Strength in Christ

Beloved, if you have Christ, you have strength.

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This past Sunday I preached from Ephesians 6:10. One of the things that I was overwhelmed by as I was studying that passage is something that William Gurnall wrote in his work, The Christian in Complete Armor.

Look once again, poor heart, into thy own bosom, and see whether thou findest not some strength sent unto thee, which thou didst overlook before; this may be, yea, is very ordinary in this case, when God answers our prayer no in the letter, or when the thing itself is sent, but it comes in at the back-door, while we are expecting it at the fore; and truly thus the friend thou art looking for may be in thine house and thou not know it. (Kindle Locations 1387-1390)

How often we fail to see the strength that God has given to us already. I think it is because we expect that strength to look like a Herculean power, that would make us spiritual Popeye’s, rather, than seeing strength as that which endures the onslaught and remains standing.

When Hurricane Ike hit Texas in 2008, we had this massive oak tree in our front yard. That small hurricane, batted that tree around like it was nothing. But the tree, remained steadfast. The ground would at times bulge upward, as though the force of the winds were pushing it of its place. But in the end the tree remained and as far as I know, still remains to this day.

God does give to us strength when we ask, but I do believe it looks very different from what our Christian culture is longing for. It is not flashy, slick or trendy. It is a steady, rooted, and grounded strength, that draws constantly from the gospel of Christ, like a tap root lunged into an underground stream.

Beloved, if you have Christ, you have strength.

Jabez and Interpretation

Should we pray the prayer of Jabez? We should probably not. Here is why…

In 1 Chronicles 4 , two short verses tell the story about Jabez, and this gives us a test case for how we interpret the Bible.

Two things we need to understand about interpreting the Bible.

  1. First, there are rules, or governing principles, that all of us live by when we interpret the Bible. Those rules are sometimes very self-conscience and sometimes they are not. These rules govern the way we read the Bible, the meaning we give to the passage, and the methods we use to seek that meaning. It is important to learn what your rules are, and it is important to make sure that your rules and principles are good ones. (because yes some rules that people use are just plain wrong)
  2. Secondly there are tools that we use to extract the data from the text of the Bible. These tools are the kind of tools you would expect to use when reading almost any other writing in your life.

(For example, you wouldn’t read the warnings about poisoning on a chemical bottle and interpret it to mean that drinking the chemical will turn you into a unicorn. Words have meanings, and we easily apply good tools to most everything else we read.)

These tools can be used by people with different rules.You catch that right? The Rules and Tools. The rules rule the tools. Using tools without rules will be a disaster. So you have to use both.

This is how we get different interpretations of the Bible. Either the rules are different, the tools are being misapplied, or someone is lacking in either or both. So it is very important to be conscience of the rules and the tools you are using.

In The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson, his rules for interpreting are quiet simple. The passage means whatever the bald-faced words mean. That is why he wrote the book, and that is why there was so much criticism about the book. My goal today is not to critic his book, but to answer this question:

So what would be a better approach?

Let me suggest a line of thinking, without being specific. In other words, I want to suggest to you a few rules, use a few tools to extract data, and then draw a conclusion about a possible meaning of these two verses.(now I am doing this in about 10 minutes, and reserve the right to be wrong in my conclusion. My goal is to show how using both rules and tools are important)

Some Rules

Now these want be all of them, I just want to illustrate the importance of them. So here are 6 rules.

  • First Rule. All Scripture is about Christ.That is Jesus Christ is the center of revelation. The whole of the Bible is about Who Christ is, what Christ has done(will do), For Whom Christ does, on and on we could go. It is about Christ.
  • Second Rule. All Scripture is about Christ.I repeat this rule because it is so important.
  • Third Rule. The Old Testament is the promise, the New Testament is the fulfillment.
  • Fourth Rule. The Old Testament is properly interpreted by the New Testament.
  • Fifth Rule. The New Testament Writers often interpret passages using typology. (I say often, because I can’t say that I personally have an exhaustive knowledge of this)
  • Sixth Rule. There is a progressive nature to revelation, and being mindful of where you are in that revelation is important.

The Tools

What tools would I use? Very simply I want to see what I see.

  1. Jabez is listed in the Tribe of Judah.
  2. Jabez is not connected to any of the other families near by. In other words, we don’t know who his father is, his brothers, or the like. We only know he had brothers and he had a mother, and we assume by logic, he had a father.
  3. Jabez’s mother called him pain, because she birthed him in pain.
  4. Jabez was more honorable than his brothers.
  5. Jabez prayed for God to bless him.
  6. God answered his prayer.

