Thursday, June 22, 2017

Begun in grace and perfected in glory

The coming of Christ has been on my mind of late. Part of it is because my pastor has just finished preaching a series on Revelation. The other part is the lingering sorrow that has been weighing on my heart. I am not a melancholy person by nature, but I can't seem to shake this undercurrent of sadness. Don't get me wrong, there are many moments of joy and laughter. There are many times of encouragement in God's Word and with his people, but there is lament mixed with praise.

What is going on? Am I getting inundated with too much news? Has the optimism of youth been replaced with the pessimism of middle-age? Am I feeling helpless in the face of so much suffering that is not just out there but close to home? Christ's second coming is looking better and better, and yet his return isn't meant to be just an escape hatch from this broken and sin-cursed world.

In my weariness, I turned to the passage that everyone knows and loves - Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. (Matt. 11:28 NASB) Too often I would pluck this verse out of its context. This time I read the whole chapter. I had never noticed Jesus' declaration that the Father had given all things to him right before his call for the weary to come to him. What is the connection between the two? Well, here is what Matthew Henry has to say:

All things are delivered unto me of my Father. Christ, as God, is equal in power and glory with the Father; but as Mediator he receives his power and glory from the Father; has all judgment committed to him. He is authorized to settle a new covenant between God and man, and to offer peace and happiness to the apostate world, upon such terms as he should think fit: he was sanctified and sealed to be the sole Plenipotentiary, to concert and establish this great affair. In order to this, he has all power both in heaven and in earth, ch. 28:18 ); power over all flesh (Jn. 17:2); authority to execute judgment, Jn. 5:22Jn. 5:27 . This encourages us to come to Christ, that he is commissioned to receive us, and to give us what we come for, and has all things delivered to him for that purpose, by him who is Lord of all. All powers, all treasures are in his hand....
Note, It is the duty and interest of weary and heavy laden sinners to come to Jesus Christ. Renouncing all those things which stand in opposition to him, or in competition with him, we must accept of him, as our Physician and Advocate, and give up ourselves to his conduct and government; freely willing to be saved by him, in his own way, and upon his own terms. Come and cast that burden upon him, under which thou art heavy laden. This is the gospel call, The Spirit saith, Come; and the bride saith, Come; let him that is athirst come; Whoever will, let him come. [3.] The blessing promised to those that do come: I will give you rest. Christ is our Noah, whose name signifies rest, for this same shall give us rest. Gen. 5:29 Gen. 8:9 . Truly rest is good (Gen. 49:15 ), especially to those that labour and are heavy laden, Eccl. 5:12 . Note, Jesus Christ will give assured rest to those weary souls, that by a lively faith come to him for it; rest from the terror of sin, in a well-grounded peace of conscience; rest from the power of sin, in a regular order of the soul, and its due government of itself; a rest in God, and a complacency of soul, in his love. Ps. 11:6Ps. 11:7. This is that rest which remains for the people of God (Heb. 4:9 ), begun in grace, and perfected in glory.

I so appreciate what this brother has written. I can still long for Christ's return, but I don't have to wait until then to find rest. This Jesus who calls us to come to him isn't a small, weak savior. All authority has been given to him to fulfill the plan of redemption, and his resurrection testifies to that success. After his ascension, Jesus did not leave us to fend for ourselves like a deist deity who is not actively involved with creation. Rather, the fact that you and I are saved and that people continue to hear the gospel unhindered is proof that God is at work in the affairs of men. He carries the government on his shoulders. I just don't have the eyes to see it sometimes. And it is from a position of present omnipotence that he offers a rest that is better than earthly safety and security. He has given us freedom from condemnation, peace of conscience, and a love that casts out all fear. Do I always remember this? No, but thank God it does not depend on me but on him. Totally unearned and undeserved on my part. Freely given on his part. It's no wonder Matthew Henry writes, "This is that rest which remains for the people of God, begun in grace, and perfected in glory." Yes, and amen!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Three Faces of Redemptive Friendships


     Anyone who has ever had a two-faced friend will probably wonder how on earth redemptive friendships could have three faces? These three metaphorical faces of redemption have little to do with our physiognomy or the physical presentation of visages. Rather, what I’m suggesting is that in our approach toward cultivating redemptive friendships we ought to consider three different perspectives or orientations: 1) toward God, 2) toward self, and then 3) toward others.

