Saturday, March 31, 2012

We Priests Can Know the Will of God

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12:1-2 (emphasis mine)

What a wonderful truth! Since we are priests to God, we can know his will.

When we offer the spiritual sacrifice of rejecting the things of this world and instead give ourselves completely to God, we can understand what his will is. This is stunning. We sinful people can comprehend what the Creator of the universe plans and desires.

Although it is wise to seek the counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, we can see in this passage that we can understand God's will on our own. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, and led by what we read in scripture, we can and should be able to know God's will. We don't need anyone else to stand between us and God.

I'm not suggesting a sort of "Lone Ranger" Christianity. We benefit greatly from discussing important issues with Christian friends. However, we do not have to depend on others to stand in as a sort of intermediary between us and God. We don't have to wait for them to tell us what to do. Rather, we all can know the will of holy God.

This is amazing. I love that God speaks to all of us and hasn't chosen any special class of people to stand above the others. Let us all seek his will together, and at the same time know that we can understand it.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Call to Live as the Priests We Are

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."  Romans 12:1

Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, performed the ultimate act of sacrifice by giving himself for us. Because of what he accomplished, we are one with him (interestingly, I just learned that the term "High Priest" is used more in the book of Hebrews than any other book in the bible).

God does not expect us to act as priests in order to come to him. Rather, because of Jesus' atoning work, we are priests. Our status is set. It does not depend on our work, but Christ's accomplished work. Notice that Paul does not call upon the Roman Christians to perform spiritual sacrifices to be right with God. Instead, he calls upon them to live out the priesthood that they are a part of. As priests, the fruit of their relationship with God is their spiritual sacrifices.

This is a clarion call from the apostle to the Roman church to embrace their priesthood. We must remember that Romans 12 comes relatively late in this epistle. For much of the previous eleven chapters Paul has discussed what God has done in his rescue mission of sinners. God performed the necessary work of redemption to make us priests.

In light of our peace with God (Romans 5:1), we can and should embrace this call to live as the priests we are. Stunningly, God has freed us to live through Christ in ways that please him. He accepts our sacrifices because of his Son's ultimate sacrifice.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Wonderful Invitation

"I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!" Psalm 34:1-3

I love these verses. The psalmist begins by expressing his own praise of God. He then invites other God-followers to worship the Lord with him. He understands that life with God is not primarily an individual one. Rather, the author is excited to invite others to magnify and exalt the Lord one with the other.

In our individualistic society we are trained from day one to think of self first, and to consider the individual before the group. This is not how God would have it. Let us attempt to think of the group first. When the group is the people of God, the result can and should be joyful togetherness in Christ.

Let's exalt him together!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Topics of Interest (at Least for Me)

I've mentioned several times (probably too many) that I'm working a lot these days. This, by the way, is far superior to being unemployed.

Due to the work, my blogging time has decreased. Therefore, I'm planning to narrow down the focus of this blog. As in the icon to the left, I'm going to be writing primarily about four things that are topics of interest at least for me:

1. Simple Church / House Church/ Organic Church Positives

I realize that I write about this quite a bit already. However, my plan is to focus more on the positives of whatever we call this sort of church life. I hope you see a smaller percentage of posts targeting negatives of institutional church; this may occur from time to time, but the percentage will be dropping.

2. The Priesthood of All Believers

This often misunderstood doctrine of the faith is critical to a healthy church. The more I ponder the reality of our priesthood, the more stunned and awestruck I am by it. Of course, this is only possible because of our great High Priest - Christ himself.

3. The Atonement of Christ

This is probably my favorite doctrine of them all. The High Priest offers himself as the once for all sacrifice for us. It's so wonderful that it's almost unbelievable.

4. World Missions

This should need no explanation. What a privilege to be Christ's ambassadors!

I hope this streamlining of focus will make for a better blog and more interesting discussions. While blogging frequency will be less than in the past, maybe the quality will rise.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On God’s Total Sovereignty

A couple of years ago I put together the following series of biblical passages which illustrate the total sovereignty of God. These sorts of verses give me great comfort whenever I feel as if life is spinning out of control. Praise be to God for his direction of all things!

Genesis 50:18-20: Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face, and they said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.

Job 2:7-10: So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes. 9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Psalm 139:13-16: For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. 14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them.

Isaiah 45:5-7: I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, 6 that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; 7 I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.'

Isaiah 46:9-10: Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure.’

Acts 2:22-24: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know -- 23 “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; 24 “whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it.”

Acts 4:27-28: “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together 28 to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”

Romans 8:28-30: And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.

