Prayer: A Window into the Heart

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The Heart of Prayer
Prayer is a dialogue with God that reveals what matters to us the most. You could discover a person’s chief ambitions, anxieties, fears and hopes if you could listen in on their prayers. One could quickly identify whether a person’s heart is consumed primarily with immediate personal matters or the far reaching material and spiritual needs of others. Prayer is a window into the heart.

Listen in on the hearts of three significant biblical individuals below. What burdens their hearts? What do they seek on behalf of others? What can we learn from them?

Listen to the heart of the prophet Daniel: “To us, O Lord, belongs open shame, to our kings, to our princes, and to our fathers, because we have sinned against you. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against him and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God by walking in his laws, which he set before us by his servants the prophets” (Daniel 9:8–10).

“Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (Daniel 9:17–19).

Listen to the heart of the apostle Paul: “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named,
that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:14–19).

Listen to the heart of our Lord Jesus: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20–23).

What strikes me about these prayers is how God-centered and others-directed the prayers are. There is a profound desire for God to be honored and glorified coupled with a deep concern for the spiritual well-being of the people of God.

In our congregation we enter into a partnership each fall to pray and fast independently yet bound together for the sake of our local church and beyond. Each week I send out specific long-term and near-term prayer requests and Scripture verses to motivate our prayer life. I’m asking the Lord this year to give me a heart that burns with the same motivations and passions as above.

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Responding to the Unexpected

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Why does it seem odd to us or feel like somewhat of a failure when our plans don’t work out exactly as we intended? Are sudden unexpected changes of direction a mark of failed planning or a basic element of life in a fallen, yet God-directed world? The Scriptures clearly teach as much.

“The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps” (Prov. 16:9).

“Many plans are in a man’s heart, but the counsel of the LORD will stand” (Prov. 19:21).

We do well to remember a change of direction is not evidence that God has lost control, it is evidence that God is in control! We have many plans but only the counsel of the Lord will stand. Do we always plan exactly what the Lord intends to bring about? No! We live in a world in which God is the Sovereign architect of our lives and not the other way around. Often when our purposes seemed as clearly fixed and soon to be accomplished as a five-minute drive to the grocery store, the Divine Architect sends some obstruction, some unexpected difficulty that sends us in another direction—His direction. And His direction is always the best.

Consider that Paul was turned aside from a wide field of labor to preach in a prison cell. How could this serve the purposes of God? Oh what letters were written in those prison cells!

When David obediently traveled to visit his brothers at his father’s request, little did he realize what great test of his faith lied ahead in the form of an individual named Goliath. But what good came to many from that representative victory which resulted from the test of his faith! This one event was used in a very personal and direct way to prepare David for His calling as King. It was also instrumental as a means of instilling faith in the people of God.

Contemplate also the thirteen years Joseph experienced in slavery and imprisonment. Surely this must have felt like a useless and painful change of direction but it was the doorway to becoming Pharaoh’s right hand man and God’s instrument for saving Joseph’s people from starvation and maintaining the promised line (Gen. 50:20).

Christian recording artist Phil Keaggy adapted a line from C. S. Lewis in one of his songs entitled “Disappointment” that often comes to mind when I suddenly face an unexpected turn in the road. I think it’s worth remembering:

Disappointment – His appointment,
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.

This last month our congregation was shocked and disturbed by very difficult news regarding one of our own ministry leaders. This was truly a sudden and painfully unexpected turn if there ever was one. It would be yet another setback in the formation of a leadership and staff infrastructure that could meet the needs of our growing flock.

But sudden providential changes often issue in fruit we would have never harvested otherwise. Sometimes these quick alterations are Fatherly discipline designed to wean us from our own devices, sins or ruts, that we may seek the Lord’s direction and rely upon His help more diligently. I believe , in our case, we have already begun to taste some of the first fruits.

All of these changes may seem sudden and I must admit this is not the way I had planned or envisioned it. But with unreserved confidence I once again yield to our Heavenly Architect. He knows the whole way—every step of the way. He alone knows the “end from the beginning.”

Do you have any plans for the balance of 2016? Sure you do. You might encounter a sudden and unforeseen change of direction. The God who fashions the hearts of all men means for your life, as well as our churches, to display His truth and worth. Often this comes about through the refinement of our faith that takes place through God-sent sudden changes in direction. Plans that become thwarted may be harbingers of better things. Great letters came from prison cells. In the end, I believe we will all confess that these unexpected difficulties “turned out for the furtherance of the gospel.”

