Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Three More Things Ken Thinks

1. I think that 1 Peter 2:9-10 summarizes the meaning of life well. It shows us that our job is to glorify God, enjoy Him forever, and share Him with others. Oh, and it goes something like this: "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy."

2. I don't understand why it can be so challenging for a church to grow through new conversions. Aren't the fields white for harvest?

3. I think that this post by Ray Ortlund is a good one. He says that Reformed people should be fun to be around.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Search for Insignificance

So last weekend, the news channels told me repeatedly, there was this insignificant pastor of an insignificant congregation who wanted to burn a book. And so this insignificant pastor of this insignificant congregation received far more media attention than he deserved, because everyone should have realized that both he and his congregation were utterly insignificant. After all, they only have 30 or 40 people attending the church.

It so happens that I was once an assistant pastor at a small church. That church was so small and, therefore, insignificant, that I will need to pass over those years in silence.

But just two weeks ago, I attended the memorial service of a retired pastor. His congregation had apparently been extremely small. In fact, I had never personally met the pastor (and with a congregation so small, what would have been the point really?) But what was so amazing about that memorial service were the people who travelled far distances to pay their respects, to speak about how this pastor led them to faith in Christ, to express appreciation for the long hours this pastor poured into their lives.

At one point in the evening, as people were joyfully sharing their appreciation, it became evident that many of these people had recently been on missions trips and had shared their own faith in numerous ways. One man, a physician, travels across the globe every year in order to serve a very needy (and no doubt insignificant) population.

This pastor also had children and grandchildren who loved the Lord and served Him, too. In summary, the fruit of this man's life was abundant. His legacy was deep, lasting, and encouraging. I've never been at a memorial service filled with as much joy as I was that evening. It was as if the curtain between earth and heaven was very, very thin.

I am not surprised that TV and radio personalities judge a pastor's significance by the size of his congregation. They no doubt judge their own significance by their audience, come to think of it. But I can't help but think of that day when we stand before our God, and we see so many insignificant people cheered into the presence of God... and we see far too many superstar pastors and megapersonalities ushered to the back row. Or worse, shown the exit door altogether.

What is man's chief purpose? To glorify and enjoy God forever. Let's keep forever in view, or else we may be doomed to insignificance ourselves.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fellowship and Forgiveness

At the end of the Lord's Prayer there are a few verses that are pretty difficult to understand. Namely, "but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." -Matt 6:15.

Yikes. Those are difficult words. Why would Jesus say such a thing? Do we loose our salvation if we fail to forgive everybody who wrongs us?

First of all. No. And second of all, the fact that we know we are not saved by our own ability to perfectly forgive everybody else is exactly what makes this a difficult verse to interpret. But if Jesus doesn't mean that we are saved via forgiving others, what does he mean?

Right in the middle of the Lord's Prayer itself, Jesus has taught his disciples to pray asking that God forgive their sins, as in fact, we forgive others. Its important to remember that Jesus is not teaching us "the sinner's prayer." This is not a request for salvation, and so it is not the first time the pray-er of the prayer will have asked for forgiveness.

Part of becoming a Christian is repenting of our sins, asking for forgiveness. And when we do, we have assurance that we are forgiven for ALL of our sins, past, present and future. They will never stand in the way of our relationship with God again. So why then, does Jesus still teach his disciples to regularly pray prayers of repentance, seeking the forgiveness of their sins?

I think it goes back to something I wrote about some months ago. We have two relationships with God. Its true. I have both a legal relationship with God, and a personal relationship. The legal relationship relates to my justification. It means I am saved, adopted, cleansed, accepted in Christ, and nothing can ever change this. It is done. But I also have a personal relationship with God. And like all personal relationships, it needs to be maintained by frequent visits, by communication, by repenting of wrongs. This relationship can be hindered by sin, and so I need to repent regularly.

Its just like my relationship with Aubrey. Legally, we are married. We are man and wife, and nothing can ever change that. There is great peace in knowing this. But we also have a personal relationship. And this relationship requires constant maintenance. It requires that we communicate clearly, and spend time together, build a life together, and most importantly, that we ask each other for forgiveness when we have wronged one another. (and that we forgive when asked!)

