The US presidential election of 2016 is likely to be the most consequential of our generation. The distinctive personal characteristics of both major candidates have enticed many Christians to speak out against one or the other, effectively taking sides in an increasingly acrimonious campaign. The tendency for Christians to favor one party over another goes back several decades. A pattern in our Lord’s conduct calls this practice into question, and suggests we have a higher responsibility.
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I was struck recently by the description of the leper in Matt 8:2-4:
Mat 8:2 And, behold, there came a leper and worshipped him,
The leper is not alone. Others who “worship” Jesus of Nazareth, in Matthew’s account alone, include the wise men (2:11), the ruler whose daughter had died (9:18), his disciples in the ship (14:33), the Canaanite woman (15:25), the mother of the sons of Zebedee (20:20), the women at the tomb (28:9), and the disciples in Galilee (28:17). Commentators often suggest that this action does not necessarily imply that Jesus is God, but can simply be a sign of respect. But there’s more to the story.
Continue reading Worshiping Jesus…
The Scriptures often tell us that the Lord hears our prayers when we cry to him. It is humbling, but encouraging, to know that we can come at any time to our Creator, share our burdens with him, and be assured of his attention. But this week, I was struck with a much smaller set of texts that emphasize that he hears even when we are not speaking to him. We might say that he not only hears us, but he overhears us.
I keep a prayer list, to help me remember the things that I should bring before the Lord, and to recognize the answers to prayer that he gives. Perhaps you have such a list, as well. A natural consequence of such a list is that we may pray repeatedly for something. But our Lord warned,
Mat 6:7 When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do
Is it wrong to ask repeatedly for something? Should we limit our prayers to, say, three instances (as Paul did for his “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Cor 12:8, and as our Lord in his agony in the Garden of Gethsemene)?
For many believers, the “gold standard” of godliness is obedience to God’s word. As a boy in a traditional church, I remember praying the act of contrition, which focuses entirely on God’s commands: “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done” (overlooking the positive commands), “and we have done those things which we ought not to have done” (overlooking the prohibitions). Either way, it was a question of doing.
Obedience is important. Our Savior said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). One objective of the Spirit’s work in our lives under the new covenant is to cause us to walk in God’s statutes, keep my judgments, and do them (Ezek 36:27). But doing is not the end of the story. Our Savior told his disciples,
Luk 17:10 So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.
Yesterday, in meditating on Mary’s response to the angel in Luke 1, I caught a glimpse of what lies beyond obedience.
Continue reading Beyond Obedience…
We recently studied the prophecy of Isaiah, quoted by our Lord in the synagogue of Nazareth, that the Redeemer would “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the eyes to those who are bound” (Isa 61:1; Luke 4:18). Both the details of Isaiah’s language and the New Testament history suggest that these expressions are metaphorical. Our Lord never released anyone from physical prison—not even John the Baptist from Herod’s dungeon. But he did speak of spiritual bondage (John 8:31-36), and many believers today wrestle with besetting sins that frustrate their Christian walk. Our Savior has unlocked the chains, but we sometimes have a struggle in getting untangled from them.
After our study, we discussed practical ways that we can experience the delivery from bondage that our Lord promised. Here are four suggestions, from four different brothers in the meeting. Together, they are a powerful set of tools for enjoying Christian liberty. If you’d like a mnemonic, you can think of them as the four ‘R’s: Retreat, Relate, Remember, and Replace.
For years, I’ve grappled with the question of the relation between the law and life under the new covenant. About six months ago, things began to come into focus. The paradox has been viewed as a theological one, with reformers lined up on one side and non-conformists on the other, each trying to set up a theological framework to disqualify the proof texts offered by the other side. Perhaps the paradox isn’t theological at all, but pastoral, growing out of some of the issues I’ve discussed in previous posts about Scripture as Food and Spiritual Growth. Here’s a paper that tries to pull it all together. If you read it, please share your comments.
A prominent feature of the current evangelical landscape is the popularity of debate as a mode of teaching. Some popular teachers, including Dave Hunt and James White, often engage in debates, sometimes with unbelievers, and at other times with those they would acknowledge to be Christians. The debate format is increasingly common as a means of interchange between believers and Muslims.
A lively debate seems a natural way of engaging people’s attention. The entire sports industry is based on the natural attraction of a good fight between skilled adversaries. Isn’t it wonderful that we can take advantage of this inborn interest to draw attention to the truth of God’s word?
Or is it? Just because something seems natural doesn’t make it right. Our natural state is dead in trespasses and sins, and many of our instincts require revision by the Spirit as we grow in Christ. Some exhortations in Scripture suggest that believers ought to be more cautious about engaging in, or promoting, staged controversies on spiritual subjects.
The notion of Scripture as food lends new insight to the description of teaching as “sound” or “wholesome” that appears frequently in Timothy and Titus. Let’s consider this expression a bit more closely.
Traditionally, the sermon has been an important feature of the assemblies of God’s people. The sermon is so central to many groups that its delivery is one of the main duties of a professionally trained and salaried individual, the pastor.
The sermon is coming under attack in many quarters as ineffective and out of date. Yet the practice of delivering material through an extended, carefully prepared verbal presentation has strong biblical precedent. Before abandoning serious expository preaching, let’s think more carefully.
Continue reading In Defense of the Sermon…