Posts Tagged ‘God’

h1

Deliberately Declaring a Dependent Gospel: Acts 17 and Evangelism…

May 9, 2013

I have written before about the urban witness in light of Acts 17 (read here) recently I was blessed to spend some time at a missions conference at Hunter Street Baptist church in Birmingham, AL.  I was there to discuss church planting and the motivation for witnessing to those around us.  Below is my exposition of the text of Acts 17:26-28.

Upper_East_Side_of_Manhattan_New_York

As I have spent the past two years processing a call to plant a church in New York City and as we now prepare to commence that work on site, there has been one text that has impacted my vision of more than any other.  With every visit to the city, nights spent there, days engaged there, the truth contained in the text has been confirmed over and over again.

When I first began to go to the city, I was overwhelmed by its size and complexity.  So many people, so little space.  It is easy to view this concentration as somehow incidental, some random function of economics and sociology.  Yet through the lens of Scripture and in light of our knowledge of God, the reality of the city’s purpose becomes clear.

In Acts 17, Paul is talking to the men of Athens at the Areopagus.  They have surrounded themselves with idols to every god known to man, but they have reserved one space empty for the ‘unknown god’ and it is in the name of this god that Paul begins to speak.  He begins at the beginning, a very good place to start; he explains that they are not unknown to this unknown God.  This God has in fact created them, and all the people of mankind.  He has determined the time and the place that they all live.  He has done this so that they might seek after Him and find Him.  For whether they realize it of not, it is in Him that we “live, move and have our being.”  This is no manmade golden God, it is the God of the universe that made man.  God now commands all men to repent.  And Paul explains the gospel of Christ’s resurrection.  Some received his words, some rejected it outright, some walked away in contemplation.

Deliberate

This is one of those key passages of scripture where God lifts the veil, if only for a moment, and exposes the unfathomable counsel of His will.  When we look at cities and we consider their existence and construction, and we dwell on the fact that for the first time in human history more people are living in urban areas than in any other time in human history; we can not deny the hand of God is at work.  God determines the time that each and every person exists and He draws the boundaries of their dwelling places.  This kind of deliberate action on His part should amaze us, and it should inform our lives and our mission.  We do not serve a random God.  He is deliberate.  This should spur us to be deliberate and intentional.  God has not called us to wander, He has called us to Go.  When Jesus charged His disciples, He did so with geographic intentionality.  They were not to randomly scatter across the globe, rather they were to go to Jerusalem, then Judea and Samaria, then the utter-most parts of the earth.  In Acts, we see His overwhelming orchestration in the collection of disciples in Jerusalem, and then their dispersal to almost every city in the Mediterranean.  Paul was sent, city by city, to proclaim the gospel to the souls God had providentially gathered together in cities across the Roman empire.  We have to recognize our place in this paradigm.  God has called us and placed us with the same meticulous intent, and for the same glorious purpose.

Declaring

God has brought people together and concentrated them in cities for a purpose, so that those who do not know Him, might find Him.  How does this happen?  How do these people find God?  The irony in this text is that the Athenian men, listening to Paul, were unaware of just how close God was to them at that moment.  He was there in His omnipresence to be sure, but He was also present in the Word Paul proclaimed to them.  God was as close as the spoken word is to the ear.  As Paul, indwelled by the very Spirit of God proclaimed the Word,  the Word who was with God and was God and is God was very much present.  The lost that God has gathered together find Him when we share and proclaim His Word.  He has His sheep in every city, they hear His voice and they follow Him.  This should fill us with awe and wonder.  Not only are we the vehicles of God’s divine pursuit of the lost, but we get to bring God close to those around us when we share and proclaim His Word.  What a privilege.

Dependence

Paul proclaimed a particular message to these men.  He informed them that this ‘unknown’ God is the reason these men exist.  He made all of mankind and mankind is totally dependent upon Him for their lives and for their salvation.  Their response should not be one of ignorance, but of repentance.  The call to repentance is a call to proclaim your total dependance upon God.  God alone can provide salvation from judgement; and when we repent we acknowledge that our sins are great but we recognize that our God is greater.

