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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Is Jesus a divider or the Prince of Peace?

Last Sunday, we saw Jesus denying that He came to the earth as a peacemaker:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt 10:34).
We saw that Jesus’ coming and the gospel that He brought separated all mankind into two groups – those who obey the gospel and those who do not.  The gospel of Jesus Christ draws a proverbial line in the sand, and frequently that line will divide a family as some members follow Christ and others do not.  In that sense, Christ will cause a family to be separated rather than drawn together as their different worldviews lead them to different places. 
But the idea of Jesus not being a peacemaker but rather a divider may be a bit unsettling to many people.  Wasn’t Jesus supposed to be the Prince of Peace?  And if so, doesn’t the text that we studied on Sunday pose a contradiction?
Well, there are no legitimate contradictions in Scripture.  If we think there are, we are misunderstanding one or both texts within their respective contexts.  Once again, context is king when it comes to making sense of this supposed contradiction. 
Since we looked at the context of the passage in Matthew 10:34-39 in great detail, I won’t dedicate much space to it here.  Let me just remind you that Jesus was speaking about the call of the gospel and its purpose of separating believers from unbelievers in the present age, that is, prior to His second coming.  With that in mind, let’s consider the other text, Isaiah 9:6-7:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
While there are no direct quotations of this passage in the Gospels, Luke 1:32-33 uses strikingly similar language to describe the coming of Jesus: …And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end."  Additionally, Matthew directly quotes Isaiah 9:2, a verse from the same passage as the above quotation, applying it to the coming of Christ: …the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned (Matt 4:16).  So, Isaiah 9:6-7 is widely regarded as a Messianic prophecy about Jesus Christ.
So if Isaiah described Jesus as the Prince of Peace and said that there would be no end to the peace He would bring, how is that not a contradiction of what Jesus says about Himself in Matt 10:34?  If we look at all of vv6-7 together, we find some clues to help us.  The description of Jesus as the Prince of Peace is tied to the prediction that He would ascend the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and uphold it.  It is also said that His peace would never end.  So we should ask ourselves, “have those things happened yet?”  I would say they have not.  Jesus will establish His kingdom on earth in the last days (Rev 21-22).  It is then that He will uphold the kingdom “with justice and with righteousness.”  It is then that He will establish peace. 
Since the words in Isaiah 9:7 appear to describe events that have not been fulfilled yet, and since it is in that context that Jesus is described as the Prince of Peace, His ministry as the Prince of Peace must also be an eschatological reality.  That is, the fullness of who Jesus is as the Prince of Peace will be known in the last days.  After the Lord returns and vanquishes His enemies and destroys evil and brings about the new heavens and new earth, that is when there will be peace forevermore.  That to me is the best way to make sense of the supposed contradiction.
Another way to resolve the issue is to realize that the division that Jesus causes as described in Matthew 9:34-39 is division between men – those who believe and those who don’t.  Jesus’ work on the cross made peace between God and man.  So if the name Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6 refers to this part of Christ’s ministry as the mediator of our peace with the Father, there is no contradiction.  Christ divides men from one another with the gospel and unites man with God through the same gospel.
Ultimately, God’s Word is one book written by one Author.  He does not contradict Himself.  We just have to look closely at the near context and larger context in order to make sense of things that do not appear to fit.
This God-- his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true… (Psa 18:30)
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Great Article on Tornadoes, Evil, and God's Goodness

I highly recommend this article from Dr. Albert Mohler regarding making sense of the God's goodness and providence in the context of evil and suffering:
People all over the world are demanding an answer to the question of evil. It comes only to those who claim that God is mighty and that God is good. How could a good God allow these things to happen? How can a God of love allow killers to kill, terrorists to terrorize, and the wicked to escape without a trace? No superficial answer will do. Our quandary is well known, and the atheists think they have our number. As a character in Archibald MacLeish’s play, J.B. asserts, “If God is God He is not good, if God is good He is not God; take the even, take the odd . . . .” As he sees it, God can be good, or He can be powerful, but He cannot be both. We will either take our stand with God’s self-revelation in the Bible, or we are left to invent a deity of our own imagination.
To continue reading, click here.  It will be well worth your time.

