Monday, August 22, 2016

Cultivating the Presence of God

I’m working with a group through L. Michael Morales’ excellent Who Shall Ascent theMountain of the Lord? on Tuesday mornings. As I’ve been preparing for tomorrow morning and making some notes, I wanted to take a point of his further so that we can make a very practical application from this rich biblical theology.

On pg. 100, Morales reminds us that “another parallel” between Eden and the tabernacle “is in the terms used to describe the work of the priests within the tabernacle complex and that of Adam within the garden of Eden, ‘to worship and guard/obey’” (pg. 100).

Let's look at those parallels.

Adam in the garden: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate [עָבַד] it and keep it [שָׁמַר] (Genesis 2:15).[1]

The Levites in the tabernacle:
·         They shall perform [שָׁמַר] the duties for him and for the whole congregation before the tent of meeting, to do [עָבַד] the service of the tabernacle. They shall also keep [שָׁמַר] all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, along with the duties of the sons of Israel, to do [עָבַד] the service of the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:7,8)
·         “…you and your sons with you shall attend [שָׁמַר] to your priesthood for everything concerning the altar and inside the veil, and you are to perform [עָבַד] service. I am giving you the priesthood as a bestowed service…” (Numbers 18:7).

Here’s the further point I want to make: these same verbs are used together in describing how God’s people, “a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:5,9; Revelation 1:6; 5:10; 20:6), could maintain fellowship with God (as in the garden and tabernacle, but on a daily, personal level):
·         “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep [שָׁמַר] His commandments, listen to His voice, serve [עָבַד] Him, and cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:4).
·         “Only be very careful [שָׁמַר] to observe the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God and walk in all His ways and keep [שָׁמַר] His commandments and hold fast to Him and serve [עָבַד] Him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Joshua 22:5).

Just as Adam maintained the place of fellowship with God (the garden) and the Levites maintained the place of fellowship with God (the tabernacle), the old and new covenant people of God, as “a kingdom of priests,” maintain fellowship with God through an obedience-producing faith.

Now, with this in mind, hear afresh Jesus’ words the last night before His death as He walked with the disciples between the upper room and the garden of Gethsemane: Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words [Christ’s words are His presence] abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love(John 15:4-10).

We cultivate the garden/tent of our fellowship with God in Christ when we lovingly work out our faith by bringing His words into us (hearing, reading, meditation, memorization) and by taking ourselves into His words (obeying them in our thoughts, affections, and actions).

[1] I haven’t given these Hebrew words as they appear in the text, but in their root forms so you can see the similarities.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sing to the King

“For the choir director. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, in Your strength the King will be glad,
And in Your salvation how greatly He will rejoice!
You have given Him His heart’s desire,
And You have not withheld the request of His lips. Selah.

For You meet Him with the blessings of good things;
You set a crown of fine gold on His head.
He asked life of You,
You gave it to Him,
Length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through Your salvation,
Splendor and majesty You place upon Him.
For You make Him most blessed forever;
You make Him joyful with gladness in Your presence.
For the King trusts in the Lord,
And through the lovingkindness of the Most High He will not be shaken.
Your hand will find out all Your enemies;
Your right hand will find out those who hate You.
You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of Your anger;
The Lord will swallow them up in His wrath,
And fire will devour them.
Their offspring You will destroy from the earth,
And their descendants from among the sons of men.
Though they intended evil against You
And devised a plot,
They will not succeed
[Psalm 2:1-3; Revelation 16:13-16].
For You will make them turn their back;
You will aim with Your bowstrings at their faces.
Be exalted, O Lord, in Your strength;
We will sing and praise Your power”
(Psalm 21).

This is a song of Jesus, Who is the Christ, God’s “Anointed,” His “installed King upon Zion,” (Psalm 2:2,6), His Son.

