Monday, November 30, 2015

Hey, brothers, they’re eating our lunch!

Sitting in my sun room, marveling over Romans 5. On the other side of the glass is our suet feeder, and a Red-bellied woodpecker is having a hissy fit. Seems that the sparrows have taken a liking to her suet cake and she’s not reconciled to the idea of sharing. Funny: I don’t recall giving that suet cake to her.

Anyway, she’s (I am informed by a bird identification site that my greedy little feathered friend is of the female variety) busy fending off the sparrows, clambering around the feeder daring any bird to come close.

Problem is, that suet feeder has two sides. So while she is guarding side A, the sparrows are pigging out on side B. They’re eating her lunch. Guess who’s not eating her lunch. She isn’t. She’s so distracted that she’s not getting a bite while the sparrows are having a feast (and a load of fun at her expense).

One would think from watching this little display of greed and turfism that birds have a sin nature. Well, Paul does say the whole creation groans . . . .

This reminds me of how easy it is to get distracted in our preaching, teaching, and study. Sometimes we preachers can get off-track by the garden variety heresies such as those promoted by modern lightweights like Joel Osteen and others. Or think of how many of us get distracted by themes such as satan and demons, spiritual warfare and bondage, varieties of eschatology, or other very legitimate but lesser topics. “Lesser than what?” you ask dubiously. Well, lesser than the Gospel, for instance. Lesser than our union with Christ and all the implications that flow from it. Lesser than the nature and attributes of God, whom to know aright is life eternal. We need to concentrate on keeping the main thing the main thing.

I’ve read that when banks teach tellers to spot counterfeit cash, they don’t spend a great deal of time studying the counterfeits. Rather, they spend a lot of time handling the real McCoy so that when a counterfeit passes through their hands they can spot it immediately because it feels wrong.

And that’s what we should be doing. Unless God has given you a polemic, apologetic ministry (and perhaps, in truth, He has), the best way to protect your flock from the wolves is to consistently, day-in-day-out, teach truth and as the occasion presents itself contrast the truth with error. When the text touches on demons, spiritual warfare, eschatology, etc, then so do we. But the bulk and the main of our ministry ought to be the systematic, expositional, verse-by-verse presentation of the Christ-centered, Gospel-centered Word of God.

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4, NASB)

In 2 Timothy 4:1-4, Paul gives us a balanced view of asserting truth and confronting error. It's important to draw a distinction between confronting false teachers and instructing confused believers. It’s easy to be distracted and become unbalanced in our ministries and to spend too much time talking about false teachers and  their ministries. Paul does confront false teachers (for example, 2 Tim 2:16-17), and so should we. But a close reading of Paul shows him focusing on the teaching, reproving, and correcting of the sheep (see 2 Tim 2:23-26).

Nor am I suggesting that we pit expositional preaching/study against topical preaching/study—there’s a valuable place for both—but I am saying this: nothing will ground your flock so deeply as a consistent ministry of expositional preaching that enables them to keep texts in context with both the surrounding passages and the overall history of redemption.

It might take longer to see results with this sort of ministry, but in the long run you will spend less time putting out little doctrinal fires in your congregation because you’ve enabled them to connect the dots for themselves. Protect them from the wolves not by teaching them about wolves but by drawing their attention to the Shepherd.

Preach the Word, bathe them in truth, and the Spirit will give your flock discernment as needed. Otherwise the lightweights will be eating our lunch.

Now, what was I doing? Ah, yes, Romans 5. Guess I got distracted . . . .

Friday, November 27, 2015

The sine qua non of knowing God

A condition described as sine qua non is an absolutely essential condition; the expression means “without which not.” The “sine qua non of knowing God” designates an essential condition that must be satisfied in order for one to know God truly.

“He,” said Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, “will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16:14). “Whatever you ask in My name,” Jesus instructed His disciples, “that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). “I have glorified You on the earth,” prayed Jesus to His heavenly Father in John 17:4-5, “having accomplished the work which You have given me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.”

