Thursday, April 13, 2017

He First Loved Us

Today is the Thursday before Good Friday, an appropriate day to think about the events of the night of the Lord’s arrest, when Jesus made a number of startling predictions, all of which came true, and all of which demonstrate the depth of the Lord’s commitment to save sinners.  We can read about these things in Matthew 26.

In 26:21, the Lord foretold that one of the twelve, Judas, would betray Him, would hand Him over to the authorities to be crucified.  He was right.  In 26:31, He predicted to the remaining eleven, “You will all fall away because of me this night…”  That is, Jesus predicted that He would be abandoned by those whom He had chosen and discipled.  He was right.

Perhaps the most gut-wrenching and memorable prediction is introduced in 26:33, when Peter responded, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away."

“Lord, I’m different.  I’ll stand by you no matter what.”  Those of us who know what is coming – that Peter will deny the Lord – engage in some Monday Morning Quarterback pity – “poor Peter.  Poor foolish Peter.”  We think that we would be different…which makes us just like Peter.   

Peter thought he would be different than the other disciples who might abandon Jesus.  When we think we would be different than Peter, we are just like Him.  Isn’t that what we think when we read this story?  “If I was one of the disciples, I’d stick beside Jesus.  If I was Peter, I would never deny Him.  I’d stay right there and follow Him all the way to the cross.”

It seldom occurs to us that we abandon Him in various ways now.   We deny Him in various ways now.  We abandon Him for the sake of idols, the world’s pleasure.  We forsake time with Him.  We ignore His Word and fellowship with Him and His church.  We deny Him by the way that we live our lives.  Did you know that that was Paul’s major concern for the professing believers at Crete when he wrote his letter to Titus?  There were people there who claimed to know Christ, but who denied Him by their works (Titus1:16). 

We abandon Him.  We deny Him.  Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves.  He demonstrates this to Peter:

Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same.  (26:34-35) 

“And all the disciples said the same.”  Why do you think Matthew included this detail?  Likely, there are many reasons, but perhaps one is that disciples tend to have a higher opinion of their own faithfulness than they should.  All of them swore they wouldn’t abandon Jesus.  And how many of them were right?

Another reason to mention this is that these details remind us that Jesus knew precisely what was going to happen.  He knew precisely how He would be treated even by those closest to Him…yet it did not deter Him in the least.  Jesus is the only hero in the story.  Everyone else fails.  This casts a long gospel shadow. 

Do you love Jesus?  I’m sure we all do in some way and in some measure, but we all undoubtedly fail Him in many ways.  The beautiful thing about this scene is that the disciples’ love for Jesus or lack thereof had absolutely no bearing on whether or not He would proceed with the Father’s plan.  He was going to die for these men without regard for how they had loved Him or failed Him.  The disciples’ betrayal, abandonment, and denial introduced no hint of hesitation on the part of the Savior. 

It was for these very sins that they needed a Savior.  By their poor treatment of Him, their disregard for Him, their dismissal of Him they demonstrated the depth of their desperate need for Him.  And this Savior is the only Savior who would save such band of unfaithful sinners. 

Jesus doesn’t love us because we first loved Him.  We love because He first loved us.  He loved us when we had nothing to offer Him, when we wanted to offer Him nothing.  What a Savior.


Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Resources for Understanding the Christian and the Law

In the message on Sunday, I mentioned that we wouldn’t be answering every conceivable question regarding Christians and the law.  Again, we did a more substantive series on the law when we studied Matthew 5:17-20.  Those messages can be found here.

I’d like to recommend a few other resources that I’ve found very helpful and easy to read.  The first is a book by Dr. Tom Schreiner, entitled 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law.  With a title like that I’d prefer not to insult you by describing the format.  However, I will give you an idea of the kinds of questions answered. 
·      Does Paul distinguish between the moral, ceremonial, and civil law?
·      Are Christians under the third use of the law?
·      Is perfect obedience to the law mandatory for salvation?
I love this book because it’s thorough, but it’s written in normal English.  It’s also great in that you don’t have to read the whole thing – just find your question and read that answer.  If you found yourself irritated by the brevity of Sunday’s message and the volume of questions left unanswered, this is the book for you.

Another book by Dr. Schreiner dealing specifically with the issue of Paul’s teaching on the law is TheLaw and It’s Fulfillment: A Pauline Theology of Law.  This is a bit more robust and reads somewhat more like a scholarly work.  I would recommend it for theology nerds who are well familiar with the issue, but who want a deeper treatment of Paul specifically, OR for those who have worked through the 40 Questions book and want to keep digging.

A third resource written by Dr. Douglas Moo is “The Law of Christ as The Fulfillment of the Law of Moses.”  It’s great because it’s shorter than a full-length book, but touches on all the major issues.  It’s one article from a larger work entitled, The Law, The Gospel, and the Modern Christian: Five Views.  It isn’t the easiest read, but it’s manageable, it’s online, and it will answer most questions. 

