Thursday, 31 October 2013

Halloween: Trick or Treat?

I wish I could figure out how to embed this video on my own blog, but since I can't, I'd encourage you to check this Halloween: Trick or Treat? video out over at Toby Sumpter's blog.

Everyone I preach to is either dead or used to be dead...

I was privileged to preach for a couple Sundays in a church out in beautiful Prince Edward Island two summers ago when our family was holidaying there.  I had no idea I would be preaching when we planned our trip, but when we got there and went to a church that some of my wife’s extended family attends, finding out they had just lost their pastor, I offered.  As a mentor and good friend used to say, “be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice”.

Prior to preaching, I needed some quiet time to pray and prepare my heart and ask for God to work through my preaching.  Right beside the tiny country church was a cemetery.  I hopped the fence and wandered amongst the grave markers while praying for the service, the sermon, and the souls of all who would be attending.  Then a thought occurred to me. 

In a few minutes I would be preaching to a group of people, probably some of whom at least, were as spiritually dead as the folks I was walking among were physically dead.  Scripture says that in our natural state all people are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 4-5).  Not weak, not injured, not handicapped, not disadvantaged, not exhibiting concerning symptoms, but dead.  What hope is there in preaching to dead people?  I might as well preach my sermon right here in the cemetery. 

But the God who inspired the Scriptures is the same God who raises the dead (Eph. 2:5-9).  Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the tomb (Jn. 11) and Lazarus came.  Jesus didn’t bargain with him, Jesus didn’t plead with him, Jesus didn’t ask a dying man to summon his last vestige of strength and sit up.  Jesus commanded a dead man to live.  And because Jesus is God-enfleshed, the fullness of God in bodily form, the image of the God who gives life to the dead and who speaks what does not exist into existence (Rom. 4:17), Lazarus came forth from the grave. 

When a preacher gets up before a group of people and rightly declares God’s Word, there is usually a mixed crowd composed of some believers and some unbelievers.  That means that everyone he is preaching to either is currently dead or used to be dead.  It is God that resurrects people, working by his powerful Spirit, through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Scriptures.  The message of salvation through the Son of God, applied to the hearts of people by the Spirit of God, under the sovereign purpose and calling of God the Father, that is power enough to raise the dead.  So a preacher may preach with the confidence that the Word he is proclaiming to dry bones is the Word of the God who, in his glorious love and sovereign power, delights to raise the dead. 

Saturday, 26 October 2013

When did Christ die for you?

I recently had the privilege of hearing Tim Chester speak at the Grace Agenda conference (called Gospel Presence:  The New Birth & the Nations, held in Moscow, Idaho).  I appreciated not only his encouragement and challenge to live out gospel grace in our homes but also his gospel filled and gracious way of saying it. 

While at the conference, I picked up his new book, Ordinary Hero: Living the cross and resurrection in everyday life.  I'm not very far into it, but already I have found some gold.  Here is an example from page 17:
"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  (Romans 5:6-8)
What's the demonstration of God's love?  The cross.  How do we know God loves us?  The cross.  What's the basis of hope that doesn't disappoint?  The cross.  While "loved" in Romans 8:37 is past tense, "demonstrates" in 5:8 is present tense.  The cross stands forever as the great demonstration of God's love.
Paul's argument begins with the question:  When did Christ die for you?  Was it when you started taking an interest in Jesus?  Was it when you began to go to church?  Was it when you cleaned up your life?  What is when you first read your Bible or prayed?  No, it was when you were a sinner.  When you were powerless.  When you were God's enemy (v 10).
If God gave his Son for you when you were at your worst, what circumstances could ever make him stop loving you?  If God loved us when we were his enemies, then he'll always love us.  Nothing will be able to separate us from that love.
How can we know that God loves us?  Because he loved us and gave his Son for us.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Zion & Babylon: the music of Josh Garrels

Over the last week, I've really began appreciating the music of Josh Garrels. There have been a few songs in particular that I've enjoyed but at the top of the list has been Zion & Babylon. To listen to a good mix of Josh Garrels' tunes, go to the link above and click on the free listening sample on the middle right of the page. I'd suggest listening to all the songs but if you like, scroll down - Zion & Babylon is song 7 of 8. It's just really good. I recommend listening to it while reading the lyrics:

Oh great mammon of form and function
Careless consumerist consumption
Dangerous dysfunction
Described as expensive taste
I’m a people disgraced
By what I claim I need
And what I want to waste
I take no account for nothing
If it’s not mine

It’s a misappropriation of funds
Protect my ninety percent with my guns
Whose side am I on?
Well who’s winning?
My kingdom’s built with the blood of slaves
Orphans, widows, and homeless graves
I sold their souls just to build my private mansion
Some people say that my time is coming
Kingdom come is the justice running
Down, down, down on me

I’m a poor child, I’m a lost son
I refuse to give my love to anyone,
Fight for the truth,
Or help the weaker ones
Because I love my Babylon
I am a slave, I was never free
I betrayed you for blood money
Oh I bought the world, all is vanity
Oh my Lord I’m your enemy