      Our first priority to God leads us, as children of the Living God, upward, with open face toward the Lord and His purposes. Dr. John Frame called this upward face the “normative” perspective. He wrote in The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God that the Bible provides the lens through which we see and ought to evaluate who we are, the world around us, and the truth claims to which we hold.

     Thus, by knowing the Bible, we come to better see the character and holiness of God, to understand ourselves, and to interpret our context. In turn, the epistemological cycle enables us to know the Scriptures and God better. As John Knox once stated in an address to the statesmen in his time, “The Scriptures of God are my only foundation and substance in all matters of weight and importance.” Furthermore, Paul wrote to Timothy, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:15-16, ESV). All things begin and end with the Scriptures, our firm foundation in our relationships with others, both inside and outside of the Church. 

     The first face of redemptive friendships turns us heavenward. 

     Next, with the second face or perspective, we ought to examine ourselves and our standing before our Holy God, cultivating an accurate inward awareness. The inward face represents our existential or experiential perspective, by which we come to understand our lives in light of the normative foundation. Experience bolstered by life in the church, under the preaching and sacraments, play a vital role in developing right knowledge of oneself and encouragement to learn and grow upward and outward.

     In terms of the experiential perspective, Frame wrote that every person brings their dispositions, temperaments, biases, presuppositions, and life experience into the act of knowing and experiencing God and each other. In fact, Frame stated, objective knowledge in and of itself is not sufficient, as that would presuppose a denial of our creature hood and thus a denial of the power of God’s Word for us. Therefore, we must know ourselves rightly.

     As John Calvin emphasized the importance of acknowledging our own sinfulness and our inclination toward idols, he taught that our hearts resemble idol factories because we are so prone toward seeking our own autonomy. He further reminds us that faith and repentance are not merely the beginning, but the whole of our Christian lives. Since we have been made in the image of God, the existential face should reflect knowledge of God's glory as it increases through our sanctification. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit" (2 Cor. 3:18, NASB). Hence, the second face calls us to cultivate a life of knowledge of self, characterized by a life of believing and penitence, in light of the holiness and love of God (the upward face). In so doing, the Holy Spirit enables us then to effectively consider the outward face.

     Our third face, or outward orientation, represents the situational perspective. This third stance refers to our interactions with external facts, things, objects, and people, in light of the normative and experiential – knowing God and knowing ourselves. It includes acknowledging and understanding history, science, civil law, and other tangible information, along with our own contexts and relationships. Viewing people and things from a situational perspective involves understanding how we express the normative (Truth of God’s Word) in everyday life.  Without a robust understanding of and compassion for our context and the world, our attempts to apply Scripture in our interactions risk failure -- or reversion to a futile status: a resounding gong, an echo chamber, or the reiteration of confirmation bias.

     So, how might this work out in specific situations? First, consider the normative command of Scripture -- the timeless, unchanging moral principle from God's Word. Next, all the normative, moral principle to transform our hearts as we assess our own lives in light of God's character. How does heart knowledge of this principle affect my standing with God, my sin, and my relationship with others? Where do I need to repent or possibly become more self-aware? "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him"  (James 1:5, NASB).

     Finally, we apply this wisdom to our relationships inside and outside of the church, as a result of our upward reorientation toward the Lord (love of God) and our inward application in our own lives. Include contextual or situational clues such as legal, medical, cultural, and community (local church) practices that impact our decisions, actions, and consequences. Go before God and seek His wisdom. Then, we effectively live outward toward love of neighbor. We are enabled to step out in faith toward neighbor, enacting the great commission, extending hospitality and kindness, and expressing the love of Christ in our spheres of influence.

     In this way, we reflect back to God, His glory and the knowledge of Him in acts of worship. Rather than basing our friendships on worldly wisdom or empty promises as the two-faced friend might, we cultivate redemptive friendships, based on a lasting foundation, with eternal implications.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Our favorite books of the Bible

Rebecca:

My favorite book of the Bible is Hebrews. It was while studying Hebrews that I began to get a handle on the true relationship between the old and new covenants, something that had previously confused me. The writer of Hebrews put it all together: The old covenant was ineffectual. It didn’t work—not because the covenant was bad, but because the covenant people were. Israel did not fulfill their requirements under the old covenant, so Yahweh promised a new one. And with the blood of Jesus the promise of a new covenant has been fulfilled. The new covenant offers a better hope through a better covenant with better promises and a better sacrifice. And it offers actual forgiveness of sin—forgiveness that is complete and final.