Happy reading!

Thursday, March 30, 2017

More Discipleship Hows and Whys

For those of you who were absent a couple of Sundays ago when we studied Exo 18:13-27, the main application of the message was that we are called to grow spiritually and to be involved in the spiritual growth of others.  A way of doing this is to get together with another believer to read the Scriptures together and talk about it.  In another post, I’ve suggested a method of Bible reading for long-term retention – this method can be used with another believer to facilitate the kind of one-anothering prescribed in Eph 4:12-16. 

I’ve been so encouraged by the number of people who have told me that they have pursued this kind of relationship since that message.  (Some folks were already doing it! Awesome.)  But I’ve gotten some questions since then that I’d like to answer here for the benefit of all.  I’d also like to share a couple of exhortations for the purpose of perpetuating this new movement at Providence.

In the message on Exodus 18:13-27, I shared a series of questions that can be used to generate discussion when reading the Scriptures with another person.  If you are both reading the same portion of Scripture in the manner prescribed in the above mentioned post, these questions may not be necessary, since you will likely have plenty to talk about without them.  But since I mentioned the questions very quickly in that message, some folks did not have the opportunity to write them down, so here they are:

1) What is one thing that you did not understand in the text read?

2) What is one thing that you had never noticed before?

3) What is one thing that you found particularly moving/convicting/helpful?

To these questions I would add a fourth:

4) How does this passage point us to the Lord Jesus?

If we use Hebrews 10:24-25 as a guide for these meetings, we will approach them with a view toward stirring one another up to love and good works.  So along with the above questions about the text, we should give thought to how we can use the passage to encourage our reading partner to (1) greater affection for the Lord and the church and (2) greater striving for holiness.

I also mentioned in the message that ideally we would do this with a couple of people, one believer who is more mature who can challenge us and another believer who is less mature whom we can help along.  I received a good question about this: does this mean having two one-on-one meetings or one meeting of a group of three?  I had in mind two one-on-one meetings, so that you are able to focus on a different purpose for engaging with the two different people.  That being said, it wouldn’t be a violation of any “rule” to do a group of three.  If you have a group of three excited to get together, do it!

There are two kinds of people that may be slow to pursue this kind of relationship.  The first is people who are introverted.  This is a generality, not a universal truth.  Consider that this is really a matter of obedience to the Scriptures.  You don’t have to engage in this exact mechanism of being involved with other believers, but to be a faithful, participating member of the body, you do need to be having meaningful interaction with other believers in some capacity.  Sunday morning worship simply is not conducive to this kind of interaction.  If our only meaningful conversations about the Lord take place during the greeting time and before and after the service, can we really say that we are stirring one another up and encouraging one another as we’re commanded to do?  Are we really speaking the truth in love as we’re told?  Again, these are not commands given to some elite strata of believers.  They are given to all of us, and the body will not grow as it is designed if we are not all functioning properly. 

The other group of people who may be slow to pursue this kind of relationship is men.  Pretty broad, huh?  Again, a generality, not a universal truth.  The typical reason we give for not doing it is that we’re “too busy.”  This is somewhat comical to me given that a large number of our members already engaging in these kinds of relationships are mothers of small children.  I’ve never been a mother of small children, but I’ve been married to one.  I’m betting that all of us “too busy” men are able to carve out a good ten to twenty minutes here and there to at least close the bathroom door and read.  If the typical mother of small children ever experienced ten uninterrupted minutes alone in any room, she would assume her children had died because it never happens.  If these mothers can meet together, so can the men.  We’re not too busy.  We make time for what’s important to us.  And those of us who went through the Men’s Boot Camp in 2015 know better than to try to go it alone. 


There is wave of Christ&Church affection and good works swelling at Providence.  It has everything to do with the fact that people are taking seriously their responsibility to be involved with one another, pointing each other to Jesus.  If you’re not involved in this, jump in.  If you don’t know who to ask, ask one of the elders and we’ll get you connected to someone.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

How quickly should we use the word "heresy"?


While considering the sovereignty of God over salvation last night in our continuing study, Walking in the Excellencies of God, the question arose, “Does the rejection of the doctrine of God’s sovereignty ever cross over into heresy?”
To begin to answer that question, let’s consider a couple of main criteria the church has historically used to decide what errors were so far outside the bounds of Scripture that they constituted heresy.  First, does it affect an essential component of the gospel?  The Protestant Reformation represents one of the most serious of theological hills in that it was largely based upon the struggle for the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.  The Catholic church had adulterated the gospel to the point that it proposed a salvation by works.  When you introduce works as a means unto justification, you have a “different gospel,” as Paul taught in Galatians 1.  
A few years back, there was a broad attack on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement in some of the more liberal pockets of the church.  Even now, Paul Evans, in his Lies We Believe About God, makes a sustained assault on multiple essential components of the gospel, including substitutionary atonement.  A gospel that prescribes a mechanism for salvation other than Christ absorbing God’s wrath in our place is rightly called heresy.  It guts the gospel.

The denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ would also rightly be considered heresy.  Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ was not raised, “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  Do away with the resurrection and you do away with the gospel.  So if a belief removes an essential component of the gospel, it is heresy.  A good diagnostic question could be, “if I hold this particular belief, do I still have the gospel?”  If the answer is “no,” it is heretical. 

Second, does this belief affect the nature of the Godhead?  Most of the theological controversies of the early church surrounded the orthodox understanding of the members of the Trinity.  This is why all of the early creeds are so heavy on the deity of Christ – they fought long and hard to win that theological battle.  We should be willing to stand anytime there is a movement in the church to downgrade a member of the Trinity from our biblical and historically orthodox understanding of them, or to deny the existence of the Trinity in any sense.

So what about the doctrines of grace and unconditional election in particular?  I don’t think that the Arminian view of salvation does harm to any essential component of the gospel.  But the concern is that it does damage to a biblical view of God.  Does Arminian theology affect the nature of the Godhead in such a way that we no longer have biblical Christianity? 

My opinion is that it does not.  With an Arminian view, you still have an orthodox Trinity, and even a sovereign God, although the outworking of that sovereignty is somewhat out of line with the clear teaching of the Bible.  You would be hard pressed to find an Arminian who would disagree with the statement, “God is in control.”  They are going to have an errant understanding of the mechanics and extent of that control, but they still believe that in some sense He is in control and will bring about the fulfillment of all His promises.  

Something to keep in mind is how inflammatory the word "heresy" can be.  I'm all for exposing serious error and calling a spade a spade, but there may be wisdom in engaging in a conversation about why something is a dangerous teaching before pulling out the "heresy" billy club.  We are more likely to be winsome and persuasive if we make our approach in a patient and caring way.  "You're a heretic" tends to shut down communication immediately and lose us a hearing with those who need the truth most.  Additionally, there is nothing that will make us less effective in persuading people of the truth than gaining a reputation as "the boy who cried heresy."  If we label every error "heresy" then we're not going to be taken seriously when it really matters.

I would reserve the word “heresy” for those errors that directly assault the gospel and the nature of the Godhead in such a way that we are no longer left with Christianity.  We may disagree on where that line is.  May the Lord give us wisdom, charity, and grace in our interactions on all such issues. 

I’m happy to continue with this topic.  If you have a follow-up question, you can post it in the comment section or send it to me via email. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

New Podcast - Truth & Circumstances!


PBF is launching a new podcast today called Truth & Circumstances.  Some questions of the Christian life lend themselves to easy answers from the Bible.  Questions like, “should I pray?” or “what is the proper motive for everything I do?” – these questions require little reasoning from the Scriptures.

But other questions are a bit more complicated and require more digging in the Word.  Truth & Circumstances is a podcast dedicated to answering these kinds of questions.  Along the way, we’d like to help train believers to reason from the Scriptures so that they can find guidance for such issues themselves, and ultimately, live in a way that reflects the glory of God.

The first episode has been posted today.  The second will be posted this coming Tuesday, and subsequent episodes will be posted each Tuesday after that.

You can find out more at truthandcircumstances.com.  You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter.  If you have any questions you'd like to hear answered on the podcast, those can be submitted via Twitter, the podcast website, or via email to questions@truthandcircumstances.com.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How do I change? - The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin, Part 5


