God’s Design for Marriage: A Story and a Song

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Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
— Revelation 19:6–9 —

What is marriage supposed to look like? What is its design? Who gets to set the standard? And how do we test whether one’s marriage is a good or not, let alone pleasing to God?

These, and dozens of other questions, haunt us today. They haunt us because marriage has been redefined and repackaged into a million different Do-It-Yourself romantic projects. Yet, the original still remains—one man and woman woman united by covenant until death.

The reason the original design remains intact is because the shifting shadows of marriage on earth cannot alter the substance in heaven. And it is the heavenly marriage to which all history lunged toward—namely, the blessed union of Christ and his Bride.

On Sunday, I will preach on the good design of marriage and how the future vision of marriage protects us from the erasure of marriage in our day. To help prepare my heart and yours for that message, I share a story and a song that should fire our moral imaginations for what marriage lived in light of eternity should be—indeed, can be when we let Scripture shape our affections. Continue reading

Hospitality is Not Optional: Five Ways to Pursue Other People

welcome

Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
— Romans 15:7 —

A few months ago I wrote about the importance of hospitality and five ways to show hospitality in the church. Today, I want to offer five more.

While much hospitality focuses on individuals or families opening their homes to others, a vital practice which enables “house churches” to meet (e.g., Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19), I am focusing attention on churches gathering outside of the home. Thus, spring-boarding from 1 Corinthians 16, a passage overflowing with gospel labor, here are five more ways we can pursue hospitality in the church.

Five Ways to Pursue Hospitality

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Glorifying God with Our Technology: Four Questions to Ask

 

Discipleship in Digital AgeIn one sense, discipleship in any age concerns certain common disciplines in order to become like Christ so that we no longer live to ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:14), but to Christ (Galatians 2:20). If we want to grow into Christ, we must discipline ourselves for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7). But the question remains: In light of our increasing, whirling (digital) technology what additional disciplines might we need to embrace to walk by faith amidst pings, apps, and notifications?

Too often, we know Christ should be our focus and that we become like what we worship (Psalm 115, 135), but still technology pushes back on us—retraining, rewiring, and reshaping us in the process. And this is not unintentional, apps are designed by programmers to encourage certain behaviors. We recognize that there are certain beneficial, helpful, and fitting uses of technology that help us in our spiritual walk and in spreading the Gospel. Yet, there are also ways in which our hearts and habits are being reshaped by the devices we hold. So how do we take the principles found in Scripture and apply them to an ever-changing digital age?

For five weeks our church, in Sunday School, has considered Discipleship in a Digital Age. We have given attention to biblical, theological, and practical truths to help us think about technology, but now we need to put truth into action. We need to think practically about the way smart phones and social media, apps and artificial intelligence impact us, and better how we can use them to the glory of God.

And so, this Sunday we will consider a couple of “case studies,” where we can think about how our technology impacts us and how we can best use technology. We will look at smart phones and Facebook to consider how we engage technology with discernment and discipline. If we do not consider such applications, we will not be able to spur one another on towards love and good deeds with our technology. By default we will only  find ourselves following the patterns given to us by the inventers of the technology.

Four Questions to Ask About Any ‘Tool’

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Drinking Deeply from the Fountain of Biblical Theology

biblical theology[I wrote the following article for the online journal Theology for Life, a publication of Servants of Grace. A PDF of the whole journal on Hermeneutics: The Art and Science of Biblical Interpretation can be found here].

When Jesus approached his two disciples departing Jerusalem on the day of his resurrection, he asked, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:17). Deftly, he quizzed them about the events of his own death, burial, and resurrection. To this inquiry, these disciples report the somber facts,

Jesus of Nazareth . . . was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people . . . our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (vv. 19–24)

What follows is one of the most exhilarating moments in all Scripture, where “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). For the two hours it took to walk to Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Hebrew Scriptures foretold of his coming—only the disciples did not know it was Jesus speaking. Indeed, through this guided tour of the Bible, Jesus illumined their minds before opening their eyes to reveal his identity (“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him,” v. 31). Following this epiphany, the two disciples observe, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the Scriptures?” (v. 32).

