Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mary and the Shame of the Manger

From the outside looking in, it would have been the mother of all unwanted pregnancies. You’re betrothed to a righteous man, you are pregnant with a baby that isn’t his, and your only story is that an angel told you that the baby would be conceived by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34-35). To the average person, Mary was not in an enviable position. The birth of this child under these circumstances would be a stigma that followed her until her dying breath. In fact, had it taken place today, many of those around her might have counseled her to terminate the pregnancy.

Imagine the difficulty of sharing the news with Joseph. Mary had just spent three months in the hill country at the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the expectant parents of John the Baptist. When Mary returned to Nazareth, she was at least three months along, possibly more. Whether she was showing or not, there would have to be a measure of disbelief in the heart of Joseph at the news that his bride-to-be was expecting.

Did she even try to explain? We don’t know. But we do know that whether she offered an explanation or not, Joseph purposed to divorce her.

Our society has become more and more accepting of young unwed mothers. It happens so frequently that many people don’t think a thing of it. It’s commonplace to see pregnant girls walking around our high schools. They may receive some poor treatment, but it won’t follow them for life, and they more than likely will get married to someone someday. But in 1st century Palestine, young female divorcees with illegitimate children were not considered marriage material. Joseph’s decision to put her away quietly mostly likely would mean that Mary would remain single for life. She would be considered a whore and her son would be considered illegitimate forever. That Joseph eventually changed his mind would have done little to mute whispers of her sin.

And all the shame and awful treatment was not even a result of her sin. Normally, when an unwed girl gets pregnant, she has something to regret. She goes through that experience knowing that the bottom line truth is that she is reaping the consequences for her actions. But Mary would be an object of widespread public scorn through no fault of her own.

But we find no evidence in Scripture that she was bothered by this at all. In fact, we find that she walked through the whole experience with great joy. I think there are two reasons for this.

First, Mary knew who she was. After Gabriel gave her the news that she would give birth to the Son of God, in spite of any misgivings about how society would regard her, she responded, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (1:38). Mary was the servant of the Lord. She understood that her life was not her own.

We westerners have such an intense sense of individuality that it is difficult for us to stomach enduring difficult things that we did not bring upon ourselves. We have an acute allergy to “unfairness”. There is the notion that our rights guarantee us a freedom from unjust suffering.
But the word translated “servant” in Luke 1:38 is translated elsewhere as “bondservant”. A bondservant was someone who had made a decision to relinquish his freedom and remain in the service of his master for life. His entire existence revolved around his master. Bondservants didn’t have rights. Whatever the master required of him, he did.

And Mary considered herself to be a bondservant of the Lord. Her identity was one of service to God. There was no question of fairness. There was only obedience. She knew who she was and because of that, she obeyed without looking back.

Second, Mary knew who the Child was. Gabriel made it clear: this Child would be the Son of God (1:35). Mary understood the significance of what He would do (1:31-33, 46-55). He was to be a Savior. She rejoiced in God, saying, “From now on all generations will call me blessed, for he who is mighty has done great things for me” (1:48-49). Any consideration of how she would be viewed by her immediate culture paled in comparison to how she would eventually be seen, as the chosen mother of the Christ, the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and his offspring (1:54-55).

And when He was born, she felt no shame. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart (2:19).

There are many in the church today who are reluctant to speak up and tell people what they really believe about Jesus Christ. They don’t want people to think that they are weird. To be blunt, they are ashamed of Him. The stigma attached to being a Christian today is nothing compared to what Mary faced, and yet she joyfully accepted it, while so many now refuse.

If any of us are among the ashamed, I have to wonder, do we know who we are and do we know who He is? Do we understand ourselves to be servants of Christ, that our very existence is for His glory and that we have been tasked with making Him known? Do we really understand who He is, that He is the difference between eternal life and eternal death for every soul around us? If we were convinced of those two things, I can’t help but think that we would be more like Mary, joyfully bearing the Son, unashamed of Him, treasuring Him enough to speak His name to one and all.

Christmas isn’t over yet. For most of us there will still be opportunities to engage people with the gospel. Don’t be content to exchange the normal Christmas pleasantries. You are his servant and He is a Savior. Tell people.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Joseph and the Shame of the Manger

Matthew 1:18-25

The shame of the manger? As we celebrate Christmas 2000 years removed from the event, it may seem odd that there was any shame attached to the birth of Christ. We think of the tremendous privilege given to Joseph and Mary to be chosen to parent Immanuel. And undoubtedly, Joseph and Mary felt that way. But what would those outside of Jesus’ earthly family have made of His birth and how would it have affected the community’s view of Joseph and Mary? Would they have been regarded with admiration or contempt?

We know that Mary and Joseph were betrothed prior to her conception by the Holy Spirit. But betrothal in the Jewish culture in that day was far more serious and binding than is engagement today. The parents of a boy would choose a girl to be engaged to their son. When the couple were of age, there would be a legal agreement before witnesses establishing their engagement, after which they were bound to each other as if married. This engagement lasted approximately one year, during which time the two were considered man and wife. (Thus, Matt 1:19 refers to Joseph as Mary’s husband prior to their actual marriage.) After the engagement year, the legal marriage was performed, and then consummated sexually. So, in the eyes of Mary and Joseph, and their families and community, they were bound together for life, though they had not yet officially married.

