Friday, April 22, 2016


“As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.”
Walden; or, Life in the Woods, by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

I saw this title on our electronic reader (or whatever they’re called). It had been since grade school since the last time I read it, so I opened it and remembered. I’m sure I thought it deep once, but it was only this quote that grabbed my attention this time. Sadly, Thoreau didn’t spend enough time thinking about eternity.

“I have seen the task which God has given the sons of men with which to occupy themselves. He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good in one’s lifetime; moreover, that every man who eats and drinks sees good in all his labor - it is the gift of God.  I know that everything God does will remain forever; there is nothing to add to it and there is nothing to take from it, for God has so worked that men should fear Him” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-14). I got to speak at a Christmastime memorial service at a children’s hospital once, and spoke from 3:11. God “has also set eternity in their heart.” Our longing beyond our capability to grasp or even comprehend. A desire made even more bittersweet and acute when we are forced to sense just how brief time is. How could we ever purposefully aim to “kill time,” as the saying goes?

Where is the only peace in this often confounding tension between time and eternity? God’s got eternity in His grasp. For us. In Christ.

He was for us before time in Christ in eternity past: “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, Who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher” (2 Timothy 1:8-11).

He will be for us in Christ after time into eternity future: “…according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:13-18).

But what about now? What about Thoreau’s warning?

I’m mindful of this paradox: with eternity on either side extending forever, all of this thin slice which is time itself is so infinitely small that I don’t see logically how it can exist. But it obviously does (which is why I am no philosopher). I’m not the only one to think on this. Paul speaks of time’s smallness compared with eternity: “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). I’m tempted to quote the whole chapter. In it the apostle and cohorts (Timothy, and perhaps others – 1:1) speak of having “this mercy” and “not [losing] heart” (4:1) despite the opposition of false teachers (4:2) and “the god of this world” himself, who through the false teachers blinds “the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God” (4:3,4). Ah, but the Gospel. It is what Paul teaches, what motivates him to be a “bond-servant” to the Church (both current members and the lost who will be brought into it through the preaching of the Gospel). It is for this that he is willing to be “afflicted…perplexed…persecuted…struck down…always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus” (4:8-10). “Death works in us” (4:12), he says. What’s Paul’s goal in this sliver of time? He tells the association of churches in Achaia that “all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (4:15). This is the goal. God’s glory. It’s worth making the most of this infinitely brief moment.

Westminster Shorter Catechism Q1. What is the chief end of man? A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

Forever. And ever. And ever.

I’ll end as I began – with a quote from a classic (this time from a work I love and from a writer who has always moved me deeply).

“Do I dare 
Disturb the universe? 
In a minute there is time 
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse. 
For I have known them all already, known them all: 
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, 
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons…”
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

Over this momentary cup of coffee, it’s time to begin this day, not to “kill time” (for eternity approaches faster than light) so as to make for an injurious eternity, but for thanks and glory to the One Who holds it all in His hand as if it were as brief as the blink of an eye.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Wives of Preachers, Be the Prophetess

Early in our marriage, my bride asked me what the most important thing she could do to help me in ministry. I appreciated this question, for I am one who is in constant need of help. Further, I believe that – in a Christian marriage – the wife is a means of God’s grace to a husband (Proverbs 18:22). God knows I need a lot of grace. I told her that she needed to be a woman of the Word, and that I felt such people would become fewer and fewer in days to come. She was already devoted to her Bible (this was how she was raised), so this wasn’t a request for anything to change. It was an encouragement to keep walking on the same path.

