Tag Archives: Word

Every Good Blessing

It’s just after midnight and I find myself unable to sleep. Things keep flowing through my mind about my church, the Lord, things I want to say and things the Lord wants to change in me. I decided to go to my desk and journal a bit, while also reading the Word of God for a bit and spending some intimate time with God. As often happens, I struck upon a verse where God spoke to me and I feel a driving compulsion to share it. The easiest way for me to do it is with a blog post.

I simply opened my Bible to Ephesians 1 and was dumbstruck by verse 3, even though I’ve read and studied it a thousand times. The verse says (ESV) “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,…” It goes on to say that this was done “even as he chose us” and predestined us (verses 4f). The “even” in that passage (Greek: καθὼς) means “just as,” or “inasmuch as,” or it can also mean the two happened at the same time (Mounce, 2006). So, our being blessed in verse 3 is very closely related in manner, degree and/or time to our being chosen and predestined. The blessing is not severable from these. Just as from the foundation of the world he chose me to be blameless and holy and predestined me to be adopted as his son, he blessed me with every spiritual blessing and did this through Christ.

Now, let’s dig deeper into this blessing. When Paul speaks of “every spiritual blessing” the word for blessing is εὐλογίᾳ. This is the word from which we get our “eulogy.” This is from the same root as earlier when Paul says, “Blessed be the God and Father…” He is telling us the Father is worthy of blessing (literally: good speaking). He deserves our praise, our blessings for what he has done for us. Just as he deserves our “good speaking” about what he has done, “good speaking” is a fitting description of what he has done for us. Don’t forget that Jesus is the Word (λόγος) of God. God’s Word (Jesus) was powerful and when he spoke the world into being, it was the Son (the Word) who created (John 1:3). In the same way, when God “speaks good” into our lives and upon us, it is a creative and active event. He has spoken all good into our lives.

Don’t take that last sentence the wrong way. This does not mean He has determined that I will have all things I consider good. This is not some backdoor magical Name-it-and-claim-it prosperity atrocity. This is not saying that He has declared I am to have everything I ever desired. This means everything he knows to be good, he has spoken into our lives. He has made pronouncements in our lives, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, these pronouncements are all sure and irrevocable as our being chosen and predestined.

It does say “he has blessed us […] with every spiritual blessing.” So, there are no spiritual blessings he has withheld from us. To use the word “every” is to create a container into which all items which are defined by God as a blessing are placed. None are withheld. “Every blessing” means there are none he is yet to declare. He never said, “This is a blessing, but I will withhold this from them.” Of course, as I write this I know some will claim, “Well, there is one blessing he has withheld. He has not revealed to me the time of the return of Christ since scripture says he has even withheld that knowledge from the Son.” This assumes such knowledge would be a blessing—a good thing spoken into our lives. I contend that such knowledge would be far too great for man and, in this way, would become a curse. He withheld no blessing from us. If you feel he has withheld one from you, then check your definition of blessing.

Finally, he says he has spoken these good blessings into our lives, he has given us these blessings—all of them—“in Christ.” No blessings, no “good speaking” of the Spirit, no active, creative pronouncements of God come through any other route but the Son of God—Jesus Christ. He gives us all blessings. He holds none back. The only restriction to them is that they will all be given through (in) Christ Jesus. We are to look for them nowhere else. We are to expect them from no other source. They are found in no other place. They are offered in Christ and Christ alone.

 

References

Mounce, W. D. (Ed.). (2006). Mounce’s complete expository dictionary of Old & New Testament words. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan.

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Building the Kingdom with Kingdom Tools

Isaiah 30:1-2 (ESV):

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We as a church want to reach our community. We want to draw people in and disciple them to be followers of Jesus who truly live like him, demonstrating his character in our community. Only in this way will we transform our community and bring peace to those around us suffering under the weight of sin. However, this passage reminds me of an error that is far too easy to fall into. It’s easy to default to the ways and methods of the world and overlook reliance upon the Spirit of God.

In the geopolitical setting of Isaiah, it was natural when threatened by one country to approach another country for protection. If a small weak people could find protection in stronger people most would see this as common sense. God is warning his people about seeking security using the ways of the world. They should turn to him for protection. They should repent of their sins and trust in his Spirit. Instead they found it easier to trust in Pharaoh.

