"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nuestro Tiempo Es Precioso, Pero No Como Dios

Dear brothers and sisters, old friends, and inveterate spammers -
Thanks for stopping by over the past year or so.  I just wanted to mention that I'm taking a sabbatical from adding to the blog in order to focus on a separate writing project that has been gaining momentum in the background.  I hope to get back in the proverbial saddle again soon, though - there are far too many things from the Word to talk about!  In the meantime, stay well, my friends.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Grief, Glory, and a Dear Old Friend

Grief is sometimes a surprisingly slow burner.  Tragedy deals you a very shrewd, very unexpected sort of blow, but rather than finding yourself immediately laid on your beam ends like a ship in a hurricane, you merely shrug, or scowl, or raise an eyebrow.  This is your brain's equivalent of a counterweight on an elevator, I suppose - it keeps you from falling too quickly.  An hour later, though, you feel it, and you hate yourself for that shrug or that eyebrow, and the tragedy turns over in your mind a hundred different ways, unbidden, for day or weeks or months, until you wonder if you will ever cease to discover new reasons the said tragedy is so tragic. 

A few weeks back, I received word that my dear friend Nick had been badly injured in an accident.  We had been best friends throughout our teenage years (he moved to Colorado a few years after high school).  The years of teendom are, nearly invariably, the silliest years accorded to the cycle of humanity:  indeed, if you possess such a friend as is able to endure you through that complete, interminable succession of seven years, this is a friend indeed. 

I will spare you, dear reader, of the descriptions of our bookish exploits and nerdish frivolities.  I remember these times with great fondness indeed, but they lie behind the realm of the discussion at hand (and at any rate, it is difficult to stop such amusing nostalgia once it is begun).  However, it is enough at this point to explain that for long years, we were inseparable friends.

The day after his accident, he succumbed to his injuries in a quiet hospital and slipped away.  Amazing to consider, no?  Only 36 hours before that, he had been as healthy and strong as anyone aged at 30 years.  How quickly one's situation changes.  Children are born, people join in marriage, fortunes are made, souls enter eternity. 

And in the midst of all of these things, God is at work.  As we dismantle the tragedies in our lives, we naturally attempt to reassemble them in ways that make sense to us, but how futile this endeavor is, how hollow these efforts sound, how weak and insubstantial are the end results, unless we find the Lord in the center of it all.  Even if the tragedy in question is a loved one who died saving a busload of orphans from certain death, the clearcut nobility of such a death can hardly surmount the sad reality that your loved one is gone, and that in perhaps 50 years, there will be scarcely anyone who remembers this incredible sacrifice. 

And then, of course, you have, quite suddenly, this sense that basically anything can happen.  I am, most decidedly, not referring to your "I Believe I Can Fly" high school guidance counselor telling you to reach for the stars and be yourself - no; I mean that all of those things which you assumed could only touch your life if you saw them in a newspaper quickly begin to seem more real - house fires, muggers, accidents, terminal illnesses, and so forth.

Again, though, if we can at all, we must meet with tragedies knowing that God is at work, and that His work, furthermore, is always purposeful, is always in keeping with His character, and does extend to all things (cf. Rom. 9:21-24, Ps. 135:6, Ps. 33:8-11, Dan. 4:35, and many others).  The sovereign purpose is glory - salvation of undeserving sinners with staggering love, grace, patience, and righteousness, and conquest of evil by means of infinite power, wisdom, and righteousness.

We have discussed this before, so I merely touch on it here.  The point is, God's sovereign work gives us not merely a reason, but the reason, that things happen:  because He is somehow glorified by it.  Some will reread that statement with horror, but yes, God has designed even tragedies for His own glorious ends.  Think of the cruelties that Joseph's brothers visited upon him, and then think how God used those circumstances.  Said Joseph to them much later, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Gen. 50:20)

Other examples abound in Scripture, and once you begin to identify them, you cannot help but see them everywhere in its pages.  Paul and Silas are imprisoned wrongfully and beaten brutally, but (literally) at the end of the day, the jailer is saved by the grace of Christ (Acts 16).  The Jerusalem saints were persecuted and scattered, but this dispersion caused the gospel to go forth into new places (Acts 8:1-4).  Even the death of Jesus Christ, the most appalling treachery and crime in all of creation's history, was predestined by God to produce the only way of salvation for a lost and wayward race of sinners.  Incredible.  Go and read Acts 4:27-28 this minute if there resides any doubt in your mind that God Himself was the architect of Christ's death.  Go and read Isaiah 53:10.  Does this not add yet another layer of glory to Christ's death, to consider that the Godhead conspired to bring it about in order to secure the salvation of Christ's church? 

