Friday, September 21, 2018

Sermon on the Holy Spirit in Joel

Welcome!

Click this link for a sermon which I recently preached in New Haven. I am working my way through the minor prophets with a view toward building Biblical literacy.  Be blessed and be His hands today!


Monday, September 3, 2018

Three Doctrines: God is Sovereign

God is sovereign

The sovereignty of God provides a foundational principle for a better life. Not a better financial life, or a healthy life, or even a happy life. It’s a solid foundation for dealing with reality from a position of strength. A person might respond “what good is your god if he does not make for a better life?” Cue discussion on what that really means, right? Everyone has a different standard. But you can grapple with life and its issues from a position of strength when you live in light of the fact that God is always going to accomplish his plan.

Sovereignty itself requires that God be omnipotent, or all powerful. When I say “all powerful,” I don’t mean that he can make a rock even he can’t move. That’s self refuting! There are lots of things God can’t do: He can’t tell a lie, or break a promise, for instance. Omnipotence means he can do anything that is in accord with his will. In other words, if he wants it to happen, he will bring it about, no matter what.

That said, if God is sovereign, that means what happens to me has already passed across his desk. He stamped “Approved” on it, it came to be either by decree or his permissive will; he’s never blindsided by anything that comes into my life. And because he is good, that means I can depend on the fact these things happened for my future benefit, even as I am being formed in the image of Jesus Christ. Yes, everything that happens is shaping me to become more like Jesus. And when I say benefit, I am talking about heavenly rewards and likeness to Christ. This world is full of sorrows, and God never promised us a rose garden.

The fact of the sovereignty of God is rooted deeply in the scriptures. A core verse for the sovereignty of God is Psalm 119:16: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Every day, all day, all things that happen were in God’s script book before you came to exist. In that “book,”—and yes its likely to be a figurative statement—is all the days of your birth, your sickness, your education, the crime committed against you, and the one you committed. That book contains the day of your death. And the life story written there has God as the hero, you are the victim he has freed from the dominion of darkness; and in the end, he is forming Christ in you. That’s the story, and you end up a huge winner in it. 

Because God is sovereign I can know that the universe is solidly in his control. I can understand that all things that happen to me are part of his plan to form Christ in me and in other fellow Christians.

It does not mean that all things that happen to you are good. Not at all. It just means that God uses even the evil that the world, the flesh and the devil throws at us to make us more like Jesus. Remember, he suffered terribly, and completely unjustly—all in the father’s plan. Should we expect to be any different? 


Because he is good, I can also understand that his plan for me is going to be good in the end. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Three Important Doctrines: God is Good

God is Good

Few things are as impractical as having great tools that you never practice using. A doctor might have the best equipment, but if he has not practiced using them, he will be at a significant disadvantage on the emergency room floor. A police woman may be given the best possible gun, but if she has not practiced with it, and made it almost a part of her arm itself, the odds will be against her if she has a sudden need to pull it.

Even so it is good to reinforce good theology when the times are good to make sure they are ready to use when things go bad. In my denomination, we do this by saying “God is good,” and the crowd responds “all the time.” The leader then says, “All the time....” the crowd responds with “God is good.”

By doing so, we reinforce truth to the body that God is always going to do the right thing. He is never malicious. He never takes pleasure in harming us. When he acts he does so as a morally right, perfect being. When he refrains from acting he does so out of his perfect goodness.

There is a distinction to be made here. We are not saying “God provides benefits” when we say “God is good.” While he certainly does that, we recognize that not all time do God’s actions feel beneficial. When he disciplines us (yes that happens! Just read Hebrews 12….) it does not feel like a “benefit.” When we say “God is good all the time,” we are emphasizing that in the wind and wave of life what God does or does not do is always done out of his moral perfection. We are not providing a validation of whether or not he is a solidly performing cosmic Genie.

When times go bad, if we believe God is a cosmic genie, we might think God has somehow failed in a duty to provide us shielding from harm. Instead, “God is good all the time” means that when times go bad, God still is good in that his actions are not done out of malice or ill will toward his people. We recognize that his goodness might require us to be disciplined at times!

Life ebbs and flows. Sometimes these changes can feel like “creation” or “god” or “life” is out to get you. We might be tempted to think, as people often do, that “fate” or “god” is hating on us. But this theology is eminently practical because we no longer see the ebbs and flows of life as a result of God’s favor or withdrawal of it. Instead, they look for how God is still good and bringing the right thing out of every situation.

The sun is shining bright, and the garden is green. God is good.
The car runs today when you crank it on, and you are not late to work. God is good.
The pet is sick, and its the weekend. God is good.
The power is out, and no sign of it coming on. God is still good.

The doctor called and he has bad news. God is still morally perfect, right and just, and he is going to do the right thing.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Three Critical Doctrines

Three Critical Doctrines

When I was starting out in discipleship training, I led a friend to Christ. He was an eager new student who wanted to grow in Christ. I myself, eager to have my friend avoid all the mistakes I made, took him to a Christian bookstore and “dumped the truck.” I showed him a library of books that I told he would have to buy and utilize for him to succeed.

Needless to say, I scared him away.