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Prayer Requests for Missionaries

With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and stay alert in this, with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints. (Eph 6:18)
As most of you know, we had a time of fasting and prayer yesterday for our missionaries.  I thought I would post the specific requests that we prayed for last night as it might help guide your ongoing prayers for them. 
Those of you who attend Providence regularly know who the people are and what the situation is, so for security reasons, I’ll not include those details.
1) Pray that the convert would stand firm in the faith.
2) Pray that the convert would find ways to feast on the Word even though the Bible has been taken away. 
3) Pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to teach the convert while unable to be in fellowship with other believers. 
4) Pray that all that the convert has learned would bear fruit.
5) Pray that the gospel would bear fruit in the lives of the convert’s children as a result of this persecution.      
6) Pray for the missionaries that they would process this biblically. 
7) Pray for protection over their marriage and family life in the midst of this stressful time. 
8) Pray that the fruit of the Spirit would be manifested in their lives as a result of this persecution.
9) Pray that the missionaries would continually rest in God’s promises and trust Him with the unknown. 
10) Pray that they would rest well. 
11) Pray for all the fellow saints throughout the world that they would remain steadfast under persecution.
12) Pray that God would grant us to be willing to suffer for the gospel.
13) Pray that God would exalt Himself through the spread of the gospel.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Prayer and Fasting

The elders have asked the church to participate with one another in a time of fasting and prayer this Wednesday for our fellow saints overseas who are suffering persecution. While most of us may pray regularly and understand the blessing of communion with God, fasting may not be a discipline that many of us are as familiar with. Naturally, this may cause some to ask “What is fasting?”, “What is the purpose of fasting?”, or “How is prayer and fasting connected to one another?”.

Fasting is found throughout the bible and has been practiced since nearly the beginning of time. We read about it in the Old Testament and even Jesus is found talking about it in the New Testament. So what is fasting anyway? Biblically speaking, fasting is simply foregoing food and/or drink for a certain amount of time for spiritual purposes.

Scripture teaches there are different kinds of fasts. Some are total fasts where no food and/or water is taken (Duet 9:9; Ezra 10:6; Esther 4:16; Luke 4:2). Others are partial fasts where only certain foods are eaten (Daniel 10:3). It seems that scripture gives some deference in regards to an appropriate fast. This should be especially comforting to our brothers and sisters who have difficult life circumstances such as particular dietary or medical constraints.

What is most intriguing about fasting is not the types of fasting but the reason and result behind this biblical discipline. Fasting is not something we do to solicit a wanted response from God. It is not a “work” done by us to prove to God we sincerely desire a certain thing. Rather, fasting is a gift of grace from God. It is given to us by God that we might benefit from it and he might be glorified through it.

We are utterly dependent on God. He alone is Creator, Provider, and Sustainer of all things. In a world marked with autonomy and self-sufficiency fasting checks our pride and reminds of us who God is. Since nothing in us desires to fast and fasting does not come from us fasting produces a much needed dose of humility.

David writes of this connectedness between fasting and humilty, "When I wept and humbled my soul with fasting" (Psalm 69:10). Isaiah agrees that the kind of fasting that God desires will be coupled with humility and frees us (Isaiah 58). David again speaks of humbling himself when he writes "...I humbled my soul with fasting..." (Psalm 35:13 NAS). Clearly in passages such as these, scripture teaches that fasting is a means to humility.

Fasting is an expression of our utter dependence on God for all things. Food may satisfy the belly for a time but God satisfies our souls for all time. Fasting allows us to be reminded of our helplessness before an all-powerful and all-caring God. When crisis or difficulty comes into our lives our bend is to lean onto our own understanding and resources. Fasting re-shapes that bend toward God, helping us to recognize our absolute need for Him.