Walking through life with an understanding of God's sovereign purpose of glory helps us to declare, "I cannot say why this tragedy has befallen us, but I know beyond doubt that God is in control, and that this tragedy is an essential part of His plan, and that by this, God is sure to be glorified."  Because we trust in His wisdom and goodness (having tasted them again and again), this sort of understanding is a boon to the distressed believer; it offers real joy in the midst of admitted sorrow. 

And if the tragedy is appallingly black and difficult, let the arduous burden of sadness convince our hearts still more of the overwhelming greatness and surpassing importance of God's glory:  this may be harder than anything you had ever reckoned you would (or could) face, but this means that God's glory is more incredible, and more essential, than you had ever imagined.  There is great purpose at work.  If God has promised us that we will, upon our deaths, experience an eternity free of hardship in His very presence, then He is surely not trifling with us in this life by allowing such tragedy.

We can bring this full circle, then.  I do not know the many reasons why God designed that my friend should die at age 30, but I know that He will be rightly glorified in all of this.  I can say this with all my heart.  And I think that one reason among many, perhaps, is so that His gospel might be proclaimed.  Below is part of an e-mail that my friend Nick sent me years ago; it is undoubtedly the best thing he ever told me in all of our years of acquaintance:

As you know we've both grown up in Christian homes. Myself, I thought I had become a believer WAY back in the day when I was but five or six years old. Did the whole "accept Jesus into my heart" deal. And sure, I spent a good amount of my time serving the church, doing missions, and the like. And I have no doubt that God had me doing those things for His glory, but all those times I was so brokenhearted and downtrodden by the things going on in my life, I never realized God was simply trying to get my attention and let me know that I wasn't saved. How do I know that to be true? How do I know that it wasn't just me being a backslider, or just not being a good enough follower of God? Simple. I never understood sin to be what it was. I was never shown the Law as a mirror to help me SEE my sin. And past that, I thought I was saved. I was proud, selfish...I did good things in the name of God, but I was like the people who will come to God during Judgement Day and be turned away even though they did all those great things in His Name.  
I never read my Bible. I never hungered for it, I never wanted to be at church and looked for ways to leave early. So that's my setup. My preface for my conversion.
Years and years and years have gone by. Twenty three to be exact. Many of which I was fully capable of making a wise decision regarding God. In the last couple years since moving to Colorado life has been pretty miserable. But, something was still missing. Remember now, I THOUGHT I had God in my life, but He wasn't dwelling within me. So somehow by a miracle I started listening to a radio talk show called The Way of the Master Radio. I had been given some from a friend of mine, but it was a year or two before I even tried listening. Well, Way of the Master is based on some really neat ideas. Ideas of the Bible, go figure. Here's their deal: Law to the proud, grace to the humble. They do a lot of phone fishing (witnessing to people on the streets) and ask some questions such as these: Do you think you're a good person? What do you think happens to you when you die? Have you ever lied? Stolen something? Used God's name in vain? So basically these people brought it to my attention that I am a filthy rotten sinner and there is absolutely NOTHING I could do on my own to save myself from eternal damnation. That scared the living daylights out of me. I was never certain in my salvation, always had doubts. So I heard these messages and started thinking. I was consumed by the fact that I was a sinner. And I knew Jesus died for me, but I couldn't get past it all. Was I saved? Was I lost still? Way of the Master asks some simple questions to help you see if you are in the faith. Nothing special. "Is Jesus precious to you? Do you read your Bible without fail each and every day and enjoy it? Do you share your faith? Are you growing in holiness?" I looked back on my life. I could not answer yes to any of those questions. In fact I was worse off than before.
So one evening after I got home from work I fell on my face and wept. I repented for my sins and I put my full trust in Jesus. I understood that He really DID die on that horrible cross to save me from my wretched self. I realized that if I would have died the day before I would have spent my eternity in Hell and I was terrified of that thought. But God is so ultimately kind that I couldn't help but stay on my knees and cry for a good long time. Every time I think about it I can't help but weep with joy due to His kindness. I am radically new. I've been regenerated!!!! I absolutely love reading my Bible and read it every day. I love worship and understand what it's really about. I've stopped watching a lot of movies and shows that I used to like. I stopped listening to a lot of music. I'm thankful, I watch my words, my thinking is radically different. I'm learning tons of new stuff each day and I know God has a lot of work yet to be done in my life. Ha ha, if I were to name all the things He's working on currently with me it'd be a pretty big list. I hate sin because God hates it. My conscience is way more active these days. I know it was dead previously. I had no real remorse. I can't even attend church anymore without being in tears through the worship. Even now as I listen to some stuff I'm ready to cry.
He is so kind, isn't He? So loving, so amazing. So big and powerful and sovereign and righteous and just. So perfect, so merciful. "Indescribable, uncontainable. You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name. You are amazing God." So cool. So cool...!
So yeah, that's my story.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Imitation Invites Intimacy