When the Lamb breaks the first of the seven seals, we see “a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer” (Revelation 6:2). Some commentators will say this is “antichrist” (a word which does not occur in Revelation, and does not occur in this context in Matthew 24:24//Mark 13:22; 1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 7), but there is no indication that this figure is “in place of” (the Greek prefix/preposition “anti,” ἀντί, means “in the place of,” not “opposite” or “against”) the Lamb. I have considered the possibility for some time that these horsemen represent the Lamb Himself, being different pictures of His work in the judgment. After all, it is “the Revelation [singular] of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 1:1). He is clearly identified in the only other “white horse” vision of the book: “And I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and He Who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire, and on His head are many diadems; and He has a name written on Him which no one knows except Himself. He is clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses. From His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty. And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’” (Revelation 19:11-16).

He is the bowman King of Habakkuk 3:9a, Psalm 21:12, and Revelation 6:2, and we should rejoice in His reign, which is a march toward the conquering of all His enemies.[1] “He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25,26).

David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saw the Seed that fulfilled God’s covenant with him (1 Chronicles 17:11,12; Psalm 89:4,20-29,36; 132:11; Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 33:17,21,26; Ezekiel 37:24,25; Luke 1:32,33). David’s name is invoked on the first (Matthew 1:1,6,17) and last (Revelation 22:16) pages of the New Testament, and near the beginning (Romans 1:3) and end of Paul’s ministry (2 Timothy 2:8). His Son “according to the flesh,” Jesus Christ, is the King we need, the King the nations fear, the King the spiritually confused seek among men, and the King Who reigns over all things now and forever.

Our response to this Psalm must be to join in its song, lifting up our voices as the Church to “sing and praise” His “power.” He is the King. Our response to this Psalm must be obedience to Him in all He has commanded, and a passion to teach others to obey Him (Matthew 28:18-20) in love for Him (Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 5:10; 7:9; 11:1,22; 30:16; Joshua 22:5; Nehemiah 1:5; Psalm 119:167; Daniel 9:4; John 14:15,21,23,24; 15:10; 1 John 5:3).[2] He is the King. Our response to this Psalm should be a peaceful rest to those who sing it by faith, for no one will oppose this King when the time comes.

He is the King. His greatest act was not the pulling of the bowstring, but the saving of the elect from among His enemies – us. The sin that condemns eternally is defined by His Law (1 John 3:4). “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” and “much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10). Lawless enemies have been reconciled to God, made right before Him by the righteousness of Another, and are now adoring citizens of His eternal Kingdom. He has gifted us in this world to grow in our faith-union with Him, using the metaphor of a conquering King absolutely unlike those of this world, giving instead of taking (Ephesians 4:7-11 quotes Psalm 68:18). Gather as the Church, marveling in this King and what He’s doing in your midst. Such amazing grace!

He is the King, and this is His Song.

[1] “To all those for whom Christ hath obtained eternal redemption, He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them; uniting them to Himself by His Spirit, revealing unto them, in and by His Word, the mystery of salvation, persuading them to believe and obey, governing their hearts by His Word and Spirit, and overcoming all their enemies by His almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to His wonderful and unsearchable dispensation; and all of free and absolute grace, without any condition foreseen in them to procure it” (1689 Baptist Confession, 8.8).
[2] Worship in Him in this truth. Read this post out loud. Take time to look up every passage and read it aloud, too. Give voice to His written Word as part of Your adoration of the King.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Late Wake-Up to Whole Sanctification

Last week I had opportunity to be in Portland, Oregon, for the CanvasConference there. It was a wonderful event, the best kind – the last sort of thing I’d have chosen myself, but divine Providence worked beautifully through others to get me there. The final message was from the event organizer, Thomas Terry, who spoke on the topic, “Practical Design: A Call for Creative Orthodoxy/Orthodox Creativity.” He testified to coming to Christ and experiencing a shift in his life from heart-creativity to an exclusively mind-oriented doctrine. The verse he had been so passionate about writing prior to conversion dried up as he learned truth. We are created, and certainly re-created, to be whole, though. These aren’t his words, but we are to love our God with both “mind” and “heart” (Matthew 22:37//Mark 12:30//Luke 10:27). Some of us have been so turned off by the unfettered excess of “heart” people who seem to shun loving with the “mind” that we’ve become heartless in so much of our loving of the Lord. For Thomas Terry, this meant losing an important part of himself instead of redeeming that part for the glory of Christ. He rediscovered and redeemed this left-behind aspect of creativity from the heart while embracing a passionate mind-love of God’s truth. This was a message I needed.