Conclusions

Here is a man from the tribe of Judah

  • whose mother and brothers are mentioned, but not revealed
  • whose birth is mentioned, but with pain
  • whose connection with God seems to be well established
  • whose life is recounted in relation to the kings of Judah.
  • whose prayer is expanded territory, almost kingdom like
  • whose prayer is covenantal as he asks for God’s hand to be with him
  • whose prayer is so that the harm that might come to him, might not cause him pain.

I would say that it is possible that the writers are setting up a view to what the messiah might be like. He is from the tribe of Judah and everyone would have already know that. He would be the offspring of the woman, and they would all know that. But from here, I think they would learn: that the Messiah has his Father’s ear.

It is not that Jabez is Christ, but that a man from Judah, whose birth is important, also has the ear of the Father in his prayers for the covenantal blessings and success.

Now maybe I am off a little. And that is fine. My goal is to show the usage of these rules and tools. Please next time you read from the Old Testament, take your time and think through what rules you are using.

 

The 10 Commandments and the Christian

Are Christians obligated to obey the 10 commandments? Are these 10 something that Christians should follow?

The answer is not as straight forward as we would like, but the answer is not hard.

The answer is both yes and no.

NO

The 10 commandments were give as part of the Mosaic Law, for a particular people, at a particular time, for a particular reason. It was the law of the Covenant with Israel.

So in this way, no we are not obligated to obey the 10 commandments because we are not under the Mosaic covenant, we are under the New Covenant.

To make the 10 Commandments obligatory, and to fail to see the distinction of the covenants, puts us in a place similar to not identical to, but similar to, the pharisees who sought to merit God’s favor through obedience to law (usually their numerous extra laws)

This is the way I understand the passage that we are no longer under law, but under grace. We are not under the Mosaic Covenant, as the means of our relating to God. We are under the New Covenant.

YES

However, just because we are under the New Covenant does not mean there is no law.

If those under the New Covenant have the law written on their hearts, then regardless of how you identify that law, you have at least say, there is law in the New Covenant.

One example of the 10 Commandments specific application to the New Covenant is in Ephesians 6. Paul commands children to obey their parents. Paul takes right from the 5 th commandment and applies to Spirit-filled Christians both the obligating to keep the commandment and the promises for keeping the commandment.

That at least says that the 10 Commandments transcend the covenants in some way. (moral law, maybe?)

Paul doesn’t even hesitate to command of these believers (and there could be unbelievers there), to obey the law. He is following the pattern set down in the Mosaic Covenant.

  • God’s people are in bondage
  • God redeems his people by his own hand and blood
  • God demands of his redeemed people a way of life.

So Yes, we are obligated to obey the 10 commandments, not to merit favor, not as though we are part of Israel trying to gain the land, but as redeemed Spirit-Filled people, who need to know how to please God and what our good works should look like.

Ephesians: Introduction

I have been preaching through the book of Ephesians for a little while. I haven’t made it through Ephesians in just 6 weeks, but also, I have not taken 6 years. So I am somewhere in the middle of those who preach verse by verse. At times we probably went a little too fast and at times we have probably gone a little too slow.

Anyway, below you will find the introduction to Ephesians. I pray it encourages you.

Preaching Simply

We are to preach the text as it is written. (RC Sproul Jr.)

Sometimes I get slapped in the face. I will be reading some book and the author will say something so profound that my face reels from the shock.

I have been reading Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching which is a compilation of chapters pleading with preachers to be faithful to the word.

In Chapter 6 R.C. Sproul Jr. is discussing, “Preaching to the Mind” when he says this:

With all due recognition of the technicalities and complexities of moving from ancient literature to modern ears, in the end, Paul wrote letters, David wrote Psalms, Isaiah made prophecies, and so forth. None of them gave us biological samples that belong under a microscope. If you find yourself preaching for six months on a single verse of the Bible, enthralling your audience with your mastery of the original languages, your precision of logical inference, your breadth of knowledge of the ancient Near East, you have forgotten the first thing—it’s a letter, a psalm, or a prophecy. We are to preach the text as it is written.

R. C. Jr. Sproul, “Preaching to the Mind,” in Feed My Sheep: A Passionate Plea for Preaching, ed. Don Kistler (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2008), 98.

His closing line: We are to preach the text as it is written.

I love that. I have been trying to hone my own thinking on preaching for several years now. Most of my thinking comes from simply listening to how bad my own sermons are. But part of my thinking arises from chasing the beautiful doctrines in Scripture, only to end the chase in a valley setting where these doctrines shine more beautifully than on the pages of my systematic theology.

