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Monday, January 24, 2011

Resources for Growing in Your Worship of Christ

I wanted to post here the resources that I suggested in yesterday's message to help you grow in your daily worship of Christ.  The source of most of these suggestions was C.J. Mahaney's book, "Living the Cross Centered Life." It is itself a great resource.

Memorizing the Gospel

2 Corinthians 5:21 - For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Romans 8:31-34 -  What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Isaiah 53:3-6 - He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Romans 3:23-26 - For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 5:6-11 - For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 

1 Corinthians 15:3-4 - For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

Galatians 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 

Ephesians 2:1-10 - And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 3:3-7 - For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 

Singing the Gospel

Just about anything at Sovereign Grace Music will be great.  But here are a couple of specific recommendations.

(This one is my favorite.)

Studying the Gospel

The New Testament books that are the richest expositions of the gospel are Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews, in my opinion.  If you are intimidated by Bible study, one great way to tip-toe into this discipline is to read the book using a good study Bible, reading the footnotes as you go, and checking the cross references.  Two great study Bibles for this are the ESV Study Bible and the MacArthur Study Bible.  Another way is to read through the book using a good commentary.  I have found John MacArthur's commentaries to be the most useful for this kind of reading as they are very devotional in nature.

Also, one of the best books out there on the cross is John Stott's, "The Cross of Christ."

I also recommended Milton Vincent's "A Gospel Primer for Christians," a wonderful resource for preaching the gospel to yourself every day.

May the Lord lead us all into a relentless pursuit of the daily worship of the Savior!

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sanctification Saturday - Communication and Conflict

I’m very excited about our upcoming Sanctification Saturday this week.  I am convinced that the majority of the problems that we have in our relationships, whether they be relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and employees, or any relationship within the church, are related to ungodly patterns of communication.  Another thing is certain, in my opinion – most of us don’t think we have communication problems.  We think we just have difficult people all around us.

Well, I’d like to take a minute here to prompt us all to get out the mirror and take a look at ourselves regarding the way we communicate.  We all have room to improve in how we deal with the people in our lives and how we handle conflict.  James 3:2 tells us, For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body.  Only perfect people can say they do not stumble in their communication.  I’m going to guess that rules all of us out.  So let me give you a few questions to consider. 

Are you clairvoyant? 

Many of us act as if we are.  Clairvoyance is the ability to gain information from a person without using normal human senses.  In other words, a clairvoyant is a mind-reader.  You might think, “That’s absurd.  Of course, I’m not a mind reader.”  Let me rephrase the question then.  Do you assume you know the motives of the people around you?  If someone says something that offends you, do you know what their intention was?  Do you intuitively discern why people do and say the things they do?
It doesn’t take much life experience to conclude that it is common for human beings to live as if they have intuitive knowledge of other people’s motives and intentions, and to act on that supposed knowledge.  Someone doesn’t talk to us at church and we think we know that that person is mad at us.  A wife says something that sounds curt to her husband and he thinks he knows why.  It is human nature to make assumptions.  If you do that, you will find this Saturday’s material helpful.

Do you clam up?

Some people handle conflict by not handling conflict.  When they get mad, they don’t say a word.  They just pretend that nothing is wrong.  When they are asked if something is wrong, some will even go so far as to deny it.  You can’t pry it out of them with a crow bar.  Is this a violation of Scripture?  Come and find out.

Do you blow up?

Some folks are the opposite of those who clam up – they blow up.  These people can’t help but speak their mind, sometimes forcefully, sometimes at full volume.  Many times they say things they don't mean, intending to hurt the other person just so that they can win the argument.  Afterward, they may realize that they overreacted, but in the heat of the moment they tend to go right back to the boiling point.  The Bible offers help and hope for the nuclear temperament.  We’ll talk about that Saturday. 

Are you a pretender?

A lot of people who blow up are also pretenders.  It’s an amazing combination.  They will start World War III, rant, yell, even throw things and slam doors…then act as if nothing ever happened.  It’s like they have relational amnesia.  On the other hand, sometimes pretenders are married to those who blow up.  Their spouse will lose his or her temper and the pretender will let it slide, never saying a word about it.  Pretenders tend to think, “its easier to just not talk about it.  It wouldn’t do any good anyway.”  Is there anything wrong with this mindset?  We’ll see this weekend.

We have all had times of difficulty in our marriages, in our relationships at work, and our relationships in the church.  We have all had conflicts where it seemed like there was no solution to be had.  What are we to do in those moments?  Are we to assume the thoughts and intentions of the other person?  Are we to clam up or blow up?  Are we to pretend that nothing is wrong?  The Bible gives us clear direction on how to handle even the most difficult of conflicts. 

It speaks volumes that in Ephesians, the first issue addressed in the applicational section of the book is the issue of communication and conflict resolution.  Before Paul deals with sexual purity, godly time management, submission to authority, or even being filled with the Spirit, he gives instruction on how to communicate with one another and how to solve relational problems.  That should tell us that this issue is of pivotal importance to godly living.

The truths that we will study this Saturday in Ephesians 4:25-32, if they are implemented faithfully, have the power to change the climate of your home in very short order.  Your problems will not dissolve in a moment, but the atmosphere can become one of peace, patience, and love very quickly by simply implementing the principles that God’s Word teaches.