John Piper put it this way, “When King Solomon saw his people sacrificing their riches to build the temple, in the same way that one might sacrifice food in fasting, he was not puffed up with the self-wrought virtue of his people; he was humbled that God had given such a grace of generosity. He said, “Who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from Thee, and from Thy hand we have given Thee” (1 Chronicles 29:14). This is the way we should speak of fasting. There is no ground of boasting here. Who am I that I should be able to fast? Nobody. There is nothing in me that would choose this for your glory apart from your transforming grace. And when Solomon looked to the future and pondered whether this heart of sacrifice would continue, he prayed, “O LORD . . . preserve this forever in the intentions of the heart of Thy people, and direct their heart to Thee” (1 Chronicles 29:18). And so we should pray about our own fasting and the fasting of the Christian church: O Lord, keep alive the intentions to fast that you have created, and direct the hearts of your people ever to you as the source of all their joy.”1

As we pray and fast this Thursday for wisdom, unity, and growth in Christ-likeness let us come together in a spirit of humility and dependence of the triune God who works all things according to His purpose. Our loving Father hears and answers prayer. He is not persuaded by simple outward deeds but our humble fasting coupled with prayer can be transformative. 2 Chronicles 7:14 reads, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Ezra 8 teaches this truth in this way, “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (v.21). Later in the chapter we are told, “So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty” (v.23) and “he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way” (v.31).

May God grant us strength and grace in our prayer and fasting and may we long to see His name glorified above all things.

1 John Piper, A Hunger for God,  pp. 177-178.

Written by: Rick Jones

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Got Anger?

Everybody gets angry.  Everybody.  It’s a normal human emotion.  But Scripture teaches that what we do with anger is often sinful.  In Eph 4:26, Paul exhorts his readers to be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.  This indicates that anger itself is not sinful.  It’s possible to be angry and not sin.  But one way that it can become sinful is to not deal with it in a timely manner.  Later, in the same passage Paul notes some of the other sinful ways that prolonged anger can manifest itself: Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice (Eph 4:31). 
There may be some of us who would deny that we have an anger problem, but that denial may be rooted in ignorance about all the sinful ways we can display anger.  Bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice may be words that we easily gloss over during a casual reading of this verse, but if we take the time to consider what each of those words signify, we may find that we do indeed have a problem.
Bitterness could be thought of as anger that has settled into the heart.  It is anger that has passed the expiration date Paul gives in Eph 4:26.  Anger that may have been legitimate at one time can turn into bitterness if we cling to it.  It goes from being anger to a smoldering resentment that keeps us in perpetual animosity toward the original object of our anger.  Is there someone in your life with whom you have been angry in the past, perhaps a person who sinned against you, and now you have a sour disposition toward that person?  Could be from a recent dispute; could be from decades back.  Either way, if you have bitterness, you have a problem.
Wrath is explosive anger.  Some people are exploders.  Sometimes they are described as having “a short fuse.”  They blow up.  They throw things, slam doors, yell and threaten, and may even become physically abusive.  These are the people that most of us have in mind when we think about what it means to have an anger problem.  And certainly they do.  If you have wrath, you have a problem.
The word for anger in Eph 4:31 refers to more of a slow burn.  Externally, some people are the opposite of exploders.  Rather, than blowing up when they get angry, they internalize it and just simmer.  When asked if they are angry, frequently they will deny it.  They tend to just walk away from conflict, at times thinking that they are the bigger person for doing so.  However, like the other manifestations of anger, slow burners are not dealing with anger biblically.  If you tend to simmer, you have a problem.
Clamor is similar to wrath, but refers specifically to the audible outburst of anger.  Clamor is the shouting that expresses explosive rage.  If you tend to express your anger in this way, you have a problem.
Slander is the defamation of someone that results from an embittered heart.  Some people deal with their anger by expressing it to everyone but the person with whom they are angry.  They give their side of the story in an attempt to either gain sympathy or damage that person’s reputation in the mind of the listener.  When you get angry, do you go to the object of your anger, or to others who are uninvolved?  If you slander, you have a problem.
Malice is the general term for ill will that fuels all sinful manifestations of anger.  If you have any of the above issues, you have a malice.  If you have malice, you have a problem.
The good news is that for those who are in Christ, there is hope and help.  We don’t have to live as if we are still enslaved to sin (Rom 6).  The problem is that while most believers would admit to struggling with one or more of these sinful manifestations of anger, they don’t know how to deal with the issue biblically.
Our annual bible conference on May 17-18 will focus on the topic of how to deal with anger and bitterness.  Our guest speaker will be Lou Priolo, the director of the Center for Biblical Counseling at Eastwood Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  Priolo is a nationally recognized author and teacher on biblical counseling issues.  He has written numerous books, including The Heart of Anger, The Complete Husband, and Teach Them Diligently.  He only does a few speaking engagements each year – we are truly blessed to have him.  The conference will be Friday 6:30p-8:30p and Saturday 8:30a-12:30p.  Childcare will be provided for members and regular attenders.
The session schedule is:
Friday evening:
     1) Gentleness: The Antidote to Anger (6:30-7:20)
     2) Bitterness: The Root that Pollutes (part one) (7:35-8:30)
Saturday morning:
     3) Bitterness: The Root that Pollutes (part two) (8:30-9:20)
     4) How to Improve Your IQ (Impatience Quotient) (9:35-10:25)
     5) How to Avoid Making Rash Judgments (11:40-12:30)