What I mean is this: Doctrine first had a pastoral point to get to.

When Paul, David, John, Moses, Hosea wrote. While their writings overflow with doctrine, those doctrines are never one liners. They’re moving.

  • They support a habit the author wants the people to start.
  • They provide comfort for a suffering heart
  • They challenge believers to live godly lives.

In each case, there was a point that did not terminate on the doctrine in abstraction. The point was terminate in the glory of God through the channel of a changed person who was taught that doctrine.

When I preach I try to preach the text as it is written, but I haven’t always done that. I believe the longest time I spent in one single verse was about 4 weeks. I was very proud of myself, believing that I had really feed God’s people.

The reality was, I had just obscured the overall message of God’s word.

I am not saying that I am really doing any better today, I try. But this has been a great reminder:

We are to preach the text as it is written.

Sharing the Gospel – part 2

Most churches share the gospel, but its anemic at best. Or at least that is the way it seems.

So Yesterday I ranted a little about how some churches present the gospel. In essence, I fear that the main issues is being lost in the shuffle towards relevancy and hipness.

Today I want to just wrap up with another thought about how churches present the gospel to people today.

The Urgent Situation

What do I mean here? What I mean is this: if the goal of gospel sharing is the good life, and if the obstacle from getting your good life is your sin, and if Jesus came to get that obstacle out of the way, then a person only as to be motivated enough to want it. Right? Sounds like a late night infomercial really.

Just make this decision to trust Christ (which is not what they say). Just pray this prayer with us. But this does not capture the urgency with which sinners need to hear the gospel.

The truth is, sinners are in extreme danger. You see if I were to speak with you,  I would gently and tenderly beg you to listen to me.

Your are a sinner, and that sin has offended a Holy God. This Holy God will by no means let the guilty go unpunished, but instead he will out of holy anger, punish the law breakers for all eternity in hell. It is a real place and it exists. And I plead with you, do not continue to ignore God and continue to run from him, because in his great grace he has provided a solution. He sent his own Son in the likeness of mankind. Jesus Christ came into the world to live a perfect life. And at the right time, He was betrayed, spat upon, and nailed to a cross. He took upon himself the punishment that God was ready to dish out to us. Jesus took our place on the cross; he took our sin, so that we could take his righteousness. And the only escape from God’s wrath,  is to take the righteousness of Jesus by faith, and submit yourself to the loving king who died for you.

OBJECTION

Some will object and say, “But God wants a relationship with us, right?” Yes, he absolutely wants a relationship with you, but one where you are servant and he is king. Your greatest happiness will be found in magnifying his name through loving service to the king. The Gospel does not invite you to your self-fulfillment dreams, it invites you to serve the agenda of Christ.

Conclusion

I’m not trying to be contentious. But I am trying to help myself and those around me to be faithful to the preaching of the gospel. Unfortunately, we have sold out the gospel in the name of relevance. We are not evil men who long to do this, but we are simply mistaken about the heart of man. If we really understood the nature of man, all of our relevancy issues we fight over, would be resolved.

So let me plead with you, if you are in the position to share the gospel, never forget the gospel’s greatness news is that Christ has died for sins according to the Scriptures. He has risen from the dead, and he comes to give new life to anyone he desires to.

 

Sharing the Gospel – A rant, part 1

Most churches share the gospel, but its anemic at best. Or at least that is the way it seems.

Most churches share the gospel, but its anemic at best. Or at least that is the way it seems. I have searched through and listened to sermons, read gospel messages. And I find it disturbing how churches and pastors miss a couple of important truths.

Take for instance these words of encouragement for people to trust Christ:

Man is sinful and separated from God. Therefore, he cannot know and experience God’s love and plan for his life.

This is true as far as it goes; it just doesn’t go very far. Think about it from a different perspective. Suppose you are in the doctor’s office. He has something to tell you and it’s not  good news. He says,

Well, the disease is going to make things hard for your family. So you really can’t get your family that big, dream house, unless you take this medicine.

I know maybe this is a little sarcastic, but I think the point is clear. If the disease is some terminal disease, the doctor is really sugar coating the news to the extent where you’re distracted from the core issue in man’s condition and from how urgent man’s situation is.

The Core Issue in man’s condition.

In salvation, what is the core issue?

  • Is it that you are failing to live up to your potential?
  • Is it that you are missing out on the biggest chance of a lifetime?
  • Is it that you are losing precious time to really have a good life?