Wherever you find people who are experiencing harmonious relationships, you will find people who are loving God and each other and communicating effectively.  Conversely, wherever you find people who are experiencing severe difficulties in their relationships, you will find people who are being selfish and not communicating effectively.  If it is our aim to please Him in all things, we should be willing to invest ourselves in learning how to communicate and deal with conflict God’s way.  That will be our objective this Saturday.
It’s not too late to sign up.  Just call the church or send us an email and we will put you on the list.  I hope to see you there!
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Monday, January 10, 2011

“He shall be called a Nazarene”

 When we were finishing up Matthew 2 after Christmas, I did not have time in the last message to deal with the final fulfillment quotation in the chapter.  After the holidays and being away at seminary for a week, I’m finally able to address this issue.  Thank you for your patience.

It is actually a misnomer to refer to Matt 2:23 as a fulfillment quotation because it is not a quotation at all.  Let’s refresh our memories with the context.

19 But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, 20 saying, "Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child's life are dead.”  21 And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.
 22 But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee.
 23 And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken by the prophets might be fulfilled: "He shall be called a Nazarene."
 (Mat 2:19-23)

Don’t let the quotation marks at the end of the passage fool you.  Unlike the other quotations in chs1-2, this sentence is not a quotation from the Old Testament.  You can search high and low from Genesis 1 to Malachi 4, but you will not find “He shall be called a Nazarene.”

That would seem to present a problem.  Matthew clearly claims that Joseph's taking Jesus to live in Nazareth was a fulfillment of something spoken by the prophets.  And yet, not only is this sentence not found in the prophetic books of the Old Testament, neither is it in the Pentateuch, Historical, or poetic books of the Old Testament.  Consequently, this text is one of the most precious pets of the skeptics out there. So should we, as biblical inerrantists, be embarrassed by this text? Should we concede that, yes, there appears to be an error in the Bible?

Certainly not.  If we were to read through the entire text of Matthew, noting all of the fulfillment quotations in the book, we would find that this is the only instance in which Matthew introduces a fulfillment as having been spoken by the prophets (plural) rather than the prophet (singular).  This indicates that Matthew was well aware that he was not directly quoting one Old Testament text, but was rather relating a theme running through multiple Old Testament texts. 

So what is that theme?  Matthew was writing to 1st century Jews, so to understand the statement we need to discover what it would have meant to that original audience.  The keyword in the sentence is “Nazarene.”  We know from John’s gospel that Galilee in general and Nazareth in particular were regarded as despised locales.  One of the arguments cited by the Jewish opposition that Jesus could not be the Christ was the fact that He was from Galilee (John 7:41, 52).  Likewise, Jesus’ hometown was reason enough for Nathanael to be skeptical regarding Philip’s claim to have found the Messiah.  Upon hearing that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael asked, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).

So being from Nazareth in the 1st century was sure to draw the scorn of that small town.  “Nazarene” was a label of contempt.  Matthew intends to indicate that this young king would be despised. 

But is it appropriate to say that this theme that the Messiah would be detested is found in multiple places in the Old Testament?  Absolutely.  Psalm 22, widely regarded as a Messianic psalm, includes, But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people.  All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; "He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!" (Psa 22:6-8 ESV).  The last part of this section is found almost verbatim in Matthew 27:43, being hurled at Jesus on the cross by the chief priests, scribes, and elders.  The psalmist tells us that the Messiah would be regarded as a worm.

Daniel 9:26 predicts that the Messiah would be cut off and have nothing.  Isaiah 49:7 refers to the Messiah as “the despised One” and “the One abhorred by the nation.”  But the Old Testament passage that provides the clearest picture of a detested Messiah is Isaiah 53: For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.  He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face, He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.  Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. (Isaiah 53:2-4).

So Matthew was communicating an Old Testament Messianic theme in summary form using language that his audience would unmistakably understand.  And this fits well with what the gospel writer had already set about to do.  He was continuing to portray Christ as a different kind of king.  Remember that in ch1, Matthew indicated through the genealogy and the angel’s announcement (“He will save his people from their sins”) that this king was not what the Jews were expecting.  They wanted a political and military ruler who would set them free from their Roman oppressors.  Instead, He would free them from their own wickedness and the just wrath of God.  Here in ch2, Matthew continues that theme by demonstrating that while the Jews were looking for a king that would be adored by the masses, they received One who would be hated by all but a few.

Why did it have to happen that way?  He was hated because of the kind of Savior He was.  He came to save their people from their sins.  The very existence of a Savior like that is offensive to the sinful human heart.  That man has sinned is offensive to his prideful desire to be his own standard.  That he needs a Savior offends his sense of self-sufficiency and his resistance to be held accountable for his evil actions.  It was inevitable that Christ would be hated. 

But it was that human hatred that would provide the mechanism for Him to be wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, chastised for our peace, and scourged for our healing (Isaiah 53:5).  So I think this last fulfillment quotation completes the subtle message communicated by the other such fulfillments in ch2.  Christ would fulfill all righteousness as Israel could not; He would bring a New Covenant reconciling His people to the Father; and He would do so by enduring the wrath of God through the hatred of men.

May the Lord be praised for this unfathomable gospel, and may we continue to grow in affection for and devotion to the despised Nazarene.     

 Posted by Greg Birdwell