(Warning: This article should be considered “not safe for children.”)
In this series, we’re working through the issues surrounding the common sexual sin of depriving one’s spouse.  So far, we’ve established that this is indeed a sin.  We’ve also considered why it is so dangerous, and we’ve spent the last couple of articles (here and here) looking at some of the most common questions raised about this issue.  In this article, we’ll address the question, “How do I change?”
This article assumes that you’ve considered the Scriptures and realize that depriving your spouse is sinful, it is not an option for you, and you want to change.  The course of action may depend somewhat on why you’ve struggled with this sin.
It could simply be that you don’t like sex.  If that’s the case, you’re not alone.  But as you’ve seen from the material we’ve already posted, the sexual relationship, like marriage as a whole, is a forum for serving another person.  You must adopt a biblical mindset.
The key to overcoming this issue will be to allow the Scriptures to transform your mind.  There are numerous places to go in the Scriptures to meditate on the truth that life as a disciple is one of service.  In addition to the ones we’ve referred to numerous times in this series (1 Cor 7:1-5; Eph 5:22-33), perhaps the best place to go is to the Gospels and pay close attention to how selflessly Jesus gave of Himself to those in need.  He regularly served to the point of exhaustion and beyond, and He made a point to teach this to His disciples.
There is one narrative in the Gospels that is particularly helpful.  It’s the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9.  That may seem strange given our current subject matter.  “What does the feeding of the 5,000 have to do with helping me overcome the habit of depriving my spouse?”  The feeding of the 5,000 has lessons to teach us about any area of service.  It is very relevant to the situation we’re discussing because it found Jesus in the disciples confronted with a task that, humanly-speaking, they’d rather not have done.  The Lord and His disciples were exhausted and desiring some quality time alone together, when this huge crowd crashed their plans.  The disciples wanted to send the people away to fend for themselves, but Jesus said to them, “you give them something to eat.”  The disciples were incredulous.  Their response was essentially, “that’s impossible.”  Not only were the disciples exhausted and wanting to get alone with Jesus, but they thought there was no way on earth they could feed such a huge crowd!
The following narrative shows Jesus feeding that crowd through the disciples in perhaps the least efficient way conceivable in order to make a point to the disciples that it is a blessing to serve.  Jesus had the disciples themselves deliver the food by hand to all these people – 5,000 men not including women and children.  It would have taken hours.  And what was the result?  Afterward Jesus asked the disciples, “who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” 
This is significant.  By serving with Christ in a less than desirable circumstance, enabled by His power, they experienced Him in a way they had not before, and they knew then who He was.   
There are numerous lessons to glean from this narrative.  First, as the Lord’s disciples, we serve.  Jesus was teaching, “we serve.  That’s what I do, and that’s what you do as my disciple.” For those who are married, it could be said that marriage is their primary place of service to the Lord and another.  There is no more immediate arena for the expression of one's role as a disciple of Jesus Christ. 
Second, we should approach all service depending upon the strength of the Lord.  That’s what the disciples did in feeding this enormous crowd.  They were right to think they did not have the ability to feed the crowd.  But Jesus did have the ability.  And He did something amazing through them.  Regarding your sexual relationship, you may think, “I can’t do this.”  That may be true, but you have an omnipotent Savior who enables you by the power of the Spirit to walk in faithfulness.  Depend upon Him and He will do through you what you thought was impossible.
Third, when we obey in the most difficult of circumstances, depending fully upon the Lord, we will enjoy a growing intimacy with and knowledge of Him.  It was after the feeding of the 5,000 that the disciples finally made the good confession about the identity of the Lord.  It was through that intimate participation with Him in His work that they came to experience Him.  This is true in every area of life.  If you will obey Him by participating with Him in serving your spouse, you’ll not only experience deeper intimacy with your spouse, but with the Lord.
Fourth, consider the great blessing it is to be used by the Lord.  What a great privilege the disciples were given to be the ones through whom He performed this great miracle.  Did you know that the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of the Lord that is recorded in all four Gospels?  (Not including the resurrection, which was technically accomplished by the Father.)  Jesus allowed the disciples to participate with Him in this.  What a blessing!  Now, consider that you are THE gift that God has given to your spouse for sexual fulfillment.  He has chosen to use you and you alone to bless your spouse. 
While you are allowing the Scriptures to transform your thinking on this issue, pray.  Pray that the Spirit will help you think rightly and give you the desire to serve your spouse.  Pray that He will give you joy in serving.  And pray that He will cause you to begin to enjoy having sex with your spouse.  Based upon counseling cases I’ve had, I would say that it is likely that if you will obey the Lord with the right heart, desiring to do the godly thing, and love your spouse by serving them in this way, you’ll find yourself enjoying your sexual relationship like you haven’t in the past. 
For some people, it is not simply that sex is undesirable, but it is physically difficult or painful.  A visit to your doctor would be beneficial.  There may be things that can be done medically to improve the situation.  Also, discuss it with your spouse.  Express your desire to serve your spouse in this area and brainstorm ways to deal with the situation. 
For others, the barrier to regular sexual relations is related to trauma from the past, either you’ve been abused or your marriage has been damaged by infidelity.  Such situations don’t lend themselves to easy counsel in a blog article.  The best thing to do would be to seek biblical counseling to work through those issues.  We’ve got counselors at Providence who would be blessed to help you.  Keep in mind that in Christ we have been given all things pertaining to life and godliness.   That is, there is no issue of salvation or sanctification that cannot be addressed from the Scriptures.  Whatever you’re dealing with, there is hope and help in the Lord Jesus.  All you need to do is ask, and we’ll get you connected to a biblical counselor. 
Unless I hear from some of you with specific questions related to this issue, this will be the last article in this series.  If you do have questions, you can email them to me or ask them in the comments section below.

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