Response

Cities are not accidental, they are the deliberate act of a loving God.  God has a divine intention in bringing men and women into close proximity with one another, so that they might seek after Him and find Him.  As believers, we must recognize our role in His plan.  When we love those around us, when we share His Word, when we display our dependance on Him, we are in fact bringing God within reach of those in need.  The question is not whether God is present in your city; the question is do your lost neighbors, co-workers and family members see His presence in your life?  For “how can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him they have not heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Advertisements
h1

Charles Stanley on Walking with God Daily…

October 24, 2012

 

Noah walked with God, how do we walk with God today? 

This is a list of six points from Charles Stanley[1] regarding how we walk with God, I think that each point could easily be related to the Noah narrative. I have listed the points and then in parenthesis have included points of connection for the Noah narrative.

1. Commit to discovering and obeying the Father’s will. (Noah was favored by God and obeyed God when asked to do the seemingly impossible.)

2. Begin with faith—believing that God exists and that you have a new life in Christ. (Noah could have easily have written off God, and could have declined to build the ark, think of all the excuses he could have offered up, ‘you want me to build what?’ ‘what is rain?’ ‘but we’re not near any water?’ etc. but instead Noah believed that God existed and that there was life in obeying God.)

3. Pursue continual fellowship with the Lord, and seek to live in His presence daily—even when difficulties arise. (Think of the difficulty experienced by Noah and his family, the ridicule from the world as he built the ark and followed God. and yet he continued to walk with God.)

4. Walk in truth, obeying Him cheerfully, and your relationship with Him will grow more intimate. (You can not get anymore intimate than being one of the last eight people left on earth to have a relationship with God.  There is no sign from Noah of complaining or rebellion, he followed where God led and as a result received a covenant form God.)

5. Allow the Holy Spirit to work within you to bring peace, confidence, security, and joy into your life. (Following God may be difficult, but think that it always brings peace amid chaos, confidence in the face of complaint, security from danger, and ultimate joy.  Each one of these was experienced by Naoh and his family because they walked with God, they experienced peace confidence and security amidst the flood and ultimately the joy of salvation.)

6. Separate yourself from sin, and strive to make a positive impact on the lives of others. Rely on the Spirit to help you live in a way that pleases God. (This is what Noah excelled at, he separated himself from sin and followed God, even as the whole earth was under the sway of evil, Noah stood strong and separated himself following God, he called others to repent and believe, tried to make a difference.)


h1

On Biblical Morality in Modern Times…

October 15, 2012

Moses on the SCOTUS facade.

It is important to consider that morality, at its essence, is a core of beliefs that is acted upon by individuals. Legislation, is but the codification of morality with the aim of directing groups of individuals to/from that morality. It is impossible for legislation to be devoid of morality, because legislation is a codification of values. So whether it serves as a legal restraint for good or a license for evil, it is inherently moral.

For the world, morality is benign, it is neither good nor bad. Dictators can be moral, so can school children, but where the world fails is in determining what if anything is immoral. The secular world fails to recognize any common universal source for morality, an individuals core of beliefs is but a reflection of their own predilection toward one course or another. Therefore when you ask a secularist ‘can one legislate morality?’ they give you this puzzled look. ‘How can anyone legislate or put into legislation individual morality?’ they ask. They go on to say, ‘what may be moral for you, is not moral for me…’ etc. This is the dead end road of the secular worldview. Ultimately nothing has meaning outside the individual, laws are suggestive of desire but not determinate of performance. The end result of this is chilling words from the book of Judges, “In those days there was no king… Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

For the Christian, morality is far less subjective. It is still a core of beliefs that is acted upon, but that core has a universal objective source. The source of human morality is God’s revelation in His word and in nature. Lodged within the narrative of history is the thread of God’s moral revelation. He reveals it implicitly in the general revelation of nature, and explicitly in the pages of His Word. Paul informs us in Romans that God has written His law on the heart of every man, so that whether they have received His written revelation or not they have within themselves a conscience that reflects their Creator’s image. For the Christian, morality is not benign, it is powerful. Morality is an expression of what one values and is given by God that we might value the right things. God gave His written law for the preservation of His people and the propagation of His glory. So for the Christian, laws and legislation become essential tools. God has created man to be ruled by laws. Whether Laws carved in stone or laws written on the human heart; it is man’s need to be governed by a moral code. The beauty of the gospel is that it redefines morality. Morality is now seen through the work of Christ on the cross. We are now given an opportunity to be governed by a law fulfilled in Christ. We are empowered to do greater works than were ever done before. What is moral becomes a reflection of Who He was and who we are in Him.

So there is great need on the part of the Christian to see that the laws of their lands reflect the redeemed reality of mankind. We must seek the goodwill of our neighborhood and our nation, and advocate for laws that protect and promote God’s design for mankind. But should the tide withdraw, and the season change, we must be prepared to live lives consistent with Christ’s example. Preaching the Word in season and out of season, as those around us “wander off into myths.” (2 Tim 4:4)

h1

The Heart of a Prayer Warrior…

October 8, 2012

When considering prayer in general and the Lord’s Prayer in particular, we should consider what kind of heart utters this prayer, and what kind of heart refuses to pray.

What Kind of heart prays this prayer?

An obedient heart. Jesus begins the passage by saying, “When you pray, pray like this…” it is an assumption that we will pray, and that we should pray. Paul encourages us in Thessalonians to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing give thanks in all circumstances…” An obedient heart asks how it should pray and when given the answer, it prays accordingly.

A humble heart. Jesus instructs his disciples that there are two ways to pray, you can pray like the Pharisees, who stand on a street corner, praying for the benefit of other people, in being seen, they have their reward. The other way, is not ‘me’ centered but God centered. Jesus says, in verse 6, “when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done is secret will reward you.” It takes humility to ask for the basic necessities of life. To admit that you need food, or clothing, or the basics. And yet we’re commanded to ask, and promised that when we do our Father who knows our needs, will meet those needs.

A servants heart. Do we ask merely for ourselves? Or do we ask that we might be enabled to serve Him, who gives so much to us? If we meant the first part of our prayer that God’s will be done on earth, then we must be ready to serve His will, and so we ask that he give us the time to work, and the sustenance necessary to live and serve.

What kind of heart doesn’t pray this prayer?

A proud heart. Some people have a difficult time asking for help. Implicit in this prayer is the fact that the person praying must put aside his/her pride and admit that they need help. They are asking for the most fundamental elements of life; a day to live, and food to eat. Often we do not have because we do not ask. James records as much in James 4:2,6,7a when he says “you do not have because you do not ask…God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble, submit therefore to God…”

A self-sufficient heart. “I don’t need God. I earn my bread, I don’t receive any handouts.” This is when I proud heart meets the means to supply ones needs. Often when we have been blessed with a lot, or we enjoy the fruits of many years of hard work and labor we begin to feel very self-sufficient. It becomes very difficult to admit that while we may work very hard, all we have comes from God, “he owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Ps. 50:10)

A selfish heart. When we ask that God give us our day and our daily bread, we are admitting that what we have comes from God, that it belongs to Him. But we are possessive, our stuff is our stuff, our bread is our bread. If you have children, or have been around children you will quickly see the human tendency toward selfishness. They can not get food apart from their parents, but give them a cookie, and then try and take it away and see what happens. One second they had nothing, the next they receive their gift, and they completely forget that they RECEIVED it. And you hear the word so common to children. MINE. We have to realize that we are children asking our Heavenly Father for bread. And when we receive it, we must acknowledge that it came from Him.

h1

Give us this Day…

October 5, 2012

Our Bread for the day

If we truly pray the first three petitions, and commit ourselves to live wholly for God, the natural and logical next request is for time to see God’s kingdom come and His will be done. So we ask for the day. We do not ask for day(s) or weeks or years, but we ask for one more day, that God would grant us the time to serve, to pray, to worship Him. Later in this chapter of Matthew Jesus instructs his disciples not to worry about tomorrow, “for tomorrow will take care of itself.” (6:34)

After we ask for the day, it is logical that we ask for sustenance to give (us) energy to fulfill such a life. Samuel Johnson once said in caring for the stomach that “Those who ignore the needs of their stomach are soon in no condition to care about anything else.” God has created us to be dependent on food. It points to our weakness, our ‘createdness’; God himself is dependent on nothing and no one. So when we pray this line we are acknowledging that we are in need, that rather than assuming that we can take care of ourselves, we are willing to humble ourselves to ask for something as simple as a piece of bread.

What does this line mean?

In the testimony of Christ in Luke 11, Jesus instructs His disciples on how to pray and tells them a parable of a man arriving late at night at a friend’s house, weary from a long journey. The man knocks on the door and asks for some bread, but the friend is in bed and unwilling to assist. Jesus says to His disciples, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. “Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? “Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” God knows our needs before we ask (Matt 6:8), and has sworn to “supply all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:19) The key word here is need. We are commanded to as for those things which are necessary to live. We need bread daily, we require sustenance daily to live, and so we are commanded to ask, knowing that our Father in Heaven will supply our NEEDS.

What this line does not mean.

This line is not our divine credit card. God cares about us. His desire is that none should perish but that all should be saved, and he came for the purpose that we have life and that this life be abundant. However. He is interested in supplying our needs and equipping us for every good work, not in enabling our greed. Need and want are two different things. All of us have been children at one time, and those of us who have children are well acquainted with the phrase, “you may want that, but you don’t need it.” What we need to serve God and what we want to satisfy our own selfish desires are almost always two completely different things. The purpose of this prayer and of this line in particular is to focus us on finding our satisfaction in Him, rather than anything else. If we enjoy today, we acknowledge that He gave it to us, and if we enjoy a meal we acknowledge that He gave it to us.

This line does not say, sell us this day, our daily bread. Some people believe that God’s provision is for sale, little do they realize that He gives according to His grace. Some believe that, I don’t have to ask for it, if I behave the right way then I will get it as a reward. The Pharisees were far to proud to ask for something as simple as bread, they would have long grandiose prayers, and lived strict lives in hopes that God would take notice and repay. How thankful we should be that God does not operate this way, the price has been paid through Christ, and so we simply ask, “Father, Give…” and He gives according to His promise.

What if we already have a lot of bread? Well then we should still pray daily for God’s continued provision, in this economy we can all see examples of when abundance is here one day and gone the next. Is it wrong to want nice things? No. Is it wrong to want things that are above and beyond what you need? No. But when we seek these things instead of His Kingdom, and pray for these things over and above what we need to serve Him, we are missing the point of this prayer. Remember we are called to ask for bread not Bentleys.

h1

Pray in this way…

October 2, 2012

Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy name…

Why God’s name should be ‘Hallowed’?

The Lords Prayer is a string of requests.  We have not because we ask not, but Jesus gives us the requests to ask. We are to request that God’s kingdom will come and that His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven; we are to ask for our daily provision, we are to ask that our sins be forgiven, and for protection from Evil.  But before we begin praying for ourselves we are to request of God that His Name, be Hallowed, that His name be made Holy, set apart, sanctified.

God’s name should be set apart for two reasons.

1.         Because of Who he is.  This is the God Proclaimed throughout all of Scripture as Holy, Holy, Holy.  The Seraphim surrounding His Throne sing this out in Isaiah 6, The Creatures in Revelation 5 proclaim this reality “to Him who sits on the throne… be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.  When People have encounters with God whether Moses in Exodus 3, Isaiah in Isaiah 6, Job in Job 48, Saul on the Damascus Road, John in Revelation; the almost universal response is to acknowledge God’s uniqueness and Holiness by falling on ones face and proclaiming your own sin.  Indeed it is predicted that at His Name Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord and that God is Lord over all.  So How do we approach this Awesome God in Prayer?

2.         Because of What He did.   The response to being confronted with God’s holiness is universal, shock and awe.  Yet now we draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we receive mercy. (Hebrews 4:16) How can we do this?  We are able to approach God, because we are made Holy through the sinless life, sacrificial death and saving resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ.  We have been crucified with Him, we no longer live, but Christ lives within us.  Though full of imperfections we are made perfect in His sacrifice.  Christ bore our sins; and made our lives, though red with the crimson stain of sin, as white as snow.

For this reason we pray that His name be set apart and made holy.  The world calls out to a myriad of idols and self help gurus, but we cry to the Holy God, who saw us, saved us and will secure us from want and sin, throughout all of eternity.

 

h1

God’s City: Augustine and His Great Work…

August 28, 2012

Tension marks the life of the believer.  This fact is as true today as it was in the time of Augustine.  The tension begins when one is ushered out of the realm darkness and into the light of salvation in Christ.  Once delivered a tension forms between the new creation in Christ (Christian), and the world he/she has both escaped and still occupies.  It is this ‘in the world but not of the world’ conundrum that draws Augustine’s intention in City of God.

Augustine, confronted by the harsh socio-political realities of life and death, freedom and conquest in the Roman empire, with realistic historical, theological and ecclesiastical focus.  In City of God (CG) he attempts to address three questions, each question is not treated in isolation rather, there is a constant interplay between them.  Historically he attempts to answer the question, ‘What is happening?’; Theologically he attempts to address the ‘why it is happening?’; in terms of ecclesiastical or pastoral focus he constantly asserts ‘how a Christian should respond?’ to their reality.

Within this collection of works slowly and systematically composed in the second decade of the fifth century after the sack of Rome; Augustine begins seeking answers by examining the ‘problem’.  Namely, mans’ fallen nature on display through; poor governance, idolatrous worship and misplaced affections.  One can detect the influence of neo-Platonism in his structure and thought; as this section (roughly chs. 1-7) represent the world we see displayed out against the wall before us.  But like any good Platonist, what we see is not enough, we must seek the source of our manifest troubles.

Augustine then, leaves the cave, so to speak, and examines the true reality behind our calamity.  In this section (chs. 8-14) he examines some of that other realm which has historically and theologically impacted man and his actions.  The source of the debauchery, idolatry, mis-governance, and ‘falleness’ is found in: the fall of Satan, His angels, and finally the fall of Adam, and all of mankind within him.  This alone would have represented a monumental work of history, philosophy and theology but Augustine exercises his discipline of rhetoric and constructs the argument further.  This section represents the root of the ‘city of man’ that realm in opposition to God, which we occupy in body if not in spirit.

Augustine then plays out the theory of fallen man in the course of human history.  In this section (chs. 15-20) Augustine examines history from pre-Adam to post-man, from Genesis to Revelation, he proceeds to trace his themes and their effects.  This is the civil history of God’s city and its inhabitants from Adam to Abraham; from Jeremiah to Jesus, and from Rome to Revelation.  In addition to his many specific admonitions concerning the Christian life, this section provides biographical examples of virtue and Godly character, which are just as informative as any specific pastoral encouragement.

He then looks beyond in the final section (chs. 21-22) to what amounts almost to an epilogue on the entire work, discussing Hell, Heaven, and hope.  So let us briefly examine Augustine’s structure and assertions as we have laid them out above.

The Problems with the City of Man chs. 1-7

For Augustine, misunderstanding and darkness cloud the minds of the pagans in and around the Roman empire.  These are the inhabitants of the city of man, denied the light of Christ they fumble around in darkness attempting to answer similar questions to Augustine’s   What is Happening? i.e. to the empire and Why do things occur? i.e. Rome being sacked by the Visigoths. Their answers are less than satisfying for Augustine, as they blame everyone but themselves; Christians, the Christian God and the pagan gods.  Their lack of understanding breeds confusion and that confusion inevitably led to conflict and persecution of Christians.  Augustine’s apologetic was to basically deconstruct their argument systematically and deductively reason that Christ, His followers and His God are not to blame for Rome’s recent calamities.  First he argues that pagans are wrong to even make the accusation. Second he asserts that Rome had experienced great suffering and events of defeat long before Christ.  In other words, while Christ is the pivot point of history, He is not the contributing factor to the degradation of their society, in fact quite the opposite.  God and His Son are the only true source of power and its exercise on earth.

Finally in this section, he examines the pagan’s clouded judgment on fate, freewill (versus pagan fatalism tied to idolatry), theology (worshipping the wrong gods), and civil life (the worship of things that do not lead to eternal life).  These are the underpinnings of the pagan experience in the city of man exemplified in Rome and its condition.  Chasing after a misunderstanding of power, its use and its source, ultimately leads society at war with itself and at enmity with is Creator God.  Now Augustine turns to the back-story, the ‘rest of the story’ if you will.

The Source of the Problem chs. 8-14

Augustine attempts to shed a light on the dark recesses of history far beyond human experience and revealed knowledge.  How did God’s good creation ‘devolve’ into what can only be described as unholy and odds with the creator.  This section addresses the privation; initially of Satan, then of his angels, and finally the privation of man through exercise of God’s gracious, if not misused, gift of free-will.  Book IX is especially helpful in discussing the origin of the cities.  Wrapped around this description is Satan’s fall found in his exercise of idolatrous pride; his angels too, lacking in the full measure of grace given to others, follow him precipitously down.  The chief gross domestic product of man’s city is death, and death saw its beginning in Adam’s sin.  Through his sin, death was exported to us as a punishment for our fallen natures.  This sad effect is most keenly seen in the role of reproduction.  Reproduction or man’s propagation, is muted in two ways by sin: one, in that its fruits ultimately spoil in death; and two, the effort becomes sinful and damning win corrupted by lust.  This is part of the penal judgment of man, in that the very means and ends of his God-prescribed role to pro-create are marred and subject to futility.  Having grappled with the source of man’s city, Augustine then traces the city’s development throughout history.

The Drama of History chs. 15-20.

As proof of the existence of these cities, Augustine offers parallel histories of each throughout the course of the human experience. From Adam on, the choices presented to the patriarchs, prophets, and finally to Christ, represent the grim effect of God’s bifurcated creation.  The murder of brothers, the devastation of flood, the proliferation of sacrifice, and the death of Christ and the coming of His church fill this section in an attempt to inform the miserable condition of man.  It also draws a subtle picture of God’s sovereignty and provision throughout history.  It is not a story of a passive creator and His unruly creation.  Rather a dynamic drama of fall, death, redemption and renewal.

Conclusion: Hell, Heaven and hope. Chs. 21-22

Much like the scripture that so richly informs Augustine’s thought his monumental work finishes with a description of two ends. The calamitous eternal judgment of the wicked and refreshing resurrection of the saints to eternal joy.  This above any single admonition throughout his work, serves to inform the Christian of how they should act and what awaits them in the future.  That which awaits is of preeminent importance to the Christian.  For it is in the hope of God’s heavenly city prevailing that the Christian should seek and rest in.  We pray that His kingdom come, over this earthly, fallen realm.  It is in this hope that we place our faith, that we shall one day ‘rest and see, see and love, love and praise’.

Augustine’s work for me, is both encouraging and informative.  As a perennial student I am often confronted with the drive to delve deeply into the things of God, but I also face the realities of life and pastoral care which pull at my greatest challenge of stewardship, my time.  Augustine displays a life and work lived out accomplishing both purposes, and he reconciles the apparent disparity of scholarship and pastoral ministry.  One informs the other, and serve to compliment each other.  The greatest end to ones endeavors in life is to lose that life in love and service to a brother; and the greatest means to that end is a life lost in study of the Word, and lived out in accordance with its example.  To that end, Augustine succeeds in a measure rarely seen among theologians and pastors.  May God grant me a mere taste of such delight and success.