Monday, September 30, 2013

Boldness for the Church

It was really great to preach through Ruth this past month. I come away from it with a renewed sense of God's grace, of his wondrous work of providence in the lives of ordinary people, and a greater appreciation of the thrilling work of redemption wrought by Christ Jesus. Here's a link to the sermon audio: click here. The final sermon should be up soon.

Now I'm excited about moving on to 1 John. Here's a motivating quote from John Stott's little commentary:
A fresh certainty about Christ and about eternal life, based upon the grounds which John gives, can still lead Christian people into that boldness of approach to God and of testimony to men, which is sorely needed as it is sadly missing in the church today.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Expositional Listening?

The church I am blessed to pastor, New Covenant Christian Fellowship, is about to begin a new sermon series through First John. So I thought it seemed wise to consider how to capitalize on what we hear from God’s Word. We of course are familiar with the warnings in Scripture about what we do with God’s truth. James 1 for example reminds us to “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” To hear the word but do nothing about it is like someone forgetting what they look like after looking in a mirror!

But how do we listen? Every parent in human history knows when a child is hearing but not really listening. So what are some ways we can ensure that we are both hearing and listening?

Thabiti Anyabwile, a pastor in Grand Cayman who also has an excellent blog, has written a very helpful book called “What is a Healthy Church Member?” The first mark of such a person is that he or she is an “Expositional Listener.” Here’s how Anyabwile defines this: “Listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture, and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians, is what we mean by ‘expositional listening.’” To listen well means that we are predisposed to “listening for the voice and message of God as revealed in His word.”

Having established the definition, he gives six practical ideas that can help to foster more attentive listening to God’s word.
  1. Meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time. [In particular, he’s referring to the passage that will be preached on the following Sunday.]
  2. Invest in a good set of commentaries. [Or you might invest in a good study Bible, such as the ESV Study Bible and the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible. The Reformation Study Bible is also quite good.]
  3.  Talk and pray with friends about the sermon after church.
  4.  Listen to and act on the sermon throughout the week.
  5.  Develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself. [In other words, if you’ve got a question about the passage, make sure you try to answer it!]
  6.  Cultivate humility.

For more details on this concept, check out the article as it appears on the 9 Marks website, or get a copy of “What is a Healthy Church Member?”

Friday, September 13, 2013

Our Prayers and the All-Wise God

God is infinitely wise, “his understanding is beyond measure” (Ps. 147:5). When we pray in light of this fact it is then that we are able to pray like this:

If it be consistent with thy eternal counsels,
            the purpose of thy grace,
            and the great ends of thy glory,
            then bestow upon me the blessings of thy comforts;
If not, let me resign myself to thy wiser determinations. (Valley of Vision, 10-11)

In other words, we are certainly free to ask God for comforts and blessings on our lives (“bestow upon me the blessings of thy comforts”). But if he does not give them, then we know that he is doing something better. His “wiser determinations” have led him either to say “no” or “not right now” or something else.

Let’s ask God for blessings! He is a good Father (Luke 11:13)! But let’s do so in light of his wisdom. His wiser determinations may lead somewhere else.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Pursuit

When a new Volkswagen Beetle comes off the production line in pristine condition, it has been through a long process. Computerized machines and careful human eyes have labored carefully to achieve the finished product.

Last Sunday, in a sermon on Ruth 1, I reflected on how important it is for the church to seek holiness, both individually and corporately. Naomi’s lack of holiness (see Ruth 1:13, 15, 20-21) was thankfully not a hindrance to Ruth being drawn to the God of Israel. Still, a holy people provides a compelling, attractive picture to outsiders.

I emphasized holiness as distinction. To be holy is to be distinct. The purpose of this emphasis was to offer hope to those who can only see their flawed, feeble faith. Holiness to them seems very hard to attain, even though they greatly desire to attain it.

However, we must still emphasize that holiness is a big deal! So while we shouldn’t be discouraged in our apparent lack of holiness, we should nonetheless keep going forward in our pursuit of it.

Take the challenging verse from the Sermon on the Mount: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). The ESV Study Bible describes this phrase “be perfect” as a pursuit. The perfection of the Father is “what all Jesus’ disciples are called to pursue.” In other words, when Jesus says “be perfect,” he assumes that there is an ongoing process that results in a finished product. The ongoing process is your daily striving for knowledge of God and conformity to Christ’s character. And the finished product is the outcome guaranteed for all disciples of Jesus. What is that finished product? It is that the church will one day be presented to Christ “in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that [the church] might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27).

The outcome is certain, but it does not negate the importance of the process. Just because the VW Beetle that we see on the street is driving along smoothly, it doesn’t mean that the manufacturing process can be neglected. So keep running the race, keep fighting the good fight. Pursue holiness by God’s grace.