I used to write poetry. I’m not claiming to have been any good at it. I won $100 once at university for a poem submitted on a whim. I loved reading it, constantly wrote it. Then I felt God’s call to ministry. It was a powerful call, a good call, a call that is my very being and identity in Christ for His glory and my joy. But I never wrote another poem again after the moment of that call. Thomas Terry’s talk has not so much awakened a question like “maybe?” or “what if?” as much as just leaving a curious “?” in me. Maybe, I thought as he concluded his message, I should try again. Scary, for some reason. Rusty old heart-strings of creativity moving again in verse. Why not?

Piper writes poetry. Seems like good exercise for a pastor-teacher to cross-train his wordsmithing-workout by stretching language in different ways. I have a friend who’s spent years versifying Scripture. I’ve enjoyed his rhythm-rhyme worship. Sometimes I pull the George Herbert volume off the shelves for a secret moment. R.W. Hampton's The Last Cowboy: His Journey ( 1999 Cimarron Sounds) is one of my favorite albums ever. I enjoy Tolkien's poetry ("Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West, for your King shall come again, and he shall dwell among you all the days of your life"), Peterson's troll poetry ("Oog, wacklesnodspadgenoggy"), Kline's biblical theology that plays with language like a poet, and the redeemed hip-hop that has become the main musical style of my listening.

Maybe it's time for the poet to join the rest of me in this journey of sanctification.

This is a blog. A place for the inner to become carefully, tentatively outer. It’s not like poetry night at the coffee house where no snapping fingers could scare the would-be poet back into decades-long retirement. Here we go.

And so, the first poem I’ve tried to write in over twenty years: a meditation on Numbers 11, Joel 2, Acts 2, and my pastoral longing for God’s people to live up to what the Spirit has promised to do through them.


In the desert
Gray-heads a wind tunnel
For the voice of the Spirit
Instead of the people’s complaints
Grace of a merciful Deliverer
Seventy the mouth of One
Word of heaven
In the desert

In the camp
Unexpected gust
For the voice of the Spirit
Works His grace where He will
Shadow of future fullness
Two the mouth of One
Word of heaven
In the camp

In the heart
Jealous to wall the Spirit-voice
But the servant of the house
Longs for a distant grace
All the mouth of One
Word of heaven
In the heart

In the swarm
Ground and hearts barren
Consuming clouds answer idolatry
But the wind promises tomorrow-harvest
Vats overflow, hearts pour prophecy
All the mouth of One
Word of heaven
In the swarm

In that day
Servant-desire come
Locust-eclipse dawned
Gracious Deliverer, subject of song
Wind unstoppable consuming earth
All the mouth of One
Word of heaven
In that day

In this prayer
Servant straining ear
Listening for the Voice
“Make them Your hurricane” plea
Sound heard, breath felt, still moved
All the mouth of One
Word of heaven
In this prayer

Hmm...we'll get there. Waking up is the only thing that never gets easier with practice, I've heard.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Serving the Word

One of our congregation’s greatest gifts and treasures is our most senior deacon, and African-American brother in his eighties who describes himself as a “preaching deacon.” Before I came ten years ago, he filled the pulpit with the Word of God and kept the congregation spiritually fed and alive by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are all indebted to him, and honor him as one with “a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 3:13). I have been blessed to know deacons who were faithful Sunday School teachers to both children and adults, men I respected not because of their ability to manage the “business” of the Church, but because they were servant-leaders in the Word. There are several passages in the Bible that I cannot read to this day without remembering a phone call from a deacon asking me for input on interpreting or applying a specific verse. We are a few weeks away from ordaining two men to our congregation's diaconate, and I am deeply thankful for their willingness to preach and teach the Word when asked.