The book of Matthew tells the story of Jesus’ birth primarily from Joseph’s point of view. Joseph had a moral dilemma. Mary had become pregnant and he knew that the baby couldn’t be his since their marriage had not been consummated (1:18). The only rational explanation was that Mary had committed adultery. Such an offense would have warranted Joseph’s public humiliation of Mary in order to save his own reputation.

However, there were two things that prevented him from doing this, according to v19: he was a righteous man, and he did not want to disgrace her. So he decided to divorce her quietly.
This is a significant thing. Joseph’s quiet divorce from Mary would have been eyed suspiciously by their community. His refusal to shame her would have resulted in his own acceptance of some measure of shame. In the eyes of that culture, had he been guilty of nothing, the normal thing to do would have been to make public the sin of Mary, thereby saving his own reputation. His silence would have been received as an admission of guilt.

And at this point in the narrative, already we see in Joseph a man willing to bear the shame of something he did not do, all the while acting with compassion on the one he thought was guilty.
We know from the following verses (20-25) that the angel of the Lord let Joseph in on the truth surrounding Mary’s pregnancy: “for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Obediently, Joseph took Mary as his wife, but did not have relations with her until the Child was born.

But think for a moment about the circumstances. Joseph could tell the story far and wide about the angel coming to him in a dream. He could take an oath before all, staking his reputation on the testimony he received from God that Mary had never committed adultery, but had conceived by the Holy Spirit. He could have sworn up and down that the situation was not at all the way it appeared. He could have revealed that the baby Mary was carrying was Immanuel, promised through the prophet Isaiah. But who would have believed him? Regardless of his story or the sincerity with which he seemed to tell it, Joseph would have been regarded as one of two things: either he himself was a fornicator, who impregnated Mary prior to their marriage, or he knowingly married an adultress. Either way, he was not a man to be admired, but a man to derided and shamed. Joseph was to be regarded as the father of an illegitimate son.

We find evidence that this is the case in John 8:41, where the Jews taunt Jesus, saying, “We were not born of fornication. We have one Father: God.” The implication is obvious. They believed Jesus to be illegitimate, that is, born of fornication. Their claim to have one Father may have been a jab implying that Jesus had two fathers – Joseph and a birth father with whom Mary committed adultery. Remember, John 8 takes place when Jesus is over 30 years old. The cloud of his assumed disgraceful paternity had followed Him all His life.

But one thing is almost certain. At Jesus’ birth, as Joseph looked down on the swaddled baby, God in human flesh sleeping in a trough, the derision of the world over his assumed sin must have been the last thing on his mind. There lay the Hope of all the world, the One who would save His people from their sins. There was no shame. There was no regret. There was only joy.
I would imagine that Joseph gladly endured the whispers and suspecting glances for the rest of his days, glorifying God for the privilege of being chosen to raise a Savior. What a joy to bear the shame of the manger.

You and I have also been given the indescribable gift of the knowledge of the identity of the Messiah. We know the truth about this Child. The question is will we allow those around us to associate us with the offense of His birth, His life, His death, and resurrection?

This Savior said in John 15:18ff, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

This season of the year affords us the great opportunity to turn conversations about Christmas into conversations about Christ. May the Lord give us hearts like Joseph, willing to associate ourselves with the truth no matter how the culture regards us. Let’s not celebrate His birth without also proclaiming its significance to the lost around us.

Next time: Mary and the shame of the manger.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Bearing Fruit

What does it mean to "bear fruit" according to God's word? In the scriptures, Jesus talks about people bearing fruit. Jesus here is using a metaphor, comparing people to fruit - bearing trees. In the same way that you can tell the nature and quality of a tree by it's fruit, you can tell the nature and quality of a person by their actions. Many of us know or have had conversations with someone who claims to be a child of God, but there is no evidence of fruit in that person's life. An "apple" tree that produces cherries in not an apple tree... it's a cherry tree. In the same way, a "good" person that is know for their bad actions must not really be good.
"Galatians 5:22" is a reminder that God's Word tells us that if I am a true child of God that I must bear the characteristic of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness"... "Proverbs 20:11" tells us "Even a child is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right". People actions show what they are.
In "Matthew 7:16-21" we see that every tree bears fruit. This is a parable Jesus used to show the people a heavenly truth "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning". We see two trees, a good tree and a bad tree. A good tree, like the fig tree that Jesus mentions, will bear good fruit - figs. But a thorn bush will only produce bad fruit - prickly thorns. You won't find thorns on the fig tree, and you won't find figs on the thorn bush. One can recognize a true believer, not just by what he says, but by what he does.

"Luke 13:6-9" tells us that trees that bear bad fruit are cut down. This parable symboblizes Israel's last oppotunity to repent before experiencing God's judgment. In this parable, a fig tree that does not bear fruit may be cut down if it doesn't produce fruit within the next year. Jesus is warning the people in this parable. Jesus expect "fruit" from His people. The bad fruit that is talked about in "Matthew 7:16-21" is the same as bearing no fruit here. After all, thorns are hardly worth calling "fruit" at all, are they? Jesus expect us to live a certain way. He expects us to see certain things in our lives. If we really belong to Him, we will show these things -we will be trees with good fruit.

Earlier I stated that in "Galatians 5:22-23" that if I am a true child of God I must bear the characteristic of "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness". Most of us would say that we would what these things in our lives. Love, joy, and peace - everyone whats those. And most of us what to be good and kind, but are these things we can get on our own? Only the Holy Spirit can produce in Christians the positive attributes of godly character, all of which are evident in Jesus in the gospels.
One of the areas of bearing fruit is in having joy in serving "Philippians 2:1-18". Paul uses a conditional sentence (if) to provoke the Philippians so that they will reflect on whether these qualities are evident in their lives.
We can only find the joy of serving if we are in Christ. Our attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ. In Mark 10:45 we see that Christ did not come to be served, but to serve, and gave his life a ransom for many.
Let us continue to pray that the Holy Spirit would produce the fruits needed in us to bring glory to our God.




Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Selected Psalms: Psalm 16

It isn’t surprising that with each passing year the Christmas season becomes more and more secularized. It seems that in American culture, Christmas has been Christ-less for many years.
What concerns me this week is something that I think many believers haven’t considered: Thanksgiving is just as God-less as Christmas is Christ-less.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday almost universally celebrated by Americans. I watch the Cowboys play every year and the announcers will sometimes talk about the things for which they are thankful. What is striking is that I never hear anyone saying to whom they are thankful. It is as if thankfulness is an innate character trait without reference to anyone outside of self.

Lost is the image of God as the giver of all good things. Actually, lost is the image of God at all. In an increasingly atheistic culture, I have to wonder how long Thanksgiving will last. For those who do not believe in God, what basis is there for being thankful? Without a sovereign Creator, any good thing that I have is mine due solely to chance. Eventually, any notion of thankfulness should be replaced by the recognition of how fortunate I am. When that simple logic catches up to our godless society, don’t be surprised to see Thanksgiving Day replaced by Luckyfeeling Day.
I would love to see the Church as zealous to put God back into Thanksgiving as she has been to put Christ back into Christmas.

As I read Psalm 16 this morning, I saw in v2 a thankfulness that should be characteristic of every breath I take. I saw a heart that recognized the most fundamental blessing God has given to man – the most profound gift He has given to me: Himself.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”

Outside of God, I have no good thing. Though troubles befall me, though I lose everything, as long as I still have Him, I’ve lost nothing.

The writer understands that God Himself is his greatest blessing:

5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

These verses contain words (portion, lot, lines, inheritance) that reference the parceling of the land to the different tribes of Israel when they came into Canaan. The writer expresses not merely a satisfaction with the land he received. Rather, he recognizes that the LORD is his beautiful inheritance. The LORD Himself is the blessing.

Vv7-8 show the Psalmist’s dependence upon the Lord and the safety of His presence:

7 I bless the LORD who gives me counsel: in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

The writer intentionally fastens himself to the Lord. “…my heart instructs me” is a reference to meditation on the things of the Lord. “I have set the LORD always before me” indicates the purposeful setting of his attention on God.

I think if there is a lack of thankfulness to the Lord for the Lord, it is related to a failure to adopt this kind of intentionality in our devotional lives. The Lord rewards those who diligently seek Him. How does He reward them? By letting them find Him. Our communion with the Lord, and therefore our delight in the Lord, will be directly proportional to the fervor with which we pursue Him.

That delight is reflected in v9-11:

9 Therefore, my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make me to know the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

In your presence there is fullness of joy… Only the heart that regards God as the greatest of all gifts can understand those words. And only the heart that pursues Him can regard Him as the greatest of all gifts.

The antidote to a God-less Thanksgiving is the cultivation of a heart that desires Him above all things. I challenge you this Thanksgiving to meditate on God as the giver of all good things and as the greatest of all good gifts. Let’s give thanks to God for the gift of Himself, so that Thanksgiving once again becomes a Christian holiday.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Family Worship

I have had several folks ask me recently about family worship, so I’d like to give you some pointers and suggest some resources for you.

First, let me say that it is the responsibility of the husband/father to make sure that the family is worshiping together in the home. Family worship is one of the things that the elders of PBF expect of those who have joined our fellowship. We have been charged with making disciples and a huge part of that is making sure that those under our charge are living lives of devotion, not just Sundays of devotion.

God has made men to be the pastors of their homes. I’ll make this case more strongly when we get to Ephesians 5-6, but I would like to point out now what Paul says about a man’s responsibility to his family.

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

A husband is to do everything he can to promote his wife’s holiness. In my experience, believing wives as a general rule are very eager to be led spiritually by their husbands. However, the husbands simply will not do it. Look again at the first description in v25 of how Christ loved the church: He gave Himself up for her. Give yourselves up, men. Lead your wives and they will follow. I’ve found in my own marriage that the most tangible and meaningful way that I can lead my wife spiritually is by leading my family in worship in our home.

But we, as men, also have been given a mandate to lead our children:

Ephesians 6:4 Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Bringing up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord is not a passive thing. We do it actively by intentionally leading them to and through the word of God.

How do you train up a child in the way that he should go? It is foolish to think that we do it by simply setting a good example. That is necessary, but too passive for a man of God. Rather, we actively train up our sons and daughters by the Scriptures (2Tim 3:16-17).

Nothing will teach your children that God is the Lord of your home and of your lives like regular family worship. When they see Dad worshiping God, they see that God is a God who commands the worship of all. I truly believe that God has built into the hearts of believing women and children the need to be led spiritually by their husbands and fathers.

A great resource that makes a much more thorough biblical and historical argument for family worship is a little book by Don Whitney, Senior Associate Dean for the School of Theology at Southern Seminary. The book is entitled, “Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and in Your Home.” I have a few copies I can give to whoever wants one, and I can get more from the seminary, as well. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website also has a very good article on the biblical case for family worship.

All that being said, I want to give you a simple outline for family worship. Commit it to memory: sing, read, pray. That’s family worship. One of the big keys to being consistent with this is to keep it simple and easy. No preparation. How do we do that?