A question.  Is it correct to reckon the Lord as a distant lighthouse, toward whom we sail tirelessly across a tumultuous, inky expanse?  This risks violating the spirit of some 1930s hymn, perhaps, but the simplest answer is "no."  If we are not lovers and followers of Christ, then our course across these hypothetical waters is as dark as our hearts.  If, however, we are Jesus' mothers and brothers and sisters, as He Himself described (Matt. 12:46-50), then He is - wonder of wonders - already with us, with us in this very instant.

The zenith of our religious experience, then, is not to be had in bending a quiet knee before a cold statue in some hushed place, nor yet in that prideful glow of deservedness that sometimes goads people into trying good works (they call it karma).  The wonder of our spiritual experience issues from the truth that God is with us and that we may know Him.  We may worship and serve Him directly; we may understand the humanly discernible parts of His character, and we may even be assured by His Spirit, who dwells within us, of His love for us.  Incredible! 

It is no wonder, then, that Christians are designed to desire nearness with God.  We know from Philippians 4:5 that God is near to His children, but we also know from James 4:8 that we may, with our choices, widen that nearness.  Even a very young believer knows the dull ache that comes from distance with the Lord, and a very mature believer recognizes that even one's best days do not usually foster the immense closeness with God that we grow to desire. 

How, then, do we strengthen our spiritual intimacy with our Creator and Savior?  Paul proclaims that God is near in Philippians 4:5, as we mentioned, and four verses later, he delivers these useful words:  "the things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things and the God of peace will be with you."  Imitate my teachings and my actions, says Paul, and you invite the intimacy and intervention of God. 

A word of encouragement to the two involved parties in this transaction described in Philippians 4:9:

To the everyday believer:
This is not a mystical stream which we are to tap; this is obedience from the heart, by the power of the Spirit, to the precepts of Scripture - that obedience which is classified as love toward our God (John 15:14), and which is not, to our hearts, a cumbersome affair (1 John 5:3).  Of course our God will be with us, providing aid and comfort, as we avow our love for Him through ready, willing compliance to His righteous standards! 

A note about the specific obedience urged here in Philippians 4:  it is centered upon adherence to Paul's godly teaching, of course, but also upon his godly example.  When we regard the godly examples in our lives of those who teach us, like Paul, with the eye of biblical discernment, we are afforded a vista of biblical truth in action.  This is the idea of epignosis in the Greek - God's truth married with the godly experience that demonstrates that truth (we have looked at this in Phil. 1:9 before).  This is indeed a powerful blessing - to see God's Word for His people upheld and proven in the life of someone strong in the faith.  It brings encouragement and rejoicing in times of temptation, and it speaks to the wisdom and necessity of placing oneself in the care of godly teachers.

To the preacher of the Word:
One word comes to mind for the teachers of God's truth:  integrity.  Paul declared biblical truth; he imparted it verbally to the Philippians, and they received it, but they also had seen it working in his life, and had heard of its truth in his life (perhaps even from other believers outside of their community).  This was truly a man who exhibited a comforting sameness in his life - who lived by the same principles and truths that he laid upon others, whatever his (often difficult and sobering) circumstances. 

