Monday, March 31, 2008
Friday, March 28, 2008
What would Jesus say if He wrote to your church? That's exactly what a friend of mine, Chips Ross, recently asked his congregation at Forest Ranch Baptist Church. And for two Sunday nights, they drafted a letter of what Jesus might say to them. (It's helpful to know Forest Ranch is a small community in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, just north of Chico, California). Here's the letter...
To the messenger of the church in Forest Ranch:
The One who sees into the deepest woods1, who is faithful to even a few, and who reigns over the trees and hills, says this:
I know your deeds, that you have persevered, worked hard, and have been faithful as a tree remaining firm in the midst of storms.
But I have this against you: you have sat like an old tree with too much fill around you2 and you have each pursued your own trails3.
Therefore, repent, lest I close the yellow gate4 before you. Come alive as a poppy and be faithful as the sun that rises over the mountain.
To him who overcomes, I will make him to be a conifer, standing tall and straight, in the land of my God and to be red dirt5 that remains through all.
Let him who has ears hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
1 – Pictures that Jesus sees all and thus knows all
2 – Pictures complacency; become like the culture around and thus have begun to rot
3 – Being independent from God and from each other
4 – Yellow gates are put up to close mountain trails
5 – Red dirt of Forest Ranch that clings to your clothing and can never quite be washed out; once it’s on, it’s on.
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
Our Sunday School class has been going through an inductive Bible Study by John Stott on the Book of Acts. When looking at the prayers of the disciples on those days between Christ's ascension and Pentecost, Stott comments,
[Jesus] had promised to send them the Spirit soon (Acts 1:4-5, 8). He had commanded them to wait for him to come and then to begin their witness. We learn, therefore, that God’s promises do not remove our need for prayer. On the contrary, it is only his promises which give us the warrant to pray and the confidence that he will hear and answer. (Acts: Seeing the Spirit at Work, p. 12)
Another great example of this promise-prayer relationship is found in the Babylonian exile. For centuries,
You have not listened to Me, …Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Because you have not obeyed My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north…This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of
For thus says the LORD, When seventy years have been completed for
A whole generation later, after
In the first year of [Darius’] reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of
Notice that Daniel did not take God’s promise of deliverance for granted, but humbled Himself before God in prayer. And according to Ezra, God graciously answered Daniel’s prayer and finally fulfilled the prophecy given through Jeremiah so long ago…
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of
There is a lesson here for each of us today. Just as the early disciples prayed for the promised Spirit, and just as Daniel prayed for God’s promised deliverance, so we too should pray often for the fulfillment of God’s promises. For example, we should:
- Pray that Christ will continue to build His church (Matt. 16:18)
- Pray that people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation will hear and receive the gospel (Matt. 28:19-20; Rev. 5:9)
- Pray that God will deliver us from temptation (1 Cor. 10:13; Matt. 6:13)
- Pray that Christ will return soon (Jn. 14:3; Rev. 22:20)
May God’s promises increasingly instruct and occupy our prayer life. Only then can we know with certainty that we are praying according to His will, and that He will answer our prayers (Jn. 14:13, 15:7; 1 Jn. 5:14).
Monday, March 24, 2008
The Church is to see itself as an outpost of heaven. It is a microcosm of the new heaven and the new earth, brought back, as it were, into our temporal sphere. We are still contaminated by failures, sin, relapses, rebellion, self-centeredness; we are not yet what we ought to be. But by the grace of God, we are not what we were. For as long as we are left here, we are to struggle against sin, and anticipate, so far as we are able, what it will be like to live in the untarnished bliss of perfect righteousness. We are to live with a view to the day of Christ.Unfortunately, many people look at the church and see only its "contaminations." The church is often accused of being full of hypocritical, self-righteous, unloving people. Then disillusionment and resentment begin to set in. Yet we must not neglect to see God in the process of redeeming His people as a chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation (1 Peter 2:9). Yes, the church has many blemishes (because it's comprised of sinful people), but it is also a testimony of God's grace, as He purifies and prepares us for that glorious day when the Bride of Christ will be presented to Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom. And until that time, the church must remember our mission as an "outpost of heaven."
That means, of course, that Christians constitute a kind of missionary community...until the consummation, we live out our lives down here, a heavenly, missionary outpost in a lost, dying, and decaying world. We are to see ourselves as an outpost of a new heaven and a new earth in an old world that stands under the judgment of God.