In closing I offer you all the lyrics of “Disappointment” for your reflection.

Disappointment – His appointment,
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.

His appointment must be blessing
Though it may come in disguise
For the end from the beginning,
Open to His wisdom lies.

Disappointment – His appointment
Whose? The Lord’s who loves best.
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test.

For like loving, earthy parent
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts unquestioned
All that from His wisdom flows.

Disappointment – His appointment
No good thing will he withhold
From denials oft we gather
Treasures from His love untold.

Well, He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller deeper trust
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.

Disappointment – His appointment
Lord I take it then as such,
Like the clay in hands of potter
Yielding wholly to Thy touch

All my life’s plan is Thy molding
Not one single choice be mine
Let me answer unrepining,
Father not my will but Thine.

 

 

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Worshipping in Harness with Others

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Christ Jesus has made worship a 24/7 reality for the Christian. Romans 12:1 teaches that due to His purifying work on the cross our lives are now “living sacrifices.” In response to His mercies we present our very lives to God as our “spiritual service of worship.” In Christ, all of life is sacred and offered as a priestly sacrifice of praise. We worship God, through Christ, by the Spirit, all the time – everywhere. Indeed, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).

There are 168 hours in a week. For approximately 166.5 of those hours we worship God as an individual believer, and on occasion, with a few others. On Sunday we will gather to worship God as a community of faith for 1.5 hours. We will participate in corporate worship in tandem with other blood-bought precious brothers and sisters. We are like a team of horses under one harness. We need to be conscious of how our speed, direction and attitude effects the entire team.

To do this, with godly order and love, we gladly and joyfully set aside our personal preferences—be it the time, length, text, songs, seat, liturgy, location, etc., and remember that its all about HIM. He is the audience of one. We are worshippers not consumers. After all, we worship HIM not our preferences or tastes.

We set aside our personal preferences because He has called us in humility to “consider others more important than” ourselves and to look to “the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). This is one way we present our lives as a living sacrifice. We set aside our personal preferences because the visible unity of the church glorifies Christ and exhibits the invisible power of the gospel. In Christ “there is ONE hope, ONE body, ONE Spirit, ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God and Father who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). These invisible realities become visible in corporate worship.

It is one of the distinctive beauties of the Church that it brings together a body of worshippers in one harness of praise. It is a family comprised of people of various ages, ethnicities, color, education, socio-economic status, and personal tastes. The Church is a kaleidoscope of God’s saving grace that extends across the globe and centuries.

[A word to our own congregation].

I don’t know about you, but I’m looking forward to corporate worship this Lord’s Day. I’m looking forward to seeing whether the selflessness and intensity of love and praise you displayed these last few weeks is still the exception or becoming the rule.

Your brother in the harness.

For background to this exhortation consider listening to the sermon of April 3, 2016 – Worthy of the Name: A Brief Theology of Christian Worship.

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6 Ways To Promote the Gospel & Demonstrate Your Love for Others This Easter

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This is a body life post for Grace Bible Church of Pleasant Hill

  1. PRAY before coming to worship. Pray for the word being preached on Good Friday and Sunday. Pray for the gospel to be made clear. Pray for the Sunday school teachers. Pray for the visitors. Pray for any last minute decisions being made whether to attend or not. Pray for the nursery workers, ushers and greeters. Pray for the worship leader and worship team. Pray for those serving in the media ministry and those having to stay at home to watch online. Pray for the Hispanic meeting. Consider coming to pray at the 8:15 a.m. prayer meeting. Consider staying to pray at the beginning of the 2nd hour service.
  1. Arrive EARLY to our worship services with your heart prepared to exalt the Lord for His gracious salvation. Show your concern and love for others by not being a distraction by arriving after the service of worship has already begun. This is a simple act that shows consideration for others.
  1. Park a bit further from the facility. Show your love and concern for visitors by not taking the closest parking spots but instead leaving those for our guests. Help people find their way if you see them in the parking lot.
  1. Sit up front. Show your love and concern for visitors by not forcing them to sit in the front seats in a new and sometimes intimidating setting. However, if you have small restless children sit closer to the exits and rear of the worship center. Be willing to give “your seat” to a visitor.
  1. Sing and praise God with your whole heart. Set aside your personal preferences and remind yourself that you are not a consumer but a worshipper. You are here to offer your praise to God and He is worthy of your attention, involvement and vocalized praises. It’s all about HIM. HE is the audience of ONE. Outsiders and children see the reality of your faith expressed by your genuine engagement in the worship of God.