The reason this so struck me is the knowledge that we as a church can easily be tempted to neglect prayer and dependence upon God by replacing these with the world’s tools. Marketing and branding are a part of our world today. They are also important considerations for the church. In a way they are just secular terms for essential spiritual practices. We want a positive name and testimony so the world thinks of us positively. This, the world calls ‘branding.’ We also want the community to know we exist, where to find us and what we have to offer. This, the world calls ‘marketing.’

Such terms are not evil. Neither are the methods they describe—so long as they are honest, giving an accurate portrayal of Christ. What is wrong is leaning upon these worldly tools while neglecting the spiritual tools: prayer, witnessing, loving. We can create radio and print ads, for example. Yes, they are outreach tools and can draw in people. Some will be believers seeking a church home; others will be nonbelievers, giving us a chance to reach them. However, we must remember limits of these. They must be kept in their proper place.

We do this through prayer. Everything we do as a church must be bathed in personal and corporate prayer. Prayer can give power and impetus to the tools we use, even those of the world. However, if the tools of the world replace prayer we should expect the world’s results—and the world can deliver no one from sin.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Prayer is only part of our communication with God. We must expect God to answer. His way of answering is to speak to us through his Word. We must be a people who seek God’s direction coming to him in prayer and then digging into his Word expecting him to speak to us. Both sides of the equation are necessary.

By keeping both in our focus we communicate with God, seeking his will and receiving guidance.

We also must keep the tools we use in their proper place. We must remember the world’s efforts are meant to undergird not replace the more spiritual methods. Personal friendship evangelism is still the best tool for reaching the world. The best evangelist to reach a person is one who already loves them—one approaching without judgment, simply desiring to spend eternity with them. Personal sacrificial service is still the life which we are to model. Nothing touches the heart more than another human giving of themselves without expecting anything in return. No ad; no website; no social media post can replace this.

As we move forward, let’s remember to rely on God’s tools—without throwing away any worldly tools that can be effective. We must market and brand the church—these are important. However, we must first of all be a praying people. Second we must be people of the Word. Third, we must be a loving reaching people serving the hurting and seeking the lost. Finally, we must live out our testimony so the world sees an accurate image of Christ. When they see us, they must see Christ. It is only if built upon this foundation that the world’s methods will be of any use. Better to lay them aside than to build only upon them. But even better is to use whatever works to reach the lost and love them into the kingdom.

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Walk in the Light You’ve Been Given

flashIn Judges Thirteen, an angel appeared to a Danite woman named Zorah, wife of Monoah. The angel promised this barren woman that she would conceive and deliver a son. This is how the story of Samson begins. The information she was given by the angel was pretty sparse. It includes the promise to conceive and instructions for her to follow during the pregnancy, along with a command to raise the child from birth as a Nazirite. The angel finished by saying, “He shall begin to save Israel from the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5 ESV). As is to be expected, she quickly reported this to her husband.

The husband prayed for the angel to reappear and teach them more. When the angel reappeared, his responses to the questions of Monoah were interesting. In verse twelve, Monoah asks, “Now when your words come true, what is to be the child’s manner of life, and what is his mission?” These questions are only natural. We all want more information. However, the angel’s answers are telling.

The angel responded without giving any more information. He simply reiterated the commands she was to follow during the pregnancy. He gave no answer whatsoever about the mission of the child. It is natural for us to want more guidance. We want God to tell us not only our next steps, but to lay out future direction. All humans have a natural fear of what the future holds, and we want access to that information. This is why fortune telling and astrology are such big business even today in the twenty-first century. Zorah and Monoah, like us, wanted to know more about the child’s future—especially more about what he was to do. It is easier to get the future right if you know the direction God wants you to take. “Lord, do you want me to go to the right or the left? Am I to preach? Am I to teach? Are you calling me to start a business?” If God would tell us which way to go, thus assuring us of his blessing, life would be much less confusing, and the future less frightening.

Unfortunately, no matter how much we ask or plead for direction and more information, God often responds by reminding us to simply obey the commands we have already been given. He has given us a great deal of direction in the Word—instructions for morals, foundational beliefs, etc. We are to continue in these and walk day by day knowing he has a plan. We may not know his plan, but we can still put one foot in front of the other and walk in obedience.

We always want more information. We want to know more about God’s plan and about his purpose for us. We forget that the information we have been given is the information we need. If we needed more he would give more. If we needed to know all, then he would show us all. The fact that he has not shown us more, is evidence that we have the information we actually need. Walk in the Word already given. Obey God with the next step, letting him worry about future steps and the final destination.