What Life's All About

"And he (Jesus Christ) is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent." Colossians 1:18

Friday, March 23, 2012

Maps Can Help Our Thinking About Missions

I haven't blogged much lately due to lack of time. For example, this week I'll be working over 70 hours. However, I still have time to think about Christ's church and its mission.

I confess to loving maps. One thing they can help us do is think strategically about our missions efforts. The one above shows us population centers in Asia. Paul went to cities; we should at least consider this as we think about how to focus our attempts to reach the lost with the gospel.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Gospel is the Only True Church Membership

"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God." John 1:12-13

When you accept the gospel as truth and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord, you also enter the church. You are a member forever.

This is God's wonderful plan for church membership. When we join, we become part of a glorious, world wide, multi-cultural, time crossing family. Christ is our Head, and we are all equal members.

Upon surrendering to Christ, we immediately have all the duties and privileges of family membership. We are part of God's New Covenant. We are part of His house. We are part of His body. We are part of His bride.

This church is united. We are one in Him. God wants and commands there to be no divisions in this house. No smaller, separate parts are acceptable. Instead, we are one whole, diverse unit with God as the unquestioned sovereign.

This is biblical church membership. Let's embrace it.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Where I Differ From Albert Mohler

I have great respect for Dr. Albert Mohler. He has had a tremendous impact upon the Southern Baptist Convention in particular and upon evangelicalism in general. I've read a number of his books and heard him speak several times.

Despite the above, I differ from Dr. Mohler on many things regarding the church. The primary difference has to do with the clergy-laity divide. While Mohler endorses this, I reject it. While he appears to believe it is a good thing for the church, I believe it causes much damage.

Dr. Mohler's endorsement of a clergy-laity distinction is apparent in his latest blog post entitled The Challenges We Face: A New Generation of Gospel Ministers Looks to the Future. In the piece, Mohler writes the following, "When asked about my hope for the future of the church, I point immediately to the corps of young ministers now entering and preparing for ministry."

His hope for the future of the church lies with the clergy. He refers to them as ministers, but he is clearly not referring to all Christians. Rather, Mohler is talking about what our culture generally refers to as pastors.

My hope for the future of the church is far different from Mohler's. I point instead to the growing number of Christians who care little for the things of the world and instead desire to be the church as God describes it in scripture.

Of course, both Mohler and I would agree that our hope for the church ultimately lies with God. However, at a human level his hope lies with the clergy while mine lies with the entire church.

In his blog post Dr. Mohler hits upon several imprtant issues for the church as it moves forward. He's correct to say that truth, mission, gospel, biblical authority, etc. are keys for the church. We agree there.

The difference lies in how the church will deal with these issues. Will it be the select few who have been "set apart" as pastors? Or, will it be the entire church?

Peter makes it clear in his first epistle that God desires and expects his church to be a fully functioning priesthood. We are a body that needs all members functioning in order to be healthy. Our hope for the future of the church is a reformation of the entire body. All parts must embrace this.

This is one of the major disagreements within the church itself. Will the future depend mainly upon the few (the clergy) or everyone (the laity)? How the church in this country answers this question will have a huge impact upon its future.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Not Reluctantly or Under Compulsion...

"The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." II Corinthians 9:6-7

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fascinating Quote from Billy Graham

I don't normally take my beliefs about the church from Billy Graham, but he said something in 1965 that I find fascinating. According to Graham,

"Multitudes of Christians within the church are moving toward the point where they may reject the institution that we call the church. They are beginning to turn to more simplified forms of worship. They are hungry for a personal and vital experience with Jesus Christ. They want a heartwarming personal faith. Unless the church quickly recovers its authoritative Biblical message, we may witness the spectacle of millions of Christians going outside the institutional church to find spiritual food."

Thanks to Frank Viola for digging up this quote.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Missions in Ephesians

When it comes to glorious truths about Christ and his church, no book surpasses Ephesians. I'm guessing that we all love reading this epistle. In the midst of this wonderful letter, does Paul say anything significant about missions?

He certainly does. In 3:8-10 we read the following:

"To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places."

Although Paul says several significant things in this passage, I'd like to focus on two.

First, and most important, Paul understands that his duty and privilege is to preach/proclaim "the unsearchable riches of Christ." The core content of the apostle's heralding was always the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul esteems Christ's riches to be beyond value and inexhaustible. As Paul goes from place to place, he stays on point in his preaching; it always centers on Jesus.

Second, Paul refers to "the plan of the mystery." What is he talking about? Paul is referring to God's eternal purpose of bringing together Jew and Gentile to be his special people (the church). God does this to put on display for all to see the magnificence of Christ. Basically, the plan is one of renewal and sharing. God is reversing the effects of the fall by creating a new, holy people to enjoy God and give him glory.

As we read the above passage, we should also take notice of the biblical definition of preaching. It refers to announcing with conviction the gospel to the lost.