Here is the link to the new resurrection praise song (“It is Finished”) we learned last week. Become familiar with it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yrqEsbnWTk

  1. Be gracious and hospitable. Reach out and introduce yourself to any and every new person you have the opportunity to greet. Ask people if there is anything you can do for them. Help people that look lost find their way around the facility. Offer visitors a free Bible or gospel literature found in the lobby.

Remember, you are the hands, feet and mouth of the Lord to others.

“Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious…” (Col. 4:5-6a).

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A Tremendous Time to be “In the World but not of it”

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We live in a time of unprecedented opportunity for the gospel. The history of the church in the world is at a crossroads due to globalization and technological advancements in communication. The world is in a constant dialogue and the church has a voice in it. The frustration and anger in our society due to political and financial struggles is more than palpable in the current presidential election year. At the root are troubles and hardships common to all of us. We are surrounded by people who need the gospel truth of Christ.

As I sat in my study this week with my window open I could hear a man yelling obscenities and venting his frustration at someone on his cell phone. My prayers are now being shaped by what I’m seeing in the election debates and hearing on the street. I’m asking, “Lord give the church an audience with people such as these. They are everywhere. What can I say to them Lord?” What are we to do in such unprecedented times?

To the church at Philippi Paul wrote, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life…” (Phil. 2:14-16a). Several things in these verses deserve our attention.

First, Paul encourages the church to pursue a harmonious existence within the body. The world is in disarray and people have forgotten how to disagree with respect and courteousness. Self-love and discontent is the order of the day. But Christian contentment (a theme Paul takes up later in this epistle) is a breath of fresh air in a selfish, whining and complaining world. We have so much to be thankful for even in our disagreements.

Our world is divided into ever-smaller tribes due to the concept of “personal preference” as a most important defining principle wrongly derived from “individual rights.” Like the many warring tribes struggling for power in Egypt, Iraq and now Libya, our society is collapsing into special interest groups each advocating for their interest. The church’s ability to unite people of diverse backgrounds, socio-economic status, color, race and language in a single loving and harmonious community is starkly different. This is just ONE simple area of the church’s life in Christ that is contrasted to the world. Think of how many other aspects of our life together can potentially stand out against the darkness.

Second, it is this sort of practical Christ-like, Spirit-produced behavior that proves or demonstrates that Christians are “children of God.” Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn. 13:35). Elsewhere, Jesus also said that when we love our enemies then we are “sons of our Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:45). The grumbling people of the wilderness generation, by contrast, were repudiated as “no longer his children (Dt. 32:5). Love, said Francis Schaeffer, is the “final apologetic” and it is the believer’s “badge.” It is one thing to confess the faith and be listed on the roster of a local church; it is another to display love—the fruit of the Spirit.

Third, though this Christian community is contrasted to the world it is “in the midst” of a “crooked and perverse” generation that this excellent life is lived out. The church cannot be so separate as to not be “in the midst.” This is a reflection of the old adage to live “in the world but not of it.” The church family and the individual believers that comprise it are to be distinguished by its behavior yet there can be no distinction without proximity. This may take place in the work place, neighborhood associations, schools and other normal intersections of life. The church is distinctive in its handling of things such as money, sexuality, opportunity, difficulties, family, power and influence and this distinctiveness is noticed in our interactions with the lost.

Fourth, the result of being “in but not of” is that “you appear as lights in the world.” The word Paul uses means “luminaries” (Greek phosteres). The term is used in the Greek version of the Old Testament in Genesis 1:14-19 of the sun, moon, and stars. As F. F. Bruce notes, “these luminaries do not shine for their own sake; they shine to provide light for all the world.” You and I possess what the frustrated masses need – the light of the truth. God’s truth informs and shapes all of life. Hence, His light can be seen in all aspects of our behavior and speech. It is recognized as HIS light when we verbalize the fact that the source of our insight or reason for living the way we do is the Lord Jesus. If we leave people to supply their own explanation they might reason that we live the way we do because we are “religious” or “moral” or perhaps we are Mormons or practice yoga and are very “centered.” What gives glory to God is our verbalizing the reason for our behavior as rooted in the gospel and our relationship with Jesus Christ. This is “confessing” Him before men.

How are some believers doing this? How are some encouraging others to do this? What does this look like in my field? These are good and helpful questions. My own pastoral suggestion is to live in community with other believers in order to discuss these matters and pray together. This is one of the benefits of our small groups. The testimonies of God’s grace in other people who face similar circumstances can be tremendously encouraging and challenging. This can take shape along the lines of our existing community groups or I can imagine forming small groups based upon scheduling or geographical challenges.