So, does this mean we should simply be satisfied with the guidance we have and not ask for more? Of course not. We should continue to seek more information from God. We do this through prayer, through studying the Word and through the input of other believers. God will show the way, but it is usually just one step at a time. One example of this is my personal call into the ministry. Years ago, I was sure I had been called to preach. Beyond that, he gave no other information. Friends confirmed it, the Word seemed to confirm it, but nothing else came—where, when, to whom? It was years before I finally got to preach my first sermon (which helped to confirm the call). It was still more years before he showed me where. Over the years he has moved me from place to place. Sometimes, I have feared that I stepped out of his will by leaving one place and going to another. However, he has shown that in each place, at each step, he was in control and guiding me invisibly behind the scenes.

Pray for more guidance. But expect God to give you only what you need and accept what he has given as all the information needed. Walk in obedience of the light you have been given and wait upon him for more light as needed. Spend time in the Word, pray, speak to believing friends and observe opportunities. Trust him to guide you and don’t sit frozen waiting for more information. Obey what has been given; trust the rest to him.

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Swords Into Plowshares

Isaiah 2:4-5 says there will come a time when mankind, “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation neither shall they learn war anymore” (ESV).

This passage is so often taken by itself that we treat it as a solitary whole and tend to interpret it as such. We imagine it describes a transformed humanity who no longer have a taste for conflict and war—a perfect world populated by perfect people (try to say that five times fast). We long for a world where everyone just gets along without the slightest argument and without any anger. Because of these assumptions, this passage is most often ascribed to the Millennium or even to the post-judgment New Earth. Such speculation is not part of this post. Instead, I want to draw your attention to the surrounding text.

The passage gives us no reason to believe the era described will be without conflict. It is preceded by an explanation for why there will be no more war, “For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes between peoples” (ESV).

This is not a description of people transformed into peaceful little lambs with no aggressions or anger issues. Instead it is a description of the reign of God. The people still have disputes, but God mediates between them and decides who is in the wrong. The law of God goes ‘out from Zion,’ but this is just another way of saying God rules. When a King rules from a city and we say his law goes out from that city, we are saying he rules from that city to the places where his law goes. The law going out from Zion and the Word going out from Jerusalem are simply two ways of saying the same thing. The text goes on to tell us that the God whose law goes out from Zion and whose Word goes out from Jerusalem settles the disputes of all peoples and judges between the nations. Rather than being a time without disputes, it is a time where all disputes are settled by the omniscient and just God. Because He is omniscient, the decision made is the right one. Because He is just, His decision is just for all parties involved. Because He is God, the decision has irresistible force behind it. Yes, it describes a time when everyone willingly submits to God, but this is far easier knowing God has power to compel if needed.

Since each party knows the decision will be right and just, and backed up by the force necessary to keep each party in check, there is no need to fight over issues. All that any aggrieved person or persons must do is take their grievance to God and let him decide. Since the decision will be binding there is no need to fight.

Now, I know it is assumed this will only be possible in a different world system, one where God, in the person of Christ, is personally present to make decisions and pronouncements. However, I want to point out that (1) We as Christians already have the law of Christ in our hearts; (2) Christ instructs and guides us through his Word and by the Holy Spirit present in our hearts; and (3) Christ already rules in our lives, whether there is to be a future millennium or not. A more important question than when this will happen is “Why does it not describe Christian peoples today?” Why such discord among the brethren? We have disputes and division between Christians. We have, throughout history, even seen religious wars between Christians. We still today see Christians persecuting other Christians. Why is this so, when the rule of Christ in our hearts should produce peace between us as his people? The issue is one of trust.

In the era described by Isaiah all peoples trust God, while his power gives them reason to trust their opponents. Suppose my neighbor and I have a disagreement. We go to court and the issue is settled. The court can settle is because we both trust and submit to the decisions of the court, and we both know the court has the police power to force both parties to follow through on what was decided. A problem comes when either party doesn’t trust the court’s wisdom or power. If one person questions the court’s wisdom to decide the issue that person is unlikely to accept the court’s decision. Another problem can come when the court either cannot or will not enforce its decision. If my neighbor is free to ignore the court’s decision then I have no reason to trust the court to settle the issue—my neighbor would be free to disobey, placing me at a disadvantage if I willingly submit to the court’s decision.