The Puritan Richard Baxter (1615-1691), in the memoir for his late wife Margaret (1631-1681), speaks of her passion for the ministry of the Word of God - even when it came with great cost: "When warrants were out (from Sir Thomas Davies) to distrain [i.e., confiscate and sell] my goods for fines for my preaching, she did without any repining encourage me to undergo loss and did herself take the trouble of removing and hiding my library awhile (many scores of books being so lost), and after she encouraged me to give it away, bona fide, some to New England, and the most at home to avoid distraining on them. And the danger of imprisonment and of paying a fine of £40 for every sermon was so far from inclining her to hinder or discourage me from any one sermon, that if she did but think I had the least fear, or self-saving by fleshly wisdom, in shrinking from my undertaken office work, it was so great a trouble to her that she could not hide it (who could too much hide many others). She was exceeding impatient with any Nonconformist minister that shrank for fear of suffering or that were overquerulous and concerned about their wants or dangers, and would have no man be minister that had not so much self-denial as to lay down all at the feet of Christ and count no cost or suffering too dear to serve Him. She greatly hated choosing or using the sacred ministry for wealth, ease, or honor, or any worldly end serving the flesh under the name of serving Christ, and looking to be reverenced and honored in this taking of God's name in vain" (A Grief Sanctified, pg. 101).

I have heard personal property rights described as the foundation of the U.S.A.'s law and economy. In so many camps of American Christianity, the "American" and "Christianity" are so melded that it is difficult to discern the difference. Would we choose the Word over personal property, as Margaret Baxter did? The early Christians "accepted joyfully the seizure of [their] property, knowing that [they had] for [themselves] a better possession and a lasting one" (Hebrews 10:34). There's a testimony that demands attention. "Joyfully." Why? Because the hope of heaven was exponentially greater than any loss experienced here.

As I've been thinking about Mrs. Baxter's courage for the ministry of the Word, the words of a hymn we sang last Lord's Day have repeatedly echoed as a prayer in my mind: "O, for grace to trust Him more" (words by Louisa Stead, 1882, after seeing her husband drown trying to rescue a boy).


As I've shared before, one of my favorite chapters in the Old Testament is Isaiah 8. The great prophet ministers the Word in a dark, dark day in Judah's history. He, his wife (the "prophetess," 8:3), his children, and his disciples take a stand on that Word: "Bind up the testimony, seal the Law among my disciples. And I will wait for the LORD Who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; I will even look eagerly for Him. Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, Who dwells on Mount the Law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this Word, it is because they have no dawn" (8:16-18,20). What do we know about Mrs. "Prophetess" Isaiah? Well, her title points to a Spirit-empowered ministry of speaking the Word (this is my definition of “prophecy”).[1] She is willing to let her children be named "Maher-shalal-hash-baz" (8:3) and "Shear-jashub" (7:3) just because it made for great sermon illustrations for her husband. That says a lot by itself. While she is not mentioned in the latter part of chapter 8, we can assume she is part of the family and disciples standing with Isaiah for the Word against a world which denied it.

I am thankful the Lord has given me a Mrs. Baxter and Mrs. “Prophetess” Isaiah in my bride. She has been a means of grace used of God to strengthen me for the task more times than I can say. Her valuing of the Word above all comforts me; I do not stand alone. Ever.

Preacher's wives, whatever you think of the life, keep your heart on the Word that is this life's fruit. Regularly remind yourself of that which is of actual worth, and let that transcendent treasure become your treasure.

“A voice says, ‘Call out.’
Then he answered, ‘What shall I call out?’
All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
When the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the Word of our God stands forever.
Get yourself up on a high mountain,
O Zion, bearer of good news,
Lift up your voice mightily,
O Jerusalem, bearer of good news;
Lift it up, do not fear.
Say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
Behold, the Lord God will come with might,
With His arm ruling for Him.
Behold, His reward is with Him
And His recompense before Him.
Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?
Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket,
And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales;
Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust”
(Isaiah 40:6-15).

The message beginning the “Comfort” section of Isaiah doesn’t much sound like the comforting words proclaimed and written today. It begins with a message reminding us of our temporary mortality. We are a moment before the breath of the Lord withers us. What is the true forever we desire to reach in our youth-imitative measures? The “Word of the Lord.” That’s the true forever. It gives us the “good news” of the Presence of God we are to announce to the people of God. It is the doorway to knowing God as righteous Judge and Vindicator (we all desire for things to be made right), the way into His loving arms as a Shepherd, and the eye-opening vision of Him as Creator of this massive universe. Experience of God comes through the proclamation of the ever-enduring Word. Be about this, my sisters. You do not carry the title “pastor,” and you may not stand behind the pulpit, but your life is the greatest it can be when it is rich with the Word in your evaluation, discernment, speech, relationships, priorities, passions, etc. Be the prophetess – that sister who is Spirit-reliant and Word-centered without compromise. Your husband the pastor needs it more than you know. Your sisters in Christ need it. The Church needs it.

