Month: April 2013

Life’s Goal

ambition2

 

I love this greek word that I can’t pronounce. I love words that convey big pictures because I tend to be a big picture type of person. Three times, and only three times, is this word used in the New Testament and each time it’s a force that blows across the whole of life.

Here they are:

“and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you” (1 Thess 4:11)

“and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation” (Romans 15:20)

“So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Cor 5:9)

Perhaps these would make for a good epitaph.

“He aspired to live a quiet life, his ambition was to preach the gospel, and his aim was to please God.”

I will be satisfied if by the grace of God those longings are what drives my life.

A Simple Answer (Too Simple)

“The LORD God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Gen 2:16-17)

This is part of my study for tomorrow and as I hit this verse, one question comes to mind. Why in the midst of Paradise does God plant such a disastrous tree? Why create this? Why put this there in the first place. Clearly over and over this creation is “good”, “good”, 5 times over “good” and then even “very good”. So why put this tree in the garden that was no good?

In researching the answer, the response below by a pastor represents the most common response:

Why did God created a devil if He knew all the evil Satan would do. A corresponding question is why did God create the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? After all, if God hadn’t created the tree, then Adam and Eve couldn’t have sinned! This article attempts to give a logical and rational explanation to these questions. 

The answer to these questions is, I believe, found in the purpose for God creating Adam and Eve in the first place. What is the purpose of human creation? Quite simply, it is to choose to love God. If there is one thing an all mighty, all knowing, all present God would want, it would be someone choosing Him freely. To that end, mankind was given free will. 

But having free will and not having the option to use it is not free will. Imagine me asking you, “Okay, you have a choice. What do you want? A can of Pepsi or a can of Pepsi? Go on, pick, it’s your choice!” Is that really a choice? Having only one choice is not a choice. How can we exercise the most important and unique aspect to the human nature–free will–if there is no choice to make?

So the answer cascades like this: God wants our love, our love is only real if it is of free will, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil provides the opportunity for free will to be expressed.

The implication then is that: if there is no tree of the knowledge of good and evil, free will could not be truly expressed, and if free will is not truly expressed then how can love be truly love?

Makes sense right? I have heard this explanation a thousand times and shared it at least hundreds of times. But here’s my question:

Is there not love, true intense God-glorifying love in heaven? Won’t our love in heaven find it’s highest apex of reality? And yet where is the temptation that is exists in heaven in order to make love of “free will”?

Nowhere in scripture do I find of any hint that sin will be possible. All that causes sin will be dealt with: our nature is born again, our flesh will be transformed, Satan will be casted away, the world will be made new, death will be dead.

If then in heaven there is not the struggle of the “free will” to choose to love God or hate God, then do we say that love in heaven is not of “free will” and hence not truly love? To say that would be to say that life now on earth brings more glory, more worship, more adoration, more love to God than in heaven. That can’t be.

So the explanation that “free-will” and “choose” was needed in order that God can be truly loved feels incomplete, man-focused, and self-protecting to the interest and worth of my own love. Most of all, the explanation does not seem to fit the eternity that awaits God’s people.

So what’s the answer?

People Of The Word

“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” (1 Thess 2:13)

I love that hope – “the word of God, which is at work in you believers”. It’s interesting to me that Paul in 1 Cor 15:10 talks about the grace of God at work in him. It may be that the way grace works in a believers life is through the instrument of God’s word.  Meaning, one of the primary means of grace in a believers life is the word of God.

Lately I have been thinking about the power of the word of God. Not the sermonized word of God, not the missionized, not the movementalized, not the bookalized (I’m making up words now) but simply the word of God.

As I understand early church history, one of the things that was paramount for the church was simply the public reading of God’s word. This was mainly due to the fact that having personal access to the scriptures of the New Testament not a reality during that time. So when believers gathered, they wanted to get as much of the divine word of God in them as possible. While there was always a homily that was delivered in the church service, much time was dedicated to simply reading the writings of the apostles. There was a very high view on hearing the word of God, of just listening to the words read as if God Himself was speaking from heaven. This is why Paul tells Timothy

“Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” (1 Tim 4:13)

Last night at our church’s prayer meeting, we started by simply reading Psalm 115, 116, and 117. There was something about reading, listening to the word, without commentary and without sermonizing, that felt like the tilling of hard soil in preparation for planting.