1 John 1:6-10 teaches all about how our fellowship with God is maintained by repentance, and forgiveness of sins.

But getting back to the Lord's Prayer. This is a prayer that Jesus teaches to his disciples for their regular use. So when he teaches them to ask for forgiveness on a regular basis, he is not talking about their legal relationship with God. Rather, he is teaching them how to maintain an unobstructed personal relationship. I think the same thing holds true for thinking about these difficult verses, 14-15. He is not teaching that if we do not forgive those who wrong us, that our legal relationship (salvation) is in doubt. Rather, he is saying that if we harbor grudges, by failing to forgive others, that our fellowship (personal relationship) with God will be broken. Sin obstructs fellowship. God will wait to forgive us until we have repented of our grudge and forgiven others. But when we do repent of our unforgiveness, God is faithful and he is quick to forgive us, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and to restore us to the intimacy of fellowship which his children enjoy!

Fun fact: Thesis #1 of Martin Luther's 95: "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ commanded men to repent, he intended that the entire life of believers be characterized by repentance."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Three Things Ken Thinks

1. The next generation is vitally important. I recently read statistics that by the end of this year, 50% of the world’s population will be under the age of 25. Meanwhile, my sister tells me that her daughter is teaching a kindergarten class in which only 4 out of 25 students are from a two parent home. She is not in the inner city by the way. Ministry to kids is important, strategic… and yet somehow I believe that God’s love toward these children has nothing to do with strategy.

2. I hope you’ll bring your kids to church and send them to Sunday School (or "LiquidFire" or whatever your church offers), yet Proverbs 22:6 - “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it”- means so much more than this. Our children need to see that our faith is a very real, and in fact non-negotiable, part of our lives. They need to see that we are willing to sacrifice for what we believe, that we follow Jesus through difficult times and obey Him when it’s painful or risky to do so. Also, Deuteronomy 6 teaches that when we speak about our God to our children, they need to perceive that our life story is inseparably bound to God’s salvation. I pray that I will set this example and for God’s saving grace in my son’s life.

3. The “regulative principle,” the (correct) teaching that we should only worship God as he has commanded in Scripture, sets Protestants apart from Roman Catholicism, theological liberalism, and other false religions. It also helps us to look at our own hearts and see if we are worshiping God really, or if we have made a game out of worship. But I think that the regulative principle has not proven as helpful for comparing worship styles within evangelicalism. Biblical worship is more theocentric and, at times, more ordered (liturgical?) than some would practice; yet more exuberant and spontaneous than others would practice. Unfortunately, the term “regulative principle” gets in the way when it becomes a badge of honor rather than, well, a principle employ with teachable hearts. Under the word of God, we need to learn from one another how to fully enjoy and glorify God. Because He's great, and greatly to be praised.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Greater than the Sabbath

I wanted to say a few more things about my third thought from the other day. Not just because this has been an enforced topic de jour for me lately, but because it is necessary that we continue the Biblical-Theological conversation on these matters. Theology is done in community, and I write out these thoughts to allow ya'll to contribute to them.

In Hebrews 3:7-4:13 the topic of discussion is "entering God's rest." The main point being made is that the promised land of Canaan is not the "rest" that God provides for his people, a better rest is now available in Christ. The key word in the passage is the word "Today." As in, when do we enter into God's rest? Today! The word comes from the passage from Psalm 95 which is quoted in Hebrews 3. And the word "today" is quoted FIVE times (Heb 3:7, 13, 15, 4:7 2x). The point is, that even though Palestine was occupied by the Romans, and the book of Hebrews might well have been written to believers nowhere near Jerusalem, still they were able to enter into God's rest Today!

How? By faith. Entering God's rest did not mean relocating to God's promised land, it meant trusting in Christ. Heb 4:3 emphasizes that the way of entering God's rest is by faith. The physical promised land was only a sign and a shadow of the reality which was provided by Christ.

When? Today. How? By faith. These are the key ideas.

The way he brings the Sabbath into the discussion is interesting. In 4:1-3 he is arguing that some have failed to enter God's rest because of unbelief, but that we who have believed have entered it. He then cites a verse out of Psalm 95 about God swearing that unbelievers shall not enter his rest. This brief mention of "God's rest" leads to the mention of God resting on the Sabbath day in the creation story. At this point, the sabbath doesn't really play an important part in the argument, it is just a description of the quality of God's own rest. The author goes on establishing his main point the the promised land was not God's ultimate gift of rest to his people, rather God's rest is found in Christ, is entered into by faith, and can be entered "today."