Be the prophetess.
"Miriam the Prophetess," by Chava Devorkin

[1] And she is far from the only one in the Bible: Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14; Joel 2:28,29; 2 Chronicles 34:22; Nehemiah 6:14; Luke 2:36; Acts 2:17,18; 21:9; 1 Corinthians 11:5. Of course, there are false prophetesses just as there are false prophets (Revelation 2:20). A claim to the gift is not a confirmation of the gift (in fact, I have found that folks who claim to have this gift are the ones who absolutely do not have this gift).

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Glorious House

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord of hosts. ‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the Lord of hosts. ‘The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the Lord of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the Lord of hosts” (Haggai 2:6-9).

I had the joy of speaking during the last session of a women’s conference at our church yesterday morning. We looked at the great contrast between Solomon’s Temple, destroyed in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians, and the second Temple, completed in 515 B.C. At the dedication of its foundation, the weeping of the folks who remembered the splendor of the first Temple blended with the joyful shouts of the young folks, who were excited to be rebuilding the Temple, even if it were much smaller (Ezra 3:10-13). The LORD, aware of the temptation to discouragement, asks, “who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison” (Haggai 2:3). He spoke the thoughts of many of them, no doubt. He then gives them a triple “take courage…take courage…take courage” (2:4), reminding them of the promise of His presence rooted in the Exodus itself (2:5). He ends the sermon with a foreshadowing of a greater glory.

That glory is the global Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. I didn’t have time to trace this out in yesterday’s sermon (I was focusing on taking courage for God’s glory), but Haggai’s prophecy here fits into a cover-to-cover theme in the Bible. The “wealth of the nations” will be brought into God’s “house,” and He will fill it with a glory that will make Solomon’s Temple look like nothing. And there, He promises, He “will give peace.”

Let’s go back.

Noah, after the Flood and after his being sinned against by “Ham, the father of Canaan” (Genesis 9:20-24), gives this prophecy:
“Blessed be the LORD,
The God of Shem
[father of the Semites, the Jews];
And let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth [the father of the nations],
And let him dwell in the tents of Shem;
And let Canaan be his servant”
(Genesis 9:26,27).

The LORD is blessed. His old covenant relationship with the children of Shem (and Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) is foretold (“the LORD, the God of Shem”). Here’s the awesome part: God’s plan to bring the Gentiles into the new covenant is also foretold! God will cause the nations to grow, and will bring them into the “tents” of His covenant people. This is the new covenant, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s the glory described in Ephesians 2:11-22. As Peter the apostle (a Jew) said at the first Church Council in Antioch, “God…made no distinction between us [Jewish believers in Christ] and them [Gentile believers in Christ], cleansing their hearts by faith…we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are” (Acts 15:9,11).

The nations are brought into the house of God.

Eleven generations after Noah, Abraham shows the depth of his faith and almost sacrifices his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. After God provides “for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering” (22:8), another Gospel promise is made by the LORD to Abraham: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). The nations will find their blessing “in [Abraham’s] seed.” The apostle Paul will tell us this “seed” (singular) is Christ (Galatians 3:16) – Jesus, Jewish descendant of Shem and Abraham. In Shem’s descendant the descendants of Japheth will be blessed.

That two examples of the beginning of the Book. Let’s go the end of the Book.

“I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:22-27).