1. Sing. We Birdwells are hymn people – we found this website and downloaded the lyrics. I made copies for the kids. If you don't like hymns, I'm sure you can find any number of alternatives on the net. I made several 'hymnals' by stapling together a few favorites. If your kids can read, great. If not, you'll be amazed at how quickly they learn them just by hearing. Even Wyatt, who doesn't read yet, likes to be holding the music. To mix it up a little, sometimes we'll take several verses and do one fast, the next slow, the next soft, and the next really loud. They love it.

Whether you do hymns or more contemporary music, make sure the words mean things. We should be using the theology of the songs to teach our children as they sing them to the Lord. “Yes, Lord, Yes, Lord, Yes, Yes, Lord” is a great sentiment, but not real chunky. Give them meat.

2. Read. If your kids are really little (2-5yrs), the "Big Picture Story Bible" is great. It does a good job of telling the significance of each story to the whole picture of the Bible. This part of worship is as easy as reading a story to your kids. In fact, it is reading a story to your kids.

We have a wide range of ages in our house, so rather than doing the “Big Picture Story Bible” to please our youngest, we raise the bar a little so that the older kids stay with us. You’d be surprised how much the littler ones pick up even when you think it’s over their heads.

If your kids are older (4-10yrs), there are several things you can do. Most of the time, our family just reads straight from the Bible. We use the ESV, and I paraphrase as we go so that they can better understand what’s going on. Right now we are reading through Exodus – a great book for kids because there are so many rich events. If you want to read through a NT book, Mark is great because it is simple and has more narrative than the other gospels.

If you find that the ESV is too hard for the kids to understand, a great bible for kids in this age range is the “A Faith To Grow On Bible” edited by John MacArthur. It uses the very simple International Children’s Bible translation and includes study notes from MacArthur.

For this age you can supplement your bible reading with a few really good books. Also, from John MacArthur is a systematic theology for kids, also entitled “A Faith To Grow On”. We recently picked this one up and the kids love it. You may not even want to use this during family worship, but it is full of activities and word puzzles that the kids will enjoy on their own time.

Another book for ages 4-8 is “Leading Little Ones to God”.

Or if you want to go with a good old-fashioned Bible Story book, a good one is “The Child’s Story Bible” by Catherine Vos.

One thing that the kids LOVE to do is act out the story that we just read. It really helps them to remember the story. Plus, its fun.

3. Pray. Keep it brief but pray for real things; their concerns and yours. Ask what they'd like to pray about and if they'd like to pray. I think it is important to pray about grown-up things too. You are teaching your kids to trust God when they hear you expressing your dependence on Him for the monthly bills, healing for a sickness going around, or comfort for the disappointment you just experienced. Each component of family worship teaches your children something and prayer is no exception.

Extras. We do a catechism with the kids. You can find it here. This is great because it teaches theology in a very simple question/answer format. You ask the questions; the kids supply the answers. Don't worry about all the Scripture references. Those are for your benefit - it is not essential for the kids to know those. The main thing is to teach them the answers. Go over the first one a few times and they'll have it. Ask them the first question a couple of times a day whenever you think about it - in the car, while they are playing, or at the dinner table. Do that for a week then go to the next question.

Each time you ask the questions, make sure you do them in order. The questions build on one another, as you will see.

Our kids really enjoy the catechism and it is teaching them so much. How many children in the evangelical church can tell you what a soul is or what atonement means? Do this catechism and your kids will be among the few. These things fill their minds with truth and give them a proper view of God.

Memorizing Scripture as a family is another great way to grow together. I personally feel it is best to memorize whole chapters (rather than one verse here and one verse there) so that the kids see that the Bible is not a collection of random thoughts but an extended message from Genesis to Revelation. By this, you will be teaching them to respect the context. Some suggested chapters with which to start: Hebrews 1, Psalm 1, Psalm 34, Psalm 139. The Psalms are great for kids. Just do one verse a week or one every two weeks. Say the verse one phrase at a time and have the family repeat after you. You can go through it several times and then try to say it all together. Then go on to the second verse the next week, still taking time to review past verses.


I want to re-emphasize the importance of keeping it simple. You can take 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes – whatever you can manage given the ages of your kids. But there is no preparation necessary as long as you have a few good resources. Don’t be intimidated. It is as easy as it can be.

Husbands and wives can listen to downloaded sermons together. Shelby and I enjoy that on occasion. We have also found that John MacArthur’s commentaries are very devotional in nature and can be read as a couple.

It is the responsibility of the parents to look after the spiritual wellbeing of their children. It is the husband’s responsibility to look after the spiritual wellbeing of his wife. But ladies, if your husband will not fulfill his responsibility, you can lead your children in worship while still submitting to your husband's authority. You are not dishonoring him by doing this. Your children must be trained up in the way that they should go. If your husband will not do this, you can do it. Continue to pray that the Lord will grab your husband and raise him up to be a Godly husband.

Men, I exhort you to take the lead on this. You will find that this to be a great blessing to you and your families.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Developing a Biblical View of Emotions

Emotions are something that every person deals with. Emotions drive how we respond to most situations in our lives. As Christians how can wrong thinking, and wrong emotions be changed to glorify God.

Emotions are God given; God Himself had emotions as we see throughout scriptures (Isaiah 42:1; Exodus 32:10, Mark 14:34-36; Luke 10:41). God's emotions flow from a holy and righteous nature and never keeps Him from his purposes.

