Posts Tagged ‘Soveriegnty’

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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?

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A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms…

May 6, 2010

“How Long O Lord?”[1] This tragic plea is pregnant with many contradictions and truths.  Four words cried out in apparent abandonment by David; the context in which they were spoken has long since passed into irrelevance.  What remains is clear: the speaker believed in a Lord, one who reigned and had the power to respond to such a plea.  The speaker was also in apparent duress, to the point of death, where his heart was plagued all day long and his enemy was exalted over him.  Still he cries to a God of steadfast love (hesed), whose sure salvation is a matter for rejoicing.  The rub is this; if there is a God of Salvation, steadfast love and deliverance then why are those attributes absent from the psalmist’s life?  This is the quandary that attracts people of diverse backgrounds to the Psalter.

The Psalms are in part, an artistic historical effort to confront, lament and conquer evil through song.  The product of many authors, they express “the emotions, personal feelings, attitudes, gratitude, and interests…of the individual.”[2] The Psalms are “a rich treasure house of reflection on evil and what God does with it.”[3] Across generations, nations and religions whether Christian, Jewish, or secular when confronted with evil, “universally people have identified their lot with the psalmist.”[4] There is a truth within the poet’s lyric that draws all those seeking comfort.  Such comfort is often hidden however in the face of mounting evil and threat.  So from what and from where is comfort to be found?

The Psalms from the outset present a dichotomy which is key to finding true and lasting comfort in God.  Beginning with Psalm 1 we are told that there is good and that there is evil. There are those who walk in evil, they perish.  There are those who pursue both the good and God, they endure.  When evil appears to advance in the face of God’s covenant promises the psalmists lament and appeal to God’s steadfast love or hesed (the full nature of which we will address later on.)  When Evil is on the run and the psalmist’s enemies are put to an end, God is praised for displaying his steadfast love.  Encouragement throughout the psalms is found by recalling times when God prevailed against evil; and great hope is conveyed by claiming the promise that God will ultimately defeat this raging evil and claim eternal victory through His anointed King.

These promises explode on the evangelical mind in a way that far exceeds the poetic comfort sought and found by the secular world in these reassuring verses.  Each Psalm hammers away at the nonsensical problem of Evil that so plagues the child of God.  Why do the wicked seem to advance and the righteous suffer?  Will there be an end to this suffering?  In the darkest times of evil’s ascendency will God and His chosen prevail?   These questions pepper the minds of God’s children across the persecuted church.  We find it difficult to uncover the face of the Almighty in the problem of apparent injustice.  The Psalms, offered to us, chisel away at the slab of unanswered questions and slowly an image begins to emerge.  As the dust settles we see a hewn tree, a suffering shepherd and the dashed head of evil stamped out by a love which endures forever.  This is a Christian’s comfort in the Psalms.

(This post is an excerpt from another larger work… currently in progress)


[1] Psalm 13:1 in its entirety reads, “ How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

[2] Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A complete survey of Old Testament history and literature. (New York, NY Harper Collins, 2000) 286.

[3] Wright, N.T. Evil and the Justice of God. ( Downers Grove, IL IVP, 2006) 60.

[4] Schultz, 286.