The Bible is clear, the core issue is sin and the consequences of that sin.

Romans 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

  • Falling short of God’s Glory is all about doing things NOT for God’s glory. No sinner wants God to be magnified. So even the sinners best actions are sinful, because they are not for God’s glory.
  • Sin is the idea that we have broken God’s law. Yes, there is a law, and we have broken it. Sin is not missing the law. It’s breaking it.

Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

  • Yes, the wages of sin is death and that does mean spiritual separation from God, sort of. Because God is omnipresent, there is no place we can go to get away from him. The Psalmist in Psalm 139, says that God is even in Sheol (the place of the dead). What’s my point? If we broke God’s Law, death is execution. It is not just some simple separation. People who are married get separated all the time. So, that doesn’t sound too bad, but the truth is, without Christ we are under the wrath of God (John 3:36)
  • So when we share the gospel, this is what we need to keep in mind. Our condition is that we are sinners who have broken God’s law and we deserve punishment.

OBJECTION

I know someone is going to say, but hey these churches baptize a lot of people don’t they? Well yes, but is it true conversion when a person “trusts” in a God who is not angry with them, is there to help them with their problems, or is there to give them a wonderful life?

Is it even the same God? Just because a group of people have many baptisms, does not mean those baptized truly understood the gospel.

Tomorrow, I will write briefly the second half of this post on the urgency.

What does it mean for Christians to love the world around them?

What does it mean for Christians to love the world around them?

This is a hotly debated topic.

But here is what drives me and I think it should drives Christians:

Ephesians 5:1-2  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

How a Christian loves cannot be determined by popular vote, cultural norms, nor worldly demands. A Christian should love in only one way: imitating God.

What the world expects

Most people would say this: God’s love looks like someone who would rather die for someone else than to condemn them.

Because as you know Jesus did not come to condemn, he came to save.

So when I say: abortion is a sin, immediately someone has something to say.

  • “You can’t be judgmental!”

Or

  • “Who are you to call something a sin?”

Or

  • Some other phases meaning, that if I  call someone’s action a sin, then I am actually doing something wrong.

How should Christian’s love?

Let me just bullet point it:

  • To say that Jesus did not come to condemn people but to save, misses the entire point. Why? Because what need was there to save us? Right! We were condemned already. Before Jesus came to die for us, all humanity was already declared to be condemned, so when was that declaration made and by WHOM was it made? It was declared in the Garden by God. So to say, “Jesus didn’t come to condemn,” is not the same thing as saying, “Don’t say condemning things because Jesus didn’t and we are just struggling and need help.”

 

  • Next, to call out someone’s judgmental comment (which I don’t think it is judgmental but we will hit that next) is in itself judgmental and therefore you are contradicting your own standard.

 

  • Third, the idea that we should not judge is so very misinformed. Matthew 7:1 needs to be read in its full context and stop being such a lousy Bible reader. And while we are at it: be clear with your word: judgmental. Do you mean: stop distinguishing between things that are good and bad? Or do you mean stop labeling behavior what the Bible labels it? Or do you mean stop pronouncing someone’s eternal destination? What exactly do you mean?

 

  • Fourth, The kind of love that God has called us to show involves a few things:
    • Providing Necessities – Helping to provide the necessities of life. (contraceptives, iphones, health insurance do not count as life necessities) (Matthew 25:35-36). We have, in the west, accustomed ourselves to believe that the right to a doctor or to medical care really is a necessity in life. But I do not believe that it is.
    • Pointing out sin – 1 Corinthians 5 makes it clear that part of what love looks like in the local church is confronting sin not ignoring it. Now clearly this is love in the church. What about to outsiders and those of a different religious tradition or without any religion (not that I believe this is possible)? See the next point.
    • Calling for repentance – How did Jesus deal with lost people? I mean how did Jesus deal with those who were not at all in agreement with him? How did Jesus deal with those who were not seeking him nor did they like him? Oh right, that was the Pharisees! He called them white washed tombs, hypocrites, brood of vipers and so on. You see, what you thought I was going to say is that, “Jesus treated the sinners with kindness.” Why is it that everyone thinks that the prostitutes, the fishermen, the Marys and Marthas of Jesus’ day were the sinners? I find that the rebellious world out there today, has far more in common with Pharisees than with the social outcasts of Jesus’ day. The social outcasts were clamoring to follow Jesus. The Pharisees and today the lost world was not.
    • Showing kindness to the humble – The often-quoted story of the woman caught in adultery is used to talk about how we should treat people. But two things about this story: one the woman did not come to her own defense, but stayed silent. I take that to mean she was demeaned, felt humiliated, dejected, embarrassed. She was certainly being cowed. So maybe there was and maybe there wasn’t true humility, but there was at least a situational contrition enough that Jesus didn’t add to her shame. Secondly, Jesus did not at all believe she was innocent. He knew she was guilty. He called her out on her guilt by saying: go and sin no more.