So then. In verses 8 and 9 he's bringing his argument in for a landing. Verse 8 says, "For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on." This just summarizes his argument to this point. And the day God spoke of, is of course, "today!" Then verse 9, "So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God." This is also just summary, he's been making this point for the last 21 verses that there is still rest available for God's people even though the promised land is unavailable. The rest is given in Christ. In this summary he characterizes the rest as "sabbath rest." This makes sense in light of 4:4, where he also characterizes God's rest as 'sabbath rest.' The fact that he calls it "sabbath rest" does not mean that it is available only on the sabbath. It is a sabbath-like rest that is available every day to the one who believes.

The key themes are the same. God has given us rest through Christ. You enter it by faith. And it is available 'today.' And now we also know it is characterized as being God's own sabbath rest.

What this passage most emphatically does not mean, is that the institution of the weekly sabbath is still in force. Do you see how that actually has nothing to do with the topic at hand? The promised land and the OT sabbath (itself a reflection of God's own rest) were both shadows of the ultimate rest that God would provide for his people in Christ. A rest that would never be invaded or taken away. Let us strive to enter this rest.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Three Things Jeff Thinks

1. I have a slightly new perspective on topical sermons. In the past, I've been somewhat of an exegetical sermon snob, looking down my nose at topical sermons as being less biblical. However, I've been preaching topical sermons lately. I've been doing a series on the Lord's Prayer, and taking it one verse at a time. So the phrase "give us this day our daily bread" led to a sermon on the topic of supplication. And this week, the phrase, "forgive us our debts..." has led to a sermon on praying prayers of confession and repentance.

2. I'm taking a new class at the local seminary this fall on the topic of New Testament Apocalyptic. I'm looking forward to learning more about this perplexing genre.

3. In a discussion recently someone asked me if I believe that the Old Testament teaches the principle that one day in seven is holy to the Lord. I said no. Instead I believe that the OT presents the command that the seventh day is the Sabbath. You'd be pretty hard pressed to find where the OT teaches a "principle" that one seventh of our time is to be holy, as though God were concerned with fractions, and the Israelites would have been at equal liberty to observe their Sabbath every Tuesday. The fourth commandment is a command, and it specifies that the Seventh day is the Sabbath. Its not about the proportion of our time, its about the day the Sabbath is to be observed on. Turning it into a "one-day-in-seven" principle is special pleading indeed. So in the NT when the first believers started worshiping on the first day of the week, they were consciously out of step with one of the ten commandments. What the NT never does, is to teach that the Sabbath has moved, or that Sunday can now be considered the Christians version of the Sabbath. Instead it says that the Sabbath was a shadow which pointed to the reality which is only found in Christ (Col 2). Christians are expected to worship on the Lord's Day (Sunday, the first day of the week) because that is the day Jesus rose from the dead. Christians are free to worship on the Lord's Day because something greater than the Sabbath is here (Heb 3-4).

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Not Without My Hiram

You may have heard something about King Solomon and a temple.

In the Old Testament books of 2 Samuel and 1 Kings, we read that God did not allow David to build a temple but promised that his son Solomon would build one (2 Samuel 7). We read about this building project which took place under Solomon in 1 Kings 6 and 7.

When that building project is described, a man named Hiram is introduced. He’s a “worker in bronze…full of wisdom, understanding, and skill for making any work in bronze” (1 Kings 7:14). These are lofty words of praise, proving that you don’t have to be a king or priest to be recognized by God. It’s what we call the priesthood of all believers—God gives gifts of all kinds, and what matters is using them to His glory.

So, as you read along in 1 Kings 7, Hiram’s work is described in some detail. The Bible tells us, for example, the height and circumference of some bronze pillars that Hiram made. It tells us about lattices, basins, pots, shovels, all sorts of things. It goes on for a whole page and, if you’ve read the Bible, you know that there’s a lot of words on each page.

Personally, it’s tough reading for me. Nothing is underlined in my Bible after that part about him being full of wisdom, understanding, and skill. I even had to spell check “circumference” because I haven’t used that word since geography—oops, I mean geometry—class in 10th grade.

So I was thinking, this may not be very interesting to me but I’m sure it’s pretty interesting to a metalworker. Or, for that matter, to anyone who works daily with their hands, building stuff—unlike me.

Then you get to the end of this chapter that laboriously details Hiram’s work and you read this: “Thus all the work that King Solomon did on the house of the Lord was finished” (1 Kings 7:51).

Great work, “Solomon”!

“He gave gifts to men” – Ephesians 4:8.