For example, I have read of churches in city centers forming “vocation groups” in order to meet other Christians in their profession and talk about the challenges and opportunities they share and how they are building bridges for the gospel in their specific field. This might provide not only examples and insight but prayer partners that really “get” what you face. To this end I can imagine student groups, public servants, teachers, homemakers and others meeting for a handful of times. These are but a few suggestions.

We live in a time of unprecedented opportunity for the gospel. The world is listening and watching. Sit for just a few hours on a park bench or a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station or a town center and you will see the pain, confusion and turmoil of those “wandering in the darkness” as Jesus spoke in John 8. This is a great time to appear as lights in the world. Let’s find ways to do this together and individually by the grace of God.

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He Himself has Suffered when Tempted

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Last Sunday we considered the sympathy of Jesus our High Priest. The author of Hebrews states, “because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18). Specifically, the temptation for which He helps us is the temptation to move away from a faithful commitment to Jesus as Lord, which is what the readers of this epistle were experiencing.

But in what way was Jesus tempted? Christ was tempted to avoid the suffering appointed for Him as our High Priest and sacrifice. Does this “temptation” of Christ imply anything unholy or sinful about Jesus? Hebrews would deny this for the author states later in chapter 4 that He was tempted like us, yet “without sin.” This temptation did not arise from a sinful heart  for Jesus does not share this aspect of our nature (Rom. 8:3). To drive this point home I briefly quoted Geerhardus Vos and made mention that I would post the entire paragraph.

You will find it below. It comes from a chapter on the Priesthood of Christ in Hebrews in his work entitled “Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation.”

“We are now able… to answer the questions… concerning the temptations, the sufferings, the sympathy and the perfecting of the Savior. Wherever the Epistle speaks of temptations of Christ, it always means to refer concretely and specifically to the temptations that arose from His call to suffer. Of temptations in general it never speaks in connection with Jesus. In thus doing it limits the sphere of the Savior’s temptations to that class of experiences wherein a real appeal to His feelings and desires was possible, and yet the mere presence and force of such an appeal could not endanger His sinlessness. For the inclination to escape from suffering, which made the temptation a real one, is in itself a natural, innocent inclination. It could assert itself in the Savior’s heart and require a positive choice of the will to overbear it and keep it down, without depending for its power on the presence of evil.”

While I found Vos helpful in understanding the temptation spoken of in Hebrews 2:18, I look forward to seeing if his point holds up when carefully examining what is meant in chapter 4:15 –

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Until then, let’s remember He loves us and is willing to lay hold of us with His grace at any moment.

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Renewing the Mind in an Information Saturated World

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We have restarted this blog with a link to the Grace Bible Church of Pleasant Hill Facebook page. It is our hope this will result in a wider dissemination of the posts. The posts are primarily designed to promote the fellowship of our local congregation by deepening our grasp and application of the truths of God’s Christ-centered word. Thank you for your patience.

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“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life,” writes Solomon in Proverbs 4:23.

The heart or mind of mankind (biblical categories overlap at this point) is the starting point of all behavior. Deep in the recesses of our inner person lie the images and ideas that become the ruling motives of our lives. In our technological age the gateway to the inner being is bombarded with images and ideas clamoring for our attention. It is the glory of Jesus Christ that through our union with Him He is willing and capable of bringing His light to the darkest corridors of our hearts. Praise be to our God that He not only justifies us on account of Christ but purifies us through Christ as well.

This transformation involves our cooperation with God’s grace. We are to be about the business of renewing our minds with the Word of God. To be sure, it is God who does all the transforming and growing and changing. But His appointed means include our efforts under His influence. We must teach ourselves to think Christianly about all of life and this involves effort. It involves efforts at limiting and controlling what comes in, how it comes in and when it comes in. It also involves efforts at flooding and saturating our hearts with biblical truth.

I want to offer you a few examples largely informed by James Sire in his book Habits of the Mind by James Sire. They are directed at individual and not corporate renewal. At each point I believe you will once find that we must resist the currents of pop culture and the rapid pace of life.