How simple a matter it is for a pastor to soil his own reputation by means of disqualifying sin!  How easy it is for him to squander and diminish his credibility by demonstrating that he does not cherish those principles which issue from his pulpit with as much fervor as he urges upon his own congregation!  Integrity, that non-negotiable, is as sweet and inviting as its absence is sour and foreboding.

God has truly blessed His people with the gifts of godly fellowship and example.  How wondrous indeed that He would give us the church, the bride of Christ, and would use the teaching and examples of godly preachers in her midst to invite His children into greater intimacy with Himself, our heart's desire!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


The very first reference to the stars comes just sixteen verses into Scripture, on the fourth day of the world's history.  On several occasions in that first book (15:5, 22:17, 26:4), God uses the stars as an illustration for a prodigious number.  Take Genesis 15:5, for instance:  "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them...So shall your descendants be." 

Had Abraham counted all the stars in the sky he could see over a number of months, his tally would have culminated in the thousands.1  Advance ahead to our era, and Joe Anybody can point his binoculars into the night sky and count far, far more - perhaps 200,000 if he travelled to both hemispheres (Joe can get to South Africa with far less inconvenience and time than Abraham could). 

Having established that, it is all the more remarkable to note that scientists now place the estimate for population of stars in the Milky Way at 100 - 400 billion.  To put that figure into some semblance of perspective, this means that for every star you can see with your binoculars, there are at least half a million behind it in the Milky Way that remain invisible. 

Right now in the late summer sky, somewhere in between Cassiopeia and the Square of Pegasus, there resides a small and somewhat vague area of white light, visible to the naked eye, if one knows where to look.  This is the Andromeda Galaxy.  Consider this a moment.  Every star you can see, unless you have some serious hardware, is a card-carrying member of the Milky Way clan.  Even these are indescribably distant from our tilted heads, but then, beyond the silver veil of all these constellations and stars, some 2,500,000 light years (or 14,700,000,000,000,000,000 miles, if you prefer) from our own modest galaxy, resides the Andromeda Galaxy.  You are looking at another galaxy.

Now, it was not settled that Andromeda was even a galaxy until about 93 years ago - before this, the general thought was that ours was the solitary galaxy in the universe.  By 2013, the calculated estimate sits at 170 billion galaxies stretched across the 13.8 billion light years of the universe that we can discern.

This is all very interesting, certainly, but what possible spiritual bearing does this have?  Here are a few thoughts:

1.  God's sovereignty is exalted.  David says, "The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all." (Ps. 103:19) Suddenly, the word "all" takes on such a weight, such a crushing mass, that we are helpless to conceive of it.  God's sovereignty is, of course, just the sort of sparrow-preserving, hair-numbering control that Christ himself described in Matthew 10:29-30, and the psalmist would have us know that this sovereignty extends to all things - even a molecule of gas floating through the Triangulum Galaxy.  Such is the extent and the specificity of God's incontrovertible will.

Some would ask, "Why would He bother with this degree of sovereignty?  Why should God be concerned about the shape of a dust cloud in some galaxy which science can barely even recognize across the cold marches of space?"  To this, we simply respond, why would He not?  God is not overburdening Himself in the maintainence of billions of galaxies and all they contain, is He?  Was His intellect taxed to the breaking point as He spun His all-encompassing plan?  Does He now wish He had just a few more hands (like parents everywhere do) so He could get more done with greater care?  Of course not!  His sovereign plans were planned and are executed with perfection; they subjugate every atom in the universe, and for God, this is easy.

2.  God's omnipotence is exalted.  These familiar words open God's Word:  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  Consider such understated words in the light of our incomprehensibly vast cosmos!  We further discover in Genesis 1 that God created all things from nothing, that He used mere words, only powerful pronouncement, to create all things, and that He fashioned the heavens in a single day:  perfect power personified. 

Our Lord applies that infinite might in His sovereign rule over all things.  The fact that His power is infinite means that He can distribute that power across every single atom in the universe, and He is still applying infinite power to every atom.  Our powers of explanation simply come unhinged at such lofty notions.

Science, then, continues to grow our understanding of the universe, and, as a result, continues to grow our wonder toward the God of all things, the divine Architect of these wonders, which have been laid up quietly in His keeping through the millennia, until we were able to see them.  Science, which so often seeks to turn God to flinders, is a gift from God to help to describe His own glory - incredible.