This, I contend, is biblical theology. Continue reading

Discipleship in a Digital Age

Discipleship in Digital AgeFrom Abraham to Abraham Lincoln, the speed of the world didn’t change all that much. From the agrarian lifestyle of the Patriarch to the rural farms of North America, among which Lincoln grew up, the speed of news typically traveled at the pace of a horse. In this historical setting, the famed presidential debates between Lincoln and Douglas lasted for hours at a time, with people taking a break for dinner, only to come back for more.

What a difference 150 years makes, only its not time that has changed the world, its technology. In the three millennia between Abraham Lincoln and his namesake, the world didn’t change that much because communication didn’t change that much. To be sure, the printing press in the fifteenth century changed the world and powered the Protestant Reformation. But nothing has changed the world like the technological advances of the telegraph, radio, television, Internet, and now the iPhone.

Through each of these advances the world became smaller, communications faster, and information easier—easier to accumulate, easier to disseminate, and easier to manipulate. And significantly, the pace of life and speech has increased in exponential fashion.

It’s not like the move from industry to information to digital preoccupation has increased gradually over the last 150 years. Far from it! With the Internet and the iPhone, in particular, digital information chases us, hacks into our brains, and produces within us data smog. All told, unless we learn to walk wisely in this age, we are at risk not only of becoming servants to our digital masters, but to lose our Master altogether.

Walking Wisely in a World Full of Pings, Pixels, and Panic (FoMO)

David Wells said two decades ago “the fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church” (God in the Wasteland30). In his corpus of theological studies into evaluating evangelicalism at the turn of the twenty-first century, he identified the effects of modernity on the church. By modernity, he was not speaking of modernism—the Enlightenment-derived elevation of man and his autonomous rationality—but the effects of our hyper-transient, ultra-consumeristic, technologically-dependent, and information over-saturated modern world. This materialistic cocktail has wreaked havoc on the soul of the Western Church and has brought about a loosening of doctrine and lightening of God himself. Continue reading

No Other Gospel: Reflections from The Gospel Coalition

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
— Galatians 6:14 —

For three days this week, ten of us from Occoquan Bible Church traveled to Indianapolis to join 8,500 other followers of Christ at The Gospel Coalition’s bi-annual gathering. This year we celebrated the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and its recovery of the gospel. The theme of this week’s conference was “No Other Gospel” and in less than 72 hours we heard six messages from Galatians and three messages on the historical figures of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other reformation heroes, including the women who contributed to the Reformation. We also sat in on countless breakout sessions related to church history and practical ministry. In all it was a much needed time of refreshment and recalibration.

In all, our trip to Indy was an encouraging time of worship, fellowship, and learning. I benefitted most from John Piper’s opening message on Galatians 1 and Tim Keller’s closing message on Galatians 6. In particular, Keller’s connection between boasting in the cross (Galatians 6:14) and spiritual transformation was powerful.

His point was this: It is not enough to know about Christ and his cross. If one wants to be changed—i.e., freed from sin and full on grace—he or she must boast in the cross. This means verbal praise but even more, it is a confidence in life that taunts all other competitors and presses deeper into Christ. There is nothing more glorious than Christ and his cross, the message of the gospel. As we cling to that truth and boast about that reality above all others, God will change us.

With that in mind, let me share a few more observations from the men who went to Indy. Hear them boast in Christ, his cross, and the chance to devote three days to worshiping. Let it spur you on and encourage you to listen to the sessions online or to join us next year. Continue reading

Six Lessons on Shepherding: A Pastoral Meditation on 1 Thessalonians 2

shepherdIn the Bible, leadership is likened to shepherding. In the Old Testament, God shepherded his people; he called shepherds like Moses and David to lead his people; and kings were often likened to shepherds. In the New Testament, the image continues. Elders are commanded to shepherd the people whom God gives them to oversee (1 Peter 5:1–4). And local churches are to recognize a plurality of Spirit-formed shepherds who will lead them and feed them with God’s word.