We have conflict between brethren because we are human. I have an interest in A. You have an interest in B. Our situation does not permit both—((AvB)^¬(A^B))—but some cooperation is necessary to have either. If you work to undermine my efforts for A, then I will be unlikely to have A. But if I get A you are unlikely to get B. I am sure A is best for both of us, while you believe B would be best for both of us (an irrefutable rule of humanity is the tendency to believe what benefits me will equally benefit everyone like me). Conflict escalates because we do not trust the other to have our interests in mind.

This situation would be alleviated if we had Christ present to decide for us. There would be no conflict, if we could walk up to Christ and say, “Lord, I want A; he wants B. Which is best?” Unfortunately, this is not possible right now. Yes, one of us could say, “I believe Christ wants us to do this.” However, why would the other agree? The other could easily respond with “No, I believe he wants this.” The problem with such pronouncements is they are always suspect. Ever notice how these claims seldom go against the personal needs or desires of the one making them.

So, how can we change this? How can today’s church be more like the perfect era described in Isaiah? I won’t try to answer how we can be exactly like it, because that assumes we are supposed to be. If this is a description of the millennium, then it will only happen then. The same goes if this is a description for the post-judgment era. I will however, try to give advice on how the church gets closer to the ideal.

The best place to start is trusting Christ to balance the scales. It may be in this life, it may be in the next, but in the end we trust Christ to take care of injustices. We instead concentrate on living according to the command of Christ and at peace with one another, rather than insisting on our own interests and justice in the here and now:

1 Corinthians 6:7b ESV, “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?”

Another part of this is putting the interests of others above ourselves:

Philippians 2:3-4 ESV, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

This tells us to count the interests of others (or at least the other person themselves) as of greater value than our own interests. Then trust Christ to balance the scales in the end and to look after our interests on our behalf.

There are objections:

  1. “But then I lose because no one is looking to my interests. If I don’t look after my own interests, no one will.” Then you don’t trust Christ to balance the scales.
  2. “But then he gets his way, but I don’t get mine.” Then you are not putting him above yourself.

It is these which cause so much strife among the brethren. Unless we put these aside, we will never be marked by peace.

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Disagreement is Essential to Teaching

preacher-silouette
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Snap2Art

Yesterday, I had a wonderful conversation with a nice couple who had some questions about our church, our beliefs and what I teach on various subjects. It was a pleasure to visit with them, to get to know them and to see how much we were in agreement. However, no matter how much we agreed, I warned them “Eventually, I am going to teach something that you will disagree with. It is inevitable and will happen. It is important how we handle that.”

Every church and every pastor faces such disagreements at one time or another. Of course, with many individual believers this problem never occurs because many Christians view church mostly from the aesthetic. The average Christian knows what they like and pick a church based on that. For some it’s a charismatic pastor, an exciting mixture of programs, or an energetic worship band.

Then there are Christians who find the teaching most important. These folks want to know what a church teaches, what a pastor believes. These are often the folks with the most to offer a church because they take the Word of God seriously enough to take time to study it. Conversations with such believers are usually the most constructive and, for me, the most enjoyable.

My thoughts this morning turned to my statement quoted above. It is true and inevitable that there will someday be disagreement between the one preaching/teaching the Word and the one hearing. This is actually a central tenet of teaching. If we both (teacher and student) agree on everything, then no actual teaching happens—at most you have reinforcement. Biblical teaching implies that the teacher holds a biblical view which he seeks to impart to another. This assumes disagreement—assuming the student lacks that view. The teacher must demonstrate why the listener should agree.

It’s less important in this setting that we start out agreeing on every point. It is most important that we start out agreeing to tolerate the difference and allow the person teaching to prove their point. Of course, it is then upon the teacher to do so. But the student should be able to look beyond the disagreement and fairly assess the teaching. If you hear your pastor say something you disagree with, and you shut down refusing to hear why he believes that, then you are not being a good disciple, but are being obstinate. If the pastor says, ‘This is what I believe and you must concur regardless of how weak my argument” then the pastor is a tyrant with more interest in indoctrination than teaching.

Does your pastor live a godly life? Does your pastor demonstrate the truth of the gospel and work hard to teach the Word honestly and correctly? Then give him the benefit of the doubt, listen to his teaching and then examine it in the light of the Word. The solution to differences is not division, but an examination of the Scriptures to find the truth.

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Sailing into Deeper Truth

shipHebrews 6:1 (LEB) says:

“Therefore, leaving behind the elementary message about Christ, let us move on to maturity…”

The second part of this “let us move on to maturity” draws a mental picture. The word used for “let us move on” is the Greek word φερώμεθα. Unfortunately, in the English translations we lose a great deal from this word.