In that most beloved passage about the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ, Philippians 2:5-11, God highly exalts His Son, giving Him a name which is above every name, with the result that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and “that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

But what is particularly interesting is the phrase: “to the glory of God the Father.” The Father is glorified when Christ is exalted as Lord; in other words, if I wish to glorify the Father I do so by exalting the Son, worshiping the Son, bowing before the Son as Thomas did and confessing, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). To deny the Son is to deny the Father. “He who does not honor the Son,” Jesus asserted, “does not honor the Father who sent Him” (John 5:23). The apostle John proclaims, “Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).

What a conundrum have they who claim to worship the Father, and yet deny the truth of the trinitarian nature of God—that God exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For Jesus to recieve worship must of necessity mean that He is fully divine—fully God—otherwise the worship of Jesus Christ is idolatry.

In denying the deity of Christ, one dishonors the Father who sent Christ. No one may approach the Father except through the Son (John 14:6). “You know neither Me nor My Father,” Jesus said to the Pharisees. “If you knew Me, you would know My Father also” (John 5:19).

The Father is not truly known, except through the Son. Knowing and worshiping Christ is the sine qua non of knowing and worshiping the Father. If you don't worship Jesus Christ as God, then you do not truly know the God of the Bible. At least, that's what the Bible says.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

If only . . .

If only. . . .

Two words that often express a great deal of heartache.
  • If only I had finished my degree. . . .
  • If only he had not been driving so fast. . . .
  • If only my child hadn't gone to school that day. . . .
  • If only mom hadn't caught the flu. . . .
  • If only I hadn't lost my job. . . .

Hindsight is twenty-twenty, as they say. How different would our lives be if we knew in advance the consequences of every decision?

But consider how wrong-headed that notion is. When we indulge ourselves in “if only” thinking we are behaving as if our lives, and history itself, progressed on the basis of some impersonal fate, a roll of the cosmic dice, rather than under the manifest control of a sovereign, good God.

This morning I was reading the last three chapters of Acts and it occurred to me that Paul had ample opportunity to engage in “if only” thinking after being jailed by the Romans:
  • If only I had not agreed to join in that vow! (Acts 21:23-24)
  • If only Felix had not been hoping for a bribe! (Acts 24:26)
  • If only Felix had not been such a political animal! (Acts 24:27)
  • If only I had not appealed to Caesar! (Acts 26:32)

As a consequence of these things, Paul spent over four years under arrest, and at least two of them in Roman prisons. He endured plots against his life, show trials, a terrifying storm at sea followed by a shipwreck, and numerous other problems. Paul's plans, ambitions—indeed, his life—was put on hold and forcibly redirected in ways he would not have chosen. If only. . . !

But Paul did not fall prey to this wistful, self-pitying sort of mindset. He shares with the Philippians his attitude about his troubles: Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear. (Philippians 1:12-14, NASB)

Think about it: during Paul's missionary journeys he was constantly getting run out of town, beaten, jailed, mobbed by angry crowds, hauled before local officials under false accusation, etc. But from the time he was arrested in Acts 21, Paul was under the protection of the Roman empire. He was taken to Rome, and there, though under house arrest, was provided official protection while he freely preached the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles in the capital of the entire Roman Empire. Because of his arrest and incarceration, Paul had the opportunity to share the gospel with regional governors and officials. He was priviledged to testify at great length with the Roman centurians and the guards who guarded him. While on the isle of Melita, those same Romans witnessed Paul doing miracles of healing (Acts 28:8-9). In Rome, Paul presumably got the opportunity to testify to Caesar at his hearing. Paul enjoyed massive opportunities he would have never had if he hadn't been arrested by the Romans.

If only? Really? Maybe these heartaches, Christian, have come into your life “for the greater progress of the gospel.” Rather than being absorbed in regrets, start looking for the opportunities that God will provide in the very midst of your problems.