What is brought into the city? The “glory” of “the kings of the earth” (21:24). This is paralleled with “the glory and honor of the nations” in 21:26, but it is not until 21:27 that we get a third parallel that makes clear what this “glory and honor” is. Just as “glory” is brought “into it” (21:24) and “the glory and honor” is brought “into it” (21:26), “those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” come “into it” (21:27). The “glory and honor of the nations” are the saved from out of the nations, “whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

God has brought the wealth, the glory, the honor of the nations into His house, making it glorious. We know that the “house of God” in the New Testament is the Church, the people of God in Christ (1 Corinthians 3:9-17; 6:19,20; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; Hebrews 3:6; 1 Peter 2:4,5). Seeing all of this, then, we know that God’s house is global – all believers in Christ throughout the nations. He dwells with them through His Holy Spirit. While Solomon’s Temple was on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the new covenant House of God covers the planet. It is greater than the kingdoms of this world – God’s shaking of “the heavens and earth” is an overthrowing of kingdoms and their powers during His gathering to “fill this house with glory” (Haggai 2:21,22). Solomon’s Temple was visited by those faithful old covenant Jews who obeyed the pilgrimage feasts, but the new covenant House of God is filled with Jews who believe in Christ and those “from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9).

“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the LORD will rise upon you.
Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lift up your eyes round about and see;
They all gather together, they come to you.
Your sons will come from afar,
And your daughters will be carried in their arms.
Then you will see and be radiant,
And your heart will thrill and rejoice;
Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you,
The wealth of the nations will come to you…
…and I shall glorify My glorious house” (Isaiah 60:1-5,7).

She is beautiful. Rejoice!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Seeing Christ in the Spirit

I preached from Job on Resurrection Day. He makes a gutsy statement of faith while walking through the valley of the shadow of death: "Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; Whom I myself shall behold, and Whom my eyes will see and not another" (Job 19:26,27).

Moses' request is equally surprising: "I pray You, show me Your glory!" (Exodus 33:18).

Then there's Philip. The Greeks had come to him, requesting audience with Jesus: "Sir, we wish to see Jesus" (John 12:21) . Not long after this, he asks Jesus to see the Father (14:8). Jesus responds, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (14:9).

The Bible teaches that God (the Father) is invisible (Deuteronomy 4:15; John 1:18; Romans 1:20; Colossians 1:15; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 11:27; 1 John 4:12). He is Spirit, and has not a body like men (Catechism for Young Children, Q.9). But some of the greatest moments of faith displayed in the Bible have great saints proclaiming either a belief that they will see God or making request to see God. Seeing the invisible God. The Bible has no problem with tensions that drive us apart from each other in intramural battle.

Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). I suspect He is all we will ever see of God the Father. In the Revelation (a very descriptive book), the Father is only described as "the One sitting on the throne" (4:2,9,10; 5:1,7,13; 6:16; 7:10,15; 19:4; 20:11; 21:5). When we look at the Son, we see the Father.

But what about now? The Son has ascended to the right hand of the Father. We cannot see Him. This does not hinder our relationship with Him, of course. "Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory" (1 Peter 1:8).

In my meditation on 1 Peter this week, I've paid attention to how the apostle speaks of the Holy Spirit.

He is "the Spirit of Christ" (1:11). The Son and the Spirit are distinct Persons of the one true God. The angel tells Mary "the Holy Spirit will come upon" her, causing her to conceive "the Son of God" (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit did not become the Son in her womb, but was the power that caused the virgin to conceive. The "Holy Spirit descended upon [Jesus] in bodily form like a dove" (3:22) at His baptism. Jesus teaches His disciples to pray to the "heavenly Father" to ask for "the Holy Spirit" (11:13). The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one God, but three distinct Persons. And yet, despite the distinction, there is such a unity in essence, an inter-penetration (the theological term is perichoresis - an eternal dance of the Three-in-One). The Son and Spirit are distinct Persons of one God, so we can speak of "the Spirit of Christ" without confusing the two Persons or separating them into heterodoxy. Paul proclaims of the risen Christ that "the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit" (1 Corinthians 15:45). The Son and Spirit are distinct, but they are One. In Romans 8:9, the Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of God" and "the Spirit of Christ" (a parallel underlining the fact that "God" and "Christ" are One). In Philippians 1:19, Paul tells the Church he is resting in "the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ." The Spirit in us "intercedes for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26,27) and the Son "Who is at the right hand of God...intercedes for us" (8:34). The Spirit Who is in us is One with the Son Who saves us.