 

Christians I know it is tempting to follow the world’s mantra of “love never criticizes or calls out sin” but really, that is just not true. That is the world’s way of loving, it is not God’s. If we give this ground over, we have nothing left to say to the world. Because the gospel is for sinners, if we cannot call out sin, we cannot offer the gospel.

 

Can good people be saved?

Only those who know they are spiritually blind and admit it can be saved.

Living in the Bible Belt comes with special ministerial problems. “Everyone” is a Christian and member of a church.

It would seem that this is true because:

  1. There is a seemingly higher moral standard here.
  2. There are more people who attend worship
  3. There is a tighter connection between God and country

It seems that this colors how people view themselves. Basically they’re good.

What is good?

Good is that state of perfection arrived at by avoiding a whole boat load of rules.

  • I don’t murder people
  • I don’t get drunk (often)
  • I don’t beat my wife (just abandon her during hunting season)
  • I don’t beat my kids, and I teach them to say yes sir and no sir.
  • I might have dropped out of school, but I don’t want any one else to do that.
  • I work hard providing for my family.
  • I salute the flag
  • I wish I could have served in the army.
  • I never say ugly words in a church house, and I go ever so often.
  • I have a Bible in my house, and maybe on my phone.
  • I always re-tweet good God loving memes
  • I have given money for people to go on mission trips,
  • I think the pastor is the smartest person I know
  • And Jesus is a great guy for dying for me. So I celebrate his birthday and resurrection.
  • And the list could go on and on.

Good does what a non Spirit-filled man can do on his own with enough umph.

Good can even memorize Bible passages, pray, sing, and listen to a sermon without getting mad.

But can good be saved? The answer is no. But why?

Three Verses

And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness (Romans 4:5)

Paul makes it clear that those who are justified, the first step we take in salvation, are the ungodly. God does not justify the good, the trying, the almost there, or the good old boy. He justifies the ungodly.

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:13-14)

Here the one who is justified is the one who recognizes himself as a sinner, not a good person. He doesn’t try to argue for his inclusion into the things of God by pointing out his goodness.

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” John 9:39

Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world, so says John 3:17. However, Jesus says, “For Judgment I came into this world.” because of judgment he came into this world. For 2 people:

Those who see —> will become blind

Those who are blind —> will be made to see.

So only the blind can be saved. Only those who know they are spiritually blind and admit it can be saved.

So no, a good person cannot be saved, but a bad on can. Are you good? The point is this no one is good, but too many southerners think that they are good. This is a problem. Because if  you think you are good, then Jesus will not be a savior to you. You might think you can still be a Christian, but the reality is, you can’t think of yourself as good and truly be a Christian.

Your only hope is admitting your blindness, wickedness, and ungodliness. Once you see yourself truly, then you can be saved.

Christian Growth: optional?

So Christians ought to be naturally growing in their faith.

Everyone does it. Well at least almost everyone. Those that don’t go see a doctor, and we certainly feel for them.

So everyone does it but usually not at the same rate. And when it comes to spiritual maturity, we are talking about something totally different.

Everyone matures physically, but it seems that there are some Christians who do not mature at all. Hebrews 5:11-14 says,

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

And if nothing else is clear, it is clear that there are some who not only would call themselves Christians, and the writer of Hebrews thinks of them as Christians because he says they should be teachers.

However if you keep reading into chapter 6 you get the since that: Immature Christians are possible but in peril. What do I mean?

  1. It is possible to be saved, blood-bought, justified, headed to heaven to be with Christ for eternity, and be an immature Christian living on milk and not solid food.
  2. But that immaturity is perilous and dangerous for the one who is immature. Because it is the immature in chapter 6 of Hebrews, that seems to be concerned about tasting the powers of the age to come and then falling away.

So Christians ought to be naturally growing in their faith. Though an immature Christian is possible; he is also in danger.

So to grow you simply need to:

  1. Read the Scriptures prayerfully
  2. Obey the Scriptures regularly
  3. Serve the Body faithfully
  4. Share the gospel constantly
  5. Discern the good continually