While I know some who are not convinced, it has been generally accepted that the Seven of Acts 6 were either the first to hold the office “deacon,” or were predecessors to the office. “Now at this time while the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic Jews against the native Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving [τῇ διακονίᾳ] of food. So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, ‘It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve [διακονεῖν] tables. Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry [τῇ διακονίᾳ] of the word.’ The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:1-7). Beyond this narrative, we have very little to tell us what those who hold the office of deacon (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13) did. What we do know is that the Seven of Acts 6 didn’t stick to serving tables. Stephen preaches in Acts 7 and becomes the first martyr of the new covenant people. Philip, the second of the Seven named, becomes a prominent “missionary” (a word not used in the N.T.) in Acts 8.[1] These servant-leaders, “men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom,” met the physical needs of those in the congregation who needed assistance, but were also instrumental in the “spreading” of “the word of God.”

[The ascended Christ] gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service [ἔργον διακονίας] (Ephesians 4:11,12). Christ gives pastor-teachers to His Church so that, by their efforts, all members of the congregation may become servants/ministers/deacons.[2] Those who hold the office of deacon serve as exemplars of what all the membership should work to be.

E. Earle Ellis (1926-2010) argues that “the diakonoi appear to be a special class of co-workers, those who are active in preaching and teaching.”[3] He gives plenty of examples of διάκονος being used in conjunction with the proclamation/exclamation of God’s Word:
·         “According to Eph 3,7f. Paul was made a diakonos according to the gift of grace, i.e. the grace to ‘preach the gospel to the Gentiles…similarly, Col 1,23.”[4]
·         “In contrast to their opponents in Corinth Paul and his companions, diakonoi of the new covenant, did not ‘peddle’ or ‘falsify’ the word of God (2Cor 2,17; 4,2) but rather accepted pay (ὀψώνιον) from other churches ‘for diakonia to you’, i.e. to preach the gospel to them (2Cor 11,8,7).”[5]
·         “In contrast to false ‘teachers,’ Timothy is to endure suffering, do the work (ἔργον) of an evangelist and (thus) fulfill his diakonia (2Tim 4,3ff.); here the term appears to include preaching and teaching (διδαχή, 4,2) generally.”[6]
·         “The congregational diakonoi are not to be ‘double-talkers’ (διλόγους) and are to hold to the ‘mystery of the faith’ with a clear conscience (1 Tim 3,8f; cf. Polyc 5,2) – the latter almost certainly refers to a teaching function.”[7]
·         “The close association with diakonos = teacher of the word of God may be inferred from 2Cor 3,6; 4,1,2,5…”[8]

The day is coming, and I believe now is, that the Church needs fewer administrating “boards” and more servant-leaders speaking the Word of God while they organize the congregation to meet the physical needs of those with needs in the membership. The pastor-teachers instruct in the Word, the deacons serve as exemplars of speaking and living the Word, and all the congregation speak the Word as they live in obedience to it in the world. After giving the qualifications for the offices of overseer and deacon, Paul explains that he wrote this “so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). The offices are inseparably linked to the purpose of the Church (its membership), which is to be the foundation on which the Word is made visible to the world for the glory and Kingdom of God.

[1] This is not the Philip who was one of the Twelve (Matthew 10:3//Mark 3:18//Luke 6:14; John 1:43-48; 6:5,7; 12:21,22; 14:8,9), since the “apostles” did not scatter with Saul’s persecution (Acts 8:1).
[2] I’m not arguing for the undoing of the office of “pastor-teacher,” or that all should become teachers (James 3). Teaching and proclaiming the Word you’ve been taught are not necessarily the same. All believers should speak the truth of the Word, and Christ gives His Church pastor-teachers to prepare them for that life of speaking.
[3] Prophecy & Hermeneutic in Early Christianity (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2003), 9.
[4] Ibid., 9.29.
[5] Ibid., 8.
[6] Ibid., 9n29.
[7] Ibid., 9n31.
[8] Ibid., 11n38.