He is "the Holy Spirit" (1:12), and the One Who makes us holy (1:2). Just as the heavenly praise of God focuses on His holiness (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8), Jesus is described throughout early Christian preaching as "the holy One" (Acts 2:27; 3:14; 4:27,30; 13:35). "By [the Father's] doing you are in Christ Jesus, Who became to us...sanctification" (1 Corinthians 1:30). How does the holiness of the Father mediated through the Son come to us? Through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

He is "the Spirit of glory and of God" (4:14). Likewise, the Son "is the radiance of [the Father's] glory" (Hebrews 1:3). When Jesus was present, the apostles (and all the other witnesses) "saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father" (John 1:14). It is the glory of Yahweh, the very glory Isaiah saw (John 12:41; see Isaiah 6:1-5). The divine Spirit Who glory Who fills believers brings the glorious Son, Who is the glory of the Father, to us by His presence. It is in the Person of the Holy Spirit that we are made to "see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4).

" also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (2:5). We need to remember: the adjective "spiritual" should have a capital "S." While you and I have countless friends, co-workers, family members, and neighbors who would describe themselves as "spiritual" with a lower-case "s," the Bible doesn't have this category. If you are truly spiritual, it is because of the presence and work of the Person of the Holy Spirit in your life. A "spiritual house" is a house for the Holy Spirit, not a vaguely spiritual attitude or awareness or leaning. It is Personal (capital "P"). "You are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22). And, as I've pointed out before, we may need to have a more carefully nuanced reading of a passage typically used to teach the stewardship of our personal physical bodies: " you [plural] not know that your [plural] body [singular] is a temple [plural] of the Holy Spirit Who is in you [plural], Whom you [plural] have from God, and that you [plural] are not your [plural] own? For you [plural] have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your [plural] body [singular]" (1 Corinthians 6:19,20). Paul uses "bodies" (plural) in 6:15. I think he's transitioned into a bigger statement here. He is speaking of a different Body at this point, a Body elaborated on further later in the letter (10:16,17; 11:24,27,29; eighteen times in chapter 12!). A "spiritual house" (to bring us back to 1 Peter 2:5) is the collected group of believers fit together, cleansed, and sanctified to be the very place the Presence of God is manifested. It is built and dwelt in by the Holy Spirit, and that alone makes it "spiritual." Peter also speaks of "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." This is a statement of Trinity. "Spiritual sacrifices" are "Holy Spirit-empowered and -originated sacrifices." They are "acceptable to God," Who is identified as "God the Father" in 1:2,3. They are offered through "Jesus Christ," the Son. These are not three separate acts, but a single Mind and Will operating simultaneously as three Persons for His eternal glory and our eternal joy.

The Father, the invisible One Who has given us the saving Son and relationship-sealing Spirit, receives for His glory.
The Son, Who is High Priest and Mediator between us and God (and is the visible image of the invisible God), is the One through Whom we offer ourselves completely.
The Holy Spirit, Who indwells us, holds us in relationship with God, and "fits us for heaven to live with Him there" (to paraphrase "Away in a Manger"), is the One Who works the Word He authored through us by His power and wisdom, so that our actions are "Spiritual sacrifices." He also reveals the Son, Who is the invisible image of the invisible God, to us through the Word He has authored. We see the Father by seeing the Son through the Word illuminated to us by the Holy Spirit.

