue reading “Only Good Christians make Good Pastors”

Seattle needs more Mark Driscolls

I know… hang with me. I don’t know where you were or what you were doing; maybe it was a sermon on their website, maybe it was at the Ballard campus or the UW campus, maybe you simply went to check out the girls or guys, maybe you heard a CD of the music or attended a community group. I don’t know how it started for you.

For me, it was 2003 and a hot young thing I was totally into, sent me a link to to a sermon. So, I checked it out and at first, I didn’t like it, but if it impressed this girl, then whatever. The reason I didn’t like it, is because the guy preaching kept describing me in very unflattering terms. There were reasons I lived in my mom’s basement and didn’t have a car or a job. Yeah, so, I was 23 and had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I had no intention of growing up. And no, my intentions with that young woman were not honorable.  Continue reading “Seattle needs more Mark Driscolls”

When Pastors Lose Their Wonder

Our great privilege is our greatest danger.

“As the average man breathes the air and basks in the sunshine without ever a thought that it is God in his goodness who makes his sun to rise on him, though he is evil, and sends rain to him, though he is unjust; so you may come to handle even the furniture of the sanctuary with never a thought above the gross earthly materials of which it is made. The words which tell you of God’s terrible majesty or of his glorious goodness may come to be mere words to you—Hebrew and Greek words, with etymologies, and inflections, and connections in sentences. The reasonings which establish to you the mysteries of his saving activities may come to be to you mere logical paradigms, with premises and conclusions, fitly framed, no doubt, and triumphantly cogent, but with no further significance to you than their formal logical conclusiveness. God’s stately steppings in his redemptive processes may become to you a mere series of facts of history, curiously interplaying to the production of social and religious conditions, and pointing mayhap to an issue which we may shrewdly conjecture: but much like other facts occurring in time and space, which may come to your notice. It is your great danger. But it is your great danger, only because it is your great privilege.”

Benjamin B. Warfield, “The Religious Life of Theological Students,” from an address given by Warfield at the Autumn Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary, October 4, 1911, public domain.