Man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and so we have emotions. But because man is sinful, these emotions no longer are guided by holiness and truth. It is only as we are conformed to His image that our emotions can be guided with truth.

There are many passages in scripture where God commands us to experience emotions. We are to have contentment (Hebrews 13:5), to have a forgiving heart (Matthew 18: 21-22), to love one another (1 John 4:9-11), to serve (Matthew 25:35-36), to be thankful (Ephesians 5:20), and to be humble (Philippians 2:3).

Many things can influence our emotions such as influences over life, interpretations that were taught or misunderstood. Also desires or wants, fears and experiences change and impact emotions. Many people feel compelled to honor these emotions when they have them. Through faith, God's grace, and our choice to root our minds in God's word will be the only way to renew our minds and emotions (Romans 12:2). The renewed mind will be one that is controlled by the Word of God. We will begin to put-off and put-on right thinking, which will lead to Godly emotions.

As a person looks to God's Word to define life, and who he is in Christ, he will find more effective ways to respond to his emotions. Again if our emotions are wrong, they must be changed through God's truths, and then the Holy Spirit will enable us to respond in a way that would bring Glory to God. Emotions can be changed by learning what is true, and then obeying God. Changing our thinking and then obeying will give us peace (Philippians 4:7-9). By obeying God we will also get joy (Psalms 1; Psalms 19:7-14; Psalms 119:1-8). Temptations will be less (Ephesians 6:10-12). We will bear fruit (John 15:1-8). The Word will convict, and show thoughts and attitudes (Hebrews 4:12). The Word will teach us all we need for godliness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He will teach us through His Word (John 14:25-26). While everyday living is full of circumstances that produce emotions. We should never be driven by our emotions, but by what we know to be true in God's Word.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sin-Driven Interpretation

One of my first introductions to contemporary Christian music occurred in the mid-80’s when my parents gave me a tape of Ray Boltz. The lyrics of his music were so strong and resonated with me so deeply that I felt like Ray and I were kindred spirits. His influence prompted me to begin expressing my faith in the form of song lyrics. My current career in the therapeutic shoe industry is ample evidence that my zeal for songwriting was not met with a corresponding measure of talent! Still, Ray and I were on the same wavelength.

So, I was very burdened to hear that Ray has announced that he is a homosexual. Many of you heard about this several weeks ago, but I just found out last Sunday. I went from burdened to disturbed when I read that he has divorced his wife and is actively dating men.

In a story in The Washington Blade, a gay magazine, Boltz is quoted, “This is what it really comes down to: If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live. It’s not like God made me this way and he’ll send me to hell if I am who he created me to be … I really feel closer to God because I no longer hate myself.”

In the same article, Joe Hogue, a CCM producer in Nashville, said, he “hopes for a day when Christians will see homosexuality as no more a perceived sin than it used to be for women to be ministers or for divorced Christians to hold leadership positions in churches.”

There is one phrase in that statement that bowled me over. It’s a phrase that points to the root issue here: perceived sin. What is perceived sin? I gather from the context that it refers to actions that are erroneously regarded as sin.

What a clear example of the deceptive nature of evil within the human heart. It seeks to convince us that it is, in fact, not sin. It’s mortal enemy is the Word of God and it’s objective is to rationalize itself in the mind of a man so that the starting point for the interpretation of applicable passages of Scripture is, “This activity can't be sin. So what else can this passage be referring to?” The sin dictates the interpretation to the extent that those same passages are twisted into defending and validating the sin, rather than forbidding it.

Some may think, “That kind of sin-driven interpretation could never happen to me.” You may be surprised. The Washington Blade article cited two other examples of “perceived sin” that are far more widely embraced than is homosexuality. There are many churches in which homosexual relations would be soundly denounced, but where you will find divorced elders and deacons, and women teaching men and exercising authority over men. Apples and oranges? I don’t think so. The passages forbidding the ordination of divorced men and passages forbidding women to teach and exercise authority over men are every bit as clear and unmistakable as are the passages forbidding homosexuality (1Tim 2:8-15; 1Tim 3:1-13). Do these people hate God’s Word? Not likely. They have simply allowed sin to be the starting point for interpretation rather than the actual words on the pages of Scripture.

Homosexual relations can be nothing other than sin. Why? Because the words of Scripture say so. Romans 1:18-32 is quite clear on this, as are other relevant passages (1Cor 6:9-11; 1Tim 1:8-11). But some would have us believe that Paul was mistaken, and was railing against something that was a cultural taboo in the 1st century. But the words themselves and the context will not allow this. And if we give in to that false interpretation, we either wittingly or unwittingly demote Scripture from inspired, authoritative, and sufficient to inspiring, accommodating, and supplementary.

The fact is that sin will go to any length to explain away the clear revelation of God. It has no principle of interpretation other than “to thine own self be true.” Sin must dispatch the true meaning of Scripture because if it does not, it will itself be dispatched. It is a kill or be killed scenario. For the only way that sin can be finally dealt with in the life of a human being is through the gospel contained in God’s Word.

In all matters of life and godliness, anytime we start anywhere other than the text of Scripture, we are not only playing with fire, we are relegating God to an ancillary role, rather than hailing Him as Lord and God. And anytime we find ourselves looking at Scripture and saying, “This has to mean something other than what it plainly says,” we are simultaneously saying to God, “Try again.”