1) Solitude: Renewing the mind involves thinking and contemplation. Not the kind that takes place in a few minutes on a noisy and busy bus ride. But the kind of thinking that is the result of extended solitude. The kind of thinking that is the result of tracing biblical truth to its furthest points of reference. This involves waiting as you ponder who God is and what He is teaching you. Waiting– wow! I can hardly explain how difficult this is for our American mentality. We are an instantaneous society. But beloved, renewing the mind will rarely be the result of a “pop-tart” approach to spiritual feeding. It will be difficult for you to renew your mind without halting busyness and insisting upon creating pockets of time for solitude where you will meet with God’s thoughts till they saturate you and result in praise, wonder or a new direction.

2) Silence: Solitude naturally involves silence but in some cases this involves yet a deeper discipline. The discipline of being content to think without the T.V. or music filling the air. The further discipline of unburdening the mind of all the voices that demand your attention and clamor for a decision or an opinion. This involves a renunciation of all the noise that crowds-out our deepest thoughts of God and disrupts our contemplation. It is both the noise of environment and the noise of busy-body minds that must be set aside if we are to aggressively renew our minds with the Word of God. To this end we must practice the fine art of detachment. Detaching ourselves even from important things for in the end they are all secondary things to the voice of God in Scripture and we desperately need to hear Him if we are to renew our minds.

3) Attention: We may finally set aside time to be alone and shut out the sounds and voices that trigger so many reflex thoughts, but if we have not learned to maintain attention upon the Word we will drift away and the benefits of this important time will be lost. Attention is a difficult thing to define and understand. As Sire notes, “one can’t simply pay attention by paying attention to paying attention!” What comes to my mind is the sense of a free and natural focused concentration. Like the swing of a natural baseball player. All the rules of the game and the conditions of the environment inform him. There is a man on second, there are two outs, the left fielder is playing on the line, the pitcher likes to throw inside fastballs on two strikes and today’s umpire has a large strike zone. All these things are there in the back of his mind and they are true but for those few seconds his attention is completely focused upon the pitcher’s wind up and release. He swings with a natural beauty and sense of timing that is the result of a focused attention and hits the ball. At that moment his desire was to hit the ball not analyze all the details I just mentioned. Likewise, if we desire to know and to understand God and what He has said then His Word will have our focused attention. It is this yearning desire that keeps us on edge. “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for Thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;” (Ps 42:1-2a)

4) Meditation: So often the word “meditation” conjures up Eastern ideas of emptying oneself. But biblical meditation is really the opposite. It is not emptying but filling. It is filling one’s mind with biblical truth and then contemplating the various angles and connections this truth has to other truths and finally to one’s life. Both ideas are brought together by the psalmist when he writes “I will meditate on Thy precepts, and regard Thy ways” (Ps. 119:15). Meditation cannot be rushed. It is mulling over biblical statements and ideas over and over again. It is like staring at a sunset that is just unbelievable and longing to hold onto it forever. I find my meditation is helped by reading out loud and stating the implications of what I am reading as I pray to God. You might also try keeping a notebook with you to jot down your thoughts in order to return to them in contemplation.

We face many obstacles to solitude, silence, attention and meditation. But beloved, as Os Guiness notes, there are only two possibilities– “to think Christianly or to think un-Christianly.” Christ’s own disciples were guilty of thinking “as men think, not as God thinks.” If we are to have reformation in this area, and beloved we must, then we must make a commitment to renewing our minds as active obedience to the great commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your mind!”

 

 

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Ask For the Ancient Paths pt. 3

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“Stand at the crossroads and look;

Ask for the ancient paths,

Ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.

But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.”

(Jer. 6:16 – NIV)

This is the third and final post in a three-part series responding to the fact that some evangelicals are discarding belief that the Bible defines homosexual activity as sin. Each post is a review and amplification of a major point of the sermon “How is the Gospel at Stake in Same-Sex Marriage?” (July 12, 2015).

The third and final point below follows a brief review of the first two affirmations seeking to demonstrate that the gospel is indeed at stake in this current discussion.

The gospel is at stake because the gospel calls for repentance as well as faith.

The simple fact of the matter is if homosexuality is not deemed sin; there is no repentance and if there is no repentance of sin, there is no salvation. Both Jesus and the apostles preached the necessity of repentance and faith as essential components of genuine conversion (our human response to the gospel call). That homosexuality is considered sin from which true believers must and will repent (not necessarily only once) is seen in various scriptures (1 Cor 6:9-11; Eph. 5:5-6; Jude 7).

The gospel is at stake because the gospel is publically portrayed in biblical marriage. Marriage has several purposes. One purpose of marriage is procreation. Procreation is the product of the consummation of a marriage – the union of two complimentary image bearers, brought together, to be fruitful and procreate. This cannot be done in same-sex marriage.