I think that he was truly converted. Not long after he prayed to receive Christ, he moved to Florida. I received a couple of communications showing he was going to church at a Bible believing church there, then nothing. All the same, I felt terrible that I had given this young man (we were both young men then!) so much; and it was too much. I began to wrestle with this question of how much do we need to transfer to a new disciple to just get him or her started. I understood and still understand that changing the way we think is vitally important. We can “get saved,” but even if the heart has changed, we still think like sinners. So its important to get a new convert to think about life in a biblical way. So this work of retraining a new convert is an important aspect of the disciple making process.

Christian belief truly encompasses a vast system of thought that have taken large volumes, even collections of volumes to elucidate. As a philosophical and religious system it is truly a lifework to fully grasp and master. The Bible is, itself, a very deep volume. How does one start building a functional system of thought for a new disciple without making instruction an overwhelming task?

As a leader of churches, as a Pastor, a counselor, and disciple maker, I settled on three key doctrines for primary focus as I enter into training believers. Its not that others are not important! But I have found these to be of primary value as starting points: The Sovereignty of God; the Omniscience of God; the Goodness of God.

As disciples begin to situate themselves in life, its important to frame all of life within Biblical truth—verses and theology— that help the disciple to see that God is good (al the time) in the circumstances of life, that God knows what he is doing (omniscience), and that God has a plan that he is going to accomplish according to his will (sovereignty). These doctrines alone can consume many days, months and years to contemplate. They will provide abundant opportunities for meditation and teaching for the new disciple, and even the grizzled, experienced disciplemaker.


This does not mean other doctrines are to be neglected. But a considered reflection on the value of these three in particular will show the practicality and value for the new disciple in virtually every day life. I shall explore each of these in turn. 

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Two Commands (Part 2.A)

Loving Self

A church ought to foster a right sense of self in the disciples it trains. The fact that this is so is enshrined in the second half of the second law: “As you love yourself.” When the scripture talks about this sort of self-love, it is not referring to something narcissistic. Rather, scripture presumes that we, as human beings, are going to look after our general good health, and not seek self-destruction. This is evident from statements like Paul’s in Ephesians 5:28-29. He appeals to the principle of healthy self-love and its practice as he compares how we treat our own bodies to how we treat our wives: “In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it…”  Loving self means we rightly understand and care for our physicial needs, and God appeals to this common sense approach to living by commanding us, in the same way, “To love your neighbor…”

A right sense of self care, then, understands the state from which we were saved. We are born sinners, incapable of reaching heaven on our own. Jesus Christ alone is our hope of salvation. After we have been converted by Christ, we still err and stumble, and so must find grace for ourselves by going to God for forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and giving grace and mercy to others. We remain mindful of our own potential for waywardness, and so we pursue a repentant lifestyle. 

A right sense of self appropriates that forgiveness and is mindful of the fact that “…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Again, not believing we are better than others resulting in God sending his son for us, but that God chose to show us love by sending Christ for you and for me. He did not save us because we had any merits, but because he just wanted to!

Since he first chose us before we ever chose him, and since he also invests in us purpose and giftedness (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, et al) God gives us a value that is measured by Christ himself. Before we were saved from Hell, we were measured by Christ’s merit and found wanting. Now we belong to God by adoption through Christ, and we are measured by the Father’s esteem for Jesus, and found wanted.


On that basis, we ought to care and nurture ourselves. Love and value and take care of yourself! A church fosters a healthy esteem founded on these truths. The church that does this will make disciples with a healthy self worth.

Monday, June 25, 2018

New Video Uploaded!

Are your eyes on the Mammon?

If you want to become a deeper disciple of Christ, one thing you have to think about is what you are setting your eyes on. Not in a concrete way, but what is your life target? What's important to you? What are your priorities. In a sense, the last half of Matthew 6 is about priorities. Watch this sermon, and hopefully you will find it helps you sort through your priorities.


Two Commands (Part Two)

Loving Our Neighbor

The second rule actually has two parts. “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” A good growing church will balance the truth that we are helpless sinners, depraved in the sight of God, with the fact that we are deeply and sacrificially loved. And that love pushes us to become more like the beloved one himself, Jesus Christ. We are image bearers who ought to be beloved and invested in. 

The first part flows from how we are beloved. God commands us to love others as we have been loved. The parable of the Good Samaritan tells us what that looks like: irrespective of race, religion or origin, we are to love others and help them in their need.

A growing church finds ways to serve in three spheres: The community of faith; the community it is planted in; then outward to its region and its world.  We get this from two sources: Paul tells us to be good to all, especially the community of faith, and Jesus tells us to go to Jerusalem, Samaria and the ends of the earth. Jerusalem was the city of the birth of the church, where it was planted. Samaria was the home of the “dirty” neighbors in the next province over; and then of course the whole world is pretty self-explanatory. Along the way, we are to make real solutions to real needs, presenting and representing the gospel as we go.


These two core principles of love are the simple root of all Christian practice. It’s not complicated. We only make it so because humans enjoy complicated things and want to make things hard...it gives us the feeling that we are good spiritual Boy and Girl Scouts. Its not necessary. Jesus said my “yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So go and meet needs. As you go, reflect the love Christ showed on you toward others.