Everbody gets angry.  Not everybody knows how to deal with it in a God-honoring way.  Please make every effort to join us at the conference so that we can all be equipped to apply God’s Word to our own anger and to help others.  If you can’t be at every session, that is fine.  You will benefit from whatever part you are able to attend.

Also, if you have friends or neighbors who are unbelievers, this is a great opportunity to expose them to the gospel.  Reach out and invite them.  Hope to see you all there!

Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Gospel Bullet Points

In the message on Sunday, I quickly rattled off the gospel bullet points that we can use for both sharing the gospel and meditating on the gospel.  A number of people asked me for them after church, so I thought I would post them here. 
I want to clarify that these bullet points are not the gospel itself.  If I were to just say these eight statements to someone, I would not consider that I have shared the gospel with them.  These are just simple statements, easy to remember, that remind me of the theological points I want to cover when I share the gospel.  They are “bare bones,” that is, crucial details are missing, like the facts that Jesus was the Son of God, He rose from the dead, and that only those who repent and trust in Him are saved.  As I share the gospel, I need to make sure I give the whole thing.
So here they are:
1.     God is holy. (Isaiah 6:3, Psalm 99:9)  God is morally perfect, completely separated from sin, and devoted to His own glory.  His holiness and devotion to His own glory are demonstrated in Leviticus 10.
2.     Man is sinful. (Rom 3:10-18, 23)  All men have willfully violated the law of God and sinned against Him.
3.     God is wrathful. (John 3:36, Rom 3:23, Eph 2:1-3)  God’s wrath, while experienced in various ways in this life, culminates in eternal separation from God in a literal hell (Matt 3:12, 7:13,8:12, 10:28, 13:38-42; 2 Thess 1:9).
4.     Man is doomed. (Rom 3:10-20) Man is unable to justify himself before God by doing good works.  In himself, he is hopeless to avoid the wrath of God.
5.     God is gracious. (Exo 34:6; Eph 2:4-7) God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  Because of His great love, He moved to save sinners from His own righteous wrath.
6.     Christ was given. (John 3:16; 2 Cor5:21; 1 John 4:10) God loved us in such a way that He gave His Son to live the righteous life we should have lived and to die the death that we should have died. Christ was given as the substitutionary sacrifice for our sins so that we might be forgiven and reconciled to God.
7.     Christ was sufficient. (Acts 2:24-36; 1 Cor 15:12-23; 1 Pet 1:3-5) Jesus Christ was raised from the dead three days later proving that His sacrifice was sufficient to satisfy the wrath of God and secure the future resurrection of all the redeemed.
8.     Man is redeemed. (Matt 3:2; John 3:16; Acts 2:38-39; 3:19-21; 17:30-31; Rom3:23-25; Eph 2:8) All those who repent of their sin and trust in Christ alone to save them will be forgiven of their sin, given eternal life, and reconciled to God.
Posted by Greg Birdwell