In addition, marriage also portrays the intimacy of our union with Christ. This is made evident in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church (Eph. 5:22-32). Within the union of a man and woman there are specific roles and gifts that are not arbitrary. Human marriage is a God-ordained picture in miniature of the relationship between Christ and His Church.

Married couples are not simply partners in the Bible – they are husband and wife. They are two complementary image bearers fulfilling different roles, reflecting different spiritual truths: husband and wife, head and body, Christ and church. All of this imagery is gone when we set aside the reality of gender differences as a gift of God’s creation order.

The gospel is at stake because the gospel is founded upon biblical authority. The gospel is at stake because it is in the scriptures and if you can dismiss the sinfulness of homosexuality in your reading of the scriptures then you can dismiss just about anything. You have in essence given up biblical authority.

It’s amazing to me, as I’ve read some of the contemporary books and blogs making a plea for gay evangelicals, to watch the exegetical linguistic gymnastics used by some to say the Bible not only does not speak against homosexual activity but also actually affirms them. The dishonesty of this argument boggles the mind.

This argument is understandable coming from those individuals and movements that have never affirmed the inspiration, authority, clarity and inerrancy of Holy Scripture. What the bible means by what it says has always been open to a slew of contradictory interpretations to this camp. But what is disturbing is to hear this line of argumentation blindly adopted by those who claim to be evangelicals. To claim this is simply intellectually dishonest.

As an example of intellectual honesty from someone who does not hold the traditional view I offered the writings of William Loader. He is a member of the “Uniting Church of Australia” and has done extensive research on sexuality in Jewish and early Christian literature. In his book “Sexuality and the New Testament” he states, (in regards to homosexual activity as seen by the New Testament) it is…

“A particularly crass instance of what happens when people turn away from the true God, for they also lose touch with their own reality and engage in unnatural sex.”

This is not Loader’s opinion. What Loader is arguing is that this is what Paul and the bible is saying. He does not agree with it but he is intellectually honest enough to say that this is precisely what the bible means by what it says. Furthermore, he goes on to explain that, like other Jews, Paul bases this judgment on what “biblical law prohibits” (Leviticus) and goes on to provide a range of supporting arguments which include understanding what is natural in terms of how God created things, a strong disapproval of excessive sexual passion, and the shamefulness of men taking women’s roles and women usurping men’s.

William Loader says in essence, “I’m for gay marriage but, I’ve studied the Bible, and I can tell you this, you can’t by any stretch of the imagination tell me that the Bible actually supports that.” And yet, we find self-proclaimed evangelicals trying to find a way to make the scriptures fit the times. Is there no integrity?

I do not have the space in this brief post to review the principles of hermeneutics (the science and art of biblical interpretation) that are ignored when arriving at the conclusion that the bible actually supports homosexual marriage. But when various long established principles of biblical interpretation held by evangelicals since the Protestant Reformation are violated, ignored or simply thrown out the window to arrive at such conclusion one has undermined not only an ethic but the very authority of scripture which is the basis of the Christian life and all doctrine. If you are ready to dismiss the sinfulness of homosexual acts on the reading of the Bible, then when and where will it stop? What else will be dismissed? Who gets to pick and choose and on what basis? This is a slippery slope of massive proportions.

I can only echo the words of Paul again, “Be not deceived by empty words.” “If you practice these things you have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.” This is a matter of eternal significance. Don’t let the winds of modern culture blow you wherever they’re blowing. Stay on the ancient paths.

[One final pastoral note: If this question of what exactly does the bible say about homosexuality and how are we to interpret it is of interest to you I encourage you to read “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” by Kevin DeYoung.]

 

 

 

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Ask For the Ancient Paths II

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“Stand at the crossroads and look;

Ask for the ancient paths,

Ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.

But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.”

(Jer. 6:16 – NIV)

My last post was first in a series of posts addressing the fact that some evangelicals are discarding belief that the Bible defines homosexual activity as sin. This became more widespread shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. Each of these posts simply distills a major point of the sermon “How is the Gospel at Stake in Same-Sex Marriage?” (July 12, 2015).