These days 36 days before Pentecost (a day we should consider as importantly as Easter, if we want to value what the early Church valued in the N.T. - the work of Christ was unto the giving of the Spirit), let us take the time to think carefully through these biblically-revealed truths about the Holy Spirit!
Dust storm on NM-146. Jesus' comparison of the Spirit with wind (John 3:8) is apt. The wind is invisible, but its effects are undeniable.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Prophecy and Evangelism

As I've shared before, the opportunity to hear someone else preach is a joy and special privilege to me. When I go on vacation, I spend a good amount of time researching churches in the area (wherever we'll be) to find a place for my family and me to worship on the Lord's Day. I had the experience recently. We were going to have the opportunity to visit another congregation, and I had one in mind. The pastor, I knew, ran on a similar theological path as myself, and the church was small (those are my two main criteria). We enjoyed our visit. The membership was friendly, the music had meaning (and was not overbearing or overly dramatic), and there was the reading of Scripture during the service outside of the preaching of the sermon. The sermon itself was rooted in the text, which I appreciate. The preacher's outline followed the structure of the Scripture. There was a huge, glaring problem, however: there was no Gospel, no Jesus in the message.
I've been reading 1 Peter 1 this week in my personal devotion, rejoicing in the Trinity's revelation in 1:2, the benediction unto "a living hope" in 1:3, the thickness of glory (1:7,8,11,21,24; 2:12; 4:11,13,14,16; 5:1,4,10,11), the importance of obedience (1:2,14,22), revelation (1:5,7,13), etc. I've thought a lot about the Old Testament (1:10-12a) and the New Testament (1:12b) and the tandem role they play in the Lord's work in causing us to be born again. The Old Testament "prophets...prophesied of the grace that" has come to us. They had revelation from "the Spirit of Christ" concerning "the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow." The Old Testament Prophets were "seeking" greater understanding of these things even as they received revelation of them. For Isaiah through Malachi, knowing the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a hungry obsession that caused them to have an "it's not enough" attitude when the Holy Spirit used them to write that great division of the Old Testament. They wanted the Good News, and they weren't the only ones - this revelation pointed toward "things into which angels long to look." How could you preach from the Prophets without even a hint of this longing?
When I've had opportunity to teach a preaching course, I have advised this discipline: however you construct the sermon (paper or computer), and no matter what your style of writing the outline/manuscript is, start with the cross. Ask yourself, "where is the Gospel in this text, and where will it be in the sermon?" Have Jesus as your ultimate goal. You will study context, history, primary message, etc., but don't forget the Prophet's passion: seeking the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Let his passion, driven by the inspiration of the "Spirit of Christ," be your inspiration.
Peter while preaching to the household of Cornelius in Caesarea, ends his sermon with this statement: "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:43). "All the prophets," the apostle said. All of them. I won't quote all of Luke 24:44-49 to you, but you should read it yourself regularly to be reminded of the focus of the Old Testament. "The Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms," Jesus teaches, gives us the foundation for the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also the promise and commission of a global Gospel proclamation and the filling of the Holy Spirit. All of it, Jesus teaches, is found in the Old Testament. Just as the Prophets inquired from the Spirit of Christ for more of the Gospel, we should inquire of the Old Testament (a book written by the Spirit of Christ) for the Gospel for which they longed.
My thought, as the brother behind the pulpit preached a sermon faithfully anchored to the text (but missing the text's goal), was Jesus' statement, "you search the Scriptures [of the Old Testament] because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me" (John 5:39).
Paul (and everyone else in that first generation of the new covenant) evangelized from "both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets" concerning Jesus (Acts 28:23). Can we do the same?
O beloved, don't ever, ever, ever miss the point of the Book. It's about Him. It's not about Israel, and it's not about the geopolitical events of today, and it's not primarily about me. It's about Jesus. The sacred desk behind which I preach to a small congregation in the afternoon of the Lord's Day has John 12:21 in sticky-backed letters (a few missing) where only the preacher can see it: "Sir, we would see Jesus." We cannot ever grow past this as preachers and teachers. If we are to endeavor to open the Book before the people, then show them Jesus.

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I'm currently reading Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord?: A Biblical Theology of the Book of Leviticus. If I could only keep a small portion of the books in my library, this would be one of them. Morales doesn't just give us great material about Leviticus, but also a helpful vision of the Pentateuch and the whole Bible itself. I highly recommend it. It will enrich your understand of the great Book deeply.