Come to me, and find your life
Children sing, Zion’s in sight
I said don’t trade your name for a serial number
Priceless lives were born from under graves
Where I found you
Say, my name ain’t yours and yours is not mine
Mine is the Lord, and yours is my child
That’s how it’s always been

Time to make a change
Leave your home
Give to the poor all that you own
Lose your life, so that you could find it
First will be last when the true world comes
Livin’ like a humble fool to overcome
The upside-down wisdom
Of a dying world
Zion’s not built with hands
And in this place God will dwell with man
Sick be healed and cripples stand
Sing Allelu
My kingdom’s built with the blood of my son
Selfless sacrifice for everyone
Faith, hope, love, and harmony
I said let this world know me by your love
By your love

Oh my child, daughters and sons
I made you in love to overcome
Free as a bird, my flowers in the sun
On your way to Mount Zion
All you slaves, be set free
Come on out child and come on home to me
We will dance, we will rejoice
If you can hear me then follow my voice

2 Corinthians: Damascus & Saul's 'Conversio-missioning'

Paul understood suffering for the sake of Christ as a central part of his calling as an apostle right from the beginning of his Christian experience.  Paul’s Damascus road Christophany and the events of the days that followed mark the miraculous conversion and commissioning of the apostle (Acts 9:3-19).  Though Luke records the chronological order of events which happened over three days, when Paul gives testimony of his conversion and commissioning as an apostle (Acts 22:6-21; 26:12-18), he speaks of it as all the same event.  Clearly Paul thought of his vision of the risen Christ (1 Cor. 15:8; Gal. 1:16; Acts 9:3-8), his three days of blindness, and his commissioning three days later (9:9-19) as part of the same conversion-commissioning event (we might call it his conversio-missioning).

Acts 9:15-16 ties Paul’s mission as Christ’s chosen instrument to carry his name “before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” together with suffering for the sake of the gospel.  The Lord says to Ananias in his vision, “I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:16).  This cruciform commission must have been in the forefront of Paul’s mind at all times, being, as it was, among the first words Paul heard as a believer.  Suffering was promised to him at the same time as his mission was outlined for him.  When God allowed Paul to suffer, Paul could rejoice even in the midst of it for it only confirmed that he was still in the faithful service of Christ, still suffering for his name, still preaching a world-defying gospel, still going to those who were blind as he had once been, and he was receiving just what Jesus had prepared him to expect, especially as the “least of the apostles” who had “persecuted the church of God” (1 Cor. 15:8-9; cf. Eph. 3:8).

Saturday, 5 October 2013

2 Corinthians: Seeing, he was blind; once blinded, he began to see

Scholars often discuss the Damascus event in terms of Saul’s vision on the road (Acts 9:3-6) with somewhat less particular attention given to his commissioning in Damascus (Acts 9:10-18), in which Ananias is sent by the Lord to bring a message and to impart the Holy Spirit to Saul (eg. Seyoon Kim, The Origins of Paul's Gospel, 55-66).  But the three intervening days of blindness in which Saul neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:8-9) are, along with the Christophany and later reception of the Holy Spirit, no doubt central to Paul’s understanding of his calling as an apostle.  In 2 Cor. 4:4, Paul describes in “graphic metaphor” his own “direct and intense” experience of how unbelievers are blinded to the light of the gospel of Christ (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, 112).  Paradoxically, Saul was blind to the truth of Christ until Christ blinded him on the road, where Saul, in his total physical blindness, began to see clearly for the first time.  In Paul’s robust theology of union with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-11; Gal. 2:20), we can see that Paul saw the story of Christ’s salvation event in the story of his own Damascus event.  In the Damascus event, in the vision of Christ and the words the Lord spoke, Saul died to self and to his old perceptions (Phil. 3:4-11), and in three days he was raised to resurrection life when he received the Spirit, his eyes were opened, his gospel mission was explained to him, and he was baptized.  In fact, the way Paul speaks of baptism makes it clear that the Lord taught him the theological meaning of baptism through this experience (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12). 

2 Corinthians: Like master, like servant

It is significant that Paul, the apostle of Christ, listing the persecution of the Jewish forty lashes minus one and stoning as well as the Roman rod (2 Cor. 11:24-25), suffers at the hands of Jews and Gentiles (11:26) and their rulers (11:32).  Paul knew himself to be following in the footsteps of his Lord Jesus, God’s anointed, against whom both Israel and the Gentiles and their respective leaders had gathered together (Acts 4:27).  Paul’s commission as an apostle was to carry Christ’s name “before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15).  The nature of Paul’s suffering (Acts 9:16), far from causing doubt about his legitimacy as a servant of Christ, should rather have been a confirmation of his apostleship to any church that really “got” the gospel.  Their confused judgment shows just how far from the cross of Christ the Corinthians had turned their gaze through the influence of the false apostles.