In that place, sin is the savior. It saves me from God’s righteous demands, not by keeping them on my behalf as Christ did, but by convincing me that they don’t exist…by convincing me that God’s Word doesn’t mean what it says.

In that place, Christ is superfluous. He is shown to be unnecessary as we exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.

Undoubtedly, more of us are guilty of this than we think. While our pet sin may not be homosexual relations, it may be gluttony, gossip, or poor stewardship. Whatever the case, the claim that “this is what God made me to be” is more than a copout – it is open rebellion against our holy God. God has made no one a sinner. We are sinners by virtue of the fact that we are descended from Adam. Whether I have a weakness for overeating or for gay sex, that predisposition, no matter how strong, does not legitimize the sin.

So friends, let us fasten our eyes, hearts, and minds to the pages of Scripture, praying that God will use it to expose the sin that festers and threatens to deceive us, so that by the power of the Spirit it might be cut out of us like the cancer that it is. Let us allow God’s Word to tell us what sin is, rather than allowing sin to tell us what God’s Word is.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Selected Psalms: Psalm 100

(Read Psalm 100 here.)

From the moment we are born, we move toward a state of independence. It is in our human nature to long to throw off the shackles of what we perceive to be holding us back. The crawling baby wants to walk. The adolescent wants to leave home. The employee wants to be his own boss. At every stage of life, our flesh desires to be free of that which holds us down.

We don’t want to be told what to do. We want to be subject to no one. We want to be our own person. We want independence, breathing room, freedom. And we believe that if we could only get to that place, we would enjoy life fully.

How interesting, then, that the Psalmist would find reason for joyful thanksgiving in a state of complete dependence and servitude, subjection and need.

Psalm 100 is a psalm of thanksgiving, a call to worship. Vv1-2 are just what you would expect: Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth! Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

But v3 is striking. It falls right in the middle of the psalm and serves as the central idea of the poem. In the center of this call to worship there is the imperative to know God’s rightful place of authority over us: Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

In one verse, there are five allusions to the authority of God: God, Creator, Master, King, and Shepherd. Conversely then, these imply five pictures of our dependence and obligation to Him: worshiper, creation, servant, subject, and sheep.

Know that the LORD, he is God! He is our God – He has sovereignty over us.

It is he who made us... He is our Creator – He has a purpose for us.

...and we are His. He is our Master – He has all rights over us.

We are His people… He is our King – He has dominion over us.

…and the sheep of His pasture. He is our Shepherd – He has love, patience, and care for us.

The Psalmist cites this reality as a cause for celebration. He revels in his low position and in the LORD’s exaltation above him. How far removed that is from the world’s perspective. How far removed that is from the perspective of many of us.

Many confessing Christians spend their days straining against the authority of God in their lives. They want the benefits, but none of the obligation. They want the reward, but none of the sacrifice. They want a Savior, but not a Lord.

But the mark of a true believer is the ever-present awareness that he is not his own. He has a Master, an Owner. He understands that every decision he makes and every deed he does should be undertaken for the service of his King, for the glory of his Creator. He knows that every step he takes and every provision that he enjoys have been provided by his Shepherd. His is a life of obligation, servitude, subjection, and joy.

Why joy? Look at v5: For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Our God is good. Our Master is loving. Our Shepherd is faithful. Our Creator is eternal. True freedom can only be found in total dependence upon and slavery to Him.

True Woman Conference - Part 2

I've taken a look at the conference website and I have learned that they are streaming the sessions live here. Tim Challies is keeping great notes of all of the happenings too. You can check his blog out here.

Please continue to be in prayer for our women. That God would speak to them and their lives would be transformed for His glory, they would have a great time of fellowship, and they would be safe in their travel.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

True Woman Conference

As many of you know, several of the women from our church are currently en route to Chicago to attend the True Woman Conference. Nancy Leigh DeMoss, John Piper, and other godly speakers will address over 6,000 women who have gathered for this event.

The conference will be blogged Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Tim Challies, and Carolyn McCulley. If you would like to keep up with what is happening at the conference via the blog you can check it out here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sufficiency of Scripture - Part 2

As we contemplate whether or not scripture is sufficient for our lives it is important to examine what scripture says about itself. Psalm 19 makes a host of statements that reflect the superiority and sufficiency of scripture. In it we find what is so often missing in evangelical thought. That God’s Word needs nothing, including the fallen thoughts, ideas, and concepts of man.

Psalm 19:7-11
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure,making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Verse 7. The law of the Lord is perfect. It is whole, complete, and lacks nothing. Therefore it can revive and restore the soul. Nothing else is needed.
It is sure. It is trustworthy and therefore can make wise the simple. It gives clarity about life and about God.
Verse 8. The guidelines and principle of God are correct and cause man’s inner-self to celebrate.
God’s Word has authority and it always correct. It is untainted with error. It is complete Truth. Therefore, it brings to light that which was not seen before. It provides clear insight into our situation and who God is.
Verse 9. God’s Word will form a deep reverence for Almighty God that is undefiled. It is permanent and never in need of improvement.
His decrees reflect reality and there is no lie in them. They describe what is just, fair, holy, and good. It leads man to understand and practice the Truth.
Verse 10. Our desire for God’s Word should be desired above the riches of this world. As believers, our desire is born out of our faith. Our craving should be for God’s word and should not be a burden.
Verse 11. God’s word warns us about sin, depravity, and temptation. In keeping His word we experience the fullness of life and experience relationship with Him.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Selected Psalms: Psalm 62

(You can read Psalm 62 here.)

The Bible is full of exclusive language.