The Gospel is at Stake Because The Gospel is Publically Portrayed in Biblical Marriage

What is marriage, biblically speaking? Marriage is a good gift designed and given by our Creator God (Gen. 2-3). It is a covenant between one man and one woman and God. This institution predates any human government and is the result of God’s actions and revelation (explaining His actions) and not a social construct. In this covenant the two become one flesh in consummation of the marriage. God created man in His own image; male and female He created them. He then brought the woman to the man. What follows this foundational moment is a divine pronouncement:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31)

Marriage has several purposes. One purpose of marriage is procreation. “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’” Procreation is the product (if God so blesses) of the consummation of a marriage – the union of two complimentary image bearers, brought together, to be fruitful, to multiply, to recreate, if you would, even as God created them to produce another. This cannot be done in same-sex marriage.

In addition, and more to our point, marriage is not only the context for our sexuality to be enjoyed and to procreate, but it also portrays the intimacy of our union with Christ. This is made evident in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. Following his quotation of Genesis 2:24 above, the apostle then states:

“Now this mystery is profound, and I’m saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Eph. 5:32).

A mystery, in Paul’s writing, does not refer to something strange or beyond understanding. Rather, it refers to something previously not understood that has now been revealed; the Gentile~Jewish church, for example. What makes this mystery of marriage so profound is the knowledge that, the union between Christ and church is really the original model, and the marriage of a man and woman is a copy. That’s the mystery, that all along it was a copy of an ultimate reality, not simply a functional necessity. The ultimate reality and the only permanent marriage lasting into eternity is our profound and unbreakable spiritual union with Jesus Christ.

Within the union of a man and woman there are specific roles and gifts that are not arbitrary. They are not roles conjured up by Paul, Moses or any other human society. God in Holy Scripture has revealed the purpose of each role. God doesn’t do things willy-nilly. Everything has purpose and meaning and often represents a spiritual reality. In this case, human marriage is a picture in miniature of the relationship between Christ and His Church.

There are many implications to this that the church would do well to consider and reflect upon in terms of our own community before we go and try to fix fallen people outside. This is what makes adultery so abhorrent: because it lies about the covenant faithfulness of Christ to His beloved bride. This is what makes pre-marital sex so abhorrent: because it wants and demands part of what marriage represents (spiritual union), without the complete picture of the covenant commitment and loyalty of Christ in His beloved.

And this is what makes so-called same-sex marriage so abhorrent: because it lies about the reality of roles in the covenant that are rooted in the gift of gender in the creation of God – male and female.

Married couples are not simply partners in the Bible – they are husband and wife. They are two complementary image bearers fulfilling different roles, reflecting different spiritual truths: husband and wife, head and body, Christ and church. And this is what’s lost in the attempt to unite people of the same sex. Regardless of whether it is legal in any society or any nation at any time.

We’re not talking about the legality of same-sex unions. We are talking about what some are promoting within the church. The attempt to redefine marriage, within the church, as including same-sex partners is a gross distortion. Gone is the picture of Christ’s loving and sacrificial headship and authority over the church. Gone is the picture of the church’s humble submission to Christ as lord. Gone is the picture of the gospel imagery of our union with Christ. Gone is the picture of Christ’s headship seeking us, wooing us, laying down His life in order to sanctify us and bring us into a spiritual union with Him. All of that is gone when we set aside the reality of gender differences as a gift of God’s creation order.

Be assured, the gospel is at stake in same-sex marriage when all this is lost. But I hasten to add; it is also at stake in our sins of adultery and fornication within the church. It is hard to talk to outsiders when our own house is a mess. So let us humbly we remember that as well. Judgment begins with the household of God.

 

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Ask For the Ancient Paths

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“Stand at the crossroads and look;

Ask for the ancient paths,

Ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.

But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.” (Jer. 6:16 – NIV)

Jerusalem was at the crossroads when the prophet spoke these words to a people who had long ago tuned out the voice of God in the word of God. They were disoriented and on the wrong road – the road to destruction. God had lovingly sent messengers who were prophets – like Isaiah and Jeremiah – who warned God’s people of the consequences of rejecting God’s will by following after the idols of foreign peoples. But they would not heed His gracious warnings.

“I appointed watchmen over you and said,

‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’

But you said, ‘We will not listen.’” (Jer. 6:17 – NIV)

The Evangelical church is at a crossroads in our own times. As a church family we reflected on this in my sermon entitled “How is the Gospel at Stake in Same-Sex Marriage?” (July 12, 2015). In this blog post I seek to put in writing some of the more salient points from the message so as to multiply its reach for the church.

What exactly is the problem?