I also love Hebrew’s highlight on the “heavenly city” (or country) reminding us that our ultimate hope is not in this world, but in the world to come. Longing for and living for the heavenly city is what kept the saints before us faithful, and it's what will keep us faithful through all the trials of our lives, too.


Persis:

My favorite book of the Bible is Psalms. This book was a tremendous source of comfort during a very hard trial. I lost count of how many times I read it because when I would reach Psalm 150, I would go right back to the beginning. The psalmists put into words what I was not able to verbalize at the time. This gave me a way to pour out my heart to the Lord. I love how the psalms span the range of human experience and emotion, from spiritual "highs" and celebration to mourning and lament. I love the honesty of the words as the psalmist is wondering if God will ever be gracious again, but in these verses, I am constantly pointed back to who God is and His character. Truly a balm to a weary and tired soul.


Kim:

My favourite book of the Bible is I John. In five short chapters, there is much about who Jesus is, who we are, and what God has done for us. The book focuses a lot on the person of Christ, that he was not only human, but that he was one with the Father. We must know the Son in order to know the Father (5:11). The book also teaches us one of the most important things about what Christ did, that he was a propitiation (2:2; 4:10), that he turned away God's wrath. The book also contains the comforting verse, 1:9, where we are told that when we sin, God will forgive us our sins. We learn about love not only for God but for one another.

Another thing I like about the book is John's warm writing style. He writes in a pastoral, caring manner, as a father to his children. One of my favourite parts of I John is the use of the image of light/darkness. I always notice light in my surroundings, and when I take photos, I notice shades of light. The picture of walking in the light is a beautiful one, which I love. It is a short book, but full of rich teaching.


Deb:
Currently, my favorite book of the Bible is Ephesians. I love Ephesians, because it depicts both the doctrine and practical teaching needed for maturing Christians. The richness of theology in the first chapters establishes the foundations of Christian belief, which in turn fortifies growth in Christ and enables us to live with purpose and calling.

The book of Ephesians is intensely personal and at the same time highly corporate in nature. Beginning in the first chapter, Paul declares who we are as Children of God and followers of Christ, as well as the truth of who God is - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then, with a view to the body of Christ, we learn about the two amazing mysteries of the Gospel. First, Paul tells us how God reconciled two peoples into one-body unity, through Jesus’s atoning sacrifice. Then, he describes the profound mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ. After giving instructions for our relationships in the body and in our families, Paul follows closely with the famous spiritual warfare passages for standing firm in the midst of our daily struggle against powers of darkness. Come to think of it, I need more Ephesians.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Rhythm of the Christian Life


Right now, as I write this, I am sitting in a big rocker on the front porch enjoying the morning sunshine. One of my sons is in the driveway tinkering with his car, and another is in the vegetable garden, nailing together the box for a raised garden bed. I can hear the next-door neighbor, too, using some kind of power tool outside in his yard. The winters are long here—from October through April—so no one wants to waste a moment of the warmer temps and brighter skies. There will be a few Sundays over the summer when there will be no Sunday School at my church because too many teachers and too many children are gone. Yukon families love their summer weekend camping trips! I’m not saying these frequent church absences are good—they're not—but they are what they are. This it the rhythm of Yukon life: eight months stuck indoors, and then four months of freedom in the glorious landscape that surrounds us.

What is the rhythm of your life? Five workdays and then the weekend? Nine or ten months of school and then summer vacation? Or maybe every day is different and it seems like there is no rhythm at all. Still, there are probably patterns to your life, even if you don’t feel them—patterns of work, play, and rest, of wake time and sleep. 

And looking beyond—or deeper—than your daily physical life, do you see a rhythm to your spiritual life? Sinclair Ferguson says “the rhythm of the Christian’s life is always determined by the principle that when the revelation of God in His glory is grasped by faith, the response is to return all glory to God.” [1]  Theology should always result in doxology; the study of God should always lead to praise. 