John 14:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Revelation 15:4 For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.

Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Deuteronomy 4:39 39 know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.


David uses exclusive language in Psalm 62, but it has a different feel.

1 For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. 2 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

The exclusivity that some find to be offensive and intolerant, David finds to be an unspeakable comfort. He understands the intensely practical outworking of there being only one Almighty God: man can have the utmost confidence in Him – He is God and there is no other.

God has made no room for others to be worshiped and He has made no room for others to truly comfort the soul of man. God is an exclusive God and He has built that exclusivity into the heart of man in such a way that there is only One in whom he may find rest and peace and hope and salvation. He alone is worthy of worship and He alone is able to bring true rest.

The foundation of his confidence in God is his conviction of the sufficiency of God: I shall not be greatly shaken. What great confidence in that statement! He knows that he will not be shaken because he knows that God is sufficient. This confidence in the sufficiency of God is contrasted with a complete lack of faith in men.

3 How long will all of you attack a man to batter him, like a leaning wall, a tottering fence? 4 They only plan to thrust him down from his high position. They take pleasure in falsehood. They bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse. Selah

Over the course of David’s life, he had ample opportunities to witness the depraved nature of mankind. King Saul hunted him relentlessly for some 13 years. Then David himself committed adultery and murder. And his in his own family he found rape, murder, and rebellion. David, in the hour of need, knew that he could not trust man.

We would do well to learn that lesson ourselves. When we are oppressed, rather than trusting in the sufficiency of God alone, we often reach out to man’s wisdom for help. Psychology, philosophy, and man-centered self-help become our tools of choice for dealing with our problems. But none of those things have anything on God Almighty. Not only is God the only trustworthy source of help, He is the only capable one. For David, one look at the sinfulness of men leads him to declare again the exclusivity and sufficiency of God in vv5-7.

5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. 6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. 7 On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

The Psalmist then moves on to exhort all the godly to put their trust in God rather than men.

8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah 9 Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath. 10 Put no trust in extortion; set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them.

Men are but vapors. They are a delusion, he says. Think about that. He did not say they are deluded. He said they are a delusion. They will lead you astray. They will blind you. God alone is our refuge. Trust only in Him.

Having removed the possibility of mortal man as a help in times of trouble, David then moves on to the most worshiped god in our culture, material wealth. Whether ill-gotten or honestly earned, in the end, setting our hope in the riches of earth is just a form of self-reliance. But the Psalmist exhorts us to trust in God. Seek after God. Patiently wait for God. Do not set your hope on riches. Why? God alone is sufficient.

David was a man who lacked nothing. He had great material wealth, numerous wives, and he knew how to handle himself in a fight. In many ways, David could be considered one of the most likely people in history to feel a sense of self-sufficiency.

But he didn’t. He ends this psalm with another statement of his confidence in God:

11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, 12 and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work.

God is all-powerful. God is loving. God is perfectly just. That cannot be said of anyone else. He alone is sufficient. He alone is God.

What concerns you today? Whatever it may be, it provides you with an opportunity to trust in the Lord, rest in the Lord, and wait on the Lord as David did in his darkest hour. Men will fail you. Money will fail you. You will fail yourself. But God fails none who trust in Him.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Church and State

This fall the United States Supreme Court will hear a case that is certain to spark the return of church-state tension in Pleasant Grove City, Utah v. Summum. Unlike earlier cases, the issue in Pleasant Grove City is not whether a Ten Commandments display in a public setting is legal. Rather, the Court will decide whether a local government may refuse to display an "Aphorisms" statue donated by the religious sect Summum when the city already displays a donated Ten Commandments monument. The "Aphorisms" statue displays the principle beliefs of the sect.

Summum sued, claiming that the government's refusal to display its statue in the park was a violation of its right to free speech. The Court has held in earlier cases that public officials may not discriminate against groups in public parks because of their messages or religion. The Tenth Circuit applied the free speech test and required the city to either display all religious monuments donated by third parties or display none of the donated monuments.

With concerns that the Tenth Circuit decision will require the removal of historic religious displays, both local governments and religious groups will be closely watching this case. We should be praying.

Summum originated in the fall of 1975 when Claude Rex Nowell began to have a series of encouters with highly intelligent spiritual beings. As a result this religous sect developed a gnostic approach to life. That is they believe in order to free yourself from the inferior material world, one needs gnosis, or spiritual knowledge available to all through direct experience or knowledge (gnosis) of God. This knowledge is generally found inside one's self. Their mission is "To help you liberate and emancipate you from yourself and turn you into an Overcomer".

For a short video review of the case click here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Recent PBF Sermons

We are having some technical problems uploading sermons to our website. In the meantime, we'll have links here on the blog to our sermons on an external site. Thanks for your patience.

Sept 7 - Ephesians 3:8-9
Aug 24 - Ephesians 2:19-22
Aug 17 - Ecclesiastes 2:1-11
Aug 10 - Ephesians 2:14-18
Aug 3 - Ephesians 2:11-13

Friday, September 12, 2008

Derek Thomas and Ligon Duncan

Check out this interview which moves into a discussion of present evangelism in the church.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Evangelism and Church

The past two Sunday mornings Greg has preached on Paul's passion for evangelism and how that should impact our lives. The blog below offers further thought for you this week.

Over at The Sola Panel, Tony Payne asks the question, "Is church for evangelism?" . In his post he addresses the issue of evangelism and the focus of the christian assembly.