Hmm…. how will these stirrings work out into my personal life, my family life, and the church I pastor?

Proof Of Election and Freedom To Preach The Gospel

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” (1 Thess 1:4-5)

Thoughts from this passage

1) The only way to tell who is “elect” is from the response people have to the word of God. The implication is the word of God should be preached indiscriminately to all who will hear it.

2) When the elect respond to the word of God, they respond in “power”  and with “full conviction”. This should bring great confidence to the enterprise of evangelism and missions. God is still in the business of changing lives.

3) The word of God is instrumental in the salvation process. Peter says it clearly:

1 Pe 1:23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;

 

Related to this, I recently heard a preacher once say- “Missions is a hunt for the elect.” That is a strange way of looking at things, but I think that hits home to what Jesus declared in John 10:

Jn 10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

Jn 10:15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Jn 10:16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

 

Daring To Ask – “Church Membership, Why or Why Not?”

I’m starting on a short book called “Church Membership”. It’s written by Jonathan Leeman from the 9Marks ministry of Mark Dever. Excellent stuff. I love the quality of material they put out and their heart to strengthen the local church.

The book is a small book and it’s meant to describe why and what church membership is. I’m looking forward to going through the book.

Why? Well because for some time now, I’ve heard some compelling philosophical arguments on why a church should have formal membership. What I have not heard are good exegetical reasons why formal membership is good. Are there some? I assume so because many of the brightest biblical minds that I lean on for other aspects of the Christian faith clearly endorse formal church membership. These are men not likely to just do something out of the tradition of doing something.

Am I looking to implement formal church membership. Not really, but maybe, if the biblical support is compelling. Three years ago I would not have thought my theology would be so reformed in it’s nature, but here I am today, really holding to some core reformed ideas. When it comes to church membership though, I’m not sold, though I am asking the question. This is good I think because as it stands right now, my apologetic on why I don’t hold to church membership is pretty weak. It goes like this – (1) We are all baptized into the universal church of Jesus. That’s 1 Cor 12.  (2) Since we are all baptized into the universal church of Jesus, we are already members. Hence, what’s the point of being a member of a local church. Simple, right?

Actually, there’s lots of holes in that way of thinking. I’ll share more as I go through the book. For now, I’m simply hoping to have the courage to honestly challenge any tradition, including my tradition of having no tradition. (BTW, that is a tradition – “I am non-traditional” or “Our church is non-traditional”. Those stands form a tradition).

Disciples learn.

In Times of Tragedy

In times of tragic suffering (like today in Boston), I am reminded of what Michael Oh, Executive Director of the Lausanne Movement, said:

“Christians should be near those that are hurting to point them to the purpose and solution of suffering – Jesus.”

I have thought of that often over this last week and today’s news of tragedy in Boston reinforces the thought into my heart. This world is hurting and broken and God’s people do well to be near those that have no hope in the midst of that. May the aroma of Christ on His people be found a fragrance of life to those causing death, seeing death, and living death.

Related to these thoughts, things that I think are not helpful in times of unspeakable tragedy:

1) Claiming the “rapture” as a means to escape the chaos of life on earth – I love the hope of His second coming and I find great comfort in it’s certainty. And so I pray that hope and that certainty will keep me here on a messed up earth for as long as God deems it good for the sake of reaching the lost. There will come a time, a moment, a twinkling of an eye and Jesus will break forth upon this earth, but until then “Father, keep my heart abiding in you and keep my feet near those that need help.”

2) Unnecessarily adding to the stereotype of Muslims – Whoever set those bombs should be brought to justice and dealt with (and may they repent and come to faith in Jesus through the process). However, after hearing the testimony of an Iranian brother and sister last weekend and hearing how they have suffered for the cause of Christ, I feel much more hesitant to make broad statements that would propagate hatred stereotypes. I just pray for justice. One day, one day in heaven, I will be worshiping around the throne of Jesus in worship and their will be Iranians and Syrians and all kinds of Palestinians. May my words not cause unnecessary shame to those that suffer far greater for the gospel than I ever dare to know.