When our lives and our days are busy, we tend to focus on getting tasks done. We have schedules and to-do lists, and we center everything around them. Is it any wonder, then, that when we think about how to apply the truths we learn about God, our first thoughts are practical ones: “What should I do? How can I serve? What duties should I add to my to-do list?”

This not how it ought to be. This is not—or shouldn't be—the rhythm of the Christian life. Sure, what we do is important, but our first response to knowledge of God and his ways should not be more action, but more praise. Truth, then worship, and then—maybe—action. Maybe, because sometimes an adoring heart is enough.

But always, hearts that sing go before hands that do. Right before his plea for believers to live transformed lives in service to God, the apostle Paul wrote a song of praise:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
           “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
                       or who has been his counselor?”
           “Or who has given a gift to him
                       that he might be repaid?”
          For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36)

Paul urges his readers to pour out their lives in obedience to God because they have seen the glory of God through his work of salvation. They have just read of his "unsearchable judgments" and inscrutable ways." Surely their hearts, like Paul's, are already bursting with praise! “To him be glory forever” is the reason for “I appeal to you . . . to present your bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 11:33-12:2).” Keeping the rhythm, Paul puts a song of praise before the call to service.

What is the rhythm of your Christian life? Are you regularly learning about God? Do you see his acts in creation, providence, and salvation, and glimpse his goodness? And when you do, are you taking time to praise him in return? Are you stopping to rejoice in his goodness? Not because it’s the next thing on your list of things to do, but because it’s what comes naturally. (Or perhaps, since we're talking about spiritual things, we should say it's what comes supernaturally.) Are you grasping God in his glory by faith and then returning all glory to him? Is this the rhythm of your life?



[1] Beeke, Joel R., Living for God’s Glory: An Introduction to Calvinism (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust Publishing 2008), 388.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What is Inductive Bible Study?


My introduction to inductive Bible study occurred in 1996, and came through Precept Ministries. I took the training offered, and taught Precept studies for a few years with a friend, and I also attended many. But Precept did not "invent" inductive Bible study, and you don't have to use Precept materials to practice inductive study methods.


Discovery


Inductive study involves looking at the data -- in this case, the Bible -- and drawing conclusions after careful examination. In their book Inductive Bible Study, Andreas Köstenberger and Alan Fuhr say, "induction is discovery." That certainly applies to Bible study, because we do more than simply gain information; we discover God's truth. Inductive study moves from the particular to the general and derives meaning only after piecing together the evidence. It does not begin with a conclusion, but moves toward one.

We work through this discovery process using the steps of observation, interpretation, and application. Observation is more than a cursory reading; it means reading over and over again, paying attention to context, setting, people, words, and phrases. Done well, it should be the longest step in the process. Following observation, we interpret. The practice of interpretation is also called hermeneutics, and it has its own set of principles which one must follow. Only after we observe thoroughly and interpret carefully do we move to application; or as my hermeneutics professor preferred to say, implication.


Focus on the Text


The benefit of inductive study is that it really focuses on the text. We all bring presuppositions and pre-understandings to the text, and inductive study will help us read the text as it is, not as we presume it to be. Köstenberger and Fuhr say, "induction by its very nature demands that we remain open to wherever the evidence may lead." For some, a systematized method of Bible study may not seem Spirit led. Why can't we open up the Bible and simply let the Spirit speak? The two are not mutually exclusive. It is a false dichotomy to say that methodology and the Spirit cannot co-exist. The Spirit works with our intellect as we study.


Worth the Work


When looking at Bible study material for yourself, I would suggest looking for a study which focuses on inductive methods. Look for a study that has you immersed in the text. Look for a study that has you reading in context, not just picking isolated verses, and has you looking to discover meaning. Keri Folmar's Bible studies are specifically inductive, and in the introductions to them, she provides an overview of the process. Another benefit of the inductive method is that as you practice these skills, you will be able to apply them to any book of the Bible, and there may be a day when you can put together your own studies. Inductive study is work; hard work. But it is an effort that has an impact on our entire Christian life, including our devotional life. As as my hermeneutics prof likes to say, every time we crack open the Bible, we come face to face with God.