An interesting response by Ken Stewart, professor of theological studies at Covenant College, is worth pointing out..."Perfectly orthodox churches need to hear the gospel preached and to witness its power in transforming the curious and unbelieving. So many perfectly orthodox churches are 'starved' of the opportunity to observe people visibly responding to the gospel because that response is no longer sought. So, years pass into decades during which no one has been known to be effectually called under the preaching of the Word, because the preacher has not sought any such result."

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Selected Psalms: Psalm 1

How fitting that the very first Psalm details the vital nature of God’s word in the life of the Psalmist.

1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.

Blessed literally mean happy. Happy is the man. Happy is the man who is not influenced by the world, who does not look like the world, who does not act like the world. A friend recently told me that he’s been giving a lot of thought to what it means to be worldly. He’s been asking himself in what ways has worldliness worked its way into his life. It’s a great question and one which most believers probably do not consider.

How can we know what it means to be worldly? How is it that we can be prevented from living a worldly life? Psalmist gives us an indication in the next line:

2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Passion and time. The happy man delights in the word of God, his passion is the word of God, and because of that he spends his time meditating on it. When we hear the word meditation, we may automatically think of the ungodly practice of transcendental meditation, wherein a person completely empties his mind of everything. That certainly is not the idea here. Biblical meditation is the spiritual discipline of filling your mind with one thing – Scripture. I won’t take the time to go into methods of doing this, but here is a link to Don Whitney’s website. Dr. Whitney is a professor at Southern Seminary who does conferences all over the country on the spiritual disciplines. On this page you’ll find a link to a downloadable file outlining various methods of Scriptural meditation.

Passion for the Word of God has become an uncommon thing. I’m convinced that this has resulted from the decline of strong biblical teaching in the church. When a people are not encountering the Bible every Sunday, it becomes very easy to forget about its power, its relevance, and its sufficiency. However, when the text of Scripture is faithfully exposed to God’s people, the Holy Spirit Himself argues for its power, relevance, and sufficiency.

Passion and time. What do you do if you don’t have a deep passion for God’s Word? Time. Spend time in the Word, praying that the Holy Spirit will illuminate the text. Memorize it. Meditate on it. Read it. Pray it. Sing it. If you’ll do that, the passion will follow. It may be that that well of passion for the Word in your life isn’t completely dry. The pump just needs to be primed.

I encourage you to read the rest of this Psalm here and answer these questions:

What will the man who delights in the Word be like?

How many observations can you make about that tree? (How will it be planted? Where will it be planted? Etc.)

What kind of person is contrasted with the man who delights in the Word?

What will he be like?

What other observation can be made about these two kinds of people in vv5-6?

How might the imagery of the tree and the chaff apply to your life?

May the Lord bless your time in this wonderful Psalm and may it be said of you that your delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law you meditate day and night.

Psalm 119:162 I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Even Here

Certainly there are plenty of Christians being persecuted around the world but it is seldom that we find that same hostility in our own cities and neighborhoods. In Forest Park, Ohio, a suburb just south of where Providence meets, a church was riddled with bullet holes overnight. Police Officers responded to the scene after hearing multiple gunshots.

Officers arrested the suspect as he was leaving the church. When the suspect was asked why he shot into the church his response was, "I'm tired of people saying 'in Jesus name'". He disavows all religion and has a particular disdain for Christianity.

We should never forget to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, all around the world, who face daily dangers because of their beliefs. And thank God, He has shown us mercy and protected us from harm. Let us not forget also to pray for this congregation and the person who holds such animosity in his heart.

You can find the story the local paper carried here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Sufficiency of Scripture

Many evangelicals hold to the inerrancy of Scripture but we have seemed to have lost the battle when it comes to the sufficiency of Scripture. We draw hard lines when the Bible is attacked and said to be erroneous by liberal theologians and unbelievers. But, we are slow to stand when people question whether Scripture is sufficient for the church and the follower of Christ.

The focus of how we do church and live our lives should be driven by God’s Word. This does not mean that I am against certain methods or strategies. God has uniquely gifted and equipped His followers to spread His gospel. He will grow His church and He has ordained us to be part of that growth.

The question we must ask ourselves, however, is; are we guided by God’s Word or by man’s techniques and philosophies? Do we have confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture? Do we trust in the power of God or in the power of ourselves? II Corinthians 3:5 says “our sufficiency is from God”. Our sufficiency is not from man or man’s wisdom. Our sufficiency to live a life according to God’s plan, for His glory, is from Him.

Our theology must drive our methodology. If our method is in line with God’s leading and God’s Word we should be full throttle in carrying out His desires. If our method besmirches His leading or His Word our quick cessation is required.

Over the next few weeks we will examine what the Bible says about its authority and power. My desire is that we look at Scripture and let it speak for itself.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Expository Preaching

A good friend of ours, Ryan Stanley, recently blogged on the benefits of expository preaching. Ryan planted Mercy Hill Church in Springboro Ohio earlier this year. Ryan is committed to expositional preaching in his ministry. You can read his post here.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Welcome

Finally, we've moved into the 21st century - we have a website and a blog!

We (the elders and teachers at PBF) view this blog as another opportunity to shepherd the flock. Our desire is for Providence Bible Fellowship to be God-centered, Bible-focused, and Gospel-driven. To that end, we'll be doing a variety of things on here from devotional posts, to exploring theological issues, to addressing current events from a biblical perspective.

We're going to do our best to keep fresh content coming, so check back every few days. See you Sunday!

Blessings,
Greg

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