Some evangelicals are discarding belief that the Bible defines homosexuality as sin. I’m not talking about what the society is doing. I am talking about members of the visible church who have expressed support for same-sex marriage not simply as a legal societal reality but are suggesting the church should accept it and practice it. Among the many reasons offered for this about face (all which I cannot delineate in this short post) is the notion that this is a matter of personal conscience since it belongs in the category of ethics and not doctrine essential to the gospel.

While this is a clever argument, the fact is it touches upon our definition and understanding of sin, which has everything to do with doctrine essential to the gospel. The gospel is God’s power unto salvation – from sin. As such, it is not a secondary matter and as a result the very gospel is at stake in this debate (doctrinal not political). I offered three ways the gospel is at stake, the first of which I will reiterate in this first post.

The gospel is at stake because the gospel calls for repentance as well as faith.

If homosexuality is not deemed sin; there is no repentance and if there is no repentance of sin, there is no salvation. To repent is to turn from and forsake sin and to turn toward God. While repentance and faith are distinct they are inseparable. Both Jesus and the apostles preached the necessity of repentance and faith as essential components of genuine conversion (our human response to the gospel call). They are two-sides of the same coin. Repentance of sin was at the heart of the preaching of our Lord Jesus and the apostles (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19).

“… I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20–21 – ESV)

But does the bible teach that homosexuality is a sin that needs forsaking? In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 Paul strongly urges his readers to live a life pleasing to God because God’s will is their sanctification (a holy and distinct life). In particular, they are to flee sexual immorality (Greek porneia). While the emphasis in this passage is upon monogamy, the term porneia encompasses various sorts of sexually immoral behavior including homosexuality as evidenced by several standard New Testament Greek Lexicons (cf. Louw Nida). Other biblical contexts closely link the term with homosexuality (Jude 7; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Paul makes very clear the consequences of rejecting this teaching. To disregard what he writes is not to “disregard man but God.” God is the “avenger” in these matters (1 Thess. 4:6-8). This refers to the coming judgment of God’s wrath upon any and all who reject His authority and continue in a life of unrepentant sinful practices, including homosexuality (Col. 3:5-6).

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5–6 – ESV)

Some Evangelicals now hesitate to call individual men and women to repentance of homosexuality because they have embraced the narrative that this behavior is simply part of how they are “wired” and we can’t expect them to change their very nature. But repentance of all sin is the product of a changed nature that is the result of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. This is true of every sinner who has come to faith in Christ.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11 – ESV).

Here Paul briefly describes the awesome and gracious transformative power of the gospel. It not only brings about a new legal standing with God (justified); a new positional standing relative to the world (sanctified); but it also produces a moral transformation such that Paul can say “such were some of you” as he recalls their former manner of life. Throughout human history there have been many powerful testimonies of both men and women delivered by God’s grace from a life of homosexuality. Consider the testimony of Rosaria Butterfield in her illuminating book “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

This does not mean that same-sex attraction will never again tempt every true believer who has repented of homosexuality and has been converted by God’s grace. All the sinful propensities and inclinations of what Paul refers to as the “flesh” are not eradicated in the new birth. Temptations of every kind continue to abound of both heterosexual and homosexual varieties (Rom. 7:13-24). But it does mean that the believer will be characterized as one who repents of any and all known sin and seeks by God’s grace to live a life pleasing to God (1 Jn. 1:9). The fact that Paul had to write this to believers who had responded to his own preaching should make that clear to all.

I pray we will all remember that repentance for each and every one of us was a God-wrought grace at the very threshold of the kingdom of God. It is not only “a mark that someone has done wrong but also a sign of the hand of God upon an individual” (Butterfield). It is a gift of God every believer experienced at the doorway of his or her salvation and continues to experience. One of the cruelest things we can do is to falsely assure individuals that they can have Christ and the kingdom without repenting of sin – including homosexual sins. This has been the devil’s lie from the beginning.“You surely will not die!”

Are you at the crossroads?

Are you debating whether we as members of Christ’s church should embrace and practice same-sex marriage? If so…

“Ask for the ancient paths, 

Ask where the good way is, and walk in it. 

And you will find rest for your souls”

To withhold a call to repentance of this sin is to distort the grace of the gospel and to rob it of its power. It is not the path of Jesus or the apostles. Instead of withholding a call to repentance we should gently and lovingly hold out the promise of salvation through faith in Christ and repentance of sin to all, and then trust our Lord to work in the hearts of those whom He is calling to Himself. This will not result in popularity in today’s cultural context (nor in Paul’s for that matter) but it is the good way and we must walk in it.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24–26 – ESV)

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