First of all, the word is actually passive. This means we do not move on to maturity; we are carried on to maturity. The action is done to us. Someone else moves us to maturity. Stanley Porter translates it as “let us be brought to maturity” (Idioms of the Greek New Testament: 2nd Ed.). This is an important distinction to understand. I cannot mature myself. Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit must mature me—must bring me to maturity. However, I do have a part in this. I must leave off the elementary teachings. We don’t become more mature without going deeper into the Word, seeking deeper knowledge. Rather than studying the same things over and over we must move into other questions, issues and problems seeking answers in the Scripture. This doesn’t mean rejecting the earlier elementary teachings. This means seeing them as the foundation upon which greater knowledge is built. Nothing gets built if the foundation gets laid again and again. Eventually we have to leave the foundation as is and start building upwards. In the same way, there comes a time when we no longer spend a great deal of time in the elementary teachings of the Word and begin digging deeper for more knowledge; for greater understanding. John Chrysostom complained in Homily IX, that those who should be teachers are handicapped in their learning because they keep hearing the same messages and teachings over and over:

“[…] but ever hearing the same things, and on the same subjects, you are in the same condition as if you heard no one. And if any man should question you, no one will be able to answer, except a very few who may soon be counted” (Schaff, Early Church Fathers).

We must learn the basics and lay a good foundation. But once the foundation is laid we must go deeper into the Word, and rely on the Holy Spirit to move us to maturity, which brings up the second part of this passage and a beautiful word picture.

The Greek word φερώμεθα gives the image of something moved along by natural (or even spiritual) causes. Among other things, this is the movement of a ship being pushed by the wind against its sails. As you move away from the more elementary teachings of the faith, going deeper into the Word think of the Word as your sails. The Holy Spirit uses what you find in the Word to move you to maturity. You move out into deeper and deeper waters, learning more and more. The Holy Spirit acting through the Word carries you forward.

I love that the author, who here brought in imagery of a sail beinganchor pushed by the wind, later (in 6:19) describes the hope we have as an anchor for our lives keeping us firm and secure. As we go deeper into the Word and become more and more mature, we are used by God in different locations and settings. Some of these will be stormy and dangerous. Some experiences will be deceptive. However, we are always kept safe and secure by the anchor of our hope in Christ.

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Courage to face the Word of God

courageCourage is an important virtue for the Christian. Courage to speak the Word is important. Many will attack you for your faith and it can take courage to share the truth. However, it’s not this courage I want to address. This courage is important. It is also something you often hear about.

The courage I want to address is courage in the face of the Word itself. The Word is probing. It can take a certain courage to look honestly at the Word when it convicts or condemns us for an action—especially a favorite sin, or besetting addiction. While we must have courage to face what the Word tells us about ourselves, this too is not exactly what I want to address.

The area of courage that I want to address is the courage to take what the Word tells us at face value and to actually accept it, even we would rather it say something else. The church is full of teachings that have nothing to do with the Word. Some speak in the areas of silence—where the scripture says nothing. These are fine. However, some actually contradict the very Word itself. This happens for various reasons—cherry picking, lack of context, misunderstanding about basic argument or the rules of hermeneutics, etc. However, when we discover that something is wrong, even if taught by a beloved teacher, then it must be jettisoned. Contradictions of the Word must not be tolerated, even from those we hold dear.

Many of us hear biblical truths taught that contradict these beloved teachers and we are wrongly tempted to reject the newly learned truth to protect the relationship with the teacher. This is especially hard when the teacher is a parent or a relative. I don’t have to cut off relationship with friends because they disagree with me on scripture. Neither do I have to end or repudiate a relationship with a beloved teacher because I discover that teacher erred on some detail. We must prefer the truth to the relationship, so if it is “accept the lie or lose the relationship,” then we courageously choose the truth.

This brings me to the other side to that coin of courage. We as teachers (and parents) should be able to celebrate when our people (and children) discover truths that we missed. If they are wrong, then stick to your guns, but have the courage to disagree while holding to the relationship. However, if they are right and show us from the Word that we too are in error, then we leaders should have the courage to accept that. One reason this is so hard, is the fear that such an admission will undermine our authority to speak. It should do no such thing. A quickness to accept correction and change with newly learned details will actually give you greater respect among those you lead. Holding to falsehood because of pride will undermine any respect your people may have for you.

Look into the Word of God with courage—courage to hear it; courage to bear what it says; courage to be changed by it; courage to stand upon it; courage to stand for it.

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