Justice and Justification: Five More Truths about Justice

cloud05On Sunday, I explained from Psalm 98 how God justifies sinners and demonstrates that he is both just and justifier (Rom. 3:26). From that message, let me synthesize five more truths about justice. These build upon three truths about justice from Psalm 97, and they continue to assist our understanding of justice as the Bible presents it.

What Psalm 98 Teaches Us about Justice

Because salvation means different things to different people, it is always important to define salvation from the Bible itself. In Psalm 98, therefore, we need to see how salvation is presented. And importantly, we will see that salvation comes from God’s justifying justice.

In other words, salvation is not simply the victorious defeat of God’s enemies for his people, nor is it the dismissal of guilt from his people without a legal solution, nor is it the liberation of oppressed people regardless of their sin. Rather, as we learn from Psalm 98, salvation is grounded in the events of redemptive history which turn on the exodus. In fact, we can find at least five truths about justice in Psalm 98. Continue reading

How Autonomous Individualism Leads to Societal Anarchy: Or, What Herman Bavinck Has to Say about Critical Race Theory

tower“Autonomy becomes a principle that undermines every authority and all law.” 
— Herman Bavinck —

Solomon teaches us that there is nothing new under the sun. The sins and struggles of one generation morph and change in the next, but because the root cause of sin and struggle remains the same, human misery is never novel. Indeed, as Ecclesiastes 7:29 tells us, “God made man upright, but he has sought many schemes.” Yet, such schemes are only variations on a handful of themes.

For this reason, God’s completed canon (the Bible) is more than sufficient to supply us with wisdom for today. And often, Christian sages from other centuries—those saturated by God’s Word—are better able to address modern maladies than contemporary writers. An example of this is Herman Bavinck, a Dutch pastor, theologian, and ethicist. In his recently translated book, Christian WorldviewBavinck addresses some of the most difficult issues confronting us today.Christian Worldview_1

In three chapters on epistemology, ontology, and ethics, Bavinck confronts the materialism of his day. In response, he provides a thorough-going Reformed view of the world. As anyone familiar with his Reformed Dogmatics knows, his argument style rarely devolves into mere proof-texting. Rather, he shows vast knowledge of philosophy and science and argues his points by dismantling the incoherence of their views. Indeed, by focusing on the philosophers of his day, Bavinck provides an enduring argument against all who deny the wisdom and authority of God. And we do well to learn from him. Continue reading

Four Reasons for Taking the Lord’s Supper Every Lord’s Day

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Last Sunday marked our fourth Sunday back after the COVID-induced hiatus of three months. And for the fourth week in a row, we took the Lord’s Supper and remembered the death and resurrection of Christ with elements resembling his body and blood.

In preparation for the Lord’s Table, two of my sons asked at different times, “Why are we taking the Lord’s Supper again.” To be clear, they have never taken the Lord’s Supper, because as unbaptized members of our family, they have not yet identified themselves through baptism with God’s household of faith. That said, their question arose from a personal knowledge of what we do at church and when we do it.

For all of their young lives, they have followed us to church. And since they began joining us in the gathered assembly of worship, they have always and only seen communion taken on the first Sunday of every month. This has been our practice at OBC and at our last church too. Indeed, it is a practice that is commonplace among many Bible-believing churches.

So why the change to communion every Sunday? Let me give four reasons, as we prepare for the Lord’s Table again this Sunday. Continue reading

Seven Pastoral Practices for Bringing Biblical Theology to Church

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Yesterday, I gave seven pastoral cautions for bringing biblical theology to the church. And as advertised, here is the rest of the story: seven pastoral practices for bringing biblical theology to church.

This is list primarily for pastors and the role their preaching can play in helping their congregation value a unified reading Scripture that leads to Christ—for this is what the best biblical theology does. However, these encouragements may also serve any member of the church, as healthy congregational have more than biblical pulpits. They must also have members who long for and pray for the Word of God to grow in their midst.

Continue reading

Seven Pastoral Cautions for Bringing Biblical Theology to Church

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Recently, I received an email asking how to incorporate biblical theology in the church. If you are familiar with this blog, you know the value I place on this discipline and how it impacts so much of what I do in preaching, writing, and all of ministry.  (If you want an introduction to biblical theology, read this.)

What follows here are seven pastoral cautions for bringing biblical theology to church. Tomorrow, I’ll add seven pastoral admonitions for bringing biblical theology to church Continue reading

What To Do When God’s House Is Closed for Business: Seven Sermons from Joel

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Over the last month and a half, our church has looked at the book of Joel. In these strange and turbulent times, we have found that this ancient book has a plethora of wisdom to comfort, instruct, and strengthen God’s people. Here are the seven messages from that series.

As you can see, this series bridged the gap from worshiping at home to worshiping together outside. Our Lord has been faithful to sustain our church during this time, but we recognize that we still inhabit a time where the Spirit and the flesh are at war. Thankfully, Joel helps us to understand that truth, and it gives us confidence to trust that God is still working in our midst.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Built on the Word: A Theological Vision for Ministry (Audio and Handouts)

Built on the Word

In February, our church joined with Redeeming Grace Church (Fairfax) and Grace Church (Gainesville) to host a seminar on doing ministry built on the word of God.

In an age when churches are experimenting with all sorts of new methods for doing ministry (and I’m not just talking about Zoom), it is our conviction that ministry should be built from floor to ceiling on the word of God. This two-day seminar sought to equip leaders in our respective churches by giving them an historical, theological, and practical guide for doing church ministry with God’s Word, all for the purpose of making disciples.

Here are the messages and handouts produced in that seminar. If building your ministry on the Word matters to you, these resources may be a help.

Introduction: How can we connect our faith and practice?

Session 1: What did we inherit? The Church: Universal, Local, Ancient, and Modern

Session 2: On what do we stand? Sola Scriptura and the Sufficiency of God’s Word

Session 3: What are we to do? Making Disciples Amidst the Idols of Our World

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo Credit: Redeeming Grace Church

Churches Are Gathering Again: Here’s Why It Matters So Much

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. . . so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now
be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.
This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,

— Ephesians 3:10–11 —

This Sunday our church plans to regather again . . . outside . . . with appropriate spacing.

Approaching this Sunday, it is worth recalling that it has been more than two months since our congregation assembled to worship Christ, sing praises to God, and hear his Word. This means, it has been more than two months, that our church has fulfilled its calling to be a public witness to the resurrected Christ. Maybe your church has been closed for just as long?

As we prepare for service on Sunday, we are excited to meet again, to take the Lord’s Supper, and declare the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and brought us into his light. We have been grieved by the loss of fellowship and the chance to see our family of faith. But even more, we have—or, at least, I have—been even more grieved that our non-assembly means that God’s life-size billboard of grace, the church, has not been seen in our region for nearly a quarter of the year. With that reflection in mind, I preached the last two sermons on Joel.

While Joel addressed a people whose physical temple had been closed by God, there is an analogy to the church. The local church is the living temple of God, where Spirit-born, Spirit-filled living stones gather to testify to the Lord’s excellencies (1 Peter 2:9–10). The church, as Paul says in Ephesians 3, is the means by which God glorifies his grace on the earth, before the watching eyes of angels and men.

Keeping this in mind recalls why not gathering is such a big deal, and why it is something that cannot go on indefinitely. Christian discipleship means more than getting our weekly sermon fix via Zoom, it means gathering with the saints, testifying to the resurrection of Christ, and being the light of the world which invites others to come out of the darkness. This is perhaps the greatest loss during the days of COVID-19, and one that we may have missed along the way.

In our church, we have prayed much for church to open again. And we rejoice that we will, by God’s grace, gather this Sunday. Joel’s message to a closed temple has been a help to see the need we have to gather. If you are still uncertain about gathering, take time consider Ephesians 3:10–11, 1 Peter 2:9–10, and the book of Joel. I am persuaded that they give us strong medicine to combat the complacency of non-gathering brought about in these days.

May these sermons encourage you and challenge you to consider the essential place of gathering with the saints. For indeed, the church (the assembly of God) can’t be the church when it doesn’t church (=assemble). To that end, let us continue to pray and pursue every opportunity to assemble, until the church is once again meeting with regularity with all the saints.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Be Slow to Judge and Quick to Make Peace: What Pastors Can Learn from Doubting Thomas

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19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
— James 1:19–20 —

In the Bible Thomas gets a bad rap. In the face of seeing Christ’s death on the cross and not seeing Christ’s resurrection, the apostle, who previously volunteered to die with Christ (John 11:16), is unable to believe. For a whole week this beloved follower of Christ is kept in the dark, and not until Jesus returns to the Upper Room does he believe. But when Thomas does believe—he offers one of the most illuminating testimonies of Christ’s identity: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

There are many lessons we can draw from Thomas’s delayed faith, but one of the most important is that faith is based on evidence. The Christian faith is not a leap in the dark; it is based on the evidential history that Jesus rose from the grave, walked on the earth for forty days, so that he could teach his disciples about the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 15:1–8; Acts 1:1–8). In that time, Jesus revealed himself to 500 disciples at one time, before his ascended to heaven in the presence of his followers (Acts 1:9–11). In short, God granted to those who saw the resurrected Christ.

With respect to Thomas’s doubt, his request for the physical body does not deny his faith; it ensures his faith is placed rightly in the resurrected Christ. Even today, faith is dependent on the eye-witness account of Christ’s physical resurrection (1 John 1:1–3). Thomas did not have that yet, and thus his delayed faith testifies to the need for eye-witness testimony.

At the same time, there’s second lesson to be learned from Thomas and his doubt. It relates to faith and evidence too, but it is not about believing the gospel but believing other believers. Until Jesus showed himself to Thomas, there was a division in the household of faith. Ironically, this is a division caused by Christ himself, as he revealed himself to his disciples at different times. But it is a division nonetheless, and one Jesus remedied when he returned to the Upper Room a week later.

Truth Takes Time to Perceive

Today, believers do not find themselves in the same position as the original disciples. For us, the gospel has come fully formed. Christ is exalted to God’s right hand of God, the Spirit has been poured out, and the New Testament has been finished. Hence, the transitional nature (which led to the temporary division between Thomas and the disciples) is not repeated today.

What is repeated are events in the life of the church where one member or one group come to see or understand something that others have not (yet) understood. This knowledge and belief may be a theological truth, a decision for ministry, or a situation of church discipline.

In such cases, believers may come to understand a doctrine or a situation at different times. Like runners traversing the same course, they may have different opinions on the race—not because they are on different paths but because they are looking at different sections of the course. In such instances, painful divisions can occur and tear apart the body of Christ. But unlike the division which Christ intended in the days following his resurrection, this division is not intended by Christ. Or is it?

Could it be that God plans temporary divisions in the church that cause his people to learn how to listen to one another? Could it be that various churches or individuals have different degrees of theological understanding or practical wisdom on various issues? And could it be that God wants his people not only to be at peace, but to learn how to make peace with one another?

Indeed, if we listen to the Bible, we see that God’s children are not just at peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and one another (Eph. 4:1–3), we are to be peacemakers (Matt. 5:9). And pastors are to be the ones who lead in making peace in the church. Continue reading

Seeing the Bigger Picture by Seeking the Most High God: Three Meditations on Psalms 90–92

scattered02In these strange days of social distancing, sheltering at home, and seeking the Lord without the gathered assembly of God’s people, I have been led to meditate on the eternal perspective that Psalms 90–92 provide. These three psalms should be read together, and together they provide a ladder to climb out of current crisis to see a greater vision of life that extends beyond our current horizon and runs into eternity.

At a time like this, when all of life is shutting down and projecting fear, we need to see this vision of God and his greatness. For only a true vision of God on high can give us the strength to trust God and love neighbors and serve others, as we are being led to protect ourselves at all costs.

Here are three messages on these psalms. May they bolster your faith in the sovereign Lord during this time of global pandemic and panic.

Eternal Perspective in a Time of Isolation: A Meditation on Psalm 90

Five Keys to Security in an Insecure Age: A Meditation on Psalm 91

Two Ways to Flourish: A Meditation on Psalm 92

This week, you can also find a daily devotion from the elders of Occoquan Bible Church. These video devotions remember the events of Holy Week and prepare our hearts to remember the death of Christ and celebrate his triumphant resurrection. Give them a listen and be encouraged in the finished work of Christ.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds