Don’t You Want to Thank *Someone*: A Thanksgiving Meditation

As we enter thanksgiving week, it is good to reflect on the nature of giving thanks. Many have observed praise is fundamental to what it means to be human, yet, not all praise honors God in a way he deserves. Therefore, we should consider how we might give thanks and give thanks in a way that makes God the object of our gratitude.

Ingratitude: The Arrhythmia of Man’s Heart

If we think about it, one of humanity’s greatest ‘sins’ is our quickness to complain and our slowness to give thanks. In the Old Testament, Israel was rebuked strongly because of their murmuring. And personally, it happens too often that my own heart moves towards complaint instead of contentment.

In fact, Romans 1:21 indicts all of us when Paul says that part of humanity’s idolatry stem’s from our unwillingness to honor God as God or to give thanks to him.

Sadly, ingratitude is the arrhythmia of every fallen heart. It can only be ‘reset’ by the new birth. When God gives us a new heart, he exchanges our thankless heart for a heart that longs to thank someone.

Indeed, when we are born again God gives us new impulses that beckon us to give thanks; and not just generic thanksgiving, but thanksgiving directed to the One who has given us every good and perfect gift. As we enter thanksgiving week, therefore, it’s good for us to consider the posture of our hearts.

One place to pursue such recalibration is Psalm 111. It is a powerful psalm of thanksgiving that praises God for his creation and his redemption. It calls us to worship him not based on the strength of our gratefulness but on the splendor of his grace. Consider Psalm 111’s words.

Praise the Lord! 
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever! Continue reading

What John the Baptist’s Bullhorn Teaches us about the Good News?

jason-rosewell-60014When John came preaching “good news,” it may not have sounded like the good news we think of today. In fact, in our day it seems that any call to repentance, to deny self, or to do hard things is either dismissed as unloving or labeled legalism. And yet, to think biblically about the good news requires us to see how Scripture presents the gospel, both in content and tone. And thus, it is worth meditating on how John the Baptist in Luke 3 presents the gospel with many exhortations.

In Luke 3:18, the good doctor summarizes John’s preaching ministry with these words, “So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.” This summary statement follows three ‘paragraphs’ outlining the content of John’s message (vv. 7–9, 10–14, 15–17) and precedes the arrest of John the Baptist by Herod the tetarch (vv. 19–20). For our purposes, it is worth considering what John said in order to see how he presented the gospel. Continue reading

Walking Worthy: Growing in Unity and Maturity (Ephesians 4:1–16)

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Walking Worthy: Growing in Unity and Maturity (Ephesians 4:1–16)

Ever wonder what unity in the body of Christ is supposed to look like? This Sunday we looked at Ephesians 4:1–16, to see how Christ builds up his church in unity and maturity. In short, through a well-tuned heart (vv. 1–3) and well-ordered doctrine (vv. 4–6), Christ, a well-supplied head (vv. 7–10), equips his church to be a well-developed body (vv. 11–16). 

For me, this series in Ephesians has been an instructive look at what the church is and can be. You can find all the sermons here and the sermon notes here. Discussion questions and additional resources below. Continue reading

What Does Unity in the Church Look Like? Ten Truths from Ephesians 4

 

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And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
— Ephesians 4:11–16 —

Few things are more important for growth as a Christian than learning how to walk in unity with others. And, at the same time, few things more confused than discussions about unity in the church today. Indeed, how many seek Christian unity without the foggiest idea of what Scripture says about the church, and thus they seek unity in the church with definitions and desires formed without the light of Scripture.

Still, unity in the church is a goal that biblical churches must pursue. Jesus prayed for it (John 17), and Jesus died for it (Ephesians 2). And thankfully, Scripture speaks of it in passages like Ephesians 4. Therefore, consider ten truths that we find in Ephesians about what church unity is and is not.

  1. Unity is a gift from God.
  2. Unity is maintained, not created by man.
  3. Unity grows over time.
  4. Unity is most opposed by pride and self-interest.
  5. Unity is a uniquely Christian adornment.
  6. Unity requires a doctrinal center – the gospel.
  7. Unity does not mean uniformity.
  8. Unity depends on grace and gifts.
  9. Unity grows when it is stretched, pressured, and even threatened.
  10. Unity glorifies God and attracts unbelievers.

Continue reading

Becoming Like the One We Behold: Why Seeing Christ in Scripture is Necessary for Biblical Exposition

swapnil-dwivedi-246205Q. Why is it necessary to preach Christ in every sermon?

A. Because without seeing Christ, we will not become like him.

When asked to give an answer for why preaching Christ is necessary, there are many biblical answers I could give—

  • because this is how the apostles preached in Acts,
  • because the Scriptures were inspired by the Spirit to lead us to Christ,
  • because the Father wants to glorify the Son in redemptive history and revelation,
  • or because Scripture teaches us how all creation and redemption center on Christ.

Still, the most powerful reason for preaching Christ, in my estimation, is the transformative effect of seeing Christ. As 2 Corinthians 3:18 puts it, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

In conjunction with the truth that we become like what we behold (see Psalm 115:8; 135:18), this verse teaches us that when we “see” Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 4:5–6) in his beauty and glory, his humility and love, we will become like him. However, when we read Scripture without seeing Christ, or worse if we read Scripture with an intention not see how every passage relates to Jesus Christ, then we will grow in knowledge of the Bible but without growing in affection for Christ. Ever wonder how men and women who know the Bible could be so arrogant or divisive? Might it be due to reading Scripture, without falling in love with Christ?

Indeed, this is why we have the Bible—to know the triune God through the full and final revelation of Christ (see Hebrews 1:1–2:4). And when led by the Spirit, such knowing comes with the stirring of affections. And with those affections, our hearts are enlarged for God through our loving trust in Christ. Then, as a result, our lives are transformed from one degree of glory to another.

For me, this is why preaching Christ is not exercise in erudition, but a necessary part of faithful exposition—showing how the whole Bible comes together in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). And thankfully, this approach to Christ is not novel. Indeed, it is the way many in the church has approached Christ in Scripture. For instance, in reading Richard Sibbes recently, I came across his own passion for seeing Christ. In meditating on Matthew 12:18, which quotes from Isaiah 42:1, he explains the relationship of these two passages and how seeing Christ is necessarily transformative. Here’s what Sibbes says,

The very beholding of Christ is a transforming sight. The Spirit that makes us new creatures, and stirs us up to behold this servant, it is a transforming beholding. If we look upon him with the eye of faith, it will us like Christ; for the gospel is a mirror, and such a mirror, that when we look into it, and see ourselves interested in it, we are changed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18). A man cannot look upon the love of God and of Christ in the gospel, but it will change him to be like God and Christ. For how can we see Christ, and God in Christ, but we shall see how God hates sin, and this will transform us to hate it as God doth, who hated so that it could not be expiated but with the blood of Christ, God.man. So, seeing the holiness of God in it, it will transform us to be holy. When we see the love of God in the gospel, and the love of Christ giving for us, this will transform us to love God. When we see the humility and obedience of Christ, when we look on Christ as God’s chosen servant in all this, and as our surety and head, it transforms us to the like humility obedience. Those that find not their dispositions in some comfortable measure wrought to this blessed transformation, they have not yet those eyes that the Holy Ghost requireth here. ‘Behold my servant whom chosen, my beloved in whom my soul delighteth,’ (Richard Sibbes, “A Description of Christ,” in The Works of Richard Sibbes, 1:14)

Glorious! To see Christ, as revealed in Scripture by the Spirit, is to become like him.

So, if you preach the Bible, make sure you preach Christ—in his humility and exaltation, his cross and resurrection, his deity and humanity, as Creator and Redeemer, as Son of God and God the Son, as the Way to the Father, and as the Sender (with the Father) of the Spirit, the head of the church, and the Lord of the nations. Indeed, as Sibbes observes, it is only by seeing Christ that we will be become like him. And thus preachers (and all Christians) must pray and seek and desire to see Christ from all the Scriptures; we must learn how to read all of Scripture to see Christ.

And why is that so important? Because only by seeing him will we become like him—the purpose for which we were created and redeemed. As Romans 8:29 puts it, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Reformed in our thinking. Conformed in our living. Transformed in our affections. This is what happens when we see Christ, and thus we must endeavor to behold him from all the Scriptures.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us: A Biblical Theme That Comforts Scared Sheep

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Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care;
In thy pleasant pastures feed us, for our use thy folds prepare.
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, thine we are.

Dorothy Thrupp’s “Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us” is a powerful hymn that drinks deeply from the biblical imagery of God as Shepherd. While many are familiar with the Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23) or Jesus’ identification as the Good Shepherd (John 10), the theme actually extends the length of the whole Bible. To help see that, let me share a brief roadmap that traces this soul-comforting, biblical-theological theme.

Genesis 48:15–16; 49:24

In Genesis flocks go back as far as Genesis 4:4. And throughout the book of beginnings, God’s people are often seen around and among sheep. Accordingly, God’s people were very familiar with the mannerisms of sheep and what it would take to be a shepherd. It’s not surprising then, the imagery of God as a shepherd began from the beginning. (For a full treatment of this shepherd theme with application to pastoral ministry, see Timothy Laniak’s Shepherds After My Own Heart). Continue reading

Prayer That Works: Praying to the Father, for the Spirit, to Fill the Church with Christ’s Manifold Love (Ephesians 3:14–21)

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Prayer That Works (Ephesians 3:14–21)

In recent years, few passages have captured my imagination more than Ephesians 3:14–21. That is to say, few texts of Scripture have struck me with such a vision for the need for prayer in the church and prayer for the church, and hence my own need to pray more for the church.

In Ephesians 1–3:13, Paul outlines a glorious vision of the church created by Christ’s cross and unified by God’s Spirit. And in Ephesians 4:1–6:24, Paul instructs the church how to walk with God. But in between, he connects these two halves with a prayer for the Father to give the Spirit in order for Christ’s people to overflow with his love. In addition to being a glorious trinitarian prayer, this prayer sums up all Paul has said about salvation and sets up all he will say to the church about walking in the Spirit.

As I said, for all that I’ve read (and preached) about prayer and the church, no vision of prayer in the church has been more instructive for me than this passage. And I pray that as you study this passage, or listen to this sermon, or dive into the resources below, you too will catch a vision for what God wants to do in the church, and why prayer to the Father, for the Spirit to fill his people with the love of Christ is so vital for triune glory of God to be seen in the church. Speaking personally, Ephesians 3:14–21 helped crystallize the need for such prayer, and I pray it will catalyze you to pray as well. Continue reading

Praying for the Inner Man: D. A. Carson on Ephesians 3:14–21

huy-phan-100866For 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
— Ephesians 3:14–17 —

When I preached through Paul’s prayers a few years ago, I read D.A. Carson’s A Call for Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His PrayersIn that book, Carson recounts how we should think about Paul praying for the “inner man” (Ephesians 3:16). That section struck a deep nerve with me, and as I prepare to preach that passage this Sunday, I share it with you.

Most of us in the West have not suffered great persecution, but all of us are getting older. In fact, sometimes we can see in elderly folk something of the process that Paul has in mind. We all know senior saints who, as their physical strength is reduced, nevertheless become more and more steadfast and radiant. Their memories may be fading; their arthritis may be nearly unbearable; their ventures beyond their small rooms or apartments may be severely curtailed. But somehow they live as if they already have one foot in heaven. As their outer being weakens, their inner being runs from strength to strength. Conversely, we know elderly folk who, so far as we can tell, are not suffering from any serious organic decay, yet as old age weighs down on them they nevertheless become more and more bitter, caustic, demanding, spiteful, and introverted. It is almost as if the civilizing restraints imposed on them by cultural expectations are no longer adequate. In their youth, they had sufficient physical stamina to keep their inner being somewhat capped. Now, with reserves of energy diminishing, what they really are in heir inner being is comin out.

Even for those of us who are still some distance from being senior citizens, the restrictions and increasing limitations of the outer being make themselves felt. My body is not what it was twenty years ago. Every time I take a shower, a few more hairs disappear down the drain never to be seen again. I have arthritis in two or three joints; I have to watch my intake of calories; my reaction times are a little slower than they used to be; in a couple years I shall need reading glasses. And someday, if this old world lasts long enough, I should waste away, and my outer man will be laid to rest in a hole 6 feet deep. Yet inwardly, Hall insists, in the inner man, we Christians are being “renewed day by day.”

The Christians ultimate hope is for the resurrection body. But until we receive that gift, it is our inner being that is being strengthened by God’s power. In a culture where so many people are desperate for good health, but not demonstrably hungry for the transformation of the inner being, Christians are in urgent need of following Paul’s example and praying for displays of God’s Mighty power in the domain of our being that controls our character and prepares us for heaven. (184–85)

Few reflections on prayer or the spiritual life have arrested my attention like these words. Why? Because as a man still young in ministry and relatively young in my Christian walk (compared to those who have walked with Christ for 30, 40, an 80 years), I wonder, “Is my outward maturity more a mark of spiritual strength or a good memory? Do I obey the commands of God because faith motivates love, or because disobedience would impugn my reputation?” Continue reading

The Father Saves, The Son Suffers, The Spirit Speaks: Seeing the Trinity in Ephesians 1–3

bibleAs to the divine works, the Father is the source
from which every operation emanates (ex ou),
the Son is the the medium through which (di’ ou) it is performed,
and the Holy Ghost is the executive by which (ev ō) it is carried into effect.
— George Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, 4 —

When the Bible says that salvation belongs to the Lord (Psalm 3:8; Jonah 2:9), I wonder if we have a bad habit of thinking that God is a singular actor in salvation? That is, when we say (rightly) salvation is monergistic, do we remember how the Father, Son, and Spirit each work inseparably? Or does our mind’s eye see salvation as a thing given by God, but without regard for how each member of the Trinity works?

Rightly, salvation is no way the result of man’s cooperation with God (see Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8–9). But in the truest sense salvation is the indivisible work of the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And unless we think of the three persons working together as one (because they are, in fact, one, indivisible God), I fear we may miss the monergistic nature of salvation—the very point conveyed in the testimony, “Salvation belongs to the Lord!”

In other words, when we fail to remember the triune nature of God in salvation, we are liable to conceive of salvation in synergistic terms—God provides; we respond, with emphasis on our response. The result, though perhaps unintentional, is a failure to see how the Father, Son, and Spirit work respectively to plan, procure, and provide salvation such that is remains God’s work, and salvation remains entirely gracious.

To get a handle on this idea, that salvation is a work of the triune God, we could examine many passages of Scripture, but few are more naturally trinitarian than the first three chapters of Ephesians. Continue reading

Growing up with “Papa”: A Personal Testimony of Saving Grace and Protestant Reformation

Vatican, RomeIn reading some of Martin Luther’s writing recently, I came away with the distinct impression that Luther talked like the Bishop of Rome was always in the room with him. While not thinking much about church until I came to faith at seventeen, my Protestant heritage couldn’t quite make sense of the seeming ubiquity of the Pope in Luther’s writing. And I wondered, “Is that something that modern Catholics still experience?”

To an answer to that question of experience, I asked one of our elders, Jeff Dionise, about it. And thankfully, he took the time to share with me his insight into what it might ‘feel’ like to growing up Catholic. Even more though, Jeff shared a testimony of his own ‘Protestant Reformation,’ where he left the Catholic Church to find in Christ what the Pope could never give—eternal salvation and true grace in his hour of need.

Here’s a transcript of that conversation. Continue reading