I want the Creator and Keeper of all things for my God.  The One whose very words causes the entire cosmos to endure (Heb. 1:3), the One who does as He pleases with that overwhelming sovereignty (Ps. 135:6, Rom. 8:28), the One who declares as Creator that He alone is God, and that we ought to turn to Him alone (Is. 45:22) - this is the God we are privileged to serve, brothers and sisters. 

Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb,

"I, the Lord, am the maker of all things,
Stretching out the heavens by Myself
And spreading out the earth all alone,
Causing the omens of boasters to fail,
Making fools out of diviners,
Causing wise men to draw back
And turning their knowledge into foolishness,
Confirming the word of His servant
And performing the purpose of His messengers.
It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’
And of the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built.’
And I will raise up her ruins again."
     - Isaiah 44:24-26

1 The text of this website provides good insight on this and other matters.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Paul's Favorite Trio in the Trenches

Sing along if you know the words:  "But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Cor. 13:13) A modest estimate would tell us, I am convinced, that roughly two million people have, in the past five years, translated some portion of these words into a 90s script font and placed them into a picture of an ocean sunset. You can find them all on Facebook.

That aside, though, the trio of faith, hope, and love is certainly one of Paul's favorites.  He mentions this combination a number of times in his biblical writings, and it is evident that, for him, these are more than just pretty words or ideas.  They are the helmet and the breastplate for the sober Christian warrior (1 Thess. 5:8), essential defensive components in the chaos and struggle of Christian life. 

Consider the basis of Paul's thankfulness for the Thessalonian believers, taken from 1 Thessalonians 1:3 - "your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father."  These qualities were not incubated in a pristine bubble of comfort (read:  they did not pitch their tents in the candle aisle of a Christian book store).  There was hardship, persecution, confusion, difficulty - even from the very beginning (see Acts 17:1-9, for instance).  Let us look at faith, hope, and love in the above context, and see what they teach us about the commendable Christian life.

1.  Our faith must work.  We cannot mention faith and works without James' famous treatment in James 2:14-26 springing into our thoughts, can we?  The faith of the commendable believer is one that is active.  It is not content to rest upon the (presumed) laurels of (supposed) salvation; rather, the natural outpouring of genuine faith is committed action for the Lord.  A lazy faith is not one that will excite gladness from our spiritual family, and it will not fasten us to an immovable pillar of assurance, because true faith should naturally generate godly works (cf. 1 John 5:2-4).  The circumstances through which our God leads us are manifold and complex, but biblical wisdom and godly discernment always, always demonstrate to us how we can serve Christ in faith in a given situation. 

2.  Our love must labor.  Paul's word choice behind "labor" is kopos.  This is toil, exertion to the point of weariness or pain- perhaps not the usual sort of idea when love is discussed.  Our love, both for God and for others (and it is difficult to completely separate those two objects; is it not?), should motivate us to lavishly pour out our energies in useful, selfless kingdom work.  The immortal words of David Brainerd, that earnest missionary of the 18th century, spring to mind:  "I want to wear out my life in His service and for His glory."  We live and work in the only kingdom that will never be overthrown; we enjoy the only salvation which is true and permanent.  We serve the only righteous Lord and life-giving Savior - what cause could clamor more loudly and rightly for the near-prodigal expenditure of our energies and zeal?  Put another way, what would we seek to withhold from ourselves for the sake of the love which God commands and implants?

3.  Our hope must endure.  We know from Paul that hope grows from the soil of steadfastness (Romans 5:3-5), and he explains here that steadfastness must also be a facet of that same hope.  True hope in the Christian world is never an uncertain venture, for it is grounded in the faithful truth of our immutable God - it possesses the element of expectation, not assumption.  Hope for the believer is always favorable.3  It is easy to see, then, how genuine hope can either set a believer up for devastating failure, or else carry through with them to victory for God's glory, in any given endeavor.  Hope that falters and comes short when circumstances grow difficult is of little use; it merely mimics one's emotional state when it should be driving one beyond the frustrating confines of emotional mire.  It has no weight, and is thus without momentum (simple physics teaches, of course, that momentum is the product of mass and velocity).  Hope's reality is proven in its endurance - true hope knows and believes in God's character and promises, and acts accordingly.

True faith, hope, and love, are serious pursuits, as well as powerful tools.  They require effort and endurance, and they will be tinged with the dirt and sweat of spiritual battle, but they will provide energy, direction, and protection, all from God, in our lifelong pursuit of Christ and His kingdom!

1Brown, Colin. Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Vol. 1. Grand Rapid, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1975. pp. 262-263.

2This is not at all to suggest that love should be given without wisdom or reck (e.g. giving the family house to a homeless man who shows up at your door).  Love must fall within the righteous confines of God's wise word, or it is not love at all, for it fails to love Him.  Make your love a wise, godly love.

1Vine, W.E., et al. Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. "An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words." Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson, 1996. p. 310.

Monday, August 5, 2013

12 Evangelistic Points from an Old Pro (Part 2 of 2)

We last looked at the first six of twelve evangelistic guidelines which could be derived from Paul's words in 1 Thessalonians 2 - a knowing boldness, pure exhortation, God-honoring speech, honest speech, humble comportment, and gentle care.  Today's discussion will comprehend the final six, which we will quickly see are no less crucial or desirable in the righteous pursuit of the gospel, and of the discipleship which must be a part of every believer's life.

7.  Selfless affection.  "Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us." (v. 8) Paul and his fellow soldiers did not cloister themselves atop a tower of smug condescension:  "We will give you the gospel, and you will listen and ask polite questions, and we will then return to our own rarified company."  No; they developed a genuine love for those to whom they imparted gospel truth; they were close, personal, and real (most people are more savvy to dissembly and condescension than we care to suppose).  Especially as the Lord began to build the Thessalonian church, the evangelists invested their very lives into these dear people. 

8.  Unselfish living.  "For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God." (v. 9) Seeing to their own needs allowed Paul and his friends to present a very uncluttered message.  Imagine how pedestrian they would have appeared, had they on one hand presented (as they claimed) the only way of salvation and eternal life, while on the other demanding some manner of material benefit.  This harkens back to the television gospel charlatan who draws people into his church, only to leech their financial resources to the breaking point.  We must take care to avoid a two-faced appearance in our interaction with unbelievers or new believers.

9.  Purity of conduct.  "You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; " (v. 10) Just as they did not seek monetary gain in their work, they were careful to avoid the sort of hypocrisy that would only have blunted the force of their discipleship work amongst these new believers:  "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God - here; let us show you."  Or, "As Christians, righteousness is, on occasion, incredibly important to us."  They sought, as we should, to exemplify Christ's righteousness.  This does not mean that young believers look at us and see people basking in the glories of moral perfection, but they see people for whom striving after godliness is a continual priority - this constitutes a distinction from unbelievers (cf. Ps. 119:20, Rom. 7:22).

10.  Earnest exhortation.  "just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, " (v. 11) By now, you have noticed the transition in this passage from strict evangelism toward general Christian discipleship - the natural consequence of evangelism and salvation.  New believers must be nurtured and directed in their newfound faith and zeal (or else Scripture would avail us nothing after salvation), so Paul passionately cheered and warned and pled with his Thessalonian family, bringing sanctifying biblical truth to bear with the gentleness, care, and wisdom of a father addressing his children. 

11.  A heart of discipleship.  "so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory." (v. 12) The simple goal of Paul's work was godliness - to gird the infant Thessalonian believers such that they were living as children of the true, holy, and sovereign God should.  Some preach morality from a desire to cleanse the fabric of society, or to make their church look appealing to outsiders, or to salve the human conscience.  Paul's motivation was far greater than any of these things, though - the worthiness of His God to have holy partakers of His blessings.

12.  A humble heart before God.  "For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe." (v. 13) These godly believers, in delivering the gospel to the Thessalonians, did not congratulate themselves in their masterful powers of persuasion or righteousness.  Rather, they recognized the active work of God as being the sole catalyst behind the spiritual life which sprang up before their very eyes in that city.  This recognition led to their thankfulness toward God, and indeed their reliance upon Him in their crucial work.  Thus God, in His sovereignty, was glorified in their hearts, and they looked to Him for the results of their labor. 

We begin to see, then, that evangelism is more than simply declaring the gospel, and its undertaking demands more than a little care and caution from us.  It is a comprehensive program of godliness, love, selflessness, boldness, and reliance upon the Lord as we declare the gospel, and it resolves itself into a lifelong work of discipleship and shepherding when a person is graciously saved by the Lord.  In short, it is a weighty undertaking.  Praise be to God alone, who blesses us with His perfect Word and His own Spirit, by which we may be fitted for this indispensable kingdom work! 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

12 Evangelistic Pointers from an Old Pro (Part 1 of 2)

The best mechanics fix what is broken.  The best mothers love their children.  And the best Christians speak the gospel.  Of course, we seek for our lives to form a clear picture of life in Christ, but we also know that truth, purposeful and direct, must issue from our lips if the people in our circles would understand, and hopefully come to taste, Christ's inimitable salvation.

To say that this is not always easy would be a fair (if completely obvious) statement.  To suggest that we could use all of the (solid) help we can get would be similarly axiomatic.  If I mention the name of Paul in this context, then we have only to throw our hands in the air and say, "Of course!"  This is not daring ground at all.  Of course Paul knows his work in the area of evangelism, and if we have any reliable record of that work, it is to be found in Scripture, where all is trustworthy and truthful. 

I would like to mine the 1 Thessalonians 2 for gems on how to evangelize.  A note first, though - this passage is not an instruction on evangelizing, but rather a recounting by Paul of his early days with the Thessalonians.  The context police tighten their grip on their clubs, but stay a moment - if Paul is commending the evangelistic work of himself and his fellows as blameless before the Thessalonians and before God (as indeed he is), then we may very safely extract some conclusions about good evangelism from his example. 

Here, then, are 12 pointers on evangelism from the great apostle.

1.  A knowing boldness.  "but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition." (v. 2) They had been abused cruelly and unjustly by certain of the Philippians for their gospel (Acts 16:22-24), and had no reason to expect different in Thessalonica, but this did nothing to blunt their zeal for their Lord's gospel.  God had brought them anguish in Philippi, but had also delivered them from it, and indeed had worked through those trials to spread His salvation still further (Acts. 16:25-31).   Evangelism must be bold, even in the light of danger and persecution.

2.  Pure exhortation.  "For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit;" (v. 3) Paul and his company urged the truth of salvation without a hint of moral compromise.  They did not fall prey to the ghosts of pragmatism or cowardliness, which strive to compel believers to water down their message, cloak that message in deception, or otherwise adjust its focus away from sin or Christ.  The gospel is not about wealth or happiness; it is about gracious salvation from sin and the perfect justice of a holy God. 

3.  God-honoring speech.  "but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts." (v. 4) This is a sobering verse, in a way - Paul and his comrades had been entrusted, by God, with His saving gospel.  What a weighty responsibility!  What an enormous blessing and task!  As Christians, are you and I any less entrusted with the gospel?  We too, then, must feel the enormity of our work, and must make it our urgent priority to please God in our speech.

4.  Honest speech.  "For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—" (v. 5) A requisite feature of God-honoring speech is speech that is honest in its intentions.  It does not seek to soothe the ego of its audience, for God requires the most empty-handed humility imaginable from those seeking salvation.  It also does not have an undercurrent of greed - how can we cherish an undefiled compassion for a lost sinner, or how can we maintain the utmost priority upon gospel truth, if we are consumed with our own desires?

5.  Humble comportment.  "nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority." (v. 6) If Paul and his friends did not come to mollycoddle human pride, they certainly did not come to be congratulated and praised for their incredible work.  The fact that Paul speaks of apostolic authority here suggests that he refers to their conduct toward the new converts in Thessalonica, and this is a pleasing sort of observation to have - once the work of evangelism has happily given way to the work of discipleship, how do I conduct myself?  It is certainly not the time to seek regard for my heroic character, or my great love, or my profound wisdom, or my palpable leadership, lest I quench the zeal or distract the focus of my newfound brothers and sisters. 

6.  Gentle care.  "But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children." (v. 7) Again, the fledgling church is in view here, the product of Paul's evangelistic mission and the work of the Holy Spirit.  I include this one, as well as the last one, because they demonstrate that our work is not over - not remotely - when a person gets saved.  Evangelism cannot be our sole focus, but when the unspeakably joyous event of salvation comes to pass in a person's life, our lifelong work of nurturing discipleship, patient care, and selfless service begins.  We must approach evangelism with this truth in mind, lest God work His salvation and we are unprepared to lead this new believer onto a path of growth. 

[To be continued here]

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