It is interesting to read an epistle like Ephesians and then read through the book of Acts. Throughout Acts, we see Paul again and again do what we see above. He preaches Christ over and over in all sorts of different locations. Although he doesn't say exactly the same thing every time, Jesus remains the focal point.

Paul was all about Jesus. May we be the same.

(To read any or all posts in this series, please click here.)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Untold Story of the New Testament Church

This book can best be described in one word: context.

The author, Frank Viola, contends that the ordering of the New Testament books has caused confusion for many people. In particular, since Paul’s epistles are generally ordered by length instead of chronology, numerous Christians do not understand the historical context into which they fit.

Viola sets out to place the epistles into the context described in the book of Acts. The vast majority of The Untold Story of the New Testament Church walks the reader through the book of Acts, explaining when, where, and how each epistle fits in. When that point is reached, Viola encourages the one reading to set down this book and read the corresponding epistle.

Context is absolutely critical for correct biblical interpretation. We’ve all experienced others pulling verses willy-nilly out of context in order to make a point. Let’s admit it: we’ve all done it as well. Viola’s book combats that problem by forcing verses, chapters, and books back into their original contexts. For this we should be grateful.

I found this book to be extremely helpful. Seeing how each epistle fits into the overall Acts narrative gives a much fuller understanding as to why each letter was penned in the first place. I recommend this book to all Christians, especially those who struggle with understanding the NT. It would be a boon for new Christians.

The only negative is that the title is not spot-on. A better title would be “The Story of the New Testament Church in its Historical Context.” Of course, that title is not too exciting and would never make it past a publisher’s desk.

Regardless, this book is worth the read.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Missions in Galatians

Paul writes to the churches in Galatia to counter the false teachers who have crept in since he departed. These wolves have been spreading a false works-based message of salvation. Basically, they were teaching that Gentiles had to follow the OT law in order to be saved. Paul refutes these false teachings with some of his strongest language, writing in 1:6-9, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."

Regarding salvation, the apostle stresses that justification comes through faith apart from the law. In 2:15-16 we read, "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified."

In the midst of this apologetic for the true gospel of grace, can we learn anything about missions? Yes, we can.

Toward the end of the epistle, Paul says this in 6:14, "But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

Those who trust in a false gospel for salvation are essentially boasting in themselves since they believe it is their own efforts/works that save them. Paul, instead, emphasizes that it is God alone who does the saving. Christ's work on the cross has earned it. Therefore, our only boast can and should be in the finished work of Christ at Calvary. This is what we see in the life of Paul. He was a humble man who understood his own sinfulness. His only boast was in what Jesus had done for him. Let it be the same with us. As Christ-followers we have one boast: in Christ and him alone.

(For previous posts in this series, click here.)

New Missions Page

I've added a new page to my blog. It's specifically devoted to whatever I've written about missions. The easiest way to get there is to click on the missions tab above.

While I do not believe that missions is the primary reason for the existence of the church, I do believe that God has a heart for the nations. Amazingly, God's plan is to use sinful us to take his glorious message of salvation to the ends of the earth. We are all missionaries wherever we are. What a privilege!

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Tension Exists

Most of you who read this blog desire to be in unity with all other Christ followers. You also hope to see reform occur within Christ's church. These two desires often, sadly, leave us in a place of tension.

On the one hand, we desire unity because Christ expects it (see John 17 as just one example). Additionally, since we are positionally one in Christ, we should desire to live like it. Furthermore, unity brings joy.

On the other hand, we hope and long for reform within the broader church of Christ. This, of course, can take various forms but in general follows biblical commands and models. My guess is that we've all attempted to discuss these sorts of things with other believers. Sometimes the conversations go well, but at other times they do not. Like me, you may have been referred to as "divisive" because of the the topics you have brought up.

The manner in which we have conversations can certainly help, but in the end if you press your point about church reform, some will see you as a cause of division within the body of Christ.

We end up in a sort of continual tension. We hope for unity and we hope for reform. The two can go together but experientially they often do not.

What do we do? We hope and pray that they can go together. We speak the truth in love. We talk about reform, but we seek unity to a greater degree. If we fault in one direction, let's let it be unity.

If you seek both unity and church reform, you will likely have to deal with this tension for the remainder of your life. I'm thankful that come our eternity in heaven, we will be perfectly united and devoid of tension.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

No Time to Blog

I've written about this before so I won't belabor the point. I simply don't have much time to blog anymore. While I still enjoy both the writing and the ensuing comments/conversations, there just isn't time in the day for much of it. I'm still working about 65 hours per week.

My hope is that my posts will be more selective and thus more beneficial for everyone involved. We can hope.