Additionally, the New Testament gives many examples of shepherding, and one of the best is Paul’s statement on his ministry in 1 Thessalonians 2. What follows are six lessons to be learned from his ministry and the way elders can shepherd well the people of God today. Take time to read Paul’s words in verses 1–16 and consider how Paul’s personal ministry demonstrates absolute commitment to preaching the undiluted word and constant attention to the people to whom he preaches.

May we who shepherd learn to do the same. Continue reading

Thanksgiving and the Glory of God: Why Giving Thanks is More Than a Casual Habit

praying handsI will praise the name of God with a song;
I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
— Psalm 69:30 —

Thanksgiving is a practice of politeness, etiquette, and good decorum. Right? It is what we (are told to) express when Aunt Lucille buys you a sweater when you want the Super Hero action figures. Or something like that. It is a Christian command, but one that is more happenstance than a daily discipline. Right?

Well, what does Scripture say? Could it be that thanksgiving is something far more essential than we typically think? However you consider it, I am increasingly convinced the discipline of thanksgiving is a central feature of what it means to be a Christian. With it the church of God will grow in grace and love and hope, but without it Christ’s church becomes bitter, fragile, and peevish.

Could it be that one of the greatest needs we have today is the cultivation of thanksgiving as a spiritual grace and habit of holiness? Could it be that we have too casually treated thanksgiving? Maybe its just me, but I think we could use a refresher on how important Scripture makes thanksgiving. Continue reading

Evidence of Design: Lexical and Thematic Unity in Genesis 3–4

chiasm_textGod’s Word is inspired by God, but it is also written by men. And in many cases, these men show incredible literary skill in penning God’s Word. One thinks of Psalm 119’s acrostic praise of God’s Word or Jonah’s detailed use of chiastic structures as examples of authors employing literary devices to shape and structure their God-given, God-inspired words.

The same is true in Genesis 3–4. In a section that is often whisk-away as myth or relativized as poetry, we find that the historical details of Cain and Abel are written with incredible attention to literary style (i.e., history in poetic form). The number of words, the narrative parallels between the first family (ch. 4) and the first sin (ch. 3), and the repetition of expression are just a few ways Moses employs poetics structures to stress the main points of this historical narrative.

In a day when bold and italics were not available and space was limited, these structures evidence the main point of his writing. Moreover, they capture the way in which human authorship is “fully human” (i.e., marked by conventions of human speech). Divine inspiration does not cancel out man’s humanity in his writing. Rather, it improves his acuity, frees his will, and empowers his words. This is what Peter means when he says “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

Genesis 3–4 as a Test Case

Considering this, we look at Genesis 3–4 as an example of this literary design, where Moses under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote with incredible attention to detail—hence allowing us to interpret with great detail. What follows are some of the observations Gordon Wenham has made to show the lexical and structural detail of Genesis 3–4. Continue reading

Discipleship Fever: Disciple-Making as Treasure-Seeking (Luke 12:32–34)

rhythms-of-holiness

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
— John 15:7–8 —

Yesterday I preached a message on disciple-making that, for me, is the culmination of about 15 years of thinking on discipleship and Christian hedonism.

In college God used two ministries to shape the core of theological convictions. The first was Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru). Through men like Phil Gillespie, Chris Sarver, and Robert Coleman (via The Master Plan of Evangelisma Cru staple), God gripped my heart with a passion to make disciples.

A few years later, after grappling with some theological questions related to God’s sovereignty and personal holiness, the Lord brought John Piper and the ministry of Desiring God into view. His book (Desiring God) was an answer to prayer, in that gave me a biblical vision for the glory of God that most satisfies the soul. As Piper puts it, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

After college the fusion of disciple-making and Christian hedonism continued. And while in Chattanooga, Tennessee the discipleship pastor at my church showed the relationship between glory-seeking and disciple-making from John 15:7–8. What is the pinnacle of glorifying God? As in creation, it is the making of an image-bearer who is learning how to live and love like Jesus—i.e., a disciple. Hence by making disciples who reflect the glory of God, God is most glorified in us. The question is, will we be most satisfied in disciple-making?