Friday, March 21, 2008
Trembling sinner, look to Jesus, and you are saved. Do you say, ‘My sins are many’? His atonement is wondrous. Do you cry, ‘My heart is hard’? Jesus can soften it. Do you exclaim, ‘Alas, I am so unworthy’? Jesus loves the unworthy. Do you feel, ‘I am so vile’? It is the vile Jesus came to save. Down with you, sinner; down, down with yourself, and up with Christ, who has suffered for your sins upon Calvary’s cross! Turn your eye there; see Jesus only. He suffers. He bleeds. He dies. He is buried. He rises again. He ascends on high. Trust Him, and you are safe. Give up all other trusts, and rely on Jesus alone, alone on Jesus, and you will pass from death unto life. This is a sure sign - the certain evidence - of the Spirit’s indwelling, of the Father’s election, of the Son’s redemption, when the soul is brought simply and wholly to rest and trust in Jesus Christ, who ‘has once suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.'
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
“Palm” Sunday – Jesus' Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
Monday – Jesus cleanses and controls the temple; fig tree is cursed
Tuesday – Jesus confronts His enemies, pronounces woes against the religious leaders, and delivers the Olivet Discourse regarding
“Silent” Wednesday – no record in any of the four Gospels
"Maundy" Thursday – Jesus and His disciples prepare and then celebrate the traditional Passover meal as His “Last Supper” prior to His death; Upper Room discourse; Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane and is arrested; Jewish trials ensue. This is sometimes called “Maundy” Thursday because of Jesus’ new “mandate” (Latin mandatum > Middle English Maundy) to love one another, even as He loved us (John 13:34)
"Good" Friday – Jewish and Roman trials, crucifixion, darkness, death, and burial
Saturday – Jesus’ body lays in the tomb
“Easter” Sunday – Jesus rises from the dead early in the morning; Jesus makes five appearances: to Mary Magdalene, other women, two disciples on road to Emmaus, Simon Peter, and 10 disciples (Thomas absent)
It’s amazing how Jesus orchestrated every tiny detail in order to arrive on the cross by Friday afternoon. He would die for our sin at "twilight" - the very time the Jews slaughtered their Passover lambs (Exodus 12:4; Deuteronomy 16:6; Luke 23:44-46). Truly, He is "Christ our Passover" (1 Corinthians 5:7). And to think all this took place while we were still in rebellion against Him as His enemies (Romans 5:8-10). What wondrous love is this!
For a closer look at the passion week story recorded in the four gospels, I recommend A Harmony of the Gospels by Robert Thomas.
Monday, March 17, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
So, what is our Christian duty toward the environment? One of the key issues is stewardship. Genesis 2:15 says, “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it." With these words came the official decree that man would serve as the appointed caretaker of creation. God graciously offered Adam and Eve the privilege of guarding that which He created in those first six days. What an honor! Yet what a responsibility.
Amazingly, all of God’s handiwork has been entrusted to the hands of mortal men. As the Psalmist beheld creation, he shook his head in wonder: “What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him? And the son of man, that Thou dost care for him? Yet Thou hast made him a little lower than God, And dost crown him with glory and majesty! Thou dost make him to rule over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet” (Psalm 8:4-6).
It seems quite clear that the Christian should honor and care for the environment because God commanded us to be stewards of it. But another reason perhaps even more fundamental is that creation bears the signature of God. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands." Romans 1:20 states, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that [those who suppress the truth] are without excuse." There is a sense where all creation is a reflection of the character of our Maker. What greater reason do we need to take care of the world around us?
The Bible tells us that God made the world (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1; Hebrews 1:2), and since He made it, it has value. Francis Schaeffer, in his book Pollution and the Death of Man, explains, “[F]or the Christian the value of a thing is not in itself autonomously, but because God made it. It deserves this respect as something which was created by God, as man himself has been created by God."
Because we are commanded to be good stewards, and because this world is God's workmanship, we should take steps to conserve and protect our environment. So, for example, my family recycles as much as possible. We pick up litter when we see it. We embrace certain energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly technologies.
Humans are not, however, subordinate to nature. We have been given dominion over it. The environment was made for man, not man for the environment. While creation care is important, we must be careful not to expend our resources dabbling in the politics of environmentalism. Yes, we should be good stewards of the earth. But is there really enough scientific consensus about global warming to warrant a denominational resolution against it? I don't think so.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Take a moment to check out the promo trailer:
Prices and registration deadlines are listed below:
$135 Jan. 1 - Mar. 31
$155 Apr. 1 - Apr. 30
$175 May 1 - Jun. 9
$200 Walk-up registration
Our little Heidi is three weeks old today, and she is a priceless treasure! She is such a joy to hold and cuddle and rock to sleep. She’s eating well, and becoming more interactive every day. Someone once said that “a baby is a small member of the home that makes love stronger, days shorter, nights longer, the bankroll smaller, the home happier, clothes shabbier, the past forgotten, and the future worth living for.” I can relate to many of those things right now.
We are so thankful for our daughter. But even as we celebrate her birth and welcome this new member into our family, we have already begun praying for her “second birth.” What do I mean by “second birth”?
The idea of being “born again” comes directly out of John chapter 3. When a Jewish teacher named Nicodemus approaches Jesus late one night, Jesus says to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the
What, then, does it mean to be “born of water and the Spirit”? To understand this expression, we need to go back into the Old Testament (which Nicodemus would have been very familiar with). In the Old Testament, forgiveness of sin and spiritual cleansing were sometimes described as being washed with water. So, for example, Isaiah 4:4 speaks of the Lord one day “washing away the filth of the daughters of
“Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
This idea of cleansing and new life is precisely what Jesus is talking about when He says “You must be born again” (John 3:7). It's also what Peter means when He rejoices that God “caused us to be born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).
The first birth and second birth are two separate events. The first birth (our physical birth) begins with a mother's mild contractions and slowly crescendos into a time of intense labor and delivery. The first birth involves a human being navigating the birth canal and suddenly emerging into a whole new world full of bright lights.
The second birth, on the other hand, is a spiritual birth. It's a birth that belongs to those who turn from their sin and rely completely on the death of Christ for forgiveness. It's a journey out of spiritual darkness and into God’s marvelous light. And it's a transformation so radical, and so miraculous, that nothing less than “birth” can adequately describe the process.
Have you experienced this second birth? And if so, does your life demonstrate a visible change? The Bible says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). I pray this for my daughter, and I pray this for each of you.
Monday, March 10, 2008
The question for us is this: as the Lord builds his church, by what means does he do it? And secondly, has He revealed the means to us? If we undershepherds of Jesus Christ are to be the human instruments to build His church, we need to understand how He does it. We need to get in line with the divine pattern. There are many ways to build the “first church of the tares,” behind which Satan is the real power. It can be done very effectively; it can be big and enduring. The gnostics did it, and it’s still around. The Roman Catholics have done it, the liberals, the cults. They’re all still around.May we stay faithful to God's ordained means of growing His church - through prayer, perseverance, purity, and gospel proclamation.
The church of the tares is actually bigger than the church of the wheat. Even those who call themselves evangelicals today are busy doing it. There are a number of places called “churches,” where tares gather in increasing numbers. The successful assemblies of tares will eagerly market their skills as “tare development.” It can be very seductive to those motivated by pride, numbers, popularity.
If you want to compete with other “tare pastors,” there is ample information, seminars, data on the internet, to work on building your church of the tares with a smattering of wheat. However, if you serve Christ and recognize him as the head and builder of the church, then all you want to know is, “How can I be useful to him in the building of his church?”
Thanks to Evers Ding for providing the liveblog for last week's conference. Seminar notes should be posted in the next few weeks, and all general sessions and seminars are available for purchase here.
Friday, March 7, 2008
...I would want to encourage pastors who I think might be tempted to view reading and study as selfish. I view reading and study as one of the most important ways I can serve the church. So it is not a selfish act for me to set aside this time. It is really the most effective way I can serve this church, by tending to my soul and by preparing for the various forms and expressions of ministry. The best way I can serve a church is by responding to the command to watch your life and watch your doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). It is the example of a pastor over a period of years and decades that will make a difference in the life of a congregation. And therefore I want to guard my heart from growing familiar with the pastoral world, growing familiar with God’s Word, growing familiar with corporate worship, growing familiar when I am listening to preaching, growing familiar when I am taking communion, growing familiar with God. I want to guard my heart from that. And the best way I can do that is by attending to his Word and applying his Word to my heart on a daily basis. I think that is the most effective way I can serve those I care for and those I have been called to serve and lead.Do we really believe reading and study are among the best ways we can serve our churches? And if so, how should we regulate our schedules? How do we set aggressive - yet realistic - goals for reading and personal enrichment? How much time should we spend in general reading versus preparing for next Sunday's sermon? What other ministries and activities should we decrease or delegate so we can devote ourselves more fully to our personal life and doctrine? Should reading time ever replace family time? These are issues I continue to wrestle through.
I'm reminded of the apostles' decision in Acts 6:4 to appoint "deacons" so the apostles could devote themselves to the priorities of prayer and the ministry of the word. I am compelled, too, by Ephesians 4:12, which says that the primary duty of the pastor-teacher is not the work of service, but rather the equipping of the saints. Yet it can be challenging to flesh these principles out practically at the local church level in a typical week. So many "good" things compete for our time.
I do spend a significant amount of time each week preparing for Sunday sermons, but I probably do not spend enough time doing "general reading." I once heard Al Martin classify "general reading" into eight categories. He said we should have regular exposure to each of these: devotional (e.g. Bunyan, Ryle); theological (e.g. Calvin, Owen, Dagg); biographical; historical; pastoral; polemical (refuting false doctrines and engaging controversies); technical (e.g. textual criticism, archaeology, seminary journals); and contemporary (both secular and religious). Blogs, newspapers, and magazine articles would mostly fall into the final category.
By God's grace, I would like to improve my general reading by (1) better balancing my book selections into these eight categories; and (2) being more purposeful in goal-setting, weekly scheduling, and daily discipline.
How about you? What guidelines have you established in your scheduling and study habits? How would you like to improve?
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
John the Baptist has to be one of the strangest figures in all the Bible. Here’s a guy who wanders around in the desert, never cuts his hair, eats a steady diet of locusts and wild honey, clothes himself in camel hair, and spends his time preaching and plunging people under water. Let’s just say John the Baptist probably wouldn’t have made it on the cover of GQ Magazine.
But for all his peculiarities, John was a humble and holy man who deeply loved and profoundly understood the Messiah like no prophet before him. In John 1:29-30, we get a glimpse of the passion and affection John had for Jesus Christ. John’s heart must have skipped a beat that day he saw Jesus walking toward him…
The next day [John] saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.’ ”
These words of John reveal three central truths about Jesus Christ:
- Jesus is our great sin-bearer. By calling Jesus the “Lamb of God,” John instantly applies the entire Old Testament sacrificial system to this one person, who would offer Himself once-for-all for the sins of the world. Jesus didn’t come to save the Jews only, but to save all people from all the nations of the world. Whoever will confess their sins and cast themselves completely upon Him can receive eternal life. By dying on the cross, Jesus Christ bore the sin we’ve committed, and endured the wrath of God that we deserved. Yet through His shed blood, our sins were “taken away” as far as the east is from the west. Praise God!
- Jesus is a genuine human being. In verse 30, John the Baptist calls Jesus “a
” Jesus was not a mythological figure, or some kind of apparition. He was a literal, flesh-and-blood human being who dwelled upon this earth at a fixed point in time. His virgin birth, public ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection are some of the most well-documented and indisputable events in human history. And because Jesus was a genuine human being, He was able to represent the human race as our “second Adam,” living the life of perfect obedience that the first Adam never achieved (Romans 5:19). Man.
- Jesus is the eternal Son of God. John humbly acknowledges that Jesus “has a higher rank than I, for He existed before me.” This is quite a statement, since John was born six months before Jesus! Yet John rightly understood that Jesus Christ had always existed as the eternal Son of God. Jesus points to this reality again and again in the Gospel of John when He declares He has “come out of heaven” (6:38) and has been “sent” by the Father (4:34; 17:18; etc.). So, while John identifies Jesus as a man, he immediately identifies Him as something more than an ordinary man. Jesus Christ is the God-Man, the only-begotten Son of God, who was sent by His Father to seek and save those who are lost.
Let us listen to the words of John, and fix our eyes completely on the One whom he described. Jesus Christ alone is our glorious sin-bearer, our perfect representative, and the eternal Son of God.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
If you are not attending this year, you may want to check out the blog of Evers Ding, who is liveblogging the event, or watch the live video stream at the Shepherd's Fellowship website.
Monday, March 3, 2008
My dear friend, I trust you will have a pleasant and profitable time in Germany. I know you will apply hard to German; but do not forget the culture of the inner man – I mean of the heart. How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his saber clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword – His instrument – I trust a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. (quoted in Wiersbe, On Being a Servant of God, p. 39)
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