That was the focus of my sermon yesterday. For the last fifteen years, this paradigm of glorifying God via disciple-making has undergirded so much of my thinking. But I don’t think I have preached on it much—until yesterday.

In our series on spiritual disciplines, I made the argument from Luke 12:32–34 that the primary way we store up treasure in heaven is to make disciples. Just like the Israelites of old “stored up” treasure in the tabernacle (Exodus 25 and 35) and temple (1 Chronicles 29), so disciples of Christ store up treasure in heaven, God’s heavenly temple, by investing their lives in others. As we use our lives to help others walk with Christ, we become Spirit-filled instruments in Christ’s temple-building hands. Discipleship therefore includes evangelism and encouragement, leading others to Christ and helping them walk with him. This in turn magnifies the work of Christ and the glory of God.

All of this I argued is the way in which we store up treasure in heaven—by sharing God’s view that disciples are the greatest treasure. And therefore setting our heart on making disciples, so that God’s glory is magnified and our joy is multiplied. You can listen to the sermon online or read the notes here. Discussion questions are below, as well as a few resources to help you multiply your joy by making disciples.

Luke 12:32–34

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Discussion Questions

1. We have included disciple-making as a spiritual discipline. Why is that? Why is disciple making a discipline (and not a gift)? Why is not often included in lists of disciplines?

2. What is a disciple? What are the characteristics of a disciple? What do disciples do? What does a disciple need to know about discipleship? How does Luke 12 help us be disciples?

3. What is the context of Luke 12? How do we see discipleship in Luke? Luke 12? While the word ‘disciple’ is not in verses 32–34, what indicators are there that disciple is in view? Cf. Luke 9:57–62 and 14:25–34.

4. In our passage, what is the comfort (32), the challenge (33), and the counsel (34)? Why is it vital to mediate on the comfort of our identity as disciples (= sheep, heirs, children of God) before considering calls to follow and make disciples?

5. What does it mean to store up treasure? What makes this difficult (or easily missed)? How much do you think about storing treasuring? Making disciples? How can disciple making as treasure seeking help you follow the Lord?

6. Practically, what can you do to make disciples? How can you grow in your love for discipleship?  And how can you keep that vision of disciple making before you?

For Further Study

Randy Pope is the lead teacher at Perimeter Church (Atlanta, GA). His book on discipleship is called Insourcing: Bringing Discipleship Back to the Local ChurchOther books on personal disciple-making that are worth your consideration are

  • Robert ColemanThe Master Plan of EvangelismThis is the gold standard of disciple-making. To date, its abridged version has sold 3.5 million copies. Coleman is father of the modern “spiritual multiplication” movement. This is the first book you should read on disciple-making.
  • A. B. BruceThe Training of the TwelvePre-dating Coleman, this larger volume looks at the life of Jesus with this disciples and picks up a number of the same features as Coleman.
  • Christopher AdsitPersonal Discipleship-MakingChristopher is a Campus Crusade for Christ guy who gives a step-by-step approach to leading new believers to maturity in Christ.
  • Robby GallatyGrowing UpRobby the senior pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He has an infectuous desire to make disciples and to help others make disciples too. His leads Replicate Ministries, a ministry devoted to inspiring and equipping others to help make disciples.
  • Bill Hull has written a number of important works on discipleship. To date, I have not read them, but have heard great things about them. They are Jesus Christ, Disciplemaker; The Disciple-Making Churchand The Disciple-Making Pastor .
  • Finally, a recent book that is at the top of my list for discipleship is Mark Dever’s DisciplingMark is a personal example of discipleship and his book makes the complexities of discipleship simple. If you read any book on this list, start here (or with The Master Plan of Evangelism).

May God gives us discipleship fever and be faithful make disciples.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds